Aria hoped séances didn’t only work on the dead. As she and Tatia lit the candles in Tatia’s attic, Aria said a small prayer to each of the boysenberry purple candles as flame caught wick, complete with a promise: Artemis, grant me the power of the hunt and I will pray to the moon every night and Paarvathi, connect us and I will never hide from them in a department store sweater rack again and Arawn let them not be with you. She had been studying the mythology book she’d stolen from the library after her teacher mentioned the gods, and Aria took the commitment of their names and invocations to heart. Once she and Tatia had done the work of lighting the five candles in the circle on the floor, Tatia motioned for them to sit in the middle.
Tatia hadn’t allowed Aria to turn on any of the other lights in the house. She said that electricity interrupted the spirits. Tatia was the 6th grade’s leading expert on all things supernatural in origin. The rumor was that her grandmother practiced some kind of voodoo, or maybe it was Santeria. No one was really sure on the specifics because no one asked Tatia to her face. But all the girls and boys knew that, if you wanted a spell or potion, Tatia was who you went to.
Now Aria and Tatia sat with their legs folded like pretzels, facing one another. Aria couldn’t help her legs bouncing. No one, not her aunt or grandparents or anyone, would tell Aria what happened to her parents. She assumed they were dead and no one had the heart to tell her, but every time she said this her aunt threatened her with therapy until Aria finally stopped asking.
“Do you have the fee?” Tatia asked. Her hair was long and dark and dry, mirroring the dress she currently wore. With gemstones hanging around her neck and secured to her earlobes and fingers, she looked the part of the ten dollar fortune teller by the shady bars downtown. Aria didn’t know how much what Tatia wore was what she liked or if it was all to feed her reputation.
Aria pulled the first bundle from her ratty sweatshirt’s pocket and handed it over. Tatia unwrapped the paper towel that Aria had used to sneak the thing out from under her aunt’s ever-vigilant eye. Tatia held the ancient cameo broach, the one that had belonged to Aria’s great-grandmother, to the front of her nose. After a moment’s examination, Tatia nodded, solemn. Aria hoped, as Tatia pinned the cameo to the part of her dress that laid over her heart, that this would work. Even if it did, it’d barely be worth her aunt’s wrath if she ever discovered what Aria had just done. But Tatia wouldn’t accept money. She only accepted old, important objects.
Aria dug around for the second stow-away in her sweatshirt, shoving it over to Tatia’s hand. The creased old photo was maybe a year old, the last one taken of all three of them before her parents vanished and everyone began pretending they had never existed, and it showed the love from Aria sleeping with it under her pillow on nights when sleep would not come. Tatia ran a finger over each of Aria’s parents’ unyielding expressions. Aria immediately regretted handing the picture over to this strange girl. A shiver rang through her, and she hoped that Tatia had no delusions about keeping the treasured image as a part of her fee.
“Let us begin,” Tatia said. She laid the photo flat between the two of them, then rested her hands, palms-up, on the knees of her crossed legs. “Osiris, old friend, I invoke your guidance in our journey,” she called out to the room as her eyelids pressed shut. Aria found herself relived they were the only ones in the house. Tatia’s voice was booming, commanding, and she sounded like one of their parents instead of a classmate. “Our companion, Aria Pellegrino, wishes for the sight. Pull back the veil that we may grant her your guidance.”
Aria stretched her neck, her gaze on each of the candles’ flames in turn. They were small yellow flickers of fire, like birthday candles. They didn’t suddenly engorge at Tatia’s command, or blow out, or change color. Aria’s lips pursed as she glared at the broach on Tatia’s dress. To keep her breathing steady and to keep from interrupting whatever Tatia may or may not be doing, Aria started listing out more gods in her head: Apsu, Supay, Hel…
“He says you know.”
Aria’s throat rumbled without her willing it. Then she leaned forward, her eyes stern and unwavering from Tatia’s. The other girl met her gaze, not with the same severity or even any visible reaction. Instead, Tatia maintained an infuriating calm, the all-knowing seer coming clear through.
“Who says I know what?” Aria demanded when Tatia did not elaborate of her own volition.
“Osiris. He says you know the answer which you seek.”
