2nd draft, unedited, unfinished (if you don't see these words at the top of the chapter it means you're reading the first draft).

Chapter One:

Macabre: the Gothic Boutique

The only place in the world where you can host a vampire, participate in a full moon change with a werewolf, and take a walk on the wild side in Fairy Land. Buy one event, at $299.99, get one free, plus the opportunity to win another on October 31st. For the full Halloween experience, come early. Each event requires an entire week of your time.

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Warning: These events are realand precautions should be taken before paying. Do your research with our What, How, and When to Do It manual, only $35.99. A complete physical must be done upon purchase, including blood work for each event. This is NOT covered in the price listed above, however a physician from Macabre will be provided at a reasonable price.

I frowned at the purple and black flyer stuck to my hoopti car windshield, or rather a junked up car only capable of getting from point A to B. Clearly the people distributing these flyers didn't have eyes. The car was a brown rusting '71 Oldsmobile death trap with holes in the floor and cracked leather seats that pinched. The hole was so bad in the passenger floor that anyone sitting in the front seat had to straddle either side or risk losing a foot. The air conditioning worked, but only if I wanted to smell like molding cheese and I never had any hope of listening to music during commute. That would be unheard of… listening to music while driving? Never.

The car sounded horrible, but it looked even worse. Dad got it for me as a going away college present, though that wouldn't be for another year, and rationalized its condition because it was a classic. More like a classic piece of junk I figured, but hey, no one can beat free, and Dad had plans on me fixing it up. I could barely afford rent, so it wasn't going to happen any time soon. Besides, he was the car buff, not me. I like old, just not in my cars. Dad likes cars, Mom likes flowers, and I like old people. Everybody has their thing and the elderly just happen to be mine.

Swinging the door open to my classic, I reached for the garish advertisement, tearing it from my windshield, and scanning over it again, pausing at the three-hundred dollar price tag.

"Who could afford this?" I said, mumbling under my breath while crumpling it in my fingers and throwing it in the back along with my orange paisley work bag. I gave my car a once over, raising an eyebrow, wondering if they'd seen something I'd missed. Definitely not. "Clearly, Macabre employees are stupid."

The dull throb in my feet from a ten-hour work day lessened as I slide into the driver's seat. A ten-hour shift in a nursing home was still a ten-hour shift at the end of the day, no matter how much I enjoyed my job. Gentle cricks and cracks sounded as I rolled my neck right to left and with a jaw popping yawn, I shoved the keys in the ignition and twisted, hoping for the best. The sput, sput, sputtering of it stopped after a few seconds.

Well, at least it attempted to start.

After letting it rest a minute, with heaving, slightly defeated sigh I turned the key again. A relieved smile slipped across my face as continued to run. If anything, this old piece of crap was dependable. It was an everyday ritual that always took a second try before it started. Like it took pleasure in scaring me. Like it wanted to tease me for payback because I always talked crap about it.

Stupid car, I thought, too chicken to say it out loud for fear the car would retaliate.

I quickly glanced at my wrist watch as I started pulling out of the newly paved parking lot of the nursing home. It was only three in the afternoon, but I could feel the drowsiness washing through me and the need for a coffee became fierce. It being Friday, I had a total of five hours to get some sleep before Maggie, my best friend since childhood, decided time was up.

I worked four ten-hour consecutive shifts, sometimes five if it was needed, Tuesday through Friday and even though we'd been here for two months, Maggie still insisted we explore every Friday night. But really she was just hoping to get into a party scene where they don't care if we're just barely brushing nineteen. And it was fun the first couple of times. Now it just seemed more like a chore. Like something I had to do because she decided to follow me instead of her own dreams.

As I pulled into the parking lot of my apartment complex, envy blossomed in my chest. The difference between the previous parking lot and mine were extreme. Where the nursing home was dusted black and fairly large, the pavement in parking lot E was small, filled with broken surfaces of pebbled concrete and green weeds infesting every crack. The apartment complexes weren't fairing too well either. Patches of grass in mud was my yard. And the dirty tan and tacky light blue siding on the buildings were peeling from age.

I could feel my heart sink into my gut. It simply was a portrayal of my poverty stricken life, a reminder that was only slightly devastating. Saving up money for college meant crappy parking lots and apartments; a small bathroom and a broken stove that tried to turn on in the middle of the night with a click-click-clicking noise; counting Spaghetti-o's as the source of all major food groups and ramen as a special treat. It was what I had to deal with if I wanted to go to the college I'd chosen and study Social Gerontology.

