The Barrington House is a short story of three chapters, posted over three days -- by me, your spooky host, Cheeseburger Brown.
Our Hallowe'en story continues with Mike Zhang Cuthbertson. I apologize for the delay in posting this morning -- life is thick.
And now, at long last, today's chapter:
Bianca sauntered into the graveyard, feeling sassy. She was wearing her white jeans that hugged her booty, and had undone her cardigan to the level that made Father mad. She threw away her half-smoked cigarette in favour of a new one so that it would last long enough for her to clear the gates and find her friends. She wanted to make an entrance as she presented her juice bottle of indiscriminately mixed liquors, and she felt an appropriate bad-ass prop would be to have a smoke dangling from her lips defiantly.
The moon was a sliver of a crescent. The night was dark.
She kept a sharp eye out for the caretaker, glancing side to side while she sallied between the graves, reaching out to drag her fingers along their rough edges. As she approached the Sugarwood Mausoleum she heard voices -- a burst of laughter, a bottle breaking, urgent commands to keep quiet.
"I think I hear something," said Jordan Cottle. "Shut up, guys."
Bianca flattened herself against the side of the tomb and crept slowly toward the corner, then leapt out with a yelp. Her friends screamed and Bianca fell down laughing. "Jesus Shitrod!" cried Tabitha Hendrick, spitting out beer. "Bianca you're such a bitch."
"I know, I know," giggled Bianca, pulling out her juice bottle. "And this bitch is a bartender."
"Rock on," grinned Mark Norbert. "If I drink one of more of these warm goddamn diet beers I'm going to puke."
Bianca blushed invisibly at his praise, passed him the bottle. He swigged, declared the contents repulsive, and then swigged again and passed the bottle on to Jordan. Bianca sat down next to Tabby, who was working over something carefully in her lap, a bottle of beer pinched between her chubby thighs. "Whassup, ho?" asked Bianca in a friendly way.
"I scored some weed," mumbled Tabby. "You going to smoke it with us?"
"For sure," said Bianca carelessly, quailing inside.
She watched with wide eyes as Tabby presented a fat, misshapen log of rolling paper, grey in the feeble light. It took Tabby five matches to get it lit, enduring the barbs of the others as she did. She drew in deeply and then exploded into a coughing fit, holding the joint at arm's length as she doubled over to hack. "Frig," she commented hoarsely.
Bianca took it next and repeated the act, fidgeting to conceal the fact that her hand was shaking a bit. While she coughed and her eyes swam with tears Mark plucked the joint away from her and dragged on it, then frowned. He looked over at Tabby dolefully. "This is oregano, you idiot."
Tabby squinted at him, uncomprehending. "What?"
"It's goddamn oregano, Tabby. It's a goddamn spice."
"Does it get you high?"
Mark rolled his eyes. "You put it on pizza."
"Shitrod," said Tabby sadly. "I paid ten bucks for that. I frigging hate Andrew Arlen now."
"You bought from Andrew Arlen?" chuckled Mark, swigging from the liquor bottle as it came around again. "Jesus, Tammy. You're stupid and fat."
"Hey, shut up," suggested Jordan.
"Whatever," countered Mark.
Bianca looked up over Mark's head and saw that Xavier had arrived. He was dressed as Satan. The first thing he said was, "You queers don't even have costumes?"
"You're wearing a costume?" snickered Mark. "You're gay."
"It's fuckin' Hallowe'en, dipshit."
"Relax, man," said Jordan. "Somebody get Satan a drink."
"I can't believe you bedwetters don't even have costumes," grumbled Xavier, leaning against the rightside pillar of the mausoleum's dried-leaf carpeted portico. "You're probably drinking jungle juice too, eh?"
Bianca tucked the mixed liquor behind her leg. "There's beers, too, Xave."
"Girls don't get to call me 'Xave' until they've touched my junk, Bianca," said Xavier cooly. "And you're too young to even know how to touch junk, so shut up and make yourself useful by throwing me one of them beers, eh?"
Bianca passed him a beer sullenly. Even with red-paint and a fake goatee slathered over his face Xavier was still too good looking to make direct eye contact with, so when she sat back down she scooched closer to Mark, facing Tabby. "Tell him about your weed, Tabby," said Bianca, raising an eyebrow, eager to redirect Xavier's attention. He was their chief -- a tall tenth grader who knew no fear.
"Let's just forget about it," said Tabby.
