The night was unseasonably warm for February. Though Adrienne had not yet danced, her face behind the mask was finely misted with perspiration and beads of sweat were also running between her breasts. Eighteenth Century attire, just as Angelique had specified in the invitation. Adrienne sighed, fanning herself with the intricate, detailed fan that had come with her rented costume. She dearly loved her eccentric friend, but for the love of God, could Angelique not have picked a cooler night for festivities requiring such heavy garments?
Hoping to catch a breeze off the Mississippi River, a glass of Merlot in hand, Adrienne found her way to the veranda, lit only with candles placed strategically along its length. Tonight was the last day of Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday and in all honesty, Adrienne sought to escape both the heat and the drunken revelry inside. Fortunately, it appeared she had found temporary solitude. She was thankful for a moment to catch her breath and cool off in the breeze.
Looking out on Laurel Street, Adrienne sipped her wine and wondered if Angelique’s close friend, Jean-Luc, would make an appearance this evening. Ever since she’d met the Frenchman and seen him about town, she’d found him mysterious and intriguing despite what little she knew about him. He was broodingly handsome, but Adrienne wasn’t usually attracted to his type. Still, there was something about him that drew her in. She smiled. Perhaps it was his eyes for they were the most intensely blue eyes she’d ever seen- nearly ice like.
Unexpectedly, the hairs on Adrienne’s neck rose, and she realized she was not alone. She turned and glanced along the semi-dark veranda, spying no one but still sure she was being watched. Suddenly, a lone, tall figure emerged from the shadows. Had the man been there all along?
“Excuse me, I didn’t mean to frighten you,” a thick, French accent drifted across the night air. Like her, the stranger wore a mask, but Adrienne would know his voice anywhere: Jean-Luc. As he approached, Adrienne watched the semblance of a smile form on his lips. What did he find so amusing?
She returned his smile. “You just caught me off guard, Jean-Luc - I thought I was alone.” Why was she so nervous all of a sudden? She took a large swallow of wine. “I was just enjoying the breeze.” While also enjoying a break from the drunken crowd inside, she mentally added.
Jean-Luc casually draw nearer, standing only a few steps away along the wrought iron fencing that ran the length of the veranda. “Me, as well,” he said. “But alas, I fear I also desired to escape so many unfortunate, drunken souls,” he gestured toward the crowded room.
Adrienne nodded her agreement while aware Jean-Luc’s presence seemed to fill the entire space. Moreover, had the man just read her mind? That would be impossible though. A room of drunken souls was an easy observation to make on this night of celebratory endeavors, was it not?
Adrienne observed that Jean-Luc had also chosen to wear the requested eighteenth century attire, but his costume had surely cost a small fortune it was so believable in nature. Nervously, she tugged at the skirt of her own dress, self-conscious that what she wore was not nearly as authentic.
“You look divine,” Jean-Luc commented, his voice melodic. “As though you’ve stepped off the pages of a French novel.”
With his comment, she made a mental note that it was twice now he’d appeared to read her thoughts. The thought was crazy. Was the wine perhaps wreaking havoc with her perceptive abilities?
Adrienne laughed. “You cannot be serious. At least not while you look as though you’ve just leapt from the pages of an Anne Rice novel!” She gave him the once over before continuing. “Monsieur Lestat, I presume? You are every inch the French nobleman in that costume, Jean-Luc.”
A glimmer of surprise and then amusement flickered in the blue eyes. His brow lifted. “I assure you I do not jest. You are charmingly French. As for me, I am only wearing a piece of dusty fabric I pulled from my attic.”
Though still nervous, the wine was helping ease Adrienne’s tension. Still, a blush crept across her cheeks at Jean-Luc’s words.
A loud group dressed as witches, their costumes and masks wickedly elaborate, crossed the street in front of the veranda, momentarily distracting them. Adrienne watched as the group looked toward the veranda, whispering amongst themselves and pointing at Jean-Luc before quickly running away to disappear in the shadows. Adrienne was completely confused. Why did they run away? There was nothing unusual about Jean-Luc. Perplexed, she turned to him. Jean-Luc shrugged and smiled. She saw that, though minimal, he had drawn even closer. He held a glass of what looked to be Merlot, and this close, it was easy to see the drink briefly stained his lips as he drank of it.
Adrienne nervously fanned her face. Despite the heat in the evening and the heavy garment, a shiver ran through her. She looked up to find Jean-Luc watching her as though he knew her deepest, darkest secrets. What was happening? What exactly was so different about this man? Why had those people run away as if in fear? True, Jean-Luc's allure was nearly unearthly, unreal, but he didn't frighten her. Maybe he made her nervous, but no, she did not find him frightening.
Adrienne lifted her glass and drained it of its content as Jean-Luc, the man who had emerged from the shadows, stood close and watched every move she made. Should she be alarmed? Surely not. After all, this man was one of Angelique’s closest friends.
“Shall I get you another glass of wine??” Jean-Luc asked and lightly touched her arm. His touch, though cool, moved through Adrienne like electricity. She couldn't help but wonder if he felt it, too.
“No, I’m fine,” she lied. The last thing she needed at the moment was more wine. She felt drugged though she’d only had two glasses of wine, and she was already having enough difficulty reading this man. His nearness was akin to a beacon of light, summoning her toward something unknown, yet utterly alluring.
“Perhaps it would be cooler if we removed our masks,” Adrienne said, abruptly reaching her hand to the back of Jean-Luc’s head and untying his mask and not waiting for a response. He didn’t halt her and the mask came undone, falling into his hands before it hit the ground. For some unfathomable reason, Adrienne had wanted to see his face – his brutally handsome face. Yes, without the mask, it was much better - she felt better.
With no hesitation, Jean-Luc reached over and also removed Adrienne’s mask, holding both easily in one hand. “Is that better, mon cher?” he asked.
“Yes,” Adrienne replied though her voice sounded small and unsteady to her own ears.
