Julian ran his hand through his hair and took a step back from the mirror to check that the chalk dust hadn’t fallen too heavily on his shirt, bow tie and tweed jacket. He took the finishing touch, a bushy whitened stick on moustache out of his pocket and carefully began applying it to his top lip as there was a knock on the door and David Morton barged in.
“So how do I look?” demanded David with a grin, extending his arms to show off his own costume to Julian.
“Like a hairy fruit bowl,” Julian laughed. David had sourced the most awful wig from somewhere and somehow pinned a large apple to the top of it. “The apple is supposed to prove gravity, you know, not defy it!”
“Ah, but watch this!” David said holding up a hand. He pulled at a thread by his face and the apple slid down onto his head with a soft thump. “Simple pulley system to demonstrate gravity in action!” He grinned. “I bet your costume can’t do anything quite as brilliant as that! By the way, have you see Toly’s costume? He wouldn’t let me in his room earlier!”
Julian rolled his eyes. “And I don’t suppose it defies gravity when it rises back up?” he muttered, not ready to lose the point. “And no, I haven’t seen Toly. I swear if he decides he needs to work tonight, or that he is going to dress as a secret agent, I’ll swing for him.”
David carefully let go of the string and the apple slid back up the pin. “You wouldn’t be the only one. Darrell would be way ahead of you with a right hook!” He sat down in Julian’s desk chair and stretched out his legs. “One thing I am not keen on are these tight things that they used to wear. Makes me look sissy!”
Julian snorted. “That’s nothing to do with the costume,” he said.
Shooting him a dark look, David retorted with, “Well at least I don’t look like I’ve been white washed in a paint factory!”
It would have descended into chaos if there hadn’t have been a smart rap on Julian’s door once more and then their friend, Anatoly Petrov was standing in the doorway, looking very unlike himself.
Julian and David looked at each other and laughed. “Well, the ‘tache seems a bit more fitting now,” Julian said. Having decided on their costumes a few weeks in advance Anatoly had decided to grow his own moustache for his ‘disguise’ as he kept calling it.
“So, who exactly are you supposed to be?” chortled David.
Anatoly rolled his eyes. “You know who I am,” he said, holding up the largest lightbulb he had been able to find. “The father of the alternating current electrical system!”
David and Julian shared a glance. “You would go for Nikola Tesla,” Julian said after a moment. “Anyone Russian!” he laughed.
“Tesla was Serbian-American, for your information,” Anatoly corrected him. “And anyway, you can hardly talk, you stuck with an Englishman, David!”
“Yes but without Newton there would be very little science!” argued David. “Anyway, Ju broke the mould and went with a German!”
“Which he is already starting to regret,” Julian said, brushing more chalk dust from his jacket.
“I do not expect Sally will be kissing you very much tonight,” Anatoly said slyly to his friend. “You will probably ruin her dress, whatever it is she is dressing up as!”
“Oh shut up you,” Julian groaned. “You’ll be no better off, Darrell can’t stand the monstrosity on your upper lip.”
“And your wig is ridiculous,” David added helpfully, pointing to the side-parted hairpiece covering Anatoly’s curls.
“Darrell loves it really,” Anatoly defended himself. “And your wig is hardly much better Morton! It is not my fault I cannot get my hair to lie flat!”
“A shilling says Darrell calls it a monstrosity or worse before we get to the party,” David said to him.
“Deal,” Anatoly said firmly, holding out his hand for David to shake.
“Who decides if her word is worse than monstrosity?” Julian asked, checking his watch.
“You can,” David said with a smile. “As it doesn’t see you’re joining in the betting?”
“Well I know better than to bet against you on this one,” he said with a smile. “Ill save any wagering for later.”
Anatoly sighed and checked his own watch. “I think we should go if we are going to get to the girls on time. Are we going to do anything to wind them up tonight?”
“Exist?” David suggested with a dead-pan face.
“Speak for yourself, Isaac,” Julian said.
“That’s SIR Isaac to you,” David said haughtily.
Julian pulled a face at him and turned back to Anatoly. “I don’t know, I hadn’t really thought about it. Maybe we could pretend we have found a mystery or something and annoy them with cryptic phrases and things?”
Anatoly’s mouth grinned under his wiry moustache. “That sounds like fun.”
