Solitary on Sundays

Beth has gone with her older brother, Sid, to their grandparent's house for the night, under the care of their grandmother. Bored, they decide to play cards, but their grandmother gave them specific instructions to not play solitary at that moment in time. "It's a game with the devil," she said.
Is Beth's grandmother just lying? Or is it a game with the demon himself?

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1. Solitary on Sundays

When you’re younger, as a child, you’re always told to not do certain things.

“Don’t talk to strangers.”
“Don’t play with fire.”
“Don’t stay up too late.”
“Don’t eat anything inedible.”
Et cetera.
We all know that it’s for our own good, yet we still disobey.

Me? I was told not to play solitary on Sundays.

            It was during one night, sleeping over at my grandparents’ house, that I went along with breaking the rules. What a foolish decision. 

                                                                        ***

            Saturday night – I was thirteen years old. It was half past ten in the evening, and my brother, one year my senior, and I had just finished watching a horror movie with our grandmother. We found it unusual how she wasn’t even spooked by the film, because I got scared, and I knew the movie would even make granddad have nightmares. After the film, I no longer wanted to sleep, even under the care of our old, yet strong, grandmother. My brother, Sid, wouldn’t stop teasing me about being scared of the movie. However, I knew, deep down, that he too, was afraid. So naturally, I didn’t care.

            It was just us three in the house that night – granddad was out of town to visit Auntie Lucy, and our parents are sleeping in the hospital to accompany my baby sister, Amber. Grandma stayed behind to babysit me and Sid, because our parents didn’t trust us home alone just yet.

Amber was just a few weeks old when she fell ill. She wasn’t breathing right, she was too small for her size, and she wasn’t able to eat properly. Her body resembled a corpse’s – with skin so pale it was a sickening yellowish-white. We found her lying in her bed in this condition one day, and we were almost scared out of our wits that she was dead. Thankfully, we felt a slow, yet rhythmic beating on her tiny neck – her pulse – and rushed her to the hospital immediately.

            All of us still sat on the red velvet couch after the movie had finished.We had no idea of what to do next. ‘Sleep’ was not an option for me anymore, for the fear of the nightmares that awaited me. Sid still had too much energy in his jittery body to go to bed, and grandma stayed because she didn’t trust my brother in this state. It was quiet as we currently existed on the couch, all of us squished up in the centre, with me in between my grandmother, who sat on my left, and my brother on my right. This felt like an awkwardly long time.

            “Do you think Amber will ever get better?” I asked, just to vanquish the silence of the room.

            “I dunno,” Sid said. “The doctor said that she’s got this disease that he’s never heard of before.”

            I tried to find more comfort in sitting on the soft cushion of the couch, and I pulled up my knees to my chest and hugged them tightly. I looked down, worried. What if she never healed? I thought. What if it only got worse?

            As if to read my mind, my grandmother took my hand and squeezed it reassuringly with hers. “She’ll be alright, sweetie. There are other doctors all over the place figuring out stuff like this. They’ll find a way to cure her. Somehow.”

            Oh, thank goodness I still have you, I thought. Out of all people, I found her the wisest, and she was the only one who could cheer me up at times like this.

            Time passed by, and Sid and I still couldn’t sleep. My grandmother, quite annoyed, stood up, and walked into her room. In a matter of time she was back with us, but she had a complete deck of cards in her hands. “Here,” she told us, handing Sid the cards. “I’d rather have you two playing cards quietly, instead of fooling around, since you won’t sleep yet.”

            “But we weren’t even doing - ” Sid started.

            “If you have nothing to do, sooner or later you will end up doing something that’ll get you in trouble with your parents. I was a child once, mind you, and that was my problem every time.” Her tone was serious, yet she winked, and plopped herself back onto the couch. She turned on the television and started watching her favourite soap opera.

            With the cards in his hands, Sid turned to face me. “I’d rather play cards than watch that,” he said, pointing to the TV our grandmother was paying so much attention to.

            “NO, SHELLY, YOU’RE ACCUSING THE WRONG PERSON, YOU TWAT,” she yelled at the screen.

