A Short Story by: Amy Auer
It was nearing Halloween.
Haunted houses were plentiful, along with haunted hay rides, corn mazes, and water vessels docked along the river. Each and every one promising the same thing--to scare even the strongest of hearts.—Historic buildings already possessing paranormal activity would also be opening their doors to the festivities.
Seventeen-year old Shayne Montgomery was just finishing up his evening chores when he heard the strike of the dinner bell. He tossed a bale of hay into the final horse stall and, stomach rumbling, galloped the distance from the barn to the tiny farmhouse.
Inside, nearly out of breath he brushed a black strand of hair from his forehead. He washed up at the basin in the utility room and then sat down to a dinner of pot roast, oven-browned potatoes, carrots, and a still-warm loaf of French bread.
Dinner—normally filled with laughter and too much talk—was silent and tense.
It didn’t go unnoticed.
“Is something wrong Shayne? You’re awfully quiet tonight.” He looked up from his plate; his eyes were beginning to dampen. Then, without warning he slammed both of his fists down hard on the wooden table and jumped up from his chair.
“Why didn’t you tell us mom?” He yelled.
“Tell you what?” She stammered, appalled by his sudden outburst.
“That dad escaped from prison!”
“What!” Chase—the youngest of the two—shrieked from across the table.
“I’m sorry,” she finally said after a brief hesitation “I didn’t want you to worry.”
“When did he escape?” Chase asked quietly.
Ignoring her youngest son’s question, she said “How did you find out Shayne?”
“I heard you talking about it to Aunt Sharon on the phone yesterday.”
“Mom,” Chase cried out “When did he escape?” She could clearly see the tears dripping from his eyes.
“Just a couple of days ago.” She lied. She didn’t want them to worry; they were just kids for Gods sake. And she wasn’t about to tell them that he had escaped nearly a month ago.
“Listen you two,” she began “your father doesn’t know where we live. For that matter, he doesn’t even know what state we’re living in now. He isn’t going to find us…and if by chance he does, he’ll be arrested and taken back to jail where he belongs.
“He’ll find us mom,” Shayne murmured “He always does, and this time he’ll probably kill you.”
He was probably right, she thought.
She remembered the last time she took the kids and left. They had been gone for nearly a week when she came home from work one night and found him sitting on her living room sofa armed with a hunting knife, waiting for her.
She’d been lucky…that time anyway. She’d walked away with only one non-fatal stab wound and some bruises after the police knocked down the front door, arrested him and hauled him away.
“Well,” she finally said “for tonight anyway, we’re not going to worry about him. Besides, it’s almost Halloween and you two have been looking forward to it for a year.
“You promise he won’t find us?” Eleven year old Chase whispered.
“I promise.” She said.
“Now, let’s eat before everything gets cold.”
Although dinner was eaten in quiet, at least one dark cloud had been lifted from the room, she thought… even if it was only temporary.
“So,” she started on a cheery note “have you two decided which haunted house you’re going to venture into tonight? For the past year, she too had been looking forward to tonight. And she sure as hell wasn’t going to let her maniacal ex-husband ruin it for her, or for her boys.
“When I was at the store yesterday I heard Stephen telling Mitchell that there was a haunted ship on the river.” Shayne said.
“That sounds interesting. Is it new this year? I don’t remember any ship last year.”
“Yeah I think it is, anyway it’s supposed to be really scary.”
“That sounds like its right up your alley.” She laughed.
“Yeah. He said that if you make it through the entire ship without having to be escorted out you get your money back.”
“Well then, that shouldn’t be a problem for you since you’re not afraid of anything.”
“Except for your dad.” She wanted to say, but didn’t.
“Don’t forget your brother is only eleven Shayne, and…”
“I’m not a chicken mom,” Chase cut her off. He was just as determined as Shayne to make it through the ship and get his money back. It was twenty bucks after all!
Dinner ended on a happy note and no more mention of their father.
“Make sure you two dress warm, it’s supposed to get chilly tonight.” Shayne watched his mom get up from the table. He thought she was acting weird.
“Do you want help with the dishes?” He offered.
“No.” she said almost too quickly
“Are you trying to get rid of us? He teased.
“Of course not.” She answered. “Now go, and you two have a good time.”
As soon as Shayne and Chase were out the door, Sara Montgomery let out a deep sigh of relief then ran her fingers through her dark-colored hair. She watched them from the kitchen window, through a gap she had made in the curtains. The second they pulled out of the driveway, she picked up the phone and dialed.
The instant he answered, she felt her heart accelerate.
Shayne had no trouble finding the attraction. It was exactly where he’d heard Stephen telling Mitchell it would be; near the park, along the river. There was only one park in town, so it didn’t take a genius to figure out how to get there.
Shayne pulled into the paved lot. He didn’t have a problem finding a place to park. Unless there was another lot to park in, theirs was the only car there. They both stepped out of the car and into the heavy scent of crayfish; excitement was rushing through their blood.
