A Dark Place
by Winter

It started out as a gentle teasing, between friends, but it rapidly escalated into a challenge. Glove thrown, picked up; it was war! Terry watched his friends throw insult after insult at each other, with an amused smile on his lips. From across the room, he caught Jenny's wry grin, telling him that no matter how many times she watched the two boys fight, she never tired of it. Today's conflict had started as an issue of courage. Jimmy had claimed himself to be braver than Bryan, a statement that simply couldn't go unchallenged. Fists clenched, spines tense, ready to pounce, they circled each other like two wolves claiming pack rights, all the while telling stories of their own bravery, as well as the other's cowardice. Violence seemed imminent, as Jenny stepped in, ending the argument with one single question.

"Is there nothing you DON'T dare to do? Braving the other's greatest fear would be like winning, right, Ter?"

Terry nodded, grinning evilly. What on Earth would they come up with? This might prove fun. Still, he was the oldest of the group, by two whole weeks, and always saw himself as the sensible one, the wise one, the one who would have to calm things down before the end of the world ensued. A challenge like this, he thought, could easily lead to dangerous situations. So, like many times before, he came up with the solution.

"Right. Here's what we'll do." He reached over to snatch a piece of paper from the pile of printer paper that was stacked next to Jimmy's computer, ripping it in half and giving them one piece apiece. "Write down something you think the other would never do, something you wouldn't do. One rule, nothing too lethal, okay?"

The other two boys nodded. It seemed fair, and it kept them from changing their minds once they heard what the other said. Terry was good at these sorts of things. Then again, he was getting close to his sixteenth birthday, while Jenny and Bryan still had months to go, and Jimmy those two weeks. Scribbles were made, and the notes delivered to the impartial judge; Jenny. Putting on her official face, she started reading in that dry tone that had the others convinced she would end up as a lawyer. Bryan, having all but resigned himself to a future career as a juvenile delinquent, had already started asking for a `twin brother' discount.

"This looks like Jimmy's handwriting, because it's vaguely readable. `Spend a night in the MacArthur Mansion'. That's some challenge for you, Bry." She winked at the suddenly much paler boy, then proceeded to read Bryan's own note. "This one's harder to decipher. Wait, I've got it! It says `sleep a night in the spook house'."

"What a tie!" Terry laughed. "Pack your sleeping bags, guys."



"No way!"

"Are you out of your mind!?"

"Why not?" Jenny asked. "First one to run home to mommy loses."

"And to make sure everything goes by the book," Terry said, unable to hide his sly grin, "me and Jenny will accompany you."

"What!? No way!" she yelled. "Are you out of your mind? I'm not spending the night in some run-down, ramshackle hovel, just because those two suffer from testosterone imbalance!"

"You're not scared, Jenny, are you?" Bryan tainted, knowing his sister well enough to reach the desired effect. "Afraid of the dark?"

"Me? Afraid? You'll see, little boy. I'll be snoozing like a baby while you wet your pants like one." She got up, pulling Bryan with her. "Come on, baby bro, let's go and pack."

"I wish you'd stop calling me that."

"Well, who was born first? I'm not just your elder, I'm also far, far more mature."

"Not to mention loud-mouthed and bitchy..."

"You're just jealous because I'm so much prettier than you..."

Terry and Jimmy waited until the bickering twins were out of hearing range, before they collapsed with laughter. Jenny and Bryan were identical twins, both to their looks and personalities, and it amused their friends to no end when the two accused each other of being ugly or foul-tempered. In reality, everybody knew they loved each other as deeply as any siblings ever did, although neither would ever admit that, even under torture. With the twins gone, an awkward silence settled down inside Jimmy's room. He was a little bit too shy to keep a conversation going on his own, and whenever the two of them were alone together, Terry seemed to clam up. Jimmy kept wondering at this, his brain normally reaching one of two conclusions. Either that Terry could feel that he, Jimmy, was attracted to him, and shared the feeling, but waited for him to make the first move, or that Terry could feel that he, Jimmy, was attracted to him, but resented it, and was afraid that Jimmy would make a move. In fact, neither of these theories were right. Terry could feel a tension between himself and Jimmy, but he had no idea whatsoever what it was all about. All he knew was that it had him tongue-tied, and made him feel slightly uncomfortable. Still, he didn't want to leave, since Jimmy was his best friend, and he enjoyed the time they spent together. Time they would now spend together in a supposedly haunted mansion. Terry couldn't help but snigger, prying Jimmy out of his mental cul-de-sac.

