Hayden had been sitting in front of Julian's computer for at least an hour, aimlessly surfing the Internet for more information on Halloween and for reports of similar incidents, but he kept coming up empty. It seemed every page he wanted to look at had been taken down or was otherwise unavailable. The sites he did find were mostly online costume shops or instructions on carving pumpkins. He wondered if he was having no luck on purpose, if maybe whatever was causing the decorations to come alive was playing some massive trick on him. He wished Julian hadn't gone out of town to visit her grandparents. She was better at surfing than he was, and if she couldn't find it on the Internet, it wasn't there to be found. He wished he could ask Sky because Sky would almost certainly be able to rattle off some obscure tale he had found in some book no one had ever heard of. Hayden tried to make himself stop thinking things like that, but he couldn't help it. It was going to take him a long time to forget the way it felt to have Sky die in his arms.
The front door opened and closed. Hayden looked up from the screen. The boy who stood in the doorway looking lost and timid couldn't have been more than sixteen, but Hayden got the feeling that the boy wasn't quite ... a boy. There were several things that were abnormal about the kid, and the first of these that Hayden noticed was the distinct smell of cucumbers that wafted off him. The second was that the boy's skin was a pale, pearlescent green. Of course, the color of his skin could have been a very good make-up job, and cucumber, for some reason, seemed to be a very popular scent at those places with all the lotions and bubble baths. But the color was too natural, and those bubble baths didn't smell quite that ... well, fresh.
"Can I help you?" Hayden asked.
The kid turned towards Hayden. His eyes flashed blue. Hayden felt little knots bunch up in his stomach. "I can't find my sister," the kid said.
Hayden studied the boy's eyes. The blue flash had settled into green then shifted through red, orange and yellow before washing out to a dead white. Hayden could read nothing in those eyes. "Have you checked the mall?" he asked.
"I ... um ... no. She's not ... she doesn't go to malls. She's ... um ... different?"
The kid should have been sweating bullets. He was nervous as hell, and he was wearing a leather motorcycle jacket that it was way too warm for. But his green skin was dry. The more Hayden looked at the boy, the more he was convinced that the green was natural. It was too consistent, even under his fingernails and on the inner rims of his weird chameleon eyes. Hayden wondered if the kid and his missing sister had anything to do with the night of the living decorations, as Conrad had called it.
"All right," Hayden said. "Let's see if we can work this out." He pulled a yellow legal pad from the desk drawer and plucked a pencil from the cup next to the monitor. He wrote the date on top of the page. "What's your name?"
"Jack O ... Lan ... tern ... " the kid said. He had started out easily enough but trailed off when he realized that what he said sounded ridiculous. He looked at Hayden, his eyes quivering through muted autumn colors.
"Jack ... Orlando?"
"Is this some kind of joke?"
"No, Mr. Detective, it's not a joke. My sister's been missing for a ... for a long time, and if I don't find her tonight, I might not ever find her."
"Look, I'm sorry, but I - "
"Please, Mr. Detective. You're the only one who can help me. This is the only night of the year that either of us is tangible, and even then, no one really sees us. But you can see us."
"We're spirits. My sister is the spirit of Halloween. Well, she's not really my sister. She kinda adopted me after I tricked my dad into getting into the cucumber. My mother didn't want anything to do with me. She's a banshee."
The story was at once believable and utterly inconceivable. Jack was nervous and upset and seemed sincere, but Hayden knew better than to trust what he saw on the surface, especially from a green-skinned spirit who smelled like a fresh salad. There were a lot of questions Hayden wanted to ask Jack, but he could tell by the set of the boy's mouth that he would get lies and half-truths. "What's your sister's name?" he asked.
"Carlin," Jack said.
"What does she look like?"
Jack hesitated. "I don't ... know? I haven't seen her in a hundred years. She could've changed."
"What did she look like last time you saw her?"
"A little girl with long blonde hair."
"Any distinctive features?"
"She's a spirit. You'll know her if you see her."
"Okay, look. I've got some other things I need to deal with first. I don't know if you've noticed, but things are getting a little weird around here. I need to figure out what's going on and stop it before I waste time looking for missing spirits. But I'll keep my eyes open."
"But, Mr. Detective - "
"Sorry, Jack. I don't do missing spirits."
Jack frowned. His eyes went from violet to deep grey to black, and then the black bled into the whites like a broken egg yolk. "If I don't find her, the weird things might not be the end of it," he said. He turned around and stalked out the door.
Hayden leaned back in the chair and chewed on the pencil. His cell phone rang. That time, he remembered which button to press. "Yeah," he said.
"I made it out of my office," Conrad said. Hayden could hear Crash and Hurricane barking in the background.
"Good. What did you do?"
"I burned it. It just turned to ashes. And guess what? Not bones. Just paper ashes."
"You're at home now?"
"Yeah. My dumb ass dogs have a pumpkin cornered in the kitchen. A guy down the street got wrapped up in the fake spider web he put on his front porch. I've seen ghosts in the windows next door. This is just not good. And I can't find anything."
"Me either. What about your psychic?"
"Does the name Jack mean anything to you?"
"How 'bout the missing spirit of Halloween named Carlin?"
"So the kid wasn't bullshitting me."
"You thought it was a joke, didn't you? You told him to go away."
"Like I'm supposed to know anything about the spirit of Halloween."
"Where is he now?"
"I don't know. He can't be too hard to find."
"She said something about cucumbers, too, but I ... "
"Please don't finish that thought."
"You got it."
"The kid smelled like cucumbers. He said something about tricking his father into getting inside a cucumber."
"Well, I think we gotta be damage control right now. This'll probably go away in the morning."
"I agree, but we should look for the kid, too. I have a bad feeling about this."
"I don't like it when you get bad feelings." In the background, there was a sound like several balloons popping at once. The dogs barked louder. "Shit, now they're just making a mess. I gotta go."