A meeting in the dark

Hey all, this is the beginning of a story I'm hoping a few people will fancy adding to. Think of it as a social-writing experiment, with people free to toss in characters, plot developments, catastrophes, whatever. Add as much or as little as you like. Just like you, I have no idea where it's going until it gets there.

It’s a little after midnight when Ben Miller wiggles his way through the twisted bars into the playground, smearing his new coat with rust. Usually he’d meet his friends near the picnic bench, beneath the puddle of dirty light cast by the security lamp, but he’s too afraid to stand out in the open. Guilt walks two steps behind him, scattering into the shadows whenever he turns around. It peers out of windows, lurks behind every glance and whisper. Guilt has its hands on his heart, and it won’t let go.

Hunkered down in his coat, his face set against the wind, Ben takes shelter beneath a huge tree, shivering in the cold. Winter’s always hard up here, a punishment rather than a season – people growing sullen beneath an endless grey sky, complaining more and laughing less as the days drag on. Ben doesn’t know where he’s going next, but he’d like it to be somewhere warm. If he has to run, it might as well be towards the sun.

Twigs crunch, Ben’s heart leaping.

“Ben, Ben, you here?” says a voice on his left.

“Over here Kev,” he says, using the bright light of his phone’s screen as a beacon.

Kevin’s still wearing the suit his mum made him put on for his nana’s birthday, though the shirt’s untucked and the bowtie missing. His shoes are smeared in mud and the laces undone, jam spattering his trousers. To Ben, afraid of leaving even a wrinkle in his sheets, Kevin’s willingness to face the world in such disarray is just about the bravest thing he can imagine.   

“Is it…” Kevin begins.

“Yeah,” interrupts Ben, unwilling to let his friend finish the sentence.

Ben’s eyes are downcast, so he’s caught off guard by the strength of Kevin’s hug, which quickly evaporates into embarrassment, replaced by a far more manly punch on the arm. They’re still grinning at each other when Helen and Katie appear, their torch beams bobbing in the darkness. They’re coming from the direction of the river, which means they must have cut through the woods behind their mum’s house.

Ben’s guilt squeezes his heart just a little tighter.

The woods are dangerous, the local newspapers forever telling stories of girls who went missing in the woods only to turn up three days later, face down in the lake outside of town. On any other night, the twins wouldn’t have come, but tonight they had to… because of him. Worse, they’re going to have to go back, and he’ll never know if they made it okay. He won’t be able to message or email, have any contact at all. He’s abandoning them.

Kevin’s holding his lit phone in the air so the twins can find them, the two boys waiting silently beneath the tree.

The playground’s quiet, thick with darkness and rain. A thin ring of trees shrouds them from the surrounding neighbourhood, enough to inhale all noise and block out the street lights. Only the train yard’s restless at this hour, its distant floodlights staining the night sky. Kevin’s dad is working there tonight, believing his son to be tucked up in bed, not out here in the cold, wrapped in darkness, excited and sad, ready to throw up.

They hear the twins before they see them, giggling and gossiping, every conversation a tennis match. As usual their mum has tried to dress them identically, and as usual the girls have managed to undo all her work with a hidden stash of clothes bought from the charity shop that they keep at the back of their cupboard. Helen’s turned her pink jacket inside out, so it looks black, and has a red scarf around her neck, her hair in ponytails. Katie’s gone punk, discarding the jacket for a leather coat, her face liberally doused in neon makeup.

“Did you-” Katie begins to Ben.

“He did,” interrupts Kevin.

“Right then,” says Helen, taking off her backpack. “Guess you’re going to need this then.”

The End

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