Short story: The Midnight Game

She’s home alone – parents away for the weekend, brother sleeping over with one of the boys up the street, only the dog and the cat left for company.

She invited friends to stay but everyone’s busy, no one’s texting her back. She’s watched a movie, then another, and now she’s bored, restless. She paces back and forth, silhouetted against the bright windows, the cat trying to squirm out of her grasp. Behind her, film credits scroll up the television screen.

The cat leaps away and curls up in the middle of the dog’s sleeping cushion. She pulls a face, picks her mobile phone, throws it back down on the couch. She trudges into the study, slouches into the chair at her father’s computer. No messages, no emails. The screen’s soft glow outlines her hair.

The dog yelps and scratches at the kitchen door. She lets it out. She stands in the open doorway, beautifully backlit by white light emanating from the house, and an idea comes to her. It spreads across her face, hidden in shadow. She’s remembering: a sleepover with her friends, several months ago. Laughing and shrieking through hackneyed horror stories, pretending the decades-old slasher movies they’re watching are scary, whispering names at bathroom mirrors and waiting for poltergeists that never appeared.

A girl at the party – a friend of a friend of the host, someone nobody else had met before nor seen again – suggested a game. The Midnight Game, she called it, gleefully explaining it was an old punishment ritual the pagans invented. …