“What sort of mystery were you thinking Ju?” David asked as he got up to check his own costume in Julian’s mirror.
Julian thought for a moment as he picked up his slate board which read E=MC 2. “I’m not sure. We don’t want Darrell thinking you’re working, Toly. That wouldn’t go down well.”
“Maybe something like, we think we’re being followed?” David suggested as Anatoly nodded seriously.
“Well that could be believable,” Julian agreed. “There will be lots of people in similar costumes, so we pick a common one and go on about that ghost that keeps appearing?”
“We could even take a ghost costume out with us and share it between us, disappear occasionally so we actually have something to lookout for?” Anatoly said, his eyes twinkling with mischief.
“Now that’s why they made you an agent, clearly,” David grinned, pleased enough with the idea to actually praise the Russian.
“Where are we going to get a ghost costume at this time on Halloween?” Julian asked practically. He watched both David and Anatoly turning to look at the white sheet on his bed. “Oh no, you’re not nicking my bedsheet!”
“Where else are we doing to find a ghost costume?” Anatoly asked him with a smirk.
“And what happens if it gets ripped or dirty? Matron will lose her rag big time!” Julian pointed out.
“I’m sure you could stand up to matron,” David said. “She likes you!”
“Not that much!” Julian shot back. “She likes you more Morton, you goodie two shoes!”
Anatoly rolled his eyes and shook his head as the boys bickered. He folded his arms and eventually said; “Shall I go and get one?”
“Where are you going to get one from?” David asked, trying to remember if he had locked his door when he had left. He didn’t fancy coming back from the party to find his bed stripped, or to trying to wrangle a new sheet from matron either.
Anatoly grinned. “The linen cupboard, of course.”
Julian eyed him suspiciously for a moment. “You can… What am I saying? If anyone could break into Matron’s supplies it would be you.”
Anatoly grinned suddenly. “I can indeed, it helps when she has given you a key!” He held up the key for them to inspect.
“She GAVE you a key?” both Julian and David echoed in disbelief.
“She actually gave you it?” Julian asked.
“You didn’t steal it?” David asked.
“No, I did not,” he said smugly. “My superior pulled from strings in case I ever found myself in need of supplies.”
“Jammy git,” Julian muttered. “Where else do you have keys for?”
“The larder,” Anatoly shrugged, knowing that both boys would be instantly even more jealous than they already were.
“And you kept it a secret all this time?” David exploded. “I mean it’s bad enough you’d be willing to leave one of us without a bed sheet when you’ve got a key to the linen cupboard, but you’ve sat and heard us go on about how hungry we are and you could walk into the larder at any time you like!?”
“I promised not to abuse it,” Anatoly said with a contrary air.
David snorted. “Well that’s convenient for you.”
“Do we want to have a sheet to scare the girls with or not?” Anatoly demanded trying to get to the point.
“Well yes! But it’s the principle of the matter,” David said grumpily.
“At least we know now,” Julian said. “The occasional snack wouldn’t be abusing the privilege,” he said meaningfully to Anatoly.
“Maybe, we can talk about it,” Anatoly said with a sigh. “All you two ever think about is your stomachs!”
“Just because you can go months without food,” David exaggerated, rolling his eyes. They all knew by know that Anatoly could go without food, sleep, water, shelter and any human comforts for as long as necessary, or so he claimed.
“I cannot go months!” Anatoly sighed. “Are we going to get a move on or not?”
“Right, you go help yourself to a sheet and then we’ll get going for the girls,” Julian agreed.
“You get some scissors and I will get the sheet,” Anatoly said with a grin as he went to head out of the door.
“Well I hope Matron doesn’t revoke his special status when she finds out he’s cut up her sheet,” Julian said.
“I wouldn’t worry about him, clearly he’s the golden boy,” David said, still a little grumpy. “It’s us that will get chewed out!”
Julian shook his head. “He’s the one with the key, he can take the blame,” he assured David, knowing that Anatoly’s secrets were not the real reason for David’s dark mood. David always got morose a month or so into the term, missing his girlfriend, Peter. It was worst when he had been at university long enough to really miss her, but not long enough that there would be a holiday soon for him to look forward to seeing her again.
