“What was that?”
Anthony looks up from his science homework. Chloe stares towards the hallway. Dani gives her sister a curious look.
“What was what?”
“I thought I heard a noise.”
“Probably a rat. Or the trees outside.”
Dani pulls the blind and looks out of the window. She turns her head back and shakes her head. Chloe gets to her feet.
“I’m sure it isn’t. Or it is Mike playing a joke.”
The sound reverberates through the room. Anthony finds himself on his feet in an instance. Dani pales. A scraping noise fills the room.
“Alright.” Anthony yells out, “Quite that.”
“Not funny!” Chloe adds.
The only answer is a low moaning noise.
“Come on.” Anthony heads towards the hallway.
“Where are you going?”
“To find out who is making that racket.” The teen yells over his shoulder.
Dani and Chloe glance at each other then slowly follow him.
“How do you know?”
“Because there are thick, tall bushes all around the house. Bushes with lots of thorns. The only places where you can come up to the house is at the front and the back. Since Dani didn’t see anyone outside they have to be at the front of the house.”
“Wouldn’t they just run to the back then?”
“Maybe but if I hear noise at the back of the house, I would just send one of you to sound like we are going to the back and then wait here.”
His voice trails off as he comes to a stop. Curious, Chloe steps up next to him and glances to the left. She hears a sharp gasp from her sister. The once empty room has been filled with skulls and candles. A black pentagram decorates the floor while small bowls occupy each corner.
Chloe turns to her sister. She is backing away from the sight. Her skin pale and her hands trembling.
“Dani, Dani. Just someone’s bad idea of a joke. It’s okay.”
Anthony squats down and taps the edge of the pentagram. He stands back up with an angry scowl on his face. With a flick of his wrist he snaps out a knife.
“What are you doing?”
“Going to destroy it.”
“Oh come on.” Chloe mutters, “Just someone trying to scare us. I’ve seen those skulls.” She points to the pile, “I’ve used them! For theatre! Made of foam.”
She picks one up and gives it a twist. The skull resists at first but then splits, revealing white foam beneath a thick plaster.
“See? They’ve just props.”
“Maybe but there is a reality we can’t see. Even joking about it is dangerous.” He bends down and scrapes the paint, creating a gap in the design. He kicks over the bowls as well.
Without a word, Dani heads towards the door and tries to get it open. The door knob turns but it doesn’t open. She tries again with the same results. She slaps and kicks the door and tries to pull it open.
“Easy, easy.” Chloe wraps her arms around Dani and pulls her back, “Easy. It’s okay. It’s okay. Nothing is wrong.”
For a moment Dani struggles but she relaxes. Her breath comes in ragged gasps. A few seconds passes before her breathing returns to normal.
“Why don’t you wait in the living room.”
Dani walks away. Her shoulders slumped and her arms wrapped around her stomach. Chloe watches her until she disappears around the corner. With a deep breath, she turns to Anthony.
“You’re probably wondering what that is all about.”
“A little bit.” He raises a hand to stop her reply, “But it is not my business. We all have things that we don’t want to talk about or can easily explain.”
“Like your anger over some stupid arcane art joke?”
“Yes. Just like that.” He steps out of the room and over to the door, “I am, however, concern about this door.”
“Because it shouldn’t have gotten stuck.”
“But the lock isn’t.”
Chloe raises an eyebrow.
Anthony gives her a weak smile, “Part of the reason why the tradition still goes on. The house, for the most part, is kept the same way. Except that the windows and doors are maintained. To ensure that kids on their initiation night can get out in an emergency. Ten years ago there was a kid who had to get to the hospital. Allergy or something. Anyway, the kid almost died because the door had gotten so badly warped and the lock was rusted that they couldn’t open the door. Luckily, the mayor at the time had arranged for the police to drive by every four hours. Just to check on the kids. The officer saw that they were in trouble and used an axe to break the door down.”
“Your town is so weird.” Chloe says as she gently kicks the wall, “So what is wrong now?”
“I don’t know.” He squats down and looks at the lock, “It worked fine when we got in.”
He tries the door and it swings open without effort. Only compliant is the creak of the hinges. They share an uneasy look.
“Maybe she wasn’t turning the knob all the way.”
Anthony winces at how weak the words sound. Both knew that Dani had turned the knob all the way. Practically tried ripping it off.
“Well. Door is working now.” He shuts it and reopens a couple of times, “Go on back. I’m going to finish cleaning this up.”
“Are you sure?”
Chloe walks away without another word. Anthony turns his attention back to the designs and sets about crushing the skull props and putting the little fires out. A groan echoes through the house. Anthony looks up at the ceiling and feels something cold crawl up his spine. It is low and seems to come from the walls.
“Please tell me that is not what I think it is.”
Bang! Bang! Bang!
The sudden sound makes him jump. He growls to himself and stomps over to the door. He waits a moment.
“Stop that!” Chloe yells!” He hears the window open from the living room. “Come on! That is getting annoying!”
The boy hears soft laughter on the other side of the door. He puts his hand on the doorknob but waits to open it.
He yanks the door open.
Two left legs appear in the doorway. The legs drop down as their owners stumble into the house. One of the owners ends up doing a poor splits. A groan fills the air as that particular owner rolls over onto his back.
Anthony shuts the door. He shines a light on them. They squint in the harsh white light. Both boys share dark hair and brown skin.
“Val and Jacob. I should have known. Does your mother know where you are?”
“Of course!” They answer. “We have thirty minutes until we have to go back home.”
“Hey Tony.” The leg-split boy mutters, “How are you doing?”
“Annoyed.” He extends a hand, “Why would you do that? You know how I don’t like witchcraft stuff.” He hauls to teen up.
The two new boys exchange looks.
