It’s almost midnight. The room is still, but the air is thick and buzzing with anticipation. The shadows are suffocating me. I pull my hoodie on and zip it right up, because it makes me feel safer. More protected.
‘Mike, hurry up,’ I hiss into the darkness.
‘Sorry. This is… heavy,’ I hear him wheeze.
‘Do you need help?’ I move toward him, arms out in front of me, feeling my way down the hallway.
I hear a crash. ‘Arghh! Why does it have to be so dark!?’
‘It’s one of the Rules. We must be “lit by mere moonlight”,’ I whisper. I could recite that whole book from memory.
‘Stupid Rules,’ he says, then ‘okay, all done. Help me shift this?’
I follow his voice and can only just see him in the shadows at the top of the stairs, straining over a dusty cardboard box. I help him lift it and we awkwardly walk it into the bigger room… that was most likely her living room.
‘Right,’ Mike says, as we set the box down next to the crudely drawn chalk circle. ‘What now?’
‘We dig out the objects,’ I reply. I pull out my nail scissors and cut along the tape sealing the old box shut. I just tear the cardboard, to be honest – it’s so old and damp – but I want to be careful. We have to do every step perfectly.
I peer inside. Everything seems to be in there. It’s all in decent condition, too. Makes me wonder who else has tried this – and why they weren’t successful. I throw that thought away quickly, and start pulling out each of the key items and passing them to Mike – a small sack of beans, a big hunk of crystal; small, sticky bottles of oil, a few silver chains, and ornate pendants. A thick, mottled, red candle. Rings – so many rings. A few dog-eared hardbacks. A glass jar containing deep green leaves. Finally, a strange brass contraption, and a chipped mug.
Once the box is empty, I turn to see Mike arranging everything within the circle. He’s cracking each of the books open, and I can hear each of them sigh in relief as he does. Dust escapes from between the pages, glimmers in the air as it falls to the floor, and an ancient musty scent fills the room. All the silver jewellery sits in a pile by his shoes. I sit down beside him and gather it in one hand. I reach the other into my pocket to find a cloth and set to work polishing. When I’m satisfied that every bit of silver looks perfect, I place them all around the hefty piece of quartz sitting in the centre of the circle. As I do this, Mike shuffles the books closer in – they look like waves crashing against the bottom of a cloudy cliff face.
Then we both turn to the collection of oil bottles. They all look identical, but obviously aren’t. We have to find the right one. After attempting to read the scribbles on what little label remains on each – most are worn off completely, or damp and peeling – Mike whispers, ‘we have to judge by the smells.’ I sigh. My eyesight may be second to none, but my sense of smell can’t be trusted at all.
As if he is reading my mind – something he swears he doesn’t do any more, after a particularly horrific incident – Mike says softly, ‘I’ll do it.’
I smile up at him in the darkness. ‘I’ll get the leaves.’
As I take each leaf out of the jar, marveling at how clean and intact they all seem to be, I try not to let the dread that’s been hovering all around me for the past few days set in and stop me.
This is what Dad wanted, I tell myself for the hundredth time. He knew we could do it. ‘Don’t doubt yourself, my wee girl!’ he’d say as he ruffled my hair and flicked the switch of the kettle. I wipe an unexpected tear from the corner of my eye. I miss him so.
‘I do too,’ Mike says, quietly.
‘You said you’d stop that,’ I reply sharply.
‘I can’t help it,’ he says, and I see him grimace a little. ‘Guard slips when I’m feeling… vulnerable.’
I nod, and with that, we continue working silently. I try to create a quiet brown noise buzz in my brain.
Once we’ve got the leaves arranged between the books and the crystal – with a few scattered around the edge of the circle, just in case – Mike leans in and lets a few drops of the oil he insists is the right one land on them. The rich smell of lush Australian greenery – eucalyptus and tea tree – mingles in the air with the dusty books, and I actually shiver because it’s so good. I can already feel the aura around us and the energy building.
I think Mike feels it, too. ‘One last thing,’ he says, reaching for the brass grinder on the floor, and the sack of beans. ‘You do this, I’ll go find the kettle. Okay?’
‘No worries,’ I reply, taking both items from him and pulling the ties on the sack. I am hit with the deep scent of espresso immediately. I pour the beans into the funnel on the little machine and start to turn the handle. As they break into chunks and fall through to the container as dust, the smell intensifies, as does the energy in the room. It exacts on me for a moment, filling me from my feet all the way up to the roots of my hair with excitement and… yearning. I put the broken bits of bean back into the funnel and turn the handle again, and again, and again. I am suddenly manic with my grinding – I have to go faster, FASTER, because she’s nearly here… she really is right there, on the edge. I can almost feel her hand on my shoulder. It’s been years, but now the physical memory is so strong my eyes are filling up with tears and I want to cry out; I want to grab the matches in my bag, strike a handful of them and search desperately in the dark.
Mike must feel the same way – either that, or he felt my horror and the urgency within it – because he rushes into the room again with a steaming kettle in one hand, a fresh mug in another.
‘I think I know why it didn’t work for him, before,’ he says breathlessly. He holds up the clean cup. ‘Brought this along, just in case. The chipped one in the box couldn’t have worked.’
I gasp, because that makes complete sense. Everything has to be perfect, down to the tiniest details. I want to hug him so hard right now. But it’ll have to wait – it’s now just a few minutes til midnight. Mike places the mug inside the circle, on top of a book. He fills it with hot water as I shake the ground coffee into it simultaneously. Our heads nearly bump as we both lean over, straining in concentration.
‘That’s it,’ I breathe, and we draw back. ‘I just have to light this, and…’ I strike a match and touch it to the wick of the red candle. I then carefully place the candle into the empty glass jar, on the very top of the quartz. We hold our breath, and…
Nothing happens. I hear the seconds ticking by on my watch; we’re so close to midnight, and so close to summoning her, it has to work, it HAS to…
I suddenly realise it’s not going to. All that effort was for nothing. We clearly misjudged something, or forgot a crucial ingredient. What a stupid pair of kids we are. In fact, it must be just me – Mike was brilliant, he did everything right! It’s always my fault. I ruined it for both of us.
I blink, and one hopeless tear falls to the floor – it lands just within the circle, smudging the waxy white line ever so slightly. Suddenly, there’s a rumbling that starts in our stomachs and then builds, until it shakes the room. An obscenely loud crack.
‘Where the fuck am I?’