Saturday, October 1, 2016

Death Rattle

Sitting cross-legged on the floor, Joleen hesitated, her hand hovering over the Ouija board. “I don’t know,” she said, pulling away from the pointer, “maybe I should just let this go.”
“If that’s what you want to do,” Karen said, “but I really think this will help bring you some closure.”
“I know what you think,” Joleen snapped, then immediately regretted it. “I’m sorry, it’s just that I’m not as comfortable with this thing as you are. My mother always said Ouijas were a portal to hell.”
Karen laughed. “Tell me about it. Do you know she came to see me once?”
“You? Was it a bit nippy in hell that day?”
Karen, known to her clients as Madam Kara shook her head. “No and she didn’t want a reading. She told me she was praying for me and that even though I had strayed from the good Lord, she still loved me.” Karen teared up, then swiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. “Your mother was always decent to me, even after I took up the ‘devil’s work’ as she called it. I really missed coming over here.” Looking around the living room, she smiled at old memories, frowning when she saw something she didn’t recognize. “Hey, that’s new.”
“I bought it when mother got sick. It’s Aceso, the goddess of healing. Mother was too sick to notice, thank God, or she would have insisted I get rid of her.”
Curious, Karen picked up the statue and examined it. The sculpture depicted a naked woman, bent down on her knees, wings furled out behind her.  “Where did you get this?”
“That new store downtown.” Joleen laughed, then put her hands up when she saw the dark look in her friends eyes. “I know, she’s your competitor, but I don’t know ... I was thinking about mother and worrying, and then I just found myself there asking if they had anything that could help my mother.”
“That store is full of dark magic, Joleen. I wish you had not gone in there. “
“Well you sound awfully self-righteous for someone who handles Ouija boards. Maybe you haven’t strayed as far as my mother thought.”
“The Ouija is just a tool to help connect to the spirit world. It is what the user makes of it. This statue though—” Karen paused, not sure if she should continue. “It is not the figure of Aceso, it is one of the Keres.”
“The Keres?”
“Goddesses of death ... violent death.”
Joleen’s face grew pale, remembering her mother’s final moments. ‘They’re coming for me,’ she had screamed, holding her arms out, warding off invisible attackers. Joleen thought her mother’s actions were a result of the dementia that had fallen over her the last year of her life. Her nights, often plagued by dreams of demons and monsters, left her listless during the day. Joleen had hoped the statue would help bring her mother peace, but her dreams had grown worse, even after the addition of the talisman.
“Oh my God,” Joleen called out.
“I’m sure her death had nothing to do with the statue.” Karen put her arm around her friend. “Just get rid of it so it doesn’t give you nightmares.”
Troubled, Joleen looked at the Ouija board. “I need to talk to her now more than ever. I need to know she is at peace.”
“Then let’s begin.”
Doing as Karen instructed, Joleen hovered her hands over the planchette. “Mother, are you there?” The pointer sat still so she asked again, “Mother, are you there? Are you at peace?”
At first nothing happened but then the planchette moved.
“No? You aren’t at peace?”
Gasping, Joleen pulled her hand back. “My mother would never use that word.”
“It could be we haven’t summoned your mother. It could be another spirit. One associated with your house ... a vulgar one. Has anyone else died here?”
“Not as far as I know, but it is possible. The house has been in my mom’s family for generations. She inherited it when my grandmother died.”
“Well, let’s find out who we have contacted so we can move on.” Karen hovered her hand over the Ouija. “Are you Helen Bailey?”
“Who are you?”
“Who’s Bill?” Karen asked.
“My mom’s uncle. She never talked about him much, but I remember him. He was old then . . . I was maybe five. He had this cough that rattled in his chest. Emphysema ... I remember he scared me and I hated being in the same room with him. He made my skin crawl, and I don’t think mother cared much for him. I remember her asking grandma why she didn’t send him away.  ‘He deserves to suffer,’ is what she said and I remember asking her why.”
“What did she say?”
“She never answered and we didn’t go back for the longest time. Mother told Grandma that as long as he was in the house she wouldn’t set foot inside.”
“He must have really done something to make her mad then. She wasn’t happy with me, but she still came to see me . . . even if it was to tell me I was wrong,” Karen waved the planchette across the board. “You know, this probably isn’t going  to work, I really didn’t think it would, since your mother shunned anything she deemed the devil’s instrument, but I wanted to at least give you some peace. Since she didn’t answer, can we at least agree she must have found it too?”
“What about Bill?” Joleen asked, chewing her lip nervously while Karen put the board away.
Karen shrugged. “Ignore him. He’s probably been wandering around this house for awhile. Without the Ouija, he has no way to contact you. Now, didn’t you say you still needed to buy candy for tonight? Hey, this is your first year celebrating Halloween, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, you know mother, ‘It’s the Devil’s Holiday’.”
