This is a story from my eBook ‘Sozzel The Jongleur Halloween Tales‘ Enjoy!
A Holloween Story
I can’t say what was keeping me awake, except the droning internal chant of loser and fool that repeated quietly, over and over, in a dull gray endless cite of blame and regret, running like a tape in my head. I turned to the dim neon face of the alarm clock; it was three am, had I slept? What day was it? Oh, October 31, Halloween. No, that would have been before midnight. What was this then, All Hallows Day? Was there such a thing? Where were the kids in gruesome costumes and the empowering parents, allowing the most twisted and horrible thoughts of death and mayhem to surface, openly, in their innocent offspring? It’s okay, its healthy and, besides, there is candy, a reward for these dark musings.
I had forgotten to buy candy. I don’t remember if anyone came to the door.
“Trick or treat, trick or treat. Beer is good, but whiskey has it beat.”
I flipped over on my back and threw the covers aside. A terrible chill and a feeling of foreboding ran over me and I snatched the covers back, pulling them up to my chin, a move I hadn’t made since I was a child. I scanned the room and jolted, as shadows seemed to move and scurry soundlessly about. My eyes flicked and darted to every corner, over and over, until I slammed them shut, telling myself to calm down. It was suddenly very still and silent. The air had a thickness that wasn’t there just a moment before. My breath came with difficulty, my guts turned, and my back began to ache. I slowly opened my eyes, fearing that a face, not a man, just a face of someone long dead, someone, or some thing, bent on some unknown action toward me. Were my sins egregious enough for such a messenger? I was big enough, and tough enough, for an intruder – I would welcome the flesh, bone, and blood that I could strike and push. That was in me – that rage and tension. It was in me and I had always controlled it, held it in check. I feared that the face would be of something over which I had no power. A loud creaking noise made me jump to a seated position on the bed, the blanket still tucked girlishly beneath my stubbled chin.
“It was just the house settling. It happens in older houses,” I whispered to myself in faux expertise. “I was a Contractor; I did know of such things – I did!” This old house, my wife’s inheritance, was to be remodeled and flipped, but these creaks and groans seemed more sinister and menacing- not natural settling sounds. Trick or treat, it was starting again.
I had enough; I couldn’t sleep in this room. I went downstairs and turned on the TV. There was an old Boris Karloff film on. It was one of my favorites. I sat down in my easy chair and tried to pay attention. I couldn’t. I heard footfalls upstairs. I didn’t go look; there was never anyone there. Did the veil between the worlds of the dead and the living really become thinner on this day? Or was it just sad and terrible memories playing out over in over, recorded in the wood and plaster?
She, my wife, inherited the house from an uncle, and hated it as much as she hated the uncle. There was never a reason given; only a coldness that she wore like a cloak, silencing me and pushing me away. I thought it had potential, this house, why not fix it up and make a few more bucks on it? She didn’t want the damn-ed house anyway – so it was being smart, wasn’t it? I forced the issue, she gave in, and we moved in. She always gave in, and I was always a bully. Not that I was abusive – well, maybe sometimes. I would just get so angry when she took some stupid, or childish, position, and then she would harp and nag me ’till it became unbearable. She stayed in the house exactly two months, and then she left. In the middle of the night, she slipped out into the dark and was gone. I came down stairs to an open front door and the chill of a rainy midnight rushing its way into the house, the one I had to stubbornly keep and fix up. That’s when it all started.
No treats, but there was a trick, one I knew perfectly, I started drinking again. She had demanded that I quit when we were married, and I had honored that agreement. Five years I had been sober, but on the night she left I did a swan dive off the wagon and got sloshingly, sloppily, stupidly, incoherently ripped. I was so pissed it took me forty minutes to get up the stairs and into, or more accurately, onto the bed. I lay there with a dead bottle in hand, tears tracks upon my cheeks, and a bit of vomit on my chin. They, whoever they were, were offended. They pushed at me and shook the bed. At first I thought I was just hallucinating, but the burn I felt across my chest woke me up. I snatched at my robe, looked at the empty vodka bottle in my hand and pitched it into the dresser mirror, shattering the glass. I wrenched myself up and stumbled into the bathroom. The light came on by itself. I looked at the switch in deep confusion and shook my head. I must have hit it when I came in. The face in the mirror was a mess; gray pale skin, dirty disheveled hair, white and black stubble, and white mystery gunk around the edges of my lips. I made a disgusted noise, spitting on the mirror, but that wouldn’t do.
“She always kept the mirror clean, because when I brushed my teeth – I was a pig and always left bits of yuck on the mirror – and I should care about such things – wasn’t I the Mr. Fixit guy, the one with all the big money ideas? I shouldn’t spit on the mirror, because it is unsanitary and she always had to clean up after me.”
That’s what I said. I was shit faced, alone, and stupid and I still had to be freakin right about my wife. I felt bad, maybe a little remorseful, and sat down on the toilet seat lid, mostly feeling very sorry for myself. My chest hurt. I opened the robe and looked down at my hairy chest. What I saw wasn’t right. I stood up and looked at my chest in the mirror, not really believing what I saw. Three deep bloody scratches, a foot long, ran across my chest. How they got there I hadn’t a clue, but it sobered me up. I turned around and looked back into the room. I wasn’t thinking clearly, but I knew there had to be a logical explanation. My head hurt, and I walked over to the bed and sat down. I looked about the dimly lit room, fell back, and passed out.
The conversations woke me. It was still dark.
“You are such an asshole. My Mother was right about you. I have wasted the best years of my life.”
“Oh shut up you old harpy. You never had it so good. Go get me another beer and let a man rest – will ya?”
