Gypsies, Pranks, And Thieves

by E.V. Jacob on May 31, 2012

For Becky Urbinato.

“I’m not understanding this – why do you think your trailer is haunted?” Corey asked. She glanced at Nicolae to make sure she wasn’t the only one who was clearly missing something. He looked as perplexed as she felt.

Milosh gestured helplessly at the sketchpad lying on the little shelf by his bed, trying to make his friends understand just how dire the situation was.

“It’s right there. Where it’s supposed to be. In plain sight. Right where I left it.”

“Uh huh…” she said.

“When I was looking for it yesterday, it wasn’t here!

“Maybe one of your brothers moved it,” Nicolae suggested reasonably.

Milosh shook his head. “No. No. And it’s not just that. Last night, a door slammed when everyone was asleep. And I’ve been feeling like…like someone’s watching me…” he said, lowering his voice and looking around like maybe whoever was doing all this might hear him.

Corey wasn’t a superstitious person – a lot of the other gypsies were, but she had never really bought into all that. And Nicolae was far too logical to ever believe in anything supernatural.

But clearly, Milosh was deeply disturbed by what Corey saw as a couple random occurrences. Granted, he had a habit of getting caught up in this sort of thing – he’d once convinced half their caravan that there was a werewolf following them, which caused them to move about fifteen times in just two months. He’d truly believed it, too – that was the worst part.

“Milosh! Dinner!” his mother called from outside.

Milosh jumped when he heard his name, then looked up at his friends. “You wanna stay for dinner?” he asked, still glancing nervously at the sketchpad.

“Nah, Pa’s cooking tonight – he’d be mad if I skipped out,” Corey said.

“Oh. OK then…”

Nicolae patted Milosh on the shoulder, “Try not to worry so much. I’m sure it’s nothing.”

“Right…”

“Milosh!”

“Better get outside. Bye, guys…coming, Ma!” he called, heading down the narrow hall of the trailer and out the door.

Nicolae turned to follow Milosh out, but Corey motioned for him to wait, then hurried to the sketchpad.

“What’re you doing?” Nicolae asked as she opened the sketchpad and flipped through the pages. It was half full of rather impressive illustrations that Milosh had made of various things he’d seen on their travels. She turned it to the next available page and picked up the pencil, holding it in her left hand so her handwriting would be off.

“Corey?”

“I’m just gonna scare him a bit,” she said, writing carefully – it was a lot harder to use her left hand than she’d thought it’d be.

Nicolae rolled his eyes. “Are you serious?”

“Oh, come on! It’ll be funny! Spook him a little.”

“Like he needs help with that,” Nicolae grumbled.

“There!” Corey said triumphantly, holding up the page for Nicolae to see.

Stay off my land…” he read. “Corey, that’s stupid.”

“You’re stupid,” she said, putting the sketchbook back just as she’d found it and hurrying out of the trailer. Nicolae followed, scolding her all the way.

“Bye!” Corey called as she jogged down the road, away from Milosh and his family.

“You’re mean.”

“You’re boring. Come on, it’ll be funny – tomorrow he’ll tell us all about how the ghost wrote in his book and he’s probably going to die or get cursed or be possessed.”

Nicolae tried not to smile, but he was failing.

They reached their own trailers and parted ways, Corey rushing because she knew she’d be in trouble if she didn’t make it in time to help set up. When she got there, her little brothers and sister were already preparing the table while her father finished up what smelled like a thick stew.

“Nice of you to finally show up,” Mirela said in the judgmental, holier-than-thou tone she’d taken on ever since she’d turned ten and decided she was mature.

“Hush up,” Corey muttered, plopping down in her seat. Across from her, her little brothers were attempting to wrestle with one another while still sitting on the picnic bench.

Corey’s family was small. It was just her, her parents, Mirela, and her little brothers, Hanzi and Pali. A family of six was paltry compared to the families with ten or twelve children. When Mirela acted like a brat, or when Hanzi and Pali got rowdy and annoying, Corey tried to imagine what it must be like to be Nicolae, with thirteen siblings in one tiny trailer. She shuddered at the thought.

“Corey, there you are,” her mother said as she stepped out of the trailer and sat down. “I’ve been waiting for you to get here, I wanted to tell you something.”

“Yeah, Mom?”

Corey’s father came over and set down the big pot of stew, and her mother began filling their bowls.

“Well, they just opened a circus in the town. It’s not quite like the circuses I used to go to when I was a little girl, but, well, I thought it would be fun for you kids to experience it,” she said as she passed around bowls of stew.

“The circus? I wanna go! I wanna go! When do we go?” Pali said, bouncing wildly in his seat and almost knocking over his bowl.

Corey’s father chuckled. “Soon. Tomorrow or the next day, whenever I can get tickets.”

“Do I get to ride the roller coasters?” Hanzi asked – only slightly calmer than his younger brother.

“You can do whatever you like,” their father said, grinning at his excited children. He glanced at the older two, waiting for their reaction.

