Truth or Dare
It had started as a dare, nothing more than that, so who could have known it was to end this way.
Poppinac reached into her pocket and pulled out a handkerchief, it was a pretty, embroidered piece, something she had lifted from her sister drawer. Lying and thieving took first place in her young life. It pleased her to take what she wanted, whenever she wanted it. Grinning the young girl mopped her nose, and silently called her sister a fool for the tenth time that night. If she had only known, Poppinac would have happily played the good girl, staying in bed, tucked up tight and safe beneath the covers.
“Psst Rolen. Get in ere, I am not going to walk these stairs on my own.” She hissed the words, a little fearful at the echo that bounced back at her from inside the darkened gloom. Cobwebs tattered and torn rippled in the musty stale breeze from the door pushed open. Dark shapes sat in wait for the pair and goodness knows what else.
Rolen was short for his age, everyone told him so, everyone, that was except Poppinac and that was why he liked her. He stepped up close, breathing heavily from the jitters he felt about entering the old man’s lodge. The window’s winked at him, the darkness of it’s empty belly within smelt like old man’s dirty socks, at least that was how he saw it. The old building had been empty for decades, not a soul had stepped foot inside forever and a day and the stories that floated around town were thick with horror.
“Why can’t you just leave it alone.” He knew he was whining but he also knew Poppinac and the stubborn streak that rose above good sense. “All we have to do it say that we went inside and if we hide for a bit, the rest won’t know. I swear it Poppinac we only have to say we went inside.”
She shot him a withering look, “For God’s sake Rolen. How can we do that without grabbing a trophy to say so. Those out there, with their knees shaking and their pants wet from the very thought of doing what they dared us to do, won’t accept the truth of it without a trophy. You know it and I know it.” Poppinac turned back to the yawning hole that beckoned them to step forward.
“Well here goes.”
Rolen hung his head; he knew that the time for talking was done. Swallowing hard the young boy followed.
The man knew he was a ghost, had for the past twenty years watched his death play over and over again each night in the mirrors of his decaying house. Mad with anger and grief, the apparition fought off the despair he felt. He felt so alone.
Memories were the hardest to accept. He had a name once, all those years ago when he had walked with the living, it was Charles Baron Wentworth but his mother had always called him Bert. Now names didn’t matter, nothing mattered just the endless shift of time. Not even the clock ticked anymore, its battery was long dead, just like him, a useless thing from a past long dead.
Over the years, he had learnt to manipulate the living world, little tricks to pass the time. The switching on a light, the slamming of a door and the one noise he had managed to conjure into the dead air. The word ‘Promise.” He never expected to use it but if he pulled in the energy around him and stood very still, pushing all of his will into this word, upon release it bounced about the house like a song. It pleased him sometimes to call it out.
There had been over the year’s visitors. The odd real estate agent wishing to cash in on the land his house sat on, the occasional drifter looking for free-lodgings and of late, noisy children. Bert hated them all. They lived while he, trapped inside his private hell had to endure. Well if he had to remain, alone and dead then that was how it would be. He would tolerate no one in his empty space, and on this very night, the witching night called Halloween where the boundaries of the living and dead meet, Bert sat brooding.
“Poppinac, Poppinac?” The young boy’s hand shook as he clutched for her shoulder.
Freckled faced with a shock of orange hair gave Poppinac an almost ethereal expression as she turned to face Rolen. “Well what is it? Are you a man or a mouse? I told you we can’t back out now, so hurry about and step up. Look all we have to do is walk the stairs and take something that used to be his. That’s all we have to do and then we can go. You can run all you want then Rolen, I promise.”
Even whispering low, her voice rang in Bert’s ears like a hammering anvil. His ghostly head lifted from his hands. Someone was here, in his house, talking as though they had a right. Death had claimed this soul at the young age of twenty-three, too young for the grave but what did the reaper care. A soul was a soul and payment had to be given to the keeper of death, even in tragedy.
“They dare come into my home. They dare walk the same steps I did as a young man.” Empty words coming from a dead man, still it was his house even if his corpse laid in a coffin some miles down the road.
Soft footsteps drew him to his feet. Up the stairs they creaked getting closer to the room he so loved. Anger bubbled in an empty breast, real enough for this ghost and he made ready to make them pay.
“Rolen don’t step on my heels for goodness sake. There’s nothing here to worry about. It’s just an old house with the lights turned off. Okay, I’ll admit that the creaking and groaning of old boards can seem a little scary but there’s nothing here.”
