Well, it’s come to this again.
We have a phantom grocery cart dumper in our neighborhood. I wish I knew who the hell the dumper was because whoever it is seems to think I’m into collecting grocery carts. What the freakin’ heck!
Sometime during the night some nitwit rammed a Safeway cart into the oleander hedge located in my front yard. Two years ago another Safeway cart mysteriously appeared parked in my desert landscape. I posted a photo of it on Facebook and my friends thought it was the funniest thing that ever happened. It was, kind of, except it had to be hauled back to the grocery store. I called Safeway about it. They said it would take a few days to a week before someone could come retrieve the thing. But who wants a grocery cart parked in their front yard? So both times, under the cover of darkness, we had to load the heavy, difficult-to-manage thing into the back of a SUV and haul it back to Safeway.
Seriously, what is wrong with people? Are they that bored that they have to steal a grocery cart and dump it in my front yard? And that’s another thing. Was it in fact dumped in my yard or did a neighbor sneak it out of their yard and conveniently roll it into mine because they knew I would return the darn thing? I’m beginning to feel targeted.
I seriously doubt a homeless person is behind this cart dumping business. I have never seen a homeless person in my neighborhood hauling their possessions around in a grocery cart. Maybe they have but I haven’t seen one. I’ve seen Q-Tips (white-haired senior citizens, an expression from the younger generation) hauling stuff around in golf carts. There’s a golf course down the road from my place. I’ve seen a ladder, a big water container, a chainsaw, bags of groceries, a box fan, and grandma, in the back or front seat of a golf cart but never a grocery cart. So after I finished ranting and raving about lamebrain idiots with no life, I got to wondering if this was some kind of message for me to ponder. Was I being sent ideas from the happy hunting ground? Ideas that I could possibly use in my stories? So I asked a few friends what they thought and if they could send me their ideas. Here’s what I got.
How about dead hobos trolling neighborhoods for souls. The grocery carts are their collection bins and like the grocery stores, they get reward points (or whatever) for the number of souls they bring in.
Okay, here’s my idea. You don’t know it but you soon discover that the street you live on is a race track for the dead. Nighttime, the dead haul ass. All activity of the dead ceases at dawn’s arrival, and the cart reverts back to its physical earthy form. G, are you offering a prize?
Seriously? Heck no. I never said anything about a prize.
How’s this. Evil people who have died have had their judgement day. They are consigned to some kind of chain-gang from hell. Their punishment is to pick up garbage left by the living. An unheard chime rings out the beginning and ending of their work hours. If the living listened carefully they can hear the “Sanitation Department of the Dead” badmouthing the living for being rotten polluters and inconsiderate beings. Maybe they can be some kind of roadkill pick up gang. They use grocery carts to haul rotting corpses away.
Early morning, the dark hours, is the time of The Hideous Rowers. (You can use that title. You’re welcome.) Grocery carts are their boats, femur bones serve as oars. As they row, they sing “Row Row Row your smelly dead ass gently down to hell.” And so on. How’s that?
Really? (And this is from a relative of mine)
That’s it. No more. And again, my no-help-friends, I never offered a prize but thanks for the ideas. I won’t use any of them.
I abhor the dark early morning hours of one to four a.m. It is the time of The Messengers. I never know when they will be coming. That’s the hardest part of it all–the randomness of their visits. Every night I’m filled with dread. Will they come tonight? Will I soon hear the pecking on my window? I hate the dark hours. I hate the daylight hours, too.
Once upon a long time ago I considered myself a novelist. Nighttime was my creative time. Words flowed from my brain to the keyboard of my computer. They came fast and with ease. By dawn my fingers ached. My whole arm ached. But when my writing time was over, I was filled with contentment and with a desire for the day to quickly speed away so that I could once again engage in my obsession.
A few hours of sleep was all I needed. My job at the coffee shop began at nine, and when my shift was over, I’d go to class, then after class I’d head over to the diner to wait tables. I was young, barely turned twenty, and full of energetic determination to make it big in the literary world.
