Lorna Quilton is walking away from her parent’s house holding an off white photo album trimmed in gold close to her chest. It’s a little frayed around the bottom edges and it smells like that furniture polish that her Mother likes to use- Lemon Plus- not that it actually smells like Lemons Plus anything. But Lorna finds it oddly comforting to find and latch onto the familiar and it soothes her nerves just a little, but not enough to keep the sweat from trickling down the back of her neck.
She thinks that if she finds a place to sit down and relax she can open the album again and she will not let herself panic like she did in the living room. Lorna is sure that she slammed the door a little to hard when she ran out of the house with the photo album clutched in her hands because she heard a bang and some shouting about the door but she could not stop-she had to get as far away from home as she could before someone asked her to explain herself.
She walked briskly, which was fine because the autumn air had a bite to it, all the way to Jack Cross Park which is right across the street from her high school.
It’s a shady park where the city’s water towers ( painted a soft shade of green to blend in with the trees and grass because sure, that will camouflage two 125 foot towers full of water ) that only has visitors on the hottest days of the year because it’s always wrapped in shadows.
The towers themselves are surrounded by white and pink rhododendron bushes and barbed wire topped fence- but never mind the barbed wire! Someone got the elementary school kids to paint bread loaf sized wooden fish bright and cheerful colors and they’re swimming on the chain link fence to take your mind off the chunks of razors just over your head.
Lorna goes to the benches at the back of the Park and she takes a seat on a bench and she looks up, takes a breath and opens the photo album on her lap.
On the first page are pictures of her very pregnant Mom standing next to a Christmas tree. She’s smiling and she looks a little sad, but that’s probably because her feet hurt. She told Lorna once how much she hated it when her feet swelled up and how ugly they were and how her Dad wouldn’t even look at them because they grossed him out.
Then there’s a birth announcement for Mary- it had little birds and butterflies all over it and they were bearing the glad news stamped on a silken banner that baby Mary was a long and chubby baby, just like Lorna had been.
Lorna takes a breath, holds it and lets it out slowly.
She turns the page and her sister is a toddler, she’s learning to ride a bike, in other’s she’s playing with the family dog. As the pages flip by slowly- because Lorna is forcing herself to turn them slowly, there are family pictures of vacations, Christmases, Mom’s new car, birthday parties, class pictures, and then towards the end there are wedding pictures and Mary is a bridesmaid in some and towards the end she is a bride herself.
Lorna is proud of herself. She did it.
She looked at pictures of her Sister without throwing the album down and running from it because
until about a half hour ago Lorna would have sworn she didn’t have a sister- but the was there courtesy of Kodak film.
She has a sister named Mary Quilton and they grew up in the same house and had the same parents but Lorna doesn’t remember her.
It wasn’t that she just didn’t remember her- it’s not like she looked at that Thanksgiving picture where her Mom was wearing the sweater Lorna had given her for her birthday and saw Mary seated next to her Dad with her finger up her nose and something familiar popped out.
Tthere is an absence of feeling about the picture, the people in it feel like strangers, like interlopers.
Lorna guessed her Uncle Mert took the picture because he thought it would be funny to capture that moment forever. He loved to catch people doing silly or gross stuff on film.
That little tidbit did nothing to take away from her anxiety because she should have remembered that moment. The minute the flash went off and Mary was immortalized forever with her finger up her nose, her Mother would have had a kittens.
It was almost time to start setting up for their Halloween party, Lorna should be there helping her Mother and their friends. But what was going to happen when she showed up and her sister Mary showed up an and Mary asked something like ” How have you been?” because she guessed Mary would know her.
And Lorna would only be able to say, ” Pretty good. So. Who the Hell are you?
Lorna could see Mary sprouting horns, she could hear her skin crackle and split and turn red and Devil Mary would say, ” Hell indeed.”
Lorna closed the photo album and stood up.
Well, she had a hard time convincing herself that scenario was less crazy then the situation she was in right now.
The five minute walk home felt like it only took seconds because Lorna did not want to be here- she did not want to walk into that house and face a Sister who had been living under the same roof with her and she had no memory of her. Not a single one.
People were showing up with bags and boxes and plastic containers- Lorna guessed they were helping set up for the party and on the way up to the house she saw a slightly older version of the man Mary was standing next to in one her wedding pictures at the curb shutting a his car door. He reached up on the roof for a tote bag full of streamers and when he turned around Lorna was standing next to him.
