It was the 31st of October, so it was Halloween. But everybody knew that Halloween didn't officially start until after school was out, and after it started getting dark.
Ria was happy, this year her parents had finally agreed that 12 was old enough for her to Trick or Treat until 8:30. This year, she would Trick or Treat by the light of the full Harvest Moon with her best friends Erin and Tina. Ria's mother insisted on the buddy system any time she went anywhere.
When Ria got off the school bus that afternoon, she scanned the yard for Reagan, her cat, before she dropped her books inside her bedroom. Reagan was a completely black cat, and some people had some sick ideas of what to do with black furred animals on Halloween. Reagan had been kept inside the house for the last few days, just in case. He was going stir crazy and was trying harder and harder to escape to the freedom of the outdoors.
Their yard sided a wooded building lot on one side and on the other side was a narrow dirt road that led to a housing development that had gone bankrupt before any houses could be built. Reagan loved the woods. He would climb the trees and keep their yard free of squirrels, which Reagan considered Public Enemy Number One.
As Ria walked down the hall to her bedroom, her sister Katie said "Reagan is sleeping in the living room window. Mom says before we go Trick or Treating to make sure that Reagan is closed in a bedroom so there's no chance of him getting out."
Ria dropped off her books and then opened a can of cat food for Reagan. It stunk to high heavens, but Reagan didn't seem to mind. He came running from the living room to the kitchen as if he hadn't eaten in months instead of just hours.
When it came to eating, Reagan was finicky at all!
Ria called her mother to let her know that she was home. Then she and Katie went into their parent's bedroom to start getting their costumes ready. Their parents had a footlocker in their bedroom that had belonged to their mother since she was a teenager. Inside the trunk was pieces of every costume her mother had ever worn from the time she was a teenager until now. Even now, their mother shopped the after Halloween sales picking up more costume pieces and props.
The girls never had an actual, bought costume. Instead they had choices of one piece "cat suits" that they could accessorize with almost anything imaginable; ropes of plastic beads, cat ears, clown hair, a bald wig, a wig of long black hair, pompoms, grass skirts, pirate hooks, grass skirts and more. All they needed was imagination, and Ria and Katie had that in abundance!
After they decided on what they were going to wear that night, Ria popped a microwave dinner into the microwave oven. The family usually ate dinner together, but tonight they wouldn't. Their older brother Tom was still at football practice, and their parents wouldn't be home until just after they left to go Trick or Treating.
Reagan sat on the floor next to Ria as the girls ate their supper. Reagan was a polite cat. He wouldn't jump onto the table, or pull on their clothes as they ate. He just sat quietly, looking at them with friendly eyes that seemed to say "Won't you share?"
Suddenly, Reagan's ears pricked forward. His pupils grew so wide, that his eyes looked black instead of green.
"What is it Reagan?" Ria asked when she noticed him. "He must have heard something, look at his tail!"
"It looks like a bottle washing brush!" Katie laughed. "I wonder if Tommy is home?"
They waited a minute, but Tommy didn't come in the house.
"Tommy?" Ria called.
Reagan's tail de-poofed and they finished their dinner. Then they hurried back into their parent's bedroom to put their costumes on.
Soon after, their was a knock on the door. Reagan jumped and landed with his claws out. He hissed at the door.
"Silly cat!" Katie scolded. "It's only my friend Suzy! You know Suzy." She let Suzy and her mother into the house. "I'm almost ready, I just have to get my Treats bag."
"Reagan looks scary." Suzy observed.
"I think it's more like Reagan is scared, but of what, I have no idea." Ria replied.
"I'll be bringing Katie back at about 8." Suzy's mom stated. "Will there be someone here?"
"Oh yes, my parents should be home by 5:30 at the latest."
"Will you be going Trick or Treating too?" Suzy's mom asked.
"Yes, I'm going with my friend Erin, and then we're going to be picking up my friend Tina."
