The first step was to seal the room. The windows were nailed, the edges caulked, newspapers taped over the panes, then papers painted with layers of leftover primer. The door was then boarded over with a piece of splintered headboard ripped from the bedframe and a chair wedged under the knob. Towels were shoved in the gaps, below and above, smothering any light from outside. Together, sweating, they pushed the bed to the center of the darkened room. This is how it’s done, she said, her words bouncing in the muted space, this is how we summon it.
During the first month they pulled all her clothes from their drawers and lay them in strange patterns across the floor and around the bed, meticulously rearranging them every few days according to her instruction. The clothes they wore were eventually removed and added to the design. They continued to paint over the windows, coat upon crusted coat until the primer ran out, and the dresser was chopped into slivers using a cleaver he brought and with the remaining newspapers they started a fire in the corner. The walls around the flame blackened and blistered and it gave off a dense smoke which hung itself across the ceiling, creating a polluted canopy. In bed they watched as the fire climbed halfway up the corner and they listened to the crackling of the wood and the walls and the murmur of the smoke as it rose, and in it they heard a slow song.
Though neither of them smoked before entering the room, both were required to as part of the ritual. Another month passed and sitting naked in bed they smoked and tipped the ashes into the remaining intact dresser drawer. Mixing the ash with water a grey slurry was made, like a paste dug from a cold pocket in the earth, and turns were taken smearing it on one another. Rubbing it between palms she felt along the perimeter of the room, hand over hand, circling slowly counterclockwise. It’s just like in that cave she explained as she pressed harder into the wall, leaving an indentation in the sheetrock after each touch.
According to the text, a temporal map was to be created next. A pouch of small red stones was pulled out from under the mattress and the stones were placed in an arcane, demarcating design around the bed. The blankets were pulled back, white sheet exposed, and using her make-up and the ash-paste they drew out fraught lines, tremulous spirals and crosses that dashed and spun between them, entangling and binding. This is a map of the past they chanted as they drew, and as they drew he saw that it was a map made of stories that would then exist only there and there forever.
An uncertain amount of time passed. Together they lay atop the lines of the map, the fire still burning though much fainter. A grey gauze clogged the air and staring out with rheumy eyes they watched for some indication that all they had done would amount to something close to that which they expected. She fingered the lines drawn on the sheet as if some answer could be felt amongst the fabric and said we followed the text and it will work soon.
It did not work. The fire died. Their skin grew sallow, dark where the blood settled and the bones became thin. On their backs they could see the tips of their ribs as they expanded outward, pushing against and stretching the flesh like a terrible flower straining to bloom. She could no longer hear and he could no longer speak and no matter how violently she yelled he could not manage any response. In their desperation they grew rough and began biting, and thick drops of blood sprouted from their bites and their blood and saliva mixed. With her skin and mind burning she gripped his forearm and bent his hand back all the way, hoping it would sound out in an audible language.
As the embers in the corner faded and the light vanished entirely from the room they lay together still, aspirating in ragged unison with their chests opened, lungs on view as they feebly rose and fell, and limbs conjoined, their errors having fused them into something new.
Richard Kovarovic is a library technician and aspiring writer from New York. He holds a master’s degree in English literature and lives in the Hudson Valley.