A Little Birthday Horror
The sunlight spilling in through the large bay windows of the Gould’s living room is comforting. Despite my physician’s warnings, I feel I was right to keep working after all that’s happened.
Poor Olivia. They say she’s stable now, but what do they know? They didn’t see what I saw, nor did they hear what I heard that night.
But I need to focus on today’s performance.
I couldn’t leave a traumatized fourteen year-old home alone, so I’ve brought Devin with me. I parked her wheelchair over in the corner, away from all these screaming kids. She remains largely catatonic since the incident, but I can tell when she gets anxious.
The doctors say the trauma of seeing her mother in that hysterical state caused Devin’s mind to go into a sort of hibernation. Of course, they refused to render an opinion on what I told them about Olivia’s, well, growling.
Olivia was irresponsible to pull Devin into her experiments with conjuring. Hindsight, I know.
The birthday girl’s baby sister is Bailey – a one year old. She pulls herself to a standing position by grabbing the spokes of Devin’s wheelchair. She babbles something. My daughter just looks off into space. And drools.
Devin and her wheelchair drew occasional stares at the start of the party, but Mrs. Gould redirected the kids to the magic show. Now all eyes are on me as I move into the meat of my performance.
I ask for a volunteer and, as expected, hands shoot up, vying for my attention. I choose a boy with loose fitting pants. I give him a black marble and ask him to put it into his pocket. I spin the boy around three times, mumbling a phony incantation, and finish with a series of dramatic hand motions. I’ve picked his pocket during the turns and now ask him to produce the marble, and of course, he cannot. The boy looks at the crowd with wide-eyed bewilderment, his arms extended, palms upraised, his shoulders hunched to his ears. I produce the marble from behind his left ear to much applause and an ensuing announcement from Mrs. Gould that they will sing “Happy Birthday” and have cake and ice cream in the adjoining parlor. The children run out, squealing with delight.
I need a cigarette. I go over to Devin, stroke her black hair, and tell her I’ll be back in a moment. Nothing. Mute, vacant. Little Bailey crawls by again, cooing.
Ten minutes later when I reenter the room, it’s obvious someone has vomited. The stench is overpowering. Soldiering on, I ask that the curtains be drawn and candles lit for the finale, in which the birthday girl, Brittany, will produce a rabbit out of a hat. I have the hat set up on a small table with a hole over a box containing the rabbit. Children always love this one, and the candlelit semi-darkness just adds to the drama.
Brittany’s arm descends into the yawning mouth of the top hat. “And now Brittany will amaze you with her new powers!” I announce, looking about the room. There’s a small bustle within the audience, kids looking down smiling, pointing. Bailey crawling through to see her sister’s trick.
“It feels yucky.” Brittany says, rummaging around in the box under the hat. “Oh gross, it’s wet, too.” she says, grimacing.
“Has anyone seen Bailey?” It’s Mrs. Gould.
“And sticky.” Brittany says.
Mrs. Gould is throwing off my timing. I look over at Devin, who is now staring right at me with a demonic grin on her face. Her eyes, like her mother’s that night. And what in God’s name has happened to her teeth?
“Where’s the baby!” yells Mrs. Gould, more insistently now.
The smell of the puke and the jumping shadows on the walls are making me sick.
The kids in front jostle as they open up to finally let Bailey through.
But it’s not Bailey.
It’s the white rabbit.
With a small grunt, Brittany finally pulls her prize out of the hat. There’s a beat of silence, and then Mrs. Gould screams as she sees what Brittany is holding.
A candle’s been knocked over and the drapes are burning, sending shadows that look like dancing demons onto the walls.
And now Devin rises slowly from her wheelchair, turns her lizard’s eyes onto the scattering children.
And then she is upon them.