Despite my best efforts to find something great in my closet, I still have the same boring wardrobe. I settle for a black dress I bought ages ago and never seem to be able to wear (it’s more fitted than my other dresses and has lace along the sleeves and collar and a short, flared skirt). That, paired with a pointy hat and some dark eyeliner, will have to do for tonight.
I check my face about twenty times before I get out of the car, making sure my practically non-existent lashes were improved by layers of mascara and that my eyeliner hasn’t smudged yet. I put on another layer of red lipstick, and I think back to the purple lipstick laying on my dresser at home. I almost wore it instead, but I was barely confident enough to go a bit darker than my usual pink. Purple was too…
I don’t know why an image of Bec flashes before me. She would definitely be able to pull off the purple lipstick. I cap my lipstick with a shake of my head, telling myself red will be just fine. A voice in the back of my head whispers that it’s long lasting and shouldn’t transfer… if anything were to happen tonight.
I try to push that thought aside. I’ve already got enough to stress about, with the Bash needing to be a smash hit and a million things to oversee. I shouldn’t be thinking about—
Of course, even as I’m telling myself this, I scan the venue quickly. It’s still light out, with the sun just disappearing over the horizon. I know it’ll be dark soon, lit only by the string of fairy lights and the jack-o-lanterns scattered around.
I can see someone turned on the fog machines on stage already. White mist is floating around. As soon as the band takes the stage, the lights will turn the fog green and purple.
The vendors are here, too, hanging up their own signs, offering snacks, drinks, and candies for reasonable prices. Everything here is priced in tickets, which everyone buys at the front. I double check to make sure we already have two volunteers at the table and that the volunteer schedule is up to date. I re-upload it into the group chat to be safe.
Some theater kids give me a wave. I try to wave and quickly look away. They’re too good with their gorey makeup. I remember the large buckets of fake blood they talked about making earlier, and I wonder if all of that ended up on their faces and clothes. I shudder.
“Hey!” Shelly’s voice makes me jump.
She’s dressed as Princess Peach, which tells me her boyfriend is probably coming as Mario. She gives me a wide smile as she looks around.
“You know, I have to say,” she begins with a nod, “this all looks amazing. I think it’ll be a good night.”
“I hope so!” I reply, my voice coming out in a higher pitch than I expected. “I mean… we’ve all worked so hard. And ticket sales were really high, you know?”
I think about adding that it’s just as much (maybe a little more) than last year’s sales, but I refrain.
“I heard!” Shelly exclaims. “And after all those… speed bumps too. You’re, like, really good at working under pressure.”
I try to give a modest shrug.
“It’s a really important trait,” Shelly says, lowering her voice as she leans in so close I can smell her cotton candy perfume. “You know, it’d serve you really well if you were Student Council president.”
I feel my heart skip a beat. I try to hide my excitement, but it’s probably written all over my face. This is practically an endorsement.
“Well, I’ll see you around,” Shelly says, checking her phone. “Looks like people are starting to show up… and I need to find my boyfriend so we can get some good pictures before it gets too crowded.”
I wave goodbye, still too excited to say anything. I can see a crowd of costumed teens stepping up to the ticket tables. I need to double check that everyone knows the hashtags to use on social media, make sure the band is set to take the stage, and do a final sweep in case something happened in the hour it took me to go home and change clothes. Even as I go through the list in my head, I know I’m not looking around constantly for business purposes.
The Bash is in full swing. The Babes in Black are killing it on-stage. I haven’t seen the dance floor empty since they first started playing. I can see a long line formed in front of the Haunted Maze, which I’m still trying to avoid. Judging from the people laughing nervously and clinging to each other (and I swear a couple girls were wiping tears from their eyes), the drama club really kept their promise of making it super haunted.
Fraya, in her long white dress that’s either a bride or the ice princess from the sequel to a kid’s movie, is moodily sipping some frothy green punch. She sees me and gives a cold smile and a nod. I’m hoping that’s her way of admitting defeat, but I’ve known her too long to be too hopeful. She tried faking a heart attack when I was beating her in the sixth grade spelling bee. She’s capable of anything, honestly.
“If looks could kill, right?” a voice says in my ear.
I jump about a foot and turn around quickly. My hair smacks into Bec’s face as she chuckles.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to sneak up on you,” she says with a sheepish smile.
“Huh? What, no, I’m fine,” I say quickly. “I mean, it’s fine.”
Her curls have been straightened and hang about her face. She’s wearing long, fake teeth and a black cloak.
“Are you a vampire?” I ask.
“Is it that hard to tell?” she counters with a toothy grin.
“No,” I say quickly. “It’s just… I—”
“Expected something a little more horror movie-esque?” she guesses. “To be fair, most years I’m a serial killer. But my costumes are packed up in some boxes that have yet to arrive.”
I must have given her a questioning look because the corners of her mouth twitch up.
