It was my first time hosting the annual Halloween seance and I really wanted to impress my coven.
I gathered all the supplies I needed. My book of spells, hexes, and Incantations, passed down through at least the last few generations of Easton women, the bullfrog, and my ceremonial sacrificial knife.
We were proud of our traditional inheritance and were active in the activities of our community of like-minded witches.
The practice nowadays was little more than entertainment. A reason to gather. Much like watching a scary movie, we take part mostly to get a thrill out of it. The scare rush. The sensation that we are alive. Our seances could possibly be misidentified as nothing more than a simple book club for housewives and their daughters, meeting for tea and dessert, discussing how prejudice Elizabeth was or prideful Mr. Darcy was, or vice versa. Did anyone really know?
This, however, wasn’t just a book club.
The hour had come and I hoped I was ready.
I powered up my computer and opened the link to the scheduled zoom meeting. I positioned the computer so that I was dead center of the screen and the dim lighting of the circle of candles I lit accentuated all the right features of my face.
I’m not usually interested in my own vanity, but when you’ve got a date with the Devil himself, you’ve got to look your best. Not that any of us actually expected him to show up, it’s the idea that he might, that really got the blood pumping.
Most seances we settle for a few flickering lights, ill-timed gusts of wind blowing our candles out, or the ominous knocking on the upstairs floor that in no way could have possibly been the household pets playfully knocking something down out of sheer boredom.
As I waited for the other members of my coven to join the zoom meeting, I watched through my window as the sunset. I listened as I heard the children of the night set out on their candy seeking quests, faintly hearing them scrape the bottom of the bowl I left out front.
One by one they popped up in the waiting room with a musical ‘ding, ding’, and I let them in. First, it was Gwen, who was always first to any event, sometimes to the point of being obnoxiously punctual. Then, as if rehearsed, in quick succession Darla, Eden, Marcie, and Josephine entered first the waiting room ‘Ding, ding; ding, ding; Ding, ding’, and then the meeting room. I watched as they connected and their faces populated a small square on my computer screen.
Each of the squares they inhabited glowed with the flickering light of candles--a staple of each of our meetings. Darla waved eagerly at her computer, while Marcie adjusted her hood over and over again, trying to cast just the right amount of shadow on her face; Eden picked something from her teeth and Josephine talked with someone off-screen, behind her webcam.
I took a deep breath and called the meeting to order right as the digital clock turned to 7:06, our long observed starting time.
“Good evening, witches of the Leven Coven,” I said hoarsely, trying to inconspicuously clear my throat. “It is in his name we gather. His power we live, and his strength we continue.”
This would mark the first seance conducted via zoom. I was nervous and was extra careful when I pulled out the bullfrog from my sack, making sure not to let it go and scamper free--that would make for a terrible hosting and would no doubt mark me for scorn and ridicule for years to come.
“Take this, our offering of sacrifice,” I say as I guide a blade from the bullfrog’s chin to between its hind legs. I set the knife aside, tip the frog over a small, mortar bowl, and let the blood drain.
The group all unmute and say in unison, “Bless this offering. We offer it to thee.” At which point I, along with the rest of the coven, turn our blades on ourselves, and make a small cut on our palm. This would make the fifth cut on my left palm, finishing my first pentagram. I was now halfway through my journey to becoming a full-fledged witch in the eyes of my Coven. A title, mostly for title’s sake.
I watched and waited for signs that the rest of the ladies were done offering their blood sacrifice for the seance. Once it was apparent, I dipped my finger into the mixture of my blood and the bullfrog’s, and I traced the lines of the inverted cross onto my forehead. This next part was discussed and debated extensively. We reasoned exactly how it would work out and, being left with not many options, we settled on what seemed at the time to be the best choice we had.
After my forehead was marked, the ladies of the coven all leaned their heads forward, and I traced the same symbol on each of their digital heads, leaving red smears on my computer screen.
“Join hands, sisters,” I said in the best solemn voice I could muster. Each of the ladies wrapped their arms around their webcams and presumably held their hands together if they were following the guidelines they had laid out when they convened to discuss their plans for conducting this evening's seance.
The way we saw it if we were in spirit creating circles that were connected via the zoom meeting, like each of our enclosed circles were links in a chain, that we could simulate what was necessary to successfully complete the ritual practices needed to complete the incantation.
All of this was speculation upon speculation of course.
I opened my book and turned to the dog eared page near the back. The incantation spell to summon the devil himself. This incantation was reserved for the annual seance and never even spoken of any other time--no exceptions. Those were the rules and no one ever questioned them.
