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by S.S.Kay 9 months ago in Short Story
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A Halloween story like no others...


September 01

It was that time of the year again. George knew, not from the slight soft change in weather, but from sneaky footsteps in the house. His son woke up unusually early and moused into the attic. After some rustling and bustling, he dragged down all the Halloween decorations they had, sprawled them on the kitchen floor and started planning.

‘No new décor this year, remember?’ said George, stepping over a giant spider.

‘It doesn’t count if I made it, right?’ Peter’s green eyes sparkled with mischief. His T-shirt was hanging on him like a rag; he wasn’t eating well again.

‘It so does!’ Clara scoffed, grabbing her cup.

Despite them being twins, she was a head taller than Peter. At the age of fifteen she couldn’t wait to leave the nest while Peter was clinging to its safety.

‘No it doesn’t!’

‘Yes it does!’

‘Dad, tell her!’ Peter turned to George.

‘Quit being a baby!’ snarled Clara.

‘Both of you, stop!’ ordered George. ‘Clara, stop teasing your brother. And Peter, it’s still September. Don’t you think it’s a bit early for Halloween decorations?’

‘But Dad, it’s my favorite holiday,’ pleaded Peter behind a mountain of plastic pumpkins.

‘I also know we’ve made a deal about it. Did you make any friends?’

‘Norbert is my friend,’ answered Peter, looking at the floor and his voice quiet.

‘Norbert is the neighbors’ dog,’ Clara rolled her eyes.

‘Any human friends?’ asked George, as he nudged his son to the breakfast table.

‘Not really,’ Peter dropped his head.

‘You know the deal, young man.’

‘But Daaad!’

‘Oh please!’ snapped Clara. ‘It’s a stupid holiday and a childish deal anyways. Getting friends won’t make us normal!’

‘Clarissa,’ George knew how his daughter hated her full name. ‘Don’t you have makeup to put on?’

‘I don’t want to,’ Clara’s gaze was pure toxicity.

‘Of course you do. Every teenage girl dreams to have their father’s permission to put makeup on,’ George pointed at the stairs. ‘And while you’re on it, you might wanna check your hair, I think I see some white strands...’

Clara dashed upstairs.

‘And don’t forget your contacts!’ yelled George after her.

‘The day I forget my contacts is the day you’ll find me dead on a sidewalk’ she shouted from upstairs.

‘What’s the point in making friends if we’re going to move anyways?’ snorted Peter.

He was right, they had been moving a lot recently. Peter’s sad expression reminded George of his late wife: the same thin lips, same high forehead and same emerald eyes.

Peter was much paler. George rubbed the dirt off the boy’s cheek. He flinched and jerked his head aside.

‘The point is— being normal and blending in,’ said George. It was hard to convince others in what George himself didn’t believe in. But he promised his wife to give their kids a normal life and that’s what he intended to do.

‘Maybe I don’t wanna be normal?’

‘You’ll make a pretty good job of it by putting out jack-o-lanterns on the first of September,’ George frowned.

‘It’s something we used to do with Mom... Most of these decorations belonged to her mom.’

‘The deal remains, one human friend. Or else — no Halloween. Now drink and scadoodle.’

The boy nodded and sighed as he left the table.

September 02

‘Clara, please! It doesn’t even have to be one of your best friends,’ Peter could hardly keep up with his twin sister. And she was in heels.

‘Do you hear yourself?’ Clara stopped and stared at him. ‘I’m not lending you my friends! It even sounds weird.’

‘They don’t have to become my friend, we’ll just pretend...’

‘And that makes it less creepy? Go find a weirdo like you and start a DnD club or whatever you freaks do. Now don’t you dare come in with me, people may think I actually know you.’

‘We literally have the same face,’ mumbled Peter in confusion, but Clara had marched away.

She joined a group of girls. His twin had mastered the art of social integration far better than him. They came to Maple Hills High at the end of last school year. Clara dove right in, made friends and spent the summer enhancing those bonds. Peter was glad he was able to get his library card, so he used the time he had catching up with his reading list. The goldfish in his room was all the company he needed. Until now.

The morning was useless. His classmates had dismissed him as the mute loner. He had avoided their company for far too long. When he suddenly tried speaking with them about the weather, they were all dismissive and uninterested in him.

Lunch break was worse. He always sat alone in the same spot: in a corner, as far away from everyone as possible. But now he couldn’t switch his place even if he wanted — all other seats were claimed. Students sat in established groups, they giggled, smiled and talked. It seemed so easy for others. Discussing classes, joking, sharing things. It felt like a closed society and Peter didn’t know their secret handshake. He silently poked at his meal.

Maybe the boy at the next table? He had a ball. Peter didn’t like sports, but, if the boy told him his seasonal scores, Peter could calculate their average and median. Somehow, he doubted the boy would be interested.

What if he tried out for some sports team? Teammates were usually close friends. Or, at least, it seemed so. No, he didn’t have that much time — Halloween was right around the corner.

