CAUTION MAY BE HAUNTED

Article by Travis A. Byram

In 2021, we here at XIANEASE would like to showcase some of the work and creativity of aspiring writers living here in the city of Xi’an by publishing works of short fiction, poetry, and other forms of self-expression. If you have a piece that you would like to have published, please contact us through our official account or email us at editor@xianease.com

“Jesus, Sara; I can’t believe that you spent hours hiding under his bed, just to scare him with a damn clown mask.” Gina said while pouring herself another glass of wine.

The three young mothers were sitting at their usual place, a street-side café. It was a warm and windy morning, and Sara was smirking and arching her dark, angular eyebrows while listening to Gina. Nat seemed uninterested as she glanced at her phone. It was the typical Sunday brunch crowd: there were two silent, swift waiters tending the outdoor tables like perfectly programmed robots.

“Work, Nat?”

“No, just a parenting blog.” Nat put her phone down. “You were saying something about waiting, under the bed?”

Sara crossed her activewear-clad legs as she pinched her glass and looked at Nat. “Not exactly, but glad you’re listening. I was just telling Gina that her techniques for raising kids are outdated. This is the way now: the path to success, and it’s all the rage.

“You mean it causes rage.” Gina added as she combed the other tables for eavesdroppers.
“Not from what I’ve researched.” Replied Sara. “And no, Nat, it wasn’t about waiting under the bed…it was about, the art of the scare.”
“You are really going to quote the book title?”
“Gina, you should give it a chance.”

“Anyway,” Sara continued. “I knew Peter was terrified of clowns; so… I got the mask, put it on, and waited. I knew I had to be under the bed because he is always whining about hearing noises there. I thought I had timed it right. Dave usually gets them to bed around nine; they were late. He had let them watch a movie after dinner, since they didn’t have school today. I heard him come in. I waited for a sec before I…”

“Jumped out and scared the living shit out of him?” Nat interrupted.

“Pretty much.” Sara replied. “He screamed so loud that he woke up his brother.” Sara took a sip smiling.
“Still. Didn’t you have to get them back to sleep?” Gina asked.
“Not really. That’s where the genius is: I just scolded them, reminded them that it was their bedtime, and told them they’d be punished if they didn’t get to sleep now.” Sara nonchalantly drank then put the glass down and filled it with more chardonnay. She looked at Gina.

“I am telling you, Gina, it all works if you follow the plan; they’re the experts, and we aren’t.” Sara took another sip. “What’d you think, Nat?”
Both Gina and Sara were looking at Nat. She usually waited if she had a juicier story. Nat looked down at her glass, and she swished it like a discerning sommelier. She set her glass down and looked up.

“Sara, I think that what you did was great.” Nat leaned forward. “But it could always be better.”

“Better how?”

“Just listen.” Nat seemed unphased by their interest. “Last weekend I took my kids to the antique mall. As you know, I shop on weekends. Jim was away, so the kids were with me, and they were at each other, like usual, and I was getting annoyed with shifting my attention back and forth. While we were browsing, something attracted Silas: one of those old, creepy looking marionets. And …” Nat narrowed her eyes. “There was a sign pinned to it that said, ‘caution, this item may be haunted.’”

“Of course, Silas immediately picked it up, gleamed, and began chasing his younger sister. She ran away, screaming and crying as he chased her. I thought it was cute, but I admit I got a little embarrassed. I told Silas to stop it and go wait in the car. I picked up Sonny and put her in the shopping cart; she was still bawling. Anyway… I’ll confess something, girls. I bought the puppet.” Nat paused and took another drink.

“You mean you bought it for Silas to continue to scare Sonny?” Sara asked.

“Not exactly. I bought it to scare Silas. All week, I left notes in his room from the puppet. I even put some pictures on Silas’s phone of it sitting in different places in his room.”

“Did that work?” Gina said.

“I think so. He started using his nightlight again, and he started cracking his door.” Nat was suppressing laughter.
“What did you do for the, coup de gras?” Said Sara. Both she and Gina were entranced.

“After he went to sleep Thursday, I wrote this on his mirror with lamb’s blood from the fridge, the meat he hates. ‘Tomorrow you are mine, boy! I will cut your throat!’ And I sat the puppet up in his desk chair, little arms around a kitchen knife. Next morning, I heard him screaming while I was making breakfast. When I went in the room, he’d pissed himself.” Nat laughed sardonically. “The point is to build the suspense and keep him on edge. The stress will be good for him, especially going to middle school next year.”

“You see, Gina? Nat has got this method down. I think chapter seven talks about prolonging a sense of terror to increase their stress.”
“Method or not. I love it.” Nat filled another glass. “Are we going to need another bottle, girls?”

“Do you have to ask? But really, do you both really think this is the way?” Gina said.
“What do you mean?”

“I mean… should we really be doing this to the kids, scarring them for life?”
“Of course, Gina.”

“Yes, we do.” Sara concurred. “After all, don’t you want your kids to be great artists, CEOs, or influential social leaders?”

“Sara is right, Gina. All the evidence says that it takes putting kids through this to push them into future greatness. Name one great person these days who wasn’t stressed to the point of becoming a sociopath?”

“Well… You girls are probably right.” Gina said.

“Of course, we are.” Sara looked around for their waiter.

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