Seven-year-old Mira plays a game with horrifying consequences at her sister's 13th birthday party. Scroll to read!
“You know what Seven Minutes in Heaven is, don’t you?” Skylar asked.
Mira nodded vigorously, even though she didn’t know what it was. A game of some kind? she hoped.
“Good,” said Skylar. “This is the same thing, except it’s called Seven Minutes in Hell. Now, come on, and don’t act like a baby.”
At only seven years old, she was the youngest person at Skylar’s thirteenth birthday party (thanks to Mom and Dad, who said she didn’t have to go to bed till 8), and she didn’t want to look like an idiot, as Skylar would say.
Skylar’s birthday was on Friday the thirteenth of March, and as such, she had requested a horror-themed birthday party. Skylar and Mira’s parents had brought out the Halloween decorations, placing foam tombstones in the yard, hanging black crepe paper and black balloons from the ceiling, and decorating her red velvet cake with blood red icing and little white candy skulls. They played the themes from horror movies on a Bluetooth speaker and promised Skylar and her friends could watch the original Friday the 13th after Mira went to bed.
Everyone had started arriving at six. First Max showed up, Skylar’s best friend since kindergarten. Then Sophie, the class clown. There was talking and laughing, and by seven o’clock, there were ten kids, but Mira was disappointed to find everyone sitting around on their phones.
At seven-thirty, Skylar and Mira’s mom said they should go for a walk around the block. By the time they got back, pizza should have arrived and it would be time for Mira to get ready for bed. Skylar and her had friends shrugged their shoulders and obliged.
Max suggested that, with the sun setting, 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 ago, and it was in even worse shape now that it was abandoned. Max said they could look for ghosts. Sophie had suggested they play Seven Minutes in Hell.
You know what Seven Minutes in Hell is, don’t you?
As Mira followed the gaggle of tween girls, she held her breath and tried to look confident. She didn’t want to go to the Miller house. 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 at the end of the drive, Sophie shouted, “Mira can go first!”
Mira stopped, skidding slightly on the gravel drive darkened by overgrown oak trees. “Me?”
“Why not?” Sophie insisted and gave Mira a mischievous look.
She wished she knew what this was all about. She looked over at her big sister. Sophie’s face twisted into a question mark.
Don’t act like a baby.
“Yeah, Mira, you go first, show the big girls how it’s done,” Max said as she approached Mira and grabbed her by the hand.
Mira felt like the world was suddenly going dark – and it was. The sun had reached the horizon, it was far below the tree line, and the shadows of the road loomed. Mira gulped as she peered up at the black windowpanes.
They swiftly approached the wide porch where paint peeled off the planks of wood decking and rusty nails poked out between. Max dragged Mira up the steps and put her hand on the doorknob. Mira hoped it would be locked, but, alas, it was not. They entered the house together, the rest of the girl group following quietly behind, and stopped next to the staircase.
There was a door under the staircase with a busted lock. Something long ago splattered across the door, something liquid, that had dried to a crusty reddish brown.
“Go on,” Max pushed her. “In there."
“I – I – I don’t know the rules,” Mira finally admitted as she stared at the door.
Max practically tossed her at it as she tried to make her voice sound stronger and more assured. “It couldn’t be easier. You just go inside that door for seven minutes. Then we call to you, and you come back out. That’s it!”
Mira looked up at the house again. “Go – go inside? With the door closed?”
“Yes!” Max yelled. Behind her, the other girls approached. Mira spotted her sister. In the darkness of the abandoned house, her sister’s face looked ghost white, near translucent. She wished Skylar would say something.
Don’t act like a baby.
Her sister’s voice rang in her ears.
Mira swallowed her fear and turned to the door. She grabbed the edge of it and pulled it open, and before she could lose her nerve, ran inside the pitch blackness. She heard the door slam behind her.
There was nothing to see; the blackness was infinite. The space smelled damp and mildewy. Mira tried to stop herself from crying. She would prove to Skylar that she was a big girl. It was only seven minutes.
Mira closed her eyes and tried to think of things she loved: cotton candy, roller skating, unicorns. But before she could think of one more thing, she heard screaming from where she had just come. Girls’ screams. Her sister’s screams.
Had it been seven minutes yet?
