Mitch opened the door and was greeted by a vampire, a fairy, and a werewolf.
She grabbed a handful of candy from the caldron and dumped the treats into the outstretched bags.
“Where’s your costume?” the fairy asked.
“I’ll be in costume soon enough,” Mitch assured her, wondering, for the hundredth time, what her voyage vessel would look like when she dropped into the Sun King’s Court tonight.
Mitch smiled. “Happy Halloween!” she called as the kids ran down the gravel drive.
She closed the door and walked back into the sitting room, where her granddaddy was warming himself by the fire.
“I remember when you were out there, running from house to house, filling your little plastic pumpkin with candy.”
Graham sighed as his eyes clouded over with memories.
“Wanted to be a puppy when you were five…scampered up and down the drives barking ‘Trick-or-Treat!’ Then it was a goblin…got it in your head to be scary that year—heh heh. And the scientist—oh boy that was a good one! Had your hair all combed out and colored white, ‘member that? And the mermaid when you were eight…HA! Could barely walk with that fish tail wrapped around your little legs!”
Mitch smiled as her granddaddy listed off each and every one of the Halloween costumes she had worn over the last seven years up until last year’s pirate costume. With her stomach fluttering at the thought of the mission ahead, she began to long for those nights of playing dress up and collecting candy.
As if sensing her thoughts, Graham’s face grew serious.
“You know you don’t have to do this.”
Mitch took a seat on the arm of the recliner.
“I know I don’t have to.”
“But you’re going to.” Graham sighed.
“I can do this granddaddy,” Mitch said with more courage than she felt.
Graham nodded, but his eyes were full of sadness. He pulled her into a tight hug.
“Well,” he said finally. “I suppose you are a Scarlett, after all. Strong-willed and full of spirit.”
Mitch smiled. The doorbell rang.
“TRICK-OR-TREAT!” came a chorus of voices from the other side of the door.
Mitch gave her granddaddy a squeeze, and then jumped to fetch her cauldron.
Nighttime in the swamp was black as tar, but the Collective moved quickly through the tangled marsh. Every now and again, one of the dark, slow-moving clouds would splinter, revealing an enormous yellow moon sagging above the sharp silhouettes of pine. The moss clinging to the ancient trees would glow silver, and the bayou would shimmer with the light of a thousand flickering stars. Then everything would go black again, and the only sign of where they were headed was the chirping of insects and the howling of wild dogs.
Mitch brushed the sticky spider webs from her face as the group pushed deeper into the forest. On and on they walked, until her legs ached and her sneakers were soaked with watery mud. Just when she was about to stop the group so she could remove whatever was wriggling around in her shoe, Oren came to an abrupt halt. He held up his hand, signaling to the others to stop.
“This is it,” he whispered. “Stay put. I want to make sure no one’s beaten us here.”
Graham put a hand on Mitch’s shoulder and nodded. Miki and Dora drew Reece close. Oren took a few steps forward and disappeared into the darkness.
Pushing his way through a tangle of wispy willows, he emerged on the edge of an open field. The sky above was clear and filled with bright, white stars. The yellow moon swelled and pulsed with rings of blue light.
Oren’s nostrils flared as he caught the scent of an electrical charge.
“It’s open,” he said, as if daring himself to believe.
The sound of snapping branches and rustling leaves announced Graham as he made his way into the clearing. He stopped at the edge where Oren stood and took in a deep breath.
“I’ll be damned—” he said softly.
Oren looked at his brother, eyes dancing, and stepped into the field.
As he walked across the clearing, the wet grass crackled and gave off a faint blue glow. The grey hairs of his moustache stood on end, fizzling with electricity. He looked up at the currents of blue-white light dancing across the sky. He couldn’t contain himself any longer.
“IT’S OPEN!” he exclaimed, laughing like a child into the electric air.
Graham followed his brother into the field. With every step he felt the electric charges shooting from the tips of his gnarled fingers to his cramped temples and the sudden release of all the pressure that had built up over the years. Tears sprang to his eyes.
