Title: A Haunting in Westchester (part 2 of 3)
Author: Jordanna Morgan
Disclaimers, etc. located in Part 1
"Tell me again why I'm doing this."
It was a Saturday afternoon. A very nice Saturday afternoon at that, cool and breezy, with a bright sun that was not too warm. A perfectly lovely autumn day...
Except, perhaps, for the cranky Wolverine sitting on the roof of Old Willows Place.
With a screwdriver in hand and a disgruntled expression on his face, Logan was helping Scott and Kurt to install colored spotlights. These would be used to highlight the attic windows and several points of interest on the front lawn, which Jean, Ororo, and several of the kids were currently turning into a mock graveyard. Other students were inside with Helen, working on the interior of the house, or taking a break to enjoy the seemingly endless supply of lemonade and sugar cookies on the porch.
Ingenuous as always, Kurt smiled as he answered Logan's plaintive question. "We're doing this because the Professor decided it was not safe for the children."
Logan thought about that for a long moment, the shook his head sagely. "No, that's not it."
Rolling his eyes behind his red glasses, Scott heaved an impatient sigh and ground out, "You're doing this because Jean told you to, hoser."
Logan frowned. "Oh. Yeah." Then before Scott could get a word in, he changed the subject, surveying with exaggerated interest the tools and equipment scattered around them. "We're missing the nail gun. Kurt, see if it's down on the porch."
"*Ja*," Kurt replied pleasantly, and vanished in a puff of indigo vapor before the word had even died away.
For a moment as he stared at the spot where Kurt had been, Logan allowed a faint smile to cross his face. He would never have said it in so many words, but he liked Nightcrawler tremendously. The German was kindhearted and cheerful in spite of the difficulties in his past. His serene presence had a calming effect on Logan, and he was unerringly patient with the older man's often bossy demeanor toward him. The roles of superior and subordinate were a peculiar hallmark of their friendship, an arrangement with which they were both content.
Besides, the blue elf was the one creature in all of Westchester who was even stranger than Logan.
Shrugging to himself, Logan glanced over at Scott. "I thought this was the kids' project."
"It is," Scott replied earnestly. "They just need a little help."
"Yeah, that's what they always say. Only a pushover like you would believe 'em. Hand me the pliers."
Wordlessly, Scott picked up the pliers and held them out to Logan--but as the Canadian was reaching over to take them, disaster struck.
Kurt suddenly rematerialized--and Logan, having moved slightly in the interim, was just a bit too close for comfort. Startled by the *bamf* and the puff of displaced air, he recoiled, lost his balance... and tumbled over the edge of the roof.
Since he'd taken up residence at Xavier's School, Logan had become used to a lot of things: black leather uniforms, random explosions at all hours, patches of ice on the floors--even the sight of Jean and Scott kissing. However, in spite of entirely too much unintentional practice at it, free falling was not on the list of things he had learned to shrug off. He popped his claws on instinct, flailing frantically in an effort to catch himself on the side of the house, regardless of any damage he might cause. When that failed, all he could do was brace for an impact with the ground; not likely to do him any permanent damage, but no picnic, either.
The denouement to his three-story plunge never came. Some eight feet from the ground, he felt a hard jerk on his entire body, and found himself neatly suspended in midair--upside-down.
As his senses caught up with him, he heard giggling from the porch, and sincerely wished he was dead.
Jean stepped gracefully into his inverted view, right hand extended, lips twisting in suppressed humor. She stopped almost directly beneath him, regarding him with the same sort of clinical interest she might have for an unusual insect caught in a net.
"You know, you're really heavy," she remarked, somewhat anticlimactically.
Trapped in Jean's telekinetic grip, Logan grunted and retracted his claws. "It's the adamantium, okay? Now put me down. I've had enough of this. I'm going back to the school."
Jean's amused smile turned into a frown. "You can't quit now."
"Just watch me." Logan made vague swimming motions in the air, a futile attempt to right himself.
"Oh no you don't." Jean twitched her fingers, and Logan felt an invisible *something* crawl up his ribs... or down them, according to his current perspective. "Remember, I'm your doctor, and I know *exactly* where you're ticklish."
