When Ethan Bartlett entered the opulent Halloween party at the Hamilton Mansion, all the guests’ jaws dropped.
“Are they staring at my Ga’Hoole costume?” asked Mickey who was resting on Ethan’s shoulder and had a helmet Ethan made to resemble, more or less, an owl warrior’s helmet from the film Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. Being a hawk, his face wasn’t shaped right enough to make it perfect but it was close enough to be unmistakable for anyone who knew what it was.
“No, I think it’s probably my costume.”
“So what the fuck are you supposed to be, Bartlett?” asked Bobby Le Sueur dressed like a gallant prince in violet and gold, complete with a metal gem-studded crown.
“I am Pennywise the Laughing Dancing Clown,” Ethan replied and he just stared at him. “It is from Stephen King. Get it? It?” Ethan sighed at his dumb blank expression. “You know who Stephen King is right?”
Ethan had based his own costume on the literary version of the character as opposed to the film version portrayed by Tim Curry. It consisted of a silver suit with an electric blue tie, orange pompoms down the front, floppy orange clown shoes hidden over his real shoes with an evil clown mask covering his entire head complete with pasty white skin, an evil blood red smile, sharp piranha fangs and orange puffs of hair on the sides with a bald center. His hands were covered in cartoon character gloves typically seen on characters like Disney’s Mickey Mouse and Goofy.
Bobby snapped his fingers. “It’s that homo who stars in True Blood. Never saw the episode with the clown though.”
“Another fucking world-beater,” Ethan replied with a sigh and as he brushed past him, he casually put him out of his mind. He felt only relief to be in any place with power after Hurricane Sandy had ravaged through the southern part of city.
The Hamilton House was located on a hill on the east end of Edwards Grove which only still had power because almost all the houses in Edwards Groves had backup generators up and running. In addition to the loss of power, all the neighborhoods in the south and the west, notably on Fisher Street and the farms near the Bay City Dagger, were flooded enough from to where Ethan was able to swim in it earlier that day. The Orange River had flooded a bit, filling Charlotte St up with water a little but it quickly receded down into Fisher St.
The Bartlett Mansion, other than its loss of power, remained flawlessly unaffected on its cliff above the ocean.
Darcy’s older sister Marie decided to throw a party in her family’s lavish three-story Victorian home when her parents had gone off to Wallingford for another party. Ignoring the problems the flood created for others as if they never existed, their kids through a party and Ethan, being Darcy’s friend, was invited. The DJ was playing lame soft rock and most of the people at the party were wealthy strangers but he did recognize a few people out in the crowd.
Priscilla Pennington was dressed as Queen Elizabeth I complete with an appropriate red wig and inaccurate sexy low top and Johnny Le Sueur was dressed as a musketeer, in black like in the book version of The Three Musketeers and not the blue that is commonly portrayed, with a very real looking rapier. When Ethan looked around at the others his age, he instantly recognized a particular theme.
“I see the problem now,” Ethan told his bird. There were a variety of different styles from sexy to cute to ironic to funny but he was the singular one who went for scary.
“You should have gone with G.O.B. Bluth,” Mickey told him.
Darcy came up to him wearing a tight, sexy red princess’s outfit also with a low and revealing top, her hair intricately tied behind her head which held a gold and ruby studded crown, and her shoulders completely bare and her arms covered in long white gloves. Beside her was a very attractive girl of Asian ancestry, her hair hanging down her back in a single ponytail, dressed in a black Japanese schoolgirl’s outfit with a sheathed katana at her side. “Why hello there, Bobo,” the Asian girl told him.
“It’s Pennywise but you can call me Bob Gray,” he replied and they just stared at him. “Doesn’t anyone read classic Stephen King?”
“I read The Stand,” said Darcy. “That was pretty fucking badass.” She put her arm around her friend. “This is my friend Jamie Tan I told you about.”
“She’s incredibly hot,” he said and Darcy instantly frowned at him.
“Heard about you, psychopath,” Jamie replied with a smile and she took off his mask. “You’re hot too.”
“I like your costume,” he told her. “Let me guess, you’re going as, what, ninety-five percent of all Anime characters?”
“I felt lazy this year,” she replied with a shrug.
“Tan’s a Chinese name but you’re Japanese. What’s up with that?”
“Oh he is smart,” said Jamie and her face lit up to become extremely beautiful. “I was adopted out of Japan by the Tans when I was about four or so. I speak perfect Mandarin and Japanese as a consequence.”
“I took a few years of Japanese,” he replied and he looked at her sword. “Where did you get that sword which is actually real?” He wasn’t sure how he knew that exactly but it had something to do with the way she rested her left hand on it.
“An interesting story,” Jamie said and she stroked the hilt of the katana tenderly with her left thumb. Ethan was no expert on Japanese swords’ value but he did notice there was something in her touch that put its worth beyond what the hilt’s simple white wrapping with their diamond-shaped openings would have him believe. “I just received it in the mail one day.”
“Just like that? Who sent it to you?”
“That’s the interesting thing.” Jamie’s eyes tilted to the left for a moment as she thought about it and then shrugged. “It came in a simple brown package and never had a return address but there were Japanese markings that claimed it came from Hiroshima which is where my biological family comes from. I think it’s my ancestral weapon.”
“That’s cool,” he said.
Jamie’s eyes took a decidedly odd but thoughtful look for a second. “I think so,” she said and she smiled in such a way that bordered on worry. “We should practice swordplay sometime.”
“I’d like that,” he told her with a smile.
Darcy frowned and as she pulled Ethan away, Mickey quickly flew from his shoulder and landed on Jamie’s whom he sensed was interested in him and would likely give him attention. “She’s got a boyfriend you know,” Darcy told him.
“Figured,” he replied. “A girl like that needs to be locked down.” Darcy frowned at him. “It means to be put in a serious relationship like going steady or an engagement.”
“I know what it means,” she replied irritably and she put her hands on her hips and looked around unhappily. “Are you having any fun?”
“Not really,” he replied. “It is just as boring and lame as you told me it would be.” He put his mask back on. “Do you think this is scary at all?”
“Not really,” replied Darcy, “but if you really want to scare someone with that getup wander around the Anglecliff Men’s Club in it sometime.”
“The men in the men’s club are afraid of clowns?”
“It would seem so. My father says the most absolutely strangest shit when he’s been drinking.”
“Hey Ethan,” called out Jamie and then the two of them walked back over to her. “What’s up with his anklet?” she asked and gestured to the silver bracer-like object with a tiny canister wrapped around Mickey’s left ankle.
“Didn’t you ask him?”
“He said it was his chick-magnet bling,” she replied and Ethan and Mickey laughed. “Really, what is it for?”
“It’s a magical device that helps me cast certain spells. One of them allows me to see out of his eyes, one to communicate with him and another that allows me to cast magic through him and with that magical device on his ankle I won’t have to have him right in front of me for those spells to work.” He petted the bird who grinned up at him. “Consequently, it was an absolute nightmare enchanting that in the Bartlett House. I had to stay awake and work for nearly twenty hours straight just to make sure one of my bitch cousins didn’t screw with it.”
“It also contains messages like old homing pigeons used to have in the old days,” said Mickey. Jamie found the compartment, smiled, pulled out a small message and then frowned at it. It said, “Please let me touch your mother,” on the little paper.
“Cute, Bartlett,” Jamie said. “Real cute.”
“It wasn’t my idea,” Ethan replied and Mickey picked up the paper with one of his hands, rerolled it carefully and then slipped it back in. Then he flew over onto Ethan’s left shoulder and made himself comfortable.
“So,” said Darcy. “You want to go to a real party?”
“Yes,” he replied.
“Count me out,” said Jamie. “My boyfriend and I are heading into Bethany for another, hopefully better, party.” Jamie gave Ethan a strange look that he found almost entirely unreadable. “I hear Claire Winters is going to be at yours,” she added.
Ethan smiled but it wasn’t a happy smile. “Great,” he said blandly.
“What’s up with you?” she asked. “You clearly don’t like her but you do.”
“I think she was my wife in a past life,” he replied and Jamie smiled half-amusedly, obviously thinking he was joking. Darcy gave him a curious, piercing and yet, somehow, still mostly unreadable look. “Where exactly is this party?”
“It’s at the Charlotte Street Church,” said Darcy and Jamie’s eyes widened in surprise. “It’s located at the tail end of eastern Charlotte Street where it winds north and rises above Edwards Grove. It’s ugly, old and evil and you can’t miss it.”
“They’re having a Halloween party for the twenty-sixth anniversary of that fucking bloodbath?” asked Jamie with an incredulous look on her face. “Are they retarded or something?”
Darcy shrugged. “You would think after finding those bloodless bodies floating around in the river that was once Fisher Street, we would have had enough horror shit for a while.”
“They were found drained of their blood?” Jamie asked.
“Yeah,” said Ethan softly and the more he thought about it the more sinister he felt it was. There were nine seemingly random victims found that morning; a homeless drifter, a few drug addicts, some teenage boys and a couple of their girlfriends were all found floating face fist in the flooded streets somewhere between the Bay City Boardwalk east of the old fisheries and The Finger all completely drained blood. He took a deep breath, shivers running up his spine, and said, “So what was is this other bloodbath you were talking about?”
“It’s a strange old story, Bartlett,” said Jamie. “The short version is that in 1986 there was a Halloween party there on the one-hundredth anniversary of the 1886 Charlotte Street Church Massacre—what is it?”
Ethan felt a memory flickering in his mind, there one moment, gone another. “Nothing. I thought I—it’s nothing.” It wasn’t “nothing” exactly but he wasn’t sure how to explain a near-vision to Jamie. “Hey, how did you sense my expression through my mask?”
“I have a way of seeing through people,” she told him with a smile.
“So what exactly happened at this party in 1986?” asked Ethan as he took off his mask.
“An axe happened,” said Darcy. “No one knows who swung it but some of the bodies were found the next day hacked to pieces, some just found hacked and not found at all. Some were killed other ways but it was mostly the axe.”
“Mostly the axe,” agreed Jamie and her eyes tilted to the left and she looked uncomfortable. Her eyes came back at him after a moment. “I wouldn’t go there if I were you.”
“But I probably am,” he replied.
“I’ll meet you there,” said Darcy and she patted him on the shoulder a few times. When finished her hand stayed onto his shoulder for a moment longer and then she and Jamie walked out. Ethan spent a few moments eating some free chips with salsa before he followed after.
He threw on his leather jacket over his clown suit, left Hamilton Hall and began down the only roads that lead to the Charlotte Street Church since Charlotte Street on the west built homes over it.
He went up out of Edwards Grove north up Escape St which was generally used by the residents by the freeway. Above the freeway, however, it became a little road known as Gagne St that made an upside U shape, went back down under the freeway, and went west to connect to Wicker St. It contained mostly cheap houses, some barely better than trailers, with the newest built in the 1950s, but halfway there was a dirt road that led south and remained the single, only link, to the east end of Charlotte St.
All the lights of the houses were black, the day before insane and crazy with the storm, but it seemed peaceful enough then. Even Mickey was resting happily on the passenger seat by the heater uncharacteristically silent.
Of course, there were no trick or treaters walking the street that year since the flood had forced most of the poor and almost the entire black community to abandon their homes. Shortly before the flood warning, Francine Randal had asked Ethan to chaperone the treaters explaining that in Bartlett Bay there were supposed to be at least three men and two women leading groups of ten to twenty children at a time. He recalled that as a child in California, he usually didn’t even bother with a chaperon and moved about from house to house in private kid groups of friends usually numbering only two to five but often alone.