“It sounds a little young for me, but I suppose it could be fun,” Mirela said in that annoying, fussy way she had of talking.

“Oh, come on, sweetie – you’ll enjoy it,” Corey’s mother said, looking a little disappointed.

Corey rolled her eyes at her sister. Then she smiled for her parents’ benefit. “I think it sounds awesome, Dad. You think I could bring Nicolae?”

“Sure. Bring everyone, it’ll be great!”

They ate and discussed the circus. Corey did feel a little old for it, but she wasn’t about to admit to that while she had a chance to make Mirela look stupid. Corey was thirteen – if she could have fun, so could her sister.

After dinner and clean-up, Corey sat out and watched the stars become visible. A while later, when Nicolae came walking toward her trailer, she saw him as a spooky shadow outlined in the dark.

“What’re you grinning about?” she asked when he got close enough for her to see. Hanzi and Pali were running around the trailer chasing one another, but she had pretty much completely tuned them out at that point.

Nicolae snickered and sat down on an upturned bucket. “Milosh came over and dragged me to his room. He made me read the note ‘the ghost’ left – he wouldn’t even touch the sketchpad.”

Corey started laughing so hard that Mirela shushed her from inside the trailer.

“Ah…hah…that’s great. What did he say?”

Nicolae shrugged. “It was mostly babbling. I wasn’t really listening. Anyway, I don’t think he’s going to sleep much tonight.”

Corey grinned.

“What? No. No, Corey, no more.”

“Are you kidding? I can’t pass this up – this is going to be so fun…”

“You are a sick, twisted person.”

“Only when I have amazing opportunities for pranks.”

Nicolae shook his head, but he was laughing, so it was hard for her to take his ridicule seriously.   “All right. All right. What’re you thinking?”

Corey’s grin grew wider. “Got any walkie-talkies?”

 

*             *             *
Corey was having far too much fun with this prank, as Nicolae was constantly reminding her.

She couldn’t help herself, though. Writing creepy messages in his sketchbook had been the beginning of something way more fun than antagonizing Mirela until she proved just how immature she really was.

No, this was far more exciting. It took a lot more effort, and a great deal of planning, but her mind was humming with ideas.

She had started small. The message had been a little blatant, and she wanted to go for subtlety. The spare change stacked in neat little towers on the floor by his favorite chair. His boots being moved repeatedly from under his bed to just outside the door of the trailer. The light bulbs getting loosened multiple times in one day, even when he’d carefully re-screwed them.

Now, though, it was time for Corey to head off to the circus for a while. She wanted to leave a few more ghostly clues for Milosh to find while she was gone, so she’d snuck into his trailer yet again and written, “It’s MY land,” on the mirror with a nearly invisible trail of liquid soap. He wouldn’t notice it until the tiny room fogged up a bit – better, actually, if someone else caught it.

Not for the first time, Corey wished she had a computer. She had played with them before, but her dad saw them as useless, so he would never spend money on them. If she had a computer, she could look up new ideas, print things out, edit pictures, research anything…it would make pranking way more fun.

For the moment, though, all she had was some liquid soap. She examined her handiwork, making sure it was just invisible enough to go unnoticed for a while. Sure, it was silly and childish and probably poorly-thought-out, but Corey was far too entertained to care.

A noise outside made her scramble out of the trailer and out into the open, where she tried to look as unassuming as possible.

“Corey! We’re leaving!” her mother’s voice called from far off.

Corey tore down the path lined on either side by trailers until she reached the end of their camp, where the cars were parked. Nicolae eyed her suspiciously as she crammed into the back seat with him and the rest of her siblings. Nicolae’s little brother, Yoska, was joining them, meaning that there were three noisy little boys under the age of six to annoy Mirela. To Corey, this was an excellent idea – it made her work in that department practically non-existent.

“What did you do?” Nicolae whispered.

“Nothing. Why are you so suspicious?” Corey said innocently.

“Because you have that stupid look on your face.”

“What stupid look?”

“The stupid look that goes with you doing stupid things. Like sneaking into someone’s home and flipping all the picture frames upside down. Or hiding walkie-talkies behind beds so you can make spooky noises at two a.m.”

“You have such a vivid imagination, Nicki.”

“What are you two whispering about?” Mirela demanded, leaning forward.

“Grown-up stuff, kiddo.”

“I am not—”

“Are you kids excited?” Corey’s mother asked, interrupting their conversation.

Corey’s, “Yes,” was swallowed up by the cries of three little boys, punctuated with Mirela’s demands for order.

“Aren’t you glad you decided to join us?” Corey asked Nicolae with a grin.

“When I was little, I used to get so excited any time I got to go to the circus,” Corey’s mother continued. “Your Grandpa Pete would take us every year.”

