Estimated reading time — 19 minutes
Tiger can’t change his stripes, tiger can’t change his stripes. That was the motto Jo chanted in her head as she slowly rode over to 7 Brook Street. She found herself circling the block a couple times even after she had located the place, too nervous to act. It was a tall, brick behemoth that sat atop old cement steps with a sharp, sloping green roof and accents to match. The house was old, older than the rest of the city. Finally, she was ready.
She approached the black iron fence and looped her bike chain around and locked it. As she entered the gate, its creaking shut nearly startled her, and Jo had to chide herself for jumping at something so lame. She was seventeen, not some scared little kid, right? She hesitantly made her way up the steps. As the house loomed up at her intimidatingly, she saw thick, ropy vines that came up from the side and split into a dozen winding directions, like a map climbing all across the brick exterior. She might have stopped to snap a pic with her phone on any other day, just passing through. But today this was her mission.
Tiger can’t change his stripes. To her surprise, the dark wooden door had a small bronze slot in front, and yet no knocker. So… was it up to HER to knock twice? How many times does rapping your knuckle on an old door count as “one” knock? She wasn’t told this part, and Jo realized she may not have thought this all through, but then she remembered the cold, unsettling gaze from Timothy Tanzer… and little Kimberly… and she hastily brought her fist down hard on the door, just twice, very quickly. And waited.
A couple minutes went by, and she started scanning the windows of the house, which all seemed shut with velvet curtains from the inside. She took a step back for a better look at the roof, jutting down at her with a hard angle, and peered around the sides of the house- but there was nothing. Jo turned to look at the street and nearly screamed when she noticed a woman in an overcoat and gloves standing by the fence, staring hard at her from the side. Why is she watching me? Did she come because I knocked? Why is she-
Her thoughts were interrupted by a biting gust of wind, and as the woman turned her head to avoid its blast, Jo realized that she hadn’t been staring. The woman had one fixed, unmoving glass eye and one ordinary brown one. It creeped her out a little, but Jo didn’t want to be rude, and gave the lady an uneasy smile. The woman returned it politely and bowed her head, clutching her purse in front of her, as if to defer to the girl. Next in line, Jo figured. Finally, there came a short scraping sound and Jo whirled around to see a man’s hand was reaching out of the slot with an index card.
Tension still gripped her throat as she asked, “Um… what do I do?” There was no answer. “I’ve never been here before. Do I just… write it?” Silence. The hand waved the card at her impatiently, and so she grabbed it, taking a pen out of her school bag. Jo was done asking- she knew what had to be done, and wanted the nightmare to be over with. At the top she scrawled TIMOTHY TANZER, then his address. Her eyes fixed on that one odd line at the bottom, typed there in old-fashioned black lettering that simply read, INFRACTION, with a blank space.
It took a minute to sink in, but Jo was sure of herself. “Child molester,” she wrote. “He hurts little kids.” She wanted to write MORE, about how no one was doing anything about it, how many children were in danger, but the hand was still waiting, tapping its fingernails restlessly on the slot. With a sigh she gave over the card, and the hand withdrew with a small “clink,” the entire exchange wordless. After a last look, Jo went back to the street to retrieve her bike. She gave the woman approaching the steps one more polite smile, trying not to look too long at that eerie glass eye.
All at once, a weight had been lifted off Jo’s shoulders. She rode home trying to bat away the million questions that whizzed around her head. Did anybody see me? Could it all be a sick joke? But she held her head high and turned the corner, washing away any sight of that old house and its secrets. I had to TRY, she told herself. Had to do SOMETHING. And if there’s any kind of justice in this world… well, maybe something will happen to stop that sick bastard.