"Good, I'm glad that you won't be out alone."
"Nope! My mom insists on the buddy system too."
Suzy's mom was satisfied, and they left.
Erin and her brother Dave came soon after. Erin wore a home made clown costume and lots of face paint. Ria could hardly recognize her. Her brother Dave was dressed, as he described it "like a big brother."
"I'll only be a minute!" Ria told them. "I just have to find Reagan and close him in one of the bedrooms." She began to look for him in all of his favorite places; on the living room windowsill, on her parent's bed, even in the pantry next to his cat treats. He was no where to be found. Erin and her brother joined the search.
They finally found him on the floor behind the drapes. Erin was petting him when all of a sudden, Reagan looked toward the back door, pulled back his ears and yowled so loudly that it scared them all.
"Yikes!" Erin looked scared herself. "What bought that on?"
"I don't know, but I'm going to go check out your back porch." Tom told them as he headed for the kitchen door.
"I'm going to go put Reagan on my parent's bed and close the door." Ria said. "He loves their bed."
The whole time Ria carried the cat, he licked his lips nervously. "There, there, kitty." Ria tried to soothe. "It's alright." But as soon as she put him gently on her parent's bed, Reagan slunk off and hid under the bed. Ria had never seen Reagan act like that before and she half wondered if she should not go Trick or Treating with her friends and stay home wi th the frightened cat.
She got down on her hands and knees and lifted the bedspread. Reagan looked like a giant poofball, his eyes large, round black circles with the smallest outline of green.
"Rrrrrrrooooooooowwwwwwrrrrrrr!," he half growled, half howled.
Ria decided it would probably be better to leave Reagan alone and allow him to calm down in a quiet house.
Reagan's antics were quickly forgotten. Dave dropped Ria and his sister at their friend Tina's house and left.
The girls were stunned by Tina's outfit. She was an ice princess. Her costume had not been put together at home from bits and pieces, but had been professionally made. Her ice blue dress had an overlay by a light tulle that was studded with glass crystals and drops. Her beautiful blonde hair was up swept, and cascaded in curls along the nape of her neck. Her face was made up by a professional hand, probably her mother who was a cosmetologist, and even though her lips were an icy blue, and her eyelashes apparently had ice crystals on them, she looked completely natural.
Erin's red clown lips formed a perfect "o" at the sight of their beautiful friend. "Wow!"
Ria finally found her voice. "You look like you should be going to a party, not Trick or Treating."
"You are stunning! I bet you'd win a prize." Erin agreed.
Tina's face grew red under her white makeup. "Uh, thanks. C'mon, lets go!"
After getting Tina's curfew and saying goodbye to Tina's mother, the three girls left the house.
The neighborhood sidewalks had groups of costumed children. Adults had joined together with friends and guided virtual herds of children from house to house.
The sky was getting darker as the moon was slowly rising. The street lights were coming and Ria noticed that most of the little children were no longer Trick or Treating.
Pools of light came from the un-curtained windows of houses. More and more lit Jack O'Lanterns appeared on the porches of houses.
The girls met up with another group of friends from school and they all began to Trick or Treat together.
"Did you hear about Mrs. Robinson's cat?" Ria heard a scarecrow say.
"Isn't that your neighbor's black cat?" a gypsy asked the scarecrow.
"Oh, that's unique, a black cat story on Halloween. Boooooooo!" a boy dressed like a fedora wearing gangster said sarcastically.
"What about Mrs. Robinson's cat?" prompted a clown that wasn't Erin.
"He's missing. He's been missing since last night. Mrs Robinson has posters up at the supermarket, and she even offered to pay me to look around the neighborhood."
"Did you do it?" asked the fedora wearing gangster.
"I did it for free before I bought my little brother Trick or Treating. I didn't catch even a glimpse of him." the scarecrow replied.
"If I had any colored cat, I wouldn't let it outside anytime near Halloween." opined a girl dressed like a bag of jelly beans. Some of the children agreed and Ria was glad that Reagan was safely underneath her parents bed.
