It was later the next day that Dan got Ryan’s text.
The old house on Covenant Street. Up in Redeagle. Meet us there at six.
And then another text soon after that.
Bring crisps - we’re staying all night.
The old house on Covenant Street. Everyone knew about it, of course. It was supposed to be one of the most haunted buildings in the country. Dan had cycled past there only once, because people like him tended to get mugged if they strayed into the Redeagle district. It was a notoriously bad area of town.
Yes, even Dan knew about that house. Dan, who didn’t get out much (he would admit), Dan who hadn’t even grown up in this town. He knew the stories, the stories about how a man had been murdered there by his girlfriend, who then hanged herself. The stories that said everyone who lived there afterwards met increasingly violent ends. The stories that said anyone who stayed the night never lived to see the light of day.
He stopped himself shuddering. He shouldn’t be scared of a stupid house. He was a scientist. Scientists believed in proof and facts. Evidence, not stories and urban legend. Not even on Halloween. Certainly not.
He finished his lunch (a fresh salad, with croutons that definitely did not, Dan told himself, look like skulls) and went back to his flat to pack for the night. Three jumpers, two extra pairs of socks, a packet of tissues. Two flasks - conical and thermal, Dan didn’t think he’d be able to survive the night without tea - and some general scientific equipment. He didn’t exactly know what they’d be testing for, so he brought as wide a range of things as he could think of. How would one even test for ectoplasm?
The whole idea was completely ridiculous, Dan realised. Chemically testing for ghosts. The very thought was insane. He considered texting Ryan to say he’d come over ill and couldn’t go, but he knew Ryan would just think he was being cowardly.
Evening rolled around. Dan headed over to Redeagle (taking a taxi. It was more expensive than biking, but there was less chance of getting beaten up and robbed, so Dan deemed the cost acceptable) with his rucksack full of equipment and supplies. As the streets went by, he saw trick-or-treaters running along the streets, flashes of orange pumpkins under ever porch. Children with sheets draped over their heads. Dan had never really been one for trick-or-treating.
He asked the driver to drop him off by the newsagent at the top of Covenant Street so he could stock up on crisps and chocolate before making his way down to the to the house.
As it turned out, Sonam had had the same idea as him. He saw her in the back of the store, standing by the news racks, flipping through a glossy magazine full of trite gossip and vapid celebrities. She waved when she saw him and weaved her way through the racks towards him, grasping her bounty and party-size bags of crisps and popcorn.
“Danny, I didn’t expect you to come.” She smiled and brushed hair out of her eyes with henna-covered hands and black painted fingernails. “Matt said you wouldn’t.”
“I said I would,” Dan said, and pushed the glasses up his nose. There was something wrong with them, he was sure. His old pair hadn’t been so inclined to slip. “So I did.”
Sonam nodded and reached past him for a huge bag of Haribo. “Good. I’m glad.” She said, and started towards the counter. “Get what you’re going to get, and we’ll walk down together, okay?”
Dan nodded, and made his way to the back of the store, where most of the packeted food was. He grabbed some things without really looking and went back to pay. It came up to just under a fiver, then he shoved his goods into a plastic bag and followed Sonam outside.
“So, how did Ryan drag you into this?” Dan asked when they were going.
Sonam laughed. “He didn’t drag me. I came of my own free will.” She nudged him with her arm. “I thought it would be really cool. You know, finding a ghost. Especially in that old place.” She was talking about the house, of course. “It’s breaking the law, too. I’ve always wanted to get arrested.” She nodded sagely. “It’d be a good story for my kids one day.”
“Wait, what’s illegal?” Dan asked, trying not to sound too startled.
“Going in there. It’s technically trespassing, or something. But no one cares, ‘parantly. The police don’t come to Redeagle much.” She laughed again, fresh against the night air. “They’re probably to scared of the ghosts.”
Dan shook his head. “So how come there are no kids begging for sweets around here? I saw loads on the drive over.”
“You drive?” Sonam looked surprised.
“No, I got a taxi.”
Sonam nodded with an expression of sudden and revelatory understanding. “Right.” She said. “Anyway, it’s ‘cause of the house. No one wants their kids near somewhere so scary, I guess.” She jerked her head to the right in what might have been a twitch, but seemed to violent. “Whatever.” She shrugged and waved her hand noncommittally in the air. “Whatever.”
Dan’s phone buzzed in his pocket, at the same time Sonam’s did. A text from Ryan.
Me and Matt and Ellie are inside. Knock the door three times and we’ll let you in.
“Creepy.” Sonam shivered dramatically, grinning. “Like we’re at a seance or something. ‘Knock three times if you’re there’ and that shit. Ha.”
“We’re trying to find ghosts, not communicate with them.” Dan said, looking over to her. No, behind him. She’d stopped.
“Walking off, are you?” She grinned, and pointed to the garden wall by where she was standing. “This is it.”
“Oh.” Dan had been so absorbed with walking that he hadn’t realised they’d arrived.
“Give me a boost up, come on.” Sonam prompted, hooking her fingers over the top of the wall. She had to stand on tip toes. “Don’t worry, I don’t have dog shit on my shoes or anything.”
Dan knitted his fingers together and she stepped on them. Her shoes were definitely damp from the rain on the pavement, but nothing else. Not that he’d been worried about it until she brought it up. From his hands, she bounced up onto the wall and over to the other side.
Passing their bags over the wall carefully, so as not to break any equipment, he began to wonder how he’d get over. He didn’t have great upper body strength. Or, really, any upper body strength at all, much as he hated to admit it. Still, he needed to get over.
He backed up a couple of steps, took a run up, and jumped into the wall. It wasn’t enormously tall, and he managed to pull himself up and roll over to the other side. He landed badly, and pain shot up his left leg, but he was otherwise in one piece. For now.
He could see Sonam already on the other side of the garden, hauling the shopping bags and her own rucksack over towards the front door. Dan picked up his bag and followed her over. She gestured to him silently, and he took a deep breath before knocking the old, black door three times. There was muffled bumping sounds from inside, an the door opened to let them in.