What about the girls at the end of the table? Their conversation was an endless roller coaster of giggles, and whispers. Why did they have to always sit in groups? It was scary to talk to a single person, but a group... Peter’s palms became sweaty.

‘Are you going to finish that cupcake?’

Peter was jerked out of his thoughts, looking up to see expectant eyes peering at him for a response.

Her tanned freckled face was framed by short ginger curls. She was so golden, Peter felt like he was staring at the sun.

She raised her brows.

Peter slowly shook his head. He forgot how to blink.

‘Thank you! My mom doesn’t keep gluten in our house. I’m Fall, by the way!’ Her braces sparkled as she bit the cupcake.

Peter opened his mouth, but no sound came out.

‘You’re Peter, I know!’ she said, chewing.

Peter swallowed.

‘I live across the street, small red house on your left, and we go to the same geography class.’

Peter couldn’t find anything better to do than to nod. Probably too enthusiastically.

The silence was growing uncomfortable.

Come on, say something. It’s your chance, she spoke first, the hardest part is over. Peter tried his best to squeeze in a single word.

She finished his cupcake, fished a huge book from her backpack and sunk into it. Peter sighed. He missed his chance.

An older girl sneaked behind Fall and grabbed the book.

‘Oh look, little Autumn here is researching ten most haunted houses in the United States,’ snarled the girl, while holding the book over her head so Fall couldn’t reach it. ‘What’s the matter? Looking for a place to move in?’

‘My name’s Fall! Give it back!’

The girl tossed the book to one of her friends, forcing Fall to chase them.

Peter’s breathing shallowed, he pressed his molars together. Meanwhile, one of the girls hesitated for too long, and Fall jumped at her head-on. The girl shrieked and dropped the book. Peter leaped and grabbed it before anyone could reach it.

‘Losers!’ grunted the first girl and walked away. Her entourage followed.

Some of the pages were torn and Peter picked them up.

‘Oh, no! This is a library book,’ gasped Fall.

‘I have glue and a book press. If you want I can repair it,’ suggested Peter. His voice came a bit hoarse.

The girl cocked her head and narrowed her eyes. Her nostrils flared as if her freckled nose was trying to sniff deception. ‘Are you sure you can repair it?’

‘No!’ admitted Peter. ‘But I won’t make it worse.’

Fall spoke pretty much non-stop all the way home. Peter didn’t mind a bit. Whatever gaps she left in the conversation he filled with nods, head shakes or smiles.

‘Did you know that Halloween-themed haunted houses first emerged during the Great Depression, because parents wanted to distract their kids from the harshness of real life?’

‘That’s a strange logic,’ frowned Peter.

‘Of course those were just tricks, not real paranormal places...’

‘Real paranormal places?’ repeated Peter.

‘Houses with real ghosts... you know, energy footprints of people, who once lived there. You do believe there’s something more? Things beyond our understanding of the world,’ she stopped, staring at him.

This is your only shot at a real friend, just go with it, Peter froze for a moment, then nodded.

‘I know ghosts exist, I’ve seen real psychics who can contact them, but not all of them, of course... Many are just frauds. I am not that stupid to believe in vampires or werewolves, but I do not rule out yetis. I guess with all the global warming, we’re about to find out soon,’ continued Fall.

Peter kept smiling and nodding.

The book was drying under the press, and they had the house to themselves. As a good host, Peter offered Fall some snacks.

‘Cute ghosts!’ Fall examined three white figurines on the kitchen counter — the only thing Father allowed Peter to put up. ‘You know what we should do? We should test my new Ouija board some time. But in order to achieve the best result we need to do it at midnight.’

Peter wasn’t sure what Fall defined as the best result, but his back stiffened. When the book was ready, she’d have no further reasons to hang out with him. So despite definite chills crawling down his spine, Peter heard himself saying, ‘We can do it tonight. I’ll put up the ladder, so you can get into my window.’

‘Why don’t you come?’ asked Fall.

Because I’m not allowed out of the house after midnight, seemed like a lame excuse.

‘I heard a woman had died in this house. I thought we could try to contact her,’ lied Peter.

‘Oh, brilliant,’ gasped the girl.

What am I doing? he thought after he closed the door behind Fall.

September 03

Peter pushed up his window, a gentle autumn breeze rustled his hair on its way in. An owl was softly hooting on a nearby tree. Peter checked his phone, midnight was approaching. He hoped Fall couldn’t get out, or was too scared to come. The pale moon illuminated the pathway to their house and Peter jolted when one of the shadows moved. It was her. He poked his head from the window.

‘Pst, Fall!’ he pointed at the ladder.

She nodded and began climbing. Thunder growled in the distance, and a backpack hit the floor. Fall’s curly head showed up next. As she crawled in, Peter assumed it would look bad if his father caught him with a girl in his bedroom at such an hour. He moved on his tiptoes and checked the corridor; it was perfectly still. His sister and father were asleep.

‘Are you sure you wanna do this? It can become scary,’ warned Fall as she arranged the board on the floor. White sinister letters stood out on the black polished board, the eye on what looked like a guitar pick, was suspiciously staring at Peter.

