Prom Nights from Hell (Chapter One)
Readers, beware! The following story was inspired by "The Monkey's Paw," first published in 1902 by W. W. Jacobs, which scared the dickens out of me when I was a teenager. Be careful what you wish for, indeed!
– LAUREN MYRACLE
Outside, the wind whipped around Madame Zanzibar's house, making a loose rain-pipe thump against the siding. The sky was dark, though it was only four o'clock. But within the garishly decorated waiting room, three table lamps shone brightly, each draped with a jewel-toned scarf. Ruby hues lit Yun Sun's round face, while bluish-purple hues gave Will the mottled look of someone freshly dead.
"You look like you've risen from the grave," I told him.
"Frankie," Yun Sun scolded. She did a head jerk toward Madame Z's closed office, worried, I suppose, that she might hear and be offended. A red plastic monkey hung from the office doorknob, indicating that Madame Z was with a client. We were up next.
Will made his eyes go vacant. "I am a pod person," he moaned. He stretched his arms out toward us. "Please to give me all your hearts and livers."
"Oh no! The pod person has taken over our beloved Will!" I clutched Yun Sun's arm. "Quick, give him your hearts and livers, so he'll leave mine alone!"
Yun Sun shook free. "Not amused," she said in a tone both singsongy and threatening. "And if you're not nice to me, I will leave."
"Stop being such a pooter," I said.
"I will take my thunder thighs and I will march right out of here. Just watch."
Yun Sun was on a my-legs-are-too-fat kick, just because her superslinky prom dress needed a little letting out. At least she had a prom dress. And a for-sure chance to wear it.
"Bleh," I said. Her grouchiness was endangering our plan, which was the whole reason we were here. The night of the prom was getting dangerously close, and I was not going to be the sad shell of a girl who sat home alone while everyone else went crazy with glitter dust and danced ironically in spectacular three-inch heels. I refused, especially since I knew in my heart of hearts that Will wanted to ask me. He just needed a little encouragement.
I lowered my voice, all the while smiling at Will like la la la, just girl talk, nothing important! "It was both of our idea to do this, Yun Sun. Remember?"
"No, Frankie, it was your idea," she said. And she did not keep her voice down. "I've already got my date, even though he's going to be squished to death by my thighs. You're the one hoping for a last-minute miracle."
"Yun Sun!" I glanced at Will, who turned red. Bad Yun Sun, throwing it out in the open like that. Bad, bad, naughty girl!
"Ow!" she yelped. Because I'd whacked her.
"I am very mad at you," I said.
"Enough with the coyness. You do want him to ask you, don't you?"
"Um, you guys?" Will said. He was doing that adorable thing he did when he was nervous, when his Adam's apple bobbed up and down. Although, huh. That was kind of an icky image. It made me think of bobbing for apples, which was only one step away from bobbing for Adam's apples.
But. Will was indeed possessed of an Adam's apple, and when it moved up and down in his throat, it was indeed adorable. It made him look so vulnerable.
"She hit me," Yun Sun tattled.
"She deserved it," I countered. But I didn't want it to go further, this line of conversation that was already too revealing. So I patted Yun Sun's totally unfat leg and said, "However, I forgive you. Now shut up."
What Yun Sun failed to get-or more likely, what she totally got and yet failed to appreciate-was that not all things needed to be said aloud. Yes, I wanted Will to ask me to prom, and I wanted him to do it soon, because "Springtime Is for Lovers" was only two weeks away.
And fine, the name of the dance was dorky, but springtime was for lovers. It was an indisputable truth. Just as it was an indisputable truth that Will was my forever boy, if only he could get past his enduring bashfulness and make a frickin' move. Enough chummy shoulder slugs and giggling, snorting tickle wars! Enough clutching each other and shrieking, blaming it on our Netflix copies of The Body Snatchers or They Come from the Hills! Couldn't Will see that I was his for the taking?
He'd almost popped the question last weekend, I was ninety-nine-point-five percent sure. We'd been watching Pretty Woman, an overblown romance which never failed to amuse. Yun Sun had disappeared into the kitchen for snacks, leaving the two of us alone.
"Um, Frankie?" Will had said. His foot tap-tap-tapped against the floor, and his fingers flexed on his jeans. "Can I ask you something?"
Any fool would have known what was coming, because if he'd just wanted me to turn up the volume, he'd simply have said, "Hey, Franks, turn up the volume." Casual. Straightforward. No need for any preparatory remarks. But since there were preparatory remarks…
well, what could he possibly have wanted to ask me besides "Will you go to prom?" Eternal delight was right there, only seconds away.
