I really don’t know where to start with this except to say that my grandmother, God rest her soul, has never been a mystery to me. She was an open book to all of us, especially my mother, giving us a sense of security and comfort during really hard times – my mom’s car accident and the following coma, my learning struggles, my brother’s drug abuse – and always did it with a smile on her face, telling us that “everything’s gonna be alright, dear, just you wait and see.”
And things would always work out for us in the end. Always.
The man who caused my mom’s car accident not only had to pay for the hospital bills, he also had to pay her damages when she sued him in court, a substantial amount that a man of his status could more than afford. After a few tutoring lessons with my grandmother, I began excelling in school and ended up as valedictorian. My brother never had an overdose, but instead chose to enter rehab after a short conversation with my grandmother and the family.
Any time we would tell our grandmother the good news, she would smile and nod her head, telling us, “see? I told you everything was gonna be alright.” Then she’d give us cookies or make us a great meal.
Over the meal, she’d tell us stories about her own mistakes from when she was a child, like the time she snuck out of the house at 13 to have a cigarette with the boy next door and ended up getting sick. She’d also gave us lessons from when she was an adult: twice divorced before ultimately meeting and marrying my grandfather at the tender age of 26 and giving birth to eight children afterwards, she was always quick to point out her flaws and what she learned from her experiences, both at home and in the workplace, as she worked as a school teacher until she retired at the age of 72.
I could always go to my grandmother and talk to her about anything, even though I have a strong relationship with my mother, my sisters, and my brothers. She would listen to me without interrupting, then ask me my feelings on the situation or issue before asking me if I would like her opinion. She never judged me, never pressured me to do anything, and would always take care to make sure that I was feeling better about the situation than I had before I spoke with her.
All this to say that she passed away last week.
I know, this kinda sounds like a eulogy, but I promise it’s not. The reason I can say that is because, well, everything surrounding her death and the events leading up to this post have been very strange. Strange and dark.
My grandmother did not live in the continental United States. She lived in Puerto Rico, in the same house that she had been gifted by my grandfather’s parents when they got married. My entire family is spread out across the US, as we’re all adults now and my parents decided to move back east.
When I first got the call that my grandmother had passed, both my mother – who phoned to tell me – and I assumed that it was due to her age. She was in her late 90s and although she was in good health, one can assume that there’s not much time left when you’re pushing 100, you know?
But that wasn’t the case.
I found out later that my grandmother had died not at home, but in the church down the street. The church is open to worship 24/7 and since Hurricane Maria, it’s been a refuge of sorts for the community. She would spend a lot of time there, which my mother appreciated as the community always sought to look after her.
And she didn’t die of old age. The Padre of the church told me that she had been completely fine in the church when he noticed her at 11 am, the only other person in the church at the time. He even spoke to her before running a quick errand, which took less than 10 minutes.
When he got back, my grandmother was lying face down inside the pew she had been sat in, clutching a Bible in one hand and a black rosary in the other. When the Padre turned her over, her eyes were open with a slight smirk on her face.
That’s creepy, right? An old woman passes away in a church with a smirk on her face. It gives me the chills every time that I think about it.
But it gets stranger.
My mother made it through the Novena, the nine nights of mourning that our family observes during the passing of relatives and loved ones. But she just couldn’t bear the thought of clearing out the house her mother had spent the better part of 70 years in. Too many memories.
So she sent my sister Ava and I.
I’m not gonna recount the journey there because it was boring until we got to the island. We went straight from the airport to our grandmother’s house, which had been left untouched except for the memorial the community left outside.
Then we got to work cleaning the house.
We started in the kitchen, which is small and barely fits two people. It’s basically a hallway – you can stand in the middle of the kitchen, stretch out both of your hands, and touch both counters.
This is where we found the first odd thing.
Deep in a cupboard underneath the counter, we found an old shoebox filled with feathers. Not that weird, right? Except they all had blood splatter on them and had red or black string tying the bundles together. The feathers also seemed to have something written on them, but time had erased them so well, we couldn’t figure out what it said.
I thought it was weird, but Ava? Ava was extremely disturbed.
Let me stop here and say something: Ava and I have always been close but our views on religion, faith, and spirituality differ quite a bit. While I’m agnostic, she’s pagan in her views. I find it fascinating that she devoted her entire life to the study of the esoteric and the occult – she even has a master’s in semiotics and is a researcher at her university in the field.
Ava told me that it looked like folk magic, which I brushed off. My grandmother was a devout Catholic, had been her entire life. While she never discriminated against any religion or faith, she was not one to ever speak about folk magic.
I changed my mind when I found the books.
Ava and I had been in our grandmother’s bedroom several times. We would camp out there during our summer trips and watch movies on her little CRT tv and have midnight snacks. She’d watch the horror movies with us. She’d also do our hair and nails in her bedroom, giving us makeovers as often as we’d like. I never saw anything weird.
It was while we were clearing out her closet that we found it: another box. This one was old, made of real wood with brass hardware. It was big too, almost as big as a trunk, and it was buried in a dresser that stood in her closet.
We both thought it was really heavy and when we opened it, we found out why: there were two large books, seemingly handmade, stacked on top of each other.
