Chapter 12

No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting
and reasoning as fear.
Edmund Burke (1729 - 1797)

It was close to ten-thirty when we were done trick-or-treating. The kids were shouting less and less and they seemed very tired. I was thankful for this, since I was just as exhausted as they were.
One of Matt's friends had tripped and skinned his knee earlier that evening. Although I put a band-aid on it, he insisted that he couldn't walk and Jake reluctantly agreed to carry him. Then, Isabelle accidentally left Claire's friend Kendra at a house and, when we disappeared around a corner, she burst into loud wails that carried all the way to our ears at the next house.
Soon, I was carrying Matt, who had practically fallen asleep on the doorstep of a person who wouldn't come to the door. Jake was still carrying Jason and Kevin was now holding the hands of both Kendra and Claire. Isabelle had Lenny on her back and he was snoring. We had dropped two of Ron's friends off at their homes on the way. When I announced it was time to head home, only him and his remaining friends wanted put up any protest.
"We just started, though," Tommy whined.
"We did not just start," I said irritably. I was tired and sore from carrying Matt and I wanted to go home. "We've been out here for two hours! Aren't you cold and tired and suck of walking?"
"Not at all," Tommy said haughtily.
"Neither am I!" Michael piped up.
"Well, I am. So we're going home." I said.
"Please, Ellie," Ron begged, "One more house?"
I looked at Jake, Isabelle, and Kevin, who all looked ready to drop down and go to sleep right then and there.
"What do you guys think?" I asked.
"It's-it's fine," Jake heaved, altering positions with Jason's head on his shoulder.
"I don't mind," Kevin shrugged.
I looked at Isabelle. She looked exhausted, her feet dragging behind her. Lenny wasn't a very small boy and Isabelle was staggering under his weight.
"Well, I can see I'm outnumbered," she said impatiently. "But just one more house, please."
We turned onto the street where the big brown house, which Arbre was planted behind, stood. Practically the whole street was dark and quiet; there were only lit windows in one home.
It took me a few moments to fully comprehend what I was seeing. The brown house was empty; it had been for years, yet there was a light in every first-story window.
Isabelle and I turned to each other at the same time, jaws dropped and eyes wide. We both knew what this meant-we would never be visiting Arbre again.
"Well, it looks like there's only one house on this street," Kevin said. "What are we waiting for?"
"We wait for nothing," Isabelle said quickly. She gave me a warning look but I didn't need to be warned. I knew Isabelle would want our secret kept no matter what. No one would find out about Arbre; we would investigate this new intruder later.
"Well, if we wait for nothing then let's go!" Jake said. He set off towards the brown house and the rest of us slowly walked behind him.
When we reached the front gate, though, Jake and Kevin both seemed to be having second thoughts. It didn't surprise me; the spiky and evil- looking gateway looked even more forbidding at night.
"I bet these people don't get many solicitors," Kevin muttered.
Jake looked up at the house then back at the rest of us. He stared at Tommy, Michael, and Ron with a look of incredulity on his face.
"Are you guys sure you want to go to one more house?" he asked.
The boys looked uncertainly at the metal gate. They stared at each other, each sizing up the others' confidence. I could tell that none of them would speak, for fear of hurting their pride.
"Oh, come on," I said testily. "Let's go."
I opened the creaky gate and walked through the familiar yard. But, although I had marched on this very path hundreds of times, the place brought about new chills running up and down my spine. The night was pitch black and, without stars, the world seemed like a black pit. The silence of the night seemed to be roaring in my ears.
I turned to make sure the boys were still following me as I finally reached the cracked cement steps leading up to the front door. They were trailing closely behind me, a look of pure terror on each of their faces and, beyond the bars of the gate, I could see the rest of the group watching us intently.
"Ring the doorbell, Ron," I said.
"What!" Ron objected. "I can't-"
"My arms are full! I can't ring the doorbell-can't you see my arms are full?" I said this all very quickly. Fear was pulsing through my body and, somehow, it was making me feel unnecessarily angry. I breathed out slowly and said quietly, "Ron. Ring the doorbell."
My brother stepped forward obediently. He froze, finger posed directly in front of the doorbell. Finally, Tommy prodded him with a finger.
"Ring it, already," he said in a quavering voice that suggested he did not want his request to be carried out.
A long, eerie tune rang inside the house, bouncing off walls and echoing over again. Michael peered through a window on the side of the door. He stared back at us with a horrified look on his face.
"Someone's coming."