Logan choked off his involuntary laugh, resulting in a very ignominious whimper. "No, stop it. C'mon, Jean, you're gonna make Cyke jealous."
*That* got a reaction, albeit not the one Logan had been looking for. Jean's expression went flat, she twisted her wrist sharply, and his stomach lurched as he suddenly snapped right-side-up--still eight feet above the ground.
At least now he was in a better position to appreciate the full measure of his humiliation. Ororo and a dozen kids including Rogue and Bobby were standing around, watching Jean make an idiot of him, and Scott and Kurt were looking down from the roof above. Logan ground his teeth together and mentally ran through the gamut of swear words.
"Oh, shut up. You're going to stay here and finish," Jean reiterated.
Logan stifled a groan, embarrassed by the note of desperation in his voice. "Look, we can argue about it all you want--just put me down. 'Cause if you don't, I think I'm gonna throw up."
"For all that regenerative power, you've really got a weak stomach." Jean looked around at their audience, smiling wickedly. "Think I should put him down?"
Several heads nodded, and it was even money whether they wanted to avoid seeing the Wolverine have a berzerker fit or lose his lunch.
In the next instant, Logan let out a yelp as he shot straight up in the air, only to be deposited gracelessly on the roof once more. He dropped flat against the shingles, sucked in several deep breaths to put his stomach back where it belonged, then gingerly sat up to give Scott and Kurt a defiant glare. The dork was smirking, and the blue demon was trying his best to look angelic.
"I found the nail gun," Kurt said rather sheepishly, holding up said piece of equipment.
Heaving a sigh, Logan snatched it and held it out to Scott. "Do me a favor. Put this to my head and pull the trigger."
The corners of Scott's mouth turned up in surprised amusement. "Gladly, but with that hard head of yours, I don't think it would do you much good."
"*Hmph*," Logan grumbled, not really listening. He leaned over the eaves to glare down at Jean, but she was once again innocently preoccupied with fake cobwebs and plastic spiders.
"You know, Cyke... sometimes I wonder if you're the luckier guy, after all."
On Sunday morning, Ororo Munroe woke bright and early. She threw on a pair of slacks and an old pink T-shirt, stopped off in the kitchen to grab an apple, and headed out to water her garden with some localized rain clouds.
Neither students nor teachers were stirring yet on the ground floor of the school. Everyone was sleeping in after their hard work of the previous day--so Ororo was taken by surprise when she stepped onto the back porch and nearly tripped over Logan.
Fortunately for her, he must have heard her coming, because it would have been a very bad time to startle him. Not that any time was a *good* time, of course... but at that particular moment, he just happened to be packing claws. He was sitting at the top of the steps with a cigar between his teeth, his legs stretched out, and his back resting against the edge of the porch railing. His right foreclaw was extended and gleaming in the morning brightness.
And he had a pumpkin on his lap.
Ororo did a double-take and almost dropped her apple, trying to rationalize the odd sight, while still working through the fact that she may have narrowly escaped an accidental skewering. "Uh... hi, Logan."
Without even glancing at her, he murmured a casual "Hey, 'Ro," in the quiet voice which suggested one of his more approachable moods. His attention was taken up by the pumpkin. Shifting the cigar in his mouth, he frowned critically at the orange gourd, then executed a short, swift stroke of his claw on its surface with almost surgical precision.
It was now clear what he was up to. Curiosity got the better of Ororo, and she stepped to one side, gaining a better view of Logan's jack-o'-lantern. It was unfinished, but the face was startlingly recognizable, with its catlike eyes, shaggy whiskers, and vicious teeth.
"That looks like Sabretooth."
Logan's lips drew back slightly from around the cigar, baring his teeth in a savage little smile. Unless Ororo was mistaken, there was a tone of grim humor in the rumble that came from somewhere in his chest.
"It's... really good." Ororo sat down on the wooden rocking chair close by, feeling surprised, amused, and just a little bit unsettled by Logan's subject matter. "I think Rogue and Bobby were onto something when they started calling you our 'art professor'."