‘Y-yes, of course. I offered it, didn’t I?’ whispered back Peter. ‘How do we do that?’

‘We place our fingertips on the planchette, and, if the spirit decides to communicate, it will pull and push, so the hole hovers over the letters, forming words. And remember, no matter what happens, don’t let go.’

Peter swallowed. Would she notice if he pulled and pushed? He wasn’t naive enough to hope for an actual spirit to pity him and visit them. They lit candles and placed their hands over the board.

‘Now what?’ asked Peter.

‘Now we ask,’ spoke Fall, as she stared at the ceiling and added, ‘I-is anybody here?’

The planchette stayed still. Peter assumed it would look weird to move it too quickly. A rusty gate screeched outside, sending shivers down Peter’s spine. Fall repeated her question, and, either because he thought nothing would happen, or because he was too afraid something might really happen, he rapidly pushed the small arrow to land on “yes”.

Fall’s eyes widened, she stared at Peter.

‘Tell me you did it,’ she whispered.

Peter raised his eyebrows to imitate surprise and slowly shook his head.

‘I thought it was you...’ he sighed.

Fall’s face went pale. Peter couldn’t tell if she was breathing at all.

‘W-who is this?’ asked Fall.

Peter didn’t know what to do. Like an approaching beast, thunder outside grew louder.

‘Tell us your name,’ demanded Fall.

Peter felt tingling at the tips of his fingers. A lightning bolt blasted the sky and he startled, pushing the planchette aside.

‘F?’ frowned Fall.

Peter’s heart was drumming in his chest, hair on the back of his neck rose, and he slid the pointer over letters ‘e’ ‘a’ and ‘r’.

‘It’s not funny!’ Fall’s hands were shaking.

‘I think we should stop this,’ he suggested.

A flash of lightning illuminated the room so brightly, it almost blinded them. A roar of thunder shook the earth, and heavy rain gushed over the roof. Another lightning bolt brightened the sky, and Fall jolted back. Her lower lip trembled, eyes staring behind Peter’s shoulder.

‘What?’ Peter turned around. All he could see was an open window and curtain of rain.

‘A ghost! There was a ghost,’ wailed Fall. ‘I swear someone was standing on the roof a second ago!’

Peter opened his mouth, but before he could utter a word, he recognized his father’s footsteps.

He pushed Fall under the bed, dropped his bed cover over the board and sunk under the sheet. His father opened the door.

‘What... Why aren’t you asleep?’ demanded George. ‘And why is this open?’ he shut the window.

‘Sorry dad, I decided to watch a scary movie,’ Peter looked down. ‘It turned out to be too scary...’

George sat on the edge of Peter’s bed and stretched his palm, silently requesting Peter to submit his smartphone.

Peter sighed and reached for the phone. That’s when he noticed movement. She stood in the hallway behind his father’s shoulder: pale skin, thin dark lips, black inky smudges around bloodshot eyes. She cocked her head, letting her wet white hair slide from her face and pressing her thin finger to her lips as if urging him to stay silent.

Tired of waiting, his father snatched the phone.

‘No more movies after hours,’ he said, shaking his finger over Peter’s head.

Peter instinctively nodded. When he looked back into the hallway, the pale figure was gone.

The door closed, and Fall crawled from under the bed. Peter helped her up. She looked tired and devastated.

‘If you’re too scared I can walk you home...’ Peter suggested awkwardly. ‘Or you can stay. You take the bed. I’ll sleep on the floor.’

‘You don’t believe me, do you?’ her voice was hoarse.

‘I believe you saw something, and it was disturbing enough to scare you...’ mumbled Peter, the image of the pale figure still stamped in his mind.

‘I should go,’ she packed the board into her backpack and opened the window.

Fresh air rushed in along with tapping sounds of raindrops; they were lazier and heavier now.

‘Here, take it,’ he handed Fall his neon blue raincoat.

She hesitated for a moment, then put it on.

‘I’ll see you tomorrow...’ he called, but she was climbing down the ladder.

‘What the hell, Clara! You were out again, hanging out with those... people?’ Peter marched into his sister’s bedroom without knocking.

‘Rude!’ Clara had swiped black lipstick and mascara stains, her soaked white hair gathered in a high bun. She didn’t look so scary in her unicorn pajamas. ‘And they are not just people, they are my people. Just because Father hates them, doesn’t mean we should. You should come some time, see for yourself. They are fun.’

‘No, thank you,’ mumbled Peter through gritted teeth.

‘You should be honest about who you wanna be and who you really are!’

‘Says a girl, who wears a wig and contact lenses every day just to hide her white hair and red eyes.’

‘Fuck you! I like my daily tamed look and I enjoy moonlighting at those parties, and, no matter what father says, I’m going to take the best from the two worlds as long as I can,’ hissed Clara. ‘And I’m not asking why you had a girl in your room after midnight. Or why she screamed bloody hell, when she saw me on that ladder, which, by the way, I thought you left for me...’

