It was the twenty-ninth when Lyle approached Seth and Jason after school. The blond teenager had grown two feet over the two years, having surpassed both boys. Jason waved and Seth tugged on his backpack that was slung over one shoulder.
"Hey, guys," Lyle greeted. "I'm glad I caught up with you." He ran a hand through his thin tresses. "Are you guys busy Saturday night?"
"Halloween?" Jason asked. Receiving a nod from the blond, he shrugged and answered, "I don't have anything to do."
Seth adjusted the heavy bag as he thought over the one day he looked forward to every year. Ever since the prank he pulled two years prior, he had lost any interest in attempting to scare.
His mother was happy to see him excelling at his classes, and having finally put away those childish desires. The sketchbook was forgotten, along with the legend of Jack Skellington.
"You remember my cousin Reggie?" Lyle asked. The two nodded at the memory of meeting the mentioned at Lyle's family barbecue during the summer. "He's having a Halloween party at his place this weekend, and he said you guys are welcome to attend."
"Cool!" Jason exclaimed.
Reggie was a sophomore at the local university. They each had less than a year until they attended college themselves, but being invited to a college party was not something that everyone in their grade could brag about.
"I don't know," Seth answered.
"Oh, come on," Jason argued. He gently smacked his friend on the arm. "Dude, you've always loved Halloween. Are you really going to turn this down?"
Seth thought it over for a few seconds then sighed. Sure Halloween had lost most of its glamour with his rising age, but he figured it would be fun to have one last memory associated with the holiday before he entered the real world.
Saturday night arrived.
Seth and Jason arrived at Lyle's house six minutes after seven. Seth was dressed in a black suit, along with a silver wizard hat and matching cape. A red medallion hung around his neck. It was nothing exceptional as he had done in the past, but it was something recycled from a previous costume.
Jason had Lyle apply makeup for a fake stab wound, with the plastic knife handle protruding from his neck. He had the fortune of having turned eighteen a full week before the holiday, making him more likely to be embraced by the college students.
Lyle complimented the both of them. They too applauded his rock star costume. Lyle brushed off the praise with the excuse of it being something he threw together from several items from his closet. Seth wondered how long it took him to spike his short locks, but chose not to ask.
They rushed over to Lyle's car. With Jason in the passenger seat, Seth in the back, and Lyle taking the wheel, they began their travel. The mutually appreciated alternative rock song made the ride seem shorter. Less than ten minutes later, Lyle parked in the grass of a single story townhouse.
Seth stared at the small building with both excitement and nerves. He stayed close to his friends wondering if he should have stuck with his original choice.
Reggie greeted his cousin with a half hug then welcomed the other two inside. The host introduced the high school seniors to several of his friends before mingling with those closest to him. Lyle was quickly approached by someone he knew through Reggie. The two remaining made their way to the buffet.
Seth raised an eyebrow at the choice of décor. The room was filled with standard Halloween party clichés. The cheap cobwebs were already drooping, and one rubber bat had fallen off its string. The black and orange streamers were tangled, reaching across the ceiling. Of course the place was dimly lit with a rotating disco ball lamp of multiple colors on the corner table.
Jason handed Seth a solo cup filled with punch. He sniffed the contents before slowly taking a few sips. The taste was bland, but none of the other guests seemed to be complaining.
"Where'd Lyle go?" Seth asked.
Jason pointed to where the mentioned was speaking to a group of four. From their expressions they seemed charmed with the conversation. Seth shook his head then downed the red liquid. He tossed the empty cup into the nearby trashcan then glanced over the food, despite having eaten a late lunch.
The brunette turned to speak with his friend to see him talking with a girl. She was attractive, dressed as a bunny, and her laugh drowned out the speakers. Seth decided to move aside and give his friend a moment with the pretty stranger.
Several minutes passed with Seth sitting down on the soda-stained couch. The person sitting next to him kept bumping him in the ribs with his elbow. The first few times he apologized, but Seth figured he must have grown immune to the sensation of jabbing another person.
The teenager lifted himself from the seat. Not two seconds later his spot was taken by a guest who looked to be mildly intoxicated. Seth took one last look over at Jason to see him speaking with a small group of women, and Lyle was no longer in his visual range. He strongly wished he had went with his initial decision.
He maneuvered through the crowd and reached the front door. He stepped out onto the porch for fresh air, leaning on the metal railings. He looked up to see a group of five children making their way up the driveway. Seth looked around and saw a tiny, plastic bowl with painted spider webs and cartoon spiders sitting on a green lawn chair. He handed several pieces to each child, all of whom thanked him before running off to meet with their chaperone.
Seth placed the bucket back on the chair. He heard a rustling sound coming from the bushes at the front of the yard and got an eerie feeling that he was being watched. He pondered if Lyle, or Jason were planning something, but doubted they'd leave the party to pull a "childish" prank. Most likely it was a neighbor's cat running through the plants.
Seth was about to go back inside when he saw the entire bush move and a shadow creeping behind it. He ventured out to get a better look. A part of him hoped it was one of his friends, or another who's plans he could ruin, but on the other hand he worried about the odds of it being a serious threat.
Seth pushed the branches in the bush only to find it void of any living creature. He felt a presence directly behind him and spun around to find emptiness. Slender fingers drummed on Seth's shoulder, making him jump. Seth turned his head expecting to find Jason or Lyle smiling in success. Seth already had an idea for retaliation, but was met with vacant space.
Someone jumped up behind Seth and roared causing Seth to scream and drop to the ground. Seth glanced up to see a tall figure glaring down at him.
For several seconds Seth could only stare with his mouth agape. He inhaled deeply before visibly relaxing. His lips curved into a smile.
