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The midnight club, p.9
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       The Midnight Club, p.9

           Christopher Pike
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  "Mary had been really popular at school, but lost it. The year before she was a cheerleader and had every guy in school asking her out. But at the end of the year she was at a party and got real drunk. Driving home in her father's huge semi, she smashed into a car holding six guys from the football team—including the quarterback—and wasted them all."

  "Wait a second," Ilonka said. "Her father loaned her his semi to go to a party?"

  "Exactly," Spence said. "He knew about his daughter's drinking. He figured if she crashed into something in his semi she wouldn't get hurt. And she didn't get a scratch, although she did destroy the heart of the football team. Of course the next year the team did dreadfully and everyone blamed

  THE MroNIGHT CLUB

  Mary. They wouldn't even let her be a cheerleader anymore. So by the time Mary hooked up with Sid she was feeling pretty resentful.

  "Sid, of course, knew about Mary's past, but he didn't know she hated the entire student body. So he went along with her plan to put on a big magic show. Mary was to be his assistant. You know how magicians are always sawing girls in half and stuff like that. Sid needed a girl to spice up his act, and Mary volunteered to work with him every day after school. You can imagine the wonders that did for Sid's ego. By the time the big day arrived, Sid was feeling invincible.

  "But the show was a disaster. Sid planfyed to start by levitating Mary ten feet into the air. But unknown to him, Mary wanted Sid to fail and she sabotaged the trick."

  "But why?" Anya interrupted.

  "Listen," Spence said. "Mary was only a foot or two in the air when she suddenly fell onto a foam mat that had been set up below her. But that wasn't the end of Sid's magic show, although more than a few people in the audience laughed at him. His next few tricks went splendidly, but these didn't involve Mary. Just when he was getting the audience back on his side, he did a trick where he had to transfer Mary from one stand-up box to another. Well, of course, Mary didn't move—she was still in the original box. This time the audience laughed hard. Sid's confidence was shot. He did the next couple of tricks by himself, but he was so badly shaken that he flubbed them. When it came time for Mary to

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  return to help him, the audience was hooting and howling at everything he did. But Sid knew he could redeem himself if he could just pull off his grand finale, which involved burning Mary to ashes and reconstructing her and having her suddenly appear on the top row of the gymnasium bleachers.

  "He set everything up perfectly. He got the fires going under the pot that Mary was in. When he put on the lid, everyone gasped and wondered how Mary could be in such a hot pot. They gasped again a few minutes later when Sid removed the lid and there was nothing inside except a pile of ashes. But then, when Sid snapped his fingers to have her reappear, nothing happened. Unknown to him Mary had taken the opportunity to walk out on him. Naturally the school exploded in laughter and boos. In fact, people actually started throwing papers at Sid. He left the gymnasium in total disgrace.

  "Surprisingly, Sid wasn't even sure Mary had betrayed him, especially when she told him that she had got stuck and that the equipment had failed and so on. To be sure Sid was gullible when it came to a pretty face. But one thing Sid knew for certain was that he wanted to get back at the school for laughing at him. Mary didn't actively encourage him to seek revenge, but in her own subtle way she dropped hints that the student body certainly did deserve to feel his wrath. Sid started planning— what was the worst possible thing he could do to them? Then he came up with an idea. It was horrible, brilliant, something only Sid could dream

  THE MroNIGHT CLUB Up. You see, from the time Mary had started to talk to Sid, she realized he was one guy who could really sock it to the school. She had led him by the nose to this moment, to this decision, and he didn't know it."

  "If she was smart enough to lead him that far," Anya asked, "how come she couldn't have thought up her own plan?"

