“That’s…unbelievable,” Adrianne said. She reached up and caught the football, tossed it back to Travis and yelled, “Cut that out! Jess is working here!” She settled back into her pose as if nothing had happened.
“Unbelievable is the right word,” Jessica agreed, smudging the pastel colours with her fingertips. The sketch started as an excuse to talk to Adrianne privately while the others played, but it was shaping up well. She’d never drawn Adrianne before. Adrianne was African-American and she’d put her hair into cornrows since the semester ended. Red and silver beads sparkled on the ends of each braid. It was a challenge to capture in pastels.
“Well, don’t stop there!” Adrianne urged. “What else has happened?”
“Nothing weird since we got back from the hospital, thank God.” Jessica set down the red ochre and selected a blue pastel to sketch in the sky. “It sounds crazy, I know – ”
“No, it doesn’t,” Adrianne interrupted. “It sounds like the house is haunted.” She said the words calmly, as if it was perfectly normal.
Jessica stared. “Addie, you don’t really believe…”
“In ghosts? Sure I do. Why not?”
Baffled, Jessica couldn’t think of a thing to say. She considered herself a practical person. Oh, she wasn’t above crossing her fingers for luck or reading her horoscope in a magazine, but she wasn’t superstitious. She attended church because her parents did but it didn’t bother her to miss a week and she didn’t think much about God the other six days of the week. And she didn’t believe in ghosts or ghouls or anything else like that.
Adrianne laughed. “Honestly, Jess, I never knew you were such a sceptic. How else do you explain the story you just told me?”
“I don’t know, Addie. There’s not one thing that doesn’t have a logical explanation. It’s just when you put it all together it seems a bit weird.”
“Exactly. Open your mind a little, Jess.” She shook her head, making the braids swing. “Maybe we could do a séance! We can contact the spirit, find out what’s causing this.”
“Are you crazy?” Jessica demanded. “After everything Claire has been through I don’t want to encourage…”
“I said open your mind. You’re talking like you think Claire is sick. Delusional. But you told the story like you believe it, too. So which is it, Jess?”
Jessica picked up her sketch book again and concentrated on the drawing while she considered the question. Adrianne’s dark skin was lovely to sketch. She would enjoy painting Adrianne in oil, a romantic image, maybe: Addie in a long dress sitting on a farm gate. That would be way off Adrianne’s personality, but it would make a lovely painting.
Jessica bit her lip and looked up. “I don’t think Claire imagined it because we all heard the noise. And I do think there’s something strange here. But I don’t believe in ghosts, Addie. I just don’t.”
“You’re afraid that if we try a séance, that belief will be challenged.” It wasn’t Adrianne who spoke.
Jessica whirled around to see Claire watching them from a short distance away. She had stopped wearing the sling, but her arm wasn’t healed enough for her to play ball with the others. How much had she heard?
“I’m right, aren’t I?” Claire pressed.
Claire’s accusation was logical, and that was good. Claire’s analytical side could be annoying but it was also her greatest strength.
Jessica nodded slowly. “Come and sit down, Claire.” She set her sketch pad down, the drawing only half-finished. Adrianne moved a little closer and Claire sat between them, so they could talk quietly.
“Ghosts and poltergeists are fun in movies,” Jessica began, “but in real life? Not so much.” She looked at her friends, hoping they could understand how serious she was. “So, yes, I’m afraid of that. But I’m more afraid of someone manipulating the situation.”
Adrianne frowned. “What do you mean?”
“You haven’t been here, Addie.” Jessica flipped her sketch pad closed and hesitated, not sure how to articulate what she was thinking. “Okay. Here’s what I know. There are three possible explanations for this. One: it’s something paranormal. You both know I don’t believe that, but for the sake of argument let’s assume it could be a ghost and it would respond to a séance. That’s option one.” She realised she was babbling and shut up.
“Okay…?” Claire agreed as Adrianne nodded.
“Option two: all that noise was caused by something…normal. Like air in the pipes, and the rest is just our imagination. Claire is just super-clumsy this week. The piano music was the radio. We’re just seeing a pattern where there’s only coincidence. That could be it, right?” She looked at Claire for confirmation.
Claire nodded slowly. “People have a natural tendency to assign purpose to random events. Some psychologists think that’s the origin of religion, like people thinking God sent an earthquake to punish a city. And the brain is programmed to find patterns in what we see and feel; otherwise we wouldn’t have language or maths or music. So we hear a strange sound and the brain decodes it as a voice, and the rational mind then imbues that voice with intelligence.” Claire shrugged. “I think. It’s not really my area.”
Jessica wasn’t sure she understood everything Claire said, but she was relieved Claire seemed to be agreeing with her. “Okay. So if we were to hold a séance, and nothing happened, that would prove option two. Do you agree?”
