“Red Like Roses”
Hurricane, West Virginia
Over the years, Zoey and I have faced a lot of dangers filming “Creepy America”. Towards the end, it came to be expected that an episode would threaten our lives in some way. It should have been anticipated; after all, “Creepy America” was the equivalent of regularly poking a starving bear with a stick to see what happened. But before we adjusted to it, it was harrowing. Considering some of the things we went through, it’s a miracle that we even decided to keep working on the show at all. And while we had a few close calls with “Worlds of Wonder” and “The Things We Leave Behind”, it was during the episode “Red Like Roses” that the danger of what we were doing truly sank in for both of us.
We had just left Ohio and had made our way into West Virginia. Our last two episodes were edited and ready to upload, but Zoey insisted that we wait a week before uploading the first episode (second if you’re counting “Worlds of Wonder”, I suppose) so that we could use the two episode buffer to try to keep a regular update schedule. In the meantime, whoever wasn’t driving was using the trip time to promote the show online: we set up the website and put a countdown on it, updated the youtube channel with “Worlds of Wonder” on it, and made official social media accounts to start talking about it. Zoey had also edited together a trailer to post, made with clips from our previous three episodes. It didn’t make too many waves, but we got enough bites to keep our spirits up.
As I passed the sign letting me know I had crossed state lines, Zoey was on youtube, refreshing the page with the trailer on it and reading comments to me.
“Oh, here’s another one! ‘Cool idea. Effects could use a little work, though.’”
“They think it’s fake?” I asked.
“I guess so.”
“Doesn’t that bother you?”
She thought about it, then shrugged. “Not really. I mean, if they like the show, who cares, right?”
“I guess.” A brief silence fell over the R.V.
“What’s wrong about that?” Zoey asked.
“Huh? About what?”
“The show. Why does it bother you if people think it’s fake?”
I sighed. “It’s just, I don’t know, doesn’t it seem like we’re doing our audience a disservice by letting them think it’s not real?”
“Why’s that?” she asked.
“Well, if they think it’s not real, then they don’t know to look out for it.”
“Look out for it?”
“Yeah, they won’t think it’s a threat.”
“Why would they have to worry about it?”
I could feel my face getting red. “Well, I mean, like what if they come across it in real life? Wouldn’t they not know what to do?”
“But if they saw the episode, wouldn’t they still know? I mean, they wouldn’t think it’s fake if it was right in front of them.”
“I guess not. Nevermind.” I saw a sign for the upcoming towns and exits. “Hey, Hurricane. Isn’t that our next stop?”
“Hmm? Oh, yeah! Hold on a sec.” She flipped open her laptop and started reading off directions for the nearest R.V. park.
The R.V. park was a sight that was becoming increasingly familiar: a set of parallel roads with long parking spots set in the middle of a grassy field. I backed into a spot and began hooking up the various utilities to the corresponding tubes and plugs while Zoey left to pay for our stay and ask some questions about the town over.
I had just sat down inside the R.V. to rest when Zoey came back. She entered, flopped something on the table, and began rifling through drawers.
“What is this?” I asked, turning over an old black composition notebook, weathered and worn, in my hands.
“No idea. I found it in some woods not too far away.” Zoey said, plopping down our large over-the-shoulder camera. “But did you see what’s inside?”
I stared at her with an eyebrow raised, then opened the cover. Inside were the words ‘Jenny Walsh, English Notebook, 3rd Grade’ scratched through with one long line. Underneath in much larger letters read: ‘Jenny Walsh’s Notebook of Curses and Spells, TOP SECRET!’ I looked back up to see Zoey mounting the large equipment on a tripod. “Wait, we’re not trying to do an episode on this, are we?”
She glanced from behind the equipment. “Why not?”
“Because it’s a kid’s notebook. It’s probably just full of nonsense words and drawings of Patronuses. The only place this thing will work is on the playground.”
She shrugged. “Then we scrap the footage or put it in the bloopers.”
“But still, a kid’s notebook?”
Zoey ignored me and finished placing the cameras around: one positioned at each of us, and one to capture us both sitting at the small booth in the R.V. Hitting a button on the laptop, she sat down across from me. “So, do you want to try doing the introduction this time?”
I shook my head. “You are so much better at doing those.”
“Alright then,” she said. “Three, two, one, and… Hello ladies and gentlemen, and welcome back to Creepy America. We’re in Hurricane, West Virginia today, a state with more local legends and lore than anyone else, it seems. In fact, this state is so full of darkened corners that we seem to have found something after being here for only a few hours.”
“Yeah, something.” I mumbled.