Jean-Luc studied Adrienne with uninterrupted intensity, his eyes so dark in the dim light, they appeared to be pools of black. Why in heavens name did he look at her so? She was already acutely aware of his nearness. What was worse was that she knew Jean-Luc knew exactly how she felt, which only served to unnerve her all the more. Maybe she did need that glass of wine. But first……
Impulsively, Adrienne reached up and lightly touched Jean-Luc’s temple. His skin, like his touch, was decidedly cool despite the heat of the night and the heavy costume. How the bloody hell did he manage to stay so calm, cool, and collected while she felt so nervous, warm, and unsure? And why did she feel as if there was more behind his façade? As though there was yet another mask to be removed?
Mentally chiding herself for reading too much fantasy fiction and thinking such outlandish thoughts, Adrienne started to remove her hand. Before she could do so, Jean-Luc lifted his own and encircled her wrist, stopping her.
“Precisely how curious are you, mon cher? Are you ready for the ultime, sombre fantaisie that may well be your undoing?” he asked, his voice deep and serious as he watched her closely.
Adrienne felt the strength in his grasp, but she had no desire to pull away. Instead, she felt strangely compelled to draw even closer to the man in front of her though they already stood chest to chest. Desire flooded to encompass her. She was suddenly desperate to embrace the ultimate and dark fantasy to which he referred.
Impulsively, Adrienne extended her hand into the thick, dark ways of his hair and pulled, hoping to move Jean-Luc even closer. Instead, as she did so, his handsome visage fell like paper from Jean-Luc’s face and hung limply from her fingertips. In surprise – and fear – Adrienne stumbled backwards, the second mask falling unnoticed to the ground.
Jean-Luc’s eyes turned black as midnight. Without his masks, he was the epitome of the character Adrienne had jokingly referred to only a short while ago. He was a vampire every bit as real and enticing as Lestat, and he was devastatingly wonderful to behold.
The full moon moved behind the clouds and a cool breeze engulfed the veranda. Standing illuminated by only a few remaining lit candles, Adrienne thought Jean-Luc to be the most splendid, beautiful creature she'd ever seen. Without hesitation, she moved toward him, much like a moth to the flame, fully accepting what truths his darkness would reveal before the dawn's light.
"It was after," I leaned in towards Larry with emphasis, but uncertain, "Yeah, I guess," costume party fatigue was setting in, that good-buzz was wearing off. He looked up with semi-interest, knowing who and who we were talking about. The one that was invited, but nobody really liked, and that guy.
"Didgya catcha glimpse 'r somethin?" he said polishing of the crumbs of the doggie bag plateful he had or whatever. I shook my head, cause at this time of the a.m. our quirks can be too much.
"That's what I'm telling about," I said adamantly, trying to pass his mal processing.
"So she finalllly took off the mask?!"
"It didn't happen like that. It was some weirdass conversation between her and the one dressed like a phantom." We'd presumed who that was, but weren't all sure, and I guess it didn't much matter.
"Lloyd," Larry ventured with a yawn, "well?"
"She stood by the window," like a mannequin on display I thought, "and just spoken all limp. I mean the words were coming out death like."
Larry scrunched his face like W-t-F and scratched his arm, waiting for me to go on. He wasn't in any hurry to sit up on the rug or get a move on out of the hall.
"She said, 'Look at me.'" It scared the bejeezus out of me. Not normal.
Larry raised a bushy eyebrow, twisting his nose to one side, like that's all?
"I guess not, cause, soon I hear her hissing insistently, 'Look at me,' and I get to looking, myself you know? He's glanced up, and says 'uh you've let your hair down, very nice.' And she whispers, 'Look at me,'" again. Pitifully. It gave me the creeps.
"Sounds freakin' annoying, man," Larry folded his arms and I just knew he was bout to close his eyes, so I push the wrappers and leftovers towards him to remind him to take care of his own trash on the way out, and not fall asleep on the spot. He takes the hint; "And?" renewing his waning interest.
"Now Lloyd-boy looks up from his phone, tries to look attentive and says, 'Ohhh you've darkened your make up, tonight,' and goes back to his Facebook or whatsit that he's got his tilt on, but now I'm not on cell lit Lloyd anymore. It's like her face is falling through..."
"She's giving out this hiss like a deflating tire," and I still hear her slithering tongue, "She says 'Lloook at me, Lloyd,' but he's all engrossed in the angle of the screen with his back shouldered away like he doesn't want her to see and I hear him say, 'Can you close the window, hon, there's some kind of chill in here,' and she's got no face," she was backing into the shadows outside and I was transfixed on watching like it was animation.
"No face? how's that?" Larry's got his mass together now and is about to lumber out.
I hold the knob, with the door just enough ajar to let him pass. "Maybe it was all ok, relational BS, but I swear she swung a leg out the sill, then the other, and shut the window behind her. Her face was hollow as a skull, and still whispering 'Llooook at me.'"
"Eve is so messed up."
"I know, I know. Man, see you tomorrow."
Halloween Mask challenge @Bunny
Duality: A Halloween Nightmare
Maria was always skeptical of Halloween. The holiday never sat well with her. This year, she broke her rule and attend a party thrown by her best friend, Jack. Jack was an aficionado of the macabre, always taking things a bit too far with Halloween pranks. But Maria thought, "What's the harm? He's my friend."
She arrived at the party in a simple ghost costume, just a white sheet with eye holes. The party was in full swing, and Jack's house was a labyrinth of haunted decorations. She spotted Jack in the crowd, his costume unmistakable. He wore a gruesome werewolf mask, replete with fangs, fur, and all. Jack seemed to terrify guests, popping up behind them, and relishing their screams.
As the night wore on, Maria noticed something odd. Each time Jack scared someone, his eyes—visible through the mask—flashed with an eerie, unnatural light. It was unsettling, and her initial reservations about Halloween resurfaced.
Finally, she mustered enough courage to confront him. She caught him alone in the kitchen.
"Jack, can I talk to you?"
The werewolf-masked Jack turned to her. "Sure, what's up?"
"I don't know how to say this, but you're scaring people a bit too much. Are you alright?"
The mask muffled Jack's laughter. "I'm just getting into the Halloween spirit."
Maria sighed. "Alright, if you say so. But maybe take off the mask for a bit?"
Jack hesitated, "Sure." He reached behind his head and untied the mask. But when he pulled it off, another mask was underneath—a clown mask, twisted and sinister.
Maria gasped. "What the—"
Before she could finish, the room went dark. Emergency lights flickered on, casting eerie shadows.
