The Dybbuk Made Me Do It

A Stuart Kovacs Mystery

by Sarah Weinman

Stuart Kovacs stumbled out of the movie theater, wondering how the hell he'd ever get back the two hours he'd just lost. He had a splitting headache and a long drive home.

And he knew exactly who to blame.

“I can't believe you made me watch that shit,” he said.

"It was brilliant!” the dybbuk exclaimed.

“Brilliant, my ass," Stuart said, staring at his reflection in the rearview mirror. Samuel Jackson phoned it in completely. The CGI was an absolute joke.”

“ Who cares? It's snakes! Snakes! On a motherfuckin' plaaaaaane!”

Stuart rolled his eyes. Hearing the dybbuk's own voice was bad enough. Its imitation of Samuel Jackson was the last straw.

“If you don't stop quoting that line I'll…I'll…”

“What? Get rid of me? Hammer your skull with something blunt, or better yet, sharp? Come on, Stuart, we're stuck together and you know it.”

He knew it. Most of the time, he didn't really mind. Stuart had never been good at keeping friends, and after a rocky start, the dybbuk decided for some godforsaken reason that it wanted to be Stuart's friend.

When Laura finally packed up her things and left the agency, Malakh was a pretty entertaining companion to have around for something that occupied his head. Except when it annoyed the hell out of him.

Stuart took the last corner home a bit faster than usual. “I'm going to dream of snakes on planes, thanks to you. I can't believe you liked the movie. It was terrible.”

“That's the point! It's so bad it has to be good! Haven't we talked about this before? Oh wait,” the dybbuk said, now speaking in its normal voice, “You're the guy who didn't understand what was so great about MST3K.”

Stuart kept his mouth shut. Otherwise the dybbuk would keep him arguing for hours and his head already really, really hurt. All he wanted was a good night's sleep, even if he had to chase down half a bottle of Ambien to get it.

He took a few deep breaths to focus his attention on getting the car back in the driveway. “It's just a movie,” Stuart said more to himself, though he knew full well the dybbuk was listening. “And maybe if I felt better I would have liked it more. How's that?”

The dybbuk got the hint and said nothing. He'd have some peace and quiet on that front, thank God.

As soon as Stuart parked the car in the driveway and opened the door to get out, his cell phone rang.

“Stuart?” The voice was breaking up and sounded more distressed than normal. He nearly fell out of the car.

“Hindy?” He hadn't heard from her in three months, ever since she'd given him an ultimatum: come to terms with his possession, or their relationship was over. Stuart had been so sure he'd never hear from her again, especially since he'd treated her so horribly the last time.

“I'm in so much trouble. So…much…" her voice crackled on the line.

“Where are you?” He felt the dybbuk's attention focus directly on the conversation.

"I knew this was going to happen, that it would get me --" The line crackled and fuzzed, and she was gone.

He checked the caller ID but the display read “not available.” He turned to the back mirror, feeling his old deplorable habit of grinding his teeth coming back almost involuntarily.

“You have to help her,” the dybbuk said.

“Of course I have to help her, that's not the issue.”

“No, I'm serious, Stuart. You have to help her. She did so much for you, for both of us. You're in her debt.”

Stuart examined his reflection. This, too, was an old habit in that he sometimes thought he could see the dybbuk's shadowy outline hovering in the mirror. Then he shrugged it off. It was there or it wasn't, and a physical manifestation wouldn't change anything.

“You know something about this?” Stuart asked, knowing the question was redundant. Of course the dybbuk knew something. It always did.

“Only that you better get started first thing tomorrow morning.”

Stuart gritted his teeth some more. Typical that it wouldn't just tell him what he needed to know. All knowing, all seeing, over two thousand years old, and the dybbuk had to make him work.

“Fine,” Stuart conceded. “But let me sleep tonight, will you? I need a functioning brain to investigate properly.”

“Like it's functioned properly in months,” the dybbuk shot back.

Stuart turned the key in the door and went straight to the bathroom. He opened up the medicine cabinet and rummaged around for the Ambien.

The bottle was empty. Shit.

It was going to be a long night and a longer morning.

* * * * *

He'd only been on the phone for two minutes, but that's all it took for the pedantic voice of Hindy's secretary -- correction, her former secretary -- to worry and frustrate him.

