We burned Joe-Joe deep in the canal tunnel, in the blackest part where it descends deepest under the city, the towpath winding around upon itself until the darkness enfolds you utterly.
This is our world, where the day folk don’t go: only we know its footfalls and its secrets. Sometimes they venture in, curious or on a dare. But they always hover, suddenly afraid when they hear their own indrawn breath echo on the black brickwork. We watch them, sometimes, and grin as they scurry back towards the light.
When we burned Joe-Joe, though, the tunnel was filled with an angry orange glow that danced in jagged patterns on the still water. It was night, when the day folk would not be about, but Jeannie still kept watch, just in case.
We gathered round and watched his body turn black. The light and shadows skipped like accusations across faces I had not seen in years, belonging to voices I knew well. Norris, angry and afraid; Tully, twisted in petulance; May, like a lost child. The smell of roast meat, long forgotten, filled the tunnel; I realised I was drooling. The smoke scorched our throats and pulled stinging tears from our eyes, but we stayed until there was nothing left to pitch into the canal but bones.
He was the oldest of us, the one who had been longest away from the world of the day folk. Whatever else we had done to him, we would not let them take him.
He’d been a gambler, had Joe-Joe, and even here he’d always had a deck in his pocket. As the last flames died, I saw a single charred card in the detritus, staring like a glass eye. The five of hearts. It felt like a last message from him. Of forgiveness, if you wanted to believe that. Or a promise of vengeance, if I knew Joe-Joe.
Five hearts. One for each of us that killed him.