16

It was snack-time at East Street Grammar School. Judy and Janelle Everett sat at the far end of the play-yard with their friend Deanna Carver, who was six—thus fitting neatly between the Little Js, age-wise. Deanna was wearing a small blue armband around the left sleeve of her tee-shirt. She had insisted that Carrie tie it on her before she went to school, so she could be like her parents.

“What’s it for?” Janelle asked.

“It means I like the police,” Deanna said, and munched on her Fruit Roll-Up.

“I want one,” Judy said, “only yellow.” She pronounced this word very carefully. Back when she was a baby she’d said lello, and Jannie had laughed at her.

“They can’t be yellow,” Deanna said, “only blue. This Roll-Up is good. I wish I had a billion.”

“You’d get fat,” Janelle said. “You’d bust.

They giggled at this, then fell silent for a little while and watched the bigger kids, the Js nibbling on their homemade peanut butter crackers. Some girls were playing hopscotch. Boys were climbing on the monkey bars, and Miss Goldstone was pushing the Pruitt twins on the swing-glider. Mrs. Vanedestine had organized a kickball game.

It all looked pretty normal, Janelle thought, but it wasn’t normal. Nobody was shouting, nobody was wailing with a scraped knee, Mindy and Mandy Pruitt weren’t begging Miss Goldstone to admire their matching hair-dos. They all looked like they were just pretending snack-time, even the grownups. And everyone—including her—kept stealing glances up at the sky, which should have been blue and wasn’t, quite.

None of that was the worst, though. The worst—ever since the seizures—was the suffocating certainty that something bad was going to happen.

Deanna said, “I was going to be the Little Mermaid on Halloween, but now I en’t. I en’t going to be nothing. I don’t want to go out. I’m scared of Halloween.”

“Did you have a bad dream?” Janelle asked.

“Yes.” Deanna held out her Fruit Roll-Up. “Do you want the rest of this. I en’t so hungry as I thought.”

“No,” Janelle said. She didn’t even want the rest of her peanut butter crackers, and that wasn’t a bit like her. And Judy had eaten just half a cracker. Janelle remembered once how she’d seen Audrey corner a mouse in their garage. She remembered how Audrey had barked, and lunged at the mouse when it tried to scurry from the corner it was in. That had made her feel sad, and she called her mother to take Audrey away so she wouldn’t eat the mousie. Mummy laughed, but she did it.

Now they were the mice. Jannie had forgotten most of the dreams she’d had during the seizures, but still she knew this much.

Now they were the ones in the corner.

“I’m just going to stay home,” Deanna said. A tear stood in her left eye, bright and clear and perfect. “Stay home all Halloween. En’t even coming to school. Won’t. Can’t nobody make me.”

Mrs. Vanedestine left the kickball game and began ringing the all-in bell, but none of the three girls stood up at first.

“It’s Halloween already,” Judy said. “Look.” She pointed across the street to where a pumpkin stood on the porch of the Wheelers’ house. “And look.” This time she pointed to a pair of cardboard ghosts flanking the post office doors. “And look.

This last time she pointed at the library lawn. Here was a stuffed dummy that had been put up by Lissa Jamieson. She had undoubtedly meant it to be amusing, but what amuses adults often scares children, and Janelle had an idea the dummy on the library lawn might be back to visit her that night while she was lying in the dark and waiting to go to sleep.

The head was burlap with eyes that were white crosses made from thread. The hat was like the one the cat wore in the Dr. Seuss story. It had garden trowels for hands (bad old clutchy-grabby hands, Janelle thought) and a shirt with something written on it. She didn’t understand what it meant, but she could read the words: SWEET HOME ALABAMA PLAY THAT DEAD BAND SONG.

“See?” Judy wasn’t crying, but her eyes were wide and solemn, full of some knowledge too complex and too dark to be expressed. “Halloween already.”

Janelle took her sister’s hand and pulled her to her feet. “No it’s not,” she said… but she was afraid it was. Something bad was going to happen, something with a fire in it. No treats, only tricks. Mean tricks. Bad tricks.

“Let’s go inside,” she told Judy and Deanna. “We’ll sing songs and stuff. That’ll be nice.”

It usually was, but not that day. Even before the big bang in the sky, it wasn’t nice. Janelle kept thinking about the dummy with the white-cross eyes. And the somehow awful shirt: PLAY THAT DEAD BAND SONG.

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