I will always remember that moment as being one of the most frightening of my entire life. But I was a child then and life in general was a scary thing. This was "horror movie" scary or even "sitcom" scary. Our reaction must have been amusing to our bringer of fear, anyhow.
The doorknob turned slowly back and forth. We all watched it, mesmerized. I wanted to get out of there; I wanted to turn and run but I didn't. I was frozen with fear.
The door quickly swung open, causing us all to jump backwards. All three boys let out yelps of fright and Matt jerked awake, then fell asleep again. The door stood wide open and the interior of the house was as dark as the night around me; the dim porch light only lit a few inches of wooden flooring. I found myself involuntarily leaning in towards the darkness.
A figure stepped out of the darkness, causing me to once again jump back. It was a tall woman with an appearance that made the costume Isabelle was wearing seem like that of a fairy-tale princess. The woman was tall, with long black hair that was flecked with gray, yet she did not seem old. Her lips were an unnatural shade of red and pulled into a tight frown that illuminated her whole pointed face as an image of disgust. Her skin was as pale as snow; making her darkly colored eyes seem black so that they resembled dark pools. Two pasty hands with inch-long nails protruded beyond the sleeves of the black gown she was wearing.
As soon as she saw us, the frown turned into a tight-lipped smile that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. She clapped her white hands together and said in a truly delighted tone, "Ah! I see we have visitors!"
As she spoke she revealed unusually sharp teeth. Also, when she spoke, Ron, Tommy, Michael, and I high-tailed it out there. We turned and bounded down the cement steps and ran through the gate, screaming our heads off. Later, I would feel embarrassed about the way I had acted but, at that moment, I had never felt so afraid in my life.
Confused looks greeted us when we slammed the gate shut. We simply yelled, "Run!" and they joined us in our sprint to safety. Once, I looked back and saw that the door had shut.
"It's-it's okay," I panted, signaling for the others to stop. "She's gone."
All of the children were awake now and both Lenny and Jason were crying. Matt lay undisturbed in my arms.
"What the heck was that about?" Kevin demanded. He had let go of both Jasmine's and Kendra's hands and was clutching his side.
"A-A vampire lives in that house," Tommy said fearfully. Kevin, Jake, and Isabelle all stared at me and I nodded.
"She sure did give off that impression," I said. "Did you see those nails?"
"She could've scooped out our eyeballs with those," Michael said.
"A vampire," Jake smirked. "That's a good one. I'll bet she's a nice lady who has a happy marriage, seven children, and a cage full of hamsters. Come on, you guys! You're just being a bunch of weenies-"
"You didn't see her," Ron whispered. He looked absolutely petrified; his face was white and his eyes wide. "If you had seen her, then you would've understood."
Jake bent down and looked into Ron's eyes.
"I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I'm sure I would've been just as scared as you are."
"You would've been," Ron agreed.
I felt it was now time for me to step up to my duties of being an older sister. I put my arms around Ron my cheek against his. He did not hug me back.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
"I'm fine," he said, all traces of fright gone from his voice, yet not his face, as he pushed me away. He looked pointedly at his friends and I caught his drift. I didn't want him to be embarrassed, so I stood up and Jake slipped his hand into mine.
"Shall we head home now?" he asked. "Or do you guys want to go to one more house?" he asked Ron, Michael, and Tommy. They shook their heads furiously.
Isabelle, still carrying Lenny, led the way with Tommy and Michael following close behind her. Kevin was holding Kendra and Jasmine's hands and Claire holding Jasmine's. Jason had woken up and Jake was holding his hand, but also holding mine. I saw Ron lagging behind and, after nodding towards him, Jake let go of my hand and I walked up to him.
"Don't worry," I said. Ron looked up. "I won't hug you in front of your friends this time."
He smiled faintly, and then looked back down at his feet.
I spoke quietly, "Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yeah," he said. His eyes were still wide but the color was returning to his face and his hands weren't shaking. "I'm okay."
"If you say so," I said and turned to catch up with Jake.
"Thanks for asking," Ron called after me. I turned around, smiled, then grabbed his hand and pulled him after me where we joined with the rest of the group.