Maria looked around, now terrified. "Jack? Are you still there?"
A muffled voice behind the clown mask replied, "Who said I'm Jack?"
Maria froze. "What do you mean?"
The person in the clown mask reached up and peeled it off. Underneath was another mask, this one of a skull.
Maria's heart raced. "Who are you?!"
The skull-masked figure tilted its head. "Who are we, really? Just a collection of masks, hiding our true selves. Isn't that what Halloween is all about?"
Suddenly, the lights flicked back on. Maria blinked, and there was Jack, standing in front of her, no masks, just his familiar face.
"Sorry about that. The power went out. You okay? You look like you've seen a ghost."
Maria was dumbfounded. "Was that you? With the masks?"
Jack frowned. "I was just in the living room resetting the breaker. What masks?"
Maria didn't know what to believe. "Never mind. Maybe I'm just not cut out for Halloween."
Jack chuckled, "Maybe. But isn't that the point? To confront our fears, to look behind the masks we all wear?"
As Maria left the party, she couldn't shake the feeling that she'd glimpsed something real, something darker than any Halloween fright. And the most unsettling thought was that maybe Jack hadn't worn the masks, but had somehow, inexplicably, been worn by her own hidden fears and doubts.
The way Celestine tells it, its commonplace. Everyone has the friend of the family. That odd person, related to no one, but permanently appended, without explanation.
"You know, like what's-her-face living at Nana's upstairs..."
"Or, Uncle Tomick, who's nobody's uncle..."
"And what about the Twins from Norfolk..?"
Well, it's something like that apparently with old Aunt Patsy.
"She comes once a year, for an overnight from goosey night to Halloween."
"--goosey night? who calls it that? you mean Devil's Night!"
"If you saw, Aunt Patsy, you'd call it that," says Celestine.
True enough, having finally seen her, she looks like a mother goose character, complete with babushka and hunched back. The eyes twinkle, but they are set so far back that it's impossible to recall a color other than the black of the pupil staring out. The face in all these years hasn't changed. Just like in the black and white photographs. It's always been perfectly aged and stiffened into an expression somewhere between derision and vexation.
Whisps of coarse silvered hair escape from beneath the red paisley kerchief that over the years has always remained the same fabric. The rest of her garb is so bland as to pass description. She wears a starched drab dress, and long dark cardigan, so loosely knitted it might pass for cargo netting.
"Doesn't she do anything else? I mean she must, while she's here..."
"No, she really doesn't."
She doesn't eat, or shower on arrival, or go visiting. She gives a curt nod to the rest of us and heads directly up the three flights of stairs to the guestroom. The one with its own bathroom. A sort of suite unto itself on that floor. That's if we see her at all.
"Most times, someone in the family will ask: 'has Aunt Patsy arrived?' ...
'Shh... yes she has.' And it's assumed she's resting."
She doesn't come out until dark, well after supper, of Halloween Night. It's like she waits for the last of the tricker-treaters to depart.
Then we hear her. She's approaching.
She's got a heavy walk, and a sturdy cedar stick with cobra head to steady herself. There's no mistaking the thud. In her other hand she carries a vintage suitcase table. It's a rectangle when she holds it, but by some little twist and lift of flaps the thing is suddenly transformed into an oval, immediately draped in glimmering embroidered tapestry on which she sets her Tarot and crystals.
Then, she beacons with a long-nailed finger, partly obscured by the layers of her fluid garments. Curiosity calls, one by one, upon the gathered. Aunt Patsy delivers messages from the past beyond, and with a shudder foretells the end of current goings on.
"She's so well informed it's like she's living here all along."
I hear steady whispers, from everywhere but suddenly, Celestine is nowhere to be found. I begin to worry and ask, weaving through the couches and chairs. In the dim lights, no one is much concerned, so long as there are plenty of bodies huddled around.
Suspicion overtakes me. Who is this Patsy anyway? I draw closer in again, instead of scanning the perimeters. Suddenly, it's my turn, by default. She leans in mere inches and says in husked voice, "Well, what is this heart's desire, dearie, to know?"
I'm about to open my mouth, when I'm grabbed by the leg from under the tablecloth: "Dorothy!" the unmistakable voice hisses.
Against Celestine's staunch whispered warning, I instead reflexively grasp at Aunt Patsy's face, tearing at the head wrap, hair, and wrinkled skin flaps. This is neither Auntie nor Clairvoyant...
Ugh! the whole room erupts in one gasp. It's... Mom!
Think I Heard A Scream
It's 8 and people are out there scaring the shit out of each other,with their scary and funny costumes.I'm not into these kind of things .I've always thought of them as a waste of time,plenty of time.I was busy completing my homework essay but I think I heard a scream,I took off my headphones "uh it really is a scream.It's Halloween people are dressed up scary, why is there a need to scream and get frightened it'd be their neighbours or something"."AaaaH"I heard a scream again.This time, it was louder and scary.I'd be lying if I said I'm not scared. I held my hand to my chest,slowly walking down the stairs.I peeped through the window and I saw a guy in a black costume scaring people.I felt relieved cause I know this guy , It must be him, Sam from my music class.I could say hello.I opened the door , closing it behind.I walked straight towards him.I don't know why but it really felt weird and I'm sure it's not in a good way.I noticed something he was actually scaring people with a knife and I don't think he's actually playing,like he's really having a devlish smirk on ,a small but sharp knife in his hand,His white mask splattered with red coloured liquid resembling blood.Not scary at all,really not at all scary or I should say that I made myself beleive so.Maybe I could go back home?.I was about to turn back that's when he started to speak "Hello,wanna play a game?"he said in a strong deep voice that gave me shivers."I..uh.. My mom's waiting I should head back"I said with the fakest smile on my lips."No..You don't wanna be at your house,locked up in your room,busy trying to please everyone around you.Would your mamma scold you if you won't get back soon huh..will daddy beat you for showing up late...you don't want that.Mmm Now,do you?"I felt anger,sadness, shame all at once I walked towards him ,I pointed my index finger towards him."You! don't know me so, don't interfere in my business unless I give you my permission.You cannot just blabber to me about my family.You can't just do that".I should leave.I turned my heels aiming at my house.That is when a hand gripped me tightly, what do I do? I couldn't even think straight. I looked at him with anger."Sam what the heck ?are you like mad or something?" I shouted, raising my hand to remove the creepy mask he wore.I took hold of the material seperating it from his face.I saw a face,it was Sam but not the guy I know cause the guy I know was friendly with a smile always coloring his lips,a pure angel with no sins on him.what I saw was not the same guy I could tell by the creepy grin he's wearing,his eyes bloodied and full of darkness.There's only one thing I could do,run.I kicked him aiming at his stomach, making him groan and hold his abdomen.I used this chance to let go of his grip.I ran back to my house , opening the door and shutting it behind as soon as I enter.I took my phone dialing Sam's number,still keeping an eye on the creepy guy.He had worn his mask again.Sam took the phone saying
you call bun?"I looked outside.the creepy
guy was not speaking on the phone."Hey , you there?"."Oh, sorry I'm
here I called you to say that there's someone just like you tryi-" 'Rat-tat-tat' I heard someone knocking on my door.I peeped through the hole noticing my Mom with the same creepy smile as the masked man,her hands covered in blood.I dropped my phone.Sam continued to speak"Hello..You there?..Wanna play a game?".
