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Five Months Later

THIS WAS NOT WHAT DYLAN was expecting when he opened the door. Not at all. The mailman, sure. A neighbor, certainly. But this platinum blonde with pink talons? On his doorstep? There must have been a mistake.

For a few awkward seconds, he forgot how to produce language. Amelia McKinnon was on his doorstep. Amelia McKinnon was on his doorstep! What did he say to this girl who had perpetuated the name Loner Dylan for all of high school? And more importantly, what was she doing at his house?

“Hi, um, Dylan. I know this is – odd, and like, we haven’t always…gotten on, but…would you happen to have a photo of Bethanie?”

His mouth still wasn’t working. He stared.

“It’s just, you were with her on the last day. Like, you were there. And I know you always have that camera with you, so surely you must have photos of her. I mean, not just of her – I’m sure you take photos of lots of people and – things. But I’d just like one of her, if you have one. So I can understand, you know? Or at least, understand better. Or–”

“I have one,” he said suddenly, cutting her off. If she was surprised by his unexpected use of vocal chords, she didn’t show it. “I have a bunch. I’ll just grab them.”

Amelia’s face lit up with happiness and relief. “Great!”

Dylan ran upstairs and into his room. There on his desk sat two folders: a beige university portfolio; and a second, black one that he had yet to label. He grabbed it and ran back down.

“Here,” he said, back at the door. He handed it to Amelia.

“I promise I’ll give it back before school ends.”

Dylan shook his head. “No, it’s fine. Keep it. It’s yours.”

“Are you sure?”

He nodded. Then Amelia opened it up and started flipping through the photos. Bethanie silhouetted in his door frame. Bethanie amongst the trees. The view over the falls. Various photos from the graveyard and the river and the haunted house. Halfway through, Amelia got caught on the one of Bethanie and himself at Hallow-Hains. Florence had been in that picture, but Amelia didn’t know that.

“Is that – a lollipop? Floating?”

“Photoshop,” he said quickly. “I was just messing around.” He forced a natural laugh. He wasn’t sure if it quite worked out.

She smiled and frowned simultaneously. “Alright. Thanks.” She closed the portfolio and tucked it under her arm. “I’ll see you at school.”

“Yeah,” he said, and watched her walk down the path before shutting the door.

Later that day, Dylan drove down to the graveyard. It was a balmy blue-skied afternoon and the meadow was full of flowers.

And dead people, too, of course. But he tried not to dwell on that.

He grabbed the bouquet he’d picked up from the florist and got out of his car. He’d gotten seven yellow tulips, tied together with a gold bow. When he bought them, they had looked the cheeriest flowers in the room. He wanted nothing less.

Dylan walked leisurely though the tombstones. The meadow was humming. Bees buzzed through the air. The wind rolled in the grass, swept through the trees. A pair of birds danced across the sky. For a place so steeped in death, it felt full of life.

This was the first time Dylan had been back since Halloween.

When he reached the forest, he took a deep breath. While it was nowhere near as threatening and dark as it had been, it still gave him pause. This forest, amongst other things, had been haunting his nightmares for five months. He barely even knew what it looked like when it wasn’t twisted by his unconscious mind.

Dylan breathed in and out once more and stepped into the shadow of the trees. He was pleasantly surprised to find that sunlight still shone down between gaps in the foliage. It covered the forest floor in dappled light, like golden confetti had been littered amongst the dirt.

He kept moving past the initial rows of graves before he reached the spot seared into his memory. He stopped at his mother’s grave and knelt down, placing the flowers at the base of her tombstone.

“Love you, Mom,” he said.

Then he stood up, and with great apprehension, moved one grave over.

Where the massive nightmarish tombstone had once stood, there was now just a simple headstone. He bent down to read the faded inscription.

Florence Millie Nigh
Angelic and radiant. Eternally in our hearts.

No wonder he’d never seen the monstrous tombstone before – it had never been there before. It made sense, in a strange sort of way. The gate had taken Florence’s grave, and so the Hallow took Florence’s name. He wondered if the Florence buried there looked like the Florence he had known.

Dylan stood up again. He wished there was a grave here for Bethanie, somewhere he could go to talk to her. But as far as the world knew, she was missing. He’d been questioned by the police relentless for the first few weeks after her disappearance, and all he could say was, “We were in the graveyard. Then she disappeared.”

And it was true. But only half so.

An idea began to take form in his mind and Dylan searched around for a sharp rock. He eventually found a small, dark one with a rough edge and decided it would have to do. Then he knelt at the base of Florence’s grave, and underneath the inscription, painstakingly etched:

Bethanie Cousins

When he finished, his palm and fingers where burning and red. He tossed the rock away and sighed. “I understand,” he said, “why you do what you did. To beat your enemy, you must become your enemy. I just wish…” Dylan paused, unable to put his thoughts into words. There were many things he wished for. And he knew he wasn’t getting any of them.

“You wanted something more, and you got it. Not even the universe can say no to you, Beth,” he added, laughing softly. “I just want to say, thank you. And... I wish you were here.”

He got back up on his feet again and started off. If the wind was acting strangely after he finished speaking, he didn’t notice it.

Dylan made one final stop that day. He hadn’t planned on it, but a hunch had him driving down a long, isolated road until he pulled up in front of the old dilapidated house.

Why am I here? He thought to himself after he got out of the car. And yet still he made his way across the dirt cul-de-sac and towards the hulking skeleton. In his nightmares he saw it as a monster house with wooden teeth and inky eyes. It was often accompanied by a rotten, screaming Hallow floating towards him from within, arms outstretched, bloody lips rasping, “Join me.”

Or worse: Bethanie’s corpse, crawling down the steps, covered in blood, gurgling, “Help me, Dylan.”

Dylan shook off the horrific images and built up his courage. He didn’t know why but he knew he had to go inside.

Slowly he made his way up the steps and to the front door. It was hanging wide open, like an invitation. He accepted and stepped in. Without thinking about it much, he passed through the dark foyer and started up the stairs to the second floor, led by something he couldn’t explain – a feeling, a sixth sense.

There was a long corridor at the end of the steps, drenched in dark. Even though outside the sun was streaming down, it’s light didn’t seem to reach inside the house. All the windows in the world couldn’t bleach the darkness from this place.

Dylan walked down the hall, the air growing colder and colder the further he got. Until, at last, he reached the window at the end of the hallway and stopped. The hunch left him. Once again he was struck dumb by why he was here.

The murky, cracked window overlooked nothing but forest. He touched a finger to the glass and it came away covered in grime. He wiped it on his pants, and was about to turn away when he noticed something etched into the base of the window frame.

He traced the letters, feeling the rough gouges in the wood. “Bethanie,” he read.

There was a light gust of wind and his skin prickled with goose bumps. A floorboard behind him squeaked. He turned around.

“Hi Dylan.”

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