WHAT ABOUT JUAN?
Security breach! Security breach! All safety is now compromised! It’s an ambush!!! Retreat! Flee!
“Well, I, for one, think it is a wonderful, idea,” Androcles was saying, “It is very admirable that the children are reaching out to their peers and are so eager to form valuable connections!”
“No! I don’t think you realize just how much this is going to ruin my entire life!” Skylar yelled, “This is going to be a disaster!”
“Oh, nonsense,” Androcles shook his head.
Betrayed! Betrayed by our fearless leader! Juan was shaking with the horror of it all. Not even Skylar can stop him! All is lost! Everything, it’s all as good as destroyed now!
“Yeah, Skylar,” Raymond smirked. “Lighten up. Besides, your life is basically ruined anyway, right? You are dead.”
Dead! We’ll all be dead! Again.
“So not helping!” Skylar cried, glaring over at him. “Just because you and your weirdo little friends like to play dress up anyway doesn’t mean I should get dragged into this stupid party! What about Parker?”
“Oh, no big deal!” Parker said quickly, “I think it’s an awesome idea! I mean, party, food, hot chicks…what could be better?”
Safety! Security! Not dying!
“Yeah well, I wasn’t asking for your opinion. I was trying to say that it would be a whole lot better if you weren’t going to be there,” Skylar snapped.
Renata frowned, “Oh of course he should be there! This is a wonderful opportunity to show everyone what a loving family we are!”
A family full of betrayal!
“Yes, silly children,” Ophelia said calmly, “there is a lot to be gained from presenting ourselves as a family unit.”
The walls are crumbling! Everything, falling down! Nothing is secure! Nothing to rely on!
“Dude,” Raymond said in surprise, “did you just agree with Renata? And I think some of us are a little worried that we’ll be showing our friends that Parker is a part of our ‘loving family unit’.” He sighed and looked at Skylar, “But the thing is… there will be some important connections I–we–can make. So, I propose a truce, at least for the time being. We can form a temporary alliance! We can make this work; no one has to know if we don’t tell them.”
“Hey!” Parker shouted, glancing up from his phone. “Jessica has Instagram! Umm…Following!” He gleefully pressed something on his phone.
There was a moment of silence before Skylar replied. “Okay. Okay, fine. Trevor Lockharte’s probably going to be there anyway. But! if any of my friends or Trevor find out that Parker lives here? I’m holding you personally responsible!”
“Fine! And if anyone on the debate team finds out he lives here, I’m holding you personally responsible! Do we have a deal?”
No! No way out! All of the enemies have made alliances against me! How did this happen?
“Wonderful!” Androcles said, standing up, “It’s settled then. Halloween party at the manor, and all of your classmates are invited! Now, we must get everything ready, I think starting as early as tomorrow. In fact, we have been asked to a conference with Principal Bardsley tomorrow afternoon, and I believe that would be the perfect opportunity for Juan to take you children shopping after school. Wouldn’t you like that, Juan? I know how meetings of any sort make you a little nervous.”
Juan felt his whole body start to shake and he reached for the whistle around his neck. The only thing that had never failed him.
All is lost! All is lost! How can this be happening?
“Not again!” he cried, shaking his head, “not again!”
Androcles patted him gently on the arm. “Again? No, Juan, you have never taken the children shopping and I am quite certain it will be a harmless little trip. Nothing to worry about!”
“Everything to worry about! The last time I was sent on an excursion, I came back alone! Everyone died and I was the only one left!”
Raymond was waving a hand to get his attention. “Um, dude, calm down. We’re going shopping. I highly doubt we’re all going to die in the aisle of Major Party as a result of a silly string accident.”
They’re all against me! All of them!
Juan could see there was absolutely no way he was going to get out of this terrible shopping trip of horror.
“See, Juan,” Androcles said with a smile, “Raymond is right. You’ll be back home within an hour’s time, and all will be well.”
All is not well! All is not well! Juan couldn’t believe he had trusted Androcles. He had been completely misled.
“Dude,” Raymond spoke up from the passenger seat, turning to face Juan in the back, “chill out. So Major Party closed down? There’s another place just an hour away.”
“And Hondu’s way better anyway,” Skylar added, “we can rent professional sound system stuff there and everything. Maybe this way the whole party won’t be a total embarrassment…”
“An hour away?” Juan said, starting to feel the panic attack coming on.
“Well, yeah,” said Raymond, “it’s on the mainland…we’ve gotta cross the sound.”
“The…the mainland?” Juan shook his head. There was no way they could make him do this. He always had to say yes, but not this time! “I’m sorry, but we’ll just have to do without party supplies.”
“No way!” Skylar snapped.
“Seriously!” Raymond chimed in, “Androcles gave us money for party supplies and said you have to come with us!”
Skylar was nodding furiously. “Yeah, you have to! There is no way we can have a Halloween party with no supplies! How lame do you want people to think we are? You are totally ruining my whole life right now!”
“Hey!” Parker yelled over his shoulder, “I’m the one driving this thing! And I say let’s go to the mainland. Come on, Juan, it’s not that bad, I promise. This party has to be awesome, after all. I’ve gotta score some major points with Jessica!”
Skylar rolled her eyes. “Oh, don’t bring that up again.”
