I offer this one up, as well as The Hunter, as a trick-or-treat to my readers for their patience. It's up to you to decide whether it's a trick or a treat. :-)
Hope you enjoy!
"Jim," Blair began slowly, not sure how to approach this subject with his relatively new friend, landlord, and dissertation subject. "I know you probably don't believe in magic, evil spirits, ghosts, goblins, assorted sprites, elves, trolls--"
"You going somewhere with this, Chief?" Jim asked patiently.
Blair mentally chided himself. The man likes his words straight, not rambled. "Yeah, man. I wanted to point out that even if you aren't a believer, it's just bad--karma to ride through a cemetery on Halloween night."
"I told you I had a quick errand to run."
"And through this graveyard is a shortcut?" Blair looked at the passing headstones, which seemed to be glowing in the light of the full moon, and shivered.
Jim laughed. "Just what do you think is going to happen, Mr. Price? I just filled the tank with gas. The tires are new. The engine was just checked out at the Department garage. So, relax. Who would have thought you'd be such a scaredy cat?"
"I'm not scared, man. It just pays to be cautious, you know? Last I heard, that wasn't a crime," Blair said defensively.
"Don't get your karma all out of whack, Sandburg. Nothing's gonna happen."
Blair sighed and checked the lock on his door. "You just sealed our doom, Jim."
"Sandburg, you're so full of-- Something's moving up ahead."
Blair looked out and saw nothing. "Don't play with my head like that, man. Just because I--"
He saw them. Three--he gulped--ghouls was the best description, he supposed. Definitely neighborhood guys. Yep. Straight from their coffins, with rotting suits covering rotting forms. Oh-- the epithet was cut off when he realized the Expedition was slowing down.
"What the hell are you doing, man?" he asked anxiously. "Drive, damn it!"
"Ease up, Chief." Jim touched a button and the window on Blair's side of the SUV slid down. "You boys need a lift," he called out amicably.
"Jim? Jim? Shit!" Blair trembled when the back door opened. He reluctantly looked around, and saw one of the "men" had something slimy running out of his left eye. He tried hard not to gag.
"Hey, watch the upholstery," Jim warned sharply. "Just got the interior detailed."
The ghoul took out the handkerchief in his jacket pocket and obediently wiped up the flow.
Another of the ghouls moved over to the center of the seat and started to talk. But before he could utter his first word, his tongue fell out. He picked it up off the tattered remains of his burial suit, and continued making sounds that were a mixture of groans and cries.
Jim laughed. "That's a good one, Len. You're a riot, you know that? Everybody in?" The Expedition started forward again.
The third ghoul made a gagging noise.
"Yeah, I heard that about Audrey," Jim said, nodding his head in reply. "Never did find her head, did she? What the--!" He slammed on the brakes, and his arm shot out to steady Blair despite the seatbelt the anthropologist wore.
Blair reached for the dashboard, but recoiled when he saw the reason for the sudden stop. In the middle of the road, illuminated by the SUV's lights, stood a large hairy, lanky creature. It smiled, revealing a mouth of razor-sharp teeth. Then it threw back its head and howled.
Jim rolled down his window and stuck his head out. "Okay, but if I find a scratch, I'm going to take it out of your hide."
The creature bounded forward and landed on the hood, surprisingly shaking the car only a little. A long tongue licked the windshield, then he bounded onto the roof. The Expedition rolled on.
Groans and moans came from the back seat.
"In Seaside Memorial Park next year? Hmm. I don't know how that's going to go over. You know how the old ones are. Tradition and stuff," Jim said. One of the ghouls panted heavily. "Yeah, like I have that much influence with them, Joe."
A howl came from the roof as a furry head hung down over the windshield.
"Fine. I'll give it my best shot," Jim relented. "Geez. You guys are a bunch of pansies."
Groans, cries, pants, and howls were emitted in rapid order. Jim just chuckled.
The Expedition turned off the narrow road, and came to a stop in front of an ancient mausoleum. The werewolf hopped down. The passengers in the back got out.
"I'll just be a minute, Chief. Think you'll be okay out here alone?"
"S-s-sure, m-m-man," Blair lied. When Jim got out, he reached across to hit the master lock button on Jim's side of the car. He squeaked when the rear door opened.
"Just me, Sandburg," Jim said. "Almost forgot my gift."
He held up a loose sack, which Blair saw move as if something inside it was alive. Blair quickly shut his eyes and wished he were Catholic. A few "Hail Mary"s would come in handy right about now.