She looked into his face and for just a second she thought he recognized her, maybe he knew her and that terrified her.
Then the look was gone and Lorna took a breath.
” Hey. Hi. Here for the party? You’re early so you must be here to help set up.”
Lorna nodded and she looked towards the house. ” I’m here to help my Parents.”
” Oh yeah? And who are they? ”
” Marie and Harold Quilton. I’m Lorna.”
The man from Mary’s wedding picture does not look happy. ” Look, know it’s Halloween, but whatever you’re doing here, it’s not funny. Go on, get out of here before my wife and her parents show up. I mean it. Get lost.”
Lorna is still holding the photo album next to her chest and she lets it fall from her hands to the ground. Her face is a smooth mask without a single trace of emotion, but her eyes-
they are as dark as a basement in an abandoned and lifeless house and Guillermo steps back from her and bumps into his car.
Lorna’s panic reaches epic proportions, she is ready to scream, to cry to run but then it’s gone and the thoughts she does know push themselves to the front of the line and knows for certain:
she can’t remember Mary, she can’t remember getting her drivers license or graduating from high school or what she did the day after she was running across the street to catch her bus on the last day of school.
But she does know one thing right now.
” I’m here to help my parents.”
” With what? ” Guillermo asks hoping that she will not answer.
She does not.
Guillermo leans down to pick up the photo album because he has to do something and when he straightens back up with the album in his hands, the teenage girl pretending to be his Wife’s sister who died before she was born is gone.
Marie Lourdes Quilton 65 and Harold Quilton 68
of Mountain View died October 31, 2019 in a traffic accident.
Maybe, sixteen year old Thomas Gilder thought when his heart slowed down enough for him to think clearly, if I just relax and close my eyes I can figure how I got here and how I can get out because if I got into this I can get out too- that’s logical, or science or something like that right?
His hands, were clammy and sweaty and cold and they grasped the smooth arms of the chair with less force then he realized because he was very close to passing out. He bit his lips to keep from calling for his Mother. She’d be so disappointed in him if she knew where he was. He could not- would not do that to her. He would not call for her like he did when he was a little kid waking up terrified from a nightmare.
At least not right now.
Thomas turned his head and looked at the little window with the pale blue curtain drawn across it that was to his left
and he wondered why the room was painted pale green and why it didn’t really match the curtains in the window and why
he was sitting in this electric chair and how long it was going to be before the Executioner realized he was here .
Thomas looked up at the clock and watched the second hand crawl from one number to the next- not that he could read the clock. Most kids his age can’t but it gave him something to think about and when his thoughts got back on the Tommy Gilder train he made himself remember the walk down here, the instructions, and the RULES.
Maybe that was the key. If he could remember the short walk that brought him here maybe he could avoid the long walk ahead.
What ever he came up with, he had to snap himself out of this nightmare before the face appeared in the little window and saw him.
It was all over for him at that point, wasn’t it? Or maybe it really ended for him when he decided to heck with it and decided to not follow the RULES.
Thomas wasn’t bad kid, well- he knew if he had made a few better life choices he wouldn’t be here waiting for that curtain to be moved to the side and for Hell to rain down on him.
There had to be something he could do, maybe say he was sorry and that he’d never screw off and he’d promise on a stack of bibles to follow THE RULES but before he could put his thoughts into order and choose one of those flimsy options his out of control brain had come up with, the curtain in the small window opened and then the face of the Executioner appeared and it was indeed the face of his doom and a painful molten rain of words did indeed fall down upon him.
” Son of a bitch! Take your kid to work day. What can go wrong they said. You only work for the State. None of the dumbasses that nagged me to do this asked me what I do for the state.”
She took a breath which meant she was nowhere near finished yelling.
“What did I tell you about wandering off? This isn’t a playground. I work here. I told you what the RULES were. So tell me. How the Hell did you get in there?
Chin to his chest, Thomas held up his Mothers keycard.
” Forget asking me for the car or for the password to WiFi at home which I am changing and NEVER going to give you. Forget ever hoping that I will forget this stunt. Get over to the door NOW.”
Thomas got up from the electric chair, he bowed his head and he walked slowly to the door.
When the door opened and he saw the Executioner- (or as she was known at home ” Mom” ) standing there with how miserable his fate was going to be written all over hear face, he knew his punishment would indeed be a fate worse then death.
Ellen Telfer sits on a bench, the same bench at the train station on King Street every single day of the week.
