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Trick or Treat, Daphne

“Abandon all hope ye who enter.”

I was gripping the stick I’d found earlier with both hands, pointing it towards the entrance of my tent and wondering how many chances I would get to whack this intruder before the stick snapped into a million pieces and left me defenseless. If anything, the jitters in my hand would be the thing that’d fail me. They were already weakening the warning I’d stolen from Dante. I should have been holding a maraca instead of a twig with how shaky I felt. Any minute now, my hideout in these unfamiliar woods would be discovered. My doomsday had arrived.

Two hands, that weren’t jittery like mine, parted the tent curtains and were followed by a shaggy-haired head that turned itself towards me and let me exhale in relief. It was Micah Agostinelli, the new kid in school whom I had met last week in the science hall while advertising tickets to the Halloween party my school club was planning. I had been trailing people like a lost dog, whispering sweet nothings like “pumpkin carving” and “costume contest” into their ear with a megaphone, for the most part, people were really into it. He hadn’t bought one despite my masterful salesmanship.

“Oh, it’s just you,” I said, dropping my weapon. “Geez, you scared me for a second. I thought you were a serial killer about to make a whole new episode in their documentary.” I wiped the cold sweat off my forehead with the back of my hand. Micah smiled, unmoved.

“Asa, right?” he asked, pointing a finger at me. “Sorry, I’m not into murder.”

“That’s nice. What are you doing out here? You just walk around and hop into people’s tents?” I questioned. “Not into murder, but definitely into trespassing, it seems.”

Micah laughed and crawled into my one-person tent, shaking the rain off his jacket and onto me. “Well, actually, my family owns this land, so technically, you’re the one who is trespassing.” I didn’t respond to this accusation, but I did see his eyes glance at the stick laying by my right knee. “Were you going to hit me with that?”

I threw the stick out of the tent. “Absolutely not,” I said. “It was going to be strangulation all the way.”

He nodded respectfully and then said, “You know, everyone in town is looking for you. The police have been at the school every day this week asking everyone questions. I think the principal, whatever his name is, is planning on holding an assembly about it.”

I rolled my eyes. “Are they planning on offering reward money too? ‘Ten thousand dollars to the bounty hunter who captures Asa Stevens.’”

“Wouldn’t doubt it.”

This whole situation wasn’t fair. Daphne had set me up. Everything had been fine the day of our party planning club meeting. She wasn’t even upset that I had shown up half an hour late or when, as treasurer of the club, I announced that we had only seventy dollars as a collective in our bank account to fund the party planning. Daphne had calmed everyone down. She was good at that, at keeping everything under control. She always had been.

But then something changed. She didn’t come for our weekly Wednesday after-school smoothies or call me late in the evening in a frenzy asking how to do the calculus homework. She wasn’t there at the top of the stairs during lunch, talking to her crush, and waiting for me since I had a class at the other end of the school. She didn’t even lay out a blueprint across the dash of my car, meticulously and excitedly revealing every fine detail that was going into the party planning like she did for every single event we threw. It was all routine. And suddenly, it stopped.

“I witnessed your impeachment through a window in the back,” Micah said, interrupting my recollection of the last few days. “It was hard not to watch. She was really loud.”

I winced, remembering my exile. “Thank you. That means a lot.” The wind heaved against the tent and rain thundered against the flimsy tent material, an impending storm gradually intruding upon my continuous disaster life. I unzipped the tent and stumbled out into the downpour. Micah followed me. The stick that I had thrown had not made it very far.

“You should really come back, Asa,” he said, flipping the hood of his jacket over his already damp head. “I’m sure the police, and everyone else, will understand why you did what you did.” He shoved his hands into his pocket quickly and averted his eyes, I assume, because he knows that there is no way for him to know what happened and why. “I mean. You’re still a minor. I don’t think they’ll send you to jail.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. I hadn’t even considered the possibility of living my life behind bars. Wouldn’t that be an ideal victory for Daphne? I imagined her glistening outside in the sunlight sometime in May, rotating which rainbow colored gel pen she would use to sign her name in a yearbook that would probably have my mugshot in it instead of a regular school photo. Orange jumpsuit and everything. Senior superlative: Asa Stevens, most likely to get arrested. Everything my parents would have ever wanted for me.

Have a great summer. Keep in touch. XOXO, Daphne.

“Can you do me a favor?” I asked, holding onto Micah’s gaze for as long as I could in desperate and misguided hopes of making him trust me even though I was trespassing on his family’s land. He had no reason to trust me. He was brand new to the school and the area and had no loyalties to me at all. I mean, wouldn’t he be an accomplice if the police found out he’d known about my location and not informed anyone?