Zoey shot me a look of annoyance. “I found this in the woods around our R.V. park. As you can see” she said, flipping open the book to the first page, “it seems to be a homemade spellbook of some kind. We’re going to find out if it actually works.” She started turning pages. As she did, her brow furrowed and she squinted her eyes. “Rog… rojol… I can’t read this, it’s all in cursive.”
I sighed and outstretched my arm. Zoey handed it over to me.
I looked down at the pages. “Royal… Command. A charm and mind control spell, done in the form of ‘hanc vitam diligere plus quam se’. Strange.” I turned the next page. “Gilded Heart. A spell for acquiring riches. ‘Midas non indiget familia’.” I started flipping through page after page. “These are written like… I don’t know, some kind of medieval spellbook.”
Zoey hopped up on her seat so she could lean over and look at the pages. “What are you waiting for? Try one.”
I looked back down at the page I had stopped at. “Red like Roses, a death curse to put on your worst enemies, created in the style of ‘sanguis liberate’.” I glanced up, eyebrows raised.
She just gave me a look of ‘go on, read it’.
I shrugged and began reading aloud. “Based on the Hecate school of spellcasting. Needs no components; words alone are enough. Read the following loudly and clearly:
Red like roses, blue like breath
White like snow, black like death
I have been wronged, o demon lords
My enemy lives, so draw your swords
I call upon the dark and wrong
To right me as I sing this song
Red like roses, blue like fate
White like cold, black like hate
For all the things that gave me pains
Deserve not the blood in their veins
Liberate it now, let it flow free
I ask you this on bended knee
Red like roses, blue like chill
White like flesh, black like swill
I do affirm this as my will
Use my eyes, make me kill
After reading, the next person the spellcaster sees will be affected by the curse, so be careful. Best read when the person you want to kill is nearby. A good stealth spell.”
I blinked a few times, then slowly put the book down. “Well, even if it was fake, that was certainly creepy. Especially in a kid’s notebook.” I looked back up at Zoey. “ I mean, what has to happen to you to…”
Zoey suddenly stopped smiling. Her eyes went wide and her hand went to her throat.
She started coughing. Horrible, gasping guttural sounds, bereft of air, filled the room.
I flung the notebook to the side of the room and flew over to her side of the table. “Zoey, hang on. Hold on, I just… I…”
She looked at me with bug eyes for a second, then the face of panic was replaced with a wide smile. She started laughing. “Liam… your face....”
I stood up. “You… you’re an ass.”
“Yeah, I know.” She grinned and walked over to the notebook and picked it up. “Guess someone’s not as skeptical as they’d like you to believe, huh?”
While we were excited to explore West Virginia so that we could find more subject matter for “Creepy America”, we were in Hurricane specifically for “Faces of America”. We still had to keep that project going, and that meant interviewing as many different demographics of people as possible. Zoey liked the area because “it’s the perfect example of small-town podunkville, complete with weird pronunciation.”
Her words, not mine.
Surprisingly, quite a few people took us up on our little project. I guess people will jump at the chance to ramble on about themselves. Even the store owners on Main Street were willing to let us interrupt their work day so we could needle them with questions.
We were at the local hardware store, talking to the large man behind the counter, listening to him go on about high school dances or railroads or… something. I can’t remember what. Zoey always managed to approach each interview with enthusiasm and rabid interest; I had problems just staying awake.
“...so that’s when I bought the place. This place is… well, it’s part of the landscape, as much as the trees or the mountains or even the sky itself. To let ‘em tear it down, it’d be akin to blasphemy, I’d reckon. We’d lose a piece of our souls.”
I remember that part, because I had a hard time stopping myself from rolling my eyes so hard they’d pop out of my skull. For heaven’s sake, the place sold nails.
If Zoey was thinking the same, she didn’t let it show. “Wow. That’s quite a story there.”
The man beamed with pride.
“Well, thank you so much for your time, it was truly a pleasure.” She moved her hand horizontally through the air, a signal she gave to me when she wanted me to stop recording. “Thank you again for sharing your tale with us, we really do appreciate it.”
“No problem. To be honest, it was kind of fun.”
Placing the camera onto the ground, I started to collapse the tripod, only to hear a rustling sound. I looked down to see a sheet of orange and white paper, dirty and torn from residing on the ground, no doubt.
Curious, I bent down and picked it up. At the top of the page was “AGATHA SORIN'S GUIDE TO MAKING YOUR OWN SPELL!” in big bold letters. Cartoon witches with green skin smiled in the corners, while the page contained nonsense syllables and instructions on how to combine them.
The man saw me holding the page. “Oh! Sorry about that. Must’ve been a leftover from the Halloween activity books. A few of those pages always manage to hide before I can staple ‘em all together.”
“Agatha Sorin?” I asked, pointing to the name.
