new idea for front cover 2015 final

Prologue
To be honest, I have no idea what to write in this prologue, so I’ll just wing it and hope for the best. In some ways the events of Summer 2014 are still as fresh and vivid to me as what happened at work yesterday or what film I watched last weekend, especially now when I read my diary of the time, scrawled and almost illegible. But despite re-living my endless paragraphs of morbidity, the harsh assumptions, unfounded judgements on my boyfriend, his mates and my glaring ignorance, it’s hard to describe the depth and the layers of emotions we all experienced. There was fear, there was desperation and there was utter terror. For me there was also an intensity of loneliness that I never thought I could live through as well as hours passed in sensual oblivion. But there was more to it than just my childish indulgences and selfish choices. For the deeper threads of the human state , I have no words. I’d like to say that what transpired brought us all together, that….absurdity we lived through. I’d like to say that, at the end of the nightmare, our new-found unity was like a moist, cooling refreshing shower on a sweaty day and that through that hell, we’ve all bonded forever, putting all the hatred and betrayal behind us. Helping Alicia in her hour of need and getting ourselves out of that hellhole should have stopped our petty arguments and thrown our lives into a stark reality perspective. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to say, yes, we all pulled together. But that wasn’t entirely the case, whatever the ending of my story may suggest. On the surface we appeared to have resolved our differences; Lee waved his ‘magic counselling wand’ over all of us and we suddenly saw beyond each other’s selfish ways and vindictive comments and realised that we shouldn’t have judged, we should have ‘walked around in each other’s shoes’ as Lee told us to. Time and time again, he told us, but we all sniggered behind pursed lips, nodding in all the right places, while seething and cursing each other’s existence in favour of our own agendas. How I wish we had listened to him. How I wish we hadn’t just pretended to forgive and forget, that we had actually bothered to sit down and talk to one another and be strong in our admissions of weakness….admit we were all to blame, we were all human and humans make mistakes, humans fuck up.
Lee thought we did, but I knew better. So did Alicia.
I don’t want to talk now about where and how we all are today, I want you to read this story that I have told here through my diary entries and those of my companions. Then, when the story comes to an end, you will find my final words and thoughts written. I won’t plead or beg for you to believe me, it’s up to you to come to your own conclusions. Some of you may never be able to decide, and that’s ok too. All I ask is that you give my story a chance. I have my own beliefs, my own theories, but what do they matter? After all, what I am trying to tell is a story with a hundred different messages and a thousand different perspectives.
““There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.”
― Aldous Huxley

Chapter 1

Alicia’s Diary

Alice 2

I long for the night. I can hide with my comfort blanket of darkness engulfing me, where no one will disturb me. I have many hours of peace ahead. I sprawl out on the orange mattress on the balcony and brave the crisp wind, my face gazing up at the indigo ink blot sky. I watch the swirls of the clouds blink- blink- blink and then sleep, blotting out the mischievous twinkle of the stars. The smoke from my cigarette twirls and dances like a fluid ballerina up and up to meet the sky, changing colour like a chameleon from silver-white, to pale blue, to black. When it’s finished, I let my eyes droop until I dream of faces that merge and expand, their features elongating and shrivelling, then winding around and looping through each other, hooking on to coiling snake-like entities that shimmer and slide past my vision.

images (2)

~*~

I awake and find my fingers exploring the hoods of my eyes, yet again, pushing my eyeballs down until I see lightning bolts of white that illuminate my brain like flaming comets.  What am I searching for? The once delicate tissue films of skin underneath my eyes feel scaly and dry. I try to resist picking at their brittleness but as I trace the rough texture with my fingertip, I feel exhilarated as they touch my skin. I know that if I can scrape them off with my nails I will feel clean again, pure. The horror and ugliness will wash away down the plughole. I will stand there at the sink, my tears merging with the feeble trickle of tap water as I scrub my nails with the green lotion. My hot tears always sting my eyes. The delicate exposed flesh that I have gauged to red, burns. I scream. Trembling, I clutch the sides of the sink, the dark outline of the mirror on the wall looming in front of me. There is a thick, weave cloth draped across it. I know why it’s there, but I can’t remember who put it there. I can lift it, I can tear it down, but I don’t want to. The face that I see reflected in it will consume me. It will be so terrifying to look at that I will wish I had slid my whole body down the plughole, clinging to the remnants of my flesh, lost forever in the nothingness of death.

Instead, I sit up and hug my knees tightly to my chest. I shiver as I untie my Indian shawl from around the wrought iron of the balcony, wrapping it tightly around my shoulders. I roll a cigarette, noticing how low my supply is getting. My ration has been spent for the month but I can’t get through the rest of the night without just one last smoke to calm my nerves. The night is silent. I hear a welcome nothing, not even the faint hoot of the owl that sometimes lulls me to sleep. I stare out across the gardens. The outlines of the wild unkempt trees and bushes are only recognisable by subtle nocturnal tones and shapes that sway gently in the breeze.

Then I hear something.

My heart jolts as I turn to look into my room. There’s something in there. Again, a shuffling noise reaches out to me and then what sounds like breathing. I prepare myself to stand up, adrenalin seeping into my veins. Someone laughs- soft giggle that fades into a long contented sigh. Then there’s murmuring- a different voice. Then anger fights the adrenalin as I realise someone has let themselves in to my room, my haven, the one place that I can call my own. I don’t know much about this place I live in, I don’t remember one face from another, but I know that it’s my space and no one else is allowed in it. I am on my feet now, entering my room to face them.

‘Who’s there?’ I plead into the void.

Silence. Only my footsteps echo in my head as I trace the perimeter of room. Nothing. No one.

Yet again, I don’t know if these noises were spirits of the dead in this macabre building or ghosts still alive in my head. Maybe I am the ghost.

~*~

My Diary. Saturday 5th August 

lee's portrait

I wanted to scream out for her to stop the car because I just knew there was something very wrong. But I didn’t know what.

We hadn’t even arrived at the abandoned building and I was already quietly flipping out. I should have been happy, I knew that. But despite my excitement of spending the next two weeks with Lee, a cold sensation of anxiety had been eating away at my insides all morning and now it was lodged firmly in my stomach. It had started as a hollow feeling that I had tried to ignore by thinking about having Lee all to myself while indulging in my biggest passion- exploring and ghost hunting. We’d be filming in an old building, on a two week sleep-over. But since we’d left London and Lee’s student house, the hollowness had turned to solid dread.

I glanced up at the girl driving, the back of her head towering above her seat. Her electric blue and purple dreadlocks were bathed in late afternoon sun light making her look like she was in a psychedelic photo from the sixties. Her name was Annabelle and she was Lee’s house mate. He was forever trying to convince me, ‘just good friend’ type housemate, but since he had been living in the same house as her and she had been clinging to him like a sea anemone, this was impossible to believe. But it was me who was now squashed up next to Lee in the back of her black SUV heading out of London, so I tried not to dwell on this lingering fear. I should have been feeling nothing but pure relief after the previous two horrible months. All I had seemed to do was waste my time trying to remove the metaphorical nappy my parents still thought I should be wearing. I was fed up to the back teeth of them treating me like a baby. I was 18 not 8. I thought the constant rows with Dad about all the mind-numbingly repetitive sore subjects such as ‘those wasters’ that I hung out with (not Lee at least, he was the golden boy) would have stopped the day I supposedly turned into an adult overnight. But nothing had changed. Even Lee’s halo had slipped a bit when he was trying to convince Dad to let me come to help with the filming project. But it had been Lee that did the talking and in the end, Dad had relented. But, this had only been on my ‘best friend’s’ oath that he wouldn’t let me out of his sight.

Plus, I hadn’t seen Lee in so long that I had forgotten how excruciatingly dull my life had been, stuck at home in my attic in the rural outback of Lincolnshire while he was at Uni in London. So I sure wasn’t about to let some stuck up Goth-bitch called Annabelle swipe all my joy now. He’d promised it would be our time.

Maybe that was why I was feeling so edgy. She’d already managed to plant her festering seed of poison in the pure soil of our relationship despite us living a world apart. She used this distance as a weapon though, constantly thinking up new ways to wind me up knowing full well that I lived four hours away from their cosy little student haven. Of course she knew more about Lee’s everyday life than Iever could. One example would be the Chloe incident. You see, during the winter, we would keep Skype on all the time so we’d be able to talk and fall asleep together. One night in Lee’s room while he was out I noticed some girl strolling around and rummaging through his things as though she owned the place. Of course, I didn’t know it was Chloe at that point so being me I confronted Lee about the mystery girl, accusing him of being a complete cheating asshole. That was the polite thing I called him. He couldn’t believe that I was having a go at him and not even giving him a chance to explain. That’s me, though. As it turned out it was Chloe, simply going in his room to find her glasses she had left there while they had been talking the evening before. She had moved in the previous day and had been innocently chatting to Lee, just forgetting her glasses on his desk. Annabelle had told her that Lee wouldn’t mind her going in when he wasn’t there. Annabelle knew Lee so well, obviously. She also knew that he had Skype on and that I would see her in there and freak out. That was just one reason right there why I did not like Annabelle. The other reason was because she was clearly in love with him. I just wished she would be a bit more dignified about it and try and hide it just a little bit.

Annabelle’s horrifying driving suddenly threw Lee against me in the back seat. I could feel his entire left side radiating delicious clammy heat as I caught a whiff of the fresh laundry scent of his t-shirt. His chest almost collided with my nose, which felt strangely comforting despite my impending claustrophobia. His arm had been squashed across my shoulder since we set off an hour before and every time the SUV almost capsized, he would pull me into him at just the right second before his six foot frame squished me against the side door. I didn’t mind his body being thrown into mine at all, but Lee being Lee didn’t want the side pockets of the SUV to break my ribs.

Almost drowned out in the simultaneous revving and screeching of brakes and in The Red Hot Chili Peppers blaring out of the CD player, Joel’s voice started cursing Annabelle and her obviously distorted sense of immortality. He was lounged out in the front passenger seat, his over-sized orange legs propped up on the dashboard, the jeans so flared they almost skimmed the floor of the car. He had Lennon sun glasses pushed up into his thick tussle of wild blonde hair which to me, summed up exactly the chilled out guy he was. (Well, despite the yelling at Annabelle). I had met Joel a few times as he was seeing Lee’s sister, Lisa. We had hung out together back home. He was a funny guy who didn’t take life too seriously and didn’t let his friends wallow in any self- pitying shit. I didn’t know whether that was through a genuine concern for the welfare of his best friends or a case of not wanting to deal with other people’s misery. I suspected the latter as Lisa had told me that Joel was a cool guy but not that great to talk to, at least not about serious stuff. I found it weird that he wanted to be with us on this trip as the atmosphere since leaving London had been heavy to say the least.

As far as I was concerned, it was all because of her and the dick fit she’d had while packing all our stuff in the back of the SUV. ‘You’re taking too much…. couldn’t you and Lee double up with your bags…. and look, the food boxes aren’t sealed properly and are gonna ruin the upholstery…’ etc, etc. She had made me feel like I was intruding on their party by either looking right through me or glaring at me and blaming me for stuff, nothing in between. It made me really pissed that a) she was the only one who had a car and therefore had the power to decide our destiny of death at any point before arriving at our destination, b) she was monopolizing the mood by playing one hell of a boring album over and over again on her stereo, one which no one else liked judging by Joel’s (futile) attempts to eject it and c) she kept glancing in the front mirror, or whatever the correct name for it was, and checking out Lee. My boyfriend Lee. I’d tried to sneer at her but she seemed not to notice anything else going on around her, including the fact that we were hurtling down country lanes at that point, almost overturning into ditches and hedgerows alongside us.

”Anna, my balls are on fire, man!’ Joel suddenly yelled. He then leaned right across towards her despite the rest of us being thrown the opposite way and grabbed the steering wheel, attempting to turn it. But that resulted in a smash up of groping hands as the wheel jerked and span. Annabelle stuck her ground and revved up which made the SUV’s engine cough up its guts and stall in protest.

”Joel bloody Mackie!” she wailed as we came to a stand- still and silence pervaded. (Except the stupid Chili Peppers singing about ‘Californication’, I bloody hated that song).

Lee started laughing and mumbled something about Joel being a dickweed. Joel got to the stereo before Annabelle at last and ejecting the CD, launched it behind him. It hit Simon on the side of the head and he cursed before winding the window right down and hurling it out into the field.

”At least it’ll settle in a final location…far away from me!” He sneered, taking the piss out of the Californication lyrics as the CD arched into the haze of the wheat field, one last glint flashing on its shiny edge before it disappeared forever.

”You’re both twats,” Annabelle ranted. ”Joel, get out, now…. and Simon… you owe me a CD unless you feel like going and fetching it?” She twisted round in her seat, the horrible leather squeaking, and glared at Simon. Her dark eyes went wide with threat and fury as her purple mascara caught the late evening sunlight. She reminded me of a tribal warrior with her dreadlocks, nose rings and war paint. I normally would have loved her style but something about her just freaked me the hell out.

Joel remained lounged out, laughing. He was doing one of those silent laughs that you couldn’t hear but you could see as his shoulders were shaking. Occasionally he snorted, unable to contain it. Simon sat back and stared out in front of him while biting the skin around his fingers nervously. Apart from just then, he hadn’t spoken at all during the journey or this morning. All I had seen was the back of his head as he stared out of the window, his skinny frame curled up against the door. He was wearing a dirty white t-shirt with The Sisters of Mercy written across the back, tour dates listed down his back on a gothic church window background. I had only caught glimpses of his profile as he sat there and smoked, occasionally sighing and nodding unconvincingly when Lee had asked him if he was ok. He had recently been in quite a serious car accident I heard, and was still nervous of travelling.

Annabelle made us all jolt by bringing her bracelet clad fist down on the beeper. She then pushed Joel by his shoulder so hard that he thumped against the side door, producing a hollow sound as his head made comical contact with the glass. Lee was snorting with laughter by then and I couldn’t help it either. Annabelle looked at us through the mirror and glared right at me. Lee didn’t notice, he was leaning over to Simon and trying to flick his ear. Simon put his hand up and gave Lee a single finger gesture but also couldn’t stop a smirk forming. He looked at me and smiled, then turned away and resumed his foetal position. Lee winked at me and Annabelle sighed dramatically before starting the engine.

