The first note came, not by post, but in Lin’s bag. She’d picked it up off the front porch and slipped it in between her math book and the flattened remains of the sandwich Juniper had sent her with that morning.
“What’s this?” Juniper asked, holding up the photo-copied card. The weight of it was surprising, comforting in her hand. “Did your teacher give you this?”
“Don’t know,” Lin shrugged and, having been freed from another day of academic torture, slipped off her chunky, pastel-coloured sneakers.
“How was school?” Juniper asked, turning over the card. What she had originally taken for a photocopied page was actually cardstock, stamped and overlaid with cut-out figures and gilded lettering—the result of some not unskilled decoupage. In front of a full moon, an illustrated bat grinned up at her with a face that would be more at home on a tabby cat.
“‘S good,” Lin called, already halfway up the stairs. Juniper had seen her laying out a battalion of Barbies on her bedroom floor that morning before breakfast, preparing for the inevitable war with the hostile Stuffy Bears. She left Lin to it.
“Check out this weird card Lin brought home.” Juniper brandished the card in the air, waving it a little too quickly for her sister, who was standing in the kitchen, to see.
“What is that?” Frowning, Ji Ah took it from Juniper’s outstretched hand. “‘It’s Hallowe’en Time’,” she read off the inscription in the front. “No one signed it. Did this come from a kid in Lin’s class?”
“Maybe. Could be a homemade Halloween card, I guess,” Juniper said. “It’s a little early for that. Which reminds me, are you planning to send Lin to school with any candy for her classmates?”
Ji Ah rolled her eyes, settling the card on the counter. “I told you, I don’t have time to make those stupid bags you saw on Pinterest.”
“They’re not stupid,” Juniper retorted. Her sister could be so stubborn. “And they’re all over Instagram and the mommy blogs this year, not just Pinterest. Also, what do you mean you don’t have time? Halloween is, like, three weeks away! And Lin is such a cute kid. If you just put a little more effort into her meals and her outfits, you could—”
“Juni, we’ve had this discussion,” Ji Ah cut in. “I don’t want Lin engaging with social media until she’s old enough to understand it and consent to having her pictures posted. As much I appreciate you helping out with getting her ready for school, I don’t want you putting it online—”
Juniper held her hands up in defense. “I’m not, I’m not! I’m just saying, I don’t understand your aversion to doing her hair or making a cute lunch once in a while and posting a pic—”
“Why do I have to put a picture of that on the internet?”
“People make a lot of money doing that, Ji. Mom people, especially. You don’t get it, if you let me put together a blog for Lin, we’d have a hundred thousand followers in no time and probably more sponsorship deals than we’d know what to do with—”
“I’m not exploiting my kid on the internet for free fruit snacks,” Ji Ah said flatly. “End of discussion.”
“Oh sorry,” Juniper huffed, “I didn’t realize your extremely rigorous morals extended to taking pictures of bento boxes, but not to letting your little sister make them for your kid.”
Ji Ah rolled her eyes. “Grow up, Juni. You know I’d make Lin’s lunches if you didn’t. And you can at least call it a dosirak, not a bento box.” She sighed. “Have you heard back from any of those jobs you applied to, yet?”
“I’ve been busy,” Juniper said, avoiding her sister’s suddenly intense eye contact.
“Doing what? ‘Curating your grid’? Yeah,” Ji Ah nodded, taking in Juniper’s startled look. “I know that’s a thing people do.”
Juniper rolled her eyes. “You sound just like mom.”
It was probably best not to answer that. Instead, Juniper studied her cuticles. “I haven’t heard back from any jobs yet, no.”
“Why don’t you reach out to some of your old school friends?”
“What, and confirm their social media stalking suspicions that an Arts degree won’t get you six figures a year and a penthouse featured in a ‘Top Five Cities We’d Love To Live In’ Buzzfeed listicle?”
Ji Ah’s mouth dropped into a frown. “I’m sure one of them has an in at their company they can—”
“Is that my phone?” Juniper asked, making a show of straining to hear. “I think—hold on, I think I hear it ringing. Let me just run upstairs…I left it in my room…”
“It’s the guest room!” Ji Ah’s annoyed voice floated after her, but Juniper pretended not to hear.