This satisfying routine continued for weeks. My novel was nearing completion. My goal was just a few chapters away. I could sense success. I could feel it. I could taste it. It made me giddy with anticipation. Then they started coming–The Messengers. At first their visits were sporadic and random, but they increased as days went by. But I remember clearly the night of the first visit. The night was portentous to begin with. Wind howled outside. Sleet pelted my window. I paid no mind to it. The weather was not unusual for this time of the year. Autumn winds were ushering in the cold winter months. My fingers continued throwing words onto the monitor. Images in my brain and the rapid clacking of the keyboard occupied my thoughts. Until movement drew my attention to the window. Seeing an owl pressed against the glass stunned me. The wind must have blown the poor thing there. Shall I open the window to rescue it? Would it even allow me to approach it?
Afraid I would startle the poor creature away, I stepped slowly, cautiously to the window, all the while watching it watch me with its big round yellow eyes. When I reached to slide the window open, it spoke. Not in the usual sense of the word but with its eyes and through thought. It held me transfixed as it delivered its message.
“A fair-haired girl will cross your path tomorrow. She will look at you and you will know to tell her that a loved one has passed away.”
It happened just as the owl had said. I had kept my head down as I walked across campus to my class. I did not want to look into faces. But a strange, sudden compulsion forced my head up. A blonde had stopped to stare at me. How did she know? Like an unseen electrical charge, the owl’s message shot across the span of space that separated us. I did not speak it, but that didn’t matter. The girl hesitated for a moment, and horror filled her eyes. She turned and raced away. The recipient had received the message. I staggered to the nearest bench and sat. My entire body shook with fear.
The Messengers came and went. Always at night. Always during the dark early morning hours. I stopped writing. Words fled from me. Enthusiasm and confidence that once filled me with happiness switched into a terror that crippled me. I waited for their appearance. I had become their messenger to the human world. Soon, all too soon, frightened whispers, furtive glances, and isolation, chased me off campus and to another town. I changed towns several times but The Messengers always found me. Where I went, they went. Their visits would not cease.
I’m now in a room that has no windows. It is what I want, even though I was given a choice. I will not allow a computer to be placed in my room. My fear is for the monitor. It could become their window to get to me. I haven’t forgotten them. How could I? Now my wait is for the nurse who brings me two little orange pills that calm me and allow me to sleep during the dark early morning hours. I hear nothing. I see not a thing. I imagine nothing. My world is dark but peaceful because of the two little orange pills….
There’s a timeless field full of beautiful flowers. Yellow and blue flowers dominate the land. Wooden benches have chosen spots in the field. People walk among the flowers. Some sit to converse, some read, others play, or stroll the beautiful field. A smile brightens every face. They bask in the warm happiness of the sun. No one picks the beautiful flowers. They are to be enjoyed and pampered. The field waits to welcome souls.
Adjacent to the beautiful field is another endless field. It abounds with wildlife and beloved pets long gone and those recently passed. They leap in youthful playfulness among the trees and on gentle sloping land. A clear stream runs through this field and in it waterfowl float like pretty sailboats. The field waits to welcome souls.
In the far distance another field waits, an immense field. A thick, suffocating mist shields it from the cleansing sun. Indistinguishable shapes are there. There is movement in the dark field. Shadowy figures roam. Some come close to the beautiful land but are unable to cross over. An invisible barrier must block entrance. The darkened field waits to welcome souls.
A gate, one wooden unpainted gate, stands between the fields like a sentry. It swings open but only in one direction. And when it opens for a soul to enter, desperate voices and pitiful moans call out but the souls in the beautiful field are oblivious to them. A white pebbled pathway cuts through the beautiful field and ends at the gate. No observable barrier can be seen, and yet one exists.
I stood at the beginning of the white pebbled pathway and watched a man, my father, approach the wooden gate. It opened to my father, and though he struggled against entry and pleadingly cried out my mother’s name – she sat on a faraway bench, smiling as she ran a gentle hand over the delicate head of a little dark-haired boy – he could not remain in the beautiful field. If it were not for Shongo, my guardian and beloved German shepherd canine, I would not have stayed to watch the scene. The gate closed behind my father. He was a diabolical man, an abusive man who savagely beat his wife and young son to death in front of their daughter. He had no remorse. It was her fault, he told the court. She had caused him to do it.
