by Laurie Razor
Four friends, one fatal injustice, and a Halloween they'll never forget!
Years ago, as the spirits crossed from their realm into ours, we readied ourselves to collect an adolescent bounty of tasty goodness while dressed as evil's kin.
My buddy, Bryan, his little brother, Mike, and I stood on my porch waiting for our friends to arrive.
Bryan wore an undecorated plastic white mask and held a rubber knife; when I asked what he was, he said he was that masked killer from that movie.
That's the Bryan I knew, too cool to care.
Mike had a sheet draped over him, with raggedy eyeholes that his brother must have cut out for him.
I'd spent weeks crafting demonic-looking black armor with real glowing accents out of cardboard, battery-powered string lights, and paint.
My costume looked as amazing as I felt in it.
The three of us chatted about nothing for a while, then she came.
Our jaws collectively dropped when we caught sight of Emily Thompson dressed as the devil's bride.
Her blood-stained wedding dress showed off much more than her schoolyard get-up of track-suits and oversized t-shirts.
Our hormones took over as we saw our tom-boyish friend's femininity for the first time.
Jeremy Belgrave cracked Mike in the cheek with an egg.
"Look what we have here, boys. It's the little hallo-weiners!"
Behind Jeremy, his two idiotic cronies, Crumble and Gort chuckled moronically; I never learned their real names, even the teachers at school called them that.
I understood the name, Gort, that guy was near seven feet tall at thirteen and had a weird ashy skin tone, but I never got how Crumble got his nickname.
Not that any of that mattered, especially not when Jeremy pulled off his backpack and grabbed out a carton of eggs.
"Oi, check out the tits on Thompson. How much did they cost? Oh no, wait, you just stuffed some balloons down your top didn't yo-"
Paul Everett, the best friend a guy could have, knocked that smug smirk off of Jeremy's face faster than a hummingbird could flap its wings.
The eggs Jeremy held smashed all over his black hoodie, covering him entirely.
Gort and Crumble raised their fists, but Paul clocked them down too in a flurry of wild movement.
The three bullies scampered away down the street, and Paul took a few steps towards them.
"You'd better run, you flucking dickwalds!"
He may have been wild, but Paul could never curse well, which made us laugh.
Emily skipped over to him and draped her arm over his shoulder.
"My knight in shining flannel."
I took another look at Paul; he wore one of his dad's red flannel shirts, over a black t-shirt, some torn jeans and his usual pair of slip-on boots.
"What are you supposed to be, Paulie?"
Bryan jumped down the stairs after he asked, then Mike and I followed.
"What do you think? I'm a crazed hillbilly!"
The usually shy Mike walked up to Paul.
"I know you are, but where's your costume?"
Paul grabbed the kid in a headlock and pretended to noogie him before letting him go.
We all laughed and began walking down the road; we didn't want to start trick-or-treating up a road close to us, because we knew the rich folks on the hill gave out better sweets, so we had to get there before the other kids got them, like the year before.
At the end of our street raged a big Halloween party; it looked as though the people inside were swaying shoulder to shoulder to a monotonous beat.
"I can't wait until we start going to those sorts of parties."
"It's all flash, Bryan. Too much sizzle, not enough sausage, if you get my drift."
"Yeah, I know, Emily. Sometimes, I feel I need a little more sizzle in my life, though, you know? I don't know. Don't you guys get that?"
Paul turned and walked backward.
"Oh, I get what you mean, Bry. Next year, I'm going to sizzle my sausage so much, I'll walk with a limp."
Emily slapped at him as we chuckled.
"You disgusting little trollop! That's not what he meant, and you know it!"
That last slap sent Paul running back onto the road.
None of us saw the impact, but we heard it after the tires screeched.
When we turned, we saw Paul's broken body splayed out on the asphalt as a black stretch limousine swerved off down the road.
Our childhood died with him that day.
Two years on and we aren't sizzling sausages; well, none of us except Bryan's little brother Mike, who's become a bit of a ladies man after reaching high school.