The Layering of Masks
I wandered aimlessly, lost, having lost my body. I found my way to my high school choir room that I had loved ever so much in life. I went as far as calling it my home. It had since been repurposed for storage as it was the basement of the school and they built an addition with a new choir room near the auditorium and the rest of the music department. When I arrived as my spirit self to what I knew was storage it didn't look like that. The room seemed stuck in time during a lunch of my senior year of high school. I remembered these well- this was not one of them. Everything was wrong. My stuff was in the wrong places, there were no lights on, and worst of all that version of me was wearing one of those character heads. Let me explain: I'm a creature of habit and always put my things in the exact same places, I never would have been able to access the room with no lights on because my teacher had to be there and would have had a light on, and the most obvious issue is I have a phobia of those costumes. I don't like the heads they sell at the store either, and never would have worn one at school anyway because for most of my time the policy was no hats no hoods and I don't break rules. I am neurodivergent and never sat still in a chair the way one is expected to sit in a chair. I also always had the volume of my phone off when I used it at school because I worried about ads being too loud. This monster was sitting completely still in the expected sitting position in one of the chairs playing some kind of video game I never would have been able to play let alone wanted to at full volume for everyone that could have been around to hear. Now that you're up to speed I will continue. I was curious whom else I would see if I waited around. My choir teacher from the correct time period came into the room. To me she seemed exactly as should have been. This was confirmed when she seemed to expect other me to be spinning (a stim of mine I did during every lunch period that entailed me spinning in circles in one area of the room) and to notice when she came in the room and greeted them. This was my standard practice that year, but the monster didn't seem to notice her at all. I was heartbroken seeing her so terrified of what she thought to be me and made the decision to yank the stupid head off of the creep. I did and saw her relief as she figured out I was me and not the freak in the chair. What I found under the head is what made me understand the point of this exercise I was doing. It was me if I was neuro-typical, cis, straight, and fit every other box of "perfection". This version of me wasn't poor and was an absolute jerk. Those two things were unrelated, but both true. The point of this all was to prove to me that my "flawed" existence was way better than the one society wanted me to have. The monster's second mask was a fully perfected neurodivergence mask. Under it all I was there somewhere, but I would have been miserable. The people that care about me and those I care about the most cared for me in life because of who I really am not for the neuro-typical mask I often felt I had to wear. Once I was aware I tried my best to turn off the mask when I could, but still struggled to believe people would like the person under all the figurative masks I wore (not to mention the literal face masks). My mask was a very mature person surpassing their years in many ways. The real me never got the chance to mature with that mask because I was too busy making my mask as good as I could to put the necessary effort into improving myself. The mask, unlike those worn for costumes, is a part of me. It isn't not true to me, but it isn't the entire story either. The worst part of this exercise, for me, was that it was done in the place and during the time there that I was truest to my unmasked self in life. Some other choir members seemed to have entered the room at some point while I was distracted, these being the only other people to understand and get the real me. I found them terrified of the monster and not sure what to think of the scene overall. The freak was altogether uninterested, which made it easier for me to explain everything. In the end we kicked the creature out and I organized my things it had misplaced as they should have been. They were all glad I was me and not that prick. Oh, and don't worry, I made sure the thing took that awful character head with it.
Sinister Simian Spirits of 85th Way
Such a hideous, evil face. All stretched out skin and sinister grins.
The laughter still ringing. Of a pack of hyenas.
“I don’t care Madeline! Your brother wants to go with you and that is final!” Mom had snapped Maddie decided. “It’s the last I’ll hear of it and your petulant tantrums!”
Wordlessly shooing her for the stairs and to her room.
Completely indifferent and uncaring when she didn’t come out.
Making her hear and writhe at how sweetly she would speak with darling little Toby in comparison.
All this stress.
All this grouching and frowning her Mom hated so much…
She was going to have the most awful lines crinkling her forehead.
And the bags under her eyes from freakish insomnia made it all the worse.
At least on Halloween she could spare neglecting a sacred hour of makeup prep.
Since the last of her allowance had been spent on a mall trip for some hair accessories actually in this quarter she couldn’t even purchase a skin tight leotard or vampiress cape and hood for a costume.
She tightened her grip on a meager paper bag. A crinkling orange foil and a garish bat at its front.
But it was scary she supposed.
And Toby had been the one to insist. A gift.
Ugh. The entire trek was absolutely humiliating.
Toby strapped to her side rattling on this and that for every house and every stupid, childish scare, when he wasn’t creasing her bottom sculpting jeans.
And of all things her terrible appearance and watered down, flat long hair she was sure she appeared the freakiest and most despicable goth on the planet.
The absolute horror!
Maddie wanted to faint.
Only— she had this problem.
In a brand spanking new black Spiderboy outfit from Ghoulish October instead of the usual Walmart run.
He ran back eager and with eyes sparkling.
At the best of times she couldn’t admit he made things just a little better.
Certainly not now.
She’d make sure when she checked his candy to steal some of his favorites.
Keep up appearances and keep Toby aware on who the ‘big sister’ was.
