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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.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

At Home With a Ghost - 39

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

The light of dawn began to fill the bedroom while I slept. Curled on one side, I woke to the sensation of a male body settling onto the bed behind me.

I’d read that if a jinn spirit approached you from the rear it was always malefic. I could have dispatched this one with my little Arabic prayer, but I wanted to let the visit play out a bit. I suppose I was curious. This would be my last encounter of the jinn kind, because I was leaving Morocco.

He sensed my consent, and I heard his deep voice laugh softly in my ear. I didn’t have the feeling, from his tone, that he was going to be trouble.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

His reply came in accentless American, yet it was unintelligible, a rapid spate of words that added up to nonsense.

I ordered him to come around in front of me where I could see him. He obeyed, his mass dissolving as he prepared to relocate. I wondered if this spirit was the first jinn, my very handsome almost-husband, come to say goodbye.

As in the very first visit, ten months ago, my lips didn’t move; our conversation was silent, telepathic. My eyes were closed, yet I could see the room – the bed I lay on, the wall, the chair in the corner, my half-packed luggage on the floor – everything bathed in a faintly pink tone as I gazed through the scrim of my eyelids.

The entity reassembled, facing me with his head on the pillow, inches from mine. But this one didn’t have a face, or had too many. His face kept changing, one rapidly dissolving into another – a pig, a scowling woman with glasses, an ugly middle-aged man – as if mocking me: “I can take any form. Take your pick.”

I’d already had enough teasing, tired of this crap. I recited the prayer, Bismillah rah’man rah’heem, in the name of Allah, the merciful, the compassionate. The jinn faded.

Snapping my eyes open, I saw a shadow disappearing through the door into the study.

A few days later, on the plane back to the States, I pondered what I’d learned from my year of living dangerously.

My grandfather, before he became a ghost, had been a human being with a name, identifying traits, and specific personality. When he died, he transferred to a spirit world I thought of as adjacent to ours: the Other Side. In Morocco, I’d encountered the Lower World, home to sketchy spirits and demons that may never have been human yet eagerly attached themselves to living people. They could assume any form or gender, could play with languages, and had no identity as we define it. (I recalled asking one for his name, which made him laugh. “We don’t have names where I come from,” he said.) The last jinn had shown me: bodies and faces were illusions, words were laughable and meaningless, but he would play that game to entice me into playing his.

The jinnoon were also distinctly local. Their supernatural society mirrored Moroccan society. They had originated in Berber animism but, after the Mohammedan invasion converted the Berbers to Islam, pagan spirits also became subject to Muslim customs and laws. Thus they were compelled by my little Islamic prayer, just as Western demons were expected to quail before the cross.

I conjectured that Moroccan spirits were so, well, Moroccan because it was the local culture that gave them life. The people’s belief animated them; they were too weak to manifest without it. The energy of human superstition added fuel to the low fire of vagrant spirits: as a jinn might say to a believing human, “You complete me.”

In the beginning, I hadn’t believed. Nevertheless, in a moment of playfulness, I’d extended an invitation. Like the vampire who is powerless to cross your threshold unless you ask him to come in, my jinn had to wait for the summons before he could roar to life. I was the hand rubbing the lamp, without which the genie could not appear.

After nearly twenty encounters with the jinnoon, I left knowing that there was more to the ethereal realm than ghosts of dead people. In Morocco I’d traveled to the Other Side’s other side of the tracks, the slums, the mean streets, the back alleys of the medina where energy-impoverished demons swarmed the tourist, begging for a human handout. In the oceanic infinity of the Beyond, these were the bottom feeders.

Now my adventure was over. I was on a plane back to America and homegrown safety.

Except I wasn’t headed there. My trip to the States would last no more than a three-hour layover in Miami. From there I was going to Haiti.

(To be continued.)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

At Home With a Ghost - 38

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

“You need support by any name.”

