Fiction by Rachel Neimann
“The moon was nearly full that night. It flooded the sky with luminescent light that exposed all creatures hiding in darkness. It was drizzling rain as a storm rumbled deep in the distant belly of the sky. A young girl stared into the forest and watched trees radiate moonlight through the water droplets trickling down her windowpanes.
“The girl was thinking about a story she had heard about a witch. The witch’s face is covered with sores oozing sticky black sap. Her hair is made of poisonous green tentacles. Her nails are long, curled, and blackened. But she hasn’t always looked like this. She was once human, but even then was a monstrous sight to cruel men. She never stopped growing taller. Her voice was a deep, booming bass. She had a hunched back, a wide square jaw, one sunken eye, and a puffy purplish-red scar across the left side of her face. She lived as an outcast in a cave near the lake until she ultimately fled to the woods to escape being tried and burned for witchcraft. And so she found another cave, in the heart of the forest. There she has lived for hundreds of years, writing spells and casting curses. Her physical appearance grew uglier each day as she plotted her revenge. Her sight began to fade as her hate blinded her.
“Now the witch only has enough sight left to leave her lair on nights when the moon is full, or almost full. Those nights she dons her cloak and travels to the edge of the forest. First she pokes her head out through the branches to scan the area. Then she sets out on a search for the ultimate prize—a beautiful little girl. Beauty will be her cure. She feels her way by poking around with a gnarled walking stick made from a tree root. Every so often she stops and waits for a flash of lightning.”
“Shhh!!! You’re going to wake up Mom, she’s gonna be mad!”
We huddled together in her bed.
“Just be quiet,” I hissed.
Melanie whimpered. “I’m scared. It thundered and lightning-ed like you said in the story.”
I rolled my eyes. “It’s storming right now, of course it thundered. You wanted me to tell you about the witch and now you’re acting like a big baby.”
The truth was, I was scared too. Sure, I liked scaring Melanie, but secretly I liked scaring myself even more. I squeezed her hand. We huddled under her blankets, not a sound from either of us. A creak in the floorboards. Footsteps. I wanted to get up and run to my own bed, but I was paralyzed. I knew we were in for it. I heard the doorknob turn and the old hinges go squeaaaaak. Mom stomped up the stairs.
“Girls! What are you doing horsing around up here at this hour! It’s after midnight! Lulu, get back in your own bed. Enough of this late night hawking around!”
“But mom, we weren’t doing anything!”
“I know exactly what you were doing. Antagonizing and terrifying your little sister. You’d better not be hiding any more of those Goosebumps books up here. Now get in bed so you can wake up for church tomorrow.”
“But she wanted me to tell her the story, she asked me to!”
“That’s it, you’re grounded for a day. No one is telling anyone stories, especially not ghost stories! Now are you going to go get in your bed, or should we increase it to two days?”
I ran across the room and ripped open my covers.
“I don’t want to hear another sound out of either of you. Go to sleep.”
She turned and went down the stairs. I pounded my pillow and cried. I smothered my face in it and screamed. Grounded again. I went back to the window and my thoughts drifted back to the witch. Fear cooled my anger and soothed me.
I was a superstitious ten-year-old. Mom was superstitious too, but only about certain things, mostly Jesus and spirits. She wasn’t always, and we didn’t always have to go to church, but after Dad left, everything changed. After that, it was church every Sunday. Pastor Roberts talked a lot about spiritual warfare, angels and demons. Mom started to talk a lot about them too. I didn’t know if I believed in spirits, or even souls at all, but I was still afraid of them. At night they lurked in my room. I imagined I was charmed with special powers and dreamed that one day I would become a powerful witch. I knew that witchcraft was part of ‘the occult’; I’d heard Pastor Roberts talk about it. He said it was dangerous. Mom was so afraid of it she wouldn’t even let us dress up for Halloween. The forbidden nature of it only attracted me more.
My best friend Kaitlyn told us about the witch at her birthday sleepover the week before. She said it was a true story, and that the witch lived in a forest nearby. There just happened to be a forest across from our houses. I didn’t know if I believed her, but if angels and demons were real, who’s to say that witches couldn’t be too?