No one spoke for ages. Annabelle drove, slightly slower than before, while Lee kept whispering in my ear and telling me stuff about his friends. Despite the heat, I shivered as his breath skimmed my neck. I tried to focus as he explained that Simon was always serious and a touch morbid and that Annabelle and Simon had a love-hate relationship. At that time they were all about the hate, clearly.

Joel started rustling around in his backpack that he’d thrown under his legs, chucking out all sorts of crap before he found what he was looking for. Grinning mischievously he held up a torturously loud lime green CD case and triumphantly started flicking through it.

”So what’ll it be, my Indie dudes?’ he asked excitedly, waggling the open case so the CD compartments flopped around. ”Oooo the choice…could it be, The Inspiral Carpets? The Stone Roses? Happy Mondays? Oh please say yes to Dinosaur Jnr! Or maybe you ‘ll prefer something a little more quirky…….The Charlatans!”

Simon tutted, stuck his forefingers in his ears and shouted way too loud. ”Jesusno, Mackie, you limp salad. Quirky? I’d rather listen to my hamster farting. Let’s just enjoy the serenity of the rural environs and shut the hell up shall we? ”

Joel appeared not to have heard Simon. Annabelle gestured him one of her black nail-polished middle fingers as he inserted a CD in the player. His mop head started bopping as the first track began and he sang along:

A girl consumed by fire

We all know her desire

From the plans that she has made

I have her on a promise

Immerse me in your splendour

All the plans that I have made. Yeh….

We trundled deeper into the countryside. The sun had started making its descent down, tickling the tips of the trees and casting shadows across the fields. Birds flocked and dispersed off in different directions like flecks of black ink spreading across ancient yellowing paper. Peace seemed to settle around us despite Joel and his Indie party as we all sat there without talking. Annabelle was sitting in the same statue-like position at the wheel, sucking on a very thin roll-up that wafted into my nasal passage almost like it was seeking me out to torture me. The setting sun was spilling an orange glow through the driver’s window, catching the metallic engravings in her bracelets which glowed like tiny lasers. Joel had his knees hooked up on the dashboard, slumped down in the deep passenger seat, a light hum escaping his lips as his blonde mop of bedraggled hair nodded in time to the music. Simon’s face was still turned away, his skinny frame pressed against the door. His cheek rested on his bony knee that was exposed through ripped grey jeans. He was smoking as well and the aroma that sneaked in through the slightly open window joined Annabelle’s haze, giving me crazy cravings.

Lee didn’t like that I smoked, but he knew he couldn’t stop me. He worried about my health. That was Lee, though, worrying about everyone. I looked up at him and smiled. His shoulder length black hair was tucked behind his ears so I could see his whole face. I had never known such a handsome guy. But it wasn’t just his slightly slanted brown eyes and freckles that danced on his skin. It wasn’t only his straight nose that led me down his face to stare longingly at his full lips, the lips that he had an endearing habit of pressing together and then pouting out when he was in deep thought. It was as if his kindness and compassion for the human race and all living creatures exuded forth and his whole being could be read through his features. I didn’t know where this divinity came from and I often found myself in awe of how he could happily and without a single thought, put everyone else’s needs before his own. I couldn’t. I wasn’t like that. I often wondered whether that was why fate had thrown us together in our bordering-on obsession with each other. He didn’t have a bad bone fragment in his body and I was his dark half.

I couldn’t wait to get there and have a drink and a cigarette, even though I was thoroughly enjoying my close proximity to Lee as we hurtled further and further into rural remoteness, closer and closer to the abandoned building.

”What time does Chlo finish work?” Lee asked no-one in particular, breaking the lulling quietness.  Simon shrugged his shoulders and Joel twisted round, grinning and then sticking his bottom lip out at me. I had to laugh just because his reaction was totally bizarre. Annabelle stirred out of her comatose state and lighting another cigarette said,

”9:30. I’m going to fetch her from the boutique. You’re coming with me.”

Rather than wonder what Chloe was doing at work until that late, my mind went straight to that last sentence. It wasn’t a question it was a demand. What was she on? I felt myself stiffen and I squeezed Lee’s hand a bit too tight. He flinched and I felt terrible, almost as if my inflicting a fraction of a second of pain on him would make him go with her later after all. Her dark eyes were fixed on him through that mirror and she waited.

”Not. He’s not actually.”

Had I said that out loud? I side-glanced at Lee and deduced that yes, I had. He was looking at me sideways as well, a slight smirk up- turning his lip, as if not wanting to smile too widely in case Annabelle reacted. He kept looking at her and back to me as if waiting to see who would strike the next blow.

”Excuse me?”

Black eyes right on me. I thought she was going to stop the car and get out to punch me, such was the glare she threw out of her banshee eyes towards me. My heart was pumping but I was enjoying it. I’d never been scared of confrontation. I actually enjoyed putting people in their place.

Silence.

Simon coughed and I heard him light another cigarette.

I could have said a lot of things right then, and none of them kind. Instead I bit my lip and fought the urge to get into a passionate bitch-out with her. She deserved it and I wouldn’t normally have let anyone who made me feel like shit get away with it, but Lee was there beside me and I didn’t want to give him reason to get pissed with me so early on in the fortnight. I was on to her though and she knew it. She glanced at me in the mirror, glared and looked away, a smug smirk somehow making her eyes look even more manic. She was actually very striking but because of her constant grimacing, her face never actually had time to look beautiful.

Her driving then got more aggressive I’m sure of it. She wrestled with the gears for a second and said something derogatory under her breath before almost shouting,

”Lee? Are you coming with me or not?”

”Anna…..”

I sensed he felt awkward as his voice was tense and unnatural.

”Let me stay here and sort out the stuff. I can’t just leave Case on the first evening.”

Relief. Lee pulled me closer to him and I melted in. He kissed me tenderly on the forehead and rested his chin on the top of my head. I think he was staring outside at the darkening sky, trying to avoid looking in the mirror and catching her eye.

“Well, someone has to. I’m not a frickin’ taxi service, you know.’’

No one spoke again for miles. Joel kept having weird outbursts of lyric crazy which I think he did to antagonize Annabelle because he would go in with a loud death metal-like roar, leaning over to almost touch her cheek with his nose before letting rip. Death metal vocals did not go at all with the droning of this indie music whatever it was, but I enjoyed watching her seethe. Her fingers were tap, tap, tapping on the steering wheel and I could feel her disdain. If she was even close to being as up for a fight as I was, she must have been raging inside.

”Jo why don’t you just play some actual metal tracks instead of annihilating this utter shite with your seven year old girl’s voice?” Simon piped up. ”First it was the worm that lives up Mike Patton’s arse ‘entertaining’ us with his bollocks about California, and now it’s the eternal stoners whining about the fact that they have destroyed all their brain cells. Put some decent shit on or shut it the hell down, please.”

“Who’s Mike Patton?” asked Joel casually with absolutely no intention of changing the CD. “Another one of your cheerful emo bandage-boys?”

“He’s the lead singer of Faith No More actually, you muppet. Only the best vocalist in the history of vocalists.” said Simon, suddenly becoming more animated. “But I don’t suppose for a single frickin’ second that you would know what good vocals sound like, so…”

I had no idea what Simon had just said, but I agreed with the main point. The music had been utter crap on this journey. I was glad I had brought my MP3 and Dock. I made a mental note to listen to some Faith No More as well to see what Simon’s fuss was about. If he liked The Sisters of Mercy then his taste in music was good enough for me.

It reeked of cigarettes, anger and a smouldering bitterness in that car as we slowed down to approach the entrance of the building. The dirt track had so far been lined with trees, hiding their inner world within the cloak of the dusk clouds. Simon must have realised where he was and suddenly sat up and directed Annabelle through the open gate, gravel chattering as it flew into the mud guards of the SUV. We crawled down a narrower track and soon a dark shape could be seen in the distance. It was a huge building.

Annabelle drove slowly for a minute or so and then parked up and stopped the engine. We all piled out into the cool darkness, our shoes scratching on the gravel as we looked around blindly, trying to see something, anything. Annabelle stood there, towering above me. What was she, 6ft? She leaned on the roof of the SUV her arms crossed and chin on her hands, staring out into the distant dark.

“Anna, are you ok?” Lee asked gently. She turned her head and smiled. It seemedso fake. Even in the dark I knew that her eyes hadn’t smiled at all.

“Yep. Just tired. Shall we just go in?”

Lee nodded and touched her shoulder trying to reassure her, I guess.

”Where’s the torch, Jo?” Simon asked as he turned and opened the door again, rummaging around on the floor of the car, getting more and more irritated. ”Youdid put it in didn’t you?”

Joel’s round face was just visible as he looked at Simon alarmed. We all looked at Joel, or what little we could discern of his face as he stood there. Suddenly, a blinding light shot across our faces and Joel giggled, making the beam dance all around us. It darting onto Annabelle’s blue dreadlocks, Lee’s freckled nose and then onto Simon’s scowling face.

”Give it here you asswipe,” Simon growled as he grabbed it out of Joel’s hand. ”You are really a dick at times. Can’t you just do something without playing the clown?’

Lee sniggered and cuddled me in the dark. Annabelle had already started walking so Simon shone the torchlight straight ahead of us. As we approached the front door, Simon directed the beam upwards and across, giving us a panorama of the building that we would be spending the next week in. To describe it as awesome would not have done it justice. I stared up at it, its Victorian splendour towering over us.

”Welcome to Crowbray School for Girls,” announced Simon, slowly swiping the torchlight across the arched windows. ”One of the most haunted buildings in rural Essex. Allegedly.”

~*~

I have always been fascinated by anything abandoned, tumbling down or forgotten, and if it’s haunted, all the better. Anything to do with ghosts, spirits and the supernatural is fascinating to me. Horror films are my passion.  I don’t know when my dark side emerged so profoundly, but I find it inspires me in my art, hobbies and how I think about so many issues. Maybe it’s how I feel about myself. Being an only child I have always felt unloved and misunderstood, as if I should be something majestic and strong like a house is for people, but I can’t be because my foundations are all cracked and likely to cave in as soon as the tiniest pressure is exerted. Lee says I seem aloof to people who don’t know me and that it’s a way of self -protection. I am petrified of letting anyone in in case I get hurt. Maybe I am also protecting other people from falling through my floor and lying broken and left for dead in the depths of my cold interior.

I still live with my parents in a remote hamlet in the middle of nowhere. There’s really only me and Chester, my Labrador for company most of the time as Mum and Dad are never home. Dad is the only Doctor for miles around and Mum feels obliged, as a model ‘wife’, to trail along behind him like a lost puppy working in his surgery and generally wiping his ass for him. Lee says they are great parents, but he only sees them at their best, when he’s home for holidays and they run around like headless chickens trying to make everything right for us. If only they knew. They have no idea that we are together and I think it’s safe to say, would have triple aneurysms each if they found out that Lee sleeps up in my attic room bed with me most nights he’s back in Lincolnshire.

The worst thing about all this is that they have got it into their dumb ass heads that Lee is with Annabelle. Yes. My best friend, Stella, thinks it’s the best way, but I think it’s horrendous. At least it gets them off my back I suppose. This started because Lee brought her to his house one Christmas because she had problems and couldn’t stay home. She stuck to him like they were Siamese twins and it made me want to hurl in her face and slap her. Not in that order. But of course I didn’t because I needed to prove to Lee that I’m as mature as his friends and that I can take it. To be honest, I don’t think he even realised that Christmas how she was behaving or that I was freaking out. And what do you know, he still hasn’t got the faintest notion that Annabelle is acutely and obsessively in love with him.

~*~

So I literally felt sick with excitement when Simon said ‘haunted’’. Lee hadn’t told me much about this little venture, only that he was doing Simon a favour and that I would love it, sleeping in a massive old derelict mansion for a week or two.

We approached the big thick wooden door of Crowbray School for Girls. Simon couldn’t get the locks open for ages and started cursing it out, but Lee managed to do it somehow. We then trudged back to the car and carted all our things into the old place. It took several trips but Lee insisted that he carry all the heavy gear. Simon didn’t bother to get anything, he just waltzed in with the torch and disappeared leaving us in near pitch dark outside to grope around blindly. Lee’s torch was in one of the bags but we couldn’t see to get it out. Annabelle shouted him back but he mumbled something about leaving his stuff for him to bring in because he had all his filming equipment as well. Lee brought it all in though, which left me standing inside the grand entrance, trying to focus, bumping into things to get round to where Annabelle and Simon’s voices were coming from. I couldn’t see much, just breathed in the aroma of derelict that I had grown to like, the earthy mouldy stench that hangs in the air reminding you that Nature is coming to slowly engulf the bricks and mortar and ease it to the ground. When I reached the room their silhouettes were standing in the centre surrounded by dull grey light. As I crept inside, the walls opened out before me and hollow voices echoed through the gloom. Simon was running his torch across the walls and up at the ceiling, saying ‘Wow’ over and over again. Annabelle was standing there, hands on hips, black clothes almost camouflaging her completely. I could hear her bracelets clanking when she moved her hands to point to something, telling Simon to point the torch up there and over here.

The walls were at least twenty foot high, with what looked to be shiny silver wallpaper that was hanging off like limp skin in various places around the room. Simon pointed the torch to the front to show me the windows. It was fully dark outside but I could make out the faint shine on the glass as the bright torch light reflected back in on us. As I looked up I realised the windows were ceiling to floor, with thick, lush velvet curtains cascading down and spilling across the carpet. Some were tied back, but some had been forgotten, standing as still as time. There was a soft hint of a lavender smell which seemed vaguely familiar to me somehow. As I approached the others, it wafted away as Annabelle’s scent hit me. She emanated a heady combination of cigarette smoke, Patchouli oil and honey. I hated Patchouli.

Lee came up behind me and scared the crap out of me by grabbing my waist and lifting me off my feet. Being way taller than me, he could do those annoying things easily. I tried to turn and play-punch him but his long arms wrapped around me and he kissed my hair. He rested his chin on my head, which he did a lot, just to emphasize the irritating fact that I was really short. I noticed that Annabelle had turned away from us. Simon carried on with his torch, shining it around and then directly into our faces. I laughed.

“Si, is there electricity?” Lee asked, snuggling into me. I felt warmer and instantly safe. I hated being on my own with Annabelle and Simon because I didn’t know them. I always felt awkward when I met new people as I could never think of anything to say, but with Lee’s friends it was even more so. There was too much pressure to be liked.

