Hey! Here are the first three chapters of my my new novel. It’s Irish (again) it’s kids (again!) and it’s set in the past (agaaaaaain!)
It’s set in 1986, in Ireland, and although you’ll get on well with it if you’re familiar with my Boys of Summer books, it’s its own thing, and the writing style is pretty different. And it’s a horror, with banshees in it, possibly. So, it’s different.
Anyway, here is a much bigger sample than Amazon will give you. I hope you love it.
A banshee (/ˈbænʃiː/ BAN-shee; Modern Irish bean sí, baintsí, from Old Irish: ben síde, baintsíde, pronounced [bʲen ˈʃiːðʲe, banˈtiːðe], woman of the fairy mound or fairy woman) is a female spirit in Irish mythology who heralds the death of a family member, usually by wailing, shrieking, or keening. Her name is connected to the mythologically important tumuli or mounds that dot the Irish countryside, which are known as síde (singular síd) in Old Irish.
“How d’you know about this place anyway?” said Lucy. She was a small girl, for eleven going on twelve, with wavy red hair that used to make her mother angry to brush after her bath, even though Lucy got it from her. Her father was going bald now, but he had lovely straight brown hair when he was younger; she’d seen the photos of their wedding in one of the albums from under the stairs.
“I read about it,” said Barry. He was new in their group; his family moved down from Dublin, just before school started. He was just gone twelve, same as Jason and Paul – all three of their birthdays were the summer. He went to their school, St. Munchin’s. Lucy went to St. Mary’s; there were no boys allowed there.
“Read about it where?” said Jason. He knew it wasn’t in their class, because he would have remembered. He’d never heard of anyone reading if it wasn’t for school. Not anyone he’d be friends with, anyway. He didn’t like swots.
“In a book, from the library. One about Irish ghosts,” Barry said; straight away wishing he hadn’t. He liked Jason, but he was a bit of a dunce in school, and dunces always gave you a slagging for being good at stuff.
“Library? What are you, gay?” said Paul, still chewing on the strawberry Hubba Bubba he’d bought hours ago. It was tasteless by now, but he liked chewing gum.
“Shut up, Paul,” said Elaine. She liked Barry, not in a fancying him way, but just because he was nice. Nicer than Paul and Jason, anyway, she thought. But that wouldn’t have been hard. They could be awful fools sometimes. She was the oldest of them all, a month away from thirteen. She could have passed for fifteen, in high heels and a dress, and with her make-up done right. She was the only one of them in Secondary School, although it was her first year there.
“I’m only messing, you spa.” He liked Elaine, most of the time – especially how she looked – but she was always giving out to him, like an old nag. He didn’t really know what gay meant, anyway, although he had some ideas, most of them wrong. It was just something you called someone as a slag. Like a steamer, or a gowl, or a handicap. Or a spa.
“Yeah, well stop,” she said. She didn’t think there was anything wrong with reading books. Her dad taught her how to when she was very small, before she even went to school. It made her a good bit ahead of the other kids in class, but she was behind most of them in Maths. She hated Maths. She had a calculator, anyway. She got it with Madden’s Milk tokens, but she didn’t tell her mother about it, or her teacher.
“How far away is it, anyway?” Paul said. The schoolbag on his back was digging into his shoulder. He could have made it easier by using both straps, but only girls used both straps, and he didn’t want the lads to laugh at him for being a pussy. It would only be Jason laughing, really. But it still wouldn’t be worth it.
“Not that far,” Barry said, looking at the map he’d drawn in biro on some tracing paper, from a book about Limerick, in the library. He tore the paper from the roll in the kitchen when his mother wasn’t around, because he didn’t want her asking him what he was up to. She probably wouldn’t have, but he didn’t like lying to her face, so it was easier to just grab it when she was gone into town to get the shopping.
“How long?” Jason said. It was cold out, as well as dark. He had a warm jacket on, like all of them did, but his hands and face were getting chilly, and he could see his own breath, like it was fog.
“Not long,” Barry said, but he didn’t really know. He’d never been to the place before, and he couldn’t tell just by looking at his map.
“What if it rains?” Lucy had brought a blanket in her bag, and a cushion to use as a pillow, but the coat she had on didn’t have a hood. It was a dry day so far, especially for late October, but you could never tell what the weather was going to be like in Limerick. Sometimes it poured down in the middle of July. Sometimes it was sunny in November.
“Yeah, is there a roof, like?” Jason said.
“Course there is,” said Elaine, rolling her eyes. “It’s a house.”
“Yeah, but it’s an old house, the roof mighta rotted off. Barry?” Paul said. He was thinking about having one of the cigarettes he’d stolen earlier from his dad’s box in the sitting room. None of the rest of them smoked. Neither did he, but he did, sometimes. He was going to smoke all the time when he got older and he could afford it, because his brother Jack did, and his brother was cool. Jack got all the girls, and you definitely had to smoke if you wanted to get girls.
“Course it has a roof, for God’s sake,” said Barry, but he had no idea if it did or not. He’d only seen a photo in a book, and that was taken in the olden days, when people still lived there.
“Grand, so,” Lucy said, wondering if it would be warm there. If it wasn’t, they could probably make a fire. There would be a fireplace there, even if there wasn’t a roof. Maybe a few fireplaces, if it was a mansion, like Barry said it was.
They walked up through Kileely on their way out of Thomondgate, and it was still early enough, because the smaller kids were going around doing Anything for Halloween? in both estates. They were all too old to go around collecting anymore, and even though they all missed the free sweets and lollies and bars, none of them would admit that in front of the other ones, or they’d get an awful slagging.
Elaine loved Hallowe’en. She was sad she didn’t have any younger brothers or sisters, because she was too old now for her mam to set up all the games of bobbing for apples, or cutting the flour with the grape on top, or the one where the apple was swinging on a string in the doorway, and it always nearly knocked out your front teeth. She loved all the colours – oranges, reds, greens, and blacks. The drawings of skeletons and pumpkins and witches and ghosts. It made her feel small again; the same way she felt when Christmas came near, and there were lit-up trees in all the windows on the way home from school. She loved the way the air smelled and tasted. Her dad told her it was the changing of the season that made it that way, all crisp and clean. The nights were getting colder, so the smoke from everyone’s chimneys was mixed in there, too.
As they went up through the avenues, some kids going between the houses stopped them to try and beg for something.
“Anything for Halloween?” a tiny boy with a Frankenstein mask on said, to Jason. The rest of his costume was just a black bin bag with holes for the arms. Nearly everyone did that in Limerick. It wasn’t like America, in the movies, where the children would have a full suit on of Batman or a skeleton, and no one in Ireland said, “Trick or treat?”. You still might get egged by someone, but that was usually older kids doing that. Kids their own age, and other kids who were getting too old to still be called kids. Like Paul’s brother Jack.
“I don’t, no,” Jason said to him, laughing. There were five of them together. The Frankenstein one, a Dracula, a little witch with a green face, a Stormtrooper, and a Mummy.
“Ah go on, pleeeeeese?” said the witch. She didn’t have a proper hat, just one that was part of the mask. It was the plastic type with the elastic band around the back that was always too tight, and cut into your ears, and usually broke before the end of the night, so you’d have to hold it onto your face with your hand. She was sitting on an old mop, with the handle cut in half, instead of a broomstick.
“No, go ‘way, I’ve nothing. Shoo!” said Jason, trying to push past them. Everyone else stopped behind him, waiting to get through, but the small ones were blocking the whole path.
“Pleeeeeeese”, all of them said, together this time.
“Okay, okay. Fine!” said Jason, reaching into his pocket. He’ll give them a few coppers, Elaine thought. Sometimes when you went to a house where there were no sweets, they felt sorry for you and gave you a few 2p or 5p coins. 10p ones if you were lucky. Usually old men did that. Old women would always have a bowl of sweets in the house, because they were someone’s Nana, and a Nana always had sweets, even if it wasn’t Halloween.
“Aw, sound!” said Dracula, nearly hopping on the spot with excitement. Jason took his hand out, balled in a fist.
“Here ye go, shur,” he said, but there was no money. He just did the thing where he pretended he was reeling a fishing rod, until his middle finger came up, to tell them to piss off. The rest of them burst out laughing, except for Elaine.