I looked out the window. Then I saw something. A figure peered out from the forest. It leaned forward and looked far to the left, then far to the right. It stepped out from the trees, and a flash of lightning revealed a long, black, hooded cloak. I dashed over to Melanie’s bed, jumped in, and held her tight. It wasn’t real, it wasn’t real, it wasn’t real. I cried myself into a light sleep.
“Lulu.” Melanie shook me. “Lulee.”
“What did you mean before when you said, ‘beauty will be her cure’?”
“I’ll tell you more later, I don’t want to wake mom up again. Just go to sleep.”
“But I want to know what it means!”
“The witch knows of a potion that can make her physically beautiful. In order to make the elixir, she must capture the beauty of little girls.”
“How does she do that?”
“I’ll tell you more tomorrow night.”
The rain lulled me into dreams. I was flying on a broomstick, higher and higher, up into space, darting about through Jupiter’s moons, zooming toward Mercury and almost into the sun. I jerked away, tumbled down through the stars, and plummeted into a blackhole. A crow peered down at me, watching.
I jolted upright. Rain was still pattering on the roof, the wind still howling. It was a grey dawn. I felt a pang in the pit of my stomach, like the panic consumed me whenever I thought too much about who I was or what I was or where I came from. I pushed it away, curled into myself, and drifted back to lucidity.
A little later I woke to the smell of bacon and Mom calling up to me,
“Lulu! Lulu, it’s time to come downstairs!”
I looked across the room. Melanie’s bed was empty. She must have gone down already. I tossed on some clothes and headed down the steep attic steps, then down the long, narrow second floor hallway and descended the winding staircase to the first floor.
Melanie poked at her eggs and secretly fed bacon to Rufus under the table as mom stood at the stove cooking a plate for me. Though I often mistreated my little sister, I loved her. The sun peeked through the clouds a bit and reflected off Melanie’s pigtails, causing her strawberry-blonde curls to shimmer. She gave me a grin and pleaded with her eyes, please don’t tell. In that moment I felt guilty for how I would antagonize her. I vowed to go easier on her for a while.
Mom finished up at the stove and came over to the table with a breakfast plate for me. She sat down and took my hand.
“Girls, there’s something important I need to talk to you about.”
My stomach knotted again. “What is it Mom?”
“Lulu,” her voice quivered, “It’s your friend Kaityln. She’s gone.”
“What do you mean, ‘gone’? Where did she go?”
“She’s gone missing. No one knows where. Mrs. Rohm is just hysterical. She called here early in the morning, around 6:00. It’s on all the news stations. There’s an alert out.”
Mom leaned down and grasped me by the shoulders. She looked into my eyes as she said, “Honey, if you know anything about where Kaitlyn is, you need to tell me. This is serious. I don’t want to upset you, but… it’s very serious.”
While I didn’t know where she was, I couldn’t shake this feeling that somehow I did know, sort of. What if I had not imagined the cloaked figure? But what could I say? I wasn’t even sure I had seen it.
“Mom,” I whispered, “What if she’s dead?” My lower lip trembled.
She squeezed me tight and held me for a long time, stroking my rust-red hair.
“They’ll find her. You’ll see. Pray for Kaitlyn now sweetie, just pray to Jesus. We’ll all pray together in church today. God always answers. He’ll bring her back home safely, you’ll see.”
She squeezed me tighter. “It’s all part of His plan.”
“Can’t we just stay home today? I’m sad. I don’t want to go to Sunday school, or church. I don’t want to go anywhere.”
“Lulu, I know you’re sad, but it’s better to lean on each other in our times of grief, not to isolate ourselves.”
A tear trickled down my cheek. “I don’t want any breakfast today.”
“Ok sweetie. Just go get dressed then.”
She scraped the eggs into Rufus’ dish and he inhaled them, snorting happily and grunting with delight. She’d never let me skip a meal like that before.
Instead of just dropping us off outside the parish building that day, Mom walked us all the way to the door. I took Melanie’s hand. We descended the stairs to the basement, and as we started down the classroom hallway, I stopped and said, “You just keep going, Melanie. I have to go to the bathroom.”
I watched as she walked into the second grade Sunday school classroom. I would not be going back down the hallway to fifth grade Sunday school. This was not something to be left to idle prayer. Katelyn needed me. I would hide in one of the bathroom stalls until Sunday school had begun. There was an antique shop near the church with a book in the window called Spells and Sigil Magick. If I were caught, my life as I knew it would be over, especially since I was already grounded. I would just have to hope Mrs. Grimme wouldn’t see my mom and ask why I was absent. I had to do what I could to help Kaitlyn.