“That’s all you’re gonna give me?” Aria felt her chin jut out. Her hands turned into tightly bound clam shell shapes, her arms shaking with the effort of not raising her voice. “Seriously? Some bullshit Glinda the Good Witch it was in you all along?”
Tatia tilted her head. Though her gaze was still on Aria, she seemed to be looking beyond her, as though she could see someone else right through Aria’s chest and was listening to them intently. Tatia’s lips wrinkled with concentration. She held her head straight again, nodded once, and stood, lifting her skirt as she abandoned the candle circle and started rummaging around in a nearby dresser with one of its doors half hanging off.
The moment Aria was going to open her mouth and start screaming, Tatia returned with an assortment of objects, including a handful of flower heads and a clear glass plate no bigger than her palm. She sat across from Aria again, and Aria watched in silence as Tatia arranged all of it between them. Tatia set down the glass plate first, then laid the pink flowers, then purple, on top of it. She picked at the shoulder of her dress, finally pulling out a little silver sewing needle. It shined in the candlelight. As Aria breathed in the sweet and green smell of the flowers between them, she could swear the shadows were playing with the contours of Tatia’s face.
“What’s that for?”
“Your finger.” Tatia held out her own hand, glaring an expectation at Aria. “If you do not believe us, then we can show you. Or you can leave. It is your choice.”
Aria rolled her eyes and surrendered her hand to Tatia. Tatia used the needlepoint to jab the fleshy pad of Aria’s pointer finger. Aria yelped and her hand attempted to curl up, protect the wound, but Tatia held so tight to the sides of Aria’s hand that she kept it flat. Tatia guided Aria’s hand to dangle over the glass plate. As red began to bead, Tatia flipped Aria’s hand, squeezing her fingertip so that she bled on the pink and purple petals. Finally, Tatia released Aria. Aria’s finger immediately found her lip, cleaning away the blood with a soft brush of a kiss.
“Osiris, our friend has made her choice,” Tatia intoned into the darkness of the room. Now Aria could swear that she saw all of the candles in her line of sight flicker at once, like a wind she couldn’t feel had blustered its way into the room. “Show her what she knows.”
Tatia pulled a cheap electric blue lighter from her pocket, flicked the gear, and set fire to the flowers speckled with Aria’s blood. The petals caught quickly, overwhelming Aria with a more intense version of their original scent, with the additional smoky overtone from the fire itself. Aria cleared her throat and shook her head. It felt like she was swaying where she sat, but she wasn’t, and then she realized it was the floor—the floor felt like it was swaying. And the candles. Aria tilted her head at the candle to her left. The flame looked like it was as tall as she was when she was standing, and it was pure white like the sheets in her parents’ bed had always been, with the little pink and purple flowers cross-stitched along the edges and…
Everything in Aria’s vision became blue smoke. She could hear voices but see nothing. Except the smoke was something, something like the color her eyelids turned when she closed them on a sunny day—not nothing, something. And then Aria remembered the voices, tried to hold onto them the way reading in a dream took so much concentration it exhausted her dream body.
If you left the fuckin’ kid there, what’s there to be flipping out about, Giada?
Her father’s voice. Her mother’s name. Aria could feel it, suddenly. The security of her old bed, of the heavy comforter laid over her, could feel herself clinging to the top of it as she listened, as she knew she shouldn’t eavesdrop. She kept nodding off, only half sure of when she was sleeping and when she was awake.
Because they’ve seen the goddamn car. One nosy neighbor, one goddamn traffic cam, and guess whose door they come knockin’ on?
We’ll ditch it. Say it was stolen.
And what about when they search the fuckin’ house, you moron? They’re just gonna ignore all the shit we’ve got laying around here? One German Shepherd and we’re doin’ another four years. Do you have the forty k to pay?
Aria could tell the way their voices were muffled through the thin, wallpapered walls of their home, a place she hadn’t seen since her aunt had sold it a year earlier. The now, the then, all of it bled together. But the blue smoke, the blue smoke kept her from seeing the things she’d half-seen that night, with the lights all out and only the orange streetlamp outside her window giving her any gift of sight.
