I disconnected the call and went to bed. I was tired but couldn’t sleep. Hiromi’s words kept replaying in my mind. The idea that Plum was a witch still seemed like a joke. So, why wasn’t I laughing? Every time I convinced myself that Hiromi was just yanking my chain, I remembered that odd crawling sensation inside my skull when I answered Plum’s cell phone. By degrees, the idea of her being a witch became less and less far-fetched. There were probably a lot of inexplicable things and people in the world about which I, with my sheltered upbringing, knew nothing.
Once the idea of Plum being a witch seemed plausible, I lay in the darkness replaying every encounter with her, searching for some glaring clue or subtle hint that I could have overlooked. Mr. Canfield’s smirking face came swimming into my thoughts and his sardonic voice, “You look but you don’t see…” With a pang, I recalled the instant connection I felt to Plum. Normally, I kept everyone at arm’s length out of a sense of self-preservation. My instincts about people were usually pretty accurate. At least, they were up until I met Plum.
The next thought struck me like a bolt of lightning. How had she gained my trust so easily? Half the time I didn’t trust myself, let alone some stranger. Plum had seemed completely out of place in the dingy, rundown coffeehouse. She already admitted that she had targeted me for her real estate scam. What if she singled me out for far more than that? I had been a little cautious at first, but then something had suddenly breeched my defenses. Plum was friendly and charming, but a lot of people acted that way when I first met them.
I replayed our first meeting in my mind over and over, focusing on every little detail, trying to recall exactly how I felt from one minute to the next. Exhaustion began intruding on my thoughts causing me to drift somewhere between wakefulness and slumber. In my mind’s eye, I saw the gold lighter in Plum’s hand. The way the light flashed on it and…I gasped, suddenly recalling a brief stab of pain in my head as I stared at the play of light on the gleaming square of gold. It had been so subtle that I had forgotten all about it!
Could Plum have done something to me in that moment? I dimly recalled having read something about hypnosis in a magazine years ago. Maybe she had somehow entranced me. I tried to recall what we were talking about, when I felt that pinprick of pain in my brain and couldn’t. I realized that I had spent a lot of time looking at the lighter and noticing the flash of light on Plum’s dark, glossy nail polish. Those were all moments when there seemed to be gaps in my memory.
I sat bolt upright in bed, my eyes wide with alarm. Plum had entered my life at such a dark moment that I had been sickeningly grateful for the companionship. I naturally assumed that the deep-seated longing that suddenly welled up in me during that first meeting and intensified over the days that followed was born of the loneliness that had dogged me my whole life. Looking back at it now, I could not fathom what had drawn me so strongly to Plum.
Yes, I admired her and would have liked to be her. But by the same token, I would have loved to be just about anyone other than myself because there was no resolution in sight to my problems. Now it seemed odd that right after meeting Plum, I felt as though I couldn’t live without her. Why? She hadn’t been particularly kind or affectionate. On the contrary, she could sometimes be cold and manipulative. Being away from her for a brief amount of time seemed to have cured me of my blind devotion. Thinking about her now, I felt curiously devoid of emotion. The only real anger I felt was at myself for being so blind and trusting.
In the midst of these musings, I drifted off. At some point, in the wee hours of the morning, I got up and went to the bathroom. Exhaustion made me feel groggy. I was washing my hands at the sink when I noticed light seeping in under the door. All the lights were off in the apartment. Instantly, I was wide awake. Had someone broken in while I was in the bathroom? My sleep deprived mind conjured up images of Manny. Irrational fear stabbed at my chest. Had he found me? I backed away from the door. It took me a few moments to steady my nerves and get my feet moving forward again.
I decided the best plan of attack was to move quickly, before I lost my nerve. I yanked the door open and bounded into the bedroom. The sight that greeted me nearly made my knees buckle. Tammy was standing on the opposite side of the bed with her hair aflame. Her tormented screams were piercing. I didn’t notice the smoke or the heavy odor of burning hair until my coughing jag started.
