ACT III

Seasonal Affective Disorder—or Franklin prevents a race war

Franklin checked his phone again for the day’s top stories. He’d been checking every half hour on the way to Glanville’s Coffee—just to be safe. There had been no headlines reading, School-girl Slaughter House or Local Girl Butchers Family in Their Sleep.

So far so good.

He got off the bus—his parents were always too busy at work to drive him anywhere—and on cue, a damp wind whipped down the street, rustling fallen leaves and blowing trash across the sidewalk. It sent a chill over Franklin’s hands and face; his grey hoodie wasn’t enough protection for this kind of weather. Franklin glared hatefully up at the sky. A dark blanket of clouds glared hatefully back at him.

Yesterday’s hike had reminded Franklin of one important fact: Nature was best experienced through a television screen. He resolved once more to avoid the outdoors at all costs.

He shivered his way into the café, dodging some fake cobwebs that hung over the entrance.

If Kimberly had wanted to escape Halloween, this was definitely the wrong place to do it. Black and purple rubber spiders hung from the walls, skull candles flickered at him from the center of every little table, and pumpkins of all shapes and sizes spammed the area around the counter—even the baristas wore flashing pumpkin pins.

Glanville’s Coffee was the usual meeting place for their Klub, a family-owned café wedged right between the average and not-so-decent parts of town. Franklin thought that it might’ve been a pizza parlor back in the prohibition era. It was old enough and wooden enough to look like a haunted house on the best of days—the decorations just felt like overkill.

He quickly found his friends, and slid into an uncomfortable chair. His usual spot, on Kimberly’s right-hand side. The symbolism was lost on him.

“Hey,” he muttered to the group. That was Franklin’s way of saying, Happy Halloween everybody!

Jann acted like she didn’t hear him. Prince met his eyes for a second. And Kimberly gave a slight nod in response.

Franklin wasn’t exactly the most empathetic kid in the world, but even he could pick up on the vibe at the table—and it made him want to turn around, run back home, and lose himself in a Jersey Junk Wars marathon.

He glanced at each of his friends’ faces. He couldn’t decide who looked most upset.

Jann’s big brown eyes wavered on the verge of tears. She bobbed back and forth in her chair, lost in her memories. He guessed that she was reliving something to do with that Emma girl. Her hands were crammed into the pockets of her blue hoodie, which she wore over a badly-made genie outfit. Dark curls splayed out from beneath a blue plastic tiara, and pink and teal veils poked out of the neck and sleeves.

Kimberly sat with her arms crossed tightly over her official Konquest Klub uniform: a black short-sleeved ladies’ blazer, with a black blouse underneath, and a matching knee-length skirt; the only color came from an array of charity pins and vintage military ribbons she’d fastened to the left lapel. This wasn’t her Halloween costume either, just business-as-usual wear for a six-star general—which was what Kimberly insisted she was.

Franklin looked to her for a glimmer of enthusiasm, but all he got back was a restless stare and eyebrows raised asking, What?

Her Halloween discontent seemed to be reaching its peak.

Prince hunched over the table between the two girls, in full Dracula costume, somehow managing to look the most miserable of them all.

Franklin had no idea what his problem was.

He stared down at the coffee directly in front of him. He’d hoped for a pumpkin-flavored latte every week this Fall, but since Kimberly had ordered it for him he reasoned that it was probably caramel-something. He mulled it over, and decided not to drink; it wasn’t worth the risk.

They sat there in silence. A silence that Franklin wondered if he should disturb. After all, he usually loved the sound of silence. But he’d gotten used to Kimberly’s high-energy group, and no noise, no bold speeches, no drama—it just felt wrong.

Finally, Kimberly cleared her throat, and slid a small piece of paper across the table to Prince.

They all stared at it. Then Prince broke the long silence: “What’s t-this?” he stammered.

“It’s the Uber receipt…” she said quietly. Her lips puckered into a frown.

“Oh, you mean the four h-hundred bucks you ch-charged to my father’s credit card?” he snapped. “I know. I got to h-hear about it all morning. My p-parents were livid!”

None of them had expected that sudden outburst from Prince. They’d seen him pout, seen him hurt, seen him ironically cool—but never angry. And the Dracula get-up just made it even worse.

