Punch In, Punch Out

“I’m sorry, Ma’am. I can’t make a connection. I have nothing to give to you.” As I spoke, I gestured to the divination tools in front of me. Cards, notched sticks, and marked stones lay in lovely patterns that would surely appeal to someone’s sense of aesthetic.

The client, a youthful appearing white woman in her mid-30s, had claimed to have no knowledge of divination tools other than what popular movies had used as props. The way her eyes scanned over the cast items spoke more than what the tools themselves were saying. She was inferring her own meaning in the items. Her lips pressed as her understanding gave her information she did not want to receive. I waited for the argument to start.

“I see.” She shifted slightly on her floor cushion. The layers of black lace and satin snagged on each other. I could taste the play of static. “Have you exhausted all of your methods of communication?”

Without moving my position or my eyes, I observed my team leader seated behind her. She nodded slightly, giving me permission to answer as I please. The taste of static faded. I felt no indication for extra wariness. “I have one other, but it is one that relies on trust. There will be no tools to measure or lots to record. To be frank, I just shut up and listen.”

She patted at the sheer black veil covering her face and upper chest. The veil made her already dark red lip gloss appear like oxygen-starved blood. I had a fleeting feeling that she was what I should be worried about, but I reminded myself that the other four members of my team were present with me. She finished smoothing out the lace border against her shawl. “Then shut up and listen.”

I gathered the notched sticks into their leather wrap, and tucked away the marked stones into the knitted bag. I then collected the tarot cards, shuffled three times to randomize them, and held the familiar deck in my hands. I explained that when I’m using “head-tools” that I like to hold something in my hands to help keep me focused. What I’m really doing is giving my team members something they can see to observe my mental state.

She said nothing as I settled myself, closed my eyes, and began to focus my attention inward.

Normally we don’t set up for an attended divination on the floor. We also don’t normally lay out a marked circle or have someone stationed outside the circle behind me. For some reason, the team leader chose to lay out the initial preparations for an “indwelling spirit” working. Regardless what the contract says, it’s just another possession to me.

The client’s request was straightforward, what she provided to us to achieve that request was not. She had wanted to contact the spirit of a long deceased family member, but would not provide a name, relation, or other identifying information that we (meaning: I) could use as a beacon to make contact. She arrived wearing the same clothes she wore at the funeral of the deceased, which I immediately found suspicious but said nothing as I had no proof.

It wasn’t that she is a middle-aged woman looking like she just stepped out of a catalog for goth-lolitas. It wasn’t that she was overplaying the role of the rich widow still in mourning. It wasn’t that she had stated that until the working was over, she would not touch anything with her bare hands.

It was all of it.

I said nothing.

My hands continued to hold [the familiar deck] comfortably. I could feel the boundary of the circle I was sitting in. I could feel the team member sitting behind me just outside of the circle and the covered tools beside him. I could feel the team member sitting a little further beyond to my right. The sound of their pen against the notepad as they took regular observations of time and action was comforting. I could feel the team member sitting just to the client’s right. Without opening my eyes, I knew her hand was resting on a prepared tool as a comfort to her. And I could feel the stern glare of the team leader sitting behind the client to her left. Her body language had expressed displeasure from the moment she walked in, but so far, nothing had been said.

Another breath later, I felt none of that. There was only myself and the void that surrounded me. I placed all that the client had given us about the person and their spirit that she wanted me to contact into a mote and sent that mote away from me into the void. It was my hope that I would receive something, anything, as a response.

The response from the void was literally nothing. The void’s answer was that there was no such spirit and she was calling for something that did not exist.

I tensed my fingers on the deck in a particular way to signify my impending return from the deep trance. I took my time readjusting to the sensations of flesh to consider what I was going to say to the client. There really is no good way to tell the client that you think they’re making it up, or worse, intentionally giving you bad info. I wasn’t worried about the refund of the funds. I was worried about the social media flashover.

A shift in the position of my pinky finger told the team what my personal findings were. With my eyes still closed I heard the team leader take a deep breathe and prepare. My eyes are sensitive to light for a few minutes when returning from deep trance, so I kept them closed. (Though really, it was to avoid seeing the client’s face as I just realized she may have sent me on this wild goose chase on purpose.)

“Ma’am. I have now exhausted all my methods of communication. I am unable to connect with the spirit you seek.”

I heard the lace move over the satin again. “I see. Were you able to connect with any spirit? Have you a connection now, right this minute?”

