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Spirits and Spells
Chapter One
“It's Only a Game”

When Lydia began to scream Tansy finally decided it was time to call it a night. “That's enough!” she said, slamming down her pencil. “Travis, stop the game.”

Travis Wyman, Tansy's boyfriend, ran a long-fingered hand through his black hair. He opened his mouth to protest, but Tansy had already turned to Lydia. She took the girl by the shoulders and shook her. “Lydia. Lydia, stop it!”

Lydia stopped screaming. She blinked at the others, a dazed expression on her face.

“Tansy! What… what happened?”

Tansy smiled uncertainly. “I'm not sure. I think you got too involved with the game.”

Lydia put a hand to her brow. “I don't feel well,” she said weakly. “I'd like to go home.”

Lydia's boyfriend had been watching her with a stunned expression on his face. Jumping to his feet he said, “That's a good idea!” After wrapping Lydia's sweater and then his own arm around her shoulders, he guided her to the door.

Tansy went with them as far as the porch, where she stood to watch them disappear into the cool October night.

“That was weird,” she said when she returned to what was left of the group. Her large hazel eyes, usually clear, were troubled.

“Lydia's weird,” said Derek. “She always acts dumb.”

Tansy scowled at him. Derek Clarke was so good looking he often got away with saying unpleasant things. While Tansy enjoyed his sense of humor, his total lack of sympathy for others often made her angry.

“This whole game is weird,” said Jenny. Tansy shifted her gaze to Jenny Ericson, Derek's girlfriend. Tansy had always been jealous of Jenny's beauty. Her long blond hair and clear complexion made Tansy resent her own short red curls and freckle-spattered cheeks.

Fortunately, Travis claimed to love freckles.

“The game really is weird, isn't it?” said Travis now. His voice was ecstatic; he was hugely satisfied with his discovery, despite Lydia's reaction. “Too bad we didn't have a chance to finish it. But we will next time. I think this may be the greatest game ever.”

Tansy sighed. Most of the girls she knew hung around with guys who liked to play football. Somehow she had managed to get interested in a gaming freak. Now while most of her friends were jumping up and down in the bleachers, she was rolling dice and learning about the powers of third level characters.

Even worse, she was starting to enjoy it! But this new one-SPIRITS AND SPELLS-was decidedly creepy.

“Where did you find this thing anyway, Travis?” asked Derek.

“At the gaming convention in Pittsfield last weekend. The place was crammed and the table I really wanted to get to had a mob four deep around it. I was trying to decide whether to wait my turn or come back later when I noticed this old guy sitting at a table all by himself. He motioned me over. I didn't go at first-didn't want to lose my place. But finally I got bored and decided to come back to the main table later. So I decided I might as well talk to the old guy. He told me this game was his own invention-that it had come to him in a dream. He was really fierce about that: he called it `an inspiration from the beyond.'”

Travis laughed. “To tell you the truth, I think he was a little nuts. Anyway, he was trying it out at the convention, to see if it would sell. And nuts or not, I think he's got a real winner. Just think, you guys-if this thing takes off, we'll have been just about the first people in the world to play it. It'll be like being the first to have played Dungeons and Dragons, or MAGIC!”

Suddenly his eyes widened. Grinning broadly he said, “And I've just thought of the best way to play it!”

“How?” asked Derek, who was always ready for something new.

“Well, the action takes place in a haunted house, right?”

Derek shrugged. “Every game has a setting; a forest, a castle, an island. What's the big-” His eyes widened as he realized what Travis was suggesting. “The Gulbrandsen place!”

Travis nodded smugly.

Jenny shook her head, causing her blond hair to swing over her shoulders. “I don't know, you guys. That place is kind of spooky.”

“That's the idea!” said Derek. “This game is supposed to be spooky. Oh, man-it'll be a riot.” He turned back to Travis. “But how are we supposed to get into the place?

“That part is easy. I can get a key from my dad's office. His company is supposed to be selling the property, but there's some kind of fight between the heirs, and until they settle it, no one can buy the place. I don't think anyone will ever buy it anyway. No one's even asked to look at it for the last eight months.”

Tansy glanced down at the game book. The words SPIRITS AND SPELLS blazed across the top of it in large red letters. Beneath the lettering was a picture of a witch and warlock with bolts of power flashing out of their hands.

“I don't know,” she said slowly. “There's something about this that gives me the creeps.”

Travis frowned. “Come on, Tansy. After all… it's only a game.”

The mocking words earned him a glare. Tansy had used those very words herself countless times during the last year. But that was different. Travis was so wrapped up in fantasy gaming he sometimes seemed to think it was more real than real life. He could get furiously upset if he thought someone was not playing fairly. Tansy always felt obliged to try to calm him down at those times, and “It's only a game,” were the words she usually used to do it.

He smiled, and after a moment she shrugged and grinned, laughing at herself for being afraid. Who could tell? This might be fun after all.

“Okay,” she said. “Let's plan on Friday night. But we'll need two more players. Why don't we ask Matt and Denise?”

A dark look flickered across Travis's face. Tansy rolled her eyes in response. Matt McMasters had been her first boyfriend. But that had been way back in eighth grade. As far as she was concerned, Travis's ongoing jealousy in regard to Matt was just plain stupid.

“Good idea,” said Derek, in his usual clueless fashion. “You should have invited them to begin with, Travis.”

“I have to call Denise tonight,” said Jenny. “I'll ask her then.”

Travis sighed, but said nothing.

Jenny winked at Tansy.

Since it was a school night, it wasn't long before the rest of the group decided to leave as well, Travis lingering behind for a good night kiss.

Tansy was heading for her bedroom when the phone rang.

It was Lydia.

“I just wanted to apologize for tonight,” she said. “For breaking things up.”

“It's all right,” said Tansy, letting her fondness for Lydia overcome her annoyance. “But are you? All right, I mean. What happened, anyway?”

Lydia was so silent that for a moment Tansy thought they had been cut off. When she finally spoke, her voice was little more than a whisper. “I felt… fingers. Icy fingers, probing at my mind. Tansy, tell Travis to get rid of that game. It's dangerous. No, it's not just dangerous. It's evil.”

Then she did hang up, leaving Tansy to stare at the receiver and wonder if Lydia was losing her mind after all. She shivered, and put the receiver back in its cradle. Lydia was living proof that it really was possible to be too imaginative for your own good.

Even so…

Well, it was too late to back out now. Travis would never let her hear the end of it if she did.

Besides, Lydia was just being foolish.

How could a mere game be evil?



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