At only 7 years old, Mira was the youngest person at her 13-year-old sister Skylar’s Halloween party, and she didn’t want anyone to think she was a scaredy cat, as Skylar would too often say. So she tried not to flinch when their parents brought out the decorations, even though she was—ironically—dressed as a cute calico kitty for Halloween. Foam tombstones and skulls peppered the lawn, black crepe paper and black balloons hung from the ceiling, and the red velvet birthday cake was decorated with blood red icing and little white candy skulls. Her dad replaced all of the lightbulbs in the house with ones that glowed red and orange, and her mom dialed in spooky themes from horror movies on a Bluetooth speaker. They promised Skylar and her friends they could watch the original Nightmare on Elm Street—but only after Mira went to bed. The partygoers began to arrive in costume at six. Stephanie showed up first, dressed in a lab coat covered in fake, splattered blood. By seven o’clock, there were ten kids in total. But it was like no party Mira had ever been to. Everyone just sat around on their phones. Mira pressed her mother. “Why isn’t anyone playing any games?” Her mother piped up, “Skylar, why don’t you all go for a quick walk around the block? By the time you get back, the pizza will have arrived.” Skylar and her friends shrugged their shoulders and obliged—even though they had to take Mira with them. Stephanie suggested that, with the sun setting and trick-or-treaters out in full force, it would be the perfect time to sneak down to the old Miller estate. The dilapidated, two-story Victorian house had been in disrepair before its elderly owner was murdered during a break-in two years earlier, and it was in even worse shape now that it was abandoned. She said it would be the perfect place to play Seven Minutes in Hell. “You know what Seven Minutes in Hell is, don’t you?” Stephanie asked Mira, jabbing the little girl in the ribs. Mira held her breath, nodded, and tried to look confident. She didn’t know what Seven Minutes in Hell was, and she certainly didn’t want to go to the Miller estate. Her parents had been very clear about the dangers of the house—not that they thought it was haunted. It was a safety hazard, not structurally sound, probably rat infested, its interior coated in a thick layer or dust or mold or both. Mira decided she would lag behind just a little, but as they reached the broken concrete driveway darkened by overgrown oak trees, Stephanie shouted, “Mira offered to go first!” Mira looked up at the looming structure which seemed to crouch, ready to pounce, then she glanced over at her big sister with frightened eyes. Skylar nervously adjusted her costume (she said she was dressed as final girl Sydney from Scream, whoever that was) and stared back at Mira, her eyes just as wide. Don’t be a scaredy cat. “C’mon, Mira, get in there,” Stephanie insisted, grabbing Mira by the hand. “Show the big girls how it’s done.” She dragged Mira up the steps of the wide porch where paint peeled off the planks of wood decking and rusty nails poked out between. Mira prayed the front door was locked; unfortunately, Stephanie turned the knob and it easily opened. The hinges squealed as they entered the house side-by-side, the rest of the group on their heels. They swiftly approached the curved wooden staircase. Under the stairs was a door with an unfastened padlock and an old stain that had dried reddish brown. “In there,” Stephanie pushed her. And when Mira stayed put, “You’re not a scaredy cat are you?" “I – I – I don’t know the rules,” Mira croaked as she stared at the door. “It couldn’t be easier. You just go inside that closet for seven minutes. Then we call and you come back out. That’s it!” “Go – go inside? With the door closed?” “Yes!” Stephanie yelled. Behind her, the other girls crept closer. Mira spotted her sister behind the others. In the darkness, Skylar’s face looked ghost white, near translucent, afraid. Did Skylar think this was a good idea? She wished her big sister would come to her rescue. “Skylar? Have you done this before?” “Yeah,” Skylar answered in a shaky voice. “A million times. No big deal. Doesn’t scare me at all.” Mira swallowed her fear and turned to the door. Before she could lose her nerve, she grabbed the knob and ran inside. Someone slammed the door behind her. She was swallowed by the pitch blackness. The air was thick and rank. It smelled of mildew. Mira could taste metal on her tongue. She had to prove to Skylar she was a big girl. She bit the inside of her cheek and held back her tears. It was only seven minutes. Closing her eyes, she concentrated on things she loved: cotton candy, roller skating, unicorns. Her thoughts were interrupted by screaming. Had it been seven minutes yet? The screaming reached a fever pitch. There was a commotion, the cracking of floorboards, and slowly the screaming began to fade. It sounded like she was all alone in the dark, abandoned house. Maybe this was part of the game? Mira’s spine tingled, and she felt the sudden urge to pee. She couldn’t help it. Her eyes welled up with tears, she swiped at her cheeks, knowing it would smear her face paint kitty whiskers but not caring, and her body shook with sobs. Her mouth filled with saliva and drool ran down her chin. Don’t be a scaredy cat. Mira began to cry. She couldn’t take it anymore. She wanted to go home. She didn’t care what Skylar or Stephanie said. Mira turned and reached for the door. Her hand touched nothing. She waved her hands all around her, but found no knob, no door, no walls. She took a step and another step and another, dancing around, directionless. Her feet stopped hitting the floor. It was as if Mira were floating in space. “Skylar!” she cried, flailing. “SKYLAR?” No response. How could Skylar do this to her? Mira was scared and alone. She curled into a little ball and wept. She waited and waited, but her sister never came.
