Words

“It’s definitely my mother-in-law,” Elaine said. “She loathed me.”

Paul Kidson glanced briefly at her, then looked back at the glyphs he was chalking on the wall. “It’s tricky to know exactly what we’re dealing with,” he said.

Elaine watched anxiously over his shoulder. “She always said that she would come back and haunt me.”

“Did she die recently?” Paul asked. He meticulously measured an angle and moved across the room to mark another glyph.

“No, it’s been a few years,” Elaine said. “But Dave, my husband, he’s gone abroad on a six month placement that was too good to miss, and my son is at university now, so it’s just me. I think she thought I would be an easy target now,” Elaine added bitterly.

“I see,” Paul kept his opinions to himself. He marked another glyph. “Could you step into this circle here – through the gap, not over the markings, please.”

Elaine, her eyes round, stepped through the gap. Paul closed the gap with chalk and took his position in his own circle. He looked hard at Elaine. “Do not interrupt me. Do not question me. Do not make a sound.” Inwardly he sighed. The damn thing only manifested if Elaine was present, so he had to have her here. He didn’t like working with an audience, though, and he didn’t have much hope that she would respect his concentration. He raised his arms centred himself and began.

Paul found himself fighting for mental balance. He was used to vague presences and a flicker of a candle flame, but this was different. The air grew thick around him and smoke drifted and spiralled. He concentrated hard on his words. A corner of his mind noted Elaine shivering in her circle but she was blessedly silent. He was aware, however, of an underlying muttering. Whatever was haunting this house had a lot to say. A bookshelf toppled over in the corner and Elaine flinched. Paul ignored both it and the crash in the kitchen. He needed to divert the power. He looked over at the jar open in the centre of a chalked triangle. The smoke was swirling nearer but was not near enough. “Spirit, I give you leave to speak!” It was a mistake.

“That woman is in my house without my son!” an older woman’s voice snapped. “That woman is in my house.”

“You know it was my money that paid off the mortgage,” Elaine yelled. “And I paid a load of the bills.”

“But it’s my house,” the voice shouted. “And you are a trollop.”

“After all I’ve done for your son, this is what you’re like?” Elaine shouted. “You should have been down on your knees thanking me, Brenda, for all I had to put up with.”

“You are in my house and you are a slut,” Brenda’s disembodied voice shrieked. “And you haven’t cleaned behind the bed in the spare room.”

“Nobody’s been in there for months!” Elaine yelled back. “Why should I kill myself with housework, working all the hours, then coming back to an empty home with your son away with what he calls his job. I bet he’s not dusting behind spare beds while he’s away.”

“Busy with work?” Brenda’s voice suddenly sounded smooth, like poisoned syrup. “Busy with that young man you call Mick, and you ought to be ashamed.”

“You leave Mick out of this!” Elaine shouted. “And I remember hearing all about you and Bert and what your poor husband thought of it all. You have no room to talk.”

Paul fought for concentration as the allegations and insults flew before he managed to push out the final syllables, helped by Brenda’s increasing focus on the argument with Elaine. With an incongruous pop, the smoke snaked into the jar and curled up, vibrating. Paul muttered a few protective syllables, stepped over the chalk line and flinched. A crack of electricity ran through the air but, before the smoke could escape, Paul clipped the lid over the jar and wrapped it quickly in red thread. He stood, wincing, and said a few more words before nodding at Elaine. “You can come out of the circle now.”

Elaine stumbled across the chalk line and stared at the jar. “Is that her?”

“It could be something using her voice,” Paul said. “It sounded like generic insults to me. I think it’s more likely to be a malevolent spirit.”

“It could be her as well as a malevolent spirit,” Elaine said. “That woman was poison.” She glared at the jar. “She spoiled my engagement, my wedding, my honeymoon, my first baby, the Christening…” She looked at Paul, pale faced and swaying next to her and then down at his arm. A burn mark had sliced through his shirt from wrist to elbow and deep into the skin beneath. “You had better run that under the cold tap before you do anything else.”

Paul looked down at the livid mark, then across at the jar, which was rocking slightly. “I think I’ll just take care of one last thing. I don’t want whatever that is to have the last word.”

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