It Spells Z-O-M-B-I-E!
Emily Evans leaned close to the mirror, holding her breath in an attempt to be perfectly still. With a long, graceful swoop she dusted sparkly silver eye shadow onto her eyelids. She paused, blinked, and stared at her reflection. Not bad, she thought. And if a little is good . . .
Emily reached for a powder brush and dusted more eye shadow on her face—her cheeks, her forehead, her nose, everywhere. It was Halloween, after all, the best day of the year for crazy makeup—and crazy fun! Emily had been planning her costume for weeks. It was her first Halloween since she and her mom had moved to Riverdale, and Emily couldn’t wait to go trick-or-treating with her new friends Abby Miller, Leah Rosen, and
Nora Lewis. At last, the big day was finally here. In just a few minutes, Emily would walk over to Abby’s house for trick-or-treating and the best sleepover ever!
Emily made a face as her mom’s voice carried through the closed bathroom door. She always did that—called out “Knock, knock,” instead of just knocking like a normal person. It didn’t used to bother Emily that much, but now it drove her kind of crazy.
“Almost done, Mom,” Emily called back.
“Can’t wait to see you in costume, Alien Queen!” Mom replied.
Emily did one more check in the full-length mirror. Her reflective silver tunic sparkled in the bright lights of the bathroom vanity. On every inch of skin—hands, arms, face, even neck—she had smeared a thick green makeup base. The silver eye shadow on top made her sparkle every time she moved! But Emily’s favorite part of her costume was her hair. She had twisted it into a dozen braids, then sprayed each one with enough glitter hair spray to make them stand straight out from her head. Her shiny braids looked awesome, like razor-sharp tentacles.
And now, for the very last part of Emily’s costume . . .
She carefully placed a gleaming metallic tiara on her head. It was a little wobbly, but Emily resolved to be careful. Besides, the glitter spray had made her hair feel really sticky. Hopefully it would help the tiara stick too.
Emily took a deep breath, then flung open the bathroom door. “Ta-da!” she cried as she struck a pose with one arm held high.
Mom beamed. “Oh, Emily! Look at you!” she exclaimed. “Take me to your leader!”
“Hey, that’s my line!” Emily joked.
“I can’t wait to post a picture of you!” Mom replied, fumbling for her phone.
Emily stood against the wall and made a scowling face.
“No, honey, smile,” Mom urged her. “You look so pretty when you smile!”
“I’m an alien queen orchestrating a hostile take-over. Why would I smile?” Emily pointed out.
“Just one? For Grandma and Grandpa?” Mom pleaded.
Emily sighed, then made a giant, toothy grin. It was a totally sarcastic smile, but Mom didn’t seem to notice as she took about a billion pictures with her phone.
“Look at your hair, defying gravity!” Mom marveled. “How’d you get it to stick out like that?”
“Half a bottle of extra-hold gel and four cans of glitter hair spray,” Emily replied.
Mom’s smile faded. “That much?” she asked, sounding worried. “But honey, that’s going to be very hard to wash out! It could take days!”
Emily shrugged—but inside she felt a twinge of panic. She hadn’t thought about that before. What if she had to go to school on Monday looking like this? Even worse—what if it took weeks for her hair to get back to normal?
“Too late to worry about it now,” Emily said, putting her fears aside. “Anyway, I’ve gotta go. I don’t want to hold up trick-or-treating.”
“Have a great time,” Mom said, trailing after Emily down the hall. “Are you sure you don’t want a ride?”
Emily’s overnight bag, sleeping bag, and pillow were already waiting by the front door. “Nope,” Emily replied as she scooped everything into her arms. “I’ve got it.”
“Remember to stick with the group,” Mom called after her. “And don’t stay out too late. And don’t eat too much candy. And don’t play any pranks that could get you in trouble.”
“I know, I know,” Emily called back. She was already halfway out the door. “Bye, Mom! See you in the morning! Happy Halloween!”
Emily stepped outside. Dusk was falling, but it wasn’t quite dark yet. The youngest trick-or-treaters, itty-bitty ghosts, pumpkins, and princesses, were already getting started with their parents. Emily grinned when she saw them. This would be her first year trick-or-treating with her new friends—and no adults—and she couldn’t wait!