As Ethan turned left down the muddy Charlotte St, he found himself thinking about Wicker St’s darker north. Its bottom had Equine Acres and expensive homes but the top, around where Gagne met it, they were entirely abandoned and long before Hurricane Sandy came along. The people living there must have grasped the danger of those woods and the chances they would soon become a victim of it. Ethan hadn’t thought it about it much as he took it northward up to the O’Brien Train Station on the night he found Jessica Downs.
The road was a little muddy but it posed no problem for Ethan’s vehicle. It was a windy, old, road that led southward through the woods far enough west of Edwards Groves and east of Wicker St that neither side of houses could easily be seen. Since the power was out, the lights of Edwards Grove could not be seen except little spots in the distance from the one or two houses that had power, and it made the street seem even darker and more ominous.
A road led away from Charlotte Street to the west toward what was easily recognizable as an old church just off the road to the west. The building was a highly dilapidated old stone with an overgrown field in front filled with cars. There Ethan parked his Corvette, stepped out of his vehicle and took a longer, more thoughtful look at the old, abandoned, building. It certainly wasn’t a pleasant looking building and the sight of it gave Ethan the chills.
“Well, at least it’s not next to that damn forest,” he told his bird.
Mickey flew up onto his shoulder. “It’s fucking evil-looking,” he said.
“It was beautiful once,” Ethan replied softly. Beyond the nave of the church, whose double door entrance pointed directly south, there was a series of rooms probably designated for students in a church school. Towering above the building was a tall steeple that had a carved statue of a female winged angel on top.
On that night, when the moon was just a hair’s width from being full, it did not seem quite as dark as it could be. All the stained glass windows had flickering strobe lights illuminating the beautiful glassed windows from the other side and even from where Ethan was he could hear the sound of hip-hop music playing within.
Mickey pecked Ethan’s cheek gently. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I’ve been here before,” Ethan said softly and he shut his eyes.
* * *
Thomas Bartlett opened his eyes when his mother was done cleaning the bruise with a wet handkerchief. His father had given him an aggressive lesson in manners, one that both of his brothers and sisters seemed to find funny, but his mother had been horrified. Outside along the side of the Charlotte Street Church, she nursed him like he was a child even though he was seventeen.
“My poor, poor, boy,” she said sadly.
“I’m fine, Mother,” he said uncomfortably and he gave her a reassuring smile. “There is no need to worry about me.”
She looked down at him, still taller than he was, and looked very worried. Edwina Bartlett was a beautiful golden-haired woman with bright green eyes that matched the lovely green dress she had taken to her eldest son’s wedding. Her matching parasol was leaning as she tried to clean off Thomas’s eye.
“I worry about you and your father,” Edwina told him for what had to be the ten-thousandth time and she kissed him in the forehead. “A father and son should not hate each other so much.”
“I don’t hate him,” Thomas replied although he wasn’t sure that was the truth. He felt incredibly ridiculous and could not believe how all it started. He said two stupid comments and none of them were anything but the truth.
That morning his eldest brother Colonel Nathan Bartlett Jr., a graduate of United States Military Academy at West Point, was marrying a very beautiful, but moronic girl, named Anne Masterson. Thomas liked her physically, she was so absolutely stunning there was no way he could not, but she was also an idiot and mean to everyone, especially the servants at the Bartlett House.
She and his brother were a perfect match.
The first comment he had made was in response to a cousin who was sitting behind him during the services before their vows. A young woman of fifteen said in a hushed, unhappy tone to her fiancé, “He’s a Colonel in the army and if the war comes, my uncle, the captain, says he’ll be in charge of an entire regiment. I don’t know how that happened.”
Thomas leaned back and looked over his shoulder at her. “Cousin Felicity,” he whispered and she looked at him. “He’s a colonel because Father pulled strings.” His cousin and her fiancé smiled at each other, not liking Nathan Sr. or Jr. any more than Ethan did. “He was so stupid and riddled with demerits that even with Father’s connections he still ended up third from last in his class.”
His father made a loud humph sound from nearby and gave him such a look of venom that it was almost astounding. His younger brother John gave him a highly amused “you’re going to get it” look.
Thomas gave them a wide, smug smile in response and continued to watch the wedding with minimal interest.
It had been a rather boring affair. The gorgeous bride, all beautiful and perfect, her bridesmaids gorgeous, all gorgeous and sexy, the groom in his blue uniform of a colonel with his retinue of soldiers with shining swords and spiffy uniforms and the protestant minister all in black with his endless talk of God, love and commitment. Thomas could not wait for the painful spectacle to finally end so he could go fishing.
It did finally end, everyone cheering very loudly and proudly, and Thomas focused his eyes on the couple. The groom was a handsome, dashing fellow like his father with perfect gold hair and dark eyes, almost a perfect copy in body and personality, and was tall, of course. His wife was dressed in an elegant white gown that was infinitely more expensive and superior to the bridesmaids and the other women in the church. That was no surprise, as she would have thrown a near-psychotic fit if anyone had outdone her.
They immediately turned and faced the audience with wide smiles and they did look happy. Thomas would give them that.
The morning sun was shining through the windows where they were standing and one huge and strange stained glass window depicting angels and demons fighting each other had caught Thomas’s attention and seemed somehow very unpleasant. It clashed with the entire decor of the church.
The cheering died off and Thomas looked over at a beautiful red-haired bridesmaid: the Irishwoman Regan Kavanagh. She was pretty much the only person up there that he truly liked, as she was a stunningly beautiful and intelligent girl with long, slightly curly deep red hair, round green eyes and a body that was perfect in all ways. She was the singularly most gorgeous woman he had ever seen.
Minister Christopher Edwards stepped back to allow the couple to speak, a bizarre and secretive man in his early twenties with jet black hair combed straight back, icy blue eyes and very pale features. If there was one thing about that church Thomas genuinely disliked, it was Minister Edwards and although he never could pinpoint what it was that bothered him exactly, he remained always certain there was something deeply wrong with that man.
“My fellow countrymen,” Nathan Jr. said in the church that day and Thomas’s eyes turned to him, “The momentous issue of war may soon be upon us.”
It was the summer of 1855 and Thomas felt very much that war was inevitable.
Edwina was not taking it very well and was frightened right down to her core. She loved all of her children equally and deeply and very soon all three of her sons would be of military age.
“Let me put your fears to rest,” said Nathan Jr. “In my long training in the military—” Ethan laughed into his fist quietly and hid it under a cough “—I can tell you without question should this war, come it will not last for any longer than ninety days. If these farmers and so-called gentlemen rise up then we shall slam them down with the fury of righteous God. You fear for the lives of your loved ones but the only time a northern man will die is if the South learns how to fire backward as they flee for their lives.”
Everyone in the room had cheered him except Edwina, Thomas, Andrew O’Brien and his wife Ellen, who was only there with her husband and family for the sake of Thomas’s grandmother. Nathan Sr.’s sister never forgave him for the things he said to her husband or his attempts at derailing his business during its early stages.
Thomas and Andrew had shared a long, worried look with each other.
Nathan Sr. had sneered at Thomas when he saw the look he had and when they finally got out of the church, he pulled Thomas out behind the building where Edwina immediately went up in front of Nathan in hopes of calming him.
“How dare you hold me back and not him? Are you such a damned fool not to know who is to blame?” He always, and without fail, blamed his wife for any error he perceived in his children and, under no circumstances, would he accept anything to the contrary. He pushed her aside gently and turned to Thomas. “Who do you think you are, Thomas? I’ve given you everything and this how you repay me.”
“Actually, Grandmother has given me everything,” he replied with a smile and that was something his father did not like to be reminded of. That and the comment to Cousin Felicity were all it took.
Nathan punched him across the face almost as hard as he could and Thomas opened his mouth as if to cry out in agony but stopped himself. “No,” he said with a shrug. “Don’t feel it.” Nathan punched him in the stomach and Thomas took in a deep breath and looked up at him. “Father, have you considered asking Mother for help?” He punched him across the face again and Thomas just laughed.
At the edge of the building Thomas saw his siblings were all smirking at him; two boys, two girls and the new sister-in-law, all enjoying the show.
Edwina was a very sweet, gentle woman who did not know how to handle any kind of violence, most especially between her husband and her son.
Nathan turned to her and said bitterly, “Madam, you best correct your son or I will!” before he walked away in an angry huff. His children left with him.
“Why do you taunt him so?” asked Edwina as she reexamined his eye for the third time.
“I don’t know,” he replied earnestly. “Maybe it’s because I have something to prove.” Edwina kissed him on the cheek and then hugged him. “Are you worried about the war again?” he asked her when she did not let go.
“Yes!” she told him miserably.
“Mother, I’m going to West Point,” he told her. “It’s an incredibly fine school and I’ll be an officer upon graduation and considerably safer than the common soldier. You need not worry.” He said that with greater conviction than he felt in an attempt to comfort her. In truth, he didn’t want any part of the military or this oncoming war and only wanted to be a humble architect with enough spare time to focus on magic, fishing and family.
Her mother kissed him again on the forehead and Thomas’s embarrassment amplified tremendously because at that moment he saw Regan appear out from around the corner. Edwina saw her, bit her lip as she smiled and casually grabbed her parasol and left them alone.
Regan walked up to him and waited for Edwina to fully leave them alone before saying anything. Once gone she put her hands on her hips and frowned at him, her breasts held tightly enough inside of her corset dress to seemingly make them larger with each breath.
She was angry for some reason but then she was always angry. The two had grown up together in the Bartlett House and every time something remotely annoyed her she would come up to him and complain endlessly. Since she was so beautiful, he generally let her do it without complaint.
“Will you marry me?” he asked in the half-joke they used to make.
“No,” she said with a sneer.
Thomas’s face fell. She used to playfully tell him “no” with funny cute reasons pretending to be an English lady or a southern belle or something like that. “Did I do something to upset you?” he asked irritably.
She lowered her arms, surprised by his tone. “Did your father knock the gentleman out of you?”
Thomas sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Look, Regan, I don’t know why you’re mad or why you’re being so mean but can you please stop.” She frowned at him as if expecting him to say more and Thomas realized he finally had enough of her games. “Why don’t you want to marry me?” he asked earnestly.
She frowned darkly at him. “Maybe it’s because I want a man who is taller than I was when I was eight.”
Thomas felt extremely irritated but he had known the girl forever so he stepped forward and gently put his hands on her shoulders. He had done more with her before but he had always acted the gentlemen and not gone too far or would not have if the opportunity had ever come.
The moment his hands touched Regan, she slapped him across the face and she made sure it was very hard.
Thomas took a deep breath and took his hands off her shoulders. “Was that necessary?”
“How dare you tell your brother about me and Malcolm?” she hissed. “How dare you?”
“I didn’t tell anyone about that,” he told her. “He figured it out on his own or he tricked you into revealing it or, dare I say it, Malcolm Anderson might have just bragged about it to everyone.” That was exactly what happened actually and had Thomas gone out and told everyone right away, what he knew most would have already been informed. Malcolm Anderson was moderately less than the gentleman that he pretended to be.
“You are a liar, Thomas Bartlett,” she told him.
Thomas shook his head. “I can’t believe I let your beauty fool me this fucking long,” he said and her jaw just dropped. “I was your closest friend all our lives and you give yourself to Anderson! Anderson who is a well-known philanderer!” He scoffed. “And just because he’s pretty,” he added bitterly.
“That’s not true!”
“I told you, Regan. Everyone told you. You never listen to anyone and now you have no one to blame for your reputation but yourself.”
Regan slapped him again and that time she threw some nails into the swing in such a way that they sliced him across the face. “I hope this war comes and I hope you die in it!”
“Well, Regan, in the end, we all die,” he replied calmly. “It’s the final gift God gives us.”
* * *
“What was that look about?” asked Mickey.
