This Party Game Is Actually Terrifying And I Need To Warn You Before You Play

Kendra Miller
Kendra Miller

I don’t think many people play parlor games anymore.

It’s been a long-standing tradition in my mother’s family, but no one else seems to know about the games. Still, I rather enjoy them. They’re fun.

After my father died when I was still a young child, I found myself spending a lot of time with my mother’s side of the family. She still held down a full-time job and it was easier to let my grandparents and, occasionally, aunts and uncles babysit me than pay for a nanny or daycare. Even as a kid, I could sense that my mother wasn’t happy with this arrangement – she didn’t seem to get along with most of her family. Maybe that’s why I was so tense the first few times she left me at my grandparents’ house. As a way of easing my nerves, they introduced me to the parlor games, and I was hooked.

Parlor games are games that are played indoors, often involving some type of riddles or wordplay. I love their cryptic nature, and it didn’t take long for me to figure out the classics. My favorite was The Queen – my grandmother would sit in her armchair as though it was a throne, and my cousins and I would take turns kneeling before her. She would say to us, each in turn, “I am the queen, the most beautiful queen in all the land. You must answer honestly: who do you love?”

I was the first of us grandchildren to figure out that the answer was “honestly.”

My grandparents were a wealth of such games. We played “The Queen”, “I’m Going on a Sailboat”, and “Rin-Tin-Tin.” We’d play for hours on end, lost in their magic secrecy. My mother would smile a little when I told her about the games – she herself had played them as a child, as had my aunts and uncles.

But there was one game that I wasn’t allowed to play, a game whose name wasn’t to be mentioned in my mother’s presence.

Black Magic.

I learned about it by eavesdropping – even as a child, I was good at that – and often heard my aunts and uncles discussing it. Whenever it was brought up, they reminisced about how fun it was, how much they had once enjoyed playing it… once.

But not anymore.

I wondered why, but I learned quickly not to ask.

I only brought it up to my mother once, and that was enough to see the fire flare up in her eyes as she hissed, “Never. EVER. Speak that name to me again.”

So, wisely, I didn’t.

No, I left the subject very much alone… until just a few weeks ago.

It started because my grandfather passed away. Grandma had already died a few years before, and his death was not unexpected, so his passing left us not only with sadness, but also a touch of relief – relief that his pain was over, and that their legacy had ended, surrounded by the love of their children and grandchildren, just a few years apart.

The aunts and uncles had gone out to discuss something about the burial, dragging my mother with them – who put up a very good pretense of not loathing all of them, much to my amazement – and all of us grandchildren had gathered in the living room to sit and remember.

It was Andrew who brought up the parlor games.

“Do you guys remember when we used to play those?” He asked, laughing as some of my cousins groaned.

“How could we forget, not when Katie was so good at them. It almost wasn’t fun, with her winning all the time,” Darius said, and I shot him a glare. Hey, I couldn’t help it that he was a sore loser.

“Well, there’s one game that she never won, though,” said Andrew, giving me a sly sort of look.

“What are you guys talking about?” I asked, annoyed to be out of the loop.

The whisper came from somewhere across the room… I’m still not sure who said it.

“Black Magic.”

My eyes widened and a rush of emotions hit me like a tidal wave. The nostalgia of the games; the curiosity over the one that sent my mother into a fury; the sudden burning need to know what it was.

Oh, yes. We were going to play Black Magic.

We arranged ourselves in a circle on the living room floor, with Andrew acting as the caller, which is what we called the person in charge of directing the game. He instructed us to hold hands, and my cousins all grasped each other eagerly, watching me for my reaction. After all, I was the only one who’d never played.

“Okay, since it’s Katie’s first time, she gets to choose,” said Andrew.

“Choose what?” I asked.

He smiled and shook his head. “Choose somebody – somebody you don’t like.”

I was bewildered as I sat there, trying to think of someone we all knew.

“Uh… Ann Coulter?”

Andrew shook his head impatiently as some of my more conservative cousins glared at me. “No, no, not a celebrity, someone you know personally.”

I wracked my brains again, until I finally came up with a work colleague that I didn’t particularly enjoy interacting with, mostly because he was a sexist dirtbag.

“Kyle Gentry.”

Andrew nodded. “Okay, repeat after me,” he started.

“It’s in the moon, it’s in the stars, it’s Black Magic.”

My cousins and I all chanted together.

“It’s in the moon, it’s in the stars, it’s Black Magic.”

The overhead light flickered a little, but I was the only one to notice, because everyone else had closed their eyes. My gaze drifted to the ceiling and I felt Amalia, who was holding my right hand, squeeze my hand reassuringly.

“It’s in the breeze, it’s in the air, it’s Black Magic.”

And we repeated.

“It’s in the breeze, it’s in the air, it’s Black Magic.”

The flickering was getting worse. I heard the TV turning on and off by itself. It seemed as though power was surging and ebbing through all the electronics in the house. I tried to pull my hands away, but my cousins grasped me tighter.

Andrew began one last time.

“It’s in the flesh, it’s in the blood, it’s Black Magic.”

I didn’t want to join in, I swear, but my voice didn’t seem to agree with me.

“It’s in the flesh, it’s in the blood, it’s Black Magic.”

The power surged hard and, suddenly, everything burnt out. The light bulbs in the lamps exploded in a hail of sparks. I could hear the fizzing and popping of cooling circuits and wires. The house was dark as sin and deathly quiet.

Just then, the front door opened and my aunts and uncles returned with my mother in tow.

My aunt Lucinda looked around disapprovingly, illuminated by the moon through the open door, and asked, “Now, now, were you kids playing Black Magic?”

I scrambled up off the floor and towards my mom, afraid that she would scream at me. Indeed, her siblings were watching her with apprehension. Her face had drained of color and she was looking at me in abject horror.

“Mom… mom, are you okay?” I asked.

She looked at me with a terribly deep sorrow in her eyes before shaking her head and walking away.


I got a call the next day about Kyle Gentry. He’d been found dead in his home, apparent heart attack, pretty surprising for someone as young and fit as he was. The strangest thing about it, though, was that all the lights in his house had burned out, and the electrical units were completely shot.

I’ve been wracked with guilt ever since. I mean, sure, I didn’t like him, but I didn’t want him to die. I just thought it was part of the game.

That’s the most disturbing part, now that I think about it. That it IS just a game – to my family, anyway.

All of them except for my mother.

And now, sitting here and typing this in the dark, on my third bottle of beer as I try to wash the bitter taste of the memory out of my mouth, I think I know why. Just like I think I know what happened to my father.

Black Magic. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Rona Vaselaar is a graduate from the University of Notre Dame and currently attending Johns Hopkins as a graduate student.

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