Tina was walking more slowly, and she waited on the sidewalk while the other children Trick or Treated. The second time she did this, Ria and Erin waited with her.
"What's up?" asked Erin. "You look kind of like you are in pain."
"Are your shoes hurting you?"
"No, but I'm starting to feel sick."
"Do you want to go home?" Ria asked.
"I think I'm ..... gonna toss my cookies." Tina said, and then she did.
Tina looked as though she was ready to cry. Ria handed her a bit of cloth from her costume to wipe her mouth.
She still looked sick. "I think I better go home." she stammered. "Go ahead and Trick or Treat without me."
"Oh no, I'm walking you home." Ria said quickly and Erin agreed.
"We really have enough candy already. My mom steals candy from my bag, so she'll actually thank you." She laughed and Ria joined her because it was true; parents and older brothers always took candy from the Trick or Treat bags.
Tina gave a half smile. "I don't want to ruin the night on you. Go on with out me. I can make it home by myself."
Her friends didn't leave her side the whole walk home. After making sure that Tina was safely home, they decided to walk to Erin's house together and ask Dave to drive Ria home, but he wasn't home.
"Look, it's not far from your house to mine. I'll walk home as fast as I can, and then I'll call you to let you know that I made it home."Ria decided.
"I don't know........." Erin argued.
"I'll be fine!" Ria said as she headed out the door. "Really, I'll call you in a few minutes!"
Ria saw her brother Tommy's tail lights disappearing down the street just as she was getting home.
'It figured!' Ria thought as she took off her necklace to get to the house key she always wore around her neck.
Once inside she hurried to the phone and called Erin. "Home just fine!"
"Are your parents home?"
Ria listened for a minute and didn't hear a single sound. "Nope, home alone."
"Aren't you creeped out to be home alone on Halloween night? Especially when Reagan acted that weird way before?" Erin asked anxiously.
"No, I wasn't, until you just bought it up." Ria said heatedly. Then she was instantly sorry. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to snap at you."
"It's okay, I understand. Sorry if I creeped you out even more than you were?"
"You didn't." Ria lied. She'd actually had been fine before calling Erin, now the house felt ominously quiet.
"Should I ask my parents if I can stay with you at your house until your parents come home?"
Ria gave herself a mental shake. "No really, I'm fine. I need to find Reagan and see how he's doing. Poor kitty!"
"You sure you don't want to stay on the phone until your parents come home?" At Ria's 'no,' Erin continued "Okay, but if you need me, call and I'll be there in minutes!"
Ria could just imagine her friend running down the road in her costume. She chuckled. "Okay Erin. You know you really are a great friend!"
Before looking for Reagan, Ria took off her costume pieces and put them back into the trunk. She didn't bother to take off her face paint before laying on her stomach and looking under her parents bed for Reagan. He wasn't there.
Ria went into the kitchen pantry and got out a can of cat food. Usually just opening the pantry door was sound enough to drive Reagan into the kitchen, rubbing against her leg, the wall and the kitchen chair legs purring, but not tonight.
"Reagan! Here kitty!" she called. Still Reagan didn't come.
Ria ignored the more quietly working, manual can opener for the noisy, electric can opener. As expected, the electric can opener whined and whirred and clunked as it laboriously opened the can of cat food. Usually Reagan would have been driven insane by now. Tonight he remained a no show.
Could Reagan still be freaked out by what he had heard earlier? Ria began to look for him in his favorite hiding places. It was only after she finished checking the last place, on top of the water heater, that Ria noticed the window curtain caught in the back door. She was sure she hadn't left the house with the curtain caught in the back door.
Did her brother come into the house before getting his car and leaving? Had Reagan gotten out?
Quickly Ria checked the usual message centers in the house for a note from her brother saying that Reagan had gotten out. There was none but it was the only answer because she had checked the whole house for Reagan and not found him.
