Poppinac reached into her pocket and pulled out a handkerchief; a pretty embroidered piece from her sister’s drawer. Lying and thieving took first place in her young life. It pleased her to take what she wanted. Grinning the young girl mopped her nose, and silently named her sister a fool.
“Psst Rolen. Get in ere, I am not going to walk these stairs on my own.” She hissed the words, a little fearful at the echo that bounced back at her from inside the darkened gloom. Cobwebs tattered and torn rippled in the musty stale breeze from the door pushed open. Dark shapes sat in corners, silent, waiting for the pair to miss a step and creak a board. Who know what lay in this house of suggested horrors. Pushing the rattling unquiet to still itself, Poppinac stepped through the door.
Rolen was short for his age, everyone told him so, everyone except for Poppinac. They were best friends, he never asked where she got all the lovely’s she liked to collect and she never mentioned, his weepy eye. He stepped up close, breathing heavily from the jitters he felt about entering the old man’s lodge. It was a wooden monstrosity, three stories high. The window’s winked at him, the darkness of it’s empty belly within smelt like an old man’s dirty socks. Rolen had second thoughts, perhaps it wasn’t too late to turn and run.
“I don’t like this. In fact, from where I am standing this is, if not the worst idea you’ve ever had.”
A scratching sound came from the right. Rolen rubbed at his weepy eye and shuddered. Poppinac poked him, in the ribs, “Hear that? It’s Eden Wentworth scratching her way through the boards to eat your eyes and tear off your arms because you’ve disturbed her rest. He buried her here you know. Alive …..”
“Shut up.” Rolen knew her tricks, but the scuttling of roaches certainly sounded like nails on wood.
The house at the end of the road stood alone, no one dared built near, it had been empty for decades. Few eyes looked its way, fewer still walked the street to the iron gates guarding what was once a majesty. One gate hung off rusted hinges, creaking with each gust of wind.
“Why can’t you just leave it alone.” He knew he was whining but he also knew Poppinac and the stubborn streak that rose above good sense. “All we have to do it say that we went inside and if we hide for a bit, the rest won’t know. I swear it Poppinac we only have to say we went inside.”
She shot him a withering look, “For God’s sake Rolen. How can we do that without grabbing a trophy to say so. Those out there, with their knees shaking and their pants wet from the very thought of doing what they dared us to do, won’t accept the truth of it without a trophy.” Poppinac turned back to the yawning hole. “Well here goes.”
Rolen hung his head; he knew that the time for talking was done. Swallowing hard the young boy followed.
The man knew he was a ghost, knew that he was half mad with anger and grief. He felt so alone. He had a name once, all those years ago when he had walked with the living, it had been Charles Baron Wentworth, but his mother called him Bert. Now, names didn’t matter, nothing mattered in the endless shift of time. Not even the clock ticked anymore, its battery was long dead, just like him, a useless thing from a past long gone.
Eden had died and left him alone, cursing him to a life without her bright smile. He told people she had left, ran away with another man for how could he say otherwise. Her body pale and water bloated, lying face down in a bath of red water, one arm flung awkwardly over its side dripping blood onto her clean floor. How was he to know she had been that unhappy. Dead, he was still alone. Where had she gone, his sad little buttercup.
Over the years, Bert had learnt to manipulate the living world, little tricks to pass the time. The switching on a light, the slamming of a door and the one noise he had managed to conjure into the dead air. The word ‘Promise.” After all she had promised never to leave him, she had crossed her heart on the words and yet it meant nothing. Angry Bert drew in the air around him and pushed it at the closest door. SLAMmmmmmmmm. Then came the word, as angry as he could ever be, you PROMISEeeeeee.
It hit the empty walls and they soaked up most of its heat. It filtered down through the cracks and slid like fine dust through the floor boards, Rolen heard the echo of a whisper. He grabbed at Poppinac, pulling on her shoulder in fear.
“Did you hear that. There’s someone here. Jesus, we should go before the monsters kill us like they did Eden Wentworth.”
Tonight on Halloween where the boundaries of the living and dead met, Bert pretended he was a man again, brooding for yesteryear.
“Poppinac?” The young boy’s hand shook as he clutched for her shoulder.
Freckled faced with a shock of orange hair gave Poppinac an almost ethereal expression. “What is it?” and she pouted “Look all we have to do is walk the stairs and take something that used to be his. Rolen, I promise.”