“Don’t be lousy, you,” she said, pushing him in the back, but not enough to move him off his feet.
“Pffffft, you give ‘em something then, if you’re so worried,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. The kids probably all looked devastated, but no one could tell, because of the masks.
“I don’t have anything. Really sorry, lads, like,” said Elaine, leaning down to look into the green witch’s face, or what she could see of it through the mask. She was only five or six, from the height of her; Elaine didn’t want to make her cry. She wished she had some change, but she only had a one-pound note.
“Your mudder’s a slut and your fahder’s a whoremaster,” said the tiny witch, in her tiny voice, and everyone laughed again, except for Elaine.
“Come on, this way up here, I’ve to pop into The Friendly Store and get a bottle of Coke,” said Barry, after the little brats went away. It was a bit out of their way, but no one complained, because everyone liked Coke.
They didn’t have to go through Ballynanty, and they were all glad about that. Balla was much rougher than Thomondgate, although not as rough as Moyross. Paul was from Balla, his family moved to Sexton Street when he was a baby, then Thomondgate, so he didn’t remember it. Jason was from Glenagross, part of Moyross, but he didn’t remember much about it either; he was four when they came to Canon Breen, which was where Elaine had lived all her life. Canon Breen Park was across the road from the New Houses, where Paul, Lucy, and Barry all were. The address was “Crossroads, Thomondgate”, but it was only built in 1985, so everyone still called them The New Houses.
They passed Thomond Park, where the Munster rugby matches were, and the big field in front of it, where all the boys from Balla played soccer. Just messing around soccer, not in gear and boots. The Ballynanty Rovers team had their own soccer pitch, back behind the houses, in Kelly’s Field. Jack had played for them for a bit, before he got more interested in smoking and drinking and girls, and gave it up, because he didn’t want to go to training all the time. They went down past the church and the clinic, and Freda’s chipper. The smell of burger grease and vinegar hit them as they went past, making everyone hungry. Elaine thought about the money in her pocket, and how nice a bag of chips would be, but she knew the rest of them would end up robbing half of them, so she kept on walking. Her stomach did a little rumble, like it was cross at her for it.
They carried on past Watch House Cross, down toward the Long Pavement. The City Dump was out that way, somewhere, and the Metal Bridge. They’d all been to those places, on summer days, when there was nothing to do at home, so you went for big walks, and got so sunburnt that your mother killed you when you got home. All of them except Barry, who had only lived in Limerick a couple of months, but he was the one with the map, and they were following him. When they got to the train tracks and the level crossing, he stopped dead.
“Where’s the torch?” He was squinting at the map, because the orange street light was making his Biro scribbles hard to see on the greaseproof paper. Paul handed him a red plastic flashlight, and in a second the whole map was lit up bright yellow.
“Okay, sound. It’s this way.” He pointed along the tracks.
“Ah, here! Are you mad, are you?” said Elaine.
“What’s wrong?” Barry put his hand out because he thought he felt rain on his head, but there wasn’t any. It must have been a drip that fell off one of the trees hanging over them.
“We can’t walk along the train tracks, like,” she said, pouting and folding her arms.
“Why not?” Barry said. He turned off the torch, and everything around them went dark, straight away. He blinked, and bits of purple floated in front of his eyes. He realised then that the light above them had gone out, while he was reading the map.
“Because we’ll get knocked down by a train!” She tried to make out his face in the bad light. It hadn’t been so dark a few minutes ago, she was sure of it.
“No we won’t. Shur, we’ve walked along that track loads of times before. You were there, like,” Jason said. Paul nodded, beside him.
“Yeah, in the daytime…” Lucy said. Paul nodded that time too, because he agreed with both of them. The light above his head came on, and it was only then that he noticed that it had been off at all.
“We’ll be fine. Look, even if trains do go along this track still-”
“They do!” Elaine said. The rest of the original gang nodded or made noises of agreement. They’d all seen one, at least once, usually going over the Metal Bridge. And this was the one that went there.
“Okay. Okay, even if- I mean, even though, trains do come along this track, it’s actually safer in the night time, than in the day time,” said Barry, looking around at them all. No one nodded this time.
“How in God’s name d’you make that out?” Lucy said. They all looked at him for the answer. The streetlight made a fizzling sound, flickered for a bit, then went back to normal. All of them looked up at it for a second, but none of them said anything about it. Faulty streetlights weren’t that unusual, and they were almost out the country, where there would be even more of them.
“Two reasons. One, it’ll have the lights on the front, so we’ll see it in the dark from miiiiiiles away, yeah? Am I right? And two, it’s dead quiet out here at night. And the farther we go along that way, the quieter it’ll get. Away from all the cars and the noise, yeah? We’ll probably hear it even before we see it.” He smiled, knowing none of them could argue with that. One by one they shrugged their shoulders, or muttered okays, and walked across the road to the other barrier.
“Fine. But I dunno how I’m getting over that thing in this skirt, mind you,” said Elaine.
“I’ll give you a legger,” Paul said, clasping his hands together so she could put a foot on them and get a boost up and over.
“Okay, sound. And, Paul?”
“If your hand accidentally slips and goes anywhere near my fanny, it’ll be the last accident you ever have, kay?” She was thin and she was pretty, but she was tall and tough, too. All the boys were at least a bit scared of her. Paul’s face felt hot and he knew he’d gone red as a tomato.
“I was… I was only trying to help, like,” he said, in a voice that sounded more sad than cross.
“Awww, the poor babba. I know you were, I was only messing, shur. Poor leanbh altogether!” She kissed him on the top of his forehead, then put her trainer into his palms and was over on the first try. Lucy got a legger too, from Jason. When they were all over safely, Paul started to sprint ahead of them along the side of the track.
“Last one to the haunted house is a gowlawalla!” he shouted back, and they all gave chase, even Barry, who normally hated running, but he wasn’t going to be left behind. They weren’t quite out of earshot when the light back at the crossing exploded in a shower of sparks and orange glass, but their own shouts and laughs had drowned out the sound. A hundred yards back down the road, someone else had heard the bang and seen the flash. And, more importantly to them, had seen which way they went.
“Jesus, I thought you said it wasn’t too far, Bar,” Paul said, a while later, when they were farther along the tracks, but with no sign of the house yet.
“Yeah, I know.” Barry had put the map away for the time being, as they could only go straight along here, with no chance of accidentally making a wrong turn. He was wondering himself when they would get there, but he knew they were headed the right way, so he wasn’t worried.
“And we’ll be there soon,” he said, sounding annoyed.
“When is soon, like?” Paul was getting cold, and the strap of the bag was still hurting, even though he’d switched shoulders a while back.
“Shush, will you? We’ll get there when we get there. Hold on, look at this,” said Jason, stopping for a second.
“Look at what?” Paul said, glancing around, but seeing nothing except tracks, grass, hedges and trees.
“Up there.” Jason pointed at the sky above him, and the other two boys looked in the direction of his finger.
“Janey Mack…” said Paul. Barry saw it too and let out a little gasp. Above them, the sky was cloudless, and filled with thousands of stars that seemed to be far bigger and brighter than on any normal night.
“Mad, isn’t it?” Jason said.
“Yeah, it’s cos we’re out the country,” Barry said, as if that was explanation enough.
“What’s that mean, like?” said Paul.
“Well, when you’re in the city, there’s all those streetlights and stuff, and that makes the stars, well, makes them not look so bright. It’s like… I dunno, it just happens. But, out the country, there’s hardly any lights, so you can see them better.”
“Jaysus,” said Jason, still looking up. The girls were behind them a bit, chatting away about something.
“Yeah, when I was living in Dublin like, you’d hardly see any stars, cos there’s way too many lights. But when I used to go to Kildare, to my Nana’s, they’d be massive, it was deadly.”
“As big as these ones?”
“Ah, shur everything’s bigger in Dublin, isn’t it? Bigger and better, sham,” Jason said, messing. They didn’t know Barry that long, but they were always making fun of him being from Dublin, because that was what you did.
“Kildare isn’t in Dublin,” said Barry, making a face at him. It was dark, but they had been in it long enough to get used to it, so they could still see each other well enough.
