by S. Kearing

None of us can say for sure when it started. But we all know that something just isn’t right with Serena Sellers.

Maybe it began when her feelings for Amity Fleming transitioned from mere annoyance to boiled-over hatred. Maybe it began when she took up with Professor Moriarty, a move we all considered cliché as hell.

Maybe it began when the black talons of Serena’s jealousy closed in on Craig Honig, choking the Craig Honig right out of him. He used to be the hub of our social group, but now he belongs to Serena and Serena alone. His agreeable disposition and good-natured sarcasm have been replaced by uncharacteristic rigidity and a constant scathing commentary. Basically, Serena poisoned him, and by extension, poisoned our group. But we can’t cut her from us like a tumor from flesh. If we did, we’d lose Craig, too.

So my sisters and I have a sleepover. That’s right—a slumber party.

Our sorority house is filled with the scent of buttered popcorn and the early spring air that flows in through our windows, which we always leave open just a crack. Throughout drunken Twister and a raucous game of Never Have I Ever and the arrival of our greasy pizza, Cara and I notice something.

Serena is giggling, making inappropriate jokes, and swigging her craft beer merrily. This is the old Serena—the one that we know and love. It’s Craig that’s insufferable. And it’s not because Serena’s hanging on him or whispering in his ear; on the contrary, she’s spending most of her time catching up with the girls. Everything that Craig does, he does of his own volition.

He makes joke-veiled criticisms about our bodies as we contort them over the colorful play mat. He refuses to drink after the Never Have I Ever prompts for which he should clearly be imbibing. He takes way more than his share of pizza, then proceeds to pick off almost every topping.

After everyone’s eaten, Cara holds up a tattered game box and announces, “Ouija time, guys! Go wash your hands and then come see me.”

“Wash our hands?” Serena says.

“We always clean up before we start one of Cara’s spooky activities,” I say, hoping I sound casual. “You don’t wanna go into something like Ouija dirty—physically or in any other way.”

Craig sneers. “‘In any other way?’”

“Meaning energetically. If you’ve got dirty energy, you’ll attract dark spirts! Duh.” Cara says, lightening the mood with her obvious enthusiasm for all things esoteric.
Thankfully, everyone washes their hands, even Craig.

Cara stations herself in front of the coffee table, hovering a bundle of lit sage over her “sacred” bowl. “Everyone, before you sit, let me smudge you with this white sage.”
“Welp,” Craig says. “I’ve never been smudged before.” He bumps past the girls who are arranged single-file before Cara. “And if I actually wait in this horrible line, I could die a smudge virgin!”

When our cynical guest presents himself to Cara, she volleys me a satisfied look. But then we notice a shift in Craig’s demeanor as he takes in the fragrant smoke billowing from the bound herbs.

“May Craig Honig be cleansed of all negativity, darkness, and stagnation,” my sorority sister chants, beckoning him to come closer.

“Wait.” He takes a quick back step. There’s a franticness in his voice when he says, “That stuff is making my eyes hurt.”

“Oh, come on, Craigy. Let her clean you, ya filthy animal,” Serena jibes, pushing him forward again.

He shrugs off her hands with shocking volatility. “Stop it, Serena. Can’t you see I’m allergic?” He turns toward her, revealing swollen eyelids and reddened cheeks. He barrels out of the room, unconcerned with who or what he bumps into.

“Allergic to sage?” Clara frowns at the smoldering bundle.

Serena chases after Craig. Before long, we hear them burst out the front door and pound down the wooden steps.

“Jeez,” I say to Cara. “Those two are getting ruder by the day.”

“It’s fine.” She puts out the burning herbs with some bottled water. “All the sage in the world probably couldn’t’ve cleansed him.”

I offer my immediate assent. “Yup.”

It’s true. Something just isn’t right with Craig Honig.

S. Kearing is a night owl who loves writing dark fiction inspired by the works of Gillian Flynn, Lionel Shriver, Blake Crouch, Stephen King, and Han Kang. She has just signed a contract with Horror Tree for her short story entitled “Servitude.”

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