Emily paused for a moment and stared down the street. Walk to the corner, turn right, three houses down, she thought. Though Emily had only lived in Riverdale for a few weeks, she was pretty sure she had memorized the route to her new friend Abby’s house. But everything looked different in the evening. It was getting dark faster and faster, which made it hard to spot the familiar landmarks. Not to mention everyone who lived on Glenview Drive had done such an amazing job decorating their homes that they were almost unrecognizable. Gauzy cobwebs, flickering jack-o’-lanterns, and yards studded with fake tombstones were just the beginning. There were skeletons crawling out of the grass and a demon with glowing red eyes peering from behind a pine tree.
Emily almost felt like she was walking around the set of a spooky movie instead of her new neighborhood.
Soon enough, though, Emily saw the green shutters of Abby’s house. Every window was blazing with light, and Abby’s mother was already in full witch costume, stirring a cauldron that was brimming with candy. Abby’s dog, Chester, barked at Emily in greeting.
“Something sweet, my dear?” Mrs. Miller cackled at Emily in a creaky, witchy voice. “I promise the candy’s not poisoned—only the apples!”
Emily grinned as she reached down to grab a miniature chocolate bar. “Thanks, Mrs. Miller,” she replied.
“I love your costume!” Mrs. Miller said. “An alien princess—how creative!”
Emily wanted to correct her—after all, she was an alien queen, not a princess—but she didn’t want to be rude. So instead, she said, “I started working on it back in August. Halloween is my favorite holiday ever!”
“You’re in good company, then,” Mrs. Miller replied. “Every year our neighborhood goes all out.”
“I can’t wait!” Emily replied. “Is Abby inside?”
“Yes, and Leah’s here too,” Mrs. Miller said. “They’re downstairs, putting on the finishing touches.”
“Thanks again for the candy,” Emily said before she stepped inside and walked over to the basement door. “Happy Halloween!” she called as she bounded down the stairs. “Hello?”
The basement was pitch-black, and no one answered Emily’s call.
Weird, she thought with a little frown. Maybe Abby and Leah are hanging out in Abby’s room instead.
Emily was just about to head back up the stairs when all of a sudden, a pair of hands reached out and yanked Emily into the basement! Emily screamed as she stumbled down the last step and landed on the floor.
That’s when someone turned on the lights. Emily looked up to see Leah and Abby doubled over, giggling so hard they couldn’t even stand upright.
“You guys!” Emily yelled—but she wasn’t really mad. “I totally could’ve broken my ankle or something!”
“You screamed so loud!” Leah said, still laughing.
But Abby looked concerned. “I’m sorry, Em,” she said, holding out her hand to help Emily get up. “Are you okay? We were just trying to play a good Halloween trick on you, but I guess it kind of backfired.”
“I’m fine,” Emily assured the other girls. “And it was a good trick. I was sure you guys were upstairs. You definitely got me!”
Emily looked around the basement. It was all set up for the sleepover that night with sleeping bags and pillows. Abby’s mom’s black cat, Eddie, lounged on one of the blankets.
“Your costume looks amazing,” Abby gushed. “Alien queen! Too cool!”
Emily smiled and tossed her head so that her tentacle-hair glittered in the light. “You guys look great too. Leah, I have never seen a ghost cheerleader before. Where did you come up with that idea?”
“Well, just being a cheerleader didn’t seem spooky enough,” Leah replied. “But a vengeful ghost cheerleader who’s not ready to accept her untimely death? Yeah, I could totally get behind that!”
Emily and Abby giggled. “How about you, Abby?” Emily asked. “Where’d you get your costume idea?”
“A little bit from Leah, and a little bit from my broken ankle last year,” Abby replied. “Seeing the X-rays were so cool, so I was definitely thinking skeleton—”
“But just being a skeleton would be so totally generic,”
Leah interrupted her. “So I suggested skeleton ballerina instead.”
“The coolest part is that the bones glow in the dark—and so does my tutu,” Abby added. “Check it out!”
