Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Ballad of Maude Clare: Part Six

THE RABBIT-HEADED SHADOW man warned Maude on the night of Emily Crandall's birthday.
Emily had invited her as they'd been filling the condiment bottles in The Lantern. "It's kind of a happening, with a few friends."
     After sunset, Maude biked to Emily's house, past the corner theater with its neon marquee advertising Bonnie and Clyde, past the gas station where a few kids talked loudly around a thrumming station wagon. When she turned onto a tree-lined street of perfect houses, she could hear televisions, and children playing in a night filled with cricket symphonies and cooling air.
     She reached the house and set down her bike.
     The screen door clattered open. Ethan Mongoose, in jeans and a sky-blue T-shirt, smiled at her. "What are you doing here?"
     "I was invited." She moved up the steps, Emily's present tucked beneath one arm. He looked different in a house, more ordinary, less like a flower child.
     He nodded. "She always invites one new person."
     She followed him into a cluttered living room where several kids her age sprawled on the floor watching 'The Smothers Brothers' and sampling the snacks laid out on a coffee table.
     "Maude." Emily, dressed in a peasant blouse and jeans, a peacock feather in her hair, jumped up. "What'd you get me?"
    "You told," Ethan scowled, "everyone exactly what to get you. Don't act like you didn't."
     As Maude shyly watched, Emily tore away the glossy wrapping to reveal the Parker Brothers' ouija board she'd wistfully mentioned to Maude.
     "I'm her cousin," Ethan apologized, glaring at Emily as she opened the box and unfolded the ouija board. "You're not gonna use that now, are you?"
     "Groovy." A boy with long brown hair said as he took the board and set it on the coffee table.
     Ethan's voice sounded almost pleading, "Em."
     Kneeling beside the table, she looked innocently up at him. "It's almost the first of May. Don't you want to know?"
     The other three didn't seem to notice the tension between the cousins as Ethan Mongoose tucked his hair behind his ears. As he drifted to where they were all seated around the ouija board, Maude followed him. Settling beside him, she noticed the black rabbit's foot dangling from his pocket and felt a ripple of unease.
     A tawny-skinned girl turned off the lights and the television.
     "Shouldn't we light candles or something?" The brown-haired boy idly stretched his arms over his head.
     "My mom and dad'll be back by ten and I don't want the damn house burned down, so, no." Emily set the planchette on the board. She introduced Maude to the other three -- Stephen, Beth, Orrie. Maude glanced at Ethan, whose glasses reflected the streetlights.
     "Me, Ethan,and Maude first." Emily placed one hand on the planchette and Maude set hers over Emily's, while Ethan's folded over hers. Then Emily spoke in a low voice, "You were lost on this night in May, Sarah Morgan. Are you here?"
     Maude's stomach turned as she recognized the name of the girl on the Missing poster, the one whose photograph she'd found in the creepy field.
     "Em, I don't think -- what?" The boy with curly hair -- Stephen -- flinched back as the planchette shot across the board to the letter 'B'.
     "You're doing it." Emily glared at Ethan, who retorted, "It's your hand on top of the thing."
     Maude flinched as the planchette slid to the letter 'O'. Tawny-skinned Beth began to spell out the words. "Why does it say 'Boy Bad'? Which of the boys is bad?"
     When the planchette slid to the letter 'J', Maude snatched her hand back and scrambled up.
     The temperature plummeted. Someone swore. The brown-haired boy scrambled back.
     Maude felt her breathing become shrill as shadows seemed to ribbon acros the board, sweeping up into an unlit corner, forming a man-like shape with a rabbit's head --
     The radio switched on and blasted out the Rolling Stones 'Ruby Tuesday'.
     Beth screamed.
     "Maude." Ethan rose, staring at her. Their breath misted in the chill that crackled through the living room. He followed her gaze to the blackened corner, where something was making a terrible noise beneath Mick Jagger's voice, something that sounded as if it was trying to breathe.
     Maude grabbed the ouija board and flung it at the dark corner.
     The music went off. The choking sound stopped. The lights came on.
     Emily stood by the light switch, her face white. Like everyone else in the room, she was staring at Maude, who was shaking so badly, she had to clench her teeth to keep them from chattering. She said, "Why are you looking at me like that?"
     Ethan Mongoose whispered, "Maude...why was it saying your name?"
     "I don't know. I didn't hear it. I don't know." She backed away, her hands clenched. "I'm going home."
     "I'm going home."


(Illustration by Warwick Goble)

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