Chapter no 15

Hidden Pictures

The next morning, I tell Teddy that Adrian is coming to the house for a lunchtime pool party, and we get to work preparing a mighty picnic feast: grilled chicken sandwiches, pasta salad, fruit salad, and fresh-squeezed lemonade. Teddy proudly carries everything out to the pool deck and I open the patio umbrellas so we can dine in the shade.

I’ve already briefed Adrian on the plan, and he’s agreed to babysit Teddy while Mitzi and I attempt to use the spirit board. He arrives promptly at noon, dressed in a swimsuit and a red Scarlet Knights T-shirt, and Teddy runs across the pool deck to welcome him. Even though Teddy is less than four feet tall, he’s somehow figured out a way to open the child-proof gate. Then he puts on his maître d’ act, welcoming Adrian to our “restaurant” and escorting him to our table.

Adrian marvels at all the food on display. “I wish I could stay here and eat all day! But El Jefe only gives me an hour. After that he’ll come looking for me, and that won’t be good for any of us.”

“We’ll eat fast so we can swim,” Teddy tells him. “Then we can play Marco Polo!”

I give Adrian a ton of instructions. I repeatedly remind him that Teddy must wear his floaties, that the water’s too deep for him, even in the shallow end. I’m too nervous to eat anything. I keep glancing over at the cottage, where Mitzi has been working for the last hour or so, preparing for “the gathering.” She’s not positive the plan is going to work.

Under ideal circumstances, she says, Teddy would sit beside us at the spirit board. But she agrees that having Teddy some twenty yards away might be close enough, and that’s the only shot I’m willing to take.

Teddy is anxious to swim, so he eats only half a sandwich and says he’s not hungry anymore. And Adrian knows I’m ready to get started, so he eats quickly, then uses a single arm to scoop Teddy off the ground.

“Are you ready, Mr. T?”

Teddy shrieks and screams with delight. Now for the tricky part:

“Teddy, would you mind if Adrian watched you for a little while? I need to do something in my cottage.”

As I expected, Teddy goes totally bananas. He runs to the far end of the pool deck, waving his arms like a maniac, absolutely thrilled that Adrian—Adrian!!—is going to babysit. “Please watch him carefully. You can’t let him out of your

sight. Not for a second. If anything happens to him—”

“We’ll be fine,” Adrian promises. “It’s you that I’m worried about. Is this your first time using a Ouija board?”

“First time since middle school.”

“Be careful, okay? Yell if you need anything.”

I shake my head. “Don’t come anywhere near the cottage. Even if you hear us screaming. I don’t want Teddy to know what we’re doing. If he tells his parents, they’ll flip out.”

“But what if there’s a problem?”

“Mitzi says she’s done a hundred of these things. She says they’re totally safe.”

“What if Mitzi’s wrong?”

I assure him everything’s going to be okay but I’m not sure I sound very confident. Mitzi has already called my cell phone six times today, alerting me to important precautions and restrictions. She’s forbidden me from wearing any jewelry or perfume. No makeup, no hats or scarves, no open-toed shoes. She’s sounded more and more manic with

every conversation. She explained that she uses THC to “unblock” her neural pathways, and I worry all the cannabis has made her paranoid.

Teddy comes running back in our direction and slams into Adrian’s knees, nearly knocking him into the pool. “Are you ready yet? Can we swim now?”

“You guys have fun,” I tell them. “I’ll be back in a little bit.”



By the time I reach the cottage, Mitzi has finished her preparations. There’s a stack of reference books on my kitchen counter and she’s hung heavy black fabric over the windows to blot out all the sunlight. When I open the front door, blinking my eyes to adjust to the gloom, I catch her peeking outside and watching Adrian pull off his T-shirt. “Oh my my my. Where did you find this handsome Scarlet Knight?”

She doesn’t seem to recognize Adrian without his landscaping gear, doesn’t realize he’s the same man she profiled as a rapist just a few weeks earlier.

“He lives down the street.”

“And you trust him to watch the child? We won’t be disturbed?”

“We’ll be fine.”

I close the door, and it’s like sealing myself inside a tomb. The air is thick with the woodsy smell of burning sage; Mitzi explains this will reduce interference from unfriendly spirits. She’s placed a half dozen votive candles around the room, giving us just enough light to work by. There’s a black cloth draped over my kitchen table and the wooden spirit board sits in the middle, surrounded by a ring of tiny granular crystals. “Sea salt,” Mitzi explains. “Kind of an excess precaution, but since it’s your first time I’m not taking any chances.”

