Christina wanted little Roy to have a perfect first Halloween.
She never considered what might happen, taking her innocent son up to strangers houses in the night.
On a dark Halloween night, the trick is on her.
The house stood proudly alone at the end of the dark street, surrounded by the dark wet boughs of the towering Douglas fir trees, but the street light across the street cast a pool of lurid orange light across the wet pavement. A three-story tall Victorian was painted like a bruise in deep purples, with yellow trim. Along the tops of the steep shingled roof iron spikes stabbed up at the heavens. The gutters ended in thick iron chains, down which the water splashed and tumbled into stained wooden rain barrels. The closest house, at a diagonal across the street, was an empty double-wide with a realtor sign in the window and Christina had already been to the last house before this one on this dead-end street. The people there must have gone to a Halloween party because her knocks had only raised the rabid barking of what must be a monstrous dog.
Christina popped the front wheel of the stroller up to swivel around a large puddle. Nestled in the seat Roy looked around at the dark night with wide eyes above the whiskers she had drawn on his face. His little tiger outfit was so cute but so far they’d only found one house where someone answered her knock and that was way back down the other street. For all the trouble she went through to get into her own witch outfit — and she looked totally hot despite the few extra pounds of baby weight — and to get Roy into his outfit, it didn’t look like it was going to be worth the trouble.
“I don’t know, little man. It might be your first Halloween but it looks like it’s going to be a bust.” Except for the pictures she took with the camera. Those came out good. If nothing else she could point to the fact that he at least had a costume and got to go out for his first Halloween.
Big Roy told her not to bother. He said that Roy wouldn’t even remember it, but she had said that she would remember it and when they looked back she wanted to have a picture of the holiday. And since Big Roy was deployed in Afghanistan right now it wasn’t like it even mattered to him anyway.
The house might look scary but it was dark and it was Halloween. On a sunny day it would probably look totally cute. The flower beds and lawns looked immaculate, plus they had on three lanterns on that big porch which wrapped around two sides of the house. At least a half-dozen Jack-o’-lanterns that leered, scowled and glowered from the porch railing. A skeleton reclined in a faded floral dress in a rocking chair near the door and another in overalls without a shirt leaned against the wall beside the door cupping the bowl of a pipe in his bony hands. She half expected to see the skeleton light the pipe and bring it up to his grinning teeth. To top it off tiny wizened shrunken heads with their eyelids sewed closed hung in between each of the pumpkins from the top porch beam. Clearly these people had gone all out to get their house decorated. With them being so isolated it was surprising that they had gone to so much trouble. How could she disappoint them? And besides, she deserved a bit more than a single tootsie-roll for all of her trouble.
She pushed the stroller up the concrete driveway and noticed that the flat stones among the flowers were done up as tombstones, with names and dates on them. They looked real, not like those cheap plastic ones sold at the store. So real that it made her feel all shivery inside. Or the cold night was finally getting to her through the thin black dress. It already made her breasts ache.
“We do this last house,” she told Roy. “And then we can go home and you can nurse until you pass out. How does that sound?”
Roy didn’t answer. Of course not. At least he wasn’t crying. He stared up at the bright lanterns that hung from the walls as she pushed the stroller up the ramp onto the porch. The tires made small thud, thud noises as she rolled across the boards. Her heels added sharper raps with each step. By the time she reached the door she wouldn’t even need to knock. These people had to hear her coming. The shrunken heads were like the tombstones in the flower beds. They didn’t look like plastic at all. She slowed and reached up, extending her index finger to touch one. The wrinkled skin felt just like dry skin! Christina gave a little yelp and jerked her hand away while the shrunken head rocked gently in the breeze and turned to look at her with sightless eyes.
She laughed softly at her fright and leaned over to look at Roy. “Momma’s silly! So silly.”
She pushed the stroller on toward the door. The heads had to be made of leather, that had to be it. Maybe rabbit hide or something like that. She considered turning back but if she did that she could never tell Big Roy about this. He’d never stop teasing her if she let a few Halloween decorations scare her off. Besides, they really were pretty cool. These folks obviously had the money to pay for that sort of thing. And besides all of that, they had to have heard her coming by now. Wouldn’t they think it was weird if she turned around and left now?
