Trembling With Fear – Halloween 2020 Edition!
The thing about Halloween that has always delighted me is this: for one usually blustery, dark night, things are not what they seem. Pumpkins are carved into bulbous beings with malevolent grins, tiny humans transform into the very monsters, ghosts, and zombies that haunt their dreams, and on streets everywhere, people open their doors to the unexpected and sometimes terrifying.
Years ago, we celebrated Halloween in our first home. We’d moved in mere months before, and we weren’t aware that kids (and homeowners) on our street didn’t celebrate. We decorated, dressed up, and had candy at the door. And we waited. After three dark hours of wine-drinking, candy-eating and peering out our front window in anticipation, we grudgingly brought in our candlelit skulls, our bellowing doorknocker, and our extinguished jack o’lanterns.
Shortly afterwards, a sharp knock startled us. I opened the door to a massive, manic Quasimodo, gesturing to a dirty pillowcase he held in his hands. He hopped and grunted and leered far too close to my face. I was terrified. Yet I smiled and attempted to laugh it off. But then the creature attempted to barrel past me, into our home. I screamed for my husband to call 9-1-1.
And then, Quasimodo spoke. “No! Hey! It’s me, Nick from across the street!” He howled with laughter and morphed into our tall, funny neighbor. He had decided to ‘prank’ the new kids on the block, and since that horror-filled night I’ve been slightly apprehensive when opening the door at Halloween.
The stories we’ve selected for this Halloween Special echo that idea that things aren’t always as they seem.
In Made Just for You, Jess Chua offers up a celebratory cake that becomes a comeuppance for ill-gotten gains.
Rex Caleval’s Jack O’verlooked is a terrifying tale of technological tampering…I’m anticipating there might be a Christmas sequel to this one.
In I Will Wait for You, Caleb Stephens’ grieving mother patiently awaits her daughter’s return once more.
Kevin Folliard’s Hook-hand Man delivers a jaw-dropping story in 100 words. With so many houses offering candy on the honor system this year, I’d suggest being polite and only taking one!
This year’s Halloween Special include more spine-tingling submissions from Tim Goldstone, Steven Holding, DJ Tyrer, Erik Handy, Lindsey Martin, Michael Moore and Sarah J. Huntington. As a bonus, Matt Micheli’s serial, Halloween Time, begins this week.
Thanks to all contributors for making this Halloween Special more of a fright-fest than the rest of 2020!
Be well…but beware.
So folks, talk about a strange Halloween. It’s 2020. Our favorite holiday is on a Saturday. There is a full moon this week.
Aaaaaannnndddd a pandemic so many areas have limited to no activities and we’re all adjusting to a world where we have to try and stay socially distanced. Thankfully, Trick or Treating is outdoors which does help.
However, you’re here for one thing. BONUS STORIES. Yes, today we’ve got our influx of Halloween stories to enjoy and I’m happy that we’re able to deliver some festivity to your day.
Happy Halloween one and all! (Or, all hail the pumpkin king, or the great pumpkin, or 1..2… Freddy’s coming for you.. or whatever pop culture reference you’d like to dive into for the day!)
Also, please leave a comment at the bottom of the post and shower some praise on the authors whose work you’ve enjoyed in this one!
Halloween siege of ‘89 by Sarah J Huntington
Some folk say there’s a defining moment in everyone’s life, a moment that can send them in one direction or the other, a single point that lays out their life path ahead. Even if they don’t recognize it.
Mine was surely Halloween night of ‘89.
My folks had it in their heads that Halloween was too evil, far too scary for an 8 year old me.
Myself and my sister Janet, then 14, were to either stay in or accompany them to Church, no excuses.
The thought of having to stay home, opening the door to my fancy dressed Ghostbuster friends and giving my own candy away seemed too much to bear. So church it was.
Janet took it harder than me, she was missing out on a costume and movie party. Half way through the packed out sermon, on the appropriately titled ‘Origins of evil,’ she started elbowing me purely out of boredom.
When we stood, she leaned down and pressed that weak spot we all have behind our knees and down I went, listening to her low cackling laughter while our Pa told only me to hush.
As I regained my footing, loud knocking at the main outer doors started up.
All heads swung together to face the sound.
“Trick or treaters, “ a few different folk mumbled. Others were outraged. “How dare they!” exclaimed my elderly but fierce school teacher, Mrs Evans.
Our minister carried on hesitantly until the banging and the frowning faces of his flock became too much. I guessed it was a horde of the older teenagers, the same ones that terrorized me and my friends at school, that were to blame for the trickery.
“Open the door,” came a rough voice that somehow managed to echo around the church. I even glanced up at the ceiling, half expecting to see someone up there.
Mrs Evans, clearly braver than the menfolk, got up from her pew and sped down the aisle, quick as a flash for an old girl.
“Now, just wait. They’ll go away, “ someone told her.
“It’s just kids,” my own Ma said. A feeling of excitement began to creep up inside me, nothing like that had ever happened before.
“Is it your friends?” My Pa asked Janet with distaste.
She shook her head, “No, they’re all watching Terminator.”
My Pa tutted, as if machines from the future were part of the evening’s problem.
Mrs Evans opened the first set of double doors and paused.
Old Mr Baker from the barbershop in town crookedly joined her.
I don’t think anyone else knew quite what to do, sometimes when people are faced with an unknown, they choose to do nothing at all.
The pair stepped out of view to open the main doors.
I heard the resounding creak, those doors were heavy back then and I heard Mrs Evans angrily say, “Now look here….”
I listened as she let off a piercing scream and I clutched at my Ma’s clothes, terrified.
Mr Baker stumbled back in seconds later and pulled at the second set of doors, “Help me. The door, “ he pleaded full of panic, “The door!”
My Pa was the first to jolt into action, he jumped a few of the pews behind us and pushed the doors shut, as an afterthought, he dragged a long table over as a barricade. The sound made me slam my hands over my ears.
“What happened?” my Pa asked, “Quickly now.”
Our minister made his way towards them, holding a bible for his defence as Mr Baker caught his breath. I noticed a spray blood on his crisp white shirt.
“A hand, an arm! It was red, all red, it shot out and grabbed her. I saw a wing flapping. A huge wing, biggest I ever saw!” Mr Baker gasped.
“A bird?” The minister asked, confused, “There’s a bird?”
“No, it weren’t no bird. It was as big as a man I tell ya.”
“Fancy dress,” My Pa said shaking his head, “Someone messin’ around is all.”
Mr Baker sat down heavily, “It ain’t nobody in no fancy dress.”
That spooked everyone.
“It’s the Devil!” came the voice of a high pitched devout lady.
I think it was then that I peed myself a little.
“I think we should all calm down, Mrs Evans has probably fallen down the steps as the result of a horrible prank,” our minister spoke quite cheerfully, as if he were delighted by the idea.
“Anyone joining me to check?”
My Ma stepped forward and for a brief moment, I thought she was volunteering. I made a squeak of protest but instead she pulled my Pa back to us.
“I’m with you.” Said a tall strong looking man I didn’t know.
The tall man and the minister scraped the table aside and opened the first doors. I looked at Janet and saw she was crying softly. I patted her shoulder uselessly.
“It’s just kids,” I tutted to her, copying my Pa and shaking my head.
“I’ve called the police,” our minister shouted, “ We’re coming out.”
“Me first,” that tall man insisted.
My Ma and Pa stood close and started whispering together. I dared to peek out from behind Ma’s skirts. Everyone in the church stayed quiet, waiting. A wave of apprehension settled over the crowd. I heard someone laugh nervously and try to cover it with a cough.
The minister flung himself back through the doors and fell to his knees.
“The Sheriff…call….Police,” he stuttered.
The sheer look of terror on his face caused everyone to move; half ran to the back of the church, the other half ran to help close and barricade the door.
“Get down,” my Ma leaned down to whisper and I still now have nightmares over that single chilling moment.
Janet and I huddled down low and held hands. I looked up at the stained glass windows of The Last Supper, ready to pray to our Lord and beg for help.
But then I saw it.
An old leathery deep red face assessed the crowd below it with burning amber eyes, its expression hungry and stuck in an ancient terrible grimace.
I saw its red arms, taught and muscular, claws clinging to the brickwork. Behind it stretched giant translucent wings, covered in threads of black veins and thick yellowed bone.
It saw me watching, stunned and terrified. It winked one amber eye directly at me and licked at the window with its forked tongue.
Its wings began to flap and it pushed itself away with a clawed hand.
“Our Father,” I began to say and promptly forgot the rest.
I sat low and in a daze when my Pa shook me hard. I saw his mouth move but my ears were ringing. Instead of waiting for me to snap out of it, he picked me up and we ran to lock ourselves in the back room. I threw up down his back.
My Ma and Janet were already in there, grouped together with other frightened people in the corner.
We waited. We heard screams in that time, deeply unpleasant screams of agony that I will never shift out of my mind.
It seemed like an hour, but I guess it was only a few minutes. First we heard sirens, then the distinctive sounds of gunfire.
Our Sheriff was the one to open the door on us. The women cried in relief and I think some of the men did too.
I’m told I didn’t speak for a few days, shock can do that to a person.
Ma and Pa sometimes discussed the events quietly, stood together whispering until Janet or I walked into the room.
The official line, direct from our brave Sheriff, was that a criminally insane man had escaped the nearby Asylum that night.
No one gave him any mind, dressed like the Devil straight from hell, on account that it was Halloween and all. In fact, people even stopped to give him candy and admire his costume.
He killed four people in total. Mrs Evans, our minister, the tall man Mr Pike and a first to arrive on scene police officer.
I heard at school that Mrs Evans had her guts spilled so bad, that it looked like sausages were draped up the church steps.
Our town became famous, the site of a real madman’s gruesome rampage. Just like in the movies.
Nobody could figure out, not even the Sheriff, how the madman got our minister’s head so high up, staked on the spire.
I knew how.
I kept quiet. Talk about the Devil and he’ll appear, they say.
I don’t want to see him twice.
Sarah J Huntington
Halloween Time by Matt Micheli
PART 1: Trick or Treat
Maggie pulled out the Halloween-themed sugar cookies from the oven and carefully set the skulls, spiders, and ghosts on the stovetop. A sweet, cinnamon butter coated the air. A woman of strong tradition, she had been baking those exact cookies for the last thirty Halloweens and counting. The Halloween baking ritual that was started for her kids so many years ago, was now carried down for the neighborhood kids.
Benny came in from the garage. “Mother, where’s that candy bucket?”
Maggie took her oven mitt off and grabbed the wooden spoon for the different colored icings. “In the pantry on the top shelf, next to the crockpot,” she said. She, like most women, had a knowledge of where everything in the house was located—a system many years in the making—and was heavily relied upon for direction.
“Thanks, Honey.” Before grabbing the bucket, Benny stopped behind the wife he’s fallen in love with again every day for the last forty-plus years, grabbing her gently by the waist and looking over her shoulder at the cookies she was now spreading icing over. “Mmmm,” he said, breathing in the mouth-watering aroma. “My favorite part of Halloween.” He reached in for one, but Maggie playfully swatted his hand with the spoon.
“No, you don’t!”
“Ow. Okay. Okay.” Benny laughed before leaving his wife to her duties. He grabbed the bucket from the top shelf of the pantry and emptied several bags of candy into it, stuffing it to the brim, leaving three additional large bags of candy as backup. Better to have more than enough than not enough. He sneakily walked back over to his wife and whispered, “Are they ready, now?”
