Too Spooky For Baby
Hector called Wyatt on Sunday to make sure he still didn’t want to go to the doctor. He didn’t. Feeling nihilistic in the aftermath of yesterday’s events, the ex-thief also turned down the offer of someone bringing him more groceries. No matter what he tried doing, instead he was reminded that Craig was dead. By now his corpse had been probably incinerated, and his ashes mixed into the concrete foundations of some new building constructed by the Viteri enterprise.
Even though Wyatt said nothing about it — he wasn’t going to even mention the incident again on the phone — Hector sounded continuously apologetic. Hearing that there was really nothing that he could do for Wyatt right now, he tried to make conversation. How was Wyatt passing the time? Oh, it was good that he was reading his textbooks again. Would it be alright if Hector called again tomorrow? And would Wyatt be completely opposed to him visiting on Tuesday? Briefly, of course. And maybe Wyatt should take a few days off work. Apologies for keeping him on the phone, he should go and get more rest now.
When the receiver had finally gone silent, Wyatt returned to bed and stayed there with his geology textbooks and gloomy thoughts for the rest of the day.
He called in sick at work on Monday morning, and got screamed at for skipping the afternoon shift on Saturday, but he didn’t care. Everything still hurt, nothing mattered, and he didn’t give two shits about pumping gas into people’s cars today. Or tomorrow. Or the day after that. He called his parents next, and pretended that nothing ever happened. They were happy to hear from him, and that he was doing well. It seemed like no news of that Halloween party had reached Michigan, just as Hector had promised. But that didn’t even feel like it mattered right now. They wanted him to come home for Thanksgiving. Everything at home was fine, they had stocked up on candy and were ready for Halloween, they just had to carve out a pumpkin. Miss Sterling from across the street said hello, she was also inviting him over — he ought to see how she rearranged everything in her garden.
Done with phone calls for the day, Wyatt was ready to spend the rest of it in bed, and had been successfully putting that plan in motion for a few hours, when there was a knock on the door. He didn’t feel like getting up and checking who that was, but decided to go the extra mile just because he didn’t want his lock tampered with if it turned out to be Hunter, who could potentially break in to check if Ocher wasn’t dead.
He had been correct in his estimation, as by the time he opened the door, Hunter was suspiciously in the process of rummaging in his pockets. He’d brought beer and Chinese take-outs for both of them. They were still warm in their styrofoam containers. Ocher let him in a bit puzzled to see the thief again so soon. He didn’t even ask, though. He knew how he felt after that horrible Saturday afternoon. If Hunter needed company, he wasn’t going to deny him that comfort.
“A miracle happened. I won’t be branded!” Hunter grinned. “So… I don’t know what you did — and I don’t want to know — but thanks! They even moved me off of my previous sky high dues, so I’m not likely to get myself killed in the future.” Hunter shook his head in disbelief. “I’m in your debt big time.”
“What? I’ve literally no idea what you’re talking about, and I’m not sure if I want to know either.” Ocher pretended to be surprised. “But I’m happy to hear some good news for once.”
Hunter half-smiled knowingly, but played along, dropping the subject. “The one thing I’m not too happy about is Rance was reprided… reprimed?” Hunter struggled, looking for the right word. “Scolded! He was scolded.”
“He was… reprimanded?”
“Yes! Reprimanded.” Hunter slapped himself on the forehead. “Damn it, Rance was right, I need to read more books.”
“Wait a second…” Something didn’t add up here. “Rance told you to read more books…?”
“Yeah, he says that sometimes. Actually, he says that often. Uh, now that I think of it, it comes up almost as often as him telling me to stop gambling. He says I need to work on my vocabu-… voca-… vocabully.”
Ocher blinked slowly. The evil twin brother of Mr Clean, in Citizens’ employ, who almost killed Hunter when he was a kid, told him to read books and not to gamble… somewhere between sexually abusing him and having him wear drag? It didn’t make sense. He thought he knew what was going on with Rance and Hunter, but apparently there was context that he’d been missing.
“But anyway,” Hunter continued, “Rance was reprimanded, and I don’t like that. So I am just saying that I wouldn’t like that to happen to him again. He’s a… Well, he’s the closest thing I have to a friend except for you.”
“Well then I sure hope it won’t happen.” Ocher made a clueless expression and kept his game up. Hunter could look at him funny all he liked and think what he willed, based on what he’d seen, but Ocher would not, could not actually admit that he had any such connections. “So anyway, what is it with you and Rance… I mean, I thought he was punishing you for being late with your dues…”
“No, no… me and Rance. We have a history.”
“I know you have a history, that’s precisely why I’m alarmed.”
“Don’t be. I mean… You’re also with a man.” Hunter looked uncomfortable. “You know what’s it like. It may not seem like it’s good… but it is.”
Ocher just stared at him, not sure what to say. He didn’t exactly share that sentiment.
“How did you even meet that crazy rich guy?” Hunter asked.
“I… I heard about him a lot, you know, stuff on the radio, stuff in the newspapers. And then he was in the area so I asked him for an autograph. I mean, I don’t usually do that, but this guy, he had this… something. It turned out he thought I’m cute, so he invited me to lunch. It kind of went from there.” There, that wasn’t even all lies. The autograph part was sort of real.
