Dani regarded the slick leaves on the ground with some skepticism.
After a moment, she kicked them out of the way. She should have brought a towel, but she hadn't thought about it. Her face flushed and she turned away before the knot of heat in her chest could work its way up to her throat.
She sat down right on the dirt, which was only a little bit damp from having been under the leaves. It had been a dry October. Pulling her knees up to her chest, she stared at the graveyard. It was empty, even of tourists. Maybe nobody much felt like tromping through a graveyard on an unseasonable seventy-three degree day.
Everyone said it wasn't going to be much colder next Monday, Halloween - and didn't it just prove that this year was the worst, that Halloween was on a Monday - but she had her fingers crossed.
Max wasn't going trick-or-treating with her. She wasn't going trick-or-treating at all. She was 17, which was too old. Plus, Allison's parents said he just had to help them open their Halloween party, it wouldn't be at all the thing to have them not there to start it off.
Dani rested her forehead on her knees. "Max is still sulking about being carted around town for a fancy costume to match the ballgown Allison's wearing. I don't know why she always has to wear a ballgown. It's so boring. It barely even counts as a costume. And Allison doesn't even want to be there. She says it's boring and awful and her parents just want to show her off because she got a big fancy job in Boston. She and Max are moving in November."
No response was forthcoming from the leaves, or the dirt, which was only to be expected. She came out here a couple times a month. There was never any response to anything she said.
Billy Butcherson hadn't talked to her in years.
It turned out that when you stayed home to hand out candy, you didn't really get to watch scary movies. Instead, every couple minutes, you had to get up because the doorbell was ringing again.
Dani hadn't even gotten to step into the living room when the bell rang next. Sighing, she grabbed the candy bowl and turned around, careful not to let her hat swing off her head again. The littler kids all looked disappointed when she'd first answered the door without a costume on, so she'd gone digging in the back of her closet for the old hat and an elbow-length capelet Allison's mom had bought her once.
It had looked dashing and witchy in the mirror: black, spilling over her shoulders and draped open across her chest, fastened with one big silver button at the throat. The button was digging into her skin a little now. Once it got late enough that the little kids weren't coming anymore, she was going to take it off.
"Coming!" she shouted, when the doorbell rang a second time.
"Be patient, " she could hear from the other side of the door. Ha.
The grin that had started fell off her face the instant she got the door open.
The little girl in front of her didn't seem to notice: she stuck her plastic pumpkin out in front of her with both hands. "Trick or treat!"
The little girl in front of her didn't seem to notice: she stuck her plastic pumpkin out in front of her with both hands. "Trick or treat!"
The magic words snapped Dani into action: she dropped more Reese's cups into the pumpkin than she usually would have, but her heart was racing and she was struggling for a reason to keep the two kids on the porch for another moment. Just another moment. She glanced up at the girl's older brother, clearly tired halfway into a night of escorting her around town.
"Thank you what are you supposed to be?" the girl asked, peering up at Dani.
"She's a witch," her brother said, laughing. He was not wearing a costume. He was in jeans and a t-shirt: clearly, this girl was less demanding of a sister than Dani had been during her trick-or-treating years.
"A bad witch or a good witch?"
Dani managed to take a breath. "A good witch."
"Obviously," the boy said, smiling. He hesitated as his sister started to leave the front steps - he grabbed her wrist without really thinking, and still looking at Dani. "Hi," he said.
"I - Hi."
His eyes went down to her mouth, and she was sure if he looked a little further down he'd see her heart smashing against her chest. It was hard, because it was so, so dark, and the light from the streetlamp halfway down the block caught on his skin and nothing else around them.
"Sorry. Can I ask you something crazy?" But he didn't give her a second to say yes or no, just barreled on into: "Have we met before? Did you used to live in Danvers?"
For a second she was so disappointed she couldn't answer, until he started fidgeting. "Um. No. We used to live in California. But that was a long time ago."
He shook his head. "I guess you have one of those faces."
Her face went very, very hot, which he didn't seem to notice in the gloom. It was suddenly very gloomy. "I guess," she said.
She lasted about thirty more minutes before she set the candy bowl out on the steps and headed back into town.
It was him.
Wasn't that what Binx had looked like?
Dani couldn't say anything but, "It looked like him. And Emily."
Even in the back of the house, it felt crowded. She had walked all the way over here and then crept around the edges of the party until she'd found Max and Allison. It had taken some actual dragging, but she'd managed to get them to the pantry where they could talk without being overheard. She'd told them everything.
And now they were looking at her like she'd busted into the house drunk.
