James stood before the oak tree, listening to the sniggers from Vernon and Lily.
“Having second thoughts, James? Just concede already!” Vernon’s voice croaked through the haze of terror enveloping James.
Lily tittered. Both James and Vernon competed with each other to impress the slightly older girl. Today also, they were here because of a bet.
It was Halloween. The three friends decided that they had outgrown trick or treating.
“I bet both of you that you can’t go up the treehouse on Crawford’s,” Lily challenged. James visibly paled.
Every town has a haunted house kids scare each other with. The Crawford’s property was theirs. It lay forgotten at one end of the town, after a fire had gutted the structure and killed the owners one Halloween.
They had an autistic kid, Frank, who loved to spend his time in his treehouse, cocooned between an oak tree’s branches. When the fire engulfed the main building, Frank was playing there.
Frank didn’t know what happened to his parents. He stayed inside waiting for them. His wails could be heard over the grounds but people, not knowing Frank had survived, assumed the treehouse to be haunted.
No one put a foot near the cursed place. The wails reduced to sobs, and finally stopped. It was later when the heirs turned up, that poor Frank’s skeleton was discovered. On Halloween, people swore they could still hear Frank sobbing.
“Who’s scared of harmless sobs? I’m sure even James can go up. Are you man enough, James?” Vernon neatly deflected the challenge to the youngest of the three.
James nodded, knowing he had no option. So here they were. James had gone ahead after jumping over the rickety wooden gate which was falling off its hinges.
He put a tentative foot over the rope ladder dangling from the bare branches above. Once he was sure they would support his weight, he made his way up. By the time he tackled the last step, he was sweating in spite of the cold.
“Come on! You might as well go in,” Lily’s dulcet tones encouraged him further.
He stepped inside, feeling chilled suddenly. His rapidly cooling sweat made him shiver.
The loose planks in the walls are letting in draughts.
He switched on a torch and had a quick look around in its dull golden beam.
What’s that shadow in the corner? Is it moving?!!
With a pounding heart, he fixed the fluctuating beam at the corner. A pair of amber eyes shone back. James dropped the torch. Darkness reigned inside.
A raspy voice intoned,
“I’m glad you came. I’ve been so alone.”
James screamed. On hearing it, Lily and Vernon ran towards the treehouse. Midway, they saw orange flames engulf its insides and stopped. Outlined in the window, against the red glow of the fire two boys, similar in bearing, hugged. As they watched, one of the boys turned towards them and smiled. The smile, bared over sharp canines, failed to reach his amber eyes.
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