By Brianna Ballesteros-Barajas
“So, what movie are we gonna watch when we get back?” asks Maya as she walks down the dark New Orleans streets with her two best friends.
“I don’t know, maybe Ghostbusters,” replies Heather.
“Isn’t that the movie about the cartoon ghost?” answered Daniel. “That’s lame.”
Heather rolls her eyes and says, “Wrong movie, you big dummy.”
“Calm down, Heather, I don’t watch movies all day like you do,” says Daniel jokingly.
“You two are always fighting!” exclaims Maya. “Can’t you ever take a break?”
“That’s what makes our friendship so fun,” says Heather as she smiles and puts her arms around both their shoulders.
The streets are lit only by some lamp posts and the full moon overhead. It’s quiet, as it always is when it’s almost midnight and everybody is getting a good night’s sleep. All around them, there are houses adorned with Halloween decorations. The three of them walk in the middle of the street.
Daniel looks over at Maya. He spots her water bottle. “Hey Maya, give me a sip, yeah?”
“Sure,” she replies, and hands him the water bottle. Heather lets them go. Daniel takes a sip, closes it, and chucks it down the street. “Hey, what was that for?” yells Maya.
Daniel laughs. “Football player instincts. Can’t help it.”
Heather playfully smacks him on the back of his head. “What was that for?” asks Danny, holding his head.
“Instinct. Can’t help it,” she replies with a smile.
Maya laughs and runs off to retrieve her water bottle. She turns on her phone’s flashlight and spots it in front of a house. She picks it up and is about to go back to Heather and Daniel when she sees something out of the corner of her eye. Her eyes widen and she feels shivers down her spine. As she hurries off to join them, she sees another figure moving. She runs even faster.
“Guys! You won’t believe what I just saw!”
Heather, sensing Maya’s fear, says, “Calm down, what was it?”
“I saw some decorations moving over there! At that house! It was a skeleton, I swear it was walking and it stopped to look at me! It ran towards me but the fence stopped it! I think the other one was a witch, but it didn’t see me!”
Daniel laughs. “I don’t believe you. There’s no way some silly decorations could’ve been walking. This Halloween stuff is seriously getting to you, or maybe it’s the lack of sleep you’re getting. Right, Heather?”
Heather stays silent for a few seconds. Daniel and Maya stare at her, waiting for her response.
Daniel breaks the silence. “So? What do you think? Don’t tell me you believe her!”
“I don’t know, Daniel. I thought I saw something moving earlier, too, but I figured I was just seeing things. After what Maya told us, I’m not so sure. But I think I might know someone who can tell us what’s going on. Come on, I’ll take you guys there,” says Heather.
Daniel stares at her in disbelief. But she has already started walking away with Maya close behind, so he follows them. They turn a corner. A lamp post flickers overhead.
“Aren’t you going to tell us where we’re going? It’s kind of weird of you to take us somewhere random. I don’t even know where we are. Plus, this place is creepy,” complains Daniel.
“When I first moved here, I didn’t know many places. But there was one diner I always went to. I felt safe there, the workers treated me kindly and even some of the regulars started to recognize me. One of the regulars was Dinah, a sweet, wrinkle-faced, half-blind old lady. She always talked about the paranormal and she told me that she knew a day would come when spirits try to set themselves free. I wonder if this is the day she was talking about,” says Heather.
“So what you’re trying to say is that you’re taking us to some old lady’s house? How do you know she’s not gonna poison us or something?” They turn another corner.
“She’s not evil, Danny. I’ve known her long enough to know she’s not like that,” she replies in an annoyed tone. She looks up at the street sign. “Almost there.”
“Great, I can’t wait to meet the old hag,” Daniel says sarcastically.
“Danny, you can leave if you want, it’s not like she’s forcing you to come along,” says Maya.
“I have to come along, don’t I? Otherwise you two will get scared without me around.” Maya rolls her eyes at this. She starts to say something but is interrupted by Heather.
