Home for Halloween

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: The Dark And Suspenseful

Coming home for Halloween can be a killer.

The suburban streets were awash with color, rivers of gold, brown and red, carpeted the pavements to ankle depth. Smoke rose ramrod straight from the chimneys of the big houses lining those quiet streets, and the stillness of the air hinted at an early frost. It was still two weeks to Halloween, but the majority of homes were already bedecked with seasonal decorations. Eerie figures of ghosts, witches, and ghouls stared menacingly from their perches attached to these impressive dwellings. Philip Hannigan glanced at these figures and a shudder ran through him, he hated this time of year. It was more than the supernatural aspect that disturbed him about the feast of Samhain, it was the fact that the normal streak of cruelty present in the children of these big houses, seemed to expand greatly at this time of year.

Philip was close to six feet tall and tipped the scale at 210 pounds, a substantial bulk of humanity by anyone’s standards. His hands were huge calloused things ingrained with dirt that no amount of scrubbing would remove; it was the mark of his labor. He had an awkward shuffling gait about him, and his shoulders were permanently stooped as if he was trying to shrink from sight. Philip earned his shekels by doing odd jobs on the grounds of these affluent areas, the kind of jobs that usually meant getting your hands dirty, and that paid low wages. No one in those parts ever remembered Philip dressed in anything bar the faded work dungarees, and this time of year he would wear an old lumberjacks coat and hat. Philip was never accepted in suburbia but he was tolerated, because he did the work these folks would turn their nose up at, and he worked cheap. God had created a big body and a strong back, but the mind inside never matured passed that of an eight-year-old’s mind.

Simple Phil was the name he was most commonly known as, and he much preferred that to some of the other names that he was called. Especially by the kids of the area who would delight in trying to outdo one another with hurtful names to call him, in his twenty-four years of life he had heard an awful lot of bad names directed his way. “Shit for brains, muttonhead, empty skull, stupid P.” Were just some that easily came to mind, but there was a hell of a lot more, and even some he never quite understood. But Phil just let them wear themselves out, and never once retaliated, for it was not in his nature to get angry. The three emotions that mostly occupied his simple mind were bewilderment, fear, and sadness. Although, at times the simplest of things made him happy, having a glass of cool lemonade handed to him when it was a hot day or a stray animal that he could coax over to pet. Philip loved animals and they trusted him, the small cabin he lived in on the outskirts of town was a magnet for all kinds of wildlife.

The light was fading fast now and the anxiety in Philip was reaching a point that made him jumpy, the dead leaves beneath his feet crackled like thin glass under his scuffed boots. It was already freezing but a layer of sweat coated his body because Philip was pushing himself hard to get the job finished. If he failed to finish before dark, it would mean another long trek in the morning to complete the job and collect his money. He raked the leaves and piled them into his barrow at a frantic pace, all the time he had one eye on the diminishing glow in the western sky. Although he never told anyone, Philip was afraid of the dark just like he was afraid of most things he did not understand, and there were a lot of things he did not understand. Finally, he had piled the last load of leaves in the wheelbarrow, and he began the long haul to the boundary of the property, where the garden sloped into a wooded area. The nearer to the trees he got the more nervous he felt, there were strange shapes in the darkness of the trees that frightened him.

He had just tipped the barrow up and watched the leaves slide to the forest floor below when he heard the sound. It was low at first and he was not sure whether he had just imagined it, but it came again soon after and louder this time. An eerie ghostly noise and it was soon followed by evil disembodied laughter. His heart pounded in his chest and his eyes filled with tears, he wanted so badly to run but his feet felt as if they had taken root on the spot. All Philip could do was move his head side to side, all the time hoping he would not see a ghostly figure. The sound of something rushing through the air was followed by something hard smashing against his face, he screamed as he felt what his frightened mind told him were his brains leaking down his face. Philip was frantic now as the gooey substance blinded him; he went to his knees and blindly scrambled his hands on the ground to find something to protect himself. His hand had just clenched on the dead branch when he heard the laughter, high pitched cruel laughter. “Trick or Treat! Muttonhead”. The voice screeched close to his ear, Philip got to his feet and blindly lashed out with the dead branch. The branch made a whooshing sound as it traveled through the still air, and then a loud thunk as it met something solid that sent a shock wave up his arm.

The laughter abruptly ceased and complete silence descended for a brief period, but that was broken by a whimpering sound that was closely followed by high-pitched screams. “The freak just attacked Peter” a voice yelled and pandemonium ensued thereafter. It was around this time that Philip’s mind just shut down, and the next thing he remembered was sitting at the police station with his hands cuffed behind him. A heated discussion was going on in the reception area outside the room he was seated in. The sheriff’s soft tones were trying to compete with someone that was yelling, whoever was out there was extremely angry and Philip had a feeling it was with him. “Look Joe, calm down will you, the poor guy is just a simpleton. To me, it looks like the kids were pranking him and it all went wrong, I will have a word with him and make sure he stays away from your side of town.” The Sheriff was going to add something else when the other man began shouting again. “You fucking better do more than just have a word with him, Frank; I want that freak prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Peter is lucky that the monster did not take his eye out with that branch.” There was a short silence followed by the banging of the door as someone left in a huff.