There was no indication of what the books were about just by looking at them. One was black, the other was red. Both had a gold leaf symbol on the spine, but other than that, they were just leather-bound books.
I opened the first one and found that the first page was devoted to a name that I had never seen before. Ava recognized it, though, and forbade me from ever speaking the name out loud or writing it down, so I’ll just say that the name was “Maria.”
Her initial reaction to seeing the name freaked me out, but nothing ever prepared me for her taking the book, flipping through it, getting a shocked look on her face, and then telling me, “This is bad. This is really bad.”
I took the book back and flipped through it. I couldn’t read any of the writing – to me, it just looked like scribbles and symbols. The drawings that accompanied most of the pages made a little more sense, but those were disturbing – pictures of decapitated animals, people’s portraits with a large X over the face or scribbles over the eyes, nose, or mouth, weird plants, and symbols.
“Sigils, not symbols,” Ava would tell me later when I asked about it. She also told me that the book, which was the black book, was a grimoire. It was used to record spells and their results, along with other information, in this particular folk magic.
“It’s really weird,” Ava said as she flipped through the book, “this type of magic isn’t usually practiced in this area. I wondered where she picked it up.”
It took me a second to realize that she was actually saying that our grandmother, a schoolteacher and the rock of our family, was a practicing occultist.
I wanted to laugh, but I couldn’t. It would have sounded hollow coming from my throat because the realization that was setting in was that our sweet grandmother was not so sweet after all.
The red book. The journal.
Man, I wish I had never taken a look at it. I’m serious. I’ve been having nightmares about it since reading parts of it. The dreams are just the words on the page, accompanied by my grandmother’s voice, and images about how she might have done what she did.
The red book was a journal about how my grandmother had taken it upon herself to use her magickal practices to influence our lives, and I don’t mean in good ways.
Remember how I said my grandmother would never pressure me into anything? Well, that’s not true. She apparently used magick to influence not only my teachers into being more lenient with my grades until I could get a handle on my education, but she influenced what I studied later on in college, the college I attended, and even “chose” my fiancé for me, based on what she wanted me to accomplish. She had even done some sort of banishing ritual to get rid of my former boyfriend, who I mourned for a year because he died in a freak accident the day that, I would find out from his parents, he was going to propose to me.
And she did it to every single one of my family members.
This was all recorded in the journal, which we found later was the last in a series of over 30. We found them hidden in the garage in a large hole under a loose tile.
The records went back to her adolescence. The things she had done, both with magick and on her own, were haunting. People she had “neutralized,” events that she had set in motion to punish others, and, most disturbing, how she had managed to get rid of her first two husbands and, later, my own grandfather.
I’m still not sure what the journal means by this, but apparently she sacrificed them to Maria, the entity the grimoire was dedicated to. She had finally found an “acceptable” partner in my grandfather, but when he found out about her practices when they were both in their 70s, she sacrificed them too.
My grandfather’s death was sudden, unexpected, and odd. The doctors didn’t know why a fit man in his 70s who still went on regular runs, ate a vegetarian diet, and didn’t drink or smoke would crash his rental car into a harbor during the day and not try to escape.
They found his body in the car, still strapped in, his hands on the wheel, his eyes wide open and a look of confusion on his face. He had made no attempt to be saved by the people who jumped in to help him, having locked the doors – an unusual habit for him – prior to going into the harbor.
He just let himself expire.
We read all the journals that day and well into the night. We’d each read a journal, then swap, moving our way backwards through our grandmother’s life. There is so much in those journals, just too much to put here.
One thing is clear – if these journals are true, and my grandmother wasn’t senile, then she had caused so much damage and grief in the course of her life that it would break our mother’s heart. She, too, had lost former boyfriends, even lost some children, and these events were unfortunately also in the book. Telling her might cause her to spiral into a depression.
So Ava and I came up with a plan: Ava would take the books, the feathers, and the other weird things we found in the house – the garden, in particular, held a lot of disgusting secrets – with her so she could research everything further. I would help her clean out the rest of the house, dispose of what wasn’t needed, go through everything we were going to take back to our mother, and never, ever, mention the things we found.
The one thing that gets me is this: my grandmother started some sort of ritual the day that she passed. It was the last recorded entry, and she described going to “the lair of the enemy” to conduct the ritual.
It also states that her “heir would take up the mantle of the work and complete it.” But no heir was named. My mother has four sisters and three brothers, so I suppose it could have been any of them. However, our mother is the eldest, so it would make sense that it’s her.
Until Ava pointed something else out: our grandmother had given every member of her line, including our family, little symbols. These would appear in the grimoire and the journals, indicating which family member was being targeted or having magick used to help them.
My symbol showed up above the heir word in the journal.
It’s been a week since we left Puerto Rico and my sister keeps telling me not to be worried. Still, when she says it, I know she’s lying – she’s worried. I am too.
Because at night, right before I fall asleep to the sounds of my fiancé playing video games in the living room, I can see my grandmother standing at the foot of my bed, smiling at me. Behind her stands a tall, slender woman, her left arm around my grandmother’s waist and her right hand beckoning me to her.
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