I wouldn’t quibble with a vampire about the existence of ghosts. It seemed like a doomed argument. And Nana Fee had all but told me she would come back to haunt me if I didn’t accept her task. I sincerely hoped that she’d run out of postmortem steam with her otherworldly reminders and had moved on to the next plane.
“Wait, ghosts can date?”
“Apparently,” Jane said. “The pair of them stuck around for almost a year. Until they both decided that it was time for them to move on. They couldn’t define it, and I don’t want to try to explain it, but wherever that is, we aren’t supposed to be able to contact them.”
“So why are you telling me this?”
“We aren’t ‘supposed’ to be able to contact them, but that doesn’t mean we can’t. I haven’t tried yet because I wanted to respect their wishes. But I figured between a vampire mind-reader and a witch, we might have enough mojo to make a connection for an emergency call.”
I grimaced, thinking of my surreal chat with Mr. Wainwright in the panda dream. If that was the sort of conversation I could expect, I wasn’t sure I wanted to make that call. Of course, it might be different, since, ostensibly, we would be speaking to Mr. Wainwright and not my imagination’s version of him. I hoped it would be different. I didn’t think my imagination was being very kind to him.
Then again, Ouija boards weren’t something my family toyed with. We respected the life cycle. While it was often devastating, death was as much of the process as life, so it didn’t make sense to bother a spirit after the person had moved on. For Nana Fee’s sake, I hoped she’d moved on. I didn’t like the thought of her hovering around semirural Kentucky just in case I needed her. “So, what, we’re going to break out a Ouija board and leave him a voice mail?”
Jane shook her head vehemently. “No, no Ouija boards. The channel is too wide open. You don’t know whom you’re inviting into your emotional space. Plus, every scary story that ever started with a Ouija board ended in bloody, grisly death. Or getting in touch with Jim Morrison.”
“Does this conversation seem circular to you?” I asked Andrea. She shushed me.
“I think we need this.” Jane held up an oddly shaped hunk of red plastic.
Andrea tilted her head. “Is that a—”
“A twenty-sided die from my parents’ Scattergories game, yes,” Jane said. “I figured we would ask questions while we roll the dice. We would have just as good a chance of getting a message spelled out this way, maybe without the spooky ironic death messages.”
“How is this different from a Ouija board?” I asked.
“Well, we’re not going to keep our hands in constant, sustained contact with this. Less chance of the wrong spirits getting a connection.”
“You just pulled that explanation out of your bum, didn’t you?”
“It’s a total rationalization,” she admitted. “But it’s all I can think of.”
“I’m leaving before one of us gets possessed by the spirit of an evil prom queen,” Andrea said, turning on her heel toward the door. Jane and I caught her through the elbows and dragged her back. Jane flipped the sign on the door to “Closed,” which made sense. I would hate to walk into a bookstore and find the staff trying to commune with the dead.
As we sat around one of the coffee tables, prepping the “board,” Jane turned off the lights and lit a few candles for the right ambience. Gabriel shared a commiserating look with me. “I’m only here because Jane thought it would be strange to leave a seat open at a four-person séance table. Which only goes to show that some of the etiquette lessons her grandma tried to hammer into her skull took root.”
“Bite your tongue,” Jane warned him.
“And I would like to go on record as saying this is a stupid idea and will only lead to trouble,” Andrea said.
“Noted,” Jane said, handing her a notebook. “Now, you take down the messages. You have the neatest handwriting.”
Andrea grumbled, “Yes, because penmanship is going to make a huge difference when we accidentally contact that demon from The Exorcist.”
Jane ignored her. “OK, Nola, have you ever done any meditation or visualization exercises?”
“Oh, good.” She sighed. “They’re for hippies. What we’re going to do is close our eyes and clear our minds.”
Andrea rolled her eyes but complied with Jane’s instructions. I exhaled slowly through my nose. I tried to picture myself standing in a bright, white room, empty of people, colors, and sound. But I kept thinking about Jed, about my grandmother, about the Elements.
Jane cleared her throat. “Clear your head, Nola.”
“I am,” I whispered.
“No, you’re not. I can tell, remember?”
I harrumphed, which made Andrea snicker.
“I want you to picture Mr. Wainwright. His gray hair is all frizzy and standing off of his head like he’s been struck by lightning. He’s smiling, because he thought he’d lost his glasses again, but they were just stuck on top of his head. Can you see him?”
“So talk to him.”
“I feel silly,” I whispered.
“Mr. Wainwright has seen us do far stupider things than this,” Andrea muttered. “Someday we’ll show you all the pictures from the Halloween party.”
“Gilbert Wainwright,” I called. “This is your granddaughter. I need your help. Please, wherever you are, please come closer to this place, where you used to spend so much time, and speak to your friends.”
I sighed and rolled the dice several times. The letters spelled absolute nonsense. Sheepishly, I told Jane, “I feel ridiculous.”
“G.R.F.K.B.,” Jane said. “Maybe it’s a Klingon ghost?”
