Cezarija Abartis

Some people swore that the house was haunted. Mickey, with his one dead eye, said so. Sweet Janey, who wanted to be a painter when she grew up, agreed. Alice argued against it. She had lived enough horror to need none in stories. Her father had come back from Iraq and now saw bad soldiers lurking in the vegetable aisle of grocery stores and behind oak trees and SUVs.

Mickey and Sweet Janey and Alice decided to meet outside the old Childer House on Halloween to prove their bravery or recklessness or rationality. Sweet Janey wore gloves because at night the temperature would get down to the forties. Alice wore a bright orange scarf as a display of her allegiance to mysteries. Mickey, well, he brought a can of beer, which he took from his father’s stash, and a stick because he thought he had to protect the two girls.

He had heard that inside the house was a slime monster that absorbed your body until you lost consciousness, and you morphed into a mucus puddle. What good would a stick be? But he carried it nevertheless.

Sweet Janey had kissed her granny, who sank back on the pillow and murmured, “You be careful, stay with your friends, don’t eat the candy before you examine it.”

They each sipped in turn from the beer can as if it were a chalice and finally poured out the bitter drink on the lawn. Mickey said he hated living with his drunken father and his yelling; Sweet Janey said she missed her parents; Alice said her father was hurt, and she couldn’t help him. They all agreed that anything was better than being a kid. They crept toward the dark house, Mickey at the front grasping his stick, with the half moon above them gleaming as if it were a cradle slung from the tree of the world. The house was three stories. They supposed that they would confront the worst thing there was, and by confronting it, never have to confront it again.

Alice saw a flash in the upstairs window and stopped. “Someone’s inside.”

Mickey turned to the house, but did not see the flash because of his bad eye. Alice wondered if it was a gunshot that had been silenced, perhaps her father was right about snipers.

Alice felt a chasm of dread open in her chest. For a second, Sweet Janey saw the brightness as a flower in her granny’s bedroom. She rubbed her eyes and dropped her gloves. She stretched her fingers toward the brightness. Mickey heard a man’s voice yell, “Stay young always.” Alice shivered as she thought of her father forever racing in jagged terror down alleys and daytime parking lots.

Alice’s orange scarf fell to the ground, where it fluttered, fresh and silky as a flower and next to it, the shadow of Sweet Janey’s gloves.

The children turned away and ran to their separate houses.

Cezarija Abartis’ Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in Liquid Imagination, New York Tyrant, Prime Number, and r.kv.r.y., among others. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University.