A phone call from the dead. Lucid dreaming. A ghost manipulating the London stock exchange. And a seductive woman who, even from the grave, is able to manipulate events to her satisfaction. Natasha Mostert's arresting debut is a haunting story of obsession and loss where even the dead have secrets.
Isa is not surprised by the late night telephone call from her cousin Alette — until she discovers the next morning that Alette has been dead for two days. Still grief-stricken by the death of her lover, Isa travels to her cousin's house in London where Alette has left behind three envelopes and a request. The envelopes contain instructions on how to bring about the financial downfall of Alette's former husband: a man who has made Alette's life a misery while she was still alive.
But as Isa sets out to fulfill Alette's last wish and exact revenge on her cousin's behalf, she is in peril. Unbeknownst to her, Alette was murdered, and now it is Isa's turn to be drawn into the killer's world of dark fantasy and lethal obsession.
Whose purely temper'd Clay was made
So fine, that it the guest betray'd."
They had shaved her scalp. All that beautiful red hair was gone. Alette's face seemed mottled and bruised in the cool, green dusk of the hospital room.
Four o' clock in the morning. The time when death's angel is walking, as his mother would say.
The sound was tiny - a soft rattle of phlegm in her throat. He leaned over until his face almost touched hers. He gently placed his finger in the soft hollow beneath her eye.
She would be dead soon. "Worm's meat", as the good Dr. Donne wrote so elegantly. But no, she would be cremated... she had stipulated it so in her will. No maggots and slow decay for his red-haired love. Fire and cleansing and brittle ashes. 'Precious Dust' said Thomas Carew. Another seventeenth century poet with an ear for a clever conceit.
He sniffed gently at the scent of her skin. His lips barely touched the lovely, high ridge of her cheekbone.
He pulled back. Alette was jerking her head and rolling it slightly from side to side on the pillow. Her eyeballs were moving underneath the curved, veined lids.
He wondered if she sensed that she was in danger. Maybe fear was able to breach even the soft, implacable hold of the coma that was shuttering her brain. She had been conscious of danger yesterday just before she got into the car; of that he was certain. He had watched as she had lingered for a moment beside the open car door, slapping her gloves against the palm of her hand: back and forth, back and forth. She had hesitated, he knew, because she had sensed a rage in the air.
He always marvelled at her psychic abilities. Although she sometimes prostituted herself doing readings for stupid, bored, rich women just like any other common fortune teller - pandering to their wishes, telling them what they wanted to hear - she was the real thing. She had the gift. He was awed by it and enchanted. Catching a glimpse of this gift was like catching sight of a furtive flame through the closed fingers of a cupped hand.
Back and forth went her gloves. Back and forth. He watched her. He held his breath and his mind silently screamed at her to get into the car.
Get into the car.
To reach this point had taken months. He had engaged in extensive research on how to sabotage the car. Detective novels aside, it's a tricky business: tampering with brakes. It's not easy to get it just right. To inflict just enough damage so that the brakes would keep functioning normally and only give way once she steered the car through the hairpin bends down that steep drop outside of town. Of course, he had also ensured that her seat belt wasn't working.
Get into the car.
With a slight shrug of her shoulders she turned her body sideways, pulling both her legs into the car with one feminine, graceful motion; her skirt riding up slightly against her thigh.
What was it Alette had said during their last conversation? "My life is obsession. At times I'm obsessed with keeping my own freedom. At other times I'm obsessed with robbing some-one else of theirs."
She had spoken slowly, sounding almost puzzled. The light streaming in through the window had blanked out the expression in her eyes. Her face had the flawless, un-human look of a face caught in the cold shock of a flashlight.
Obsession is an open wound; a trickle of rotting pus. Only a clean cut can stop the green poison from spreading. Amputation. Severance. Brutal, uncompromising and quick. Soft hands make stinking wounds, as his mother was fond of saying, and she's right. A break has to be clean and absolute. Final.
With no possibility of a come-back.
From Des Gottseeligen Hocherleuchteten, Jacob Bohmens, 1682
When I started thinking of a plot for The Midnight Side, I knew I wanted to write a ghost story...but a ghost story with a difference. I tried to steer clear of luminous apparitions gliding up and down the staircase and strange howling noises outside the window and looked for something fresh to contribute to the genre. So even though The Midnight Side is a tale of revenge and obsession, I have attempted to reinterpret these classic gothic elements within the thoroughly modern framework of stock exchange manipulations and corporate intrigue.
But The Midnight Side is still very much a ghost story. Many years ago, as a teenager, I read an article about people receiving calls from relatives no longer alive. Whereas I'm not altogether sure that a ghostly apparition will have the power to terrify me, I am pretty certain that a phone call from some-one I know to be deceased, will just about scare me witless. Years later, when I started thinking about an idea for a ghost story, I thought it might just be a good way to start a book: A phone call in the early morning hours from a beautiful woman who has died mysteriously ...