Juniper took the stairs two at a time. She could hear Lin murmuring to herself behind her half-closed bedroom door, no doubt marshalling the fluffy forces under her command. Juniper pulled her cell phone from her back pocket. It was on silent, but there were no new messages. She opened Instagram and started to scroll as she reached her room and flopped down on the bed. Perfect square images flashed by, of shiny new cabinets (a high school friend’s duplex reno), shiny rings (a former neighbour’s engagement), and shiny smiles (a girl Juniper got Intro to Psych notes from once telling her parents they were going to be grandparents! Her former second year roommates cheersing to their big promotions with a girls’ night out!). Listlessly, Juniper perused the bottomless highlight reel. She drifted off to sleep, napping until Ji Ah’s calling roused her in time for dinner.
The second card was wedged into the doorframe the next day when Ji Ah got home from work. Juniper was reheating stew they’d made earlier that month, from a freezer batch recipe she’d found on one of the mommy blogs Ji Ah hated so much, that had turned out quite well.
“Did you see this?” Ji Ah held the card aloft as she shed her jacket and scarf, hanging it on the back of a dining room chair. “Did this come home with Lin?”
“No,” Juniper frowned. “Or, she didn’t say anything when she got home, anyway.” The card was another Halloween-themed decoupage. A white woman wearing a black mask over the upper half of her face laughed as she held a grinning jack-o-lantern aloft. Her dress was shaped entirely from black cat stickers the maker had layered over the card. “It’s cute, though.” She offered it back to Ji Ah.
“Yeah, it looks like something you could have made.” Ji Ah turned the card over, an odd expression on her face.
Juniper bristled. “You know, lots of kids go through a really intense scrapbooking phase in middle school. It’s not that weird. You should just be happy I grew out of it.”
“Sure,” said Ji Ah in a distinctly non-reassuring tone of voice. “What’s this? There’s something written on the back here.”
Juniper hit pause on the microwave and came to stand beside her sister. “‘The Other’,” she read over Ji Ah’s shoulder.
“Is that, like, a brand name?”
“Or maybe a signature?” Juniper hazarded. She fingered the delicate, lace-like edge of the card. “It is cute though.”
“You can keep it,” Ji Ah said.
The third card was not as cute.
It came nearly two days later. Lin brought it into the living room where Ji Ah was watching a reality show about rehabilitating street dogs. Juniper was absorbed in the latest post from one of her blogs, where the mom who ran it was describing how you could duplicate her signature decorative gourd tower yourself, with tools you already had at home.
“I found this,” Lin announced with the deep solemnity only a nine-year-old could muster in the face of an entirely unremarkable event. “It was at the bottom of the stairs, by the banister.”
“Let me see that,” Ji Ah said, her voice a shade too calm.
Juniper watched as her sister turned the card over in her hands, her mouth a tight line.
A slight pallor spread under Ji Ah’s skin as she absorbed whatever was written on the back of the card, but she marshalled a smile as she addressed her daughter. “Can you bring Mommy some of her comfy socks, please? They’re in the basket in my closet upstairs. Thanks sweetling.”
Ji Ah was silent until the sound of nine-year-old feet pounding down the hall and up the stairs had receded.
“Look at this,” she said, and practically hurled the card at Juniper’s face before she could properly take it.
“‘Get out. Not safe’…” Juniper squinted at the next word written on the back of the card. “Is that a ‘b’? I can’t read that. And then here it’s—”
“‘The Other’,” Ji Ah said. “Just like the first one.”
“That was the second card, actually.” Juniper’s mouth twisted in puzzlement. “Is this some kind of joke? Maybe it’s like a weird guerilla marketing thing?”
“Or someone messing with us,” Ji Ah said, her expression grim.
“What, like a weird neighbour or something?” Juniper scoffed. The front of the card was just as ornate as the two others. “Why would they put so much effort into making them pretty, then? Why not cut a bunch of letters out of a magazine, do it old school?”
“Maybe they don’t want to get caught. Clearly someone’s been dropping them off.”
“But what about the first one—” Juniper’s stomach lurched a little as she realized what Ji Ah was saying. “You think someone’s been watching the house? Or hanging out near the school?”
Ji Ah blanched in earnest. “I didn’t even think of that.”
“Okay, whoa.” Juniper took a deep breath. “Let’s not freak ourselves out. It could be nothing. We don’t know where they’re coming from. I’m pretty sure Lin said she just picked the first one up off the porch and brought it in because she thought it looked interesting.”
“How did this one get into the house, then?” Ji Ah demanded.
