The Halloween Party

Synopsis:

This was originally written for Sapphire's Halloween story contest, but the stores have yet to be published. She's still free to post the story eventually on her site, but I decided to finally go ahead and post it here.

Ron gets 'volunteered' to go to the office Halloween party as a cheerleader. But he finds he has also been volunteered for something else entirely...

Story:

The Halloween Party

By

Melanie Brown

Copyright  © 2006

"Don't be such a pussy, Ron," Gary Kleinman said from the entrance of my spacious cubicle.

Frowning I said, "Gary, look...I'm just not much of a party person, okay?" I put down the sports section of the newspaper I was looking at, realizing it would be a minute or two before I could get back to it.

I’ll admit it. I’ve always been something of a social outcast. I’m an introvert and very uncomfortable in social situations. I think I’ve been on two dates in my whole life.

Joanne McClarity popped her head over the top of my wall, where my Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders calendar was hanging. Playing with the paperclip I used to hang the calendar, she said, "You're not going to the Halloween party? Everybody goes to that! It's always a lot of fun!"

Joanne, Gary and I, along with about eight other employees, all lived at the same apartment complex. In fact, right after I hired on with the company and moved to this town, Joanne suggested I get an apartment there. I think they were looking for a new carpool buddy. But I enjoyed riding my motorcycle too much. Maybe after the cold weather settled in…

Gary asked, "You weren't here last year, were you?"

"No," I said. "I was hired last May, remember?"

Gary laughed. "You missed it man. It was funnier than hell."

Joanne scowled and said, "Don't tell that story, Gary. Joseph almost got fired and it really isn't funny." Joseph Youngman is our CIO. As near as I can figure, he's CIO only because he's an old college chum of our CEO, Michael Stone. I don't think he even knows how to change the wallpaper on his computer's desktop.

Gary laughed again and said, "No, wait. It's great. Youngman was so drunk he somehow managed to trip and fall right in front of where Stone's wife was sitting. And then he somehow managed to get his head up inside her skirt and right on her privates. Joe says..." Gary starts laughing again. "...Joe says, 'Hey, I'm suddenly hungry for tuna!'" Gary laughs so hard at the memory, his eyes tear up.

I glanced at Joanne, who was frowning, and then to Gary who was still chuckling and wiping his eye. I said flatly, "That's a real knee-slapper, Gary." And then with a little more sarcasm in my voice I said, "And to think I missed all that hilarity."

Jerry Rushing, whose main goal in life is to convert everyone to his religion — Linux — stopped by my cubicle and said to Gary, “Are you telling that story about Youngman again? That’s a hoot, huh? God was he drunk.” He looked around a second and asked, “Are you guys having a meeting?”

Joanne said, “Actually, we were trying to talk our network guru here to come to the Halloween party next week.”

Jerry inexplicably glanced at his watch and asked, “Oh. Is that next week?”

Gary said, “That it is. You comin’?”

Jerry nodded and said, “Probably. Hey, did any of you guys tape Survivor last night? I was tweaking my system and rebuilt my kernel and I forgot all about it.”

After a chorus of “No, sorry…,” Jerry looked sad for a moment, and then said to me, “Oh, Daniels. You should definitely go to the party. And those chicks from Accounting really get wild.”

“Seriously, Ron,” said Joanne. “You should go. It’d give you a chance to socialize with the rest of us.”

I really didn’t want to go. I’d lost interest in Halloween somewhere around the age of twelve. Dressing up as a pirate, or a ghost, or a Frankenstein monster definitely didn’t appeal to me now that I was twenty-four.

My age was a joke too. I’m still somewhat baby-faced. Just last week, while wandering through the cube farm on the fourth floor trying to find a particular office to trouble-shoot a network problem, a woman came up to me and asked if I was looking for one of my parents. When I first interviewed for the job, our department manager told me he wasn’t interested in hiring any high school interns.

I said, “Well, guys…you know...like I said, I’m not much of a party person.” I didn’t want to sound too anti-social so I added, “Besides, I wouldn’t have a clue what kind of costume, except for maybe an early twenty-first century Earth human?”

Joanne just shook her head and said, “Philip in H.R. did that last year. He took some flak for that.”

Gary chuckled and walked across my office and tapped my calendar. He said, “How about that? We haven’t had a guy show up as a cheerleader in a few years. With your physique, you could probably be pretty convincing.”

Joanne’s face brightened. She said, “Hey yeah! You’re young and thin enough that you’d make a cute cheerleader. A few years ago, Ralph from the mailroom dressed like a cheerleader. He looked like a linebacker in cheerleader uniform. It was hilarious. Before that was…uh…who was that…about five years ago. Oh, it was Larry. He was a cute cheerleader too. His name is Laura now and he’s…she…married some guy and is living in California somewhere.”

I glanced back and forth between Joanne and Gary and said, “Well, that definitely sounds like a really bad idea then. Come on guys, I got work to do.” I started to pick up the sports page again.

Joanne said, “Oh, come on, Ron! It’ll be a hoot! Me and some of the girls would just love to help you with your make-up. I think you’d look really cute! You might even win the annual costume contest.”

Gary laughed a moment. His face then turned serious as he said, “You know, Ron. You really should go to this party. I mean, it’s being noticed that you don’t socialize with any of us. You don’t go to lunch with anybody, or out for Friday-after-work beers…”

Frowning, I interrupted and said, “Gary, I’ve told you before, I don’t drink alcohol. And I’m a very private person. It’s still a free country, isn’t it?”

Joanne said, “Please consider it, okay?”

“Okay, okay. I’ll give it some thought,” I said.

Gary said, “You really should. And trust me on this, Ron. If you go with the cheerleader outfit, the chicks will be all over you, wanting to help you with your make-up and instruct you how to sit and all that.”

“Speaking from personal experience?” I asked.

“No!” howled Gary. To Joanne he asked, “Am I wrong? Or am I wrong?”

Joanne giggled as Gary’s face flushed red. Looking back down at me she said, “The girls will probably fuss over you. If you look as good as I think you will, you might have some of the guys fussing over you as well. Especially Gary. He’s got a thing for cheerleaders.”

From two cubicles down and slightly muffled, I heard Jerry call, “Everybody’s got a thing for cheerleaders.”

Joanne said, “Well, I need to get back to work too. Think about it. See ya, guys.”

As Joanne’s head disappeared behind the cubicle wall, Gary grabbed my newspaper out of my hand and stared at the front page of the sports section. He said, “Oh, speaking of cheerleaders, get a load of her. Man, she’s really hot.” There was a picture of a middle school cheerleader just about to start a routine at a local middle school football game.

I looked at Gary sideways and said, “She’s fourteen, Gary. That’s a little sick, isn’t it?”

Gary handed the paper back to me and said, “Like I’ve always said, ‘If there’s grass on the field, play ball!’”

* * *

The phone rang. It was my boss, Bob Sikes. He said, “Hey Ron. I need you to go to the tenth floor and check out the network switch up there. Tony called this morning and says he can’t get on the network.”

“What does he need a network connection up there for? That floor’s being gutted.”

Bob sighed and said, “He doesn’t really. But he takes his notebook up to keep up with his email while overseeing the renovations up there.”

“Are you convinced now we need to go wireless?”

“Ron, I think I gave you something to do. Why don’t you go do it?” Bob hung up the phone. I gathered up my tool bag and headed to the elevators.

There was already a guy standing in front of the elevator as I approached it. I’d seen him around, but didn’t know his name. He’d already pressed the “Up” button and I resisted the silly temptation to press it again, as if that would make the elevator return faster.

