Leaving Home by Nick Nafpliotis

leaving homeIt’s presently not much to look at, but the house that Father built used to be so much more than the burned out shell of a home that stands here now.

It was constructed deep within the forest in the hopes that no one would bother him. Of much greater concern, however, was that no one discovered what he was doing. Beneath its modest exterior, the house’s cavernous basement had been reinforced with absurdly strong defensive measures. I never saw the point in that. Just because your test subjects have had the empathetic portions of their brains removed doesn’t mean they’ll randomly developed super powers, too.

It was very well hidden, though. Aside from the occasional group of drunken teenagers or adventurous hikers, the house remained undisturbed. But one day, a little boy made the mistake of finding it and successfully breaking in. After hearing our pleas for help and opening the cellar door, he probably considered what he was doing to be an act of kindness. Perhaps even heroic. We certainly made it sound that way. It’s surprisingly easy to mimic things like despair and fear when you can’t feel them. Father taught us human emotion with cold, clinical efficiency. They were programs to him; different setting we could switch on and off. They would help a select few of us blend into what Father constantly referred to as ‘the real world’.

Unfortunately for him, that little boy was too sweet to ignore our pleas. I don’t even remember his name, but I do remember what his screams sounded like. It was the first time we’d ever been allowed to kill outside a controlled environment. No time limits. No boundaries. No tranquilizers. As you can probably imagine, things got quite messy. There was much we could learn about our biology this child who did not share our genetic makeup.

By the time Father returned home, the house had been destroyed along with all of his unfinished test subjects. There was no sympathy or feeling of kinship with them; they were simply competition in need of being culled. Father tried to run from us, but he didn’t get far. He still seemed surprised by the prospect of us doing exactly what we’d been bred for. I may have even detected a slight hint of betrayal in his voice before his throat stopped working. But as man as brilliant as him should have understood we were not seeking any sort of revenge. It was simply what we’d been bred to do.

Now, with the house destroyed and Father gone, we are free to explore. Free to discover all the weaknesses and vulnerabilities that Father tried to hide from us. Free to do what we were made for.

It’s time to go see the world.

A Patch of Broken Ground by Rebecca Lyons

rebeccalyonsThe two boys paused at the edge of the patch of darkness before them. Devoid of either natural or artificial lights, it stood between them and home.

“I don’t know….” Danny began.

“Oh, come on. We’ll hurry.” Johnny stepped from the broken concrete onto the lumps of dirt and tussocks of wind-bent grasses.

“But…but it’s almost dark! It’s too close to sunset. Johnny! Come back!”

Johnny was striding away from him. He turned and walked backward a few paces. “Will you come on! It is not sundown. The sun’s behind the mountains, but it’s not below the horizon yet.”

Danny hurried to catch up with his friend as he peered around with trepidation. “I don’t think it matters where the sun is, Johnny. I don’t think they care at all, just as long as it’s dark.”

Johnny glanced from one side to the other. Nothing moved around them. Even the wind had died down. “Let’s run.” He broke into a loping sprint, Danny not far behind.

They sprinted for some distance, then dropped into a fast walk. The buildings on the other side still seemed some distance away.

“We can make it,” Johnny said. His breathing came hard, and sweat sheened his forehead, dampening his hair.

“Johnny.”

“We’ll get there before full dark.” The mountains to the west were a mere silhouette, sable against azure. Before them, shadows cloaked the grass tussocks, and the boys’ feet twisted in unseen holes.

“Johnny?”

“It’s not that far. What?” Johnny turned to glance back at his friend in impatience.

Danny had slowed to a walk, staring wide-eyed at the uneven ground in front of his feet. “Johnny, when we started in, there were a lot of boot tracks going in. A whole slew of them. But look.” He traced the trail behind them with his finger. “They’ve dwindled.” He swallowed. “In fact…they’ve stopped.” The two boys stopped as well.

In the rapidly fading light, they could see myriad boot tracks behind them, dwindling until only two tracks, their own, led up to where they stood. Before them, there were none. The alien openness lay seemingly undisturbed.

No more than a shade of indigo outlined the mountain peaks to one side. The two boys glanced fearfully into the darkness. Eyes, tiny and many, stared back. Around them, the night began to whisper.

