Title: A Haunting in Westchester (part 3 of 3)
Author: Jordanna Morgan
Disclaimers, etc. located in Part 1
Logan had never been out and about on Halloween before, and after half an hour, he was firmly convinced that he never wanted to be again.
The streets of the well-to-do neighborhood were crawling with people--and seemingly all were in costume, from infants in the arms of their parents to adults headed for one of the local parties. Children ran up and down strangers' lawns with their bags of candy, or squealed and laughed and tussled with each other on the sidewalk. On occasion, groups of teenagers could be seen clustered at a corner or under a tree, perhaps plotting a prank... and hopefully nothing more ominous.
In the midst of this garish confusion, it was at least a blessing that the students of Xavier's School were comfortably unremarkable. For once they were just children, and the only looks they received were admiring glances at their excellent costumes and makeup.
As for Logan, he neither knew nor cared what anyone thought when they saw him... as long as they stayed out of his way.
He trailed at the rear of the group, where he could watch the students and make certain no one strayed. It was Scott who led the way--which, Logan thought, was extremely typical. Jean was constantly moving in and out amongst their charges, reminding them to say "thank you", accompanying the younger ones to the doors of the houses. Her energy was extraordinary.
After some time, she fell back to Logan's side, giving him a bright smile. "Are we having fun yet?"
Logan stared flatly at her.
"That's what I thought." She shook her head. "Don't worry. It won't be much longer before the kids start to tire out."
Jean rolled her eyes. "I thought grinches only came out on Christmas."
Before Logan could reply, Jubilee flounced back to them through the knot of students, her gaudy necklaces jingling. "Miss Grey, Artie tripped and skinned his elbow."
With a sigh, Jean delved into a hidden pocket somewhere within the folds of her full skirt, in which she had secreted half the contents of a first-aid kit. Producing a Band-aid and a tube of disinfectant gel, she strode forward in search of a young boy dressed as Harry Potter.
Jubilee grinned at Logan. He frowned in response.
"*Riiiight*," Jubilee murmured uncomfortably, and bounced ahead once more.
The haunted house was surpassing Helen Conover's wildest expectations.
A steady stream of guests were winding their way through the Old Willows Place. In the foyer, they were greeted by their hostess, who directed them on through the frights and thrills of the varied rooms. In one, a hulking silver man menaced the curious with an axe; in another, the ghost of a Victorian girl seemed to float through the wall. In yet another, a small but menacing alien creature yanked out his eyeball and held it up to get a better look at the guests--and in many rooms, particularly that which resembled a desecrated church sanctuary, a snarling blue-black demon would appear and vanish like a shadow.
Finally, amazed and delighted by these terrifying wonders and many others, the guests would emerge from a side door onto the veranda. Here, in a milder environment of benign jack-o'-lanterns and paper streamers, they were welcomed with refreshments and candy. Buzzing with excited conversation, no one seemed to notice that the veranda was untouched by the cold, gusty winds that set such a macabre mood at the front of the house.
Helen was able to spare a moment, now and then, to creep back to the side door and listen to the visitors' remarks. Without exception, she heard enthusiastic praise of what she and the students and teachers from Xavier's School had done.
As she had promised Charles, she was dressed as a Roaring Twenties flapper, in a sequined copper-orange dress and a matching brimless hat. A long, knotted rope of faux pearls hung around her neck, and she had applied her makeup in the style of the era, complete with a beauty mark on her cheek. Although she also wore an elegant fringed shawl of black silk over her shoulders, the halter-top dress was bold for a woman of her age--but she was pleased with the way she looked.
She only hoped Charles would have a chance to see it.
The Professor had not yet made an appearance. When the others had arrived earlier in the day, Scott told Helen that he was doing some important work and expected to be late, but she had now begun to wonder if he would come at all. He seemed, quite understandably, to be a rather reticent man. However much he had approved of it as an activity for the students, perhaps this extraordinary display was not to his own taste, after all.
There came another lull in the arrival of visitors. Picking up the half-empty candy bowl from the table beside the door, Helen stepped toward the hall, intending to refill it in the kitchen.
"Why, if it isn't Miss Minnie Malloy."
Helen stopped, a smile spreading over her face. It was Charles' voice, approaching from the front porch. She turned to face him--and received a surprise that caused her to clap her hands together, laughing with delight.
There in the open doorway sat the Professor in his wheelchair--dressed in the perfectly pressed pinstripe suit of an old-fashioned gangster. A gray fedora sat rakishly on his head, and a white carnation was pinned to his lapel.