"We saw Binx - we saw him go, Dani." Max ran a hand through his hair. "It can't be him."
"And witches can't rise from the grave. And zombies can't be your friends. And-"
"I miss him too," Max snapped. Allison put a hand on his shoulder, and he took a deep breath. "Listen, are you still trying to… to talk to Billy…"
"No!" Couldn't a girl have secrets? A secret?
"I don't really remember what he looks like," Allison admitted. "You'd think I'd remember that."
"Billy?" How could you forget what Billy looked like?
"No, Binx." Allison lowered her voice, even though no one else was around. "I think maybe we used up all the magic from that night. I tried sometimes, too, Dani. To cast spells or… Talk to somebody." She glanced at Max. "We bought a ouija board. I didn't want to get your hopes up, though, so we didn't say anything. Nothing happened. I know that night was real, but I think whatever magic the Sandersons had… whatever we had access to… it just dried up."
Max looked utterly miserable. Dani wondered if she looked that bad.
"Look, it's Halloween. Even we're still supposed to have fun on Halloween. It's… weird… that you saw people that looked like them… But you're here now. Want to go make fun of people's costumes?" Allison stuck her hand out, smiling. Max was chewing on his lower lip and not quite looking at her.
Dani shook her head. "I should go back and finish handing out candy before somebody eggs the house."
"Come on, " she said, stomping on the dirt. "Come on come on!"
Full dark had settled in. The air had turned cold and crisp and if the wind kept up, it would probably be raining tomorrow. The wind tugged leaves off the trees in the graveyard and piled them all over, including at her feet, and on Billy's headstone. She had been out here for maybe ten minutes and already wished she was wearing a warmer costume.
"You have to say something. You have to! Billy, you owe me! Aren't we - Aren't we friends? I need to talk to you! You came back from the dead, Billy, I - I need to ask you how! "
It had been real. Billy had been real. Max and Allison both remembered him, and she had heard his voice, when she had visited this grave.
She had heard it for four years, until she turned twelve, and had taken down the altar in her room - two kids she'd brought home to work on a group project with had stared at it with wide eyes, and it had never actually helped her any. That had been an awful, awful year. It had been the year she realized her parents were starting to think she was odd, for clinging so tightly to it all. So she'd dialed it back. No more altar. No more trying to work magic.
Her parents didn't know about Billy, but he'd stopped talking to her all the same.
She kicked at the ground again. Water pricked at the corners of her eyes. "Did I do something wrong?" she asked, her voice cracking.
Still no answer.
A leaf stuck to her arm, and she had to peel it off. The wind was cutting into her clothes, and the streetlamps outside the graveyard seemed distant and faded. Usually on Halloween there would be someone else in the graveyard - a cop, or people making out, or something - but tonight she was alone. Under her feet, the ground felt hollow.
It was going to take forever to walk home. She'd come here on foot. Sighing, she leaned against a tree and shut her eyes. Just a few minutes. She just needed to rest for a few minutes.
By now, the party at Allison's was probably winding down. She and Max would get back to the house and Dani wouldn't be there. And then she'd be fucked. It had been years, but Max was worse than Mom and Dad when Dani couldn't be found.
"Stupid," she whispered. She pulled her cape tight against herself. "Stupid. Stupid to come out here. Stupid to ask - Just. Stupid."
"Do you always talk to dead people?"
She leapt about a foot in the air and reflexively darted behind Billy's gravestone. It came up to her thigh - not the best shield. But the person in front of her wasn't a witch or a zombie or a monster at all.
Binx tilted his head to one side. Emily was standing with him, a lollipop sticking out of her mouth. Her little plastic pumpkin was nearly overflowing with candy. Binx squeezed her hand, and pulled her forward a few steps. "We saw you earlier, right?" He smiled slightly. "The girl who's not from Danvers?"
"What are you doing here?"
Dani lifted her chin. "I could ask you the same thing."
Binx laughed a little. "We're taking a shortcut home. But you…" He frowned when Dani started walking away. "Hey. Hey, where are you going?"
"Maybe she doesn't like you," the little girl said.
Whatever Binx replied with, Dani didn't hear it. Her chest was tight and hot and it felt like the cape, fastened at her neck, was strangling her. It was hard to breathe - She stumbled, and pushed herself off a tree. This wasn't the right direction but they'd been standing between her and the gate that let onto the straightest path home. This wasn't the right direction, but Dani knew this cemetery like she knew her own name.
She'd just passed a grave she didn't want to look at when the two of them caught up. "Are you okay?" Binx called. "You seem kind of - Could you just wait up?"
