This year the young Cortez and his gang of merry friends—the Little Foxes—once again set their goal on the season’s greatest treasure trove, one that had always made Mrs. Lévesque’s syrup cookies look like stale leftovers from last month’s school cones.
They had no idea what would be the treasure this year but all the hints they had gotten thus far had been optimistic. Their new scout, little Mina, spotted Mr. Hossfeld and some men hoisted a decorated chest guarded by a large iron padlock as big as a beer mug into his mansion.
Mr. Hossfeld was a single man whose mansion at the street’s end overshadowed the rest of the apartments in the neighborhood. Outside of the holiday seasons, Mr. Hossfeld was never seen in town. Nonetheless, he had built up a reputation for his lavish decorations and themed scavenger games he hosted at his house.
The games he hosted were notoriously hard even for the adults and while it meant Christmas and New Year were extremely popular, it also meant not many dared knock on his door for candies at Halloween. Though, of course, there was always that one gang of stubborn children who took up his challenge every year.
The gang had agreed to meet at ten in front of Mr. Hossfeld’s but only the tall Cortez and the timid little Mina arrived on time. The seven-year-old was the youngest kid in the group and he, twelve years of age, was the oldest. They had been neighbors even before they were born and were the closest in the group.
As was in the past years, Cortez knocked on doors and greeted “Trick or rum!”, brandishing a practiced grin with a fake gold tooth and a paper cutlass. He got the sailor’s grin from his grandfather, who also gave him the tricorne hat that was sitting proudly on his blond head.
This year would be the first time for little Mina. Her costume a simple white sheet with two eyeholes and, even though she herself insisted that it should cover her own feet, her mom still cut it short in fear she might trip over her own costume. As she ran to embrace the ten-year-old Rosa, her pink slippers and blue jeans were showing under the costume.
Sassy Rosa and the rest of the Little Foxes turned up late for their rendezvous. She had a line in front of her house; nearly all kids in the adjacent three blocks lined up in front of her house every year. Mr. Lévesque was as grumpy as Vlad the entire afternoon, she reported, he was honking and shouting at the kids in his driveway for ten whole minutes before he could get into the garage.
Not to be outdone by Mr. Lévesque, grumpy Vlad had been frowning ever since Aaron told him about the line at the Lévesque’s. The eleven-year-old wanted syrup cookies too and he was not at all happy that Rosa could not bring them any. He got a growth spurt last spring and his big brother bought him a bigfoot costume this year to replace the old gnome one he had finally outgrown.
Although, from the look of his saggy midsection and fake feet, he still had a way to go.
The heavy steel gates suddenly opened with a creak and glowing red eyes filled Mr. Hossfeld’s dark garden. There were rustles all around the bushes. The rustles followed the group as they treaded warily to the front entrance, which transformed into a laughing skull the moment they reached it.
Serious Aaron was the first to run, followed by sassy Rosa and little Mina. Vlad fell behind the group, fumbling around clumsily in his oversized costume. Cortez was dead last. He raised his cutlass and randomly swang it at the skull while squealing fanatically like Mr. Tinker when he nearly fell off the roof trying to clean up snow last Christmas.
Then, a miracle took place.
His paper cutlass grew bigger. A metallic tint coated the blade’s white surface and a swirling flame shrouded everything above the crossguard. He could see and hear the cutlass cut through the skull, shattering the unholy being into a thousand will-o-wisps, but oddly enough, he could not feel any resistance at all.
He sliced through the creature as easily as slicing through empty air.
The young Cortez stood in awe at the fiery cutlass still in his grip. Despite its gigantic size, it did not feel heavy or slow at all. And the flames did not feel hot even though they were incinerating the spiky hedge by the entrance when he brought the blade near it.
“Whoa! How did you do that?” gasped Vlad as he crawled out from behind the fountain and the others rushed back to see the cutlass.
“Are you for real? That is so cool!” exclaimed Aaron.
“What is that thing!?” asked Rosa, couldn’t hide her astonishment.
“Can I touch it? Can I touch it?” asked little Mina, jumping up and down in excitement.
“I don’t know…it just happened,” shrugged Cortez.
“Can I? Can I?” insisted little Mina still. Her small body stretched toward the handle and even when she was on her tiptoes, it was still out of her reach.
Cortez lent the girl the cutlass but as soon as the thing left his hand, it returned to being a paper prop and remained so even after she handed it back to him. He had to reassure little Mina that it was not her fault several times and take care that she would not burst into tears.
All the while, he let Vlad play around with the cutlass. The boy conjured up all sorts of magic spells and fancy sound effects he saw on the TV, trying to get the cutlass to transform again but to no avail. There was something comical about a bigfoot wielding a pirate’s cutlass and shouting cartoon superhero’s lines, Cortez found. The boy would have been indeed popular at parties had he smiled more instead of frowning all the time.
