Chapter 78

                Mary rather liked the floppy hat. Outside her room, she could hear the bustle of everyone else scrambling to get ready, but she’d decided to don her costume alone. Despite the simplicity of it, she’d settled on a witch outfit with lots of layers, swirling greens and purples amidst the fabric’s dominant black coloring. Though Alice had tried to protest it didn’t come with a mask, Mary disproved the point by adding a matching scarf that she’d wound around the bottom of her face, concealing her nose and everything below it. True, she’d need a crazy straw if she tried to take a drink of anything, not that there would be many non-alcoholic options, but it was a worthwhile inconvenience to complete the look.

                Though there had been dozens of add-ons for her witch costume, everything from broomsticks to stuffed black cats, the hat had been the only piece Mary wanted. There was something about the battered dark accessory that she just enjoyed. Perhaps it was the worn material, or the false-aging, or the way the conical top refused to stay aloft, flopping to the side with seemingly no pattern. Regardless, it had charmed her, and as she took in the effect of it plopped atop her head, adding to the costume as a whole, Mary was quite content with her purchase.

                Despite what lay ahead in their night: putting Alice under, hoping to meet the dream-walker, and the very scant chance of uncovering some answers; Mary planned to enjoy the party beforehand. Though the others knew it too, none of them were as aware as she was of the coming change. No matter what happened at the end of the year, who passed and who failed, there would never be a time in their lives like this again. Even if everyone became Heroes, there would be fewer chances for carefree frivolity, and life would push them in different directions, forcibly drifting them apart.

                Come this time next year, everyone would be celebrating Halloween in a new way, ideally without the annual curse. Some might be better, some might be worse, but none would have a Halloween quite like it was when they lived in Melbrook Hall with their closest college friends. Even with all the tasks that would muddle up the later part of the evening, Mary was determined to enjoy herself.

                There was only so much time left like this, and she refused to knowingly waste any of it.

*             *             *

                The common room of Melbrook was a flurry of activity as costumes were donned, props sought out, and final adjustments made to everyone’s particular outfits. Amidst the madness, Alice was the lone exception, her own costume hidden away inside a garment bag hanging on a rack in her room, right next to Nick’s. She’d decided to do her unveiling along with him. It seemed only fair, given that she’d been given power over picking his ensemble for the evening. And she could hardly wait to see his face when he realized what she’d selected.

                Instead of primping herself, however, Alice focused on helping the others get ready so they could make it to Nick’s early. She and the host would need time to change, and everyone else felt like they should help set up since Nick had been gracious enough to house the event. Plus, arriving early allowed them to scout for any traps he might have planned, designed to snare them into watching horror schlock without means for escape.

                “Vince, hold still for a minute, your straps are twisted in the back,” Alice commanded, grabbing Vince by the shoulder and dragging him over to the couch. He was clad in a purple and silver unitard with a matching mask, though the jacket draped over his arm betrayed his intent to cover up whenever possible. The ensemble paired well with Hershel’s, though he’d opted for a vest and shorts a size too big to accommodate for the eventual shift into Roy. Her hands moving quickly, Alice uncrossed the straps running diagonally across Vince’s back and patted him on the shoulder to let him know he was good to go.

                Looking down, Alice noticed she’d seated herself on a long stretch of white material. With an annoyed grunt, she hopped up, grabbed the fabric, and held it aloft. “Camille! I’ve got your lab coat over here if you’re still looking for it.”

                “Thanks.” The small woman seemed to materialize out of the crush of larger bodies, clad in green scrubs with a matching mask. Surgeon wasn’t a particularly glamourous outfit, but it came with a mask and Alice appreciated the inside joke, so she hadn’t given Camille too much of a hard time about her outfit choice.

                “Don’t thank me, just keep up with it. Where the hell is Mary, this crap is her job?” Alice said, sweeping the room to see if their de facto den mother had emerged yet.

                “Perhaps that’s why she’s taking her time,” Chad suggested. “She wanted to foist the role on someone else for a change.” He, at least, had required no assistance. Chad had selected a simple one-piece jumpsuit, meant to look like an Air Force pilot, along with a flight helmet to obscure everything aside from his mouth. Despite the fact that Alice knew without asking it was the first thing he’d happened to see at the store, the damn thing still fit him well. Were Angela around, there would have been cat-calling and wolf-whistles, and Alice had a hunch if the new Hero saw any pictures then Chad might have to pack his costume for the next time he visited her.

                “You could be right, revenge for all the shopping trips.” Alice began heading to Mary’s room, intent on dragging the telepath out by force if needed, when an intruder stepped through the front door. Alice didn’t recognize him at first, no great shock given the flowing black outfit and mask, but she did see the sword on his hip. In an instant, she was focusing on his gravity, ready to throw him against the wall.

                “Hey Alex,” Hershel called, waving at the mysterious man in black. “You were almost late.”

                Slowly, Alice began to pick up on a few of the features jutting out from the bottom of the mask, and she realized it was indeed Alex, not some poor bastard burglar who’d chosen the worst possible dorm to rob. Upon closer inspection, the sword handle was clearly plastic, though the rest of the outfit still looked pretty authentic.

                “Geez, you startled me,” Alice said. “Who the hell are you supposed to be? Ghost of a ninja-bandit?”

                “No, he’s the Dread Pirate Roberts.” More than one set of eyes turned to the source of the explanation, not because it was such rare knowledge, but rather because it was Vince, of all people, who offered it up. Even he seemed to be aware of the situation’s oddness; generally he needed things from movies and television explained, this was an unusual opposite.

                “I… um… the movie was…”

                “Princess Bride was one of Sasha’s favorite movies,” Alex said, mercifully taking the focus off Vince. “I’m guessing she made him watch it a few times. She and I had joked about the idea of doing a duet costume, so when I saw this… sorry, I didn’t mean to bum anyone out.”

                “I think it’s a lovely gesture, Alex.” Mary had finally left her room, covered in full witch regalia and almost unrecognizable if not for those amber-colored eyes. “Now, who else needs help with their costume? We need to get going if we don’t want to miss the start of the party.”