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Others Worth Noting - D'Artagnon

2016 Halloween Writing Contest  

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  1. 1. Does the Story Reflect a Halloween theme

    • Definitely
    • Mostly
    • Somewhat
    • Its a stretch
    • Not at all
  2. 2. Was the story gripping and Enjoyable

    • Definitely
    • Mostly
    • Somewhat
    • Its a stretch
    • Not at all
  3. 3. Were you able to connect to the main characters

    • Definitely
    • Mostly
    • Somewhat
    • Its a stretch
    • Not at all
  4. 4. Did the Author develop a strong plot within the restrictions of the of the contest

    • Definitely
    • Mostly
    • Somewhat
    • Its a stretch
    • Not at all
  5. 5. Would you recommend this story to others

    • Definitely
    • Mostly
    • Somewhat
    • Its a stretch
    • Not at all
  6. 6. Bonus Question: Would you like to see this story continue?

    • Yes
    • No

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Others Worth Noting



Marc woke in the night, his chest rising and falling rapidly. He felt like he’d just been about to fall out of bed, but instead just sat up, startled completely awake. In the darkness of his room he could hear another person breathing. It took Marc a moment to realize that Phil lay beside him, turned away. The inhale of Phil’s sleeping breath was smooth, even, almost measured, despite being a little raspy. The soft sound of his new friend’s breath was different than his own breathing, but he somehow knew that wasn’t what had shocked him to wakefulness.

He slid his legs out from under the covers, leaning over slightly as if in preparation to stand. The room was colder than he expected. Or maybe it had just been warmer under the covers with both him and Phil laying together. In his newly awakened state, he wasn’t sure.

So many things seemed unsure to him as well. The events of the day had been crazy. Mrs. Argyle having that emotional breakdown at school, resulting in her firing. His own resistance in that incident, writing the answer to the complex problem the rest of the class was wrestling with. Meeting Phil and then the whirlwind of events leading to their friendship. And the wild night of trick or treating that ended with he and Phil being saved from certain death by a pair of ghosts inhabiting the old hollow oak tree down the block. Saved from Mrs. Argyle’s apparent drunken rage, no less.


It had been just a moment of defiance on his part, but it had led to so many bizarre twists and turns. It had been Phil’s rallying cry, and a question that had hung between them awkwardly after going to bed that night. “Does X=6?” Phil had asked, grinning. They had just admitted to accidentally touching each other earlier in the night and gave each other a pass on the moment. Just an accident. Stuff happens. It didn’t mean anything.

But to Marc, there was some meaning. And the nature of Phil’s question also put some meaning to it. But what meaning? Marc was confused. *Was Phil asking about… inches? About the size of my junk?* And why did that question seem to cut through so much of Marc’s thinking.

On the one hand, it could just be playful banter. Neither of them were super sport jocks, on any school team. Neither of them fit into the cliques. They weren’t the cool kids, not geeky enough to be nerds, certainly not wealthy enough to be in with the preps. And they weren’t musicians or artists, or in with the cool kids. And Phil had to transfer into Marc’s school just a few weeks ago, despite admitting that he’d lived in town for years while his mother was going through treatments for some sadly terminal illness. So, the comment could have just been playing around. A joke that boys make with each other. Ribbing.

On the other hand, there was the powerful effect that Phil’s hazel eyes had on Marc. The way that his glasses seemed to draw him into those golden and green depths even more. The way that Marc found himself staring at his new friend with more than friendly reactions in his own lower anatomy.

Did that “X=6” comment mean that Phil was thinking in similar ways to how Marc kept trying to convince himself that he wasn’t thinking on his own about Phil?

Marc stood and moved to the bathroom, intent on at least doing something productive if he was awake. He stood over the toilet and took care of business, his mind tossing around the events of the day. He kept coming back to how he felt around Phil. And how those two ghosts looked after saving the two seventh graders. Their hands held together like in a blood brothers’ ritual. Then the hug. Then the look on their faces as they both melted into each other, their edges going fuzzy and indistinct before fading away to nothing.

It was more than blood brothers, he felt. It was more than the comradery of spirits trapped for years together. There was something in that look that, well, for lack of a better word, haunted him. A deeper connection. Something he couldn’t understand completely. Something he felt a need for in his own life, but didn’t know the words or ways to feel about it.

Something he felt was stirring in him, towards Phil.

He shook his head, shook other parts and put things back into their proper places in his sweatpants and boxers. He’d have to talk to Phil about things later. He needed to think more on things. X=6 may have a deeper meaning than just something Algebraic.

“What am I getting into?” he asked his own dim reflection in the mirror. Half of his chest and face were lit up by the nightlight beside the vanity. The orange glow of the plastic moon with the face winking towards the tub left a soft trail of flesh starkly contrasted by the shadows of the other side of his body. He looked at his own reflection, waiting for an answer, some sign, but instead kept finding himself coming up with more questions.

He flushed the toilet and made his way back to the room. In the darkness, he saw Phil’s curled up form, unmoved from when Marc had left the bed. He looked so peaceful to Marc, with his glasses off. Almost elflike. The other boy’s long, slender limbs, his lithe body forming a small but steep hill on the plateau of Marc’s bed. Marc found himself drifting into daydreams, even while standing by his computer desk at night. He glanced to the alarm clock by his bed and realized it was 4:36; many hours before even sun up.

He considered going back to bed, curling up in the doubled body heat warmth between himself and Phil and just letting sleep come up and take him. He actually moved to do so, but as his hand slipped off the back of his computer chair, he accidentally knocked his hoody off to the floor. Ever the neat freak, Marc leaned over to pick the hoody up, at least to get it off the floor. As he dropped the hoody in a formless pile on the chair, something else dropped out of it and landed on the floor as well.

If it hadn’t been made of notebook paper, and thus flat white, the folded note would probably not have caught his attention. Despite his sudden wakefulness, Marc was still quite sleepy, after all. But the intricately folded rectangle of paper drew his eyes as it fell silently to the carpeted floor. Almost on instinct he bent to pick it up.

He remembered it now. When he’d been leaving the classroom during his X=6 protest, someone had slipped the note into his hand on the way out of class, exiled to the hallway. It had been almost automatic for him to drop the not into the pocket of his hoody. He’d pulled it out in the hallway afterwards, noted how it had been folded so that it was tucked into itself, preventing the words on the note from being seen easily. There had been no identifiers on the note. No name for who it was meant for, no hint at exactly who had given it to him. And no one had whispered where the note was meant to go. Which could only mean that it was meant for… Marc himself?

He quickly went back to the bathroom, his fingers fumbling at the note to open it. There was a sharply angled tab that locked the note together. A simple tug and the tab slid free, unfolding to a corner of a sheet of paper, itself folded through the corner to a 45-degree point. This then unwound a few times to become a sheet with the corner folded across towards the three ring margin side. As he entered the bathroom, Marc could see there was writing on the note, in multiple different hands and four different writing methods. Three were scripted in gel ink, blue, black and purple, and one was in neat but dark pencil, smoothly written. It seemed to be a four-way conversation.

Purple ink usually meant “girl” in Marc’s mind. He realized that there were only five boys in that entire class. So the chances that most, if not all, of the participants in this note were girls. Why they didn’t just text message each other, he didn’t understand. It would have been safer, and they could all group text. Not like everyone in the class didn’t have a cell phone. Even the teachers would ask for kid’s cell numbers at the start of school now.

Marc contemplated not turning the sheet over, not unfolding the long corner fold that hid most of the page. Four writers who were all talking about the same thing. This could be a very personal message. This could be four chicks talking bad about someone in the class, being mean. This could be some kind of cheat-sheet. Or worse, just some weird thing where the girls talk to each other about who they’d be going with to the Halloween Dance. *Just what I need,* Marc thought, *to be reminded that I can’t dance, or talk to girls like that.*

*Or that I’d even want to dance with a girl,* Marc thought, with a twinge at the corner of his mouth. For a brief moment, he imagined dancing with Phil, both of them still in their costumes from just hours ago, holding each other close. Moving slowly. Not stepping on each other’s feet because they didn’t lift them high enough to crush each other’s toes.

Marc shook his head, pulling himself out of the second daydream of the night. He looked at the paper, still folded over before the soft glow of the night light. *Do I really want to know what this note is?* He thought. With a sudden realization and a nod in the darkness, he decided he did.

He unfolded the paper and looked, his sharp eyes catching the differing handwriting before him, absorbing the information. And his eyes opened wide. And then wider still. And then narrowed. He couldn’t believe it. He shook his head and read through the different scripts again. Blue ink’s flowing cursive. Black ink’s block writing. Blue ink again, with circles instead of dots over the “i’s” and “j’s” and then Purple ink writing in broken cursive, using text message spellings and acronyms instead of English.

Then the Blue ink followed by the Pencil. And Pencil was smooth, controlled, yet decidedly animated. Writing that was clear but fun, with big caps and angled lines that went wider on upstrokes and thinner across the humps and curves. Elegant, strong, expressive. Unafraid.

He turned the lid down and sat on the toilet. He re-read the Pencil part of the note, his mind boggling at the possibility, the improbability, the absolute random nature of what he read. And several things made more and more sense. He read the entire note again, and this time he realized the entire meaning of the message.

And he had absolutely no idea what to do about it. It changed everything. Yet it changed nothing.

Marc carefully refolded the note and took a deep breath before leaving the bathroom. Quietly, he made his way back to his bedroom. Phil was how Marc had left him, still turned away, still breathing softly. Still unaware that Marc had even left the bed.

Marc slipped the note into his school pack’s outside pocket. Then he slipped off his sweatpants and adjusted the waistband of his boxers. It was too warm sharing the comforter and sheets with Phil to wear PJ’s or sweats. He crawled back in under the covers. His head hit the pillow but he was too much inside his own brain to drop off to sleep quickly. He remained still, tried to keep his mind from the myriad of “what if?” questions the information in the note had raised for him.

Half an hour before sun up, Marc finally slipped back behind the walls of sleep, and stayed there until nearly an hour after Phil had woke up.


One Year Later, Friday Before Halloween

As kids do at the end of the school day, Marc and Phil were walking home, to Marc’s house. Several other kids walked with them, chatting about school stuff, gossiping about other kids, excitedly babbling about what costumes and parties and haunted houses they were about to take part in on the Halloween holiday. The town elders had arranged for trick or treating to take place on Saturday, under the Halloween crescent moon. The crispness in the air gave a ripe rosiness to the cheeks of the kids as they passed under the brilliantly dying leaves in the trees. The wind whipped and lifted, occasionally turning the snap in the air a bit of a chilling bite.

As they walked down the blocks, kids would pare off from the main group, two at this turn, three walking down the next lane, one kid waving as he walked up his front walkway. The last pair of girls walked towards one of their homes together, giggling and sing-songing “G’bye Marc! G’bye Philip!” as they bustled off to whatever plans they had. Just another group of middle schoolers in a typical suburban town doing the usual kid things on the way home from school, with just that little bit of excitement over the festivities to come.

Eventually Marc and Phil were walking alone as they neared Marc’s house. Phil felt a little uneasy for some reason, and he quickly analyzed the situation for the reason why. Marc had been uncharacteristically silent in all the chatting on the way home. While he wasn’t given to letting his mouth override his brain, Marc did usually take part in the discussion. The laughter, at the very least. But even the jokes and general good vibe for Halloween didn’t seem to track with Marc, and that made Phil curious, anxious. Wary.

“So what d’you wanna do this weekend?” Phil asked, shifting his pack over his shoulder. The two strings of his draw string bag were notoriously on the same shoulder, sort of negating the concept of such a pack. Phil claimed that having it on one side or the other was the only way he could keep the sack from bouncing on his butt.

Beside him, Marc just inhaled deeply before letting it out. They’d been best friends since that surprising and crazy Halloween trick or treat night, a year back. Both boys had benefitted enormously from being moved to a tougher Algebra class, after the whole X=6 rebellion against Mrs. Argyle. So much so that they both jumped Geometry and Algebra 2 into the Trigonometry and Pre-Calculus class. The boys would say that having a teacher that believed in them made all the difference. Their teachers would tell a different story. They thrived in any situations where they worked together. And they were so quick at picking up any new concepts that the teacher in their current math class had them work with small groups, leading other students.

But Marc knew Phil well. Well enough to understand that this was going to be a drawn out conversation if he just replied with “I dunno, what do you wanna do?” Some of those “conversations had been epic long, but resulted in nothing getting done, no decision being made.

“I don’t know what I DO want to do, but I do know what I DON’T want to do.”

“And what’s that?” Phil asked, taking a moment to push his new glasses up his nose. The new prescription was not as harsh as previous lenses, and these were actually lighter than he’d had in years. But his nose had elongated slightly in the last year, with less ski jump. So his glasses had a tendency to slide down more.

“I’m not going trick or treating,” Marc said, simply.

“Whaaaat?! Why? Because of last year? Old Argyle is locked up in the looney bin up at Tenworth. It’s not like she can break out of there and come chase us down. Or like some kind of Halloween evil miracle would happen and they let her out for one night to exact her revenge,” Phil said, letting his voice go dramatic.

“Yeah, I’m not dense, ya know,” Marc replied. “I just don’t feel like it. Like, idunno, maybe it’s time to grow up a little. I mean, we’re thirteen now. Middle school seniors. Costumes are fun and all, and I wouldn’t mind going to a party or something, but…” Marc shrugged. “I just don’t feel like running around begging for candy.”

“Is this because your Dad wants you to clean the garage out… again? I mean, how much cleaner can it get? It’s cleaner in there than the kitchen floor in my house! Hell, it’s cleaner than the kitchen sink at my house!” Phil tried to giggle a little to get Marc in on the joke, maybe liven things up a little. But it didn’t seem to take off, and he cut the humor short.

“What’s bugging you?” Phil asked, giving Marc a sideways look. “You’ve been pensive and truculent all day.”

“Nice words!” Marc replied. “That AP Language Arts vocabulary is showing.”

“Yeah it is, and stop trying to change the subject. You’re all wound up about something.”

“I just don’t wanna do the trick or treat thing, okay?” Marc returned, some irritation building into his voice.

“Okay, okay. Sheesh!” Phil said, visibly taking a step wide of Marc for a few steps. “So, what DO you want to do, then? Monster movies?”


“Chelsey Daughtry’s monster mash party?”

“Oh gawd!” Marc replied with disgust. “Is she gonna do that again? Pass.”

“Help your parents give out candy when the little ones show up?”

“Hell no!”

“Well, Jesus Effing Christ, Marcus!” Phil said, using Marc’s proper name. “What is it you DO want to do?”

Marc stopped. It took Phil three steps to realize his friend had stopped. He turned and stood his own ground as Marc seemed to be gathering himself to say something. Phil opened his mouth to squawk first, but closed it, seeing the emotion on Marc’s face. The tension. The strain. He watched as Marc clenched his fists repeatedly, but kept them down by his side.

Something clearly was bothering his friend. Patience was called for when Marc got into moods like this. They weren’t many, but they often had a lot of hurt behind them. Phil had learned that Marc tended to keep things inside until he couldn’t anymore. Sometimes that pressure had to come out, and usually it was something dramatic.

Like that time at the pizza party for Latin class when he yelled at Margie Johnston to stop messing with his hair. He’d shouted some really rude words at her, and everyone looked completely shocked. Marc just wasn’t that kind of guy. Or the time he’d gotten cleated in baseball and shouted out the base runner, the 3rd base umpire, both coaches and half their own team. Shouted at them like a drunken sailor about to get into it with a drunken Marine. It usually took a lot to get Marc’s goat, but once he’d had his fill, he gave the horns, no matter what targets were in front of him.

That kinda bothered Phil, because normally his best buddy was so mellow, easy going. Never had a rough word to say to anyone unless provoked. But now, it looked like the volcano was about to go off again. Phil readied himself for the worst.

But Marc seemed to get control of the volcano inside him. He breathed out, loudly. His fists relaxed, fell open and slack. Seemed like his friend had found the relief valve without needing to cut anyone down.

“I’ve been seeing… *other* people,” Marc said. The words seemed to carry across to Phil but he wasn’t sure exactly if he’d heard the words right or if the meaning was somehow different. He actually blinked twice, slowly, after Marc had said it. Another few seconds passed before Phil could figure out what to say.

“Like, other friends?”

“Like other… *people.* Since that night, that trick or treat night a year ago. Things got complicated and… And I have just been seeing… *other…* people,” Marc said, his shoulders not quite shrugging, not quite staying still. It was like he contracted slightly, making himself smaller, defensively.

“Other?” Phil said, nervously, crossing one arm over his body, his opposite arm grasping the first at the elbow. “Like other guys?”

“And girls. Women.”

“You mean, like…” Phil said, but he couldn’t bring himself to finish the thought. “I mean, I know that night was weird. With those ghosts and crazy ole Argyle. And, uh, well, you know. X=6 and all.” He raised a fist half way up as if to mime the cheer, and reluctantly, sheepishly, brought it back down. Phil blushed, remembering his own thoughts on what had become a sort of hallway chant that day. And his own thoughts and half-thoughts that sleep over night.

“Yeah,” his own face getting warm thinking about what he had felt Phil had implied that day. And that night. And he remembered the note. Marc stuffed his hands in the pockets of his jacket and started walking again, feeling the mid-autumn winds brush crisply against his cheeks.

“So,” Phil said, falling into step beside him. “Other people.”

“Yeah,” Marc said, but with the sort of quiet firmness that usually meant that he had nothing more to say.

Phil’s mind reeled. What was Marc saying? what was the meaning? Other people? Did that mean that Marc had figured out Phil’s secret? Did he figure out Phil’s own longings towards Marc? Was this some kind of dismissal or… and what did he mean pointing out girls AND women? A thousand thoughts twisted behind Phil’s glasses and he began lagging a step behind Marc. His confusion and frustration and emotional bubbling continued as they walked to Marc’s house.

Marc’s own mind was still a wash with his own emotions and thoughts. He wasn’t sure what to feel about all these people he’d been seeing lately. Or if Phil would understand. Marc himself didn’t fully understand. All the things that had happened to him since last Halloween were just… and it wasn’t like he could talk to his parents about it. Or even Phil, who was like his best friend in the whole world.

Marc’s thoughts dwelt of Phil enormously lately, both with and without those unconscious yet sometimes embarrassing twinges in his underwear. There were things he could only talk about with Phil without it seeming like he was weird or crazy or… or that _other_ thing. They’d survived Argyle’s lunatic run. They’d somehow encountered those other boys, the ghosts. The, he now realized, gay boyfriend ghosts, who’d saved both himself and Phil by pulling them into that hollow oak on the corner.

The hollow oak whose shadow Marc now found himself walking under on his way home. He glanced at the empty space, remembering. The look on the faces of the ghost boys, Adam and Steve. Marc reached up and brushed his hand across the slight scar on his cheek, where he’d been scratched by the tree bark when the ghosts had saved his life, his and Phil’s lives, that night.

As they Marc drew closer to the tree, he thought he saw a pair of ghostly faces peering out at him, smiling, waving. He came to a complete stop, staring. And then Phil, distractedly, bumped into Marc from behind. Both boys tumbled to the ground in the shade of the tree.

“Hey, watch where you’re goin’!” Marc shouted, his embarrassment and confusion turning into anger.

“Why’d you stop like that?”

“Why didn’t you see me stop, dumbass!”

“Not my fault if your big ass just drags enough to stop like a lead weight,” Phil said, trying to get to his feet. His irony wasn’t harsh, however. Sarcastic perhaps, but playful in his timbre. The pack was throwing his balance off and he was only able to get to his knees first before settling the pack down to stand.

“Don’t know why I bother with you, four eyes,” Marc said, standing up and starting to walk home. His tone had been dark, intentionally hurtful. He hunched into his jacket, burying his hands back in the pockets as he went.

