With a silent prayer in the direction of whatever divine being watches over this sort of insanity, probably one that’s either really bored or one hell of an asshole, you raise a shaky hand pointing to Jim just as he finally manages to pull himself free from the pillow-case.
“Let’s see what Jim can do.” Victoria raises an eyebrow, and Annabeth smiles, but neither try to correct your decision, strange though it is. It sort of makes sense to you, though. Jim is largely harmless, and somehow imperviously skates through a lot of these shenanigans, so if anyone can quickly think of a good trick that won’t get somebody hurt, it might be him.
“What now? I gotta prank these people?” Jim spits out a few loose threads from his pillow case adventure as he speaks, and you suddenly find yourself questioning the choice.
“Yes,” Victoria tells him. “They have failed to give tribute, violated the rit-”
“Yeah I heard you, prank ‘em.” Jim fishes out a cell phone from the depths of his costume, reaches into the mailbox and pulls out a few uncollected letters, then walks twenty feet away. Five minutes later he returns, slips the mail back into the box, and proudly announces: “Done!”
“Jim, I don’t think ordering a bunch of pizzas to their house is really going to cut it,” you warn him.
“Nah, I got that this had to be super serious, so I pulled out all the stops,” Jim assures you.
“Yet their house remains unaccosted,” Victoria points out.
“Hey, you said prank the people, not the house, so I did. As of now, they’ve been signed up for the fanciest packages offered by every cable company in town, all set to deliver on Monday.” Jim beams at his idea, but Victoria just seems confused.
“You bought them better cable? How is that a prank?”
“I didn’t buy anything, I just signed them up,” Jim says. “Have you ever tried to cancel cable before? Especially the high-end stuff? It’s a super-duper pain in the ass. Now imagine that times four. A flaming bag of dog poo might have wrecked their night, but this will pretty much fuck all of November for them. Or is that not trick enough?”
“No… no that will do it,” Victoria says, looking at Annabeth, who nods her agreement. “If anything, it might be a bit overboard.”
“You tell Jim to swing, I’ma swing with all I got.” On that note, he takes a celebratory pull from his flask and the night continues on.
Rounding the bend into another cul-de-sac off of Carver Street, you watch as Annabeth does walk after careful walk up to the front doors and collects tribute in her pumpkin pail. Lots of other kids, more excited than she is, race past her along the sidewalks and lawns, though none even bump, or even so much as jostle, her. You’re not sure if they can even see Annabeth, or if an instinctual part of their brain knows that something there should be avoided. Probably a good judgement, if so.
Another cul-de-sac finished, and Jim is hanging from a tree, having emptied one of his plastic baggies into his mouth while only you were looking, and now currently certain he has bird-like super human abilities. Annabeth seems entertained enough to slow her methodical pace as he races between limbs at respective houses, insisting that he’s flying.
“You never told me you had a sister,” you remark to Victoria as Annabeth heads up to another doorway while Jim tries to perch like a bird on a much-too-thin limb.
“I have many brothers and sisters,” Victoria replies. “The house of Willowbrook is large, and its branches numerous. Not all of my kin are directly connected to me by blood, but we are bound by something far stronger indeed.”
“Half-sister,” Victoria says. “Same father, obviously, different mothers. And that’s probably as deep as you want to dig, Merlin. I try hard to keep you on the fringes of my world, but can’t be held accountable if you go burrowing in deeper.”
“I’ve survived a lot of crazy shit,” you remind her.
“Which is why I allow you to hang around at all.” Victoria smiles, but that grin fades as Annabeth comes trudging back up the walkway, a concerned expression on her face.
“Another lit the signal and failed to pay tribute.” She jostles her pumpkin pail, which does have things rattling around in it, but they don’t sound like pieces of candy.
“So soon? Merlin, your selection seems to be rather disappointing,” Victoria says.
“That’s really weird, I remember everyone on the Carver Street cul-de-sacs loved Halloween. With a name like that, you sort of have to. I can’t believe there are already so many people out of candy who left the jack-o-lanterns lit.” You look around, and realize that in the distraction of Jim’s quasi-bird antics and talking to Victoria, you failed to notice that the number of children had thinned out dramatically. You can still spot a few here and there, but the night has just begun. The street should be thick with them.
“I don’t want to jump to conclusions here, but does anyone else feel like the area around us just got weirdly deserted?”
Victoria nods, and Jim lets out a squawk that you assume to be one of agreement. Annabeth has the weirdest reaction of all though, she takes a deep breath in through the nose, then looks up at her sister with solemn eyes.
“The unnatural lingers in the air.”
“It’s All Hallows Eve, that’s to be expected,” Victoria responds.
“Not like this,” Annabeth tells her.
“Curious.” Victoria looks at the house, then around at the absence of children, and then at you. “Merlin, we are at a crossroads here. Annabeth’s nose handily trumps my own, so I believe that there is something amiss around us. That does not mean it directly impacts us, however. Regardless, the gathering of tribute is the most important rite of the year. It must be seen through. If we investigate, we lose precious time, but if something is interfering then perhaps we can halt it. Otherwise, we must quickly prank this abode and either continue on as if nothing has happened, or follow the herds of children in hopes that they will lead us to houses paying tribute. Thus far there have only been two homes, hardly a damning case. You know this neighborhood and its habits well. What should we do?”
Oh great, just a mysterious presence and the most important ritual of her whole family’s year. No pressure, right?