Even whispering, Poppinac’s voice rang in Bert’s ears like a hammering anvil. His ghostly head lifted from his hands. Someone was here, in his house, talking as though they had a right. “They dare come into my home. They dare walk the same steps I did as a young man. Are they touching her things? Empty words coming from a dead man, still it was his house even if his corpse laid in a coffin some miles down the road.
Soft footsteps drew him to his feet. Anger bubbled in an empty breast, real enough for this ghost.
“Rolen don’t step on my heels. There’s nothing here to worry about. It’s just an old house with the lights turned off.”
The sun was setting and the lengthening shadows twisted into shapes on the walls as the sun weakly pushed its will through the broken glass windows and threadbare curtains. Rolen could hear his heart thumping in time with the breaking of sweat of his forehead. It dripped down the back of his neck, snaking its way to the soles of his shoes. He was a fearful mess.
From the corner of his eye, Rolen saw Bert, a lingering shape of white. The ghost pushed his head out of the wall just above the next step and Rolen screamed. He hadn’t meant to, but what would you have done in his place. Poppinac missed her step, she had jumped on that scream, and as the poor girl slipped. Her body crashed into Rolen, knocking him sideways. Like a pair of skittles, the pair rocked heavily together. Down they both went, all legs and arms as they bounced off each other on the way down.
Bert stepped through the wall, he pulled on his most hideous face and lifted himself into the air to greet the banged up pair. The lights flickered and upstairs several doors opened and closed in resounding bangs. All of it a spectacle to alarm, he wanted these children gone. How dare they walk his house as if they had a right.
Rolen lay under Poppinac. She opened her eyes, nothing broken, but she had the makings of some pretty bruises and a nasty headache. Pulling the handkerchief from her pocket, Poppinac wiped her face. It was then that she realized she was sitting on her best friend.
“Rolen are you alright? I’m sorry but you scared me.”
Rolen laid so very still
“Rolen please get up.” Her voice took on a begging tone. It was fretful for she was only a young girl.
Blood crept towards her feet from underneath his head and his arm, bent at an impossible angle it pointed to the top of the stairs. Hanging in the air some feet above the ground was Bert. Oddly enough, he wasn’t angry anymore. Wonder filled his dead eyes at the sight of Rolen’s corpse on the floor.
Tears fell and Poppinac dropped to her knees. “Rolen stop your fooling, get up for goodness sake. I didn’t mean it.” She rolled him over and dead eyes stared at her accusingly.
“What have I done? It was supposed to be a dare. Just a prank to make them love us”
It all stopped, the door banging, the flashing of lights and in its place stood a second ghost. Rolen looked at Poppinac, his dead eyes questioning, sadder than anything she had ever seen.
“Oh Rolen I am sorry. I didn’t mean to fall.” She hiccupped in her grief.
Rolen’s ghost looked on, as silent as the dark house he was now chained to. Her sister’s hanky sopping up the endless tears. Bert held out a hand and Rolen took it. The ghostly pair made ready to leave, Poppinac was all but forgotten.
“Wait – please.” Entreated the young girl, “Don’t go. What am I to do now, you’re my best friend, my only friend.”
Rolen lagged and Bert stopped, they both turned, ghostly apparitions on a stairwell. The lengthening shadows were long gone, not even the full moon had the sense to send its light into such a place.
’They’ll blame me and I’ll be sent away to be locked in a prison with bars with no one to keeping me safe. Please Rolen what should I do.”
The ghost once called Rolen shook off Bert’s hand and gently walked the stairs back to Poppinac. He reached out and with fingers alight with the last measure of living energy, snatched her handkerchief from her shaking fingers. He looked to Bert, and with a nod Bert opened his mouth.. Poppinac felt her heart miss a beat, now it was her turn to sweat.
PROMISEeee. Came a booming voice.
“Promise? What do I have to promise?” She was a little more than scared now.
Rolen smiled and she knew as his lingering touch reached her heart what it meant.
“Okay I promise.” The handkerchief left his hand and floated to rest nicely on his cooling corpse.
She sniffed as they disappeared through the wall. Now she was truly alone. Rolen belonged to a dare, one that she had foolishly accepted and the promise now made with love for her dear friend, was one of truth. Straightening her shoulders, Poppinac left the old man’s lodge and took to the street. All she had to do was tell the truth. For the rest of her life Poppinac had to walk the path of the straight and narrow, no more stealing, no more dares, just acts of a good girl doing the right thing. With a sniff and a wipe of her nose with her stolen handkerchief, Poppinac walked the long walk home.