"I'm sorry I'm late," he said with a smile, "but I had a devil of a time finding something to wear."
The trick-or-treaters were slowly making their way back toward Old Willows Place, and Logan was relieved. Some of the younger children had begun to tire of walking. Jean and Scott now carried a few of their candy-laden bags--but everyone knew better than to ask Logan to perform such a chore.
Doubling back on their tracks, they found parts of the neighborhood now growing dark and quiet, as the residents went to bed or settled in with their horror movie marathon of choice. The hour for trick-or-treating was coming to a close, and of the kids still on the streets, many were of an older, perhaps more mischievous variety. Feeling his alertness heighten, Logan did not question his instincts, but watched and listened to their surroundings with a renewed intensity.
Then he heard it.
"Sh-shh," he hissed sharply to the students parading ahead of him, as he stopped in his tracks.
This effectively silenced their noisy chatter about candy, horror movies, and the costumes they had seen other people wearing that evening--for when the Wolverine spoke, they knew it was in their best interest to obey. The group closed in automatically, looking around in uncertainty and concern, as Jean and Scott drifted back to where Logan stood motionless and alert.
He heard it again: a scraping, a scuffling, a burst of laughter that did not sound at all kind. It was too far off for the others to hear, but to Logan, it was distinct. He glanced at the other two adults.
"Something going on a ways down that street," he murmured, pointing down the intersection to their left. "I don't like the sound of it."
At this slightest hint of trouble, Scott reached smoothly beneath his bomber jacket and produced his visor, slipping it on in place of his ruby-quartz glasses. "Let's have a look. Jean, you'd better stay here with the kids."
"Aw, Mister Summers--" several young voices began to protest.
"Let 'em come," Logan grunted, already on the move toward the suspect sounds. "I'd like to see the idiots that'd try to mess with this bunch."
Over his shoulder, he heard Scott sigh and relent, no doubt reasoning that the best safety was in numbers. "Fine. But *stay close*, you guys," he warned the students sternly.
With that, the entire group quietly followed Logan, who was moving quickly down the street. Tall old oaks provided plenty of shadows from the streetlamps, and he instinctively kept to them as he sought the source of the laughter and taunting cries. Within a few moments they were close enough for the others to hear it, and Scott sprang forward, matching Logan's stride.
The street dead-ended at an abandoned lot, where a house had burned down some years before. There was a fence, but it was in disrepair, and Logan easily slipped through a gap between the wooden slats. Across an expanse of overgrown weeds and brush, the crumbling remains of the house's walls rose from the bare foundation. It was from behind this cover that the voices came.
"Come on, ya little minx, drop the bag!"
The speaker was young, male, and threatening. He was also not alone; his demand was backed up by a few grunts and sniggers of approval. Logan shot a quick frown at Scott, then slithered into the shadows and quietly leaned around the wall.
What he saw set his blood to a slow boil.
A small figure--a girl of perhaps nine or ten--was perched precariously on top of what had been an interior wall. How she might have gotten up there was, for the moment, a mystery--but her reason for doing so was more than clear, for half a dozen teenage boys were gathered beneath the wall, staring up at her. One was shining the beam of a large and heavy flashlight on her, while another stretched upward, trying to prod her with a stick that was fortunately a few inches too short. Their objective was clearly the full trick-or-treat bag clutched in the little girl's arms.
Logan glanced over his shoulder, noting that Jean had gathered the kids close against the outer wall, where they were keeping admirably quiet. Then he looked at Scott, who had also taken a glimpse around the wall, and he knew from the younger man's hard-set face that he too was angry.
Just as Logan was about to gesture for action, the most athletic-looking of the young hoodlums jumped up and managed to catch the top of the wall, holding on with one hand as with the other he flailed for the girl's bag of candy. A graceless backhand not only succeeded in knocking the bag to the ground, it connected with the crouching child's leg, and she let out a small shriek.
That was when it happened.
The little girl's arm shot out with lightning speed, swatting the teenager's groping hand. He let out a howl of pain and dropped to the ground, wringing his fist wildly. "She *scratched* me!"
At this, one of his companions went for a broken piece of wooden beam that lay in the corner.
Cruel mischief and thievery now threatened to turn to violence, and without a thought, Logan stepped from the cover of the wall into the moonlight. He was aware that Scott followed him. Their movement instantly drew the attention of the young thugs, who froze as they were confronted by the two older men.
"I think you boys better find somebody else to play with," Logan remarked, his stance and tone of voice deceptively casual.
