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“Happy Halloween everyone! Come on in! We’ve got treats, tricks, games, the works!” Yuki proclaims at the door and steps aside to let you in.
Her assistant moves in and hands over a Halloween-themed showbag. “To start you off for the evening, plenty more candy and actual food where that came from from. Beer’s in the ‘fridge and punch is in that cauldron right back over there,” he says and lets you pass.
There’s already a dozen or so engaged in chit-chat while partaking in the snacks and drinks. A wooden barrel sits on the tiled surface of the dining room, towels all around. A woman wrapped in gauze is hunched over, head completely submerged in the water. Other costumed guests cheer her on as she surfaces with a Red Delicious apple.
“That one almost got away from me!” you manage to hear her say over the din of the festivities.
Off to the side in the living room, a mobile chalkboard sits with a list of events and corresponding times. Horror-based trivia was starting shortly after the bobbing for apples, followed by a screening of Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein. There were other assorted activities, but the main event is what everyone is truly waiting for: a special Halloween trip to the Void.
“Gave her a little bit of extra juice this week to have it ready in time. Can’t do it often, she gets temperamental if we overwork her,” you hear Yuki say to another guest dressed as Bigfoot.”
“I feel her pain,” the assistant says with a hint of sympathy as he passes by with a drink tray.
“What’s tonight’s excursion about?” someone asks from the group now gathering around Yuki.
“I won’t go into too much detail,” Yuki teases, “but it involves a kid who sees a monster hunting in the woods behind his neighborhood.” A clamor starts up around the scientist and she shakes her head. “Nope, that’s all I’m offerin’, folks! We’ve got plenty going on ‘til then, so enjoy your time!”
It was still two hours before midday, but the temperature was already up into the 80s. Nicole Fitzpatrick was already in her bikini and splashing herself with water from her younger brother’s kiddie pool. Off in the distance, she heard the dads rolling all the grills to the end of the block in preparation for the cookout that was to begin at lunch. Her stomach growled thinking about burgers and hotdogs and the scent that’d soon fill the air.
That growl became a cramp.
Nicole’s brows furrowed and she pressed her hands to her stomach. An ice cold sweat formed over her body. All at once that light peckish feeling degraded into full-blown pain. She curled into herself in the shallow pool water and told herself it’d pass. Breakfast wasn’t even an hour ago and she knew she shouldn’t be feeling something so extreme.
The teen closed her eyes and breathed deep, letting the wave flow over her.
It’s getting worse, she lamented. How long has it been since the last time?
The cramping subsided and, eventually, faded into nothingness.
Nicole sighed, and swept her hand through her blonde mop. They’d never been that bad before, especially after eating, and she suspected that—
Twigs broke and leaves rustled. Nicole’s head snapped to the side and focused on the forest at the edge of the backyard. Whatever was there was alerted to her movement and froze in place.
She trained her ears on the woods and blocked out all the other noise around her…and there it was again, softer this time. It seemed to be waiting for a breeze to kick up the rustling of tree branches to move on, as if it were trying to keep itself invisible.
Nicole slowly brought herself upright, crouching in the cool water. What once was pain in her belly was now a pleasant burning sensation; the flame within was growing. She bit her lip to keep a sound from escaping her throat as she stood.
Whatever was out there was watching her, she was sure of it.
The blue-gray smoke of the grills rose high into the air; the scent of the burning charcoal wafted up and down the street. Every year the adults in the neighborhood gathered all the barbecue and picnic equipment to help the kids celebrate. It brought them all together for at least one day before individual families set out for their one- or two-week holidays. School had let out three days prior, but now summer vacation had officially begun in the Jovian Fields mobile home park.
The clearing in the surrounding forest housed three streets in the shape of a backward F. The original owner of the park, an avid stargazer, named the main drag Jupiter Street; the bottom row of homes, slightly uphill, was called Saturn Avenue; and the top row of homes, even further uphill, was called Neptune Avenue. There was an unspoken agreement between the adults throughout the park that the kids could play on their own streets, full access, as each home had an unobscured view of the block. The only time permission was needed was to explore and play on any of the other roads or the surrounding forest.
