Trudy pulled up to the curb and cut the engine. Silently, she stared at the house that had always been such a happy, welcoming place for her. Although she hadn’t visited often, Martha’s grandmother had always treated her like her own kin. Kindness had had its roots in this woman’s soul.
Now the little house looked so forlorn. Although friends and relatives had taken care of the yard, the front of the house still looked somewhat lost without its loving gardener’s personal touches.
Trudy sighed. This was not going to be easy. She got out of the car, pulled her overnight bag from the back seat, and walked up to the cheerfully-painted front door. Such sadness lay behind it.
She had barely knocked when the door flew open, and Martha hurled herself against Trudy. She was sobbing so hard that she trembled all over. Trudy put her arms around her best friend, and waited in comforting silence for the tears to subside.
Finally, Martha stepped back. Her eyes were puffy and red, and Trudy’s heart went out to her.
“Martha, I’m so sorry.”
Martha nodded and managed a self-conscious smile. “Sorry about breaking down just now. I thought I had my act together. Hadn’t cried in a couple of hours. But then when I saw you…” She hiccupped, swallowed, and managed to keep her emotions under control. She shook her head to clear it, then realized they were still on the front porch.
“Oh, what a dope I am. Come in—sorry to have kept you outside like this.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Trudy replied. She followed Martha into the house.
Looking around, she took in all of the familiar things that had made this a house a home for Martha’s Gran. But it seemed that they, too, had gone into deep slumber, as had their owner. There was a quiet that did not bring comfort, a feeling of something lost that could not be found—an expectant air of waiting that would forever be disappointed. Even the dust motes seemed to be in a stasis of hope.
Her reverie was broken when Martha asked, “Do you want something to drink? All I really have is water, and…um…okay, just water.” She smiled a sad apology. “Haven’t felt like going to the store.”
“Water’s fine,” Trudy answered. “Maybe later we can go shopping together. Get some groceries into the house.”
Martha’s eyes showed her gratitude. “Thanks, Trudy. Let’s do that.”
The two young ladies settled themselves at the kitchen table and talked for hours. It was as if they’d never been apart. Trudy knew that Martha needed to talk about her grandma and the pain she was feeling, but she let her grieving friend prattle on about ordinary things. She wasn’t going to push the subject. It would come in its own good time.
Late in the afternoon, after they had finally gotten around to stowing Trudy’s things in the spare bedroom and buying groceries, it hit. Martha poured her heart out to the one person she could feel open with. The shock, the fear, the loneliness. The feeling that there was no reason to move on. Not to mention the responsibility of what to do with Gran’s house and the rest of her things.
Trudy’s heart was just about breaking for her friend. She stretched a hand out and covered Martha’s. “Please realize that Gran’s in a much better place now. Try to believe that,” Trudy said softly.
They’d been down this road many times. It was a frightening place for someone without faith; Trudy prayed that God would help her find the words to bring Martha to the light.
Martha had always resisted Trudy’s attempts and the idea of a forever-life before, but death had not been such a close companion when she and Trudy had had these discussions in the past. Martha still held back; she had not been one to believe in things unseen, and was wary about plunging into what Trudy believed simply so she could use faith as a comfort and a crutch.
“I wish I could believe that, Trudy. It would certainly help. But I just…don’t…know.”
Trudy was trying to think of a response, when she felt a sudden energy in the room. She started at the sensation and looked around in mild alarm. Nothing seemed different, but somehow everything was changed.
Martha had stopped talking and was staring at her. “Trudy? Something wrong?”
“Uh? No. Yes. I mean—don’t you feel it?”
Martha looked around too, trying to understand what Trudy was talking about. “I don’t feel or see anything. Trudy, what is it?”
Martha became alarmed as she saw her friend staring, frozen, towards the hallway into the back of the house. She whirled to see what it was that had caught Trudy’s attention, and saw nothing but the empty doorway.