  "The truly clever always use others to do their dirty work," Spence said smoothly. "Just look at the crooks in D.C. Anyway, Sid decided to bum down the gym during a basketball game, when everyone was inside. Being a magician, he was naturally a master at picking locks. The night of the big game, he stole into a oil refinery and made off with a gasoline truck whose tank was chock full of fuel. He reached the gym toward the end of the second half and drove his truck right up to one of the back doors. Then he quietly went around and chained each of the gym doors shut. Oh, did I mention that this was one of those old-style gymnasiums with a single row of tiny, metal-reinforced windows completely out of reach? You've seen the kind. They're up thirty feet on the wall. I think half the ones in the country have this kind. Sid had them locked inside nice and tight.

  "Now it was time for the fun part. Sid had a drill and he punched a six-inch hole into the metal door in the far comer. The noise inside the gymnasium was so loud no one noticed a thing. But that same noise dropped to a whisper when Sid got the hose from the tank and began to pump a torrent of

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE gasoline over the wooden gym floor. Yeah, I think it would be safe to say the game came to an abrupt halt.

  "Then the screams started. The smell of gasoline is unmistakable, and probably everyone inside realized that if there was a madman out there psychotic enough to pump in gasoline, he would be crazy enough to set it on fire. Everyone rushed for the doors. The screams grew louder because the doors wouldn't open. People piled on top of one another, smothering themselves in a mountain of flesh. Watching through the same hole he was using to pump in the gasoline, Sid suddenly felt regret. He wasn't a bad guy at heart, he had just been so humiliated he had got carried away. But now that he saw people getting hurt, he wanted to stop. He pulled his hose out of the hole in the door before his gasoline truck was completely empty. He was trying to figure out how he could get the doors open and let everyone out without getting into trouble, when something hard and heavy struck him on the back of the head. Sid went down in a blur of stars and pain. Through the blood dripping into his eyes, he saw a figure put the hose back into the hole in the door and restart the gasoline pumping. He tried to sit up. The figure turned and laughed at him. It was Mary.

  "'I knew you would come up with something brilliant,' she said. *But I also thought you would chicken out at the last minute.'

  "*Mary,' he mumbled. *Why?'

  " 'They have it coming,' she said.

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB

  "Sid tried to stand up to stop her but he was too dizzy and fell back to the ground. He watched helplessly as Mary finished pumping in the gasoline and then tossed aside the hose. She drew a lighter from one pocket, a rolled-up newspaper from the other.

  "'Don't!'Sid pleaded.

  " 'Don't worry, I won't tell the police about your stealing the gasoline truck.' She lit the newspaper and waved it before Sid's eyes. 'And I suppose you won't be telling anybody about me.'

  " 'I'll tell them everything,' Sid swore.

  "Mary knelt by his side, holding her flaming paper near his face. 'I hope you don't mean that,' she said. 'Because if you do I'll have to kill you now.' She leaned over and kissed his forehead. 'I kind of hke you, Sid, even if you are a nerd.'

  " 'I'm not a nerd,' Sid said angrily. His head was beginning to clear, bit by tiny bit.

  Mary laughed. 'Yes you are. But you're a sexy nerd, and I never had one of those before.' She pressed the flames practically in his hair. 'What's it going to be, darling?'

  " 'I won't say anything if you keep working with me in my magic show,' Sid said.

  " 'Deal,' Mary said. She stood up and shoved the flaming paper through the hole in the door. The screaming inside suddenly got a lot louder, so loud it literally shook the walls of the building. 'One thousand die-hard fans,' Mary marveled out loud. She helped Sid away from the gym and back to her car as the pitiful cries slowly began to fade and the

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  building began to collapse. In the distance, Mary and Sid could hear the approaching fire t
rucks. But they were long gone before anyone else arrived."

  Spence stopped talking and took a drink of wine.

  "Is that it?" Ilonka asked. "They got away with it?"

