Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Basketball and Ghosts

Basketball and Ghosts
by Fairlyn Thomas

The three of us were too tired to play any more, after who knows how many hours of outdoor hoops. We needed rest before walking the few blocks home, even. Heat still shimmered off the cement, though dark had fallen a whole Styx eight-track ago. When we had to chase a runaway ball into the dark, we were liable to kneecap ourselves on the bike rack. So we bought Slush Puppies across the street at Jax Snax, sat down under the uphill-side basket, and started telling each other scary stories. We told our stories as facts. I mean, we knew we were half making them up, and we were aware of ourselves as storytellers, we could see ourselves play up the suspense and the mystery, but we took even our own half-fictions as gospel. We believed ourselves. We scared ourselves.
Timmy Terry, junior guard, started. "Last summer my grandma appeared to my mom. She had died the year before, Grandma had. She came in the middle of the night. Dad was out of town driving his truck. Mom woke up about 3 in the morning, and she had this powerful feeling that there was someone in the room with her. She laid there quiet for a while and listened real hard. Then bam, just like that, she realized that Grandma was standing at the foot of her bed. It wasn't even like she appeared there, it was more like mom just noticed her all of a sudden. She was just standing there really quiet and sad-looking, watching Mom. She was wearing a white robe like the ones you wear in the temple. She just looked like a regular live person, she didn't glow or anything. She was just...there. They looked at each other for a while. They didn't say anything. Mom was a little scared but not too much, she was mostly happy to see her mom again. She tried to smile, but her mouth wouldn't move. So she couldn't talk, either.

After a long time, maybe five-ten minutes, Grandma reached her arms out toward Mom. She held them out like that for a while, then put them back down. Then she shook her head like she was saying No, and she pointed at Mom and shook her finger back and forth like No No No. She looked sad, not angry, just sad. Then Grandma was gone all at once, she didn't fade away or anything, she just wasn't there. Mom says she definitely wasn't dreaming. She told me about it, and asked me what I thought Grandma was saying No No No about. I have no idea."
Well, after that, I just had to tell my story. For like two years I'd been thinking about this every time I came to the cement courts to practice Mikan drills. "When you guys are playing here, do you ever feel like you're being watched? Because I sure do. This big wall behind the basket with all the windows in it? What's that, like 20 windows? Plus the six on that wall connected over there? That is a lot of blank windows, like a lot of eyes. I don't like playing here alone, even during the day, because what'll happen is, I get this really strong feeling I'm being watched. I feel really sure that there's something, not a person, a thing, something evil, hiding in the darkness behind a window and just watching. It watches and it plans in there. If I ever got a good look at it, it'd be too late for me, I'd be dead before I could run away
It's all because of this movie I accidentally saw when I was little. I was like 3 or 4. I got out of bed and my mom and dad let me watch what was playing on the TV. I think it was an episode of McMillan and Wife. I just watched for a few minutes, but that little part I saw got stuck in my head and it's still there. The detectives were looking for this killer or whatever, and they were in this big house talking with a bunch of their friends and a couple of cops. It's dark outside and the house has these windows all around the room where they're talking, but they don't have the curtains down and they're all sitting right next to the windows. That's already making me nervous, because you know, in the scary movies the killer always crashes in through the window and kills someone. You never sit by an uncurtained window after dark, everyone knows that. But anyway, what happens is even worse. The woman detective happens to look out this one window--and there's a pair of eyes right there staring at them. They were sitting there talking and arguing and figuring out how to catch this killer, and he was sitting there watching them the whole time. It was terrifying!

So anyway, when I'm playing here, even at noon with the sun shining, I get that feeling really strong sometimes--it's watching. I'll grab the ball and stop, and stand perfectly still, then TURN REALLY FAST toward a window over there, or there. Then I check all the windows, one at a time. All down the row of the first floor, then back toward me along the second floor. Try it yourself--once you start checking like that it's hard to stop. You think, Okay, it saw me looking and stepped back a little, but now it's looking, and you have to check again.
You guys...ever feel that?"
There were mumbled half-agreements, sideways glances. They were hard to interpret. Then Arthur Kent, freshman point guard, spoke.
"Last Halloween a bunch of us were playing with a Ouija board in our basement. It was me and my brother Kevin and our two cousins from L.A. We had my cousin Suzanne hold the pointer thing.
First we played a couple of songs to kind of get in the right mood, 'Don't Fear the Reaper' and then some Black Sabbath of the Heaven and Hell album. Kevin asked first, "Are there any spirits here tonight?" The pointer went around in a couple of circles, and then to the YES. We looked at each other. Kevin asked, "Do you want to talk to us, spirit?" This time the pointer just went around without landing on anything. "You don't want to talk to us?" No response. "Talk to us! We want you to talk to us!" Nothing.

We asked Suzanne--again--if she had done this before. "Sure, lots of times." We decided to take another tack. My cousin Ty asked, "Are you in the room with us, spirit?" The pointer went directly to YES. "Will you stay with us?" The pointer took one quick circuit around the board and returned to YES. We seemed to be getting somewhere. "Will you tell us your name?" No answer. Ty asked the question again, and again we got no answer. Kevin was getting mad, and he jumped back in: "Talk to us! SPEAK! I ORDER you to speak!" I swear I felt the cement floor rumble, then the table was shaking, and the pointer was bouncing around on the board. Then the board exploded up into the air to the ceiling, and the pointer went flying and broke in half across the room. We put it all in the fireplace and watched cartoons upstairs for the rest of the night. I felt bad for Suzanne and Ty, 'cause their guest bedrooms were downstairs, but I sure as heck didn't want to sleep down there."
Now it was after 10, and full dark. We had scared each other into full paralysis. Our glances kept flicking to the empty, staring windows I now had everyone scared of. We had to get home, our parents must be wondering where we were, but we couldn't move. Nor could we talk about why we couldn't move. We couldn't say the thing we were all obviously feeling: "I'm too scared to go anywhere. I have to go home, but I'm not going anywhere by myself now, and I don't suppose you guys would...want to...go with me to my house?" So we continued sitting there. We wanted to joke away our fear, but couldn't come up with much to say, so mostly we just sat.
We carefully inspected each car that passed the courts, hoping one would be driven by one of our friends. No luck there. I started thinking that, well, I already kind of told the guys about how I got scared, in my story, so maybe I should be the one to say "Okay, I'm scared, so how about we all leave together?" Just then, incredibly, a car crept slowly, silently, up over the curb, toward us, blinding us with its headlights. Cops? It was my dad! "Where the...heck have you been? Do you know how late it is?" He sounded more relieved than mad. "Yes! Sorry, Dad, we just got talking after we finished playing. We've been right here the whole time. Right, guys?" "Well, get in and let's go home."
Our gooseflesh vanished. Our fear flew away. We gratefully rode home and fell straight into sleep as if into a bottomless pit. We never spoke of this evening again.