“Just an ol’ folktale. Accordin’ to legend, she was one of the first witches in Salem to be convicted, but before they could burn ‘er, she escaped. People say she made it here and spent the rest of her life up in a log cabin near Deadbear Falls.” He chuckled. “Some city folks came ‘round and disproved it all a few years ago, but that doesn’t keep ‘er from being a local celebrity every Halloween.”
Zoey and I looked at each other.
“Any chance you could tell us where this Deadbear Falls is?” she asked.
Deadbear Falls turned out to be a small creek that ran down a hill, situated deep in the thick West Virginian woods.
The forest it ran through was cold and quiet, the October air creating a soft hush on everything. Leaves covered the ground, but they had lost most of their vibrant oranges and reds since falling, instead taking on various shades of brown matching the dirt beneath. Our trek was only punctuated by the babbling of the small stream and the shuffling of disturbed foliage.
Otherwise, there was nothing up here. Especially not a log cabin.
I sighed. “So much for that.”
“He did say it got disproved a few years ago.” Zoey said, walking ahead of me. “At least it’s pretty. We could use this for woAH!” Suddenly she was on the ground, face buried in leaves. I rushed over and helped her up.
“I’m okay, I’m okay” she muttered, sitting herself up.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Dunno. Foot caught on something.” She kicked towards a pile of leaves, and as her foot pushed them aside, we both heard a dull ‘thunk’.
We looked at each other, then started throwing handfuls of leaves away.
It was a small metal footlocker, black paint peeling away, replaced by spots of rust. In one corner was the name “Jenny Walsh”.
“Yeah, I see.”
We sat in silence for a while.
I put my fingers under the box lid and began to pull up. The lid rattled around a bit and there was a dull groaning sound of something being strained inside.
“Wait, Liam, that’s somebody…”
All of a sudden, the lid flew open with a resounding “POP!” and I fell backwards, catching myself as I did.
“Huh. Lock must be rusted away. This thing’s been out here for a long time.”
Zoey looked at me, then reached into the box. She came out with a small bundle of black fibers, wrapped together with a red string. “What is this, a lock of hair?”
I reached inside as well, withdrawing tiny gleaming metal cufflinks, necklace pieces, and even a few forks. “Silver?”
I looked back over to Zoey. She was holding tiny pieces of chalky white items, long like sticks but far more smooth. “Liam, these are…”
“...animal bones” I finished. I hesitated for a moment, then put the items back into the metal footlocker. “Let’s leave these here. I don’t really like this, Zoey. We should head back to the R.V. and…” I turned back to her and stopped.
There was a small trickle of crimson coming from her nose.
A trickle of blood.
“You’re overreacting, Liam.”
Instead of heading to the nearest doctor like I insisted, we were seated in a booth at the local diner. There were only a few people besides us in the yellow-white building, which was just as well; I kept noticing the others making side-long glances at us while they thought we weren’t looking.
It was no doubt because of Zoey. She had her head tilted forward, a bundle of white paper held to her nose. Dotting the table were more bunches of paper, stained crimson with blood, and a large roll of cheap toilet paper next to Zoey’s right. The waitress had brought it out after apologetically telling us there “weren’t no tissues”.
“I mean, of all the people to freak out over a nosebleed, you are the last on my list.” She withdrew the bundle of paper, saw that had too much blood soaked through to be serviceable, and put it aside, unwrapping another length of toilet paper and wadding it up.
I looked at the paper now stained red. Red like roses.
I tore myself away from the tissue to look at Zoey. “You can’t tell me that you think that this isn’t weird, right?”
“This isn’t weird” she huffed. “Remember Griffith Park?”
I sat back in my seat a bit. When we were both in fifth grade, our class had gone on a field trip to the Griffith Park Train Museum. While we were waiting on the bus for our teacher to come back from the ticket counter, Zoey’s nose started bleeding. Some of the other kids started freaking out, and one of the girls told Zoey to pinch her nose and tilt her head back so that she wouldn’t start losing blood. Zoey, who had been pretty calm up to this point, shrugged and did so. After a minute, she complained about her stomach feeling funny.
Another minute passed, and she vomited up blood all over the bus floor.
The scene our teacher came back to was one of mass panic, bus driver included. To her credit, she handled everything well, even when Zoey had quietly asked if she was going to die. Obviously she didn’t, but she was attended to by ambulance paramedics who had to get the story about what had happened out of a bunch of freaked-out kids. When they did hear it, they calmed down and let our teacher know there was nothing wrong.
Turns out that you’re not supposed to hold your head back during a nosebleed. The blood will just go to the stomach, and because the stomach can’t digest blood, it’ll vomit it back out when too much gets in there.
Hence why Zoey was bent over and talking more to the table than to me.
“Alright, fine.” I conceded. “But after what happened this morning, we can’t take any chances.”
“What are you…” A sudden look of realization crossed her face. “Oh come on.”
