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These Kind of Knaves Chapter One

When you want to be extraordinary, how far are you willing to go to get there?

Men at some time are masters of their fates:

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,

But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 1 scene ii

Chapter 1

​The cemetery of Avonditch was shrouded in mist as the long and limping figure of Henry Báthory made its way up towards a specific tree in the far corner.

Not that Henry disliked the company of his fellow humans, far from it in fact, but at ten past six in the morning, he knew it was the perfect time to visit his mother’s grave without the rest of the small town pitching in their two pence on what kind of woman Coraline had been in life.

It also helped that winter had come, if the number of clothes he wished he’d worn was any indication. No-one else was as stupid as him to have left their warm beds, to be sneaking around through frosted grass and watching their breath in the morning mist.

​Coraline Delacroix Báthory’s grave was as far from the rest of the family’s as possible. Her brother, Julien, had made sure of that when he’d organised the cheapest funeral possible for his younger sister ten years ago. He’d even told the fifteen-year-old Henry that it was either Coraline’s stupidity or that brute of her husband that had killed her.

​Henry, facing the twin graves of his mother and baby sister, and with screeching car brakes ringing in his ears, said, “Hello again, mum.”

​“Bonjour, mon garçon,” said Coraline Delacroix Báthory. She appeared before him as she had when the emergency crew had pulled Henry from the wreck. Tacky blood glued her wispy blonde hair to the side of her head, and not even her crushed ribcage or the missing section of her skull could dim the smile she gave him. The only thing differentiating her from then was her translucence, and only Henry could see her.

​“There’s something I have to say,” Henry said, staring at the bare branches of the oak tree just behind Coraline’s missing right ear.

​“Oh, mon bébé.” Coraline reached for him, but passed through his arm in a cold sweep. “But there is something I must tell you, if only they would let me speak of it.”

​“Who?” Henry thought the afterlife was rather like Julien’s preaching on the subject. Fluffy white clouds and peaceful, singing cherubs. “Who won’t let you speak?”

​Coraline choked on her words, faded but still glistening blood trickling from her mouth and the corners of her eyes. “Something is coming, Henri. Something big and dark and terrifying is coming. Something is-”

​She opened her mouth and screamed.

​What few birds roosted in the trees shot up into the air in a flurry of falling feathers and snapped branches. The reverberated echo rattled around in Henry’s head as Coraline kept up the pitch and volume of an irate banshee.

​His ears rung, even after Coraline brought herself under control and tried to fuss over him.

​“That,” Henry gasped at what he thought was a suitable speaking level, “sounds rather ominous.”

​Coraline nodded. “I cannot speak of it, but is not what I wished to say. Even that is a secret I must keep.”

​“Then don’t say it,” Henry said. “Don’t tell me if you can’t even get the fucking words out.”

​Coraline’s mouth twitched at the language. “But I must.” Her hands shook as she held them out above Henry’s shoulders. “I have kept my peace for twenty-five years, you deserve to know the truth.”

​She opened her mouth, but her entire body went rigid and her eyes rolled back. Her jaw appeared to dislocate in a silent scream.

​Henry stumbled back, landing in a patch of icy grass which trickled down his neck and soaked his favourite trench coat. The leg that had never healed right took the brunt of his fall. And it didn’t help at all when Coraline turned her head in a stiff, jerky motion and stared at him with dull, empty eyes.

​That leg wouldn’t help him run.

​It never had.

​When Coraline spoke, it was without her usual honeyed cadence. A deep, rumbling voice came out of her mouth while she stepped towards him with feet inches from the ground. “He will come. The one to break the veil will come.”

​Henry’s leg decided now was a good time to seize up in protest at the thought of running. Or perhaps the cold had just seeped through his jeans.

​He pulled himself up, heart racing as he gaped at the shade of the woman who had consoled him even ten years after her death. That voice didn’t belong to Coraline Delacroix Báthory, and it wasn’t Coraline Delacroix Báthory who screamed like a banshee again.