“Well, there are renovations being done at the side of the building, so the owner said there’ll be electric in the kitchen. The construction guys have gone for a few weeks but they’ve been using the kettle and stuff. I don’t think the rest of this place has been hooked up to the grid for about 20 years or so. Why, are you freeeeeeeeeaked?”

Simon put the torch under his chin and pulled a long face. I could see veins and bones I was sure. He smiled for the first time ever. I hadn’t really looked at Simon’s face much as his black hair had always been swept over his eyes, but I saw then that he was really good looking. He had lovely deep green eyes and full lips, with a ring through the bottom one and a stud just shining out below the lip. What I liked most was that he was wearing a little bit of black eye liner. Lee wouldn’t be able to pull that shit off in a million years, even though he had offered plenty to experiment for me. Lee had no piercings, no tattoos, nothing. I wondered where Simon’s ink was, cos he was sure to have some, somewhere.

Lee laughed, “No, I’m not freaked at all. Just asking because there are no lights on, in case you haven’t noticed. We’ve only brought two torches.”

“Oh where’s your sense of adventure?” Si taunted, letting the torch fall with a painful sounding plonk onto Lee’s head. “Come on man, it’s better this way! Romantic for you two, creepy for the rest of us. It’ll be fine, Grandpops.”

That’s when we noticed what was illuminated above Simon. I just saw the outline of it and grabbed his arm, directing the torch so it shone right up the middle of it. It was an ornate, beautiful crystal chandelier, but not your average over –the- top- one. This was three tiered with hundreds of black spirals and cream crystals cascading down like a fountain. It was falling from a height so tall that the torch light just faded out before it reached the ceiling.

”Can I fit that in my bag?” Annabelle joked. Simon laughed but I couldn’t help but feel the wrath. What was found in abandoned places, stayed in abandoned places. That was the first rule of URBEX. ”Take only pictures, leave only footprints…”

”That’s really disrespectful of the URBEX culture.” I stated. Simon looked at me, puzzled. Annabelle looked down at me and shrugged her shoulders flippantly.

”Of the what culture?” she mocked, smiling slyly as if to say, you are talking shit girl. Let’s hear you make a screw up of yourself in front of everyone.

”URBEX. Urban Exploration.” I explained, standing my ground. ”There are thousands of communities all over the world. It’s about respecting old places, you know, not damaging the places you explore, leaving it untouched for others to enjoy. These things belong in history and belonged to someone once. That’s all. Rant over.”

I had just wanted to make a point. Get one over on her.

Annabelle sighed and turned away.

“Where’s Jo, anyway?”  She suddenly asked, staring intently at Lee and totally negating my conversation.

“I have no idea. Maybe he’s gone to check the kitchen out. He had some boxes of beers the last time I saw him and I told him where it was,” Lee said, grabbing my hand. “Come on let’s go check the place out and get our things sorted.”

~*~

Lee led the way to the kitchen. He said he had found it easily. It was along a dark corridor to the left of the entrance and was bathed in bright light. We filed in and stood there taking in the gigantic oak wooden table that stretched the whole length of the room. A worn down, warped bench stretched down the length of each side, providing us with ample seating. I was about to say ‘The kitchen out of The Shining,’ but Simon beat me to it. Ok, it wasn’t as big as that, but it had a similar vibe with lots of metallic cupboards running around the outside with islands in the middle, obviously having been used for preparing a multitude of foods for a fair number of students at one time.

It was spotlessly clean. I had expected us to have to scrub the place down before we prepared food, but clearly it had been done recently. I wouldn’t have liked to have tackled that vastness of work surface anyway. All the boxes of food, sleeping bags (Lee’s double one which I couldn’t wait to snuggle with him in) and alcohol were stacked up, mostly precariously, and Lee ran forward and caught a crate of Heineken before it decided to take a nose dive.

“I love this kitchen!” Annabelle declared, walking around the table and inspecting the wall units around the edge. “How comes it’s so sparkling clean?”

“Because………..I just cleaned it,” smirked Joel, throwing a filthy, greasy cloth at her. She recoiled, letting out a yelp as she brushed it onto the floor. It draped itself over her boot.

“That’s gross.” She said screwing her face up and kicking it under a cupboard with wheels. “Anyway you never clean anything, you turd.”

We all sat round the table, pushing our supplies down to the end to make room. There were boxes stacked up on the floor too. The one nearest me had some weird stuff inside like organic beetroot soup, couscous, weirdly shaped phallic vegetables and some tiny bananas. Who the hell ate that stuff I didn’t know. Mine and Lee’s box was full of dried vegetarian soya, pasta, jars of tomato and basil sauce, chilli and curry powders. We had plenty of fruit and veggies but they were already in the fridge. Lee had insisted we brought them but if meal prep was left to me it would end up rotting in there. I hated healthy eating even though I was a vegetarian.

I was sitting opposite Joel who had taken a bottle of red wine out of a box on the floor under the table. He grinned at me and winked. I tried to see Lee’s reaction in my peripheral vision, but couldn’t. Annabelle was smiling at Lee and so I stared back at her intensely, smiled back at her and nudged my head into Lee’s chest to make a point. Hands off my property.

Simon produced a bottle of Guiness and plonked it down hard on the table. He sat down, opened it and took a very long gulp, gasping as he lowered it back down with a thud.

“Oh sweet Jesus I needed that!” he exclaimed and threw his head back stretching his arms up in the air and punching with his fists.

“Wine glasses for Christ’s sake!” shouted Joel, clamping his hands around his head in desperation. “Oh Ballsacks!”

Lee stood up. “Calm down, you drama queen, I’ll find some.” He laughed, “I’m pretty sure this place has been used lately. Those work men seem to be a dab hand at cleaning so let’s see….how many do we need?”

I decided on wine and Annabelle did too. Lee found four glasses and washed them out. There were even dish cloths in the drawers so he wiped them around too. Everyone was just sitting there watching him. I knew someone was going to pipe up. It was Simon.

“Dez. You absolute freaking girl. Come here and let me ravish you, I love it when you get all domesticated on me.”

Lee grinned and flicked a finger at Simon.

“That’s something you should know about Casey, my darling.” Laughed Joel. “Dez and Si have got a proper little bromance going on. Thought you should know because these gay boys won’t bother telling you at all soon.”

I looked up at Lee who was standing at the table in the process of giving out the glasses. He puckered up at Si and Si stuck his tongue out and waggled it up and down. Everyone laughed.

“So, when were you planning on telling me about this?” I asked Lee, pouring myself a full glass of wine from the bottle that Joel had offered me across the table.

“Well, after we get married and have lots of babies I guess,” Lee said sitting down next to me and hugging me. “You don’t mind do you? We can still be besties!”

I laughed and shook my head. The next thing I knew, Lee’s lips were on mine and he was kissing me passionately. And he hadn’t even had a drink yet. I heard someone go ‘Get a room, there must be hundreds to choose from.’ and when we came up for air, Simon and Joel were grinning, bottle and glass in hand, toasting us.

That’s when I noticed that Annabelle had left the kitchen.

~*~

“Where’d she go?”

Lee scanned the corners of the kitchen. Simon shrugged his shoulders and Joel was lost in swigging a huge mouthful of wine.

“We were too busy enjoying ourselves watching you two,” admitted Simon. “I didn’t see her leave. Maybe she just went to the lav. I’m sure she’s fine, man.”

Joel’s face was red. He was grinning insanely.

“Good wine eh, Case?” He thrust his glass towards me. I was just about to chink it when he pulled it away and necked the lot, reaching for the bottle. “Hey, Dez, where’s your drink you pussy willow?”

Lee was not a big drinker. It was something I had never understood about him. Drinking for me was relaxing but I’d only ever seen him tipsy, never drunk, even on New Year’s Eve back home. He was the one who’d be holding girls’ hair back while they hurled into the back of the toilet bowl at a party. He had told me, and he said he would only ever tell me once, that drinking was bad and smoking even worse, but he would never forbid me from doing those things. He’d just had to put it out there because he cared about me. I knew he was right but as far as I was concerned, I was young. I’d worry about quitting when I was older.

But right then I really needed a smoke. I noticed that Simon hadn’t smoked since we’d been in the kitchen. I was dying to ask him why, but I was unsure of what Lee would say. Joel would only be smoking when he’d had a lot more to drink, and had a secret stash that he claimed he only rolled up when drinking. That made him a smoker too because Joel was always at the bottle.

“Casey love.” Joel was sipping his next glass of wine. “First off, tell Dez that he needs to get some drink down him and get this spook-fest party started. Secondly, do you want a fag as much as I do right now?”

I could’ve kissed him.

I stood up, feeling a little bit warm around the cheeks and not really bothered what ‘Dez’ would say. That was something I needed to rectify. What was the name Dez all about?

“Why the hell do they call you Dez, anyway?” I said. My voice sounded too loud in that huge bare kitchen suddenly.

Simon started laughing.

“Oh, sweetheart,” he gushed, grinning at Lee, “Haven’t you told her?”

Lee shook his head and poured himself some wine. He flashed me his mischievous smile, the one where his dimples really showed.

“Oh well, you see Simon darling, I don’t actually know why. You never told me, did you?”

Simon was still laughing, his shiny black hair dropping over his eyes again. He pushed it aside and I saw his gorgeous green eyes sparkling. My heart skipped. It was the wine, definitely the wine, tripping me out.

He pointed at Joel who was doing that silent laughter thing again.

“Jo. Over to you.”

Joel couldn’t talk. I was standing there above them like a moron, waiting for some bizarre answer to a question I had actually already forgotten. I looked at him and started laughing. He looked at me and his shoulders started shaking even more, his eyes disappearing as his hilarity caved his face right in. Lee started laughing and Simon pointed at Joel, his mouth open, laughter being sucked in and out again noisily.

“Ok.” I managed to say, gasping to breathe. “I’m going to have a cigarette. Where can we smoke?”

Simon stood up and walked around the table towards me, taking his tobacco out of his pocket at the same time. He avoided my eyes, I assumed because he was trying not to laugh.

“We’re not allowed to smoke inside here,” he informed us, his eyes wide and still on the edge of laughing. “Apparently there are some potentially flammable materials in the building and so it’s out in the cold night air for us. I was putting it off, but you’ve twisted my arm, Case. Let’s go. Joel? Dez?”

He started laughing again as I followed him outside. I couldn’t help it, I was looking at his ripped jeans and how they hugged his butt perfectly. The black hoodie he was wearing had Slipknot- Broken Glass written across the back, the wide hood spread across his broad bony shoulders. I was window shopping with no intent to buy.

We all congregated, Dez included, outside in the cold summer air. British summer evenings were rarely warm enough to stand outside in just t-shirts, but we had alcohol in our blood so it didn’t seem as bad. Lee cuddled me again and I felt warm and nice. My roll-up was heavenly and I felt chilled out and happy at last.

They told me why Lee was called Dez. Apparently it was an ‘urban slang’ thing of Joel’s. He actually was obsessed about reading a certain type of dictionary which he found on line, and using the slang in his every day conversations. Although Simon said that they all found it painfully irritating, some words had stuck within the group. Like ‘Dez’. ‘Derek’ was a boy or guy who was very attractive to the opposite sex. Even though I knew that Lee was certainly a ‘Derek’ I wanted to know how my Lee had got that name, under what circumstances, but I was afraid to ask to be honest. I knew all about Lee’s exes and wanted to keep that information between us. But of course he would’ve told his friends everything, wouldn’t he? I bet they knew about all the female attention he got on a daily basis as well. He lived with them. I couldn’t help but let a pang of jealousy start eating away at my insides again when I realised that they probably knew more than I did. I tried to get over it and focus on following what Joel was saying that was making them all laugh again.

Joel was hilarious, telling us about a girl in his group who had been writing him love letters in code that he couldn’t decipher, and didn’t want to. He had been replying just using random symbols that she used all jumbled up, not knowing what the hell they meant. She clearly did know, or being deluded thought she knew, because she was continuing with the saga. Cautious as always Lee was like, be careful, you could hurt her, but Joel was too busy taking the piss to listen. I must admit it was funny.

Suddenly, there were car headlights right in our faces. Joel started screaming, “Oh shit my bastard eyes, my mubberflucking eyes!” and we just shielded ourselves with our arms.

Car doors swung open. A girl’s voice that I didn’t know shouted out,

“Hey guys! How are you all? Are you settled in?”

“Hey there Chlo!” shouted Simon and Joel. Joel’s voice sounded a little more shrill and sarcastic than Simon’s which made me wonder if either of them actually liked her.

Lee said, “Oh crap, that’s where Anna went, to pick her up. I totally forgot.”

~*~

Chloe was one of those smiley people, the ones who just have that amazing glow about them all the time. People like that usually annoyed the hell out of me with their repetitive lines like, ‘Oh come on, it could be worse,’ and ‘Oh look on the bright side.’ She floated up to us and hugged the three guys, hanging on a bit longer to Lee. (Oh sorry, Dez the girl magnet.) I hoped this wasn’t going to be another one of his friends to freak myself out over. One Annabitch was plenty, thanks for the offer.

I had met her before, when I spent a weekend in London, but she had subtly persuaded Annabelle to stay home with her and watch DVDs the night we hit the town. I think she knew I was stressing about the situation. She must have been very sensitive to have felt my vibe and sussed it out. I made a pact with myself to try my hardest to be nice to Chloe.

She was suddenly hugging me, which made me stiffen. I was not used to that kind of affection with strangers. Lee had been different of course, as I had been sickeningly close to him in every way right from the start. I would actually crawl inside him if I could. Chloe smelt sweet like daisies and vanilla. She said hi to me in my ear and when she stood back to look at me she was still holding my shoulders and smiling.

‘It’s so nice to meet you properly. I’ve been looking forward to the meeting the girl who has stolen mon ami’s heart away. You’ve no idea what a mush head he’s turned into!’

Chloe was pretty. I was almost jealous as she wore no makeup at all, yet looked amazing. Her pale green almond eyes shone and she had flawless olive skin with a pink featherlike tinge. Her hair was mousy blonde and wavy, almost down to her waist and she had plaited the sides, which framed her face. She was like a medieval princess. Her lace shawl fell off her shoulder and revealed her white blouse, one of those that you find in ethnic shops in Camden Market. She pulled it back onto her shoulders and shivered, her layer of silver necklaces sparkling and shimmering in the sun.

‘Let’s go in,’ said Lee. ‘Are you guys staying out here for another one?’

I said no but Simon and Joel nodded, Annabelle joining them with her already lit cigarette.