“We’re here.” She stops in front of a dark, old, wooden house. There’s peeling gray paint along the splintery walls. Wind chimes hang from the wooden-floored porch and play their eerily sweet song. A green armchair with dark stains sits on the porch. A tall, leafless tree in her yard makes the house even creepier.
Maya and Daniel stare in confusion. How could somebody live in such a run down house?
Heather turns around and looks at her friends. “I know it’s bad, but trust me, she has the answers. It will only take a few minutes. You guys can stay outside if you want.”
“There’s no way I’m letting you in there by yourself. I’m going too,” says Maya.
“Guess I have to go too, then,” mutters Daniel. “But let’s make it quick.”
Heather turns and walks down the path, up the stairs to the porch, and knocks on the door. After a few seconds, the door creaks open and an old lady appears in front of them. “Oh, Heather, sweetie, what are you doing here at this hour? You should be asleep!” she says. She looks behind Heather and notices her friends. “Are these your friends? Come, come in! I’d like to get to know them.”
She turns around and guides them into her living room. To Maya and Daniel’s surprise, she flips a switch and the room lights up, revealing barely visible baby blue walls. The wall to the left of them is covered with shelves of knick knacks. The wall directly in front of them has shelves of old, dusty books, and the wall to the right is adorned with framed pictures and three cuckoo clocks, each having a different theme; one is shaped and painted like a barn and has farm animals all around it. A white circular table surrounded by four wooden cushioned chairs sits in the middle of the room. A pile of books and newspapers lays in the far right corner of the room.
“Sit down anywhere you like. My name is Dinah, I hope Heather told you at least a little about me. What are your names?”
They all sit down at the table.
“My name is Daniel, and this here is Maya.”
“It’s nice to meet you, ma’am,” says Maya.
“Oh please, call me Dinah.”
Heather looks over at the wall of pictures and cuckoo clocks. She’s been over to Dinah’s house many times before, but she’s never noticed this picture. It shows a young man who looks to be in his early twenties in a U.S. military uniform.
She points to the picture and says, “Hey, Dinah, who’s that?”
Dinah smiles and looks at the picture. “That was my son, Gabriel. He was strong, always happy and always smiling. Poor Gabe, he died at the age of 22 in battle. Always was a brave boy.”
A sad, empathetic expression appears on the three friends’ faces. Dinah changes the subject. “But nevermind about that. It’s all better now. You never did tell me what brings you here, so tell me.”
“Maya says she saw some decorations walking, and supposedly one of them tried to run towards her. Do you think it’s possible? She’s really freaked out about it,” says Heather.
Dinah’s eyes widened. She gets up from her chair and walks towards the pile of books on the ground. She looks through the books, finally picks up one at the bottom, and brings it back to the table. “What day is it today?” she asks no one in particular.
Daniel checks the date on his phone. “It just turned Halloween 15 minutes ago. October 31st,” he says.
“What year?” asks Dinah as she opens up the book and flips through the pages. “I don’t pay attention to time as much these days.”
“2020,” says Heather.
Dinah finds the page she was looking for. She seems to skim through the text. “Oh dear… I knew this day would come, but I didn’t know it would be happening this year,” she says quietly.
“What are you talking about?” asks Heather. “Is there an explanation for what Maya saw?”
“Yes, but you might not understand. Listen carefully. You’ll all have to help me solve this problem. I’m too old for this type of thing.,” says Dinah to all of them.
“Whoa, and who says I’m gonna help? I have to get some sleep!” says Daniel, obviously opposed to Dinah’s orders.
“You can leave if you want. But if you help, we’ll get done sooner and there’s a smaller chance of you waking up and seeing the city in shambles, hm?” replies Dinah, this time sounding a bit angry.
Daniel huffs and slumps in his chair. “Fine. Just tell us what’s happening,” he says.
Dinah moves the book so that the three of them can see it. “Many, many years ago, I received this book from one of my grade school teachers. I never understood what it meant until I was in my late teen years. I spent years learning about spirits and how to get rid of them. Everybody called me crazy, some even went so far as to call me a witch,” she says.