“The spell said ‘the next person you look at’. That was you. And remember those words? ‘Sanguis Liberate’? I looked it up. It’s Latin for ‘free the blood’.”
“Liam, it was a kid’s notebook.”
“A kid who buries hair and animal bones out in the woods, apparently.”
“Yeah, fine. It’s a disturbed kid’s notebook. But not a witch-in-training.”
“Why not? There’s stories of witches all over early America in locations like this. There’s even a witch who relocated here.”
“Alright, first off, we were told that that legend was disproved by one of the locals. Not exactly accurate, now is it? And secondly, most of those stories of early witches ended up with them getting burnt alive. Something tells me if they did have some actual mojo, those stories would have ended differently.”
I stayed silent for a bit. “But… the timing…”
“What, you mean late Fall, early Winter? The time when the air is driest and my nose always bleeds?” She sighed. “Look, I appreciate the concern, I really do, but I’m fine. I swear. See?” She held up the last bundle of paper, much less red than white. “It’s stopped already.”
I looked at her for a few moments, the slouched. “Alright, sorry. I guess you’re right. I was just…”
“Y’all ready to order?” the waitress asked, coming around to our table.
“Damn right I am. I’m starving.” Zoey said.
I pushed some of the bloody tissues away from me with a straw. “I think I’ll just stick with coffee, thanks.”
Fifteen minutes later, we were walking through a house with a tiny old widow and I was beginning to question my liberal use of the bottomless coffee deal. I had loaded up on caffeine to keep myself awake through the next round of interviews, but my body didn’t quite like the fact that I had downed cup after cup without real food, and it was rebelling by making my hands shake something fierce.
On top of that, the house was narrow, with hallways thin and small. We had left the cozy three or four rooms the widow regularly used and now were traveling through areas of the house she hadn’t gone through in years: corridors dusty with age and rooms filled with long forgotten memorabilia. The twilight had a hard time penetrating inside, making the shadows dark and deep. No heat filled this area, she had the vents blocked off, so I could feel the cold drafts of air brush against my skin as I awkwardly high stepped around tables and boxes.
All while trying to keep that damn camera still.
“We were doing our best to survive, but it wasn’t easy. William’s leg had forced him into disability and that money barely kept us afloat. Then Nixon announced the draft, and Kenny had to go to Vietnam. Just like that. He never came back.”
A few steps went on in silence. Zoey didn’t like to talk during these interviews; she said that her presence was supposed to be “as invisible as possible”.
We arrived in a small room, boxes stacked into corners with black sharpies. “These are his things” she said with a sigh. “I was supposed to give most of this away, but by the time I could finally face these items… well, it didn’t seem so important.”
She picked up a small pocket knife, unfolded it, and handed it over to Zoey. She took the blade almost reverently, looking it up and down, dancing her fingertips on the edge.
She hissed and withdrew her hand. A small bead of blood was forming on the tip of her index finger.
“Oh my,” the old lady said. “Hold on just one moment, I’ve got a kit in the kitchen…”
“No need” Zoey said, reaching into the camera bag. She withdrew a small box and undid some wrappings. “Got band-aids right here. If you don’t mind, though, could Liam and I grab those folding chairs in your kitchen? I’d really appreciate it if we could sit and discuss some of these items, and I think my cameraman could use the break.”
“Well, if you’re sure… I suppose I wouldn’t mind a little sit down.”
“Thanks. We’ll be right back.”
As we walked, Zoey tore off the little papers and stuck them in her pocket.
“Thank you” I whispered.
“No problem. I know how heavy those things get” she replied.
I looked back down to her hand. “Zoey, are you sure…”
She flashed me a look of annoyance that said don’t you dare bring up that stupid spell now, we’ve finally filming something good.
I stayed quiet.
We arrived back in the kitchen area, Zoey grabbing a folding metal chair while I picked up two more. “After this, I’m not sure how much more we need to film, Liam. I mean honestly, this old woman could fill up a movie herself.”
She stepped in front of me, leading the way. As she did, I heard a wet, dripping sound, and I looked down.
There was a trail of the stuff. I’m not kidding, an actual trail. At the front of it was the Band-Aid, soaked in red, floating in the liquid like a leaf in a pond. Leading onwards was a small trickle, a miniature macabre river, flowing onwards. Literally flowing, like water. I could see the small ripples of motion in it, rushing forward as it pooled and pushed past in that strange jerky way liquid does when it runs over new ground for the first time.
I had never seen so much blood.
She turned around and smiled at me. Holy shit, I thought, I can actually see her turning white.
“Maybe it could be a short, y’know? We should go over what we have scheduled, if she…” she stopped and furrowed her brow at me.