Leah turned the lights off, flooding the basement with darkness. Emily immediately appreciated the creepy effect as Abby struck a ballerina pose. The bones printed on her leotard and leggings gleamed with the same ghastly green as her tutu.
“Seriously creepy,” Emily said approvingly as Leah turned the lights back on.
“Why, thank you,” someone else said.
The girls turned to see their other close friend, Nora Lewis, descending the stairs.
“Ooh, vampire!” Abby said. “Looking good!”
“Nora’s a total traditionalist,” Leah whispered loudly to Emily. “And we love her for it!”
“Well, you can’t go wrong with fangs,” Nora said, grinning to reveal her new pointed teeth.
“All right, enough chitchat,” Leah announced. “Who’s ready to trick-or-treat?”
“Me!” the other girls yelled in unison.
“Did everybody bring a treat bag?” Abby asked. “I
have some extra pillowcases if you forgot one.”
Leah started to laugh. “Forget my treat bag on Halloween?” she said. “That would be like forgetting my backpack on the first day of school!”
The girls thundered up the stairs. Mrs. Miller was still on the front porch, doing her best witch impression. “Take an apple!” she croaked.
“Ha-ha, Mom, very funny with the poisoned apples,” Abby said.
“No, really. Take an apple,” Mrs. Miller said in her regular voice. “I know how much candy you girls are going to eat. At least start off with something healthy, please!”
“Sure, Mom,” Abby said with a sigh as she grabbed a bright red apple from the basket on the porch. Emily and the other girls took one too.
“Be home by nine o’clock,” Mrs. Miller said. “And have fun!”
“Bye, Mrs. Miller!” Abby’s friends chorused. Then they set off down the path.
“Where should we go first?” Nora asked.
“I have it all figured out,” Abby replied. “We’ll do Alpine Lane first. There’s a house that gives out full-size
candy bars, but they run out early so we don’t want to miss it. Then Poplar Street, Ivy Lane, and Thistledown Drive.”
“Hey, you forgot Hemlock Street,” Leah spoke up.
“No I didn’t,” Abby replied. “I was just saving the best for last!”
“What’s so special about Hemlock Street?” asked Emily. She walked down Hemlock every day to get to school, past the grassy lawns and ordinary-looking houses.
“The Randolph house!” Abby, Leah, and Nora said, all at the same time. Then they dissolved into giggles.
Emily raised her eyebrows. “I’m listening.”
“They are legendary,” Abby gushed. “Every year, they decorate their entire house with a different scary theme. It’s too bad Chloe’s family moved away this summer before she could experience one more Halloween visiting the Randolph house. It was always her favorite.”
“I wouldn’t even call it scary,” Nora chimed in. “It’s more like terrifying!”
“Oh, it’s not that bad,” Leah said, flicking her head so that her ponytail swung over her shoulder. “It’s a fun haunted house, that’s all.”
“Bring it on!” Emily cheered. “When we lived in New York City, we would trick-or-treat in my apartment building. It was fine, you know, but kind of dull. Nobody ever did up their apartment like a haunted house. The most they would do is put this boring orange sign on the door so that you’d know they were giving out candy.”
Abby’s mouth dropped open. “Do you mean to tell me this is the first time you’re going trick-or-treating for real?” she asked. “Like, outside, with decorations, and leaves on the ground, and dark night surrounding you?”
Emily nodded. “It is!” she exclaimed. “I have been counting down to this night for ages.”
“Then what are we waiting for?” Abby asked. She linked her arm through Emily’s and the two girls raced down the sidewalk, laughing so loudly that their voices echoed off the street.
The Randolph house must be truly epic if it’s even better than this, Emily thought as she pushed her way through a maze of cobwebs just to get to the front door of their first house. It was easy to see why Halloween was such a big deal in Riverdale. The very air seemed haunted in the best way: a spooky chill that crept over everyone, making their eyes grow brighter and their hearts beat
faster. And unlike the halfhearted attempts of Emily’s neighbors in her old apartment building, it was clear that everyone in this neighborhood cared about Halloween as much as she did. There wasn’t a single house without at least two flickering jack-o’-lanterns in front, and all the porch lights were blazing. Even some of the adults had dressed up, just like Abby’s mom. There was one man dressed up like a pirate, handing out candy from a glowing treasure chest!
