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June 10, 2024

Fool Me Once

By Lydia Manx

I mean really ... how the hell would I know that April Fools' Day wasn't, like, universally known? In my corner of the globe, we grew up playing pranks on each other and doing silly things to neighbors while we took turns watching from behind the trees, giggling wildly at the screams and shock chasing across their faces. All the kids in my grade school in my Podunk town spent their hard earned money and precious time, and worked long into the night to spread the hilarity and drama associated with April First. It was a holiday of sorts from the ho-hum daily grind of being a kid, and for some others being an adult. It wasn't just for the ten-year-old and younger set. Nope, it kept on being celebrated through middle school, well into high school and beyond for my town.

High school was admittedly more melodramatic, with elaborate hoaxes that sometimes bordered on the cruel, but overall it was considered good clean American fun. Fake phone calls pretty well disappeared with the arrival of caller ID functions on cell phones and home answering machines -- but that said, there still were plenty of other stunts to pull on the innocent and unwary. Life during the first of April could always bring a surprise or two for folks.

I wasn't, like, the worst -- I didn't do mean stuff -- but I still pulled my fair share of shenanigans. There were some crazy kids that spent months creating chaos well beyond the normal, but these were the same kids that usually abandoned the small town well before they ended up in jail -- instead they ended up doing time in prison, or so we surmised from the cautionary tales told to us when were young and impressionable. Still not sure about how to tell the true from false stories, but there were plenty of whispers that I tended to buy, that some kids ended up busted for their 'fun.'

When my friend Ben showed up late in March saying he had a totally cool prank idea, I was between realities. By that I mean I wasn't doing much around the house, school was on the spring break hangover time and my last boyfriend, Jason, decided that we'd be better seeing other people. Which I found translated to mean that he was already seeing Tiffany and swinging on and off her little chandeliers. And they weren't even real 'chandeliers' but the result of really good push-up bras. Yeah, I was still bitter at the change of status on my Facebook page right after Valentine's Day. I always thought you were 'good' in a relationship if you cleared that Hallmark holiday. Color me surprised.

Ben had been my best friend since we were five and our moms would take us to the local park to toss dirt clumps at each other while they dished the local gossip. Everyone always thought we'd date once we hit puberty, but as far as we are concerned, he is pretty much like my brother and eww, no way. We knew far too much about each other to ever be together. Hard to explain, but it worked for us. Besides he totally was crushing on my friend Jill who was starting to not be as oblivious to his puppy dog eyes as she'd been a few months ago. The two of them were nearly dating. I found it pretty funny.

"Violet, this would be so much better with your help," Ben was pleading. He used my first name so he was being totally sincere. He tended to call me snotty little nicknames as a rule even when we were alone. 'Ditz' was his current favorite along with 'Space Cadet' because I was pretty out of it lately.

I leaned back into the cushion and gave it a minute to flow through my thoughts. There were the sound of the birds chirping their spring-filled desires in the air and little more than that. The crisp breeze ruffled my hair into my face and I pushed the strands out of my view to glance at him hanging over the railing. He'd run up to the porch where I had been slumped in the porch swing while gaming on my tablet, actively avoiding my mom's requests for help moving the living room furniture. A slow, sleepy afternoon, and she'd been given a few days off work -- so naturally she wanted to rope me into her self-appointed chores. It so was not going to happen.

"Vi, come on -- it will totally be killer," he said while doing his puppy dog eyes on me -- didn't move me like he'd hoped, but I looked up to see he was grinning. Despite my boredom, I was interested to see what he was talking about being so killer. I poked a few buttons on my screen and set my tablet down on the side table next to my iced tea.

Lifting an eyebrow I met his eyes. "What?" I drew out the word, feigning ennui -- the sparkle in his eyes had caught my interest. I felt my breathing pick up and my heart beat a bit faster. Something to do besides killing angry birds and stalking my ex on Facebook appealed to me.

With that he jumped over the railing and joined me on the porch and rolled out his plan. Since he'd thought to include Jason and Tiffany as unknowingly a part of the prank, I grew interested and helped with a few notions of my own. I was getting caught up in his scheme, and I called Jill to include her in the fun. She raced over to see Ben while pretending she gave a crap about the April Fools' joke we were plotting. My mom came outside to ask me to get inside and give her some help, and saw me having fun with my friends. She stopped nagging at me to move the dust bunnies under the furniture -- she laughed and apologized for being so rude. Laughing some more, she then brought out a pitcher of iced tea and a plate of cookies and told us to have some fun. So it was launched with chocolate chip pecan cookies and lemony iced tea -- the beginning of the end.

