The house was searched from top to bottom and back again. An ad hoc rescue team of rapidly sobering partygoers turned the place inside out. We helped, or we pretended to help at least. None of us really thought we were going to find Sadie. We searched closets and cabinets, under the beds, in any container that could potentially contain a person and even those that could not.
We told our story to every adult present at least a half dozen times over, as if they could glean any new information that may have lead them to her location. Fear and confusion turned to anger, most of which was directed at us, as though we were somehow responsible. We were raked over the proverbial coals for that bottle of rum Mr. Carmichael had found. Punishments were pending for the very moment the crisis would come to an end.
It didn’t. Not that night and not for many to come. Once it had become abundantly clear that Sadie was definitely not in the house, in the yard, or on the roof, the police were called. Mr. Carmichael stayed behind to speak to the cops and he made me stay too.
I was selected, not because I knew anything more than anyone else, but by the pure dumb luck of being closest to him when it came time to nominate our spokesperson. Jeff would have been a somewhat better candidate, but we omitted the fact of his being in the closet with Sadie at the time of her disappearance.
The time spent sitting on the couch waiting for the police with Mr. Carmichael was tense, to say the least. He didn’t speak a word to me the entire time. He just sat there, chain-smoking his menthol cigarettes and glaring at me with his horrible red-rimmed eyes. His sleeves were pushed up and his tie was loosened. His face was red and his hair was damp and ragged with sweat. He stank of whiskey and fear.
I was terrified of him. Despite his wealth and his lofty position, he still managed to look like an angry working-class gorilla who just got laid off and drank himself into a rage. He looked ready to fight the next person to look at him funny. And we were alone together. I tried to say something to him. I have no idea what. I just wanted to cut through the oppressive atmosphere, thicker and more tangible than the cloud of reeking menthol smoke pervading the air of the living room.
The doorbell rang. The police were here.
“Wait here,” He growled, snubbing out his cigarette and rising to his feet. Through the picture window opposite the couch, I could see beams of light dancing every which way in the cul-de-sac. The others were scouring the neighborhood for her.
The entire night had taken on a surreal quality from the very moment of Sadie’s mysterious disappearance. I knew something that the adults would never admit. Even if they never found a trace of Sadie, which seemed likely, they would never even think it for a moment. There was a word for what had happened here, and it was something I had hoped to experience my entire life up to that point. The word was ‘supernatural.’
I guess I had romanticized the concept. It wasn’t exciting or intriguing or anything else I had expected. It was awful. My friend had vanished, impossibly, from a closet. She wasn’t hiding anywhere, she didn’t run away. She vanished, in the truest sense of the word. It felt awful.
I could hear Mr. Carmichael in the foyer explaining the situation to the police. I couldn’t make out what he was saying but he was clearly very keyed up and didn’t seem to be of much help. I could hear the softer tones of the police trying to calm him enough that he could file a comprehensible report. It didn’t seem to be going well.
Finally, he lead them into the living room. There were two of them. One guy looked like he was maybe in his early twenties, kind of a baby face with the thinnest suggestion of a mustache. Short too, I think I was taller than him, and I wasn’t a tall kid. He looked like he was playing dress-up in his uniform. The other cop was a woman. She seemed a bit older, stout and grim-looking. Her hair was pulled back in the sort of severe bun I associated with librarians.
They surveyed the room, littered as it was with the detritus of a wild party. There were empty beer bottles, highball glasses, and overstuffed ashtrays covering every available surface. I could feel their judgment, even though it wasn’t directed at me. I thought that was shitty. Just because our parents were having a party, that didn’t mean it was their fault Sadie had disappeared. From what she told us, it was a long time coming. Considering the voices and the sounds from the closet, I mean.
The cops sat down on either side of me, and I glanced from one to the other, unsure of which one I should be focusing my attention upon. Finally, one of them spoke.
“Hi, Paul,” Babyface said, “My name is David Smith and this is my partner Doris Montenegro.”
She nodded grimly and said nothing.