"Hey, don't start that up again. Took 'em months to stop callin' me that." Logan glanced up at her, grinning slightly, but there was something odd about his expression. He looked down thoughtfully at his handiwork, then with his left hand took the cigar from his mouth and made a small, futile gesture. "It's just one of those things that comes out of all that empty space in my head, sometimes."
The admission was strange and unexpected, and Ororo wasn't sure what to say. She remembered that none of them knew just how long Logan had lived. The rough simplicity of his ways was deceptive; perhaps he'd had decades to acquire many diverse skills, of which he had only just scratched the surface.
A smile slowly worked its way across Ororo's lips, and she held out her apple to him.
He glanced up at her with one eyebrow raised in amusement, but passed on any of the obvious jokes as he stubbed out his cigar and took the apple from her. A sweep of his claw sliced it neatly in two. Retracting the claw, he handed over one half of the fruit, then leaned back and chewed contentedly on the other. For a few minutes they ate in comfortable silence, enjoying the crisp beauty of the October morning.
"So what are you going to do with it?" Ororo asked at length, nodding to the jack-o'-lantern.
"Hmm..." Logan swallowed a mouthful of apple, turning the carved pumpkin in his hands. "Well, I figured for now I'd let the kids put it with the ones they're doing for the haunted house. But *after* Halloween..." He paused, grinning deviously. "I think I'm gonna have Jubilee put on a little light show for me, with ol' Sabes here as the centerpiece."
Ororo's lips twitched. "I see your therapy is coming along just fine."
"Heck yeah. I haven't beaten the tar out of anyone in almost two weeks." Logan grinned as Ororo rolled her eyes and folded her arms. For a few humorous moments, they stared each other down.
"Oh, fine," Logan surrendered at last. "You can have the first shot at it. *One* lightning bolt. No more."
As Ororo thought of her own acquaintance with Sabretooth, she couldn't resist a sly grin.
Charles Xavier smiled as his wheelchair rolled up the flagstone path to the front steps of Old Willows Place. His students--and their teachers--had been incredibly industrious for the last two weeks, coming over to work on the haunted house after class and on the weekends. Now, the day before Halloween, was his first chance to see their handiwork, and he was impressed.
The oak-shaded lawn had been transformed into a mock graveyard that would be genuinely eerie at night, with painted headstones sprouting unevenly from the broken sod. Unlit jack-o'-lanterns grinned between the railings of the cobweb-shrouded porch, while plastic bats and spiders hung from the eaves. A menacing scarecrow loomed over the hedge, and ghostly apparitions peeked from the attic windows high above.
Then Charles noticed another change, entirely unrelated to ghosts and ghouls: a plywood ramp had been built and fitted over the porch steps. He understood its purpose, and his smile deepened as he maneuvered his chair up it with ease.
As he reached the top of the ramp, Helen stepped out onto the porch, wearing a pale yellow sundress and a welcoming smile. "Good afternoon, Professor! How do you like your students' work?"
"It's extraordinary." Charles took her hand and shook it, giving it the lightest of grateful squeezes before he let go. He gestured to the ramp. "Especially this. You've made me feel very welcome here."
"Well, you *are*," Helen replied, with a small laugh--and a slight blush. "Anyway, the credit goes to Bobby and Peter. They built it; all I did was ask them to."
"I'll be certain to thank them as well," Charles replied, his eyes twinkling.
Helen blushed a little more deeply and lowered her gaze, fidgeting with the ruffles on her sundress. "The outside of the house has been done for a few days. We're just giving some finishing touches to the rooms. Come on in and have a tour. There's lemonade right now, but I have some tea brewing."
She turned to hold open the screen door for Charles and his wheelchair. He smiled, thanked her, and went in.
Once tastefully decorated with soft colors and elegant antiques, the rooms at the front of the house had taken on a diverse range of characters, from a haunted Egyptian tomb to a space station invaded by aliens. Charles followed Helen from one room to another, greeting the students they found hard at work, and with a smile he imagined the roles they would play in these fantastic settings.
He had been right to allow this. They were already having the time of their lives with it.
In one room, Charles received a preview of what the haunted house's visitors would experience, when Kurt Wagner suddenly appeared. The teleporter materialized on a high shelf that would be safely out of the way of straying hands.