September 04

‘Don’t you think you went a little overboard with her?’ asked Clara as she pushed the tip of her shovel into the mud.

The soil still held moisture, which made digging a lot harder. The sun was barely strong enough to gently warm their faces as they dug a hole in the woods.

Peter didn’t reply.

‘Making friends by reinforcing their fears is probably not the best way to go about it…’ said Clara.

Peter dropped his shovel, wiped his forehead, and spoke. ‘How would I know? I don’t have any friends!’ Before Clara could speak, he continued. ‘Listen, I cover for you when you sneak out nights to your decadent Goth parties. I lie at school and even forge Dad’s signature on your sick leave letters. Can you just dig a hole for me and call it a day?’

Clara frowned, then rolled her eyes. ‘After you’ve dragged me into the woods from the backyard, and dropped a shovel in my hand, I suppose I should be happy we’re not hiding a corpse.’

She rustled a pile of gold and scarlet leaves. ‘Would you at least care to explain why, after digging the hole, we are suddenly digging sideways now?’

‘Because, if the soil right above it is disturbed, Fall will know that it was recently dug. And I need her to think a ghost dug that box decades ago.’

‘You’re crazy,’ frowned Clara.

‘You mean genius,’ protested Peter. ‘I’m reversing the damage you caused. Technically, it was you who scared Fall. To be honest, you gave me some chills too.’

Peter crouched over his backpack, fished a rusty tin box, a stack of fake photos and a love letter he’d written to a made-up person with a non-existent address. Earlier he had aged the paper with some tea, tore the corners and splashed dirt and water over it — as if time and humidity damaged the contents of the box.

‘And what is this supposed to mean?’ asked his sister from behind his shoulder.

‘All ghosts have some sort of unfinished business. This one forgot to send a love letter,’ said Peter. He placed the stack in the box, closed it and pushed it as far as he could reach sideways.

‘Can’t believe this is how I’m spending my Saturday.’ Clara picked up her shovel. ‘Encouraging my brother’s antisocial behavior! Normal people go watch a movie or something.’

Peter shook his head. They both knew he wasn’t normal.

‘I’m no worse than a parent who puts up a present under the Christmas Tree. Fall will find this, send the letter and, boom, we’re besties forever. And Father will finally let me put up Halloween decorations!’

Clara stopped and stared at him, ‘Are you for real? Is this all about those stupid trinkets? And I thought you genuinely wanted a friend. Can’t believe I helped you!’

She dropped her shovel and marched back home.

Peter didn’t care. He finished the job alone. When the hole was covered, he tamped the soil with his boot, then collected some rocks and leaves to hide the spot.

September 16

It was a cloudless cold day. Gushes of wind plucked leaves from branches and engaged them in a swirly dance.

‘Are you sure this is going to work?’ Fall looked at him skeptically when he shoved two metallic rods in her hands.

‘There’s only one way to find out,’ shrugged Peter. He really hoped the soil over his hole had time to settle down properly.

She pushed the rods to him, ‘You do it!’

‘No, you saw her first — she chose to come to you. She will guide only you.’ He switched to a whisper. ‘I’ll be here the whole time. I’ve read that most of the spirits are lost souls. They want us to help them, guide them to their final destination.’

Fall blinked quickly, then inhaled and nodded, ‘All right.’

She pointed the rods at Peter’s house. Peter raised the heel of his foot, so the tip of the toe pressed on a tiny controller he had placed in his sneakers. The rods vibrated. Fall gasped and laughed.

‘It’s working!’

It better be working, I spent a fortune in that prank store, he thought.

‘Oh my god!’ Peter was doing his best to imitate awe.

He also made sure that his father could see them from the kitchen window. They were far enough that he couldn’t detect what exactly they were doing, but for all Peter cared, his father saw him jumping and talking enthusiastically with his new best friend.

Regulating the rods was harder than he anticipated. By the time they arrived at the spot, he was exhausted.

‘They twitch here, if I move an inch away, they stop,’ said Fall.

‘But we are in the middle of nowhere,’ Peter rubbed the back of his neck. Two maples and a big rock, they were exactly where he wanted them to be.

Fall looked down, ‘We should dig.’

And before Peter could say anything, she dropped on her knees and started digging.

Fall didn’t pay much attention that her white skirt was all dirty, mud sunk under her pretty trimmed nails. At the sight of her frantic dedication, Peter’s heart crumbled. He’d hidden a tiny shovel under a nearby rock, but he realized that would look suspiciously convenient. He cursed himself, rolled his sleeves and joined her efforts.

When they dug up the box, they both looked like miners. Good thing nobody ever strolled this far to see them. Fall held the box with trembling hands.

‘What do you think is in it?’ she said, rubbing her palms.

Peter shrugged.

Fall’s eyes sparkled with unshed tears as she examined photos and the letter. She covered her mouth and gasped.