“What do you mean, she hasn't worked there in two months?” Stuart yelled into the receiver for the fourth time.

“Mr. Kovacs, I'll repeat myself once more. Hindy Myerson no longer works here.”

“So where is she? What happened to her?”

“I'm sorry. I'm not at liberty to say. And if you ask me ten more times I'll give the same answer.”

“At least tell me if something bad happened. Throw me a bone.”

“I'm sorry --“

“Whatever. I get it. You found a replacement, I suppose?”

The secretary hesitated a little too long. “Ms. Myerson's abilities were, shall we say, extremely niche-driven.” In other words, demonologists weren't in high demand in Moravia.

Stuart's first instinct was to continue arguing, but something stopped him. In spite of their most recent difficulties, he owed Hindy a great deal. Maybe he should get that across to her secretary -- former secretary -- even if she was a pushy bitch.

“Look, Hindy really helped me out when I was at an awfully low point in my life, and I think something might have happened to her. You have to understand my concern.”

Amazingly, the secretary laughed. “I don't have to do any such thing, Mr. Kovacs. Best of luck.”

She'd rung off before he could answer, and Stuart stared at the receiver in his hand in disbelief. Fuck it, he thought. Some people weren't worth reasoning with. He could find out what was going on some other way.

He was a private investigator. Time to start acting like one.

“Two months, eh?” the dybbuk said.

“I don't get it. She was so happy with her work.”

“Even when she was bitching you out?”

Stuart pounded his fists on the table. He didn't like being reminded of his last session with Hindy, how much he'd whined to her about the dybbuk's presence in his life. “I sleep, I eat, I shit, and it's there. I can't go out with women because if I want to fuck them, it's an automatic threesome. And how creepy is it to have something watching you the whole time for that, for everything?”

She'd shaken her head, reminding him that acceptance was the key. The old argument waged once more, but Stuart had been so sick and tired that he'd gone one step too far, getting in her face and shouting, “What the hell do you know? You're just all talk. Like you've ever had to deal with dybbuks and possession and the stuff I've seen? This is all just a game to you.”

In an instant, Hindy's expression changed. Her face turned white and her black eyes seemed to get redder and more prominent. She closed the gap between them by slapping Stuart's face.

“This is not a game!” she said in a dangerously low voice. “This is my life. And don't you question why I do this or what prompted me to pursue demonology. You've crossed a serious line, Stuart, and I'm seriously disappointed in you. So do me a favor: don't come back here. You obviously haven't learned a thing.”

The next morning, he woke up with a gnawing sensation in his stomach. Hindy had been right, and he had been an asshole. Over breakfast Stuart had a long heart-to-heart with the dybbuk, and things had been great on that front after that. But Hindy hadn't taken any of his calls, all seven-times-a-day for-a-month of them. Fiinally, he'd given up.

And now, remembering her last words to him, Stuart wondered if he should poke into her past. Then he might find the source of her trouble.

He turned back to the computer screen, which showed his designated home page: the Moravia Jewish News. He glanced at it for two seconds before going to Google. Something blinked in the upper right hand corner, and curious, Stuart clicked on it.

"Duddy Myerson, Noted Philanthropist, Dead at 78," the headline read.

Evidently he'd been waylaid by a serious, mysterious illness for the past few months, making the noted recluse even more of a stranger to the outside world. The last time Stuart had seen him -- fifteen years ago, in the Kosher section at Wegman's -- old Duddy had been somewhat disoriented, bleating at the butchers behind the counter for lamb when he really wanted smoked meat, then getting into a gigantic argument when they couldn't read his mind.

Then it hit Stuart. If he hadn't smacked himself in the forehead, the dybbuk would have done so. Damn. Now he felt like a bigger asshole, laying into Hindy at their last meeting when her father had been so sick.

“The funeral is in an hour,” said the dybbuk.

“Jesus, would you stop reading stuff ahead of me? It drives me crazy.”

“Well, it's true, and you'd have found out about five seconds later.”

Stuart sighed. Sometimes he thought the dybbuk was like the Jewish mother he thought he'd left behind when his own had decided to 'find herself' and become a Moonie.

“I barely have anything to wear,” he said, looking down at his faded jeans and 'Moravia U' sweatshirt. Especially ironic because he'd never gone to the school, but it had been a gift from Laura back in the days when things were good between them.

