Suburbia: Tales of Affliction
(Previous chapters here)
III: Ben Franklin and the Magic 8 Ball
Arleen is having a sleep-over tonight. I hate sleep-overs. I hate leaving the comfort of my own house, my own bed, my own stuffed animals that protect me all night. I know, I’m too old for that. But I have a feeling that when I’m old and decrepit, like twenty years from now, I’ll still be sleeping with Bunny and FooFoo.
I can’t take Bunny and FooFoo to Arleen’s house, but I can bring my own pillow, which smells like the toasted English Muffins, which smells like home and that should get me through the night. I don’t tell anyone I get homesick, even when I’m just two blocks from home and I can see my house from Arleen’s bedroom window and if the light in the kitchen is on, I can see my parents moving about, pouring a drink or getting a snack. Somehow, seeing my house from the distance of someone else’s house, seeing my parents or my sisters mill about the rooms when I’m not there makes me feel worse instead of better. It makes my family feel out of reach.
I go to Arleen’s despite not really wanting to. I lug my pillow and a plastic bag with pajamas and clothes for the morning. Mrs. Green greets me with surprise. “Annie! I didn’t think you’d be here. You never show up for sleep-overs!” I manage a grin a I squeeze past her. I hate Mrs. Green. She’s as wide as my father’s Lincoln and smells like she’s got bits of old food stuck between her fat rolls. She wears bright, floral printed house dresses that my mother calls mu-mus, but my sisters and I call moo-moos. The difference is all in the pronunciation, how you draw out the ooooos. The moo-moos make Mrs. Green look very tent-like and I imagine one of the Green kids crawling under the moo-moo with a canteen and sleeping bag.
The rest of the girls are already upstairs. I can hear the buzz of their whispers and giggles and as I round the stairs and head for Arleen’s bedroom door and I can tell by the tone of the buzz that there’s an argument brewing.
“I know there are such things as ghosts because my father saw the ghost of his father right after he died!”
“That is so stupid!”
“Are you calling my father stupid?”
I step into the room, throw my pillow and bag on the bed and slip right into the fray.
“My mother saw a pair of dancing shoes fly across her room.”
“WHAT?” This is said both collectively and incredulously.
“Uh huh. She saw red ballet shoes fly across her bedroom when she was just nine years old and the next day she found out her aunt died during the night.”
Lori snorts, “What does ballet shoes have to do with her aunt dying?”
“Her aunt was a ballerina.” I say this with an air of smugness. Lori, who is just about to say something stupid to rebut me, clamps her mouth shut. All the other girls sit there with their mouths hinged open. I do know how to make an entrance to a party.
“I’ve got goosebumps.” Tammy rolls up her nightgown sleeve to show us the prickly rise of flesh on her arms. “Let’s talk about something else.”
Arleen jumps up. “Ooh, I forgot. Mom bought me a Magic 8 Ball today!” She grabs the 8 Ball from her dresser and immediately everyone encircles her, touching the ball, wanting a turn with it. The next minute or so is a flurry of teenage hands, shaking, turning, grabbing.
“Will I marry Bobby Sherman?”
“Does Paul Carey really wet his bed?”
“Does my mother hide the Christmas presents in the attic?”
“Does Christie Sorrentino stuff her bra?
All the pat answers show up; Outlook not so good. It is decidedly so. Outlook good. Ask again later (which means ask two seconds later). My reply is no (which means try again). My older cousin has had one of these magic balls for months now and the cube of predictions circling in the blue goo holds no special interest form. What’s more interesting is the questions my friends ask and their reactions to the answers. As if this stupid paperweight of a toy can really predict the future?
Oh, I know. Like two months from now I’ll be standing in my cousin’s room, shaking the ball when no one is looking and asking it if my tits will ever grow. Outlook not so good.
Arleen comes up with a grand idea: We’ll ask the Magic 8 Ball if ghosts really exist. This lead to another discussion about all things supernatural. We talk about ghosts and vampires and shadows under the bed. This leads to a mini-fight, pitting those of us who believed in things that go bump in the night against those who are quite sure that the res of us were out of our minds. Or heathens. Arleen stands up and shakes Magic 8 ball.