“When I moved here, we ended up just mailing most of my stuff,” she explains. “Forgetting how slow the postal services can be.” She shrugs. “It was still cheaper than hiring movers, though.”
I nod slowly. I forgot she just moved here, even though it feels like she’s been here forever. She can’t hear me thinking that, but I still feel a flush spread across my cheeks.
“It must be hard,” I say slowly. “Having to move after the school year already started. Leaving all your friends behind.” And maybe a girlfriend too? I almost add but stop myself.
“I was more of a loner there too,” she says with a shrug. “The people were okay to hang out with only during school hours, if you get my drift.” She pauses. “And this place has its perks.”
She’s looking at me when she says this. My flush deepens. Bec clears her throat and glances around.
“I mean, it’s a pretty sick Halloween party,” she says. “Definitely wouldn’t have had this anywhere else.”
“Yeah,” I say breathlessly, looking around too. “We did a great job, didn’t we?”
“You’re the leader,” she replies.
“But you definitely had all the good ideas,” I point out. “It would’ve just been the same old thing if it was up to me.”
“I guess we’re a pretty good team, huh?”
“I guess so,” I say.
Her lips are bright red, which is probably why I keep glancing at them. I really need to find something else to do, I think, before I make a fool of myself.
“We have the same lips,” I say, and immediately wish I could just die on the spot. “Lipstick, I mean. It’s red too.” God, I need to stop.
Bec just grins at me, probably at the fact my cheeks are definitely the same shade as my lipstick now.
“I almost wore purple,” I continue, a voice in the back of my head begging me to shut up. “But it was a gift from last year, and I don’t think I’m a purple-lipstick kinda girl, you know?”
“Oh?” She arches a brow. “And what would a purple-lipstick girl be like?”
Brave. Beautiful. Confident.
“You?” It comes out as a question, and Bec tosses her hair back and laughs.
“Because of the purple highlights?” she asks, gesturing to her hair.
I give an awkward laugh (does that mean I’m agreeing with her?) and fall silent again. She looks around, and I wonder if she’s looking for an excuse to leave me and my big mouth.
“Did you see all the hashtags on social media yet?” I squeak out. “Soooo many hashtags.”
It sounds dumb as soon as it leaves my mouth, but Bec nods. I almost sigh in relief. Better than the lipstick conversation.
“That’s great,” she says. “Oh, and… I have something I wanted to talk to you about.” She clears her throat. “I had an idea, but I don’t know if you’d be down for it.”
“Ash!” Shelly calls out.
I glance over, and she’s waving for me to come over. I give Bec an apologetic look.
“I think the awards are about to start,” I say. “Let me go take care of that real quick, and then we can talk, okay?”
Bec nods with a smile.
“Yeah, of course,” she says. “I’ll see you after.”
I head towards Shelly, who’s made her way to the steps next to the stage. Principal Crowe, in her usual Halloween costume (Oz from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) is holding two white sashes and adjusting her green top hat. She smiles at me.
“Great Bash,” she says. “I’m impressed you were able to get so much done with… well your assigned helper.”
“It wouldn’t have been as great without her,” I reply. “I mean, she had a lot of great ideas and helped build a lot of this.”
“Well, I’m glad she had an outlet for her emotions,” Principal Crowe says, sounding like she doesn’t fully believe me.
The Babes in Black finish their song and bow to the applause. Principal Crowe trots up the stairs and takes the microphone.
“Yes, yes, great performance!” she says, her voice sending a screech over the speakers. “Now, while these lovely ladies take a rest, it’s time for what you’ve all been waiting for.”
The Babes in Black look less than pleased at being called ‘lovely ladies,’ but I quickly hand them a bunch of tickets to go get some snacks. The drummer winks at me as she takes the tickets.
I double check the stage. The spotlight is on Principal Crowe, but there’s a weird line wriggling in the breeze behind her. It looks like something is hanging from the metal rafters, which is impossible because we didn’t hang anything. Or at least, I didn’t approve anything to be hung there.
I swear to God, if someone tried re-decorating after I left this afternoon, I think, feeling my cheeks flush.
“Everyone really went above and beyond with their costumes this year,” Principal Crowe is saying.
“Except you!” A voice in the crowd calls out.
There’s scattered laughter and a few more comments about how old her costume must be.
“Albeit, some costumes were disqualified for being… inappropriate,” Principal Crowe continues, ignoring her hecklers.
I move towards the back of the stage. There’s definitely something hanging from the rafters. Did something come loose? No, because then the whole thing would’ve fallen down (which would definitely end my run for Student Council President).
It looks like rope, I realize. But why would there be rope on the stage? Unless someone forgot to tie something down. I feel my heart race. Principal Crowe is listing off the criteria the faculty used to choose Best Costumes. I try to look calm as I move towards the back of the stage. It’s definitely rope, but it’s not loose. It’s holding something above the stage. I can’t tell what it is, though. It looks just like a blob, due to all the lights.