​Henry turned on his heel and fled as fast as a leg which didn’t want to bend would allow. His mother’s words still rung in his ears, audible even when contending with the screams.

​Something big and dark and terrifying was coming.

Once he’d freshened up and changed into clothes not soaked with frozen dew, Henry checked the time. He was pushing it if he wanted to be on time for his weekly catch up with his oldest friend.

​With the clock telling him it was almost nine twenty, Henry left for one of the small coffee shops littering the high street.

​The Better Ground Café stood between a hairstylist’s and newsagent’s, with three sets of patio chairs with matching tables scattered around the shop’s entrance. From the outside, at first glance, you might assume the café had been there for a while, what with the faded blue paint, but the sign swinging in the breeze had a freshly painted coffee bean and a fancy white script displaying the shop’s name. And the interior still smelt of paint, underneath the compost-smell of freshly ground coffee.

​Amongst the scant few customers sitting in twos and threes in the booths and around the tables, sat a lone, slender woman with too long limbs and light brown hair left hanging over her shoulders, dressed in a beige blouse and formal black trousers. Anthea did nothing by halves, her slender hands wrapped around what was no doubt a soy cappuccino, as she stared out of the window in a pose which suggested she was richer than you.

​Anthea Fontana lived in a small flat over a pub, and yet she still made Henry’s insides wither and die with inadequacy in his long coat and scuffed boots.

​“Henry,” she said, as she handed him a five-pound note. “Here, your coffee’s on me. You have a plain black coffee, right? You grab that so we can get right to the talking.”

​Henry took the money and ordered his plain black coffee in the largest size from the bored and rather sarcastic barista manning the tills.

​Once he’d settled into the sticky vinyl bench in Anthea’s window booth, Anthea steepled her fingers and levelled her gaze right into Henry’s soul.

​“I was thinking.” She sipped her coffee without getting any of her lip gloss on the rim of the mug. “We need to leave this town and start a new life elsewhere.”

​Henry almost choked on his own coffee. “With what money? Julien’s not exactly forthcoming with my parents’ life insurance money, and there are not a lot of jobs available for someone with no experience from no previous jobs.” He paused. “Unless you have some little nest egg squirrelled away somewhere you haven’t told me about, we can’t just up and leave.”

​Something flashed across Anthea’s face before Henry could fully identify it.

​“I might have made a few investments,” she said. “I thought we could share a place in the city somewhere. Leave the small-town life behind us.”

​Henry remembered his drunken father screaming at his mother over the state of employment, even in a too-small flat in a run-down part of Newham. “Maybe we could do some research first?” he asked. “Find out where the best value for money is, that sort of thing. Some places aren’t worth it, no matter how cheap the rent or how nice the landlord seems.”

​Anthea nodded, her eyes narrowed in contemplation. “It’s something to think about before we make any big decisions. We’re not the sort of people to do well cooped up in one place, are we? But you’ve got me and Ollie, now, and we’re here if you have any other thoughts on the matter, no matter how silly they seem.”

​“I won’t be able to afford the rent, though,” Henry said. “Your investment would pay for it until we both get jobs. You won’t be able to keep a pretty flat for long, the logistics just aren’t that good.”

​“Just think about it,” she said. “Please, think it over. You’re losing your spirit the more you stay drowning in your sorrow here. A fresh start would be worth the sacrifice of designer clothes or branded food. Consider every option before you turn it down, it could be a miracle in disguise.”

​Henry laughed. “Miracles always happen to other people.”

​Anthea pursed her lips. “Perhaps. But they also happen to those who need them the most.”

​Henry didn’t reply, he already knew what she would say next. She’d been saying it for the last seven years.

​“Like,” Anthea said, “the miracle of you drinking more water and less alcohol.”

​Henry rolled his eyes. “That’s not possible.” He wished the coffee had a bit more kick to it so he could get through the conversation with his sanity intact. “I drink enough water to stave off any headaches.”

