DISCLAIMER: CSI and its characters are the property of Jerry Bruckheimer and CBS. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Once Upon a Midnight Dreary
Sofia lolled comfortably in the armchair, her legs, clad in comfortable sweatpants, dangling over the side and her head resting against the back. In her lap, a large bowl filled with various kinds of sweets had found a cosy home half an hour ago. Every now and then actually, quite frequently Sofia reached into the bowl, her hand hovering over the treats for a moment until she'd made a choice and picked up something that tickled her fancy. Then, she slowly unwrapped it, popped it into her mouth, and chewed on it with great pleasure.
Sara sat on the couch cross-legged, the book in her hands long forgotten as she watched Sofia with a mixture of fascination and incredulity. Each time the other woman helped herself to something from the bowl, Sara's eyes were glued to the slender fingers, nimbly freeing chocolate from its wrapper and then delicately holding it between thumb and forefinger before it disappeared into the waiting mouth. Shifting her gaze to the coffee table momentarily, Sara counted the wrappers that lay strewn all over it. Seventeen. When Sofia emitted a small moan, Sara tossed her book aside, leaned forward, and snatched the bowl from Sofia. "Okay, that's enough."
"Mmph!" Sofia complained before swallowing the tasty morsel. "What are you doing? I wasn't done yet."
Placing the candy out of her reach, Sara stopped Sofia from rising and making a move towards the bowl by holding up her hand. "Don't even think about it. These are for the trick-or-treaters. Could you bear seeing the disappointed looks on angelic little faces if you had nothing to give?"
"But we bought too much anyway. We'll never get rid of all of it. I'm just trying to help, really." Sofia sent a longing look the bowl's way.
Sara smiled. "You're sacrificing yourself, huh? Somebody has to do it?"
"Exactly. I'm a chocolate martyr."
"Insert heavenly choirs."
"No one's coming. We haven't had a single group of kids so far. I think your carved pumpkin in the front yard is scaring them away." Before her inner eye, Sofia saw the orange vegetable with two eyes of different sizes, a round hole for a nose, and a huge, jagged mouth. Sara was able to sift through evidence meticulously for hours, but when it came to carving pumpkins, she had the fine motor skills of a three-year-old. Perhaps children passing the pumpkin had decided that this could only be the work of a madman with a chainsaw and had skipped their house.
Right on cue, the doorbell chimed, causing a grin to spread on Sara's face. She uncrossed her legs and got to her feet, picking up the bowl of treats on her way to the door. Sofia swung her legs off the armrest and pushed herself up to follow Sara into the hallway.
When they opened the door, they were greeted with a squeaky "Trick or treat!" by several voices, followed by inane giggling. On the doorstep stood two girls and a boy, dressed up as a witch, a cat, and a pirate. It was the two girls who were tittering while the boy gave them a disdainful look.
"Well, will you look at these costumes, aren't they great?" Sofia said warmly, reaching into the bowl and dropping a single piece of chocolate into each plastic bag being help open.
The kids continued to look at her expectantly until Sara nudged her. "Don't be stingy," she said under her breath. Handing them some more chocolate, she smiled. "My friend here's just playing her role. She's Ebenezer Scrooge, you know."
One of the girls looked doubtful. "But it's Halloween, not Christmas."
"Where's her costume?" the second girl piped up.
"And she can't be Ebenezer Scrooge. She's a girl," the boy pointed out with a slightly disgusted look on his face.
Sofia took a deep breath, and Sara, seeing a tirade on 'girls could be whatever they wanted to be' coming, quickly stepped between Sofia and the children to usher them out into the dark. "And off you go. Don't let strangers invite you into their houses. And be sure to let your parents check those sweets before you eat them!"
Back in the hallway, Sara closed the door and found Sofia looking at her, pressing her lips together in an attempt to stop a smile from escaping.
"I didn't know you had a maternal instinct."
"It's called common sense. I've seen too many children dead because they trusted the wrong people."
Sofia's expression grew serious. "You're right. Better be safe than sorry." She nodded towards the den. "Let's watch a movie, shall we? Your pick."