She is there when it is raining she is there when it is unseasonably hot or cold. She is there when the first train pulls in and she is there when the last train leaves in the evening.
No matter how crowded the platform gets or how many people wish she would move so they could have the bench to themselves – Ellen stays seated. This bench is her place and she holds it with her silence which is as steely and formidable as the locomotives that roar by every half hour.
The morning commuters and the evening commuters, the security guards and the station agents have gotten so used to seeing Ellen Telfer that sometimes they don’t notice her at all.
Now you see her, now you don’t and now you see her again looking right through you.
It was two days before Halloween when a new commuter joined the 1513.
Mary Morse was not like her fellow passengers.
She didn’t have a phone, she smiled at you not through you and she spent her commute either reading an actual book or staring at all the faces she wanted to stare at that were sitting around her because everyone for the most part spent the train ride staring into their hands.
It was like she was the last person in the world and she could walk into any house or building and try on clothes or go through drawers or sit on the furniture because nobody was there to stop her.
There was nobody left to care.
On Halloween Mary Morse swung off the train and hopped onto the platform and she ended up right in front of Ellen Telfer who was planted on her bench.
Mary stood there staring at Ellen until she saw stars and was able to take some air into her lungs so that she could yell but her body decided it needed that air and she remained silent.
Ellen Telfer, the lady on the bench was not alive and Mary Morse didn’t understand why she was the only one on that platform to notice there was corpse with it’s melting face and the bugs and flies flying and crawling all around her and the crows sitting above her and flapping their wings and chatting excitedly- “look!” they seemed to be saying, ” Someone down there sees it too!”
” At last!” The Murder of Crows replied.
Mary Morse was trapped in that crowed, she was in danger of being swept away by a tidal wave of humanity shoving it’s way through the King Street Station with their eyes focused inward and their heads bowed down mechanically following a path carved into their brains, etched in their DNA, each person wired into their own reality- lost in their very own Universe, obliviously falling through Space on their own.
Mary Morse got her footing back and she pushed her way up the stairs and she fought to way to the street above and when she was topside she did yell and she screamed but it didn’t matter to anyone around her.
Felicity was digging her heels in, like she did every Halloween in front of one doorway or another with a tastefully handwritten printed placard taped on the window inviting you in for a ‘consultation.’ with- who is it on this night?
Why not Archie thought to himself. Why the heck not. Last year it was Madame Francesca and the year before that The Amazing Zephron.
” Felicity, this never works, it will never work and you’ll spend the rest of what should be a festive night for the both of us crying over spilt milk. Come on old girl, it’s Halloween. Let’s kick up our heals and maybe have a little fun for once.”
Felicity gave him that look- the one that said we have had a lot of fun and look at where it’s gotten us.
When she was sure he heard, or rather saw that, she continued:
” I have a feeling about this one Archie. I think this is the one that will help us -please don’t turn away Archie. Look. ” she took his hand and placed it on the glass door. ” Can’t you feel that?”
Archie closed his eyes and his lip curled back. He tried not to gag. ” Felicity. Something is sticking to my hand and it’s sticky.”
Felicity’s eyes welled up a little and she let her tears, cool to the touch Archie knew, roll down her cheeks. ” Please Archie. Let’s try. What can it hurt? Maybe tonight we can talk to our Son. Maybe tonight is the night we can find him and he’ll forgive us.”
Archie loved Felicity. He loved her weird taste in music and the way her eyeliner always ended up getting smeared so her eyes ended up looking like they were melting and the way she always poked herself in the chest when she put on one her Great Grandmother’s many broaches that were shaped like Bumblebees and said, ‘oh it stung me the nasty thing.”
” Oh Felicity. Ok. We’ll try. Again. ”
He held the door open and Felicity went through first.
Madame Esme by far, had the best fake British accent Archie had ever heard. Both he and Felicity had grown up just outside of London, but that was a long time ago and they have lived in the States for so long that only the faintest hints of their old life came through when they spoke. Still they could spot a fake accent in a heartbeat and Archie for one was ready to write Madame Esme off right then and there.
But not Felicity.
They followed Esme into her Parlor- it was lit with candles, the windows were shuttered and there were ferns hanging from the ceiling in baskets . All around the room there were shelves lined with little jars full of dried herbs and plants and shells. A cat was asleep on an ‘offering table’ next to silver box with slit on the top.
With a little bow, Esme invited them to sit at the table in the center of the room.