“Then it's your luck it's a Jewish funeral,” said the dybbuk, “because everyone else will look just as grubby as you do.”

Maybe, Stuart reflected on the drive to the service, but as long as he found Hindy there, he could look like a homeless man and still feel like he'd accomplished something.

* * * * *

In actual fact, Stuart realized as he sat in one of Beth Tikva's most uncomfortable balcony pews, the dybbuk had fudged the truth somewhat. Most of the funeral-goers weren't wearing black, but at least they'd taken care to dress up a bit. Which was why he went straight for the balcony before anyone, especially the leaders in the community, could say hello or give him weird looks.

“Be on your best behavior,” he warned the dybbuk.

He heard a distinct snort inside his head. “What are you, my mother? I know how to respect the dead, too. Just because I'll be around forever --“

Thanks to me, Stuart wanted to say, but didn't because the funeral was underway. He'd never seen the main sanctuary so packed before. Granted, he only attended services three times a year -- he either slept in Saturday mornings or hung out at the off-track betting shop down the street from his office -- but occasionally, when the guilt was too much to bear, he'd go.

He craned his neck, looking for Hindy, but couldn't spot her. Couldn't see where she was sitting, if she was grieving for her big-shot father, or if she even cared. Sometimes he'd wanted to ask about her personal life in the midst of a session, catching a wistful glance out the window or a faraway look at something he'd said, but hadn't. Even for a private investigator, used to asking nosy questions, it would have been inappropriate.

Stuart tried somewhat unsuccessfully to stay awake during the rabbi's speech. He perked up when Duddy's sister, who'd looked like she'd been badly embalmed twenty years ago and appeared even worse now, almost broke down on the bimah.

A murmur went through the crowd, followed by a collective gasp. Stuart had to stand up to see what was causing the commotion, nearly falling over the balcony in shock when he saw Hindy make her way towards the stage.

Her brown hair was almost completely grey. Her eyes, once merrily alive, had sunken into the sockets. This wasn't grief, but something worse. Something far worse.

Something like recognition.

He felt the dybbuk start to speak and shushed it. “You know we have to listen to what she's about to say,” Stuart said.

“I already know,” it said ominously.

Hindy began speaking in a voice that didn't sound like hers, either. It seemed older, more exhausted. “Thank you all for coming,” she said. “I know my father would have appreciated the outpouring of admiration and appreciation from the community he loved most --“

Then she stopped. Though the rest of the crowd probably looked on in horror, Stuart did with an awful jolt of familiarity. Hindy's eyes rolled back in her head, her head whipped backwards and forwards, side to side, and an ancient, terrible voice said: “And just because that bastard Duddy's gone and croaked, I'm still here to live on in a new generation of Myersons. And if there's one thing you should have learned from last time, it's not to fuck with me. Never to fuck with me.”

There were screams, there was fainting, and before Stuart could register what he was doing he'd raced down the balcony steps to the center of the sanctuary. He thought about stopping when the dybbuk silently told him there was nothing he could do, but he carried on nonetheless, no matter what awaited him.

Because the sight that greeted Stuart in the sanctuary was absolute carnage. He did a quick head count and estimated at least twenty people lay at grotesque angles, their heads twisted to the reverse and blood pouring out of their chest cavities. The rest of the congregants ran out as quickly as they could.

Hindy was nowhere to be found.

“Come on,” the dybbuk said, “Let's get out of here. You want to cops to start asking questions you don't want to answer?”

“You just don't want to sit through an interrogation,” Stuart shot back, trying to overcome the shock overtaking his system.

“Of course not, but that's not it. It's extremely important we find Hindy. This is so much worse than I thought.”

Stuart waved his arms around the sanctuary. “Twenty bodies? Yeah, I'd say so. What the hell just happened?”

But the question was rhetorical. They both knew the answer. Hindy was possessed by the demon that had been her father's steadfast companion for months, if not more.

And if demons jumped generations, they grew stronger.

This was not good.

“You know where she'd be?” Stuart asked once he'd found his car, which was mercifully parked a good half a mile away from the synagogue.

“The old man's house is a good bet.”

“Are you kidding me? You read the obit. The damn place is fortified. How am I supposed to get in?”