The gate is closed. The execution is over. The vision is gone. I am safe now.
***In the last years of Mama’s life, she often had dreams of my dad (who was a good man, by the way) standing in the middle of an alfalfa field, waving to her to come to him. He had passed away a few years prior to her own death. Alfalfa produces clusters of blue-violet flowers, FYI. I thought of her dreams when I jotted it down. I had originally titled it “Three Fields.”
“They live in the shadows. In daylight shadows cast by the sun, in night shadows cast by the moon, in shadows thrown by artificial light, in the dancing shadows of firelight. They wait in shadows, hungry, unseen entities that fling out an appendage to snatch prey. Unceasing hunger is their motivation, infants their greatest desire. They ride the shadows of moving vehicles, in shifting cloud shadows, in any and all shadows that conceal them. Shadows are their element. Stay away from shadows. Daylight does not guarantee safety.”
“Are you trying to frighten me?” I laughed at my uncle Ignacio.
Ignacio took several sips of coffee before lifting his eyes to look across the table at me. His dark Peruvian eyes were alert and deadly serious. He bowed his head, and shook it. When he looked back at me, his eyes had turned tired. “No. I am an old archaeologist, my dear nephew. I live on the outskirts of Cuzco, not far from the ancient ruins. I have witnessed things. I know things. I have been told things. Do you want to hear my stories?”
I leaned forward in my chair and rested my elbows on the table. “Yes, but be warned. I am a skeptic and not easily frightened.”
“It is for you to believe or not. I will just tell you what has been passed on to me. It is an old story, passed down from generation to generation.”
I nodded. “Go on. I am intrigued.”
Their numbers are few. It is thought that they cannot reproduce. But they migrate, existing now in every civilization across this planet for their hiding places cannot be numbered. Who can count the shadows on the earth? “Shadow creatures” they are called. Monsters from the mist that live unseen in shadows. They are ancient entities that came not long after the death of Christ. Our ancient ones spoke of them. They drew their figures on stone. One legend tells the story of these beings sneaking out of the water behind the great Inca god, Con Tigui Viracocha. Another claims that these alien monsters walked out of the mountaintop mist to investigate the land but before they could return to the mist, the sun came out, leaving them trapped forever on this world. They sought safety in earth’s shadows, waiting, hoping that when the mist returned, they could return to wherever they came from. They could not. They needed sustenance so they began taking humans. One minute a person would be there, next minute that person would be gone. Snatched and vanished.”
“What do you mean?”
“An eager child runs ahead of their parent. Not too far ahead. They keep a watchful eye on the child but the next second, their child is gone. There is nothing around except the shadow into which the child disappeared.”
“Surely something of the child is left behind. Bones, a strand of hair, teeth. Something.”
“Nothing. Not even the garments. Whatever lives in the shadow swallows its prey whole. Nothing remains.”
I was thoughtful for a moment, then I asked, “How do you know it reaches out with…what? Some kind of appendage, did you say?”
Ignacio nodded. “Rare sightings claim it is much like a frogs tongue that whips out to grab its food. In seconds the appendage disappears, as does the victim. Whatever this entity is, it prefers the young.”
I studied my uncle’s brown weathered face. He was a wise man, a scientist not really given over to superstitions. He believed in what he had just related to me, of that I was positive. A shiver raced down my spine but I wasn’t sure I bought the idea of shadow monsters.
Ignacio stared solemnly back at me. “You decide, my son.”
I know when you are going to die. I can read shadows. Shadows can signal death. Why should I have been shocked to learn this? Why should anyone be shocked to hear this? Shadows are our forever companion.
