“It’s just chocolate; it’s not love.”
I feel their eyes upon me as I slide the last of the chocolate bar into my mouth, the involuntary shiver of satisfaction washing over me before my skin burns with the desire for another. I swallow the urge.
“Where did this sweet tooth come from?” Tommo asks.
I shrug and say nothing, eyeing the girls that pass us by. They materialize from the swirls of mist, into the warmth of the streetlight. I watch their curves sway with every step. The three of them walk close together, leaning in as they talk. They don’t look at us as they pass away, into the deepening cold of the dark. My lips smack, thick with chocolate and desire.
“Those bars aren’t your daily dozen, you know?” Gar mocks again. He’s caught me looking. “And neither are those girls!”
“As if we’d have a chance with them,” Tommo replies, slapping my arm and pushing his greasy, ragged hair behind his ears, which protrude a little too much. The three of us sit in a row, like crows lurking on a wire, along the uncovered bus stop bench, school bags beneath us, unobserved and ignored as ever.
“But imagine…” I hear myself say, a lecherous surge rumbling deep within me, competing with my desire for more chocolate and coming out on top. I shift in my seat.
“Here, you can think about that in your own time - your own personal time.”
Gar, the smart ass. Always cocky, even with that face of his: pockmarked with acne scars, his nose crooked and a little too big. He’s got a gym body though. The girls love that, and I wish I had it. I want it. I hold in a grunt and feel the green of jealousy clash with a flare of red rage within my chest, bilious and volcanic.
My knuckles ache with fissured cracks embedded in bruised flesh- the remains of yesterday’s wrath. I tremor as fury attempts to consume me again, but I force it down, allowing my mind to drift back to the girls.
“I could get those girls if I wanted,” I say, “They’d be lucky if I wasted my time on them.” I feel Gar’s eyes roll and the rage surges again.
“Aye,” Gar mutters. Tommo chuckles.
“Can I have a bar?” he asks.
“No. They're mine.”
He tuts but says nothing more. I want him to. My fury is still simmering within me, threatening to bubble and boil over. And I want the release.
A cold breeze whispers around us, the branches weep overhead, and the near edge of the moon peeks from behind the clouds, looking down at us. The 46A bus thunders past without slowing, the sight of us sitting there familiar to the driver.
“So where are we for tonight? Round to mine for a bit of Fortnite?” Tommo offers, fixing his hair again. They stand to leave. I sigh. They look at me.
“Let’s go on a ghost hunt.”
They stare at me blankly, their eyes glowing in the streetlight.
“Why?” They speak in unison. Somewhere a dog howls unseen.
I shrug. “Why not? I bought a Ouija board.”
“Why?” Again in unison. Again the dog howls. Again I shrug.
They shift uneasily, stepping back from me, but not far enough to be swallowed by the shadows shifting and dancing against the streetlight, ready to pounce.
“We could go to The Quinner House,” I say, puffing my chest out and rising to my feet.
They share quick, brief glances, tongues darting and lips chewed.
“Come on, The Quinner House? Sure that’s where children go to be scared. Those stories are all made up!” Gar’s calm voice carries an undercurrent of fear.
I don’t wait for an answer. I reach inside my bag, pushing past the Ouija board, to feel the reassuring rustle of another chocolate bar. The urge washes over me again as my fingertips brush the foil wrapper, and the first bite quells my tormented soul. The bar does not survive long, and I throw the bag over my shoulder and turn to the darkness.
“Either Quinner’s or we go hunt those girls. What scares you more?” I sneer, not turning to them.
I can feel their discomfort, weighted like the growing mist of the night.
“Alright, alright,” Tommo concedes, “Quinners. But only for half an hour - max. That place scares the crap out of me, I don’t care what you say, Gar.”
Gar remains silent. I don’t respond, leaving the orange bubble of light.
The night is empty, and we invade the mist as it consummates with the breeze, interrupting its devilry with the patter of our feet. Overhead, the voyeur moon peels off the clouds and looms naked overhead.
“Why did you buy the Ouija board?” Tommo whispers, the wind stealing his words.
I shrug. “Boredom. Used it last week. It works.”
“My back-end it does!” Gar laughs. “It is a load of bunkum.”
I say nothing and keep walking as they trail behind. Gar knows nothing of what I’ve seen.
“Is it not dangerous to use it by yourself?” Tommo calls. Gar grumbles something. I keep walking, dipping in and out of streetlights, like a bat upon the wind. They pick up their pace.
“What time are you working tomorrow?” Gar asks me.
“I’m not. They sacked me.”
“Why?” Again a twinned reply.
“Didn’t turn up this week. Couldn’t be bothered. That’s why I wasn’t in school yesterday. Just lay in bed all day. But Ma forced me to go in today. I’m better than that place anyways, I don’t need it. To hell with it.”
There’s a pause, filled with unasked questions pawing at their lips. We walk in silence for a while, and I eat another chocolate bar, acquiescing the sick feeling in my stomach for the momentary relief it brings. A fleshy groan escapes me with the final bite, its velvety spectre lingering on my tongue. Ahead of us, The Quinner House is birthed from the gloom. Its roof smiles a crooked, decayed grin as we approach.
