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A Witch’s Night Out

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“The demons there are whirling, and the spirits swirl about.They sing their songs to Halloween. ‘Come join the fun,” they shout.But we do not want to go there, so we run with all our mightAnd oh we will not go inside the haunted house tonight”-Jack Prelutsky, “The Haunted House”***What went on in that town on Halloween night was secret, and the children were never allowed to know. Parents sent their little ones to neighboring towns for trick or treating, and teens made pilgrimages elsewhere in the county for Halloween parties. No matter how willful or disobedient or downright sneaky a child might be, on Halloween they obeyed their parents’ orders and stayed away. They knew, instinctively perhaps, that this secret was not for them.It would have stayed that way if not for the letter. Carol-Anne trembled when she plucked it from the mailbox and read the address, then she raced upstairs and locked herself in the bathroom, holding her breath as she slid the flap open. A heart-stopping second passed while she read the first few lines, and then she squealed. Running back downstairs she burst in as her surprised mother and father prepared breakfast and cried, “I got it!” They looked confused, so she held up the letter. “I got the scholarship,” she said. “I can go to Cal.” She waited for their cries of joy, but none came. Instead her parents looked as if she’d sworn at them. Mom was the first to recover, managing a weak smile before a tentative query: “I thought we were going to talk about it first?” Dad looked away, like he always did when he was upset and trying not to show it. He’d even gone a little pale. Carol-Anne suddenly felt weak in the knees. Dad was first to realize their mistake and leapt to cover it. “We’re so proud,” he said, hugging her with one arm. “We’re just surprised. We didn’t even know you’d applied yet.””It’s wonderful news,” Mom said, managing a smile with a bit more life in it. They clucked happily for ten more minutes, sliding in veiled references to further “talks” every third sentence or so. Carol-Anne went back upstairs one clunking step after another, locked herself in the same bathroom, and cried very quietly. No matter what they said now there was no mistaking the look on Mom and Dad’s faces: disappointment.But that’s how it had always been in this town. Of the few kids who left for college every year, almost all drifted back, some within just a few months. It was a small community, and closely knit. Leaving was frowned on. As far as most parents were concerned, the best thing that could happen to their children was to stay in town, marry someone from town, and have children who themselves would stay in the town. Anything else was a betrayal. It was their second tradition, after the annual Halloween mystery, and in Carol-Anne’s mind the two things were connected. She’d always thought that her parents were different, or at least that they would make a special exception for her. Hadn’t they always told her she could be anything she wanted? And now this. So two nights later, she decided to do something about it. Standing at the mirror, she smoothed her mask across her face and arranged her hair, still nursing the resentment against her parents and prepared to hurt them back any way she could. The mask was a simple black domino across her eyes and a long, pointed beak for a nose. She wore a trailing black dress, a spidery black shawl, and a peaked black hat, but elected to leave the broom behind, not wanting it to slow her down. It was very much like the trick-or-treat costumes escort avcılar she’d worn (in neighboring towns) as a child. But tonight it meant something more. She regarded the calendar with a sense of grim satisfaction. Today was Halloween and also her birthday. She was 18; the age of independence. Outside it was a clear, dark night, with a cold wind and a pale yellow moon. Her brother Thomas, two years her junior, tagged along after her, already dragging his feet. She’d used a combination of bribery and blackmail to coerce him into accompanying her. He’d never actually go through with it, she knew, but talking him into even this much made her revenge better. Thomas dressed as the approximation of a ghost, blotchy white makeup covering his face underneath a white hooded cloak. He’d wanted to accessorize with some chains but she’d vetoed them for being too noisy. He looked so dismal and skulking that Carol-Anne thought the next breeze might blow him away entirely. “Wait for me,” Thomas said, as his cloak snagged on a bush, but Carol-Anne walked on. They took the old wagon road through the woods, to ensure that they wouldn’t meet anyone, sinc they were both supposed to have left