By Lenore Butcher
2019 Honourable Mention: Adult
Thursday dawned with ominous dark clouds in the sky. Krystia, always sensitive to barometric pressure changes, had a headache and seemed out of sorts. She had planned to head over to the spa site to check on the progress but ended up deciding to stay home in bed all day and see if she couldn’t soothe it away. Thursday night was family night and she didn’t want to ruin it by feeling ill.
Imber seemed a bit off as well when she came downstairs to head out for school with Sam. Mike wondered if she was affected by the weather too. It certainly was a dull day and he could almost feel the barometric pressure pushing down on him and he wasn’t sensitive to things like that in the least.
The patients he saw that day also seemed to be feeling the effects of the coming storm. Many of them were quiet and complaining of more pain than usual. A few were even weepy. More than a few of them wanted to wait to be seen tomorrow when the storm had passed.
Mike picked up Rose at the daycare an hour earlier then he usually did. She was happy to see him and happy to see Krystia when they went home. Krystia was out of bed, dressed in comfortable leggings and t-shirt, ones that were more presentable than her ‘mom jams’. Mike fed Rose and got her settled into the crib, giving Krystia more time to rest before the rest of the family came home.
The rest of the family joined them for dinner. Even Imber joined them, but she seemed more sullen than usual. It was a very subdued family that sat around the table. There were a few distant rumbles as they ate.
“I wonder if there’s a storm coming?” James looked out at the darkened skies. It was barely seven o’clock and it looked closer to midnight outside their house.
“Maybe,” Mike said.
“I don’t like storms,” Jackson whimpered. He reached for his mother’s hand. “Can I come sleep with you?” he asked her.
“Let’s just see if it comes or not,” she answered him. She and Mike were not fans of having kids sleep with them, but once in a while she let them break that rule, especially when storms were involved. She’d been terrified of them as a kid, so she totally understood Jackson’s fears when the skies grew dark, but the only way he was ever going to get over it was to practice dealing with it as it happened.
After dinner Imber stood up abruptly, obviously intending to retreat back to her room.
“It’s family night,” Mike reminded her. She rolled her eyes but sat back down at her spot at the table.
“So, what shall we do tonight?” Sam asked. “James, I think it’s your turn to pick, isn’t it?”
“Nothing that takes a long time tonight,” Krystia cautioned, putting her hand to her forehead. “I’m still feeling a bit under the weather.”
She looked at the window where the dark skies glowered. “Pardon the pun,” she added weakly.
“How about Uno?” James suggested, naming a popular card game. “It’s pretty fast.”
“And lame,” Imber muttered.
“Hey, everyone gets a turn and nobody says it’s lame,” Mike reminded her. “Uno sounds like a great idea, James.”
“I’ll get the cards,” Jackson volunteered. He jumped up from the table and ran into the family room, to fetch them.
He beamed as he dropped the deck of cards onto the table. While he was clambering back up into his spot, James dealt the first hand out to everyone and they began to play.
Right from the start, it was very clear that it wasn’t to be Imber’s game. She had to keep picking up cards to match the ones currently on the table, and her family took every opportunity they could to pick on her.
She lost track of how many times she had to ‘pick up 2’ or ‘skip’ her turn. She kept getting more and more frustrated and they could see she was simmering, so that was their cue to keep piling it on. Mike knew it was wrong and they were heading for a blowout if they kept picking on her, but something about the weather had him feeling moody and restless, like something was coming that was more important than one teenage girl and her hormonally driven feelings.
But then, slowly, the tide started to turn. She hit a run of colours that she had in her hand and she managed to whittle herself back down to a manageable number of cards held tightly in her hands. And then she managed to play a few more cards until she had one card left in her hand. She proclaimed ‘Uno’ as the rules stated and waited for the play to come to her again.
The last card in her hand was a Wild card, so it didn’t matter what anyone in her family played. She dropped the Wild onto the pile with a triumphant smirk and stood up.
“What colour are you going to make it?” Jackson asked her, looking up at her earnestly.
“It doesn’t matter, Jackson, the game’s over,” James said to him gently, “She won.”
“But what colour?” he insisted, his seven-year-old mind wanting closure on the issue of Uno.
Imber scowled. “There’s no colour for ‘go fuck yourselves’, so I guess I’ll make it red.” She turned from the table and stomped to the stairs, intending to go shut herself away in her room again.
“Kimberly!” Krystia was so shocked at her stepdaughter’s behaviour that she used the longer form of her name.
Imber turned, coming back down the steps and taking two fast strides into the dining room, glaring at her stepmother. “It’s Imber!” She raised her voice, attempting to be heard over the long rumbling peal of thunder that angrily shook the house.
The room suddenly felt empty to Mike, as though vacuum sealed, and then there was a mighty flash of light that arced through the air, coming from the window and striking the mirror across the room. Mike was facing the mirror and in the split second before it shattered, sending sharp broken pieces of glass into the room, he could swear he saw a second group of people standing right where his family stood, almost as though another family were occupying the room with them.
Then a shard of glass slashed against his arm and pain was his only concern.
About this story
This book was actually suggested by my mother. It was odd because she normally dislikes anything paranormal, but she’d read one with a similar theme and been profoundly disappointed in it, so asked me to take the basic premise (family moves into haunted house and befriends ghost family already living there) and ‘write a better book’. For Christmas, I self-published two copies of it – one for her and one for my aunt.