Ria was angry at her brother Thomas for allowing Reagan to get out of the house, especially on a night that was so dangerous for black cats. She grabbed the open can of cat food and a small penlight and left the house.
She checked all the deck furniture before venturing into the back yard. Reagan wasn't in the yard, including his favorite napping spots inside the bird bath or on the wood pile.
Ria checked her neighbor's yard for Reagan before admitting to herself , with a shudder, that the only place left to look for the cat was the woods on the other side of a dirt road near their home.
Their street was the last block built before the building developer had run out of money to build any more houses. Behind Ria's house was woods. On the other side of her neighbor's house was the developers supply road. The road was barely wide enough for a truck to drive on. It was dirt and had sand and ruts in areas. It ran in the woods from the oldest part of the housing development to the abandoned part of the housing development for a few miles.
During the day, the woods were a friendly place for the neighborhood children to play. There were tree forts in some of the trees, and in some of the natural clearings the neighborhood children had picnics. The woods were a quiet place to do nothing more than walk and think about the day.
Even on moonlit nights, the sandy road was peaceful to walk on, and not threatening in anyway.
But on Halloween night? Ria's imagination ran wild, and she did not want to go into the woods at all.
Never the less, tonight she would have to because Reagan was most likely in the woods. Who knew what could happen to him if she didn't.
The moon was supposed to be full that night, but it was still rising as she crossed the thin wooded strip and stood on the dirt road.
"Reagan! Here kitty!" she called in a voice she hated. She could hear her own fear in it.
C'mon girl! she chided herself. Look around. These are the same trees that you've walked past a thousand times! You've sat at the base of these trees and read books.
Still, the woods seemed spooky.
Ria called for Reagan, pointing the flashlight at piles of leaves or among nests of roots as she walked along. She walked along for about thirty minutes before she saw a black cat rubbing itself on the rough bark of a leafless tree. From where Ria stood, she couldn't be sure if the cat was Reagan.
"Reagan?" she called softly. The cat didn't come to her, but it did meow in response. "You've come a long way boy. Why so far tonight of all nights?"
The cat stiffened. Its ears were so tuned into the sound, it seemed to Ria that they vibrated. Ria listened and at first she heard nothing. Then it seemed as though the ground was starting to vibrate. The vibration grew in intensity until it sounded like the thundering of the hooves of many horses.
People occasionally rode horses down the dirt road, although not at night. When that happened, the usual practice was to step slightly off the road for the rider to pass. But this time Ria felt a rising of terror, apparently shared by the cat, because it bolted off the road and into the woods. Ria could hear it's passage as it tore through brambles, making crackling sounds, only slightly ahead of her own frantic flight.
The sound of the oncoming hooves was unbearably loud now, and impulsively, Ria dropped to the ground and wiggled under a pile of leaves and bramble. She was so frightened that her lungs felt like they were burning, and her breath came in loud heaves that she prayed could not be heard over the sound of the horses thundering hooves.
It was only minutes later that the horsemen came in sight. There were six of them. The horses were huge, bigger than any that Ria had ever seen in her life. They seemed more likely to have come out of a nightmare than to be real. The eyes were rimmed with bright red, the eyes themselves were bottomless black pools. Great clouds of steam came out of the snorting nostrils.
The riders had stopped because the lead rider had held up a huge gloved hand signalling them to stop. In the distance, Ria could still hear the thunder of more horses approaching.
"I smell humans." the first rider growled removing his helmet. It was skull shaped with embossing around the brim.
"There are humans living just on the other side of those woods." The rider lifted up in the saddle as if to stretch his legs from a long ride.
"It be a shame if some of them were in the woods now." The first rider replied with a nasty chuckle.
"They won't be. They are busy gathering candy at this time of night. The children are anyway." It was the third rider who spoke. His saddle supported a long pole, from which hung a macabre lantern, a cat skull with a candle inside of it.