"What's so funny?"

"You are, all of you. What's so scary about an old mansion?"

"Well, first of all, it does look kind of shacky from the outside. Second, in case you haven't heard, there are ghosts in there."

"Do you really believe in that?"

"Don't you?"

"Nope. Bats, maybe, rats, certainly, but ghosts, no."

"They say Mrs MacArthur went mad, and killed her husband, hiding the body inside one of the walls. Then she took their son as her lover, until she killed the two of them as well. They say she and her son still walk there during the night, preying on the poor, mortal souls that get in their way."

"Nice speech, Vincent Price." Terry laughed. "Who are they? I've always wondered."


"They, the ones who make up all this crap."

"Well, my dad told me about it."

"To keep you from playing there, no doubt. Broken glass, tall stairs, rats. A good way to make you stay clear of it."

"Say what you want, Terry. I just don't like the idea."

"Hey, relax!" Spurred by a sudden impulse, Terry reached out and hugged his friend. "You know I'll be there to protect you."

"Terry, what...?"

Jimmy started to object, but instead he melted into the embrace, wishing it would last forever. All too soon, though, Terry pulled away, smiling as he turned to rummage through Jimmy's wardrobe.

"Come on, worryguts, let's get you packed."

A couple of hours later, they met up at Jimmy's house again, all of them carrying small backpacks. It was almost dark, only a tiny crescent of a moon added to the streetlights. Three worried faces and one calmly amused made their way to the outskirts of town. Terry held back an urge to scream in the others' ears, realising that he would have to run around the neighbourhood like a sheepdog in order to get them all back on track. The only thing that would work, he deduced, was to get in there, and show them that there were no dangers. No ghosts. As they got closer to their goal, he felt a hand slip into his own, and was surprised to see Jimmy give him a shy smile. They hadn't held hands since they were little, but now Terry squeezed back, smiling reassuringly. Turning back towards the others, he almost laughed out loud as he saw that the twins were holding hands, too. At the gates to the MacArthur property, they all let go of each other and put on brave faces. The gates were rusty, but someone had clearly oiled them, because they made no sound as Terry eased them open, closing them once they all were inside. Here, the street lights was kept away by the row of trees that lined the fence, and the town suddenly seemed very far away. The gravelled path that lead up to the mansion was overgrown with weeds, the rest of the garden more resembling a jungle. Among the darkened orchards, some kind of night creature stirred. Maybe a fox, Terry thought, adding to himself, or Mrs MacArthur preparing for tonight's apple-and-teenager pie. As the mansion came into view, Terry felt Jimmy's hand again, and he took it, trying to induce some courage into his friend. It was too dark here, so far from the street, to see any facial expressions, but he felt certain that Jimmy was smiling once more. The mansion was a three-storey building with a two-story cellar and an attic. It was very baroque, with figurines and adornments at every window and corner, and even a couple of gargoyles staring down at them from the roof. Most of the ground floor windows were smashed, but further up, nearly all of them were whole.

"No sleeping down here," Bryan said, his voice only just steady. "God knows what's got in through all those holes."

"Let's check the second floor," Jenny said, nodding. "It feels safer."

"I think we should try the cellar," Terry said, immediately met with shaking heads. "Why not? Do you prefer the attic?"

"No way!" Jimmy said, tightening his grip. "Second floor."

"Really!" Terry laughed. "Why should it be safer than the cellar or the attic? Why do you think only those places are haunted?"

"That has nothing to do with the ghosts," Jenny said. "Rats downstairs, bats upstairs. Us in the middle."

"Right. As if that's the only reason."

"Give it a rest, Terry!" Bryan snapped. "Let's get inside."