Trudy’s voice, sounding oddly distant, caused her to turn back. Trudy was smiling, with her eyes glued to whatever had caught her attention. “She’s fine, Martha. She’s very happy. Oh, there’s a man beside her. And she is so pretty, Martha. She wants you to know that she is very proud of you, and not to worry too much about her things. She says her will is set up to take care of it all.”
Martha was dumbfounded at what Trudy had said and how she was acting. She didn’t know whether to be shocked, happy, or angry, so she tried them all out at the same time. Angry won out.
“What?? Trudy, don’t play with my emotions. I’ve never know you to do such a thing. How could you treat my feelings so shallowly? If this is your way of getting me to believe in a hereafter, you’re going about it all wrong!” She caught her breath and glared at Trudy, who seemed to have not heard her. “Besides, Gran didn’t leave a will. Not that any of us know about, anyway. If we’d found a will, there would be a lot less bickering, and…”
She trailed off, out of breath. She was absolutely livid, not because of what she perceived as mockery of her grief, but also because Trudy hadn’t reacted to anything she had said.
Trudy continued on as if Martha hadn’t said a word. “She says you shouldn’t be angry with me. I’m supposed to tell you something so you’ll believe me.” She was silent for a moment, then nodded. “Gran was buried in an aqua-colored dress, the same one she wore to church on Easter this year. The casket was open at the funeral, and you had them put on her favorite pearls and a ruby ring. Then your Aunt Hazel took the jewelry right before the burial. Was she supposed to do that?”
Martha’s jaw dropped, and she could only stare at her friend. How could she have possibly known that? Unless Gran is actually here…She looked around again, scrunching up her eyes to catch a movement, a light—anything to prove that her grandmother was there like Trudy said.
She turned back to Trudy. “How did you know any of that? And the jewelry? How did you know? We all thought someone had stolen them. No one confessed to having taken them. Aunt Hazel? Well, wait ‘til I…”
Trudy interrupted her. “And the will. Before she goes, she wants to tell you that the will is duly signed and legal, and can be found in her safe-deposit box at the bank.”
“A safe-deposit box?” Martha could hardly believe her ears. “We didn’t know about that, either. She didn’t tell anyone. Wait, don’t those things have a key? Where is it? We haven’t come across one, and we’ve been sorting things for a couple of days now.”
Martha swiveled her head to gaze back down the hallway again. Feeling a little foolish, she spoke to what seemed to her like empty air. “Gran, I have to know where the key is!”
“In her bedroom closet, taped to the inside bottom of the big pink hatbox on the top shelf,” Trudy replied.
Martha jumped up and was about to run and retrieve it, but the idea of passing through her grandmother’s spirit made her uneasy, so she sat back down.
Trudy suddenly sat up taller, alert to something. “Oh, she’s going now. She was only granted this short time to help you. Oh, Martha, her soul is so bright. Like sunlight, but more…real, somehow.”
“Trudy, make her stay! Please! I don’t know how you’re doing this, but tell her I don’t want her to go!”
“Don’t make her stay, Martha. She’s tasted Heaven, and nothing, not even her great love for you, will keep her here.” Trudy focused her eyes on her friend in silence. Then, after a moment, “She’s gone.”
Martha’s tears flowed again, and Trudy silently held her. This was probably like having her die a second time, she thought. Why did this happen? How could I see what I did? Thank You, Lord for allowing it, in order to comfort Martha. I only hope she comes to believe because of it.
After a few minutes, Martha sat up. She picked up a napkin and blew her nose, and wiped her eyes with the palms of her hands. Then she stared numbly out through the window into the backyard. Finally she spoke.
“You really saw her,” she whispered. It was not a question.
“Yes. I don’t know how or why, but yes, I did.”
Martha nodded. More silence. “You were right. We did bury her in that dress. She had the pearls and ruby ring on at the funeral. And the pieces were stolen.”
“One more thing, then.” Martha got up and walked back to the bedroom that had been her Gran’s. Trudy could hear things being moved around, and then a gasp. She was about to go find out what happened, when Martha walked shakily back into the kitchen. Her face was ashen, the look on it one of sheer incredulity.
