As the world tilts toward darkness, so do my stories. For the month of October I will feature a series of running short stories Halloween themed. Enjoy!
Autumn leaves crash to the ground with a rustle of the wind. Leaves on fire still cling to the maple’s branches as they languidly hang until a biting gust ferociously sends them into epileptic seizures, their three pointed bodies flopping to and fro in the cold October sky. Grey clouds envelop the sky overhead while dew clings to the green grass below, and bright orange pumpkins sit on the stoop of the house carved with hideous faces and ragged teeth, like a bear trap ready to snap shut on the unexpected.
The grey sky begins to darken to dusk, and as if on cue, all the pumpkins glow with a menacing force from within their ribbed bulbous bodies. Their orange flesh begins to glow with a dull light till their eyes and mouths burst forth in the brightest yellow, as if the fire of hell were burning within their flesh. These bright orbs begin to appear around the yard, in spots hidden to the casual eye, and as they make there presence known, something eery, something unknown can be felt about them.
Shingles greyed with New England weather and time cling to the walls of the house, spaced erratically and unevenly, some missing hear and there, reminiscent of crooked teeth in the mouth of poor dental hygiene. The house itself has an antiquated feel, and the windows of the cape seem to watch you as you walk by, as if the glass itself has some sinister purpose. A dull brown red trim, so much like dried blood, encircles the windows, door frame, and eves of the house. The roof is covered in old grey cedar shakes, which curl and flake up, like old toe nails bent back with age. Moss clings to the shingles, blanketing the roof in a soft green carpet. A sudden blow rakes branches across the shingles, scraping clumps of moss to roll down the to ground, all the while making a hideous noise, like joints creaking and aching with age.
The maple in the yard has the girth of age to prove its superiority over all the others near by, and its branches, jutting out from its massive trunk, impose a grand canopy over the yard, leaving it in perpetual shaded darkness. Beneath the canopy of fiery leaves, the pumpkins glow with a luminescence that casts a sinister glow throughout the yard, throwing shadows in all directions. As dusk turns to darkness, and the darkness to night, the streets began to buzz with an excitement of costumed mischief. Trick or treaters swarm the streets, and the door to this house opens, and behind the wrought iron fence, in the dark yard, an old man steps out onto the stoop.
Old Man Murphy stands on his doorstep, surveying the darkening neighborhood, as he puts a can of PBR to his lips. Taking a long haul off the can he finishes the beer, and flicking his hand, sends the empty tallboy through the open front door behind him. Breaking off another from the bird choking plastic rings, the six pack is now four, and with a snap of his fingers the tab pops while air escapes the can.
He stands there and inhales deeply through his nose. Holding his breath, his barrel chested rib cage seems to stick out from under his red and black plaid flannel shirt. He exhales quickly a large cloud of mist, like a miasma floating on the air. He watches his breath float on the air as it passes a lit jack o lantern which was the head to his scarecrow, its jagged mouth one continuous sinister smile. Stepping down from the stoop he makes his way to an old tattered wingback chair which seems alien in his front yard, and flopping into it with one quick movement drops his beers, each full can bouncing off one another as they strike the dew covered grass.
Reaching into his shirt pocket, his gnarled chapped fingers fumble within the small clothe pouch, and finding their quarry, a book of matches appear in his grotesque hands. Flipping back the cover, he twists the cheap cardboard match from its foundation amongst all the others, and gripping it, strikes it against the rough sandpaper striker. The little match lights his face for a second, and then dies down to a dull, tiny blue flame. Turning the book, he ignites all the others intact, fifteen matches in all. The small book flames in his hand as paper and cardboard are consumed, while the matches fulfill their destiny, arsonists with no conscience. He stares at the book, and holds it up, his eyes glowing as the close flame illuminates the night just in front of him. With a casual toss, the flaming pack lands in an open fire pit and with a whoosh and roar, the night flares bright, as the gasoline soaked wood bursts to life, dancing their enchantment for Halloween night. Like ancients dancing around a fire ready to sacrifice a poor, yet willing, virgin to their unholy gods, shadows contort around the yard, the house with crooked teeth the screen of which these puppets are cast against.
