Escalated Dreams

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Chapter 12

The week passes, days filled with normal things like homework, test prep and getting through the midterms. I don’t experience any more oddness, except for the occasional vibrant dream. After school I immerse myself in study, which I’ve found is a lovely distraction. At school it seems everyone has forgotten about my incident. When Friday dawns, the last day of midterms, I’m feeling a lot like the old me again.

At school, I find the focus has shifted from the tests we’re slogging through to the looming week-long spring break. The whole campus is a buzz with vacation plans. Outside of AP Bio I have to push through a group of boys talking about heading down to Mexico as soon as class is over. Just inside the door Suzie is batting her eyes at Daniel and Sean as she talks excitedly about a party at JC's house. I head to my desk and settled in. I am stunned, when Veronica crosses the room to ask me if I have any plans for the break.

Now actually I do have plans, but not the kind I'm going to admit to. Come on, admit that I have a couple really good books set aside and a pile of DVD's waiting? No, never. I shrug and say, “I'm working.”

“Don't forget about our Ghost Hunter's meeting,” Patrick says on his way to his seat.

I flash an expression of disbelief at his back.

“Ghost hunter's meeting?” Veronica echoes. “You mean like the ones on TV?”

“No, not really.” I shoot a glance across the room to see Suzie is still busy fawning over Sean and Daniel while Melinda is nowhere in sight. Silently I thank the Universe and cautiously slide my eyes back to Veronica. “It’s not much of a hunt but more of a club and we mostly just talk.”

“Where? At your family's bookstore?”

I'm surprised she knows that much about me. Not many people know my mother owns the bookshop. “You know it?”

She gives me a conspiring smile. “My mother is a regular of Rose Ellen's. And if I didn't know better, I'd swear there was a spell on the door because every time we pass, she has to stop and check in with that woman.”

I grin. “Well, there's no spell.”

“I'm not into hoodoo or anything but I do have a fascination for the paranormal.”

“You do?” My inner voice is cautioning me not to say anything more. That it would not be prudent for anyone at school to know what I do but when I see the interest glowing in Veronica’s eyes I brush the cautions away and add, “Why don’t you drop in tonight?”

“It’s tonight at the store?” She gives me a curious glance. “Why? What are you going to do?”

“Like I said, we mostly we just talk about ghosts.”

Mr. Addison walks into the room and calls, “Seats people.”

Veronica gives me a nod. “Okay. Thanks, I just might.” She starts toward her seat before she turns to ask, “What time?”

I draw a deep breath. “Seven. It begins at seven.”

The sun is starting to set when I stop at the market to pick up some bite-size pastries. I choose two kinds of cheese and toss them into my basket as I make my way to the bakery case. The counter is manned by a single woman who is busy packing a large order while two other customers wait. I grab a number and eye the goods before I step to the side to wait my turn.

Across the room I spot a red-headed boy standing against the wall. He is holding a phone in his hand but his eyes are fixed on me. I turn away quick. He looks kind of familiar so when I glance back and find that he is still looking at me, I offer him a smile as I wonder if I know him from the bookshop. I meet a lot of people there who remember me long after I’ve forgotten them.

The woman behind the counter calls my number and I turn my attention back to the bakery case. I pick out my pastries, and as she packs up my order, I turn to see the boy is still staring, really staring but now he's on his cell, talking low, eye fixed on me like he’s reporting in, telling on me. His attention is uncomfortable, and I give him my back as I wait for my box. Finally, the woman passes the box over the counter and I grab it and flee darting my eyes to see that he’s gawking, talking animated like I'm some kind of celebrity that he’s just spotted. I don’t like it one bit. My body reacts with a flight response. It’s all I can do to keep my pace to a brisk walk as I head to the cashiers.

The boy does not follow and there is no line so the transaction is quick still my eyes keep darting back to see if he’s following me and my Spidey sense has my nerves jumping. I duck out the store and rush to my car. I can't resist shooting a fearful glance over my shoulder as I slide my key into the door. There is no sight of the boy. The walk behind me is empty. No one has followed me out.

I’m all nerves as I wrestle the door open and I fling myself in and hit the locks. I sit there for a moment, eyes on the store, trying to calm my pounding heart as I wonder why I'm having such a strong reaction to some guy staring at me. I mean, so what? Maybe he mistook me for someone else, or maybe he thought I was cute. Heck, maybe I have a huge booger hanging out of my nose. I flip the sun visor down and peer into the mirror. Nope, no booger.

