The Prank (short story)

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy– Shit!”

The crowd gasped and murmured and tsk-tsked among themselves, while the officiating priest, apparently yet oblivious to his verbal faux pas, tried to wipe with his big white kerchief what looked like bird poo off his face.

Meanwhile, from way behind the crowd, from behind a tree where he thought no one could see him, Frankie strepitously laughed and howled from the depths of his belly until his sides ached and made him cry. Little did he know that throughout all this, from the time he rigged a fake bird’s nest on the branch above the priest’s head, to the time he activated the trap with a remote controlled switch (finally, all those engineering classes, which he had thought pointless and soporific and through which he had breezed through with no more than a C, had proved some worth), setting loose the thick white goo on the fat bald cleric, someone had been watching him, and who finally spoke:

“Thought that was funny, child? What you did to that poor old priest?”

Frankie bristled, abruptly turned his head and squealed in terror. A wispy old hag, so hoary and withered her yellowish skin hung loose like curtains from her face and her neck, was staring at him with bloodshot eyes and a disapproving grimace.

“And a coward, too. Cowardly boy. Did you piss yourself when you saw me?”

“I… I just wanted to have fun, that’s all.”

“Why don’t you run to the front, then? Face that priest and pie him in the face, if you want to have fun. Brave fun. Show yourself. Not like this. Hiding in the shadows, like the coward that you are.” The old woman brought her hawk’s beak nose close to Frankie, who was shaking and so frozen in fear he could not move even when he wanted to, and sniffed. “And you smell drunk. Drunk as a pot-bellied pirate. Are you drunk, child?”

“I’m not… Well, I was.”

“When?”

“The night before, I guess.”

“How old are you?”

“Nineteen.”

“You’re too young to be drinking! What’s your name, child? Do your parents know about this?”

“My name? My name is Fr– Freddie.”

“Liar. You can’t fool me. When you lie, it shows. Now,” and the old woman squinted and stared right into his eyes, so deeply it felt as though she was drilling holes into his head, “what’s your name? And don’t lie.”

“Alright! It’s Frankie! Geez, woman, don’t look at me like that!”

“Why did you hurt that poor old priest, Frankie?”

“I didn’t hurt him! And, like I said, I just wanted to have fun. Good clean fun. I mean, look at them. Look at everyone. They all look so depressed. It’s making me depressed. I just want to make them laugh.”

“It’s too soon for pranks, child. And you’re too old to be doing pranks–”

“I thought you said I was too young– owww!” His face was met with a slap, and his cheek burned. Despite appearances, the old hag could slap like a brick!

“And funerals, like this, are no place for pranks.”

“A funeral? Wait, what?”

“Ah, look at them. I know it’s hard to look now, it’s hard for you to see now, but look.”

Frankie obeyed. And now he could see what the old woman had been talking about; it was indeed a funeral. Why didn’t he notice it before? Everyone was in black, and in mourning. People, young and old, men and women, were crying. And they were in a cemetery, and there was a hole on the ground… It was too obvious. Why hadn’t he noticed it? Unless–

“The folly of youth,” said the old woman, as though she could read his mind, “is that you see only what you want to see. You think you know everything, and act as though you know everything, and that everything you know is right. That’s why you didn’t see, because you didn’t want to see the truth. Too scared of the truth. Well, the truth doesn’t change, the truth is eternal and unyielding, whether you’re scared of it or not! And you have only to face it, and to accept it.”

“Accept the truth?”

“Yes, child. And now that you have seen… what are you going to do?”

“I… I…”

“Yes?”

“I’m going to prank them some more!”

“What?”

“They have to laugh! They have to! I hate seeing how– Mom, and Dad, and Shelly, and Ben– I’ve always made them laugh!”

“Didn’t I tell you? It’s too soon!”

“But this is all for me, anyway. Why can’t I–”

“Foolish child. Funerals are for the living, not for the dead!”

The old woman’s words struck Frankie across the face harder than her slap.

“Now, Frankie, child” said she, putting her skeletal fingers on his shoulder, “leave them be, and let them mourn. You can make them laugh another day.”

(Inspired by The Daily Prompt)

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