Katherine emerged from the den, copies of the ritual in hand, one for each of the women who’d forgotten to print up and bring their own despite having been reminded in emails the night before. She handed one to Sharon and put the other in front of where Amy would be sitting. The third, her original, she set in the music stand she’d be reading from.“Okay, I’ve highlighted your lines in pink, Sharon, and yours in Green, Amy. Mine are blue.”
“Will this work with only three people?” Sharon asked.
Amy circled around the other women, brandishing a bundle of burning sage leaves, its smoky aroma filling the room. “Three is actually better than five. It’s a stronger number.”
“How?” Sharon asked.
“It’s just magically more powerful.” Amy drew the sage up and down in front of and behind Sharon.
“Good things happen in threes, right?”
“I’ve read that.” Katherine had actually done quite a bit of research since welcoming Amy and her faith into the Book Club. It was a bit of a rabbit hole, actually — there was a lot more to this whole ‘paganism’ thing than she’d thought. “And we don’t need their negative attitudes anyway.”
Amy put the smoldering remains of the sage into an ash tray and picked up her copy of the ritual. “This isn’t the prayer I sent you.”
“It’s still in there,” Katherine said. “I just spruced up the opening and closing.”
“What was wrong with my opening?” Amy sounded hurt.
“Nothing,” Katherine tapped the page with her finger. “I used most of what you sent me, see? But I was thinking after we spoke yesterday that Southern Illinois is called Little Egypt, right?”
“Right?” Amy put a hand on her hip.
“So I looked around online for something a little more… Egyptian. I found a bunch of Facebook groups, and they were able to point me to some PDFs, so I added a little bit of what I found.” In truth Katherine felt that Amy lacked the imagination and ambition to really look for anything beyond the most basic rituals, but she’d never in a million years tell the girl. And really, that’s what Amy was — a girl. Barely in her twenties. A baby, really.
“You can’t just bolt random parts from different rituals together,” Amy protested.
“We took Ronnie to the Field Museum up in Chicago when she was little, and she really loved the mummies and stuff,” Sharon said. “I think she’d like that.”
“Okay,” Amy said. “That’s what’s important. This is for you, Sharon.”
“Thank you,” Sharon said. “Can we get started?”
Katherine checked her phone. “Okay, we have an hour before Jayden gets home, that should be plenty of time.” She navigated through her mp3s until she found the one with the drums she’d liked, then set it alongside her paper on the music stand.
“Did you bring the chalice?” Amy asked, stooping to pet Mr. Sprinkles as the calico rubbed against her ankles.
Sharon nodded, pulling a small copper bowl out of her purse. “This belonged to Luis’s abuela. She was a bruja.” The Spanish words were spoken with an exaggerated accent, Sharon’s attempt to mimic her husband’s pronunciation.
“Do you want to ask her for help with the ritual?” Amy asked.
“Can we do that?” Sharon asked.
“Of course!” Amy smiled.
“Okay. Her name was Vallia.”
Amy closed her eyes and spoke as if reciting. “Vallia Lopez…”
“Yes, she was a Lopez,” Sharon said.
“…blood of Sharon’s blood, come down from above, wish your great-granddaughter well with the ringing of this bell.” Amy picked up a small bell from the table and gave it three twitches. “Grace us with your wisdom in finding our lost lamb.”
“Did you make that up yourself?” Katherine asked.
“Can I move on to the ritual?”
“Yeah, that was it. Can you feel Vallia’s presence?” Amy asked.
Sharon closed her eyes briefly. “I think so.”
“Join hands.” Katherine held her left out to Amy, her right to Sharon. Her voice rose as she read from the ritual she’d found.
“Mother of the Gods, the One, the Only,
Mistress of the sands,Wrathful and Beloved,
Daughter of the Sun with flame and fury,
Flashing from the prow upon your prey;
Safe we are with Your protection,
Safe we pass where your fires glow.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Katherine could see that Mr. Sprinkles had stopped grooming herself and had sat up to attention, almost as if watching the ritual. How funny. The other women had grown silent and still, closing their eyes even though she hadn’t asked them to. Good for them, getting into the spirit of things.
“We cower in darkness until your light appears,
Sending us comfort from your Silent Throne,
Beloved Bast, banish our fears,
Trampling down all evil and strife.”
The air had grown as still and silent as Sharon and Amy, and suddenly Katherine’s skin felt very tight. She felt lightheaded, almost dreamy, and the words were spilling from her mouth almost as if of their own accord, as if someone else was inside her chest chanting them up her throat.
“Mother of the Gods, the Great, the Beloved,
Winged and Mighty, unto You we call,
Naming You the Comforter, the Ruler,
Bast, beloved, Mother of us all,
We beg you for your aid in our time of sorrow,
Find our lost child—”
There was a sudden flash as the candles on the table flared up, their flames far more intense than what the wicks were capable of, carrying with them a burst of an exotic floral scent.
Katherine heard — though perhaps ‘heard’ wasn’t the right word for it — a low woman’s voice chanting in a language she didn’t understand or recognize. Still, she knew, just knew, that it was asking her a question, and while she didn’t know what it was, she knew the answer.
“Yes.” She spoke in three voices, Amy and Sharon slurring the world along with her. Neither woman really seemed aware of what was going on, but for some reason Katherine didn’t find any of it alarming.
Something moved behind her… she couldn’t turn and look, but it’d been there, a presence, since the second verse of her ritual. Whatever it was, was silent and moved with such speed that the candles on the coffee table were extinguished, taking with them the trance-like state.
Sharon’s eyes were wide and frightened. “What… what was that?”
“I don’t know!” Amy seemed on the verge of tears.
Sharon turned towards Katherine. “What did you do?”
Katherine’s mouth opened and closed, but she couldn’t make the words. She couldn’t speak… she felt so small, so insignificant in that moment, having just touched, just brushed against… whatever that was. At that moment, Katherine didn’t know if she’d ever speak again.