At last, all the guests had been picked up and my siblings were all tucked safely in bed. To my surprise, none of them objected to being put to bed earlier than planned.
Isabelle and I sat in my living room. We had a made a silent agreement not to watch any scary movies that night; somehow I don't think any of them would have matched up to what we had just witnessed.
Jake and Kevin had, instead of walking home, called for Jake's mom to pick them up. I had never seen her before; she was small (which was surprising compared to Jake's height) with petite features. Her hair was the same color as Jake's and she wore it in a bun at the nape of her neck, but her brown, almond-shaped eyes were nothing like Jake's round, emerald- green ones. But what really surprised me were the baggy, gray sweatshirt and jeans with a hole in them that she wore over to our house.
I had always just expected that Jake was rich, like me. He was the most popular guy, the jock and the class-clown, and I guess I just thought money would top it off. But, judging from his mother's appearance, I was greatly mistaken.
When we answered the door, the first thing she said was, "Wow, I guess I did get the right house! I was thinking that no one who went to Jackson would live in such a fine house as this!"
"Mom," Jake had said in a warning voice. Mrs. Petrie ignored him.
"This is a fine house!" she declared, peeking around into the dining room and living room. "I don't think I've ever been in a house as fine as this!"
"Okay, Mrs. Petrie, don't have a heart attack," Kevin had said, laughing. He turned to Isabelle and me and said in a low voice, "It's true, though. After you've seen the dump Jake lives in you wouldn't be so surprised at her behavior towards this place."
"Hey, I don't live in a dump!" Jake said, punching Kevin in the arm. His mother, who apparently hadn't heard a word of insult towards her home, was carefully examining a painting in the front hall. "And if I did, my whole neighborhood would make up the worlds largest junkyard."
He laughed and I smiled weakly. They left ten minutes later, with me still looking dumbfounded.
"I didn't know he had financial issues," Isabelle said, looking mildly surprised.
"Neither did I," I answered, my mouth hanging open.
Isabelle called her parents and got permission to spend the night. If she hadn't been able to I'm sure nightmares would have inhabited my sleep. But, now I had nothing to worry about since we most likely wouldn't even be going to sleep.
"What do you want to do?" Isabelle asked. Her skin had returned to its normal paleness and she had stopped shaking but her eyes were still wide. She was sitting on the end of the couch as I looked through my videos.
"I don't know-what do you want to do?" I said.
"Did you get a good look at that woman, Ellie?" she suddenly asked.
"Well, she was about a foot away from my face," I said, surprised.
"Did , notice anything about her? Anything familiar or-did she look like anyone to you?" She seemed uncomfortable, as thought she was speaking lightly around a secret she didn't wish to divulge.
"Um," I thought carefully. The face, the eyes, the lips, and the nails- the only thing she reminded me of was every female vampire in all the movies I had ever seen. "No, not really. Why? Did she remind you of someone?"
"Kind of," Isabelle said, like this closed the conversation. But my curiosity wasn't satisfied.
"No one," Isabelle sighed. "Just someone I knew a long time ago."
"Well, I must have known them too if you're asking me," I pointed out.

"Maybe," she said. She still wasn't answering the question, though. I decided to leave it hanging; I didn't want another fight.
"Are you hungry?" I stood up and headed towards the kitchen.
"I'm starved!" She looked relieved at my change of the subject.

