I watch as Sage’s truck drives out of sight. “Good-bye,” I whisper under my breath. If things go wrong this might be the last time that I’ll see his face. Of course Calista assured me that nothing will happen to me. Call it woman’s intuition, but I have a feeling that today will not be my day.
I wipe away the tears streaming down my face. I take a deep breath. That was a lot harder than I thought. My heart feels like it’s breaking, leaving me with a hollow ache.
I never had the opportunity to tell Sage what he’s wanted so badly to hear. The words hung on the tip of my tongue; that I am his girlfriend and that I love him. Now I may never be able to.
No. I did have the opportunity and I let it slip through my fingers. Like the idiot that I am. I never even got to kiss him. Feel his soft full lips lock with mine. Feel his warm breath tickle my ear as he tells me he loves me.
I reluctantly head over to the passenger seat of Papa’s van. Beside myself, I let out a shaky breath.
“Are you scared?” Papa asks, reading my sharp exhale as fear.
“Sort of,” I respond, playing along. It takes all my will to keep my voice from cracking. He pulls me close to him and plants a kiss on my head.
“Don’t be scared. The Visionaries are going to help us get that thing out of here, and then our lives will go back to normal.” Normal, God I pray so.
“They’re here,” Papa announces. I see the lights of a white suburban behind us. It parks at the side of the street. Their white utility van is already parked in the driveway about thirty feet from the house with cables running into it and a generator sitting just outside. I halfway expected Calista would have painted it like the Mystery Machine inScooby-Doo. I bet Lawson and Gunner would have just loved that. On the side of the van is a cross, on the cross is a pentagram surrounded by a circle.
We get out of our minivan. I make my way over to the drivers’ side.
“Boy, you two have had a long week,” Calista says crossing over to Papa and I. The other members of the team are checking out their equipment.
“No kidding,” I answer. Do you know everything? I ask telepathically.
“Just about,” she says with a wink.
That must get annoying, I think to myself.
“I heard that.”
“Thanks for coming. We really appreciate it,” Papa says on a different note.
They shake hands.
“Yes, thank you,” I echo.
“No problem,” Calista answers.
“So, Ms. —?”
“Calista, can you —?”
“Sorry, honey, I’m not a psychic. I’m a Claircognizance Clairvoyant. It means that I know things without knowing why. I am able to tap into a higher consciousness.”
“Do you mind not doing that?”
“Sorry, bad habit. I’m on block, your thoughts are now yours.”
“Thanks. So, does mind reading come with being Clairvoyant?”
“No. I’m also telepathic.”
“Ah. So I don’t suppose, I can do that? Can I?”
“Don’t worry. When this is all over we’re going to keep in touch and I’ll mentor you in the craft. I’ll teach you all I know.”
“Cool, thanks. I’ll hold you to that.”
I notice something dangling from her neck. It’s the same symbol that’s on the van, and the same symbol hanging around Gunners neck, but I don’t remember it being one of her accessories at the book signing, possibly it was hidden under her shirt.
“I’ve never seen that symbol. What does it mean?”
“I was waiting for you to ask. It’s the symbol of a Christian Wiccan.”
“Hold on. Let me get this straight. You’re telling me you’re a —?”
“— witch. Yes, and soon I’m going to teach you the trade,” Calista answers.
“Don’t Christians frown upon witches?”
“Most Wiccans don’t accept us either.”
Something catches Calista’s eye preventing us from further discussing the topic, all traces of her smile vanish.
“It’s starting,” she says, raising goose-bumps up my arms. Her eyes stare over my head and they sweep around the yard. My eyes follow.
Perched in the tree branches are a whole flock of ravens. As my eyes search the yard I realize we’re surrounded by them. They are not just in the trees, but are completely covering the entire roof of the house and they are even lining the telephone and cable wires. They’re everywhere. More and more ravens pour in. Some even begin to circle above us. They all stare down at us as if we are a bunch of dead carcasses that they can’t wait to devour. Their soulless eyes pierce through me. It almost feels like we’re in the movie The Birds, but much more ominous. I feel as if any moment they will begin to swoop down and peck at us. But they just sit on their perches and caw.
“He is much stronger than I perceived,” Calista says to herself.
“That’s not going to be a problem is it?” Papa inquires, unable to conceal his worry.
“It might take a tad longer but that should be about it.” I am about to ask what does she mean by “about it” but she has already begun giving out instructions to her team.