Corey’s mother described her childhood days at the circus. Alicia Calendar, who had adopted the gypsy name “Nadya Kwiek,” was not born into the Romani culture. She had been raised into what she called a, “traditional, bread-and-butter family,” and had gotten her PhD in anthropology. She was studying the Romani when she met Corey’s father, Stefan, and fell in love with him. Corey sometimes wondered what it had been like for her fair-skinned, blonde, blue-eyed mother to enter into gypsy society. Most of the elders weren’t too friendly toward gorgies, but she supposed they must’ve accepted her mother eventually.

Nadya was still taking when they pulled up to the circus, with its bright lights and tall tents. The iconic Ferris wheel stood above everything else, and Corey grinned in spite of herself. It was pretty exciting.

With a gaggle of younger ones to look after, Corey and Nicolae were given a bit of money each and told not to wander off too far.

They made their way through the circus, playing games and going on rides.

Nicolae was good at getting them prizes. He had an eye for detail, and he’d stand there analyzing the game for a long time before he took his turn. The workers and anyone waiting for their turn would get irritated, but Nicolae ignored them all and managed to ace almost every game.

“Ooh, balloon animals,” Corey pointed out as they walked around, toting their many prizes.

“What do you want a balloon animal for?” Nicolae asked, more concerned with making sure he didn’t drop his cotton candy than whatever ploy Corey was cooking up.

“As a hat, of course,” she said as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. She made her way to the clown that was twisting balloons into various animals and waited for the group of children to clear away.

“Hello, what animal would you like?” the clown asked. He was a rather sad clown – he seemed out of place. And…familiar…

“Ethan?” Corey asked, startled.

The sad clown blinked at her, then looked embarrassed.

“Oh. Man. Oh…hey…Corey…” he muttered.

Nicolae looked suspiciously at Corey.

“Nicolae, this is my mom’s cousin, Ethan. He’s usually not a clown.”

“Oh. Hi, I’m Nicolae.” They shook hands and Ethan kept his eyes down.

“Ethan, what’re you doing working here?”

Ethan sighed. “Look…don’t tell your mom you saw me here, OK? My parents still don’t know and she might say something…she means well…”

“What happened?”

“I kinda…lost all my money in a bad business deal…”

Corey and Nicolae looked at one another, then back at Ethan expectantly.

He sighed. “I was trying to be an inventor. I came up with an idea, I developed it…I just needed a little help to get it off the ground. I put all my money into getting this thing started and then…”

“What did you invent?” Nicolae asked, clearly interested.

“Well, you know those smart phones?” Ethan asked.

“Yeah.”

“Well, I invented a little lens that could be attached to the camera to do all kinds of great stuff with the pictures. Make your phone’s camera into an amazing tool – I even had an app to go with it. Incredible pictures, simple idea, but…” he sighed.

“Now, I’m making balloon animals in a circus. I haven’t done this since I was a birthday clown in high school,” he looked down disdainfully at the balloons.

“So this guy…he’s out there, making a bunch of money from something you came up with?” Corey asked.

Ethan nodded sadly.

“And if you had your idea back, you’d have all that money for yourself?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

Corey grinned. “Enough to buy me a present for helping you out?”

 

*             *             *
It had taken a bit of convincing, and she’d had to shove an oversized bear in Nicolae’s face to make him be quiet, but eventually, Corey managed to talk Ethan into give her the information of his former business partner.

“You’re not gonna…hurt him or anything, right?”

“Honestly, Ethan, what kind of person do you think I am? Of course I’m not…I just think some good-natured pranking might be fun.”

“Am I going to get arrested for hiring my little cousin as a hit-woman?”

“Not unless something goes horribly wrong.”

Ethan stared at her in horror.

“Kidding! Kidding – I’m just gonna spook him a little.”

And so, he’d told her about Stanley Baxter, the small-time lawyer who’d become an overnight sensation with his brilliant photography setup. This included his address, phone number, and email address. Corey wanted to be thorough.

She had told Nicolae that they would go together to check it out, but then she snuck off alone. She wanted to do a little more…in depth investigating, and if she’d brought Nicolae along, she’d have to listen to him ask a bunch of stupid questions like, “What are you going to do if we get caught?” and “Don’t you know that this is illegal?”

Stanley had a small house in a very old neighborhood. According to Ethan, he was planning to move soon, but hadn’t had the chance yet – the success had come pretty quickly. Corey tiptoed onto the porch and tried the door, but it was locked – that figured, gorgies were all paranoid and suspicious of one another.

There wasn’t a spare key. She puttered around on the tiny patio, sweltering in the summer heat, certain someone was going to see her and call the cops. Nicolae would never, ever shut up about this if she got into some kind of trouble.

Corey peered in through the window, trying to see if there was another way in. There were fans all over the place, which didn’t help her much, but gave her an idea. Corey went around, trying the various windows.

She was about to give up when she found one that jiggled promisingly. Corey hooked her fingernails under it as best as she could and pulled. Hah! Closed, but not locked. With a little effort, she managed to get it open wide enough that she could work the screen off and slip inside. She tried to look as innocent as possible while she broke into someone’s house.