TIMOTHY TANZER, the flyers had read, beneath a greyscale photo of the man himself. They’d been all over the neighborhood just a few weeks prior- his face plastered on every lamppost, tucked diligently under every windshield wiper. SEX OFFENDER HAS MOVED TO 375 HIGH STREET. COMMUNITY WATCH. Jo had biked the rest of the way home double quick, poster still clutched with a sweaty palm against her handlebar, only to turn the key and run in to discover that her mother had the same one. Mom hadn’t want to know, but in an instant the teen girl was already clacking away on her laptop, her blue-shadowed eyes flicking across the screen at lightning speed.
Timothy Tanzer was convicted of sex assault on a minor, aged 12. He’d just taken a job at the auto shop on Goodman Street. To Jo’s horror, he had touched two OTHER girls, even younger than that, but was only sentenced to 14 years in prison… and got out in nine. Just NINE, she’d thought to herself, seething. A sick, twisted feeling began to grow inside her gut, steadily, like a bird emerging from its shell, flapping wet slimy wings against her stomach. She argued with her mother that it wasn’t fair, that just because they lived in one of those “urban” neighborhoods they couldn’t just dump scumbags in their area, that her little sister was only eight years old and a sweet blonde… but it was no use.
Money didn’t grow on trees. What were they going to do about it, up and move? He had the “right” to go where he pleased, her mother said. And besides, Jo’s parents worked hard enough as it was, and they’d scheduled their shifts this school year to have someone at home at all times to take care of Kim when she wasn’t in school- Dad worked days and Mom was on nights. She didn’t want to stress them anymore, so she dropped it. But it didn’t take long for the bird in her to begin beating hard against her ribs with white-hot rage.
Kimberly didn’t want to take the dirty, smelly city buses that the school district provided for kids like them. She wanted to walk to school with her friends- after all, her big sister biked to and from Our Lady of Grace every day, so why couldn’t she? “Because I’m a big girl,” Jo had told her adamantly, stopping in front of the mirror to hitch up her stockings one morning after the flyers had been found. “Even if you’re walking with your neighbor friends it doesn’t mean you’re safe. You take the city buses, you hear?” She released a held-in breath as the mist of the hair spray evaporated and started toward the door.
The little girl pulled a defiant face. “Have you SEEN those buses? Ain’t nothin’ but creepers on there.” but Jo just didn’t have time for it. “And there’s a very REAL creeper in the white house down the road,” she told her, and the girl went pale. Jo bent down to face her. “Look, I’m sorry. If you’re gonna INSIST on walking with your friends though, always go together in a group, right?” Her sister solemnly nodded, and Jo descended the steps in a hurry, stretching her new plaid dress over the bicycle seat. She smiled as the little girl waved her off, but once she was down the street and Timothy Tanzer’s house loomed into view, she couldn’t help but shudder.
Kimmy was right about one thing; the public buses were rarely on time, and they DID smell bad, but it was all they could get living out where they did. Not like those nice, yellow buses all the suburbanites get to ride in, Jo thought with derision. Preppy bastards. Don’t have to live with no child molesters. Don’t have to ride with hobos and freaks every time it’s cold out. Just trust fund babies, all of them… But she had rushed up to the bike rack and into school. Jo never wanted to be just that “city girl,” and she’d been climbing the social ranks since middle school, forcing smiles, helping with homework, and all that.
So when she sat down for lunch after a week of worrying about her kid sister, it was a mixed table of girls. There were some like Jo, from the same neighborhoods; her old friends. Then there were the popular girls, whose names meant something around here. Jo had started to bike slowly past Timothy Tanzer’s house, sometimes even coming to a stop to peer in through the dirty old windows, leaves gathering at her feet. Often she’d glimpse him just going about his daily life- doing the dishes, watching TV, or just sitting in a ratty old armchair. One day he even looked back out, and she rode away in panic, praying under her breath he hadn’t seen her. She wasn’t about to let some perv get the better of her.
“So they just LET some dirty old fuck move onto your street? That’s disgusting.” Jenny Santori had shaken her head when Jo told them all, her hoop earrings a-jingle, and took a sip of Vitamin water. “But I mean, he’s not allowed to talk to kids, is he? Isn’t that a rule?”
