The After Midnight Game
Rhea was never the sort of person to get messed up in childish games, but she couldn’t help it this time. Her sister, who had just launched a YouTube channel, needed her help.
“I can’t play the game alone,” Sara said, bouncing up and down on Rhea’s bed, looking at her older sister with eyes that could make a puppy dog look like a monster. “I need your help. Please? I promise that I’ll edit you out of the footage.”
“Aren’t you supposed to stay away from paranormal games?” Rhea said, laying back on her bed, looking at Sara. “I mean, isn’t that what all the videos say? That it’s dangerous?”
“Oh please,” Sara huffed, settling down next to her sister. “It’s just content. You know, for clicks. Nothing ever happens. But it’s October and I need a new video. I gotta keep my audience happy.”
Rhea sighed. Sara was only 17, but she was growing a fanbase quickly. Rhea wasn’t surprised – Sara was young, bright, had a bubbly personality, and was beautiful. She also had an onscreen persona that depicted her as a serious skeptic interested in learning more about the paranormal. And she was growing faster than Rhea ever thought possible – she’d only had the channel for six months and was already close to hitting 100,000 subscribers.
“Please, Rhea,” Sara said, looking over at her sister. “I’d ask Trevor or Steven but they’re both busy and I need to get it done for this week’s video.”
Rhea thought for a moment. When they were kids, they had lived in a haunted house. Of course, Sara wouldn’t remember – she was six years younger than Rhea and it was her birth and the subsequent events that caused them to move out of their hometown and into the suburb of the big city they lived in now. No one had ever told Sara about it and Rhea was just grateful that Sara didn’t seem to have any weird aftereffects of the 9 months she lived in the house.
But Rhea remembered. It still scared her, even though she was 23 and lived at her college now. She was an adult, with a job and a full course load, not to mention her volunteer activities. She thought she was over the paranormal events.
Hearing Sara talk about it just brought it up again. Rhea had never been excited about Sara starting a paranormal channel, especially due to their childhood, but since Sara didn’t remember anything, she forced herself to believe that everything would be okay.
“Fine,” Rhea finally said. Sara whooped, throwing her arms around her big sister and bounding off the bed. “Hey, where are you going?”
“To the store to get supplies,” Sara’s voice responded from halfway down the stairs.
“Okay, so what are we doing?” Rhea said. It was 11:30 pm and the girls were alone in their kitchen. Their parents were away for the weekend due to their mother’s conference that was taking place across the country, so they wouldn’t be disturbed. “And what’s all this for?”
“So we’re going to play the Midnight Game,” Sara said triumphantly, staring at her sister from across the kitchen island. “And this is what we need to play the game.”
Rhea took a look at the supplies on the counter – four white candles, two black candles, a bowl, salt, a hand mirror, and propped up against the table were four dollar-store full-length mirrors.
This is gonna be interesting, Rhea thought to herself.
“What’s the Midnight Game? I’ve never heard of it.” Sara responded by pulling out her phone, scrolling down a website page until the words MIDNIGHT GAME appeared. Rhea read a bit, then looked at Sara. “What, this is a new one?”
“Yeah,” Sara said, putting her phone back in her pocket. “I found it on Twitter a week ago. None of the big creators have done the game yet, so I thought it would be a good place to start for October. Cool that I found it and there aren’t any videos on it yet, right?”
Rhea couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off. It tickled the back of her mind, a whisper that was reminding her that this was a door, even if it was a game, that may not be safe to open.
“Let me see the website again,” Rhea said, her brow furrowing. Sara handed over the phone and Rhea glanced through the game’s instructions. “So we make a circle of salt, light four white candles in the cardinal directions, set up the mirrors behind the candles, sit in the middle of the circle with the two black candles and the bowl between us, and then…what?”
“For the game to begin.” Sara puffed her chest out in a show of pride, smiling at her older sister. “See, we set everything up before midnight, then after midnight, any ghosts that are around will come to the circle. If it works, which it won’t, we should be able to see ghosts in the mirrors. They can talk to us through gestures in the mirror or the bowl, which I’m gonna fill with water. The only thing is, we can’t leave the circle until 3.”
“Three. In the morning?” Rhea shut her eyes in regret. “You mean I have to sit on the floor for three hours with you in the dark, waiting for a ghost to contact us?”
“Hey, it could be worse,” Sara shrugged.
“We could be playing outside in a cemetery.” Sara smiled, but that wiped itself away when she saw the look on Rhea’s face. “What? Oh, come on. It’s just a game.”
“Right,” Rhea murmured. She looked over the website, which was still open in her hand. The website itself had only been active since that year, with no posts going back further than February. Not only that, there was no information on the author of the site and there were just four posts. No comments, no signs of social media, nothing. “Don’t you think this is a little weird? Like, no one has been to this website.”