“Elevators slow today?” I asked. I really wasn’t interested, but I thought that maybe I should start being more ‘social.’

The guy, burdened with a briefcase and a pen said, “We’re down to one.” He looked intently back up at the floor indicator as if mentally trying to change the number to a “1”.

I set the tool pouch I was carrying on the floor and said, “Oh really? Is the other one broken?”

The guy gave me that ‘what tree did you fall out of’ look and said, “Yeah. You could say that, I guess. You didn’t hear?” He continued after I shook my head. “Last night the cable snapped. Can you believe that? As thick as those things are? They inspected just last month too. Anyway, one of the guys in sales and his assistant were going down after… cough! …working late.”

Wide-eyed I asked, “Are you kidding? I didn’t hear about that. Were they hurt?” I guess I am out of the gossip loop. I’m sure the buzz had been around the office several times, but I never heard about it.

“Nah. The emergency brakes kicked in. A couple of guys from facilities helped them out.”

About that time, the elevator door opened and about ten people got out. Feeling a little nervous, I stepped into the elevator with the other guy. I punched number ten and he asked if I’d punch in his floor.

After my fellow passenger got off at his floor, I continued heading for the top floor. The company had bought the building just a little while before they hired me. They were renovating one floor at a time. Most of the building was in good shape, but with a little out-dated décor. But the top floor — the floor where the executive offices were going to reside — that floor was a total disaster at the moment.

I stepped out the elevator as soon as the doors parted. I was expecting a lighted foyer, but instead a dim, ambient light greeted me. It wasn’t total darkness or even spooky. The overhead lights were out and construction workers were busy gutting the floor under lights mounted on tripods. Most of the ambient light flowed through the outside windows.

“Watch your step,” called a voice off to my right. I looked and Tony Milano, the head of the facilities department came walking towards me. He silently pointed to his left. I looked and saw that the doors to the other elevator were wide open and the shaft was a gaping black hole. Yellow caution tape made an “X” pattern across the opening.

Tony said, “Don’t fall down that shaft. We’re trying to get more light in here. When that cable snapped, it took out most of the electrical conduit.”

I carefully stepped over some cabling on the floor and said, “Let me take a look at that. That might be why the network is out up here.” I carefully poked my head through the open elevator doorway and glanced around. Looking up I could see a couple of guys inspecting the elevator’s pulley system. Their light was lighting up this end of the shaft. I looked at some conduit running up past the doorway. Sure enough, the network cable had been sheared through. The conduit had even been pulled away from the wall a few inches.

“How does it look Ron?” Tony asked as I pulled my head back through.

“That cable did a lot of damage, Tony.” I said. “Until the power’s been restored, I don’t think we can do much. Maybe your guys can help me run some temporary cabling up here.”

“When some of them are not so tied up, I’ll give you a call.” Tony said as I stepped back into the working elevator. He held the door open a moment and said, “I heard you were going to the Halloween party as a cheerleader. What made you decide to do that?”

I just looked at him for a moment before answering. “I haven’t decided that I’m even going to the damn thing. Who told you that?”

Tony shrugged and said, “I dunno. It’s going around the building.”

I frowned. As the door started to close I said, “Why couldn’t the rumor about me say I’m dating a super model or something?”

* * *

I gave Joanne the third degree, but she maintained her innocence. She said, “Ask Gary. You know what an asshole he is. Maybe he said something.”

Joanne and I both walked over to Gary’s cubicle. Sternly, I said, “Gary, what’s the deal about telling everyone I’m going to the party as a cheerleader?”

Looking taken aback, Gary shrugged and said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I said nothing to nobody.”

Joanne said, “Come on, Gary. Fess up.”

Before Gary could reply, Jerry popped his head up over the walls. He said, “Oh, sorry. That was me. I just mentioned it to Sue in Accounting. She thought you’d look cute in a cheerleader uniform. Sorry, I thought it was a done deal.” His head disappeared again.

Scowling, Gary snarled, “If you don’t have your facts straight dickweed, don’t come barging in here again accusing me of something.” Without another word he turned his back on us and went back to his computer screen.

“Sorry, man.” I said. Gary just grunted.

Joanne walked with me back to my cubicle. As we walked, she said, “Well, in a way it’s a good thing.”

“Why is that?” I asked, already guessing the answer.

“Now you pretty much have to go.”

“What’s with this party? What’s so goddam important about it? And why the hell does any one care if I go or not?” I know I sounded too harsh, but I was getting fed up.

“Jeez, Ron. You don’t have to be such an asshole about it.” Joanne wrinkled up her brow. “Everyone has a lot fun at the party. I thought you might use a little fun yourself. I guess I was wrong.” She spun on her heel and left my cubicle. Her cubicle is just adjacent to mine. She slid drawers out of her desk and slammed them back in which made the stuff on my walls rattle. The paperclip hook holding up my calendar slipped from the fabric of the cubicle wall and the calendar fell behind my desk.

* * *

As I wearily climbed the stairs up to my apartment, I just happened to look up. There was my next-door neighbor, leaning over the guardrail, drinking a beer. She looked down at me at the same time.

“Evenin’” she said as I stepped on the last landing. Her name was Margaret. I could never remember her last name. She was living at these apartments when I moved in back in May. I guessed she was about twenty years older than I was. She lived alone as far as I knew. At the laundry room, while just trying to make conversation, I had stupidly asked her once if she was married. She then told me about how her husband had died several years ago in a plane crash. Since then, other than exchanging pleasantries, we didn’t talk much. She kept to herself more than I did.

“Good evening,” I said back to her. I noticed she wasn’t wearing a jacket or a sweater and here it was, getting dark and late October. I said, “It’s a little on the chilly side, though.”

She smiled and said, “A little bit I guess. I really hadn’t noticed.” She took another swig from the can. She lifted the can up and asked, “Want one?” When I shook my head, she then returned her gaze to sunset.

I was going to just go inside since I was tired and feeling a little cold. But some reason I stopped and leaned against the guardrail and looked out at the sunset myself. The buildings, trees and power lines obscured a portion of the sky, but the rest was quite beautiful. All I did was go to the office in the morning, almost never leave the office during the day, only to return to my apartment and either surf the web or watch T.V. I never stopped to look at the world around me.

I just stood there for a few moments, just watching the fading rays of the sun disappear behind the clouds stretching across the horizon. Not really saying it to anyone, I said, “You know, I never give myself the time to just stop, and look at what’s going on around me. I’ve been here five months and this is the first time I’ve stopped to watch the sunset.”

Margaret said, “The view is quite good here, actually. Never put off anything thinking you’ll have time to do it later. That chance might not ever come your way again.”

“That’s true, I guess.” I said. After a few moments of silence, I looked over at her. I could see some tears welling up in her eyes.

Thinking that I said something stupid to somebody once again, I asked, “Are you okay? Is something wrong?”

She tried to smile, and said, “No, nothing’s wrong. Not really, I guess.” She looked at the fading sunset again and said, “It’s my daughter Elisabeth’s birthday today. She would have been eighteen today.”

I caught the “would have been” and said, “I’m sorry. I had no idea.”

She cast me a questioning glance and said, “It’s okay. You weren’t living here then, so you wouldn’t really know.” She paused again, obviously finding speaking difficult. “It was almost a year ago -- a week after she turned seventeen — she was coming home from a Halloween party. She called me just before she left to let me know she was on her way.” Margaret paused for a moment and stared glassy eyed at the darkening sky.

