The wind moaned in the night. The moon’s light glared through the leafless branches scraping against Liam’s bedroom window. In the dim-lit room, a group of high schoolers chanted his name, urging him to enter the darkness of his closet.
James’ firm hand gripped Liam’s boney shoulder. The seventeen-year-old boy leaned in and whispered in Liam’s ear. “Come on, Liamy boy. Not afraid, are you?”
Liam shook his head and drew a deep breath and exhaled. “No, I’m not afraid. I… I don’t want to burn the house down.”
James patted Liam’s shoulder and snickered. “Listen, boy. You won’t burn the house down. “With your luck, youwon’t survive.” He stepped away and pointed toward the window. “Can someone close those curtains? The room must be pitch-black.” James returned to the chant.
With the bedroom drained of light, Liam reached for the doorknob and twisted. The door creaked open, and the group’s chants intensified. He stepped into the blackness and peered over his shoulder to turn toward the door, James slammed it shut.
Liam’s fingers moved through his short golden hair. “I can do this.” He reached into his jean pocket and lifted out a book of matches. The boy’s fingers shook as he flipped it open, snapped one off, and held it in front of him. Liam’s body froze, and he uttered no words for a few minutes. He took a deep breath and exhaled.
A bang on the door caused Liam to jump. “No voice, did you forget the words, Liamy boy? Are you chickening out?” James chuckled.
Liam’s eyes squinted, he cleared his throat, gathered his nerves, and steadied his voice. “Show me the light or leave me in darkness.” With his stubby fingers, he lit the match, closed his eyes for a few minutes. The sole sound was the beating of his heart. Once again, he reached for the knob and twisted. Liam stepped, pushed the door shut behind him, making sure not to glance back. A slight breeze from his lips blew the match out, and he grinned at his classmates. “Hmm,” he shrugged, “didn’t scare me one bit.” The sixteen-year-old shook his head, “Nothing happened. This game’s a scare tactic.”
The group laughed with Liam. James threw the curtains open. The light from the moon’s glow through the branches lit the darkened bedroom.
Liam motioned to the group. “Let’s go pig out on snacks and drinks.”
The group dashed down the stairs. James was the last to leave when the closet door squeaked open. He glimpsed over his shoulder. Hmm, guess Liam didn’t shut the door, or the latch is broke. He shrugged and hurried down the stairs to the kitchen.
A shape peered out with a hood over its head, and eyes glowed of crimson. The creature glared at James as he left the room.
Sophia took the rubber bands out of her pink hair and let the waves sweep over her peach shoulders. The fifteen-year-old girl glanced over to the wall and pointed. “Liam, what’s that?”
Liam, startled, glimpsed at the wall and back to Sophia. “A phone.”
Sophia chuckled. “A phone? Don’t your parents have cell phones?”
Liam shook his head and let out a faint giggle. “Yeah, that phone is a backup, in case something happens to the cell phones?”
Sophia shrugged. “Old school.”
A huge grin formed on James’ face when he overheard the conversation as he entered the kitchen. “I got an idea.”
Elijah rolled his green eyes. “Now, what?”
“Liam, do you have two black cords or ropes?”
Liam shrugged. “My dad has some in the basement.”
James shook his head and fluttered his hand at Liam. “Well, dude, go check. Oh, yeah, are all the windows opened in the house?”
It was early in the fall. The weather was cool enough for them to open the windows. “Yeah, why?”
“Don’t worry.” James waved off Liam. “Go round up the material.”
“Ava?” James yelled.
A sigh escaped from her mouth. “What?”
“Do you have sage in your handbag?”
Ava nodded. “A small one.”
“Can you cleanse the whole house?
Ava nodded and clutched the sage from her bag.
“Oh, yeah, Ava, open the doors first. At least for now. When you finish, flush the sage stick in the toilet… and close the lid.”
Ava squinted her eyes and nodded. What’s he up too, now?
Liam walked to the basement door. Why is it cracked open? Did mom forget to shut it when she did laundry? His fingers slid up the wall and flipped the light switch, and the light flickered on. The boy rushed down the stairs to his father’s workstation. He snooped around for a few cords or ropes. Liam found both and snatched them up. James can decide which one he wants to use. When Liam turned toward the stairs, the light cast a shadow of a hooded figure on the wall. Liam blinked, and the shadow faded. With his heart racing, he fast-tracked up the stairs and flung the door shut. His body slammed against the wooden door, his breath… rapid. Deep breaths. My eyes are playing tricks on me. Uneasiness crept over his body as he returned to the kitchen.
James patted Liam on the back. “Magnificent job, Liamy boy.”
Liam shook his head and shrugged. “What’s going on?”
“You’ll find out soon… enough, Liamy boy.”
James peered at the cords and ropes and grasped the ropes. He laid them out and measured each one with the scissors and ruler he found in a drawer and cut them to 19.685 inches. He glared up at Sophia. “Hey, pinky, can you grab the salt and spread the stuff at the entranceway of the front and back door?” James grinned. “Better spread the salt around the windows, better safe than sorry.”
Sophia snatched the salt from the table. Her eyes narrowed at James, who glanced back at her and smirked.
