HALLOWEEN SPECIAL EDITION CHALLENGE HONORABLE MENTION
A throng of goblins, witches, princesses, zombies, superheroes and every other fantastical thing crowded down the narrow, one lane black top of Sunday street. A pack of werewolves tailed a ninja and a karate master. Frankenstein’s monster stood on a curb and reached deep into a pillow case in search of some elusive confection. A Disney princess – escorted by the Grim Reaper- approached a house and knocked on the door. A scarecrow stood stiff and unmoving in a leaf strewn yard, until a sexy nurse strolled by and its head followed her wiggle.
Megan Bannerman stood under the street lamp at the east side of the block, listening to Polly Simmons go on about the importance of leashing your animals. Polly had a problem in her neighborhood: some local dogs that were allowed to run free were mauling other people’s pets. She nearly started to cry as she discussed finding her little poodle, Jackson, bloodied and torn in the alley behind her house last night.
Megan half listened and tried to keep her eye on the little witch with the black, spider webbed gown and the silver painted hair that was eagerly running down Sunday street. She approached the next house lit with eerie blue, purple, orange and green lights. The witch had to skip one house, Polly Simmons very own bungalow, which was dark and undecorated. This was not the witches first rodeo; Megan was sure to explain the rules very clearly to her each year – no lights? No stop.
Polly, who had only come out of her dark little hole to discuss the terrible thing that had befallen her Jackson, switched gears and began to stress the importance of neutering pets as well. She was tired of the hissing and yowling of the cats in heat that seemed to populate the neighborhood each night. Megan listened, nodded, and peered down South Clinton street, where she and the witch had just come from, and searched among the pirates, monsters, clowns and dinosaurs, for the rest of her party. She didn’t see them, and wondered how far ahead she and the witch were. Her husband, Dan was escorting a little three-year-old kitten, complete with a black tutu and tail, and a black head band with pointy ears. The kitten moved slower than the witch, and so they had inevitably split up.
She turned back towards Sunday Street and had to scan the corridor of black top to find the little witch. Megan spotted her, standing in line on the brick path that led to the Gunderson’s house. Suddenly a green, Styrofoam tyrannosaurus rex barged into the line, scattering the children who had been waiting patiently. The dinosaur tumbled to the ground, large green head lopped off and rolling down into the gutter, acne blazed teenagers head revealed beneath it, grimacing in shame, embarrassment and perhaps real hurt.
Megan sighed and tried to pull away from Polly, who was expressing her hatred for the season and the holiday. “It’s not even a real holiday,” Polly was saying, “Just an excuse for kids to roam around and get free stuff.”
Megan nodded and pointed down the street, “I’ve got to catch up with Tiffany before she starts the next block without me.” She waived at the old woman, backed away as the lady continued to spout incoherent mumblings, and stepped down into the leaf strewn gutter. The leaves crunched loudly underfoot.
She moved down the street as only a parent pursuing a child could, B-lining to the last place she had seen her, dodging children and parents alike, marching through the crowds like some android from the future, intent on acquiring its target. The crisp air in her lungs tickled her chest, and she had a sudden awareness of the tree branches hanging over the road, strewn with cob webs and silly string, leaves floating out of the black branches like feathers. She slowed as she neared the dead end of the street, approaching Haven Hill Cemetery. She frowned, knowing full well the little witch would not venture in there, especially not alone.
She retraced her steps, looking at every passing trick or treater, inspecting the lines at doors and clusters in yards and on porches. She discovered Dan and Amy, the little kitten, descending some cement steps set into the curbside.
“Where’s Tiffany?” Dan asked, bending over at the waist as the little kitten pulled his hand.
Megan shook her head, her eyes narrowing as fear spiked her heart like a barbed scorpion’s tail. Before she could give voice to her sudden panic, her husband gestured over her shoulder, “What was she doing in there?”
She spun around to see Tiffany stumble out of the cemetery and back into the street. The bag of candy being dragged behind her, only one handle grasped in her hand, the other slithering across the ground leaving a trail of candy.
She looked disoriented.
Megan trotted towards her, perhaps thirty yards, and in that length several thoughts passed through her mind: She’s hurt? What happened? Why would she do that? Who hurt her? Is she hurt? What happened? Where did she go? Is she hurt?
She dropped to her knees in front of the child, grabbed her and pulled her close, “Hey kiddo, what were you doing in there?”
“He scared me.” Tiffany whimpered.
Megan’s stomach and heart both lurched into her throat.
He? She thought.
“Who?” She said.
“The man in the trees, with the yellow eyes.”
“What happened?” Dan said, holding Amy now and looking from his eldest daughter to his wife. The way Tiffany stood, head bowed, shoulders slouched, hands clasped in front of her, and Megan leaning over her, holding the girl by the shoulders at arm’s length, it looked like the mother was reprimanding her daughter.
“She said a man in the cemetery scared her.” Megan glanced up at Dan, “A man with yellow eyes.”