Continuing, she said, “She also said she was stopping to get some gas and buy a bottle of soda. She said she thought she’d be home in about thirty minutes. An hour went by. Then two. I called all her friends and they all said she’d left the party right after she talked to me.

“That’s when I called the police. Thirty minutes later, they found her car in a ditch behind the convenience store where she bought gas. There was no sign of her. I also found out later from one of her friends that she’d talked to Elisabeth on her cell phone at the convenience store.” The apartment complex’s lights came on, throwing Margaret’s face in shadow.

I wished now I’d kept my big fat mouth shut. This was obviously a painful memory for her. I said, “I’m very sorry. Look, I shouldn’t have said anything. I should probably go.”

She shook her head. “No. No, it’s okay. I need to talk about it. Get it out of my system.”

I was curious, but not sure if I should ask. I thought a moment, and then asked, “Did you ever find her?”

She nodded. She took a deep breath and said, “They found her a few days later in the river. She’d been raped, but she was dead before she was put in the water. It looked like she’d been strangled. There was no water in her lungs…” Her voice trailed away.

“I’m very sorry. I never knew this.” I said, sincerely feeling bad for her. “A loss like that must be terrible. Did they ever catch who did it?”

She shook her head. “No. No one saw anything. They have DNA evidence. But there’re no suspects. The police don’t have a clue where to start. All the boys at the party had to submit DNA samples as did some other boys at school. There were no matches.”

I clasped my hands together and leaned over the railing. Margaret’s story depressed me quite a bit.

She must have noticed my expression. She said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be such a downer.”

“Oh, don’t mind me.” I said. “I can’t imagine what you must be going through. It makes my problems from today look pretty trivial.”

She said, “Oh? What kind of problems did you have today? Anything you want to talk about?” She seemed anxious to change the subject but still wanting to talk to someone.

I laughed and said, “My problems are really pretty small. I’m being forced into going to a Halloween party.” Crap, I shouldn’t have said that! It must make me look a little petty compared to the emotions she’s going through. I should probably just go watch T.V.

She didn’t react though. Instead she said, “What’s bad about that? I thought all you young folks like to go to parties.”

I smiled and said, “Well, I’m not much of a party person. But that’s not the worst of it. Now I have to try to find a cheerleader uniform that fits me. Dressing as a cheerleader was also kinda forced on me as well.”

Margaret laughed. It was easy to see how twenty or so years ago she would have been a beautiful woman. She said, “They want you to go to the party dressed as a cheerleader? That’s funny. Although, I’d bet you’d look pretty convincing.”

“Thanks. I think.”

“I meant that in a positive way,” she said. “Have…have you found a uniform yet?”

“Not yet. I need to check around at some local athletic stores.” I said. “I hope I find something quick since the party is next week. I don’t have a lot of time.”

“I have a cheerleader uniform in the closet that might fit you.” She looked me up and down.

“You have a cheerleader uniform?” I asked. I thought, it’s probably been hanging in her closet for twenty-five years with that funky smell old clothes seem to get.

She looked away for a moment before saying, “Well, actually it was my daughter’s. She was a cheerleader at her high school. She’d been cheering since about twelve.” She paused a moment and then said, “She was a tall girl. The uniform just might fit.”

“Oh, God, ma’am! I couldn’t use your daughter’s uniform! I mean, it’s your daughter’s. It has sentimental value. I mean…it’s like a link to her. I’d be afraid I might get something on it.”

She shook her head sadly. “It’s just a piece of cloth. Yes, it was my daughter’s. But she’s never going to wear it again. It’s just going to hang in the closet and collect dust, and not doing anyone any good. You might as well get some use out of it.”

“Are you sure? I appreciate the offer and all, but I just can’t imagine you would let someone else wear it.”

Ignoring me, she said, “Come on in. I really don’t mind if you borrow it.”

As we walked through her apartment, I glanced around the room. Her daughter’s pictures were conspicuous by their absence. I couldn’t see one photo. I thought that was very strange. She opened a door to a room and I followed her inside.

The room had a desk with a computer on it, and on one side of the room was a bed. Some stacks of paper were on the floor.

“This was her room,” Margaret said. For a few months I keep it exactly like she left it, in some crazy hope that she’d come back home to me.” She opened the closet and started rummaging through a rack of girl’s clothes. “I finally decided that was nuts and was making me depressed, so I turned her room into a home office and boxed up all her pictures. Every time I saw her picture I wanted to cry. Ah, here it is.”

She handed me the uniform. It was wrapped in plastic. The uniform was blue with white trim. The colors of the local high school.

I said, “Thanks. I appreciate it. Are you sure this is okay?”

She said, “I’m sure. Just bring it back when you’re done with it.”

* * *

I felt incredibly silly sliding the cheerleader uniform over my head. I felt like I was being stared at and glanced again at the blinds in my bedroom to verify they were shut securely, as if I could be seen up on the second floor anyway. After a few moments of fumbling, I managed to zip up the back.

To my utter amazement, the uniform fit. For the most part.

I stood there for a few minutes turning this way and that, posing in front of the mirror. It actually didn’t look too bad if you discounted my hairy legs and the armpit hair hanging out of the uniform’s armholes.

Damn. I’m going to have to shave my legs and armpits. This was a really stupid idea. I felt ridiculous standing in my bedroom wearing the short dress.

While posing in front of the mirror, I brought my hands to my hips and put my feet together and said, “Ready? Okay!” I laughed and then I shouted, “Gimme an ‘S’!” I proceeded to spell out the word “schumck”.

I stepped closer to the mirror and studied my face and upper torso. What kind of wig do I need to get? I was originally thinking of getting a cheap blonde wig, since most cheerleaders I’ve ever noticed were your typical dumb blondes. After studying my reflection a few minutes, I started imagining myself with long, dark brown hair, flowing past my shoulders. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that that would be the best look. The next day was Saturday, so I guessed my first order of business tomorrow would be to go downtown and buy myself a realistic wig.

I leaned forward and studied my face. I’m going to need make-up. I grimaced at the thought. I decided to look for make-up while out driving around looking for the wig.

I stood back from the mirror and wiggled my rear. I thought that Joanne was going to be right. I will make a cute cheerleader.

* * *

I had never really paid much attention to it before, but now I was overwhelmed. I just stood there a moment, looking at this one, very long wall, lined from floor to ceiling with cosmetics. I went to my usual grocery store to buy the make-up. I didn’t even know where to start. I guess I should have brought Joanne with me. I was very self-conscious about being in this section. A couple of teen girls kept giving me funny looks. Apparently a lot of people do their grocery shopping on Saturday mornings. I just hoped nobody I knew saw me shopping in this section.

I had a sudden inspiration to head over to the magazine section of the store. I picked up a glamour magazine and started to peruse it, making special note of the advertisements. After thumbing through the magazine for a few minutes, I felt that I was about as ready as I would ever be to make my first, and most likely last, make-up purchases.

I went back and forth along the wall, and up and down the short aisles in front the cosmetics wall with my mental checklist of foundation, mascara, eye liner, eye shadow, blush and of course lipstick. On a whim, I also bought nail polish in the same color as the lipstick I’d chosen.

I was about to make my way to the check out when a small kit of make-up brushes caught my attention. I thought that I might need that, so I put it in the basket with all the other goop. I wound up tossing in a pair of pantyhose before I was done. This was the first time I was truly glad that the grocery store uses the automated checkouts so I wouldn’t have to face the checkout girl.

