I was smushed up against a grave, on Halloween, near midnight, under a full moon, wondering why on Earth I had listened to Kristy and her latest Big Idea.
It was dark. The moon may have been full, but the trees around Old Hickory's grave were doing an awfully good job of keeping me and my friends in cold shadow. Not all the leaves had fallen yet and each tree rustled softly as the wind caused their wet leaves to shiver and drip.
I knew my friends were within calling distance, but the clearing around Old Hickory's grave was rather large, and no matter how hard I squinted, I couldn't force my eyes to see that far into the dark. I couldn't even see the white bed sheets hidden in the branches of the tree Kristy was sitting in, and I had been certain the moonlight would catch them easily.
I clutched my flashlight. The mask in my other hand was made of rubber and I could smell it on my skin already, though I'd only worn it for a moment to demonstrate how spooky it was to Kristy.
A sigh of wind swept through the clearing, causing raindrops to patter rapidly from the leaves. The sound sent a chill up my spine. It sounded like dozens of little pairs of feet, skittering and racing around me in the night.
I squeezed my eyes closed and clutched my flashlight tighter, reminding myself that there was no such thing as ghosts... right?
For a moment I almost called out to Kristy. For a moment I wanted to call the whole thing off. Suddenly I didn't care about Cokie and her stupid friends. Suddenly all I wanted was to be curled up in bed with Tigger purring at my feet.
My knees were trembling and I was starting to get a cramp in my leg. I was also getting cold. I wondered how much longer I had to wait before Cokie and her friends showed up. The last time I looked at my watch it had been 11:32, and it felt like decades had dragged by since.
I risked another peek at my watch with my flashlight, and cringed. It was only 11:43.
I shivered and listened to another race of wind send more scattering footsteps around me. I could almost feel the ghosts pressing in on me from either side. I was going to lose it at any moment and burst into tears. I wasn't made for revenge.
The whisper came out of nowhere, close and questioning. "Mary Anne?"
I would have screamed, but I think I was too scared. Instead I just sort of... melted. My trembling knees finally gave out on me and the cramp in my leg meant I had no hope of saving myself. I landed in the dirt, clutching my flashlight and my Halloween mask, convinced I was going to die at the ghostly hands of Old Hickory.
"Mary Anne? Are you all right?"
It was Logan. Logan! I let out a quivery giggle of relief and he pulled me gently to my feet.
"I saw your flashlight come on," he whispered. "What's going on?"
"Who's there?" Kristy's authoritative voice range out.
"It's just Logan," I answered. I was relieved she hadn't used the signal that would have prompted our plan to go into action. We would have wasted it on Logan and probably scared him half to death. Kristy must have been expecting Cokie and Grace to make more noise than Logan did.
"What are you doing here?" I whispered. I held my flashlight and mask in one hand and kept an iron-grip on Logan's hand with the other. I think it was hurting him, but he didn't complain.
"I got a phone call," he said, sounding confused. "What's going on?"
I gripped his hand and heard him swallow tightly. I must have been hurting him, but right then I didn't care. I was so relieved to have him there I couldn't bring myself to let go.
"Oh, it's so silly," I breathed. "I think –"
I was cut off by the sound of Kristy sending out a long, low whistle. The signal. In all the relief Logan had prompted, I hadn't noticed the giggling and whispering coming from the other side of the clearing, signalling Cokie's approach.
I fumbled around in the dark and managed to hit the right button on the tape deck at my feet. Kristy's Halloween tape started blaring across the clearing, ghostly howls and roars filling the night. Over the noise, I heard Grace scream.
"Mary Anne?" Logan asked, sounding confused and a little worried.
"I'll explain later," I promised, finally letting go of his hand. I pulled my mask on over my head, trying to hold my breath against its rubbery smell, and made sure my flashlight caught the horrible lumps and bumps of it as I stumbled out from my hiding place.
Kristy and Dawn had sent their 'ghosts' spinning down the twine. Cokie and her friends were huddled in a bright patch of moonlight by Old Hickory's grave, screaming loudly. The clearing was full of bouncing flashlight beams and screaming teenage girls.
Finally, Claudia stopped the tape and we pulled off our masks.
"You!" Cokie snarled, pointing at me. Her hand was shaking and I couldn't help but feel a little smug about it.
"We just beat you to the punch," Kristy said airily, lifting her mask up and leaving it perched on top of her head like a misshapen hat.
