Friday October 31, 2003

The bell rang at the end of photography class sixth hour. Mark timed his walk to the door to get there at the same time as Bette. "All black clothes. Is that a Halloween thing?" Or a Wednesday Addams thing?

"No." Bette answered. "I'm going right to work after this. The museum puts on a benefit for donors. It's part masquerade party, haunted tours, a fortune teller, and guests. I'm hoping to operate the giant spider in the hall. It's fun to scare the donors and I get to see their reactions."

"Sounds more like fun than work. But still work on Halloween," said Mark. He walked with her to her locker.

She opened her locker, grabbed her backpack and leather jacket putting them on. "It's still work, don't get me wrong, but the events like this are fun. And yeah, they go late because of tear down, but I get to sneak in some late-night photos for class. That place is haunted! I've felt it. They say the veil between the living and the dead is the thinnest on Halloween."

Friday looking like Wednesday. Don't say it. "You really think the museum is haunted? You believe in ghosts?"

They walked through the halls of the school towards the lobby. "I'm not sure what I believe about the afterlife. I know there's more than what we know or comprehend. There are things in this world I've felt I don't understand. I know I've felt the presence of people before they've announced themselves."

"When has that happened?"

Bette laughed lightly, "The vending machine. When you came back. I knew someone was coming and I knew that even though I was on a dead end of the museum, alone, I had no reason to be scared."

"You were a deer in the headlights," Mark teased.

"I was shocked, sure. If I was scared, only one of us would've walked away from that vending machine, and it wouldn't have been you." She held up a finger smiling.

Beautiful and deadly. Why is that so sexy to me? "I believe that."

"I'm glad I didn't though. You have no idea how much of a pain it is to move dead bodies," Bette said playfully. Mark laughed. "But that's history. What are you doing tonight? Anything fun with Hank & Robert?"

"Nah. Hank's going away for a college tour and Robert said something about Ami Lee. I'm not sure what. So, no plans."

"Well, I mean, I know it's kinda last second, but- you wanna come help out at the museum tonight?" Bette asked.

Holy moley. Be cool. "In what way?"

"I work at the museum, but they always need extras for the haunted tours and stuff. The theater troop could dress you up as a corpse or an undertaker or they would have you rattle chains or something. Last year we were super short-handed. And this year, after clean up, I got permission to stay and take some photos after hours, you could too if you want."

This could be your chance! Don't blow it. Don't get too excited. It's Halloween 2.0. Mark looked away for a second to hide his excitement. "Yeah. I could help. That sounds like fun."

"It's one of the best nights. Christmas parties and weddings have better tips, but Halloween is much more entertaining!"

I hope so.

He drove to the museum and she was able to make arrangements with her manager and the theater troop for Mark to volunteer with them. The theater director brought Mark into the cast meeting and gave him cues, directions, and tour set up. The director showed Mark where he would be in the middle of the exhibition hall behind the curtains for effects. The event was oversold and short-staffed. Being on a Friday night, while that meant more money for the museum, it meant a lot of work for everyone. Soon, Mark was scaring guests on the tour. He crept the giant spider at people's knees; their shrieks were oddly satisfying, especially being able to see them through the gauze of the spider's body. He would then withdraw the spider and go to his next effect: his hand inside a bell jar. Sometimes he would move his hand elegantly, sometimes he would do claw movements; he decided based on their reactions to the spider. He darted back and forth between the effects for an hour before the director let him know they were breaking.

Mark stepped out from the curtain, heading for the break station when he heard a voice, "The spider will lead you."

He stopped dead in his tracks and turned to the woman in her late 50s dressed in a simple black dress with a silk fringed scarf tied around her shoulders. She toyed a foggy crystal, smaller than an egg, between her fingers. He looked around slightly, making sure she was speaking to him. "What does that mean?"

She approached Mark, taking his right hand from his side, holding it between both hers. The crystal clicked against his gold ring. She closed her eyes taking a deep breath, "Your blue eyes watch. A pair. They love. Through the veil. They long to touch. If only for a moment, again." She opened her eyes and took her hands back. "This is a special day. Be patient. Don't ruin it." She rolled the crystal in her fingers walking away from him, into the crowd.

Mark stood dumbfounded for a moment. He looked about himself, dismissed the experience, and went to get some water.

