Spirits on the Streets of San Francisco

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There are spirits on the streets. Spirits that walk the line between this world and the next. There are spirits that hide in the shadows. Yokai creatures that howl and bark and turn into tea kettles that do skateboard tricks along the Embarcadero, having lost their tightropes somewhere in Osaka in 1859. There are Angels. And there are demons. There is the ‘As Above’ and the ‘So Below’.

This tale does not start in an abandoned warehouse. It is not set in some graveyard with ghouls, though they exist too, in a state of permanent hunger and longing for flesh. They are never satiated and stalk the Mission and the North Beach looking for a warm meal, between 97.7 and 99 degrees Fahrenheit, the blood temperature of a healthy human body. Despite being corrupt, they do not feed on corruption themselves; feverish humans are quite safe from them.

There are dark things that hide in the shadows, and once a year they get to peek out from their corners and their dusty upper shelves, from the cursed objects at Ripley’s Believe it or Not, to the creaking parts of the machines of the Musée Mécanique Penny Arcade, whose gears and grinding wooden parts house the ghostly remnants of our recent past lives and the spirits of those who sold it all for a chance to ask the Great Zoltar what the future held for them. It is not recommended: the price for finding out what only Great Father Time can tell is everything you got—even your immortal soul. It might seem a way off that the bill has to be settled -it can’t possibly be true – but when those hell hounds come to carry the souls of the Askers into the Realm of the Underworld, it all becomes crystal clear: the only way is down, baby…down ….down…down….

“Lady Lilith”: An 1867 painting by Dante Rossetti and Henry Dunn depicting Lilith, the first wife of Adam and demonic figure in Judaic mythology

Ginsburg and Cassady play checkers for one night only in the bones of the old City Lights, before they head back to their comfortable abodes in the Tower of Song, where the artists live, somewhat like an ancient and more comfortable Hotel Chelsea with better views. For one night, and one night only, it is not the Summer of Love in ’69, but instead, the Night of Mischief, when the veils that separate our diverse domains are removed.

It is on this night that the Priestesses and Priests of the Pantheons that preside over the As Above, settle down for an evening of wild fun. The trick or treaters get funky with Loki for a night, dressing up and causing mayhem, getting a sugar high and sending the message into the heavens that we humans still like to pay respects to those mostly ignored gods and goddesses that only get some love but once a year. That is not to say that all the hot dog dressers and the Harley Quinn rioters are worshipping the Dark Lord—mostly they are getting acquainted with the more earthly horror of diabetes—but there are some who follow the Dark Ways still left walking the earth. And while I am not saying they don’t like a little dress up, a small costume of horns and ankhs, pentagrams and selenite wands, their Halloween is all year round.

Which brings me to our window into the world through the mirror. Once a year in the As Above, a truce is called. Think of it like Christmas with just as much wine and revelry, but no rampant consumerism. Both events might call for the sacrifice of the flesh of animals, but only one involves a nervous breakdown trying to work out how much time per pound of bloody flesh to cook that goose. Turkey is for amateurs. To cook a goose takes skill. Hecate sighed as she considered how cooked the goose of her little Priestess was if she failed to make peace with Lilith, and calling up her immortal enemy—the owl-footed Goddess of the night—brought her an offering: the blood of a dove and the distilled tears of one of Lilith’s targets, a nasty little man who existed only to stop homeless people from sleeping safely on the streets they were pushed out onto, and who compensated others to sweep tents into garbage trucks using legions of City workers who were not paid to care about rights and wrongs.

Hecate had terrified this slimy creature into peeing his pants and squealing as a veritable army of spirits had invaded his garage and tormented him singing carols and nursery rhymes in the voice of one of his childhood teachers who used to make him cry every day when he was eight years old (and thus created the monster who existed only to hurt those who have nothing at all).

“Tell me, Hecate,” asked Lilith as she cracked open the vial and let the scent of desperation waft up towards her delicate nostrils, “Did he beg? Did he scream? Did he try to run? Is he…insane?”

“Hecate”: A 1795 painting by William Blake depicts the Greco-Roman goddess of the underworld

Hecate let her dark eyes flutter as she opened up a window into the recent past and replayed the denouement of her rough and somewhat rowdy haunting of the City worker who, having failed to show compassion, got taught a tough lesson. She remembered when the toy train set started zooming round the tracks backwards, eventually flying off into the garage wall as he held the unplugged cord in his shaking hands, and an invisible finger drew sigils in red paint on his pristine white sedan, sending the nasty little man weeping and wailing and tugging at the garage door, trying desperately to get outside. It was then that Hecate materialized with her glass vial, catching the cursed droplets falling from his evil eyes. Lilith squealed in delight and tore off the stopper. “Magnifique! Oh, good show! Good show! That’ll learn him!”