“We just have a few questions for you. I know it’s late and you’re probably eager to get to bed, so we’ll try to make this brief.”
I hadn’t actually thought about it in all of the chaos, but by then it was probably four in the morning and I was completely exhausted. I probably looked about as disheveled as Mr. Carmichael, if not worse. In the course of the search, I was forced to crawl into every nook, cranny, and crawlspace deemed too large for adult exploration. I was dimly aware of the fact that I was covered in dust and cobwebs.
“Okay,” I told them.
Officer Montenegro spoke up, “We just need you to describe, in your own words, what happened tonight. You need to be completely honest with us and omit nothing, no matter how much trouble you think it will cause for yourself or how irrelevant you may think it is. The safety of your little friend may depend on it. Do you understand?”
There was something about her that pissed me off, but I guess that may just be my own anti-authoritarian streak acting up. Then again, maybe I just didn’t like the way she called Sadie my ‘little friend,’ like we were just a bunch of dumb babies. Adults were like that. Somewhere along the way they forgot what it was like to be our age and they just thought we were a gaggle of brainless, helpless, subhuman house pets. They thought we couldn’t wipe our own asses without their direct supervision. I hated it.
I also knew that nothing I told her would increase the odds of their finding Sadie. Not unless the local police department had a paranormal crimes division. On the other hand, I had the feeling that our carefully edited version of the events of the night was far too flimsy for close examination. Mr. Carmichael was standing by, looming in the corner with his cigarette and staring out the window at the search parties activity. If I told them the truth, I knew, he would hear what we left out and likely grow furious. To hell with it, I thought and told them everything.
I told them about the scary stories, I told them about the séance, I told them about the rum, and I told them about spin the bottle. I told them about Seven Minutes in Heaven. I told them the most important fact, that we were all watching the door. That Sadie could not have gotten out of the closet without all of us seeing her.
Of course, they didn’t believe me. Why should they? I had committed the unforgivable crime of being twelve years old, and was therefore not to be trusted. They grilled me for some endless span of time, trying to poke holes in my story. They seemed to want so very badly for every one of us to have turned our attention away from the closet long enough for Sadie to slip away. I wouldn’t budge. They wanted to perforate my testimony by suggesting we were all so blind stupid drunk that we didn’t see her leave.
It was always like this. If your story didn’t fit the narrative of the assholes in power, be it your parents, your teachers, the police, or the dickhead working at the seven eleven, then you were a liar and an asshole and you got punished whether you were telling the truth or not. Whether you were innocent or not. Well maybe we were drinking and maybe we were making out. So what? That didn’t change the fact that Sadie walked into that closet and never walked out.
I guess I lost my temper. It was late, as I said, and I was scared for my friend and tired of all the bullshit and the accusations. I told the police many things that would do nothing to aid in their search for Sadie. Mostly, I told them what it was and where they could stick it. Mr. Carmichael tried to step in and I unloaded plenty of ammunition on him as well. Said some stuff I regretted in the cold light of day.
I think I said that I was starting to see our parents in a different light. I knew that Carmichael wasn’t my enemy, he was just a father who was afraid for his daughter. I knew that he was lashing out at me because he didn’t have a real enemy to fight and he was feeling impotent.
Here’s the thing: I realized that, and I was smart enough to know that, at least when I had the time to reflect on everything. And I was a kid. He was an adult, a full grown man. He had decades longer than me to learn how to see things from the other guy’s perspective, but he was locked in his own way of thinking. I was twelve years old and I was dead sick of that kind of person running things.
David, the babyface cop, defused the situation. I guess he was still young enough to remember being my age and not wanting to be treated like an idiot and a criminal. He asked me to take him to Sadie’s room while the other cop, Doris, stayed with Mr. Carmichael to help organize the search.
I was glad to do it. He was at least willing to act like a human being, and I was eager to get away from the other two. I showed him Sadie’s room, and to the best of my ability I mapped out all of our positions at the time of her disappearance. He didn’t say much, or at least he didn’t try to poke any more holes.