“Sure.”

I requested some supplies to support my new life: some food and water, sustenance of any kind, a box of matches, bug spray, a blanket that could hinder the chills of the night better than the old sleeping bag I’d yanked out of the attic in a hurry. I almost kept the list going and then decided to stop. It was already a lot to ask from someone who was basically a stranger. I made one more request for news of what was happening out in civilization, particularly in school. I wasn’t so worried much about my aunt and uncle who took me in after my parents died as I was about the stank rumors Daphne was probably spreading about me.

“You’re my confidant,” I said, as Micah was leaving. “You breathe a word of my whereabouts and I’ll find a cleaver.”

He was already disappearing into the thickets and the obscure darkness of the tangled woods as the rain picked up in force when he barely glanced over his shoulder to look at me and said, “I thought it was strangulation all the way.”

I sequestered myself back into the tent, reciting incantations to the Lord, to Satan, to the Weather Gods, or whomever it was that had some authority, asking for them to hold their horses with the monsoon that was begging to be unleashed. As I laid halfway in, halfway out of the sleeping bag, staring at the shadows flickering through the tent, I thought about a tree possibly snapping in half and ending my life right there and I also wondered how the party planning was going.

Daphne and I had always been the trailblazers for party planning because her perfectionism and attention to detail was always compatible with my wild ideas. Although the last few things we’ve strung together have not really panned out the way we initially envisioned, and I am mostly to blame for that. At last year’s Halloween party, I had set up a portion of the hallway to function as a haunted house and granted a few underclassmen free access if they agreed to swap shifts as scarers. It had been a great idea except for that no one in attendance realized there would be small gremlins with plastic knifes jumping out from behind black curtains to scare them. Jonas Harley’s younger brother peed his Spiderman costume all the way down the hallway. The vice principal’s daughter had gone number two, and if you could imagine what they could be, I’m pretty sure we also had numbers three, four, and five splatter painted across the walls as well. It was a mess cleaning that up.

The Thanksgiving feast was probably worse. My uncle allowed me to borrow a handful of his turkeys from his farm to add a more natural feel to the party if I returned them uncooked and unstuffed, all feathers intact. My plan was to allow them to walk around and gobble, but I guess the atmosphere of the party made them a tad bit more aggressive towards attendees than I had expected. Lewis Blanton hasn’t looked at me since then.

But Daphne couldn’t not let me participate in the party planning. It wasn’t even just a matter that I was on the board of the club and held a leadership position. We had been best friends since seventh grade and when she wasn’t obsessing over the club or any events that it dealt with, she was funny and great person to be around. It just seemed that lately she was at a distance from me and the club. Not to mention her apparent scheme to land me behind bars.

A rumble of thunder yanked my thoughts back to the weather and the shadows. I sighed, unsure of what to do next. There did not seem to be a clear and correct action to take, but I also couldn’t live in the woods forever. I don’t care what Henry David Thoreau says. I need indoor plumbing and air conditioning. More thunder. My incantations had not reached their recipients. I accepted this betrayal, as I was used to it now, and closed my eyes awaiting sleep.

Micah ended up being a fraud. He stumbled out of the dewiness wearing the same jacket as the day before, slinging a bulky backpack over his shoulder that I presumed to be the treasure chest of the goodies I requested. I was thrilled to see him again, given that the night in the tent was spent without multiple helicopters hovering over my head with their beams of light grazing over every square inch of my hideaway. No angry German Shepherds with little K-9 vests had torn through my flimsy tent to bite my ass like kibble and my wrists were still free of handcuffs. Plus, I had, in a moment of self-indulgence, finished off the last of my gas station turkey and cheddar sandwiches and was pep-talking myself into eating grass like a cow had Micah forgotten about me.

He dropped the backpack into the mud and unzipped it for me like a gentleman. I examined its insides and was pleased to see that Santa had come to town, bearing gifts for even those who weren’t on his nice list. Micah had obviously spent some time playing Tetris with everything I asked for because somehow all the weirdly shaped items fit together in the backpack. I almost didn’t want to take anything out and ruin his craftsmanship, but the banana was tempting.

“So, this is where you’ve been hiding out,” a familiar voice said. One that did not belong to Micah. I threw my head up from the backpack and realized that behind Micah, hiding in the bushes like the weasel he is, was Axel Barnett, still wearing the same scarf his Nana had gotten him for Christmas last year.

I hit Micah with the banana peel. “Judas!” I accused. “You did not follow my instructions. You weren’t supposed to bring anyone back here! Especially someone who is useless to me.” Axel scoffed and threw the scarf over his shoulder.