Honestly, Ethan wasn’t sure. “I’ll tell you later,” he replied as he tossed his jacket into the car and felt extremely cold at forty-four degrees. “Go hunt something or something while I go inside,” he added as he put on his mask and Mickey happily did, flying off into the trees to look around for whatever he could find roaming around the church grounds.
Ethan shut the door and walked casually toward the church between the cars. Halfway there, a boy suddenly walked away from where his friends were leaning up against their cars and shoved up against him in an attempt to knock him down. Ethan saw it coming, pushed back, and nearly knocked him over as he casually passed him by.
“Hey watch your fucking ass, clown!” he cried out in an offended voice.
“You ran into me, cocksucker,” Ethan replied without looking.
The boy rushed upfront of him and moved up really close. He was dressed as a policeman complete with a jacket and helmet, a boy of maybe nineteen or twenty. “What the fuck do you think you are doing?” he asked.
Ethan shrugged, not caring, and tried to walk by but the boy moved in front of him again. “A problem, officer?” he asked with a sigh.
“You got one,” he said and all his friends, including several girls, smirked at Ethan. The boy gave a wide, smug smile and took off his helmet revealing his plain face fully with very dark hair sticking out in all directions. “A big one clown.”
“Are you a fucking retard?” he asked and the boy blinked in surprise. Ethan looked over at the girls all of which were nothing short of gorgeous. “Are any of you dumb enough to actually be dating this loser?”
“Fuck you,” said a very attractive blonde girl.
“Don’t you ever talk to my fucking woman like that,” said the boy in a dark, warning tone.
“Oh please, I was just going to ask her for a blowjob.” Ethan laughed when saw the man’s face shift to complete shock. “Oh, I’m sorry but were you trying to intimidate me?” Ethan laughed again, starting to enjoy himself. “You might want to work on this act just a little.”
The boy took a step forward and said, “Fuck you.”
“Oh my God!” cried Ethan. “What a genius retort; a fine intellectual statement; a veritable gem of higher thinking! You fucking Socrates, you!” Ethan could not believe how stupid the boy was and he could not stop finding amusement in the whole situation. “Wait a minute I’ve seen this before in 1993’s greatest film ever, Dazed and Confused.” He made his voice sound like the actor from the movie, Nikki Katt, which he only remembered because he always wanted to find someone willing to pick a fight with him for no reason. “‘I only came here to do two things, kick some ass and drink some beer. Looks like we're almost outta beer.’” He laughed again.
“I’m a motherfucking black belt, you piece of colored clown shit.”
“That one was pretty good actually.”
“Fuck you!” He sneered. “You want a piece of this, kid? You want to fight me?” He made some kind of martial arts move toward his face. Ethan knocked it casually aside and punched him square in the face. The boy stumbled back and fell over, all his friends startled into jaw-dropped silence. Ethan casually stepped forward and kicked him right in the crotch.
“So you’ll remember not to fuck with me again.” The boy then began to weep like a child. “Well don’t feel too bad,” Ethan added. “They say only the truly strong allow themselves to cry.”
Darcy came up behind Ethan wearing a long, elegant red cloak that matched her dress and laughed. “Well, if it is Mr. Tough Guy,” said she with a laugh. “Only you, Louis, would be stupid enough to pick a fight with Ethan Bartlett.”
“Who is this fucking idiot?” Ethan asked.
“Louis Wellington IV,” she told him. “I guess this his way of saying thank you for saving his cousins’ life.”
“You’re Ethan Bartlett?” asked the girl who had said, “Fuck you” and Ethan took off his mask. Her jaw just dropped in surprise. “We didn’t know it was you.”
“Obviously, you’re as reckless as your boyfriend,” he replied.
Ethan held out his arm and Darcy took it casually and the two stepped over the weeping Louis and walked up to the church. “What a fucking loser,” she said before he was even out of earshot.
“You’re a pretty hard woman, Darcy,” Ethan told her.
“I judge him no differently than he judges others. It’s not my fault he can’t take his own medicine and weeps like a sissy-bitch when he tries.” Darcy stopped at the entrance to the nave and smiled cutely at him. “Well, I’ve got to go explore the graveyard alone tonight on a bet and take some pictures.”
“I’m going to go inside and find Claire,” he replied.
“Well good luck,” said Darcy. “Enjoy having your heart ripped out.” She smiled. “If you ever do dump her and I’m still single do come and find me.”
“You got it,” he replied earnestly as he reached for the door and then as his hands touched the handles he noticed something coiled at the ground. It was a coiled bunch of chains that had once been wrapped through the hoops of the door but now had been cut. “Wild,” he said.
“Sluts!” called Darcy and Ethan looked over to see Lana and four of her friends. There was his cousin Lucy dressed as a green fairy, that Hispanic friend dressed as a sexy Spanish noblewoman from the renaissance period, Trisha dressed sadly in a dog suit, and a girl he didn’t know who was equally as beautiful as the more attractive members but in a kind of dirty way. She was a tall, highly endowed girl, dressed in a low-cut black top and a short black skirt both so skimpy that they almost screamed slut. Her blond-brown hair was made out to some kind of sexy punk look but it barely registered.
They all disappeared from sight except for Lana who stayed behind long enough to let Ethan examine her sexy witch costume with its black corset pushing up her breasts, which were further emphasized by a small medallion with a pentagram on it, her tight short red skirt and the pointed black hat with a red band around her waist. She walked backward, gave Ethan a wide, smug smile, curtsied in a way that let him look down her top and then vanished off around the corner of the church where Thomas Bartlett and his father had over a century before.
Darcy started after them looking rather angry. “I’ll see you later, Ethan,” she said as she disappeared around a corner.
“They’re fucking cunts, aren’t they?” said a voice when she was gone.
Ethan turned around to see a very attractive, green-eyed girl with light brown hair with large natural curls leaning up against the wall to his right. She was dressed as a sexy witch as well, her outfit almost identical to Lana’s except the hat and the corset were white and the skirt and hatband were a light gray. She was more endowed and used that to her advantage. She also let a single lock of her hair hang down past her eyes to rest against her right breast in a method of drawing attention to it.
“Angela Anderson,” she said and she smiled. “You hate her, right? Lana, not Darcy.”
“I dislike her. Hate is something I save for someone closer to my equal.”
“Good because she’s like totally mind-blowingly sexually attracted to you.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“You don’t want her?”
“She’s a fucking bitch so no.” He looked at Angela for a few moments. “Are you related to that other Anderson?”
“The one you shot in the balls? He’s actually my brother but he deserved it for starting a fight with you. I mean, come on, everyone just saw you and Johnny beat the shit of a giant blue man and he wants us to believe he fought you off in self-defense? The little bitch cried the last time he got a bee sting.”
“I see.” Ethan opened the doors and the music became loud. “Well, I’ve got to go now, Angela.”
“You know,” said Angela loudly over the music, “If you had sex with me it would really piss Lana off.” She stared at him for a long moment, her lips curled up into a half-smile, and Ethan decided she wasn’t serious but even if she was, it wouldn’t be worth it. That kind of girl always led to trouble.
“Whatever,” he replied and she laughed as he slipped into the nave of the church.
It was incredibly dark in there, strobe lights illuminating the entire room, and all around the people were wearing glowing neon necklaces of various colors. The pews were gone and the musical equipment was toward the back where the altar had used to be, making the nave a makeshift dance floor where Ethan saw people packed together in highly sexualized positions. The back left corner contained at least six kegs with a foldout table full of empty Styrofoam cups and snacks and along both sides of the nave were portable electric heaters people had brought in to warm up the place.
Angela came up from behind, threw her arms around his torso, and kissed him on the side of his neck below his chin. “I love you, Ethan Bartlett,” she told him and she giggled, stepped back out and shut the door behind herself.
“Weird chick,” he said to himself and then he quickly put her out of his mind and examined the people in front of him. He was surprised to find that almost all of the costumes worn by women at that party flaunted their sexuality, losing cuteness for sexiness almost entirely, and the ones that were dancing were practically making love to their partner through their clothes as they moved up against each other. “Exactly when did Halloween turn into such a fucking orgy?” he asked himself and then he saw Claire in the back.
She looked gorgeous beyond words, dressed as a pre-Civil War Southern belle, and was talking to a herd of teenage boys from a chair not far from the kegs. Her outfit was a deep, dark blue dress that was low cut low over the breasts, a method of costume design that no pretty girl had so far failed to utilize, with a matching hat held on by a blue ribbon tied under her chin. The bottom of that ribbon rested pleasantly over her breasts drawing the eye to them in a manner very similar to Angela Anderson.
Ethan slipped across the floor, some people giving him strange looks as he moved too close to their dancing, and stopped right in front of her with his mask held out in his left hand. “Baby,” he said and she looked up at him. “Oh fuck me in the ass, it’s totally true.” He somehow saw it on her face. No guilt, which made him sad, but there was some kind of worry as if she felt he might get angry over something that he wouldn’t like but she thought simply trivial. With that, he then knew that everything Darcy had told him about her was true.
“Yes,” Claire told him. “I have a boyfriend—”
Ethan felt the feeling he had for her vanish in an utter instant and it did not ever come back. Claire gasped, sensing it as he had, and did not like it. “Okay, cool,” he replied simply.
“Yeah, it’s cool,” he told her and he laughed. “I mean, you’re kind of a bitch, but it’s okay. Claire—” he laughed and shook his head in immense relief “—good luck with ‘Bryce Cunningham’.” He turned around and ran almost straight into another girl.
She was a very pretty blonde with a less than pretty brunette beside her. She was built like a model, kind of tall with slender, petite and perfect features and the girl beside her was just enough like her to be her sister but wasn’t even close to as pretty. The blonde was dressed as a playboy bunny and her sister was dressed as a petite angel.
“Bryce Cunningham is a man with a future and he doesn’t have to kill things for a living,” said the blonde. “They say he’s distantly related to the Bushes, as in the two ex-presidents, and he is just fabulously handsome as well as connected and ludicrously wealthy.”
“Related to George W. Bush,” Ethan said as if in thought and then he added sarcastically, “Well, then I guess we have a whole lot to thank him for.” He held out his hand. “Ethan Bartlett.”
“Buffy Burns—” Ethan took her hand and listened to her squeak when he squeezed it painfully tight “—Ethan—ow! Ethan, let go of my hand!” She looked up into his cold, hard eyes. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“Do you think I’m a total idiot, Buffy?” He laughed and repeated “Buffy” to himself and waited. “I’m asking you because I want an answer,” he said after a moment.
“I don’t know!” When she tried to pull her hand away, he squeezed even tighter. “Let go!”
“Pierce Pennington is your boyfriend.” Her eyes went wide with worry. “That is what I thought. I mean there aren’t a whole lot of sexy flat blond chicks that would stab me in the side for that asshole so I think maybe his sexy flat blond girlfriend would be my top suspect. Now admit it or I’ll break your fucking hand.”
Claire bit her lip and looked nervously at the two of them. “Ethan—”
“Shut up, Claire.”
“I thought you were going to hurt him!” Buffy squeaked and then when he yanked her close some people turned and looked at them. “Please don’t hurt me!” she whispered into his ear.
“It’s because of you I ended up nearly castrating your friend Anderson and scarring Wellington’s face.” She looked up at him with a scared expression on her face. “Buffy,” he told her, “I am not the kind of guy you go stabbing in the street. If I ever get the chance to make you sorry—” he twisted her wrist almost hard enough to sprain it “—I will.” He smiled unpleasantly and let go.
She clutched her hand painfully against herself, a nasty red bruise around where he grabbed her, and quickly moved away with her sister. Some of the girls around her gave him identical dirty looks, which he completely ignored. “I’m not flat!” she cried at him angrily.
“Was that necessary?” asked Claire.
Claire stared at him unhappily. “What’s just happened? Something has changed in you. I can feel it.”
“Can you really?” he replied sarcastically.
