CH A P T E R 1The dust covered yellow school bus rumbled down the cracked asphalt road,
shaking the children inside. Tommy’s body was inclined back against his
seat, his feet planted at the top of the green vinyl covered seat in front of
him. He alternated between glancing at his best friend Brian and peering
out the window at the blur of the fading autumn colors along the road.
Kevin was sitting rather imperiously at the back of the bus, grimacing down
at his cell phone that he removed from his pocket every couple of minutes.
Unable to resist commenting, Carlos leaned across the aisle. “Alright,
what’s the deal, Kevin? You got a hot date or something?”
Kevin’s face flushed slightly. “Uh…yeah! Jealous much?”
Despite his retort, his hands were shaking. Sunlight streaming through
the windows revealed a rather puffy ring of black and blue flesh underneath
his right eye. Tommy spotted the clumsy attempt to hide the bruise with
makeup. For an instant, the two boys’ eyes met but Kevin cast his eyes
downward, looking ashamed. He looked at his phone again, and Tommy
A smirk curled across Carlos’ lips as he quipped, “Yeah, right. Your left
hand isn’t a date!” A chorus of chuckles emanated from the kids sitting in
front of the group of boys.
Kevin turned to face him and punched the boy in the shoulder with a
dull thwack. Before he could say anything, Kevin leaned back in his seat
and said, “Just FYI, it’s my right hand.” The children in earshot giggled at
After rubbing his shoulder, Carlos looked back at Kevin. “Seriously,
dude, what’s up?” Tommy looked over at him and discreetly touched his
own face, to draw Carlos’ attention to Kevin’s bruise. After Carlos had realized
what he meant, the group became quiet.
Kevin put his phone away, leaned back against the window facing his
friends and forced a smile. “The only problem I have is your ugly face.”
Carlos flipped Kevin off, and poked Jacob who was giggling at his expense.
Tommy glanced at Brian and smiled. When he returned the smile,
Tommy looked down, his face brightening. Carlos and Jacob nudged one
another and pointed at the pair. Carlos was dozing in the sunlight, while
Jacob leaned against him listening to music on his headphones, watching
Tommy and Brian with bemused interest.
Kevin shook his head and grinned knowingly back at Jacob. Tommy
caught the boys’ conspiratorial glances and turned his head to the side. He
felt he was the punch line of an inside joke sometimes, but wasn’t quite sure
why. His curiosity was interrupted by his cell phone vibrating in his pocket.
He dug the phone out and read the text message from his mother.
“Yeah! It’s here!” Tommy exclaimed as he pumped his fist in the air
His voice rousted Carlos from his slumber. “What’s here? Another My
Little Pony?” he asked.
“Your birthday was last month, dork. No, my Halloween costume,”
Tommy responded matter-of-factly.
Kevin spun his hand around in a circle. “Uh, and…”
“It’s a surprise!” Tommy said with a mischievous grin, staring into
Brian’s grey eyes.
Carlos huffed with annoyance. “Dude, if you wear the same costume as
me again this year I’m going to kick your ass.”
“You’re still going as the red Master Chief, right?” Tommy asked with
Carlos nodded affirmatively. “You’re going as a Templar, right,
Brian responded affirmatively, “I got some chain mail, and Mom
bought me a historically accurate tabard and helmet to go with it! Now if I
could use Dad’s old sword, the outfit would be perfect.”
“Even with the sword, I’m still going to own you,” Carlos said confidently.
He looked over at Kevin. “You decide on an outfit yet?”
Kevin shrugged, breaking eye contact with the others. “I don’t know if
my father’s going to let me go.”
“He’s gotta! There’s going to be ten thousand dollars in prizes. This is
going to be the best Halloween ever!” Tommy said exuberantly.
“And, you know, nobody does Halloween better than us!” Brian proclaimed
“Alright…alright. I’ll come up with something, I’m sure,” Kevin assured
“What about you, Jacob?” Kevin asked.
Jacob smiled. “It’s a secret.”
“I’ll take care of this,” Carlos said, poking him mercilessly in the side,
causing him to squeal. The bus driver cleared his throat loudly, glaring at
the boys through the rear view mirror.