“People obviously have, I saw it on Twitter,” Sara said, busying herself with the supplies. “Besides, people make up these games all of the time. It doesn’t mean that they’re real.”
“Okay, so let me ask you this,” Rhea said, finally handing the phone back to Sara, who pocketed it while messing around with the camera she now had in her hand. “What’s the purpose of the game? To talk to a ghost?”
“Yeah.” Sara shrugged again. “I mean, the whole point of these games is to find evidence of the paranormal. It’s not anything more than that. Well, it’s just to scare people on the internet. We don’t have anything to worry about, though. We’ll be fine.”
Rhea took one look at Sara’s convinced face and let herself believe the delusion as well.
She should have listened to her gut instead.
At 11:57 pm, Rhea and Sara were set up. They were using the guest room, as it was the darkest bedroom in the house. After pushing the twin bed up against the wall and removing the rug, they placed the circle of salt, propped up the mirrors on the dining room chairs they hauled from downstairs, set up the cameras – four in total, including a GoPro that Rhea had been gifted and they found in her closet unopened – and while Rhea calmed herself, her anxiety levels rising, Sara recorded her intro.
“Ready?” Sara asked, handing Rhea one of the black candles.
“Sure,” Rhea replied, taking it. “Hang on, the hand mirror.”
“Oooo, right,” Sara said, grabbing it from the bed and holding it in her hand. “Almost forgot.”
“What is that even for?”
“Just in case an entity is strong enough to not need the mirror,” Sara said casually. Before Rhea could react, Sara took her hand and pulled her into the circle. “Okay, let’s get started.”
The two sat across from each other, cross legged on the floor, the circle just big enough to hold them and the bowl of water that sat between them. The black candles in their hands were left unlit, because Sara had mentioned it was “just in case an entity that scares us shows up, we can use these to banish them.”
Rhea was uneasy even before the digital clock, which sat in her field of view, clicked over to 12:00 am. She couldn’t help it – she just remembered that things wouldn’t happen in their old house until after midnight. And try as she might to shake the cobweb of anxiety from her brain, it was stuck there, weaving itself further into her consciousness.
“Watch, nothing’s going to happen,” Sara said, still smiling as they counted down to 12:00 am. “Don’t look so worried.”
Rhea didn’t believe her.
After the digital clock struck 12:00 am, the room began to buzz, which then turned to a scratching sound, one that was almost, but not entirely, lost in the white noise. At first, Rhea and Sara thought it was electrical interference, but then they realized that with the exception of the digital clock and the cameras, there were no other electronics on. The tv and the lights were off, the clock was acting as normal, and Sara assured her sister that the cameras weren’t even able to make such a sound.
“Should we get up and check?” Rhea said, her stomach slowly starting to turn in her body. She rose, but Sara snatched her arm and forced her to sit back down.
“No, it’s fine,” Sara said, her voice higher than normal. Rhea could see in the dim candlelight that Sara was both excited and nervous. “I think maybe we captured someone’s attention.”
“We haven’t done an opening or anything,” Rhea said, hoping that since the game didn’t require an opening, that nothing would happen. “Nothing can come if we don’t call it.”
Even as she said it, Rhea knew that wasn’t true. She knew it because when things began happening in their house, before Sara was born, nothing was ever called.
Still, they came.
And now she was in a circle of salt with her little sister playing a paranormal game.
“This was a bad idea,” Rhea said under her breath, looking at the mirrors that reflected back in her field of vision. She didn’t see anything, but she could feel the cold stabbing realization that something had entered the house. “This was a really bad idea.”
“Relax,” Sara said, even though her voice was begin to falter just a bit. “If it’s a ghost, it’s probably just lost. But it’s probably just the Wifi.”
“When have you ever heard Wifi make that type of noise?” Rhea hissed just as the sound disappeared.
“See? Gone.” Sara smiled with triumph.
Then her eyes turned wide.
“What?” Rhea said. There was a mirror right behind her, so close she could feel the cheap plastic border against her sweater. She began to turn her head.
“Don’t,” Sara said, putting her hand on Rhea’s arm. “Wait.”
“What is it?” Rhea said louder.
“It’s a woman, I think,” Sara said. She turned to look at the camera to her right. “Okay, okay, if this is real, the camera caught it. Oh my god.”
As if on cue, the mirror to Rhea’s left began to fog up. It started high, then moved down slowly towards the ground.
The girls watched in silence as words appeared on the mirror.
“No god? What does that mean?” Sara began speaking in her YouTube voice, the one that was professional and calm. Rhea could tell, however, that this was an act – Sara’s hand, the one holding the candle, was visibly shaking. “Who are you?”
The mirror to Rhea’s right began to fog up, spelling out the sentence: Did you girls miss me?
“Miss you?” Rhea tried to control her fear, which was moving up her spine to the back of her neck. “We don’t know you.”
The mirrors on either side of the girls fogged up at once, with the left spelling out the words I have waited for you and the right spelled out Sara, it’s time.
