Plum directed Delilah to a site across town. When she finally told her to pull over, everyone looked around in bewildered silence. Plum smiled broadly.
“Well come on then. What are you waiting for, an engraved invitation to the battle? Everyone get out. Let’s get this show on the road.”
Delilah looked at her sideways, “Where exactly are we going? There’s nothing here but some burned out hulk of a building surrounded by a weed choked field.”
“You just answered your own question.”
Plum got out and everyone hesitantly followed suit. Beastie brought up the rear of the party, sniffing curiously at the ground as they walked. Plum made a big show of pulling open the enormous, scarred wrought iron gate, ignoring the ear-splitting squeal of rusted joints. They traversed the crumbling walkway to the top of the steep hill, where blasted apart, crumbling walls perched, jutting out from the scorched earth helter skelter. The burned grass had never grown back. Only the most hardy weeds grew in the dry, unfertile ground. The group wound their way through piles of blackened wood and melted hunks of metal. Delilah suddenly rushed forward and grabbed Plum’s shoulder.
“Wait a second. I know where we are. This is where the old insane asylum stood. I hear it was a horrible place, that did far more damage to people than good. It was like a prison. The mayor finally closed it, after that little girl drowned in the tub. It was vacant for years and then some vagrants accidentally set fire to the place, trying to stay warm by lighting a fire in a fireplace with a blocked chimney. You’re going to cheat and try to conjure up some poltergeist aren’t you?”
“That wouldn’t that be cheating, since we all have the same opportunities. Now would it? Just to make sure everything is fair and above-board, I’ll even let you and your ragtag band of misfits have a head start. Go ahead and form your magic circle, or whatever it is you do.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Plum was laying her cards on the table face up! What hope did she have of winning, if they knew her game plan? Delilah could scarcely contain her glee as she herded her crew out of our earshot, to begin their ritual.
“What the hell are you doing? Delilah is going to use your idea against you,” I whispered fiercely.
“That wasn’t my idea. It was hers.”
“But…oh, I see…you had me worried. So what’s the plan.”
“I plan on sitting back and enjoying the show. These idiots couldn’t spell cast their way out of a paper bag.”
“What about the poltergeist? We’re on cursed ground. I can feel it. Surely it won’t take much know-how to awaken some evil spirit. You have no plan and no weapons. All I see in your hands is a bottle of water. Please tell me you have a wand concealed in that jacket,” I said hopefully.
“Awakening a poltergeist and controlling it are two very different things.”
“Somehow, I don’t find that reassuring. You have no plan and no weapons. I don’t think Beastie would be a match for a poltergeist.”
“Relax Patricia, here sit next to me on this concrete slab and enjoy the show. Look, at those fools trying to cast the magic circle with the debris. Do you see what I see?”
“I dunno, what do you see? They’re making a big circle on the ground and chanting something. What’s wrong with that?”
Plum laughed uproariously and slapped her thigh, “If you can’t see what they’re doing wrong, then I’m not going to ruin the surprise.”
The group spread out in the circle, closed their eyes, and joined hands. Their voices raised in unison, repeating a mantra which I couldn’t make out, and then settled into an unintelligible murmur which vibrated in my ears.
Plum looked at me with her eyebrows raised in amusement, “they’re standing inside the circle. That’s an…interesting choice.”
“I thought that’s what they were supposed to do.”
“You have a lot to learn Patricia. I guess now is as good a time as any to start schooling you. Magic circles can be used in a variety of ways, but there are two basic purposes they serve; protection or amplification of power. These amateurs are conjuring up a malevolent spirit. Which purpose do you think the circle should be serving?”
“Well, protection of course. But I still don’t understand what you’re getting at.”
“Think of the circle as a containment field. Standing inside of it, when you are conjuring up a dangerous entity, is like being caged with a wild lion.”
Delilah spoke again, arms raised and spread wide overhead.
“I call upon the guardians of the underworld for assistance. Let the power of my sisters punch through the earth and pierce the veil between this world and the next. Come up to us who call you near. Come to us and stay right here. Help us take vengeance upon our foe…”
The ground beneath us trembled slightly. The vibrations gradually became more pronounced, as the voices of the coven rose. Then all sound was swallowed in a violent wind, which seemed to sweep in from nowhere. I stood and took a terrified step backwards, not wanting to see whatever was coming but, unable to tear my eyes away from the energy foaming up in the middle of the coven’s circle. Plum’s lack of concern angered me.
“Don’t just sit there Plum. Do something, before they unleash that thing on us!”
Plum grinned and pressed a finger to her lips. She directed my attention to the cast circle on the ground. Some of the energy appeared to be leaking out of the circle.
“What’s happening,” I asked.
“Those fools used bits of debris to create the circle. In their haste, they failed to ensure that the line was unbroken.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that whatever they’re conjuring up can escape, if their mental image of the circle is not strong enough to keep it sealed shut.”
“What? So…it might come after us?”
“I won’t let it get that far. Why do you think I’ve been sitting here conserving my energy? Whatever they conjure up will try to break free. They will be the first targets. It will attempt to destroy or enslave them, in order to stop them from banishing it. Let’s just see what they can do.”
The coven was so focused on the activity inside the circle, they failed to notice tendrils of energy bleeding through the broken circle and slowly creeping upward like wild vines, sprouting appendages. The energy foaming up in the at the center of the enchanted circle began to flow downward and forming itself into a human form. It solidified into spirit of a small girl, wearing a hospital gown. I could tell Delilah and her crew were disappointed. What were they supposed to do with a child?
Delilah attempted to shoo the spirit away, waving her hand dismissively, so that they could conjure up something more fearsome. The spirit’s anger was instantaneous. She let loose with a blood curdling scream, that I could still hear with my fingers jammed in my ears. The ground underneath her suddenly fell away, opening a chasm. Delilah had to jump back onto solid ground. A column of luminous, blue spectral energy exploded through the opening, like a Roman candle firework. The coven was knocked backwards. Some of them stumbled outside of the circle.
Plum snickered, “the circle is officially broken.”
They stood slowly, steadying one another. After a stunned moment, they shouted excitedly in celebration of their skill at conjuring up so much power. Delilah shot us a triumphant look in our direction and flipped Plum off.
I could see the shadowy form of the child at the center of the eruption. Her scream increased in volume and force, whipping the spectral energy into a cyclone around her. Debris from the ground around them was drawn towards the whirling mass. Increasingly large objects were sucked in, due to the growing force of the twister. I noticed coven members getting pulled and then dragged towards the gash in the ground which continued to widen, like a hungry maw. Delilah was as helpless as the others. They frantically looked over at us, calling out to Plum for help. She waited until they said they were surrendering to her.