Julia invited Eric Brooks to Helen's Halloween party. Without Helen's permission. If it had been anyone else she wouldn't have minded, but there's a problem. Eric isn't there for the party. He needs help from Helen, the only person who knows his secret.
This has been expanded into a full book, Anathema. While this scene is included, there are significant changes. You can still read this flash fiction story on its own, though it won't tell you much about what's coming in Anathema!
Image credit: Steve Halama on Unsplash
Helen stared out the window at the rain. What a miserable night for a Halloween party, she thought.
“What is it with you and tea?” a voice said, breaking into Helen’s reverie.
Helen turned to find her friend Julia standing next to the couch. “It’s good,” she said, taking a sip from her mug. “Besides, it fits my costume.”
Julia sat on the couch next to Helen. “You’re just wearing a dress,” she said, straightening her fairy wings. “How is that a costume?”
“And an apron!” Helen protested. “I’m a maid.”
“Oh, right.” She nodded at the rain-soaked window. “I guess Ghost in the Graveyard is out of the question.”
Someone knocked on the door. Julia squealed, “Ooh, he’s here!”
“Who’s here?” Helen asked. “I didn’t invite anyone else.”
“I did!” Julia said, standing and running for the door.
Helen followed. “Who did you invite?”
Julia stopped in front of the door and reached for the doorknob. Helen grabbed her arm.
“Julia! Who did you invite?”
Julia turned from the door with a guilty look on her face. “Eric Brooks.”
“Eric Brooks! This is supposed to be for school friends!”
“But he’s our age. Don’t tell me you don’t like him.”
“It’s not that I don’t like him.”
“Then what’s wrong?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Helen said. Not like you’d believe it, anyway.
Another knock at the door.
“Come on,” Julia begged. “We can’t just let him stand outside in the rain!”
“I don’t see why not,” Helen said, turning away. “He wouldn’t mind.”
“What about his dog?” Julia asked. “You know how much Scout hates rain.”
Helen sighed. “Fine. Let him in. If there’s trouble it’s on you.”
“Don’t blame Eric. Scout was just doing his job. He’s a guide dog.” Julia yanked the door open, revealing Eric, wearing sunglasses as always, with his hand raised, about to knock again.
“Hello, Helen,” he said. He cocked his head. “And Julia, too, right?”
“Right, as usual!” Julia said, grinning. “Come in!”
Eric stepped inside, his guide dog beside him. “Scout, sit,” he said. The dog sat with a sigh, and Eric turned to face Helen. “Scout’s feet are wet. I think he found every puddle on the way here.”
“I’ll get a towel,” Julia said. She ran off, leaving Helen alone with Eric.
“So,” he said. “How have you been?”
“Okay, I guess, considering what happened last time,” Helen said.
“I’m sorry about that,” Eric said. “Sometimes the only way to protect a secret is to tell someone.”
“That still makes no sense.”
“Really. And what would have happened if I hadn’t told you?”
Helen considered that and shuddered. “Nothing good.”
“We probably wouldn’t be around to have this conversation.”
Helen nodded. “Why’d you go with this for your cover story?” she asked.
“Pretending to be blind can’t be easy.”
“I’ve been wearing these, or something similar, for a long time,” he said, gesturing to his dark sunglasses. “That, plus Scout always being with me, made people assume I’m blind. I just went along with it.”
“Then—“ she stopped as Julia came back, fairy wings bobbing, waving a towel in the air.
“I got it!” she said. “Do you want me to dry his feet?”
“No, I’ll do it,” Eric said, holding out his hand.
Julia gave him the towel, and he knelt in front of Scout to dry his feet.
“I’m going to get a soda,” Julia said. “You want anything, Eric?”
“No, thank you,” he said, not looking up.
As soon as she was gone, Helen crouched in front of him, blocking the other guests’ view of their conversation.
“How long do you expect me to keep this secret?” Helen asked in an undertone.
“Forever,” Eric said. He had finished drying Scout’s feet, but didn’t stand.
“Your forever, or my forever?” Helen asked.
“What’s the difference?” Eric asked.
“None anymore, I guess. Why are you here, Aldric?”
“I’ve been wondering that for centuries.”
“Very funny. I meant here, at my party. I doubt it’s because Julia invited you.”
Eric stared at Scout for a long moment, then nodded. “I’m here because I need your help.”
He took off his sunglasses, not turning his gaze from Scout. Helen stared at his eyes, fascinated as she always was by their animalistic strangeness.
He turned his head to look at her. “It’s starting again.”