As April approached I found myself with a spring in my step and anticipation making a tight nest in my chest. I was really starting to get into the whole idea. Ben and Jill were popping in and out of my house with new ideas and checking that we had everything ready to go. As the evening of the thirty-first approached I dressed for the event, and went down to let my mom know I was staying over at Jill's house to watch movies. She didn't care, because she'd roped my dad into painting the den and was 'supervising' with a glass of pinot. Dad wasn't faring so well, but he stopped long enough to ask, "You okay, Vi?"

"Sure am! Bye." I sketched a wave over my shoulder along with the overnight bag I'd packed earlier.

Okay, I didn't have any classes on Friday, so my folks let me go without drilling down further. I was happy that mom had distracted my dad because he would be far more perceptive than her when it came to my stretching the truth. The air had turned back towards winter in the past few days and I could feel the wind draw a finger of icy air down my spine. Shaking off the sensation, I went to my car and headed for Ben's house. His folks were off on a cruise somewhere, and we'd selected their home as the staging area.

I pulled the car into the back of the house. They had a long ass driveway and the detached garage was behind the house with parking out of sight from the street. Ideal for tucking my car out of view, and Jill's was already parked so I knew it was starting. I giggled beneath my breath and grabbed my overnight bag, heading to the back door into the house. The mud room was huge with a laundry area and a table. Jill's floral duffle bag was on the table along with her coat. I dumped mine beside hers and pulled off my jacket, shouting, "I'm here! Where are you guys?"

I heard some fumbling and slowed down not wanting to see more of both my friends than usual. The past few days had definitely set sparks off them and they very well could be a couple.

A soft, "We're in the family room." Ben sounded like he was out of breath and probably blushing. Yeah, they were hot for each other. I yelled back, "I'll be there in a second." I didn't speed up my steps and from the disarray of both of their clothing when I hit the room I definitely was a third wheel.

Jill laughed, catching my mocking smile and said, "Okay, busted."

Ben looked back and forth between us like a small mouse caught between two kitties. Yeah, they were.

"All good. So are we still on, or do you want to pull the plug on the idea?" I felt obligated to ask while hoping they weren't going to bail. I couldn't do it alone and it was Ben's prank.

"No, we're going ahead!" Ben stammered out while brushing nonexistent specks off his slacks. Jill giggled.

We set out into the backyard without much more to say. All three of us were wearing black clothing. Jill's blond hair was tucked underneath a black cap while mine was pulled back into a tight pigtail and trailed down my back. Ben's cap was black and covered his whole face. We looked like thieves -- for a reason. Our coats had to be left; we hadn't expected it to be so cold and besides they were distinctive to us. We didn't want to be caught.

Silently we went through the backyard and over the low part of the wall on the edge of the property. Behind Ben's house was a small park and the other side of that was our destination. Podunk had been in the middle of nowhere for a long time, and the cemetery back behind Ben's house had been in use for centuries. It was only as humanity reached out further from the major cities that Podunk (not the real name of our town just the feeling) closed the burial grounds for 'greener pastures' as it were, in the design of big cities with carefully groomed lawns and headstones simple flat bits of stone with the words left for those buried. The graveyard wasn't totally abandoned but very few people came out to visit the dead.

We walked silently between the old decaying stones over the long-decayed bodies and found Byron Wofford Junior carved into a headstone not more than four decades old. Byron had been the son of one of the town's leading family's beloved mayors. He'd passed unexpectedly as a twenty-something, with little more to remember about him than he'd been the kid of the mayor. But like any bored small town, the urban legends and outright exaggerations had cropped up and been embellished as needed. Currently the story had the kid coming home from international travel with an illness that slowly killed him. There were stories of a woman cursing him in the area outside Budapest, while others had his clawing his way free from a castle along the Danube that was run by mad monks. Any which way the tale was told, it ended with the kid had croaked from his trip and subsequently was buried practically in Ben's back yard.

Jill was sort of friends with Tiffany, and drawn into helping our little outing, she'd told Tiffany that I was terrified of graves, and that I was meeting up with Ben on Thursday really late to discuss how angry I was about Jason's new girlfriend. Since Friday was April Fools,' Jill had avoided mentioning the date, just said late Thursday -- like two AM, which put it firmly into April first. Tiffany, being the bitch she was, was thrilled to hear that we'd be in the cemetery and was coaxed into coming over to see the big drama. Naturally, Jill twisted Tiff into 'coming up' with the idea of bringing Jason along for more fun and frolicking. The trap was set.

