I haven’t been anywhere near Bat Manor since I was a teenager, but I know I’ll never be able to forget it—no matter how hard I try. The abandoned, rundown mansion sat just off the south edge of a remote, dead-end street in the suburb where I grew up. Nicknamed by the neighborhood kids for the winged mammals that infested it, Bat Manor was the last place the six-year-old Tate twins were seen before they disappeared.
The Tate twins and their parents had lived in one of the only houses near Bat Manor. According to local legend, the twins had wandered out of their front yard late one evening while their mother wasn’t looking. The next time she caught sight of them, they were entering the mansion. The door closed behind them. Mrs. Tate ran after them but couldn’t get the door open. Of course, the police searched the house and did a thorough investigation. Yet no trace of the twins was ever found.
Bat Manor had always been the subject of wild stories and speculation among us kids. But after the twins vanished, even stranger rumors began to circulate. Many of us thought it was haunted. Others believed it to be inhabited with perverted old drunks and bums who liked to have their way with children. A few swore it was a haven for vampires, hence the bats.
The encounter my friends and I had with Bat Manor occurred on my thirteenth Halloween, just six months after the mysterious disappearance of the Tate twins. Ironically, I can remember thinking about the twins before we went out that night. Then again, I can recall many little details—like my best friend Tina’s addition of the final touches to her costume—that seemed insignificant at the time, but that are now so vividly impressed in my memory, I know I will never forget them.
As Tina painted bright, red lipstick on her puckered lips before the dresser mirror, I saw her brown eyes fall on my reflection behind her. “I like your costume. You look just like Alice-in-Wonderland.”
“Thanks.” I approached the mirror, smoothed out my baby blue and white dress, and adjusted the matching blue headband in my long, blonde hair. “But it’s nowhere near as awesome as yours.”
Tina, who wore a black dress that reached to her ankles and matching shoes, turned to face me. She tossed her cascading dark hair back from her powdered white face and bared plastic fangs stained red with fake blood. “Ooh, you fink so, my dea’?” she sneered with a melodramatic, evil cackle.
“Yeah,” I giggled. “You make the perfect vampire.”
As Tina ran her brush through her hair, I said, “I can’t believe your parents are actually letting us trick-or-treat with Brad and…”
Tina whirled around and clamped her hand over my mouth. “Sssssh!” she whispered. “They don’t know!”
I whispered back, “You mean we’re going out alone tonight with our boyfriends behind their back?”
“Of course.” Tina rolled her eyes as if it should have been the most obvious thing in the world. “My parents think thirteen’s too young to have a boyfriend, just like yours. That’s why I came up with this stupid trick-or-treating thing.”
Brad and John, also best friends, were our “boyfriends” at the time; Brad was Tina’s, and John was mine. Our parents allowed us to go out together only under the circumstances that we always double dated and had one parent chaperone us. Tina had put the Halloween outing together, though, and I’d assumed that she’d somehow swayed her parents into making an exception. Of course, I should have known better than to assume anything when it came to Tina.
Tina went on, “We’re way too old for trick-or-treating. But since we have the un-coolest parents in the universe, this is the only way I could think of for us to go out alone with our boyfriends Halloween night. So keep your mouth shut about them. But that reminds me…”
“What?” Tina opened her jewelry box and pulled out a gold ankle bracelet. “Wow, that’s pretty. Where did you get it?”
“Brad, of course. I wouldn’t want him to think I don’t like it.” As Tina reached down and fastened it around her ankle, she added with a sly smile, “He gave it to me on my birthday.”
“But I don’t remember seeing Brad or any other boys at your party.”
“Yeah, my parents wouldn’t let me invite boys. So that night, I sneaked out my bedroom window and met him.”
I cracked up laughing. “Tina, you’re so bad! Almost as bad as that kid who replaced all the milk in the cafeteria with cans of coke today.”
“My dear, naïve friend.” Tina opened her closet door. On the closet floor sat a burlap bag filled with the school’s pint-sized, multi-colored milk cartons. “Never underestimate the powers of the best.”
“Tina!” I squealed, nearly falling on the floor laughing. “Whatever made you think of such a thing?”
“Everyone was getting sick of drinking milk at lunch everyday, especially me. I complained, somebody dared me to do something about it, and I did.”
“You never turn down a dare, do you?”
“Who, me? The greatest daredevil in school?” Tina shot her hand up in the air and cried triumphantly, “Never!”
What I said to her next still haunts me: “You know, Tina, that’s going to get you into serious trouble one of these days.”
“Tina!” her mother called. Mrs. Stevens’s footsteps sounded on the stairs.
“Crap!” Tina whirled around and yanked at the burlap bag.
Her mother opened the door. “Hi, girls. Are you two almost ready?”
