Kayla picked herself up off of the floor, dusting imaginary dirt from her jeans as she glared at her tormentors, daring to sneak a glance towards the door, only to find that, as it turned out, they -were- bright enough to think of blocking her way to it.
“Now,” said Margie, folding her arms in front of her chest and staring down at her prey, “are you going to do it yourself, or are we going to have to do it for you?” The question seemed all the more imposing since Margie was posing it while dressed as a dominatrix, complete with whip and high heeled boots.
At least, Kayla thought, they were giving her a choice. Usually she didn’t get that much. It had been a long, humiliating couple of weeks, which had stretched her patience, and her tolerance for embarrassment, nearly to their breaking point. But now - this one time - she was getting a choice. It was almost enough to make her laugh. Instead, she unbuttoned her jeans, yanking them down off of her legs after kicking her shoes free, tossing them into a pile on the floor.
“Good,” Margie nodded her approval. “Now keep going.”
Kayla reluctantly pulled off her shirt, and then, after a glanced from Margie to tell her to keep going, her bra, letting them join her pants on the floor, leaving her in her socks and a thick, disposable diaper. A week or two ago, she would have been curled up on the floor in the fetal position at the thought of anyone seeing her like that, but these girls were quite familiar with the sight, so she tried to act bored instead, hiding her anxiety about what was coming next.
“Jean,” Margie said simply, holding out her hand. One of the other girls, dressed as a nurse from the hospital with the world’s most impractical dress code, walked up, handing Margie something large and crinkly. For a moment, Kayla was expecting plastic pants, or something like that, but then Margie unfolded it, unfurling it into a large, opaque pink plastic bib, not like the little ones they’d forced her to wear in the cafeteria at lunchtime, but one that would cover her whole chest, with what looked like a long pocket along the bottom, for catching any spills.
Margie tied it around Kayla’s neck, then tied its other strap, near the bottom, behind Kayla’s back, to her relief - this would be bad enough without flashing the world whenever the wind got up. She looked down at the bib, saw a teddy bear eating an ice cream cone staring back up at her. Could have been worse, she told herself. Jean giggled at the sight of her, but Jean would giggle at anything. Not that Kayla didn’t also think she looked ridiculous, dressed up like this.
The last of the girls stepped forward, away from the door, leaving that avenue of escape open. If, of course, Kayla could get past the other two girls standing so close to her, and if she actually wanted to leave the bathroom, dressed as she was. At this point, she would much prefer to stay there for as long as she could, but that wasn’t happening.
“Sit down,” said Cora, the little bell around her neck ringing. She was supposed to be a black cat, though one with large patches of precisely tanned skin on its stomach and legs, as it apparently didn’t have enough fur to cover all those areas.
Kayla let herself have a tiny chuckle as she sat down on the toilet at the girl’s bidding, something these three had been denying her for so long, even if this time didn’t really count, either. She let Cora pull the socks off her feet and replace them with lace-trimmed ankle socks, and a pair of black Mary-Janes, the only flat soled shoes currently being worn by anyone in the room, a fact that made Kayla feel even smaller and more out of place as she stood up.
“Isn’t she cute?” Margie cooed condescendingly, looking her up and down. “Do you think the diaper’s thick enough?”
Kayla knew better than to answer that, as much as she wanted to. Luckily, Jean said, “If we double it, nobody will be able to tell when she wets it.”
“True,” Margie nodded. “And then they wouldn’t realize how much of a baby our little girl really is.” Kayla let out a frustrated sigh, unable to keep it inside anymore. “What’s wrong, Kays?” Kayla shook her head, but it was too late for that now. “Are you being fussy with me?” Margie demanded. “You ought to be thanking me, -baby-, for letting you do this tonight, the one night when maybe nobody will realize this isn’t just another costume… Not if you go through with it.” Margie walked away, casually scooping Kayla’s clothes up off of the floor. “Of course, if you back out now, the pictures go up, and then everyone from school who sees you running home like that,” she nodded at Kayla’s outfit with a half-grin, “will, I’m sure, be just so curious about why you chose such a unique costume that they’ll be dying to look you up on Facebook… And then when they see those pictures, I’m sure they’ll be curious about those urls on them…”
It wouldn’t do her any good to explain it all again, to remind them that those original pictures had been a joke, one night of silliness that she’d been silly enough to put evidence of online, nor that the websites that had taken her pictures and branded them with their addresses, websites full of people actually into this sort of thing, had done so completely without her consent, or even knowledge. And she knew it wouldn’t do any good to explain it to the rest of the school, either, if she didn’t go along with these bitches, and they actually went through with it. So Kayla just kept her mouth shut - until Margie fished the pacifier she’d been hoping they’d forget about out of Kayla’s jeans pocket and rinsed it off before shoving it in her mouth - fighting to keep calm, pretend this was just another Halloween.