town hours ago, with the others. Thomas had to run to catch up and was panting even from the short sprint, a scrawny, out-of-shape ghost too small for his own shroud. “Why the hurry?” he said.”We’re meeting someone. I don’t want to be late.” In fact, she could see him now: Up ahead at the old crossroads waited a man with horns and a bright red cape. As they approached he leered like a monstrous clown. Of course, it was only a mask. Daniel raised it a few inches and smiled. His mask was ill-fitting because he still wore his glasses underneath. Carol-Anne did not smile back, but she did squeeze his hand in greeting. “You made it,” she said.”I told my dad I’d be in Summit tonight.” “Us too.”And normally they would be. Daniel least of all would want to miss the one night a year when even the most overbearing of parents was mysteriously indisposed and the very young people were left completely to themselves. But Daniel and Carol-Anne had grown up together, and the promise of the kiss she’d denied him so many times as kids playing in these same woods was enough to lure him away. Probably he was planning on trying to get even more than a kiss, but it didn’t matter as long as he’d be there to back her up when Thomas inevitably lost his nerve. Hand in hand, they followed the old road. The woods at night used to scare Carol-Anne, with their skeletal trees and eerie calls of night birds, but now she enjoyed it. If she were a real witch she’d build her cabin right here and spend all night creeping through the black woods, looking for children to steal. She imagined how the three of them looked: Ghostly Thomas, so white he was barely there; Daniel’s bright red cape darting like fire from tree to tree; and Carol-Anne herself so black she could be seen only as flickering movement in the night. The thought made her smile.Daniel was already taking liberties, trying to get her to cuddle up to him as they walked and whispering whenever he talked, so that his mouth could be very close to her ear. He’d probably make a real move before they even got to the house on the hill, but that was all right. Maybe she’d even let him. Why not, at this point? Dawdling again, Thomas said, “I hear something out there.””You’re imaging things,” Carol-Anne said.”No, I hear it too,” said Daniel, looking over his shoulder. “Someone’s on the road behind escort bahcesehir us.””Into the bushes, quick,” Carol-Anne said. Thomas tried to object but Daniel stuck a hand over his mouth and actually picked him up and dragged him. All three of them crouched in the brush and held their breath as an eerie spectacle came into view: dozens of ghostly, bobbing lights floating through the forest, a long and snaking parade. Carol-Anne saw the lights flicker in the wind and realized they were candles. It was a procession of people, each holding a light in front of them, each wearing a handmade wooden mask with the leering face of a bird or a pig or a goat or a wild dog. They were primitive and lifelike at the same time. Thomas tugged her sleeve and pointed, and Carol-Anne saw it too: their mother’s dress beneath one of the bird masks.The people walked two-by-two and took a long time to pass. Was it the entire town? They moved as if in a trance, utterly silent. The wood seemed colder, and Carol-Anne suddenly didn’t mind Daniel wanting to get close. He squeezed her hand so tight she worried he might lose a finger. After nearly half an hour the rear ranks marched by, but there was a heart-stopping moment when the man at the very end, the one wearing the black goat mask so lurid and strange that it was almost unrecognizable as an animal, paused, and seemed to look straight at the three teens. Carol-Anne’s every hair stood up. Thomas whimpered. Daniel’s teeth chattered. Had they been spotted? Was he going to tell the others? Why was he just standing there? Just when Carol-Anne thought she couldn’t bear it another second, the man looked away and walked on. She breathed a quiet sigh. Daniel tugged at his mask again. “Did he see us?””Can’t tell,” Carol-Anne said. Then, after a second’s hesitation: “Let’s follow them.” Thomas fidgeted but didn’t object. Daniel looked uncertain, but his footsteps didn’t fail to follow hers as she tramped back out of the brush, picking dead leaves and debris from her dress. Her courage had briefly faltered at the sight of the eerie partygoers, but now her resolve hardened again. The entire town had walked within spitting distance of them and not seen a thing. It felt like a victory in itself. She was hungry for more. They walked at half speed to make sure they didn’t catch up to the grown-ups accidentally. The wagon road would take them past the little cemetery (as old as the town, though no one could say precisely who was buried there. None of the grave markers even