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He declared all negative entities to be drawn to the bottle, where they would remain forever trapped, unable to do any harm.

Once finished, and having ended his speech with “As I wil , so mote it be!” it was my turn. I picked up the bel and began to ring it from my fingertips. It was a light, pleasing noise, not at all like the malevolent clanging I had heard in my dream the other night.

I kept it ringing continuously as we went through the house yet again and through ragged, tired breath, I kept repeating, “As the sound of this bel rings through the house, let it be fil ed with light. Evil and darkness be banished, may goodness and light return,” as we went into every single room once more. It sounds sil y and unbelievable but each room did grow a bit lighter, like the bulbs were suddenly swiped clean of all obstructing grime and dust.

After every room was cleared, we came back to the kitchen, where Maximus said his final words.

He looked at us in the eyes, then around him at the wal s, his steady expression of determination never changing.

“This house has been cleansed and purified. Negativity is banished. Light and goodness fil this place. This house is now a home.”

Then we walked out of the house through the back door, careful not to disturb the trail of salt across the threshold, and went into the darkness of the back yard to bury the Witch Bottle. I knelt on the cold grass before the small hole I had dug earlier with a spoon, which stil lay beside it. I picked this spot, near the back of the yard, because it wasn’t as attended by my mother’s black thumb or my father’s lawnmower on the weekends. It was rocky and patchy and no one would ever suspect that something was buried beneath it. Not something that supposedly contained all the negative energy the house had ever seen. With me growing up there, I could tel you that was a lot.

“Maybe I should have dug a deeper hole,” I said, worried now that it wouldn’t be enough.

Maximus handed me the bottle, which was cool and throbbing strangely in my hands. “It wil do.”

“I hope so.” I careful y placed the bottle in its shal ow grave and looked up at Maximus and Ada for approval. The motion sensor light from the house was il uminating their backs and they towered over me like faceless beings. A frigid breeze mussed up their hair, causing the strands to float delicately around their heads like glowing silk threads.

With my hands I piled the frosty dirt and grass and rocks on top until it was fil ed and level and patted it down with my hands, pressing harder and harder, like the force of my hands would keep it buried for eternity.

“Careful, don’t break it,” Maximus warned.

I looked up to give him an agreeable smile when a movement at the French doors behind him made me pause.

I could barely see what it was because the harsh glare of the patio lights created a reflective quality to the glass. But against the light from the inner hal way, I saw a very large, wide silhouette, just standing there. It was at least eight feet tal and built larger than Maximus.

There was no detail to the black mass except for a pair of burning red eyes near the top. They flickered like the ruby-orange embers in a furnace of coal. And they were watching us.

I wanted to scream, yel , do something other than gape back but I was frozen in absolute terror that sucked away my breath and leached onto my bones, holding me immobile.

Maximus and Ada noted the look on my face. They turned their heads to look.

And they saw too.

“What the fuck is that?!”

“Oh shit.” Maximus reached out for Ada’s arm and grabbed it, then blindly groped for mine.

We watched in horror as the creature at the doors slowly grew small er, as if it was walking backward into the hal .

And then the eyes blinked black and we could see it no more.

I swal owed hard. I didn’t want to get up. I wanted to stay crouched in the yard, low to ground. And then I wanted to run very, very far away.

“You..we…we did all that,” Ada said in a tiny, shaking voice. “Maximus, you said…you said we should be safe in there. Oh God, Perry what was that?”

I found the strength to move my tongue but could only say, “I don’t know.”

Maximus’s strong hands came underneath my arms and he effortlessly lifted me to my feet. He didn’t look as scared as I would have thought. Ada was shivering and white.

“It’s all right,” he said.

“Al right?” I squeaked. I was speechless, my mouth flapping open to latch onto some sort of word or sentence but that’s all I could say.

“Yes,” he said in his sharp tone again. He grabbed Ada and steered her beside me and with one hand on each of our outer shoulders he leaned in. “That was only the first step that we did. We’ve got the powders, the dragon’s blood. We have another cleanse to do. This one is the banishment. He was only showing us his strength. He’s teasing us.”

“He?” Ada asked. “I thought it was that Abby girl?”

“Ladies, sometimes things aren’t so simple.”

No shit, I thought wildly. In my dream Abby had insinuated she wasn’t alone. That there was a he, or an it. I stil didn’t know if my dream was just that, or some prophetic message from beyond the grave, but I couldn’t dismiss it. Whatever we saw inside the house wasn’t Abby.

Though, perhaps it had never been Abby. And then I understood what Maximus meant. It could have been anyone but it was dead and we needed to keep going to get rid of it. Even if it meant doing another ritual, even if it meant stepping back in the house knowing that thing was in there.

“OK,” I managed to say. “I’m ready. Let’s do this.”