“Well I suppose as long as she doesn’t catch us with it, then I suppose it will be alright,” David admitted after a moment.
“Like Toly would let us get caught,” Julian assured him, digging out a pair of scissors and a bottle of ink. “We should draw some eyes on or something, I think.”
“And a mouth?” laughed David.
“Do ghosts have mouths?” Julian pondered aloud. “We don’t want it to stand out too much from other people’s.”
“Well, they must do, otherwise how to they make a noise?” David laughed as Anatoly knocked on Julian’s room door again.
“Magic, ghostly power?” Julian suggested as he opened the door to re-admit Anatoly, a fresh white, folded sheet over his arm.
“Well in that case, we shouldn’t have a mouth on it then!” David said as Anatoly handed over the sheet.
“Mouth?” Anatoly inquired.
“David thought we should draw a mouth on it,” Julian said, brandishing the pen.
“No mouth,” Anatoly ruled. “Let us just keep this simple.”
“Simple, right,” Julian said, putting down the pen and picking up the scissors. “So who’s modelling this so I can work out where to cut the holes?”
“Morton!” Anatoly said immediately.
“Why do I have to do it?” David grumbled. “If either of you two do it, it will end up looking like a scarecrow!”
“And if you do it, the model will end up with his eyes gouged out probably,” Julian said.
“It’s more likely to happen if you did it, Kirrin!” Laughed David.
Julian snapped the scissors open and shut. “Don’t be such a baby.”
David sighed and, after removing the wig-and-apple device from his head, pulled on the sheet. “Happy now?” he asked resigned to his fate.
“Well it is an improvement on your looks, certainly,” Anatoly needled him.
“Oh, go away Petrov!”David groaned as Julian started drawing on eyes.
“Hold still,” Julian warned him. “Or you will end up missing an eye!”
“I’m not moving!” David protested as Julian pressed the pen a little heavier around his eyes.
“You move every time your mouth opens!” Julian said.
David rolled his eyes a little as Anatoly laughed. “The day Morton stops opening his mouth is the day I come back from working without a bruise.”
Julian snorted with laughter and reached for the scissors. “You’d better not argue with that, David, or I really will scar you for life.”
David pushed Julian away, “Take it off before you take the scissors to it!” He protested pulling off the sheet. “I don’t trust you with scissors that close to my face!” Julian laughed and took the sheet and began to cut out the eye holes, while David replaced his apple on his head and hid the strings in his wig.
“Sally! Could you be a dear and do up my dress?” Darrell called to her friend as Sally came into their room.
Absently patting the stuffed dog sitting on Darrell’s desk on the way past Sally moved behind Darrell and did up the back fastening on her blue-and-white checked dress. “There,” she said, making sure the straps were straight.
“Thank you,” she said turning around and smiling. “Do you want me to do yours?” she added seeing Sally all neatly done up as Marilyn Monroe.
“Yes please,” she said, turning around. “I wish we could have swapped costumes though,” she said, a little self-conscious in the white dress, even with it’s lacy little cape.
“But you look so much better as Marilyn than I do!” Darrell said. “You can always put a wrap over it , if you want to cover up, Sally!”
“Only because I’m blonde,” she said wryly. “And I think I will, because it’s bound to be cold outside tonight!”
Darrell sighed, “well it is too late to swap now. What time did the boys say they would pick us up?”
Sally consulted her watch. “In about ten minutes. Do you need me to help you fix your bunches in place?”
“Yes please,” Darrell said with a smile. “I just can’t get them in evenly.”
“Right, stand still then,” Sally said, examining the tiny bunches Darrell had managed to create on each side of her head.
Darrell smiled as Sally managed to get the extra pieces of hair in evenly. “That looks brilliant, thank you!”
“Just don’t let Toly tug them out,” Sally warned her teasingly.
“I won’t,” Darrell said with a wry smile. “I still don’t know if he’ll even be able to stay the whole evening, you know what he’s like when it comes to being called off to work.”
“And I suppose tonight’s the perfect opportunity for someone to get up to a lot of mischief,” Sally sighed. “Well, let’s just hope that Anatoly doesn’t get called off, because it’s about time you two got to enjoy an evening together.”
