Prank

 

Jeanine lined the edges of the bathroom with candles and lit them with care with the matches from the kitchen drawer Mom had said never to open. She had taken the floor pillows from her bedroom and put one against the bathtub, the other right across from it against the sink. She sat by the bathtub and waited.

The floorboards in the hallway creaked, and the bathroom door opened – it was Jeanine’s twin Emily, holding the Ouija board in her trembling hands.

“Jean, I don’t like this,” Emily said, setting the board down on the floor in the center. “I really, really don’t like this.”

“Shut up,” Jeanine said, “and close the door. Shut off the lights. Demons hate the light.”

Emily did as she was told, and the room glowed gold from the candlelight. She grabbed her hairbrush from the drawer, then sat on her designated pillow and brushed her long hair.

“If demons hate the light, then why the candles?”

“The candles, dummy, are the only light that demons do like. It’s like you never listen to a word I say,” Jeanine said, arranging the Ouija board to be exactly center between them. She smiled to herself, knowing Emily would never forget what she was about to do.

She had been planning this prank for months, saving up her allowance, convincing her twin she was buying a new board game for them to play. She conned Emily into forking up her piggy bank cash, too, just enough to purchase it from the strange shop across from their middle school.

Here it was, the yellowing heavy square with each letter painted in perfect alphabetical sequence. The room was quiet except for Emily’s panicked breathing.

“Would you stop it?” Jeanine said. “Demons aren’t real, Em.”

“But why does it have to be demons?” Emily said, catching eyes with her twin quickly before looking away. “Why can’t we just talk to Papa through it?”

“Because Ouija doesn’t reach angels.”

“I hate this already.” Emily brushed her hair faster. Jeanine wrenched the brush from Emily’s grip, throwing it against the wall. It hit the tile with a clang.

“Stop it!” Jeanine said. “Don’t you want to know if it’s real?”

They stared into each other’s eyes for a whole minute. Emily nodded.

Wordlessly, they put their fingers lightly on the planchette.

“What do we say?” Emily whispered. Jeanine’s eyes narrowed at her twin, as if to say shut up, please. The candles flickered for a moment, unnoticed.

“Is there anyone here?” Jeanine said, her voice echoing. The planchette began to move under the light touch of their fingers, hovering over YES. Emily took her fingers off and folded her arms.

“You’re messing with me,” she accused.

“Put your fingers back, now,” Jeanine said, “or I’m telling Mom you bought this with your money. Which is partly true, by the way.”

Emily hesitantly placed her fingertips back on the piece.

“Oh, Spirit,” Jeanine continued dramatically, her voice deep, her speech planned word for word, “who are you?”

The planchette moved, and Emily’s eyes widened with every letter. Jeanine spoke each aloud: “D-E-M-O-N.”

“Jean, please,” Emily whispered, her fingers shaking. “Let’s stop now, before Mom hears us from downstairs.”

Jeanine only smiled. “Oh Great Demon, what do you want from us?”

The piece, guided and steadied by Jeanine’s fingers, moved despite Emily’s trembling. This time, Emily spoke the letters aloud. “I-W-A-N-T-J-E-A-N.”

She looked up at her twin, her eyes glossy, a single tear falling from her eye. “Jeanie, it wants you.”

“No!” Jeanine gasped in fake surprise, putting on her best frightened expression which she had been practicing the last few days and it was especially good. “It can’t want…me!”

Then – the best part of the trick – Jeanine’s eyes widened, and her head hung back as she threw her arms up as she began to speak in a made-up language she had practiced with great diligence, involving a lot of lip-smacking and tongue-flailing.

Emily began to cry. “STOP IT, Jeanie, this isn’t funny! This isn’t funny! STOP! IT!

Just then, the room began to shake, slowly at first, then violently in tremors. The candles shifted and moved across the floor as if the ground were tilting. Emily screamed in terror, grasping at the tile but finding nowhere to hold, looking about wildly. Jeanine stopped her act, too, grasping against the sides of the bathtub, trying to steady herself.

“This isn’t me!” Jeanine said, her voice cracking. “Emily, this isn’t me! I swear!”

Emily screamed louder, tears streaming down her face. She tried to stand, but the room shuddered suddenly, and she collapsed to the floor, her head hitting the tile with a crack. A few candles fell over, cracking the glass of their containers, pieces flying everywhere, dinging against the tile. The board slid across the room and crashed with a thud against the closed bathroom door, trying to escape the little hell Jeanine had created.

Then the earth was still. The earthquake had ended. The air smelled like ‘Fresh Linen’ and ‘French Vanilla’ and smoke.

Jeanine slowly brushed the glass pieces into the corner, and stood the fallen candles upright. Some were still lit, and flickered feebly. Emily laid motionless.

