Uncle Percival’s Birthday Present

Seattle Washington

October 31, 1960

Dora June wasn’t an exceptional 14 year old and she wasn’t unexceptional either.

She was just sort of always there, like that box of baking soda you put in your fridge and you forget about it until one day when you’re looking for the mayo or maybe some something cold to drink and there it is and you say to the faded box of soda, ” Hey, where did you come from?”

It wasn’t the greatest place to hold in the world or in your own family, but Dora June didn’t seem to mind her almost non-existent status. She thought of herself as a Ghost In Training. Plus it was always fun to sort of see that look of confusion when people had when they realized Dora June was standing right there and for some reason they just didn’t see her.

It’s like when you’re picking your nose because you really, really have to do it and think that no one is looking, but TA DAH, they are.

So when Dora June asked her Mother if she could have a party, a Halloween party with maybe five of her friends and party food and games, Wilhelmina looked up from her cup of coffee- which she thought she was drinking alone in her kitchen in genuine shock.

First of all, she was surprised Dora June had any friends and second of all- she couldn’t shake the thought because it nagged at her-how long had Dora June been standing there watching her drink her coffee before she looked up and noticed her?

Dora June’s little brother, who had just turned 13, right after Dora June turned 14 was named after their Dad, Sydney.

Everyone called him  S.J.

S.J. was the type of kid you noticed- he was always jumping his bike over ramps at the end of the street that he and his friends built. He never walked, he trotted and ran and one summer he even found a dead body in the woods behind their house.

The ladies in her Mom’s Coffee and Cigarette Clutch called S.J. a charmer and joked about marrying him off to one of their daughters and S.J. would say something back like he’d rather marry one of them…ha.ha.ha.

Dora June, the Ghost in Training would be standing right there the entire time her Mom’s friends gushed over her brother and she wondered if any of them would look at Dora June and make a joke about sons who she could marry one day.

She would hitch a sigh and guess not.

Dora June, the Ghost in Training did have friends- she had met three of them at the library and the other two when she was out looking for tadpoles at Lake Townsend.

Alice and Gerty, Irene, Gordon and Freddy and Dora June weren’t outcasts, they weren’t bullied, nobody pranked them or egged their windows or tp’d their trees . For anyone to do that, they’d have to notice you and nobody ever seemed to Dora June or her friends.

That Halloween though, the night of Dora’s Party was the night all of that changed.

Halloween treats like cookies and candy were set out on the tables in festive bowls shaped like pumpkins and cauldrons around the living room, there was more food set on serving platters and trays in the dining room and there were pumpkins on the porch and in front of the fireplace.

Dora June had done most of the work herself and she even hung up cutouts of witches and black cats.

But Dora June and her guests weren’t interested in the food, or the decorations. They didn’t even bother to dress up in costumes.

When Dora June was sure her parents had retreated to their bedroom for the evening after the last Trick or Treater stopped by and the porch light had been snapped off ( more then likely they had forgotten Dora June and her friends were even in the house ) Dora June went up to her bedroom and came back down with a box in her hands.

” It’s here.” she set the box, which was wrapped up in bright slick paper decorated with cakes and candles and a topped with a bright yellow silk ribbon, on the dining room table.

Freddy reached out and touched the elaborate silk bow. ” It was a birthday present? ”

Before Dora June could answer, the front door opened and then slammed and S.J and two of his friends walked in- one was a girl in braids. Dora June saw that S.J.’s other friend looked like a taller and somewhat hairy version of the girl in braids. . Her brother Dora June guessed.

They were all holding pillow cases and plastic pumpkins full of candy that were no doubt the property of some very broken hearted Trick or Treaters-S.J when you came right down to it was a jerk.

The three of them sort of slunk through the living room and into the dining room and were about to grab some food when S.J. noticed the present on the table.

” Your birthday was last month. Have you been sitting on that all of this time?” S.J. asked in the smarmy tone of voice he used when he offered to run away with one of their Mother’s friends and marry her.

Dora June laid her hand on the still wrapped present. ” No, I haven’t been sitting on it. Does it look like an egg to you? Do I look like a hen to you? Why don’t you leave S.J.? I don’t want you here. Not tonight.”

S.J.’s friends looked at him expectantly. They were sure he was going to take his weirdo sister down in flames. But he didn’t. He just motioned for them to follow him back to the kitchen.

Dora June followed them and shut the kitchen door behind them.

When she came back to the dining room she sat at the head of the table and her friends took seats after her. ” This is a present from my Great Uncle Percival and his wife Mariana Mote.”