“It looks like we’re the first ones here.” Shayne announced.
Although it was still fairly light outside, the river was dark and choppy. It looked creepy, Shayne thought.
Off to the left, a roped off pathway was visible; obviously leading the way to the distant ship.
“No wonder we’re the only ones here.” Chase cried out the moment he saw it “You have to walk a half-mile to get there!”
Up ahead in the distance, Shayne could see the gloomy ship bobbing on the water. He couldn’t shake the sudden feeling of uneasiness.
He took a deep breath and said, “Let’s go.”
Together at a snails pace, they both started walking up the haunted pathway towards the intimidating vessel.
It was decorated in a spooky sort of way, Chase thought. It was lined with coffins and head stones, evil-faced jack-o-lanterns and skeletons. Machines emitting mass amounts of fog into the air clouded the pathway, giving it a creepier atmosphere.
“This is cool!” Chase laughed, “You think we’ll make it through and get our money back?”
“I don’t see why not, it’s not like it real or anything.”
When they were within fifty feet of the vessel, Shayne stopped dead in his tracks. His heart began to beat rapidly against his chest. His mouth gaped and his eyes widened in fear. He felt the first beads of perspiration begin to chill his clammy skin. Even in the distance the ship was massive and seemed to tower over them. A stationary, menacing cloud of gray intensified the vessel, giving it an eerie appearance. Instinctively, he grabbed his brother’s arm and pulled.
“Wait!” Shayne gasped.
"Oh my God, what is wrong with you?" He’d nearly scared the crap out of him. Chase jerked his arm free and slapped it over his racing heart.
“It doesn’t even look like this place is open.” Shayne reasoned.
“You had to rip my arm out of its socket to tell me that?”
“Sorry man. Hey, let’s go somewhere else” Shayne suggested “There’s nobody here anyway.” He couldn’t seem to shake the heavy weight that was leaden in the pit of his stomach.
Chase looked up at his older brother. He saw the beads of sweat blanketing his forehead and he thought his face was beginning to pale.
“Oh my God!” Chase laughed, slapping his hands against his knees “You’re scared. You’re actually scared.” He couldn’t stop laughing. “You, who have every horror flick, know to mankind, is scared.”
“I don’t get scared, remember?” Shayne argued “I just have a bad feeling, that’s all.” After a brief hesitation he said, “Maybe it’s because of dad.”
Chase thought about it for a minute, “Come on man, like mom said, he doesn’t even know what state we’re in. Let’s just go a little bit further and see if we see anyone.”
Reluctantly, Shayne agreed, “all right, just a little bit farther and if we don’t see anyone then we’ll leave and go someplace else. Deal?”
“Deal.” Chase said, even though he knew he would be clearly disappointed if they had to leave.
They had made it another twenty feet or so when one of the fog machines seemed to go out of control. It was releasing too much mist and made it nearly impossible to see where they were going.
“Do you think that was supposed to happen?” Chase asked nervously.
“I hope so.” Shayne answered.
Once the fog began to fade, it was Chase that nearly ripped Shayne’s arm out of its socket.
Without saying a word he looked up ahead of him. Through the swirling mists of fog he could see a dark, shadowy figure slowly coming towards them.
“Let’s go.” Chase begged.
Immediately they turned around to leave and walked straight into a six-foot gorilla.
Shayne screamed louder.
“Welcome gentlemen.” The ape said.
Desperate to get away, they tried to walk past the gorilla.
“Not so fast boys.” The hairy creature draped either arm around their shoulder, turned them back around and led them towards the ship.
“This is the easy part,” he said “The terror really begins when you go inside.”
Shayne thought the voice sounded familiar. It was severely muffled underneath the gorilla suit so it was hard to be absolutely certain.
The gorilla overpowered both of them and they had no choice but to allow themselves to be pushed up the wooden plank, and into the awaiting terror.
“Good evening.” A second voice said, the second they stepped inside.
Although they didn’t see him, they jumped.
“Are you here for the tour?” The figure dressed in black stepped in front of them.
Shayne looked up and nearly peed in his pants. He was looking straight into the mask of death.
“Uh…actually…uh…we were just…” The black figure cut him off mid-sentence with his powerful grip, and prodded them further inside.
“Enjoy yourselves.” The gorilla said from behind.
God where do I know that voice from?
Within seconds it hit him.
It belonged to his dad!
Without hesitation Shayne turned around and the gorilla was gone.
Inside the massive ship a long table was occupied by several of Shayne’s favorite monsters; Michael Meyers, Jason, Freddie Kruger. Except for Leatherface—his absolute favorite—they were all there, seated as though they were waiting to be served a cup of tea.
Candlelight flickered in the gloomy room, casting lurking shadows on dripping, blood-red walls.
“We gotta get out of here.” Shayne whispered. Protectively he reached for Chase’s hand.
