Karen inhaled the thrift store's familiar scent of dust and worn flannel as she thumbed through the dresses in the back, occasionally pulling out one she thought might look cute on her slender frame. She could hear her little brother Keaton making various sound-effects from his post down a nearby aisle filled with once-loved toys. Currently it sounded as if he was in some sort of airplane battle with an alien species -- though she couldn't be sure. The games often changed rapidly with his imagination.
She was concerned for a moment when all of a sudden she didn't hear him. It was her responsibility to watch after him today, since their father was working a double to pay for Keaton's treatments. He had been sick the last three years, and since then, Karen's father had been working twice as hard to be able afford all the health costs. When he wasn't working, their father spent most of his time with Keaton, driving him to and from appointments and making sure he felt loved and cared for. It left little time for Karen, and, though she'd never admit it out loud, sometimes she was jealous.
When she still didn't hear him, she turned to check on him, but found him standing right behind her. She breathed a sigh of relief and reached down to run a hand over the soft new growth of his hair.
She noticed he was carrying a large, flat box in his arms. It looked to be some kind of board game. "Whatcha got there, Kea?" she asked, reaching out for the box.
He passed it to her carefully. "I think it's a scary game," he said excitedly. "Perfect for Halloween!" he added.
It certainly looked like a scary game. The box was covered in creepy depictions of ghouls, and ghosts, and spiders. But the most prominent drawing on the box was of a large, stuffed voodoo doll. Its thick, stitched mouth grinned out from the graphic cover like it was happy to see her. The words "The Voodoo Game" were scratched across the top, the tagline "you win when you lose" etched just beneath the title. Something about the words made her shudder, but she couldn't quite put her finger on what it was. She shook it off. It was just a game, after all.
"Can we get it?" Keaton asked hopefully, "It's only two dollars."
Karen turned the game over in her hands. The back of the box was simply black, devoid of any further description or instruction. She met her brother's pleading eyes over the edge of the cardboard box. A slow smile spread across her face. "Fiiiiine," she said, drawing it out and booping his nose with one finger. His eyes lit with joy.
When they went to check out, Keaton carried the game to the counter, and Karen payed for their spoils with some of the babysitting money she'd made that summer. She was saving for college, but a few dollars for some new clothes and a smile from her baby brother were worth the small hit to her savings. She didn't think she would ever be able to afford it anyway, and with Keaton's health concerns, her Dad needed her there. Their mother had passed away just after Karen was born, and there was no one else to help.
Keaton skipped out of the store in front of her, looking both ways before crossing the parking lot to Karen's car. Sometimes, when he did things like that, ran around or played so energetically, it was easy for her to forget he'd been battling cancer for three years. They hopped in the old Chevy and headed back home. All the while, Keaton sat in the back seat, admiring his new game.
"Can we play it when we get home?" he asked.
She smiled, "Why not? Dad won't be home until late. Gotta keep you entertained so you don't get into trouble!"
He laughed. "Cool," he said.