I glance back at the store. There is no sign of the boy but I do spot Sean and Michael when they come through the door, each toting a twelve pack of Newcastles. I'm feeling wrecked and not in the mood for a polite conversation so I scrunch down hoping that they don't see me. I don't have to worry about it because neither of them glance my direction. I wait as they back their car out of the space and drive off.

By the time I get to the bookstore, I’m convinced that the boy and his interest are all just a spin of my imagination and I'm angry for letting my imagination get the best of me because it’s not like I don’t have enough weird things going as it is. I certainly don’t need to make any more up to add to the weirdness.

I carry my purchases into the stockroom and turn my thoughts to food prep. I arrange the food as artfully as I can on the serving trays we use for events. The boys love to eat so I always provide munchies at our meetings, and who knows we might have a drop in or two. My thoughts drift to Veronica and whether she will show or not and grab a handful of our nicest napkins to set alongside the trays.

I balance the trays as I tug open the door. Cordelia is at the register and to my surprise I find that she is teaching the dark-haired girl how to use Bookmanager. I set the trays down on the counter, grab the book-cart and clear a small table for our meeting. We prefer to meet in the store instead of one of the conference rooms, so I set out the food and then begin dragging chairs to form a small circle.

“What'cha setting up for?”

I turn and see that it’s the new girl. “Tonight’s club meeting.” I give the chair a shove, angling it so that it fits in the circle.

Her eyes narrow. “Really? I thought we were closing at seven.”

“Don’t worry, you don't have stay. The meeting starts after the store closes.” I see her frown so I add. “It’s a club. I don’t want to be interrupted by straggling customers, so we lock the doors and meet afterhours.”

I walk to the back to check the coldcase. Mom lets us help ourselves to drinks at club so I start to restock the Rootbeer and Fresca when I see both selections are low, slipping bottles in to fill the empty spots.

“I guess I wouldn't mind staying.” I glance up to see that she’s followed me back. “I mean, depending on what the club is.”

I close the case. “Ghost Hunters Go,” I say as I wipe my hands on my pants.

“You have a ghost hunters club that meets here on Fridays?” she asks. “Ever meet a ghost?”

I shoot her a glance. “We only meet once a month and sort of.”

“Hmmm. Well, I guess I'm in.” Then she gives a little giggle. “Actually, it sounds right up my alley. How many members do you have?”

I get up and drag the tote of extra drinks back to the closet. “Um, not counting me or Ian or Patrick, maybe three.”

She considers this for a moment before she replies, “I can see why you don’t keep the store open.” My lips twist as I shove the tote into the closet. “So how do you do it?” I’m about to ask, do what? when she adds, “Do you channel?” Her eyes go wide. “No wait, I bet you Ouija.”

Yeah, like the best way to contact a spirit is with a mass-produced game board. Although the one time Patrick's older sister attended, she brought a twelve pack of beer and a board. Mom would have been pissed about the beer but the boys were ecstatic. Ian set up his voice recorder and either Brook was screwing with us or an energy did come through because we got a couple clear messages. The first was 'Stop' although we couldn't get an answer as to what we were supposed to stop. And there were several messages about death and dying like 'everyone dies' or 'death comes 4 everyone' and something about Texas.

We also contacted a spirit who said she was the ghost of a child who was killed on the property. Yeah, so it was the little blond who hangs out here. She wandered over to our table and with much effort she was able to make the planchette move. Unfortunately she is so young she cannot spell and since she never speaks I was forced to translate her nods and annoyed expressions. Over all, the evening was fun, if not a little spooky.

“Uh, we tried that once and probably won't do it tonight.” I grab two chairs from the break room and drag them into the store.

She follows. “By the way, I'm Anna.”

I set the chairs down. “I’m Rachel.”

She surprises me by saying, “So, I’ve heard. You're psychic, right?”

I give a little snort. “Psychic? Like can I tell the future, psychic? Can I pick a winning lotto number?” I work the chairs into the circle. “No, I'm not psychic.”

“That's not what I heard.”

Now since she’s probably just worked all day with Cordelia I can’t even begin to imagine what she might have head so I just offer a dry, “Really?”

Her eyes go wide as she says, “I heard that you speak to the dead. That you study at some famous school in London. I heard that you are the best tarot reader in the house but you keep it low key and that the things you see really do come true.” Her eyes flash, daring me to tell her it’s not true.