And then I'd blown it. His palpable nervousness triggered a spaz-out of my own, and instead of letting the moment play out, I'd skittishly changed the subject. BECAUSE I WAS A FREAK.
"Now see, that's the way it's done!" I said, pointing at the TV. Richard Gere was galloping on his white steed, which was really a limo, to Julia Roberts's castle, which was really a crappy third-story apartment. As we watched, Richard Gere climbed out of the sun roof and scaled the fire escape, all to win the affections of his beloved.
"None of this namby-pamby 'I think you're kinda cute' baloney," I went on. I was blathering, and I knew it. "We're talking action, baby. We're talking grand gesture of love."
Will gulped. And said, "Oh." And blinked at Richard Gere in a startled-teddy-bear way, thinking, I'm sure, that he could never, ever compare.
I stared at the TV, knowing I'd sabotaged my prom night happiness through my own stupidity. I didn't care about "grand gestures of love"; I just cared about Will. But brilliant me, I'd gone and scared him off. Because in actual real reality, I was an even bigger wimp than he was.
But no more-which was why we were here at Madame Zanzibar's. She would tell us our futures, and unless she was a total hack, she would state the obvious as an impartial observer: Will and I were meant for each other. Hearing it spoken so plainly would give Will the guts to try again. He'd ask me to prom, and this time I'd let him, even if it killed me.
The plastic monkey twitched on the office doorknob.
"Look, it's moving," I whispered.
"Oooo," Will said.
A black man with snow-white hair shuffled out of the office. He had no teeth, which made the lower half of his face look puckered, like a prune.
"Children," he said, tipping his hat.
Will stood up and opened the front door, because that's the kind of guy he was. A gust of wind nearly toppled the old man, and Will steadied him.
"Whoa," Will said.
"Thank you, son," the old man replied. His words came out mushy, because of the no-teeth thing. "Reckon I best skedaddle before the storm blows in."
"I think it already has," Will said. Past the driveway, tree branches thrashed and creaked.
"This weensy old wind?" the old man said. "Aw, now, this is just a baby waking up and wanting to be fed. It'll be worse before the night is over, mark my words." He peered at us. "In fact, shouldn't you children be home, safe and sound?"
It was hard to take offense when a toothless old-timer called you "children." But come on, this was the second time in twenty seconds.
"We're juniors in high school," I said. "We can take care of ourselves."
His laugh made me think of dead leaves.
"All right, then," he said. "I'm sure you know best." He small-stepped onto the porch, and Will gave a half wave and shut the door.
"Crazy coot," came a voice from behind us. We turned to see Madame Zanzibar in the office doorway. She wore hot pink Juicy Couture sweatpants with a matching hot pink top, unzipped to her clavicle. Her breasts were round and firm and amazingly perky, given that she didn't seem to be wearing a bra. Her lipstick was bright orange, to match her nails, and so was the end of the cigarette she held between two fingers.
"So, are we coming in or are we staying out here?" she asked the three of us. "Unveiling life's mysteries or leaving well enough alone?"
I rose from my chair and pulled Yun Sun with me. Will followed. Madame Z ushered us into her office, and the three of us scrunched together in an overstuffed armchair. Will realized it was never going to work and lowered himself to the floor. I wiggled to make Yun Sun give me more room.
"See? They're sausages," she said, referring to her thighs.
"Scooch," I commanded.
"Now," Madame Z said, crossing in front of us and sitting behind a table. She puffed on her cigarette. "What's your business?"
I bit my lip. How to put it? "Well, you're a psychic, right?"
Madame Z exhaled a cloud of smoke. "Gee, Sherlock, the ad in the Yellow Pages tip you off?"
I blushed, while at the same time bristling. My question had been a conversation opener. Did she have a problem with conversation openers? Anyway, if she really was a psychic, shouldn't she already know why I was here?
"Uh… okay. Sure, whatever. So I guess I was wondering…"
"Yeah? Out with it."
I gathered my courage. "Well… I was wondering if a certain special person was going to ask me a certain special question." I purposefully didn't look at Will, but I heard his spurt of surprise. He hadn't seen this coming.
Madame Z pressed two fingers to her forehead and let her eyes go blank. "Ahem," she said. "Hmm, hmm. What I'm getting here is muzzy. There is passion, yes"-
Yun Sun giggled; Will swallowed audibly-"but there are also… how do I say? Complicating factors."