Phil had only transitioned to one knee, one foot planted when Marc said that. It had stopped him cold. He watched Marc’s back, walking away from him, still stung by the “four eyes” remark. As he got back to his feet, Phil wiped the back of his hand under his right eye, brushing away a tear that had formed there. Realizing he was in public, Phil got control of himself, sniffed back any other tears and trudged on to Marc’s house, pulling the strings over his shoulders, hefting his pack a little higher. “Never let them see your tears,” Phil whispered. “Especially him.”

But Phil couldn’t completely hold in the hurt. Anyone who knew him could read it plainly in his posture, in his stride… on his face. Hanging his head, burning with shame and hurt, Phil did the only thing he could, and trudged on.


Marc walked into his house, entering through the garage door, directly into the kitchen. He stopped in long enough to grab a bottled water from the fridge and then bounding up the stairs, two and three at a time, to his room. His mother barely said “hello” before his feet were pounding up the stairs. She was about to ask where Phil was when she heard the door upstairs close, a little louder than she preferred to hear.

Jennifer Dalton was about to go pounding up the stairs after her son and his oddly rude behavior, when the garage door to the kitchen opened again. Phil trudged in, looking like someone had just kicked a kitten in front of him and then bragged about how far it had gone. He set his pack on one of the seats and sat in the next one. It had become their usual pattern that the boys would come home and do any studying together, share a snack and then go on to doing something together. Since Phil’s father had entered “rehab” for his drinking, Phil had been a non-guest at the Dalton home. For three months now he had his own bedroom in the Dalton house, taking over the second room upstairs, sharing the bathroom between the bedrooms with Marc.

More to the point, they’d been inseparable. Like brothers. A pair. To see them coming home like this raised a red flag to her. More to the point, she’d very rarely ever seen Phil acting like this. He was normally such an upbeat boy, with a positive attitude and a smile for everyone, despite the disruption in his own family life.

*This is bad mojo,* she thought.

“Hey, honey-bear,” Jennifer said, smiling in Phil’s direction, but keeping her attention focused on her hands, which were chopping broccoli. “Doing pork loin tonight. Your favorite. How was school?”

“Fine,” Phil said, his voice projected down. He slumped in the chair, elbows on his knees, shoulders sagging, head bowed over. He hadn’t even taken his windbreaker off yet. Mrs. Jennifer glanced over and was immediately moved by his posture. She heard him sniffle and that engaged her full on Mom mode.

“Phil! Honey! What’s wrong?” she said, coming to stand beside the boy. She gently laid a hand on Phil’s head, using subtle pressure to try and tilt his face up. Instead, he slumped her direction and rested his forehead on her side. She drew him against herself in a gentle hug, cooing and shh-ing him as he started to sob. After several minutes she pulled back and knelt down to be eye to eye with the 13-year-old. “You ready to talk?”

“You’ll hate me,” Phil said, slightly muffled by her bright orange blouse.

“Doubt it,” she sing-songed back at him. “Unless you did something horrible like tossed pumpkins in the street on the way home.” He shook his head no, still leaning against her. “Did you make a sling shot in shop class and use it to pester neighborhood pets?” Again, a shake, and a reluctant smile. “Did you set a girl’s hair on fire with a magnifying glass?”

“No one does that kinda stuff anymore,” Phil said, releasing his hold around her hips and easing back.

“Then nothing you can tell me is sooo bad that we can’t find a way to fix it. So spill. What’s got your fur all in a burr, honey bear,” she said, using and slightly distorting her pet name for him.

Phil nodded, took several breaths and then looked her straight in the eyes. “You ever feel ways about someone you don’t understand, but they don’t feel the same way about you and it makes you crazy?”

“I have. And I understand how that feels.”

“And I have to hide it, b’cuz no one will understand. So it makes me just feel like I’m nuts all the time and weird and I don’t know what to do.”

“Oh, baby. We all go through that at some point in time or other. Can I ask who this girl is?”

“That’s why you’ll hate me. Not a girl,” Phil said, bracing himself for the worst. His sniffles intensified into sobs.

Jennifer grimaced. Not exactly something unexpected in this day and age, she realized. Her immediate thought was *Poor Phil. How long has he been carrying this?* She briefly tightened her embrace around his shoulders before simply holding on loosely.

“Ah, well that will complicate matters some. But it doesn’t change how I feel about you. Or what we can do about this. Is he a nice boy? Is he why you’re crying right now?”

“Yes, and yes. Mrs. Dee, I think I’m in love… w-with Marc. But he loves other… other people. I’m so confused.”

“Oh boy. Well that explains some of this. Help me to understand better. What happened to upset you so?”

Phil laid out his walk home from school with Marc. He left out none of the details, none of the things he heard Marc say, or the way Marc said it. He even explained what had happened to them last Halloween so that she understood that much as well. When he was finished, his tears dried up, she told him that they’d figure something out. Directed to return to his homework, she slid a snack cup of butterscotch pudding, Phil’s favorite, under his nose and went back to preparing for the evening meal.

But in her mind, she wondered why she hadn’t seen their friendship with this new light before. And she knew that the boys had to talk about this and soon. Living under one roof, much less sharing a bathroom would not be good for any of them until at least part of this situation was resolved.

And to be quite honest, she thought she’d raised Marc better than to act so rude to his best friend. She wondered for a moment if Marc new about this new wrinkle in their relationship. She also wondered if this would wind up destroying it. Teenage boys could be so emotionally unstable about relationship matters. The hormones and conflicting drives within them had a tendency to take thinking and civility out of the equation. She only hoped that Marc wouldn’t blow his top when he learned of how Phil truly felt about him.

And she hoped that Phil was ready for further rejection if Marc didn’t return those feelings. She’d grown to love him like a son, and knew that he would be devastated if Marc took things wrong or to an extreme. It was going to be a pork loin dinner to remember, she thought. As that thought struck her, she went into the living room and made a quick “heads up” call to her husband. Based on the time, he should be on the way home from work, in the developing traffic on the highways.

“Hi, Carl! Listen up, husband mine; we have a situation,” she began.


Marc had gone right to his bed once he got to his room. He dumped his pack in the computer chair and then toppled like a felled log onto his bed, face first. He lay there, belly down, just letting the emotions run through him. It had been a tough day, in an equally, relentlessly aggravating, frustrating week.

The *others* had been more insistent, lately. More demanding. He felt that his room was one of the few places he could be clear of their influence. So much of his energy had been spent this week either ducking from them or satisfying their needs. He felt worn out.

Things had been so much easier when he’d just been a day dreamer. Letting his imagination run away with him. The others had changed all that. They’d taken his focus and sharpened it tremendously. They’d changed him, and he wasn’t sure he liked it, entirely. At first it had been good, he’d loved it. But now… they were so needy, demanding more of him than he really wanted to give. But he surrendered to them, one at a time.

He huffed and shuffled, twisting onto his back. He used his feet to slip off his shoes, one at a time, letting them drop to the floor without untying them. Then he repositioned himself on the bed, setting his feet flat on the bed, his knees bent, his hands going up behind his head. He didn’t want the radio on right now, or any sound. He didn’t want any distractions. He just wanted this moment of peace and quiet.

*Phil was being kinda a jerk,* he thought. Marc just didn’t want any craziness. Well, any more craziness. He was stressed enough. The events of a year ago hung heavily in his mind, and he was in no mood to go through such things again. Well, any more than he already was going through it. Puberty was screwy enough. His sometimes friendly – sometimes horny feelings for Phil complicated things. His need to keep it all secret compounded that complication infinitely more.

How could he have such intense passion attacks for Phil and then be so completely frustrated and fed up with him in the space of a few sentences? It all swirled in his head. He had boners looking at other boys, too, which kinda frightened him. Everything in their “hygiene” class had said he was supposed to be all about girls when those feelings hit. Or when those boners struck him in the shower and he had to “deal with it” right then and there. Or in the morning before school. Or before sleep. Or that once or twice in the bathroom at school.

*I think I whack off too much,* Marc thought. *Certainly too much after looking at guys in Gym class.*

That thought brought up a memory from the note he’d had shoved into his hand last year. He’d read the note over and over again, trying to picture who each of the varied writers were. He rolled over and opened the drawer beside his bed. Under the spiral notebook and the Sports Illustrated issue he’d snuck out of the dentist’s office last time sat the note, carefully folded as it had been when he first felt it shoved into his hand.

With careful, practiced hands, he opened the note. He knew the words by heart by now, but he kept looking at it to find some meaning he might have missed. Some sweep of the letters, some turn of phrase that might hold more meaning in one particular section of the four-person message. Something that might suddenly make enough sense that he could act. Or at least enough that he might find the courage to act. Acting here could be dangerous.

Taking a fortifying breath, he read the note yet again.

Damn, Jeffrey is FINE! Those skinny jeans make his butt look so good I just want to grab it and squeeze it! I think he’ll take me to the dance. I might have to ask him. You going?

Jeffrey is nice. Paul Thompson is better. He’s sooooper cute! Not going to the dance, thou. Probly have to take my lil bro and sis out tomoz. Would be cool if we party after trick or treat. Yeah?

that would be cool. My rents are going to the big costume party at Dad’s Boss’ house. Half the adults in town usually do. Maybe we could get Jeffrey and Paul to come round my place! Put on some movies, or look at youtube. Maybe jump in the hot tub? (Drawn Heart) Whatcha think?

LOL Invite Marc! If he shows up, Jeremy or Nick or Barnie might show up as well. OMFG He’s like a boi magnet. He always has friends around. Gang of hotties! They all like him & do anything he does, IMHO! Like he’s like so hot but acts doesn’t know it. ROTFLMAO! Other guys just wanna be him, or be near him.

Sure, Marc’s cool but you’ll have to pick just one you want him to invite Don’t think my rents would like it for lots of boys over at once. Thought you liked Marc. We see how you stare. You seen him dressed out for gym today? OMG his shorts are TIGHT! LOL!! Or maybe someone ELSE will be stalking Marc!

I know I would But hes probly not like me. Probably doesn’t even know my name or like me. He’s got amazing eyes. But he’d probably freak if he knew someone like me wanted to jump his bones, tee hee hee. Sometimes it sucks being gay.

Besides, think I wanna go trick or treating one last time. Got no costume, but don’t want to stick around my house all night. Pretty sure my Dad will come home late, drinking. Groan!

He felt certain that the Blue Ink was Amy Prescott. She started going out with Jeffrey Zuccarelli shortly after that, broke up with him around Christmas time and then started going out with him again just before Valentine’s day. He wasn’t sure if the Black Ink was written by Bridget or Alison, but he’d narrowed it down to both of them. No other girl he remembered from that class used black ink regularly. Took him almost four months to figure that much out.

He'd fairly much given up trying to figure out who the Purple Ink was written by. There were a lot of girls in that class and too many of them didn’t use the same kind of pen all the time. Struck Marc as kind of odd that girls would use pens in an Algebra class. You’d think that the ability to erase while making calculations might be important if you make a mistake. Maybe these girls were so confident in their math abilities that they just used whatever to write with. All he had figured out about Purple Ink was she probably spent a lot of time on her cell phone, texting.

The identity of Pencil was something he felt oddly conflicted over. Part of him wanted to believe it was Phil. But he’d seen Phil’s handwriting. He couldn’t quite match Phil’s scrawling script to the almost fancified, calligraphy styled lettering he saw in the note. It was like the pencil had been shaved or something. Maybe rubbed so that the graphite point was flattened to one side, like an old ink well dip pen, and then the words scratched out to make artistic use of the angled point. Which was entirely not Phil’s style.

Which meant that while the substance of the Pencil’s words sort of fit with it being Phil, the style was way out of bounds. Still, Marc couldn’t quite see that. It would be too good, too perfect for words if Phil were actually… gay. Marc was still uncomfortable even thinking that he himself might be gay, much less that his best friend for the past year was as well, and liked him in THAT way.

No, Phil wasn’t gay. Nerdy. Geeky, sure. Kinda unfocused and wild, which stood out, even among their geek friends, to be sure. Not good at sports, oh certainly. Uncoordinated, okay, granted. But Phil was brave. He stood up for Marc against Mrs. Argyle. He’d been bold enough to start a chant against a teacher in the hallway, and it had actually taken off.

X=6. And the many things that came to mean for Marc and Phil. Just scrawling that on the chalkboard had set in motion events that no one could have predicted. Including the weird events of that night. Including the other people.

Marc didn’t think of himself as anything special. Definitely not worthy of people looking at him with “bedroom eyes” when he was dressed out for gym. Although after reading that note he had consciously changed his clothes for gym, making them baggier and longer. Which was kind of a hassle for some sports, but it kept him from showing himself so prominently down there. Especially with how often he got random boners lately. It had embarrassed him immensely realizing that others were looking at him the way he looked at them. He had become very self-conscious of his own gaze in public.

He had changed in a lot of ways since last year. Inside and out. He was nearly two inches taller, and had put on some muscle. He wasn’t buffed out, but his body had defined itself more. PE had become fun and he seemed to have become more coordinated. He was even considering trying out for freshmen football when he moved up to high school. His grades had always been good but suddenly they were great. The math thing wasn’t the only place where he’d benefited from being more challenged by his teachers. And while he didn’t have Phil’s gift for gab or flair for word-smithing, he was doing great in History and Science.

And then there were the *others.* His focus in school had improved with his… interactions. He found ways to channel that budding sexual energy, that intellectual curiosity, that expanding raw physical prowess because of his interactions with them. He considered all the tricks he’d picked up, the skills, the way his mind seemed to be able to churn over mental issues at the same time that he was using his body to its full potential.

But all this additional activity was tiring him out. He needed a break. But he couldn’t explain it. Not to Phil, for certain. Especially if Phil was the Pencil writer. Marc suspected Phil could be, but the spidery wreckage Phil called his handwriting spoke against that. So if that was true, and his handwriting differences with whoever Pencil was ruled Phil out… then who was the boy who talked about Marc in such glowing, rosy terms? And did it matter who that boy might be, because he wasn’t in classes with any of those other boys anymore. And Phil was right there. And Marc felt…

He wasn’t sure what he felt about Phil anymore. It was so confusing. He knew it was friendship. He knew he loved him like a brother. But did he feel more? Were all these images that flashed through Marc’s mind, the day dreams he had when he was alone… doing alone things… were those images trying to tell him something?

He folded the note up carefully, giving the Pencil writer’s passage a longing sigh as he folded the first triangular flap over. He hid the note again and then turned and buried his face in his pillow again. He knew the other people might send someone to him tonight. He just needed a little break. Was that too much to ask?

He focused his mind, lying like a limp rag doll on his bed, and let himself slip away, chasing dreams he’d put aside in daylight and night alike. With a long, controlled breath, he faded, and found gentle sleep.


Carl Dalton parked his clean, shiny work truck outside the garage as he arrived home. Normally he would just drive into the garage, but the need to clean it out again prevented him from doing so. He had plans for the weekend, and would need to utilize all the empty space before him to maximize his goal.

Carl worked for a large company, Unified Cable and Communications, as department head for External Sales and Service. That meant he controlled and supervised the flow of materials and goods shipped to, from and inside the massive plant he worked at, as well as running work crews around town. It was an enormous task, one that required a high degree of preparedness, resourcefulness and, above all, meticulous organizational skills. He was also good with his hands in a very technically demanding profession and excelled at managing people, both back in the facility and in the field. He was very good at his job, and his employers knew what a valuable cog he was in their overall machine.

And he was paid quite handsomely.

Carl was a creature of habit, but he was also someone that realized the importance of being ready when situations proved to be fluid, unpredictable, unexpected. He was a planner. He was a stickler for details. The fact that he was head of the service department after 27 years working with the company was proof enough that he was very good at what he did.

Despite his solid work ethic, or perhaps because of it, Carl had an almost childlike devotion to holidays. He was one of those people who would go all out in decorating the house for such events, keeping and fixing costumes and such. He was also the kind of person who would keep from decorating once in a while if his neighbors were going all out themselves. He loved the creativity and fun of holiday decorations, but he wasn’t into competing with his neighbors.

However, this year, the neighbors on his left were vacationing in Nevada, and the neighbors on the right were in the process of selling the house, since their children had all moved out. Downsizing, as they say. The house across the street was going through a kitchen renovation, so their hands were full of that. In fact, there was only one other house on the entire block that had any sort of seriously creepy Halloween stuff going on. Carl grinned thinking of his chance to get ALL of his creepy gear out this year.

Which meant that he needed to keep the garage open and empty so he could pull down the stairway to the storage area over the garage. And since they were going to be doing that, might as well tidy the place up some as well. Which was a job he had help in mind for, in the form of Phil and Marc.

He ran a hand through his short, salt and pepper hair, replaying the content of his phone conversation with Jennifer concerning the sudden and unexpected drama between the boys. It was unlike Marc to be mean to anyone, much less to Phil, who he doted on like a little brother, despite them being almost the same age. To be honest, he probably should have seen Phil’s crush on Marc earlier. Much of the other boy’s behaviors began to fit the pattern now, but Carl and Jennifer had not noticed them taken altogether. Thinking back over it now, he saw similar patterns in Marc’s activities.

“Poor Phil is just a wreck,” his wife of 29 years said. “I haven’t spoken with Marc yet. These other people he’s been seeing kind of worry me, Carl. What if he’s been… you know, not using protection? What if he’s being coerced into doing things? My God, what if they,” and her pause was longer than she normally used when picking the most proper word for a situation. “Carl, what if they took pictures? Or video?”

“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” Carl had replied, trying to keep calm. “We need to hear Marc’s side of it. The fact that he told Phil may mean he’s looking for help. But I want to hear from his own words what’s really going on. We both know that kids sometimes take things way out of context. Especially where emotions are involved. I have to think that Marc wouldn’t deliberately hurt Phil’s feelings. He’s not that kind of boy.” Even though he preached caution, though, Carl couldn’t help but let his thoughts drift along the same lines as Jennifer’s. More information was needed before anything else happened. Still, a father’s worry was just as deep and wide as a mother’s.

She had agreed with that assessment of course. Marc wasn’t the type to fly off the handle, especially to the limited few he called friend. Marc had been a bit of a surprise, coming along so late in their marriage. They had already had both of their older children many years before Marc was born. Their oldest son, Barry, now taught history and humanities at the state university, three hundred miles away. Daughter Leesa had married young, and moved to Seattle where both she and her husband worked for Amazon.

Leesa had been 16 when Marc showed up. It was like having a family start over. By that time, Jennifer and Carl had been experienced parents, and didn’t panic when Marc started doing some of the weird things that babies do. Perhaps that’s why Marc was so calm and even tempered and helpful. He was the child of mature, stable parents with a firm financial setting, the house was paid for, and all his needs met.

Phil, on the other hand, was proving to be a handful. His father wasn’t just “in rehab.” He’d been pulled over for driving while drunk on Phil’s mother’s birthday. He’d been weaving all over the streets, howling and crying and drinking long necks even as he drove. When the police pulled him over and asked him to step out of the car, he’d opened the door, puked, farted and then fell out of the driver’s seat, a bottle still in his hand, passed out cold. Rehab was going to be followed by a short jail term until his case could be taken to court. Sadly, it looked like more jail time might be in the future.

Jennifer and Carl had offered at once to take Phil in. The boy was a delight. Funny, imaginative, a little socially behind his age mates, perhaps, but very bright and very emotionally vulnerable. Carl felt that Phil probably knew that his father’s situation was likely far beyond just a short time away. He kept hope that his dad was finally getting the help he needed, but was fearful of what the future might mean.

Realizing what might be in the future, paperwork had already been signed and approved by a family court magistrate. For all intents and purposes, Phil was their adopted son. A responsibility that both he and Jennifer felt was more a joy than a burden.