His face is lit by the fire as he sits back, the massive wings of the burgundy red chair enveloping him, almost embracing his body, as he pulls another beer off his six pack. As he takes the can from his lips, the features of his face can be viewed, and like a picasso painting his features seem out of place and incongruous with the thin drawn skeletal features of his head and jaw. Like skin drawn too tight across a drum, his face seems leathery, almost jaundiced, as if the meat from his face has been sucked out by a straw inserted into his cheeks, the skin seeming to pucker into his mouth when he moves his jaw. His dark eyes seem to drop back into his skull, and the dark circles encompassing them are like panda’s eyes, as if someone had beaten him, breaking both orbits of his skull. Where the skin is hidden behind a large grizzled beard on his face, patched with white, grey, and black hairs, one could imagine the same yellow waxy skin, pulled tight across his jaw. In the fire light he looks desiccated, like a mummy left on display in a museum with PBR cans his canopic jars, his wingback chair his sarcophagus. Atop his head sits long grey wispy hair, which cascades down to his shoulders, and in the firelight his fingers, which wrap around the can of PBR, are thick sausages gnarled with age, cracked by the cold, and scarred with ages of hard work. As he sits by the firelight children began to walk by his wrought iron fence in costume, and a slight smile stretches across his face.
Meridian of Darkness
With much effort he stands himself up, and walks to the edge of the circle of light which the fire throws, standing on the meridian of darkness. His back in the light, his face in the darkness, to those walking by he is just a scarecrow, a silhouette of a man, a cardboard cutout caricature. He stands motionless in this liminal space between warmth and chill, darkness and light, this event horizon, as if the yard itself was some black hole ready to pull him to unknown oblivion. And then he speaks with a booming voice, like a used car salesman advertising rusted clunkers on television commercials. He becomes animated, younger than his appearance belies.
“Gather around children, gather round. Come hither to hear bone chilling tales that will be forever seared into your minds, so when you close your eyes for sleep, the backs of your eyelids will be branded with these gruesome tales of Halloween horror. Those braves souls who commit themselves to my tales, will be rewarded handsomely. For Halloween night is not just about candy and costumes, but the ghouls who roam the earth. Night has descended upon the earth, and consumed the light, and now those ghouls may raise from their graves to seek redemption and revenge, and fueled by jealousy of the living, they make seek to steal your skin to cover their bones, leaving you a twitching pile of muscle and guts. Come now, gather round, for the fun is about to begin.”
Slinking back into the fire light, his features are highlighted to show the old man, which the darkness just hid for those few minutes. In that brief moment his voice took on the quality of a young man, the shaking and quivering voice masked for those few minutes of bellowing advertisement. Flopping back into his chair, he cracks another tallboy, and slowly sipping, he waits, knowing the crowd would come. He knew they would pour in from the streets, as if they had been anxiously awaiting a movie premiere, their tickets in hand, all lined up wanting to be the first in line to snatch the best seat in the theater. He knew this, because it was the same every year, and this year would be no different than the others. The gate creaks open, and one by one children dressed in all sorts of costumes come filing in, quiet and somber, an unexpected atmosphere for Halloween night.
Boys and girls of all ages shuffle in, dragging pillowcases weighted down with candy and the occasional apple, which children scrunched their noses up in disgust, as they were dropped in their bags by homeowners naive enough to give these out. These children secretly exchanged glances knowing full well that these houses would be draped in toilet paper and drenched with eggs later on, due to this poor choice in treat. But this was not what was on the children’s minds right now. Instead they came in to be scared, scared beyond belief, and to view Mr. Murphy. They came to view the ever elusive man at the end of the street, living in the run down house perpetually shaded in darkness. They came to view the man who never came out or was seen during the day time, other than on halloween night, and tonight, the children could feel it in their bones, this year would be a good year for a scare.
“Lend me your ears and minds for a few hours, and I will give you a fright that will last you a lifetime.”
The children sit crossed legged in the dying of the firelight. The orange glow flickers across their painted and masked faces, staring intently in Old Man Murphy’s direction, eager for the tales to begin. Leaning forward from his wingback chair, the dull firelight, highlighting the wrinkles on his face, lent a haggardness to his visage already hardened with aged. His yellowed and brown teeth glistened as he ran his tongue across them, and then leaning back, he began to tell his story.