He examined the interior of the closet closely, drawing the same conclusion that we had: That perhaps she had escaped through some secret door. He didn’t find anything either. Finally, he just stepped back from the closet and shook his head. Eliminating the possibility that we had all somehow missed Sadie’s departure from the closet, this was the sort of locked door mystery story that Doyle or Christie might have written. Young as he was, he didn’t realize that this story was a better fit for Stephen King.
Eventually, I was released to go to bed while the adults took full control of the situation. Sadie’s disappearance made the news and it seemed that the entire country had gotten involved in the search. Posters with her face dotted the landscape. Every night you could see flashlight beams projecting into every dark corner of the neighborhood and surrounding areas. The Carmichaels were well known and well liked around town and they had no shortage of volunteers.
We returned to school on Tuesday with a sort of strange and unwanted celebrity among the other students. If any sort of education had occurred I was not aware of it. All I could remember from those terrible, endless hours between the bells were dozens of faces staring at me like I was some curious specimen in a science lab.
I was stunned and numb and belligerent and furious and confused and frustrated. Those were the longest days of my life. Every day that I had to get out of bed to face the world knowing that Sadie was still missing was a desperate struggle. All I wanted was for things to go back to normal and for everyone to forget who I was again.
The others seemed to feel much the same as I did. In a way, it brought us all closer together. We were all we had against the world. Time together alone was the only peace we had. We talked about that night nonstop but no one had any answers.
Jill blamed herself for what had happened and took it the hardest. She missed a lot of school, wouldn’t answer the phone most of the time, and sometimes when I did see her I could smell alcohol on her breath. Jeff and I worked hard to spend time with her. Neither of us would say so, but we were worried. There was a bandage on her forearm that looked ominous.
By the second week, people were starting to give up hoping to find her. No one told us so, of course. No, to our faces the adults, the parents, they put on their ghoulish ‘brave faces’ and assured us that Sadie would be found safe any time now. But when we walked in suddenly while they were talking, they shut up fast.
Midway through the second week we all stopped going to school. Our featured roles in the freak show had all become too much to bear. I heard my name and Sadie’s name in whispered conversations everywhere I went. Speculation had grown like some strange tumor.
Everyone had their pet theory, and most of those theories revolved around the six of us being co-conspirators in a heinous murder plot. It was infuriating and so I guess I didn’t help matters much when I made a big ugly scene in the cafeteria on the second Wednesday following her disappearance.
I overheard some guy I didn’t even know, I think his name was maybe Craig or Chris, telling another kid that Sadie rejected me so I had my friends hold her down while I cut her throat. I responded by throwing a bowl of hot chicken noodle soup in his face and breaking his glasses and nose. My departure from school was therefore not entirely voluntary. I felt really bad about it in retrospect but I guess you could say I was under a lot of strain at the time.
That Thursday I was sitting in my room alone, angrily throwing a foam basketball against the closet door, which I had not opened since that night. Closets were sort of a tender subject. Thankfully my clothes were all in a dresser or I would have been stuck wearing the same outfit from the party for the past week and a half.
I could hear the phone ringing downstairs but I didn’t pay it much mind. I wasn’t allowed to talk on the phone, just one of the many statutes that defined my grounding for that whole lunchroom assault. Mom answered. I could hear the tones of her voice through the vent in my floor, but not the specific words. I threw the ball again. Thump.
Before my mandatory vacation from school I had visited the library in hopes that I might find some explanation or at least some precedent for what had happened to Sadie. Surely, I reasoned, she couldn’t have been the only person ever to disappear out of thin air. I wasn’t wrong.
In the 1500s the entire first English settlement in North America, about 115 people, disappeared without a trace. That wasn’t the same situation though. There are a million possible reasons they could have vanished, the mystery is that no one knows what that reason might have been. No one was there when they disappeared.
In the 1870s a ship, the Mary Celeste, was found adrift and deserted in the Atlantic Ocean. The cargo and the crew’s personal effects were all found undisturbed, but of the captain and crew, there was not a trace. No sign of any of them had ever been found. But they were missing a lifeboat. Just one, sure, but that could have meant that the boat was abandoned for some reason and that the survivors were simply lost at sea. Such things happen.
