Saturday, October 31, 2015

"The Wizards and the Haunted House"

(Image courtesy of Pinterest.)


Halloween was never my favorite holiday. Yeah, I'm fourteen. I shouldn't be creeped out by these things, right?


Yeah, well, I am. So there.

So I don't typically like doing the whole dress-up and go door to door like a salesman and ask for candy thing. I'm told I used to love it. There are pictures to prove it, too. And I'm sure when I was a kid I did love it. What kid didn't? Free candy! What could be better?

Whether or not I loved it then, I don't now. Yes, I get kind of creeped out by the skeletons and ghouls people set up in their yards. No, I don't sleep with a night-light, let us make that very clear.

So what do my new friends and next door neighbors rope me into? Helping them out with their full-blown haunted house. Yes. They're turning their already wacky house into a haunted house for the Halloween season.

Already wacky, you ask? Yeah. My next door neighbors are weird. They're kind of cool people too, but they're the weirdest cool people on the planet.

That's because they're wizards.

Yeah, wizards, you heard right. Legit wizards. The Alisters moved in a few weeks before the end of summer, but I didn't know they were wizards at first. Nobody did. They still don't. But even if I didn't know it they were still really weird. But that's another story entirely and not the one I'm telling you today. Suffice to say that if they ever come over and ask you for help locating their poison dart frog supply that broke loose in the house a day before the ambassador of wizards from London comes over…

Well, it might be best to just say no and get the grown-ups to help.

Mr. and Mrs. Alister have three kids. The twins, Leo and Delilah, are my friends. But Delilah goes by Lyla. Only Mrs. Alister calls her Delilah when she's angry. Their oldest, Walter, is in college. He's pretty cool too.

They also had a crazy old great-granddad. But I… may have accidentally made him explode into butterflies.

It was a weird day, okay?

Anyways, the Alisters have been thought weird by everybody in the neighborhood, so Mr. Alister thought it would be good to break the ice with the other neighbors with this haunted house for us teens and kids. They're still kind of learning how to look normal. Leo told me Mrs. Alister had tried to use the toaster to cook their burgers once because she saw Mrs. Bell down the street making toast.

They are getting better, I swear. I've been trying to help. My mom and dad like that I'm friends with the twins. Only they still don't know Leo and Lyla are wizards. But it's a kind of fun secret.

So at school a few days earlier Leo and Lyla announced to our science class (which they're pretty much acing, by the way, and tutoring me because I suck at science) that their house was gonna be a haunted mansion on Halloween night for anyone who wanted to come. Not a lot of our classmates looked interested, but we got a few takers. Even the bullies who liked to pick on Leo looked excited, but they tried not to.

This was news to me, but Leo invited me over after school on Thursday to help decorate for Friday, since I apparently knew what would be good for a "normal" house. Of course Mrs. Alister would be adding her own wizardy touches, but that was okay. Nobody would suspect a thing.

I turned the corner on my bike down the sidewalk to my house, Leo and Lyla on skateboards ahead of me.

"I'll be right over," I told them. "I'm gonna drop off my books and tell Mom."

"See you!" Leo called back. "Tell Marcy she can come too!"

"'Kay!" I brought my bike to a stop and dismounted before walking it into the garage.

Marcy was my cousin, on my dad's side. She's been staying with us while her parents are in Europe on business. I was able to keep the secret about the Alisters from her for a total of a day before she found out. She was there that wacky day, too.

Also, Leo probably has a crush on her. She's pretty, sure, but I didn't think she was that pretty. Not like Lyla. Lyla was kinda pretty.

"Mom!" I called. "I'm home!"

"How was school, sweetheart?" Mom asked from the living room, where she was on the floor with a bunch of shorts stacks of papers around her, a red pen tucked behind her ear. My mom is a writer, and she was working on her newest novel. She's pretty much my favorite author ever. I even got Leo and Lyla hooked too.

"Fine." I plopped on the sofa. "Marcy home?"

"Not yet," Mom said absently, scanning a page.

"How's it going?" I asked.

