The Darkness Game
It was a combination of things. His name, Louis. His nose, broken when he was thrown over the handlebars of his bike aged five and landed face first on the asphalt. The sad fact of a somewhat missing chin.
They called him ‘Frankenstein’ and the name stuck.
Soren was his one friend—the only boy in year seven who didn’t mind being seen with him. He was stocky with the kind of stare that silenced people, like a bodyguard. Yet Louis couldn’t be with his friend all day—the rest of the time he was jostled, taunted and spat on.
He noticed Chiara in English on the first day of term. A riot of dark curls framed her pale face and her eyes were hooded like a Renaissance Virgin Mary. Her deep pink lips pursed as she studied the text with devotion. She read passages with the right inflection and explained the subtext. Louis studied her and when called on by the teacher, sputtered and turned red.
One day after school as they walked home, Louis told Soren about his crush. His friend did not laugh and shot him a solemn sideways glance.
‘I knew it. If you’re not careful you’ll fail English this term. All you do is make googly eyes at her the whole time. You should talk to her.’
‘I’m Frankenstein. I have zero chance.’
‘Let me think on it,’ said Soren as they parted.
A floor lamp with a red pillowslip draped over the top lit the lounge room at Soren’s house. Silver streamers hung from the ceiling and Louis’ classmates were scattered around—cross-legged on the floor and in conspiratorial groups on the sofas and chairs. Another group had commandeered the record player, dancing self-consciously to Marvin Gaye.
Louis sat on an embroidered pouf in the corner, drinking punch. He felt like an ugly ornament about to be swept into a garbage bag. His gaze fell on the black paper stuck to the windows and he wondered what his friend had planned.
Soren cleared his throat and stood in the middle of the room. ‘Listen—we’re going to play a game. I’m going to turn off the light and we’ll sit in a circle. You need to rotate around the circle until you have spoken to everyone. If the two people next to you are still talking, just feel your way around them to the next person. Don’t worry if you bump into each other, it’s all part of the fun. Use the coffee table to guide you. Oh, and obviously you can’t ask anyone’s name. Let’s begin.’
The group assembled in a circle on the carpet, a round coffee table in the middle. As Louis sat down, Soren whispered in his ear.
‘She’s wearing patchouli perfume.’
Louis’ heart thudded as his friend switched off the light. The darkness was oppressive and someone sniggered.
Soren gave one more instruction. ‘Okay, now move around—shuffle, like a pack of cards. Then you may speak.’
The conversations were slow to get started. Soon, the noise increased as they laughed and babbled. Louis followed his nose, walking on his knees towards the scent of patchouli.
She was sitting a little outside of the circle and she was quiet.
‘Hi, are you having a good time?’ he asked.
‘It’s okay. I’m not very good at conversation when it’s light and darkness is no better.’
Louis told her a story about kites. His kite had flown into a tree and a bird had made her nest in it. He had returned to stand at the base of the tree where he could hear the feeble squawks of her chicks. The vivid tails of the kite trailed down the branches. He described it in detail, painting her a picture with words.
He could feel her leaning towards him. Her hair brushed against his arm. He shivered and swallowed his nerves.
‘Have you a story for me?’
‘Yes. I’ll tell you a story about a boy who watches a girl in class and is too shy to talk to her. He has a beautiful soul, but he thinks that because he looks different, she won’t want to talk to him. He’s wrong.’
Louis’ heart galloped so fast, he thought it would break through his chest. As she placed her hand over his, it almost did.
Kate Murdoch is a Melbourne writer and artist. She exhibited widely as a painter before turning her hand to writing. In between writing historical fiction, she enjoys writing short stories and flash fiction.
Kate studied Professional Writing and Editing at Swinburne University (Melbourne Australia), and has completed short courses in creative writing at RMIT. She is currently writing The Orange Grove, a novel about the passions and intrigues of court mistresses in eighteenth-century France.