Which made this development all the more immediate. If Marc rejected Phil, that could cause enormous strife in the house. Or possibly worse, what if Marc accepted Phil’s growing crush affection? Where would such an in-house relationship lead? And who were these “others” that Phil spoke of? The fact that more than one “other” was mentioned was enough to make Carl wonder what his youngest son had gotten himself into. No matter how he turned it over in his head, Carl kept coming to the same two realizations: clearly they needed more information before taking any action, and there must be some misunderstanding, some kind of mistake.

Which required both a delicate touch and immediate action. He turned off the truck engine, grabbed his company wind breaker and his laptop case, and entered the garage. From there he passed into the kitchen and set his case down on the small table beside the kitchen door, hung his wind breaker on the coat rack, and slipped out of his work boots.


Carl smiled at Phil, who was diligently performing some long calculations for homework at the kitchen table. The smell of home cooking and some sort of pumpkin spice aroma candle or melted wax brazier wafted through the room, causing him to inhale and smile. He loved Fall. And he loved the feeling of being home after a day’s work. And he loved having family to share Fall and home with. As Carl walked by the table, he stopped and rubbed his large, strong hand across Phil’s shoulders.

“Hey, buddy bear, how you feeling?”

Phil forced a smile, pushed his glasses up further on his nose and shrugged his shoulders.

“Tough day?” Carl asked. Phil nodded. “Is that a pudding cup before me?” Carl said, affecting a bad John Wayne accent. Phil cracked a smile for a second, trying hard to cover it up. “You doin’ okay with that higher math, Kemosabe?” Carl continued, rubbing both hands on Phil’s shoulders, covering them so that his thumbs met in the middle on the boy’s neck. Phil cringed under the shoulder rubs, secretly enjoying them, but making a show of trying to fight them off. It tickled at the same time that it felt good but also made him cringe. The giggling was inevitable.

“What’s this?” Jennifer said, looking over. “Another man? In my house?”

“Your house?” Carl said, stepping away from Phil, but giving his hair a thorough ruffling. Phil grinned, watching as the two most important adults in his life came together.

“Yes,” Jennifer said. “I’ll have you know, my husband is a very important and very jealous man. You should probably leave before he gets home,” she teased.

“I think I can take him!” Carl bragged, wrapping her in his arms. They kissed briefly. “What’s for dinner?”

“Porkel, brock and smush,” she replied.

“Ah, my favorite.”

She playfully swatted him on the shoulder. “Everything’s your favorite if it goes in your mouth without you having to cook it, Carl Dalton!”

“As long as you cook it, it’ll be perfect,” he said, stepping back. “Marc upstairs?”

“Soon as he got home.”

“Hummm,” Carl replied. “Well, he’s been looking tired a lot lately. I suppose it wont hurt to let him sleep a bit. However, I will be having a long talk with him tonight.”

“Mr. Dee?” Phil asked, looking worried. “Will I have to go away?”

“Oh, honey bear,” Jennifer said, “you aren’t in any danger of being sent away.”

“Nah, you’re stuck with us, kiddo,” Carl replied, turning and roundly smacking his wife on the butt, to which he immediately got a kitchen towel snapped at his rapidly retreating rear as well. “I’m gonna go change. Got a lot to do tonight to get the yard ready for tomorrow.”

“Gonna shoot the works?” Jennifer asked.

“It vill be a Halloveen to wemember, bwa-hah-hah-hah-haaaa!” Carl intoned in a bad vampire movie accent. Phil watched as Carl headed for the stairs. Jennifer watched too, and noticed the way that Phil’s eyes were smiling but a little misty. Clearly, the boy enjoyed getting attention from Carl, but her mother’s instinct told her that he was also missing his own father, wishing that his own dad was more like Carl.

Jennifer kind of wished he were too. She walked to the boy and gently finger brushed his now messy hair back into something resembling order. “It will work out,” she said softly to him. “You’ll see.”

Phil smiled up at her, but couldn’t bring himself to look completely into her eyes, instead turning his vision back to his homework. Safely back in his “uncomfort” zone, he allowed his face to frown again, trying and failing to put his mind back to work. Without realizing it, his hand drifted to the top margin of his paper, where he wrote, very lightly, “X=6?” in pencil.


“Marc,” knock-knock. “Marc, it’s time for dinner, baby. You asleep in there?” Knock-knock. Marc rolled over and promptly fell off the bed. He shook his head as he sat up, still feeling a little groggy from his nap. A glance at his alarm clock showed he’d slept for less than an hour, but it was an hour he’d needed to catch up on.

“Be right down, Mom,” he called back, using the bed for leverage to get back to his feet. “I’m too young to feel so old,” he murmured, heading to the Jack and Jill bathroom between his and Phil’s room. He took a moment to empty his bladder, made himself presentable again, and washed his hands before dinner. He also took a moment to splash his face against the possibility of zits. His appearance had become important lately, although he felt that most of that was for his own benefit, not to impress others.

The door to Phil’s room was open, as often was the case with their shared bathroom. The secret passage of watery doom, Phil had said, one time, trying to laugh like a character in a pirate movie. And failing. Spectacularly failing, but being funny nevertheless. Marc felt a pang of resentment at his recent treatment of Phil. He didn’t mean to take it out on him. This recent move from friends to almost brothers, from an acquaintance at school to someone you live with was still in the adjustment phase for Marc. For both, if truth be told. And with all Marc’s recent activities, it was weird that they kept the bathroom doors open all the time but Marc felt the need to keep secrets.

He looked into Phil’s room. It was basically the same size and layout as his own, only in parallel reverse. But where Marc’s room was all clean lines and almost Spartan efficiency, Phil’s room was more… pronounced! From the dual vanities, he could see how Phil had the room set up. He could see a few shirts and pairs of undies strewn across the floor, no doubt hiding mismatched socks. He could see the many shelves and other pieces of furniture that you’d see in a boy’s room, all of them decorated with his many Lego sets, arranged in static scenes. It was sort of like looking into a little kid’s room instead of a thirteen-year old’s. There were ramps of Hot Wheels track between the various scenes, leading up or down shelfs in a single shelving unit, or bridging the space between one end of the desk to the chest of drawers.

Marc marveled at the creativity and whimsy of the arrangements. He had gunslingers and cowboy like figures riding on the back of a jet-liner in one scenario, and Jedi dueling with ninjas and knights on horseback in another. It was always changing in Phil’s room. He was always building something new or combining things that didn’t match up. Marc kind of missed “playing” like that.

But he had other things tugging at his time lately. Other rather insistent things.

Checking himself one last time in the mirror, he readied himself to go downstairs for dinner. He’d have to face Phil, and knowing how things had been lately, and how rude and angry he’d felt walking home from school, he knew that he would have to eventually apologize.

But it had felt soooo good to let some of that anger and tension out for a change. Still, wasn’t Phil’s fault. The others did take a lot out of him. And from the tingly feeling in his belly and his head, he felt certain they would be tasking him tonight as well. Reluctantly, he left his room and headed down. The TV news seemed to be in its usual semi-clueless place when Marc came down stairs for dinner, droning on as he walked by towards the kitchen and dining room. He paused, watching the scene on TV as the anchorman read the next story.

“Officials at Tenworth Security Sanitarium still have not been able to comment on the recent deaths among inmates. State officials are investigating the mysterious deaths of thirteen prisoners in their care. Tenworth Sanitarium is the state’s home for the criminally insane, and was notorious for several breakouts over the years, including several that seemed to happen right around this time of year. As of yet, the names of those found dead, nor the circumstances surrounding those deaths have been explained. The deaths were only discovered when an unnamed source within the county coroner’s office leaked information about the movement of bodies from Tenworth.

“And it is a spooky place, don’t you think, Ollie?”

“Crazy House!”

“Crazy indeed, Ollie. What’s in store for weather this weekend?”

“No Clouds!” the overweight newsman shouted from in front of a local area weather map.

“Ah, so a great night for Trick or Treating?”

“Witch Moon!” Ollie shouted again, the area map replaced by a picture of a thick crescent moon and a graphic of a witch on a broomstick sliding across the moon.

“That sounds great, Ollie. We’ll be back in just a few moments on Channel 5 News.”

“Marc, come help set the table,” Jennifer called from the kitchen. Phil rushed by with a stack of plates held banked towards his chest, a set of steak knives and forks suspended in the spot where the plates and his shirt intersected.

“No toll booth today,” Carl said, passing Marc by as he came down the stairs, stepping into the kitchen area dressed in jeans and a gray pocket tee. Marc noticed his father’s hair was wet. *Meaning he’s showered, and I didn’t hear it,* Marc realized. *I must have really been zonked!*

Marc moved into the kitchen and picked up a serving bowl of broccoli drenched in cheddar cheese. It was rather hot and he had to set the bowl down and grab an oven mitt to bring the steaming bowl to the table. His eyes briefly passed over Phil, who was setting out forks and knives while Carl set out glasses with ice.

“Knife goes on the other side, buddy bear,” Carl reminded gently. Phil simply “oh-ed” and reversed the fork and knife positions beside the plates. Marc observed that Phil was still looking and acting like he was afraid to look his way. Like he was afraid someone was going to strike him or something.

Marc saw that the ‘rents were also behaving rather oddly. Stiff, almost. Like they were expecting trouble. Marc made a note of it and kept quiet himself. He had the strange feeling that the storm was about to break, and he’d be swept up in it. He couldn’t shake the notion that his exchange with Phil earlier might have had something to do with it. *Don’t rock the boat,* he thought to himself, *don’t tip the boat over.*

The round table was promptly set for dinner and the family sat down. Carl and Jennifer sat to one side, their backs more to the kitchen side, with the boys having their backs towards the corners flanking the door into the garage. Carl bid them all join hands. Marc barely felt Phil’s fingers slip into his own. He respected that by not closing his fingers tightly, simply letting Phil’s paw rest on his own.

Marc felt suddenly much worse about how he’d treated Phil earlier. He resolved to himself that he would set things right. Tonight. Before the others called to him.

After a brief grace, Jennifer instructed everyone to “Dig in!” which started the progression of passing bowls, bread, salt and pepper and the pitcher of lemonade. The passing went oddly quietly. Phil, who was usually animated and vocal about goings on in school, seemed a lot more reserved than normal. Another warning sign that something was up to Marc.

“Phil tells us you’ve been seeing other people, son,” Carl asserted as the family sat to eat.

“You told!?” Marc cried out, angered, his focus squarely on Phil. Phil dropped his eyes, his hands slipping under the edge of the table. He seemed to shrink slightly as he hunched, self protectively, from the accusation in Marc’s eyes.

“So who are these other people, anyways, son,” his father asked.

“You wont believe me,” Marc grunted.

“Try me!” his father demanded, dropping his napkin onto the mostly untouched slice of meat with emphasis.

“You’ll think I’m crazy and lock me up in Tenworth with the other freaks.”

“Son, I can’t help you if I don’t know what the problem is. So if you’ve been having sex with other people…”

“What?! No! Who said anything about that?” Marc asked, a bit shocked.

“You did!” Phil shouted, standing. “You said you’d been seeing other people… and women. You told me on the walk home today.”

“I said I’ve been *seeing* other people, you dope!” Marc fired back.

“Hey, there’s no need to attack him,” Marc’s mom replied, defending Phil. Her hand went protectively around Phil’s back, resting on his shoulder.

“I didn’t mean that I’d been having sex with *other* people. I only wanna have sex with you!” Marc shouted, looking past his own mother to Phil’s tearstained eyes.

“Huh?” Phil looked up. Everyone got quiet in the house, only the noise of a tooth whitening commercial on TV echoing from the living room to be heard. Marc felt his face flush, realizing what he’d just let slip in that moment of anger. He closed his eyes to compose himself. When he opened his eyes, he found himself starring into Phil’s eyes, and his face was blushed almost cherry red as well. Phil averted his eyes, trying to keep his hands from shaking with anger mixing with anxiety and realization.

“When I said I was seeing other people… what I meant was…” and he looked to his father, tears forming in his own eyes. “You wont believe me,” Marc said resignedly.

“Son…” his father began, reaching a hand towards Marc.

“I think I’m seeing… dead people. Ghosts.” Silence stretched out at the table for a moment. “Actually, I’m pretty sure I am.”

“Like the ones in the tree?” his mother asked, getting a questioning look from his father. “You know. The story about Steven Anthony and Adam Jeffrey. Those kids that got killed on Halloween when we were dating?” Realization dawned on his father’s face as Marc looked on. His mother continued. “Last year, when these two first met and went trick or treating, and that horrible woman tried to run them down in the streets with her clunker, well the boys believe they were saved by the ghosts of Steven and Adam, and that the ghosts haunt that old hollow oak at the corner.”

“So…” the father said, trying to get his mind around all angles of the story. “So you think you’re seeing ghosts?”

“Told ya you’d think I was crazy,” Marc said, standing up from the table and starting to walk away. His father put out a hand to Marc’s stomach and stopped his escape.

“Son, I don’t think you’re crazy. Sit down.”

“I don’t…”

“That wasn’t a request, young man,” his father said, sternness coming into his voice. Marc locked eyes with his father for a moment and then, with his chin drooping to his chest, his lips pressed into a permanent scowl, he went back to his chair.

Across the table, Phil looked to Marc, but looked down to the table top quickly, uncertain how to feel. His embarrassment was plain on his face, both at the misunderstanding and at how Marc’s revelation was affecting his own emotions.

“Why don’t you start at the top?” Carl asked.

Marc sighed, slapping both of his palms onto his own knees. He took a moment to center his thoughts. Looking around, He took stock of the situation. These were the people he trusted most in the world. He’d felt horrible keeping secrets from them for so long. He just wasn’t certain how they’d deal with what he had to say. Or even how they were dealing with what he’d already accidentally let out.

“Started last Halloween. That was the first time I saw a real ghost. Two of them, really. But the other crazy stuff… that started before then.” He glanced up under his bangs, seeing his father watching him intently. “I get these weird feelings. Like, stuff I touch sometimes… it talks to me.” He looked around, uncertain how to read their expressions.

“Like something from Sesame Street?” Phil asked, his face twisting up in perplexity.

“No! It’s like… if I touch something, I feel weird stuff that’s not from in me, but it’s coming from the thing. Like a GIF left on the thing, telling me stuff about it.”

“As if it whispers to you?” Jennifer asked. Carl and Jennifer shared a quick glance, as if in recognition.

“Yeah. Whispers. That’s a good way to say it,” Marc replied. “Wait, you’re not weirded by this?”

“My great aunt Bea was well known in the family for having the Touch,” Jennifer said. “She could pick up small things people had all the time and tell you things about them. Things they’d done recently, where they were. She actually helped find three lost children and an old person who had wandered away from home using the Touch. It normally drained her to try so hard on some things. But she was also already in her 60’s when I knew her.” Beside her, Phil rubbed under his nose and sniffed, very interested in what was being said.

“I never knew that,” Marc said, softly.

“Well, she passed on shortly before you were born,” Carl offered. “She did say you would be a special child,” he said, looking to his wife. “But that’s not the only family member that had unusual talents. Remember my cousin Darryl?”

“The one who went crazy?” Jennifer blurted out and then realized that Marc flinched at hearing that. Under her touch, she felt Phil cringe as well. “Baby, don’t freak out. Darryl got ahold of some very bad drugs. He had to be locked up. He had become a danger to himself.”

“It was more than that. More than just the drugs. Marc, my cousin, when we were younger, he claimed to be hearing voices. And on more than one occasion, he would just know things that no one should have been able to know. Personal things. The sort of things that you keep secret even from other family members or trusted friends. Darryl also had a tendency to speak without thinking, so however he came by that information, it kept getting him into trouble. Before he was committed and eventually died, he had turned to drugs and alcohol. To stop the voices, he said.” Carl turned more towards his son. “He wasn’t crazy, though he did act that way at times. He just couldn’t… couldn’t deal with the things that he was hearing.”

Marc felt the corner of his lip twitch upon hearing this. He felt strange, cornered. Trapped.

“So, believe me when I tell you that I don’t think you’re crazy,” Carl said with simple certitude. Across from the father, the son relaxed, slightly. “And, I trust you. But if these things are happening, you need to trust us.”

Marc, reluctantly, nodded. Then he looked over to Phil, still standing beside Jennifer. The memory from last year came back to him, and he remembered every little thing, as if it happened only yesterday.

“The day we met, like for reals met, do you remember it?”

Phil nodded. “X=6,” he replied, sniffing, the frown on his face fighting with a tiny smile.

“Math comes easy to me. You know that. So when ole hatchet face Argyle sent me out of the room for daydreaming, I already had the answer to that huge problem on the board. I knew it and had checked it twice.”

“Christmas came early,” Phil interrupted, jokingly.

“But when I picked up that chalk… it had been the piece she’d used to write out the equation. And I swear, the chalk knew the answer was X=6 as well. I could feel it.”

“Is that why you wrote it like that? Big, almost accusing her of being a…” and Phil paused, uncertain how to insult a teacher in front of adults with authority over him. Marc saved the day, though, but standing up, nervously, his chair making a noise on the floor.

“Partly. Partly because the chalk gave me the shivers. Like I could feel that the person last holding it was…” and he faltered, looking for a word his mind knew but wasn’t seeing yet.

“Derpy?” Phil offered.

“Dark,” Marc returned. “Like a tumor that feeds off a healthy body. You know? Uhm, what’s the word?”

“Malignant?” Carl tendered. Marc nodded, almost afraid to say the word himself.

“That’s not all that happened that day, in that classroom,” Marc said. He slipped his hand into his pocket and pulled out the note. Phil’s eyes popped open like corn kernels in hot vegetable oil. Marc noticed the other boy’s reaction and swallowed. To his mind, it pretty much confirmed who Pencil was. “As I was walking to the front, to leave, someone passed me this note. I didn’t think about it at the time. I mean, who passes physical notes anymore? Just text under the desk like everyone else does, right? So I stuck it in my pocket and did my X=6 thing on the board, then left as I got the weird feelings about Mrs. Argyle from the chalk.”

“But… how can that be?” Phil asked. He moved away from Jennifer for a moment and reached into his back right pocket, pulling out a similar folded piece of notebook paper. “I got a note that day, too.”

“I don’t understand. What’s so important about that?” Carl asked.

“It’s a note written by…” Marc started, but he and Phil simultaneously said “four people.” They shot glances of surprise to each other. “Blue Ink, Black Ink…”

“Purple and Pencil,” Phil finished. “But how do you have the same note I do? I thought it landed on my desk just as you passed me. I thought all this time that you dropped it. Either by accident or on purpose.”

“Okay, now I’m confused,” Jennifer put in. “Let’s see these notes, side by side.”

Both boys carefully unwrapped the hidden messages from their self-contained states. As they did so, Carl and Jennifer each moved things around on the table so that there was space for the two notes. The serving bowls of vegetables and platter of cooked meat continued to gently steam as the family laid out the evidence.

Marc continued to tell his tale as they laid the papers down together. “I had forgotten all about the note, what with all the other crazy stuff that went on that night. Argyle going crazy, the ghosts in the tree saving us, all the weird coincidences. So I got up to pee and remembered the note, long after Phil had gone to sleep.”

“So that’s why you woke up in those loose undies instead of the sleep pants that night,” Phil said, almost immediately blushing.

“Yeah, well, that and you’re a furnace under the comforter. Was like a sauna.” Phil giggled slightly, and then they had the pages laid out for inspection.

Placed together, the notes looked nearly identical. Phil’s copy seemed to have more stress lines and a slight curve from being in his back pocket all the time, whereas Marc’s seemed almost as neat and smooth as the day the fold creases had first been pressed. The pen strokes matched, even all the little girly circles for “i” dots and such. It was if the pages had come off the same ink jet printer. All save for the Pencil remarks. The fancified scripting with the wide and narrow lines, the calligraphy like accents and precision were identical, but the text had significant differences.

