(from the story When I Snap My Fingers ...)
“My name is Griselda Spinoza,” the old lady begins. Calvin notices she has a strange accent. “I’m 105 years old. My family have been hypnotists since the beginning of time. Now, who of you would like to be hypnotized?”
“Me,” Rachel says at once. “I’ve always wanted to try it. I think it’s very exciting.”
“It is,” Madam Spinoza says. “But it can also be dangerous.”
The old lady smiles. “Do you believe in life after death, Rachel?”
“Uhm … I don’t know.”
The hypnotist looks at Calvin. “How about big brother?”
“Nah, I think …” He’s about to say he doesn’t believe anything happens after death, but then he remembers Rachel is listening, so instead, he says: “I think you go to heaven.”
“You’re wrong,” the hypnotist snubs. “Heaven is only for the few lucky; most of us are condemned to live forever, only in different bodies. I myself, for instance, have lived at least seven lives that I can remember.”
Rachel lets out a gasp of astonishment.
Calvin rolls his eyes. Yeah, right. That’s pretty lame, but I guess as long as Rachel is entertained …
“Now we will see who you have been in one of your previous lives, Rachel,” Madam Spinoza says, pointing at Rachel with a thick, yellow fingernail. “But first, the money. It’s five bucks.”
Calvin hands her the money. It quickly disappears into a pocket.
“Are you ready, Rachel?”
“Yes,” Rachel whispers breathlessly.
The hypnotist presses the recorder, and the tape starts turning. She picks up the coin. “Keep an eye on this.” She lets it wander across her boney knuckles. At first, it’s very slow, but soon it picks up speed, dancing faster and faster, the silver blinking in the glow of the candle flame. “Keep looking at the coin,” Madam Spinoza whispers. “Don’t take your eyes off it. Look how it moves. And feel your body relaxing.”
Calvin realizes he is becoming drowsy; in fact, he’s close to falling asleep. He straightens up and blinks a few times. Then, he glances at Rachel. Her eyes are almost closed.
“Keep your eyes on the coin, Rachel,” the hypnotist whispers. “In a moment you’ll fall asleep. Once you’re sleeping, I want one of your previous lives to come forward. And only when I snap my fingers, will you wake up as Rachel again. Is that clear?”
Rachel nods and mumbles: “Yes …” right before her eyes close.
“You’re sleeping,” the old lady croaks, putting down the coin and folding her hands on the table. “Now, who will come forward?”
Calvin stares at Rachel; she really looks like she’s sitting upright sleeping, chin resting on her chest, breathing softly.
“She’s not saying anything,” Calvin mutters.
“Sssh!” Madam Spinoza hisses, not taking her eyes off Rachel. “Who will come forward?”
A few more moments pass. Calvin can smell the smoke from the candle.
Then, suddenly, Rachel says: “It’s me. Elmer Hedrick.” The voice is completely different, deeper and rawer.
“Hello, Elmer,” the hypnotist says without hesitation. “How old are you, boy?”
“Ten,” Rachel says, not lifting her head or opening her eyes. “It was my birthday yesterday.”
“Really? Did you get any gifts?”
“Didn’t your parents buy you anything?”
“I’m sorry to hear that. When did they die?”
Madam Spinoza raises her thin eyebrows, showing the first sign of surprise. “They died on your birthday? Both of them?”
“Was it a car crash?”
Rachel sneers. “A what? I don't understand that word.”
The hypnotist smacks her dry lips. “What time are you living in, Elmer? What year is it?”
“Nineteen oh three, of course.”
“I’ll say,” Madam Spinoza mutters, seemingly talking to herself. “It’s very rare I get one this far back … How did your parents die, Elmer?”
“They got their throats cut open with a knife.”
“Goodness! Did the police catch the killer?”
“I’m sure they’ll get him.”
“I don’t think so.”
Rachel doesn’t answer. Calvin notices her face tic. But he can’t really make out the details anymore; it’s like the air has turned foggy.
“Elmer?” the hypnotist asks. “Why don’t you think the police will catch the one who murdered your parents?”
Rachel lifts her head ever so slightly and opens her eyes, staring straight at the old lady and hisses: “Because I made it look like someone else did it.”
Calvin feels his stomach tighten.