Darrell nodded, “Indeed. I really hope he doesn’t called away.” She gave a little twirl and looked at herself in their small mirror. “How do I look?”
“Like you just stepped out of the cinema screen,” Sally said.
“So do you!” Darrell said appreciatively to her friend. “You look like Monroe to the life!”
“I’m sure I don’t,” Sally fretted, though she and Darrell had spent ages curling her hair and carefully drawing a beauty spot above her red lips.
“You do! Now you just have to have the confidence she has! You look amazing Sally!”
“Maybe I should have let you shave a bit off one of my heels,” Sally laughed, embarrassed. “Then I’d have her wiggle.”
“Shall we do that then? We can always get your shoe re-heeled!” Darrell laughed excitedly.
“I was joking,” she groaned. “I would be more likely to fall over than drive the boys crazy.”
“Julian would love it,” Darrell assured her.
“What, me falling over?” Sally asked.
“No, the wiggle!” laughed Darrell. “Oh come on Sally! Please please?”
Sally looked at her doubtfully. “Well…” she said, trying to come up with an argument against it, even as Darrell grabbed up her shoes.
“I’ll pay to get them reheeled, I promise!” Darrell said as she moved to the desk, to find something to shave the heel a little.
Sally sighed as she watched Darrell pick up a nail file to see if she could file down one heel tip on her beautiful white shoes.
“Just be careful?” Sally asked. “You are only going to take a tiny bit off, aren’t you?”
“Yes just a little,” she said with a smile, carefully beginning to work. “Try that!” She said handing the shoe back.
Sally took the shoes and slid her feet into them before cautiously standing up. She tested them by shifting her weight side to side a little and then nodded. It didn’t feel like Darrell had taken much off at all, so at least she would be able to walk still.
“Does it work all right?” Darrell checked, looking at her friend carefully as she heard a hailing from outside her window. She wandered over to window and stuck her head out, as she opened it. “Hullo!” she called down to the boys. “Do you want to come up for a moment or shall we come down?”
“Matron will be after our guts if we come up,” David shouted.
“They’re fine,” Sally said quickly, squeezing in beside Darrell at the window. She didn’t want Darrell to take any more off her heel.
“We’ll be down in a moment then!” Darrell called. “Is it terribly cold outside?” she added as Sally waved to the boys and the one Darrell could just about identify as Julian waved back.
“It is quite warm,” Anatoly told her, grinning below his moustache.
“Well, I wouldn’t call it warm,” Julian corrected. “But it’s not too bad.”
“A coat is worth it then?” Sally clarified knowing all too well what Anatoly’s internal temperature gauge was like.
“A cardigan at least,” Julian said.
“I don’t know that a cardigan would go with this!” she said biting her lip.
“Witches’ cloak?” David shouted helpfully.
“Philistine!” she shouted back. “We’ll be down in a moment!” she added as she and Darrel withdrew from the window to get their bits and pieces together to go out with the boys.
“I was going to wear my white jacket, but it might go better with yours?” Darrell offered, putting on her red shoes. She hadn’t been able to get glittery or shiny ones, and silver like in the books had been just as impossible.
“Are you sure about that Darrell? What are you going to wear?” asked Sally as Darrell pulled her shoes on over her little white socks.
“I’m not sure,” Darrell said, rifling through her wardrobe. “I wish I had something light blue like my dress.”
Sally had a brainwave. “I’ve got a light blue cardi you can wear!” she offered diving to her wardrobe.
“Ooh yes that would work,” Darrell said. “I just hope it won’t get too cold.”
“I’m sure Toly will offer you his jacket if you do, you know he won’t feel the cold,” Sally chuckled.
Darrell shot her friend a sideways glance “You think he will?” she asked, slightly hopefully. She did like it when he gave her his coat to keep warm. It smelt delightfully like him, slightly spicy and warm.
“When doesn’t he?” Sally asked as they grabbed their things. She had a little bag on a narrow strap to put her keys in, while Darrell had a wicker basket to hold Toto, the stuffed dog.
“You took your time,” David grumbled as the girls pushed open the door to their halls and came to stand on the pavement with the boys.
“Well some of us need to make sure we don’t look like we’ve been dragged though a hedge backwards,” Sally quipped back as Julian came over and kissed her cheek, his hand going to the curve on her waist.