Which prompted Marc to look at the Inked passages again. All references to himself on his note were now about Phil on Phil’s note. Which made no sense to Marc, since he never imagined Phil as the type other boys wanted to be around, or just be, period. His eyes passed back and forth between the two notes, and he read the differences between the two Pencil passages. The one on his read:

I know I would But hes probly not like me. Probably doesn’t even know my name or like me. He’s got amazing eyes. But he’d probably freak if he knew someone like me wanted to jump his bones, tee hee hee. Sometimes it sucks being gay.

Besides, think I wanna go trick or treating one last time. Got no costume, but don’t want to stick around my house all night. Pretty sure my Dad will come home late, drinking. Groan!

While the one on Phil’s read:

I know I would But hes probly not like me. Probably doesn’t even know my name or like me. He’s got amazing eyes. But he’d probably freak if he knew someone like me wanted to jump his bones, tee hee hee. Sometimes it sucks being gay.

Besides, think I wanna go trick or treating one last time. Got to pick out a costume, but don’t want to stick around my house all night. Pretty the rents will be out at the party late. Groan!

“If you two weren’t acting so out of sorts, I’d almost think this was some elaborate prank set-up,” Jennifer said from behind the boys. “But I do know one thing for certain. I’ve seen how both of you write. Whoever did the pencil stuff on those two notes, it wasn’t either of you.”

“It is kinda creepy,” Phil said. “I mean, two almost identical notes. At the same time. And how’d they know we were both…” But Phil couldn’t bring himself to finish the sentence.

“I dunno,” Marc said, a little too quickly, as if he was afraid to admit anything more than he’d already done. “I didn’t even think about it until that note. I kinda knew I was different, but everyone is, right? I mean, everybody feels like they’re weird compared to everybody else, yeah?”

“Well, this is either an elaborate hoax or some weird coincidence,” Carl said, sitting back down. “Or it’s something entirely… other.”

“My vote’s on other,” Jennifer said. Picking up the two notes, she examined them both overhead, looking for differences in how the overhead light penetrated the paper. “I can make out no difference here. It’s spooky.”

“Okay, so,” Carl began, putting some broccoli on his plate, “you said you’ve been talking to, seeing, ghosts. Has that happened more than just last Halloween?” Jennifer guided Phil to his place at the table to begin eating. She laid the two notes side by side on the cupboard behind her. Reluctantly, which is truly strange for a growing boy, Marc loaded his own plate with meat, only taking one piece of pork loin. He seemed to be actively trying not to be seen stealing glances at Phil, who also seemed to be trying too hard to not be obvious in his own visual activity.

“No. I’ve talked to quite a few. Some just look at me. Some go on like Aunt Betty, never shutting up. I have to walk away from her spot to get her out of my head.”

“So the ghosts are only in certain places?” his father asked.

“Mostly. A few walk around and do their own thing. Some…” and Marc visibly shuddered at some memory, “some drift. Like extras on Walking Dead. They just float and flow, no direction, no voice other than moaning. It’s like… like being dead hurts them more than it can hurt the others.”

“Ghosts can be hurt?” his mother asked, passing a bowl of mashed potatoes to Phil. The boy pushed his glassed up on his face as he accepted the bowl, but his attention was fully focused on Marc’s voice.

“I don’t know if they can be hurt or if they just keep hurts from before,” Marc explained. “A few of ‘em have asked me to do stuff for them. If I can I do. And then they go away.”

“Marc,” Jennifer said, extending the sound of his name in order to get his full attention. “When you say you have done stuff for these… spirits, what exactly do you do for them?”

“Simple things really,” Marc shrugged. “Twice I was asked to just clean off fallen tombstones. One asked me to bury her cat. A few times they asked me to pass messages. You know, just the kinda stuff people need done sometimes.”

“Nothing dangerous? Just odd jobs for the dead?”

“Uhm, yeah. Nothing like climbing down wells to rescue an old porcelain doll with a hidden key to a safe or anything like that.”

“Hum!” Carl said, stroking his chin. “That didn’t sound oddly specific at all, son.”

“Okay, I only did that once. But it’s not dangerous stuff like that all the time. I promise.”

“Go where?” Phil asked, handing the mashed potatoes to Marc.


“You said that they go away. Where do they go?”

Marc just shrugged as he took the bowl, then blushed catching himself looking at Phil’s eyes. *They* are *amazing,* Marc thought. “Heaven, I guess. Haven’t really thought of it much.”

“Well, as mysterious as all this is,” Carl said, getting everyone’s attention, “I think we all need to think a little more on this. There’s a lot of things to consider about all of this, not the least of which, young sirs, is your relationship.”

“Huh?” Marc and Phil said together.”

“I think he’s right, boys,” Jennifer said, lifting a fork with broccoli, potatoes and a wedge of pork loin to her face. She used the loaded fork to emphasize each part of her next statement. “Someone who wrote those notes could tell about both of you, knew enough to make it seem like each of you participated in the notes you were slipped and now that you both know, and you know that someone else knows, and you know each other knows… ya know?” A blob of mashed potato fell from her fork to her plate.

Phil and Marc exchanged looks again, both boys wondering that if the persons who wrote in the strangely similar notes could tell, and knew in the first place, how they each felt about the other, who else in school knew? And how?

The rest of the meal was relatively silent. Furtive glances sideways between the boys, no conversation. Jennifer and Carl would occasionally glance to each other, noticing the non-communication between the boys as well. Embarrassment, confusion, and wonder about the spiritual aspect of things, seemed to be riding them both. The tension hadn’t dissipated from the revelations. Seemed things had gone from stressed to complicated.


After dinner, leftovers packed in the fridge and dishes tucked into the washer, Phil ducked upstairs. Both he and Marc had looked longingly at the two notes as the boys cleared away the table, both of them lost in their own silent thoughts. But up in his room, Phil’s mind was alive with his own turmoil. So much had been laid bare in the dinner conversation, and much left unsaid, although he stewed through it without commenting.

He sat on his bed, a pile of Lego parts in front of him, a few pieces still connected, some set aside in groups of similar types. But there was no action in him. He stared at the parts, occasionally picking up a few, fiddling, turning them to see how different angles might work. For all the action, however, there was no work done. No building, shifting, modifying. The will was there, but his normally active, fertile mind was not on the creative impulse. The Legos brought Phil a measure of comfort, but his heart was elsewhere.

Marc was talking to spirits. Marc was like him. Marc was doing awesome things for dead people. Marc was keeping secrets. Marc was different. Marc was awesome.

Marc was… so far beyond him now.

He dropped the few bricks he had in his hands, the various parts tumbling into the piles, mixing their borders some. He looked over to the open bathroom door, across and into Marc’s room. The light was off, which meant he wasn’t in there. He was always making sure the lights were off in empty rooms. So he was still talking stuff over with his parents.

Stuff. Yeah, stuff. More to torture Phil with. More to make him so, so amazing, so perfect.

Marc was some kind of psychic or something. And his body was changing in ways Phil’s still wasn’t. Marc was growing, turning even hotter, in Phil’s eyes. He was doing things with his gifts. And Phil…

Phil, with a self-depreciating frown, realized that he didn’t have any gifts, or anything worth offering anyone. He was four-eyed, uncoordinated, easily startled, no good at sports. His body wasn’t changing much, despite a little height. Sure he was smart and always looked to lift others around him. But when he looked in the mirror, when he looked keenly at himself, all he saw staring back was plain ole Phil. Just another geek in the halls. Just another nerd sitting on his bed, with no family, still playing with baby toys.

Marc had said… and Phil shuddered thinking about hearing him say it… had said he wanted to have sex with Phil. But that was said in anger. It had been said when Marc was on the hooked end of a lot of pointed questions. For some reason, while he wanted nothing more than Marc’s respect and love and devotion, hearing Marc say that had inspired temporary hope in Phil. Hope that he knew was misplaced. Marc couldn’t want someone as lame as Phil, and Phil knew it.

Things didn’t work out like that in Phil’s life. In anyone’s life. There were happily ever afters, but not for guys like Phil. His father was not getting any better, even with the help he was getting. Marc was drifting away from him, despite the fact that they shared a shower, toilet and sinks. The gap between them seemed even wider now that Marc apparently had a super powered brain to go with his… and Phil shuddered again thinking about it… awesomely changing body.

And now… Marc could talk to dead people. Had been doing so for almost a year it seems. And not once did he offer to take Phil on any of his secret missions. Never even considering bringing him along on the adventures. Didn’t even think for a moment that maybe Marc could use his gift to help Phil learn about…

No. He couldn’t go there. Not yet. Still too soon to think about it. It was taking all he could just to be strong for his Dad to think about…

Phil felt immediately guilty. Mister and Missus Dalton treated him like he was their own son. Just the same as they treated Marc. He got an allowance, had chores, was urged to keep his grades up. They even hugged him and played with him. They cared for him like he was family. It wasn’t right for him to think that Marc should use his gift for Phil’s guilty thoughts. For Marc to somehow find and talk to…

He turned, suddenly, his glasses dropping completely off his face, and buried his face in his pillow. *No,* he thought, *don’t think about her!* But the thoughts came back to him. Images. Feelings. Photographs and memories. Sitting around the Christmas tree in the good years, before Mom got sick. Back when Phil was quite young.

*Before Mom died*, he thought, feeling the tears well up in him. *I miss you so much, Mom. Dad would be okay, too. He misses you so much. If only he could hear you again, if he could say g’bye…* His eyes went blurry from the flow of his pent up pain as well as the loss of his corrective lenses. He sobbed himself to a shallow sleep, curling partway in on himself.


As Phil slumped upstairs, lost in his own thoughts, Marc was called into the living room. He dreaded it as he entered, knowing that he was about to have a lot of questions thrown his way. Some he didn’t want to answer, some he wasn’t sure he could answer.

His parents sat together, on the love seat in the living room. The TV was noticeably turned off, the front curtains closed. As he stood in the hallway between the living room, dining room and the stairs, he felt suddenly much smaller, much younger.

He knew his parents well. They were a team, and when they had a chance to talk to each other, figure out a plan, they were a force to be reckoned with. They’d been like this his whole life, and for the years before he’d come along with his older sibs. It was a protection he’d enjoyed when things happened beyond his control, but now it seemed to be a trap he was suspended in, waiting for it to spring.

“Have a seat,” Jennifer invited. Marc slipped into the room and sidled around the overstuffed lounge chair, sitting just on the edge of the cushion. He had difficulty bringing his eyes up to meet theirs. Marc found his hands a bit jittery, so he clasped them together and shoved them past his knees in front of chair.

“Before we start,” Carl said, taking his wife hand in his own, “we want you to know that we love you.”

“And we’re concerned about you,” Jennifer added. Marc squirmed a bit.

“We’re on your side, son. So, what we wanted to know was…”

“Why I didn’t tell you?” Marc interrupted, frowning.

“Okay, let’s start there,” Carl said, “Why didn’t you tell us?”


“Marc, that’s not an answer,” his mother reminded, using “mom inflections” in her voice.

“Well, how about I just don’t know how to say it, then?” Marc returned, petulantly. Carl opened his mouth to reassert his authority over the boy, but Marc continued, speaking rapidly. “At first it was all because I wasn’t sure. Like I didn’t know if what I was hearing and seeing was real or all in my head. Like, I day dream a lot, least I did, so how was I to know if it was just something from a dream, or if I was making it up, or if it was real, or if…”

“If what, Son,” Carl asked, gently.

Marc fidgeted on the edge of the seat, his face going through several twitches and contortions. “Or if I was going crazy. Like locked up in Tenworth crazy.”

Mother and Father exchanged looks upon hearing Marc’s concern. Jennifer made a gesture, as if to ask for clarification, but Marc continued, his voice sounding strangely calm and strong despite the emotion trembling in his chest, causing his lip to quiver.

“After trick or treating, and reading the note, and thinking that maybe Phil wrote the Pencil parts, I met the first of the ghosts at school. She was a nice girl, but really sad. She kept walking into the girl’s bathroom without opening the door. That’s how I knew something was going on. Well, that and no one else was seeing her. I went up to her after watching her for like two weeks and tried to touch her arm, just, idunno, talk to her or sumthing.

“My hand passed through her but she looked up to me. She was really thin, dressed in a cheerleader skirt. Blonde hair. Nice smile. She said,” and Marc’s voice broke, his hands going up to cover his face. He sobbed for a moment, still sitting on the edge of his seat, tears dripping from his cheeks, but then sniffed back hard and got control of himself. Jennifer had her hand up to her mouth, wanting to go to Marc’s side and comfort him, but Carl’s hand on her knee gently reminded her to let Marc finish on his own.

“She said she had to go kill herself again because Antony had called her… well he called her a lot of bad names, even though she gave him her virginity. And he said the baby wasn’t his. And then…” Marc paused, looking up, “she asked me to give her mother the note. No one ever found it. She said she couldn’t rest until her mother got the note.”

Marc stood up and reached for a tissue from the box of Kleenex on the coffee table. His mother wasn’t far behind in grabbing two for herself. Marc blew his nose and dried one tear track from his left cheek before continuing.

“It was hidden in her locker. Had been hidden there for almost thirty years. She showed me which one and… and I touched it. At first, all I got was the impressions of the boy who used it now. His stuff isn’t important, but he does keep a big lock-out pocket knife in there. From touching the lock, I was able to figure out the combination. I opened the locker and found the secret hiding space inside. It was a top locker, you know, so there is nothing but the angled top thing above. The panel between the top thing and the locker is loose and slides, so she hid the note up there. Along with a… a pregnancy test. Like from a drug store.”

“So you found the note?” Carl asked. Marc nodded, sitting back down. “And did you deliver it?”

“Yes. I could feel where it needed to go. And I found the house, but the people living there now didn’t know the girl. They’d moved here from Kentucky twenty years ago. They told me that the person who sold them the house now lived in Quarryville.”

“That’s fifteen miles away, on the highway,” Carl offered. “Did you take the note there?”

Marc nodded. “I took my bike, rode all the way out there and back. It rained on the way there, but I had put the note in a sandwich bag. When I got to the address the other folks had given me, the place looked bad. It was high grass in the yard. One car in front missing its front wheels. One of the numbers on the mailbox was only held on by one nail and swung under the others. An upside down seven.

“The lady that lived there was old, but nice. She invited me in to dry off. When she asked me what I was doing all the way out there, I told her about the note, about the ghost. At first she said I was mean for bringing up her daughter like that. And she cried. And I saw a picture on the wall, of her when she was younger. She had four kids, three girls and a boy, much older boy. And her husband was in the picture too. I could pick out the girl in the picture who was also the ghost in the hallway, always walking into the girl’s bathroom.

“So I pulled out the note, and I said, ‘Penny wanted you to have this.’”

“Ohmigod. Carl, he’s talking about Penelope Addams. Remember?”

“The cheerleader who hung herself after that homecoming basketball game when we were in 8th grade?”

“Yes. She had just had a big, public break up with that one kid on the team, oh, what was his name. Really nasty boy…”

“Donald Palin?” Carl asked, searching his own memory. “He dropped out of school Junior year. Someone said he had to go to work to pay for the child he had with Ally Murphy. He’s a washed up drug addict now. I had to fire him about ten years ago for coming to work loaded.”

“And Penny’s family did move away after her death. Oh she was such a lovely girl, but always seemed troubled. This explains a lot. If Don got her pregnant and then broke up with her…”

“Poor thing,” Carl said with sympathy. “So she took her life rather than go on with the shame.”

“That’s what the note said,” Marc supplied. “She didn’t want to embarrass her family. And she couldn’t take how her boyfriend had treated her. That he’d pressured her for weeks until she finally let him… do it. And then he just kinda dropped her and called her a… a slut. And a whore. And a liar. He said she was too ugly for him to even rape!” Marc said, feeling angry at how badly that boy had treated Penny. He knew right then that words had severe repercussions. And he needed to do something about his words towards Phil.

The three of them sat in stunned silence. Marc because he had found the strength to say all of these things. His parents because of the great moral strength and courage and compassion this son of theirs had shown.

“Penny’s mom thanked me after reading the letter. She never knew why Penny had killed herself. Now that she understood the reason, she felt she could let go. Penny’s mom said she wasn’t going to press charges or seek any sort of revenge after so much time. But it helped her understand that her daughter wasn’t nuts, wasn’t killed or anything. She was scared and hurting and had no one to turn to. She was so alone, Mom,” Marc cried out, rocking back into the chair more, his legs coming up in front of him, knees high, heels on the edge of the seat. He curled up and cried for several minutes.

Several tissues later, Marc had calmed enough to sit up normally in the chair. His face was a mess from all the tears. Jennifer was in a similar state, and Carl couldn’t say that the display of emotions and the tragedy of Penny Addams hadn’t affected him as well.

“That was the first time I did stuff for the others. I get these feelings, sometimes. A tingle in my spine and in my head. Like I can feel which direction I’m being called.”

“How… ahem, how many times have you done things like this?” Jennifer asked at length. Just seeing how emotionally drained simply talking about these events had made Marc gave her motherly reservations.

“About two or three a week since then. Sometimes less. It’s usually small things. Get a message or a small thing to someone. Clean off or set back up a tombstone. Bury a lady’s cat. She really liked that cat. One even wanted me to just open a window in an old house, and that was enough for her to be freed.”

“So, do you see these spirits everywhere? Say, in this house, for example?” Carl asked.

“Not everywhere. And none in the house. I checked that out early. They usually stick around the places they died, or places that are important to them from before. Some of them don’t like being around us. The ones that are stuck in places though, they are strong.”

“Strong?” Jennifer inquired?

“They have reasons for why they’re still here. A lot of that is why they call me. They know I can see them, hear them. They know I can feel stuff about things, like I can tell where they need something to go. Sometimes I have to look it up, like on the internet or actually go to the library.” Marc shrugged. “I know it wasn’t smart for me to not tell you. I just… sometimes I think it’s still some kind of sick daydream. Or that I am crazy. It was easier to just do things for the others without involving anyone else.”

“Okay. Your mother and I will talk about this. We have to process it a little before we make any decisions about this. We just want you to be safe, my son. Do you understand?”

“I think so,” Marc said, slumping his shoulders. “But sometimes the others can be really buggy.”

“Buggy?” Jennifer asked.

“You know, always bugging me when I got other things to do. Nagging.”

“Ah. Will you tell us if something like that happens, from now on, please?” Carl asked.

“I’ll try.”

“We’ll talk more about this later,” Carl said, leaning forward and giving Marc a reassuring squeeze on the knee. “But for now, I need you to help me get the Halloween decorations out of the upper garage,” he grinned.

“I still can’t believe you call it that,” Jennifer said, playfully, standing. “It’s just the loft space over the…”

“Ah! Ah! It’s over the garage, so it’s the upper garage,” Carl said, also standing. It was a typical “Mom and Dad” banter start up, and Marc couldn’t help but grin, feeling a little of the weight on him lift off.

But then another thought darkened his mood.

“So, what about… about that other thing? You know?” Marc asked, feeling his face blush again. The parents both sat down again, and they looked to each other briefly. It wasn’t a questioning look, or a worried look, it was a silent signal between the two of them. They both went back into unified front parent mode. Marc was simultaneously glad to see it, but afraid of what it might mean.

“Well, son,” Carl began, “We’re at kind of a delicate point here. We can’t stop you and Phil from acting on your feelings for each other. Nor do I think they’re completely out of bounds.”


“When boys begin the journey to becoming young men,” Carl began.

“Oh, jeze,” Marc groaned.

“There are a lot of emotions, hormones, feelings, thoughts, just a lot of things that drift crazily through your mind as your body begins changing. And we have noticed that your body is changing.”

“Dad!” Marc called out, clearly mortified. He brought his knees together and held one hand over the other hand over his lap, defensively.

“Oh, honey, not like that,” Jennifer asserted. “You know we respect your privacy. I don’t think your father meant that we’ve been looking THAT closely. But you are getting taller. And you’ve gone through three shoe sizes this year alone.”

