The Night Magic Peaked

Every Saturday in October Phil will be sharing a spooky short story in anticipation for Halloween. We thank him for these excellent & ghoulish contributions.

I stopped trick-or-treating at age 12. Had this night not happened, I might have even gone on for two more years. Going from that to Halloween parties had me intimidated. I could see nothing but bad things coming from going to parties, looking like an idiot, trying drugs, or getting into a fight. All I could see with trick-or-treating was free candy, little did I know how much some of that would cost me. My costume was on point that night. I even worked out with weights, and cut my hair shorter and tighter, just so I could fill it out more. The clothes themselves were nothing I had to buy from a costume store, just a leather jacket, with a white graphic-tee, and dark pants. The big effect of the costume came from the makeup I used for the very first time to draw a beard onto my pubescent face. I was my dad, United States Pro Wrestling heavyweight champion, Jamie Alpha.

Sometimes I would resent Dad while he was away, but then he’d do things like send an encouraging text before my volleyball games, or work a match with my name on his wrist tape. On days he came home I felt like I was constantly in the spotlight. He always wanted to workout with me, or take Christina and me for some fancy sushi, all so he could just talk with me more. He’d even watch me play video games. Even at school his presence hovered over me like a ghost. I would sporadically forget the lunch. Christina made me, only to find a bag of Chipotle and some Starbucks waiting for me at the office. When word got around about my Dad, it attracted a few fanboys who wanted autographs. “Finally,” they must have thought “a girl I can talk about wrestling with!”

My friends though, Alex, Sean, and Joey, The Crew, we weren’t interested in letting them in, having filled our boy quota. We instead fielded options for female members. But people we could easily talk to lacked depth, and anyone that looked like they had depth, we were too scared to approach.

So, like most years Halloween would be just us. We laid out the plan over voice chat in World of Warcraft. The glow from my monitor straining my eyes as I listened in, sipping Coke and eating Cheez-It’z as I waited on my spells to cool down.

The four of us would walk back to my apartment, past all the 3 PM trick-or-treaters. From there we’d chill and play CoD with Breaking Benjamin on the stereo. We’d do a collection round through the heights, then go to the Warehouse for a Halloween festival, where Alex would unsheathe a whiskey bottle from his sack, and we’d get our first shots in.

The first crime of the night though was a heist. With dad taking Christina out, I sneaked into his office, and punched the PIN into his safe.

My birthday, easy enough.

When it opened, I saw the finishing touch on what would be my greatest costume ever. The USPW Heavyweight Title. On black leather sat the gold face-plate. An eagle was the top crest, with a small piece of the flag adding some non-gold color to the plate. Its bottom had the name of the current champion, my dad, screwed into it, while the side-plates carried the names of all the previous champions. 

I snatched the belt and sprinted out of the office as if Dad would suddenly appear behind me. Before we headed out, I caught one look at myself in the mirror. The left side of my hair buzzed down, my dad’s green eyes staring back at me, and a shadowy beard across my face, I felt so much like the man before I headed out.

When we finally stepped out, the air was cool, friendly, and breezy. The crescent moon smiled down on us as we embarked.

“Ugh, can we just go to the Warehouse now?” complained Alex as we added more fun-size Snickers to our sacks.

“The thing doesn’t start until 8:30, so no one will show up till 9,” countered Sean. “Besides, it’s nice just being us right now.”

“Oh don’t give me that faggy shit.”

“Language, Alex,” interjected Joey.

“Okay, Mr. Shankly. What, are you gonna give me detention now?”

Some kid in Harry Potter robes shouted, “Let’s go Alpha!” at me. I waved at him, let him notice that I noticed.

“Man, that’s like eighth person that’s shouted you out, Brie.”

“Yeah, you’re really pulling off your dad well.”

“Honestly, it’s crazy. I don’t even feel like I’m wearing a costume.”

“Well hey, Alex isn’t wearing a costume either.”