“Please don’t be mad at me, Ethan.”
He turned to face her and said, “How in the world could I possibly be mad? You tossed me over, yes, but it was for the great Bryce Cunningham, heir to the Cunningham fortune. Good looking, plays polo, knows a lot about the ladies but when he marries that’ll all change. He’ll settle down, raise a family, and show you the love you’ve always been looking for.”
“Don’t judge him without knowing him,” she said sadly. “It’s an incredibly good connection with my family. Also, Cousin Robert thinks—”
“The one who hates me? He’d have you marry Ike Turner if it meant screwing me over.” He held up his right hand when she moved to respond. “It’s fine, Claire. Do what you want. You always have.”
Claire swallowed and continued to look sadly at him.
“What do you want from me? It’s not my heart so what the fuck is it?”
Claire bit her lower lip still looking sad. “You’ve changed.”
“God how they pegged you right,” he said as he walked around her through an open door into the hall leading through the back of the church. “And to think,” he added to himself. “I could have banged a smoking hot Bellator woman if it wasn’t for this whole fucking thing.”
He walked into a small room on the left and found himself smiling. It was just a small storage room containing some of the heavier stuff for the nave, which included the very same altar that had once stood behind Nathan Bartlett Jr. as he married Anne Masterson. As he leaned up against it, arms crossed, he wondered for a moment just why it was still there and not taken off to serve in some other church.
Then he put it out of his mind, dropped his mask on top of the altar and cast his Speak with Familiar spell. Orange mist formed out of his hands like air being cooled and soon formed into the shape of his bird sitting casually on a tree branch. “Hey Ethan, what’s up?” asked Mickey.
“I just got over my girl problem,” he replied. “Can you go find Darcy for me? She should be out at the graveyard taking pictures.”
“Sure. Hunting’s no good around here anyway. All the animals seem to be avoiding this place.”
“It’s the weirdest damn thing but I get a most severely fucked up feeling being around this place. It’s just—creepy.” He shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Well, tell Darcy if you see her that I’m heading out to find her,” Ethan told him. Then he uncast the spell and watched it fade quickly as Mickey flew off the branch. “Good times,” he added but he found he felt rather hollow.
The loss of whatever it was that he had with Claire Le Sueur left an empty hole inside of him. He definitely felt like himself again but it was only then that he recalled that it was not such a good feeling.
Johnny Le Sueur stepped into the room and shut the door after. “Hello Ethan,” he said.
“Come to gloat then? Your cousin went off and fucked some other guy and you want to let me know about it? Okay, so who is Bryce Cunningham anyway? A part-time Calvin Klein model billionaire with a thirteen-inch dick who gives Claire endless orgasms and the solid promise of monogamy?”
Johnny took off the exaggerated French hat and shook his head. “No, not really,” he told him tiredly.
Ethan then noticed something. “That is a real sword? Why is everyone carrying real swords around here?”
Johnny put his hat on the altar and rested his left hand on the pommel of his blade. It wasn’t a threatening gesture. It was just a casual thing that swordsmen did when they were armed, Ethan included. “I guess someone told you about Bryce then.”
“You sound almost sorry,” said Ethan.
“This may shock you, Ethan, but I genuinely care about my cousin.”
“Well, thanks to your family, I’ve had nothing to do with her one way or another so why exactly should I care?”
“I was honestly surprised you were so loyal to her,” Johnny told him. “Darcy’s been telling me you were extremely hooked on her and it’s been made clear she’s fond of you yet you’ve avoided her for Claire.”
“Well, it’s all over now, Johnny. I’m not interested in your cousin anymore.” Ethan looked at his unhappy expression for a moment. “Bryce Cunningham is a cocksucker, isn’t he?” Johnny sighed and Ethan saw the truth in his eyes. “Well, son a bitch. Whose brilliant idea was it for that coupling?”
“Whose do you think?”
“Your wonderful Uncle Robert, mayhap,” Ethan replied and then shrugged. “Look,” he said, “You’re the smartest and strongest of these preppy assholes, Johnny, and that’s good enough to know that I can’t help her. You told me with no uncertainty to stay away from the women in your family and now it’s goddamn best I obey. I should have listened to you from day one because, frankly, I really don’t need this shit in my life. I have no problems with my own family with adding yours into the mix.”
“He’s already cheating on her,” Johnny told him. “You care about her and you didn’t cheat on her, not even when you didn’t think the relationship was fully for real. You two have something amazing with each other. Darcy saw it and she never lies.”
“Had,” he replied and he grabbed his mask. “That boat has sailed and she’s not interested and neither am I. I’m even less interested in being her rebound choice.”
“She’s in love with you,” Johnny told him. “Uncle Robert pushed that relationship on her.”
“Johnny,” Ethan replied, “I’m not a moron when it comes to women despite what people might think. Claire is not weak. If she was, I could believe that, but she’s simply not. She’s not afraid of your uncle because she knows he has no power over her. All your wealth and power is situated in the Louisiana branch of your family and there is no way in hell the head of your family is going to take your New England uncle’s side over his sister’s southern-born granddaughter over anything.”
“She made a logical, thoughtful, untainted choice to fuck around on me despite what we both were feeling suspecting that at any time things didn’t go too smoothly she would simply have me waiting at the end like some kind of fucking sucker.” Ethan shook his head. “I’m not the forgiving type just because I was born some form of Christian in my two past lives.”
Johnny’s face was extremely hard to read but it was clear that his comment was confusing.
“You’re a good man, Johnny, and I even kind of like you.” Ethan went over to the door, opened it and looked back. “It’s probably some kind of great shame we’re going to inevitably end up as enemies but I think that’s just what’s going to happen.” Ethan stepped out of the room and instantly a hand came out and grabbed his arm. “What the hell?”
Priscilla Pennington smiled cutely up at him and pulled him away. “Follow me,” she told him as she yanked him farther into the back rooms.
“Sure, why not?” he replied with a shrug.
* * *
Buffy Burns, her younger sister Kristie, and three other friends; Maria Michaelides, Nora Tan and Jenny Le Sueur who was Johnny’s younger sister, watched Ethan slip down into the back rooms of the church with Priscilla Pennington.
“I was really hoping Johnny would kick the shit out of him,” said Buffy bitterly.
“He’s just worried about his cousin,” said Nora dreamily. Nora was, like many girls including Buffy herself, secretly in love with Johnny Le Sueur. Unlike most, she wasn’t very good at hiding it, which made it very clear to Buffy and pretty much anyone else with half-a-brain. She was a slender, boyish-figured Chinese girl dressed as a 1920s flapper, which was a great fit for her because the fashion of that era was pretty much matched to her body type. “He still single?”
“Yeah but he’s not interested in you,” said Buffy.
Nora scoffed. “Yeah whatever, bitch,” she replied.
Buffy slipped into the back rooms of the church after Ethan with her group following and almost instantly became lost. The back contained a series of rooms once used for schools if the stories were to be believed but almost no one ever had the nerve to go back there. It was somehow scarier than the rest of the place and the girl she saw dressed like the ghost from the Grudge films moving through the hall with her long, silky hair hanging down over her face was not helping.
“Weak ass costume,” said Buffy as she disappeared down another hall out of sight.
“What is?” asked Kristie.
“Why are we back here exactly?” asked Nora.
“I—” Buffy suddenly realized she didn’t honestly know. She rubbed her hurt hand and wondered just what had inspired her to move into the worst part of that church at night, a part that, though she denied it aloud, absolutely terrified her. “I guess I—” The answer simply did not come.
Jenny Le Sueur moved up beside her. “Seriously, Buffy?” Jenny asked nervously, dressed as some kind of ancient Greek woman, sleeveless and sexy in a white robe with one of those leaf crowns they wore. She was as pretty as her brother but, like Nora, was too scrawny although she still managed to be at least a little curvy at the chest level.
“I—I really don’t know.” She went over to the window and saw the most unlikable girl she had ever met in her life, Lana Creed, rushing out of the graveyard alone. She looked terrified, rushing at full speed across the side of the church when suddenly two boys appeared and grabbed her. They both looked extremely pale, dressed like vampires she guessed, wearing old-style letterman jackets from Bay City High School, which she only knew because she recognized their colors, dark purple with green sleeves, and then they dragged her into the trees.
A moment later, Darcy Hamilton appeared holding some kind of sharp and pointed cross that looked like it was ripped from a tombstone. Ethan’s bird landed on her shoulder, said something to her, and she quickly rushed in the direction of the boys in letterman jackets with his bird flying up above them.
“That was kind of weird,” she said.
Kristie moved up beside her, having seen it all. “Darcy is so bold—”
“Who the fuck asked you, Ugly?” she snarled her sister.
Kristie lowered her head, injured and hurt as always by Buffy’s personal nickname for her. “I’m sorry,” she told Buffy unhappily.
Patricia Pennington, Priscilla’s identical twin sister and Buffy’s best friend, came into the room where they were dressed almost flawlessly as Audrey Hepburn from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. “Buffy,” she said. “Are you looking for Ethan Bartlett, my sister or what?”
Buffy smiled in relief. “That’s why I came in here,” she said but found herself unsure whether she fully believed it or not. It would have probably been much easier, or at the very least much more comforting, to have simply waited for Ethan to leave. “He’s probably raping your sister right now,” she added.
“He wouldn’t have to,” Patty replied. “She’s way into him.”
Buffy walked over to Patty and said, “You three go find him and call me when you do. I’ll take Patty and go in a different direction.” She immediately took Patty with the intention of going back to the party in the nave and let the other three go off to find what she felt was unlikely to be anything of importance. Patty though, always braver and more eager for adventure, didn’t want to go back and since Buffy didn’t want her to know how scared she was, she resigned herself to searching back through the church classrooms.
The two groups had gone in two different directions and found very different things.
* * *
“Are you flirting with me, Pennington?” asked Ethan.
“Look,” she said, “I know we didn’t get along at first.” Ethan was amused and raised his eyebrows. “Look, can you really blame me for thinking you were a bastard after knowing the rest of your family my whole life. Your cousin was my boyfriend but the asshole cheated all the time.”
“I’m not surprised.”
“With Lana Creed.”
“I’m even less surprised,” he added. “So what was the deal with your bother attacking me on Worthington Street?”
“I’m sorry but I had nothing to do with that and—what’s wrong?”
Ethan had an ugly, piercing and almost indefinable magical pain at the back of his mind. He cast Sense Magic and immediately saw black waves of ugly magic floating all around him like an evil mist. “Oh, that’s not good.”
“What is it?” asked Priscilla.
“Waves of black magic are flowing through the walls of this place all around us. We should not only not have a party here but the building probably should have been demolished and the ground salted.”
“Yeah,” she agreed and looked around the schoolroom they were in, still complete with tables and chairs from the 1800s although most were just in piles after having fallen apart naturally. “It’s got a bad history.”
“What do you know about the 1800s incident?”
“Rumor has it was originally closed down in the 1800s because the priest attempted some kind of satanic sacrifice,” she said. “That’s just a rumor but in 1986 there was that other party here.”
“The axe-fest,” Ethan said and he leaned down toward a still complete table and blew a giant amount of dust anywhere. “Something scares people off,” he said. “Kids, for example, don’t come around to break shit like they normally would.” He looked over and saw some kind of chalice on a shelf. “No one took that either. It might be solid silver.”
“I kind of doubt that,” she replied.
“Some hobo or kid would have still tried,” he replied and tapped on the table and it collapsed. “Animals and people avoid this place like the plague except for tonight.”
“Yeah, it’s strange. This place used to give me serious creeps and yet now I’m completely unafraid. I guess I’m growing up.”
Ethan looked around at the mist closely and saw it was moving around her head in an odd halo-like fashion. “Yeah, I really don’t that’s it exactly.”