"Oh yeah, Chubs tried to smoke us oregano," guffawed Mark. Bianca laughed with him, batting his knee playfully.
"Like a pizza," she added.
"Don't call me Chubs, you asshole," glowered Tabby.
Xavier smirked as he withdrew a joint from his pack of cigarettes. "Hey, do you kids want to do some drugs?"
Mark chortled. "Why sure, Satan!"
Bianca feigned nonchalance as she apprehensively followed the progress of the lit joint around the circle of friends. When it was her turn she saw no alternative but to take a haul. She told herself it would be just like a tobacco buzz only stronger, probably. She drew in the acrid smoke, her eyes watering instantly. She passed it on as she fought the urge to retch, her vision scintillating from oxygen deprivation.
She exhaled, mastering the cough reflex by the skin of her teeth.
"So, we going to go pumpkin smashing?" asked Mark as he passed the joint on to Xavier.
Xavier nodded. "Fuckin' right, man. I just want to get my buzz on. Bianca, give me a hit of that jungle juice you're hiding, will you?"
Bianca complied with only minor difficulty, her limbs feeling heavy and distant. Her breathing sounded too loud in her head. Jordan passed the joint to Tabby who passed it back to Bianca. She tried to take a shallower drag this time, but even so her head was starting to feel weird and wooly. She blinked and rubbed her eyes.
She leaned up against Mark. He put his arm around her, his fingertips gingerly brushing the strap of her brassiere.
For a moment that felt an hour long Bianca took in the scene in front of the vine-choked mausoleum, lingering with dreamy emphasis over the details of the shadows cast over everyone's features. Suddenly she noticed how malevolent their expressions were, and she began to worry that they all thought she was nothing but an annoying, mouthy kid who they tolerated having around simply to have something to make fun of later. They were all staring at her now, frowning and angry.
"What?" she demanded finally, looking wildly between them.
Jordan snorted. "What what, Bianca?"
"Why are you all looking at me like that?"
Tabby squinted. "Like what?"
"I wasn't even looking at you," said Jordan, baffled.
"She's fishin' out," opined Xavier.
"Just calm down," suggested Tabby.
"I'm sorry, a'ight? Whatever I did or said, I'm sorry you guys," Bianca said nervously.
"What the hell is she talking about?"
"I already called it, you homo -- she's fishing out."
"Just breathe, Bianca. Breathe slow."
Mark squeezed her shoulders warmly and Bianca took a couple of deep breaths, watching idly as Jordan and Tabby turned away and started to make out, lips smacking clumsily. Xavier smoked a cigarette, regarding with intent interest as the loops of fume in front of his face were briefly illuminated by the ember as he dragged. "Smoke is so fuckin' cool," he philosophized.
A dog barked. And then again, closer.
Xavier looked up. Jordan and Tabby paused. Bianca froze. "That's not..." trailed off Mark, looking around apprehensively.
The yammering hound was closing in on them quickly, its voice echoing off the stones. On the breeze behind it they heard the caretaker, Mr. Phelps. "I know you're in here you punks!" he shouted. "Find 'em, Grizzle! Go on, boy! Bite yourself some punk ass!"
Before Bianca could even process what was going on everyone had leapt to their feet and run away, leaving nothing but a lone can of beer glugging out its last contents into the leaves at her feet. "Oh my shit!" she cried, panic fluttering behind her sternum and taking her breath away.
She chose a direction and bolted. She tossed the jungle juice and it smashed against a grave. She plunged blindly through a thicket of decorative shrubs and then stumbled, looked up and was terrified by a statue of an angel. She rolled to her feet and pressed on wildly, suddenly too disoriented to find any of the cemetery gates.
She came up against the high fence along Sir John A. Macdonald Avenue just in time to see Xavier's red costume dropped down the far side. "Xavier!" she whispered fiercely, "help me get over!"
Xavier hesitated only a second, Grizzle's fervent barking bearing down on them. "Sorry kid, you're on your own," he said quickly and then turned around and pelted away down the sidewalk.
Rage choked Bianca, making her eyes tear. "F you, Xavier!" she screeched so hard it hurt her throat.
She instantly regretted it, of course, a cold sweat breaking out under her sweater as she heard Mr. Phelps change direction and come crashing through the bush directly at her, calling his dog after him. "I smell punk!" the old man shouted.
Bianca raced along the edge of the fence, keeping low, wincing at every snapped twig and kicked stone.
