It was on this night that Arthur Hayes disappeared.
“I can’t decide between a Letter from Missouri or The Beast of Boulder Street,” said Alice.
Alice Hayes stood at the entrance of a hallway as her mother sat on the couch with her TV show paused. Alice was a typical high school girl with raven black hair adorned with pink highlights, brown eyes, freckles on her cheeks, and a healthy tan from spending a lot of time outside. She wore the bright, colorful blouse and pants that were fashionable at her school right now and had just a hint of makeup on her face.
She was nearly the spitting image of her mother. Mom was a bit plumper with quite a few more wrinkles, much plainer clothing and a distinct lack of trendy makeup or highlights. Mrs. Hayes also wore the weary look of a woman who led a busy life, though she did brighten up whenever her daughter asked for advice.
“Oh, I hear A Letter from Missouri is very good,” said Mom.
“Nuh-uh,” said a young voice behind Alice. “A romantic comedy over a horror movie? Horror is better, and that’s a fact.”
Alice, slightly annoyed, looked back to see her younger brother Arthur, a skinny kid with blonde hair and a mild scowl on his face. As he walked past his sister, she saw him bundled up in winter clothing with a backpack.
“Shows what you know,” said Alice. “It’s not a romantic comedy, just a romance.”
“Even worse,” said Arthur, grimacing as he set his backpack down to confront his sister. “At least a romantic comedy can pretend to be funny.”
“As if you know anything about comedy,” said Alice spitefully.
Alice and Arthur’s voices began rising as they got angrier and angrier.
“I know plenty about comedy,” said Arthur, offended.
“Oh, like you know about movies? Mr. ‘I can’t tell the difference between a romance and a romantic comedy.’”
“Both are stupid.”
“That’s enough!” said their mother sternly.
Alice and Arthur stopped arguing immediately, bowing their heads to avoid looking their mother in the eye.
“Can you please try to settle your disputes without bickering?” Mom demanded. “Honestly, you can treat each other so horribly sometimes. If your father were here, he’d…”
Their mother choked up for a moment, unable to finish the sentence. The room became awkwardly silent as Alice and Arthur shifted uncomfortably. Alice took a deep breath, trying to ignore the pictures in the hall behind her, where their father looked at them smiling. Some of those photos showed Dad in his military uniform, his burly physique imposing in camouflage. They didn’t talk much about their father these days. It almost felt like a cheap shot to bring him up right now, but Alice knew Mom didn’t mean it that way. Also, she was probably right about what Dad would have said if he were still with them.
“I’m sorry,” said Mom, wiping a tear from her eye. “But my point still stands. It’s okay to disagree. Lord above knows you’ll probably have many disagreements for the rest of your lives, but you should be able to settle your disputes without insulting each other.”
Alice and Arthur kept looking away as Mom looked back and forth between them, her eyes stern and piercing.
“It’s just,” said Alice. “I like romance. When you call it stupid, it sounds like you’re calling me stupid.”
“I never said that!” said Arthur angrily.
“Arthur,” said their mother sternly. “Try again but say it gently.”
“I mean,” said Arthur, annoyed. “I don’t mean to say that.”
“Then don’t,” said Mom. “Alice is allowed to like whatever type of movie she likes. If you personally don’t like those movies, then you can say it without calling what she likes stupid. Incidentally, I happen to like romance, so you called something I like stupid as well.”
Arthur squirmed uncomfortably. “I…I’m sorry.”
“And Alice,” said mom. “When you respond with an insult of your own, it just adds fuel to the fire. And, I might add, you’re doing the exact thing you’re so upset with in the first place. Both of you should be able to tell each other how you feel without demeaning each other. I expect you to settle your arguments like civilized people, not like barbarians screaming at each other. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes mother,” said Arthur and Alice.
The room became silent for a moment as the two siblings took this all in.
“Beast of Boulder Street is pretty good,” said Arthur, hopefully.
“Is it?” asked Alice. “Have you seen it?”
“Last week,” said Arthur. “It’s about a guy who becomes a werewolf and tries to use that to get revenge on the people who killed his family. But the more he becomes a wolf, the more he loses control, so he has to make a choice. Either give up his quest for revenge or give in and become a werewolf forever.”
Alice thought about it.
“Yeah,” said Alice. “Sounds like it could be good.”
Arthur nodded enthusiastically, and their mother smiled at them, “There, that’s better, isn’t it?”
Alice and Arthur nodded.
At that moment, someone rang the doorbell.
“That’s probably Johnny wondering why I’m not there yet,” said Arthur, picking up his backpack. “Bye Mom, bye sis.”
“Have fun at your sleepover,” said their mother.
“Sure thing,” said Arthur, heading for the front door.
Alice watched him go, seeing his friend Johnny Baxter for a few seconds, a tall kid for his age with messy brown hair. The Baxters only lived a few houses down, so arranging sleepovers wasn’t hard. She could just barely hear Arthur protest that he was only five minutes late when the door closed.
