Gone in the Morn
The flickering, tall candle flame licked the air like a gecko with a fiery tongue trying to catch a whiff of its surroundings – to sense the suffocation, the sweat, and the fear.
The creatures of the dark feed on the fear of others.
The soft, golden light smoothed the edges of everything it fell upon; the shadows were long and numerous. It was an illusion to make the eye miss the details of the mundane world, only so that the things unperceivable to the eye catch the attention of the summoner. A fragrance like a lullaby galloped across the room in nomadic steps.
If an old wives' tale were to come to life, this is what it would smell like.
The world outside was dark, the barrier between the worlds was said to be the thinnest this night of the year. A whisper, a call desperate enough and they would visit. An eye for an eye, they too would take something in return. Everything comes at a price, after all. The summoner touched the flame to the candles arranged in an intricate motif. The ritual had begun.
The chamber was scented, the robe was stainless. To make a claim on the spirits that drifted across the lands, there needed to be an invitation. The summoner took the long, glistening needle out of its case and pricked the tip of a finger. The blood turned a carmine shade under the yellow fire, and then dissolved into a delicate pattern in the water of the bowl. Next were the incantations, the same ancient words uttered for centuries to beseech the unexplained. The mirror would act as the window for communication, and for once it would not mock the one standing in front of it.
The rite was carried out word for word, and if all went well, there would be a sighting, at least. To or not to open the eyes was still the choice of the summoner. If they could hold on till daylight came, whatever did visit would leave.
A faint hum followed a ripple in the air. It was peculiar and familiar at the same time. Someone was either weeping softly or singing gently, there was no certain way to know. As the noise grew more intense, an uneasy feeling began to sprout in the pit of the summoner's stomach.
"Tuktuki!" A smooth, mischievous voice called out loud and clear, cutting across the stuffiness like Jell-O. The summoner jolted her eyes open. Her reflection in the mirror was still the same, but her throat felt like firewood. The person in the mirror slowly transformed from her to another woman with the same build and height, stormy grey hair, and wise, stern eyes.
"It's way past midnight! Why are you summoning spirits at this hour? Don't you have school tomorrow?" the woman spitballed at the summoner.
"I don't! I finished school, and college too," Taharat said, "Grandma? How are you here?"
"You called on me, didn't you?" the older lady squinted, "Wait. You didn't specifically call on me. Why didn't you? I'm hurt." She crossed her arms and huffed.
"Well, I – the possibility didn't really occur to me. I didn't think general spirits and dead relatives were in the same category," Taharat shrugged apologetically.
"So you need a spirit to do your bidding," Grandma said. "What's the task?"
"I'm not sure if this can be called a task. I want to pursue higher education in creative writing but I am fresh out of ideas so I thought –"
"So you thought a spirit who wanders between land and limbo with nothing to do would be a good place to start?"
"No, I –" Taharat halted. "Wait, that's what you do? Just float in nowhere?"
"No, it was a figure of speech," Grandma chortled. "We don't have a distinctive heaven or hell either, it's more like... an upscale, uptight neighbourhood and a more laid back one. I was placed in what you folks will call heaven, but it was..." Grandma stopped to shiver, "It was so boring."
Taharat giggled, "Boring?"
"Yes. Like you can't imagine. All the people there are so nice, too nice. All that happens are meetings about love, recovery and gratefulness. Everyone has this creepy smile plastered on their face. Everyone goes to bed by eight!"
"But, Grandma," Taharat asked cautiously. "They sound like good people. Why would you leave?"
"Oh, I didn't leave because of the people," Grandma waved her hand dismissively. "It was because of the food. High in vitamins, minerals, and very healthy. No junk food and no snacks, and absolutely no seasoning. It was horrifying."
Taharat vaguely remembered her grandmother's love for greasy, spicy food and nodded sombrely, "That must have been very hard for you."
"It's all good now. The people here are somewhat crude and sometimes mean but I take it all in good humour. And I cook for the troublemakers sometimes too, so they respect me," Grandma chuckled.
"It looks like you got yourself settled then," Taharat's gaze fell on the clock on the wall. "Grandma, the sun is going to come up soon."
"You haven't kept your side of the bargain, though. You owe me in exchange for my time. You have to pay a price for making a deal with the devil. Those are the rules," Grandma stated.
"Okay," Taharat replied. "What do I owe you?"
"Do you have one of those bottles of hot sauce? It would be great if you emptied one over an open fire under my name," Grandma beamed.
"Yeah, I can do that," nodded Taharat.
"Wonderful! I'll take my leave then."
Grandma seemed to notice the burnt-out candles scattered all over for the first time, "All this is flattering, but if you want to talk to me, just burn some chili flakes after midnight and tap on the mirror. Except for Wednesdays, though. Wednesday is game night."
"Goodbye, Grandma," Taharat waved, and realised her reflection was back.
"Oh, well," she said, and went on the quest for hot sauce.
Upoma Aziz is a slouching, crouching, grouchy goblin with a hoarding addiction. It's probably best if you do not contact her.