Chapter 1~ Arrival
I should have been happy. But I wasn’t happy. In fact I was quietly flipping out. It had started as a hollow feeling that sometimes sneaks up on me when my gut is screaming that there’s something wrong. Then as the day had progressed, I couldn’t shake it off and it had turned into anxiety, making my heart trip out every so often and my head feel like it was floating. I glanced up at the girl driving, the back of her head towering above her driver’s seat, her electric blue and purple dreadlocks bathed in late afternoon sun light. Annabelle. Lee’s house mate and as he was forever trying to convince me, ‘just friend’. Of course, squashed up next to Lee in the back of her shiny black SUV heading out of London, I did not want to dwell on this lingering fear. Not after the previous two months of trying to persuade Mum to finally throw away the metaphorical diaper she was still trying to make me wear and the constant rows with Dad in the relentless effort to chill him the heck out. He would never realise I was no longer his little girl.
I hadn’t seen Lee in so long, and I had forgotten how excruciatingly dull my life could be when I was stuck at home and he was at Uni. I wasn’t about to let some stuck up Goth-bitch called Annabelle swipe all my joy and stuff it into her scarf laden, fringed leather death bag she carried everywhere with her. This was my time. Our time. She had already managed to plant her festering seed of poison in the once innocent, carefree bed of our relationship by constantly thinking up new ways to wind me up, knowing full well that I lived four hours away from their cosy little set-up in London and that she knew more about Lee’s every day life than I ever could. When Chloe had moved in, I saw her one night in Lee’s room, walking around in there as though she owned it. Of course, I didn’t know it was Chloe at that point, just saw red at the random girl. You see, we keep Skype on all the time so we can talk and fall asleep together. Some may say it’s vomtastic, but I would strongly disagree. That’s how I saw her in there. Chloe. Of course, I confronted Lee about the mystery girl, accusing him of infidelity and being a complete asshole. Those were the polite things. He couldn’t believe that I was having a go at him and not even giving him a chance to explain. That’s me, though. As far as I was concerned, he knew who that girl was and must have been sleeping with her to let her roam around in his room like that. Turned out it was Chloe, simply going in his room to find her glasses she had left there while they had been talking the evening before. Annabelle had told her that Lee wouldn’t mind. Annabelle knew Lee so well, obviously. She also knew that he had Skype on and that I would see her in there and freak out. There’s just one reason I do not like Annabelle. The other reason is because she is clearly in love with him. I wished she would be a bit more dignified about it and try and hide it just a little bit.
I could feel Lee’s thigh radiating delicious electric warmth through my summer jeans and I could smell his fresh ‘after’ shower skin scent which comforted me as Annabelle’s horrifying erratic driving threw him against me relentlessly in the back seat. His hand was clutching my shoulder ready to pull me into him at just the right second before he squished me against the side door. I didn’t mind his body being thrown into mine at all, but Lee being Lee didn’t want the side pockets of the SUV to break my ribs. Lost in the simultaneous revving and screeching of brakes, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers blaring out of the stereo, was Joel’s voice, cursing Annabelle and her obviously distorted sense of immortality. He was lounged out in the front passenger seat, his baggy jeans hanging down beyond his converse boots, Lennon sun glasses pushed up into his thick tussle of blonde hair, looking chilled out as usual despite yelling at Annabelle every 30 seconds. I had met Joel a few times as he was seeing Lee’s sister Lisa, and we had hung out together back home. He was a funny guy who didn’t take life too seriously and didn’t let his friends wallow in any self- pitying shit. I didn’t know whether that was through a genuine concern for the welfare of his best friends or a case of not wanting to deal with other people’s misery. I suspected the latter as Lisa had told me that Joel was a cool guy but not that great to talk to, about serious stuff. I found it weird that he wanted to be with us on this trip as the atmosphere since leaving London had been heavy to say the least. As far as I was concerned, it was all because of her and the dick fit she had had packing all our stuff. We were taking too much, and couldn’t me and Lee double up with our bags and look, the food boxes aren’t sealed properly and are gonna ruin the upholstery. She made me feel like I was intruding on their party, either looking through me or glaring at me. Nothing in between. It made me really pissed that a) she was the only one who had a car and therefore had the power to decide our destiny of death at any point before arriving at our destination, b) she was monopolizing the mood by playing one hell of a boring album over and over again on her stereo, and one which no one else liked judging by Joel’s (futile) attempts to eject it and c) she kept glancing in the front mirror, or whatever the correct name for it is, and checking out Lee. My boyfriend Lee. I tried to sneer at her but she seemed not to notice anything else going on around her. Including the fact that we were hurtling down country lanes at that point, almost overturning into ditches and hedgerows alongside us.
”Anna, my balls are on fire, man!” blurted Joel in the front seat. He then leaned right across towards her, despite the rest of us being thrown the opposite way, grabbed the steering wheel attempting to turn it, but resulting in a pile of groping hands and as Annabelle stuck her ground and revved up, lurching the SUV and almost stalling it.
”Joeeeeeeeeeeel Mackie!” she wailed and suddenly we were at a stand- still and silence pervaded. Well, except the stupid Chili Peppers singing about ‘Californication’. I bloody hate that song.
Lee started laughing and mumbled something about Joel being a dickweed. Joel ejected the CD and launched it behind him. It hit Simon on the side of the head and he cursed before winding the window right down and hurling it out into the field. ”At least it settled in a final location!” He mocked the Californication lyrics as it arched into the corn field haze, one last glint on its shiny edge before it disappeared forever.
”You’re both twats,” Annabelle ranted. ”Joel, get out and Simon… you owe me a CD. Unless you feel like going and fetching it?” She twisted round in her seat and glared at Simon, her dark eyes wide with determination, her purple mascara catching the sunlight, making her look demonic. Maybe she was. I was certainly starting to think so.
