"...Tell me this is not for real
Please, tell me this is not for real..."
~The Cure, "The 13th"
The guests gathered in a circle around Angeline's candles as Angeline lit the last one. Jessie sat across from her, with Hadji on her right and Rick on her left. Mike squeezed in to Hadji's right, between him and Jonny. As the others began to sit down, Abby shivered and immediately Calvin, a tall, skinny boy with dark hair and glasses, offered his coat. She took it gladly and sat down next to him, across the circle from Mike.
Mike elbowed Jonny in the ribs and shook his head. "She'll probably never get over me," he said sadly.
"Yeah, I can see why," Jonny muttered.
After a brief, slightly confused pause, Mike turned to Angeline. In a voice loud and strident enough to quiet everyone else down, he said, "Hey, let's get started, huh? It's almost a quarter 'till midnight."
"Okay," said Angeline solemnly. "Who do we want to try to talk to?"
Silence. The teenagers sitting on Mike's back porch glanced nervously around them at the tall, bare trees and the bright full moon. The candles cast an eerie light on everything, Angeline's face included. The gold light cast shadows up the planes and angles of her face, masking her in an occult demon's face.
After a moment of their squeamish failure to suggest anyone, Angeline sat back with a sigh. "Guys, nothing's going to happen if we don't pick somebody." With her face out of reach of the candlelight, she suddenly seemed much less formidable.
"Hey how about that kid that died last year?" Mike asked brashly. "Jessie's boyfriend. Let's talk to him."
Jessie paled, green eyes widening. Stricken, she said nothing. Jonny turned angrily to Mike, eyes blazing and fists tightened. Hadji had much the same reaction, muttering something angrily as Mike leaned away from the enraged boys on either side of him.
"Whoa, hey, I didn't mean to--"
Angeline cut him off, leaning forward into the candlelight again. All eyes but Jessie's were on her. "I think it should be up to Jessie, shouldn't it?" she intoned. "After all, someone one of us was close to is probably our best bet for making contact."
Jessie stared into the candles, seemingly oblivious to her surroundings. Seething, Jonny and Hadji backed away from Mike physically but continued to menace him with their eyes.
"I can't believe you said that," Jonny hissed at their host. "You--"
"Let's do it," Jessie said quietly.
Jonny's eyes flew open as he looked at her. "You actually wanna do this?" He was incredulous. "You want to try to *talk* to him?"
"Yeah," said Jessie, absorbed in the dancing flames. "I think I do."
"Jessie," Hadji cautioned, "think about what you're doing."
"I want to try to talk to him," she said firmly.
"It won't work anyway," Jonny mumbled.
"What if it does?" his brother replied. "Jessie, are you sure?"
Jessie's eyes snapped up to meet his, fire from the candles dancing inside them. "Yes, I'm sure. I want to do it. Now." She turned her gaze to Angeline. "What do I do?"
Jessie had let her hair down and moved to sit on Angeline's left. They were all holding hands now, and a feeling of uneasy fear mingled with them. Angeline took a deep breath and was about to begin when a sharp voice cut throught the silence.
"MIKE!" Mike's mother yelled. "GET OVER HERE!"
With a sigh Mike slipped out of the circle. "Go ahead without me, okay?" he whispered, slipping off to see what she wanted.
After a moment, Angeline shifted. "I've never done this before," she told Jessie. "I wrote the spell myself, from a book I've got; it's based a little on a bunch of different things, so it might not work at all."
"I want to try," Jessie replied.
Angeline nodded. "Good enough. Okay, let's close that hole where Mike was." Jonny and Hadji clasped hands to seal the circle. "Jess, you've gotta concentrate on him--picture him in your mind, or whatever--and I'm going to cut your finger. Just a little. Don't worry, I'll be careful."
Jessie nodded and shut her eyes. Seeing him in her mind, with laughing blue eyes as bottomless as the ocean in summertime, his shaggy night-dark hair falling into his face as he smiled at her, she felt her heart sink to a familiar place in the pit of her stomach. She could hear him, smell him, almost feel him--
She didn't feel Angeline mading a shallow cut in her right index finger and squeezing a drop of blood into the silver bowl. As it fell, Angeline said the words she'd written on a scrap of paper tucked into her spellbook; as the blood hit the bowl, Jessie suddenly went limp and collapsed into Angeline's lap. At the same instant, all the candles went out.
A few of them screamed.
In Florence, Italy, early on the morning of October 16th, Caroline Surd walked into the kitchen to find her brother slicing vegetables for omlettes and his best friend, Sean Klossen, cracking eggs. As she said good morning to them, Jer's hand slipped and he cut his left index finger slightly with the knife. Holding it up, he didn't notice the small drop of blood that fell into his silver mixing bowl just before he passed out.
Angeline quickly relit a few candles for light as Jonny cradled Jessie's head in his lap. Hadji checked Jessie's pulse gently as his blonde brother glared at Angeline.
"What did you do to her?" he demanded angrily. "She's out cold!"
"I don't know!" Angeline said, her voice shaking. "I've never tried this before, I had no idea that--"
Various gasps and "Ohmygods!" came from the broken circle around them. The other guests looked around, terrified. Abby clutched Calvin's hand tightly, and Rick unconsciously dug his fingers into Lyddie's arm.