Hunter whistled, impressed. He tapped his fingers on the table, thinking and then asked. “Does he like, have a butler?”
Ocher opened his mouth, then changed his mind. It wasn’t a good idea to discuss Hector with Hunter, truth or lies. “Erm… I cannot divulge such information.”
Hunter gasped. “Another word I don’t know. Is that how you charmed the guy? With your fancy words?”
Wyatt snorted, “Um… possibly?”
The older thief suddenly looked like he got an idea. “Oh, can you recommend me some books? Something with fancy words, but not a dictionary. I tried reading the dictionary, it was very boring… Maybe you know something with romance and fancy words?”
Ocher was a bit baffled at where this conversation was going, but he tried to keep up. This was so much better than the previous topics. “Uh, romance and fancy words… maybe try some… classic literature. Like Pride and Prejudice, or Phantom of the Opera? My mom forced me to read those back in college. They’re both kind of old, but well written. I don’t really know. I should probably also read more books… that are not textbooks. But I’m sure if you go to a library and ask about romance with good vocabulary, they will point you in the right direction.”
“Library! Why haven’t I thought of it sooner! I’ll go there and steal a couple of books.”
“Err, Hunter… in the library, you can just borrow the books. For free. That’s the idea.”
“What? That sounds ridiculous. If anyone can take them, how do they make sure that people return them?”
Ocher snorted, amused. “There’s an entire system in place to take care of that, gosh, Hunter, that’s like basics, didn’t you have a library at your school…” He suddenly remembered about Rance and how Hunter never finished school because of him. “Oh… nevermind.”
Hunter did not mind. Before he left, Ocher gave him back the money for the food. It had not been such a bad afternoon after all.
* * *
Hector came to him on Tuesday as expected, dropping off some more groceries, and strangely, textbooks. They were surprisingly accurate, some of them fresher versions of what he had been studying from, some others unfamiliar, but seeming oddly relevant.
“I wanted you to have the newer editions. If you plan to continue your studies, it’s better that you keep up-to-date.”
“Thank you. I appreciate it,” Wyatt said politely, but without enthusiasm. It wouldn’t help him in any way that really mattered, but at least he wouldn’t have to borrow some of these from the library anymore. He didn’t know how Hector knew which books to get him, but he’d already long reconciled with the fact that no piece of information was ever truly safe from that man.
Wyatt wasn’t too talkative or eager to socialize. Hector picked that up quickly and apologized to him again and again, but Ocher didn’t care about his apologies. He didn’t care that Wilma and Betty had misjudged the situation and overstepped their boundaries, or that it was unlike them, that it had never happened before and will never happen again or that they had received a fierce talking to.
He showed a polite semblance of gratitude for the visit, but he was not in the mood to pretend more than absolutely necessary. When he got tired of Hector, he just told him to say hi to Zack and then lay down in bed with his back on the Man who was left standing in the kitchen, strangely at a loss of how to proceed. He didn’t care if Hector was offended or not. He honestly didn’t care if Hector stayed or went. He didn’t even feel remotely scared for his life, not yet, maybe he would be again in a few days, but for now the only thing he felt was nothing at all.
Hector understood his cue to leave and did so, still saddened, wishing him a good night’s rest, and expressing hope that Wyatt would call him when he wanted to hear or see him again.
It was then that it finally occurred to Wyatt that this could possibly be the first step on the road to getting rid of Hector. It was exactly the thing he had been waiting for. But that thought drowned in the boundless sea of apathy almost as quickly as it’d appeared. He didn’t feel like dwelling on it right now.
He didn’t feel like doing anything at all.
⚞ ¥ ⚟
Someone knocked on the front door of Blaise’s house.
Yen walked down the stairs without a hurry. He wasn’t supposed to let anyone in or even reveal his presence, but he was curious to see who was coming to see the priest this late in the evening. He gently parted the curtains and glanced sneakily through a window to see a familiar figure in an expensive suit, briefcase in hand.
The blond rich guy knocked again, then looked at his watch and grunted.
“I don’t have time for this.” He knocked louder. “Blaise!”
“He’s out.” Yen opened the door and leaned against the doorframe. “He left me in charge. How can I help you, Shagsguys McDollarface?”
The blond made a face like he was being addressed by an oversized cockroach. “You?” He looked Yen up and down. “When will Blaise be back?”
He moved forward, and Yen found himself swinging to the side like a saloon door. The suit walked in like he owned the place. Still leaning on the doorframe Yen sized him up. McDollarface was looking tense and restless.
“I dunno,” Yen said honestly. “He didn’t say.”
“Is he at the church?”
“I dunno that either.”
“What do you know?” the rich guy snapped.
“Well, I know many things, for examp-”
“Nevermind!” The guy cut him off.
“What do you even want with Big Daddy Ivers? Got an intense need for a shag?” Yen smirked. Then he remembered something he saw on the news and looked excited. “Or is it about those people you killed?”
McDollarface glared at him coldly. “None of your business.”