Sitting down, she reached for her water glass. After a long drink, she set it down. Only then did she slowly stretch her arm across the table toward Trudy and open her hand.
In her palm was a small key, with a paper tag tied on with string. And there, written on the tag, was the name of the bank and the words “Safe Deposit Box #10″.
The bank was closed for the weekend, so the two girls wandered through downtown for the afternoon, looking though shop windows and watching people as they passed by. Martha was more like her old self away from the house, and Trudy was glad she was able to take her friend’s mind off the grief she’d been living with for so many awful days and nights. Reality would descend again, soon and hard enough.
Trudy wondered to herself whether or not she should approach the subject of eternity again. Pushing the issue would only make Martha back away, but Trudy felt very strongly that she was in dire need of the protection and assurance faith in God would give her, now more than ever before. She didn’t know why; it was just a feeling.
She was surprised, then, when Martha suddenly stopped in her tracks in front of a church they were passing. Trudy, who had walked ahead, turned back to see Martha staring at the brick-faced front of the building.
“Martha?” Trudy walked back to her friend.
Martha continued to stare at the church. “This is where Gran went for Sunday services,” she whispered, almost to herself. “I wonder if it’s open…” Then she turned to Trudy, her eyes suddenly imploring. “Trudy, we have to get in there. Don’t ask why—I don’t know. But it’s important!”
“Okay, okay, we’ll find someone.” Trudy was taken aback by her friend’s sudden urge, but not really surprised. It seemed as if Martha was finally going to try her toe in the waters of faith.
The front door of the church opened and a man stepped out. He squinted at the sky, put a hat on his balding head, and turned to lock the door.
Martha pounded up the walkway, Trudy following a bit more slowly. “Please don’t lock up!” Martha cried out, “I’d like to go in,” she explained to him when she got to the door.
Surprised, he asked, “Well, why? Services are tomorrow at 9am. I was just making sure everything was in order.”
“Oh, please? It’s important,” Martha pleaded. “You see, this was my grandmother’s church for years. I just want to respect her memory.” Her voice cracked, and she stopped to get her emotions under control. “She died last week, and the funeral was in the mortuary. No one arranged anything here, where she had been happy for so many years.”
The man smiled softly and opened the door. Martha thanked him, and slowly walked into the church’s interior.
Trudy smiled at him also. “You’ve no idea how wonderful this is,” she whispered, and followed her friend inside.
Martha made her way up to the front, letting her fingers pass over the tops of the pews and gazing at her surroundings in quiet thought. She sat down on one of the benches and just stared silently at the pulpit, as if listening to the voice of some long-ago preacher.
Trudy waited just inside, not wishing to intrude. After a few minutes, Martha got up and, with a last glance toward the front, slowly came back down the aisle. Trudy followed her out the door.
“Thank you again,” she said to the kind gent who had been waiting patiently to lock up the building. She glanced at Trudy, then addressed him again. “I’ll be back.”
Trudy’s heart leapt. Thank You again!
There was a box on the porch when they got back to the house. It was addressed to Martha, but had no return address.
“Odd. Why would this come to me here? My mailing address is a PO box, and it’s not in this town.” Martha took the object into the house and set it on the table. “Well, might as well see what it is.”
“Can you tell who it’s from by looking at the writing?” Trudy peered over Martha’s shoulder. She was uncomfortable about Martha’s opening it, although she couldn’t put a finger on the reason.
Martha turned the box to the light and squinted at the scrawled address. “I think it’s Aunt Hazel’s.” She brightened. “Hey, maybe she’s had a case of the guilts, and she’s returning the jewelry.”
She tore into the box. There was a hand-written note inside. She read it silently, then looked at Trudy, puzzled. “It says, ‘I’m sorry for your loss, and hope you don’t mind that I took the jewelry. I needed the money to pay bills. I hope this present will help you feel closer to your Gran.’ Well, I was hoping for the jewelry, but I guess that won’t happen. I wonder what she could have sent.”