She waved the wooden spoon at him—a warning—and with a smile, said, “Get out of here, you.”
“Can’t help a guy for trying,” Benny mumbled as he walked out into the garage. He set the overflowing bucket of candy next to a small cooler, between two fold-out chairs placed at the top of their driveway. Looking down the street, no kids were out, yet. It was about a half hour before dusk, the calm before the storm. Once the sun began to set, the neighborhood would come alive with trick-or-treaters. Benny missed the days of old, when their kids were young and excited, and everything was a new adventure. Magic. Halloween was always one of their family’s favorite holidays. So now, being that their kids and grandkids lived in another state, and visiting was special but rare, they reveled in seeing all the fun being had by the young neighboring parents and children. There was a pleasure from seeing others experiencing what they had once enjoyed and always cherished.
The final preparations done, Maggie and Benny sat down in their chairs, and Benny cracked open two beers from the cooler, handing one to Maggie. They were ready for the onslaught of kids. Every Halloween, they were known for having the best cookies on the street and way too much candy which they would dump by the handfuls. Many of the kids and parents named them the grandparents of Sunhaven Drive. Benny was always there to lend a helping hand, and Maggie with all her baking wizardry handled the neighboring families’ sugar cravings.
“Hey, neighbor!” Joe from two houses over and across the way, yelled. He too was setting up shop for the trick-or-treating frenzy that would quickly be underway. Scary sounds of Halloween played from his speaker, providing the soundtrack for the street.
“Hey, Joe!” Benny yelled out with a wave.
As the sun moved further west, a golden hue blanketed the world, and Halloween had begun. Groups of parents with their kids walked in every direction.
“Trick-or treat!” said the small princess with the beaming smile.
“Well, what a beautiful princess,” Maggie said as Benny dumped a handful of candy into the child’s outstretched bag. “Would you like a cookie?”
The little girl nodded Yes, and Maggie gave the little princess her choice. She grabbed for the ghost.
“Happy Halloween,” Benny said.
“What do you tell the Smiths, Lauren?” asked the child’s mother from the end of the driveway.
The little princess, all but four years old, turned back to Benny and Maggie. “Thank you.”
“You are very welcome, Princess,” Benny said.
The shy girl smiled wide and walked back to her mother who waved.
The four-year old princess was the first of the onslaught. Quickly following were Elsas, Pirates, Peter Pans, Ninjas, Minions, with an occasional bite-size ghost, and even zombies, one in particular a little too realistic, and a little too happy with the fake blood. Some parents. Benny and Maggie looked at each other and chuckled.
As the sun crept further from view and the night made its way in, many of the smaller kids were replaced with larger kids.
Maggie, seeing an opening between trick-or-treater groups, got up from her chair. “I’m gonna go grab the other tray of cookies.”
“Alright,” Benny said. “I’ll hold down the fort. But don’t take too long. Without my beautiful wife by my side, I’m a little too scary looking for these kids.”
“This is true,” Maggie teased as she made her way inside the house.
It was now night, the only light coming from street lights placed about every one hundred feet or so. A Halloween party was beginning a few houses down and across. Benny wasn’t a fan of all the extra cars parked along their street, but oh well. Let the youngsters have their fun. He reached down into the cooler and dug another beer from the ice. He popped the top off and noticed a few of the kids running in random directions, through yards, back and forth across the street. A princess, probably around the age of eight, came racing through their yard at a full sprint, followed by a sword-carrying pirate. Playing chase?
Trick-or-treating had ceased for the moment as all the parents and kids seemed preoccupied. Weird.
Maggie came out with the cookies. “Well, I guess…”
“Shhh,” Benny cut her off. “Look.”
They both took a moment to try and comprehend what they were seeing. There were people out, but something wasn’t right. A young woman from the other side of the street looked frantically back and forth. Has she lost her kid? Just then a black Ford Mustang pulled slowly onto their street, inching cautiously ahead, through the random kids darting back and forth who apparently had no consideration for public safety. Maggie and Benny watched a young kid in a mask, practically covered in fake blood, walk directly up to the car and ferociously bang repeatedly on the side of the car, hard.
“Jesus,” Maggie let out.
The car stopped, but then pulled ahead and around the kid. The kid just stood there in the middle of the street.
“Hey, son!” Benny yelled to the boy. “It’s not safe in the street. Where are your parents?”
The masked boy just stood there, giving zero acknowledgement to Benny’s suggestion, staring toward the car before turning and walking off.
“Well,” Benny said. “I guess parenting is different, these days. Just let their kids run free for all.” He brushed off the peculiar behavior as just the way things were nowadays, for better or worse. “Oh well.”
Several kids, all wearing various lifelike monster masks, came up the driveway, led by a red devil with a Pinnochio nose, holding a pitchfork.
Benny, a little taken off guard by how realistic and demented the costumes were, said, “Well, they certainly didn’t make masks like that back then.” He laughed briefly before stopping. Something wasn’t right. Their eyes . . . He grabbed a handful of candy, ready for the first one in line. “Happy Halloween.” He held the candy out to the devil. The devil and the other kids just stood there for a moment, motionless, staring directly at the older couple.
“Where’s your bag, dear?” Maggie asked, before noticing none of the kids were carrying any.
“Nice costumes, kids. Hope they got pockets,” Benny said, trying to break through this somewhat awkward moment, extending his handful of candy to the devil. Looking at the pitchfork, he joked, “You doing some farming?” His laugh was cut short as the kid gripped the pitchfork with both hands and drove it forcefully into his neck. Blood squirted out in powerful streams. Benny fell back over with his chair—thud—the pitchfork sticking straight up out of him like a flagpole, blood still squirting from his neck, showering the candy, the cooler, the cookies, his wife.
“Aghh!” Maggie’s eyes wide—everything spinning around her as her husband lay next to her, dead, his blood warm on her face and arms. She stumbled clumsily toward the house, her legs heavy, pushing through a thick molasses, screaming all the way. Her hands shaky, she struggled to turn the doorknob—her hands slipping off—but finally had the door open. She tried closing it behind her, but the door met one of the monster’s shoulders. He along with the others easily pushed their way inside.
After only a few seconds of chase, Maggie deprived of the opportunity to watch her wonderful life flash before her eyes, let out one final, concluding scream.
PART 2: The Purple Streak
Droves of last-minute Halloween enthusiasts rushed the doors of Spooktacular Masks and Costumes, picking through the rummaged items, hoping to come across something—anything—that would make them feel sexy, naughty, scary. Spooktacular advertised as having the most authentic and realistic masks imaginable—the skin like real flesh, the hair recently cut from someone’s head. This was their first year to open, having bought out the seasonal Spirit Costumes location.
“What do you think of this one, dude?” Jerry asked, holding the Jason Voorhies mask up to his face, gripping the plastic machete.
“Wow. Very original,” Mike said.
The girls came up. Samantha pinched Jerry on the butt. “Oooh, Jason. Now that’s sexy.”
Taylor went to see what Mike was looking at. “Anything?” she asked.
“Nah. I don’t want none of this crap. I think I’m just gonna throw some paint on my face and be a vampire. Easy.”
She grabbed a werewolf mask from the ground. “What about this?”
“You know I don’t like masks. I’m not wearing that crap all night.”
Taylor began playing with the werewolf’s fur through her fingers and then rubbed it against her face. “Wow. It feels so soft. So . . . real.”
Mike laughed before saying, “Yeah. Not a chance.”
“Well, let’s see what you girls found,” Jerry said. “Hopefully something totally bad.”
“Oh…” Samantha said. “You like bad, do you?”
The two grabbed each other aggressively and kissed.
“Come on, you two,” Mike said. “Can y’all go five seconds without making me want to throw up?”
“You’re just jealous because Taylor doesn’t give it up,” Jerry said.
“Oh yeah,” Taylor said, sarcastically. “I’m a total virgin. Sex disgusts me.”
They all laughed a little.
“Well?” Samantha said in her cutest cutesy voice. “Do you boys want to see what your hot girlfriends are going to wear to the party, or what?”
The boys looked at each other, their eyebrows lifted to the sky. The answer was obvious. They followed their girlfriends to the dressing rooms and got a glimpse of what their Halloween was going to look like.
“I fucking love Halloween,” Jerry said.
Mike smirked and nodded in approval. “Me, too.”
# # #
Dusk blanketed the world in a golden hue as early-bird trick-or-treating was underway. Parents escorted their ghostly children, their little skeletons, their PJ Masks, their Doras, their bite-size Wonder Women and Captain Americas. Non trick-or-treaters—the older folks whose kids had already grown and gone off—were setting up shop in their driveways and garages, strategically placing their fold-out chairs and buckets of loot, the Sounds of Halloween Pandora stations eerily seeping from their speakers.
Mike was ready. His white t-shirt ripped and lazily splattered with fake blood he had left over from last year, a line of red coming from the side of his mouth, a dab of white makeup rubbed on his cheeks, he was a makeshift, fangless vampire. No way he was going to even consider wearing those uncomfortable fake teeth all night.
He pulled up to Jerry’s in his black Mustang he had just run through the wash and picked up the half-ass version of Jason Voorhies who preferred to carry his mask rather than wear it.
“This mask is unreal,” Jerry said as he climbed in the car. “It’s like it sticks to your face; doesn’t want to come off.”
“You know Samantha isn’t gonna give you any without that mask on,” Mike said. “You know, to cover up that grotesque face. Actually . . . can you please put the mask on, now? I’m getting sick to my stomach looking at you.”
“Ha. Ha. Real funny, dip shit. Coming from the guy in a mime costume.”
“Yeah, a vampire with no teeth and too much makeup.”
They scooped up the girls who were in costumes that barely covered anything. Samantha had on black shorts that showed the bottom of her ass, red and black striped socks up over her calves, a red and black horizontally-striped loose crop top—the neckline cut way low—exposing her busts and flat belly, topped off by a faded and torn fedora. She had her knived glove in her purse for later. A “cute” Freddy Krueger.
Taylor had on heels, purple fishnets leading to a tight black pleather skirt, and a black top that could double as porn lingerie, exposing her perfectly squeezed cleavage and flawless abdomen. She had sprayed a purple streak down her dark hair, her makeup perfectly crafted, red streaks of very realistic blood coming from her eyes and mouth. She showed the boys her teeth. “These are for the party.”
Jerry examined the teeth. “Are these . . . real teeth?”
“I know, right?” Taylor took them back and placed them in her purse.
Mike looked at his hot girlfriend through the rearview who now looked even hotter. There was something about that purple streak in her hair. Hot. And the cleavage of course.
Samantha took a swig from her flask filled with vodka and passed it around the car. Five Finger Death Punch blared from the radio. She began to dance, waving her head and arms around loosely. “Turn that shit up.”
Jerry took a swig and did as his bombshell girlfriend requested.
Mike gave in to the peer pressure and agreed to one drink but wanted to stay coherent and focused on driving, especially with all police out looking for drunk Halloween drivers. He took a fiery swig and handed the flask back to Jerry just as he spotted the cop parked at the elementary school. Like clockwork, he gripped the wheel with both hands. Close one.