Next I visited some of the shoe stores in the mall. I didn’t have any bright white sneakers that I thought would go with the uniform. However, I wound up buying a pair of white, high heel pumps with three-inch heels. I saw them, and something just shouted in my head how sexy they’d look.

I thought the wig would be the easiest part. Just grab something close to what I wanted that would fit and leave. I spent almost an hour trying on various wigs until I found one that I could afford that looked really great. I finally chose one that was a dark brown, long and flowing, that cascaded down my back.

I must be going nuts, I thought as I got into my car and started heading back to my apartment. I couldn’t believe how much money I’d spent for a costume I didn’t want to wear to a party I didn’t want to attend.

Margaret was unlocking the door of her car as I approached. She stopped and waited for me to stop. I correctly guessed that she was curious about what all I’d bought for my costume. I parked and got out of my car carrying a bag of stuff I never dreamed I would have ever purchased for my own use.

Margaret waved and called out, “Hey! If it isn’t the reluctant cheerleader! Did you get all your stuff?”

I waved back and said as I walked towards her, “I sure hope I got everything. I don’t want to go through that again. Buying girl’s stuff is frustrating and embarrassing.”

Margaret smiled and said, “Not if you’re a girl. Can I see what you got?”

I said, “Sure. Maybe you can tell me if I got the right things.”

As she went through the bag of cosmetics, her smile slowly began to fade. She picked up the bottle of nail polish and just stared at it.

Confused, I asked, “Did I buy the wrong thing?”

She snapped out of her reverie and said, “No. In fact, this is exactly right.” She gave me an odd look and then said, “It’s an odd coincidence though, that you’d pick Elisabeth’s favorite polish. She wore this color a lot.”

I shrugged and said, “How weird. I just picked a color that I thought a young girl would like. I mean, what do I know about nail polish?”

“Weird is the right word,” Margaret said with a frown. “What else did you get? What’s in the box?”

I set the other items on the pavement so I could open the box. I said, “Oh, that’s my wig. I tried on a bunch until I found this one. When I tried it on, it just looked so perfect.” I pulled the long, dark brown wig from the box.

Margaret took a step back with a slight gasp and said, “Now…tha…that’s just too damn freaky.”

Again I was puzzled and asked, “Why? What’s wrong with it?”

She gingerly touched the wig and said, “This is her exact hair color. And..and this style is very close to way she …to the way she wore it.”

I furrowed my brow and said, “You gotta be kidding me, right? I mean, that kind of coincidence just isn’t believable.”

“No, I swear.” Margaret opened her purse and started fumbling around in it. “I never took her picture out of my purse. It’s in here somewhere. Ah, here it is.” She handed me a slightly crinkled photo.

There in the picture was a beautiful teen girl, with long flowing dark brown hair cascading around her shoulders. The wig looked almost exactly like this picture when I had it on.

“Crap. I just got Goosebumps. That’s just crazy.” I handed the picture back to Margaret.

“Maybe you saw a picture when you were in my apartment?”

I shook my head. “No, in fact I tried to spot one. You said you had removed all of them.”

Margaret smiled weakly. “Well, I guess it’s just one of the things. You can’t explain it. It just happens.” She looked at her watch. “Well, I need to be going. Let me know how your costume goes or if you need any help with the make-up.”

“Will do,” I said as she climbed into her car. I stood there a moment while she drove away. My legs felt weak and there was a cold, clammy sweat down my back. I looked at the wig and said aloud, “This is just too damn freaky for me too.”

* * *

I stood back from the mirror and looked at myself. I couldn’t believe what I saw. I looked incredible. From the moment I’d stepped back into my apartment, trying out the make-up had become an almost overwhelming desire. I also put the uniform back on and tried out the wig. I was a knockout.

I’d never worn make-up before, but I had to admit that I looked like I’d been using make-up for years. I looked just like your typical teenage girl. Another impulse and a few minutes later, I was wearing the pantyhose and slipping my feet into the pumps.

After a few initially wobbly steps, I was soon walking confidently in the high heels. The bathroom mirror wouldn’t let me view below my waist, so I ran into the living room and stood in front of the television. I could see my legs and feet in the reflection of the screen. I was blown away by how sexy my legs looked.

I strutted around the apartment, feeling wonderfully sexy and feminine. I walked back into the bedroom and looked at myself in the mirror again. Something was definitely missing. Then it dawned on me. My chest was flat. I decided I needed a bra to complete the costume. I started heading for the door, when I stopped and slapped my forehead.

“What are you doing, Ron?” I said aloud. I couldn’t go out wearing make-up and a cheerleader uniform! Have I lost my mind? This was nuts. I hurried back into the bedroom and stripped down to my birthday suit. I hoped a quick shower would get rid of the make-up and maybe get to feeling back to normal again.

While in the shower, I had a sudden impulse to shave my under arms and legs. I reached out of the shower, and fumbled blindly through the drawer. A moment later I found my safety razor and after a few more minutes, my legs and under arms was nice and smooth.

* * *

I dumped my new purchases on my bed and stared dumbfounded at them. I didn’t remember buying most of the items. I went to a clothing store in the mall to buy a bra. That’s all I went there to get. The bra was there, of course. But joining it on the bed were a package of panties, a cute top and a ruffled denim miniskirt. There was also a satin camisole and what looked like baggy shorts. It was some kind of sleepwear. I had also bought some skin care products.

My God, I thought. I’m actually losing my mind! I don’t remember buying any of this stuff except the bra. How could I lose track of this? I sat on the bed and shook a moment. Maybe I need to see a doctor? And maybe a change of diet?

* * *

“Hey, now that’s a great costume!” Jeremy said with an ear-to-ear grin.

“Thank you!” I said. I was getting a lot of attention at the party with my costume. It was simple and I’d made it myself. Just a black leotard with a tail attached, black stockings, black three inch pumps and cat ears protruding through the top of my hair. None of the guys seemed to think it was bad luck when this black cat crossed their paths! Meow…

The party was quite loud. The place was packed. Jeremy leaned in closer so he wouldn’t have to yell. “Elisabeth. I’ve been wanting to ah… ask you…are you like, free tomorrow night?”

I tried to be coy and ask, “I could be. Why do you want to know?”

I guess I shouldn’t have tried to be coy. His confidence was already starting to waver. He was a babe and a half, but terribly shy. “I was ah…I was hoping you might be interested in maybe going to a movie? Maybe get some pizza first? I mean, if you’d like to…”

I moved my lips close to his ear and said, “I’d love to! What time?”

Jeremy flashed his ear-to-ear grin again and said, “The movie starts at seven-thirty. How about I pick you up at six?”

One of Jeremy’s friends popped up behind him and grabbed his arm and shouted, “Hey bro! We need you over here for a minute. Come on!”

I shouted to Jeremy as he was tugged away, “Sounds great! I’ll be ready!”

I turned and saw Linda, dressed in her anime Dirty Pair costume, pushing her way through the crowd towards me. I’ve been trying to talk to her all evening. She had a questioning/expectant expression. When she finally caught up to me, she asked, “Did I just see you talking to Jeremy? Did he finally ask you out?”

Laughing, I said, “Finally! I mean, God! He’s the cutest guy in school but he’s just so shy.”

“Yeah. You’ve been trying to get him to notice you for a long time.” Linda commented.

“He’s noticed for a while now. It’s getting him to talk! That’s the problem!” I laughed.

“So. When are you two going out?” asked Linda.

“Tomorrow. Pizza and a movie. I can’t wait!” I was almost giddy.