“Quit it!” Jacob protested, his face turning red enough to mask his pale
freckles. “I’m going as a vampire,” he surrendered begrudgingly.
“God, another sparkly vampire!” Carlos teased.
“No way, dork! A real vampire!” he retorted. Tommy and Brian laughed
Tommy leaned back and peered out the window again. The bus sputtered
to a stop, letting a few children out. He sang under his breath, “Eight
more days to Halloween, Halloween. Eight more days to Halloween, Silver
Shamrock.” Brian’s reflection in the window beamed at him while Carlos
and Kevin simultaneously rolled their eyes.
As the bus rounded a bend adjacent to the swamp that surrounded
much of the town, Tommy caught a glimpse of a boy wearing filthy blue
denim overalls and a wool beret. However, the boy disappeared behind the
veil of swirling white smoke left by the bus’s exhaust. There was something
inherently disquieting about the boy.
The bus ride grew progressively quieter as the bus approached the end
of its daily journey. His eyes widened when he saw the same boy from earlier
emerging from behind a row of wild hawthorn bushes. This time he
made direct eye contact with the mysterious boy. A wicked smile danced
across the child’s otherwise emotionless face, causing Tommy’s body to
shudder involuntarily. There was something terrible in the child’s visage,
forcing him to look away from those hollow, soulless eyes that invaded his
consciousness. Tommy looked up to see the bus driver staring intently at him through the rear view mirror. The rest of the group had fallen into
their own little worlds, lulled into virtual slumber by the constant droning
of the engine and swaying of the bus. He sank down in his seat, trying to
avoid the bus driver’s penetrating stare. He glanced over at Brian, who was
playing with his phone.
Tommy felt some relief when the final stop was reached and it was time
to offload. Carlos, Jacob and Brian were already halfway down the aisle
before the bus reached a stop, leaving Kevin and Tommy as the last passengers
to disembark. As Tommy descended the stairs, the bus driver reached
out and grabbed his hand. “You’ve seen them, haven’t you?” he asked.
A startled Tommy gave the bus driver a bewildered stare as he struggled
to withdraw his hand from the man’s tight grasp. “Seen who? What are
you talking about?” he asked, growing fearful of the man’s narrowing eyes.
“The children of the Great Unseen have revealed themselves to you,
and now it’s your turn to hear HIS call,” the man whispered in a raspy
voice. He tried to back away as the man’s eyes darkened, much like the boy
he had seen earlier.
“You’re hurting me!” an increasingly flustered Tommy stammered, trying
to pull away from the man’s grip.
Like a passing summer storm, the man’s face brightened, and he released
Tommy’s wrist. “Well, what are you waiting for, boy? It’s Friday night. You
got the whole weekend ahead of you. Now git!” He smiled warmly at the astounded
boy. Tommy stepped off the bus, confronted by Kevin and Brian.
“What the hell happened?” Kevin demanded.
Tommy could do little but shrug his slender shoulders. “I don’t know.
He was mad about something; it didn’t make any sense. Whatever it was,
he got over it quickly.”
Kevin watched with concern as the bus disappeared down the road, before
turning his attention to the dilapidated two-story greyish white house
in front of him. “Well, I can’t stall any longer,” he said with a sigh.
“What are you doing guys doing tonight?” Tommy asked.
Kevin shifted his weight. “I think I better stay in and work on
Brian said, “I promised Mom I’d clean up around the house tonight,
but I’ll have the rest of the weekend free after my homework is done.”
Tommy looked a little dejected, but at least this afforded him some time to
check out his Halloween costume.
“We’ll see you tomorrow morning, right?” Tommy asked Kevin
Kevin forced a smile and gave him a playful push. “Yeah, Bro, I’ll see
you guys tomorrow. We’ll go into town or something.” Tommy and Brian
said their good-byes and the boys parted company for the day.