“There you are, asshole,” said Buffy as she entered the room.
“Buffy, Patty, kindly fuck off,” said Priscilla irritably.
“This guy is a fucking asshole!” said Buffy. “Stay away from him!”
“Is that a command, Burns?” Ethan could see the two of them seriously hated each other yet the other one, Patty, despite obviously being Priscilla’s identical twin, seemed to find the whole thing immensely entertaining.
“I think I’m going to go exploring now,” said Ethan.
“Yeah, fine, fuck off!” cried Buffy.
Ethan sighed, turned to her, and said, “If you don’t want your face to look like Peter Wellington’s you won’t ever try that alpha female move with me again.”
“You don’t have the—” Ethan jerked suddenly, the magical pain in his head suddenly stabbing him “—are you okay—”
“Yeah, I’m just flipping fucking fantastic!” Ethan retorted.
The shadows in the place had instantly become weaker as if they were focused somewhere else, and the shift that caused it came so suddenly that it created that burst of pain in Ethan’s head. He looked around, a single line of moonlight stretching across his eyes, and said, “Something is happening here.”
“What happened exactly?” asked Priscilla.
“I don’t know exactly,” he replied but what he did know was that it was something bad. He stepped out of the room and began to look around.
* * *
In another room Kristie, Nora and Jenny all heard a boom sound that had made them jump almost out of their skin.
“What the hell was that?” cried Jenny.
All three of them were suddenly hit with a powerful headache and then, weirdly, they found themselves walking toward the back at the classroom even as they clutched their heads. They looked around for the tiny explosion and found that they almost immediately understood came from a large and harmless-looking wooden desk.
Jenny looked at the desk first, Nora second and Kristie third and the most reluctantly.
“Funny prank,” said Nora nervously and they all looked at each other. “I guess?” she added with a shrug.
They were all terrified but for some reason, none of them were able to stop themselves from staring down at the small black jewel case sitting in the open desk drawer seemingly untouched by dust. It seemed almost instantly that the fear they felt seemed to vanish at the sight of such a treasure and Jenny immediately grabbed it and showed the others. “Oh my God,” she whispered softly.
There were three beautiful rings in the black case each made from intricate gold bands with a single gem on the top. One gem was a ruby, another emerald, and the last a blue sapphire. “Why do I feel so damn comf—” Kristie blinked “—where did the rings just go.”
They looked around, unable to see them, looked back at the empty case and then, in unison looked at each other. Then, in one slow motion, all raised up their left hands.
One of the rings had found its way on each of their left hands’ middle fingers. It absolutely terrified Kristie but, at the same time, she found herself in a calmness that felt so unnatural she wondered if she had been somehow been drugged.
“Wow,” said Nora as she looked at the blue sapphire on her finger.
“They’re so beautiful,” added Kristie as she looked at the emerald on hers.
Too bad you’re not, said a voice and they all shrieked and turned around to see ghosts standing all around them: three dead girls glowing red, blue or green and all transparent. Kristie knew instantly where they came from: three of the dead girls from the 1986 party. The red one was a skinny-looking girl dressed as a ballerina, the blue one was an incredibly overweight girl dressed as a pumpkin and the red one was an incredibly plain girl dressed as Princess Leia from episode four of Star Wars. Don’t you worry, Kristie, said Leia. I’m going to fix that up right now.
Kristie felt something happening, something she could not fully comprehend mentally, but instinct led her to look down at her left hand. The flesh inside of it was shifting around but while almost completely painless, she found her mind imagining that there were hundreds of cockroaches moving about under her skin moving her skin around like a thin layer of carpet. She began to shriek and then, as it began moving up quickly from her hand up her arm and into the rest of her body, she began to shriek louder. Her screams were echoed by the others.
They ran from the room in horror but when Kristie tried to do the same, her legs didn’t work.
The blue and red ghosts followed the others leaving Kristie alone with the green ghost who she could feel but not see anymore. You’ll thank me for this, Kristie.
“What are you doing to me?” she cried as she felt the shifting flesh everywhere.
I’m just getting what I’ve paid for.
Kristie’s hips suddenly pushed out against her costume as her waist sunk in with a horrific yet painless sensation that reminded her of the feeling that came from having her broken arm being set after being drugged numb. Her vision blurred for a second and when it cleared, the classroom she was in suddenly looked brand new.
“Oh shit!” she squeaked and she found herself stumbling away completely out of control through the halls until she found herself in some side room somewhere where there was a mirror. She stared into her shifting face in shock-horror and shrieked at the top of her lungs.
“Quiet,” said a voice but it sounded different, more alive, and somehow that killed the scream in her throat.
She turned suddenly from panicked to stunned when she saw her face was becoming very attractive and sexy but was still very much her own. She looked almost exactly like her mother, the genetics of her body seemingly unchanged, and then she saw her breasts push up against her angel custom as they grew several cup sizes like an inflating balloon.
Her own hand shot up and grabbed her by the throat tightly, startling her back into silence. “I said ‘shut the fuck up’!” hissed the ghost and to Kristie’s horror, she realized it had been spoken using her own mouth.
* * *
“I need my brother!” cried Jenny as she maneuvered through what felt like a giant maze of pristine brand-new classrooms. Johnny would help her: he never failed to help her when she needed him to.
Something suddenly happened to her legs and she fell to the floor. She looked back and saw her thin stick-like right leg grow shapely, muscular and strong and she let out a cry of horror. The feeling in her leg was matched all over her body.
“Oh my—oh God—”
“I was promised a strong and perfect body,” said the ghost from somewhere. “I would never be weak or mocked or disliked again. This is the body that all women envy and all men want. This is what I was promised.”
“God, get out of my head!” Jenny shrieked.
“It’s too late for that,” said the ghost sadly. “It could have all worked out before you know, everything, and no one would have gotten hurt except John Bartlett but then they came and ruined everything.” Jenny felt her back straighten and her hands move up to her face. “You have your mother’s beauty. I admired her so much.”
Jenny couldn’t move or even speak anymore. Oh no, no, no! she screamed in her mind.
“Oh yes,” said the ghost with her voice but she sounded almost pityingly sad.
* * *
Ethan saw that Asian friend of Buffy’s stumble across his path. His eyes were immediately drawn to her hand where he saw the waves of black magic flying around and into a ring placed on her middle finger on her left hand. “I’d take that off if I were—”
She jerked toward him and for an instant, he saw both the girl and an overweight transparent girl colored blue dressed as a pumpkin standing superimposed over her, her eyes boiling over with deep rage. “You shut your motherfucking mouth!” the Asian girl’s body cried at him in unison with the ghosts’ lips and then her almond eyes narrowed, matching the ghost’s expression, but was focused onto someone behind him. “Who the fuck are you?”
Ethan looked over his shoulder to see a woman dressed in a long, white kimono, her hands hidden inside, with straight, silky black hair hanging down over her face covering it completely.
It was just some girl dressed as the ghost from The Grudge.
Ethan turned back and saw the Asian girl vanishing into a room ahead of him. He followed after only to find himself in a room with a winding staircase upward, one door to the right, one door to the left, the door he entered from behind and no girl.
A second later heard a creak above him and knew which way she had gone.
* * *
Nora only knew that she had seen the Woman in White and then became single-mindedly determined in getting as far away from her as humanly possible. Panic filled her like an overpowering drug although she was dimly aware it was making the blue ghost extremely angry.
“Damn you!” cried the ghost with a very real voice. Nora felt her hands grab onto a wall somewhere and she shrieked in horror because she had not been the one to move them. She spun around the corner and wandered into some room somewhere that looked like a bedroom. “Haley gets to be a sexy brunette, Nel gets to be a Le Sueur girl but I get to be a lunatic chink!”
Nora felt her head force itself up to look into the mirror and to her surprise, her face was becoming prettier, almost to that of a model’s face, and yet it was still very clearly hers somehow. She was reminded of those Chinese models in magazines her uncle always read and felt suddenly certain Johnny couldn’t ignore her anymore.
Then she remembered the Woman in White and she fell back into blind panic again. She threw herself against this control to get away, got about a foot, and then jerked back.
“Goddamn it!” shrieked the ghost in rage. “We’re not done yet, bitch, so stop moving!” Nora felt her hips push out against her flapper costume and cried out in shock more than horror.
“What the hell is—” Nora’s eyes went wide as she felt her small breasts push out against her costume as they began to grow. She was so stunned by what she saw she lost track of any kind of coherent thought.
“I was supposed to get a perfect body!” hissed the ghost. “That means more than just being skinny, bitch!” Nora forced control a bit, her arms swinging around wildly, but then she almost fell over. The ghost regained control of her and slammed her hands flat down on the wall again. “You stupid, stupid chink bitch!” she cried.
“What the fuck are you doing to me?” Nora bent over and she saw through the mirror down her own blouse to see not just bigger than small breasts but D-sized breasts: bigger than most girls and absolutely perfect. She jerked her head over her shoulder, nearly spraining her neck somehow, and looked down to see a perfect matching backside.
I look like Salma Hayek, she thought to herself as her mind drifted about to the actresses she had always envied physically. She had gone from being a very boyish girl lacking all physical femininity to becoming the complete physical opposite.
“I really don’t know who that is,” said the ghost.
Nora pulled her hands free of control again, squeezed her breasts, and found they were real. “This is some kind of dream—” she shrieked as her left hand grabbed her hair, yanked her sideways for a few feet, and then back.
“Did I give you permission to touch my breasts, you fucking cunt!” cried the ghost.
Nora leaned back onto the wall in front of the mirror and felt herself blacking out. She looked into her reflection, saw her lips curl up into a smile, and didn’t even have a moment to scream before everything went dark.
* * *
“What a fucking bitch,” groaned Tiffany as she leaned down onto the rotting wall covered in sweat. She smiled when she saw that it was rotting and old and that she could feel it with real and living hands. Another moment of staring into that artificial middle of day timeless nineteenth-century church would drive her insane. “Oh my God, what a fucking nightmare.”
Tiffany wrapped her arms around her slender, fatless Asian body that had become exactly as her old body had been promised to become and let out a sigh of relief. She looked into the mirror, able to see her reflection through the grime just enough to see those sexy Asian eyes, full pouting lips, and elegant cheekbones.
Will you please stop gawking at yourself and get down here, said Haley through the mind channel they stilled shared.
Great, Tiffany replied miserably. I’m still going to have to spend eternity with your dumbass in my mind, aren’t I?
Just shut the fuck up and get down here!
Tiffany looked at her reflection again, made a few sexy faces with her new Asian face and then looked at her large new breasts, which were almost exposed due to the dress being far too small.
“Perfect,” she said and then opened the door to almost run face-first into that asshole clown from downstairs.
* * *
“Like what you see,” the girl asked, putting her hands on her hips and thrusting her large breasts up at him.
“Correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t you, not have those before?” Ethan found himself in a bit of quandary. He suspected she was being possessed or mentally controlled and that made him rather uncertain of what his next move should be. He had never experienced anything remotely like this and these situations told by hunters usually ended up as horror stories.
The girl looked into his face for a few moments and then tapped her fingers on her hips a few times. “You look a whole lot like John Bartlett.”
“I’m Ethan Bartlett. John’s not here.”
“Of course he’s not here,” she replied with a smile. “I slit his throat and threw his body in the basement. It’s still down there.”
“Who are you?” he asked.
“What year is this? That music sounds really awful.”
“Who are you?”
“Who am I?” She smiled, put her hands on his chest and then blinked in surprise. She felt the contours of his chest and let out a breath of air, her eyes filled with awe. She had the look of a girl experiencing arousal for the very first time. “You’re so well built.” She swallowed and looked up into his eyes. “So, Ethan Bartlett, what is your next move?”