“Em, you don’t have to be so dramatic. Obviously I was joking, you know, about the board and all. Get up and help me clean.”

Emily laid there, silent. Jeanine rolled her eyes.

“Get up, now,” Jeanine ordered, standing up herself. She crossed the room and turned the bathroom lights on, but Emily did not stir. “Stop faking and get up!”

Emily did not move, not even to breathe. Her hands were sprawled over her face. Jeanine reached down to move her arms, but felt something cool and sticky on her fingers. She then realized that around Emily’s head, a pool of something thick was leaking out.

Jeanine screamed as she had never screamed before.

The planchette moved silently across the Ouija board, spelling out:

G-O-T Y-O-U

 

after a nightmare

I’d fallen asleep in the living room, and the afternoon glow had begun to filter through the blinds. I awoke to my head pulsing from vertigo, and I lifted myself up from the scratchy sides of the grey, polyester oblong block of a couch I had decided to nap on. Every part of me ached, and my skin was soaked with sweat just like when I was a child and I woke from a nightmare. My dream had slipped from my conscious right as I awoke, but I could feel the paranoia I had experienced just moments earlier as I had slept. Every sound (heightened by my now pricked ears) I heard became the swish of a cloak, the shriek of a gunshot, the whisper of a ghost.

The lamp was still on, flickering at odd intervals like a candle. Puzzled, I stood and approached it, my heart pounding wildly, my steps amplified to thuds on the wooden floor. I could sense the darkening room behind me, feeling invisible eyes boring into my back. Ominously, the lamp flickered rapidly as if it was calling for mercy as I fingered the knob and silenced its glow.

In that instant I remembered the snuffed candles that had adorned my mother’s casket, worn down to snubs after hours of weeping souls kneeling before them and praying to whatever God they believed in. My tears had drowned out the last flame on the last candle, as if my presence ushered her soul to pass on right before my eyes.

She used to sing to me in her lovely falsetto a lullaby whenever I tiptoed to her room after a nightmare –

hush my love, my little bird

caught alone in the brush

you flew so high, my little bird

and fell so far, my love, my love

– and her hands would stroke my hair as she hummed. Even now in the afternoon dark of the living room, I could feel her fingers work through my long tresses.

I reached behind to feel my own hair, half-hoping to meet her hands at the back of my head, and when I didn’t find them I rubbed my neck instead to release the tension that had settled there like specks of dust.

My eyes had closed as I tried to remember her scent, her green eyes, her pale milk skin – but they were memories long gone, with only whispering traces left to trigger my senses in the darkest of times.

I opened my eyes and remembered where I was, standing before the darkened lamp. I had never before seen just how elegantly it had been crafted, with a vine of delicate flowers interlacing around its feminine stand. Old and worn but still beautiful even as it stood there in the silence and the dark. It hung over the room like the presence of a spirit that the house had accepted and welcomed like an old friend.

Missing the comfort of its glow, I turned the lamp back on, and in the split second as the light filled the room and the darkness fled to the crevices and corners of the house, I saw my mother smiling down on me.

The Bloody Ballet

It was the most gorgeous ballet she had ever seen. Each dancer moved with effortless grace across the stage, in perfect time with the movements of the deep cello, the violent strings, the roll of the drums. They breathed with each pause, and moved with each note, their toes lightly kissing the ground as the dancers moved their arms upward, to the sky, the moon, the sun, the universe, becoming one with life itself.

The dancers had reached the climax of the piece, the reenactment of a terrible murder – the lead dancer in a blood-red leotard, center stage and alone, was spinning and spinning and spinning, so fast she was but a flash of crimson. Then, suddenly, from behind, she was overcome by the other dancers, whirling from all sides, surrounding her, suffocating her, and as they spun she began to falter, and she collapsed, ‘dead’.

The fall was so real, and so poignant, and so beautiful, that as the lights dimmed and the ‘murdered’ dancer was carried off by the angelically off-white leotard-clad others, she stood along with the crowd in a standing ovation, clapping with all her life and soul and weeping for the beautiful dancer. She knew she just had to meet her.

Battling through the crowded hall to backstage, she pricked her arm on a rose thorn as she bumped up against a man holding a bouquet of the red blooms. She groaned in pain as the blood trickled down her arm, and the man mumbled an apology before he disappeared into the crowd. She gazed at the wound, which had mysteriously begun to burn and fester, the blood bubbling like the surface of a witches’ brew.

“Let’s help you clean up, shall we?” a voice said from behind her, crackly, as if from a lifetime of smoking tobacco. She turned, startled, to see an old woman with sagging wrinkles and grey-black beetle’s eyes. She was about to decline the offer, but her voice caught in her throat, and before she knew it, the old woman had secured bony fingers around her wrist and was leading her through a backstage door.