Emily was having so much fun that the minutes slipped away faster than ever. Her treat bag grew heavier and heavier until it was bulging with candy. “Check this out!” she crowed, hoisting her bag up with both hands. “I’ve never had a candy haul like this!”
“We pretty much covered the entire neighborhood,” Leah agreed as she glanced into her own treat bag. “Not bad!”
“You know what that means . . .” Nora said with a sly smile.
Emily’s heartbeat quickened. “The Randolph house? Already?” she asked.
“Well, it is almost nine o’clock,” Abby pointed out. “My mom won’t be happy if we stay out much later.”
“I’m just surprised by how late it is,” Emily replied. “Though I guess I shouldn’t be. If I put much more candy in my treat bag, it will probably burst at the seams! So where is the Randolph house, anyway?”
Nora pointed down to the end of the street. “Last house before the nature preserve,” she added. “I think that’s one of the things that makes it so spooky. It’s really quiet down there . . . even at peak trick-or-treat.”
“Plus, the little kids are too scared to go there,” added Leah. “But we’re not . . . right?”
“Right!” the girls chorused.
“So let’s go!” Abby announced, leading everyone in the direction of the Randolph house. Emily might have been surprised by how late it was a few minutes ago, but as she walked down the sidewalk, she noticed that several houses had started turning off their porch lights. She felt a sudden pang of sadness. Trick-or-treating was almost over for another year—and so far, it had been the best Halloween ever.
Emily tried to shake off the gloomy feeling. After all, it was early in the evening. There was still the spooky Randolph house, and of course the sleepover at Abby’s was yet to come. Trick-or-treating might be
ending, but Halloween night had barely begun!
“We’re here,” Nora whispered suddenly, jolting Emily out of her thoughts. Behind a wrought iron gate, the Randolph house loomed ominously. It was three stories tall, with balconies and . . . Emily tilted her head in confusion . . . bars on the windows?
“What’s up with the bars?” she asked.
Abby shrugged. “I think they’re part of the decorations,” she replied. “I don’t remember them from last year.”
“Oh. Got it,” Emily replied.
Abby nudged Emily forward. “Last house of the night,” she said. “You want it?”
“Really?” Emily asked, glancing around at her other friends to see if it was okay with them, too. Emily was the new kid. Somehow, it didn’t seem right for her to ring the doorbell at the Randolph house, the one trick-or-treat stop that everyone had been talking about all night. But Nora and Leah nodded enthusiastically.
“Yes! You do it,” Leah urged her. “If you dare!”
“Ha-ha,” Emily said, just to show her friends she wasn’t scared. And she wasn’t—not really. Emily had been to haunted houses before. She knew that they were
all pretend, like a play or a movie set. Her hand wasn’t even shaking as she reached out and pushed hard on the doorbell.
Emily took a small half step back and waited expectantly for someone to answer the door. Witches? she wondered. Ghosts? Maybe vampires? The outside of the Randolph house was pretty creepy, but it didn’t offer any clues about what would be waiting inside.
The seconds slipped away while the girls waited, more and more impatiently, for the door to open.
“Do you think we’re too late?” Emily finally asked. “Maybe they’ve shut down for the night.”
“No way,” Leah replied. “Not the Randolph house. Go ahead, ring it again.”
“Okay,” Emily said with a shrug. Her finger was just inches from the doorbell when the door suddenly swung open . . .
And someone grabbed her wrist!
Emily thought she would scream; she thought she would jump; she thought she would do anything but freeze. She stared straight ahead . . . stared at the gray, cold flesh that felt so clammy and uncomfortable against
her own skin . . . stared at the festering wounds and crumbling scabs on the dead hand that was pulling her—no, dragging her—
Zombie, Emily thought as a terrible realization took hold of her. The heavy numbness left her arms and legs as her heart started thundering. She understood one thing and one thing only: She had to escape, now, now, now!