A Halloween Haunting.

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: The Dark And Suspenseful

Submitted: October 09, 2018

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Submitted: October 09, 2018

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Joe Sledge was a man who knew his place in life and which side his bread was buttered on, being the sheriff of Crimson Creek may not have been every ones ideal job but it suited Joe down to the ground. The good people that paid the majority of his salary were the people he looked out for, the other poorer section of the rural town were always the ones to feel his wrath. Anytime the rich kids got a little boisterous and a crime occurred, just a word in Joe’s ear by their parents ensured that some less well-off kid or other shouldered the blame. So all in all life was simple enough for Joe, all he needed to do was look after those who looked after him. Turn a blind eye now and again and pick up his cheque at the end of every month.

Joe rolled down the window of the patrol car and flicked the cigarette butt out onto the roadside, the music from the tavern carried clearly to him with the window open. However the stiffing breeze blowing down from the mountain top brought frigid air with it, so he rolled back up the window and settled down to wait. Before long it would be chucking out time at the bar and Joe could have some fun, being the only law and order in the vicinity had perks other than just a monthly salary. Sheriff Joe took advantage of these perks at every opportunity he could, and tonight he intended to avail of one of these perks again.

Joe always carried a pint of whiskey in the glove compartment of the cruiser, it was ideal for when he was on what he liked to call a stake out. He was half way through the whiskey before the lights in the tavern dimmed and the punters started to file out into the car park. Joe rolled down the window and scoured the crowd through his binoculars; it wasn’t long before he spotted exactly what he had been looking for. The young girl with the short skirt was doing her best to discourage the group of boys that had encircled her, one look at her clothing told him she was not from town. She was more than likely one of the hill folk that had ventured in to the tavern for the night, simple ignorant dirt farmers but they sure bred some fine women. Joe already felt the stirring in his pants and he smiled in anticipation.

The situation had developed now to where the girl was physically trying to beat them off, time for to make my move Joe decided and he hit the siren. The sound and the flashing lights had the desired effect and by the time the car reached her, the girls tormentors had faded into the darkness. Not that Joe had any intention of taking these boys to task over a hillbilly girl like her, those boys parents were the ones that kept his salary coming. The girl stood staring at the patrol car, her eyes were wide with fear and her complexion was pale as a ghost. When Joe commanded her to get in the passenger seat she did so without a murmur.

Three times Joe had to ask her to repeat her name and where she lived; her voice was low and trembled with fear. His first impression about the girl had been right; she lived in the hills a few miles from town. Joe did his best to alleviate her fear and suspicions by making small talk with her as they drove, but the girl coward against the passenger door and remained silent. A couple of miles outside town Joe pulled in off the road and made his move, the moment his hand went under her skirt she began to cry. Not just cry but wail like a banshee and beg for her life, he was taken aback by this and immediately pulled away from her. Her reaction had come as a complete surprise to him; none of the others had ever reacted like this.

Suddenly Joe was on the back foot and he cursed his luck that he had picked the wrong girl, he reached for the whiskey bottle in the hope that the hard liquor would make her a little more compliant. While his attention was elsewhere the girl moved like a flash had the door open and was running through the trees before he even realized it, by the time he got out of the car she was nowhere to be seen. Badly shaken now he sat back in the car and reached for the whiskey bottle again, Joe Sledge had a bad feeling about this particular escapade and that girl. He finished the bottle of whiskey before turning the car and driving towards town, being out here was beginning to creep him out for some reason. He had travelled only a hundred yards when the fancy pickup truck passed him at speed, heading in the direction Joe had just come from. He contemplated turning and following them but he knew who they were, the same boys who had surrounded the girl earlier. Besides if they were looking for the girl she would be half way home through the woods by now, and he had enough hassle for one night.

The following couple of days were strange ones for Joe, Crimson Creek was buzzing as people prepared for Halloween. The shops and homes had begun decorating with pumpkins and all manner of ghostly stuff, witches adorned roof tops on their broomsticks and a festive atmosphere enveloped the town. But Joe felt none of this festive spirit, as a matter of fact it felt as if a grey cloud followed him every moment of his waking day. Ever since that episode with the hillbilly girl, Joe had felt nervy and anxious. Even his dreams were haunted by strange premonitions of pending danger. One night he even found himself parked in the exact spot where the girl had run into the woods, without having any recollection of getting out of bed and driving there.

One morning about a week before Halloween Joe was sitting in his office, a mug of strong coffee laced with whiskey on the corner of his desk. His drinking had escalated since the night he had given the hillbilly girl the ride in his cruiser, lately it appeared as if he was rarely actually sober. Joe had just taken a swig of the coffee and when he put the mug back down, the strange couple just seemed to have appeared in front of his desk. Anyone would have been forgiven in believing the thin man and his companion had materialized from a bygone era. Their clothes and general appearance seemed to place them in a time and place far removed from Crimson Creek today. The man was tall and thin with angular features that seemed exaggerated by the pointed beard he wore; the woman was short and stout with a deathly pale complexion.

