Hi okay, sorry I’m back. I know I kinda left this sordid tale at a cliffhanger on Wednesday, but I heard my mom hovering outside my door checking if I was awake and I panicked and posted it.
SO. We’re in the woods, we’re chanting a spell to light Madelyn’s way home, the candle we were holding inexplicably lights and Tilly faints.
I think at that point I screamed. Honestly I don’t really even remember. The hum was still inside me, demanding to be felt, and Tilly was lying there unconscious at my feet and everything felt strangely bright and cold — and I could feel something coming. I could feel something coming towards us. I don’t know how to explain it except that I could feel it out there, huge and hulking just outside our circle where it was too dark to see. Tilly began to convulse at my feet. Her foot knocked over the water bowl and it spilled into the circle. In a strange, clear place in my head I thought: We’re going to die out here.
And then suddenly there was someone very tall standing before me.
“Shiloh,” said Neal Hawthorne in a calm strong voice that cut through the humming. He took both of my hands. “Is this what you wanted to happen?”
I noticed that my cheeks were wet. I shook my head, staring at Tilly.
“I need you to say it out loud,” he said patiently.
“No,” I managed.
“This isn’t what I wanted to happen!”
“Repeat after me,” he said. “I am not a lighthouse, I retract my promise and rescind my invitation.”
“I am —” I stumbled and he said it again, slower, so I could copy him.
“Look in my eyes Shiloh,” he said and then repeated it again, and I copied him again. “It has to be true,” he said, near shouting over the hum. “It has to be as true as the invitation.”
I was crying full stop. Sobbing.
He put one hand on the center of my chest and one at the back of my neck, looked right in my eyes. “Mean it,” he growled. “This spell is yours and you can control it. You have to mean it.”
“I am not a lighthouse,” I sobbed. “I retract my promise and rescind my invitation.” And then, “Tilly,” except I was really sobbing so it sounded more like Ti-i-i-ill-yyy and Tilly’s mouth was literally foaming and her eyes had gone all white.
“Damn it,” Neal said, pressed his forehead to mine and closed his eyes. “This hum is mine,” he said and took a deep breath and as he did so it was as if he were swallowing all that horrible noise we’d created, all those layered voices and whispering. He said it again: “This hum is mine,” and his voice was a thousand voices all as one. And then, echoing, terrible silence. Tilly lay still at my feet. Neal released me and I collapsed at her side, scrabbling at her throat for a pulse.
Above my head I was vaguely aware that someone else had arrived in the clearing, someone very tall — Julian Hawthorne. He said, “whatever was out there is gone now. I think we’re okay. Did you get her to cancel the spell?”
I glanced up in time to see Neal’s frantic expression as he shook his head.
“Did you swallow it?” Julian gasped and Neal shrugged sheepishly, a panicked oops what can you do shrug and Julian’s mouth fell open in horror.
“Shit,” he said. “You have it?” Neal gave him a dirty look that didn’t answer the question. “Can you release it?”
Neal coughed, choked, and I swear to god I saw smoke.
Julian cursed, pulled a flask out of his coat and upturned it over mine and Tilly’s head just as Neal turned away and bent double as if to vomit. Instead, one long scream erupted from inside him — a scream that was more like a thousand screams. And then, suddenly, quiet. Neal fell onto his hands and knees and puked violently.
We all sat there in the quiet for a long moment.
Then Tilly woke up, spluttering.
“Tilly!” I gasped and she reached for me and I reached back for her and we knelt their shivering and holding each other.
“Are we wet?” Tilly managed. Her teeth were chattering.
“Yes I’m sorry,” Julian said. “That was my doing. It’s just water.”
Obviously that was confusing and annoying, but Julian had gone to kneel beside his brother. “You good?” he asked. Neal nodded but I saw him grimace. Then both of them turned to look at us.
“Spells?” Julian accused. Under any other circumstance I’d have felt horribly embarrassed because we were seniors in high school pretending to be witches. Instead I was embarrassed because whatever it was we’d just done was obviously catastrophically stupid.
“Are you witches?” Neal asked. His voice was rough.
I shook my head. Tilly held my hand.
“Are you naturally gifted?” he asked. This time I just stared at him, unsure how to respond. He rolled his eyes, “do you have magical abilities?”
I hesitated, and I won’t lie to you, the possibility of being really, actually, a witch was a wonderful possibility.
Tilly said, “I don’t know.”
Neal glanced at Julian and shook his head. “You’d know,” Julian told us.
Obviously that sucked to hear. Like, I can’t be the only teenage girl who still secretly wishes she were a witch. Otherwise half of young adult literature wouldn’t exist.