‘It’s an unsent love letter. Look: “I’m too scared to send this letter to my beloved Giacomo. If anyone ever finds it, please send it in my stead. Ana’. You were right, this spirit was not evil, she was scared.’

Peter cleared his throat, ‘I’m not sure if the recipient is still alive...’

Fall shook her head. Some of the tears slid down her cheeks as she squeezed photos Peter had cut from National Geographic. ‘It doesn’t matter. We should send it. For Ana...’

September 17

The next day they sent the letter. Peter was just hoping that café in Sicily wouldn’t post it back. After they watched a movie at his place, Peter’s father gave them permission to put up some of his most favorite decorations.

‘I know whose house doesn’t need any Halloween decor,’ smirked Fall as she handed him a pirate skull.

She gestured at a creepy old mansion right across the street.

‘That’s Mrs. Robinson’s place,’ said Peter.

The roof was patchy, because the old woman couldn’t afford to change it. There was no one to cut overgrown ivy over the windows. And the gate screeched during the wind, because she probably didn’t know how to oil the hinges.

Peter’s father sometimes helped the old lady as she couldn’t afford to renovate the family mansion on a librarian’s salary. Peter himself had mowed her lawn during the summer while she was kind enough to let him take extra books from the library.

‘I think she might be possessed,’ dropped Peter.

Fall chortled.

‘I’m serous!’ insisted Peter in a sinister voice.

‘We had one paranormal experience, and now you see supernatural things everywhere?’ Fall snorted.

‘I can prove it to you.’ Peter had no idea how he was getting out of that one, but his tongue, once free, apparently, had no way of shutting up.

Fall stretched her arm for a shake. ‘Deal.’

September 20

Peter tugged Fall aside.

‘Admit it, it’s colder here than it was in there,’ he whispered.

‘Maybe. I’m not sure...’ said Fall.

Peter gave her a book and hissed, ‘Take this to the counter and check it out.’

As Fall approached Mrs. Robinson, her shoulders dropped, and she involuntarily hugged herself.

‘OK, it’s definitely chillier by the counter. But for all I know it can be malfunctioning ventilation,’ she cocked her head in disbelief.

Paying the custodian to sabotage the ventilation proved to be useless. Peter had to think of something more serious, and in order to do so, he needed to gather intelligence.

He spent the next several days in the library, mostly pretending to read and watching Mrs. Robinson. Mrs. Robinson liked historical romances, always had hot tea in her favorite blue thermos, was afraid of bugs, would touch up her makeup before leaving, and had a peanut allergy. Now he had to figure out how to use that.

September 27

Endless rains washed away warm autumn hues, and the sun was hiding behind an impenetrable wall of grey clouds. They were among the last four people in the library. Peter picked up a Bible.

‘You want to exorcise the demon?’ Fall snorted.

‘Not me,’ whispered Peter and put the Bible on top of another kid’s check out pile.

‘If she’s possessed, she’ll be scared of the Bible,’ said Peter. ‘Just watch.’

The unsuspecting boy approached the librarian and joyfully placed his stack of books on a counter. Mrs. Robinson picked up the Bible, shrieked in horror and dropped it. Then she jumped aside as if it was contagious. She turned to the confused kid.

‘Do you think this is funny? Get out! Right now!’ Her shaky finger pointed at the door. ‘And take that filthy thing with you!’

Fall’s brows went up and she stared at Peter in awe.

‘Is it some sort of prank?’ she asked.

‘Do you think I convinced her to drop the Holy Bible?’ Peter made an innocent face. Fall was hooked.

They watched the librarian kick the poor boy out and order the custodian to take away the Bible. Fall couldn’t see from where she stood that a dead cockroach was imprinted on its check-out page.

‘There’s one more thing...’ added Peter conspicuously. ‘But we’ll have to wait until she gets home.’

‘What exactly are we doing in her front yard this late at night?’ Fall’s voice trembled.

About half an hour ago the sun had melted away, leaving them in complete darkness. Peter’s legs went numb from crouching behind a tree.

‘You’ll see,’ he whispered, pointing at an approaching car.

A beaten up Mini pulled over, and Mrs. Robinson got out of it.

Peter felt Fall’s nails squeeze his forearm. The librarian’s eyes were reflecting a sinister green glow.

‘Holy shit!’ Fall’s breathing became more rapid. ‘How did you know?’

‘Once I saw her getting home late. When I noticed it, I thought I was going crazy.’

‘Her eyes are glowing!’

Fall was shaking. Her nostrils flared. Peter held her hand, afraid she’d run away or, worse, attack Mrs. Robinson. Mixing glow-in-the-dark powder in the librarian’s eyeshadow was tricky, but the payoff was worth it.

September 28

Fall walked in perpetual circles. A tiny voice in Peter’s mind suggested that probably he had gone too far.

‘A demon—an actual demon—is living across the street.’ Fall stared at him. ‘I couldn’t sleep the whole night. What if one day it decides to switch bodies? We are not prepared to fight things like that...’

