Ghostlight Chapter 1

Sadly the next chapter isn’t NEARLY as much fun as the cold opening. Oh bother!

Instead we get the history of a small private university called Taghkanic College. That name seems unlikely, because they like to have names that potential students can spell on the applications.

Later buildings in the exuberantly classical Federalist mode complete the campus, but there has been no new construction on the campus for nearly a century.

As a result, there are no bathrooms. The students still use the same charming outhouses that have been utilized for centuries!

Anyway, the college is SO special and picturesque that movie companies are constantly pleading to film there. We’re also assured that Tagakhaaaaanic college is also super-special because it was founded to educate free blacks and Indians first, then eventually allowed Caucasians to attend. It’s just THAT special! And of course it was also an early feminist college that let the li’l wimmen study. They were just THAT accepting of everyone, no biases at all! I bet it championed gay marriage before it was cool too!

And as the final note of PLEASE SEE HOW COOL AND SPECIAL MY PRETEND COLLEGE is, we’re also assured that this college is totally independent of the government! It’s so much cooler and more speshul than any other colleges! It doesn’t take any money yet has no financial issues whatsoever!

 
Even with such broad admission policies, Taghkanic College would not exist today save for two individuals: Margaret Beresford Bidney and Colin MacLaren.

But they are primarily remembered because of their bizarre yet strangely delicious deaths.

Why are these people important, and how did they magically keep this college alive? Well, because they were involved in psychic research, parapsychology and occult stuff.


Where do I begin?

Okay, I do not really care about occult or parapsychology IRL, so I honestly do not know if this is a thing at real colleges. But a quick google reveals that parapsychology and “occult as reel-life srs bizniz” are not common at… well, ANY colleges. And even if you CAN find such a college, your teacher will probably go on a field trip to a haunted house and get tickled to death by ghosts.

So if these areas are studied by ALMOST NOBODY IN THE WORLD, exactly how can they keep the college alive singlehanded?! Yes, I’m sure there would be SOME people going there in order to study parapsychology and/or occult shit, but definitely not enough to ensure that the college would survive.

If the college wouldn’t survive WITHOUT the paranormal divisions, it would not survive WITH them. Did Bradley ever even VISIT a college?

 
She never married, and in the last years of her life she was a disciple of William Seabrook, noted occultist.
It was perhaps inevitable that Miss Bidney’s fortune should go to fund, at the college of her matriculation, what grew to become the Margaret Beresford Bidney Memorial Psychic Science Research Laboratory at Taghkanic College.

Well, obviously. If you don’t get married, you must be TOTALLY without relatives or close friends that you might want to leave your money to. You might as well leave it to your fucking college, you pathetic lonely spinster.

And even though Tagalongkonic is apparently swimming in money, it now has an INDEPENDENT fund that the trustees of the college are desperate to grab. Never mind that apparently they have a gorgeous campus and highly specialized studies with no mentioned financial help! They want that money!

But those evil greedy bastards are thwarted by Dr. McLaren! Who is an occultism/parapsychology expert! That automatically makes him heroic and unselfish!

 
Dr. MacLaren had been known in parapsychological circles since the early fifties,

He was notorious for making ghost noises during seances.

 
frequently operating under a cloud due to his willingness to accept at face value what were dismissed by others as the ravings of charlatans and kooks.

I think this is supposed to make us see him as a visionary with a super-open mind. But really, it makes him look like a gullible moron. What Bradley is saying is that McLaren would totally believe the photos of the Cottingley Fairies because… well, he takes things at face value.

If you want people to believe in wacky paranormal stuff, it helps to weed out the obviously fake shit.

So McLaren was supposed to be a super-awesome director despite being a gullible idiot, partly because he insisted occultism and parapsychology are the same thing. Um, no. Parapsychology is supposedly the study of all sorts of mental stuff that cannot be proven by science, while occultism is the study of magical stuff like alchemy and astrology. There is an overlap, but they are NOT the same thing.

Idiots.