Inside, she could see that the lock to this window was actually broken. The house wasn’t particularly clean, and she recognized the stench of alcohol in the air. There were stains on the carpet and the walls were shabby and in need of fresh paint.

And they say gypsies are uncivilized, she thought disdainfully. No gypsy family she knew lived like this.

She went over to his desk and rummaged around until she found something official looking. A long document. It was in a manila envelope, and it had a bunch of legal-sounding jargon. Most gypsies were illiterate, because it just wasn’t part of their culture, but Corey’s mother was big on education, and she’d made sure that all her children – and any other children who were allowed – could read fluently.

So Corey could understand the contract she was holding in her hands. Maybe not all the big, official words and the lawyerese, but she could understand enough.

Enough to know that Google was offering Stanley five hundred million dollars for this stolen operation.

Corey stared at the number for a while, then put everything back where she’d found it – she needed to get out of there.

Carefully, she replaced the screen on the window and snuck out the front door, trying to look like she had every right to be there.

She rushed back to the caravan and raced around, looking for Nicolae. He was with his younger brothers, helping them repair the family’s old radio.

“Nicolae!” she hissed, waving him over.

He dismissed his brothers to go play and went over to her.

“What’s up?” he asked, only mildly suspicious.

“I snuck into Stanley’s house today and – ”

“You what!?”

“Shh! Scold me later! Listen! Google is making him an offer – they want him to answer soon. They want to buy the…the camera thing. They want the rights to it. They’re offering him five hundred million dollars.

Nicolae’s eyes grew wide.

How much?”

“Five. Hundred. MILLION.”

They were silent for a moment.

“That’s…a lot of money…” Nicolae said stupidly.

“Uh-huh.”

“So…you have some brilliant plan?” he asked, crossing his arms and eyed her expectantly.

“Yeah…I figure I can do another haunting stint on him.”

Nicolae considered this, then sighed, as if he didn’t want to say what he was about to say.

Then he said it anyway. “Look, the ghost thing is funny with Milosh – evil, but funny – but it’s not direct enough for this…”

“All right. What’re you thinking?”

Nicolae smiled in spite of himself.

“I’m thinking we work the gypsy angle.”

 

*             *             *

 

Corey was decked out – colorful scarves, large hoop earrings, stacks of bangles on each arm, and heaps of flowy skirts. She looked like a dressed-up gypsy, but going a little over the top was going to be necessary for this stunt.

Nicolae kept saying to keep it reasonable, but Corey had long since learned that “reasonable” was code for “boring” and she had every intention of having fun with this.

“You don’t look gyptian enough,” Nicolae had muttered, studying her like a sculpture he was displeased with.

Corey made a face. “I look more gyptian than you!”

“You have weird gorgie eyes,” he teased.

“They’re blue and they’re quite lovely, thank you very much,” Corey stated primly. “Besides,” she drew her arm up in front of her face and held her scarves like a cape. “It adds to my intrigue.”

“Whatever you say.”

They had tailed Stanley for a few days, during which Nicolae never once shut up about the questionable morality of what they were doing. Corey was pretty sure he didn’t actually care about ethics, and he just did this because annoying her entertained him.

In any case, they had learned a lot about Stanley, including his morning routine. He stopped at the Starbucks not far from his house every morning to sit outside, sip coffee, and check email for a while before going off and doing whatever else.

He walked the few blocks, and used the same route every day.

Today, Corey was waiting for him along a quiet stretch of road. She had a little gypsy camp set up, with incense and random things like tarot cards. She held a bag of colorful beads, which she was spinning in nervous, excited anticipation as she waited for Stanley to come into sight.

She saw him up the road and tried to act like she hadn’t noticed him. As he passed by, she “accidentally” spilled the bag of beads all over the sidewalk around his feet.

“Hey!” he yelped.

Corey looked up at him. “What’ve you done?” she asked gravely.

“Me? I didn’t do anything, you spilled the beads all over – ”

She shook her head and clicked her tongue disapprovingly. “You done something. Something terrible. I sees it on you.”

“What’re you talking about?”

She shot forward, lightning fast, and gripped his arm tightly. “You took something. Something that weren’t yours. Something what belonged to somebody else!”

“Are you calling me a thief?” he snapped, wrenching his arm away.

Corey held out her arms, her bangles clinking musically. “The spirits say you done wrong.”

Stanley scoffed and started to walk away.

“Spirits say you wronged a friend, Stanley Baxter,” she called after him as ominously as she could.

It worked. He stopped dead in his tracks and turned slowly to face her, clearly struggling to stay calm, caught somewhere between furious and freaked out.

Man, this was great. Why hadn’t she done this before?

“What did you say?” he asked weakly.

“Liar. Robber. Trickster,” she spat.

“How do you know my name?”

“Stanley Baxter. The thief. The betrayer. The crook.”

“Did Ethan put you up to this?!” he demanded, sounding almost panicky.