Sherriff Frank Summers came into the room shaking his head and just stood watching Philip for quite a while; eventually, he came over and took the cuffs off Philip. Frank spent the next few minutes cleaning the egg from Philips's face, all the time shaking his head as if he was having a conversation in his mind. When he had finished he disappeared from the room for a while, and when he came back he brought Philip a coffee in one of those cardboard mugs and two doughnuts, and for a while, Philip was happy and forgot about the ghosts in the garden. Sherriff Summers eventually brought a sheet of paper to Philip and made him put an X on the bottom. He told Philip that he could not go to Forest lane anymore to do work, not even to collect his money for the job he had just done. But when the Sherriff dropped him home in the patrol car later he gave Philip ten dollars, and for the second time that evening, Philip was happy. Philip hurried inside his small cabin with the ten dollars firmly clasped in his hand, and he forgot all about the ghosts from earlier, but they did not forget about him.

 The days and nights leading up to Halloween became a living nightmare for Philip; wherever he went he was followed by groups of children. They pelted him with eggs, they spat on him on the street, and they found a whole bunch of new names to call him. Once a grown man stopped in a fancy car, and slapped the groceries he was carrying from his hands, the man yelled in his face and called him a freak and a pervert, Philip did not know what a pervert was but for some reason, the name hurt him. The woman in the passenger seat of the fancy car finally put a stop to the tirade. She let the window down and spoke to the man. “Get in the car Joe and leave the freak alone, you are embarrassing yourself.”  Philip recognized the woman, it was the woman he was working for the night the ghosts came, the woman who had not paid him. He gathered up his few groceries and made his way to his cabin, he had decided he would not go to town until Halloween was over, then perhaps he thought, the meanness might have worn off the people.

Staying in his cabin did not turn out to be the answer either, because they came to torment him as soon as it became dark. Night after night the torture went on, strange noises echoed around the cabin, and names were called from the darkness. When he was asleep he would be awoken by the clatter of things being thrown on the roof and the incessant lunatic laughing. Philip cowered in his cabin and prayed hard to his late mother that it would soon stop, thinking about her always seemed to calm him, and for a while, this helped him cope. But on the night before Halloween something big was thrown through the window, he was awoken by the sound of smashing glass and high-pitched laughter. “Trick or treat! We hope you like your gift muttonhead.” As soon as it got light Philip went to see what they had thrown through his window, the body of the old ginger tom cat lying on the kitchen floor was the final straw. Simple Phil went and got a rope and put an end to his torment, and no one in the town mourned his loss. Philip Hannigan was laid to rest two days later beside his mother, apart from the undertakers the only other mourner was Frank Summers.

The sports car crested the brow of the hill and Forest lane came into view, the street was covered in fallen leaves that made it look like a rainbow river. Peter Bradley pulled the car to the side of the road and got out; he stood staring down at the vista below with mixed emotions. He had spent the past fifteen years away at school, returning home only for the briefest of visits before holidaying away from the town with his parents. Joe and Myra Bradley had done well over the years and spent more time traveling than they did in Forest Lane. His mind jumped back to a memory he had suppressed for many years, it was the last memory he had of living in this town. An involuntary shiver ran through him as he thought of that Halloween, and the tiny scar on his cheek by his right eye stung for a moment. The sound of the passenger door of the small sports car opening thankfully banished those unwanted memories. He turned just in time to get a good view up the short skirt of Madeline as she climbed out of the car.

The petite blond was his latest obsession; she stood beside him and looked at the town opened out below. Peter reached out his hand and slipped it beneath her short skirt, cupping the cheek of her ass and squeezing hard. By the way, her body tensed he knew that his action bothered her, but he could not care less. Madeline had a choice, be with him on his conditions or walk away. Either way, Peter did not mind, he was tall and handsome and he would inherit a lot of bucks when his parents died. He would have no bother picking up women and would tire of her soon anyway, just like he did with all the others. Had Peter bothered to reflect on his life he might have realized that not a lot had changed in fifteen years, he was still the spiteful, spoiled brat he was back then. The stillness in the air heralded the arrival of frost and he shivered, at least this is what he told himself made him shiver. He grabbed the girl’s arm and directed her back to the car, making sure to smack her hard on the backside as she bent to open the car door, she winced and he smiled to himself.

