“Hello?” she called, suspiciously, causing a bubble of laughter to rise up from the direction of the sitting room. Sukie bounded into the corridor, the little witch-hat glued to her hairband wobbling, her mouth coated in shiny red lipstick.
“Happy Hallowe’eeeeeeen!” she shouted in Leigha’s face.
Johnny brought up the rear, wearing a kid’s plastic Frankenstein mask, so small it barely covered the centre of his face. “Welcome to the House of the Dead!” he boomed.
Leigha looked from one friend to the other. “Terrifying,” she intoned, dead-pan, before moving past the gruesome twosome and on into the living area.
Nicky looked up guiltily. Some effort had been made to mitigate the damage; there were plastic bags covering parts of the carpet, each sporting its own pulpy pile of fruity innards. Unfortunately, most of the bare carpet was also looking pretty stained.
Leigha sighed, throwing her bookbag down on the sofa next to Miles. “I forget; did you actually want our damage deposit back on this house when we graduate?”
“Oh Ley, it’ll come right up,” Harriet insisted, looking awkward where she sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the pumpkin wearing a pair of mesh fairy wings.
“This is harder than it looks,” Nicky added in their defence, cat-whiskers drawn on each cheek with black eyeliner. “There’s a lot of pumpkin inside a pumpkin.”
“It seems like such a waste to have just scraped it into a bin bag,” said Adam, casually costumeless on the far sofa. “Maybe we can make some sort of a pie with it, or something.”
“Says Delia Smith in the corner,” retorted Leigha; she put her hands on her hips. “Whatever. I’m not cleaning up.”
“Or we can use it to infuse vodka or something,” proffered Harriet. “We can have people over for themed pre-drinks before the Union night on Friday.”
“That sounds cool,” agreed Sukie. Leigha laughed, her grumpy mood finally ground down by the onslaught of good humour from her friends – and the thought of pumpkin cocktails.
“I’ll get some tealights from my room,” she offered.
“Wow, it looks… really authentic,” Adam said, slowly.
Sukie laughed. “Authentic in the way it looks like a child has carved it, yeah.”
“What’s it actually meant to be? A cat?” asked Miles.
“No, it’s a vampire!” Nicky corrected her boyfriend crossly. “See the fangs?”
“I thought they might be cat fangs,” Mikes explained meekly.
“Maybe it’s a vampire cat?” Johnny suggested, helpfully.
“Either way, it’s a great first try,” Adam cut in.
Harriet rolled her eyes. “Oh, how patronising! Let’s just put the thing outside, clean up and watch that scary film.”
“If we put it outside then we’ll get a torrent of trick-or-treaters,” Sukie pointed out. “We’ll be up and down all bloody night.”
“So? Get into the spirit of things!” countered Johnny. “Ha! Spirit! Spirit of things!”
“Yes, we get it!” Nicky bent down to carefully pick up the pumpkin, aglow with the light of the tealight candles burning inside the hollow. “I’m going to stick it outside on the recycling bin. Just get the DVD on, okay?” She walked towards the front door gingerly, trying to keep the candles from blowing out; Miles trotted ahead to open the front door for her.
“Okay,” said Leigha, moving across to the haphazard pile of DVDs to the left of the television bench. “Let’s watch Hocus Pocus.”
“Uh, no,” scoffed Adam, holding the DVD he’d brought over from the boys’ flat. “The Amityville Horror.”
“Nope. We always watch Hocus Pocus,” Harriet informed them firmly.
“Always,” agreed Leigha, clicking the DVD box open as if that was that.
“Hey now, let’s not be hasty.” Sukie reached for Adam’s DVD. “It’s the remake with Ryan Reynolds.”
Harriet and Leigha exchanged a look.
“How about we watch Amityville after we watch Hocus Pocus?” Harriet suggested.
“Sounds good to me!” agreed Johnny. “Something for everyone.”
“Well, I think that’s about four solid hours of movie.” Adam stretched to pick up his mobile. “Pizza order, anyone?”
Adam stretched the four solid hours – and entire large pizza – out of his frame. Johnny hefted himself up from the other side of the sofa, groaning.
“My bum’s asleep,” he complained. From where she was sat on the floor, Harriet swatted at his shins.
“How do you think mine feels?”
“Catch you ladies mañana,” Johnny yawned, moving out towards the front door to put his shoes on.
“We’ve got a morning critical theory lecture, don’t we?” Adam sighed, wincing at Harriet.
She laughed. “It’s at eleven.”
“Eleven is still the morning.”
“Can you guys shove these empty pizza boxes in the recycling bin as you leave?” Nicky asked, dumping the pile of cardboard into Adam’s arms without waiting for a response. Adam balanced them carefully as he stuffed his feet into his Converses.
“Bye!” both boys called as they stepped out into the autumn night.
Adam nodded towards the recycling bin in the girls’ front garden. “Open that lid up for us mate,” he asked Johnny, who obliged. Adam stuffed the pizza down on top of the bedrock of milk bottles and assorted tin cans before swinging the bin lid closed again.
They were at the garden gate before they suddenly realised; Adam and Johnny swung round in tandem, staring at back at the recycling bin.
The pumpkin was gone.
“Come on guys,” Miles tried again, walking backwards in front of them as the group made their way purposefully down the road. “It’s just a pumpkin. Besides, it’s probably just than an animal has gone off with it.”
“An animal?” Harriet repeated.
“Yeah, like a cat, or something.”
“Miles, that was a twelve pound pumpkin,” Leigha said, scathingly. “Whiskers down the road hasn’t just rolled it off.”
“Not a damn cat,” Sukie said, her mouth set in a grim line as she hunched her shoulders inside her jacket. “Cooper.”