I knew exactly where to find the book. I had been in Sigri’s Antique Shop before, countless times. While Mom was working at her restaurant, many drenched summer days were spent riding my bike into town, whirring past the cornfields, flying down the steep rollercoaster hill, doodling in notebooks during Vacation Bible School, and sometimes sneaking out early to feed ducks at Tivoli Island or peruse the treasures at Sigri’s.
Sigri Wollen was an old woman who looked eternal. She was towering, over six feet. In a way she was terrifying, but once you laid eyes on her, it was hard to look away. She had small squinty eyes surrounded by crow’s feet. They were almost entirely black. She had a long, pointed nose that looked like a beak. Her lips were thin and pursed, her cheeks sunken and hollow. She wore flowing dresses and shawls of fancy fabrics. Mom would have been furious if she ever found out exactly how many times I had been to Sigri’s shop.
The first time I saw Sigri Wollen was last year when Mom, Melanie and I went to the Spring Hills Spring Art Fair on Tivoli Island. Sigri had rented a space to exhibit and sell her artwork. As we approached her tent, I immediately noticed how different her paintings were from the realist landscapes and life-like animal portraits that covered the rest of the island. Mom hurried her step, but I stopped and looked into the tent, and locked eyes with Sigri for a split-second. Mom grabbed me by the arm and jerked me forward.
“Come on Lulu” she said. “Don’t go near that woman.”
“Why? Her paintings were cool.”
“The things she paints should not to be meddled with. They’re Satanic. She’s already opened herself up to that world just by creating the images. She might be actively practicing magic, even communicating with evil spirits.”
“But Mom, if God doesn’t want people to practice magic, then why does it exist? And what about good magic? Why does he let the devil tempt us and why does he let people get possessed? It’s like what we were talking about in Bible class the other day, about Adam and Eve and the Tree of Knowledge. Why did God put it there in the first place?”
“Don’t question God, Lulu. God is good, and everything is a part of His plan. There is no such thing as good magic, only God’s power. God allows us to be tested to show our allegiance to Him, and we must not give in to temptations. ” She began walking even faster.
“Luella Marie Barnes, do not talk back to me right now. If I hear one more word out of you, we are heading straight back to the car and going home.”
“But mom, it just doesn’t make any sense, I want to understand. I tried to ask Mrs. Byrd about it—”
She swung around on her heel and began marching toward the car.
“But Mom, you’re not being fair!”
I wrenched myself out of her grip and ran toward Sigri’s tent. Mom ran after me, calling my name.
“Lulu! Lulu, come back here!”
She was dragging Melanie behind her, who had begun to bawl. I’d gained quite a bit of distance on them. Mom was handicapped by poor little Melanie, who was only six at that time. I stopped at the edge of the tent and dared to lean my torso around the corner and over the threshold. Sigri’s back was turned to me. I got a quick view of the paintings. Bloodied demons massacring angels; a cherub bound and whipped by a demon; glimmering fairies gnawing the flesh off of other fairies; a queenly elf howling hot colored winds of rage and fury; a painted sign in the corner that read, Tarot Readings By Sigri.
The swift grip of my mother’s arm jerked me back to reality. She continued toward the car with Melanie’s hand in her right hand and my arm in her left arm. I struggled against her as she dragged me along. Melanie was still wailing.
“Let go of me!”
“Stop it, Lulu.”
“Oww, you’re hurting me!”
People began to stop and stare.
“Owww! Stop it!”
“Lulu, I am warning you,” she whispered fiercely. She started walking twice as fast.
Mom planted her feet down and stopped, causing Melanie to wobble, but she regained her balance. I tripped and fell, and my left knee hit the ground and split open. Blood trickled into the gravel and stained the pale grey pebbles. Melanie was still blubbering and whimpering. I was so shocked I didn’t even think to cry.
“Melanie, be quiet. Calm down.”
She tried to sniffle more quietly. Mom penetrated my eyes with a steely gaze.
