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I am a restless writer of fiction, film, and music. I scripted such films as 9 and ½ Weeks, Sommersby, Impromptu (personal favorite), What Lies Beneath, and All I Wanna Do which I also directed. Both my documentaries, Marjoe and Thoth, won Academy Awards. Formerly a recording artist, I continue to write music, posting songs on my website. I live in New York with my husband James Lapine. My second novel, the paranormal thriller Jane Was Here, was published in 2011. My latest film, Learning to Drive, starring Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley, came out in August 2015, now available on VOD, DVD, and streaming media. This blog is a paranormal memoir-in-progress, whenever I have spare time. It's a chronicle of my encounters with ghosts, family phantoms, and other forms of spirit.

Friday, April 13, 2012

At Home With a Ghost - 34

(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)

It was pretty amusing to witness a gay clairvoyant appraising the young men who passed by our table. They would linger a beat, catching Desmond’s eye to see if he was interested, before moving on. Desmond would give each one a psychic scan, murmuring, “He has a spinal defect since birth,” or, “I’m getting a lot of negativity around that one. Pretty sure he’s killed someone,” or, “Poor boy. He’s going to have a terrible time of it in jail.”

Desmond had his choice of companions, due to one of the stranger hypocrisies in Moroccan society. Their custom kept young men and women from mingling until marriage; their religion reviled homosexuality and discouraged masturbation; but everyone knew that boys were brimming with libido and, if they couldn’t afford prostitutes, they had nowhere to spill their seed. Thus it was widely accepted that at a certain age a young man would couple with other men until he got married, at which point he could revile homosexuality just like the other adults.

This could turn into a bigger game in the cities that were tourist destinations. Rich tourists offered not only a sexual outlet but also cash and gifts. The jackpot was, if you got a benefactor to fall in love with you, he or she might sponsor your visa out of the country. (With high unemployment, most young men wanted to leave Morocco, but the King clamped down on emigration and made it next to impossible to get a passport.) The boys never saw themselves as prostitutes, but rather as astute entrepreneurs.

Desmond took a casual fancy to a sweet sunny youth who wanted us to call him John Travolta after Desmond bought him a three-piece white suit. Desmond didn’t like his restive, sour friend Ahmed, but they came as a pair. John Travolta had never been south to Agadir, a resort on the Atlantic, so Desmond treated them both to a plane trip, bringing me along as translator.

A trip to the beach was a welcome respite from work on my book, which still wasn’t going too well, and from my hungry-ghost problems. In retrospect, it seemed to me that my spirit contacts had taken a turn for the worse when I relocated to Marrakesh; so maybe I’d tapped into a local blend of exceptionally rude and crude jinnoon. It was a relief to leave them behind to fly to Agadir.

Upon our arrival, we found all the waterfront hotels unexpectedly booked. I called my friend Mohammed who ran the Hertz office in Marrakesh; he in turn called his friend Hamid in the Agadir branch. Hamid pulled some strings and scored us some excellent rooms. By way of thanks, we invited him for drinks in the hotel disco after he got off work.

Hamid turned out to be a nice-looking young man, pleasant and proper; he and Desmond and I shared mint tea while John Travolta and Ahmed slurped whiskey and danced. Hamid allowed he couldn’t stay long because he was meeting his fiancée later; they would marry next month. His English wasn’t very good so he and I chatted in French while Desmond’s attention turned to his butt-shaking duo.

And then I saw Hamid’s face change. His features seemed to shift and resettle. His eyebrows thickened, lifting like black wings. I sucked in my breath. I knew those distinctive eyebrows: they were the jinn’s.

Mesmerized, I wondered: is it the light? Is this the same guy? Or is it him…

The effect only lasted a second, whereupon Hamid’s face returned to normal – except for his eyes, which focused intently on me, suddenly gleaming with desire. His polite conversation turned to blatant come-on.

“What’s going on between you two?” whispered Desmond, who had turned back to us. “I’m getting these waves of heat.”

“I – I think it’s – ”

“Him?” As usual, Desmond guessed my thought. He glanced back at Hamid, vetting him with professional intuition. “Yes, that’s what’s going on, but don’t worry, he’s harmless. Just go with it.”

I don’t know what sort of dressing-down Hamid got from his fiancée when he failed to show up for their date.

The next morning, all hell broke loose. John Travolta did a fade, leaving his friend Ahmed to pounce on Desmond. Feigning outrage, Ahmed threatened to tell the police that Desmond raped him, unless Desmond paid him 2000 durhams and also signed some visa papers Ahmed just happened to have in his pocket.

Desmond was quaking with fear as I translated what Ahmed was saying. Then I pulled him aside to add in English, “Don’t you dare give him anything. He’ll never go to the cops.” I was used to Marrakeshi-style cunning. “It’s a hustle. Call his bluff.”

