Lorraine Baxter’s Hallowe’en Party

Lorraine Baxter’s Hallowe’en Party. That’s how I thought about it in the week leading up to it. Afterwards, people called it a lot of other things. They called me a lot of things too, and I understand that, I was the only one left to blame.
It was just one of dozens of Hallowe’en parties that year, it was before the holiday got Americanised, before Trick or Treating, before dressing up in supermarket costumes, before pumpkins. But it was still Hallowe’en, a night different from the others, and this year it was on a Saturday.
We were third years … yeah, I know, the dreaded Third Years, or Year 9s as that group is known now. Old enough to have got settled in and cocky at secondary school, but just young enough to be outside the reach of external exam pressure and thoughts of sixth form and careers. It’s a dangerous age, you feel immortal, omniscient and utterly invulnerable. Every little gang of friends was planning a party, and our lot were meeting up at Lorraine’s house. Her parents were going out, and had said she could have a few friends over. Her big brother had agreed to stay in, just to keep an eye on things. We didn’t mind that, Greg was quiet and bookish, and was guaranteed not to be annoying.
Lorraine lived four miles away, I knew the way there like the back of my hand, mostly suburban estates and main roads, but there was that one stretch by the railway and the old coal depot that seemed to be longer than the half mile it actually was. I remember glancing down at it from the top deck of the bus on the way to Lorraine’s, it was already dark at 6:30 pm, but a flicker of green light caught my attention for a second. Probably marsh gas from the coal mines, but it didn’t usually burn green, and it rarely caught fire at this time of year. Spooky though, and I decided to tell the girls about it later. I got off the bus, wrinkling my nose at a sudden stink rolling in from the direction of the canal, and walked the last ten minutes to Lorraine’s house. A faint light came from her upstairs window, the rest of the house was dark. I knocked twice before the hall light came on and Greg answered the door. ‘Ah, Paula. The new girl.’ He stepped out of the way. ‘They’re in Loz’s room, go on up.’
I winced ‘New Girl?’ I’d been at Woodside for over a year. Sure, I’d transferred a year late, when me and mum moved from Yorkshire, but I’d made lots of friends, and didn’t think of myself as ‘New Girl’ anymore.
Paula’s door was shut to, I could hear music, and voices, and I hesitated, not quite ready to just barge in. I knocked, firmly, and heard a small scream, then giggles as the door opened and Lorraine grabbed my arm and pulled me into the room. It was decorated with pentagrams made from orange yarn and toothpicks, a broomstick was propped up in a corner, and my four best friends were standing in front of a rickety card table, hiding something.
‘What’s that?’
‘Ouija board’ Lorraine said, she was smiling, excited. ‘I bought it in Manchester last month. Don’t tell anyone, OK? It’s just a game.’
‘We were waiting for you.’ Marie offered. ‘You’ve not missed anything. We have to make a circle around the board, and put our hands on the … thingy.’
‘Planchette’ Lorraine said. ‘It’s a planchette. We put our hands on it, and the spirits move it.’
I snorted. ‘Can’t the spirits move it without our hands being on it? I mean, it’s probably easier for them to move a few grammes of plastic than to take over our hands …’
The glare that I got from Marie told me that she was prepared to take this seriously. Not just a game then … I sighed and took my place between Bridget and Kath. There wasn’t much room, and our elbows kept nudging at each other.
Lorraine put a red scarf over her table lamp, making the room even darker. She switched on her tape deck, and I jumped when the music from The Omen came on. We’d watched it together the year before, and it had thoroughly creeped me out. Marie saw my reaction and smirked. ‘Scaredy cat …’ she mouthed. I stuck my tongue out at her and put my hand on the planchette. ‘Me first.’ I said firmly, finding myself with a point to prove. I’d seen this stuff in horror films, and managed to jerkily spell out ‘S A T A’ before Lorraine squealed at me and took my hand off the plastic marker. ‘Not funny!’ she said. I put on an innocent expression and said ‘What? It’s just the spirits ordering satay sauce, you know? Chinese food …’