Joel remained seated, laughing. He was doing one of those silent laughs that you can’t hear but his shoulders were shaking and occasionally he snorted, unable to contain it. Simon sat back and stared up at the roof , biting the skin around his fingers defiantly. He hadn’t spoken at all during the journey or this morning. All I had seen was the back of his head as he stared out of the window and his skinny frame curled up against the door. He was wearing a dirty white t-shirt with The Sisters of Mercy written across the back, tour dates listed down his back on a gothic church window background. I had caught glimpses of his profile as he sat there and smoked, occasionally sighing and nodding unconvincingly when Lee had asked him if he was ok. He had recently been in quite a serious car accident and was still nervous of travelling.
Annabelle made us all jolt by bringing her bracelet clad fist down on the beeper and pushing Joel by his shoulder so hard that he thumped against the side door and a hollow sound of his head contacting glass was heard. Lee was snorting with laughter by then and I couldn’t help it either. Annabelle looked at us through the mirror and glared right at me. Lee didn’t notice, he was leaning over to Simon and trying to flick his ear. Simon put his hand up and told Lee where to go in a ‘making love’ kind of way. He looked at me and smiled, then turned away and resumed his foetal position. Lee winked at me and Annabelle started the engine.
No one spoke for ages. Annabelle drove, slightly slower than before, while Lee kept whispering in my ear and telling me stuff about his friends, like how Simon was always serious and a touch morbid and that Annabelle and him (Simon) had a love-hate relationship. Today they were all about the hate, clearly.
Joel started rustling around in his backpack that was down by his feet, throwing out all sorts of crap before he found what he was looking for. Grinning mischievously he held up a torturous lime green CD case and triumphantly started flicking through it.
”So what’ll it be, my Indie dudes?’ he waggled the open case and the CD compartments flopped around. ”Oooo the choice…could it be, The Inspiral Carpets? The Stone Roses? Happy Mondays? Oh please say yes to Dinosaur Jnr! Or maybe you’all prefer something a little more quirky…….The Charlatans!”
Simon tutted, stuck his forefingers in his ears and shouted ”Jesus no. Quirky, my ass!” and Lee whispered to me, ”90s Indie every time. Just humour him.”
Annabelle rudely gestured him one of her black nail-polished fingers as he inserted a CD in the player. Joel’s head started bopping as the first track began and he sang along:
A girl consumed by fire
We all know her desire
From the plans that she has made
I have her on a promise
Immerse me in your splendour
All the plans that i have made. YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEH!!! *
We trundled deeper into the countryside, the sun making its descent down, tickling the tips of the trees and casting shadows across the fields. Birds flocked and dispersed off in different directions like flecks of black ink spreading across ancient yellowing paper. Peace seemed to settle around us as we all sat in silence, Annabelle sitting statue-like at the wheel, sucking on a very thin roll-up that wafted into my nasal passage almost like it was seeking me out to torture me. The setting sun was spilling an orange glow through the driver’s window, catching the metallic engravings in her bracelets which glowed like tiny lasers. Joel had his knees hooked up on the dashboard, slumped down in the deep passenger seat, a light hum escaping his lips as his blonde mop of bedraggled hair nodded in time to the music. Simon’s face was still turned away, his skinny frame pressed against the door, his cheek resting on his bony knee that was exposed through ripped grey jeans. He was smoking, the aroma that sneaked in through the slightly open window joined Annabelle’s haze, giving me crazy cravings.
Lee didn’t like that I smoked, but he knew he couldn’t stop me. He worried about my health. That was Lee, though, worrying about everyone. I looked up at him and smiled. His shoulder length black hair was tucked behind his ears so I could see his whole face. I had never seen such a handsome guy. But it wasn’t just his slightly slanted brown eyes and freckles that danced on his skin. It wasn’t only his straight nose that led me to stare longingly at his full lips that he had an endearing habit of pressing together and then pouting out when he was in deep thought. It was as if his kindness and compassion for the human race and all living creatures exuded forth and his whole being could be read through his features. I didn’t know where this divinity came from and I often found myself in awe of how he could happily and without a single thought, put everyone else’s needs before his own. I couldn’t. I often wondered whether that’s why fate had thrown us together in our bordering-on obsession with each other. He didn’t have a bad bone fragment in his body. I was his darker half.
I couldn’t wait to get there and have a drink and a cigarette, even though I was thoroughly enjoying my close proximity to Lee as we hurtled further and further into rural remoteness, closer and closer to the abandoned building.
”What time does Chlo finish work?” Lee asked no-one in particular. Simon shrugged his shoulders and Joel twisted round, grinning and then sticking his bottom lip out at me. I had to laugh just because his reaction was totally bizarre. Annabelle stirred out of her comatose state and lighting another cigarette said,
”9:30. I’m going to fetch her from the boutique. You coming with me, or…?”
Rather than wonder what Chloe was doing at work until that late, my mind went straight to that last sentence. You coming with me or……..what was she on? I felt myself stiffen and I squeezed Lee’s hand a bit too tight. He flinched and I felt terrible, almost as if my inflicting a nano second of pain on him would make him leave with her later after all. Her dark eyes were fixed on him through that mirror and she waited.
”Not. He’s not actually.”
Had I said that out loud? I side-glanced at Lee and deduced that yes, I had. He was looking at me sideways as well, a slight smirk up- turning his lip, but not wanting to smile too widely as he wasn’t sure how Annabelle was about to react. He kept looking at her and back to me as if waiting to see who would strike the next blow.
Black eyes right on me. I thought she was going to stop the car and get out to deck me, such a glare she propelled out of her banshee eyes towards me. My heart was pumping but I was enjoying it. I’ve never been scared of confrontation. I actually enjoy putting people in their place.
Simon coughed and I heard him light another cigarette.
I could have said a lot of things right then, and none of them kind, but instead I bit my lip and fought the urge to get into a passionate blue with her. She deserved it and I wouldn’t normally have let anyone who made me feel like shit get away with it, but Lee was there beside me and I didn’t want to drown him in a pool of crap in the middle of us bitching. I was on to her though and she knew it. She glanced at me in the mirror, glared and looked away, a smug smirk somehow making her eyes look even more manic. She was actually very striking but because of her constant grimacing, her face never actually looked beautiful.
Her driving got more aggressive I’m sure of it. She wrestled with the gears for a second and said something derogatory under her breath before almost shouting, ”Lee? Are you coming with me or not?”