The smaller trick-or-treaters were beginning to disperse as the night had finally taken over the day. Mike noticed one kid with a fake axe held overhead, chasing another kid. Down the way was a small pirate, brandishing a sword, running after a princess. He laughed. Kids. He slowed and turned onto the street of the party, cautiously allowing people to cross. There were screams in the distance, and the Halloween-goers were moving more randomly than normal—running through yards, off and on the street with no regard to cars. Mike couldn’t quite wrap his head around the expression of one woman in particular. She frantically looked back and forth—her eyes wide, her mouth a half scowl—before jogging down the street. Has she lost her kids?
Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!
“What the fuck?” Samantha let out.
Mike and the others looked to the side of the car. There was a kid there, all but four feet tall wearing a mask with a permanent devilish grin, the skin dead and wrinkled, viciously pounding on the door and window of the car.
Jerry flipped him off. “You mean little shit.”
Mike warily inched forward, the kid’s eyes never leaving theirs. As Mike drove past, he looked in the rearview at the kid who was now just standing in the middle of the street, staring back at them. Is that . . . blood all over him? Where are his parents?
They pulled up to the party and parked. All but Taylor got out of the car. She used the mirror to put her vampire teeth on just right.
Jerry placed the Jason mask over his head. “Fuck, this thing is tight.” He looked over at Samantha. “This thing better get me something good, later.”
Samantha walked over to him and grabbed his crotch. “Mmm… I’ll give you anything you want, you bad, bad boy.” She smiled mischievously. She struggled to pull the knived glove over her hand and snapped it on. She looked at Jerry and held her hand up, twirling her knived fingers. “Freddy . . . will give you whatever you want,” she said in her best Freddy voice.
They walked up to the house and knocked. Behind them, slowly walking up the sidewalk toward them, was a miniature zombie, sliding one leg like it was broken and letting out a distressed groaning—a pretty damned good zombie impression. The music was loud inside and after about twenty seconds of no one answering, they decided to open the door and go in. Mike looked back at the authentic zombie ensemble, completed by the realistic bloody flesh hanging from its teeth. “Sorry, kid. This party is for adults only.”
The zombie just continued to hobble his way forward, one slow step at a time, dragging his dead leg.
They walked into the entry of the house and closed the door on the sluggish zombie kid, outside. Red light flashed on and off, cutting into the darkness every half second. Smoke danced in the air. Music and Halloween screams came from every direction of the house. With each flash of light, you could read the sign that said: “Booze that way” with an arrow pointing to the back, “Monsters that way” with an arrow pointing to the right, ending with “Party/Orgy that way” pointing to the left.
“I’m going to the booze,” Mike said over the noise. “Booze before orgy.” He laughed.
He noticed Jerry rubbing his temple through his Jason mask. He slapped him on the arm. “You okay, Jason?”
Jerry looked at him through the mask, and then looked off, before coming to. “Yeah, man. I’m good. Let’s do this.”
As Jerry began to follow Mike to the booze, Samantha grabbed his arm and pulled him and Taylor the other direction toward the party. Mike looked back to see his friends disappear into the other room. “I guess I’ll grab y’all’s drinks!” he acerbically yelled out.
He opened the door into the kitchen and tripped over something. “Jesus, man.” “Mike looked down at the presumably passed-out drunk guy, blocking the walkway. “It’s barely nine o’clo…” his words were cut short when he noticed the butcher knife handle distended from the guy’s back and the blood surrounding it and on the floor. What the fuck?
He nudged the guy’s leg, but there was no movement or sign of life. He looked around, saying to no one, “Where is everyone?” Just then the door at the other end of the kitchen slammed open and a staggering werewolf stood in the doorway, his chest expanding largely with each deep breath. Flashing light and loud music came from the room behind him, framing him.
“Hey, man!” Mike said. “We need an ambulance. This guy was stabbed!”
The werewolf stood there for a moment, tilting its head like a dog in deep thought. Its mouth widened exposing its pointed teeth, and a long viscous string of sticky red saliva dripped from his chin. The eyes behind the mask didn’t seem human.
What the . . . ? Mike took a slow, calculated step back, never taking his eyes off the wolf’s. The wolf cocked himself, getting ready to attack its prey. Mike grabbed loosely at anything on the counter he could use as a weapon, not finding anything. The wolf lunged forward diving at Mike. Mike stumbled back over the stabbing victim, falling to the floor. The werewolf flew by. It popped up on all fours, shook its dazed head, and looked back toward Mike.
Mike tried to breathe, unable to grasp what was happening, his heart trying to escape his chest. As the monster rushed him again, his instinct took charge. He pulled the knife from the dead guy’s back and shoved it directly into the wolf’s stomach, keeping his arms extended to avoid the wolf’s jaws viciously snapping at him. It clawed at his face and shoulders before its last slow breath left its body, and it fell limply to the ground.
“Fuck.” Mike leaned up against the island, trying to catch his breath. He looked down at the dead guy and now the dead . . . Werewolf? What is going on?
Just then, it hit him. Taylor. He had to get to Taylor and his friends and get the hell out of there. He went back into the entry, the red flashes of light piercing his eyes every half second. He bumped into someone. In the quick bursts of red, he could see a body slumped up against the wall with its neck torn out. Mike noticed his foot slipping in something wet, something red. Light-headed, faintish, his brain rattled between his skull—his eyes blurry—as he tried to comprehend what was happening. Compose yourself. Breathe. Think. He was finally able to take in a deep breath, and his vision cleared. He pushed the door into the party room. Music pounded, the lights flashing rapidly. In the bursts of light were bodies, moving to and from, screams, chaos.
Mike saw Jerry across the room. “Jerry!” What is he doing?
Jerry was facing the other direction working on something, his arm forcefully jerking. Mike squinted his eyes, focusing as best he could to see his best friend’s fake machete being used to carve out someone’s insides. Mike let out a yell and fell backward over his heavy legs, tumbling into something. He turned to see the Scream mask and then noticed the bouts of light reflecting off the knife. Mike instinctually cocked his arm back and drove his fist into the masked face, completely laying out the knife-wielder. He turned to see Taylor and then saw a crazed Samantha across the room ripping her bloody knifed glove from someone’s torso. Samantha’s eyes met his before their eye-contact was severed by the many others running wildly about. He scanned the room again. “Taylor!” He raced toward her, dodging the others scrambling about, grabbed her hand, and rushed her toward the exit. They both stepped over a bloody body in the doorway and went out the front door into the night. Red and blue police lights flashed in the distance. Sirens blared. Screams echoed through the night. There was a gunshot blast from somewhere nearby. A teen-size Captain America was rolling around the grass fighting some sort of monster. A kid in a glowing Purge mask wielding an axe chased after a little Elsa. She got pinned against a car, turned and waved her hands as if trying to summon the power of ice. But no ice came to block the blade of the axe. “No!!!” Mike yelled, gripping Taylor’s hand even more tightly. He tried to find his bearings. Where’s the car? Where’s the car? “Over there!” He spotted it. He pulled Taylor along, passing the driveways where people only minutes before sat to entertain the children but were now empty—chairs knocked over, buckets of candy laid to waste. A pitchfork stuck straight up from one man’s neck. Mike worked his keys from his pocket before feeling a sharp jutting shock in his neck. “Aghhh!” He couldn’t move, as whatever had sunk its teeth into him was unrelenting. He was . . . paralyzed. In a coma where he couldn’t feel anything but the stabbing, shooting pain from the incision. He began gasping for air but only inhaled thick, warm liquid. In the grass ahead were two zombie kids eating a Power Ranger, lions feasting on a gazelle. Mike felt his legs give out. He collapsed forward only being held up by his Mustang and whatever gripped his neck. He struggled helplessly to breathe in life-giving air, but only gulped and drowned more on his own blood. His eyes got heavy, and all the pain seemed to seep from his body. A cool feeling of relief washed over every pore of his body. Reflected in his car window—blood running down onto his chest—he saw the thing attached to his neck with the purple streak running through her hair, before everything went dark.
PART 3: The Crazies are Out
Officer Jeff Castillo sat in the elementary school parking lot on the corner of Sunstone and Willham Drive, sipping on his energy drink. After working the past three nights, he’d probably need a few to get him through tonight. He never was one to shy away from working additional shifts when the department called on him, which is one of the many things that helped earned him officer of the year, last year. The overtime wasn’t bad, either. He knew sacrificing now in the short-term—missing a few holidays like tonight—would pay off greatly for him and his young family in the long run. He’d be the first in line when that nine-to-five detective job opened up—the one with an office and a big bump in pay.
The sun was slowly creeping westward. He had about a half-hour of calm before all the Halloween crazies came out. Halloween never failed to make for a very interesting patrol. He took another sip from his energy drink and dialed his wife.
“Hi, Honey,” answered his wife, Susan.
“Hey, Babe. How’s the little man?” Jeff said, speaking of their four-year old son that had come down with some bug which unfortunately ruined any thought of trick-or-treating.
“He’s . . . ok. He looks like he’s about to fall asleep on the couch.”
“Oh, good. Rest is best.”
“Yeah. He’s still got a little fever, but it’s going down. I think the worst is past us.”
There was a pause in conversation.
“Happy Halloween to us, huh?” Jeff snorted.
“Are you gonna stay up for a bit and pass out candy or just turn the lights out like a cranky old witch?”
“Haha. I’ll probably pass out some candy to the little early ones, and then it’s lights out. Without you the past couple nights, I’ve had to take care of our sick baby by myself. I’m . . .” Susan yawned. “…exhausted.”
Jeff took in a long slow breath before saying, “Alright, honey. The sun is setting which means the crazies are about to come out. Get some rest. And hey . . . make sure you know who you’re opening the door for. Remember, locked and loaded.”
“I know. I know. Locked and loaded.”
“Ok, honey. I’ll kiss you goodnight when I get home. Love you.”
“Love you, too.”
The call ended. Jeff turned up his radio which had thus far been quiet and took another drink from his energy drink. His phone beeped. He opened the text from his wife to see a picture of his passed-out son in his little policeman costume followed by a message from his wife: “Be careful daddy. We love u.” Jeff’s whole body warmed, and he couldn’t keep from smiling.
As the sun went down, Jeff watched the countless costumes going in and out of the CVS across the street, bringing back their loot of cases of beer and spritzers, one after another. Last year, he was the first responder to a head-on collision along FM-1120. A drunk college kid crashed into a mom and her two young children, killing himself and the mom, leaving the two kids forever motherless. Those incidents are never easy. But when you have children of your own, it amplifies the severity of the situation; the severity of the sadness. It becomes almost too relatable. He still thought about that one every day. How a mother’s idea to pick up Dairy Queen for dinner before taking her babies trick-or-treating and a college kid’s idea to have that one last drink before he left his friend’s house came together in tragedy. Lives taken. Many other lives ruined. The children were so young—ages not-quite two and three. Will they even be able to remember their mother?
The radio came to life.
“I’m here. What you got for me?”
“I’ve got a ten thirty-three on the sixteen hundred block of Suncrest.”
“What’s the emergency?”
“A woman and her child are being held hostage by a . . . bunch of kids. She’s in a white Toyota Camry.”
“Ha. Is this a joke? Did Randy put you up to this?”
“No joke. She’s on the phone with 9-1-1 as we speak. Scared for her life.”
“Ok. On it. About three minutes out.”
