Between 7th and 8th period, Becky tells us she can speak to the dead. She swears she can show us after school.
When she pulls the box from beneath her bed, we expect a ouija board. Instead, she produces Mall Madness, fun for ages eight to eighty. As she unfolds the board, it greets us. “Attention shoppers: There’s a clearance at the sunglasses boutique.”
The four of us gather cross-legged around the game, and Becky explains the rules. “Wait to ask your questions until it says your car lights are on and you must go to the parking lot, That’s our cue.”
“I guess this is better than getting locked in the Spirit Halloween,” S’tanael says, deflecting from his giddy exuberance.
That each of us has a dead person is well established. It was the impetus for (if not the substance of) our friendship. Each of us suspects with near-certainty that another of our number is The literal Devil. We suspect this bringer of death—the killer, if only indirectly, of someone we love—is the worst-kept secret at Cheverus Jesuit College Prep Elementary.
And none of us agrees about which of us it is.
We pick our players and color-coordinated credit cards. Somehow, without prompting, we all begin to chant in unison, and it feels more campfire kumbaya than anything spirit-led.
“Ready! Set! Shop!”
S’tanael’s buying everything. We start thinking: He’s the Devil. He’s killing it—the game—so maybe he could kill other stuff. Then again, Nate also seems to have maxed out one of his cards within minutes.
Downstairs, the movie Swamp Monsters rumbles. Becky’s stepdad’s doctor recommended he drink beer and watch Swamp Monsters on repeat if his back is ever gonna be up to truck driving again. It’s hard to concentrate on a question for our respective dead person with all the cinematic gurgling and roaring, not to mention that one of the group has just let one RIP.
“Eww, S’tanael!” Nate says and punches his shoulder.
“Smelt it, dealt it.” S’tanael shrugs.
We scream as the real source of the smell emerges from under the bed. Becky hisses at her ancient cat, Macavity, who hauls his scrawny body, his grey fur dull and matted, toward the game. Becky shoves the window sash aside, scoops up Macavity, and deposits him on the roof. She ignores his screech as she slams the window shut.
“That cat stinks of death,” S’tanael says.
“How would you know?” asks Nate, adjusting his glasses.
“Guys, quit it,” says Becky. “Get back to the game. You ready with your questions? I totally know what I’m gonna ask.”
Mall Madness finally makes the announcement we’ve all been waiting for. “Your car lights are on, and you must go to the parking lot.”
Perhaps today one of them will ask a question I want answered. “Which of you suppressed a smile when I ‘fell?’” “Which of you sat cotton-eyed at my funeral?” “Which of you is the Devil?”
Mall Madness won’t be ignored. “Attention all shoppers. Attention! Attention! Your car lights are on!”
The lights flicker. Becky gasps the way she gasped when my body hit the ground all those weeks ago.
That day, Becky needled me as I climbed the rotting tree in her backyard. “You can’t reach the top branch!” Despite her taunting, I found a knot in the trunk to place my foot. I felt certain it would hold me, and I wanted to rub it in her face when I grabbed that top branch. I put all my weight into it and slipped while reaching for the gnarled limb.
“Attention! What is your question?” Mall Madness insists. “Go to the parking lot. Attention. Your car lights are on. Ask me. Ask me. Your lights are on. Your lights are on.” Mall Madness gets stuck like scratched and skipping vinyl.
I remember the fall, the impact with the cold ground, the faces above me as I blinked my eyes for the last time.
Before anyone can give in to Mall Madness’s demands, a low yowl bleeds through the rickety window. Becky yanks it open, sticks her head out. “Macavity! Shut up!”
S’tanael reaches for Becky’s arm and says, “Get out of the way!”
Becky and McCavity slither back inside just as the window drops like a guillotine. Glass shatters everywhere. A small shard embeds itself in Becky’s forearm. In shock, she studies it but doesn’t attempt to pick it out.
“Where’s S’tanael?” asks Nate, voice quivering.
The whoosh of the October wind rushes in and fills the vacuum of silence. The creak of the last tree I ever climbed fills the room. Crack!
We stare wide-eyed, panting. Two cat ears rise from behind the discarded pizza box in the corner. Macavity’s eyes gleam. He witnessed it all that day, hidden in the fateful tree’s top branches, watching me fall to my death.
Thumping on the roof snatches our attention. Not the pitter-patter of an old cat’s paws, but the stomp-stomp-stomp of hellish hooves. A dark shape enters through the window. “Attention,” it growls.
The power fails. Becky whispers what we’re all thinking. “The Devil.”
“Yessss,” Macavity hisses, channeling the game. “There is a sale at S’tanael’s Soul Emporium.”
S’tanael staggers from a dark corner of the room. “Black Friday’s gonna be insane this year,” he says with a sneer. “And remember, Hell takes cash or credit. No layaways.”