The sun was setting and the lengthening shadows twisted into shapes on the walls, as the sun weakly pushed it will through the broken glass windows and discolored curtains. Rolen could hear his heart thumping in time with the breaking of sweat of his forehead. It dripped down the back of his neck, snaking its way to the soles of his shoes. He was a fearful mess.
From the corner of his eye, Rolen saw Bert. The ghost had pushed his head out of the wall just above the next step and Rolen screamed. He hadn’t meant to but what would you have done in his place. Poppinac missed her step. She had jumped on that scream, and as the poor girl slipped her body crashed into her friend. Down they both went, all legs and arms as they bounced off each other on the way down.
Bert stepped through the wall, he pulled on his most hideous face and lifted himself into the air to greet the banged up pair. The lights flickered and upstairs several doors opened and closed in resounding bangs. All of it a spectacle to alarm, he wanted those children gone. How dare they walk his house as if they had a right!
Rolen lay under Poppinac. She opened her eyes and the room with all it’s dark shapes spun for a bit as she attempted to sit up. Nothing broken, but she had the makings of some pretty, decent bruises and a nasty headache. Pulling the handkerchief from her pocket, Poppinac wiped the blood out of her eyes.
It was then that she realized she was sitting on her best friend.
“Rolen are you alright? I’m sorry but you scared me.”
It was silent except for the banging of doors overhead and the lights that shouldn’t have been working, flashing off and on. All of this she ignored for Rolen was so very still.
“Rolen please get up.” Her voice took on a begging tone. It was fretful for she was only a young girl.
Blood crept towards her feet from underneath his head and his arm, bent at an impossible angle pointed for some reason to the top of the stairs. She turned to where he was pointing.
Hanging in the air some feet above the ground was Bert. Oddly enough, he wasn’t angry anymore. Wonder filled his dead eyes at the sight of Rolen dead on the floor. He opened his mouth to speak and realizing that there was no point closed it again.
Tears fell and Poppinac dropped to her knees. “Oh what have I done? It was supposed to be a dare, that’s all.”
It all stopped, the door banging and the flashing of lights and in its place stood another ghost. Rolen looked at Poppinac, his dead eyes questioning, sadder than anything she had ever seen.
“Oh Rolen I am sorry. So sorry, I didn’t mean to fall.” She hiccupped in her grief.
Rolen’s ghost looked on, as silent as the dark house he was now chained to. Bert held out a hand and Rolen without a moment of hesitation took it. The ghostly pair made ready to leave, Poppinac all but forgotten in the world of the living. Halloween night it may have been, but the boundaries could only stay open for just so long and Bert was eager to make his leave. There was so much for him to do now that he had a companion.
“Wait – please.” Entreated the young girl, “Don’t go. What am I to do now, you are my best friend, my only friend.”
Rolen lagged and Bert stopped, they both turned, ghostly apparitions on a stairwell. The lengthening shadows were long gone, not even the full moon had the sense to send its beams into such a place.
“What shall I say? They’ll blame me and I’ll be sent away to be locked in a prison with bars with no one to keep me safe. Please Rolen what should I do.”
The ghost once called Rolen shook off Bert’s hand and gently walked the stairs back to Poppinac. He reached out and with fingers alight with the last measure of living energy. The spectrum snatched her handkerchief from her pocket. It floated into the air, a trembling reminder of her love for theft. He looked to Bert, and with a nod to the older ghost, dead Rolen shook his head. Sad eyes measured her heart. He would do this last thing.
Bert opened his mouth, drawing in the energy around him. Poppinac felt her heart miss a beat, now it was her turn to sweat.
“PROMISE.” Came a booming voice.
“Promise? What do I have to promise?” She was a little more than scared now.
Rolen smiled and her knees weakened. Her pulse quickened and all those misdeeds tumbled about her head, slapping her with the anger, the hurt, the injustices she had done to others, and as she licked at a tear she knew what it all meant.
“Okay, I promise.” The handkerchief left Rolan’s hand and floated to rest nicely on his cooling corpse.
She sniffed as they disappeared through the wall. Now she was truly alone. Rolen belonged to a dare that she had foolishly accepted and the promise, made with a love for her dear friend, was to stay with the truth. Straightening her shoulders Poppinac left the old man’s lodge and took to the street for home. All she had to do was tell the truth. For the rest of her life, Poppinac had to walk the path of the straight and narrow, no more stealing, no more dares, just the acts of a good girl doing the right thing. With another sniff and a wipe of her nose with her stolen handkerchief, Poppinac walked the long walk home.
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