Jack had been quiet during this whole exchange and I didn’t like how his face was turning the color of curdled whey. He took a big gulp, but didn’t look me in the eye, like what he was about to say was somehow inappropriate. This was Jack we were talking about here.
“I don’t think we wanna let him out,” said Jack quietly. “I think if we let him get out, we’re all stuffed. Not just us, but maybe like everyone.”
“But he’s just a ghost,” I replied.
“Yeah, in here he is,” said Jack pointing to his head. “But out here,” Jack pointed around the room, “I ain’t so sure.”
“Just down the hall you were asking me if I was taking the mick, but now all of a sudden, you’re a believer?”
Jack grimaced. “Yeah, I know, alright? But I’ve been thinking it through and if he could just roam outside of our dreams, why wouldn’t he? What’s the advantage of being in our heads?”
“Yeah, and what happened to the other boys?” asked Oscar. “Why did they disappear and why is he now just showing back up. Maybe he got out . . . for a while.”
The more they kept on, the more uncomfortable I got.
“So what are you saying?” I asked them both.
“I think Jack’s, right. I couldn’t explain why, but I just feel it, you know what I mean?” Oscar licked his lips nervously. His shirt had dark, wet patches under his armpits. It was the first time that he’d really acted nervous during this whole time. It was a new record for Oscar. “We have to banish him from our dreams before he figures a way out.”
“Banish him,” I said, “like an exorcism.”
“Maybe,” hedged Oscar. He was definitely nervous now.
“Bloody hell,” uttered Jack, who wasn’t going to be left out of the conversation. “It’s bad enough that we have to go to religious education, but what do we know about bloomin’ exorcisms?”
I ignored Jack and focused my attention on Oscar. “So, where are we going to find information on how to perform an exorcism? Back to the library?”
Oscar shook his head. “I think the chapter house is where we start.”
“I don’t want to have to deal with the nuns,” said Jack. “Again, it’s bad enough in RE class.”
Oscar started fidgeting with his hands. I gazed back and forth between my two friends. The nuns could be formidable, but would they be worse than the boy with the thorn in his side? Definitely not.
“We can sneak in when they’re in the refectory,” I said. “Worst case scenario, we get a caning. We know what that’s like, yeah?” No one needed to be reminded of the quick, sharp sting of the cane. It hurt like a bugger. When no one answered, I continued on, “Well that’s sorted then.”
It took us four days to find the opportunity to sneak into the chapter house. During that time, the dreams were becoming more vivid and unpleasant, but we tried to avoid talking about them as if keeping quiet would somehow keep the wood boy at bay. Yet, we knew it wasn’t true, he was becoming stronger. We were running out of time.
“What are we looking for exactly?” I addressed my question to Oscar, keeping my voice low and hushed. We were in one of the storage rooms of the chapter house.
“A book on exorcism,” said Oscar, somewhat doubtful. “The Catholics have a whole book of Latin stuff they use to, you know, banish demons and what not.”
“What? You think there’s going to be a book just lying around that has a big soddin’ arrow pointing over it saying ‘pick me I’m the exorcism book,” said Jack more sarcastically than was necessary. He was standing just behind the door with his hands on his hips.
That’s close to what happened, well mostly, except for the big arrow part. In fact, I tripped right over the damn thing. It hurt like hell, but I didn’t dare shout and alert the nuns; yet, that didn’t keep me from swearing under my breath and instinctively picking up the book preparing to hurl it across the room. Oscar grabbed my arm, stopping me mid-throw.
“Blimey!” exclaimed Oscar, yanking the book out of my hand. He shook my shoulder in excitement. “You jammy dodger. You couldn’t do it again if you tried.”
“What are you on about?” I asked.
Jack had already put two and two together. “You silly nonce,” said Jack. “You found the book, didn’t you? You just tripped over the blasted thing!”
“Whatever,” said Jack. “Let’s just get the blazes out of here before we’re nicked.”
I didn’t need telling twice and neither did Oscar. The three of us creeped back out the way we came and made our way back to the dormitory. It didn’t take us long to come up with our scheme.
The plan was pretty simple. Jack, who was the best Latin student of the bunch, would memorize the verses out of the book that we needed in order to send wood boy packing. Me and Oscar had the easier jobs: Oscar was to steal a vial of holy water from the font in the chapel and I had the unenviable task of stealing rosaries for each of us from the supply cupboard located on the other side of the chapel. The holy water and rosaries were more for comfort than anything else. We were a superstitious lot.
By Friday night, Jack had the verses down pat. We decided that tonight would be the night. The visions were becoming disturbingly real as it became harder and harder to tell what was a dream and what wasn’t. It could’ve been because the boy ghost was getting stronger or because the effects of our forced insomnia were greater. Either way, we all agreed that now was the time to execute our plan. Oscar would kip in Jack’s bed and Jack would share my bed with me. It was hardly ideal, but there was no way anyone could share with Oscar.
“Okay,” I said, fitting the rosary over my neck. I had already placed my mother’s necklace into the breast pocket of my pajamas for good luck.
“Just remember this doesn’t make me a poofta,” grumbled Jack as he slid in next to me. I ignored his comment and looked over at Oscar who’d been unnaturally quiet. He was clutching his rosary between his chubby fingers trying desperately not to cry.
“Oscar,” I said gently, “It’s going to be alright, mate. The good guys always win, right?” He gave me a small, tight smile.
We were all scared, but trying not to show it.
* * *