“It’s open,” he whispered, and let out a long whistle.
Oren laughed again and shook his brother’s arm excitedly. Graham put his arm around Oren’s shoulders and cried out into the sky, “IT’S OOOOOPPPPPPEEEENNNNN!”
Oren howled at the moon, and the two brothers doubled over in laughter. They felt so young, so powerful, so full of energy.
Sparks flew from the ground in small circles around their feet. Graham was the first to notice. He lifted one foot off the ground. The sparks fizzled out. He set his foot back down and lifted the other. The light went out. He looked at Oren.
“Time anchors,” Oren said, removing his arm from Graham’s shoulder. “We’ve got too many, brother.”
He took his handkerchief from his pocket, wiped his eyes, and offered it to Graham. Graham blew his nose into the cloth and gave it back to his brother, whose lips curled in disgust.
“Well,” Graham said, patting Oren on the back. “At least we know it’s open.”
“Indeed, brother,” Oren smiled. “At least we know that.”
The two walked over to where the rest of the Collective was standing. Mitch and Reece were huddled against Miki and Dora. All four looked highly concerned.
“It’s fine,” Oren said, brushing the electricity from his beard.
“We’re fine,” Graham agreed. He ran a hand through his stubbly hair, shaking the sparks from his temples.
“Alright,” Oren said, “Where’re the fireflies?”
Mitch and Reece looked confused, but Miki and Dora laughed softly.
“That’s you,” Dora explained. “Firefly is Collective-speak for time traveler. You’ll see why. Go on, dear.”
Mitch stepped into the flarefield. Bright blue sparks shot from the grass as an electric charge ran up her leg.
Mitch pulled her foot back and looked at Dora with wide-eyed concern.
Dora chuckled. “That’s normal, sugar,” she assured her. “You’re stepping into a flarefield—what’d you expect?”
“Your turn,” Miki said to Reece.
Reece looked at Mitch, who was rubbing her leg.
“It’s weird,” she said. “Try not to step on the sparks.”
Reece nodded and turned to the flarefield. He took a deep breath, crouched low, and then launched himself into the glowing grass.
The blue light enveloped him, growing brighter and brighter, until he looked like a wispy star against the black of the bayou.
“Mitch!” he called, “Come on! This is amazing!”
Mitch raised an eyebrow and looked back at Dora, who raised an eyebrow back.
“Well,” she said with a smile. “You’re not going to let him outshine you, are you?”
Graham approached, still glowing from his own encounter with the flarefield. He pulled Mitch into a tight bear hug and gave her a kiss on the head, causing the strands of her curly hair to stand on end with electricity.
“You remember, baby girl,” he said encouragingly, “you can do this.”
Mitch marveled at her granddaddy’s radiant face. He looked so young. So happy.
“I’ll be back soon,” she promised, “with Ian.”
Stepping into the flarefield, Mitch felt herself overcome with electric energy. It was so bright she had to shield her eyes and stumble toward the glowing outline of Reece.
Finally, she felt a hand grab hers.
“Ready?” Reece asked, his icy eyes burning into hers.
“Yes,” Mitch replied, squeezing Reece’s hand tight.
Reece stomped his feet. Blue sparks shot up from the earth around him.
Mitch stomped her own feet. The blast of light connected with Reece’s, and big drops of electric rain began to pour down on them.
Mitch felt a sharp sting in the hand holding Reece’s. She looked down. Her fingers were glowing. She looked at Reece who smiled, his white teeth as bright as his blue eyes while the rest of his features faded to darkness.
“Reece!” Mitch cried, feeling his hand dissolve.
Sparks shot from the ground and into the sky, leaping higher and higher into spherical orbs until they touched the full yellow moon. Another minute and it would be too late!
Mitch forced her mind to go blank, as her and Reece had practiced over and over again, and then pushed with all her might into the words.
Chamber 6, Moon cycle 5, Set 714, Flarefield 13C.
A loud CLAP! split the air. Mitch floated—for a moment—for an eternity—suspended against the midnight sky.
And then all was cold and dark.