Peter’s gut feeling was whispering at him to stop. But the smile on his father’s face, as he noticed Fall when he returned home, suggested he might let Peter put out his favorite zombie Santa on the roof.

‘Should we just kill her?’ snapped Fall.

‘Wait, what?’ When did that escalate so quickly? Peter could almost feel the control over the situation slipping away between his fingers.

‘No, no, no!’ he hurried to add. ‘That would kill Mrs. Robinson. We don’t want to hurt her.’

‘I suppose,’ agreed Fall. ‘But there’s a greater evil. If I have to choose between one life and the safety of the whole city—’

‘You don’t! I’ve done some research. There’s a way to help, without hurting her!’

Fall sat on the sofa with her hands crossed. ‘Well? What exactly do we do? Go to the priest?’

‘No, we...’ Peter summoned all of his paranormal knowledge. ‘We add some holy water in her drink.’

‘It’s that easy?’ Fall narrowed her eyes.

‘That, or actual exorcism by reading a special prayer in Latin over her head,’ shrugged Peter.

October 05

‘Do I wanna know why you dropped a spoon of peanut butter in your tea?’ asked Clara.

‘Not really,’ replied Peter, closing the Thermos’s lid.

‘You look paler than usual,’ his sister handed him her smoothie.

‘I’m fine.’ Peter winced at the scent and pushed away her takeaway cup.

‘Cringe all you want, but you need vitamins,’ shrugged Clara. ‘So unless you wish to start applying my concealer under your eyes, I suggest you drink!’

‘Your sister’s right,’ nodded their father.

Peter was late, and arguing would take precious time. He sighed and sipped the oozy liquid. Despite his best effort to look dispassionate, he couldn’t deny that it was delicious.

‘Did you add something to it?’

‘Pumpkin spice,’ she smiled.

Peter felt like he was a helpless snail, stretching and dragging itself onward over a neverending leaf of classes. Finally, the last mind-numbingly boring class ended, and he rushed to meet Fall.

‘Did you bring it?’ she asked.

Peter simply shook the identical copy of Mrs. Robinson’s blue Thermos.

Fall smiled. It was nice to see her happy for a change. He had to admit he’d put her through a lot with that ghost story and fake demonic possession. He mentally promised himself to stop messing with her after they “saved” the librarian.

When they reached the library, rain started tapping at the windows, disturbing the usual silence. The trees outside looked like twisted naked giants; the wind had swept away their bright blankets of red, brown and orange.

The beginning of the plan went great: Peter checked out the books while Fall switched the bottles. What happened next was a nightmare come true.

Mrs. Robinson sipped from what she thought was her travel mug, sneezed once or twice, then her nose turned completely red and runny. She blinked frantically, trying to fight watery eyes. Every breath seemed harder than the previous. Soon enough her lungs released a weird gasping sound with each inhale.

‘Should we do something?’ Fall’s eyes were shifting from Peter to the librarian.

This wasn’t what Peter had in mind at all. When Mrs. Robinson mentioned her peanut allergy, he never imagined it was so severe. He hoped the librarian would cough and sneeze, cry a little, and that would convince Fall the evil was defeated.

Mrs. Robinson pressed her hands to her chest and wheezed. People approached the poor woman. Peter’s feet felt cold as ice and heavy as anchors. He couldn’t move.

Mrs. Robinson’s face swelled up, her eyelids hung low, and a red rash mapped over her cheeks.

‘Somebody, call 911! She’s barely breathing!’ yelled a man.

‘I killed her, I murdered that poor woman! We should’ve performed a proper exorcism.’ Tears slid down Fall’s cheeks and she covered her lips with her fingers.

Peter wanted to comfort her, say that it’s going to be fine. But he wasn’t sure. Fall ran away sobbing. Peter’s first instinct was to follow her, but after one step he jerked his head, as if somebody woke him up. He turned and dashed to the counter.

He had to push away several adults before he reached Mrs. Robinson. At that point her face was so swollen, her eyes were almost shut. She mumbled something with her blue lips. But Peter already knew: he grabbed her bag, turned it upside down and snatched the Epi-pen.

‘Thank god you knew she had that Epi-pen,’ said the man, who was trying to help the librarian. Now Peter noticed that it was one of his teachers. ‘But how did you know it was an allergic reaction?’

‘Just guessed,’ mumbled Peter as they watched the paramedics place Mrs. Robinson on a wheeled stretcher.

October 09

‘Dad, it’s Saturday, I wanna sleep,’ begged Peter. He hadn’t seen Fall since the sad evening in the library. Mrs. Robinson was still at the hospital.

‘No way, mister! You come down immediately!’ demanded his father.

Peter frowned. Did Father find out something? He stepped out of the door and gasped.

Their house had turned into a real haunted mansion: from every corner poked bats, skeletons, or pumpkins. A flock of meshed ghosts were hanging over Peter’s head. A couple of gargoyles guarded the staircase. Thick glow-in-the-dark spiderwebs covered the railing.