Today, however, was free reign.
The elementary school kids from all over the park gathered for games in the vacant lot that took up a quarter of Neptune Avenue. The older kids in middle school or high school were grouped up with boomboxes and magazines and shooting the shit, careful not to show too much interest in the activities on hand, lest they be deemed “uncool”.
Matt Robinson and Tommy Fitzpatrick were eleven—technically middle-schoolers as of a few days ago—but paid no mind to the social hierarchy. The world was still bright and fun for them and they were currently in the middle of a new game called Scramball. They were stuck in place after Janie, the current Slammer, called for everyone to freeze. Tommy had his eyes fixed on the game and Matt had his eyes out for Nicole, Tommy’s older sister.
“She not coming out today?” Matt asked.
Tommy shrugged. “Don’t ask me. She’s been acting weird the past couple days. Complaining about her gut and bein’ mean and everything.”
“Kid you not.”
Janie’d run the others off to the opposite side of the field and was desperately trying to judge the best target for her. She was no threat to them and continued on with their conversation. Both were close enough to their mothers to eavesdrop on them.
“—really thought we had enough plates to go around,” Matt’s mom was muttering to herself.
Tommy’s mom replied, “Food’s still probably twenty minutes or better out, we’ve got enough to go around for a bit. I’ll run down to Convenient now.”
Matt’s mom sighed in relief. “Oh, thank you, I hate driving that damn Pinto.”
Tommy’s eyes widened and he bolted from his spot (no one on the other side of the field noticed—they were busy being stalked by Janie), “Ooo! Mom, can I get an Icee!?”
“If you help carry the stuff out of the store, yes, you can have one.”
“Go get my purse off the counter, I’ll get the car started.”
Without another word, Tommy sprinted off to his house while his mother headed to her Bonneville.
Matt turned back to the action on the other end of the field. Apparently, contact was made and Janie was receiving her fifth armband of the game. The others moved in for the next toss up, so he did the same.
“Where’s Tommy?” Janie asked, noticing one less to their little group.
“Going to the store with his mom. Plates n’ stuff.”
“You got his bands?”
Janie threw back her head and groaned. “Can you get them? Casey wants to play.”
“Hang on!” Matt turned back and ran back the way he came. Much to his dismay, the maroon car had backed out of its spot and was lurching down the street. Matt slowed down to a stop in his yard and exhaled deeply; he knew Janie was going to be mad as anything when he came back without Tommy’s bands…and she was pretty scary when she got in a mood. Well, if she was going to be put in a crappy mood he was at least up for delaying the inevitable. He decided to check the Fitzpatricks’ porch for the armbands, if he couldn’t find them there, the kitchen counter was the next logical choice. Nicole was probably still inside, too, maybe he could say ‘hi’.
His stride to their front door was halted after movement in his peripheral caught his attention. Off to his left, something jumped into the woods behind their home. The bushes and low-hanging branches of the trees pulled inward and bobbed about for a few seconds. It was probably a rabbit, Matt thought to himself, or a cat chasing after whatever. The moment passed and he peeked through the screen door. Nothing. No bands on the counter or anything. The blinds and windows in the living room were up; there was no light nor sound coming from the inside. There was a possibility Nicole went along with her mom and brother.
Matt’s gaze shifted back to the woods, to the exact spot that caught his attention. Or maybe she was outside now? What reason would she have to go into the thickets—by herself no less? And it wasn’t even the spot everyone used as a hangout, which was at the far end of the block. Curiosity dug into Matt’s gut; he decided to investigate.
He took a cautious pace, keeping his ears peeled for any sound coming from the inside of the Fitzpatricks’ trailer. He looked once to the left, then to the right, and upon seeing no one, crept into the woods.