"What's going on?" Logan asked, stepping forward to stand beside me. "Who called me tonight?"
Kristy shot me a look, but I matched it and defended myself instantly. "Not me," I said.
"I know it wasn't you," Logan said, squeezing my hand.
In the dark, my face flamed red at the thought of him being able to recognise my voice on the phone. I was suddenly grateful for the shadows sent forth by the trees around Old Hickory's grave.
Cokie had her arms crossed and was glaring around at all of us. I could tell she wasn't about to give out any answers.
Kristy seemed to think the same thing. "We're not leaving until we get answers," she ordered. She settled a glare onto Grace and refused to budge it.
Grace glanced at Cokie and fidgeted slightly before giving a sigh of defeat. "Fine," she muttered.
"Grace!" Cokie snapped.
Grace glared at her. "I don't want to spend all night here!"
Even in the shadowy moonlight, I could see the glee on Kristy's face. She loved to win.
"We were going to scare Mary Anne," Grace said sullenly. "We wanted Logan to – we, we wanted everyone to know what a baby she is."
I felt my cheeks burning again, though it wasn't from pleasure this time. Logan gave my hand another gentle squeeze.
Grace continued. "We called Logan earlier and told him to come to Old Hickory's grave at midnight. We thought if he saw Mary Anne crying at –"
"Grace, shut up," Cokie hissed angrily.
I kept my gaze focused on the ground in front of me. My face felt hot and I was sure it was beet red. I wished I could disappear.
Dawn flipped her hair over her shoulder in disgust. "You guys are cowards," she said. "And I'm not just talking about tonight. What you wanted to do to Mary Anne was incredibly cowardly."
Cokie looked furious, but she was outnumbered. She gritted her teeth and spoke stiffly to her friends. "Let's go," she said.
"Yeah," Kristy scoffed. "Don't worry. We'll see you at school on Monday."
Cokie's back stiffened, and I could tell she wanted to stay and argue for a moment, but Grace tugged furiously on her sleeve. They disappeared into the dark.
"So – that's it?" Logan asked in confusion. "You guys all hid here in the dark to scare Cokie and her friends before she arrived to scare you?"
"Uh, duh," Claudia answered.
"Um, I'll meet you guys at the car in a moment," I said, pushing my flashlight and mask into Dawn's hands. "I'll explain everything to Logan and he can walk me to the gate."
"Do you need a ride, Bruno?" Kristy asked bluntly. "There's no room. Mary Anne will have to sit in your lap."
Mallory and Jessi erupted into giggles and I was certain Logan's face had gone red.
"I have my bike," he muttered.
"Okay. We'll meet you back at the car, Mary Anne. Bye, Logan."
"Bye," he answered, still sounding embarrassed.
My friends all left, carting flashlights and masks and the rest of the supplies we'd brought with us.
Suddenly I wasn't sure how to explain the night without it sounding ridiculous. It had all seemed so serious, before. Before, I had been convinced I was cursed, and that ghosts and monsters were going to sneak up and wrap their hands around my throat.
I shivered at the memory of it.
"Are you cold?" Logan asked in concern. "Do you want my coat?"
"No," I answered. "Thanks. I'm okay." I dug the toe of my sneak into the ground. I wondered if he thought I was a baby, even if Cokie's plan hadn't come to fruition.
"Don't worry about Cokie," Logan said after a moment. "I certainly don't."
I felt a bit of the anxiety lift away from me. I gave him a shy smile. "I try not to."
"I know." He reached for me, and then thought better of it and shoved his hands in his pockets.
I cursed Kristy for making him so self-conscious.
"It was Kristy's idea," I said, motioning around the clearing.
"It was pretty scary," Logan said, grinning. "I'm glad I didn't set it off when I arrived."
I giggled. "Me too."
After a moment he took his hands out of his pockets again, and took hold of my fingers. "Want me to walk you to the gate?"
"Uh-huh." I smiled at him, but tugged gently at him, causing him to stop. My next words tumbled out in a rush. "Do you think I'm a baby?"
"You came to a graveyard, at midnight, on Halloween, under a full moon," Logan said. "You're definitely not a baby."
I laughed, and he leaned over and kissed my cheek affectionately.
I think we both went red, but it was still dark, and nobody could see us but the ghosts. They didn't seem to mind.