No one thought they were really making Jessalyn lighter when they chanted ‘Light as a feather, stiff as a board’ at Alison’s birthday party. No one thought they were really contacting the dead with a Ouija board made by the same guys that make Monopoly at Becky’s. So when they concocted the plan to summon a demon at the town’s Halloween bonfire, Alex didn’t hesitate. He was in.
They’d sneak out after their parents had told them good night. Out their sparkling clear windows, across their solid grey roofs, down the white drainpipes or the gnarled oak trees, across the meticulously arranged flower beds their mothers planted and perfectly manicured lawns their fathers trimmed and raked clean.
All but Alex. He waited, waited for the shouting to quiet and the doors to slam. Then he picked his way across carpets with hairballs on it her cat had left and no one had bothered cleaning up. He didn’t flinch when he knocked an ash tray off the corner table. His parents wouldn’t care. He doubted they’d even notice until they went to snuff out a cigarette and couldn’t find the ashtray. They’d probably blame the cats.
He didn’t have a key, so he just left the door closed but unlocked. There wasn’t anything inside worth the effort of carrying it away.
The bonfire still smoked against the cloudless night sky, but the crowd of revelers had thinned like the leaves overhead when Alex joined the circle of children. Their hands grasped for one another, sweaty in the lingering Indian summer. Grins flashed, excitement catching faster than the flu when silence is called.
Words were chanted, forgotten the moment they echoed from lips as they spun and whirled around the smoldering fire. Faster and faster they twirled, arms stretching-feet stumbling- lungs aching-colors blurring until-until-until… They all fell down, laughing and panting and wasn’t it all thrilling and exciting and a bit silly.
Until they looked up.
A bird hovered in the smoke, a river of plumage dangling like a peacock to the now smoldering logs beneath. A long neck turned to look at each child in turn, sending them screaming into the night.
All but Alex. When the bird met his eyes, he didn’t flinch. He stared back, firm against the horrors the smoke showed, for he saw worse every day. The crack of skulls and clatter of bones was nothing compared to the sounds his father’s fists made on his mother’s face, and the strange creatures the others fled from seemed far preferable to a house teeming with unwashed, underfed cats.
While the others cowered safely under their neat blankets back at their neat homes, with parents who noticed they’d snuck out and would punish them in the morning, Alex climbed upon the smoke bird’s back and flew and flew through the worlds. He doubted his parents would ever notice, except that he left his body behind on the bonfire. There wasn’t anything inside worth the effort of carrying it away.