Linda said, “You two are made for each other. You look really cute together!”

*

I should have brought a coat or something. Jeez it’s cold out here. Does it always take this long to fill up this car?

Finally the car’s gas tank was full and I backed the car into a parking spot in front of the convenience store. I had some change coming from the deposit I had left with the clerk and I wanted to get a soda.

Just as I walked out of the store, my cell rang. I looked at the screen and it was Denise calling. I answered it. She asked about my upcoming date with Jeremy. I paced up and down the walkway in front of the store as I talked. I wasn’t far from the apartment -- it’s a good neighborhood and the area is well lit. I felt fairly safe there as I talked. It was late and there was very little traffic though.

We only talked a couple of minutes. I had walked to the far end of the walkway with my back to the car. I closed the phone and stuck it back in my purse. I turned around and there was this big guy standing there in the shadows. I couldn’t’ see his face. I sucked in my breath in surprise.

“Excuse me, Miss!” He said as he moved a little out of the way. The darkness hid his face. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

I gave him a nervous smile and said, “It’s okay. Good night.” I started to walk past him.

*

My head throbbed. I was lying in a darkened room. My head pounded. I saw a figure move in the shadow. I had no idea where I was. My hair was pulled violently and painfully back. In my ear a voice snarled, “Don’t struggle, Sweetness. This won’t take long. God, you’re gorgeous.”

Darkness

Unbearable pain

Nothing…

* * *

I woke up sweating and gasping for air. I unconsciously reached up and felt my throat. My eyes darted fearfully around the room. The blinds were catching the early morning sun. It was my room. I just sat there for a few minutes, catching my breath. What an incredibly weird nightmare!

I looked down at myself and saw I was wearing the satin camisole. I didn’t remember putting it on when I went to bed. A cold chill went down my spine when I remembered the dream. Someone called me ‘Elisabeth’. What the hell?

I looked at the cheerleader uniform draped across the back of the chair. I just stared at it. I began to feel cold. I knew it was just my imagination, but I got up and hung the uniform in my closet and shut the door. I’ve got to find something else to think about today. I’ve got to get out of this apartment. Maybe go to the mall. Victoria’s Secret was having a sale today. Okay, the mall was out. Maybe I’ll see two or three movies this afternoon.

An idea popped into my head. Tomorrow after work, it might be a good idea to go over to the public library and sift through the newspaper archives. I wanted to know more about the tragedy from a year ago.

* * *

“Uh, Ron. Where do you think you’re going?” asked Joanne.

I gave her an ‘are you nuts?’ expression and said, “What do you think? I’m going to the bathroom. Is that against the law?”

She gave me an odd look and said, “Probably.” She pointed in the direction behind me and said, “Maybe you should try that one instead.”

I looked up and the door was clearly marked as “Women”.

I said, “Sorry. My bad. I must be overworked lately or something.”

Joanne smiled and said, “Or something.” She started to walk away.

“Joanne, wait.” I said. “I know this sounds like a stupid question, but do you believe in ghosts?”

She shrugged and said, “I’d like to believe there’s a spirit world. I’ve never seen a ghost and I don’t know anyone who has though. Why would you ask that?”

“I borrowed my neighbor’s cheerleader uniform Friday…” I said.

Joanne interrupted and said, “Oh, good! You’re going after all!”

“The uniform. I think it’s haunted.”

Joanne looked puzzled and asked, “That’s an odd thing to think. Why?”

I swallowed audibly and said, “It was my neighbor’s daughter’s. She’s dead. She was murdered a year ago. I’ve had odd feelings and nightmares ever since I brought the stupid thing into my apartment.”

Joanne rolled her eyes and said, “I think you’re just obsessing over the girl. Was she pretty? Yeah, see? You’re obsessing. And you’re letting yourself get spooked because you have clothes that belong to a dead person. I think you’re getting too caught up in Halloween. Don’t be silly, okay?” Before I could say anything else, Joanne walked away.

I turned and entered the proper restroom. I went into a stall and sat down. As I was doing my business, I asked myself, why am I sitting down? I just came in here to take a piss. And I’m sitting down. I looked down and saw that I was wearing one of the pairs of panties I’d bought.

* * *

“Can I help you sir?”

I walked up to the librarian behind the counter and said, “Yes. Can you tell me where I can find the archives of the local newspapers?”

She smiled and said, “Certainly. Second floor. Just ask the librarian on duty what dates you’re looking for.”

I thanked her and headed to the elevator to ride to the second floor. The librarian there handed me a CD-ROM loaded with PDF files from the newspaper from last year. I located as secluded a computer as I could find in the public computer bullpen.

I scanned the folders until I came to the page for last Halloween. I scanned through the whole paper and was disappointed to find nothing about Elisabeth. Then I though, you moron! She won’t be mentioned in the paper on the day of the murder. I scanned ahead to November first.

There it was on the front page. The headline read, “Local Girl Missing.” The article mentioned the last place she was seen was by the clerk at the convenience store. “A friend of hers claimed to have talked to her on her cell phone right after she left the store. The mother, Margaret Manning, said that her last conversation with her was just before her daughter left a Halloween party attended by other students from her school. Her daughter said she was going to stop for gasoline for her car on the way home. Her car was later found abandoned in a shallow ditch only fifty yards from the convenience store. Tall grass obscured the location of the car. At this point, the police have few leads. There has been no demand for a ransom. In a statement this morning, Ms. Manning said, ‘Please. Whoever took my Elisabeth, please don’t harm her. She’s my baby. She’s all that I have left. Please let her come home. And if anyone knows where she is, please, please let me or the police know. I just want my daughter back.’”

* * *

Now I knew I had officially lost my mind. Waiting at the red light, I looked across the street at the convenience store where Elisabeth was last seen. It was almost midnight and it was getting a little cold outside. I wasn’t really dressed for it. I was wearing a sleeveless top, the ruffled denim miniskirt, the wig, pantyhose, high heels and fully made up. I had completely lost my mind.

The light changed and I pulled the car into the store’s parking lot. I parked it in the same spot I …Elisabeth…parks it in the dream. I look at myself in the mirror and I’m amazed about my appearance. I climb out of the car and enter the convenience store where I buy a bottle of soda. The clerk kept a close eye on me, but I doubt that it was because he thought I was going to steal something.

I came out of the store and sat down on the concrete walkway. The concrete was cold and my skirt was so short, that I was sitting on my panties, not the skirt. But I didn’t really care. I opened the soda and took a drink.

* * *

A hand went across my mouth and nose. My left arm was pulled tightly behind me. I tried to scream, but only muffled sounds came out. A man’s voice growled into my ear, “Shut up, bitch! And don’t struggle. You’re only making this harder.”

My arm was in terrible pain as he wrenched it around. A rag was shoved into my mouth. It had an odd smell and taste. My arms where pulled roughly behind me. I was pushed into the backseat of a car. I hit my head. I was so scared. And I was angry that I was seemingly completely helpless.

Fading

Darkness…

* * *

I was sitting there crying when I heard footsteps. I looked up with a start. A large man had walked up to me, his face in darkness, silhouetted by light fixture over the parking lot.

“I’m sorry, Miss.” He said. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

I stood up quickly and took a step backwards from him.

“Are you okay?” he asked. I nodded, but my eyes never strayed from him. He started to walk towards the store. He said, “You probably should go home, Miss. It’s pretty late and this isn’t the best neighborhood at night.”

I just nodded and started to walk towards my car, never taking my eyes off him as he entered the store.

