The two girls sat in the darkened back room of Fordyce’s Antiques, waiting until the chattering outside dissolved into silence.
“We’re going to get interrupted by trick or treaters all night, Mae,” said Abi.
“We’ll just ignore them, same as the last four times,” said Mae. She hefted the old radio onto the table and plugged it in.
“That’s not even gonna work, Mae. Didn’t they turn off the radio waves?”
“Don’t be stupid, Abi. There’s still radio. They just want people to go digital. But you can still get longwave, I’m sure. Besides, ghosts don’t want to listen to Radio 1, they can talk through the white noise.”
Mae turned the old dial back and forth, scanning through bursts of static. Abi lit the candles in front of the radio and gestured for Mae to sit down. The girls pulled their chairs closer to the tables and ignored the sounds of children dressed as ghouls and witches outside.
“Is there anybody there?”
The radio replied with two crackles.
“Is it once for yes, twice for no, or the other way around?” asked Abi.
“I can’t remember. If you’re there, can you tell us your name?”
More crackles. Mae glared at the door, willing the gaggle of trick or treaters to try another door.
“How old are you?” asked Abi.
“I’m eighteen and I like it!” A blast of music came from the radio, filling the cramped back room. Abi snatched her hands away from the table, but Mae sat closer. She turned to Abi, her eyes shining with wonder.
“That’s Alice Cooper!” she whispered. “It’s communicating through the music! Ask something else.”
“Where are you from?” asked Abi.
“When I get to Warwick Avenue…” Static cut off the rest of the line, muffling Duffy’s lyrics.
“But Warwick Avenue’s in London,” said Abi.
“I know. Guess he’s travelled a bit then. Why’s he up here then, if he’s from London?” asked Mae. She repeated the question to the radio, but only white noise replied.
“Someone might have moved up north and sold something of his to your dad,” replied Abi.
Mae nodded, and the radio changed station again.
“I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping, still my guitar gently weeps.”
“Must be that guitar by the door. Who brought it in?” asked Abi.
“I don’t know. Listen, how did you die?” asked Mae.
“I fought the law and the law won! I fought the law and the law won.” The Clash blared out of the speakers. Abi shuddered, and even Mae moved away from the table. They’d both seen experiments like this on the TV, but the paranormal investigators rarely got more than static in reply.
“What is it that you want?” Mae wrapped her fingers around the cross that dangled from the chain around her neck.
“‘Cause I wanna be Anarchy!” Johnny Rotten snarled out of the radio in between static crackles. Mae and Abi exchanged looks.
“What year is it?” asked Abi.
“So tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1999″. Mae shuddered to hear Prince in the tiny back room but Abi shook her head and frowned.
“Ah well you’re wrong there, mate. It’s 2014.”
“Then why did you ask me the question?” The voice boomed from the speakers, too clear to be a radio station, but too bookended by static to have come from anywhere else.
“Is that you?” asked Abi.
White noise filled the room, increasing in volume as the dial began to spin, flicking through the bands too quickly for Abi or Mae to make sense of anything they heard. Mae reached forward to touch the knob but it was hot beneath her fingers. She snatched back her hand, and blisters rose on her fingertips.
“What the hell?”
Abi scrabbled under the table and yanked the plug out of the socket. The radio fell silent, and Abi crawled back to Mae. She stood up, and the radio blared back into life.
“I thought you unplugged it!” Mae shouted at Abi while nursing her sore fingers.
Thunderous laughter issued from the speakers. Both candle flames flared, burning blue in the darkened room. The power cord rose into the air, the plug snapping back and forth like the head of an angry snake. It whipped towards Abi, and the girls shot across the room. They hauled open the door and threw themselves into the shop beyond.
“What do we do?” asked Abi, slamming the door shut.
“I don’t know. This never happens on TV!”
They stood in the shop for what felt like hours, listening intently to the back room. The static faded into silence.
“Did you hear that thud?” asked Abi.
“I think it was the plug. It must have hit the floor,” replied Mae. “Look, we have to go back in and put the candles out, at least.”
Abi nodded. Mae opened the door and peered into the back room. The two candles remained in their holders, their flames extinguished but the wicks still smoking.
“What’s wrong?” asked Abi. She peered over Mae’s shoulder. The back door stood open – and the radio was gone.
Mae rushed into the room and slammed the back door closed. She looked under the table, but couldn’t find the radio. Abi helped her to tidy the room, and leave everything as they’d found it.
“We don’t tell my dad, yeah? That radio’s been here for years. There’s no reason for him to look for it now,” said Mae.
“Or we tell him we sold it.”
“That’s even better! It was only £20.”
“I’ll give you a tenner tomorrow,” said Abi.
The two girls left the room, and headed out through the shop. Neither of them noticed the dark stain on the wallpaper in the back room, and neither of them watched it slide into the shop. They left the shop, locking the door behind them, and the dark shape made itself comfortable inside a china doll behind the till.
It could wait.