It was a night where the rain came teeming down against the pavement, sounding like horses stampeding across the ground. Michael sat inside the room, looking out the window into the dark night. Rain rolled down the glass in small rivulets, as the downspout overhead clogged with dead leaves spilled cold rainwater in a large stream, cascading down the the rotted eves of the house. Staring out the window he was hypnotized by the large drops which fell from the black sky. He marveled at how each drop of rain individually was small and insignificant, but when viewed all together they formed one massive fog enveloping the world. Michael lost in this thought snapped back to reality, and pressing his forehead against the cold pane of glass, contemplated what he must do.
Michael’s mind went back to the barn, the old ramshackle barn. He thought about the rain finding its way through the sporadic holes in the roof, the wind tearing loose cedar shakes from the siding, and the man who lay on the ground inside, bound and gagged, awaiting his judgement. He sat there and thought to the pick axe on the wall, and how it called to him like a Siren, tugging at his mind, yearning for his touch, pleading for his hand to wrap itself around the cold wooden handle. It craved his warm hand to wrap itself around the oak shaft and wield its power- he could feel this deep within his body. He sat there and deliberated this, as the warm body lay tied on the floor of the barn, still unconscious from the ether soaked rag which smothered his face only twenty minutes before.
Michael sat and prayed, prayed for guidance, prayed for deliverance from the act which he was afraid he must carry out. As he lay prostrate on the floor, begging clemency, and weeping under his breath for the man he had kidnapped, the pick axe pulled at his mind a little more, tugging at his thoughts, undermining his concentration. He felt as if this inanimate object, this workers tool, was slowly taking over his body, taking over his mind, until his hands would no longer be his, and would bend to its every will.
In a shadowed corner of the room where a leather recliner resided came the malodorous stench of sulfur-the only way Michael could describe the smell was what he imagined brimstone must smell like. The stench, like a skunk’s spray, enveloped the air in the room, and clung to every surface, embedding its sickening odor into even the smallest particle unseen to the naked eye. As he lay on the floor begging to be free of his duty, came a raspy, yet booming voice, from this darkened corner of the room.
“Mikail. You have not completed your duty, you have not pleased me. Don’t you wish to please me?”
At hearing this Michael prayed harder and more vehemently, as if hoping to summon God himself to aid him in his endeavor.
“Mikail, he will not help you. There is no God. You pray to an empty vessel, you pray to nothingness, a falsity. You pray to me, and only me. I am everything, I am destruction and chaos, yet you look upon me with fear. Life is chaos. Life is death. Now Mikail, complete your duty, or you will know what hell is. Your body will be consumed day after day by creatures unfathomable to your imagination. They will take small nibbles of your flesh as you hang from the cross you so reverently worship. A tiny bit of flesh here, a tiny bit of flesh there. Eventually, your skin gone, you will stare into the mirror I place before you, and you will see your muscles, sinew, cartilage, tendon, ligaments, all exposed, the next dish on the five course menu. Creatures will pull one small fiber from you at a time, and with a loud slurp your muscles will be eaten like so much spaghetti, your blood the tomato gravy.”
It is as if Michael’s imagination had transported him to this slow hell, and he could feel every bit of muscle stripped from his body. He felt his body ooze fluids onto the floor as he lacked skin now to keep them all in. Every bite that is imagined, he feels it wrench the flesh from his skin, and hears the opened mouth chewing sounds of saliva mixing with his own flesh, as his eyelids were the first eaten off, so he was forced to watch the whole hellish debacle unfold on him. He imagines all this, and feels it, and with a sudden spasm he vomits on the floor, smelling the sour acid from his stomach.
“As this delicious process goes on day after day, your abdomen is opened up, and your intestines removed, eaten like long licorice rope, one delectable foot at a time. I can see it now, two creatures fight over a foot or two, pulling at each slippery end, their teeth gnashing into soft, large intestine, while you watch, no eyelids to avert your gaze. Oh what an appetizing prospect.”
Michael lay on the floor muttering to himself, shaking as he listened to this torture he would be subjected.
“Mikail, stay with me. Listen to what I have in store for you, because we have not gotten to the best part, and frankly, I enjoy watching you imagine this more than I think I will watch it happen to you. Now where was I, oh yes, your intestines. Just imagine it, your intestines will be eaten, and you will hang off your beloved cross, your abdominal cavity empty, a giant void. With painstaking precision the rest of your muscles will be removed from your body, and slurped up a delight for those who partake.”
Michael lay on the floor shaking, unable to will himself to move, with the smell of sulfur permeating his nostrils.
