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Chapter 17: Playing with fire

April 21, 2013

When Fred had finally managed to escape from Ian, he went straight to the kids’ zone.

One, he’d heard there was a place there set up for teens, and he wanted to go and check it out. Two, he reckoned that was where he was least likely to run into any of the people he was now trying to avoid. Three, he could get some chips on the way. Four, he thought it was pretty likely that the lost kid would show up there.

He wasn’t feeling especially public-spirited, so the fourth reason was definitely the last reason for going, but he did think it was worth having a quick look round. There was no sign of Falcon, though, so he headed into Teenspace. It was a big tent in camo colours. Outside was a bit of a trampoline and there were some kids roughly his own age messing about on it.

He went in.

There was a table set up kind of like a bar and you could get real coke. He bought one and dropped his bag next to one of the beanbag chairs. There was a girl there, playing on her DS, he couldn’t see what game. And a couple of kids maybe a bit older than him debating exactly which one of them was the smelliest. He figured they must be brothers, that sort of forced intimacy that meant you would hang out together even if you didn’t really like each other that much. He wondered briefly what had happened to Mark.

He opened his coke. Wondered if anyone was going to talk to him. Drank the coke – slowly, making it last. Nobody did.

Finally: “What you playing?” he asked the girl.
She glanced up, briefly. “Zelda.”
“Which one?”
“Doesn’t matter,” she said, going back the game. “They’re all crap.”
Fred gave that a beat, but she left it there. “Why you playing it then?”
The girl shrugged, looking up again. “I could give you a bloody lecture on why they’re all crap,” she said. “But I don’t reckon you’d be interested.”

Christ. He was only asking. He took the last slug of coke. The two kids he thought were brothers had started rolling fags. Fred bloody hated smoking. It made him cough like hell and it stank like shit. Worse than shit.

Alright. One last try.
“You could play something else.”
“Like I said, all crap.”
“Why d’you play at all then?”
She looked up. “Yeah,” she said, dripping sarcasm. “Leave it to the boys. Right.”

She sounded livid. He didn’t get it, but she had a point – he didn’t care. Stuff it. This whole place was crap. He picked his bag up again and slung it over his shoulder.

“God, you’re right,” said the girl. “This is stupid. Let’s do something else.”
Eh? She poked him in the arm.
“My dad says the forest is properly haunted,” she said. “Wanna go find some ghosts?”

The girl led the way out of the Teenspace. She was shorter than him, but not by much, with long brown hair in a plait that went half way down her back. She wasn’t pretty, not like Daisy was pretty, not like the girls in magazines. He followed her. Why did he always seem to end up getting sucked into other people’s plans? God, was he doomed to be hen-pecked all his life?

“What’s your name?”
“Mine’s Pip,” she said. “It’s gonna be night soon.” She sounded gleeful.
“Not for ages,” he said.
“Falls quicker in the forest.”

Fred felt a skitter of nerves. He remembered the night before, going up to the labyrinth with Mark and Daisy. Damned if he was going to admit how the dark creeped him out. Shadows moving. Night creatures. Anyway, he had a torch in his backpack. Wasn’t sure how much battery there was left, but he wasn’t going to think about that, because it wasn’t going to get dark for hours yet.

They went into the forest.
“Where’s these ghosts then?” he asked.
“Dunno,” said Pip. “I reckon you have to go pretty far in, though. If I were a ghost, I wouldn’t be hanging about here at the edge. I’d be in the middle, being proper scary.”

They walked on, through the trees. At first, they were following the path but every now and then Pip would dart off up some bank of earth or through some patch of trees. Whims.

He hoped she knew where she was going. He was completely lost. She treated him like a kid brother, although she told him she was fourteen, same as he was. He should have known better than to expect anything else. Girls were never interested in him. Mark had got all the charm in that department and Fred had got – well, he wasn’t sure what he’d got. The leftovers. Life, apparently, was like that.

Pip had been right. It was getting darker now. The trees were so thick they shut the light out so it felt like dusk even though the sky, where you could see it, was still pretty blue.

Fred became aware that he could not hear the festival sounds any more. He looked around nervously. No sign of anything but trees and brambles. Undergrowth and rabbit poo. Nice. Not.

Pip stopped. “Got anything to eat?”
“No,” said Fred. He wasn’t that hungry.
“I could murder a sandwich.”
“Sorry,” said Fred. Like it was his fault. “We could go back and get something,” he suggested. A chivalrous exit. And he wouldn’t be sorry to give up on the ghosts.

“Yeah,” she said. “Alright. Doesn’t feel very ghosty anyway. Not dark enough. Any idea which way?”
He looked around again, trying not to panic. Still a long time until nightfall.
“No,” he said at last. “I thought you did.”
“Bollocks,” said Pip. “Well, I reckon it’s probably this way.”

She was pointing up a slope to their left. Fred had no idea, but that way looked as good as any other so he let her take the lead.

After a while, Fred said: “You sure this is the right way?”
“No,” said Pip, too cheerfully. “But I can see a light up ahead.”

She pointed and he saw it too. It didn’t look all that bright, but then it was hard in the forest gloom to know whether that meant anything.
Still, a light. That meant people. Therefore festival. Equals good.

They picked up pace a bit. She seemed just as keen as he was to get out of the forest. Fred didn’t know if that was because of the dark or the sandwich. His money was on sandwiches, she didn’t look the sort who’d missed too many meals.

They got nearer the top of the rise and the light seemed to be getting brighter. It was flickery.
“I reckon it’s moving,” said Pip.
“You what?”
Fred watched it. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I think it’s getting bigger though.”

They kept going, following it through the trees. Fred tried to ignore the knot of anxiety that had started growing in his belly.

There was a line ahead where the trees seemed to thin into a bit of a clearing. As they came out into the open they saw the light. Not people. Not festival. Equalled not good.

It was a candle.

Not just a normal candle though. It was massive. And Fred had been right, too, it was getting bigger. Although that didn’t give him any satisfaction because he was too busy watching the thing grow before his eyes. The actual candle was getting bigger. The flame was growing too, getting bigger and brighter.

It was mental. Impossible.
“Shit,” said Pip, awed. “What the hell is that?”

A scared voice said: “I think it’s magic.”
Fred and Pip instinctively drew closer together. “Who’s there?” called Fred, trying to sound brave.
They saw someone approaching, a shadowy silhouette, hazy and shimmering in the weird, hot light.

“My name is Hazel,” said the voice.
Fred could see now, and was surprised to recognise the person. You see a bloke in a dress, you don’t forget it easily.
“Bloody hell,” he said.

“So what’s going on?” demanded Pip.
“Magic,” repeated Hazel. He – she? – sounded small and lost. “I think it’s real magic.”

And in the background, the freaky candle was still getting bigger and bigger.

The flame was starting to touch a branch that was hanging over from the nearest tree. It licked at the leaves and Fred could smell damp smoke. Pip swore and ran for the candle.

“Put the bloody thing out!” he shouted, and ran after her.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 21, 2013 10:22 pm

    Word count – 1441
    Prompt – Nightfall (BrendaAlicante) – also, a second go-round for Games console (Judy)

    Please leave a comment with a prompt suggestion for Chapter 18
    (Check the sidebar for a link to more info about this interactive project!)

  2. brendaalicante permalink
    April 22, 2013 9:32 pm

    Exciting chapter and very nice written. No doubt you have enough prompts now but if not then I suggest – SAVED

    • brendaalicante permalink
      April 22, 2013 9:34 pm

      Exciting chapter and very nicely written. No doubt you have enough prompts now but if not then I suggest – SAVED

      I meant ‘nicely’ not ‘nice’- typo

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