“Hello, Mrs. Stevens,” I said. “Yes, ma’am, we’re ready now.”
Mrs. Steven’s eyes fell on Tina. Tina, who had not had time to hide the bag, held it closed with both hands. “Tina, what on earth are you doing with that big bag?”
“It’s for my candy.”
Mrs. Stevens frowned in suspicion. “It looks like it’s already full.”
“Just some old junk I was going to throw away on our way out. Aren’t you always after me to clean out my closet?”
“Yes, dear, but—”
“Mo-ther, we’re running late.” Tina began to drag the heavy bag across the floor. She stopped and turned to me. “Give me a hand, will you?”
“Hold on just a minute, young lady,” Mrs. Stevens frowned.
Tina rolled her eyes and gasped in exasperation, “Mother, we have to before everyone beats us to the good candy!”
“I just wanted to remind you—”
Tina again cut her off, reciting, “Stay in the neighborhood, don’t get in the car with anybody, don’t go to any boys’ houses, look both ways before crossing the street, and be home by nine. We’ve been over this at least nine hundred times. Is that all?”
“You’re forgetting the most important thing.”
“Whatever you do tonight, stay away from that run-down old house where the Tate boys disappeared.”
“You mean ‘Bat Manor’?” Tina tossed her hair indignantly. “Ha! You don’t have to tell me that twice! There’s no way I’m going anywhere near that creepy old place after what happened.”
As we dragged the bag down the stairs, I asked Tina, “Have you heard anything else about the twins lately?”
“No. The police still haven’t found anything. But I heard they’ve got Mrs. Tate under medical observation and might lock her in the loony bin.”
“Why?” We stopped just long enough at the foot of the stairs for Tina to open the front door. “She’s not crazy.”
“Other people sure think she is. In a way, I agree,” Tina said as we drug the bag through the open doorway. “I mean, there was no evidence of foul play in the house, and Bat Manor has always been locked up tight, even before the disappearance. In fact,” she continued, closing the front door behind us, “some people, including a few psychiatrists, are beginning to say that the kids never went inside Bat Manor at all. They say maybe Mrs. Tate was so upset when she found them missing from the yard that she just hallucinated the whole thing about them going inside the house. Like the shock drove her over the edge or something.”
“I don’t know.” I argued, as we continued pulling the bag down the driveway and toward the street. “I heard that the door of Bat Manor is bloodstained because she beat her hands so hard against it trying to break it down. That’s an awfully strong hallucination, if you ask me.”
We stopped to catch our breath. Tina frowned at the bag. “What am I going to do with all this milk?” Before I could reply, she pointed down the street. “Hey! There’s Brad and John now!”
Sure enough, a few yards away, I saw Brad and John moving up the sidewalk. Brad spotted us and waved. He was dressed like some sort of prince or king. He wore a funny plastic crown on his blonde head, a purple cape, and around his thin waist, a sheath with a long at his waist that held a long, plastic sword. He looked ridiculous, but cute nevertheless. He whistled a tune, his baby blues twinkling as he strode toward us. Even from a distance, I could tell the large bag he held was full of candy.
John, on the other hand, had left his pale, freckled face and dark hair exposed and wore merely a black T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. I guessed he was going as himself. He hung his head down and fixed his brown eyes to the ground as he skulked along behind Brad, who turned back every so often to rush him along. Though John held a small bag, it appeared to be empty.
“Let’s go,” Tina whispered, “before they come this way. If my mother sees them, she’ll have a conniption.”
Still dragging Tina’s bag, we hurried down the street in the boys’ direction. Though my bag was empty, carrying both it and part of Tina’s bag was tedious. By the time we finally reached them, I was out of breath. “Hey,” I gasped, before sinking onto the edge of the curb.
Tina sure didn’t seem to be lacking energy. She released her end of the bag, pulled Brad toward her, and greeted him with a long, openmouthed kiss, right there in the middle of the street. “Hi, sweetie.”
“Hey,” Brad grinned, his fair face beet red.
“I’m wearing the ankle bracelet you gave me,” Tina gushed. “See?” She lifted up her skirt, much higher than necessary to show the bracelet. “Like what you see?”
Brad’s eyes widened and moved up her leg. “I sure do!”
John sat down beside me on the curb. “Hey.”
“Yeah. Helping Tina haul that big bag around wore me out.”
“Wow,” whistled Brad, admiring the closed bag. “Looks like you racked up, Tina.”
“Yeah,” giggled Tina. “But not on candy.” She opened the bag to reveal its contents. “Milk, anyone? Warm, cafeteria milk?”
Brad grinned. “So you’re the infamous milk thief. I should’ve known. I’m guessing you swiped the cokes from the school store, too, huh?”