All at once, the smoke detector shrilled. Tammy looked startled and dissipated like a puff of smoke. I ran through the apartment, making sure she was gone before grabbing a broom and using the handle to depress the button on the smoke detector. When it wouldn’t stop sounding, I knocked the cover off and climbed on a kitchen chair, jumping up and down to reach the battery. I began coughing uncontrollably and nearly fell.
I luxuriated in the silence before opening all the windows in the apartment. What the hell had just happened? Tammy was dead. I saw her die! Just thinking about it gave me chills. The temptation to hightail it out of there was overwhelming. I needed to talk to someone, so I called Hiromi. She didn’t sound happy to hear from me.
“What the hell? The world had better be ending, ’cause that’s the only justifiable reason you could give for waking me up again!”
“It feels like the world just ended. I just saw a ghost and…”
“You saw a what?”
“A ghost…it was a woman who died fighting me yesterday.”
“You mean you killed somebody?”
“No, she was actually trying to kill me when her hair and clothes caught on fire. You probably think I’m crazy, but I swear she was standing right in front of me just now with her hair on fire again. The smoke even set off the smoke detector!”
“I know you’re not crazy, but in some ways it would be easier if you were. At least you could get help for that. From the looks of things, Plum has put a poisoned fruit curse on you.”
“It’s basically a revenge spell. In stealing the chit from her, you stole the fruit of her labor. So now, the spirits of those you have wronged will come after you.”
“But I didn’t do anything to Tammy. She was trying to kill me! Her death was an accident.”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s all about the other person’s perception of what you did. It’ll be the same for the other spirits.”
“So, how do I get rid of them?”
“You have to figure out what they want and make things right with them.”
“How am I supposed to figure out what Tammy wants? I’m guessing she wanted me to put out the flames. Somehow, I don’t see that happening now.”
“It’s not about the fire anymore. The flames you saw were a manifestation of her purgatory.”
“What do you mean?”
“Purgatory is like a state of suffering for souls that need purifying in order for her to get into heaven.”
“I can’t help her with that, so what does she want from me?”
“You’ll have to figure that out for yourself. Given the suddenness of her death, there’s probably something she wants you to finish that she left undone.”
“How am I supposed to communicate with a ghost who doesn’t talk? All she does is scream like a banshee.”
“I guess you’ll have to get creative. If she can’t communicate with you telepathically then you’ll have to use hand gestures or something. It may take a few tries to figure out what works. Spirits that have recently crossed over are usually confused and angry or afraid. That sometimes makes it harder to figure out what they’re trying to tell you.”
“I…I can’t do this Hiromi. If I see that…her again, I think I’ll lose my mind! I damn near fainted just now! My nerves are still jangling.”
“Well, you’ll have to find a way to do it Patricia. You have no choice. Tammy and the others will keep coming back until you make things right by honoring their wishes.”
“Why can’t you just tell me how to break the curse?”
“Why can’t you just figure out how clean up your own messes?”
“I shouldn’t have to because, this is partially your fault Hiromi! You talked me into stealing that damn chit.”
“Did I twist your arm? You are a grown woman Patricia! Stop trying to play the victim. You knew what you were doing when you stole the thing. Didn’t it occur to you that Plum would get angry? Did you really think she would just let it go?”
“Of course not, but what I didn’t know was that she’s a witch. Somehow, you neglected to mention that little tidbit, before I stole the chit.”
“That still amazes me. How can you live with a person and have no clue about what they’re up to?”
“I don’t know, maybe she entranced me or something.”
“Whatever, look I’m tired and this conversation is beginning to bore me…”
“Don’t hang up! Hiromi, I don’t mean to be a pain in the ass but I’m a fish out of water here. I don’t know the first thing about witchcraft. I need your help. She’s your sister, can’t you talk to her?”
“Plum isn’t my sister. What made you think we were related?”
“You look just like her.”
“What are you…oh yeah, I guess I need to explain something. The night that we met at that party, I was cloaked in a glamour spell.”
“A what spell?”
“A glamour spell. It disguises your appearance by making people see what they want to see when they look at you. Using a spell was the only way I could approach you without her recognizing me.”