We went inside, Lee turning left to the kitchen and the bright light. Chloe looked around and sat down at the table, taking it all in. Lee asked her if she was ok.

‘This is an amazing place,’ she said, gazing around. ‘It’s got a real history, hasn’t it? Has Si found out anything about it, I mean I need to know what I’m up against.’

I looked at Lee, puzzled. We sat down and Lee put his hand over hers across the table.

‘Chlo, it’s ok,’ he said ‘Whatever happens, I’ll be here for you. If it gets too much I’m sure Belle will take you back. Really though, you are usually fine after a few days. Remember when you moved into our house? You felt overwhelmed for a day or two and then you got used to it.’

Chloe smiled and nodded. She turned to me and looked right into my eyes, like she was delving into my soul.

‘Casey, I don’t know you at all yet, but Lee tells me you’re into Wicca, is that right?’

‘Yes…’ I stammered, ‘But I don’t really practice it as much as I should I guess.’ I felt a bit ashamed as if I was being judged by a supreme Goddess.

‘That’s ok, neither do I. Life gets in the way, doesn’t it?’ she was still smiling. Like an angel in fact.

‘Chloe’s a HSP. That means Highly Sensitive Person,’ said Lee, sounding not at all as if he was speaking in a foreign language to me. That’s how it felt, maybe because I was still a bit squiffy from the wine.

‘Yes. Basically I find it hard to function around people because I absorb all their energy, whether it’s joyful or sad or whatever. This means I have to spend a lot of time on my own. It drains me completely and I’m prone to depression unless I control how I deal with it all. I am always meditating and trying to find ways of protecting myself,’ she explained, her eyes on Lee throughout her little speech. ‘Also, the reason Lee is reassuring me is that I am sensitive to spirit activity. I can feel them all around me and they often seek me out. I know it sounds crazy and slightly messed up, but it is what it is. Nuts, right?’

She turned to me and her face was beaming with warmth and light. Was she for real?

‘So, is that why you’re drawn to Wicca?’ I asked, fascinated and insanely jealous. ‘I mean, if you are sensitive and empathic, your connection with the Earth must be strong too.’

Chloe looked at Lee and back at me again. ‘Oh mon dieu!’ She grinned widely. ‘Lee, give me a beer. I think I’ve found a kindred spirit!’

I slowly got used to her overpowering vibe and started to enjoy her company. I asked Chloe heaps of questions and we talked about Wicca and Paganism, She noticed that I was wearing my Pentagram and she showed me hers. She had one but hers was a Triquetra like a silver knot that represented the Goddess, one of which I also had at home. We discussed a lot of themes around Paganism and Witchcraft and what we practice. Chloe had got a set of Runes from her Grandmother that she used to guide her and also she told me extensively about Candle magic and Herbology. I made her promise to show me and teach me all she knew. Her mother, who was French, used to be a member of a Coven in France before she moved to England, which fascinated me as well. I had wondered why she kept slipping French into everything she said. I thought she was being pretentious but it turned out that French was in fact her mother tongue, so I let her off. Lee was sitting there listening and cuddling me. He kept topping up my wine glass and Chloe was on her third beer when the others trouped in.

‘You guys have been ages out there.’ Lee said, ‘Have you been exploring the grounds?’

‘Nope, we just spent the last hour smoking our guts out and slagging y’all off,’ laughed Joel and plopped down next to Chloe. Annabelle perched next to Lee on his other side and I instinctively looked under the bench to make sure she hadn’t got her jangly hands on Lee’s leg or anything. When people’s outlines started to shimmer and slowly swing in front of my eyes, I knew I was dangerously close to drunk and in need of another cigarette.

Simon came and sat next to me and I felt my body tingle. I was trapped between two highly sexy guys. Chloe was smiling at me (she hadn’t actually stopped smiling since she got there) and I think she sensed how I felt. Don’t ask me how I knew that, but I just did somehow. Then more bottles of beer were being opened and cork screws in wine bottles popping. Chloe asked where the toilets were and I realised I hadn’t been since we got there.

‘We used the hedge,’ said Simon, raising his eyebrows at Chloe. ‘But I think I saw a wash room next to the chandelier room. Do you want me to show you?’

They both went to the door and I jumped up. Chloe let Simon go first and grabbed my hand. An hour previously, that would have really freaked me out, but it felt nice. Chloe was nice. I didn’t usually have the patience for people who were nice; I preferred ‘interesting’. Lee was nice (sometimes too nice) and definitely interesting. So was Simon. Interesting and sexy. I didn’t usually lust after androgynous emo guys either, but I had started that too. I blamed it on the wine. Damn those fermented grapes.

Chloe was really gripping my hand. I wanted to be like Lee and do the reassurance thing, but that wasn’t in my repertoire. I kept remembering what she had told me about her being able to sense and see spirits and I thought, Jesus, the girl must be fighting them off in here. It was dark, pitch dark and very creepy. I could sense we were in the hallway and the grand staircase was at the side of us. Suddenly, Simon broke the silence.

‘Bollocks, I left the torch.’

‘It doesn’t matter, Si.’ Chloe whispered. ‘Just keep walking. I can see a doorway straight ahead. That must be that huge room with the chandelier. It’s ok, I- Oh my God!’

Chloe was pointing straight out in front of her. I followed her finger, but all I could see was darkness.

‘Chlo, what it is?’ asked Si, ‘Don’t make us shit ourselves!’

‘I saw a figure standing there. It was like a woman. Just there, staring at us. Then she turned and walked down there.’

Chloe pointed at 11 o’clock. I couldn’t see anything.

‘Shall we go back?’ I asked, not knowing how to deal with this. I was freaking out but didn’t want to go batshit crazy. Once I went, I really went and didn’t want to look like a complete squealer on the first night.

‘No, it’s ok guys. Let’s just go. It’s fine now. Nothing there.’

We all walked together, I suddenly needed to pee more than ever. Simon went in front and Chloe and I locked arms. We found a door just down from the Chandelier room and Simon pushed the door that creaked loudly as it opened on its tired hinges. I saw a row of toilet cubicles and made a dash for it, my bladder ready to burst. It stank a bit but I didn’t care at that point. Chloe went in the next cubicle and asked if I was ok. I started laughing and she did too. Simon’s mocking voice echoed in the darkness.

‘I’ll just be waiting here then. Try not to make too much noise when you’re taking a waz. Everything echoes in here!’

We were trying to wash our hands in the dark, when we heard voices outside the door. The others were there. I immediately felt lighter as if they had broken a dark spell. When Chloe and I joined them, they had piles of sleeping bags and blankets in their arms and suggested camping down in the chandelier room for the night. It had a carpet at least. I took hold of the pile that Lee had and he went to get more stuff. We bumped into each other as we walked, the mountain of bedding blocking my vision and dragging on the dusty floor.  Simon’s torch beam helped us drop the stuff near some sofas which seemed as good a place as any. I had hoped me and Lee could have found a room of our own, but realistically I was exhausted and had drunk too much. I needed to lie down.

‘You lot are such slackers,’ Si teased, helping me with my pillow as it got hooked under my foot and I lunged with a groan, nearly going arse over tit. ‘I thought we’d all be up for a right good game of drunk CAH at least?’

‘What’s CHA?’ I asked before I had realised what I was saying. I should’ve just feigned annoyance with the others and agreed. And definitely not admitted I hadn’t got a frickin’ clue was CHA or CAH was.

‘Cards Against Humanity!’ laughed Simon disappearing as the torch beam got lost under a his sleeping bag. ‘Have you ever played it? It’s sick and juvenile and I love it. I’ll show you how to play tomorrow if you like. ’

Lee came back then with his torch and some drinks just in case anyone wanted more. He handed me some water. I certainly did need that. It was weird as we all tried to arrange our bedding so we didn’t have smelly feet near anyone’s face or sleep too cramped up that we could elbow someone in the eyeball during the night. It was almost midnight. We were all absolutely bushed. Well, except Simon, clearly. His torch remained on and it looked like he was reading a book or something.

‘Is everyone here?’ he asked as their conversation started to flag and half- hearted sentences ended in yawns and groans. There was a chorus of dull mumbles as we all settled down. Our sleeping bag was just right, not too tight but tight enough that I could feel all of Lee’s body entwined with mine. His arms were round me and I just let out a sigh of contentment as my head found his chest and I started to float off. It was so quiet all of a sudden. The building was deathly still and there was no outside noise. We were out in the sticks, completely isolated.

‘Did you lock the front door, Si?’ Annabelle asked, her voice sounding hollow in the vast room. I snapped back into consciousness as I realised she was near us. I extended my foot out to my left side. No one was there. I knew Chloe was near me but she had her space near the long sofa as she explained she needed. I reached my arm across to Lee’s side and felt something soft. ‘Ouch,’ Annabelle laughed, clearly thinking Lee had touched her.

I lay there in the dark, annoyed, listening to Lee breathing. He was asleep, but he kept pressing his lips into my hair as if to reassure himself that I was there. I didn’t know how long I was awake, but there was shuffling and turning going on in Annabelle’s sleeping bag and she obviously couldn’t sleep. Then an arm flopped onto me, causing Lee to stir. She was trying to hug him!

I wanted to get up and move away from her, but it was hard to find the zip. Lee woke up.

‘Case, what’s up babes?’ he mumbled.

‘I’m trying to get out,’ I said. ‘I need to move!’

Shuffling started around the room. I was waking the others up.

We managed to climb out and Lee kept asking me what was wrong. Then, Annabelle spoke.

‘Where are you going, Lee? Please don’t go. Stay here, please stay.’

I couldn’t see his reaction, but I felt him bend down next to her.

‘Why? The others are all in here. Come on Belle, try and get some sleep. Me and Case are going to find somewhere else to sleep. I’ll talk to you in the morning.’

He picked up our sleeping bag and water bottles and whispered for me to follow him. We tiptoed out of the chandelier room. It was freezing cold in the hall. He told me to shield my eyes and clicked the torch on. It was on feint beam so it didn’t blind us. He walked ahead of me, our bare feet smacking against the marble floors. We trudged past the washroom, Lee looking for doors on either side leading to rooms that might be carpeted so we could kip down in peace. But the doors were all locked. By the time we got to the end of that corridor, our eyes had grown more accustomed to the dark and that was when we saw the outdoor corridor beyond a glass door. The moon seemed to be bathing the glass panelling in its glow, inviting us to walk down it. Lee grabbed my hand and pushed the glass door. It opened out and we were bathed in the moonlight. There was another smaller building attached at the end, so I nudged him to walk on, feeling awake now and up for exploring. The glass on each side seemed to be straining to keep the overgrown foliage and bushes from breaking in. It was like an underwater aquarium, but in a forest. I could hear the distant hoot of an owl. It was eerily beautiful.

‘Let’s sleep in here.’ I whispered and Lee turned and smiled at me with that divine smile that radiated love that I had never seen in anyone else.

‘Maybe another night, babes. I need somewhere soft tonight.’

We kept walking, stopping to press our noses against the cold panes that sometimes exposed the black of the sky in random areas where foliage wasn’t as dense. Even though we couldn’t see anything outside, the grounds surrounding the mansion must have been awesome, clearly overgrown and hiding secrets that I promised myself I would reveal.

At the end of the corridor was another identical door with glass panelling. It opened easily and immediately to the left of us was a steep stone staircase. Lee made sure I was ok to go up and we went, spiralling up and round until we got to a dark landing. Directly to our left was a room that seemed to have light. Lee bent his head round the doorframe and beckoned me in. It was an awesome room. It had an old rug on the floor, and at the front of it was a huge patio door that stood open proudly, letting the moonlight shine in. The walls were a lovely matted green with an old fashioned sink on the left, surrounded by a pastel blue that had started peeling. Beyond the patio door was a wrought iron balcony with art nouveau style swirls and buds blossoming within its frame.

‘Let’s sleep here.’ Lee said, peering out into the view of the gardens. ‘This is awesome.’

We set up the sleeping bag and snuggled down making sure our water was in reach. Lee’s heart was beating fast as I sunk into him, kissed his neck and hugged him close. He pulled his arms away from me and lifted off his t shirt, kissing my neck and lips, softly at first and then with passion. I forgot everything right there and then and let myself evaporate into the erotic state that was Lee and I. Every single time was the same yet deliciously different. Afterwards, we fell asleep, pressed against each other, not knowing where my limbs finished and his limbs began.

~*~

‘Casey, Case…babes, wake up.’

I tried to open my eyes but they felt glued shut and my head was spinning. I eased myself up on my elbows and looked at Lee. He was facing the other way, propped up on his knees.

‘What the fu-’ I managed to say, not understanding why he had prized himself out of our little warm cocoon, and was asking me to look out of the open door.

‘I saw a girl out there, on the balcony, I swear!’ he had his hand over his mouth as if he was going to vomit.

I turned completely round to look outside. I saw nothing. The only weird thing was that I could smell cigarette smoke, fresh smoke. But it wasn’t normal cigarette smoke somehow.

There was an orange blanket down on the floor of the balcony that didn’t seem to belong to the mould ridden room we were in. It looked new, clean. There was also a cream coloured gypsy scarf with red and black roses on it, tied to one of the railings. That had not been there when we came in the room. I told Lee. He swore again that he had seen a girl, kneeling down on the balcony, looking in at him.

When I asked him if he could remember anything else, he said yes. She had been smoking.

We stared at each other for what seemed like ages. I didn’t feel scared, probably because I hadn’t actually seen anything. Lee did look scared though. I asked him what he wanted to do. He lay back down and stretched his arms behind his head, staring at the ceiling.

‘What time do you think it is?’ I asked him, hating the silence.

He reached into his jeans pocket for his mobile phone and at that second, it started ringing. He sat up again and said hello to Annabelle. I knew it was her because he called her Belle.

He didn’t talk much. I could hear that she was crying down the phone. His face was a picture of seriousness, his forehead creased into a frown. I couldn’t make out whether he was pissed off or concerned. Then he said, ‘Ok, Ok I’m coming.’ and hung up.

‘I’m sorry Case. She’s upset,’ he explained, sighing as his hand ran through his ruffled bed-hair. ‘I’m going back to the Chandelier room. Please come with me, I don’t want to leave you here on your own. I’ll just talk to her for five minutes and then we can camp out in a corner away from everyone and get some kip. Ok?’

I reached over and kissed him, I couldn’t be angry at him when he was so cute and worrying. He hugged me tight and said we could sleep there tomorrow night again, if I wanted, and we started dressing and gathering our stuff.