”Anna…..” I sensed he felt awkward as his voice was tense and unnatural. ”Let me stay here and sort out the stuff. I can’t just leave Case on the first evening.”
Relief. Lee pulled me closer to him and I melted in. He kissed me tenderly on the forehead and rested his chin on the top of my head. I think he was staring outside at the darkening sky, trying to avoid looking in the mirror and catching her eye.
‘’Well, someone has to. I’m not a frickin’ taxi service, you know.’’
No one spoke again. Joel kept having weird outbursts of lyric crazy which I think he did to antagonize Annabelle because he would go in with a loud death metal-like roar, leaning over to almost touch her cheek with his nose before letting rip. Death metal vocals did not go at all with the droning of this indie music, whatever it was, but I enjoyed watching her seethe. Her fingers were tap, tap, tapping on the steering wheel and I could feel her disdain.
”Jo, why don’t you just play some death metal instead of trying to transform this utter shite you always listen to?” Simon piped up. ”First it was the worm that lives up Mike Patton’s arse ‘entertaining’ us with his bollocks about California, and now it’s the eternal stoners whining about the fact that they have destroyed all their brain cells. Put some decent shit on or shut it the fuck down, please.”
‘Who’s Mike Patton when he’s at home?’ asked Joel casually, he obviously had no intention of changing the CD.
‘The lead singer of Faith No More. Only the best vocalist in the history of vocalists. ‘ said Simon, suddenly becoming more animated. ‘But I don’t suppose for a single fucking second that you would know what good vocals sound like, so…’
I had no idea what Simon had just said, but I agreed with the main point. The music had been utter crap on this journey. I was glad I had brought my MP3 and Dock. I made a mental note to listen to some Faith No More as well to see what Simon’s fuss was about. If he liked The Sisters of Mercy then his taste in music was good enough for me.
It reeked of cigarettes, anger and bitterness in that car as we slowed down to approach the entrance of the building. The dirt track had so far been lined with trees, hiding their inner world within the cloak of the dusk clouds. Simon must have realised where he was and suddenly sat up and directed Annabelle through the open gate, gravel chattering as it flew into the mud guards of the SUV. We crawled down a narrower track and soon a dark shape could be seen in the distance. It was a huge building.
Annabelle drove slowly for a minute or so and then parked up and stopped the engine. We all piled out into the cool darkness, our shoes scratching on the gravel as we looked around blindly, trying to see something, anything. She was there, towering above me, what was she, 6ft? She leaned on the roof of the SUV her arms crossed and chin on her hands, staring out into the distant dark.
‘’Anna are you ok?’’ Lee asked gently. She turned her head and smiled. It was so fake.
‘’Yep. Just tired. Shall we just go in?’’
Lee nodded and touched her shoulder trying to reassure her I guess.
”Where’s the torch, Jo?” Simon asked as he turned and opened the door again, rummaging around on the floor of the car, getting more and more irritated. ”You did put it in didn’t you?”
Joel’s round face was just visible and he looked at Simon alarmed. We all looked at Joel, or what little we could discern of his face as he stood there. Suddenly, a blinding light shot across our faces and Joel giggled, making the beam dance all around us, darting onto Annabelle’s blue dreadlocks, Lee’s freckled nose and then onto Simon’s scowling face.
”Give it here you asswipe,” Simon said as he swiped it out of Joel’s hand. ”You are such a tool. Can’t you just do something without being a peenars?’
Lee sniggered and cuddled me in the dark. Annabelle had already started walking so Simon shone the torchlight straight ahead of us. As we approached the front door, Simon directed the beam upwards and across, giving us a panorama of the building that we would be spending the next week in. To describe it as awesome would not have done it justice. I stared up at it, its Victorian splendour towering over us.
”Welcome to Crowbray School for Girls,” whispered Simon, slowly swiping the torchlight across the arched windows. ”One of the most haunted buildings in rural Essex.”
I felt literally sick with excitement when Simon said ‘haunted’. Lee hadn’t told me much about this little venture, only that he was doing Simon a favour and that I would love it, sleeping in a massive old derelict mansion for a week or two. Too right I would love it. I think ‘love it’ is an understatement.
I have always been fascinated by the abandoned, tumbling down and forgotten. Even more so, the paranormal. You know ghosts, spirits and everything supernatural. Maybe it’s how I feel about myself. Being an only child I have always felt unloved and misunderstood, as if I should be something majestic and strong like a house is for people, but I can’t be because my foundations are all cracked and likely to snap if walked over. Lee says that’s why I seem aloof. It’s self -protection. Maybe I am also protecting other people from falling through my floor and lying broken and left for dead in the depths of my cold interior.
I still live with my parents in a remote hamlet in the middle of nowhere. There’s really only me and Chester, my Labrador for company most of the time as Mum and Dad are never home. Dad is the only Doctor for miles around and Mum feels obliged, as a model ‘wifey’, to trail along behind him like a lost puppy working in his surgery and generally wiping his ass for him. Lee says they are great parents, but he only sees them at their best, when he’s home for holidays and they run around like headless chickens trying to make everything right for us. If only they knew. They have no idea that we are together and I think it’s safe to say, would have triple aneurysms each if they found out that Lee sleeps up in my attic room bed with me most nights he’s back in Lincolnshire. I’m 18 for crying out loud.
The worst thing about all this is that they have got it into their dumb ass heads that Lee is with Annabelle. Yes. My best bud, Stella, thinks it’s the best way, but I think it’s horrendous. At least it gets them off my back I suppose. That started because Lee brought her to his house one Christmas because she had problems and couldn’t stay home. She stuck to him like a river leach and it made me want to hurl in her face and box her ears. Not in that order. But of course I didn’t because I needed to prove to Lee that I’m as mature as his friends and that I can take it. To be honest I don’t think he even realised how she was behaving or that I was freaking out. And what do you know, he hasn’t got the faintest notion that Annabelle is acutely and obsessively in love with him. I can see it all and that’s why I’ve still got this sinking feeling in my gut right now. I had it this morning when Annabelle was packing her SUV with all our sleeping bags and food supplies. It was the way she scowled at me and hurled my stuff into the back. It was the way she carefully placed Lee’s bags. Lovingly.
