“What are you going to do for your birthday?” Emily asked as we walked into my room.
I shrugged and responded, “What do you like to do?”
“Keara, it’s your birthday, so it’s your choice.”
“I know, but I don’t know what to choose.”
“Don’t you like haunted houses?”
“So why don’t you do that?”
“It’s the middle of March.”
“Okay, fine, I’ll do a haunted house for my birthday.”
Emily grinned with satisfaction and laid down on my bed.
The walls were a soft pink with little stickers placed inexpertly when I was 7. The desk was white with organized shelves with colourful pens inserted in them. My bed was also pink, with fluffy decorative pillows and little cherry blossoms on the duvet. Emily’s black hair was stark against the calmness of my room, her light skin gleaming under my fairy lights.
I sat down next to her and the bed made a little squeak.
“Where do you get haunted houses made for you?” I asked her.
She sat up and told me, “You don’t know? The Jerrinsons are the best haunted house makers in the world. Just say ‘I want a haunted house on this day at this time for this many people’ and then you’re done. Oh also, you say if you want mildly scary, medium or scare-your-eyeballs-out-of-their-sockets scary.”
I nodded and slid up to the top of my bed, where little pink fairy lights wove around the headboard. I wrapped a few around my hand, letting the warm light soak into my skin.
“Who are you gonna ask to come?” Emily said, breaking the silence while fiddling with one of my pillows.
“The cheerleading squad?” I suggested.
“That’s it? You can’t only have girls at the party Keara.”
“Fine, I’ll just invite the whole class.”
“So,” I started, “Are we gonna study for the math test or not?”
“No one ever studies with their friends,” Emily said. “Let’s just talk about stuff.”
“Here’s an invitation,” a girl I think was called Emily said.
“To what?” I asked, looking at the envelope.
“To Keara’s birthday. It’s gonna be in a haunted house.”
The envelope was a black and pink gradient, with a somewhat scary picture of a ghost on the front. It said ‘You’re Invited!’ in light pink letters. The address just said The Jerrinsons House. No one needed an address because everyone already knew where they lived.
“Like a lame one or an actual scary one?” I asked.
I’d been to many lame haunted houses with cardboard jump-scares and slippery “blood” that was actually fruit punch. I didn’t want to go to another one, not in 11th grade.
“A scary one. The scariest option,” Maybe-Emily said.
I nodded, tucked it into one of my jean pockets and walked over to my locker.
“Hey dude, who was that?”
It was Andrew, my best friend.
Well, you could call him that.
“I don’t know, I think her name’s Emily,” I responded, pulling out my textbooks.
“What did she give you?”
“Bro, why are asking so many questions?” I asked, shutting my locker with a loud bang.
“You’re not the one to ask that,” Andrew said. “What’s the invitation for?”
“A birthday party.”
“Ugh,” I grunted, speed-walking away from Andrew. “Could you stop?”
“You didn’t answer the question!”
“Maybe you wouldn’t have had to ask me if you got one! Maybe if you were nicer, you would’ve got one! Maybe if you’d actually been to any parties, you would understand and wouldn’t have to ask.”
“How did it go?”
Emily shut my bedroom door with a little click and sat down beside me.
“What do you mean, how did it go? I handed out 20 papers, that’s how it went.”
Emily pushed me off the side of the bed, making me land hard on my backside.
“Why are you so grumpy today?”
“Well, maybe some people were asking me for invitations that weren’t in our class. Maybe I had to say I didn’t have any left and that they weren’t allowed to come without one. Maybe they punched me, maybe they glared at me, maybe they acted like I was a spider they wanted to crush. If you didn't ask me to hand them out, if you just did it yourself, I wouldn't be the embarrassment of the class. Or the school. But who cares?”
Emily stood up with great irritation and stormed out of the room, closing my bedroom door with a loud slam.
I laid down on my bed and while I twisted my fairy lights around my hand, I thought, Well, there goes my only friend.
As I walked to Math, I wasn’t accompanied by Andrew. Or Steve. Or any of the people on the football team. It was a bit lonely, to tell the truth.
I found my seat at the back of the classroom and set down all my stuff. I looked around in silence, taking note of all my classmates.
“Hi, you’re Hadyn right?”
A girl sat down on the desk next to mine, pulling out fancy pens and shiny notebooks.
“Um, yeah. What’s your name?”
“Oh, I’m Keara.”
“Your birthday is coming up?”
“The one with the haunted house?”
“Who was the girl that was handing out the invites?”
“Why are you asking so many questions?”
I blushed, realizing she repeated what I had said to Andrew.
“Um, I don’t know?”
She giggled and said, “It’s fine, I like answering questions. Emily used to be my best friend, but I’m not so sure now.”
“Oh. Me too.”
“You have a friend named Emily?”
“No, just- I mean, well- like-”
Keara smiled and just said, “I get it.”
“Class! Get out your textbooks and turn to page 394. Do not forget, we have a quiz on Monday. DO NOT FORGET!”
I smiled at Keara, and she smiled back.