Jo shrugged. “I dunno WHAT the rules are- online it says every state is different. I’d wanna look into it more, but it just makes me sick.”
“I’ll pray for you,” Ruth Madison said, reaching over from across the table. She’s such a Jesus freak, thought Jo. She only hung out with her for the family name- the one plastered across the school’s new library addition. Rich, religious little Ruth… Jo still smiled. “Surely,” the pretty girl continued as Jo pushed around her tater tots, “this man wouldn’t think to touch another child. It’s all so filthy…”
A sly voice had come from the end of the table. “You KNOW, if you really wanna get him gone, there’s ways. One way I know of, anyhow.” Tina. That girl was always trying to stir the pot. She’d probably slept with half the senior boys already and it wasn’t quite October- that was just her way. Jo rolled her eyes, which was how she usually dealt with Tina’s ‘advice.’
“What, bump him off or something? Sorry, girl, but not an option.” Jo took another bite of her sandwich. “And no offense, but you tell a lotta stories.”
“Isn’t that right,” Ruth laughed snarkily. “Tina, come up with a REAL solution.”
“It IS a real solution,” Tina bit back, crossing her arms and pouting her glossed lips. “If y’all are just too dumb to listen, not MY problem.”
And as time passed, Jo had tried, really TRIED, to put Timothy Tanzer in the back of her head- but he seemingly refused to stay there. She started to hear talk. Sonya, the girl across the street, swore she’d seen him outside, complimenting some teen girls jumping rope on their “cool moves.” Sure enough, when Jo biked up one day, she was startled to find him sitting right there on his porch in a yellowed old lawn chair, waving at passers-by. A woman in a wool coat quickened her pace and tugged at the sleeve of her little boy. “Come on, Gordie,” she said, and her heels clacked fast down the sidewalk as she averted the man’s gaze and went inside. Jo had seen enough. She knew she had to act.
So with Halloween right around the corner, and the horrible notion of trick-or-treaters being watched by that creep and his cold, filthy eyes, she decided to take Tina up on her offer of that “solution” one day after school. Jo sat on the steps with the other girls, preening as usual, absentmindedly fixing her bangs and re-applying lipstick when Tina arrived, backpack on her lap.
Jenny sighed. No one ever believed Tina’s gossip. “Jo, aren’t they not allowed to ‘have’ a Halloween? Pedos, like. I think it’s a law or something.”
“No, no, it’s that their LIGHTS can’t be turned on. And they can’t have candy,” Ruth said matter-of-factly, looking all tarted up and smiling that day. She was scoping out the football field- not such a prude after all, Jo thought. “It doesn’t mean kids still won’t go to the door. MY family doesn’t celebrate, and the little ones still come every year…” She sighed and glanced away. “What about the police? Surely they have to, like, watch these people at times like that?”
Jo couldn’t contain her laughter. “Oh, hun, the police do not do SHIT for folks like us. They don’t care.” Ruth gave her a distasteful look. “And besides, they don’t have an officer for every single pervert in the city.”
“She’s right.” Tina was ready to back her up with a mischievous smile, her brown eyes enticing Jo to learn more. “I’ll tell you how to make him go away. Not just for Halloween. For good.”
“I’m listening,” Jo said as she leaned in.
“Well, it’s a real old place. You know, one of those historic neighbors, down by the river.” Jo knew what she meant- she would sometimes ride through all those pretty Victorian gardens and their resplendent mansions in the summer. “You can knock on the door… two times. And when they answer, and you give them the name of someone bad enough, you get your wish granted.”
“Why twice?” asked Jo.
Jenny shook her head. “What wish?” she said, voice dripping with sarcasm.
Tina continued nonetheless. “They’ll take care of them. You write the name, and if they really deserve it, they might get punished. Even killed. It’s not a joke!”