“I hear you Prince,” Kimberly began. Her tone was soothing, but her expression looked like she’d been caught with her hand in the cookie jar. “That looks like a lot of money on paper—maybe more than a simple five hour trip to the country would warrant, but let’s not forget that you offered to pay. And—and I don’t blame you for not realizing at first glance, but I actually saved you a lot of money. Imagine if the number on that paper had read eight hundred dollars—or even nine ninety nine! Now that’s a lot. And this is less than half that! So I saved you over fifty percent! That’s not so bad when you think about it. Actually, that’s huge.” She smiled, like she almost believed in her own sales pitch. “Besides, don’t sweat it Prince—your family’s rich.”

“Yeah my family’s wealthy… b-but that’s because we d-don’t waste our money on things like four hundred dollar cab rides! And—and four hundred dollars?” he repeated, his voice cracking. He clutched his forehead and accidentally smeared his white makeup. “Are. You. Serious? I’m grounded now. On Halloween th-thanks to you.”

For once Kimberly didn’t have a comeback. She and Prince had been friends for longer than the others, and she knew that Halloween meant a lot to him. Her eyes fell on her pumpkin espresso for a few guilty seconds, then she looked back into his red contacts. “Wait just a minute. You don’t mean that—the party’s still on, right?” she asked.

Franklin’s danger sense triggered. He’d forgotten all about it, but she had mentioned something about a party a few weeks before. He didn’t know why, but despite being set against everything the holiday stood for, she still wanted the KKKK to host its first annual Halloween bash.

Franklin groaned. Couldn’t they just stay in, pop some popcorn and a have Marble Hornets marathon?

Prince smirked humorlessly. “I said, ‘I’m grounded.’ Literally. Have you ever been grounded b-before?” he demanded.

Kimberly thought for a second. “I think I had a nightmare about it once. There was this mean old chain-smoking hag…” she trailed off, her face taking on a moment’s confusion. “But, actually no.”

“Well, spoiler alert, your p-parents don’t let you throw parties when you’re g-grounded. I had to beg them just to let me c-come here. This is as far as my Halloween goes,” he lamented.

“Prince, you can’t just renege like this. Not at zero hour. We had it all worked out. A deal,” Kimberly insisted, her voice rising as she spoke. “Text your parents. Right now. Tell them that they can’t do this. Tell them that we’ve had this planned for weeks. Tell them that you’re very sorry, but the party is going to happen, with or without them, and they don’t really get a say in it.” She brought her fist down on the table for emphasis.

Franklin, Jann, and Prince hit Kimberly with bemused stares.

Finally, Franklin decided to say what they were all thinking: “You’ve never… tried that with your parents, have you?”

“What do you mean?” Kimberly asked innocently.

“He means that they’d k-kill me,” Prince supplied, staring off into space. Whether he was imagining the horror, or just doing one of his vampire poses, Franklin couldn’t tell.

“Okay,” Kimberly drew the word out, still unconvinced. “Then could you beg them to make an exception?”

“No.”

“Are they gonna be home tonight? We could always sneak—”

“No!”

Kimberly made a small disgruntled noise, and slid back in her chair. She was used to getting what she wanted, and now she’d missed out twice in as many days. “You’re not being a team-player here Prince,” she complained.

Prince didn’t respond. He remained totally motionless. Franklin wondered how long Prince could hold his breath.

“Listen Prince,” Kimberly said softly, “I’m not asking for me, alright? I wouldn’t put you out like that. I’m asking for the KKKK. For our brothers and sisters out there fighting the good fight. For Franky, and Jann, and everyone else. You can’t let them down.”

Everyone else? Franklin thought. Me and Jann, are everyone else.

Prince’s glare melted. He couldn’t stay mad at Kimberly—nobody could. “I’m sorry. I know you were looking forward to it,” he pouted at her.

“Don’t worry Prince, I won’t hold it against you come bonus time,” Kimberly said, perfectly serious.

She shook her head, refusing to give up. Franklin could practically hear her mind shift gears as she ran through her other options. “Well, if we can’t use your mansion then—Jann—is your house big enough?” she tried.

Jann jumped in her seat. “Um, what?” she asked, startled out of her Emma-themed brooding.

“Can we use your house for our party?” Kimberly repeated.

“Are we having a party? My brother is doing a Halloween petting zoo for underprivileged elementary school students. He set it up in our backyard…” her voice trailed off into a mumble as Kimberly’s frustrated gaze deepened into a frown.

