Cold autumn wind blew through the streets, stirring leaves and making houses creak. The only light came from streetlamps and the moon, the latter being the most reliable as it could not flicker. At the end of the road stood a rickety iron gate, fencing off a house that had not been lived in for ages. The grass had grown so long that it made rustling noises as it swayed against the iron in the breeze. Apropos of the house’s worn down condition, the residents of the neighborhood steered clear of it. Children made dares to run up and touch the gate or retrieve something from the yard. Despite the rumors, no ghosts ever came out to get them. Instead, these ghosts waited inside patiently for the one person they’d be happy to see.
Nearly every night, when the clock struck midnight, a shadow would make its way down the sidewalk, heading towards the house. Those who saw it would not confront it; they knew who it was. The shadow was just the neighborhood insomniac who prowled the streets at night, a coffee cup in one hand and a dagger in the other. No one dared ask them about their nightly strolls, and the insomniac was willing to keep it that way.
So there they were, approaching the iron gate, its broken lock rattling in the wind. They grasped the rusted handle and pulled slowly, trying to minimize the squeaking sound of the dilapidated gate as much as possible. Even then, the dry grass underneath their feet crunched as they walked up to the front door. It squealed as it opened, revealing to the insomniac the darkness that awaited them within.
Upon entry, no sound could be heard besides the creaking of wind billowing against the house’s old walls. Kirby made their way up the rickety stairs, listening for one noise in particular. When they found it, they followed it until it grew louder and louder.
Just like that, Kirby found the first thing they were looking for. Before them stood a tall female figure, dressed in black clothing which was covered in cat hair. Her very essence was covered in cat hair. The girl had a black kitten on one of her shoulders, which played happily with her hair as more felines swarmed around her feet. Their sounds mingled to create a cacophony of meows, rubbing against the legs of their owner. The phantom girl smiled as she saw Kirby.
“Well hello, Insomniac. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Hello, Caretaker. I couldn’t sleep, per usual. How are you tonight?”
The girl purred as if she were feline herself.
“Wonderful, dear friend, just wonderful. Every moment I spend with my pets is a wonderful moment.”
The kitten on her shoulder tumbled off, catching itself on her arm and digging its claws into her skin. She didn’t seem to mind, instead sighing dramatically.
“My midnight friends have grown restive. More of their living kin are dying as a sacrifice to this foolish time of the month. Hmph!”
Kirby reached over to pet the black kitten on the head.
“It’s awful that people kill black cats near Halloween.”
The girl’s long nails began stroking the kitten too, causing it to purr and rub against her pale face. Her eyes narrowed, and a wide grin spread across her face.
“Well, I cannot say I mind much. After all, each cat no longer extant comes straight to me!”
The cats weaving around her feet continued meowing; a peek into the room behind her would reveal that there were many, many more felines belonging to her.
“I suppose you wouldn’t mind if you acquired more pets,” Kirby stated.
The phantom laughed.
“Of course not! All cats who have passed on are welcome in my house. It is an awful shame that they have to suffer, however. I want nothing but the best for my children.”
She reached down to pet a few of the cats at her feet, becoming absorbed in her work. Kirby took that as a sign to move on, making their way to another room in the large house. They knew they found the right one when they noticed a green glow spilling out from the crack under the door. Without need for knocking, the door opened on its own and another phantom came out. This one was slightly shorter, holding a plant in one hand and the end of a snake in the other. The snake to which the tail belonged was curled around her neck, head draped over her shoulder. The snake’s head bounced as she made her way over to Kirby.
“Hello there, Insomniac.”
She took one look at Kirby and frowned.
“You already visited Lauren, didn’t you? You reek of ghostly cat hair. It doesn’t take visibility to know.”
“Observant as ever. How is your garden doing?”
A large grin returned to the phantom’s face as she turned to re-enter her room, a long cloak sweeping the floor behind her.
“Simply wonderful! I’ve managed to keep the temperature in stasis- you know how hard it is during the changing of seasons. All of my plants are thriving. My reptiles are, too.”
She gives the snake around her neck a pat on the head.