  "Not exactly," Spence said. "A year later Sid was doing a magic show in a club on the other side of town. He had begun to work regularly with Mary after getting out of high school. Their relationship was fine as far as the sex went—Mary could have sex six times a day and still feel deprived—but Mary was always getting on Sid's nerves with her constant need to be in control. She'd taunt him that she could turn him in to the police at any time, that no one would believe a cute ex-cheerleader like her had torched the entire student body. She just didn't understand that there was more to Sid than met the eye. One evening at the club he had Mary in that special box that magicians use when they supposedly saw people in half. Only this time he had fixed the box so that Mary's body was trapped lengthwise. As the blade cut into her, she began to scream, but, of course, the audience thought it was part of the show. Even when the blood began to drip onto the floor the crowd didn't know there was a problem. Sid pulled the box apart, and the two sides of Mary were exposed, two bloody sides. By that time Mary had stopped screaming."

  Spence halted again.

  "Did he get away with the murder?" Ilonka asked.

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB

  "Sure," Spence said. "He just told the police he didn't know what went wrong, he had successfully done the trick dozens of times before. Sid eventually went on to headhne a major magic show in Las Vegas. I beheve he's there to this day." Spence paused and smiled. "That's my story for the night."

  "I thought it was pretty hot," Ilonka said. "No pun intended."

  "I liked the idea of the people trapped in the gym with the gasoline pouring in," Kevin said. "It reminded me of your Eiffel Tower story in that each uses one single powerful image. You're a natural to write for the movies, Spence."

  "Thanks," Spence said, pleased. Ilonka knew that he especially looked for Kevin's approval, since Kevin was clearly the most intelligent one in the group.

  "All the people in the gym just died?" Sandra asked. "That's kind of gross."

  "Gross is my middle name," Spence said proudly. He glanced at Anya. "Any comments?"

  Anya was in obvious pain and withdrawn. "No," she said.

  Spence seemed troubled by her remark. "At least tell me if you liked it or not," he said.

  "I'm sorry, I spaced out and stopped listening," Anya said, which was probably the most insulting thing she could have told him. The one rule of the Midnight Club was that each storyteller was granted the undivided attention of the others. But Spence didn't appear so insulted as he did nervous. Yet he said nothing more. • 113

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  Kevin wanted to go last, so Ilonka was up next. She started off by telling them that she had another past-life story.

  "It takes place in ancient India," she said. "I don't know how long ago, but well before recorded history. My name at the time was Padma, which means lotus flower. But I won't start the story with myself, but with my mother before I was bom. Her name was Parvati, which was one of the many names for the great Goddess. When Parvati was about sixteen years old she met a man named Visnu, and immediately fell in love with him, and he with her. Unfortunately for the two young lovers, they were not from the same caste. Parvati was a Brahmin, the highest caste, which was assigned to priests, and Visnu was a Sudra, which was the laboring caste. At that time it was forbidden for people to marry between castes. It is hard to imagine how strict this rule was followed, but even today in certain parts of India people can't even conceive of marrying someone outside their caste. The union of a Sudra and a Brahmin was particularly prohibited—like putting the highest and the lowest together.

  "Parvati and Visnu knew they were meant to be together, but they were afraid to run away to try to start a life elsewhere. They also didn't want to hurt their families. Finally they decided they simply couldn't see each other anymore. Visnu left the area, and a proper husband was arranged for Parvati. Arranged marriages were the norm in those days.

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB

  "The night before her wedding, Parvati was in deep distress. She had met her husband-to-be, and ahhough he was a fine man she knew she would never feel for him a tenth what she had felt for Visnu. Before going to bed, she knelt and prayed to the great God Shiva to take her from this world of misery. Her health wasn't good and she knew it wouldn't take much to push her over the edge. She prayed for a long time and didn't stop until she heard a sound outside her window. There was a pack of four dogs gathered around the fountain in her family's courtyard, drinking the water. She didn't understand how the dogs could have got inside the courtyard since it was kept locked at night. She hurried outside to see if a gate had been left open and it was then she saw the siddha sitting by the water, the dogs licking his hands. *Siddha' is a Sanskrit word for a perfect being, a saintlike person, an enlightened yogi. Parvati knew she was in the presence of someone great because of the wonderful feeling of love and power that emanated from the man. The siddha bid the dogs sit quietly and gestured for her to come close. Parvati wondered if it was not Shiva himself who had come to her, since it was well known that Shiva liked to roam the earth in the company of dogs. With her palms folded in a prayerful gesture, she knelt at the feet of the siddha. He removed a yellow jewel from the folds of his robe and handed it to her. He spoke softly.