I snort. “Well, if you put it that way. Then I guess I'm psychic.”

“Tell me something.”

“Like what?”

She shrugs. “I don't know. Tell me anything.”

I glance over my shoulder to see that the store is empty but for Cordelia who is busy counting out the till. “Okay.” I drop into the closest chair and close my eyes. I draw a deep breath and let go of all of the tension I'm holding in my jaw and my shoulders. I let it slip from me as I will myself to my special space. Then I open my eyes to find that she is sitting on the chair across from me and behind her a spirit waits. “Oh okay. There is a man standing behind you and he says 'you are sensitive to corn.'”

Anna snorts. “Really? Sensitive to corn? Is that the best you can come up with?”

I brush her words aside like spider webs and keep my focus. “He says to lay off the corn syrup. That you must cut it out of your diet completely or you are going to end up with diabetes just like your grandfather, cousin and great-aunt Betty.”

Her eyes go round as she sits up straight. “How do you know about my great-aunt Betty?”

I make a face at her. “I told you. There's a guy standing behind you.”

The color drains from her face as she asks, “What else does he say?”

I know that she's hoping the guy is a spirit guide or guardian angel but it just her Uncle Martin. “He says he wishes someone had told him to lay off the sugar 'cause it’s a killer.” Then I ask her if she'd walked over to the ice cream shop on break. When she nods, I tell her that it’s her Uncle and that he saw her there, which I guess is where he frequents, until he followed her over.

She asks more questions. Some about the afterlife which seems to only confuse Uncle Martin until he grows so thin he disappears in a wisp of vapors.

Anna is quiet for a moment. Her face goes soft as her thoughts go to other things. When she looks at me again there is sadness in her eyes. “So where did he go?”

I shrug. “Probably back to the ice-cream store. They tend to do that, frequent the same place.”

“Is it always like that?”

I shrug. “Mostly.”

“So why do they stick around?”

“I don't know. I think some are confused. Some are on a mission. Some of them just can't let go, or maybe someone here can't let them go? So, like your uncle, they just stick around the places they were familiar with.”

She ponders my words before replying, “Well, that's kind of sad.”

“Sometimes they are happy.” My thoughts leap to the cashier with the spirit cloaked around his shoulders. “But sometimes I'm not sure they were ever human to begin with.”

She gives me a quizzical look. “What do you mean?”

“I've run into a couple of beings that cling like shadows.” My thoughts go to the day Patrick and I encountered a huge and scary man-like thing by a bridge. “And others that looked like men on the outside but if you looked long enough you can see that something about them just isn’t right. Like underneath they are more like trolls or goblins or something.” I close my eyes and shove the disturbing image away. “Anyway, they weren't people, at least not anymore.”

Her eyebrows lift as she cocks her head. “Maybe they never were human. Maybe they were a wandering jinni or one of the Devas.”

“The what?”

“Nature spirits.”

I just look at her.

“You know. The elementals.

I shake my head.

“Oh, maybe you know them as the fey?”

Faeries? I shrug. “I guess.”

Then she laughs. “I might not be a seer like you, but I’ve worked with elementals and I've seen Devic beings.” She tells me about a night in the forest where she’d sat up talking to the woodland spirits. Then of other encounters she'd had and the way she describes her experiences in her soft airy voice, her pale skin flushing, eyes bright as she relives each memory, piques my curiosity and I find that I want to hear more but right then the boys appear and I have to leave her to go greet them. Still, as I make my way across the room to unlock the backdoor, I glance back and catch the way she plays with the end of her long dark braid, brushing it across her jaw, face soft, eyes lost to memory.

Two college-age girls arrive to make us a group of six. I begin with introductions and ask the visitors to say something about themselves and their expectations.

The red-headed girl grins. “I'm Amanda and this is Bethany,” she says tipping her head toward the blond next to her. “We are students at ASU. We heard about this place just last week.”

Bethany nods and adds, “Yeah, sorry about the damage. Did they ever find out who did it?”

It turns out that several papers ran stories on our event and the vandalism. I was annoyed but Mom kept a positive outlook sticking to her theory that there is no such thing as bad publicity. As I look at the girls, I begin to think she might be right.

Anna glances to me and I shake my head.

Amanda's eyes flash bright. “When Bethany and I read about your store, we just knew we had to check it out. Not only are we are both interested in developing our psychic awareness, we are fascinated with everything paranormal!”