“You guys just wait,” she mumbled under her breath. She had assumed they weren’t listening, too busy adjusting their own costumes, but Cora turned, a predatory grin on her face.
“What was that?” she asked, advancing slowly. “Are you complaining again?” Jean giggled as she watched the scene, with Margie pretending she didn’t notice, though her eyes kept glancing over every few seconds. Kayla backed up instinctively, only getting a couple steps before running into the wall.
“I-I wasn’t complaining,” she said quickly. “I’m just saying…. Wait.”
“For what?” Cora demanded, stretching one hand out to the wall behind Kayla’s head, leaning in closer to the girl. “What are you up to?”
“Just… Wait until Emmett comes.”
“Emmett? Who the hell is that? Don’t tell me you actually have a boyfriend?!” Cora laughed in her face, but Kayla simply shrugged.
“It’s just an old urban legend,” she said. “Haven’t you ever heard it?” Cora shook her head suspiciously. “Well, I went on the ghost walk last year, so I heard about it there… There was this…”
“Yeah, don’t care,” Cora interrupted, getting out of Kayla’s face finally, turning her back on her. “No urban legend is going to save you tonight.”
“Let’s get going,” Margie said, finally ready. She pulled the door open, making Kayla try to hide behind the other two girls as the rest of the gas station they were in came into view. They grabbed her, pushing her in front of them, Cora keeping a firm hand around her wrist, but, luckily, the place turned out to be empty anyway, other than Jackie, a friend of the girls who worked there, sitting cross-legged behind the counter doing her nails. “Here, you can keep track of the baby’s costume until we get back,” Margie told her, tossing Kayla’s clothes behind the counter as she bent over, snatching up an armful of hollow, plastic jack-o-lanterns and handing them out.
Kayla could only stare at hers as they herded her towards the exit, her dragging feet not slowing them at all. They had never mentioned trick-or-treating, but then, what else did she expect? Her breathing picked up its pace as the warm night air closed around her, replacing the air conditioning from the store, but she reminded herself to try to act normally, no matter how uncomfortable and exposed she felt. She’d never be caught outside wearing so little, even if the clothing were something more mature. She was just happy that Margie was leading them away from her own house…
Jean fell behind the others, slowing as she began tossing her trick or treat pail up in the air as they walked, catching it by the handle and spinning it around before slinging it back upwards. “Why do people make jack-o-lanterns, anyway?” she mused, staring at the toothy, plastic grin on hers for a moment. “I mean, who came up with the idea of cutting faces in pumpkins and lighting them up?”
It was obvious she was just wondering out loud to herself, but that didn’t stop Kayla from answering, in a quiet voice, with, “Stingy Jack.”
“Huh?” Jean stopped, surprised to have anyone pay attention, missing her bucket, though she managed to catch it on its second bounce, pouncing down on it smoothly.
“Stingy Jack,” Kayla repeated. “It’s another old legend,” she explained.
“Oh, shut up about your stupid legends,” Cora rolled her eyes, thumping Kayla on the back of her head with her pumpkin.
But Kayla could see that Jean was interested, and fell back, taking out her pacifier and keeping pace with her while the other two walked ahead, Margie eyeing her suspiciously. “Stingy Jack was this guy who was… well… stingy. Anyway, he trapped the devil somehow, and made him promise not to take his soul once he died. But then once he did die, he couldn’t get into heaven, either, so he was stuck walking the earth. The devil gave him a piece of coal from hell to light his path, and so Jack made a lantern out of a pumpkin to put the coal in. Well, a turnip originally, but…”
She trailed off as she realized Margie and Cora had stopped at what was obviously their first house. Kayla squirmed nervously, one hand tugging at the back of her diaper, making sure it wasn’t going to fall off or anything - though she wasn’t sure how much worse that would have been, honestly - before joining the other, clamped tightly around the handle of her pumpkin pail. It was late enough that most of the little kids were already off to bed, so the streets had been pretty empty so far. But now she was about to be put on display, shown off like a doll….