Emily continued to blossom, and ascended to the popular group, while Bryan fell into the world of Hmyz, a Czechoslovakian role-playing game.
When we see each other in passing, we wave, but Bryan, Emily, and I don't hang out much.
Although we drifted apart socially, we made a pact that night that we'd meet up every Halloween to honor Paul's memory.
I sat out on the porch in front of my house and waited for them to come around.
Even after all these years, they still knew that my house is the one to go to because my parents are never home.
They arrived still dressed in their school uniforms.
"Hey, Jodie. How's everything going?"
When they reached the steps, we embraced.
"Better, now you guys are here."
We held each other for a moment, letting the world around us zoom away like there was only us, and nothing else.
"Hey, guys. Where's your costumes?"
A chill ran down our spines as his voice rang out from the empty street.
"Did you guys hear that?"
They both nodded.
"Flipping Dixies, it's been a while, huh?"
"Paul? Where are you?"
The worry in Emily's voice wasn't a solitary one.
"I'm right beside you."
He whispered, and we jumped.
"Why can't we see you, Paul? Are you like a ghost or something?"
"Or something, but tonight, I need your help. You guys don't mind, do you? I overheard that you are supposed to die tonight, but I can stop that from happening."
Emily looked to the two of us and grimaced as tears drove her eyeliner down her ivory cheeks.
"This isn't Paul. It can't be. We watched him die. Are one of you messing with us? Because if you are, this isn't funny. It's just sick!"
Her body trembled as I gripped her shoulders.
"You know, Bry and I would never do that. I think this is real. Either Paul's talking to us, or we're all going mad together."
"Why does nobody ever believe me? I'm here. I'm standing right beside you, Em. Please, believe me. I need your help to move on from this weird in-between place."
Bryan stepped over and looked up.
"I believe you. What do we do, Paul?"
As we walked down the streets, our old closeness gradually returned to us.
"What does Hum-Mizz even mean?"
He shook his head.
"It's pronounced Hmyz, and it means insect. You take on the role of a human-bug hybrid and have to escape the clutches of the grand controller. It's pretty cool. You should both give it a go sometime."
Emily screwed up her face.
"A game about bug-people, no thanks. I don't like bugs as it is, but six-foot-tall bugs fighting wizards sounds like my worst nightmare."
"Uh, the grand controller isn't a wizard, it's a rogue Artificial Intelligence who has total control over the lands of Zahrada. There's more to it than that, these evil robots from the planet Terr-"
"Gay! Oh my god, Bry, that's the gayest nerd shizz I've ever heard. Do you seriously play that? Jeez, you do know that just coming out as gay would be a lot easier than playing that, right?"
Emily and I snort-laughed at our invisible friend's quip.
"Well, thanks, Paul. You've waylaid all my doubts. Only you could be so tastelessly ignorant."
"Ooh, ignorant I can handle, but tasteless? Really?"
"Hey, I wasn't the one using outdated homophobic slurs to besmirch my friend's love for a silly little game."
"Hmyz isn't silly."
I stepped closer to Bryan.
"Quit while you're ahead, Bry. She's sticking up for you."
"Yeah, I guess."
Bryan stopped us.
"Wasn't this the place?"
"Yes, Bryan. I died right there. Hey, that gives me an idea. Watch that spot and tell me if you see anything."
As we stared at that cursed patch of bitumen, Emily and Bryan nestled into my sides like baby birds hiding under their mother's wings.
The blacktop roared and split open with the ferocity of a glimmering beast's maw, and a flannel-clad Paul screamed as the flaming hole rejected him.
He reached for us, and while the others cowered, I grabbed his hands and pulled him toward us.
We don't know how the road healed, because our eyes fixated on our undead friend; he still looked the same as he had two years ago.
"Uh, hey, guys. You sure grew in the last two years."
After we embraced him for what felt like an eternity-and-a-half, Emily pinched his cheek.
"How's any of this possible? I thought dead was dead."
"Normally, it is, but I made friends with this cool guy. Oh, wait, he's telling me something. Oops, sorry, I can't talk about him."