It’s a gift or a curse depending on the situation. Perhaps you’re living in excruciating pain and you’ve sought relief from every available source possible, but there is no one out there who can help you. Painkillers only allow you to cope. They dull the pain but never conquer it. It’s a gift if I can help you, a curse if I cannot. But I can only help if you are part of my world and only under certain and rare circumstances. Most shadows are as they should be in the natural world. Only a few will draw me in and behave in an aberrant, supernatural way. I have no control over which shadow reveals itself to me, but it is a frightening experience
No one knows about this ability of mine. Not my mother or father, or my sister. No one. Except for those I have helped, and myself. A vow of secrecy is required. I don’t want to become some kind of weird attraction, or obsession. I don’t want people making pilgrimages to see me. I don’t lay healing hands on folks. My hands hold no such power. If death is lurking close-by, and I am to help a person continue on in this world, their shadow will draw me in.
I don’t know when it started, this ability to read shadows. But I know it was long before my boyfriend died. I just didn’t understand the signs at the time. I wish I had. Maybe I could have prevented his death. Maybe.
My boyfriend died six months ago. He was only sixteen and in perfect health. I didn’t know then that I possessed the ability to prevent his death. He stood on the diving board of our community pool, yelling at me to watch him perform his famous swan dive. His shadow wavered, like the waves of sound, or like heart waves seen on medical monitors. They moved vertically, and shimmered, and his shadow separated from his body, becoming its own upright entity, not a dark figure undulating on the water. But the illusion – which I believed it was at the time – lasted only for a millisecond, and then his shadow was no more. Yet, as I thought back on it, I clearly remember the morning sun shining brightly in a clear blue sky. He didn’t die that afternoon. Not even that night. He died the following day. A drunk driver ran a red light and hit him straight on. Death came in moments.
Could I have save him? Perhaps. I’ll never know. But if I had a second chance, I would take him to an open space and have him stand for an hour under the straight-up noonday sun. Sunlight is life, darkness is death. A balance is maintained. But sometimes, when there is a forewarning, the overpowering light from the sun can cleanse away the darkness of death. Death is stayed. I have seen it in visions and dreams. I have witnessed it with my own eyes.
***Story One is just one of many short stories I wrote under this title. Pennies (blog) was written for the title, too.
Image credit: markbarky
Dig Site: 2971OZA
STATUS: Day 30. Dr. Janice Johnson received a grievous wound to her upper right torso, in particular, to her right arm. A rock wall of considerable size weakened by a heavy rainfall two days prior, unexpectedly gave way and crashed into the area where Dr. Johnson was working, breaking her humerus and severely lacerating the bicep. Her life in grave jeopardy, Dr. Johnson was airlifted to the nearest medical facility within hours. Her blood loss was acute and, I am loathed to report, gushed directly on to the collection of rare trilobites. See Report 012T-2971OZA. Much care was given in an attempt to preserve the specimens but all for naught, I’m afraid. The trilobites remain saturated with Dr. Johnson’s blood. We do not understand the reason for the deterioration of the trilobites as we employed methods used successfully before in attempts to restore and preserve the fossils.
STATUS: Day 39. Tragedy has struck once again. Team member, Michelle Robsen, disappeared. After much searching, her remains were found two days later among boulders higher up in the hills that surround the dig site. The remains were transported back to the base where, upon close examination, it was determined that Ms. Robsen died of fatal blood loss caused by hundreds of tiny puncture wounds inflicted on her body. Whatever had attacked and killed Ms. Robsen is unknown. What is know, however, is that the entity(s) is quite efficient in the extraction of blood.
STATUS: Day 42. Conditions have gone from bad to dire. Two more team members have been lost to the unknown predator(s), for that is the conclusion the remaining six of us have come to. There is a predator–or predators–out there hunting us, taking us at the darkest time of night. God willing, we leave the area tomorrow for we are no match for the unseen killer(s).
STATUS: Day 44. We remain at the campsite waiting for those who went in search of Dr. Jonas who was last seen entering his tent last evening. The search party is due back by noon, upon which time we will depart the site. With nightfall comes death. It is paramount we leave this area while the sun is still high in the sky.
