“Stop pacing for Christ’s sake, Jerry, your sister will be here.”
Jerry stopped by the window, sighed, and turned to face his wife. “When I spoke to her last Sunday, she was pretty adamant about never setting foot in this house again.”
“She’ll be here, dear. She needs the money just as bad as we do. You’ve never told me why you both hate this place so much. What’s the big secret?”
Jerry turned away and stared out the window. After several silent seconds passed, he shook his head, sat down and softly said, “When we were kids, we both loved coming here to the island. Grandpa would meet us at the dock, and he’d take us for a ride around the island before we went to the house.”
Cindy sat down beside Jerry and gave his hand a soft squeeze. “That sounds like fun to me.”
Jerry glanced at his wife and nodded. “It was. I was thirteen when grandpa died. That means Mary would’ve been…” His eyes took on a distant look while he did the math. “Ten or eleven… Ah, it was before her birthday. She was ten. Anyway, mom and dad dropped us off with grandma a couple weeks after the funeral so that they could celebrate their anniversary.” He swallowed hard and took a deep breath. “We saw our grandma talking to his ghost late one night.”
Cindy studied her husband’s face in silence, looking for any sign that he was joking. An uneasy feeling washed over her when she realized that he was completely serious. Something thudded against the front door, and they both jumped.
“Are you guys going to unlock the stupid door? I’d like to get this over with.”
Jerry let out a long relieved breath. “It’s just Mary.”
When Jerry opened the door, his sister pushed a manila envelope into his chest, and he clasped it with one hand. “Here’s the damn envelope. I can’t believe that she actually put it in her will that we had to open it here.” She looked around the room, sighed, and sat down on the couch. “I forgot how far the house was from the bank. I feel like I just ran a marathon.”
Jerry glanced at the handwriting on the front of the envelope and then stared blankly at the wallpaper until his sister said his name.
“Jerry. Earth to Jerry. How about you satisfy our curiosity and open the damn envelope?”
Jerry blinked twice, shook his head and then nodded. “Sorry. I was just thinking about that night…”
His sister held up a forestalling hand. “I don’t want to talk about it. All I want to do is satisfy the conditions of the will so that we can sell this house and move on with our lives. According to the attorney, she left us a few last private tasks to complete in that envelope before we can put the house on the market…You know I don’t want to be here.” Mary took a calming breath. “Let’s just get this over with.”
Jerry tore open the top of the envelope and dumped out a notebook. His heart beat faster and his eyes widened as he randomly thumbed through the pages. “These symbols look familiar.”
Mary leaned forward to get a better look, and she gasped, “Those are the same symbols I saw on the walls.”
Cindy slowly gently pulled the notebook, and Jerry let her take it. She opened it to the first page and read aloud.
“My Dear Grandchildren,
I know why you both stopped coming to see me during the summers. It hurt me, but I understand and forgive you. What you saw that night was indeed your grandfather’s spirit. My grandmother was a witch and she taught me her craft at an early age. We moved here for the seclusion offered by the island. It allowed me to explore and hone my own talents without the fear of being seen.
When Clarence died, I just couldn’t let him go. So, I summoned him one night and bound his spirit to the house so that I’d know he was close.”
Boards creaked above their heads and their eyes widened as the conversation stopped. As if everyone had the same idea at once, they all turned to look out the window. There was no wind. Cindy swallowed the lump that was forming in her throat, glanced at the ceiling, and continued reading as the hairs on her arms stood up.
“I knew that I’d never be able to let him go, so I wrote the instructions to set him free in this notebook. Everything you will need is in the attic. Follow my instructions carefully. The old goat has grown ornery in his captivity, and I wouldn’t want him hurting you.
Once you begin, stay in the circle no matter what happens. There will be spirits that cross over when the door opens that will try to deceive you. Pay no attention to them. They will be forced back to their side as the gate closes.
I only have one more important detail for you. Mary must read the spell. I tested her the last summer you visited, and the gift is in her.”
Jerry turned to his sister who was shaking her head emphatically. “No way! I am not crazy like that old hag.”
After studying the floor a few moments, Jerry shook his head slowly and looked up. “We both know what we saw that night; there’s no reason to deny it.” Mary looked away and stared sullenly out the window. “What did she mean by testing you?”
Mary sighed and her eyebrows furrowed as she thought back. “She asked me to pick out three items out of an old trunk. I don’t remember what they were, but I do remember how happy she was when I gave them to her.”
Something knocked above their heads, and Mary’s face whitened. “I… I don’t want to do this.”
Cindy plopped down onto the couch beside her husband. “We could just go back to the attorney’s office. No one would know if we did this or not.”
Hope flashed through Mary’s eyes, but Jerry shook his head. “We have to set our grandfather’s spirit free. Mary, I’d swap places with you and do it myself if I could.”
A tear rolled down Mary’s cheek. “How could she do that to him? I wish she was still her so that I could demand a few answers.”
Jerry sat closer to the edge of his seat. “So, you’ll do it?”
“What choice do I have?” Mary’s determination grew stronger, and she dried her eyes. “Can we do it now and get it over with?”