“Ah, it’s all the same,” said Jason, even though he wouldn’t have been able to find Kildare on a map, if you’d asked him to. Or Dublin, probably. He hated Geography.
“If you say so. Anyway, come on. The stars will still be there when we get to the house,” said Barry. It was the sort of thing his dad might have said. Everyone said they were very alike. His brother Tony took after their mother more, especially in looks.
“Have you heard Open Your Heart?” said Elaine, to Lucy. They were straggling behind the boys, but not so much that they lost sight of them.
“I think so,” Lucy said. She didn’t think she had, but she didn’t want to look stupid in front of Elaine, because Elaine was the older one; the cooler one.
“Yeah, it’s not out yet, on single. It says in Smash Hits that it’s gonna be the next one though, out next month, I think. Before Christmas, definitely. It’s rapid altogether, like. All the whole record is. The tape, I mean.” She bought cassettes these days instead of LPs, because she had a tape player in her room, and a Walkman as well. It wasn’t a real Sony Walkman, just a Memorex one, but it was bright yellow with a pink stripe, and the earphones had sponges the same pink colour. She loved the way it looked; she didn’t care who made it.
“You’ve the new album, do you?” Lucy said. She never bought albums. Sometimes she would get a single, if she really liked a song. But she usually couldn’t afford it, and you could tape it off the Top 40 on the radio anyway, if you didn’t mind the DJ talking at the start or at the end of it.
“Course. I’ve all her albums, like, don’t I?” Elaine said. She didn’t have any more money than Lucy did, but her father was great for getting her presents, and he never said no when she asked for things. Her mother was nice too, but usually in other ways than just handing over cash to her.
“I know, yeah. You’re her biggest fan, like,” Lucy said, laughing. She didn’t mind Madonna, but she preferred Cyndi Lauper. She was into The Bangles now, too. She loved all their songs. She tore out the lyrics for them from Smash Hits, and kept them in her scrapbook, up in her room.
“Well, I mean, look at me, shur,” Elaine said, pointing at herself.
“True, ye could be twins,” Lucy said. Elaine was gorgeous, no matter what she wore or how she did her hair. She would have been jealous of her, but Elaine was too nice to be jealous of. She was sound out, Lucy thought. She couldn’t wait until next year, when they would be in the same school together again. She missed that.
“Ah here, shut up, I’m not!” Elaine said, but she was delighted at the compliment. She had the same hairstyle as Madonna had in her video for True Blue. She wanted the Papa Don’t Preach style when that video came out earlier in the year, but her mother said no, because it was too short, and it would take ages to grow back, and they mightn’t let her into her new school if she turned up in September with such a dramatic looking cut. She’d sulked about it, but it was no use. Her father agreed with her mother, so that was that. It wasn’t just the hairstyles, either. She loved all the clothes Madonna wore, and tried to copy them the best she could, even if it was almost impossible to get anything like that in Limerick. When it was her Debs in Sixth Year, she was going to get a pink silk dress and gloves like the ones in the video for Material Girl, and she made her mam promise to buy them for her, when the time came. Her mother pointed out that the Debs was years away, and she mightn’t even like Madonna by then, but she knew nothing, Elaine thought. She was going to love Madonna forever. She was 100% sure of that. They were almost catching the boys now; she’d seen them all stop a minute ago, looking up at something. She wondered how long it would be before they got to the place, because her feet were starting to hurt, even though she’d worn comfy shoes.
“What, so, like… the stars are there, but they’re not really there? They’re gone?” Paul was finding it hard to get his head around what Barry had told them.
“Well, yeah, and no.”
“Yeah and no?” Jason said. He’d been listening, but not properly. He kicked an empty Lilt can off the railway sleeper, and it made a clang that was much louder than he’d expected it to.
“Well, the stars are dead, they exploded. And that was hundreds of years ago…”
“Hundreds?” Paul said. None of it sounded believable to him. He was looking at the stars right now. They weren’t gone, and they didn’t look like they had exploded either.
“Yeah, I think so. But we didn’t see them blowing, like.”
“Cos we weren’t alive hundreds of years ago?” said Jason. He was also finding it all hard to follow. It felt too much like school to him. Barry knew lots of stuff, but most of it was useless, he thought. He knew things about books and science, but he didn’t know anything about fishing, or how to put a chain back on a BMX, or how to make a forksling. Jason knew how to do all those things. He didn’t need to know about stars, or about how tadpoles turned into frogs. But sometimes it was cool to hear about them anyway. Sometimes.
“Exactly,” Barry said. It felt like they had been walking for hours. Lucy had a watch; he would ask her the time in a minute.
“So how can we see them now, like?” Paul said. He had put the two straps of the bag on his shoulders. He didn’t care about getting a slagging anymore, he was too tired. No one had noticed yet, in any case.
“Well, cos light takes a long time to travel to us, and the stars are- the stars were millions of miles away.”
“Millions? How far away is the Sun, then?” Paul said. He stood on something squishy, and he looked down to check his shoes to see if it was dog shit. He couldn’t really tell in the dark, though, so he carried on.
“I don’t- I don’t know, exactly. But I mean, the light from that takes a few seconds to get to us. Cos it’s not that far away. Not as far away as the stars, anyway. And it’s still there, too. It hasn’t exploded yet.”
“Yet?” Jason said, suddenly feeling a bit panicked, as if the sun exploding was something everyone else knew about except him, and he’d just missed that bit in school, or he’d been off sick that day.
“Well, yeah, but, anyway. What I mean is…” He tried to think of a way to explain the whole thing in a simple way, simple enough for the other two to understand. But he wasn’t even sure he understood it himself. Not fully, anyway.
“Guys!” Lucy’s voice came from a few yards ahead of them. She and Elaine had passed them out a while back, while they were busy talking about the stars and everything else.
“What?” Barry said, looking up at her in the distance. She was pointing to her right, over the hedges, and beyond a small row of trees. Behind a modern looking wire fence, and up a crooked path, he could see Ballaghstaire Manor. It was just like the old photo he’d seen in the library book, apart from how the garden had grown wild in the years it had been empty. Rain started to fall in heavy, single drops, at first; plonking on the wood and metal underneath them. No one was speaking now. He looked at Jason, and then at Paul, and without discussing it, all three of them started running towards the girls. A flash from the sky lit up everything around them, bright as the middle of day, and the rain fell much heavier. Barry counted the seconds as they ran, until he heard the thunder crashing somewhere far away. Two seconds, which meant the lightning had been two miles away. He had learned that in Cub Scouts. It had felt a lot closer than two miles to him, from the noise and the brightness, but that was the science. Lucy and Elaine were already through the hedge and over at the trees, getting shelter. He knew that standing under a tree wasn’t a good idea in a thunderstorm – he’d learned that in Cubs too, but they didn’t have any other choice. Not until they knew how to get past that fence, and into the house itself, anyway.
“Run! Run!” Elaine shouted at them, laughing, as they sprinted the last few feet – Jason first, then Paul, Barry the slowest, as usual. He wasn’t unhealthy, or heavyset, or anything else that might have slowed him down. He just didn’t like running; he had said to them a while back. He wasn’t naturally fast, even when he tried. So, he hated things like Sports Days, or P.E. He still played soccer with the boys, just to fit in, and to not get slagged off. But he preferred watching sports to playing them, he told Elaine, the first day she met him.
“Giddy up!” said Lucy, laughing as well. The two of them had got a little wet, but they’d reached the shelter before it had started lashing, pulling their jackets over their heads on the way. The boys weren’t so lucky. They were all drenched by the time they got safely under the cover of one of the two big Oaks that were halfway between the tracks and the house. It was nearly Winter, but these ones still had most of their leaves. Lucy knew they were Oak trees from when she used to collect leaves and press them, a few years back. She still had scrapbooks full of them, somewhere, but she was too old for all that now.
“Ah, Jesus!” said Jason, brushing the water out of his hair. The rain had washed the gel away, and he looked funny without his normal spikes.
“Where did that come out of?” Paul said, wiping his hands on his jacket.
“The sky,” said Barry, though he was confused too, since there were no clouds a few minutes ago, when they were looking at the stars.
“Funny man,” Paul said. He checked his inside pocket for the cigarettes; they were still dry, even though he didn’t have them in a box.