“It was soooo cool. You should have come!”
Toby took her hand without complaint.
“That guy’s costume was the best ever!”
An uncanny chill began to sweep through.
As did a strange feeling.
“I mean I was almost scared but then, I have to… no big…”
Hadn’t it—? It was off. Something about it made her stomach clench.
Looking to Toby, unaffected, Maddie still couldn’t shake the feeling she had done something wrong.
If she was right Lainey’s new beau toy Derek had a Dad in real estate.
He’d mentioned properties on sale. Way, way out of their way which made it just perfect for their purposes.
He’d often get keys just for the heck of it.
Take a few selfies in the empty space, imagine themselves owning a Chiffon cherry red sectional and 62 inch flat screen on the wall.
Feeling the tug she stopped right in her tracks.
Breath turned to ice and sheer terror running through her—
Before she caught on that it was just Toby who now looked a little confused too.
“What?” She bit out, a bit too harsh and she tried to get herself together.
Not that Toby minded much anyway.
“For you!” Smiling proud as if he’d just unearthed a fine, expensive jewel for her presented a candy in shiny foil.
A dark, pinkish foil.
“Thanks. You pain in my neck,” she said cracking a nice little smile.
(She grinned ear to ear. Happier than she’d remembered being in at least a few weeks)
The paper really cracked with noise when she opened it.
A decadent cherry crème bonbon.
With two acrylic clip-on nails she popped the treat in her mouth whole.
Flavor almost thicker than rotted death exploding out of her mouth.
A pearly white fog rolled around her ankles as they continued on a desolate sidewalk.
The lights already turned off despite the early hour.
She could imagine the people who could afford these houses had worked well into their fifties childless and with not a spot of romance to do it.
Toby continued on collecting.
Maddie wasn't on a diet or anything, she just had a naturally great figure, but within the first hour the dour looks had gotten to her.
She just couldn't see the big problem all the adults seemed to have for her lately.
And just what was it with all the candy wrappers starting to litter the lawns and road?
What she wouldn't give to at least be with a friend.
Lei and Maurice had said shove it to guys for awhile and did a girl-friend couples costume. Very hot pink and sultry.
Bryn Blake would make a game out of the whole ordeal along her own little brother.
Winding their way towards the looping path they'd chosen to take home was just a few tightly knit houses and round out away.
At least, that's what Mom had said and so did the furious texts beginning to build.
Instead they were at the park of the fogie neighborhood gated away from kids. Which didn't make sense if it wasn't going to be used either way.
"Why are we here? Mom told us not to," Toby whined.
"I-- I know, just-- you must have gotten me turned around."
"Nuh uh! No I didn't!"
"Look it doesn't matter, we're not staying."
"This is wrong."
"Yeah no fooling," she muttered gruffly.
"This is wrong sis. Please-- please--"
She blocked out what sounded like Toby about to cry.
When she squeezed his hand he looked to get the memo since he'd just shut his mouth for the moment.
Stomping across the prepped and perkily grown grass and milkweed stalks the silence truly began to set in.
Vague howls of a dog.
Rush of chilly autumn wind.
The ringing was back in her ears. Subtle and ever leering, almost mocking her...
Turning her head around until it was dizzy and piqued to see a murderer in the shadows.
Maddie held Toby tight.
Freezing in place and realizing they weren't at the door. The other side of the gate.
Padlocked and closed all the same. Straight bars she in no way could climb over.
"I'm scared," Toby held on tight to her leg.
Fiddling with another shiny wrapper candy. She recognized a brand of taffy.
"We're fine. This is fine."
The screeching of hyena cackles grew louder.
Logically, this wasn't real. She was having some break.
Maddie from everything tonight had gone mad.
And she was around Toby like this.
With his bright wrappers and innocent eyes looking to her. Not knowing better.
"I got this," she yanked him along, "don't worry. This is going to be fine. We're fine."
She should have packed some flashlight. Or a whistle. Or Hell, insisted onto Mom to get her phone back.
"No one Toby. No one else is here."
"But then, why are there girls laughing? They sound like your friends."
"Oh come on be serious," she huffed, "we don't laugh like that."
Maddie kept her gaze firmly on the door.
The security person just about to close up was sympathetic.
For once. Then again he didn't look at her too much. Probably didn't wanna make things weird which, totally failed.
"That's a nice boy. I had a son," he mused absently.
She said nothing while furtively urging Toby to hurry.
With a screech the park had been left behind them. Along the odd park service guy or whatever title those ones had for themselves. Not ranger definitely. Rangers had a much more assertiveness to them.
Her friends had theorized which "men's career" would be the most fun in bed.
For once she was relieved to be back in her boring, basic neighborhood block.
"That's it. Time to go home, I can't bear another scare like that one tonight," she decided toward her brother.
He laughed but either way nodded his head.
"Do ya wanna share my candy? I knew you were shy to ask before. You reeeeealllly are a scaredy cat Maddie."
"No I'm not," I huffed quietly. "Just stop talking."
"Alright," he chirped.
Taking a break on the curb to check some of her brother's haul there was a procession of tired kids, tired mothers, dragging along their bed cases turned into huge, greedy stashes of candy.
"I'mma talk to Grady okay sis."
"Toby don't you--"
But he was already on a swift waddling run for the boy.
And there she noticed he was crying.
"Awww what happened Grey?" Toby asked.
"A-- a hic monster. Mons hic --ter took my candy!!"
He held back what was sure to have been an ear-splitting wail upon seeing her. Another bigger, meaner, and gross girl.
"She was so mean!"
"Maddie!" Toby shrieked, sounding almost offended. To what she frankly couldn't be sure.
Dumb kid. Needed to get his eyes checked.
"Hey, I am just having a bad hair day, it happens."
Not that boys get it. At any age.
"Noooo," he trilled. "Don't be dumb Toto! I know you're sister would be dragging you around. Mine was supposed to--
"This thing was just as tall though, had long tangled hair like a full pot of pasta over her head, but her face was all burned off, there was red and blood and bone! I SAW HER SKULL AND SHE HAD TOO MANY TEETH! She wanted to eat me."
Toby sympathized immediately, getting himself into a state over it.
And it took her all of a moment to know whose fault this was.
