The girl on the other side of the mirror slapped blood smeared palms against the glass, her fingernails squealing as they coursed over the cool, flat plane. Her mouth gaped open in a rictus grin, revealing a row of jagged, broken teeth that grayed along the gum line. Her face was gaunt, like her skin had been pulled taut somewhere behind her head. It reminded me of paper mache, when you’d place the first layers of tissue on top of a balloon but could still see the color of the latex underneath. Except in this case, the balloon was her skull, and the tissue paper was her too-thin flesh. A spidery network of veins pulsed along her temples and upper cheeks. With no fat to pad the angles of her face, she looked like an animated skeleton.
I stared. We all stared, really, because we couldn’t help ourselves. Every time we called her, every time we intoned her name she answered, like an old familiar friend or – as Jessica said – a well trained dog. It was arrogant of her, but then it was Jess’s very arrogance that had reassured us enough to test the legend in the first place. Faulting her for it now seemed unfair, especially with the ghost shuddering and rolling her filmy eyes at us from the other side of the mirror.
“Just a little more,” Jess said, a cajoling lilt to her voice. “C’mon.”
The macabre scene continued with the thing slapping and twitching and shuddering, agitation evident by the way it bashed its forehead off the glass. We were experienced enough with the summonings to know how to maintain control, but it hadn’t always been like this. The first two attempts she didn’t appear at all, making us think it was all a big lie and we were stupid for thinking it possible. But then Jess read some book on The Bell Witch summonings and changed things up. There was no more ritualistic spitting, spinning in circles or fancy incantations. It was just the essentials: a line of sea salt beneath a mirror, a beeswax candle, four girls holding hands in a circle, and The Name said three times in rapid succession.
The first time I saw her my guts twisted like a pretzel. It was just a brief glimpse of that awful countenance, of her corpse-like pallor and leathery lips, and then she was gone. It was more than enough to make me and my friends believe she was a sliver of a nightmare come to life, though. Kitty panicked, breaking the circle with a wail as she stumbled back towards the bathroom door, fumbling with the handle to let herself out. Jessica’d been furious with her for that. “Get it together or you’re out,” she’d said, hauling Kitty back into the fold with a snarl. “I swear, if you screw this up I’ll never talk to you again.” The threat was enough. Jess was Kitty’s ticket to the “in” crowd, the gatekeeper to sleeping with football players and hanging out with the homecoming queen. Without her, Kitty was just some chubby chick with tacky acrylic nails and over-processed hair.
She rejoined the circle with tears streaming down her face. To her credit, she’d been a rock through the next six summonings, gawking silently as the ghost appeared more predictably, for longer durations. This time, we’d kept Mary in the mirror for a whole minute, all of us watching in spine tingling horror as things went crazier and crazier. We could actually hear her scratching from the other side now. For the first time, what she did inside of the mirror had a manifestation in our world – the twinge-worthy shriek of sharp, ragged fingernails scaling over glass.
“Oh God. Oh Godohgodohgod.” Kitty began to thrash, trying to tug her hand away and break the circle again, but Jessica clamped her fingers around her wrist, nails digging in so hard they left crescent shaped welts in her skin.
“If you break it, we’re screwed,” Jessica said. “Knock it off. Now.”
“Come on, Jess. Send her back. Please, just send her back.” This coming from Anna, who held onto Kitty’s other arm with a vice grip. Anna’s fingers were laced with mine, and I could feel them trembling, could feel the sweat pooling in her palm where we touched. It was clear she was close to panic. Panic meant lack of control, which meant things would escalate. We’d done the unthinkable already by making the stuff of nightmares manifest – we didn’t need to let the ghost get the upper hand by breaking our protective bond at a pivotal moment.
“Enough, Jess,” I said quietly. “We can do it again later, but enough for now.”
She peered at me, her lips dipping into a frown. I was her oldest friend, her best friend, the one who could rein her in when she was off and running at the races, and I was letting her down by suggesting we stop. But I knew it was the right thing to do. One half of our team was teetering on pissing their pants, and the other half wasn’t strong enough to hold things together on their own.
Her shoulders hunched in defeat.
“Ugh. You’re such sissy bitches.” She jerked her face back towards the mirror. “I believe in you, Mary Worth,” she said. As quick as that, the ghost was gone, vanishing in a puff of gray and white fog. The candle at our feet smoldered to a twisting tendril of smoke, the flame snuffed by lips we could no longer see.