I sat still and listened. “No, Ma’am. I am straining to hear any spirit that is connected to you or to the spirit you seek, and all I hear is emptiness.”

felt her smile, and realized the trap I had given myself over to. Before I could close the empty connection I had opened, she spoke a word softly but with force. With my eyes closed, I suddenly saw a glyph form in the air between us over the boundary set by the circle. The blazing glyph broke into three smaller glyphs that moved to form three shapes that I recognized as letters.


The sound of her voice was still in my ear and without thinking I compared the consonant letters with the vowels she uttered. Trying to understand the information presented to me, I repeated the word.

I learned I am a fucking idiot.

The boundary set by the circle became a blazing tube of fire extending into the infinite darkness over and below me. The three letters moved to become the glyph I had seen at first. The recombined glyph flashed and the boundary shattered.

Something had been waiting outside the boundary. Waiting for an empty vessel to be made ready. Waiting for a fool to invite that something into herself. Once the opportunity presented itself, that something didn’t spend any further time waiting.

My hands jerked and the unbound cards were thrown into the air. My head snapped to my left as if someone had sucker punched me. I had the awareness that my eyes had opened and were tracking as far to the left as they could physically move but I was unable to see anything.

My mind was ablaze with the intruder’s forced entry. As I shuddered trying to reassert physical control, I heard the team leader ask the client to come away from the circle as “whatever the hell you just summoned just possessed my team member and you just forfeited whatever the hell you thought you were going to get.”

As I bowed over gasping, I heard her reply very clearly. “Oh no, I already have what I hired you for. This won’t take long. Don’t worry, you will be paid in full.” I felt her smile again. So did the spirit settling into me.

I hate possession. It feels oily. It coats my tongue with fuzzy filth. It makes my skin feel like a thousand needles have been inserted only a quarter-inch deep. It gives me constipation that lasts for days.

It rearranges my thoughts and I neither recognize the person I should be nor the person I have become.

I can’t look ahead. My head won’t stop turning to the left and despite all my will, I can’t make the muscles relax. I recognize that it is a sign of distress, but the only person that should be in distress is sitting smugly just a few feet in front of me. Smiling.

That bitch.

We’ll see if she’s still smiling when I rip out her neck. Or her tongue. I can’t decide which. My arms are strong, so I’ll just do both and critique the process after.

Once my head stops turning to the left, that is. Why won’t my body obey me?

“Anna…” I try to say her name (that bitch’s name) but my mouth is also in revolt and what comes out is a gargle of vowels. Just as well, since she’s always dropping mine. I look forward to reaching down her throat to help her pick them up.

It hasn’t even been a full second since I came to my senses, my new senses, and already there is some dumbass getting in the way. I remember I once had people I worked with, but they don’t matter now. That bitch (that fucking bitch) is so close, I can smell her. She’s always burning that nasty shit and thinking it’s good for protection. The only thing it’s good for is identifying her body once I’m done with her.

I’ll never be done with her.

“If you think you’re in control, prove it right now by calling that thing out of Keri. Because if we have to pull it out of her, we’re not giving it back.” I don’t know who said that, but I don’t like the tone of it. Maybe by the time I’m done with Anna, I’ll work on that throat next.

“Your team is not in danger. [Unintelligible] will obey me as I am its master. Your medium will not carry the spirit for long.”

MASTER?! I meant to spit every expletive I knew at her, plus a few more I’ll make up just for the occasion. But as it took all I had just to get my head to face forward all that came out of my mouth was a noise that more resembled a chunky belch than any refined tones of defiance.

Gnarled hands gestured without communicating as I struggled to get my eyes facing forward to match my head. A memory of yesterwhen was telling me that I am not who I am and I need to let go of myself. Fortunately I caught another whiff of that bitch (that fucking bitch) and both versions of me were angry enough with her that I could focus on that anger and remain me.

“If she so much as leans forward, flash it. If we had more time, I’d let Keri deal with this in her own way, but someone is adding fuel to this dumpster fire just by being here.”

“I’m ready. She might bail.”

“I’m ready. I won’t let her hurt herself.”

“Lady, I’m telling you for the last time, call off your dog or forfeit it. Whichever decision you make will be followed up by you leaving here.”

I know those voices. I laugh at the memories of what they used to mean. I don’t know what is this thing they are ready for, but I know I’m almost ready to tear that bitch (that fucking bitch) apart. My fingers aren’t working as well as I would like but they’re working well enough. I put my knuckles on the ground, turn my head to the right so my left-locked eyes can see that bitch (that fucking bitch), and I grin.

“Hi. Anna. My turn.”

She looks down at me with that fucking smug smile of hers and I get to see the moment she realizes she has no control over me. She can neither send me away or make me kneel. The only thing she can do right now is bleed, and I will make sure she bleeds well.