Officer Castillo flipped the lights and skidded the tires a little. He pulled several blocks up into the neighborhood that was teeming with life. There were people everywhere that all seemed to be running from or after something, scattering in every direction. One kid in a ninja turtle costume ran right out in front of him. “Whoah!” He promptly pressed in the break as far as it would go, abruptly stopping the car. “Where’s your parents? Jeez.” He pulled forward and turned onto Suncrest and up next to the car surrounded by costumed kids who were pounding on the car. Yep. The crazies are definitely out.
He got out with his Mag Light and walked toward the car. “Hey. HEY!” He yelled out. “Back away from the car.”
The kids acted as if they didn’t hear him, continuing to relentlessly punch the windows of the car. Jeff noticed the blood smudges on the glass where the kid’s knuckles and hands had busted, and the mother crying hysterically in the driver seat, holding her kid close to her chest.
“HEY!” he said more loudly and walked through the kids, pushing them off and back, but they paid him zero respect and just kept beating at the car, pounding on the glass—thump, thump, thump.
“Goddamn it! Y’all back away from the vehicle NOW.”
Just then he felt something claw at his neck. He grabbed the hand and threw whatever it was to the ground. Then something bit through his pants into the back of his knee.
He now felt hands and teeth and claws attacking him from every direction, his face being the focal point. Through the incoming assault, he muscled the gun from his holster and fired it in the air, the blast startling the assailants for the moment. Jeff removed himself from the crowd of assaulting kids, stayed facing them, gun pointed in their direction. “Don’t you dare keep walking. And take those damned masks off.”
The gun didn’t frighten them. It’s as if they had no clue what one was. The zombies, and demons, and werewolves, and bloody-faced kids all slowly approached him, as he backed toward his car, gun fully extended and ready to be fired. Something in their eyes didn’t make sense. What is wrong with these kids?
He pulled open his car door and closed it. He went to radio for help but apparently wasn’t the only one experiencing being attacked by kids.
“Need backup at the corner of …”
“Hurry. Requesting backup at…”
“Oh my god! What is happening. Hurry! Please!”
“Officer down! Officer down!”
Officer Castillo sat there for a second, as everything went quiet. All the noise from outside, the screaming, the flashing from his lights… everything disappeared for just long enough for him to compose himself. Directly ahead, spotlighted by the headlights of the cruiser, was a man crawling backwards away from what looked like a teenage-sized Grim Reaper holding a scythe. The man was pleading with the kid. The kid raised the scythe.
“Not today, motherfucker.” Jeff popped the cruiser into gear and floored it.
Upon impact, the Reaper bounced up and off the windshield landing behind the car, rolling several times before coming to a dead stop. Jeff stopped and got out to help the man, but the man was already running.
“Hey!” Jeff yelled toward him.
The man got maybe fifty paces before he was piled upon by several of the little hellions. Jeff aimed his gun at them but lowered it—there were too many. What is going on? The man let out a screech that was quickly muted. Jeff quickly surveying the area and doing a quick count knew he had to get out of there. He looked back at the Camry and the helpless mother and child inside. Susan! Billy! The images of his wife and son flashed through his mind, and his stomach dropped out of him. I’ve got to get home, now. A bloody scarecrow came up with a pointed stick. Before the monster could make a move, Jeff had grabbed the stick and punched the scarecrow directly in the face, its nose cartilage crunching upon impact. The scarecrow dropped immediately. He eyed the woman and child in the car, got in the cruiser, reversed over something or someone—thump—and made his way to the driver side of the Camry. He opened his door and forcefully threw two masked kids to the ground. He looked at the woman. “Open the door, and get in,” he mouthed, motioning to his cruiser. It took her a second to break from the shock and finally do as she was instructed.
The woman and the kid, safe in the back of the patrol car, Jeff pulled down the street.
“What happened, ma’am? Are you alright?”
“I . . . I don’t know. We . . . we went to say hi to a friend and were gonna pass out some candy. It’s like . . . as soon as the sun went down.” She looked off, shaking her head, rocking her closely-held daughter in the seat.
“Well, I’m going to make sure you and your daughter are okay, okay?”
The woman just held her child tight and looked out. Officer Castillo carefully but hurriedly maneuvered the car through random masked attackers. This was unlike anything he had ever seen or trained for: every monster you could think of, running around, attacking anything they could get their hands on. He had never felt this helpless. Had everyone lost their minds? A gunshot, followed by several in rapid succession, rattled their ears, the echo of the blasts reverberating off their eardrums. In the distance above the rooftops, there was a bright glow illuminating the weaving smoke from a burning house. The woman covered her daughter’s ears and face.
“It’s okay, baby.”
Officer Castillo turned onto his street, and to great disappointment, saw that whatever had gotten into these crazed kids hadn’t been an isolated event. He pulled up to the house, quickly got out, and opened the back door. “Come on. It’s my house,” he told the woman. She slid out of her seat holding her daughter and followed the officer up the sidewalk. He went to open the door, but it was locked. Thank God. He took out his key and unlocked the door. “Hurry.” He escorted the woman inside and locked the door behind them. “Susan!” Susan!”
Just then, he saw legs in the kitchen doorway—legs that were attached to someone—lying on the floor. “Oh my God. Susan!” he yelled as he ran over to the body. He quickly realized the legs weren’t attached to his wife, but to some teenager whose mask lay next to his head. He looked at the face of the boy—not a day over fifteen—so innocent. He had been shot in the chest twice. Blood surrounded where the bullet had entered. He looked across the kitchen to another body splayed out on the floor. This one lay face down. The bullet had gone through the rubber mask and entered the back of the individual’s skull, most likely killing them upon contact. A big knife lay a couple feet from their extended hand, having bounced off the ground once their grip released it during the fall.
Officer Castillo ran out the kitchen and up the stairs to where his wife’s voice was coming from. Just as he was halfway up the stairs, leaping several steps at a time, his wife came rushing out of their son’s room, carrying the four-year old in her arms.
“Oh, honey…” He embraced the two and then quickly inspected them up and down, ensuring they were safe. “Y’all are okay?”
Susan just nodded and began crying.
“Y’all are okay. Thank God.” He let out a deep breath of relief and looked up to the ceiling, looking through it, beyond it. “Thank you.”
They just held each other for several seconds, three becoming one, enjoying each other’s warmth, both Susan and Jeff grateful to be able to do so.
“What happened?” Jeff asked.
Susan explained that two masked monsters pushed their way in chasing her through the kitchen, playing cat and mouse. One grabbed the big knife from their knife block and had her cornered. Just then there was a gunshot and blood splattered from the knife-wielders head and they collapsed. She looked to where the blast came from and then two more shots were fired at the other monster who had turned to face the shooter. Billy. Billy was there, gun held tightly by both hands. Billy, in his police costume, had shot both monsters point blank, saving his mother from things no one should have to imagine.
“I don’t know where he learned how to fire a gun like that. It’s like he’s trained for years,” Susan said, holding her little police-man. “We’ve never let him touch a gun… right?”
Jeff grabbed his boy by the shoulders. “You did it, son? You saved Mommy? Good boy.” He then squeezed his family even more tightly.
Unfortunately, Jeff as much as he’d like to revel in this moment forever—any moment could be your last—he knew he had a duty to serve and protect the community he loves. He made his way downstairs and grabbed his AR-15 from above the refrigerator and noticed something . . . the mask next to the boy. He picked it up and read the inside label: Spooktacular Masks and Costumes. He thought about the other psychotic kids, all of which were in masks or heavy face paint. The costumes.
“Honey, where’d you get Billy’s costume?”
“Billy’s policeman costume. Where’d you get it?”
Just then, he looked in the neckline of his son’s costume. Spooktacular Masks and Costumes.
“I knew it. It’s the costumes. It’s the damned costumes!” Officer Castillo’s revelation had his adrenaline pumping. “Honey…” He motioned to the woman he had rescued and her daughter. “Y’all lock up behind me and don’t open up for anyone. I’ve got to go.”
As much as Susan wanted to beg her husband to stay, she knew it wouldn’t work. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. Helping people in need was in his blood. You can’t convince heroes not to try, no matter the risks.
“Jeff.” Susan kissed her husband, hard, on the lips. “I love you. Be safe.” Her eyes pleaded with his soul.
“I will,” he said, getting one more good look at his loving wife and beautiful son. “I love y’all.” And with that, he was out the door, into the madness.
# # #
Word spread quickly that the costumes were to blame for the psychotic, murderous outbursts. Once they realized the solution was to rip the masks off the suspects, the chaos ended almost as quickly as it had begun. There were damages, though—several houses and cars burned beyond repair, mental anguish, a lifelong supply of nightmares. Four officers were badly assaulted, two killed, two the others in critical. Once the numbers were tallied, sixty-eight people in all had been attacked, forty-four confirmed dead while the others were only inches away from death. As more eye-witnesses came forward, the pieces began to come together. The costumes seemed to have become activated at night, and whatever the costume was, was what the person wearing it believed they were. A werewolf mask had the person wearing it running around on all fours, howling at the moon, sinking its teeth into whoever it could catch. People in zombie makeup hobbled around slowly and randomly, searching for the flesh of man. Fake vampire teeth were used to pierce the skin of unsuspecting victims as their blood was syphoned from their bodies. But they weren’t all bad. The superheroes and miniature policemen and women were there to help. Unfortunately, they didn’t really have super powers—only thought they had—which led to over half of the deaths being children. Without weapons, they were no match for bigger kids with weapons. There was one small policeman in particular that night—a four-year old hero—that saved his mother and probably others… Billy.
Spooktacular Masks and Costumes was closed up and gone by the next morning, like they had never been there in the first place. It was now just an empty building with not even a sign or banner left. The landlord came to unlock the doors for the detectives only to find zero trace of the place ever existing. Dust and cobwebs were just about everywhere they looked. It’s as if the doors hadn’t been opened for months, maybe years. For days, they scrubbed every inch of that place for fingerprints. Nothing. Not one. The police sent out posts on social media and flooded the local papers asking of anyone who had worked there over the past two months to come forward. No one ever did.
It was the night the town was scheduled to honor those who tragically lost their lives. No one had ever been through anything like this before. All the kids, gone. Others scarred. Almost everyone in town showed up to show support for their neighbors. If they hadn’t lost someone close, someone they knew had. The mayor, the governor, and even the President were in attendance, showing their respect and love to this great little town and its people. There were pictures of the victims along with other countless items and crosses, flowers, as far as you could see. In the center of the memorial was a bonfire being managed by several members of the fire department. To commemorate the loss of so many lives, the masks and remnants from the costumes were to be burned. The burning was to represent some sort of closure on the most horrific day this town has ever seen and bring about some unity. One by one, people walked forward, and dropped their masks upon the flames, watching the rubber melt and the black, virulent smoke drift and fade into the crisp winds that were warm only a few weeks prior.
Matt Micheli is a writer out of New Braunfels, TX. He has several fiction and non-fiction pieces featured in various magazines and is a multi-contributor/reviewer/
I Will Wait for You by Caleb Stephens
You dig your fingernails into your wrist as you stare out the window and wait. A gust of wind whips bits of sand against the glass, scatters tracks of it over the pane, tracks like the red ones welling up beneath your fingertips. Outside, bright peals of laughter ring out. Costumes flash beneath a scatter of half-dead trees, orange pumpkin candy baskets bobbing behind like neon, spectral orbs. You see none of it, hear none of it, the chimes of doorbells and muffled “trick-or-treats.” No, your grief holds you captive, here, at the window, like it does every year on this night. Waiting…
Waiting for her.
