Nervous laughter rose and fell like confetti around the room, as everyone crept forwards onto the edge of their seats; ten faces dimly lit by the haunting flicker of the candles.
‘So, what’s next?’ the chairwoman asked, slowly and deliberately lacing her slender fingers together and moving her intense gaze into the candlelight. A thin and generally nervous looking guy at the far end of the table glanced around and tentatively raised his hand.
‘I’ll go’, he almost whispered, pinching his lips together.
‘Go ahead James’, the chairwoman said, the corners of her lips drawing into a sly smile.
He cleared his throat, and rubbed his hands together, which were trembling slightly.
‘This was a few years ago now’, he started.
All other nine pairs of eyes were fixed intently on him, all of their movements numbed by tension and the tickle of fear.
‘I was left alone in my house when my parents went away for a week’s holiday, to Spain’, he continued. ‘Everything was fine for the first day or two, but then…well, weird stuff began to happen.’ He looked down, absentmindedly fiddling with his nails.
‘What stuff?’, one of the girls next to him asked, her throat hoarse, as though afraid to disturb the atmosphere in the close study room.
‘Well, I’ve never told anyone this…’ he faltered, ‘it’s just one of those things where, if you never say it out loud, you can pretend like it didn’t happen.’
‘Aw go on, it’s Halloween, we’re meant to be scared out of our wits!’ a guy at the other end of the table commented.
‘Well’, he continued, straightening up on his chair, ‘we had this small statue on the mantelpiece in the living room that had been there for as long as I can remember. No-one ever moved it, not even when my mum cleaned and dusted in there. I never thought anything of that before’.
The others all shifted on their seats nervously, edging closer, elbows resting in the shadows cast upon the table.
‘It was a small statue of a man in a black suit. His face was porcelain white, with a small black moustache and he wore a black suit with a matching black bowler hat, with an umbrella hooked over one arm.’
He paused, and drew a rattling breath, momentarily stirring the tense atmosphere of the room.
‘After the first few days of my parents being away, he started to…to move around. I never saw him do it, but each time I went into the living room, he would be in a different place on the mantlepiece’.
‘Is that it?! Is that all you’ve got?!’ The guy at the opposite end of the table ventured again, his outburst smashing the pressure of the darkness surrounding them.
‘Did I say I was finished?!’ James snapped.
Everyone exchanged nervous glances.
‘That was the first thing that happened, but I just told myself that I’d moved it and not remembered, or that my cat had jumped up there and pushed it along or something, or that one of my mates was playing a trick on me.’
He paused again, rubbing his palms on his jeans, the friction crackling the spark of a match in the eerie silence. He swallowed a lump which had formed in the back of his throat.
‘That was until the day before my parents came home. I had been out for the day with some mates, but I came back early cos I remembered I needed to clean the house before my parents got back later that day.’
At that point, a car drove past the meeting room window, throwing pale light onto the closely pressed shadows, slicing through them like a knife.
James looked out of the window momentarily, and then glanced back at all of the faces staring intently at him.
‘I went indoors and the first thing I noticed was that Arthur, my cat, wasn’t waiting on the mat by the front door for me, like he usually did. I called him and he still wasn’t anywhere around, not even when I shook the cat munchies box.’
He swallowed hard, running one trembling hand through his hair.
‘I went into the living room’, he whispered, ‘and then statue wasn’t on the mantelpiece, but I saw…’ he exhaled deeply, ‘I saw drops of blood across the mantelpiece, and tiny red shoeprints, about the size of a fingernail, trailing across the carpet and up to the patio doors.’
One of the younger girls slid closer towards the chairwoman and gripped her hand, the chairwoman squeezing back, hardly daring to breathe.
James continued, ‘I followed the footprints and went outside, and I found…I found my cat, dead on the grass and the porcelain man was standing over him, with Arthur’s tail in his hand.’
Amy, a girl nearest the window screamed, shattering the silence. The room exhaled deeply as a unit, making the candlelight lick the shadows and drape them more darkly over the walls.
The chairwoman cleared her throat. ‘Well, I think James is by far the winner tonight’, she said, with a nervous laugh. She smiled more convincingly, ‘come on you lot, don’t look so frightened! Tonight is meant to be fun- none of the stories we’ve heard are true!’ but even as she said this, she felt an icy knot creep inexplicably in the pit of her stomach.
Amy shook her head, ‘yeah but some of them could easily be true!’ she ventured.
‘Well, be that as it may’, Jacqui answered quickly, ‘but tonight is about sharing your most haunting made up story, just you know, in-keeping with the whole Halloween thing.’
Hannah, the treasurer, met her gaze. ‘Well maybe we can spice things up a bit?’ she said, smiling tentatively, ‘you know, maybe we can all tell a story and it’ll be like spot the real story from the fakes.’
The vice chairperson, Becky, snapped her face upwards, ‘well I don’t know about the rest of you, but I think I’m sufficiently freaked out enough for tonight!’, she flicked on the lights and watched the warm glow graze over the pale faces. ‘Maybe we can carry this on at the party tomorrow night?’
A gentle hum of chatter and a collection of nods followed.
‘Wicked!’ Amy announced, ‘then see you all at St.Lizzie’s tomorrow night!’
‘Yeah, eight o’clock start, in the entrance way, and don’t forget that dressing up is compulsory’, Nat added enthusiastically.
‘And no-one turn up wearing a dark suit complete with bowler hat and umbrella!’ Becky laughed nervously.