Her stomach started to tie itself in knots as they made their way across the lawn, Margie and Cora making their way behind her, to keep her from hanging too far back, or just flat out running away. It felt like that first day again, back when they’d cornered her at the locker room at school with Margie’s laptop, then forcibly diapered her. She’d wanted more than anything to just stay hidden the whole day, but they’d forced her out into the halls, heart pumping and pants crinkling - less so than she’d feared, as it turned out, but still enough to be nerve-wracking for the first week or so. Only now, it wasn’t just a little noise and a tiny bit of added bulk she was trying to hide, and all she had to do it with was a little plastic pumpkin, which she was holding in front of her diaper, though she knew it was nowhere near big enough. The yard seemed to stretch on and on, making the walk take longer and longer, as she tried to make her gait seem normal, which only caused her slight waddle to become more pronounced.
And then, like a stretched rubber band being released, the yard seemed to shrink again, and, much too soon, she was at the front door. “Come on,” Margie urged her after a moment of staring, “Knock.” Kayla looked around at the three girls around her, swallowed, and knocked, hoping that, despite the front light being on, nobody would be home.
As should have been abundantly clear to her by that point, it was -not- her day. A few seconds later, the door opened, and, to make matters worse, she knew the person behind it. “Why, hello, Kathy!” said the old woman, someone from church whose name Kayla couldn’t remember any more than she could apparently remember Kayla’s.
Kayla didn’t correct her, though she didn’t know how much that would matter, as the woman looked over her disapprovingly. “Aren’t you a little old for trick-or-treating, dear?” she asked, though Kayla knew what she was really asking was, “Don’t you think you should have more clothes on, dear?” Kayla just forced herself to chuckle, glancing at Margie who nodded subtly at her until she held out her pumpkin, and the old woman dropped a little packet of M&Ms in, doing the same for the other girls.
“Good job!” Cora congratulated her as they walked away, patting her on the head. Kayla fought to keep from knocking the girl’s hand away from her head, telling herself the woman didn’t know her family that well, that she wouldn’t bring it up next time they saw her. She could only hope she was right.
As they walked further into the neighborhood, they started to see more people out and about, older kids, and even some teenagers, including some people from school. Kayla couldn’t help but try to hide the first time she noticed one of her classmates, but that just made Cora and Margie more eager to call that girl over, delighting at Kayla’s red cheeks as she was complimented on her “Nice costume,” with a laugh, though, as she was walking away, Kayla realized there wasn’t really any more derision in the girl’s voice than usual. That didn’t make her feel any less like everyone passing by was staring at her, however.
And as they kept moving, getting closer and closer to their destination, the feeling just kept getting stronger, as she started to recognize more of the people in the doorways, and walking through the streets. There were more kids from school, all heading in the same direction, though, luckily, they all seemed to want to get there more quickly than Kayla’s group. Even though she couldn’t see it, that destination seemed to loom over Kayla, pulling her closer and closer to it, until, thankfully, Cora announced, “God, I need a smoke.”
They wandered off the sidewalk, back a little ways to the train tracks that ran behind that particular neighborhood. There was a little bridge there, formed by the tracks, normally a popular hang-out for teenagers - Kayla had a feeling that was why Cora had suddenly needed a cigarette right there. However, at the moment, the place was deserted.
“Quiet,” Jean commented, looking around, a slight edge of nerves in her voice.
“Well, of course,” Kayla spoke up, sounding as confident as she could manage. “Don’t you know?”
Jean shook her head, and even Cora seemed to be listening, as she fished a package of cigarettes and a lighter from her pumpkin, while Margie leaned against the edge of the tunnel, staring up at the tracks. “Well, there was this girl who lived in a house… over there, I think,” Kayla said, pointing off, back towards the road. “And one night, her house caught on fire. There used to be a farm over, just beyond the tracks here, with a lake, so she took off to try to reach that, but she didn’t make it, and she burned to death here, in the tunnel. So, you know, it’s supposed to be haunted.”
“And that happened on Halloween night, I assume?” Cora asked, raising an eyebrow as she put a cigarette to her mouth.