​“Just last week,” Anthea daintily held her mug in one hand, “you came bursting into my flat because you thought Julien was trying to kill you. Your breath stank of whiskey, and you slept for twelve hours. At what point will you accept that your liver is more pickled than a pickled egg?”

​“My liver,” Henry said, “is fine. Thanks for asking, I have registered your concern and will now file it for consideration.”

​“Are you, though?” Anthea forewent politeness and took a large swig of her coffee. Henry wondered if she’d put whiskey in it. “Are you fine? You haven’t consumed this much alcohol since our last year at uni.”

​“That,” Henry downed the rest of his coffee, “was because Matthew Green sabotaged my coursework. Just because I chose to write about the role of magic and ritual in Ancient Rome before he could, it didn’t mean he could spill Pepsi all over it. I had to reprint all fifty pages. Fifty pages, and I only just met the submission deadline!”

​“I handed mine in a week before the deadline,” she smirked. “Not fifty seconds before it.”

​“Some of us,” Henry said with feigned dignity, “had other responsibilities while we learnt, and therefore couldn’t spend all our time in the library completing assignments.”

​“Binge drinking doesn’t count.”

​“I don’t binge drink. I could stop if I wanted to.” Then, at Anthea’s raised eyebrow, he added, “I just don’t want to stop. Life is shit. Let me pickle my liver to death in peace.”

​Anthea set her mug down by her elbow. She placed her hands over Henry’s. They were warm and sent tingles up his arm.

​“Are you safe?” she asked. “If you need a space to get your head on straight, or even just to sleep, I have a couch with your name on it.”

​But that would mean that he would owe her, and Henry didn’t want to owe anyone anything. He had some pride, even after that time Anthea caught him struggling to pull his trousers up after taking a shit in the middle of the night. He owed her far too much already.

​And there definitely needed to be a shift in the conversation, or Henry might do something he’d regret. “Other than running away from small towns and alcohol consumption,” he ignored Anthea’s unimpressed face at his tactlessness in changing the subject, “is there anything else we have to discuss in this meeting? Do we need to make agendas and minutes while we synchronise our watches?”

​“Henry.” It was impressive, for someone who disliked children, how much Anthea sounded like a mother.

​“Are we going to have an object to hold so we know who’s allowed to talk at what time? Would Oliver let us use his hat?” Henry grinned. “Is Oliver the secretary? He’s good at keeping secrets, mostly, unless they’re embarrassing. Is he our official secret keeper?”

​Anthea’s hand, still wrapped around his, gave his wrist a painful squeeze. “How much,” she said in a low and dangerous voice, “have you had to drink this morning?”

​Henry blinked at her. “In my defence, it was rather cold in the cemetery.”

​“It’s almost winter, and you own three scarves. Could you not have taken one of those with you?”

​Such blows to his pride, Henry knew, were less painful than Anthea’s Angry Teacher Face.

​“I tripped over a rock.” It was mostly true. “The scarf got wet.”

​“And what’s wrong with a hot drink and warm clothes? Those are better for your health.”

​Would she mourn for him, if Henry told her he didn’t expect to live beyond his thirtieth birthday? Horror movies always suggested that people who saw ghosts and had issues never lasted long in the world. People always killed them off for real.

​“This discussion,” she sighed, “is not over. We are having a long and painful conversation about what makes up healthy coping mechanisms. We’ll start with talking therapy and go from there.”

​Henry could feel his sanity start to slip away from him.

​Ew, talking about feelings.

​Was it time for him to change the conversation again?

​“How’s Beryl?”

​Beryl was the black adder Henry had found a few years ago and decided he was keeping. Beryl also stayed with Anthea, Henry thought Julien would take offence to a venomous snake if he found it living in his house.

​As it was, Beryl was rather glad to see him when Henry arrived at Anthea’s flat and lifted her out of the terrarium in Anthea’s kitchen to feed her dead mice.

​Anthea’s kitchen, like the rest of her flat, appeared as if someone had taken a large country estate and shrunk it to fit in a flat.