“So far, yes,” Adrianne answered.
“The one that really scares me is option three. And please, I’m not accusing anyone, okay? I know how this will sound, but I’m not.”
“We believe you, Jess,” Adrianne said.
“Option three: someone is responsible for all or part of this. Because there’s just too much going on here and there’s one coincidence too many I can’t get out of my head.”
“Sam’s ghost story the first night we spent here. Addie, when we first arrived here, there was a big thunderstorm and we were kidding around, saying the house looked haunted. That night, we were in the day room and someone said we needed a ghost story.”
“It was Brady,” Claire volunteered.
“And Sam told us one. It was a true story, he said, about a girl haunted by a poltergeist.”
“Can you remember the story?” Adrianne asked.
Jessica tried. “Um…it was in Nova Scotia…this girl, Esther…”
“Oh, that one,” Adrianne interrupted. “The Great Amherst Mystery. It’s a famous story.” She grinned. “I had no idea Sam was into parapsychology.”
“But the story came first, Addie. And then it started happening here.”
Comprehension dawned on her face. “Oh. I see where you’re going. But that’s a hell of a practical joke, Jess.”
“I know. I don’t believe any of us would do that and I can’t for the life of me figure out how any of us could have. But I feel like there’s some…intelligence behind this.”
“So you’re afraid that, if one of the five of you is somehow behind it, they could manipulate a séance, too,” Adrianne concluded.
“Then we won’t tell anyone what we’re going to do,” Adrianne decided. “Just the three of us…you trust us, don’t you?”
Jessica was about to say yes – it was true – when Claire spoke first.
“Addie,” Claire asked, “do you really think it’s a good idea? I mean, if this is a ghost, I don’t want to, you know, piss it off.”
“I think we’ll be okay. Do you want to?”
Jessica looked at Claire, hoping she would say no. But Claire nodded. “Okay. Jess?”
Jessica sighed. “Alright. Just us three.”
There were nine of them at the house for the weekend. Adrianne, Kathy, Travis and Matt had joined Jessica, Claire, Sam, Brady and Dean. With so many people around, it was both easier to talk privately and paradoxically harder to sneak away for a clandestine meeting.
After Jessica put her sketchbook and pastels away she, Adrianne and Claire joined the others in the garden and put Brady’s volleyball court to good use. It was a hot day but the breeze from the ocean helped and they all enjoyed the game. Even Dean joined in, to even up the numbers since Claire couldn’t play, and he turned out to be damn good.
When she got tired of refereeing the game, Claire disappeared into the house and returned with a tray of iced lemonade for everyone. It was very welcome, and broke up the game. While Brady and Travis continued to throw a football to each other, apparently incapable of sitting still even in the heat, Jessica took her lemonade and flopped down on the grass beside Sam. She was worn out, panting and sweaty, her t-shirt clinging to her skin. She sipped her cold lemonade, waiting for her breathing to steady a little.
All of the crazy stuff seemed very far away. Jessica felt relaxed and happy. Sam leaned close, kissed her bare shoulder and asked if she needed help with her sunscreen.
Jessica smiled back and turned her head to kiss his lips. She felt Sam’s fingers brush back a stray lock of her hair. Her body warmed in a new way and she leaned closer to him as they kissed, the sunscreen forgotten.
A loud trill interrupted them. Jessica drew back, looking for the source of the sound: it was a cell phone, but whose? Sam glanced over at the shirt Dean had discarded during the volleyball game. His phone sat on top of the rumpled shirt. Sam called Dean’s name as he reached for the phone.
Dean ran toward them and Sam threw the still-ringing phone to him. Dean caught the phone and answered it without looking at the display.
“Hello? … Hey, Dad. How’s it going?”
Sam was beside her again and because they were touching Jessica felt him tense up at Dean’s words. She reached for his hand and squeezed it gently. She didn’t need to know the details to understand that Sam didn’t want to hear from his father.
“Yes, sir,” Dean said in a voice that didn’t sound like him at all. He looked at Sam, his expression clearly asking a question.
“No,” Sam answered firmly.
Dean shrugged and began to walk away from them toward the house. Jessica heard his side of the conversation: “I’m working a job … California … No, I was on my way … ” Then he was out of hearing range.
Sam was still squeezing Jessica’s hand.
“Is everything okay, Sam?” she asked, concerned by his reaction.
Sam looked unhappy. “As long as he doesn’t say anything that’ll bring Dad here,” he answered grimly.
“You really hate your Dad, huh?”
Sam looked surprised. “He’s my Dad. I don’t hate him. But he’s a control freak and I do hate the life he lives. When I left for college he told me, ‘If you walk out that door, don’t come back.’ So I walked out the door and hell if I’m ever goin’ back.”