“No, I’m not sure when it happened,” Kayla shrugged. “But… Well, spirits are supposed to be stronger on Halloween night. That’s why you’re supposed to wear a mask - so they won’t recognize you. Anyway, they say if you light a match here, that girl will blow it out.”
“Whatever,” Cora rolled her eyes. “Do you have any idea how many times I’ve smoked here? Never once has anybody blown out my lighter.”
Kayla shrugged again. “Like I said… Spirits are stronger on Halloween.”
Cora held out her lighter towards Kayla dramatically, flicking it on. A tiny flame jumped to life, only to vanish a second later. Jean let out a tiny squeak. Cora shot her a dirty look before saying, “That’s just a coincidence.” She held the lighter a little closer to her the second time, however, only to have the same thing happen. “This is bullshit,” she declared, shaking the lighter. “It’s just broken, or something.” She tried one more time.
This time, there was a huge rush of air from the tunnel, making Cora drop the lighter as if the whole thing had caught on fire, pushing Kayla and the other girls back a step in surprise, though not as much as the scream that followed it, loud, piercing, and full of pain. Without thinking, the girls started to run, back out to the road, though not before Kayla could snatch the lighter up from the ground.
Back on the sidewalk, with the streetlights illuminating their red, out of breath faces, the girls quickly stopped, feeling a bit foolish. “Who did you get to do that?” Cora demanded, shoving Kayla’s shoulder roughly.
She shook her head in reply, saying, “How was I supposed to know we were gonna stop there?”
Cora didn’t look convinced, but when Margie said, “Let’s just go,” she let it go and followed orders, glad to be leaving. She gave Kayla dirty look as they began to move, hissing at her to, “Keep that pacifier in your mouth.”
Jean trailed behind, turning her head to stare towards the tunnel. Kayla walked with her for a minute before saying quietly, “Just wait,” then moving forward to the other two girls, hiding a smile as Jean hurried to catch up.
Kayla’s pumpkin was growing heavy with treats as they trudged onwards, starting to skip over houses now, as Margie seemed to realize that they were behind schedule. It also helped that the houses were growing more sparse, with more businesses sprinkled in here and there as they got closer and closer to the high school. All of the walking was starting to make Kayla’s legs tired, her diaper sweaty and hot, and even more uncomfortable, but, even knowing that she’d finally get to stop when they got to the school didn’t make her want to reach it any sooner.
So she was pleasantly surprised when the girls came to a stop at the front steps of the school, the sound of the music from inside dancing around them softly. Had they changed their minds, had a change of heart? Were they going to let her go home, or at least change into a less embarrassing costume before -all- of the school could see her? While it wasn’t too impressive, seeing as she wore it at football games and practice all the time, she could always grab her cheerleading uniform out of her locker…
“Now, I’m sure the little baby is getting tired,” Margie teased, pulling Kayla over to one of the benches along the sidewalk, sitting her down on it. “And we want her to be nice and energetic for the party, don’t we?” She didn’t wait for the others to answer, just paused for a moment to let a slow smile build across her face, then said, “So we’re going to let you eat your candy now.” And then her voice went quieter, more serious as she plucked the pacifier out of Kayla’s mouth. “All of it.”
Kayla stared down at the full bucket in shock, then back up at Margie. “What? No, I can’t eat all that…”
“Why?” Margie asked innocently. “Afraid it’ll make you… Oh, what was the word? Chubby?”
Kayla squirmed uncomfortably, diaper crinkling beneath her, against the hard wood seat of the bench. “Look, I already apologized for that,” she pleaded. “The team captain wanted my honest opinion, and I…”
“You were supposed to be my friend!” Jean interrupted, with more anger in her voice than Kayla had ever heard. She usually just let Margie or Cora speak for her - Kayla had a feeling they’d coaxed this out of her, probably made her rehearse it. “You know how much I wanted to be on the squad! And you couldn’t just put in a good word for me…” She trailed off, getting off track, but everyone seemed to think the message had gotten across well enough.
It had. Kayla had known right from the start of joining their little group that Jean would always be more important than her, that the other girls saw her as a little sister, of sorts. She’d even known that Jean was insecure about her weight. She’d just never thought that Cora would interrogate the captain when Jean didn’t make the squad. But it wasn’t like it was her word alone that had kept Jean out… And it certainly wasn’t worth all they’d put her through, no matter how “betrayed” they felt.
