nightmare on… which street again?
A row of shadowed houses loomed behind them, stretching off into the distance. As they passed each one, a strange feeling of dread grew inside Franklin—in addition to his normal feeling of dread.
Are we lost out here? Maybe I had us get off in the wrong neighborhood, Franklin thought. He would’ve checked the map on his phone, but for some reason he couldn’t get a signal.
Kimberly stopped at a four-way intersection. She squinted up into the orange light that bathed the empty streets. “Oak Street,” she read aloud from the sign overhead. “You said it’s on Oak, right?”
“Thirteenth and Oak. Yeah,” Franklin replied.
“Then we should be there,” Kimberly said in a perturbed voice that left off the unspoken, but we’re not. “I hate to break it to you Franky, but it looks like you botched the directions. We’re stranded in Little Detroit here. All I see are a bunch of broken down houses, and—oh…” She trailed off, turning the corner and peering down the street.
Her eyes lit up in wonder.
Franklin followed her gaze down Oak street. A sudden gust of wind swept a fit of leaves and grime into his face. He coughed and rubbed his eyes, and when his vision cleared he couldn’t believe what he saw.
The entire street looked like a Halloween theme park. Colonial Gothic style houses lined pocked and badly worn roads, each one made-over in different shades of bleak. Disturbingly detailed graveyards decorated the front lawns. Zombies bobbed for caramel apples in elaborate mechanical displays. A Gypsy caravan on the street corner was reading fortunes and selling kettle corn. And Jack O’ Lanterns glowed everywhere you looked, as far as the eye could see, set on every front step, every porch, every window—each more ornately carved than the last.
“This is amazing,” Kimberly breathed, inspecting the far too realistic-looking corpse of a witch, swinging by her neck from a lamp post.
“Um, yeah,” Franklin agreed, staring dumbstruck at the scene before him.
His very normal senses told him something was amiss here, but for the moment, he decided to chalk it up to enthusiasm. These people just really loved Halloween, he told himself. Like people in Pennsylvania go ape for Groundhog Day. This was a normal street that just went a little overboard—and totally not a movie set.
As they started down the street, Franklin looked up at a dead tree, draped with purple streamers and mounted with black spotlights. The dark glare highlighted wicked branches as they cut into the night sky like twisted claws. Just looking at the gently swaying monstrosity put Franklin on edge.
Another cold wind stabbed at them as they passed underneath. Franklin shuddered. Definitely not a movie set, he repeated, unconvinced.
The Gypsy caravan rattled by as they made their way down the street, like it had arrived straight from the past. Franklin couldn’t resist calling up to the driver, “So, do you guys get a lot of business around this… part of town?”
The old Romani pulled on the reins, slowing his pair of charcoal ponies. He sneered down at Franklin behind his crooked nose. “Yes. Business is good here. Lots of children,” he croaked. “You want kettle corn?”
“Uh, no. I’m good,” Franklin said, eyeing the filthy black cauldron suspiciously.
“Then don’t waste my time!” the man grumbled. He snapped the reins and jostled off again.
Franklin watched him go into the night. Watched the spokes of the old wooden wheels spin, watched the smoke rise from the little chimney on the shingled roof, watched the child screaming, “Help me!” as he banged against the caravan’s little rear window.
Franklin blinked and looked again. The child was gone—the window, empty. Franklin furrowed his brow. Had he just imagined it?
“Hold up there Franky, Jann,” Kimberly called from the end of the street; she doubled back to retrieve them. Of course she hadn’t seen the caravan, so she didn’t understand Franklin’s look of suppressed horror when he turned to face her.
“I thought I saw—a roach on the kettle corn,” he improvised, deciding that he was letting his limited imagination play tricks, and not witnessing some sort of bizarre, Hansel-and-Gretel child abduction.
“You don’t want that right now anyway,” Kimberly corrected, looking from Franklin to Jann with disapproval. “Honestly, you guys are making a beginner’s mistake: you never fill up on junk food before the party! They could have some really good stuff inside. You’ll miss out. This looks like a pretty ritzy neighborhood, so the hors d’oeuvres will be expensive,” she said knowingly.
“And you’re basing that on what?” Franklin challenged. “How many rich-person parties have you been to?”
Kimberly rolled her eyes. “I’m just saying, you don’t wanna eat candy corn instead of caviar,” she countered.
“Yeah, yeah,” Franklin muttered.