Mrs. Kovalevsky had hoped having the Halls around would eventually rub some positive energy on her moody son. In reality, the boy’s outlook did not change much. On the contrary, he became grumpier as he gradually learned that being near rich people like the Halls and popular people like the Lévesque made one feel all the more miserable.
Indeed, when one looked at the Halls’ only son, Aaron, wearing a velvet vampire’s cape over a black tux, which alone amounted to two weeks’ worth of the Kovalevskys’ income, one could not help but be envious of this boy’s good fortune.
Something happened again while Vlad was fiddling with the cutlass. A large hairy creature descended from the sky and landed softly. Its landing was so soft that they would not have noticed it had little Mina not let out a terrified scream. They turned around and found a giant spider as large as Lévesque’s car between them and the exit.
The eight-legged monster had their reflections in its numerous eyes. It bared its iridescent green jaws and launched its giant body at them.
The Little Foxes all squealed like Mr. Tinker at the sight of a venomous hairball heading in their direction. Vlad, Rosa, Aaron, and Cortez managed to scurry out of the way but little Mina, frozen stiff by terror, was caught in the spider’s path. The spider crashed into the front doors behind them and disappeared into the darkness of the mansion.
Surprisingly, the girl was still standing at the same spot as she had been before; terrified and trembling but otherwise, unharmed and untouched. Her scream was heard uninterrupted throughout the ordeal and for quite a time afterward. It took her, no, it took them all nearly a minute to process what just happened.
When she came to be, she began to sniffle and burst into tears as Rosa rushed in to embrace her.
“It-it passed through her…Hey…did you see that?” murmured Cortez.
Vlad and Aaron nodded. “I think I know what it is now,” Aaron said, sounding a bit more confident but his teeth could not help but clattering.
Gulping his saliva, Vlad nervously asked: “What is it?”
“An illusion, a projection of some sort. I’ve seen them change the appearance of an entire building in Vegas with light projection before. It’s like magic but with science!” the ten-year-old-who-went-abroad-for-sightseeing-and-other-nonsense answered, a bit more enthusiastic this time.
The eleven-year-old-who-had-never-been-abroad could only crack an awkward smile and clenched his fists.
An ominous mist poured out from the mansion’s dark interior like tendrils clinging to their feet. The mist was glowing red and was cold to the touch but hung only to the knees. The giant spider mysteriously appeared behind them again. It was the same sequence as before; the spider landed without a sound and bared its iridescent green jaws.
“See? It moves in a loop just like a thing in a haunted house,” asserted Aaron.
“Okay, smartass, you go and try it,” squeaked Vlad as he pushed the ten-year-old into the spotlight: right there little Mina was standing before.
The spider reared its round belly upwards and jumped at them in the same trajectory as before. Four kids stood on the side and watched Aaron stand his ground. The spider crashed into the boy and sank its jaws into his flesh.
He could only utter this one word of surprise before the spider released its venom into his veins. The Little Foxes was speechless and—at the cue of Aaron’s sharp scream, which was cut short as the spider’s venom began to take effect—they all screamed in horror. Their friend was being mauled by the giant spider.
“Captain, do something!” squealed Vlad.
What could Cortez do? Nobody told them giant spiders existed outside Australia and, more importantly, how a twelve-year-old could kill them. Both Vlad and he were panicking, little Mina was crying louder and louder.
“The sword! Vlad, give him the sword!” sassy Rosa, the only one who could still think clearly among them, pointed out.
For a moment, the spider halted. Two of its many eyes moved to glance at the four of them. They all clamped up in fear while both Rosa and Cortez snuffed out little Mina’s whimpering with their hands. After an intense twenty seconds, the spider turned away and dug into its meal.
As soon as the cutlass returned to his grip, it once again transformed into a flaming magical blade. Cortez swung it at the spider but the creature swiftly avoided the strike. Every step he advanced, the spider retreated by two steps until it was backed against the mansion’s darkness. Cortez lowered his stance. He still held his cutlass in front of him as deterrence while his left arm slowly extended toward Aaron.
The boy was partly encased in a sticky cocoon. There were two fist-sized holes on his chest from which he was bleeding, but not as profusely as one would expect from such grievous injuries. He could not move a limb and his skin was pale, though it was hard to tell if that due to blood loss or his vampire’s makeup.
One thing for sure, Cortez needed to get Aaron out of there. They all needed to get out of this place.
His hand was so close to the cocoon when the spider raised forelegs and exposed its heinous underbelly. It shot a rope of silk from its below and latched onto the cocoon. In response, Cortez swung his sword wildly, hoping to cut the silk. Alas! He was neither fast nor accurate enough.
The spider jumped and roped Aaron into the depth of the mansion.