“O-o-oh!” Yen perked up and finally gained the momentum to detach himself from the door frame. “Are the ghosts of those guys now haunting you, and are you here for some sham-anism? Some beater on drum action?”
The blond’s expression turned perplexed. “What do you know of that?”
“A lot actually, I’ve been helping Blaise. One time he needed to go into a trance, I dropped him such a good beat, he said it was the tranciest trance he had ever tranced. Check it out!” Yen brought his hands to his mouth and began to beatbox.
The blond let him go on for some thirty seconds, then sneered. “You think that’s impressive?” He cleared his throat, pursed his lips and let out a long inhuman sound, that morphed into a deep, reverberant chant. It sounded more like something that should be coming out of a bass guitar, not a human throat.
Yen gaped in honest bewilderment. When the blond fell silent, he asked with newfound respect “What the hell was that?”
“Mongolian throat singing. Now, do you actually know how to handle Blaise’s drum?”
McDollarface sighed. “You will have to do then. Come.”
He led the way to the trapdoor, moved away the carpet, opened the door and walked in like he owned that place as well. Yen suddenly felt uneasy. But it wasn’t the murder basement’s ambiance that did it this time, it was the familiarity McDollarface exhibited.
The blond walked among the shelves with purpose and confidence. He went straight for the psychedelics stash. Yen was about to stop him, but the guy paused all on his own.
“Why are these labelled?”
“Oh, it’s for my benefit.”
The lawyer winced at the labels then at Yen, looking him up and down, like he both didn’t doubt that Yen would need labels and couldn’t believe Blaise would go through the effort of labeling the drugs just for him. “Really?”
“I’m the shaman-intern now,” Yen said proudly.
“How the mighty have fallen.” McDollarface sighed, then reached under one of the shelves and opened a hidden compartment, sliding out a shallow wooden case. “Well, at least Blaise didn’t label these.”
He took out an unlabeled vial, uncorked it, shook some mystery powder onto the back of his hand and snorted it up real quick, then corked it back up. He returned it to where it belonged, grabbed a few items including the drum and the beater off other shelves, and turned back to Yen, who was still processing the fact Blaise had some sort of hidden stash with more drugs in it and that this guy knew about it. McDollarface held the drum in front of Yen impatiently.
“This is the beat I want.” He struck the drum with the beater several times. It was a fast, even beat.
Yen nodded his head to the rhythm, then took the drum and beater and tried to repeat it.
“Quicker,” McDollarface said, then pointed a finger at the drum. “Yes, like this, keep it steady.”
Yen complied. Suddenly he couldn’t muster his usual smug retorts. Something about the suit’s attitude left no room for jokes. Or maybe it was the murder basement. Or the fact Blaise was hiding drugs from him.
“Stand over there.”
Yen moved into the indicated spot, continuing to beat the drum.
“Good. Don’t move from place. And don’t look at me,” the blond ordered and walked in between the shelves.
Yen kept beating.
He heard the rustle of the man’s clothes as he stopped and knelt. Or so Yen guessed. Blaise had knelt last time. But he had been beating slower. And it wasn’t in a weird freaky basement with animal bones, old boxes and jars on the shelves. Yen looked at one of such bones as he beat the drum. He heard a faint noise. Like metal creaking.
Yen glanced about himself. He couldn’t place the noise or come up with even a possible source for it. It sounded like it was coming from far away and reminded him of the junkyard where he sometimes hung out with Nakhti. Kind of like a very rusty old gate, but deeper, more unnerving.
The sound faded, and Yen was no longer sure if he was actually hearing it or just remembering it. It was so faint, it could be a memory. Or one of those auditory hallucinations.
Perfect timing for one of those… Yen focused on his beating.
Then the house creaked.
Yen glared up at the ceiling. Did he leave the door open, and did someone sneak in and was snooping around? Or was Blaise back? No, this did not sound like steps. It was as if there was a violent storm outside, and the whole construction was under stress. Yen felt sweat run down his spine.
He could feel all the little animal skulls looking at him.
Yen started beating louder, kind of hoping to drown out the noise.
Then he heard the whispers. He glanced towards the shelves. Was McDollarface messing with him? He’d just proved he was the better beatboxer out of the two of them, so he could if he wanted to. He didn’t have to rub it in. Yen winced. It sounded like multiple voices, none of them belonging to McDollarface. But they were coming from his general direction.
Yen left his spot and leaned out from behind the shelf.
The place where the man was supposed to be kneeling was completely dark. Yen could have sworn it hadn’t been so a minute ago when they walked in. Maybe whatever was causing the creaking was also messing with the electricity and the lights had grown dimmer. Yen squinted, but for the life of him couldn’t make out the man’s shape in the darkness.
Yen withdrew back to his assigned position. The whispers never stopped. The man’s voice had sounded weird. Loud, too loud.
Yen kept beating. His skin was crawling. Sweat was running down his back, all the way into his pants.
He heard the man behind the shelves inhale sharply.
The creaking above subsided. The whispers all hushed at once, like on command.
Slowly, things seemed to return back to normal. Yen heard a rustle of expensive clothes, then some sweeping sounds, more rustling. It seemed McDollarface was cleaning up.