​Henry sat on an elaborate kitchen chair of painted white wood and gold embroidered padding. The tables, cabinets and counters had the same white-painted design. Everything had that planned chaotic feel to it, the tiles and paint on the walls, the rugs on the floor, even the skull-shaped knobs on the doors co-ordinated with everything.

​Anthea herself was at the farmhouse sink, washing her hands after digging out the bag of mice from some hidden place.

​“Henry,” she said, her back to him as she stared out of the window and let the water run, “you will tell me if you need a quick getaway, right?”

​Henry’s hand jerked with the unexpected question, and Beryl reared up.

​Before anyone could do anything, Beryl struck and slithered off somewhere.

​Henry stared at his hand while Anthea rushed from the room mumbling about dangerous pets and trigger-happy neighbours.

​Already, the area surrounding the twin punctures had grown red and inflamed. Just looking at it made bile tickle Henry’s throat. Was it just him, or was everything blurred around the edges? The pulsing pain in his hand was worse than the time Julien had whacked him on the head with a frying pan.

​Anthea returned with a subdued black mass in her arms that she dumped in the terrarium.

​“Henry?” She waved a flesh-coloured blob in front of his face.

​The motion was enough to cause his stomach to roil, and he struggled to throw himself from the chair as he gagged.

​“Shit,” Anthea pulled her phone from her back pocket, and her thumbs flew across the screen. “This is bad.”

​The gagging became painful when he couldn’t get air into his lungs. His hand, now twice its usual bony size, collapsed under him. He groaned when his chin hit the floor, and Anthea sighed from above as she described Henry’s pitiful existence in rapid detail to someone on the other end of her conversation.

​But then, the wooden floor came into focus. The herringbone pattern, stained to a darker wood, emerged before his eyes. Henry raised the swollen hand. The swelling had reduced, the puncture marks had faded as the skin returned to its regular ivory pallor.

​Anthea’s voice wavered and cut off as she hung up. Her honey brown eyes were wide as she grabbed his hand to inspect every inch. But there was nothing to suggest just minutes ago he had suffered a snake bite.

​“It should have killed you,” Anthea said. “You’re so skinny, the poison should have killed you before an ambulance could arrive.”

​“I have,” Henry sat up, “a rather good immune system.” His head’s fluff-filled ringing told him he should have remained on the floor.

​“You look like a half-starved corpse on a good day.” Anthea poked his hand with her nail, it was more like a stinging nettle short of pain than a continued exposure to boiling water pain. “You shouldn’t be alive right now.”

​“Thank you?” He snatched his hand back. “Can I have some water, please? My throat’s kind of dry right now.”

​“Your throat is always dry,” she said. “You should drink more water and less alcohol and coffee, they dehydrate you.”

​“Anthea,” he said. “Don’t tell anyone about this. I don’t know what this is, and if people question it, they’ll come to conclusions I can’t dispute. Please, not even Oliver.”

​Anthea sighed. “Fine. But I want a full explanation when you know what’s going on. In fact,” her eyes lit up, “if you don’t know, it means I can experiment on you. Now, come lie down on the couch while I get my stuff.”

​Henry resigned himself to his fate as a guinea pig. At least he might get a nap in before lunch.

​But Henry did not, in fact, end up getting a nap before lunch.

​It took Anthea exactly forty-five minutes of poking, prodding and waving smouldering sage around before she admitted defeat and declared there wasn’t anything physically wrong with Henry.

​“Well,” she grinned, “anything more than there usually is. I don’t understand how there isn’t anything new. Why aren’t you dead from the venom?”

​Henry raised his head from where he’d been counting the loose threads in Anthea’s throw blanket. “I’m lucky?”

​Anthea snorted. “No-one’s that lucky. No, there’s something else going on. I’m going to find out what it is, and then I can bore you to death with science.”

​Henry thought that listening to science was a bit more interesting than just sitting and staring at paint, but before he could plan an adequate answer, the keys in the door jingled and it banged shut behind someone.