“You’re—what are you suggesting?” Juniper asked, almost laughing. “That someone broke in here, and what? Left it on the stairs? And then left without either of us noticing?”
“Or…maybe they’re still here.”
Juniper stared at her sister.
The sharp slam of a door somewhere upstairs broke the tensely wound silence. Ji Ah was up at once, with Juniper following close behind. They took the stairs two at a time and reached the upstairs landing together, only to find Lin standing in the doorway to Ji Ah’s room with a pair of socks in her hand and a guilty expression on her face.
Ji Ah righted the lamp that Lin had knocked off her bedside table while Juniper watched from the doorway of her room. Lin’s small face had the pinched look of a child who had been caught doing something they shouldn’t, but when Ji Ah questioned her about the door slamming, Lin said it wasn’t her. She’d found the socks that Ji Ah had asked her for, but had—she admitted mulishly—been looking for the chocolate stash she knew Ji Ah kept in her room, so that Lin didn’t eat all of the Halloween candy before they could give it out to trick-or-treaters. The door had slammed shut on its own, Lin insisted. It was something in the house. Juniper saw Ji Ah’s eye twitch a little, but to her credit, she humoured Lin, reassuring her that there was nothing to worry about.
Juniper looked down at the card she was holding, the ominous message scrawled across the back, and wondered if Ji Ah was right.
Two weeks before Halloween found Juniper hot-gluing pieces of brightly-coloured felt together and cursing the mommy blogger who’d led her to believe that, when it came to costumes, “no-sew” meant the same thing as “easy to make”.
“I found a fifth one.” Ji Ah’s voice came from the doorway, and a piece of card-stock fluttered down to the floor in front of Juniper’s face. She set the glue gun down, careful to avoid smearing any across the carpet.
“What does it say?” Juniper asked. She was afraid to look.
“The handwriting’s so scrambled it’s hard to read. I thought maybe you might be able to decipher it, or maybe one of your internet friends.”
After the incident with the lamp, Juniper had posted the first three cards on her social media profiles, asking people to weigh in. #Stalker? Or could it be a #HalloweenPrank? It had gotten a bit of traction beyond her immediate circle. Something about the aesthetic appeal of the cards—the detailed elements, the vintage figures, the artfully arranged lettering—was intriguing, and more so when people latched onto the mystery element, trying out various theories about where the cards could have come from.
“I’ll post it when I’m done with this,” Juniper said, gesturing to the felt shrapnel littering the floor. “You still think it’s a stalker?”
“What,” Ji Ah levelled her with a stare, “you’re not suggesting it’s—”
“Well Lin did say there was something—” Juniper stopped herself when she saw Ji Ah’s mouth pull into a forbidding line. “Never mind. I’ll post it now.”
She pulled up her phone, and snapped a quick (but artful, she had to credit herself) image of the card on the carpet, front and back, then uploaded it across her social media channels. What do you think—creepy neighbour back to their Halloween antics, or poltergeist making its presence known with cute postcards? #ghostbusted #stalkoween.
Juniper was grateful Ji Ah had deleted her social media profiles after Eugene had left her for his anaesthetist. It had been years since then, when Lin was still a baby, and Ji Ah had been inconsolable. Juniper had come home every other weekend from school just to help out, something she knew her mother would have done if she’d still been alive. After graduation, it had just made sense for her to make the move permanently. Ji Ah needed the help, and it wasn’t like she was being bulldozed by job offers…
An hour later, Juniper had what could respectably pass for a dragon’s tail and head made out of felt. She unplugged the glue gun and picked up her phone, pressing the fingerpad to unlock it, and made a quick check of her social media apps. Each small icon had broken out in an angry red bubble, with digits inside showing the total notifications.
Juniper’s breath caught in her throat as she took in the numbers. There was a plus sign on each, too many for the small red preview dot to show.
Later, when she’d gotten through the bulk of the notifications, she let Ji Ah know some of her followers had come up with a plausible interpretation of the inscription on the card. Most likely were two words: get out.
The fifth note came the same day they arrested the Peeping Tom one street over.
Ji Ah was nearly out of her mind. Juniper, torn between tending to her recently exploded follower count, increased online presence and calming her sister, offered to meet Lin at the road when the bus dropped her off from school. Now, Lin was at a playdate at her friend’s, which she’d practically had to beg her mother to go to, Ji Ah was so strung out. Juniper was grateful Lin wasn’t here to see this.