We approached the big thick wooden door of Crowbray School for Girls. Simon couldn’t get the locks open for ages and was cursing it out, but Lee managed to do it somehow. We then trudged back to the car and took all our things into the old place. It took several trips but Lee insisted that he carry all the heavy gear. Simon didn’t bother to get anything, he just waltzed in with the torch and disappeared leaving us in near pitch dark outside to grope around blindly. Lee’s torch was in one of the bags but we couldn’t see to get it out! Annabelle shouted him back but he mumbled something about leaving his stuff for him to bring in because he had all his filming equipment as well. Lee brought it all in though, which left me standing inside the grand entrance, trying to focus, bumping into things to get round to where Annabelle and Simon’s voices were coming from. I couldn’t see much, just breathed in the aroma of derelict that I had grown to like, the earthy mouldy stench that hangs in the air, reminding you that Nature is coming to slowly engulf the bricks and mortar and ease it to the ground. When I reached the room they were standing in the centre surrounded by dull grey light. As I crept inside, it just opened out before me like a giant majestic flower. Simon was running his torch across the walls and up at the ceiling, saying ‘Wow’ over and over again. Annabelle was standing there, hands on hips, black clothes almost camouflaging her completely. I could hear her bracelets clanking when she moved her hands to point to something, telling Simon to point the torch up there and over here.
The walls were at least twenty foot high, with what looked to be shiny silver wallpaper that was hanging off like limp skin in various places around the room. Simon pointed the torch to the front to show me the windows. It was fully dark outside but I could make out the faint shine on the glass and the bright torch light reflecting back in and as I looked up I realised the window were ceiling to floor, with thick, lush velvet curtains cascading down and spilling across the carpet. Some were tied back, but some had been forgotten, standing as still as time. There was a soft hint of a lavender smell which seemed vaguely familiar to me somehow. As I approached the others, it wafted away as Annabelle’s scent hit me. A heady combination of cigarette smoke, Patchouli oil and honey. I hate Patchouli.
Lee came up behind me and scared the crap out of me, grabbing my waist and lifting me slightly. He is way taller than me so he can do these annoying things easily. I yelped like a moron, but he squeezed me from behind, his long arms wrapped around me and kissed my head. He can also rest his chin on my head, which he does a lot. Annabelle turned away and Simon carried on with his torch, shining it around and then directly into our faces. I laughed.
‘Si, is there electricity?’ Lee asked, snuggling into me. I felt warmer and instantly safe. I hated being on my own with Annabelle and Simon because I didn’t know them. I always feel awkward when I meet new people, but with Lee’s friends it’s triple weird. It’s too much pressure to be liked.
‘Well, there are renovations being done at the side of the building, so the owner said there’ll be electric in the kitchen. The construction guys have to use the kettle and stuff. But I don’t think the rest of this place has been hooked up to the grid for about 20 years or so. Why, are you freeeeeeeeeaked?’
Simon put the torch under his chin and pulled a long face. I could see veins and bones I’m sure. He smiled for the first time ever. I hadn’t really looked at Simon’s face much as his black hair was always swept over his eyes, but I saw now that he was really good looking. He had lovely deep green eyes and full lips, with a ring through the bottom one and a stud just shining out below the lip. What I liked most was that he was wearing a little bit of black eye liner. Lee wouldn’t be able to pull that shit off in a million years, even though he had offered plenty to experiment for me. Lee had no piercings, no tattoos, nothing. I wondered where Simon’s tats were, cos he was sure to have some.
Lee laughed, which snapped me back into reality. That’s when we noticed what was illuminated above Simon. I just saw the outline of it and grabbed his arm, directing the torch so it shone right up the middle of it. It was an ornate, beautiful crystal chandelier, but not your average over –the- top- one. This was three tiered with hundreds of black spirals and cream crystals cascading down like a fountain. It was falling from a height so tall that the torch light just faded out before it reached the ceiling.
”Can I fit that in my bag?” Annabelle joked. Simon laughed and I couldn’t help but feel the wrath. What was found in abandoned places, stayed in abandoned places. That was the first rule of URBEX: ”take only pictures, leave only footprints…”
”That’s really disrespectful of the URBEX culture.” I stated. Simon looked at me, puzzled. Annabelle looked down at me and shrugged her shoulders.
”Of the what culture?” she mocked, smiling slyly as if to say, you are talking shit girl.
”URBEX. Urban Exploration.” I explained, standing my ground. ”There are thousands of communities all over the world. It’s about respecting old places, you know. These things belong in history and belonged to someone once. That’s all. Rant over.”
I had just wanted to make a point. Get one over on her.
Annabelle sighed and turned away.
‘Where’s Jo, anyway’? She suddenly asked, staring intently at Lee, puzzled, totally negating my conversation.
‘I have no idea. Maybe he’s gone to check the kitchen out. He had some boxes of beers the last time I saw him and I told him where it was.’ Lee said, grabbing my hand. ‘Come on let’s go check the place out and get our things sorted.’
Lee led the way to the kitchen. He said he had found it easily. It was along a dark corridor to the left of the entrance and was bathed in bright light. We filed in and stood there taking in the gigantic oak wooden table that stretched the whole length of the room with its worn down, warped benches. I was about to say ‘The kitchen out of The Shining,’ but Simon beat me to it. Ok, it wasn’t as big as that, but it was a similar vibe with lots of metallic cupboards running around the outside with islands in the middle, obviously having been used for preparing a multitude of foods.
It was spotlessly clean. I had expected us to have to scrub the place down before we prepared food, but clearly it had been done recently. I wouldn’t have liked to have tackled that vastness of work surface anyway. All the boxes of food, sleeping bags (Lee’s double one which I couldn’t wait to snuggle with him in) and alcohol were stacked up, mostly precariously, and Lee ran forward and caught a crate of Heineken before it decided to take a nose dive.
‘I love this kitchen!’ Annabelle declared, walking around the table and inspecting the wall units around the edge. ‘How comes it’s so sparkling clean?’