            I rolled my eyes. “Fine,” I replied. “What do you want to play? Old maid? Slap Jack? Go Fish?”

            He thought for a while. I saw the look he got when he was thinking hard before making a decision. “Do you know how to play solitary? Dad taught me. I could teach you.”

            “No.” Her voice was strict.

            I blinked. “Sorry?” I asked grandma.

            She paused the show, and turned to face us. “I said no. Don’t you dare play solitary at this. It’s nearly midnight, making it Sunday. This is the worst time of day and week to play that game.”

            “Okay, then, but can you at least tell us why? Please?” Sid asked her.

            “In short, it is a game with Satan. Even on the Sabbath day of the Lord, if the devil finds a place of refuge in our world, then he may thrive. Those who play are inviting him into their house. Don’t play solitary today, and tomorrow, and on all of the other Sundays you live in your life.”

            My brother and I switched nervous glances. Our grandma had always been wise, yet very strict about her religion, so we understood how she was stern about a thing like this.

            The look on my brother’s face made me immediately shake my head vigorously. His face was very elfish, with pointed ears that always stuck out, and a little bit of an upturned nose. His dark eyes almost hid under the mess of his dark hair, since he was too lazy to fix it up. Apparently, I looked a lot like him, since we were often mistaken as twins. The only thing that we didn’t have in common was his sly smile and the impression that he always was up to no good.

            I knew exactly where this was going. I saw his expression. He looked at me with a devilish look in his eyes. He wanted to test it out, and see if it was true. I shot him a look of disapproval. Winning our silent argument and not wanting to push our grandmother any further (judging by the tone in her voice), we dropped the topic.

            Sid and I chose to play ‘Speed’ instead, until Grandma’s soap opera marathon ended, and we were forced to go to bed. It was 11:55pm.Images from the movie previously that day freshly imprinted themselves into my mind. I, still, was afraid of falling asleep, but my body gave in, and in a matter of seconds, I was unconscious on my grandparents’ couch.

                                                                        ***

My rest felt quick – like it lasted for five minutes.
Maybe it was because I was asleep for five minutes.

            “HEY!”

            My eyes felt heavy, but I managed to open them. Looking for my voice, I choked out “What now?”

            My vision became clearer and I saw the face of my older sibling. Why, I thought to myself. Why do I have to be related to you?

            “I can’t believe you’re sleeping already,” he said. “It’s only been five minutes.” He pointed at the wall clock. Sure enough, it was 12am.

“Well sorry,” I countered sarcastically. “Why did you have to wake me up anyway? I finally got to rest.”

            He smirked, and I said silently in my head Oh no.
“Let’s play some solitary.”

                                                            ***

Our grandmother had gone to her room for the night and was snoring instantly (according to Sid). That way, we wouldn’t get caught.

            Why do I even put up with you? I thought, but then I remembered that, being the younger sibling, I can’t win at every argument. So I stayed with him to make sure he didn’t do anything stupid, like set the house on fire, and also, I admit, because I was secretly curious to see what would happen.

            How foolish of me for not being brave enough to stop him.

            I got up from the couch and walked with my brother to the dining room and down to the table. Suddenly, I felt worried.
            What if she wasn’t lying?

            “What if grandma wasn’t just being superstitious? What if we do end up meeting Satan tonight?” I said as I looked into my brother’s eyes, silently pleading for a change of mind.

            “Don’t be such a scaredy cat, Beth. I just want to see what would happen. You still aren’t scared of that silly movie, are you? Don’t be such a baby.” He chided.

            After his latest five words escaped his mouth, my mind exploded in infuriation. I am perfectly mature for my age, and a fictional movie does NOT scare me. I HATE how my brother treats me like I am a little girl, while in reality, I’m the one who’s more mature. I wanted to punch my brother in the face, but I decided to show him “who’s boss” in another way.

I shot him a murderous look. When we meet Satan, who’s going to be scared like a little girl then?
“Fine.”

***

We never got to finish the game.