I was so stunned I could barely speak. “Zoey… your…”
She looked down at her hand, seeing the flood of scarlet coating the chair and slowly dribbling its way down to the floor.
She whispered a very soft “oh”, and fainted.
It didn’t take long for the ambulance to arrive. My tone of voice on the phone probably assured that.
I was riding in the back with the paramedics, watching in horror. It was unreal. Most of their time was spent winding and unwinding gauze; it seemed like as soon as they finished securing the hand in cloth, they had to undo it, cotton useless as it became dirty and dripping with blood. The frenzy of activity had smeared a good portion of it on the walls and medical equipment. The floor was slick with it. Once or twice one of them had to catch himself from falling.
How much was in there, I wondered, and how much could she afford to lose? I felt numb and sick to my stomach all at the same time.
“Sir? Sir!” one of them snapped at me.
“Huh, yes? What?”
“Do you know if she has any blood disorders?”
“Any… no, none.”
“What about medication? Any blood pressure, heart regulation, aspirin?”
“No, no. None of that.”
“Are you sure, sir? Any chance?”
“I’ve known her for all my life. There’s nothing.” I stared at her, then asked in almost a whisper
“what’s happening to her?”
The man only gave me back a look of pure dread and confusion. It was the kind of look an atheist would have gave after seeing the devil.
Two minutes later and I was in the hospital waiting room. I had tried to follow Zoey as she was rushed around one hallway and then another, but I had been pushed back by an old but insistent nurse and deposited into this empty sitting room, a musty yellow and brown place buzzing with fluorescents. I had gotten a styrofoam cup from the coffee machine and sat in one of the chairs, mindlessly tearing it into tiny pieces.
I couldn’t relax. I couldn’t even think. All I could do was let the worry and dread sink onto my shoulders, becoming heavier and heavier and heavier.
Finally, a man in a lab coat came through the double doors. I shot up and walked over to him.
“What’s going on? Is Zoey…”
“Calm down” the doctor said. “She’s stable, at least, for now. We managed to stop the bleeding and get a blood transfer going, but she’s still pretty weak. To be expected, really, considering how much of it she lost.”
“Do you know what’s happening to her?” I asked softly.
“We were hoping you could help us out with that, Mr. Foster. On the ambulance ride over, you said that she didn’t have any blood disorders, correct?”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“Are you sure? Hemophilia, anemia, sickle cell… anything?”
“No, nothing. I’ve known her since we were kids, she’s never been diagnosed with any of that stuff.”
“What about other medical conditions? Has she ever been diagnosed with high blood pressure or hypertension?” I shook my head. “Has she been prescribed any blood thinners?” Another shake. “Has she recently taken any aspirin or alcohol?” Shake.
His shoulders slumped a bit and he wrote down some notes on his clipboard. “Have she taken any… illicit substances lately?”
He stared at me.
“She hasn’t,” I said with a glare.
He nodded, jotting down more notes.
“What’s happening to her?”
He sighed, then looked back at me. “We’ve... diagnosed her with Sudden Onset Hemophilia.”
I looked at him, then scoffed.“Sudden Onset? What, like a fucking cold? You don’t just develop blood disorders. Especially genetic ones.”
“Mr. Foster,” he said, voice becoming clipped and sharp, “we are doing the best we can with limited information. Now unless you have any suggestions...:”
“Red like roses.”
“What was that?”
“Nothing, nothing. I… I suppose you’re right.” My voice went even quieter. “Is she going to make it?”
He stayed silent for a few moments. “Honestly? We don’t know. She’s responsive, which is a good sign, but she’s weak, and the body can only handle so much. Right now, all we can do is wait and see.”
“Right… yeah… wait and see…”
“You can see her now, if you’d like. Please try not to excite her; the best thing for her is calm and rest.”
“Yeah… calm… got it…” I ignored the doctor, pushing open the doors and heading to the right.
There she was, lying in bed, paler than a sheet of paper, tubes hooked up to her nose and a red bag snaking its way into her vein. The room was devoid of sound, save for the soft beeping and whirring of machines. Her eyes fluttered open with effort, as if weights were attached to them, and she grinned in a weak, grimacing way.
“Hey, guess you were right about that whole spell thing, huh? Get to say I told you so.” She tried to force a chuckle, but it quickly turned into a coughing fit.
I said nothing, just sat down in the chair next to her and held her hand.
“Well, this is certainly embarrassing. Cursing myself. Makes for a good episode, though, right? I’m sure we’ll laugh about it once…”
“It’s not going away” I muttered. “It’s not going to go away.”
She stopped and turned to me, eyes wide. “W-what?”
“They diagnosed you with hemophilia, Zoey. It’s a permanent disorder; the platelets in your blood aren’t working. It’s not clotting.”