Still beating the drum, Yen looked out from behind the shelf.
McDollarface was still kneeling, collecting something on a piece of paper.
He was with his back on Yen.
“You can stop beating now.”
How had he seen him when he told him not to look? Did he look back? Yen looked up at the lamp on the ceiling between the shelves. It shone the same way it did a moment ago, and yet the amount of light around the kneeling man had drastically increased.
Yen turned away and put the beater and drum in their respective places. He hurried upstairs.
There was no one there. The door outside was closed.
Yen walked over to a window. The trees stood utterly immobile.
“Tell Father Ivers I apologise for the… unannounced visit.”
The blond stood in the hallway with his briefcase. He looked at his watch and headed to the door without sparing another glance at Yen. “A pleasure doing business with you.” He said coldly, opened the door and left.
Yen watched him go through the window. When he was gone, the biker went upstairs and found a cross to sit under.
* * *
“Yen? My boy, are you alright?”
Yen walked slowly towards the stairs, then quickly down them, when he saw Blaise. The priest stood in the door, looking about as shaken as Yen felt.
“Are you alright?” Blaise repeated and reached out, touching Yen’s unusually pale cheek and looking into his eyes with apparent worry.
“I’m, uh, fine…” Yen blinked a few times, but did not withdraw.
Blaise embraced him and held him as he looked all around. The embrace was not a casual one. It almost felt protective. In a matter of seconds the priest’s eyes stopped roaming and became fixed on a spot on the wall. It didn’t help that beyond that wall lay the trapdoor, and that he seemed to be looking through the floor at the exact corner where McDollarface had been kneeling. “What happened there, boy? Who was with you in the basement?”
“Mc… Dollarface… your Dollar Bill Gold Nugget friend from Wall Street…” Yen specified, although he didn’t feel any of these funny names fit anymore. Not right now. “Who the fuck is that guy?” he asked slowly.
Blaise frowned. But not in the manner of a man who was surprised by the answer. “A lawyer, on most days… Stay here. Don’t follow me,” he said. And he put himself between Yen and the room with the trapdoor. “I will be back soon.”
Yen stood in place, feeling uneasy. The part of him that was saying it was all stupid and fake had run out of arguments sometime around the time he saw the guy in the basement collecting something on a piece of paper. Yen decided he didn’t care to know what it was.
The house creaked again. It sounded like a groan.
Yen shuddered and grimaced, happy that Blaise wasn’t there to see him, but also hoping he would be back up soon.
Did the lawyer sue the house? What was going on?
After what felt like an hour, but was probably a couple of minutes, there was a sound of someone coming up the basement stairs and the basement door being lifted. “It’s just me.” Blaise said from another room and duh, who else could it be? But Yen was still strangely thankful to hear that.
The priest’s expression was unreadable. Perhaps a little stormy. He didn’t mention the murder basement. Instead he said, “I need to go back to church for a couple more hours. You can come with me if you’d like.”
“Uh, sure,” Yen said eagerly. He wanted to ask what the lawyer did down there exactly, then hesitated. He didn’t want to admit anything did happen down there. It wasn’t normal. And Blaise acted like that too, which made it all the more disturbing. “Say, do you have anything to eat at the church? I would eat something.” Yen did not want to admit even to himself how long he had been sitting under the cross upstairs.
“We do have a kitchen in the rectory, but I cannot take you in there as you won’t quite pass for an altar boy. We will stop and eat something on the way.” Blaise beckoned for Yen to follow him out of the house.
Yen followed, more than ready to leave the house. He tried to go for the bike, but Blaise stopped him.
“No. I don’t want you to ride right now. I’m parked on the street.”
They got into Blaise’s car, Blaise started the engine. Yen said nothing. He should have protested. He was a biker, he wasn’t supposed to get in a cage unless he absolutely had to. But he had this sinking feeling in his stomach. And he still remembered the whispers. It was probably a good call on Blaise’s side to not let him ride.
The priest looked at an old fashioned pocket watch he pulled out of some invisible pocket. “I need to get back rather urgently. So it will have to be drive-through. How about McDonalds or Wendy’s?”
“Wendy’s,” Yen said automatically. McDonalds sounded too close to McDollarface and he had enough of McDollarface for one day. Normally he would have made a joke about them going to a drive-through together, but now all his willpower went into not curling up into a ball in the car seat.
“Alright, my boy, Wendy’s it is.”
“What the fuck did McDollarface do?” Yen asked, despite himself. “Are there prank supplies in his briefcase, is that something he does?”
“No, I’m afraid not.” Blaise said sternly as he drove through the streets. “It is normal for him to come seek my assistance in such matters, so it is fine that you let him in. I know what he did, and I suspect the reason for it as well, but I’m rather at a loss as to how he managed it without me. I had never seen him do this kind of damage on his own. And I do not mean to belittle your drumming skills.”
“How did you know I was drumming? And what kind of damage? Your house sounded like we were going to lift off and fly to Oz.”
“You ask questions, but are you willing to finally believe the answers?”
“Maybe. I dunno. Try me.”