“Beer! That’s all you ever want. I should leave you and go to New Orleans, or maybe Atlantic City, and start a new life. I still got my looks.”
“Have you looked in the mirror lately?”
I jumped up and ran into the dark hallway. The voices came from there. I tore through the bedrooms, and then ran down the stairs, checking every shadowy corner. There was no one else in the house. I went around and turned on every light, then stopped, panting and shaken. I sat at the kitchen table until dawn.
Boris slipped behind a curtain, looking back with a twisted smile. I sat and watched the movie. The next scene was my favorite. This actor with one of the ugliest faces ever, no makeup needed, comes in the room and just stares at Boris.
A series of loud bangs in the kitchen startled me. I stood up and walked slowly into the kitchen. Every door of the cupboards were open and mocking me. What was I chasing? There is no person, dead or alive doing this. I had to stop being angry. Christ, I was always angry. Isn’t that what she said? ‘One of these days you are going to get so mad that you will hurt someone, or they will hurt you.’ I slapped her when she said that – sent her to her Mothers for a week. The air got thick and my back burned, as if I had been branded. I didn’t have to look; I knew there were scratches back there. It was because I was lying. A tear came to my eye, it may have been more than a slap, and the week she was away – she was in the hospital.
“One of these days you are really going to piss me off.”
“You hit me again and Ill kill ya – so help me – I will.”
The voices came from the basement. I didn’t like the basement, not one little bit. I had remodeled the whole house, new doors, hardwood floors, new cabinets, new bathroom fixtures, tile floors and bath surrounds, crown molding everywhere, painted all the walls in pale colors and gloss white enamel trim – but I had left the basement alone. I didn’t like the basement, not one little bit.
“The only reason you hit me is because you are a coward – that’s it isn’t it? Your daddy was too hard on you – your momma didn’t love you, ‘cause you were a nasty little boy. The world didn’t treat you right. Boo hoo!”
“If you know what’s good for you – you’ll shut the hell up!”
“What’re you gonna do with that – big man?”
“Bang!” – The sound of a gun going off – in the basement.
It came to me now. She had said that her Aunt had disappeared – said she ran off with a salesman – went to New Orleans. The family thought that her Uncle had killed her. I was scared shitless. I ran upstairs to our bedroom and pulled open the drawers in her bureau. Empty, all empty – she did leave – she really did leave. The drawers all slammed shut, on their own, and I fell over backwards. Then, as I sat there stunned, the bottom drawer slowly opened. It beckoned me and on all fours I crawled over and looked in. There was a pistol in the drawer. It wasn’t mine, but I felt as if it should be. I reached in and picked it up. I knew what I had to do. I had to go down in that dark, dank, stupid cellar and face what ever was down there tormenting me. I was a man, after all, and I had better face what ever this thing was.
“Oh, you’re so smart, aren’t you? You knew that your uncle had killed your aunt, Sophia, right? You’re whole freakin’ family knew. You didn’t want me to remodel this house, ‘cause you knew I would find the body. You bitch! Were all of you in on it? You’re all criminals, you and your ridiculous family. I’ll go down there, dig up your Aunt, and then call the Police. You’ll get what you have comin’ – You’ll get what you have comin’ – you betcha! I’m glad you’re gone – I am so glad you’re gone.” I mumbled angrily to myself all the way down the stairs, until I was standing in front of the cellar door. Trick-or-treat!
I swallowed and opened the door. The deep dark hit me like a fist. The air was thick and threatening. I stepped down, the pistol poised in front of me, one thin wooden step at a time. I began to sweat, the drops running down across the still raw demon scratches on my back and chest, causing them to burn. I was terrified. I was weeping and making frightened, high-pitched, little sounds in my throat. I hit the bottom step and almost lost my footing. I was standing in the dark, and I wondered why I hadn’t turned on the light. I stood for several sweaty, long, tense minutes and then screamed, like a little girl, when the dark bare bulb in front of me suddenly burst into light. I closed my eyes, trying to calm my racing heart and slow my panicked breathing. Nothing happened. I opened my eyes and fell back on the stairs in shock. There in a black pool of dried blood was a body. It wasn’t a woman – it was a man. The smell of death hit my nose and I started to retch. I gathered myself up and turned back to the corpse. It, he, was wearing a tool belt, much like the one I owned. Lying in the blood pool next to the body was a bottle of vodka.
“Look at the face, you son-of-a-bitch!”
I looked up toward the direction of the voice. There, next to the furnace, was an attractive woman, dressed in a sheer nightgown. She was a wisp, transparent in the glaring light of the bare bulb. I recognized her, my wife’s Aunt Sophia, and took a deep breath, letting it out with a noisy exhale.
“Look you bastard. Have enough guts to look.”
The accusing shadow faded and was gone. Okay, my wife had left me, she wasn’t here, and I didn’t care, not one little bit. In fact I was relieved. How she left didn’t matter all. Maybe if she had been a little nicer or a little more obedient. She was always so damn stubborn.
I took a deep breath and brought my attention back to my current situation. The basement no longer felt threatening. It felt oddly peaceful. I looked up the stairs, to the closed door and realized I didn’t want to go back up there. Here is where I belonged. I wasn’t angry anymore. Then I remembered the body. I walked over to it to have a better look. There was a bloody towel over the head. I reached down and lifted the towel. There was a neat little bullet hole, right between the unfortunate’s wide-open eyes. A bullet from the very gun I now held. My wife’s gun. I allowed myself to look upon the face. I wasn’t shocked by the recognition – I just felt tired – tired and relieved. I let the gun slide from my hand and backed up to sit on one of the steps.
It was ‘me’ there – lying dead on the floor, in the basement, with a well deserved bullet in my brain.