"I'm fine, and I'm going home, " Dani called. She jumped when a hand closed around her elbow, and when she whipped around, Binx was staring at her, unsettled. "What's wrong with you?"
"You don't look okay," Binx said. He tightened his grip when Dani tried to pry his fingers off her arm. "Are you really sure you don't know me?" he asked, his other hand coming up to cup the side of her face.
Dani froze. She couldn't even move when she heard Emily drop her plastic pumpkin and cry out. Binx didn't move, not even for that. He just stared at her. His hand was hot on her chilled skin, and the longer he stared, the more confused he looked.
"Why does this have my name on it?" Emily shrieked.
That made him let her go, made him step back. He ran over to his sister and dragged her away from the grave - the headstone that read EMILY BINX on it - leaving the candy scattered on the ground. The birds and the squirrels were going to get at it if they left it there, and it was a whole night's worth of treats, but Emily didn't even try to pick up a single piece. Instead, she was sobbing, and yelling about the grave with her name on it. "Why are we here?" she shouted.
Binx got his sister out of sight of the stone and scooped her up, hugging her tight. "It's okay, Emily."
"I can't breathe, Thackery!"
Dani touched her face.
"You replaced me!"
Dani flushed, fumbling as she locked the door behind them. "We did not."
Binx crouched and lifted up the cat's tag, before the cat leapt onto the stair rail to get away from him. "Spooky? You got a black cat and named it Spooky?"
"Hey, Spooky was named that when we got her from the shelter!"
Dani scooped up the cat, who was watching Binx with narrowed eyes. (Which was probably fair, as Binx was watching her with the same.) She meowed and rubbed her face against Dani's chin. She was very black, and a little pudgy, and very aggressive about getting her daily allotment of nuzzles.
"I think Spooky is cute," Emily murmured.
She had held tightly onto Binx's hand the entire walk back here. The two of them had been quiet for nearly the whole walk, Binx answering a few questions with short replies, and Emily blinking at things like neon signs and buses and her own costume like she wasn't quite sure about them. Now the two of them were standing at the bottom of the stairs and it nearly seemed like it could have been nine years ago.
He looked the same. Dani was sure he looked the same.
"Do you want to hold her?" she asked, crouching down and smiling at Emily. It was hard not to just stare at him. Emily nodded, and Dani gently handed the cat over. Spooky looked around and chirped, annoyed, but put up with being held as soon as Emily started scratching her ears.
"I suppose you don't allow her to hunt mice."
"She's an inside cat."
Binx was so visibly offended that Dani had to bite her lower lip to keep from laughing.
A door opened upstairs. There were a few footsteps, and then Allison was rushing down the stairs, calling, "Max! Dani's back! Dani, where were … you…"
"Hello," Binx said to her. He half-smiled when Max stopped partway down the stairs, all the color gone from his face. "You got old," he teased.
Max laughed, put a hand over his mouth. He came down a few more steps and managed to say, "You're one to talk."
"But where did you come from?" Allison blurted.
"This is very strange." Binx looked at his sister, who was sitting on the floor with the cat purring in her lap, then, reluctantly, at Dani. She felt her face heat up while he stared at her. "You don't still have the Book, do you?"
"No!" She shot to her feet. "No! I would never - Do you think I'd really use the Book, that awful thing-"
Allison grabbed her hand, and Dani clamped her mouth shut. "It's still in the museum," she said. "It's under a new glass case. No one's tried to steal it, since then. We… I convinced my mom to convince the historical society to install a new security system."
Binx pressed his lips together. "I'm sorry, Dani."
"I wanted… I wanted you to come back, but not like that. "
"The only real magic I ever witnessed was attached to that Book, Dani. This…" Binx gestured at himself. "I'm sorry."
Dani pulled her hand free from Allison's and tugged off her hat. She put it down on the end of the stair railing. It had glittery orange yarn stitched into the brim. It looked a lot like the one she'd had when she was eight. She'd never been somebody who'd wanted to dress up as a villain. "I didn't do this. Aren't you happy to see us?" she whispered.
"Of course I'm happy." Binx let out a frustrated breath. "The last time I had magic used on me, it was … unpleasant. Now someone has used magic on me again, and I don't even know why."
"Maybe it wasn't a spell." Max sat down in the nearest chair. "Maybe it's just… payback?"
"Like… hey, sorry you were a cat for three hundred years. Want a second chance?"
Binx actually snorted.
"Maybe someone made a wish," Emily suggested. She was very methodically patting Spooky's head. Spooky's tail twitched each time she did.
Everyone looked at her, and Dani's face went red.
In the museum, the Book slowly opened its eye.