As I Descended
The planchette on the table hadn’t budged an inch. Lily was watching Maria from across the table, her eyebrows lifted. Brandon suspected she was getting bored too.
Maria had her eyes closed. She was sitting so still Brandon wondered if she’d fallen asleep.
Maria was awake. More awake, in fact, than she could ever remember being.
She should’ve done this a long time ago.
Lily and Brandon were the only two people Maria trusted in the world, but she knew even they had never quite believed her when she’d told them about the things that happened when she was a kid.
That strange connection she used to feel. The shapes that used to flit in the corner of her eye. It had been years since Maria had felt that sensation.
She felt it now. Every cell in Maria’s body was buzzing.
The feeling was warm. Potent. Almost arousing. But sharp, too, somehow.
It wasn’t a pleasant feeling, but it wasn’t painful either. It was—necessary. Vital.
Maria never wanted to stop feeling it.
She’d give up anything—anything but Lily—if only she could keep feeling this.
She was intensely aware of everything that was happening in the room. The cats watching them from the foot of the table, tails twitching. Lily’s growing impatience on the other side of the planchette. Each tiny movement of Brandon’s lips and throat as he slurped the remains of his wine.
She was aware that the room’s temperature had dropped at least five degrees since Lily placed the planchette on the board.
And she was aware that they weren’t alone anymore. If they ever had been.
Maria opened her eyes.
“What is your name?” she said.
Brandon giggled at the sound of Maria’s slow, solemn voice. This wasn’t how Brandon was used to hearing her.
Then, Brandon had only ever heard Maria speak to the living.
She closed her eyes again and put Brandon out of her mind. She blocked out everything but her questions for the spirit in the room with them.
Who are you?
What is your name?
What do you want from us?
The wooden planchette quivered under her hand. Maria opened her eyes.
Lily sat up straight in her seat. Her fingers were pressing down too hard on the planchette, but that shouldn’t matter. If the spirit wanted to communicate, it wouldn’t care about a little extra weight. In Maria’s experience, spirits didn’t care about much of anything the living did or didn’t do.
The planchette slid toward the row of letters at the top of the board.
“Okay, which of you is doing that?” Brandon said.
Maria ignored him. The room was getting colder.
Something hissed in the corner. Maria didn’t move, but Lily jumped and Brandon yelped. Then he let out a forced chuckle and said, “It was one of the cats. Don’t mind me. I’m just quietly losing it over here.”
The planchette settled over the M.
“M,” Lily read. “Brandon, write down M.”
“Shh,” Maria said, as softly as she could. Lily should’ve known better than to talk while she was touching the planchette.
Maria couldn’t let herself get distracted. It had been years since she’d last tried to contact something, but she hadn’t forgotten the basics.
“Please continue, spirit,” Maria said out loud, ignoring Brandon’s muffled laughter. “Your name begins with M. What comes next?”
The planchette didn’t move. But the cats did.
They’d been watching the girls’ hands on the board, but now, in an identical movement, their heads rose, arcing, their eyes fixed on a single point in the air Maria couldn’t see. Neither cat made a sound, but their heads followed the same path over the table and across the room. Then they stopped, staring into the far corner of the ceiling.
The hair on the back of Maria’s neck prickled. Lily and Brandon shivered. The air around them was frigid.
Maria followed the cats’ gaze. The antique chandelier’s illumination didn’t reach that corner. The shadow on the ceiling wasn’t shaped the way you’d expect a shadow to be, with clean edges that followed the path of the light. Instead, it was jagged on one side. As if something were perched in that corner, clinging to the wall, hunched up on knees and elbows.
Maria closed her eyes again and willed her heart to stop pounding. Showing fear was the surest way to anger a spirit.
Maria knew how to do this part.
She’d known ever since she first glanced into the old mirror that hung on her grandmother’s back porch when she was five. Maria always liked to play on the porch when they went to visit her grandparents, even though no one else used it and it wasn’t kept up anymore. The wind blew fiercely back there, even on calm days. The half-wild garden that ran along that side of the house had grown over, and vines crept up onto the rotting wood floor. It didn’t have much furniture anymore. Just an old swing that Maria’s nanny, Altagracia, warned her never to play on in case the rusted chains gave way.
And the mirror. An old cracked glass hanging from a nail that jutted out of the brick. The mirror needed a good polishing, but it never seemed to swing on its perch, no matter how bad the wind got. Maria didn’t know why her grandmother kept the mirror out on the porch, but it was always there. Even in winter, when the glass frosted over.
Whenever Maria played out back, sooner or later she’d glance toward the mirror. Every time, she felt it. It started on the back of her neck, then slid down her spine and along her arms and legs, giving her goose bumps regardless of the weather. Every time, she’d go over to the mirror and stare into it.
She never saw anything except her own reflection, but it felt like something was tugging at her. Pulling her forward. Before she got old enough to know better, Maria used to think something was trying to pull her into the mirror itself.
Once she looked into the mirror, she never moved. She only stood there, gazing at her own face until Altagracia called her to come inside.
Maria drew in a deep breath and forced herself to shake the memory. The mirror on the porch was a long time ago.
She couldn’t forget where she was right now. She couldn’t lose focus.
She couldn’t risk getting lost in the mirror again.
“If you’re here,” Maria said, her gaze locked on the planchette in front of her, “if you have anything you’d like to tell us, please do. We’d like to listen.”
Above them, something knocked three times.
Loudly. The sound thundered in their ears and lingered, echoing.