Authors: Brandon Mull
IZ, WHO WANTED SKY CASTLES
Castles in the sky sit stranded, vandalized.
—“A Dustland Fairytale,”
by the Killers (written by Brandon Flowers)
eaving down the hall, Cole avoided a ninja, a witch, a pirate, and a zombie bride. He paused when a sad clown in a trench coat and fedora waved at him. “Dalton?”
His friend nodded and smiled, which looked weird since his mouth was painted into a frown. “I wondered if you’d recognize me.”
“It wasn’t easy,” Cole replied, relieved to see that his best friend had worn an elaborate costume. He had worried that his own outfit was too much.
They met up in the middle of the hall. Kids streamed by on either side; some dressed for Halloween, some not.
“Ready to score some candy tonight?” Dalton asked.
Cole hesitated. Now that they were sixth graders, he was a little nervous that people would think they were too old to go door to door. He didn’t want to look like a kindergartener. “Have you heard about the haunted house on Wilson?”
“The spook alley house?” Dalton clarified. “I heard it has live rats and snakes.”
Cole nodded. “The guy who moved in there is supposed to be a special-effects expert. I guess he worked on some big movies. It might just be hype, but I keep hearing amazing things. We should check it out.”
“Yeah, sure, I’m curious,” Dalton said. “But I don’t want to skip the candy.”
Cole thought for a minute. He
noticed some sixth graders trick-or-treating in his neighborhood last year. A few kids had looked even older. Besides, did it matter what anyone else thought? If people were handing out free candy, why not take advantage? They already had the costumes. “Okay. We can start early.”
The first bell rang. Class would start soon. “See you,” Cole said.
Cole walked into his classroom, noticing that Jenna Hunt was already at her desk. Cole tried not to care. He liked her, but not in
way. Sure, in the past he might have felt excited and scared whenever she was around, but now she was just a friend.
At least that was what he kept telling himself as he tried to take his seat behind her. He was dressed up as a scarecrow that had been used for archery practice. The feathered shafts protruding from his chest and side made it tricky to sit down.
Had he ever had a crush on Jenna? Maybe, when he was younger. During second grade, the girls went through a phase when they ran around trying to kiss the boys at recess. It had been disgusting. Like tag, except with cooties involved. The
teachers had been against it. Cole had been against it too—except when it was with Jenna. When she was chasing him, a secret part of him wanted to get caught.
It wasn’t his fault he kept noticing Jenna during third, fourth, and fifth grades. She was too pretty. He wasn’t the only one who thought so. She had modeled in some catalogs. Her dark hair had just the right amount of curl, and her thick eyelashes made her eyes look made-up, even when she wasn’t wearing makeup.
He sometimes used to daydream about older jerks picking on Jenna. In his imagination, he would come along and save the day with a burst of bravery and action-movie karate skills. Afterward, he would be forced to suffer through her tearful thanks.
But everything had changed at the start of sixth grade. Jenna had not only ended up in his class, but by pure chance the seating chart had placed him directly behind her. They had worked together on group projects. He had learned to relax around her, and they had started to talk regularly and make jokes. She had turned out to be cooler than he had hoped. They were actually becoming friends. So there was no reason for his heart to pound just because she was dressed up like Cleopatra.
A graded test sat on top of his test, a circled 96 in red ink proclaiming his success. Tests waited on the other empty desks as well. Cole tried not to spy on the other scores, but he couldn’t help noticing that his neighbors got a 72 and an 88.
Jenna turned and looked at him. She wore a wig of limp black hair with ruler-straight bangs. Dramatic makeup
accentuated her eyes. A golden circlet with a snake at the front served as her crown. “What are you?” she asked. “A dead scarecrow?”
“Close,” Cole replied. “I’m a scarecrow that got used for target practice.”
“Are those real arrows?”
“Yeah, but I broke off the tips. Halloween or not, I figured they would send me home if I brought sharp arrows to school.”
“You aced another test. I thought scarecrows weren’t supposed to have brains.”
“I wasn’t a scarecrow yesterday. I like your costume.”
“Do you know who I am?”
Cole scrunched his face, as if she had stumped him. “A ghost?”
Jenna rolled her eyes. “You know, right?”
He nodded. “You’re one of the most famous ladies in history. Queen Elizabeth.”
“I’m kidding. Cleopatra.”
“Wrong again. Are you even trying?”
“Seriously? I thought I knew it for sure.”
“I’m Cleopatra’s twin sister.”
“You got me.”
“Maybe I should have come as Dorothy all shot up with arrows,” Jenna said. “Then we would have matched.”
“We could have been the sadder ending to
The Wizard of Oz
“The ending where the wizard turns out to be Robin Hood.”
Laini Palmer sat in the desk next to Jenna’s. She was
dressed as the Statue of Liberty. Jenna turned and started talking to her.
Cole glanced at the clock. There were still a few minutes before class would begin. Jenna had a habit of arriving by the first bell, and Cole had coincidentally developed the same habit. More kids were coming in: a zombie, a vampire fairy, a rock star, an army guy. Kevin Murdock wore no costume. Neither did Sheila Jones.
When Jenna had finished talking to Laini, Cole tapped her shoulder. “Have you heard about that new haunted house?”
“On Wilson Avenue?” Jenna asked. “People keep talking about it. I’ve never really been scared by Halloween decorations. I always know they’re fake.”
“The guy who just moved in there supposedly did effects for Hollywood,” Cole replied. “I heard that some of the stuff in his spook alley is real. Like, live bats and tarantulas and amputated body parts from hospitals.”
“I guess that might be freaky,” Jenna admitted. “I’d have to see it to believe it.”
“It’s supposed to be free. Are you going trick-or-treating?”
“Yeah, with Lacie and Sarah. You?”
“I was planning to go around with Dalton.” He was relieved she would be out hunting candy as well.
“Do you know the address?” Jenna asked.
“For the haunted house? I wrote it down.”
“We should check it out. Want to meet up around seven?”
Cole tried to keep his expression casual. “Where?”
“Do you know that old guy’s house on the corner, with the huge flagpole?”
“Sure.” Everybody in the area knew that house. It was one story, but the flagpole was basically a skyscraper. The old guy looked like a veteran. He raised and lowered the flag every morning and night. “Meet there?”
“Bring the address.”
Cole retrieved a notebook from his backpack and opened it. While he looked for his homework, his mind strayed. He had never hung out with Jenna after school, but it wasn’t like they were going on a date. They would just be part of a group of kids checking to see if a spook alley was actually cool.
Mr. Brock started class a few moments later. He was dressed as a cowboy with chaps, a big hat, and a sheriff’s badge. The outfit made it tough to take him seriously.