On Christmas Eve, 1945, a fire broke out in the home of a West Virginia Family, the Sodders. Mr. and Mrs. Sodder and four of their children escaped the blaze unharmed. The remaining five children were never found. That must have been a kidnapping and arson. They were never found, but no one marked their departure. No one was there to see them vanish, like we were.
You see? People disappeared all the time. Sometimes it was strange and mysterious, but only because no one knew the facts. Even if we don’t know the truth, there’s still at least a reasonable theory for what must have happened. There was no reason here. No theories. Only a mystery.
I thumbed through dozens of books and countless stories just like those three. Only a few were as mysterious and inexplicable as our own. I studied them intensely for any sort of clue that might help us recover Sadie. They were fascinating but ultimately unhelpful.
Apparently, sometime in the 1870s in England, a man bet his friends he could run sixteen miles to the next town without stopping. To ensure his honesty, his friends followed him closely in a horse-drawn buggy. Somewhere along the way they saw him trip and pitch forward- and simply wink out of existence right before their eyes. He was never seen again.
In the 1970s a couple was driving from New Jersey to New York City. At some point, their windows had grown too foggy to see through and so they stopped to wipe down the windshields. The husband was clearing the front and the wife was clearing the back. When he turned to see how she was doing, he saw that she was gone. He heard nothing, saw nothing, had only turned away from her for the few seconds needed to clear the window. She was never seen again.
Only a few years before our own incident, in the early autumn of 1989, a couple was walking hand in hand through a wooded path at Lake Ray Roberts near Denton, Texas. The man, whose name was William Avery, said his girlfriend let go of his hand for just a moment and said ‘hello, little girl!’ to someone. When he looked to see who she was talking to, he found that she was gone. He didn’t see any little girl, either.
The common theme was this: The person who disappeared under mysterious circumstances was never seen again. Kidnapped, killed, or otherwise, they were gone for good. The only thing I took away from all my research was a dreadful certainty that the same would be said for Sadie Carmichael. Just another unsolved mystery for geeks like me to obsess over.
Lost in rumination over these stories, I was startled by a tapping at my second story window. It was after dark. I crossed the room to find the source of the noise and was startled yet again when I saw something small hit the glass.
I opened the window and looked down the ground below. Jeff and Jill were standing below in the shadow of the Oak tree in the yard. I waved them up. It was as easy to shimmy up the tree to my window as it was at Sadie’s house. There was a risk that my mother would come up to check on me, but I didn’t much care at that point if I got in more trouble.
Music was not expressly forbidden in my grounding so I put the Green Day tape on at a volume low enough to avoid attention but loud enough to muffle our voices. Jill entered first, and Jeff shortly thereafter. They sat on my bed. Both of them wore the same grave, hollow-eyed expression I saw in the mirror.
Jeff broke the silence, glancing at the pile of open books on my floor and asking me, “So. Did you find anything useful?”
“Useful?” I answered, “No. Nothing useful. I’ve read through all of the books in the library I thought would have anything that could help us. Nothing. Bone dry. I found plenty of stories of disappearances as weird as ours but nothing about someone finding a way to get the vanished person back. What about you, Jill? Did you find anything on the World Wide Web?”
In 1993 the internet was in its infancy. Commercial internet providers were just starting to become available and in those days the users were sort of like pioneers. They were the early adopters, mostly tech geeks, and obsessives. It wasn’t like today where you could pull up Wikipedia and search for whatever you wanted to know in a flash. It was the days of newsgroups and the very first web browser had just appeared. Finding information was more of a miserable slog.
Jill had access to the web because, in some way too obscure for her to explain, that was how her father made his living. He forced her to learn all of the intricacies of its use because he had this idea that in a few years everyone would be connected to the World Wide Web and a working knowledge of it would give her an advantage over the rest of her generation. Of course, his prophesy proved true but at the time she detested spending all of those tedious hours learning about all that ‘nerd crap.’