For a moment, there was silence. Then the boy who had reached for the broken beam finished the act of picking it up, and the one with the flashlight slapped the heavy cylinder against his palm. The six drew into a tighter, more menacing pack.
With a bored expression, Logan held up his fist, and the boys suddenly found themselves staring at three adamantium claws that gleamed ferociously in the moonlight.
The motley gang shifted nervously as Logan's gaze passed over each one of them, lingering upon the one who had picked up the little girl's fallen bag. He appeared to be the youngest, and as he stared at the blade-wielding terror which confronted them, a weak exclamation of "*Dude*!" escaped his lips.
Logan bared his teeth in a savage smile. "Drop the candy... and start runnin'."
If these boys had been even slightly more intelligent than slugs, they would have listened to this piece of advice. Unfortunately, their response proved otherwise, as the ringleader with the flashlight lunged forward and took a swing.
Logan met the blow with his claws. There was a dull *clink*, and the beam of the flashlight died, as the bulk of it scattered on the ground in three perfectly cleaved pieces.
Then all hell broke loose.
A shower of sparks exploded behind the other boys--and Logan recognized the pyrotechnics as Jubilee's handiwork. He would have shouted at her over his shoulder to stay out of it, but the display only further alarmed and provoked the hoodlums. It was all Logan could do to avoid seriously hurting the leader, who charged at him with what was left of the flashlight's heavy handle.
The ensuing chaos was worthy of any military battlefield. The scarlet beams of Scott's optic blasts lit up the darkness, and more plasma bursts chased after the panicked thugs, who found themselves slipping on a layer of ice as they scrambled to get away. Logan ducked just in time as one of the boys sailed through the air--under the telekinetic power of either Jean or Tommy, it was impossible to say which--and crashed bodily into the ringleader.
It was all over within seconds, as the six howling and no doubt thoroughly bruised boys scattered and fled into the night.
Retracting his claws, Logan looked toward Jean and the older students, most of whom had emerged from behind the wall to gleefully take part in the mayhem. At least Rogue had herded the younger children into a more sheltered spot, for which Logan was proud of her. Leaving Scott to double-check that everyone was alright, he turned to look for the subject of the altercation.
The little girl was no longer on top of the wall. Arching an eyebrow, Logan sniffed the air. His nose and his searching gaze led him to a pine tree where, incredibly, the girl was clinging to the rough trunk a dozen feet above the ground. She was wearing a witch's costume, a black dress with a pointed hat that had somehow managed to remain on her head.
As she stared down at him in a mixture of fear and awe, he realized there was something not quite ordinary about the widely dilated pupils of her green eyes. His gaze shifted to her hands, confirming his suspicion: the child was a mutant. Her fingers were tipped with long, curved, feline claws that dug securely into the bark of the tree. No wonder one of her tormentors had screamed bloody murder when she scratched him.
"You can come down now, darlin'," he said gently. "Nobody's gonna hurt you now."
Slowly, cautiously, the girl inched a few feet down the tree. Then she paused, looking gravely at the other children who stood watching her, at Jean and Scott, and finally back at Logan.
"Are you mutants?" she asked, in a small voice.
With a rueful smile, Logan nodded. "That's right."
Curiously enough, this confirmation seemed to reassure the girl. She scooted down the tree with no further hesitation, and when Logan reached out to help her, she shifted easily into his arms. Her sharp claws folded back into her fingertips as she wrapped her arms firmly around his neck. To his surprise, he realized she had no intention of letting go; he shot a helpless look at Jean, but she simply smiled.
Slowly, Logan returned the smile. As he gently shifted the child's weight against his hip, she let out a small sigh and laid her head on his shoulder. The movement pushed her hat slightly askew, giving him a glimpse of a pointed, catlike ear.
"What's your name?" he asked her.
"How'd you get all the way out here?"
"I was trick-or-treating with my cousins, and I got lost on the way back to my aunt's house." Emily turned her head slightly, giving Logan a guileless gaze. "It's on Meadowfield Drive. Can you help me get back?"
Logan smiled at her. "Sure we can. Come on."
With that, holding her securely with one arm around her waist, he carried her back to the others. Bobby had retrieved the bag of candy which the fleeing thugs had dropped, and held it out to Emily, but she continued to cling to Logan's neck. It was he who took the bag in his free hand, ignoring the smiles and chuckles of Jean, Scott, and the students as they followed him down to the sidewalk.
The long night had just gotten longer... but somehow, Logan didn't mind.