Before we start, Mitzi asks if she can review all the drawings I’ve received. At this point I’ve amassed quite a collection; earlier that morning, I’d awakened to find three new ones on the floor of my cottage, as if they’d been slipped under the front door.







Mitzi seems particularly troubled by the last drawing, by the profile of the woman’s face. She points to the silhouette on the horizon. “Who’s this person walking toward her?”

“I think she’s walking away from her.”

Mitzi shudders, struck by a chill, then shakes it off. “I guess we’ll just have to ask. Are you ready?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you have to go to the bathroom?” “No.”

“Is your cell phone turned off?” “Yes.”

“Then you’re ready.”

We take seats on opposite ends of the table. There’s a third chair between us—left empty for Anya. In the darkness of the cottage, it feels like I’ve left Spring Brook behind. Or rather, it feels like I’m in and out of Spring Brook at the same time. The air is different; it’s thicker, harder to breathe. I can still hear Teddy laughing and Adrian shouting “Cannonball!” and water splashing in the swimming pool but all these sounds are slightly distorted, like I’m hearing them over a bad phone connection.

Mitzi places a small heart-shaped planchette in the center of the board and invites me to rest my fingers on one side. The bottom of the planchette is equipped with three small wheels on tiny brass casters; the slightest touch makes it roll away from me. “Steady now, you don’t want to push it,” Mitzi says. “Let the tool do all the work.”

I flex my fingers, trying to relax them. “Sorry.”

Mitzi rests her fingers on the opposite side of the planchette. Then she closes her eyes.

“Okay, Mallory, I’m going to start the conversation. I’ll make contact. But once we have a good rapport, I’ll let you ask your questions. For now, just close your eyes and relax.” I’m nervous and a little self-conscious, but Mitzi’s voice is reassuring. I find myself mirroring her, matching her posture and breathing. The incense relaxes my muscles and quiets

my thoughts. All my everyday worries and concerns—Teddy, the Maxwells, running, sobriety—everything starts falling away.

“Welcome, spirits,” Mitzi says, and I jolt back in my seat, startled by the volume of her voice. “This is a safe space. We welcome your presence. We invite you to join us in conversation.”

Outside the cottage, I can still hear the sounds of the swimming pool—the sounds of frenzied kicking and splashing. But then I concentrate harder and manage to block them out. I relax my fingertips, keeping contact with the planchette without applying any pressure.

“Annie Barrett, we wish to speak with Annie Barrett,” Mitzi says. “Are you there, Annie? Can you hear us?”

The longer I sit in the hard wood-backed chair, the more I’m aware of all the points where it contacts my body—the seat beneath my bottom, the crossrail pressing on my shoulder blades. I study the plan-chette, waiting for the slightest signs of movement. The burning sage crackles and pops.

“How about Anya? Is there an Anya present? Can you hear us, Anya?”

My eyelids feel heavy and I allow myself to close them. I feel like I’m being hypnotized, or like I’ve reached those final moments at the end of the day, when I’m lying in a warm bed under a comfortable blanket, ready to drift off to sleep.

“Are you there, Anya? Will you speak with us?” No answer.

I don’t hear the noises in the backyard anymore. All I hear is Mitzi’s labored breathing.

“Let us help you, Anya. Please. We’re listening.”

And then something brushes the back of my neck. As if a person has passed behind my chair. I turn and no one’s there—but when I look back at the Ouija board, I feel someone behind me, leaning over me. Soft long hair falls

past my cheek, grazing my shoulder. And then an invisible weight pushes down on my hand—a gentle, prodding pressure, nudging the planchette forward. One of its wheels makes a tiny squeak, like the soft cry of a mouse.

“Welcome, spirit!” Mitzi smiles at me, and I realize she has no idea what’s happening; she clearly doesn’t see or sense whatever’s behind me. “Thank you for answering our call!”

Warm breath tickles the back of my neck and goose bumps spread across my skin. There’s more pressure on my hand and wrist, guiding the planchette across the board in slow sweeping circles.

“Is this Anya?” Mitzi asks. “Are we speaking with Anya?”

The board is illustrated with a standard alphabet and the numbers zero to nine, and the top corners have the words YES and NO. I watch passively, spectating, as the planchette stops briefly at the letter I, then moves back to and then

E. Mitzi keeps four fingers on the planchette, but she’s holding a pencil in her free hand to transcribe the results on a notepad: I-G-E? Sweat beads across her forehead. She glances at me and shakes her head, undaunted.

“Speak slowly, spirit,” she says. “We have plenty of time.

We wish to understand you. Is this Anya?”

The planchette moves to and then and then O. “You’re leaning,” Mitzi whispers, irritated, and I realize

she’s talking to me. “What?”

