Prologue

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Emma clicked the flashlight on, shining it under her chin. The white sheet hung over her head as she hid from the ghouls that roamed on Devil's Night.

"There was a man named Jack." Her eyes widened as she whispered the words. "He had spent the night drinking, and on his way home, he encounters the Devil, tricking him into climbing a tree."

Frankie gasped and hesitantly peered from under his sheet to their mother. She was by the door, asleep with a plank of wood in her hand. Her head had slumped to one side, resting on the firmly locked door. It was the night before Halloween, and the entire city would erupt in crime and destruction. Their mother was ready to beat any foolish person who might try and break into their tiny flat.

"He thought quickly and scratched the bark with the sign of the cross and trapped him."

Frankie turned back, feeling his heart racing. If their mother caught them talking about such sinful tales, she would paddle their backsides until it hurt to sit down, thus always reminding them of their misbehaviour.

"Jack made a deal with Satan that he can never claim his soul." She hissed the words lowly, trying to scare her little brother. "Jack was a naughty man, living a life of sin. When he died, he wasn't allowed into Heaven."

Frankie gasped again, fearing an afterlife of burning in the pits of Hell. Sunday school had taught him one thing, behave yourself, and you will get into Heaven.

"Poor Jack." He whispered.

Emma nodded supremely; her eyes widened again with wicked delight.

"The Devil refused to let Jack into Hell, keeping his promise. Jack complained that it was too dark to wander the Earth, so the Devil threw a live coal at him, straight from the fires of Hell. Jack hollowed out a turnip and placed the coal in it, using it as a lantern to guide him."

"A turnip?" Frankie sneered.

Emma shrugged.

"I didn't pick it, Frankie, I'm just retelling the tale."

He rolled his eyes and pulled the sheet tighter, hoping that their mother would stay asleep for a little longer, he wanted to know more about Jack.

"That's why he's known as Jack of the Lantern. He only ever comes out on Halloween night and will always look for someone to take his place."

She darted her eyes wide toward their mother, knowing that Frankie would fall for it. His head swiftly turned, seeing that the plank of wood had slipped from her hand, almost ready to fall to the crusty carpet.

Frustrated that Emma kept interrupting the tale, Frank turned back to his sister, who held a pumpkin mask over her face. She roared at him, which made him scream, waking their mother. Their mother woke with a fright, looking upon her two young children who were no longer in bed. Instead, they were sitting on the floor in the centre of the lounge room.

"What are you two doing out of bed?" She snapped. "G'wan, get back in there before I tan your hides!"

Emma and Frankie ran into the bedroom, ducking under the sheets before their mother caught up with them.

Anne Taylor narrowed her eyes at her wayward children but did not carry through with her threat. They'd endured far too much in their short lives to be living in fear of a paddling from their mother. Putting the plank of wood aside, she picked up the torch, turned it off, and then collected the sheets.

Wandering into the only bedroom in their home, Anne put the torch on the nightstand and frowned at her children.

"Please stay in bed, you'll be too tired for school tomorrow if you don't."

Emma nodded, then poked Frankie. He peeked out from under the sheet, giving his mother a sad look.

"Don't be scared, Frank. No one is going to come in here. Go to sleep."

Anne returned to her seat by the front door, the plank of wood in her hands again, waiting for tonight to be over. There were only a few more hours left, then they would be free of the nightmare for another year.

When his mother was asleep by the door again, Frank moved to the window. He liked to watch the sky, waiting for a star to stream across it. One small chance to wish for a better life.

His wish was the standard for many, lots of money that he'd never go hungry again. He could buy a home for his mother and Emma to live in and lots of security so that she didn't have to sleep by the door. His own bedroom, maybe even toys to play with. They could have furniture that wasn't borrowed or broken. Clothes that could be cleaned in his own home rather than at the laundromat. It was a big dream, but Frank held onto it. Every night he prayed to anyone who would listen. All he wanted was a better life.

Frankie rested his arms on the window sill, laying his head upon it. He could hear his mother sleeping, the soft hissing that would on occasions be a dull snore. Emma was out as soon as her head hit the pillow. Life here was hard, he had to sleep head to toe with his sister on the only bed in the tiny unit. Their mother slept on the lounge, that is, when she wasn't trying to protect them from the drunken louts that turned the city into an inferno for one night a year.

He watched the orange glow in the distance, the attention had been toward the eastern district of the city. It was a more affluent area, it was likely they were robbing the residents as well. Their mother had always told them that one day they would leave this terrible city, one day they would be able to afford a place in the country. Somewhere where that was better than here.

It was a dream, and with every moment that passed, Frankie thought that it was slowly slipping away from them. He was ten years old, he longed to climb trees and catch tadpoles in the river, away from home for the majority of the day and be safe. There was no way he could do that here, it wasn't safe.

For now, they had to live in this pitiful unit. It was a converted townhouse that was several levels high, they lived on the ground floor. Their unit was nothing more than the bedroom that could barely fit their bed, and the small bathroom tucked into the corner. The main room was just as small, containing an open area that housed their only lounge, a dirty two-seat thing that the building manager had dragged out of his apartment for them to use. There was a galley kitchen of broken cupboards and appliances that barely worked; the walls were covered in grime that no amount of cleaning could erase, and there was a rug on the floor that held a terrible secret. A large patch of blood that nothing would remove. Frankie knew that the previous tenant had met a sticky end even if his mother had tried to shield them from the truth.

His eyes caught sight of a willowy woman who was dressed in black, an old dress that dragged on the footpath. Frank looked at her and thought that she was pretty. Her dark hair was pulled up into a bun, loose enough to soften her face. Each movement the woman took was eerie, slow, and concise. She was on the other side of the road, the pallor of her skin shone in the bright light of the moon. Frankie's eyes widened as the woman stopped in her path, directly opposite him. Her eyes seemed to glow red, Frankie didn't think it was possible, but it looked like they were pulsating a bloody cherry-red. From the other side of the road, she turned and lifted her hand, wiggling her fingers as a wave.

Warily he lifted his head; his heart was racing as he watched her. She turned her hand, and with one waggle of her finger, she gestured for him to come out to her. Frankie shook his head brutally fast, his eyes wide and frantic. The woman cackled hard, blowing him a kiss from her outstretched hand and continued on down the road.

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