Andrea buried her face in her hands and dropped her forehead onto the table. I giggled and took the die. “Please,” I whispered, completely sincere. “I really need help. I don’t know what I’m doing. Anything I’ve managed to accomplish is the result of blind stinking luck. I could really use a clue or a hint or something.”
“K.J.O.W.P.L.,” Jane said as I rolled the die.
“Come on!” I cried. “My grandmother made a glowing moon appear against my ceiling. You can’t play a silly word game with me?”
“S.O.R.R.Y.,” Jane read, grinning widely and jostling Andrea’s arm while she bounced up and down in her seat. “Mr. Wainwright? Thanks for talking to us. We miss you. Is Aunt Jettie OK?”
“Aw, that’s nice,” Jane said. “Tell her I love her, too.”
“Very sweet,” I agreed. “It’s nice to, uh, meet you. Mr. Wainwright, I’m sorry to cut to the chase, but I’m afraid we could lose this connection any second. I need to find the objects Nan—Fiona gave you.”
Gabriel’s eyebrows shot up, his hand gripping Jane’s even more tightly. “Not Gilbert?”
“I told you!” Andrea hissed. “This way leads to pea-soup vomiting and madness.”
“Who are you?” Gabriel asked.
“Nana Fee?” I shouted.
I couldn’t seem to find words or air. I’d missed my grandmother so much, and here she was, talking to me through a silly party game. Even though I’d had time to prepare for her death, there were still so many things I wanted to say to her. I felt the tears trail down my cheeks. Jane slipped her arm around my shoulder and squeezed me against her side.
Jane rolled the die again. “M.O.T.H.E.R.”
“My mother’s dead,” I whispered to Jane.
“Maybe it’s mother as in my mama?” Jane said.
“Well, your mother had the candle. Maybe she’s referring to that,” I said. “Yes, Nana, we know Jane’s mother’s had the candle. Do you know where we might find the other three?”
“M.O.T.H.E.R.,” I said after we rolled the dice and it spelled the same word.
“G.” Jane said. “A.G.A. Was your nana a Lady Gaga fan?”
Glaring, I took the die and rolled. “D.E.S.K.”
“Mother Gaga desk?” I said. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“L.O.V.E.,” Andrea said, after rolling the die. “Aw, that’s nice.”
“Love you, too,” I told her. “And please, don’t stick around this plane for me. I need to know that you’ve moved on to a better place. And that you’re happy.”
Gabriel rolled nothing but As over the next few minutes.
“It would seem your grandma took your advice,” Andrea said, nudging it with her pen.
We tried rolling the die again but ended up with more nonsense Klingon words.
“I think that’s all we’re going to get out of her. I’m sorry I put you through all this, Nola. I don’t think we got a lot of usable information,” Jane said, pushing up from the table.
Andrea grabbed her wrist and dragged her back into her chair. “Sit down!” Andrea yelped. “You don’t leave the table without closing the circle, the portal, the connection, or whatever. Otherwise, the spirit can attach itself to you like a parasite and hitch a ride to your house.”
“What movies have you been watching?” I asked.
“You are on a strict regimen of the Oprah network after this,” Jane told her. “No more Celebrity Ghost Stories for you.”
“Please?” Andrea pleaded.
“Fine,” Jane sighed, then called, “OK, spirit world, we are hereby hanging up, closing the channel. Don’t call us. We’ll call you.”
I asked, “Don’t you own a whole section of books on appropriate ritual language? And it’s not true, what you said earlier. We did learn quite a bit tonight. We learned that Nana was a closet Gaga fan.”
“What do you think she meant? Love. Mother. Gaga. Desk. Those words don’t make any sense,” Andrea complained.
“Maybe I need to look through your desk again, Jane,” I said, returning some of the candles to the display shelf.
“You looked through my desk?”
“We refinished Jane’s desk before we moved it into her office. There were no papers or anything left in the drawers,” Andrea said, squinting when I turned the lights back on.
“Are you sure your mother hasn’t taken any other objects out of the shop?” I asked, my voice trailing off as I noticed one of Jane’s photos hanging over the shelf where the candles were displayed. It showed Jane’s mother, wearing a black T-shirt with two white triangles on the chest and a logo that read, “FFOTU.” Was this more Klingon nonsense? She was standing next to the cash register with this thunderstruck expression on her face. Jane’s mama was a funny little thing. It seemed odd that Nana would mention her twice, when we’d already located the candle. What did Nana want us to know about Jane’s mother?
I looked at the picture more closely. “Hey, Jane, what’s that?”
“It’s a picture of our first meeting of the Friends and Family of the Undead. It was the first time my mother saw the shop, and Andrea wanted to capture my mother’s stunned expression when she saw how nice everything was.”
“That’s horrible,” I told Andrea.
Jane shook her head. “No, it’s fair. The moment she stepped inside, she said Andrea must have worked very hard to organize and decorate everything.” Andrea snickered when my face drooped in disbelief. Jane added, “Mama and I used to have a pretty rocky relationship.”
I poked at the photo, my hands shaking. “And that little brown blob by the cash register? The one vaguely shaped like an acorn? The one I’m pretty sure is the altar plaque representing Earth?”