“Yeah, it’s an urban legend. Snopes much?” Ruth laughed. “It if was that easy, and people knew about it, sinners and whores would be dropping like flies.” She stood up and ushered some of her friends with her. “Come on… I don’t like this kind of talk. I’m a CHRISTIAN girl.” And with that, it was just Tina and Jo. Tina had told her she didn’t blame her- that she wouldn’t believe, either, if it wasn’t for her uncle, and then spun one of her usual tales. Her uncle married some nasty bitch who made his life a living Hell.
He had a son from his first marriage that this lady hated. She was on meth, and it made her act insane. Jo listened intently, eager to hear about this mystery house and its powers. “So ONE day, my uncle comes home from work to find her with the kid in the tub, holding him under the water, that bitch,” Tina spat. “She was SICK. So he left, but figured divorce was too good for her. Learned about the house from my grandma. So when he found out, he went there and he knocked, twice. And if you fill out the card with someone who really deserves it… obviously, Auntie Psycho fit the bill, so he did it.”
Jo was on pins and needles. “AND?”
“And a week later, my uncle and his kid were staying in the Motel 6 when they got word my aunt died of an overdose. Ruled the whole thing an accident, the cops. But now they’re free, even got a new house. No crime in that, don’tcha think?”
Jo was wavering, imagining the death of Timothy Tanzer.
As if on cue, Tina chimed in, “Look- somebody needs to do something about this jerk, right? All the adults have got their heads up their asses. Didn’t keep him in jail in the first place. And you think he won’t do it again?”
“No, you’re right.” Jo nodded slowly. “I think maybe he would.”
“Oh, you bet he would. A tiger can’t change his stripes.” Tina rose and gave Jo a friendly pat on the shoulder. “It’s on Brook Street. The house, I mean. It’s the big, red brick one with the gate- number 7, can’t miss it.”
And so Jo had done it. Days went by, then more days, but she still found herself fixated on that tall, strange house. As far as Kimmy went, it was finally too chilly for her to walk, so she agreed to ride that “stupid, smelly bus,” and Jo was over the moon- not just because of that. She finally snagged a cute guy from school, Brandon Soltys, one she’d had her eye on since the 8th grade, along with a dozen other girls. Funny, handsome, and muscular in all the right places. Jo would sit on the bleachers and watch him play football, his leather jacket around her shoulders with a big smile painted on her face when she looked at all the other girls. Jo wasn’t some queen bee, her family wasn’t known for their wealth, but SHE had Brandon.
She’d always thought that once she’d gotten what she was after, she’d feel happy, and yet… that damn house still loomed large in her mind. So many things you could do with a place like that. With the POWER over someone’s life, if that’s how it really worked. But so far, it hadn’t come to fruition, and Halloween neared. At the local costume warehouse, Kimmy was quick to pick out a Disney princess, but Jo mulled it over as she slowly thumbed through all the plastic-sheathed costumes until she found it. Flashy purple, a tight bodice, and sexy black fishnet to top it off. At first her mother balked, but Jo had worked all summer to save up, and was more than happy to chip in. The Friday before Halloween was gonna be a “dress-down” day, so all the kids could show off their costumes- and she was determined to be the sexiest witch there.
It was two weeks after Jo’s visit to “the house,” when she saw a bunch of neighbors outside, talking. She slowed her bike and approached Mrs. Arrowsmith, an old lady she knew from babysitting. “What’s going on?” she asked the woman, who was holding onto her grandkids.
“Well, I know it’s wrong to say but… for these little ones, I personally feel relieved.”
Jo was puzzled. “Did something happen?”
“Yeah, you bet it did,” one of the gossipy moms across the street confirmed. “Didn’t ya hear? That Tanzer guy crashed his car comin’ back from the shop last night.”
“He’s… dead,” Mrs. Arrowsmith whispered, glancing down at the children. “Must have been speeding… the whole thing went up in flames.”
Jo rode stunned all the way home, realizing that she didn’t actually feel bad. He couldn’t hurt her sister, or any other child, EVER again. And she couldn’t help but start adding up more of the world’s villains, the ones we could do without. She took the long way home each day now, finding herself in that historic neighborhood with the brick house almost compelling her to walk back up those steps. The list of people in her head was getting longer.