Marie glared at me and put her hand on the planchette. Lorraine had picked up a notepad and pencil and started to jot down the letters. ‘O A K T R E’ Marie stopped and said ‘Oak Tree?’ The planchette moved swiftly to ‘YES’ and I scowled. ‘Let someone else have a go.’ I suggested, but Marie shook her head. Quite violently, as I recall. ‘R D M U R’ Lorraine looked up. ‘That doesn’t spell anything …’ I swallowed and whispered. ‘RD … Road. Oak Tree Road.’ Marie looked straight at me. ‘M U R?’ she asked, and I knew that she knew. I knew that somehow she knew why mum and me had moved sixty miles and across the Pennines, why I’d changed schools at the start of the second year, and why there was just me and mum. This wasn’t funny, and I was suddenly very aware that Marie was not my friend. I backed away from the board. ‘I’m not feeling well, I’d better go home.’ I managed to blurt out, before backing out of the room and running downstairs. I was fumbling at the door, trying to open it, when Greg wandered downstairs. ‘You OK?’ he asked, with what seemed like genuine concern. ‘Yeah, fine. Just need to get home.’ I said. I stood back whilst he unlocked the door and then I fled. Greg shouted something after me, something about walking me to the bus stop, then I heard a scream and the slam of the door. I didn’t look back, I wasn’t amused. I wondered if they were all in on it, or if it was just Marie, jealous of my friendship with Lorraine.
I stood at the bus stop for half an hour until a passing motorist stopped to tell me that the bus drivers had called a strike and there wouldn’t be a bus home. He offered me a lift, but I wasn’t quite that daft. I waited until he was gone before I started to walk home. It was going to take me an hour, it was cold, drizzling and very dark. Much darker than it should be. Apparently a bus strike wasn’t enough, there’d been a power cut too, and the street lights were off. The green glow from the coal depot wasn’t right either, but I was too angry to be spooked by it. I’d been through too much to be scared of a weird light. That stench from the canal was stronger now, and I picked up my pace, the night was getting more and more unpleasant. I didn’t realise how tense I was until I’d cleared the railway stretch and found myself on the main road, lined with pubs and takeaways. The takeaways were shut, but some of the pubs were still open, lit with candles and bustling with trade. It was early enough in the evening for the sight of a thirteen year old girl to be unremarkable, but people were staring at me. I realised then that I was crying, and I wiped at my eyes. An older woman tried to stop me, she looked concerned, but I veered away and tripped over a loose flagstone. I was bleeding when I got up, but not too badly, and I walked faster, breaking into a run for the last quarter mile and banging on our front door for what seemed like hours. By this time I was sobbing. ‘Paula, whatever’s the matter? I wasn’t expecting you home yet … why are you bleeding?’
‘There’s a power cut, and the buses are on strike and, and Marie … Marie knows about daddy and she was mean.’ I realised that I sounded about six years old, and took a deep breath. ‘I’m OK, I just fell over, and I’m cold and …’
‘Well, the power’s back on now. Let’s run you a hot bath and then we can have some supper together and listen to some of your records. How does that sound?’ Mum always knew what to say.
And that was it, I thought, as I went to bed an hour or so later. I was tired but Mum had calmed me down, she’d got the whole story out of me, and explained that there were always going to be people who would try to provoke a reaction from me about what happened to Dad, and I would always have the choice of walking away if I wanted to.
We both slept late on Sunday, we were woken up by the police. Just one car, outside. I freaked out, and started sobbing when Mum let the officers into the house. A man and a woman. Just like when Dad … like when we lost Dad. I think that’s what made it worse, they thought I was crying because I already knew, that I was crying because I was scared of consequences. They knew that I’d been seen walking home covered in blood. They knew that I’d been there.
And even though other people had seen Lorraine’s house filled with a weird green light, even though they’d smelled something monstrous and obscene filling the street, even though the window in Lorraine’s room had been smashed in from the outside, I was still questioned. There wasn’t enough evidence to arrest me though. As if I could even have done what was done. Especially to Greg. It was in all the papers. Look it up. But you won’t find it called Lorraine Baxter’s Hallowe’en Party.

Copyright Jeanette Greaves, 2021

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