by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Tonight is the night they come back.
My parents locked me and my younger sister India in our room every year until this one. Now they say I'm old enough to sit in the living room, to hear the knock on the door, the cries and whispers at the windows. My sister is up in our bedroom all alone, with a plywood board nailed over the window for the night. She has her iPad with the Wi-Fi disabled, and a stockpile of snack foods and decaffeinated beverages. She's not allowed to look at news tonight. Dad put the camping toilet in our room, just like last year.
Mom closed all the living room curtains, the gauze ones and the heavy winter curtains. Usually light leaks into the windows from the streetlight outside. Tonight the only light in the room is from the candles Mom lit on ceramic plates around the room. She put six on top of the piano and two on the coffee table. Everything's golden and grim. It's spookier than if she turned on the regular lights.
Dad hands me a mug of hot chocolate. It has marshmallows in it. I sip. It's my favorite fall drink, and usually I only get it when I'm very good. I say, "Wait. I thought I was old enough for tonight. Isn't this a kid drink?"
"Abida, you're a tweener now," says Mom.
"What does that even mean?"
A knock sounds on the door.
"Shh," whispers Dad.
I drink. The chocolate whispers warmth and comfort, spreading sweet and dark across my tongue. I savor it and wait for Dad to get the door.
The knock sounds again, louder this time. I put down my mug and walk toward the door.
"Don't answer," Mom whispers.