* * *

“Shut up, bitch! And don’t struggle. You’re only making this harder…”

* * *

I awoke sweating and gasping. I looked at the uniform draped across the back of the chair. I thought, I’m taking that fucking uniform back to Margaret. Fuck the uniform and fuck the Halloween party.

I stepped out of my apartment on my way to work. I had the uniform folded across one arm. I rang Margaret’s doorbell. She usually left for work about an hour after I did, so I thought she should be home. I knocked. No answer. I pounded. No answer. Just great.

I knew that Margaret chatted a lot with the old lady downstairs — a Ms. Opal. Maybe she knew why Margaret wasn’t answering her door. She did. Turns out Margaret’s job had sent her out of town for a few days. She’d be back sometime Saturday night — Halloween. I tossed the uniform back into my closet and left for work.

* * *

“Doing a little light reading, Ron?” asked Gary. I didn’t know he had entered my cube and I jumped slightly. I looked around and he was picking up a magazine from my desk. It was a copy of Elle Girl.

I shrugged and said, “Hey, it’s got a lot of pictures of cute girls in it.”

Gary laughed as he thumbed through the magazine. He said, “A man after my own heart!” He put the magazine down and continued, “Since you’re trying to be more social, I thought I’d let you know that bunch of us are going to Hooters for lunch if you want to join us.”

Maybe I did need to do something different. My brain was completely out of whack. I said, “Sure. Just grab me on the way out.”

“Cool.” Gary looked at me thoughtfully. He then sat down in one of my guest chairs and pulled it close. He idly lifted the pages of Elle Girl as he said, “People have been saying a lot of weird shit about you lately, Ron. Like you’ve been acting kind of feminine lately and then shit like this magazine. What’s going on?”

I shrugged and said, “I’m just trying to get into character for my costume this Saturday.”

Gary just stared at me a moment before saying, “It’s just a costume, Ron. And it’s just a Halloween party. There’s been some guys that came dressed as women before. It’s always for laughs because they always look ridiculous, even if they tried to look convincing. This isn’t a play. Nobody expects you to actually become a girl! Joanne and I both think you’re getting way too carried away with this.”

“Thanks for your concern.” I said

* * *

We sat down at one of the tables with the stools. Like everyone else I watched the “Hooter Girls” as they took orders and brought out food. Slowly an odd nervousness fell over me. I felt…uncomfortable.

I looked around and noticed that except for the waitresses, there were no women here. The place was full of men. I know there was no rational reason for it, but being surrounded by all these men was making me feel uneasy.

I turned to Gary and asked, “Hey, do you know where the head is?”

Gary pointed and then laughed at some comment Jerry made. I got off my stool and headed that way. I double-checked the door to make sure I wasn’t going in the wrong door this time. I didn’t need to go. I just needed some space by myself.

I washed my hands and looked in the mirror.

*

“Oh God! Please don’t! Let me go, please? I promise not to tell anyone.” I almost screamed. The man, wearing a ski mask pushed his fingers up inside me, hard. It hurt. I was lying naked on a bed, my arms tied behind me. My legs seemed to be tied together.

“Not yet, babe. Not yet. Not until I’m done with you.” He squeezed my breasts. “Beautiful tits, girl. Some of the best I’ve seen.” He got closer. In the darkness I could see that except for the ski mask he was naked.

He climbed up on top of me and put his thing between my breasts and pushed my breasts against it. I tried to get my hands free. Oh God I’m scared! God, please help me!

*

“Get the fuck out of my head!” I growled while squeezing my skull with both hands.

“Dude, this ain’t your head,” said a tall black guy standing behind me in the restroom. “I can’t be completely sure, but I think it belongs to Hooters.”

I splashed some water on my face, and hurried out the door. As the door closed, I heard the guy in the restroom say, “Asshole…”

I walked back to the table. Our “Hooter Girl” was just starting to take our orders. I hadn’t had time to look at a menu, but who needs one? I just ordered a burger.

As the waitress walked away, one of guys looked out the window. “Aw shit, man. It’s starting to rain. I just washed my car last night!”

Jerry shrugged and said, “What are you gonna do? Rain is like rape. You can’t do anything about it so you might as well just sit back and enjoy it.” There was a round of laughter at the table.

I looked at Jerry stone faced and said, “Maybe if you’d ever been raped, you wouldn’t find that very funny.”

Jerry looked at me as he spread his arms in a questioning gesture and said, “What?!”

Another guy I didn’t really know looked around the table and asked, “Who invited Gloria Steinem here?”

Gary said, “Hey, lighten up a little Ron.”

I frowned and said, “You’re right. What was I thinking?”

* * *

“You’re coming tomorrow night, right?” Joanne asked as she stood peering over my cubicle wall. It was almost five o’clock and I was so ready for the week to end.

“I’m planning on it.” I said, feeling weary.

Joanne said, “Don’t forget it starts at seven, right down the hall in the auditorium.”

I nodded and said, “Yes, I know. I did read the email Joanne.”

“Have you been down there and seen the decorations?” asked Joanne. “It’s really cute.”

I shook my head and said, “No. I wanted to be surprised tomorrow.” Actually I couldn’t care less, but I wasn’t going open a can of worms by saying so.

“Okay, well I guess I need to get,” said Joanne. “We all can’t wait to see you in your cheerleader costume. Do you need any help with your make-up?”

I locked my computer and stood up, straightening up some loose papers on my desk. I said, “No thanks. I think I have it down.”

Joanne waved and turned to hurry out the door.

Gary pounded with a loud clang on the top of one of my cabinets hanging on the cubicle wall. He was heading out and said, “Hey guy. Don’t hang around much longer or people will think you’re dedicated or something!”

I started to exit the cubicle while saying, “We can’t have anyone thinking that, can we?”

I walked with Gary out to the parking lot. I was lost in thought. If I could just hold out one more day, I could get this stupid party out the way and return that damned haunted uniform. I hoped the nightmares would stop after that.

* * *

“Hello?”

“Hey girlfriend!” said Denise over my cell phone. There was a lot of background noise.

“Missed you at the party!” I said

“I know. Stewart and I got here like five minutes after you left. Anyway, I heard that Jeremy asked you out for tomorrow!”

I started pacing up and down the walkway in front of a convenience store. I said, “Oh yeah. I’m so looking forward to it.”

“That’s so cool. I’m jealous!” laughed Denise.

“You should be!”

“Well, I can’t complain I guess. Stewart’s pretty cute too.”

I laughed and said, “And he has a rich daddy. That always helps too. Hey girl, I gotta jet. I’m freezing my ass off out here.”

“Talk to you tomorrow. Love ya.” Denise hung up.

I put my phone back into my purse and turned around and there was a man standing there in the shadows.

Run…

“Excuse me, Miss,” he said. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

Run!

I started to walk past him. “It’s okay. Good night.”

Run dammit!

Oh my God no!!

* * *

One year ago tonight…One year ago tonight…One year ago tonight…

I sat there on the edge of my bed, wearing my miniskirt and blouse, panties, bra, heels, wig and make-up with that one thought spinning in my mind. I was shaking. I cried.

One year ago tonight…

* * *

“Oh my Gawwwwd! Look at you!” cried Joanne. “Jerry, look at Ron! He just arrived.”

It was embarrassing. Several people turned and stared. I found myself completely at ease wearing the clothes though. I should, I guess. I’ve been dressing as a girl practically the whole week after work.

Jerry’s grin stretched across his face. “Wow! You look incredible, Ron! All you’re missing is a football team following you around. That might happen anyway.”