“Did anyone bring a towel?” asked Lucy.
“I did, yeah,” said Jason.
“Really?” Elaine said, looking at her sneakers. Only the toes were wet, and she couldn’t feel the water coming through yet.
“Yeah, and some shampoo, and my swimming togs, and a rubber duck,” he said, running his fingers through his hair, trying to get it to spike up again, but it kept flopping back down, flat. The gel and the rain mixed together made it feel slimy, and he didn’t like it.
“Funny man,” Elaine said, watching the downpour in front of them, and twitching out of the way every time a stray drop came through the leaves and hit her on the scalp.
“Did you know there was gonna be a fence?” Paul said, asking Barry.
“I uh, no. No, there wasn’t one in the picture,” he said. Probably because the photo had been taken a long time ago. It was in black and white, and he didn’t know how old the book itself was.
“Well, how are we gonna get over it?” Elaine said. She didn’t like climbing things; the barrier by the train tracks had been enough climbing for her, and that wasn’t even high. The fence was six, maybe eight feet tall, she reckoned.
“I dunno. We’ll figure it out,” he said, though he wasn’t sure how they were going to. It wasn’t like the movies, where one of them would have brought a pair of wire-cutters. They hadn’t even brought a towel. Suddenly, as quickly as it had started, the rain stopped, and it was dead silent, apart from the noise of the droplets rolling off the leaves above. No one said anything for a few seconds, then everyone was looking at Paul, whose eyes were wide open, as well as his mouth. He was pointing to something, behind where Elaine was standing. Everyone turned around slowly, and they saw it too.
“What do we do?” Elaine whispered, frozen to the spot. She was the nearest to it, not that it really mattered, she thought. If it got her, it would get all of them. It would just get her first, that was all.
“Shhhhhh!” said Paul, louder than her whisper, which made it worse.
“Just everyone stay still, like, kay?” said Barry, although he didn’t know if that was good advice. It wasn’t a wasp, or a bee. They all did as he said though, because if anyone would know about these things, he would. At least that’s what they thought.
“Are you all right, Elaine?” Jason said. He didn’t know what he could do if she said she wasn’t, but it felt like he should ask, anyway.
“I don’t know.” She had made eye contact with it, and now she was afraid to look away. Her head was full of old stories about what to do if you ever met one of them, but the fear was jumbling it all up; she couldn’t think. Its eyes were yellow, and they shone in the dark like little mirrors, picking out the light from the full moon overhead. Her stomach was in a knot, and her mouth had gone completely dry.
“What’re you doing?” Barry said to Paul, seeing him bend down slowly.
“Getting a stick…”
“For what?” Barry said. Surely Paul didn’t think he was going to be able to fight the thing off with a piece of wood. Even he wasn’t that stupid, he thought.
“Well I, I was gonna… I was gonna throw it. Over there.” Paul nodded at the grass between them and the tracks.
“Throw it? Like, fetch?”
“Um, yeah. I mean…”
“It’s not a bloody d-” Barry stopped, looking back at Elaine, who had let out a high-pitched squeak. She was shaking. It was closer to her now, sniffing at her legs; up and down, slowly.
“Elaine!” Lucy said, still trying to whisper, but it was hard to keep quiet, watching what was happening.
“Hutz it away!” Jason said, starting to get very frightened for Elaine, and for the rest of them.
“No!” said Barry, but he didn’t know if he was right. He didn’t know anything. He felt Lucy beside him, squeezing his arm. Elaine was dead quiet. She’d stopped shaking now. And she wasn’t crying, because they would have heard her, in the silence.
“Right!” Jason bent down and took the piece of wood from Paul’s hands, and in a flash, he pushed past them all, including Elaine. He raised the stick over his head, wondering if it was heavy enough to do the job, but he never found out.
Another flash of lightning lit up everything around them, and this time the thunder didn’t give anyone time to count. The boom was so loud, it seemed to shake the ground in front of him, and he dropped what was in his hands, falling backwards towards the rest of them. The other Oak tree, not the one they were under, rippled with white and blue light, then some of the branches burst into flames. Behind him, he heard screams of fright out of the two girls, and at least one of the boys. A piece of tree fell, a few inches from his feet – orange-hot, smouldering in some parts, still on fire in others.
“Jesus!” Jason tried to stand, but his backpack was making it hard. He felt hands under his armpits from behind. It was Paul, helping him up.
“C’mon, let’s go!”
“Okay, okay.” Another, bigger, branch broke off above him with a loud cracking sound. He jumped forward to get out of the way, but it came down a good few feet away in the other direction. Lucy, Elaine, and Barry all looked terrified and shaken in the weird, flickering yellow light.
“You okay?” Elaine said, brushing the clump of damp blonde hairs from her forehead.
“Yeah, let’s go,” he said, patting her on the back to get her moving. They were at the fence before he even thought about the fox again. It was gone, hopefully. The lightning had saved them from it, before he had to. Hopefully it had gone the other way. Hopefully it wouldn’t follow them.
“Well that was easy, sham,” Jason said, as the others went through the gap in the wire fence, while he held it for them. They had found the opening almost right away. The wires were just resting against one of the steel poles, instead of attached to it, like they were on the other ones that they’d seen around the place. It was dry again. No rain had come after the last bit of thunder and lightning. He didn’t know if that was strange or not. Barry might, he thought.
“Yeah, maybe it’s our lucky day – lucky night, I mean,” Elaine said, letting Lucy go past her. She didn’t feel very lucky. They’d already almost been attacked by a fox and hit by lightning. And her Dad always said bad things came in threes. But maybe they had been lucky, since they’d got away from both of those things without anyone getting hurt, she thought. There was a big driveway, with a few Pine trees on either side. It wasn’t too long, though; she could already see the front door up ahead, and the pillars that held up a flat roof over it. Above that was a big, circular window. It wasn’t stained glass, but she could see what was probably lead all the way through, making a pattern that made it look like a flower. None of it was broken, as far as she could make out. None of the windows at the front were damaged at all. They were just dirty and old. If they hadn’t been, she might have thought someone still lived there. The garden was too overgrown for that though, she thought. It looked like no one had cut the grass or trimmed the bushes in years; maybe decades. It was spooky, full of dark places where things could be hiding. The rest of the trees, besides the Pine ones, were bare and scary looking – some of them had lost their leaves after the summer, but some were just old and dead, and would never have leaves again. She picked up the sports bag that had all her things in it and followed the others up to the door.
Paul heard an owl somewhere, which would have been normal any other time, but now it felt creepier to him. Here, in the dark, on Halloween night, when they were going to stay in an old house that was supposed to be haunted. That was what Barry said, anyway. He’d never heard of the place before Barry had told them, the other day. None of their parents knew they were here, of course. The story was that they were at his place, in the big, four-man tent in the garden. His mother and father were gone for the weekend, they had left Jack in charge of him. The back garden was big, for a Corporation house, and the tent was way down the back. They had left a flashlight on inside, and a radio playing quietly. It wouldn’t have fooled his parents, but Jack did his own thing, with his friends, so he wasn’t likely to come down and check they were there during the night. And, even if he did, it would only be to try and mess with them, or scare them, Paul knew. Good luck to him doing that, since they wouldn’t be there, he thought.
Lucy was a little bit scared and a little bit excited. She wasn’t sure which was which, from moment to moment. The fox had been terrifying, even though it was beautiful too. They were dangerous things, in real life, not like the ones in cartoons. They looked like dogs, but it would be stupid to try and pet one. They could attack you, if you cornered them – the same as rats. Her father had told her that once. He said that they didn’t have enough to eat in the wild, these days, so they came into the city, to eat out of bins, or to find dead cats on the road. She had never seen one before tonight, though. And they weren’t in the city anymore. She heard the same owl as Paul had, and it made her hurry up a little, either from the fear or the excitement.