“A shaman always knows when his drum beats. It’s why I left mid-meeting to come to you. And it’s damage in the spirit world, or well, between that and our world. I do imagine the sounds were rather unpleasant. He made a large crack in my basement.”
“Like a foundation crack?” Yen latched onto the most real-sounding idea.
Blaise sighed. “Yes, something like that. Now think about what you want to order.”
* * *
Yen sat alone in the church, chewing on the remainder of his burger. Rows of empty benches stood around him; before him, at the far wall, was the altar. Once Yen would have found the inside of the church alien and stupid. Now it felt kind of comforting.
This was Blaise’s church. Whatever weird shit was going on out there, Blaise knew how to deal with it. And here he was safe.
Yen chewed pensively.
The priest was busy with some sort of management meeting with the other people working at the church. Yen didn’t care to understand the details of it. Something about candles and budgets and other mundane stuff like that. He looked at his burger. It surely was nice of Blaise to take him out to Wendy’s. It had almost felt like…
Like something he saw families do.
He never did go to Wendy’s as a kid. Or other places like that. Anywhere really. Not with…
Yen frowned. It was weird. No, Blaise was just a friend. An older friend, but, well, so what? Nana Riley was like extremely old, and she was a friend, that was for sure. And yet Yen couldn’t shake off the feeling that there was something more to his sugar daddy.
No… better to dwell on the creepy shit than that. What did McDollarface do? And why? And how?
Yen could still see the darkness where the floor and the man should have been. Darkness snaking over the shelves, radiating from that spot, like light shines from the lamp. That was not how physics worked. Yen stuffed the rest of the burger into his mouth and chewed.
Was there something to all this shamanism? And if so, what else was real? What about Sam’s stupid animal-headed gods? Were those real too? Could mummies come to life? What about curses? Vampires? Werewolves? UFOs?!
Blaise came back through some secret side door. “The meeting is over. I can drive you back now and-”
“Do aliens exist? Is the government covering it up like the tinfoil hat guys say? What about Area 51? Is all that stuff for real?”
“I don’t know.” The priest said matter-of-factly. “I don’t have the time to keep track of everything.”
Yen stared at him with more deep philosophical questions written all over his face.
“Anyway, as I was saying, I will drive you back, and then you can take your bike and go, or you can stay, but I understand if you don’t want to. It’s really not a big deal though, and the house is not haunted, so don’t be concerned.“
“I… think I would like to stay.” Yen relaxed and then grinned stupidly. “You just said ‘big dildo’ inside a church.”
Blaise looked at him with familiar deeply weary skepticism. “If we’re being precise I said it’s not one of those.”
Yen felt immensely comforted.
⚞ Z ⚟
It was Halloween night. Zack strolled through the suburban street, shivering in his red leather Thriller Jacket. He wished he could wear it more often. But it was too nice to wear to school, and up until now he did not feel like wearing it in front of the Pharaohs. He already had the spoiled rich kid reputation, and a superstar jacket like this on a regular day could only make it worse. It felt highly appropriate on Halloween, though.
Zack grinned, feeling giddy. He looked good in that jacket. Or at least he thought he did. No, of course he looked cool. Rose had said it multiple times. His dad thought so too.
It would have helped to have more friends to test his wardrobe on.
At an intersection Zack stopped and consulted his note with the address.
“Hey, Zack! We’re over here!” Tamika’s voice called out to him.
Zack looked to the side and saw the Pharaohs gathered just a few yards away. His jaw dropped. They were dressed as the Village People.
Tamika was wearing a sailor outfit, Josie was dressed as the cowboy, Sam as the policeman, Nakhti was the construction worker — which was mostly his everyday work getup — and Yen was wearing the most leather Zack had ever seen on one person, combined with a Native American headdress. That took a moment to process. Then the teenager hurried towards them.
“You guys… look awesome.” He grinned, a little bewildered, but appreciative. “Very fitting.”
“You too, kid, awesome jacket!” Josie made finger guns at him.
“Here.” Nakhti stepped over and put his hard red hat on Zack’s head. “Don’t wanna make you feel excluded. Goes with your jacket, and I was planning to go as a zombie anyway.”
“You go as a zombie every year,” Josie said judgmentally.
“What can I say, it just feels right.” Nakhti snorted.
Everyone laughed. Sam didn’t. Instead he watched Nakhti searchingly, but as usual did not say anything.
“Ok, we’re all here, let’s go.” Tamika clapped her hands a few times and headed up a nice paved path through a beautifully arranged front yard. The rest followed. A row of neatly carved jack-o’-lantern’s guided them right towards the door.
Zack looked around as he started walking. “What about Sphinx? Are we not waiting for him?”
“Sphinx said he is too old to go to a party with a bunch of kids.” Josie laughed. “To be fair he is old enough to be the dad of any one of us.”
“See, with the newborn over there, Sphinx’s respectable age brings our average back up to a reasonable number. All thanks to me,” Yen said gravely.
“Yes, yes, you’re also pulling double your weight in the costume department, we are all very impressed.” Josie snorted. “Where did you even get that headdress, and on such short notice?”
“Funny story.” Yen grinned. “A foxy Catholic priest I bang traded some ashes for it, just this morning. Very generous of him, but I had to ride out of town to pick it up.”
