>Is there anyone here with us?
>Who are you?
The planchette didn't move.
>Would you like to say something?
Rick sighed audibly. Danes cautioned: "Don't remove your finger from the planchette, Mr Meredith."
>Is there any-?
Before Danes could finish, the planchette flung itself across the table between Maya and Rick and hit the far wall, snapping into three pieces. Tisha screamed, Rick bolted upright and Harry Danes said quietly
"Calm, my friends. That's not uncommon."
But he said nothing more as he retrieved the broken pieces and dropped them into the waste bin.
Danes: relaxed his muscles, progressively; feet, through legs, through torso, neck and head. Cleared mind.
DeStiy: remembered failing to summon the Utmost Evil in a church basement, later realising his mistake and scarring his chest with a knife as punishment for his own stupidity.
Reimnitz: felt her hands tremble, heard her grandmother's admonishing voice in her head.
Her: jumbled thoughts. Clang. Prison air, cabbage and sweat. Clang. No exit.
Lopez: looked around the room. Her grandmother had left. Didn't understand what this meant.
Ryland: denied his own fear. Maintained control, stating: "We should begin Mr Danes."
Tisha watched as the room fell silent and fingers swooped through the air onto the planchette. Hers was the last to land.
Though she'd never used Ouija before, she accepted Danes' reassuring smile as easily as she accepted that some people needed something tangible to focus their spiritual energies. Her own grandmother stood back from the table, a look of care and amusement on her face. Tisha smiled, which Harry took to be for him, and his grin widened. Tisha looked away, in time to see Maya's grandmother flicker back into Maya's body.
Hushed sounds of breathing. No one spoke.
The wind buffeted the tops of the trees. The black silhouettes of tall buildings and factory chimneys, the belltowers of schools, the spires of churches, blackest against a black and starless sky, all shepherded the cold wind.
But the wind cannot be governed.
Too soon it fell against the window of Daniel Ryland's apartment, its invisible hands slapped on the glass, pushing, rubbing, cold and clammy and unfeeling.
Ryland stood up and closed the curtains.
Danes flicked on the light switch "We need to know what we're dealing with," he said.
"With your permission, my friends, we'll conduct a seance.".
Unbidden, almost as if controlled from afar, everyone standing - DeStiy, Tisha, Maria, Rick - sat down in silence. No one moved.
It was as if a blanket had been laid over the restless room, as if the energy of life had suddenly dispersed, as if everything had become a dream. Or maybe, as if everything had suddenly become overwhelmingly real.
Time seemed to have no meaning here, within these four walls. All there was was silence and silent fear.
Outside, it was evening. A cold, dry, lifeless evening. Motionless. Pallid. A corpse of an evening.
Which withered as night crept closer.
Ryland composed himself, blunt reason amongst the barbs of the ongoing argument. Composed himself, breathed in slowly, and then spoke.
Something about his demeanour rather than his words forced the others into silence, and all eyes were upon him.
"Not ordinary! This is... not ordinary," he spoke loudly at first, but slowly lowered his voice as he continued "That man there, he knows. Something is here and it threatens all of us. All of us."
They looked at Harry Danes, who rubbed his face before speaking.
"All of you have bought something - something - into this building. But who? And what?"
It was catching a strange look passing over Danes' face that made Daniel Ryland stop mid-sentence.
To his left, Maria sobbed loudly. To his right Rick let fly with abuse aimed at Harry Danes' meddling. Behind him, Tisha was trying to call for calm and DeStiy coughed loudly.
But that look. Ryland had seen it before. The face of an enemy, last bullet used, facing the muzzle of Ryland's own rifle. The eyes, wide with acceptance and fear.
Before Ryland strode behind him and the soldier's face exploded outward and the eyes no longer existed.
That look. Those eyes.
While the cacophony inside the apartment rose and fell, the noise outside remained constant: a gentle thrum, its gentleness a deceit, its thrum a disguise.
Inside, the voices rarely rose to screaming pitch, though often came close. Rarely, too, did the voices fall to one voice speaking. Babel was here in this room - but each was too concerned with what they wanted to say to appreciate it.
Harry Danes appreciated it. In his silence, he appreciated that Babel had taken over these people. But the only indication he gave was that his smile had gone.
Outside, the gentle thrum continued.
DeStiy coughed noisily and dispersively, then swallowed.
"Never." he said. Then into the distasteful silence, and not looking at anyone in particular, he announced "Black Magic don't exist. That's a name invented by primitive people - "
"Are you calling us - " Rick yelled, then his voice subsided as Ryland raised his hand placatingly "...primitive?"
"Aye, no offence, um...ordinary people who aren't aware that power is power, not black or white. Stupid people - "
Everyone started shouting at the same time, and not all at Enoch DeStiy.
"Calm!" Ryland tried to restore order but his voice was unheard in the tumult..
Tisha moving prompted Daniel Ryland into action. He liked Meredith, liked the way he spoke his mind, but he liked Tisha more and their symbiotic relationship somehow demanded his duty be to her. He held Tisha's arm so she couldn't move.
"Control your temper, Rick," he commanded.
Rick involuntarily took a step back, Tisha shook her arm free but remained where she was, not moving. Ryland moved beside Maya.
"DeStiy," he asked. "When was the last time you practiced Black Magic?"
Enoch DeStiy coughed. He needed a fag. Phlegm collected in his mouth. He stopped himself spitting on the floor.
