Once the trick-or-treaters returned with their plunder, Mrs. Emerson served them cupcakes and ice cream. Those who were going home she shooed home. Those who were staying the night she shooed upstairs with permission to watch just one movie before going to bed. Their parents had already brought over sleeping bags, blankets, and pillows. The girls would stay in Pam’s room, the boys in Mike’s.
The adults were going to have their own party, wearing adult costumes and drinking adult drinks while their offspring slept.
Upstairs, the boys argued over which slasher flick to watch. The girls settled on Hocus Pocus, until the smallest girl, whose name no one could remember, held up Village of the Damned. Flaming red hair framed her pale oval face.
“Oh, no,” said Stephanie. “That’s in black and white. This one is a lot more fun.”
Eight-year-old Pam slipped the disk into the player while the girls gathered their pillows around the television.
“What’s it about?” asked the red-haired girl.
“A bunch of witches who come back from old Salem. But they’re really bad at being witches.”
She sat down to watch.
Later, in Mike’s room, the boys celebrated yet another splatter of blood against a brick wall. Not even Mike, having seen the movie several times, remembered the deformed killer’s particular beef with his victim. Not that it mattered. It was all in good fun.
“Hey, guys, keep it down, will you?” Mike’s dad called from the bottom of the staircase.
Mike rolled his eyes. He picked up the remote, hit pause, then went to the door.
“Okay, Dad! We’ll be quiet,” he shouted back down the stairs. His jaw swung down at the sight of his father dressed as a Roman centurion—pale bare legs and a bright green fake horsehair helmet!
He closed the door and returned to his friends. “Guys, you won’t believe what I just saw. My doofus dad thinks he’s a Roman soldier.”
The boys all snickered.
“He yelled at us to be quiet, so…” He picked up the remote, started the movie, and turned down the volume.
“It’s almost over anyway,” Paul said.
The slow opening of the door caught Mike’s eye. The little red-haired girl stood there. What was her name?
“What do you want?”
“What are you watching?” she asked. “Our movie is over with, and everyone is asleep, but I can’t fall asleep.”
Mike realized it had been a while since he’d heard any giggles or movie booms from his sister’s room. “Okay, you can watch this till the end, but then you have to go back.”
John mouthed, “Why?”
Mike turned his palms up.
None of the boys made room for her, but the girl found a spot and sat down. She pulled her nightgown over her crossed legs and said nothing.
“It’ll be midnight soon,” Rob said. He smiled, showing teeth, and flicked his black hair out of his eyes. “Aren’t you afraid to be up during witching hour?”
“What’s the witching hour?”
“Midnight, when the old day dies, and the new one begins. At the stroke of twelve, witches come and snatch people who aren’t asleep in bed like where you’re supposed to be.”
“Uh-huh,” Rob replied, along with a chorus of the others. “And tonight’s Halloween. They’re even more powerful on Halloween so—go back where you belong.”
“You’re just saying that.”
Mike shot Rob a dirty look. Nevertheless, he said, “No, it’s true. My dad told me once he woke up during the witching hour. He had to close his eyes and pretend he was asleep.”
“That’s not so. You’re just trying to scare me.”
She rose to her feet. For a moment, she stood silent, unmoving. She cried out a single word, one so ancient only she and one other had heard it.
The boys all dropped to the floor and lay immobile, unspeaking. Their eyes followed her as she moved through the room. She paused, inspecting each stricken form in turn.
Only Ron’s lids were lowered. At her approach, he leaped up and seized her by the throat. She gasped for breath.
“I told you to go back to where you come from!” he roared.
She wedged her hands under his fingers. The sound of bones splintering rang out above the movie. Ron stepped back with a cry, tripping over the prone form of Mike, and fell headlong.
The red-haired-girl raised her chin and drew her lips back in a smile. “That’s no way to talk to a lady, Lamshtu. You never had any manners. Hide as you like, you shall take no children tonight.”
With a strength that belied her size, she picked up the boy, slung him over her shoulder, and carried him to the window, ignoring his struggles and curses. She regarded his kicks and such blows as he could manage as no more than buzzing insects. She opened the window and punched out the screen. She sprang to the sill with her writhing burden on her back. She glanced back at the silent forms on the floor.
“Fear not. You will awake, as will your sisters.”
With that, she dived into the night.
While the movie’s closing credits rolled across the screen, Ron’s screams faded in the distance.
About The Author
Denise Longrie’s work has appeared in Wisconsin Review, Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and Nocturnal Lyric. Additionally, she has a self-published a chapbook of poetry, a short story, and a nonfiction book, By Firelight. At the moment, she is toiling away by the light of a Jacob’s ladder on a sequel to By Firelight, tentatively titled It Came from the Pulps.
In another life, she worked as a pharmacy technician.