“We have to be quiet,” she says, the clothes hanging around us muffling her voice.
“I know what I’m doing. Those floorboards creak so much, we’ll hear anyone coming.”
She giggles, and her arm brushes mine. There isn’t much space in this closet. She’s complained about that a couple of times, but I don’t mind. It’s the perfect spot.
“Do you think she’s found any of the others yet?”
I could tell her, but I don’t. “Doesn’t matter, as long as she hasn’t found us.”
A closet might seem an obvious place to hide, but this room’s in the older east wing of the house, up in the eaves. The main corridor scared her—the naked bulbs only giving a sickly, orange glow that accentuated the damp on the walls—and she wasn’t too keen on the spiral staircase with the flaking paint and rotten wooden handrail. But, as I told her, that’s good. It’ll put others off.
I can feel her breath on my face, warm and cool at the same time. I can feel her body next to mine, and if I move my arm a fraction, I know my fingers will find her own.
But I don’t do that. We’re friends. Nothing more.
She’s made that clear far too often.
“Reckon she’ll get Steve first,” I say.
“Yeah,” she says, and I can hear her smile. “Can’t hide for toffee. Come the zombie apocalypse, he’d be stuffed.”
Zombie apocalypse—don’t make me laugh! As if those rotting things would stand a chance.
There’s a crash, distant and muffled, from another part of the house.
“Looks like she’s found someone,” she said, and there’s a hint of pleasure in her voice, and the coats shift as she bounces. Her mouth is close enough that her breath excites the hairs on the back of my neck, and I shudder.
I concentrate. Through the ancient lavender-and-mothballs stink of the clothing, I catch her sweat. Not strong, just a hint of…of her being. It’s pleasant, in a way, but that’s probably because I associate it with her.
Which can’t be healthy. I’m becoming obsessed. It’s clouding my judgement.
Just as well this is the last night, then. Whatever happens, things will be different in the morning.
A rumble, almost too low to hear, sweeps over us.
“That your stomach?” She prods me, fingers digging just beneath my ribs.
I pretend to wince. “Thunder,” I say. “Forecast said storms.”
And it is. In a large, deserted house, midnight approaching, on the night before All Hallows.
The date’s purely symbolic, of course. But it’s useful. The night when spirits rise and dead walk the earth, and all the other nonsense. It raises the fear.
At least, it does in most people. The kids give me more problems, turning up and demanding sweets. I never know how to deal with them. Even when I try to scare them off, they only laugh.
Someone cries out, and I recognise Anika. The sound is sharp, and it ends as abruptly as it starts.
“Reckon someone else has been found,” I say, even though Anika was the one doing the seeking this time. So someone else found her.
“Closer than the crash,” she says, and she shuffles, her hand brushing my side. I turn my head, and even in the darkness I’m conscious of the skin on the side of her neck, so smooth and pale. And so close to me.
“We’ll be fine,” I whisper, sensing her flesh goose-bump where my breath touches it.
Another crash, and a longer, deeper scream. She jerks, clutches my arm, squeezes. At least, through the sleeves of my jacket, she won’t feel how cold I’m growing.
“What was that?” There’s a note of panic in her voice, and her heart beats faster now.
I can’t tell her. She’d never believe me. Besides, it would spoil the surprise.
“Probably Khalid falling over. You know how clumsy he is.” And I can imagine him tripping, imagine one of us falling on him.
I run my tongue over my teeth, know I can’t hold back much longer.
“No,” she says, shaking her head, her hair brushing my cheek. “That sounded bad.”
And then we hear the creaking floorboards. She gasps, grips my arm once more. I want to pat her hand, but that would only give her another shock.
There’s a soft moaning from the corridor, and I recognise the hunger, feel it within myself.
“Should we take a look?” I say, and I can’t help grinning, know that if she could see my mouth now, she’d run screaming.
“No! We need to be quiet.”
A door opens, rotten wood scraping against the floor. The coppery reek of blood seeps into the closet, and I let out a soft moan, can’t help myself.
The room’s new occupant approaches, and hisses.
She jumps, throws both hands at me. One reaches round my shoulder, the other rests on my chest.
Just by my broken heart. Perfect!
“Nothing to worry about,” I whisper, my lips so close I can practically taste the salty moisture on her skin.
My jacket’s open, and the hand that rests there stops moving. She’s felt it now, the lack of a heart-beat. I taste her terror, and I smell the blood rushing through her.
“I won’t let them get you,” I say, holding her tight as she starts to struggle.
There’s no time to explain. My friends would be too rough. Only I can give this moment the delicacy she deserves.
And then, she’ll be a legend. She’ll live on, in tales of the haunted house on All Hallows’ Eve. And in the same half-life I embody.
The hissing grows louder, and a hand grabs the closet handle. She moans, no longer capable of words.
“I know what I’m doing,” I say as I open my mouth wide and lower it onto her neck.
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