[New and want to jump in? Please read the Instructions, but go ahead!]
He watched as Sweet ladled ravioli into two bowls, and tried to shake the feeling off. Yeah, it was weird, and off kilter, and there was a lot of tension, but it was probably best to leave it for now. There was probably a perfectly reasonable explanation for why Sweet didn’t want to talk about the house—given what little Septimus knew about his family situation, probably his childhood memories were at least awkward, and coming up with new stories would at least make him have to think over the old. If things hadn’t improved by later in the night, he could always bring it up then.
“Want me to get the game started up?” he offered, by way of peace treaty.
Sweet smiled over at him. “Sure,” he said. “Also, save room for dessert, ’cause I brought up a pumpkin pie.”
“Nice!” Septimus said, relieved.
He carried his drinks into the living room, where he found that the couch faced both a fireplace and a TV on the lintel over it, with the console connected. He turned on the TV and game, and fired up Mario Kart. The familiar sound was instantly calming and it looked like it had the same effect on Sweet when he came in.
They ate with their bowls on their knees and swore at each other and relaxed properly, dismissing the tension with a few fortunate Blue Shells. Or Sweet did, anyway, because he was worse than Septimus, which was the norm for their gaming. Sweet had picked up gaming due to Septimus liking it, which he found really flattering, even if he wasn’t totally sure what Sweet did with his free time before that.
Eventually, Sweet took their bowls away and came back with plates of pie. “Ghost stories now?” he offered.
“Sure,” Septimus said. “Man, I was worried earlier that I’d messed up somehow, but if you want to, I mean, I’d still like to.”
Sweet waved it off. “It’s nothing,” he said. “Honestly. It’s not you. Want me to turn the lights off for it?”
“Leave the kitchen one on,” Septimus said, “but yeah.”
When Sweet did, the room became darker than Septimus had expected. The wash of light was from several rooms away, and provided only just enough illumination to keep shapes recognizable in the darkness.
Septimus became suddenly aware of the huge, dark bay window right behind the couch. He’d forgotten it in the lightness of the room but now, with the room itself dark, he became aware of the swaying trees, the moaning wind. At least they were far enough from civilization he didn’t expect anyone to come peeking in the window.
“You start,” he told Sweet, when Sweet sat back down with him, then put a forkful of pie into his mouth. The rich taste of the pumpkin filling made this more real, somehow, more Halloween.
“Okay, okay,” Sweet said. “Hang on.” He thumbed on his phone, so it lit his face from below and fractured his eyes in a thousand places, and seemed to do a search, then cleared his throat. “When a traveller in north central Massachusetts takes the wrong fork at the junction of the Aylesbury pike—”
Unable to contain his disbelief, Septimus cut in. “Sweet, are you reading someone else’s ghost story?”
“I mean, yeah,” Sweet said. “I’m not very creative—”
Septimus put a hand in Sweet’s face and shoved lightly, laughing. “That completely spoils the mood,” he protested. “Come on, man. I’ll go first, and you can take my cue.”
Sweet flicked his screen off, then bowed to him, hand extended. “As the master commands.”
Grinning, Septimus unhooked his flashlight from his belt and put it under his chin. “It was a dark and stormy night,” he intoned, “much like tonight…”
The story he wove wasn’t particularly good—he was making it up as he went along, something about a house very much like this, but abandoned entirely after the old owner passed away. A young couple much like themselves who went there to canoodle in it, and as they kissed they found the bed begin to sink and change and feel odd, and finally, when they got out their flashlights, they realized it was soaked in blood. They ran screaming from the house, and when they went back in the light of day to disprove what they’d thought they’d seen, they found the door locked tight, though neither had tried to lock it behind them. Even as he finished it up, he had to admit that it sounded more like some kind of anxious hysteria, and ‘getting locked out’ wasn’t exactly the depth of a horrifying conclusion, but the spooky voice he was using, and the darkened atmosphere, seemed to do the trick.
When he finished, Sweet let out a dramatic shudder and leaned into the crook of his arm. “Well, now I’m reluctant to go to bed at all,” he said. “Nicely told.”
“Thanks,” Septimus said, a little embarrassed. Sweet smelled like he’d spent a while in the autumn leaves before coming inside. “Feel a little more prepared for your turn now?”
“Mm,” Sweet agreed. He paused, taking Septimus’s flashlight from him and putting it likewise under his chin, then began.
“A long time ago,” he said, “there was a girl who had run away from home. It was a bad home to be in, and a worse one to run from, because they lived in the country, far away from any others. She knew that downhill lead only to the valley where they tended their sheep, so she didn’t run that way. Rather, she ran uphill, because she had never once heard what lay up that way, and hoped it was safety.”
It sounded more like a fairy tale than a ghost story, but at least Sweet was making it up on his own now. Septimus nodded, making an encouraging sound.
“She ran up the hill until she tripped over a hole in the ground, and lay their shivering, her blood from her skinned knees seeping into the dirt where she’d fallen,” Sweet murmured softly. “She realized it was an odd hole—wide and deep, with black dirt around it, and white sand around that. And there was another one, too; she’d fallen between them. She’d only just recognized what it looked like when it blinked.”
It looked like Sweet had got the spirit of things after all.
“Letting out a scream, she backed up and tried to run back the way she had come—foolishly, because if those were eyes, the small ridge of grass a little downhill was its mouth. This opened as she ran, tripping her up, and she fell, barely catching herself on the hill’s lip, feet dangling down into the strange gullet below.”
Septimus was hooked. He leaned forward a little, fingers clenching on his knees.
Sweet had closed his eyes now, as if envisioning it. “The grass and ground closed around her as the horror in the ground began to speak, and roots and rocks beneath brushed her feet, making her feel how close she was to whatever passed for the great creature’s teeth. She struggled, but to no avail—the movement of the lips kept her from climbing out.
“‘Your love,’ the thing whispered, and despite how large it must have been, she had to strain to hear it. ‘Your hope. Your dreams. Which of these do you least want to lose?’
“It was a horrible question,” Sweet went on. “But she knew she had to answer. If she could only keep one of them, the answer was easy. She could live without feeling or experiencing love, and she had never been able to plan for the future. But without hope, she could never escape her situation. ‘My hope,” she managed, in a shaking voice. ‘I don’t want to lose my hope.’
“‘Then that is what I will eat,’ the terror underground sighed, and with a sudden movement—”
The power went out.
Even in the already-dark room, it was starkly obvious. The illumination from a few rooms away cut out entirely, along with the power light on the tv and the wii, and all sounds with it. It was terrifyingly silent but for the sound of nature outside. Septimus heard himself let out a little sound that he swallowed before it could become too embarrassing.
“Ah,” Sweet said. He sounded more resigned than surprised. “I’ll go see if I can get the power started back up in the basement. You stay here.”
Before Septimus could protest, he took Septimus’s flashlight and headed for the hallway. “Hey—” Septimus began.
“It might take a few minutes,” Sweet called back, still resigned, and already having taken their only light halfway down the pitch-black hallway. “So don’t come down after me! I’m used to this.”
Septimus didn’t even make out of the living room before Sweet had shut the basement door behind himself, leaving Septimus in total darkness.
[Please offer actions, thoughts, or concerns for Septimus in the Comments]
[Instructions | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 | Day 15 | Day 16 | Day 17 | Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24 | Day 25 | Conclusion | Author’s Notes]