had names,) and up the back side of the hill. It wouldn’t be long now… Carol-Anne gasped when the house on the hill came into view. It was an aging and cobweb-blighted place, tied to the mysterious Halloween tradition so firmly that the night and the place were practically the same thing (and in fact both went back to the town’s founding). Every other night of the year it was abandoned except for an evil-tongued caretaker who tended the grounds and composed ever more colorful and startling obscenities to shout at those kids brave enough and curious enough to venture near. Trying to sneak into the house on the hill (on any day other than Halloween, of course) was a rite of passage for town children, but the few who succeeded found it were always disappointed to find nothing there of interest.But now it was all different. Every door was open and every window was lit up, from the ground floor to the tower. The yard was alight with the flickering orange glow of a hundred jack-o-lanterns, their jagged mouths beylikdüzü escort and fiery eyes ablaze to greet everyone. Seeing the house so open and bright now was like seeing a dead person suddenly sit up and begin laughing. The masked people looped around the back of the hill to enter the house via the front door. Old Mr. Glover, the caretaker, waited to greet them. He wore a crisp new suit rather than his usual ratty coat, and a disarming grin rather than his usual scowl. All this the teens could see from their hiding place near the cemetery fence, but the front and interior of the house were still hidden. That wasn’t good enough for Carol-Anne. She considered the wrought-iron fence, with its pointed spokes. It had been years since she’d actually tried to sneak in, and she did not remember the best way. As she was considering the puzzle, Daniel pointed. A few feet along was a gap where the foot of one bar was missing. It would have been impossible to see through the weeds choking the spot if not for a squat black cat sitting there with jack-o-lantern light in its eyes. The cat scampered into the yard as Carol-Anne bent down; the gap was just big enough to admit her, if she took off her hat. She passed it through the fence bars and prepared to wriggle after it, but Thomas said “Wait!” Carol-Anne rolled her eyes. The look of wide-eyed disbelief on his face made her sick. “You’re not really going in?””Why do you think we came here?” Thomas squirmed. He didn’t really know, of course. She knew Daniel did not understand either, and she hadn’t tried to explain to them beyond daring and boasting and cajoling. Now Thomas’ half-heartedness was getting the best of him, as it was always going to. He backed away a few steps and stammered, “This isn’t right.””Aren’t you tired of always doing what Mom and Dad tell you?””It’s not like that,” Thomas said, and now there was a note of real fear in his voice that surprised Carol-Anne. “That thing in the woods with the masks was strange. It felt…wrong. Sick. Whatever happens in that house, it’s not good for us. We should go back.” Carol-Anne examined her brother’s slumped shoulders and downcast eyes. He was pleading with her, she knew, and she even realized that on some level he was right. But then she imagined what his future would be: He would never leave this town. He would become the favorite child and aspire to nothing to do with the outside world, and settle down with kids of his own, and his greatest fear would be that they would someday be old enough to question life here and perhaps want to leave, as he had never done. Even now, as he turned back toward the woods and home with his white shroud fluttering in the breeze, his fate was sealed. Part of her wanted to follow him and take the childhood path back to safe and familiar things…but then she remembered her anger. Her parents had hurt her. The town had hurt her. This was her counterattack.She looked at Daniel. “What about you?” she said. He hesitated. He had no more stomach for this than Thomas did, but he did have one extra incentive. Fear of the unknown was powerful, but so was a stupid 18-year-old boner scarcely concealed by red tights. Daniel stepped up to the fence with her. She was certain he appreciated the view as she squirmed through the gap, her ass wriggling for a few tantalizing seconds. He followed, and then they were inside. It seemed as if all the jack-o-lanterns had turned their goblin faces toward the teenagers, grinning at them in welcome and perhaps also in anticipation…but of course, they’d always been facing this direction, or so Carol-Anne told herself. For a moment she was unsure which way to go so as not to knock any over, but then she spotted the cat again, perched atop a particularly large gourd, and she headed toward it.

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