“I’m going to ask it. We’ll settle this once and for all.”
I want to say: How will this settle anything? If you don’t believe in ghosts how likely are you to believe a toy? But I hold back. Once the 8 Ball told Lori she would get a kiss from Ray Cortland before the year was over, its power became undeniable, belief in ghosts and goblins or not.
Are there such things as ghosts?
Arleen shakes up that 8 ball with the same vigor that her father shakes martinis. Better not tell you now.
Well, that gives Tammy the heebie jeebies. She surmises that if the all powerful 8 ball does not want to tell us, its because....because.... ghosts are already in the room!
I grab the 8 ball from Arleen.
Are there spirits present here?
We hold our collective breath as I shake the toy, the blue goo forming foaming bubbles that obscure the words for a few seconds. And then the bubbles subside and the answer was revealed:
Yes - definitely.
Shrieks. High-pitched, teenage girl, glass-breaking shrieks.
Lori (whose mother hands out religious tracts to trick-or-treaters and tells Lori she will go to hell just for thinking about boys), grabs the 8 ball out of my hands and flings it across the room. Obviously, the thing is possessed because not only does it not break, but there isn’t a scratch or dent on it when Arleen retrieves it from under the bed.
The noise of the heavy 8 ball rolling on the wooden floor, plus Lori’s hysterical whimpering brings Arleen's older sister Cammie to the room, storming in, demanding to know what we’re up to. Lori’s crying by this time, and she announces to Cammie that we’re playing games with the devil. Lori points to the Magic 8 ball.
This thing? Cammie laughs. You think you can call out the devil with this stupid toy? Hang on girls, I've got something better for you.
And so we spend the next few hours learning the proper way to read an Ouija board. Well, most of us. Lori goes downstairs to sleep on the couch, away from us devil worshipers.
The Ouija board doesn’t hold the same mysterious aura for us as the 8 ball. It’s too easy to manipulate and Arleen’s a horrible speller, so we knew when the the triangle disc points to there being GOHSTS in the room, Arleen has something to do with it. Cammie senses our growing boredom and decides to go one better. We’re going to have a seance.
We decide to call upon on the ghost of Ben Franklin. Cammie figures we should start with someone benign and, besides, we were doing the Revolutionary War in school, so maybe he could help us with a few questions.
Lesson: Never call upon the ghost of Ben Franklin when the weather is ripe for a thunderstorm. No sooner does Cammie say (in a deep, spooky voice) Ben Franklin, if you are here, give us a sign, then a bolt of lightning lights up the night sky.
Wow. Five 13 year old girls screaming in unison can drown out thunder! I mean, Ben Franklin. Lighting. We all got it. It was a “sign” that made perfect sense.
I saw him, I saw him! Grace, a mousy wallflower of a girl who had remained quiet until now, is pointing towards the window, where the curtains are now billowing in the wind and the tree branches are scraping against the glass. He was there! I saw his glasses! He was smiling and it was evil! Ben Franklin is...THE DEVIL! Apparently, Lori’s evil-lurks-everywhere disease is contagious.
It’s chaos for a few moments as we all scramble to the window, looking for a sign of a bespectacled Satan. He’s nowhere to be found.
We start arguing as to whether or not Ben Franklin actually appeared at our sleep-over, or whether Satan appeared disguised as Ben. No one questions Grace's sighting; she saw something. Afer all, she’s the smartest among us and would never steer us wrong.
I decide to settle the argument the easy way. I grab the Magic 8 ball off the night stand and give it a shake.
“Was Ben Franklin here?”
Without a doubt the ball answers.
“Is Ben Franklin the devil?”
Don't count on it.
I have to say, that answer is a bit disappointing. The mere thought of Ben Franklin being an agent of Satan is too delicious to not believe.
[For the one or two of you following what I'm doing here: I've decided to put the chapters up as I write them. Later, everything will go on a separate page, in a more cohesive form, with more of a storytelling feel to it - rather than a set of short stories or vignettes, I will tie this all together as a full novel. For now, it's piecemeal]