“Now you listen to me,” she whispered through clenched teeth. “I don’t want to hear another sound from you the entire walk back to the car. You are already in serious trouble; don’t make it worse for yourself. If I hear anything else out of you, so much as one word, even a sound, you will not be riding your bicycle at all this summer, not a single time. I will keep it locked in the shed until next year. Not only that, but you’ll spend your days with Mrs. Roberts, who will drive you to and from Vacation Bible School and take you to church with her every Saturday for the noon Ladies’ Bible Study. There will be no play dates with Kaitlyn. You will only get to see her at church and Vacation Bible School.”
It was a severe threat. I glared at my mother and debated whether or not she would actually follow through; she might have been bluffing. I doubted if Mrs. Roberts would be willing to watch me for the whole summer, but even the slightest possibility of spending every day at the Roberts’ house was enough to make me back down. Mrs. Roberts had thinning, dyed red hair with gray roots and wore lots of vanilla perfume. Her clothes cut into her rolls of flesh like string tied around a plump ham. Even worse was greasy-haired Edwin Roberts, always tormenting me at recess, pulling my long hair and trying to pin me down to kiss me. He breathed through his mouth and smelled like corn chips. He was in sixth grade, a grade older than me. I imagined being forced to sit with him and watch some lame Christian kids program as he inched himself closer and closer to me, poking me, prodding me, maybe even trying to kiss me or touch my privates, while she sat in the other room, preparing lessons for Bible study.
With wounded pride, I broke the lock between my mother’s eyes and mine. I stood up and took her hand. We finished walking back to the car together, the three of us—Mom, humiliated yet triumphant; me, leaning on her, hobbling from my wounded knee; and Melanie, still sniffling, and walking without her usual gleeful bounce. I may have lost this battle, but I had seen what I wanted to see. I turned my head back for a moment and there was Sigri, standing at the edge of her tent, watching us walk down the twisted gravel path.
I shook as I stood on top the toilet seat. It was almost completely quiet in the lobby now, though I heard a few voices, some latecomers trickling in. I would wait a little longer, but not too long, or I might not be able to get there and back in time. Then it was quiet. All I could hear was water dripping from a leaky faucet, this toilet that never stops running, and the sounds of traffic rushing past outside. It was time.
I stepped down and carefully pushed open the stall door to avoid making any sound. Hopefully no one would ask to go for a bathroom break. It was probably still too early for that. I opened the bathroom door and looked both ways. The coast was clear. I sneaked to the exit and tiptoed up the stairs.
Maybe what I was about to do was wrong. I didn’t want to steal from Sigri. I considered her my friend. But after all, she did want me to explore the book. She’d said that the magic would be waiting for me when I was ready. I wasn’t really stealing it, anyway. I planned to return it as soon as I could. When I got to the top of the stairs, I bolted.
I discovered Sigri’s shop this past summer, about a year after the art fair incident. I had successfully snuck out of Vacation Bible School early that day. When it came time for the sermon, I made sure to be the last person to file into the chapel. I left the door propped open behind me and sat on the end in the back. When the guest speaker began the prayer and everyone’s heads were bowed and their eyes were closed, I darted out. I giggled as I skipped down the sidewalk to where my bike was hidden behind the church storage shed. By the time anyone knew I was missing, I would be long gone. I knew that Mom was working late at the restaurant that night, so if anyone called to leave a message for her, I could just erase it from the answering machine. She might have forgotten to pay the phone bill again anyway.
I always alternated my escape methods between the different volunteers and chaperones to keep them from predicting my moves. Some of them were on to me, like Pastor Seth, the youth pastor. I hated it when he was there. Some of the older ladies were more unsuspecting. I got a sense of what I could get away with, with whom, and when. Sometimes, I would hide in the downstairs bathroom after snack-time, stand on the toilet in the last stall, climb up onto the ledge, and crawl out the window. Other times, when we were playing a game outside, I would hide really well and wait for the right moment to dash. A few times, I pretended to be sick. I’d go upstairs, call my house on the phone in the office, and fake talking to my mom, then I’d convince whoever was with me that I’d be fine to wait for my ride alone. Then I would leave.