Jason was behind all of them; he’d stayed to put the fence back to normal, so anyone passing wouldn’t think that anything was different. He didn’t think that was likely, tonight, but he did it anyway. The house looked cool, and kind of spooky. He didn’t believe in ghosts, or any of that nonsense, but it was going to be a laugh anyway. They had flashlights, and a tape player, some snacks and drinks, and they were going to stay there the whole night, if everything went to plan. Barry had it all worked out, he said. He was going to read them the story of the house – the stuff in the book that he’d found, at exactly midnight, to make it even more spooky. It was the sort of thing Jason’s older brothers would give him a slagging about if they knew, but they didn’t know. No one did. As far as anyone knew, him and Barry were camping in Paul’s tonight. Elaine and Lucy had lied to their folks and said they were staying in each other’s places, and they had got away with it. They would never have been allowed camping with a load of boys, so that was the only way to do it, Elaine had told him. The wind picked up suddenly and started shaking the trees on either side of him, making a “woooo” noise that gave him the creeps, a little bit. But he didn’t believe in ghosts, or any of that nonsense, so he was fine. He hurried up, regardless, though. It might rain again soon.
When they got to Barry, he was squinting at the big front door in the dark. Stepping back from it, taking it all in, then going closer again, inspecting bits of it.
“What’s the story?” Jason said, putting his bag down on the big porch. It looked like marble – the sort that the altar in Munchin’s church was made of.
“Locked,” Barry said, tutting. He had half expected it to be, but he was still disappointed.
“Well, yeah, like. You’d hardly leave it open,” Elaine said. She had been hoping it would be, though, on the way. There would be another way in, she thought. The place was massive. It had to have lots of doors, and they couldn’t all be locked.
“Yeah. Okay, will we go ‘round?” Barry said, looking at them. The wind was getting worse now, blowing dead leaves around their feet, and rattling the tree branches.
“Look for a way in?” Jason said. He wondered if he should take his bag with him, but no one else looked like they were going to take theirs, so he left it. It wasn’t like there was anyone around to steal it.
“Yeah. Lucy, you come with me and Paul. Elaine, you go with Jason?” Barry said. He didn’t have a reason for choosing the groups that way, they were just the first ones that came into his head. All that mattered was that the girls weren’t by themselves; that they had at least one boy with them, in case something happened.
“Kay,” said Elaine, though she would have been fine just going with Lucy. She didn’t need looking after by a boy, especially not by any of these boys, who were all younger and smaller than her. It wasn’t worth an argument though, she thought. She followed Jason, who had already picked the right-hand side of the house for them to go explore. An owl hooted loudly somewhere close by, as if it knew the night that was in it, and wanted to add to the spookiness.
“How’s your mam anyway, Shoes?” Jason asked Elaine, when they were around the corner, away from the others.
“Ah, she’s grand. Kind of.” It was funny when he called her by that nickname. No one else did, outside of her family. Definitely not anyone from school. It was a silly thing that people at home had called her since she was a baby, and she didn’t mind it, because it wasn’t mean or hurtful. But she never told people what it meant. She felt like, if she did, then people might make it into a name to make fun of her with. She didn’t know why she thought that, but she did.
“Yeah, well, you know.” She would have been defensive if any of the rest of them asked something like he had, but Jason was different. He knew her mother. The long grass was damp, and was making the fronts of her trainers wet, but she couldn’t do anything about that. There was nowhere to walk that wasn’t grass.
“Yeah, sham. What can ye do, like?” he said. He had his own problems at home, although his mum was usually more angry than she was sad. They knew each other, their mothers, but they weren’t what you might call friends. Not like he and Elaine were.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Elaine said, looking up at the sides of the building as they passed by. She wondered how lovely it must look in the daytime, this part, all the windows and the fancy brickwork around them. The moonlight was bright enough, but it made everything look blue, so it wasn’t the same.
“Eh, yeah, dunno,” he said. Girls were always saying things looked beautiful. He just thought it looked cool, like something out of one of the drawings from the comics about dragons and knights that his brother had. It wasn’t that big – it wasn’t a castle. But it was a castle compared to the little house he lived in.
“Is that a door?”
“Where?” Jason said, but he saw it too, before she had to explain. It was halfway down the length of the side wall. There was no step or porch, it was just set into the bricks.
“C’mon and we see,” said Elaine, running over. She saw the nettles just in time and pulled her ankle out of the way. Jason yanked on the metal doorknob and twisted it, pushing in. Nothing happened.
“Maybe it opens out?” she said. Some doors opened differently; like the ones in the handicapped toilets in town. Jason pulled back, using the weight of his body to try and drag the door out towards them. Then he pushed against the wood with his shoulder, and again, a little harder.
“Nope, it’s not going either way. Locked.” He looked down at his hand. It was brownish orange, where some of the rust had rubbed off from the metal.
“Feck it, anyway. Come on.” She stepped over the nettles again, carefully, and they headed towards the back. She wondered what the garden there was going to look like, if it had one.
“Gotta be a back door, anyway,” Jason said. “Everyone has a back door.” He sniffed his fingers, and they smelled like pennies, or a tissue after you had a nosebleed. The wind was getting louder again now, and something above them made a rattling noise. Probably the gutters, he thought. Their own ones at home always made noise when it was windy.
“So, is she going away with anyone, would you say?” Paul said, walking with Lucy and Barry at the other side of the house.
“What’s it to you?” said Lucy, although she knew exactly what he was up to. She wasn’t stupid.
“Me? Nothing, like. Just asking, like. It’s nothing to me, I don’t care,” Paul said, convincing nobody.
“Just making conversation, shur he was,” Barry said, sarcastically. He was looking at the trees that seemed to surround the entire house and its grounds. Tall, dark Pine trees, close together, with no gaps for light to come through. The house had been built into the woods, maybe for the privacy, he thought. It reminded him of one of the Disney films, where the princess falls asleep for a hundred years, and the castle gets covered in trees and brambles. He couldn’t remember if that happened in Sleeping Beauty, or Snow White, or both of them.
“I was!” Paul said, lying. He wanted to know because, if Elaine had a boyfriend, he mightn’t try it on with her tonight. He probably wouldn’t try it on anyway, because he was a bit scared of her, and of Jason, but it was always good to know, he thought.
“Shush, what’s that?” Lucy said, pointing to the ground on her right.
“I dunno. Let’s see,” said Barry, walking over to it. There were two black doors set into the ground. There were small holes on either side where they met, probably where there had been handles, years ago, he thought. He banged on the surface with his fist. It was metal.
“I think it’s a coal bunker,” Paul said. His uncle and aunt had one, out in Shannon. They were always warning him and the cousins not to go near it, in case they got dirty from all the coal dust in there.
“Yeah, I think so as well. Can’t open it though. No handles, like,” Barry said, wishing he had something to pry the doors open with. A bit of wood would probably break, if it was thin enough to get into the gap. A metal ruler would be perfect, but that wasn’t something you’d bring with you camping.
“Might open from the inside,” Lucy said, although that would be no use, since they’d already be in the house by then.
“Yeah, maybe. C’mon anyway,” Barry said. He pointed his torch ahead again, in case they missed something important on their way. It didn’t look like there was anything more to find, though. All the windows were closed, and too high up, as well. The few ones that were on the ground floor were boarded up, with bars in front of them, too. Even if they managed to get the boards off, none of them were small enough to squeeze through the bars; not even Lucy.
“What’s her type, anyway?” Paul said. He was happy to have the bag off his shoulders now. He wouldn’t need to carry it like that again until they left in the morning. If they managed to get inside at all, that was.
“Any fella who isn’t you,” Lucy said. The owl from earlier hooted again, quieter now, or just farther away. It might have been a different owl, she thought. She didn’t mind owls. It was bats she was afraid of, even though she’d never seen one in real life.
“Jaysus…” Lucy said, looking at it in the light from both Barry and Jason’s torches together.
“They’re pure gorgeous, like,” Elaine said. She didn’t know how they could be there, at this time of year, but she didn’t know much about that sort of thing. Her Dad would. The red and white were mixed together, instead of side by side, or in any sort of pattern. It looked like the coloured bits were dripping down the white bit, she thought. Like red paint on a canvas, maybe. Or blood on someone’s skin. She shivered, and it wasn’t from the cold, this time.
“It’s only some bloody flowers like, ye spas,” Paul said, shrugging his shoulders. Girls were stupid. They were always going mad over stupid things like flowers, he thought. He’d hate to be a girl, having to like stupid things like flowers, or dresses, or Duran Duran.