The doors to the MacArthur Mansion creaked open, their hinges so rusty they might fall off any day, and the four of them stepped inside, shining their flashlights into every corner of the large hallway that greeted them. There were no sounds but their own footsteps, once the doors were shut again. The furniture was, of course, gone since long, and only pale squares on the wallpaper gave away where there had been paintings. The linoleum was torn off in places, revealing dark spots of moisture or mould. There were no holes in the wooden floor, though, and no signs of animal life.

"Don't you think that's weird?" Bryan asked. "Not even rat-shit."

"As if someone sneaked in here every morning, and swept it all up."

"Shut up, Jenny!" Jimmy said, his voice cracking up.

"Or maybe, somehow, something keeps all the rats away. The leaves and the dust and the glass are all still there."

"Jenny, I'll kill you!" Terry felt the hand in his squeeze even harder. "You win, Bry, let's go home!"

"No way, man! Passed the point o' no return when we walked through those gates."

"All hope abandon, ye who enter in!"

"Shut up, Terry!" The other three hissed.

The second floor was a lot cleaner. Without linoleum, there was no place for any mould to strike root, and since the windows were mostly unbroken, there were no blown-in leaves, either. Jenny bent down and ran a finger across the polished wood, shining her flashlight on it to reveal that there was no dust. They argued for a while whether to turn left or right at the top of the stairs, before a gleam of moonlight to their right settled the debate. Spooky moonlight won over total darkness, and they found a room where all the windows were whole, and where the thin moon chased away the worst of the dark. Hesitantly, Jimmy let go of Terry's hand, as they rolled out their sleeping bags, then sat down. Jenny and Bryan had made sandwiches, Jimmy had brought a thermos of hot chocolate and a set of mugs, while Terry, ever thoughtful, had brought a deck of cards and a couple of candles. After a few friendly games and a bit to eat, the mood lightened, and soon Jimmy could hardly tell this night from any other sleepover night. But then Bryan started to yawn, and talk centred on bedtime. It was still warm, so they dressed down to their underwear and t-shirts, then began to settle down. As a kid, Jimmy had been afraid of the dark. Not so much that he couldn't sleep alone, or needed a night light, but he would never go down into his parents' cellar without a flashlight, always scared that the light bulb would go out. Over the years, he lost most of this fear, but now he suddenly felt six years old again.

"Can't we at least keep the candles burning?"

"We don't wanna risk burning the whole house down," Jenny said. "Especially not with us inside."

"Yeah," Bryan added. "Mom would kill us if we got burned to death."

"What about a flashlight?"

"No, Jimmy," Terry said, his voice thick with concern. "The bet was to sleep in here, not to have a stay-up in candlelight."

"I don't like it, Terry. I'll admit it, I'm scared."

"But there's nothing to be scared of! Look, if it makes you feel better, just move your sleeping bag over here, and we'll sleep together, okay?"

"Okay..." Within his chest, Jimmy's heart somersaulted. "That'll make me feel a little bit better, I guess."

"Good. Come on."

"Well, if you're gonna screw, just keep it quiet, okay? I'm tired."

"Shut up, Bryan!"

"Hey guys," Jenny said, while Terry blew out the candles. She lit her flashlight and aimed it at him, grinning as he cursed her. "I just thought of something."

"There's a first," Bryan muttered.

"What if we need to... you know... use the bathroom?" She ignored her brother's remark completely. "I mean, the chances for working toilets are remote, right?"

"Should've gone before we left home," Terry said. "I did."

"Yeah, but what about during the night? You boys've got it easy, all you have to do is tie a knot on it. It's far worse for me."

"Stick a finger in." This time, Bryan got a left hook for reply. "Oww! I'm just trying to help!"

"Don't, or at least grow a brain before you do! Terry, I'm serious!"

"Well, just go next room and pee in a corner. I don't think we'll get any complaints." He laughed. "And if the resident supernatural entities should wish to vent their spite, just send them to me. I don't believe in them, anyway."

The twins, who Jimmy firmly believed to be able to sleep through a rock concert, began to drowse away as soon as the lights were out, fears or no fears. Before long, he could hear Jenny's steady, heavy breathing, and Bryan's light snores, to his left, but as he turned to the right, he could see that Terry's eyes were still open. In the yellow-bluish moonlight, he studied his best friend's features, marvelling at his beauty. For the first time, he saw the downy beginnings of a moustache beneath Terry's nose. And beneath that, his thin, red, inviting lips...