“The best part is yet to come. Once your organs have been feasted on, and your body stripped of muscle and all flesh, I will stand up and feast on your eyes. Yes your eyes. With one plucked out, I will hold it up to your other, so you may see the soft, almost gelatin like squish, as I bite down on your eye. As your vision is now lopsided I will eat the other, feasting on it, your world now dark. Your brain will still function, even with no heart, because in hell there is no death, and I will suck your brain out through a straw, pulling each little bit till you cease to exist. And then. And then Mikail. Then comes the best part, you will wake up for a new day, and the process will repeat for eternity. Like a factory worker doomed to push the same button everyday for the next twenty five years of their career. You will be eaten alive, day after day, in hell, the hell you chose, the hell I will put yourself in. Or, or Mikail, you can do what I wish of you. You can complete what I have asked. Now stop your shaking, and get up, rise, and complete my bidding, and maybe when you die, hell will be less than cannibalism for you.”
Michael lay on the floor, exhausted from imagining this hell he was placed in for what seemed an eternity. The rain still pounded the dirt outside, creating large puddles in the dirt driveway. Sitting up, a pounding headache raged through his skull, and an exhaustion gripped him. A thirst gnawed at him, and smacking his cotton-mouthed lips he tasted a little bit of blood where his teeth had bit the edge of his tongue. Standing at the sink, he stared out the window squinting through the pouring sheets of rain, fighting through the searing hot poker which stabbed his brain. The barn light shone dimly through the large droplets, as if a swarm of mosquitos and moths hovered around the light, giving only the occasional glimpse of brightness. The pick axe called to him again, and he could feel it tug at his mind, calling him to wrap his warm hand around its cold oaken shaft.
The rain was cold as Michael crossed the dirt driveway to the barn. His drenched clothes clung to his skin as woven fibers sopped up the rain quickly, soaking through to his skin. He could feel the cold moisture through to his bones, and as he walked slowly through the deep puddles, collected in depressions along the driveway, the leather of his boots pulled the water quickly like a wick absorbing oil in a lantern. The wide brimmed waxed hat could not repel the water anymore, and began to droop under the weight of the rain it absorbed.
Reaching the barn he stood under the large light, and watched the rain pass by, illuminated by the bluish hue which emanated from the bulb. A large hum emitted from the blue light, and seemed to drown out the discordant drumming rain, sloppily pounding against the saturated ground. Turning back, the rest of the yard seemed gone, dissolved into a field of rain, as if a curtain was pulled back, hiding the house from view. Reaching for the barn, he slid the large wooden doors aside, and heard the metal rollers creak along their tracks, as they stubbornly moved to each side. Inside he could see the man lying on the floor, his hands bound behind his back with stark white rope, while a large black piece of cloth was wrapped around his head, shoved deep into his mouth. His eyes shut, he looked serene and peaceful, quietly sleeping, almost comfortable looking in his contorted position.
Looking across the room a shaft of light from outside cut across the oak handle, the oiled surface shining in this bit of light. It called to him, it beckoned for him to claim his prize, complete his duty, fulfill his destiny. He had made up his mind, and knew what he must do. Walking across the dank barn, floor boards creaking under his feet, he moved toward the pick axe, and sliding his hand around the thick oak handle, he gripped it tightly, and in that instance he realized, it felt like home. Holding the tool over his shoulder like a coal miner walking to work, he strolled toward the man with a light step, almost skipping as he hummed a melancholy tune.
Michael stood over the man, the pick axe in hand, and rested the pick against his temple, squaring up his aim for the fatal strike. The metal point scraped against the mans skin and as he did this, he began to stir as the ether slowly wore off. His eyelids fluttered, and he slowly squinted, as Michael pulled the pick up, and back down slowly, like a golfer readying his swing, practicing his drive. The man began to pull at his bonds, wrenching his hands against the tight rope, and all the while Michael continued his practice.
The mans eyes fully opened now and watching the horror of what was to occur, Michael raised the pick over his head, in the same path as all his practice swings. Muffled sounds came from the man as he wriggled on the floor like a caterpillar trying to inch away from his impending fate. Michael stood there with a silent ambivalence, and a placid look across his face, blankly staring at the man on the floor.
He looked like death to Michael. He looked like decayed rotting flesh, with maggots writhing out from his eye sockets. His breath and the muffled, inhibited sounds he made, were nothing but gases escaping his bloated decomposing corpse. His muscles tight and poised, he gripped the handle with all his strength, as if he were trying to crush the oak in his hands.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be eaten alive for eternity.”