After they were seated, Madame Esme leaned forward and looked deep into Felicity’s eyes after first looking into Archie’s less then amused ones. ” I think for you, we will use the Crystal Ball.”
” It’s very pretty. I think that’s a wonderful choice.”
Madame Esme remembered to learn forward and to gaze with intensity from Felicity’s face into the crystal before she dramatically took Felicity’s hand into her own . But she did she pull back a little when looked up and she thought Felicity’s eyes were melting. Before she broke character all together she realized it was her eyeliner it was smudged , apparently the lady did not have a steady hand.
Esme ( aka Edna Phillips ) took a deep breath, she looked up and wondered if she remembered to turn the coffee maker on before the couple came in and then she closed her eyes and dove into the Crystal Ball remembering to let her earrings and bracelets and necklaces swing and jingle as she leapt.
” Close your eyes and imagine that we are standing in front of an elevator in the lobby a grand old Hotel ”
” I’m seeing the elevator in the Marsten, what are you seeing Archie?”
” Felicity, shhh.”
“The doors open and together we move into it. The doors shut and a button on the panel lights up and we start to move slowly up to the top floor.”
Esme opens her eyes and looks into the crystal ball and she says, ” We’ve stopped. I see the door opening, I see someone standing there, wrapped in shroud. It’s falling away from the figure. This gentle Spirit has been waiting for you with a full heart for a very long time. ”
” Who -. Oh no Archie. Oh NO!” Felicity reached for Archie and if she could have moved fast enough she would have been out of her chair before anyone could stop her.
Esme reaches out to Felicity and takes her hand and gently encourages her to sit down. ” Don’t be frightened. This Spirit means you no harm. He has a message for you.”
Archie puts his hand on Felicity’s shoulder. ” Listen here Madame Edna ”
Esme dropped Felicity’s hand. ” What did you say?”
” You’re scaring my wife. Now fun is fun and it’s the night for it. But I can not tolerate…-”
” It’s someone who loves us very much? Only one person could say that without laughing. Our Son. But in the end, we even let him down. We should have never gone out to the Circus that night. We got a little tipsy you see on the way home with some Gin we bought from the Bearded Lady and on the way back…”
Felicity reached for Archie and she took his hands in hers and lifted them to her cheek. ” We had an accident. At the Bridge. And we lost our Son, he was only five years old and he is the only other person we loved more then we love each other.”
Esme was on firm turf here. ” Your son says all is forgiven and that he has known great peace.”
Felicity dropped Archie’s hands and she lowered her head down and sobbed. ” Our poor Son. He was such a gentle creature. Two Devil may care people like us should never have produced such a lovely soul.”
Madame Esme aka Edna Phillips went into Earth Mother mode. She dropped the dramatic gaze, she fluffed her hair just a little, just enough to let the scent of lavender fill the air. ” But he loves you and we wants you to know that he is waiting for you, that he will be there when the time comes. ”
” But he’s gone. He lived an entire life without ever knowing how much we have missed him. ”
Edna echoed ” You left him and he lived an entire life? ”
” Our Son is dead Archie. I really thought we’d find him first and that we could say we were sorry for leaving him and now he’s dead and he’s on the other side and we will never be able to…” Felicity grappled for the right words and found none.
Her sobs were heartbreaking.
” He wasn’t in the car Felicity and that is all that matters. He wasn’t in the car with us that night…Now calm down. I’m pretty sure that Madame Edna here got her wires crossed and she stopped the elevator at the wrong floor and had a chat with the wrong Spirit.
It wasn’t our Hamish, I’m sure of it and nobody we know has ever, geeze I can’t believe I’m going to say this- rodethe elevator to the top floor, so I’m sure Hamish is fine. He’s probably out there right now with his Grandchildren, he might have a dozen of them by now. I’d bet the farm that they are out there right this second celebrating Halloween. Our favorite holiday. Just picture it Felicity. Our Hamish with his big wonderful family laughing and happy and Trick or Treating. I’ll bet he even has that dog you always wanted him to have.”
” I wanted to give it to him for his Birthday that year. I wanted to name it Champ.” Felicity hiccupped and covered her mouth with her hand.
” I am POSTIVE” Archie glared at Esme ” that Madame can gaze into her crystal ball, ride the elevator and find a spirit who can tell us where to find Hamish so we can pop in and see how he’s doing.”