STATUS: Urgent. It is the opinion of Dr. Wendel that it is the trilobites that are killing our team. Dr. Wendel is of the firm belief that the trilobite fossils are in fact an alien species that have existed in a dormant state for thousands of years. It was when the human blood of Dr. Johnson inadvertently contaminated the fossils that these vampire-like creatures were resurrected. Presently, and according to the search team, these blood consumers are in a state of hibernation in a cave where the body of Dr. Jonas was found. There are five of us left. Our flight from the site is one of fear and utter desperation. We must make town before dusk. We are traveling fast and are in earnest prayer.
***I wonder if any of my fourth or fifth graders remember when we studied fossils and we jokingly said they were alien beings from outer space.
A treasure, a curse,
A Rolls, or a hearse?
A coppery lie,
Pass them by.
Pass them by.
Granny always cautioned me about picking up lost pennies. She was scared of them. Many are dark, cursed, she often said. The condition of the penny does not reveal its history, for a penny can pass through a multitude of hands before it is forsaken and lost to the ground.
“Have you experience cursed pennies?” I was seven when I asked her this.
“No, but I have been told stories,” she replied, a glint of fear in her eyes. “Evil is pervasive and evil can be passed on by things that have come in contact with it.”
“What about something good? Is it the same?”
“Best not chance it.”
I collected forsaken pennies for charities. I collected all coins I found and put them in one of Granny’s Mason jars. When the jar was filled, I dropped it off at the charity center. I never counted the coins, just handed them over. Most times I added my own coins to fill the jar. Most were pennies and it was a once a year donation, just around Thanksgiving time.
On the day I turned thirteen, I found 5 pennies in a parking lot. Three appeared brand new. All bright and shiny. Two were dull and grimy – one minted in 1968, the other 1989. I left the pennies on my desk and went to do chores. When I returned to my room, I saw them there, waiting to be dropped into the Mason jar. Remembering Granny’s words, I picked up the 1968 and rotated it in my fingers. A flood of warmth filled my being and a flash of a devoted elderly couple sitting in a church somewhere came to me. I was startled momentarily but I was sure it was only my imagination. I picked up the 1989 and was hit with a wash of sadness mixed with profound relief. Like a departed loved one had suffered in pain and it was good they had now gone to a peaceful place. A burial scene tripped through my thoughts. The penny tumbled out of my hand. It landed on its side and spun like a top, before falling flat. A sense of fear and dread swept over me and yet I could not stop myself from picking up one shiny penny. A vision of a man on his knees, bending over a porcelain bath tub raced into my mind. In his hand a hacksaw rained blood. One shapely leg reached out over the tub’s edge, a gruesome stump of the other leg seeped out blood next to the butchered torso. Blood splatter raced down white tiles like a thousand crimson streams. The man hummed as he feverishly sawed, yanked, and pulled at the mangled body. He had done this before. Many, many, times before. It’s his compulsion, his gratification.
Granny was wise. Pennies. Pass them by.
***The story idea is about a young artist who experiences visions whenever she comes in contact with a found penny. A good vision, she rejoices; an evil vision compels her into action. She is driven to help law enforcement solve or prevent the crime. This ability puts her in great danger. Her name is Grace.
Literature Unit and Poetry: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Some of my favorite literature units centered on historical novels. History came alive for my students when given the opportunity to read these books. Fourth and fifth graders are curious about the past and are often surprised that a particular novel is based on an actual event in history. Lowry’s novel, Number theStars, is written in simplistic language, language that my students could easily read and understand.
I used Number the Stars as a vehicle to introduce the Holocaust. For those not familiar with the novel, it is about a 10-year old girl named Annemarie Johansen and her family’s contribution to the resistance movement in Denmark during World War II. Annemarie’s best friend is Jewish and when the Nazis began their round up of Denmark’s Jews for relocation to the death camps, Annemarie and her family courageously help the Rosens to escape to neutral Sweden.
We read three to four chapters per week, and as the reading progressed, I’d introduce factual material that complimented the novel. The Terezin Concentration Camp — located in what is now the Czech Republic — was a transit camp where thousands of Jews, including thousands of Jewish children all under the age of 15, passed through on their way to Auschwitz. Here the children painted and wrote poetry, here they were involve in art and classes and athletic activities. A film of the children engaged in these fun activities was put out for the world to see but this was simply a propaganda ploy put forth by the Nazis to counter the “rumors” the outside world was hearing of the existence of the extermination camps.