“Are they not supposed to be dead like, in the Winter?” Jason said. He was thirsty, but his drink was back in his bag, on the porch.
“It’s not Winter yet,” Barry said. He was more interested in how the flower bed was so well-kept, when everything else was overgrown or dead, but he wasn’t interested enough to care about it for much longer; there were other things to think about, like getting inside.
“Yeah it is,” Paul said. It definitely felt like Winter. He was freezing, even after all that walking.
“No it’s not, it’s Autumn,” Barry said, looking away from the flower bed now. Behind them, the back of the house had a large, ground floor window. There was no sill; it went all the way down to the ground, and it was wide, too. The curtains inside were drawn, so he couldn’t see what was behind them. There was no big main door, but over to one side, he saw a small green one. Probably for servants, or deliveries, he thought. He’d seen things on TV where they had posh houses like this, and he remembered that the servants had a different door from the people who owned the house.
“Until when?” Lucy said, looking to where he was, at the door. She didn’t think it was going to be unlocked, and there was no handle that she could see, anyway.
“Tomorrow,” said Barry. November 1st was the first day of Winter, he knew; or it was in Ireland, at least. Ireland had different seasons to England, he’d learned that in school. He looked at the door from top to bottom, up close. There was a hole where a handle had been once, and a keyhole underneath that. He gave it a push, but there was no give, not even a little.
“Ah for God’s sake, tomorrow, like. You’re some gowl altogether,” Paul said. He looked at the window in the moonlight. The glass was still kind of shiny, but you could see dirt in all the corners, and cobwebs over the dirt. The curtains inside were yellowy white, plain, with no patterns on them. He had an idea.
“Any joy?” Jason said, coming over to Barry at the door.
“Could we try to barge it in, like?” Jason said. Lucy rolled her eyes at him.
“No,” she said. Elaine was still looking at the flowers; she’d taken Jason’s torch for herself.
“Why not, like?”
“Cos we’re not The A-Team,” Barry said, spitting on the ground, which wasn’t like him, but he had a weird taste in his mouth; kind of like metal.
“What do we do now?” Lucy said. She was asking him, but she didn’t mind if anyone else had a plan either. Standing around was making her cold, and so was the wind.
“Let me think a second,” he said, but he didn’t know where to start.
“Did ye see anything on yeer way around?” Jason said, to Lucy.
“Just doors off a coal shed we think, but we couldn’t get them open, like. How ‘bout ye?”
“Door around the side, but same as this one. Can’t get in. There’s a handle, but it’s-” His voice was cut off by a massive crashing sound that made his heart jump into his throat. Elaine screamed from over by the flower bed, and everyone looked around to see what had happened. They saw Paul, standing in front of what had been the window, the floor inside covered in broken glass. The wind was flapping the big curtains around in the air behind him, and one landed on his shoulder for a second, making him look like a vampire with a cloak. They were a different colour on the other side. A dark red, Barry thought, though it was hard to tell in the moonlight.
“Paul! What the f-” Lucy started.
“What? I got us in, didn’t I? Like they say, lads: when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” He pushed the curtains apart and stepped into the house. The rock he had used to break the glass was on the wooden floor inside.
“That’s not what that means, Paul,” Lucy said, following him, careful not to step on too much glass. The rest of them came with her, Elaine at the back, still holding Jason’s torch.
“What’s not what what is?” Paul said, following the two flashlight beams around, trying to see what sort of room it was. Just a normal room, not a kitchen. There was no sink, or cooker in it. Everyone he knew had their kitchen at the back of the house. It must have been different in the old days, he thought.
“Never mind. What do we do now, Bar? Someone gonna go back around and get the bags?” Lucy said, definitely not volunteering herself.
“No need. We’ll just go through and open the front door. Jason, man?” said Barry. He was sure it wouldn’t be locked from the inside too, and if it was, it would just be a latch or a bolt that they could slide across. They wouldn’t need a key. He crossed his fingers, just in case, though. He found the door out of the room with the beam of his flashlight, and opened it into another, much darker room. Jason was right behind him. Paul could stay with the girls; the two of them would be enough to bring everything, he thought.
“Okay, I think that’s all of it. Is it here we are, so?” Barry said, putting down the two bags on the floor in the big room that the girls had chosen for them to set up their little camp. Jason had the other three, because he was stronger at lifting things. It was the room just off the one with the broken window; they had found a fireplace in there, and there was hardly any breeze from outside once the door was shut.
“Yeah, d’you think these will burn?” Lucy said, pointing at a pair of scuttles. One had coal, the other chopped wood, he could see from pointing his torch. Jason had the other one, and was moving it around, lighting up the darkness as it went. The room looked old, but it wasn’t falling to pieces. There were still paintings on the wall, in brass frames. No people in them, just rivers, and mountains, and fields. There were some chairs, but he couldn’t see a couch.
“Suppose so, why wouldn’t they?” he said. It was quiet in the room, except for the noise of the wind in the chimney, which meant it was still working, and not filled in. People only filled in their chimneys when they had electric fires though, he thought, and everyone had abandoned this place a long time before electric fires were around, according to his book.
“Dunno, cos they’re old?” she said. She didn’t have matches. Before she could ask him, Paul threw her a box, and she caught them, despite not being able to see properly.
“You know coal is millions of years old, right? It’s from the dinosaur times, like. Another few years isn’t gonna stop it working,” Barry said, pointing his light at the scuttle, as if to make more of a point.
“Yeah, obviously,” she said, although she hadn’t known that. “I meant the wood, like.” He annoyed her, sometimes, he was such a know-it-all.
“The wood’ll be grand, sham. It’s been inside, it can’t have got wet or nothing,” said Jason. He was pointing his own torch at his chin, doing spooky faces. He was an awful messer, she thought.
“Here, give me over my bag there,” Elaine said. She’d just remembered something.
“What’s that?” Paul said, looking at the little grey square she took out of the pocket of her bag. He could smell it from where he was standing, whatever it was.
“Zip firelighter,” she said, handing it to Lucy.
“Nice one, kid,” Jason said, still pulling stupid faces, even though no one was looking at him.
“What’s a that for?” Paul said. Everyone looked at him like he’d said something stupid.
“For lighting the fire, maybe?” Lucy said.
“Why don’t we just use my matches, like?” They didn’t have a coal fire at home. They had a fake one, and radiators.
“Paul?” said Elaine.
“What do you put in a toaster, Paul?” Elaine said. She pushed the piece of Zip underneath the little tower of wood that Lucy had made in the fireplace. She wondered if you put the coal on before you lit it, or after it was already going a bit. They used peat briquettes in her fire at home, not coal. Lucy handed her over two more blocks, and she put them with the others.
“Kind of a question is that?” Paul said. It felt like she was picking on him, now. His face was going red, but no one would notice, so it was fine.
“Just a question. Do you not know, like?” Elaine struck a match and poked it in between the blocks of wood to get to the firelighter, which flared up straight away. Barry was there now too, putting some coal on. She was glad of that, because there was no way she was getting coal dust on her hands or her clothes; not when they didn’t even know if the taps in the house worked yet. They hadn’t even seen any, because they hadn’t found the kitchen, or any toilets.
“Course I know!” Paul said. The fire was making the room brighter now, or at least the part of it where they were all standing or sitting. There wasn’t much warmth from it yet, but there would be soon.
“Course he knows!” Jason said.
“Course!” said Lucy, taking the cushion out of her bag, for something to sit on.
“What is it then?” said Elaine, looking up at him.
“Toast,” said Paul, and everyone laughed, filling up the big room with their giggles and shrieks. He laughed too, eventually, when it dawned on him what he’d said. He felt stupid for falling for an old joke, but he knew Elaine was just messing. They all were. None of them didn’t get on, really. He thought they were all sound, even the new boy. The fire would be going properly soon, and he could take off his jacket. He sat down next to Elaine, who gave him a wink and squeezed his leg, to let him know she’d only been codding.
“C’mere I want you; did you shift my cousin in Kilkee this year?” Paul said, talking to Elaine. The others stopped chatting and turned to listen to them. The fire was roaring now, a little later. Everyone was sitting around it, on cushions or blankets. They were going to go for a wander around the house in a bit, once they were all warm and dry, they’d decided.
