The Fourth Fountain is fashioned of gold, with clear water spilling down through seven basins. I hear the gentle splashing as I approach through curtains of mist. But when the curtains part, my stomach twists into a knot.
In front of the fountain sits a giant, slimy white frog.
Oh, crap. The egregore is back.
As a true magician, I perform the Daily Ablution almost every day. I visualize the Five Springs of Harmony as fountains and see their waters flow through my body. Sometimes during this meditation, I slip into a vision. Often in these visions, I meet spirits.
That’s when you have to be careful.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not some super-hero witch or wise old wizard. Just Abby Renshaw, girl from New Jersey, in her first year of college. But since my initiation into the Circle of Harmony two summers ago, I’ve dealt with more than my share of ghosts and unpleasant spirits.
This frog monster was the worst.
Now he stares at me through creepy yellow eyes. Although I recognize him, I follow the recommended practice: “I am an initiate of the Circle of Harmony. What is your true name, spirit?”
The lipless mouth never moves, but I hear a whispery voice in my head.“Ranae Virum, as I’m sure you know.”
Him all right. ‘The gentleman frog.’
He started as a character in an online game. But then his image spread across the internet, a meme associated with a long list of hate groups and beliefs—racism, anti-immigration, misogyny, to name just a few. In magical circles, he was identified as an egregore; a being created by the thoughts of many people that takes on a life of its own.
I’ve assumed a defensive stance, facing him sideways, hands extended. My voice is steady and snarky. “And you are here because…?”
“I seek to learn. I have been watching you.”
Great. I should try to banish him now. I know he can hurt me. He has already: made me sick, clouded my brain so I wrecked my car. In my visions, I’ve seen him devour people, suck them in with his whip-like tongue. One of them, a girl from my school, was found murdered the next day, a crude cartoon of the frog lying beside her body.
His head tilts back toward the water. “The Fountain of Amity, correct?”
“Yeah. So?” Each fountain represents one of the Springs of Harmony, and the Five Principles of our magical order: Love, Endurance, Balance, Amity, Bliss.
“I seek to understand your magic.”
“I bet you do.”
Because, last summer, I defeated him. Sort of. To be precise, I vanquished Kurt Friedrich Gentzen, the ghost of a Nazi magician who had allied himself with the egregore. When Gentzen couldn’t overpower me, Ranae Virum turned on him, swallowed him, then dropped out of sight.
“The principle of Amity,” he whispers. “What does it mean to you?”
I see no risk in giving a true answer. It might even confuse or distract him. So I quote the Manifesto of the Circle. “It is the Law of Love, the will to good relations to all beings in all worlds—Not exactly your gig.”
I sense his feelings: perplexed, sad. “Indeed. I was formed of frustration and anger. So many minds lost, fragile, in pain. So much hatred turning to rage …”
I lean back, still in my fighting stance. “Well, you are what you are.”
“I am not so certain. The ghost of Gentzen was important to me. He taught me his beliefs, convinced me of their rightness. But when he faced you—a mere girl—you proved him weak and inadequate, a fraud. So I ate him.”
“Oh, I remember.”
“Since then I have drifted. So much noise, so many minds calling to me. They all seek to use me, as Gentzen did. I’m no longer sure I should help them.”
Well. Either he’s lying, trying to catch me off-guard, or he really is adrift. If an egregore is an independent being, can he change? Can he choose what he will become? Does he have a soul?
I’m getting tired of holding the defensive pose. “What do you want from me?”
“As I said, to learn. By your philosophy, I am a thought-form, insubstantial, ephemeral. But your beliefs say that is true of all beings, is that not so?”
“Kind of. All beings are thoughts of the One Mind that is the Universe. We’re like shadows that come and go. But we have a spark inside us that endures.”
“Do I have such a spark?”
“I don’t know.”
At my honest answer, he howls in anguish.
For some reason, I want to comfort him. “None of us knows for sure. It’s just what we choose to believe. Life doesn’t come with guarantees.”
Now his whisper is a groan. “How can you bear it?”
Good question. I give it a moment’s thought, staring at the falling water. “By loving life. By loving all beings in all worlds. Not exactly what you were designed for, I’m afraid.”
He follows my gaze to the fountain, considering my answer.
Suddenly he rears up, twice my height. I brace for the attack.
Instead, he turns and leaps into the basin, splashing.
His tongue darts out and sucks in the water. He drinks three times, grimaces in pain.
Slowly, I relax.
Was the egregore destroyed, annihilated by the waters of Amity? Or did he just retreat, overwhelmed by the mysteries of existence?
Either way, I guess I’ve banished him again. For now.
The feeling’s not exactly triumphant.
This isn’t Abby Renshaw’s first adventure! To discover more, check out Ghosts of Bliss Bayou, the first of the Abby Renshaw mysteries, a 2018 Readers’ Choice Award Winner for YA Paranormal Fiction, available on Amazon for only $0.99 or free on Kindle Unlimited.
Jack Massa has studied writing and other forms of magic for many years. He has published fantasy, science fiction, poetry, and oodles of technical nonfiction.
Jack’s current projects include The Abby Renshaw Adventures (YA paranormal fantasy), The Glimnodd Cycle (epic fantasy featuring witches and ice-pirates), and the Conjurer of Rhodes series (historical fantasy set in the ancient world).
Jack lives in Florida, USA, with his magical wife and a pet orange tree named Grover.