Christina reached the front door after navigating the stroller around the skeleton in the rocking chair. She gave both skeletons an uneasy look. Up close they looked startling realistic, horror-movie special effects realism. Bits of tissue clung to the bones just like a turkey carcass at Thanksgiving. Mold spotted the tattered floral dress and other dark stains marred the pattern. Beneath the rocker was a dark pile of something, it could be dirt but it looked more like mud with a few leaves stuck to it. A couple chilled flies took off from the skeleton and buzzed up around the lantern hanging above the porch. Too realistic. These people obviously wanted to carry the whole thing a little too far.
She raised her hand and knocked twice on the door. Two sharp knocks, and if no one came quickly she was going to turn the stroller around and leave. At least she could say that she was brave enough to get up to the door and knock. Maybe despite the decorations they wouldn’t come —
A woman opened the door. She was really tall, almost to the top of the door frame. Long blond hair cascaded down past her shoulders in complex motionless waves that look so unreal it had to be a wig. She wore a low-cut strapless red dress with pearls around her neck. From behind her came the sounds of music and laughter and the smells of roast turkey mingled with pie. The gigantic woman clapped her hands together and did a little bounce.
“Trick or treat,” Christina managed to say.
“How he’s so adorable! I could just eat him up!” She bent down and plucked Roy right out of the stroller.
Christina was so stunned for a half second. She just blinked in shock and in that moment the woman stepped back into the house and slammed the door in Christina’s face.
Christina hurled herself at the door, screaming Roy’s name. The door knob wouldn’t budge. She pummeled the door with her fists still calling for Roy. The door didn’t open.
She ran to the window, knocking against the pipe-holding skeleton in the process. He clattered to the porch behind her. There were dark curtains across the windows. She couldn’t see anything inside. Christina banged on the glass. She didn’t care if she broke a window or not. She wanted to break the window! That woman had stolen her baby!
The window held and no one so much as peeked through the curtain.
“Give him back!” She screamed so hard that the words tore at her throat.
She raced back to the stroller, stumbling over the fallen skeleton. She grabbed the stroller and carried it to the window. She drew back like a batter in the world series and let it fly at the window. The stroller hit hard enough to shatter the plastic that held the front wheel to the frame. The jolt numbed her arms but the window held. Christina stabbed the broken frame at the window again and it made a horrible screech as it slid down the glass without leaving so much as a scratch. Screaming in frustration she threw the stroller over the railing out into the yard.
Christina charged down the length of the porch looking at the other windows for any opening, any way she might even get a look inside. Nothing. She ran back the other way, jumping over the fallen skeleton, and checked the other windows along the porch. Not a single one showed anything from the inside. She threw herself at the nearest window, pounding against the glass with her fists while screaming Roy’s name over and over again.
Exhausted after several minutes of that she fell away. Her hands throbbed with pain. The skin on several of her knuckles had split open. She panted and stumbled down the porch, off onto the sidewalk, and then out into the yard. She collapsed on the lawn and vomited. The heaves brought up the tea she’d had before coming out. It felt like her insides were trying to claw out of her throat. She gasped and spit into the grass, then she got back up and wiped her mouth on her sleeve. She had to get her baby back! She saw the headstones in the flower bed. The stroller might not have broken the window but how about one of those!
Christina ran to the flower bed. She clawed at the ground. One of her nails ripped, the pain a bright star that she dismissed and kept digging. She got her fingers beneath the stone and yanked it out of the ground. The marble felt heavy in her hands. Abigail Mission, may she rest in Heaven. Too nice for a decoration. Much better as a battering ram!
She ran back to the porch. At the first big window she heaved the stone at the glass shouting, “Eat this!”
She rushed forward, raising her arms to protect her from the broken glass. The grave stone hit the glass and tumbled down. Christina couldn’t stop, she was already in motion. She crashed into the glass after the stone and the grave stone dropped onto her foot. The pain burned past her foot and up her leg. Sobbing, Christina stumbled away and fell on the porch. She hit the hard wood and raised her hands up to her head. Tears burned her eyes and sobs choked her. Her foot felt immense and on fire. Through her tears she could see that the window remained intact. There wasn’t even a scratch on the glass. She wanted to curl up in a ball but she couldn’t do that. That woman, those people inside, they had Roy. Her sweet little boy.
Christina got up and tried to stand but the pain in her foot was too much. She fell back to the porch. It felt like the shoe was closing around her foot. She kicked off her pumps. Her right foot was already turning red and purple across the top and sides. It was swelling out like a balloon beneath her tights. She dragged herself across the porch to the railing and used it to pull herself up, keeping her weight off her foot as much as possible. She must have broken it with the gravestone. It wouldn’t be so bad otherwise. Still, she made it up and wiped her face with her sleeves. They were probably all having a good laugh at her expense inside. For all she knew those curtains were like one-way mirrors and they were watching her throw herself at the windows. She pointed a finger at the nearest window.
