Halloween this year is on a Thursday. Who makes Halloween on a Thursday? Dominic quickly brushed his teeth, making sure no water got on his black costume.
The high school didn’t allow hats or masks, but Dominic put his king piece hat on anyway. He had spent enough time making it, for God’s sake; he should be allowed to wear it.
He made his way carefully downstairs, making sure not to trip over his billowing cloak. His black backpack—look at that, it matches!—sat by the front door waiting for him. He slung it over one shoulder and went out the door. He didn’t want to be late for school on Halloween, not when there were so many costumes to observe.
There were probably half a dozen batmans—batmen?—just in the first ten minutes passing through the front doors of the high school. Meredith’s eyes flicked past the zombies, devils, and fairies in search of two all-black figures. She felt out of place with her white costume, leaning against the track showcase, but she knew she would feel much better once Anthea and Dominic showed up.
Finally, she spotted them strolling through the doors together. Both of them were wearing their paper mâché hats. Technically against the rules…
Meredith sighed and took hers out of her backpack. She was just putting it on her head as her friends walked up.
“What’s up, gloomy gums?” Anthea had one hand in the pocket of her black dress pants and the other on Dominic’s elbow. Not for the first time, Meredith wondered if Ani and Dom ever realized how much of a couple they looked like. All the time.
“Who says I’m gloomy?” Meredith pushed her queen’s hat back a bit and stuck her tongue out.
“You were slouching. And your cape is crooked and you didn’t even fix it.” Anthea tugged on the edge of the shimmering fabric to straighten it out.
Meredith smiled. “All right, Sherlock. I’m gloomy because you’re going to get in trouble again.”
“For what?” Anthea stroked the side of her mask. It was a full horse’s face down to the nose. “Wearing a mask in school? It’s a stupid rule. Plus, it’s Halloween.” She and Dom started heading off to their first hour. Meredith rolled her eyes up to the ceiling, silently praying the hallway monitors would be lenient today, and walked in the other direction to her own first hour.
Anthea broke another rule in her English class. She had her mask off because the teacher had yelled at her twice for it, and it was sitting on her lap with her phone inside of it. Scrolling through Wikipedia pages seemed a lot more fun than discussing the meter and rhyme scheme of the Shakespeare sonnet they had just read in class.
Neither Meredith nor Dominic was in this class, so Anthea had to keep all the information she was learning to herself. In the hour of the class, she had migrated from the quantum mechanics page to the Higgs Boson –why do they call it the “God particle,” anyway?—to the quarks. She was in the midst of reading about anti colors when the bell rang. She quickly shut her phone off and flipped the mask back onto her head. She was extra careful putting the strap of her side bag across her shoulder, because the movement rubbed against her shoulder growths and threatened to send spasms through her body again.
Art class. Surprisingly stressful, yet fun. Anthea slunk into the room and shuffled to her table. She suddenly wished Dominic and Meredith were there so they could show Ms. Whitney their matching costumes. Both of them took choir as their fine arts class, however. Anthea was one of the only seniors in her introductory art class, but she didn’t care because it was fun anyway.
She reached under her part of the table and pulled out a large drawer that held her works in progress. Her pieces of construction paper lay scattered like lost sheep. She pulled them out and spread them over her desk. The class was learning about motifs in art, or repeated elements that supported a theme in the work. They were trying to base their work off of some blind artist named Matisse. Matisse’s motifs. Motifs by Matisse. Well, this motif is by Anthea, she thought, and it stinks.
She was using apples as her motif. Lots and lots of apples. She needed to cut more out. Anthea grabbed a pair of scissors that were waiting for her under the table and took one of her red pieces of construction paper. The apple had to be incredibly small, so she held the paper close and took little snips to try to make the pinched circle shape.
“Are you a werewolf?” a voice said an inch away from Anthea’s ear. She yelped and turned to smack the rude voice in the face.
“Benny!” Anthea growled, holding her hand up and trying not to punch him. “You made me cut my apple in half!”
“And your hand…” Benny grabbed Anthea’s fist and uncurled it. Blood was pooling in her palm, warm and sticky.
“Oh, thanks.” Anthea yanked her hand back. “And I’m not a werewolf. It’s obviously a horse’s face. I’m a knight. You know, from chess?” She was nearly screaming by the end of her rant. Her hand was throbbing way more than it should have been, and way more than she would like to admit. She stalked off to the classroom sink, ignoring the looks a few of the kids were giving her. Let them believe I’m crazy. I don’t care.