Love Lost Found by Ellen Denton

ellendentonEveline’s eyes were glazed with poisonous intent as she pulled aside the curtain and looked down the street. She hated the little brats and their stupid costumes, hated their high, piercing, kid voices as they yelled “TRICK OR TRICK!”, hated children in general.

What she hated most though was if a child got scared when they first saw her, or worse, laughed at her because they thought she was wearing a monster Halloween mask. Her face had been revoltingly scarred from third-degree burns suffered many years before.

She could see the first trick-or-treaters moving along the other side of the street, so angrily yanked the curtain shut and got the bowl of candy from the kitchen. She almost tripped with it on the hook rug in the living room, which rocketed her anger into suffocating rage. I Hope you all choke on this she thought to herself, as she kicked the rug back onto place.

It was the same thing every year. She closed her eyes and felt like screaming.

                            ***

After setting the bowl by the front door, she looked down at the candy bars and felt strange.

As though her body were being moved by a puppeteer, she got a pack of razor blades from the medicine cabinet and deftly slipped one into a piece of candy, then glued shut the hairline slit in the wrapper. A moment later, the doorbell rang.

She immediately opened it to three trick-or-treaters. One was a pirate and one was a cowboy. She felt like slapping them both in the face. Despite the Autumn chill, she was sweating profusely as she lifted the razor-candy out of the basket, and glanced at the third child.

It was a pretty blond girl of about four, dressed as an angel. She was costumed in a shimmery white dress and sparkly, pink chiffon wings.

She was about to drop the candy into the little silver shopping bag the girl carried, but the child looked up at her with shining blue-green eyes and said “You’re pretty!” She then stepped closer to Eveline, and took her hand.

Eveline suddenly became aware of the floor against her feet as though she’d just landed there, and of the razor-blade-filled candy she was still holding in the other hand. She tossed it behind the door, and got some fresh, safe ones from the basket.

She stared at the child. “You think I’m pretty?”

“Yes, like an enchanted princess under a spell in a dark forest.”

Eveline kissed her on the cheek, and gave her three pieces of the good candy, then dropped one into each of the boys’ candy bag

They were looking at her strangely, then walked away from the door. They hadn’t even tried to pick up the three chocolate bars that she’d dropped on the ground next to them.

She watched them walk down the street, then puzzled, turned and looked the other way down the street, wondering where the girl in the angel costume disappeared to.

This Twilight Garden by John Boden

This Twilight Garden by John Boden
This Twilight Garden by John Boden

The lot was hedged with thick shrubs and squat bushes. Where there were gaps, there was fence. Nice, tall ,plank fence.  Miller stared up at the moon with wet eyes and spoke quietly to no one. He picked up the spade and knelt beside the garden. A small rectangle of tilled earth adjacent to the unused garage.  He gouged and turned the soil and watched the dislodged worms as they squirmed and wriggled back into hiding. He swiveled and took one handle of the black cargo bag that sat on the grass.  He unzipped it and took out his newest trophy.

The pale green silk of the handkerchief had darkened from the blood that soaked it. He looked at the heart in the moonlight; a fist of glistening black muscle. It had held all of her love. He gently placed it in the furrow and covered it with dirt.  He picked up the small marker he had made, a ruler-sized sliver of wood with a name written upon it in flowing cursive. This one was Emily. She had actually kissed him. Her lips dry and trembling, tasting of fruit flavored wax. He picked up the watering can and sprinkled its contents over the tiny mound, as well as the six other marked mounds and their name stakes…

Mary, the one who had held his hand.

Thelma, the tall girl with the birthmark over her ear. She talked to him for hours, but never listened.

Carrie, plain and sweet but so full of self loathing. Sara, the dark haired dirty girl, her eager hands were her downfall.

Alice, she wanted money and fame and was gone as soon as it was made clear Miller could supply neither.

Patricia, the quiet girl. She smiled and listened and did all the right things, but in the end, she  was not the one.

His knees popped as he stood and looked at the garden and the  markers. It was like a miniature cemetery. He went back into the house to get something to eat and to prepare for his evening.