"Can't sleep?" Terry whispered, so sudden that Jimmy jumped. "Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."

"Never mind. I'm just being silly, aren't I?"

"No, you're not." He rolled over to lie on his side, facing Jimmy. "I think you're being brave."


"Yeah. I mean, you're scared, but you're still staying with us, aren't you?"

"I guess so. But if you weren't here, I'd be right back home by now. If any one of us is brave, it's you."

"I don't think so, Jimmy. You guys are scared of the ghosts, right? And you're still here. I don't even believe in ghosts, so I've got nothing to be scared of. I'm not braving anything, except maybe a tiny bit of queasiness about spiders."

"Thanks for reminding me. I hadn't even thought about spiders. Brrr!"

"Don't worry, there aren't any. I checked. Twice."

"Oh, jolly! Terry?"


"Would you mind holding hands with me? While we sleep, I mean."


"Thanks, Ter. I really mean it. By the way, you don't take Bryan seriously, do you?"

"Certainly not. That guy would sleep through an earthquake, he wouldn't wake up from just a little roll in the proverbial hay two feet away."

"Terry! Are you serious?" Jimmy's heart skipped a beat, and he had trouble finding his voice again. "Please... I mean... please don't kid me around!"

"I'm not, Jimmy. Honestly."

"I... I'm just... but..."

"Ssch! Let's talk about it tomorrow, okay?" Jimmy nodded, his face cracked into a wide, slightly silly grin. "Once we get back home, we'll do some talking. I just want you to know that I... I feel for you, too."

"Tomorrow, Terry." Unable to resist, Jimmy leaned over to kiss Terry's cheek, enticing a giggle from the slightly older boy. "Good night."

"Night, Jimmy."

They settled down facing each other, only the thin fabric of their sleeping bags keeping them apart. Terry took Jimmy's hands in his own, smiling happily as he closed his eyes. Jimmy stayed awake, watching his friend's face as Terry slowly fell asleep, the smile being replaced by an air of contentment. A look that said that all was well in the world. Everything is well, Jimmy thought. And tomorrow... tomorrow might just prove to be even better!

When Terry woke up again, they were still holding hands. Jimmy was sleeping heavily, his eyes moving slightly beneath closed lids. Gently releasing his grip, unwilling to wake his friend up, Terry wormed his way out of his sleeping bag, hurrying to get out of the room. It was colder, now, so he paused to tuck Jimmy in, and to grab his own jacket. Back in the second floor's main hallway, he shone his flashlight around, occasionally wrinkling his nose as he found patches of mildew on the walls. They were lucky, he realised, to have found a room free of mould. The call of nature broke his train of thought, and he hastily opened the next door. That room was a bit dusty, and the air had a stuffy feeling to it. None of his friends had made a visit yet, however, so he made his way across the floor to the faraway corner. There, he pulled down his briefs, and relieved himself. It was a strange feeling, albeit a bit exciting, as well, to pee in someone else's bedroom, even if said someone was dead since decades. Hope ghosts can't smell, he thought, chuckling to himself as he finished, shook off and put away. As he returned to the others, he decided that he didn't feel sleepy. Instead, he grabbed his shoes and tied them on. A glance on his watch said a quarter past two. This was a perfect time for some exploring. He strolled off down the hallway, opening every door he passed, but finding nothing but empty, more or less dusty rooms and broom closets. His thoughts returned to Jimmy. During the evening, he had watched his friend closely, for the first time really noticing all the gentle, loving glances Jimmy stole, every time he thought Terry was looking somewhere else. He'd found it thrilling. To be admired, to be... loved. It was a feeling worth dying for. Or living for, on second thought. He searched his mind once more, trying to clarify his own feelings. The answer he got was the same one he'd got several times that evening. I really do feel for him. Deeply. He knew he loved Jimmy, but how much? And in what way? As a friend? As a lover? Was he ready to, as Bryan had so eloquently put it, screw his friend?

"Well, that's for tomorrow," he muttered to himself and the dark. "For some place a tad more romantic."

