Smoke rises from the fire pit, curling into snakes above their heads. Sounds from the black of the forest make Harry flinch and spin his head like a baby owl. He is the only boy to turn his back on the heat of the flames. Robin holds the tin close to his thigh. Their fears, written on pieces of paper in spider writing, coiled tightly inside, ready to burn, sending a spiral up to their ancestors. If a great grandfather can take the thoughts that keep them awake at night, they might sleep easy. Harry wonders how many of them have written about the accident, about how Ed had died on the tracks that night last winter as the mist descended. They all carried the belief that it had been their fault, that they had killed him.
“What if it doesn’t work?” asks Tony, rubbing his hands together.
“It has to,” says Fred. He stabs the fire so that the smoke twists and dances until it reaches a point in the sky where it vanishes.
“Did you hear that?” Robin asks. He rubs his knees, as though summoning something; a genie, or courage perhaps.
They all heard it; a voice from the point where the smoke vanishes into the darkness.
“What if it’s Ed?’ says Tony.
“Or an ancestor? Someone who is angry?” Robin is shivering but it’s not cold.
“Did we kill him?” asks Fred. “I mean I don’t know if it was our fault or his.”
“What if we all die, too, you know, as punishment?” says Tony. He does not look up.
“It was only a dare. He was meant to get up. I didn’t tie the rope to the tracks tightly. I really didn’t. He was meant to get up,” says Robin. He starts to cry, and the crying gives way to shaking. They hear a sound like thunder and a voice, but they cannot discern any words. The fire goes out.
F.C. Malby is a contributor to Unthology 8 and Hearing Voices: The Litro Anthology of New Fiction. Her debut short story collection, My Brother Was a Kangaroo includes award-winning stories, and her debut novel, Take Me to the Castle, won The People’s Book Awards. Her stories have been widely published both online.
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