by Alison Wassell
“Remember, Chastity, never follow the crowd. Be your own person, even when being that person makes you unpopular.”
Chastity and her mother stand at an upstairs window, all the house lights turned off, watching Dylan and Bradley make their way down Archer Road in matching nylon ghost outfits. Chastity’s mother sniffs.
“Look at that pair of identighouls. Can’t even be bothered to make their own costumes.” Chastity presses her nose against the glass and wonders what it would be like to be an identighoul. She imagines herself sandwiched between Dylan and Bradley, their breath making clouds as they howl into the night air. She imagines being the first one up the garden path, the one to keep her frozen finger pressed on Mrs Roberts’ bell until the old lady shuffles to the door and, without opening it, shoos them away through the letterbox. She pictures the three of them grabbing at each other and giggling as they run down the path. She would be the one to think of stooping to gather handfuls of soil from the flowerbed and hurling them at the window.
Chastity laughs out loud, forgetting that she is standing beside her mother in a darkened bedroom, forgetting that Dylan and Bradley are just two boys in her class who snigger and mimic how she says some of her words, stretching out “bath” and “class” like elastic bands pulled to snapping point. Chastity feels her mother’s hand on her shoulder, remembers, and is thankful that she is not an identighoul.
Mother turns back the bedcovers and Chastity climbs into bed. Mother clears her throat and, even in the darkness, Chastity senses the thin, disapproving line of her lips. She gets out of bed and kneels down, presses her palms together and squeezes her eyes shut.
“If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” This prayer makes Chastity afraid to go to sleep. She slides beneath the covers. Mother perches on the edge of the bed.
“Plough your own furrow, Chastity,” she says. Dylan and Bradley bang on the front door. Chastity feels her mother stiffen. Something hits the window with a dull thud. Mother clicks the bedroom door firmly shut.
Chastity lies imagining Dylan and Bradley in their pyjamas counting their identical hauls of sweets. She imagines their smiley faced mothers shooing them upstairs, checking that they have cleaned their teeth.
Mother snores. Chastity gropes under the mattress until her fingers close on the box she took from the kitchen. She rubs her hand over the sandpaper edge. She creeps to the door and opens it without a sound.
She kneels at the foot of Mother’s bed, as though in prayer. With an expert flick of the wrist she strikes the first match. The cotton sheet burns easily. Satisfied, Chastity gets to her feet and watches, her arms folded. She’s no identighoul. She can plough her own furrow. Mother should know better than to stop her having Halloween fun.
Alison Wassell is a short story writer with no plans to write a novel. She was the winner of Momaya and NAWG short story competitions in 2016, and is published in many and various anthologies.