“That’s no good. That’s not a party—it’s babysitting,” Kimberly observed. “I know I always say, ‘Whoever controls the youth controls the future,’ but I think we can do better than that. Besides, babysitting on Halloween usually gets you killed by the lunatic living in your attic.”

Franklin just gaped at her. There was too much wrong with what she’d just said. He didn’t even know where to begin.

Kimberly held up four fingers. She tapped her fingertips with her other hand, lowering three of them.

Franklin knew what she was thinking: he was next.

A small part of him wanted to do it, to offer his house, to come through for Kimberly where Prince and Jann had failed. But a much larger part knew that the smaller part was an idiot. Throwing a party at his house—even if his parents somehow allowed it—would mean a whole new level of Hell. Preparation and time and effort on a scale that made him physically ill just to think about. Franklin didn’t even like to deal in Texas Hold‘em, how on Earth would he host a party?

Franklin sat very still, and made sure not to look down. Not to draw any attention to himself. A talent he’d honed to perfection. He felt like he was sitting in class, praying that the teacher didn’t call on him because he didn’t know the answer.

Kimberly immediately turned in Franklin’s direction. She gave him a wide Cheshire-grin, like she could read his thoughts. She said, “Sorry Franky, but your place is off the table. I’ve been to your home, remember?”

Oh, I remember, he thought darkly. The first time Kimberly had visited, she’d threatened him with a baseball bat, forced him to eat cold spaghetti, and ended up getting him expelled. It wasn’t one of his favorite memories, even if the spaghetti had been exceptional.

“You have actual plastic on your couch, and I think your folks haven’t partied since the 80’s,” she continued flatly, and then added, “Your house is a museum.”

Franklin crossed his arms, but decided not to protest. He didn’t know if he’d just been insulted, or if he’d dodged a bullet.

Either way, he had to admit that she had a point. Franklin’s parents had never thrown a party in his lifetime—not even a birthday party. Parties were an obligation, not something that you did for fun—a value they’d instilled in their son. On holidays, they’d usually just mark the occasion by renting a movie instead of watching basic cable.

He shrugged. “So, what then?” he muttered.

Kimberly shook her head. “I guess that’s a wrap. No party,” she said I mean, we can’t use my place either because of my dad. He’s throwing a party, and—”

Franklin interrupted, “Wait, your dad? What do you mean?” He couldn’t hide his surprise.

“Yeah, Franky, I mean—my dad,” she repeated, raising an eyebrow. “Are you okay?”

Franklin’s face fell as he realized his mistake. “Oh, right. Your dad. I, uh, heard you wrong,” he bluffed, and coughed into his arm.

Kimberly had been an orphan in foster care when Franklin met her. And now she wasn’t. But she hadn’t been adopted. She’d somehow wound up with a father, and a house, and a whole new life—overnight.

And Franklin was the only one who seemed to be aware of it—who remembered the way things had been before. The truth stuck in his mind like a splinter, and he couldn’t get rid of it.

Something had happened that night. The night they’d broken into the zoo.

A flurry of memory blurred in front of his eyes: she was going to run away; he’d stopped her; they’d gotten caught by security; and then…

Franklin couldn’t remember what happened after that, no matter how hard he tried. He only recalled waking up the next morning—and their lives had changed.

He’d spent a considerable amount of time after that trying to convince himself that he didn’t belong in a straight jacket.

Deep down, he knew that something had happened that he couldn’t explain, and his stomach clenched when he realized that Kimberly was probably the cause. But he still didn’t know exactly what had happened, and without knowing, he couldn’t accept it. He refused to chalk it up to the M word, and was even less ready to believe that Kimberly could simply change reality at will.

He sighed. He knew that he’d eventually find the answers, but he wasn’t sure that he wanted to. That would mean finally confronting the fact that Kimberly was even less normal than she seemed.

Franklin stared morbidly at his untouched coffee. For a second he wished it was filled with poison instead of caramel.

“I guess that’s a wrap. I’ll have to type-up the press-release. No party for the Konquest Klub,” Kimberly concluded with a sigh. All the candles in the café seemed to flicker in unison, as if a gust of air had swept the room. That would’ve been a strange coincidence on its own, Franklin noted, but these candles were electric.