Tommy’s house was a little larger than Kevin’s, painted a similar
weather-beaten white although clearly more care and maintenance has been
put into his house than Kevin’s. He bounded through the front door, his
eyes scanning the entranceway and hallway for any signs of his package. He
poked his head into the kitchen, spying the nondescript brown box sitting
on the table between his mother and father.
He made a beeline for the package before his mom intercepted him.
“Not even an acknowledgment of us being in the room?” she mockingly
admonished him, wiping the curly locks of blonde hair from his face.
“Stop, Mom! Hi, Dad!” he blurted out as he reached for the box.
“So, remind me why you needed to spend six months of your allowance
for this?” his father asked while Tommy tore open the package
“It’s a surprise for…” Tommy cut himself short. “I mean, I’m just
looking forward to Halloween.” The boy delved into the contents of the
package, procuring large sheets of fine brown fur wrapped in translucent
“Is there something you’d like to talk to us about?” his father asked
softly, casting a glance at his wife.
“You know, you can talk to us about anything,” Tommy’s mom said
Tommy pulled out the lower jaw of the werewolf costume, running his
fingers along the jagged teeth as he looked up at his parents with confusion.
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, we thought maybe you’d like to talk about someone,” Tommy’s
Tommy thought for a moment, unsure where his parents were going
with this line of questioning, though admittedly he felt embarrassed as a
sloppy grin crossed his face imagining Brian’s reaction when he sees the
costume. Before he could assemble the pieces in his mind, he blurted out
“Kevin? What about him?” his mother asked, casting a confused gaze
over at her husband on this unexpected subject.
“I think his dad beat him up last night. He was wearing makeup to
cover up a black eye, but he didn’t have it yesterday,” Tommy said, looking out the kitchen window toward Kevin’s house. “I’m worried about him,”
“That’s a serious accusation, Tommy. Has Kevin given you any indication
of this?” his father asked, looking troubled.
Tommy shook his head. “No, but he acts afraid to go home. Every day
on the bus you can see him start shaking the closer we get.”
“That’s a worrying sign, Tommy, but we need to know the whole story.
Kevin is lucky to have you as a friend. I think the best thing you can do
right now is be there for him, and let him know that when he’s ready to talk,
you’ll listen,” his father instructed.
“Is there anything else, anything Kevin’s said that would make you feel
there’s trouble with his father?” his mother interjected.
Tommy thought for a moment. “Kevin’s mentioned his dad drinks a
lot. I think that’s when he gets in trouble.”
His mother rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Isn’t it always?” she
whispered to no one in particular. “Your father is right, Tommy. Let know
Kevin that you’re there for him. There is a counselor at your school trained
for this kind of thing, so Kevin has options if he’s in trouble.”
“Couldn’t you talk to his dad, make him stop?” he asked his father.
Tommy’s father leaned back in his chair and sighed. “It’s not that easy,
kiddo. Nobody likes to be told how to raise their child, and I’m afraid if we
stick our noses into his business, he might take it out on Kevin. It would be
best if the school became involved in this.”
Disappointed, Tommy knew this was a problem that couldn’t easily be
solved. He pulled out the remaining mass of soft brown fur and the upper jaw of his werewolf costume. “Some assembly required,” he moaned, pulling
out a plastic bag full of plastic claws.
“I hope you’re not expecting me to do all the work,” Tommy’s mother
“Uh, no, of course not, Mom!” he replied, his bright, blue pleading eyes
belying his underlying intent.
“Well, if you like I can take the measurements and help you get started
this weekend,” his mom offered diplomatically.
His face brightened. “Thanks, Mom, that’d be awesome!”
“Alright, go get started on your homework. Dinner will be ready in
about an hour,” she concluded, sending the Tommy and his costume out
of the kitchen.
His father shook his head and laughed. “I have a feeling this is going to
be an unforgettable Halloween.”
Tommy bounded into his room, and spread all the individual components
of the werewolf costume across his bed. The macabre mass of soft
fur, jaws and claws melded naturally with the horror movie posters hanging
on the far wall, above the shelves filled with rows of horror movie
DVDs and a couple dozen similarly themed novels. He plopped himself
down in his wooden desk chair and rummaged through his backpack for
his homework assignments.