Guest - Laura Bickle

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Guest - Laura Bickle

Good morning everyone! It's a bit cold here in Michigan today with the threat of that yucky, fluffy white stuff in the air. That makes staying inside with a cup of coffee and a good book even more tempting, yes? Today's guest, Laura Bickle, is here to tempt us with a fascinating article on ghosts and a great excerpt from her latest book.

Ms Bickle has worked in the unholy trinity of politics, criminology, and technology for several years. She and her chief muse live in the Midwest, owned by four mostly-reformed feral cats. EMBERS, her debut novel, is first in an exciting new urban fantasy series that continues with her forthcoming second novel, Sparks. More information on her work can be found at

Laura also writes as Alayna Williams. Alayna's "debut" will be Dark Oracle, Pocket-Juno's June 2010 release. More information on the Oracle series can be found at

Ghosts in the Machine
By Laura Bickle

There’s no such thing as a typical ghost.

In researching ghosts and ghost-hunting for EMBERS, I learned that not all hauntings are the same. Each haunting is unique, in terms of activity, location, history, and emotional resonance.

But professional ghost-hunters use several categories to classify and track hauntings. In this way, hauntings with common characteristics can be grouped together and compared. I’ll discuss three types that captured my imagination: intelligent, residual, and inhuman hauntings.

Intelligent hauntings involve a ghost with some degree of self-awareness. The ghost was once a human being. Such spirits will often attempt to interact with the living. When we think of classic hauntings, ghosts that reach out for the living, an intelligent haunting is at work. Such spirits may attempt to speak or appear to the living.

In EMBERS, Anya, a medium, encounters a ghost who witnessed a murder and arson. He was a vacuum cleaner repairman in life, and he haunts the remains of his former shop in death. Among broken parts and shells of machines, he offers Anya information about what he’s seen. He speaks to her much as a living person would.

With intelligent hauntings, a level of consciousness is present. In contrast, residual hauntings lack that sense of self-awareness. Residual hauntings are likened to a tape loop playing over and over, or a needle stuck in a groove on a record player. A fragmented scene from another time is replayed by the ghost. An incident with high emotional resonance is effectively burned into the environment. The spirit is seemingly unaware of the presence of living people, intent on reenacting a past memory. Attempts to interact with the ghost often fail.

Anya, as a spiritual medium, hates going to hospitals, jails, and nursing homes. They’re crowded with ghosts. At a hospital, she sees examples of residual hauntings: an elderly woman howling and pacing the hallways, the ghost of a man in a waiting room numbly watching television. There’s no self-awareness, and they don’t try to interact with her. They are simply reliving a part of their life, detached from their surroundings.

Both residual and intelligent hauntings are relatively common. In contrast, inhuman hauntings are comparatively rare. They involve the presence of demonic or other non-human entities, and are considerably more difficult to remove. A human spirit isn’t involved; the subject of the investigation never was human. The entity may attempt to masquerade as a human spirit, to suit its own purposes. These inhuman entities gain a toehold in a victim’s residence or psyche, and slowly take over.

Anya encounters an inhuman haunting while pursuing what she believed to be a poltergeist. In reality, the poltergeist is an ancient Babylonian demon, Mimiveh.
Anya’s been spiritually and emotionally distraught, and that gives Mimi enough traction to invade Anya’s dreams and waking life.

There are more categories of hauntings, and cases that don’t fit neatly into any typology. But they provide plenty of fodder for the imagination, to wonder how and why they continue to linger in the realm of the living.


Anya Kalinczyk spends her days as an arson investigator with the Detroit Fire Department, and her nights pursuing malicious spirits with a team of eccentric ghost hunters. Anya—who is the rarest type of psychic medium, a Lantern—suspects a supernatural arsonist is setting blazes to summon a fiery ancient entity that will leave the city in cinders. By Devil’s Night, the spell will be complete, unless Anya—with the help of her salamander familiar and the paranormal investigating team—can stop it. Anya’s accustomed to danger and believes herself inured to loneliness and loss. But this time she’s risking everything: her city, her soul, and a man who sees and accepts her for everything she is. Keeping all three safe will be the biggest challenge she’s ever faced.

She stepped into the bathroom and clicked on the overhead light. The black-and-white retro tile gleamed. A collection of rubber duckies lined a shelf on one wall, grinning down at her with cartoon smiles. Anya turned the bathtub tap as hot as it would go, dropped a fistful of bath salts into the water. She plucked her favorite duck, a jaunty pirate with a plastic eye patch, from the collection and dropped him in the water. He spun in lazy circles under the faucet.

She peeled off her sticky, pickle-stained clothes and stuffed them in the washing machine in the bathroom closet. The chill rippled over her body as she measured detergent into the basin and set the water temperature to hot. When she'd moved in, Anya had the foresight to install an extra-large water heater. As a fire investigator, her work was always filthy and she didn't deny herself the luxury of as much hot water as she needed.

She paused, catching sight of her reflection in the mirror. Her light chestnut hair swung over her milky-pale shoulder which was studded with a constellation of beauty marks. Her fingers fluttered over her chest. Below the salamander collar that housed Sparky, a black char mark was burned into the flesh over her left breast. The wound didn't hurt. She knew it would eventually fade, like all the other exorcism burns, but it was a lingering reminder of the soul she'd devoured.

She stepped into the bath, wiggling her toes, feeling the warmth begin to radiate up her legs. She sank up to her neck in the water, massaging the hot water through her hair. The pirate duck bumped against her toes. She reached for a loofah and began to scrub hard, as if she could scrub the memory of the dead child away from her skin.

The sepulchral voice captured on the recorder buzzed in the back of her head, and her thoughts nipped at it:

"Sirrush is coming."