Lilith clapped her hands in joy, as she drank the tears down greedily! “Tastes like fear with a hint of remorse! Delicious!”

Now a truce is a truce, and an offering an offering, but old grudges die hard, and Hecate, Witch Goddess of the Crossroads, whose gnarled fingers preside over magick and spell casting, was not feeling like giving any more ground, not even on All Hallow’s Eve. And Lilith, the Queen Ruler of the Night and Dark Creatures, the Blood Goddess of Freedom, a naturally suspicious member of a rival Pantheon, held the vial of blood at arm’s length. “I think I am going vegan!” she said with a toothy grin. Hecate feigned a small laugh and took a step back.

As the night fell over the Bay, shrouding it in the fog and the cloak of darkness, the two Queens stood opposite each other on the sands of the Presidio. Hecate’s hands glowed with strange fires, green and deep and flashing with the faces of the souls she took at crossroads deals gone down over the millennia. Lilith threw her head back and howled. The Ankhs in either hand, one reversed towards the Underworl, and one reaching for the eternal Light, burned with the strength of a thousand suns. A small Yokai spirit, an Inugami Dog sorcerer, looked on from the tree he sat underneath, shuffling backwards away from the two Goddesses as they stared each other down. Even the sea retreated. Meanwhile a man in a suit and tie, holding a leather briefcase and staring into his phone screen, the apple insignia glowing blue, walked straight between them and stood out staring at the sea. The Inugami sat on his pentangle and quietly took the little Priest’s hat off his furry head and tried to look innocent, scratching a pretend flea and staring at the full moon in an air of invisibility. 

“I used to know a girl who liked apples. Didn’t work out so well for her,” said Lilith.

The Goddesses ignored him. He looked at them as a man who works for a tech start up stares at strange ‘people’ he sees on the street and vaguely fears, then went back to his moonlight musing. Probably worrying about his $5,000 a month rent payments for his apartment just down the road, and whether or not he was going to be able to afford a new Tesla, or would have to suffer the ignominy and horror of buying a used one, or heaven forbid, a Prius!

“Your Priestess,” hissed Lilith, “tried to attack mine with some of your graveyard dirt tricks and hoodoo doll quackery.”

“If yours cannot defend herself, then what does that say about you, Sister!” Hecate’s three faces shone menacingly. “Demon! Not Goddess!” Lilith flew for her throat as the man with the Apple phone considered calling the cops, and then thought again….they would not come anyway.

“Yours invoked the Morning Star against civilians!” hissed Lilith as her Lilitu, her dark spirits, rushed around biting Hecate’s ankles.

“Errr..ladies….just ya know…chill!” The man with the phone drew himself up to his full six foot three inches of privilege and waggled his finger at them. 

There is nothing like a common enemy to cool inflamed tensions. The two Goddesses took a step away from each other. Lilith rushed towards him, as Hecate gestured upwards with one long black talon, and the Suit started levitating lazily towards the ocean’s blackness. 

“Chad, the Dull,” screeched Lilith with more irritation than fury, as his tiny mind failed to comprehend what was happening to him. “Tell me, what use are you in this world, or the next?” Chad’s mouth opened and closed, guppy-like and soundless. The Inugami chuckled. Hecate moved Chad the Dull a little further out to sea, just far enough to be a scare, just a little further towards the lonely island of Alcatraz, but close enough to swim back. In the distance, in the night air, his screams could be heard, as he shouted, to no one who cared, that those Witches tried to drown him.

The splashing in the distance faded to a quiet gurgling pant, as the Suit made the long swim back to shore. “You know, these humans, they do a pretty good job of being evil, without our help, Sister,” Hecate sighed softly. “I’ll tell you what, I’ll have a little chat with my Priestess, let her know we are going to concentrate on punishing evil, not fighting each other.” 

Lilith shook her red hair loose, and smiled, “She might want to not press my Girl into action, Hecate. Or me. There are some spirits that are best not to awaken to vengeance.” The Inugami slunk away into the shadows. “Not an alliance, then Lilith…but how about a truce?”

“Maybe,” Lilith let the ghost of a smile crack across her face and disintegrate just as fast as it arrived.

“Now, about those sweeps…..who else is on the list? I have a plan to go and visit this one tomorrow night, send a hell hound to scratch at their door, see how they like it!” Lilith laughed, a mission bell chuckle tolling for the redemption that will never come.

And the two Goddesses walked side by side along the beach, as the waves lapped on the shoreline and the laughter of children echoed around the city, shouting, “Trick or treat! Trick or treat! Trick or treat!”