I pul ed strength from pockets I didn’t even know I had.

Maximus smiled at me with fierce admiration. I took hold of Ada’s hand and squeezed it tightly.

“We’re going to get rid of it,” I told her. “Now.”

With Maximus leading the way, Ada and I linked arms as we left the witch bottle buried behind us and entered the house.


I felt all my bravado fal off me the minute I stepped over the undisturbed salt and into the house but Maximus sensed it and reached back for me, grasping my hand tightly. The air inside was so cold that our breath froze in fragmented clouds and it only got colder as we got back to the kitchen, like we were making our way into the depths of an ice cave.

Ada made a point of flipping on every light she could find, and even though the kitchen was brightly il uminated, I stil felt like I could see lurking shadows in my peripheral vision. Maximus scanned the room and then set about mixing the powders into one of the bowls. We didn’t say much to each other but I made sure Ada and I were standing as close together as possible.

What was that thing? My mind had been constructing it to look like some sort of monster, but all we real y saw was a large dark shape. I guess in some ways that was worse.

My imagination was fil ing in the blanks and if I let it run away on me, it would probably come up with something more horrifying than the reality. Whatever the reality was. It had glowing eyes and all .

Maximus mixed the powders with a spoon and a ghastly stench of cinnamon and rotten eggs fluttered in the air.

“Gross,” Ada muttered, but even her comments had lost their edge. Her voice trembled with fear.

“It’s sulphur,” he said quietly, patiently. “Now we have to sprinkle this in all the corners.”

To her credit, Ada didn’t complain. We slowly made our way around the house, jumping at every unexpected touch of each other, hearts hammering at every squeak of the floor. The large, black monster was nowhere to be seen and the only thing we felt was the everlasting chil that seemed to seep into my bones and sting my eyes. We fol owed this up with a ritual of sprinkling salt water and more chanting.

Final y, we came to the end of the banishment, which involved the black candle drizzled with crimson dragon’s blood oil and sprinkled with the powders. Maximus passed it to me in a silver candle holder and instructed me to hold it in my dominant hand. I actual y had to think about which hand that was for a moment. I knew I was right-handed but lately I’d found myself becoming ambidextrous, using my left hand for more and more things, like a new-found strength was found in my tendons, or my brain was rewiring itself.

I took the candle and he lit the wick, which sparked and popped and then calmed down to a clean, yel ow flame.

“As this candle burns, so are negative energies from this place,” he said stridently. He looked me in the eyes. “You repeat it. And then you, Ada. We could use the extra help here. Once every five minutes. Let’s go.”

Ada and I both repeated the phrase and I anxiously eyed the clock. My parents would be back in forty-five minutes at the most. We didn’t real y have five minutes. But we real y didn’t want some monster in the house either.

After the five excruciating minutes were up, five minutes of nervously eyeing each other, listening to every twitch in the house, watching our breath catch and freeze in the air, shivering close together, he had me place the burning candle on the counter and then handed me a white candle to hold with my right hand again.

Together we said, “A white candle to fil the empty spaces with light and hope.”

It took five matches for this candle to light. By the last attempt, I was feeling the trickles of helplessness on my spine, wondering what we could do if we weren’t able to complete the ritual. But the last match worked; the stubborn wick took hold of the spark and a flame danced weakly before us.

Maximus said, “As this candle burns, positive energy wil fil this place, giving negativity no safe harbor,” and we repeated the mantra after him. He indicated I should put the candle down, and then we watched and waited for the candles to burn out on their own.

“Is that it?” I asked him quietly, his face aglow from the hypnotic flames. The dance of good. The dance of evil.

“Then we bury them in the yard again. It doesn’t have to be near the bottle.”

My eyes widened. “I don’t want to go back there.”

“Ditto,” Ada piped up.

He gave us a small smile. “I don’t either. But I can do it if you girls want to stay in the house. By yourselves.”

Ada and I exchanged a glance. What was the better option here?

“The flames are almost out,” he whispered, and nodded at the candles. The black one was burned down to a puddle of wax that spil ed over the holder and onto the counter. The white one was close. I was thankful he had bought such stubby candles. The kitchen clock said we had fifteen minutes left, and our only saving grace was that my mom said she would text me a warning and my phone hadn’t vibrated yet.

The black candle went out with a small snuff of onyx smoke and a minute later the white one did too.

“OK,” I said, straightening up off the stove I was leaning on. “Time to bury these-”

As I said that both candles suddenly relit themselves with a crackling poof, even though there wasn’t any wick left in them.

“Uh,” Ada said. We all eyed each other, unsure of what to do.

“We’l just wait,” Maximus said uncertainly. He protectively put his arms out behind him, shielding Ada and me, or maybe just keeping us in our place. “They have to burn out on their own.”