by Daryl Wood Gerber
Enjoy this never before published Halloween short story. Check out more Halloween short stories, with more still to come, in our Terrific Tales section.
“Ayiii!” Jenna stamped her foot and flicked the Hello Kitty pillow she got for Christmas six years ago across the room. Why was “I’ll Never Break Your Heart” playing on the radio? Didn’t the disc jockey know that Denny Henderson had dumped Jenna for Lili Littlefield today? Didn’t the DJ know that Jenna was at home, alone, on her birthday? Her parents took her brother and sister out to dinner on this chilly spring night because they thought Denny was taking Jenna for a burger and milkshake to celebrate. As if.
“Ayiii!” Jenna switched off her iPod while imagining she was pulling every hair from Denny’s handsome head. One by one. No, from not Denny’s head, from Lili’s head.
Jenna grumbled and removed a Mickey Mouse T-shirt from her closet. She slammed the door. Bam.
She hurried into the bathroom and slammed that door, too. Wham.
She opened the medicine cabinet, grabbed the bottle of PINK Fresh and Clean spray that she had put on for Denny. She considered hurling it at the mirror, but reconsidered and set it back on the shelf—he wasn’t worth a broken mirror and seven years of bad luck. Instead, she banged the mirrored door closed and stuck out her tongue.
“Darn you, Lili Littlefield!” Jenna muttered as she slinked out of the floral blouse she had put on to wow Denny and into the T-shirt. “What does he see in you anyway?” Lili had a stubby nose and bad teeth, and—
Jenna stopped herself. Lili wasn’t ugly. She was pretty. Much prettier than Jenna, with a pert nose and doe eyes. And she was shorter. Who wasn’t? Jenna thought. Everybody in seventh grade was. Jenna stood five feet eight inches in flip-flops. Heck, maybe that was why Denny liked Lili. He was short, too. And so cute. He liked the Haunted House ride at Disneyland and baseball and—
Jenna stood stock-still. What was that? Her family didn’t own a cat. They didn’t own a dog. She peered at the ceiling. Maybe a squirrel was roaming through the attic.
Thump-thump-thump echoed outside Jenna’s room. On the stairs. Someone—or some thing—was climbing to the second floor.
“Mom? Dad?” Jenna whispered.
Maybe it was Denny, realizing the errors of his ways. Maybe he was crawling on his knees to beg her forgiveness. Well, she would tell him what was what. He could skulk into a grave and die for all she cared.
Jenna opened the bathroom door an inch and peeked into her bedroom.
“Denny?” Jenna said, her voice quivering.
Fear made Jenna’s mouth taste like she had swallowed a handful of dirty pennies. She urged herself to toughen up. She was the smartest girl in her class, plus she was a cheerleader. She had a big voice. Big.
“Denny, cut it out!” she yelled at the top of her lungs.
“Denny Henderson, if you are trying to scare the spit out of me, I won’t stand for it. Do you hear me?”
Jenna’s hands began to shake.
The thumping stopped abruptly. Then something started slithering on the hallway floor. Toward Jenna’s door. A shadow appeared at the lower edge.
Knock-knock-knock. More urgent.
“Jenna?” a girl whispered.
Jenna raced to the door and whipped it open. Lili Littlefield stared up at her, bug-eyed, and scrabbled to her feet. She grabbed Jenna’s hand and dragged her into the bedroom.
“Close the door!” Lili ordered.
“What are you doing here?”
“I…I…” Lili sputtered.
“You’re supposed to be on a date with Denny.”
“I…I…” Her lips were trembling. Her hands were icy cold.
Jenna looked beyond Lili. “Is Denny out there? Denny Henderson, show your slimy face!” she bellowed down the hallway.
Denny didn’t appear.
“He’s not here.” Lili pushed past Jenna and pulled the door shut. “He…we…I didn’t go out with him.”
“Because he’s a dweeb.”
“He is not.”
“Besides I like Billy Boyd.”
“You can’t tell him.”
“I won’t.” Jenna crossed her heart. “So why on earth are you here, and why did you scare me like that?”
“Because”—Lili swallowed hard—“there’s a ghost outside.”