Peter stood on the porch with a large vodka in one hand, and a joint in the other, inside his mother, was busy showing old family photos to Madeline. He had long since grown bored of this and slipped outside, nothing much had changed over the years. His parents still annoyed him but they still pandered to his every wish, the old house was bedecked with witches and ghouls as it always was at this time of year, only these days his mother brought professionals in to do it. The faint crackling sound and the rustle of dead leaves drew Peter’s attention, and he left the porch and wandered around the side of the big house towards the source of that sound. It took him a moment to spot the figure at the end of the garden; he was hunched over, raking leaves off the lawn. Peter paused with the vodka glass raised to his lips, coldness filled the pit of his stomach and his fingers lost their grip on the glass. The glass dropped from his hand, spilling liqueur all down the front of his expensive cashmere sweater. The burning in his lungs alerted him to the fact he had been holding his breath, and it felt like his bowels were filled with ice water.

This could not be, a voice screamed in his head. The figure he was looking at was fifteen years dead by now, reduced to rotted clothes and discolored bones in the cold earth of Mount Olive cemetery. He wanted to turn and run inside the house, scream, and call out for his mother, but he remained like a statue staring at the figure. Absent any other activity due to his momentary paralysis, Peter closed his eyes tightly and tried to think of a prayer. However, nothing would come to mind; he had long since discarded faith in anything but himself, and the power of money. Eventually, he chanced opening one eye, what he saw finally broke the spell and he released his pent up breath. He hesitantly moved one foot and he found out the paralysis had gone, the figure was still diligently raking the leaves but he was different now. The guy was much smaller and of slighter build than he first thought, and the lumberjacks coat and hat were absent now, replaced by a red puffer jacket and ski hat. The kid in the red jacket looked up and spotted him, he waved at Peter and Peter waved back half-heartedly. Hid first instinct was to turn around and go straight back in the house, but he was afraid that either Madeline or his mother would notice he was shaken by something.

He made his way to the bench swing on shaky legs; here he sat watching the boy in the red jacket and dragging heavily on the joint. The weed eventually began to work its magic and he slowly relaxed, a mellow feeling spread through him and he giggled softly. How the hell he had mistaken the little runt in the red jacket, for the dead simpleton he could not fathom out, but eventually, he put it down to the vodka on an empty stomach. By the time he had crushed the roach under his foot, he was already feeling better and was even laughing to himself over his foolishness. The weed was in full flow now in his system and his head felt light, thoughts drifted in and out of his head but he could not seem to hold onto them. “Muttonhead” The word came out of nowhere, Peter glance around nervously but he was alone saving for the kid sixty yards away raking leaves. The word must have been only in his mind, but why now after all these years. The feel-good factor began to slip away, and Peter went inside and straight to his room for a nap.

 A bad week followed where his nerves were constantly on edge, and it culminated with a blazing row with the petite blond. For once they had ended up having some privacy, his father was called away on business for a few days, and his mother went with him for the break. Peter had a good idea that his parents just wanted a break from him but he could not care less, he had been moody and morose all week and he could tell it was grating on his mother’s nerves. The argument ensued when Peter had followed Madeline into the shower; he had the idea that if he gave her a good screwing that it might lift his spirits. But for the first time in his adult life, he found he could not perform at will, no matter what he asked her to do, he could not get hard. This bothered him and he felt his face flush, Madeline tried to console him but her words just infuriated him. How dare she pity him he thought, when it was all her fault, after all, what kind of woman could fail to make her man rise to the occasion. Well he let her know exactly what he thought of her, he could see the hurt in her eyes from his insults, but this just spurred him on.

Once the red mist had lifted he realized he was alone in the shower, the water had run cold and it felt like needle pricks on his skin. For a moment his mind went blank and he could not even recall getting into the shower, he thought about calling out for Madeline. Then it all came back to him abruptly, he could only remember some of the things he had said to her, but even those were pretty scathing. For the briefest of moments, something like remorse flashed across his mind, but as Peter’s mind was wont to do, it quickly shifted the blame from him to Madeline. By the time he had dressed and gone looking for her, he had decided to give the silly bitch one chance to apologize. However, she was nowhere to be found in the house, he opened the drawers in the tallboy only to find them empty. Madeline was in a huff at this stage; she had packed her stuff and left without telling him. Peter had a good mind to let her go and be done with it, but for some reason, the thought of staying here by himself until his parents returned did not appeal to him It would be just him and Towser his mother’s dog, and now that he thought of it he had not seen the mutt in days.

