Four Kids and a Dog

“I always hated costume parties.”

Nothing but dead air around me, but I whisper it aloud because I get the feeling it might be one of the last things I ever say.

Footsteps in the hallway. Yelling. Barking. Coming toward me.

“He’s this way, Gang!” one of them yells, that football jock in a white tee.

Frozen, my eyes are locked on the entrance, on the door I didn’t have time to close, on the sliver of light sneaking in from outside. Five shadows run past, the football jock in front and that devil dog in back.

The footsteps recede, and I slink along the wall to the closed door on the other side of the room. Halfway there the fur on my costume gets caught on a desk and shakes an antique glass full of pens free.

I lurch in, flailing for what I can. I catch the glass in one hand and the pens in another and for a harrowing moment wait for the rest to drop. After a few seconds of silence, I can finally breathe. It hasn’t been my night, but maybe things are looking up.

Breaths, long and deep, followed by nervous laughter. The pens are in the glass, and the glass is on the desk. The door is only a few steps away, and if my luck is turning it might get me out of this godforsaken house.

Tearing reaches my ears just as my body stops from the resistance. A lamp shatters behind me.

“Did you hear that?” the bob-haired girl in the orange sweater says from down the hall.

“This way!” the jock yells.

I always hated costume parties.

No use being subtle anymore. I slam the door against the wall and stomp my through, my furry booties so slick that I nearly slip on the hardwood beneath me.

The door opens into a living room, lit only by the sliver of light coming in from the hallway and the full moon staring down on it from the skylight.

Footsteps in the hallway.

My feet pad across the room slower than I’d like, slower than I need. The front door is just ahead. I can finally leave this hellish holiday behind.

Light flashes behind me.

“There he is!” It’s the valley girl with the red hair, skin as pale as the moonlight.

I can’t look back. I won’t make it if I look back.

The front door whistles on its hinges. Cold air smacks me in the face. The porch is hard under my booties, which are just glorified socks with fake fur stuck around the ankle.

The jock calls out behind me, but I’m already running down the walkway. “Get him, Gang!”

Stones dig into my feet. Mud seeps through the fur. The makeup I used to shadow my face like a lion is streaking into my eyes and down my face like I’ve been crying. At this, I’m not sure I’m not.

Footsteps in the grass, and I look over just in time to see the devil dog bounding toward me.

He lunges, teeth bared. I contort my frame just enough to dodge and then stumble onward.

One step to keep balance.

Two steps and I’m in the grass.

Feet are soaked but still beneath me. I risk a glance over my shoulder. The dog is rolling in the mud. Three behind him are giving chase.

Only three?

More footsteps. My eyes snap forward just into time to see the lanky one, looking like he’s as scared of me as I am of them. We crash in a mess of shaggy hair and makeup. My head slams on the pavers.

Pain, and I can feel the blood running down the side of my head. I always hated costume parties.

“Pull him back inside.” The voice is gravelly, rough, unnatural.

My head bounces off the pavers as they drag me toward the cabin. I’m drifting in and out, and I barely notice when the stars above turn back into the wood of the porch.

When I come to I’m tied to one of the kitchen chairs. Light from a single bulb overhead, and the full moon of the skylight. The mane I wore to the costume party is on the floor at my feet. I can see figures, but they’re shrouded in the darkness.

“Jeepers, he’s finally awake,” the bob-haired one says, studying me from behind square glasses. The orange of her sweater is tinged with the same mud I’m caked in.

“Good,” the jock says. Shadows cover half of his face, and the rest is an unhinged grin.

“Where are the diamonds?” the valley girl questions from the darkness. Her voice is high, shrill, like she’s trying to sound more threatening than she is.

“I don’t have any diamonds,” I say.

The shadow of the lanky one approaches behind the other three. Claws clack against the floor, and I fight the urge to slide my chair back as far as it goes.

“Look, guys, it’s Halloween,” I say. “I’ve got a bunch of candy, but it’s probably all crushed by now. No diamonds.”

“Go through his pockets,” the gravelly voice says from somewhere near the lanky one.

The valley girl and jock each take a side, and the bob-haired woman recedes into the darkness. Plastic wrappers crinkle and scream from my pockets.

“Aha!” the valley girl says, ripping her hand free. She slams what she found on the table beside me. Three Ring Pops, two red and a blue.

The jock laughs and adds two more from the other side, a green and a yellow.

“Looks like we found what Mrs. Weathersby was looking for,” the lanky bastard says, his voice cracking halfway through.

“Why’d you do it?” the bob-haired one asks.

My hands are shaking. “Look, this is all just a misunderstanding.”

“Misunderstanding what?” the jock says. “You shouldn’t take what doesn’t belong to you.”

“She was just giving them out.” I look away in shame, my voice dying. “I didn’t think she’d mind.”

“Well she did,” the lanky one says in that cracking voice. His silhouette towers behind everyone, but he’s far from what I’m afraid of.

The bob-haired one scoops all five Ring Pops into her purse. “Well, Gang, looks like we got what we came for.”

The jock and valley girl nod to her before the valley girl points at me. “What do we do with him?”

Claws clack on the floor, and all three part for the devil dog.

At first, I just see eyes inside the silhouette of a massive hound. Then teeth bared, reflecting in the moonlight. Finally, he enters the circle of light from the single bulb.

Brown and black. Long legs. Short fur. A long snout, at my eye-level even though I’m sitting straight up in the chair. His chin splattering red on the wood beneath him.

“Leave him to me.” His voice grates against my ears and I fight back a scream. “I could always use another Scooby-Snack.”

I always hated costume parties.

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