“This handsome boy is newly crowned. I had to depose my previous snake scarf as he got a bit too clingy.”
The phantom removed the current snake from her shoulders, exposing a black and blue ring around her neck. The choke mark seemed to shape her throat to be thinner around it.
“As much as I love when they mark me, this one hurt a bit too much. I couldn’t let it slide. Thankfully…”
She arranged the snake in her hands back onto her shoulders.
“...This precious boy is much more gentle. He would never do more than bite. A little poison never hurt anyone… anyone living, at least!”
Kirby gave the snake a gentle pet before moving on to examine one of the many plants in the room.
“Is this one new?”
“Oh! Yes, it is.”
The phantom rushed over, smiling widely as she delicately ran a fingernail along one of the plant’s leaves. They shone in the moonlight peeking in from the window, glowing a deep red-purple that stood out among the green.
“This one is quintessential for a magical garden. It only blossoms on Halloween. Fascinating, isn’t it? I may just bring one to Addie, she could do to see something that isn’t covered in chains. How about we go together?”
The pair left the gardener’s room and started down the hallways, snake swinging off of the phantom’s shoulders as she walked. The wind continued howling outside, surely chilling every entity who dared walk outside to the bone. Kirby was cold themself; they shifted their shoulders, readjusting the black jacket draped over their frame. Before long they came to a door that had been adorned with multiple gilded locks, each in a different shape. They knocked, and after a second the door opened slowly. Another ghostly girl stepped out, wary expression softening as she saw who had come to visit.
“Insomniac. About time. You too, Brooke.”
“Hello, Locksmith. I came with the Gardener to visit.”
Brooke handed the plant to Addie, who admired its bright red color. Kirby noticed the large keyring hung around her waist, which was home to hundreds of metal keys.
“Thank you, Brooke. It’s nice and secure. I’ll bring it in, follow me.”
The three entered the phantom’s room, which was nearly completely covered in locks and chains. The windows were locked up, cabinets were chained, boxes with keyholes sat static upon every shelf. All of the keys hung around Addie’s hip.
“How kind of you to visit. I’ve been working on changing my locks, so don’t be surprised if the keys I gave you no longer work. As long as you knock they won’t be needed. Hey, Insomniac, is that iced coffee?”
Kirby glanced down at their cup.
“Not anymore. I need some more.”
“I know you’re a staunch believer that coffee solves everything, but it really doesn’t. If you’re not going to get some sleep, I’ll have to lock you here with me.”
Kirby scoffed, eyes still on the cup in their hand.
“In your room completely made of metal? No thanks. Besides, if I slept, I wouldn’t be here, and I wouldn’t be much of an insomniac.”
The door once again opened, revealing an annoyed-looking caretaker.
“Hey, when were you guys gonna tell me you were hanging out without me? I demand to join in on the fun!”
“As long as you keep those animals away from my stuff, do whatever you want.”
“You guys are great. I wish I could be here more often.”
The three stopped, looking at each other and then back at their human friend. Brooke was the first to speak, a wicked smile on her face.
“Maybe you can be.”
She nodded to the others, who understood her gesture perfectly. Lauren grabbed onto Kirby, catlike claws digging into their skin as Addie closed and locked the door behind them.
“We’ve been hoping you would say something like that for a long time. Now we can keep you forever. Are you ready?”
Kirby struggled, but Lauren didn’t let them go. Even if she did, the door was tightly locked and Addie had the key. She dangled it in front of Kirby’s face before taking the dagger from Kirby’s pocket. She pierced her arm, only wincing slightly as she slid the metal object under her skin. The key did nothing to stanch the dripping blood, but Addie smiled nonetheless. Brooke tickled her snake on the head, coming closer to Kirby with a large grin spreading across her cheeks.
“Finally, you can join us, and live with us in ecstasy forevermore!”
She snapped her fingers, and the snake lunged. Its fangs sunk deep into Kirby’s skin, and within minutes the insomniac dropped to the ground, veins popping where the snake’s venom entered their body. As they rose from their lifeless human body, Addie drew the key from her arm and unlocked the door.
“Finally, a home for four… as this place was always meant to be.”