“Well, what was I supposed to do? You were crying all over me. Don’t act ungrateful now,” Jericho said, shaking the box of chalk until a piece popped out. He handed the piece to her. “Here, you’re better at drawing than me. Copy this star-looking thing here,” he pointed to the book he had brought, shining a flashlight on the open page. “Draw the lines in between them candles.”
“The floor is dirt. How am I supposed to make the chalk show up, genius?” Naomi asked.
“I don’t think it matters. The spirits will see it.” Jericho gestured toward the floor while still studying the symbols.
“Spirits? What did the book say?”
Jericho set the book down on the ground and faced Naomi, grasping the back of her arms and looking her straight in the eyes. “This here’s an exorcism, Naomi. We’re going to jolt those visions right out of you.”
“Uh, I’m not possessed,” Naomi said rolling her eyes but also well aware of how much she liked Jericho’s hands squeezing her tight.
“Yeah, I’m pretty damn sure.” Naomi sighed with disappointment. Why had she thought Jericho would have the answers? Salvation was not coming for her.
“Want to try it anyway?” he asked, looking hopeful. “I mean, shit, I brought all these damn candles.”
“Fine, I guess it can’t hurt anything.” Naomi moved to the center of the candle circle. She bent over, grabbing a piece of chalk, and scratched at the dirt as best she could. “Star’s drawn. Now what.”
“Got to chant this stuff here. It’s in some weird language.”
“Let me see it.” Naomi grabbed the book from Jericho. “How are you supposed to say any of this? How will we know if we’re saying it right?”
“You’re the smart one. You figure it out,” he shrugged and then took out a lighter and lit all the wicks. “Hold this,” he said as he handed her a steak knife with a slightly crooked blade.
“What in the…?” Naomi asked, looking at Jericho with wide eyes.
“Calm down, we just need a little bit of your blood.” He made a quick slicing motion over his own palm as if to show her how simple it would be.
“Easy for you to say. It ain’t your blood.” Naomi tried to hand back the knife. Jericho closed her hand around the wooden hilt and pushed it back toward her. He didn’t say anything but his eyes were telling her not to be a chicken-shit. “Fine,” she sighed. “This so isn’t gonna work.”
“You got a better idea? Give me that book back,” he said and then thumbed through the text until he reached the spot he had dog-eared. “Now close your eyes and concentrate on those nightmares you’ve been having.”
“Which one?” Naomi asked, the knife clutched in her cold hand, knuckles turning white.
“Um, doesn’t say. How about the one you had last?” Jericho tucked the flashlight under his chin as he studied the book.
Naomi took a few deep breaths before closing her eyes. She tried not to think about the knife she held. Instead, she focused. Her last nightmare also happened to be the one that recurred most often. She was in a large, choppy stream, bobbing up and down in the water like a buoy. She felt a rope around her waist, tugging her toward the lake’s bottom. Murky green water rushed over her head, burying her. Her jeans felt cold and heavy as the churning water soaked them through. Naomi lunged toward the surface, dragging in one last breath before the rope pulled her under the water again. She opened her eyes underwater and tried loosen the knotted rope wrapped around her middle. The last image Naomi saw as her lungs burned with strain was a flash of light and color dancing above the surface of the water, just out of her reach.
The knife Naomi had been holding fell onto the dirt floor with a dull thud, loosening a tiny mushroom cloud of dust.
“You okay?” Jericho asking, picking up the knife and handing it back to her.
“Keep going,” she said, taking the knife and closing her eyes again. She wiped the dust off the blade and took deep, heaving breaths as if she really had been drowning. The lake and the rope aren’t real, she told herself.
Jericho began reading the Latin incantation, his thick, backwoods accent stumbling over the foreign words. “Now you gotta cut yourself a little bit and let the blood drip on the floor,” he said, wincing a little on her behalf. He closed the book for a second and sighed. “I’d give you my blood if it worked that way, Nay.”
“I know you would,” Naomi met his sympathetic eyes as she dragged the serrated blade across the palm of her hand. She went too shallow on her first try, barely breaking the skin. “Give me a second,” she said and shook her hand a little to loosen up before closing her fingers around the knife’s blade—this time squeezing the edge as she ran it down her palm.
“Not too deep,” Jericho warned, too late to make any difference.
“Keep chanting,” she moaned, her stomach turning as blood dripping from her closed fist onto the dirt and chalk markings below.
Jericho did as he was told, snapping the book shut when he’d finished. Naomi studied the candles for a sign of flickering. She waited for a rushing wind to blow through the rotting rafters and extinguish the flames. Her hand continued to bleed onto the floor.
“Is that it?” she asked. Her eyes darting around the barn, as if waiting for a ghost to drift down from the hayloft.
“Feel any different?” he asked, looking her over like she was some kind of circus freak.
“Not really. You got anything for this?” she motioned to her blood-soaked hand.
“Man, this is my favorite shirt,” he sighed, handing over the flannel he wore over his grey Metallica t-shirt. He wrapped it around her hand a few times, before knotting the sleeves together.
“Blood don’t come out. I’ll buy you a new one,” Naomi said, knowing it was an empty promise. With what money?
Jericho looked her up and down. Then he squinted at her head like he was waiting on her to grow a second one. He shrugged and went around blowing out the candles one by one. “So it didn’t work?” he asked, picking up one of the candles and pouring a little of the melted wax on his hand. “Shoot dang, that’s hot!” he yelped.
Naomi rolled her eyes. “Yeah, hot wax is hot, genius.” She looked up through the holes in the barn’s roof at the glimmering stars. “Guess I’ll go to sleep tonight and see,” she said, but she already knew.
That night as Naomi rested her cut hand palm-up on her pillow, just before she drifted off thinking about Jericho and his handsome face, forever marked by that day at the horse fence, the vision snatched her right up. Swirls of grey, campfire smoke swirled around her legs like vines. She could feel the heat of the sparks flicker and strike her thighs. She looked down at her hand to see if the knife mark still crossed her palm. The gash was there, wet with fresh blood even though it had started to scab hours ago. Naomi gasped as she saw the skin of her palm twitch and vibrate. Large beetles, black and shiny, crawled from her wound and dropped into the smoke-covered floor. She was frantically swiping at her hand, when she felt a hand squeeze her shoulder. Naomi whipped around, to face the new terror. But instead, she found Jericho, standing in front of her, smiling. He reached for her hands. She looked down and saw that the beetles were gone, the smoke was gone, the long cut had disappeared altogether.
All that remained was Jericho and Naomi.