|Brian blowing out his birthday candles... all 23 of them!|
The Kesler Home.
(Crash of thunder. Flash of lightning. Terrifying scream in the distance.)
We were there that day to celebrate Brian's 23rd birthday, although his birthday wasn't for another week. We approached the front steps cautiously, narrowly avoiding the flashing claws of a most terrifying feline. The door creaked ever so ominously as we entered, bracing ourselves for the horrors within.
In an eerily-lit kitchen we found them. Candles flickered their ghostly pale light, throwing long dark shadows up the walls.
"You're early," an old witch cackled, "we weren't yet expecting you..." She pressed her gnarled face right up into mine. I could smell her cobweb breath blowing dankly into my nose, burning my eyes. "Dinner isn't ready, my pet."
At these words the old hunchback in the corner sharpened his knives with a terrifying screech of metal on metal.
"No," continued the witch, "dinner isn't quite ready. You were both very naughty to come here so early. When you weren't wanted."
She turned suddenly to the three ghoulish females hovering close by in the shadows. One of the hags, dark as sin, fled from the gaze of the witch. Like a cat she sprang to the nearest banister, and then up the stairs in two quick bounds, finding a sanctuary in the solitude. The other two were too scared to move.
The witch moved slowly toward them, dragging a purpled and deformed foot behind her. "You two! Take your brother and his friend down into the dungeon. You will wait there until I give word."
The taller girl, pale as death with hair as light as the moon, grabbed Brian forcefully and dragged him along with her. The shorter girl, with hair dark as night but equally strong, gripped me in her vice-like claws. I didn't put up too much of a fight. I knew our torture would be unavoidable.
Down the dark winding stairs we went, without even a torch to lead the way. Scurrying mouse feet echoed throughout the catacomb, and a distinct smell of rot and decay wafted over us as we plunged deeper into the gloomy abyss.
We waited there for what seemed like hours. My stomach rumbled with hunger. All I wanted was some food, dear God, why wouldn't anybody feed us? Our keepers smiled their sinister smiles as they tortured us happily. They threw things at us and sang their shrill songs. They poked us in the eyes with their bony skeleton fingers and made us smell their feet. It was horrible.
Just as I was about to let myself go and just die there on that cold stone floor, the old witch had joined us. In my delirious state I thought she was there to kill us. She hovered overhead and glared her evil eyes down at us, penetrating into our skulls. A small smile pulled at either side of her mouth, turning into a gaping grimace of broken, yellowed teeth. She burst into a terrifying shriek of laughter, an enormous cackle that shook the walls of our tomb and reverberated into our very souls. A flash of lightning threw her chortling face into sharp relief, and her eyes seemed to flash at us like fire from a struck match.
I closed my eyes in fear and braced myself for the striking blow of death. One of the hags was screaming my name, "Jack, Jack, Jack, Jack, Jack!"
"Jack, could you pour me some water."
I opened my left eye. I could see Courtney sitting next to me, her mom across from me with Jenny at her side. I opened my right eye. Brian and his dad were seated furthest from me, and Amy was at my right, looking at me quizzically with her cup in her outstretched hand.
"The pitcher is right next to you. Could you pour me some? Or at least pass it over to me?"
"Yeah. Sure," I said dazedly, coming out of my trance.
"This is really good pot roast, Dad. Thanks," said Courtney.
I looked down and sure enough, my plate had roast and potatoes and carrots and fruit. In the middle of the table was a beautiful red velvet cake, decorated with festive fall sprinkles and candy corn embellishments. The candles atop the cake reminded me that it was Brian's birthday dinner with his family. Further down, at the end of the table, sat many birthday gifts waiting to be opened.
Brian leaned his head behind Amy, and motioned that I should do the same. He whispered in my ear, "I think reading The Halloween Tree is affecting you. No more ghost stories, okay?"