We came back into the living room fifteen minutes later; Isabelle was carrying a bowl of potato chips and I was balancing a bag of popcorn and two root beers. I slipped a movie into the VCR and we sat and watched it until, suddenly Isabelle said something softly.
I pushed 'mute' on the remote control and turned to her.
"What'd you say?"
"I've made a big decision, Ellie," Isabelle started. She looked at me seriously and I tried to maintain her sober attitude.
"I've decided." She took a deep breath and started again. "I've decided to change my approach and give Jake a chance."
My eyebrows went straight up.
"Why the sudden change of heart?" I asked. True, I'd never known Isabelle to be phony but, somehow, I just wasn't accepting the whole "changing my approach" thing.
"The way he acted tonight .far from my expectance." She had a pained expression on her face; this was a very humbling confession, I could tell. "He was polite and his presence was not at all undesirable. The way he acted towards Ron when he was in distress was very honorable. I'll even admit he was a bit humorous at times."
"Wow, you'll even admit that? Well, now I'm convinced!" I said scathingly.
"Please stop, Ellie," she said quietly. I quickly shut my mouth.
"It's true; I promise it is. I should've trusted him immediately-I had no reason not to. I cannot shed any light upon the reason to the way in which I have acted."
"English, please."
"I don't know why I didn't like him-I just didn't," Isabelle clarified.
"So, in other words, one night out with him changed your opinion?"
"That's pretty sad, Is. The arguments about him, all the doubts you put into my head, and they were all for no reason."
Isabelle hung her head sadly. I had seen her very sad before and she wasn't terribly miserable right now but I could tell she was disappointed in herself.
"It's okay," I said, leaning across the couch and giving her a one- armed hug. "I forgive you completely-I'm just glad you like him now."
"Now that I have that off my chest," Isabelle said heartily. "Let's watch the rest of the movie!"
"Why, Isabelle!" I said, sounding shocked.
"You sounded almost normal there for a second!"

We fell asleep in the middle of our third movie. Around two-thirty in the morning, I was awakened by loud voices and laughter outside in the front yard. Rising carefully from the couch, as not to wake Isabelle, I walked to the front door just as it opened.
My mother and father practically fell through the door, laughing hard and weighed down by several shopping bags.
"What's this?" I asked sleepily.
"Ellie!" My mother looked up and saw me standing there. "You startled me! What are you doing awake at this hour?"
"You woke me up."
"Ah, I see. Sorry about that, honey. Now, why don't you run along to bed?"
I didn't move.
"I thought you guys went out to dinner. What's with all the shopping bags?"
"Oh, darling," my mother laughed. "What can I say? I felt the craving for some new things me up a bit."
She held up her hand, showing me a ring that sported sizable stones. Her face bore a large smile and her arms, large bags overflowing with clothes and purses. She seemed truly happy.
"You like?" she asked, twirling her hand in front of my face again.
A mixture of emotions was stirring inside of me. The scene in front of me was playing over and over again in my head in slow motion. It took me a few seconds to realize what I was doing. I was choosing an emotion to showcase, comparing each one to see which would make my parents happiest. 'Faking it' seemed to be the appropriate term. And, all the while, I was praying Isabelle would remain asleep-was I ashamed?
"It's lovely," I said and smiled. It was more like a grimace, actually. "Did you buy it for her?" I asked dad.
"Why would he buy it for me?" Mom interjected before dad could answer. She said it as though it was the most ridiculous idea she had ever heard. "There's no occasion! I bought it for myself, sweetie!"
"No reason?" I didn't know why, but all of a sudden I was getting choked up. My parents didn't seem to notice.
"No reason." Mom confirmed with a smile. "Don't you think I deserve it?"
"Oh yes," I nodded. But I wasn't so sure.
My parents went off to bed shortly after that and I followed suite, stretching out on the couch opposite of the one Isabelle was still asleep on. I doubted I would ever get back to sleep, though. Too many thoughts were running through my head, everything was happening so fast.
I bought it for myself, sweetie!
No reason?
No reason. Don't you think I deserve it?
Oh yes.
They're our kids. We can't leave them. We love them.
Yes. We love them.
I remembered the look of happiness on my mother's face the most she had walked through the door, weighed down by packages and showing off her new diamond ring. She had seemed truly happy.
Because she had been truly happy.

Isabelle did it again. She looked up from her lunch, evading my eyes, and casting a glance around the cafeteria as though she was searching for someone.
"What are you doing?" I finally asked. She had actually craned her neck to look over the heads of the kids sitting at the table next to us, this time.
"I think that Kevin is absent today," she said.
"And that would concern ?"
She shrugged. "No reason."
No reason?
No reason.
"I thought you said you didn't like him," I said skeptically. I tried to block out the memories with a bit of one of my favorite activities: annoying Isabelle. "Having another change of heart, then?" I grinned.
"What was my first change of heart?" Isabelle asked, carefully avoiding the question.
"Jake, of course," I said, then added, "You will invited me to the wedding, right?"
"That's not funny, Ellie," Isabelle said, causing me to laugh.
"I beg to differ," I said and took a large bite of macaroni.
Isabelle stopped craning her neck after that.