“Way.” Lili finger-combed her hair, which was messier than Jenna had ever seen it. Lili’s hair was never out of place. Jenna often wore a hairband to keep her shoulder-length hair off her face. “It was flying around, high in the sky, not looking at the ground, so I crawled to your house so it wouldn’t see me.” Lili lived two doors down in the blue house.
“Crawled? The whole way?”
Lili bobbed her head.
“You’re making it up.”
“Am not.” Lili tugged her grass-stained tank top over her jeans.
“Man or woman?”
Jenna studied Lili. She was an only child with a wild imagination, probably because her parents got divorced. They weren’t meant to be, Lili said. They didn’t like the same things anymore. Jenna wondered whether she was meant to be with Denny. He didn’t like the beach. He didn’t like sunny days. Come to think of it, Jenna couldn’t think of many things they both liked other than Disneyland and baseball. So why did she like him? And why did he lie about going out with Lili when she apparently did not like him in the least.
“Jenna, there is a ghost. I’m not lying.”
“You like drama.”
“Do not,” Lili said in her most over-the-top dramatic voice. When they were six, Lili told Jenna that she was going to become an actress. In Hollywood. She was going to be a star. “It’s a ghost I’m telling you.” Lili pushed past Jenna to the window and peeked around the dotted Swiss curtain.
Jenna stayed put. She did not believe in ghosts even though her aunt believed in all sorts of spiritual beings. Aunt Vera said creatures of the night lived everywhere. Especially in Crystal Cove. She said the town buzzed with energy—both good and bad—not just because the hills were packed with gemstones but because pirates settled the coast and, as they died off, their spirits stuck around. One time, she even told Jenna that Jenna’s house had a resident ghost. Jenna didn’t believe her.
“I don’t see him anymore,” Lili moved back to Jenna, “but he was out there.”
Jenna rolled her eyes. “What did he look like?”
“You know. Sort of transparent.”
“What was he wearing?”
“Pants and a raggedy shirt. No shoes.”
“No shoes?” Jenna laughed. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah. I think so. I don’t know. He fluttered.” Lili wiggled her fingers. “You don’t believe—”
The bedroom window blew open.
Lili dropped to the floor and covered her head. “He’s here!” she shrieked.
“Don’t be a ninny.” Foe or not, Jenna crouched beside Lili and threw an arm over her. “There’s no ghost. It’s just the wind. A storm is coming.”
As the chill filled the room, Jenna trembled.
To bolster herself, she said, “Buck up, Lili.”
Before today when Denny announced he was going to date Lili instead of Jenna, she and Lili had been friends. Never once, in all the time Jenna had known her, was Lili a scaredy cat. She had pluck. Heck, all the popular girls followed her like a flock of lost ducklings. She was a leader.
“On your feet.” Jenna rose and moved to the window. She shut it, latched it, and straightened the curtain.
“Do you see it?” Lili said, her voice quaking as she remained huddled on the floor.
“There is no gray ghost floating around my yard. We’re safe. Get up.”
“What if it’s heading for the chimney? Is the flue open?”
A jolt of panic shot through Jenna. Omigosh, yes, the flue was open. Her parents loved to light a fire in the fireplace every night, even in late spring. Just not tonight. Because they were out!
“Eek! What’s in there?” Lili’s face turned ash white.
“Nothing,” Jenna laughed. “I was kidding.” She reached in again and pulled the handle to close the flue. The metal cover dropped into place with a clank. “We’re safe.”
“Oh, you!” Lili sank onto the royal blue sofa. She brought her knees to her chest and locked her arms around them. “We should call the police or your parents.”
Why hadn’t Jenna thought of that? She crossed to the telephone and lifted the receiver. No dial tone.
“What’s wrong?” Lili cried.
“Liar. You just turned as white as snow.”
“The telephone isn’t working.”
“It’s not? Oh, no! Someone cut the line. We’re doomed.”
“Lili, get real. The lines go out around here all the time. Squirrels gnaw on them.”
Lili grabbed a pillow and clutched it like a lifeline. “I’m scared.”
“Of a non-existent ghost?” Jenna snorted.
“Have you ever met one?”
“No way.” Jenna sat on the couch, too, and drew her legs up, Indian-style. “They do not exist.”
