It wasn’t a surprise when Kaylyn started handing out invitations to her Halloween party before homeroom. What was a surprise was that I received one.
I stared at the orange envelope she was holding out toward me and then up at her.
“For me?” I asked uncertainly.
Kaylyn and I had never been friends. Acquaintances, sure, it was impossible not to be in a school as small as ours, but beyond a little polite small talk, we’d hardly spoken. She was pretty and popular and I was…less so. There was no bad blood or anything like that, she’d always been nice enough to me, but not “party invitation” nice.
“Yeah,” she smiled and gave the envelope an encouraging shake. “Everyone’s invited! It’s Saturday at 7. My parents won’t be home.”
“Oh,” I said. “I think I’m working until 9…”
I trailed off and took it hesitantly. She’d written my name across the front in careful calligraphy.
“It’s our senior year and all,” it was her turn to sound a bit uncertain. “I just thought it’d be nice if our whole class got together. You don’t have to come.” She added quickly.
I couldn’t help but feel a bit bad. It was obvious this meant a lot to her. The whole “last year of school” thing seemed to be getting to people.
“Oh, no, I-I’ll be there, I guess,” I said. “I’ll just be late.”
“No problem! People are just going to show up when they can. It’s going to be so much fun!”
I didn’t think it would be and immediately regretted saying I would go. There were only a dozen of us in the class and I didn’t have any real friends in it. I was sure I’d be the lonely loser standing beside the punch bowl, waiting for my parents to come pick me up.
When I told Mom about it that night, she could hardly hide her relief. She’d always worried I was too much of an introvert and missing out on those special high school memories that apparently made these the best years of my life.
“That’s great, Tenny! When is it?”
“Saturday,” I said. “But I have a shift at the movie theater right before and I’d probably be late anyway. It’s not like I have a costume either.”
“We can go shopping Friday!”
“I don’t know, I don’t really want to…”
“You can’t stay holed up in your room in front of your computer screen forever, Teneik. You’re going.”
“Mom, come on.”
“It’s one night. It won’t kill you!”
I groaned and looked over to my dad, who was watching TV with far more interest than the sitcom on the screen called for.
“Dad, tell her she’s being ridiculous!” I said.
He slapped his knee and stood up with an exaggerated shake of his beer can.
“Oh, would you look at that, I’m empty! I’m just gonna go grab another. S’cuse me, ladies.”
He scampered out of the room while I glared at his retreating back.
“Discussion over,” Mom said, turning back to the TV. “You’re going.”
Her mind could not be changed, despite all of my arguments over the next few days. My one small victory was managing to get out of going costume shopping. I dug around in my closet until I’d thrown together something that resembled a generic anime school girl outfit complete with cheap pink wig. Hardly perfect, but it was simple, wouldn’t make me stand out, and it would keep Mom off my back.
Everyone in class couldn’t wait for Saturday night. All they talked about was what they were going to dress up as and what kind of entertainment Kaylyn would have.
“I’m going to be a black cat,” Jenna said. “Can’t go wrong with a classic.”
“Lame!” Brooks replied.
Jenna hissed playfully and everyone laughed.
Even I was roped in to a few discussions and shared my own costume idea, but I could never fake my enthusiasm for long and they’d drift away again.
I was certain it was just a taste of what the party would be like. Surrounded by people having a great time, all while wanting nothing more than to go home.
By the time Saturday rolled around, I was anxious and stressed. It made me clumsy at work and I was spilling popcorn and soda all over the floor behind the concession stand. The customers thought it was funny, but my manager didn’t. He threatened to send me home early if I didn’t get it together. The fear of having to go to the party made me shape up pretty quickly. I even offered to stay late in case he needed someone to do any inventory or extra clean up, but he didn’t need the help.
Mom was waiting for me in the car outside, costume folded up neatly in the backseat.
“Don’t look so glum, chum,” she said, nudging me as I buckled in. “It’s a party, not an execution.”
“Please, Mom, don’t make me go,” I tried pleading with her one last time.
“It’ll do you good, Tenny. You need to spend time with people your own age. Just stay for a couple hours, ok? That’s all I’m asking. You might even have a…,” she paused to gasp dramatically, “good time!”
I sighed in resignation and rested my head against the window.
Just two hours, I told myself, just get through two hours.
Kaylyn lived in a large McMansion in a gated community. Mom parked at the end of her long driveway and waved me into the back to change into my costume.
“No one’s going to see you,” she tsked when I protested. “It’s dark, the windows are tinted, and no one’s around. Now hurry!”
She left me standing on the curb after telling me to try and enjoy myself and wishing me luck.
I must have stayed there for almost an hour, kicking my feet against the gravel and trying to will myself to head up to the party. My anxiety kept me in place. I knew it wasn’t going to end any time soon, Kaylyn had said people could even spend the night if they wanted, so trying to avoid it completely wasn’t going to work. I could only imagine what people would think if they saw me just standing in the dark by myself.