* * *
The girls waited silently outside the closet door expecting Mira to run out screaming, but time passed without a sound. Finally, Stephanie, impatient, opened the door and shouted, “BOO!” There was no sign of Mira. Skylar pushed her friends out of the way to see. Sure enough, the small space was dark but empty. Skylar turned on Stephanie. “What did you do?” “You’re the one that let her play!” Stephanie shrugged, and ran off. Skylar was overcome with guilt. The partygoers spent a few minutes calling Mira’s name, but they were too scared to search the house. So, they fled, and when they got back to Skylar’s house, her parents called the police and sent everyone home. They returned to the Miller estate with the authorities, who conducted a thorough search. “And you’re sure she went into this closet?” asked the Detective as he looked up and down at his notebook. Skylar felt like the worst person in the world with her mother weeping quietly at her side. In a daze, Skylar slowly walked home alone while the search continued, past the squealing trick-or-treaters, the Styrofoam tombstones, and the crepe paper decor. Without thinking, she climbed the stairs, retreated to her bedroom, and began to robotically follow her bedtime routine. Why did I let Mira go in there? Skylar herself had never been brave enough to play that game. She took off her shoes and ran a brush through her hair in front of her dresser mirror. She turned off the overhead light and switched on the dim lamp next to her bed. She went to her closet to retrieve her pajamas. When she opened her closet door, bile shot up into her throat and burned. There, in the darkness sat a wispy apparition of her little sister, a shimmering flicker of her old self, folded up on the closet floor, knees at her chest. “Has it been seven minutes?” Mira asked as she looked up at Skylar with empty black eye sockets. Skylar, terrified, struggled to breathe. Mira rose and looked around sightlessly. “Can I come out now?” The girl’s voice wobbled like when they tried to talk to each other underwater on vacation. “Y-yes,” Skylar stammered. “It’s been seven minutes. Y-you did good.” Mira’s mouth slowly curled into a demonic smile. Her teeth were jagged points. They dripped with black blood. “I did it,” Mira said cheerlessly. “I won.” Tears filled Skylar’s eyes. “I’m so sorry,” she whimpered as she gazed down on her undead sister. “I’m so, so sorry.” “It’s okay, Skylar,” Mira consoled her, grinning. Then, she cocked her head to one side. “Now it’s your turn.” In the darkness, she heard Mira giggle. Mira reached out and grabbed Skylar by the wrist with a freezing cold hand. Pain coursed up through Skylar’s shoulder and traced downward under her ribs as Mira yanked with supernatural strength. Skylar toppled into the closet. The door closed, and the lights went out. “You’re not a scaredy cat, are you, Skylar?” Mira did everything she could to terrorize Skylar, made every attempt to send her running from the closet in tears. But Skylar didn’t resist. Though she screamed and cried and prayed for mercy, she steadfastly endured what she felt was just punishment sacrificing her sister to that Godforsaken house. The least she could do to make up for what she’d done, or rather what she hadn’t, was play her sister’s game. Every Halloween for the rest of her life, her little sister Mira visited. And every Halloween, Skylar regretfully spent seven minutes in Hell.
About the Author Christiane Erwin is the author of JUDE'S DIARY, a supernatural thriller about one teenager willing to do whatever it takes to get what she wants, and the upcoming UNDER THE SOUR SAND, a YA horror novel featuring the diverse, troubled teens of the cursed beach town, Lost Key. When she's not writing, you can find her fostering dogs, scuba diving, rock climbing, e-foiling, wakeskating, or spending time with her human and fur family in Marietta, Georgia. Learn more about Christiane at www.christianeerwin.com. About the Artist Yasmine Essence Soria is a photographer, writer and editor based in Chicago, where she was born and raised. She is a first-generation Mexican-Honduran-American woman working to pave her own path in the world through her work. She currently attends Columbia College Chicago in pursuit of a Bachelor’s in creative writing with a minor in photography. As a multimedia creator, she creates both photo and writing work that expresses the core aspects of her identity, while describing the world as she perceives it. She works largely in digital and partly in film, favoring still life and portraiture. For more of her photo work, follow her Instagram @yasmine.essence.
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