“Faster! Faster!” she yells, as I struggle to keep pace. Gasping for air in a burst of effort, I lean forward to leverage my stride.
“We shouldn’t go to the house. Mother will be furious.” I blurt.
My legs wobble as I bend doubled to catch my breath. I buckle under and sit unceremoniously on my butt. “Stories. About the house. Sightings,” I huff.
“C’mon. Stop being stupid. It’s these crazy people,” she sniggers, kicking at the rain-soaked gambling chits embedded in mud. Burnt-out joss sticks stand alongside maggots-infested cakes offered to wandering spirits for “lucky numbers” to bet on.
I stare at the house. The roof caved in where rotting trusses gave way. Windows gaped; their frames ripped out. Creepers which had taken over the front yard now threaten to overwhelm part of the house.
“You can go ahead. I am going home now.”
“Cluck! cluck! cluck!” Beth flaps her arms nosily. “I’m going to tell everybody that you are a wuss.”
“Whatever,” I yell back, turning to walk away.
“I’m going to tell your parents that….”, she smiles coyly, “you killed your grandfather.”
“NO, I DID NOT!”
“He fell down in the toilet under your watch.”
“It was an accident!”
“He had hypoglycemia. You were furious you had to babysit him that weekend. You left him alone downstairs to fend for himself.”
I march angrily behind her towards the house.The steps creak loudly under our weight. The afternoon sunlight beams through cracks in the roof. A broken chair here. Half a table there. A piece of mirror lying on the floor. Thick cobwebs hang down the corners.
I sigh with relief. Perhaps there is really nothing after all. I wander into the bedroom. It smells musty and dank, like stale powdered sweat on a shirt. A doorless wardrobe stands solemnly beside the window, partially blocking out the light.
They said that her chopped-up body was buried under the cement floor.
I peer between the wooden slates in the kitchen, wondering if there were empty bottles which used to hold the oils.
She was skinned. The fatty bits under her skin were fried to extract the oil for black magic.
The nape of my neck tingles. Something icy touches my shoulder blade. I scream and break into a run. Past the disused guard post. Down the hill. Until I reach the junction to my parents’ house. I slump against the tree to catch my breath. I gag. My throat parch. My head buzzing. I swallow a gulp of air loudly.
A man appears. He glares at me; the corners of his lips curl slowly into a sinister grin. His bloodshot eyeballs lurk behind hooded lids. There are two black marks on his forehead, like someone had dipped their thumb in ashes and rubbed it on his forehead. A blow fly appears and lands on his hand. He scratches his leathery skin and bloody pus oozes at his elbow. He licks his lips lecherously as he walks past me, the damp smell of mildew hanging in the air.
“You killed grandpa,” he laughs accusingly.
“Noooo!” I shriek.
I steady my knees to stop them from trembling. I lean against the tree and gingerly sit on its buttress roots. I squint towards the direction of the house, expecting to see my best friend run down any minute now. Up on the tree, two squirrels chatter as they scramble from branch to branch, their tails wagging busily. A stray cat stops and stares at me. It sits and starts licking its fur.
The afternoon heat is making me sleepy. I look at the direction of the house anxiously. Where the hell is this girl? I shake my head to dismiss the image of her lying on the floor of the house. Injured. Dead. Dying. I’ll give it a few more minutes before I sound the alarm and get someone to accompany me to the house.
A piercing scream. I freeze. My mind goes blank.
“Booo!” Beth jumps from behind me, laughing. I shouted and clutch my chest, gasping. I take off my shoe, run after her and flung it in her direction in fury. It misses by a yard.
“It’s all up here”, she gloats, pointing to her head.“Mind over matter,” she flaps her arms like a rooster as she swaggers past me.
I turn to walk away angrily when something catches my eye. “Were you there alone?” I stare at her face. A chill runs down my spine.
“Yaar… unlike someone who ran as if she saw a ghost”, she replies, smugly.
“Marks,” I quivered, staring at her and rubbing my forefinger against my forehead.