The man shook his head erratically, as best he could in his bonds, but before he could protest any more, the pick came down, with a force that could split wood. The pick splintered his skull like a pin shattering an eggshell, and dark hair matted with blood and pink spongy brain, clung to the rusted metal. Michael pulled the pick out, and raising it high over his head again, an arc of blood and brain flung in the air, like a woman exiting the ocean water, flinging her head back, her long hair throwing beads of water into the sunny warm air. Plunging the pointed piece of steel inside his skull again, his head collapsed like an undone popover, deflated and left sagging on itself. Leaving the pick where it fell, the point stuck in the wood, having penetrated both sides of his skull, frozen in his head.
Michael awaited his praise, his congratulations on a job well done, yet no voice spoke to him. Nobody materialized to commend him on the accomplishment of this difficult task, which he persevered through. The silence which engulfed him was only drowned out by the rain pelting the wooden shingles on the roof, while a steady stream of cold water ran down into a puddle on the ancient wooden floor, streaming through a large gap in the roof. He sniffed the air, awaiting the smell of sulfur, but no whiff came, instead a wet earthen smell, like damp old straw, was the only scent to be detected.
Gripping the oak handle, he wrenched the pick out of the floor board, and put it back in its place against the wall, blood, brain, and hair clinging to its rusted metal. With very quick and deliberate movements, he untied the man, his rag doll body flopping uncooperatively, as he untied the tight knots gripping his wrists. With a certain reverence Michael coiled the rope, one wrap at a time. Neat and rounded perfect, he hung the white rope on the wall, still stark white, even after he had plunge the pick through the man’s skull twice. Grabbing the corpse’s ankles, he dragged him across the old wooden planks, leaving a long trail of blood behind, matching the other red streaks which stretched across the floor in the same direction. These old marks were faded from time, the ancient, dry wooden floor, having supped up much of the wet sticky ichor.
Stepping out into the night, the blue light overhead shone down on the man’s body as his smashed head dragged like a large deflated balloon. The teeming rain beat down on their bodies, relentless in its fury. The wind whipped around, as a large willow tree next to the barn seemed to stand horizontal to the ground, as the wind pulled at its soft branches. The man’s body plowed through the mud of the dirt driveway, and a long trench trailed behind him, like a wake from a boat. Rainwater collected in the trench created by his dragging body, and a man made canal was formed, filled with brown and red tinged muddy water.
At the back of the barn, Michael took the shovel hidden behind a loose barn board, and began to dig into the earth, softened by the persistent rain. Each shovel full slopped onto the muddy saturated ground, and as he dug deeper, water began to fill the hastily dug grave. Knee deep in water, Michael’s toes began to numb from the cold water enveloping his feet. As he dug deeper the sides began to wash in, as more water poured into grave, and he began to become frustrated at his slow progress. Stepping out, he rolled the corpse into the grave, his arms flailing all around limp and uncooperative, like a marionette left on the floor unsupported by its strings.
The water rose, as the body flopped down, splashing into the few feet deep of water, like ice cubes dropped into an already full glass of water. Michael began to push the mud into the grave like a bulldozer, and the mud slopped into the hole onto top of the lifeless body. Pruned and saturated, Michael stood up, staring at his job completed. The grave looked like a mud hole, and he thought to himself that he would have to come back after the rains, and neaten the earth up a bit, so it was not so obvious. He stood there, leaning on the shovel, like a man accomplished after a hard days work, and looked at the three other depressions in the earth, dissatisfied with their progression.
“I have to tidy up all of these,” he muttered to himself, barely audible in the pounding rain and fierce wind.
Placing the shovel back behind the barn board, he made his way across the yard, and closing the barn doors, made his way back to the house. Entering the kitchen, his muddy saturated boots formed brown puddles on the old flowered linoleum floor. Bending down to untie his boots, he felt a sensation come over him, and sniffing the air, smelt sulfur.
As he lay there on the ground, his body in epileptic spasms, his grand mal seizure overpowering his body, he could smell the sulfur and the putrid rotted eggs of brimstone. He saw his flesh stripped from his body, and he was visited again by this unnamed creature who requested death, giving him his next victim, giving him his chance for salvation.