The second floor turned out to be depressingly empty. Not only its inhabitants were dead, Terry thought. The house itself was no longer alive. He wondered what it had been like, during its heydays. A busy place, teeming with people. Millionaire MacArthur and his wife, entertaining guests, servants running around busily. Perhaps the laughter of children, as the boy MacArthur, Terry had no idea what his first name had been, played with his friends. Were they all part of the noblesse, or had he been allowed to have friends among the hoi polloi? An imaginary toss of a coin made Terry's choice for him, and he continued upstairs. The third floor held a couple of empty supply rooms, all seemingly serving a HUGE room. Maybe this had been a ballroom, or a dining hall the size of a football field, with room for a subs' bench. It, too, was empty, and Terry found himself getting bored. Lying awake, staring at Jimmy's sleeping face didn't seem so bad, all of a sudden. Still, there was the attic. A thin, frail-looking staircase led upwards to an open hatch in the ceiling. Terry carefully made his way up to it, shining his flashlight all around as he peered through. There might be wasps' nests. He couldn't see any, but the place was still not empty. This was a genuine treasure chamber! Here were all the furniture that hadn't been shipped away. Walking around, stroking old book cases, tables and chair, Terry kept wondering if they had brought everything up through that tiny hatch. So lost in thought was he, that he almost fell down the larger flight of stairs at the far end of the attic. Cursing out loudly, he went down, opening a set of double doors leading into the ballroom. As he closed them, he realised that they were designed to blend in against the rest of that wall, and that, closed, they were all but invisible. Not really willing to give up on his find, Terry still went back down to the second floor, debating with himself whether or not to wake up his friends to show them what he'd found. Let them sleep, he finally thought, and instead he made his way down to the first floor. First, I'll check out the rest of the house, then maybe sleep for a couple of hours, and we'll explore things in daylight, tomorrow.

When Jimmy woke up, he felt empty. As if something vital was missing. It took him a second or two to get his bearings, to remember where he was and why. Then he recalled his talk with Terry the night before, and a feeling of warmth spread through his body, manifesting itself as a grin. His watch showed half three, and he grunted with disappointment. Dawn was a couple of hours away, and he wanted so badly to continue the conversation. Touching his lips, he smiled again at the memory of the brief kiss he had given Terry. He longed to do that again, maybe go further, as well. The way they had fallen asleep, holding hands like... Suddenly, Jimmy realised that his hands were empty, and he reached over to Terry's sleeping bag. The moon had moved on, so it was all but pitch black inside the room. The bag was empty. He must be up, looking for someplace to take a leak, Jimmy thought, an evil spur of inspiration entering his mind. He quietly unzipped his sleeping bag, and got up. Without disturbing the twins, he slipped into his trousers and shoes, and picked up his flashlight. The hallway was moonlit, now, so he kept his own light off, hoping to find Terry before he was finished. To surprise his friend at the most awkward of moments would be a gag! Suppressing a giggle, he eased the first door open, but found the room to be empty. A strong smell, emanating from the far corner, told him that Terry had already been there, and done his business. But in that case, where was he? Anticipating his prank had kept Jimmy's fear at bay, but now it set full sails. What the hell had happened? Where was Terry? Panic gripped him, and he had to force himself calm again. Screaming wouldn't help, and waking up the others would only get him laughed at. On the other hand, if he'd go and search for Terry, only to find his dried-out, mutilated corpse... Biting his lip, Jimmy fought back thoughts like that, but he couldn't stop tears from welling up in his eyes, running down his cheeks. More scared than ever in his life, Jimmy made his way to the stairs, descending them with slow, hesitant steps.

Bryan slowly woke up when Jenny shook his shoulders, shouting his name into his ear. He did his best to fight it, but in the end, he sat up, yawning as he eyed her excited face. She caught his gaze, clearly waiting for him to ask what was up. Just to annoy her, he decided not to. In the end, she gave in.

"They're gone, Bry."


"Terry and Jimmy. I checked the rooms in this wing, but they aren't here."

"So? You're not telling me they've been abducted by the bogey man, are you? I can't believe we were ever scared of this place."

"Noo! Don't you get it? The two of them, gone? Together?"