“Yeah, yeah, get on with it. What’s your point?” Daniel rudely says. Heather smacks his arm.
“You’re a rude one, aren’t you?” Dinah chuckles. “Read this. You’ll understand.” She points to the page and pushes the book to the center of the table.
Daniel reads the page:
“On the day after Hallows’ Eve, the spirits will demand to be set free.
Roaming hither and thither, causing violas to wither.
Til day turns night, the spirits stay in sight.
In every and any cranny, a white shadow dances with glee.
Buildings go up in flames, who is to blame?
How could you blame someone who has no frame?”
He stares at the page in confusion, repeating it to himself several times. He looks up at Maya and Heather, hoping to see that they are less confused than he is, only to find that they are thinking just as hard as him. “Well,” he says, “that didn’t explain much. It looks like we’re even more confused than we were when we came in!”
“Wait, I think I’m starting to get it,” says Maya, pointing to the first line. “The day after Hallows’ Eve. That’s today. I’m guessing the spirits part is saying that ghosts are gonna try to set themselves free. That would explain why those decorations were moving! Ghosts must’ve been haunting them.”
Heather jumps in. “Yeah, that makes sense. And you can’t exactly blame a ghost for doing wrong since you can’t tell who they are with them looking foggy. Plus, they can be really old.”
“Okay, I’m starting to understand… But how did you know that it would happen today, Dinah?” asks Daniel.
“I didn’t,” she replies. “I knew that it would happen someday because everything else that was written in the book happened. The book never says exactly when the events will happen.”
“Wait, so why are the ghosts coming out tonight? Is there a reason?” asks Maya.
“That’s a good question, Maya,” replies Dinah. “However, I don’t have much of an answer. I just know they’re up to no good. Maybe we can find out their purpose later on. Now that you know what’s happening, you need to know what to do.”
Dinah walks out of the living room. “Come, come,” she says as she waves her hand in a motion that invites them to follow her. Confused, the three follow her down the hallway. She stops when she reaches a door to the left. “This is the closet. I have all the gear you’ll need in here and I’ll thoroughly explain how to use it.”
The closet door squeaks as she opens it. She pulls on a string hanging from the ceiling and a light bulb shines, revealing a few shelves and years of collected dust. On the shelves are cardboard boxes of many sizes. She reaches for a large box on the top shelf but winces in pain. “Can one of you grab that box for me please? I’m getting a bit old,” she says with a laugh.
Heather grabs the box since she’s the tallest, and to her surprise, it’s heavy. “Take it back to the table. I’ll show you everything there,” says Dinah. Heather struggles to carry it but she manages to make it back to the table without dropping it. They all stand around the table waiting for Dinah to show them everything.
Dinah opens the box. Inside, there are four smooth, shiny wooden vases with lids-each about a foot tall with swirling patterns engraved. Next to the vases are four shiny wooden batons, probably about one and a half feet long. On top of the batons are some velcro straps.
“You’re going to need to seal away the spirits,” says Dinah. “Your goal for tonight is to seal away all the spirits in the area. They only appear in a certain area, but they can spread far if they aren’t contained soon enough. That’s why we need to work fast.”
“The ghosts can haunt things, just like that skeleton from earlier,” she says as she picks up a baton. “That’s why we’ll need these to break the objects and set them free.” She puts down the baton, then picks up a vase. “These vases will suck in the spirits. As I said earlier, they can spread far if we aren’t fast enough so we need to be fast with this. As soon as the ghost is sucked in, you need to close the vase with the lid to stop it from escaping.”
“What about the velcro?” asks Maya.
“Oh, that’s to keep the vases close to us,” Dinah replies. “It’ll keep our hands free and it will make moving around much easier.”
“Seriously? Velcro? Couldn’t you pick something else?” asks Daniel.
“It’s better than nothing, right?” says Dinah.
“Hold on, how are the ghosts supposed to get sucked into the vases? Is there something in the vase that makes them get sucked in?” asks Heather.