Jo led Brandon to her lunch table, satisfied with herself, to tell the other girls. To her dismay, they wouldn’t believe her. “You really think that was because of YOU?” Brandon asked, holding her hand and scooping his vegetables with the other. “I mean, I dunno, Jo… sounds like a kid’s story to me.”
Ruth glared at them fiercely with big, thick-lashed eyes. “He’s right. People die in car wrecks every day. Every. Day.” She quickly typed into her phone before looking up at Jo. “No such thing as magic. That’s the Devil’s work, you know.”
“Hey, all I know is, the dude’s NOT coming back. And I’m glad.” Jo finished her water and beamed at Brandon. These girls were all so air-headed- except maybe for Tina, who gave her a knowing glance and a wink. Jo winked back. “And the Devil? If it’s anyone, it was THAT creepy guy. And now he’s dead.”
“Shouldn’t say stuff like that,” said Ruth with a hard look. Oh-so-righteous-Ruth, always keeping her skirt hems at regulation length. Always… well, making eyes at HER man. She snuggled up to him and ignored the girl. “Halloween is the Devil’s time. All parties and sex and joking, when we should be more careful about the… forces all around us.”
Jo giggled. “What is this, Bible study? Jeez, Ruth, lighten up for once.” The girl just turned away, her haughty face gone red. “If anyone ELSE is interested in some of those ‘Devil parties,’ I happen to know a teen night going on at the club on Wheatley Road… BRANDON and I are going.” She smiled and clutched his bicep.
Tina said yes, and so just like that, Jo made up some ‘SAT study group’ to her parents and, leaving her dad to watch Kim, headed over to the spot with Brandon, slouching off his jacket to reveal bare shoulders and the cutest red top. “Hey, Jo! Thanks again for the sweet invite,” Tina shouted over the music, ushering them to a table. “I love it here!” Jo couldn’t help but feel a little enervated- even after getting all dolled up for Brandon, he seemed disinterested, and didn’t want to hear ‘another word’ about the house. He went to fetch them a couple sodas, and she turned to Tina.
“Man, it worked just like you said,” she told her, flashing a grin as she fixed her hair. “I mean, think about how many good things someone could do with the house. How many people-“
But Tina looked dead serious, and touched Jo on the arm, making her recoil in annoyance. “Jo, you can’t think all these people DESERVE to die,” she warned. “Listen- you should NOT go back to that house. That shit can become like… like an addiction, I’m telling you.”
“And how would YOU know?” Jo gave a hostile shake away from Tina’s hand just as Brandon returned, and she cozied up to him, saying, “You said you never went there yourself, right? Maybe you SHOULD.”
“No, Jo. I’m serious about this. My uncle? Who used the house?” Brandon already looked mad- he didn’t believe her, and here was Tina running her mouth. “He became obsessed over it, Jo. Always wanting to go back. Thinking of new people he could… take care of. He even goes on these conspiracy websites about people who shouldn’t be allowed to ‘share the same air’ as us…”
Brandon winced. “Seriously? The dude sounds whacked. Babe, she’s right… I don’t think you should go around there anymore.”
But Jo was incredulous. They were ganging up on her, treating her like some bratty kid, and she didn’t like it one bit. “Well, thanks for the input, GUYS,” she hissed, grabbing her bag.
He stood to reason with her. “Let’s not talk about this anymore. You just need to relax, alright?”
Yeah, I’ll relax. But not with YOU. They both shot her a worried look, but Jo’s cheeks were already burning hot and she wanted out. “You guys don’t understand, okay? Just… have fun without me.” She fixed her skirt and left despite their protests, greeting the cool night air in a huff. Jo had heard about all the trendy places down the road, and now she could forget all about that exhausting house and its temptations, heels clicking up the sidewalk. One night without her thoughts- and the growing list of people that constantly ate away at the back of her skull. Thirsty Thursday, here I come.