“What?” Rhea breathed out. Through the fog on the mirror to her left, she could see a figure moving towards the mirror. It wasn’t rushing, just walking normally. She could hear the click, click, click of heels on the floor. “Sara, do you hear that?”
“Yeah,” Sara said. She barely stifled her gasp as the black candle in her hand lit on its own. Rhea watched as her own followed suit. “Oh crap.”
“How do we end the game?”
“We don’t,” Sara said, her voice now panicked. “We have to stay here until 3 am. If we leave the circle, it could come and try to attach itself to us.”
“What?” Rhea was now both terrified and angry, but she let them simmer while she tried to figure out another way to get what was coming to stop. “You gotta be kidding.”
“That’s what the rules say,” Sara retorted as the heels clicking on the floor stopped, then started again, going around the circle. “We’re fine. We’re in the circle.”
The fog on the left mirror bore a new message after Sara had stopped speaking. It read: Time to come out.
As soon as Rhea and Sara finished reading the words, the fog disappeared.
In its place, on all of the mirrors that Rhea could see, was the face of the same woman – a pretty redhead with hair that moved on its own, wearing all white that was stained with blood at the hem of her shirt and pants. She had a beautiful smile, but her eyes were completely white.
And her mouth was open, producing a white moth that laid on her lips.
“Are you seeing this?” Sara asked as the woman moved closer on all the mirrors.
“Yes,” Rhea gulped. She had seen the woman before, in the old house. The woman, whom Rhea named Amelia, and been the subject of her nightmares for over a year and a half after moving out of the house.
Now she was here.
“The hand mirror,” Sara said, holding her hand out to Rhea, who noticed that Sara was transfixed on the woman in the mirror behind her. “Give it to me.”
Rhea handed her the small hand mirror, and Sara brandished it like a sword, pointing it at the woman’s reflection.
“You have no power here, see your reflection and begone to your home on the Other Side,” Sara said in a confident voice. She repeated the declaration three times, each time brandishing it at the mirror.
The woman never moved.
Instead, she waved her hand across the mirror. A second later, the hand mirror Sara held shattered, cutting her thumb.
“Shit,” Sara said, flicking her hand in the air. Rhea watched as droplets fell in the bowl of water in front of them.
When Rhea looked back up, the woman was gone. In her wake were thousands of small cracks all over the mirrors that she could see. They were moving, joining together, snaking around the reflection.
“What the hell—” Sara said as Rhea got her attention and gestured to the mirrors.
A second later, the white candles began blowing out, moving quickly. Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, and they were all out.
In complete darkness, aided by the blackout curtains in the room, the girls were still.
“I’m here,” Rhea said to the darkness, taking Sara’s hand. “We’re fine. We’re in the circle.”
“I don’t feel well—” Sara’s voice stopped abruptly. Rhea could feel a wind rushing into the room, swirling around them.
It took her a moment to realize that the wind was wiping away the circle, but by the time she realized it, it was too late: the mirrors broke, letting out a huge wail, and Rhea blacked out.
When Rhea woke up, it was morning. Having slept on the hardwood floor and having only her sweater to keep her warm, she was stiff and cold.
But she snapped out of it when she realized that Sara wasn’t in the room with her.
Rhea bolted upright, looking around. Even though the bed was still pushed back and the rug was standing near the doorway, where they had left it, the mirrors, chairs, salt, candles, and bowl were all gone.
“Sara?” Rhea called out as she got to her feet. “Sara?”
“I’m right here,” Sara said, popping her head into the bedroom. “Geez, I didn’t think you’d be out for that long. Come on, I made breakfast.”
“Wait,” Rhea said, following her sister into the hallway. She held her head, trying to keep the headache forming at bay. “What happened last night?”
“We freaked ourselves out,” Sara said, smiling. “I watched the footage back this morning after trying to wake you up. You know you snore now, right?”
“Okay, back up. What was in the footage?”
“Nothing,” Sara said, shrugging. “Literally nothing. I guess I just got too invested and freaked you out, which then freaked me out. But anyway, the footage’s on my computer if you wanna see. And since you helped me out last night, I cleaned up. I could have run the vacuum in there, you wouldn’t have woken up.”
Sara disappeared downstairs as Rhea began laughing at herself.
“You really thought that crap was real,” she said to herself, going into the jack-and-jill bathroom she shared with her sister when she was at home. “Get it together, Rhea.”
Rhea stopped as soon as she saw the mirror in the bathroom.
In giant letters read the words: THANK YOU FOR INVITING ME BACK.
Rhea moved back, her mouth dropping open. She closed her eyes, willing it to be a dream, but when she looked again, the mirror was the same.
Well, except for one thing.
There was now a reflection of a tall, slender woman with red hair peeking out from one of the words, smiling at her. She said nothing, but the moth flew off the woman’s mouth, through the mirror, and onto Rhea’s lips.