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Fantasy Suspense Inspirational

I found Ms. Scarecrow—Maggie—at very real risk of burning down her entire house with the sheer number of candles surrounding her. Some of them were propped on books and other smooth surfaces, but the rest were dangerously close to tipping, teetering precariously on the plush rug in her living room. 

“Oh!” She clapped. “I was so hoping you’d come over today, dear. Come in and close that door. We don’t need the wind to blow out the flames.”

“What are you doing?” I shut the door, gesturing to the flickering room. Flames danced in response to my question, and I sat on the couch to rub the dog’s tummy. Chunk stretched and rolled over obligingly.

“Communing with my ancestors, of course.” As if that would make any sense to me.

I still sometimes forgot that Maggie was an actual, real-life, witch. She just seemed like a nice lady to me, once I got over my initial fear about her. The neighborhood kids had been right about one thing: she was a witch. But they’d been wrong about everything else, and the normalness of Maggie far outweighed the witchiness in my mind, so I sat next to her and combed the soft shag between my fingers. Maggie’s blue eyes were glinting, and her light blond hair moved with an invisible breeze. In that moment, her magic was more evident than ever.

“Is the Shadow a ghost like them—your ancestors?” I asked with genuine interest.

Maggie chuckled. “Oh heavens no! My girls aren’t ghosts, and neither are the rest of my family. They’re spirits, sure, but not ghosts. They’re not haunting anybody from where they are, and they’re quite content in the light.”

This still made no sense to me, but I nodded as if it did. “But the Shadow?”

“Not a ghost either,” she proclaimed. “Which is great news indeed.”

I supposed it was great news. Though, if it wasn’t a ghost, then we couldn’t ‘help it find the light,’ or whatever we were supposed to do. 

“Demon?” I asked.

And again she laughed. “No, no, nothing like that at all. It’s a tulpa!”

I couldn’t even hide my confusion at that. “A what?”

Maggie dragged a heavy, leather-bound book over, opening to the page where a tattered ribbon marked the place. The pages were cracking some at the edges, and it looked like it must be a hundred years old. Maybe a thousand, for all my ten-year-old self knew. The writing was fancy calligraphy, and the images next to descriptions were intricately hand-drawn. It smelled of old library books, which was my absolute favorite smell, so I was inclined to believe anything the it said about the matter of the Shadow.

Several unearthly images floated, quite literally, around the pages once my eyes focused. They followed a circular path along the margins, and I stopped breathing at the sight of them. Noticing my shock, Maggie rested her hand on mine and modeled the same deep breathing we’d both grown accustomed to using when either of us forgot our breath. Shakily, I inhaled, and the images trembled along with my chest. Incredible.

I was a skilled and avid reader, and even cursive scripts weren’t typically an issue for me, but this particular script was difficult. I squinted at the words on the page, trying to decipher what they were saying.

I tried to infuse my voice with confidence that I didn’t yet have. “So. A tulpa. What do we do about one of those?”

“Once we know what kind we’re dealing with, we should have a better idea of how to help it along.”

“There are different kinds?”

“Mhmm. Tibetan buddhists describe tulpas as being an entity of sorts, created by thoughts and emotions. Sometimes it takes several people believing it into existence, but they can also form as the result of one person’s thoughts, if they’re intentional enough about it, or if they invest enough of their energy into it.”

I plucked at my bottom lip with my thumb and forefinger. “So it’s just basically an idea come to life?”

“I’d say that’s a wonderful, condensed definition, yes. They form with intense concentration and visualization, and whether created intentionally or not, they don’t usually go away unless the person who created it chooses to disengage with the thought form. Sometimes it takes more than that, to be sure, but that’s as good a place to start as any.”

“So we need to find out who created it in order to make it go away?”

Maggie looked at me with gentle concern. “I know that it’s scaring you at night. Is there more that you haven’t told me about yet?”

I shivered at the memory of the Shadow from the night before. I hadn’t been sleeping well all week because of its visits, and every time it came near, I felt practically buried beneath the fear. 

I shook my head. “I can’t think of anything else.”

“Hmmm…” She sighed, tapping her chin. “And it just showed up this past week?”

I nodded.

Maggie took my hands in hers. “Do you think it would show up for us if you spent the night? I’m sure your parents would be more than happy to have a night to themselves, and we can wait for your Shadow to arrive.”

“It’s not my Shadow,” I reminded her. “It’s been floating around the whole neighborhood, and even at school! But yeah, I can probably stay over if you think we can stop it together.”

“Indeed, I do.” Maggie closed the book gently, tucking the ribbon neatly against the spine. “The space is already prepared, so once the sun goes down we should be able to draw it to us.”

I shivered again at the thought, and Chunk made a grunting noise. I agreed with the dog—this didn’t seem like a great idea. But I’d trust Maggie.

“In the meantime, let’s give your mother a call to see about staying over. It’s a good thing it’s Friday, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.” 

