A stupid ritual, an outtake

I find inspiration in the most random of places. This morning, it was in my bowl of Frankenberry cereal.

Zig is the sort of father who encourages his children to really think about the world around them, why we do the things we do, and so on. The “weird talk with dad” behind this outtake probably happened over a bowl of Frankenberry, with Zig challenging his kids to marry traditional Halloween practices of honoring the dead with the more modern seasonal markers of pumpkin spice everything and spooky cereal. The result? Amay and her friends at a sleep over.


“This is the weirdest ritual I’ve ever heard of.”

“Shhhh!”

Amay hissed at her, nearly sloshing milk over the side of the of the bowl in her vehemence. Blaire backed up, hands held high in defense, but she rolled her eyes as soon as Amay’s back was to her. This was stupid. Seriously stupid. What self respecting spirits would accept an offering of Frankenberry.

“At least we could have offered them something decent, like Chocula.”

“Shh!!!!”

Tommi and Callie joined in the shushing now, Callie’s candle coming dangerously close to the end of Tommi’s braids. Blaire decided it was time to shut up, before one of the other girls did something truly stupid and got them all caught. Amay’s parents were pretty chill, but they would not take kindly to sticky stains on the living room rug or holes singed into the drapes.

Amay set the cut crystal serving bowl of cereal on the coffee table with great ceremony, lowering her arms so slowly that Blaire was sure her grip was going to give and the whole mess would wind up on the floor. But the bowl made it safely, and Blaire handed over the five spoons in silence.

Amay placed each spoon carefully end to top along the line of the pentacle stamped onto the table cloth. Her mother would never have allowed Halloween decorations in the first place, but even if she had, it certainly wouldn’t be something as arcane and wickedly cool as this. Bats and crescents littered the spaces in between circled symbols and stars. Blaire had no idea what it all might mean, but it looked spooky and nifty as hell.

Yeah, I’m sure hell is reeeeeal nifty, she thought. I’m sure I’m going to love it.

She didn’t really thing she was going to hell for summoning spirits at midnight with sugary cereal, but the other three girls were serious enough to suck Blaire into the sense of reverence and drama. Final spoon placed, Amay held her hands out without turning back to the girls.

Tommi stepped up on her left, and solemnly handed over the candle. The fact that it was shaped like a unicorn sort of ruined things, but Blaire was done speaking up. Callie gave her the hot-pink hand mirror, still slightly damp from cleaning the black lipstick marks off the surface. This had been a really weird sleep over. Amay set the candle on the mirror and placed it in front of the spoon farthest from the girls. Blaire tried not to stare at the looming darkness behind it that filled the entry way to the kitchen.

Tommi and Callie sat down where they’d stood, and Amay turned to glare at Blaire. “Well?”

Blaire squirmed, toes curling up in her slippers. She did not want the spot that would leave her back almost to the open darkness.

Amay’s glare sharpened, and Blaire hurried over to the spot, bumping the table in her rush to sit. Tommi and Claire gave another shrill shushing, even though they were the only ones making noise. Blaire curled in on herself and stared at the tablecloth. The symbol before her was a big swoopy M with a devil’s tail. Greeeeat. The Devil. Yay.

Amay picked up her spoon and held it aloft. “O spirits of the departed, hear me!” Blaire wasn’t sure how they were supposed to hear such a low whisper, but hey, she wasn’t a spirit. And she was more worried about the rest of the house hearing.

Tommi and Callie picked up their spoons and raised them, then stared at Blaire expectantly. She squeeze and grabbed her spoon, wincing as it chimed against the crystal bowl. No shushing this time, but only because they were all too busy murmuring “Hear us! Hear us!”. Blaire muttered a half-hearted “Hear…” but that was the best she could do.

The candle guttered, and chill shot down Blaire’s spine. Amay huffed in disgust and rose to her feet, gauzy robe billowing around her. Dressing up in her mother’s things had seemed silly before, kind of rude even, but Amay looked the picture of dark power now. She stalked over to the wall, and Blaire wanted to call out for her to come back, that she had a bad feeling, but she felt frozen to the spot by a chill wind. Amay flicked the switch on the thermostat without ceremony, and the cold air ceased.

“Stupid AC,” she muttered, flopping back down in her spot.

Blaire wanted to die.

But Amay wasn’t going to be deterred by such a minor set back. She held her spoon high again, and resumed calling. Blaire was angry now, feeling stupid for being so scared, so she poured it into her calling, practically daring the spirits to come forth and eat this stupid Frankenberry.

The candle guttered again, but Blaire kept calling. No stupid draft or open window was going to freak her out. “Come out, spirits! Come out!” It wasn’t until Amay kicked her that she realized she’d been the only one calling, and much too loudly.

But when she looked up sheepishly, none of them were looking at her. Their eyes were all fixed on the gaping darkness behind her.

Blaire started to turn, but Callie clutched at her arm. “Don’t look at it! You’ll scare it off!” She ducked back immediately, eyes falling to the table. Amay touched her shoulder lightly.

“It’s for you, then, Cal.” She reached past the bowl for the handle of the mirror. “Go ahead. Look.”

Blaire looked to Tommi, who was still staring into the darkness, then to Amay. Amay was intent on Callie’s face, and Callie on the mirror.

“Why can Tommi look but not me?” she whispered. As if summoned by her name, Tommi turned back to the table.

“I shouldn’t be. Sorry. We…” She trailed off, face turning half-back to the opening almost as if compelled. She shook herself, and locked eyes with Blaire as if to hold herself there with them. “We thought it was for you, since you were the one still talking.”

“It’s for whoever breaks the silence first,” Amay corrected. “You were technically still chanting, so the sign in the mirror will be Callie’s intended.”

“What!” Blaire yelled, then silenced herself. Ghost or not, there were still other people asleep in the house. “You didn’t tell me we were fortune telling,” she hissed. “I don’t wanna look in the future.”

“Then don’t,” Amay said calmly. “It’s not for you.”

As one, the girls all turned to Callie.

Callie didn’t say anything.

“Well?” Amay urged. “What do you see?”

She was quiet long enough that Blaire thought Amay might just snatch the mirror and read it herself, and tell her friend who her “intended” was meant to be. But finally, Callie spoke. Blaire expected something wooden and hollow, or echoey and ethereal, but it was just Callie.

“I see a smile, but sad eyes. Well, I think they’re sad. They’d kinda all scrunched up, like they’re holding something back?”

She sounded unsure, like she wanted someone to tell her she’d gotten the answer right. No one spoke.

“There’s something…. blue, and kinda wavy. An ocean maybe? It’s hard to tell, it looks kinda stylized if it’s meant to be water… And…” Callie went pale, and the other three leaned in with sudden urgency.

“What? What! What do you see?”

Callie slowly raised her hand, pointed at the kitchen with one finger. “And it’s standing right there.”

Tommi shrieked as her brother rushed from the kitchen, scooping her up and growling as only a tiger could. Ajay was right behind him, crazy strobe light necklace casting harsh shadows over his face as he rushed at the table, wailing about Chocula. Amay flung her spoon at him, shrieking, but in fear or anger it was hard to say. Blaire just stared at Callie, who was nearly choking on her laughter.

“Oh my gods! You guys totally fell for it!”

And then light filled the room, parents finally coming to the rescue of the screaming girls.

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