“Yes, right.” Carl said, grateful that his wife caught his mistake. Marriage was a team sport, and they were champions. “So… we really should talk to you and Phil together about this. However, I feel confident about this much. You and Phil are smart, you have your heads on straight and you have been friends during a very difficult time in your lives.”

“And we aren’t giving you permission, by any means, but we aren’t outright saying you can’t, uhm…” Jennifer trailed off.

“Experiment,” Carl offered. “But I will tell you this, which my father told me and I told both your brother and sister. If someone does choose to explore sexuality, to share the most intimate and personal thing they have with you, be a gentleman. Be respectful of their feelings, be discreet with their secrets, and be honest with their heart.”

“And,” Jennifer added, “use protection.”

“Mom!” Marc cried out, surprised at her frankness.

“Well, you have to be safe these days.”

“Do they even make condoms for boys their age?” Carl asked his wife, turning slightly in place to face her more.

“Oh yes, there was an article about it on the internet. I think it has become very popular in Japan. We can probably order them through Amazon. I’ll have to check.”

“Who says we even need condoms?!” Marc said, getting distressed. “I mean, not like either of us could get…” and he stopped, blushing furiously.

“I think condoms may be a bit more advanced than either of them is ready for at this point.”

“Jeze, we don’t even know if we like each other that way!”

“Oh, I think that question has been settled,” Jennifer said, standing up. “Learn about and practice safety with each other, whatever you end up doing.”

“Or not doing,” Carl asserted, raising his hand to quell Marc’s reply. “I know, you guys are still figuring out what or how or even if this thing develops into. Just promise us, and yourself, by the way, to be careful and respectful with each other. Phil’s had a tough year. As have you. So treat him how you’d want to be treated.”

“Golden rule, gotcha,” Marc mumbled.

“Well, now that that’s taken care of, the upper garage awaits!” Carl said, clapping his hands together and rubbing them together rapidly. “This month we’ll see a 20% spike in our electric bill, but we’ll be the spookiest house on the block!”

“I’ll go check on Phil. You boys go do those garage things. We’ll be down in a bit.”

Marc got up to follow his father, felt a tightness in his clothing and immediately sat down as his mother went up the stairs. Carl chuckled softly, covering his mouth with one hand. “Take your time, son. I’ll be getting the extension cords out.” As he turned towards the kitchen-garage door, he called over his shoulder, “and Son?”


“As your brother could probably tell you, men in our family tend to be, well, gifted. I’ll talk your mother out of looking up anything about condoms on the net. If you do need something like that, come speak with me about it and we’ll figure something out. Okay?”

“Yes sir,” Marc replied, only slightly embarrassed.

“Take a moment to get things under control. Think about Aunt Freida’s cat hawking up a fur ball.”

“Ugh!” Marc said, visualizing said pet puking up ingested hair clumped from inside its stomach cavity. Almost instantly his discomfort abated.


Jennifer looked in on Phil, who was sleeping still in his clothes, on top of his bed, a pile of Legos by his face, his glasses laying on the floor beside the bed. She used her mom ninja skills to wend her way through the obstacle course of Phil’s room to get to his bedside. She picked up his glasses and laid them on the nightstand beside the bed. The Legos she swept off the bed in one short motion, into her other hand. The pile joined a similar pile on his desk. She then turned and looked at this fragile, sweet, imaginative boy as he slept.

He reminded her of her first son, now all grown up with a family of his own starting, a career, half a continent away. The comparison was similar. She reached out and brushed a strand of hair away from his face. His hair was getting long again. Time for a trim soon, she felt. Probably for Marc as well. She resisted the urge to strip him down as she would have done for a much smaller child, settling for slipping his sneakers off instead. He was old enough to be embarrassed by adults over-tending him, but young enough to not care if someone just kept him from tracking dirt into bed.

She picked up a corner of his blanket and draped it over his body, not disturbing his rest at all. She noticed the streaks of tears on his face and felt a twinge of sympathy. Poor kid had been through an emotional storm in a tiny boat this year, and tonight’s events seemed to be a crashing rogue wave in those rough seas.

She leaned over the sleeping boy, his face relaxed in his slumber. Cherub-like. Peaceful. She gently kissed his forehead and padded silently out of the room. She closed the door softly and let him stay safely behind the walls of sleep, in silent lucidity.


Marc had felt it again. The tingling, in his spine, in his head. He knew that he would have to go out tonight.

He had drifted up to his room after helping his father pull out the crated, organized, labeled and carefully packed away Halloween decorations. Marc noticed his father looking longingly at the Christmas decorations stacked neatly to the other side of the “upper garage” and knew there would be plans for his weekends in the coming weeks. Fortunately Mom was wise enough to stay out of the way of the excavations, merely laying out the extension cords and bring up plastic tumblers with icy lemonade.

He went into the bathroom and made use of the toilet, sighing contentedly as the yellow stream continued to pound the imaginary alien battleship he used as his target. Drowning the evil invaders in piss, another of his day dreams overlaying a practical activity. After finishing he considered showering, but he knew that would just waste time. He could feel the compulsion of a spirit nearby, and if he wanted to get some sleep before dawn, he’d need to take care of at least contacting that spirit, soon.

The penalty for not doing so would be having that tingle spread across his back, up over his hips, down from the base of his head through his neck and shoulders, just making him hyper tense. Hyper anxious. And he wouldn’t be able to handle things during his alone time. Too much interference. Too much distraction.

And, part of him wondered “what if?”, he didn’t want the spirits to know when he was doing “alone time” when they were calling him. Even after almost a whole year, Marc wasn’t sure how all of the spiritual connection stuff worked. He wasn’t sure if they could tell what he was doing when they called him, if he was ignoring them, or if some critical “living” stuff was going on.

Best to just get it done quickly.

He collected himself and made to go into his room to get ready. He’d discovered that being prepared with certain items helped enormously in his extra-curricular activities. He kept three flashlights on himself when he went out. A large two battery Maglite, a smaller pen light of the same brand, and a multiple LED light he could clip to the front of his baseball cap. Kept his hands free for whatever he needed to do.

He also kept a set of flat head screwdrivers, and one Philips head, a small adjustable wrench and his pocket knife. He had an old back pack from 5th grade that he had converted to his ghost assist pack. It kept his stuff organized, silent and sat high enough on his back that it didn’t interfere with his movement.

He changed in his room, noting that the light in Phil’s room was off. He was certain that Phil was asleep. Kid could sleep! You could have some horrible accident, like two loaded up garbage trucks jousting and forgetting not to ram into each other head on, and the sound from that still wouldn’t stir Phil from blessed slumber. Marc hoped that he could end this situation tonight quickly so he could get some sleep on his own.

As Marc’s clothes went, he didn’t really have anything that was true black. His mother was firmly against dressing all in black all the time, like so many kids in his school did. Marc didn’t like that style anyways. He did like darker colors, though. He slipped a dark green t-shirt on and tugged his gray hoody over that. His jeans were sort of dark, but still they were called blue jeans for a reason. He looked at himself in the mirror as he pulled his sneakers on, wondering if he’d look like Romeo in black jeans, then shook his head to get the obvious romantic notions back out of his head, especially with Phil’s sleeping face just twenty odd feet away.

His wallet filled his back pocket, cell phone slipped into his front, and a set of weight lifters gloves drooping the kangaroo pouch of his hoody. The ghost pack went onto his back and he shook himself just to make sure that none of his tools were making noise in there. He also made sure his hood was not trapped under the pack, because lately it had been fairly chilly at night. Satisfied that he was prepared, Marc pushed the door to the bathroom partly closed, and opened the window.

His bedroom window was right over the slope of the garage roof. The garage made a right angle out away from the main part of the house there, making for an easy escape from the house. He slipped one foot out the window and swung his body out, onto the roof, took a moment to look around, make sure no one saw him duck out, and then pulled his other leg through. He was out and reached back to slowly lower the window most of the way down. He then walked nimbly across the sloping roofline.

At the further corner, he bent over and backed up to the edge of the roof, then swung his legs over the edge, setting his feet into the lattice work along the side of the garage, where his mother’s roses usually grew in warmer months, climbing up the side of the house. He hastily got halfway down the lattice and then dropped the remaining 4 feet to the ground. He took the shock of the landing in his knees, bending with the impact.

He took a moment to center himself, still concealed from the street lamps by the shadow of his house. He knelt on one knee, both hands splayed so that only his fingertips brushed the ground. He let out a breath, closed his eyes, and breathed deep the gathering gloom.

The feeling in his spine and head didn’t so much as intensify as it spun. The feeling shifted, angled. The twin points of the feelings aligned and gave him a direction. A purpose. He opened his eyes, feeling as his body and senses acclimated to the night, and rose. Subtle sounds reached his ears, alerting him to the presence of a nearby neighbor’s cat, stalking mice in the underbrush. He could hear the distant sound of traffic on the main road several blocks away. He could hear a far off dog barking intermittently at some movement too near his fence, his stuff.

With a nod, more to himself, Marc tiredly started off, turning onto the sidewalk and off into the night. Destiny was calling. Marc was prepared to, if not answer, at least figure out what and who was giving the call.


Phil’s eyes snapped open. He’d heard Marc peeing and it had woken him up, for some reason. Normally Marc could drop a box of pots and pans on the tiled floor of the bathroom and it wouldn’t have even caused Phil to twitch and change snores. But for some reason, he felt his grogginess just slide away. He opened his eyes when he heard the door to Marc’s room squeak slightly.

He sat up and glanced around. In the slight illumination entering his window from the streetlamp outside, he saw the glint of his glasses and fumbled to get them into place. Someone had taken his shoes off, but he was still fully dressed. And his Legos had found the wrong space to be piled. In their movement they had merged with another small grouping, which meant they’d need to be separated out again.

He stood up and walked to the bathroom, feeling the same insistent pressure that Marc had felt earlier. He padded into the bathroom and was just finishing his own bladder relief, when he heard a soft scratching sort of sound from Marc’s room. Like vinyl slipping around on cotton. His attention shifted towards the partly closed door.

Then he heard another sound. A sliding noise. Like a window going up. *What the fuck?* Phil thought. *It’s not that warm in here. Why’d Marc need to open the window? Unless…*

Phil padded quickly past the shower booth and peeked around the edge of the door, into Marc’s room. The curtains flew up, a dancing flutter of green and white stripes as Phil craned his head into the room more. He was just in time to watch Marc’s left sneaker lift out and through the open window. Phil ducked low behind the door, still keeping his eyes open. With great care, he watched as Marc lowered the window so that only a sliver of night slipped under the lower edge. The curtains sagged and fell into their usual position.

Phil rushed to the window, looking out. He watched as Marc shimmied over the side of the garage and out of sight. The others are calling him! Phil realized. He rushed to his room and flicked on the light. He scanned and easily found his tennis shoes and slipped them on, not bothering to untie and retie them. Phil looked out his own window and watched as Marc started walking up the street. He reached for his windbreaker and bolted for the stairs. He had no illusions of his ability to get off the garage roof. He kind of marveled that Marc was able to do it.

Phil was down the stairs and out through the kitchen door, tugging his windbreaker on. The cold air swept around him as he exited the garage, past the stacks of Halloween decorations. He was briefly frightened by some of the weird shapes. Then he felt a brief moment of guilt. He had been asked to help bring all of this down from the storage above the garage. Seeing all of it now, he realized how much of a job that must have been. His help would have made that go much faster.

He tucked his windbreaker’s open fronts together and zipped up as he walked around the front of the house, to the sidewalk. Looking in the direction he had seen Marc trotting off in, he saw a figure ahead turn right, walking briskly. Phil started at a jog, choosing to leave the sidewalk and run on the soft, dew soaked grasses of their neighbors’ lawns. Less sound that way.

As he jogged, he had to occasionally push his glasses back into place. At some point he felt his chest beginning to burn. He slowed to a walk as he reached the corner and ducked behind a tree. He peeked around the bole of the elm and saw Marc walking towards the hollow oak at the next corner, a few blocks ahead of him.

The same oak where the ghost boys had rescued them from Argyle. Where they had crashed into each other while coming home from school. Where Marc had called Phil four eyes. *Coincidence?* Phil wondered. *Yeah, right!* he thought caustically. *And monkeys might fly out my butt!*

There were three front lawns between Phil’s position and where Marc stood. He was still, staring up and into the oak, his hands up on the straps of his small backpack. He’s so brave, Phil thought, adjusting his glasses. His chest was still heaving, catching up on breath. He planned his continued advance carefully. There were a few cars and bushes he could hide behind as he moved in. His ears were incredibly sharp in the still of the night. His eyes might be screwed up by nature, but he certainly could trust his ears to give him ample warning.

And to help him eavesdrop on whatever conversations Marc might get into. Phil wasn’t sure what was going on, but that tree figured too much into events recently for Marc’s being there now to be just happenstance.

He crept forward and ran into the shadow of a large SUV the next yard up and crouched. He suddenly wished he’d tried harder in Gym, took that opportunity to get into better shape. *Kinda like Marc had,* Phil realized. All these secret ghost missions he’d done, that was why Marc tried harder in Gym, why he was doing so good in school. He had a second reason to be better in all things, and he’d pushed himself to get better. Something that Phil resolved himself to do as well.

Poking his head past the red plastic light covers of the SUV’s tail lights, he saw Marc had reached into his pack and pulled out a flashlight. Phil smiled. That was the Marc he knew. Prepared, thoughtful, careful. The beam of the flashlight played over the oak, poking into the hollowed out shell. Wind swept through the street, twisting leaves in the oak’s upper branches, rustling already fallen leaves across the street. Phil concentrated on hearing what Marc might say, even as he considered advancing to the shrubbery surrounding the brick mail box of the next house up.

When he was ready, he moved, keeping his steps light and quick as he moved over the driveway, onto the lawn. His steps increased in speed as he stepped onto the grass, holding his arms out in front of him. When he reached the column of bricks, he used his arms to absorb all his momentum. He’d run as full out as he could, trying to close the distance without Marc seeing. He had to catch his falling glasses as he crouched behind the brick mailbox, his fingers stinging slightly from brushing against the bricks.

His heart was beating wildly, his breath coming in short, sharp pants that he tried to keep as quiet as possible. The better to hear. Steam issued from his nostrils, forming clouds of his breath. He hoped that the billows weren’t visible to Marc.

“I know you are there,” Phil heard Marc say. He peered around the back of the brick mailbox, peeling back a branch from the well-manicured shrubbery around the back of the brick structure. Marc was shining the light around in the cavity of the tree, talking to it, or so it seemed. Phil held still, held his breath, listening.


“I know you are there,” Marc said, searching the rotting fibers and spikes that decorated the inside of the hollow oak. His flashlight beam played around, shifting shadows as it moved. The feelings had led him here. Now he had to make contact.

“You called me, so I’m here,” he said again. “Adam. Steve. Please. What do you want from me?”

The flashlight clicked itself off. Marc swallowed, feeling nervous. He never fully knew what each ghostly encounter would be like. Sometimes it was just a simple conversation with a misty, transparent person. Sometimes it was a spooky event trying to follow a spirit that didn’t acknowledge things like walls or places where the footing wasn’t safe. Still stranger for Marc, and more chilling, were encounters with floating ghosts, spirits that seemed to aimlessly drift, stuck without thoughts of their own in some emotional turmoil too horrible to face.

So when the flashlight clicked off without his finger being on the button, he knew that these ghosts preferred to make physical contact as well as whatever else they might use in communicating. They were making a statement, in some way. Either that or they were those playful types that enjoyed playing tricks on the living.

Marc’s sharp eyes focused on a glimmer within the hollow space. The glow grew, took on a pale green cast and diffused itself, growing outward into the very fabric of the night’s darkness. He poked the flashlight into his hoody pocket, but kept his hands in the pocket, both holding the aluminum case of the light, tightly. He inhaled, preparing himself for whatever was to come.

“We are here,” came a spooky voice from inside the oak, from the center of the glow. It sounded to Marc’s ears like two voices, speaking together. Both distinct, both clear, but speaking with the same inflections and meter. Only the tones of the two voices separated them. For all other intents and purposes, Marc heard them as one.

“Adam and Steve?” Marc asked.

“Yes. You know our names. As we know your name,” the voices spoke. The glow expanded, grew brighter yet darkened in its green color, resolving into two distinct faces. Faces of boys about his age, although he knew they had been dead for many years, haunting this tree since the time of their own untimely deaths. “We have seen you, Marc Dalton, and we see those close to you. And we know you are Gifted.”

Marc blushed, remembering his conversation with his father earlier, before reasoning that the ghosts meant about his psychic abilities more than what X=6 had come to mean in his mind.

“That too,” the spirits seemed to tease. Marc gasped. He got the feeling that they were giggling.

“Why did you summon me?” Marc asked, feeling annoyed.

“We seek to warn you, oh Gifted one.”

“Warn me?” Marc replied, his face twisting in confusion.

“Your great enemy is coming. She has escaped and seeks to regain her power. And she will have revenge upon you and those close to you. You and the one who also undid her power.”

“I don’t have a great enemy,” Marc replied.

“But you do. You believe her locked away. But she has escaped.”

“Mrs. Argyle?” Marc asked, perplexed. “How? She’s locked up in the nut house in Tenworth.”

“She is a witch, and has used her dark magic to free herself. Even now she plans to use her spells to destroy you and your beloved.”

“My… beloved?”

“The boy with glasses. The one we saved with you from your great enemy last Halloween,” the spirit voices acknowledged. “By day known as Phillip Patterson. Sometimes mistaken for you at night as he of the Pencil.”

“I know he’s not Pencil now. Not sure I do know who or what Pencil is. But… but we aren’t boyfriends. I mean, I think I like him like that, but we haven’t said anything or done anything like…”

“It doesn’t matter what has been done or said yet. The heart, the mind, the spirit knows. And we are certainly spirit.” Marc blushed furiously, realizing the spirits could see right through him. “Even now, he who you have feelings for is in tremendous peril. She is closing in and will take him, very soon. Very, very soon.”

“He’s safe. He’s in my house.”

“No, he is not in your house,” the spirits said. The faces craned about, as if looking behind Marc, off to one side, perhaps. Marc craned his head about looking. Seeing nothing, he turned back to see the two faces smiling down at him. Marc got the feeling they knew a little more than they were telling.


Phil could hear only Marc’s side of the conversation, even leaning out far enough to leave his head mostly exposed. The mention of Pencil clearly affected Phil, because he had long thought that Pencil WAS Marc. To hear that there was some conversation going on about that subject, here, now, out in the empty streets made Phil feel a little uneasy. He shrank back into the shadow of the shrubbery long enough to adjust his ever sliding glasses and wiggle a little bit of tired out of his wrists.

He leaned back out, hoping to catch more of the conversation. Hearing only part of it wasn’t doing anything to assuage Phil’s nervousness, about a great many things. Still, while he wanted to hear it all, he was focused on trying to remain in hiding as well, wondering if he could get closer without being seen. If Marc had just glanced down the street, he’d likely have seen Phil’s big eared head in silhouette backlit, poking out from the side of the mailbox and shrubbery. As it was, someone else had seen him already.

A withered hand reached down, grasping Phil by the throat and lifted him straight up into thin air. Phil twisted on the end of the arm grasping him, trapped in its inhumanly strong grip. He was spun about so he was held under someone’s arm and the grasping hand shifted to his mouth, preventing him from screaming. He felt his body manhandled like a child’s stuffed animal toy and tried to struggle, but the person holding him was just so much massively stronger than him.

“One down, one to go!” A raspy voice whispered in his ear. It was a voice that was haggard and seemed far weaker than the last time he’d heard it. “Tell me, Patterson,” the voice snarled, “does X=6 now?” And then the body holding him swished off into the sky, spinning around wildly. Phil’s vision was swirled and unfocused and he felt dizzy and sick. Before he passed out, he got a partial, blurry vision of his abductor.