The weak smile came back. “Well, I’m sure they can fix it, if they know…”
“They can’t. It’s a genetic disorder. It’s in your DNA now. Even if they save you, your life has permanently changed. Any cut will be an emergency. Any injury will be life-threatening. You’ll have to live your life defensively, checking yourself. Protecting yourself. Worrying.”
The silence fell back into the room. Tears began to fall down Zoey’s face.
I rose to my feet. “It’s alright. I’m going to fix this.”
She clutched my hand tighter, trying to force me back. “Liam, don’t leave me alone.” I could feel how feeble the grip had become. “I’m scared. Please.”
Her hands shook so much.
“I have to. The doctors, they don’t know what happened. Wouldn’t believe me if I told them. They can’t fix it, so I’ll have to.” I gave her hand a small squeeze. “Don’t worry, I’ll be back soon. Everything will be fine. We’ll even laugh about this, I promise.”
“Liam!” I heard her cry, but I was already hurrying down the hallway.
I slammed the door to the R.V. open, hard enough to knock down the cheap wall clock hanging on the adjoining wall. “Alright Jenny…” I grabbed the notebook and began flipping through pages, “tell me how to fix this.”
I read as fast as humanly possible. “Lilith’s Kiss- to turn someone into a snake. Unluck on That! A curse to give your enemy misfortune. Night Air. An invisibility spell. Fetch’s Lullabye- a spell to inflict nightmares.”
“RRRGH!” I flung the book to the other side of the R.V., papers flying through the air with the force of the throw. As I collapsed into a chair, I noticed one of the papers by my feet. I picked it up and read it.
“Red like Roses, a death curse to put on your worst enemies, created in the style of ‘sanguis liberate’. Based on the Hecate school of spellcasting.” I stopped. “Based on the Hecate school…” I mumbled, “of course!”
I slammed the door open again and ran for my car.
All eyes were on me when I flung the door of the Hurricane Public Library open. They must have been expecting someone to enter dramatically; no doubt they heard the screeching of my tires when I flew in.
The small building was cramped, shelves forming narrow aisles labeled by subject. Bright lights overhead illuminated dozens of books stacked neatly on each row.
“Excuse me, sir, you can’t just...” the elderly librarian behind a barcode-scanning gun began. I ignored her and scanned the paper signs at the end of each aisle that organized the information by subject.
Jenny’s spells worked, no doubts about that. But how had she created a fully functioning spellbook? She sure wasn’t taught by any witch; the only source of witchcraft around here was Agathia Sorrin, an obvious fake. A small town like this would be buzzing with rumors if anyone else practiced something similar, and we hadn't heard anything like that while letting them prattle on about themselves. And she didn’t have inside information, either. She had hidden her little box at Deadbear Falls, a location that was a good hike outside of town. Jenny must have had to have gone there for a reason. She was probably looking for Agithia’s cabin. Maybe that’s even why she hid the box there; she thought the location was arcane or something.
Her notebook had also been written in cursive. That meant that she was in school at a time when cursive was still important enough to be taught, i.e., a time before computers handled most of our informational needs. No internet for Jenny. That left only one place where she could have learned how to cast magic, the original sum of human knowledge: the library.
I found the section titled “Parapsychology and Occultism” and started running my finger along book spines, looking for something about witches.
The librarian stood at the end of the bookshelf. “Sir, please...” I didn’t respond.
Most libraries work on computers now, including this one. That’s why that little barcode gun was at the front counter. But before they did that, they used paper, and part of that process was to stamp a date and time of check-out and write the person’s name in a little card inside the book cover; that way, if anyone damaged the book, they knew who to blame. Most have gotten rid of or lost the cards a while ago. After all, why protect something that’s no longer necessary? But if the town wasn’t big, if the library wasn’t used often, if I just had just a little bit of luck…
My finger rested on a large hardcover. “The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft”. I dragged the book down and cracked it open.
There, on the first page, was a tiny paper pocket. Inside was a small card, with neat letters that spelled out “Jenny Walsh, 3-18-88”
I sighed with relief. “Thank heavens for small-town podunkville.”
I tossed the book over to a nearby table, where it landed with a heavy “WHUMP!” I pulled out more books and flipped the covers open, dropping those that didn’t have Jenny’s name and tossing the ones that did over with the Encyclopedia. Once I had gone through every book on witchcraft, I dashed over to the table, pushing past the librarian as I did so.
“I’m going to have to ask you to leave. You’re making a scene.”
I opened the Encyclopedia and turned to the table of contents, finding the section on “Spells”. I flipped the pages, hard enough to rip some and started scanning passages.
“...believed that incantations could curdle milk and…”
“...danced ritualistically around large pyres…”
“...contracts with devils, evidence left behind as moles…”
“...a list of herbs and other plants to be ground up, then…”
I closed the book hard enough to create a resounding “BANG” and shoved it to the floor. The librarian behind me gasped. “Now you’re damaging the books!”