“Cooper?” Johnny repeated, confused.
“Su’s ex-boyfriend,” Nicky explained.
Sukie scoffed. “Ex-boyfriend! We went out for like, a minute, last year. We had sex more times than we went on dates. I don’t think he counts as a boyfriend.”
“I shan’t ask what you do think counts as a boyfriend,” Adam laughed.
“So you think your ex-whatever has stolen our pumpkin?” Johnny asked.
“It’s quite likely considering what we did to him last year,” Harriet pointed out.
“Oh god. Do I even want to know?” groaned Adam.
“Well it was October-time last year when he broke up with Su,” Leigha began to explain.
“We weren’t going out!” Sukie interrupted, exasperated.
“As you can see, it didn’t end amicably,” Leigha continued, ignoring her irate housemate. “So, we, er… We gave him a Hallowe’en trick.”
“We threw toilet paper over his house,” Harriet clarified.
“God, pumpkin carving, TP-ing houses.” Adam rolled his eyes. “You girls watch too many American movies.”
“Whatever.” Sukie picked up her pace. “He lives at the end of this road. And I bet you they’ll have our pumpkin in their front garden. Wait, wait. Yes!” Sukie pointed triumphantly to where a soft orangey glow diffused from a front bay window. “Bastards!”
“Su, wait,” Nicky called, as Sukie jogged the remaining paces to Cooper’s front door and banged on it with the side of her fist. A rumpled looking guy in tartan pyjama bottoms opened the door.
“Is Cooper in?” Sukie asked, without preamble.
“Er, yeah.” The guy blinked. “Coop!” he called over his shoulder. “Some girl for you.” Uninterested, he wandered off back into the depths of the house; Sukie’s face tightened. Harriet moved closer to the house and peered at the pumpkin through the dirty window glass.
“Is that even ours?” she asked; she titled her head to see it from a different angle. “Su, I don’t think this is ours.”
Sukie turned to respond, but then her ex’s lanky frame filled the doorway, drawing her attention back.
“Hey,” he drawled. “Long time no see. You know, you’re a little old to be trick or treating. Plus you should really be wearing costumes.”
“Cut the bullshit, Coop,” Sukie said, rocking back on her heel and folding her arms across her chest, her best go at intimidating. “Just give us the pumpkin. Crap prank by the way.”
Cooper looked genuinely confused. “The pumpkin? What do you want our pumpkin for?” His face cleared in recognition. “You just want to throw it at the roof or something, don’t you, you crazy bitch. What is it with you birds and Hallowe’en?”
“I said cut the crap, gimme the pumpkin.”
“Hi Graham,” Harriet cut in, moving across from the window to take Sukie’s elbow, hoping the use of Cooper’s first name would make her seem authoritative. “Did you take the pumpkin we had outside our house?”
Cooper looked confused again. “Why would I do that?”
“You know…” Harriet sighed when it became clear by Cooper’s blank face that he didn’t. “As revenge? For last year?”
“If I wanted revenge for last year, you’d have woken up with ten tins’ worth of baked beans shoved through your letter box,” Cooper said, bluntly. “Stealing a pumpkin feels a bit Year Seven, don’t you think? Besides…” He brushed his hair back from his forehead like he was bored. “I don’t even remember where you guys live.”
“As if,” Sukie scoffed.
“Look, can I just have a closer look?” Harriet asked. “Then we know for sure.”
Cooper shrugged lazily. “Whatever.” He turned back into the house to fetch the pumpkin in question; Harriet tightened her grip on Sukie’s elbow when she felt the girl tense to charge her way into the house herself. Sukie scowled at her; Harriet shook her head. The pumpkin disappeared from the front window.
“Here,” Cooper said a moment later, holding out the contentious squash. “See? It can’t be yours. My housemate and his girlfriend carved it this morning.”
“Sukie,” sighed Leigha. “This is quite clearly a cat pumpkin.”
“I told you ours looked like a bloody cat!” called Miles.
Sukie was uncharacteristically silent. Harriet let go of her elbow with a sigh.
“Thanks Graham. Sorry for the… inconvenience,” she said, politely.
“Whatever,” Cooper said, hooking the pumpkin casually onto his hip. “Always a pleasure, Sukie,” he said sarcastically, kicking his front door closed with his foot before she could reply.
“He could still have it, you know! It could be in another room. That one could have been a decoy!”
“Su!” Leigha came into the front garden to bodily pull her friend back out onto the pavement. “I think we’re all actually past caring.”
“Yeah, and if he does have it,” Johnny raised his eyebrow, “to be fair, you girls did TP his house.”
“Oh, it was like ten rolls, max,” Sukie grumbled, allowing herself to be piloted towards home.
“Right then,” Adam said, as the group reached the cross-roads between the girls’ home and the boys’. “Always a pleasure!” He smirked as he repeated Cooper’s words. Sukie just rolled her eyes and stomped off towards the house.
“Goodnight!” Johnny called, as he and Adam took the left.
“So much for a quiet Tuesday night in, early to bed,” Adam laughed as they walked down the midnight high street.
“Never a quiet moment now we know those girls,” Johnny agreed. “Hey.” He stopped moving. “Look.”
Adam followed Johnny’s pointing finger to the shadows of a shop front, squinting at the movement there until his eyes adjusted to the change in light. A large black cat turned to stare at them, eyes wide and white reflecting the street lights. Sensing their interest, it arched its back and hissed low and long, guarding its quarry – a large, slightly battered, slightly chewed pumpkin, the design of the carving impossible to make out at this distance.
Adam and Johnny exchanged a look.