Peter tried both the bus station and the train station but there was no sign of her, and no one in either place had seen anyone fitting her description. He drove the small sports car all over town but there was neither sight nor hair of her to be found, by now he was beginning to feel uneasy about the whole thing. The thought of going back to the empty house filled him with dread for some reason, but it was looking increasingly likely that Madeline had left town somehow. His nerves were jangling now and he pulled into the parking lot of the Weary Traveller bar, a few shots of vodka might help him relax. He had just taken the keys from the ignition when a knock on the side window almost made him scream; he rolled down the window and gave what he hoped was a cordial smile to the lawman standing outside. Sheriff Frank Summers had not changed much, a little thicker around the waist and more grey in his hair. “Hello Peter, I thought it was you that drove in, when did you get back?” Summers was smiling but the smile never reached his eyes, Peter immediately got the vibe that Summers was anything but happy to see him, they exchanged a few pleasantries before the Sheriff got back in the patrol car. That put paid to Peter’s idea of having a drink, and he waved at Summers and drove off.

His mind was wandering all over the place and the anxiety was building, he had been driving aimlessly for an hour or more with no idea where he was going. Thankfully he had not been traveling at any great speed when something appeared in his peripheral vision and he slammed on the brakes. The small car fishtailed for a few moments before he got it under control, it came to a stop almost side on to the direction he had been traveling in. He glanced behind him but the road was empty. Whatever he thought he saw must have been his imagination, it was only when he righted the car on the road that Peter realized where he was. The small cabin was almost choked with weeds now, but the sight of it brought the memories flooding back. It was the cabin that the freak lived in, and where they had tormented him over his last days. Peter was horrified by these memories, but he could not stop staring at the ramshackle cabin. He even thought at one stage he heard pitiful whimpering coming from inside, but once again his mind came to his rescue. It reminded him that Philip Hannigan had only got what he deserved; after all, he had attacked Peter with a branch. He turned the car and took one last backward glance, his heart almost stopped at the sight of the body hanging from the porch. He quickly closed his eyes and when he opened them again, the horrible sight was no longer there. He drove away without looking back and headed for home, he needed a drink now and a few puffs of weed to calm his nerves. Perhaps Madeline had gotten over her huff he thought, and she would be waiting at home for him. That thought pleased him, and he even told himself he would accept her apology and forget about the whole thing.

The house was in darkness when he got back, the small red light on the answering machine was blinking, and he immediately assumed it was Madeline asking to be picked up and brought back. Peter almost ran to the phone, he picked it up and pressed the play button on the machine. The usual disembodied voice came on to tell him he had one new message, it seemed to take an eternity for the message to play. “Hello, Peter” His mother’s hesitant voice made his heart sink, and to make things worse her message was not good news. His father’s business trip needed to be extended and they wouldn’t make it back for Halloween, he slammed down the phone in the middle of her wishing him a happy Halloween. He turned on all the lights in the house, before heading to the sitting room where he rolled a joint and cracked open another bottle of vodka. It was still five days to Halloween and the haunting began that night, he was awoken in the dead of night by eerie laughter and the sounds of something being thrown high on to the roof of the house.

Peter spent the days leading up to Halloween sleeping during daylight hours and drinking all night. Once darkness came each evening it started all over again, twice he had brought Sherriff Summers out, but the cop just checked the grounds and looked at him as if he was crazy. The fact that he had not bathed in days and stank of liquor probably did not help, but he made a mental note to get his father to speak to the town council about having Summers fired. The night before Halloween he had fallen into a drunken stupor on the sitting room couch, he was awoken by the sound of breaking glass. Peter’s first instinct was to lock the sitting room door and cower behind the couch, but he had drunk enough vodka to give him some Dutch courage. He was sick of this now and decided to put an end to it here and now, whatever kids were out there he would confront them. He walked to the reception hall to find the glass of the front door smashed to pieces; it was a moment before he noticed the bulky item on the ground.

Peter blinked several times but when he opened his eyes the thing was still there, Towser’s eyes were open staring at him. But his mother’s mutt was dead as a doornail, how long he just stood there he could not say, but it was a sound outside that broke the trance. It took him a long time to make out what he was hearing, then he recognized it as laughter, it did not sound like a kid, yet it seemed strangely childish. He moved to the door and turned on the outside lights, staring through the broken glass panel he could just make out a figure beyond the range of the lights. This was a hulking figure and too big to be a child, the figure moved forward with an awkward shuffling gait but remained too far back to be recognizable. But when the figure spoke Peter knew exactly who his tormenter was. “Trick or treat, Peter,” The figure said in a strange lisping voice as if its vocal cords had not been used in a very long time. Peter came around on the hall floor the following morning to the sight of the dead dog staring directly in his face, he immediately remembered that tonight was Halloween and he had no intention of taking another night of torment. Peter Bradley got up off the floor and went to the garage, where he found a stout rope and returned to the porch to put an end to his torment.


Submitted: October 18, 2020

© Copyright 2020 Patrick G Moloney. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Ann Sepino

Nice spooky story! I noticed a few run-ons, but the overall tone and word choices in the narrative outweigh them. The first past reminds me of Frankenstein's Monster, which I enjoy reading from time to time. I also love how Phil's character manages to nab my sympathy from the get-go. :)

Mon, October 19th, 2020 4:17am