Micah shrugged. Axel ended up figuring out that he knew where I was after they ran into each other at the grocery store where Micah was buying an overload of bug spray. That had been the dead giveaway apparently. The bug spray. As an olive branch to repair his treason, he asked, “Do you want me to swipe through his hair for guns and knives like TSA?”

I shook my head, nibbling my banana sadly. “The only thing you’ll be swiping through is dandruff.”

In all honesty, I wasn’t as upset about Axel’s arrival as I was showing. Despite having all the qualities that no good, patriotic American would want in a person, Axel was one of the few people in our community that I felt had some sort of loyalty to me. His parents and my aunt and uncle went to school together. His mom and my aunt were best friends. His dad and my uncle were best friends. Axel and I would never even venture into the territory of addressing the other as ‘acquaintance’ but our long history from childhood weaponized me with some fantastic blackmail that I could use against him. It’s hard not to feel connected to someone whose castles you knocked over in a sandbox. Even so, a stranger would have been a better option.

“Why don’t you like him?” Micah asked.

“Because he lacks human decency,” I said. “And he smells.”

“I resent that,” Axel retorted, scarf dangling in shame. He shuffled over to me, almost tripping over the stick and faceplanting into the mud. “What are you doing out here?”

“What’s it look like? I’m wallowing in sorrow from my exile.”

“Why’ve you set up camp in a swamp?” He kicked the stick over.

I pulled out a second banana from the backpack. “I figure the best thing to do is remain dormant for a while and let this whole thing blow over.”

“You’re a fugitive from the law, Asa,” he said. “It’s not just going to blow over. Besides, the police are putting together a team with dogs, so they’ll find you here soon. I heard Daphne talking about taking extra precautions about something though.”

Great. I bet she has a platoon ready for my return. “What? Like a bodyguard? Because she’s gonna need one when I get back.”

Axel grinned. One of those stupid grins that always preceded a nutcase idea he had about taking his parents’ boat to the other side of the lake or sneaking a bottle of vodka into a football game. One of those that always got me in way more trouble than it ever got him. That’s what I get for only semi-rich relatives and not parents. He reached into the backpack and pulled out a pack of Twizzlers.

“So,” he began, biting one of the red licorice sticks, “I take it you have a plan to clear your name of all charges and take Daphne off her pedestal?”

“Are you stupid? I can’t just waltz right in there. They’ll launch a harpoon at my neck.” I finished my banana and dropped the peel in the mud for a squirrel to find and dug deeper into the backpack before looking around for Micah. “Only two bananas?” He shrugged.

I did have a plan. Not a foolproof one, of course, but something to direct all the attention back to Daphne and her stupid party so that everyone would know whose fault it really was. She’d shown me the timeline of what was happening where and who was going to be where and what she’d be wearing. All of it. I had a plan. I just had no way of executing it without the possibility of it backfiring and landing me in a maximum-security prison where I’d have to start doing pullups in sweaty muscle tanks and getting prison tattoos.

“Do you still have it?” Axel asked, mouthful of licorice. “The necklace?”

I stood up from the backpack and looked between Axel and Micah. These two rich kids would never understand someone in my position. Axel, who grew up forever in this rich community and had the experience of being a socialite’s kid, dragged from charity gala to expensive dinners to weekends at polo matches during the summer, knew the infamy of this necklace, and raised an eyebrow in worrisome curiosity. Micah, who was new to everything, but whose family had to be wealthy too in order to own these many acres of land, seemed confused.

Folding down the collar of my jacket, I revealed the necklace dangling around my neck. It was the safest place I thought I could keep it. It belonged to Mr. Johannsen, who won it from some European prince over a game of Bridge back during the World War days. Mrs. Johannsen always wore it to the equestrian competitions and would tell everyone, and I mean everyone, how her husband won that game of Bridge. She died a few years ago and we never saw the necklace again. Some of us thought he might have sold it.

It was Daphne’s idea. She said that Mr. Johannsen wouldn’t notice it missing and we could pawn it for some more money for the parties. Of course, she didn’t tell me all this initially. I didn’t know what I was stealing. Just that the target item was in the top drawer of the dresser. I probably should have asked for more information, but Daphne seemed upset about the party delays, and I just went along. Imagine my surprise when I opened the box once I was in Daphne’s room. If I believed in spirits, I’m sure Mrs. Johannsen’s old lady ghost was attempting to sucker punch me for even being that close to her precious necklace. Anyway, someone had apparently told Mr. Johannsen about security cameras because I looked straight into one like I was making a cameo in a Hollywood film as I was climbing down the trellis of the window. With the usual flare, of course.