“You look amazing,” he murmured in her ear, appreciating her appearance and the effort she had gone to.
Sally blushed as she so often did when Julian complemented her. “And you look…. very authentic,” she said in return.
He grinned at her. “Well scientists aren’t known for the glamour, Silly Goose, we did our best, didn’t we boys?” he asked the others.
David nodded, doing his ‘apple meets gravity’ trick for her benefit.
“I still think you should have been the scarecrow or the tin man to go with my costume,” Darrell said to Anatoly, loudly enough for the others to hear, as she looked disapprovingly at his moustache.
Julian and David laughed, collapsing into fits of laughter at the comment as Anatoly sniffed a little. “Really mature are you not,” he said haughtily to his friends before turning to Darrell. “Well where would I have gotten a scarecrow costume from?” he asked her. “This way, I am using things I already own!”
“Oh for goodness sake, use your imagination Toly,” Darrell sighed. “An old check shirt, some old trousers and we could have gotten straw from somewhere I’m sure.”
He pulled a face similar to the one she used when she mentioned his moustache and sighed. “I would have looked ridiculous,” he said firmly.
“And you look what right now?” she asked pointedly, looking at his equally bad wig.
“Sort of like The Three Stooges,” Sally said with a squeal of laughter.
The three boys pulled faces at that remark. “Come on,” Julian said eventually. “Lets get going, or we will miss out on all the fun!”
“Oh you are like The Three Stooges,” Darrell laughed. “That was so clever, Sally.”
“Yes yes, you two are the pinnacle of all wit!” David sighed. “Now, shall we go?”
They nodded and wandered off through the buildings towards the central building. “Do you think the guising will be hard?” Sally wondered as she tried to concentrate on walking with the extra wiggle Darrell had given her. She was hanging on to Julian’s arm with dear life, wondering how on earth she was going to last all night.
“It depends what sort of ‘turns’ the lecturers are after,” David said. “I know that children just have to sing something or do a dance,” he added.
“Do we know what they are giving out?” Anatoly asked. “I am not going to make a fool of myself for a handful of boiled sweets.”
“Well we don’t know, do we?” Sally pointed out. “We shall have to see. Shame we can’t do it for extra credit!” she added with a giggle as she almost turned an ankle.
“Now that would be worth making a fool out of ourselves for,” Julian said, trying to steady her. “Have you had a drink before you came out?” he asked her.
She shook her head and sighed. “No, Darrell filed down a side of my shoe so I wiggled more like Marilyn!” she explained.
“Darrell did what?” he asked in disbelief.
“So you could what like Marilyn?” David asked.
“She filed down the side of my high heel,” she said again. “To make me more like Marilyn, you know how she wiggles in her movies?”
All three boys said nothing for a moment. “I can’t say I’d noticed,” Julian then said very quickly.
“No, I never noticed either,” Anatoly said, sounding marginally more convincing.
“And anyway, you walk perfectly nicely in your own way,” Julian said to Sally, sensing he was in dangerous territory.
Sally and Darrell shared a look, and pursed their lips. Sally gave his arm a squeeze. “Well there isn’t much I can do now. I don’t have any replacement shoes with me,” she added with a sigh. “Unless I hurry back for some?”
“No, I’ll just have to keep a good hold of you,” Julian said, squeezing her around the waist.
She smiled a little and nodded. “Ok, well hold tight!”
David rolled his eyes as Anatoly tried to coax Darrell into walking with him. She refused to on principle due his moustache.
“How can my moustache bother you so much that you will not even walk beside me?” he groaned, not seeing that she was simply trying to wind him up for refusing to dress as a scarecrow.
“It is ridiculous!” she said simply. “It just doesn’t suit you!”
“It is not supposed to suit me,” he said. “It is a Halloween disguise!”
She sighed, “I still don’t want to walk with you! I can’t really believe you grew it!”
“Dorogoy,” he pleaded. “I will not keep it past tonight! It just seemed silly to use a sticking-on moustache which might fall off.”
“But you wouldn’t have needed to walk around with it for the last six weeks!” she protested as David decided to start their trick and began to pull away.
“I’ll catch you up!” he said, turning round and beginning to merge away into the shadows so he could put their ghost sheet on to try and spook the girls.