“Your aunt said they do.” Lili pounded a fist into her palm. “She had a séance. At our house. Right after my uncle died. She’s weird.”
“She is not. Just because she believes in the afterlife and tries to talk to souls who have gone to heaven doesn’t make her weird.”
Lili bobbed her head.
“Aunt Vera lost someone, you know,” Jenna said defensively. “She lost her fiancé.”
“He married someone else, and a year later, he died.”
Lili wrinkled her pert nose. “How horrible.”
“She loved him and he loved her, so she had a séance at our house to reach out to him.”
“And did she connect? She connected with my uncle.”
“Did, too. He moaned and groaned and said the meanest things to my mother. They were not friends.” Lili scratched her nose. “So did she connect with her fiancé?”
Jenna shrugged. “She did. My mother attended. My father did not. You know how he can be.” Jenna’s father, her aunt’s brother, was a strict, by-the-book FBI agent. He did not—would not—believe in hoodoo-voodoo stuff, but her mother was more open.
“Did you go?” Lili asked.
“Me? I wasn’t invited.”
Lili shot her an all-knowing look. “Did you sneak in?”
Jenna felt her cheeks flush. “Um, yeah.”
“I knew it. Tell me what—”
Something rattled the metal grate in the fireplace.
The girls slid closer to each other.
“Denny!” Jenna called.
“It’s nothing, Jenna. You said so yourself.” Lili clutched Jenna’s hands. “Go on. Tell me about the séance.”
Jenna swiveled to meet Lili’s gaze. “I sneaked down the stairs to see what was going on, and the lights flickered.”
Jenna lowered her voice as if she was speaking around a campfire. “Aunt Vera said someone was in the room, someone not of this earth.”
“Did you believe her?”
The grate rattled again. So hard it clanged. And then something tapped the window.
Both girls yelped.
Jenna bolted off the sofa and tore to the window. “That had to be the wind, right?”
“Or the ghost threw a pebble.” Lili tittered.
“Ghosts can’t throw things.”
“Says who?” Lili joined Jenna and pressed her hands and nose against the glass. “Look! There.” She squeaked and pointed. “See it?”
A lump formed in Jenna’s throat. “Oh my gosh,” she squawked.
“You do see it.” Lili sounded almost giddy, bordering on scared out of her gourd. “I’m not imagining things.”
“It can’t be.”
The thing flew around the sycamore tree. Under. Down. Up. Moonlight caught it here and there. Jenna couldn’t make out a face, but Lili was right. Whatever it was didn’t have feet. Then Jenna spotted another ghost. And another.
“There are more,” she croaked.
“Do something!” Lili demanded.
“Like what? Talk to them? Reason with them?” Up until now, Jenna hadn’t believed in spirits or witches or anything supernatural. Even after the séance, she had talked herself into believing that her aunt must have done something to make the rapping noises. Either she bounced her knees on the table, or another person who attended had knuckled the underside of the table.
“Je-e-e-nna!” a voice bellowed through the air vent above her. “Je-e-e-nna! Come to me.”
Jenna ran to the center of the room and looked up.
Lili gripped Jenna’s arm. “Who’s calling you?”
“How would I know?”
Whap! Something hit the front door. Whap-whap! Whap-whap-whap!
Jenna spun around. Liquid was oozing down the glass pane.
Lili curled into herself. “Ew. That’s ghost slime. It’s right outside. Trying to get in.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Jenna said, but if it was, then why were her knees banging together?
Whatever was outside rapped on the door once. Then again. Harder.
“Holy moly,” Lili shouted. “I’m telling you, it’s trying to get inside.”
“Je-e-e-nna,” the voice in the air vent called out. “Come to me, Je-e-e-nna!”
Knock-knock. On the front door.
Jenna started toward the archway.
“It’s not a vampire.” Jenna shook off Lili. “Get a grip.”
“How can I when I see how scared you are? Your teeth are chattering.”
“Are not,” Jenna repeated. Okay, they were.
She clutched Lili in a hug. As they stood there, trembling, something pounded on a window to the left of the door. Then on a window to the right of the door. Then on all five windows around the living room.
“Je-e-e-nna!” a creature called from outside.