There was movement up ahead; she didn’t see it, but heard it just fine. Thirty feet or so in front of her, tall weeds and bushes and inescapable tendrils swished in time with the tiny mammal ahead. She crept closer to it, bare feet making no sound with calculated steps on dirt and the lightest of grass. The sounds were too heavy for a squirrel or chipmunk and the mass was concentrated on one specific point, so that threw out the possibility of a deer. Bit of a buzzkill, really, she thought, one of latter and she’d be finished for the day—probably a few weeks.
Matt heard the commotion somewhere in front of him, like one of his friends rushing blindly through the thickets. Not an especially smart move, since there were plenty of sticker bushes all over the woods. No matter how many he and the rest of the kids hacked away over the summer days, about twice as many seemed to grow back. The swooshing and cracking of undergrowth was short-lived, however, and ended with a pretty nasty-sounding THUMP; they hit the dirt hard.
Although his curiosity had gotten the better of him and drug him out into the woods, Matt hesitated to call out. It might have been one of his friends, true enough, but just as easily it might’ve been one of the handful of other kids from the bottom street that he both hated and feared. Yes, it was rather odd for them to encroach on their space, but then again, they had a reason to be up on their street today. And while they weren’t dumb enough to pull a stunt in front of all the adults at the gathering, it’d be no-holds-barred out in the sticks. He moved along without making a sound, deciding on every step before making it.
A series of snapped twigs and stamped-down weeds that was the makeshift trail led him a few more yards out. After a small patch of dirt—with two indentations of toes—it appeared to lead into a dead-end; only a mound of sticker bushes lay ahead. He walked closer still, leaned his head forward and squinted. A bunch of the thorny vines had been broken—had they really run through? Matt got as close as he dared to prickly mass, he knelt down and noticed a patch at about waist-level that he was able to see through. He hunkered down, resting on his toes and fingers and tried to catch a glimpse of what was on the other side.
Her heels rose from the ground, all of her weight pressed down on the balls of her feet; she froze. A millisecond’s worth of anticipation and she rocketed forward, leaving grooves in the dirt. Before the animal could even react, she was on top of it. Not even so much as a cry of surprise made it out when her teeth clamped down, crushing its throat.
What Matt saw stopped his heart and turned his stomach.
Nicole was on the ground, facing away from him, her weight resting on her knees and forearms—she was naked as well. Sunlight that managed to shine through, unfiltered by the densely-packed leaves, danced to and fro over light skin that refused to tan or burn. His eyes drank in the sight, swallowed every detail: her calf muscles eased tension before spasming a few seconds later; three distinct freckles across her left hip and butt formed a tall and narrow triangle; when hit with the light, her smooth slender legs were shown to be outlined with tiny hairs—minuscule wheat fields, glowing hot and yellow in a sunrise.
Heaving a sigh as if a great burden lifted from her shoulders, Nicole pushed herself upright and rested on her knees. Bringing her left arm up, she swiped the top of her forearm across her lips. His stunned gaze followed her movement and locked on to the damp patch dribbling around her wrist. If a bead of sunlight hadn’t glanced over her skin, he’d have sworn it was dirt.
But it wasn’t…it was blood.
Matt stumbled backward; in his haste to get out of the forest and back home, his heel caught on a wiry root, and he landed, with a thud, on his butt. His body froze instantly; he held his breath and stared dead ahead.
Did she hear me? Crap!
Nicole’s upper body twisted around in his direction, her left breast swayed into view. He’d seen her in a two-piece over the past few summers, but the tight material kept her budding chest in place. Uncovered, he’d not have guessed they’d be so…jiggly; they looked soft.
The fleeting moment of sensual wonder passed back over to horror as that bright red smear on her arm stood out against the green, and her movement revealed what she was hunched over: it was a little gray and brown rabbit. Though, most of its fur now ranged from dark red to black—wet and sticky too.
For the briefest instant, Matt gave her the benefit of the doubt and assumed she only just found the tiny creature. Her nudity, still curious, remained unexplainable. But then, her eyes locked on to his—and his heart started pounding again.
Nicole’s mouth and chin were covered with, and dripping, blood.