“I can’t believe I got that costume ready…” she whispered to herself. She took a long sip of her pumpkin espresso, and when she lowered her mug, hit the table with an uncertain stare. “I hope you guys aren’t too disappointed. I know that you had your hearts set on this party,” she muttered.

“That’s. Alright Kimberly,” Prince stilted, always putting the emphasis on the wrong words when he tried to talk like a vampire. “I don’t th-think anyone. Really. Wanted a p-party this year,” he lied through his long, pointed teeth, then gave her a shy grin.

Jann came out of her shell long enough to nod and say, “I don’t want to party today either.”

They looked over at Franklin, waiting for him say something sympathetic, but he was still trying to wrap his head around what Kimberly had said before: “You had a costume?” he said incredulously, “What was it?”

No visions of wild cosplay danced through his head—because this was Franklin—and with his very limited imagination, all he could picture was Kimberly’s face floating over a giant question mark. He had no idea what costume could ever be unique enough for her.

Kimberly shrugged. She didn’t meet Franklin’s eyes. “I didn’t really… it was just something I threw together,” she said, and if it was anyone else talking Franklin would swear that she sounded embarrassed.

“And? What did you choose?” he prompted, with far more interest than he could explain.

“I was going to go as a beautiful spirit,” Kimberly said, relenting.

“Huh?”

“Well, it’s a hybrid, sort of, but I based the costume on the Corpse Bride, so it’s like a zombie— except it’s not—because I got rid of the bones and added more lace, so it’s more like—

“A ghost?” he finished.

“Yeah.”

“So is it a ghost, a spirit or a zombie?” he asked, his sense of dread growing.

“It’s… all three, I guess,” she admitted, halfway between enthusiasm and suspicion. “Why’s my costume so important to you Franky?”

Franklin sighed, and the candles did exactly nothing. He’d really been hoping to avoid saying, “Because you can’t be a ghost.”

Kimberly’s face went black. “What do you mean I can’t?” she demanded.

“I mean you can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because!—Kimberly, you lead a group called the KKKK. I’m begging you, don’t go as a ghost. I don’t even know how we’d explain that.”

Kimberly rolled her eyes like he’d just said the most ridiculous thing in the world. “Because of that one stupid group of weirdoes who took my initials? Because they dress up with bed sheets?” she shouted. “No one even knows who they are! People aren’t going to make the connection if I go as a ghost.”

“Yes—they do,” Franklin said, dead-serious. “Yes—they will. And no, you can’t be a ghost. Believe me Kimberly, you don’t want to get anywhere near that.”

Kimberly glared defiantly at Franklin; she didn’t want to admit defeat. But he didn’t back down either. His big, boring eyes bored into hers, and she found herself getting sleepy instead of angry.

Kimberly knew by now that when Franklin was that serious, he usually had a point, so she decided to drop it. She broke the staring match, grabbed the table, pushed herself away from the group and crossed her arms.

“That was the only thing I was loo—fine. Forget it. And forget this stupid day,” she grumbled.

Franklin stood quickly, as much to face Kimberly as to dodge the coffee that she’d just spilled.

“I don’t get it,” he said. “I thought you hated Halloween. So why do you care if there’s no party?”

The sudden sound of water beating against glass drew Franklin’s attention to the windows. The threatening gloom outside had transformed into an icy torrent. Streams of sleet cracked down against the pavement, sending up sprays of frosty mist and shifting the world outside into a blue-grey haze.

Franklin’s foreboding meter started spiking into red. He tried to tell himself this was just a normal storm, that the weatherman had even predicted it, but he couldn’t quite convince himself.

It looked cold out there—and no one would hear him scream…

“Franklin. Sidebar,” Kimberly snapped.

Franklin drew his brows together and his attention away from the ominous scene outside and over to Kimberly, who was already on her feet. He shrugged and followed the glint of her shiny black heels, weaving around crowded tables, until they arrived at the little hall that led to the bathrooms and the back exit.

She stopped, considered the two restroom doors, then turned swiftly to face him. “Do you want to go in?” she asked. “We could do the girls’ this time. That seems fair.”

Franklin could only blink at her, he didn’t know how he should respond to that. “Um, no, because that’s really weird,” he said finally. He wanted to explain to her that people don’t use public restrooms for secret meetings, but he didn’t think now was the time. “Kimberly, what’s going on? You’re,”—really starting to freak me out—“upset about something,” he improvised.