‘Because………..I just cleaned it,’ smirked Joel, throwing a filthy looking cloth at her. She recoiled, letting out a yelp as she brushed it onto the floor.
‘That’s gross.’ She said screwing her face up. ‘Anyway you never clean anything, you turd.’
We all sat round the table, pushing our supplies down to the end to make room. There were boxes stacked up on the floor too. The one nearest me had some weird stuff inside like organic beetroot soup, couscous, weirdly shaped phallic vegetables and bananas. Who the hell ate that stuff I didn’t know. Mine and Lee’s box was full of dried vegetarian soya, pasta, jars of tomato and basil sauce, chilli and curry powders. We had plenty of fruit and veggies but they were already in the fridge because my thoughtful boyfriend said he had sorted those out.
I was opposite Joel who had taken a bottle of red wine out of a box on the floor under the table. He grinned at me and winked. I tried to see Lee’s reaction in my peripheral vision, but couldn’t. Annabelle was smiling at Lee and I looked at her, smiled back at her and nudged my head into Lee’s chest.
Simon produced a bottle of Guiness and plonked it down hard on the table. He sat down, opened it and took a very long gulp, gasping as he lowered it back down with a thud.
‘Oh sweet Jesus I needed that!’ he exclaimed and threw his head back stretching his skinny arms up in the air and punching something invisible with his fists.
‘Wine glasses for Christ’s sake!’ shouted Joel, clamping his hands around his head in desperation. ‘Oh Ball sacks!’
Lee stood up.
‘Calm down, you drama queen, I’ll find some.’ He laughed, ‘ I’m pretty sure this place has been used lately. Those work men seem to be a dab hand at cleaning so let’s see….how many do we need?’
I decided on wine and Annabelle did too. Lee found four glasses and washed them out. There were even dish cloths in the drawers so he wiped them around too. Everyone was just sat there watching him. I knew someone was going to pipe up. It was Simon.
‘Dez. You absolute fucking girl. Come here and let me ravish you, I love it when you get all domesticated on me.’
Lee grinned and flicked a finger at Simon.
‘That’s something you should know about Casey, my darling.’ Laughed Joel. ‘Dez and Si have got a proper little bromance going on. Thought you should know because these gay boys won’t bother telling you at all soon.’
I looked up at Lee who was standing at the table in the process of giving out the glasses. He puckered up at Si and Si stuck his tongue out and waggled it around, pretending to twiddle his nipples. Everyone laughed. It was funny.
‘So, when were you planning on telling me about this?’ I asked Lee, pouring myself a full glass of wine from the bottle that Joel had offered me across the table.
‘Well, after we get married and have lots of babies I guess,’ Lee said sitting down next to me and hugging me. ‘You don’t mind do you?’
I laughed and shook my head. The next thing I knew, Lee’s lips were on mine and he was kissing me passionately. And he hadn’t even had a drink yet. I heard someone go ‘Get a room, there must be hundreds to choose from.’ and when we came up for air, Simon and Joel were sat there, bottle and glass in hand, toasting us.
Annabelle wasn’t in the kitchen with us.
Lee scanned the corners of the kitchen. She wasn’t there. Simon shrugged his shoulders and Joel was lost in swigging a huge mouthful of wine.
‘We were too busy enjoying ourselves watching you two,’ admitted Simon. ‘I didn’t see her leave. Maybe she just went to the lav. I’m sure she’s fine, man.’
Joel’s face was red. He was grinning insanely.
‘Good wine eh, Case?’ he thrust his glass towards me. I was just about to chink it when he pulled it away and necked the lot, reaching for the bottle. ‘Hey, Dez, where’s your drink you pussy willow?’
Lee’s not a big drinker. It’s something I could never understand about him. Drinking is good and relaxing. I don’t know what I’d do without my Dad’s wine cellar. I have seen him tipsy but never drunk, even on New Year’s Eves back home when he’s had house parties, he’s the one who’s holding girls’ hair back while they hurl into the back of the toilet bowls. He has told me, and he said he would only ever tell me once, that drinking is bad and smoking is bad, but he would never forbid me from doing those things. He just had to put it out there. He doesn’t like me drunk and he hates the smell of my baccy-breath. Oh shit. I needed a cigarette.
I really needed a smoke. I noticed that Simon hadn’t smoked since we’d been in the kitchen. I was dying to ask him why but I was unsure of what Lee would say. Joel would only be smoking when he’d had a lot more to drink, and had a secret stash that he claimed he only dipped into when drinking. That made him a smoker too because Joel was always at the bottle.
‘Casey love.’ Joel was sipping his next glass of wine. ‘First off, tell Dez that he needs to get some drink down him and get this spook-fest party started. Secondly, do you want a fag as much as I do right now?’
I could’ve kissed him.
I stood up, feeling a little bit warm around the cheeks and not really bothered what ‘Dez’ would say. That was something I needed to rectify.
‘Why the fuck do they call you Dez, anyway?’ I said. My voice sounded echoey around the kitchen suddenly.
Simon started laughing.
‘Oh, sweetheart.’ (looking at Lee) ‘Haven’t you told her?’
Lee shook his head and poured himself some wine. Smiling at me, resigned.
‘Oh, well, you see Simon, darling, I don’t actually know why. You never told me, did you?’
Simon started laughing, his shiny black hair dropping over his eyes again. He pushed it aside and I saw his gorgeous green eyes sparkling. My heart skipped. It was the wine, definitely the wine.
He pointed at Joel who was doing that silent laughter thing again.
‘Jo. Over to you.’
Joel couldn’t talk. I was standing there above them like a dork, waiting for some bizarre answer to a question I had actually forgotten. I looked at him and started laughing. He looked at me and his shoulders started shaking even more, his eyes disappeared as his hilarity caved his face right in. Lee started laughing and Simon was pointing, his mouth open, laughter being sucked in and out again.
‘Ok.’ I managed to say. ‘I’m going to have a cigarette. Where can we smoke?’
Simon stood up and walked around the table towards me, taking his tobacco out of his pocket at the same time.