It was enough to finally get me going.
Music, soft and seasonally spooky, drifted down the drive to greet me as I turned and trudged reluctantly towards the house. It was set far back, well away from the road and neighbors, and surprisingly dark, the only light coming from the open garage.
Kaylyn really knows how to set the mood, I thought.
Too nervous to knock on the unlit front door, I crept towards the garage.
In the glow of the single, naked bulb hanging from the middle of the ceiling, I saw a girl bent over an apple bobbing bucket. Her back was to me and she was facedown in the bucket, her arms at her side. I recognized the flaming red braid running down the back of her witch’s costume as being Piper’s. I shuffled my feet a bit to let her know I was there so she wouldn’t be startled, but she remained still.
After a moment, I whispered her name.
She didn’t move. How long had it been since I walked up? Thirty seconds? A minute? Why hadn’t she come up yet? And why was she out here doing this by herself? My heartbeat was starting to quicken. I imagined this turning into some kind of scene out of Carrie, where this had all been set up as a trap to embarrass me somehow.
“Piper?” I repeated louder than before. “Are you ok?”
I carefully scanned the garage for any hiding spots that people could jump out at me from. It was stupid, none of my classmates had ever really bullied me, but they’d also never included me in anything. And now, to walk up to something like this, I didn’t know what to think.
Piper still hadn’t moved.
I inched forward, my breathing loud and shaky in my ears, and reached for her as my eyes darted back and forth from her to the room around us.
No one leapt out. No one shouted or laughed at me. There were no phones shoved in my face to film my reaction. Piper simply slid sideways when I gently shook her shoulder and fell to the floor.
Her face was a swollen, shiny mess of blisters. Some had already split and thin streams of blood dripped down her cheeks like tears. Her lips were cracked and oozing. Her staring, sightless eyes so red.
I screamed and reeled back, bumping into the bobbing bucket. Some of the liquid sloshed upwards and a drop splashed against the back of my hand. It burned immediately, and continued to even after I’d wiped it frantically on my skirt. My skin turned bright pink where it had landed. I didn’t know what it was, only that it wasn’t water.
“What the fuck,” I sobbed, running around Piper’s body to the door leading inside.
I yanked it open and shouted for someone to come help, that there’d been an accident. The same slow, creepy Halloween music was playing throughout the house and the kitchen that I stepped into was dimly lit with strings of pumpkin lights. Candles that smelled strongly of pumpkin spice burned on every counter. That, combined with what I’d just seen, turned my stomach in a nauseous wave. I put a hand over my mouth and stumbled forward. There were muffled voices coming from the next room and I called for them, begging them to come to me.
I followed that same stupid string of smiling pumpkin lights down the hall to the living room.
Jenna was the first person I saw. She had worn her black cat costume, just like she said she would. She was up against the far wall, held in place by a single, large spike driven through the back of her neck. A piece of paper was taped to the wall beside her.
Pin the tail on the cat
In front of her, Beni, Rod, and Shea were staggering around. They were making terrible, wet gurgling sounds and moaning as they bumped into each other, the walls, the furniture. They each had a nail through their right hands. The paper cut out of a cat’s tail fluttered from the sharp end.
I gasped and Shea turned towards me. Deep, angry gouges covered her eye sockets. She was weeping blood and ichor. She opened her mouth and wailed, revealing the torn stump of her tongue and sending a spray of red down her chin. A few drops scattered across my front and I tripped over myself to back away.
Beni and Rod had matching injuries.
“Oh god, oh fuck, what happened to you guys?” I croaked through my fingers.
I groped at my pocket for my cell before remembering I’d changed in mom’s car. My phone was still in my work pants.
“Just…just wait,” I said, fighting back the urge to vomit and scream again. “I’m gonna find a phone and call for help.”
I didn’t know if they really heard me. They kept making those awful sounds and shuffling around, too caught up in their shock and pain.
I wasn’t thinking. I was just running, looking for a phone. I dashed up the nearby steps, shouting for Kaylyn or anyone else. I never even crossed my mind that whoever had done this to my classmates could still be inside.
All I was thinking about was finding a phone.
The upstairs opened into a loft. A card table had been set up with a piece of paper in the middle of it that said, Spin the bottle. An empty wine bottle was lying on its side on top of it. Four more of my classmates were seated around it. Raquel, Brian, Jason, and Monique. Three of them were slumped forward, covered in deep gashes. Blood stained their costumes and pooled around their feet in dark puddles. They each had knives duct taped between their hands.
Brian was half out of his chair. His glasses were hanging from one ear. In the middle of his forehead was a single bullet hole.
A fifth chair had been knocked over and my gaze followed the trail of blood that led away from it, down the hall. I felt along the wall for a switch with shaking fingers and turned the light on.
