An ancient power calls forth spirits from the astral realms.
The sigils were etched into the floor, carved deep into the highly polished wood with adze and awl and knife. The mahogany planks of the attic gleamed in the light of the thirteen candles that sat in thrones of wax at strategic points around the room, although truth be told it was difficult to make out the candlelight over the glare of the electric bulb that hung from the ceiling. It was getting hard enough for Nancy to read the crackled, yellowing pages of the old grimore without adding in the complications of barely-there lighting. Not that she needed the manuscript nowadays, but there was something comforting in the weight of its leather-bound pages. Her father had liked to tease her by saying that the leather was human skin, but she knew he was joking. She had seen him take it to the local library to have it rebound, and she was certain that the national library would frown upon the use of human sacrifice just to rebind a book. Although Librarian McDonally had always had that look about her, as if she was just waiting for an excuse to murder any small children disrespectful enough to break the sacred silence of the stacks…
Smiling, Nancy shook away the meandering daydreams and refocussed her attention on the task at hand. Beside her, an aged chicken clucked curiously, and pecked at the floorboards as if seeds might miraculously appear on the hardwood if it tried hard enough. Nancy kept an eye on Mrs Pennyfeather, just to make sure she didn’t step into the pentagram, but of course the elderly chicken knew better than that, for all that she bore a silly-sounding name given to her by one of Nancy’s young granddaughters.
This neighbourhood had seen its fair share of death over the years, from the mundane to the tragic. Her senses enhanced by decades of occult practice, Nancy could feel the waves of mortality crashing upon the shores of her mind, could nearly taste the lingering spirits. The candle flames flickered and danced in an unreal breeze, sparking and turning shades of blue and purple as Nancy began to chant. That would be the Prewitt boy, aged four, who had drowned in his family’s pond and only been found when the spring thaw removed the icy sheet covering the water.
Down in the basement there came a howling, pitiful and forlorn. The dogs killed in a fighting ring belonging to the previous owners, their blood and anger seeping out to stain the stones of this ancient house. The monsters responsible had been arrested, charged with heinous cruelty to animals, but they left behind them the marks of their deeds nonetheless. Nancy flicked her Bic lighter once, twice, finally catching it on the third click and lighting the yew and rosemary incense sticks that stood on the shelves beside her. Thick, sweet smelling smoke swirled in the air. A trained eye, or even an untrained one that just paid attention, would have noticed how the curls of the smoke mimicked the curves of the marks on the floor.
Old Henry Gambon had died in his sleep four doors down and three hundred years before Nancy had even drawn a breath, surrounded by his family who only hoped for a share of his fortune. He had laughed, that old man had, when they discovered he had donated his money to people who needed it more than his conniving grandchildren did, and the orphanage that stood where his house had once planted its foundations was thriving still. Still, he had been lonely and frail when he had at last crossed from this world to the next, and his spirit lingered. Sometimes the orphans said they heard him wandering up and down the halls, smelling of cedar and mothballs and muttering to himself at midnight.
Nancy didn’t know the name of the poltergeist that rattled windows and picked up toys and soccer balls to play with the local children. The kids called him Spook, or sometimes Casper, but mostly they shrieked and ran away from him in gales of laughter and childishly shallow fear. The balls bounced after them, the toys moved on their own acting out play fights and family scenes for a few minutes before laying still once more. Things that had gone missing turned up on front lawns and porches overnight and sweets and candy vanished from trick-or-treaters’ plastic pumpkins and pillowcase sacks. His feet echoed down Nancy’s hallway and her shutters rattled and banged as she spoke the binding words, letters in the manuscript glowing with fitful red light as she pronounced them.
And there was the poor girl at the end of the street, Kuri, who had hung herself from her bedroom rafters when she was mercilessly teased and bullied by the other children at her school, all because her skin wasn’t the same colour as theirs and she spoke with an accent. Her death had haunted the street and made national headlines, garishly gleeful titles eager to proselytise about the horrors of bullying and human meanness while capitalising on the stricken family’s grief. Be kind, they said while their reporters circled the family like sharks.
Nancy took a deep breath and immersed herself in the solemn power of the street, the deaths that tugged at her spirit like the undertow of the ocean. The power of their lost lives, cut short or unsatisfied, filled her until she felt like her papery old skin might split under the pressure. Wrinkled hands clutched at the grimore, an anchor, something real and tangible, before reaching for the knife she carried at her waist. The blade flashed with the dull gleam of sharped flint as she raised it high, and the chicken closed its eyes at the sight.
The blade descended. Nancy’s hands were steady, sure. She had done this countless times before, called to the departed and pierced the veil with the help of a life and all the vitality it held.
A drop of blood on feathers, a smear on the knife.
Nancy flicked the droplet into the pentagram as Mrs Pennyfeather chirruped argumentatively and preened her feathers, the tiny scratch already scabbing over. The blood vanished as it entered the circle, and suddenly the attic was full.
Shades, barely there in the electric light, thronged in the confines of the pentagram before stepping out, over the threshold and into the real, living world. Three huge dogs bounded joyfully over to Nancy, knocking her backwards onto her chair and slobbering over her hands and face as they demanded ear scratches and belly rubs. Their tails blew the candle flames hither and thither as they wagged, and the bent shade of Henry Gambon chastised them and called them to follow him as he tottered towards the stairs. His walking stick clattered and thumped on the wooden floor as Kuri took his arm and guided him out the door.
The Prewitt boy, who said his name was Jamie, shrieked with laughter and leaped unnaturally high into the air. Floating upside down and five feet above the floor, he giggled and spun a somersault before dropping straight through the floor with a delighted ‘whoop’. And Spook the poltergeist, the only one whose form was insubstantial and unrecognisable, even to Nancy’s trained eye, took the elderly necromancer’s chair and floated it and her down the stairs, where the long dining table was set with places for five and three dog bowls. The TV in the living room was already playing Homeward Bound on the old VCR player, and the food was just about finished cooking. Nancy smiled as she was carried down to the family dinner, Mrs Pennyfeather clucking contentedly behind her and her old grimore sitting on the table in the attic, ready for next week.