Pearl Barley and the Surge of the Spirits #fantasy #comedy

A lot of you, certainly those who’ve read some of my blog for a while, will know I developed a character for various prompts. Pearl Barely is a 20 something trainee exorcist working for one of several secular exorcism businesses. Her hair is possessed by a recently deceased stylist, Sharon Goodfellow and she has been given, as part of her exorcist equipment a Personalised Personality Enhancer that looks like an old fashioned vanity hand mirror but acts as a repository of all Pearl’s subconscious knowledge and a guide, albeit with a default setting of sarcastic snark.

Pearl now features in a book, alongside her fellow trainee, the unfeasible handsome Irishman, Primate O’Toole, her boss Joseph Blue and senior exorcist Penelope Strutt, the formidable and downright scary Head of Admin, Calendula Makepeace and a cast of characters, including many deceased spirits possessing a variety of objects (one being a foul-mouthed Santa), pixies, sprites and others too weird to describe here.

The Surge of the Spirits will be book one in a three book series – book two is at first draft stage and book three all but plotted – yes, me, plotting! Who knew?!

I’ve reached the point with book one where I’d love to find some people who might do me the courtesy of reading it and seeing what works and what doesn’t. I’m not looking at typos and grammar – I’ll get the pips edited out of it until they squeak – but coherence. It’s set today, but a today you’ll only recognise in parts – the parts that don’t encompass a surfeit of active unpassed spirits and active fae (magical creatures with a variety of powers). It’s part mystery, part fantasy and part comedy.

If it appeals, please let me know in the usual way. And for anyone kind enough to offer me that help, I will reciprocate any time they need a similar beta reader.

If you need a teaser, here’s the prologue:

Prologue

Some Saturdays really did suck. In Pearl Barley’s experience those that involved the hairdressers usually sucked the most. She had begun to despair at every visit, becoming a serial changer of salons, not that it did any good.  It was the sighs and knowing headshakes as that day’s stylist lifted a strand and asked, in a voice resigned to defeat, “What would Ms prefer?” The implication was clear. Please don’t ask for a suggestion beyond a buzz cut and advice on wigs.

It wasn’t as if Pearl’s hair was in the top three of her least favourite features, even if it had its moments, especially when wet. Her pot pourri gene pool – her four grandparents were, respectively, from St Lucia, Oslo, Donegal and West Cheam – saw to that. No, top of the most loathed body parts podium was her nose, which resembled a badly-molded ski jump. The silver medal went to her teeth which even her dentist once described as having been discarded as inadequate by micro henge builders. And the bronze was shared between her elbows – trolls’ testicles according to a school mate – and her bellybutton which garnered fluff like a magnet did iron fillings, and which, oddly was always a strangely angry shade of pink. She had learnt that if she kept her head down, her mouth shut, always wore sleeves and avoided two piece beachwear then she remained what she most craved: invisible.

This Saturday was made worse by the fact she’d been told she needed to find another job. For necessity, one that paid, rather than some overhyped internship that would render homeless, or worse force her to move back to her parents’ house. Beyond finding work she could do with improving her social life – the words ‘love life’ popped into and out of her head. Don’t get ahead of yourself, Pearl thought. A friend would do.

Today’s salon was new to her, taking her into the centre of town.  Initially the frontage of A Cut Above seemed welcoming, but she knew that impression wouldn’t last. She was early and took a seat as far from the action as possible, burying herself in her phone to sift through possible jobs for one such as herself as she waited her turn.

Pearl noticed Sharon Goodfellow, her allocated stylist. You could hardly miss her: a seemingly big-hearted, big-boned, blowsy, bubbly-breasted, perma-tanned force of nature who kept up a stream of chatter which defied both interruption and the available oxygen. Pearl listened with half an ear to the mix of philosophy, pathos, porn, scandal and opinion that tumbled from the ever loquacious Sharon, eventually blocking out the patter. She jumped when a tap on her arm brought her back to the moment. “Time to make you perfect, sweetie!”

Pearl looked into the large green eyes, quickly taking in the teethy grin, the too small top and short skirt and followed Sharon to her station, bracing herself for a grim hour. Little did she know how grim.

“I’ll just get rid of these.” Sharon held up some ancient looking curling tongs and turned away.

Pearl lowered herself into the chair; as she did so she heard a squeal and things falling. Turning she was startled by a huge flash and a smell of burning. To her horror, Sharon lay sprawled on the floor. Pearl didn’t know where to look, and her eyes didn’t help, focusing themselves on a small hole in Sharon’s striped tights close to her right buttock.

Crises did not bring out the best in Pearl. She had neither a flight or fight response, but rather a freeze reflex. Others hurried to the inert Sharon while Pearl watched. Without any conscious thought, Pearl’s hand went to her hair. As she touched a stray lock, a voice, apparently inside her ear, said, “Will you look at that? Why didn’t I change? That skirt is so tarty. But it was Delice’s birthday and I never made it home.” The sigh was long and full of various regrets.

Pearl kept her focus on the floor, the manager giving Sharon CPR with increasing desperation. The voice in her head was just like Sharon’s but…

“Yes, it’s me, sugar. Sorry but you were nearest.”

Pearl swallowed, not sure what to make of what she thought might have happened.

“Can we go, do you think? It’s a bit upsetting, seeing myself dead and all.”

The idea that Sharon was still around somewhere was unreal, unlike the rising nausea. Pearl understood that Sharon, the Sharon of a minute before, the Sharon in an ugly running pose on the floor, might be dead. It did seem that way. But why was she imagining her voice in her head?