Bethany gives a small smile as her eyes dart from Anna to the boys, “You know like cryptozoology, shadow creatures, the whole enchanted realm…”

“And when we read on the website that you had a Ghost hunter's club,” Amada continues, “we just had to come.”

Ian and Patrick are sitting on the edges of their chairs like she is saying the most fascinating thing they've ever heard and I grin thinking that this really could turn into a real interesting evening.

Anna is more polite. “And we are glad you did.” She gives the girls a smile. “Welcome.”

The silence grows into a long moment before Bethany says, “Okay, so now what?”

Immediately Ian and Patrick turn expectant eyes to me. My mind reacts by suddenly going blank. As the group blinks at me, it’s all I can do to slide up in my chair. Anna comes to my rescue. “How about we begin by setting the mood?” She reaches for her purse and produces a pack of matches, incense sticks and four colored votive candles. She circles us to set the candles and as she places the last one, I realize that she had placed one at each compass point. “I bet we'd get more bang if we had wormwood oil and some dried dandelion.”

“Oh.” I stand. “Give me a second.” I leave the group and go to shelf across the room and select a dram of oil and package dandelion leaf. I hand them both to Ann. When she hesitates I respond, “Don't worry. I'll put it on my account.” Then I say to the group, “Now is a good time to help yourselves to a drink. Totally free.”

Patrick and Ian, in true to boy form, hop up and head to the cold case. I call after them, “Guys, do me a favor and show the girls what we have.”

Patrick pauses. “You want anything Rach?”

“Sure, I'll take a cream soda. How about you, Anna?”

“A water please?”

There is a pounding at the front door. Anna and I lock eyes before we go over to see who is knocking. I peek through the glass and my stomach pitches when I see it is Veronica with Melinda March and Suzie Wilson in tow. My hand trembles when I pop the locks. I pause to smooth my features then I open the door and measure the girls who have never been my friends.

Suzy looks smug. Melinda sly. I keep my expression blank, my voice even. “Oh hey.”

Veronica gives me a bright smile, her eyes twinkling. “Sorry we're late.”

“Actually we are just starting,” Anna replies and I am suddenly filled with thanks for her calm presence beside me. I pull the door open wider and step aside to let the girls slink in. When I turn my back and relock the door, my mind is a flurry with fear of what might happen tonight and how this could wreck my reputation, or even worse, create an unwanted monstrous one afterward.

I'm still absorbed with misgivings when Anna begins to tell them about the others, “Everyone is in the back getting drinks. Go grab one if you want. There is also table of treats. Help yourself or choose a seat. We are just about to get started.”

Again a flash of thankfulness bolts through me and I am suddenly grateful for the authoritative air in her voice. I take the opportunity to go to wrestle up another chair. When I come back I find that Veronica has settled into a seat, a paper plate topped with cheese and crackers balancing on her knee. Suzie and Melinda are nowhere to be seen. I guess that they must have gone to the back for sodas. I slide into the chair across from Veronica and watch as Anna opens the oil and anoints each candle before she takes the package of dandelion leaf and sprinkles a pinch of herb over each candle.

The boys come back with the girls. Patrick hands me a cream soda and I set it on the floor under my seat. Suzie and Melinda settle next to Veronica while Anna turns to Ian and asks him to help her clear a table and move it to the center of our circle. When the table is set and everyone has taken a seat, she lights a stick of incense and I hear her whisper something low over the plume of rising smoke.

Veronica watches with interest. Melinda slouches in her chair and nosily slurps her diet coke. I glance at her and she quickly turns her attention to her nails. Suzie watches Veronica more than she watches Anna but I think she is more than a little curious about what might happen here tonight.

Anna circles us three times trailing aromatic smoke before she turns to us and asks, “Have you ever held a séance?”

Patrick's eyes go round as he shakes his head while Ian responds, “No, but I brought my voice recorder.” He grabs his backpack and adds without looking up, “Did Rachel tell you about the ghost who haunts this place?”

Melinda quips, “Yeah, right.”

Veronica turns to fix Melinda with narrowed eyes but her expression doesn't stop Suzie from snickering. The two college girls ignore them and lean in, their eyes round as they look to me for the story. Ian is oblivious as usual to the whole exchange as he fishes his device out of the backpack, clicks it on and sets it on the table.