She rolled her eyes, and said, “The only thing I found on the Web was a cadre of dweebs who were so fascinated that I was a girl that they would pretend to have any sort of information I could ever want. It took me hours to learn that no one knew a darn thing that could ever be described as useful. I still have a headache from staring at that stupid screen. One guy said my story reminded me of something he read once about fairies or something, but he said that it was something to do with babies and he only ever heard about it happening in England.”
“Well?” Jeff asked, “Did he say anything else?”
“Yeah. Yeah he did,” Jill said, scowling, “He said he was lonely and wanted to know if I would have cyber-sex with him in a private chat room. I told him I would rather stab myself in the crotch with a Christmas tree, and then I logged off. The World Wide Web is full of pathetic perverts. Probably all look like my dad, too. Fat, bald, and badly in need of a bath.”
I didn’t hear the last part because I was laughing too hard at the Christmas tree line. That might have been the first time I laughed since Sadie disappeared. I guess I needed it. When my laughter subsided a silence fell over us all. I remembered my mother downstairs and listened, for fear that she heard my mirthful outburst and was coming to put a stop to it. Nothing.
“So what are we going to do?” Jeff asked, quietly.
“Well,” I said, cautiously, “I have an idea, but maybe you’re not going to like it.”
Jeff and Jill looked at me curiously but said nothing. I took it as encouragement.
“Okay, so maybe this is grasping at straws, but consider this: Everything we did that night, the stories, the candles, the Ouija board, the shared drink, and the uh… coupling…”
“Yeah?” Jill asked. I thought she had an inkling of what I was driving at. She out of any of us might have known. Jeff wouldn’t have, but he was a close enough friend that I knew he wouldn’t laugh it off.
“Well,” I continued, “I mean maybe this is dumb, but in a way, all of that was sort of like a ritual.”
Jill lit up. I think I was broaching a subject she herself had given much thought. She said, “There’s more to it than just that. First of all, there was seven of us there. Seven is a powerful number, at least if you subscribe to numerology. I don’t, necessarily, but the number seven comes up again and again when it comes to magic and religion and all of that stuff. Maybe it’s insignificant but maybe it’s not.
“The other thing is, we did all of that stuff between the hours of midnight and three A.M. That’s the witching hour.”
“The witching three hours, more like,” Jeff said dubiously.
“It’s a sort of loose term, I guess,” Jill admitted. “Christians considered that time to be unholy because it was the time when no one was praying. They used to execute women seen outside at that hour because men are scum and I guess they thought that was a good enough reason to assume someone was a witch. At any rate, it’s considered the time of night where the spirit world is closest to ours.”
“Okay,” Jeff said, still dubious but not mocking, “but how does this help us?”
Jill yielded the floor to me, as it was my idea in the first place. She was just the resident expert on witchcraft and other strangeness.
“My thought is this: if we did perform a ritual that made Sadie disappear, maybe there’s a way to undo the ritual if we can recreate the conditions that caused it in the first place. Maybe we can undo the spell or whatever. It’s a long shot, but it’s the only idea I have. What do you say?”
Jeff snapped his fingers and said, “What about those weird sticks you brought? The stuff we were supposed to burn if things got too hinky?”
“Oh, the sage!” Jill said, “I forgot all about that. It’s probably still in her room. That could help but I think it’s really more for dispelling evil spirits.”
“So what else can we do? Do you have anything else to undo a ritual?” I asked. I felt energized like we were finally getting somewhere. Maybe it was all just a fantasy and I was buying into it because I watched too many bad movies and read too many bad books, but it felt right. A strange situation called for strange solutions.
Jill sighed, “You guys understand I’m not a witch, right? This is all speculation for me. I know a fair amount about all of this because it’s interesting to me, but as far as I know rituals and spirits and all of that crap are just made up by other weirdos.”
Jeff and I had nothing to say to this. We were all just scared kids grasping at straws. We were still young enough to believe that magic might exist, but old enough to know that it probably didn’t. The Green Day tape ended and I flipped it to the B Side.