Clearly, they felt differently. Margie was standing there, hands on her hips, waiting expectantly. Kayla looked around, hoping there might be a teacher wandering by, someone she could get to stop this. “You know, I can just tell people those pictures were from me testing out this costume or something…” she said weakly. But everyone knew she used to be friends with these three, and if they claimed she actually liked it, chances were people would assume she was just covering up, after making the mistake of confiding in them…
Cora yanked the pumpkin away from Kayla, started to pour the candy from her own into it. Kayla snatched hers back, trying to scoot away, but she was surrounded. “Y-You know, there’s a story about this school, too… There was this girl who wanted to…”
Cora grabbed a chocolate bar, a rare full-sized one, from her bucket, unwrapping it and stuffing it into Kayla’s open mouth before the girl could turn her head. “Shut up with your stupid stories,” she snapped. Kayla reluctantly started to chew, taking what comfort she could in the sweetness of the candy, nibbling on it until Cora shoved the rest of the bar in. “Hurry up!”
“Cora…” Jean started to protest, only to stop as she got a nasty look from Cora. Cora had never liked Kayla, never trusted her… Kayla had never been particularly fond of her, either, for that matter. Now even less so, as she started to unwrap some more candy, this time at least taking it from Kayla’s bucket.
“I’ll do it,” Kayla mumbled around her mouthful of chocolate. She tried to speed up her chewing, did her best not to think about how many houses they’d stopped at, all the candy she’d seen dropped into her pumpkin. She stuck to the smaller candies first, stretching their wrappers as much as she could, tossing them back into the pumpkin, hoping the mess of paper and plastic would help hide all she had left to get through, half hoping that somehow, if she couldn’t see it, it would disappear. But the quantity only seemed to grow, and just got more annoying to get to. It didn’t take long at all for her to get sick of the sweet taste.
“Guys, come on,” she begged after a few minutes. There was no mercy to be found.
“Do you want to hear a story, since you like them so much?” Margie suddenly spoke up, sitting down next to Kayla on the bench. "Here’s one about a little baby just like you… Or her mother, rather. There was a guy who owned a store, and one day, he saw a woman he didn’t recognize come in, take a bottle of milk - this was the olden days, you know, so it was in a big, glass bottle - and walk out. It was the depression, and she looked pretty poor, so the owner decided he would let her get away with it that one time.
“But it wasn’t just that one time. The woman did the same thing the next day, and the day after. Finally, the owner’d had enough of charity, and tried to demand she pay. But she didn’t seem to hear him, just walked out again, so he followed her through the town, until she got to the graveyard. She laid down on one of the graves, a fresh one, and sank into the ground, until she vanished. The owner was freaked out, but he went closer, and heard a baby’s cries. He called up whoever is in charge of graveyards and made them dig up the grave, and sure enough, there was a baby in the coffin with the mother… And it was clutching an empty milk bottle. Spooky, huh?”
“Y-Yeah,” Kayla agreed. “Are we done yet?”
Cora picked up the bucket, weighing it. “Not even close.”
Kayla sniffled softly as she looked up at Cora, only then noticing she was holding her cell phone, almost certainly recording the whole thing. Kayla defeatedly grabbed for another piece of candy. She knew she had chocolate smeared around her mouth - at first, she’d wipe it off, but after the first few times, she just gave up. Even though she knew it was just psychological, she thought she could feel her teeth aching, could practically feel the cavities growing. And her stomach wasn’t particularly happy, either, and that wasn’t just in her head. She tried going faster, to get done quicker, but even that didn’t seem to help, and before long, she slowed back down automatically, feeling like she was about to burst.
“I can’t do it,” she said finally, in the midst of half-heartedly digging through the discarded wrappers. “Do what you want with those stupid pictures…” She slumped forward as a cramp wracked her stomach. Jean glanced at the other two nervously, and even they seemed to be mostly convinced.
“All right,” Margie said after a moment. “You can finish the rest later.”
Kayla groaned at the thought of ever eating another piece of candy, yet there was a wave of relief that washed over her at the reprieve, followed by a wave of nausea. “I don’t feel so good,” she whimpered. She just wanted to curl up and sleep it off, but Cora was grabbing her hand and tugging her to get feet, shoving her towards the school’s steps, upwards, closer to the sounds of merriment coming from inside. “No more.”