Honk. Honk. Allan beats on the van’s horn in an attempt to scare off the squatters, to no benefit. A few fly up to the safety of the trees, only to be replaced. Cautiously, we all tread to the house as the ravens intently watch our every foot fall with their icy gaze, pecking at our feet as we shoo them away — some stand their ground and squawk and flap their wings in irritation as we walk around them. Every second that passes brings more. It takes great effort to avoid stepping on the ugly creatures as they fill the walkway.
We creep stealthily forward. I hear a commotion on my left and I turn and see Lawson kicking the raven at his feet. The raven is not happy. It latches itself onto his shoe. He tries to kick it off causing him to stumble backwards, sending several ravens to take flight in distress. “Stupid bird,” he growls.
Uneasy, I scan the yard, hoping that his hot-temper hasn’t put us all in danger of a bird attack. All the birds have stopped their chatter; their eyes are fixed on us. They’ve turned to stone. I stop in my tracks and I don’t move an inch.
All I can hear is the commotion of Lawson trying to detach the bird. Lawson lets out a shriek of pain, causing me to jump. A sickening sound like the sound of a stick being broken follows. Lawson lets out a victorious snicker; he carelessly tosses the lifeless body in the crowd of birds, causing some to take flight, screeching as they go. He cradles his hand. In the moonlight I can just make out a liquid dripping from his hand, blood. Honestly, I don’t feel bad for him, he deserved it. All of the ravens turn their attention to Lawson, hatred glows in their eyes.
“Move very slowly,” Papa whispers. I inch my way on my tip-toes; painfully slow around the birds at my feet that are now animated.
“What did you guys stop for?” Papa asks as we reach the porch. Calista and her gang are standing by the bottom step. My eyes follow theirs. The door is wide open, welcoming us in.
“What’s that noise?” Adelaide asks. “I don’t suppose you left the iPod on?” My ears pick up piano music drifting out the door.
“No, it wasn’t even in its dock when we left,” I answer slowly, my skin beginning to crawl as I make it to the door. “But I’ve heard that sound before in the living room.” We all look to Calista.
“I don’t feel threatened by it. It feels residual; he’s just magnifying it for effect.”
Calista fearlessly steps in, followed by the bravado duo and Adelaide. Papa and I hesitate at the door.
“Are you ready?” Papa asks.
“As ready as I will ever be,” I shrug. He grabs my hand and gives me a quick squeeze before stepping through the doorway into hell on earth.
As soon as we clear the front door it slams shut behind us, causing everybody to jump.
“He’s watching us,” Calista says, stopping in her tracks. Her eyes sweep the area. We’re all frozen in the hallway. The house is abnormally dark as if the moonlight can’t penetrate through the windows. The power to the house has been turned off at the breaker. The only light is from each of our flashlights. The team surrounds Papa and me, taking up all sides as we step into the living room. The sick-to-my-stomach feeling once again returns. My eyes scan the room, but I can’t see anything. The room is quiet as we all hold our breath. I don’t hear him, but George is probably using the music emanating from the great room to mask his movements.
Our base camp is set up in the middle of the living room where two days ago I was viciously attacked. It’s really our only viable option as it’s closest to the door and it is the only room in the house that doesn’t look like a bomb went off in it. When they set up earlier they moved all the mattresses up against walls on their sides. The team sets down their backpacks and begins to pull out their hand held equipment. Adelaide says she is going to have a look at Lawson’s wound.
Gunner places a bag down in front of Adelaide and she pulls out candle-lit lanterns just incase the flashlights stop working. She lights them up and some of the denseness of the room dissipates.
Lawson is nursing his hand as Adelaide pulls out a medical kit out of her pack. She pulls out a little bottle, which I am assuming is some kind of disinfectant. Gingerly, he holds out his hand and she pours the liquid onto it. He bites his lip trying not to let on how much it’s hurting him. He lets out a grunt and his hand shakes like he’s having a seizure. Some of my earlier resentment towards him fades into sympathy as I recall how much pain I was in when Mama dressed my wounds. I notice in my peripheral vision that Gunner has turned his attention to Lawson. He’s trying to suppress his amusement but is unable to. A strangled laugh comes out which he tries to turn into a cough, but Lawson is not deceived. Lawson narrows his eyes; the fury inside them seems to sweep over his features. Gunner does the same and up starts the pissing contest, dumbasses.
I find Calista off to the side staring intently at some of the broken family photos. Her forehead is creased in concentration. She clicks her tongue and turns on her heels and walks over to us. “Let’s get started.”