‘We’re not allowed to smoke inside here.’ He was still on the edge of laughing. ‘Apparently there are some potentially flammable materials in the building and so it’s out in the cold night air for us. I was putting it off, but you’ve twisted my arm Case. Let’s go. Joel? Dez?’
He was laughing again as I followed him outside. I couldn’t help it, forgive me. I was looking at his ripped jeans and how they fitted him perfectly, the black t-shirt he was wearing with The Smiths written across the back, his scent which was of a musky spice. I was window shopping with no intent to buy.
We all congregated, Dez included, outside in the cold summer air. British summers are never warm enough to stand outside in t-shirts, but we had alcohol in our blood so it didn’t seem as bad. Lee cuddled me again and I felt warm and nice. My roll-up was heavenly and I felt chilled out, happy.
They told me why Lee was called Dez. Apparently it’s an ‘Urban Slang’ thing of Joel’s. He actually reads this dictionary on line and uses this slang. ‘Derek’ is a boy or guy who is very attractive to the opposite sex! I wanted to know how my Lee had got that name, under what circumstances, but I was afraid to ask to be honest. I know all about Lee’s exes and wanted to keep that convo between us.
Joel was hilarious, telling us about this girl in his class who had been writing him love letters in code that he couldn’t decipher, and didn’t want to. He had been replying just using random symbols that she used all jumbled up, not knowing what the hell they meant but she clearly did know because she was continuing with the saga. Lee was like, be careful, you could hurt her, but Joel was too busy taking the piss to listen. I must admit it was funny.
Suddenly, there were car headlights right in our faces. Joel started screaming, ‘Oh shit my bastard eyes, my mubberflucking eyes!’ and we just shielded ourselves with our arms.
Car doors swung open. A girl’s voice that I didn’t know shouted out,
‘Hey guys! How are you all? Are you settled in?’
‘Hey there Chlo!’ shouted Simon and Joel. Joel’s voice sounding a little more shrill and sarcastic.
Lee said, ‘Oh crap, that’s where Anna went, to pick her up. I totally forgot.’
Chloe was one of those smiley people, the ones who just have that amazing glow about them. They exude it without even trying. She floated up to us and hugged the three guys, hanging on a bit longer to Lee. Oh sorry, Dez the girl magnet. I hoped this wasn’t going to be another one of his friends to freak myself out over. One Annabitch was plenty, thanks for the offer.
I had met her before, when I spent a weekend in London, but she had subtly persuaded Annabelle to stay home with her and watch DVDs the night we hit the town. I think she knew I was stressing about the situation. She must have been very sensitive to have felt my vibe and sussed it out. I made a pact with myself to try my hardest to be nice to Chloe.
She was suddenly hugging me, which made me stiffen. I am not used to that kind of affection with strangers. Lee is different of course, I am sickeningly close to him in every way and I would crawl inside him if I could. She smelt sweet like daisies and vanilla. She said hi to me in my ear and when she stood back to look at me she was still holding my shoulders and smiling.
‘It’s so nice to meet you properly. I’ve been looking forward to the meeting the girl who has stolen mon ami’s heart away. You’ve no idea what a mush head he’s turned into.’
Chloe was pretty. I was almost jealous as she wore no makeup at all, yet looked amazing. Her pale green almond eyes shone and she had flawless olive skin with a pink featherlike tinge. Her hair was mousy blonde and straight, down to her waist and she had plaited the sides, which framed her face. She was like a medieval princess. Her lace shawl fell off her shoulder and revealed her white blouse, one of those that you find in ethnic shops in Camden Market. She pulled it back and shuddered, the evening air chilling her skinny frame.
‘Let’s go in,’ said Lee. ‘Are you guys staying out here for another one?’
I said no but Simon and Joel nodded, Annabelle joining them with her already lit cigarette.
We went inside, Lee turning left to the kitchen and the bright light. Chloe looked around and sat down at the table, taking it all in. Lee asked her if she was ok.
‘This is an amazing place,’ she said, gazing around. ‘It’s got a real history, hasn’t it? Has Si found out anything about it, I mean I need to know what I’m up against.’
I looked at Lee, puzzled. We sat down and Lee put his hand over hers across the table.
‘Chlo, it’s ok,’ he said ‘Whatever happens, I’ll be here for you. If it gets too much I’m sure Belle will take you back. Really though, you are usually fine after a few days. Remember when you moved into our house? You felt overwhelmed for a day or two and then you got used to it.’
Chloe smiled and nodded. She turned to me and looked right into my eyes, like she was delving into my soul.
‘Casey, I don’t know you at all yet, but Lee tells me you are into Wicca, is that right?’
‘Yes…but I don’t really practice it as much as I should I guess.’ I felt a bit ashamed as if I was being judged by a supreme Goddess.
‘That’s ok, neither do I. Life gets in the way, doesn’t it?’ she was still smiling. Like an angel in fact.
‘Chloe’s a HSP. That means Highly Sensitive Person,’ said Lee, sounding not at all as if he was speaking in a foreign language to me. That’s how it felt, maybe because I was still a bit squiffy from the wine.
‘Yes. Basically I find it hard to function around people because I absorb all their energy, whether it’s joyful or sad or whatever. This means I have to spend a lot of time on my own. It drains me completely and I’m prone to depression unless I control how I deal with it all. I am always meditating and trying to find ways of protecting myself. Also, the reason Lee is reassuring me is that I am sensitive to spirit activity. I can feel them all around me and they often seek me out. I know it sounds crazy and slightly fucked up, but it is what it is. Nuts, right?’
‘So, is that why you’re drawn to Wicca?’ I asked, fascinated and insanely jealous. ‘I mean, if you are sensitive and empathic, your connection with the Earth must be strong too.’
Chloe looked at Lee and back at me again. ‘Oh mon dieu!’ She grinned widely. ‘Lee, give me a beer. I think I’ve found a kindred spirit!’