“The voodoo Catholic priest?” Sam asked skeptically.
“The very same.”
“I bet you he got it in a pawnshop,” Josie whispered to Zack.
The boy grinned.
They reached the porch and the front door decorated with purple bats and black cats opened, releasing waves of atmospheric music and a cheerful blond young woman dressed as the Evil Queen from Disney’s Snow White.
“Hi everyone, welcome in! Oh, I totally love your matching costumes! What a great idea! You even have the Indian combined with the leather-guy, how fresh! And is that a real Thriller Jacket? Somebody’s loaded,” she fired the words at them like a gatling gun. Then she turned her verbal attack inside the house. “Dwight! More guests are here! Come see, they look so rad!”
As the Pharaohs took off their shoes, the blond cook from the diner appeared in the doorway to the crowded living room. He was wearing a very short dress and a red cape with a hood. A huge guy in a wolf mask followed him like a shadow.
The small blond guy in the dress threw his arms in the air. “The band is here, everyone!” He poked his head back into the living room. “Jackie, put on a Village People tape!” Then he walked deeper into the hallway and beamed at the Pharaohs. “Seriously, you guys and gals look awesome. Yen, you outdid yourself this year, respect. Oh wow, Zack, I’m not sure who looks better in this jacket, Michael Jackson or you. Tamika with the nautical theme, how fitting, and Josie, sure hope you brought a lasso with you! Good evening, officer Samut. Hey Nakhti, I see you donated your protective headgear to the Thriller production. Come on in all of you!”
“Nice butt, Little Red, I mean, you’re rocking that dress.” Tamika laughed. “And who’s the big bad wolf over there?”
The big guy in the mask loomed silently next to Dwight.
“Oh, I met him when I was carrying a basket to my grandma through the woods, and he followed me home and now we’re figuring things out, I must warn you that he doesn’t speak human though, just growls sexily sometimes.” Dwight laughed. “And I think he shares your opinion, Tam-tam. Cause I have a hard time keeping those paws off of myself. I don’t mind it though, because just look at them…” he gripped the wolf’s furry forearm and was instantly lifted in the air, seemingly without any effort on the masked guy’s part.
“Wooh! That’s quite a catch. Well, good luck domesticating that one. Looks fierce!” Josie grinned.
“If it’s got a dick — and I can see from here this guy does — Dwight can domesticate it.” Yen nodded his approval. “If he’s not eating out Dwight’s hands yet, he’ll be doing so by the end of the night. Been there, done that, got my raccoon hands dirty.”
“I thought legend had it Sam fished you out of the dumpster,” Josie laughed.
“He did. But he wasn’t the one that taught me manners.”
“Dwight didn’t do a very good job on you then,” Tamika said doubtfully.
“I wash my hands clean of Yen the Asian racoon. Also since you’ve been told how masterful I am with wildlife, how nasty of you to suggest that Yen does not have a dick. I assure you, he did have it the last time— oh, wolfie!”
The wolf guy grabbed Dwight by the butt and possessively pulled him close. Dwight snickered something about ‘territory’, but didn’t seem to mind in the slightest.
Zack stood frozen at the back of the group. The wolf mask completely hid the face of the big guy, but he knew that superman physique. He knew it too well. For a moment his eyes met those behind the mask, and cold sweat ran down his spine. He looked away, pretending to be interested in something else entirely.
It couldn’t be Taylor, could it? Taylor kept giving him hell for being gay. He couldn’t like guys… But then again he himself couldn’t stop gay-bashing Wyatt before he got to know him and consequently came out. Could it be Taylor was doing the exact same thing? Was he like Taylor?
No. What a horrible thought.
“What’s the matter, Zackie? Scared already? Do we need to get you a taxi home? Halloween too spooky for baby? That’s not a real werewolf, you know!”
Zack came to his senses to find Yen grinning evilly into his face from below. Zack had never felt so grateful for being tall. At least Yen couldn’t look down on him even if he tried.
“I just remembered something.”
“Oh no, did a werewolf once live in your closet?” Yen made a fake sympathetic expression, then turned to everyone else. “Public service announcement, you dirty fairies, this here boy is underage! No drinks, no smokes, no touching!”
Zack glared at Yen, but decided it was pointless to argue.
“Oh do not fret, Yen. Nobody here would consciously engage with an underage guest, no matter how darn cute they would be, especially not with the police officer around,” Dwight winked at Sam. “But fair warning, because Zack here is so tall it’s easy to make an honest mistake of thinking him twenty something.”
Zack half-smiled, feeling a little vindicated. Then, cautiously he tried to look the werewolf guy in the eyes again, but found the masked guy was too busy groping Dwight to look his way.
No, no way that was Taylor. He couldn’t be the only huge blond guy in town… With a fixation on wolves… There had to be others! It was dumb to even think this could be Taylor.