“Six weeks?” Anatoly snorted. “I only started growing it a fortnight ago at the most!”
“Feels like six weeks,” she grumbled as Sally and Julian shared an eye-roll.
“Do they ever stop?” Julian murmured to Sally as they walked past a darkened street.
“Only when he kisses her,” she said wryly, supressing a shiver as she caught sight of movement and the rustling of something.
“We’re not like that are we?” he asked as he felt her shiver. “Cold darling?”
“I just thought I saw something,” she murmured, slowing down. “I’m just a little on edge with Halloween, though. I just know there’s some idiots out there who want to scare us to death.”
“I shouldn’t think anyone would be that silly,” he said soothingly, slowing down with her, and making Anatoly and Darrell almost collide with them.
“Why have you stopped?” asked Darrell looking at her friends.
“Sally thinks she saw something,” Julian said, pointing down the dark street, which was little more than a cobbled alley.
“What sort of something?” Anatoly asked, taking it seriously even though he knew it was David.
“Something white,” Sally said.
“White? Sure it wasn’t a reflection from your dress?” Anatoly asked, raising an eyebrow.
Sally tutted. “It wasn’t that. I don’t know what it was. A ghost, maybe!”
“Well it is Halloween,” Darrell said, not sure what to make of this.
“A ghost?” scoffed Anatoly. “You girls are quite silly sometimes!”
“Well not a real ghost,” Sally said impatiently. “Someone dressed as one, most likely.”
“Not real then! Just someone trying to scare you,” Anatoly said as Julian made to step forward up the darkened alley, making as if he was trying to find out what was going on.
“No, Julian, leave it,” Sally said pulling on his hand. “I was probably just being silly!”
Darrell watched as Anatoly, Julian and Sally turned to go and before she left she turned to look down the alley and gave a little scream. “There is something there!”
Knowing it was only David, Anatoly was able to keep his reaction to a minimum. Had there been a real threat he would probably have drawn a weapon. As it was he simply moved protectively in front of Darrell. “Go scare someone else,” he shouted down the alley.
“Come away from there Darrell,” said Sally, reaching for her friend’s hand, but they were both glued to the spot as a ghostly figure appeared in the middle of the alley and began to move slowly forward.
“All right, joke over!” Julian called, moving beside Anatoly. It was easy to appear brave as they both knew who was under the white sheet. He just hoped the girls wouldn’t realise David was missing.
“Come away now,” Sally said shrilly, pulling on Julian as well now. “Its just someone playing silly beggers!”
Anatoly stepped back and put an arm around Darrell as the ghostly figure raised an arm and pointed at them before walking backwards into the gloom of the alley.
“That was scary!” Darrell said after a moment, her heart pounding. They all turned quickly on their heels as there was the sound of pounding feet behind them.
“What did I miss?” David asked them. “You all look like you’ve seen a ghost!”
“We did!” Sally said, hand over her heart. “Where were you?””
“You saw a ghost?” David asked, pulling a confused face. “I just needed to speak to someone I saw back there.”
“Someone in a ghost costume,” Julian explained rather unnecessarily. “Down that little street we just passed.”
“Did you give chase?” David asked, adjusting his moustache as it felt a little loose.
“No,” Anatoly said. “It just stood and looked at us.”
“Harmless prank then,” David said with a shrug. “Even if it is bad timing with Halloween. Come on, or we’ll be later than we already were!”
“I told you there would be someone lurking around, waiting to scare us,” Sally said as they moved on.
“Yes, you did, but I’m sure it doesn’t matter,” Julian said, appearing to give himself a little shake.
“I doubt it will happen again,” Anatoly said soothingly to Darrell.
“I hope not, oh come on, let’s get a move on, I don’t want to be out here any longer than we have to be!” she said pulling on his hand.
“You know that I would protect you, dorogoy,” he said, a little miffed that she would still be so scared.
“How can you defend me against a ghost?” she asked him, a tad scathingly.
“A person dressed as a ghost,” he corrected her.
“You didn’t even seem that worried!” she protested.
“Well he was not doing anything threatening,” he said. “It does not go down well if I go around shooting innocent people, you know.”
“Oh hurry up you two!” Sally called as she walked ahead with David and Julian. “All the good treats will be gone if we don’t hurry!”