I asked Chloe heaps of questions and we talked about Wicca and Paganism, She noticed that I was wearing my Pentagram and she showed me hers. She had one but hers was a Triquetra, like a silver knot that represented the Goddess, which I also had at home. We discussed a lot of themes around Paganism and Witchcraft and what we practice. Chloe had got a set of Runes from her Grandmother that she used to guide her and also she told me extensively about Candle magic and Herbology. I made her promise to show me and teach me all she knew. Her mother, who was French, used to be a member of a Coven in France before she moved to England, which fascinated me as well. I had wondered why she kept slipping French into everything she said. I thought she was being pretentious but it turned out that French was in fact her mother tongue, so I let her off.
Lee was sitting there listening and cuddling me. He kept topping up my wine glass and Chloe was on her third beer when the others trouped in.
‘You guys have been ages out there.’ Lee said, ‘Did you explore the grounds?’
‘Nope, we just spent the last hour smoking our guts out and slagging y’all off,’ laughed Joel and plopped down next to Chloe. Annabelle perched next to Lee on his other side and I instinctively looked under the bench to make sure she hadn’t got her jangly hands on Lee’s leg or anything. I felt distinctly drunk and in need of another cigarette.
Simon came and sat next to me and I felt my body tingle. I was trapped between two highly sexy guys. Chloe was smiling at me (for a change) and I think she sensed how I felt. She winked. Don’t ask me how I knew that, but I just did somehow. Then more bottles of beer were being opened and cork screws in wine bottles popping. Chloe asked where the toilets were and I realised I hadn’t been since we got there.
‘We used the hedge,’ said Simon, raising his eyebrows at Chloe. ‘But I think I saw a wash room next to the chandelier room. Do you want me to show you?’
They both went to the door and I jumped up. Chloe let Simon go first and grabbed my hand. An hour before that would have really freaked me out, but I felt nice. Chloe was nice. I don’t usually ever like people who are nice.
I didn’t ever lust after androgynous emo guys either, but I had started that tonight too. I blame it on the wine. Damn those fermented grapes.
Chloe was really gripping my hand. I wanted to be like Lee and do the reassurance thing, but that wasn’t in my repertoire. I kept remembering what she had told me about her being able to sense and see spirits and I thought, Jesus, the girl must be fighting them off in here right now. It was dark, pitch dark. I could sense we were in the hallway and the grand staircase was at the side of us. Suddenly, Simon broke the silence.
‘Bollocks, I left the torch.’
‘It doesn’t matter, Si.’ Chloe whispered. ‘Just keep walking. I can see a doorway straight ahead. That must be that huge room with the chandelier. It’s ok, I- Oh my God!’
Chloe was pointing straight out in front of her. I followed her finger, but all I could see was darkness.
‘Chlo, what it is?’ asked Si, ‘Don’t make us shit ourselves!’
‘I saw a figure standing there. It was like a woman. Just there, staring at us. Then she turned and walked down there.’
Chloe pointed at 11 o’clock. I couldn’t see anything.
‘Shall we go back?’ I asked, not knowing how to deal with this. I was freaking out but didn’t want to go batshit crazy. Once I went, I really went and didn’t want to look like a complete squealer on the first night.
‘No, it’s ok guys. Let’s just go. It’s fine now. Nothing there.’
We all walked together, I suddenly needed to pee more than ever. Simon went in front and Chloe and I locked arms. We found a door just down from the Chandelier room and Simon pushed the door that creaked loudly as it opened on its tired hinges. I saw a row of toilet cubicles and made a dash for it, my bladder ready to burst. It stank a bit but I didn’t care at that point. Chloe went in the next cubicle and asked if I was ok. I started laughing and she did too. Simon’s mocking voice echoed in the darkness.
‘I’ll just be waiting here then.’
We were trying to wash our hands in the dark, when we heard voices outside the door. The others were there. I immediately felt lighter as if they had broken a dark spell, and Chloe and I joined them. They had piles of sleeping bags and blankets in their arms and suggested camping down in the chandelier room for the night. It had a carpet at least. I took hold of the pile that Lee had and he went to get more stuff. We bumped into each other as we walked, the mountain of bedding blocking my vision. Simon’s torch beam helped us drop the stuff near some sofas which seemed as good a place as any. I had hoped me and Lee could have found a room of our own, but realistically I was exhausted and had drunk too much. I needed to lie down.
Lee came back with his torch and some drinks just in case anyone wanted more and some water. I certainly did. It was weird but cool as we all tried to arrange our bedding so we didn’t have smelly feet near anyone’s face or too cramped up that we could elbow someone in the eyeball during the night. It was almost midnight. We were all absolutely bushed.
‘Is everyone here?’ whispered Simon. I couldn’t tell where he was in relation to us, but not next to us, that I knew and was glad of. There was a chorus of dull mumbles and groans as we all settled down. Our sleeping bag was just right, not too tight but tight enough that I could feel all of Lee’s body entwined with mine. His arms were round me and I just let out a sigh of contentment as my head found his chest and I started to float off. It was so quiet all of a sudden. The building was silent and there was no outside noise. We were out in the sticks, completely isolated.
‘Did you lock the front door, Si?’ Annabelle asked, her voice sounding hollow in the vast room. I snapped back into consciousness as I realised she was near us. I extended my foot out to my side. No one there. I knew Chloe was near me but she had her space near the long sofa as she explained she needed. I reached my arm across to Lee’s side and felt something soft. ‘Ouch.’ Annabelle laughed, clearly thinking Lee had touched her.
I lay there in the dark, annoyed, listening to Lee breathing. He was asleep, but he kept pressing his lips into my hair as if to reassure himself that I was there. I don’t know how long I was awake, but there was shuffling and turning going on in Annabelle’s sleeping bag and she obviously couldn’t sleep. Then an arm flopped onto me, causing Lee to stir. She was trying to hug him!
I wanted to get up and move away from her, but it was hard to find the zip. Lee woke up.
‘Case, what’s up babes?’ he mumbled.
‘I’m trying to get out,’ I said. ‘I need to move!’
Shuffling around the room, I was waking the others up.
We managed to climb out and Lee kept asking me what was wrong. Then, Annabelle spoke.
‘Where are you going, Lee? Please don’t go. Stay here, please stay.’