A perk to living the low life was designated parking spaces. Even the poor have such luxuries. I swiftly pulled into my parking space and barely had the car in park before I was turning it off. Pushing the seat belt button, it clinked out of its buckle. I swiveled around and reached in the back for my work bag and, on a whim, decided to grab the crumpled piece of purple paper.

I couldn't afford the ridiculously priced events, but it was still a boutique, so they had to sell other things. It seemed right up Maggie's alley, mine too for that matter, especially with Halloween a week away. Maybe with some coaxing this could be our Friday night escapade instead of the usual 'dance, drink, barf.' It wasn't pretty and anything would be better than that. Being stuck in the bathroom holding Maggie's hair for her all night would never be the highlight of my weekends.

"Annabelle, you're home." A gleeful muffled voice vibrated past the window, followed by a rather obnoxious knock that rattled the car door.

Carefully I rolled down the window a little. With my free hand, I clutched the top of it and continued to roll it down, constantly aligning it so that it didn't go out of alignment. Once the window was down, I gave her a seething glare, "Hey, easy on the merchandise."

Maggie flipped her obscenely high brown ponytail and bent down to eye level, her hazel eyes twinkling with excitement. "Be ready an hour early tonight. The best idea ever landed on my windshield and I swear I was picked exclusively because the parking lot I happened to be in was packed, yet only my car had it."

Settling more comfortably in my seat, I raised an eyebrow skeptically. "And what is this idea?"

She opened her Coach bag and fished out a purple piece of paper that looked suspiciously like the gaudy piece of work I'd gotten on my windshield.

"Macabre the Gothic Boutique," she started, but I stopped her by holding up a finger and wiggling my own identical advertisement in her face.

"I got one too," I said, with a teasing smile. "You aren't special."

With a harrumph she scowled down at me folding her arms across her rather ample chest and her body jiggled slightly, like she was tapping her foot against the concrete. "Daddy sent money to pay my credit card off."

I groaned, but refrained from dropping my forehead onto the steering wheel. "Which one? And are you going to actually pay it this time?"

"The big one," Maggie said, her eyes widening as she dropped her voice for emphasis.

I blinked, surprised at the information. Maggie's father was rich, but a tight wad and he'd been refusing to pay 'the big one,' claiming Maggie needed to pay it off herself since she'd decided to follow me to New Orleans, something he had not wanted her to do.

Following me wasn't the only thing she did either, she also decided to take time off from school, which was causing some resentment between me and her. Only she didn't know it. She had chosen to take a break from school. For her, it was a split-second decision, she had the means to go, only she didn't. I had no choice. My parent's income bracket was considered middle class. Right at the cut-off where I'd get diddly-squat for Financial Aid. They could get a mortgage out on the house to let me go to a cheaper local college, but that college didn't offer the degree I was looking at. So I had to save up money, enough to cover what the mortgage they were going to get out wouldn't cover. Being middle class sucks.

Still, having my best friend here, living only two floors up in the apartment complex, was pretty awesome. I knew it cost her a great deal to live in such a dirty area, but it was the most affordable for me and we both wanted to be close to each other. It wasn't going to stop me from nagging her about not going to college right away though.

"The BIG ONE, Annabelle!" she said, her voice high pitched as she tried to grap my attention again.

I cringed and jerked away, wiggling a finger in my ear to clear the ringing. "I heard you the first time. No need to shout."

Maggie yanked on the handle of my car door, quickly opening it and gesturing me out impatiently. "I'm no longer maxed out! Buy one get one free," she said, gesturing wildly to the advertised paper. "Meaning buy two get two free. Come on!"

"Maggie, if vampires, werewolves, and fairies were real, $300 dollars wouldn't be so bad, but this is the biggest Halloween rip-off I've ever seen. You are not going to fall for this. I won't let you."

She pouted her lip-glossed lips and tugged gently on my hand. "Please?"

"No," I said, stubbornly, but deflated quickly as my curiosity peaked, "but I'm not opposed to looking around the shop at least."

Maggie brightened instantly, but failed to maintain the mischievous glint in her eyes. "Fabulous."

"You won't talk me into it. So don't even think about it," I said in warning, adjusting the strap of my work bag so that it settled in the cradle between my shoulder and neck.

