This story was written for the Reedsy contest "Staying Inside".
More specifically by the prompt: "Write a story about a family game night."
“Tonight at 9 PM, electricity will be shut down in large parts of the country until 9 AM tomorrow. It was a hard decision to make, but desperate times call for desperate measures. We can do this! We shall not allow the Threat to destroy us. We shall overcome. God bless America!”
There was only one news anchor left in the studio. It was time for him to say goodbye for the night to the viewers who had been asked time and again to stay at home and remain inside while the Threat was still out there.
“This was a rebroadcast of President Newman’s address to the nation earlier today. In a couple of minutes, we’ll go off air. I wish you and all of your loved ones a safe night. We’ll be back in the morning with more news on the Threat and the current events.”
The screen went blank; seconds later all lights went out in the living room of the Fine family.
“That’s that,” Jessica said. “Now what?”
“We light candles,” her mother answered, and she struck a match.
“Thank you, Mrs. Fine,” Anna said. “I like candles; they are very romantic.”
Luke winked at his girlfriend: “I think so too; it’s a pity we aren’t alone, just the two of us.”
Jessica threw a sullen look at her older brother, ready to spew out some scornful comment, but she swallowed her words when she saw her mother’s angry face.
This was neither the time nor the place to revisit the argument on who could spend the night in the same room with whom, Mrs. Fine thought. She had been very clear about what was agreed with Sean’s and Anna’s parents when they allowed their respective son and daughter to stay at the Fines. Luke would share his room with Jessica’s boyfriend Sean; Jessica would share her room with Luke’s girlfriend Anna. Times may be desperate, but they weren’t that desperate for Mrs. Fine to break her promises or give up her principles.
“The WiFi just went down,” Sean said. “I have no roaming internet either.”
“We should do something fun,” Anna proposed. She was always the one cheering everyone up, despite the circumstances. “Do you have any board games?”
“We do, but I veto Monopoly,” Jessica said. “I hate that game. It’s so boring.”
“And I don’t want you to play Risk,” Mrs. Fine warned the children while she lit more candles. “You kids always get in a fight when you play that game.”
“It’s dark outside,” Luke said. “We are sitting in the flickering candlelight. Anna, are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“I am if you’re thinking of the Ouija board!”
“Are you talking about communicating with spirits?” Sean asked. “That’s not a game, is it?”
“Do you believe in spirits?” Luke laughed.
Sean blushed: “No, I don’t!”
Jessica defended her boyfriend: “Playing with a Ouija board isn’t fun; it’s creepy!”
“I didn’t say it wasn’t fun,” Sean said. “I just said it wasn’t a game.”
“If you don’t believe in talking to ghosts, then it’s not serious,” Luke argued. “And if it’s not serious, it must be a game.”
“To me a game is something you play to win,” Sean answered.
“Playing isn’t always about winning,” Anna said. “Isn’t that true, Mrs. Fine?”
“You’re right, Anna,” Mrs. Fine said. A game no one could win or lose was a game that couldn’t end in an argument, she thought.
Jessica could kill her wannabe sister-in-law. She was always sucking up to her mam, and what was worse: her mam always fell for it.
“I veto the Ouija board,” Jessica grumbled. “It’s too creepy for me.”
“Come on, Jessica,” her mother said. “No one in this house believes in ghosts. Let’s do this, just for fun.”
Luke had already left the table to fetch the spirit board.
“We all put our finger on the arrow,” Anna explained. “No cheating! We let the ghost control where it moves to.”
Luke lowered his voice: “Spirits among us, we summon you. Give us a sign if you are here.”
Luke repeated: “Spirits among us, we summon you. Give us a sign if you are here.”
Someone —or was it something— knocked on the table.
“Who did this?” Jessica screamed. “Luke, I swear, if you did this, I’ll kill you!”
“It wasn’t me,” Luke said. “My hands were above the table. I couldn’t have knocked without anyone noticing.”
“Then who was it?” Jessica asked, looking around, suspecting Anna to be in cahoots with her boyfriend.
Suddenly, the arrow started to move; first to the letter M, then slowly towards the letter E.
“It wasn’t us; it was a spirit!” Anna cheered. “Spirit, can you tell us your name?”
The arrow moved fast now. It spelled W, I, R, E, N, E, W…
“T-That’s the n-name of our p-president, W-W-Wire N-N-Newman,” Sean stammered.
The arrow continued to move: M, A, N.
“That’s the name of our president all right,” Luke said, “but the man isn’t dead. We just saw him on the news.”
“Maybe it’s someone with the same name,” Anna suggested. “Although that would be quite a coincidence. We could ask him to make sure.”
“I have another question first,” Jessica interjected. She really couldn’t stand her brother and his girlfriend anymore. “Dear Spirit, who did my brother cheat his girlfriend with while she was on vacation last Summer?”
“Jessica!” her mother admonished. “That’s not funny, you shouldn’t…”
The arrow moved before Mrs. Fine could finish her sentence: M, A, D, I, S…
“Madison?” Anna yelled. “You cheated on me with that bitch Madison?”
“That’s not fair!” Luke protested. “Jessica moved the arrow on purpose.”
“No, I didn’t!” Jessica shouted.
“Children, stop!” Mrs. Fine intervened. “Let’s call it a day.”
“OK,” Jessica said. “But I’m not sleeping in the same room as Anna.”
“I don’t feel like sleeping in Jessica’s room either, Mrs. Fine,” Anna said with tears in her eyes.
“Let her sleep in my room,” Luke begged. “I want to explain that there’s nothing she should worry about.”
“No,” Anna cried. “I don’t want you anywhere near me tonight.”
“I could move into Jessica’s room,” Sean tried.
“Enough!” Mrs. Fine raised her voice. “We stick to the plan! I want everyone in bed in half an hour!”
“But mom…” Jessica opposed.
“I don’t want to hear another word from you, young lady!”
Half an hour later, everyone was in bed, and Mrs. Fine made sure it was the right bed.
The next morning, there were nothing but long faces at the kitchen table. The dog had been barking incessantly since 7 AM, and everyone had gotten up early, except for Anna who decided to stay in bed to postpone seeing Luke.
Luke didn’t dare asking his mother if he could go and comfort Anna. He still blamed his sister for what had happened the night before.
“Don’t look at me that way,” Jessica said. “I didn’t move that arrow! It moved on its own.”
“Yeah right,” Luke said. “Blame it on President Newman.”
“But the President isn’t dead,” Sean weighed in.
“Not now, Sean,” Jessica told him.
At that moment the electricity went back on, and so did the radio. It was 9 AM, time for the morning news. Without a tune, without any heads-up whatsoever, the voice of the vice-president filled the room.
“My fellow Americans… Today is a black day in history. It is with deep regret that I inform you that our President is no longer with us. Last night, the Threat breached the White House. There were no survivors.”
No one moved. No one said anything anymore. The unspeakable had happened. The Threat had become almost tangible.
Everyone was still holding their breath when the kitchen door opened. There was Anna.
“What’s happening?” she asked when no one greeted her.
After a moment of silence, Luke took her in his arms: “I’m sorry, Anna, I’m so sorry, but it’s true. I did cheat on you with Madison last Summer. Can you ever forgive me?”
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