A gleaming black Escalade whipped into the parking lot, still bouncing from taking the slight incline at high speed. The driver turned sharply into a parking spot, missing it by two feet.
He turned off the engine and hopped out of the car, laughing. Slowly, his passengers exited the vehicle.
"Chase!" a young lady complained, "you almost made me spill my latte!”
Another girl chuckled. "Yeah, and then your entire car would smell like pumpkin for a month!”
Chase glared at his girlfriend. "Jenna, don't you get that shit in my car! I just had it detailed.”
"Nice parking job, bro." A young man surveyed the back of the vehicle where it straddled the white line of the parking space.
"Yeah Chase, ya wanna straighten that up?”
Chase glanced at the car and shrugged. "That way, nobody will park next to me. Besides, it's not like anybody's here.”
Three couples stood in front of a small brick building off the main road.
Having finished her latte, Jenna tossed the cup into a nearby bush. "It doesn't look haunted to me," she whined. "I think Tonya's full of shit!”
"Kiss my ass!" Tonya laughed. "I'm telling you, there's all kinds of accounts of weird things going on at this place.”
"Like what?!" Jenna scoffed.
"Disappearances, weird noises, all kinds of things!" Tonya pulled out her phone and began to read. "It's said that it's run by two witches that never come out!”
The collective rolled their eyes.
"Don't look at me, Dave was the one who told me about it." Tonya confessed.
Dave shrugged with a smirk. "No one ever goes in, no one ever comes out. No one can ever seem to remember what it used to be, or who owned it. It's just... always been here.”
"I don't know about witches," Britney spoke up, "but I do know that all year it just sits here... dark. And then suddenly, on Halloween, it opens." She lowered her eyes. "Only on Halloween.”
Chase looked around at his friends. "So, what's it like inside?”
Blank faces met his.
"We don't know," Bryan said quietly. "Every year there's some kind of party here. But it's strictly invite only.”
Chase shook his head. "You guys are a bunch of pussies! Come on.” He grabbed Jenna's hand and headed toward the building.
"What are you doing?!" Britney said.
"I'm getting us in this place," he said.
"I don't think that's such a good idea, Chase," Bryan mumbled.
"Not you too, dude!" Chase groaned. "What are you, one of the girls, now? You turnin' bitch?!”
"We can't get in, Chase!" Tonya warned.
"Trust me, I can get us in." Chase spread his arms with a cocky grin. "Let's just see if there's anybody home first.” He pounded hard on the door with his fist. “Helloooooo? Wiiiitcheeesss!" he laughed. The sound died in his throat at the slight movement he saw in the darkness.
The glass was thick, making it hard to see inside. Chase leaned closer, squinting his eyes to see if he caught the movement again.
Jenna turned her head, pressing her ear to the door. "I think I hear something inside," she whispered.
Chase banged on the door again, this time with more force.
"That's enough, Chase. Let's just go." Dave said.
Chase continued knocking. "I told you, I'm getting us into this place!”
Suddenly a series of clicks rattled the door, causing Chase and Jenna to back away quickly. The door parted slightly with a creak, and a pair of dark eyes fixed on the group.
"We're not open," an oddly pleasant voice said from behind the door.
Chase gave her his best and most charming smile. "We just wanna come in and take a look around.”
"Try your luck on Halloween," the lady said, shutting the door.
"But, we're already here!" Chase wedged his foot in the opening. "I told my friends I'd get them into this place, and I mean to.”
The eyes glanced down at his foot, and one eyebrow arched in annoyance. "I'm not interested in what you…"
Chase grabbed his wallet, pulling out a handful of bills. "What about now?" he asked. "Does $300 get you interested?”
The eyes blinked slowly, in silent contemplation.
Sensing victory, Chase pushed the bills toward the opening in the door. When he felt them slip from his grasp, he smirked. "That's more like it.”
The door opened and there stood a woman, fairly average looking, except for the mound of gray hair that tumbled down her shoulders. It was a direct contradiction to her youthful face. She wore a dress that looked like it belonged in a museum, or in the attic of some gothic mansion.
Chase scoffed, turning to his friends. "See, I told you I'd get us in.”
The woman stepped aside, clearing the threshold. "Welcome to The Black Flower," she said.
The group entered the building, letting their eyes adjust to the darkness, as the woman closed and locked the door. She turned to see that the had already begun to spread themselves out, taking in their surroundings.
"It's just a bunch of dusty, old shit in here," Jenna complained.
"I think the word you're looking for is antique, Jenna," Britney said.
"Fine... there's nothing but a bunch of dusty, antique shit in here..." Jenna corrected.
The rest of the group laughed as the woman stood silently.
"So what did this place used to be?" Bryan asked.
"It was a lot of things... to a lot of people..." the woman answered, indicating a far wall.
The group gravitated to the wall, covered in pictures of lives and days gone by. While all the rest of the room was covered in a thick layer of dust and neglect, held together only by cobwebs, each portrait was immaculate. Frames gleamed in the dim room and the eyes within each memory shined bright.
A nearby tapping of heels caught their attention. "Jezi! you didn't tell me we had company!”
A sweet voice, brimming with excitement filled the room. A lovely woman approached, dressed like the other, but with a single, long braid laying casually over one shoulder.
"Jezi?" Dave asked.
"... Jezebel," the woman answered.
