(Content Note: Back to the scary stuff today. Although the characters are young, their story is harsh. Parental guidance suggested.)
It was Friday night and no one had come up with anything they could do. Too young for bars and too old to play spin the bottle had left the group with something of a conundrum. Cicely’s parents had a big house but were religious and forbid her from using any technology that wasn’t for school, so no game system could entertain them. No alcohol, either, and nobody had been able to score anything else. They’d tried Friday night t.v., which was awful, and had resorted to watching Dylan do bad magic tricks for entertainment.
The girls clapped their hands half-heartedly when Dylan pulled off a good one: making a scarf look as if it had gone through one ear and out the other, but even he knew he was pretty abysmal at this kind of thing.
“Are you sure your mother doesn’t have something drinkable around here?” he whined. Like, for holiday cooking or something?”
“Yes, I’m sure,” Cicely told him. “They don’t drink, ever.” Then she gave Dylan the hairy eyeball to remind him that three of their foursome had agreed not to mention mothers tonight. Katrina’s mother had passed away from cancer three weeks ago, and everyone knew she was still really hurting. That had been the reason for their impromptu get together—trying to cheer up their friend. More precisely, the idea had been Margo’s, Katrina’s best friend since kindergarten.
“Are you sure you’re sure?” Dylan pressed her. No sherry or red wine—”
“I’m sure I’m sure. If they did have it,” said Cicely, flopping onto the couch and letting her head fall back onto the cushions, “I think I’d be drinking right now.”
This comment got a collective eyebrow rise from the others. Cicely shared her parents’ beliefs and didn’t drink or smoke.
“Do you really think it’s that bad?” Margo asked. She was referring to Cicely’s math grade, which, after last Wednesday’s midterm, had been dragged into the failing part of the curve.
“Did your parents get a letter about it?” Katrina spoke up. She had said very little until that point, and Cicely was a bit surprised by this. Despite the dismal subject matter, she wanted to draw Katrina into the conversation so she disclosed the painful truth.
“It’s worse than that—they left a message on the machine. My mom saw it before they took off tonight, so they’ll probably listen to it when they get home.”
“Hmmm,” said Katrina. “Well, there might be a way to keep it secret a little longer, as Does someone here have a working cellphone?”
Margo did, pulling it triumphantly from her right pocket.
“Now,” Katrina said to Cicely, “delete the most recent message on the machine, and have Margo call, asking about when to come over tonight. That will become the most recent message, and you’re safe until Monday night when the school will probably try to reach your parents at work—”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Dylan broke in, “How do you know the school will call them at work?”
“I failed a bunch of classes last year, after we found out my mom was sick,” Katrina admitted. “I know a few tricks.” The girls went off to effect their plan.
Once they had replaced the message from the school with Margo’s message, Cicely searched the mail for any letters that could unveil her secret. Satisfied there weren’t any, she then began brainstorming ways to explain her failures to her parents. Couldn’t concentrate due to bad headaches was one idea. Can’t sleep at night so paying attention in class was another. Teacher is an unfair grader took the top spot as the best option, mostly because it was partially true, at least in Cicely’s mind.
Her friends listened to her proposals and declared that blaming the teacher was the excuse most likely to wash, and recommended one of the health related ones instead.
“If only I could change the grade itself,” Cicely whined. “Or one of the grades. I don’t need an A, but C would be a realistic goal, even a B. That midterm was worth such a big chunk of points.”
It was at this point things took a sharp left turn.
“Hey, what is that thing on the counter over there?” Margo asked. “It looks like a jug.”
“Oh, that,” said Cicely. They picked it up at an antique sale last week. Dad says he wants to get it appraised, Mom just wants to toss it. She says it looks weird and doesn’t match with anything.”
Margo went over to the counter and examined the jug. It was blue, with elaborate, shiny paint covering the outside and a thick cork plugging up the stem. It did look quite antique, and Margo wondered where it was from.
“Yeah, that I do know,” Cicely said, walking over. “Mom said the people who sold it to them picked it up in the Middle East twenty years ago.”
“It reminds me of those bottles that give you three wishes, like on that old t.v. show…” Margo struggled to remember the name. “I Dream of Jeanie!”
“You’re not seriously suggesting this thing has a genie in it, are you?” said Cicely, incredulous. “Because…no.”
“Oh,” said Margo, remembering Cicely’s reasonably devout Christianity, which did not allow for the existence of ghosts, demons, or fantastical beings like genies. “Sorry.”
“No, no,” Cicely told her, “it’s not about church, it’s that I really don’t believe in any of that crap.”
“Me either,” Margo admitted, but that didn’t stop her from pulling the cork from the bottle and trying to speak into the jug. “Hello in there? Helloooo…” Margo pulled her nose away, wrinkling her face. “Smells like burned peppers. Yuck.” She replaced the cork, with difficulty and handed it to Cicely.