Determined not to let thoughts of work or dead children spoil her night off, Sara followed Sofia into the den. Kneeling down in front of the DVD shelf, she rummaged through it for a few minutes and finally retrieved her DVD choice. She inserted it into the player, switched on the TV, and joined Sofia on the couch. When the movie began, Sara couldn't see Sofia's facial expression since she was leaning against her side, but she could vividly imagine it. Eventually, Sofia cleared her throat and voiced her thoughts.
"Something wrong with that?"
"No but it's not exactly a Halloween flick."
Sara played with Sofia's fingers. "I like going against the grain."
"I hadn't noticed," Sofia replied dryly.
"Do you mind?"
"Not at all."
They watched the movie in silence, taking turns getting up whenever the doorbell rang and trick-or-treaters demanded their treats. Every time Sofia came back to the den and plopped down on the couch, Sara leaned in and kissed her deeply to check whether Sofia's mouth tasted of chocolate, but Sofia had discovered the joys of giving sweets to kids instead of eating them all by herself. She didn't inform Sara about this, however, as Sara's suspicion did have a nice bonus for Sofia.
When the credits rolled, the two of them discussed the various possible interpretations of the movie, trying to make sense of it, but eventually gave up. While Sofia was still lamenting the confusing nature of David Lynch movies, Sara seemed to be distracted by something near the window. Sofia turned her head to see what Sara was staring at so intently and then looked back at Sara.
"What is it?"
"Did you leave the window open?"
"The curtain just moved." Sara's eyes were fixed on said curtain.
Now, Sofia's gaze was directed at the window as well. "The wind?" she suggested.
"What wind? You just said the window's closed." Sara rose from the couch, crossed the room and stopped at the window, her heart rate going up a notch. She patted the thick fabric in different places, assuring herself there was nothing behind it. With two fingers, she parted the closed curtains two inches and peered out into the night with narrowed eyes. The moving branches of the trees between the streetlamps and the house cast eerie shadows on the lawn, making it impossible for Sara to tell if something other than branches and leaves dancing across the front yard was moving out there. Then, she heard a low, breathy voice right next to her ear. "'And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain '"
Sara flinched and elbowed Sofia in the ribs. Turning away from the window, she wondered how she'd failed to notice Sofia sneaking up on her.
Sofia rubbed the sore spot with her hand and grinned. "Not a Poe fan?"
"Don't ever do that again." Sara scowled. "I swear I saw something."
"You know, for a graveyard shift CSI, you're pretty jumpy."
Sofia's teasing smirk was wiped off her face when a clattering noise sounded from the kitchen. Outside, a clock struck midnight, and aside from their quickened breaths, everything was deadly silent. Straining their ears to listen, their eyes met. Sofia laughed nervously. "Okay, this is ridiculous. We're not in a horror movie. Come on, let's check the kitchen."
She grasped Sara's hand and headed towards where they'd heard the noise. Sara had no choice but to follow closely behind, but on her way out of the den, she turned her head back and stared at the curtain, which, although slightly crumpled, hung motionless in front of the window.
In the kitchen, neither of them reached for the light switch, for reasons they couldn't have explained if asked to. Perhaps, it was the hope that if they couldn't see much, they wouldn't be seen either. Instead, they padded through the dark room, avoiding obstacles by means of body memory and taking advantage of what little light the moon shed through the window. Once their eyes had adjusted, they could see quite well and began opening and closing the cabinets, the fridge, and even examined the trash.
When Sara crawled out from under the sink and got back into an upright position, Sofia was nowhere to be seen. A chill got hold of Sara's legs, crept up her spine, and spread over her shoulders and arms, making her shiver. At the same time, the kitchen was bathed in an unnatural glow. Sara could feel the hairs on her arms rise. "Why's it so damn cold in here?" she whispered.
Sofia appeared behind the kitchen table. "You left the fridge door open."
"Oh. Right." That also explained the strange light. Sara swung the refrigerator door shut before she addressed Sofia again. "There's nothing here. I'll go and see if the front door's locked."
"You do that. I'll check the rest of the cabinets."
On her way to the front door, Sara straightened her shoulders and strode down the hallway confidently. This was silly; she was a scientist, and just because it was Halloween, she wouldn't start believing in this kind of stuff. For a moment, she considered opening the door and stepping outside to convince herself that it was a night like every other night, but she decided against it and simply made sure the deadbolt on the door was locked securely.
