Each of the three teenagers were trying to pretend the other two didn't exist. Except maybe Bee, but they would do it to please their families, and to get out of that Halloween party where embarrassing baby stories would inevitably be told.

And it wasn't like any of them didn't like each other. But to be seen in public with their cousins wasn't exactly good for any of their image.(each thought the other two's costumes rather tacky.)

Bee was twelve, and dressed as Velma from Scooby Do. She definitely counted as a teenager and nobody could tell her otherwise ever.

Maisy was fourteen, and the vampire getup she wore wasn't even unlike her normal outfit. She was a goth, and proud of it.

Earl was thirteen, and perhaps wearing the stupidest costume of the lot, which of course, he thought was the best. He was dressed as Data from Star Trek, complete with pale makeup he had snatched from his cousin's arsenal of edgy-on-purpose makeup.

They made quite the scene walking down Mayes avenue that unseasonably chilly evening. But the moon was bright, the candy was good, and the town's annual block party had Monster Mash playing, so the three humored each other for the time being.

"I'd say we've hit about every house uptown, ay?" Maisy said.

"Uptown hasn't got a thing on downtown! It's the Bee's knees down there any old evening, and tonight is a holiday!" Bee said enthusiastically, while the other two concealed laughter.

"What?"

"Bee's knees?" Earl laughed, and Bee punched his arm.

"Why do I even try with you two. Anyway, now that we're done making fun of people's vernacular, we're happen to be in one of the most scenic places in all of America! Its been years since I've given A tour, and the night is young!"

Maisy and Earl were from out of town, and Bee was full to bursting with hometown pride.

"Follow me!" She said, waving them over to her. Mays avenue was mostly covered by huge oaks, giving it a tunnely vibe, which the hanging paper lanterns only helped, but only a short way down the road where Bee stood the trees ended. There was a large drop off and you could see the entire town stretched out below you like a miniture. It glittered yellows, oranges and purples, enhanced by the almost faded sunset, still lingering with cotton candy shades.

Earl pulled out the Polaroid camera he had in his pillowcase and snapped the three millionth picture of the night. The three stood watching for a minute, before Bee decided the tour must go on.

"Harbor Park awaits us!" She proclaimed, and lead her cousins on down the road. The Rhode island bay was visible almost everywhere downtown. The steep incline forcing the houses and shops' roofs into patterns like stairways, the puddles and eddies of mist still everywhere from the recent showers, and the trolly rolling along its track all felt so fantastical, it was hard to believe they were actually there in front of them and not in a painting. The Polaroid clicked again.

The three took the trolly into downtown as the last rays of daylight faded from view and the golden moon seemed to glow brighter. All the lights in the shops were on, and people hustled and bustled through the steep streets, making use of the temporary regulation on car traffic. Bee took them to the Jupiter Cafe, a little place tucked into the last tiny vertical building before the boardwalk, and ordered them all a drink called the Cup of Dreams.

"Why's it called that?" Maisy asked.

"Same reason the McNugget is called the McNugget, I guess." Earl said.

"Just you wait. You'll find out." Bee said mischeviously. The drinks were hot cocoa, but were almost as thick as soft served icecream, with swirls of different colors in each cup, revealing different flavors to each. Mocha, peanut butter, caramel, mint. The whipped cream on top was covered in what looked like star dust and tasted like a dentist's nightmare.

" As much as I hate to admit it, this is pretty darn cool," Maisy said, sipping her drink. "But not as Halloweeny as I expected."

"This town is pretty much aestheticville, we don't really do scary." Bee admitted.

"Sounds like I'm going to have to fix that," Maisy said, "how do you all feel about Ouija boards?"

The other two looked at her like she had just asked them to help her commit a felony. Maisy put up her hands in surrender.

"Only kidding. We'll do something a little more tame. Scary movies?"

"Lame, but it'll have to do," Earl said, finishing off his drink. The trio spent another couple hours downtown, and the girls ended up practically dragging Earl through the boutique street as they looked at the latest trends. It was getting on towards 11 when they tramped back up the sidewalk towards Bee's house. Maisy stopped in front of the house two doors down. She hadn't noticed it when they began trick or treating, probably because it didn't have any lights on.