"Mmh." she shrugged. "Editing."

I nodded. Editing was a nightmare. "I'm gonna go over to Leo's and help him and his family decorate their house for Halloween. They're turning it into a haunted house."

"Ooh, are they?" Mom looked up this time. "That'll be fun. How much homework do you have?"

"I did most of it during lunch and on the bus," I replied. "I just have to read another two chapters of Huck Finn."

Mom smiled. I did too. I always did when she smiled like that, when something she liked came up in conversation. "Yes, we can read it together."

"Good boy." she grinned. "Alright, go have fun. I'll tell Marcy you're over there when she comes home."

"Thanks Mom!" I clambered up and ran to my room to put my books away. I changed into a more casual T-shirt and grabbed my jacket before darting off.

"Hey!" Mom called. I wheeled around and trotted back and gave her cheek a kiss. She kissed my head and ruffled my hair. "Be back by six for dinner, unless Leo has you stay for that too. Then tell me if he does."

"Yes ma'am." I ducked away from her with a grin and dashed away, running down the sidewalk to the big house next door. It was brown on the outside, but it was decorated nice and fairly normal. Except for the five-layer birdbath that made the water look red. That was weird.

"Hi Randy," I greeted the Komodo dragon sunbathing in the grass by the porch. Randy blinked at me before dozing off again. I knocked on the door and Leo answered with a wide grin.

"Garrett, awesome, you're here! We need your help." Leo pulled me inside, shutting the door behind me. I kicked off my sneakers and hung my jacket on the coat tree that reached out a branch to take it for me. The decorating was already underway. It didn't look very scary, with fluff spiraling around the stair rails, and silvery floss spider webs everywhere.

"Help with what?" I followed him through to the kitchen. "Hi Mrs. Alister."

"Hello dear!" Mrs. Alister looked up from the dining table, upon which was a plastic skeleton in the process of being assembled. She brushed back a strand of her seaweed green-colored hair. "The pumpkin cookies in the oven are almost done, then we can get started."

"Leo said somebody needed help?"

"Ah, yes." Mrs. Alister straightened. "We will be having a zombie as part of the event and we'll be having it dripping something green. Does silly putty work? I found green putty that looks lovely!"

"Um, silly putty can stick to things really easy and not come out easy," I replied as Leo poured us glasses of homemade apple cider. "You might wanna use like goo or something. That can be washed out."

Mrs. Alister looked a little disappointed, but she nodded. I jumped when the egg-timer went off, sounding like a sick goat (always has). Leo scooted aside as Mrs. Alister hurried to the oven.

"We get to decorate our bedrooms," Leo said, shaking his two-colored hair from his eyes. His hair was both brown and orange, like tie-dye. "It'll be like an adventure when it's all done. People will start downstairs at the back door and search the house, finding little boxes with marbles in different colors, and then at the front door Dad'll be like a Grim Reaper and make sure they all have the marbles they need before they can exit with bags of candy."

I grinned. "Your dad? Won't the neon green hair kind of detract from the scare-factor?"

"He'll change it to black." Leo shrugged. "Mom's gonna be a vampire."

I looked at Mrs. Alister. She gave us a sinister look that made me very glad she wasn't an actual vampire. "Do we get to dress up too?"

"Sure," Leo said. "I am, but I don't know what yet. Lyla wants to be a gypsy."

When the cookies, shaped like pumpkins and flavored like pumpkins, were cool, we ate. Lyla, with her usual bouncy purple curls, joined us.

"Alright!" A booming voice made us all jump, and I lost a wedge of cookie to my milk. I turned to see Mr. Alister enter the room, neon green hair tied back in a man bun as he loosened his work tie. "I see one too many shoes in the foyer--" he looked at the skeleton. "Evelynn, what have I told you about doing this to guests?"

"I couldn't help myself." Mrs. Alister kissed her husband. Mr. Alister grinned and winked at me.

"We have a lot to do!" He said. "Boys, you will be working on Leo's room. I will be installing the fog along the walls, and your mother will be doing the decorating." He winked at the three of us. "And only we know some of the tricks we have in store."

