Grace assumed the summoning circle was meant for a demon. Her friends procured the spell book, written in a language they couldn’t read. They arranged the candles in a pentagram, had cut their palms, letting their blood drip into flames that smelled of Christmas pine and sweet vanilla. Carly’s mom had a thing for Yankee Candle. The attic space filled with the aroma, not the brimstone and char Grace assumed should follow.
Grace sat at one of the pentagram’s tips, her four friends filling the others. She wasn’t particularly excited about the prospect of Baphomet erupting from the floor, but she had been outvoted. The slumber party wouldn’t be complete without a brush with the supernatural. Each girl snapped a picture of the chosen page with their smartphones, the dull glow from each screen illuminating their pre-teen faces.
“Start on three,” Ella said, waving her phone as if the rest had forgotten.
They counted down before muddling their way through the vowel heavy incantations, their cadence falling out of step, guttural stops wet in their throats. It reminded Grace of marshland, of peat thick beneath a rotting wooden bridge.
The other girls sped up, their pitch reaching a sharp keen. Grace lost her place in the chant, not even bothering to mouth along. If the summoning circle was going to bring a kitten or maybe some cake into the world, she’d be more enthusiastic, but a hateful goat-being, she would pass.
One by one, the girls fell back onto the attic floor, mouths continuing to unwind around the words even without the screens before their faces. A hazy oval appeared above them, the surface glass-like, but tinged with grime. Grace lunged towards the dropdown staircase, giving it a shove with her foot. The steps descended. A faint light bled up from below. She considered grabbing Frannie by the ankle and dragging her away, but she knew it was no use. She’d been neglecting the push-up/chin-up routine their gym teacher insisted on. She had never regretted it before that moment.
“What are you girls doing up there?” Carly’s dad asked, his stubbled face peering up from the bottom of the ladder. He climbed the rungs, blocking Grace’s exit.
“They’re reading this book we found. I’m sorry, I’m really sorry. Please let me go,” Grace begged.
“Is it Carly’s mom’s book?”
“I don’t know, maybe.”
The oval was expanding, the grime giving way to what appeared to be a living room strewn with trash, Styrofoam coffee cups and cigarette butts on every surface, a moldering couch spotted with more stains than Carly had names for.
Carly’s dad shook his head. “I told her to leave that alone.”
“Does it really open a portal to hell?” Grace asked, peering into the void.
“If hell is my wife’s ex-boyfriend’s condo in Jersey, then yes. Think of it as a phone book, but more immediate with its results.”
“So they’re going to be fine?” Grace asked.
“Don’t know. That guy’s a creep,” Carly’s father replied, grabbing a field hockey stick leaning against a rafter. He tested its weight against his palm. “I’ll take care of it. Sometimes an ex can be worse than a demon. You’ll learn.”
In some way, Grace would have preferred the impish being she had imagined to Carly’s mother’s ex-boyfriend. It was easier to believe in the evil of otherworldly creatures than of people from someone’s past. She didn’t know what the man had done to Carly’s mom, but her father’s instinctual grab for the stick, the way he waved it about like a machete, told her it wasn’t good.
Carly’s father’s words didn’t sit well with Grace as he approached the portal.
Couldn’t she be the one to avoid the assholes and perverts? Couldn’t she be the one to travel the smooth road where no one had to get restraining orders or change their phone numbers after a terrible date?
He didn’t know for certain.
Or did he?
If her mother had a spell book lying around the living room, who knew what other magic they could manage.
Grace told herself it was a figure of speech as Carly’s father started yelling through the portal at a guy named Chuck. Step back or I’m going to kneecap you... He jabbed the field hockey stick into the chasm, flailing it around as if trying to bat a particularly agile pinata.
Dad’s always used cliches to navigate parenting.
She hoped that was the case this time too.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Corey Farrenkopf lives on Cape Cod with his wife, Gabrielle, and works as a librarian. He is the fiction editor for The Cape Cod Poetry Review. His work has been published in The Southwest Review, Catapult, Tiny Nightmares, Redivider, Hobart, Bourbon Penn, Flash Fiction Online, and elsewhere. To learn more, follow him on twitter @CoreyFarrenkopf or on the web at CoreyFarrenkopf.com