“How on earth did you pull off the switch?”
“Oh, now, you can’t expect me to reveal all of my secrets, can you?”
“Why not?” scoffed John. “You’ve revealed almost everything else tonight.”
“Shut up, John,” Tina snapped.
“Make me. I dare you.”
Brad and I exchanged grim glances. Since they both Tina and John had reputations as the most daring kids in school, taking on any dare, one would think they’d have something in common and make natural allies. But, quite the contrary, they never got along. Whenever the four of us hung out together, Brad and I never could keep Tina and John from arguing and ultimately trying to “out-dare” each other. Maybe it was a personality conflict. Maybe John was jealous of Tina’s relationship with his best friend. Or maybe, just maybe, John saw Tina, whose accepted dares were usually bolder than his, as a threat to his own dare-devil reputation. Especially because Tina was a girl. Whatever the case, it always put a damper on things. All we could do was try to sidetrack them from their confrontations as much as possible.
That night, I made the first attempt. “Hey, have you guys gotten any candy yet?” With Brad’s bulging trick-or-treat bag, it was a pretty stupid question. But it was all I could think of.
“I sure have.” To show us, Brad opened his bag. It was filled almost to the top. “I meant to wait for you two, but I guess I got a bit carried away.”
“That’s okay,” Tina replied. “Trick-or-treating was really an excuse I came up with so we could see you guys.”
“Lying. Typical,” John remarked.
Tina opened her mouth to retaliate. I quickly cut her off. “And did you get a lot of candy, too, John?”
“Nah. Trick-or-treating’s for babies.”
“Then it suits you perfectly,” Tina smirked.
John leapt to his feet and glared at Tina. “You think you’re such a badass.”
“I don’t think it…I know it. What I did today proves it.”
“Big deal. Nobody was even around or saw you.”
“Bet you can’t top it.”
“Bet I can.”
Brad attempted the next diversion. “Who wants some candy?”
It didn’t work. Ignoring him, John asked, “Dare me?”
“I dare you.”
“Give me a carton of that milk. The chocolate.”
Tina handed John a carton of chocolate milk. John strode purposefully across the nearest lawn, that of the Smith family. He opened the milk carton and poured the full contents into the stone birdbath. As the water changed to milky brown, he sneered, “See? That’s right out in the open, in our own neighborhood.”
Tina laughed. “That’s nothing! Nobody even saw you outside of us.” She pointed behind the birdbath at the Smith’s house, indicating the closed garage and the drawn curtains. “And the Smiths are out of town all week. By the time they get home, that’ll be gone.”
“Then do something better. I dare you…” John’s eyes searched the street and fell on ten-year-old Thaddeus Wilbanks, the most annoying, spoiled brat in our suburb. Whenever anyone would try to put Thaddeus in his place, he would run home and tattle to his parents, wealthy, local politicians who believed their child was a perfect angel. Nothing Thaddeus did, no matter how horrible, seemed worth challenging at the price of his parents’ wrath.
John finished, “…I dare you to pour a carton of milk on Thaddeus’s head.”
Tina countered, “I dare you to pour a carton of milk on Thaddeus’ head and steal his candy.”
“Your dare,” said John.
The words had scarcely left John’s lips before Tina pulled out a carton of milk. Holding it behind her back with one hand and dragging the bag along the sidewalk with the other, she strode purposefully toward Thaddeus.
Thaddeus sneered, “What do you want, Dog Face?”
Tina beamed, “Why, to offer you the deal of your life, Thaddeus!” She pulled the bag of milk into his view, still holding it closed. “I’ll trade my bag of candy for yours.”
Thaddeus glanced at his own small bag, then stared with eyes as big as saucers at Tina’s bulging burlap one. “Sure!” Thaddeus might have been the richest kid in the neighborhood, but he was also the stupidest. Stupid for not wondering why anyone would trade a big bag of candy for a small one, and even stupider for making a deal with Tina.
He thrust his little plastic bag at Tina and grabbed the burlap one. Tina opened the milk carton behind her back as Thaddeus jerked open the burlap bag. “Hey! There’s nothing in here but a bunch of dumb old milk!”
“But it’s so-o-o good. If you don’t believe me, try some.” And with that, Tina poured the entire carton of milk on Thaddeus’s head.
“WAAAAAAH!” Thaddeus wailed as Tina ran back up the street toward us, Thaddeus’s bag of candy in hand. “I’m telling my mommy and daddy!” Pointing to the rest of us one by one, he added, “And I’m telling on you, and you, and you, too!” he cried. “I know all your names, and my mommy and daddy know where your parents work! You just wait till they get hold of you!”