“I’m not really sure,” Ethan replied and he very gently wrapped his fingers over her left hand over the ring.
She hissed and shot a spell at his face. Ethan knocked her arm aside before the spell formed and the extremely powerful blue-colored magic shot past his head and went into the wall behind him. On impact, the first layer of the stone surface shattered into a thousand pieces and threw dust and debris into his back.
He only understood that it was some kind of transformation spell and that it made a kind of sense that when it hit something it wasn’t designed for, it caused an explosion.
The girl shoved him away with both hands, sending him backward into the hall’s wall, and then she cast another spell which Ethan dodged by leaping to the left out of the hallway. The girl shrieked as debris from her spell hit the wall and sent another explosion of debris right back into her face.
It was very much like Agatha on the tower. The spells she was casting were extremely powerful but she was far from skillful.
She stepped out, turned toward him and started casting spells as she started to back down the hall. He parried them as they came and the possessed girl was getting angrier and tired. It was easier to parry than to cast and the body.
Her spells went everywhere but at Ethan and as he parried her attacks, she moved suddenly closer in hopes that closing the distance would help her get through his defenses. The walls, ceiling, and floor were exploding all around them, dust filling the moonlit room, and a door that was hit, broke into a hundred pieces and a large round window at the back shattered into a thousand.
“You stupid, stupid hedge mage!” cried the girl, completely covered in sweat, when she stopped. Her flapper’s outfit was clinging to her body, her long, silky black hair undone and hanging down past her shoulders while clinging to her face and neck, and her stolen almond eyes were blazing with rage. “Why won’t you just fucking die already?”
“You can’t keep this up forever,” he told her and he took a step toward her.
“Yes, I fucking can!” she screamed and she cast something else toward the right.
An unbroken door turned bright blue, broke from its hinges, and then shot across the room at Ethan. Ethan cast his Magic Shield spell on his right arm, turned around, and embraced for impact. The door hit him and shattered while her next spell shot right into his orange shield a second later, shattered it like thin glass, and sent him flying away down the hall.
He spun around a bit as went flying, landed on his back, and the ground broke away below. He fell for a single floor, hit the first floor below, and then fell through that floor into darkness. He landed on something hard another’s floor worth of distance and there he stopped.
It was pitch black down there but something soft, like mud, had somehow saved his back from being broken although everything else hurt. He looked up weakly to see the possessed Asian girl looking down at him from the second floor of the church, illuminated by moonlight, and then with a half-smile, half-sneer she vanished.
Buffy, Patty and Priscilla appeared on the floor below and looked down into the dark. “What the hell was that?” cried Buffy.
“Just me and gravity,” Ethan hacked out, none of the light coming close to reaching him, and he slipped his hand into his clown suit, which had been half torn off from the fall, and found a Heal potion. “Good times,” he said weakly as he drank it and felt his body heal itself.
“Ethan?” asked Priscilla. “Are you okay?”
“Now this is a fucking party!” he said as he stood up. He looked up at them for a moment, turned and felt his blood turn to ice.
The two purple eyes from the Cave of Blue Light were staring at him from less than ten feet away out in the darkness. He could see nothing of what they were connected to but he sensed whatever its body was, it was something very large and very bulbous. When his eyes adjusted to the dark, he felt as if he could see just the tips of its form but he still had no idea what it could possibly be.
Then the eyes turned away and he heard countless unpleasant tap-scrapes on stone as it went deeper into the darkness away from him. That darkness seemed to go on for a long time because those scrapes seemed to go on forever before they vanished from his hearing.
Ethan did not think it left him alone and felt almost certain it was still out there somewhere in that darkness, possibly still watching him.
He cast his Torch spell and a circle of white light filled up two-dozen-feet in diameter of space. His eyes went wide as he noticed there were actually a half dozen human bodies sprawled all around him in the mud, all turned to moss-covered skeletons after being down there for so long. Their clothes were almost completely gone but some of them still had enough fabric remaining to show that they wore Halloween costumes.
“What are those things down there?” asked Priscilla.
“Nothing,” he replied and he lowered his light to hide them from her. “Nothing at all.”
* * *
“What the hell happened to you?” asked Nel when she saw Tiffany appear in the storage room in her new Asian body covered in debris and sweat.
“Shut up, Nel,” said Tiffany and she frowned at all of them.
“So,” said Haley, “Do you mind telling us what the fuck you were doing up there?”
Tiffany put her hands on her hips and said, “I ran into a goddamn Bartlett but then I sent him to Hell where he belongs.”
There was a moment’s pause and then they looked closely at each other. The bargain had been finally fulfilled, thanks to that blonde bitch, although Haley doubted their competitors would be very pleased with that if they knew of it. Haley and Tiffany were both ecstatic but for some reason, Nel didn’t look very happy.
“What’s eating you?” Haley asked her.
“I didn’t really want to hurt anyone,” she replied sadly.
“It’s not like we were given a whole lot of choices here,” Tiffany replied simply.
Haley took a good long look at their new bodies. She herself had become a dark-eyed dark-haired beauty of average height with a perfectly sculpted and glamorously beautiful body. She had always wanted beauty, the golden ticket of womanhood that spared airheads, bitches and sluts all the pain of life, and now she had it.
Tiffany wanted not just to be beautiful but desired. Everyone called her fat and ugly, T-Hogg their favorite nickname after she was seen in her brother’s Thunderbird, and everyone was disgusted with her including her parents who had both been utterly gorgeous. With such great sexual beauty, all those once shut doors seemed to have swung wide open allowing her to find love for the first time.
Nel had just wanted to be healthy. She had been pushed around all her life, frail, sickly, ugly and poor but as she had become a Le Sueur girl she was strong, healthy, gorgeous and rich with the entire world about to open up for her. She had everything she could ever want and Haley suspected it was more than she and Tiffany ever had.
“So why are you so damn unhappy?”
“I can still feel the girl inside of me,” said Nel sadly and she suddenly looked extremely guilty.
“Let it go,” said Haley.
“These were supposed to be our bodies,” said Tiffany bitterly. “I’m not particularly pleased I’ve had to steal some other bitch’s life because of those greaser assholes and, while this may be just so hard to believe, I don’t exactly speak Chinese so subterfuge might be a problem.”
“Attitude is not helping,” said Haley.
Nel swallowed. “Who were they?” she asked.
“We’ve been over this over and over and over again!” cried Haley as she looked out of the window at the world beyond for the first time in what felt like countless years. “We—just—don’t—know!”
Those damn greasers had broken their ritual for no apparent reason and it seemed to have caused something unpredictable with Mr. Shadow’s magic. Instead of falling asleep, the people at the party went completely berserk. One greaser came in with the axe and went crazy but in a more homicidal murderer kind of way and he began hacking some people to death. The other greasers just watched while everyone else went crazy in a more lunatic way, everyone killing each other with their fists. Eventually, the greaser with the axe found the three of them hiding in the classroom.
“‘He’s ours,’ they said,” Tiffany whispered softly.
“We have to be careful,” said Haley. “I can feel him under—”
“Don’t you fucking talk about him!” hissed Nel, horror filling up in her eyes. “Yes, he’s under the fucking church, and no I don’t want to talk to him! It’s his fault we’re fucking monsters and I won’t pay another one of his fucking prices!”
“Let’s just finish the ritual and kill someone,” said Tiffany and they looked at her. “Someone has to die and that should take these bitches’ spirits with them. Our deal was for us to have perfect bodies and we have those but we can feel the ritual still going so it’s obviously not complete. If we finish our half of the bargain, again, it should end with these as our bodies alone as per the aforementioned deal and then we can then leave with our new lives and hopefully get out of each other’s heads.”
“That checks out,” said Haley softy but she wasn’t so sure. Mr. Shadow was not to be trusted and he was moving around and watching them still. He rarely talked but he never stopped watching, not for an instant. Those greasers may want him in their lives but she had enough of him to last an eternity.
“Two things before we start,” said Tiffany holding up two fingers on her right hand. “One, if Bartlett’s not dead, we should be careful because he’s a spell caster who knows what he’s doing.”
“Really?” replied Nel. “Is that why you came down looking like shit run over twice?”
Tiffany frowned at her with that gorgeously exotic face of hers. “Two,” she added irritably, “There’s another ghost here.”
Haley’s stolen eyes bulged open. “The horseman?” Her eyes darted around hurriedly. The horseman was a homicidal maniac who despised women and desired escape. He would kill anyone just out of spite but he would torture the three of them out of envy.
“It wasn’t him,” said Tiffany. “It was some weirdo chink in white with long straight black hair covering her face.”
“Aren’t you a chink now too?” asked Nel.
“What does she want?” asked Haley.
“I don’t know. She didn’t answer me when I spoke to her and she didn’t seem to want this body. She just stared blankly through that hair as I went running up the stairs but I’ll tell you something.” She pointed at herself with her index fingers. “This bitch was motherfucking scared of her.”
Haley had enough and was utterly done with all things involving that stupid ritual or anything else magical for that matter. Furthermore, she had spent enough time in that church to cover a thousand years of Sundays. “Let’s go find someone already.”
“I’m not so sure about this,” said Nel.
“Get sure, Nel,” said Haley.
Tiffany smiled and turned her head over her shoulder toward the door leading down the halls into the nave of the church. “Listen to that music,” she said. “It certainly doesn’t sound like 1986 anymore.”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Haley. “We’re going to go out there, we’re going to kill some asshole and then we’re going to get the fuck on with our lives.”
* * *
Ethan recognized the skeletal corpse of John Bartlett because he could see the Bartlett family crest on the rain guard of his sword. He seemed to have been dressed as some kind of knight, judging by the sword and moss-covered shield not far from his body, and as Ethan examined the sword, he recognized that as well.
It was the second of a pair of Saxon Military Swords that had come down with the two Bartlett brothers who founded Bartlett Bay when Connecticut was still a colony. They were supposed to be crossed above the giant fireplace under the painting of the brothers in the Bartlett House’s foyer but one had been missing.
“Come to Daddy,” Ethan said as he picked it up. Twenty-five years underground and the thing looked clean and perfect, a sure sign of enchantment, and Ethan eagerly pulled it out of its rotting sheath to see that the runes on the sides of the blade were clearly the white marks and style of the Umm. “Weak,” he said.
He tossed the rotten sheath away and held up his blade. It felt right in his hand, a one-handed blade good for dueling, and then he slipped it naked through his belt at his side. Then he cracked his neck left, then right and then looked down at the corpse. It was mostly skeleton by then.
“Well, he was probably an asshole anyway,” he said and then quickly moved up the stairs.
It was a short flight of stairs tilting left as it rose up ending at a stone wall with a lever on the left. He pulled it, heard a clack sound, and pushed open the wall and stepped out. Almost as soon as he walked out it swung violently back and he had to jump out of the way almost in a dive to avoid being crushed. When it came home, it made a boom sound as it merged almost perfectly into the wall.
He ignored whatever caused that was, took his clown shoes off of his Sketchers and stripped off what remained of his mud-covered clown suit revealing the blue jeans and an orange and black striped t-shirt that he wore underneath. Then he headed straight back into the nave, completely alone until he arrived and there he found he was semi-surprised the party had not really changed. They were all somehow completely unaware of what occurred in just a few rooms beyond. He slipped out among the crowd looking carefully for the possessed girl.
She appeared a few moments later out of the doors by the kegs with two other girls opposite from where he was. He tried to slip across to the other side unnoticed but suddenly, when he was out in the center of the room, some kind of magic shot through the room.
The music stopped dead, startling everyone, and a bright yellow light appeared above at the top of the nave shooting straight down onto Ethan. The strobe lights flickered and turned off making a shadowy darkness on the outskirts from where the others were.
“Ah shit,” he said.
Three girls stepped in front of where the altar once sat, where Thomas Bartlett’s eldest brother was married, and faced him.