*Mrs. Argyle!* he thought, terrified, as the motion and panic took him into a land of dreamless unconsciousness.


“So, Argyle is a witch? Like a real witch?”

“Yes,” the merged voices intoned. “She has used rituals to drain the life from others, to rebuild her powers. She will try to take you and your beloved for her collection.”


“Of souls. She imprisons them and uses their power to charge her magic, keep her young and vital, to fuel the patterns of her spells.”

“For reals? Dunno if I’d call how she looked last year young,” Marc replied, sarcastically.

“She’s been doing so since the Salem Witch Trials.” The faces looked Marc directly in the eyes, frowning, emoting such deep sadness that he felt it like a vice on his heart. “She is why we are imprisoned here. She had started draining us, but we escaped. She sent her creature, Marvin, to hunt us down. When he killed us, we were too weak to pass on. Part of our souls are still trapped in her home. Only by joining together could we have stayed here.”

“So the story is true, partly?”

“Yes. But you must hurry! She has taken him now!”


“As we’ve been talking, he was taken. He was following you.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?!” Marc screamed.

“We thought you saw him.”

“Phil!” Marc cried out.

“Hurry, his life, his very soul depends on you freeing him before her ritual is complete.” Marc pulled out his flashlight and clicked the beam back on. He spun, looking around frantically. “The souls of her victims cry out for vengeance and freedom, Marc,” the voices spoke, sadly. “We wish we could guide you, but we are trapped here by her foul magic.”

“I appreciate that,” Marc said, “and if I can find a way to help you I will.”

“Go!” the twined voices echoed, their green glow fading. “And good luck!”

Marc turned and headed back towards home. He had reached into his pocket for his cell phone when his foot crunched on something. He stopped completely, lifted his foot and looked down. The thing under his foot had made a distinct breaking glass sound. He tugged out his flashlight, activating the beam even before it left the kangaroo pouch.

There, on the ground, broken on the left side, semi-glittering in the powerful beam of his MagLite, were Phil’s glasses. Tenderly, Marc picked up the wire frames. He knew they were Phil’s. He’d stared through those octagonal silver frames, through the thick, slightly curved lenses so many times to Phil’s eyes. His hand trembled as he brought them up to look at them more closely.

The left lens was shattered. Spider-webbed. Marc felt his heart sink. He had been here. Right here, just a few lawns, less than 20 yards away, and Marc hadn’t known it. And Argyle had somehow captured him and carried him off. Which means that Phil had somehow followed him. And because he had, he was now in danger.

On a sudden impulse, Marc brought the glasses up and put them on his own face. He had to cup his hand over the broken lens and close his left eye, but almost immediately, he began to see.

He had to hold his arm out and crouch slightly to balance himself as the images came to him. They vision was distorted a bit. Marc felt that he was looking through Phil’s eyes and was seeing things has Phil saw them without his corrective lenses. But he was also somehow suspended. Like someone was carrying him. Marc felt Phil’s terror. He felt the racing of Phil’s heart, the raw strength that compressed him. How his breath was constricted both by the hold on his body and the hand clamped insanely tight over his mouth. Marc’s face winced in sympathy for the emotions and physical sensations that flooded him from Phil, through the connection he gained looking through Phil’s glasses.

Marc ripped the lenses off his face, panting like he’d been running at full speed. His chest heaved, trying to recover air. His body shook as he felt himself resuming his own body’s rhythms. He pinched the bridge of his nose, between his eyes, as his eyes resumed their normal focus.

But when his vision cleared, when his heartbeat synced back to normal, when his chest calmed, Marc knew where Phil was being taken. He was being flown, carried through the air, right towards Argyle’s house. She was taking him to her home, where her power was.

*A witch! A real life mutherfuckin’ witch!* Marc thought, poking Phil’s glasses into his kangaroo pouch. He turned and started running towards Argyle’s house. It was several blocks away, and she had a giant head start. It would take Marc almost ten minutes to get there. But he wasn’t going to go alone. It was time to call in his backup.

He dialed up a number he’d known by heart his whole life. One he knew would never be ignored. It rang four times before a voice tiredly answered.

“Mom! Wake up! I need you!”

“What? Marc?!”

“Just listen! Phil’s in trouble. Argyle has him. She’s kidnapped him and is gonna kill him! I’m chasing them, but I wont get to her house in time! Hurry!”

“Who is it?” Marc heard his father say a bit back from the phone.

“Carl, get your pants. Phil’s in trouble! Marc! You stay where you are and we’ll come get you. Okay? You find a place and you wait for us. Then we’ll figure things out.”

“I can’t wait,” Marc said, panting as he ran. “Can’t wait. She’ll… kill… him…”

“MARC!” his mother called as he killed the call. He ran on.

He hurdled over hedges and dodged around trees and bird feeders. He ran on.

He jumped across drainage ditches and pushed off parked cars in the roadside. He ran on.

He vaulted chain link fences with relative ease and outpaced swift dogs in some yards. Still he ran on.

For five full minutes, Marc went full out, his lungs burning, his legs pumping a stead rhythm of steps, his eyes constantly scanning for obstacles and how to avoid or overcome them. With a will of iron, he ran on.

As he cut across an abandoned house’s front lawn, the house came into view. It had been sealed with official looking paperwork taped to the door and window. There had been a heavy security lock placed over the doorknob. The lawn showed the expected signs of certainly needing at least a year’s worth of tending to, with browning shoots and bunches of tall grass, anthills and a general look of unkempt decay. Deep shadows cut into the long wrap around porch and the tall Victorian gables seemed to soak in the scant light of the crescent moon.

It was unmistakably her house. He remembered how they’d innocently walked up to the door that night, expecting to be the first to ring the doorbell and shout “Trick or treat!” Only to find the person living there was their former math teacher, at that time recently fired from her job and apparently drunk off her nut. He remembered how she had latched on to Phil’s arm. How he had fought her off. How they had escaped only to have to her try and run them down with her car.

Marc came to a stop, resting his hands on a parked car across the street from the house. His lungs heaved trying to recover his breath when it happened. He got a sudden flash of other-vision, coming from his palms resting on the hood of the car. He instantly knew that this wasn’t just a normal late model four door sedan with a souped up engine and enhanced suspension system. This was an undercover, unmarked cop car.

He could see the driver, a plain clothes detective, in his mind’s eye. He was a stocky man, wearing an off the rack gray blazer, simple white button down shirt and blue jeans, his brown hair cut close, and lots of wrinkles around his green eyes, over a few days’ worth of “don’t give a shit” stubble. A short scene played out where the detective had walked around the back of the house, checking on a strange noise he’d heard there. While he was behind the structure, something growled at him, and before he could turn to see what it was, he was struck from behind by something that pierced him through the heart.

Marc fell back from the car, clutching his chest in sympathy. The images and the feelings went away instantly, but the impression it left was clear. Something had happened to the cop, and it hadn’t been nice. Marc took away something else from the psychic encounter as well. The cop was there because the other cops knew. They knew and they were waiting, expecting Mrs. Argyle (Agatha, the name flashed into Marc’s mind) to show up hear after killing a bunch of people up in the sanitarium, and somehow escaping.

They knew, but tried to keep it quiet for fear of panicking the public. He shook his head to clear the images of the cop’s attack. Going through the back yard would likely mean the same fate. And if whatever happened to the cop, whatever attacked him was still there, Marc was pretty sure he wanted to avoid it.

Fortunately, he’d gotten pretty good at climbing in through windows and jimmying open doors. He’d spent a few hours one night watching youtube.com videos on police techniques to break open doors and locksmithing. And while he hadn’t had any practice on picking locks yet, he felt certain that the front door would yield to a well-placed kick, or the use of tools.

He had to do something. Phil was in danger. He had to move quickly. As he got to his feet, however, another thought left over from his experience with touching the cop car came through. This was a stake out. Which meant there was a police radio in the car. Mom and Dad were good for backup, but police might be better.

Looking in the open window of the car, he saw the police radio sitting low between the front seats, slung under the AC controls. On a whim, he pulled down the driver’s side sun visor, but there were no keys there. He had a feeling that would be the case, since the only time anyone ever was stupid enough to leave the keys to the car in that place was in badly written Hollywood action films.

Marc turned on the radio, cranking the volume up as high as it could go. He then picked up the CB style microphone and brought it up to his face. Without bothering to try and think up a convincing lie, he clicked open the mike and shouted. “Hey, police! This is Marc Dalton. My friend Phil Patterson has been kidnapped by Mrs. Argyle. Detective Sergeant…” and he paused, remembering details from his other-vision, “Martin Gibson went behind the house and has been hurt. Please send more police and an ambulance to this police car. I’m going into the house to save my friend.” He dropped the mike on the seat and ran across the street to the porch, taking the five steps up two at a time.

As he got directly in front of the door, Marc surged forward, bringing his right foot up as high as he could and bashed into the door, directly over the security lock on the knob. The door held fast. He surged again, planting his foot in the same place and kicking harder with his heel. The door shuddered in its jambs, but held firm.

Marc got pissed. He tried one more time, backing up a step to get some more momentum going and landed the kick perfectly. Still, the door held firm. He had the sinking feeling there was a deadbolt in play there. He contemplated getting out some tools or just busting through a window and crawling in over the glass when an idea came to him. He slapped his own forehead for a dunce and then knelt down by the door.

Focusing, he put his hands on the security lockout device on the doorknob. It was an electronic keypad type, with a twelve key arrangement for the input, and what looked like a six-digit screen. The possible combinations to such a lock were at least a million, meaning Marc had a million in one chance of ever just guessing it right.

But using his mind, touching the keys, feeling “into” the lock, he found the answer. With trembling hands, his body fully into the flush of adrenaline now, he keyed in the sequence: 0 – 0 – 1 – 1 – 0 – 0. *Odd,* he thought,* they only used two of the possible ten numbers in the combination. At least it hadn’t been 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5,* he reasoned. Still, it did make a kind of sense to make the number something easy to remember all the time.

Marc pressed the Enter button and the lock’s hasp sprang open. He quickly pulled it off the doorknob and tossed it aside. Standing, he took another step and heel-kicked above the doorknob again. Still solid. Frustrated, he leaned forward onto the door and pounded on it with his fist. And then he had to fight for balance as the door swung inwards, suddenly. Marc fell across the entryway onto his knees, his arms barely shooting out in time to save him from face planting.

The air in the house was much colder than he’d have at first thought. The late fall temps for such a time of night had been mild although cooler this last week of October. But inside the Argyle home, it was chilly as a tomb. The air was still, almost stagnant. Dust motes danced in reaction to the door being flung wide open. Marc was sure the sound of the door whacking the wall behind it like that would likely draw attention to his presence.

*Gottah find Phil and get the hell out of here,* he chastised himself. He got to his feet. Looking around, he realized the house was huge. Its darkness and state of disrepair had masked the sheer size of the place. He whipped out his flashlight and clicked the beam on. A column of dusty light pierced the darkness of the house, showing a long hallway leading towards the back end, a staircase going up on the right side of the hall, some sort of half-closed pocket doors to the right leading into what looked like a study, and an open room to the left where he expected to see a living room set, or maybe a piano in the corner. But instead, all the furniture seemed to be centered in the room. And with a very apparent reason.

Every available wall surface seemed to be covered with shelves, floor to ceiling. Either planks tied into the walls, built in’s or just thick wooden shelving towers, there wasn’t a blank wall space to be seen. The light played around in the big room as Marc wandered into it. The beam, though diffused by what seemed centuries of dust freshly flung into the air by his unorthodox entry to the house, filtered here and there with tiny sparkles. He brought the beam to the nearest shelf and saw that it was loaded, top to bottom, front to back, with tiny glass objects.

The glass came in so many forms. Hand blown swans and other forest creatures. Globes on tiny wooden stands, although covered in so much layered dust he couldn’t see what might lay within. Glass vases of a myriad of colors, all of them capped as if the top had been dipped in molten glass of the same kind, with drippies like candle wax running down the sides. Bottles that may have once held liquor. Bell jars. Candlesticks with no candles. Polygons and architectural replicas of famous buildings, all done in glass of a million different hues.

“Weird,” Marc spoke softly, his voice disturbing the dust in the air. “I’d have pegged her for some mental cat lady. Not the glass menagerie type.”

A familiar growl echoed through the room, causing tremor to flow through Marc’s body. He swept the beam around the room, looking low. He then heard a raspy inhale, followed by a very drooly sounding, guttural exhale.

“Uh oh,” Marc whispered, looking around. He flashed the beam back towards the hallway in time to see the door slam itself shut with a loud bang. A flurry of movement just beyond the flashlight’s beam caught Marc’s attention and he tried to follow it, but all he managed to see was the frenzied dancing of dust motes. The heavy, labored breathing sound was still there, hanging in the air as if suspended, but Marc couldn’t tell where it was coming from.

Marc held his breath, listening. He slowly turned, letting the beam play across the room. Glitters and brilliants sparkled around the room, poking holes in the static dust drifting in the air.

Something big and heavy slammed into Marc’s leg, dumping him to the floor. His flashlight spun crazily out of his hand, skittering across the floor to wind up under the skirting of a couch. The beam left a cone of illumination leading into a dining room/kitchen area. Marc fell on his side, his shoulder and hip taking the brunt of the fall, a nagging numbness edged with pain spreading through his right knee.

Marc held his leg above the knee, gasping at the force of the impact. He glanced around, trying to gather his wits. He managed to sit up and looked about for his flashlight. He scooted on his butt towards the couch where the beam was slicing from under. His back bumped against a small table with a lamp and several of the small glass figures on it, knocking one off.

The figure seemed to fall in slow motion to Marc, caught by the side scatter of reflected light in the darkened room. As he watched, he felt a shudder pass through him, as if a spider web line had fallen across the hairs on his forearm. He could almost see a gossamer filament pass through the air, vibrating, as the small glass figurine of a young girl walking her small poodle fell to the hardwood floor.

The figure shattered. And almost at once, Marc felt a sense of tremendous release. He knew it wasn’t his emotion he felt, this elation, this joy and rush of freedom. It came from the now broken figure. The spider line feeling tingled on his skin and evaporated in a dissolving, dissipating brush of warmth and gratitude. He thought for a moment he saw a tiny glow of pinkish light spiral out of the breaking glass as it disintegrated, flitting out of the room like a firefly on crack.

Then the growling raised again. Although this time, Marc felt certain it was two distinct growls. He looked around the room, trying to find where the sound was coming from. He slid his hand across the floor, stretching towards the flashlight. And then his eyes, adapting to the darkness, settled upon a separate set of glows. Four orange glows, narrow in profile, almond shaped, arranged in pairs.

Marc’s hand bumped the flashlight as he blindly reached under the couch for it and the beam twisted around, illuminating the area of the room where the orange glows were. Momentarily, the orange glows seemed to pulse brighter, as if reflecting the beam. When he managed to get his hand around the aluminum casing of the flashlight, the boy brought it over slowly to look at the growling dog.

Only it wasn’t a dog. At least not a normal one. This dog had two heads! It was a massive beast. Marc didn’t know a lot about dog breeds, but he knew this wasn’t anything he’d ever seen before. And both of the dog’s heads were snarling in his direction, saliva dripping from the two sets of slavering jaws.

“Nice puppy. Good puppy,” Marc said, gathering his feet under himself. The beast had at least 80 pounds on Marc. Its feet were easily as big as Marc’s hands. The dog took a step forward, one head shifting the pitch of his growl, twitching the angle of its head. “Figures ole Argyle would keep something as dumb and ugly as you around.”

The dog heads barked loudly in unison, then resumed the growling. “Okay, maybe not dumb. But you sure got ugly down,” Marc said, standing slowly. He kept the beam on the dog, even as he glanced around for something he could use to fight with. He accidentally bumped the table again, and two more figures fell to the floor. They both crashed and broke into innumerable fragments, releasing a green and a yellow spark. Marc felt… something… like a pair of ripples in a pond at the moment the two sparks flew free.

The dog seemed to not like that too much and it charged at Marc, jaws of snapping flesh rippers snarling and dripping as it charged. Marc tried to run into the kitchen, pulling one of the chairs around the dining room table out, to block the dog’s path. The animal leapt over the couch, chasing. It landed on the chair with one massive paw, snapping the thing into kindling as it scrambled on the hardwood floor.

Marc had turned the corner into the kitchen, ready to make a dash for the hallway when the dog leaped, barreling into the boy from behind. They crashed to the ground, rolling. Marc kicked wildly, trying to get the dog’s weight off his body, but the two headed beast was thrashing about, using its bulk to pin Marc against a cabinet. Marc cried out in surprise and pain as one of the dog’s wildly gyrating paws grazed his neck, the hard, thick claws raking the curve of his jaw and down his neck.

Something heavy banged on the ground near Marc and he reached out blindly to grab it. It felt cool, smooth, metallic. His fingers seemed to slip into some sort of wide slot, making for a solid grip.

He bashed as hard as he could with what turned out to be a toaster. The blow landed, smashing squarely on the dog’s right head. It howled and backed away from Marc, seemingly off balance. One forepaw felt at the area of impact, seeing if his snout was still intact.

Marc took the opportunity to check himself over as well. New aches joined his sea of troubles, but he still felt strong and light. The flashlight was close to him on the ground and he scanned his body quickly. His neck had a pair of long scratches, from the dog’s grazing slash. His fingers came away feeling wet from touching the hot, raspy wounds, but he wasn’t sure how much bleeding was happening there. There was a tender spot on his left hip, but he felt certain that was just from hitting the cabinet so hard. Unconsciously at first, and then with growing revulsion, Marc wiped dog slobs off his hand, finding a larger puddle of the stuff dripping down the front of his hoody. Another wet spot was soaked into his left wrist from his struggle with the beast.

His right hand, jammed as it was in a toaster, had pinching sensations from the bread guide wires in the slot. He looked at the improvised weapon, seeing the deep, cratered dent from where he’d smacked the giant hound. The heavy polyurethane base was cracked and a corner hung off, barely clinging by a bent flap of itself. He quickly realized that such a thing made a pretty horrible boxing glove if it took that much damage itself from just one hit. Marc wiggled his fingers and flopped his hand, freeing it from the toaster. It landed with a loud clunk, rolling a few feet away.

The beast hound turned at the sound and its uninjured head seemed to turn with deliberate slowness. After making sure the toaster was not in a position to harm him again, the dog took a menacing step Marc’s way, it’s good mouth slavering with dripping drool, the hurt head twitching but still peeling back its dark lips from sharp, wicked teeth, dripping now in a mixture of its own blood and nasty smelling spit.

“Why aren’t you a Chihuahua?” Marc said, keeping the beam pointed at the dog’s left, uninjured face. He tried to get to his feet, reaching back with his free arm to leverage himself up. He hooked his elbow over the edge of the countertop and hauled himself up. The dog seemed to be measuring the distance between them for another charge.

Marc looked around the kitchen as he got to his feet. He needed a weapon. A kitchen knife, a frying pan, anything. In the darkened house, though, it would require him moving the beam off the dog to search for any implement. He decided to risk a glance. He swept the beam around the kitchen, seeing only a heavy wooden rolling pin nearby. He shifted his stance to step nearer the rolling pin and simultaneously put the dog back under the beam.

But the dog was gone.

Marc panicked, whooshing the beam around the kitchen and dining room area. How could something that big move that fast without making a ruckus? Marc wondered. His left hand absently reached out and wrapped his fist around the grip of the rolling pin. It felt heavy and solid in his hand.

But where was the dog? Marc felt his fear rising, as well as his anxiety. Every second he waited was time that might mean Phil… He put that from his mind. He didn’t want to think about what might be happening to Phil right now.

He was tempted to reach into his kangaroo pouch and pull out Phil’s glasses. He had gotten a view through Phil’s eyes earlier. Perhaps holding the glasses, Marc reasoned, he would get some impression that could help him find Phil.