"Jezebel?!" Tonya cackled. "Like, that chick from the bible?!”
Jezebel remained stoic amid the young girl's laughter. "... something like that.”
She turned her attention back to the conversation. "Forgive me, Desi, but these young people were just... dying to see inside.”
"So what does that make you?" Tonya interrupted. "Desibel?" she laughed at her own joke.
She was greeted with an unamused smile. "Desiray, actually.”
Bryan smiled at Desiray, taking in her style of dress. "Wow, you guys really take this stuff seriously, huh?" he asked.
Dave laughed, "Yeah, I'm assuming you are the two 'witches' that own the place huh?”
Jezi chuckled. "Goodness, no." she made her way further inside. "We don't own The Black Flower.”
Desi's smile deepened as she followed Jezebel. "We're simple caretakers…"
The group shared a look among themselves before trailing after. On a table was a cake, adorned with candles. On the wall above the table was a large portrait of a man.
"Is it somebody's birthday?" Britney asked.
"It's The Black Flower's birthday," Jezi answered.
"And just how old is The Black Flower?" Dave probed.
"Tsk. Tsk. Tsk." Desi said. "It's rude to ask a lady's age!”
Jenna rolled her eyes. "Who's this guy?" she asked, pointing to the portrait on the wall. "I saw him in a lot of those other pictures.”
Jezi stared up at the portrait with a soft smile. "That's James... James Bartholomew. He built The Black Flower.”
"Well, now at least we know who used to own it," Chase said.
Jezi and Desi glanced at each other with a secret smile.
"Well, I think $300 entitles us to a tour of the place," Chase said. He turned to Jezi. "How bout it?”
Jezi looked at him calmly. "... If you wish.”
"You know what, Chase. Let's just go, we've seen inside..." Bryan said.
Britney grabbed hold of Bryan's arm. "Yeah, Chase, we've taken up enough of their time…"
"Speak for yourself! Twitter is gonna shit a brick when I post a selfie from our exclusive, private tour!" Jenna squealed.
"I've been dying to see this place forever," Dave confessed.
"Come on, guys. I just wanna go." Britney looked around uneasily.
"Do what you want, but we're going." Tonya barked.
"You heard her... 'if I wish'.. and I wish!" Chase laughed. He threw his arm around Jenna's shoulder. "I told you I'd get us in.”
Without another word, Jezi led the way. Four immediately followed her, while Bryan and Britney wrestled with their decision.
"If you want," Desi chimed behind them, "you can stay here and have a drink with me," she suggested.
Bryan smiled gratefully. He couldn't seem to stop doing that whenever Desi spoke. There was something about her voice that made him happy. "That would be great, thanks.” He tugged a hesitant Britney behind him.
"Maybe we should just wait for everybody outside, Bryan.”
"Oh lighten up, Brit. We've already come this far!" Bryan said. "Besides, who can say they had a drink inside The Black Flower?”
"Not a soul can say that..." Desi glided behind the bar, dusting off a beautiful crystal decanter. She placed three golden goblets on the bar, encrusted with jewels.
"Oh my god! Are these real?!" Britney gasped.
Desi simply smiled as she unstopped the decanter. The air was filled with the heady aroma of fruit and a dark sweetness. Desi poured some into each of the goblets. Bryan and Britney each took one.
"What shall we toast to?" Desi asked.
"How about to Chase?" Bryan asked.
"Bullshit!" Britney argued.
Bryan shrugged. "You have to admit, he did get us in…"
"That's true..." Desi agreed.
Britney shook her head, laughing, as she pulled out her phone. She held it at arm's length, sliding closer to Bryan. "Wine Selfie!" she called.
Desi leaned forward across the bar, holding up her goblet. "To Chase!" she said, seeing their faces reflected on the small screen.
They clinked their glasses together, then drank deeply.
"Jesus, that tastes amazing!" Bryan exclaimed. "And I don't even like wine.”
"Thank you, Dearie," Desi said. "It's my own special brew.”
"What's in it?" Britney asked, draining her cup.
"It's a mixture of elderberry, raspberry, blackberry, arsenic, strychnine, and just a pinch of cyanide... you don't want it to be too sweet.”
She caught Britney's head before it dropped onto the hard surface of the bar. She laid it down gently, smoothing the girl's hair over her head, tucking a strand behind her ear.
Bryan stared at her, his eyes wide, his breath coming in short, hard bursts. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Desi smiled at him. "Mmm... I knew you were strong," she said, coming from behind the bar.
"Don't worry, it won't hurt," she reassured, "you'll simply... drift away.”
She closed Britney's eyes, thinking they may be disturbing Bryan's final moments. "You children... you really should be more careful about what you let your friends get you into.”
She cradled Bryan to her, softly stroking his hair as his breath slowed. "Not to worry. They'll get it much worse than you." She placed a light kiss on the top of his head. "I liked the two of you.”
When he slumped against her, Desi placed his head on the bar, next to Britney's, and closed his eyes as well.
She removed the phone from Britney's tight grip, placing her hand in Bryan's. On the illuminated screen was their faces, frozen forever in their last bit of happiness. Desi smiled at the picture as she opened the window seat.
"To Chase..." she whispered.
As the screen went black, she tossed the phone into the window seat to join the rest of the collection.
She walked to the table, looked up at the portrait, and began to light the candles on the cake.
"...We have a present for you.”