Mira’s skin broke out in goosebumps from head to toe. Maybe this was part of the game, a trick to get her to come out before her time was up, so they could all laugh at her. She felt a tingle at the base of her spine and for a moment thought she might pee her pants.
The screaming continued. What was going on? Were the screams real? What should she do?
The screams continued, but there was a commotion, footsteps on floorboards, and the voices began to fade. It sounded like they were running away, leaving Mira on her own, alone in the dark, abandoned house.
She couldn’t help it. Her eyes welled up with tears, and she began to cry. Her voice formed a whimper as her mouth filled with saliva. She opened her lip and felt herself drool onto her chin.
Don’t act like a baby.
Mira decided: She couldn’t take it anymore. She didn’t want to be in the closet anymore. She wanted to go home. She didn’t want to play the game.
Mira reached out for the door to push it open, but she couldn’t feel a thing. She took a step forward with her hands out. Nothing. She waved her hands all around her. Where was the door? Behind her? To the side? She took a step and another step and another, dancing around, directionless. Where was the door?
“Skylar!” Mira cried. “SKYLAR?”
But there was no response.
Mira whimpered, but she forced herself to be silent, listening. She stood still, arms wrapped around herself in a frightened hug. The screaming was over. The footsteps were silent. The girls were gone. The only sound was Mira’s own ragged breath as she fought her panic.
She decided to try looking for the door again. She reached out a hand, but when she tried to step forward, she couldn’t. Her foot was stuck. She pulled at it, trying to lift it, but it felt glued to the floor. She reached down to touch it, see if she could pull it free.
Mira felt the warmth of her knee, and below that, the soft skin of her shin. But where her ankle should have been was coldness, lika a metallic substance. She couldn’t find the cotton edge of her sock or the leather of her shoe. It felt like a statue where her foot had once been, hard and lifeless. Mira’s eyes grew wide even though, in the pitch blackness, there was nothing to see.
Her hand ran back up her leg, but as it did so, the coldness followed. Her shin turned hard where it had once been soft. Her knee became heavy and immovable. The shift followed up her thigh, past her jeans shorts, up to her waist. As Mira’s hands grasped at her body, pushing at the cold, tried to find the edge of her shirt and yank, maybe if she pulled, trying to bend over (can’t bend over), breathing (gasping, really), and then the gasping got harder, breathing was difficult (breathe!), tried to take a deep breath but the air wouldn’t come out (couldn’t go in), and the dark cold followed up, up, up, her arms stopped, her breath stopped, her cheeks stiffened, up, up, and up, until –
Skylar was so distraught that she couldn’t speak and Max ended up being the one to tell her parents what had happened. They fled the house in a panic, headed for the Miller house.
They found Mira where the girls had left her, in the closet under the stairs, lying on the ground, lifeless. Skylar and Mira’s dad performed CPR while their mom called for an ambulance, spitting the words “Help,” and “Hurry!” between sobs.
The gaggle of girls whimpered and moaned as they watched Skylar’s dad unsuccessfully bring the girl back to life. Skylar was certain she could spend a lifetime apologizing and it would never be enough.
After the ambulance arrived, after the medics investigated her body, after they had put her in a thick, black plastic bag and carted her to the van (lights pulsing but siren silent), after the police had arrived, after the girls had been ushered outside (all the girls except Skylar) and their parents had come to get them, and after the Detective had investigated the closet and agreed that it was only a tragic accident, only then did the reality of the situation seem to hit Skylar. She and her parents stood in shock in the darkness on the porch and waited for someone to tell them what to do next.
“How long did you say she was in that closet for?” Asked the Detective gently as he looked up and down at his notebook.
Skylar’s father shrugged, his voice cracking. “It was a game…”
The Detective nodded. “Yes, yes. It’s fine. No need. My team will come out and test the air in the closet for toxins, but my guess is exposure to black mold or something similar.”
“Mold? Is that deadly?” Skylar’s dad spoke as though in a daze.
“Rarely, but if your daughter had asthma or another underlying condition—”
“She had asthma,” Skylar’s mother said through gasps as she tried not to cry. “But it was under control—”
“An enclosed space like that,” the Detective explained. “We’ll run some tests, but depending on the exposure, it wouldn’t take long…” He looked down at Skylar. “Six, seven minutes, maybe.” His voice trailed off.
