“Yo,” Susan concluded, “I don’t think that’s her.”
“Who else would it be?” asked Jin.
“Don’t know,” she replied. “Does that urban legend say the ghost of Abby Winston likes to stand around in a toga, carrying a torch like some deceased Statue of Liberty?”
“Toga?” he muttered. “I thought that was an old-timey nightgown.”
“I’m pretty sure old-school nightgowns had sleeves.”
Jin snorted, “So now you’re an expert in Reconstruction-era sleepwear?”
“Vic, baby,” Susan begged the blond-haired, blue-eyed Midwestern masterpiece standing next to her, “this was your idea. What do you think this is about?”
Victor grunted. While Jin and his lover had been bickering about the identity of the pale girl they’d summoned and trapped inside a circle of chalk and candles, he’d been carefully studying her. Through black, glistening hair, she’d been studying them back.
According to rumor, Abigail Winston died in 1902 of pneumonia in the library her father had bought and paid for. Over the generations and to this day, friends of friends of students at this college claimed to have seen her spirit wandering the stacks, lantern in hand.
This girl was most certainly dead. Her skin had faded to an empty gray, her flowing dress–or nightgown or toga, whatever–had taken on the green of moss, and the eye he could see was dark and sunken, shrouded in the harsh light of the flames above and below her. So there was that.
On the other hand, that wasn’t a lantern she was carrying.
“I’m inclined to agree with you,” he replied after some thought. “That don’t look like some rich girl who died before her time.”
“Then what the hell is it?” asked Jin.
Susan glared at Jin. “You’re the one with the superpowers,” she reminded him, “you figure it out.” She then turned her attention to her boyfriend. “I think it’s totally cool that Gina’s showing you how to do hoodoo, but if you do shit like this again next time she leaves town…” She pointed up and down her torso. “… you are never seeing this again. Ya dig?”
Jin belted out a song.
I know not what you are,
Or whether you have traveled far.
To illuminate our humble college.
Can you gift us your knowledge?
With the shadow of her eye, the girl glared.
“I got nothing,” Jin confessed, “but a general sense of pissiness.”
“Never mind what I said, baby,” Susan told Victor. “You’re cut off, irregardless.”
“It’s okay,” Victor assured them. “She can’t hurt us as long as she stays in the circle.”
Jin slapped his face in his palm. “You do realize you probably jinxed us.”
Sure enough, with the sucking sound of a foot freeing itself from thick mud–as opposed to the tile they all stood on–the girl took one step out of the chalk outline, knocking over every candle in her path.
“I got this,” Jin announced before serenading her.
Danger I exterminate!
I’m Jin, the music master,
And you are a disaster!
She waved her torch in front of his face.
“What?” he responded. “What do you mean they’re not real? I’ve been seeing them all my life! Am I crazy? Holy shit I’m crazy!” He collapsed to his knees, eyes open wide and watering. “I saved her… from myself? Oh my God I tried to suffocate my own mom! I didn’t know! I’m sorry!”
The girl turned, pointed a finger at Susan, and whispered, “Soon.”
“Ain’t gonna happen,” Victor declared and lunged between them. What he got for his bravery was an eyeful of torch.
When he blinked away the spots, he saw his high school sweetheart, but older. Behind her scrambled a laughing boy he loved with all his heart. Through them, he saw a desert that stripped away his pride and his very name.
A voice he recognized broke through all of this, saying, “Victor, my disappointment in you is matched only by the virtuosity of your failure.”
A voice he didn’t recognize purred, “Hellooooo, gorgeous!”
A pair of hands gripped his shoulders and shook him until the visions parted like a curtain, revealing sour face of his mentor, Gina. He kind of wanted the hallucinations back. “I advised you against spellcraft in my absence for a reason, Victor.”
His head whipped around the room in a panic. “Susan!”
“Susan is unharmed,” Gina told him. “She’s assisting Jin.”
“Are you functional?” she asked.
“Then listen closely,” she said slowly and clearly. “If you had been heeding my instructions, you would have recalled that research is essential to the process. And if you had done this research, you would have discovered that Rutherford Walton, the patron of this library, bore two sons and no daughter. The haunting you sought is a complete fabrication.
“Additionally, you also would have recalled the importance of leaving no gaps in the circle, no matter how miniscule.”
“Your apology means little if you intend to repeat this error.”
“I won’t,” he replied.
“Splendid. Now, if you’ll wait here, I must scold your partner in romance and monumental fuck-ups.”
Victor focused on the rescuer who had arrived with Gina–a woman clad in orange and green, topped off with ludicrously bouncy black-and-silver curls. She retreated from the menace of the girl slowly marching toward her, yet she grinned and bounced like a playful puppy.
“Who?” whispered the girl.
“Sorry,” she laughed. “Manners. I’m Rafaela. Torres. Rafaela Torres. And you are… Wow… Although I’m curious: you can look like just about any female in the world, and you pick J-horror. Don’t get me wrong: It’s a good look for you, but still, why did you choose this?”
“I don’t know,” Rafaela replied. “I think it was an accident. Either way, the circle is broken. You can leave now.”
“Your mistress isn’t here anymore,” Rafaela told her. “She hasn’t been in a long time. She’s home, waiting for you to light her way.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to go back?”
“Fine,” Rafaela said, just before sidestepping, ducking into a crouch, and kicking her ankles. By the time the girl landed on her back, Rafaela had sprung to her feet, planting one on her fist, which still held tightly onto the torch.
“Holy shit!” yelped Susan.
“Huh,” agreed Victor.
“Dang,” breathed Jin.
“That was indeed impressive,” admitted Gina.
“Thanksh!” Rafaela mumbled while plucking the cap of off a dry-erase marker with her teeth. She scribbled something onto the girl’s arm, recapped the marker, and shouted to the heavens, “Hecate, recuperar o teu servo partir desta terra estranha!”
The girl gurgled for a minute before her body crumbled into wet soil, her hair and toga into algae, and her torch into ash. All of these quickly dissolved into smoke.
That settled, Rafaela clapped her hands and asked the room, “Which one of you clumsy, adorable little children summoned a lampad?”
“I thought a lampad was a fish,” Jin said.
Rafaela’s eyes widened. “She appeared to you as a fish? That’s wild! I didn’t know she could look like different things to different people! I saw a creepy, gross dead girl! How did she look to everyone else?”
Gina groaned louder. “He thinks you said lamprey.”
“Oh.” Rafaela needed a minute to let this detail soak in. “Let me rephrase that: Which one of you clumsy, adorable little children summoned an ancient Greek underworld nymph who serves the three-headed goddess of crossroads and the moon?”
Victor exchanged a glance with Susan and Jin.
Rafaela rolled her eyes. “Don’t all raise your hands at once.”