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untitled pre-series Newsflesh Hallowe'en ficlet, posted on a whim

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"It could totally be haunted," Shaun said--for at least the seventeenth time, which I knew for sure because I'd started counting sometime after the fourth or fifth.

"But it's not," I said, for more like the tenth time, because I hadn't felt like repeating myself every time.

Shaun, in full-on petulant mode, sighed. "You're no fun."

"Shaun, you don't even think it's haunted. You're just itching to get in there to look at the security measures."

I was right on both counts. The so-called "haunted house" had a reputation going back decades, so it had had plenty of ghost hunters under its roof long before the Rising made going into abandoned--and worse, neglected--buildings an even stupider idea than it had been. Shaun had retrieved a couple of ancient YouTube videos to show me what the place's interior looked like back in 1998 and 2003, cheerfully talking over the respective ghost hunters' narratives as he pointed out the structural deterioration in those five years, which he claimed was more extreme than the documented level of abandonment might account for.

"I'm usually willing to just point out that we have different ideas of fun," I continued, "but even you can't possibly think falling through rotten floorboards sounds enjoyable."

The thing was, the house's reputation hadn't faded once Kellis-Amberlee got its claws into the world's mammal population, and zombies or no zombies, some people's interest in things that go bump in the night still wasn't outweighed by an instinct for self-preservation. Enough people still insisted on sneaking in and checking it out that the county had been putting in increasingly-beefier security systems over the years, and my brother's response to that sort of thing has always been to find out firsthand what the system's capable of.

"The floors are still pretty solid," Shaun countered. "And the security's good enough that we're not gonna find any zombies in there--"

"Sure, unless someone else had your bright idea and then got stuck inside. Any zombies in there are going to be ravenous."

"We'll have guns," he said. "And I'll get a seasonal special report, and everybody's happy."

He was wearing me down. It would be a change of pace, at the very least. I took a last stab at swaying him. "How're your fans gonna feel about seeing you all covered in dust and cobwebs?"

Shaun grinned, even though I thought it was a reasonably good point; after all, his endless string of horny internet admirers (who he hands off to me as soon as they start sending personal emails instead of money for t-shirts) may like seeing him glistening with sweat and occasional blood, but that's a far cry from moldering filth.

"Don't you worry about that," he said, in a tone that left me as intrigued as I was wary. "I'll give 'em what they want."

**********

"Oh, my God," I said, not bothering to hide my reaction. "I see you're practicing the ancient art of making your viewers' panties mysteriously fly off."

"I do my best." Shaun likewise made no attempt at sounding modest. "You know what they say: when the panties drop, the money flows."

I risked a quick, light-dazzled glance over my sunglasses to see the color on his face, and his smile widened as I asked, "Buffy did your makeup?"

"It made her day."

Shaun's features aren't particularly androgynous, but his makeup pushed them further in that direction. The glittering swipe of eyeshadow turned his eyes' natural color electric, vivid even over the retro-punk heavy black eyeliner. And it wasn't the dark color staining his lips that was most attention-grabbing; it was the deft, subtle way it accented the fullness of his mouth.

His nails were even painted matte black, although it was hard to focus on them instead of the fact that he was in the tightest pants he owns: steel-reinforced black jeans that may not match his usual image well enough to justify them very often, but that do wonders for his ass. Everything he was wearing was black, managing to support a Halloween-acceptable level of a punk/generic Goth look that didn't clash with the makeup.

He was also appropriately armed, and unlike his jeans, the shirt was loose enough that I knew there was body armor underneath, so at least I wasn't going to have to spend the entire venture snarling about him being completely vulnerable.

I pushed my sunglasses back into place and nodded. "Nice."

"I got something for you to wear," Shaun said.

"Do tell."

"Hold out your hand."

Well, that meant it wasn't clothes. Curious, I obliged. Shaun took my bare hand, turned it palm-down, and pressed something against the back, smoothing it carefully. "Now don't move," he said.

I didn't move. When he let my hand go, there was a shiny Jack-o-lantern temporary tattoo on it, beaming up at me with its toothy grin.

"You are the most unbelievable dork," I said.

"Just doing my part to fill you with Halloween spirit."

"I think being filled with Halloween spirit means being possessed, which I'm not too keen on."

Shaun laughed, then put his hands on my waist and leaned down. Before he made it into kissing range, I said, "Don't ruin your lipstick." It was torturous to get the words out, with his mouth looking like that. "I'll help you get it off later."

He sighed and let go. "Next stop, haunted house."