No scream escaped his lips, he simply gathered his bearings, picked himself up from the dirt, and ran like hell back to the neighborhood—back to his house. No! Back to the block party. All those people around. He’d be safe there, right? She didn’t dare attack him in front of all the others, not with so many witnesses around.
Matt cut through the woods—twigs and stickers bushes be damned. Better to lose a few drops of blood than a few pints. One more push through the brush and his skin was kissed with the fresh scorch of summer sun. He never looked back. His little legs kept pressing forward; he wasn’t even aware that his was running of his own accord. Everything around him was a blur: his body, his thoughts, the world around him that wasn’t dead ahead. He crossed over Tommy and Nicole’s back lawn and over his own. He cleared the propane tank and his dad’s garden shed, passed up the swing-set, and made it to the vacant lot where all his friends were still playing. Slowing down and coming to a stop, Matt’s senses gradually came back. His legs had their feeling back—and boy, were they not well—like the two major bones were made of pins and needles connected by lumps of Jell-O.
No one paid him any mind. Good. He had a lot to digest and wasn’t sure how to handle it all. He needed to think…but he also didn’t want to be alone at that moment. Matt turned to face the area from which he just ran.
She was standing there—clothed now—at the back of his family’s home, right at the window of the shared bedroom for his sister and himself. Only a moment’s relief with his neighbors and friends and his heart was pounding against his rib cage like it wanted to escape. Nicole didn’t dare walk up to him now.
Though their eyes only met for a second, maybe even less, Nicole was able to make out the horror in Matt’s eyes. A horror that she knew all too well. One that, left unchecked, meant nothing but pain and suffering for himself and all of his loved ones. Nobody’d believe him—that was a factor in her favor. One of two things usually happened: either the people that were confided in thought they were being put on, or, when it dawned on them that the words spoken were one hundred fifty percent serious, thought they were batshit crazy. There were other reactions, most definitely, but at much lower rates. Very rarely did a loved one believe wholeheartedly in the impossible tales bestowed upon them.
She had to get to Matt before he was able to talk to anyone else. Nicole had already picked up the carcass and gave a hefty toss further out into the forest, where the neighborhood kids never explored. She made a break for her own house and gave herself a quick once-over with the garden hose. Her eyes continuously darted, very, very aware of her surroundings. Confident in her timing, she ran naked through the front door and grabbed a random pair of short-shorts and a muscle shirt. There was no time to be picky about panties, nor a bra, and if everything went in her favor, she’d be a good distance away from any ‘tut-tutting’ mothers and fathers. She wiped the excess water from her brow and made her way over to the party.
“Matt?…Matt? Hey, are you listening; what’s wrong?” a voice said—nearby, but echoing as if it were far off. “Jesus, you’re white as a ghost! My God, sweetheart you’re shivering…” More words were spoken, but they were garbled out. He wasn’t seeing properly, everything was swirling and fading around him. He wasn’t in control of his body anymore…crap, he couldn’t feel his body! At least, not his head and limbs; he was able to feel his stomach properly and it was churning like crazy, like all he had that morning was being push right back up and—
He wretched—spilling everything down to the grass and bugs below.
His knees gave out (oh, there they were again!).
The skin on his upper arms and armpits burned (“Hang on! I got’chu.”).
His feet were off the ground; he was floating away (“He’s burning up! Take him inside!” “It’s alright, I got him.”…“Hold the door, please.”)
The world went dark.
And everything silent.
Matt awoke to the creaking and groaning of the trailer against the wind. He was home now, on the bottom bunk in his shared room. Save for the the wind and home, all was quiet. The only light shone in from the room’s only window that peeked out to the back yard and their share of the woods. It must have been late, there wasn’t even the faint muffle of the television from his parents’ room a few feet away.
What had happened to him? He remembered everything from the woods and running back to the party…whatever happened after that failed to process. His stomach growled and, surprisingly, despite the volume, failed to awaken his sister.
If he was quiet enough, sneaking into the kitchen for a snack wasn’t totally out of the question. No sweets after bed-time, that was the rule. But, Matt supposed, this one time wouldn’t hurt anybody, especially his stomach—which was contorting itself all kinds of ways. Crinkling bags of Chips Ahoy! or Lays potato chips were definitely a no-go, the only quick fix to be had quietly was a chocolate pudding Snack Pack (or two).
