Best friends are no urban legend: Stephanie's birthday falls on the same day as the anniversary of the legend of The Birthday Party House. But some people say there's no such thing as a coincidence ....
Supposedly, ever since her death, her parents have kept the house exactly the same--her bedroom in all its Partridge Family poster glory (eek!), avocado-green shag carpet in the hallway (oh, the horror!), and the dining room still all set up for the party celebration--wilted balloons, the poisonous cake and the stereo repeatedly playing "I Woke Up In Love This Morning" (by David Cassidy, who is now as old as my dad). Her parents even placed life-sized paper-dolls of all the guests around the table.
I'm kinda annoyed we aren't going to the Halloween dance at school, but it's pretty much fine since my BF Eric has to go to his grandma's house (sounds like a break-up excuse to me). So, I'm going out with Andrea and Zoe, which is the next best thing. Actually, most of the time, it's the first best thing.
Andrea is driving her parents' old Volvo station wagon when she and Zoe pick me up at 7 p.m. We bolt out the door before Mom can get me to take my 10-year-old sister Hannah and her best friend Lisa out in their costumes. They aren't even dressed up yet, which is weird--they're usually ready by 4 and bugging everyone, whining, "What time is it? Will it be dark soon?"
"So where is this Birthday Party House anyway?" Zoe asks, as we drive off. I know she's wondering if it's very far because she gets totally carsick and throws up if she's on the road for too long. Most of us want to get our driver's licenses so we can stop bumming rides from our parents, but Zoe wants hers so she can be in control of stopping the car when it's time to upchuck.
"The house is somewhere in Fullerton," Andrea answers.
"That close?" I say. I shiver because Fullerton is only six miles from here and I hate to think of creepy stuff happening in my own area. Actually, I wonder if this place is even for real. It sounds very Urban Legend-ish, but I looked it up a bunch of times on the Internet and couldn't find it.
"It's up in that hilly neighborhood by Laguna Lake." Andrea continues.
Zoe flips down the passenger-side mirror and checks her lip gloss for the millionth time. Suddenly she looks right at me. "What creeps me out," she says, "is that this girl has the same birthday as yours, Stephanie."
"Had," Andrea's voice cuts in. "Had the same birthday. November 1. Doesn't have it anymore."
"She died on her birthday," Zoe whispers.
"Statistics show lots of people die on their birthdays," Andrea informs us. "I read it somewhere."
"Well, today's not my birthday," I say with a nervous laugh.
"Tomorrow is," Zoe says, nodding.
"Shut up, you guys." I laugh again, even though death isn't exactly funny. As we're heading down Malvern Avenue, Andrea pulls into a gas station. "I want to fill up the tank so we don't get stranded out there," she says. "Also, I'm going to ask inside if anyone knows which house it is."
"Maybe they have a map for it--you know, like the maps of the stars' houses," I joke. Zoe doesn't laugh. She's checking her lip gloss again.
After filling up the tank, Andrea goes into the mini-mart and doesn't come out for about 10 minutes. I'm getting bored.
When Andrea finally gets back, her eyes sparkle, and her face is flushed.
"The guy working the cash register is seriously cute," she says, starting the car.
"Yeah, but did you find out the address?" I ask.
"Yup," she nods. "Got it right here." She pats her pocket and drives off. About a mile later, we reach a street that is more rural than suburban. We pass the Fullerton Stables, where I once went horseback riding when I was 11.
It's really dark now, and the trees along the road huddle together like shadowy figures bowing in the wind. I check to make sure the back doors are locked. Andrea and Zoe notice, and quickly lock their doors too.
Now, we're at the water's edge. Moonlight gleams on the lake's surface.
"The house is supposed to be on the other side of the lake, over there." Andrea points.
I can barely make out a string of houses in the light of a single flickering street light. "Which one is it?" I ask.
"I don't know exactly. We'll have to park and walk over so we can see the addresses better."
"You're crazy," I say.
"No way," Zoe yelps. "I'm not getting out of this car."
"We can't drive up," Andrea says. "The road ends here."
"Look," I say, "what's the point? I mean, what are we supposed to do once we get there?" I'm starting to change my mind about this whole Birthday Party House thing. In fact, trick-or-treating with Hannah and Lisa is starting to seem like a lot more fun.
"Calm down," Andrea says as she pushes the button to unlock our car doors. "We'll go up to the house and take a peek through the windows."
"Not me," Zoe says.
"You two chickens can stay here," Andrea tells us. She pulls her digital camera out. "I'm going to get some shots of this for the school yearbook."
"Hey!" I protest. She knows I'm the photographer for the school yearbook.
"I'll get the credit," Andrea says, smiling. "And I'll write up a short paragraph about how scared you two were."