"What's in there?" She asked.

"Nothing that I know of," Bee said, "or at least, nothing of any of our concern. It's just an old house in need of some TCL that it probably will never get. Its been around longer than any of us have." Earl stepped onto the winding stone pathway that lead to the overshadowed door. The unnatural colored lights from the trees and houses around them rendered the house a strange color.

"Wanna go inside?" He said, pointing his thumb in the direction of the door.

"Aww yes." Maisy joined him, looking up into the fogged windows of the ancient building. Bee stood on the sidewalk looking like a disappointed kindergarten teacher.

"No. We are not going in there. This is the oldest trope in the book. Kids find an old house, probably with a curse on it, they go in, release some sort of monster that they have to defeat before sunrise or something terrible will happen."

"Oh please. Name 3 stories where that happens." Maisy said, crossing her arms and smirking.

"Hocus Pocus, Ernest scared stupid, jumanji." Bee listed them off on her fingers.

"dunno, the last two seem like sorta a stretch." Maisy said, raising her eyebrows.

"Whatever! You get my point! Besides, its private property, and we could get in trouble."

"We're not gonna make you go in... But it's the haunted house or auntie Melanie's Halloween extravaganza, so..." Bee looked at her feet, pondering. She had never been one for scary stuff, but this felt like the sorta thing that just dropped in on you and you couldn't say no to. There would be adventure tonight, she could feel it in the air. Besides, in all the stories, the kids end up breaking the curse by sun up, right? How bad could it be?

"Eh, somebody's gotta make sure you doofuses are still in one piece, I might as well. But I must insist we change out of our costumes first."

The two older kids shrugged, and followed her back to her house. Fifteen minutes saw them standing in front of the door, in their normal clothing. Maisy was wearing essentially the same thing, black dress pants with a navy blue sweater emblazoned with small purple skulls, but with her normal glasses, and she had ditched the black wig revealing her normal copper colored hair. Earl wore blue jeans and a Red Hot Chilly Peppers shirt, with a flannel to fight the dropping temperatures. Bee wore a scarf covering her hair, a white t-shirt and a floor length skirt striped with blue and purple. Upon further consideration, a skirt may not have been the best option, but whatever.

Maisy stepped onto the porch, which, remarkably, didn't make a sound. The other two followed her. She put her hand carefully onto the brass knob, and turned it.

The door opened inward, revealing a long hallway lit by candles glowing pink and green. They filed into the entryway, and the door snapped shut behind them. The room opened up on either side before becoming the narrow hallway. Spiderwebs hung from the wallpapered ceiling fifteen feet above, drops of multicolored dew glistening from every available space on the delicate threads.

"Whoa..." Earl said, dazzled.

"It's... So beautiful." Bee whispered.

The tile floor was cool enough to seep through their shoes, making them step onto the dark red rug at the beginning of the hall. where their feet touched thick rug, it shimmered yellow, forming a large arrow, which took off down the long carpet. Each candle flickered a little when the arrow passed it. Once it was out of sight, another flew down the shag surface.

"I... Think we should probably go that way..." Maisy said, voice quivering only a tiny bit.

There were no doors along the hallway. The wallpaper, which had been dusty pink flowers, had become millions of eyes, looking at the three in a bored, mildly threatening manner. Eventually, the hall opened up into a large room, at least 70 feet across, like a rectangle that was bigger on one side. It was too big to fit in the house, that was for sure.

"Maybe the hallway lead underground and we didn't notice?" Earl said. But the windows looked out to the heavily wooded lot around the house, each tree standing out in sharp relief against the bright lights of the street. The street, wherever that was...

The wallpaper was more of the same sort, and a festive rug lay on the floor, black with neon sugar skulls and candy. They spread out, examining the room. Each of the half dozen windows had a pedestal in the window seat, holding a variety of things from urns of candy to Crystal skulls to a copy of Jurassic Park. Light flickered from the oil lanterns that hung from the ceiling at irregular intervals.

Finally, they reached the far side of the room, where a pamphlet sat propped up against the wall. Maisy carefully picked it up, checking around it for spiders first. She opened it, and read aloud.

"'welcome, brave housegoers, to Ychu Gaos' 303rd annual haunted house adventure.'"

