Apparitions

Devon has the power to manifest objects she finds in her dreams, but gets more than she bargained for when the young widow decides to use that power to bring back the dead,

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1. Apparitions

 

When I decided to start writing original fiction, "Apparitions" was the first story I ever had published. Although first written in 2011, versions of this story have appeared in With Painted Words and Black Mirror Magazine. It's also the story I keep coming back to and fiddling around with when other stuff I'm working on just won't come together. I hope you'll enjoy it! 

Copyright © 2018 Antoinette McCormick. All rights reserved.

 

Apparitions

 

The noises began near the end of October.

 

The first time I heard them I half-asleep. They could have been rain or even the beginning of a dream.

 

The next night, those sounds shook me from a sound slumber. Just a nightmare, I told myself. I’d had more than my share of them since the accident in April. Once my heart stopped hammering, I crawled under the covers and sank back to sleep.

 

That should have been the end of them but they continued every night that week, and they were always the same: tap-tap-tap on the window and then, nothing. A “nothing” that was not an absolute silence but a charged emptiness, an expectant stillness teeming with untold terrors. Tap-tap-tap and I’d surface, clawing at my covers and swallowing a scream. Tearful and trembling, I’d sit in bed and stare at the ceiling—not the window, never the window—until dawn bleared through the curtains and my arms ached from hugging my knees.

 

I cancelled my classes, couldn’t concentrate, and couldn’t eat. After each night’s occurrence, the memory of those sounds stayed with me long into the next day, clinging like a second shadow and forcing my thoughts back to the fire that took Stephan from me. Was his spirit lost? Was he angry? Should it have been me that night instead of him?

 

Finally, I decided to tell the only person in the world who wouldn’t think that I was a total lunatic: my best friend, Aimee. A part-time professor and Medium, Aimee owned Ananke’s Attic, Middleton’s only occult boutique. We met in her shop the next day.

 

“I wish you’d come sooner—and you’re not crazy, Devon,” Aimee said, as she shooed a fly away from her mug. She’d propped the door open to take advantage of the beautiful Saturday afternoon, as well as any foot traffic on Harker Street. So far, the fly and the Indian summer breeze were her only customers. “People living with loss sometimes experience these things.”

 

“Hauntings, you mean?”

 

Shaking her head, she settled on the stool beside me. “Stephan’s not haunting you, sweetie.”

 

“Well, something sure is.”

 

“No...” Aimee stared through the window at the falling leaves. “You said you haven’t tried to engage this…presence, let’s just call it that for now, and you’re absolutely convinced you’ve done nothing else to invoke it in any way?”

 

“Invoke it? I wouldn’t have the slightest idea where to begin.”

 

She turned to me. “Not while you’re awake. Your gift is quite unique in that respect.”

 

She would have to bring that up. Great. “It’s hardly a gift and in order to do that I have to sleep, something I haven’t done much of since Stephan…” unable to finish the thought, I trailed off. “Since séances are your thing, I was hoping, if you wouldn’t mind, that maybe the two of us could contact this spirit, entity—whatever-it-is. Find out what it wants.” Granted, hearing three knocks on the window every night wasn’t exactly reliving a scene from Nightmare on Elm Street, but why was it happening now and more importantly, why was it happening to me?  

 

“How many knocks have there been, Devon? In total, I mean,” Aimee said, as though she’d just heard my last thoughts.

 

“Twenty-one so far.”

 

“Your birthday’s coming soon,” she said softly.

 

 “Two days. Twenty-seven. Remember when we used to think that was ancient?” I nudged her.

 

“All Souls’ Day. Shit.” Levelling me with her dark eyes, she said, “You have to give it back.”

 

I nearly knocked over my coffee. “Back?”

 

“Because you didn’t, did you? Dream projection’s risky enough but actual manifestation— Damn! I was afraid something like this might happen.” She tapped the counter with her long nails for a moment. “Tell me how you found it, again.”

 

“I dreamed I was walking in a strange wood and saw something glinting in the moonlight inside a ring of birch trees. At first, I thought it was just a regular, silver-colored coin: a quarter or half-dollar. When I picked it up, though, it seemed to spread and grow heavier in my hand. It had crude notches around its edges and strange symbols etched on its face. I’d never seen anything like them before but they seemed to spiral down to the hole at its center. When I moved into a patch of moonlight, hoping to get a better look at those symbols, the coin began to glow. I knew then that I’d found something rare and truly magical, but the moment I closed my hand around it, the trees disappeared, the ground dissolved beneath my feet, and I fell. It was still in my hand when I awoke."

 

“Where is it now?”

 

“I thought it would make a cute pendant—” 

 

Aimee groaned. “Please tell me you’re not still wearing it!" 

 

“It’s cursed, isn’t it?” I took a sip of my coffee, which had gone cold.

 

"You have to give it back, Devon!”

 

“But I don’t have it anymore. Stephan thought I’d found an Indian artifact and wanted a friend of his to authenticate it. He had it on him the night he…and the fire… I haven't seen it since.” I buried my face in my hands.

 

“Shh...it’s okay, it’s okay. There might still be a way to return it.” Aimee hugged me. “You took it from a dream, so who’s to say you can’t return it with a memory?”