"Jenny, I'm tired. Let me sleep."

"Geez! You really are slow! A fiver says they're balling each other, even as we speak."

"About flippin' time." His face lit up with a grin. "Should we try to find them?"

"I'd love to, but let's cut them some slack. Jimmy's had a crush on Ter for years, they really deserve time alone."

"Spoilsport." He laughed. "Did you see the way they held hands last night?"

"Yeah. It was soo sweet. I wonder what opened Terry's eyes."

"Who cares? I wanna sleep. Let's pester them about it in the morning."

The ground floor was little more than glass shards and leaves, so Terry hurriedly looked through the empty rooms, then proceeded to the stairs leading down to the upper cellar. There was a laundry room, with the remains of a smashed, ancient washing machine. Probably too heavy to remove, he thought. Next to that was a shower room, like a gym shower, with open stalls. A place for servants to scrub up before or after performing their duties. The tiles on the floor were mostly cracked, or completely gone, and the room had an unpleasant, rotten stench to it. As if the mould had gone so deep it was killing the wooden floor. Deciding not to try if it would support his weight, Terry back out of the laundry room, and soon found a place he liked. The kitchen. It was larger than the entire apartment he and his parents lived in, with two huge stoves, a huge old refrigerator and scores of cupboards. What a feast one could make in here, he thought as he checked out one of the stoves, tracing his finger around one of the spiral-shaped hot plates. Terry had always loved cooking, and had pestered his mother until she gave in, and started teaching him. He closed his eyes, imagining this place as it had been, alive and teeming with activity. In this daydream, he made supper, hastily frying thin slices of venison, to go with a mixture of roasted roots and vegetables; leek, onion, parsnip, potatoes, celeriac, carrots and egg plant. A rich cream sauce to go with that, and then freshly baked garlic bread on the side. He would set a table for two, dish the food up nicely, then open a bottle of claret, just slightly chilled. Light a couple of candles, then fetch Jimmy, and escort him to the table. Terry smiled as he imagined the happy smile this would entice, and the sparkling eyes that would seek his while they ate. And afterwards...

"Mmm," he hummed, contentedly. "Why fantasise? I'll just do it, one of these days."

Still smiling, he made a pirouette, then half danced, half walked out of the kitchen, checking out a couple of store rooms. The rest of the cellar was disappointing; it was smaller than the house, not continuing in underneath the wings. The lower cellar must have been for storing fresh vegetables and fruits, and the stench from whatever had been left behind when the house was evacuated made Terry turn back before he reached the bottom of the staircase. There was a limit even to his curiosity. As he made his way back up, his mind set on going back to bed, he saw a cone of light up ahead, past the kitchen, coming down the stairs from the ground floor. Grinning, he turned off his own flashlight, waiting to surprise whoever it was.

Jimmy's legs were shaking as he started down the cellar stairs. If it hadn't been for Terry, he would never have dared it. He tried his best to keep his mind off ghosts and the supernatural, focusing instead on other things that might have happened. Maybe Terry had fallen down the stairs, or through the creaky floor. There were many perfectly natural ways to hurt oneself in a house like this. He was still crying quietly, his breath ragged as he shone his flashlight back and forth. There had to be a reason why Terry hadn't returned, and Jimmy was certain that it was a bad one. He poked his head through the door to the laundry room, his voice no more than a hissing whisper as he called for Terry. Nothing. The next door led to a kitchen, with more stairs leading down in the back of the room. Biting his lips, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that the answer lay down there, in the deepest place of the house. He would find Terry there, and that thought scared him more than anything else. As he made his way through the kitchen, he felt a hand touch his shoulder. Too stunned to scream, he dropped his flashlight, which made a clinking noise as it broke against the floor. Everything went black.

Fighting hard to keep back a giggle, Terry stepped up to Jimmy, and put a hand on his shoulder. To his surprise, the other boy said nothing, but dropped his flashlight. In the dark, Terry felt his friend move away from him, then heard him fall to the floor. Gasping, he turned on his own flashlight, pointing it towards the heap of clothes at his feet.

"Jimmy! Jimmy!" He got down on his knees and turned the unconscious boy over. "Talk to me, Jimmy! Please!"