But Desmond was already forking over all he had, 300 durhams. I glared at Ahmed, warning him in French, “He’s not signing anything. Now get out of here, or we’ll go to the police ourselves and report you robbed him.”

“I knew he was trouble,” moaned my clairvoyant friend after Ahmed fled.

Desmond calmed down after a few drinks on the plane back. “Thanks for rescuing me,” he said. “And how was your night with Hamid?”

“Fun,” I said, fatuously.

“Fun?” Desmond chortled, with that look that said he was watching psychic replay images in his head. “I know what you did.”

“He apologized afterwards. He said he didn’t know what came over him. Desmond…Do you really think it was – ? ”


I shook my head, sighing,“What next?” For any other friend it would've been a rhetorical question. But if your friend was a psychic, you could actually get an answer.

"I'm on vacation," he replied.

(To be continued.)

Monday, April 9, 2012

At Home With a Ghost - 33

Myself in Marrakesh
(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)

The witch left her daughter Naíma with a supply of spices to burn and beaucoup incantations for warding off evil spirits. And she had taught me a little prayer in Arabic to repeat, whenever some particularly nasty jinn plagued my sleep: Bismillah rah’man rah’heem, “In the name of Allah, the merciful, the compassionate.”

Naíma and I settled in nicely to my new apartment in Marrakesh. She cooked, cleaned, shopped, made friends, while I began work on my new novel. I hoped to put all the drama of the past few months behind me but, in spite of the spice bonfires Naíma set at bedtime, filling up the place with smoke, it didn’t take long before the nocturnal visitors returned.

I recorded each encounter, with times and dates, in my journal.

March 16, 12:15 a.m. Two shapes slid into my bed, one in front and one in back. An unfamiliar male voice spoke in my ear.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been here.”

Suddenly I was being forcibly kissed. My eyes snapped open. I saw the room but the man-form helping himself to my mouth was invisible. The second form pressed against my back; squirmy and hyper, he started roughing me up, squeezing my breasts and the flesh on my waist.

I turned my head away and chanted, Bismillah rah’man rah’heem.

They evaporated.

March 30, 6:30 am. I woke, sensing movement on the sheet behind me; I felt a man’s shape attach to my back; a huge pair of arms wrapped around me.

Frightened, I whispered, “Who are you?”

“Your jinn.” His answer contained muffled laughter, as if he was having a joke on me. His hand slipped between my knees and moved up my thigh.

Bismillah rah’man rah’heem!

And he was gone.

April 3, 1 am. I lay on my back, just drifting off, when I heard the by-now-familiar faint hiss of something manifesting on the side on the mattress. On my guard, I demanded: “Who is it?”

I heard a man speak, but it was nothing but gibberish, like a tape running backwards.

“Speak English,” I insisted.

He replied in French, which was too fast and garbled for me to understand. Then he tried to nudge me onto my side to make more room for himself on the bed.

This time I didn’t bother with the prayer. “Go away!” I snapped. Then I got up and went to the bathroom. Returning to an empty bed, I read for a few hours until I was tired enough to get back to sleep.

5:30 am. I was dreaming I was back in my childhood bedroom in Connecticut. A fierce wind blew open the windows; I ran into my parents’ room. They weren’t there. I flung myself onto their bed for safety. Unseen hands attacked my ribs, fingers pinched my skin violently. I twisted away, crying out, rising to consciousness…

I woke in my bed in Marrakesh, turning onto my back with a groan. Someone’s shape materialized on top of me; a pair of hands cupped my face, lifting it gently for a kiss.

“What is your name?” I interrupted. I’d read that, according to superstition, if you possessed a jinn’s name he had to cede control to you.

He replied evasively, “We don’t have names where I come from.” He continued preparing my body for ravishment.

I tried a ruse. “I need your name so I can call you when I want you.”

He tried to ignore me but I kept asking for his name. Finally he said, “Neil.”

“What?” I wasn’t sure I heard him right.

I felt him bow his head to my ear. He repeated the name carefully, “Neil, N-E-I-L, Munne, M-U-N-N-E,” pronounced like “money.”

A jinn named Neil Money? How stupid did he think I was?

Bismillah rah’man rah’heem.

He faded away. This prayer was nothing if not efficient. I issued a mental warning to all jinnoon: If I don’t like your act, you get gonged.

I was gradually losing my terror of these sketchy spirits. At the beginning of my adventure, I had gone in search of a magical connection, only to wander into a bad neighborhood. Scenting a victim, the locals stepped from the shadows, and soon I was surrounded by horny lowlifes – the scum of the cosmos – who taunted and toyed with me before attacking.

What a hoot they were having at my expense. I felt humiliated after every encounter. The whole next day I’d be disoriented, dreading the next bedtime; but worse was my anxiety over the question: am I cracking up?

“No, you’re not.”