Archie’s eyes burned like coals and before she could cry out Archie was on Esme’s side of the table – she wanted to look anywhere except for Archie’s face because Sixth Sense or not she knew what she was going to see wasn’t going to be good. So she looked down and that’s when she saw water was pooling at Archie’s feet and she turned away and looked across the table and saw small slow moving rivlets of water were streamimg from Felicity’s forehead and into her eyes and that her eyeliner was running down her cheeks.
“Give it another go Edna. What have you got to loose? Two lost Devil may care spirits like me and my wife are game for another try. Are you?”
Maggie Drew started to take classes, all kinds of classes after her world fell apart two years ago.
” Do something to occupy your mind.” Her friend Bernice said, ” That’s really important because at our age Prince Charming isn’t going to ride up and save you. He’s to busy chasing a twenty year olds and he’s not going to have the time help two little old crones like us stranded at the side the road out.”
Bernice was laughing and tossing her hair around like one of those girls in a shampoo or Tampon commercial, but Maggie got it. Bernice wasn’t talking about them she was talking about Maggie.
Just after September rolled around Bernice invited Maggie out to remind her that anyone who wore Pink during the Fall should be shot ( yes indeed, pink was Maggie’s favorite color and it is always somewhere on her person ). They were at a The Pie Stop when Bernice launched into her newest lesson in how Maggie should present herself to the world and they were sharing something called a Milk Shake Pie. A milk shake pie is something you got when you crammed a slice of pie into a blender with ice cream and smooshed it all together.
It looked like puke, but Maggie had vowed to jump into trying new things with gusto and she did, every chance she got.
Prince Charming wasn’t going to save her, like Bernice said, so giving edible vomit a try while she had all of this free time on her newly defined by Bernice- “old lady hands” didn’t seem like such a bad idea. She wasn’t considering suicide anymore, but her stomach had a mind of its own.
Maggie spent all of her free time at the Community Center- she took sculpting classes and watercolor classes and oil painting classes and she took one on candy making and an entire course of belly dancing.
She even went to a series of lectures on Beekeeping- which if she had to choose turned out to be her favorite.
Bees, she decided would never endanger their hive by running off with another colony they hooked up with on a dating app after 35 years of marriage.
Bees, Maggie decided were pretty trustworthy when you came right down to it.
On one of Maggie’s increasing number forced marches with Bernice down the ruined road of her life, Bernice noticed that Maggie always looked vaguely surprised when Bernice reminded her that her husband had run off and left Maggie an invisible Crone, stranded at the side of the road with the rest of ‘us Crones’
That was ok. Bernice was here to remind her. Because that’s what Crones did for each other. They supported each other, they were each others ‘she-roes’ and Bernice was happy to remind Maggie that is where she was and belonged in the grand scheme of life.
Maggie of course didn’t see herself as a Crone, but sometimes you had to let things slide- especially if you aren’t in a real position to get a word in edgewise. One should not be defined by other people. She read that in a self help book once- the cover had flowers on it and Maggie still had it on her bookshelf at home.
Bernice, oh Bernice, Maggie’s little cloud of bitterness drifted around to Maggie’s end of the street now and then to check up on her and to most importantly to remind Maggie that ‘ at our age’ women need to stick together.
That was Bernice speak for” I’m going to hang out with you, whether you me to or not.”
Maggie had opted to drive instead off taking her motorcycle out on errands on one of those days that Bernice decided ” Crones like us ” should stick together.
Bernice hopped into car right after Maggie started it and the auto locks hadn’t kicked in yet. Bernice slipped her sunglasses down from the top of her head. ” So what’s up for today?”
For a second Bernice’s entire performance in that moment reminded Maggie of one of the men’s shaving cream commercials where a woman was on hand and ready to admire the amazing results of this must have product.
” I have to pick up some supplies for a project I’m going to start work on. Want to come along?”
It really wasn’t an invitation on Maggie’s part, it was more of an affirmation- she had taken a class on making life affirmations at that Community Center. They put their affirmations on poster boards in magic markers and decorated them with glitter and their choice of stickers that the instructor had brought in for them to use.
She found that class to be very helpful in this moment, like what she was affirming in her head at that exact second was that Bernice was a fixture in her life a and that this unhappy situation could really work out to become a positive experience and an advantage too.
Anyway, what she learned in her class.
The craft store was big and bright and surprisingly utilitarian for a place where creative people bought their fabrics and glues and wax and needles and chocolate molds and doll eyes.