“I am wearing a costume.”

“Alex, no one watches Soul Eater; No one even knows what it is.”

“Sit on it, Sean. You don’t even look like a vampire.”

He shrugged, “Well duh, the sun isn’t up. I don’t sparkle in moonlight.” Sean pointed, “Seems like this house is in the spirit.”

For the first time in years the Crew and I finally a hit a new house, one that had been vacant and unlit for as long as we had been trick-or-treating together. It appeared as though the house was making up for lost time, with orange and purple lights accenting the gravestones in the front yard. A forest of silhouettes stood in the lights of the windows, and faux spider webs covered the hedges.

We knocked and the door opened to a human wet dream. “Helloooooo,” she sang. In front of us stood a cheery haired college girl in black leather lingerie with bat wings on her back. Alex’s jaw hung like a scaffolding. If Joey wasn’t wearing shades his eyes would’ve popped out of his skull, and even when they fell on the ground, they’d still be looking at the girl in front of us.

I even felt something in myself, though I didn’t quite know what it was.

“Not talking are we?”

It took me an eternity to process anything that she said, but eventually I got it. “Trick or, uh, treat.” I opened my bag up.

“Oh, yeah.” She turned left to face the hallway and called, “Hey sis, can you bring the bowl here?” an out of frame hand gave the bowl to her. She extended it to us. “Take as much as you want, babies.” Our hands vibrated, trying not to drop any of her goods as we moved them to our bags. “Oooh, you got the good stuff,” she added, shooting me a wink. The succubus turned her attention to Alex, “I think you have the best costume. I love, Soul Eater. He’s so cool.”

His nose started bleeding, but to his credit, his voice managed to crack out, “Can we come in?”

I sneered at him as if he wasn’t supposed to ask something like that, until I realized, everyone else seemed on the same page about his question.

Still though, she smiled, “Oh, I don’t think so. This party is for adults, you know, grown up things. Maybe when you’re older you and Jamie Alpha can come back.” Her hand patted his head and I felt like I had to put my hand at his back to keep him from fainting. “You guys have a great night though, happy Halloween,” she mused, her tone rife with mischief, before I heard a familiar voice from inside.

“Wait, one second!” With the door opening back up, Sarrinagh Stice slid into frame. Everyone at school called her The Darkness for her all black aesthetic, even for PE class, when seemingly everyone either went with obnoxious day-glow, or athletic gray, she was a blackout. Speaking of PE she, had a beautiful dodgeball game, avoiding attacks with the grace of a dancer, and always making “the catch” to shift the game’s paradigm. Her charisma had a low volume, but it still gathered girls around her. Within weeks she had a lunch table full of girls with a little Darkness in them. They were The Coven, and she was the head witch. “Oh, The Crew still trick-or-treats, that’s cute,” she said without trying to condescend, but still doing so.

“Did I just hear the Darkness?” asked Alex as he raised his head up, still pinching his nose.

“Holy shit.”

“You know these boys, Sarrinagh?”

I smiled so hard it forced my eyes shut. Someone had mistaken me for a boy.

She nodded. “They go to my school. They’re all nice.”

“How cool are they?”

The Darkness held a pensive black fingernail to her chin, squinting her left eye as she chewed on the question. “They’re cool enough to hang out here.”

Sean shot a telepathic look to Joey and I to call an audible on the Warehouse. Alex looked like those photographs that roller coasters take at the drop. “I guess you’re in then, Soul Eater.” The succubus turned back to Sarrinagh. “Just make sure they stay in the back. Firepit and yard-house are okay. Not here.”

“Right.”

We almost all crossed the border, but we froze in place when she added, “And they have to share their candy with you and your friends.” I could have been asked for my belt and I would’ve given it right up. This was an opportunity not only to meet The Coven, but to be something more than I used to be.

We crossed the threshold and entered the party.