Without looking at her, I withdrew my wallet and threw it at her. I heard a gasp of surprise and frustration as it hit her, and then footsteps stomping away.
I picked up the next book and opened it to the table of contents, repeating the process over and over again with each one.
“Familiars, in the form of small animals…”
“...accusations in public court…”
“...a magic salve rubbed over brooms…”
“...able to curse people from miles away…”
“...blamed for the deaths of loved ones taken away by sickness…”
I closed another book and slid it off the table. It was empty now; that was the last book on witches that Jenny had checked out, and not a single one held any answers for me.
I banged my head with the meat of my palms. “C’mon Liam, think! What else was there?”
Well, there were animal bones…
I bolted out of my seat, knocking over the chair, and ran to the shelves again. I had to search row by row to find what I wanted; I wasn’t sure what section it would be in, but eventually I found a large book titled “The Trapper’s Bible”. I flipped it open and took out the card.
There it was. Jenny had checked this book out three times in the span of one year.
So she used other books to supplement the occult books. She would have to if she wanted to find spell components. But the only ingredients in “Red Like Roses” were words.
I ran back to another section. “Language”. More spines.
“Latin: The Tongue That Won the West”
Open, pull down. No Jenny on the Card.
“History of Old English”
“A Comparative Study of Germanic and…”
“Silent Sounds: The Cultural Significance of Words”
Open, pull down. Jenny’s name, printed over seven times on the little card.
I ran back to the little table, pouring over the table of contents. “Religious Rites... Fairy Tales… where is it where is it…”
There, “Spells and Curses”. And underneath, “The Hecate School”
I had to grab the pages multiple times just to turn them. My hands had developed such fierce tremors that I had trouble just gripping them.
“The Hecate School was a discipline of magic that focuses on magic phrases spoken in rhyming couplets. Named after the Greek god of...”
I skipped ahead several paragraphs, trying to find the thing I wanted.
“...making the spells popular. Hecate spells have several elements in common; first, the spell is told in rhyme and rhythm. This is commonly done in iambic pentameter, but not always. Second, the spell should contain some common theme, of which the spell revisits in variations as it continues. Finally, the spell should appeal to a supernatural power. Demons and devils are most often invoked, though spells exist appealing to faeries and even angels.
Section VII- THE MACBEATH SCHOOL”
I stared at the book. “That’s it?” I slammed my fists into the table. “THAT’S IT?”
The few people who were still inside scurried off.
I sat in silence. My trail was cold.
What do I do now?
I felt a vibration from my pants pocket. Someone was calling.
I took my phone out. “Hello?”
“Mr. Foster? This is Hurricane General…”
“How is she?”
There was a moment of stuttering on the other end. “She, uh, well… She’s not looking too good. We think it might be best to come back, just in case the worst comes to pass.”
I said nothing. My eyes were glued to the pages in front of me.
“Mr. Foster? Hello?”
“If Jenny could figure it out…”
“I’m sorry?” the voice on the phone asked.
“How much time can you give me?” I grabbed a near-by pencil and strip of paper, left in convenient bunches at the center of each table.
“I said how much time can you give me? Before she goes critical?”
“Well, I’d highly suggest coming within the next twenty minutes…”
“That’ll have to do.” I hung up and bent over the paper, scribbling down my thoughts as quickly as they would come to me.
Bright as light and pure as snow
That’s the Zoey I love and know
A gift of happiness and joy
As treasured as a child’s toy
I shook my head at the weird imagery, but kept going. No time to be a critic.
Bright as light and pure as snow
But here on earth hurt by a foe
Angels above, if you are good
“What the hell rhymes with good?” I thought for a second, then crossed the line out
Angels above, if you are upright
Deliver her from evil tonight
Bright as light and pure as snow
I stopped again. “Why did I have to pick fucking snow?” I grumbled. After an agonizing minute, I moved the pencil again.
Preserve the magic in her glow
I beg you please, save her now
Keep her alive, I don’t care how.
I stood up, looking over the poem. I took a deep breath, and in the loudest, clearest, most commanding voice I could muster, I read the words of my homemade spell. After finishing the last line, I dropped my speech down to a whisper. “Oh please, oh please oh please…”
The papers of the overturned books were rustled by a breeze. After that, there was nothing but silence and calm.
I stood back up and headed over to the library doors.
The older librarian was there, brandishing my wallet like a dagger at a nonplussed and slightly amused looking police officer. “He’s disturbing the peace! Criminal mischief! Assault!”
“By throwing money at you?”
I cleared my throat. The two turned and looked at me.
