The neighbors of Prospect Avenue welcomed the two couples from their camping trip when they arrived. The children were skittish as they were expecting the Huntingtons newly-turned by Travis and his wife, but they did their best to conceal their suspicions. Unbeknownst to their parents, they banded together in several impromptu meetings at the strip mall and the playground to plot ways of exposing Travis and his wife while they were away at the Dark Forest. They were steadfastly convinced they could save New Hamlet from the couple.
As they couldn’t break into house number 308 without risking being seen and heard, they resorted to tailing Travis (with much reluctance) whenever he went out on foot for various errands. At the same time, others would try spying into the windows of the house for a glimpse of his wife in the hopes of catching her naked without the all-concealing garment. This often drew many snickers from the older children, as it was similar to being a Peeping Tom under normal circumstances. Alas, the dark curtains foiled their attempts as they were always left closed.
Stymied, they banded together again at the playground to see if any one of them had any new ideas. One boy named John stood up, dressed in a T-shirt depicting an album cover of The Screaming Hams and a pair of tan shorts. He had blue eyes and blond hair that was kept short, and he was fifteen years old. The rest of the children hushed up to hear him out.
“Okay, so we know they’re pretty smart to keep the windows curtained all the time, but there’s one way we’d know for sure,” he addressed them, pausing here for dramatic effect.
“I’m going to go up to the house, and see if she won’t let me in.” He finished to great protestation and a very few catcalls from the older children. He waved them down for silence.
“Shut up! I SAID SHUT UP! Thank you, know what I think of this? I think it’s bull, that they’re werewolves. So I aim to prove you pussies wrong by walking up there and coming in for thirty minutes. The most she can do like all your mothers do is give me candy and ask me how’s my summer going,” this was met by whispered talk among the older children accompanied by stifled laughter. The others remained fearful of John’s proposal, though they said nothing since they were on the fence due to his reasoning.
“But what if she bites you and you get turned into one of them?” a girl in pigtails nervously asked him and a few others murmured affirmation.
“Then you’ll hear it if it happens,” John replied with a confident expression, and this made the others look at each other fearfully. His next remark spurred them into action.
“Okay, I’m gonna do this right here and now. You just stay here until I come back.”
Immediately, they did their utmost best to talk John down from carrying on his plan, often warning him that Travis could be back from his errands.
“You idiots, he’s out working today, didn’t any of you guys see his car come out of the garage?” he retorted and this shut up the group long enough for him to keep going.
Minutes later, John found himself knocking on the stained-glass door of house number 308. He could feel the eyes of the other children boring into him as he waited for an answer, giving the impression they were crowding around behind him on the porch. They were hidden in bushes at other houses, using binoculars.
After what seemed to be an eternity, the door clicked and then turned inwards, revealing Travis’ wife in her usual Muslim garb. Her golden eyes bore into John’s eyes and he gulped despite mustering his courage. Even he thought he heard a gasp from the spying children.
“How may I help you?” she spoke in her dreamy voice, though sounding courteous at the same time. He blinked at this and went into his prepared dialogue.
“Uh, hi, Mrs.…” he paused as he realized that nobody in New Hamlet learned of the new couple’s last name and wondered how in the world no one ever questioned them on this fact. He seemed to lose track of what he was supposed to be saying and then recovered quickly enough.
“Er, my name’s John Andrews, I was wondering whether I could help you with some chores you might need assistance with?” He nearly fumbled halfway through, but he carried on smoothly through sheer willpower and allowed himself to be nervous in front of her.
“Is that so?” her reply seemed to fill John with the feeling of amusement and he couldn’t help but smile despite the situation he got himself into, much to his wonder and confusion.
“Then I must ask how old you are, John Andrews,” she went on and he blinked at her question before replying. What is she talking about? He wondered.
“Fifteen, I turn sixteen in two months,” he said quickly.
“Mm, that’s old enough in any case. Do come in, then,” Travis’ wife walked to the side of the door to hold it open so John could get in. With a swallow, he got inside and looked around the entrance hall, taking in the Victorian-style furnishings. He thought he could smell freshly-dug dirt and something familiar when he walked past her. With a careful and graceful gesture, he was directed to the parlor room just past the entrance hall.
John immediately registered several things in this room: the fireplace that served as the focal point with the couch in front of it, and a pair of easy chairs at either side of the couch between itself and the fireplace. There were several spindly stands with buckets of champagne bottles on each one of them. As he made for the couch, he saw ragged lines of stuffing coming out of it in several places, giving the impression it was clawed up by something fierce. He paused at the sight of the claw marks and quickly went for one of the easy chairs, the both of them undamaged in any way.
