I shine my torch beam across the floor, then up the walls and back to the floor. An uneasy feeling settles into the pit of my stomach. I don’t want to ask the question I’m about to ask, but I can’t help myself.
“Are those human bones?”
Lian tenses beside me. “I hope not.”
Toni takes a few steps into the cave, moving to the left and skirting around the wall. I follow, and Lian comes close behind. I feel her grab the back of my T-shirt. I don’t mind the contact. I’m creeped out and glad I’m not down here by myself.
As we move farther into the cave, it becomes clear that something terrible must have happened here. Toni stops, and the light from her head torch shines on a human skull. I jump and a funny noise comes out of my mouth. Black, gaping holes stare at us. A huge spider slowly crawls out of one of the eye sockets, and an invisible finger traces my spine. Bile rises into my throat, and I supress the urge to vomit.
Lian grips my arm and presses against me. We crowd in behind Toni, neither of us prepared to have any space between us. For some reason, I feel safer huddled together when it’s probably not the best idea if we need to run away screaming.
“Yep. Definitely human,” Toni says.
She runs her torch around again and more skulls shine white in the darkness. Some of them are still attached to skeletons, which are sitting on rocks with their backs against the wall, bits of clothing draped off them. Other skulls lie on the ground, detached and without bodies. I keep my torchlight on the spider. I do not want it creeping up on me in the dark.
“Who are they?” Lian asks.
“Something tells me we won’t find a driver’s licence in their pockets,” I say.
“Can anyone see the wand?” Toni takes another step forward.
Lian and I shuffle with her, and I grab her arm with my free hand. The three of us search the cave with our torches, and my stomach rolls again. Our lights bounce around, and then I catch something that glimmers.
“There!” I point and realise neither of the girls can see me because all our light is in front of us. “I think … oh God.” I train my light where I saw the shiny thing. “It’s … is that a hand?”
Finger bones curl around a stick with a stone at the end. The stone is black but shiny enough to reflect our torchlight. Twine binds the stone to the head of the wand in a twisted mass. It’s not very pretty.
“I don’t want it to be a hand,” Lian says. “Bags not getting it.”
Toni snorts. “Seriously?”
“What?” Lian says. “I said it first.”
“You can stay calm when a spider runs up your arm,” I say, “but you can’t pluck a stick from a dead person’s fingers?”
“You do it then. I have no trouble admitting I don’t want to touch dead people.”
Toni hasn’t offered to get it either, even after questioning Lian. She’s as scared as us, which makes this a whole lot worse. Up until now, Toni has been the level-headed one. The one with all the answers. Now, her arm shakes beneath my hand.
I take a breath. “Get ready to … I don’t know. Kill the dead people if they attack me.”
I let go of Toni and take a step around her. Lian lets go of my arm, and fear rushes through me as I lose physical contact with both the girls. I take a few measured steps towards the hand holding the wand, careful not to step on any bones along the way.
Until now, I haven’t considered that the hand might be attached to an arm, attached to a body. I shine my torch around and wish I hadn’t. It is attached to someone, or at least, a skeleton that used to be someone. Strips of fabric fall in tatters around the form. With every step, I get more scared.
“They’re all dead,” I mumble under my breath. “They can’t hurt me.”
Only we’re dealing with witches and magic here, and I don’t actually know that these bones will leave me alone. Especially since I’m about to take something from them. I edge forward and stretch out my free hand, clutching my torch tightly with the other. I stop and lean forward, not wanting to get any closer, and use the length of my arm to get the wand.
My fingers brush the bones as I grab the stick and I yelp, pulling my hand back.
“What?” Toni asks. “What is it?”
“Nothing,” I say.
I flex my fingers and try again, telling myself that it’s no big deal, they’re just bones. Finger bones, but just bones, nonetheless. I manage to grip the wand, and I pull to free it from the dead skeleton’s grasp. At first it doesn’t move, and then it comes away with a snap.
I jump back with the wand in my hand, the bony fingers still gripping to it.
“Oh my god!” Toni says. “You broke the hand off!”
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