You glance again at the photograph clutched in your hand. Your daughter smiles back at you with those warm almond eyes so like yours, her freckles peppered beneath in soft brown constellations over a pair of apple-slice cheeks. You trace your thumb over them and remember the feel of her skin on yours, her little body so vibrant, so bursting with life, you would have thought she would live forever. She was your world, this girl, the very heart beating in your chest. Then the cancer stole everything.
You tilt your gaze up and wait for the drifts of fog to creep in as they always do, those first few lonesome curls that set your pulse to crashing like the waves of some great storm against a rocky coast. A woman bundled in a thick wool sweater strolls by with a wobbly bumblebee in tow, a girl of maybe four, both of them practically glowing, and you think, I used to have that once…that other life…
Then you see it, a pale wisp of mist coiling around the branches of the laurel oak where you pushed your daughter on the rope swing—Higher, Mommy! Higher!—and you nearly forget to breathe. The fog thickens, settling over the lawn in blankets, great drifts of it rising until all that’s left of the outside world is a faded charcoal imprint.
She appears in flashes, like something seen through a storm: a swell of chestnut hair, skin bleached the color of marble with eyes that are deep and black, the whites long since drowned. She carries the stuffed bear you won for her at the spring carnival, love-worn with one eye missing and the fur patched over in spots.
She nears the window and sets her hand upon it, and you reach out with yours, the pads of your fingertips trembling as you press them over hers. She’s beautiful, your daughter, a vision in the lace dress you buried her in— cream-colored and embroidered with lilacs, her favorite flower. Your eyes burn over every feature—her upturned nose and the perfectly curved eyebrows. A delicate set of cheeks. Below, in the cup of her collarbone, you glimpse the moon-shaped scar from the playground accident that sent her wailing into your arms when she was five, her breath warm against your chest as you stroked her hair.
She mouths a word through the glass, her lips forming a perfect blue circle. “Mommy…” You nearly cry out because you want this moment to last forever, a lifetime, but you know it can’t; you know what comes next. “Mommy…where are you?” she says, pressing her other hand to the glass. Something in those black-mirror eyes beg you to respond, to rush outside and fold her into your arms and tell her that you’re here, that you’re always right here.
And you’ve tried.
Oh, how you’ve tried, thrashing against door knobs that won’t turn, screaming her name as you scratch the wood bloody. And the windows like concrete, your knuckles raw and bleeding as you hammer your fists into them over and over and over. It doesn’t matter. Nothing works. Nothing ever does. All you have is this moment, this brief, precious moment, here, now, once a year at the glass.
Your daughter’s face splinters into a mask of pain and a sob you didn’t know was building climbs your throat. Hot tears bleed down your cheeks as the first few threads of her hair unwind and float into the mist like fragile strands of spider silk. Then more of it, dark chunks raining down now, just as they did with the chemo. Her skin pales and tightens around her skull like a sheet of cellophane, and you want to look away, need to look away, but you can’t. You never do. She’s your soul, and you live and die for this night. Every single moment.
“Mommy…please. Where are you? Why is everything s-so d-dark…”
A sudden rash breaks over her cheeks, veins spilling down her arms in little blue rivers, and the dam behind your eyes bursts. You tip your forehead against the windowpane in great heaving sobs, your heart carving out of your chest as your daughter dissolves bit-by-awful-bit. First her skin as it flakes to ash. Then her muscles, her bones, everything rising into the haze until all that’s left of her is the delicate set of fingerprints she left on the windowpane.
Tears patter off the photograph in your lap, everything coming back into focus now, the fog receding, pulling back as if sucked into the lungs of some giant creature hidden in the ether. The memory of her slides through your brain like a ribbon of smoke. Your little girl. Your life. You realize your hand is still on the window, still shaking, and you pull it into your lap and stare once more into the gathering darkness. Jack-o-lanterns line the street in warm gold flickers, the trees hanging above like silent ghosts. You wipe your eyes and, after a moment, you whisper what you whisper every Halloween, the night you lost your daughter forever ten years earlier.
“I will wait for you. I will always wait for you.”
Jack-o’-verlooked by Rex Caleval
“Let’s call it a day.”
A man popped up from behind a cart stacked with plastic pumpkin baskets. His bat-winged Halloween Superstore name tag read Murray. “Quitting time already? I just opened these.”
“They’ll keep until tomorrow. It’ll be slow in the morning. I want to get home in time for the game,” replied an older man. “Check the delivery door and come get your pay.”
“You’re the boss, Nick.”
At the register, Nick pulled out four twenties. “Same again tomorrow?”
“Ten bucks an hour cash is better than minimum wage with deductions somewhere else. I’ll stay all week if you want.”
“Done. No more stuff coming in after that, though, so I won’t need anybody. Sorry.”
“I’ll take what I can get.” The two men walked to the door past racks of costumes, plastic toys, and accessories. “Crud, that’s my bus. See you tomorrow,” said Murray as he ran toward the bus stop.
Nick got into a worn looking pickup. As he drove away, Murray looked out from behind the bus shelter. Once the truck was gone, he made a call. “Hey, it’s me. I need a favor. There’s five hundred in it for you.” He listened. “Good. There’s a delivery van across from the high school by my place. The key’s in the usual spot. Pick it up and bring it to where the Toys R Us used to be. Pull around back.” Another pause. “No, everything’s already in it. Just drive it over. I’ll wave you down.”
A white van pulled in behind the mall. Murray stepped out and pointed to one of the doors. The driver waved, then backed the van into place. “Hey, Jimmy Mac,” said the driver as he came around the rear of the truck. “The Butler’s here…” He trailed off as he saw the other man. “Jimmy, is that you?”
“It’s me. You took your sweet time.”
“I was busy when you called. What’s that getup? And your hair. Even your eyes look wrong.” He glanced at the name tag. “Just Murray now, is it? What’re you playing at?”
“You know the rule about questions, Benny Butler. You can’t spill what you don’t know.”
Benny looked hurt. “Come on, Jimmy, when have I ever…”
Jimmy MacMurray grinned. “I’m yanking you, man. The rules never apply when it’s just you and me. Help me unload and I’ll fill you in.” He opened the delivery door he’d left unlocked earlier.
“Should I grab your techie stuff too?”
“No, leave that. I’ll use it in the van later. That’s why I picked one with a workbench. Just the boxes.”
A few minutes later the two men stood inside by a stack of boxes. “So, what is this all about?” asked Benny.
“See for yourself,” answered Jimmy. “Start opening these up. Don’t tear them, we’ll be reusing them.” He opened one and pulled out a plastic jack-o’-lantern.
Benny looked puzzled. “Trick or treat buckets?”
“Yep. We sell lots of them. Swap these for the ones on the cart, and in the boxes behind it. When you finish a box, tape it closed again.”
“You sell lots? You mean that getup is real? You’ve been working here?”
“It got me into the store,” said Jimmy. “That’s why the getup. I’m getting paid cash under the table, so no records. You know how these temporary shops are. Plus, I don’t look like me, just in case. From inside I could get the door, and find a night when the boss won’t pop back in.”
“Okay, but why? Out with it, man.”
“We had these buckets when we were kids. Where’s yours now?”
Benny thought. “Still at home, I suppose. You only use them on Halloween. Billy and I kept our toy cars in them.”
“Exactly. That’s what everybody does. Nobody throws them away. They get filled with random stuff until they get used again, or passed down to the kids. These ones look the same as the ones they’re replacing. They ought to; I bought them at the other Halloween Superstore across town. But I thickened the base a bit, so I could put a little gadget I made inside.”
“What does it do? Without your usual technobabble.”
“It’s hard to describe without technobabble.” Jimmy considered. “You know about smart homes? Computers in your lights, thermostat, appliances, all networked together? It’s called the internet of things. My gadget sits for a while, passively gathering information about all these devices. Then, when I say, it puts itself between all of that activity, so everything passes through it. It relays everything along, so the devices all think they’re working normally, but I get access to all of it. It’s called a man in the middle attack.”
“So, you can turn somebody’s lights off?”
“That’s just the in. Everything’s connected. Wi-fi, home security systems, all of it. If they do online banking, I get their passwords. If they pay bills online, I can get their personal information, and that sells for a lot. If they’ve got security cameras or webcams, I can get their audio and video, and find out who-knows-what. Get their alarm code, and see when nobody’s home. Put ransomware on their computer. Different things are vulnerable in different networks. This lets me see what each place has, and where it can or can’t be hit. If anybody starts looking for what happened, it looks like somebody hacked their fridge or thermostat or whatever.” He patted the bucket he was holding. “Nobody will suspect inconspicuous little Jack, here, sitting quietly in the basement. I’ll make more with the blank ones we’re taking out with us.”
“You can do all that just by getting one of these in the door? That’s scary as hell.”
Jimmy laughed. “Isn’t Halloween supposed to be scary? But this is just the trial run. If it goes as well as it should, the real score will come later. Want to help me out?”
“With what?” asked Benny.
“Making Christmas ornaments.”
Rex Caleval lives in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, where he spent twenty years as an air traffic controller. Always an avid reader with story ideas popping into his head, he decided to try writing a few, and has been pleased to find that some people like them. His stories have been published by Every Day Fiction, 365 Tomorrows, The Book Smuggler’s Den, and MYTHIC, among others.
Halloween in Aston by Michael J Moore
Jordan didn’t smell smoke. Why would he? All the windows in the red Taurus were rolled up. He didn’t see monstrous flames behind the wall of conifer trees either. Not until he had almost passed the small opening and caught a glimpse of them in his peripheral, dancing and reaching for the black sky. Only then did he bring the car to a full stop, back up, and take a right off of Fisherman’s Road, onto the gravel driveway.
“What are you doing?” Brandy asked from the passenger seat, where her hand rested in his like a ragdoll.
Jordan had just spent the entirety of Halloween driving her up Dante’s Ridge to see her Mother—who felt the need to live as far from civilization as possible—and then back down. He didn’t answer as the fire came into view.
Brandy gasped. Jordan stared wide eyed.
It was a big house—maybe three stories. It was triangular, and might’ve resembled a log cabin, but it was hard to tell because the whole structure was engulfed in flames like a thick layer of orange and red liquid dripping upside-down, into the sky.
“Get out of here,” Brandy said. But he just continued to stare.
Fisherman’s Road traversed mostly farmland in Aston, Washington, and the houses were spaced far enough apart that it seemed that none of the neighbors had noticed and called it in.
“Jordan.” He heard her, but was unable to register anything except the fire, which stood almost twice as high as the house.
Then he saw people—three of them—standing in front, watching it burn. They stood slightly to the side of his car, and one of them, a woman in blue jeans and a denim jacket, turned to look at them. The other two, who were both men, followed a fraction of a second later. The woman winked.
“Jordan!” Brandy’s nails dug into his hand. “Get the hell out of here! Now!”
Jordan didn’t think. He put the car in reverse and twisted his body, using one hand to stabilize himself on the back of her seat, and pressing the pedal to the floor.
When he was out of the driveway, he didn’t stop to see if any cars were coming. It was midnight. Why would there be? Swerving right, he aligned the Taurus with the road, came to a complete stop, and put it in drive. He hit the gas and the car revved irritably before taking off, first slow, then picking up speed.
“What the hell was that?” he asked, not looking at Brandy or the road, but staring into the rear-view-mirror. “Did you see those people? They were just watching that house burn down.”