Ben and I had made two dummies up to look like us (some of our crappy clothes we didn't like dressed over two mannequins we'd taken the time to paint up and make look like us) and placed behind Junior, in the shadows of a big ass oak tree that had been hit by lightning one time, and over the years taken on its own drama in the various stories told about Junior. The two were propped up sideways like we'd curled up to talk. Five minutes before Jill was supposed to meet up with Jason and Tiffany, she called the girl to say that she was going to be late so wait for her in front of the cemetery.

Instead Jill was just inside the fence, with a small tape recording of some lines we'd all recorded during the week. Ben and I were behind the big oak tree near the grave and Ben was holding fishing line that went up into the branches where there was a large black bait bucket filled with gutted fish and other chunks of dead, bloody bits. Yeah, we'd watched Stephen King's infamous high school bloodbath for our little inspiration. I didn't say we were original, just ready for some fun.

As Jill saw Jason's car pulling in, she waved at us, then called Tiffany before they got out of the car.

We couldn't hear but we knew what Jill was doing. She called up and told them that something was wrong and hurry, she heard something.

Tiffany got out of the car and we could see she was gesturing and arguing with Jason as they headed for the gates that Jill had left open with the lock hanging off the clasp invitingly. Jason hissed out loud enough that I heard him, "What the fuck Tiff, why do you want me to see this? I told you she and I are done."

Tiffany wobbled over to Jason's side and pulled at him while reaching up to pull him down for a close up look at the miracle boobs. I watched him cave and Jill hit the button on the recorded bait.

It's weird hearing your own voice recorded.

"Come on, Vi, this is totally private. I mean you told me that you heard Jason wanted you back?" Ben's voice was clear to us and from how Jason stiffened he'd heard it too.

"Yeah, Ben, he thinks Tiffany is too needy. Besides she like totally stuffs her bra. He has to be bored by now. I mean it's not like she can hold a conversation about anything other than the trash she reads on the internet!" My tone was triumphant and smug. Ben convinced me that recording our little scene would keep me from chickening out and we could have as many takes as needed to get the right bit. And from how Tiffany flew up and towards the entrance to the graveyard. I knew he'd been right. Ben snickered next to me while we chanced a glance around the oak.

Jason looked horrified and then it snuck into my thoughts that Ben actually had been right. Jason was getting bored with Tiffany. He reached out and grabbed her arm before she could completely clear the gate.

Ben's recorded voice came out with, "No, Vi! You can't go back to him. You need to be with me."

Jason and Tiffany began to struggle to see who would reach us first. Their eyes were focused on the dummies.

"Ben, you have a knife?!" My eerie voice said from Jill's tape deck.

Then when the tape screamed, I screamed, causing an echoing effect to bounce around us all.

Jason pushed Tiffany away from him and screamed, "I'm coming, Violet!"

It was an unexpected twist. The dummies were just out of complete view and thus Jason was unprepared for what came next.

We'd painted the lower part of the bodies with fake blood and a cheap steak knife stuck out of the 'chest' of my body.

I stopped screaming and Jill stopped the tape. Jason could now see the death tableau and screamed out, "No!"

Tiffany came up right behind him and screamed like a good horror film girl. Then we tugged the line together and the bucket poured over them both. Jill came running up behind them, ready to laugh -- when instead she screamed and pointed at the grave.

To my shock I saw the dirt had been pushed off and the clumps of grass that covered the grave clawed through. Something was digging up and out while moaning.

Still in black, both Ben and I rounded the tree and Jill was screaming like mad, while both Jason and Tiffany were covered in blood and their eyes wide open.

A coughing laugh and the figure pulled all the way up and said, "For me?"

Ben started laughing and turned to me saying, "Killer prank on me."

I had thought he'd staged this for me and at his words, a sinking feeling crept into the back of my throat. Shaking my head like a deranged bobblehead in the back window I spit out, "No!!"

With that I wasted no time and grabbed Ben and Jill and began running for Ben's house.

We didn't look back as both Jason and Tiffany began to scream. Looking at Ben I hissed out, "Joke's on us huh? There really is a monster in the back yard."

Jill asked, "What was that?"

Looking at them both I said, "I don't want to know, do you?"

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2016-03-28
Image(s) are public domain.
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