Jo’s head hurt. Her EVERYTHING hurt. But it was dress-down Friday, even if she had woken up with a bad hangover and two pissed off parents grounding her for a month. As if, she’d thought, and styled her hair and makeup to go with her hot little witch number. Brandon came into homeroom, but he didn’t sit next to her. She chortled in response- two can play at that game. She turned and faced another guy, leaning in so he could get an eyeful of her tight bodice and extra dark lashes. “So, Scott, what do YOU have planned for Halloween?”
“I, uh, maybe just staying in…” She smiled with satisfaction and turned back to see Brandon with a pissy look on his face. The desk behind him was vacant. Oh, that’s right, Jo remembered with a tinge of anger. Jesus freak Ruth doesn’t CELEBRATE Halloween. If only SHE could get away with missing classes, too, and still passing with honors- except HER family couldn’t just donate whenever they felt like it, getting their daughter through by flashing cash at the academy.
That’s when Brandon took it too far. “Mrs. Penderson?” he asked innocently. “I think Jo might be… in violation today?” You son of a bitch, Jo fumed as she glared daggers at him across the aisle. But the teacher was already walking her way.
“Marjorie, your dress is not appropriate. And take off the hat.” Jo couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Her anger and throbbing headache finally boiled over.
“I WON’T,” she spat at her. “It’s part of my costume. And my costume is FINE.”
Mrs. Penderson was taken aback. “Do I smell alcohol on your breath? This is completely unacceptable, Marjorie. You will come with me outside-“
Jo sat straight up and got in her face. “I’m not going anywhere with you. I’m… just… FINE, okay?” The teacher began to march her- wriggling in her grasp- out, as the other kids whispered. Once in the hallway, Jo broke free, humiliated and pissed, knowing her mother was sleeping off the night shift- some old bitch of a teacher wasn’t about to go bother her mom. She made for the doors and to the bike rack even as Mrs. Penderson called out behind her, unlocking her bicycle with trembling fingers and flinging herself on.
Jo’s fury only grew as she raced back to her house, imagining her poor groggy mother awakening to a phone call about what she’d done. No, she wouldn’t. Her costume was a poor choice for riding, and her stockinged legs were cold, but she was almost home. Finally she turned her key and snuck into the living room, her mom dozing a few doors down. She found her mother’s cell phone and turned it to silent- but she wasn’t done yet. The outfit was still too awkward to pedal in, so she quickly slinked to her room to change. Something loose. DARK. For once, Jo didn’t want to be seen.
I’ll go there ONE more time, she told herself, back on her bike and flying past side streets. Surely knocking just once doesn’t kill somebody. Maybe it just… puts them in their place. All she could picture was Mrs. Penderson, with her strict, stupid little rules. Probably went to some expensive fancy school to get her degree, never had any fun… THAT’S why she’s so pissy, always trying to come down on kids so she can FUCK UP their lives for something as dumb as drinking. Which everybody does anyway. She turned the bend and there it was- that brick Victorian beauty, calling her name.
But as Jo pedaled up to the gate, she all at once stopped, her breath caught in her chest, and dove behind some bushes, ditching her bike. It was that BITCH. Ruth Madison. Suddenly it all made sense- always eyeing Brandon, getting on her high horse about Jesus this and sinful that, and now SHE was the one at the door? To her horror, Jo heard her knock- just once. She craned her neck and watched the girl pull out a card, then scribble on it. Before Jo could say anything, Ruth handed it over and, with a closing of the mail slot, descended the steps.
“What the Hell did you DO?” Jo emerged from the bushes as Ruth’s eyes got wide with shock, and she made for her waiting blue car. “Take it back, right now!”
“We get what’s coming to us,” Ruth shouted defiantly, opening the driver’s side door.
“What did you DO to me, damnit? Answer me!”