“Why don’t we just let her sit down a little longer?” Jean asked.
“She can sit down inside,” Cora answered simply.
Kayla fumbled up the steps until Margie grabbed her arm to help her, feeling sluggish, but also slightly hyper, as all of the sugar started to give her a headache. The colors around her seemed to streak past, leaving trails of themselves, which only got worse as they stepped into the gym, nearly overwhelming her with light and sound, and heat from all the bodies.
Margie let go of her, letting her stumble forward, bumping into people right and left, most of whom gave her a dirty look, then giggled as they saw her costume. “Nice one,” someone commented from behind her, and she spun around to see who it was, only to have the room keep spinning around her. Luckily, Jean caught her before she could fall onto her padded ass.
Then Cora was there, too, chuckling as she ruffled Kayla’s hair, announcing to all those watching, “Our little baby just couldn’t wait to get into her candy,” patting Kayla’s exposed, aching, stomach. She moaned, the sound covered by the bout of laughter coursing around her. It was all too much, and Kayla somehow found the strength to break away from Cora, stumbling back towards the door and outside, tripping over her own feet as the sidewalk beneath them turned to grass. She fell to her hands and knees, and then her stomach was emptying itself, spasming as she threw up. When she was finished, she had to admit she felt a little better, her head feeling much clearer.
“Here,” Jean said from behind her. Kayla turned, then gratefully took the offered paper towel, wiping off her mouth as she carefully stood up. “Are you okay?”
“She’s fine,” Cora answered for her.
“I am,” Kayla nodded when Jean kept staring at her. “Are you guys happy now? Can we just go?”
Jean looked to Margie, who nodded. “Let’s just go. The chaperones were looking at Kayla pretty weird anyway… I think they might have thought we brought her here drunk or something.”
Cora nodded reluctantly. “I’m just gonna run in to the bathroom real quick, then we’ll split. You should probably come in and grab a quick drink of water, too,” she said to Kayla, but not without a pointed look to Margie.
“Yeah, me too…” Margie said. “Watch our stuff out here, Jeanie.”
“All right!” Jean agreed, looking quite relieved to be done with all of this.
And then Kayla found herself being escorted back into the midst of the party. Her costume was still getting a chuckle or two, but the amusement seemed much less mean-spirited than it had a few moments before, though the teacher she saw across the room looking at her looked less impressed - Kayla had a feeling they were breaking some sort of dress code, even if everything was relatively covered up.
“Drink up,” Margie instructed when they reached the water fountain right outside the bathroom. Kayla did what she was told happily, glad for something to wash the foul taste in her mouth away. She was pretty thirsty, too. By the time she’d fulfilled both of those needs, Cora and Margie had each ducked into the bathroom individually, the other keeping an eye on her outside.
“Okay, here’s the deal,” Margie said once Kayla appeared to be done, “you do one more thing, and you’re done for real. We go back, grab your clothes, and you can go home. Monday morning, you can go back to your regularly scheduled life, just so long as you steer clear of all of us.”
Kayla had a good feeling she knew what they wanted her to do, and that they wanted her to ask, wanted her to squirm in anticipation and fear. Instead, she glared over at Cora coldly. “I didn’t get to finish telling you about the ghost story from this school, did I? There was a girl who had a really conservative mother, who wouldn’t let her go to this dance that she really, -really- wanted to go to. Her mom told her they were gonna be playing the devil’s music, and that’s just bad news. But she was a teenage girl, so she went anyway, and…”
“Shut up!” Cora demanded, producing the pacifier, popping it back in Kayla’s mouth. “Now, you’re going to walk out in the middle of that crowd, and you’re gonna pee your diaper. And if you don’t, we’re going to keep you in diapers until Christmas vacation! Maybe longer!”
Kayla calmly took the pacifier out of her mouth. “This weird boy asked her to dance, and she just couldn’t refuse…. They danced around and around, faster and fast, until they vanished in a cloud of fire. 'Cause he was the devil, and he was taking her down to hell with him.”
“Good for her,” Cora hissed, grabbing Kayla’s wrist and taking her back across the room. “And don’t you think that you can win Jean over, and that’ll save you… You know she’s not gonna stand up to me and Margie. Now do it.”
Cora shoved Kayla reeling away. Kayla just stood there. “Do it!” Cora repeated.
“Just wait,” Kayla whispered in response.
