Wanda Lamb could think of a hundred and one places she’d rather be at this very moment.
She could be in the library, cramming in a few stories before closing time.
She could be in her living room, watching TV with mom and dad.
She could be in her basement, where all her video games were.
She could be in her bedroom, underneath her sheets, with a pen, paper, and ink, drawing her own little ghosts and ghouls, illuminated by nothing but the beam of a flashlight.
And so on.
But no, instead, she was freezing her fingers and toes off in the heart of a graveyard, in the middle of October, all because she wanted to join some stupid club.
The Haunts were the most exclusive club in school, and they only accepted new members in the month of October. You could not nominate yourself to be one of the Haunts. They had to come to you. Nick, the leader of the Haunts, sat across from Wanda at lunch one day.
“That’s a nice drawing,” he observed, peering over Wanda’s hands attempting to shield her work in progress. It was a pale woman with stringy hair, no pupils, and a gaping black hole for a mouth.
“Thank you,” whispered the chronically shy Wanda, pulling her drawing closer to her, like a protective mother.
“We’ve been watching you, Wanda Lamb. The Haunts think you’d be a perfect addition to the club. What do you think?” Wanda could only nod her head in response, flabbergasted. Nick gave her a toothy grin. “Excellent. We’re doing initiations a little differently this year. Meet us outside the Golden Leaf Cemetery tonight. Details will be provided there.” Without waiting for a response, Nick hopped off the bench and disappeared back into the school, leaving Wanda alone with her drawing.
Now she was following Nick through the Golden Leaf Cemetery, with members of the club surrounding her on all sides. They had shown up in black hoods and cloaks, concealing their faces. Only Nick took his hood off when they finally reached a large, weathered tombstone. The name and dates had faded from its face. All the other places where she could be in that moment still lingered in Wanda’s mind. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to become a Haunt. She had dreamed about it since freshman year, but why did it have to be like this? Wanda had a feeling in the pit of her stomach that something bad was about to happen. Nick held up the lantern he had carried inside high above his head.
“Behold, Haunts, the grave of Agnes Zelle, founder of the Order of the Haunts,” Nick bellowed in a surprisingly deep voice, “were it not for her guidance, we would be lost. She speaks to us all in the darkest crevices of our hearts and souls. This season, she has requested a soul sacrifice, and so, Dear Agnes,” Nick cast his eyes lovingly at the tombstone, “we bring you the fresh soul of a virgin, a nobody who will not be missed, to slake your bloodlust. May it serve you well.”
Before Wanda had time to react, the snickering Haunts behind her grabbed her shoulders and shoved her onto the ground before the tombstone, the smell of wet earth and moss filling her nostrils. She saw Nick out of the corner of her eye, lean down, and grab the back of her neck, holding her face down to the dirt. Now Wanda was truly upset that she’d come out tonight. What on earth made her think she was cool enough to join the Haunts. She should have realized this was a trick all along, a plan to simply humiliate her. While the Haunts around her laughed up a storm, her eyes felt hot as tears welled up in them and fell into the dirt before her.
A moment later, something rose from the dirt. It looked like smoke, but it had an inhuman, blue glow about it. The laughter around her turned into stunned silence. The blue smoke licked the sides of her face, entering her mouth and nostrils. Strangely enough, the sensation sent a wave of calm through her. The smoke continued to rise, leaving Wanda.
Then the screaming began.
The hands that held her down released her. Wanda sat up to see the ghost of Agnes Zelle floating before them. She looked like the ghoul in her drawing. The face had come to her in a dream the night before. Nick was kneeling next to Wanda, his eyes turned upward to the ghost before them, glazed over in rapturous wonder.
“Oh my god, the legends were true!” he screamed, his arms outstretched to Agnes. Agnes’ cold, empty eyes turned to Nick. Her lifeless, spidery fingers, reached out and wrapped themselves around his neck. Nick fell silent, fear in his eyes. “Agnes?” he asked in a mousy voice before she lifted his body from the ground and held his face close to hers. She opened her mouth to reveal a gaping void. Blue smoke was sucked from the boy’s face, into the void, as he let out an endless scream.
Nick’s pupils bled like wet paint, his skin melted like wax, his hair grew long and white. Everyone stood back as they watched the formerly muscular boy turn to a withered, skeletal corpse in five seconds flat. Agnes let go of Nick, and his remains crumpled to the ground like an empty leather sack. While the other Haunts ran off into the night, their screams echoing through the dark, Agnes looked to Wanda, still stunned and lying on the ground. She nodded to the girl respectfully before evaporating into the cold October air. Wanda sat before the grave in stunned silence for a long time before finally running back home. As the wind blew against her face, she began to laugh. She may have been a lamb, but unlike Nick, she was actually worthy.