* * *
“This is so much fun,” Joleen said, shutting the door on the last trick-or-treater of the night and turning off the porch light.
“I told you.” Karen stuffed the remnants of a chocolate bar into her mouth.
“Remember third grade, when I tried to sneak out so I could go trick-or-treating with you and Janie Anderson?”
“Do I ever. I thought your mother was going to perform an exorcism when she caught up to you.”
“I think maybe we went a little overboard on the blood. She actually burned the clothes I was wearing.”
“Yeah, well she had the best of intentions. There was always an aura around her ... something bad happened to her at one time. It changed who she was.”
Joleen turned on the couch, looking at her friend. “Why didn’t you ever tell me this?”
“So you could grill your mother about her past? I know you, Joleen, once you get an idea in your head you don’t let it go, which is why you sometimes act without thinking, like going into the Occult Store. I wish you had come to me first.”
“I just wanted to find something to relieve mom’s pain.” Joleen stared absent-mindedly at the Keres. “It didn’t work.”
“Well, certainly not with that thing.” Karen looked at the clock and sighed. “I have to go, but call me in the morning and we’ll set up a night out. Maybe get hold of Janie Anderson.”
“Will do,” Joleen said, walking her friend to the door. On the way past the mantel, Karen snatched the Keres off the shelf. “Let me get rid of this thing for you.”
“Fine with me.” Joleen shrugged.
That night her dreams were troubled. She was a little girl again, standing next to her uncle’s bed. He was saying something to her, but she couldn’t understand what it was. He reached his hand out and grabbed her arm. She tried to pull away, his hands dug into her flesh ... he pulled her toward him. A small whimper escaped her lips. His tongue slipped out of his mouth, fetid breath reached her nostrils and she gagged. Where was her mommy?  She screamed, or tried to, but her voice froze in her throat. His breath rattled in his lungs from the effort of holding onto her. He pulled her forward, his other arm reaching for her ... reaching for her dress. Fingers fumbling, he lifted the hem, his hand slipping under the fabric and pushing at her legs ...
Sitting up, Joleen looked around her room, a scream dying on her throat.  She sat there a few minutes, trying to shake the dream, but it didn’t fade, like so many other dreams did.
Maybe a drink of water.
Passing the fireplace on her way to the kitchen, Joleen stopped. Something on the mantle caught her eye. The Keres sat on the shelf, the face of the goddess turned, looking at her. Frozen, Joleen stared back at it ... from her bedroom a cough rattled in a throat scarred from years of smoking.
Her phone on the table rang. Fingers trembling, she picked up the receiver. “Hello?”
“Joleen ...” Karen’s voice was weak. Joleen had to strain to hear her over the sound of sirens in the background.
“Karen, are you okay?”
“Joleen, we should have made him go away. We let him out . . . with the Ouija. We didn’t make him say goodbye. I was wrong. He doesn’t need the Ouija now.”
“Karen ...”
“It’s the Kera’s. They give him strength. Joleen ... Get out of the house.”
“Karen? Karen?”
The phone had gone dead. The coughing in the bedroom grew closer as feet unaccustomed to moving shuffled across the carpet.
“Girlie, come here, your mama ain’t here to protect you now.”
“No.” Joleen sobbed, remembering that day. Her uncle, his hands ripping at her underwear; she finally managed a scream. Her mother had run in, pulling her away.
“How can you keep him here?” Joleen’s mother said, holding her daughter close to her. She was staring angrily at her own mother.
“He’s sick, Lois. He’s my brother, what am I supposed to do?”
“Let him rot in a home somewhere. You know what he did to me ... he just tried ... he deserves to suffer. And so do you, for harboring a monster. I’m not coming back, mother. I won’t let him hurt Joleen.”
“Lois, please, she’s my granddaughter, you can’t keep her from me.”
“Yes I can. If you want to see her, you’ll choose ... it’s either him or us?”
“He’s my brother ...”
“Good bye mother.”
And they had left. But they’d come back, after Bill had died. He was gone and could never hurt them again.
“Not gone,” Joleen breathed while backing up toward the front door, Karen’s words echoing in her head, ‘Get out of the house.’
A shadow stretched across the floor, reaching out from the bedroom, moving toward the living room and Joleen. The persistent cough rattled, sending tendrils of fear through her abdomen. Joleen nearly let loose of her bladder, a small trickle of urine seeping into her panties.
‘Get out of the house.’
Turning, Joleen ran for the front door. The deadbolt was locked. Twisting it, she tried to move it, but somehow the knob refused to turn.
“Can’t get away from me that easy.”
Joleen turned. Behind her was a man, his face sunken, yellowed from illness. His lips were cracked and dried, a tongue, shriveled, tried to moisten them. He grinned, showing blackened teeth.
“I told your mama I’d have you some day.”

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