Something about them gave Joe a very uncomfortable feeling; it took him quite a while before he could find his voice and ask them what they wanted. “What can I do for you folks”? The words seemed to hang in the air and Joe thought he detected a nervous tone in his own voice, the couple remained silent and their eyes felt as if they were boring into his head. The initial nervousness he felt was now being replaced by anger; Joe repeated the question but much more sternly this time. Moments passed before the man turned his attention to the woman and nodded, her hand disappeared under the dark shawl she wore and reappeared with a photograph. For some unknown reason Joe desperately did not want to look at that photograph, however he found himself reaching forward and taking it from her stone cold hand.

Even the small black and white photograph had the appearance of a memento from a bygone era; it was a grainy image of a young girl dressed in old fashioned clothes. If he had been asked he would have said the picture had been taken fifty years or so previous to this, but when he placed his glasses on his head a cold feeling settled in the pit of his stomach. In the magnification of his reading glasses the image seemed to jump out at him, it was those dark eyes and soulful look that Joe recognized. Suddenly his mouth filled with water and he felt as if he was about to vomit, the girl that stared back at him from the picture was the same one that had bolted from his car that night.

Even though Joe was aware he was over reacting, he still could not shake the feeling she was looking at him in an accusing manner. He placed the photograph faced down on the desk as he tried to compose himself, eventually he turned his attention back to the odd couple standing before him. This time there was no mistaking the nervous tone in his voice as he asked them what this was all about. The woman was just about to speak when her husband placed his hand on her shoulder, immediately she lapsed into silence but her gaze left Joe feeling cold inside. It was the husband that eventually broke that awkward silence. “This is our daughter; she has been missing for a while now. We believe she was in town here at one of your bars on the night she went missing. Since you are the representative for the law in this town, we have come to you for help.”

The man had spoken in a monotonous voice but Joe had a feeling they were holding him responsible. A part him knew this was paranoia on his behalf, but he still could not shake that feeling of dread that had come over him. Even the man’s monotonous voice seemed eerie and threatening; he could not wait now to get these creepy people out of his presence. Joe got to his feet and crossed the room to the filing cabinet; even with his back turned to them he could feel their eyes on him. There was something about this whole thing that felt all wrong, and he cursed the night he had ever laid eyes on that girl. The best thing he could do now was to get them to fill out a missing person’s report and then get them the hell out of his office. At least when they were gone he could sit down and think about this.

The hand that Joe held the form in trembled like a leaf and he could feel his face flush. To make things worse the couple just stared at the paper as if he was handing them a dog turd. “You need to fill out this official form before I can do anything”. They just continued to stare at the paper as if they could not understand him, when he shoved the paper nearer to the man he stepped backwards as if threatened. Joe was getting really angry now and his free hand inched towards the billy club on his belt, a brief vision of him cracking their heads with the billy club flashed across his mind. The whole situation seemed to be quickly slipping away from him; it was then the woman spoke and some kind of sanity returned to his mind. “We don’t read or write mister”. Her voice sounded old and weary but her eyes held defiance

Joe had just filled in the last detail on the form and when he looked up and they were gone, for one crazy moment he wondered if had imagined the whole thing. But the evidence was there in front of his eyes in black and white, the form containing the details and an old black and white photograph. Almost as soon as he had finished the coffee Joe had to run to the bathroom, the coffee and whiskey mix came up faster than it had gone down. His body was wracked with empty reaching; this produced nothing but stomach bile that burned his throat. By the time these had abated his sight was blurred with tears, and he felt as weak as a kitten.

Joe Sledge had inherited two things in life from his old man, one was this job and the second was an over fondness for hard liquor. Sitting behind the desk he filled the coffee cup with straight whiskey and picked up the form, looking back over it made for disturbing reading. Ellen Margret Clampton had just turned fifteen; this fact alone sent cold shivers down his spine. He had almost forced himself on a minor, but then again how was he to know those hillbilly girls always looked more mature than their age. However something else about the information was really bothering him and he just could not get a handle on it, he was half way through the whiskey bottle and on his umpteenth examination of the form when something clicked.

 Now he knew exactly what was bothering him about the details, it was the name Clampton. Before his old man had passed on from Cirrhosis of the liver, his mind was beginning to wander and he would talk incoherently and incessantly about a case involving that name. It had to be a coincidence but never the less, this only served to make Joe even more troubled about this whole thing. He spent the next few hours in a dusty basement going through mountains of old paper work going back many years, but nothing in any of the old boxes made any mention of the name Clampton. In the end he went to the liquor store for another bottle and headed home.

It was midday before he awoke but once Joe opened his eyes he was wide awake, wide awake and his mind was racing. It was Halloween and normally he would be busy around town keeping the boisterous antics of the kids to a minimum. But Joe had woken with another priority and he needed to look after this first, it took him a while before he could even locate the key to the cellar, he had not been down there since his father died. Moving all the crap accumulated over the years was proving a tough task for him, the whiskey from the day before was not helping. But there was urgency in his mind that Joe had not felt for quite a while. The moment he saw the old strong box with the rusted lock he knew he had found what he was looking for.