Surrender is the only option now. Juan’s shoulders slumped and he knew he was going to be overruled–as usual. That, and Parker was already accelerating (much too quickly) in the direction of the 158 and the Wright Memorial Bridge, and there was absolutely nothing he could do to stop him.
The entire journey to the party supply store took ninety-two excruciating minutes. The bridge, it turned out, was under construction–something about replacing expansion joints, which basically sounded like certain death, as far as Juan was concerned.
“Slower! Slower!!!” he screamed, gripping the back of the driver’s seat in terror.
Parker turned his head in the direction of the back seat. “Dude, we’re going, like, five miles an hour right now.”
“Seriously, if we go any slower, we’re going to stop,” Skylar grumbled.
“No!” Juan yelled, “we can’t stop! The bridge will surely collapse if we do!!!”
“Then what do you want from me, dude?!” Parker yelled, hitting the steering wheel in his frustration.
Juan’s head nodded in series of jerks and he was shaking all over. “Okay, please just get us out of here.” He squeezed his eyes shut and prayed they weren’t going to be falling to their deaths any second now. If I can’t see anything, nothing will happen.
By the time they were parked in front of Hondu Party Supplies, Juan was curled up in a ball in the back seat of the van, grasping his orange whistle tightly in one hand, and a small fire extinguisher with the other, all the while terribly upset that it left him without a hand for his rosary.
“Okay, buddy, here we are,” said Raymond, hauling Juan to an upright-ish position by his collar. Skylar was outside the van already, rolling her eyes and shaking her head.
Parker was crouched in the door beside Raymond. “Come on, it’s just a few steps and we’ll be inside. You can’t wait in the car… some of this stuff requires that we’re over eighteen to rent it. I’ll tell you what, if you come inside, we’ll let you have that pepper spray you’ve been begging Androcles for.”
Juan slowly looked up. “But…but he won’t let me keep it.”
“He doesn’t have to know!” Raymond promised.
“Really?” Juan asked hopefully.
“It’ll be our little secret,” Skylar added with a smile.
A little coaxing later, and they managed to make it into the store.
Once inside, the teenagers dispersed to do their shopping, leaving Juan alone in aisle five. All around him, he could hear shuffling footsteps and he was certain someone was going to sneak up and attack him at any moment. The walls around him were covered with an assortment of horrifying outfits and face masks. But that wasn’t the worst of it. There were weapons. So many weapons.
Breathe, Juan, just breathe. They can’t hurt you…they won’t hurt you…
But they could! They really, really could, couldn’t they? He swore one of the masks smiled a little wider and another one quite possibly winked at him. And did that ax tilt a little more in his direction just now???
Axes. They all had axes. And who knew what other kinds of weapons. Juan looked around, but none of his friends were armed. Die! They were all going to die! And they all did…all except for him…
And now his time had come, he was sure of it. Because while he had taken his eyes off of the giant, fuzzy bee directly to his right, there was no doubt in his mind that it had moved closer to him. It was stalking him. And what if he was allergic to bee stings? He had never been tested!
Suddenly, he caught sight of the most terrifying thing he had ever seen in his life. In a large, plastic bag there was a stake and a bottle of holy water. There was ominous, bloody writing. The words “vampire slayer” would forever be seared into his brain.
He was running. Running as fast as he could. Where were the children? He needed them, now!!! He grabbed the whistle and blew it over and over as he ran, hoping one of the children would hear its shrill call echoing through the store.
“Sir, can I help you?” said some woman in a Hondu Party Supplies vest, but there was an evil glint in her eye, and Juan ran in the opposite direction.
He sped down another section, running head long into Raymond at the end of aisle four, sending the boy’s glasses flying a few feet away.
“Dude! What happened?” Raymond grabbed a hold of him, and he actually seemed mildly concerned. “Are you okay?”
Juan shook his head. “No! No! The weapons! The bee! The masks! And there was a stake!!!”
Strangely, Raymond didn’t seem to be reacting with any kind of alarm. “O-kaaay…which aisle were you in?”
Juan grabbed onto his arm and leaned in. “Five!” he whispered urgently. “Five!!!”
Raymond took a few steps and peeked down into aisle five. “Um,” he said, “that’s the costume aisle, Juan. Those are for little kids to wear on Halloween, okay? They’re not real. Get it?”
Juan couldn’t believe that Raymond wasn’t understanding the situation. “But…but…the bee! And the stake! And they moved!”
“No, no I’m pretty sure they didn’t. It’s okay, Juan! Seriously! None of that crap can hurt you. Come on, let’s just stay away from that aisle now, okay?”
Juan nodded, throwing one last glance at the aisle of doom. “Okay. Can we just go? Please let’s go home!”
“In a minute,” Raymond said, hurrying over to retrieve his glasses, “you’ve gotta sign some papers for us first. Then we go home.” Raymond looked at him for a moment. “Really soon, okay?”
They finished up with everything really soon, just like Raymond promised. Then they were heading home and Juan was curled up in the backseat, exhausted but triumphant as he clutched his wonderful, new pepper spray to his chest.
Perhaps the ordeal was over and Juan could be done with all the party nonsense. Perhaps he would be free to stay locked in his room for three days undisturbed.
Or perhaps he would have to use his pepper spray sooner than he imagined.