The downside was that setup didn’t really invite you stop and chat or browse. The racks and shelves invited you to find what you needed and be on your way.
” What class are you taking now?” Bernice pushed her sunglasses up over her forehead and tossed her head around a little and lifted her chin up when she was done.
On cue Maggie asked ” Are those the Dior sunglasses your sister got you for Christmas?”
After a quick series of lectures on how ‘crones like us” ( Meaning mostly Maggie) should dress and act and let their hair go gray ( meaning Maggie ) and should accept their invisibility status ( absolutely meaning Maggie because no way in Hell would Bernice let herself go to seed ) Maggie jumped in.
Could you grab me that package of pins from the shelf over there?”
Bernice held back a smirk. For all of her classes and riding her Harley to work on sunny days, Maggie still needed someone to get stuff off of the to shelf for her.
Bernice reached for one of the little acrylic boxes offering an assortment of pins ” Oh not those, -” Maggie reached over Bernice’s shoulder and pointed ” those”
Bernice reached up and as she did Maggie bumped into her shoulder.
” Oh sorry.” Maggie moved back and Bernice tossed the pins into the cart.
” So what class are you taking now? I think it’s great. Crones like us should share our talents with each other.”
” Actually, I’m not taking a class for this project. I’m sort of brushing up on an old talent of mine.”
Bernice wasn’t listening, of course.
Maggie let Bernice walk ahead of her and she kept her hands behind her back until Bernice turned the corner at the end of the aisle because
in one hand Maggie was holding a tiny pair of scissors and in the other a snippet of Bernice’s hair.
Maggie’s eyes went from dark brown to yellow and back again. Then she took the handle of her shopping cart and pushed it down the aisle to the check out counter.
In the dark and cold kitchen in the last house on La Pierre Drive, crammed into a corner behind the swinging door, Ivy Plum is listening to her family, her Father, her Mother and her two sisters dying in their bedrooms.
They are coughing and wheezing and gurgling like raging creeks during a spring flood and her Father is calling out in agony for his dog Prince that he had when he was just a little boy.
She clasps her phone to her chest and try as she might, she cannot open her hands, they are locked over her phone and they will not open no matter how hard she tries
Her family is dying above her head and Ivy Plum is too terrified to move, to scream or to push herself out of the corner to the backdoor across the kitchen that is open and is inviting her, it is begging her, to run.
Ivy Plum is trapped in the Hell inside of her head where all she can here is her Father crying out in fear for his dog to help him, to come right now and help them all.
“Come on Prince, come on boy!” Ivy hears her Father is begging his long dead dog, his first and always best friend. ” Good boy. Come on boy.”
She tries to unfold her hands and as she pushes them against her chest she takes a breath and she falls forward. Her hands fall away from each other. One hand is still clutching her phone. She nearly cries out in relief but remembers to not make a sound. All that matters now is- she moved!
Ivy braces he shoulder against the wall and holds herself up, she pushes the door away with her free hand and she walks slowly because she is dizzy and everytime she turns she sees stars but she takes one step and another and another and she is halfway across the kitchen to the backdoor when she hears a thump on the stairs.
It’s a gentle thump, soft, padded.
Someone is coming down the stairs, someone is trying now to take each step slowly because, Ivy knows-
someone is looking for her.
Ivy looks at the back door and the phone in her hand and she keeps moving until she reaches the door and the cold icy air hits her in the face and she takes a long deep breath and tries to scream for help and then she see it all
this terrible night is going to show her everything.
It shows her the tracks in the snow that lead into the kitchen and she turns her head slowly and sees the puddles of water, the melted snow go through the kitchen and out the kitchen door into the hallway and then
she sees the bloody footprints coming into the kitchen and her eyes obediently follow them into the corner behind the kitchen door.
She goes to the counter and she looks out of the kitchen window above it and into the dark and endless snowy night.
Still looking out the window, she lets the phone fall from her grasp into the sink so that she could wash her bloody hands.
She picks up the bloody knife that is sitting in the bottom of the sink next to her phone and she washes it too…
because she has too, because she always does.
Ivy hears the kitchen door whisper open and she hears the clicking of dog paws behind her. Prince growls and she can’t hear it as much a she can feel it and she waits from him to close in on her.
Sometimes it seems to take years before he jumps and sinks his teeth into the back her skull and bites down and begins to tear her apart.
She wonders, as she always does, if every night in her Hell will be like this.
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? ”
“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.