Part I

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As a firstborn, Mary Ellen Lewis was once again walking on pins and needles as Ritual Night approached. Fall break in Hallow Hills was always bittersweet. On the one hand, school was out, the air was crisp and smelled of cinnamon brooms and fallen leaves, and Halloween decorations were festively strung about town. On the other hand, one unlucky family would have to send their firstborn to the last house on Spellbrook Lane.

The townsfolk tried to treat it as an honor. The chosen child was always the head of the Ritual Night parade, sitting in the paper mache Goblin King's throne wearing his or her best attire. But everyone knew that if you were the firstborn sent to the house on Spellbrook Lane, you never came back.

Talk of what happened in the house was strictly forbidden. No one knew, and speculation didn't do anyone any good. It all tied back to a curse that Mary Ellen wouldn't have believed herself, if she didn't know what happened to anyone who tried to escape Hallow Hills, that is.

Mary Ellen stared down at the pictures in her textbook, A Town's History: The Legends and Truths of Hallow Hills. The pen and ink sketches of the enchantress were her favorite, despite how much she was supposed to fear her. She loved the draping bonnet and veil that covered the woman's head, shrouding her even further in mystery.

Mrs. Bell Hooke stood at the front of the class, tapping her finger on the page of the book lying open on the podium before her. "Who wants to read first?" 

Mary Ellen looked to the next page, where the handsome young prince was depicted before the enchantress, kissing her hand, the unmistakable face of the Spellbrook Lane house looming behind them. Mary Ellen thought the legend was stupid and fantastical, but she couldn't deny the town was cursed, so she kept her thoughts on the old fairytale to herself.

Melanie Laurel Todd's hand shot up at the front of the classroom and Mary Ellen rolled her eyes. Mrs. Bell Hooke pointed at her with the pencil. Melanie Laurel stood up at her desk, holding her textbook in front of her, and recited, "Hundreds of years ago, a handsome young prince ruled over the land that is now Hallow Hills, and when it came time for him to choose a bride, he demanded she must be the fairest beauty in all the world..."

Mary Ellen locked eyes with Michael Pendal across the room. He sliced his fingers across his throat and mimed bleeding out. Mary Ellen stifled a giggle.

"... So he sent guards to search all over the country for the most beautiful maiden that they could find, regardless of class. They soon learned of a woman rumored to be the most beautiful woman in all the land. But many people in her village told the guards that they should be wary, for it was rumored that the young woman dabbled in dark magic..." Melanie Laurel went on.

Mary Ellen turned the page to follow along in her book, though she knew what came next by heart.

"... She was a farmer's daughter, and she was immediately brought to the kingdom. As soon as the prince saw her, even he had to admit that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. The only thing that perplexed him was that she wore a large black bonnet and veil over her head. When he asked her to take it off, she sharply refused saying she would only remove the bonnet once she was married."

Mrs. Bell Hooke raised up a palm to stop her. "That's good, Melanie Laurel — let's have someone else take a turn. Any volunteers?"

No one else raised their hands. Mary Ellen tried to avoid eye contact, but, of course, Mrs. Bell Hooke's eyes landed on her.

"Mary Ellen, how about you?"

Mary Ellen sighed and found the spot on the page where Melanie Laurel had left off: "He immediately asked for her hand in marriage. And she immediately declined."

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