We may not have been allowed to linger in the house, but the Darkness took her time leading us outside so we could take everything in. It all looked like precisely the type of place our anti-drug classes told us to avoid, but with TV and comic characters instead of shady people in oversized shirts. Something felt jarring about seeing Sailor Moon knocking shots back,  Mario and Luigi playing beer pong, or the Joker taking a bong rip, putting a full sized cloud into the room, all while Gucci Mane pumped in the background.

From my bag I grabbed a jawbreaker. Its clear wrapper simply stated, SUCK IT. I guessed it was some type of bargain brand, like a circus peanut. In one of the mirrors I could see my reflection as I popped the candy into my mouth. I gave myself the finger guns, still looking good. The air went from rancid back to amiable when we came to the backyard. In what looked like a séance, The Darkness’ harem sat all around the fire, all familiar, but not quite known faces of different girls, with different bangs, swoops, and colors to their hair, five of them. “Well, I don’t know how, but these four found out about the party tonight.” She took her seat behind the fire. “But I think they’re cool enough to stay with us. Let’s make the circle a little wider for them, ladies.” They did just as she commanded.

“Wait, who’s the other guy?” said one of them pointing at me.

Alex suppressed a laugh. “Uh, it’s me.” she still looked perplexed, as if my voice couldn’t give it away. “Brie Langenbruner. I’m literally my dad right now.”

They reacted the way a crowd does when my Dad’s entrance music hits, all except The Darkness who knew from the start. “Wow, it’s just, like, you look so, like, real.” Joey sat next to Brittany, a girl who’s had eyes for him since like fifth grade.

“Thanks.” I sat down, completing the circle The Crew, and The Coven, like ospreys perched on the same wire as corvids. “I saw a video of somebody doing it on Youtube, and basically just used all the stuff that my Dad’s girlfriend has.”

“You should teach us sometime!”

“Yeah, it looks so cool!”

I shrugged, not really wanting to continue the makeup talk. “I mean, the video is on Youtube. I can send it to you if you want.” As they happily encouraged me to do so, I pushed myself just a bit further back from the fire to keep the heat from melting the beard that made me the coolest person in the backyard. “Do you all want some candy by the way? I pretty much got everything.” They asked for any of the chocolate that I had, which I was more than happy to give out. I always opted for the fruitier types of candy. Speaking of which, my jawbreaker had completely melted.

“So glad you guys still trick-or-treat,” said one, nabbing a full-size Fastbreak from my sack.

“I don’t think there really should be an age limit on it,” said Sarrinagh. “I think just what happens is people start to like alcohol more than candy.”

“Speaking of that,” Alex interjected, pulling out his brother’s whiskey handle like a rabbit from a hat. “Being the younger sibling has its perks. Right, Darkness?”

She kicked back. “Especially when your sister has her own place.” Her hands gestured out, as if she held dominion over this whole yard.  I could feel The Darkness’ gaze back on me as I opened my bag for some Warheads. “Hey Brie, how did you get that belt?” I could have answered but found myself distracted by a flying leaf, one faded maple leaf soaring like a hang-glider, riding the wind. The breeze was strong enough to howl, but not enough to kill the flame. My vision tightened up then released, fixated on that one leaf, I could feel my eyes getting better so I could see the minute lines and rips on it. The experience was like going from a PC to a Mac. The leaf landed in the fire and slowly began keeling over in its moment of death. “Cool,” I whispered.

My friends looked back at me. “Uh, Brie?” said  Joey. I wanted to say something about the leaf, but I just couldn’t. I felt too focused on the way my vision was improving to answer.

“Uh, okay. Well, we’re going to the move right on. If you just wanna sit there like a statue that’s cool,” warned Alex. Sean waved his hand in front of my face, then snapped, and I plugged my brain back into my body.

“Oh, oh shoot, sorry. I just kinda spaced out there for a minute.”

