I moved in and out of the dozen or so cars and headed for the farmhouse next to a wasted looking barn that had seen better days.
Laughter and conversation floated out of the open door and windows of the bottom floor. Wood groaned under my feet as I walked up the steps and crossed the porch. Peeking inside, I recognized several faces.
Brock and Mason were standing in front of a pile of fake pumpkins and other autumn decorations with identical confused expressions. Linds was with Ms. Reed, pulling various gross stuff out of huge boxes. Fake shiny pools of blood. Ropey intestines. Giant rats and bats.
Linds looked over at me, holding a brain in one hand and a heart in the other. “Hey! You made it. I was wondering if you were going to show up or not.”
“Sorry. Lunch with Dad ran a little late.” I smiled at Ms. Reed, who was in the process of scribbling in a thick notebook. “So, what do you want me to do?”
“Hmm . . .” Linds frowned into one of the boxes. “Right now we’re just going through what we have, what we can use this year, and what we need to buy. Oh, how about this?” Tucking back a few stray curls, she bent over and reached into a box, pulling out something that resembled basketball netting.
She dropped it into my arms.
“What is this?” I asked, staring down at the knotted mess.
“Cobwebs. There’s probably more than one set in there, but they’re all tangled together.” She bit down on her plump lower lip as she eyed me. “Can you take them apart and see how many are there?”
“That would be so helpful,” Ms. Reed chimed in, and I pressed my lips together. Looking up at me, the pen she held stilled above the notebook. “Oh, and how are your self-defense lessons going with Jensen?”
Half the room went quiet, namely Brock and Mason. Oh dear.
My cheeks heated. “It’s . . . um, going good. Thanks for that.”
She winked and my eyes widened. “I thought it would.”
Linds arched a brow, and I turned, plopping down on an old stool near the window with my armful of fake webbing that smelled faintly of Halloween makeup. A smell I couldn’t quite name, but it was distinctive, reminding me of what it was like to dress up and go door to door.
I missed those days.
I barely listened to the conversation around me, but every so often I’d hear Monica’s name whispered, and it stirred up things I was doing my hardest not to think about. I’d rather focus on my dad’s unending attempt at getting me to lose fifteen pounds. I kind of wanted to hold on to those pounds. Knowing my luck, if I lost weight, it would come off my boobs, but in all seriousness, I saw absolutely nothing wrong with what I weighed, so whatever.
A shadow fell over me. Brock stood there, his head tilted to the side. “Hey.”
“What’s up?” I tugged at the mess of fake cobwebs. The stringy stuff was balled into one giant knot. Ugh.
“Nothing much. Just helping out.” Brock knelt next to me. “So . . . ?”
It was weird. Since his party, he hadn’t talked to me, which I was totally okay with. Now I had no idea what to say to him. I finally found the edge of the webbing.
“You and Jensen hanging out?” he asked.
“He’s teaching me self-defense,” I corrected, yanking on the white string.
Brock chuckled. “That’s a different way of saying it.”
Frowning, I glanced up. “Huh?”
He met my eyes with a look that said I knew exactly what he was saying, but it was far over my head. “I can help you out with that, you know.”
Brock laughed again. “No. With the self-defense stuff. I’m sure I can work in one or two . . . practices a week with you.”
Suddenly what he was saying made sense and I wanted to wrap the netting around his neck. Not only was he suggesting that Jensen and I were doing more of a horizontal kind of training, but he thought I’d mess around with him, too? Anger moved in a slow burn through my veins.
I lowered the webbing to my lap. “It’s really sad about Monica. I’m guessing you haven’t heard anything new?”
His face paled and the blood rushed to his cheeks. “No. I haven’t. But Monica and I weren’t dating.”
“That’s right. You guys broke up a couple of weeks ago.”
He stared at me a moment, the hue of his cheeks deepening, and then he muttered something under his breath. Straightening, he walked away and returned to Mason’s side.
“What was that about?” whispered Linds, coming over to me with a stuffed snake, its red eyes glimmering.
I shrugged, wrinkling my nose. “You don’t even want to know.”
“Let me guess. He was hitting on you?”
Her lip curled. “Doesn’t surprise me. Real classy considering no one knows where his ex-girlfriend is.”
“Exactly,” I muttered, glancing over at the boys. A junior girl joined them, wrapping her arms around Mason. “What’s with you and Mason?”
Linds’ shoulders fell and she sighed, staring at the fake snake. “I don’t know. He was all hot and heavy at Brock’s party and he called me a couple days ago, but now . . . well, who knows?”
“We’re supposed to be single and cool this year, remember?” I reminded her.
She grinned. “And how’s that working out for you?”
“Still single.” But my stomach did a little flop because I knew she was talking about Jensen.
“Uh-huh. But for how long?” Spinning on her heel at the sound of her name being called, she all but flounced away.
Pulling my hair up in a messy bun, I got to work, concentrating solely on untangling the mess. There was something relaxing about the mind-numbing task. Time passed, my brain empty, as I worked out all the knots, discovering that I had ten spider webs.
Covered in a thin layer of dust, I stood, brushing my hands across my rear. My gaze accidentally connected with Brock’s, and he gave me a look that caused me to drop my hands off my butt.
Gee, he was most definitely worried about Monica.
Turning away from him in disgust, I came face to face with Ms. Reed and her perpetual smile. “We have ten spider webs,” I told her.
“Great!” She immediately scribbled it down, then paused and looked at me. “Are you doing anything else right now?”
I knew I should’ve said yes. “No.”
“Can you go upstairs and measure the workbench up there?” Ms. Reed whipped a tape measure out of her back pocket. “We need to make sure it will fit our prop. I believe it’s in the last bedroom.”
Linds made a face behind her, and I resisted—barely—pitching the tape measure at Linds’ girl parts.
“Sure,” I grumbled.
“Sorry,” Linds whispered as I stalked past her.
I shot her a death glare. “Your fault.”
Passing Mason, who was now busy arranging the fake gourds and pumpkins into something truly repulsive, I approached the narrow staircase, having no idea where Brock had disappeared to.
God only knew what was upstairs in this old house. Probably a long-lost member of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre family.
Clutching the dusty handrail, I climbed the surprisingly sturdy steps. Dim light from the window at the top of the landing shined a faint glow down the long hallway. Dust was heavy in the air, dancing in the rays coming from the dirty glass window. Flowered wallpaper was peeling off the walls and missing in some places. All of the doors—six of them—were closed, and there were two at the end of the hall.
“Great,” I muttered. Ms. Reed hadn’t specified which bedroom and I really didn’t want to randomly open doors.
It was kind of like turning over rocks that God had put there for a reason.
As I walked further down the hall, away from the only source of light, a chill of unease danced across my skin. There was just something creepy about virtually empty old houses.
I ignored it, trying the door on the right first. I pushed it open then jumped back, swallowing a scream.
“Holy shit.” I clenched the tape measure in my fist.
A six-and-a-half-foot mummy was propped against the wall directly across from the door. Half of its papier-mâché face was crumbled away, caved in, and I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to look like that. Dust clung to its white wrappings, giving it a frighteningly real look.