"Her pulse is steady," Hadji announced. "And her breathing appears normal."
"Should we throw water on her, or something?" Angeline asked, biting her lip. Her eyes met Jonny's. "If she's hurt or anything--"
"She'll be okay," Jonny said, his anger cooling. Angeline was just as scared as he was. "We've been in worse situations than this."
Angeline was doubtful, but she didn't argue.
There was a crashing in the bush a few feet off and a few more startled gasps escaped.
"Who's there?" Hadji asked, standing and walking to the edge of the circle.
There was a bloodcurdling shreik, and Mike came careening out of the underbrush, holding a cat by the scruff of the neck.
"Dumb thing tried to kill me!" he yelled angrily. The calico menace hissed and spat, trying to twist around and bite him.
Hadji took the cat from him, holding it carefully and trying to calm it. After a few seconds, the cat was sleeping in his arms.
"It's my neighbor's cat," Mike explained sulkily, brushing twigs and dead leaves off his coat. "It keeps getting out and Mom wanted me to go look for it. Could've waited until tomorrow. Stupid cat!"
Angeline stood up. "What, the wittle cuddwy fuzzy cat scawed big bad Mikey?"
"Koalas are Cuddly!" Mike yelled. "That cat's a menace!"
Angeline rolled her eyes.
"We had a bit of a problem while you were gone," Hadji said, petting the sleeping cat.
"What, none of Angie's rabbits came out of the hat right?" Mike sneered.
"Not exactly," said Jonny.
Mike's jaw dropped as he caught sight of Jessie. "What happened?"
Caroline pulled her little brother into a sitting position as Sean filled a bag of ice. There was a bruise on Jer's forehead where it had hit the floor when he collapsed. It was already beginning to swell; Sean held the icebag against it as Caroline checked Jer's pulse.
"He's okay, I guess," she said worriedly. "His pulse is fine as far as I can tell, and he's breathing. What the hell happened?"
Sean shook his head, mystified. "Dude, I have no clue. It's really not like him to just, you know, fall over."
Caroline sighed. "Should we just wait and see if he comes around on his own, then?"
"I guess so," Sean replied.
Jessie looked around. She couldn't so much see her surroundings as sense them--it reminded her of the time she'd been inside her own mind in Questworld. There was nothing here--only a sort of greyish fog that melted away into blankness if you looked at it too hard.
She looked up. A shape seemed to be darkening ahead. A familiar silhouette appeared in the fog, wraithlike, coming towards her.
Mystified, Jer walked through the weird fog. Was that someone up ahead? He thought he recognized the outline of a body, but perhaps it was all wishful thinking--
It was her. Surprise washed over his face dumbly; he stepped towards her, unsure of what to do. He knew somewhere in his mind that this wasn't really happening, could almost see his body back in the kitchen propped against the cabinets; but somehow the issue of where he was or what was going on seemed unimportant compared to who was in front of him.
"Jessie!" He tried to call her name but no sound came out. He could see her lips moving, but the fog seemed to suck in all sounds like greedy cotton.
Jer came closer, reached out a hand. It brushed her sleeve. She looked up at him, and he could see the tears in her eyes. He pulled her close and buried his face in her burnished hair, breathing in the smell of her in ragged gasps and soundlessly calling her name over and over. Jessie could feel her hot tears on her cheeks now, even as she felt his hot tears on her neck and shoulder. They held each other desperately, unable to speak.
Finally she sought his lips and kissed him hungrily. She was starved for the sight of him, the scent of him, but most of all the feel of him in her arms. As she kissed him, he ran his left hand along her arm and intertwined his fingers with hers, unconsciously brushing the tiny cut on his finger against the tiny cut on hers.
Jessie's eyes flew open as she came to.
Wild-eyed, Jessie sat up and searched the area frantically. Her mind finally registered Mike's porch, and she sat back, exhausted. She was back. And he was gone.
"Jessie!" several people called at once. Looking around, she realized she was lying in Jonny's lap. Hadji and Angeline peered at her with concern.
"Are you all right?" Hadji asked.
"What happened?" Angeline's voice was full of morbid curiousity. "Did you talk to him?"
"I saw him," she said, to numb to cry. "I tried to talk to him but I couldn't. I--" She shook her head. "I couldn't talk to him."
"Are you okay?" Jonny repeated Hadji's question.
"I think so," she said, smiling shakily. "But... Can we go inside, please? It's getting cold."
Jonny's watch beeped once, signalling the hour. He stared up at the midnight moon, white like a bleached skull against the velvet night.
"Friday the 13th," he whispered, pulling the patio door open for Jessie. "This can't be for real."
"Oh, God," Jer moaned. "Jessie..."
Sean raised an eyebrow. "J-man, you okay? You kinda conked out on us there."
Jer put a hand to his head. "You sure a freight train didn't hit me?" he asked ruefully. "I'm fine, except for this headache."
Sean offered him a hand up. "Come on, bro. Let's get you some Tylenol."
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Peggy & the Peeples in her Head