            My brother set it up. He laid first one card faced down on the table. Then, he put two cards faced down in a layered fashion. I watched him as he continued on with that pattern until he had thirteen cards in one pile.

            I heard the wind whistle outside. Aside from that and the sound of my brother explaining to me how to play the game, everything was silent.

            I turned my attention back to my brother. “You understand everything?”

            I realized that I had just zoned out, completely ignoring Sid’s quick tutorial. “Uh, sure,” I said, wanting to avoid wasting time.

            “Then let’s play.” Sid flipped one card that was on top of the pile with two cards to reveal a six of diamonds. He turned over another card from another pile. Six of clubs.

            “Weird,” he muttered quietly to himself. “Two 6s in a row.” Experimenting, he flipped two more cards. From there, he got the last two 6s – spades and hearts. “Okay… I think those are enough 6s for now…”

            “Hey, isn’t six the Devil’s num– ”

            “Shh. It’s just a coincidence,” he said reassuringly, but it seemed like he was just trying to convince himself.

            I looked down to my hands and I felt them start to get sweaty. I switched my gazed from my hands to my brother. Sid narrowed his eyes. He had just flipped his fifth card.

            His eyes widened as he looked upon the content of the card. “What…” And I followed his gaze to the card. On it were no symbols – no faces, diamonds, hearts, clubs or spades. All there was on the card was a big 6.

            “That can’t be right,” I murmured. “I’ve never seen that card before.”

            “Yeah, me neither.” Sid flipped another card from his deck. It was exactly the same as the card before it. In desperation, my brother turned over the rest of the deck. They were all the same, with the large 6 in the middle, and nothing else. “But these were the cards we were using a while ago. I never let them go,” he protested.

            Suddenly, I heard a heavy breathing, followed by a low, cooing voice, calling out my brother’s name. I froze.

            “Sid,” it said, over and over again. However, my brother didn’t seem to notice.

            “Sid, can you hear that?” I asked him. He looked up from his cards with a look of terror in his eyes.

            “Yes.”

            “Then you’d better run,” the voice said with a laugh.

            Without a hesitation, we ran out of the house. Out the door and onto the side walk, we turned around to see the haunting building. It was dimly lit by street lamps, making the building even less welcoming, as if to mock us. The decaying house resembled a mean-looking face. In the lighting, the windows were dark eyes, like my brother, but it looked purely evil. The porch was a crooked smile, ready to eat us, take us alive. The street was empty except for me and my brother, and it was completely silent.

            “What do we do now? I asked my brother.

            “You still have to run, because I’m not done playing this game yet,” answered the voice. “RUN! Haha!” The voice shocked me. I couldn’t find mine. I was violently shaking with fear. My heart was pounding so hard I could hear it with my ears. I looked desperately to my brother who had even more fear painted all over his face.

            “We should run.”

            So I sprinted. Without stopping, I ran around the house. I heard footsteps behind me. I turned my head without halting but I saw no one. Looking forward again, I spotted Sid ahead of me, flailing his arms, running like the wind. I didn’t know what to do. I still heard the footsteps and the heavy breathing of the invisible being behind me.

            Hoping I could out run whatever was chasing me, I ran the perimeter of the house again. Still, I heard the noises behind me, and I knew that they didn’t belong to my brother. I ran a third round. Once I got back to the creaky front porch, I saw the front door wide open, with the light for my grandmother’s room turned on. Also, the sounds behind me had vanished. My brother was nowhere in sight.

            Panting heavily, I leaped unto the porch and bounded into the silent, creepy house.

            “SID!” I called out. Instantly, I felt a hand grasp my forearm, and I tensed. The lights were flicked on, and I observed that we were in the kitchen.  I spun around and almost ran into my brother’s knife. “Oh thank go-” I started in relief, but was interrupted when his hand let loose of my arm and cupped my mouth. His eyes scanned the area.

            “Shut up. I can hear footsteps,” he whispered. Sure enough, I heard muffled footsteps coming our way. We both assumed we knew who it was.