The rear door slammed shut, and he risked opening his eyes to watch Jim enter the mausoleum. Even when the door was open, no light was emitted, but Jim went in anyway. Blair stuck his knuckles in his mouth to keep from screaming. He couldn't figure out a way to keep his knees from knocking, so he just endured the noise.
True to his word, Jim wasn't gone long, but to Blair it seemed like an eternity. He saw his partner come out, then noticed he wasn't alone. There was a woman with him, long red hair flowing down her back. Blair grinned. Figures. The grin died when she turned and gave him a quick wave. Her face was nothing but a bleached skull. Weakly, he waved back. Well, at least he knew it wasn't Audrey; she didn't have a head. He gave a grateful sigh when Jim approached the vehicle alone.
"Ready to go home, Chief?"
Blair nodded, pleased when he didn't burst out in hysterical sobs.
"Black Magic Woman," Jim sang softly, tapping rhythmically on the steering wheel. He glanced at his partner when Blair stared at him. "What? You know I like Santana."
"N-nothing, m-m-man. I-I just have a h-h-headache."
"Oh. I'll be quiet then."
Blair smiled as 852 Prospect came into view. He'd never been so glad to see a building in his life. He reached over the seat to grab his backpack, and whimpered when he saw a finger laying on the backseat.
Jim looked back, and grabbed the mangled digit. "Didn't I tell them to be careful of the upholstery?" He shook his head in disgust. "I better take this back to Ernie. He'll just come here looking for it, and Ernie--well, he's the type of guest who just doesn't know when to leave. You know what I mean?"
Blair nodded, gripping his backpack tightly.
"You want to come with me?"
"I-I-I have sc-sc-schoolwork, m-man." Blair hopped out of the SUV, and slammed the door quickly.
Jim rolled down the window. "Suit yourself. And, Chief, you know you could have told me about that stuttering problem of yours. I wouldn't have laughed."
Blair watched Jim drive off, then made his way to the loft. Inside, he quickly rejected the idea of a shower, and nixed thoughts of studying. Instead, he went to bed--and pulled the covers over his head.
"Get your lazy butt up, Sandburg!"
Blair jumped. Lowering the covers, he saw it was morning. "I'm up, Jim."
He stumbled into the bathroom. Twenty minutes later he joined Jim in the kitchen. "You give Ernie the finger?" he asked nonchalantly, reaching into the fridge for his breakfast shake.
"Did I flip who off?" Jim asked, puzzled.
"Flip off? No, man. I'm talking about Ernie's finger. I think it was the index one."
"Ernie, who? And what would I be doing with his finger?"
"C'mon, man. I--" Blair stopped. "Don't you remember the trip through the graveyard last night?"
Jim just looked at him. "Remind me never to let you go to Taco House before bedtime."
"Huh? You don't remember last night, Jim?"
"Sure I do, Chief. We worked overtime because of all the Halloween madness, stopped by Taco House for dinner, then came back here and went to bed. What? Isn't that what you remember?"
Blair blinked, took a deep breath, and blinked again. "Yeah, Jim. That's exactly what I remember."
Jim shook his head. "You are a weird one, Chief. Come on. I promised to drop you off at campus. When will your car be ready?"
"This afternoon. So I'll just meet you at the station, okay?"
"Sure. Come on."
Blair threw his pack on his shoulder and followed Jim down to the Expedition. He paled as he saw paw prints on the hood.
"Damn cats," Jim muttered. "At least the paint isn't scratched. Chief? You feeling okay?"
Blair nodded and got in.
Jim brushed a few long hairs from the roof of the SUV and climbed in beside his partner. Humming "Black Magic Woman," he started the engine
"About next Halloween, Jim."
"Think I'll stay home and hand out candy."
Jim snorted. "Whatever, Sandburg."
Blair nodded. That was exactly what he was going to do. Hand out treats to Power Rangers and Little Mermaids. And if anyone showed up in a werewolf costume or as a reject from The Night Of The Living Dead, he was going to slam the door in his/her face. It wouldn't be like he was offending any of Jim's--associates. After all, they were going to be partying it up at the posh Seaside Memorial Park, Cascade's cemetery for the trendy. He laughed, wondering if last night's trio could find some Armani rags. If not, they probably wouldn't even be let through the Italian wrought-iron gate surrounding the property.
Jim looked at his giggling partner, rolled his eyes, and kept driving.
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