"Garrett, is Marcy coming?" Lyla asked.

"Probably. School's not out for her yet."

Mrs. Alister returned to her skeleton. "Then she can help Lyla in her room when she gets here. Mr. Alister will be painting red on the basement door to keep people from going down, and in general making it scary."

Mr. Alister looked way too excited for that project.

Decorating began. We made Leo's room look a little messy, and we stuck a prosthetic arm halfway under his bed. With a bit of magic Leo enchanted the ceiling to go dark, making occasional bat sounds. It was always fun to watch Leo do magic. Usually he had to use his wand, since he hadn't learned yet how to do it without one, but it was always an adventure to see it happen. We grabbed more fluff and laid it around while Mr. Alister came in and stuck a few tiny discs to each wall before leaving again, not making a sound but looking incredibly focused, like he was defusing a bomb.

Marcy arrived later on, and she and Lyla disappeared into Lyla's bedroom. Leo and I helped Mrs. Alister decorate more of the house. It was mostly a bunch of rubber props from the store. Spiders taped to the wall under the floss-webs, more fluff, a few skulls, a handful of speakers where evil laughter and other sounds could be played from. I wasn't seeing how this could be creepy, even at night.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

The next day, Friday, was the day of the haunted house. After school I hurried home to work on my costume, and Marcy was already there. She would be going as a fortune teller, complete with the plastic metallic necklaces and a bracelet with a small crystal ball. My costume was a wizard, which Leo thought was hilarious. I had full black robes with a red and gold badge on it and a wand from Barnes & Noble. And the many pockets Mom sewed on the inside could hold any number of things if I needed them.

I had only felt this epic once before when I managed to avoid getting roasted alive by the Alisters' oven, when it had one of its fits.

Marcy and I were the first ones there. Signs directed us to the back of the house, where Mrs. Alister stood in all red – and with deep red hair – complete with cape. I tried not to stare at her two pointy teeth. They were not plastic.

"Velcome to ze haunted house!" She gave us all a playfully malicious look. I glanced at Marcy, but she was already busy gushing over Lyla's costume.

"Oh wow you look incredible Lyla that's amazing!"

I'm pretty sure my cousin never stops to breathe when she talks.

Lyla did look pretty nice though. She had on a sparkly pink skirt and a matching tank top cut short, showing the little purple belly button ring. Her purple hair had beads braided into it, and some beads dangled from colored string.

I will admit. She did look pretty.

"BOO!"

I nearly screamed like a little girl. Twisting around, I saw Leo standing behind me, dressed like a cowboy. He laughed. "Your face is white as paper, man! Chill!"

I tried to compose myself and cleared my throat. "I'm not big on Halloween."

"Why? I think it's great." Leo grinned. "I can be myself outside the house and nobody really notices."

Kids started filtering in, greeted by Mrs. Alister each time. Pretty soon we had a fair-sized group, including the bullies. They hadn't dressed up, but they looked like gangsters. Which was normal.

"Enter ze house of horrors!" Mrs. Alister instructed. "Inside you vill find small boxes, each containing a trinket you must collect. Zhere are six in all, and in order to win ze prize, you must present all of zem to ze Grim Reaper at the end. Or else--"

Lyla quickly shook her head at her mom from the back of the group. Mrs. Alister bared her fangs, letting the unfinished threat fade and hang in the air, and stepped aside, letting the kids through. I followed behind with Leo, but I stopped just inside and stared.

We were in the kitchen, but it no longer looked like a kitchen. It was dim, rolling fog covered us nearly to the knees. Something red dripped from the freezer, and the same red was splattered over the cabinets. Where I remembered fluff being was not fluff now. It was more fog, pouring over the edges of counters and the tops of cabinets.

On the kitchen table was a literal bloody mess. I looked away uneasily as some of the girls cried out with "eww!" before we slowly spread out to find the boxes. I stuck with Leo. No way was I gonna be alone in this place. Wandering around here alone on a normal day could be risky. Tonight felt even worse.