Anatoly put a firm arm around Darrell before she could protest and urged her into a more brisk walk. It was early enough that they soon passed groups of children in their guising costumes. There were many witches, ghosts and monsters but also some soldiers, scarecrows and animal costumes.
“Whit are you meant tae be?” one particularly cocky young ghost asked them.
“I’m Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz,” Darrell said to him.
“And I’m Marilyn Monroe,” Sally added.
“Whit tae aboot you three?” asked the cocky ghost, turning to the boys.
“We’re scientists,” David said smugly. “Bet you can’t guess who.”
“Yir meant to dress up as scary things,” one of the witches giggled, a girl with what looked like Rice Krispies cereal stuck to her face in place of warts.
“We are scary,” Anatoly said moving forward. “We could blow up the world.”
“No you coudnae,” the ghost argued, folding his arms. “Yir not real scientists.”
“We are, we’re physicists at the university,” David said, getting annoyed with the youngster.
“What’s fizzisits?” the young witch asked
“Them folk that make fizzy drinks,” the ghost answered confidently.
“So we can make the world go pop,” Julian said equally confidently. “Have a nice evening,” he added, making to walk away.
“They coudnae really dae that, could they?” they heard from behind them, making them all grin and laugh.
“Probably by accident more than anything else,” Julian said in a low voice.
“Specially when David gets going!” chuckled Sally, pinching her friend on the arm a little. “Oh cheer up, they were just trying to make conversation!”
The boys looked at each other; the cheeky nature of the children had annoyed them, all having been brought up to respect their elders. With bad grace however, they said no more and wandered on with the girls towards the main building of the university. Once they reached the entrance, they were given a map of the classrooms which would be staffed for the evening.
“You’ll have to answer questions or something similar, complete activities in each room,” said the boy on the door, a lofty third year who had done it twice before and now the tradition bored him. “Then you’ll get a reward. If you fail any room you forfeit all your rewards and are out of the game. If you manage to get all seven rewards you have a chance to win the grand prize. Happy guising,” he said and then turned away to the next group who were behind the five.
They all nodded, not having done this before as the previous year Sally had still be very shaky after her experience at the top of St Rules tower and hadn’t wanted to walk about the university after dark. Darrell and the boys had made up a fire and they’d had cocoa and roasted marshmallows in the girls’ empty common room.
Julian was holding on to the map. He looked down at it and then at the others. “I bet I know where Sally wants to go first!” he teased his girlfriend. “Do you all want to have a look at it and we can decide which route to take?”
“Should we split up or go round together?” asked Anatoly as he squinted at the map over Darrell’s shoulder.
“Probably better going around together, as we only have one map. Never mind the fact that we will be better at answering the questions or tasks as a group,” David said with a roll of his eyes. “You didn’t think that one through did you Toly?”
Anatoly flushed and shrugged. “I just thought it might mean we got around quicker, and people could go off to whatever room they wanted to!”
“Oh yes, and you would go with Darrell and Ju would go with Sally, so who would I go with?” David grumbled, folding his arms across his chest and frowning.
“You make it sound like we leave you alone all the time!” Julian sighed, though he saw his friend’s point. It wasn’t fair how they left him on his own so much, but it was hard when there was an odd number of them.
“Who says I would want to go with Anatoly, while he’s got that thing on his top lip?” Darrell added, hurt that David had suggested that he was being left out.
Julian grinned, thinking of the bet between David and Anatoly. “Yeah, just what would you call that thing?” he asked Darrell.
“I’m not entirely sure, but it’s got to go!” she said firmly.
“It’s pretty monstrous isn’t it?” David prompted her, making Anatoly elbow him in the side for unfair play.
“Says the man with a shaggy dog on his head,” quipped Anatoly.
“That wig is quite awful,” Sally laughed. “But the apple is a very good trick.”
“However the wig is horrendous!” Anatoly added darkly. “And he knows it. Come on, let us get this over and done with then!” He turned on his heel and began to lead the girls off up to the first guising room. Julian and David hung back and David silently passed Julian the folded sheet.
“Your go,” he murmured with a wry smile.