Jimmy's face was pale, but he stirred as Terry shook him, stroking his cheeks as he tried to bring back life to his friend. Terry was crying, now, and he could feel that Jimmy's cheeks were wet, too. Slowly but surely, Jimmy's eyelids began to flutter, and Terry sat him up.

"Wake up, Jimmy. Please! I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to scare you like that. I'm so sorry."

"What happened?" Jimmy asked, his voice unsteady and his gaze unfocused. Then his eyes zeroed in on Terry's worried face, and he tossed himself around his friend's shoulder. "Terry! Oh Terry! Thank god you're all right!"

"I'm all right? Jimmy, how do YOU feel? You fainted..."

"Great, now that I found you. Oh Terry, I thought... I mean, I woke up, and you were... gone... I got so scared." They were both crying, hugging each other. "I thought for certain that you were..."

"I couldn't sleep, Jimmy, so I had a look around. And when I saw you I thought I'd play you a prank. Can you ever forgive me?"

"I'll try." He laughed. "All right. Forgiven. But only because I'm so glad to see you. I might spank you later for this."

"I deserve it, and I'll take it like a man. Jimmy, I'm so sorry..."

"Stop apologising! Kiss me instead."

"All right. I love you, Jimmy."

"Love you, too."

Their lips met, a soft touch sending a bolt of lightning through Terry. Judging by his friend's sudden jerk, Jimmy felt the same. To Terry, it was as if the contact opened a dam inside him, flooding his chest with a love so strong it almost hurt. He opened his mouth slightly, brushing the tip of his tongue against Jimmy's lips. Jimmy followed suit, making their kiss a long, deep one. When they finally parted, it felt like hours had passed, and Terry felt so light-headed he couldn't keep in a giggle. Hearing this, Jimmy started laughing, too, and they embraced each other again. Terry felt Jimmy's hand touch his bare thigh, rubbing it from the knee and upwards.

"Aren't you cold? Your mom would kill you if she knew you ran around in just your briefs."

"What, my shirt and jacket don't count?" Terry laughed, then shivered as Jimmy's hand reached his crotch. "Ooh, that feels..."

"Terry, why didn't you wake me up?"

"You were so cute, I just couldn't. Besides, I thought I was just going to pee."

"I love you, Terry. I just want you to know that."

"As if that kiss didn't convince me. I'm sorry it took me so long to see."

"Don't worry. Whatever happens, it was worth the wait."

"I'll cook you dinner tonight, Jimmy. Just for you and me. How does that sound?"

"Sounds nice, but only if I get you for dessert."

"I warn you, my only flavour is cream-filled."

Laughing softly, they kissed again, Jimmy's hand slipping inside Terry's waistband. The touch made Terry gasp, and he moaned into the kiss, the distraction making him lose the war of tongues. The only thing that convinced Terry that time hadn't stopped was the warm body next to him, and the fiery touch that brought him so much pleasure. He felt the chilly cellar air rush in against him as Jimmy pulled down his briefs, but their tight embrace, and their hot kiss, kept him from freezing. He tried to reciprocate, but Jimmy firmly removed his hand, insisting on doing all the work. Slowly but surely, Terry climbed towards his peak, his moans now low growls of pleasure. Then, moments before the point of no return, a beam of light hit his eyes, and Jimmy's hand promptly vanished.

"There you are," he heard Jenny say. "I was beginning to think you'd sneaked back home."

"Come on, guys," Bryan said. "We're packed and ready to go."

"Go?" Jimmy asked. "But...?"

"The sun's just about to rise. I've declared the bet a draw. You both won, Jimmy." The flashlight beam left their faces. "Nice one, Ter! You'll keep ol' Jimmy here happy, I bet."

"Jenny, for pity's sake!" Terry stood up, hastily pulling his briefs up. "Ever heard of privacy?"

"Yup, but I don't believe in it. Ask Bryan, I've walked in on him a hundred times."

"That's true, guys. And always when I'm in the nude, or worse, when I'm..."

"Yeah, we get the point!" Jimmy said, laughing. "Spare us the details!"

"We've got your stuff, guys," Jenny said. "I'll even let Terry get his pants back. See, Bryan? I told you they were balling each other."

