Famous Last Words(3)

By: Katie Alender

“Take those down, put up whatever you want,” Jonathan said. “You guys can go shopping over the weekend.”

Shopping — with his credit card, spending his money? No, thanks. I’d rather live with boring still lifes, even if they were as far from my style as you could get. In fact, nothing in the room reflected my style — or the style of any person under thirty.

But it was fine.

Mom cleared her throat. “Maybe Willa wants a little time to get settled. Take a shower or check her email.”

Maybe Willa’s right here and you don’t need to talk about her in the third person.

But I was grateful for the opportunity to be alone. I waved to Mom and Jonathan as they left, then shut and locked the door.

There was something I needed to do, and it had nothing to do with checking email.

My heart began to thud as I set my suitcase on the bed and unzipped it.

You don’t have to do this. You can quit. Turn over a new leaf. Start your new life like a normal person instead of a superstitious loser.

I dug through my toiletry bag for a small black suede pouch, out of which I fished a silver ring set with an oily-looking green stone. Tucked inside one of my sneakers, wrapped in tissue paper, was a purple candle and book of matches. I lit the candle and set it on the nightstand.

Then I slipped the ring on my finger and sat cross-legged on the bed with my eyes closed, taking a deep, self-conscious breath.

I imagined every corner of the room filling up with a bright white light. (Supposedly the souls in the beyond love white light. They’re drawn to it like moths to a flame. Immortal moths.)

No matter how many times I’d done this, I always felt slightly silly…. But here’s the weird part: After a minute or so, something happens — something I can’t explain. My whole body starts to sweat, especially my forehead, around my hairline. And I get a pounding insta-headache.

The book says to wait for a sign that you’ve made contact — a sweaty headache could be a sign of connection, right? — and then you have to concentrate on your intentions.


It’s Willa. I’m looking for you. Find me. Please.

I’d been repeating these words for more than a year. Once a day, sometimes twice.

There was no response.

There had never been a response.

I waited a few minutes in silence, then slid the ring off my finger.

Bye, Dad. Talk tomorrow … maybe.

I pictured the white light beginning to fade out, like it was on a dimmer switch.

Suddenly, the whole house gave a sudden bone-rattling jolt.

My first earthquake, I realized.

Then another thought dawned on me … one that left me with a sour taste in my mouth.

Had it really been an earthquake … or was it just in my head?

Stranger things had happened, unfortunately. It wasn’t just headaches that struck like a thunderclap. I’d catch swiftly moving blurs of foggy light at the edges of my vision and hear random sounds without any possible source. I’d lose my footing when I walked — like that horrible feeling when you reach the bottom of the stairs and expect another step but there isn’t one.

It was all those things. And even more than that, it was this sense I had — almost an instinct — that I couldn’t trust myself.

It had begun shortly after my father’s death. Mom, a brand-new widow, was understandably concerned that her daughter was suddenly having bizarre episodes. She was convinced I had a tumor and insisted on getting me a slew of medical tests, including an echocardiogram and an MRI. Thankfully, the doctors gave us the all clear, and for the past year or so, things had been calm. In fact, Mom was so sure my problems were in the past that she never bothered to mention any of it to Jonathan.

What she didn’t know was that the problems weren’t in the past.

I just wasn’t telling her about them anymore. I taught myself to live this way, to make things easier for everyone.

Early on, one of the doctors suggested to Mom that the cause might be emotional, and that I should try talking to someone about my father’s death. But I refused.

Believe me when I say that I could spend the rest of my life not talking about that morning.

There was a panicked knock at the door.

“Willa? Willa?” Mom shook the doorknob. “Are you all right? It’s locked! Can you let me in?”

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