“On the table. You’re pushing, Mallory.” “It’s not me.”

“Sit back in your chair. Sit up straight.”

I’m too scared to argue with her, to tell her the truth. I don’t want to interrupt whatever’s happening.

“Spirit, we welcome your message! We welcome any information you’d like to share.”

There’s more pressure on my hand and the planchette moves faster, veering across the board, stopping at one

random letter after another, a string of spiritual static: L-V-A-J-X-S. Mitzi is still recording everything but she seems more and more annoyed. The results look like alphabet soup.

The wood planchette is thrumming with energy, like the racing heartbeat of a small frightened animal. It’s flying all over the board and Mitzi can barely keep up with her one-handed annotations. The air is so thick it’s suffocating; my eyes are watering and I don’t know why my smoke detector isn’t going off. Then Mitzi lifts her fingers and the planchette keeps moving. My hand pushes it across the board and it flies off the edge of the table, clattering to the floor. Mitzi stands up, furious. “I knew it! You were pushing! This whole time, you were pushing!”

All the weight leaves my hand and suddenly I’m out of the trance. The room snaps back into focus. It’s twelve forty-five Wednesday afternoon and I can hear Adrian out in the backyard counting “Six Mississippi, Seven Mississippi…” and Mitzi is glaring at me.

“Anya did that. Not me.”

“I watched you, Mallory. I saw you!” “Eight Mississippi!”

“Anya moved my hand. She was guiding me.”

“This isn’t a slumber party. It’s not a game. This is my livelihood, I take it very seriously!”

“Nine Mississippi!”

“You’ve wasted my time. You’ve wasted the whole day!”

And suddenly I’m blinking into the daylight. The door to my cottage has swung open and little Teddy is standing on the porch, peering into the darkness. He raises a finger to his lips, gesturing for us to be quiet. Out in the backyard, Adrian calls out, “Ten Mississippi! Ready or not, here I come!”

Teddy ducks inside and quietly closes the door. Then he looks around the cottage, marveling at the votive candles and the blacked-out windows and my kitchen table with its ring of sea salt. “What are you playing?”

“Honey, this is called a spirit board,” Mitzi says, inviting him to take a closer look. “In the right hands, it’s a tool for communication. To speak with the dead.”

Teddy looks to me for confirmation, like he can’t believe Mitzi is telling the truth. “Really?”

“No, no, no.” I’m already out of my chair and guiding him back to the door. “It’s just a toy. Just a game.” The last thing I need is Teddy telling his parents about a séance. “We were just pretending. It’s not real.”

“It’s very real,” Mitzi says. “If you respect its powers. If you take it seriously.”

I open the door and see Adrian across the yard, searching for Teddy in the trees along Hayden’s Glen. “Over here,” I call out.

He comes jogging over and Teddy darts past my legs, sprinting across the grass, still caught up in their game of hide-and-seek.

“Sorry about that,” Adrian says. “I told him to stay on the pool deck. I hope he didn’t ruin anything.”

“It was already ruined,” Mitzi says. She’s gathering her things, snuffing out candles and collecting trays of incense. “There are no spirits in this cottage. There never were. This is just a story she’s made up to get attention.”

“Mitzi, that is not true!”

“I’ve used this board a hundred times. It’s never acted this way.”

“I swear to you—”

“Swear to your Scarlet Knight here, okay? Cry on his shoulder and maybe he’ll feel sorry for you. But don’t ask me to waste any more time.”

She shoves her books into her bag and then storms past me, nearly tripping as she descends the stairs of my cottage.

“What just happened?” Adrian asks.

“Anya was here, Adrian. She was inside the cottage. I swear to you, I could feel her standing over me. Moving my

arm. But the letters were gibberish. We couldn’t spell anything. And then right in the middle Mitzi lost her shit. She started screaming at me.”

We watch from the porch as Mitzi wobbles across the lawn, veering left and then overcompensating to the right, unable to maintain a straight line.

“Is she all right?” Adrian asks.

“Well, she’s pretty high, but supposedly that’s part of her process.”

A dejected Teddy comes walking across the yard. He seems to understand that something bad has happened, that the grown-ups are upset. In a hopeful voice, he asks, “Does anyone want to chase me?”

Adrian apologizes for leaving but says he has to go. “I need to get back or El Jefe will flip.”

“I can chase you,” I tell Teddy. “Just give us a minute.”

Clearly this isn’t the answer Teddy wants. He trudges across the yard to the pool patio, unhappy with both of us.

“Are you going to be all right?” Adrian asks.

“I’m fine. I just hope Teddy doesn’t say anything to his parents.”

But I’m pretty sure he will.

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