Once Arthur was gone, Alice turned back to Mom to see the woman looking at a picture of dad on the wall. For a moment, Alice wondered if she’d had arguments with him that they’d never resolved. Alice had heard her parents argue before. However, seeing the sad look on her mother’s face, Alice decided to leave well enough alone and not ask.
As she went back to her room, Alice finally decided on her own plans. She’d call her friends and tell them she’d decided on The Beast of Boulder Street. A horror movie did sound like fun right now, and admittedly, Arthur’s pitch had sounded pretty neat.
Though she’d never admit that to him.
“Alice,” said Mom as Alice was getting ready for school. “Could you swing by the Baxter house and make sure your brother gets to the bus stop?”
Alice, packing her backpack with schoolbooks in her room, sighed and said, “Yes, mother.”
Soon, Alice was outside, bundled up in several layers of clothing with a hood over her head as she walked down the sidewalk. It was early in the morning, and the sun had not yet risen above the houses. Frost covered anywhere the sun’s rays couldn’t reach yet, and Alice’s breath was visible as she walked. She rubbed her mitten covered hands together as she reached the Baxter house.
The first sign something was wrong was the open door.
Alice stopped in her tracks, facing the house from the sidewalk. The front door to the Baxter house was wide open. Mr. Baxter wasn’t out getting the newspaper, nor did Alice see anyone else there. The door was just wide open, with no one in sight. That was very strange, especially given how cold it was this morning. The second sign something was wrong was how dark it was inside. Aside from sunlight in the entryway, the interior of the house was nearly pitch black. Even with the lights off and the curtains drawn, there was no way it should be that dark inside.
For a moment, Alice figured that everyone had already left, and the door was left open by mistake. That, however, was easy to check, as she could look down the street. The corner where they usually caught the school bus was a fair distance away, but Alice could still see that it was empty. There were no other children, never mind her brother and his friend. After all, Alice was fifteen minutes early, so that wasn’t surprising, but it meant that either her brother was skipping school or he was still inside.
Despite that nervous feeling telling her that something was wrong, Alice Slowly approached the house, getting closer and closer to that looming darkness. Eventually, she stepped right up to the entrance and looked around, not seeing anyone. Not that she could see much of anything. The only things she could see clearly were the tiles in the entryway, illuminated by the open door.
“Mr. and Mrs. Baxter?” she called out.
Only silence answered her.
Again, silence answered.
But still, silence answered.
Alice had time before the bus arrived, so she stepped inside, looking for the light switch. As her eyes adjusted to the light, she saw the living room before her, a wall of pictures to the right, and a dining room to the left. The light switches lay behind the open door, and reaching for one gave her the third sign something was wrong. The lights didn’t come on. She tried all five switches but got no result. Why was the power out? It had been fine back home, and she’d never known the Baxters to be out of power when they weren’t.
Again, Alice had that nagging feeling that something was wrong, but she tried to tell herself she was being paranoid. She also considered just closing the front door and going to school, but she’d had already told Mom she’d make sure Arthur got on the bus. Alice had to check things out, just to be sure. Checking her watch, she still had time, so she stepped in further, moving to the living room.
“Mr. and Mrs. Baxter?” She called out again.
Alice walked carefully so she wouldn’t stub her toe in the dark. With no light, she was forced to feel along the wall as she went by memory. Slowly but surely, Alice made her way to the window in the living room. There she found black curtains that shut out the light completely. When had the Baxters gotten these? Alice opened the curtains, wincing as light flooded the room from the backyard. Satisfied, she turned around to get a better look at the house.
And saw three bodies on the floor.
Alice gave a frightened gasp, pressing her hands to her mouth to stifle a scream as she backed away, her back colliding with the window. She stood there, her eyes wide open in fear as she took heavy, strained breaths. Unable to take her eyes off the bodies, Alice realized that she recognized them. Mr. Baxter, with a balding head, a chubby build, and a clean shaven face, lay on the floor in his suit, staring at the ceiling with glassy eyes. Mrs. Baxter, a plump, curly haired woman in a blouse, skirt, and apron, lay next to her husband, her eyes just as lifeless. Finally, Johnny Baxter, the same tall, messy haired kid Alice had seen just last night, lay there, his eyes staring blankly at the ceiling. Each was deathly pale and gaunt, their skin stretched thin as they lay in a row, right beside each other.
And at the base of their necks, each bore two pricks. It was as if some beast had bit into them without tearing any flesh away. As Alice looked on, hyperventilating, she became terrified that whoever did this might still be here. She wanted to run but couldn’t force her legs to move, nor could she even muster the will to look away. Finally, after a minute of strained, heavy breathing, a thought pierced Alice’s mind that clouded out everything else.
Where was her brother?
“Arthur?” said Alice, her voice a hoarse whisper as she slowly pulled her hands from her face. “Arthur?” she said louder, her panic shifting its focus entirely. “Arthur?” she said even louder, looking around as if he might come running at any moment. “ARTHUR!” she screamed, and then she screamed his name again, and again, and again.
But only silence answered.