Matt kicked his feet from beneath the covers and rolled his legs over the side, drawing himself to a sitting position. The move had him facing the window: he saw the winds were steadily dying and clouds must have been moving, as the moonlight grew brighter. More and more of the trees appeared from the dark, the propane tank stood out among all…though, there was a shape resting against its side. Matt gingerly removed his butt from the mattress, keeping the squeaks from the aging mattress to a minimum. He crept through the back half of the room and leaned toward the glass.
His vision focused with the intake of light; he saw that it was a person huddled against the metal. It turned its head to face him. He recognized who it was immediately.
Nicole sat outside, waiting.
The look of fear in his eyes diminished a little, Nicole thought. But it was progress. He hadn’t run back and he hadn’t screamed. And, with a little luck, all would be sorted before dawn.
She pointed to the side of the trailer, the one facing her place.
Matt’s brow furrowed.
Again, she pointed to the side of the home and pointed to him, then down to the grass next to her.
He visibly gulped and chewed on his lower lip.
Nicole place the palms of her hands together, fingers up, and mouthed the word: “please”.
He stood upright, but hesitated. It looked like he wanted to move, though his body didn’t let him.
She kept her hands pressed together, turned up her eyebrows, and gave the best puppy-dog eyes she ever managed. This time she mouthed the word: “sorry”.
Matt’s chest rose and sank as if he’d finished running a hundred miles. A thin layer of condensation fogged up part of the glass on his side. The poor kid hadn’t a clue what to do.
When she started to lose all hope of gaining his trust, he surprised her by holding up his index finger. He then turned his right ear toward the rest of the house, listening. Matt looked back to Nicole, nodded once, and disappeared into the darkness of the room.
Nicole walked to the side of the trailer facing her yard and waited by the unused rear door. Unlike the main entrances in all the homes in the neighborhood, the back ones had no rickety and noisy screen doors attached. And as Matt demonstrated after unlocking, brought it wide open without a hint of sound. She offered her hand to him, which he took (without any hesitation this time, Nicole realized) as he hopped down onto the grass.
Matt was still done up in his sleep-wear, with the exception of his hoodie and sneakers (the latter mostly hidden by his Super Mario pajama pants). His mom must have washed him up before putting him to bed, and not just a once-over with a soapy washrag, she caught the whiff of L’Oréal Kids as he steadied himself.
Nicole reached up and closed the door without a sound.
“Follow me,” she whispered.
Matt complied and followed her to the back. Once they reached the edge of the woods, she turned right and crept along the back yards of their neighbors, all the way down the street, until they reached the entrance to the woods all the kids used.
They walked in together, but an hour later, only one walked out.
“Feelin’ better, I take it?” Nicole asked once they were out of earshot of the neighborhood.
“I guess so,” Matt replied. “I don’t even remember what happened. All I know is that I woke up in my bed and you were there.”
The two came up to the opening in the woods—the meeting spot for everyone. She turned to face Matt, keeping in mind to put some distance between the two, for comfort’s sake.
“And you remember what you saw earlier?”
“I’m sorry I scared you. I didn’t mean for you to see that. Nobody was supposed to.”
“Why did you…” Matt trailed off, unable to finish the question.
“Because I had to; I was hungry…and I hadn’t eaten in a long time.” She sighed. “Honestly, I thought I was able to go for the rest of my life without having to again. And I gave in to it.”
“Are—are you a monster?”
Nicole laughed. “Do I really look like one to you?”
“No. When you saw me though, you did have a scary look on your face.”
She chuckled, “You might not believe this, but I was actually as scared as you. You surprised me. And believe me, it’s tough for anyone to get the drop on me.”
“So then, why were you doing that?”
“That’s why I brought you out here, and that’s why I was trying to get to you this afternoon: to explain it all to you. Before you had the chance to tell anyone what you saw. I do have to ask that you keep this a secret for me.” She walked toward Matt and extended her pinky. “Promise?”