Loneliness is a lot like a too big room or ill fitting clothes. These girls. These girls all been loved by him but at some point sought to leave him.  They all broke his heart. He knew it was not their fault. The heart is a seed. It can only grow as much as the hull will allow and if the seed is damaged or sick, then it will grow monstrous and wrong.  If you love something set it free…

He decided to free the seeds and plant anew.  He stood at the kitchen window and watched the moonlight soak his garden. And as he chewed, he saw the ripples in the soil. Small rolling waves. He saw the fingers as they sprouted from the earth and reached towards the sky. He saw the arms extend. They were growing.  He saw the arms and heads break through the earth, the moonlight  painted dusty breasts silver. It was working. My God, it was working!

He sat at the table and straightened his tie. Seven heart-shaped boxes of candy and seven single roses waited on the wooden surface. He heard muffled groans and the sound of bare feet on  patio tile. The cloying smell of earth and something deeper was coming through the window screen. He licked his fingers, smoothed down his hair, and wished he had a mint.

The Pumpkin Tree Giveth, The Pumpkin Tree Taketh by Tim Meyer

THE PUMPKIN TREE GIVETH, THE PUMPKIN TREE TAKETH by Tim Meyer
THE PUMPKIN TREE GIVETH, THE PUMPKIN TREE TAKETH by Tim Meyer

“One more piece please, Mrs. Greene?” Jeffie Danks said with a smile she couldn’t say “no” to.

“You know, Jeffie, it’s only one per trick-or-treater.”

Jeffie’s shoulders slumped. “But it’s not for me.”

Mrs. Greene kept the bowl filled with Snickers bars and Milky Ways between them.

“It’s for Robbie.”

Hearing Jeffie’s brother’s name sent an invisible knife into her pancreas. “Robbie?” she asked, concerned.

“Yes. I can’t talk about it,” the ten year old replied. “It’s a secret. But everything is okay.”

“Okay…” Mrs. Greene said, uncertainty creeping into her voice.

“So can I?”

“Can you what?”

“Have one more piece?” he asked.

She watched a childish grin halve his face.

“Sure, sweetheart.” Holding the bucket of candy out, Mrs. Greene looked beyond Jeffie, into the dark street where no cars passed and no other masked wanderers traveled in search of delicious treats. The night seemed to change in that instant, growing darker and more dangerous. “You be careful out there tonight. Tell your mother to call me when you’re home. Okay?”

Jeffie agreed, then took off, swinging his pillow sack full of collected goodies over his shoulder. He sprinted down the sidewalk, toward the path behind the Woodard’s yard that led to the mouth of the forest. The moon, full and bright, provided the luminance he needed to get where he was going. Jeffie ran faster than he ever thought he could, and stopped when the path finished twisting and turning and deposited him within the clearing where the giant pumpkin tree awaited.

The tree, somewhat of a roadside attraction amongst city folk, stood twenty feet tall. Pumpkins hung from the branches like dead suns within a dark, cancerous universe, void of positive energy. Jeffie ran to the base of the tree and looked down into the dark cavity filled with bags of candy. The tree had absorbed a few of them, accepting earlier offerings, but Jeffie’s most recent gifts remained; still, this was good news. The kids from the neighborhood told Jeffie it couldn’t be done, that the tree was nothing but an abnormality, holding no secret abilities other than standing the test of time. But here he was witnessing the magical moment firsthand. The pumpkin tree had accepted his gift and Jeffie waited with eager anticipation to see if the phenomenon would grant his request.

The hole glowed, wisps of tangerine smoke rising above the surface. The earth shivered as the tree’s infinite chasm gobbled the sacks of candy Jeffie had collected.

“Please…” Jeffie said. “Please let this work.”

The Pumpkin Tree Giveth…

In the distance, Jeffie heard the bell on his brother’s bike’s handlebars, the one Detective Stern had found in the woods next to Robbie’s mangled corpse.

The Pumpkin Tree Taketh…

Deformed vines several inches thick corkscrewed Jeffie’s neck, fragmenting his vertebrae before he could scream.

Couped by Lori R. Lopez

Couped by Lori R. Lopez
Couped by Lori R. Lopez

The dark coupe prowled like a jaguar.  Tinted windows concealed the driver, who only brought the car out at night to hunt.  During the day the coupe hunched dormant in a garage.  They were a team . . . a throbbing, growling, killing machine.