Juniper saw the note, tucked into the gap between the trim and the doorway leading into the living room where Ji Ah was ranting at the tv. There hadn’t been another for at least three days, before this one. Juniper quickly tucked it into her back pocket, draping the back of her shirt over it so that her sister wouldn’t see.
“I knew it!” Ji Ah’s face was lined with worry, her hair uncharacteristically wild in a lopsided bun. Incredible that it hadn’t come undone already; she’d been tugging at it since an earlier news segment had shown a white man, 46, who’d been picked up by a patrol car on an unrelated call, and taken into police custody. It hadn’t taken long before he’d started talking, confessing to breaking into homes in the neighbourhood when they were unoccupied and leaving—
“—her body! Do you know that realtors don’t have to disclose when someone dies in a house? I would have never heard about it if Erica in the office hadn’t told me. She knows the poor woman’s cousin, who said the husband found her in the tub—”
“I thought you said it was an accident,” Juniper said as she replied to a comment from a recent follower, suggesting that ghosts sometimes made themselves known by moving objects around. Could the cards have already been in the house? Probably not, and even if they were, how do you explain the writing? Good guess, though! Juniper wrote. It had been a whirlwind week. Like something out of her wildest dreams, Juniper’s post had gone viral—picked up by a couple of bigger accounts and reshared before they made their way to some list-item posts on Distractify-type sites capitalizing on the spooky vibes of the Halloween card mystery leading up to the holiday. Now, just a few days out from Halloween, and Juniper was on the verge of a follower count boost that might just push her into actual micro-influencer territory. She was glad she’d set up the blog since then.
Ji Ah was still talking, she realized. Juniper had definitely lost the thread of what her sister was saying. She’d been ranting about the death that had occurred in their house—something Ji Ah hadn’t found out about until after she bought it. The news feature had sparked this. Apparently the man they’d arrested had been leaving things in people’s houses—though the report hadn’t said what, in order to discourage people seeking financial compensation, probably. Ji Ah was convinced the cards had come from him, and that she should have known better than to buy this house. The neighbourhood was full of bored, rich white people, for one, something that Ji Ah seemed to consider a serious matter of contention. The fact that a woman had died in this house, thereby driving the price far below normal asking, seemed a secondary issue.
Juniper couldn’t understand what was so wrong with being able to afford a nice house. She was hoping she might have enough for a down payment herself, once she secured some sponsorship deals. Sure, a death in the house wasn’t ideal. But if it made the mortgage more affordable…
“Weren’t you over the moon when you bought this place? I thought you wanted Lin to go to a good school,” Juniper interrupted.
“A good school hardly matters when there’s a deranged man breaking into houses, leaving threatening notes!”
Ji Ah was already halfway across the living room when Juniper caught onto her plan.
“Wait, you’re not going to the police station, are you?”
Ji Ah looked at Juniper like she was possessed. “Of course I am! Why wouldn’t I report this?”
“We don’t even know it was him—”
“Breaking into people’s homes and leaving items?” Ji Ah practically shrieked. “What else could it be?”
Juniper hesitated. “What about Lin’s…what Lin said.”
The girl had been acting oddly lately. Always wanting to play out of the house, she hardly spent any time in her room anymore. Even Juniper couldn’t coax her into playing Barbie Army. In fact, when she’d suggested it, Lin had visibly shuddered.
“What, the ghost?” Ji Ah laughed, but it was humourless. “You think my nine-year-old daughter is psychic and that this house is haunted by a collage-making ghost.”
It was decoupage, but now seemed like the wrong time to point that out.
Juniper drew in a breath. “Never mind, forget I said it.”
Ji Ah was shrugging on her coat, checking pockets for her keys. She stilled, and in a fluid motion turned to face Juniper.
“No, you know what? I was going to let this go, but—no. You want to know what I think? Why Lin’s been having nightmares and thinks that there’s a ghost in this house, besides the very probable possibility that some white man was breaking into our house and moving things around and leaving freaky notes?”
Juniper squinted at her sister, trying to determine if Ji Ah was just winding her up. “Uh…sure?”