 

“How?”

 

“Just hold the image of the charm in your mind, you don’t even have to sleep, and open yourself to possibility. Its owner will do the rest. As above, so below: fair exchange.” She reached for her mug.

 

“But memory isn’t…the thing…itself,” I hiccupped. “Will it be enough?”

 

A display of metal chimes inside the door jangled. Shrieking, I looked up but saw only a flutter of red and gold on the threshold: an autumn dervish, driven by the wind.

 

Aimee shivered. “There’s your answer,” she said.

 

I left her shop more shaken than convinced.

 

Once home, I stoked the fireplace, sat cross-legged on the rug, and stared into the flames, but the cheery colors and the snap-crackle of their dancing flames could not chase away the dread cold that had clamped around me like a vise. If Aimee was right, I had just two days to return a charm that I found in a dream, a charm that no longer existed—two days! The more I replayed the dream in my head, the more the strange pendant became entwined with Stephan. Surrendering it would be like losing him all over again.

 

When the moon rose and my unknown caller came knocking again, I ran across the bedroom and flung open the window. On the lawn, a solitary figure stood amidst the shadows beneath the trees. I knew from the long coat and his stance that it had to be Stephan, but when I called his name, an icy gust whisked him away in a whorl of fallen leaves.

 

I knew then what I had to do. The heart’s reach is as long as its cry is loud and when its ache runs so deep, no measure to reclaim what has been lost seems too extreme. ‘Leave it wherever you found it and forget you ever saw it, Devon, promise me!’ Aimee’s parting words reverberated through me, but I couldn’t listen. If I could dream a charm into existence, why shouldn’t I use that power to reclaim what death had stolen from me?

 

It seemed so simple…

 

On the eve of my birthday, emboldened by this new plan, I lit candles for luck and willed myself to dream of the place where I’d found the silver charm. Colors shifted and darkened behind my eyelids, but soon, I felt the sting of frostbitten grass beneath my feet.  When I opened my eyes, I found myself in the same, strange forest, the same circle of ghostly birch trees. Overhead, interlaced branches, bare and white as bones, swayed in the wind, forming curious symbols and portents of mystery.  Their papery bark rasped; a twig snapped. I turned to the sound. “Stephan?”

 

Eyes veiled behind a long hank of hair, Stephan emerged from the darkness outside the trees and crept to the edge of their phantom ring. In a voice that sank like a stone in my chest, he said, “You don’t belong here, Devon. Leave this place!”

 

Before he could say another word, I ran to him, pulled him inside the circle, and held him fast. “I’m not leaving without you,” I cried. The wind rose with a scream, lightning flashed, the ground shuddered open, and we fled the dreamlands on a swell of thunder.

 

I opened my eyes. Success!

 

Stephan lay next to me. His face looked softer, more youthful than I’d remembered, though perhaps it was just a trick played by the row of candles that still flickered beside our bed. Our bed! My heart leapt at the thought, but when I rolled over and tried to kiss him, he turned away. “What’s wrong, Stephan? I’d thought you’d be…happy,” I pleaded, stricken by the rebuff. Could death have changed him so much?

 

“You’ve no idea what you’ve done, Devon,” he said, hollow-voiced.

 

“Death took you, I brought you back: fair trade.” The moment I said it, my arms broke out in gooseflesh. “Don’t you want us to be together again?”

 

He heaved himself out of bed and went to the full-length mirror by the bedroom door. “Come here,” he said.

 

When I joined him, Stephan positioned me in front of the mirror and stood behind me with his hands on my shoulders. “Look in. Tell me what you see,” he said.

 

I stared into the shadowy glass, admiring his strong chin and the thick black hair that cascaded over his shoulders. “I see the only man I’ve ever loved.” The love I stole from death. Our eyes met. Mine were wide and blue, but his possessed a strange glint, as if they harbored a cold fire, deep within.

 

“Look again,” he whispered.

 

As I gazed once more into the long rectangle of silvered glass, into silvered glass, my wavy hair flattened and its once auburn waves began to turn white. “I don’t understand! Is this some kind of trick?” I stammered, barely recognizing the voice in my ears, which had turned into a reedy squawk. “What’s happening?”

 

When I glanced back at his reflection, I could barely stifle a scream. Standing beside me was a youth who looked eighteen instead of thirty-three. No longer towering over me, Stephan had somehow shrunk to my height. His hair, curling beneath his ears, was much shorter than it had been only a moment before, and his face was rounder, softer. Wheeling on him, I screamed, “Why, Stephan? Why are you doing this to me?”

 

“Not me.” One hand, disappearing in his pocket, returned holding a familiar object. Pressing the silver charm into my wrinkled palm, he said, “Death’s due…oh, Devon!”

 

The window shattered and the candles guttered. Horrified, I watched Stephan become a toddler, a babe, and then, a glowing seed. While he receded, I rushed forward: my hair whitening, skin wizening, cracking, and collapsing. As my last breath escaped, something silvery, insubstantial as smoke, arose from its bony cage.

 

Then, snatched by an unseen hand, I was spirited into silence.

 

Here, suspended in night’s cauldron, I am still waiting, waiting, waiting…

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