I hopped on my bike and pedaled away. I flew down the roller-coaster hill and turned onto Pine Ridge Way. Then I saw it. Sigri’s Antique Shop. I stopped and stared into the dust-crusted window-front. I could barely see inside. I parked my bike and peered in to get a closer look. On a round table in the window display, I noticed a monstrous book. It was the biggest book I had ever seen. I couldn’t quite make out the title, but it looked like the word “spells” was part of it. A little bell rang as I swung open the heavy door and a cloud of incense drifted out to greet me. The ceiling seemed to go on forever. As I stepped through the door, I felt transported to a magical temple.
Paintings, artifacts from around the world, and clothing from different time periods hung on the walls. I had a strong sense of déjà vu. Then it dawned on me. These were the paintings from the fair! Two cats sauntered over to observe me—a slender black cat and a Siamese.
A deep voice called out from the back of the store.
“Hello there. I’ve been waiting for you.”
A figure rose from a carved chair that resembled a throne. She glided toward me.
“My name is Sigri. Sigri Wollen. I remember you, from the art fair. I’ve been waiting for you to stop by.”
“Oh,” I started, slightly embarrassed. I remembered the scene I had caused that day.
“It’s ok,” she said, as if reading my mind, “there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. No one should be kept from pursuing the things that intrigue her most.”
“How did you… how did you remember me Mrs. Wollen? Why have you been waiting for me?”
“Please dear, call me Sigri.”
I had never called an adult by her first name before.
“When you looked at my paintings, I felt your energy. I knew that magic was your destiny.”
“How would you know that?”
“One of my age and experience simply knows these things. You seek magic, and it seeks you. You could control the events of your life and shape the very nature of existence itself. You could have real power.”
She sensed my hesitation.
“Come, meet my guards. This is Ammon,” she motioned to the black cat, “and this here is Hotep”, she said of the Siamese. “Now, let me show you some of my relics.”
There were African masks, older than human society, boomerangs and aboriginal art, and a Mayan priest’s dagger, used for ritual child sacrifice.
“You are a very smart little girl. I know you can appreciate the special artifacts here. This is no ordinary antique shop.”
She was right. I saw that her store was different from other antique shops. There were no tacky tin toys or collectible Coca-Cola plates there.
“Did you notice the book in the window?”
I couldn’t shake the feeling that somehow she knew I had seen it. I didn’t answer.
“Would you like to take a look at it?”
I looked outside. Dusk was falling.
“I have to get going so I can ride my bike home before it gets dark. I’m sorry.”
“Very well then, Lulu, please do come again. The magic will be waiting when you’re ready.”
I walked out the door and hopped on my bike, perplexed. I didn’t remember telling her my name. I had to race home to beat the sunset, and made it there just before the last rays of light disappeared under the horizon.
When I arrived at Sigri’s shop I was trembling, though the sprint over had worked out some of my nerves. I couldn’t allow myself to think or I would chicken out. I dashed inside and grabbed the spell-book. It was heavy. I was paranoid someone was watching me as I rushed back to the parish. When I was almost there, I realized I had to figure out how to get the book home without Mom noticing. I snuck over to the parking lot. Hopefully she had left the car unlocked. If so, I could pop the trunk and hide it in there. I knew the lever to lift. I’d seen her do it before. I just had to hope we wouldn’t go grocery shopping after church. I found the car unlocked, stowed the book away, and rushed back to the parish.
I hid around the corner of the building to watch for Melanie so we could walk to the church building together. When I saw her, I stuck my head around the corner and called out, “Melanie. Melanie!” in an exaggerated whisper.
“Lulu! What are you doing over there?”
“Shh!” I warned as I motioned for her to come over by me.
“Did you skip Sunday School?”
“Shh. Don’t tell. I didn’t tell about the bacon. I did it to help Kaitlyn. But no one can know. So don’t tell.”
“Ok. I won’t.”
I fidgeted in the pew during the service. Luckily we sat in the back because Mom was late. Hopefully we’d make a quick exit and Mrs. Grimme wouldn’t see us. While Pastor Roberts prayed for Kaityln and her family during the public prayer time, I opened my eyes and snuck a peek around the congregation. I saw Mrs. Rohm. She was crying and holding a tissue to her nose as Mr. Rohm held his arm around her tightly.
That afternoon, I snuck out to the garage while Mom was taking a shower. Spells and Sigil Magick. I ran my hands over the gold painted leather cover. The title was carved and stained with black ink. A wave of fear washed through me, but I suppressed it. I opened the book to a chapter entitled “Sigil Magick: The Basics”. I began to read.