“Is everything okay, man?” Gar asks, his voice accented with foreign concern. “Like, at home and everything. Or your mood? Are you, you know, like, depressed or something? You’re acting… different.”
“I’m fine,” I say. “We’re here.”
Gar and Tommo pause at the gate, looking up at the ravenous windows that watch us. The paint is cracked and peeling, exposing raw crumbling plaster. Time has assaulted the house, beating it mercilessly, but it stands stubborn, refusing to go down. I continue up the path, to the boarded-up door.
“Looks like it’s locked up pretty good,” Tommo tremors from the gate.
Even in the pale moonlight, I can see that the nails are well worn, from countless children playing ghost hunters, pulling the boards loose. I smile.
The boards come away without any resistance, and I swing the door open to the darkness, that waits to swallow us whole.
I walk straight through without turning back, ignoring the whimpers of protestation. I draw my phone for a light, and the little beam repels the darkest shadows, forcing them to retreat to the corners, from where they watch. The hallway is marred with dust and graffiti. Generations of spiders have made a home of the vacant light socket in the ceiling, and cobwebs reach into the ether, waiting to ensnarl a passerby.
“Do we have to do this?” Tommo asks from behind.
“Yes,” I reply and move with the light deeper into the house, to the living room, where a red pentagram is sprayed onto the scuffed, aged floor. One of them gasps behind me.
I sit in its centre, cross-legged, and lift the Ouija board from the bag, my fingers flirting with another chocolate wrapper.
“I don’t like this,” admits Gar. The two of them are standing by the living room doorway, unmoving.
“We need more light.” I reach into the bag again, lifting tea lights along with another chocolate bar. I devour it before placing a candle at each point of the pentagram, the hiss of the match splitting the silence each time.
“Come on,” I say, sitting cross-legged once again, fingers brushing the planchette in the centre of the board. The two exchange looks but say nothing, moving silently, like ghosts, into the pentagram.
They kneel, and their fingers join mine.
The planchette whines as we draw the circle; round, and around, and around.
The shadows encroach upon us, suffocating us with their weight.
“Is there anyone with us?” I ask.
The planchette aches towards YES and I hear them gasp.
“You’re pushing it!”
“I am not! Are you?”
I ignore them. “What is your name?”
I can feel their eyes dart between each other, then to me, then to the planchette which moves on.
Their gasps fill the shadows that have moved closer, licking the edges of the pentagram as the candles dance.
“Can we stop?”
“Yeah, come on, let’s stop.”
The two whimper beside me. My skin prickles with goose flesh. The candles quiver.
Blood thunders in my ears. The planchette shakes on the board, rattled by terror.
Cold, unseen hands rest on top of mine, groping their way up my arms, moving the planchette to its final letter.
“Let’s end this, please,” implores Tommo, fear exuding from his words, laying wet upon my ears. His eyes brim and glimmer in the candlelight. Gar looks deathly, eyes sunken into his pockmarked face.
I swallow the urge for another chocolate bar.
“One more question,” I say. “Will you accept these two?”
“Dude, what?” Gar spits, removing his hands. Tommo sobs.
“Put your hands back, Gar, we need to finish this.”
Gar stands, his face slipping into the shadows overhead.
“Not until you tell us what’s going on. You’re messing with us, aren’t you? You-you set this up. It’s a prank, right?”
Tommo is shaking violently. I sigh, fury roiling within me. The twitch of the planchette distracts me, Tommo’s fingers still laying alongside mine.
“Okay,” I purr, glancing to the board, the planchette agonizing its way along. “When I used the board by myself, he spoke to me. He promised me everything; women, fame, power. It would all be mine! All he wanted was my soul. And I- I agreed. But he gave nothing but a curse - Seven Deadly Sins; Lust, Greed, Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth and Gluttony. They’re real. They torment me, torture me, control me! I can’t take it anymore!”
I see the board's answer and smile.
“It’s been hell. But he offered me a deal,” I say, rising to my feet to join him in the gloom. “Find two sacrifices and he will set me free.”
Tommo cries, his fingers still resting on the planchette.
“Piss off,” Gar growls, not seeing the shadows passing by the candles. “You’re just trying to scare us. As if you’re going to sell us out to the Devil. The Devil doesn’t exist! This is all so stupid. Just quit it!”
I grab my bag, turn and run to the living room door, pulling it shut behind me and holding tight to the handle.
I feel Gar’s pull against me, roaring and swearing, almost drowning out the wails of Tommo.
Tommo goes quiet first; his cries die to a whimper. Gar continues to struggle, pulling hard against me, but he soon grows weaker, his voice breaking and croaking.
His final words drift into the darkness, and all is silent and unmoving.
I breathe deep, filling my lungs with the liberated, dusty air.
My heart pounds painfully. I cleave my tongue from the roof of my mouth.
I smile, chuckle and laugh. I am free. I breathe deeply again, and smack my lips.
Deep within me, my soul seethes and churns, a familiar yearn creeping over me, like a thousand invisible fingers pawing at my skin.
An ungodly groan issues from my throat as I reach for another chocolate bar...
(Image credit: One Of A Kind Antiques)