I wait for the smug smile to fade. Her pale skin is glowing despite all the layers of lace, satin, and protective charms she thinks is going to stop me from getting my due. I hear a name called and I see a movement as that fucking dumbass suddenly gets in the way.


I’ll go through you to get to her.

I start to rise with full intent of grabbing the dumbass by their face.

They hold up something to my face.

It’s bright.

It is very bright.

It is so damn bright, I can hear the light flooding from it.

I don’t like it.

I can’t move away from it.

I lose control over my neck muscles again and my head snaps to the left.

I try to knock the source of pain away but someone has grabbed me from behind and is forcing me down to the floor.

My hands won’t work again. The fingers are curled into my palms and they hurt. I realize they are helping that bitch (that fucking bitch) and do the only thing this body will now allow me to do.

I scream and kick wildly.

“She’s not wearing it? She’s not wearing it! No fucking wonder this happened! Find that damn amulet and put it on her while I have her pinned and keep that glass in front of her!”

“What does it look like?”

“A six-pointed star stamped in pewter!”

“Found it!”

“Hold it right here so you don’t get bit or kicked!”

That bitch (that fucking bitch) also has trinkets that are supposed to keep me in my place. Watching them corrode in a matter of minutes is always so much fun. Wait until I get control of this body back. I’ll strip the rust from everyone’s blood. I jerk my head and throw the cold thing off.


“She’ll bruise!”

“THEN SHE FUCKING BRUISES! SHE’LL GET OVER IT! Fuck… she’s stronger than I thought. Hurry while I can still hold her head still.”

The cold thing is pressed against my head. The metal bites me. It doesn’t like me. It likes who I used to be. This makes me angry. Everything makes me angry. I just want to make the whole world bleed and the moment I get out from this grip, I’m going to start with whoever and whatever I lay hands on first. I try to scream but gargle instead.

“It’s not working.”


“Get ready. You’re going to find out how strong she really is. Sunlight may flash but for a moment. It is felt long into the night.”

I couldn’t see who spoke last, but I could feel the gesture they made as they spoke. Apparently, so could the thing pushed against my forehead. The cold metal instantly heated to searing hot and a different kind of light burst from it to spear each and every cell in my body.

Any thought of revenge or bloodlust was overruled by one pure purpose: To get the hell away from what-the-fuck-ever was burning into my body and dividing me from the flesh I now inhabited. I struggled with those who held me as if dying because it felt like I was truly dying the last death.

I heard the roar of a lion above me. It’s growl banished me from knowing.

“Ow.” Hearing my voice state precisely how I felt was the first thing that welcomed my awareness. My arms were pinned in a full nelson and my legs were wrapped the legs of my larger team member. Every muscle I knew I had, and every muscle I was now introduced to, informed me that this life is full of pain and I would have to choose between alcohol and acetaminophen as my choice of painkiller tonight.

I moved my head to try to look around and something fell from my forehead. As gravity pulled it away, I realized it had been pressed into my skin with enough force to make it stick there. The person holding me suddenly tightened his grip.

“Ow! Fuck! I forgot the safe word! Shit! Uncle! Tax reform! Decaf! Garlic!”

My captor team member’s chuckles tickled my bones as he started to release me.

“No! Don’t let her go!” The team leader bent down and picked up the amulet by its cord. He renewed his grip as she bent down next to me to dangle the amulet in front of my face.

“Aw, come on. Haven’t I suffered e-fucking-nough? Whatever was riding me is gone, right? Have mercy.”

“I have no mercy for fools, and you know that. What is this?”

“It’s a djinn’s left nut.” Watching her eye twitch was worth the near dislocation of my shoulder as the man holding me could barely hold his laughter. “Okay, I get what you’re doing. It’s a Solomon’s Seal amulet. Stamped in pewter. And from the way my forehead feels, I have that image pressed into my skin. I’m gonna need a hat to wear for a while until my skin recovers.”

She touched my cheek with it. “I should slap the shit out of you with it. If he releases an arm, will you take it?”

“Yes. But… why aren’t you draping it over my neck?”

“I want to watch you do it.”

He released my right arm and I took the pendant from her. Quickly (or as quick as my strained muscles could work) I pulled the cord over my head. Tracing a pair of equilateral but opposite triangles in front of me, I muttered the activation phrase before tucking the pendant under my shirt.


“Release her.”

He let go of me gently so I wouldn’t spill out into the floor. I remained a useless flop of muscle just the same. “So… what did I miss?”