“I’ll make you a deal” I said to the officer. “Take me to the hospital, and you can arrest me after I check on someone there.”
I slowly walked back into the room. She was still lying there, eyes closed and motionless under the covers of the hospital bed. It seemed quieter than normal, and it took me a while to realize why: the oxygen tube and I.V. bag had been taken away, as well as most of the machinery. There was no medical systems supporting her any more.
I approached her bed. “Zoey?”
Her eyes fluttered open. “L-Liam?”
I threw my arms around her in a tight embrace.
The old nurse had shooed me out of the room after talking to Zoey for over fifteen minutes. I was approached by the doctor shortly after that. She’d made a full recovery, he told me. Their best guess was that she had accidentally ingested something that had been tainted by a massive amount of anticoagulants and the substance had just run its course.
I just smiled and thanked them for their expertise.
At this point, I had been running on adrenaline and caffeine for over ten hours with still no food in my system, and my body was letting me know it. I made my way over to the small vending machine and reached inside my pocket, only to remember that my wallet was still at the library.
I felt a small tap on my shoulder.
It was the officer from the library. He held out my wallet to me.
“Oh, thanks.” I took it. “Um, so about that promise…”
“You’re friends with the girl in room 12?” he asked. “The one who came in bleeding all over the place?”
“Whatever happened, whatever you did, I don’t want to know, but you’d better drift out the same way you came in.” Having said that, he turned and walked away.
I wished I had been with it more in that moment, or had known what I do now. Looking back on that memory, I can recognize the weariness in his face, the dull sheen of eyes that had seen too much. I wish I realized that he had witnessed something before. That he was the same weird breed of creature we were: those who know something they shouldn’t.
But I didn’t, and he left. I never saw him again.
“Quite a strange thing, isn’t it? Such power contained in something so small?”
It was night and the two of us were deep into the woods. Zoey was sitting on a log, illuminated by the light of a small campfire we had built. I was behind the large camera, standing it on its tripod once again, making sure Zoey’s words were being recorded.
She looked back down to the composition notebook held in her hands, several pages sitting in there loose. "Not hard to understand why we hated witches, is it? Such destructive forces, held back by only rhymes. And make no mistake, Jenny was a witch, and we’ll say goodbye to her the same way we’ve said goodbye to her kind for centuries.”
She took the notebook and dropped it into the flames. As she did, a breeze caught it and opened it, showing the paper turn black and curl.
“So the next time you damn something to hell, or curse someone for their actions, perhaps you should think twice about it, gentle viewer. Words have more weight than we give them credit for. Sometimes, much...much more.” She stared into the camera for a few seconds longer, then broke off and looked at me. “How was that? Too corny?”
I shook my head. “No, it was good.” I shut the camera off and walked around to the log, taking a seat next to Zoey. Together, we watched the fire crackle as the wispy ashes of the former notebook were swept up by the wind and carried away.
“There were worse ones in there” I said softly. “Ones designed to drive people mad, or kill everyone in their family but them. Quite a few that summoned monsters to torment people.”
Zoey shook her head. “What has to happen to you to do those things?”
“I don’t know.”
“I just wish you had your camera on you when you went to the library. I’m going to have to get creative to fill in that gap. We should probably invest in some tiny hand cameras, just so we have something filming.”
I stared at her. “Really? That’s what’s on your mind right now?”
“Better than the alternative” she muttered as another blackened page crumbled to soot.
The silence continued between us for a few more minutes.
“Zoey…” I began, “if we’re going to keep doing this, we need to be more careful.”
She turned to me. “Are you lecturing me?”
“And myself as well. After all, I was the one who picked ‘Red Like Roses’. I could have read any of them.” I poked one of the logs with a stick, turning it over in a shower of embers. “From now on, we have to treat anything we find like it’s dangerous. Even if it seems silly. And no more shrugging things off, like nose bleeds. If one of us is worried about it, we need to take it seriously.”
Zoey watched the fire. “Yeah. There should also have a ban on pranks and stuff. Make sure neither of us think the other is goofing around when something bad happens.”
“We should have a codeword of some kind, just in case. Something to say ‘hey, I’m in trouble. I need help now’.”
“What about Oxenfree?” she asked. It was the word we used when we were playing hide-and-seek and the other needed them to come out, usually because it was time to come home.
I nodded. “That’s a good one. We’ll use that.”
Another minute of quiet passed.
“Liam,” Zoey said, “I’m glad you came.”
“What, so I could curse you?”
She punched me in the arm .“Alright, Mr. Wise Guy, I’m not glad. There.” After giving me a second to rub my arm in mock distress, she rested her head on my shoulder. “Seriously, though. I am. It’s nice to know someone’s got your back.”
“And the same to you.” I said, enjoying the last of the flames as they began to die.
“The same to you.”