My class read some of the poetry written by the children in the Terezin camp. We discussed Pavel Friedman’sThe Butterfly, a beautiful, poignant poem written during his internment there. (Pavel Friedmann died in Auschwitz, September 29, 1944.) After much discussion, the students were given the assignment of selecting a butterfly to research and using that butterfly in a poem. When composing their poems, the students were to think in terms of a child in Terezin looking out a barred window, watching a butterfly flitting freely about. What would that child be seeing? What did that child long for? And so on… They also had to draw the butterfly in the landscape the child in the window was looking out at.
Its first name was despair,
Its second was hopelessness.
A lonely plea,
Will you rescue me?
Twilight is turning into night.
There isn’t much time.
One translucent white pine
Gazed out longingly,
A barbed fence his confinement.
A haunting figure,
Will you rescue me?
Cerulean heavens are the realm
Of Soaring eagles
Open spaces the playground
Of dainty butterflies
Over and around
Up and all the way down
Iridescent wings proclaim their freedom
Violet exuberance declare their joy
Their existence, our delight
Photo: my visual aids used in this language arts exercise.
There’s a stretch of road that winds through the Arizona desert. It’s a lonely two-way road. The traffic is sparse, the asphalt unusually black. It runs west to east. It dips and then flattens out, it curves and runs straight — the pattern is monotonous. The Arizona Atlas & Gazetteer designates it as Highway 60. About 54 miles separates the towns of Salome and Wickenburg, the communities between these two places are few and desperate looking. During the sunlit hours the road is just boring, the scenery dead. Dust devils thrive along this highway. People have told stories about this road. They have claimed that even as they traveled the roadway with the sun high up in the sky an overwhelming feeling of being followed, of being watched, fell upon them. They whispered of something being concealed inside the whirlwinds of dust, that something unseen was driving its movement. A family of travelers spoke of a spiral running close and parallel to them. “It seemed like it was chasing us,” the mother was reported to have said.
Then there’s the talk of tumbleweeds. Large and small tumbleweeds have been seen lining the two-way at various points along the 60. Long lines of them on both sides of the road. An old hazy black and white photo seems to verify this. They appear purposely gathered there, as if they are alive, and are waiting for a particular prey to come along. And if the chosen victim fulfills an unknown requirement, they are taken. At least, the victim is never seen again. No clue or hint of a clue of their whereabouts has ever been discovered.
Nighttime can be a nightmare on the “Ribbon.” Folks tend to avoid nighttime travel on that road. Who can blame them?
Death occurs on the “Black Ribbon.” Death occurs on all highways, of course, and it is always a tragedy. But the manner of death on the “Black Ribbon” is strange indeed. As are the sudden, unexplainable vanishing of humans. An Arizona State coed traveling home for Thanksgiving was found with her throat and belly clawed open. She had been disemboweled. She was traveling alone, at night, the car radio still pumping out hits from a station out of Phoenix when the wreck was discovered. The remains of what looked like huge tumbleweeds surrounded her car, all shattered into a million pieces. A doctor and his young son vanished one late February night. They found the doctor’s vehicle wrapped around a power pole the next morning. No clue as to what had caused the accident. No sign of the doctor or his son was ever reported.
Shall I go on? No, I cannot. I am fearful. I do not travel Highway 60 ever. I travel only during the hours the sun is up and shining, my eyes trained on any and all dust devils and tumbleweeds. Evil lives in them. This I know.
***Fiction from the Notebook Files of Gloria Esquerra. Photo from imagelib.com
Note: It’s a 5 hour drive from Tucson to the reservation, and 5 hours back. Lots of time to think and allow your imagination to go crazy. There are plenty of dust devils to keep you company as you roll along Interstate 10. I placed an Apache Marine — a Shadow Hunter — in the deserts of the Middle East in my novel “I’ll Kill You Later.” There he encounters and kills such a demon that hides itself in the heavy dust storms that occur there. That idea came from the many back and forth trips I made during the last years of my mother’s life.