“That,” Ji Ah said, pointing dramatically at Juniper’s phone. “All you’ve been able to talk about for the past week is your followers, you’ve been livestreaming all over this house—”
“I went viral, Ji Ah,” Juniper said haltingly, “what did you expect me to do? I have a real shot here, to turn this into something—”
“Turn what into something? Our lives? You can’t just broadcast everything to everyone and expect me to be okay with it. I’ve told you how many times how I feel about social media. Lin doesn’t understand it, she thinks there are people watching us—and she’s right! You don’t know who’s following you, you don’t know what they’re seeing—”
“You asked me to do this!” Juniper cried. She could feel her face heating. Was Ji Ah really saying this? She’d been trying to help, and now that she had an opportunity to do something really cool—to make something of herself, like Ji Ah was always wondering when she was going to do—her sister was flying off the handle? “Just because you don’t understand how this works—”
“I understand exactly how this works!” The look on Ji Ah’s face could have cut steel. “You’re broadcasting our business to any person who cares to look. You’re letting them into our lives—no wonder Lin’s afraid to be in her own home. She can’t relax. She’s being surveilled. And then you make her this ridiculous Halloween costume—”
“I was just trying to make something nice—”
“She’s nine, Juniper! She wants to go as Betty, from Riverdale, not a dragon!”
This took some of the wind out of Juniper’s sails. To be fair, she’d been the one who had let Lin watch Riverdale—but that was before she’d realized what kind of show it was, and it was only one episode.
“If you want to be an influencer, do it from your own place,” Ji Ah was saying. She couldn’t quite meet Juniper’s eyes. “You’re not doing this in my house. It’s too disruptive for Lin, and I won’t have it here. Either you stay, and quit it, or you go.”
Over the next few days, as Ji Ah helped Lin cobble together a passable Betty Cooper costume from the items already in her closet, Juniper retreated. She seethed privately in her room, only emerging to shower, walk Lin to and from her bus stop, and filch food from the pantry when Ji Ah was at work.
She kept up with her online presence, of course. She didn’t tell Ji Ah there’d been another note delivery. At first she’d been sure that Ji Ah must be right—it had to be the peeper. But then she’d found another card, just as ornate as the others, with the most legible inscription to date. It had been balanced on the edge of the bathtub in the hall bathroom, the one that Juniper had unofficially staked her claim on. The script on the back of the card was shaky, but this time Juniper could read the words clearly. You aren’t safe.
The front door opened.
“We’re leaving,” Ji Ah called up the stairs. “Last chance to come with!”
Juniper rolled over in her bed, crinkling a pile of treat-size candy wrappers on the other side of the mattress. “I’m good,” she called back. “Still fighting that migraine.”
“Alright!” Ji Ah said, the sound of her voice muffled by Juniper’s closed bedroom door. “See you in a bit, then.” The front door slammed shut, and Juniper heard the clacking of the key in the lock.
Before she started the seance, Juniper checked the latest comments on her blog.
Teenwitch87 had left a comment inquiring about how Juniper got her hair so shiny. She tried not to post too many pictures of herself, since she knew Ji Ah would throw a fit if she saw it, but face-photos got more engagement. Several other people had commented that the cards were getting more elaborate. There’d been three in the last two days, which meant that whoever was making them (and it definitely wasn’t that 46-year-old peeper, who’d failed to post bail) was spending more time on them. AvocadosPayMyMortgage was leading a small but vocal contingent of Juniper’s followers who still theorized that it was some weird marketing ploy that would be revealed in the next few days. Thankfully, there were no comments where a reader had linked the news of the neighbourhood voyeur to Juniper’s blog. The last comment, from an elvira_love9, was asking Juniper if she’d heard of mimic hauntings. Juniper hadn’t. She did a search for the term from the toilet, relieving her bladder. She didn’t want to be interrupted once things got rolling.
She’d picked up a spirit board earlier that week for a song at a local thrift store, and there were some pillar candles she’d bought a few years ago on sale (the same ones she saw in one of the Kardashians’ stories) that would be perfect for setting the mood. After she finished in the bathroom, Juniper rummaged in the back of the closet for a minute or so before she found them in a paper bag wedged between a suitcase and a dusty pair of ice skates. She freed the candles, dislodging a plastic bag in the process, which spilled its contents like a craft store vomiting over the floor of the closet. Juniper struggled to contain the mess, grabbing for sticker packs, a ream of cardstock, and several ink pads before she realized what she was looking at.
She set the paper bag with the candles on the floor and snatched up the plastic bag. Inside were all the things someone would need to make a foray into hobby decoupage—and all the stickers, images and stamps were along the same theme. Halloween.
