It was the night of the greatest Halloween party of the year. Our entire family had been invited, and in the hours before it started, the house was buzzing with activity. The bathroom was crowded with girls doing their makeup and face paint. Shouts of “Has anyone seen my shoes/hat/wings?!” rose above the cacophony every other minute. The excitement made the air electric.
When I say that the entire family had been invited, I really mean almost the entire family. Nevaeh was the only one who hadn’t received one of the pumpkin-shaped invitations. The kid was so quiet at school that the girl who was hosting the party probably didn’t know she existed.
I couldn’t very well leave Nevaeh at home by herself while practically everyone else in the entire school was at the party. So while the rest of our sisters bounded out of the house in their getups, I hung back. We could find something fun to do together. I didn’t really want to go to the party, anyway.
We surfed the web for Halloween activities and decided to go to a haunted house. I’m into creepy stuff — ghosts and zombies and that sort of thing — so it was kind of a no-brainer.
After paying and signing waivers, Nevaeh and I hung out in the brightly lit lobby, waiting for the haunted house guide to appear and lead us on the tour. The Ghostbusters theme played from speakers mounted on the wall. We sucked on peppermints from the bowl on the desk.
A door slammed open on the other side of the lobby, letting out a group of shrieking kids. A young woman followed the screamers and walked over to us. “I’m the guide,” she said, giving us a rehearsed smile. “Are you my next group?”
“We are. Nice costume, by the way. Very scary.”
She laughed, drumming her fingernails on the cardboard sign draped around her neck. Your grades were scrawled on it in black marker. “Thanks. It’s in honor of my report card.”
The woman told us to call her Kate and beckoned us into the haunted house. Dry ice curled around our feet. Nevaeh shuffled closer to me in the dim light.
We rounded a corner and my sister gasped. Dangling from the wall and ceiling were severed hands and a decapitated body. They spun slowly, scraping against the wall.
“This used to be a jail,” Kate whispered in a low, husky voice. “Those bodies? They belong to executed prisoners. Some people believe that their souls still haunt this place.”
A sudden gust of wind made the hanging body parts twirl on their strings.
Kate led us down the hall, where a spirit drifted into view. A beautiful snowy gown was draped over her bony body. When the shadowy form tilted its head in our direction, we could see that instead of eyes, there were just deep black holes in its face.
“Parker!’ Nevaeh choked, grabbing at my hand.
“That is Lady Amelia. She died on her wedding day, along with her soon-to-be husband. She wanders the earth at night, murmuring the vows to herself, longing to be reunited with her lover’s soul.”
The ghost of Lady Amelia floated toward us, hand outstretched. She vanished just before her wriggling fingers found my face.
With Lady Amelia gone, the hall was clear, and we followed Kate down it. Spiderwebs hung over our heads; bloodcurdling yelps could be heard from other victims of the haunted house.
Something was in the hallway with us: scuttling, scratching sounds could be heard around our feet. Three wispy white objects darted in front of us and disappeared into the gloom, giggling.
By my side, Nevaeh was so tense that if anything surprised her, I bet she would jump as high as a cartoon character.
We walked in sinister silence for awhile, bracing ourselves before turning every corner. I had begun to relax when a young girl in a dirty nightie stepped in our way. A holey sweater was wrapped tightly around her. She gazed at us with dull eyes, unblinking.
Nevaeh glanced at me out of the corner of her eye. Her mouth drooped into a nervous frown.
The girl pulled the sweater away from her side, revealing a huge wound in her side. The thin fabric of her pajamas was damp and red. She shivered. Cocked her head. “Please help me,” she croaked.
We had to press ourselves against the cool, rough stones of the wall to get past. She watched us go with a gloomy expression.
Not even a minute after escaping the bleeding child, another fright appeared. A figure was hiding in a dark alcove, crouched over something white and still on the floor. The silhouette of a person looked over its shoulder as we passed, revealing a pale, angular face and blood-stained chin. It gave us a menacing grin with too many sharp teeth.
The white thing by its feet whimpered. I could now see that the shape was a tiny white dog with blood spurting out of a wound to its neck.
Past the vampire and its meal was a room with bones, feathers, and tribal masks hanging on the walls. A witch sat hunched over a cauldron from which came flashes of green, orange, and purple light. Pots, bowls, and woven baskets littered the space around the hag. They were filled with crystals, insects, critters, eyeballs, and other unpleasant things.
A desperate croak came from a frog dangling between the witch’s knobby, gnarled fingers. She dropped it into the cauldron and the mixture swallowed the struggling creature, belching and releasing an unsavory smell.
The witch’s cat snarled at us as we passed through.
I felt Nevaeh’s hand slip into mine. She was shaking.
She must be really terrified, I realized. Aloud, I whispered, “Don’t worry, it’ll be over soon. Just keep holding my hand. Close your eyes if you have to.”
She nodded and tightened her grip. Her wide eyes flitted around the room. They glinted in the flashing colored lights.
Kate halted. She pointed to two girls who were standing with their backs to us. “Jenna and Elise were best friends hanging out at a Halloween party. They spent the night gossiping, dancing, and drinking punch. But it turned out to be the worst — and last — party of their lives.”
The girls whipped around and lunged at us. Their faces were sallow and their flesh was beginning to peel in some place. They moaned as the rushed toward us.
“Jenna and Elise were turned into zombies that night!” Kate exclaimed, stepping to the side as the undead girls careened down the hall.
Nevaeh screamed. She pushed past Kate and the zombies and sprinted for the door that would lead back into the haunted house’s lobby.
I raced after my sister and found her sitting on one of the stiff canvas couches, breathing hard. I slid onto the cushion next to her and draped my arm around her, squeezing her shoulder comfortingly.
“I’m sorry for making you go through that,” I said, staring at the ground. “I like scary things, but I see now that you’re not into that. I’m really sorry if I ruined your Halloween.”
She took a deep, steadying breath. “It’s ok, Parker. It was fun, actually.” She gave me a hesitant smile. “So thanks for making me go. It was better than going to that party, anyway. At least we’re not going to end up like Jenna and Elise.”
I laughed. “Yeah. Good thing I know how to cure zombification. We might need it, when our sisters get home.”
Happy Halloween from the HHOAG girls!