And she hadn't told her. Not that she could have joined but then she would have known to avoid this very situation. Being involved and all.
Toby looked up at her.
She placed a hand over her mouth as if to think, gazing in some random direction. This time toward one house with gaudy and glaringly lit decorations. It almost made the whole street to day but there were still shadows. Green eyes peeked from one black eyed Jack-o-Lantern balloon--
And there shouldn't have been.
But before she could take a closer look it streaked across the street, quickly out of sight with no discernable feature.
Only she could swear she'd seen something suspiciously red splotched on a small chest.
Before she could really think on it Maddie rushed over to the spot.
The boys followed behind her, having gone ominously quiet.
Likely, by having sensed her own tense, wary mood.
Only to find—
Crunching leaves alongside crunching shiny foil.
Gingerly picking up a navy blue one she felt the light smear of what could only be chocolate.
What. A. Mess.
And she’d rather not be around to be blamed for it.
“We will take Toby home won’t we?” her brother whispered.
(Grady, but such a small errant thought it was hardly a correction anyway, how it really went).
Since her brother’s whisper thrummed in such an odd way he may as well have stroked her very flame of life.
What were with these weird— no. She was so not the type to have this kind of stuff on her head.
“Yeah let’s go,” she said.
“You’re a good person.”
“Yeah I know.”
The green eyes continued to follow the trio.
The errant steps of a child left imprints of rushing death.
By this point her feet were ready to fall off. It was ten. Then she’d have to wake up for an early morning shower. Nice as it would be to sleep in the possibility of greasy pores or worse yet bad scent was unacceptable.
Only another child cried out.
And this time a few feet in their way. Cut off partly by a much taller figure with brambles of long hair, a pair of red pumps, oooo she had a bone to pick with Bryn.
She yanked her friend by one shoulder, flinching at just how grisly her mask was.
And not just the mask.
She was in baggy men’s clothes all ragged and torn to pieces, even sewed sticks and leaves across her body.
“The heck is going on? Bryn your brother really?” She scoffed tilting to see Trent Blake dressed as a s’more tears running down his marshmallow white face.
Bryn's cheeky smile fell, gaze trailing down to take Maddie in, "Oh. My Lord. What did they do to you?"
She furtively scuttled up to Maddie's face, taking her poorly manicured hands into her own. "Oh no no no. This won't do absolutely won't at all. Please tell me no one has seen you like this you poor thing!"
She simply pulled her hand back, hardly caring and frankly in some disbelief.
"Whatever forget that. Like I said, you have some explaining--"
Bryn raised a hand. "Stop."
Toby was holding to Maddie's hand still.
"Say no more. We'll go to my house all four of us, I know your Mom must be driving you insane so let me take care of that."
"Really with these guys Bryn?" she asked tiredly. "I really just want--"
"Please let me spoil you."
"Yeah, you are so good with making people feel special."
"And that means?" she said, not only confused but certainly suspicious. So much so that a dark shadow overtook her face and cast a somber shade to her eyes.
"Oh you know what I mean. You know perfectly well," she whispered in a bitter hiss.
“Hah! That? So what Mad-Lin?” She crowed.
“Why didn’t you tell me what you and the other girls had planned for tonight?”
“What’d ya mean?” Bryn tsked with a wry smile and patronizing tone.
“Don’t give me that!”
“Oh fine fine. Yes I’ve been around the block a bit. Mom stuck me with this little monster too so that wasn’t fun. At. All.”
“Okay I get that part.”
Toby was looking up but didn’t seem to really get what was happening.
Maddie didn’t exactly parade the fact she did this kind of thing anyway.
Was it funny? No, not really. It wasn't about that either way. Not when they'd go towards the edge of town for the unrented homes and loiter around with fake blood or intestines that were really balloons or cooked spleen.
"Then just what's the problem?" Bryn challenged not at all bothered.
"The problem is--"
And it should have been that she didn't have deniability. Just had to get involved when
Toby was around.
So then why was her stomach doing sour flops.
She was really starting to feel ill.
"We're supposed to be on the same page with this type of thing."
"Look you weren't going to be joining with your Mom."
"Fine, fine. Just forget it."
And at that her expression finally warmed. Taking in Maddie, who had turned away ready to bid her a good night.
"Mads, I didn't mean to give you trouble really. Where are those brats? Let's just dump them over at mine or something? Then I'll walk you home."
"Grady and Toby, live--"
Where Toby had been before was only empty air, now rising in strength, making her skin prick with terrible, almost... hellish... cold.
"Toby! Grady!" Maddie shouted out to the sprawl of meandering children and their plastic, nylon costumes.
Whirling around, "Trent's gone too!!"
"Ha! Oh yea, he is," Bryn laughed.
Until Maddie shook her. "Focus, this is seriously not a joke. I-- I--" her heart was swelling inside her horribly, pounding at her chest. "I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die, she's gonna kill me."
A terrible roar brought Maddie to her knees.
Black edged her vision.
And she felt others looking at her. Looking.
From all sides, judging her and sneering.
They were all sneering at her. She raked her hands through her hair. God, when had she last shampooed. She was so stupid.
She looked so ugly.
Bryn snatched her face, scrunching her cheeks. There was a faint CRACK. She wasn't completely sure from where.
Her sight was still black and wonky at the edges but her ugly makeup and horrible disfigured wax of a face came clearly.
"Look, the brats can't have gone far. Let's just track 'em down okay? they'll be fine and if not, well their fault really."
Slowly, Maddie stood up.
Helped along by Bryn, and pointed towards the block where there house was all the same.
That made sense.
The night sky sort of pressed and something in their steps was muffled, that was probably her own head cottoning in terror.
"If they get run over by a car I hope neither of us will have to clean up the mess? Maybe that would be better."
Bryn's laugh turned into a heartless cackle. No way.
That's not how they laughed. No.
The laughter still ringing.
A snarling, savage pack of hyenas. So arrogant and so out of their breadth.
Unbidden she thought of a polecat and her best friend, who held her hand now, locked by her face and beautiful blond hair.
"Ollie on the Oxen free."
Adults ignored them.
The streets slowly emptied.
Time ticked by.
But not that long she was sure.
Maddie began to get a sickening feeling all over again.
