In bleached out archival footage that never really existed, I learn about Amelia Earhart. I see her tear-scrunched face held together in a blindfold on some island that happened to catch her little propeller plane that couldn’t quite. For whatever reason, it just couldn’t quite.
What happened to Amelia Earhart is an unsolved mystery. The first of many mysteries that I learn go unsolved. There are so many of these mysteries that an entire television series is made, a series my family guffs and caws about every Wednesday night.
When I learn about Amelia Earhart, I can’t sleep at night. I can’t sleep at night in the room that I share with my brother.
My brother stays up late reading Jurassic Park by penlight. His light draws shadows of faceless foot soldiers tiptoeing across my GI Joe tent bed, ready to assassinate me just like they assassinated Amelia Earhart.
My brother shuts off his light. The silence between our tent beds quickens. My head pounds with echoes of catastrophe and murder and his with dinosaurs and genetics. The quiet in the room blips like the chalk smudge moon in a daytime sky.
Sleep never comes to me easily. My mind ratchets from fear to fear: robbers slinking into the room, witches on broomsticks circling outside the window, accidental nighttime recitations of magic spells.
Did you know that right now. Right now, Denny Craven’s cousin is in limbo for playing with Bloody Mary? In a pitch-black room, he stood in front of a mirror and dared to chant Bloody Mary Bloody Mary Bloody Mary. Then Mary’s gnarled hand pulled him through the mirror into limbo for e v e r.
I’m not taking any chances with limbo. I keep a nightlight on in my room. I keep a towel over the mirror. For just in case. Just in case, I accidentally nighttalk Bloody Mary in my sleep.
So a couple of bad nights of sleep thanks to Amelia Earhart’s unsolved demise and I’m back to my clunky old sleep. Until the next Wednesday. Until the next unsolved mystery. I give up on unsolved mysteries after Don Decker though. The mystery of Don Decker is too much for my brain.
Tortured by his granddaddy as a boy, Don squeezes the world into tears after his granddaddy’s funeral: water sweating through the walls, water raining up through the floors like a Las Vegas fountain show.
No one can explain the rain in the house. No one can find a malfunction in the plumbing. No one can explain Don writhing and thumping on the couch as every drop of water in the air condenses against the room.
It must be supernatural. It must be possession. It must be the devil percolating in Don to get the last drop of his granddaddy before grinding him down to hell.
That night in my tent bed, I don’t care about the rain but I care about the devil. I care about the remnants of shit circulating in my veins, shit that the devil might want at my expense.
The bedroom starts to feel more humid. My body feels like it’s bumping into the first steps of a fit. I hear my mind counter: I am not possessed by the devil. I am not possessed by the devil. I am not possessed by the devil.
I slip up: I am possessed by the devil. The pages in my head turn faster and faster. Every page is rewritten. Every page is blood scrawled with I am possessed by the devil.
My tent bed is getting smaller and smaller. This must be what it’s like to get vacuum sealed in a package straight to hell.
If I don’t get out now, I will be lodged in hell for e v e r. I unzip the tent bed and try to reconstitute myself as I throb down the hallway to my parent’s bedroom. I knock at their door. “Mom?,” I squeak.
My head is inflating. I can feel the devil sucking me out like a balloon through a straw. Hell is not the pungence of sulfur. It’s a fog of helium. I sit down at the top of the staircase outside my parent’s room. If I can put more of me against the floor, there’s less to steal away. I knock again.
My mom, draped in a half-open robe, opens the door. Squinting in the dark that is slightly less dark than her room, she asks, “Jamie, what’s the matter?” She sits down beside me and runs her hand through my hair.
I’m drifting out and my mom pulls me back by a string. In a voice as thin as condensation trapped in a double-glazed window, I dribble, “I am possessed by the devil…I am possessed by the devil.”
“Oh, Jamie,” she sighs and tugs me closer. “There’s no such thing as the devil. All that stuff is just made up.” She waits a second and then kisses me on the top of the head. As she rises to go back to her bedroom, she parts, “Now let’s go back to sleep, sweetheart, and I’ll see you in the morning.”
After my mom disappears into her room, I linger on the perch at the top of the stairs. My brain settles like a fire burning out, but every breath stokes the embers of Don Decker. If the devil isn’t real, I think, why does every step I take back to my room feel like stomping down on a wet sponge?
About the Writer
wren james lives quietly near the ocean with his wife and children. Find him: @wrenajames and wren-james.tumblr.com.