When we got back into the chandelier room, there was a feint haze of light coming in. It was about 4am. I went and chose a spot in the corner and got back into the warm sleeping bag. I could hear Annabelle sobbing and Lee trying to console her. How messed up was it to call a guy who was obviously with his girlfriend having some private time. How frickin’ lame. I peered over the edge of the sleeping bag and saw Chloe asleep all curled up in her pink blankets and Joel with his mouth open and arms splayed out at weird angles. I could just hear his snoring above Annabelle’s whining.

Simon wasn’t there. I considered going to find him. Maybe he was having a ciggy out the front or maybe he was asleep all alone in another room. I hoped he was ok.

Lee came back then and crawled into the sleeping bag, snuggling up again. It wasn’t long before I was asleep and dreaming, the sound of Annabelle’s fragmented sobs still echoing around the dawn soaked room. I did wake up for a brief, confused few seconds, a sound of gentle bells jangling and dancing near me. I opened my eye- squinting as a dull ache washed over my consciousness. The dark shadows beyond the door were waiting for the dawn to dispel them, and in the soft contrasting light, I swear I saw a girl standing there, motionless, staring down at Lee and I as we slept.

alicia

new idea for front cover 2015 final

The Silent Angels

Chapter 1

Alicia

I long for the night. I can hide with my comfort blanket of darkness engulfing me, where no one will disturb me. I have many hours of peace ahead. I sprawl out on the orange mattress on the balcony and brave the crisp wind, my face gazing up at the indigo ink blot sky. I watch the swirls of the clouds blink- blink- blink and then sleep, blotting out the mischievous twinkle of the stars. The smoke from my cigarette twirls and dances like a fluid ballerina up and up to meet the sky, changing colour like a chameleon from silver-white, to pale blue, to black. When it’s finished, I let my eyes droop until I dream of faces that merge and expand, their features elongating and shrivelling, then winding around and looping through each other, hooking on to coiling snake-like entities that shimmer and slide past my vision.

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~*~

I awake and find my fingers exploring the hoods of my eyes, yet again, pushing my eyeballs down until I see lightning bolts of white that illuminate my brain like flaming comets.  What am I searching for? The once delicate tissue films of skin underneath my eyes feel scaly and dry. I try to resist picking at their brittleness but as I trace the rough texture with my fingertip, I feel exhilarated as they touch my skin. I know that if I can scrape them off with my nails I will feel clean again, pure. The horror and ugliness will wash away down the plughole. I will stand there at the sink, my tears merging with the feeble trickle of tap water as I scrub my nails with the green lotion. My hot tears always sting my eyes. The delicate exposed flesh that I have gauged to red, burns. I scream. Trembling, I clutch the sides of the sink, the dark outline of the mirror on the wall looming in front of me. There is a thick, weave cloth draped across it. I know why it’s there, but I can’t remember who put it there. I can lift it, I can tear it down, but I don’t want to. The face that I see reflected in it will consume me. It will be so terrifying to look at that I will wish I had slid my whole body down the plughole, clinging to the remnants of my flesh, lost forever in the nothingness of death.

Instead, I sit up and hug my knees tightly to my chest. I shiver as I untie my Indian shawl from around the wrought iron of the balcony, wrapping it tightly around my shoulders. I roll a cigarette, noticing how low my supply is getting. My ration has been spent for the month but I can’t get through the rest of the night without just one last smoke to calm my nerves. The night is silent. I hear a welcome nothing, not even the faint hoot of the owl that sometimes lulls me to sleep. I stare out across the gardens. The outlines of the wild unkempt trees and bushes are only recognisable by subtle nocturnal tones and shapes that sway gently in the breeze.

Then I hear something.

My heart jolts as I turn to look into my room. There’s something in there. Again, a shuffling noise reaches out to me and then what sounds like breathing. I prepare myself to stand up, adrenalin seeping into my veins. Someone laughs- soft giggle that fades into a long contented sigh. Then there’s murmuring- a different voice. Then anger fights the adrenalin as I realise someone has let themselves in to my room, my haven, the one place that I can call my own. I don’t know much about this place I live in, I don’t remember one face from another, but I know that it’s my space and no one else is allowed in it. I am on my feet now, entering my room to face them.

‘Who’s there?’ I plead into the void.

Silence. Only my footsteps echo in my head as I trace the perimeter of room. Nothing. No one.

Yet again, I don’t know if these noises were spirits of the dead in this macabre building or ghosts still alive in my head. Maybe I am the ghost.

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~*~

lee's portrait

Casey

I wanted to scream out for her to stop the car because I just knew there was something very wrong. But I didn’t know what.

We hadn’t even arrived at the abandoned building and I was already quietly flipping out. I should have been happy, I knew that. But despite my excitement of spending the next two weeks with Lee, a cold sensation of anxiety had been eating away at my insides all morning and now it was lodged firmly in my stomach. It had started as a hollow feeling that I had tried to ignore by thinking about having Lee all to myself while indulging in my biggest passion- exploring and ghost hunting. We’d be filming in an old building, on a two week sleep-over. But since we’d left London and Lee’s student house, the hollowness had turned to solid dread.

I glanced up at the girl driving, the back of her head towering above her seat. Her electric blue and purple dreadlocks were bathed in late afternoon sun light making her look like she was in a psychedelic photo from the sixties. Her name was Annabelle and she was Lee’s house mate.

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He was forever trying to convince me, ‘just good friend’ type housemate, but since he had been living in the same house as her and she had been clinging to him like a sea anemone, this was impossible to believe. But it was me who was now squashed up next to Lee in the back of her black SUV heading out of London, so I tried not to dwell on this lingering fear. I should have been feeling nothing but pure relief after the previous two horrible months. All I had seemed to do was waste my time trying to remove the metaphorical nappy my parents still thought I should be wearing. I was fed up to the back teeth of them treating me like a baby. I was 18 not 8. I thought the constant rows with Dad about all the mind-numbingly repetitive sore subjects such as ‘those wasters’ that I hung out with (not Lee at least, he was the golden boy) would have stopped the day I supposedly turned into an adult overnight. But nothing had changed. Even Lee’s halo had slipped a bit when he was trying to convince Dad to let me come to help with the filming project. But it had been Lee that did the talking and in the end, Dad had relented. But, this had only been on my ‘best friend’s’ oath that he wouldn’t let me out of his sight.

Plus, I hadn’t seen Lee in so long that I had forgotten how excruciatingly dull my life had been, stuck at home in my attic in the rural outback of Lincolnshire while he was at Uni in London. So I sure wasn’t about to let some stuck up Goth-bitch called Annabelle swipe all my joy now. He’d promised it would be our time.

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Maybe that was why I was feeling so edgy. She’d already managed to plant her festering seed of poison in the pure soil of our relationship despite us living a world apart. She used this distance as a weapon though, constantly thinking up new ways to wind me up knowing full well that I lived four hours away from their cosy little student haven. Of course she knew more about Lee’s everyday life than I ever could. One example would be the Chloe incident. You see, during the winter, we would keep Skype on all the time so we’d be able to talk and fall asleep together. One night in Lee’s room while he was out I noticed some girl strolling around and rummaging through his things as though she owned the place. Of course, I didn’t know it was Chloe at that point so being me I confronted Lee about the mystery girl, accusing him of being a complete cheating asshole. That was the polite thing I called him. He couldn’t believe that I was having a go at him and not even giving him a chance to explain. That’s me, though. As it turned out it was Chloe, simply going in his room to find her glasses she had left there while they had been talking the evening before. She had moved in the previous day and had been innocently chatting to Lee, just forgetting her glasses on his desk. Annabelle had told her that Lee wouldn’t mind her going in when he wasn’t there. Annabelle knew Lee so well, obviously. She also knew that he had Skype on and that I would see her in there and freak out. That was just one reason right there why I did not like Annabelle. The other reason was because she was clearly in love with him. I just wished she would be a bit more dignified about it and try and hide it just a little bit.

Annabelle’s horrifying driving suddenly threw Lee against me in the back seat. I could feel his entire left side radiating delicious clammy heat as I caught a whiff of the fresh laundry scent of his t-shirt. His chest almost collided with my nose, which felt strangely comforting despite my impending claustrophobia. His arm had been squashed across my shoulder since we set off an hour before and every time the SUV almost capsized, he would pull me into him at just the right second before his six foot frame squished me against the side door. I didn’t mind his body being thrown into mine at all, but Lee being Lee didn’t want the side pockets of the SUV to break my ribs.

Almost drowned out in the simultaneous revving and screeching of brakes and in The Red Hot Chili Peppers blaring out of the CD player, Joel’s voice started cursing Annabelle and her obviously distorted sense of immortality. He was lounged out in the front passenger seat, his over-sized orange legs propped up on the dashboard, the jeans so flared they almost skimmed the floor of the car. He had Lennon sun glasses pushed up into his thick tussle of wild blonde hair which to me, summed up exactly the chilled out guy he was. (Well, despite the yelling at Annabelle).

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I had met Joel a few times as he was seeing Lee’s sister, Lisa. We had hung out together back home. He was a funny guy who didn’t take life too seriously and didn’t let his friends wallow in any self- pitying shit. I didn’t know whether that was through a genuine concern for the welfare of his best friends or a case of not wanting to deal with other people’s misery. I suspected the latter as Lisa had told me that Joel was a cool guy but not that great to talk to, at least not about serious stuff. I found it weird that he wanted to be with us on this trip as the atmosphere since leaving London had been heavy to say the least.

As far as I was concerned, it was all because of her and the dick fit she’d had while packing all our stuff in the back of the SUV. ‘You’re taking too much…. couldn’t you and Lee double up with your bags…. and look, the food boxes aren’t sealed properly and are gonna ruin the upholstery…’ etc, etc. She had made me feel like I was intruding on their party by either looking right through me or glaring at me and blaming me for stuff, nothing in between. It made me really pissed that a) she was the only one who had a car and therefore had the power to decide our destiny of death at any point before arriving at our destination, b) she was monopolizing the mood by playing one hell of a boring album over and over again on her stereo, one which no one else liked judging by Joel’s (futile) attempts to eject it and c) she kept glancing in the front mirror, or whatever the correct name for it was, and checking out Lee. My boyfriend Lee. I’d tried to sneer at her but she seemed not to notice anything else going on around her, including the fact that we were hurtling down country lanes at that point, almost overturning into ditches and hedgerows alongside us.

”Anna, my balls are on fire, man!’ Joel suddenly yelled. He then leaned right across towards her despite the rest of us being thrown the opposite way and grabbed the steering wheel, attempting to turn it. But that resulted in a smash up of groping hands as the wheel jerked and span. Annabelle stuck her ground and revved up which made the SUV’s engine cough up its guts and stall in protest.

”Joel bloody Mackie!” she wailed as we came to a stand- still and silence pervaded. (Except the stupid Chili Peppers singing about ‘Californication’, I bloody hated that song).

Lee started laughing and mumbled something about Joel being a dickweed. Joel got to the stereo before Annabelle at last and ejecting the CD, launched it behind him. It hit Simon on the side of the head and he cursed before winding the window right down and hurling it out into the field.

”At least it’ll settle in a final location…far away from me!” He sneered, taking the piss out of the Californication lyrics as the CD arched into the haze of the wheat field, one last glint flashing on its shiny edge before it disappeared forever.

”You’re both twats,” Annabelle ranted. ”Joel, get out, now…. and Simon… you owe me a CD unless you feel like going and fetching it?” She twisted round in her seat, the horrible leather squeaking, and glared at Simon. Her dark eyes went wide with threat and fury as her purple mascara caught the late evening sunlight. She reminded me of a tribal warrior with her dreadlocks, nose rings and war paint. I normally would have loved her style but something about her just freaked me the hell out.

Joel remained lounged out, laughing. He was doing one of those silent laughs that you couldn’t hear but you could see as his shoulders were shaking. Occasionally he snorted, unable to contain it. Simon sat back and stared out in front of him while biting the skin around his fingers nervously. Apart from just then, he hadn’t spoken at all during the journey or this morning. All I had seen was the back of his head as he stared out of the window, his skinny frame curled up against the door. He was wearing a dirty white t-shirt with The Sisters of Mercy written across the back, tour dates listed down his back on a gothic church window background. I had only caught glimpses of his profile as he sat there and smoked, occasionally sighing and nodding unconvincingly when Lee had asked him if he was ok. He had recently been in quite a serious car accident I heard, and was still nervous of travelling.

Annabelle made us all jolt by bringing her bracelet clad fist down on the beeper. She then pushed Joel by his shoulder so hard that he thumped against the side door, producing a hollow sound as his head made comical contact with the glass. Lee was snorting with laughter by then and I couldn’t help it either. Annabelle looked at us through the mirror and glared right at me. Lee didn’t notice, he was leaning over to Simon and trying to flick his ear. Simon put his hand up and gave Lee a single finger gesture but also couldn’t stop a smirk forming. He looked at me and smiled, then turned away and resumed his foetal position. Lee winked at me and Annabelle sighed dramatically before starting the engine.

No one spoke for ages. Annabelle drove, slightly slower than before, while Lee kept whispering in my ear and telling me stuff about his friends. Despite the heat, I shivered as his breath skimmed my neck. I tried to focus as he explained that Simon was always serious and a touch morbid and that Annabelle and Simon had a love-hate relationship. At that time they were all about the hate, clearly.

Joel started rustling around in his backpack that he’d thrown under his legs, chucking out all sorts of crap before he found what he was looking for. Grinning mischievously he held up a torturously loud lime green CD case and triumphantly started flicking through it.

”So what’ll it be, my Indie dudes?’ he asked excitedly, waggling the open case so the CD compartments flopped around. ”Oooo the choice…could it be, The Inspiral Carpets? The Stone Roses? Happy Mondays? Oh please say yes to Dinosaur Jnr! Or maybe you ‘ll prefer something a little more quirky…….The Charlatans!”

Simon tutted, stuck his forefingers in his ears and shouted way too loud. ”Jesus no, Mackie, you limp salad. Quirky? I’d rather listen to my hamster farting. Let’s just enjoy the serenity of the rural environs and shut the hell up shall we? ”

Joel appeared not to have heard Simon. Annabelle gestured him one of her black nail-polished middle fingers as he inserted a CD in the player. His mop head started bopping as the first track began and he sang along:

A girl consumed by fire

We all know her desire

From the plans that she has made

I have her on a promise

Immerse me in your splendour

All the plans that I have made. Yeh….