“I swear to God,” Cora said, advancing towards Kayla like a cobra striking. “I…”
“Oh, don’t do that,” said a voice from behind Cora. “He doesn’t like that sort of thing.”
“Nobody asked you!” Cora growled, spinning, only to find herself faced with a rather handsome boy, black hair slicked back, decked out as a traditional, old fashioned vampire. “I mean… Look, this is kinda private…”
“I didn’t mean to interrupt,” the boy said with a smile. “I’m so sorry. How can I make it up to you?”
“Don’t… Don’t worry about it,” Cora shook her head, an uneasy feeling settling over her. There was something not quite right here… She looked over at Margie, but all she got in response was a shrug.
“No, I can’t do that… Here, why don’t you give me the next dance. I always think better when I’m dancing.” He held out his hand.
Cora shook her head, partly to decline him, partly to tell herself this was just a crazy coincidence, that he was probably another friend of Kayla’s… Why else would she have been so eager to tell that dumb story?
“Just one song,” the boy said. Cora shook her head, turned away, only to feel his strangely strong hand on her shoulder, turning her back to him. She looked up, confused, and stared straight into his eyes. His smile grew wider. “Just one.” Cora felt her hands move around him, not even noticing as the music suddenly switched tracks to a slow song. Her feet began to move as well, matching his. It was kinda nice, she had to admit, nothing to get all freaked out about….
Then the music began to pick up tempo. She kept up well enough at first, but it kept growing. Just when she thought it had hit its peak, and she was going as fast as she could manage, it sped up. The room became a blur of color as he spun her around the dance floor, giving her brief glimpses of Margie, who was starting to look worried, and Jean, coming in from outside, curiously, and Kayla, who just stood there, smiling.
“Okay,” she finally managed to say, nearly out of breath. “That’s enough for me…” But he didn’t stop, and neither did the music. Her eyes went wide as she tried to simply stop, then to pull her hands off of him. She opened her mouth to scream, just a moment before she felt the fire burst up from the floor and engulf her and her partner.
Margie jumped away from the spot in shock, staring over at Kayla fearfully before running out of the building, grabbing Jean and dragging her along. They ran for what felt like hours, before collapsing on the ground, panting.
“What the hell happened?” Jean demanded as she caught her breath.
“I-I don’t know,” Margie shook her head. “It…”
“Oh, just some smoke and mirrors,” Kayla shrugged. Margie’s head snapped upwards in shock, saw the girl standing there calmly, her plastic pumpkin clutched in her hands. “Nothing to be afraid of.”
“You shut up!” Margie sputtered. “I don’t know what you’re doing, but…”
“I’m not doing anything,” Kayla told her. “How many times do I have to tell you? Spirits are stronger on Halloween… Sometimes they just need to be reminded…”
“Leave us alone,” Margie demanded.
“And would you just look where we are?” Margie did so, only to realize they’d run all the way to the edge of the forest that sat behind the oldest church in town. “There’s an awful good story about this place, too.” Kayla shot her arms forward, pinning Margie between them, pushing her up against one of the trees, leaning in to whisper in her ears. “This forest is supposed to be cursed… For years, people wandered to here from miles and miles around… Just to commit suicide. Sometimes as many as ten in a single night, just found hanging there in the morning… It stopped when they built this church, but… Well, you know… Curses can never really go away completely, now can they?”
Kayla let Jean pull her away from Margie, smiling. Margie just stared at them both for a moment, before silently turning and walking into the woods. Not even Jean’s shouts could stop her. She just kept walking, straight ahead, until she found a vine laying on the ground, one that had somehow been tied into the shape of a noose…
“She’s just taking a shortcut home,” Kayla told Jean. “She was telling me about it at school. She wasn’t feeling well - I think she was just feeling guilty about what happened - so she decided to go home. You live over close to me, right? That’s why she left you here, to make sure I got home all right.”
“Okay,” Jean nodded, not quite convinced, but not questioning it either. “We’d better get going, then.”
“Oh, don’t sound so nervous,” Kayla smiled at her. “I’m not mad at you… I know they made you go along with all of this. You’re a good kid. I really am sorry about that whole cheerleading thing…”
“It’s all right,” Jean shrugged. “I probably wasn’t right for it anyway. Come on, I think there’s a shortcut back to our houses through the graveyard.”