“Maybe you don’t believe, but it can’t hurt to try.”
Cicely sighed dramatically, but took the jug from Margo anyway.
“Hey, genie, if you’re in there, I need my math grade to improve. A lot. Well, maybe just to the B or C level. By Monday. Thanks.”
“You’re supposed to rub the bottle,” said Margo.
“Okay,” Ciceley said, rubbing away. Then, “Marge, this is ridiculous. I’m going to tell my parents I have chronic headaches now and need medication or something. A genie is not the answer.”
Abruptly, Margo snatched the jug away and whispered, “I want Dylan to like me. A lot.”
Cicely snickered. “So it comes out at last.” Margo had a huge crush on Dylan, who did not appear to return the passion. “Good luck with that, hon.” Dylan, though he sometimes hung out with the girls, was not a lonely person, and most of his other friends were more popular, including the girls he dated.
“Can I try?” Katrina asked shyly. It wasn’t until then the other two realized she was still in the kitchen with them.
“Okay,” Margo, who held the jug carefully, with both hands, forked it over to Katrina.
Katrina looked at both sides and appeared to marvel the beauty of the jug, blue with yellow and gold lacquer swirls, it seemed to appeal to her greatly.
She placed it back on the counter.
“What did you wish?”
“It told me to keep it a secret,” Katrina said, sort of smiling.
“All right,” Margo said slowly. Katrina was suddenly acting kind of strange. Margo knew Katrina’s mother’s death had been brutal for their family, but was her best friend talking to antique water jugs now?
Suddenly, Cicely, who was holding a piece of paper in a shaking hand, let out a gasp.
“What is it?” asked Margo.
“My report card. For the midway part of the term. It says I have an A in math. And in everything else.” Her voice went up an octave at the last part. She flipped the letter around, then around again, checking to see that her name appeared on both sides.
“This is–it’s really mine! But that’s impossible.” She looked sharply at the jug, which was now sitting innocently on the counter again. It seemed to have a new gleam to it.
“Maybe we should have just stuck with the headaches excuse,” said Margo.
It was at this point, Dylan wandered in, took Margo’s hand, and they disappeared into the front room.
“That seems impossible, too,” Cicely said, under her breath. After trying to get over her shock, she turned to Katrina.
“What do you mean the jug told you to keep your wish a secret?”
“I heard a voice. It said, You must not reveal it to the others. It said you weren’t ready.”
“All right,” Cicely said, “why don’t we see what Dylan and Margo are up to.” She wondered if Katrina was a bit off her rocker, considering everything she’d been through.
The girls returned to the front room and were shocked to find Margo and Dylan kissing on the couch. As in, really kissing. Oblivious to the rest of the world.
“Hey, guys?” said Cicely. “Hello, fellow campers? It’s time to…um…do something else.”
“Hmmm?” Margo asked, letting Dylan kiss her again.
“She meant stop making out in front of us,” Katrina said, coldly. There was a new edge to her demeanor, and Cicely couldn’t fathom why.
Reluctantly, the two on the couch sat up.
“Let’s go upstairs,” Dylan whispered to Margo.
“No way,” said Cicely, “you absolutely cannot use any of our bedrooms for…for whatever you were going to do.” She actually had to physically block the pair by standing in front of the stairs.
“What is the matter with you?” Ciceley said angrily. Then, to Margo,
“You aren’t messing with me? You think your wish came true?”
“Your’s did,” Katrina said coldly. “No reason to think our’s didn’t. She looked at her watch. “We should order pizza. It might be a long night.”
The others all gave her a puzzled look, but Cicely shrugged and ordered the pizza.
An hour passed. They ate pizza in uncomfortable silence. Dylan and Margo gave each other frustrated looks. Katrina kept looking at her watch. Finally, she stood up, went to the kitchen to wash her hands, then wandered back to stare out the windows by the front door.
The four of them kept quiet as they watched Katrina’s odd activity. It seemed like she was expecting someone.
“Uh, Katrina,” Cicely said, unnerved and fed up with her friend’s weirdness. “What was your wish? For serious. What was it?”
“You’re about to find out,” Katrina answered.
“What does that mean?”
Katrina shushed her. “Listen.”
The other three did listen, which wasn’t hard in the eerie silence. Footsteps. Awkward ones, and the stepper seemed to drag and wobble. It reached the porch. A knocking began. They were too scared to open the door. All except Katrina, who reached for the handle without fear.
“What are you doing?” Cicely said, grabbing Katrina’s wrist. “That could be anyone. It’s not safe!”
“It’s not ‘anyone.’” Katrina said, turning the knob. Her friends moved back into the kitchen.
The door swung wide open. A rancid smell filled the air. The other kids couldn’t see much, but it was enough to make Margo scream and back away. Cicely ran to the sink to throw up. Dylan watched in horror as the thing stepped into the house.
Katrina opened her arms.
“Mama,” she said.