"Oh... *Entschuldigung*," he said politely, peering down from his perch like a friendly gargoyle. "*Guten Tag*, Professor."
"Good afternoon, Kurt," Charles replied mildly. "I see you're looking forward to performing again."
"Yes. I have often missed it." With a catlike grace Kurt leaped down from the shelf, landing lightly on the floor. "Tomorrow night I will be moving back and forth between most of the rooms, so I wanted to practice them now."
"Well, this one certainly appears to suit you," Charles replied, glancing about him at the room they were in. Already possessing a large, beautifully wrought stained glass window, it had been made up to resemble an abandoned church. "Was this your idea?"
Kurt smiled and ducked his head.
Since the sitting room had been transformed into a haunted Victorian parlor, Charles and Helen ended up in the breakfast nook at the rear of the house for tea. Logan and Peter were standing in the adjoining kitchen, munching on Helen's endless supply of junk food as they discussed something to do with the wiring. For a moment the Professor listened to them with a smile. Logan had grumbled, complained, and barked orders for the entire two weeks--a clear sign that he was enjoying himself immensely.
"When I was helping the kids work on the attic windows, I came across some things the original owners of the house had left up there," Helen recalled, stirring her tea. "I found this beautiful white nightdress--a real Victorian heirloom. It's still in good condition. Kitty absolutely fell in love with it, so we decided to use it for her ghost costume."
Charles smiled. "What are you planning to dress as?"
"Oh, I have a few options. I also found a box of old costumes from my off-Broadway days." Helen laughed. "I even found out my flapper dress from 'Capone' still fits. That musical was a spectacular flop, but I have to admit, Minnie Malloy was one of my favorite characters."
"You were in 'Capone'?" Charles queried. "I saw that show, but I don't remember seeing your name on the playbill."
Helen smiled. "You wouldn't have. I used a psuedonym. Partly because I knew the show was going to be a disaster, but more because it was my first time starring in a musical, and I wasn't sure I wanted to own up to my singing voice."
"You gave yourself too little credit, then. I distinctly recall that I enjoyed Minnie's solos very much. What was that one song... 'Love or Money'?"
"'The cops want to put their cuffs on my honey, but I won't give him up for love or money...'" Helen sang lustily, then laughed and shook her head. "Not quite a masterpiece of verse, but it was *so* much fun while it lasted. I'm amazed you remember that. It was more than thirty years ago."
"I have always been an avid fan of theater," Charles replied with a smile.
"Oh, yes. *Bad* theater, apparently." Helen grinned at him, resting her chin on her interlaced fingers. "That's the costume I'll wear tomorrow night, then."
"I'll look forward to seeing it."
"Good. And what can I expect to see you dressed as?"
"Ah. Well." It was Charles' turn to blush slightly. "I really hadn't given the matter any thought. To tell the truth... I wasn't planning to wear a costume."
"That's too bad." Helen's smile became rather impish. "But we'll let you into the party anyway."
"Madam, you are too kind."
"I can't believe I let you talk me into this."
As sunset approached on Halloween, Rogue stood before a full-length mirror in the parlor of Old Willows Place, fidgeting and tugging at the long, straight white gown she was wearing. She had remained indecisive about her choice of costume until the last minute, leaving little time for alterations. It would be a miracle if she got through the night without tripping on the hem and falling flat on her face, but at least it covered her skin thoroughly, complete with bandages wrapping her arms and hands.
In fact, she was more worried about damaging her intricate makeup than herself. Protected from her power by latex surgical gloves, Helen had spent nearly an hour on her, applying lines of fake stitches and styling her hair.
The result of that cosmetic expertise, and several cans of hairspray, was that Rogue now looked every bit The Bride of Frankenstein--right down to the bolts on her neck.
She was not the only one on whom Helen had worked a bit of stage magic. The former actress spent much of the afternoon meticulously making up first the haunted-house cast, then the kids who were going trick-or-treating. The room was now full of Xavier's students, eager to watch each other's transformations into ghosts, zombies, pirates, and vampires.