I picked a cabinet and peeked inside. A hand sprang out at me, grabbing for my face. I yelled and scrambled back. The bullies laughed. I blushed and pushed to my feet with Leo's help.

"Mom and Dad put some scary tricks and things everywhere." he grinned. "Isn't it cool?"

"Oh yeah," I muttered. "Thrilling."

We slowly split up into smaller groups. The fog spread through the whole house, rolling down continually from wherever there had been fluff. I had found four boxes so far, and began to search the living room.

From the corner of my eye I caught movement. I turned, seeing only the rubber spider under its floss web. I turned away, but the movement came again. I turned. Had it moved? It didn't look like it.

But what if it had?

My throat constricted. I stared at it, and sometimes it looked like it moved only until I focused on the leg that seemed to twitch.

"Leo," I whispered hoarsely.

No answer.

"Leo?" I risked turning around.

Leo was gone.

Everyone was gone.

Something thudded behind me. I whirled. The spider was gone. Disappeared. I looked at the recliner it must have dropped behind. The tape must have come loose was all--

An ear-piercing scream slammed into me from the side. I jolted back and twisted, but saw nothing. The scream came again, from the direction of the foyer. I ran that direction.

A hand grabbed my ankle. I yelled and twisted, falling over. Rising out of the fog was a zombie, dripping green goo and looking disturbingly like the Alisters' butler. I stared, fear freezing everything while instinct told me to escape.

The zombie stared at me and made a low, rattling groan. I jerked my foot free and scrambled to run to the foyer. The zombie didn't follow.

More movement. I twisted again. Another moving yet unmoving spider. I hurried away into the entry. The door to the basement, the Alisters' potion room, held a huge padlock, and painted in red were the words "NO ESCAPE." Something scritch-scratched on the door from the other side and made the moaning and hissing sounds that Randy made when he was angry. I eased away from it and turned.

Sitting by the door was a cloaked figure, slumped over and unmoving while holding a tall scythe. Across from it was a locked cabinet that shook on occasion.

"M-Mr. Alister?" I hated how my voice shook.

Slowly, the figure raised its head. But under the hood was only blackness. My heart stopped and I inched away to the stairs. I backed up them, and the hooded figure lowered its head and remained still.

Another scream from behind me. I nearly fell down the stairs and groped for the rail. Hands from behind grabbed me. I yelled and turned again, falling on my butt on a step.

"It's just me!" Leo held up his hands. He looked down at me. "You alright?"

"Yeah. Yeah, fine." I stood. "Never better. Where'd you go?"

"Explored the bathroom," Leo said. "No box there, though."

"Oh." I took a slow breath. "There's a zombie in the living room."

"Zombie? I didn't see any."

"It's hiding in the fog." I stood up as something groaned at the bottom of the stairs. Leo slowly turned, and I glimpsed an oozing hand.

"Run, run!" I shouted, scrabbling up the steps. Leo bolted up the stairs behind me. The zombie was clawing its way up, groaning and dripping.

A few girls screamed at the top of the stairs as we reached it. I whirled around, but the zombie was gone. The Grim Reaper remained ever motionless.

The hand clamped around my ankle again.

This time I screamed like a little girl.

Leo slammed his foot into the zombie hand while a girl dressed as a veterinarian chucked her plastic pet cage at the zombie's head, the zombie clattered down the stairs, the thumping followed by the clatter of the pet cage.

"What. The. Crap." I stared at Leo.

Leo looked as pale as me. One girl was crying. "Alright," he said. "We won't panic. It's down for now. Let's just search the upstairs for the boxes.

"I want out," a girl whispered. Leo tried to give her an encouraging smile.

"You're safe here. My parents wouldn't make anything that would hurt you."

"That zombie grabbed his leg."

"He didn't hurt me." I glimpsed Leo's look. Don't scare these girls further, it said. "Look, we'll just stick together. Where have you girls checked already?"

"We just got up here," the vet girl said. "We heard screaming--"

Another scream made us all jump. But this one sounded more human. More real. I stared at Leo. He glanced down the stairs.