Kayla paled slightly. “I’m… not in that big of a hurry…”
“You’re not scared of a little old cemetery, are you?” Jean asked with a sly smile.
“No, of course not…” Kayla shook her head, following Jean reluctantly.
Jean stayed quiet until they had gone through the gate. “I heard a funny story about this place once,” she said.
“I think I’ve had enough ghost stories for today,” Kayla blurted out quickly.
“This is just a short one - one of…” Kayla started to raise her hands to block her ears, but Jean darted towards her, grabbed her with her surprisingly strong hands. “One of these statues on the gravestones is supposed to come alive at night to punish anyone messing around in here. And I’m pretty sure it’s that one over there.” She let go with one hand, pointing towards a towering, slightly crumbling, stone angel. As the two watched, it shook its wings, began to turn towards them.
“Damn it, look what you did!” Kayla exclaimed, slapping Jean with her free hand. “What the hell is your problem?!”
“What’s yours?” Jean replied. “Can’t you stop them?” The stone angel began to move towards them, the stone flaking away from its eyes, revealing blood red orbs beneath. “Or can you just summon them?” Kayla didn’t answer. “What did you do to my friends, bitch?!”
“They’re gone! And they deserved it! I thought you were different, but maybe I was wrong… There’s an awful lot of stories about this place, you know…” Her eyes narrowed.
Jean tackled her, taking her by surprise and knocking her to the ground, sending her pumpkin and all of its contents flying. Kayla tried to talk, only to find Jean’s hands pressed tight around her throat. She reached up to pull them away, fighting to get her feet beneath her. She kicked, using the motion to roll the other girl off of her, reversing their positions, only to have to jump to the side as she saw the angel’s stone foot coming down at her.
For a moment, she thought perhaps Jean had gotten squashed instead, but then she popped back up on the other side of the angel. “Have fun,” Jean called, running for the gate. Kayla followed, only to find her path blocked by the angel.
“You’re not getting away!” Kayla screamed. “There…” She paused to duck the angel’s stony arm, watching helplessly as Jean made her way out of the graveyard. Try as she might, she couldn’t think of a story about the area between the graveyard and the forest, not while being distracted like this. “Let me go!” she yelled at the angel, but it wasn’t listening. She tried to rush around it, but it kept blocking her path, keeping her inside the graveyard. “All right, then,” she said to Jean’s retreating form. “You asked for it.”
She ran to her pumpkin, falling to her knees, digging through the wrappers strewn across the ground, grabbing up the lighter. The angel reached for her, apparently knowing what she was planning, but she was quicker, not being made of stone. She flicked the lighter on, then dived towards her bucket, dropping it inside right before catching a solid, hard foot straight in the stomach. She winced, curling up, spots flashing in front of her eyes.
For a moment, she thought it was over, that it hadn’t worked, and then, all at once, the jack-o-lantern burst into flame.
“Kill her,” Kayla hissed towards the flame. She could have sworn she saw it turn into a familiar face, one with a faint resemblance to her father, her grandfather, and even herself, and then wink, before melting into a puddle of orange plastic.
She scrambled to her feet and started to run, allowing herself a smile as she heard Jean scream in the distance, Stingy Jack easily overtaking her. And then the world faded to black, and she felt herself start to fall.
She wasn’t sure how much longer it was before she woke up, the back of her head throbbing. She didn’t have much time to worry about that, however, before she realized she was trapped somewhere pitch black and tiny - no matter how she turned, she found herself against a wall. She started to hyper-ventilate, beating against the ceiling frantically, uselessly. She screamed, but there was nobody to hear. Not then, anyway, and not any of the other times she tried, until her throat was raw. She closed her eyes, sobbing…
“There, there,” said a gentle voice. “It’s all right. I’m back.”
“Wh-Who’s there?” she tried to ask, but she couldn’t force the words out.
“I bet you’re thirsty,” the voice said. “I brought you something.”
Kayla’s eyes went wide - not that there was anything for them to see - as she felt a bottle being pressed to her lips, tipped back, and milk began to run down her throat. Cold arms wrapped around her protectively, lovingly.
“Don’t worry, darling,” the voice whispered in her ear. “I’m sure they’ll find you soon, baby.”
But in the world above, the clocks were striking midnight, signaling the end of another Halloween. And there was no shopkeeper at the grave to hear Kayla’s screams.