Anna grins and claps her hands, “Yay, A resident ghost! Tell us about her, Rachel. Is she here right now?”

I have everyone's attention now, even Melinda fixes me with a wary glance. I sit up and look around wishing I'd thought to set out a dish of candy. Then I see her in the corner, squatting down close to the bottom shelf where she's tugging at a book.

“Yeah, she's here.” I tell them.

“Wait, you can see her?” Amanda asks.

“She's a medium. She can see ghosts…Er, well, some ghosts,” Patrick replies like he's suddenly proud of me.

I drop my eyes to the floor and muse, great the cat's out of the bag now. Then I lift my eyes in challenge daring my three classmates to say it isn't so. I'm actually glad to see that Melinda's nails are still more interesting than I am. Suzie is sizing Ian up and down as he fiddles with his voice recorder. The only response is from Veronica as she gives me a speculative lift of one eyebrow.

“Let's call her over.” Anna suggests. “What's her name?”

Patrick shrugs. “We don't know her name.”

“She never speaks,” Ian replies. Then he looks across the circle at Anna “I have a concern I need to voice before we begin. First, have you done this séance thing before? And second, how do you keep from calling up something, ah…well, bad?”

Anna reaches for her purse and pulls out a silver disk that is the size of her palm. When she sets it on the table I see that it is a star set within a circle and by the look of it, I'm pretty sure it’s solid silver. I know it’s a pentagram, a popular protection symbol, because we sell them in the store, though we don't carry any as nice as this one. “This is a protective amulet. It will guard and protect us while we do our work.” When Ian frowns she adds “And I'll set a protective circle.”

“You can do that?” Patrick and Ian ask in unison.

Anna shrugs. “Anyone can do it. All you need is salt.”

So we begin with Anna walking around us trailing a line of salt across the concrete floor and I can't help but think how hard it is going to be to sweep up afterward. But I drop my worries and turn my attention to her when she starts chanting, “I set a circle in salt so that nothing evil can enter in. I set a circle in salt.” She walks the circle three times chanting as she goes. Then her chant turns to something that sounds like Latin.

I watch in fascination, now not really caring what Melinda or Suzie might think, as Anna strides to the north-most candle and strikes a match as she softly says words I can't quite hear. Something shifts in the room and I realize she has claimed each of our attentions. We all watch with various degrees of interest from rapt to curious as she lights the last candle to complete the circle. I don’t know if it is my imagination or my psychic sense honing in, because when the last candle lights, each flame flares up, long and thin. Then suddenly the pressure in the room seems to change and everything looks and sounds clearer than it did the moment before.

I suddenly become aware of a cool spot on my arm and I turn to see the child standing inside the circle. She stands close, resting her hand on my upper arm as she peers up at me, and the expression of concern in her eyes is so apparent, I suddenly feel uneasy.

“So is the child still here?” Anna asks as she settles back into her chair.

I nod, my eyes holding the girl’s. “Yes, she's right here.”

“Let's talk to her.”

Ian snorts. “We already tried that. She doesn't speak.”

“And Ouijaing is out because she can't read,” adds Patrick.

The girl gives me a sharp, annoyed look, the kind only the very young can pull off, and begins to spell cat, then dog by tracing her forefinger in the air.

“She can read.” I tell them. “She was just having trouble with her spelling that day.”

I can tell that Anna is now completely intrigued by the idea of a bookstore ghost. She lets loose a string of questions. “What is she doing now? What does she look like? How old is she?”

To my surprise the girl responds by holding up six fingers. “She's six,” I say.

“How can you tell?” Melinda asks.

“Uh, because she's holding up six fingers.”

Anna takes the conversation back, “What does she look like?”

“Well, she's cute.” And again I'm surprised by the child's reaction when she beams at me as she tucks a wayward strand hair behind her ear. I marvel because never before has she given us so much of her attention. “She's this tall,” I say as I hold my hand just above her head, “and she's real petite. She has straight blond hair that's cut just below her ear.”

“Can you see any details?”

I frown. Hadn't I just been describing details? “Umm yeah, she has on a white dress that goes to her knees. It has a round neck and short puffy sleeves… and she’s barefoot.” I watch as the child looks down at her feet and frowns. She suddenly seems troubled and I tell the group, “I think she's getting frustrated. Let's talk about something else.”

“Okay,” Anna replies. “She told us she was six. Now see if she will tell you her name.” The child looks up at me, her eyes large and pleading. But all I can do is gaze back as Anna repeats, “What's your name?”