He didn’t have to tell us twice. We fled down the street, cutting across a few lawns before collapsing under a tree in someone’s backyard, panting and laughing hysterically.
Tina held up the bag. “Candy, anyone?” she giggled, before leaning back against the tree. She beamed at John triumphantly. “What did I tell you? I’m unstoppable.”
“Yeah, whatever. Just shut up already.”
I had hoped Tina’s prank on Thaddeus would be funny and bold enough to stave off any further daring competitions between Tina and John. Yet we had scarcely caught our breaths and come out of the yard before they were at it again.
John went to the door of one house, knocked, and ran before the man inside answered. Tina knocked on the door at a different house, and when the woman inside answered, stood there and screamed. The startled woman cried out and slammed her door, at which point Tina took off running.
John jumped out from behind a bush and scared some passing trick-or-treaters. Tina took it a step further, doing it to a group of younger children. And while the older children John had scared were by themselves when he did it, the smaller children’s parents were with them. Their father chased us for several blocks, until we lost him by cutting through some backyards and running up to the highway. As a car passed, John unzipped his fly and urinated alongside the road. Tina topped that one, too, by mooning the next car.
By that point, we decided we’d better go someplace where the people Tina and John had harassed would never think of looking for us—the south side of the neighborhood. Few houses were on the south side, and most of them were vacant. So despite the fact that it was Halloween night, it was as quiet as usual. In fact, after the Tate twins’ disappearance, the south side had seemed deader than ever.
As we walked along, John remained quiet and sullen. Tina couldn’t leave him alone. She just had to rub it in.
“Did you guys see the look on Thaddy’s face? He practically bawled! ‘I’m telling my mommy and daddy on you! I’ll really get it when his parents call mine, but it’ll be worth it! And how about knocking on those doors? John just ran off, but I stood there and screamed at that woman. She saw my face and could have called my parents. Then those kids I scared…I thought their dad was going to kill us! And when I mooned that car, I thought they were going to drive off the road! Wasn’t that hysterical? John, you thought you were really something with the dares you took, but boy, if I didn’t take bigger dares every time! Of course, that’s what usually happens. Don’t you ever get tired of me conquering you?”
She babbled on and on, annoying all of us. Especially John. “Shut up, Tina!” he yelled. “Just shut up!”
We reached the edge of the dead-end street. As we stood on the sidewalk, a car we didn’t recognize rounded the corner and puttered toward us. Judging from its slow speed, I figured the driver had taken a wrong turn and was now lost.
John perked up. “Hey, Tina, I dare you to jump in front of that car.”
“Double dare you,” she challenged.
“Your dare. And I triple dare you with no return.”
And with that, Tina sprinted into the street.
“Come back, Tina!” I cried. “You could get killed!”
She wasn’t listening. John muttered something under his breath. His words weren’t entirely clear, but sounded like, “If we’re lucky.”
Tina sprang in front of the car’s fender, brushing the pavement with one foot. The horn honked, and the car screeched to a halt. Tina rolled across the hood. At first, I thought the car had hit her. But apparently, she had deliberately thrown herself onto the hood for show, for she bounded to the pavement and did a ballet-style leap to the opposite edge of the street.
The driver’s side window rolled down, and a man’s scowling face popped out. “You stupid kid! I could’ve killed you!”
“I know!” Tina shrieked with laughter. “That’s what makes it so much fun!”
The man muttered curses and rolled up his window. We watched as he turned the car around in the Tates’ empty driveway, then sped away.
I stared at the Tate home, which now looked almost as lifeless as Bat Manor. Not a single light shone in the place. The curtains on all windows were drawn, and the garage door was closed. It was as if the entire house had died.
Tina rejoined us, beaming and giggling. I knew she was about to brag over her success with the dare, so I quickly tried to divert everyone’s attention. “Gosh, the Tate place sure is dark.”
“Yeah.” Brad shook his head. “Every since the twins vanished, it’s like their parents did, too. I heard Mrs. Tate is taking it so hard, they might be putting her in a mental institution.”
I nodded. “Tina heard the same thing. Right, Tina?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Tina brushed off my comment, too intoxicated from her recurring victory to be interested in Bat Manor at the moment. “I must thank you, John. Your childish dares, have further enhanced my reputation. I am the baddest, most daring person in our school, and I always will be. And that’s not just out of girls…it’s boys, too. I’m badder than you, John. You’re a wuss compared to me.”
John had been listening intently to the conversation between Brad and me. As Tina continued to dance around him and gloat, his mouth twisted into a frightening expression, a cross between a diabolical smile and a devious sneer.
“Tina, I dare you to go inside Bat Manor.”
WILL TINA GO INSIDE BAT MANOR? AND IF SHE DOES, WILL SHE EVER COME OUT AGAIN?
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