A Sigil is a word spell that begins with an intention. A desire. A need. A want.
First, visualize your desire being enacted. Next, state the visualized desire clearly and precisely in one sentence. Be absolutely certain what your intention truly is. Many inexperienced magickans leave just enough loose ends dangling about in their spells to hang themselves. Be very careful; words are tricky things. Many of them have two meanings and almost all are easily twisted.
First, know what it is you want.
Then, state your will to obtain it.
Next, dare to construct a Magick Sigil that will do just that.
And last, keep silent about it.
Now write out the Sigil in full. Then cross out all the vowels and any consonants that appear more than once. Create a symbolic design out of the remaining letters. Cast all of your energy and will into the sigil as you continue to visualize your intention being done. Implant the sigil into the unconscious through meditation. After that, it must be completely destroyed, preferably by fire. Then you must forget about it.
I took a deep breath, then exhaled. I stated my intention in my mind.
I will be reunited with Kaitlyn.
I started creating the sigil. I repeated my intention over and over. I will be reunited with Kaitlyn. I wrote the words out on a piece of paper. I began crossing out the vowels, then the repeated consonants, the L’s the N’s and the T’s. I drew the remaining letters into a symbol. I worked myself into a frenzy, until at last when I finished the sigil, I thought I might explode. Then I put it under my pillow, lay down upon it, and meditated. Soon I was asleep.
I woke to the sound of thunder. Melanie was shaking me.
“Lulu. Will you tell me more of the story tonight?”
“In a few minutes. Go wait in your bed. I’ll be right there.”
No one could see what I was doing. It had to be absolutely secret. I crawled into the nook behind the chimney with some matches and a small dish I had secured from the kitchen. I lifted up the paper, held a corner of it with my thumb and forefinger, lit a match, and held the flame up to the bottom of it. As flames lapped up the spell and neared my fingers, I dropped the remainder of the sigil into the bowl and watched it flicker out into ash.
I crawled into Melanie’s bed.
“No screaming this time, promise?”
“Ok. When the moon is full, the witch emerges from the forest and feels her way through the grass with her walking stick. Every time a flash of lightning illuminates the sky, she glances around, scanning the horizon for places where beautiful girls might live. She travels all throughout the night, feeling her way with her stick, squinting in the light of the moon, and waiting for lightning and signs of her prey.”
“What?” I said shortly, irritated at the interruption.
“What does she do with the girls after she finds them?”
“I’m getting there.”
Rain began to pour down on the roof above us.
“The witch needs little girls in order to concoct an elixir of beauty. When she drinks it, she will be transformed into a beautiful young maiden, and will be able to see, as well as walk freely about the earth for one thousand years. After that, her beauty will begin to fade, and she will need to begin the process of creating another elixir.”
“How does she use the girls to make the elixir?”
“Do you really want to know?”
“Ok then. I’ll tell you. When the witch finds a suitable girl, she casts a hypnosis spell on her through the moon. Then the girl heads out toward the forest and the witch catches her and carries her away. Next to the witch’s cave, exactly in the middle of the woods, is a deep, dark well. She tosses the girls into it, and they fall to their death. When the witch has collected enough girls, she causes the well to bubble up like a cauldron and simmers the potion, adding the right compounds and magic, then reduces the whole brew down to such a small amount that it fits inside a single, glass vial.”
“How many girls does she need to collect?”
“It depends on their beauty. The fairer the girl, the more useful she will be to the potion. The witch can sense the potency in the well. She will know when it is time.”
“Lulu?” Melanie asked with a quivering voice.
“Will you sleep in my bed tonight? That was really, really scary.”
I put my head down on the pillow, pulled the quilt over us, and squeezed her tight.
That night, I dreamed of the black hole again. I tumbled down into it, only this time I was not alone. Melanie was with me. I kept trying to hold on to her, but something pulled on my limbs and wrenched me away from her. I clawed at her with all my might, but it was useless. I watched her tumble away from me into the hole, as I, too fell into it. The crow sat, watching.
I jolted awake, this time with a scream. I looked beside me frantically. Melanie was not in the bed. I ran down both flights of stairs as fast as I could.
“Mom! Mom!” I cried. “Melanie! Melanie, where are you! Mom! Mom! Melanie, where are you! Mom!”