Her eyes widen as her image becomes shimmery around the edges, and as she starts to fade, I exclaim, “I don't think she knows or remembers. In any case, you are upsetting her, and if you keep asking, she is going to disappear!”

Anna claps her hands together. “Well then, we should name her! We shall call you… Sara. Your name is Sara!” Then Anna commands, “Let's chant her name to give it power! Sara, Sara!”

There are a few shrugs and shifting glances before a few hesitant voices join in, “Sara. Sara. Sara.” The child's image instantly becomes more vibrant.

“I think she likes that,” I report.

Anna lifts her palms to gesture toward the ceiling and instantly the voices rise. “Sara! Sara! Sara!”

Her image becomes clearer until I can see details that I couldn't see before, like the fact that her dress isn't just white but that the fabric has a tiny floral-print pattern and the hem and sleeves are edged with lace. She must notice too because she grins and does a pirouette.

“What's she doing?” Anna asks.

Sara does another pirouette. “Spinning,” I report. “Or, um, she's dancing, I think.”

The report inspires the group and their chant infuses with enthusiasm. I'm surprised when even Melinda joins in. I can't help but shoot her a curious glance before I turn my attention back to Sara.

Anna lifts her hand and motions for the chant to stop, but I am still watching Sara, suddenly concerned but not sure why.

“What physical things can she do to affect her environment?” Anna asks.

Ian pipes up, “She can move a planchette around on our Ouija board.”

Anna purses her lips. “I was hoping for something more.”

I watch as Sara stops spinning, fascinated by the details I can now see, the expression of her face, down to the movement of her hair… She moves next to Anna. Her eyes are sparkling with mirth when she turns to give me a nod. I draw a breath and say, “If she works hard, she can take a small pieces of candy in her hand and pull a book from the shelf.”

Sara rewards me with a grin.

“Then let's have a demonstration so those of us who can't see Sara have a little proof that she really is here,” Anna says to the group.

Ian and Patrick are watching me now, curiosity sparkling in their eyes. I look back to Sara. When she gives me a nod, I say, “Umm, okay.”

“We should start with something small.” Anna glances over the table. Her eyes fall on the pencil resting in front of Amanda. “Can I borrow your pencil?”

Silently, Amanda passes the pencil to Anna and we all watch as she balances its point on the table. “Sara?”

“She's right next to you,” I tell her.

“Sara, do you think you can keep this pencil standing?”

Sara moves closer, reaching her arms out toward the pencil. I watch as she presses her hands around it.

Anna’s voice becomes a low whisper when she says, “I think I feel something…” Then she locks her eyes on me and says “You've got it now, Sara. Haven't you?”

I give her a nod.

“Great job! Okay, I'm going to let go.”

Anna slowly eases her hands away from the upright pencil. There are a few gasps when it remains upright, standing alone, balancing on its point. I glance over to see that Suzie's mouth has fallen open as Melinda slowly sits up in her seat. Anna continues to slowly lift her hands until they hover in the air several inches above the pencil, and still, it remains upright, point on the table, eraser in the air. “Sara that's wonderful. Great job!”

Veronica grins and claps her hands. The boys and the college girls are rapt as they lean forward on the edges of their chairs. Even Melinda and Suzie seem impressed. The pencil remains standing on its tip right there on the table in front of Anna. I am the only one who can see Sara as she cups as much of the pencil between her two small hands and seems to concentrate. Then the pencil vanishes right in front of our eyes.

I hear Amanda first. “What? Where'd it go?”

Then Patrick or maybe it is Ian says, “That's incredible!”

“Unbelievable!” Anna says with a laugh as she claps her hands together. “How's that for some magick?”

Suzie narrows her eyes. “So it was a trick then?” Anna glances at her and shakes her head but Suzie is not having it. “So where's the pencil now?”

The look Sara gives me is pure delight as she holds out her hand to reveal the pencil cradled on her palm. The pencil, it seems, now only I can see. “Sara has it,” I answer. The room falls quiet and I watch as Sara sits down on the floor with her new prize and begins to draw.

Anna is the first to break the quiet. “Rachel, is Sara still here?”

I nod and point to where Sara is sitting. “She's drawing a picture right there, on the floor.”

There is a buzz of conversation among the group that I only catch bits of. From Suzie and Melinda, “No way…I don't believe it for a second. That was some kind of magic trick.” I glance up to see Veronica open her mouth and laugh as an astonished Amada shrieks, “That was incredible!”