She dug deeper into the box, tossing crumpled paper onto the table. Finally she stopped, frowned at the contents, and pulled the item out.
It was an ancient Ouija board, stained with age and use, but still readable.
“How strange! I don’t even know how to use one of these things.”
Trudy was suddenly frightened to her core. “Martha, put that back in the box! Better yet, burn it all! Just get rid of it!”
Martha was alarmed at the fear in Trudy’s voice. “It’s just a game, Trudy. There’s no harm in it.”
“When you try to call forth spirits, Martha, you have no idea who, or what, will answer. You have only your belief that you are connecting with the person you want to talk to. But the beings of darkness use these very items, and the weakness of mortals, to fool people into believing that they are communicating with long-lost friends, relatives, or whoever. It’s how they make their way into someone’s home—or heart. They get in, and soon they control the people they’ve fooled.” Trudy was trembling violently as she stared at the game.
Martha gave her a long look. “So, you’re saying that you can see all the spirits you want, but I can’t use a mere toy to play like I’m talking to one?”
Trudy shook her head. “Martha, like I said, I have no idea how that happened. It’s never happened before, and I doubt it will again. But these things…Martha, you don’t know what you would be going up against. The powers of darkness are way beyond our own.”
Martha looked from Trudy to the board, and then back again. She made up her mind. “I can’t just dump it without trying, Trudy. Maybe I can get Gran back, even for a short time.”
“Please don’t, Martha…”
Martha ignored her, and set up the board while Trudy looked on helplessly. She prayed silently as she watched her friend make what might be the biggest mistake of her life.
When she’d gotten the board prepared, Martha sat down in front of it. Darting a defiant look at Trudy, she closed her eyes and put her hands on the pointer.
“Gran, please come to me. Come and speak to me,” she said in a whisper.
Nothing happened for a long moment. Then, Trudy gasped as a spirit materialized before them.
Martha’s eyes popped open, and she stared where Trudy was looking. “What? What do you see?” she demanded.
Trudy just stared wordlessly, her fingers clutching the chair in front of her.
The apparition slowly arranged itself into the shape and visage of Martha’s grandmother. But there was something—not right—about it. Trudy watched for a few seconds, and then she knew what it was.
The bright, burning light that was Gran’s soul was missing. This entity was black at the center. It had Gran’s face and physical appearance, but only for a moment. It slowly transformed into a hideous caricature of the woman it was imitating.
Black wraiths began to seep out from the floor, leaking from between the tiles and slithering over the floor’s surface. Trudy shrieked as the forms came toward them.
“Martha! Stop! Get away from that!”
“Trudy! You’re nuts! There’s nothing there!” Martha shouted. She was growing angry at the way Trudy was behaving; there was nothing she herself could see but a normal, quiet kitchen. Quiet except for her raving lunatic of a friend.
She groaned. “Okay, I’ll let go. See, I’m letting go now.”
But her hands would not release the pointer. Puzzled, she tried to pick the pointer up; it wouldn’t come off the board. She was now starting to get scared. She looked over at Trudy, who was staring, horrified, at the floor and backing away.
“Trudy! Help me!”
Martha gasped as she noticed that the pointer was starting to move on its own. It flowed slowly and deliberately as it chose the letters for its message. The hapless prisoner of its spell watched, terror mounting, as the pointer spelled out:
Y-O-U A-R-E M-I-N-E
Trudy screamed as a black shadow loomed over Martha, who was twisting and fighting the pointer. Just before the wraith could strike, Trudy leapt between it and her friend. The words burst from her throat:
“In the name of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, I command you to be gone!”
The black horrors screeched and writhed, drying up and blowing away like ashes. At the same time, the pointer loosed itself from Martha’s hand. She quickly pulled away from it.
The two girls clung to each other in terrified silence. Martha then picked up the Ouija board, the box, and the papers. She silently walked to the fireplace, threw the things in, and set a match to the pile. She and Trudy watched as the pyre burned. As it was consumed, Trudy could have sworn she heard screaming.