“Some private eye you are," said the dybbuk.

Stuart grumbled some more as he shifted into drive, trying to take his mind off what he'd seen and focus on what he needed to do.

On the fact that he was probably the only person in town in a position to help Hindy

* * * * *

The Myerson mansion lay so far out of town that it went way past outskirts into a new place entirely. Which had been the point of building there, Stuart vaguely remembered, because Duddy Myerson, while extremely rich and philanthropic, was also known to be a notorious recluse.

He remembered his grandmother's warnings. “That's no place for a young person to grow up,” she'd tsk-tsked when the news of Hindy's birth had become public. And as there had been no other children, Hindy grew up all by herself in the middle of nowhere, only exposed to other people on the treks to and from school.

Stuart had forgotten all this until the dybbuk reminded him during the drive.

“So what did possess him?" Stuart asked. "I mean, you have to know this particular demon, right?”

The dybbuk shuddered, like it hadn't fully registered what it had just seen. “Yeah. I know it. Never had a name, but it never needed one. Started off making mischief like all the other dybbuks but the older it got, the meaner it became and we were all told to stay away.”

“You were scared of another demon?”

“ I'm a lover, not a fighter.”

Stuart snorted.

“I'm serious,” the dybbuk said. “This demon was bad news when I knew it, and now…well you saw what it just did in there. We have to get it out of Hindy.”

“And you think we can do this?” A trickle of fear snaked down Stuart's back.

“I don't know,” the dybbuk answered honestly. “It never liked me all that much, but it wasn't particularly mean to me, either. Maybe it'll listen to reason.”

And maybe it'll magically undo the twenty-odd people it just killed, Stuart thought. Then he stopped.

That mansion was huge. Had to occupy at least three city blocks of land. It was surrounded by barbed wire and even from a distance he could tell that if he got close he'd get electrocuted. It was the real-life equivalent of those terrible Sierra On-Line computer games he used to play as a kid.

Stuart wanted badly to run away, just forget about the thing.

If he did, the dybbuk would torment him about his cowardice for the rest of his days.

He started walking around, looking for any breach in the wire. Halfway around the perimeter, his breath turned to outright panting.

Then he saw it. Just a small hole but enough that he gauged he could fit through. He crouched low and gingerly put his left arm through.

No electrocution.

He breathed deeply and put his other arm through to be sure. Again, nothing.

“Stop being cute about it, just jam your way through,” the dybbuk said.

“I was just about to do that,” Stuart snapped.

He hurled himself through the hole, landing on his shoulder. The pain was excruciating but he paid no attention. All that mattered was that he was in, and now he needed to find a back entrance.

It would have worked beautifully but for the mound Stuart tripped over. As he fell, he caught a glimpse of what it was.

The rotting shell of a human female.

He did his best to fall away from it but still landed only inches from the body. Enough to recognize that it looked an awful lot like Hindy. Not quite, but enough.

“She's been here all this time. That fucking bastard!” the dybbuk cried.

“No time for this. We have to get inside.”

“I know, but even I'm starting to feel how crazy this is. Jesus, Stuart, what kind of mad demon goes around leaving corpses in a field for more than twenty-five years?”

A wave of nausea hit Stuart. If he didn't hold it back he'd vomit all over the rotting corpse.

He ran left, away from the offending sight, desperately hoping to find the back entrance. But the further he went round the circle, the worse his sinking feeling got. There was only one way in.

He found the front door locked, and reached for the bell.

“Oh please, you can't do that,” chided the dybbuk. “At least use a fucking credit card or something.”

Stuart had just reached into his wallet when the door opened.

“I thought you'd come here,” said Hindy, sounding just like her old self.

He ignored her, rushing past to see the Myerson mansion up close. It was larger and more opulent than he'd ever imagined it could be, with gigantic pieces of artwork on the walls and furniture belonging to the 18th century, if not earlier.

Two things caught his eye, freezing him in place. The first was a shofar mounted on the wall. The next was a life-size portrait of a demon staring back at him directly.

Then everything went black.

* * * * *

Stuart woke up to shooting pain in his left shoulder. Damn, that fall really must have done a number on it. He tried to move it around, but it was impossible -- it simply wouldn't.

Then his focus cleared and he looked over at his other shoulder -- fastened securely to the chair he was sitting on with thick ligature.