Ian and Patrick have begun a low conversation about missing and reappearing items, a common phenomenon often reported in haunted house scenarios. “It seems all she needed was a little of our attention, possibly our energy, and she was able to take a physical item from our realm and move it into hers,” Ian surmises.

Patrick's eyes go wide as he nods. “That explains why hauntings become more active when someone talks about them. They must need outside energy to manifest.”

Suzie leans toward Melinda and whispers something but I ignore them, my eyes are still glued to Sara watching as she draws a picture of what I think is a horse. I'm pretty sure the pencil is hers now. To see Sara claim the gift, and witness the joy it brought her, floods me with a deep sense of sadness and guilt as I think of the bygone rituals of leaving offerings for the dead, rituals most of society no longer observe … All those souls…out there… forgotten.

“Rachel?” I lift my eyes to Anna. “You Okay?” she asks.

I realize my eyes have filled with tears. I draw a loud breath and blink them away. “Yeah, I'm fine.” I turn back to Sara.

“You sure?”

I don’t lift my eyes when I nod. I’m glad when she turns her attention back to the group. “Let's move on, shall we? Why don't we try to get someone to speak? Ian is that contraption on?”

The talking stops as Ian leans forward to check the voice recorder. “Yeah, it’s recording.”

“Let's hold hands and focus our attention on Ian's device.”

So we do. We hold hands round the table. I notice that everyone has closed their eyes except for me. I'm watching Sara who is still focused on her drawing. I'm wondering if anyone else will ever be able to see her artwork when Anna begins, “Spirits far, and spirits near, if you are willing lend your ear. You may enter here to speak, on this day of this week, lest your intent is one of harm, for evil be banished by this charm.”

“Does it have to rhyme?” Patrick asks and Ian snickers.

Anna calmly replies, her eyes still closed, “It seems to help. Now the rest of you say it with me.”

We chant as a group for what seems a ridiculously long time to me but the others are getting into it with faces crinkled in concentration, eyes pressed closed. Suddenly the lights behind us blaze brilliantly before dimming back to their usual brightness. Sara freezes and looks up right at me. Her eyes are huge and serious as she presses her finger to her lips. I am a little concerned when she gets up and runs from our circle. I follow her with my eyes as she goes to the back of the store and disappears behind a tall shelf. Then all of the lights go out and we are cast into darkness.

Someone shrieks. Another gives a nervous laugh. When there are sounds from someone who has begun to shuffle and stir, Anna barks sharply, “Stay in your chairs!”

I tune them out and listen to the dark because it’s as if all of my senses have just switched to high and I am completely filled with fear that we are not alone. I jump at the bloom of light as Patrick flicks his lighter.

“Rachel is the flashlight still in the emergency kit in the back closet?” he asks unfazed.

“Stay in your chairs,” Anna barks again. “Do not. I repeat, do not move.” He turns to look at her as she stretches out her open palm and commands, “Give me your lighter.” I am glad when he hands it over without question.

Anna rises and relights the candles and I can tell by the slight tremble of her hand and her cautious movements that she is being careful to stay inside the circle and that she too is aware that something is awry. One by one the candles are lit revealing worried and fearful expressions on most of those sitting in our circle.

Even though I can tell she is worried, Anna does her best to present a calm front so I too suppress my fear and follow her lead. When the last candle is lit, she turns to me. “Rachel, where is Sara?”

I bite my lip before I confess, “Uh, she's not here anymore.”

Anna frowns. “Did you see her leave?'

I know my eyes must look enormous when I nod. She makes an impatient gesture with her hand and I blurt out, “She put her finger to her lips, motioning for me to be quiet and then she ran off and hid behind that far shelf.” I point to the back of the store.

Suzy gasps and reaches for Veronica's hand.

Anna's voice grows softer as she asks, “Do you see anyone or anything here?”

I look around and note that except for the dim lighting, everything looks as it should: books neatly in their places, the spinner of journals, address books and matching bookmarks, and just beyond, the new feng shui table Cordelia artfully decked with trinkets, tools and study aides. I push on to the counter, then to the store beyond, but I don't see anything out of the ordinary.