She came up short, startled by her arrival at the south gate. She slipped through and then jogged up the sidewalk, eyeing the graveyard interior anxiously. She felt nervous and strange, and she couldn't help but continually rub her hands over one another even though it did not soothe her. She tried to light a cigarette but dropped it into the gutter. "F," she said, the sound of her own voice surprisingly loud in the empty street.
She started to regain herself as the came to the corner of Sir John A. and Barrington Road, by the parkette donated by some dead rich person's children years and years ago. She planned to sit down on the wrought-iron bench to catch her breath but stopped in her tracks when she saw that the Grim Reaper was loitering there, standing in a pool of his own shadow beneath the orange light of an antique-style street standard.
She forced a fake chuckle. "So even Death trick-or-treats, huh?"
The Reaper said nothing.
"O-kay," she drawled, frowning. "Nice talking to you."
Bianca walked on past the parkette, continuing east on Sir John A. She had not proceeded too far before she detected the scrape of an additional set of footfalls. She glanced back over her shoulder and saw the Grim Reaper there, walking a few paces behind her. "I don't have no candy," she said as casually as she could, the hairs on the back of her neck standing up.
The Reaper said nothing.
She increased her pace slightly, and so did Death. After half a block she started to feel stupid for being creeped out by some moron in a costume, so she whirled on her heel and crossed her arms, facing her follower. "You think I'm f'ing scared of this crap?" she challenged.
The Reaper stopped, regarding her behind his skull masque impassively. She could see no pupils glint through the dark eyeholes.
"What the f are you supposed to be, anyway?" she continued defiantly. "The ghost of f'ing Helen Keller or something?"
The Reaper said nothing.
Bianca turned around again to continue walking but was startled by the silent presence of another fully-masqued trickster: an Imperial Stormtrooper from the Star Wars movies was blocking the sidewalk ahead, white armoured arms crossed over his chest. "Happy Hallowe'en," said Bianca darkly, attempting to push past him.
The stormtrooper grabbed her. Before she could even resist the Grim Reaper slunk up from behind and secured her arms behind her back. "What the hell?" she spat, struggling against the two of them.
A black cyborg wearing a plastic masque of a pale faced infested with wires and cables stepped out of the bushes beside the road, arms extended toward her. A synthesized voice crackled out of the masque tinnily, "We have analyzed your defensive capabilities and judged them to be inferior to our own."
"What is this? Jesus crap -- let go of me!"
In a matter of seconds the ring of costumed kidnappers closed in around her. The hood of her sweater was pulled over her head and the drawstring pulled tight, cinching the material around her face and covering her eyes. She started to kick out but felt herself picked up, her flailing feet bound together by somebody's strong arms. She would have screamed then, but the stormtrooper's black-gloved hand clamped over her lips. She tried to bite him but her teeth met only plastic armour, clicking ineffectually.
She ended up biting her own lip as she was jostled along.
"Resistance is futile," noted the cyborg's recorded voice.
And it was.
An hour later Mike Zhang Cuthbertson and his little sister India stood on the edge of the park at the centre of town, eating candy and wondering after Bianca. Mike shot the cuff of his trenchcoat and checked the Indiglo face of his digital watch again. "I guess we should just go home," he mumbled.
"Can you take the wrapper off my Tootsie Roll for me?" asked India, her mouth already filled with a Mars bar, a half-sucked green lollipop stuck to her arm.
"Bianca's going to be in so much trouble," said Mike, dutifully unwrapping the Tootsie Roll and handing it back to India.
They were about to set off when Queen Amidala appeared from the corner by the pizza store, clutching her robes out of the way as she ran toward them. "Mike!" she cried, "Mike Cuthbertson!"
"Yeah?" Mike called back.
"Your sister's in trouble!"
When she arrived before, huffing and puffing, Mike recognized the harried royal as Sarah Bleeton, who was in his grade at school. Mike thought she was pretty so he focused on her wig instead of her face as he asked, "What do you mean? How did you know she ditched us?"
"Some kids took her, Mike!" gasped Sarah, leaning against the merry-go-round as she fought to regain her breath. "Paramjit says he saw them put her in the Barrington House and then nail the door closed with her inside!"
Mike felt dizzy. The Barrington House!
"Who would do that?"
Sarah shook her head, her ornamental wig canting dangerously. "I don't know, I don't know. What should we do? Should we go get your parents?"