“Just get us out of here,” She said.
“What do you think it was?”
“I don’t know.”
Her tone made him consider for the first time since their decision to move in together three months ago, if it had been such a hot idea to play house fresh out of high school.
“Maybe it was a demolition job,” he offered.
He tried to remember if he had ever heard of a demolition burning, then silently scolded himself for entertaining the notion.
There were no streetlights along the road. Only the occasional illuminated porch on a house that happened to be close to the road, and not pushed back a quarter mile long driveway. Some had decorative spider webs or tombstones on them. Most had pumpkins with faces carved into them, but none still glowed as trick-or-treaters were all safe at home by this hour of Halloween.
“Brandy.” He knew if he kept going she might snap, could feel the tension like a rubber band stretched to its limit. Still, he couldn’t bring himself to stop. “They were just watching the place burn. Think there were people inside?”
She took a deep breath. Held it in. Let it out slowly. Somehow he knew that if she hadn’t, she would’ve screamed. He wasn’t done though.
“Do you even care? What’s wrong with you?”
“Jordan.” Her voice was cold.
“No! Answer me! You can’t just sit there and pretend nothing just happened!”
“What?” He was aware that he was shouting now, but unable to stop.
“Watch the road. There’s a cop up ahead.”
Jordan squinted into the darkness, and saw his headlights reflect off of a white cruiser.
“I’m gonna stop and tell him about the fire.”
This got her attention. In the corner of his eye, he saw her mouth open and her jaw hang as he slowed the Taurus down and pulled up behind the cop car, which read “CLARK COUNTY SHERIFF,’ over the back bumper. She still didn’t look at him though, just stared forward as if in some kind of trance.
An officer, who had been sitting on the hood of the car stood up and examined them, using his forearm to shield his eyes from the Taurus’s headlights. Jordan flicked them off, unlatched his seatbelt, opened the door—and the inside of the car lit up. He stepped out into the cold of the night, where he could see his breath leaving him in thin clouds.
The sheriff was young, probably not much older than Jordan. He was taller though—which was saying something on account of Jordan being nearly six feet—with jet-black hair, combed backward. He smiled as he approached but Jordan froze because there were pointed fangs protruding from his gums on either side. Noticing, the cop reached up and removed a set of costume vampire teeth, showing them to Jordan and chuckling.
“Halloween ain’t over till sunrise, right? What can I do you for?”
He held a beer bottle in one hand. Jordan looked around him, seeing a black truck parked in front of the cruiser. A middle aged man with a moustache, wearing a cowboy hat, stood indifferently between the two vehicles.
Jordan pointed a thumb over his shoulder. “Uh, just up the street. There’s a house on fire. I don’t know what’s going on, but there’s some people standing there watching it burn. I think they did it.”
The cop’s smile widened. “Hold on, man. Take a breath. You think they did what?”
“Set the fire.” Jordan wrinkled his forehead.
The cop raised the bottle to his lips and his Adam’s apple danced as he washed down the contents. He belched, exhaled and said, “Yep. I’ll check it out. Probably just some kids having a good time at your expense anyway.”
Jordan told him again what he had seen and received the same response. Then the cop peered over Jordan’s shoulder at Brandy, who still sat under the dome light on full display and his eyelids seemed to grow heavy, and it occurred to Jordan that it was time to leave.
He said, “So you might wanna call the fire department, or go check it out or something. I’m telling you, it’s happening right now.” He glanced down at the chrome nameplate on the breast of the cop’s uniform. It said, “J. Carter.” When he looked back up, the cop’s smile had disappeared.
“All right.” Jordan backed up. “Well, uh, I just thought you should know that. I gotta get my girlfriend home though. Hope you can get that figured out. It’s right back there. On the left hand side.”
When he reached the Taurus, Carter called out, “Hey!”
“Yeah?” Jordan kept his hands low so the cop wouldn’t see them shaking.
The smile returned to Carter’s lips. “Trick or treat, man.” He winked and held his bottle up, as if in a toast.
Jordan nodded, climbing into the car, shutting the door, and watching as the cop went back to the hood of his vehicle and took a seat. “That was weird.” He put the car in drive and took off.
Brandy said, “Let’s just go home.”
Reaching over, he took her hand, the way they always held each other in the car. But her grip was cold and lifeless, like holding hands with a skeleton.
“Babe, what’s wrong?”
When she didn’t answer, he gave her a squeeze, as if he could pump the words out of her.
Then she began to tremble.
“Bran, what is it? Talk to me please.”
She pulled away like her hand was attached to a catapult, and burst into tears. It was a soft, choked cry that he could tell she was trying to suppress. Turning his head, he saw her palms pasted to her face, her body curled up against the passenger door like a foetus.
“Jesus. Bran.” He pulled to the side of the road, put the car in park, then placed a hand on her shoulder. A few seconds later, she sniffed and turned her head, offering him her face, which he could see even through the darkness, was distorted with fear.
“It was horrible.” Her voice was high and barely controlled. “It… it was so horrible, Jordan.”
“I know.” He rubbed her shoulder. “I know, babe. It’s okay though. I talked to the cop. He’s gonna go fix it now.” But the words sounded ridiculous even to him as they rolled off of his tongue.
A truck passed going the opposite direction, and as the headlights shone on her face, Jordan saw her eyes widen. She glared at him as if she didn’t even know who he was. Then she cried louder.
“Ssshhh.” He patted her back. “Bran, baby, it’s okay.”
“NO IT’S NOT!” She shoved him away. “IT’S NOT OKAY YOU IDIOT! Didn’t you see back there? Didn’t you see them?”
He told her of course he had seen. She said, “Of course you didn’t.” Then she cried some more and begged him to take her home, until finally, he pulled back onto the road. A few minutes later, he turned onto the highway, and into city limits, which wasn’t a city at all, but a small town with a few shopping centers and a few more bars. The streets were deserted at this hour, and most of the businesses were closed, but strips of orange and red lights still glowed and the entire town was strewn with various Halloween decorations.
In a half a mile, Jordan would take a left onto Katemore Drive, another strip of farmland that would lead them into Vancouver Road where he and Brandy shared the one bedroom apartment that they would fall asleep in tonight and forget whatever it was that was “horrible… so horrible” by morning.
And they would have made it to Katemore Drive, if red and blue flashing lights hadn’t filled the inside of the Taurus just before they reached the intersection. Brandy sat up as rigid as a two-by-four as Jordan glanced in the rear view and saw the white cruiser behind them.
“What the hell?” He flicked on his blinker and looked for somewhere to pull over. There was a market just up ahead, so he slid into the parking lot and killed the engine. “Think he followed us to collect a statement?”
Brandy didn’t answer, just stared into the side mirror on her door as the cruiser parked directly behind them as if blocking them into the space. Jordan fought the urge to laugh, because there was nothing blocking them in the front.
As if she could read his mind, Brandy said, “Drive Jordan.”
He looked at her like there were a math problem written on her face.
“Go,” she said. “We need to go. Please baby.”
“Bran, I can’t.”
“What the hell’s wrong with you? You want me to go to jail?”
“Jordan, they’re going to kill us.”
“Who?” he meant to say calmly. It came out a shriek. “The police?”
“Jordan.” She looked into his eyes and hers seemed to be pleading with him more desperately than her words. “I need you to trust me, baby, just this once. If you never trust me again, please do it now. Start the car and go. Drive as fast as you can out of this town.”
Behind them, the cruiser’s door opened and a long leg swung out. Jordan watched in the mirror. Before the other leg emerged, the overhead lights died. A tall figure stepped from the sheriff’s car and seeing that it wasn’t Carter, he felt an irrational sense of relief.
“See,” he said, not looking at Brandy. “It’s not even him.”
“You want me to get in a high-speed-chase?” he whispered. “Then what, Brandy? Go to prison?” Without another word, he opened the door and stepped out of the car. The parking lot was equipped with light poles and he was able to get a good look at the officer, who, though he bore a slight resemblance to Carter, was an older man, and definitely not the young beer drinking deputy.
The cop winked, and then Jordan knew that Brandy was right and he hated himself for not knowing it sooner. It wasn’t any one thing that brought it on—nothing he could pinpoint at least. Terror overtook him like he had been dumped into a pool of it. He took a step back and gasped. His entire body began to tremble as the sheriff approached.
“No,” Jordan said, not knowing why or what he meant by it.
The cop put a hand on the Taurus’s trunk, and it sounded like somebody had set a rock there.
“No,” Jordan repeated, climbing into the car and slamming the door. He pressed a button and every lock in the Taurus clicked at the same time.
“Go.” Brandy’s voice was low, imperative.
“I’m going,” he stammered.
He turned the key and the car returned to life. Then the window exploded next to him, sending broken glass flying into his face. Brandy screamed as he put the car in drive and a cold hand wrapped around his neck. He coughed and stepped on the gas. The grip tightened, and a noise escaped his mouth like static from a radio. If there was pain, it didn’t register. Only panic.
“Don’t go,” a voice whispered in his ear. “Stay with us.”
He tried to speak, to breathe, to shake free as the Taurus picked up speed. Looking toward the voice, he reached up and took the cop by the wrist, and time seemed to freeze as his fingers wrapped around dry bone and his eyes locked with two empty holes on the front of a hollow grey skull. The sheriff’s uniform now hung loosely draped over a talking skeleton.
“Stay with us,” it repeated. “Halloween isn’t over till the sun comes up.”
“Jordan!” Brandy exclaimed. He looked ahead and saw a light pole coming at the Taurus. His heart beat so fast it vibrated inside of his chest. Still, he was able to swerve to the right just in time to miss it … almost.
The side of the car scraped against the pole, the pressure on Jordan’s neck let up, and something plopped onto his lap. He took a gasping breath, refusing to look back, just driving. The parking lot’s exit was the other way. He had to turn around.
He stomped on the brake and the tires screeched as he twisted the wheel causing the car to do a one-eighty before coming to a stop. Directly in front of them, the sheriff ran for his cruiser, his entire body once again clothed in skin. His left arm was missing, and blood spilled onto the pavement from a stump below his shoulder in rhythmic bursts.
“Go,” Brandy said as Jordan kicked the gas pedal and the car lurched forward, then picked up speed.
The sheriff looked back over his shoulder wide eyed and panicked. He began to run faster, leaving a crimson trail behind. The Taurus hit him right behind the knees and a noise like somebody had dropped a load of kindling in the parking lot rang out into the night as he disappeared under the car. Then, the cracking and snapping caused Jordan’s stomach to turn as bones were ground into splinters between his tires and the cement. When he looked in the rear-view mirror, he saw the skeleton scattered around the sheriff’s uniform like mixed up puzzle pieces. Brandy sat once again upright, eyes wide like a child seeing something amazing for the first time.
The Taurus with Jordan and Brandy in it, flew out of the parking lot at nearly forty miles per hour, and ran through a red light onto Katemore Drive. Behind them, the town of Sedrow Woolley disappeared. Ahead, darkness awaited.
“What the hell just happened?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she responded, no longer cold or snappy.
“It was a freaking—I mean, it said—should we call the police, you think?”
“Baby, that was the police.”
“I know. I know. I mean when we get home. The other police.”
“And tell them what?”
And she was right, because nobody would ever believe what had just transpired. So he took a deep breath, and said, “Hey Bran?”
“You wanna do me a favor and turn on the dome light?”