Seeing they were ready to go for the door and leave, Freddie Kruger jumped up from the table and abruptly blocked their exit.
“Join us for dinner?” It wasn’t a question.
His knife-fingers gripped both Shayne and Chase and he escorted them to two empty chairs then pushed them down.
Something moved to the left of Shayne catching his attention. Automatically he looked, and then wished he hadn’t.
He thought he might puke.
She—at least he thought it was a she—was hideous. Her hair hung halfway down her back and was matted in blood and grime. Her skin was rotting and disfigured, some of it falling off, trailing behind her. It was wet and dripping blood-tinged slime. While one hand pushed a tainted cart burdened with silver platters, the other held onto her right leg that was grotesquely dragging behind her.
Once she managed to make it to the table, Shayne could see a milky-colored puss oozing from numerous open wounds and he nearly gagged. Without saying a word, she placed the covered platters on the table.
“Dig in.” She ordered in a harsh, raspy voice, and then disappeared.
Chase looked at Shayne with worry in his face. They both did as they were told and removed the lids from the platters of food before them.
“Ugh!” Shayne yelled then dropped the lid, where it landed on the floor with a loud clank.
Heaping mounds of what appeared to be dirt…or worse, was swarming with live maggots, worms, beetles, and other slimy creatures he couldn’t identify. Shayne’s stomach was instantly sick with nausea and fear; he looked over at Chase and saw his tears dripping down his cheeks.
Shayne closed his eyes. “This isn’t real.” he whispered.
When he opened his eyes the disgusting dish was still in front of him, crawling with repulsive bugs.
He sat motionless and watched in horror while Freddie, Michael, and Jason took a bite of the sickening muck.
The puss-oozing lady reappeared, managing another cart of silver platters. She looked at the uneaten food.
“Not hungry?” She was clearly satisfied to see the cold fear wash over both of the boys.
She looked around the table at the other monsters; each one looked up at her in return. She gave a slight nod of her head and within seconds they peeled off their masks and screamed.
Shayne’s heart plunged to his feet when he heard their yells.
“What the…?” He muttered.
While tears clouded his eyes, he looked around the table and saw that everyone was laughing.
The hideous lady bent down and gave them both a slimy kiss.
“Happy Halloween.” She said.
“Mom!” Shayne screamed.
“Mom!” Chase screamed at the same time.
“I’m sorry,” she said “I couldn’t resist giving you—who adores monsters—a good scare.”
Shayne looked around the table. Aunts and uncles were seated as well as several cousins. Even Mike Shanahan—the sheriff—was in on it.
“I can’t believe you actually did this mom, you don’t even like Halloween.”
“I like it now.” She laughed.
“Now, how about some real food?”
“We already ate dinner.” Chase managed to spit out.
“Yes, but you haven’t had dessert.” She removed the platters from the cart and set them in the middle of the table.
“Would you like to do the honors Shayne?”
“Sure, I guess it can’t be any worse than the last dish you served us.” He lifted the lid from the first platter and uncovered a pile of chocolate brownies. The other platters revealed several homemade cookies, cupcakes and candies. Then as if he had just remembered something he said, “Where’s King Kong?”
“The guy in the gorilla suit. He stopped us along the path and pushed us towards the ship after we told him we were leaving.”
“Honey you must be mistaken, none of us dressed up like a gorilla.”
Shayne’s heart began to accelerate.
“Mom,” he murmured “I think it may have been dad.”
“What!” She screamed. “That’s impossible.”
Or was it? She wondered.
“When he was talking to us,” Shayne began to explain “I thought his voice sounded familiar, but I couldn’t be sure because it was muffled under the costume. But now that I think about it, I’m almost certain it was him.”
“Honey, I told you that your dad doesn’t know where we are and not to worry about him. He can’t find us.”
“Mom.” Chase stuttered.
Sara Montgomery looked at her youngest son and instantly saw his fear. She followed his gaze.
She stood paralyzed, her heart frozen in her chest.
Chad Montgomery stood in the doorway, his face unmasked. He glared at her with vengeance clearly on his mind.
“Oh my God.” She whispered.
Chad pushed into the room.
“I’m afraid your son was right Sara.”
“Gary, what are you doing here?” Mike asked.
Sara saw that Chad’s hands were handcuffed behind his back and relief washed over her.
“Just doing my rounds at the park,” Gary described “I saw him lurking in the trees nearby and stopped him. As soon as I found out who he was I placed him under arrest.”
“Good job, deputy. Now get him out of here.”
The rest of the evening went without incident. Everyone joined in on the festivities, laughing and gorging themselves on homemade treats.
When the evening finally came to an end, Mike, Sara, Shayne and Chase walked to Mike’s car.
“So…were you scared?” Sara asked her son.
“Naw.” Shayne said. “I knew it was you the whole time.”
Laughter filled the night, and together they drove away.