Chapter 1 .

Lily

I would never have thought that my Halloween night would end with an actual zombie apocalypse.  

It was my senior year of highschool.  I was supposed to be off at a fun teenage party, not taking my little sister trick-or-treating.  Except I had been invited to a party and I had refused to go. Just thinking of being in a crowded room was enough to send my heart racing into a panic.  I hated crowds. I wasn’t sure why, I just did. My two friends, Maria and Anna, loved parties and they had tried to drag me to this one. Luckily I had the excuse that I needed to take my little sister trick-or-treating as my parents were going to some Halloween party of their own.  

“How does it look?” Mackenzie asked.

I had painted her face to resemble a leopard.  I wasn’t good at too many things, but art was one of the few things I was good at.  It went well with the leopard costume our mom had made her. It wasn’t one of those sexy leopard costumes.  None of us in my family were into that. Honestly, I couldn’t understand why on the one day of the year you could dress up into something truly unique or frightening you would choose something generic and sexy.  

I moved to the side so she could look in the bathroom mirror.  She smiled grandly and her hands went up as if she were going to touch her cheeks, but she stopped herself before she could ruin the makeup.

“I love it,” she said.  “Aren’t you going to paint your face too?  Maybe a skeleton. That YouTube video you made of yourself doing the skeleton makeup was really cool.”

I was good at art, but especially face and body painting.  I loved it. There were a few videos I made of myself up on YouTube, but none had gone viral or anything.  My following was very small, but that was all right. I just loved doing it.

“I’m too old to do that for Halloween.  Unless I was going to a Halloween party, which I’m not,” I added quickly as Mackenzie opened her mouth to speak and I knew she was going to try to encourage me to go with Maria and Anna.  She didn’t have the same hangups with crowds as I did. Our brother didn’t either. He loved being the center of attention. We didn’t see Tanner much anymore since he went off to college.  

“Fine,” Mackenzie said.  “Let’s go get Vicky.”

“Let’s,” I agreed.  “You sure you don’t want a jacket?”

“And cover my costume?  Are you crazy?” my little sister said as she headed out the door, but I noticed she had a large empty pillow case in hand.

I left a large bowl of candy on the porch and made sure the door was locked and the keys in my pocket.

The Sang family lived a block away.  It didn’t take us long to walk there.  I took my bag of makeup just in case Victory wanted me to do her makeup too.  The Autumn air was chill. The leaves were a mix of reds, oranges and yellows.  Little children and their parents lined the sidewalks as they went from house to house.

My breath hitched for one brief moment when Hunter opened the door instead of Victory.  I didn’t think he would be home, but where else would he be. He definitely wouldn’t be at the party.  Hunter didn’t associate with others. Not anymore. It seemed to be a family tradition – once they hit 13 they cut off all ties with their friends and just decided to be alone.  It happened with Grace. She stopped hanging out with my brother and their friends when they turned 13. It happened with Hunter when we turned 13. He barely said anything to me or anyone at school anymore.  I really hoped Victory didn’t follow that tradition because it hurt to lose a friend and Mackenzie would cry for days. I had.

“Hi,” I said.

He looked at me with his dark brown eyes, but didn’t return my greeting.

“Is Vicky here?” Mackenzie asked easily.  She wasn’t as wary of Hunter as I was, but why would she be?  She hadn’t been his friend that he suddenly cut all contact with.

He stepped aside and waved us in.  He wore dark clothes as usual. He had red streaks in his black hair.  That was another strange tradition among the Sang siblings. When Grace turned 13 she dyed teal streaks in her black hair.  Hunter dyed red streaks. And since they both turned 13 neither of them went a day without those colorful streaks. Didn’t they get bored with it?  They never even switched up the color.

Victory came bounding down the stairs wearing a blue tattered dress.  Her long black hair had been curled into loose waves.

“You’re here,” she said and grabbed Mackenzie’s hands.  The two of them spun in a circle. “You look great,” Victory said.  As they spun, Victory’s hair flipped up and for the first time I noticed she had dyed white streaks into the lower layers of her hair.

My first thought was that she wasn’t 13 yet.  My second thought was a silent plea that she wouldn’t abandon Mackenzie like Grace and Hunter had abandoned Tanner and me.

I glanced over my shoulder hoping that Hunter had left to do whatever brooding he had to do, but he was there watching all of us not unkindly.  My heart beat a little faster. Damn my stupid crush. It didn’t seem to matter that he had betrayed our friendship or that he was rumored to be gay.  It had been years, but I couldn’t get over my crush of him. He was handsome as his sisters were beautiful. Their father was rather plain, but their mother was possibly the most beautiful woman I had seen.  Her children had inherited her looks.

“Oh good.  You brought your makeup bag,” Victory said as she grabbed my hand.  I hadn’t realized the girls were done spinning.

“Yes,” I said.  “Would you like me to do something for you?  What are you supposed to be?”

Victory smiled mischievously and in a lower, gravely voice she said, “A lizard girl.”

Hunter huffed and said quietly behind us, “Lizard girl.”