            He made the gesture of the sign of the cross – he touched first his forehead, then the middle of his chest, his left shoulder and right shoulder following in that order. Simultaneously, he chanted “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.” He clasped his hands together and closed his eyes. He mouthed a silent prayer, for protection, probably.

            Driven paranoid with fear, I followed his example. Our family had never really been religious, and I regretted it. Still, I muttered a silent prayer under my breath. I prayed for the safety of everybody in this house, that Sid and I wouldn’t die tonight, and that I wouldn’t meet Satan in person, face to evil face.

A figure jumped from the shadows.

            “F-”

            “GRANDMA!” I yelled to cut off my brother’s cursing.

            She was still in her night gown, squinting at us. When she realized it was just Sid and me, she untensed. “Oh, thank goodness it’s just you children,” she said as she was holding her bedside lamp in a position where she was ready to swing it at her opponent. “I heard screaming.” Sid and I looked at each other in alarm. Of all the events that have occurred in the past couple of minutes, we had never screamed. We were too scared to. “Are you guys okay?” she asked.

            I was still gasping for air after my run. “Yeah, I’m alright.”

            “Me too,” Sid added in.

            Our grandmother narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “Why are you two even awake at this time of ni-” she stopped herself, and her eyes widened in sudden realization. “Both of you. Turn around so I can see your backs,” she commanded.

We obeyed and she sighed.
            “So you’ve been playing solitary, eh?”

                                                                        ***

            I wondered what our back had to do with everything, so I took off my hood that I was currently wearing. My eyes widened and saw that there were rips on the back. They looked like they were slashed at, as if there was this monster with knife-like claws, and it tried to kill me. I noticed that they were the same on my brother’s. How could I have not noticed this?

            I was shaking again. I turned to my grandmother with tears rushing uncontrollably down my face. “I am so sorry,” I said between sobs. “I didn’t think this would happen. And now, look at us. This could be our last!” My grandmother put down her lamp and thrust her arms open and I willingly flew into them. She hugged me tightly and gently patted my back.

            “Shh,” she said. “Let me ask you one thing, though: Did you run around the house three times?”

            I wiped my eyes and moderated my sobs. “Yeah, I did. Sid?”

            We turned to my older sibling who had been silent for the past couple of minutes. He was looking at his hands, his expression was stone hard. “I did too.”

            “Then we’re all safe now,” our grandmother concluded.

            Sid looked up. His expression morphed from disbelief to relief to confusion. “Really? How do you know?”

            Her voice was flat. “In a nutshell… I did the same thing you kids did tonight when I was about your age. My own grandmother explained the rules to ‘the game’ and what would happen. She warned me too, but I didn’t listen. I have never been the same since then.” She rolled up the sleeve of her night gown on her left arm to show a scar that looked similar to the rips on my sweater. “I’ve grown paranoid of my surroundings, but I feared less, for I have seen the demon himself.”

            I remembered how he was the only one previously tonight who was completely calm about the horror movie we watched. I remembered how serious her face was when she warned us about playing that game. I finally understood why grandma was so strict about her religion.

            “We’re okay now. We’ll be left alone now,” our grandmother said soothingly to calm us down.

            I was about to say something – that I would no longer be afraid of silly, fictional films, that I would never disobey my grandmother like that ever again, that I would believe in my own religion more, etc. – but was interrupted by the eerie telephone ring. I peeked at the wall clock and back at the still-ringing phone. It’s nearly 1amin the morning. Who would be calling at this time of night? Cautiously, my brother picked up the phone.

            “Hello? Yeah, this is Sid.” He looked at the two of us worriedly. I heard the quiet voice from the phone, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying. Sid listened intently to the voice on the phone. He covered the microphone part and mouthed ‘it’s mom’. “Mom? Are you alright? Why are you crying?”  The voice muttered something that made my brother’s face fall slack. He dropped the telephone and started to weep.

            “What? What’s going on?” I asked. I was so confused. My grandmother checked the phone and it was still connected to the other line. She listened to my mother speaking, and her face went slack too. She looked at me with sad eyes and said these six words that changed my life:
            “It’s your baby sister. She’s dead.”

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