I heaved all my books onto my desk and ran downstairs, the smell of spaghetti sauce wafting through the house.
“Hi sweetie! Did anything interesting happen today?” my mom asked.
“Not much. Hmm, actually, I think I made a new friend.”
“Oh how nice! What is her name?”
“They’re a boy. His name is Hadyn.”
“Oh ok, what does he do?” my mom questioned.
“What does that mean?” I said incredulously. “He does school.”
“Obviously. What else?”
“Football, I think.”
My mom nodded and set down a steaming plate of spaghetti in front of me. I grabbed the parmesan cheese and dumped a whole truckload onto it, just how I like it.
“Keara, you always put too much cheese,” my dad said, looking at my pile of cheese, noodles and sauce with concern.
“No, I don’t! Everyone should eat it like this because it’s the best way,” I responded, and dug into my pasta.
After dinner ended, I went back to my room to study for our math test. I rolled my fingers over my pens, reading the colour labels on the sides.
I slipped my phone out of my pocket to check the time, but I got distracted by something else.
ʜᴀᴅʏɴ 6:03 ᴘᴍ
Hi! What r u doin?
How was he texting me?, I thought. I didn’t even give him my number!
I texted him back.
ᴋᴇᴀʀᴀ 6:37 ᴘᴍ
How did u get my number?
He texted me back almost instantly. The three little dots beside his profile picture were rolling up and down as if taunting me.
ʜᴀᴅʏɴ 6:38 ᴘᴍ
Um, a post-it note fell on ur chair in Math and it had ur phone number on it so……..
ᴋᴇᴀʀᴀ 6:39 ᴘᴍ
Its fine. Do you want to go to the park tomorrow?
ʜᴀᴅʏɴ 6:40 ᴘᴍ
But we have school
ᴋᴇᴀʀᴀ 6:41 ᴘᴍ
We can go there after school
ʜᴀᴅʏɴ 6:41 ᴘᴍ
Ok. see u tomorrow!
ᴋᴇᴀʀᴀ 6:42 ᴘᴍ
“Don’t forget your paper about the American Revolution is due tomorrow!”
Ugh, I thought, Teachers are so annoying.
Once I had put everything back in my locker and my backpack was next to empty, I walked out of the school doors, a brisk early spring wind biting my cheeks.
Kids milled about in groups, a few strays caught here and there. They were gossiping, making plans for after school, talking about the latest filter on Snapchat. I used to be one of them, so I felt a bit awkward walking to the park by myself with no one to talk to.
Snow crunched beneath my feet and birds chirped in the distance. The trees looked oddly bare with no leaves on, as if they had forgot to change into them.
“Hadyn! Over here!”
Keara was sitting on a bench next to the pond, her dark brown hair flowing in the wind.
I ran over to her and sat down next to her, and time seemed to stop.
The pond had a thin blanket of snow covering it while a finch tiptoed on it carefully. The wind seemed warmer now, whipping at Keara’s hair and my face. I looked down to my feet, where I observed that Keara’s shoes were a similar size to mine. I looked up to her and she asked . . .
“What school did you go to when you were in Grade 3?”
Not the question I was expecting.
“I feel like I’ve met you before.”
My eyebrows arched up in question.
“Did you go to Harrowood Elementary?” she asked.
“Yeah! Who’s class were you in?”
“Ms. Smith! What about you?”
“Your teacher’s name was Mr. Luigi? That must’ve been fun.”
“It was,” I said, laughing my heart out.
“Did he like Mario?”
“I don’t think I asked!”
Keara buckled over with laughter, spilling out of her like paint.
Never would I thought I would be talking about Mario and Mr. Luigi with a girl from History class.
“When’s the party again?” I asked.
“On Saturday at 6 pm,” she recited.
“What day is today?”
“So tomorrow! What do you want me to get for you?” I asked.
“No one asks what to get for their birthday Hadyn.”
“Well, I want to get something you like!” I protested.
Keara said, “A cat?”
I laughed. “I can’t get you a cat.”
She pretended to pout. “Aw. Fine, what about a onesie.”
“You like onesies too?”
“Yes! I didn’t expect boys to like onesies. Also, who gets a birthday present one day before the party?” Keara asked.
“Well I do,” I said. “Do you know why I didn’t recognize you before?”
“Oh right. I think that I bit you and then your dog bit me so our parents said not to talk to each other. So I think we slowly drifted apart from being best friends to strangers.”
“How do you know that?” I asked curiously. My parents never said anything about a girl biting me.
“I remember,” Keara said.
“You have a good memory. Oh yeah, what type of onesie do you want?”
“A cat one.”
I pulled out my phone and opened it up to a text from my mom.
“Ugh, my mom needs me at home. See you tomorrow at your party!” I said.
“Okay! Bye Haydn!” Keara responded.
I got up and ran towards my house, thinking about what store had the best onesies that were not $40.
I looked over to my clock to check the time.
15 minutes ‘till the party started, so I ran downstairs and slipped on my raincoat.
“Mom! Dad! I’m going to my party now!” I called out.
