Lila and her friends sat at MacDonald’s and talked about nothing in particular, but with hardly a breath between them. They were all feeling a little curious and somewhat self-conscious. Apart from the occasional private parties, there were not many chances in Middle School for these kinds of social interactions between boys and girls. It was all still new enough to embarrass, intrigue, and touch a sense of secret desire, which for the most part was still deeply hidden inside. Of course, they were all too cool to admit that they did not know everything about it all.
Jennifer, who was dressed like an elf from Lord of the Rings or some on-line video game, pointed ears and all, nodded toward the door. Bobby and Donna actually came together to the restaurant, though they got out of separate cars. Bobby even asked if he could sit at Donna’s table before he sat. Ginger, who was dressed like a cat which she claimed was a panther, shook her head and pointed in the opposite direction where Tom and Rachel, a couple of vampires, were sitting touching hands.
“Where are the boys?” Morgan the pirate wondered, but even as she spoke, Mary and Eddie, alias Red and the Princess, came in and got in line. Red Rayder got a number one, but the Princess only wanted a few french fries. And the rest of the boys were not far behind. Chris was dressed like a medieval knight. Peter was dressed like a ninja, and just like in the library, they came over and sat near Jennifer and Lila, but not too near. Nelson came in his Max Man costume, a little rubber Maxamillian in his hands, and Jordan came also as a pirate and sat beside Morgan the pirate with a smile. Things were heating up there nicely, Lila thought, with a smile of her own.
Chris and Peter were all eyes as Lila shifted to cross her legs in the other direction. She had chosen the fairy costume in part because it allowed her to show off her nice, long legs by wearing a skirt that was normally much too short for school.
“I don’t know what it is, but ever since I got dressed, all I can think about is food.” Nelson joked as he sat with two orders of nuggets. “Isn’t that right, Max?”
“Indubitably!” Nelson finished, giving voice to his rubberized sidekick.
Everyone enjoyed the show, even if no one laughed. Then every one was quiet, especially the girls, curiously enough. Perhaps they had already talked themselves out earlier. More likely, they were watching, wondering, considering things to which the boys were oblivious. Chris finally spoke up.
“We better get going.” Peter stood up with him and this prompted everyone to move. They were going to the dance together, not like dating couples, but sort of all in a group. It was safer that way.
When Barten-Cur got back to the school, he walked the whole perimeter, around the playground, the football field, the back of the baseball diamond and to the front door. He set a simple magical hedge the whole way around so that anyone with a weapon, a sword, a knife or a real bow, would set off a bell inside the school loud enough to be heard, wherever he was. Then he returned to the gym to find it decorated and deserted. It was no trouble adding his potion to the punch bowl, but a little harder to stir it in without disturbing the slices of orange that floated on top. He felt he was as ready as he could be. If they came, he could act. If they did not come, no one would be the wiser.
While he waited, Barten had another thought. Some of these children would come as all sorts of devils, evil creatures, monsters and even dead people. He would have to siphon them off at the start. They would not do at all. He would have to be careful, he thought, imagining that Arosa still might yell at him even if he was following the rules, so he set a spell by the entrance designed like a spider’s web to catch any such evil arrivals. He wondered briefly why any parents would allow their children to dress in such a manner – representing evil things; but then he never had a wife or children so he really did not know.
The teachers began to arrive by quarter of six. Principal Barlow was dressed as a baby and his secretary, like the Wicked Witch. Tom Deal said he was Mozart, and Ms Gloria Finster came as a sixties hippie child. She had a flower painted on her aged cheek. Coach Beemer trotted to the door in red tights, a red mask and a red cape. “The Masked Marvel,” he called himself. He was supposed to be a professional wrestler, and Barten-Cur at least knew what that was. He watched wrestling when he could, but he did not recall any Masked Marvel.
The children started arriving after that, but Barten-Cur stayed up front with his eyes open, in case his spider web missed anyone. To be sure, he did not understand what some of the costumes were supposed to be and so he could not be sure he got all that he should. But then, he could undo the magic easily enough if needed. Still, he took the obvious ones so it would not be needed for them.
Ms Addams came in a long dress and claimed she was Jane Austin, whoever that was, and Mister Johnson came in a suit. “I’m dressed as a social studies teacher.” He told the custodian. “That is scary enough for these kids.” Barten-Cur shrugged.
Lila and her gang came together. Barten was afraid, with so many at once, one might slip passed his net. He looked carefully, but he did not see anything worth catching. Lila said, “Hi.” And then she got whispers from a cat and a girl with pointed ears and a fake bow and arrows.
Ms Ramirez came as a flamenco dancer, her seventh graders trailing after her like so many baby ducks. Mister Gross in a white suit and Ms Duncan in her dancing dress were the last teachers to arrive. They were the disco couple, whatever disco was. Barten-Cur did not even know they were a couple, but that was what they said.
When it looked like nearly everyone had arrived, it was about six-thirty by then, Barten-Cur went up to room 204. There were two ghosts, one skeleton, a couple of movie monstrosities that he did not recognize well enough to name, a Grim Reaper, a thing that called itself “Scream,” a Devil boy and a Devil girl and two Zombies, one with an axe in his head and the other in a suit with an arrow through his head who claimed he was a dead lawyer. They believed there was going to be a contest and prizes for the scariest costume. They were arguing about who might win when Barten-Cur locked them in.
The music was just loud enough to prevent talking without shouting. There was not much dancing going on for a dance. Lila and her friends sat on some chairs beside a table while the boys walked around the room, presumably looking at the decorations. They all had punch. Ms Finster was very good about making sure that everyone, absolutely everyone, got some. It was really very good, and for most it was also something to do.
Lila’s Grandpa came over, but only to say hi and then leave them alone. He was the Scarecrow, and Jennifer the elf complimented the outfit, and Ginger the panther agreed that it was very well done.
“I should have had more time to work on the make-up.” Wendel Carter mused, but he thanked the girls for the kind words and moved on, pausing only to examine the real scarecrow set up in the corner of the gym.
Coach Beemer was getting another tray of cookies from the cafeteria when he heard a knock on the cafeteria window. There were two students outside. He reluctantly opened the door for them.
“You should have come in the front.” Coach Beemer said.
“Long walk.” Tom the vampire responded.
“Thanks.” Rachel the vampire thought some gratitude was appropriate,
The Masked Marvel frowned beneath his mask, but he went for the cookies. Tom and Rachel went for some of the last of the punch. It was not much after that when the bell went off and Barten-Cur gasped. “God help us. They’re here.” In a moment, a soft violet light filled the gym and beyond, seeping out like a mist beneath the doors and through the walls. It filled the cafeteria behind the gym and the auditorium in the front of the school, swept around the books in the library and the files in the office. It even filled room 204, though it would have no effect in that place for lack of punch, and when it was done, it disappeared as if it had never been.