“What sweetie, what is it?”
“Did Melanie come down for breakfast yet?”
“No, isn’t she upstairs in her bed?”
“No mom! She’s not here!”
“It’s ok, it’s ok, calm down Lulu, calm down, maybe she’s hiding, I don’t know!”
“Melanie! Melanie, come out, stop playing games, this isn’t funny! Melanie!”
We turned the house upside down. We ran outside and called for her in the field, in the woods. We called and called but there was no answer. She was gone.
I collapsed in the field, buried my face in my hands, and sobbed. My body shook with grief. My little sister had been snatched from my arms, and I knew, I just knew it was my fault. I shouldn’t have told her the story. I shouldn’t have stolen the book and written the sigil. I shouldn’t have tried to practice magic. What had I done!
Mom called the police and reported Melanie missing. We stayed home that day, and stared into the walls, silent. When the police arrived, we had to answer a lot of questions. I don’t remember what any of them were or how I answered. I must have told them I was asleep, that I didn’t know what happened. That would have been the sane thing to say. If I told them the truth about what I knew, they would think me a silly child, concocting elaborate stories to cope with my grief. They would tell me it wasn’t my fault, that magic wasn’t real. But I knew that it was. I remembered what the spell-book said about the power of words. How I wished I could take it all back. If God was there I wondered if he could save me now.
I vowed to make it right. I would find Melanie. I alone caused this and I alone could fix it. And I would get rid of the book. I would be done with it, once and for all.
After mom went to bed that night, I listened, and waited to be sure she had gone to sleep. When I heard nothing for about an hour, I decided the coast was clear. I removed my nightclothes and dressed in jeans and a hooded sweatshirt. I grabbed a coat as well. I found my warmest pair of socks, unfolded them, and put them on my feet. The October wind had taken on a chill. I gathered up my boots and rested them on top of the book. I planned to wait until I was at the front door to put them on so I could remain quiet as possible as I crept down the attic stairs, then down the hall, and to the first floor.
The last step of the attic was tricky. Hard as I tried, the stair made a tiny squeak as I let my weight off of it. I paused and waited. Nothing. I waited for a minute or two, then decided it was safe to continue. I made it to the end of the hall, and scurried down the winding stairs. I was safe. I was almost there. At the front door, I stuffed the boots on my feet and tied the laces with shaking fingers. I shut and latched the door as silently as I could. Then I raced to the woods as fast as my legs could carry me. I felt like I was flying.
I parted the forest and dove headlong in. The branches thrashed and whipped me. I just kept running, faster, faster, faster! Suddenly I tripped on a knobby tree root, fell to the ground, and hit my head. I was slightly unconscious, but I thought I felt someone pick me up. Was I being carried? I begged to please wake up now. All of it, the whole thing, it had just been one terrible nightmare. I would wake up, and everything would be fine. Lulu would be in her bed, waiting for me to tell ghost stories, to tease her. Kaitlyn would be next door again, waiting to call out her window to me, ready to cause trouble, ready to sneak out of Sunday school, to join in our old adventures. Mom would cook us breakfast and scold us for telling ghost stories. Everything would be safe. Everything would return to normal.
Whatever was carrying me, it seemed, stopped moving. Then it tilted me downward and my legs brushed against a cold stone surface. The physicality of it brought me back to a sense of reality. I looked upward. Rays of moonlight were beaming down, barely obscured by any branches. We must have been in a clearing. When I recovered from the blinding white radiance of the moon, I realized there was a hooded figure looking down at me. A crow sat on its shoulder. I looked around. I was surrounded by a circular pattern of bricks. I looked back up inside of the hood. A long beak pointed out at me, and thin, pursed lips parted and said, “I’ve been waiting for you. You were the last that I needed. Magic is your destiny.”
And then I began to tumble down into a black hole. But this time when I woke up, I was not in my bed. I was looking into a well in the center of a forest clearing. I saw my own body at the bottom, splayed out and mangled on top a mountain of bones, and dead, decaying little girls. Blood ran out of my ear, down my twisted neck, and dripped onto the bodies of Melanie, Kaitlyn, and the rest of the girls. A crimson pool churned in the bottom. I was weightless. I no longer felt any sadness or remorse. I felt nothing at all.