“Do you not want to play tonight?” Eury asked, gently pushing open Benjamin’s door. She took a couple of tentative steps inside but paused, hand on the facing. She had her canteen slung over one shoulder and magic wand at the ready.
Benjamin sat on his bed and, before Eury came in, had been studiously involved in staring at the far wall.
“Ben,” she said. “Do you not want to play?” She let go of the doorway and took a few more soft steps toward his bed.
He closed his eyes and tried to pretend she wasn’t there, an attempt made more difficult when she put a gentle hand on his arm.
“I won’t tell if you don’t want to,” Eury said. “We don’t have to play every night.”
Oh, why not? Playing the game with his sister was all he’d apparently ever get to do. It wasn’t like he’d have a chance to play it with his friends — with Andi — ever again.
Deep down, he knew he was being melodramatic. And deep down, he knew he was being childish. But up on the surface? Benjamin didn’t give a damn. Who on Earth likes it when things don’t go their way, anyway?
“Okay,” he said. “Do you want to play in here or your room?” He levered himself half-off the bed as he spoke, legs dangling from the edge. He rubbed his eyes, a gesture that was half annoyed-baby and half weary-grandparent.
“Bast wound up in a different place last night, didn’t she?” Eury asked. “Let’s play in here, since it’s different.”
He didn’t want to be didactic and explain that you could play in the same room every time; that it was your imagination that made the place different, but he didn’t want to argue. Despite everything that had gone wrong, over this week he’d come to enjoy playing with Eury.
He’d come to consider the impossible: letting her join him and his friends as a full-fledged player of Voidville, instead of just a prop-holder.
Now how to broach that topic with the others?
Benjamin realized he didn’t care. The rest of the group had been letting him down left and right this week. If he wanted to bring Eury along and let her play, they’d just have to smile and like it.
“Okay,” he told her. “You’ve beaten the Mighty Ant Lion, but weren’t able to escape the suction of his sand funnel as he collapsed into it. Your army of cats can only watch helplessly as you sink into the gritty pit. You fall through, and find yourself in…”
He took a quick two steps to the wall and flicked off the light switch.
“…a pitch-black cave.”
Eury let out a squeak.
“Did you bring a flashlight? Or a torch? You’re a cat, so you can see in the dark a little bit…”
“I can’t see a thing,” she protested.
“But you can see it in your mind, right? You can pretend.”
“…Okay,” she said, dubious. Then, “Oh! Wait!” A click, and the end of her magic wand lit up due to the mystical power of two AA batteries.
“See?” he asked, proudly. “You solved the problem. Now you’re ready to explore the cave.”
“I drink from my canteen first,” she said, and unscrewed its lid, starting to chug-a-lug some water.
“But remember,” Benjamin said, “you don’t want to drink it all. What if that imp comes back, wanting to make another deal?”
Eury paused, frowned, and closed the canteen. “Okay,” she said, and waved her wand around, shadows and pink light swirling on the walls. “What do I see?”
“The main tunnel stretches before you, the rocks slimy and covered with moss. You can feel a cold breeze blowing up from ahead,” and he switched on the oscillating fan on his desk. “But you can also see little passages to the left and right that you could just squeeze through if you assume cat form. But it would mean leaving your supplies behind…”
Friday at school, and three dooms awaited Benjamin: Randall’s continued refusal to use his house, having to tell Andi the game was off Saturday, and the inescapable pep rally.
And two of those dooms collapsed into one when, at lunch, Andi plopped down at his and the guys’ lunch table.
“You guys need to work on your organizational skills,” she said, her tray rattling as it hit the tabletop. “A little more advance notice on if the game’s happening wouldn’t be a bad idea.” She scratched at the neckline of her polyester flag corps uniform.
Benjamin and the others just stared.
“Oh, what?” she said, and looked around the rest of the lunchroom. “So I’m not sitting with the rest of the flags. Who cares? I’m their captain. So,” she said, turning to Benjamin, “are we on for tomorrow?”
He coughed. “We…don’t have a place to play,” he said, feeling his guts bottom out. “Sorry. Randall’s parents will be out of town, but –”
Andi turned her focus on Randall, who noticeably blanched. “So what’s the big deal?” she asked him. “Why can’t we use your place, then?”
“His little brothers are creeps,” Cy said. “And his parents are not fans of evil, demonic games like Voidville.”
Andi considered this for a moment, nodding. “Well, let me ask you this: I bet you guys thought of all kinds of ways to deal with the little brothers, right? Bribing them, begging them, stuffing them in the attic…”
Benjamin and the rest nodded glumly.
“Did you ever consider inviting them to play?”
They looked at her, stunned. Randall spoke first. “It wouldn’t work. They’d tell on me, and…”
Andi turned her focus back on him. “Randall…did you ever consider inviting them?”
“No,” he murmured.
“Then why not do it?” she asked. “Kids love to pretend! Let them play, I don’t know, Shadrach and Abednego or something. Let them fight us, the ‘evil’ monsters, and then learn that we’re not so bad after all. I mean, it’s the plot of a thousand cartoons, that the scary thing turns out to be a good guy in the end.” She looked around the table at them. “I’m kinda shocked you guys didn’t think of this in the first place. Aren’t you supposed to be the creative ones?” With that, she picked up her tray. “Problem solved in five minutes flat. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go eat lunch with the girls.”
As she left, they all watched her go until Eddie finally broke the silence.
“All in favor of making Andi the new Horror Host…?”
Today’s Words: 1104
Total Words: 14830
Notes: This may turn out to be a short novel after all. I’ll be hitting the ‘cassette flip’ around this weekend and moving into the second half of the story. If I stay on track, this will be a 40/50K-word book. A far cry from the huge thing Face After Face has turned out to be!
I’m attempting to write a Halloween-themed horror novel in October! Visit Day Zero for more information or Day One to read from the beginning, and check out Countdown to Halloween for more blogging that’s altogether ooky!
(And the cat is Valentine — I figured the presence of a black cat would make things that much more Halloween-y!)