Matt extended his own and wrapped his little finger around hers. “Pinky swear.”
“Alright then. This story starts a really long time ago. Long before you—or your parents, or even grandparents—were born…
“I wasn’t originally from here. Years ago, I lived in a little town about a hundred miles south of Forest Run. It was nothing like this—lots of woods, yes, but it was mainly a swamp. I was one of the first babies to be born down there.”
So it wasn’t anything at all like those westerns?
Nicole shook her head. “Not at all. And as small as the towns seem in movies, this one was even smaller—not even enough to have a main road run through. Just a couple buildings here and there. Honestly, I can’t even tell you what all was there—a general store, I’m sure—it’s been such a long time. We could only get to town by horse, so there wasn’t a lot of opportunities to travel out, what with the farm and all.”
You lived on a farm!?
“Mhmm. Most of my time was spent there, helping tend to the crops and animals. So much of the day was spent making sure we had enough to sell as well as for ourselves. It’s not like we were able to go to Krogers and get any old thing whenever we needed. Roughly five months out of the year we had to rely on what we harvested.
“Anyways, sorry, little distracted there…One morning I was supposed to go out and feed the chickens, but when I got to the coop, I noticed the door was open and a few of them were already wandering around. Inside…four of them were dead. Necks weren’t broken, not so much as a drop of blood anywhere. I was about to go out and get my dad when one of the floorboards creaked behind me…and the next thing I know, I was waking up. I was laying down on the ground, still inside the coop. I must’ve fainted.
“So I grab Mom and Dad and they’re just as confused as me, but try not to show it. Tells me not to mind and go about my other chores.
“Later that night, I’m getting ready for bed, and I’m taking my day-clothes off and notices there’s some bruising on my right leg, the same side I apparently landed on when I fainted. A couple small marks in the center; doesn’t really hurt so I think nothing of it. The next day, they’re on their way to healing, so I completely let it go.
“Weeks go by, and some illness sweeps into town. Me and my parents get it and we’re told by the town not to leave the farm. The three of us are scared and dying…Mom and Dad go first and I’m not far off either. Then one day, too weak to even get out of bed, a boy about my age walks in. I tell him he shouldn’t be here, that he’d get sick. He says he can help. He holds out his arm and tells me to bite and drink. I’m almost completely out of it, so I do…and I start to get better.
“The town is dead not long after and he tells me I should move on and goes his own way, but not before giving me advice; he taught me some pretty cool tricks to blend in with the normal people.
“I let the animals go, packed up some of my things and started going north. I’d heard of some bigger towns and cities and figured I’d be better off there. I did as I was taught, and made sure to eat at least two times per week. One detail that was left out, not only did feeding keep me from getting all the illnesses and diseases, it kept me from getting older as well. Not really a big deal back then, there were no forms or anything. Even when they did come into play, a simple typewriter straightened that mess out. Then they started putting everything into computers. I kept away from the public and cities for awhile there.
“That is, until one day, I met the Fitzpatricks. They were out on a hike when I bumped into them, and they “adopted” me.”
Oh! You hypnotized them!
“I prefer to say that I influenced their decision to take me home. I still have to influence people when I signed up for school or had to go to the doctor.”
I thought you weren’t able to get sick…
“That day I met them was the last time I fed…for awhile anyway. I wanted to age normally and grow up with a family and friends.”
“And that’s all I can tell you for now,” Nicole finished.
Matt sat, cross-legged, very much awake despite the hour. His mind struggled to process all the information given to him over the minutes. He’d only encountered such stories from his friends bent on scaring the living hell out of him, or when the local TV stations aired their late night monster movie marathons. The thing was, even though he was terrified of those concepts, he knew without a shadow of a doubt that all those stories were fiction. What he was told tonight however…
“So, you’re a vampire?” The question came out soft, barely audible. There was a tremor in his voice, a sliver of fear, perhaps. “The boy taught you how to be a vampire.”