The pamphlet had pictures of kids posing with cheesy Halloween decorations, playing hide and seek, and pretending to be grossed out by gummy bug candy. The three looked at each other with raised eyebrows. On the back, there was a phone number. The caption read "call now to begin your adventure!" Maisy pulled out her phone so fast she almost dropped it, but Bee grabbed the pamphlet.

"Don't you think we should, I don't know, do a little research into this place first? I've never heard of it before, and I know this town like the back of my hand. besides, did you see the carpet? It was glowing. Glowing. I feel like there's some tomfoolery going on."

"I dunno, Bee, nothing bad has happened yet. Besides, for a kid who likes Scooby Doo, you're awfully nervous." Earl said, examining the back of his fingernails. Bee steamed while pulling out her own phone. She dialed the number, then paused before hitting send. Her hands shook a little.

"Yo, Bee, I was just kidding. If you really don't wanna call it, you don't have to," Earl said, concerned. Bee smiled.

"Nah, I'm sure it'll be fine." The phone rang three times before someone picked up.

"Hello, hello? Is this the haunted house kids?" A voice said, sharp and fast like an auctioneer, "I'll be right down, hold your horses."

Thudding sounds came from the roof, and a barrage of dust fell from the ceiling. suddenly, smoke filled the back half of the room. The three leaned against the wall behind them, nervous. The smoke billowed away dramatically, revealing an odd figure.

About ten feet tall, he had one large eye in the middle of his face, vibrant aquamarine. He was thin as a pencil and about the same color, no nose or hair, but sharp fangs adorned his delighted grin. He wore a maroon bathrobe and pajama pants with owls all over them, and yellow claws showed at the bottom of them.

"It's so good to see smiling faces again! Has it been a year since last Halloween already? No, you're pulling my leg! It can't be a day past January!"

"Um.." Bee said, forcing a small smile. The other two just stood behind her, staring unbelievingly him. The creature laughed awkwardly.

"Tough crowd, eh? Well down to brass tacks. You all want to do the haunted house, yay or nay?" They nodded hesitantly.

"You're in luck, then! I am Ychu Gaos, curator of the Mays Avenue Haunted House. And you are?"

"That's not how you use the word curator." Earl said. "HE MEANS his name is Earl, mine is Bee, and that is Maisy."

"Not how you use curator, eh? Not surprised. Doubt I've ever picked up a dictionary in my life, and when you've lived several hundred years, that's saying something! Anyway, to start the challenge, all you've gotta do is say so."

They looked at each other, nodding. Maisy spoke.

"Alright. We'll do it."

"Excellent! You won't regret it," He said, clapping his hands together, " this has been rated one of the best haunted houses around. l'll be b äck tö çhę ćķø

ñýõ ůįņþh

ė mø řñī ñ

ğ! "

As he said the words, his voice corrupted, as did the room. A scraping noise sounded, and they knelt against the wall, terrified. The vibrant shades faded, and small pieces of the ceiling fell. When the dust cleared, they were alone in a dusty, coffin shaped room.

Earl stood up first, and looked around. The windows were covered by heavy curtains now, letting in only a little sickly yellow light. The screeching sound they had heard turned out to be from a door across the room, which none of them had noticed before. It was open. Earl set off back across the room, to the doorway. The floor squeaked below his feet.

"There's a staircase in here." Bee and Maisy followed him. There was indeed a staircase, leading into a hallway lit with the same wane yellow light, except coming from incandescent bulbs. The stairs were carpeted, and the scene wasn't altogether unpleasant, but it felt like the sort of place you might find a haunted porcelain doll or a malevolent ghost.

Bee started up the stairs, which, unlike the floor, didn't make a sound. It smelled like an attic, musty and familiar. Earl followed her, then Maisy stepped onto the stairs. The door closed behind them, melting into shadows.

Suddenly, the wall that the door had been on was no more, and the stairs continued downward. The light from the bulb only came from the top of the stairs, so it only illuminated for about twenty feet, before it went pitch black. So black it would be a miracle if something *wasn't* hiding in there. They hurried to the top of the stairs, where Bee was already examining the odd sight before them.