Brooks was sitting against a door not far from me. His head was tilted low against his chest, but he was still breathing in short, shallow gasps. Like the other, he was covered in deep cuts and had his hands taped around a knife.
“Brooks!” I crouched beside him, all too aware that I was standing in his blood.
His eyes fluttered open, but remained unfocused. “Teneik?” He mumbled.
“I won,” his words were slurred. “Had to play…Brian didn’t want to.”
“Do you have your phone? I need to call the cops. I’m going to get us help!”
But he wasn’t listening. “Spin and stab. Those were the rules. If we didn’t…” He made a weak gunshot sound.
“Who made you? Who shot Brian? Look at me, Brooks!”
“Dunno. Somebody. They had a mask on. Raquel stabbed me first. Then I stabbed Monique. We didn’t want to get shot,” his voice was becoming higher, more plaintiff. “I didn’t want to. They were my friends. I didn’t…I didn’t…
His voice faded and his head rolled back against the wall with a thump.
I rocked back on my heels, my vision blurring behind confused, frightened tears. Leaning heavily on the wall for support, I pulled myself to my feet again, all the whole staring at Brooks.
All I could think was, What do I do? What do I do? What do I do?!
My legs didn’t want to work. My brain felt fogged over, like I was in some kind of dream. I wanted to puke and scream and run, but I just stood there, staring at my dead classmate while I cried.
At the end of the hall, one of the doors opened slightly with a creak and someone whimpered from within.
No more, I silently begged, I can’t take anymore!
“Teneik?” It was a scared, soft whisper. A girl’s voice. “Is that you?”
“Kaylyn?” My voice was high and tight.
I stepped over Brooks’ body on my tiptoes, muffling a sob with my knuckle, and teetered drunkenly toward Kaylyn’s voice. The door swung open easily and I gripped the frame to keep myself upright.
It was a bedroom, Kaylyn’s, softly lit by a small lamp on her bedside table. She was sitting at the end of her bed, her fairy princess costume torn and blood spattered. She had cuts all over her arms and a long, red line running down one of her cheeks. There was a knife lying across her lap.
When she saw me, she smiled.
“I’m glad you finally made it,” she said.
As I opened my mouth to ask what had happened, Kaylin lifted her right hand as if defending herself against someone standing over her. She picked up the knife in her left hand and drove it through her upraised palm.
She flinched and a few tears slid down her cheeks. Her smile, while pained, remained.
While I watched, frozen in horror, she ripped the knife out of her hand and sank the tip into her shoulder.
“Stop!” I screamed.
I rushed toward her and grabbed her arm. It was wet and slippery beneath my fingers. She yelped and turned the blade towards me. I jerked back a few steps, absently ringing my shirt in my stained hands.
“Stay over there,” she said. “It’ll be better if you do.”
“What are you doing?” I pleaded desperately. “What happened?”
She dragged the knife across her right knuckles in short, quick strokes and held her hand up for me to see. “Do these look like defensive cuts to you?”
“They need to look real, like I fought off my attacker. Do they?”
I gaped dumbly at her.
“I suppose we’ll find out,” Kaylyn said.
“I know. It was a little more rushed than I’d like, but the roofies didn’t last as long as I thought they would. I’m glad I thought ahead enough to make sure people showed up at different times. Would’ve been a complete disaster otherwise.”
“Roofies?” I repeated weakly.
“Well, yeah. It’s not like I could have gotten everything done if they were awake. It was just a little, I promise.”
The matter-of-fact way she said it sent goosebumps up my arms and neck.
Kaylyn maintained eye contact while she stabbed herself in the leg. “Everyone likes to start a party with a drink. I gave myself a smaller dose this morning. Needed it in my bloodstream.”
“You killed them? They were your friends!” A hot, tight feeling gripped my chest.
“I’ll make new ones, don’t worry!”
“You did all of this yourself?” The question squeezed itself past the lump in my throat.
She nodded and there was pride in the gesture. “Yup!”
“I’m…I’m gonna call the cops!” I backed out of the room, until I hit the hallway wall.
I never took my eyes off of her, afraid she’d attack me from behind. But she didn’t follow.
“Oh, don’t worry! I did a little after you got inside,” Kaylyn said. Her calmness against her battered and bloodied appearance was so off putting and I froze again. “I told them that my weird loner classmate dressed like a school girl drugged my guests and started attacking them. I’d just barely woken up enough to hide and call them.”
As if to punctuate her words, the shrill cry of sirens sounded in the distance.
I could feel the color drain from my face and I sank to the floor as they got louder and louder.
“Why?” I managed to ask.
Car tires squealed to a halt outside. The sirens were roaring now.
Kaylyn smiled and shrugged. “Just to see if I could get away with it.”
And then she began to scream.