The woman in the center was Buffy Burn’s little sister made extremely beautiful, he recognized her only by her costume, the one on her right was the possessed Asian girl, and the one on her left was a highly athletic woman dressed like an ancient Greek he did not recognize. The one inside Burns’ body cast a spell, which he found easy to block due to it being a simple area-based spell, and then spread her arms. Everyone other than Ethan was pushed to the sides of the nave by some green-colored magical wall-like force leaving him alone in the center of the room.
“There are three of you,” Ethan said. “Great.” He looked at them and saw the power fluctuating from their rings.
There was an awkward moment of silence where clearly no one but the four of them knew what was going on.
Ethan held out his arms open in an almost shrugging gesture. “Well ladies,” he said. “Shall we?”
“Jenny,” said Johnny from somewhere on the left side of the nave but none of the girls looked. “Jenny, look at me!” he called to the one dressed as a Greek woman.
“That’s not Jenny,” Ethan said. “That’s not Buffy Burns’ sister or whoever that hot Asian chick is supposed to be either.”
“Oh but we are,” said the Asian girl. “We’re young and pretty and alive and we have our entire lives in front of us.” She snapped her fingers and Ethan heard all the doors and windows in the entire building shut in unison and all the ones he could see turned a glowing shade of blue. One girl shrieked in surprise but then silence returned. “You’re not going anywhere, Bartlett.”
“I wasn’t really planning on leaving,” he replied.
“You’re brave, I’ll give you that,” said the one in Burns’ body. “Brave but not very smart.”
“Tiffany, I thought you said you said killed this boy,” said the one in Jenny’s body, her eyes locked on him in a strange way. She bit her lower lip and suddenly looked infinitely guilty.
“I threw him down through two fucking floors,” said the Asian girl. “I don’t know how he’s walking, let alone alive.”
“So what’s your next move, Bartlett?” asked the one in Burns’s body. “You going to kill us?”
“Tempting but no.” Ethan took a step forward.
Tiffany clutched wrapped her right hand over her left hand instinctively. “He knows. I can see it in his eyes.”
Ethan held up his hands and stepped forward. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he lied. “Let’s just talk. Figure it all out.” He took another step closer. “Maybe get some coffee. Perhaps a burger. Talk this over like reasonable gentlemen and ladies.”
“You come any closer and I’ll kill somebody in the crowd,” hissed Tiffany.
Ethan stopped. “Okay,” he said.
“Haley, he’s a magician,” she said. “He knows how to knock our spells away and he knows what we are. Wh-what do we? Everyone knows now.”
“Well then,” said the one in Burns’s body. “We’re just going to have to kill him just like we did his relative and then transform everyone here so they forget.”
“Hey everybody,” Ethan said loudly. “Take off their rings if you get the chance.” The possessed girls looked at him uncomfortably. “Yeah, that’s the trick. It’s clearly the right answer because you can see how nervous it makes you.”
“I like him,” said whoever it was inside of Jenny’s body. “He’s nothing like John Bartlett at all.”
“Go away, Bartlett,” said Tiffany nervously. “I won’t going back to being dead and you can’t fight all three of us.” Ethan stepped forward again. “We’ll fucking kill you, Bartlett! One more motherfucking step and we will do it! Try us!”
He sighed. “Well then?” he replied calmly.
All three girls took several steps forward, their feet making loud clacks on the ground in their unified steps and they stopped twenty feet from him. “Well then what?” asked Haley.
Ethan sighed again. “Well, then what the fuck are you waiting for?”
The three of them screamed and started lobbing spells across the nave at him. Ethan parried them almost casually as they came, dozens upon dozens of spells, each sent off in random directions. When they hit the ground or something inanimate, they exploded taking off a layer of the stone or destroying a machine but when they hit a person, they turned them into some kind of animal, and people sometimes shrieked out the names of someone as they were hit.
Lizards, snakes, frogs, doves, crows, rabbits, gophers and woodchucks all started slithering, crawling, hopping or flying everywhere as they began to panic.
The three possessed girls soon stopped and rested their hands on their knees, covered in sweat. “You evil bastard!” cried Haley.
“Can’t you just go away,” groaned the one in Jenny’s body. “Just leave us alone and let us live.” Ethan threw himself onto the stage, often called a chancel, and the others threw their spells again but they were less focused in their tiredness and were easier to knock away. One hit a girl in a corner and turned her into a dove, her slinky silver dress falling to the ground.
When he got close, whoever was inside of Jenny suddenly threw herself into him but it wasn’t out of violence. “Promise me you’ll break the ring!” she cried into his chest. “Promise me you won’t trap me in this church again!”
“You bitch!” cried Tiffany. She and Haley started toward them but then he fired a couple of weak lightning bolts into their legs without looking and sent them tumbling down to the ground.
“Goddamn it, Nel!” cried Haley, her voice so filled with fear it had turned high-pitched.
Nel looked him straight in the eyes. “I can’t live like this,” she told him earnestly. “I signed up for killing John Bartlett because he raped my friend Joanie Costner who killed herself and I didn’t plan on anyone else dying, especially not Jennifer Masterson. She was my friend.”
Haley prepared a spell but Nel slipped between them and she let the spell fire wild, flying through the room, and hitting one of the remaining humans left in the room, who turned into a brown rabbit.
“I just wanted someone to love me!” Nel cried as tears ran down her face and she kissed Ethan on the lips. He thought it was a trick, was almost sure of it, but it wasn’t. He kissed her back for a second and that had an effect on her because she began to weep almost uncontrollably.
“I’ll break it,” he told her. “I promise.”
“Do you think God will forgive me for what I’ve done?”
As Haley forced herself up to her feet, Johnny appeared out of nowhere and grabbed her from behind. She shrieked, throwing her legs out wildly around her and tried to cast her spell at him but she couldn’t maneuver her hands right to do it and hit only walls. Tiffany looked up miserably from the ground, uncertain and terrified, and did nothing.
“It’s not for God to forgive despite what you might think,” Ethan told her. “It’s between you and whoever you hurt. The only two players in the game of right and wrong.”
Nel looked at him in the eyes for a long moment. Johnny threw Haley down to the ground hard and Tiffany held out her hand. “Nel—” was as far as she got before Nel grabbed the ring herself and pulled it off her finger.
The dark magic from the ring swirled around and vanished, becoming something different and even kind of pleasant, and Jenny dropped down to the ground like a soaked blanket. Ethan put the ring into his pocket and looked out over at the others.
“Nel is gone!” cried Tiffany. “She’s fucking gone!”
Haley shrieked in sheer rage, cast something new, and in a burst of bright green light, Johnny was thrown off her. He hit the ground hard and something pulled him backward across the nave, his feet scraping on the ground for several moments before he managed to get a foothold and forced himself into a stop. He then spun around to reveal some kind of metal insect with all six of its legs and its proboscis sticking in his back. Its wings were like a metal version of a bird’s that were somehow razor shape.
Ethan fired an ice shard into the creature and it rolled off his back and faded into the air like mist.
“You’re dead now, motherfucker!” Haley cried, tears rolling down her face. “We all share the same power source so you’ve only made us stronger!” She fired a more powerful version of the spell but, still lacking the skill, he found it easy to knock aside. “Damn it!”
He knocked it at Buffy Burns who let out a surprised shriek just before it hit her in the face and turned her into a frog. Johnny stood up; his back covered in blood from where that thing’s back had gripped him, and started forward.
There were almost no humans left standing except for the two possessed girls, Ethan, Johnny and a few others hiding behind the musical equipment on the stage. Everyone else was in animal form, still in a state of sheer panic and all charging about in whatever direction fear led them to do so.
Haley was absolutely terrified. “You can’t stop us, Bartlett!” she whimpered.
Tiffany was crying. “Can we even do it with two—”
“Shut up!” shrieked Haley and then she turned and fired a spell at Johnny as he came closer. He leaped away from the spell, rolled behind a table someone had knocked over and hid behind it. “Damn you! Damn you all to Hell!”
As Ethan suddenly rushed forward, a burst of magic filled the air. It couldn’t be knocked aside due to an explosive quality and it knocked him aside as green mist suddenly floated all around Haley.
Haley was covered in sweat from head to toe and Tiffany curled up into a ball as if in some kind of deep pain. “I will murder you and everyone in this room if it just means five more seconds I get to live!” She spread her arms out and the mist became very thick.
Ethan jumped up to his feet and saw the mist was like a tunnel and down at its bottom things were coming toward him. “What the hell?” They were very quickly approaching and he started to hurriedly back away.
“You have a sword!” shrieked Haley, her eyes filled with horror and misery merged. “Now let’s see you fucking use it!”
The first thing to come out was some kind of knight on a horse. Ethan pulled out his sword, parried a lance away but only barely, his shoulder getting slashed across the top in the process, and then spun around and sliced at the horse as it went by.
A burst of purple blood burst out of its flesh onto Ethan’s chest and burned when it touched his shoulder wound.
As the horse fell over others came: knights just like the one on the horse, all covered in spiked black plate armor from head to toe carrying maces and swords with glowing purple eyes. Ethan noticed instantly that the glow was the exact shade of purple as the eyes of the thing under the church were.
Ethan ducked the first swung and then stabbed it in the neck. When defeated, the knight vanished into mist just like the insect had, disappearing into the same nothing. He quickly parried another, knocked it over and rushed toward Haley.
He knocked Haley over, killing the mist portal, but then jumped at Tiffany who had just managed to get up. She shrieked in shock as he wrestled her to the ground.
A knight rushed at him but Johnny got between them and sliced it across the throat, turning it into mist.
Tiffany’s shriek turned to one of sheer terror as he grabbed a hold of the ring. “No!” she shrieked. “No, I’ll give you anything! ANYTHING!” She tried to cast but he forced her arm away and the spell flew off into the sound system which exploded and caused all the electronic lights in the room to quickly flicker on and off for a few moments. “You can have me any way you want!” He got a hold of the ring. “PLEASE—” Her eyes rolled back into her head as he pulled the ring loose.
Ethan dropped the Asian girl’s body to the ground and felt the power of the ring in his hand. He noted it did not change as it had with Nel, remaining extremely unpleasant and unnatural, but he had no time to wonder about that and he quickly slipped it into his pocket and looked over at Johnny.
Johnny stood out alone in the center of a large cloud of purple mist, his sword held out in his right hand covered in purple blood. He had already killed every knight and monster that had come through the portal.
Haley wept as she stood up. “Give me the ring, Haley,” Ethan told her. Her lips quivered for a moment and she cast that transformation spell again. Ethan knocked it aside, into a wall, where it had become so powerful it nearly made a hole to the other side as it sent out debris consisting of half a foot worth of stone into the room. “Give me the ring,” Ethan said again.
Haley turned and fired her spell at Johnny. He threw himself aside, dodging it barely, and landed flat on his wounded back with a loud cry. Then Haley charged into the church’s schoolrooms and Ethan quickly charged after.
He fired a lightning bolt at her back but missed as she jerked around a door. “I just want to leave!” she shrieked at him. He followed her to the stairwell and fired up at her legs but missed again by just a fraction as her feet vanished out of sight. “Leave me alone!”
He continued to follow her all the way to the top then through the door that led out onto the roof behind the steeple. By the time, he stepped outside Haley was already climbing onto the arched roof of the nave. “What exactly happened here, Haley?” he asked as he was walking toward her.
“The Saturnine betrayed us,” she replied in tears.
Ethan blinked a few times, the name ringing an unpleasant bell in the back of his mind, and he climbed over the small stone fence out onto the curved roof of the nave after her. “What is the Saturnine?” he asked.