I didn’t let my thoughts linger too long on the idea of the Shadow coming again tonight. Instead, I crossed the living room and found the cream-colored phone hanging on the wall by the refrigerator. My parents had recently updated to one of those hand-held cordless phones with buttons that lit up when you touched them. So, as I pressed the buttons to call home, and propped the phone between my shoulder and ear, I wound my finger into the cord for old times’ sake.

Mom picked up on the second ring and was agreeable to the sleepover. She thought it was nice of me to spend time with the lonely neighbor woman, but really, I was the one who needed it more. She said she’d bring my toothbrush and a change of clothes later. As I hung the phone on the receiver, I bit the inside of my lip and wiped my sweaty palm on my shirt. That settled it—I really was going to be confronting the Shadow with Maggie.

“Do you have any homework to do?” Maggie called from the living room.

“Nope! I finished it already,” I lied. 

I’d do it later, I promised myself. And I would, because like it or not, a great deal of my anxiety was related to my need to get perfect grades at school, no matter the cost. I couldn’t imagine not doing my work. But right then, my attention was entirely too focused on the Shadow, and there was no way to drag my mind away from it.

“In that case, why don’t you help me set up.” 

Maggie crawled on hands and knees over to a large chest by the fireplace. The motion got Chunk’s attention, and he scampered off the couch to join her on the floor, running between her legs. She flipped the brass clasps open, and they clacked against the lid. She hoisted it up, revealing all sorts of odd things. She pulled three jars from the chest, along with a folded cloth and two smaller silver candlesticks. Then, she walked to the shelf beside the staircase and came back with two little tapered candles—one black, and one white. She closed the chest again carefully, laying the cloth out over the top of it. I watched with great curiosity as she constructed an altar, and when she was finished, Maggie invited me over to explain.

“We’ll light one candle for protection, and another for peace. I’ve got some calming herbs to put down on the altar, but we don’t have to do anything with those other than set them out. Then, you’ll write down three things you’re most afraid of.” She rested her hand on the ballpoint pen and small pad of paper.

My brows furrowed at this last bit, and Maggie noticed right away. 

“You said the tulpa makes you feel very afraid, right?”

I nodded emphatically. Fear didn’t even begin to describe it.

“Then perhaps it’s a fear construct, and your fear will draw it to us,” she explained. It made perfect sense, said like that. “You’ll write it down, and then we’ll burn it.”

“What if it doesn’t work?” I asked sheepishly.

Maggie reached for my hand, which I gladly provided. “I will be right here with you, and we’ll figure it all out. I promise you that.”

My fear didn’t abate, however, and as a result we didn’t even have to do the whole writing-down-fears thing. Right then and there, the Shadow came trickling in like smoke pouring from the sky, down the chimney, and landing as a thick billow in Maggie’s living room. I’m not afraid to admit that I screamed and cowered behind Maggie. Chunk did the same, whining.

The ever-gracious and patient witch allowed me to bury my face into her back, cheek pressed firmly against soft linen. Even with eyes squeezed tightly shut, I could tell the Shadow was still there. Its cold fingers reached for me, wrapping around my arm and running itself through my hair. My chest held my breath captive, and my heart made every attempt to escape my body. It was just as trapped as I was.

Maggie reached back to find me. “It’s alright, Molly. Tulpas can’t actually hurt you.” I absolutely did not believe her. “You really must come out,” she cooed, guiding me gently to her side. Chunk remained behind my legs. “Now open your eyes.”

I whimpered and dared to crack one lid open. It was just wide enough to see the Shadow hovering casually about three feet in front of us. It didn’t move towards me, even once it noticed my attention, so I summoned my bravery, and whatever courage Maggie was sending into me through her hand on my arm, opening my other eye until I could see the thing clearly.

It was about seven feet tall, so not quite touching the ceiling, but close enough. I looked into the void where its face should be, if it were anything other than a thought come to life. As I did, eyes formed, and the shadowy mist rearranged itself. I pressed against Maggie once it came into focus. The face looking back at me was my own.

“What—?” My frantic eyes searched for answers in the smoke before looking to Maggie. 

“It’s as I expected, dear.” She turned blue eyes on the entity, but only in the general vicinity of the thing.

“You don’t see it, do you?” 

“I don’t,” she confirmed. “But that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. I can feel your fear, and that’s very real.”

Still glued to her side, my eyes scanned the creature. It looked marginally less intimidating with Maggie was there.

“What do I do now?” I whispered.

“Now, you face it.” She was matter-of-fact. “Tulpas are our own creations, and typically only the creator can see and interact with them.”

The reality hit me all at once. “So it really is my Shadow…”

“Mhmm,” Maggie said quietly. “Which is good news indeed!”

It didn’t feel like good news at all, especially since the Shadow lunged for me right at that moment. “No!” I shouted, but it was too late.

