Fiction by Katlyn Minard
The first time I held your hand, we only did it to communicate with the dead.
There we sat: five of us, up past curfew in the attic of the church, long after the outside street lamps blinked on and the tiny yellow squares of suburban window lights began to dim. Scavenged dinner table candles that dripped red wax onto the dusty hardwood floor provided our only light. We sat criss-cross applesauce, circled around the Ouija board one of the Sisters confiscated from Ruth earlier that day. Or so she thought.
“Everyone hold hands,” Ruth said, as if we all didn’t know the rules to a séance, “the spirits won’t surface unless they feel our energy.”
I’d never been a rule-breaker, body or soul. But I still did as she said and bowed my head, humoring the others as my eyes explored the space.
It was not a cathedral, and barely even a church. I’d call it a glorified foursquare house, dressed with bargain-paint idolatry and stained glass windows from the hardware store up the street. The attic housed all of our once-a-year school stuff. Christmas-colored picnic tables folded against the wall. Chocolate order forms in damp cardboard boxes for our fundraisers. Thumb-sized unborn-baby dolls with sleek plastic bodies and tormented faces. Crafting supplies. This space didn’t see a lot of visitors, but the room twenty feet below it did. That’s where our priest — an ancient, pallid man who resembled a villain in a Stanley Kubrick movie — regularly lectured us about the importance of keeping our hands pocketed and our legs shut until marriage. Which, if you’re not into marriage, means forever — and, if you’re into girls, means forever forever. You’d think being gay at an all-girl high school would feel like paradise. But sometimes it’s a special kind of hell.
I’ve never been a rule-breaker. Body or soul. Except for this one (big) little commandment.
And I wouldn’t have broken the no-trespassing-after-hours rule, either…except that Ruth didn’t know another student with a spare key to the church. Nobody but me. The only time skeptics ever get invited anywhere is when somebody needs something from us.
But I have to admit, once we settled in the attic, it felt worth the trouble just to sit next to you.
“Spirits of the night,” Ruth whispered to the board, “I call upon you to awaken.” Ruth always had a flair for drama. She starred in all the plays. “Our minds are open. Let us receive you. Any soul here who wishes to be seen, reveal yourself this instant.”
The five of us waited, silent and still, holding hands in a circle like a daisy chain.
“I repeat,” whispered Ruth, “any soul here who wishes to be seen… reveal yourself, this instant.”
Two tiny flames fluttered in the dark, and our group dissolved into girlish gasps and giggles. Everyone ignored the fact that the rear window of the attic was ajar, airing the room with a barely-there breeze. Instead, they all asked each other, hushed and breathless, “Did you see that? Did you feel anything?”
It all felt a little too hot and silly. A few seconds longer and I would’ve ratted out the cracked window, suggested we all get out of this oven of a room.
Then I felt you stroke my knuckle with the tip of your thumb.
A soft stroke. One that’s way too measured to be any kind of accident. My spine exploded in shivers like a strand of Chinese firecrackers. I encountered a kindred spirit of my own — one I didn’t even know existed. One the others couldn’t even see.
Ruth and the girls, still jittery over the candles, didn’t seem to notice us. So I got their attention and, with my hand still carelessly cupped in yours, I insisted that yes, I indeed felt something. We must come back tomorrow night.
The second time I held your hand, I came with my mind open to spiritual connection and my wrists spritzed with perfume.
“Awaken, spirits,” Ruth whispered that next night on the floor of the attic. “Let us receive you. Any soul here that wishes to be seen, reveal yourself. This instant.”
I watched your face in secret while the others communed with the cosmos. Your head bowed as if in prayer, eyelashes resting on freckled cheeks, corn-yellow hair electric in the candlelight. My imagination ran wild in the pre-colonial lighting, and I pictured you as an exiled Puritan, holding a witches’ Sabbath, dancing around a bonfire in the woods, naked and ecstatic and yelling at the sky.
The black-beaded rosary draped across your collarbone didn’t fit. It was too long. It snaked far beneath the neckline of your shirt, into uncharted territory. I wondered how easy it would snap off if yanked.
“Spirits, are you with us?” Ruth seemed frustrated now. A minute or so had passed without event. “If you do not wish to be seen, we will obey your wishes and close our eyes. But please give us another sign. Reveal yourself. This instant.”
The back window was closed this time. There was no wind. Any flicker of the flame could have been my breath. Any sound, my pounding heart. Were we flirting with spirits? Or just imagining things? Hard to say. But that’s what makes a séance so exciting — the whys and what-ifs. The sense of possibility.
Maybe that’s what made me bold.
While everyone else’s eyes were still shut, I slowly fanned out my fingers and moved them across your open palm. I thought maybe your hand would shrivel up, closed and frightened, like a hedgehog rolling into a ball — but no. Your fingers fanned, too. And without looking, we laced them together, filling each other’s spaces without effort or resistance, and for the first time in my short history of fake séances, the thrill was real. Otherworldly. Terrifying.
The sound of Ruth knocking over her flashlight practically sent us all through the roof.
After we all jumped and shrieked and dropped hands and laughed at ourselves, someone suggested, in a defeated voice, that maybe we should lay off the séances for a while. They reasoned if we all got too comfortable up here, we’d become lazy about our practices and then get caught — and if there’s one thing scarier than a run-in with a ghost, it’s retaliation from the Catholic Church.
We blew out the candles, packed our stuff, and crept out the attic, sneaking single file down the creaky hardwood staircase. I slowed my pace so I’d end up behind you. As we tiptoed down the stairs, past a small moonlit window, you whipped your head around and looked right at me.
But I saw it.
The firelight in your eyes. That flash of recognition. That sniper-sharp stare on your face that all but screamed this means the attic will be empty tomorrow night.
I nodded at you so subtly, so immediately, that for a whole 23 hours I didn’t know if you’d actually seen me do it.
Until you showed up.
It’s not nearly as noisy when just two people climb the stairs instead of five. Especially when neither one is laughing.
The third time I held your hand, there were no candles and no ceremonies.
There we sat: two witches, one fireless midnight Sabbath, eight hours before we’d have to be downstairs, hands folded, praying alongside the rest of the Puritans for straight spouses and deliverance from our demons.
I’ve never been a rule-breaker. Body or soul. But I surrendered both to you the second your lips embraced mine.
The kissing came easy. The shirts came off easier. My hands found a home in your sorceress-long hair, on the slope of your neck, the curves of your shoulders. They fumbled their way to the clasp of your bra, and I surprised myself when I struggled to undo the hook. Boys are expected to be clumsy with these things. As a girl, I had no excuse — just nervousness. But when you giggled, I felt relieved. It gave me permission to giggle too.
And I was still laughing, just a little, when I pressed my lips against your neck, slipped the straps off your shoulders, and heard myself utter the words:
“Reveal yourself. This instant.”
Katlyn Minard is an aspiring young adult novelist whose short fiction has appeared in Lunch Ticket, Moon City Review, 101 Words, and LOGOS. She lives in Los Angeles.