The table had been set with punch and cookies and finger sandwiches cut into pumpkin shapes. Dora pushed her plate to the side and made room for the gift. ” Great Uncle Percy told my Grandfather to give it to me for my 14 birthday, but that I shouldn’t open it until Halloween. It’s been in my closet in the top shelf.”

Her guests sat patiently as Dora June continued. ” Well, as you know my Grandfather died 3 years ago and Uncle Percy died before I was even born, but Grandpa told me where my gift was and said Uncle Percy knew he could count on me to keep my word and wait until Halloween of this year to open it.”

Dora June added. ” And use it.”

” Why tonight?” Freddy asked, why couldn’t you actually open it on your birthday?”

For the first time, maybe in her entire life Dora June let a little ripple of emotion move across her face. ” Well, it was on Halloween night that Uncle Percy died performing his famous magic trick, the Burning Coffin. Aunt Mariana died trying to save him.

Dora June’s friends had wished over the years that they could have had an Uncle Percy who had been a famous magician who had performed in places like Egypt and New Orleans , Mongolia, Italy, Canada and Peru and even in Chicago- (which is where he and Mariana died back in 1939) and that they had his posters designed and printed by Percy’s oldest brother Lewis, hanging up in their rooms the way Dora June did.

They were sure she had some of his props and costumes too, but she hadn’t shown them those things, yet.

Dora June began to carefully unwrap her gift and when she was done she folded the paper and wound the ribbon around her wrist.

They all looked down in front of Dora June.

The box was long and thin and unlike the wrapping paper, the yellowed slightly damp box showed it’s age and it turned out to be as fragile as it looked because the box fell apart when Dora June pulled the lid off of it.

She carefully lifted something out lightly wrapped in what turned out to be a delicate lace veil. Then she set her gift on the table.

” Where is the rest of it?” Gerty asked.

Dora June shook the veil and something fell free and landed on the table with a little thunk.

It was a planchette , and it was not molded from plastic. Not this planchette. It was molded from something a little more earthy.

Dora June’s gift was a Ouji Board.

” Do those really work Dora June? ” Irene asked as she reached out and touched the side of the board.

Dora June moved the board a little closer to Irene and nodded. ” Go ahead, You can touch it. Look. See? This board has all of the letters and numbers carved into it, it’s not painted like the common everyday ones you can by in the store. ”

Gordon added, ” Yeah, the toy store. They stack them next to the Monopoly ”

” This, ” Dora June said ” is the real thing if it’s from Uncle Percival and Aunt Mariana”

They all moved closer to the board.

The edges of the board were scorched and so were the edges of the letters and numbers.

” It smells like smoke, ” Gerty told Alice and they all agreed.

None of them were surprised.

” So who are we going to- you know. Summon?”

Dora June thought for a moment. ” Well. It’s Halloween. So I think I’m going to summon an evil spirit. It’s Halloween. It’ll be like shooting fish in a barrel. The world is full of them and ghosts tonight and no way can we miss if we aim for one of them.”

” Makes sense.” they agreed

They took their places at the table and just as they placed their fingers on the planchette and Dora June called out her invitation to the dark spirits of Halloween to join them, the lights flickered and then went off.

A second later they flashed back on.

Dora June worked her jaw from side to side.

She went on:

” Who is here with us? ”

WE-ARE

“Are there evil spirits here with us tonight?”

YES YES YES YES YES YES

The planchette flew from under their fingers and took it’s own place at the left of the board. It was a second, just a breath after it came to rest, the lights in the dining room and living room flashed began to madly off and on , the basement door banged open and shut as if it trapped in a hurricane and in the middle of the flashing lights and banging that was now coming from the walls too, Dora June jumped up from her seat and slammed her hands on the table and screamed ” Damn it SJ! Cut it out!”

SJ and his friends fell through the kitchen door and landed in a heap in the dining room.

He took a breath to stop himself from laughing and then he took his sister down not one but by an entire factory of pegs exactly the way his friends had expected from him earlier in the evening

” Who is here with us? ” Could you have asked a dumber question? And you got an answer right? None of this stuff is real. You guys moved that bone thing around with your own brain waves or something and I know that’s true because you got a boring stupid answer that matches your stupid boring face.”

S.J. and his friends were laughing at them, for the first and only time her brother ever really saw her, he looked at her and laughed so hard he wet himself.

Dora June was about to take the board off of the table and bash it across her brother’s face when a tall man and woman with long dark hair and soft caramel colored skin flared up, like a flame on candle hit by a cool draft, from the shadows at Dora June’s feet.

The man rested his hand gently on Dora June’s shoulder and Aunt Mariana said, ” She received an answer to her question. There are evil spirits here tonight. Three of them. I suppose her next question to us will probably be-”

“What she wants done with them. ” Uncle Percival said.

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