My mother’s words remained with me after she departed Tangier. I was left with the task of finishing a novel my publisher no longer wanted. My agent was frankly dubious that he would find another publishing house to take it, although he said he would try. For one thing, they would have to reimburse the original publisher for my advance, a hefty amount for a dark comedy about sex slavery, a metaphor for American imperialism set in a fictitious Arab country.

But I had gone too far to turn back. I couldn’t maroon my characters mid-ocean. If that sounds brave, I was often faint-hearted. With every page I typed I also heard a still, small voice saying, “What’s the point?” Mom was right. I did need support: an infusion of spirit. I’d asked Fatima the witch to get me just that: a spirit, a genie – a jinn – to provide me with inspiration for my book. Some flashes of genius would be nice, too.

My friend Mohammed, Karla’s husband, told me this joke: a man carries home a watermelon, which slips from his hands and shatters on the cobblestones. A genie leaps out. The man cries, “Genie, make me a house of rose marble with a gold roof and eternal fountains!” The genie replies, “If I had a house like that, do you think I’d be living in a watermelon?”

The spirits I got were the last ones I’d ever ask for inspiration. All they’d brought me were night terrors and rough sex. I was still trying to get them back in the watermelon.

It was at this time I turned back to my grandfather’s ghost. For the past five years he had been my invisible support, providing inspiration, protection, messages from the ether. Yet he had seemed to withdraw when I crossed into Morocco. He wasn’t there when I embarked on my reckless adventures with sorcery. He didn’t stop the supernatural mayhem I started.

Then I realized: it was I who had turned my back on him. You could say I was in the adolescent rebellion phase of my growing up paranormal, and I demonstrated my independence from Daddy by going on a joyride and wrecking the car. He stood by silently, with great forbearance and a pained expression, allowing the kid to make her own mistakes and learn from the consequences. Now I waited for him to post my bail and take me home.

I started talking to Grandpa again, hoping he’d make some sign he was listening. Even without a response, it was comforting as a ritual, reminding me of the years when I’d never felt alone, even in the densest solitude, because I’d believed he was always nearby, as if he sat quietly reading a book in the next room.

Where was he now? Would he forgive me?

Soon after I sent the flare out, I was woken before dawn by the sound of something lightly brushing across the carpet, too light to be feet. It was 5:30, the usual hour of my demonic visitations, so I waited in agitation for whatever would come next. But nothing happened.

It took a while to calm myself enough to sink back into sleep. Then, in the middle of a dream, I heard my name spoken by someone in the room.

I rolled on my back and opened my eyes blearily to the sight of the ceiling beam. Hearing nothing more, I began my descent back into the dream, when I felt a pair of gentle hands stroking my feet consolingly.

Then I knew: he was back. I remembered the first time he ever contacted me, at my parents’ house in Connecticut; how, as I was falling asleep, I’d felt my head in someone’s lap and a hand stroking my hair. Back then I’d been terrified, without any clue of what was happening. Now I was so happy I began to cry.

I lay there for those few seconds of astral love before his presence faded. I sat up, and promised him aloud, “You might leave me, but I will never leave you again.”

The following night at dawn, as my dreams faded, I was given a snatch of music, just like old times. A women’s chorus was singing; the notes seemed to twinkle, as I wrote in my journal, “like crystal bells dangling from the pines.”

(Twenty years later, my father recorded a CD of Grandpa’s music with amateur singers. I was reminded of that dream when I heard “Fresh Spring,” a quaint soufflĂ© of a song composed in 1911 for women’s chorus.)

From then on my work proceeded with an ease and pleasure I thought I’d lost. As the fall months elapsed, the cold Atlantic winds surged upon the Mountain. I didn’t mind; it was just an excuse to stay indoors and write. I even began outlining my next book, all the while keeping at bay the thought that I had to leave Morocco in December. The prospect held no excitement. I’d stopped feeling I was in exile; I finally belonged here.

The sole positive was that I would be leaving the jinnoon behind.

All October and November, no demons plagued me. I assumed my grandfather had shooed them off.

Then, the week before I left, they made a last ditch effort.

(To be continued.)