They looked over at Jann, who had her fist buried elbow-deep in one of the bright orange candy buckets that lined the street in place of mailboxes. “It’s… for later,” she mumbled, blushing, but still dumping two giant scoops into her plastic pumpkin.
“Anyway, that’s the house from the meet up pic,” Franklin said, nodding at the three-storey Victorian manor that towered over the other houses on the street.
They headed forward, suddenly intimidated by the immense structure. Flashing pink and purple spot lights streamed over the front of the building, an elaborate cobblestone path circled in front of a Grim Reaper fountain, and Scissor-handian hedge sculptures faced off across the lawn. This house made the others look like posers, Franklin thought.
Kimberly rushed down the stone path, too excited to wait for the others. Jann scrambled after her, trying to keep up, and Franklin picked up the rear.
He sauntered along, throwing suspicious glances at the twisted lawn art and the looming statue of Death. Someone had put way too much effort into this place—and it made Franklin uncomfortable.
“Oh, I can’t believe it—we’re finally here!” Kimberly squealed—then she caught herself. “Alright, stay frosty people. Remember, we’re here to have fun, but you’re still representing the KKKK. So, if in doubt, just ask yourself, ‘What would Kimberly do?’”
Franklin arrived at her side just in time to think what a bad idea that would be.
Kimberly raised her hand to knock—but the door slid open on its own. The hairs on Franklin’s neck started to twitch. A bright amber light streamed through the crack, illuminating them all in hellish tones.
A girl emerged from inside. She stood in the doorway with her arms crossed. It took them a second for their eyes to adjust…
“Who is i—Kimmy—is that you?” a familiar voice demanded. “And friends. What a—surprise.”
Kimberly raised an eyebrow and appraised the girl’s silhouette. “It’s Kimberly, actually,” she said flatly. “And how do you know my name?”
Emma Farragut stepped out of the glare and onto the porch. Franklin was surprised to see that she wasn’t wearing a costume—just a seagull shirt. “It’s me,” she snipped.
Kimberly squinted, then donned a confused smile. “Who?” she asked.
“Emma,” Emma snapped, not amused.
Kimberly bit her lip and shook her head. “I’ve known a lot of Emmas. Did we meet at the café?” she tried.
“Emma Farragut!” she shouted. “How can you not remember?”
“Oh,” Kimberly exclaimed, snapping her fingers, like she’d just missed the answer to a game show question. “That’s right. You’ve got one of those faces—you know? Hard to pick out of a line up.”
Emma glared. Her face probably burned red with anger—but with all her makeup it was hard to tell.
“Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t have any candy for Trick-or-treaters,” she taunted.
Kimberly ignored the insult. “Of all the gin joints, right?” she said wryly.
“What does that mean?” Emma asked.
“I mean it’s kind of an amazing coincidence you being here. Are you stalking us?” Kimberly said suspiciously.
Emma looked like she was about to lose it. “This is my party!” she shrilled. “And tickets are all sold out so if you’ll just—”
Franklin dug in his pocket for the ticket print-out, then held it up for her to see. “I guess we got the last three,” he said sheepishly.
“Let me see that!” she said, grabbing the piece of paper. Then, with a wicked smile, she tore it to shreds. “Whoops!” she sang.
Franklin was unfazed. He looked at her with pity. “Um, you know it’s twenty fourteen, right? I have a copy on my phone too,” he said, holding out the small screen far enough for her to see—but not to reach.
“Well I don’t care,” Emma spat. “It’s my party, and I don’t want you here.”
Kimberly put her hands on her hips. “Fine. Then just give us our money, and we’ll be on our way,” she said, taking a threatening step forward.
“What money?” Emma said.
“You posted your party as an event. My friend here paid good money for us to come to this thing. He paid—” She elbowed Franklin. “—What did you pay?” she whispered out of the corner of her mouth.
“Seventeen fifty,” Franklin answered.
Kimberly raised an eyebrow. “Each?” she asked.
“No. Altogether. Including the convenience fee—which isn’t a real thing, since they save on postage,” Franklin complained.
“Franky, that’s—not that much money,” she said, sounding disappointed.
Franklin actually felt slightly proud. “Thanks. I got a good deal.”
Emma watched their back and forth with growing impatience. “Well?” she demanded.
“Like I was saying, my boy here dropped… almost eighteen bucks on your party, and we’re not leaving until we get it back,” Kimberly proclaimed.
“And why would I give you anything?” Emma said disdainfully.
“Two words Emma: raw eggs,” Kimberly said with bravado. “Have you ever tried to clean dried egg out of a topiary? Or your locker? It’s not fun. The smell never really leaves you.”