Papa and I are ordered by Calista to stay camped in the living room with her and Lawson. Meanwhile, Adelaide and Gunner leave to check on the equipment. Allan stayed back in the van to keep eyes on us in case George decides to try anything while we are setting up our first ceremony. Each of the team members have on a walkie-talkie with an earpiece and microphone. Papa and I don’t need one since we’ll be by Calista’s side. Meaning if I need to use the restroom I’ll have to bring Calista. Thus I have strongly resolved to hold it.
“Sea salt?” I ask.
“I’m going to use it to make a protective circle,” Calista says resting the box beside her bag. “Salt has purification and protective properties. If George decides to act up during the summoning of the Goddess then he won’t be able to cross the circle.”
The next items to follow are four different colored candles. She explains to me that they each represent the four elements. She pulls out a bundle of herbs which she says we’ll be using for the cleansing. It’s composed of sage, cedar, and sweetgrass, which will all be used to cleanse the house. She lays the bundle on an abalone shell so when lit it will catch the embers.
To smudge you have to light the bundle, also called a stick, and you fan the smoke around the house — she’s using a bird feather — and the smoke is said to remove negative energy. The sage is supposed to cleanse, heal, and bless the person, or place, or thing being smudged. Cedar is used as protection; it removes negative energy while protecting the person, place, or thing. The sweetgrass is supposed to be a reminder of how earth provides us with everything we need.
“When you light the smudge, you always have to remember to use a lighter. Matches give off a smoke that can interfere with the properties of the smudge stick.”
Armed with the box of salt, Calista walks around us in a large circle. Spilling the salt as she goes — as she does this she also chants something in a language I can’t understand — forming a line of salt. She does this three times, making sure she doesn’t leave any breaks in the circle.
“If the circle has any gaps then George might be able to get through. And if anybody even lifts so much as a toe out of the circle during the ceremony, the circle will break and I can guarantee all hell will break loose.” When she’s done she radios the whole team to return back to the living room. When everyone has returned she reminds them not to break the line of salt while coming into the circle.
Calista gathers us around her in a loose semi-circle and sprinkles each of us with the blessed water while once more chanting. After we are all blessed she places all of the tools she will be using during the cleansing ceremony in the middle of the circle and then gathers us around.
“Gunner, take the ticket and place it down beside Mar,” Calista orders. Gunner takes it from his pocket and puts it down. I strain my eyes and recognize it to be some kind of movie ticket.
“This was in your room. We needed something of Sage’s to assure his protection.”
“How’s that represent Sage?”
“He bought it for you didn’t he?”
“There you go.”
Calista grabs the candles which she had set against the wall, places them on four sides of the circle, and lights them. Once the candles are lit she extinguishes the candle lanterns. The thick darkness has once again returned to the room; the candles only cast a little light.
Calista enters the circle and takes her place in between us and the cleansing objects forming the epicenter of our protective circle. She raises her arms and drops her head back and starts talking in a different language. She goes on like this for what seems like forever. At last she becomes silent. Calista’s head is still hanging back but her arms have now dropped limp to her sides. She starts convulsing.
Uneasy, I try to back away from Calista, but Allan catches me by my elbow. Let go of me you idiot, I think. Allan conveys a whisper of reassurance that everything is all right. His demeanor appears to match his words, so I hold my place, trying to choke down the fear steadily building inside of me.
The shaking stops. Her body slopes forward and she lets out a gasp, her body tenses. The candles flicker and go out leaving us in total darkness. Calista lets out a yelp. At this point I want to take flight, but Papa and Allan hold on to me. I can’t see in front of me, my eyes haven’t adjusted to the darkness. I hear a loud crash in the far corner of the room, followed by a crunch. Zoom. Something flies past our heads and is smashed into a wall.
I hear the click of a lighter. We all look like distorted figures as shadows dance around the room while the candles are relit. The abalone shell laid on the ground makes a scraping sound as someone picks it up. I then get a whiff of sage as someone fans the smoke. “We ask Father and our beloved Mother for your love to flow in this place,” Adelaide says. Without hesitation, we all repeat.
Someone lights a lantern. As the room lightens a little more, Allan gets to work on the rest of the lanterns and in a moments time we are immersed in light.
“Calista?” the team calls out, but there is no response. Calista has disappeared and there is a break in the circle as if George lured her out of it. Allan fiddles with his walkie-talkie trying to reach her, but all they can get is static. Gunner and Lawson start a search party. Meanwhile, the techies, Papa, and I head out to the van to check the monitors.