But because McLaren is SO gullible and accepts whatever people say, he’s a brilliant director and brings the whole division back to life, thwarting those evil trustees who just wanted the money! They’ll be around forever and ever! So there!

And without any kind of transition, we are introduced to our heroine: Truth Jourdemayne.

Sorry, I just have trouble taking that name seriously, for some reason. It’s such a SUE name, especially since it’s so IN-YER-FACE symbolic. I don’t need to really explain the “truth” part.

And with “Jourdemayne,” apparently that was the name of a 15th-century Englishwoman executed for witchcraft, who was also known as the Witch of Eye. So we have a Suey first name with an totally-significant surname connected to occult shit. Somehow they end up being hilarious together.

I mean, think about it. It’s like being called Chastity Ruthven in a vampire story.

So Truth is sitting in her cubicle at the Bidney Institute, thinking about some super-smart experiments she designed to measure telepathy. This is merely another chance for Bradley to let us know how much she knows about real-life paranormal investigations, and so it’s painfully boring. I shall skip it, because I love you and she doesn’t.

And we get a pretty clear picture of the sort of person Truth is in this scene. She has “sensible” hair and glasses, which means she probably has no life, wears mom jeans and is super-smart. She never thinks about anything but her work. Oh yeah, she hates students, apparently because she’s a misanthrope. We also later find out that she has a giant stick up her ass.

I’m all for flawed heroes, but why should we like this person?

 
As one of the nonfaculty researchers at the Bidney Institute, Truth was entitled to an office with a door, just as if she were a full professor, and she kept it shut, whether she was in the office or not.

… wait, a minute ago she was in a little cubicle, and now she has a whole OFFICE to herself? How the fuck did this get past even a noob editor?

 
Truth Jourdemayne hated September with a passion more often reserved for the holiday season; she hated the flocks of returning students, the bewildered new arrivals, the graduate students.

Again, why are we supposed to like this person? She hates everybody who is supposed to actually be AT a college, apparently because they interfere in her pwecious work.

Because yeah, that’s what colleges are for: spoiled researchers to be given money for psychic researcher. Not for icky students!

 
It was not so much that she disliked any individual student, she told herself unconvincingly.

Don’t worry, I’m sure all of them dislike YOU individually.

 
It was just that taken all together they were too many—too noisy, and too energetic.

Some of them had LIVES and did FUN STUFF and even INTERACTED outside of experiments! Those freaks!

She sighed, and reached for her coffee—Meg really shouldn’t do things like this; if the professors notice they’ll all want her to fetch and carry for them and she’ll never get anything done—

Why do you care? Probably she doesn’t do anything IMPORTANT like YOU. She probably deals with students!

She sits there bitching for a long time about how much she hates September, hates students, hates everything but total desertion of the whole college, and how their Speshul Awesome Parapsychology Division is the only part of the college that ISN’T having trouble. She’s a little ball of negativity and hate… and yes, this is our heroine.

 
There were not many places in either the United States or Europe that offered a degree program in parapsychology and the services of a first-rate research lab to boot.

PSSSSTTTTT. There is an actual reason for that: there isn’t a lot of demand. Good luck getting a job as a parapsychologist.

It doesn’t mean you’re gonna have students frantically signing up, especially if the research is mostly running boring-ass experiments where you hold up cards.

If not for the Bidney Institute, Taghkanic would probably have closed years ago, just another liberal-arts college caught in the money crunch.

You keep telling yourself that, Bradley. Facts are, a college is not kept afloat because of a very obscure division that has a very limited appeal, and which won’t turn out a lot of graduates who can actually get jobs.

And money crunch? Really? WHAT money crunch? Apparently they have a beautiful campus in New York, which is so gorgeous that HOLLYWOOD WANTS TO FILM THERE, and take no money except donations. Clearly there is no money crunch. WHERE IS THE EDITOR, FUCK IT ALL?

 
And where would you work then?

I dunno. Is there another job out there where you can sit around spewing hate?

I don’t make money from this, so it’s not a job.

