It was a summer afternoon in rural south Louisiana. The sound of cicadas filled the low swamplands and out the door of their friend Hazel’s back room, Dallas and Sarah could hear the occasional splash of a fish or bullfrog in the pond. The room smelled strongly of old paper and mildew.
You see, Hazel was moving houses and her mom had employed the help of her friends Dallas and Sarah to help clean out a room at the back of the house. They had known each other all their lives and had had three classes together during their junior year, strengthening the relationships even more. They had pretty much spent the entire summer together. The house was located on a hill, and in the rear, below the ground level, a dark, musty, low-ceilinged room lay covered in dust. No one exactly knew what was inside.
Sarah retreated to the door. In her hand was a book of home remedies. She leaned against the heavy wooden door, alleviating the room of its musty smell and letting sunlight into the room so that she could see the book more clearly. The sun shone through her honey-colored hair as she turned back to Hazel. “Hazel, where did you get this book?”
Hazel stopped what she was doing and came over to Sarah, explaining as she walked that most of the books had been her great-grandmother’s. “You know, people were crazy back in the day when my great-grandmother Ruth was alive. She believed in magic potions and witchcraft and that sort of nonsense. I kind of think my mama still believes in it, too.”
A tall, lean figure popped out from behind a bookshelf in the corner. It was Dallas. Potions and witchcraft - he snickered. “There’s no way any of that is real. This place we live in though, it’s got a real rich history of people falling for crap they know is fake. Just think about all the traditions around here. It’s plumb crazy,” he joked.
Something about the book kept Sarah’s attention. She was curious what was inside. She brushed the dust off the cover and opened to the first water-stained page. “Home Remedies for Common Ailments,” she read aloud. “Not too special, you reckon?”
Hazel and Dallas shook their heads. “I can’t imagine why we’d need that,” Hazel replied casually.
Sarah made her way back over to the table where Hazel was and placed the book in a large white garbage bag that was sitting propped up against the table leg. Hazel glanced down into the bag as she pulled her curly, dark hair into a ponytail. Sarah returned to her work.
“Say, Hazel,” said Dallas, “tell us more about your great-grandmother. She seemed like a pretty cool chick, but I don’t think I ever met her. All I’ve heard about her is from you and Sarah.”
“Well,” Hazel began, leaning against the table beside the trash can, “She was a very colorful lady. Always trying to do something crazy. She claimed to know how to heal and make contact with spirits, but nobody ever saw her do it. At least, nobody ever told me if they saw her do it.”
Dallas’s eyes widened. “Dang, what if she did all that in secret and didn’t ever tell anybody because she knew y’all would think she was crazy?”
“I wouldn’t put it past her,” Hazel said with a sigh. “But if any of that worked out for her, she kinda needed to tell us. You get it, in case anything strange did ever happen around here, we would know just why.”
All was silent for a moment until Dallas spoke up. “But nobody ever had to worry about it, ’cause nothing ever happened, huh?”
Hazel shook her head thoughtfully. “Nope, sure enough. Nothing ever happened.”
The singular incandescent bulb that lit the room flickered for a moment, calling Dallas’s attention to it. Don’t be an idiot, Dallas told himself. There ain’t nothing such as ghosts and spirits. He cleared his head and began to take books off the shelf when he heard Hazel’s hesitant voice from the other side of the room.
“Sarah?” she started.
“Didn’t you – what was the name of the book you put in this bag?” Her words were slow and steady, but Dallas could tell she wasn’t collected.
Sarah waited for a moment until she replied, “Home Remedies for Common Ailments.”
“Oh, my God,” said Hazel, backing away from the table. “It’s not – in the bag – anymore. It’s on – it’s right here in front of me, bless it.”
Silence engulfed the room. Dallas’s head swiveled around. He almost didn’t want to look over at the table, but he knew that all that was going on was that Hazel had scared herself with her tales of Great-grandmother Ruth. He squeezed through a maze of piles of books, tables, and furniture until he reached Hazel. She looked up at him with questioning brown eyes. Dallas picked up the book and began to flip through it. As he turned to the first chapter, an aged sheet of lined paper fell from between the pages. He pinned it beneath his hand on the table, sat the book down, and gently unfolded the paper. He read it half-aloud. “This is how to see one thing in your future. But be careful, you must do this exactly as it’s written.” Dallas’s stomach twisted, but Sarah and Hazel were awaiting his verdict. “I’m sure it’s just some bull crap somebody told G-Ma Ruth,” he said.
Sarah laughed with a tinge of nervousness. “Of course it’s not true, Dallas. You’re right.”
Despite the way her friends had brushed off what happened, Hazel still had questions. “Yeah, but, how did the book get from there,” she pointed at the trash bag, “to there?” She followed the path of the book from the bag to the table.
Dallas had hoped that she would forget that part, but he was apparently wrong. So, he shrugged and laughed. “Heck if I know,” he said.
Once again in good spirits after hearing Dallas’s reply, Hazel suggested, “what if we try it for fun?”
Dallas probably didn’t want to try it, but he would never admit that. “Sure thing, Hazel,” he said, taking the paper from her hands. Hazel brushed the dust from her hands onto her high-waisted jeans and watched as Dallas glanced over the steps written on the paper. The three gathered around the table and Dallas began reading the steps aloud. “Okay, so step one says get in a room with the people who want to do this ritual. There can’t be anyone else there. And the room has to be lit.” Dallas eyed the finnicky light bulb, which was gleaming steadily in its socket. He turned back to the directions. “Okay. Now, we have to nominate a leader.”
“That’s gonna be you, big boy,” said Hazel. Sarah nodded her head in agreement.
“Alright, well that’s settled. So now you two have to close your eyes.”
Sarah’s face was filled with fear. She looked right at Dallas before shaking her head. He knew the thought that had crossed her mind. It can’t be real, so there’s nothing to lose. She closed her eyes.
“So now, I have to get some dirt or dust and sprinkle it on whatever surface we’re doing this on. The table’s already dusty, so that’ll do. And I have to trace some symbols in the dust and wait for a minute and that’s all. But y’all ladies have gotta keep your eyes shut.”
Sarah and Hazel both nodded. A chill went down Dallas’s spine for some odd reason as he began to trace the symbols that were drawn on the paper. One symbol down, five to go.
Just as he finished the fifth symbol, the lightbulb flickered but came back to life. He smiled to himself and finished up the sixth symbol. They had done it right, and now they had to wait to each ask a question about their future.
Dallas’s eyes were the only ones open, so he was the only one to see the light flicker out. The filament burned orange for a moment before dimming. The room was pitch dark, and it hadn’t been enough time before the ritual was supposed to be over. Dallas’s soul filled with some unfounded dread as he realized what that meant: They had done it wrong. He closed his eyes, afraid to see what would happen.
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