Someone from behind Jerry called out, “Yeah, I’d do her!” Laughter.

I felt a chill in the room. To Joanne, I said, “Does it seem cold to you?”

“No. It must be that skimpy outfit you’re wearing. I was going to ask if they could turn the heat off.”

“Talk about babe-alicious!” a voice called from behind me. I turned around and it was Gary, already a little drunk and grinning like an idiot. “Holy cats! Ron, you are one sexy cheerleader! In fact, you look like you’re right out of…” his expression changed slightly. “…out of high school.” He looked me up and down and said, “The high heels are a nice touch. I originally thought you were going to look dorky, but man! You are hot!” He continued to just stare at me.

Joanne took my hand. She said, “Come on. Let’s take you around to meet everyone. The other girls at the office are just dying to see you!”

I started to enjoy the attention what with everyone looking at me and smiling. I felt…sexy. And oddly, I felt…feminine. I loved the feel of the short skirt sliding across the top of my legs. I loved the feeling of the pantyhose sliding against my legs as I walked. The heels kept me from making my normal long strides.

I really got into it. I blew kisses and put my arms around different guys so someone could take a picture. Several guys even asked me to dance, which I did. I danced with some girls too. They didn’t know whether to lead or follow. Gary seemed to never be very far away.

I finally started feel tired, and excused myself for a bit. I wandered over to the punch bowl. Thankfully it wasn’t spiked with anything as there was a wet bar across the room. I got a glass of punch and sat down. Gary sat down in the chair across from me.

Gary swished the alcohol around in his glass as he asked, “So, are you glad you came after all?” His fixed stare was starting to bother me.

“Yes. You and Joanne were right.” I said. “It’s been a real hoot.”

Gary leaned forward and said, “Where did you get that uniform? It fits you perfect. Don’t take this the wrong way Ron, but damn you have some mighty fine legs!”

I smiled and said, “Now Gary, how could I possibly take that the wrong way?”

Gary reddened slightly. He said, “You know what I mean. They look just like a woman’s…a girl’s legs. You know, there’s just something about the way you look. I can’t put my finger on it.”

“Trust me Gary. You’re not going to be putting your finger on anything!” I laughed.

With an odd expression, Gary asked in all seriousness, “Would you honor me with a dance?”

I felt annoyed and quite frankly, worried. I said, “Gary, I’m not a girl. I tried very hard to look like one, but I’m not.”

“Indulge me.”

I shrugged. “Okay. One dance.” I thought maybe if I let him have a dance, he’d go find someone else to pester.

Naturally it had to be a slow song.

I had my arm around Gary’s shoulder and his around my waist. His face was close to mine. He smiled and said, “You smell nice too. If I didn’t know you weren’t, I’d swear you were the Real McCoy.”

“Don’t get fresh with me, Gary.” I said maybe a little too sternly. “This is just for fun, remember?”

He laughed and said, “Don’t worry. I’m curious though. What would be a good female name for you. It just seems odd to call someone who looks like you ‘Ron’.”

I only paused a moment before saying simply, “Elisabeth.”

Gary stumbled for an instant but recovered quickly. “Elisabeth, eh? Very pretty name. It’s always been a favorite of mine.”

The song ended and I disengaged myself from Gary. I said, “Feel free to call me that if you wish. Right now I think I need to go to the little girls’ room.”

Gary smiled and nodded. As I walked away, I felt his eyes boring into the back of my head. Actually, I felt it more in my butt. He was really starting to annoy me -- a lot.

I made my way through the revelers in their dizzying array of costumes to where the restroom doors where. I really didn’t need to go. I just needed someplace to go to get some air. I didn’t want to use the men’s room and I was afraid I’d get arrested if I tried to use the women’s. I exited the auditorium and made my way down the hall to the foyer. I suddenly had a very real need to be alone. I punched the button by the elevator door.

The door slid open. The other elevator was still broken. I pushed the button for the tenth floor. I figured no one would go up there; it’d be dark since the lights didn’t work and I could feel alone for a few minutes.

I stepped out of the elevator. The exit sign over the elevator bathed the small foyer in dull reddish light. The floor was littered with junk and debris from the demolition taking place. I carefully maneuvered through the junk to get to the outside windows.

It was cold outside, but a clear night. The stars were so bright. Standing by the glass I felt cold. I folded my arms to try to get a little more warmth. I felt a wave of nausea, my vision blurred slightly and I broke out into a sudden sweat despite the cold. I hoped I wasn’t getting sick. A calmness then came over me.

*

“Oh, jeez! I’m sorry!” Jeremy said as he knelt down to help me pick my books off the floor.

I shook my head and said, “No problem. I got it.” I picked up a couple of books.

“Hey, I’m the one that ran into you. I should get the privilege of helping you pick them up!” grinned Jeremy.

I laughed and said, “Thanks. I appreciate the help. By the way, my name is Elisabeth.”

Jeremy extended his hand and said, “Nice to meet you Elisabeth. My name is Jeremy.”

We stood up together as he handed me my last book. I smiled at him as I said, “Nice to meet you too. Maybe I’ll see you around?”

Jeremy gave me a big smile. He just stood there smiling. The hallway slowly started to darken. Jeremy’s face slowly started to blend into what appeared to be a ski mask.

“Oh God!”

“Excuse me, Miss,” said Gary’s voice from beside me in the shadows. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

I spun to face him. “What are you doing here?” My voice sounded odd…strained. It must be because of the intense fear I was experiencing.

“I finally figured out what it was that was bothering me,” Gary said, almost in a whisper. “You look just like her. That’s her uniform isn’t it? God! How many games did I sit through just so I could see her. I used to watch her leave for school in the mornings. She was so damned hot.”

He took a step closer. I started to back away. Gary continued, “And you look just like her. The hair, the ass, the legs. I don’t know how, but you’re every bit as gorgeous as she was. Every bit as sexy. Every bit as desirable…”

I was scared to death as I backed slowly away. I yelled, “Gary! Are you out of your fucking mind!? Don’t come any closer!” He kept coming.

I was backing up along the windows. An overhanging light from outside cast a bluish shaft of light through the pane of glass I was next to and suddenly I was bathed in light. The glare made it hard to see Gary for a moment.

He was inside me, pushing himself deeper. He was squeezing my breasts — squeezing them to where they were in great pain.

“Oh dear God! Please help me!” I cried.

“Shut up bitch!” he grunted. “You want it. You know you want it. All you little whores want it — with your short little skirts, and long hair and cute little asses.”

I tried to turn on my side. I tried to free my hands. I twisted back and forth. One hand was coming free…

“Oh yeah, bitch! Oh God yeah! Ohh yea!, Keep doing that. I knew you wanted it!”

I pulled one hand free and in the same motion, raked my fingernails across his eyes. My finger caught one of the eyeholes and the ski mask went sailing across the room.

The guy held his eyes for a moment and screamed out in pain, “You fucking, worthless bitch!” He slapped me hard across the face. I looked up and saw his face.

He grabbed my arms and held them down. He growled, “You dumb, stupid bitch. That mask was for your protection. You don’t see me, you can’t point the police to me. Now you’ve seen me. What a waste. You really are very beautiful and a great fuck.”

He made one last painful thrust into me and then his hands were on my throat. Oh God! I couldn’t breathe! I tried to scratch his eyes, but his arms were longer than mine. My lungs were on fire. I looked deep into his eyes as everything started to grow dark…

Mommy help me…

As I stepped into the light, Gary’s eyes widened and his mouth parted in surprise. “Elisabeth!” he hissed. “Oh my God! It can’t be. It’s you! How can you be here? You’re dead!”