We trundled deeper into the countryside. The sun had started making its descent down, tickling the tips of the trees and casting shadows across the fields. Birds flocked and dispersed off in different directions like flecks of black ink spreading across ancient yellowing paper. Peace seemed to settle around us despite Joel and his Indie party as we all sat there without talking. Annabelle was sitting in the same statue-like position at the wheel, sucking on a very thin roll-up that wafted into my nasal passage almost like it was seeking me out to torture me. The setting sun was spilling an orange glow through the driver’s window, catching the metallic engravings in her bracelets which glowed like tiny lasers. Joel had his knees hooked up on the dashboard, slumped down in the deep passenger seat, a light hum escaping his lips as his blonde mop of bedraggled hair nodded in time to the music. Simon’s face was still turned away, his skinny frame pressed against the door. His cheek rested on his bony knee that was exposed through ripped grey jeans. He was smoking as well and the aroma that sneaked in through the slightly open window joined Annabelle’s haze, giving me crazy cravings.

Lee didn’t like that I smoked, but he knew he couldn’t stop me. He worried about my health. That was Lee, though, worrying about everyone. I looked up at him and smiled. His shoulder length black hair was tucked behind his ears so I could see his whole face. I had never known such a handsome guy. But it wasn’t just his slightly slanted brown eyes and freckles that danced on his skin. It wasn’t only his straight nose that led me down his face to stare longingly at his full lips, the lips that he had an endearing habit of pressing together and then pouting out when he was in deep thought. It was as if his kindness and compassion for the human race and all living creatures exuded forth and his whole being could be read through his features. I didn’t know where this divinity came from and I often found myself in awe of how he could happily and without a single thought, put everyone else’s needs before his own. I couldn’t. I wasn’t like that. I often wondered whether that was why fate had thrown us together in our bordering-on obsession with each other. He didn’t have a bad bone fragment in his body and I was his dark half.

I couldn’t wait to get there and have a drink and a cigarette, even though I was thoroughly enjoying my close proximity to Lee as we hurtled further and further into rural remoteness, closer and closer to the abandoned building.

”What time does Chlo finish work?” Lee asked no-one in particular, breaking the lulling quietness.  Simon shrugged his shoulders and Joel twisted round, grinning and then sticking his bottom lip out at me. I had to laugh just because his reaction was totally bizarre. Annabelle stirred out of her comatose state and lighting another cigarette said,

”9:30. I’m going to fetch her from the boutique. You’re coming with me.”

Rather than wonder what Chloe was doing at work until that late, my mind went straight to that last sentence. It wasn’t a question it was a demand. What was she on? I felt myself stiffen and I squeezed Lee’s hand a bit too tight. He flinched and I felt terrible, almost as if my inflicting a fraction of a second of pain on him would make him go with her later after all. Her dark eyes were fixed on him through that mirror and she waited.

”Not. He’s not actually.”

Had I said that out loud? I side-glanced at Lee and deduced that yes, I had. He was looking at me sideways as well, a slight smirk up- turning his lip, as if not wanting to smile too widely in case Annabelle reacted. He kept looking at her and back to me as if waiting to see who would strike the next blow.

”Excuse me?”

Black eyes right on me. I thought she was going to stop the car and get out to punch me, such was the glare she threw out of her banshee eyes towards me. My heart was pumping but I was enjoying it. I’d never been scared of confrontation. I actually enjoyed putting people in their place.

Silence.

Simon coughed and I heard him light another cigarette.

I could have said a lot of things right then, and none of them kind. Instead I bit my lip and fought the urge to get into a passionate bitch-out with her. She deserved it and I wouldn’t normally have let anyone who made me feel like shit get away with it, but Lee was there beside me and I didn’t want to give him reason to get pissed with me so early on in the fortnight. I was on to her though and she knew it. She glanced at me in the mirror, glared and looked away, a smug smirk somehow making her eyes look even more manic. She was actually very striking but because of her constant grimacing, her face never actually had time to look beautiful.

Her driving then got more aggressive I’m sure of it. She wrestled with the gears for a second and said something derogatory under her breath before almost shouting,

”Lee? Are you coming with me or not?”

”Anna…..”

I sensed he felt awkward as his voice was tense and unnatural.

”Let me stay here and sort out the stuff. I can’t just leave Case on the first evening.”

Relief. Lee pulled me closer to him and I melted in. He kissed me tenderly on the forehead and rested his chin on the top of my head. I think he was staring outside at the darkening sky, trying to avoid looking in the mirror and catching her eye.

“Well, someone has to. I’m not a frickin’ taxi service, you know.’’

No one spoke again for miles. Joel kept having weird outbursts of lyric crazy which I think he did to antagonize Annabelle because he would go in with a loud death metal-like roar, leaning over to almost touch her cheek with his nose before letting rip. Death metal vocals did not go at all with the droning of this indie music whatever it was, but I enjoyed watching her seethe. Her fingers were tap, tap, tapping on the steering wheel and I could feel her disdain. If she was even close to being as up for a fight as I was, she must have been raging inside.

”Jo why don’t you just play some actual metal tracks instead of annihilating this utter shite with your seven year old girl’s voice?” Simon piped up. ”First it was the worm that lives up Mike Patton’s arse ‘entertaining’ us with his bollocks about California, and now it’s the eternal stoners whining about the fact that they have destroyed all their brain cells. Put some decent shit on or shut it the hell down, please.”

“Who’s Mike Patton?” asked Joel casually with absolutely no intention of changing the CD. “Another one of your cheerful emo bandage-boys?”

“He’s the lead singer of Faith No More actually, you muppet. Only the best vocalist in the history of vocalists.” said Simon, suddenly becoming more animated. “But I don’t suppose for a single frickin’ second that you would know what good vocals sound like, so…”

I had no idea what Simon had just said, but I agreed with the main point. The music had been utter crap on this journey. I was glad I had brought my MP3 and Dock. I made a mental note to listen to some Faith No More as well to see what Simon’s fuss was about. If he liked The Sisters of Mercy then his taste in music was good enough for me.

It reeked of cigarettes, anger and a smouldering bitterness in that car as we slowed down to approach the entrance of the building. The dirt track had so far been lined with trees, hiding their inner world within the cloak of the dusk clouds. Simon must have realised where he was and suddenly sat up and directed Annabelle through the open gate, gravel chattering as it flew into the mud guards of the SUV. We crawled down a narrower track and soon a dark shape could be seen in the distance. It was a huge building.

Annabelle drove slowly for a minute or so and then parked up and stopped the engine. We all piled out into the cool darkness, our shoes scratching on the gravel as we looked around blindly, trying to see something, anything. Annabelle stood there, towering above me. What was she, 6ft? She leaned on the roof of the SUV her arms crossed and chin on her hands, staring out into the distant dark.

“Anna, are you ok?” Lee asked gently. She turned her head and smiled. It seemed so fake. Even in the dark I knew that her eyes hadn’t smiled at all.

“Yep. Just tired. Shall we just go in?”

Lee nodded and touched her shoulder trying to reassure her, I guess.

”Where’s the torch, Jo?” Simon asked as he turned and opened the door again, rummaging around on the floor of the car, getting more and more irritated. ”You did put it in didn’t you?”

Joel’s round face was just visible as he looked at Simon alarmed. We all looked at Joel, or what little we could discern of his face as he stood there. Suddenly, a blinding light shot across our faces and Joel giggled, making the beam dance all around us. It darting onto Annabelle’s blue dreadlocks, Lee’s freckled nose and then onto Simon’s scowling face.

”Give it here you asswipe,” Simon growled as he grabbed it out of Joel’s hand. ”You are really a dick at times. Can’t you just do something without playing the clown?’

Lee sniggered and cuddled me in the dark. Annabelle had already started walking so Simon shone the torchlight straight ahead of us. As we approached the front door, Simon directed the beam upwards and across, giving us a panorama of the building that we would be spending the next week in. To describe it as awesome would not have done it justice. I stared up at it, its Victorian splendour towering over us.

”Welcome to Crowbray School for Girls,” announced Simon, slowly swiping the torchlight across the arched windows. ”One of the most haunted buildings in rural Essex. Allegedly.”

~*~

I have always been fascinated by anything abandoned, tumbling down or forgotten, and if it’s haunted, all the better. Anything to do with ghosts, spirits and the supernatural is fascinating to me. Horror films are my passion.  I don’t know when my dark side emerged so profoundly, but I find it inspires me in my art, hobbies and how I think about so many issues. Maybe it’s how I feel about myself. Being an only child I have always felt unloved and misunderstood, as if I should be something majestic and strong like a house is for people, but I can’t be because my foundations are all cracked and likely to cave in as soon as the tiniest pressure is exerted. Lee says I seem aloof to people who don’t know me and that it’s a way of self -protection. I am petrified of letting anyone in in case I get hurt. Maybe I am also protecting other people from falling through my floor and lying broken and left for dead in the depths of my cold interior.

I still live with my parents in a remote hamlet in the middle of nowhere. There’s really only me and Chester, my Labrador for company most of the time as Mum and Dad are never home. Dad is the only Doctor for miles around and Mum feels obliged, as a model ‘wife’, to trail along behind him like a lost puppy working in his surgery and generally wiping his ass for him. Lee says they are great parents, but he only sees them at their best, when he’s home for holidays and they run around like headless chickens trying to make everything right for us. If only they knew. They have no idea that we are together and I think it’s safe to say, would have triple aneurysms each if they found out that Lee sleeps up in my attic room bed with me most nights he’s back in Lincolnshire.

The worst thing about all this is that they have got it into their dumb ass heads that Lee is with Annabelle. Yes. My best friend, Stella, thinks it’s the best way, but I think it’s horrendous. At least it gets them off my back I suppose. This started because Lee brought her to his house one Christmas because she had problems and couldn’t stay home. She stuck to him like they were Siamese twins and it made me want to hurl in her face and slap her. Not in that order. But of course I didn’t because I needed to prove to Lee that I’m as mature as his friends and that I can take it. To be honest, I don’t think he even realised that Christmas how she was behaving or that I was freaking out. And what do you know, he still hasn’t got the faintest notion that Annabelle is acutely and obsessively in love with him.

~*~

So I literally felt sick with excitement when Simon said ‘haunted’’. Lee hadn’t told me much about this little venture, only that he was doing Simon a favour and that I would love it, sleeping in a massive old derelict mansion for a week or two.

We approached the big thick wooden door of Crowbray School for Girls. Simon couldn’t get the locks open for ages and started cursing it out, but Lee managed to do it somehow. We then trudged back to the car and carted all our things into the old place. It took several trips but Lee insisted that he carry all the heavy gear. Simon didn’t bother to get anything, he just waltzed in with the torch and disappeared leaving us in near pitch dark outside to grope around blindly. Lee’s torch was in one of the bags but we couldn’t see to get it out. Annabelle shouted him back but he mumbled something about leaving his stuff for him to bring in because he had all his filming equipment as well. Lee brought it all in though, which left me standing inside the grand entrance, trying to focus, bumping into things to get round to where Annabelle and Simon’s voices were coming from. I couldn’t see much, just breathed in the aroma of derelict that I had grown to like, the earthy mouldy stench that hangs in the air reminding you that Nature is coming to slowly engulf the bricks and mortar and ease it to the ground. When I reached the room their silhouettes were standing in the centre surrounded by dull grey light. As I crept inside, the walls opened out before me and hollow voices echoed through the gloom. Simon was running his torch across the walls and up at the ceiling, saying ‘Wow’ over and over again. Annabelle was standing there, hands on hips, black clothes almost camouflaging her completely. I could hear her bracelets clanking when she moved her hands to point to something, telling Simon to point the torch up there and over here.

The walls were at least twenty foot high, with what looked to be shiny silver wallpaper that was hanging off like limp skin in various places around the room. Simon pointed the torch to the front to show me the windows. It was fully dark outside but I could make out the faint shine on the glass as the bright torch light reflected back in on us. As I looked up I realised the windows were ceiling to floor, with thick, lush velvet curtains cascading down and spilling across the carpet. Some were tied back, but some had been forgotten, standing as still as time. There was a soft hint of a lavender smell which seemed vaguely familiar to me somehow. As I approached the others, it wafted away as Annabelle’s scent hit me. She emanated a heady combination of cigarette smoke, Patchouli oil and honey. I hated Patchouli.

Lee came up behind me and scared the crap out of me by grabbing my waist and lifting me off my feet. Being way taller than me, he could do those annoying things easily. I tried to turn and play-punch him but his long arms wrapped around me and he kissed my hair. He rested his chin on my head, which he did a lot, just to emphasize the irritating fact that I was really short. I noticed that Annabelle had turned away from us. Simon carried on with his torch, shining it around and then directly into our faces. I laughed.

“Si, is there electricity?” Lee asked, snuggling into me. I felt warmer and instantly safe. I hated being on my own with Annabelle and Simon because I didn’t know them. I always felt awkward when I met new people as I could never think of anything to say, but with Lee’s friends it was even more so. There was too much pressure to be liked.

“Well, there are renovations being done at the side of the building, so the owner said there’ll be electric in the kitchen. The construction guys have gone for a few weeks but they’ve been using the kettle and stuff. I don’t think the rest of this place has been hooked up to the grid for about 20 years or so. Why, are you freeeeeeeeeaked?”

Simon put the torch under his chin and pulled a long face. I could see veins and bones I was sure. He smiled for the first time ever. I hadn’t really looked at Simon’s face much as his black hair had always been swept over his eyes, but I saw then that he was really good looking. He had lovely deep green eyes and full lips, with a ring through the bottom one and a stud just shining out below the lip. What I liked most was that he was wearing a little bit of black eye liner. Lee wouldn’t be able to pull that shit off in a million years, even though he had offered plenty to experiment for me. Lee had no piercings, no tattoos, nothing. I wondered where Simon’s ink was, cos he was sure to have some, somewhere.

simon

Lee laughed, “No, I’m not freaked at all. Just asking because there are no lights on, in case you haven’t noticed. We’ve only brought two torches.”

“Oh where’s your sense of adventure?” Si taunted, letting the torch fall with a painful sounding plonk onto Lee’s head. “Come on man, it’s better this way! Romantic for you two, creepy for the rest of us. It’ll be fine, Grandpops.”