Cindy thumbed through the notebook and glanced out the window. “All it says is to do it after dark, and the sun has definitely set.”
Mary clasped her hands into fists and stood up. “I’m only doing this for grandpa.”
Jerry led the way up the stairs, and he sucked in a sharp breath and stopped when he reached the room where he had seen his grandfather’s spirit as a child. His grandfather’s rocking chair slow swayed back and forth beside a closed window. The chair stopped moving when Mary looked into the room.
Cindy stretched her neck to look around the door frame and into the room. “What?”
Jerry’s looked into his sister’s eyes and shook his head. “It’s nothing. Just a drafty old house that’s all.”
He walked to the end of the hall and opened the narrow door to the attic. A flashlight hung on the back of the door, and he switched it on before turning sideways and taking the first steps into the cramp stairway.
Jerry found a box of matches and lit a couple of candles and then handed a candle to his wife so that she could light the other candles in the room. Dark shadows danced on the walls as they walked around the attic.
Mary eyed the symbols painted between the rafters and turned to study the table in the center of the room. A large bowl surrounded by several small jars sat in the center of the table.
Jerry picked up a bottle. “They’re numbered.”
Cindy thumbed through the notebook. “There are notations in the spell indicating when we should add each ingredient.”
“Ha, that’s got to be a first, witchcraft by numbers.” Mary pulled the cork from a bottle with a hand written number five on the side. She held the bottle under her nose and gagged. She quickly held the bottle as far away as she could with an outstretched arm. “I don’t think I want to know what’s in these.”
Jerry took the bottle from his sister’s hand, pushed the cork back into place, and then rested a hand on Mary’s back. “Are you okay?”
A few deep breaths later, Mary nodded and stood up straighter. “I’m fine. Can we get this over with? It’s really creepy up here.”
Jerry nodded and boards creaked as he stepped to the other side of the small table and pointed out the circle. “Everyone remember, stay inside the circle.”
Cindy handed the notebook to Mary and pointed out where the spell began. After looking over the spell a moment she nodded and began to read. She held up her fingers as she came to the numbers, and her brother emptied the appropriate bottle into the bowl. The shadows seemed to darken, and the wind outside rattled the tin roof above their heads.
Jerry heard his wife gasp. When he looked up, her face was white and she pointed into the darkness as she took a step back. A wave of fear washed over Jerry when he realized that she was about step out of the circle. As he opened his mouth to warn her, a light flashed above their heads and ethereal wisps began to slowly circle them.
Whispers filled the room and echoed off of the rafters. Cindy stopped at the edge of the circle and turned around to stare at the swirling images that encircled them. Many of the voices they heard spoke in languages that sounded dark and harsh.
Jerry thought he glimpsed his grandfather and his grandmother’s face in the group swirling around the circle, and his breath seemed to freeze in his throat. A moment later, he realized that his sister was frantically flashing an open hand and three fingers at him. He searched the table and double checked the bottles. “There is no eight.”
His sister took a step closer and pointed at small dagger by the bowl. He picked up the dagger and twisted the blade to catch the candlelight. When he held it just right in the light he could see a faint figure eight written on the blade with marker. His eyebrows drew closer together a moment before he realized what he needed to do.
The voices grew louder as he opened his hand and laid the blade across his palm. He glanced at the apparitions throwing themselves violently against the protective circle and then met his sister’s eyes. With a quick slash, he dragged the blade across his hand and then tilted it to let the blood drip into the bowl.
The contents of the bowl smoldered and bubbled as Mary spoke the last few words of the incantation. Flames suddenly appeared in the bowl and a spinning halo of light rose above their heads. The apparitions around them screamed as they were drawn to and through the halo. As the last apparition slipped through the halo of light, they all heard a faint voice say, “Thank you.” The gateway snapped shut with a low thump that vibrated the air and snuffed out the candles, leaving them in total darkness and silence.
Jerry worked the flashlight out of his back pocket, and a moment later its dim light illuminated the attic. Cindy dashed for the stairway, quickly followed by Mary. No one stopped walking or said a word until they were outside and staring up at the stars and moon. The sounds of crickets, frogs and cicadas filled their ears and a gentle breeze rustled the leaves of nearby trees.
Cindy dropped to her knees and ran her fingers through the grass. Jerry took a knee beside her and asked, “You alright?”
Cindy glanced up at Mary. “Mary dear, I love you like a sister and you’ll always be welcome at our house.” She sighed and looked into her husband’s eyes. “Your side of the family is nuts! I think we should spend the holidays with my family.”
Jerry chuckled and pulled his wife close. “I don’t have a problem with that.”
Eddie D. Moore travels extensively for work, and he spends much of that time listening to audio books. The rest of the time is spent dreaming of stories to write and he spends the weekends writing them. His stories have been published by Jouth Webzine, The Flash Fiction Press, Every Day Fiction, Theme of Absence, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Fantasia Divinity Magazine. Find more on his blog: https://eddiedmoore.wordpress.com/.
Image by Jamie Beverly.