Skylar felt the weight of her sister's death in her chest as her mother softly wept.
Her father’s hands slowly balled into fists, his knees straightened, and his body vibrated softly. “Something has to be done about this property!” His voice rose to a roar with each word.
The Detective patted him on the arm. “Why don’t you folks go back to your house. We’ll be in touch shortly.”
Skylar and her parents went home. They walked past the Styrofoam tombstones and under the black crepe paper decorations. Her parents took a seat on the couch in the living room across from the television, oblivious to the bloody Friday the 13th screensaver looming over them with evil indifference. The sickly stench of congealing cheese and pepperoni filled the air.
Skylar slowly climbed the stairs and went to her room. The house was quiet. All she could hear was the sound of her own heartbeat, which would forever after be the sound of her crushing guilt.
Without thinking, Skylar began robotically following her bedtime routine. 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. But when she opened the door, she didn’t see what she expected.
There, in the darkness of her closet, was her little sister, a shimmering wisp of her old self, seated on the floor, knees folded into her chest, arms around her knees, head resting against them. Skylar blinked at the form in disbelief. Mira slowly raised her head, and Skylar looked into her the blackness of her eye sockets where her eyes had once been.
“Can I come out now?” Asked the little girl, her voice wobbly like when they tried to talk to each other under water in the hotel pool of last summer’s family vacation.
Skylar opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out.
“Has it been seven minutes?” Mira’s head moved side to side as though she was looking around, but there were no eyes to see.
“Y-yes,” Skylar stammered. “It’s been seven minutes. You – you did good.”
Skylar stared at her sister. Mira’s mouth slowly curled into a demonic smile. Her teeth were jagged points, not like the innocent, round teeth of the living girl she’d been a few hours ago.
“I did it,” Mira said with childlike satisfaction as she slowly rose to her feet. “I won.”
The two girls stood before one another, the older one trying to make sense of the situation, her guilt ballooning. All the times she’d been mean to her sister, all the terrible names she’d called her, the things she’d done to scare her, came rushing up from her memory and slapped her in the face. She’d been a terrible, horrible sister. She should have gone first. She should have gone first.
Skylar bargained with herself. She would do anything to bring back her sister, anything at all. Wasn’t there something that could be done? This vision, this specter, could it be reunited with her body, was her soul waiting, was it impossible to put it back inside her, was there nothing, nothing at all she could do?
“I’m so sorry,” she whimpered as she gazed down on her undead sister. “I’m so, so sorry.”
Mira just smiled. “It’s okay, Skylar.” She cocked her head to one side. “I hope you’re having a good birthday.”
The little girl didn’t seem to know she was dead. She was so sweet. She hadn’t deserved this death.
Skylar swallowed a sob, tears rolling down her cheeks, and nodded. “I am. It’s a good birthday. It is.”
“I’m glad,” Mira said. “Because it’s your turn.”
Mira’s cold hand reached out and grabbed Skylar by the wrist. It was as though someone had dunked her whole arm into a bin of dry ice. Skylar winced at the burning cold pain that coursed up her arm, shot through her shoulder, and began to trace downward under her ribs.
“Ow, Mira, you’re hurting me—”
Skylar toppled into the closet. The door closed and the lights went out. Skylar blinked over and over again, but she couldn’t see. She could only feel (her skin tingled as all warmth left her body) and smell (like old, moldy bread and rotted meat) and hear (the sound of her heartbeat and something else, breathing? her sister?). She impulsively reached out to put a hand on the door and find the handle, but there was nothing there, no door, no wall, no clothes, no sister. Her hands went flailing, trying to find something, anything at all, but there was nothing.
The cold infused everything. Her teeth chattered. She hugged her own body, trying to hold in the remaining flicker of warmth, but she was freezing, literally freezing. Her skin ached as it stiffened, crackled as it turned to ice.
“M-m-m-mira?” She called out to her sister, tried to call out, but her voice was as fragile as frost on a leaf.
In the darkness, she heard Mira giggle. “It’s just seven minutes, Skylar. Don’t act like a baby.”
Yes, Skylar told herself, it was just seven minutes. She could do anything for just seven minutes. And she deserved it. She would stay here, in the dark and the coldness, with her sister. It was only seven minutes in hell.
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