“Come on, Val, it will be fun.”
Eric smiled, turning off the ignition of his car. They were in the parking lot of a brick building, with an orange, electric sign blinking overhead: Hallowed Emporium.
Val sighed. “Really? We drove two hours for this place? Aren’t the costumes here used?”
He shrugged. “Yeah, but these are really great costumes. Remember the party we went to at Brittany’s house last year? She got her costume here.”
He was lying through his teeth. He had no idea where Brittany had found her German barmaid/zombie outfit from. He only knew that every male in a thirty–mile radius was raving about it for weeks afterward.
Val’s brown eyes narrowed. Brittany Ennis had been Val’s frenemy since junior high. Since they’d started college, nothing had changed.
“Well, I guess I can see what they have. I’m not making any promises,” she said haughtily, undoing her seatbelt.
Inside, the Emporium was lit by white lights strung across the ceiling, draped with chains made of black construction paper and cut outs of black cats with red eyes and bloody fangs. A skeleton was strung up in the middle of the room, dangling from a chain driven through the skull, so that the feet almost touched the floor. The room was packed with rows of clothing. Two wooden signs divided up the store: one that read “Ladies” and the other that read “Gents.”
“Well how do you find anything in here?” Val fussed.
“Can I help you?” A girl appeared from around the corner of a rack full of animal costumes. She had a mass of curly, red hair, and wore lipstick the same fiery shade. She blinked, and her long, fake lashes fluttering like old lace.
“Yes,” Eric said, hoping the girl hadn’t heard Val’s comment. “My girlfriend here needs help finding a costume.”
Val always liked it when he addressed her as his girlfriend in front of other women. On this occasion, she seemed in a pissy enough mood not to care.
“Do you have something particular in mind?” The salesgirl asked, turning all her attention on Val.
“Something sexy,” Val tossed her hair over her shoulder. “Not too much fabric.”
“No naughty nurse outfits,” Eric said. “You still have that one from last year.”
It was quick, but Eric saw it—the salesgirl, who wore a tag that said Cindy, rolled her eyes, but turned back to Val with a grin. “Oh don’t mind him,” Cindy took Val’s hand, pulling her towards the back of the store. “I have just what you’re looking for.”
Cindy led Val to the back of the store, which was actually much bigger than she would have guessed from the outside. There were period costumes (Marie Antoinette), superheroes (Wonder Woman and Cat Woman), female aliens ( a blue and silver dress that came with a blue and silver makeup kit and a silver headband with antenna). What Val found impressive is that the costumes weren’t cheaply made. Everything was either cotton, silk, or leather. There was nothing to be found in plastic or rubber.
“Where do you get all of this from?” Val asked, her curiosity piqued.
“Some of it comes from the old Hearthrob Studio Lot,” Cindy said, her heels clicking against the cement floor. “But over the years a lot of people have donated costumes they weren’t using anymore. We prefer to collect things that have…more of an authentic feel.”
“I see,” Val said, running her fingertips along the hem of a white dress.
“Everything here is dry–cleaned and steamed. Except for the very delicate pieces, such as that one, which was hand washed and then pressed after they are allowed to air–dry.”
“Really?” Val breathed.
Carefully, she picked up the dress, holding it in front of her in the mirror. She smiled, flouncing the skirt over her legs. “I don’t know why, but I like this one. Is there someplace I can try it on?”
Cindy crossed her arms. “You sure that you want that one? I have other dresses I can show you.”
“No. This one feels right.”
“Yes, you can try it on,” Cindy waved her into a dressing room. “Let me know if I can get you anything else.”
Eric roamed alone through the aisles of the men’s section, looking for something that interested him.
He couldn’t see either of the girls on their side of the store, but he heard them every now and again, giggling and speaking in hushed tones.
Until he knew what Val was going to get, he wasn’t going to buy anything. He didn’t want to risk getting a costume that wouldn’t match hers…and then having to hear about it for the next century. It was his idea to find Hallowed Emporium, but now that they were here, his holiday spirit had diminished.
Perhaps it was the ambience of the place. It was a little dark for his taste. There was music playing somewhere, but it was the wordless, soft swell of a movie soundtrack. The lights blinked at intervals. Something white hung over the inside of the doorways, odd, straight shapes with rounded edges.
“Val?” Eric called.
He realized that he couldn’t hear the girls anymore. He only heard the music playing, and the air conditioning unit whirring above.
Val stared at her reflection in the mirror.
The white dress was so long that it dragged the floor. I’ll have to wear heels with this, she reasoned, but she was sure that she could pull it off. The hem and the cuffs of the dress were decorated with thin, red lace. The neckline plunged in a dramatic “V”, showing off her cleavage.
Your hair needs to be up for the work ahead.
Val flinched. She heard a voice.
Looking in the mirror, she saw the shadow a figure behind her.
“What ?” Val choked.
She had no time to turn around.
She felt cold all of a sudden. She couldn’t move.
A moment passed. She smiled into the mirror. A laugh escaped her throat.
Val pulled her hair back, sweeping it up into a ball.
“Keep the hair up,” she whispered.
When she looked down, she saw bloodstains all over the white dress.
“Hi there,” Cindy smiled brightly at Eric. “Any luck finding your costume?”
He stepped backwards, and then smiled. Cindy’s eyelashes fluttered.
“No, maybe I’m not in the Halloween spirit. How is my girlfriend doing?”
“Oh, I think she’s found something. She’ll be out of the dressing room right now.”
Cindy turned away and went up the aisle.
He followed her, but at the end, there was nothing but a blank wall.
“Cindy?” he called. “Val?”
How the hell have I got myself lost in this store? He thought. Cussing under his breath, he turned.
Val stood behind him, her face in shadow.
Or more aptly, shadows moved over her face.
He saw the white bloodstained dress. Her eyes were blank, dull.
The lights overhead blinked out once. When they came on, the knife caught the reflection of the ambient light.
Eric moved backwards, but she jumped at him. The knife sliced into his arm, and he went down.
Scrambling through the densely packed aisle, he ran, only to come face–to–face with a cement wall.
When he turned, Val was waiting with her knife.
She was standing behind the register, at the front of the store. She was back in her own clothes- jeans and a tank top.
A redheaded girl stood before her, arms crossed.
“What…what’s happened here?” Val demanded.
“You’re giving me back my change,” Cindy snapped.
Cindy, Val thought. How is it I know her name?
Val realized she indeed was holding money: four dollars and eighty cents.
Not knowing what else to do, she gave the woman the change.
Leaning forward, Cindy dropped her voice to a whisper.
“The costumes here are cursed,” she said. “You’re going to be stuck here until you sell enough of them. Until the spirits attached to the place think you’ve sold enough people out. Make sure you clean that bloody mess in the back.”
Cindy ran to the door. Val followed on her heels.
As Cindy walked out, the door closed behind her.
In the blink of an eye, the doorway disappeared, replaced by a brick wall.
©2011 Lori Titus