"Well, we'll see." She paused to scowl. "It's my money anyway. If I want to spend it on fake stuff I will."

Only it wasn't her money. It was her father's. If it's one thing he and I agreed on it was that Maggie had a serious spending problem.

"Over my dead body," I said gloomily as I walked down the sidewalk that branched off towards five different groups of housings. "Besides, I can't afford to pay you back."

"Who said you had to? When have I ever made you pay me back anyhow? You know, if you lived with me in my apartment, like I originally wanted, you would have the money, and you could save up more for college."

"Maggie, you're my best friend and I love you, but you are just too clean. I could never live with you."

It was true. Maggie was slightly obsessive-compulsive when it came to keeping her area clean. I have to be clean at work, so my apartment's not a pigsty, I do know the basics. But every time Maggie came in, her petite little nose wrinkled up with disgust at the smell of kitty litter and the cluttered mess of opened soda cans with day old pizza boxes thrown on my living room floor.

She even had panic attacks about not putting drinks on coasters. I wasn't knocking her clean freak streak. She couldn't help it. And after all, she was the reason I had everything unpacked a week into moving in, but it was too much for me in the long run. Really it would be too much for Maggie. She'd end up having a nervous breakdown. I decided very early on that if she was going to come with me then we needed to live separately.

Maggie shrugged, continuing to follow me even as I entered my apartment. She quickly shut the door behind her and on cue, her nose wrinkled. I rolled my eyes as I settled my bag down. I slipped off my navy blue crocs by the door and leaned into the side wall to let Maggie pass as she moseyed over to the living room and started picking up garbage.

"A.B., I'm so excited that I think we should go now. There could be a lengthy sign up process." Maggie started, darting towards the kitchen to dispose of the half-filled Dr. Pepper cans.

"Mags." I groaned, standing in the middle of the living room, watching her clean. "I just got off work."

"And you have until next Friday off, right? Don't tell me you didn't, you've always done that for Halloween."

I loved Halloween, decorating, dressing up, passing out candy, and then going to a party afterwards. No matter what I was doing, whether it was my part time job back home or issues with school, I would put everything on hold for that one week out of the year.

Haunted houses every day, if possible, until Halloween included, but I was a newbie at work and I couldn't afford the time off. Not this time. I shook my head, feeling the weight of reality and adulthood rearing its ugly head. I had wanted the time off so bad, but my budget wouldn't allow it either.

Maggie turned with a folded pizza box clutched close to her chest, and her eyebrows rose with surprise. "You didn't? Oh, A.B. I'm sorry."

I shrugged it off. Life happens and being an adult sucked the big one. "It's fine. I have a meeting with our event coordinator on Monday during my lunch break to see what we can do about a party. I spoke with him on the phone and he seemed pleased with my ideas. I think my group might be the only one enjoying the holiday though. Seems like the other caretakers aren't celebrators, but I'm working on some of the nurses. Old Mr. Benson played off the idea as child's play, but I think he's secretly excited about it too."

Mr. Benson was one of my favorites. He was an elderly resident with a sense of humor that would make Richard Pryor proud. Though, sometimes, it verged on the dirty side and would occasionally include a light pat to my tush. It was all in good fun and I usually visited his room last so I could stay longer and chat with him.

"It's more of a reason to go now… so let's go. Now, please." Maggie sounded impatient. "It'll put you in a better mood. You know it will, plus I know you still have the spa gift card I got you for your birthday. We'll use that tomorrow for your achy feet," she said.

I sighed heavily and started towards my ragged seen-better-days black recliner, but before I could sit down, she jerked my arm, turning me, a pleading look plastered to her face. "Please? I'll let you drive my car," she said, her voice rising as she dangled another of my weaknesses in front of me.

I folded my arms contemplating the offer. I hated my old beat up car, but her new Lexus was a different story. I loved driving it and took the opportunity to do so every time. Me being tired had never made a difference before.

"Fine," I said begrudgingly. "Let me get my tennis shoes. Maggie, seriously though, $300 dollars is too much, okay."

She nodded, suspiciously obedient. "Okay."

I bit my lip as I examined her, knowing I was in for a fight. I shook my head, a small smile tugging on my lips as I quickly went to my bedroom and grabbed my shoes.

"I'll be out in the car waiting!" Maggie called.

Goodbye sleep, I thought to myself as I grabbed a light jacket from my closet and walked towards the door.