So having assured us that she’s a total prissy twat, Truth decides to go through her mail, where she finds an envelope from a publishing company.

 
Frowning, she tore it open.

And tore it. And tore it, until the envelope and three sheets of heavy paper were in postage-stamp-sized tatters on her desk. Her hands shook.

So… she just tore it up without reading the contents?

How could they? How dare they?
“ … since you have also chosen a career in the occult … valuable service … intimate glimpses of a great pioneer of magic …”
They wanted her to write a biography of Thorne Blackburn.
Her hands were still shaking as she scooped the pieces of paper into her wastebasket. She was a scientist—she had a master’s in Mathematics! Write an eulogistic biography of Thorne Blackburn? She’d rather bury him with a stake through his heart—and he was already dead.
And what was worse, he was her father.
Truth stared unseeingly at a poster of the Olana Historical Site on her cubicle wall. Thirty years ago Thorne Blackburn had been at the forefront of the occult revival that went hand-in-hand with the free love and antiwar movements of the 1960s. As sexy as Morrison, as fiery as Jagger—and as crazy as Hendrix—Blackburn had claimed to be a hero in the Greek sense, a half-divine son of the Shining Ones, the Celtic Old Gods. Though such declarations later became commonplace, with people claiming to be the children of everything from space aliens to earth angels, Thorne Blackburn had been the first.
He’d been the first to do a number of other things, too, from appearing on national television to conduct a ritual for his Old Gods to touring with rock bands as the opening act. Half heretic, half fraud, and all showman, Blackburn was one of the brightest lights of the occult revival during his brief, gaudy, public career.
And he’d made it pay, Truth thought angrily. While publicly he claimed to be founding an order of heroes and working magick to bring the Ancient Gods of the West into the world again and inaugurate the “New Aeon,” Blackburn had somehow managed to amass the cash to buy a Hudson River mansion where he and his special followers could practice the rites of his so- called Circle of Truth in an atmosphere of free love, free drugs, and wild excess.
Among those followers had been Katherine Jourdemayne.
Truth felt the faint stirrings of a headache as she contemplated the old, familiar betrayal. Her mother had been Blackburn’s “mystical concubine.” Katherine had died in 1969 in one of his rituals, and Blackburn hadn’t had to
pay for that, either.
Because that same night—April 30, 1969—Thorne Blackburn had
vanished from the face of the earth.
Truth had been raised by Katherine Jourdemayne’s twin sister, Caroline,
and Truth felt she had inherited much of her emotional self-sufficiency from the taciturn woman who had weathered the horrible death of her twin sister so stoically. Aunt Caroline had told Truth who her father was when she was old enough to understand, but in the seventies and early eighties it didn’t seem to matter much. When the first journalist contacted her, Truth had even been surprised to discover that anyone still remembered Thorne Blackburn; he seemed to belong to the past, like LSD, the moon landing, and the Beatles. She had been courteous, though brief, telling him she had nothing to say, because her father died when she was two.
It was the last time she was ever that polite, because once the “gentlemen of the press” had found her, her life quickly became a nightmare of letters and telephone calls—and worse: visits from bizarre individuals who claimed they were followers, and in one horrible instance, the reincarnation—of Thorne Blackburn.
And every Halloween since she was eighteen Truth had suffered through the various calls from a particular breed of grave-robbing yellow journalist who wanted an interview with the daughter of the notorious “Satanist” Thorne Blackburn to spice up a story.
The requests from the literary lunatic fringe to write about Thorne Blackburn had fortunately diminished over the years, although they’d never quite stopped. She might even have been willing to write a book—publish or perish, after all, even for those who weren’t academics on the tenure track— except that the publishers all made it very clear that they were not looking for accuracy, rather for a credulous panegyric they could pass off as gospel to their equally addled readers.