A second later, the Taurus lit up and Jordan looked down into his lap. Tiny shards of broken glass sparkled around the skeletal arm, which had been broken off at the shoulder. Having no tendons or ligaments to hold it together, it was just a mess of bones that varied in size.
“Maybe we shouldn’t call anyone,” Jordan said.
“No,” she agreed.
Jordan didn’t stop or pull over. He opened the door and brushed the bones off of his lap and out onto the road as he drove, then shut it again. “Why do you think they were burning down that house?” he asked as he rounded a corner.
“I don’t really care, Jordan.”
“Think they’ll come looking for us?”
He was quiet for a long moment, before reaching up and killing the dome light.
“No. You’re probably right.”
Jordan reached over and took his girlfriend’s hand. This time, she sank into him, the way she usually did. Her touch brought a warmth that traveled into his chest. He gave her hand a gentle squeeze, and when she returned it a second later, he knew that he’d made the right decision moving in with his high school sweetheart. And that they would never visit Aston on Halloween again.
Michael J Moore
Michael J Moore is the author of Bronte’s Ride (MKM Bridge Press), and the bestselling, young adult novel, After the Change (MKM Bridge Press) which has been adopted as curriculum at the University of Washington. His forthcoming novels are Highway Twenty (set to be published by Hellbound Books later this year), Ninja Girl, which was adapted to a play, and produced for trauma-informed youth by Earthseed Seattle. Finally, his work has appeared in Blood Moon Rising Magazine, and is set to appear in Terror Tales Magazine, and The Horrorzine Magazine.
The Stall by Erik Handy
“You’re new here.”
I was already packing up the junk no one wanted to buy. I wanted to get home. I was exhausted and disappointed at the poor turnout. The Halloween Night Market was usually hopping with people knee-deep in celebrating the season, but there were only a few this year. No one dressed up. The police officers on patrol looked as bored as I was. The holiday just wasn’t what it used to be.
“I’m usually set up on the other end of the street,” I told the man as cordial as I could. The last thing I desired was small talk. I yearned to take my disappointment home.
I first noticed his droopy eyes. Blue, not quite sad, they appeared so unfortunate that I felt sorry for the stranger. I still wanted to go home so I kept packing. I was almost finished when he spoke again.
“Yeah. The market closes at midnight.”
His eyes tried to widen.
“Midnight?” he said, slightly alarmed. “That means . . . .”
I waited for him to finish his thought. It seemed the polite thing to do.
“Midnight,” he said again. “Halloween’s almost over.”
I nodded, quickly surveying his appearance. His red hair fell in tight waves across his head as if sprayed into place. He was short, shorter than me, at least, and quite small. I believe the proper word to describe his frame is lithe. He didn’t appear to be malnourished or homeless. His shirt, vest, and pants were crisp in all the right places. St. Augustine was home to a lot of kooks and here was one.
“Not many people out,” he said. “Not like it used to be.”
“I was just thinking that.” My crates were secure on the hand truck. I was ready to go.
“Sign of the times. It’s still hot though. Wouldn’t be a Florida night if it wasn’t.”
“Indeed. Well –”
“Are you hungry?” the man asked me. Between the heat and my aggravation, food was the furthest thing from my mind.
“No,” I replied, waiting for the inevitable awkward invitation to a meal. I’ve never done well with strangers. Customers are one thing. They serve a purpose – to buy the books and movies I don’t want anymore. Strangers and friends created burdens. I wasn’t the type to feign interest in other people’s charms.
“I’m starving,” he said. “I haven’t eaten in a long time.”
“Well, the restaurants are still open until two.”
I thought I gave him a pretty good cue that the conversation was over, but he just stood in front of me, looking around me, never at me.
I wished a police officer would have passed by, but no one was around. All the other vendors were long packed up and gone, equally displeased with the poor turn-out.
“Good night,” I said, hoping that would be the final word. When the man didn’t move, I checked my phone. I wasn’t above faking a call. I noted the time. Two minutes until midnight. Two minutes and another Halloween would be over.
“Good night,” I repeated before grabbing my hand truck.
“Do you need some help?” he asked.
“No. I’ve got it.”
“Are you sure you’re not hungry?”
“Sir, please leave me alone.”
His droopy eyes didn’t flare. He didn’t make eye contact with me. My words didn’t shake him. He just stood in front of the table looking like a pitiful cartoon dog.
“No time,” he mumbled.
I should have left then. If he followed me to my car, I’d call the police. But I didn’t leave. I was half-shocked and half-amused. What was the deal with this guy? Was he that hard up for companionship? I felt a little sorry, but I wasn’t interested. Maybe I just wanted to see how sad his eyes could get.
“I just want to eat,” he moaned. “That’s what one does on Halloween.”
Oh, I had to stay and see this conversation through.
“It’s not Thanksgiving,” I replied.
“I know. However, we eat today.”
Unfortunately, I was still alone with this loon. Unless his friends were hiding in wait . . . .
The man slowly gestured with his snowflake of an arm to the empty street. “My . . . we’re not friends. I don’t know what to call the others. Anyhow, today is the day we eat. People used to put food out, but now . . . . no one cares about Halloween anymore.”
I never heard of this tradition. Maybe other cultures held true to it, but no one was wasting food other than the candy they bought for the handful of trick-or-treaters who ventured into the night. Between that and his claim that he was one of a group of invisible people, I was certain he was more than a little mixed up.
I checked my phone for the time.
“Well, I have to go,” I said, hoping I meant it this time.
I was alone.
A police officer strolled up the street toward me. I could tell he saw me because he crossed over to my side.
“Everything okay?” he called out before reaching me.
“There was a man,” I said. “Red hair. Nice clothes. Short.”
“Was he harassing you?”
“Yes. No.” I shook my head. “He was . . . hungry.”
Made Just For You by Jess Chua
“You can’t go wrong with our lucky color.” Lily licked her plumped up lips, savoring their latest sweet victory.
The Lowe sisters had raked in over a hundred million dollars from their SCREAM lip kit launch. The collection featured five Halloween themed shades with names to match:
The sisters liked the iridescent Envy shade best for its namesake. They lived off their followers’ unwavering devotion and glowing adoration. It directly translated to money in the bank, no matter what they put out.
“What do you think about the recent article on Ashes?” Lila asked her younger sister slash business partner. “Do you think it’ll hurt sales?”
“Who cares? We have a young and dumb captive audience, and the only bad publicity…”
“Is zero.” The sisters clinked their champagne glasses together in a toast.
“Anyway, our Savior Brigade will take care of it!” Lily tapped her pointy gel fingernail against her phone screen, reminding shy and nervous Lila that their top tier lawyer relatives were just a quick phone call away.
They were really going to need their help this time. Quality control was going downhill with some recent shipments of the lip kits, with customers speculating that their brain fog and other ailments were from an allergy to the strong fragrances used. Some customers had found human hair, mysterious lumps, and glass shard fragments in the products. A group of girls had even died after ingesting all the lipsticks in a TikkTokk challenge gone wrong.
But their legal team wasn’t known as the Savior Brigade for nothing. They knew all the right people to reach and tactics to employ to crush the competition. A carefully vetted PR List for the sisters meant that they had good control over who said what about their popular products.
“The lip kits have real gold flakes inside,” Lily retorted. “If fans want something cheaper and run-of-the-mill, they’re free to look elsewhere. Besides, you can see for yourself how our fans are still begging us for more!”
Lily brought up their social media feeds to show Lila the proof.
“Do you ever think karma will come back to bite us one day?” Lila’s mind was beginning to race with the long list of sordid things they had done for fame.
Lily shrugged. “If it’s not us, someone else is going to profit and succeed. Seize the day, I say. And stop over-thinking things.” She scrolled her phone before perking up with a smile. “C’mon Lila, let’s celebrate! Just the two of us, like old times. We deserve it.”
The sisters gazed at a sponsored ad that had popped up on Lily’s Instafixx social media feed. CAKES 4 U: Cakes Made Just For You, read the ad’s headline. The header picture featured a range of beautiful Halloween artisan cakes topped with edible eyeballs and more. One in particular stood out.
“Let’s get that one,” Lily pointed out. “It’s meant to be.”
Lily and Lila’s eyes glittered when they saw that a coconut and lime slime cake was available to order immediately. As it was coming from a local baker, the cake could be delivered within the hour. It was a gorgeous thirteen layer cake with smooth icing and bright green ganache dripping down the sides. The cake’s frosting was the same shade as their Envy lipstick and looked like it came straight from a witch’s brew.
A quick browse of the online reviews and testimonials pointed to the reliability of the shop and owners. The sisters cleared a few items off their desk and kitchen counters to get ready to film a short story for the followers featuring the celebratory slime cake.
The epic cake arrived in record time with its heavenly scent wafting through the sisters’ front doorway.
“Heyyyy girlfriends,” Lily announced to their followers over the live video. “Look at this giant cake we just ordered! Have you seen anything like it? It’s so ah-mazing!”
She clapped her hands in delight as she brought out a brand new luxury knife that had been idly sitting in their kitchen for ages.
“Thanks for making the SCREAM launch such a huge success!” Lila gracefully waved at the screen with a perfect set of pearly whites.
Lily stopped recording once they cut the cake all the way through. They were going to gorge themselves for once, off camera, so that they could just enjoy it without worrying about whether they were being filmed at their best angles. They’d earned the right to enjoy eating sinful food on their once a week cheat days.
“Mmmmm…” Lily bit into the generous slice that Lila handed to her on a delicate bone china plate.
They dimmed the lights and put on a spooky instrumental playlist to chill and unwind to.
Lily winced when the kitchen knife clattered onto the marble floor.
“Seriously, Lila, could you be more careful? Omigod, I can literally see a crack—”
Both sisters stopped talking when they saw something slowly oozing out of the cake. The green slime was writhing and pulsing with its own glob of energy.
It took less than ten seconds for Lily to feel something burning down her throat and gut. The room started spinning as a green liquid, the same color as the cake slime, started trickling out of the corners of her eyes. She screamed as the gooey liquid started eating through her skin.
Lily was foaming at the mouth as Lila hastily dialed for an ambulance to come to their home.
“Where is it?” Lila shrieked, frantically searching on her phone. “Is this a sick joke?”
She did a search for CAKES 4 U to find their contact info, but nothing was coming up. It had no website, reviews, or social media mentions.
It was as though the shop had never existed, even as the acrid slime kept oozing out and spilling onto the floor in a toxic hiss of bubbles, burning everything in its path.
Jess Chua is a content writer and award-winning essayist. Her microfiction was a runner-up in a “mysterious photograph” contest at Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Her interests include healthy cooking, yoga, deep diving into astrology, and spending time with her cat and juvenile betta fish. Her website is www.jesschuabooks.com
Beneath the Blooms by Lindsey Martin
Right now, the only thing I can be sure of is that the faded yellow door in the basement wasn’t there yesterday.
I have lived in this house for all of my fifteen years, molded by the peeling, blue wallpaper and guided by the worn, creaking floorboards. The spiders in the corners whisper my name as I pass by. I know every crack in this dark house. A house dumped so precariously in the middle of a pinewood clearing, starved for the sunlight next to the towering trees and fighting for existence in a place that nature would like to reclaim.