"And the mothers are home alone, just on the other side of those woods?" asked the first rider. "Mayhaps we have time for just a little bit of mischief, eh boys?"
They all laughed.
The fourth rider was silent. Ria studied him. He too carried a lantern attached to his saddle, it was a cat's skull, bigger than the first lantern. All the riders were dressed in black leather, but the fourth rider looked darker than the others. Ria imagined it was as dark as a black hole in space would be.
The rider that had removed his helmet slid to the ground from his horse. He was doing some stretches when he suddenly stopped. "I do smell human!" he said ominously.
"I told you, humans...."
"I mean I smell them here!" he interrupted. "Here!" he gestured around the general area. "Not in some neighborhood. Here!"
They all stood still, even the horses stopped their movements.
Ria wondered if they were sniffing the air too, catching her scent. She almost screamed with fright.
The sound of the other horses was getting louder. They were getting closer. Would they all dismount their horses when they arrived, to scour the woods looking for her? They would surely find her if they did.
The rider mounted his horse again, surprisingly quickly for all the armour and the long cloak he wore. He snatched a lantern pole from one of the riders and urged his horse into the woods.
"What are you doing?" one of them called.
"I said I smelled a human!" The horse walked heavily into the woods. Even fallen logs snapped under his mighty step. Ria froze with terror and began to pray that somehow, those mighty hooves would miss her.
The other riders began to arrive and the thundering of oncoming horses began to lessen. From her hiding place, Ria couldn't be sure of how many horses were there. Twenty? Fifty? Were there more? She couldn't be sure. The black horse was still plowing through the woods seeking her. Every so often, the rider would call out in frustration "I know you're here!"
The group parted and from their midst emerged a rider who must be their leader. His horse was as large as any of the others, but the saddle was of a much better quality. It's suppleness shone in the increasing moonlight. He had two lamp carrying riders on either side of him.
"Balfour! What are you doing?"
Balfour immediately stopped his search. "I smelled a human, my lord." There was the sound of muffled laughing from the group.
"Of course you smelled human, you half wit! There's a housing development on the other side of this median!" the leader thundered. "Get out of those woods and get into your position!"
The leader addressed the other riders. "Did you recapture that black cat?"
"No my lord." the other three riders answered almost shamefully.
"No matter, we're sure to come across another one along our ride." He turned to one of his lantern bearers. "Give the signal to assemble. We have far to ride before the moon is at it's height."
The lantern bearer pulled a goat's horn from his tunic and blew. The sound was nothing like a horn and yet indescribable. It made Ria shiver. The original four riders assembled into a column of two, and began riding forward. The other horsemen began riding behind them, also in columns of two, except for the leader who was still flanked by his lantern bearers.
The procession seemed to take hours to pass. Ria didn't stir until the sound of the last horse hoof had faded away. Then she cautiously got up, slowly, still listening, in case one of the riders had stayed behind without her realizing. Ria turned on her flashlight and scanned the woods, looking for the black cat. It was nowhere to be seen.
May-be Reagan had had enough of being outside by this time, Ria hoped. For herself, she had had enough of the woods for one night. She made her way to the dirt road and started to walk home, still listening for the sound of horse hooves.
When she was near home, she hear her name being called. "Ria? Ria!" called her younger sister Katie.
"I'm here!" she began to run toward Katie's voice.
"Ria! What were you doing in the woods on Halloween night? I'd never go in the woods on Halloween night!" Katie gave a shudder.
"I was looking for Reagan."
"In the woods? He was in the shredded paper box next to Daddy's desk. It was like he dug himself down into the paper. He's never done that before. I wonder why he did it tonight?"
I'm sure I know. Ria thought, but she only said "Hmmmm......." as they climbed the steps of the back deck and entered their house.
THIS STORY WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN 2010 BY MARY BENNETT as a BLOG CHALLENGE Copyright 2010 Mary Bennett All rights reserved