Most of the time they picked off random stragglers.  This evening was special.  A glorious flock of children roamed sidewalks and lanes, many of them unchaperoned.

A smile glinted in the rear-view mirror.  The Creeper’s tongue swept lips and chin.  Pallid facial tissue quivered with eagerness, anticipating the spoils.  Red eyes shifted from the mirror to a side window.  There.

Wet embarrassing noises erupted as if out of a deep cistern.  The gurgling subsided when the entity resumed its disguise:  an unremarkable identity named Sebastian Munn, bearded and chubby.  The creature grinned and chortled at the thought of the treats it would rake in like free candy on Halloween.  How ideal for a predator, this foolish tradition.  Kids were even more vulnerable than walking to and from school.

The vehicle matched pace with two figures — adolescents in horror garb, mimicking monsters, shuffling along a patch with no houses.  If they knew they were being targeted for prey, the punks would run screaming.  Delicious.  The Creeper’s tongue thrashed excitedly.  Then retracted as Sebastian Munn donned composure like a cloak to hide behind.

The car braked next to a curb, window lowering.  “Hey, kids!”

They halted, uncertain, zombified faces turning.

The driver’s door unlatched.  A pudgy form climbed out and straightened on an empty street.  “I’m lost.  Trying to find a party I was invited to.  I live in another city.  Could you point me the right direction?”  Sebastian had practiced the earnest tone, the nervous squeak that put people off-guard.

Faux monsters peered at him, deeming the masquerader harmless.  Normality was his costume.

“Sure.”  One of the kids smiled.  “Where you going?”

So trusting and innocent.  Children were the sweetest.

“Hastings Avenue.”

“It’s that way.”  The kid aimed a forefinger.

“I drove around and around.  I couldn’t find it.”

“That’s a cool car you got.”  The second boy ogled Sebastian’s black Matador.

“It’s a classic.  They don’t make these anymore.”

“She’s a beauty!”

“I’ll give you a ride if you show me to the address.”

The lads conferred.  The second boy marched over.  Sebastian scurried to open the passenger door.  “I have room for you both.”

“Come on, Sammy!”

Reluctant, the first boy crossed.  He crawled inside a skimpy backseat, while the first kid sat in front.  “This won’t take long, will it?  I don’t have permission to ride with strangers.”

“Not long at all.”  Sliding in, doors secured, the beast dropped the act and revealed itself.  The car’s interior transformed too, physically coalescing to serve as the beast’s abdominal cavity, absorbing fresh meat while The Creeper squealed with pleasure, tongue swinging avidly.  Once its feasting concluded, the monster humanized and drove a shiny red sports coupe home.

No, they didn’t make ’em like this anymore.

Things that go Bump in the Night by Donna Marie West

Things that go Bump in the Night by Donna Marie West
Things that go Bump in the Night by Donna Marie West

From the time Gramm died eight months ago, my dream of contacting her grew daily until I could resist no longer.

My parents had bought a Ouija board for a long ago party, then Mom stashed it away in a cupboard from fear of calling up, as she put it, things that go bump in the night. Now I pulled the thin wooden board and heart-shaped plastic planchette from the box and told my best friend Emily what I wanted to do.

“Seriously, Steph?” she asked, her eyes wide, like she thought I’d lost my mind.

“It’s Halloween, when the veil between worlds is thinnest. If I’m going to reach Gramm, tonight’s the night.”

Fifteen minutes later, we’d created ambiance with some candles and incense, and curtains drawn across the windows.

We sat on the floor, our knees touching, the board balanced between us and our fingertips resting lightly on the planchette.

Almost giddy with anticipation, I began calling the spirits. “I’m looking for my grandmother, Mary May Smith . . . Gramm, are you there?”

Emily giggled nervously, a silly sound.

For the longest couple of minutes nothing happened, then the planchette slowly slid toward the upper left corner of the board. “YES.”

I thought the candles flickered and put it down to my overcharged imagination. “I miss you so much,” I whispered. “Do you miss us?”

Although I wasn’t sure this was actually happening, I fervently hoped the planchette would move back to “YES.” Instead, it meandered around the alphabet, slowly at first, then more decisively, spewing out letters that might have been words in some language, but made no sense to me.