“You really have no idea what the fuck is going on in this city, do you?” she asked as she continued to back away.” Ethan tossed his readied orange Lightning Bolt spell from one hand to the other as he walked toward her and she looked around nervously finding nowhere to go. “They’re a cult in this town,” she told him. “Mr. Shadow was one of them. Maybe even their leader. I don’t know any more than that except that they’re all around us.” Tears ran down her face. “He promised we would become beautiful if we sacrificed John Bartlett. He was a rapist so fuck him.”
“I’m not here for John Bartlett,” Ethan told her as he got closer. “Who exactly is this Mr. Shadow?”
“My body is gone,” she told him and she nearly stumbled. “Can’t we just make some kind of deal?” She stumbled again and shrieked as she came very close to falling that time. “I want to see California! I want to have sex! I want to have someone to just fucking love me! Those fucking greasers who stole my life are your real enemy!”
“God you don’t know shit!” she cried. “They’re the ones who wrecked our ritual and murdered everyone! They’re the reason we were trapped in this place!”
“Who made those rings?” he asked her.
“A witch named Agatha.”
“Agatha couldn’t enchant shit,” he replied and he stopped when she did, leaving ten feet between them. He realized he would never have a better opportunity to question someone about what was really happening in Bartlett Bay. “Agatha wasn’t even an amateur magician let alone the master enchantress it would take to create these things.”
“I killed her, Haley,” Ethan replied. “I went to her tower, I killed her guardians and then I killed her right after I used her own magical orb to suck the youth out of her body and give it back to the fourteen-year-old girl she stole it from.”
“I won’t go back to being dead!” Her eyes narrowed. “Why do you even care? No one ever cared about me when I needed it!” Ethan sensed she didn’t know much more and took a step forward. “I’ll jump!”
“Go ahead. I can take a ring from a corpse.”
“You’re bluffing,” Haley replied.
“You’re not going to jump, Haley. I can see it in your—” Ethan felt a powerful burst of magic from somewhere other than her and looked up at the steeple to see the giant statue of the angel step off of its pedestal and bent over to look with glowing purple “—eyes.” He noticed then that it was made of the same kind of stone as the stone in the Cave of Blue Light and that was made even clearer when glowing blue runes appeared all over it. “Oh shit,” he said when he saw it was moving a great deal faster than the statues in the cave had. He knew there was nothing he could do that would hurt that statue: nothing.
“I did not deserve what happened to me!” cried Haley. “John Bartlett raped a thirteen-year-old girl and I am the one who—” she shrieked as Ethan suddenly threw himself into her and tackled her. “You evil bastard!” she shrieked as she slammed her hand onto his shoulder wound. “You will lock me here for eternity!”
He heard the sound of a powerful thud on the roof behind him as the giant dropped onto the roof. “Shit!” he cried, grabbing at her ring, but her fist became tight. She punched him directly in the face. “Bitch!”
“All I ever wanted was to be an actress!” she cried, “but all my best parts were stolen by Jane Bartlett because I wasn’t ever pretty enough! I was never pretty enough!”
Ethan heard the sound of the statue’s heavy feet on the nave’s roof coming closer.
Haley punched him in the face again, that time the ring leaving a mark on his face, and then she stuck the nails of her other hand into his shoulder wound. “I want to go to Hollywood and live!” she screamed as Ethan knocked her hand away.
Ethan slapped her violently across the face, nearly giving her a black eye, and then grabbed at the ring again. Her face filled with panic as he got a hold of it and as he began pulling the ring loose he said, “Hollywood is nothing but high prices, assholes and palm trees.”
She kneed him in the groin and his face went red as that highly familiar overwhelming pain came flooding in. Then she slammed her fist onto his shoulder and when he cried out in agony, she started to quickly scoot away.
Beyond, the giant thudding footsteps were so close to where Ethan was that the roof was beginning shaking with each step.
Ethan leaped onto Haley, punched her in the stomach, and then put his left knee over her wrist. He could feel the presence of the statue tower over him as he grabbed the ring tightly. “NO, NO, NOOOO!” she shrieked as he pulled the ring free.
He instantly rolled over and pointed his Ice Shard spell in each hand upward.
The statue was gone, back in its accustomed place and all the magic around him had vanished in an instant. “I just can’t have normal nights in this fucking city,” he said to himself and he put the ring in his pocket. Then he stood up, felt that old familiar pain and then crumpled right back down. “Oh goddamn it all to hell!”
“What the hell happened to me?” asked the girl beside him and she clutched her stomach in agony.
“You’re Buffy Burns’s sister, right?” he asked.
“Yeah. Kristie. What happened?”
“Well—” he shrugged “—Kristie, you were possessed by a malicious spirit. She made your body extremely beautiful and she was the intent of keeping it but I saved you but before I did she kneed me in the groin.”
“Really?” She stood up and looked semi-stunned. “My stomach really hurts.”
“I punched her in the stomach,” he told her as he clambered up to his feet.
“Oh.” She put her hand onto her stomach for a moment, saw where she was and then shrieked. She quickly grabbed him and buried her face into his chest.
“Afraid of heights?” She made a scared agreement sound. “Well then come along.” He led her back to the flat part of the roof and he leaned up against the stone fence as soon as they were both on the other side of it.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“Not really,” he replied blandly.
“Are you mad at me?”
“Not really,” he replied in the same tone. “Although it’s worth mentioning your bitch sister helped Pierce Pennington and his friends commit an assault on me so we’re probably not going to be totally simpatico.”
“I feel so numb.” She looked at him. “Am I still pretty?”
“Yes, you’re still amazingly beaut—” Ethan’s eyes went wide “—uh oh.”
“I guess there’s a payoff for having an evil spirit take my body for a joyride,” she replied and she spun around looking down at her altered self. “Do you think I’m—” she looked over to see Ethan disappear out of the door downward “—sexy?”
Ethan charged back to the nave and threw open the door to see everybody who had turned back into an animal had turned back and was lying numb and naked on the ground. Almost all of them were groaning in agony. “Well that’s a relief,” he said as he drank his second spare Heal potion, which left him healed but still extremely sore.
“Ethan,” said Johnny and Ethan looked over to see him cradling Jenny who was grinning up in an almost drug-induced manner. “Why did they all change back but not my sister or Nora?”
“Most of that magic was like mine but that purple magic was—” his eyes narrowed “—something different.” He shrugged. “I don’t know.” More nasty black magic like what Agatha was into, no doubt.
One of the unchanged guests, a girl dressed like the character Trinity from the film the Matrix, walked up to him and spun him around, her eyes wide with horror. “What the fuck just happened, Bartlett?”
“It appears to be just another night in Stephen King’s Connecticut,” Ethan replied. He felt someone wrap their arms around him from behind and looked over to see Claire was clutching onto him still fully dressed and weeping. “I can’t believe almost everyone else was hit but you.”
“Hold me, Thomas!” she whimpered. She was covered in dirt from all the random explosions all over the church and was trembling badly.
Ethan sighed and patted her on the shoulder, the intense feeling from before not even beginning to return, and then untangled her arms. “You should go call Bryce,” he said as he walked over to a nearby naked girl he saw. She looked up at him confusedly as he knelt down by her and he felt Claire frown at his back.
The naked girl’s hair was a natural bright red just long enough to hang down past her bright green eyes in long, straight locks. She had a tanned supple body, the kind of girl who was some kind of athlete or possibly a cheerleader, which was perfectly clear because she was naked.
“Hi,” he told her. “I just defeated the three witches and turned you back into a woman.” He held out his hand. “Want to go out with me?”
“Are you crazy?” she asked weakly and looked around. “What’s going on?” She took his hand and let him pull her up. He found her even more incredibly beautiful than before but he didn’t much like the condescending way she was looking at him. “Are you that Ethan Bartlett?” she asked him.
“Probably, whatever that means,” he replied. “Who are you?”
“Rachel Smith,” she said and she looked around the room, which was still clearly visible under that magical bauble of yellow light that was fading so slowly was still reasonably bright. “I’m at the church already?”
Ethan then remembered the comment about making everyone forget that Haley had made. “So I guess you don’t want to get something to eat or see a movie then?”
She gave him an appraising look for a moment then shrugged. “I’ve got a boyfriend—” she looked down and let out a quick shriek of surprise before promptly slapping him across the face. “Pig!” she cried as she quickly looked around, found her costume and rushed over to it.
“Somehow I just knew tonight was going to blow,” he said as he watched Rachel put on her dress, which looked like one of those 1960s Marilyn Monroe style dresses, and then give him a dark, offended look.
“Did you drug us?” She looked around at the naked people who all moved slowly toward their clothes. “You drugged or enchanted everyone here, didn’t you, you sick bastard?”
A soft, gloved hand landed on his shoulder. “Go away, Claire,” he said unhappily.
“Why are you so angry with me?” she asked.
“I’m not angry,” he told her, feeling uncomfortable. “You made your choice. Fine. I hope it was a good one.” He frowned over his shoulder at her. “You could have told me that earlier. There were other girls I could have hooked up with.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” she replied.
Ethan faced her, took out his wallet, pulled out a card and then slipped it down between her breasts. He let his hand rest there longer than he needed before pulling it away. “Fake number. Not cool, Claire.”
“Cousin Robert made me do it. He thought it would make you go away and I didn’t want my family to hurt you.”
“You are a bad liar,” he replied and she looked at him sadly in response. “You take care of yourself Claire and tell your Cousin Robert that I won’t be bothering you or him or any of your women ever again.”
Claire looked even sadder but Ethan shrugged it off, not knowing what to say or do about it, and starting walking over to the doors out. Priscilla quickly rushed up to him, wrapped her arm through his, and grinned up at him. She must have still been in the back when the fight rang out because she wasn’t covered in dirt or debris like Claire or that Trinity girl was.
He sighed and pushed open one of the doors with his free arm, letting in the icy cold. “What?” he asked.
“Why did you care about her anyway?” asked Priscilla.
“I knew her from another life but, as you might imagine, it was a lifetime ago and is not important now. I think she was very rich and very beautiful in both of her lives which consequently made her a rather naïve idiot. Too many easy moments.”
“Uh-huh,” Priscilla replied, clearly not understanding him. “So do you want to maybe get something to eat or see a movie?”
“There is still that problem with your brother attacking me down on Worthington Street,” he replied and her face fell. “I’ll talk to you later, Priscilla.”
“You do know Darcy’s dating some guy named Paul right now, right?” she asked.
He stopped, groaned and said, “And here I thought nothing could make this night any worse for me.”
“It’s true. She’s dating him because he’s hot but she’s not single so stop pretending you have her as a fallback girlfriend.”
“Isn’t that what you are?” She slapped him across the face but it wasn’t that hard a slap. “That was just a joke, Priscilla.”
“Oh. Sorry.” She took an intake of breath through her teeth and looked guilty.
“It’s okay but I do have to go now.” She frowned at him. “What did I say?” Her frown darkened and she turned around and walked away. “Oh God how women suck sometimes.” He turned around and cast his Speak with Familiar spell to see Mickey flying casually through the air.
“What’s up?” said Mickey.
“Where are you flying off too?” asked Ethan as he walked back to his car.
“Darcy is having me follow some psychotic undead punks in letterman jackets,” he replied. “I’ll meet you back at the house when I’m done. Don’t forget to be somewhere where you can hear me knocking.”
“I think so, yeah. They’re ghost white and not breathing.”
“Oh God, what now?” Ethan groaned as he opened the door to his car.
“You sound kind of unhappy,” said Mickey. “What happened?”
Ethan groaned again. “I’ll tell you all about it later,” he replied. “If you need me you can find me at home.”
“Can do,” said Mickey and then he vanished as Ethan released the spell.
Ethan sighed again as he slipped into his car and shut the door. “Fuck this night,” he said and then he turned on his car and drove off somewhere off the church’s grounds to break the rings.