That’s when we noticed what was illuminated above Simon. I just saw the outline of it and grabbed his arm, directing the torch so it shone right up the middle of it. It was an ornate, beautiful crystal chandelier, but not your average over –the- top- one. This was three tiered with hundreds of black spirals and cream crystals cascading down like a fountain. It was falling from a height so tall that the torch light just faded out before it reached the ceiling.

”Can I fit that in my bag?” Annabelle joked. Simon laughed but I couldn’t help but feel the wrath. What was found in abandoned places, stayed in abandoned places. That was the first rule of URBEX. ”Take only pictures, leave only footprints…”

”That’s really disrespectful of the URBEX culture.” I stated. Simon looked at me, puzzled. Annabelle looked down at me and shrugged her shoulders flippantly.

”Of the what culture?” she mocked, smiling slyly as if to say, you are talking shit girl. Let’s hear you make a screw up of yourself in front of everyone.

”URBEX. Urban Exploration.” I explained, standing my ground. ”There are thousands of communities all over the world. It’s about respecting old places, you know, not damaging the places you explore, leaving it untouched for others to enjoy. These things belong in history and belonged to someone once. That’s all. Rant over.”

I had just wanted to make a point. Get one over on her.

Annabelle sighed and turned away.

“Where’s Jo, anyway?”  She suddenly asked, staring intently at Lee and totally negating my conversation.

“I have no idea. Maybe he’s gone to check the kitchen out. He had some boxes of beers the last time I saw him and I told him where it was,” Lee said, grabbing my hand. “Come on let’s go check the place out and get our things sorted.”

~*~

Lee led the way to the kitchen. He said he had found it easily. It was along a dark corridor to the left of the entrance and was bathed in bright light. We filed in and stood there taking in the gigantic oak wooden table that stretched the whole length of the room. A worn down, warped bench stretched down the length of each side, providing us with ample seating. I was about to say ‘The kitchen out of The Shining,’ but Simon beat me to it. Ok, it wasn’t as big as that, but it had a similar vibe with lots of metallic cupboards running around the outside with islands in the middle, obviously having been used for preparing a multitude of foods for a fair number of students at one time.

It was spotlessly clean. I had expected us to have to scrub the place down before we prepared food, but clearly it had been done recently. I wouldn’t have liked to have tackled that vastness of work surface anyway. All the boxes of food, sleeping bags (Lee’s double one which I couldn’t wait to snuggle with him in) and alcohol were stacked up, mostly precariously, and Lee ran forward and caught a crate of Heineken before it decided to take a nose dive.

“I love this kitchen!” Annabelle declared, walking around the table and inspecting the wall units around the edge. “How comes it’s so sparkling clean?”

“Because………..I just cleaned it,” smirked Joel, throwing a filthy, greasy cloth at her. She recoiled, letting out a yelp as she brushed it onto the floor. It draped itself over her boot.

“That’s gross.” She said screwing her face up and kicking it under a cupboard with wheels. “Anyway you never clean anything, you turd.”

We all sat round the table, pushing our supplies down to the end to make room. There were boxes stacked up on the floor too. The one nearest me had some weird stuff inside like organic beetroot soup, couscous, weirdly shaped phallic vegetables and some tiny bananas. Who the hell ate that stuff I didn’t know. Mine and Lee’s box was full of dried vegetarian soya, pasta, jars of tomato and basil sauce, chilli and curry powders. We had plenty of fruit and veggies but they were already in the fridge. Lee had insisted we brought them but if meal prep was left to me it would end up rotting in there. I hated healthy eating even though I was a vegetarian.

I was sitting opposite Joel who had taken a bottle of red wine out of a box on the floor under the table. He grinned at me and winked. I tried to see Lee’s reaction in my peripheral vision, but couldn’t. Annabelle was smiling at Lee and so I stared back at her intensely, smiled back at her and nudged my head into Lee’s chest to make a point. Hands off my property.

Simon produced a bottle of Guiness and plonked it down hard on the table. He sat down, opened it and took a very long gulp, gasping as he lowered it back down with a thud.

“Oh sweet Jesus I needed that!” he exclaimed and threw his head back stretching his arms up in the air and punching with his fists.

“Wine glasses for Christ’s sake!” shouted Joel, clamping his hands around his head in desperation. “Oh Ballsacks!”

Lee stood up. “Calm down, you drama queen, I’ll find some.” He laughed, “I’m pretty sure this place has been used lately. Those work men seem to be a dab hand at cleaning so let’s see….how many do we need?”

I decided on wine and Annabelle did too. Lee found four glasses and washed them out. There were even dish cloths in the drawers so he wiped them around too. Everyone was just sitting there watching him. I knew someone was going to pipe up. It was Simon.

“Dez. You absolute freaking girl. Come here and let me ravish you, I love it when you get all domesticated on me.”

Lee grinned and flicked a finger at Simon.

“That’s something you should know about Casey, my darling.” Laughed Joel. “Dez and Si have got a proper little bromance going on. Thought you should know because these gay boys won’t bother telling you at all soon.”

I looked up at Lee who was standing at the table in the process of giving out the glasses. He puckered up at Si and Si stuck his tongue out and waggled it up and down. Everyone laughed.

“So, when were you planning on telling me about this?” I asked Lee, pouring myself a full glass of wine from the bottle that Joel had offered me across the table.

“Well, after we get married and have lots of babies I guess,” Lee said sitting down next to me and hugging me. “You don’t mind do you? We can still be besties!”

I laughed and shook my head. The next thing I knew, Lee’s lips were on mine and he was kissing me passionately. And he hadn’t even had a drink yet. I heard someone go ‘Get a room, there must be hundreds to choose from.’ and when we came up for air, Simon and Joel were grinning, bottle and glass in hand, toasting us.

That’s when I noticed that Annabelle had left the kitchen.

~*~

“Where’d she go?”

Lee scanned the corners of the kitchen. Simon shrugged his shoulders and Joel was lost in swigging a huge mouthful of wine.

“We were too busy enjoying ourselves watching you two,” admitted Simon. “I didn’t see her leave. Maybe she just went to the lav. I’m sure she’s fine, man.”

Joel’s face was red. He was grinning insanely.

“Good wine eh, Case?” He thrust his glass towards me. I was just about to chink it when he pulled it away and necked the lot, reaching for the bottle. “Hey, Dez, where’s your drink you pussy willow?”

Lee was not a big drinker. It was something I had never understood about him. Drinking for me was relaxing but I’d only ever seen him tipsy, never drunk, even on New Year’s Eve back home. He was the one who’d be holding girls’ hair back while they hurled into the back of the toilet bowl at a party. He had told me, and he said he would only ever tell me once, that drinking was bad and smoking even worse, but he would never forbid me from doing those things. He’d just had to put it out there because he cared about me. I knew he was right but as far as I was concerned, I was young. I’d worry about quitting when I was older.

But right then I really needed a smoke. I noticed that Simon hadn’t smoked since we’d been in the kitchen. I was dying to ask him why, but I was unsure of what Lee would say. Joel would only be smoking when he’d had a lot more to drink, and had a secret stash that he claimed he only rolled up when drinking. That made him a smoker too because Joel was always at the bottle.

“Casey love.” Joel was sipping his next glass of wine. “First off, tell Dez that he needs to get some drink down him and get this spook-fest party started. Secondly, do you want a fag as much as I do right now?”

I could’ve kissed him.

I stood up, feeling a little bit warm around the cheeks and not really bothered what ‘Dez’ would say. That was something I needed to rectify. What was the name Dez all about?

“Why the hell do they call you Dez, anyway?” I said. My voice sounded too loud in that huge bare kitchen suddenly.

Simon started laughing.

“Oh, sweetheart,” he gushed, grinning at Lee, “Haven’t you told her?”

Lee shook his head and poured himself some wine. He flashed me his mischievous smile, the one where his dimples really showed.

“Oh well, you see Simon darling, I don’t actually know why. You never told me, did you?”

Simon was still laughing, his shiny black hair dropping over his eyes again. He pushed it aside and I saw his gorgeous green eyes sparkling. My heart skipped. It was the wine, definitely the wine, tripping me out.

He pointed at Joel who was doing that silent laughter thing again.

“Jo. Over to you.”

Joel couldn’t talk. I was standing there above them like a moron, waiting for some bizarre answer to a question I had actually already forgotten. I looked at him and started laughing. He looked at me and his shoulders started shaking even more, his eyes disappearing as his hilarity caved his face right in. Lee started laughing and Simon pointed at Joel, his mouth open, laughter being sucked in and out again noisily.

“Ok.” I managed to say, gasping to breathe. “I’m going to have a cigarette. Where can we smoke?”

Simon stood up and walked around the table towards me, taking his tobacco out of his pocket at the same time. He avoided my eyes, I assumed because he was trying not to laugh.

“We’re not allowed to smoke inside here,” he informed us, his eyes wide and still on the edge of laughing. “Apparently there are some potentially flammable materials in the building and so it’s out in the cold night air for us. I was putting it off, but you’ve twisted my arm, Case. Let’s go. Joel? Dez?”

He started laughing again as I followed him outside. I couldn’t help it, I was looking at his ripped jeans and how they hugged his butt perfectly. The black hoodie he was wearing had Slipknot- Broken Glass written across the back, the wide hood spread across his broad bony shoulders. I was window shopping with no intent to buy.

We all congregated, Dez included, outside in the cold summer air. British summer evenings were rarely warm enough to stand outside in just t-shirts, but we had alcohol in our blood so it didn’t seem as bad. Lee cuddled me again and I felt warm and nice. My roll-up was heavenly and I felt chilled out and happy at last.

They told me why Lee was called Dez. Apparently it was an ‘urban slang’ thing of Joel’s. He actually was obsessed about reading a certain type of dictionary which he found on line, and using the slang in his every day conversations. Although Simon said that they all found it painfully irritating, some words had stuck within the group. Like ‘Dez’. ‘Derek’ was a boy or guy who was very attractive to the opposite sex. Even though I knew that Lee was certainly a ‘Derek’ I wanted to know how my Lee had got that name, under what circumstances, but I was afraid to ask to be honest. I knew all about Lee’s exes and wanted to keep that information between us. But of course he would’ve told his friends everything, wouldn’t he? I bet they knew about all the female attention he got on a daily basis as well. He lived with them. I couldn’t help but let a pang of jealousy start eating away at my insides again when I realised that they probably knew more than I did. I tried to get over it and focus on following what Joel was saying that was making them all laugh again.

Joel was hilarious, telling us about a girl in his group who had been writing him love letters in code that he couldn’t decipher, and didn’t want to. He had been replying just using random symbols that she used all jumbled up, not knowing what the hell they meant. She clearly did know, or being deluded thought she knew, because she was continuing with the saga. Cautious as always Lee was like, be careful, you could hurt her, but Joel was too busy taking the piss to listen. I must admit it was funny.

Suddenly, there were car headlights right in our faces. Joel started screaming, “Oh shit my bastard eyes, my mubberflucking eyes!” and we just shielded ourselves with our arms.

Car doors swung open. A girl’s voice that I didn’t know shouted out,

“Hey guys! How are you all? Are you settled in?”

“Hey there Chlo!” shouted Simon and Joel. Joel’s voice sounded a little more shrill and sarcastic than Simon’s which made me wonder if either of them actually liked her.

Lee said, “Oh crap, that’s where Anna went, to pick her up. I totally forgot.”

~*~

chloe

Chloe was one of those smiley people, the ones who just have that amazing glow about them all the time. People like that usually annoyed the hell out of me with their repetitive lines like, ‘Oh come on, it could be worse,’ and ‘Oh look on the bright side.’ She floated up to us and hugged the three guys, hanging on a bit longer to Lee. (Oh sorry, Dez the girl magnet.) I hoped this wasn’t going to be another one of his friends to freak myself out over. One Annabitch was plenty, thanks for the offer.

I had met her before, when I spent a weekend in London, but she had subtly persuaded Annabelle to stay home with her and watch DVDs the night we hit the town. I think she knew I was stressing about the situation. She must have been very sensitive to have felt my vibe and sussed it out. I made a pact with myself to try my hardest to be nice to Chloe.

She was suddenly hugging me, which made me stiffen. I was not used to that kind of affection with strangers. Lee had been different of course, as I had been sickeningly close to him in every way right from the start. I would actually crawl inside him if I could. Chloe smelt sweet like daisies and vanilla. She said hi to me in my ear and when she stood back to look at me she was still holding my shoulders and smiling.

‘It’s so nice to meet you properly. I’ve been looking forward to the meeting the girl who has stolen mon ami’s heart away. You’ve no idea what a mush head he’s turned into!’

Chloe was pretty. I was almost jealous as she wore no makeup at all, yet looked amazing. Her pale green almond eyes shone and she had flawless olive skin with a pink featherlike tinge. Her hair was mousy blonde and wavy, almost down to her waist and she had plaited the sides, which framed her face. She was like a medieval princess. Her lace shawl fell off her shoulder and revealed her white blouse, one of those that you find in ethnic shops in Camden Market. She pulled it back onto her shoulders and shivered, her layer of silver necklaces sparkling and shimmering in the sun.

‘Let’s go in,’ said Lee. ‘Are you guys staying out here for another one?’

I said no but Simon and Joel nodded, Annabelle joining them with her already lit cigarette.

We went inside, Lee turning left to the kitchen and the bright light. Chloe looked around and sat down at the table, taking it all in. Lee asked her if she was ok.

‘This is an amazing place,’ she said, gazing around. ‘It’s got a real history, hasn’t it? Has Si found out anything about it, I mean I need to know what I’m up against.’

I looked at Lee, puzzled. We sat down and Lee put his hand over hers across the table.

‘Chlo, it’s ok,’ he said ‘Whatever happens, I’ll be here for you. If it gets too much I’m sure Belle will take you back. Really though, you are usually fine after a few days. Remember when you moved into our house? You felt overwhelmed for a day or two and then you got used to it.’

Chloe smiled and nodded. She turned to me and looked right into my eyes, like she was delving into my soul.

‘Casey, I don’t know you at all yet, but Lee tells me you’re into Wicca, is that right?’

‘Yes…’ I stammered, ‘But I don’t really practice it as much as I should I guess.’ I felt a bit ashamed as if I was being judged by a supreme Goddess.

‘That’s ok, neither do I. Life gets in the way, doesn’t it?’ she was still smiling. Like an angel in fact.

‘Chloe’s a HSP. That means Highly Sensitive Person,’ said Lee, sounding not at all as if he was speaking in a foreign language to me. That’s how it felt, maybe because I was still a bit squiffy from the wine.