Mike bit his lip pensively. "I think we'd better go get her out of there right away," he decided, his stomach turning over queasily. "She's got to be scared out of her mind. Let's go. Come on, India!"
Queen Amidala, Neo and a candy-eating eukaryotic cell ran along Western, turned up Sir John A. Macdonald, and made a beeline for Barrington Road. At the top of the hill they arrived winded to find a small crowd of kids clustered in front of the looming shadow of the famous house: Dr. Evil, Freddy Krueger, two Pikachus and three Agent Smiths. One of the agents held up his hand. "You don't wanna go near there," he pronounced carefully.
"You give me that juris-my-diction crap, you can cram it up your a," grumbled Mike, pushing past the gawkers.
"Merrick's there and he said he's going to kick anyone's ass who tries to get in the way," warned Freddy Krueger.
Sarah hesitated, putting her hand on Mike's shoulder. "I've got a bad feeling about this."
"Somebody's got to do something," he declared, brushing off her hand and marching on. "Watch India, will you?"
Mike slipped inside the rusted gates and up the overgrown walkway to the shadowed verandah. He stopped at its edge, hovering by the bushes. Wearing a long black cloak Merrick Inderwater was sitting on the railing. Standing around him was an Imperial Stormtrooper, a Borg and Cruella DeVille. "How long are we going to leave her in there?" Merrick was asking.
"All night," said Cruella. "Somebody can bust her out in the morning for all I care."
Mike recognized the voice of Dini Butler. The next one to speak was Arnold Drober, dressed as the stormtrooper. He said, "What if she gets hurt or something?"
"What, like crapping her pants or something?"
"I don't know Dini, I'm just worried that --"
"You're always worried, Arnold. There's nothing in there but old furniture. Forget about it. Let's get out of here."
From inside the ancient house came the distinct sound of Bianca screaming, suddenly and briefly. The kids on the porch all exchanged looks. "What was that?" breathed Arnold.
"She probably just found a mirror," guessed Dini. "Come on."
She led her crew off the verandah and down the path, very close to Mike who held his breath and kept perfectly still. The shadows passed him by, though there was one straggler; the stormtrooper lingered, looking up at the derelict mansion. He took off his helmet and peered at the upper storey, his brow furrowed.
"Dini," he whispered. Then louder, "Dini!"
"What is it now?" called Dini from the end of the walkway.
"I think..." he swallowed loudly, still staring. "I think I just saw somebody in there. Upstairs. Somebody's in there with her."
Merrick swore under his breath. "You're imagining things, you dork. Let's go."
Reluctantly, Arnold turned away from the Barrington House and replaced his helmet as he jogged to catch up with his co-conspirators. Mike waited for a count of a few seconds and then emerged from the bushes, hovering at the steps up to the verandah, eyes locked on the mouth-like front doors of the house, criss-crossed by two-by-fours nailed crudely into place.
He gulped, and then gasped as the bushes beside him rustled. Then he heard the distinct sloshing of India's cytoplasm, little plastic mitochrondria knocking against the insides of her inner-tube. "India?"
"Where's Bianca?" she asked.
Sarah appeared next, her royal gown covered in burs and thistles. "India!"
"I just heard Bianca scream," said Mike, his mouth dry. "And Arnold Drober said he saw somebody in the window upstairs."
"There couldn't really be anyone living in there, could there?" asked Sarah quietly. "I mean, not really."
Mike frowned. "I don't know."
"What are you going to do?"
He chewed his lip nervously for a moment, then nodded to himself as he came to the inevitable conclusion. "I have to go in after her," he said.
He sighed grimly. "Holy crap I'm scared," he admitted.
"I should run back and get your parents."
"No," he said firmly. "You stay with India. I've got to go in."
"You can't, Mike! What if there really is someone in there? It's way too spooky."
"If we're scared out here, imagine how Bianca feels," he said.
Sarah let out a long breath, and then pressed her pumpkin-shaped flashlight into Mike's hand. "Oh my gosh I can't believe you're going to go in."
"Yeah," agreed Mike, his voice cracking. "Me neither."
With that he climbed the creaking steps up to the verandah, walked along until he found a boarded up window, and then pulled on the weathered plywood until it split along a nail and revealed a hole just big enough to squeeze himself through.
As Sarah and India strained to see him in the gloom, Mike hauled himself up and disappeared into the hole.