“I’m just going to nip to the loo before all the excitement starts,” he called to Sally, knowing she would immediately notice his absence otherwise, and then trotted off in that direction.
Sally turned and nodded, “We’ll be up on the first floor.”
Julian gave a hasty wave as he disappeared before unfolding the sheet and throwing it over himself. He pulled it around carefully, trying not to dislodge too much chalk dust from his hair and made sure he could see through the eye holes before he crept after the group again.
The others were just making their way towards the first room, where the professor of law was based. The corridor was lit with candles and the heavy curtains made for useful hiding places. Julian crept up the stairs behind them and as they reached the door marked LAW, he ducked past behind the boys and moved down the corridor a bit to hide behind some heavy curtains for the moment.
Anatoly spotted him out of the corner of his eye but chose not to say anything for the moment. It would be too difficult to explain why he and David couldn’t simply overpower the spectre this time.
“Welcome, welcome,” the law professor boomed, opening his arms wide. “You are only my second group of visitors this evening. The first failed to impress me with their guising, and so left empty handed. Step inside and we shall see if you can do any better.”
The four of them stepped inside, though Sally wondered where Julian had gotten to, as the professor closed the door behind them. “You need to answer these three questions on the blackboard correctly to get your prize,” he told them as he sat down in his chair. “You have a minute to agree on the correct answers. You must all agree, and you need to nominate one of you to be the spokesperson.”
It was quickly agreed that Anatoly would answer for them and then the professor pulled the cloth from the blackboard and turned over an egg timer.
“Well you couldn’t murder a Scotsman for carrying a haggis, however much you hate the stuff,” Davis said sensibly.
“And it couldn’t be ‘a set of bagpipes’ either,” Sally said. “Playing them, maybe, but not just carrying them!”
“So it has to be the bow and arrow,” Darrell agreed.
“Then would you be banned from the Houses of parliament for wearing short trousers?” Sally queried, thinking that sounded fairly plausible.
“Well I don’t think it could be ‘anything orange’,” David said. “But what about the suit of armour?”
“I think it is the armour,” Anatoly said, dredging up some obscure piece of information he had once heard.
“What, to stop them having battles in the house?” Darrell asked.
“I do not know, but it makes more sense than the others,” he said, noticing their time was rapidly running out.
“Right so, the flu, the plague or measles?” he asked the other three quickly, referring to the final question.
“Got to be the plague,” David said. “The other two are about really old and obscure laws so this one must be as well.”
“And your time is up!” the law professor said loudly, the moment the last grains of sand trickled into the lower chamber. “Do you have your answers ready?”
They all looked at Anatoly, hoping they had gotten the questions right. He cleared his throat and said clearly and firmly; “The answer to the first question is a bow and arrow, the second is a suit of armour and we believe that the third one is the bubonic plague.”
They all waited with baited breath to find out if they had gotten their answers correct. Sally gripped Darrell’s hand hopefully as the professor went through the answers he had been given.
“Well, I am happy to say I am impressed, you have done better than the last group who came through here and you got all the answers correct,” he smiled and reached into his desk drawer. “Here is your prize,” he added handing Anatoly a small black bag. “Now, you need to move on to your next room.”
Anatoly shook the bag slightly, hearing it jingle. From the explanation at the door this would only be a clue to the final prize so he put it carefully into his pocket. The next group, three giggling girls, were already waiting outside as they left and he saw the curtain in the alcove opposite twitching.
“Where do you think Julian has gotten to?” Sally asked as Darrell moved to take the bag from Anatoly to have a look inside it.
“Probably got waylaid,” David said as Darrell opened the bag and one of the candles went out. Sally jumped and grabbed David’s hand.
“How did that happened?” she gasped as the curtain started rippling in a breeze they couldn’t feel.
“The window must be open,” Darrell said uncertainly, looking up from the shiny gold of a miniature set of scales.
“Why? It’s cold outside,” Sally asked, swallowing as a cold shiver ran down her spine. “Come on, let’s move on!” she said, thinking back to her traumatic kidnap last year.
Darrell pulled the drawstring on the bag taut and handed it back to Anatoly as they all hurried off down the corridor. Something made her look back as they reached the door to the stairs and she stifled a scream as she saw a white figure standing where they had been just a minute earlier. As before it raised one arm and pointed at them.