  " *This jewel is a symbol of your love for the one » 115

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  you think you have lost,' he said. *It is also a symbol of his love for you. While that love lives, you will live in this world.'

  "'But I don't want to live without his love,' Parvati said.

  " 'He is a part of you, and you are love,' the siddha said. 'Remember what I have told you.' Then he rose with his dogs and walked out of the courtyard. That night Parvati made a special clasp for the jewel and wore it under her sari near her heart. The next day she was married to a man named Raja, who was my father. Raja never knew about Visnu or the visit from the siddha, at least not at first.

  "Time passed and I was bom and grew into a young woman. When I was sixteen, the same age my mother had been when she met Visnu, I met a man named Dharma and fell absolutely in love. For me Dharma was everything, the light in the sun and the moon, the wind through the trees. I loved him so much it was as if I was in love with God himself, that's how huge my devotion was. But unfortunately Dharma was also a Sudra, and there was no possibility of my marrying someone below my caste. But I was different from my mother. I told my parents that I was going to marry him and nothing would stop me. I swore I would die before I would let anyone stop me. Naturally, my father was shocked and outraged by my announcement. In ancient India a daughter simply didn't say things like that to her father. My mother tried to intervene, but he locked me in my room and wouldn't

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB

  let me out. It is interesting that while all this was happening I had no knowledge of what my mother had gone through when she was my age. But I did have the yellow jewel the siddha had given my mother, on a gold chain near my heart. She had given it to me on my tenth birthday and told me always to keep it near, that it was magical.

  "At this same time my grandmother, my mother's mother, came to my mother and told her about a dream she had when my mother had met Visnu. She told my mother, 'In the dream I learned you were supposed to be with that young man, that he was the one for you even though he was from another caste. But I was afraid to tell you in case you would marry him and bring disgrace to the entire family. I feel it is the same for poor Padma and her friend—they are meant for each other.'

  "My mother was shocked because her mother had never even given her a sign that she knew about Visnu. But my grandmother knew a great deal. She told my mother she even knew the whereabouts of Visnu. My mother begged her to direct her to him, and the old woman did, although reluctantly, because she had the gift of prophecy and knew so
rrow would come from their meeting again. She warned my mother of this, but she went to see Visnu anyway. How could she not?

  "She found him a poor and unsuccessful man. He was living in the streets, in fact, and when she saw him he hadn't eaten in days. She had brought nuts and fruits and she fed him and they talked. He told her how happy he was to see her again and

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE asked about her family. When she told him she had a daughter who was going through the same thing they had when they were young, he was sympathetic. Indeed, he felt as if she were talking about a daughter of his. He asked if it would be possible to see me and my mother said that the only way to accomplish this would be for him to go to our house as a simple laborer looking for work. Visnu agreed. Oh, this part is important: my mother told Visnu about the visit from the siddha and the magic gem he had given her. Visnu understood the deep significance of what the siddha had said. He had never stopped loving Parvati, even though his life had been very hard and lonely.

  "Visnu headed for our house while my mother went to be with her mother for a day or two. But when Visnu got to our house my father told him that he didn't need any workers. At this Visnu confessed that he had known Parvati when he was young. In fact, he told my father the whole story— Visnu was such a pure soul that he was really incapable of lying. As you can imagine, my father was not pleased to have his wife's old love show up at his door, especially asking to see his daughter. My father ordered him to leave, and when Visnu was gone he came storming into my room. He asked me for my yellow gem and ripped it out of my hand. Then he locked my door. At the time I didn't know what was going on.

 
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