I might want to revise all that before I give a formal statement to the police. I still look like the bad guy who maliciously robbed a wrinkly old rich dude and stole the one thing his dead wife loved more than him. Rest in peace, Mrs. Johannsen.

“Well,” Axel started, breaking his enamored gaze with the diamond necklace. “I have come to your immediate distress and am willing to help you seek revenge against your enemies.”

“How noble of you,” I said without any hint of hope or faith, picking up the stick from the mud. It was in the last leg of its life. The storm really did a number on it.

Long story short, Micah, Axel, and I packed up my uncle’s old camping tent that was falling apart every second that passed by. One of the beams ripped out from the cover and smacked Axel in the face. Axel said he was going to drop it off at the house so we would have less to lug around, but I’m pretty sure he drove that thing straight to the dumpster and set fire to it. Afterwards, we went to his parents’ estate to scheme my revenge plan in more detail.

Mr. and Mrs. Barnett were out of town again on business. Micah asked what Axel’s parents did for a living. This kind of conversation was common in the community amongst the kids; everyone always wanted to know where the money came from and whose parents had the cooler jobs. I was obviously the outcast. The only niece who’d receive a small inheritance to get me through college if I even got the chance to go after this whole ordeal. Axel shrugged his shoulders and went ahead to open the backdoor while I told Micah that no one really knew what Axel’s parents did, although in 8th grade, we started referring to them as spies because they went on frequent excursions out of the country. One day, we had to write about our parents’ professions for a class assignment and Axel called his dad to ask and all Mr. Barnett said was, “Just put down that I work for the government.”

Once we crossed the threshold into the house, Micah suddenly grabbed my shoulder and pulled me back. I almost fell over and before I could ask what was going on, he pointed to an old lady, dressed in a faded purple nightgown, shuffling along with a walker that had those tennis balls on the end of it. I ducked behind Micah, hoping that she didn’t see me.

“Oh man, they didn’t take Nana with them?” I asked Axel in a whisper, still clutching the back of Micah’s shirt.

“Don’t worry,” he whispered back. “Nana’s eyesight has gotten way worse since the last time you saw her. I don’t think any of the peripheral vision works for her anymore.” He was right. We stood by the door for about three minutes in silence, watching Nana complete her shuffle from the kitchen to the hallway, hearing a rhythmic thud…thud…thud…of the tennis balls against the floor. She didn’t turn her head once to look at us.

For the next few hours, I buried myself in Thai takeout. My rain incantation went to deaf ears out in the woods, but someone somewhere knew that I needed those spicy basil noodles. With our bellies full, Axel, Micah, and I poured over our mastermind plan that consisted of halfway clearing my name from all alleged crime and halfway destroying the Halloween party in such a fashion that Daphne’s party planning privileges would be revoked, and her stupid club would disintegrate like a sandcastle by the shore.

“You should be good at this,” Axel said. “Remember when you forgot to order the flowers for the Springfest and then we spent hours picking a bunch from Mr. Chen’s garden just for there to be a whole swarm of wasps hiding in the tulips?”

Shit. I forgot about that. I’m pretty sure Bobby Moore had to be taken to the hospital because he was allergic or something. He came back to school the next day covered in so many bumps with white pus in the middle that people started calling him Booby.

“Does anyone have any costumes?” Micah asked. “Everyone has to dress up for this, right?” Shit. We didn’t have any costumes. I’d forgotten about that. Daphne usually was the one who decided what we would dress up as, so I never had to worry about that before.

Axel thought for a moment, although I can’t imagine that there’s much going on in that small brain of his, before he said, “The theatre department should have some. I don’t think they throw out the wardrobe they use for their plays.” He turned to me and then grinned stupidly again. “I have the perfect outfit for you, Asa. You need to change before we get there so no one will recognize you.” Micah and I watched as he disappeared out of the room and down the hallway.

While waiting for Axel to return, Micah showed me some tricks with the chopsticks. We could hear Nana up in her room playing old records. At that moment, “These Boots are Made for Walkin’” was jamming and during the chorus we heard a loud crack followed by a relieved sigh and Nana’s shaky, fragile old lady voice, singing, “These hips are made for crackin’.”

Axel returned holding up the costume like it was a prize won at a carnival. I recognized it immediately. It was his dad’s old Viking costume from the 90s. Mr. Barnett had worn it every year for the Halloween gala at the McCarter’s mansion. Said he didn’t understand why’d he’d need a new costume every year for something that happened once every 365 days. Sound logic for someone who probably works for the CIA.

