Third Annual Scariest Story Ever Told Contest: Something Wicked This Way Comes : THE BROOCH

The week before Halloween, Mary Barker's mother fell ill. With her mother confined to her bed, Mary and her father labored round the clock tending to her needs. And though Mary was exhausted, she was glad when her friend Louise stopped by for a visit.

"Can you come outside and play?" Louise asked.

"I can't leave my mother alone," said Mary, "but you can come inside."

Louise nodded and followed Mary upstairs. Standing in the doorway to Mrs. Barker's bedroom, Louise waited as her friend dampened a cloth to place across her mother's pale forehead.

Mary then motioned Louise over to a large walk-in closet. Once inside, Mary stood on her tiptoes and retrieved a shiny black jewelry box from the top shelf. Placing it on the floor between them, Mary sat down and gently lifted the lid. Louise was at once mesmerized by the haunting melody that began to play, but soon after was distracted by the vast array of sparkling gems that spilled forth from the box like a rich pirate's booty.

Playing with her mother's valuables was usually off limits, but Mary was sure that just this once it would be OK. And so the girls went about trying on almost everything, along with some of Mrs. Barker's best dresses and shoes. It was while they were putting their things away that Louise spied a beautiful blue cameo brooch lying on the floor. Thinking that it would go perfectly with the "old woman" costume she planned to wear to the big Halloween bash, Louise secretly slipped the brooch into her pocket when Mary wasn't looking.

The next day, Halloween, Louise arrived home from school and immediately began to dress for the evening's festivities. Although she'd begun to experience a twinge of regret over taking the brooch without asking, as soon as she pinned it to her throat, the feeling disappeared. It was, without a doubt, the perfect accessory.

At the party, Louise tried hard to remain conscious of the brooch. And so it was with great surprise and a stab of panic that she realized upon returning home that it was gone.

It made for the longest night of her life. Tossing and turning, she awoke several times to the strains of "Brahms' Lullaby," the song her own mother's jewelry box played whenever the lid was opened. She tried desperately to get the music to stop, but it was almost daybreak before she finally fell into a sound sleep.

Several hours later, Louise's mother woke her with the terrible news that Mrs. Barker had died. Now filled with grief and remorse for what she had done, Louise knew she wouldn't be allowed to search for the missing heirloom before she and her family went over to pay their respects.

"I must tell Mary what I did," Louise heard herself say as she stood outside the Barkers' front door.

Once inside, Louise slowly climbed the stairs to find Mary standing alone in her mother's bedroom. Struggling for words, Louise was about to speak when Mary turned to meet her gaze. In stunned amazement, Louise could only gasp at the sight of the blue cameo brooch.

Mary could see that Louise was staring at the pin and put her hand to her collar. "It was so strange," she said. "I thought we put all of Mother's jewelry away the other day, but last night after the doctors took her away, Daddy found this on her pillow. And this was lying next to it." Mary then held up her hand to show Louise the diamond ring she was wearing on her right ring finger. "I've never seen it before, but look at how well it fits me."

Louise said nothing as a quiver of fear fluttered through her. Although she was relieved that Mary would never have to know about the brooch, she had no idea how she was going to go about getting back her mother's ring.

* Reinert, 36, is a homemaker in Irvine. She has applied to the master's program in creative writing at the University of California, Irvine.

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