guts

When I first see the cover of Haunted on Amazon, I have to close my web browser. It is truly disturbing. When I buy the book, I keep it face-down because it makes me so uncomfortable. Whenever stee sees it accidentally turned face-up he says, “Fix your creepy-ass book.”

I start reading it in Toronto. “Do you want to come sit in the living room while you read it?” Wing asks. “So you’re not alone while you read the scary book?”

I nod, and join Wing and her sister Toque as they watch television.

I’m on page… maybe seven? When I have to close the book and then my eyes.

“Sorry,” Wing says, gesturing toward Kiefer Sutherland’s face. “The episode is almost over.”

“No, it’s not the show,” I said. “I’ll wait for commercial.”

They pause during an aspirin ad. “What’s wrong?”

“Remember those stories that came out about people passing out at Chuck Palahniuk readings?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m pretty sure I’m reading that story right now. I can see why people passed out.”

“How come?” Toque’s smile is getting bigger.

“Two reasons. One, it asks you to hold your breath right at the beginning, and hold it for the whole story, which some dumb-asses probably did and then got all, ‘I can make it, Chuck!’ before passing out right there in Borders.”

“Ha.”

“But I’m only two pages in and it’s already the grossest thing I’ve ever read.”

Wing tucks her feet under her. “Now you have to read it out loud.”

“You want to hear it?” I ask.

“Yes!” they say.

From the attached, nearby room, on the other side of the staircase, I hear stee. “Uh, Pam?” He’s playing a videogame. “Are you sure you want to do that?”

“Yes!” Toque and Wing say.

So I start from the beginning. Toque says she’s going to hold her breath. She doesn’t say anything again for a while, but I know she soon forgot about her promise. Because this story is hard to hear without making involuntary, uncomfortable sounds — gasps and moans.

For a little while it feels like we’re getting in touch with our ancestors. Sure Keifer’s paused on the DVR and stee’s playing some kind of Mario game in the other room, but I’m under an antique lamp, reading a scary story while everybody’s curled up to listen.

And then the story gets gross. Wing and Toque make a few squeals. It gets grosser. It gets gross in a painful-things-happening-to-boys way.

Stee is the first to cry uncle.

“Pam!” he shouts from the other room. “Seriously!”

“They want me to read it!” I shout back. I can’t see him, but I can picture the look on his face. One side of his mouth turned down in disgust. He wants to turn up the videogame to drown us out, but he also knows he has to hear what’s going to happen next.

I’m three paragraphs from the end when Wing has had enough. She stands up. “I’m done,” she says. “I can’t take it anymore.”

I turn to Toque, the only one left. “Finish it!” she says. “I have to know!”

“You know what’s going to happen,” Wing says as she heads to the kitchen, hands on her ears.

I finish it. Stee feels aurally violated. Wing returns.

Toque says, “I can’t believe he…”

And Wing is mad that she had to hear it anyway. Everything she avoided, her little sister tells her again, in detail.

“That is the most disturbing thing I’ve ever heard.”

They make me keep the book face-down for the rest of my time in their house.

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