Everyone proceeded into the living room. The ambience was amazing. Black, purple and rainbow bats hung from the ceiling, more jack-o’-lanterns smiled their toothy smiles from a number of counters, shelves and window sills. There were snacks everywhere, arranged in most creative ways, and most of all, there were people dancing and having fun. Just as they came in, the Village People’s ‘Can’t Stop The Music’ came on and some people cheered as they saw the Pharaohs. There were so many things to immerse oneself in, but instead, Zack couldn’t keep his eyes off the wolf guy that silently followed Dwight.
And Yen seemed to be entirely set on getting on his case.
“What’s the matter, Zackie-boy, scared of dogs? Think the guy bites? Oh no, watch out, here comes a spooky spooky skeleton, oh no-no-no-no, and there’s a ghost. It’s getting all creepy and crawly, maybe you should just go home after all!”
Zack grunted. Yen wasn’t even misreading him, this was so out of touch he didn’t even feel offended. “Go drink something, Yen, and stop projecting or whatever it is that you’re doing.”
The biker gaped at him for a split second, then sneered. “Oh, I’ll get the drinks, don’t you worry. I’ll make sure to also grab you a soda. If they have one. Or would warm milk be better?”
“Whatever is less upsetting for you,” Zack retorted.
Yen stalked away, and the teenager breathed a sigh of relief. He spotted an empty seat on the couch next to Sam and went to drop there. “Any idea what’s up with Yen?”
Sam looked at him in surprise. “What do you mean?”
“He’s like on edge or something.”
Sam glanced sideways. “He is.”
“Is he superstitious? Or a believer?”
Zack frowned. He was pretty sure he’d nailed it. For some reason Yen was uneasy, and now he was trying to frame him as the scaredy baby. Why did he have to always be the Asian biker’s scapegoat of choice? Ah, right. The family angle. And the Nakhti angle.
Zack looked around and spotted Nakhti chilling by the window alone. He looked all dark and brooding in that cool subdued way that made him utterly irresistible. Some guys put too much effort into projecting their presence, but Nakhti just was there. And that was enough.
“Here’s your warm milk.” Yen leaned over the sofa and passed a glass to Zack.
Zack accepted it and rolled his eyes. “Joke’s on you, Yen, I actually like milk.” Zack took a sip.
“Of course you do, you oversized baby…”
Zack choked. Sam looked at him in alarm, then he turned to Yen. “Stop it.”
“Stop what?” Yen made an innocent look.
Zack swallowed the milk and began to cough. “What the hell?” He coughed some more, his eyes watering. “What… did you put in that milk?”
“Oh no, was it too… hot?” Yen smirked. “I just warmed it up a bit with some hot sauce.”
“Yen!” Sam glared at him pointedly, then helped Zack up and led him to the kitchen.
It took three more glasses of untampered milk for Zack to subdue the burning sensation in his entire face and throat. Sam sat with him in the kitchen looking concerned, but chasing off everyone else who tried to inquire. Zack felt grateful for that. Coughing and choking in the middle of the living room was embarrassing enough.
“I am very sorry for Yen. I will talk to him,” Sam said seriously.
“Nah, it’s fine. It’s not like he’s your responsibility.”
Sam looked like he disagreed, but said nothing.
“Do you think there is anything I could do to make him stop acting so antagonistic? He seems like a fun guy overall, I’d love to be his friend. But he keeps being such a dick.” Zack blew his runny nose into a tissue.
Sam breathed in deeply. Then he sighed. “I’m afraid you have to give him time. Please, don’t let this get to you. All of us like you. He will too.” Sam looked away, his thick eyebrows furrowed. “Yen seems to be going through some things lately, and you are caught in the crossfire. I will talk to him. And I won’t let him bother you again. You did nothing to deserve this treatment.”
“Uh, thanks…” Zack rubbed the back of his neck, feeling awkward. “But maybe later. I don’t want to ruin the party.”
“Thank you, officer.” Zack smiled.
Sam looked down at his badge and smiled too.
When they came back to the living room, there was music playing and some people, including Yen, were playing Twister. Josie was laughing hysterically as the feathers from the headdress on Yen’s head tickled her back.
“Take that goddamn thing off you sadist!”
“Uh-oh, I sense no happy ever after in this configuration,” Dwight commented from under Josie, watching Yen’s feathers now drift dangerously close to his bare legs instead.
Zack snorted at the contorted bodies above the play matt, then looked around to find Nakhti still chilling in his spot. Some of the guests Zack didn’t know were dancing. Catching his eyes on them, the group waved him over.
“Bust some moves, Thriller guy!”
Zack grinned. “Don’t mind if I do!”
And he did.
* * *
After a whole lot of dancing Zack was grateful when the blond girl dressed as the Evil Queen came in, bringing a tray with treats. She was wearing a cape and in a screechy evil witch voice inviting the guests to try some of the most definitely not poisoned candy apples.
Zack gladly accepted one and looked in surprise at the white chocolate skulls sculpted on top of the red candy coating. “Hey, the apples are awesome!” he called after the Evil Queen.
She laughed, only half-evilly. “Yeah, they totally are, but it was more Dwight’s doing than mine, he’s the culinary expert in the family. Hey, Dwight, how do you like your own handiwork?”
