Rule 229

Shay Leigh

The child’s laughter echoed in her darkened bedroom for the third time that week. Instead of turning on the light and searching for the source, she snatched her cellphone off the bedside table, slid it under her covers to hide any light it gave off, unlocked it, and slid her thumb across the screen to pull up the camera. She would be damned before she didn’t have proof for her parents this time. “I didn’t hear anything Marisol, and I’m a very light sleeper. You must have been dreaming.” She would prove them wrong now.

The laughing got louder. Marisol suddenly felt the covers on her feet shift and grow heavier. Instinctively, she pulled them towards her chest. The laughter stopped and the room felt still. Marisol looked around the dark room, hoping to see something to explain what she had been hearing. But the shadows were all familiar. Shivering, she pulled the blankets closer to herself and stopped the video.

She lay there in the dark for who knew how long before sleep mercifully took her again. In the morning light she found her phone tangled in her bedsheets. Unlocking it she pulled up the video from the night before, hitting the speaker button she listened to the black recording. The childlike laughter could be heard. Ecstatic to have proof, she ran from her room and to the kitchen to find her parents. Her mother sat huddled over her coffee, while her father flipped bacon strips in a pan on the stovetop.

“Mom, I managed to get a recording of the laughter! I told you I wasn’t dreaming!”

“Marisol, honey, let me have at least half of this cup before you come at me with that much energy, please,” her mother responded.

“Okay, that’s fine,” Marisol stated as she walked around the table towards her father, “dad, can you listen at least?”

“Sure, baby bear, just one sec,” her dad said as he used tongs to fish a few pieces of bacon out of the splattering fat in the pan. She watched as he gently shook a few fat droplets off the strips before he laid them on a plate lined with paper towels. Then he turned towards her, “Okay, go for it.”

She pulled up the video, made sure the volume was all the way up on her phone, and hit play. There was the sound of the sheets rubbing the phone, silence, and then that creepy laugh.

“Oh, that is super creepy, Marisol! You should make more videos like that! You could freak out your cousins the next time they come over!” His face was lit up like a kid walking into a candy store and a fistful of twenties.

“No, Dad! I didn’t make this; I recorded the laughing that’s been waking me up the last few nights!”

His face went a bit blank. “That’s not you laughing?”

“No, that’s someone else laughing.”

He looked over to her mom, and Marisol followed the look. Her mom gave her dad some unspeakable look, they both glanced towards Marisol and back to each other. Her mom gently said, “Honey, there’s no one else in this house, and that’s not me or your father laughing, so that leaves just you.”

“I know it’s not you and dad! But it’s also not me!”

“Fred, did you remember to set the alarms last night?” her mom asked her dad.

“Yeah, right after I took out the trash.”

Her parents both looked at her again. “Don’t look at me, I just wanted to have proof so you wouldn’t say I was dreaming it, when I knew I wasn’t,” Marisol argued against their collective looks.

Her dad turned off the stove, pulled the last of the bacon from the pan, and wiped his hands on a towel. “I’ll look around the house, see if I can find anything.”

Her mom stood up and took the phone from Marisol. She watched the video again, but there was nothing to see. Marisol told her mom about the pressure she felt by her feet and her jerking them away and the laughter stopping. Shivering, her mom handed her back the phone.

Eventually, her dad came back with an all clear. Closets, garage, basement and shed had all been checked. There wasn’t anyone lurking in dark corners. Unsure what else to do, they eventually moved on with their day. That evening Marisol felt her stomach cramp at the thought of going back to her room. Even though she was a teenager, she asked her parents if she could sleep with them that night, to which they understandably agreed. Her dad wrapped an arm around her as her mom put on a documentary about pyramids, and she drifted off to sleep, safe in their presence.

Laughter made her eyes snap open. Jerking up, she shook her dad. He didn’t respond. She reached for her mother, but her spot on the bed was cold and empty. She leaned, fingers searching for the lamp. Finding it, she clicked the light on. There stood her mother, impossibly smiling from ear to ear, staring off into the distance, mouth opened wide as she laughed like a child.

“Mom?” she gasped.

Her mother’s eyes rolled towards Marisol; her smile suddenly gone. Marisol shivered and inched back towards her father. Not wanting to take her eyes off her terrifying mother, she pat the bed behind her. Finding his arm, she shook it dramatically. “Dad. Dad wake up. Please dad! I need you!”

Her mother’s eyes shifted to look over Marisol’s shoulder. Her smile returned, impossibly spreading.

Marisol jumped when her dad’s hand grabbed her arm. Unable to stop herself, she turned and looked back at him. She immediately tried to pull away. His grip grew tighter. Her father had the same impossible smile on his face. Then he started laughing in a high pitched and child-like voice. Terror filled her heart as she desperately tried to pull away.

She never should have turned on the light.

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