The small foyer had two velvet wingback chairs and a painting. Actually, it looked like a kid's menu, framed. It had a maze front and center, crayon scribbling the path through the puzzle. The only other thing in the room was a door.

"Gonna go out on a limb and say there's a maze in there." Maisy joked.

"And I bet either this is a map of it, or we need to follow a trail of crayons," Earl said, "sounds fun."

He pushed the door open, revealing three small steps upward and a grey plastic wall that didn't reach all the way to the ceiling, which looked like a school gymnasium, complete with bright white lights. They stepped inside, but before closing the door, Bee snapped a picture with her phone of the mini maze, in case Earl's former idea was correct.

There was only one path at first, before the crayon trail started. And not crayon scribbled on the ground, a crayon standing on its flat end about every fifty feet. Earl picked up the first one, unrolled its wrapper, and the lights flickered just a tiny bit. It only had the letter a on it. Bee picked up the next one, which had the letter h. None of them noticed the lights flickering.

"Do you reckon we need to collect all of them?" She asked.

"I guess. Maybe they spell something," Maisy said, "but we probably don't have to like, carry them with us." So the three walked through the gym maze, reading crayon wrappers, writing an ever lengthening poem on Bee's note app.

'A haiku, a couplet, a limerick will do, simpl' Was what it said when Maisy noticed the lights. It was significantly dimmer than it was when they had started.

"Wait a minute. Let me test something real quick." And the other two haulted. Maisy picked up the next crayon, and the lights dimmed again. She set it down, but they remained dimmed.

"The lights are gonna keep getting weaker every time we pick up a crayon," She said grimly, "and also, the letter is 'y'."

They shuddered at the thought of walking through a maze in a haunted house only having the light from their phones.

"Well let's hope the light lasts till the end of the crayons." Bee said finally, and walked on down the grey plastic pathway. A few minutes later the poem was mostly complete, they thought.

'A haiku, a couplet, a limerick will do, simply to display untruths abou' and the last four letters were probabl U, considering that would fit there quite well. They had to squint to see, even with the flashlights on their phones. Bee didn't mind walking in the back until she felt eyes on her from behind. She glanced over her shoulder, and looked up a little.

Outlined against the light above, sitting on the edge of one of the plastic dividers, sat the silhouette of a huge, spider thing. Its bright eyes burned into her, and she hurried forward to stand next to Earl.

The party came to a stop in front of a door. The final crayon stood on the floor, but none of them picked it up, lest the lights shut off entirely. On the back of the door hung a fruit scale, like you might find at a grocery store. There was no doorknob.

"What do you think we need to do?" Earl asked.

"Weigh it down with something, obviously. What have we got to work with? Shoes, a scarf, a flannel, phones..." Maisy said. she stepped up to the scale, before cursing under her breath.

"This thing's got a see through shell around it with a tiny little opening at the top. About the right size for a crayon to fit through."

"Well all we've gotta do is walk back through and pick up all the crayons, then." Bee said determinedly, looking down the passage. It didn't look too enviting, especially with some sort of giant spider on the loose. But she steeled herself and motioned for the others to follow her down the passage.

They hurried back to the beginning, and walked the maze again, holding the crayons in Bee's scarf. Back at the door, where the last crayon remained untouched, Earl fed the crayons into the scale with nervous hands.

"Crap, how are we gonna know how heavy it needs to be before the door opens?"

"Just keep putting them in. I doubt that guy would have left too few crayons."

All but the last crayon in, they could all feel the eyes of the thing. The phone's light could penetrate the darkness barely better than the skylights could. Earl took a deep breath, and picked up the last crayon. Darkness dropped over them like velvet as the scale clicked. Suddenly, the floor sloped dramatically before them, sending them hurdling down a slide. Bee shrieked as something with sharp, tiny hands grabbed the scarf out of her own hands before she fell down the slide herself.

It was utterly black where they finally came to rest. No one moved. The floor below them was carpet once again. Eventually, a soft orange glow caught their attention from somewhere off in the distance. It got steadily stronger they could tell they were in yet another enormous room, except this one was furnished with enormous furniture, a fireplace the size of a small house, and windows the size of two or three football fields. They noticed they hand grabbed hold of each other's hands, and swiftly let go.