Jill sighed again, “Okay, I’ll see what I can figure out. Jeff, you get the others together. I don’t know if we need everyone together again, but it couldn’t hurt. Paul, I guess you better just keep a low profile. You’re no good to us if you get yourself double grounded.”
“Wait,” I said, realizing something fairly important, “How are we going to get back in there?”
“Easy,” Jeff said, “Through the window, just like Jill did when she brought the Ouija board.”
“Not so easy,” Jill said, “I locked the window behind me. I’m going to have to find some excuse to get into her room so I can unlock it for us. That shouldn’t be a problem though, I’ll just tell them I left something in there.”
“Do you think they’ll let you?” Jeff asked, “Mr. Carmichael seemed pretty pissed off.”
“I’ll manage,” Jill assured him, “If he gives me any trouble I’ll just start bawling. That usually works.”
“All right, so we have something resembling a plan,” I said, “So when are we going to do this?”
“I think it should be Saturday night,” Jill said, “That’s exactly two weeks from the night she disappeared. We should try to time it down to the minute if we can.”
“Two weeks,” Jeff mused, “Fourteen days. Seven and seven.”
We hashed out a few more details but the bulk of our plan relied mostly on Jill’s knowledge of spells and rituals, as limited as that may have been. Within minutes of resolving the date of our operation, they departed, leaving me alone with my foam rubber ball and my fears.
For the next couple of days, I was in the dark. It was pure luck that my mom didn’t catch us meeting together in my room and I wasn’t willing to risk things further by arranging or allowing another meeting. For all my anxiety I couldn’t sit still or concentrate on anything for more than a couple of moments at a time. I would have given anything just to be able to walk down the sidewalk and clear my head. My eyes kept wandering out the window to the Carmichael’s house.
Saturday, just as darkness fell and still hours before our little operation would commence I caught sight of Eliza sitting at her window. She was dressed this time, of course. Eliza stared up at the night sky and paid little mind to the likes of me, just another despondent stargazer. Even from the distance that separated us, I could see her cheeks shining from the tears running down her face.
After a time she turned away, and so did I. Sadie was my friend and I wanted her back. I was terrified for her safety and just so confused and frightened about the whole thing. I couldn’t sleep or eat or even just act like a functioning human being. Jill wasn’t the only one who blamed herself for what happened, I just didn’t know it at the time.
I thought I knew what it was to suffer and feel loss but seeing Eliza up there weeping for her lost sister, I knew that what I was feeling was nothing compared to what her family must have been going through. They must have been fighting tooth and nail just to hold on and not give up hope that Sadie could be alive.
This plan of ours to reverse the ritual and bring her back, I knew it was laughable. We were just kids playing at something we didn’t understand in the slightest. I also knew I had to try something. Anything. The only thing about which I was certain was that Sadie was somewhere a search party would never find her. We had to bring her back from somewhere outside of a rational, numbered world. No one else would.
I told my mother I was turning in somewhere around ten P.M. that night. To support the illusion I turned out the lights and laid in bed, not sleeping, but waiting. At least that was my plan. Certainly, I thought I was too keyed up to sleep, until I found myself waking to the sound of tapping at my window. A silhouette stood out against the night sky and I jumped from my bed before realizing it was only Jeff.
With my heart still thumping from the scare, I opened the window and crawled through. I was already wearing dark clothing in anticipation of our nocturnal operation. We climbed down the tree to the ground in complete silence. The moon shone brightly that night, making a mockery at our attempts at stealth, or so I felt.
We crossed the yards to the tree that would take us to Sadie’s room. Jill, Ashley, Ashton, and Khalil were gathered underneath trying to look inconspicuous. No one was shouting or shining a flashlight in our faces, so I suppose they were successful enough. It was the witching hour, and all good Christians were in their beds asleep. Nobody here but us witches.
Without a word we all climbed up the tree and into Sadie’s room. It seems Jill’s mission went off without a hitch. I was almost as glad as I was scared of getting caught. Jill with her bag of ritual supplies went in first and the rest followed. I climbed up last, taking note that Eliza’s window was illuminated. I could not, however, see if she was seated at her window again. I supposed I would know soon enough, one way or the other.