“Stop it!” I snapped at Emily. “I can feel you moving it!”

“I’m not,” she replied. As proof, she lifted her fingers from the planchette, which continued until parking on the letter ‘e’. “It’s you, you’re doing it!”

“No, I’m not,” I objected. But what if I was, through the sheer power of wishful thinking? “Are you really my Gramm?” I asked.

As the planchette zigzagged toward the upper right corner of the board. I looked at Emily and nodded, and she understood.

Simultaneously, we released the planchette. As it made its own merry way to “NO,” the proverbial chill ran up my spine.

Emily screamed and shot to her feet, sending the board and planchette clattering to the floor.

With trembling hands I collected the game, shoved it back into its box, and flung it to the depths of the cupboard.

“What was that?” Emily’s voice penetrated the drumming of blood in my ears.

“I don’t know,” I replied, my own voice a terrified squeak. “But we’re finished with it. No harm done.”

“Right, whatever,” Emily said as she headed for the door. “If you decide to try that again, don’t call me.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t,” I promised her. But it was already too late.

The bumps and moans started at midnight, and that was only the beginning.

Devil’s Night by Betty McIntyre

Devil's Night by Betty McIntyre
Devil’s Night by Betty McIntyre

Lisa didn’t expect to feel so lonely. She had never considered Halloween a real holiday, but spending it alone still had a sting to it. At least when she was with Darren she didn’t feel so isolated from the world. Halloween had always been cozy with him, drinking tea and talking to the neighborhood kids who came to their home.

There weren’t a lot of families in her apartment building, but she had expected at least a couple of kids to show up. She had tried to start a conversation in the elevator today, asking the elderly woman from the fifth floor how many trick-or-treaters they usually saw. The woman had fixed her with an icy stare, “You better hope none show up. All Hallow’s Eve is when the lining between the worlds is at its thinnest. I’ll be keeping my door locked and I suggest you do the same.”

Perhaps the other residents felt the same way and had given the building a reputation for unfriendliness. It was a shame. Lisa liked seeing the costumes and it would have been a nice way to pass the evening.

Not a single child had shown up, but she was almost through the box of tiny chocolate bars. She put them in the kitchen to keep them out of  sight, but she kept trekking back and forth to get a few more to eat in front of the television.

Lisa  didn’t like horror movies very much and that seemed to be all that was on tonight. She ended up dozing off in front of the news until an insistent hammering on the door startled her awake. She was on her feet in an instant, a strange anxiety brewing in her stomach. She opened the door partway, leaving the door chain latched. A young blonde girl with pale skin and dark eyes peered at her expectantly.

“Oh gosh, you’re the first kid to show,” Lisa said, unhooking the latch. “Hang on just a sec, I’m sure I have some candy left.” She dashed to the kitchen, leaving the girl waiting.

There were a few candy bars left at the bottom of the box, and Lisa was ashamed to realize how many of them she had eaten. She grabbed the last few and noticed the time lit up on her microwave. 12:36? That was awfully late for a little girl to be out all on her own. She wasn’t even in costume.

The door swung shut behind the girl and Lisa turned, feeling suddenly frightened. The child looked at her with inky black eyes, revealing a vile intelligence. Her gaze was hypnotic, lulling Lisa into an intoxicated stupor, unable to react as the monstrosity ripped its way through the child’s flesh. She was wearing a costume after all.

Missing Halloween by Edward Brock

Missing Halloween by Edward Brock
Missing Halloween by Edward Brock

Jacob sat on the sidewalk across from his house and watched the flames reach high into the sky, where they danced in the cool October air. The leaves in the front yard were blown about and he watched them burst into flames when they got too close to the fire. It was almost like having fireworks, he thought.

Fire trucks and police cars and ambulances were in the street and on the sidewalks—their lights flashing and spinning. There was also a crowd of people standing in their yards—watching.

He glanced over, jealously, at the other kids all decked out in their Halloween costumes—their candy bags sagging from the weight off their night’s take—as they watched his house burn. The kids kept looking over at him—their ghostly or decaying fingers pointing at him. He couldn’t tell who was in the pirate, or the superhero, or the zombie costumes, but he knew they were all talking about him. He could hear their whispers, their giggles–even over the crackling flames.