“Yes, there is something that sucks in the ghosts,” says Dinah. “But I can’t tell you what it is because then the vases won’t work. Any more questions before we head out?”
They all shake their heads, so Dinah gives each of them a vase, baton, and velcro straps; she leaves some for herself as well. They cross the straps over their bodies and put the vases in between. They walk out of the living room, out of the house, and onto the street.
“Remember,” says Dinah, “you’re going to be the heroes of New Orleans even if no one knows it.”
Something flicks inside Daniel’s head. He suddenly feels more confident and more up to the task. He jogs down the street excitedly. “Hurry up, let’s go!” he says to them.
As the girls walk towards him, Dinah says, “I can sense the presence of spirits. When I don’t sense anything anymore, that is when your job is done. There’s a spirit nearby right now.”
Maya catches a glimpse of a moving figure on the left side of the street. “Over there,” she says as she begins to walk towards it. Ahead of her, a bush shakes and rustles. A plastic pumpkin emerges from the bush and Maya quickly breaks it with her baton. As she reaches for the vase, a white fog seeps out of the cracks and takes the shape of a person. She opens the vase, points it to the ghost, and as soon as it completely disappears into the vase, she puts the lid on it.
Smiling, she turns around to face the others. “Nice job, scaredy-cat,” says Daniel.
Dinah walks towards Maya. She puts her hand on her shoulder and says, “Great job. That’s exactly how I want you to get this done. Now let’s go find some more, shall we?”
“How long has it been since we started?” asks Maya.
“Uh, I don’t know, probably like 40 minutes,” replies Heather.
“How many have we gotten, Dinah?” asks Daniel.
“I would say about 60,” she replies.
“Hey, look at that Pennywise walking,” says Daniel as he laughs. They all walk towards the Pennywise decoration, which has stopped walking and is now staring at them-specifically at Dinah. “Heather, you get it in the vase and I’ll break it. Maya and Dinah stay back,” he says.
Daniel breaks the decoration. Just like all the other decorations they broke, a white fog escapes and takes the shape of a person. Heather is about to open the vase when Dinah suddenly shouts.
“Wait!” She walks quickly towards Heather and Daniel with Maya close behind. She takes a close look at the ghost and starts to tear up. “Gabriel.. I never thought I’d see you again,” she says with a smile. Gabriel just stares at her as if he wants to say something but can’t. His attitude suddenly changes and he tries to get away.
“Heather, hurry!” shouts Dinah. Heather manages to seal Gabriel away before he can get far. “I’m sorry. I let my emotions blind me and almost let him get away,” she says sadly.
“It’s okay. Let’s move on,” replies Heather.
They all walk down the street for a bit before Dinah says, “Seeing him made me happy. It empowered me. If only I could’ve said goodbye…”
The three friends don’t know what to say, so they walk in silence. As they reach an intersection, Daniel looks to the left and says, “Hey, I think I see one over there. I’ll go deal with it. You guys go on ahead, I’ll catch up with you.”
He jogs away and says to himself, “Now it’s time for my show. She wants us to be heroes, well I’ll be one. Only I’m gonna be at the top. Now where are the ghosts…”
He searches for some ghosts for a few minutes. He manages to find a few haunted decorations, but he doesn’t seal the spirits away. Instead, he makes them follow him as he rounds up some more. By the time he’s done rounding them up, he has about 20 following him.
“Now, where do I take them…” he thinks to himself while jogging in order to keep a safe distance from the decorations. “The football field!” He turns a corner and heads to the middle school’s football field. As he makes his way to the field, a few more decorations join him.
When he arrives, it takes him a minute to adjust to the bright white lights shining overhead. The grass is a nice shade of green and trimmed; white numbers, lines and the school’s logo are painted on it, and a running track borders the field. Rows of gray metal bleachers sit on the sidelines.
He jogs to the center of the field where the school’s logo is and grips his baton. He does a head count of all the decorations. “32? That’s a lot more than I thought…” he says to himself. “Oh well. Heroes gotta take some risks.”