By the time I crawled through Sadie’s window, her room was already lit, though dimly, by a trio of candles. A rolled up towel was placed at the bottom of her bedroom door to keep light from escaping into the hall. That was a smart move on Jill’s part. I wouldn’t have thought of that. The others were gathered in a loose semicircle around the Ouija board, shadows playing over their grim faces. The closet door was still closed.
I thought I was going to throw up. Seeing the room again for the first time in two weeks, I realized I had dreamed of this moment. In my dream I could hear Sadie weeping inside the closet, desperate and afraid. I tried to tell her I would help her, but my lungs had no air to push the words out. I tried to cross the room to throw open the door, but it felt like I was walking through wet cement. Every step seemed to take eons.
When finally I reached her closet door and threw it open, I found her inside long dead, gray dry skin stretched over bones. What was left of her face was contorted in agony. Her yellowed teeth were bared in her final cries for help that would come far too late. The inside of the closet door was furrowed with deep scratches. The scratches were streaked with rust-colored stains that could only have been dried blood. Her nails were embedded in the wood, ripped free from her fingertips.
Instead of throwing open the closet door, I simply sat with the others. I was too afraid to see what might have been inside. Nothing or something, both possibilities frightened me equally.
“Let’s begin with the séance,” Jill suggested. She spoke in a barely audible whisper. “If we can get in contact with Sadie that way, we may be able to help her find her way back. Is everyone ready?”
We all nodded our agreement, some more readily than others. I have no idea how Jill and Jeff managed to convince everyone to return, to say nothing of attempting another séance. Actually, that’s not true. I knew how, it was Sadie. We all loved her, we all wanted her back. The small chance of success was worth all the risk.
One by one we stretched our hands toward the planchette and rested two fingertips on its surface. With this done, we stared up at Jill in anticipation. There was no question that she would be leading the séance.
“Spirits,” Jill began, still whispering but addressing the room. Her head was thrown back and her arms were stretched up toward the ceiling, her palms out. “Spirits we beseech you: If our friend, Sadie, is among you, let her speak to us. Sadie, will you speak to us?”
We stared intently at the board, trying not to will an answer but simply to concentrate on the question. That’s what Jill said to do the first time around. We stared. And Concentrated. Nothing. The planchette moved not an inch in any direction. Confused, we all started to mutter softly to one another until we were cut off by a severe gesture by Jill.
Jill opened her mouth to ask another question, but she was interrupted by a voice so loud I thought at first it must have been Eliza.
“Hello!?” The voice cried out.
We all jumped back, ready to scatter before the bedroom door could open. Ashton’s hands were already on the window frame when the voice called out again.
“Jeff? Where did you go?” It came from the closet!
“Sadie?!” Jeff and at least two of the others called out. I said nothing, I was speechless.
“Yes, it’s me! Duh!” She said, throwing open the closet door. She looked exactly the same as she did that night apart from hair that appeared tousled from Jeff’s hands. She glared at Jeff and said, “How the hell did you get out of the closet so fast? I know I’m not that bad at kissing, so what gives? And why are you all dressed like ninjas? Well?!”
Ashley was the first to find her voice, and said, “Sadie! What the hell happened? We were so worried about you! Where did you go?”
I think Sadie was starting to ask Ashley just what the heck she meant, but Ashley smothered her with a hug before she had the chance. Ashton followed closely behind, then Jeff, Khalil, and Jill. I was the last to break my shock paralysis, but Sadie jumped away as soon as my arms wrapped around her.
“Okay! Get off of me, all of you!” She yelped.
She addressed us all but she was staring at me when she said it, or rather she was staring at my wrist, the only part of my body to come into contact with her. Feeling hurt and uncomfortable, I adjusted the bracelet I wore on that wrist, cast iron beads on a leather cord.
The others bombarded her with questions, but I guess in all the excitement we forgot to be quiet. The door flew open, the overhead light clicked on, and there stood Mr. Carmichael. He had a shotgun in his hand and his eyes were blazing.