I also decided to incorporate the phenomenon of lucid dreaming into the plot. Lucid dreaming is the rare ability to consciously manipulate and interact with the events in one's dream life, thereby allowing the dreamer to explore in full consciousness his or her own inner psychic labyrinth. In The Midnight Side two cousins, Isa and Alette, grow up side by side and at night, they inhabit the same dreamscape. Walking hand in hand through their dreams, the two girls discover at an early age that they are able to dream lucidly. Many years later, when Alette dies violently, this ability helps Isa to unravel the events that have led to her cousin's murder.
I had enormous fun writing The Midnight Side and certainly hope you will enjoy reading it.
Sleeping Gypsy, Henri Rousseau, 1897
What is it?
It is night. You are running through a dark wood. Something is chasing you. You are too afraid to look over your shoulder to see what it is, but you know that it is a malevolent presence intent on doing you harm. So you keep on running, gasping for breath, terrified... and then — suddenly — you wake up covered in a cold sweat and you realize you've had a nightmare.
Every night when we close our eyes to sleep, we enter a world in which we get caught up in events beyond our control. Some dreams are pleasant. Others are terrifying. But common to all dreams is the fact that we are unable to influence our dreams: that we are at the mercy of whatever our unconscious decides to throw up at us.
The lucid dreamer dreams differently. The lucid dreamer has the rare ability to deliberately take charge of the events in his dream life. If he finds himself running through a dark wood, he can, if he so chooses, turn around to face whatever it is that's pursuing him. If it is a monster, he can vanquish it with a wave of his hand. He can turn it into something else. Or he can simply change the wood into a sunlit meadow filled with flowers. He may even give himself wings and fly away. The accomplished lucid dreamer has absolute control. He can change and add to his dreamscape, set events in motion, interact with whomever and whatever he meets in the world of sleep and determine the outcome of the dream.
Why dream lucidly?
Lucid dreaming is a stupendous achievement, allowing the dreamer to walk in full consciousness through his own inner psychic labyrinth. The lucid dreamer is able to free himself from the demons stalking the world of sleep and many believe that if you're able to take charge of the events in your dream life, that you are on the road to taking charge of the events in your waking life as well.
Not everyone believes in the therapeutic value of lucid dreaming. There are those who believe that ordinary dreaming is supposed to help the dreamer gain insight into what is troubling the unconscious and that we are not meant to simply bypass all the symbolic, archetypical demons with which we are confronted when we sleep. If the dreamer has the power to edit out anything that he finds threatening or uncomfortable, how will he ever reach any insight? There are also those who warn that lucid dreaming can be dangerous in the extreme: that the lucid dreamer could be taxing his sanity and that the line between lucid dreaming and schizophrenia may be perilously thin.
Who is able to dream lucidly?
At its most basic, lucid dreaming means dreaming while knowing you are dreaming. Almost every-one has had such an experience. Less than five percent of the population, however, are natural lucid dreamers with the ability to consciously manipulate the events in their dreams. Lucid dreaming can — with great difficulty — be learnt and there are workshops dedicated to enabling the dreamer to dream consciously. Children and adolescents are more likely to dream lucidly and the most advantageous time for lucid dreaming is close to dawn when the cycle of sleep is near its end and REM sleep at its most prolonged.
The history of lucid dreaming
Lucid dreaming has a tradition stretching back over millenia. Shamans and mystics have always considered it an integral part of their existence. The Tibetan Bonpo school, which predates Buddhism by over 12,500 years, uses lucid dreaming extensively as a form of meditation. In the West, however, lucid dreaming has often been a subject of derision and fear. During the Catholic inquisition, lucid dreaming was forbidden — regarded as a subversive practice allied to alchemy, freemasonry and witchcraft. It was not until the nineteen eighties when Dr. Stephen Laberge conducted the first lucid dreaming experiments under scientifically acceptable laboratory standards at Stanford University's Dream Laboratory in the United States, that science started to take the phenomenon seriously. Since these early experiments, devices such as The DreamLight and the NovaDreamer have been invented by The Lucidity Institute in California, which can be used to deliberately induce lucid dreaming. These devices are microcomputers which process signal data from the dreamer's eye and body movements and use algorithms to deliver cues to the dreamer at the most opportune moments to stimulate lucid dreaming. Today there are websites dedicated to the phenomenon of lucid dreaming, and a wealth of literature have sprung up around the subject.
So what does a lucid dream feel like?
Lucid dreamers usually describe their alert dreams as ecstatic, liberating experiences. They also speak of the beauty of the dreams and the fact that the dreamscape itself seems incredibly realistic and minutely detailed: more real, in fact, than the real world. Lucid dreamers often tell of their difficulty in knowing whether they are awake or asleep. This experience will often lead to a reappraisal of what is perceived to be the reality of their daily lives.
Sleeping Gypsy, Henri Rousseau, 1897
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The Lucidity Institute's website
Lucid Dreaming FAQ (The Lucidity Institute's answers to the most frequently asked questions about lucid dreaming)