“Franklin, first off I want to make one thing very clear,” she said grimly, pacing the narrow hall in front of him, “what you and I discuss in the private of a pumpkin patch is not to be brought before the troops. Understood? It undermines the chain of authority.”

Franklin concluded that nodding would be the best thing to do, even though he had no idea what she was talking about.

Her stoic look softened—but only slightly. “It’s this whole thing that’s got me upset Franky, you should know that,” she confessed. “And the others can’t know, but since you discovered my little secret, and you feel the same way, I can tell you.”

“You mean Halloween?” he tried. “Didn’t we have this conversation yesterday?”

Franklin hated repeats.

She nodded, stopping in front of him. “I just don’t want you to get the wrong idea about me. I’m not giving up,” she asserted. “I didn’t want a party.” A sudden swell in the torrent outside caused the little exit door to shake. “But my responsibility is first and foremost to the KKKK. That means putting my personal feelings aside and giving everyone the party that they they’ve been looking forward to—the one that they deserve,” she explained.

“Kimberly, don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t think that anybody wants a party,” he admitted. “Jann looks like she’s on suicide watch, Prince is grounded, and we both hate the whole thing. And as far as I know that’s everyone. So let’s just drop it. You won’t be disappointi—”

“I’ve been recruiting,” Kimberly declared. “Online. So that’s not exactly the same as you standing here. But the KKKK is starting to get some positive press. It’s exciting Franky. We’re starting to make an impact. I think I’m really connecting with people. When our numbers grow large enough, I was planning on leading a rally,” she enthused, her eyes lighting up for the first time in days.

Franklin pinched his sinuses. So she’s viral now? he wondered, not wanting to consider the possibility. They probably thought she was just playing. That she was just writing about it for fun. They hadn’t met this girl. They didn’t know that she was serious: Kimberly was going to conquer the world…

Franklin couldn’t do anything but nod through the pain—he only had the energy to deal with one nightmare at a time.

“But it’s still just the four of us for now—right?” he pressed.

“Yes,” she conceded. “But don’t be jealous Franky. You know I don’t forget the people I meet on the way up. I already told you that you get to be a duke or something,” she admonished, completely misunderstanding.

“Hooray,” he moaned. “But I was actually still talking about Halloween. I’m just saying that this year, because your plans got sidelined, we don’t need to party.” He paused, then considered. “Unless you really wanted to…”

“I already told you I didn’t want a party,” Kimberly insisted. A clap of thunder and lightning ripped across the sky overhead, filling the café with terrifying flashes of white.

Franklin swallowed nervously. The rain beat down harder than before. It sounded like they were under attack. He wondered absently if Glanville’s had a storm shelter. Were tornados in October a normal thing?

Kimberly crossed her arms and leaned back against the vivid wall murals that depicted witches hiding in the woods, casting around cauldrons, being burned at the stake…

Franklin didn’t know why he said it. He just had a feeling. A feeling that this was more important than she let on. A little feeling that told him if he wanted to wake up tomorrow morning, then he’d do something about this.

He groaned. His natural instincts warned him to ignore feelings whenever possible—especially ones that told you to go to the extra mile. It was too late though, the words had already left his mouth: “I could find us a party for tonight,” he offered, despising himself more with every syllable. “I think that most of them will be sold out by now, but I’m sure I can find one that’s worth going to.”

Kimberly’s eyes lit up; she was practically dancing before she remembered that she wasn’t supposed to want a party. “You’d really do that for—the Konquest Klub?” she clarified.

“Yes,” Franklin’s voice hissed, involuntarily.

“Franky,” she hummed, “sometimes you surprise me. That’s a fantastic idea. I’m going to tell the others.”

She was gone like a flash of lightning; which was good—she couldn’t hear Franklin’s sobs.

The storm was gone too, he couldn’t help but notice. The rain had stopped as quickly as it had started. The first shafts of light even spread between the clouds.

But Franklin couldn’t think about that now. His mind was still reeling from what he’d just promised. Had he really just volunteered himself for a party? Did that really just happen?

He stood alone in the hallway, too stunned to even pinch himself.

If regret was a storm, Franklin would’ve ripped their café all the way to Oz.

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