He spoke so bluntly Jessica felt as if he’d punched her in the gut. She stared at him, speechless. Finally, words came, but meaningless words, useless words. “Oh, god. Sam, I didn’t know…”
He laid one finger gently on her lips. “I don’t talk about my family, Jess. It’s better that way.”
She understood that this was all he would share today. One day, perhaps, he would explain further, but not today. Jessica didn’t push. She simply kissed him again. “In that case, we won’t have to argue about you spending Thanksgiving with my folks this year.”
Jessica folded back the bed covers, careful not to disturb Sam. Like most men, he tended to sleep deeply after sex, but he stirred as she climbed out of the bed.
“Jess?” Sam mumbled.
“I just need to pee,” she whispered. “Go back to sleep.” She waited for a reply, groping in the darkness for her robe, but Sam didn’t speak again. She wondered if he’d even really woken up. Jessica belted her robe and padded barefoot across to the door. She opened it as quietly as she could and closed the door behind her.
As she crossed the entrance hall, she saw there was a light on in the day room. She thought about going to turn it off – surely no one could still be up – but she was already late so she ignored it. She found Claire and Adrianne already waiting in the music room. They had decided to hold their séance here because one of the supernatural incidents happened here: the piano music. The overhead light was on so the room didn’t look remotely spooky.
“So, what do we do?” Jessica asked uncertainly. “You didn’t pack a Ouija board, did you?”
Adrianne went over to a round table near the window and began to drag it into the middle of the room. “We can use this,” she said. “I don’t have one of those boards, but I know how to improvise something similar. We’ll need a glass. A wine glass or something with a stem. And some candles.”
Claire said, “I’ll get them.” She hurried out of the room.
“Are candles really necessary?” Jessica objected. “I don’t really want to add to the spooky atmosphere.”
“It’s not for atmosphere, Jess. If this works…sometimes the electric lights go out.”
This was sounding better and better. “What do you mean, sometimes? Do you do this a lot?”
Adrianne smiled as she slid the protective glass off the table. “I don’t. My aunt is a medium. I’ve sat in on her sessions since I was little, but I don’t have the gift.”
The first reply that came into Jessica’s mind would have lost her a friend, so she bit her tongue. She had agreed to do this; she would behave herself.
The table was polished mahogany, a circular table topped with a sheet of glass to protect the wood. Adrianne produced slips of paper she had cut up and printed with letters and numbers. She arranged these around the edge of the table: the letters A to Z and numbers 1 through 9. There was also a YES and a NO which she placed near the centre. Then they replaced the glass cover. They placed three chairs around the table. They lit the candles and placed them on the piano, though with the overhead light on they did seem redundant.
When they were all seated, Adrianne placed the wine glass upside-down in the centre of the table.
“Here’s what we do,” Adrianne said quietly. “First, I think we should hold hands and sit quietly for a moment. I am going to pray, but you don’t have to. Just do as feels right to you. Then we each place one finger on the wine glass.” She demonstrated, touching the edge of the glass base with her right index finger. “Just rest lightly on the edge, no pressure. I will begin, and if the spirit wants to communicate the glass will move. At that point, we can all ask questions, but keep it simple and focus on one thing at a time. Are you ready?”
“Ready,” Jessica answered.
“Yes,” Claire agreed.
They joined hands. Adrianne closed her eyes and bowed her head. The beads in her hair clicked together as the braids swung forward. After a moment, Claire copied her.
The house was very quiet and as Jessica felt her friends’ warm hands in hers the atmosphere in the room seemed to change. Although the overhead light was strong, the shadows in the room seemed to deepen, the silence became somehow even more silent. Adrianne’s hand was steady, but Claire seemed nervous, her palm damp. There was a feeling of expectation…and of fear. In spite of her scepticism, Jessica felt that fear, too. Claire was right: she wasn’t afraid of ghosts; she was afraid because if this worked it would force her to rethink everything she believed.
Adrianne had said she would pray. Jessica bowed her head and closed her eyes. She didn’t really know how to pray, except the ritual words she knew from church services. She said the words of the Lord’s Prayer, silently, not sure if it was the right thing to do. She was pretty sure her pastor would tell her a séance counted as witchcraft or something.
“Let’s begin,” Adrianne said softly. She let go of Jessica’s hand and reached out with her right hand to touch the upturned wine glass.
Jessica took a deep breath and followed her lead. Her stomach fluttered with anticipation. She met Claire’s eyes across the table as she released her hand and Claire gave her a shaky smile.
“I am speaking to the spirit that dwells within this house,” Adrianne announced. Her tone was soft, cautious but persuasive, the kind of voice cops use to talk a jumper off a ledge. “We want to communicate with you. Are you there?”
Jessica found she was holding her breath. The silence felt thick and heavy. If the glass moved then, Jessica thought she might scream. But nothing happened.
“Are you there?” Adrianne asked again.