Bobby, costumed to match Rogue as Frankenstein's Monster, lurched to her side in a very bad imitation of Karloff. "*Woman... good*," he grunted, attempting to put an arm around her waist.
She giggled and pushed him away. "Aw, stop it. Ya sound like Logan."
Seated in a wicker chair across the room, Logan choked on his cigar smoke, and a grinning Jean leaned over to thump him on the back. Costumed as a princess in a long, glittering, pale-blue dress, with an elegant tiara on her head, she had indeed prompted a less-than-articulate reaction from him when she first glided into the parlor.
Scott stepped through the doorway, wearing the khakis and bomber jacket of a World War II Navy pilot. He scrupulously ignored the sight of his fiancÃ©e's hand resting on Logan's back, and turned instead to their hostess. "Helen, are you about ready to open up the house? It looks like you've got your first guests lining up outside the gate."
Helen, who had not yet put on her own costume, was touching up a student's makeup. She smiled at Scott and then glanced at the antique clock on the wall. "They're a few minutes early, but I'm almost done here." To the room in general she asked, "Could one of you please go hand out some candy to those people, and thank them for being patient?"
"I'll do it," offered Jubilee, as she bounced to her feet and trotted out of the room.
Of course, Jubilee *would* volunteer for anything that had to do with candy. She was colorfully dressed as a gypsy in layered skirts and bead necklaces, with a kerchief tied around her head. It was an idea Logan had offhandedly given her, distracted by her swaying hoop earrings when she cornered him to ask for costume suggestions.
Watching Jubilee's retreat, Rogue shook her head. "There goes the only person I know who can eat candy and chew gum at the same time."
"Speaking of Jubes..." Bobby turned to an aloof teenage boy in pirate costume who was sitting in a corner. "Tommy, isn't *that* one of her earrings?"
Tommy "Crash" Krieger grinned slightly and tugged at his left ear, where a gold hoop hung in place of the stud he usually wore. "I bribed her. First pick of my candy haul tonight."
Rogue grimaced. "I hope she disinfects that thing when ya give it back to her."
Throughout this exchange, Kristen Mayhew--a tiny blonde dressed as a Powerpuff Girl--had been looking with an eight-year-old's earnest scrutiny at Logan. Now she arrested all attention in the room by asking him in a small voice, "How come you're not wearing a costume?"
Dressed in nothing more than his usual jeans and flannel shirt, Logan squirmed and uttered a growl so soft, it was practically a whimper.
"Yeah, how come?" Rogue echoed with a grin, always happy to tease her friend. She poked a finger at her towering Bride of Frankenstein hairdo. "If I've gotta wear *this* getup, the least you could do is suffer along with me."
"He doesn't need a costume," Scott put in. "People are going to mistake him for a werewolf as it is."
Logan snorted. "Yeah, just wait until the next full moon, Phaserface."
The students erupted into laughter. Jean rolled her eyes with an exasperated sound. She, Scott, and Logan had been elected to escort the trick-or-treating contingent of the student body--which meant she not only had to shepherd a dozen teenagers and children, but referee two unruly male egos. She expected to last for about half an hour before she wrapped a lamppost around somebody's neck.
Someone yelped as Kitty abruptly popped through the wall, made up as a ghost in the Victorian nightgown Helen had given her. Along with Peter, Kurt, and other members of the "cast", she had been going over her act in the sitting room, and she was breathless from running through the house--in a very literal sense. "Miss Grey, Norbie just got sick!"
Amidst sighs from the adults and disgusted faces from the kids, Jean rose with more grace than her duties as a nursemaid deserved. "He hasn't been into the candy *already*, has he?"
"Um... not exactly."
"Then what made him sick?"
"Well... he was letting Peter try to juggle his eyeballs... and it kinda made him dizzy."
The entire room collectively gagged.
Seated on a corner of the porch railing, Ororo Munroe closed her eyes, enjoying a moment of calm before the excitement to come. A sweet aroma of roasting pumpkin, rising from the jack-o'-lanterns now lighted and flickering, mingled with the earthy scents of cut grass and recently turned soil. The air had become still as the sun went down, and carried clearly the shrieks and laughter of visitors gathering outside the gates, far off down the long gravel driveway.