And Katherine Jourdemayne’s daughter was damned if she was going to gild the reputation of a fake, a fraud, an Aquarian Age snake-oil salesman. Why couldn’t all those people see what a huckster Blackburn had really been?
It was, Truth supposed, part of the reason she’d gone into parapsychology: find a way to debunk the frauds before they could hurt anyone. But
sometimes she was so ashamed.
Why couldn’t I be the daughter of Elvis instead? Truth thought forlornly.
Life would be easier.
She ran a hand through her hair, still trembling with repressed emotion. Why couldn’t they all realize that the only thing she wanted was never to have to think about Thorne Blackburn ever again? He haunted her life like the ghost at the feast, poised to drag her into his lunatic world of unreason.
“Hello? Anyone home? Ah, my esteemed colleague, Miss Jourdemayne.” Without giving her a chance to pretend she wasn’t there at all, Dylan Palmer slid in to Truth’s office and closed the door.
Dylan Palmer—Dr. Palmer—was a tenure-track academic, a member of the teaching faculty at Taghkanic as well as a fellow of the Institute. He was a professor in the Indiana Jones mold, being tall, blond, handsome, easygoing, and occasionally heroic. Dylan’s particular parapsychological interest was personality transfers and survivals—in more mundane parlance, hauntings.
“How’s my favorite number-cruncher today?” he asked cheerfully.
Dylan leaned over her desk, looking more like one of the students than one of the teachers in his flannel shirt and baggy jeans. The small gold ring in his ear winked in the light.
“How was your summer project?” Truth asked.
She could feel herself withdrawing, and knew that Dylan could see it too, but Truth found his zest for life as daunting as it was exhilarating.
“Wonderful!” If Dylan was hurt by her coolness he didn’t show it. “Twelve weeks in the draftiest Irish castle you ever saw—just me, three grad students, and seventy-five thousand dollars of cameras, microphones, and sensors. Oh, and the IRA.”
“What?”
“Just kidding. I think that’s who the locals thought we were, though—they did everything but cross themselves when we’d come into town to buy supplies.” He straightened up, looking pleased with himself.
“That’s just the sort of thing you’d think was funny.” Truth said. “This isn’t a game, Dylan—psychic investigation is a serious business, even if you treat it lightly.” She heard the condescension in her voice and winced inwardly, hoping Dylan would go away before she embarrassed herself
further.
“Ah, Halloween coming early this year?” Dylan asked lightly.
Truth stared at him blank-faced.
“I couldn’t help but notice,” Dylan said, looking downward ostentatiously.
“Thorne Blackburn time again, is it?”
Truth followed the direction of his gaze, and saw a small snowstorm of
torn paper around her feet. Dylan bent down gracefully and retrieved a scrap. Truth snatched at it, but to no avail. Dylan brandished it theatrically and began to declaim.
“When the frost is on the pumpkin, and Blackburn time is near/Then the ghoulies and the goblins, do jump about in fear/For Truth—”
“It isn’t funny!” Truth cried furiously. She jumped to her feet and snatched the scrap of Rouncival’s letter out of Dylan’s hand. “Do you think I enjoy being reminded that Thorne Blackburn is my father? Do you think it makes me happy?”
“Well it could be worse; he could still be among us. As it is, he’s strictly my department. Lighten up, Truth—it isn’t like Thorne’s Jack the Ripper or anything. Professor MacLaren thinks he’s a pretty interesting figure, actually, worth studying. Maybe you ought to consider—”
Truth felt unreasonably betrayed. Although most of the people at the Institute knew she was Thorne Blackburn’s daughter—his bastard daughter, in fact—anyone she knew at all well knew better than to bring it up. Certainly Dylan did. Or should.
“Well, I don’t have your sainted Professor MacLaren’s tolerance for cheats and monsters!” she interrupted hotly. “Maybe you ought to consider people’s feelings before marching in with your fund of good advice!”
Dylan’s easy smile faded as he studied her face. “I didn’t mean …” he began.
“You never mean anything!” Truth shot back viciously, conscious only of a desire to strike back at someone, anyone. “You’re just some kind of freelance superhero, playing ghost-breaker and not caring what you do so long as it gives you a dramatic exit line and a cheap laugh. Well, I’m not laughing.” She closed her hands into painful fists, willing herself not to cry.