“What in the Sam Hell is going on in here?!” He bellowed, “I damn near blew all your goddamn heads off! What are you doing-”
His jaw dropped, having noticed Sadie standing among us.
“Hi, daddy,” she said with a flippant little wave.
“Sadie!” He cried, shoving the shotgun into my arms and rushing to her. “Doodlebug, where have you been?!”
“I’ve been here, daddy.” She said, looking as perplexed as when she first stepped out of the closet. “I’ve been here all night.”
With tears of relief rolling down his face, Mr. Carmichael held Sadie to his barrel chest, repeating her name over and over again. From behind them Eliza and Mrs. Carmichael emerged, tentatively at first and then with the same gusto Mr. Carmichael had shown. They all smothered a baffled Sadie in their affections while we stood by feeling like someone’s third wheel collection.
“Yo, we should go,” Khalil suggested. We nodded and began to slip away.
It was at this time that Mr. Carmichael remembered we were there, or perhaps his relief subsided just enough to remember to be angry again. His face began to redden before he even started yelling.
“So maybe you guys want to tell me what the hell happened here? The six of you were here with my daughter when she disappeared and now you six are here when she comes back? Would you care to explain that? Huh?!”
Jeff spoke up, “Mr. Carmichael, we don’t know what’s going on, we just-”
“You just what?” Mr. Carmichael cut him off, “you just thought you’d play a fucking joke on my family? Is that it? You sneak my daughter out of here, pretend like she fucking disappeared, give my family the scare of our lives, then sneak her back in here like nothing happened? Do you think that’s funny or something? Funny joke?!”
“It’s not a joke, sir,” Ashley cried, tears running down her face. She didn’t respond well to getting yelled at.
Ashton threw an arm over her shoulder and added, “We didn’t do anything, sir, we just wanted to…’
He trailed off. There wasn’t an explanation we could give that would sound sane. We were all standing around a Ouija board and three guttering aromatherapy candles. Sadie was alive and well and nowhere near the spirit world.
“You just wanted to what?!” Mr. Carmichael bellowed, “Never mind! I don’t want to hear it. You get your devil board and get the fuck out of my home. I don’t want to see a one of you around here again, you understand me? And right after I call the police and tell them my baby girl is safe and sound, you better believe I’m going to tell each and every one of your parents. Now get the fuck out of here!”
We didn’t need an engraved invitation, that was for damn sure. The six of us scrambled out of that house as fast as our feet could carry us. I was almost out the door before I realized I still had the shotgun in my arms and set it on the coffee table before dashing out the door.
I caught up with Jill and Jeff before sneaking back up to my room. The others had already scattered, back to their respective homes to face the music.
“So that was weird,” I said. “It was like-”
“Like she didn’t even know any time had passed,” Jill said. “Definitely weird.”
“Two weeks.” Jeff said, “How did she not, like, die of thirst?”
“No idea,” I said. “She didn’t look any worse for wear, that’s for damn sure.”
“Did you catch a whiff of her breath, though?” Jill asked. We shook our heads. “It smelled like she was living off a steady diet of dead mice and dog crap. I thought I was going to throw up.”
I laughed, but Jeff didn’t. Jeff looked more troubled than ever as if her grotesque analogy sparked a disturbing memory for him.
“I gotta go, guys,” He said, and dashed off for his house.
“I guess I better go too, Paul,” Jill said. “I guess you’ll be grounded for life after tonight, huh?”
“Yeah,” I said, rubbing the back of my head. “But this is good, right? Sadie’s back, safe and sound. I don’t know if we did anything to make it happen, but at least everything can go back to normal. No more freak show.”
“Totally,” Jill said, slapping my shoulder. “I’ll see you when you break free, dude.”
“Yeah.” I said, “I’ll see you then.”
She turned away, leaving me alone. I stared up at the moon. It was full that night, a bright silver coin in the sky. If Sadie was back, safe and sound, then why didn’t I feel like everything was all right? Why didn’t I feel like anything was all right?