‘So where’d you even find this thing El?’ Daryl asked, inspecting the moth-eaten oblong box in Tim’s hands.
‘Yeah,’ Tim added. ‘It’s not like you can just walk into Toys ‘R Us and buy one.’
‘It was in Gemma’s wardrobe. Hidden in plain sight, right between Cluedo and Monopoly,’ Elis explained as he emptied a plastic carrier bag full of tea-lights and jar candles onto his bedroom desk that was strewn with school files and comics and dog-eared spiral copybooks.
‘Dad would proper freak if he knew she had it. Probably have her confined to some remote convent of nuns in the Himalayas, never to be seen again.’
The flaxen-haired boy chuckled to himself at the thought. Reaching into the back pocket of his baggy jeans, he pulled out a knock-off Zippo he had stolen from a market stool that summer just passed. Elis snapped the metal lid open with a loud clink and thumbed the flint wheel to ignite a steady blue flame. He began to light the candles and hand them to Daryl who placed them strategically around the bedroom; on shelves and on top of the cupboard, and a few closer to the ground on the stacks of movie magazines piled against the wall. Tim stood aside and watched, hesitant to participate. After making a few final adjustments, Elis flicked the switch by the door, and with that the ceiling lamp went dark and the messy teenage boy’s bedroom transformed into a flickering spiritualist’s den.
‘No turning back now boys,’ Elis said, admiring how the scattered flames of light caused their shadows to dance on the walls.
He took the box back from Tim and knelt down on the carpeted floor. He lifted the lid to reveal the contents inside.
‘Are you sure Gemma won’t mind us using this?’ Tim asked.
Elis and Daryl turned to each other and let out a chorused Ooo-ooohhhhhh! that went up the scale like a slide-whistle. The two boys started making kissy kissy faces before bursting into a fit of laughter. Tim glared at them in seething silence.
‘We all know you’ve got a massive hard on for my creepy older sister Tim,’ Elis replied, ‘but no need to be such a dweeb about it.’
‘I was only asking,’ Tim said, attempting to sound nonplussed.
Elis pulled the board out from the box, unfolded it, and laid it out on the floor. Daryl picked up a can of Coke from the bed and let himself fall into a massive Star Wars patterned beanbag beneath him, the bag visibly straining under the boy’s heavy frame. He cracked the can open, took a long swig of the fizzy drink, and let out a droning jagged burp.
‘Besides,’ Elis continued with a taunting glint in his eye, ‘Gemma’s in Italy till the end of term. Chances are she’s making out with some bronzed dude named Renzo as we speak. Sure she’s not missing an old dusty piece of cardboard … or a certain skinny worm-boy we all know and love.’
Elis gave Tim his best jester grin. Dan guffawed.
‘Shut up El!’ Tim snapped.
The thought of Gemma locking lips with a sexy Italian had ruffled his feathers. He tried to put the upsetting image out of mind by focusing on the matter at hand. He crouched down beside Daryl and Elis to examine the cardboard square.
The face of the board showed the entire alphabet printed in two neat curves. Just beneath these were numerals from one to nine with a zero at the end. The two top corners were decorated with etchings of a sun and moon, a bold YES and NO next to each respectively. There was an ominous GOODBYE stamped at the bottom that appeared to be wavering in the candlelight as if the word were about to peel itself off the board, float up and hover mid-air.
‘You guys sure this is a good idea?’ Tim asked.
‘Course it is,’ Elis said rubbing his hands together. ‘It’s Halloween night. The parents are away. Time for some supernatural shenanigans.’
Seeing the look of concern on Tim’s face, Daryl clapped his friend on the shoulder.
‘It’s only a bit of fun mate. Relax.’
Tim didn’t think he could relax. He knew that believing in ghosts and spirits was pretty childish; it was the same as believing in monsters under the bed. On the other hand, he had to admit – only to himself mind – that he still felt uneasy when he woke up to go to the toilet at night and was confronted with the pitch-black landing. He always got a sense that someone or something was lurking in the dark, ready to pounce on him. And no matter how much he told himself he was being a lily-livered baby, he always noticed his pulse would begin to race, and he would subconsciously pick up his pace in a jittery panic to enter the sanctuary of the brightly lit bathroom. All that for an imaginary bogeyman in the night. He wasn’t sure how he would react should they actually make contact with the spirits of the dead.
‘How does this work then?’ he asked, trying to sound casual, show he was game.
‘OK, I’ve done my research. We place this planchette in the middle of the board,’ Elis held up a small heart-shaped device that had a hole in its centre. ‘We all put our fingers on either side of it. Then we’re meant to ask questions to the spirits and they’ll answer by moving the planchette around the board and spelling out their answers letter by letter. Ready?’
Tim and Daryl nodded.
‘Given how exciting this neighbourhood is, we’ll probably end up speaking to the ghost of some dead cat buried in the back garden,’ Daryl said with a smirk. He put his can of Coke down and leaned forward to place his fingers on the planchette alongside the others’.
The boys fell silent. The séance commenced.
‘Hello. If anyone’s here can you please give us a sign,’ Elis intoned to the air.
The planchette remained still. Nothing happened. Daryl let out a strangled meow. Elis punched Daryl hard in the arm and Tim laughed, feeling his bottled up anxiety depressurise somewhat. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all. It was just a laugh, like Daryl had said.
The three boys started fooling around, making creepy ghost noises, doing their best Regan MacNeil impressions: Your mother sucks cocks in hell! But after a few more minutes of buffoonery, Elis shut them up to resume the spiritual enquiry. Tim was more at ease now. There was nothing to worry about.
