Blanket Ghosts

This was a partially true story I wrote and performed for the June 2016 Vancouver Story Slam. I was that month’s winner.

When I was seven, I came home to another dead body under my blanket. It lay still with its arms crossed over its chest like a mummy. When I pulled the covers away, I saw that the body was only laundry arranged to look like a corpse under the sheets. It was another one of my father’s brilliant but cruel pranks. Once, he tied a scarecrow to a noose and threw it from the second floor. And when he was a child, his father pretended to die of a heart attack.

Yes, I come from a line of diabolical rascals. A practical joke isn’t funny without a bit of childhood trauma. It was great. I never needed therapy. In fact, I wanted to be just like them. But I never had the guts.

My pranks were harmless. When I was ten, I briefly convinced my classmate that I had twin in a different building. I had the help of a cousin who resembled me. We had the same haircut and wore matching outfits. But the joke didn’t last long and wasn’t worthy of bragging to my father about. It wasn’t traumatizing enough.

When I was eleven, I had a chance. It was during a school camping trip. I could have sneaked into a tent and drew dicks on people’s faces, but the risk of getting caught was high.  Sure, it would’ve gotten a few laughs, but I didn’t want that. I needed to scare someone. I yearned to inspire terror like my father and his father and so on and so forth.

I didn’t have time to create a corpse out of laundry or dangle a dummy on a rope. I happened to have a white blanket in my backpack just in case the nights were cold. That night was extra cold, and the moon was full. I slipped under the white sheet and moved barefoot across the camp to my targets of choice. These girls beat my team in all the games so far, so I thought some petty revenge was in order.

Now, my school—my religious school—sponsored and facilitated this camping trip. We had a priest. We had a few nuns. We would pray before eating our s’mores. And with great belief in God comes great belief in the devil and all his evil minions. So that night, when I dressed up as a ghost, I asked the dark lord for his help in scaring the bejesus out of a few bitches.

Each tent had five girls in it. I could see them slumbering through the mosquito net that covered the tent entrance. I reached out and scratched the netting fabric contorting my hands like in those Asian ghost movies. One of the girls—my rival—woke up and screamed. That was my cue to stroll away. Because if there’s one thing my father taught me, the dead are still or slow. A ghost doesn’t run away. It glides.

And so I did.

The next day, the girl was still crying. We all heard her version of the story by now. According to her, an evil presence disturbed her rest. Fair enough, but she started milking it for all it was worth. She claimed the ghost’s eyes glowed fiery red as the moonlight shone through the haze of white. She prayed to God for help and was rewarded when the ghost disappeared: proof of God’s love. I knew the prank would work, but I didn’t expect it to work this well. The other children bought this “perfectly logical” explanation. I lived in a religious, ridiculous, superstitious shit hole of a town. It was great.

Then the school’s priest got involved.

You know when he recites from Mark chapter 3 verse 39: “And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out demons,” the man means business. He was talking exorcism, man!

I thought of confessing, but I didn’t. Instead, I spent the good part of the day sitting with my rival in her tent, trying to convince her that someone may have just played a prank on her. Someone may have just wanted to measure up to her father and say, “Yes, yes, I’m part of the family. Yes, I have that same twisted sense of humour. Yes, I get it, it’s a dead body, and it’s a joke, haha! I’m just like you. Just like you. I can take a joke. I can dish out a joke. I belong in the family.”

I didn’t say those words exactly. Instead, I told her, “Someone may have just been bored.”

I had a feeling she knew it was me. She never snitched. I suppose she wanted to continue to play the hero of her story. She could still be the protagonist who summoned the light and locked away the dark, while I could avoid having the priest cast holy water on me in an exorcism.

I told my father, and he was proud, but I haven’t played a practical joke ever since.