A shiver went down Juniper’s spine. Had the cards been coming from inside the house this entire time? Was it—it couldn’t have been Ji Ah. Could it? Or was Lin behind this? But why had she hidden the cards in Juniper’s closet? Was it all some big prank—
The alarm on Juniper’s phone rang, startling her. Five minute warning before she was meant to go live.
Juniper cursed, shoving the craft supplies back into the bag and returning it into the depths of the closet. She’d deal with this later. She hadn’t spilled the beans on the peeper, so why this? She was giving her followers intrigue, mystery, a chance to play along and have fun. If she had to make up the ending herself, or find a way to keep the game going for another few weeks, so be it. She was smart. She’d figure something out.
Juniper smoothed down her hair (kept shiny with a never-fail $5 drug store treatment) and adjusted her shirt. She set the spirit board down on the carpet in front of her, dragged the dimmer switch down to low, clipped her phone to the ring light ($20 at the same drug store) and went live.
“Hey everyone, thanks for joining! I’m just going to get set up here while we’re still waiting for people to come in…but in the meantime, I want to thank you all so much for following and interacting with me on social media, and checking out the blog! I still can’t believe I’ve gone viral, it’s honestly a dream come true, and I really think together we can solve the mystery of these weird cards. What do you think, are you game?”
Several thumbs-ups and hearts drifted up from the bottom of the phone screen. Juniper smiled, though her eyes flicked to the number of viewers. It was less than half of her total follower count, much lower than she had expected, though she was sure she’d timed it right so that people could tune in before they headed out to their Halloween parties.
“Anyway, I’ve been doing some research into the house and what I managed to find online was that it used to be owned by a husband and wife who had a child. The wife died and shortly after, her husband and the child moved out, but I think her spirit may still be here. Maybe she could tell us more about the cards. Should we try to contact her?”
Again, a less than stellar response, although more people were starting to trickle in, a few dozen at a time. Maybe once she lit the candles and really got the creepy factor going. “Don’t forget to tell your friends to tune in! I think there’s a better chance of us reaching beyond the veil with more of us focused on making contact.”
Juniper set out the four candles, one for each corner of the board. When she was done, she checked the chat. “Hey, wyndman75, thanks for joining! Shout out to mah4skeletons, and elvira_love9 for being here tonight too! Thanks for the tip, Elvira. Has anyone else ever heard of a mimic haunting? Apparently it’s some kind of ghost that’s drawn to the energy of the living, looking for a way that their spirit can escape limbo, or the afterlife or whatever, and come back from beyond the grave.” Juniper brought the last pillar candle up underneath her face and touched the lighter to the wick, enjoying the way the small flame lit her features in a soft but ominous light. “In order to succeed, they have to make their victims vulnerable and then—they strike! And take over the living person’s body. Only a few, people close to the victim, can discern the difference in the possessed; to most people they look exactly the same. Isn’t that creepy?”
Juniper laughed at one of the commenters asking how the mimics took over their victims. “I looked it up on a paranormal wiki and it didn’t say! Personally though, I’ve never felt weaker than the one time I had food poisoning. Or maybe after watching an intense episode of Grey’s Anatomy. What about you guys?”
Juniper bantered with the few comments that came through as she finished the necessary preparations. When the candles were lit, and placed at each corner of the spirit board where she’d laid it on a brightly coloured mat on the floor, Juniper pulled her camera back slightly and dimmed the ring light.
“Everybody ready? Alright,” she said, placing her hands on the planchette. “Let’s do this.”
“Is anyone there?” she asked. At first, nothing happened. Juniper stared at the board in frustration, willing the planchette to move. Seconds crept by, punctuated by messages in the chat that were getting less and less fun. The viewer count was reversing, ticking lower.
Juniper started to sweat. Another moment passed before realized she’d just have to do it herself. Slowly, she shifted her weight back so that it looked as though she was being pulled forward as she pushed the planchette across the board, where it came to rest on “YES”.
Arranging her features into a look of surprise, Juniper stared into the lens of her phone’s camera. “Oh my god! Should we ask who it is?”
A flood of thumbs-up, hearts and smiley faces lit the screen. The viewer count was slowly but steadily ticking upward again. Juniper beamed.
For the next half hour or so, Juniper embroidered on the scant details she’d gleaned from one or two news reports about the tragedy that had occurred in the house. She gave the woman the name “Dolly” on a whim, allowing her hands to lethargically steer the planchette across the board, slowly revealing the story that Dolly had been haunting them, and was responsible for the notes. All the while, Juniper’s mind ticked away, trying to figure out a suitable ending to the seance session before Ji Ah and Lin got back from trick-or-treating.