‘Yes. Basically I find it hard to function around people because I absorb all their energy, whether it’s joyful or sad or whatever. This means I have to spend a lot of time on my own. It drains me completely and I’m prone to depression unless I control how I deal with it all. I am always meditating and trying to find ways of protecting myself,’ she explained, her eyes on Lee throughout her little speech. ‘Also, the reason Lee is reassuring me is that I am sensitive to spirit activity. I can feel them all around me and they often seek me out. I know it sounds crazy and slightly messed up, but it is what it is. Nuts, right?’

She turned to me and her face was beaming with warmth and light. Was she for real?

‘So, is that why you’re drawn to Wicca?’ I asked, fascinated and insanely jealous. ‘I mean, if you are sensitive and empathic, your connection with the Earth must be strong too.’

Chloe looked at Lee and back at me again. ‘Oh mon dieu!’ She grinned widely. ‘Lee, give me a beer. I think I’ve found a kindred spirit!’

I slowly got used to her overpowering vibe and started to enjoy her company. I asked Chloe heaps of questions and we talked about Wicca and Paganism, She noticed that I was wearing my Pentagram and she showed me hers. She had one but hers was a Triquetra like a silver knot that represented the Goddess, one of which I also had at home. We discussed a lot of themes around Paganism and Witchcraft and what we practice. Chloe had got a set of Runes from her Grandmother that she used to guide her and also she told me extensively about Candle magic and Herbology. I made her promise to show me and teach me all she knew. Her mother, who was French, used to be a member of a Coven in France before she moved to England, which fascinated me as well. I had wondered why she kept slipping French into everything she said. I thought she was being pretentious but it turned out that French was in fact her mother tongue, so I let her off. Lee was sitting there listening and cuddling me. He kept topping up my wine glass and Chloe was on her third beer when the others trouped in.

‘You guys have been ages out there.’ Lee said, ‘Have you been exploring the grounds?’

‘Nope, we just spent the last hour smoking our guts out and slagging y’all off,’ laughed Joel and plopped down next to Chloe. Annabelle perched next to Lee on his other side and I instinctively looked under the bench to make sure she hadn’t got her jangly hands on Lee’s leg or anything. When people’s outlines started to shimmer and slowly swing in front of my eyes, I knew I was dangerously close to drunk and in need of another cigarette.

Simon came and sat next to me and I felt my body tingle. I was trapped between two highly sexy guys. Chloe was smiling at me (she hadn’t actually stopped smiling since she got there) and I think she sensed how I felt. Don’t ask me how I knew that, but I just did somehow. Then more bottles of beer were being opened and cork screws in wine bottles popping. Chloe asked where the toilets were and I realised I hadn’t been since we got there.

‘We used the hedge,’ said Simon, raising his eyebrows at Chloe. ‘But I think I saw a wash room next to the chandelier room. Do you want me to show you?’

They both went to the door and I jumped up. Chloe let Simon go first and grabbed my hand. An hour previously, that would have really freaked me out, but it felt nice. Chloe was nice. I didn’t usually have the patience for people who were nice; I preferred ‘interesting’. Lee was nice (sometimes too nice) and definitely interesting. So was Simon. Interesting and sexy. I didn’t usually lust after androgynous emo guys either, but I had started that too. I blamed it on the wine. Damn those fermented grapes.

Chloe was really gripping my hand. I wanted to be like Lee and do the reassurance thing, but that wasn’t in my repertoire. I kept remembering what she had told me about her being able to sense and see spirits and I thought, Jesus, the girl must be fighting them off in here. It was dark, pitch dark and very creepy. I could sense we were in the hallway and the grand staircase was at the side of us. Suddenly, Simon broke the silence.

‘Bollocks, I left the torch.’

‘It doesn’t matter, Si.’ Chloe whispered. ‘Just keep walking. I can see a doorway straight ahead. That must be that huge room with the chandelier. It’s ok, I- Oh my God!’

Chloe was pointing straight out in front of her. I followed her finger, but all I could see was darkness.

‘Chlo, what it is?’ asked Si, ‘Don’t make us shit ourselves!’

‘I saw a figure standing there. It was like a woman. Just there, staring at us. Then she turned and walked down there.’

Chloe pointed at 11 o’clock. I couldn’t see anything.

‘Shall we go back?’ I asked, not knowing how to deal with this. I was freaking out but didn’t want to go batshit crazy. Once I went, I really went and didn’t want to look like a complete squealer on the first night.

‘No, it’s ok guys. Let’s just go. It’s fine now. Nothing there.’

We all walked together, I suddenly needed to pee more than ever. Simon went in front and Chloe and I locked arms. We found a door just down from the Chandelier room and Simon pushed the door that creaked loudly as it opened on its tired hinges. I saw a row of toilet cubicles and made a dash for it, my bladder ready to burst. It stank a bit but I didn’t care at that point. Chloe went in the next cubicle and asked if I was ok. I started laughing and she did too. Simon’s mocking voice echoed in the darkness.

‘I’ll just be waiting here then. Try not to make too much noise when you’re taking a waz. Everything echoes in here!’

We were trying to wash our hands in the dark, when we heard voices outside the door. The others were there. I immediately felt lighter as if they had broken a dark spell. When Chloe and I joined them, they had piles of sleeping bags and blankets in their arms and suggested camping down in the chandelier room for the night. It had a carpet at least. I took hold of the pile that Lee had and he went to get more stuff. We bumped into each other as we walked, the mountain of bedding blocking my vision and dragging on the dusty floor.  Simon’s torch beam helped us drop the stuff near some sofas which seemed as good a place as any. I had hoped me and Lee could have found a room of our own, but realistically I was exhausted and had drunk too much. I needed to lie down.

‘You lot are such slackers,’ Si teased, helping me with my pillow as it got hooked under my foot and I lunged with a groan, nearly going arse over tit. ‘I thought we’d all be up for a right good game of drunk CAH at least?’

‘What’s CHA?’ I asked before I had realised what I was saying. I should’ve just feigned annoyance with the others and agreed. And definitely not admitted I hadn’t got a frickin’ clue was CHA or CAH was.

‘Cards Against Humanity!’ laughed Simon disappearing as the torch beam got lost under a his sleeping bag. ‘Have you ever played it? It’s sick and juvenile and I love it. I’ll show you how to play tomorrow if you like. ’

Lee came back then with his torch and some drinks just in case anyone wanted more. He handed me some water. I certainly did need that. It was weird as we all tried to arrange our bedding so we didn’t have smelly feet near anyone’s face or sleep too cramped up that we could elbow someone in the eyeball during the night. It was almost midnight. We were all absolutely bushed. Well, except Simon, clearly. His torch remained on and it looked like he was reading a book or something.

‘Is everyone here?’ he asked as their conversation started to flag and half- hearted sentences ended in yawns and groans. There was a chorus of dull mumbles as we all settled down. Our sleeping bag was just right, not too tight but tight enough that I could feel all of Lee’s body entwined with mine. His arms were round me and I just let out a sigh of contentment as my head found his chest and I started to float off. It was so quiet all of a sudden. The building was deathly still and there was no outside noise. We were out in the sticks, completely isolated.

‘Did you lock the front door, Si?’ Annabelle asked, her voice sounding hollow in the vast room. I snapped back into consciousness as I realised she was near us. I extended my foot out to my left side. No one was there. I knew Chloe was near me but she had her space near the long sofa as she explained she needed. I reached my arm across to Lee’s side and felt something soft. ‘Ouch,’ Annabelle laughed, clearly thinking Lee had touched her.

I lay there in the dark, annoyed, listening to Lee breathing. He was asleep, but he kept pressing his lips into my hair as if to reassure himself that I was there. I didn’t know how long I was awake, but there was shuffling and turning going on in Annabelle’s sleeping bag and she obviously couldn’t sleep. Then an arm flopped onto me, causing Lee to stir. She was trying to hug him!

I wanted to get up and move away from her, but it was hard to find the zip. Lee woke up.

‘Case, what’s up babes?’ he mumbled.

‘I’m trying to get out,’ I said. ‘I need to move!’

Shuffling started around the room. I was waking the others up.

We managed to climb out and Lee kept asking me what was wrong. Then, Annabelle spoke.

‘Where are you going, Lee? Please don’t go. Stay here, please stay.’

I couldn’t see his reaction, but I felt him bend down next to her.

‘Why? The others are all in here. Come on Belle, try and get some sleep. Me and Case are going to find somewhere else to sleep. I’ll talk to you in the morning.’

He picked up our sleeping bag and water bottles and whispered for me to follow him. We tiptoed out of the chandelier room. It was freezing cold in the hall. He told me to shield my eyes and clicked the torch on. It was on feint beam so it didn’t blind us. He walked ahead of me, our bare feet smacking against the marble floors. We trudged past the washroom, Lee looking for doors on either side leading to rooms that might be carpeted so we could kip down in peace. But the doors were all locked. By the time we got to the end of that corridor, our eyes had grown more accustomed to the dark and that was when we saw the outdoor corridor beyond a glass door. The moon seemed to be bathing the glass panelling in its glow, inviting us to walk down it. Lee grabbed my hand and pushed the glass door. It opened out and we were bathed in the moonlight. There was another smaller building attached at the end, so I nudged him to walk on, feeling awake now and up for exploring. The glass on each side seemed to be straining to keep the overgrown foliage and bushes from breaking in. It was like an underwater aquarium, but in a forest. I could hear the distant hoot of an owl. It was eerily beautiful.

‘Let’s sleep in here.’ I whispered and Lee turned and smiled at me with that divine smile that radiated love that I had never seen in anyone else.

‘Maybe another night, babes. I need somewhere soft tonight.’

We kept walking, stopping to press our noses against the cold panes that sometimes exposed the black of the sky in random areas where foliage wasn’t as dense. Even though we couldn’t see anything outside, the grounds surrounding the mansion must have been awesome, clearly overgrown and hiding secrets that I promised myself I would reveal.

At the end of the corridor was another identical door with glass panelling. It opened easily and immediately to the left of us was a steep stone staircase. Lee made sure I was ok to go up and we went, spiralling up and round until we got to a dark landing. Directly to our left was a room that seemed to have light. Lee bent his head round the doorframe and beckoned me in. It was an awesome room. It had an old rug on the floor, and at the front of it was a huge patio door that stood open proudly, letting the moonlight shine in. The walls were a lovely matted green with an old fashioned sink on the left, surrounded by a pastel blue that had started peeling. Beyond the patio door was a wrought iron balcony with art nouveau style swirls and buds blossoming within its frame.

‘Let’s sleep here.’ Lee said, peering out into the view of the gardens. ‘This is awesome.’

We set up the sleeping bag and snuggled down making sure our water was in reach. Lee’s heart was beating fast as I sunk into him, kissed his neck and hugged him close. He pulled his arms away from me and lifted off his t shirt, kissing my neck and lips, softly at first and then with passion. I forgot everything right there and then and let myself evaporate into the erotic state that was Lee and I. Every single time was the same yet deliciously different. Afterwards, we fell asleep, pressed against each other, not knowing where my limbs finished and his limbs began.

~*~

‘Casey, Case…babes, wake up.’

I tried to open my eyes but they felt glued shut and my head was spinning. I eased myself up on my elbows and looked at Lee. He was facing the other way, propped up on his knees.

‘What the fu-’ I managed to say, not understanding why he had prized himself out of our little warm cocoon, and was asking me to look out of the open door.

‘I saw a girl out there, on the balcony, I swear!’ he had his hand over his mouth as if he was going to vomit.

I turned completely round to look outside. I saw nothing. The only weird thing was that I could smell cigarette smoke, fresh smoke. But it wasn’t normal cigarette smoke somehow.

There was an orange blanket down on the floor of the balcony that didn’t seem to belong to the mould ridden room we were in. It looked new, clean. There was also a cream coloured gypsy scarf with red and black roses on it, tied to one of the railings. That had not been there when we came in the room. I told Lee. He swore again that he had seen a girl, kneeling down on the balcony, looking in at him.

When I asked him if he could remember anything else, he said yes. She had been smoking.

We stared at each other for what seemed like ages. I didn’t feel scared, probably because I hadn’t actually seen anything. Lee did look scared though. I asked him what he wanted to do. He lay back down and stretched his arms behind his head, staring at the ceiling.

‘What time do you think it is?’ I asked him, hating the silence.

He reached into his jeans pocket for his mobile phone and at that second, it started ringing. He sat up again and said hello to Annabelle. I knew it was her because he called her Belle.

He didn’t talk much. I could hear that she was crying down the phone. His face was a picture of seriousness, his forehead creased into a frown. I couldn’t make out whether he was pissed off or concerned. Then he said, ‘Ok, Ok I’m coming.’ and hung up.

‘I’m sorry Case. She’s upset,’ he explained, sighing as his hand ran through his ruffled bed-hair. ‘I’m going back to the Chandelier room. Please come with me, I don’t want to leave you here on your own. I’ll just talk to her for five minutes and then we can camp out in a corner away from everyone and get some kip. Ok?’

I reached over and kissed him, I couldn’t be angry at him when he was so cute and worrying. He hugged me tight and said we could sleep there tomorrow night again, if I wanted, and we started dressing and gathering our stuff.

When we got back into the chandelier room, there was a feint haze of light coming in. It was about 4am. I went and chose a spot in the corner and got back into the warm sleeping bag. I could hear Annabelle sobbing and Lee trying to console her. How messed up was it to call a guy who was obviously with his girlfriend having some private time. How frickin’ lame. I peered over the edge of the sleeping bag and saw Chloe asleep all curled up in her pink blankets and Joel with his mouth open and arms splayed out at weird angles. I could just hear his snoring above Annabelle’s whining.

Simon wasn’t there. I considered going to find him. Maybe he was having a ciggy out the front or maybe he was asleep all alone in another room. I hoped he was ok.

Lee came back then and crawled into the sleeping bag, snuggling up again. It wasn’t long before I was asleep and dreaming, the sound of Annabelle’s fragmented sobs still echoing around the dawn soaked room. I did wake up for a brief, confused few seconds, a sound of gentle bells jangling and dancing near me. I opened my eye- squinting as a dull ache washed over my consciousness. The dark shadows beyond the door were waiting for the dawn to dispel them, and in the soft contrasting light, I swear I saw a girl standing there, motionless, staring down at Lee and I as we slept.

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~*~