By John Everson
Meredith took the man's hand in hers and gave it a reassuring squeeze. She'd worked a long time to bring him here. His palms were clammy; she could smell his fear. He had every reason to be afraid. But she needed him for this; she couldn't afford for him to back out now. And he owed her too much to leave. Not when she was this close. Not on this night. She would not wait another year until it came around again.
Candles flickered and smoked all around them; the room smelled of beeswax and sage. Before he arrived she had lit six candles and placed them in a line to the north, and then six more to the south, and then finally six more to the east: a perfect number in an imperfect shape. They formed a U around the small table in her living room. The opening pointed toward the door. An entry point. She did not intend for there to be an exit.
"Put your fingers on the wood," she urged her unwilling accomplice. His eyes looked glossy and wet in the wavering orange light. He might have been about to cry, or it could have just been the thickness of his glasses that magnified the light. "Gently," she said. "Just the tips. Next to mine."
Together they touched the edges of the planchette, and Meredith looked at George's clothes laid out next to the table inside the U. They were the last things her husband had worn, and the rents in the shirt were still stained with his blood. She looked at his carving knives, rusting now with disuse. She remembered the day she had given them to him, the joy that had sparked in his eyes, and then the guilt. How could they afford them? he'd wondered. Meredith smiled at the distant memory. She'd saved for months and secretly driven all the way to San Francisco to buy them. Then she had anointed them with dark words and the contents of one of the secret family jars tucked away in the basement. For a long time they had brought him happiness, before the magic turned dark.
"Don't speak," she cautioned. "Don't take your fingers away from the wood. Just let it work through you."
She closed her eyes to the mementos of George and remembered him as he'd been in life: broad and quiet, eyes shadowed, but always tender to her. Others had seen differently. They had persecuted him and called him evil.
Eyes shut and locked on the memory of her husband holding her close in the kitchen of their house, her fingers touching the planchette, Meredith called out to the room:
"Spirits close and spirits far,
call for me to my beloved.
Bring him here to where we are.
Let us speak more from beyond the end.
Bring to me my dearest friend."
Outside, the wind howled, crashing the shutters hard against the windows of the small cottage. A storm was due by midnight. Appropriate, that on the night Meredith needed to reach beyond death, the skies boiled dark and angry. Inside, the candles flickered as the draughts blown in from the ocean slipped through cracks in the windows and doors.
"Are you with us?" Meredith asked. There was no answer but the wind.
"Spirits close and spirits far," she called out again to the small room. Her voice echoed strangely.
"I have served you all my life.
Bring my George to where we are.
Let him speak to me, his wife.
There is no end to love in death;
we are one in two,
separate only by breath."
The wood seemed to tremble beneath her fingers, and Meredith's lips trembled in a faint smile.
"Are you with us?" she asked a second time.
The wooden ring moved beneath her fingers, and Meredith opened her eyes to see it stop at the upper left corner of the wooden board. It rested atop the word YES.
"I've found the way to bring you back," she said.
The wood darted to the opposite side of the board. She almost lost her connection to it. Looking at her partner, she saw sweat bead on his forehead. His eyes bulged as they followed the seemingly independent movement of the planchette. But he did not take his fingers from their place next to hers.
"We can be together again," she promised. "And you can teach them all a lesson."
The wooden ring slipped from letter to letter across the board. Beneath the YES and NO, a full alphabet was painted. The ring stopped first on S and then on O. And then it spelled out M-U-C-H. It paused for a moment and then quickly moved through the letters B-L-O-O-D.
"Yes," she whispered. "But I need you. I've always needed you."
The wood slowly moved to the P and then the A, the I and the N.
"Just a little," she whispered. With one hand she lifted the candle at the edge of the U and dribbled its wax across the opening, closing the entrance, all the while keeping one finger to the planchette.
"You are with us now and forevermore," she said. "My love to blind you, my blood to bind you."
With those words, she lifted one of George's knives and lightly drew its blade across the wrist of her hand that still touched the planchette. Blood dripped across the board, spotting the knives with crimson, and the wind outside gusted and cried. Meredith murmured a sentence in an ancient tongue, and then said it again, louder, fighting to be heard above the howls. Then she switched to her own tongue and said the words she'd longed to mouth for months.
"Make them rue the day they hurt you.
My strength yours as long as you can
stay with me and make them regret
the day they hurt the Pumpkin Man."
At last her partner made a sound. He screamed and pulled away from the witchboard. The front door burst open, and the wind finally found its way inside. All the candles blew out at once, leaving Meredith smiling in the darkness.
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