Katie knocked on Ray’s door. He scarfed down the last of his spaghetti bolognese, smearing more of it down his double chin and leapt to his feet.
He threw the Freddy Krueger mask he’d inherited from his older brother over his head and shouted, ‘Trick or treat.’ With that, he grabbed Katie in a headlock and roughly noogied her.
‘Hey,’ she squealed. ‘This hair took me ages to sort out. Get your fat hands off me.’
He pulled out the head of one of the snakes she’d meticulously woven into her hair. ‘The hell you supposed to be, anyway?’
‘Medusa, dummy. Don’t you listen in class? We only did it like last week.’
He shook his head.
‘He’s still getting his costume on.’
‘Let’s go get him. He’ll be there all night if we let him.’
Katie smiled, itched one of the snakes. The green wool she’d woven in looked awesome but it sure was itchy.
They saw a pale figure in a crisp white sheet in front of them. Two dark eyes peered out through the crudely cut eyeholes.
‘Where you off to, you big girl?’ Ray said, upon recognising Jeremy’s skinny frame underneath the sheet.
‘I’m going to rap on Harry Land’s door,’ Jeremy grinned. ‘You coming?’
Ray gasped. Shook his head instinctively, his mouth floundering for the right words.
‘Now who’s the big girl?’ Jeremy laughed.
‘Yeah,’ Katie said. ‘Let’s go up there and see if it’s true.’ A grin almost as hideous as Miss Hopper’s spread across her face.
Ray squirmed. On the one hand, one of the softest kids in the school was going. This was going to be seriously bad for his street cred. On the other hand, he was genuinely terrified by the story Miss Hopper had told him. His belly was doing somersaults like when he and his brother had double-dared each other to eat raw sausages the previous summer. But this was worse somehow.
‘See ya there, if you ain’t too scared,’ Jeremy grinned, turning and walking, singing the Harry Land song as he went.
It further put the shits up Ray.
‘You can’t let him go and not go yourself,’ Katie grinned. ‘Every kid you’ve ever bullied will turn on ya. You’ll lose any respect or fear you ever held over them.’
Ray nodded. Gulped again. The aftertaste of the spaghetti bolognese burnt his throat. His belly churned even more violently.
‘Yeah, but wait for Gerard. I ain’t in no rush to go there. No reason he should miss out either.’
It turned out Gerard wanted to go; it was the first thing that spilled from his lips.
Ray tried to protest but their taunts further belittled him. He was used to dishing out the bullying and had never been on the receiving end before. He was swept along like a twig in a raging river.
The house was even creepier than they’d imagined.
Elm trees ran riot over the house, which looked as though it hadn’t been occupied since the turn of the previous century. The windows were shattered, covered in dried dark streaks. The wooden walls were scorched in places where no one had bothered to repair them.
All three of them felt eyes upon them, although only Ray chose to believe the sensation.
The skin on the back of his neck began to crawl.
‘Is that blood?’ he asked.
‘I doubt it, unless Miss Hopper’s had the ketchup out to scare us away,’ Gerard laughed. With his zombie face paint, he almost looked dead already. Ray hurriedly dismissed this thought.
‘No sign of Jeremy,’ Ray said. ‘Bet he ain’t even come here.’
‘He will have done,’ Katie said. ‘He was super-determined.’
‘Probably ran away shitting his pants already,’ Gerard laughed. The laugh echoed briefly then cut off as if even it was scared to cross the threshold of the Land household.
‘Let’s fucking do this then,’ Ray said, a thin sliver of his tough guy persona returning at long last. He tore off the mask as his face was already starting to sweat at the thought of entering the nightmare house.
He walked much faster than he wanted to, but he didn’t want to lose any more face in front of his friends. They both looked up to him and he couldn’t be seen to be wussing out.
He took in a deep breath, raised his hand.
Squealed like a little girl when a blood-smeared hand clasped his shoulder hard enough to leave red finger-marks.
‘That was too fun,’ Katie laughed in his ear. ‘Say, you aren’t going pussy on us, are ya?’
‘Course not,’ he said, trying desperately to hide the shake of his hand, the rapid heartbeat that thundered in the middle of his throat.
‘Then fucking knock on the door then,’ Gerard said. ‘It ain’t that hard. See.’ He rapped three times on the wood.
‘Oh no,’ Katie grinned. ‘You knocked on the door of Harry Land. Now the devil will come out and chop off your hand.’
Gerard hid his hand up his sleeve and began to fake some screams.
‘Piss off,’ Ray said. He knocked hard on the door. Just the once, that was all he could stomach.
Katie brayed a fast beat on it.
‘There, can we go now?’ Ray said.
‘Ah-ah-ah,’ Gerard smiled. ‘We’re going in. Gonna bring one of those hands back home if there are any.’
‘There aren’t gonna be any hands,’ Katie said, as if explaining it to a toddler. ‘Cos it ain’t real.’
‘There might be this one,’ Gerard said, putting his other arm up his sleeve and beginning the fake screaming again.
Halfway through his screaming, the smiles on his and Katie’s faces vanished without a trace when a cry of utter despair came from inside the house.