Just as I debate following the rope to see where it leads, it snaps. I hear screams and turn to look at the stage.
Principal Crowe is covered in red liquid, a silver bucket overturned next to her feet. My stomach clenches and my esophagus feels the punch from earlier crawling up. Then I realize it’s only fake blood.
It still makes me a bit nauseous.
Principal Crowe turns to glare at me. At least, I’m pretty sure she’s glaring under all the fake blood covering her face.
I’m so dead is all I can think. I try to force a smile on my face as I feel everyone looking at me. It’s so quiet I don’t even need a microphone.
“Oh, uhhhhh,” I say, stepping forward onto the stage. “Sorry, Principal Crowe, we, uh… timed your speech to finish earlier than this when we set up the fake blood. Our homage to the classic film, you know?”
I really hope she doesn’t call me on it. And that this kind of thing actually happened in a horror movie. I give an apologetic smile and hope the microphone doesn’t pick up on my racing heart.
The crowd starts clapping slowly. Then, they erupt into cheers. I’m pretty sure most of them are cheering because Principal Crowe just got doused in goo. I force myself to stand still and give a wave. When Principal Crowe says there will be a slight delay in awards while she cleans herself up, I run away.
The girls’ bathroom is empty, which is rare for events. I run into the first stall and slam the door behind me.
I’m dead, I’m dead, I’m dead, my brain says on a loop. I try to smack the voice out of my head, but I just give myself more of a headache. I hear the bathroom door open.
“Ash? Are you in here?”
It’s Bec. I wipe my nose and hope my makeup isn’t too smudged. I open the stall, and she’s sitting at the sinks looking at me with a worried expression.
“That was a pretty good save,” she says. “I’m impressed you could think that quickly on your feet.”
“What can I say?” I mutter glumly, walking out to her. “I guess I know how to respond to pressure.”
She nods. I glance at myself in the mirror. I’ve definitely lost most of the eyeliner on my lower eyelid.
“You’ve gotta admit, though,” Bec continues. “It was pretty satisfying to watch Principal Crowe get soaked.”
I glance at her. There’s a small smile on her face, and she’s looking at me strangely. Like hoping I would agree with her. My mind starts racing.
“The blood,” I say. “Was it a reference to one of your movies?”
“Carrie,” she answers immediately. “A classic. We should watch it sometime.”
“You set up the stage today,” I continue.
Bec’s eyebrows scrunch together.
“I’m not sure I like where this is going, Park,” she says in a low tone.
“Was this what you wanted to tell me earlier?” I ask.
“Your—your… revenge plot against Principal Crowe!” I exclaim.
“What are you talking about?” Bec snaps, but there’s a weird look on her face.
If I had to guess, I’d say it was guilt. I realize how stupid I’ve been. I mean, Bec literally got assigned to work the Bash because of her performative rebellion. And I’d left her unsupervised during most of the setup.
“I can’t believe it,” I say, shaking my head.
“Ash, wait,” Bec begins.
I don’t give her the chance to say anything else. I storm out of the bathroom, almost knocking over Fraya. I don’t know if she was eavesdropping or coming to clean up the red punch she’s obviously spilled on her costume. Probably, she spilled it while laughing at my failure.
“Nice performance, Ash,” she begins in her usual mocking tone.
I don’t stop to exchange pleasantries. Shelly is still by the stage, triple checking her costume, which is luckily untouched by the fake blood being mopped off the stage. I walk to her and wait for the reprimand.
“So, that was… unconventional,” Shelly says slowly, looking around. “I mean, officially, I’d say Principal Crowe is upset about not being warned.” She smiles. “But unofficially, it was so satisfying watching that. I mean, the look on her face.” She chuckles. “It’s so not you, Ash, but everyone loved it.”
“Oh,” I say, still bracing for the other shoe to drop. “Yeah… I guess it’s not something I’d usually do. I should’ve warned everyone… but I thought the surprise would be… better.”
“You should see the videos people are posting,” Shelly says with another laugh. “It’s so good. And Principal Crowe probably won’t punish anyone, or she’d look like a bad sport.”
I almost breathe an audible sigh of relief. At least this won’t be the thing that gets Bec expelled. I shake my head. I shouldn’t be worrying about her. Not after she did this without telling me.
Without meaning to, I glance around. Bec is at the edge of the dance floor, looking at me. Her eyebrows are still scrunched together. I force myself to look away.
“I’ll see if I can find another mop,” I tell Shelly, who’s already turned her attention to someone else. “And do another lap to make sure everything’s running smoothly.”
The Babes in Black come back on stage to entertain the crowd until the awards can resume. I hear their music on the speakers, the crowd cheering, and people laughing. But my party spirit seems to have left me. I wish the Bash would end already.