Anthea set her left hand under the faucet and let the cool water run over it. She rubbed it with her other hand to get the blood off and to try to find the cut. After a few seconds, she turned the water off and held her dripping hand up. She stared at it in disbelief.
“Do you need a Band Aid?” Ms. Whitney asked, walking behind her.
“Look at her hand!” Benny said. He peeked over her shoulder. “There isn’t a cut there. What was that red stuff, then? Paint?”
Anthea forced herself to take a deep breath and let her hand drop. “It was a little cut,” she lied. “It’s fine now.” She didn’t even let her mind try to wrap itself around what just happened.
Meredith tapped her pencil on her desk. Math was boring today. It was a work day, and some of the junior boys in her class were waging an eraser war. Off each eraser went from their fingertips, landing on desks and heads. They let off a cheer whenever someone beat the record for longest fling.
Head on her desk and arm wrapped around her neck, Meredith gave a sideways grimace at the boys before turning her eyes down to the blank paper on her desk. They were learning about implicit differentiation, and Meredith really wasn’t comprehending it. She would probably just ask Anthea for help, even though that lazy bum was in regular calculus instead of advanced.
Well, the regular class is probably getting more accomplished, anyway. Meredith clicked her tongue and looked around the room again.
Boring. Everything is boring. She stretched her legs under her desk. The one kid in the classroom who actually likes school, and I’m bored. Even Anthea hates school. The crown on Meredith’s head was getting itchy, so she took it off and placed it on her desk.
When the bell rang, Meredith threw her notebooks in her backpack and rushed out of the classroom in relief. She had History next, with Anthea.
Anthea was slouching in her seat when Meredith walked into the classroom. She had her black knight out on her desk and was twiddling it between her fingers. Meredith noticed that her mask was on the floor between her legs.
“Did a hall monitor yell at you for wearing your mask?” Meredith teased as she sat down.
“No. I just don’t feel like wearing it,” she answered without looking up, a bit forcefully. Meredith blinked in surprise.
“What? Why not?”
Anthea set the knight piece down and turned over her left hand, palm up. She traced the lines with her finger, but didn’t answer Meredith.
“Anthea? Anthea Elisabeth Hayes, if you don’t tell me what’s wrong I may just have to force it out of you.”
Finally, a smile! The corners of Anthea’s lips turned up and she glanced up at Meredith, her eyes twinkling a little.
Mr. Brechen started scribbling things on the board, a sure sign he was about to start a lecture. “Tell you later,” Anthea whispered, then opened up her history notebook.
After school, Meredith didn’t even bother going home. She called her mom and told her she was going over to Anthea’s to do some homework.
She ran after Anthea onto her school bus. “Hey, Ani,” she said, swinging herself up the stairs. Her friend turned around and smiled when she saw Meredith.
“Need help with math again?” she asked.
“Yeah. I was thinking I could just hang out at your place until trick or treating starts anyway.”
“Perfect.” Anthea sat down and scooted to the window. Meredith plopped herself down next to her. “There’s something I wanted to show you anyway.”
“Does it have anything to do with how down you seemed today? You’re always so perky on Halloween!”
“Yeah, it does.”
Ani was silent the rest of the bus ride home.
“What for?” Meredith twitched on Ani’s couch as her friend disappeared into the kitchen.
“I just have to test it out first, to see if it happens again. So I don’t make myself look like an idiot.”
Meredith waited for a minute or so, listening to Ani’s footsteps in the next room. At one point she heard the faucet turn on. When Ani came back, she was holding a kitchen knife in her right hand and was holding her left hand up like it was delicate.
“Look! Look at this!” Ani thrust her left hand in Meredith’s face.
“What?” Meredith pushed the hand away. “It’s your hand…”
“Without any marks, right?” Or cuts? Here,” Ani grabbed Meredith’s hand and pulled her off the couch.
“What? What are we doing?” Meredith confusedly followed Ani to the kitchen. Ani thumped to the kitchen sink.
“Okay. Just…promise you won’t freak out, all right?” Ani looked at Meredith expectantly.
“Yeah, okay…” Meredith was already starting to freak out. What was she up to?
Ani took a deep breath and placed the knife across her left palm. Meredith widened her eyes and jerked her head up to Ani’s face. “What in God’s name—”
“I’ll be fine. Watch.” Ani slowly drew the knife across her skin. Meredith winced at the large gash it left on her palm.