I start to shake my head but before I answer, I stop myself, take a conscious breath and look not just with my eyes but with all of my senses. As I tune in I can tell that everyone is holding their breath as they wait for me to check out the room. I notice them and let it go as I move my awareness beyond our circle and spread it over the store. Still, everything seems as it should…the store is calm… and yet I can feel that something isn't quite right. “I don't see anything but something is off,” I report in a whisper.

“What do you mean?” Anna whispers back.

I shrug and give the room another scan. Then suddenly I get it. “The pressure feels wrong…the energy is off…” Then I fall silent as the others noisily catch their breaths, all watching, as each of the candles begin to flicker violently like a gust of wind has just swept by all four of them in the same moment threatening to plunge us into darkness again.

“I think something is here,” I whisper, “with us.”

The others grow still.

“It’s all right. Everyone just sit tight,” Anna reassures. “Give me just a moment...”

I don't have any more to offer so we sit in silence waiting, watching Anna. She closes her eyes in what seems a moment of private meditation, and that's when I realize that she is just as helpless as the rest of us. The fear inside me starts to rise and almost in response I feel a soft breeze blow in from somewhere to swirl around our circle setting the candle flames to flicker and my flesh to prickle.

Someone gasps. Then Melinda asks in a low voice, “Does it suddenly feel colder in here or is it my imagination?”

“I'm pretty sure I know where the flashlight is,” Patrick whispers. “It would be nice to have if the candles go out again.”

Anna is quick to answer, “No Patrick, I don't want you to cross the circle. Unfortunately I think Rachel is right. I think, right at this moment, something not-so-nice is visiting but it can't cross the circle so we are fine as long as no one breaks the line.”

I see Suzie shoot out her other hand to grasp Melinda's and I wonder if I look as frightened as she does. I take a deep breath and swallow my fear.

“Patrick, do you have your camera?” Ian asks.

“No, I left it on the table by the door.” Ian fixes him with an exasperated look and gives a shake of his head and I can’t help but be amused to find that it is Ian who is the die-hard ghost hunter of our group.

Amanda's voice is a harsh whisper when she suddenly sits straight and hisses, “Listen!”

“What?” the boys ask in unison.

Instead of answering she presses a finger to her lips and give a long hissing, “Shhhhh.” And I'm not sure, but I think she's on the verge of tears. Then I hear it too, a soft scratching like a rake scrapping across the floor or long claws being dragged. The sound begins behind Amanda only to move behind Bethany as it circled our little group.

“Anna, think,” I plead. “What should we do?”

Anna looks around the circle, her eyes falling on each of us as a resolute expression fixes on her face. “Right.” She gives a quick nod. “We banish it!” All eyes are on her now as she takes a moment to settle back into her chair.

“First I need each of you to take a deep breath and know that you are safe. So close your eyes, let go of your fear, and take a deep breath.” Her eyes go around the circle and I don’t close my eyes until they settle on my face.

Her voice becomes soft. “Everything is just fine. There is a light above us, the protective, infinite, creative energy of the Universe. I want you to think of this light as you breathe...See it above us…. envision this light growing brighter as it begins to descend.... a swirl of soft moving color that envelops our circle like a shield.”

I concentrate on the energy of the room as Anna calms us. I follow her voice and visualize it wrapping around us like a giant glowing force field. She has us runs the energy until we all grow calm. Then she works what I think is a banishing spell that ends by banishing each energy that might have been called, commanding each to “return from which they came.”

As she ends, the lights blink on and the soft sounds of the fans starting back up fill the room. I let the energy go, then I open my eyes and we blink at each other realizing the power has just come back on. At that same moment my cell phone begins to vibrate. I fish it out of my pocket and see that it’s Mom. “How'd club go, Hon?” she asks. “You guys okay?”

“We're fine.” I tell her.

“Wow, that was some storm. Did you lose power?”

I blink. “Yes, I guess we did,” I say, “but it’s back on now.”

She goes on to tell me about the microburst that just moved through Scottsdale blowing down trees and knocking out power for several blocks. Then she cautions me about driving home. “In fact,” she tells me, “why don't you just wait a bit. Give the storm a chance to really blow over.”

“Okay,” I reply but what I'm really thinking is go home? Then I look at my phone's display and I am astonished to read that it’s nearly ten. I glance at the others who are now nibbling on the snacks I'd put out and chatting, Suzie with the two college girls, Veronica with Anna. Patrick and Ian are joking like nothing out of the ordinary had just happened, and as I watch them, my skin starts to prickle and I wonder if we truly are alone.

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