“You’d better bring Roy back out here right now! Please, he’s my son. I won’t tell anyone, I just want my baby back!”
The curtains didn’t move. The door didn’t open and Christina wanted to wail but that wouldn’t get Roy back. She needed a better plan and she could hardly walk. She needed help.
She started shuffling down the porch. There might be another way in. She could go around the house and check. If she only had a cell phone this would be over so easily. She could just call the police. But she didn’t have a cell phone. Big Roy thought that they were a rip-off. They had one when he was stationed at home because he had to carry one, but he wouldn’t get one of their own for her to use. He went on about how it was a conspiracy to take over the nation’s communications. She’d take that right now if it meant getting Roy back. She reached the first Jack-o’-lantern and shoved it off the railing. It bounced unharmed into the flower bed. When she reached the next shrunken head she reached up and yanked it down. It left a few strands of dark hair trapped in the nail that had held it up. She chucked it after the Jack-o’-lantern.
Two more Jack-o’-lanterns and two more shrunken heads followed the others before she got to the end of the porch. She couldn’t put her weight on her foot at all, which made her next move difficult. She hoped around the post at the end of the porch and started back along the porch so that she could keep her hand on the house and avoid putting her weight on her swollen foot. God, it looked twice the size as normal and the tights were pulled taunt against the swollen skin. It throbbed with her pulse. She rubbed her nose and smelled the pumpkins on her skin. It suddenly made her think of carving pumpkins with Roy earlier in the evening. He had watched, not understanding, but it seemed like he had fun. He had smiled a lot. And those horrible people! They had stolen him!
Christina limped along the porch. She felt like puking again both from the pain in her foot and the thought of what might be happening to Roy. That woman had said she could just eat him up but she couldn’t possibly be serious, could she? It was hard getting across the uneven ground of the flower bed on one foot but she took great delight in each flower that she crushed. She reached one of the shrunken heads that she had thrown down and delighted in smashing it down into the earth. Horrid thing! She stepped off and a thought occurred to her.
What if that’s what the woman had in mind for Roy? The shrunken head’s stitched up eyes seemed to blindly look at her. She had thought that they must be made out of rabbit skin but what if these heads were actually the heads from babies?
Christina heard a low wailing sound that started building in intensity. It took her a couple steps away from the head before she realized that the sound was coming from her. She tried to stop making the noise. The shrunken heads couldn’t be baby heads. That was insane.
Nonetheless she saw Roy’s head hanging by his fine baby-soft hair from a nail in the porch beam. His plump cheeks withering like a raisin, and his beautiful eyes stitched closed with heavy black stitches.
No. No. No!
Christina lunched along the porch. She was going to find a way into this house. She’d get Roy back. And she’d make them pay for what they had done.
She reached the end of porch and started around the side of the house. It was dark away from even the dim light of the street light. Not far across the narrow strip of lawn tall Douglas fir trees towered over the house, dripping with moss and menace. The ground started sloping down and that put the windows out of her reach. She stooped and grabbed a handful of rocks from along the base of the wall and threw them at the window overhead. They rattled off without harming the window.
“Roy!” She grabbed another handful and threw it at the house, not even caring what she hit anymore. “Give him back!”
The house stayed as silent and as impenetrable as the grave. Christina hobbled onward.
Around the side of the house she saw her first sign of hope. The ground continued to drop away and there was a daylight basement window only a few feet ahead. She hopped and shuffled over to the window and looked down. It was a good-sized window with a curved metal barrier holding back the earth. Like the other windows a dark curtain made it impossible to see inside. Christina scooped up a rock lying by the culvert and threw it as hard as she could at the window.
It bounced off with the same dull thunk as the others. She bit back her screams and sat down with her legs in the small area in front of the window. She crouched down, gasping when her foot hit the walls of the barrier, and tried pulling the window open. It wouldn’t budge. She pounded on the window with no result.
She had to get in. She had to find Roy! Christina grabbed the rock she had thrown from the ground and held it in her hand as she hit the window again. Her arm ached from the impact but the window remained unmarred.
Christina threw the rock aside. There had to be another way. She stood up on her good leg and grabbed the side of the barrier to pull herself up. She got up on the side on her knees and leaned against the house to stand again.