The dining table was decorated with a pile of skulls, Victorian candle holders with long thin black candles, bottles of blood, and mason jars full of eyeballs. Father put up every single decor Peter’s mother and grandmother had collected over their lives.

They stepped outside: the facade was covered with black styrofoam sheets that imitated brickwork. A huge round cauldron was boiling right on their lawn with chuckling witch figurines standing over it.

‘You did all this by yourself, even though you hate Halloween?’ cried Peter.

‘It’s for you! You deserve it: you’ve made a real friend!’ smiled George. ‘And I had a call from school yesterday. One of your teachers said you saved Mrs. Robinson’s life! I’m proud of you, son!’

Peter’s guts tied into a knot, his ears were burning. Unable to hold his father’s gaze, he stared at his own feet. Every time he blinked he saw Mrs. Robinson’s swollen face and horror in Fall’s eyes. And all that just so that he could have his decorations up and running. They used to bring him so much joy and now they felt so unimportant... None of it mattered anymore. Peter loathed himself. He dropped his head on his chest and marched back inside.

‘What’s the matter? Why the long face?’ asked George, when he caught up with Peter. ‘Did I do something wrong? Did you want to put them up yourself? Clara kind of warned me you enjoyed the process more than the end result...’

His father scratched the back of his neck. Instead of a reply Peter hugged him, as strong as he could.

‘Is everything alright, son?’

‘Thanks Dad,’ was all Peter could squeeze from himself. He grabbed his jacket and rushed to see Fall.

He was determined to tell her the truth, but Fall wasn’t home. Her mother said she went to the library, but she wasn’t there either. He texted her, but she didn’t reply. He headed to church—the priest said he had seen a girl that looked like Fall and she had asked for a bottle of holy water. Peter frowned, that couldn’t be right. What was Fall’s plan? Go to the hospital and spray Mrs. Robinson?

As ridiculous as it was, he had to check. He drove his bike to the hospital and sat in the corridor next to Mrs. Robinson’s room. No one appeared. The door was open, and he could hear the librarian quarrelling with the nurse.

‘Are you trying to cause another anaphylactic shock for me? This food is horrible!’

‘Ma’am, the doctor prescribed you a strict diet...’

‘And who might you be?’ A tall man in white jacket loomed over Peter.

‘I... I came to see Mrs. Robinson,’ replied Peter to his own boots.

‘All alone?’ doctor’s eyes narrowed.

‘Peter, is that you?’ asked Mrs. Robinson.

They both went in. Bluish-green bags under the librarian’s eyes suggested she didn’t have much sleep. Her grey hair was down, her makeup was gone, but she was smiling.

‘This brave little boy saved me, doctor!’ said the lady.

Doctor’s brows went slightly up, ‘So it’s you! Mrs. Robinson told us about you. Ever thought of a medical career?’

Peter smiled timidly and shook his head. His stomach twisted as he noticed a blood stain on the doctor’s coat.

He had to spend an hour in there, nurses praised him for saving Mrs. Robinson and the old librarian felt obliged to tell every one of them exactly how he figured out where to look for an Epi-pen.

On the bright side, Fall never appeared.

‘I’m getting discharged, would you help me with the bag?’ asked Mrs Robinson. ‘I’ll drop you home. That is the least I can do for you.’

Peter silently nodded. All the way to Mrs. Robinson’s home he rehearsed his apology in his head.

Mrs. Robinson, I’m sorry, I was the one to put peanut butter in your tea.

No, that was too straightforward.

Mrs. Robinson, I’m the reason you almost died yesterday.

True, but still too crude. He rehearsed it over and over again, and each confession came out worse than the previous one. Peter’s heart was drumming when Mrs. Robinson stepped out of the car. No big deal, he’d tell her on the porch.

How about Mrs. Robinson I poisoned you for friendship?

He dragged her bag all the way until her front door. She unlocked it. That was all right, he’d confess inside the house.

They stepped into the living room and the librarian turned on the lights.

‘Want some tea or maybe—’ Mrs. Robinson gasped.

Peter’s heart dropped. They were standing on a mutilated carpet right in the middle of a white painted pentagram. There were strange stones and church candles burning in the corners of the pentagram. Before he could utter a single word, a splash of cold water caught him off guard.

‘In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritús Sancti! Amen!’ shrieked Fall.

Peter realized that the main splash was targeted at Mrs. Robinson.

‘What on earth? Who are you and what are you doing here?’ demanded the woman. Her hair was hanging over her face like grey noodles.

‘By the power of Heaven, I order you to leave this body, filth!’ yelled Fall, holding a cross in one hand and the now empty bottle of holy water in the other.

Peter’s face was boiling. He wished the ground would crack, and he’d drop. He stepped between Fall and Mrs. Robinson.

‘Fall, please stop it!’ he begged.

‘Peter, come on, help me! I almost got it! See, it can’t leave the pentagram!’ Fall blew a strand of red hair from her face.

Peter grabbed his head with both hands.

‘My boy, do you know what’s going on?’ The librarian’s face had gone pale.