James nodded toward Elijah, “Elijah, my boy. When Sophia and Ava get back, go shut the doors, curtains, and windows. Plus, turn off the lights.”
Elijah sighed. “Hmm, sure.”
Everyone returned to the kitchen and stood around the circle table. James clapped his hands together. “Now, place your cell phones, and any other electrical equipment on the table, but first, shut them off.”
Everyone gawked at each other. With reluctance, one by one, turned off their cell phones and electrics and placed them on the table.
James motioned everyone to the rotary phone on the wall. “Here, Liam.” He handed him a wind-up wristwatch. “Your house.”
Liam shook his head and rolled his eyes. “What do I do?”
“Glad you asked, Liamy, my boy.” James pointed to the phone. “Now, the delicate part. You must dial 20496888 without picking the phone up or touching the handle.” He raised his index finger. “First, you must count to 13.”
Liam shook his head. “You gotta be kidding?”
James smirked. “Scared?”
Liam stood straight, shoulders back. “Hell, no!”
James tilted his head toward the phone. “What are you waiting for?”
Liam stood vast; his hand steady. One by one, he dialed the numbers; he made sure he did not touch the handle. “Done. Is that all?”
James shook his head. “We’ve just begun.” He handed Liam a rope. “Now, tie this to the handset. Make sure it’s tight, we don’t want the darn thing to fall off when you use it to pull the receiver off.” He peered deep into Liam’s eyes. “Pick the handset up by the rope and place it on the countertop. Now, you can dial, 25515823. You must count to 13 and then say,” James glanced at the group and back to Liam. “Hello? I need a cab?” James pointed to the rope. “You’ll tie the second one and remove the first one and burn the sucker.” He handed a lighter to Liam.
Liam did what James said. I must be desperate for friends if I’m doing this shit.
James smirked, and the tip of his lip rose. He gestured to the group. “Now,” he tilted his head toward the front room, “let’s take a peek out the window, shall we?”
The group, distrustful, accompanied James to the front room window. They glanced at each other, murmured, and shook their heads.
James placed his arm around Liam’s shoulders and leaned his head toward the window. “Liamy boy, drawback those curtains and tell me what’s outside.”
Liam grasped the edges of the curtains and dragged them to the side. He froze; his mind did not comprehend the sight lying before him. The midnight sky turned vacant, no stars or moon lit the earth. The harmonies of nature ceased. In front of the house, a black taxi.
The rest of the group peered out the window, all they saw was the full moon and twinkle of the stars. Their eyes fell upon a light misty shadow in the shape of a car floating on the road. They peered at each other and shook their heads in disbelief.
James grasped Liam’s arm and dragged him to the front door. “Go on. He’s here for you.” He fluttered his hand, “I’ll lock the door behind you.”
Liam shook his head. “No!”
James’ grin grew broader, and he shook his head. “You don’t have a choice.” He clutched the doorknob and twisted, forcing the door open. He thrust the lever on the screen door down and threw Liam out and bolted the door behind him.
Liam pushed on the screen door lever. Damn it. He locked that too. He turned to the taxi. Nothing’s going to happen — just a figment of my imagination, just a dream. James laced our drinks with something. He had too, well, mine. Liam traipsed and climbed into the back seat of the taxicab. The door shut and automatically locked. He peered at the driver’s seat, and he saw a black-hooded figure.
Liam’s eyes grew heavy, and he fell asleep. When he woke, he was still in the cab. Next to him was the wristwatch James had, and he glimpsed at it, 3:30 am. The car halted, doors unlocked, and the back door opened. His gut told him to keep his eyes focused on the floor. The flop on the seat next to him sent shivers down his spine. Once again, the doors locked.
A familiar voice filled the interior of the car. “What a delightful night for a ride. Don’t you think, Liamy boy?”
Liam turned his neck and glared through his bangs. James sat next to him; a grin appeared on his face. “Oh, Liamy boy. You shouldn’t have done that.”
“Oh, I neglected to mention, didn’t I? You shouldn’t speak to, or look at, anyone who gets in the cab with you.”
“You should’ve gotten out of the car when it was moving. It would’ve been quick, no pain. But now. It’s a different story.”
“What’s going on?”
James patted Liam’s shoulder. “Remember when you were in the closet.”
James’ voice deepened. “What happened?”
Liam glanced around the taxicab. His forehead scrunched up, and he shook his head. “The match didn’t go out. And… and I didn’t turn around in the closet. Plus, I… I didn’t peer behind me when I walked out and shut the door.
James chuckled and rubbed his chin with his fingers. “True, but something happened when you left.”
“The door didn’t shut.”
Liam shook his head and stared at his shoes for a minute. He glanced up at James, but he vanished. The black-hooded figure that was in the driver’s seat loomed over him. He looks like the shadow from the basement. A black misty fog rolled inside the hood.
James’ voice echoed from the driver’s seat. “What a pleasant night for a drive.” As he drove into the blacken void, a blood-curdling scream rose from the back seat. The creature consumed Liam’s body and soul, leaving no trace of the boy.
James snickered. “Now, for the next kid.”