She gazed at the beautiful sight of the dancers winding down from the performance backstage. They were all mechanically undressing and slipping off their nylons, undoing their buns and letting loose their curly tresses, hanging up their leotards. She expected more of a loud, jubilant crowd, but each ballet member was curiously silent, avoiding eye contact with the others and staring at the ground. Their eyes looked cold and glazed over, and she noticed they were all the same color – a light blue, the paralyzing blue of a fresh spring sky.

“You all did wonderful!” she exclaimed, hoping for a response from the lethargic dancers. She smiled at all of them as she passed, but they all ignored her, as if they were incapable of hearing anything at all.

Well that’s impossible, she thought. They dance so perfectly in time to the music, they can’t possibly be deaf. Maybe they all are just very tired and have no energy to respond? Puzzled, but overjoyed at seeing the inside world of the ballet, she let herself be led by the old woman into a dark back room.

The woman flicked on the light, and sitting on a love seat was the lead dancer, the beautiful woman in the red leotard.

The old woman released her grip, but all she could look at was the gorgeous woman sprawled luxuriously on the love seat. The dancer took no notice of the new visitors, staring robotically at the floor as if concentrating very hard on something.

The old woman was digging into file cabinets and finally found a jar of some sort of yellow paste and a long bandage. “Come,” the old woman beckoned. She moved towards her, suspicious of the strange paste.

“It will heal your wound. Come closer.”

The woman used a silver spoon to dollop the paste onto the bandage, and pressed it into her upper arm. It felt like fire, and her blood felt like it was curdling and writing inside of her. Before she could muster a scream, the woman had pressed a cloth against her mouth, and she collapsed before the old woman’s feet. The woman bent down, and with her cold hands, caressed her long, blonde hair, and lifting it upwards in brittle, wrinkled hands, breathed in its lovely scent.

“Ahh. Finally. A blonde one will complete the set.”

The old woman then went to work.

The next night, the ballet’s cast had changed – the lead dancer in the bloody ballet had been replaced overnight, by a beautiful, previously unheard of blonde bombshell, who was said to have danced more beautifully than any other dancer on Earth.

Pancakes

She had bitten her nails to bits and shredded her fingers, an old, nervous habit from her college years that resurfaced when her period was late three months ago. She drummed her fingers on the dashboard and tried to think of something, anything, everything else that wasn’t babies, cribs, or diapers; which was hard to do when you were sitting in the parking lot of an elementary school, waiting for your little munchkin to bound his way up to the car. She searched the seas of children heading towards the parking lot, their tiny little feet skipping and their tiny little hands holding neon backpacks and chewed-on pencils. She tried not to imagine what this baby would look like when it was born, when it grew older, when it became an adult – half me, and half….him.

How could she ever hide what she had done?

What he had done?

She began to chew her fingers again, bits of blood dripping into her mouth and turning her tongue to rust. Lost in thoughts of nothing, she almost screamed when her son tapped on the passenger-side door. A smile stained his face, his tawny hair was dirty from playing, and in his hands he held a squirming lizard. He climbed in and tossed his things in the backseat, and began to chatter on about rescuing the lizard from the bushes at the edge of the playground. She eyed it cautiously, chastising him for bringing it in the car and reminding him that if he kept it, he would need to take care of it, house it, and feed it. He emphatically promised to look after the poor thing, which continued to thrash at the grip of his new master. Once he had agreed to place the lizard inside of a Tupperware container she had managed to salvage from underneath her seat and had poked breathing holes into, she drove off from the school and back to their home on autopilot, her thoughts meandering elsewhere.

For hours, she sat in the living room on the couch, watching television while her son busied himself with caring for his new pet at the dining room table. He gathered leaves from outside and “roly-polies” for it to eat, and placed them carefully in the Tupperware. He named it after his favorite breakfast food, Pancakes. Pancakes seemed to be content in his new home, or it could have been the exhaustion from the struggle to escape that sedated him. In any case, her son brought out his box of crayons and his notebook and started drawing pictures of him and Pancakes having adventures. She didn’t remind him to do his homework or to do his chores, she only sat in thought, staring blindly at the television, until it became dark and her son whined about his hunger.

She mechanically cooked the first thing that came to mind, and sat a plate of pancakes in front of her son. “Eat up,” she said, and he did, and she sat once more, not eating.

Then her husband came home, ragged and tired and starving. He had noticed his wife hadn’t cooked in a few days, and that she was ignoring him. He assumed, of course, that it was her time of the month, and she needed to be alone for a while. He fixed himself a microwave dinner, ate it alone, and went to bed. Their son said goodnight to Pancakes, cleaned up his dishes, and went to bed all by himself. He had also noticed his mom seemed sad, but his excitement over his reptilian friend consumed his thoughts and he forgot all about his mother.