Her brow wrinkled. She'd never heard the name spoken aloud, only read it in books. Sirrush was an old term used for firedrakes and salamanders, a name used only in witches' ceremonial magic to draw down the element of fire. But the spirit's message seemed to be aimed at her and she chewed on it, tasting it for any flavor of a threat.

As the water cooled, Anya climbed out of the bath. She smelled no pickles or ash as she pulled the drain plug, just soap and a hint of jasmine from the bath salts. The pirate duck spiraled around the drain.

Anya toweled off, and pulled on her robe, decorated in a pattern of yellow cartoon ducks. Wet footprints on the shag rug in the hall trailed behind her. She paused in the hallway to turn up the thermostat, looking forward to the warmth of her bed. A simple futon piled high with blankets dominated the small bedroom. Anya couldn't bring herself to buy a second-hand bed. All beds were stained too much with the dreams of their prior owners.

Anya climbed under the blankets, sighing. She'd be able to get a couple of hours of sleep before her shift began. As she drowsed, the salamander collar warmed around her neck. Sparky unpeeled himself, slipped down to the floor. He padded across the floor to a large flannel dog bed placed against the wall. Resting in the bed was his favorite toy: a Gloworm. The stuffed toy was a flashlight ingeniously disguised in a cherubic plastic head and a caterpillar body. Since it ran on batteries, there was little electrical damage that Sparky could do to it that would result in a hazardous situation.

Sparky placed his paw on the Gloworm. It lit up. He removed his paw, and the light winked out. He cocked his head, watching it, then patted it again.




Anya scrunched her eyes shut against the blinking light. As much as he enjoyed biting ghosts and other ghoulies on the spiritual plane, Sparky could only directly affect two things in the physical world: energy and Anya. The toy had brought him many hours of delight. She'd placed it in the dog bed that he never used, hoping that Sparky could eventually be persuaded to sleep on his own in his own bed.

A whine emanated from the side of Anya's bed.

Anya opened one eye. Sparky's head peered over the mountain of covers. Anya groaned. She was too tired to try to Ferberize the salamander tonight.

She climbed out of bed, grabbed the Gloworm, and tossed it into her bed. Sparky climbed in, rooted under the blankets. He made himself comfortable, draped over one of Anya's hips. He cradled the Gloworm between his paws. Anya idly stroked his loose speckled skin and Sparky began to purr, a low vibration in the back of his ribs.

Sometimes, Anya wondered what it would have been like to have had Brian's warmth next to her. She'd seriously contemplated it in the past. But she didn't know how to explain sharing a bed with a familiar elemental spirit. While it was true that humans couldn't see Sparky, his presence could be sensed: fluctuations in temperature, static electricity, a sense of being watched. When Anya had taken lovers before, Sparky had not taken well to them. It was distracting to be in the act of making love to a man with a five-foot salamander sitting at the foot of the bed, head cocked, slapping his tail on the blankets. Sparky manifested at will, unpredictably. But he could always be trusted to always make an appearance whenever Anya was in the presence of spirits...or when the possibility for intimacy with a man presented itself....

But then again, maybe sex was overrated. Sparky's warm tail coiled around her ankles and he snored softly. At least, Sparky had good manners: he didn't fart, scratch himself, or have morning breath. He was rather like sleeping with an electric blanket. . . which was probably the best Anya could hope for at the present.

Curled in the warm embrace of the salamander cuddling his toy, Anya drifted to sleep.


-- Lynda Again --
This week's member word is magniloquent
\mag-NIL-uh-kwunt\ adjective
: speaking in or characterized by a high-flown often bombastic style or manner

Members of my newsgroup will know what to do with today's word. You can know too by joining us. But don't worry, there isn't any chatter. You'll only get notices from me so it won't fill your mailbox. My fluffy cat, Wookie Baby, will help me select the lucky person whose name is drawn and I'll announce it here on Friday. (She'd do it herself but her English vocabulary is limited to NO-when she's going to the vet and WOE-when she's getting a bath, lol) This week's prize is Secret Life of a Vampire by Kerrilyn Sparks

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8 Responses to "Guest - Laura Bickle"

susan said...

Morning and have to say I am glad to be a part of the fun here. I learn so much by these blogs and look forward to each one..they all have articles that interest me. Now that I am into vampires and ghosts stories I am even more interested. have a good day Lynda. susan L.

Pauline said...

another most interesting article! Makes Monday mornings less gnarly. LOL!

Laura Bickle said...

Thank you so much for having me, Lynda!

Susan, I've always loved ghost stories. I hope that you enjoy this one!

Pauline, I hope that your Monday is less gnarly. It's grey and rainy here...does that count as gnarly?


Beth said...

Thanks for another great post and excerpt.
And I love the sound of Sparky. Very usual familiar/pet.

Laura Bickle said...

Sparky is a bit of a scene-stealer. He can be petulant, sweet, and cranky...sometimes all at once. Sparky's an expressive little guy. He really has Anya's best interests at heart - whether he's chewing on her cell phone, chasing ghosts and cats, or giving Anya's prospective suitors the evil elemental eye. I adore him, and I hope that readers enjoy him, too!

Linda Andrews said...

Sparky sounds like a great character. I can't wait to read the book. How did you come to pick a salamander as a familiar?

Laura Bickle said...

It was a natural pick. Anya is an arson investigator, and her mother was killed in a fire when she was a little girl. The book is also set in an alternate Detroit, where Devil's Night arsons around Halloween take place. A fire salamander familiar fit with the theme.

Also, I've always thought salamanders were adorable. It didn't seem like anyone had used them before to this extent, and I was eager to give the little guys their moment in the spotlight. :-)

Lynda K. Scott said...

Congrats to Anna, who won the copy of Secret Life of a Vampire by Kerrilyn Sparks!