This story is by Nelly A and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
As determined as she was to see this through, Jaime was still uneasy by the idea of speaking to the dead. From the stories she had heard, some spirits were capable of bringing bad omens into one’s life. She would hear these stories from friends and relatives she trusted. There always seemed to be that one reckless person in a group of peers making all of the wrong decisions for others to share the story, and the most common story usually involved a seance. Jaime never had someone like that in her life, and as she walked into the spiritual shop, she wondered if she was that person. The smell of nag champa incense welcomed her before the woman behind the counter could.
“Hello, welcome to Starry Road!” a cashier called out from the counter, surrounded by co-workers and patrons, “Please let us know if you need any help!”
Jaime had enough experience working in retail to be familiar with the typical greeting script. She also knew there was usually promise behind that greeting, and Jaime had to laugh to herself. She wondered if workers here were adept at more than leading one to a section and could help how to set up a seance.
“I don’t suppose any of you could help in summoning a spirit, can you?”
To Jaime’s surprise, everyone’s eyes sparkled with excitement.
“Absolutely! Are you just curious about this?”
“You have to be careful if you’re just curious! Spirits don’t want to be bothered!”
“I love helping newbies out with this!”
“You look nervous! Don’t listen to all the stigma darling, we’re going to help you do this safely, okay?”
“Oh dear, are you doing this because it’s the dark moon on Halloween night? The veil is thin tonight, child.”
Jaime was pulled to each corner of the store, made to choose between different herbs and stones, as well as picking out a cloth. No second thought could occur before everyone encouraged her to use all their given advice and that no harm would come to her by using the board.
By the end, Jaime left the store with heavy bags and a heavier receipt.
Jaime was always so grateful to have the bus stop so close to her apartment, and today was no exception. The aches on her arms and shoulders told her she might forego working out for the day. Marching up the stairs, Jaime knew she was going to feel the consequences for a while, both physically and financially. There was no doubt about it now—Jaime was absolutely that reckless person she was afraid she was.
Carefully, she opened the door and scanned her eyes around her apartment, looking for her roommate Stephany. Steph was one of the several who had shared a story about a bad experience occurring to a reckless loved one as a result of a seance. Not wanting to be seen, Jaime locked the door behind her and made a quick bee-line to her room. She kept her ritual of closing her eyes passing Stephany’s room, where Lorena breathed her last breath. Upon reaching her bedroom, Jaime placed the bags down gently before locking her bedroom door.
Jaime collapsed onto her knees, a heavy weight on her chest pulling her down. In addition to the grief already weighing her down, regret was consuming her even more. That regret left her torn between longing and fear to see Lorena again. She tried to deepen her shortened gasps, keeping the sobs at bay. Crying for months had consistently left her dehydrated and exhausted, barely able to function at work. Jaime was desperate to leave this place that reminded her of her dead girlfriend everywhere, but she had no luck finding an affordable place.
Three months had passed since Jaime arrived home to see Lorena’s body dangling in the guest room. Nothing was ever the same. Ever since that very day, this apartment had stopped feeling like a home and instead a constant reminder of failing Lorena. Jaime needed to take time off from school and work to grieve, but her greedy boss had only given her a maximum of three days before she was obligated to return. She was more than grateful for her school to be as generous as they were granting her leave for the rest of the semester.
Jaime had gone far enough to compulsively purchase ways to potentially speak to Lorena again, and there was no point in turning back now. She searched in the bags for the altar cloth she picked out.
Everything she chose from their selections were items that reminded her of Lorena, and this cloth was no exception. It was black with a silver print of a pentagram in the middle of a circle of moon phases. It was very akin to Lorena’s gothic aesthetic. After laying the cloth out, Jaime placed the most expensive item she bought—a crystal ball, presenting itself to be a new testament of just how careless Jaime was with a credit card.
Jaime adjusted her focus onto the other materials. In a third bag, there were a few white candlesticks and candleholders. As she held them, an idea dawned on her. She put them down and reached for a drawer for a three-wick candle with the scent matching the soap Jaime once used. Lorena used to always enjoy the smell of vanilla lavender on Jaime. Jaime had bought this candle for Lorena to make up for the fact that so much of her time was occupied with work and school instead of her girlfriend. Jaime almost forgot all about this candle—she did change soaps recently. The reminders hurt her too much. She lifted the silver lid to smell, pleasantly surprised the scent was still present.
Upon lighting the candle, Jaime sat cross-legged in front of the crystal ball. She had read enough articles online on how to meditate and had been practicing. While this new ritual had done wonders in curbing her anxiety, she had also admittedly read that meditation could help her be more receptive to seances.
A few minutes of having her eyes closed and emptying her mind passed. Upon opening her eyes, she nearly jumped upon seeing a familiar small smile lined with black lipstick on the crystal ball reflection, only for it to disappear in a blink.
“I can’t do this.”
Jaime wasn’t sure what it was in her that snapped, but she stuffed everything back in where they belonged, including the candle, which she suffocated with the silver lid and stuffed back into the drawer.
Jaime thought she wanted to hear Lorena’s voice again, yet regret quickly mounted in her. She should have been there more for Lorena. She knew how much her mental health was suffocating her, yet all Jaime could offer were loneliness and empty promises for a better life. Now she was here, alone in this bed she once shared.
“Kitten, if you’re really here,” Jaime’s voice cracked against the pillow, “I’m sorry.”