Corey pointed at him and said, more loudly now, “A criminal. A charlatan. A traitor. The lowest of the low.”

He opened his mouth to protest, but Corey was on a roll now.

“Condemned! A cursed man! Dead man walking, he who does nothing to right his wrongs!”

Nicolae was probably upset – she was a little off-script at this point, but she couldn’t help herself.

Corey lowered her arm, struggling to keep a straight face.

“One week. That is how long I’ll give you, Stanley Baxter, to fix that which you’ve broken. To repair the damage you’ve done.”

“What in the –”

“Do not sell that which is not yours to sell. Return your stolen goods to their rightful owner, and perhaps the spirits will spare you their wrath.”

Stanley stood dumbstruck before her. She wished he’d leave so she could bust up laughing already.

“I…you…”

“One week,” she whispered.

Stanley stood there for what felt like a long time, just staring at her. She held his gaze, and finally, he turned and hurried down the road.

Corey stood watching until he disappeared around the corner, peeking back at her every now and then. Once he was gone, she clasped both hands over her mouth and bounced around in a little circle, giggling maniacally.

Nicolae came out from his hiding place behind the trees and bushes that lined the sidewalk.

“Really?” he asked.

“That was brilliant! Admit it!”’

“You do realize that you switched from grammatically incorrect gypsy-accented talk to some weird, old-fashioned, super-proper British…thing…right?” he pointed out with a smirk.

“It was the spirits taking over.”

“It was you not sticking to the script.”

“It was creepy and awesome and you’re just jealous it wasn’t you who got to have all the fun.”

They quickly packed up the little camp they’d set up – they wanted it to look like the crazy gypsy kid had never been there. Nicolae said it was creepier that way.

Then the two of them rushed back to his house to lay some more evidence of the curse. Corey slid the window open and climbed through like last time, but Nicolae crossed his arms and looked disdainfully at the window.

“Come on!” she hissed.

“I am not climbing through the window like some stupid burglar.”

So Corey opened the front door and let him in properly. They carried in the supplies they’d brought and stood there surveying the tiny, dingy house for a moment.

Corey had doused herself in some of Old Lady Tsura’s home-made perfume to make sure Stanley got a good whiff of it. Now she spritzed that same scent around his desk and on the contract. Hopefully, he’d remember the scent and be very, very creeped out.

Nicolae was in the kitchen replacing his eggs with eggs that they had dyed black. The eggs themselves were fine, but they figured he’d be too disturbed to check. Signs of a curse were things more like getting sick, losing money, having nightmares, and other stuff like that that Corey and Nicolae couldn’t very well set up, but in all likelihood, Stanley didn’t really know what a curse entailed, and would take all this as signs of his misfortune.

He had a cartoon calendar on his desk – the kind where you tore off a page for each day, revealing a new cartoon. Corey tore off the next seven pages, leaving it at a date that was one week in the future. They also set all his clocks to random times. They weren’t sure if this would help sell the “curse” story, but it seemed appropriate.

As they left, Corey found a tree that Stanley would likely pass by walking to and from his house. She had Nicolae climb up and tie one of her scarves around a high branch. She’d have done it herself, but in her multi-layer skirt, she was afraid she’d slip and break her neck.

It was necessary for them to check in at home – both had a lot of chores to do, but they had agreed to think up more ideas while they were apart, and reconvene later.

Corey wasn’t sure how they were going to pull this whole thing off, she just knew it was going to be an interesting week.

*             *             *
The next week was punctuated by some of the strangest rule-breaking that Corey had ever engaged in.

To help with nightmares (one of the only things that Corey and Nicolae could influence) they would creep over to his house in the dead of the night and throw rocks at his window, knock on the door and then rush away (he never answered, but he did come to peek fearfully around while clutching a baseball bat), and slide the window with the broken latch open very, very slightly and call, “Stanley!” into the quiet house.

“We are going to get caught, running around at night like this,” Nicolae complained for the hundredth time.

“We’ll be fine,” Corey said dismissively. “Now hand me Polo.”

“Polo” was a large, dark silhouette of a man cut-out that they had glued to a pole to hold in front of Stanley’s window.

At random times, they would call him from a payphone (it was hard to find one, but they managed) and make strange sounds or play static into the mouthpiece. Sometimes, Corey would whisper imperceptibly. She figured that’s how a spirit would sound over a phone.

They had even gone to the local library, signed up for cards, and used their computers to get an email account to send weird emails to Stanley. “Weird” as in “Corey would randomly hit the keyboard and then send strings of nonsense.” Nicolae thought it was silly, but he couldn’t think of anything to actually write, so Corey continued to use her method.

But he still hadn’t caved. He was definitely scared – they could see it in the way he was always looking over his shoulder, always looking for something to jump out and get him. He was twitchier, and distracted, and he didn’t seem to be getting much sleep…

And yet, he still hadn’t contacted Ethan.

Five days into this, Corey decided it was time to kick things into overdrive.