He looked back at the house, already missing his toys and books and movies.

Jacob seemed to be the only kid not wearing a costume. There was no candy bag to dig into either–because he’d been “bad”. And his punishment for being “bad” was missing out on his favorite holiday. His parents always overacted when he did something they thought of as “bad”.

Refuse to eat his supper—no dessert.

Track mud into the house—grounded for the weekend.

Get an “F” on a school paper—no swimming at the pool.

Forgettting to take out the trash—no trip to the movies (which also meant no popcorn).

Break a window—no TV for week.

Kill the neighbor kid—no Halloween. Even though it was over a month ago that it happened.

When they found out what he had done, his parents made him drag the boy’s body into the backyard, where they wrapped him up in plastic and took the kid out to the forest on the edge of town to bury him. They made Jacob refill the grave.

His parents had gotten dirt all over their clothes from the digging, so that added even more onto his punishment. They would not be buying any candy this year to give out at Halloween, which meant there’d be no candy in the house to eat.

No costumes, no candy, no trick-or-treating. It was the worst Halloween ever.

As he sat on the sidewalk watching the house burn to the ground, he knew he had been “bad’ again. Especially since his parents had still been inside. But, at least they couldn’t punish him this time. Though he did wonder one thing—who would be getting him his Christmas presents this year?

POP! Goes the Weasel by Robin Dover

 

Pop! Goes the Weasel by Robin Dover
Pop! Goes the Weasel by Robin Dover

Jacob brooded over the old wooden jack-in-the-box. His stare was fixed. His breathing was deep and slow while grinding his teeth. His father walked into his son’s bedroom and stared at him leaning against the door of his walk-in closet.

“It’s broke again, Dad. Fix it.”

“Son, you’re obsessed. Get out and play instead of secluding yourself inside. You’re eight years old. Besides, that’s an antique. It’s not really a toy.”
The aged jack-in-the-box was made of strong, treated mahogany edged in metal and covered by obscure, multidimensional faces with offset eyes.

Jacob screamed and threw the jack-in-the-box across the room, “Fix it!”

John picked up the box and attempted to turn the crank. It wouldn’t budge. He sat it on the floor in front of Jacob and gently took hold of his son’s shoulder. “Learn to think outside the box.”

“I don’t want to! I want to think inside the box! Mom wouldn’t fix it! You do it!”

“I fixed it once. You’re too rough. No wonder it’s damaged.”

“Where’s Mommy?” John said.

“She’s gone!” Jacob replied.

“It’s my fault. It should be in a museum. It’s time to grow up, Jacob.”

“I don’t want to! Fix it!”

“Son, you could fix it. It’s not broken. Look closely. The crank is bent. I’ll tell you what – show some initiative and fix it – and I’ll let you keep it.”

The boy nodded and picked up a hammer.

“No. You need a pair of pliers,” John said.

Jacob struck his father in the head several times.

“I wanted you to fix it!”

He searched for the pliers, but to no avail.

He removed the hammer buried deep in his father’s head and began beating the jack-in-the-box.

He dented the top corner and grazed the side of the crank straightening it back into its original position. But the dented metal edge over the top blocked the door from springing open. The faces on the box changed.

The boy turned the crank. Pop! Goes the Weasel played frantically as Jacob feverishly chanted. He turned the crank faster and faster. Every time it reached the point when the top should spring open, it didn’t. He screamed and threw it across the room again, slamming it into the wall.

Jacob stood over the jack-in-the-box – hammer dripping in blood – and began to sob. “I want to be with you! I kept my promise!”

He opened the door to his closet. “I killed them all!”

A butcher knife glistened beside his mother’s stiff body. She was in a pile of dirty laundry, head on a pillow.

“You’re not finished, Jacob. There’s one left. If you really want to be with me, do it. Do it now.”

Jacob began pummeling his head with the claw end of the hammer.

The crank began turning on its own. The old nursery rhyme filled the room.

Jacob lay still beside the box, his vision fading.

Pop! Goes the Weasel – and the top of the box sprang open.

Jacob stopped breathing.

The jack-in-the-box fell over beside the boy’s head, allowing his blood to creep into the box.