Mark O’Brien read The Paraclete and found meaning in it. I explained it’s from my forthcoming The Shaman (due out September 2023) and is based on my training as Psychopomp. I asked if he’d like to see more excerpts specifically dealing with psychopompery and he did, so I offer the following. I’ll share more (four total) if there’s interest. This piece, DeathSong, is when the protagonist is a child. The Paraclete comes much later in the novel when the protagonist is mid-30s.
“You said you’d never leave me.”
“I won’t do it.”
I turn my back. I won’t face him. I won’t I won’t I won’t.
I feel his arms encircle me, hear his voice inside me. “Do you feel me, Gio?”
I don’t answer.
“No, I don’t feel you.”
He withdraws. The energy that cradled me, rescued me, taught me, pulls back.
I spin, reach out, fall into his arms. “No, Buppa. No. Don’t go, Buppa. Don’t die. I need you. I don’t want to go home.”
He holds me against him. I feel his heart, not strong. His arms are weak. Still he holds me. I hear his breath, smell his clove aftershave. He rubs his beard stubble against my forehead, he sings an old song. I see that thing made of sound. It hovers, sees me watching, flutters in the light, fades away.
Inside I hear. “Am I with you now, Gio?”
“Yes, Buppa. Yes.”
He taps my chest. “As long as you keep me here, I’ll never leave you. Remember, this is what is real. Do you understand, Gio?”
I sob. “This instance…” Another sob. My stomach aches with my tears. “…of time.”
“I’ve done all I can here, Gio. I’ve learned all I can learn. Is it right for me to stay?”
He chuckles. His chest rattles. “Gio.”
Grandpa’s death shocks no one. Every morning he stares into his still calloused, once powerful hands. He holds Grandma and holds me. “Six more days.” “Five more days.” “Four more days.”
Each day, quiet, patient. “Come sing with me. Start with your hands, here.” He places my hands on his chest, over his heart. It misses a beat. Then strong. Then another. Then strong.
I learn his song, his rhythm, his path. To guide him. To help him. To find his last door. To shape the universe he travels to.
In seven days.
“Will I know everyone’s DeathSong?”
“I don’t want to know everyone’s DeathSong.”
“Remember, Gio, always look for the good.”
I don’t want to. “I will.”
Today he says nothing. Grandma lifts me in her arms and takes me to Mrs. Gianelli’s.
Grandma holds me close. I feel her heart, hear her breaths. She kisses me. “Yes, Gio. Yes.”
She whispers to Mrs. Gianelli who takes me from Grandma and cradles my head against her chest. Grandma rushes out. Mrs. Gianelli speaks Italian to Mr. Gianelli, but their dialect, not Sicilian. I know some words, not all.
Mr. Gianelli runs into their kitchen, picks up their phone, calls the police.
Mrs. Gianelli asks if I’d like some latte e bustaciotti, milk and cookies. Mr. Gianelli goes to our other neighbors. People gather. Some go in our house.
An ambulance comes to our home. Mrs. Gianelli looks out the window. I slide off the kitchen chair and out the back, through Grandpa’s garden. His roses, his morning glories, his lillies, all his flowers, his peppers, tomatoes, squash, none face the sun.
They look to our house.
The bees are gathered on the outside of their hives. They’re not buzzing, their wings unmoving. The hives are silent.
I go inside. Men are rushing around Grandpa. They put him on a rolling bed.
He lifts his head, smiles, touches his palms to mine.
My hands burn. Itch.
A final gift, my legacy, the marks I bear.
He breathes and the house shakes. It’s already mourning.
Inside me, Grandpa’s voice. “Sing my song, Gio. Open the door for me.”
I breathe with him, our breaths make a bridge for him to cross.
The ambulance people want to hurry. Grandpa makes them stop.
He takes my hands and places them on his chest, over his heart. My two small hands in his. I feel him there.
Inside, his voice. “Never raise your hands in anger, Gio. Never hurt or harm others with what you’ve learned.”
“Now, Gio. Sing for me now.”
I sing his song. Doors open in the sky.
My spirit-body moves from me. His waits. Something sails above us, like waves on the ocean clothed in gray.
“Who is that, Buppa?”
“Another friend. Take me to it. It will help me the rest of the way.”
“I want to go with you, Buppa?”
“No, Gio. Not yet. Not for a long while. But I’ll be waiting. Don’t worry. And I’ll have peaches for you when you get there.”
I help him. Grandpa’s friend spreads huge wings that shed gray waters, a weathered sail fluttering on the horizon.
Grandpa smiles. It takes Grandpa’s hand from me.
The ocean’s robes turn from gray to white at Grandpa’s touch. They flow over him leaving the creature’s wings free, catching the wind, lifting.
Grandpa is gone.
I wave goodbye.
Not all lessons are joyful.