"Where do you suppose we are now? Or, I guess, what are we doing in here?" Bee asked, standing up in the thick carpet. It was significantly warmer here than it had been all evening.

"Ths other challenge sort of fell in our laps, I bet they're going to get harder as the night progresses." Maisy said.

They began looking around the room. The fireplace was burning so hot it prevented them from entering about half of the room, even though it was quite low. There was a huge chair in the center of the room. Its legs were carved into ladder shapes. Maisy climbed to the top of the chair, before calling down,

"There's a bunch of giant books up here!" The other two clambered up the ladder as well, Earl in the lead. The books were all rather slim.

"But I guess that means they'll take less time to sort through." Earl said.

"So you think that's part of this puzzle, then?" Maisy asked.

"Oh yeah, definitely." He grabbed the nearest books in both arms, and began looking through the pages for a clue of some sort. The girls did the same. Most of the books were of poetry themselves.

"Maybe we're supposed to find the poem that we found earlier in here?" Bee suggested. After a couple of books were complete, they got leaned against each other and the back of the chair, forming a cozy hiding place. It was almost like a draft from outside found its way in, leaking chilly air into the room. Eventually, all three were lying in the entrance of an ever growing book fortress. The fire was so toasty, and, the soft silk chair was so comfortable, and the poetry so sleepy...

The alarm on Bee's phone woke her, and she snoozed it. It couldn't be be morning already, she thought, looking around, before gasping with realization. That's right, she remembered ,They had accidentally fallen asleep in the mysterious house. She shook the other two awake.

"Ironically, that's the best sleep I've had in months," Maisy joked, stretching. But when she saw the ceiling, she grabbed both her cousins by the sleeves and pointed up. The ceiling was warping and cracking, bits of plaster already starting to fall. Maisy glanced around the room for a safe hiding place, eyes settling on the fire, which had conveniently burned itself nearly out.

She lept off the chair, hitting the ground with the tips of her toes, then motioning for the others to do the same. They climbed down the ladder as fast as they could, making a beeline for the fireplace, hoping it had cooled off. They made it, but barely. Bee yanked Earl out of the way of the falling drywall, into the sooty semidarkness. The ceiling fell in, first plaster, them brick, crushing the chair. The dust didn't settle for a couple minutes, and the kids stood, staring at what could have happened to them if Maisy had decided under the chair was adequate. The curtains on one of the windows had come down, revealing dawnlight starting to creep in. Eventually, Maisy shook herself.

"Come on, it looks like there's something back here." She gestured to the back of the fireplace. After stepping carefully over some smoldering wood, they found that the back was crumbling, with a hole just big enough to climb through. But scrawled across it in red chalk was the rest of the poem.

"But linger do not, or you seel your fate, on morning's light, when it is too late. Look to the roof, for warning or clue, but don't end up there, whatever you do."

The full poem now read,

"A haiku, a couplet, a limerick will do, simply to convey untruths about you. But linger do not, or you seel your fate, on morning's light, when it is too late. Look to the roof, for warning or clue, but don't end up there, whatever you do."

"Cryptic much?" Earl said, heading back out to the opening. Bee snapped another picture, but noted her phone's battery was getting low. The ceiling was now painted with brilliant colors. It held a painting reminiscent of Starry night. On a hill looking into night sky, about a dozen children stood huddled around a slightly older child, who held a book over their head, extended at arm's length.

"A book... and a painting of children..." Bee said,

"a poem that tells lies about yourself... and a warning to complete it by sunrise or some fate will be sealed."

"And there were pictures of kids in the brochure, but we've never heard of this being open to the public before..." Earl continued, " oh god. No. You don't think it we don't write a poem in the book, we'll get sucked into that painting, do you?"

They were silent for a minute, before wordlessly agreeing to search for the book. The fast coming dawn didn't help anyone's nerves, nor did the fact that the eyes in the painting seemed to follow them around. Earl was looking under the bookshelf when he saw it. A huge tome by human standards (though tiny by the standards of the room) bound in leather, with a yellow and turquoise insignia emblazoned on the front. He hurriedly reached under to grab it, but three small hands with sharp claws caught his arm from above. He shrieked, but yanked the book out anyway, stumbling backwards under its weight.