All he could do was barely grabbing onto the cocoon, trying to not let it go. He had to let go of the cutlass to get a good grip on the cocoon. Grumpy Vlad was right behind him, and behind Vlad were sassy Rosa and little Mina. The four of them clung onto Aaron with all their might.
“…Cortez…I’m slipping!” Rosa screamed from the end of the human column.
“Just…hold…on,” Cortez screamed back.
“I…can’t…feel the ground…let go…captain!” Vlad squealed as both he and Cortez were literally being lifted off their feet.
The whole gang, with only Rosa and Mina anchoring them down, was being tugged into the darkness at an alarming speed.
“LISTEN TO VLAD! LET YOUR BLOODY HANDS GO!”
Rosa shouted at the top of her lung, never before had she been so angry, so forceful, so frustrated. The tug of war was over. Their ranks collapsed and all they could do were watching helplessly as the cocoon flew out of sight.
Rosa, Mina, and Vlad slumped to the ceramic floor, panting and gasping for air. Their arms and legs felt cold in the mysterious red mist. Cortez was the only one remained standing. His lung was burning, his heart pounding, but he was pumped so full of adrenalin that he did not feel the need to rest…yet.
It hit him a bit later and when the full brunt of his exhaustion hit, his legs gave in and he joined the others on the cold hard floor. They spent a few minutes both to catch their breaths and to let their eyes adjust to the darkness. For a time, all they could see were the iridescent jaws of the monster; or at least, the terrifying afterimage of it etched onto their eyeballs.
“How can it be? Isn’t…isn’t it supposed to be an illusion?!” Rosa uttered.
“It’s real…I think it’s real…” Cortez stammered.
“No way! There is no spider that big!”
“But Rosa, there are spiders that big in Australia!” he argued. “It’s true, my grandpa told me about Australia once. Everything there is big and they all eat people!”
“Then how did it pass through Mina?! You two saw that, didn’t you?”
“I don’t know! I can’t explain my sword either. Can you?”
The two of them stared at each other for a moment without saying a word. None of them could explain what was happening in this mansion.
Finally, Vlad broke the silence.
“We need to get outta here and tell the adults,” he proposed.
That, they could agree on.
Except for little Mina, the rest of the gang had been to this mansion many times before and learned the layout to heart. Even with the thickening red mist obstructing their visions, they could still figure out where they were. A bit to Cortez’s right side should be where the staircase was. Atop that stair sat a grand clock whose golden pendulum made a distinct tick-tock noise and on the opposite side of the clock, over a wide lobby draped in navy blue carpets, was the front entrance.
But when they navigated to the entrance, its gothic wooden doors were bolted shut as though barricaded by planks and nails with a layer of heavy-duty glue on top. No matter how much shaking, they could not budge these doors at all. It felt as if they were dealing with solid walls and not doors.
“Let’s ram it. Shoulders first like in the movies,” Vlad suggested. The guy admittedly had some decent ideas from time to time.
The two boys took a few steps back and ran shoulders first at the doors.
“Wait, don’t these doors open inward?” Rosa suddenly spoke up in the middle of the boys’ charge.
Realizing their fatal error, the boys tried to stop themselves but momentum drove them into the doors. They soon found themselves groaning in agony on the floor.
Strangely enough, it was also at that very moment that they all heard a sigh from somewhere inside the house. The unexpected sound snapped the boys out of their agony and replaced it with a trepidatious chill.
“Did you also…?” Cortez whispered; his voice was trembling.
“Shh…Yeah! I heard it too…” Rosa replied in a low tone.
For a time afterward, Rosa, Vlad, and Cortez strained their eyes and ears to find the source of the sigh. Little Mina, on the other hand, kept her eyes shut and clung to Rosa like a kid to her mother on the first day at school.
In the end, they could not find anyone or anything but they could not shake off the feeling of being watched either. Maybe they all were going crazy in the head like Cortez’s grandfather.
“Your sword, Cortez! Can it cut through these doors?” Rosa asked.
“Ugh…I dropped it while fighting the spider. I think it should be around here somewhere…”
The three of them got on their knees and shuffled around the area near the doors, searching for the cutlass with their hands. Little Mina followed Rosa but she was too afraid of touching something creepy in the mist to help. That was the exact fear all of them had in mind; this mist made the perfect setup for a classic horror movie’s jump scare; although they had very few options in this situation.
“It’s cold! I can’t see anything!” Vlad grumbled.
“We need that sword, keep searching,” Cortez said.
They searched for about a minute before they heard little Mina’s alarming voice:
“Rosa? Rosa? Cortez! Vlad! Something is happening to Rosa! She is not moving!”
Immediately, all lights in the building were turned on and the front doors swang wide open. They heard footsteps rushing down from the second floor. Soon, Mr. Hossfeld appeared in front of them with Aaron, who seemed completely unharmed and was as astonished as they all were, in tow.