“When?” Elaine said, opening her bottle of red lemonade a little and letting the fizz go down before she took the top off. She had already drunk about a quarter of it. She knew she should slow down, but she was thirsty from the heat.
“This year, like. The summer. Few months ago.”
“Who’s your cousin?” She didn’t know why she was asking; she hadn’t done anything with anyone down there. She didn’t know where he was getting this from. She could feel everyone looking at her now.
“Mikey Fitz.” Paul was getting too hot on his back, so he moved forward a bit, away from the flames.
“Mikey Fitzgerald?” she said, picturing who she thought he meant.
“Yeah. From Balla.” He was only a second cousin, really; his mother was Paul’s mother’s cousin. But maybe that made him a third cousin. He wasn’t sure.
“I did in my HOLE. What kind of a yoke d’you think I am at all, Paul?”
“What d’you mean?”
“Mikey Fitzgerald? Shifting me? Me, shifting him? He’s a head like a melted welly, that youngfella. I wouldn’t give him the steam off my piss. Shifting me, in Kilkee? Pffffft. Dream on, like.” She offered her bag of Emerald sweets to Lucy beside her, and she felt her face going red, even though she had no need to be embarrassed. She hadn’t done anything wrong. She hadn’t done anything at all.
“Well… He told me different, sham. Says he got his iron off you, behind the arcade. Hand job and all, he tol’t me,” Paul said.
“Hand job!!!!!????” She didn’t know whether to start crying or to burst out laughing. Her face was hot, but it wasn’t from the fire.
“I’ll kick the bollix off him next time I see him, if you want, cuz,” Jason said. He hated Mikey Fitzgerald anyway, even before he knew he was making up stuff about Elaine.
“I’ll do it myself, if I see him first,” Elaine said, raging now. “Then he can tell everyone I touched his mickey. With my boot.”
“Okay, are we right, so?” Barry said, a little later on. The fire had stayed lighting, and everyone had eaten something, even if it was all just sweets and crisps.
“Huh? Right for what?” Elaine said. She was feeling a bit giddy now, and a little dizzy too, as she stood up. She put her hand on the arm of the chair behind her, to steady herself.
“Said we were gonna go have a look around, remember? See what the rest of the place is like,” he said, turning his torch on and off, as if the batteries might somehow have run out since he last used it, a half an hour before.
“Oh yeah. Rapid,” said Paul. He peeled the plastic off the half a Wham bar he still had left and shoved it all in his mouth at once. Upside down, as well, so the fizzy bits were on his tongue.
“Will the fire go out, sham?” Jason said, squatting down in front of it. He could always put more coal on before they went, he thought.
“It’s grand,” said Lucy. She’d taken her trainers off to dry them in the heat, but she was putting them on before going anywhere in the house. There could be more broken glass, or nails, or even rats. Hopefully not rats, but then rats and mice only stuck around when there were scraps of food to eat, and no one had lived here for years and years, according to Barry.
“Hang on a sec, actually,” Elaine said, remembering that she had her own torch in her bag. It was only a small, pink one, and the light wasn’t very strong, but it was better than no torch at all, she thought.
“Where do we go first?” Lucy said. There must have been tonnes of rooms in the place, just going by how big it looked on the outside. As well as the door they had come through, the sitting room had two other doors. One straight ahead of the first one, at the opposite end; another going off to the side, next to a big bookcase. She wondered what kind of books were in it, and if she’d be able to read them, or if the paper would turn to dust when she opened them. She’d seen something like that in a movie once, but this house wasn’t as old as the one in that film.
“Am, I dunno. Me and Jason’ve already been through there, to get the bags. Why don’t we try the side one now?” Barry said. He wished now that the book had come with a map of the house, but it wasn’t that kind of book – it was more a book about hauntings, then about history, or buildings.
“We haven’t been through it though – me and Lucy, and Paul – I want to see!” Elaine said. Her stomach made a funny noise, and she wondered if anyone else heard it. They were going to need to find a toilet at some point. She didn’t want to have to go and pee in the garden. It was easier for the boys than for her and Lucy.
“Split up, then?” Jason said, popping a Rolo in his mouth. The ads on the TV said you were supposed to keep the last one for someone you loved, but he didn’t love anyone; not like that, so he got to eat it himself.
“Ah, no thanks…” said Lucy. It would be just her luck to end up in the group that got attacked by bats, she thought. They’d be safer together, anyway. Even if there weren’t any bats.
“Yeah, stay together, sham,” Paul said. He wanted to see what was behind both doors, and even though it would be cool to be in the group with just him and the two girls, it wouldn’t be cool if they ran into trouble. Girls were always scared of everything, and they were no good at fighting. He wasn’t either, but at least he was a boy, he thought. He didn’t know what or who exactly he was afraid of running into; he just knew he’d rather do it with the five of them together.
“Stay together, yeah. Will you mind me, Luce?” Elaine said, giggling.
“I will, yeah, sound. Why’re you bringing that?” She pointed at the two litre.
“Ah… case I get thirsty, like,” Elaine said, slipping her arm around the smaller girl’s waist. “Or case I need to batter a Frankenstein with it.”
“Okay, well let’s try this one first then, and then we’ll do the other one,” Barry said, walking over to the bookcase. The air in the house had smelled funny when they first came in, but now the room just smelled like burning wood, or coal, he noticed. He got to the door and pushed down the handle. He hadn’t expected any of the doors inside to be locked, but this one was. He gave it a few shakes and rattles, but it was no use.
“Bollocks anyway, Jason said.
“God’s sake,” said Paul.
“Is it… is it just me, or…” Barry moved his flashlight around the next room, which wasn’t really a room, it was more of a hall, from what the others could see.
“Or what?” Paul said, looking around too. The walls were covered in dark wood, with big paintings hung up high on either side. They were all of people; sometimes someone on their own, other times groups – they looked like family portraits, he thought. Probably the people who lived there, years ago. Or maybe the ones who lived there before them. He couldn’t tell much in this light, but they were all dressed in old fashioned clothes, like in paintings from a museum.
“Jason, do you remember – is it… is it different?” said Barry. He pointed his light down the end, where there was a door; the one that they had come back through with the bags.
“How d’you mean, different?” Jason said, pointing his own torch around. It was just a hallway, with paintings. He wasn’t sure what Barry was getting at. It looked the same as it had the last time, to him.
“I dunno, it’s just… I’m just being stupid, probably.” He couldn’t put his finger on why he felt weird. It was the same hallway, and they hadn’t had much of a look around earlier; they’d had all the bags on the way back, so they couldn’t even use their flashlights properly. Something was bugging him about it, though. He just didn’t know what.
“Who are all them?” Elaine said, looking at the family picture with her own torch. There was an old man, with grey hair, a woman who must have been his wife, in a beautiful green dress, and two younger looking people – a boy and a girl. They must be their children, she thought, although they weren’t young looking. They looked older than her, but maybe kids in the old days just looked old. The boy had a proper suit on, and the girl’s red dress was so long, you couldn’t see her feet. It was spread out in front of her on the ground. The mother and daughter were sitting on a sort of half a couch, and the man and the boy were standing up.
“That’s the family,” Barry said. There was an old photograph of them in his book – black and white, nobody smiling, like the way everyone looked in photos from the old days.
“What’s their names, like?” Paul said. They looked ancient to him. And English too. There were no Irish people that posh, he thought. They looked like they were in the Royal Family, nearly.
“Am, well the auld fella is the Major. Major Cavendish,” Barry said. He was looking forward to telling them all the whole story, but it could wait until later; until midnight. There was no need to spoil it too much now.
“His name is Major? Haha, like a packet of fags,” Paul said. They were the ones his dad smoked – the ones he had in his jacket pocket and had forgotten about until just now.
“No, you spa. Major like a Major in the army,” Lucy said, hoping she was right. Lots of people were in the army in the old days, because of all the wars they had back then.
“Exactly, yeah,” Barry said. “And that’s his wife, Ethel.”
“Ethel…” whispered Elaine, thinking it was a funny name, but everyone had funny names back then, she thought.