"Let's just search up here."

I followed behind Leo as we carefully picked our way through the foggy floor. Something squished under our feet, but no one was willing to reach down to figure out what it was.

"Was this supposed to be this creepy?" I whispered to Leo as we eased into Lyla's room, decorated like a spider-webbed cave.

"I don't know," Leo whispered back. "It's supposed to be scary, but I didn't expect it to be this scary."

"There's a box." Vet girl whispered, pointing to the bookshelf, where we could see the top edges of the black box. I crept toward it and looked inside.

"Aagh!" A rush of screaming air blasted my face. I flinched back. The girls screamed, and we were joined by a scream elsewhere in the hall.

Leo darted forward and jerked the box toward us. He grabbed two little red marbles and handed one to me while the girls grabbed theirs.

"Okay." Leo took a slow, even breath. "We all just need to remember that this is just pretend. It's a haunted house, it's supposed to be scary. We won't get hurt--"

Another scream, but this one sounded familiar.

"Marcy!" I scrambled up and raced out.

"Garrett!" Marcy was at the top of the stairs with Lyla and another boy. "There's a flipping zombie!!!"

"I know, it tried to grab me." I went over. "There's a box in Lyla's room."

"My parents did a lot more work when they sent us out to the store." Lyla looked around. "I think those spiders move."

I tried not to shudder. Leo and the girls joined us, and we crept into his room while Marcy and Lyla got the marbles from Lyla's room. We heard terrified yells and saw the three bullies scramble up the stairs, the zombie again making its way up.

I looked at Leo. He swallowed and kept going. I instantly regretted encouraging making the bedroom look as creepy as possible. Everything no longer looked fake.

"There," Leo whispered. I looked and saw the box on his bed, seemingly unguarded. Leo started for it, but then I remembered. My blood ran cold.

"Leo," I hissed. "That arm."

He froze.

"What arm?" Vet girl whimpered.

"A plastic one," Leo said. "Nothing to worry about, it'll probably just--"

Leo screamed. I stared in horror as I watched the arm try to climb up Leo's pant leg, rising up from the fog.

Vet girl fainted.

I was so, so, so done. Screw the candy. We needed to get out of there.

Leo tried to pull the arm off while I grabbed for his skateboard.

"Leo, hold still!"

"What's going on?!" Marcy and Lyla appeared just as I swung the skateboard into the prosthetic arm. They screamed, it fell off, and Leo lunged onto the bed.

Then I heard the groan. Then the three bullies crammed into the bedroom and closed the door. Vet girl in the hall.

"Open the door!" I shouted in horror. "She's still out there!"

"Not a chance!" The biggest of the three shook his head. "That zombie's out there."

"Well so is Riley!" Lyla yelped. Marcy shrieked.

"It's got me!"

I swung the skateboard again and kicked the arm under the bed.

Then the closet rattled.

"Um, Leo." I stared. "Do you remember ever seeing your mom's skeleton anywhere?"

Leo paled. "No…"

"Everyone out!" I jammed my shoulder into the closet door.

"Not without the box!" The smallest bully protested.

Leo grabbed enough green marbles for us all and the bullies opened the door. The zombie was crawling in. They kicked it away and bolted. Riley was just coming to, and Marcy helped her up. I waited until everybody was out and then ran, jumping over the zombie while the closet door opened and something clacked and clattered out.

I didn't look back.

"Down the stairs down the stairs!" Leo was shouting. I followed them down, but I tripped and tumbled into Leo. He nearly fell, but caught himself and me. The marbles went clattering down the steps. The zombie groaned at the top. I could just see it coming down.

"Give us the candy, Reaper!" One of the bullies shouted. The Grim Reaper lifted its head.

"Do you have all of the necessary items?" It rasped.

"Yes!"

"No!" Leo shouted, feeling around the floor. "The green marbles! I dropped them!"

"You what?!" Lyla shrieked. I dropped to my knees and helped search, and something skittered over my fog-hidden hand. I jerked back and glimpsed someone in the hallway.