Unfortunately, this was also about the time that her mother caught on to her sneaking off.

“Luludja Tali Kwiek, what exactly do you think you’re doing?”

Corey froze in the doorway of the trailer, cursing herself for not checking to see if anyone was up. She was really in trouble – as if the hour and the deed didn’t give it away, the full-gypsy-name treatment sealed the deal.

“I…uh…”

“Where are you going?” her mother demanded, glaring down at Corey.

“Just…stargazing?”

“I don’t think so.”

Corey’s mother sat her at the kitchen table and interrogated her until she finally broke down and admitted what was going on. Kind of. Mostly.

She admitted that she was sneaking out to play a prank, but her explanation for sneaking out was a hybrid of her prank on Milosh, which she had shamefully neglected since this whole Stanley escapade had begun.

“You’ve been tricking Milosh into thinking his house was haunted!?” her mother shrilled.

Corey winced – half the caravan was probably awake by now.

“Yes…”

“I cannot believe you! You are going over there first thing tomorrow morning and apologizing to him and his entire family! That boy has been worried sick for days now, swearing up and down that some ghost was angry with him for living on its land!”

Corey accepted her punishment with a somber defeat. She wasn’t looking forward to telling Milosh she’d pranked him, but she was far more concerned with Stanley at that moment. How was she ever going to finish this off? She only had two days left before…well…OK, nothing was actually going to happen after seven days, not really, but she felt like something had to happen or the curse would lose all credibility and he’d never give Ethan back the invention.

When Corey was finally allowed to go back to bed, it was almost three in the morning. To her dismay, Mirela was up and waiting for her.

“Did you really do that to Milosh?” Mirela asked quietly as Corey stepped into their small room and closed the door.

“Yes,” she muttered, flopping down onto her bed. She was in huge trouble. How was she going to finish this thing with Stanley if she couldn’t leave the caravan? Nicolae wouldn’t do it alone, he needed Corey’s urging to do morally questionable activities…

“Why would you do something so stupid?” Mirela asked.

“I don’t know. I guess I’m an idiot,” Corey mumbled into her pillow, too tired to get into a fight.

“Well, I could’ve told you that.”

Corey turned her head so she could just see her sister in the darkness. “Mirela, go to bed, OK?”

Mirela laid back down, but she didn’t go to sleep.

“I really don’t understand you, Corey. Why would you sneak out and get in so much trouble over a stupid prank?”

“It wasn’t over a stupid prank…it was…”

“What?”

“Nothing.”

Mirela was quiet for a moment. “Corey, what’re you really doing?”

Corey could’ve said a million things in that moment – she was pretty good at coming up with crazy stories – but for some reason, what she said was:

“You remember mom’s cousin, Ethan?”

*             *             *
Mirela’s help was the last thing Corey expected to be relying on at this point. She was sure that admitting it to Mirela was a huge mistake, that she’d be turned over to the proper authorities while Mirela laughed at her demise.

But instead, Mirela had been intrigued by Ethan’s story, and touched by Corey’s determination to set things right. She supposed it wasn’t too strange – Ethan had always been very nice to their family, while many of their mother’s relatives were avoidant of their gypsy relatives.

“So what are you going to do now?” Mirela asked when Corey was finished explaining.

Corey shrugged. It was starting to get light out – the sun was almost rising.

“I’m not sure. I mean, we have to do something – I only have two days left before the ‘curse’ is up and when that happens, he’ll know it was all fake and he’ll never give Ethan back his invention and…gah…”

Mirela nodded seriously and Corey tried to remember when was the last time she and her sister had had a conversation that didn’t end in them shouting and taunting and ridiculing.

“Well…maybe you should wait until the last day to do…whatever it is you’re gonna do. Right?”

“I…guess…”

“It’d give you more time to plan. And mom might cool off a bit. And it’d be all creepy, like, the final day, the spirits are coming for him.”

Corey nodded. “Yeah…yeah…it might even be creepier if nothing at all happens for the next couple days.”

“I’ll cover for you. I’ll say you’re tired and you don’t want to come out if mom asks for you…if you get all your chores done before, then you can go to bed early and she won’t even know.”
Corey eyed her sister, wondering if this was some weird trap. “Why are you helping me? What do you want?” she asked.

Mirela scoffed slightly, but she wasn’t offended enough to get really mad. She just said, “Because you’re finally doing something productive, even if your method is kinda stupid. And of course I want something – let’s just say, you’re going to owe me.”

“Ah. Well…thanks…I do owe you. So…deal?”

“Yeah. Deal. Just try not to mess it up – I’m not going down with you.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

*             *             *
Being punished was incredibly boring. It made Corey realize that she had actually gotten away with a lot in her lifetime, as this was the first time she’d ever faced such a penalty.

Nicolae was having a great time laughing at her. She’d have turned him in for being her accomplice, but the likelihood of managing the rest of the prank while they were both grounded was very low, so Corey decided not to chance it.