​“Oliver!” Anthea screeched. “I’ve told you a million times, don’t slam the door. It’ll damage the paint, and then who’ll have to deal with the fucking landlord!”

​A lanky form with riotous dark curls and oversized glasses covering flint grey eyes bounced into the living room. Oliver had the sort of complexion to appear tanned all year-round, no matter how often he stayed inside, a fact he lorded over Henry, who just imitated a lobster every time the temperature rose above twenty degrees Celsius.

​“Look what I found in a charity shop!” Oliver grinned, extending a Tarot deck under Anthea’s nose. “It didn’t come with a little booklet, though, so we might have to Google the answers.”

​“Ollie,” Anthea took the deck, “why did you buy a deck of Tarot cards?”

​“They looked cool,” he shrugged, “and there’s a skeleton in the deck, look,” he pulled out a card depicting a skeleton holding an hourglass. “It’s Henry! And I thought we could try it out, see how it works. How does it work?”

​Anthea handed the deck back over to Oliver. “Shuffle the cards.” She poked at Henry until he groaned. “Sit up, I want to rest my arse after waving that sage around.”

​Oliver dropped to sit at Henry’s feet. “Aw,” he whined, “you did magic without me. I wanted to be the one who waved some sage around.”

​Anthea hummed, but rather than sit in the space Henry’s legs had vacated, she wandered over to her expansive bookcase.

​“You can,” she said, “still wave some sage around on the solstice. But,” she pulled out a small book, “I have a guide to Tarot cards, so we don’t need to use my internet.”

​Oliver laid his head on Henry’s bad knee. “I want to ask the cards my future, can I do that?”

​Henry was gracious and didn’t complain to Oliver about being a dick when his knee cramped under the weight of his head. Instead, he said, “Isn’t that a bit cliché?”

​Anthea somehow flicked through the book while she stepped over Oliver’s outstretched legs to sit in the empty sofa seat. “We could do a one-card reading. And, of course, the question should be vague, because the answers are always vague. The whole thing’s supposed to be vague. It’s meant to guide you, to act as a bridge between problems and solutions.” She paused her rant to stare at Henry. “You don’t have to stay if you don’t want to Henry.”

​Henry thought his leg wouldn’t forgive him if he did. “Nah,” he leaned forward until he could rest his arms on Oliver’s head. “I’ll stay. I want to see how this works.”

​“Okay then,” Anthea said. “First, we need to have a question for the cards. Have we got a question, Ollie?”

​Oliver didn’t even blink. “What does the future have in store for us?”

​Anthea nodded. “And then we shuffle the cards until we’re satisfied they’re shuffled enough.”

​Oliver shuffled the cards. An errant curl fell into his eyes, but he ignored it as he had the cards fly up into an arc before he cut the deck a few times. Once he’d completed a few other tricks, which Henry thought were rather unnecessary, he presented the deck to Anthea for her inspection.

​“Keep the cards face down,” she told him, “and spread them in an arc on the table.”

​Oliver did so, and Anthea turned to Henry. “Pick us the card that draws you to it. That’s the card which will tell us what the future is.”

​Henry stared at the cards. They had a sort of diamond pattern to the backs, a darker shade of purple crossing over the solid lighter shade.

​There wasn’t any one card he felt called out to him over any other, and he felt rather stupid just thinking about it. He grabbed the closest one to the middle of the arc just to say he’d picked one.

​He flipped it over, staring at ten broadswords piercing the body of a fallen knight, a red river flowing over him as the sun began to set in the distance beyond some mountains. There were ten swords, and Henry thought the number had something to do with the meaning of the card.

​Anthea plucked the card from his fingers, sucking in a breath through her teeth.

​“The ten of swords,” she said. “The worst card to pick in a deck. In Tarot, the meaning of death is a misconception, as the Death card is a card of transformation, the end of one thing and the start of another. Perhaps the loss of a job or a promotion. But the ten of swords means betrayal. Troubled times are coming, so we should start to prepare ourselves.”

​“Harsh,” Oliver said. “But what’s it got to do with us? Betrayal and troubling times sounds rather ominous.”