“Nothing but static,” Allan says after several failed attempts of re-establishing the camera feed from within the house. He lets out an exaggerated sigh in frustration. Everything seems to be going haywire. The laptop lets out this rumble of static and then the screens are back on. The screens are divided into different sections of the house.
“There,” Papa points out while hovering over the couple. Calista is standing in the middle of the attic in a dreamlike state. Her hair is in disarray, her hands are by her sides, and she is butt naked. She is covered in blood. It runs down her arms and her legs, ending up in a pool of blood. Long scratches run down her body. On the left side of her face is a scratch that starts from the outer tip of her eyebrow to the corner of her lip. Her skin is pale and her eyes are swollen and glazed over. Vomit is dripping down her mouth covering her bare chest, mingling with the blood, but the smile she has been wearing hasn’t wiped off.
“Oh My God!” I exclaim. We all jump. In a split second her face appears close up to the camera, distortedly rounded, staring into it as if she can see us.
“Can she hear us?” Papa asks. Calista leans her head in closer to the camera. Allan shakes his head no and Calista’s eyes follow. Allan grabs the pencil laid next to his hand and moves it from side to side. Calista’s eyes follow the pencil. I watch as his face loses all color.
Adelaide speaks into her walkie-talkie, “We have a visual on Calista.”
“Where is she?” Gunner asks, relieved.
“She’s in the attic.”
We watch on the screen as Lawson and Gunner walk through the attic door. They lead her down the stairs to the upstairs hall. She seems to be mumbling something. Then all the screens turn to static.
We all get out of the van and race towards them, sending ravens scattering as we shuffle through them.
“Did you see what happened?” Lawson asks, as we rejoin them.
“Not at all, the screen went blank and then there she was,” Allan answers.
“He calls to me,” Calista murmurs.
“George?” I ask.
“He calls to me.” Her expression is blank.
“Let’s get her cleaned up,” Adelaide says. Adelaide and I take her into my parent’s bathroom. The men guard the bathroom door, as Adelaide and I try to help Calista into the tub. She still hasn’t stopped repeating, “He calls to me”, and it is starting to play on my nerves.
The faucet makes this loud rumbling sound as I turn it on and in place of water a steady flow of roaches bursts forth, filling the tub. Within seconds they start to cover Calista’s body like a living blanket. Adelaide and I both start screaming in unison. Papa and Allan burst through the door, meanwhile the cockroaches scurry up our arms. Frantically, I wave my arms around smashing them into the walls. I dig my fingers underneath them and I toss them onto the ground. I stomp on them. The bugs let out a gross crunching sound under my foot. I jump up and down, but they are everywhere. Calista is blanketed in them. Some of them are crawling into her mouth; the smaller ones make their way into her nostrils. Her mouth is moving, forming what has now become her mantra, but I can’t hear her between mine and Adelaide’s shrieks. The cockroaches are pouring out of the tub. Papa and Allan are still trying to make sense of what is happening.
“Help her!” I screech, pointing to Calista. Papa bolts in and turns off the faucet while Allan grabs Calista’s hand and hoists her out of the tub. Gunner barges in and helps tow her to safety. I jet out the bathroom door after them. Lawson races past me and comes back with a hand towel which he then uses to swipe the bugs off of Calista. Papa helps swat off the roaches climbing on my back as I kick off the remaining roaches trying to swarm up my legs. I’m finally bug free. Allan is currently in the process of ridding Adelaide of her last roach while the boys battle Calista’s persistent swarm. There really is no way to stop the bugs from spilling out of the bathroom, so once the boys have managed to rid Calista of her last roach we clothe her in Papa’s robe and retreat downstairs to the living room.
Once we reach the living room, Allan heads over to his camera to see what it caught. “Damn it!” Allan yells.
I turn to see what he’s looking at. I let out a sigh. The tripod is bent out of shape and broken glass is littered on the floor. Allan races over to the other side of the room where earlier we heard an object crash into the wall, not surprisingly, we find the camera.
“It’s totaled as well,” he grumbles as he turns it in his hand. It’s an old fashioned film camera but with a motion detector attached to it. The lens is busted, the film is shredded, and the camera is crushed. “That’s no help,” he grunts as he throws it back onto to the floor.
“Ya’ll having a party without me?” a voice calls out from behind us. I turn to see Sage standing at the entrance of the living room. “What’s with all the birds?”