“Jesus Christ! Mr. Hall, get me the first aid kit in the bathroom. And you two idiots get your faces off the smoke. NOW!” Mr. Hossfeld yelled, waving his hand furiously until they, the boys, complied.
Then, he brought out his cellphone and started dialing. He called the emergency service and requested an ambulance. He explained that “a ten or twelve years old girl is unconscious” and the cause was “excessive inhalation of dry ice smoke”. Additionally, he informed that he had a first aid kit with a defibrillator.
At length, he put the operator on the loudspeaker and followed the instructions to check Rosa’s symptoms and perform first aid while waiting for the ambulance. He gently placed one hand on the center of her chest and his cheek in front of her mouth as instructed. Rosa wasn’t breathing and her pulses, as Mr. Hossfeld reported, were weak.
“Do you have a CPR mask in your kit?” the operator asked to which Mr. Hossfeld hesitated because he did not know what was in the kit other than the expensive defibrillator.
Having checked the kit for the described item, he reported not finding it. “Is it important though?” he nervously asked. His face was as pale as Aaron’s vampire make-up. He never received the answer as the operator instructed him to immediately administer two rescue breaths followed by chest compression.
Upon hearing the steps, Mr. Hossfeld frowned and grew quiet. He threw a glance at the three boys and groaned under his breath: “Oh God…why can’t it be one of these three idiots…”
Then he proceeded to remove Rosa’s blouse and undergarment, gave her two mouth-to-mouth rescue breaths and performed chest compression as the operator helped him time the rhythm. Occasionally, the operator would tell him to give Rosa more rescue breaths and he cringed uncomfortably every time he did so.
This went on until the ambulance arrived.
Aaron later told the gang that he was in cahoots with Mr. Hossfeld and acted in a way that made the holographic projections seemed tangible. After he was reeled to the second floor by a pulley system, he joined Mr. Hossfeld in the control room and the two of them had been watching the rest of the Little Foxes through hidden cameras.
He tipped Mr. Hossfeld off on the costumes the others would be wearing so that Mr. Hossfeld could give them awesome powers based on the costumes. Little Mina was a ghost so she could pass through many obstacles and was immune to physical contacts. Tall Cortez had a cutlass so he got a flaming sword. Rosa was a witch so she could fly and use magic.
Vlad got nothing; he changed his costume without telling Aaron so Mr. Hossfeld could not plan a power for him.
In any case, the game went badly, starting with the moment Cortez and Vlad tried to shoulder ram the doors. Mr. Hossfeld’s fingers were right on the button to just call them idiots and stop them from breaking their shoulders. In the end, he did not expect it would be the dry ice that almost turned his mansion into a crime scene and maybe even a real haunted house.
Mr. Hossfeld drove the Little Foxes to the hospital two days later. Thankfully, sassy Rosa made a full recovery although she was fuming that her first kiss was taken by Mr. Hossfeld. The Lévesques, being the kindest people around, forgave Mr. Hossfeld and only asked him to pay for the medical bills.
There was a fair bit of grumbling on Mr. Lévesque’s side but Mrs. Lévesque shut him up with a shout very much akin to the one Rosa gave Cortez in Mr. Hossfeld’s mansion.
The Halls, though, was not amused to hear about their son’s involvement in nearly getting the Lévesques’ girl killed. They grounded him for the rest of winter break and, according to Aaron, they seriously left him a pile of coals under the Christmas tree.
As for the chest full of chocolate coins, Mr. Hossfeld had the whole thing delivered to little Mina’s house. On one hand, it was his way of thanking her for sounding the alarm and helped save Rosa. On the other hand, he really could not take enough precautions against a lawsuit for showing a seven-year-old such a harrowing display.
In the end, both Cortez and Vlad were surprised that Mina did not get arachnophobia from that adventure; rather, she grew a strange taste for things with a lot of legs. Mr. Hossfeld hit his forehead on the desk when he heard about this and threatened the two boys to speak none of this to her parents.
After that Halloween, Mr. Hossfeld stopped hosting scavenger games at his mansion. These days, he just handed out candies at the porch like any god-fearing adult would.
“Never again,” he always said to the Little Foxes, “Never again”.
A dedication to MangaFox’s RPG Paradise community (12/2011 – 04/2019).
All characters in this story are one-shot RP characters I have created but never used: Cortez de Conquista (European Quest), Vladimir Petrovovich Kovalevsky (In Cash We Trust), Aaron Stephen Hall (Silent Melody), Izeth Hossfeld (Goodnight! Demon Slayer), Mina Tinker (Gods: the new generation), Rosa Levesque-Aden (Vivillion).
May our paths cross again in another story.
So long and thanks for all the fish.