“What the fuck?” he said out loud.

“Shh, we only have another five minutes before it comes back,” said Hindy, who stood in front of him, in the midst of untying him from the chair.

“How do you know that?”

Hindy shrugged. “I have to guess, unfortunately. And at my father's funeral…” she didn't have to finish the statement. The guess had been very, very wrong.

“Where's Malakh?' she whispered.

“Gah, I never left,” the dybbuk answered. “Just because Stuart here got knocked out doesn't mean I got the same treatment.”

“Good.” Hindy finished untying Stuart, who shook out his shoulders.

Fuck, the pain was horrendous. “Do you have any ice or something?” Stuart asked.

“There's no time. We barely have enough for what you two have to do once Melchior comes back.”

Melchior!” cried the dybbuk. “I couldn't remember its name. Jesus, the last I heard, it was just a mischief-maker. What the hell happened?”

Hindy sat down on the davenport closest to Stuart's chair. Her hair seemed to have grayed even more since the funeral, if that was possible. “My father used to have business dealings in Asia, before I was born. When my mother was pregnant with me he went on a long trip…and when he came back he was never the same. Then when I came along, he was the one to go into some kind of postpartum depression. Or so we thought. The first time I heard a different voice from him, I was five years old. I just wanted to go outside and play but it said -- in the voice you heard -- that this wasn't possible.

“And when I asked my father -- the person I thought was my father -- why, instead of answering me it did something to make me scream. Scream and scream and scream until my mother came. Three days later my father said she'd left him for good, and that it would just be us. And except for going to school, it really was: me, my father, and Melchior. Why do you think I became a demonologist?" A smile played upon her lips as she uttered the last words.

The dominoes clicked into place, but not completely. “There's one thing I don't understand,” said Stuart. “Why was your philosophy to integrate patient and dybbuk? If Melchior was such bad news, then why wouldn't you want to expel it?”

“I couldn't!” Hindy stood up and began to pace, checking her watch every ten seconds. “My father didn't want it to leave, for one thing. For another I honestly thought the best way to help people was to show them how they could live with their demons. It worked for you, Stuart.”

She had a point.

“Until I started whining about it,” he said, grimacing.

“Oh, that,” Hindy said, shrugging it off. “I knew my father was dying and I knew what was going to happen to me. That's why I had to leave. And that's why you both have to help me.”

She stopped, her eyes beginning to roll back. “Shit,” the dybbuk said, “It's coming back. You know what she means by help, right?”

Stuart had no idea.

“We have to exorcise her.”

“That's crazy, never mind impossible. We need ten people. We need a rabbi. We need a fucking Siddur open to Psalm 91.”

“Oh please,” the dybbuk said, “Don't you think I have it memorized? You learn a lot when other rabbis exorcise you over the millennia.”

Hindy turned back, her face bright red and her eyes completely dilated. The dybbuk raised its voice. “It'll be back any second! So for god's sake, get started now!”

Stuart hesitated. Should he begin proceedings, or should the dybbuk? “You go first,” he said.

“No, you're the Google master. You know what to do. You go first.”

“But --“

Stuart stopped himself. There was no time to argue. “You know Psalm 91. I'll just fuck it up.”

“Fine," the dybbuk sighed. It began in a low undertone, slowly unveiling the Hebrew words that would exorcise Melchior from Hindy.

Stuart watched the transformation in amazement. She stayed rooted to the spot, her eyes rolling completely back in her head and her hair going out in all different directions. The dybbuk raised its voice, repeating the Psalm over and over. It seemed to be working. Stuart began to cheer.

Then it all stopped. Hindy reached forward and slapped him across the face.

“You fucking dumbass,” Melchior said. “You unbelievable fucking idiot. You think that shit's going to work on me? Did you see what I just did in the synagogue? I spit in the presence of Psalm 91!”

Stuart felt an odd sense of déjà vu -- why did all the enemies he had to vanquish turn out to be wannabe smartasses who spoke in nearly the exact same way? And why had the dybbuk stopped chanting? “Do something,” Stuart said under his breath.

“Who the hell are you talking to? Can't be Hindy here. She's gone to sleep. Maybe for good.” The demon's malicious tone sent something awful down Stuart's spine. That couldn't be. Hindy looked vacant, but not dead.