A creature hauled itself out from under the bookshelf, shaking off the dust. It looked like a cross between a toad and a spider, gangly legs too thin to support the stout, warty body, yet it moved with precision and an eerie grace as it stepped closer.

"EVERYBODY RUN!" Earl yelled, lugging the huge book away. He then realized that the room had no door, the only exit they knew of was the hole in the brick wall of the fireplace. He could barely run with the book, but the creature wasn't running, yet. It was stalking lazily forward, watching Earl struggle. Just as he tripped, Earl felt two strong hands grab his shoulders and two more shove him from behind.

The girls had come! Between Maisy and him, they ran with the book all the way to the fireplace, to the enragement of the creature. It screamed a horrible, gurgly noise and dashed after them, but Bee kicked a bunch of ash and coal in its face.

"THAT'S FOR MY SCARF!" She yelled, before dashing to the back, where the other two were working the book into the hole with them. It was just big enough. They crawled up the steep incline as fast as they could, praying the tunnel didn't get smaller. A small light shown up ahead, and they crawled through a crack in the wall into a room the size of a large cardboard box. It was made wood. Resting for a moment, they slumped against the walls, and Maisy gave out a tired yet triumphant woop.

The box began to move. It felt like an elevator, and they could see the cables through the slits in the floor and ceiling.

"We're in a dumbwaiter," Earl explained.

"Can one get out of a dumbwaiter?" Maisy asked.

"Of course. You've just gotta let it get to the top, and the door will open. It's for moving things around in really old houses."

A minute later, it came to a hasty stop, and the door swung outward, letting in a freezing draft and a brilliant light. They tumbled out of the dumbwaiter onto a chilly flagstone floor.

The room was filled with rosy light from the fast approaching dawn. They were in an observatory, the glass dome trapping mist and traces of frost inside. Across the room was a curtained area, where a large roll top desk sat. Maisy stood up, walked over to the desk, placing her hand on its smooth dark wood.

"Woah... Cryptic..." She tried to remove her hand, finding it attached to the desk, which had formed a glowing hand print around it. The others rushed over, pulling on her other arm. Finally, she was free.

"What the hell..." They sat on the floor a yard from the table, and Bee took the book, trying to open it. Despite there being no clasp, it wouldn't open. She stood it on its end, trying to pry it open, but it slipped, sliding across the floor to come to rest against the desk. She began to pick it back up, only to have it open without protest.

"Oh, so now the book responds to the messed up equivalent of Alohamora..." She said.

"Hey, book nerd, English, if you don't mi-" But before Maisy finished, Bee had moved the book away from the desk, and it snapped shut on her hands, eliciting a scared yelp from Bee.

"It won't let me go!"

"Put it back on the desk!" Earl said. Bee dropped the book and her arms onto the desk. It was loose again, but now she was stuck to the table. After pulling her loose, Maisy examined the now open book.

"Fuck... it's sinking into the table." She said incredulously. Had it been any other time, Bee would have said something about unnecessary cursing. Indeed, the book was sinking into the table at a very slow rate. Noticeable, but it would take half an hour before it was gone.

"No time to waste, then." Earl said, sitting down on the bench. He had expected to stick to it, and he did. "Anybody got a pen?"

"I've got a... Quill, apparently" Bee said, pulling the vibrant quill out of her pocket, "this was a pen earlier." He took it, touching it to the paper.

"No ink." He searched in the drawers, finding a bottle of rose colored ink.

"Your hand didn't stick!" Bee said. He began scribbling away, laboring with the tool he had never had to use before. The girls paced nervously, the sun was nearly up. Finally, as the page sunk right to the table, he dipped the quill to make the final period. But the page disappeared, ink dripping onto the wood.

"Darn it. That is mahogany." He muttered as the girls walked back to the desk. "What now?"

"Does that count as having finished the story?" He asked, attempting to get up, finding it impossible,

"kinda expected that. Help me out?" They took hold of his arms, but he sank further into the chair. His eyes grew wide with fear as he realized now they all were sinking into the chair.

"Shit shit shit shit shit" Maisy muttered as Earl's head disappeared into the leather seat. It was a matter of seconds before the freezing room was empty again.

The three floated in an abyss, vaguely rose colored. Bee held her cousins' hands, keeping them from drifting away from each other.