Sean laughed then said, “Yeah like a while.” He took a more inquisitive look at me. “You all right, by the way? Your eyes are like black holes.”

“Oh, I feel real good.” My shoulders relaxed as I took the belt off and laid it on the grass. The rest of the world seemed so far away. “Anyway, yeah, I kinda stole this from my Dad’s safe. I’ll be fine just as long as he doesn’t notice.”  That yard-house might as well have been in another neighborhood, the way it felt.

“Oh holy shit.” My gasp had turned into an amazed laugh

“What?”

“You’re not seeing this? The fire, it’s purple!”

Everyone waited, but Alex didn’t have anything to say to kill the nascent awkwardness. “Brie did you have a jawbreaker?” The Darkness’ voice reverberated as it reached out to my ears.

“First, off, Sarrinagh, you have an amazing voice. Second off, yes, and it was great.” She nodded. “Okay, everyone but Brie, let’s go to the house for a minute.” They disappeared,  but I didn’t care. The fire mesmerized me more than any movie ever could. Shifting and morphing as it phased in and out of a plethora of a colors, some of which I hadn’t seen before, and actually never saw again.

“Man,” I whispered as The Crew and The Coven entered back into my plain of reality.

“Okay, so Brie everyone else is going to the Warehouse, but you’re staying here with me, okay?”

“Sounds good.”

“Is she gonna keep laughing like that?”

“She’s crying, dumbass.”

“She’s fine,” said The Darkness. “Okay, Brie we’re going to the yardhouse, you and me, all right?” She laid her hand out for me, glowing with a noir aura, and when I took it, I felt a new energy enter my body. I caught my breath again.

She tugged me gently and guided me inside, while the two groups merged into one behind me.

They’d eat lunch at the same table every day at school after this.

The inside of the yard-house was covered in tapestries and posters, wall-to-wall-to-ceiling. I even spotted one of Dad that I tapped fists with, before plopping myself on the waterbed. I was rippling as I stared at the black mirror of a TV that Sarrinagh was frantically trying to rig up. “Just so we’re clear, I’m on drugs now, right?” Her eyes darted to the upper corners, but then, resigned, she closed them and nodded. “Okay. Answer honestly, am I gonna die?”

Searching through the fridge, she giggled, “You’re going to be fine. My sister does acid all the time. You’re just gonna lay down, watch a few DVD’s and that’ll be it.” The tapestries were pumping in rhythm with the music in my head. They bled out of their fabrics and puddled onto the floor. The TV pinged on with some Japanese cartoon about a kid who got hit with a base guitar and started growing a horn. I couldn’t quite make out the borders of the screen. If nothing else, the music of the show felt nice. It wasn’t the rap or pop that the cool kids liked, or the heavy metal that the kids with republican dads drew themselves toward. This stuff flowed slower, less of a production, more honest. Perfect music for staring at your shoes. Sometimes I could see the notes coming to me like in Guitar Hero.

“Sarrinagh, what the heck is happening?”

“In the show?”

“Yeah.”

She studied the images on the screen, then gave up. “Ashley just always likes watching it when

she does this. Is it bothering you?”

“Not really. It’s just weird.”

She chuckled at that. “Everything’s weird when you’re on a trip. Do you want some water?” I did my best to make an affirmative grunt. The bottle she handed me felt slippery like an eel, but I still managed to get it down my throat.

“So sorry there was acid in what you took, by the way.” I didn’t care, I was having a good time. The characters started crawling out of the TV and enacting their performance on the bed. I breathed heavy, laughing a little as a floating sensation pushed at my back. “You all right?” She sat down on the bed next to me, with a hand on my forehead that a nurse would lay on a patient. I felt the Darkness seeping into me. “Am I getting through?” I curled the fingers of me hand into a fist, then weakly pointed my thumb up. New shapes that geometry hadn’t taught me floated across my vision as I watched the credits. “It’s like talking to a cat.”         

“Meow.”