She ate some candy, careful of their shiny foils, keeping the shiny paper in one piece as she popped one chocolate and then two and then three.
"You're my sister and I love you."
She was sure Toby wouldn't mind too much.
"You're his sister. The least you can do is look out for him Maddie!"
And he'd better not mind the scolding he was going to get.
They'd dropped some of their candy right in the middle of the road.
Looked to have crossed it.
Squinting, Maddie quickly saw bright red packing tape and the spider stripes of his Miles Morales.
Her brother didn't speak. He didn't laugh.
Street lights began to flicker and flick.
Toby became almost like a shadow, part flesh and one brown eye, and then nothing at all.
Until he was swallowed in the dying light.
There was no hint of Grady but a shoe.
Maddie suggested (pleaded with some tears) for Bryn to call the police.
Her friend's disgust and irritation so absolute shut that idea down pat.
Her voice had certainly something wrong with it. She didn't say so quite then, but clearly manic and aggro was not her color.
Next was the stoop of their two houses neighbor.
Toby looking happy and hyper as usual simply waved her over as if the two weren't fuming.
Trading a solitary look, first with his friend Trent and then to the girls.
A look all too knowing and snide. Eyes glazed and yet his nose up at the air.
And that included Maddie.
The two boys fled for their sisters.
Toby smashing right into Maddie's chest. "You found me Maddie, you found me! Hey big sister."
"Don't you, you are in so much trou--ble."
His shoe was off. But not just his shoe.
His entire foot was-- there was some kind of black thing, too dark and too putrid to be blood gushing.
Somehow his short neck was long enough for his breath to touch her ear. "The mask, she has none on."
Her hands simply let him go.
A dizzy spell overtook her as the black sky danced across her eyes and the streetlights buzzed and flicked across her eyelids.
So many trees rustled in a barren walkway.
Where Toby giggled just across them.
Pointing and laughing at...
"We're going to leave you," she called.
"Don't say that!" I chided.
And watched her eyes turn so, so cold.
"What-- what is going on? I-- I can't take this anymore."
Toby continued staring without a word.
Simply that smile split across his face. Watching a very lively TV show.
"I cant, where is Toby" Where's anyone? Why are you-- Bryn, Trent he's all alone."
"No. He's been with me all night. Toby's been with you all night."
She crossed her arms.
"I'd hoped you'd figure it out."
"Figure, figure what? About some monster!"
Her own, regular laugh. Loud, clear, and decidedly not a cackle.
"You've got things backward. Those, those are a complete pain sure," she pointed toward Toby, still present, the nastiest expression Maddie had remembered seeing on Bryn, "but monsters? No, that's what we're here for. Least, that's what these stupid guards want us to feel like and that's not really fair is it?"
"Huh?" Maddie breathed, unable to-- to really comprehend.
Bryn shrugged. "We didn't mean for Toby and Grady to disappear, those kids should have just done what we said and not been such squealers. And what about us? They were why we had to be stuck here for so long."
"Stuck? Disappear? Bryn, what have you done?"
"What have you done," she echoed, and used Maddie's own voice.
As tears blurred her eyes, as the dark pulsated and became nothing across her vision, the mask Bryn wore came to... came to focus.
That... whatever it was made of really didn't look like plastic.
Trembling, she walked to Bryn, head down and hands tucked to her chest as if to apologize profusely.
Opening her mouth, Maddie sucked in a breath.
Jerking to stare where there should have been grass she instead shot out a hand to the mask.
Only to be caught, arm twisted at it's wrist and shoved aside.
Maddie's hair splayed across her face.
Without sparing another moment she ran.
Ran across a black, boundless void with no door or forest. No pavement or tile floors.
Within the beating of her heart as she fled.
Bryn's voice rang through her mind like a liberty bell.
"This'll be so fun!"
"We should not have to suffer."
"Augh! They're so unfair how old are we? Sixteen, practically grown-ups."
She felt so cold.
Maddie wrapped her arms around herself.
Grass flicked cool dew drops across her bare ankles.
"You two look so beautiful."
Mom held her tight and kissed her forehead. "You're a beauty Madeline. Money well spent," she laughed fondly, hand to her cheek.
Nostalgia and love in her gaze.
Toward a daughter resplendent in a diamond dripping Countess costume.
She was in the gated park with the creepy security person.
The one who'd had a son.
At the gate was... some speck of white.
Catching her breath and steeling her nerves though she didn't know from what, Maddie walked the length of the park.
Finding a cross and single photograph.
With one corner that flapped to the bitter October chill.
Flowers and candy were abound. But each bud had long turned brown and would make a crunch if she'd tried to hold one.
But she had seen Grady. Just last night.
Or the last week.
Halloween was soon wasn't it?
But she was going with her friends. Not with Toby.
But, when had her Mom loved her like that?
She couldn't place the memory.
Maddie closed her eyes. Just for a moment and just to think.
Only to hear screaming behind her eyelids.
Remember a heavy layer of dust and the hanging smell of industrial cleaner.
Lainey's beau toy Derek had a Dad in real estate.
If she was right, a bunch of rich homes had gone up to market lately.
There'd been some freaky accidents.
Made for great fodder and Halloween gossip at school, not to mention scaring their little siblings witless.
Rich neighborhood meant rich security.
And Maddie wasn't quite sure why she was so terrified but she knew well to not doubt such instincts.
She doubted the rich people had kids.
So she wasn't sure why there would be such a mess of candy.
It practically lined each boulevard.
Some chocolate brands, Sour Lemons and Berries, hard jawbreakers, skeleton and vampire teeth novelty toys.
And a delightful little trail of shiny taffy wrappers.
She could barely hold herself a snort. Some were even unopened. Dumb kids, letting go of contraband like that.
In her pocket was many more foils. Each a darkish pink or blue color.
"Oh Mads! Made-liiiiine!"
A voice sang out from the street.
From where she couldn't be sure.
But it set her deeply on edge.
Maddie doubled back, only to run into Bryn.
No, through Bryn.
The thought almost had her retch. And remember that awful, grisly lump of skin that was her disturbing Halloween mask.
Only to find, she wore a matching Countess costume to her own. And, the other Maddie.
"Do you get it yet? Friend?"