Man, unless they’re werewolves for sure, they gotta be kinky, he mentally spoke to himself as he eyed the couch with a bit of apprehension. As if to emphasize on what he was thinking, Travis’ wife sat down on the couch slowly and carefully before crossing her legs.
“Uh, not to be rude, but do you have arthritis or something?” he blurted out.
“No, but I am sure by now you must know I am Muslim, so I take great care not to show one inch of myself from underneath my hijab to strangers,” she spoke after a length of silence filled with the same feeling of amusement from earlier.
“So you’re only allowed to show yourself to your husband, no one else?” he asked incredulously. She nodded in reply, though slightly. He decided to cut to the chase, taking a deep breath.
“Are you really Muslim?” his heart beat faster at his daring move. The same feeling suffused the room, but only slightly.
“Yes, why do you ask?” she tilted her head at John.
“Just curious,” he said quickly and fidgeted in his seat and immediately relaxed in an effort to keep himself composed. Why didn’t I ask her she’s a werewolf? Come on, man, get yourself together! He mentally berated himself.
“Mm, nothing cuter than a boy being nervous in front of a woman,” she said with a soft giggle, coquettishly putting up a covered hand in front of her mouth at the same time. John frowned at this, feeling himself go red in his face. Several moments passed until Travis’ wife offered him something to drink. Grateful for the change in the conversation, he said “yes.”
“Perhaps you wouldn’t mind a glass of champagne with me?” she said, gesturing to the nearest bucket. He stared at her as he realized that he walked into it, yet at the back of his mind, he was curious to try out what champagne tasted like. He opened his mouth yet he couldn’t make up his mind whether to take up on her offer or decline politely.
“Silly boy, I was kidding. Of course you’re too young to drink alcohol,” she said and got up slowly and carefully, giggling a little more before she walked away from the parlor room. “We only have chocolate milk and orange Crush for the time being,” her voice trailed from somewhere in the house.
“Uh, some Crush would be good, thanks,” John said after a moment of eyeing the bottle of champagne sticking out of the bucket. He then looked around himself from the chair to take a better stock of the surroundings. He could see no trace of Islamic objects or decoration as the room seemed to be predominantly Victorian in style. He found it slightly unsettling as if this was straight out of a horror movie set.
“Here you go, John,” Travis’ wife startled him out of his observation and he took the offered can from her with a murmur of thanks.
“Uh, mind giving me a tour of your house? It’s… different,” he finished lamely as he couldn’t quite bring himself to lie about appearances. But he was hoping to sniff around for evidence.
“Curious, aren’t we?” she spoke, a faint feeling of amusement emerging within John as her eyes looked into his. He immediately broke eye contact, looking down to his can of Crush as he made an effort to crack it open. He could feel her eyes still on him as he sipped some of the soda, feeling slightly uncomfortable just now. Is she catching on? Oh God, I hope not…
“Tell me this, then. Did your parents put you up to help me and my husband with chores?” her voice lost a little of its dreamy quality, taking on a slight severe tone at the same time. John swallowed and bought time by sipping some more before replying. Oh God, oh God, oh God…
“Yes, they did. They, uh, wanted me to earn some cash before the summer’s over.”
“And no one else were kind enough to hire you? A strapping young man looking for a living?” she spoke softly and John couldn’t tell if she was sympathetic or joking due to the veil-like covering over her face. Only her intense golden eyes remained visible and they didn’t seem to suggest anything other than the impression they were X-raying him. He fought the urge to swallow again and won.
“Uh, something like that. But if you’re not interested in hiring me, then I should get going,” he made to stand up from the chair, intent on getting away from Travis’ wife and out of this house all of a sudden. It was starting to creep him out at this point.
“I haven’t given you my answer yet, John,” the way she said this made him stay in his seat. “If you don’t mind, I can call your parents to confirm they sent you out here looking for a summer job,” the feeling of amusement happened again within John and this was at odds with what he was really feeling, a sinking fear at being cornered like this. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this, he thought.
“You know what, I’ll just be going, thanks for the…” John paused to look at the can of Crush in his hand, “Crush.” This time, he got up to his feet and made for the door.
Once John was well beyond the house’s property line, he relaxed with a sigh, wiping his forehead with the cool can of Crush. Before he could do anything else, he noticed the blue Oldsmobile with the black-tinted windows he recognized as Travis’ car turning into Prospect Avenue from Belle Street. Feeling a stab of fear in his gut, he willed himself to walk as casually as possible as Travis drove by him. He breathed another sigh of relief once he turned into Belle Street from Prospect Avenue without incident.
He wished that he didn’t have the idea of going into Travis’ house at all in the first place.