​Anthea flicked her hair over her shoulder. “It’s vague, that the whole point. It could mean anything, from Henry eating the last packet of midget gems to me not putting away a knife and causing Oliver to stab himself as he puts a glass in the sink.”

​“I don’t even like midget gems,” Henry said. “Maybe if it was the jelly babies, Anthea would take that as a sign of betrayal and try to kill me.”

​“True,” Anthea nodded. “We take jelly babies very seriously in this house.”

​Oliver sat up from where he’d slunk down to rest his head on Henry’s lap. “You labelled my packet, didn’t you? I don’t want to find Henry’s eaten my babies because someone didn’t label them again.”

​Henry ruffled Oliver’s fluffy hair. “I’d eat them, anyway.”

​Oliver protested, but it faded as Henry remembered Coraline’s warning. The one to break the veil was coming, and he was big and dark and terrifying.

​Whoever he was, the card thought he’d betray them, that he would cause them harm. If both a ghost and a Tarot card thought it was worth mentioning, perhaps they should pay attention to it.

​But when Henry opened his mouth to tell Anthea about Coraline’s warning, he remembered no-one else knew he could see ghosts. What would she even think of it?

​He said nothing, just leaned back into the soft, squishy sofa and listened to the gentle rumble of Oliver’s voice as he ranted about something to Anthea.

​“What do you think?” Oliver was saying when Henry tuned in to listen to him. “I think it’s about how stupid people really are.”

​Anthea hummed. “But what about that time they did the thing? That wasn’t stupidity, that was sheer genius.”

​“Yeah,” Oliver snorted, “stupidly genius. How else would they have got it to work? In real life, that would have failed before the plan had even left the drawing board.”

​“Good gods,” Anthea said, “it’s just a TV show, real life doesn’t apply here. If it did, they’d all face serious consequences for various felonies ten times over before the first series was even halfway through airing.”

​Was there even a point to Henry being here? Oliver was still laying on Henry’s lap, but he was fully engaged with Anthea in the conversation. They appeared to have forgotten Henry was even in the room, like he was just another piece of the furniture Anthea had collected over the years.

​With no lull in the discussion he could inject himself in, Henry checked on the snakebite.

​Or, rather, the faint pinpricks of what had been teeth marks. His hand was almost back to normal, it was its usual size and shape again, now a bit red around the punctures and fading right in front of his eyes until only unblemished skin remained. Oliver hadn’t noticed, was the thing.

​There wasn’t anything left to occupy himself with, and the conversation had stopped between them.

​It had stopped because, it turned out, they were kissing.

​Oliver had a hand cupping Anthea’s head, he was almost sitting on her lap as he pressed her against the back of the sofa not even three inches from where Henry had slumped down.

​And when had Henry missed this development?

​Anthea’s face had never looked softer, though, her eyelashes brushing against Oliver’s cheeks as they pressed even closer together and made these little sucking sounds.

​It would have been sweet if his oldest friend wasn’t eating the face off his best friend.

​Then Anthea opened her eye a crack and saw Henry. She pushed Oliver away as her brain caught up with her eyes.

​“Uh,” said Oliver.

​“Shit,” said Anthea.

​“Fuck,” said Henry.

​“This,” Oliver gestured between himself and Anthea, “isn’t what it looks like.”

​Anthea slammed an elbow into Oliver’s side. “It’s relatively new.”

​Henry narrowed his eyes. “Define new. Because it sure as fuck looked practised.”

​Oliver blushed right to the roots, sliding off Anthea to kneel on the floor.

​Anthea, though, just pinched Henry’s thigh. “Don’t be a dick. Just because I’m not kissing you, it doesn’t mean I can’t kiss anyone at all. Relationships are evolutionary, we used to kick each other in the playground, and now we meet for coffee every Wednesday. We’ve,” Anthea placed a hand on Oliver’s shoulder, “just added a more intimate level to our relationship. We’re not pushing you out, there’s still a place in our hearts for you.”