Ruth just gave a curt little smile. “You really are a witch, you know that? YOU’RE the one who let me know the house was here, Jo. Maybe it’s what you DESERVE.” And with that, the door was shut and Ruth sped off, Jo still screeching at her AND the door. In desperation she ran up to it and knocked frantically, but only the hand emerged, card ready, which just served to feed her madness.
“I DON’T WANT ONE OF YOUR STUPID CARDS, JUST GIVE ME MINE!” The hand abruptly drew itself back, and she continued to shout and plead, but to no avail. Stepping away, Jo’s thoughts turned to other possibilities- she COULDN’T let Ruth’s card go fulfilled. Her mind set on sabotage, she went to the alley beside the house. Jo ran her hands over the brush and, finding a loose brick, used it to smash a hole in the cellar window.
Even as her fingers were nicked and cut, her heart beat fast, and she quickly brushed away the glass, blood dripping down as she examined the entrance she’d made. Squeezing in, she crawled through and dashed up the musty old steps of a long-unused basement. Jo discovered herself in the parlor of the house, all decked out in beautiful rugs and Old World finery. But she headed at once to the front door- she knew she wouldn’t have much time.
To her dismay, a mountain of cards met her there, and she dropped to her knees and began frantically sorting through them, looking for her name. As she tossed aside paper after paper without success, she heard a thump from up the stairs, which sat behind her made of wood and covered with a well-worn carpet. She feverishly continued the search until at last she spotted familiar handwriting. Her OWN handwriting. With a quiver in her chest she lifted the card for a better view. It was something she filled out at the beginning of each year- an information card the school kept on file. That bitch, what did she get her hands on, she thought, her eyes scanning quickly down past her name, her address, her parish… and there it was, the same typed letters she had so often pictured in her mind.
INFRACTION. And after that, the response by Ruth. The rich bitch. The self-righteous schoolgirl. It simply read, “PRIDE.” Without warning there was a noise upstairs, and Jo tried wildly to tear the card, but somehow it would not shred. All she managed to do was get her own blood, still wet from the glass cuts, smeared over the words. Pride. God DAMN her! If she couldn’t destroy it, she would steal it. As footsteps approached the staircase, Jo got to her feet and took in the room. There HAD to be something else… and then an odd gleam in the corner caught her attention.
Installed next to the door was an old, faded bronze plaque, and its engraving brought out a primal fear inside her. It read: DISFIGURED- Price- One knock. DEAD- Price- Two knocks. TAKEN- Price- Three knocks. Taken? Jesus, what could THAT possibly mean? But Jo didn’t have time to find out; at the sound of another footstep, she ran like Hell back down into the cellar, haphazardly climbed through the window, card still in hand, and got onto her bike. She reluctantly dusted off her old helmet, for protection, and put it on. Then she rushed away from the house faster than she’d ever pedaled before, reeling from what she’d seen.
Jo only knew one thing: she had to get home, NOW. Pride is a fucking sin. I’m not a sinner, she told herself, taking care as she continued down every shortcut she knew. I can’t get hurt- DISFIGURED, oh God- if I just stay at home, away from everybody. She tried to build up her confidence as she whizzed past the neighborhoods full of jack-o-lanterns and decorations. No trick-or-treating with Kimmy. No parties.
Plenty of shit could go wrong Halloween night- fireworks, pranksters; Hell, maybe there was even some truth to this idea of “demons” coming out. After all, hadn’t she just tried to rip an unrippable card? In a house that can kill a man just by taking down his name? I can lay low, I’m already grounded. It’ll be OK. Almost home. Her heart calmed to a more steady rate as she biked around a sharp turn- only to come face-to-face with a group of kids in costume, exiting a Halloween store.
Jo yelled and swerved hard to avoid them. A blur of color was all she saw as her bike veered off to the side, and all at once she went flying forward, over the handlebars and into Mrs. Arrowsmith’s prized hedge. Its thick, giant branches shot up at Jo as she was thrown in face-first and screaming.