Her hand still on the doorknob, Sara remained where she was, standing quite still and listening intently. Was that whispering, or were twigs brushing against a window upstairs? Did she hear someone moan, or was it the old boiler complaining in the basement? A dull thud coming from the kitchen, followed by a yelp, made Sara's heart thump violently in her chest. She'd almost reached the kitchen when Sofia stepped out of it.
She was deathly pale; her skin had a ghostly quality to it, and her lips seemed to be drained of all blood. She groaned as she trudged towards Sara, staggering slightly.
Sara shrank back, her eyes wide with terror and her mouth opened without any words coming out.
"What? The flour container fell on me; made a huge mess." Sofia raised her hand to her head powdered with white and gingerly touched a rapidly forming bump with her fingertips. "You can unfreeze your face now, Sara. I'm not a zombie."
"Of course you aren't. I knew that," Sara said in a feeble voice. "You better go and clean yourself up; you don't want to spread flour all over the house."
"I was about to do that." Sofia walked the short distance to the flight of stairs leading to the upper floor, set one foot on the first step, and then hesitated, staring up towards the dark landing.
Sara's initial thought was that the impact of the flour container on her head had made Sofia dizzy and that climbing the stairs seemed like a daunting task in her state. Then, she saw the uneasy expression on Sofia's face and realised that she wasn't the only one who was letting this night get to her. The tough detective wasn't immune to the spooky atmosphere of Halloween after all. Sara's face split into a broad smile.
"'Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing '"
Sofia jerked around, looking somewhat embarrassed at being caught in a moment of weakness. At the same time, surprise about hearing Sara recite part of the same poem Sofia had quoted not too long ago was evident on her face.
"Don't look at me like that, you're not the only one who reads," Sara deadpanned.
"I know, I just didn't think you read anything other than forensics books," Sofia retorted, back in teasing mode.
"Poe's tales are canon. He was the master of horror and the psychology of the human mind."
"Yes, and most of his protagonists had an overactive imagination and went mad," Sofia added. She switched on the light and stomped upstairs with an overly cheery whistle, pointedly looking back at Sara, who grinned.
Chuckling, Sara returned to the den, picking up the bowl of sweets which still contained a few goodies, waiting to be devoured. Chocolate was definitely in order now. When she'd made herself comfortable, her eyes were drawn to the window once more. The curtain didn't move and looked quite harmless, and Sara shook her head. It had just been a trick of the eye, she was sure of that, and the creepy sounds she thought she'd heard had meant nothing at all.
A few minutes later, she was joined on the couch by Sofia, whose face now had a normal colour again. She snuggled up to Sara, placing her feet on the coffee table and happily munching on a praline.
"You know," she mused, "isn't it funny that the mere fact that it's the last day of October and a few noises that we wouldn't have given a second thought on any other day managed to freak us out a little?"
Sara nodded and ran her fingers through soft blonde hair slowly. "Yes, and it didn't help that neither of us remained reasonable. What kind of a scientist does that make me, and what kind of a cop does it make you?"
Sofia shrugged. "We're off the clock, and Halloween does make you more susceptible to being frightened of normal situations. Right now, for example, I feel like we're being watched."
"Yeah, me too," Sara admitted, her eyes flitting back to the window.
Silence descended upon the room; the only sound to be heard was that of a chocolate wrapper slipping off the edge of the table and landing on the wooden floor with a faint crackling. Two minds worked feverishly, pondering whether to trust the gut feeling, and finally deciding against it. Both women suddenly laughed, relieving the tension that had been palpable for a moment.
"That's impossible," Sara said.
"Completely and entirely impossible," Sofia agreed. She pulled out the remote control from between two cushions and switched on the TV. They settled for watching a comedy this time, curled up on the couch comfortably and laughing at silly jokes.
Neither of them noticed the grey-haired, bespectacled man, lurking in the shadow by the bookshelf across the room. Hunched on the floor, he didn't move, only observed, one hand clutching something tightly, but resting quietly on his knee. His face was stoic, but his eyes burnt fiercely with a desire for revenge. He would wait.
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