"Oh, no, you don't," I say, jumping out of the car. Nobody is going to take away my chance to get some cool shots for the yearbook. "I'm coming too." I grab the camera from Andrea.
"I knew you'd change your mind."
We start down a dark path, which seems to lead around to the other side of the lake. Leaves and twigs snap beneath our feet as we move cautiously.
"Wait a minute," Zoe wails. "You're not leaving me alone in the car." She scrambles out as fast as he can, slams her door and catches up with us. She positions herself between Andrea and me for protection, very Zoe-like.
We get to the other side of the lake and stand on the road with the row of houses. Most of them are dark.
"Which one is it?" I ask, trying to sound braver than I feel.
Andrea reaches into her back pocket. Her hand comes out empty. She reaches into her other pockets. "OK, what'd I do with the address?"
"Great," I say. "For punishment, you go back to the car to look for it. Alone."
"Forget it," Andrea says. "We don't need it anyway."
"Then how are we supposed to know which house it is?" Zoe asks.
"We'll sneak a peek in each window."
"Are you crazy?" I blurt out. "Someone is bound to call the cops if they see us lurking outside their windows, especially on Halloween night." I'm sweating, and my heart is racing. "Let's just leave now, OK?"
"No, Steph. We've gotten this far."
We glance at the first house. We see lights, but no life-size paper dolls or limp balloons. Dull blue lights from TVs flicker. A dog barks.
We walk to the next house. It's dark. We sneak up to a large front window.
"No one's home," Zoe whispers.
"We're not necessarily looking for a house someone is living in," Andrea says, elbowing Zoe in the arm. "Do you see anything party-like?"
Our eyes adjust to the dark, and we realize we're just looking into an average living room: sofa, coffee table, lamps.
"Nothing there," I say, expecting someone to leap out the front door and holler at us.
Zoe's voice perks up. "Look, no one's home, but they left a basket on the front porch. I bet there's candy!" She runs up to look inside, reaches in and pulls out a fun-size Snickers. "Cool." She grabs two more and tosses them to Andrea and me. We head over to the next house, another dark one, but we decide we're afraid to eat the candy. As we near the house, Andrea stops suddenly.
"Listen," she whispers.
"What?" Zoe and I bleat together.
"Can you hear it?" Andrea steps a bit closer to the house. We follow.
"Hear what?" I ask. We move even nearer. There's total silence except for the wind whispering through the trees. Suddenly I hear it. Low music in the background, a guitar strumming lightly, a soft voice singing, "I woke up in love this morning ..."
"Ohmigod!" Zoe shrieks. "It's the Birthday Party House."
"It's the Birthday Party House," Andrea nods, all scientific-like.
I really want to change my mind about this whole thing right now. Photo or no photo, I want to be back in my own house.
Instead, we slowly creep along, jumping each time a twig cracks beneath us. The music gets louder as we get closer to the house. We've made it up to the front window. I can see something inside the house. There's not much in the foyer, but we peer through to the back to a large room--and we can see that there are lots of shadows.
"Let's go around to the back of the house," Andrea suggests.
"Forget it!" I say.
"Look, there's something in that room on the other side." She starts to take the camera from me. I pull it away from her, and she knows I'm going to follow her to the back of the house. We walk down the side of the house, which is really hard because it's pitch black, and I'm thinking about spiders. Or worse.
Once in the back, we have a better view of the room. It's a dining room, and the music is coming from inside. Andrea touches the back door knob.
"It's not locked," she whispers.
"Let's go," Zoe whimpers.
But Andrea opens the door slowly, so (against all horror-movie advice) we step in. People-sized shadows fill the room. I look down and see crumpled balloons on the floor. On the table sits a birthday cake with one slice missing.
My heart is seriously about to beat out of my chest, but I focus my camera before I can change my mind and run out the back door. The whole scene is so unreal. As I snap the camera, lights flash on and my own scream is drowned out by other voices. Familiar voices.
"Surprise! Happy birthday!"
I blink. Around the table, I see Morn, Dad, Hannah and her friends, and a bunch of my friends from the yearbook staff. And Eric. He comes over and gives me a big hug.
"I thought you had to go to your grandma's house," I say, still reeling from the surprise.
"I did." Eric laughs. "This is her house." A small white-haired lady steps up and hugs me. She has the same blue eyes as Eric.
"Happy birthday Stephanie," everyone yells again.
The cake is fresh, and the table is filled with presents for me.
"But I have one question," I say, turning to Andrea and Zoe. "Is the Birthday Party House for real?"
"Yeah," Zoe laughs. "We'll go there tomorrow--on your real birthday."
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|Author:||Belroy, Barbara Kent|
|Article Type:||Short Story|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2005|
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