“Oh, cut that out, Melky. You were always such a goddamn show-off in school. Didn't you know show-offs never win?”

The air changed as Melchior registered the dybbuk's presence. “Oh lord, you again? Didn't you learn not to fuck with me from the time I beat you up in the playground?” it said, copying the dybbuk's voice.

“Oh please. That's what you liked telling yourself, but I know the truth. I know you could never face up to what you really were, and still are. ”

The expression on Hindy's possessed face became stricken. “You can't know.”

“Everybody fucking knew. You think killing two dozen people today's going to change that? Once a coward,” the dybbuk said with relish, “Always a coward.” And once again, it began the Psalm 91 chant. “Stuart, circle round Hindy, fast!” He listened, practically sprinting around and around. Why hadn't he been killed yet? But he looked over and Hindy's body was positively immobile.

“There's one last thing to do!” the dybbuk shouted, as Stuart's attention turned to the back wall. He reached over and pulled the shofar from its mount.

He hesitated, horrible memories of the one and only time Stuart had been asked to blow the shofar at High Holiday services returning to him in a torrent. He'd been horrible. The sound was paltry and tepid. But a strange burst of confidence came over him and he knew this time would be different.

He blew the shofar, a long, loud “Tekiah Gedolah” sound. A minute passed, then another and another. That was the only sound in the room, maybe even in the entire town.

And Hindy fell to the floor.

Stuart didn't move, fearful that she'd get back up -- or worse, that Melchior hadn't really left her body. But then she shifted slightly and he saw the difference immediately.

Her hair was no longer grey.

He crouched to the floor and gingerly lifted her to a sitting position. “You okay?”

She looked at him and the bleak expression almost made him cry. “My father's dead, Stuart.”

“I know.”

And deep inside his head, the dybbuk gave the same answer.

* * * * *

Three weeks later, things were mostly back to normal. Hindy hadn't gone back into business yet -- she needed to find new office space since her former landlords refused to have anything to do with her -- but it was only a matter of time. Stuart had attended far too many funerals of far too many townsfolk who had done Duddy Myerson and Melchior wrong, and after a while, one bled into the next. But the last funeral had taken place this afternoon, and he'd had a client come in just this morning with a routine financial security case.

The dybbuk stayed quiet for the most part, toning down its wisecracks in the face of so much death and destruction. It even started doing basic office work, which helped Stuart a great deal.

Now that the fog was beginning to clear, he wondered what he'd do next. Private investigation, of course. Hanging out with the dybbuk, maybe going to see some more stupid movies.

Then there was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” said Stuart.

The door opened, and Stuart felt himself flashing back months, even years. He knew that step. He knew that walk. He didn't think he could look at the body or the face they belonged to.

But he did.

“You look really good. Really, really good,” he couldn't help saying, not only because it was true. She wore a black knee-length skirt, black ankle boots and a frilly pink top with just a hint of cleavage. He forced himself to look up at her face.

“Thanks,” said Laura, her mouth twitching slightly. She always knew when he'd looked in the wrong place. “You don't look so bad yourself.”

Stuart was struck dumb, his mind endlessly looping on her name. He could feel the dybbuk firing up some inappropriate comment so Stuart shushed it.

He took a deep breath then gasped out, “What are you doing here?”

Her smile was the sweetest thing he'd ever seen. “I just figured…well, you know, with Hindy, with all the funerals…you might need some help back here.”

And deep inside his head, Stuart felt the dybbuk's gigantic, shit-eating grin take over. “'Fess up, you crazy bastard demon,” he thought, hoping it would have some sense to know he couldn't say it out loud.

“Hey,” it said, “She's back. Snakes on a plane!”

Indeed, Stuart thought. Sometimes it was better not to question things too much.

He stood up and extended his hand. “Just a little bit of help, I guess.”

Copyright (c) 2006 by Sarahy Weinman.

Sarah Weinman reviews crime fiction every month for the Baltimore Sun and co-edits the publishing industry news blog Galleycat, but is best known for "Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, hailed by USA Today as "a respected resource for commentary on crime & mystery fiction." Her short stories have appeared in numerous publications, most recently Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and Damn Near Dead: An Anthology of Geezer Noir (Busted Flush Press.) She lives in Manhattan.

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