“You’re not dreaming, poppet. I’ve possessed your hair, sweetie. I know, I know, it’s usual to possess things, not bits of people and believe me if it was my choice… Anyway, it’s temporary. I’ll be out of your hair as soon as… as I can,” she finished though the voice didn’t sound very convinced.

One of the other members of staff approached Pearl, saying it might be better if she left and they’d contact her if they needed to, before apologizing about not having done her hair.  From being frozen, Pearl almost jumped out of the chair. In moments, she found herself outside leaning against a lamppost, feeling hot and ill. Seconds later she scattered two intrigued pigeons by the simple expedient of vomiting over them

The voice in her ear sounded relaxed. “Come on. There’s a bench over there. Let’s sit down while you sort yourself out.”

Pearl shook her head and started walking; it felt like she was being guided by this voice. She knew something about spirits and possessions. There’d been a couple of dramas recently and her father had read a book. It was increasingly a thing, though most people assumed it was just likely to be a passing phase. The truth was, no one she knew had experienced an unpassed spirit and until you did, it wasn’t real. This though was far too real. Deciding the bench idea was a good one she stumbled across the road and subsided into it. She dug in her bag, pulled out a bottle of water and sipped it. Her hair had remained quiet for a while so she tentatively touched it. “You still there?”

“Surely.”

Taking a breath, she asked, “And you’re staying?”

“That’s up to you, but I’d like to. Until I’ve sorted myself out.”

“I don’t know anything about this. Do I need to do anything? Tell anyone?”

“Nope. It’s your hair. Really it’s up to you, but I’d be dead grateful.”

Pearl nodded. “Is it safe? I mean, you won’t hurt me? Or control me or anything?”

“No, of course not. Look, you a phone handy?”

Pearl nodded, then wondered if she needed to speak to be understood. “Yes.”

“Okay. Open up your browser and find Spirits Release or Spirits Restored. They’re exorcism businesses but they both have sections on possessions. I’ll wait while you read it.”

Pearl did as suggested. To begin with her hands shook and it was difficult to launch the right pages, but in no time she found herself engrossed. If it wasn’t for the fact this spirit was in her hair – how did that work – it would be fascinating. Clearly there was a lot more to it than Pearl had realised.

As she finished the last line, the voice said, “That make sense?”

“Yes, yes it did. Sort of.”

“You’re interested, aren’t you? In spirits and stuff?”

“I… I suppose so. How can you tell? Are you reading my mind?” She felt herself tense.

“Nooo. But I can see where you’re looking and I can feel your skin and body temperature, pulse, heartbeat, how much you’re sweating…”

“You’re like a fitness watch thingy.”

“Not really. You sure you don’t mind if I squat for a bit, while I sort myself out?”

“The website said spirits really want to pass. They need a really good reason not to.”

The voice didn’t answer, not immediately. “I saw you noticed the training offer.”

“I…”

“Because I’m sure you’re exactly the sort of person they’d like to have as an exorcist. Especially as you’ll now have some experience of a possession.”

“I… how’d you know that? How do you know any of this? You’ve only just d…” Pearl stopped. “Oh shoot, sorry. How are you? That must be such a shock. Are you sure there’s not someone I should tell, you know, that you’ve not passed? Parents, husband, boyfriend… girlfriend?”

“No…” The voice sounded panicked. More calmly it said, “I think they need to get used to the idea I’m dead first before the idea I’ve not passed is dropped on them. My parents would freak and they’d never leave you alone.”

“And, you know, there’s no one else?”

“No one special, thanks. You’re the one who’s shaken up. Why don’t you go and get a drink and think about things. I know it’s an imposition and I will go, really if you insist but right now, while I work out why I’m still here, I’d be sooo grateful if you’d let me stay.”

Pearl thought about her empty flat, her lack of friends, her distant family. It might be nice for a day or so. “Do I call you Sharon?”

To Pearl’s surprise her hair wrapped itself around her face and the ends formed into a pair of lips that planted a kiss on her left cheek. “You. Are. The. Best. Come on, let’s find that drink and you can apply for that job.”

“But―”

“You need the work, don’t you?”

“How―?”

“You’ll love it.” Her hair morphed into a rope and tugged her up off the bench. “You are perfect for them. I know exactly what you need to say to get the job. You’ll flippin’ murder them.”

Tasteless, thought Pearl but she let herself be led, back towards the High Street. Under pressure from Sharon, who seemed to be able to talk to her so no one else heard, she bought herself a large Chablis and checked the Spirits Release website.

It said: Call anytime; we will be interested.

She did. And they were.

As she walked back to her flat, feeling oddly elated, she passed the Salon. The shutters were down and a hand-written note on the door told customers they were temporarily closed due to a tragedy. Instantly guilt swamped her. Her life might be looking up, but Sharon’s was destroyed. She needed to remember that and be tolerant. It can’t be easy being an unpassed spirit.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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26 Responses to Pearl Barley and the Surge of the Spirits #fantasy #comedy

  1. Excellent Geoff. I hope you find the right help with this. I love Pearl Barley, it makes me nostalgic for Mum’s cooking!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ritu says:

    Here for you, His Geoffleship!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hope you get some suitable offers!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. noelleg44 says:

    What a great start to the book! I love it and if I weren’t already critiquing another friend’s book, I’d volunteer.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Bridgette says:

    I’d be happy to read it! It sounds so fun! You can reach me at bridgettetales@gmail.com

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I like it Geoff. Sounds a lot of fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. willowdot21 says:

    I’m in Geoff, always enjoy our Pearl and I have read her before . Always happy to help 💜

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Chel Owens says:

    What sort of critique do you seek?

    Liked by 1 person

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