"Where are we?" She asked. Huge, soft grey things floated around. One was on a collision course. They tried to dodge, but it hit them. Luckily the thing was plush, so they clung to it.

"Did we fail? Are we in the painting?" Maisy's voice cracked as she spoke. No one spoke. They could possibly be stuck in this dismal abyss forever. But then the color around them changed drastically, suddenly they were surrounded by brilliant cyan, magenta, and yellow. Wind rushed past them and suddenly they landed on a thick rug. In the foyer. Where they started.

"Bravo! Good show! Closest anyone's gotten in years!" Ychu Gaos cheered from where he stood in the hallway door, clapping his clawed hands together, "wit, charm, a strong family relationship, I'm so very proud of you!"

"What the hell?" Earl said, scowling. Ychu opened his mouth to speak, closed it again, looked confused, appeared to realize the source of his confusion, and smiled, embarassed.

"Ooohhh... you took it literally, didn't you?" Silence. Ychu scratched the back of his neck. "You thought that the 'plot' of the house would actually come true, no?"

"We found a magical mystery house governed by a Hazbin Hotel reject character and a toadspider. What the heck did you think we were going to think?"

"Well that does put a damper on things, doesn't it?" The three were standing now, scowling. "Well I am sincerely sorry and I hope I can earn your forgiveness for any physical or emotional damage I might have caused, but I hope you know you were never in any real, harm. Now, would you like to see your prize?"

"But we failed! We didn't write the poem in time!" Bee spoke up.

"Dont be daft! Most kids don't figure it out until they reach the observatory. And who gives a diddly darn about a single period anyway? Follow me!" He took off at a spritely pace down the hallway.

The three looked at each other.

"Should we?" Maisy said. Bee shrugged, the smallest hint of a smile on her face.

"I don't see why not."

The eyes on the wallpaper now seemed more smug and lazy than austere and threatening. It was probably ten degrees warmer than it was when they arrived. The coffin shaped room now had a large round table in the center, laid with a fabulous breakfast. The toadspider set a tray of fresh hot danishes on the table, before sitting at a chair. He looked up with indifference at the three.

"Woah. " Bee said.

"And of course you get to have your picture put in the pamphlet."

"We didn't take any, sorry."

Ychu smirked. "Hmmm? I would check that phone of yours, I seem to recall a couple photos ending up in there."

Bee looked in her gallery, to find three images. One of the three of them with an arm full of crayons each, one posing in front of one of the gigantic books, and one in the observatory, looking up at an impossible, star filled sky.

"How did..."

"Magic."

Ychu decorated the word with jazz hands. The four joined the toadspider at the table. The tall creature handed Bee her scarf.

"Oh, thank you. I'm sorry about, uh, hitting you earlier..." He chuckled softly. He had a deep, pleasant voice.

"Oh child, thank you, there is not a thing you could do yo hurt me. And by the way," he said with a meaningful glance at Earl, "you may call me Elwred."

The three ate heartily, even if they had been a bit hesitant before.

"Oh sweet cheese and crackers what about oUR FAMILIES," Bee realized out loud, "they'll be worried sick about us!"

"Hah! Don't worry, sweetheart. Magic, remember? It's only ten minutes since you entered the house, I don't think they'll be too worried. Unless you have those strict parents that check in every six seconds. If you have those, afraid I can't really help, other than saying you went through a no connection zone or something." Ychu chuckled.

"You've... you've really thought of everything, haven't you?" Earl marveled.

"Well, not *everything,* seeing as how my story was threateny enough to convince you you'd be stuck in a painting."

After breakfast, the group took one more picture before Ychu escorted them to the door.

"Well it was lovely meeting you all, and lovely playing this game with you all. Is the feeling mutual?"

They looked at each other, and nodded.

"Excellent!" He held out his hand to shake. Maisy took it, but it disappeared into thin air, as they now stood on the porch. "§ę. ęyø

ünəxţ

yëå

ř¡"

rang in their ears, and a necklace hung on each of their necks. Small, turquoise and citrine stones set on a tear shaped background, hanging on thin leather straps.

"What a funny fellow..." Bee said, looking up at the house and faintly smiling.