Dan looked up into the cemetery. The night was fully settled in, and though the street lamps and decorations of the season kept the sidewalks and residential paths illuminated enough, the cemetery was bolstered by a wall of tall, dark trees that made everything beyond their border various shapes of shadow.
“Are you ok, honey?” Dan bent down to inspect her.
“Look at Mommy and Daddy.” Megan said, and tried to lift her daughter’s chin.
The tallow glow of a decorative orange globe, made up as a mock pumpkin and setting upon a pedestal in a nearby yard, like some communal crystal ball, warmed across the girls face to revel a trio of shallow yet clearly visible scratch marks on her cheek.
“Dan!” Megan gasped.
But her husband was walking away. He moved towards the cemetery, still holding Amy, and stopped just as a man emerged from behind one of the old trees that lined the roadside.
“Hey!” Dan called at him, his voice taking a tone of sincere, fierce offense. “Hey, you lay your hand on my daughter in there?” He took another step towards the figure.
Megan adjusted Tiffany so the glow of the crystal pumpkin better lit her face. “Does it hurt, baby?”
“What the hell!”
Amy turned to see the figure from the cemetery had closed the distance between he and Dan and was pulling on young Amy’s arm, trying to rip her from her Dad’s embrace. She was screaming. Some of the near by trick or treaters looked their way.
“Let go of her!” Dan stiff armed the man, created enough distance to use his leg, and kicked out, catching the man in the gut and sending him tumbling backwards, releasing his grip on the toddler.
“Behind you!” His wife shouted and Dan turned to see several more of the figures, dark, decrepit, devilish, lurking just inside the tree line.
Dan wheeled around, “The chapel!” He shouted and ran towards the small, decorative chantry next to the cemetery gates.
Before she turned to follow, Megan saw the man that had gripped Amy’s arm get to his feet and move towards them. He indeed had yellow eyes.
Dan pushed on the doors to the chapel and for one second, thought they were locked, but when he stopped, and pulled, it swung open.
As they ran inside a small room filled with four rows of pews and an aisle down the center, they heard the first screams from the other trick or treaters in the street.
Dan hauled ass up the aisle and juked around the front pew and knelt down behind it. Amy screamed into his shoulder. He waited for Megan and Tiffany to kneel next to him, then held his youngest daughter out and inspected her. She seemed fine no blood. Likely just scared. Then he saw the scratches on her little hand, where the weird man had gripped and tugged on her arm. He pulled her close again and rocked, letting her cry it out, trying to shush her into quiet whimpers.
“What the hell?” Megan said as they made eye contact over the heads of their daughters.
“Where did they all come from?”
“They came from the cemetery.” Dan said.
They listened to the muffled shouts and screams from the street. Suddenly, banging began on the chapel door. Someone was trying to get in.
“What if it’s someone who needs help?” Megan said.
“Don’t open it. If they want in bad enough, they will realize it’s a pull door, not a push.”
The girls whimpered into their parents’ torsos. A night of festive confections and costumes, ruined by unexpected violence.
Their moans morphed into growls, and soon they began to struggle in their parents’ arms, trying to break free of their captivity.
The mother and father held firm as their daughters writhed, growled, and gnashed their teeth.
Tiffany bit at the air mere centimeters in front of Megan’s nose, a close one. The clip of her teeth snapping together sounded like the musical clap of wood blocks.
Mother and father were in the fight for as long as there was one. Because they were a family. Because they supported and helped each other. Because of love. Because love is the strongest emotion there is. Love can move mountains. But a devastating realization had bloomed in Megan’s mind as she embraced the groaning child and looked at her husband; she realized just how crippling love was. She had always suspected – in the unconscious way all pessimists do – that love made you not stronger, but powerless. It rendered you ultimately indifferent to the woes of existence.
She looked at her family and felt the love swell within her, such a rush of pure, supercharged affection for these human beings that she began to shake.
She brimmed with love, and loathed it.
She was trapped by it, ensnared by it and unable or unwilling to bend from it.
She was no more capable of walking on water than walking away from them.
Whatever horrific affection she was feeling, the look on Dan’s face seemed to reflect it back to her. A tear slid down his cheek. And then he smiled. It was both the most beautiful yet heartbreaking smile she had ever see. He let go of the toddler with the gnashing teeth and she immediately lunged at his throat. Her teeth were small and white, like soft pearls; it took her a while to chew through his skin, and miraculously, he did not scream.
Megan watched with insane fondness, allowing Tiffany to bite and gnaw enthusiastically on the fingers of one hand. It hurt, but so had birthing her into the world.
Sometime later, long enough for the living warmth to leave their bodies, but not long enough that the sun was soon expected, the family of four pushed open the chapel doors and walked out into the night, their yellow eyes glaring in the Halloween darkness.
No one would ever know why or how the apocalypse started, or that it started on Sunday street.