Shit. Goddamn it, Giada. We’ll take her with us then. There’s no reason—
What, we’re gonna run with a kid, Nicholas? Yeah, you know, that fucking education system they’ve got for—
The blue smoke disappeared, and then there was darkness. Aria felt every muscle in her body, each screaming out to move, but coiling only more tightly against the insistence.
And then she didn’t feel anything.
Aria woke up with thin scratchy sheets over her body. She hummed in the back of her throat, words that she didn’t even really plan out trying to form their coherence on her swollen tongue. Finally, her body responded to her desires and her eyes opened. Aria found herself not in the bedroom of her old house, not in the bedroom of her aunt’s apartment, but in a place wholly alien to her. She shifted against the thin pillows under her head, but her entire body, from swollen throbbing head down to toes that felt like they’d crack away like old dry plaster, complained. Exerted by the two inches of movement, Aria laid her back flat against the thin pillows.
There were other beds in this fluorescent place. Nothing had color. Everything had been washed in whites, and it was cold. Aria wondered, for a moment, if Osiris had claimed her because she did not believe him. Then, she heard a very familiar heavy sleep breathing that never quite crossed over into the realm of snoring. Aria found in herself some morsel of energy left, flopped her head to the right. In a chair at her bedside, her aunt had nodded off. Aria’s gaze wandered to the bedside table, where she found the crinkled but intact photo of her and her parents.
As if she sensed Aria’s sudden consciousness, her aunt stirred awake. Her aunt’s dark hair was loose, in wild waves, her gold jewelry and olive skin an especially stark contrast to the world currently around them. She blinked the sleep away, her spine going ramrod straight when she realized she was looking at someone who was looking back. Her aunt lunged forward, grabbing Aria’s frigid fingers with even more frigid fingers. Aria cleared her throat, but was not allowed to speak.
“How are you feeling?” her aunt asked, wide eyes on the machine next to Aria as though waiting for the response was too much trouble. “Do you need anything? Ar, let me get a doctor—”
Her aunt moved to stand, but Aria clamped her fingers around her aunt’s, the way that Tatia had when Aria had tried to pull her bleeding finger back to herself. “Please stay,” Aria croaked, voice unfamiliar to herself.
“Christ, kid,” her aunt said, settling back into her seat. “You gave us a helluva scare, you know that?”
“Tatia?” Aria didn’t know what had happened, how she’d even ended up here. The last real thing she remembered was the séance, the burning petals, the candles going weird, the dream, or…
“She’s in another room,” her aunt said. “She’s okay. Pretty much in the same shape as you.” Her aunt released Aria’s hand, throwing herself back against the chair. She kept her eyes on the white ceiling which, Aria noticed, was cracked with black lines that made the plaster into puzzle pieces. “What the hell were you thinking?”
“What happened?” Aria countered.
“Whatever Bloody Mary shit you two were up to,” her aunt said, running her hand over her face, “apparently it included some toxic shit.”
The flowers, Aria noted to herself. That’s when this had happened. That’s when something smelled not quite right, though she couldn’t place it or put words to it. Instinct had just informed her somewhere deep down.
“You both passed out,” her aunt continued. “You’re just lucky Tatia’s mom came home before the candles burned the whole place down. I know you’re going through a rough time and all, but that was a good way to get the both of you killed. What happened, it’s no excuse to…”
Aria felt her insides turn to iron—strong, unyielding, she found herself instilled with more gumption than she’d had in the whole past year put together. She remembered the voices. Her parents’ voices. What she didn’t know is what was memory, what was dream, what was hallucination. Only one way to find out: “What happened to my parents?”
“That’s what this is about?”
Aria stuck out her chin, waiting. She would wait all day in this hospital bed if she had to. There was no reason not to. What did she have going on that was so vitally important? She wasn’t going to let her aunt give her the brush-off this time. Aria would get the truth. She didn’t know what to do with that truth, but she at least she would know that she would no longer need to seek it out.
Audrey T. Carroll is a Queens, NYC native whose obsessions include kittens, coffee, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the Rooster Teeth community. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Fiction International, The Fem, Feminine Inquiry, the A3 Review, and others. Her poetry collection, Queen of Pentacles, is available from Choose the Sword Press. She can be found athttp://audreytcarrollwrites.weebly.com and @AudreyTCarroll on Twitter.