“You’re going to get awfully lonely up there on your pedestal,” Dylan said softly. Before she could think of another thing to say he was gone, closing
the door quietly behind him.
He killed my mother, he killed my mother, he killed my mother—
Truth sat at her desk, her eyes tightly shut against the tears she would not permit—because they were useless, because they were childish, because they would change nothing at all. Why didn’t anyone understand what Thorne had done to her? He’d taken everything, everything … .
She hadn’t expected Dylan of all people to take Thorne’s part. She should have, Truth told herself. He was obviously another Thorne fan—and why not? They were two of a kind.
But even as upset as she was, Truth knew that wasn’t fair. Dylan was just … too happy, Truth finished lamely. Dylan Palmer did not seem to ever have internalized the knowledge that life was a horrible business filled with nasty surprises, in which the best you could hope for was not to be hurt too badly.
But how could he possibly take Thorne Blackburn at face value? The man —Thorne—was a self-confessed fraud!
Truth managed a grimace of wry humor; honestly, sometimes psychic researchers were the most gullible people on earth. Every event was genuine until proven otherwise; from crop circles to Uri Geller, people like Dylan approached them with boundless credulity.
She drew a quavering breath, slowly regaining her self-control. It was just as well they did, she supposed, or else the disenchantment of discovering only fakes and coincidences year after year might be too hard to bear. She shook her head. Dylan had been a little out of line, but his bad manners hadn’t warranted the response he’d gotten from her. She’d have to apologize.
I need a vacation. As her mind formed the words, Truth realized how tired she was. She’d spent the summer shepherding her project through to completion on top of her regular workload—why shouldn’t she get away from Taghkanic while the first rush of fall term was going on? She could come back when it was quiet—well, as quiet as it ever got, anyway.
The phone rang.
Truth stared at it with guilty fascination. It was probably Dylan, phoning from his office to finish telling her off. But when she looked down at the phone, she realized that it was one of the outside lines that was ringing. She picked up the phone.
“Hello?”
“Truth?”
“Aunt Caroline?”
Truth felt a sluggish pulse of alarm. Caroline Jourdemayne was a very
self-contained person, and the two of them weren’t really close. What could have happened that made Aunt Caroline feel she needed to call? “Is there anything wrong?” Truth asked.
“You might say that,” the familiar, dryly unemotional voice said. “I’m sorry to bother you at work, Truth, but you’re going to have to come home as soon as possible.”
Home was the small house situated in the wilds of northern Amsterdam Country over seventy miles away, where Truth’s childhood had been spent and where her memories really began.
“Come home?” Truth echoed, baffled.
Aunt Caroline was not an outgoing woman; since Truth had gotten her apartment here on the Taghkanic campus, visits to Aunt Caroline had been infrequent—usually occurring around Thanksgiving, since in December the roads near the cottage were treacherous except for vehicles equipped with four-wheel drive.
“I trust you still remember where it is?” Aunt Caroline said.
“Oh, yes, of course. But—”
“How soon can you come?” Aunt Caroline asked.
Truth frowned, juggling schedules in her mind. Fortunately she didn’t
have any teaching commitments to consider. She was supposed to spend a certain amount of time in the lab assisting the teaching researchers with their projects, but this early in the academic year there wasn’t much of that; she could easily find someone to cover for her.
“Tomorrow,” Truth said. “I’ll be there tomorrow. Aunt Caroline, can’t you tell me what this is about?” She could think of no secret so lurid that it could not be mentioned over the phone, and the Jourdemaynes were not a family for lurid secrets—at least, not what was left of the Jourdemaynes.
She glanced idly up at the clock on the wall as Aunt Caroline began to explain the reason for the call, and as the distant voice continued Truth’s gaze became fixed and staring, and eventually the shocked irrelevant tears began to spill down her face as Aunt Caroline continued to speak.

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