Maybe it was the solitude that brought my parents here, ripe with pregnancy and running from suburbia. It wasn’t the promise of footsteps on the roof and whispers in the corridors, and it certainly wasn’t the future of my father, swinging from the balcony. I was only six and Drew three when we found him there. My mother never did cry about it; she simply cut him down and buried him in the woods behind the house. My brother was too young to understand, but I wasn’t – I knew what his purple face and bulging eyes meant. Whatever amount of light the house held faded that afternoon and never quite returned as if the sun wouldn’t dare return to the clearing.
Maybe Dad was the light we needed. Perhaps it wasn’t the sun that left our home but the brightness of his smile and the warmth of his touch. Sneaking tastes of brownie batter and nightly chases around the house from the villainous “Oven Mitt Claw” were the most vivid memories I had of him. Thankfully, they were the only memories that Drew had. Occasionally, I would dream of him chasing us around the house with an oven mitt. When he would suddenly stop pursuing us, I’d see his swinging body in the hallway behind me, the oven mitt discarded on the ground below him.
Even though Drew was the boy he always wanted, he’d raised me like a son since day one. While mom tried to dress me up in pink frocks, he was the one teaching me how to find worms in the garden and which plants grow best in the sun. Mom wasn’t interested in the great outdoors. Not like Dad was. She would stand on the stone path just beyond the porch and watch us, holding Drew’s hand as though to keep him safe beyond an imaginary line she’d drawn around the house. I remember them fighting one night about how close he’d take me to the woods, but I never understood why she was scared. It was just trees and shrubs.
I thought I knew so much then. Now I’m standing in front of a door in the basement that wasn’t here yesterday. Drew’s hand in mine clenched with anxiety. He hasn’t spoken much since we found Dad, only the occasional question about the woods that bordered the house like an iron cage. Just as we were standing there, one of his questions came to mind.
“Do you ever see the lady by the trees?” he’d asked Mom one morning at breakfast. I don’t remember his asking because of the question but because of her reaction. For the first time in years, we all sat at the dining table adjacent to the kitchen. A full assortment of breakfast essentials was spread out before us: eggs and bacon and toast and jams and bright, freshly cut fruit. Our mother sat across from us, dressed finely in a dress that she might have said was “from another era”: light yellow with ruffles and a full skirt, finely tailored and smelling like the cleaners. This morning stood out to me because I hadn’t heard any cooking, and yet, a dozen options for food sat before us. My mother’s appearance didn’t seem like that of a woman who’d risen before dawn to create a full spread for her eager children. A weight had settled into my stomach as I sat down to eat, but at my mother’s behest, I began to relax and enjoy breakfast. Just as the anxiety had left my bones, Drew asked that question. Mother froze, only darting her eyes up from her plate to bore into Drew’s innocent, green eyes. I stared unapologetically at my mother, watching a strange emotion pass over her eyes, her brown eyes seeming to darken. It must’ve been the light changing. She placed her fork down beside her plate and asked Drew what he meant.
“I keep seeing a lady by the trees. She has dark hair and pale skin. She looks familiar.” I could feel Drew looking at me, but I couldn’t take my eyes off our mother. Suddenly, her face contorted, though before I could recognize what had happened, everything returned to normal. She met my gaze with the same chocolate brown eyes as I’d known my entire life, a soft smile placed on her pink lips, and the promise of a life full of love in her demeanor. Had her eyes always been brown?
“There’s no one in the forest for miles, Drew dear. Besides, I have measures to keep us safe if someone were to wander too close. I promise.” Our mother smiled and reached out to pat both of our hands where they rested on our utensils, and I was almost broken out of her spell when I found her hand to be as cold as ice.
Another memory flashes by as that one ends. This one is hazier, shining around the edges and choppy without details. I must have been young because I can see my dad outside in the garden, or what was a garden when he was alive. Now it is an overgrown rectangle nestled against the woodline. The flowers and vegetables he planted had all returned to the earth, decaying like he is now. I remember that he was nearly hidden among the yellow chrysanthemums, his dark hair bobbing above the blooms as he cleared out weeds. My mother stood just beyond the porch, letting the rare sunlight fall on her bare shoulders, and I slowly moved to join her. She tried to hide it, but I could see that her blue eyes were red and bloodshot, so different than the happy mom I knew. I don’t remember if I questioned her about it. Still, she just wiped off her face and drew me into her arms, whispering about hiding from bees and using me as a shield from the sun, while I laughed the day away with her.
It was one of my last happy memories. A few days later, I’d seen her walking out of the woods, her blue dress tattered and muddied, her short, black hair wild and filled with debris. I haven’t seen that dress since. It wasn’t long after those days when we found dad, and soon, his yellow chrysanthemums all turned black and rotted away. We never talked about the garden or the dad-sized hole in the woods behind the house.
Now, standing in the dark, musty basement, I wish we had. I wish I had asked why we didn’t have a family outside of our mother, or friends to play with from down the street, why the walls seemed to breathe, or why the whispers I hear at night all sound like Mom. Maybe we should talk about where Mom had gone in those days before we lost Dad or why Drew saw a lady in the woods wearing a tattered blue dress. Maybe it would explain why I’m seeing a lady in a tattered blue dress walk out of the door in the basement that wasn’t there last Tuesday, or why she has my mother’s short, black hair filled with woodland debris. I hear the faint noise of my mother upstairs, playing our out-of-tune piano as she always did in the evenings, and I watch the woman at the other end of the basement turn to me, black and bloodied holes where eyes once were. Her bruised blue lips lift into a detached grin and reveal rotting black teeth and squirming maggots along her gums. Drew’s hand tightens on mine, and my lunch threatens to return.
“Mom, you promised,” I hear Drew whisper, and the room fills with a scream.
Unholy Trinity: The Children of Samhain by Tim Goldstone
I watch my child lying so still in his bed it no longer creaks under the ceiling alcove in the pitch-black wind-driven night whose dark I taste and where I count the creatures who guard him, in flocks, and packs – so no one shall enter, no one shall pass – conjured to keep him safe in this stone Welsh cottage where dream-catchers have no power, and now, my little one, even I cannot trespass in the dreams you need to grow in this land where the rich earth reaches out to you and blue stones whisper to you from the deep.
A lonely child, she’d learned to rouse new friends from the cemeteries wherever she’d left her gifts of feathers on their fresh graves. She’d meant no harm, but now with the smell on her skin of towels many times boiled and starched, she bites down hard to taste again the iron sweetness from the blood of her bruised and bitten lips to taste something, anything, as she stares through her barred window, sees all those she’d raised racing horizontally at breakneck speed back and forth through the wet blackness of a leaf-filled tempest, their cavernous frantic eyes berserk with gratitude.
They didn’t tell him, so it would be a surprise, just took the photo from his drawer, shutting it smoothly on hearing his return and now the cluster of birthday balloons on the front door are in various stages of shriveling, while at the roundabout up the road, abducted and bound to a lamp-post, exposed to all weathers, the A4 photocopied picture of when he was a child remains wet and tattered and torn, flapping in panic at every unrecognized vehicle that sweeps by ‘Help me’ it shouts unheard day and night in an unbroken voice – ‘Let me go back.’
Tim lives in rural Wales. He’s travelled and worked in Western and Eastern Europe and N. Africa. He has material in print, online, and anthologies, including The New Welsh Review, Stand, Crannóg, The Offing, The Speculative Book, Altered States, The Mechanics’ Institute Review 15. Other material broadcast on TV, radio. Some of his darker offerings, often inspired by walking into marshland until he begins to sink, have appeared in Ghost City Review, Cadaverous, Ellipsis, Clash, Drabblez Magazine, Veil: Journal of Darker Musings. [email protected]
Hook-Hand-Man lost a limb working in the slaughterhouse. Children mocked his deformity, so on Halloween, he stitched a meat hook to his stump. He set a giant bowl of candy on his porch, with a note: Honor system. Only take ONE!
Disguised as a limp scarecrow on the rocking chair, he waited for a greedy child to empty the bowl. Lickity-split, he grabbed and gutted the eager young pirate. Vengeful parents dragged Hook-Hand-Man back to the slaughterhouse and ground him up.
Every October, trick-or-treaters hear the dead boy’s shrill scream. And bowl-dumpers beware the wraith who lingers on shadowed porches.
Kevin M. Folliard
Kevin M. Folliard is a Chicagoland writer whose fiction has been collected by The Horror Tree, Flame Tree Publishing, Hinnom Magazine, and more. His recent publications include “Halfway to Forgotten,” featured on The No Sleep Podcast; the Short Sharp Shocks! Halloween tale “Candy Corn”; and his 2020 horror anthology The Misery King’s Closet. Kevin currently resides in La Grange, IL, where he enjoys his day job as an academic writing advisor and active membership in the La Grange and Brookfield Writers Groups. When not writing or working, he’s usually reading Stephen King, playing Super Mario Maker, or traveling the U.S.A.
The dead have debts. Deals with the Devil; bills unpaid.
Sad to say I sold my soul: traded it to be crowned reigning king of everything terrifying. Each book a bestseller, every creature created an icon. Famous until my dying day.
So, what price for this trade?
My own personal inferno. Thirty-First of the Tenth for eternity.
Tricks, not treats, only sweets to eat, all those bloody pumpkins! Kids keep knocking. My fictions rendered in rubber, masks a mockery of my glory.
There’s no fear here, just the empty horror of this holiday.
A permanent stay at the Hollow Inn.
A knock at the door. A hammering – it shudders in its frame.
Ignore it. Trick-or-treaters. A nuisance to those who can’t afford treats and detest puerile tricks.
It shudders again. Sounds like they’re trying to kick it in.
Why bother with the building anyway? Most flats are empty.
Go away! Think it, don’t shout it, don’t let them know anyone’s home. Maybe they’ll just go…
The door bursts open. Two figures stand in the doorway in hooded tops, heads down as if in prayer, faces hidden.
Slowly, they raise them…
Scream. They aren’t human.
This Hallowe’en, the joke’s on you…
DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines around the world, such as Chilling Horror Short Stories (Flame Tree), All The Petty Myths (18th Wall), Steampunk Cthulhu (Chaosium), What Dwells Below (Sirens Call), The Mad Visions of al-Hazred (Alban Lake), and EOM: Equal Opportunity Madness (Otter Libris), and issues of Sirens Call, Hinnom Magazine, ParABnormal, Kzine, Ravenwood Quarterly, and Weirdbook, and in addition, has a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor) and a comic horror e-novelette, A Trip to the Middle of the World, available from Alban Lake through Infinite Realms Bookstore.
DJ Tyrer’s website is at https://djtyrer.blogspot.co.
The Atlantean Publishing website is at https://atlanteanpublishing.
When Push Comes To Shove
There was nothing quite like a haul of Halloween candy.
At 37, Paul never got enough of it.
He tried to get enough to last the year.
First, he hit the rich neighborhoods.
They always paid out.
Once night fell?
He changed costumes and started stealing candy instead.
From the kids who were out without parents.
They always gave in when push came to shove.
Suddenly, the doorbell rang.
Who could still be out at midnight?
Sighing, he answered the door.
Hundreds of them.
“Trick or treat” they shouted as they pushed and shoved their way inside.
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Stephanie Ellis is a member of the HWA and writes dark speculative prose and poetry which has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. Her work includes the novel, The Five Turns of the Wheel and the gothic novella, Bottled, both via Silver Shamrock Publishing.She can be found at https://stephanieellis.org/ and on twitter @el_Stevie.