I couldn’t see his reaction, but I felt him bend down next to her.
‘Why? The others are all in here. Come on Belle, try and get some sleep. Me and Case are going to find somewhere else to sleep. I’ll talk to you in the morning.’
He picked up our sleeping bag and water bottles and whispered for me to follow him. We tiptoed out of the chandelier room and it was freezing cold in the hall. He told me to shield my eyes and clicked the torch on. It was on feint beam so it didn’t blind us. He walked ahead of me, our bare feet smacking against the marble floors. We trudged past the washroom, Lee looking for doors on either side leading to rooms that might be carpeted so we could kip down in peace. The doors were all locked. By the time we got to the end of that corridor, our eyes had grown more accustomed to the dark. That was when we saw the outdoor corridor beyond a glass door. The moon seemed to be bathing the glass panelling in its glow, inviting us to walk down it. Lee grabbed my hand and pushed the glass door. It opened out and we were bathed in the moonlight. There was another smaller building attached at the end, so I nudged him to walk on, feeling awake now and up for exploring. The glass on each side seemed to be straining to keep the overgrown foliage and bushes from breaking in. It was like an underwater aquarium, but in a forest. I could hear the distant hoot of an owl. It was eerily beautiful.
‘Let’s sleep in here.’ I whispered and Lee turned and smiled at me. That divine smile that radiates love that I have never seen in anyone else.
‘Maybe another night. I need somewhere soft tonight.’
We kept walking, marvelling at the view that sometimes exposed itself in random areas where foliage wasn’t as dense. The grounds surrounding the mansion were awesome, clearly overgrown and hiding secrets that I promised myself I would reveal.
At the end of the corridor was another identical door with glass panelling. It opened easily and straight in front of us was a steep stone staircase. Lee made sure I was ok to go up and we went, spiralling up and round until we got to a dark landing. Directly to our left was a room that seemed to be light. Lee bent his head round the doorframe and beckoned me in. It was an awesome room. It had an old rug on the floor, and the whole of the front of it was a huge patio door that stood open proudly, letting the moonlight shine in. The walls were a lovely matted green with an old fashioned sink on the left, surrounded by a pastel blue that had started peeling. Beyond the patio door was a wrought iron balcony with art nouveau style swirls and buds blossoming within its frame.
‘let’s sleep here.’ Lee said, peering out into the view of the gardens. ‘This is awesome.’
We set up the sleeping bag and snuggled down, making sure our water was in reach. Lee’s heart was beating fast as I sunk into him and I kissed his chest and hugged him close. He pulled his arms away from me and lifted off his t shirt, kissing my neck and lips, softly at first and then with passion. I forgot everything right there and then and let myself evaporate into the erotic state that was Lee and I. Every single time the same yet deliciously different. Afterwards, we fell asleep, pressed against each other, not knowing where my limbs finished and his limbs began.
‘Casey, Case…Babes, wake up.’
I tried to open my eyes but they felt glued shut, my head was spinning. I eased myself up on my elbows and looked at Lee. He was facing the other way, propped up on his knees.
‘What the fu…..’ I managed to say, not understanding why he had prized himself out of our little warm cocoon, and was asking me to look out the open door.
‘I saw a girl out there, on the balcony, I swear!’ he had his hand over his mouth as if he was going to vomit.
I turned completely round to look outside. I saw nothing. The only weird thing was that I could smell cigarette smoke. Fresh smoke, not the shit that burns your nasal passage out like stale Sunday pubs used to before the smoking ban.
There was an orange blanket down on the floor of the balcony that didn’t seem to belong to the mould ridden room we were in. It looked new, clean. There was also a cream coloured gypsy scarf with red and black roses on it, tied to one of the railings. That had not been there when we came in the room. I told Lee. He swore again that he had seen a girl, kneeling down on the balcony, looking in at him.
When I asked him if he could remember anything else, he said yes. She had been smoking.
We stared at each other for what seemed like ages. I didn’t feel scared, probably because I hadn’t actually seen anything. Lee did look scared though. I asked him what he wanted to do. He lay back down and stretched his arms behind his head, staring at the ceiling.
‘What time do you think it is?’ I asked him, hating the silence.
He reached into his jeans pocket for his mobile phone and at that second, it started ringing. He sat up again and said hello to Annabelle. I knew it was her because he called her Belle.
He didn’t talk much. I could hear that she was crying down the phone. His face was a picture of stern, I couldn’t make out whether he was pissed off or concerned. He said ‘Ok, Ok I’m coming.’
He hung up.
‘I’m sorry Case. She’s upset. I’m going back to the Chandelier room. Please come with me, I don’t want to leave you here on your own. I’ll just talk to her for five minutes and then we can camp out in a corner away from everyone and get some kip. Ok?’
I reached over and kissed him, I couldn’t be angry at him when he was so caring. He hugged me tight and said we could sleep here tomorrow night again, if I wanted, and we started dressing and gathering our stuff.
When we got back into the chandelier room, there was a little bit of light coming in. It was about 4am. I went and chose a spot in the corner and got back into the warm sleeping bag. I could hear Annabelle sobbing and Lee trying to console her. How messed up to call a guy who’s obviously with his girlfriend having some private time. How fucking lame. I peered over the edge of the sleeping bag and saw Chloe asleep all curled up in her pink blankets and Joel with his mouth open and arms splayed out like an angel in the sleeping bag instead of the snow. I could just hear his snoring above Annabelle’s whining.
Simon wasn’t there. I imagined going to find him. Maybe he was having a ciggy out the front or maybe he was asleep all alone in another room. I hoped he was ok.
Lee came back then and crawled into the sleeping bag, snuggling up again. It wasn’t long before I was asleep and dreaming, the sound of Annabelle’s fragmented sobs still echoing around the dawn soaked room. I did wake up for a brief, confused few seconds, a sound of gentle bells jangling and dancing near me. I opened my eye, squinting as a dull ache washed over my consciousness. The dark shadows beyond the door were waiting for the dawn to dispel them, and in the soft contrasting light, I swear I saw a girl standing there, motionless, staring down at Lee and I as we slept.