"Okay, I admit it, you got me," Seth said trying to hide the irregular breathing. He shifted and wiggled his left foot. "But know that revenge will be tenfold."
The figure only laughed menacingly. It was at that moment Seth realized that the figure before him was way too thin to be Lyle, or anyone else in existence.
"You're not Lyle?" Seth asked.
The darkened figure shook his head.
"Jason," Seth tried.
Again he was answered with a slow shake of the head. In the darkened area all Seth could see was the pinstriped suit and a large, inhuman smile. From where he sat the eyes appeared to be black holes that mesmerized him into staying still.
"Who are you?" Seth asked, barely able to hear his own voice. "What do you want with me?"
It seemed impossible for the grin to grow, but the stranger managed. Seth hurriedly scooted away from the advancing figure. His back pressed against the slim pole of the streetlamp. Never before had he felt such gratitude towards an inanimate object.
With the aid of the new light, Seth lifted his gaze onto the creature standing before him. It had to be nearly seven feet tall. The man's waist rivaled the width of the lamp that currently supported him. His breathing hitched at what appeared to be a skeleton mask glaring down at him.
The skeleton hunched over and stretched out his long, slender fingers. Were it not for the pounding of his heart, Seth would have complimented the man's attention to detail. They reached for the teen. Whether he intended to strangle, or to kidnap him, Seth could not tell, but wished for any interference.
His hazel eyes fell on the house to find the porch vacant of any onlookers. He quickly darted his attention back to that grinning creature. Those same blank sockets tried to lure him to madness. His gaze fell on the porch again. Everyone resided safely inside, leaving none to rush to his rescue.
He opened his mouth to scream for help, but noticed his inability to speak. He inhaled again, but his throat was clogged. On the third attempt, the best he could manage was a fragile squeak.
"What are you?" Seth wheezed. "You can't be human."
"You're correct," the skeleton cackled right before his head lulled forward and toppled to the grass below.
Seth quickly stood, still unable to scream. He watched with wide eyes as the skull rolled to a stop right before his shoes. The eyes squinted and the mouth separated to release a shrieking laugh. The mortal shut his eyes, and clamped his hands over his ears to no avail. That sound was engraved into his memory, taunting him with each passing second.
In a loud whisper, Seth heard the skull speak, "I win, Seth. Bow to the true Pumpkin King."
Jack smiled at the sight of the broken boy before him. He reached over and grabbed the skull, putting it back in place, then stretching his spine.
The boy stared at the skeleton. It was him, the man from the legend, his inspiration for years, the one who had forged his love for all things Halloween. Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King. And he dared to challenge him.
Jack stopped when he heard Seth fall to the ground, gasping for air.
"Help!" Seth cried grasping Jack's leg. "Please, help me." Jack's smirk fell. "I can't stop shuddering!" Seth cried. "Make it stop! Make it stop!"
The skeleton was so used to death and immortality, he found himself at a loss for words. He knelt down beside the human, unaware of what to do.
"Just take a deep breath," Jack said clutching Seth's shoulders.
"C-c-can't b-br-breathe," Seth said.
"Just lay down," Jack said trying to think of what to do.
Seth went unconscious. Jack shook the boy hoping to wake him, but had no success. He pinched Seth's cheek and still got no reaction. Jack waved his hand over Seth's face to discover a lack of breath.
"Oh no," Jack said.
He shook the boy again, hoping for any kind of response. He knew the challenge that one would be, but never before had his performances caused that kind of reaction. Another shake with the same failed results.
"What have I done?" he asked himself in a mournful tone.
Suddenly Jack heard Seth cackle.
A mixture of relief, anger, and embarrassment came over the skeleton. The human pushed his way out of Jack's arms and sat on his knees, that same triumphant smirk from two years ago returned. He had returned.
"That's not something to joke about!" Jack snapped.
"I know," Seth said slightly ashamed. Nonetheless, he could not hide his grin of victory. Both pride and nerves forced from his lips, "Maybe you should bow to the true Pumpkin King."
Jack found himself speechless.
After a few beats of silence he replied, "I wouldn't get too cocky." A smile returned and he added, "But it does seem that we're even…for now."
"I'm up for a rematch anytime," Seth said as he rose to his feet.
To that, Jack replied, "Be extra cautious next Halloween."
"The same to you," retorted Seth.
The teenager extended his gloved hand. Jack stared for a moment before taking the mortal's hand in his own. Seth's breathing hitched at the feel of bones, grateful for the leather protection.
"I feel I might see you around again someday," Jack said. "You have potential." At the end of those words he vanished into the emerging fog.
With a lofty smile, Seth turned to make his way back to the house. Almost immediately he was greeted by the faces of his friends.
"There you are," Lyle said as he approached. "We've been looking for you."
"Sorry," Seth said. "I just stepped out for some air."
"Tell somebody next time," Jason snapped.
Lyle sighed and allowed himself to smile once again. "Have you had a good time?"
"This has been the most interesting Halloween in a long time," Seth said with a grin. He looked over at the area Jack Skellington had occupied not two minutes ago. "I think tonight has rekindled my love for this holiday."
"Good to hear," said Jason.
They headed back towards the house.
Seth suddenly stopped. Both pairs of eyes fell on the other. They noticed him looking at something in the sky with a frightened expression.
"What's wrong?" Lyle asked.
"Don't move," Seth whispered slowly.
The brunette shakily pointed to the sky. After a short deliberation with themselves, the two gave into curiosity and followed where their friend's finger highlighted. As they looked up at the dim stars in the foggy sky, Seth simultaneously grabbed their shoulders, making them scream.
They both glared at their friend.
"I had to get at least one joke in this year," Seth said laughing.
At that moment neither of them could stay angry, for they were glad to have their friend back to his normal self. Besides, they could expect nothing less from their King of Halloween.