[02]Mature

From that first night when he was twelve, and the three had come crawling through his window, Charlie Cross was marked. For years afterward, it was the same as if he had stepped back in time.

They looked exactly the same.

They asked the same thing of him.

Always the same thing.

“We chose you. We want you to join us. We want you to kill with us, Charlie. So we can stay here. Won't you do it?”

And he always refused, terrified of what would happen if he didn't. Would they ask him to kill his parents or friends?

“They're important to you,” Liam told him. “But we need you. You're the fourth.”

Olivia slipped her arms around Liam, her chin on his shoulder. “We'll just keep coming, you know.”

They had kept that promise. When Charlie turned sixteen, he thought somehow he was safe, that he had reached the age where nothing could get him. He was wrong.

He was sitting on the couch, remote in hand, after everyone had gone to sleep. He kept hearing footsteps upstairs, and assuming it was his parents, he allowed himself to drift off to sleep.

But he had barely closed his eyes when a familiar voice called his name. He sat up, eyes wide. But he wasn't afraid. He knew they would come again, just like before. He was stupid to think they were still imaginary, even after all this time.

That was when he saw her, standing by the TV. She twisted her long blonde hair around a finger. Her brown eyes fell on his startled face, and she smiled. “Hello, Charlie,” she said softly.

“Olivia,” he said. “Hi.” He looked around. “Where are Liam and Carly?” He thought it was strange that she was here, alone, a week before Halloween.

As she sat next to him, he caught a scent that made his stomach churn. Blood. He knew that smell all too well. He wanted to ask her about it, but thought better of it.

“Don't kill him, Liv.”

Carly emerged from somewhere in the darkened room, making Charlie wonder if she had been there the whole time. He never got used to the sight of her slashed neck, or the smell of rotten flesh.

“I was just talking,” Olivia said. “Nothing wrong with that.”

“You're trying to persuade him.” Liam put a hand on Olivia's shoulder, his nails digging in. “Aren't you, sweetheart?”

“Of course not,” Olivia said. “Charlie can make his own choices.”

“It's not Halloween,” Charlie reminded them. “And I'm not going to help you, I'm sorry. I won't kill anyone.”

Olivia's eyes darkened and she scowled. “Yes, you are.” She slid her nail along his arm, some blood trickling down his skin. “You refuse us again and you'll be sorry.”

“Olive!” Carly shouted. “No, we talked about this. We need him, so you cannot hurt him. He's the fourth.”

“The fourth what?” Charlie asked. “You said that before. I don't know what you mean.”

“One more person makes us stronger,” Liam answered. “Each of us needs to feed on someone to continue to gain access to this world during Halloween night.”

Charlie shook his head. “This is such a nightmare,” he whispered.

“Only it's not,” Carly said, sitting on his other side. She glanced at the others. “We have to tell him.”

They nodded.

“Tell me what?” Charlie asked.

Liam spoke, his voice apologetic. “This is your last year to refuse us. You won't get another chance next time.”

Charlie swallowed, his pulse racing. “What are you talking about?”

“We've lived so long because of others. Eventually, before their sixteenth year was up, they agreed to help us.” He cast a glance at Olivia. “Until she decided we didn't need them anymore.”

Now he understood.

Every year for as long as Charlie could remember, he'd heard the stories. Halloween had come and gone, and with it, another body. Everyone thought some troubled teen had decided to take off.

But Charlie knew the truth now.

The End

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