The face I saw in my last moments was this face. Gary’s face.

I was backed into the corner of the building with windows to my left and behind me. There was some debris preventing an easy route to my right. Gary was coming closer.

“You’re just as beautiful as before.” Gary said. “Are you a ghost?”

He was getting too close. I raised my hand as if to strike him in the face. He focused his attention on my hand and moved to block just as I caught him with all the strength I could muster in my leg right in his crotch with my heels.

He cried out in pain and doubled over. I kicked him as hard as I could against the side of his head. The heel of my shoe sliced his forehead open. He fell to the floor, surprised by the viciousness of my attack.

“Does that feel like a ghost to you, asshole?” I screamed at him. I circled him so that I could have a clear run back to the elevator.

He stood up, dazed and shouted, “You little whore! I’m going to fuck you and then I’m going to kill you again! And this time you’re going to stay dead!”

He lunged at me. I started to run backwards to get away from him. I tripped over a paint bucket and fell to the floor. Gary jumped on top of me and his fist came down hard on my breast. God that hurt; with the strangest pain. I pushed him to one side and swung my leg in an arc to try to whack his head again with my shoe. He dodged and I jumped to my feet. The flooring was uneven and I lost my footing. Gary swung his foot up in a kick. The top of his shoe caught me right between the legs. It hurt, but nothing like I expected and I managed to get a few steps away from him.

He stood there, breathing hard. I was trying to catch my breath too. I knew I should run, but where? What if the elevator car was no longer on this floor? He’d be on top of me before the elevator got there. Even if it was there, I don’t think the door could close in time.

I looked Gary straight in the eye and shouted, “Why? Why did you have to kill me?”

Ignoring the contradictory logic of the question, Gary said between breaths, “I told you why. You saw my face. I couldn’t risk letting you go after that.”

“I was only seventeen!” I screamed. I started to cry. “I had a new boyfriend! I had my whole life in front of me! I wanted to go to college…to get married…to live! You stole that from me you fucking bastard!” I picked up a board lying nearby and threw it at him. He ducked.

Gary laughed. He said, “You know, I used to lie in bed, looking at the pictures I’d taken of you at football games, as you came and went from your apartment, as you walked around the school campus… I’d lie there and imagine what you were like. I’d picture you nude in my mind’s eye. Turns out you were much better than anything I could have imagined. Honest, I didn’t want to kill you. I didn’t want that to be my last time with you.”

I shivered with revulsion. To think this slimy animal touched me. I wanted to throw up.

On sudden impulse I picked up the paint bucket I’d tripped over and hurled it towards Gary. It whacked him right on the side of his head. I turned and started running. Maybe I could reach the elevator before him. I felt the longer I waited to try to escape, the greater the chances he’d find some way to catch me.

I was halfway to the elevator when the same paint bucket sailed over my head, narrowly missing me by probably no more than an inch. The arc of the throw caused the bucket to smash into the exit sign instantly throwing the room into more darkness.

As I ran, I bumped into a table cluttered with items I couldn’t identify in the darkness. I worried about how much time the table cost me as I ran around it. I hoped I was heading in the right direction as the elevator area was in near total darkness, save for the glowing “down” button.

Behind me I heard Gary bump into the same table. He was coming straight for me. I realized he could see the white of my uniform even in this darkness.

I was running with my hand in front of me so that I wouldn’t smack a wall or some other object. My hand suddenly pushed against a thin film that gave way to my push. It was the safety tape. I stopped suddenly and frantically felt around. I was standing right on the edge of the open elevator shaft. I heard Gary’s footsteps right behind me. Panicking, I searched around the inside of the shaft for the mangled conduit. I found it and wrapped a leg around the low end and grabbed the part that had ripped free from the wall and swung myself inside the shaft. Gary was right on my heels.

“I got you now, you little biiiii–Aaahhhhh”. Gary screamed in terror as he fell into the long black shaft. His scream stopped when apparently his head whacked something protruding from the shaft wall. He smashed with a sickening crunch onto the top of the elevator car down on the basement level.

I hung there for a moment, just breathing — afraid to move. My hands were sweating and I was losing my grip on the conduit. I swung myself back onto the edge of the shaft and after I was sure of the footing, let go of the conduit.

I took a few steps away from the shaft and sat down on the floor. I just sat there a while and breathed heavy. I felt an unexplainable difference. But most important, I no longer felt that weird, haunted feeling. I was alone in my head.

I stared at the elevator shaft. I stared into its darkness. And I felt no regret for what happened to Gary. In fact, I felt…nothing.

* * *

“Where have you been?” asked Joanne. “I was afraid you were going to miss the voting for the best costume.”

“I couldn’t miss that!” I giggled. “Sorry, but it was too crowded for me. I took a walk outside for a bit.”

Joanne looked at me. She said, “You know, if I didn’t know better, I’d bet a million dollars you’re just a teenage girl. I mean, you look more like a girl now than when you came in.”

She glanced around the packed auditorium and asked, “Have you seen Gary? He disappeared too. I thought he might be with you.”

I just shrugged. Gary probably wouldn’t be found until the repair crews came back to work on Monday morning.

* * *

Kneeling besides Elisabeth Manning’s head stone gave me an odd feeling. I still felt there was a connection between us. Maybe there always will. She had been in my mind in the days leading up to the Halloween party and in one explosive moment during which she sought her revenge, I was her. The experience left me changed forever. I’m still me…but better.

I called in sick that Monday after the party. The police came to visit me anyway and ask questions. They asked everybody who was at the party questions. They didn’t suspect me at all. In fact, Gary’s untimely demise was listed officially as an accident — they figured he was someplace he shouldn’t have been and stupidly fell down the shaft in the dark.

“Come on, let’s go…”

I looked up and said, “Okay. I’m done.” I stood up, leaving the flowers lying on Elisabeth’s grave.

I never went back to work. After several days of calling in sick, I finally told them I wasn’t coming back to work and I wasn’t coming back to get my stuff.

I gave the uniform back to Margaret that night of the party. She looked at me funny and said she thought I could use a good long sleep. I agreed. That night the nightmares didn’t return. I haven’t had them since. But some of Elisabeth is still with me. And, she left me an unexpected gift.

I moved out of my apartment and found a cheaper one. I got a job at the mall. That’s where I met Jeremy.

As we climbed into his car, Jeremy said, “You know, I still think it’s pretty strange that you two both have the same name and kinda resemble each other, but you say you aren’t related.”

I brushed a strand of long, dark brown hair from my eyes as I turned to look at him. I said, “I only knew her for a very short time, but she touched my very soul. She changed my life forever, and I’m grateful to her.”

Jeremy smiled and said, “You know, I probably shouldn’t say this, but it was because you resembled her is what made me notice you in the first place.”

I touched his hand and smiled. “I don’t mind. I’m glad she helped me find you.” That’s how I knew there was still some of her left in my head. She didn’t control anything, but I could tell when she was happy. And she was happy now. And so was I.

I opened my purse and took out a compact and checked my make-up in the mirror. I looked exactly as she had left me — a pretty teenage girl. The energy she expended that was borne of intense anger, dispelled almost immediately after she had exacted her revenge, preventing me from changing back. My mind was me, my face was a mix and my body was all hers.

Some day I’ll have to figure out a way to thank Joanne for making me come to the Halloween party…

* * *

The End

Notes:

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