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Halloween Party: Chapter 21


Niki screamed and jumped away from the window. As she did, she tripped over something soft and went sprawling on the floor.

It’s Justine, she thought.

Justine has found me and will kill me right now, right here.

But she won’t do it without a fight.

Niki twisted and tried to pull away from the hand that held her.

But then, in the dim light from the flashlight, she saw that it wasn’t Justine at all. It was Justine’s uncle Philip. The hand that gripped her ankle was securely tied with rope to the other hand, and his ankles were tightly bound together. A large stain of dried blood showed on his white-and-blue polka-dot shirt.

Niki was so surprised that at first she didn’t realize Philip was speaking to her. She squinted in the dim light and peered closely to see what he was saying.

“Help me,” he said, his sad clown’s face distorted by the urgency of his words. “Please, please, you’ve got to help!”

“I will,” said Niki then. Philip stopped talking in surprise. “But you’ve got to help me too,” she added. “Me and my friends.”

She began to untie Philip’s hands and feet, explaining as she did what Justine had done. When she told him about the fire, Philip’s eyes widened in horror. “I thought I smelled smoke,” he said. “I never dreamed that even she . . . ”

Niki finished untying him. “Come on!” she said. “We’ve got to hurry!”

Philip scrambled to his feet and ran to a chest, returning with a thick crowbar. For such a frail-looking man he was surprisingly strong.

He pried the remaining boards off the window in only a few seconds. Then he lifted Niki onto the windowsill and scrambled after her.

Once outside, Niki greedily gulped in the fresh air.

But there was no time to waste. Niki and Philip ran around to the front of the house. Inside the windows they could see the glow of the fire. The other teens were all pressed against the window grate, struggling to breathe.

Philip pried at the grating with his crowbar.

No. No, it won’t budge, thought Niki, the panic rising to her throat.

No. No.

Keep trying.

Yes!

At last Philip pulled off the grating.

Choking and gasping, the kids began to climb out, their eyes red and streaming from the thick, acrid smoke.

Alex and Terry had helped the others out and were the last to emerge. An instant after they left, the door to the dining room burst into flames.

Niki and Philip led the choking, shocked kids out to the safety of the front yard, far from the house that was now in flames from the basement to the attic.

Once they had reached safety, Terry found Niki and hugged her tight, kissing her face and hair. “Funny Face,” he said over and over, “Funny Face.” Niki scarcely was able to believe he was all right. His face was streaked with soot and his eyebrows were slightly singed.

It had been close.

Very close.

Niki and Terry just stood there with their arms around each other, watching the burning house send up bright orange sparks into the sky.

To the east, faint streaks of light began to appear. Part of the roof suddenly caved in, sending a huge shower of sparks all over the lawn. Everyone moved back to the very edge of the yard. An instant later David stumbled out of the Fear Street woods.

So I guess Marty and Bobby were too drunk to know what they were doing,” David was explaining. “When I finally woke up, I was in a storage shed at the corner of the cemetery. I went over to the nearest house and called the police.”

David had a huge bruise on his forehead and patches of dried blood on his cheeks, but he seemed to be all right.

In fact, everyone was. Everyone but Les.

Trisha and Ricky both were sitting and watching the fire almost as if nothing had happened to them. Murphy and Angela were sitting in the tall grass, ignoring how wet it was, comforting each other.

Alex was standing off by himself, a sad look on his face, the beautiful silver costume ripped and streaked with soot.

Terry couldn’t believe it. How could so much happen in so short a time? He had a feeling that everything that had happened in that house that night had changed all of them—forever.

The faint wail of a siren began to sound in the distance.

Philip stood in front of the group of them, and Terry was surprised to see there were tears in his eyes. “I’m so terribly, terribly sorry,” he told them. “I never meant anything like this to happen. You must believe me.”

“What do you mean?” said Alex angrily. “We were almost killed in there!”

“All I wanted,” said Philip, “was to frighten you. Nothing more.”

Terry thought he was beginning to understand, and the knowledge enraged him. “Are you saying this was your idea all along?” he demanded.

“Yes,” Philip said in a shamed voice. “You see, Justine’s father was my older brother. He was the closest person to me in the world. After he died I vowed to raise Justine so he’d be proud of her. But I could never get over his death, and I guess through the years I must have communicated my bitterness to Justine. I see now I should have taught her forgiveness and love. Instead I taught her hatred and—the desire for revenge.”

“Then you planned this all these years?” said Trisha, sounding horrified.

“No, not at all!” said Philip. He stopped and wiped his hand over his face. “Last year I became ill and decided to spend my last days in my brother’s old home. I told everyone I was a distant cousin so they would leave me alone. But when Justine found out I was here, she left her boyfriend and career and moved in with me. She convinced me that I could never die in peace until I’d avenged my brother’s death.”

Terry stared at Philip in horror. Everything he was saying sounded like someone’s nightmare—yet it was all true.

“You know the rest,” Philip went on. “Justine enrolled in high school while I researched the original party and traced the sons and daughters of the teenagers involved in the accident. Then we sent the invitations.”

“How could you do it?” Alex asked. “How? None of us ever did a thing to you!”

“I know it,” said Philip. “And perhaps I was a little crazy to have carried a grudge for so long. But you must believe me! I never intended any real harm to come to you. I only wanted you to know terror, to know suffering for a while.”

“But Justine took your plan one step too far, didn’t she?” said Niki. In contrast to Alex, Niki’s face and voice showed nothing but sympathy.

“I didn’t realize how obsessed she had become,” Philip said, nodding in agreement. “Until I found—found the body of your friend Les. I knew Justine had done it, and I knew I must stop her. I hid his body on the roof so no one would find it, and then I confronted my niece with what she had done. I told her we must stop the party at once. I told her I was going to call the police. But she—she—” He stopped speaking and began to sob.

“She attacked you,” said Niki. “I know. She did it to me too.”

“I never expected her to—to act against me,” said Philip. “She stunned me with a blow to the head, and then she must have dragged me down to the basement and tied me up.”

“Are you trying to tell us that Justine did all of this herself—killed Les, knocked you out—” Alex was plainly disbelieving.

“You must understand,” said Philip, “that Justine is very strong. I think she worked on building up her strength so she would be capable of anything. I believe she always knew she would do something like this.”

“How dare you?!”

Everyone turned at the sound of Justine’s voice. She was standing at the edge of the garden, her lovely face almost unrecognizable beneath the madness and rage.

“Justine!” Philip cried. In spite of everything he had told them, Terry could see how much he still loved his niece.

“You have betrayed me!” Justine shouted at him. “Even worse, you’ve betrayed my parents! I should have killed you when I had the chance!”

“No!” cried Philip, sinking to his knees. “Don’t say that!”

“I should have known you were too weak to do what had to be done!” she said. “No one was ever as strong as I was. I planned the perfect revenge! And it would have succeeded—it nearly did succeed—” She glared at all of them with pure hatred.

Terry looked away. Niki gripped his hand more tightly.

We’re safe now, he told himself. She can’t hurt us anymore.

But he jumped in fright, as did everyone else, when Justine suddenly ran directly at them, her green eyes blank with madness.

Just before she reached them, she suddenly veered to the left, and then, moving faster than seemed possible, ran up the front steps and onto the burning porch.


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