Happy Halloween everyone! Here’s a short story for you! I’d love some feedback!
The house glittered and glowed in the twilight. JoElle hugged herself, smiling in the waning light. On the front walk, outside the wrought iron fence that surrounded the property, she knew the house was impressive. Smugly, she knew that, once again, her Halloween party would be The One people talked about.
In their small town, the Peterson’s annual Halloween party was legendary. Babysitters were booked months in advance. Costumes were planned months ahead of time. Trick or treating ended earlier for the children of the attendees. Everyone wanted to be involved in the Halloween party hosted at the town’s sole haunted house.
The Peterson’s house isn’t really haunted. But years of abandoned vacancy fueled the imaginations of children and adults alike. Teenagers brave enough to explore the vacant house often fled with stories of specters and sprites, fueled by friends and adrenaline. Neighbors saw flickering lights in the empty house, but shook their heads and found other explanations that made better sense.
That all changed when the Peterson’s moved in and made the house their own. Once the house had been renovated in a way meant to capture the historic charm of the old Victorian, JoElle immediately began planning the first Halloween party. Both of the Peterson’s were tickled at the thought of hosting a Halloween party in a house once believed to be haunted.
JoElle hugged herself once more, then hurried up the front walk. Ever the conscientious hostess, she rapidly scanned the vast yard, looking for decorations not lit up perfectly or that had shifted in the strong breeze that sprung up earlier in the day.
At the bottom of the large porch, she turned to get a view of the yard from another vantage point. Satisfied, she turned. Lifting the long skirts of her sexy witch costume, she ran up the steps.
Absently patting a scarecrow seated right inside the front door, she slipped into the brightly lit house to make one more round before the guests arrived.
After a quick tour through the first floor, JoElle stopped in the entrance hall to study herself in the huge mirror. The perky witch’s hat sat atop her curls, not detracting from the corseted focus of her chest. In case the tight corset was to subtle, she reached into the bureau under the mirror and took out the shimmer powder to apply to her cleavage. Tonight was not a time to be shy.
Guests arrived in groups, laughing and prepared for fun. After all, the Peterson’s had never failed before.
The first hour flew by as JoElle greeted guests and prodded the catering staff to keep up. She laughed and flirted. Husbands couldn’t help it when their gazes were drawn to her chest. Wives didn’t worry because it was JoElle Peterson, who was harmless.
“Where’s Ted?” guest after guest asked.
JoElle wrinkled her adorable nose and sighed each and every time, “Can you believe he had to travel for business on Halloween? Apparently, corporate America doesn’t understand how important this holiday is to some of us!” Tinkling laughter trailed after her as she moved to the next group.
“It’s a shame Ted’s missing this great party!” more than one guest pined, quickly forgetting their absent host when something or someone else caught their attention.
JoElle made one last trip to the kitchen to check on the caterers. After giving last minute instructions and telling them what a great job they were doing, she left with a glass of champagne. After absently patting the scarecrow seated right outside the kitchen door, she took a long drink and moved into the sea of bodies filling her first floor to capacity.
Brad Martin reminded himself to smile. It wasn’t easy as person after person asked after his wife, Catherine. When he told them, they were quick to pat his arm and offer condolences for Catherine’s mother, making promises to get in touch with her when she returned. That’s when Brad told his closest friends he didn’t think she would be back.
There was more shoulder patting and more condolences, but no one was really surprised. The Martin’s marriage had been on the rocks for ages. But the Halloween party wasn’t time for sad news, so no one dwelled on Catherine’s defection.
Brad caught JoElle’s eye after a round of shoulder patting and lifted his glass in a silent toast. She nodded back and lifted her champagne flute.
“JoElle, you’ve out done yourself this year!” Ally Carlisle sidled up to her neighbor and shook her head. “How do you do it? You must start planning this party as soon as we all leave!”
“Sometimes it seems that way!” JoElle bumped shoulders with Ally. Pointing with a long, glittery fingernail across the room, she asked, “Did you notice what’s new this year?”
Ally’s eyes widened and she turned her back to the crowd. “I noticed that Catherine Martin isn’t here. Someone told me she’s probably gone for good. They just can’t make it work,” she sighed dramatically.
“I know, I heard that too. But I meant, what’s new with my decorations!”
The older, rounder woman elbowed her, “I’d like to have Brad decorating my house. My, he’s handsome. Do you think he’s into the geriatric thing?”
JoElle laughed, “He is handsome.”
“I guess your eyes are full of your handsome husband. So sad he can’t be here tonight.” The pout was out of place on a milk maid’s face.
“I know. He’s really sorry he’s missing this.” JoElle smiled, barely able to mask her frustration at not having her question answered. Trying again she asked if the year’s new decorations had been spotted.
Ally spun around once and then stopped, a broad grin covering her face, “The scarecrows, of course. His and hers! A matching pair! I checked them out and I have to tell you they are exquisite. Where did you get them?”
“You know I never reveal my sources!” JoElle teased before moving off to find a dance partner.
People ate. They drank. They checked out the multitude of Halloween-themed decorations that filled the house. Upstairs rooms were lit by candlelight and soft, haunting music was piped throughout the house. From candles that dripped blood to “finger” sandwiches, the Halloween-theme was evident.
Joelle was the perfect hostess, ensuring that her guests were well fed and that drinks were plentiful. She made her way around the room, time and time again. And even though it seemed like she was concentrating on the people present, she was keeping a close eye on the scarecrows which were the year’s central decorations.
She stopped breathing for a millisecond each time someone bent closer to study them. The curious poked and prodded, then laughed as they declared how life-like they were.
The grandfather clock in the foyer donged twelve o’clock, signaling the end of All Hallow’s Eve. Responsible party guests finished plates of food and took one last gulp of drinks. Murmurs about working the next day and getting kids off to school replaced the laughter and tinkling of glasses.
JoElle positioned herself next to the front door and said good bye to each guest.
“Ted will be so sorry he missed this!” she assured more than one departing guest. “Of course I’ll give him your best!”
When the last person was hugged and thanked, she closed the heavy front door and leaned against it. Wearily, she pulled the hat from her head and shook loose her curls. Bone tired from preparation and hostessing, she found the conclusion of another Halloween party bittersweet. Thoughts of a bubble bath and long soak gave her the energy to move away from the door.
A movement from the dining room made her gasp. Then she sighed, “Bob.”
“Nice party.” He swirled the ice cubes in his glass, mesmerized by the amber liquid within.
“Perfect party,” she corrected.
Leaning against the door jamb, he absently patted the head of the scarecrow, still focused on the contents of his glass. “They were missed.”
“They were,” she agreed, knowing that he referred to their absent spouses.
After he drained his glass and pushed himself away from the doorway, he squatted next to the scarecrow and studied it closely. Eyes and mouth had been drawn with crude stitches. Bright blush brought color to the waxen complexion. Straw hair had been tightly sewn on to the head.
“Do you think anyone knows?” He straightened, finally looking directly at her.
“I don’t think anyone has a clue.”