“Alright! Whatever!” Emma snapped. Talking with Kimberly was obviously stressing her out. “I’ll get your stupid money. Poor white trash needs every cent I guess.”
Kimberly didn’t share Emma’s smile.
“Wait here. I’ll be right back,” the starved teen said, before disappearing back inside her house.
“Okay team, now’s our chance,” Kimberly said to them as soon as Emma was gone. “We’re not gonna let a little chit like that wreck our night—we’re gonna crash this party!”
Franklin sighed, “I was afraid you’d say that.” He didn’t think he’d get out of this so easily.
Kimberly cracked open the door and peaked into the orange glare. “She’s gone. Let’s slip inside,” she said.
“I’m not going in there—I’m going home!” Jann hissed suddenly.
Kimberly leaned back against the massive wooden door, and turned to face Jann, still throwing nervous glances into the house every few seconds. “Jann, we don’t have time for this. She’ll be back any minute!” Kimberly said, but Jann wasn’t listening.
She stood with her fists buried in her pockets, visibly shaking. Franklin had never seen her this upset. “You knew didn’t you!” she snapped at Franklin. “You knew this was Emma’s party. Are—are the two of you in it together?”
“What?” Franklin said.
“You pick this party, and drag me out here just so you can laugh at me?” Jann accused. “Why else would you pick Emma’s party? I hate you!”
“Jann, calm down,” Kimberly ordered. “Franklin’s not a double agent, are you Franky?”
“I don’t even know what she’s talking about,” Franklin breathed, loading his tone with as much annoyance as he possibly could.
“That’s right,” Kimberly continued. “He probably saw Emma’s party there, and chose it knowing that it would give us the perfect opportunity for payback. He wanted revenge for us—didn’t you Franky?”
“No. It was literally the only party left. And her name wasn’t even on the web page,” Franklin replied dully.
“That’s what I thought,” Kimberly said automatically. “He wants to get back at Emma as much as you do Jann. So come on! Let’s go get some!”
Jann didn’t look convinced. In fact, the more Kimberly talked the more Jann seemed to crawl back into her shell. “No. Just leave me alone,” she mumbled, her anger crumbling into depression.
“Jann! I think I hear her coming. We have to go now!” Kimberly said, finally sounding frustrated. “Don’t let her control you. You’re stronger than this,” she shouted.
Franklin didn’t know if he should be rooting pro-party or no party at this point. He looked back and forth between the two girls—Kimberly on his left, legs tensed, ready to dive through the door, and Jann on his right, shoulders slumped, energy gone, standing still as a statue.
“I can’t,” Jann sobbed, shaking her head. And with that, she turned away from Kimberly and started walking back across Emma’s lawn.
Kimberly’s face fell; she looked disappointed.
“You’re still with me, right Franky?” she asked sadly. Her emerald eyes glistened in the darkness.
Franklin wanted to lift her spirits—to say something cool that would let her know he had her back. But he was Franklin, and he knew that he’d just sound like a jerk if he tried.
He nodded. “We didn’t come out here for nothing,” he conceded.
For some reason Franklin couldn’t understand, that seemed to do the trick. Kimberly’s smile hit him like one of the neon spotlights. “Alright, Franky. It’s just you and me. Let’s go!” she said.
The next thing he knew, a small hand had grabbed his arm and pulled him into the bright party lights.
A rush of warmth, the flashing colors of twirling lights dancing across a room full of costumes, and the booming clatter of a dozen conversations shouted over the blare of the Monster Mash assaulted Franklin’s senses all at once. And he would’ve noticed all of that—if he hadn’t noticed Kimberly first.
In the light of the party he could finally make out her costume. She wore a stunning purple dress that clung high to her legs and close to her body. Sequin fleurs and twirls accented every inch, ending in layers of sparkling tassels hanging from her skirt, Draped over her shoulders she had a black boa, and fastened around her head, a thin band of fabric with a faux peacock feather sticking straight up over her left temple. She looked like a modern and very Kimberly take on a 1920’s flapper.
It was such a simple costume, so—bizarrely normal—and Franklin couldn’t stop staring.
It’s just you and me… Kimberly’s words echoed in his head. He felt nervous in a way that he couldn’t explain. He was alone here with Kimberly, and for some reason, this time felt different.
Franklin felt his head swim with confusion, and as he gaped at Kimberly he could only think one thing:
This wasn’t a date… was it?