“YOU BEING A DUMBASS AND NOT WEARING THE AMULET!” To say my team leader is a little pissed was to say that sunlight is a little warm.

“Um. I know my memory is a little fuzzy around the edges, but if I recall correctly, wasn’t one of the client’s requests that whoever was doing the actual communications not wear any symbols, talismans, amulets, or objects of a religious nature if able?” I looked around as best as I could. “Speaking of which, where is she?”

The team leader sat on the floor next to me. “The one time you actually follow directions… The client fled. She paid us in full, and had the temerity to remind me of the non-disclosure agreement. So dinner is on me tonight.” She watched me suffer in silence for a few minutes. “What do you remember?”

“It hates her. It hates her the way Gollum hates Bilbo. I got the feeling that there once was a mutual agreement between them, but she got the upper hand of that and never put it down. However, she had zero fucking control over it when it was in me. … I’ll admit, that’s scary. If she has any sense in her head, she’ll tie that bitch in a brass bottle and pitch it into the sea. There’s no redeeming that relationship.”

The team member with the glass nudged my foot with that very same glass. “Did you know you was going to be dealing with it today?”

“Eh? Naw. I thought today would just be another tarot day. Why?”

“Cuz when I showed it the mirror like you said, it recoiled. Hard. Like the scribble was its kryptonite or something. But it’s a dollar store mirror…”

“It’s still a mirror. And I’m not explaining the symbol. It’s the combination of the two, and that’s all I’m gonna say about that. Leave me a secret or two, eh.”

We remained a quiet cluster on the floor for a few minutes. I noted the dimming light from outside. “Hey boss, you said dinner was on you. I’ll take an order of four street tacos, please and thank you. Con todo. Bring it right here. I’m not going anywhere any time soon.”

“What makes you think I’m going to fetch dinner for you?”

“Because you knew this was a setup going in and you didn’t say shit. You had us lay out circles for a high working and bought a new mirror for the kit. You’re bitching me out for not wearing the amulet, which would have been unnecessary for a mere divination but it totes required for a high working. And you stationed Chris as manhandler behind me when today is supposed to be his day off but he is one of the few that can handle me at full strength. You knew my ass was gonna get ridden and you said jacque shitte, so damn right dinner’s on you tonight. Four street tacos and a fucking beer. Wake me when you’re back.”

I stretched myself out on the floor, the cold hard floor, and closed my eyes. The amulet was warm next to my skin. I laid my hand over it and patted it. I heard the team leader and others leave. Chris sat down next to me with a groan of his own.

“Remind me never to go toe to toe with you. You fight dirty.”

“I fight to win. Not my fault you skipped leg day. What’s up?”

“I had meant to ask you if you are going to remain with the team or go solo. I really thought she had set this up to show you how professionals do it, but now that you’ve mentioned some things, I’m not sure myself.”

“I’m not going to sign a contract, that’s for damn sure. Merc for life.”

He laughed at such tough sounding words coming out of a raspy strained voice. He looked at me for an uncomfortable amount of time until I dared him to speak. “How do you do it?”

“Do what?”

“You just had your head rearranged. I watched your entire body language change. I saw your eyes. That wasn’t you in there. But now you’re here, and you’re talking like all you did was stage a play. You were a character and now you’re not, but this isn’t a play. How do you… change back? Do you sometimes wonder if the you that came out is really you at all?” He looked away, suddenly embarrassed. “Aren’t you afraid that one day your personality will be rewritten and you’ll never know?”

“Nope.” I want an Oscar for keeping a straight face while speaking the greatest lie in the world.

“Oh.” He glanced back at me then turned away entirely.

“Well… actually… it’s one of my deepest fears. The process is not a pleasant one, even if it’s an entity that I have legitimately invited in. It feels like dying. But…” I turned on my side to face away from him. The pain of using overworked muscles was less than the pain of allowing him to see the emotions flowing on my face. “Sometimes you do what you gotta do.”

“Ah. Altruism.” I could hear the thread of false hope he was trying to spin.

“Heh. Oh hell no. Look… I’m not anywhere near drunk nor pain-free enough for this discussion. It’s a thing that happens to me. It’s a thing that I am better able to recover from than others. And on occasion, it’s profitable for me. What bites a bitch is other folk using me like a bundt pan to get what they think they want without any regard to what happens to me in the process. This whole day should not have happened. And yet here we are.”

After a minute of silence, he nudged me softly. “With tacos on the way.”

“I’ll believe that when they arrive.”

Despite being on the hard floor with only a sore arm to rest my head on, I fell into a deeper sleep and woke up livid as hell.

I didn’t get my tacos.