Madam Spinoza looks befuddled. “Close your eyes, Rachel. You’re not supposed to open then until I—”
“Rachel isn’t here,” she interrupts. “My name is Elmer.”
“Is this part of the trick?” Calvin asks.
The hypnotist looks at him briefly. “Uhm … I think we better …”
Rachel turns her head and glares at Calvin. For a moment he’s sure her eyes are brown—which of course is nonsense, because Rachel’s eyes are blue—it has to be the smoky air playing a trick on his senses, but he still gets the chills.
“Who are you?” she snarls at him.
“That’s enough for now,” Madam Spinoza interjects. “Rachel! Look at me.”
Rachel looks back at the old lady, her face contorts into an angry grimace. “I told you, I’m not Rachel. Stop calling me that. My name is Elmer, and I—”
The hypnotist reaches across the table, grabbing hold of Rachel’s arm. “Listen to me! When I snap my fingers …”
Suddenly, daylight comes streaming in, as the tent door is torn open. Calvin turns to see a heavyset man stare in at them. “Get out of there!” he yells. “Right now!”
“Close the door!” Madam Spinoza hisses. “We’re in the middle of a séance!”
The man’s expression is one of disbelief. “Haven’t you heard us calling? The tent is on fire, goddamnit!”
Calvin realizes the air is full of smoke. It feels like waking from a dream—now he can also feel the burning heat and hear the crackle of the flames. He also feels very dizzy.
“Come on, hurry up!” the man roars. “Get out, get out!” He steps in and grabs Rachel, pulling her back.
Calvin gets to his feet, coughs and stumbles towards the light. He reaches the opening, the sun is blinding him, there are people with scared faces all around. His eyes sting, and his throat feels raw. He hears someone cough right next to him and sees the man still holding on to Rachel.
Calvin looks back and lets out a loud gasp. The tent is one big bonfire, the orange flames reaching hungrily for the blue sky, smoke coming out of every opening. The heat is intense enough to make him stagger backwards.
“Was there anyone else in there?” someone shouts.
“I certainly hope not!” another voice answers. “Because it’s way too late now …”
As though the words make it happen, the tent collapses, the flames roaring even more fiercely, sparks flying all around. The onlookers pull back.
Calvin goes to Rachel. “Are you all right? Are you hurt?”
Rachel doesn’t answer, she just stares at nothing.
“Rachel!” He shakes her.
She blinks, looks at him and starts to cry. “What … what happened, Calvin?”
He hugs her. “The tent caught fire. It’s all right, we got out in time.”
The following evening, something strange occurs.
They’re just about to sit down for dinner—they’re having curry, Rachel’s favorite dish—when she sees the pot and sneers. “Yuck, that stinks!”
“But you used to love curry,” her mom says.
“No, I hate it,” Rachel says, pushing her plate away. “It tastes like old farts.”
“Watch your tone, please,” her dad says.
“You watch your tone!” Rachel shouts.
They all freeze up around the table. Rachel never talks like that to anyone, especially not her dad. But she doesn’t even seem remorseful, she just crosses her arms and looks at him defiantly.
“Well, you can go to bed on an empty stomach, then,” her dad says.
“I’d rather,” Rachel scoffs, getting up and leaving the room.
Mom looks at Dad, her eyebrows raised. “What got into her?”
Dad shrugs. “She’s becoming a teenager, I guess.”
“She’s only seven!”
“Well, I don’t know.”
Calvin starts eating and doesn’t really give the episode a second thought—at least not until next day.
It’s Sunday, and they always tidy up their rooms on Sunday, so that Mom can vacuum the whole house. Calvin is done in ten minutes, but Rachel refuses to do her room, even when Mom tells her a third time. But the more Mom asks, the more stubborn Rachel becomes. Finally, Dad has to drag her into the room and shut the door.
“And you don’t come out until that room is tidy!” he yells, and as he walks away, Calvin can hear him mutter: “Christ, what’s wrong with that girl?”
Calvin listens by the door to Rachel’s room as she’s rummaging around in there.
When Dad comes back ten minutes later and opens the door, he lets out a gasp. Calvin looks past him and sees the room completely ravaged. Everything is tipped over or thrown about.
Rachel is sitting on her bed, swinging her legs and smiling malevolently.
The smile gives Calvin the creeps ...