I nudged Bryan.
"He just said he couldn't talk about whoever, and you want him to slip it out? Jeez, man, think!"
We watched as Paul stared off into space again, then shone that dangerous smile which would scare even the toughest kid when we were growing up.
"I know what we have to do, come on guys. Time to get our sizzle on."
On the hill, behind Davenport Avenue, raged a Halloween shindig at the nicest manor on the block.
Even though the exterior looked exquisite, inside was the same teenage bash scene; hordes of inexperienced underage drinkers tried to remain cool around their peers while their contemporaries did the same, and the uncool vomited and staggered around like imbeciles.
We stood at the door and looked around; most of these kids wore costumes that obscured their faces.
"Are you sure this is the place, Paul?"
He walked with purpose, and we trailed behind him.
In the kitchen, stood three guys wearing harlequin masks, and the moment we entered, they stared at Paul in abject horror.
"Hey, fellas. Remember us?"
Once they took off their masks, I recognized them as Jeremy, Crumble, and Gort, whom we hadn't seen since Paul's passing.
"Everett? P-Paul Everett? I-it can't be you. You can't be you. You're dead, right?"
Jeremy and Crumble backed into the bench as Gort fell to his knees and clasped his hands.
"I'm sorry we killed you, Everett. We didn't mean it. The limo driver left his keys, and we thought we'd take it for a harmless joyride, that's all. You walked out on the road. Why were you on the road?"
The lights strobed on and off, gradually flickering faster and faster until eventually, everything looked like a weird art film.
One moment they were there, the next, Crumble, Gort, and Jeremy disappeared.
Paul turned to us; his eyes emitted a white blinding heat, and his skin cracked like marble.
"You guys are safe. Their lives for yours. Now, before he notices, run! "
Terrified, we legged it out of there and didn't stop until we reached my front porch.
"What the hell was that?"
Emily smiled at Bryan as he panted.
"That was justice, Bry."
He pointed to the hill that we'd come from where many thick tubes of black smoke wafted like demonic fists banging against the very firmament of heaven.
"That isn't justice, that's punishment against all those that Paul felt unworthy of life. Those cretins killed him, so he traded our lives for theirs, and is tormenting all those who accepted them. Except this wasn't Paul's doing, this was ours. Those people burn for him, and he burnt them for us."
Bryan stormed off; I grabbed his arm to try stopping him, but he shook me off and continued marching to the bottom of the step when his phone rang.
"Slow down, Mike, are you alright? What!"
Panic-stricken, Bryan turned and faced us.
"Mike's at that party; he's in that house. Come on. We have to save him!"
We ran as fast as we could back to the house to find it engulfed in flames.
A mass of shapeless flesh, contorted and congealed against the windows like a conjured mistake bereft of god's touch left crying for death's release.
Bryan took a few steps toward the house and screamed.
"Paul! Stop this! Mike's in there. He doesn't deserve this hell! Take me instead! Please!"
Instead of Paul, a horrifying booming voice responded to him.
"A life for a life. That is the hallowed way. Are you prepared?"
Bryan nodded, the front door flew open, and he ran inside before we could stop him.
Emily tried running closer to the house, but I caught her and held her back.
After she calmed down, we turned and walked down the road a while.
"Why would Paul do this?"
I looked at her for the longest time trying to come up with an answer, but I couldn't; I didn't know why anything had gone the way it had.
"Who knows? I'm just glad we've still got each other."
She looked back at me; her wet face exuded an expression I've never seen before or since.
"I guess I am too."
The next day, we saw Mike at school; he woke up with an excruciating hangover, but otherwise, he was fine.
Emily moved away a few weeks after, and they blamed faulty wiring for the house fire, but they never found any bodies there.
The fire department chalked it up to a supercharged heat from the old bricks trapping the flames mixed with the extraordinary amount of alcohol, turning the house into a makeshift kiln, which destroyed all biological evidence, but I know better.
We brought hell to that house on Davenport Avenue, and hell is where it's occupants remain.