You know I was going to write about a phantom grocery cart dumper that is terrorizing our neighborhood…..well, really, my front yard (twice hit), but I was just getting ticked off thinking about the entire thing so I changed course and decided to share a very short story. I wrote this –and many others — when it was my turn to take care of Mama. It wasn’t really a story to me when I jotted it down back then, but an idea I didn’t want to forget, an idea I could possibly develop into a future story.
My dad’s farm is isolated. Probably an exaggeration but the thing is, even with a spotlight high up on a telephone pole throwing out light, it is pitch black out there and kind of scary at night. The night sky is beautiful, the stars brilliant, but the darkness and the sounds only nighttime seems to conjure up spooked me so I never stayed outside for long. It was just me and Mama during the night, and Mama was frail and not in good health. They had satellite TV but I rarely watched it. I mostly read and wrote “stuff” in notebooks. I typed the story almost as is, so it’s rough.
Pass Me By, Stay With Me
by Gloria Esquerra
He said his name was Hunter.
“Hunter what?” one of the girls asked him.
We were six girls, all sixteen, all foolish and gullible, all ordinary looking. Six high school girls who only wanted what the popular girls had, six girls that went unnoticed by the masses. We were playing a silly game called “Pass me by, Stay with me” when Hunter walked into the classroom. It’s a game much like “Bloody Mary,” but a mirror is not involved and no one waits for an image to appear. No. We sit in a circle, clap our hands three times, pound the table twice with both fists, then reach out to once clap the hand of the girls sitting to our right and left, and say “pass me by” or “stay with me.” You have to make a choice on which phrase you speak for it’s against the rules to say both. Usually the game is played when a boy enters our space. The hope is that a handsome, popular boy would appear and would be irresistibly drawn to the one who whispers “stay with me.” Thing is, I found it odd that only one girl could whisper “stay with me” at any given time. But it was only a silly childhood game so I didn’t worry too much about that oddity.
That’s what were were playing when Hunter appeared. We all kind of gasped when we saw him. He was startling handsome, with the most mesmerizing blue eyes I’d ever seen, and the darkest hair that curled over his brow and around his ears and neck. He was new to the school. At least we had never seen him on campus before, and he was lost. He said he was looking for Mr. Wyman’s classroom, which is in Building B. We were in Building A. We gave him the directions to Mr. Wyman’s classroom.
Joni urgently whispered, “Game time.”
Another girl and I shook our heads no. I found the idea of playing the game while a hot guy was still in the room embarrassing. What if he knew about the game? And we were in high school now, for crying out loud, not elementary school.
Hunter started to leave when Joni and three other girls began clapping. He turned to see what was going on but did not interrupt the game to ask. He stayed to observed the four players, and heard Joni utter, “Stay with me.”
I watched him smile at Joni, causing her to blush furiously. “Will you show me where Mr. Wyman’s class is, please?” He spoke directly to Joni. “I’m already lost and I think I’ll be late if I try finding it on my own.”
Joni sprang up and Hunter took her hand in his like he had known her forever. Joni looked back at us in happy astonishment. The rest of us just sat there, stunned by what had just transpired.
“Was that for real?” “Am I hallucinating or did that actually just happen?” “Do you think the game really works or is Joni just playing one of her damn tricks on us?”
Questions like that shot around our little circle. I saw Joni later that day. She claimed it had not been a trick and that she and Hunter were now a couple in love. That was the last time I spoke to her, or saw her alive. The cops came, an investigation ensued, but it was over fairly quickly. The coroner ruled Joni died from natural causes.
I bumped into Hunter the day following Joni’s death. We were passing in the hallway. He looked curiously at me, and I at him. He asked, “Do you want to play ‘Pass me by, Stay with me?’ May I stay with you if you play?”
I stared in horror at him. His eyes, those mesmerizing blue eyes, shifted slightly, but the slight change was enough to reveal the terrifying truth. The startling handsome boy answers the requests of females who play the game. He will go or he will stay. He prefers you request him to stay, for he is death, a hunter of souls.