‘Yes, Mrs. Robinson,’ Peter dropped his head. ‘Fall, I’m sorry. I was fooling you the whole time. There is no demonic possession. I’ve made it all up.’

Fall frowned. ‘What? It can’t be true... I’ve seen it with my own eyes.’

‘I set you up! Right from the beginning: there was no ghost, no unsent letter. I hid the box earlier for us to find... and I was the one to mess with the Ouija board.’

‘But, I’ve seen the ghost...’ Fall shook her head.

‘You saw my sister Clara, sneaking back home with washed out makeup.’ Peter made a step toward Fall. She stepped back.

‘Wait, what about the chill in the library... and her eyes were glowing in the dark!’ Fall stared at Mrs. Robinson, confused.

‘What on earth are you two talking about?’ gasped the old lady.

Peter made a deep breath. There was no point in postponing it anymore.

‘I’m sorry, Mrs. Robinson. I deceived Fall into thinking you were possessed. I paid the custodian to mess up the ventilation system, I placed a dead roach on a Bible so you’d drop it, I mixed glow-in-the-dark powder with your eyeshadow. And I added peanut butter in your tea even though I knew you had an allergy to it.’

The librarian’s eyes widened. She pressed her hand over her heart and sunk into the nearest chair.

Fall snapped first, ‘You did what?’

‘I added just a pinch, I swear!’ He turned to the librarian, his eyes heavy with tears, his hands shaking. ‘Mrs. Robinson, I swear, I just wanted you to sneeze or cough, so that I could tell Fall the holy water worked... I never meant to hurt you. I am so sorry! When I saw you struggling to breath, it felt like...’

‘Guilt! That’s what I saw in your eyes...’ said Mrs. Robinson. ‘Not a humble young hero, but a guilty little schemer...’

Fall slowly put aside the cross and the bottle, then marched towards him. Peter expected her to strike him. Instead, she yelled.

‘Why? Why would anyone make up such nonsense?’

‘I started it because my father wouldn’t let me put up Halloween decorations...’ They looked at him as if Peter were truly crazy. Maybe he was. ‘He hates Halloween because my mother died during this season. He wanted me to have a friend, so he said I can celebrate if I make a real friend. When we met all I wanted to do was to show you to my father and get what I needed. I had no idea that we’d become real friends. It felt so good, solving mysteries together.’ Peter didn’t dare to look at Fall. ‘I was afraid if the mysteries ended, so would the friendship.’

‘You don’t make friends by faking a paranormal hunting scheme!’ roared Fall.

‘I know. I wanted to tell you, but with each new trick I got stuck deeper and deeper... and when I finally realized how messed up it all was, I was too deep in the swamp of lies.’

The silence was dense and choking. The clock ticked on the wall.

‘You could’ve killed me, boy! I’m afraid I will need to talk to your father,’ Mrs. Robinson’s voice was deep and hoarse. Her wrinkled eyes examined Peter as if he was a dead bug she discovered in her dinner. Then she turned to Fall. ‘This is a very expensive Persian carpet, young lady. And you spray-painted a pentagram over it. And not a very good one, I must tell you. Not to mention breaking into my house...’

Fall swallowed.

‘It’s all on me.’ Peter stepped forward. ‘I misled her. All her actions are my fault.’

October 30

‘Are you sure you want to sell these? Those are quite rare collectables!’ said the shopkeeper, the lenses in his glasses enlarging his eyes. ‘Dear, these vintage postcards are from 1800s! And these genuine Victorian jack-o-lanterns are any collector’s dream! And you have all three of them! I may need to open my safe to be able to pay you.’

Peter simply nodded.

He put the money into Mrs. Robinson’s mailbox with a simple note, “for the carpet”. She agreed not to sue him and not inform Peter’s father if he paid for the rug.

October 31

‘Father doesn't care, but I'm curious— where have all of the Halloween decorations gone?’ asked Clara as they walked down the street full of monsters.

Both twins had a pale greenish hue to their skin, red eyes, and white hair. Their twisted long nails looked like daggers.

Peter shook his head.

‘Nice fangs!’ Fall said, complimenting Peter. She was dressed as Red Riding Hood.

Peter opened his mouth to apologize for the hundredth time, but Fall spoke first.

‘For the record: I haven’t forgiven you, but thank you for paying for the carpet.’ She smiled, turned and left.

Peter stared after her like a lost vampire puppy.

‘So you don’t have the decorations, the friend, and you’re probably banished from the library for life — why even bother with that stupid holiday?’ asked Clara.

Peter smiled bitterly.

‘Look around! All our lives we try to fit in, but this is the only day they actually try to be like us: weird, scary, monstrous!’ He smiled and his fangs advanced a little more. ‘Besides, we don’t have to put on makeup, or wear contacts, or keep our fangs and claws in. What else could a vampire want?’

‘If you joined me at the den gatherings, you’d have that every week, weirdo!’ Clara rolled her eyes and handed him her smoothie. ‘Don’t worry, it is donor blood. B-positive!’

Short Story

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