“Je-e-e-nna!” a second creature cried.
“There must be a dozen of them,” Lili exclaimed.
Stop, stop, stop, Jenna told herself. Not to the voices. To herself. Stop shaking and get hold of yourself. There has to be an explanation.
Boldly she ran to a window and brushed the curtain aside. “Lili, did you see that?”
“See what?” Lili huddled behind Jenna and peeked over her shoulder.
“There. On the ground. Do you see those shadows?”
“Oh, no.” Lili’s voice quaked. “Now there are phantoms?”
Jenna squinted. “No, not phantoms. Boys. A bunch of boys.” She marched to the front door and stormed into the yard. “I see you, Denny Henderson. And you, Billy Boyd. And you, Fred, Ted, and Ed Ferguson. Get in here, now!” She jammed a finger toward the porch.
Cackling laughter echoed through the night. Then Denny and Billy and the Ferguson boys emerged from behind the tree. So did a few ghosts, who turned out to be long white kites painted to look like grown men. The feetless tails of the kites fluttered behind each. Every boy had a megaphone.
“I knew it,” Jenna said.
The boys snickered. Denny and Billy were complete opposites. Denny was dark-haired, Billy was blond; Denny was lean; Billy was pudgy. Fred, Ted, and Ed were triplets with flaming orange hair and impish grins. All of them played baseball.
“Drop everything,” Jenna ordered.
The ghost kites and megaphones hit the ground. Clackety-clack.
“You are so mean.” Jenna’s face felt hot with rage. She had never been so mad in her life. “Inside, now.” She aimed a finger at the front door.
Lili mimicked the gesture. “Yeah, inside. Now.”
Denny scooped up his kite and shoved Billy to lead the way. Head hanging low, Billy shuffled up the steps and into the house. Fred, Ted, and Ed followed. Denny tossed his kite onto the porch and glanced at Jenna. He winked. She knuckled him on the shoulder, stamped inside, and slammed the door.
Denny slinked inside a moment later and eased the door shut.
“You had no right to scare us like that, Denny,” Jenna started. “You had no right to tell me you were asking Lili out on my birthday and then—”
“I knew she’d say no,” Denny protested.
“You—” Jenna paused. “You what?”
“I knew she would say no.” Denny shoved his hands into his pockets and scuffed the hardwood floor with the toe of his tennis shoe. “I knew Lili didn’t like me. She likes Billy.”
Billy smiled. “She does?”
Lili huffed. “I do not.”
Denny punched his pal. “Told you so.”
Denny strode into the living room and slouched on the arm of the sofa. “Jenna, I set up the ghost party as a surprise. For your birthday.”
“For my birthday?”
“Yeah. You told me you like scary movies, remember? You told me you watched that old classic Goonies a zillion times because it made you feel excited and nervous all at the same time, so I thought—”
“You didn’t think,” Jenna said and glowered at him.
“Aw, c’mon, don’t tell me you were scared.” Denny laughed. “You don’t believe in ghosts, do you?”
“You know what, Jenna?” said Lili, now the model of calm. “We should make this night into a movie.”
“Yeah,” Billy said. “I can get my father’s video camera.”
Lili batted her eyelashes at Billy. “You can?”
“Great idea,” Denny said. “All of us will star in it.”
Fred pointed at his brothers Ted and Ed. “We’ll do the special effects.”
Denny nodded. “Lili and Jenna, you can do the sound effects, you know, like screaming.”
Jenna punched him in the chest.
Denny laughed and then moaned, “Je-e-e-nna. Come to me, Je-e-e-nna!”
“How did you do that, by the way?”
“I brought a ladder and spoke through the vent opening, and—”
Suddenly the fireplace grate screeched open and something moaned. LOUDLY.
Denny shouted, “Last one out is a rotten egg!”
When they reached the sidewalk and all seemed calm, Jenna cozied up to Denny and said, “Gee, Denny, you don’t believe in ghosts, do you?”
In the attic window above Jenna’s room stood a white form. A specter. He waved.
Everyone turned ghost white, frozen in place for a few seconds, and then they dashed down the street.
Jenna ran the fastest because she recognized the creak of the attic window opening.
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