He had just come up with that plan when the dog roared to his left. The sneaky giant had managed to silently get behind Marc, coming into the kitchen from the hallway side rather than the dining room side. It rushed behind it’s doubled growl. The twin jaws slashed in at Marc and he batted wildly with the rolling pin. He hit the dog twice, both glancing blows, off balance. His third strike was right on target, but so was the dog’s right head. It snapped the rolling pin in half with one loud, crushing chomp!

Marc actually took a moment to look at the hunk of rolling pin half he still had. Its splintered end had been easily 4 inches thick, and the dog had just bit through it like a pretzel rod. The dog’s right head, still dripping blood from his own face, chewed the half in his mouth with savage slowness, as if making a point about its toughness. His companion growled menacingly.

Marc gulped. He felt like he was about to pee his pants. He looked around, feeling desperate. He spied a knife block by the sink, but the dog’s bulk blocked most of the way across the kitchen. Marc decided it was time to take a chance.

“Here boy! Look! Look! See the stick, boy? See it, huh huh? Watch the stick you miserable bastard,” Marc said sweetly, shaking the rest of the rolling pin. “Want the stick?” He asked, hoping against hope that the creature was dumb enough to go along with his plan. The one head continued chewing. The second head stopped growling and twisted left, as dog’s do when confused.

“Get the stick, Fido! Fetch!” Marc cried out, hurling the leftover end of the rolling pin over the dog’s head, down the hallway where it clattered against the door.

Both of the dog’s heads followed the chunk of wood as it sailed over head. They turned the dog’s body. They watched as the rolling pin bounced off the door. Then… they turned back towards Marc. And they snarled.

But Marc had taken the moments given him and reached the kitchen sink. He grabbed the first handle he could get at the knife block and pulled out… a carving…

*Fork?!* Marc thought, looking at the twin prongs protruding under his tightly clenches left fist. *Oh, crap!* He turned and saw the dog rushing him in the light of his flashlight. He dropped to his knees as the dog collided with him again. His shoulders bore the brunt of the impact with the sink counter behind him. Again the flashlight went sailing, bouncing up into the sink and submerging in the stagnant water.

In the darkness, the dog pulled back and then charged again, this time lunging with both jaws full of ripping, slashing, dripping-wet teeth. Marc closed his eyes and slid to the ground, pushing forward with the fork with both hands. He could feel the breath of the right head’s mouth as it closed around his neck, ready to snap his spine like a twig. Their bodies met, as the other head chewed into the sink and they both fell to the floor.

The dog howled in pain as the fork slid into his chest. Marc held on, keeping the fork in place, braced with all the strength he had. The dog’s howl turned into a whine. Marc felt something wet and hot running over his hands and chest, something equally wet and cold spraying on his head and shoulders. The dog sagged, dropping its whole weight onto Marc’s body. The animal’s unnatural dying breath smelled of burnt turpentine and rotting flesh.

Marc struggled, twisting, surging. “Argh, get off! Ya mangy, flea infested, tick magnet!” With ponderous slowness, Marc managed to slide the dog off himself. He heaved himself out from under the carcass, his eyes taking in the damage. Behind him, the kitchen sink would never hold water again. The dog had bitten completely through the aluminum of the sink, mangling the faucet as well. A constant stream of icy water lifted from the ruined pipe, arcing onto the floor.

At his feet, Marc saw his flashlight had survived, but at a cost. He picked up the now bent MagLite, a slight curve in the casing a tribute to the two headed dog’s bite strength.

“Sorry, Fluffy,” Marc said, catching his breath. He reached into his pocket and pulled out Phil’s glasses. “Time to do a little recon.” He put his back to the refrigerator and slipped the glasses on. Instantly, the world faded from his own senses, replaced by Phil’s.


Phil tried again to tug his arms free of the wet leather thongs tying him to the stone table. His back felt cold and gritty since the witch had used her wand to slice his shirt off. He still felt the curious cold and hot sensations of whatever it was the old teacher was drawing on his skin.

“Stings a bit, doesn’t it?” She asked.

“What are you doing to me?”

“Preparing you for the sacrifice, in the old style. Normally I’d just reduce you to glass, use your spirit to fuel my magics, restore my vitality. That sort of thing. But since soon it will be the night of nights, I figured I’d just go ahead and drain you dry, boy. Make myself stronger to exact my revenge on the others.”


“Oh, worry not, pretty eyes. You know who is on my hit list,” Argyle said, prettily. It sounded like a symphony of rusty violin strings being played with dull saw blades. “Starting with your little boy friend, the seer.” Phil snapped his arms against the thongs again, feeling the tightly tied and wet leather dig a little deeper into his skin. “Yes, I should have seen that one further off. Don’t be too upset. He’ll be joining you in oblivion soon enough.”

“You’re a monster!” Phil shouted, feeling tears swelling in his eyes. She leaned over him, still painting symbols on his bare chest with the foul smelling red liquid. “What is that crap?”

“Hum? Oh this?” the witch asked sweetly, intent on her work. “This is… well, blood. I keep a supply around for ritual sacrifices and such. Had to add some fresh to the batch after being gone so long. Not like that police detective will need it anymore. But there’s oil of wintergreen mixed in with it, and some ground up pyrite, a little spirits of camphor and rattlesnake venom.”


“Your vocabulary is slipping, Phillip. And here I thought you were getting excellent marks these days.”

“How do you know…”

“Your little friend, Marc Dalton isn’t the only one who can conjure and commune with the dead. Several there are still bound in my service, if not bound in glass.” She finished the figure she’d been working on with a flourish. “There. Everything in its proper place.”

“You’ll still be ugly on the inside, just like you are on the outside,” Phil said, tears pulling to either side of his head. His vision wasn’t great without the glasses but the headaches that came from not using them this long were dreadful. And his skin felt like it was itchy, hot, cold, tingly and pressed in all at once. Like the marks she made on his skin were somehow heavy, shrinking slightly, and burrowing into his body.

“HA! Beauty may only be skin deep, little boy. But youth, vitality… health,” she winked, “now those are priceless, if you know the right coin to get them. Wanna see some magic?” Phil heard her put the bowl of the noxious body paint down.

“No! I want you to roll up and die, you dusty ole fossil!” Phil shouted. (*Good one, Phil,* Marc thought.)

“Well, watch this, anyways then.” She stretched her spindly fingers out, stretched her arms out wide. Then she suddenly clutched her fingers as if grabbing handles that weren’t there. At least to Phil’s eyes. Marc, still looking through Phil’s glasses could see exactly what she was grabbing out of thin air.

Long, pulsing strings of light flared to life in her hands. Her arms went through an elaborate series of arcane gestures, tugging the lines like threads dangling from spools. The lines surged pulses of light into Argyle’s body and she flooded with light and energy. A low, painful sounding chorus of hums and moans rose all around the house. Phil shook in his bonds, momentarily hearing things not only from his own ears, but Marc’s as well.

Marc felt the moaning as well as heard it. Through the lenses he was linked with Phil’s senses, but through his own, he could see the lines of power linking all the glass figures in the home, thousands of them, bend towards Argyle… bending down and to the left. *They’re in the cellar!* Marc realized.

The lines slipped back to transparency as Argyle released them. Phil’s eyes were having trouble focusing, but the witch clearly gasped, and then sighed deeply before leaning over her captive.

Both Marc and Phil couldn’t believe Phil’s eyes. They remembered the gunmetal gray hair, packed tightly into a bun, the heavy bifocals, the green eyes that had more yellow than white in the whites. They both remembered all too well the permanent scowl drilled into her face like the grimace on the face of a granite statue.

But where that old hag had been now stood a younger woman. Vital, long hair shining black with an almost iridescent quality. The eyes flashed with the look of health, green and clear. The skin was clear now as well, smooth, full, rounded, the laugh lines more suggestions than boundaries. She looked like she’d dropped 40 or more years along with at least thirty pounds, redistributing her body mass into a svelte young woman.

“Bibbity bobbity!” she cried out, ecstatic. “Boo!” she finished, spinning in place, throwing her arms up. “What do you think? Just the right amount of breasts to backside? Oh, that’s right. Girls don’t make your candle drip, do they, Phillip?” she taunted, accentuating the final “p” sound in his name with a “pop.”

Phil blushed and Marc felt himself blush as well.


Marc tugged the lenses off his face and gently replaced them in his kangaroo pouch. He began the process of climbing over the giant dog when he realized he was without a weapon again. He saw the knife block on the ground, near the left head. One large carving knife was partly hanging out of the block. Marc didn’t need to think twice. He grabbed up the knife and stuffed it into the kangaroo pouch as well.

With deliberate care on the increasingly wet floor, Marc managed to get out of the kitchen and was in the living room when he saw headlights flash through a curve out in the street. *Mom and Dad!* he thought. Good. Then he saw the flicker and flash of red and blue lights outside as well. “Cavalry’s here,” Marc whispered.

That’s when he felt it again. The tug of a spider’s web making the tiny hairs on his arm shift. Marc reached out to the line and felt it in his fingers. He lifted it, giving it a slight pull and the line lit up, just like how the witch had tugged all those lines at once to grow young.

Marc kept the line partly slack, hoping that it wasn’t glowing down for the witch as well. He followed the line back to the shelving unit closest to the front door. It seemed to be coming from a tiny blown glass figure of a swan with pink accents painted into the wings, beak and tail tips. Marc released the line and looked carefully at the figure.

He picked the figure off the shelf and looked it over. He emptied his lungs and then breathed in deeply, closing his eyes. At once he saw how this particular elegant trinket came to be here.

She had been a pretty black girl, with a nice pink sun dress, out walking a puppy. The day had been one of those warm early Fall afternoons where the shadows grew long early. She had stopped in front of this very house in order to tie her shoe. That left shoe always seemed to be coming loose. But she had to take Charlie for his walk. She was going to train him to be a good puppy. He bounced around playfully as she bent to one knee, reaching to put the errant shoe laces in proper order. Daddy had made it very clear that she should take good care of her shoes.

The lady had come out and immediately the girl, Charlene, felt there was something not right. The way the white lady talked seemed strange. Her hands seemed to be doing strange movements in the air. Grammy had always said to be wary of strangers that didn’t say hello first. Charlene had always thought she meant strange men.

Suddenly, she couldn’t move. Charlene felt scared. Charlie was laying down, holding his paws over his head. He must be scared too. He was only a little puppy, after all. Charlene tried with all her might to stand. But she was frozen in place. Then the white lady picked her up, like she was a baby. Charlene never knew old ladies had such strength. The lady said a funny word and Charlie followed behind her like he’d been told to heel.

The lady took Charlene into the house and down a set of hidden stairs, behind a bookcase. It slid into the wall and hid there. She was put on a table and her dress tucked in around her like when Daddy tucked her in bed at night. But this lady didn’t say “sweet dreams, my sweet girl,” like Daddy did. This lady started saying weird words, and she had some kind of strange wooden spoon or something that she waved around.

The room went dizzy, went light and dark. Charlene felt scared and cold and way too hot and itchy and puffy and all her muscles tightened up at once. And then she felt her body flinch. It twitched, like how Uncle Cleitus did when he had his epilepsies. Those were so scary, and Daddy was usually there to help him. But Charlene had never felt anything like this. It scared her even more, but she was still froze, she couldn’t scream or bang her fists or kick her feet and… and… and…

And then the world became just a constant dull ache, punctuated here and there with the pain of the strings being pulled. She felt so much less of herself each time, and more the glass swan she’d been turned into. She’d managed to talk to a few of the others, and their experiences were all pretty much the same. She’d learned that she was one of 15 taken that month. And she’d learned that decades had passed since then. Whole, long, empty decades. Forever trapped, forever used, forever hurting, and growing ever weaker.

*That’s how to stop her,* Charlene thought to Marc. *We, her things, her prisoners, are her magic. If you destroy these glass casings, our souls will be free and she will have no magic.* Marc felt her voice in his head, knew that somehow his ghost talking ability and his impression gathering power had somehow combined. Just like Adam and Steve, and how they were forever bound into the hollow tree, so to were every one of these glass relics a prison to a spirit that Argyle had stolen.

Like the three he’d freed earlier. That’s what those sparks and spider web feelings were. Spirits set free. Power taken from Argyle. He wondered if she yet knew that three of her captives were gone. Judging by the number of figurines, snow globes, bottles and glass models, he doubted it. Then again, considering what the kitchen looked like now…

Marc felt a shudder run through his body. But unlike the spider web, though, this was something he’d come to recognize. The adrenaline was kicking in. His body felt light, energized. He was ready to go downstairs and take on a witch in her own lair, rescue his foster brother/love interest, and…

And in his heightened state, he saw them. All of them. The lines of energy leading down to the witch’s lair. The individual spirits, trapped in the glass prisons. He saw them all at once, overwhelming his mind with their cries for help, for release, for justice. Just as Adam and Steve said. They looked at him, pleading.

“I promise,” Marc began, looking around the room. “I promise I will find a way to free you all.” A sense of relief and gratitude washed over him. He smiled. “But first, I gotta get Phil outta here before he joins you.” He turned towards the hallway and saw that there were multiple flashes of red and blue lights outside the house. He wondered why the front door hadn’t banged in yet with police ready to save the day.

He couldn’t wait, though. Phil was in danger. He had to go, now.

The way to the secret book case door to the cellar was clear in most of the spirits minds. He found the simple brass pull ring and slid the entire book case right. The hidden door slid easily, silently, and Marc entered, silently. The pathway was down, spiraling left, made of local stone in the old style. He hugged the leftmost wall and followed the steps down, taking each one slowly despite the adrenaline burning to make him run.

With head up, body tense as a coiled spring, mind focused and heart beating wildly, Marc pushed on.


Outside, Carl put his car in park. He’d just arrived at Mrs. Argyle’s creepy house when the cop behind him put on lights. He pulled over and reached up to the visor, where his insurance card was kept. He turned off the engine and reached into his pocket.

“We can’t wait for this,” Jennifer said. “The boys are be in danger. I know it.”

“We’ll explain it once he gets here. At least the police are here with us already and we wont have to wait.”

The officer walked up to the window, his flashlight out. “Well, Carl, you and the missus out late tonight?”

“Spence!” Carl said, smiling. “Man, am I glad to see you.”

“I’ll bet. License and registration, proof of insurance, please.”

“Spence,” Jennifer called from the passenger seat. “We need to get in that house. Argyle has kidnapped one of our boys and the other one may already be in there as well.”

“What?” the cop asked, flashing the light around inside the car. “Please tell me you guys ain’t been drinking.”

“No drinking, and we’re serious,” Carl said, handing up his IDs. “Marc called us telling us that Mrs. Argyle somehow got out of Tenworth and she kidnapped Phil Patterson, our foster son.”

“How the hell did you guys know Agatha Argyle escaped Tenworth? That’s been a police secret for days now. Did someone tip you off?”

“Spence, I swear. The boys are playful and smartasses at times, but they wouldn’t play around with something like this.”

“Please, can we at least see if anyone’s in the house?” Jennifer said. “Imagine if it was Mac or Jerry or Louisa that might be in that place.”

“Using my own kids against me, Jenn? Thought we were better friends than that.”

“Then you know how desperate we are. I mean, you pulled me over for going 20 miles over speed limit and I clearly ran two stop signs,” Carl admitted.

“Now, see I can’t use any of that against you. You just said all that without me reading you Miranda.”

“Spencer…” Jennifer said. “Please.”

“Okay, get out of the car,” Spencer said, handing back Carl’s IDs. “We have a detective watching the house in case Agatha Argyle shows up here. We can see if he knows anything.”

“Thank you, Spence,” Jennifer said, getting out of the car. Carl pulled his keys. The trio moved to the late model four door half a lawn up the street.

As they got next to the unmarked car, however, they found it empty. And the radio mike laying in the seat. The dispatch officer back at the station was attempting to raise the detective.

Spence immediately picked up his radio mike from his lapel and called in the missing detective. He also reached into the back and brought out the shotgun stored behind the front passenger seat. As the police officer turned to face the house in question, two more police cruisers showed up.

“You two, stay here. Do not go into that house. Do you understand,” Spence said, looking back at them.

“My babies are in there, Spence,” Jennifer said.

“I know. And we’ll get them out. But you two going in there will complicate matters for us. Let us handle this. I promise you, we’ll get the boys out.”

A blast of light suddenly flared out of the house, spreading through the windows, around the door frame. The burst was as bright as semi-truck high beams for almost three full seconds before it faded back to nothing. Jennifer started to move towards the door, but Carl held her back. The police, quickly moved to the door, guns drawn.

The cops formed up on either side of the door and Spencer took the center. He repeated Marc’s attempt at kicking the door open, only to be flung twelve feet off the porch and onto the hard packed dust of the front yard. The other two cops watched in horror as Spence gingerly got to his feet.

Carl and Jennifer were at Spence’s side in a heartbeat, and the other two cops retreated from the porch.

“What the fuck, Sarge? Oh, sorry ma’am.” The younger of the two cops said, coming over to where Spence was just getting to his feet.

“Don’t worry about the language boys, she can swear like a Marine on shore leave,” Carl said. “You in one piece, buddy?”

“One very crumpled piece. What the heck kinda door can just knock a man back like that?”

“We have to find a way in,” Jennifer said. She looked at her husband. He nodded.

“Okay, baby. We’ll figure it out. Spence, if the front is rigged… somehow, what about trying the back?”

Spence nodded. “Patrolmen, I want you to set up a cordon out here. Keep Mrs. Dalton safe. Call in back up, and if things are booby trapped around the rest of the house, we may need fire and ambulance.” The two patrol officers nodded. “Jenn, you stay here. I mean it. Those boys need a mom to come back to. Let us do the stupid grunt work.”

“You bring my boys back alive, Spencer McCaully. All three of them.”

“Don’t worry, baby. Brave men RUN in my family,” Carl joked.

Spence reached into the detective’s car and pulled out a monster three battery flashlight. “Let’s go, Carl.”

“Carl?” Jennifer called, getter her husband’s attention. He looked over to her and moved in close giving her a quick kiss on the lips and then a kiss on the forehead.

“I know,” he said. “I know.”

“Let’s roll,” Spence said.


At the bottom of the short spiral staircase, Marc stopped, kneeled and peered around the corner. The kitchen knife was definitely a reassuring presence in his hand, but all things being equal, he rather have a machine gun or an Uzi or something you could commit a war crime with. He was about to take on a witch, after all. Who knew what she was packing. And after going a few rounds with Fluffy, Marc wasn’t sure he wanted to know.

Phil was still strapped to the table, his ankles and wrists held in place by narrow yet tough leather strips about the thickness of hiking boot laces. He was looking further into the room, where Marc guessed Argyle was. He risked a look deeper into the chamber and was astounded. He’d sort of imagined the room to be all old timey. Rocks for the walls, old looking vials of weird chemicals, a giant black cauldron on a fireplace, bubbling with something noxious, maybe a tentacle hanging out.

But it was much like upstairs. Shelves upon shelves of more glass figures, some of them back lit by LEDs. Very little of anything else. There was a functional lab table, much like in the chem and biology labs at school. There was a shelf that seemed to have some artifacts on it. Nothing Marc could identify except to say that some of them looked like voodoo stuff or was decorated like Native American fetishes.

The only thing that looked out of place among all this was the large stone table that Phil was strapped to. It looked like solid black granite, rough quarried, with some sort of groove around the edges. The table itself wasn’t exactly flat, having a slight bubble up rise in the center, leading down to the groove, like a pool table with a pot belly. Only granite. And with weird symbols carved into it around the edge.

Phil himself looked none the worse for wear. His shirt was off and tied into a knot, presently that knot sitting deep in his mouth as a gag. There were wet looking marks painted on his chest and one on his face. Marc crept around the corner, looking to see where the witch actually was. As he heard her footsteps he ducked back behind the wall by the staircase.