Mrs. Alister loomed there, looking sinister and eager. And hungry.

Like a vampire.

"Hurry!" I shouted. She came closer. I felt around and winced as the zombie thudded down the steps again. The wobbly clacking came closer from upstairs.

I grabbed a marble, and soon we were all feeling around as Mrs. Alister stalked closer. Sometimes there were screams from one of us when the zombie found them, and a scuffle that followed, and sometimes there were screams elsewhere in the house. I didn't know how many people were in this house anymore.

Finally we thought we found enough. We made sure everybody had one before letting the girls deliver their marbles first. I pushed away the zombie and scooted backward as Mrs. Alister came closer.

"Garrett!" Leo yelled from outside on the porch. I whirled around and shoved my pouch of marbles into the Grim Reaper's hands. He slowly pulled out each one. The zombie had disappeared, but Mrs. Alister was still coming. I ducked around her, backing up.

Orange.

Ducked again.

Red. Black.

Jumped sideways. Bumped into the shaking cabinet.

Blue. Purple.

Nearly get grabbed. The clacking plastic was trying to descend the stairs.

No green.

"Leo! I don't have a green!" I screamed. I could see the zombie moving again. Mrs. Alister laughed. It sounded far too evil for a nice lady like her.

"I thought you did-- no!"

The door was closing. I lunged for it and my foot kicked something small and round. I dropped and grabbed it. My hand closed around the marble just as the zombie grabbed my ankle again.

"Here!" I shoved the marble at the Grim Reaper. I tried to yank away from the zombie. The Grim Reaper put it in the sack and opened the cabinet. The zombie let go and disappeared, and Mrs. Alister stepped away, her laugh fading away. The skeleton broke apart and clattered down the steps. The Grim Reaper handed me a small brown sack. I grabbed it and bolted outside, tripping down the porch steps and tumbling into the grass. The fountain burbled and glowed red as the door closed.

I gasped and collapsed in the cool grass as we all fell silent. Nobody said a word for a long time.

Leo sat beside me. "You alright?"

"Your mom scares me."

"Welcome to my world."

The lights flicked on in the house. A girl screamed. We all looked up as the porch light turned on and the front door opened. Mr. and Mrs. Alister stepped out with friendly smiles on their faces. Mr. Alister's hair was indeed changed from neon green to greasy black.

"Congratulations, dears!" Mrs. Alister said cheerily. "That was an excellent show!"

"That was creepy!" One of the bullies said.

"It was supposed to be." Mr. Alister winked. "But it was all in good fun. No one got hurt."

I took a minute to catch my breath, then slowly nodded. Nobody was hurt.

"Come back inside for some cookies." Mrs. Alister beckoned us in. "I promise there's nothing scary anymore."

I peered inside. It was bright and fog-free.

Slowly, we all filed back inside. The fluff was back, the spiders looked as rubbery as ever. The basement door was still padlocked, but the paint was gone. It just looked like normal Halloween party decorations. The kitchen was as clean and inviting as ever. Plates with different kinds of cookies were laid out, as well as orange-colored milk, accompanied by paper plates and napkins and plastic cups. The Alisters' butler stood by the wall, ready to help as always and no hint at all of being a zombie and beaten black and blue by terrified teenagers.

"How'd you get it all cleaned up so fast?" The biggest bully looked suspicious.

"Fear can make time seem to fly," Mr. Alister informed him. "Dig in! Your parents will come by to fetch you."

The Halloween party was great. The cookies were devoured, and the milk drained. It took a little while, but no one looked very scared anymore. Vet girl was fine, even though she fainted. I think Mrs. Alister secretly put a potion in her milk so she'd feel better. The color came back to her face after she drank it.

We played a few card games before the grown-ups came, and Marcy and I were the last to go home. Dad came to walk us back because it was too dark to walk back alone.

As we left, something behind us screamed. I screamed too, and so did Marcy. We twisted around to see Leo and Lyla in an upstairs window, laughing. I scowled at Leo.

"That's not funny, man!"

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