Dwight bit off a few chunks of the poisoned apple and chuckled. “My handiwork tastes alright, but the problem is that I’ve tried a little bit of everything I made, and I think I’m done for tonight. Wolfie, please save me before I take another bite and fall down dead like our dear Snow White over there,” he pointed at another of his sisters who was dramatically collapsing upon taking a bite of her apple. Giggling, Dwight passed his own bitten apple to the huge shadow at his side.
Zack watched out of the corner of his eye as the candy apple disappeared under the wolf mask. He rolled his eyes. Someone was very set on hiding their identity.
Meanwhile one of Dwight’s friends, Andy, if Zack remembered right, came in with his face painted green, yellow and violet and wrapped all in black. Behind him two other guests were carrying a huge empty frame. They affixed the frame on the floor in some distance from the wall and Andy stood behind it, calling out to the party that it was time to determine who was the fairest of them all. On the backdrop of a big black sheet attached to the wall right behind him, mostly his brightly painted face was visible, making for a good impression of the Mirror from the cartoon.
A lot of people lined up in front of the man in the mirror and proceeded to show off and ask for the Mirror’s opinion of their looks and performance. The Mirror would then point out something he liked or disliked about them, or would challenge them to show more, so that he could properly assess them. Among other things, the mirror told Yen and his headdress that he was ‘culturally insensitive’ and ‘too much’. Yen gave the mirror the finger and everyone laughed.
Some merry time passed this way and everybody laughed when the Mirror finally ruled that all of the participants were equally fair on account of being fairies, after which the Evil Queen reconciled with Snow White and invited her to dance. Everyone cheered, and the party continued.
It was getting kind of late, and after another bout of dancing Zack tried to find a place to sit, but discovered the couch had been occupied by a frisky skeleton, a horny ghost and, judging by the headdress, Yen too. Tamika and Josie were snuggling up to each other in an armchair. Nakhti seemed to be trying to flirt with reluctant Sam, and the host of the party had vanished yet again together with his wolf.
Things on the couch were getting kind of graphic when the Evil Queen materialized next to Zack and hugged him by the arm.
“Hey, do you want some more treats?” She forcefully dragged him to the kitchen, away from the beginnings of an orgy. “I’ve still got more candy apples, oh and we have a lot of other stuff too. I’ve been handing out candy to the kids in the neighborhood, and we haven’t had that many this year, so there is plenty to go around.”
“Nah, I’m fine,” Zack said, feeling awkward. “I think I best head out. It was a wonderful party. Thank you. I had a great time. It’s just kind of late.”
“Yeah, thank you for coming. It was great having you. Come again next year!”
“I’d love to,” Zack said with a grin.
“Oh, and at least take some candy to go. Here, let me put it in a baggie for you.” She busied herself gathering handfuls from different bowls into one small paper bag. “Do you want an apple to go too?”
“Uh, no, thanks. Probably not the best idea to eat that while walking. Gonna get toffee all over my jacket.”
“Good call, good call.” The Evil Queen nodded eagerly, then led Zack through the kitchen, circumventing the living room, and into the hall. “You stay safe now. If you want to call a taxi, the phone’s over there.”
A chime came from the kitchen. “Oh, I think the last batch of brownies is done. I better go get that.”
“Sure. And thanks again!” Zack waved to her as she disappeared into the kitchen again. Music went on again in the living room, just on time to mostly mask the louder and louder moans coming from the couch.
Zack looked at his candy bag. Well, that was all he got for now. In a couple of years he should be able to stay with the rest of them. Only one more Halloween left to wait basically. Not too bad.
He put the baggie into his pocket and crouched to tie his sneaker shoelaces. When he stood back up he saw the wolf guy standing ominously in the doorway to the kitchen.
A moment passed in silence. Then Zack cleared his throat. “I don’t know who you are. You look like someone I know, but you couldn’t be him. He would never have the guts to go to a gay Halloween party, even in a mask.”
The wolf man said nothing.
“Happy Halloween. And thank Dwight from me.” Zack nodded to him and left.
Blaise turned on the light and went slowly down the basement stairs. He had meant to do the test right away, but All Hallow’s Eve was worth waiting for, so he’d postponed it until now. The faint whispers grew louder as he walked between the shelves towards the wall that Shaazgai had knelt in front of on that day.
To an untrained eye, the basement wall looked perfectly in order. But not to Blaze. He who walked between the worlds as he willed could see the rift that gaped between them clear as day. He heard it too.
The whispers swelled, turning into moans and lamentations when he sat down on the floor in the spot Shaazgai had knelt in, and pulled out a bag of runes. He shook the small knuckle bones out into the palm of his hand and touching his free hand to the stone foundation, he cast them.
The shaman’s eyes opened wide as he watched the fallen bones.
One of the runes was spinning in place. He was waiting for it to settle, but it never ceased spinning. Blaze turned to read the other ones, but found one of them missing. It simply wasn’t there anymore.
Right as he noted that, a rune lying closest to the wall began to scream.
With it, like a cascading choir, howled the souls beyond the rift. They cried and wailed, growing louder and louder and LOUDER…
“Shut up,” Blaze said.
The basement fell perfectly quiet.
If you’re curious about Dwight and his date, the side story “Wolfie” can be read after this chapter.