“Okay, sweetie! Have a good time!” my mom’s voice said, floating down the stairs.
“Don’t get into any funny business!” said my dad.
He always said things like that.
“Bye!” I called out.
I turned the door handle and stepped out into the cold, walking a few blocks to the Jerrinsons house.
A crowd of people were gathered around the door, shivering and mumbling about who-knows-what.
I found Haydn and asked him, “Who told the Jerrinsons that I had a party?”
“I did. It was on my way to my house anyway, so I thought I’d stop by,” he said.
His black hair curled around his forehead, framing his blue eyes. They looked like ice but felt warm like a campfire, warm and inviting. He was much taller than everyone else so it wasn’t hard to pick him out of the crowd.
“You should go up there and announce that the party is starting,” he suggested.
“But it’s not time yet.”
“Yes, it is.” He turned on his phone that blared 6:00 pm is bright white numbers.
“There are no ‘buts’,” Haydn protested and pushed me up in front of everyone.
Everyone slowly quieted, looking at me expectantly to say something.
“Uh, so hi. I’m Keara. This is for my haunted house party, and-wait. How many people are here?”
“34,” a quiet male voice peeped out.
“That’s way more than the people in my class though.”
“People invited other people to come with them because having a haunted house party in March was like the best idea ever,” a female voice answered. Everyone shuffled in agreement.
“Oh ok,” I said, beaming. “Come in!”
And then I got trampled underfoot by the crowd like a herd of elephants.
After everyone had dinner, Keara and Hadyn led the crowd to the entrance of the haunted house.
There were three entrances; one on the right, one on the left and one in the middle.
“It’s kinda like a maze,” Keara said. “Choose the way you wanna go. I think you should stick together because being alone in a haunted house isn’t the best idea.”
Everyone started talking and organized themselves off into groups, people slowly flowing into the three different entrances.
The last group was a group of five: Emily, Danielle aka the girl who had spoken up during Keara’s mini-speech, Hadyn, Joey aka the boy who had said ‘34’, and Keara.
“Who should pick the way?” asked Hadyn.
“Keara,” said Danielle and Joey.
Emily just shrugged.
“Ok,” Keara said, “Let’s go in the middle one.”
They made a single file line with Hadyn at the front and slowly walked into the darkness.
It was pitch black, and they couldn’t see anything. Emily looked around and thought she caught a glimpse of an evil red smile peeking out from the darkness, but then it vanished.
“Is everyone okay?” Haydn asked cautiously.
“Yeah,” they all responded.
Emily started saying, “This is a little bit boring, is something interesting gonna happen-”
Her voice was cut off with a scream, one that only appears when someone is in real danger, one that could pierce the air like a nail.
Danielle swirled around and flailed her arms. “Emily’s gone!”
Haydn and Keara locked eyes, worried about the rest of them.
They kept going, and Joey remarked, “Do you guys see that face?”
“What face?” Haydn, Keara and Danielle asked.
“You really can’t see it? It’s really obvious-”
His voice got strangled by someone, and Joey was gone.
“Guys, I normally like haunted houses but this is getting actually scary. . ." Danielle said.
“Stay close,” said Hadyn, so they inched across the hallway glued together.
“Are the Jerrinsons haunted houses always this good?” asked Keara.
“Well, people don’t normally disappear. . .” responded Hadyn.
“Guys, I see someone smiling at me . . . “ said Danielle.
Keara snatched Danielle’s hand and her hand turned cold. A subtle breeze brought a foul smell, one of rotting flesh and dried blood.
An ice-cold hand wrapped around Keara and Danielle’s hand, causing both of their nerves to freeze.
“Come with me, you won’t be disappointed.”
Danielle’s hand was ripped away from Keara’s, pulling away with a final scream.
And then there were two.
Keara and Hadyn walked together in the darkness, spotting a few splatters of maybe-fruit-punch on the floor.
“What is happening? People are disappearing,” Keara asked.
“Let’s forget about that,” said Hadyn. “Remember that time it snowed in the middle of summer?”
“Yeah, that was weird. Also, that little girl was on the news talking about how she saw fairies,” said Keara.
“Probably just her imagination.”
They walked along the endless hallway in silence, Keara’s flats clicking on the floor.
Click click click
“I see something,” said Hadyn.
“A red grin.”
“Oh no. Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no.”
“Don't worry, nothing will happen.”
“You’re gonna disappear.”
“. . .”
Haydn turned his back on Keara, staring emptily into the darkness.
“Hello?” Keara asked again.
She tried to reach for his hand, but it was occupied by something else.
Haydn turned around slowly and when they made eye contact, she realized he was different.
His pupils were white like snow, with little red veins trailing out from it. He smiled, but it wasn’t warm or inviting. It was crazy, dashed with insaneness. He looked like a clown from one of those horror movies.
“Hello, Keara. Want to play a game?”
She just glared at him and he walked slowly towards her, raising his knife higher and higher.
“No response? Oh well, I guess that means I win.”
He brought the knife down and Keara screamed.
And then there was one.