If the ritual is not performed correctly, serious side effects may occur. For example, you might bring the body back, but not the soul.

Like Pet Sematary? I shuddered, lit the candles, and began to read.

“O, Name of Deceased — uh, Natalie Wysocki — hear my call.”

The trees rattled; the shadows shook over the forest floor.

“Come out, from the depths of the dead.”

With a strong gust of wind, several leaves blew across the dirt, and into the ravine.

“Come forward, into the land of the living.”

Her death was my fault. I brought her out there. I just thought a hike would be a good distraction from our mother’s recent death. But she ran ahead of me, peered into the ravine. And leaned over a little too far…

One of the candles blew out. I struck a match, and set it to the wick; it flickered, fluttered, and then went out again.

Now say, in your own words, a message to the deceased, imploring him or her to join you.

I had written down a million things that I wanted to say. But in the end, all of them were too formal, too stiff. So I cleared my throat, sat up straighter, and said what came to mind.

“Natalie, please come home. I love you. And I want you to know that I forgive you, for…”

For what? There were too many things to name. Stealing my Barbies at seven. Stealing my boyfriends at seventeen. Lying to our mom constantly, telling her everything was my fault. She was the kind of person that, when everyone told me she’s in a better place…

I didn’t quite believe them.

“Natalie, I forgive you for everything.”

Everything — yes, even that.

When you visited Mom on her deathbed. Alone. And somehow convinced her to change the will. No, Mom wanted it that way, you said, when I accused you. She always planned to cut you out, ever since you divorced Greg.

“It took a long time, but I forgive you. Because above all, you’re still my sister, Natalie. You held my hand through the toughest times — through my divorce from Greg, through Mom’s death.

“You are mine, and I am yours.”

The ceremony has ended, I read, from the glow of my smartphone. Wait for the deceased to find you, and make sure their body is free of spirit-inhibiting substances, such as salt and water…

I didn’t bother reading the rest. I stood up, blew out the candles, and waited.

Five minutes went by.

Then ten.

Then twenty.

That’s when the tears started to fall. If your loved one does not come to you within a half hour, it may mean too much time has passed since their death, the text said, printed at the bottom. If needed, please call a grief counselor at 1-800…

I flung the phone into the dirt and began to sob.

But then I heard it.

A soft splash, from behind me.

From within the ravine.


Splash, splash.

It echoed up the rocks, off the trees. I scrambled to the edge. “Natalie!” I cried. “Is that you?”


I retrieved the phone, and turned the flashlight on. The white light illuminated strands of grass and shards of rock, jutting out from the steep sides. The rest was in dark shadow. I shifted the flashlight, leaning over further, looking for something — anything — that seemed out of place.

But it was too dark.

I had to go down.

Turning my body, I lowered one foot onto a protruding rock. I grabbed a thick root, caked with dirt, to my right. And, slowly, I began the descent.

It seemed like forever before I felt the cold water, the smooth rocks underneath my feet. I wiped my forehead, and shone the flashlight around me.


There, standing in the stream, was a dark figure. A white dress hung off her bony figure, dirty and crumpled.


She didn’t turn around.

“Natalie!” I ran towards her. The water splashed out around my feet, hitting me with cold spray. I flung my arms around her and began to sob.

She didn’t hug back.

“I missed you so much,” I choked.

She didn’t reply.

“Natalie?” I pulled away.

She gave me an unblinking stare. “It’s so cold down here,” she said, her voice empty and hollow.

I took off my jacket and wrapped it around her. “I know. But we’ll get you out of here, and get you warmed up back at home, okay?”

“Why did you do it?” she shouted. But her gaze was focused over my shoulder, somewhere slightly behind me. “It hurt so much.”

“Natalie — I’m so sorry — but you’re safe now. Come on, let’s get you home.”

“No, please!” she whimpered.

And then she broke away from me. She ran downstream, kicking up icy water behind her, wailing and moaning.

“Natalie!” I ran after her, slipping over the rocks. “Come back!”

But she didn’t get far before she fell to her knees, right there in the middle of the stream. “No, please, it hurt so much,” she cried, her face tilted up towards the sky. “Don’t put the fire on me, please, I beg of you —”

A gut-wrenching scream. She convulsed and spasmed in the water. I ran over, throwing my arms around her —

But I jumped back, with a yelp of pain.

Her body was hot.

Scalding hot.

Tendrils of steam rose up from the water. She thrashed and convulsed, shrieked and screamed. I was sobbing, crying her name —

“Demon!” she screamed. “Get away from me!”

And then I realized.

You might bring the body back, but not the soul.

Her soul wasn’t here.

It was in Hell.


And then she was still. Quiet. Cold. I collapsed in the water beside her. “I’m so, so sorry,” I said, tears rolling off my cheeks and dropping onto hers.

She didn’t blink.

I pulled her slowly out of the stream, and onto the dry shore. I smoothed my jacket over her, and cradled her head in my lap.

And then, on top of the pain, a terrible fear settled in me.

Because I knew, whatever hell Natalie was in…

Was the same place I’d end up.

“When you told me about the will…” The tears fell hot and fast. “I knew I’d never be able to pay off my debt. Never give Brady the life he deserved.”

Come over here, Natalie! Look!

Oh, wow!

Can you see the stream at the bottom?

Yeah, I think —


My hands collided with her back.


She hit the floor of the ravine.


My feet hit the dirt, as I ran as fast as I could.

“I was just so mad.” I rocked her slowly in my arms. “I didn’t think it through. I didn’t realize… life without you would be so hard. I didn’t know I’d miss you so much.”

I let out a shuddering breath.

“I didn’t know how much I loved you.”

The stream gurgled. A soft breeze blew through the forest, rustling the trees high above. We both lay there, on the river bank, still and cold as the water dried off of our clothes.

And then she blinked.

Looked up at me, with those beautiful blue eyes.


She broke into a smile.

“I’m so, so sorry — please, I —”

She pulled me into a tight hug.

“I’ve already forgiven you, a long time ago.”