Mark had fun scaring people on the tour. He found his rhythm between the giant spider and the bell jar. When he heard Bette give a tour to the guests, he grinned. He heard the verbal cue to move and shake the spider. The guests jumped and Bette looked knowingly at the black gauze on the spider's body. He knew she couldn't see him, but they both knew he was there. The body's a veil. Then all the words struck him: The spider will lead you. Your blue eyes watch. A pair. They love. Through the veil. They long to touch. If only for a moment, again. Mark's jaw dropped. The fortune teller knew Bette and I were once together and I still want to be.

He shook his head snapping himself out of his daze. The group tour moved on, he went to his next effect: the bell jar. He leapt into place sticking his arm up the pillar and his hand into the display. He posed his right hand elegantly; waiting. He heard Bette lead the tour around the corner to where he was. Bette spoke, "Among the biological collections were some of the, let's just say, items that were not procured willingly." Mark could hear Bette approach the pillar. She did something the other guides didn't do: she removed the bell jar. "But there's nothing to be scared of among the collections. Nothing that can hurt you if you're respectful to them." She placed her hand into his and politely shook it as a greeting. He held her hand and shook it back before letting each other go and re-covering his hand and moving on from the area. They long to touch. If only for a moment, again. Mark's heart pounded. She wanted to touch me too! This IS a special night.

The event ended and the staff cleaned up the space. Sean in security waited at the front desk as Bette and Mark went into the main exhibit to take a few photos for class.

Mark's nerves kept him at a distance from Bette. He took few pictures. Don't ruin it. He turned and saw her looking up at one of the statues, the light was perfect. She was a specter in black. He raised his camera, focused it; she was only a small part of what the photograph would be - a study in negative space, and she was the small being filling the void. As soon as he lowered the camera, he realized the photo wouldn't be that, it was a museum after all, there were lots of displays around her, but he didn't see them. He only saw her. He turned away and read a placard in front of him about an old bridge near the door and waited. She approached, "You ready?" She asked. Mark nodded, leaving the exhibit hall.

They exited the museum and waited for Sean to set the security system and lock the doors. They stood in the court yard. "What did you think about the event tonight?" Bette asked.

He adjusted his camera bag over his shoulder then put his hands in his pockets. "It was just as you said, hard work, but it was a lot of fun. Mom says I have the rest of my life to have a job, but that wasn't bad."

"I told you tonight was the exception to normal." The breeze kicked up and some leaves in the courtyard flew off branches sweeping around them. A leaf caught in Mark's thick hair. "Don't move." She said with a stare. Mark froze as Bette reached out to him. She plucked the leaf out of his hair and held it between them. "I don't think this is the scare you would have wanted." Mark looked down at the brown leaf, on it, was a little black spider. "It came off the pear tree. My mom and I planted them when the museum redid the courtyard. I was 12. She said volunteering is good for the soul and while pears will take years to come in, they'll be worth it when they do. You have to be patient." Mark cupped his hands. While she spoke, the spider crawled off the leaf, onto his right hand, and settled on his palm; next to his gold ring. "Aww," she cooed. "It chose you. I once heard that seeing a spider on Halloween is a deceased loved one coming to visit."

Mark's eyes grew wide, glanced to Bette, then back to the spider. Suddenly, the fortune teller's words had new meaning. They meant Mark's late father. Mark had his father's blue eyes. A pear tree. He loved and missed his father. The veil between the living and the dead was thinnest, as Bette said at school. Mark longed to hug his father again. He carefully cradled his palm around the resting spider - near his father's gold ring. Don't ruin it. "H-hey little guy. You trying to get warm?" The spider moved across his palm, spun a silk, and strung its way to the ground. It was out of sight in shadow before it reached their feet. "Bye Dad," he said quietly.

Bette's eyes quickly met Mark's with clear surprise. "You think so?" she said thoughtfully.

"If only for a moment, again." He spoke.

Sean locked the museum doors behind them waving them off. Bette and Mark walked to his truck to take her home. "I always liked spiders. They eat mosquitoes, spider webs are beautiful, and who wouldn't want a great set of legs like that!" She laughed at her own joke. "I've always sensed a kinship with spiders."

The spider will lead you...Be patient. Mark let out a laugh. "How very Wednesday Addams of you." You ruined it!

Bette threw her head back laughing. Her black hair whipped in the breeze and the moonlight bounced off her pale skin. In all black clothes, her face looked like a ghost floating by his side. "I'm never going to live that down with you, am I?"

"I don't foresee that happening. But I didn't get a chance to ask the fortune teller anything. She took off before I could." He unlocked his truck with the fob.

"Took off?" Bette scoffed. "She didn't come tonight. Halloween on a Friday? She had so many private bookings, she didn't need our museum gig."