He risked another peek and saw her arranging black candles around Phil’s body. One went between his ankles, one to either side of his neck and another pair to the space between Phil’s gangly arms and legs. The candles seemed to fit into slots in the table, as if they were constructed for that purpose.

“You’re such better company now that you’re silent, Phil. May I call you Phil?” she said, walking deeper into the lair. Marc to the chance to dodge into the room, and under the stone table. He could see that the leather strips were looped between a pair of stone spurs rising at each corner. The leather was lashed back and forth between the post of stone, held in tension by their own friction.

“It’s sad that you wont get to see me kill your beloved. Or my former employer, your school principal. Or that young bitch who came to your rescue last year. She I will enjoy killing slowly.” Phil grunted something that was probably a string of invectives, colorfully spiced with four dollar words and a liberal dose of “fuckin’s” here and there.

“Why, you ask? For power of course, you silly boy. I’ve seen your type for centuries. You talk tough when there’s an audience, but get you alone, your weakness shows. Like your glasses. You are effectively useless without them. Which is sad, because you have no idea what your true potential is.”

“Mucgh goo!” Phil said, almost saying what he wanted to.

“You see, I have made it my habit to properly sacrifice one of you special ones every year. Oh, I capture and glass dozens of others to keep my powers strong. Even this vitality is only temporary. But once a year, those with the old blood must be sought, before they become impure, and sacrificed to the Dark Lord to maintain my pact of eternal life.” Marc felt his own eyes go wide at that revelation.

“But to find two of ancient gifts in one year… oooh, the things I could do with one of you free and clear and another to perform my sacrifice with. So, while you will be all gone, used up, satisfying my master, I will turn Marc into my path to godhood! His death will grant me power you can’t even conceive of. Poor. Little. Philly,” she said teasing her long fingernails along his exposed nipple, one stroke per accentuated word. “My ancient pact from my Salem days will finally be complete. Only took three and a half centuries, but…” she said, pulling a wand from her belt, “if you are patient, observant and make the most of opportunities, fate will gift you.”

The whole house shook. Argyle looked around and Marc got the first look at her now youthful face. She’d be considered a beauty, that’s for sure. With looks like that, she could easily manipulate her way into things that an unattractive person might not. And she had the savvy to pull off some mad capers, he’d guessed. Especially if she was as old as she just bragged she was.

“Damn!” she shouted. “Someone is testing my door wards. Friends of yours, I’ll wager. Well, I’m not going back into their hospital prison. Time to uncork some old school retribution,” she said, brandishing her wand and heading for the stairs. Marc ducked lower, keeping in the shadow of the table as her shapely gams strode purposefully by. Marc waited until he heard the book case hidden door slide open.

Phil had started to cry. He sobbed softly, the tears streaking over the sides of his cheekbones, wetting into his ears. And then Marc popped up beside him and put his hand over Phil’s already gagged mouth. Phil’s eyes shoot open and he glances right into Marc’s eyes. Marc puts his finger to his lips, indicating silence. Marc slips Phil’s glasses back onto his face and commences cutting the thongs binding his legs.

“When we get out of this, you and me need to have a long talk,” Marc said. The two thongs securing his ankles separated easily and Phil wiggled his ankles to re-stimulate circulation. He hadn’t been kidnapped very long, but it had already been an ordeal. Marc moved up to Phil’s left wrist and deftly severed the thong there. He ducked towards the right one, with Phil pulling the gag out of his mouth by means of his now freed hand.

“You saved me!” Phil whispered.

“We’re not out of this yet. If she’s up there dealing with the cops I called, then she’ll soon discover…”

But Marc was interrupted by a loud scream of anger from almost overhead. Marc realized that the kitchen was directly overhead, which meant, she’d likely discovered what Marc had done to her guard dog. “Fluffy,” Marc frowned. He ducked under the table so he could get to the last thong.

“YOU!” came Argyle’s screech from the stairway. Marc looked up, defiant, behind the stone table. Phil cringed. Marc flipped his knife through the thong. “You killed my Angus!”

“That thing had a name?” Marc asked. She pointed the wand and growled a spell. Marc grabbed Phil and tugged him over the edge of the table. Her blast pulverized two of the black candles, spattering wax against the wall. The hot wax knocked three figures to the ground, shattering them and freeing sparks of spirit stuff. Marc watched the lines of power linking to Argyle flash and crumble.

“You will pay for that, welp! I was only going to kill you and digest you. Now, I’m gonna make you suffer. I’ll make your parents suffer. I’ll make this whole town… SUFFER!” she shouted, spraying green lightning at the stone table.

“You got a plan for getting us out?”

“Working on it,” Marc replied. A blast of green sparks banked off the floor and tickled electricity on the back wall, less than a yard from where Marc and Phil were hiding. “Stay here, I got an idea. If she goes for it, you make a run for the stairs and out the front door. Don’t stop running until you can grab a cop.”

“What’re you gonna do?” Phil said, pushing his glasses up.

“Probably something really dumb,” he said, leaning forward to plant a quick kiss on Phil’s lips. “For luck!”

Marc suddenly stood up and brandished his kitchen knife. The witch aimed her wand at him, but then held her fire as Marc slashed a small group of glass figures on a nearby shelf. Her eyes opened wide, realizing that he’d just let loose five spirits. She aimed and fired again, a bolt of lightning coming Marc’s way. But she had telegraphed her aim. Marc stepped to the side and slid his knife along an entire shelf of figures and snow globes, dumping the glass to the ground, shattering perhaps a dozen or more.

Argyle screamed in anger and switched from lightning to green fire, pasting the walls as Marc ducked. He dove for cover behind the lab table and felt the passing blast of fire roasting everything on the table surface.

“Agatha’s got a big butt, Agatha’s got a big butt,” Marc taunted, his voice going up and down in a sing-song sort of way. “She can’t shoot and she can’t kill, and she can’t even beat up Marc or Phil!”

“You little prick!” she grunted, firing another burst of flame across the top of the lab table, and then passing it down to shoot under the table. Marc hopped up and arm tackled a whole shelf’s worth of glass objects, including one that was a tallish statue of Liberty and another that was a beautiful replica Eiffel Tower. Marc pulled back the Tower one as the others went down to the ground.

“Wrong again. Didn’t you hear last year?” Marc said. “I mean, you had to have known. X equals...”

“Six?” she replied, suddenly standing so she had Marc directly under his wand. Marc looked over, and knew he was as good as dead. She had him, dead to rights. He had no place left to duck or dodge. He was trapped. “I’m going to enjoy making you scream, making you beg for mercy, beg for death.”

“Yeah, you might kill me, but you wont get Phil. He’s already gone. And so is most of this. Already the spirits are escaping.”

She whirled in time to watch Phil race up the stairs. She fired a blast of fire his way but he was already gone, the angle not good for a shot in the first place. Which gave Marc the chance to rush her.

She heard his rapid steps on the stone floor and turned, raising her wand. She barely had the chance to get off a lightning burst when Marc threw the Eiffel Tower with all his strength. It sailed over her lightning, and struck her directly in the face. Lightning sprayed around her as Argyle tried to blast the object. But Marc’s aim was true. It stuck her in the face and neck, shattering. The spirits contained in the Tower were many and they screamed out through her body as they gained their freedom.

But Marc had taken a shot as well. Electric arcs of actinic, coppery green assailed him. The energy poured through his body and knocked him across the room, landing him where Phil had been just minutes before. He slumped on the stone table, splayed out.

Argyle barely survived the soul blasting that ripped through her when the glass Tower erupted in sparks of spiritual light. Her power was sagging. If she could defeat one of these two, she might still be able to sacrifice the other and escape. And with the Seer unconscious on the table, he seemed to have made the selection for her. Which meant the other one had to die, NOW!

“Hey, bitch face!” Phil called from the top of the stairs. She turned and saw him standing there, with a hand full of glass ornaments. “I guess these mean something to you,” he taunted. Then, with deliberate slowness, he dropped one. It shattered on the step below him, sending a spark joyously out. “Back up, or I drop them all!” Phil commanded.

Argyle whipped her wand up, pointing at Marc’s unprotected back. “You drop a single one of those, and he fries,” she stated. The tip of her wand gathered a ball of green energy, flickering and dancing like lightning bugs at warp speed. “Is his life worth something to you?” she said, keeping her stare locked with his.

“I dunno,” Phil said, moving his arms so he could nudge his broken glasses back into place. “What do you think?”

“Nah, just drop ‘em and let her kill me,” Marc replied. He lashed out with the kitchen knife and slashed her wand hand, just behind the wrist. The cut was deep. She shrieked and dropped the artifact. “Now, Phil!” Marc screamed, and he rolled off the table, heading up the stairs. Phil dumped the armload of glass, emphatically.

It was enough to stun her, but Marc knew it needed something more. “Run!” Marc shouted, grabbing Phil by the hand. They raced up the stone steps and Marc flung the secret door closed. Phil headed out the door, but Marc had other ideas. He ran into the living room and shoulder tackled a free standing shelving unit, dumping its entire contents of glass to the floor. A wave of relief and joy surged through Marc as the spirits passed through his body, snapping their slavery bonds. Energy was popping all over the area. He pulled his bent flashlight and hurled it at a series of glass shelves near a radiator, smashing the whole thing. Pulses of escaping soul lights spun out of the house like fireworks.

Marc turned and was about to sweep a whole long mantelpiece full of snow globes to the floor when a powerful grasping hand lifted him off the ground by the back of his neck.

“You bastard!” Argyle called out. But it wasn’t the young, beautiful Argyle. Her face had aged, her hair, still long, was now stringy and gray, shot through with white. Her skin was wrinkled and thin, with veins and brown age spots showing, her hands a collection of arthritic joints, knobby and wicked.

She turned him, spearing her fingers of the other hand, the long wicked talons of her fingernails extended to end Marc’s life. Marc tried to raise his arm to slash at her, but found his arm numb. *This is it,* Marc thought. *But I saved Phil.*

And then something unusual happened. An unmarked police car came barreling through the front porch, into the living room area of the house. Hundreds of the glass objects shattered, scattering glass fragments, dust and sparks of light that everyone watching could see, even those without the sight. The sparks passed through Marc, attacking Argyle on the way to their destiny.

Argyle was racked by the impacts. Little bits of her were catching fire and burning. Marc struggled and got out of her grasp, his limbs responding again. He took a step forward and shoved the kitchen knife into Argyle’s gut, even as she was burning from the inside out.

Marc saw the witch’s form starting to sputter, starting to twitch and groan and buck. He acted on instinct and ducked behind the fender of the car. The witch seemed intent on surviving, but then the last shelf in the corner of the room made a sad, whimpering noise, and then it tumbled free of the wall, dumping three figures, one at a time. As the last one crashed and exploded in fragments, Argyle exploded.

The house shook. Green fire blasted up into the sky and then sucked back into the spot where the witch had once stood. The house stood, gutted up the center, the shell of the place forming a Victorian U-shape of wreckage.

The door to the car opened, and Phil sagged out of the driver’s seat. “Did I get her?”

“Phil!” Marc cried out, feeling severely dehydrated. Phil took two steps out of the car and promptly tripped over debris putting him almost on Marc’s level. Without hesitating, Marc grabbed Phil and hugged him close. They were still engaged in that hug when Carl, Spence and the other two cops came up. Jennifer pushed past the men and embraced her boys.


The police required a proper report. Which about halfway through the recording officer stopped writing and, pinching his brow, waved them home. There was no way he was going to file the facts as the kids said they were. He’d make up something a lot more plausible and hopefully they could all forget this strange night.

The boys climbed in the back of the car and Carl drove them home, the parents being for once silent. The boys, for their part, were exhausted and just leaned against each other, enjoying being alive, wondering where this love thing might lead to.

As the family drove home, they pass by the corner where Adam and Steve’s hollow oak had stood. Past tense. For the tree had collapsed in on itself. Marc and Phil both looked at the debris, then looked at each other. Sadly, they looked on as the home owner waved.


“This is starting to get a little embarrassing.”

“What is?”

“Watching them carrying on like that. Like a couple ‘a kids,” Phil said, gesturing towards the elaborate maze of creepy scenes and mechanical Ghoulies on display in the front lawn, spreading over most of the driveway as well. A sad looking spider jumped up, legs splayed out menacingly as a group of four kids made it around the creepy looking fake tree. Phil adjusted his glasses and the eyepatch under it, and then had to adjust the fake sword handle poking over his hip and bumping into the candy bowl in his lap.

Another pair drawing closer to where Phil and Marc sat, near the open garage, were still catching their breath after the last scare when a skeleton jumped up from behind a low bush, cackling manically, a burst of strobe lights and creepy Toccata and Fugue in D Minor screeched out at them. The two girls shrieked and turned towards each other, as if seeking a place to hide their eyes.

Somewhere in the maze, Marc’s father was waiting to leap out at unsuspecting trick or treaters in his hairy wolfman costume. His mother was not far from that, ready to spring from a coffin in full sexy but scary vampire countess gear. All across the lawn, kids and parents were finding their way into the Labyrinth of Doom, getting frightfully, happily scared out of their minds.

“Let them have their fun. I’ve had enough frights for one Halloween,” Marc replied, pouring himself another glass of cherry red lemonade, dyed for the occasion to look sorta like blood.

Marc simply wore a shirt with the words “This is my costume” on it in spooky green letters. His father had convinced him to at least do something make-up wise, for the kids coming up to get their treats. The scars on his face were mostly cosmetic, giving him a trauma victim look. They served to cover the twin marks on his jaw and going down the left side of his neck, making them look like glued on prosthetic make up. The two marks still burned slightly when touched but the antiseptic ointment kept them clean.

“Oh, cool costumes,” the two girls said as they came up holding their bags out for candy. One was dressed as a skunk in a dress, the other was done up like a demonic baby doll, complete with pacifier on a string. Marc’s accident victim get-up didn’t exactly match Phil’s full pirate captain duds, his left eye sporting a jolly roger patch under his broken glasses.

“Are you, like, a pirate?” the skunk asked.

“No, I’m that guy from those pirate movies, you know, the guy that plays the pirate? Yeah, I’m him.”

“Oh?” she said, no getting Phil’s sense of humor. He dropped two pieces of wrapped hard candy discs in each of their bags, getting a half-hearted “thank yooouuu,” from them both as they moved off. As they walked down the street, a little kid dressed as a snow leopard leapt at them, growling more cutely than scarily. The girls retaliated by screaming at him in that high pitched 5th grader sort of way. Little snow leopard ran back towards his mother, raising his hands high enough that some of his candy spilled out of his plastic pumpkin.

“Looks like you’re smarter than the average skunk girl,” Marc said, taking a seat beside Phil.

“Nah, she just doesn’t get the reference.” He nudged Marc with his elbow. “Did you ever know that you’re my hero?” Phil said, leaning his head on Marc’s shoulder. Marc playfully pushed him off.

“You know, with all this corn you’re putting out now, you’ll be putting Kellogg’s out of business, ya flake,” Marc returned. “Looks like the bowl’s getting low.”

“Yeah, we been busy lately.” A pair of kids ran up towards the entry of the maze, dressed in simple sheets wrapped around their shoulders like robes, faces painted in white with white fabric wrapped around their heads like poorly designed, rapidly made versions of Casper the Friendly Ghost. The sight put a sad look on Phil’s face.

“So, what do you think happened to Adam and Steve?” Marc asked. “I mean, the tree collapsed. You said they were tied to it, right?”

“Yeah. It was their anchor, I guess you’d call it.”

“So, did they go to heaven?”

Marc’s face screwed up in concentration. “I don’t think it’s that simple,” he said. “I know they aren’t here anymore. And I know they are together, wherever they are. Beyond that,” he raised his hands in supplication. “I dunno.”

“And we still don’t know who wrote the notes.”

“Yeah,” Marc blushed, realizing how quite suddenly they were facing a key issue in their changing relationship. “I, uh, I think I know some of who might be the inks. It’s the Pencil that still has me thinking.”

“Well, if it wasn’t you,” Phil said, running his fingers through the bowl, “and it wasn’t me, then who could it be? And how did they know what we were each thinking about. I mean, I never told no one I liked you that way.”

“Yeah, I didn’t tell anybody either,” Marc replied.

“You think the Pencil is… a ghost?”

“When you have no other logical, plausible explanation, whatever is left, no matter how crazy or unlikely, must be right. Right?”

“Well, I guess we know now that ghosts are real. And they talk to you all the time.”

“Yeah,” Marc said, looking down. “And there’s several at school. I guess you could say we’ve got school spirit covered,” Marc grinned at his own joke. Phil groaned and mumbled something like “you had to go there?” under his breath.

“So…” Phil began, trying to form his question as he was speaking. “What about someone like my Mom?”

Marc sighed. “I dunno Phil. I wish I had some kind of answer for you, but I just don’t know. I dunno if Argyle went somewhere either or if she was just destroyed. God, I hope she was destroyed.” He reached out and clapped Phil on the shoulder. “I think a lot of the other’s I’ve dealt with are stuck here for some reason. And if they’re stuck, it has to mean there’s something else out there. I just don’t know what it is.”

“Yeah.” Phil looked up as a group of five youngsters ran up screaming “trick or treat,” with their bags and buckets held out. Phil forced a smile and handed out candy, asking the little ones what they were dressed as. Marc smiled, taking pictures with his cell phone. One of the little ones jumped and then giggled when Mr. Bones popped up again with his musical interlude and stroboscopic lighting.

And while the little kids and parents were there, Phil was warm and funny and just Mr. Personality. He was laughing with the kids, generally making everyone happy to be there. Marc looked on Phil then, knowing he had heavy things on his mind. Knowing that this boy he had feelings for had been through so much turmoil and pain lately and still seeing him just… shine. It made Marc smile. And it helped him drop other decisions into place.

When the group waved good-bye and ran off to the next house, Marc looked into the bowl again. “Wow, that’s getting dry. Guess I’ll haveta go get more candy.”

“We have more?”

“Oh yeah. Mom buy lots of bags of Halloween swag. We’ll be stuck with the leftovers for months and having full on sugar rushes until spring break.”

“Oooooh, goody!” rubbing his hands together in piratic glee.

“Uh, Phil, we haven’t had enough ‘customers’ to go through the three bags of candy we put in there,” he said, pointing to the large metal mixing bowl. Phil’s fingers continued to poke around the remaining bits. “Exactly how many pieces of candy have you snagged?”


“If you had to guess?” Phil just shrugged his shoulders, grinning like a cat with a mouthful of tweety-bird. “Or if you had to count wrappers?”

“Uhm, I’d say that number is and/or rapidly approaches… X!” Phil pronounced proudly.

“Equals six?” Marc asked, shaking his head sadly. “You’re lucky I sorta like you,” he said, rubbing his hand up and down Phil’s back.

“You don’t know how long I’ve been dying to know just that,” Phil replied, leaning into Marc’s touch. The woolen overcoat was perfect for the costume, but still felt scratchy. He sighed in relief.

“Probably as long as I have, too.” Marc got up, and headed towards the kitchen door at the back of the garage. As he opened the kitchen door, he looked back to Phil. A sly grin spread over Marc’s face. “You know, it’s not true anymore.”

“What’s not true?” Phil says, turning in his seat to watch Marc go into the house.

“X=6. It’s not true anymore. The equals is wrong. You’ll need the greater than sign.” Marc wiggled his eyebrows up and down for emphasis.

Phil’s tricorn pirate hat, complete with long red feather, shifted backwards on his head. He felt his mouth hang open, startled by the idea Marc was floating. “How… how much greater than?” Phil asked, flabbergasted.

“Guess you’ll have to find out tonight,” Marc said, and he walked into the kitchen area, out of Phil’s line of sight, grinning.

Phil turned around, his eyes as big as dinner plates, blushing profusely.


Happy Halloween!

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