It was nice to hear someone say it, even though my dear friend Desmond was not what you’d call a down-to-earth guy. Desmond (not his real name) was a well-known and well-paid gay psychic from New York. Arriving in Marrakesh for a few weeks’ vacation, he looked me up; I poured out my tale to him, figuring he wouldn’t reject it out of hand, since he was in regular communion with his own, much nicer, set of spirits.

I finished by asking, “Do you think I – ”

“No, you’re not.” I didn’t even have to say “crazy.” Being friends with a telepathic meant that conversations were often condensed.

“I mean, is this really – “


We were sitting in a café; he had one eye out for the cute Moroccan boys cruising the avenue. Marrakesh was an open-air market for gay tourists. As we waited for our coffee to arrive, Desmond did my Tarot cards. Being friends with a clairvoyant often meant free readings.

“You should be on the lookout,” he warned playfully. “Your jinn is going to take a human form. The man whose body he takes won’t know what’s going on – he just won’t feel like himself. But you’ll know.”

(To be continued.)

Monday, April 2, 2012

At Home With a Ghost - 32

(Those who are coming to this serialized story for the first time, you can read the complete opus to date by clicking here.)

I was shivering violently. The atmosphere in my hotel room was thick with malevolence; it was like inhaling pure venom. The force nailed me to the mattress and blew up my thoughts, replacing them with pure panic. Anyone glancing in the window would have seen nothing. My antagonist was invisible and pervasive. But so is wind. Suddenly evil seemed as natural to the world as weather. And it waited for me to do something.

“Why don’t they just get the fuck out of there?!” There always comes that moment in a haunted house movie when the viewer mutters that question. No doubt the actors wanted to know, too, when they read the script: “What’s my motivation for staying?” To which the director replies, “It’s a movie.”

This was not a movie. Not a dream either. Why didn’t I make an effort, break through the paralysis, rocket out of bed and flee the room? Human beings were out there. I had no room phone, and the front desk was closed, but there had to be a night clerk I could rouse, or someone out on the street. So what if I was naked? And what would I tell these people? What were asylums like in Morocco?

A tiny point of intuition pricked through the storm in my head. It said that if I made any move, the unseen force would invade me; I would irreversibly forfeit my body and self to an outside entity. I think I am talking about demonic possession here. The stuff of cheesy Catholic fright-night flicks; you could sneer in the West, but here in Morocco, who knew what was possible? I had nothing to fall back on but instinct. Its voice was plain: don’t budge or make a sound.

So I held myself rigid with resistance, fighting the evil at my borders; and I marked the slow beat of time until daybreak, when the room would fill with light.

No one in the world who cared about me knew I was here, except Khadija, who was long gone, back in Casablanca by now. I prayed to God to protect me. I prayed to my grandfather, too. But I knew I had removed my protection, all on my own. I had invoked strange spirits in a strange country by black magic, without having any handle on the rules. I didn’t believe in the Devil, except as archetype. But this thing in the room existed, in the now, living and real. From here on I would believe in demons.

At that moment I heard a loud thumping.

It was the muezzin, somewhere in a mosque minaret, tapping his microphone. Testing, testing. And then his amplified voice lifted and soared over the neighborhood, issuing the call to prayer. What a sweet song that was to my ears. The horrifying presence in my room ebbed; filtering back to the underworld, it vanished.

The daylight arrived. I checked out of the hotel and hauled my suitcase to my new apartment. The electricity was on. Telephone service was too expensive; without a phone, I had to walk to the local Hertz office to speak with the manager, one of Khadija’s distant cousins who spoke English.

I asked him to recommend someone to teach me Arabic. My new housekeeper, Naíma, was arriving today by train from Khouribga with her mother, and neither one of them spoke French or English. He said he would ask around. Then I begged him to teach me a few phrases on the spot, because I needed them right away.

Witch and witch’s daughter arrived on schedule. I nearly knocked Fatima over, flinging my arms around her. Of all the people in the world I wanted to see today, she was the one. Naíma’s eyes shone with excitement; it was her first trip to Marrakesh, and the first time in her life she’d be off her mother’s leash. She held out her hand and spoke timidly. I already knew those three words in Arabic pretty well: “Give me money.”

While Naíma went off to the souk to buy food for dinner, Fatima and I sat in my living room, which was bare except for the two mattresses I’d bought to serve as couches. The sehúra whipped out her cards to read for me. I whipped out mine. This was how we communicated.

Fatima dealt a few cards and tapped one depicting a man. “Jinn!” She mimed: “He’s coming! You smile! Very happy!”

I slapped down one of my cards: Le Diable. “Bad,” I said in my few words of recently memorized Arabic, “No more jinn. Please! Jinn goes away.”

She looked taken aback.
I laid some cash on the devil card. That she understood. She stuck the bills in her bodice. “Wakha,” she said. Okay.

Please, I prayed, make him – make it all – go away.

(To be continued.)