We ignored him.  “Do you want me to paint you green?”  I asked Victory as she led us into the downstairs bathroom.  Hunter followed us, but he stayed in the doorframe.

“No,” Victory said.  “I want white scales with a trace of blue on the outer ridges.”

“That’s rather specific,” I said.

“Can you do it?” she asked excitedly.  Her brown eyes shone brightly.

“I’ll try,” I said as I opened my bag.  Victory and Mackenzie chatted easily as I applied the makeup.  All the while, Hunter watched us from the doorframe. It made me a little uneasy.  He didn’t say anything as he watched us. I made the scales large as smaller scales would take longer.

“Does it look good?” I asked and stepped aside so Victory could look at herself in the mirror.

She smiled.  “It’s perfect,” she said as she looked at her white scales rimmed with a light shade of blue.

“I can take them trick-or-treating,” Hunter said.  “You can go to that party.” Our eyes met through the mirror.

“I don’t want to go the party,” I said.  “I’ll take them.” I said into the mirror.

“We’re 12,” Mackenzie said, “we don’t need chaperones.”

Hunter and I both ignored her.

“I don’t have anything else to do,” Hunter said.

I turned to face him.  “You could go to the party,” I supplied amazed at how much he was speaking with me.

He scoffed.  “Yeah, right.”

“It’s stupid to sit here and argue,” Victory scolded us.  “Kenzie and I are going.” The two of them brushed passed Hunter and headed to the door with empty pillow cases in their hands.

Hunter turned to follow them and since I didn’t have anything else to do – I definitely was not going to the party – I followed all of them out to the porch.  I didn’t notice it the first time, but there was now a large bowl filled with chocolates on their front porch.

We followed Mackenzie and Victory as they bounced arm in arm down to the sidewalk.  The sky was just beginning to darken and it was slightly colder than it had been earlier.

“Take our picture,” Mackenzie said as she handed me her phone.  Mackenzie and Victory put their arms around each other and smiled at the phone in my hands.  I took a few pictures just to be sure at least one wouldn’t turn out blurry. I loved art, but I was not good at photography.

The girls went to the first house to the right and rang the bell.  Hunter and I waited for them on the sidewalk. I glanced at him. He wasn’t that much taller than me, but I was 5’10 so there were guys shorter than me.  I hated being this tall. Anna and Maria were both short at 5’3 and 5’4 and often told me how much they envied my height, but I just wanted to be petite and tiny like they were.

“It’s really okay if you want to go home,” I told Hunter.  His dark eyes turned to me. “I can take the two of them around.”

Hunter shrugged and turned his attention back to his sister.  Mackenzie and Victory came back to us, but they didn’t pay us any attention as they led the way to the next house.

It was going to be a long night if I was going to be stuck with Hunter.  What could I possibly say to him? It was clear he really didn’t want friends.

“Why did you say those things?”  I hadn’t meant to say it out loud.

“What things?” he asked.

“Nevermind.  I didn’t mean to say anything.  I should have made Kenzie bring a jacket even though she didn’t want to cover her costume.”  His attention went back to the girls as we followed them to the third house. All around us was “trick-or-treats” and happy squeals and giggles from children.  Adults greeted each other and asked their children what they got from each house. Occasionally a parent would snatch one of their children’s candy.

A warm hand grabbed my wrist and pulled me slightly until I was facing Hunter directly.

“What things did I say?” he asked with his hand still over my wrist.

“That you didn’t want to be friends with anyone,” I said.  

He dropped my wrist.

“Trick-or-treat,” Mackenzie and Victory said when Mrs. Harris opened the door.  She was old. I wasn’t sure how old. She had just always seemed old. Her husband had died when I was really young and she was left alone.  If she had any children, I never saw them visit her.

“Wow, look at you two,” she said.  “What are you supposed to be?”

“I was going through some stuff,” Hunter said to me.

“Some stuff,” I said.  A mix of sadness and anger – but mostly anger – welled up inside me.  “For 5 years? How long is this stuff going to last?”

He sighed.  “I don’t know.”

“Is this the same stuff Grace went through when she abandoned my brother and their friends?”

“Yes,” Hunter said.

“Well, how long is this going to last?  Are you going to get over it soon so we can be friends again?”  I wasn’t sure where I found the courage to speak with him after so long, but now that he was talking I wanted to keep it up just to hear my old friend’s voice.

He didn’t answer right away and I turned my attention back to Mackenzie and Victory.  They both grabbed a large handful of candy from the bowl Mrs. Harris offered them. I was about to open my mouth to tell them to take just one, but Hunter said quietly beside me, “I hope so.”

My focus went back to him with a new sense of hope.  The sky flashed green. It lit the entire sky and every head turned to look upward.  Goosebumps formed on my arms and an eerie chill went down my back.

“What was that?” I asked breathlessly as if the green light had taken my voice.

“Mrs. Harris?” Mackenzie asked.

“Victory, get her away from there!” Hunter shouted just as I noticed people collapsing all around us.  I couldn’t get away from the sense of dread and panic that curled over my flesh.

I turned back to my sister to see her kneeling on the ground next to a collapsed Mrs. Harris and my only thought was that something was very wrong.

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