HALLOWEEN SPECIAL EDITION CHALLENGE HONORABLE MENTION
Matt huddled in the corner of the room as a dwindling fire sprayed shadows on the walls. The remains of his dinner sat in his stomach like a stone. His head ached. And worst of all, he was scared.
It had all been leading up to this night, the night when the border between worlds was thin, the night when the spirits of the dead walked the Earth.
It had started weeks earlier, in the beginning of October. The leaves on the trees were busy changing colors, and the unmistakable chill of autumn was in the air.
He was walking along, minding his own business when he noticed it: the first sign of Halloween.
It was a carved pumpkin sitting on a rotted tree stump in someone’s front yard. The jack-o-lantern glared at Matt with its hollowed-out eyes. He tried to ignore it; it was just one of many Halloween traditions people practiced. It was a decoration, nothing more.
But as he scurried past it Matt couldn’t help but notice the way its eyes seemed to be following him. It was watching him, tracking his movements, waiting
for something. And then a seeping greenish light lit the pumpkin from within. It bulged with infected life.
Matt stumbled away as fast as he could.
* * *
It was a few days later, when Matt had convinced himself that he had imagined the pumpkin, when he saw it: the colors creeping along the row of bushes, coiling around the plants, strangling all they touched with their unnatural shades. It was a black so dark it swallowed all around it, leaving nothing behind as it slid along. A small chipmunk attempt to escape but was engulfed in the dark stuff when it got too close. It absorbed the poor rodent without so much as a sound. And the orange, a glowing ember of perverted color slithering along next to the black, occasionally mingling its swirling hues with its lethal brethren. It too enveloped all it touched.
Matt stopped his car in the middle of the street. Suddenly getting to work on time wasn’t important to him anymore.
He sped away, never once looking back.
Then a cat scurried across the road and Matt barely had enough time to slam on his brakes, narrowly missing the black feline. The cat, after reaching the side of the street, turned its head almost completely around and glared at the car that had almost hit it. A thick cracking noise echoed as its vertebrae snapped. But it didn’t notice. It merely snarled as its black tongue shot out of its mouth like a snake tasting the air, and with a tilt of its head, continued on its way. Its tail dragged on the ground behind it, leaving a greasy trail of blood.
Matt remembered his superstitions well and a black cat crossing your path was definitely near the top of the list.
Several days passed and the memories of what he had seen gnawed at Matt’s mind. He tried to convince himself that none of it was real, but all it took was an image of the pumpkin sitting on its tree stump, or the black cat with its head facing one way and its body the other, to remind him that what he had seen was real. Halloween was fast approaching and this fact was not lost on him; he was starting to make the connection between the dark holiday and the frightening things he’d been seeing.
So when he first noticed it it almost didn’t scare him
It was the decorations, the otherwise harmless paper spiders, cardboard witches, cotton cobwebs, and plastic tombstones that adorned the front lawns and porches of the homes lining the streets.
Matt stood on the sidewalk, his eyes glued to the writhing Halloween decorations. He watched the things squirm as if they were alive, each jostling back and forth as they tried to free themselves from their bonds.
A plastic skeleton managed to work itself free from the strings holding it to a tree and darted directly toward him, bared teeth gleaming, empty eye sockets glowing red.
Matt backed away from the nightmarish display only to bump into a row of bushes. He stumbled through them as he tried to get away. The skeleton was still lurching toward him, as were the other decorations: bristling spiders scampering along the ground; cloaked demons floating in the air; black bats swarming on the trees.
He tried not to look back as he ran down the sidewalk but couldn’t help himself. He ran even faster when he saw the rotted hands clawing their way up from the ground in front of several crumbling tombstones that had been, just a short
while earlier, handmade decorations. But now they were real gravestones marking God-knows-what beneath them.
After he managed to make it home he locked himself up in his house, shutting himself off from the outside world. And there he stayed as the days and nights crawled past him, reminding him of the inevitability that when
the borders between worlds grew thin something would come for him…on Halloween.
The fire began to die, allowing darkness to creep into the room. Matt thought about simply getting up and leaving his house but where would he go? And who would believe him? And besides, there might be other Halloween horrors waiting for him. It was the holiday itself that was after him, of that much he was sure. For some bizarre reason Halloween wanted to hurt him.
Matt tried to remember what other aspects of the holiday there were. He’d already seen jack-o-lanterns, black cats, even the traditional colors (black and orange) that symbolized nighttime and fire, but he knew there was much more to Halloween.
The heavy knock on the door jarred Matt from his thoughts.
“Trick or treat.”
The words sliced through the front door as if it wasn’t there. Normally, the sound of children chanting the familiar phrase was an enjoyable part of the holiday,
but not this time. Whatever was begging for a treat on Matt’s front porch wasn’t a child. It didn’t even sound human. It was deeper, guttural, like an old man taking his last breath.
“Trick or treat.”
Matt knew what he had to do. The words were a threat-either give them a treat or they’ll play a trick on you. And it wouldn’t be the kind of trick someone would want.
Frantically searching around the room Matt found something that would work.
He snatched the half-eaten candy bar from the floor and approached the door. The doorknob squeaked as he turned it, which caused the chanting to stop. The voice on the other side of the door changed into groans punctuated with slobbering grunts and seething growls. Matt felt every single heartbeat in his chest as he twisted the doorknob, and with his hand over his mouth, he pulled the door open.
A cold rush of stale air that stank of decay and mold drifted into his face. Matt looked up and immediately wished he hadn’t.
The thing on his porch was a trembling collection of every possible nightmare he could ever dream up. It swayed its foul bulk back and forth slightly, convulsing as thick syrupy arms thrashed to the ground. As a whole it smelled like raw sewage, but with a sweet aroma of candy mixed in.
Matt raised the candy bar with a shaking hand and held it up for the creature to see.
A pumpkin and two skeletal arms were fused into the middle of the swirling orange and black colors and gyrated on top of the beast. It focused its gaze on the candy, and in a blink of an eye snatched the food from Matt’s outstretched hand.
“Thank you,” it groaned and slithered away into the cool October night.
Matt stood in his doorway, staring at his slime-coated front porch. The thing had made its point. It was the culmination of the holiday, apparently smeared together to confront non-believers, or in Matt’s case-someone who simply didn’t bother with it anymore. So occasionally it let itself be known.
Closing his front door Matt felt relief wash over him, and as he heard the latch click into place a strange thought slipped into his mind: What about Christmas?
Rick is a fifty year old father of two who loves anything horror-related. He’s had over 400 publications, written five novels, ten anthologies, one book of novellas, and edited an anthology of Michigan authors. He’s also a guest author each year at Memphis Junior High School.Currently, he’s working on a new novel.