Their plan was ambitious. And risky. And exciting. Corey thought it was brilliant, Nicolae thought it was crazy, and Mirela thought it could work. Having her assisting in this whole little endeavor had turned out to work rather well – she was kind of fun when she wasn’t being pompous and snooty.

It was Thursday. Friday was the last day of the “curse” that Corey had cast on Stanley. She raced through her chores, watching the clock the whole time. They wanted to start this prank right at midnight – right on the seventh day – but it would take some prep beforehand.

Part of this was getting him out of the house. They needed him out of the way so they could set up a bit. Nicolae had the idea to call him and invite him to a business meeting regarding entrepreneurs working with Google. They told him it was clear on the other side of town, and that it started at eight on Thursday evening.

Nicolae made the call, and did a surprisingly good job of sounding like he was legitimate.

“Must be all those weird old-people books you like,” Corey had commented after he hung up.

“They’re called classics and you’d probably learn something if you ever tried reading one.”

With Stanley traveling across town to attend this “meeting,” they figured they would have at least three hours to prepare.

To pull it off, though, Corey needed to be absolutely certain she’d done everything her parents asked of her, and then some. Every chore had to be done before she could risk sneaking off – Mirela’s cover would only go so far.

At seven-thirty, Corey announced that she was tired. Her parents asked if she’d done all her chores, and since she had, they had no argument against her going to bed early. She had been moping around the trailer all listless and depressed for the past couple days, so it wasn’t too strange to them that she might be so upset about her punishment that she just wanted to stay in bed. Besides, she’d had to apologize to Milosh – and his entire family – earlier that day for the ghost prank, so a lot of her dreariness was genuine. It had not been a fun day for her.

Corey went and laid down for a while. The small window in her room faced away from the rest of the trailers, so chances were good that she’d be able to sneak away undetected. She was still nervous, though – there was a good chance she’d get caught. She didn’t want to think what kind of wrath she’d face from her mother if she snuck out again, but she was in too deep with this Stanley thing to back out now.

She waited for Nicolae to come tap at her window – that was the all-clear. Quietly, Corey stuffed pillows under her blanket, as if that would fool anyone, and climbed out the window.

“You’re going to really get it for this,” Nicolae whispered.

“Yeah, let’s hope it’s worth it,” Corey said, a tad less enthusiastic than she usually was. Maybe all the moping around the house had messed with her head, or maybe she was just starting to think about this a little too much. Nicolae thought too much. Was this what it was like to be Nicolae?

Apparently Nicolae had a lot of headaches.

They made their way through the woods that led to Stanley’s neighborhood. He wasn’t home when they got there, but they were still careful about getting inside.

Corey didn’t really understand half of what Nicolae had her do, but he seemed to understand it well enough. She supposed all the years of helping his father and older brothers repair gadgets and other electrical things had paid off.

It was hard work, but it distracted her from how many things could go wrong with this prank. Granted, Nicolae wouldn’t shut up about it, so the distraction wasn’t helping all that much.

“This could actually get dangerous, you know,” he muttered as he worked on the wiring.

“Will you be quiet? I’ll be fine,” Corey grumbled, not at all herself.

“We should’ve come up with some sort of fail-safe, or some way for you to get out if things go wrong.”

“I’m sure I can run faster than he can.”

“Very comforting.”

Once everything was ready, Corey got dressed and started to apply her makeup. It was a different gypsy outfit from before – all white and grey. Her face had to be painted completely white. She was drawing her features back in in large, dramatic, distorted shapes while Nicolae tested the device that he planned to use to create their effects. He’d spent days rummaging around junkyards to get all the pieces, and he had to go alone, since Corey was grounded. She still envied him of that – junkyards were a good time.

“All set?” she asked as she finished applying the stage makeup Ethan had provided her with. It wasn’t perfect, but she didn’t think Stanley would spend much time judging her artistic skills.

“Everything seems to be working. It’s getting late – you better get into position.”

Corey nodded and crept back to his house. She loosened the light bulb on the light by his door so it flickered, then she climbed back inside and stood in the doorway of his bedroom. There was a window there that she had unlocked – she figured if he went all crazy and decided to attack, she’d jump out and make a run for it.

Nicolae was not on board with this shoddy escape plan, but he’d failed to come up with anything better, so it was what they were going with.

It was eerily silent inside the small house. Stanley had left a few lights on, so it wasn’t terribly dark, but she still felt the same kind of nervous uncertainty that comes from being shrouded in darkness, not knowing what to expect next.

She didn’t actually have to wait too long, but it felt like forever, sitting on the floor of Stanley’s small room, waiting for him to open the front door. She was starting to get excited about this again, though – it was crazy, stupid, and maybe even a little wrong, but it was pretty funny, too.

When he finally did open the door, she scrambled to her feet and waited for Nicolae to give the signal. Stanley put his keys on the kitchen counter and flicked on the light, probably looking for something to eat.