"We don't know anything!" Rick's voice, loud and demanding, was barely controlled and shook noticeably. "If she can stab someone in the neck by using her mind, what's to stop-"
"No," Maya fought desperately to hold back the tears "No, not her- "
"Then you, Maya Reimnitz!" blazed Rick, both hands shaking, both index fingers pointing into Maya's face. "You!"
Tisha stood up, intending to put herself between Rick and Maya. The woman with her grandmother at her side was far too old to put up with abuse from a strong young man who looked close to losing it.
"No- " the quiet woman began. Her face looked fifty, not thirty, her eyes tired, sunken. She prevented her hands shaking by gripping her thighs.
"I swear, I wouldn't- "
Maya tried to smile at her, but the woman's fear was causing Maya's own stomach to churn, and she couldn't. Hidden memories that Maya knew weren't her own flashed through her mind: Hunger, Pain, Fear, Loss, they all had eyes. Different coloured eyes, different shaped eyes, but they had all seen the uniforms and the rifles, the barbed wire, the perversity and the corpses.
"Hush, love," Maya managed. "We know."
"It's not her," Maya said.
She spoke with such quiet authority she surprised herself. The room fell into a silence of hushed astonishment.
The quiet woman wiped tears from her eyes and looked gratefully at Maya.
"But she's the only one who's admitted the mental power to wield a machete, for Christ's sake," shouted Rick. "And that's the absolute truth!"
"Aye, an absolute truth," muttered Enoch DeStiy
Maya shook her head sadly but spoke with a quiet and knowing calm:
"There is no such thing as an Absolute Truth, gentlemen. The history of Truth is eternally littered with obsolete Absolutes."
Her eyes wide, this strange, quiet woman rubs her sweating hands against her trouser leg to dry them.
Her head bowed.
An ornamental blunderbuss on the wall behind Ryland shook a little. A heavy glass vase on the sideboard juddered twice. Neither of these small movements were noticed by anyone other than the occupant of Apartment 6.
"We know we didn't do it," Rick stated. "So, process of elimin-"
"Hold on Mr Meredith," Harry Danes interrupted. A newspaper on the table suddenly slid off onto the floor. "We don't know -"
Rick shouted forcefully:
"We do know the truth!"
Onstage, the cubes form long benches. Twelve good persons and true obediently walk in and take their seat on the benches. Their wide eyes dart everywhere, cowed by the enormity of their appalling responsibility.
They rise when the Judge enters. He is wearing a mask. Should he remove it, each of the twelve good persons and true would see their own face staring back at them. But he doesn't.
The defendant enters.
The Judge asks "Have you reached a verdict?"
The eyes of the twelve good persons and true look everywhere except at the defendant.
The defendant rises.
As the arguments reached their peak and blame went back and forth, the nodding heads reminded Danes of a string section of an orchestra, all purposeful movement and crescendos. Then, unexpectedly, the bickering stopped and an almost unnatural silence took over.
Eventually Harry Danes spoke.
Harry Danes: Now we've stopped shouting, let's decide our next step, eh?
Rick (pointing at Ryland): It's obvious he's the cause.
Tisha (pointing at Enoch): Him. His black magic
Daniel: Can't be me, Rick, it would have happened before now, that's illogical.
(Points at the quiet woman who visibly shrinks.) Her?
Rick: Yes! Her!
Rick stood up abruptly, reached out to grab the back of his chair before it fell over and hammered it back into place.
"What the hell's the point in all this, Danes? All of us reliving distressing stories. For what? For fucking what, all this soul searching?"
"Aah, yes," Harry Danes hardly moved and spoke as if to himself rather than to Rick. "Soul searching . An appropriate term."
Rick stomped across the room.
And it was almost as if Harry Danes knew she was thinking of a toddler's tantrum as he caught her eye and smiled back.
Eyes were wide, mouths clamped firmly shut. Apart, that is, from Harry Danes, whose effortless grin merely varied in intensity. His eyes, however, were fixed: glued to each talker in their turn, assessing, appraising, not once looking away as their stories unfolded.
Rick coughed. The noise released the others from a state of trance-like bewilderment.
"What happens now?" Tisha asked
"Mr Danes?" Daniel Ryland rubbed reddened eyes, "What is our next step?"
"My friends," Danes put his hands, prayer-like, to his lips. His eyebrows briefly arched, as if sharing the punchline of a joke, "I have no idea."
He, dressed, his back towards her. Ignoring her. He, gaping-mawed, grabbed her birthday cake, plunged it in.
Fat-rolls on his sweating neck squirmed as he swallowed. He forced more in, shoulders bulging with effort. Cough-sprayed cake-crumbs bouldered; creamy spit dribbled down his smeared chin, futilely attempting escape from greasy lips.
Memory: fifth birthday, she'd watched a doll fly through the air into the face of a man who hurt her, unaware it was she who had made it happen.
Now: hands motionless, her mind directs the blade.
Crimson arc from neck to floor, arterial deluge, splash...splishsplash.
Slices of birthday cake on a plate.
A figure "1", from "12 Years Old Today".
One candle - snapped, prostrate - on the table. Flame extinguished.
The girl pushes herself as far into the corner as she could.
If she could push herself through brickwork she would
and breathe in the dust to cake her lungs and seal her throat,
and crush flat her flesh,
and bury herself alive, destroy herself and her useless fists and the pain that rivets through her stomach.
This one hasn't paid enough to touch her but she still has to do what he says.