By midnight, the gates of Old Willows Place were closed to visitors, and the cast of the haunted house had retired to enjoy an after-party in the mansion's old ballroom. The trick-or-treaters had straggled back not long before, bursting with a tale to tell about a young damsel in distress. Emily's aunt and uncle had been beside themselves with worry, and overwhelmed with relief and gratitude at her return, they had detained her rescuers to enjoy their hospitality for nearly an hour.
Still dressed in his gangster regalia, Charles Xavier contentedly watched the activity in the ballroom. A few students in costume, including Kitty, Peter, Rogue, and Bobby, were dancing--and Jean was pulling Scott across the floor to join in. Some of the trick-or-treaters were sorting their candy haul, as others regaled their friends with the story of their eventful night. Ororo and Kurt were seated upon folding chairs by the buffet table, enjoying a bite of late dinner. Logan sat with them, quietly indulging in a cigar.
And then there was Helen, a busy and happy hostess, inspecting the buffet to ensure that it remained well-stocked. As she looked up, her eyes met Charles', and with a smile she wound her way toward him through the maze of party games and dancing couples.
"I heard them talking about the scrape the kids got into out there," she said, kneeling beside his wheelchair to converse over the sounds of music and revelry. "I'm sorry that had to happen."
"In spite of their recklessness, I'm proud of them," Charles replied warmly. "They're learning to use their gifts to help others. One day, if they choose to take their place as X-Men, they're going to be fine additions to the team."
"They've got a good example to follow," Helen replied softly, her hand touching his.
Charles looked into Helen's blue eyes, bright with tender kindness. Her cheeks colored beneath the heavy costume makeup, but she did not look away as he leaned slightly closer, drawing a deep breath.
Jubilee abruptly jangled up to them in her gypsy garb.
"Hey, Professor, can I get you anything from the buffet?"
For a brief moment, Charles' eyes held Helen's as he sighed. Then he turned to Jubilee, smiling gracefully, and shook his head. "No, thank you."
With a whimsical shrug, Jubilee jingled away. Charles glanced at Helen with a long-suffering look, and she burst into laughter, leaning her head against his shoulder.
Across the room, Logan scowled around his cigar. "That little brat cheated."
"What?" queried a baffled Kurt.
"I had a bet with Jubilee that the Professor and Mrs. Conover were gonna lock lips before this Halloween stuff was over with. They were just about to do it, until she burst their bubble."
Ororo sighed and rolled her eyes. "You're impossible, Logan."
"Hey, I win by default. Sparky's gotta cough up ten bucks now. 'Scuse me." Logan stood up and stalked toward Jubilee, who had ducked into the cover of a group of students bobbing for apples. Eyes widening at his approach, she took a deep breath and plunged her face into the tub of floating fruit, heedless of her makeup.
Fortunately for Jubilee, Logan was intercepted by little Kristen, who was one of several younger children taking turns swinging at a piÃ±ata in the shape of a jack-o'-lantern. As he passed by the group, she caught his sleeve and tugged at it.
"We can't get the piÃ±ata to break. Could you help us?"
Logan looked from Kristen to the papier-mÃ¢chÃ© pumpkin and back again. She smiled gamely and offered him the plastic baseball bat they had been using. He brushed it aside with a grunt, and raised his fist.
Out came the claws, and down went the piÃ±ata in shreds, spilling its contents across the floor.
"Thanks!" Kristen chirped brightly, as the children pounced on the scattered candy. Logan retracted his claws and shook his head, stifling a faint smile.
As the stereo switched from a slow song to the ghoulish strains of Bobby Pickett, Jean and Scott retreated from the dance floor, leaving the Monster Mash to the kids. Holding hands, the couple sat down close to Kurt and Ororo, who were deep in their own conversation.
"You see?" Jean said to Scott with a smile. "Everything worked out just fine."
"Yeah," Scott murmured, but there were troubled frown lines at the corners of his mouth.
"What's wrong now?"
Scott shook his head and shrugged. "I was just wondering how we're going to top this *next* year."
Additional Notes: Two of the original characters here are drawn from my previous stories. Tommy "Crash" Krieger appeared in "Persona Non Grata", and Kristen Mayhew appeared in "Big Bad Wolf". Helen Conover, Norbert "Sleuth" Smith, and Emily Reeve are all new creations of mine. (Emily's surname was chosen as a tribute to actor Christopher Reeve, who passed away just prior to this story's completion.)
For those who couldn't guess what movie the name of Old Willows Place comes from, it was the name of the house in the Ed Wood, Jr. shlock classic "Bride of the Monster".
(c) 2004 Jordanna Morgan - send feedback