Cidney Ellen had nearly arrived when she noticed her slipper was missing.
“Oh fiddle,” she said and turned around to search the soggy sidewalk she’d walked up. She hadn’t gone far when a large, lumpy toad hopped out of the dead wet grass and plunked down in the middle of the side walk.
“Hmm,” Cidney said, considered it an omen, and turned back in her original direction toward the steepled mansion at the top of the sodden hill. There was a certain… oh what was it? Cattiness? Yes, perhaps it was that, though she really felt the word unjust to feline-kind everywhere, after all, some of the gentlest friends she’s ever met were cats… but there she was, letting her thoughts wander away from her again. And anyway, there was a certain cat-like-ness in the air tonight, too. Cattiness, and something more: a creeping disinterest in reality.
Hobbling up the front steps in just one slipper, Cidney straightened her glittering tiara, brushed down her ruffly, white, and soaked skirts, and rapped on the door in a rhythmic way.
One minute. Two.
Cidney began exploring the porch. It really wasn’t so bad of a place when you got down to looking at the roly-polies in the paint cracks of the window sill, or the way the creeping myrtle was curiously beginning to wind up the sides of the porch. Even the sharp October wind was alright because at least it wasn’t playing games with you. It shocked you down to the bone, but then that was that. Cidney didn’t even wish she’d brought a coat.
All except the pumpkin. It was a bit disheveled-looking, with lumps in unusual places, and sat forlornly on the edge of the top step, water droplets still pooling in the little divet at the top. Even if it had been the most beautiful pumpkin in the world, Cidney still would’ve shuddered. She couldn’t stand the sight of them; not since the accident.
The door burst open and a hand darted out and grabbed her.
“We need your help!” Wendy greeted her without ceremony, yanking her down the feebly lit main hall.
In the rooms they passed, Cidney caught glimpses of all sorts of unusual sights. A scarecrow doing a jig on the ceiling, and a nurse chasing after him with a needle and thread, catching his limps as they fell off. A werewolf howling at the little squares on moonlight on the floor. A long, rectangular, suspicious-looking box rattling and thumping from the inside.
Wendy dragged Cidney all the way up to the attic, an unusually spotless room, just for tonight. A dozen mice were dusting and scrubbing the floors and walls, even though they already shone to polished perfection. A tight-lipped, severe looking middle-aged woman sat in the lone armchair in the middle of the room, a compact mirror lying open in her lap.
“We must hurry, my child, it is almost midnight,” the woman said, beckoning Cidney forward.
Cidney knelt before the woman, and took the mirror the woman pressed into Cidney’s cupped hands. There was a certain resemblance between them, not exactly in their look as in their manner. Both seemed to have their heads in the clouds of a world that had long since passed them by. The cadence of their movements. The gestures of their voice.
Cidney closed her eyes and inhaled. Wendy and the woman looked on, and nobody spoke. Wendy glanced at her watch.
“11:59,” she warned.
“Cidney—” the older woman pressed.
“I’m trying! It isn’t working!”
“You must wish harder!”
The mice all spun in unison, and froze, as if they felt it. The gleaming wooden walls shivered. Moonlight grew brighter from the single oval window at the back of the room. A faint scent of roses tingled in the air.
“Midnight,” Wendy announced, frowning at her watch. Everyone exhaled together, even the mice.
All that work for nothing. She was never going to break the spell.
“We’ll try again next year, my child.” The woman patted Cidney on the arm with what she seemed to think was a consoling touch.
Dejected, Cidney nodded, and got to her feet. “I’ll help you clean up,” she told Wendy, who only shook her head.
“They were fine this year. Only one minor mess in the kitchen from the cowboy. And they’ll all have settled down by now.”
Cidney and Wendy descended together, walking back past the rooms of young people sprawled flat on their backs, waking up foggily and scratching their heads, murmuring confused statements to each other that weren’t even all the way to questions. The usual.
Wendy smiled sympathetically and waved a quiet farewell to her friend at the door.
“Happy Halloween,” she said by way of apologizing.
The words were finally starting to feel less foreign in her mouth, so Cidney turned and replied, “Happy Halloween.”
In the brisk moonlight, she hobbled back down the sidewalk, wishing for the millionth time she’d never said yes to pumpkin anything.