​“Right,” Henry said. Though he privately thought it might be fun to cockblock them if they ever got a little steamy in his presence. It would serve them right for not telling him anything, the fuckers.

​“Anyway,” said Oliver, face lighting up in blatant glee as he changed the subject, “I’ve had a fantastic idea.”

​Anthea took the proffered flag and ran with it. “What,” she said, “more brilliant than a Tarot reading?”

​Henry flexed his hand. He remembered this game from when he’d first met Oliver five years ago. “More cunning than a fox who graduated at Oxford with full honours from the esteemed University of Cunningness?”

​Oliver grabbed a cushion and threw it at Henry’s face, but he was grinning, so everything was okay. Henry didn’t need to hide under a rock, after all.

​Anthea watched Henry as he rotated his thumb and clenched his fingers, though when she spoke, she addressed Oliver. “What’s this fantastic idea of yours, then?”

​“We should host a séance, it’ll be fun. We’ll have candles, and dramatic music, and it’ll be awesome.”

​“If this,” Anthea said, “is because your mother asked you to babysit Ryan last week and you want to get back at her by playing with the occult she fears so much, I’m refusing this idea on principle.”

​Oliver rolled his eyes. “It’s not just about that. It’s also because it looks amazing in films and I really want to try it. Can you imagine if we got an actual ghost, just think of all the secrets we could learn!”

​Anthea sighed. “It’s not a game. And contrary to Henry’s opinion, I don’t actually own a Ouija board. Even if it is just for fun, there are rules we’ve got to follow, and precautions we’ve got to take. We can’t just rush into this because some internet forum told you it was a good idea.”

​“So,” Henry said, “hypothetically speaking, where would we hold the séance? And where are we getting the board from? Because I think these are the main issues here.”

​“I suppose we’ll have it here.” Anthea ran her hands through her hair, gave up trying to tame it, and pulled it up into a messy topknot. “I can’t imagine Julien being too pleased with what we’re thinking of doing, and I’ve already had Sarah yell at me for corrupting Ollie.”

​“And the board?” Henry asked.

​Oliver gave a small, bashful laugh. “I know a guy?”

​“Does he,” Henry said, “also know a guy who owns a Ouija board?”

​“No.” Oliver just pushed Henry over this time, rather than launch a cushion at him. “This guy has his own board he might let me borrow. His uncle was into so many crazy things, and when he died, Mike got the Ouija board. He’s never used it, though.”

​Henry wished Julien was into all sorts of crazy things, but said nothing.

​Anthea just shrugged. “It might be a bit of fun. The board might have some attachments to Mike’s family, but I think it’ll be safe enough as long as we’re not too long with it.”

​Henry frowned. “Are Ouija boards prone to attaching themselves to certain families? Do they have brains of their own?”

​“Some might,” Anthea said. “But overall, they’re rather like cars in that they don’t work properly for people who aren’t their owners. They’ll give false readings or refuse to work altogether. It’s messy business, working with Ouija boards.”

​It seemed rather far-fetched to Henry, a bit of cardboard having the ability to think for itself. But Anthea appeared to know what she was doing.

​Anthea appeared to know an awful lot of what she was doing around the occult.

​But both the Tarot card and Coraline seemed to suggest bad things were coming. What if the Ouija board brought the coming evil?

​“I know that face,” Oliver said, his own right there in front of Henry’s. “That’s the face that says you’re over-thinking things. If it’s about the Ouija board, I’ll take full responsibility if it goes wrong. It shouldn’t, though, because Anthea knows things, and I can Google things, and you’ll tell us when we’re being idiots.”

​“You,” Henry told him, “are always an idiot.”

​“Yeah,” Oliver grinned, “but just think about it. You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.” Anthea muttered something about needing a minimum of three people to host a séance that Oliver gleefully ignored. “Just think about whether you want to come and tell us we’re being idiots or not.”

​Henry sighed. “I’ll think about it.”

​But Oliver’s smiling face had already softened Henry’s resolve.