‘Hello,’ Elis chanted in a deep mock-serious tone like some B-movie Svengali.
‘We welcome you to this room.’
‘This is bullshit,’ Daryl scoffed sounding bored. ‘It doesn’t work El. Can we stop sitting around a plank of cardboard like three loser assholes and go do something that’s actually fun?’
But Elis wasn’t ready to give up just yet.
‘We are ready to receive you amongst us.’
The planchette suddenly twitched. The boys gasped.
‘Is someone here?’ Elis called out, astonished.
Their hands began to glide slowly around the board in small round circles that started from the centre and widened with each gyre. The planchette came to a final halt over the etching of the sun.
Tim’s heart began to pound hard against his ribcage.
‘Christ alive!’ Daryl whispered.
‘It’s working,’ Elis said in awe, and then to the ceiling. ‘Who are you? What’s your name?’
Round and round their hands went.
‘Are you pushing it Elis?’ Tim asked unable to take his eyes off the board. ‘This isn’t funny.’
‘How can I be pushing it? It’s moving in my direction.’
‘N – A – B – U,’ they recited in unison as the wooden heart glided across the surface.
‘Nah-boo? That’s not a name,’ Daryl said.
‘Maybe it’s foreign,’ Elis posited with a shrug. ‘Do you have anything to tell us Nabu?’
Off their hands sped, fluttering and stalling over select letters.
D – E – F – W – L – C – M
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ Daryl asked.
‘Maybe d-e is like shorthand for the or something,’ Elis said.
The boys mouthed the letters, filling in the gaps with random vowels, trying to form coherent words.
‘The Fowl Com? The Falcon?’
‘Death … will … come! It’s Death Will Come!’ Tim cried, his voice rising in pitch.
He jumped up and two of the candles on the magazine stacks went out in a puff of smoke. Daryl stumbled to his feet in shock, knocking over his can of Coke that fizzed and hissed on the carpet and pooled around the edges of the board like a poisonous potion or sacrificial blood. From somewhere not too far off a cat let out a screeching ululating meow. Tim felt the hairs on his arm stand on end. Elis no longer looked eager and excited; he was now as wan as wax.
The three boys made a split-second unspoken collective agreement: run for it.
They shot out the bedroom door, switching on all the lights as they scrambled down the stairs, knocking down a picture, the glass smashing in the frame as it hit the ground.
‘I swear to God El, if you’ve got us cursed by some dead evil fuck, I’m gonna kill you,’ Daryl yelled.
They rushed through the kitchen, pushing past one another, each trying to get out into the back garden first.
The sensor light clicked on as they shuffled out onto the dewy lawn, and they froze in the white beam like escaped convicts under a searchlight. The three boys stood there, taking in deep lungfuls of the cold night air, looking up at Elis’ bedroom window that was glimmering red from the burning candles.
The boys started to shiver. They blamed it on the chilly October night.
Tim turned the key in the front door and saw the glow of the TV flickering in the living room. He heard a rattle of cutlery come from the kitchen.
‘Dad? Mum? I’m home,’ he called out in the entryway.
Dad popped his head out of the kitchen door, a piece of buttered toast in hand.
‘Back so soon?’ he said through a mouthful of his late night snack. ‘Thought you boys were having an all-night movie marathon?’
‘Elis wasn’t feeling well. We decided to call it a night.’
‘Oh, well they’re showing Twilight Zone re-runs on TV if you want to join?’ Dad said pointing toward the living room.
‘Nah, think I’ll go to bed. I’m a bit tired.’
Dad switched off the kitchen lights and Tim watched him walk down the corridor, his dressing gown trailing behind him.
‘Actually, Dad, can I ask you a weird question?’
Dad turned on his slippered heel.
‘Do you believe in ghosts and evil spirits, that sort of thing?’
Dad raised an eyebrow.
‘What’s the matter? Got spooked by one of your exorcism films?’
Tim looked sheepishly down at his feet.
‘Something like that,’ he admitted.
‘Well,’ Dad began as he absently brushed crumbs out of his greying beard, ‘your gran certainly believed there was. She once told uncle Jim and I about the spirit of some dead nun she saw in the chapel when …’
He trailed off seeing Tim’s troubled face.
‘But I’m sensing you don’t want to hear about that right this minute.’
Dad walked up to his son. Tim sensed his dad wanted to put a hand on his shoulder, but they had never been the touchy type. Instead, he leaned next to him, back to the bannister.
‘Honestly Timmy, far be it from me to tell you what to believe, but I think it’s safe to say there’s no such thing as ghosts or ghouls or any of that nonsense. Sometimes we see things or have experiences we don’t understand, so our imagination weaves a narrative around the events, comes up with quick-fix explanations. But if you’re willing to take the time and look closely enough, you’ll always find logical answers that will demystify any campfire spook stories. Trust me, there’s enough crazy stuff happening in the world without us having to add the supernatural.’
Tim felt heartened.
‘Yeah, I guess that makes sense.’
Dad nodded and wolfed down his final bite of toast.
‘That said,’ he added, ‘if I do discover I’m a ghost after I shuffle off this mortal coil, you’re the first one I’m haunting.’
To Extinguish & Ignite the Light of Magic is a short story told over 5 scenes.
Part 4 will be posted next week.
Special massive thanks to the amazing Cynthia Tedy for her beautiful illustrations. Please check out more of Cynthia’s work on her website here.