She was about to wrap it up, deciding that she wouldn’t give the ending away just yet, but leave it on a cliffhanger, when things started to get weird.
“I think I can feel Dolly’s spirit,” Juniper confessed in a breathy voice, “but it’s growing weaker. Maybe we should end the session here.”
The planchette moved so fast it nearly skidded. Juniper managed to keep one finger on its edge as it abruptly stopped on “NO”. She looked down at the board, and her hand. Had it been a muscle spasm?
“Dolly?” Juniper asked, her voice faltering with a touch of true fear. “Is that you?”
The planchette repeated its frantic trip across the board, hitting five letters in rapid succession. O-T-H-E-R. The chat exploded. “Other, like the cards?” “Could it have been Dolly the whole time?” “Was that your signature, Dolly, or is there something else in the house?”
Juniper read the last comment aloud, and the planchette careened back up, stopping on “YES”.
“There’s something else in the house?” Juniper asked weakly. Whatever this was, it was getting less fun by the minute.
The planchette slid down the board, hovering over the number two.
One of the commenters sent a laughing emoji along with two skulls. “Holy shit, girl! You’ve got an infestation!”
“Were you the one writing the notes?” Juniper tried to regain a sense of control. Regardless of whether this was real—if she was actually talking to some entity in the house—she could make this work.
The planchette dragged her hand back up to “NO” and then Y, O, and finally stopped on U.
“What does that mean?”
“The cards weren’t me,” Juniper said, flashing a nervous grin, aware that the session was still live. The viewer count blinked at her, ticking over two thousand. The chat had gone quiet. Everyone was watching to see what she’d do next. “Unless…” her stomach dropped. It wasn’t possible. She searched her mind for missing time, blackouts, anything that would suggest she’d been harbouring a spirit parasite.
The planchette moved, Juniper’s one remaining finger barely hanging on. She read aloud as the letters flashed under the finder. “I, N, Y, O, U.”
“No,” Juniper whispered. But she felt the hair on the back of her neck stand on end, and the skin on her arms burn with an eerie chill.
The planchette moved again. Juniper followed the letters, trying to keep her hands from trembling.
“T,” she said, her voice low and laboured, “O, L. D, Y. O. U.”
Juniper’s voice broke on the last letter. “What are you?” she asked, her mind shying away from the answer but her eyes fixed to the board. “What do you want?”
The planchette moved slowly, almost lazily, across the board. Juniper watched, unable to move more than her hands, as the letters came one after another, in a dreadful, inevitable march. T. O. L. I. V. E.
Juniper’s eyes flicked up to her phone just as the lights went out. The candles guttered, casting just enough illumination for her to see, in the black pool of the screen, the dim outline of a face behind her, before everything went dark.
Ji Ah relieved Lin of the pom-poms they’d made the night before by cutting up a handful of plastic bags. She was loath to admit it, but some of Juni’s mommy blogs did have some pretty good tips.
“Why don’t we sort your candy in the living room and watch Hocus Pocus?” she asked.
Lin nodded, dragging her pillowcase through the doorway and heading for the couch.
A sudden movement caught Ji Ah’s eye. She looked up, toward the second floor, and was startled to see an unfamiliar woman standing on the top step landing. Juniper didn’t normally have friends over—but it was Halloween. Maybe she’d decided to have a scary movie night in.
Ji Ah blinked, then looked again. For a second she could have sworn it was Juniper, but then something about the mouth, the nose…or maybe the hair. It wasn’t quite right.
“Hi,” Ji Ah greeted the woman, trying to overcome her confusion. “I’m Juniper’s sister. Nice to meet you.”
There was something off about the way the woman smiled. And, now that she looked more closely, Ji Ah could have sworn the sweater the woman was wearing was one of Juniper’s…in fact, hadn’t Juniper also been wearing those exact brown corduroys?
Before she could help herself, Ji Ah found the words blurting from her mouth. “Don’t those—” she gestured to the woman’s shirt, “isn’t that Juniper’s?”
The woman looked down, the odd smile on her face widening into a startling flash of teeth. Her gaze seemed to encompass more than just the clothes she wore, as she stretched her limbs and hands out in front of her in an almost admiring manner.
“Yeah,” the stranger said finally. “I guess it was.”