“We didn’t. We were just making noise.”
“What?” Anthony looks between them, “Val. Look.”
Anthony shows the taller boys the living room with the broken skulls.
“Oh. Must have been Mike.”
Val nods his head, “He wanted to do the whole scaring bit. But he said that we needed to keep you on the other side of the house while he sneaked in and set a prank up inside.”
“Well. That was stupid.”
“Not disagreeing with you.”
“And what about the door?” Anthony presses, “What was that for? And how did you do it?”
“The door?” Jacob asks, “We didn’t do anything with the door.”
“What’s going on out here?”
Chloe and Dani appear. Although Dani is still pale, she seems to be in better control of her emotions. Chloe, on the other hand, is clearly mad and ready to take someone’s head off. The two brothers step back and hide behind Anthony.
“What?” Val answers, “Nothing wrong with self-preservation.”
“Are you two chuckleheads the one messing with us? Putting up the witch stuff?”
“No!” They answer together.
Chloe glares at both of them.
“Look. We were told by Mike to keep you on the other side while he put a couple of pranks inside the house. We were supposed to keep you on the other side of the house to give him time to get in and set the jokes.”
“Where are the other jokes?” Anthony says,
“I don’t know.”
“Wait.” Jacob speaks up, “I think I might know.”
“You do?” Chloe, her voice laced with sarcasm.
“Yes. Like we said. We had to keep you busy. So we banged the side of the house to get you to investigate. To get you away from the back of the house.”
Anthony’s face lights up and he snaps his fingers, “Cellar.”
Jacob jabs a finger in his direction, “Bingo.”
“Cellar?” Dani’s voice shakes, she gives her sister a panicked look.
“You won’t have to go down there.”
“Right.” Anthony grabs Val by the back of the shirt, “Chuckle Brother One. You’re with me. Chuckle Brother Two. You stay here and finish up dismantling that room.” He shoves Val towards the back of the house, “Come on. We got to find out what Mike did.”
“Sorry!” Jacob yells, “Just meant it as a joke.”
The two boys disappear down the hall. Jacob turns towards the two girls. A smile tugs at his face. He likes how the moonlight strikes Dani’s legs. His smile falters as his eyes reach the look on their faces.
“Hey.” He stammers, “We just wanted a little fun. Part of the tradition.”
Chloe snorts and spins away. Her sister glances behind Jacob. He sees her shoulders shiver before following her sister down the hall.
“Hey.” Jacob yells.
The brunette freezes in her steps. She turns towards him. Jacob is surprised to see the earlier fear missing. Replaced by He smiles uncertainly and holds out a hand.
“I’m sorry. We just wanted to have fun. You know. Scare you a little so you have something to laugh about later.”
“What makes you think I’m not laughing now?”
“Because you keep pulling your arms together. Like you’re cold. And since it is humid as all get, I take it you are nervous.”
“Maybe I am.” She says sharply before walking quickly away.
“Way to go Jacob.” He mutters to himself, “Way to go. Just. Keep your big mouth shut.”
Jacob quickly finishes cleaning up the room and rejoins the others in the living room. Dani is putting more firewood on while Chloe stares out of the window. From the kitchen he can hear the sounds of a conversation but cannot make out the words.
“So.” Jacob mutters.
Dani looks up at him then quickly away.
He would have missed it had he not been watching her.
“What are you doing here?” Chloe asks.
“Oh. Just like I said. Just trying to scare you.”
Chloe scoffs and turns away, “This was stupid.”
Jacob shrugs as his brother and Anthony returns. Val drops to the floor and sits Indian style. Dani and Chloe whisper quietly to each other in the corner.
“Well, we found a couple of practical jokes like a box full of spiders and some sticky mess that would have fallen on us had we not been looking for it.”
“Great, Anthony. Now what?”
“We cleaned it up.” He turns to the brothers, “And these guys go home.”
“Fine.” Val says with a smile, “We failed anyway.”
“How so?” Chloe asks.
“Didn’t scare you.” Jacob answers, “You got mad. Which was not our goal.”
Again, she scoffs.
“Anyway. You two have a great night. Uh, did you two want something to drink? We brought some beer. Or pop if you don’t want beer.”
“I’ll take a Doctor Pepper, if you have it.”
Val grins, “Of course I do you. You’re addicted to it, Tony.”
“Oh shut it. Your fault.”
Both brothers laugh. Val stands up as he says, “Fair enough. Come on Jake.”
“Right.” Jacob glances at Dani before following his brother down the hall.
“You three going to be okay?”
“We’re fine Val. Just trying to catch up on homework.”
“Already? This is why I don’t take those dual credit courses. You get homework all of the time. Even for spring break.”
“Maybe but it’ll help out later on.”
“With your grades?”
Anthony shrugs, “Having an easier time in academics doesn’t automatically mean an easier time in education. You still have to work hard at getting good grades.”
Val shrugs his shoulders, “Whatever.”
He turns the doorknob but the door refuses to open. The teen frowns and tries again. Finally he puts his foot on the door frame and pulls on the door as hard as he can.
“What the heck? Why isn’t the door opening?” He bangs on the door, “Mike! Come on man! The idea was for us to get out. Mike! We know you’re waiting to scare us as we go out the door!”
“Very funny.” Anthony says with a bit of annoyance creeping into his voice, “It’s late. Your mother is looking for you and you tried this before.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The door. We couldn’t get it open earlier.”
The brothers look at one another, “We never mess with the doors. Not what happened last time.”
“If you haven’t messed with the doors, then what did you?”
Without warning the curtains closest to the teens slide shut. Then the shutters slam close. Throughout the house they hear metallic clicks as window latches click shut.
“Oh this ain’t good.”
To Be Continued…