"Technically, they weren't. They were just making out, so you owe me a fiver."

"You never took the bet!"

"I did!" Bryan turned to the other two boys, who were now blushing deeply, staring at their feet. "By the way, guys, this sex-on-the-kitchen-floor thing, is that some kind of kink you're willing to tell us about? Or do we have to make educated guesses?"

"Bry, please!" Jimmy pleaded. "Don't tease!"

"Are you going to spread this out?" Terry asked. "Us being boyfriends, I mean?"

"You already are? That's cool!" Jenny let hear a girlish squeak of happy excitement. "No, just relax. Me and Bry, we've known you'd end up together for years. Just thought you'd never get around to it. Come on, let's see a kiss!"

"Don't encourage them. If she starts pestering you with her video camera, just smack her in the head, okay?"

"Are you saying I'm a pervert?"

"No, that would be stating the bleeding obvious."

"I just happen to love romance, you blockhead!" While the other two argued, Jimmy pulled Terry close, and they kissed each other. "Ooh, look! Isn't it cute?"

"Have to admit it is," Bryan answered. "Come on, let's go home and get some real sleep."

"Like those two will sleep! Ask them if they'll spend the night."

"It's already spent. Jenny, you're not going to watch my two best friends having sex!"

"Says who?"

"Says me!"

"I never listen to you." She turned back to watch as Jimmy helped Terry into his trousers, without even breaking the kiss. "Hey, I thought I was your best friend!"

"Are you kidding? I just say that to keep you from spreading that tape."

"Aww, you hurt me. What do you think Carla would say if she saw you..."

"All right! You are my best friend! But they're still not spending the night just for your cheap thrills!"

"Is that envy I hear, brother?" They left the mansion, and started walking towards the gates, Jimmy and Terry holding hands, occasionally kissing each other, completely ignoring the bickering twins. "Because you won't get any thrills from it?"

"You're such a one-track mind sometimes, Jenny! Why, I remember when I had Jonathan spend the night, and you all but begged us to get it on. That was so embarrassing!"

"Well, you would have made a cute couple. You're such a bore."

"And you're a pervert."

"I keep telling you, I'm not! I just think it would be cute. Maybe I'll let Carla have that tape, after all. She'd have to glue her jaw back on, that's for sure. If she didn't just pounce you...."

"You never stop, do you? And they say teenage BOYS can't control their hormones. Ha! They never saw you, that's for..."

From the window of the room where the youngsters had slept, two pale figures saw them leave, listening as the twins' voices faded, watching as the two kissing boys shrunk away with distance. Neither moved until the four were outside the gates, and out of sight.

"I'm tired of rats and bugs, mother. Why did you let them go?"

"Oh, Angus! Didn't you hear them? Didn't you see them? That was the sweetest, most romantic thing I've ever heard."

"Didn't stop us when that other guy was boning his girlfriend down in the study." A grin showed aged, yellowing teeth. "I really liked the way they screamed."

"It takes a poet to discern sex from love, my son. You're not one."

"Hmph! I'm just being pragmatic. And hungry."

"Help yourself."

"Residual fear. All right, it's good, and this room's full of it, but it lacks substance, if you know what I mean."

"I know, son. But there'll be others. There'll always be others." She paused. "A badger just got in through the patio door."

"Oh, great. Well, a snack's better than nothing. See you there!"

"You take it. I'll stay here a while longer."

She watched as the boy sank through the floor, as effortlessly as if it had been water. A couple of seconds later, something gave up a short scream and its life. She shut her ears to the ensuing noise, instead savouring the whispers of thoughts and emotions left behind by their visitors. Yes, there was fear, but her son had missed an even greater treat. There was love. She hadn't really known it for a long time, but hadn't forgotten it. Its sweet fragrance, succulent flavour filled her, nourishing her. Yes, it lacked substance, but made up for that with its rarity. Thank you, children, she thought, wishing she could see them all just one more time. Thank you for bringing a little light to such a dark place.

The End!

This is a short story, and there won't be any sequels. Not to say I won't use these characters someplace else. Maybe I will. As always, thoughts and comments are welcome to winterimage@hotmail.com