He starts to hit all of the decorations at once, but none of them break. Not even a crack. He tries to hit them even faster, but they’ve started to crowd around him, not giving him enough space to swing. He stumbles on one of the decorations and falls on his back. He tries to push himself up, but the decorations have already started to trample him. With fear in his eyes, he shouts.
“Hey, where’s Daniel? He’s been gone for a long time,” says Maya. She wipes a bead of sweat from her forehead.
“He’s probably just goofing off. Maybe he found a funny tree to laugh at,” says Heather jokingly.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to brush it off. This can be a dangerous task. We need to go look for him in case he’s in trouble,” says Dinah.
“Okay, where should we look first?” asks Maya.
“Maybe we should look around the school. He’s usually hanging around there,” suggests Heather.
So they walk to the school at a quick pace. As they get close to the school, they hear faint screaming. They come to an abrupt stop.
“Hey, doesn’t that kind of sound like Daniel?” says Maya nervously.
“You’re right,” replies Heather in a scared voice. She composes herself and says, “Hurry up, we need to go and help him!”
Heather and Maya run in the direction of the screams with Dinah following at a brisk pace. The screams get louder and clearer as they get closer. The school comes into view. Heather runs towards the entrance.
“Wait, Heather, don’t you think the school is a bit crowded for that? Daniel still has a little common sense in his head,” says Maya.
Heather turns around and runs back to Maya. “You’re right. Let’s look for him at the field,” she says, nearly out of breath.
They run around the fence bordering the school and reach the football field. By now, the screams are clear as day.
The girls rush into the field and upon seeing the amount of decorations huddled up in the center of the field, run even faster. Heather grips her baton and starts clobbering the decorations one by one. Maya holds the vase open to seal the ghosts away.
Dinah, who has now caught up with them, holds her vase open. Maya takes the hint, puts her vase away, and joins Heather. The decorations, now lying limp on the field, make way for Daniel to stand up. He helps the girls break the decorations, and within a few minutes, there are none left standing. Dinah closes her vase. They all collapse to the ground.
With a shaky voice, Heather says, “What happened to you needing to protect us, huh?”
“I was trying to do you all a favor. Make it less work for you,” lies Daniel. His breaths are unsteady. He looks embarrassed and tries to look away from them.
“Yeah, and look how that turned out. You could’ve gotten badly hurt,” says Heather.
Daniel ignores her. Maya turns to Daniel.
“Speaking of that,” says Maya, “are you okay, Daniel? Do you have any injuries?”
“Just a few scratches. Maybe a few bruises. Nothing major,” he replies.
“You don’t know if those scratches can get infected or something. A lot of those decorations looked old and dirty. When we’re done, let me check them out for you, okay?” says Maya with a concerned tone in her voice.
“Fine,” says Daniel reluctantly. He stands up and brushes the grass off his jeans. “Don’t we have to keep looking for more?”
“You’re right, Daniel,” says Dinah as she stands up. “Let’s check those streets over there.”
Heather and Maya stand up. Together, they all walk out of the field and towards the streets.
Fifty minutes later, they stand in the middle of the street.
“So are we finished now?” asks Daniel.
“I believe so. But just in case, I’m going to go around town one more time to see if there’s any left. I think there won’t be very many, so you can leave now if you’d like,” replies Dinah.
“Alright then, I think we’ll be leaving now, right guys?” says Heather.
Maya and Daniel nod.
“Oh! I almost forgot. Make sure you leave your gear back at my house, I need to deal with those spirits,” says Dinah.
“Will do,” says Daniel.
They walk away towards Dinah’s house in silence. They leave their gear on her porch and walk back towards Heather’s house. Maya breaks the silence.
“So are we still gonna watch movies? Or are we gonna go to sleep?”
“I want to stay up to watch something,” says Daniel.
“Mhm,” agrees Heather. “Ghostbusters?”
“You mean the cartoon ghost?”
Heather just blinks at him. “We’ve been over this, Daniel.”