Joe was out of breath by the time he heaved the box on to the kitchen table, but it took only one hit with the hammer before the lock popped. For a moment he felt he had been on a wild goose chase, the whole box seemed filled with stuff his mother had left behind when she walked out on the old man. But something in his head told him to keep looking; eventually he found it right at the bottom of the metal box. An old manila folder just like those in storage at the police station, it was dated fifty years ago and the name Clampton appeared in red ink. Even as he opened the ribbon tying the folder, a part of his mind screamed for him to return it to the box and leave it back where he found it. Once he caught a glimpse of the first sheet in the folder, he really wished he had never found this folder.

Joe could not believe what he was reading it was the stuff of science fiction; a frightening thought filled his mind that he had descended into complete insanity. The form was a missing person’s report and but for the minutest details it could have been the one he completed himself yesterday. The girls name on this form was listed as Ellen M Clampton, her age was listed as fifteen and the rest of the details were identical. Everything but the fact that the form was dated October the 22nd 1968, and it was signed by Jeremiah Sledge. Joe felt a strange cold feeling in his guts as he looked at his father’s shaky signature.

If the first part of the folder was disturbing, then the rest of it was downright frightening. The next piece of paper was a report in his father’s hand writing, it concerned a murder suicide and the victim and perpetrator were. One Cornelius Clampton aged 39 years and his wife Mabel aged 36 years. The details stated that Mabel Clampton having gone through a very traumatic experience where by their only daughter went missing. Had temporarily lost her sanity and set their house ablaze as her husband slept. The resulting fire had claimed the life of both herself and her husband. The photograph attached almost caused Joe to faint; it was a grainy black and white photo of the couple that were in his office only yesterday and the missing girl.

This whole thing was the stuff of night mares and Joe found himself shaking like a leaf, but worse was to come. The final item in that accursed folder was an envelope addressed to him in his father’s shaky hand writing. The contents of this envelope, was the final straw that broke Joe Sledge’s world. In writing that was sometimes almost indecipherable his father had written his confession. It was all too familiar to Joe, his father had offered the girl a lift home and when she reacted badly to his advances things got out of hand and he had strangled her. The parents began to haunt his office day after day, and when they spoke about contacting outside authorities he finally snapped.

His father had laid out everything in stark and sordid detail, how he had strangled the girl and carried her body into the woods and buried her in a small clearing. He had even sketched a crude map of where the crime and burial had occurred, these facts made Joe sick to his stomach. His father had murdered the young girl on the exact same spot where Joe had pulled in with his unwilling passenger that night. Joe put the horrifying piece of paper on the kitchen table and went and got the whiskey bottle, it took a few good hits from the bottle before he could pick up the paper again.

His  confession went on to detail how the girl’s parents began to harass Jeremiah Sledge, they arrived at his office every morning demanding he find out what happened to their daughter. In the end Jeramiah’s mind could take no more, so on the night of October 31st 1968. He drove up to their ramshackle home in the hills with a can of gasoline; while the couple slept he had burned their home down. Joe found himself reaching for what remained in the whiskey bottle, his own mind was now reaching overload. None of this could be true it had to be some kind of a sick elaborate joke, but ever since that night with the girl Joe had a bad feeling inside him.

The plot of land was over grown with briars and brambles; they pulled at his clothing and drew blood from his skin. The tan colored pants of his uniform were stained crimson now, but Joe seemed oblivious to his injuries and pushed forward through the undergrowth. He had to see for himself if any of this was true, when he finally reached the burnt out shack he was physically sick at the sight. The dark abyss of insanity beckoned now and he felt he would surely topple into it, but a small part of his rational mind held on. This could be just a coincidence he told himself, these hills were probably littered with abandoned and burnt out shacks.

Joe kept up a mantra in his head as he drove, none of this is real he told himself over and over. It was almost dusk by the time he pulled in of the road and headed into the woods; under the cover of the trees it was even darker. Following a mental image of the map his father had drawn, he eventually found what he thought was the spot. It was a small moon lit clearing on a rise in the woods, it did not take him long to find the leaf covered mound of stones. Kneeling on the ground he scraped the leaves back with his bare hands, the moment his hand touched the stones he knew she was buried there.

Time seemed to stop as he knelt there with tears running down his face, his mind was blank now except for the image of the young girl. How long he remained like that he could not say, but the cramping in his thighs eventually brought him back to reality. Joe got unsteadily to his feet in a daze, the air in the clearing was freezing now and he shivered. Joe suddenly had a feeling he was being watched, he wanted out of here now as the feeling of panic settled over him. Vines and hanging branches tore at the skin of his face as he made his way hastily down the wooded incline, the feeling of being followed making him almost run. He never even saw the vine that became wrapped around his neck, his feet slipped from under him and he was suddenly hanging. Joe’s last vision of this world was the strange man with his wife and child, as they watched in mute silence while the vine chocked him to death.

 

 


© Copyright 2018 Patrick G Moloney. All rights reserved.

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