“Ani, what the hell are you doing?” She wasn’t sure whether she should grab the knife from Ani’s hand or not, but thankfully Ani set the knife down on the counter.
“Okay, you need to do something about that,” Meredith said, pointing to Ani’s bloodstained hand. Ani, apparently oblivious to her friend, stuck her hand in the sink and turned it on. Meredith screamed in exasperation and went to the medicine cabinet, grabbing all the ace bandages she could get her hands on. When she set them back down, she was greeted by another hand in her face.
“What the…” Meredith grabbed onto Ani’s hand and pulled it back so she could see it better. It looked like…a normal hand. “What is this for?”
“This is the one I cut.”
“What?” Meredith looked at it again. It was definitely the left hand, the one she had seen the gash on. Then, she smiled. “Ohhh…is this some magic trick?”
“What?” Ani drew her hand back. “No, it’s not. Look at the knife!”
Meredith looked at the knife sitting on the counter. It was still covered in blood. “That’s not fake blood?” Meredith asked dubiously.
“No, it’s not! This is real, all real!” Meredith looked at Ani’s face. She definitely doesn’t look like she’s lying.
“Okay…so if this is real…and you really did just cut yourself and scare the bejesus out of me…how is your hand completely fine?”
Ani shrugged. “I’m not sure. But I think it’s because of this.” She pointed to her shoulder.
“Your shoulder?” Meredith queried. “What does that have to do with your hand?”
Ani glanced suspiciously at the window, then grabbed Meredith’s hands and dragged her to the hallway leading to her downstairs bathroom and computer room. She paused in the middle where there were no windows.
“What now?” Meredith huffed. Ani wriggled in her shirt and worked it over her head. She chucked it at the floor and smoothed down her white undershirt.
“This.” Ani turned around so that her back faced Meredith.
Meredith gaped at her. Near the base of Ani’s neck, just above each shoulder blade, sprouted twin twitching antenna-like limbs. They were each about a foot long and came to a point. They rested down Ani’s back and swayed back and forth as she brushed her curly hair out of the way. “So?” she tentatively asked, turning her head so she could see Meredith out of the corner of her eye. “What do you think?”
“I think…uh…I’m…I still don’t see what this has to do with your hand,” Meredith stammered. Ani turned back around.
“So you’re not freaked out I have extra limbs growing out of my shoulders?”
“No, I’m very freaked out about your antenna things. And I’m more freaked out about your magic healing powers. But I still don’t see the correlation.”
“Hyper cell division.” Ani brushed her hair over her back, glancing at the light streaming through the window into the kitchen and tiptoeing back into that room. “I don’t want the neighbors to see my freakiness,” she explained, “but it feels good to let them breathe. Plus I want an apple.”
“Hypo…what?” Meredith followed her back into the kitchen.
“Hyper cell division. I have no idea if it’s a real thing or not, but it sounds about right.” Anthea grabbed three apples from a basket on the counter and took a gigantic bite out of one of them. “I think my cells are in hyper drive and are multiplying like crazy. Kind of like cancer. Hopefully it’s not harmful…something seems to be hard wired into my cells to fix my cuts at a much faster rate. Oh, and to make the weird growths on my back.” Anthea took another bite from the apple. “It hurts like heck, and it gives me one heck of an appetite.”
“Do your parents know?” Meredith took Anthea’s other two apples and washed them in the sink.
“Heck no.” Ani widened her eyes. “Just you. And you better not tell anyone. Not my parents. Not Dominic. Promise?”
“Cross my heart.” Meredith handed the apples back to Ani, and she grabbed them ravenously. Meredith watched as she tried to take a bite out of both apples at once. “I’m not sure if that’s funny or disturbing.”
Ani shrugged. “Both, I suppose.”
Both of their heads snapped around as the sound of tires on concrete came through the walls. “Crap!” Ani dropped the apples and bolted towards the hallway, picking up her shirt as she went. Meredith watched her run with amusement, but turned around again at the sound of the front door opening.
“Meredith!” Mrs. Hayes set a plastic bag of groceries down on a counter.
“Hey, Mrs. Hayes. Need any help?”
“Yes, please.” She beckoned outside. “I’ve got more groceries in my car.”
Meredith hurried out the door, glancing back at the hallway. Ani had probably disappeared into a bathroom.
There were bags and bags of groceries in Mrs. Hayes’s trunk. Meredith spotted a couple of bags full of Halloween candy. She looked at the Reese’s cups with longing, then took the bags inside.