Jessica looked from Claire to Adrianne, seeing the same mixture of fear and expectation in their faces she was sure they could see in hers. She shivered, suddenly cold. The overhead light flickered.
Adrianne gasped, but she recovered quickly. “We are here to listen,” she said, still in that careful, soft voice. “Please, are you there?”
At first, Jessica thought it was her own hand shaking, but she heard the rattle of the glass on the table top. Claire drew in a sharp breath. Her fingers jerked, as if she was about to pull her hand back, but she didn’t let go of the wine glass. The next movement was unmistakeable. The glass slid slowly across the table top.
Jessica looked at her friends to see which of them was doing it. They were both doing the same thing – staring at each other questioningly. She could see the fright in their faces. None of them was moving the glass.
“Addie?” Claire squeaked.
The wine glass stopped moving directly over the word YES.
“It’s okay, Claire,” Adrianne said softly. “Thank you for speaking to us. We want to know who you are. Can you tell us your name?”
This time, when the glass began to move Jessica pressed down with her finger, trying to stop it. She couldn’t. The glass moved, slowly but inexorably toward the edge of the table. Toward Claire. Jessica watched, dry-mouthed, as it came to a stop over a letter.
“X,” Claire said.
They waited, but the glass stayed where it was.
X. Cute. A ghost with a sense of humour.
“Are you the spirit that played the piano here three days ago?” Adrianne asked.
The glass moved again. It was faster this time, gliding back to rest upon YES.
“Did you wake us all two nights ago?” Claire asked. “Was it you banging on the walls?”
“One question at a time, Claire,” Adrianne reminded her.
The glass slid off YES and then returned to the same spot.
“Do you…do you need something from us?” Claire tried.
The glass moved to NO.
F – U – N
Fun. Jessica felt the first spark of anger. “Fun?” she repeated. “Putting Claire in the hospital was fun for you?”
“Oh, my god…” Claire moaned.
The overhead light flickered off. A second later it came back on, but not as bright.
“Can you tell – ” Adrianne began.
“Wait, Addie,” Jessica interrupted her. “I’ve got a question.”
Adrianne nodded, watching Jessica warily.
Jessica took a deep breath, willing Claire to stay calm. “Are you the reason Claire fell on the cliff path, too?”
“Why?” Claire gasped.
Jessica reached across with her free hand to touch Claire’s shoulder, trying to reassure her.
The glass moved again.
M – I – N
It gained speed with each letter.
E – T – O
Jessica was about to put an end to the séance when the door burst open and all three of them instinctively jumped back from the table.
“What are you doing?” Sam demanded. He strode into the room, his face like thunder. He stared at the improvised Ouija board, his eyes suddenly wide.
No one was touching it now, but the glass still moved, jerking rapidly from one letter to the next.
L – M – I – N – E – T – O – K – I – L – L M – I – N – E – T – O – K – I – L – L
The glass exploded.
Sam grabbed Jessica, pulling her against his body and turning them both as a hundred fragments of glass flew outward in a circle. Probably Sam meant to shield her, but he didn’t move fast enough and flying glass ripped into her robe and cut her skin. She heard Claire and Adrianne scream and knew they were hurt, too. She clung to Sam, trying to hold her own scream inside. He held her tight against him.
“Quiet!” Sam snapped.
Everyone tried to obey. Jessica was sure everyone could hear her own heart pounding. She could tell herself someone had been pushing that glass around, but there was no way anyone in the room made it explode like that. Claire’s breathing was very loud, rapid pants that sounded very close to panic. Adrianne seemed okay, but her eyes were very wide.
Sam studied the table. “Who’s idea was this?” he demanded. “Addie?”
“Did you use protection? Salt? Caraway? Something?”
Adrianne reached up to her neck and drew a pendant on a black cord from beneath her t-shirt.
Sam shook his head. “That’s only good against witchcraft,” he said with real contempt in his voice. “But if you know enough to wear that you should know better than to open yourself to evil like this!”
“Now wait a minute – ” Adrianne began indignantly.
“Please tell me you didn’t just join hands in the dark and say Is anybody there?”
“Sam?” Jessica began, not knowing what she wanted to ask him. This wasn’t the Sam she knew.
He looked down at her and some of the anger left his face. “Alright. I’m sorry. It’s just this is so dangerous…you don’t understand what might have happened here.” He touched her arm. “You’re bleeding.”
She looked. “The glass,” she said.
“I’ll get the first aid supplies. I want you to go up to our room. All of you.”
“But – ” Adrianne began.
“Please, Addie. Jess. Just this once don’t argue with me. Wait for me in the bedroom.”
Jessica remembered Dean had said their room was the only safe place. She still didn’t understand that, but she could go along with it for now. She looked at her friends. “Let’s go,” she suggested.