“Are you on crack or something?” I asked. “I’m going to look like an old man.”

Axel shrugged. “Well, isn’t ‘Asa’ typically a boy name anyway?”

“Isn’t ‘Axel’ a bike part?”

“Irrelevant.”

I resisted the urge to grab both ends of his damn scarf and yank them in opposite directions until his stupid head popped off his shoulders and launched itself into the sky like one of those cows from the Miss Mary Mack rhyme we learned in kindergarten. Would serve him right to not come back down ‘til the fourth of July. I grabbed the costume out of his hand and locked myself in the downstairs bathroom, shimmying out of my fugitive clothes and into Mr. Barnett’s Viking costume while replaying our plan over and over in my head, remembering the diamond necklace that was still resting on my chest. The adrenaline started building up in my veins and I could hear my heart gradually picking up pace and thundering against the walls of my body.

We had an hour before the party was supposed to start. I thought we could walk to the school. It wasn’t that far, but Axel insisted on driving. I protested this mainly because Axel failed his driver’s test twice before I stepped in and taught him the laws of the road. Mr. and Mrs. Barnett didn’t have time to teach Axel how to drive because of their extracurricular activities and he skipped the driver’s ed course they paid for. I ended up being the one sitting in the passenger seat, holding onto the handlebar above my head like a nervous, skittish mother who flinches at everything while Axel was figuring out how to turn on the windshield wipers.

“I am a fantastic driver,” Axel said, spinning the keys around his pointer finger and leading me and Micah down the stairs to the garage. “I could be your own personal chauffeur. Maybe I’ll even drive you to your court hearings before they hand you a life sentence.”

“The only vehicle you are qualified to drive is a hearse,” I said, swinging open the passenger door. “At least the person in the back will already be dead.”

“Just buckle up, Stevens,” he said. The garage door opened, and Micah and I sat in silence as Axel took his sweet time backing out into the driveway.

“Oh my god, Axel,” I said, tapping my Viking boot. “Can you go any faster? You’re going 1/8th of Nana’s speed right now.” The stick was still in my hand, and I waved it around impatiently as my Viking mustache fell off my lip and onto my lap. “I won’t have time to get my revenge if you’re driving slow as molasses.”

Axel turned his head to argue with me while simultaneously slamming onto the brakes like he was Tom Cruise in a Mission Impossible film. Micah’s head bounced off the window due to the whiplash and I hit Axel on the shoulder with my stick.

“Are you okay?” I asked Micah, unbuckling my seatbelt, and turning around to examine his injuries. He rubbed his head, his eyes squeezed shut.

“Yeah, it’s fine,” he said. “Only a mild abrasion.” Blood starting seeping down the side of his face.

“You’ve got a head wound the size of a cantaloupe.”

I sent Axel back inside to get a box of Band-Aids and in his absence, I hopped into the driver’s seat and waved away his grievances when he came back out and saw me there. After strapping everyone in, Axel mumbling reassurances to himself about his driving skills and Micah clutching his forehead, I put Mr. Barnett’s Camaro in reverse and started heading towards the school, heart beating louder than ever.

Whoever decorated was obviously way out of their element. The spiders looked like they had been commissioned to be done by 3rd graders in a papier mâché art class but hadn’t had enough time to dry before being strapped to their tinsel webs by needle thread. Someone was colorblind too because the ‘Halloween orange’ that was picked out was so dark that it resembled the reddest of roses. There wasn’t even a smoke machine in sight. Pitiful. Absolutely pitiful.

The three of us snuck through a back entrance by the auditorium, Axel casually deciding this was the perfect moment to give Micah a tour of the school by acknowledging all the corners and corridors he had made out with different girls. What a flake. Once we entered the theatre room, I stood guard by the door, holding my stick, ready to knock the daylights out of anyone who approached me, while Micah and Axel changed into the old theatre costumes. My hands were getting jittery again.

Micah appeared out of thin air, wearing a snake costume that made him look more like a deformed lizard than a trickster serpent in the garden of Eden. He informed me that Axel was having some trouble getting into his.

“Mini skirt, or something,” he said.

I yelled at Axel to hurry up, my shaky fingers fidgeting with the necklace as my head ran through what was going to happen next. Axel emerged from the shadows adorned with a bleach blonde wig on his head, wearing a matching mini skirt and tube top with glitter everywhere, looking very much like a late 90s/early 2000s teen pop idol.

“It’s Britney, bitch.” 

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in Contemporary Fiction, Flash Fiction, Humor, Young Adult (YA)

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