“And who’s the other ones?” Jason said, looking at the two of them. They looked miserable, and stuck up, he thought. But maybe most people would look miserable, if they had to stand around for ages, waiting for someone to paint them.
“That’s the twins.”
“Twins?” Lucy said. They didn’t look like twins to her. They didn’t look like each other at all. And one of them was a boy and the other one was a girl. She thought twins had to be the same, like Gráinne and Áine in her school.
“Yeah. The boy was called Alistair…”
“What’s the girl called?” Elaine said. Her hair was nice, even for old fashioned hair, but she couldn’t tell if she was pretty, not from that painting. She might have been though, if she was smiling, she thought.
“Lily-Rose,” Barry said, and both the girls let out a little “Ooh”.
“Lily-Rose, that’s gorgeous,” Lucy said.
“Yeah, pity she isn’t,” Paul said.
“You can talk, you gowl,” Elaine said.
“Yeah, you’re no oil painting yourself,” Barry said, laughing at his own joke, though no one else seemed to get it.
“Pfffft, least I’m not from Dublin,” Paul said, like he always said to Barry, if he couldn’t think of anything smart to come back with.
“Shut up all of ye,” Jason said, pointing his torch down the hall towards the door. “C’mon and we show you the next bit.”
“Go on so,” said Elaine, linking her arm with Lucy’s; half to feel safe walking in the dark, and half just because it felt nice. She was glad they were getting out of the hall, because even in the dark, it felt like some of the eyes of the people in the paintings were looking at her.
“Janey Mack…” said Lucy, looking around.
“Cool, n’it?” Jason said. They were at the front of the house now, at the other side of the big door. Even if they hadn’t had their torches, the full moon coming through the windows was enough for them to see the black and white square tiled floor, and the high ceiling with its crystal chandelier. With their backs to the door, they saw two enormous staircases on either side, leading up to the main part of the house. Marble steps and brass bannisters, which like the floor and the chandelier, were covered in dust. Jason and Barry’s footprints from earlier on were the only signs that anyone had been there in years, maybe in decades.
“How come it’s still like this? Just like… how come people aren’t in here all the time, like, wrecking the place, or just hanging around, drinking, or sniffing glue and stuff?” Paul said.
“Probably cos you can’t get in without doing something stupid like breaking a window,” said Elaine, and some of them laughed.
“No, seriously, like. How come? Cos of ghosts, is it?” Paul said, but he knew that wasn’t the answer. It hadn’t stopped them coming, after all.
“I think it’s just cos it’s out here, out the country; miles away,” Barry said, wondering if the rooms upstairs would be locked or not, and if they should split up again to go and look, or stick to staying together.
“Yeah, I think it’s that. If this was down our place it’d be covered in graffiti, and all the windows’d be smashed in, by now,” said Jason.
“And you found out about it in a book, like. Knackers don’t read books,” Elaine said.
“Yeah, that’s true, like,” Jason said. He didn’t read books either, but she wasn’t talking about him, she was talking about knackers. He wasn’t a knacker. People from posh places would probably call him and the rest of them knackers, just for living in a poorer area, but it wasn’t true. His mother said it was ignorant to tar people with the same brush, just because of where they were from or what school they went to. And anyway, he thought – knackers lived in places like Balla, or Moyross, or Southill. Everybody knew that.
“What’s this, lads?” Paul was over at the wall, next to a big black box that was about five foot off the ground, with lots of copper pipes coming out of it.
“Is that the ‘lectricity?” Jason said. They hadn’t looked for any light switches, Barry said there was no point, as there wasn’t electricity in Ireland when people used to live in the house. But he was wrong, it looked like.
“It’s not the electricity,” Barry said, though he wasn’t so sure now.
“There!” said Paul, finally getting the front of it open. Everyone had come over to see, and they crowded around him, blocking his light. The box was full of switches. Each one had something written underneath, but the writing was too faded to see, and too old fashioned and joined-up to read, even if they could, anyway.
“That is the electric. That’s the fuse box, like,” Jason said, excited. He’d seen the inside of their one at home, when the power went out one time, and his Dad had to get up on a chair to flick it back on.
“No. It’s something else,” Barry said, frowning. He didn’t know what, though.
“Turn it on!” Elaine said. She was dying to find out what would happen. She opened her bottle and had another swig. She didn’t offer any to anyone else. She couldn’t.
“Don’t!” said Lucy, though she didn’t know what she was afraid of.
“Do!” Jason said. What was the worst that could happen?
“Okay, okay,” Paul said. “One, two, three…” He flicked the first switch. Nothing happened.
“God’s sake,” Elaine said.
“Do another one,” said Lucy, not afraid anymore, just curious.
“Okay.” Paul flicked the next one in the row. Nothing, again. Another, the same. There were two left.
“We’re wasting our time,” Barry said. Even if there was electricity in the house at some point, it would have been cut off years ago. There was no one living there to pay the Light Bill. They cut you off if you didn’t pay the bills, the ESB did. He knew that from the time it happened to his Nana, and his father had to give her a loan to get it put back on.
“Hang on two minutes, like,” said Paul. He flicked the second last one. Nothing happened again.
“Wait!”, said Lucy. She closed her eyes and did the sign of the cross. “Father, son, Holy Spirit, Amen.” Sometimes that worked, if she wanted something to happen. Or if she didn’t want something to happen. Sometimes it didn’t work, but it was worth a try, she thought.
“Father, son, Holy Spirit, Amen,” Jason said.
“In the name of the Father, the son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen,” Barry said. Elaine made the sign but didn’t bother saying the words, but no one noticed.
“Father, son, Holy Spirit… AMEN!” Paul said, flicking the last switch. Above them, they heard a sound, and everyone looked up. The chandelier got brighter, in the middle first, then slowly all the way through it. Around them, on the walls, little glass lanterns lit up, getting brighter and brighter.
“Janey Mack…” said Lucy. The prayers had worked.
“Electricity!” Jason said, wondering what the weird smell was.
“It’s not electricity,” Barry said, looking wide-eyed at the room now, which was slowly getting brighter and brighter.
“What is it, then?” Lucy said. She smelled the weird smell too. It smelled like…
“Gas,” said Barry. “That’s what they used to use in the old days for lights. Gas. Or oil.”
“Well hallelujah for gas, lads; Jesus was listening to us,” Paul said. He looked up at the tops of both staircases, and he could see there were lights on up there, too.
“Did that one switch turn on all the lights in the house, like?” Lucy said, to Barry.
“Maybe. Or maybe all the other ones we flicked turned them on in the rest of the house,” he said. It was a guess, but it was probably true too, he thought.
“We shouldn’t have let them go, like. It’s dangerous,” Paul said, when he, Jason and Barry were on their own, at the top of the left-hand staircase.
“It’s not dangerous, sham. Shur who’s here only us?” Jason said. There had been a small argument downstairs, about whether they should split up again, and, if they did, who was going to go with who. Elaine wanted to go with Lucy. She got her way, eventually.
“They can shout for us if they need us. We’ll hear them, like. It’s not that big, this place,” said Barry. Although, looking down the corridor, with all the doors on both sides, he wasn’t so sure about that. He was still trying to figure out where the room with the big round window that they had seen from the outside was. It wasn’t where they were right now. But maybe there was another floor, above them. He’d find out soon enough.
“Or we can shout for them, if we’re the ones shitting ourselves,” Jason said, laughing, and opening the first door on the right. It wasn’t locked, but it made a long, loud creaking sound, like something out of a horror movie.
“What the hell is that?”
“You’d swear we were babies, like,” Elaine said, to Lucy. Lucy was a baby compared to her, all right; but they were still able to look after themselves, she thought. Paul was just being a fool.
“I know. I hope they see a ghost and they come running to us, bawling for their mammies,” Lucy said. “Which one will we go in first?”
“Eenie, Meanie, Miney, this one!” Elaine said, pointing at the first door on her left. They were beautiful looking doors, not like the boring ones in her house. They were carved and full of detail, like the front door of a nice house would be. Her house had a nice door, even though it was in Canon Breen. Most of the other lot’s doors were still the ones that came with the houses, because their houses were only around a year old; she’d lived in hers since she was born. The handle pushed down easily, and the door swung inwards without a sound.
“Jesus Christ! What’s that thing?”