I began to recite the lines of text that were nearly memorized by heart at this time, but I still read them from the book because I didn’t want to leave anything up to chance. Each line was spoken back to me by the women of the zoom meeting. Soft, dull-edged voices poured out of the speakers, slightly off in timing but close enough as to not break the ambiance.
As I continued to speak the text, the candle flames began to flicker.
The blinds in my living room waved to a breeze, seemingly conjured from another realm. The air filled with smells that just moments ago were nonexistent. The battery life on my computer dropped from 78% to 66% in an instant, then flickered back and forth from 6% to 66%.
Goosebumps flooded over the surface of my skin.
I read the next line.
The ladies spoke it back; Gwen’s voice loud and obnoxious, crowded out the others.
The flames on the candles grew three times their normal size and I was ecstatic.
I reached the last line. Paused for a moment, took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and spoke them from the heart.
The ladies repeated.
I held my gaze on the backside of my eyelids, afraid to open them and see nothing. Afraid to open them and see…
Hovering in the center of my screen was a message that read, “The Real Satan Himself is in your waiting room.”
“What?” Darla asked. “What happened?”
“Yeah,” Marcie added, pulling her hood back a bit, revealing her soft features. “Did it work?”
“I, um…” I debated whether to share or not. Part of me thought that this must have been some sort of joke. A prank on her, maybe. Who was it that Josephine was talking to right before the meeting started? Maybe it was them.
I scan Josephine’s face. She’s staring into the webcam, her eyes move back and forth in anticipation of my response--no sign of her knowing what was happening.
“Seriously,” Eden said, “what’s going on, Grace? What’s happening? Talk to us.”
“What do you see?” Gwen added.
“It’s, him.” I said, hovering my mouse’s cursor over the ‘admit button’.
“No way. What are you waiting for?” Darla asked. “Let him in.”
What have you gotten yourself into, Grace?
“What are you waiting for?” Marcie pressed. “You don’t want to keep him waiting, do you?”
I swallowed hard and clicked ‘admit’. then waited.
A new zoom window popped up. Muted with no video.
A long, drawn-out exasperation, “whaaaaaaaaat…” came from Eden.
We all starred in frightful anticipation. A part of my reasonable brain held onto the idea that this was all just a prank. We would soon see that this was not in fact--”
“Satan!” Marcie screeched, as the video feed connected the new zoom member.
“No way,” Gwen exclaimed, sliding her hand over her mouth.
The nameplate on the video reads, ‘The Real Satan Himself’, and held a dark figure, undefined in the darkness that swirled and flurried within the video stream. Then the face of the figure came into view, slowly at first, as if candles were being moved closer and closer. A mouth could now be seen moving. Words spoken, but not heard.
Marcie unmuted herself, said “Satan? excuse me, Satan?’
Satan’s mouth stopped moving.
Marcie continued, “Um, you’re on mute.”
Satan leaned over, looking over the device he was using. A few seconds passed and Satan again began to talk. Moving mouth, but no sound.
“Uh, Satan.”Marcie interrupted his silent monologue, she held her hand up as if raising it in class. “Yeah, um... You’re still muted.”
Anger flushed over Satan’s face, twisting it in a tormented, wrinkled mess. He bent over the device, searching for a way to unmute himself.
“It should be somewhere in the bottom left corner of your screen?” Eden instructed. “There should be a microphone icon? Do you see it?”
Satan’s face tilted and bobbed until it appeared he saw what Eden was talking about. He nodded, then looked into the webcam awaiting further instruction from Eden.
Marcie giggled and Satan’s head twisted to the side in a quick jerking motion. Marcie’s head followed the same motion, except it spun much further and her body collapsed down into the camera. The soft glow of the candlelight filtered through her hair that laid in front of her webcam.
A shockwave of horror washed over me, my chest filled with hot coals.
“Oh my God!” someone yelled.
The mute symbol on Satan’s rectangle disappeared and he said, “Gre--”
I slammed my laptop shut. My breaths raced in and out of my lungs. I stayed, glued to the ground. Unable to move, speak, do anything.
“What have you done, Grace?” I whispered to myself.
Then, as if being blown out one by one, the candle’s flames went out. One after the other, until there was only one left casting out its weak light in a desperate attempt to illuminate its surroundings.
A reply rose up and out from the depths of the unknown that was now her living room, “You’ve Invited me in.” and with that, the last candle blew out.