She made a spectacular ghost. Her close-fitting costume, in shades of gray, black, and pale blue, was veiled by diaphanous streamers that could flow and swirl around her slim figure in a breeze of her own creation. Her makeup, pale and haunting, was accented with glitter and luminous highlights.
Having long since grown accustomed to the *bamf* of Kurt's teleportation, Ororo did not flinch at hearing it two yards to her left. She smiled and opened her eyes. Kurt had appeared on the porch, dressed simply in black garments which, in the deepening twilight, almost blended with his indigo skin. His demonic looks, as he had not hesitated to point out himself, had no need for a costume.
"Are the kids ready?" Ororo asked as he approached her.
"Almost. Norbert was... ill." Kurt smiled wanly, his sharp teeth showing a bright white against the shadowy shades of his face. "Jean is taking care of him. She asked me to tell you we should watch him carefully once she leaves. They will be taking the rest of the children in a few minutes--and Frau Conover says we will then open the gates."
"Great." Ororo returned Kurt's smile, feeling herself blush slightly. "I think I'm a little nervous. Except for a few plays at the school, I've never really acted a part like this before." She glanced down at herself, taking in her splendid spectral costume. "Then again, I feel like I could scare *anyone* in this."
Kurt frowned in the flickering light of the jack-o'-lanterns, and hopped up onto the porch railing beside her. Except at the corner where she leaned against a beam, the rail was hardly wide enough for a human being to sit securely, but he crouched on his haunches as comfortably as a squirrel with his long tail coiled around a banister. His amber gaze was filled with puzzlement and curiosity.
"I have never understood this," he said quietly. "When I was in the circus, I learned that those who came to see me perform *liked* it when I frightened them--even though they would have run from me if they met me in the street. Now, here, all these people have come to this house to be frightened the same way." He shrugged, perplexed. "Why should anyone *want* to feel afraid?"
It was a surprising and difficult question. Ororo frowned and shifted her weight, pondering how to put her thoughts about so complex and mysterious a quirk of human nature into words.
"I suppose it's pretty strange, when there's already enough in this world to be afraid of," she said softly. "I guess most people just like to face their fears, when they know that nothing is really going to hurt them. Sometimes it's a way to conquer those fears. Sometimes, it's just a thrill."
Kurt tilted his head. "A thrill?"
"Yes. It's a way of giving ourselves up to something just beyond our control--the part of us deep down that reacts to what feels like danger, even when we know we're safe." Ororo paused. "Maybe the real thrill is knowing we can let those feelings out... but we might not be able to shut them down again."
"I think I understand," Kurt mused. "It is like what I felt on the trapeze. I knew that I could teleport to safety if I fell--but sometimes, I still thought about falling. Simply the thought that I *could* was..." he smiled. "A thrill."
Ororo shrugged. "So did you ever fall?"
Kurt's smile deepened. His gaze held hers steadily, a merry twinkle in his eyes.
"Once," he said softly.
The screen door abruptly banged open, disgorging a happy crowd of kids in costume. They were followed by Jean, Scott, and a visibly reluctant Logan. Only Jean appeared to notice the shadowy pair sitting on the corner of the porch railing; she turned to give Ororo and Kurt a small wave.
Then she extended her hand toward the front gates, reaching out with her telekinesis to open them. To the waiting visitors, it would appear as though they had opened by themselves.
As the party of trick-or-treating mutants headed toward the side gate of Helen's property, a stream of eager haunted-house-goers began to make their way up the driveway. Ororo stood up, grinning at Kurt. "I guess it's showtime."
Returning the grin, Kurt gave her a small salute, then vanished.
Smiling to herself, Ororo spread her hands, her eyes misting into luminous whiteness. Mentally she reached up to the heavens, summoning the wind, sculpting the water vapor into eerie dark clouds. Lightning flashed harmlessly between them, a peal of thunder drifting to earth. Dead leaves whirled and scattered in a sudden, chilling gust that swayed the darkened trees.
With a nod of satisfaction, Ororo hurried inside to take her place in the haunted house, as a storm without rain filled the sky above Old Willows Place.