Shadows wrapped around and poured inside, reminding me of everything I’d ever feared. My heart raced and I couldn’t breathe, watching as past and future versions of me failed, faltered, and fumbled. It swallowed memories and blotted out dreams. For a moment I knew that was it—it was going to kill me. But then, unexpectedly, it retreated, like pressing rewind on a VCR. Gasping, I opened teary eyes and found myself back in Maggie’s house, gripping her shirt tightly. Chunk’s breathing was ragged, too, as he leaned against me.

“Breathe, Molly.” Maggie knelt between me and the Shadow. “Remember? Like this.” She took a deep breath in, held it for a few seconds, and then released. I mirrored her until I was no longer shaking. “Want to tell me what happened?” She guided me to the couch.

“I—I don’t know why it’s here.” I hated how small I sounded, but with Maggie I didn’t feel like I needed to hide it. “It’s been here a long time, I think. I just didn’t notice until now.”

“Is it possible that you were scared, and your fear didn’t have anywhere to go, so it went to the Shadow?”

I considered this and nodded. It was possible.

“I’ll tell you about my own experience with a tulpa, and you tell me if it sounds familiar. Is that okay?”

I sniffed and sat up, glad to have something to think about besides my Shadow. Chunk hopped up next to me, turning himself around several times before plopping down in a soft, brown heap, head pressed into my thigh. I ran my hands over his curly fur and he sighed with pleasure.

“After Christine and Sarah died, I thought they were haunting me. Now, I wasn’t of course. As I told you earlier, my girls are content where they are. But my grief had become so big that it couldn’t all fit in me anymore, and I was focusing on it so much that it manifested as a ghost-like entity that went around the house breaking things. The more I engaged with it, the deeper I fell into my grief. So long as I thought my girls weren’t at peace, the darker my despair got, like a self-fulfilling cycle.

“I tried all sorts of banishing spells, but as you might have guessed, they didn’t work since it was my own grief and not a spirit at all.” She smiled ruefully. “In order for it to stop haunting me, I had to recognize it and honor its reason for existing. For me, it was grief over losing my daughters, so it meant that I needed to deal with those losses instead of running from the pain. I had to choose not to give it any more power and attention. Is it possible that’s what’s happening for you, but with fear?”

I nodded slowly. 

“Then that’s easy enough! I know just what to do. We’ve got to release it, which is really releasing you, and then give you something else it its place. For me, it was learning to live again in order to stop focusing on death. For you, it will be a little different, but same concept.” She patted my hand and went to the altar, lighting the black candle. She carried it over and set it on the coffee table in front of me. “Now, imagine this candle is the fear — the tulpa.”

The flame seemed to grow as she said it, before settling back down to it’s normal size.

“Follow your heart… it’s different for everyone. Do you need to put the fear into the candle and let it burn away as it melts? Do you need to thank the Shadow for taking your fear from you for a time, and as the wick burns down, you reclaim that fear for yourself? Maybe you need to do something else entirely. The flame is you, and as you burn brightly, you get to decide what melts.” Maggie pauses. “Does that make sense?”

I nodded and narrowed my eyes at the candle as a fat drop of wax made it’s way down, pooling in a black puddle on the base plate of the holder. With Maggie beside me, I decided that I didn’t want to melt away the fear. I wanted to melt away my need for a tulpa to carry it for me. It was a thought that made me feel powerful instead of scared.

Maggie lit the white candle. “This one is to replace your tulpa with something else. Hope? Power? Confidence?”

“Can it be all of them?” I asked, not wanting to choose. They all sounded good to me.

“You sure can.” 

Neither Maggie nor I said anything more. I stayed focused intently on the light, moving between the white and black candles, depending on what felt right at the time. The sun was starting to fall by the time the flames sputtered themselves into nothing more than wisps of dark smoke, and I inhaled the bitter, burnt scent. 

Maggie squeezed my shoulder. “How do you feel?”

“A lot better. I don’t think the tulpa will be back, because I don’t need it anymore.”

Maggie nodded. “I knew you could do it. Great job, Molly.”

My body filled with warmth at her words, and came back alive with a very loud, very long, tummy rumble. I grabbed my stomach, giggling.

Maggie laughed. “I’ve got cookies!”

I jumped to my feet, and the moment Maggie was on hers, I flung myself against her, wrapping my arms tightly around the woman. Chunk jumped and yapped in circles around us. 

October 21, 2023 18:53

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6 comments

M.A. Grace
20:19 Oct 30, 2023

Wonderful concept and a lovely read

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Awen Kerr
17:11 Oct 31, 2023

Thank you so much!

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Shirley Medhurst
23:06 Oct 29, 2023

What an uplifting end to this story 😁 Plus, I learned a little - which was a bonus (Tulpa) Thoroughly enjoyed reading, thank you, Awen

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Awen Kerr
17:11 Oct 31, 2023

Yay, that's wonderful! Thank you for reading <3

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Mary Bendickson
02:27 Oct 25, 2023

Replacing fear with hope, power and confidence sounds like a winning plan.

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Awen Kerr
18:01 Oct 25, 2023

🤍✨️

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