“That can’t be true…”
“Oh?” she replied, tilting her head slightly, genuinely curious. “Why not?”
“Because I’m not scared of you.” His voice disagreed and brought the little fib to light by cracking mid-sentence. “I mean…I am afraid. But I don’t want to run away from you. And I don’t wanna stop being your friend.”
She laughed and ignored the crackle in his voice. “Just because you’re not afraid doesn’t mean I’m not what I am. And I promise you that one day I’ll tell you the whole story. But for now, please continue not to be afraid.”
“…But all those stories and movies—”
Nicole moved toward Matt as she spoke and knelt down. She wrapped her arms around his body and pulled him in for a hug. She whispered, “Please, never let anyone tell you what you have to fear. Think for yourself and look outside of the box; be reasonable. It’s okay to be scared, sure, but know why you are. Promise you’ll do that for me?”
Matt hugged her back. “Only if you really do tell me the rest of your story.”
She laughed again. “The next time we have a camp-out, for sure. But you have to go along with me and pretend for everyone else that it’s made-up.”
“Alright,” Nicole let the boy loose and stood up, “now you need to sneak back in and get some rest; so do I.”
“Good night!” Matt whispered as he ran back toward his home.
“G’night, and don’t let any more monsters get you tonight.” Nicole smiled and watched as her young friend crept up the the side of his home and, quiet as a mouse, entered the way he left, and shut the door behind him. If only the rest of the billions on the planet were not so quick to pass judgement, or so hasty to kill in order to quell their own fears and insecurities. But still, with every one person willing to keep an open mind, maybe there was some hope.
Sleep came without a hitch for Matt (the same applied for his sister, who didn’t stir at all when he crept back to his bunk), he was out the second his face hit the pillow.
The sunlight through the window was what eventually roused him from his dreamless slumber. He groaned, reached up and prodded the mattress above him.
The TV was off, as were the lights. He tossed his sheets aside and quickly made his way to the window. It was foolish to think she’d still be out there, but his eyes immediately went to the spot Nicole was waiting for him. A glance up into the sky told him it was still morning, but only just.
His mom was very attentive to him after he dressed and made his way into the living room. She asked him several questions, repeating sometimes, before getting him a glass of orange juice and offering to make him some breakfast. He said he wasn’t too hungry and could maybe wait for lunch—though he downed the juice like he was stranded out in the desert for days.
When he was finally able to convince his mother he was well enough to go outside (which he was limited to the yard and next door) he went straight over to Tommy’s house.
“Hey! You’re all right!” Tommy exclaimed from the other side of the door.
“So, what happened? Mom and I came back and everyone was saying you were really sick or something,” he said, meeting Matt out on the patio.
“I don’t even know, man; I just woke up a few minutes ago. Wasn’t Nicole able to tell you?”
Tommy blinked. “Who?”
Matt’s stomach turned when his best friend’s eyes darted back and forth. “Umm…I don’t—”
“It’s okay, sorry,” Matt interrupted, knowing exactly what was about to be said…he just didn’t want to hear it, “Still probably messed up. I was having all kinds of crazy-weird dreams.”
“You’re sure you’re okay?”
Matt gave his best smile, despite knowing Nicole had left somewhere in the night. She was on the move again, off to start a new life…all because he was nosey and found out about her. He wanted to cry, but he couldn’t…not now. Tommy’d never understand…none of them would. All he could do was remember her and hope he’d see her again someday. He closed his eyes and sighed. “Yeah. I know I’ll be all-the-way awake soon. What’re you gonna do today?”
“Aww, a Halloween tale with…well, kind of a happy ending,” the assistant says while escorting everyone from the laboratory.
“We’ve had some downers the past few weeks. It’s good to go easy once in a while,” Yuki says, drinking some punch from her goblet. “We’re winding down with some Halloween specials: the Great Pumpkin, Garfield, and Grinch Night.”
The assistant’s head snapped back to Yuki. “That’s how you’re ending the night? Winding down with nightmare fuel!?”
Yuki smiles at her assistant. “Trick.”