Tapping her shoulder, was that terrible face. Bryn.
What is this.
"What is-- this?" I don't I don't, who is that?"
She pointed to her own other self.
To the guys and Lainey and Maurice and Lei.
Colin Barnaby's sports car milling around that old county house's lawn as if they themselves owned the place.
When really... "that one had a guy with the best costume ever."
"Oh sure, right now."
"What are you?!" Maddie demanded. This time taking a swipe. Peeling away the layers of red muscle, torn off flesh, and burn scars.
To see shreds in her own hands.
Where a melted wax figure dripped down what should have been a chin.
Painted eyes turning to white and black tear stains across her cheeks.
Like a piece of candy left in the sun or a fire for far too long.
Maddie tackled Bryn, nails sharp and ready to scratch at her eyes.
Tumbling out of a black void and into a solitary house.
Bryn glided along, no sound to her tread and hands behind her back.
Maddie followed along, incredulous and petrified.
Wherever they were, whatever house they had broken into now was occupied.
All around was the bluish light of a TV.
Overflow of newspapers and flowers filled each surface.
Almost as plentiful as the odd sticky stains on the carpet.
At first Maddie recognized her living room's couch. And then the archway that led into the kitchen. And the small good luck knick-knacks her mother placed on the small side table.
Then she recognized, the person who was despondent, watching the TV.
"Mom," she croaked, hand to her mouth.
She tried to touch her shoulder, feel her, ask any of the innumerable questions that plagued her about the state of their house or herself.
Only to see her hand glide straight through as if her mother were no more than water.
Or, her daughter no more than air.
She couldn't even cry. She tried, but all that came out were haggard, sorrowful gasps.
She sank down, trying to hug her Mother. She pased almost straight through but did what she could all the same.
"Mom where's Toby?" she asked, "Toby shouldn't see you like this."
"Don't worry he won't."
Bryn was still there. Right behind her Mom.
"Check this little thing out," she chirped, perfect pearly nail pointing to a newspaper.
A small square stenciled with writing across it.
Maddie caught the fluttering page...
FIVE TOTAL DEAD, LOVING SONS, DAUGHTERS, BROTHERS
Her eyes roved the small obituary.
All crammed into the same inches of space.
"Halloween night 2018, 17-year-olds and various neighborhood children victims of cruel practical joke..."
"...always been troubled, selfish and audacious..."
"Mourn this loss,"
"Never forget who is at fault, for the loss of eight-year-old Toby Sawyer and Grady Turpin."
Maddie touched her own face.
Feeling now, a long, jagged run of exposed skin.
Her back touched the door. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," she whispered. To her Mom. To Toby. To the weirdo at the park.
Before she could react someone had pulled the solid surface of the door away from her.
Feeling herself fall, the news clipping came loose and drifted back to it's place.
She was ready to plunge into Hell.
Maddie lay sprawled on the grass, lips slightly parted and eyes closed.
As usual, like every year, the town had come to life for Halloween.
Only... there was no way so many mothers would be laughing, so many teenagers with their younger siblings holding their hands or buried in cell phones or other friends, if eight idiots hadn't proven how heartless they really were.
Toby crouched down to get a better look.
Before Maddie rose to a sitting position on the grass.
Dazed for a second before realizing Toby's presence and his bag of crinkling sweets.
No words came.
Her scarred over eye hurt like a bitch.
She could hardly breathe the moment she took Toby and buried him to her chest.
"I love you, I love you. I love you so much, never leave, never leave me!"
"What's wrong with you?" he laughed, "you're so dramatic big sister."
And despite the last turn of the night she laughed too. Laughed with so much joy she could explode.
Her brother remembered Maddie as when he'd died. No, before then. Before the prank.
Before an old house, fake blood, cheap serial killer costumes, and an angry feral weasel.
Why she'd gotten the scarred eye when Bryn had been the one to wrangle the thing when it leapt she had no idea. And Maddie preferred not to ask.
She'd have to pretend. Have to pretend as hard as she could. If Toby didn't remember how or if he was a little ghost now then there had to have been a reason.
That seemed right.
They began their way through the houses and blocks for candy.
Right after their first house did a zombie pop up from the fence scaring a ten-year-old witless.
Poor Trent Blake.
He began to cry.
"Stay here," she said in a sour voice.
"Huh why?" Toby asked airily.
"Just saying hi to a friend. You'd be bored," she dismissed in a cheery way, with a wave of her hand just for good measure.
Toby giggled. "Okay!"
Before she could stride over toward Bryn her brother grabbed Maddie by the hand, "Oh I forgot."
"Yeah, something's wrong."
"No, no there isn't."
"What is it?" he whimpered, "Do you feel bad? For all the promises you broke to me."
His expression was completely blank. The glacial cold of a judgement much older and much more inhuman. Not Toby at all.
Trent continued to cry.
And one of the kids in a Spiderboy costume turned to spot them.
Toby's face looked on with a frown, pouting jealously.
Pale white in form, her eyes looked hollowed and sunken beneath the textured face. Pasty white would dust off with each unconscious brush of her fingers, but the uncanniness of it all would give me shivers.
"Take off the mask, let me know that it is you." I heard myself say, though my mind was far from my lips, spinning ideas, spinning tales, weaving worthless lies of imagery in queried quips.
"It's just me, silly," Ferrah responded, her voice light and quick. I remember her pulling at the bottom of her chin. Lifting up, tacky sucking as if the mask was plastered on thick, peeling back, while my eyes did a quick little dip.
I found my head dipping, my neck a bow before it jerked back quick. There she was, Ferrah in all her beautiful-faerie-eyed trick. The ghoulish mask of the Forgotten, long left behind in its wispy sick, made me tired as I felt her hands grip my own with an icy prick. I had heard all the stories in my tiny leaf-stitched bed, acorn endcaps, daffodil plumage with a goose down fringe. And when I thought that I'd open my eyes to reveal what was a silly image deep within, my eyes would widen, her teeth would prickly the air with that sharp toothy grin.
And we'd dance, dance down the street in the cold hallowed night, singing our cheer, dancing our dance, letting children scream on our cold, pumpkin night. Pointed ears, sharpened teeth, and beady black eyes. I guess the mask was less scary to the humans with our unnatural guise.