She tried, and tried, to bite down on her lip and keep herself from laughing but it busted out, and I joined in. As our laughs harmonized for a brief moment, I felt like she might actually have ascended to the same level I laid at, with the new shapes all flowing through my vision.

Then a thought dawned on me, one that caused all the fractals and colors in front of me to suddenly drop to the ground with me, cracking like glass, I had to push back at the bed to keep it from swallowing me. “Oh no!”

“What is it?”

“I lost my belt.” Sarrinagh tried to grab at my shoulder, but I pulled away and ran out to the yard. Jamie Alpha’s eyes glared at me from the poster he was trapped in. I could hear a new song in my head, but it was the type horror movies used for the chase scenes. The walls of the house all pumped to it, when I tried to put my hand on them for balance, they had slick scaliness to them, like a viper’s skin.

I shifted around the bodies that stood like dead trees in a dense forest. They all lacked faces, just empty holes where their eyes should be, occasionally brown sludge would fall out from them.

I crossed a smokey border, thick enough to choke out in asthmatic, to see some demon holding up the ten pounds of gold and leather, “Come on, ladies, who wants to fuck a champion tonight?” All the other faceless tree-folk shifted uncomfortably from him.

“That’s my belt!” I shouted.

He turned around and I saw what was the most horrible thing since that girl from The Exorcist. This monstrosity had a fleshy cage for a mouth, a burnt hole in place of his nose, and seven eyes, four on the left and three on the right, all focusing on different spots of the room. Brown wires sprawled out from his skull that made the awful buzzing sound of dying cicadas stuck on the road. His head sat upon a body of petrified faces covered in boils and puss-filled zits, pulsing and shaking ready to pop at any moment. I didn’t know if I was supposed to cry or throw up.

“Oh, it’s Jamie Alpha.” Nothing existed outside the room. “A little midget Alpha.” I felt like I had nowhere to run. “Take the belt from me then, little faggot.” He swung his dilapidated bladed arm at me, but it lacked form, or even coordination.

I heard my dad’s voice from behind me, “Get him, son!” I cocked my fist and launched up, smashing it into the monster’s cage-mouth. Stunned, it folded in half. In a total act of reflex, I thrust my knee into the beast’s skull, just like Dad did to everyone on TV. He taught me to follow through in a certain way, so that it wouldn’t actually do harm to my opponent, but I couldn’t afford this thing that same type of mercy. 

Slain, he fell at my feet. I couldn’t do much but just stand their breathing as my skin started glowing red. The blood in my veins felt like a river of molten gold. One of the tree-people entered into the room, bending besides the monster’s corpse, picking up the belt, and bestowing it unto me. Just touching it caused a ringing noise, like church bells, accompanied by flashes of white as faces and features returned to the people at the party. They were grinning, they were laughing, some were even star-struck. Two more came in, and dragged the beast away, apologizing on their way out.

The Darkness patted me on the shoulder. “Are you okay?” I smiled, tapping the belt with my knuckles and making another thumbs up. My stomach then roared like the crowd at my dad’s victories. “I think I left my candy in the yard house. You want to finish it there?”

 “Sounds good,” she chirped. People offered their hands for me to high-five as I followed The Darkness outside. “You should be cooling down now.  I got a text message from one of my friends.

“They’re on their way back here so you can go back with the Crew.”

The DVD still played when Sarrinagh and I came back in. I couldn’t hear much of the show over the sound of us unwrapping candy-bars and my own chewing, but it seemed even weirder than it was when I first watched it.

I started crying. The Darkness hugged me from behind, but never asked what was wrong. As the tears messed up my beard, I felt depressed for the first time in my life, and all centered around that costume I had on, the fact that it was just a costume that my tears were ruining.

When I finally did go to bed, I slept in it, with my belt weighing down the blanket. I wanted to be Jamie for as long as I possibly could be, before the magic of Halloween eventually wore off.

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