“Still,” Neal said. “That was too powerful to be a fluke.” He rubbed at his collar bones as if his chest were hurting him. “It’s too much magic, too eager to be used. There has to be something here.”
The set of Julian’s mouth suggested he agreed, but he didn’t say anything. He was watching Tilly and I.
“I’m guessing that you don’t need us to tell you that what you just did was insanely stupid,” he said. I didn’t dare look at Tilly. “You could have died. Neal could have died saving you.”
I glanced at Neal and was annoyed to find that he was somehow still movie star beautiful even wiping vomit off his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Do you want to tell us what you were hoping to accomplish?” Neal asked. His voice was all gravelly from whatever had been in his throat.
I didn’t say anything. I just sat there stubbornly quiet.
Tilly answered instead. “We were trying to summon Madelyn,” she said. “We thought she was caught between the worlds so we… we were trying to help her.”
The Hawthornes exchanged a look.
“We don’t know that Madelyn is caught between the worlds,” Julian said carefully.
“But the psychic said she was!” I said.
“The psychic said she was both alive and dead,” Neal snapped. “It’s different.”
“But my house was —” I stopped.
“Your house was what?” Julian asked.
“It was haunted,” I admitted. “Weird shit has been happening since I called the psychic. I thought —” I was about to cry again, but I lifted my chin defiantly. “I thought it was Madelyn.”
Tilly whipped round to look at me, but I like sorry girl, I didn’t know that’s what I thought until it was coming out of my mouth.
The Hawthornes exchanged another look.
“We can take a look at your house,” Julian finally said. “I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there was quite a bit of ghost activity in Black Lake right now. But it isn’t Madelyn. And this…” he gestured around the clearing, at the spilled bowls and the smudged salt circle. “Summoning spells are notoriously dangerous. They are near impossible to control. You can offer yourself as a lighthouse, but you can’t control what ships come in.”
“Did we call something?” Tilly asked shrilly. “Is there something here?”
“No,” Julian said. “Neal swallowed most of the spell before it could do much work. Whatever was out there isn’t here now.”
“Still,” Neal said, more to Julian than to us. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this called in all sorts of spooks. We should do a few rounds. Get back to the radio. We don’t want to leave this shit up to the cops.”
“The cops?” Tilly said, even more shrill.
“Don’t worry,” Julian said. “We’re here to keep everyone safe.” He made a wry, humorless smile. “Of course, our job would be much easier if you two hadn’t just called in every spook in a hundred mile radius.”
“Come on,” Neal said. He was looking into the darkness between the trees, squinting at something beyond the arch. “We need to get them home.”
We walked out of the woods mostly in silence. I tried asking them what a spook was, tried asking them what their job was and who they were, and I was getting frustrated with their monosyllabic answers before Neal finally snapped, “do you want everything in the woods to hear you?” and then I went quiet.
They drove both of us home, Tilly first, then me. I was reluctant to get out of the car without them, but Julian put a big hand on my shoulder and said, “listen, I promise we’ll come around and we’ll tell you everything we can about Madelyn’s case and what’s happening in your town. But not now. Now we need to go see what messes need cleaning after that spell. Take this.” It was a business card with nothing but a number on it. “If you get scared, you call me, alright? It can be anything, big or small and we’ll be there.” I nodded and got out of their car.
And then I had to face the wrath of my mother.
It was really bad. Like you know how there’s a difference between angry-because-you’re-obviously-just being-a-brat and angry-because-you-were-off-galavanting-in-the-woods-while-they-stayed-home-and-worried-that-you-might-be-dead?
She was gonna call the police and everything she was so worried, and my dumb ass was too tired to realize that this was less of a sorry-i-missed-curfew kind of a situation and more of a sorry-you-were-scared-I-died situation and said something shitty, and then she went full blown shrill and screaming kind of pissed off and then she cried. So yeah I feel like an asshole. She didn’t even ground me, which somehow makes me feel worse.
And that’s about what I know. Tilly and I both said we were sick and didn’t go to class yesterday. Instead we binge watched Parks and Rec over the phone together and didn’t say much. At school today we both kept an eye out to see if there was anything weird going on since Halloween but neither of us noticed anyone saying anything strange. Everyone was just excited for the parties that were bound to happen over the weekend. In fact Tilly’s in Seattle to play at a party tonight. She didn’t want to go.
The bright fiery autumn we were having ended abruptly with October. It is gray, overcast, misty in the mornings. I feel like I’m just waiting for something to happen.
Magic is real. It’s all real.