She fell asleep on the couch and woke up at 2 a.m. She wiped her crusty eyes and turned off the television, reaching for the house phone and dialed his number.

After three rings, he picked up. “You’re up late.”

She sat in silence, unable to speak as her throat dried and constricted and her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. She made a croaking sound when she tried to say words.

“Do you want me?” he whispered. “You woke me up, so you must want something. I’ve been dreaming of you…”

Tears streamed down her face as she tried to stifle the surfacing sobs in her throat.

“I’ll come over if you think we can get away with it,” he breathed, and she could almost feel the heat of his breath on her neck. She could imagine him holding her too tight, pushing too hard, biting her collarbone, slapping her face. She couldn’t bear to see the visions that flashed before her eyes, but she couldn’t stop them. They never stopped.

“N-no,” she stuttered. She swallowed, regaining the control over her shakiness, and croaked her next words, “No, I’m – I’m fine.”

“What is it then?” he replied gruffly. “It’s two in the fucking morning -”

“I never want to see you again,” she whispered. As she went on, her voice grew with power and conviction.  “You’ve ruined me, can’t you see? Do you know how hard it is to cover bruises every morning? Do you know how hard it is to hide, from everyone I love?”

He scoffed at her words. “Well you’re one to talk about love! You complain about every fucking thing and every-fucking-one, including your clueless dickhead of a husband and your insane chattering shithead of a son. You told me you haven’t loved anyone for years. At least, that’s what you said when you agreed to do this.”

“I admit I originally- wanted this. You. A life with you, but – you aren’t at all what I thought you were.” She stopped, took a deep breath, and continued. “And I’m telling. Telling everyone. And the police.”

This was too much for him. “Shut the fuck up, you whore! You don’t have the fucking balls, you stupid cunt – you think anyone is gonna fucking believe you? Pity you? You won’t get no fucking pity from no-fucking-one, ’cause you’re a fucking cheater.” He said this last word softly and drew it out, and she couldn’t stop the sobs from escaping. She covered her mouth, suddenly aware of how loud she must sound. “Yeah yeah, a- a cheater. A liar, a bitch, a shitty mom and an even shittier wife. Oh, you think your husband will still want to be with your ugly ass when he finds out? When you “expose” me to the world?” – he began to shout, stinging her ears with every word- “If you don’t shut your lying fucking whore mouth, I’ll have you killed – or I may just kill you myself.”

A loud sob broke free from her chest. Through her tears, she choked, “I’m not afraid of you, not anymore. I’m stronger than you. I’m stronger than your empty threats. And I’ve got a threat for you, now.”

“Oh? Oh yeah, whore? You got a fucking threat you wanna fucking give to me?”

“I’m keeping our baby,” she cried. “You won’t be able to take this baby from me. You won’t be able to hurt this baby, or me.” She let her words hang in the silence. Then she clicked the phone off and collapsed into the couch, attempting to muffle her sobs.

From the upstairs bedroom, her husband clicked off the other phone.

~

     The alarm clock blared in the chill of the early morning. Her husband showered and dressed for work methodically. His wife had not come to bed at all that night, and when he woke up last night after he heard noises downstairs, he realized his wife must have been talking on the phone. He had recognized the voice of who she had been talking to and was unable to act other than to keep listening to their phone conversation. When his wife uttered the words “our baby”, he was in shock. He couldn’t fall back to sleep after that, and as he made his way down the stairs, he still had not formulated what he wanted to say in his mind yet. He assumed it would come to him when he saw her ugly face cooking breakfast in the kitchen.

     But she wasn’t there. Their son was at the dining room table, however, with a breakfast he managed to get for himself (a banana and a bowl of cereal), talking to a Tupperware container. The television blared cartoons in the background.

“Where’s mom?” her husband said, a little anxiousness growing into his voice.

“She isn’t feeling good,” their son said, “She said she wanted to sleep for a while. That’s all I could read, though.” He reached across the table for a piece of paper that he then handed to his father. It was a note, signed by his wife.

“I’m sorry. I’m sick, sick in the mind, the body, the soul. I’m tired and weak. I’m broken…”

     Her husband couldn’t read the rest, tears cascading down his cheeks, his anger diffusing with every breath. A news bulletin flashed across the television, just as the house phone began to trill.

“A woman was found dead today after authorities managed to drag her car out of the local river. The car is registered to a Bethany Helms, who is believed to be the deceased woman found in the driver’s seat. The authorities have ruled her death a suicide…” said a reporter standing in front of a decimated car on a river bank. Of course, he recognized the car and the name. It was her.

The phone was ringing.

Daddy! Daddy, my lizard is dead,” his son sobbed. “Pancakes is dead.”

He fell to the ground.