Just then, the entire house went dark. All the fans shut down, their blades spinning slower and slower until they stopped.

Stanley cursed, banged into something, and cursed again. He was fumbling around in his desk drawer, probably looking for a flashlight.

Corey stepped out so that she was framed in the doorway, and just then, a light from above illuminated her in an eerie grey glow.

“Stanley Baxter,” she said. She hoped her voice was booming – that was the effect she was going for.

Stanley looked up, horrified, and dropped the box of matches that he was holding. Including the match he’d just struck.

The matches landed in a heap on the carpeted floor.

Stanley jumped back from the now flaming pile of matches, his eyes darting fearfully from the spreading fire to the apparition in his house.

Corey’s jaw literally dropped in shock, and she watched the fire for a second, mesmerized. Then, remembering that she was supposed to be an angry spirit, she shook herself out of it and resumed her menacing glare. She had to at least say what she’d come to say before she bolted.

“Stanley Baxter!” she repeated, shouting now. “You have not righted your wrong! You have not returned what does not belong to you! Now, you will pay the price!”

Stanley was screaming as the flames spread across the floor. He was swatting at the fire with his jacket, but it had already spread to his desk and one wall.

Nicolae was probably losing his mind outside, but Corey wasn’t done yet.

“Return what you have stolen, or you will not know another moment of peace!” she screamed over the sound of the flames and Stanley’s panic.

“Stop! Stop!” he begged. “I’ll do anything! Just stop!”

The smoke detectors were blaring now, but Corey held his gaze and said flatly: “You know what to do, Stanley Baxter. You know what to do.”

Stanley stood for a second, eyes wide, staring at her in horror. He must have thought this was all her doing. Then, as though he had woken from a horrible nightmare, Stanley bolted toward the door and disappeared into the night, crying out for help.

Corey decided that probably wasn’t such a bad idea. She slipped out the window and into the night, away from the inferno that was Stanley’s house.

*             *             *
“You know, this really isn’t funny,” Nicolae chided.

“No one got hurt!”

“His house burned down!”

“Ethan said it was fully insured. He’s alive, isn’t he? What’s the problem?”

“Destruction of property.”

“I didn’t light any fires.”

Nicolae shook his head and looked over newspaper article again. Apparently a couple weeks earlier, Stanley Baxter, 31, had run screaming from his house around midnight, crying out for help. When a neighbor came out to investigate, Stanley told her that he was cursed by evil spirits that were trying to kill him. He then asked if he could use her phone.

Investigators believed the fire was caused by a lit match being dropped on a scotch-stain on his carpet. Drug use was suspected.

The article also noted that Baxter, who was in talks with Google to secure a $500,000,000 deal for the sale of his small business, has turned over all ownership of the business and its products to Ethan Daniels, Baxter’s former business partner. He claimed to have stolen the idea and rights from Ethan, which was allegedly why the ‘evil spirits’ were after him.

“Have you heard from Ethan?” Nicolae asked.

Corey nodded. “He left a letter for me with my grandparents. I guess Stanley finally caved. He turned everything over to Ethan and begged for forgiveness. Now he’s living with his mom. He won’t come out – I think he’s waiting to see if the ‘curse’ has been lifted,” she said with a grin.

“Well, I’m not surprised he’s a little freaked out. We did catch his house on fire.”

“We did no such thing! He dropped the matches! Besides, that’s what you get when you make the spirits angry.”

“Whatever. Anything else in that note?”

Corey reached into her pocket and pulled out a wad of money. She fanned it out in front of Nicolae and waved it around.

“Look at all my money.”

“So that Google deal still went through, huh?”

Corey nodded.

“I don’t suppose I’ll get anything for all my trouble?”

“Of course you will,” Corey said. She folded the money up and smiled sagely at Nicolae. “You get the rewards of a job well-done, and nothing is more valuable than that.”

“Right. Pay up.”

Corey laughed and divided the money in half.

“I’m afraid to find out, but what are you going to do with your half?” Nicolae asked as he pocketed his share.

Corey’s grin broadened.

“I’m thinking of starting my own business, using my skills to help people in need.”

“This is sure to end well,” Nicolae muttered dryly.

“Yeah, well, we’ll find out as soon as I’m done being grounded,” Corey said with a chuckle. Her mother didn’t know of her involvement in the Baxter ordeal, but she had caught on to Corey sneaking out again.

“Which will be…?”

“In about twenty years.”

“Ah. Well, then, the world is safe for another day.”

“Just gives me more time to plot,” she retorted.

“I’m sure we’re all doomed.”

“Yup.”

They settled back into the camping chairs outside Corey’s house and watched the stars come out, already plotting their next prank. Some people just never learn.

  • http://marklidstone.com/TheWriter Mark

    Another great story. I’m loving the characters here. Bravo!

    • http://www.ravenhartpress.com Elena Victoria Elizabeth Jacob

      Thanks! These characters were a ton of fun to work with :)

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