Célena stood with her three friends at the school bus stop. She listened with half an ear to their chatter about the upcoming weekend sleepover at Stacey’s house.
The squeal of the bus’s brakes interrupted them. They clambered on board, rushed to the back, and settled into their usual seats.
“Ooh, look who is catching the bus today, Célena,” Sarah tittered.
Célena looked up straight into Juan’s eyes. She felt her face burst into flames. The back of her neck tingled. She looked down and straightened her school skirt over her knees.
“Who do you think he is going to ask to go with him to the prom?” Leah whispered in her right ear.
“Maybe we can ask the Ouija Board tomorrow night,” Stacey said under her breath.
Of its own volition Célena’s head jerked round and she look at Stacey’s grinning face.
“I found my Grandmother’s Ouija Board and the instructions in the attic. I told you all before we got on the bus. We are having a Ouija Halloween Party tomorrow night. It is going to be fun,” Stacey gushed.
Uncertainty dragged a horny fingernail down Célena’s spine. Goosebumps raised, pinching her skin. A blonde lock fell over her eyes. She leaned back and tucked it behind her ear. She looked down at Stacey and Leah, both bent forward, whispering to each other. On the far side, next to the window, Emily was as usual engrossed in a book.
Célena got up as the bus neared her stop. She greeted the girls and walked to the front. Behind her, Stacey shouted a reminder about their planned sleepover.
That night Célena battled to fall asleep. Anxiety and Excitement had set up their boxing ring in her head, and neither one was going to give in to the other. In the early morning hours, Exhaustion dragged her into its dark cavern.
Célena woke up with a start. Remnants of a nightmare hovered beyond her grasp. She sighed and got out of bed. The day went by in a haze whilst she mechanically tended to her chores.
Before Célena knew it, it was time to leave for Stacey’s house. She took a quick shower and bundled a few things into her backpack. She heard her mother’s call and rushed downstairs.
“Must you always be so tardy? I don’t want to be late for my bridge party,” her mother admonished.
Célena sat in silence during the short drive to Stacey’s house, whilst her mother droned on, instruction after instruction. To avoid trouble, she nodded her head at regular intervals and when required mumbled a “Yes, Mother”.
Célena did not know whether or not to be relieved when they got to Stacey’s house. She got out the car and watched her mother drive off. Behind her, the front door opened.
“There you are. Everyone is here already. You will be late for your funeral one day.” Stacey quipped.
Célena ignored Stacey’s remark and stepped into the house. She followed her into the opulent dining room. The table was decked out with platters full of finger snacks. She glanced at the open champagne bottle in the middle of the table.
“Where are your parents?”
“Oh, they’ve gone to the city and won’t be back until tomorrow. The house is ours for the night.”
Célena looked at Leah and Emily. Each held a glass of champagne. Emily’s eyes slid away from hers.
“Come, have a glass of champagne.”
“I don’t like champagne.”
“Well, in that case, there are a lot of choices right inside that drinks cabinet. Help yourself.”
Célena took a tall glass from the glass cabinet and opened the bar fridge. She glanced over her shoulder. The others were engrossed in conversation. She grabbed a can of tonic water, opened it and poured it into the glass.
She walked to the table and sat down opposite Stacey, who filled a plate with snacks and gave it to her. She took a bite of a mini sausage roll. It turned into a ball of doughy clay and rolled around in her mouth. She gulped some tonic water. Her eyes blurred. Her throat laboured.
The obstinate dough ball left stubborn bits and pieces clinging to the walls of Célena’s throat. She hid a soft cough behind her fist. The other girls remained engrossed in their chatter about the upcoming séance.
An hour later, Célena followed the girls up the stairs to the attic. She hovered in the door and looked at the setup. Her eyes followed Stacey, who flounced around, lighting the candles and incense sticks.
“Don’t just stand there, close the door and switch off the light,” Stacey ordered.
Célena sat down next to Emily on one of the cushion’s at the low wooden table and knotted her hands in her lap. She lowered her eyes as Stacey opened the box containing the Ouija Board and unpacked it. She sighed and sent a silent request for protection to the Universe.
“I will be Madame for tonight and you my guests” Stacey said and covered her head with a black lace mantilla.
A painful knot twisted Célena’s stomach and sent a gas bubble rumbling along her intestines. The first round of questions for the Ouija Board passed uneventfully.
“Maybe my bad feelings were wrong,” Célena thought to herself and placed her finger on the planchette and asked another innocuous question. Stacey was next.
Célena’s entire body jerked to attention at Stacey’s question – “Are there any spirits here?”
An ice-cold draft stirred the air. The candles sputtered. The smell of incense thickened. The stairs leading to the attic creaked.
Célena jumped up, raced to the door and turned the key in the lock. The door handle rattled. She stumbled back as something threw itself at the door. Behind her, the girls scampered into the farthest corner and huddled together.
Something scratched at the bottom of the door. The hair on the back of Célena’s neck rose. An angry, high-pitched squeal-snort made her jump back. She stumbled over the table and sent the candles flying.
Dazed, Célena lay on her back. Around her the candles found purchase. Above her, a grey cloud formed into a face. Its cheeks bulged, and it released a hot sulphuric vapour. She rolled over onto all fours. Glass tinkled. The other girls had broken the attic window.
Fresh air whooshed into the room. The fire embraced it with a roar and set up a wall between Célena and the window. She dropped her head and crawled to the door. She ignored the splinters and bit back the pain. She fumbled for the key. Red-hot, it blistered her hand. She struggled to keep Hysteria out of the driving seat. The lock clicked open.
Her legs buckled and topsy-turvy, she rolled down the stairs. The hungry fire chased after her. She made it out the front door. Behind her the fire raged, found a gas bottle and exploded it through the roof.
With a last spurt of energy, Célena crawled onto the front lawn.