Just as she did she saw the curtain in the window twitch, just a tiny bit, but the flash of light from inside caught her eye.
“Give him back!”
The curtain didn’t move again. Christina leaned her head against the wall of the house. “Please give him back,” she muttered. “Give me back my son!”
The house might as well not be there at all, she couldn’t hear anything from inside. The light didn’t escape from the windows. She could just as well be asking a mountain to open up. The pain in her foot radiated all the way up her leg and made her teeth ache. She was tempted, despite the chill and the dew, to stretch out on the grass and just sleep. Escape from everything.
But she wouldn’t give up. Christina shook her head. She’d never give up Roy.
It was the house, or the people in the house, that even made her consider giving up. Like some Jedi mind trick, they wanted her to give up and go away, leaving Roy at their whims. She wouldn’t do it.
Christina started limping along the wall of the house again. As she rounded the back corner of the house without finding any way in a dog starting barking at her. She flinched, expecting to see it flying across the back lawn at her but it was contained within a chain link pen at the back corner of the lawn. Next to that were the desiccated remains of a garden. Dry stalks of corn like rows of spears. At the center of the garden a skeleton scarecrow hung from a cross. The dog barred his teeth and snarled at her. She couldn’t see much of him at all in the dim light. His teeth, and glowing eyes, beyond that he was pretty much just a black shadow. She ignored the barking. Let him bark, if he couldn’t get out then he didn’t worry her and the barking might bring someone outside.
There was a deck along the back of the house. Christina grabbed the railing and hopped up onto the first step. Her leg ached so much that she barely made it. She sank down to her knees and crawled instead. She made sure to keep her foot up so that she didn’t bang it on the steps. Once she made it up to the top of the short stairs she stopped and looked at the house.
One dim yellow bulb was responsible for what light there was in the back. Fancy double doors with framed glass were closed and curtains blocked any view of the inside, just like the windows on either side. It had to be locked. Everything else had been locked up tight. But she couldn’t let herself give in. She had to try. She thought of Roy’s perfect pink cheeks and his little fingers and she started crawling to the doors. It took a minute, but she got there. She reached up and tried the door handle.
It didn’t budge.
Even though she had expected the door to be locked, it felt like the door had maliciously taunted her. As if the door had been unlocked just until the second before she touched the handle. She grabbed the handles and yanked on them as hard as she could. They didn’t even rattle. She screamed despite her sore throat and banged her bloodied fists on the glass.
Nothing. No response. The whole place was locked down tight. There was no way she was getting inside.
Christina slumped against the doors, covered her face and wept. Roy’s face kept appearing in her mind. First the Halloween costume, his little Tigger outfit with the whiskers drawn on his adorable face. Or his to-die-for coveralls with the Thomas train engine shirt. The fuzzy monster pajamas covered in red and green monsters with green monsters on the feet. He loved to growl at them.
And now a real monster had him and she couldn’t get to him. She needed help. The two closest houses were empty, but if she went further back up the road there had to be houses with people home. All she needed was one place, one that would let her use a phone and she could call for help. Call the police. Then the people in this house would have to give her back her son. It’d be hard. She couldn’t even think about how hard it was going to be to walk all that way with her broken foot but it didn’t matter. She’d crawl if she had too. It made her sick to even think of leaving the house while they had Roy but what other choice did she have? She couldn’t get in and they just ignored her.
Christina lowered her hands and there was a small boy standing right in front of her on the deck. She hadn’t heard him at all. He wore a black outfit with a glow-in-the-dark skeleton on it. In one hand he held a black plastic bag with the picture of a Jack-o’-lantern design. He wasn’t such a little baby anymore, but she recognized him. How could she not?
It was Roy, a toddler but still Roy!
She reached out for him. “Roy —”
Roy turned and ran away across the deck, toward the stairs. He could fall!
Christina lunged to her feet and pain shot up her leg. It wouldn’t support her weight and she fell flat on the deck. She lifted her head just in time to see Roy descend the stairs and race away across the lawn toward the other side of the house. He moved so fast for a toddler!
She scrambled across the wood and got up holding onto the railing. She couldn’t put any weight at all on her foot without sharp pain. She hopped along the railing toward the stairs.
“Roy! Come back!”
He stopped running. But he wasn’t a toddler anymore. A boy of maybe five years old. Still wearing a black skeleton costume and holding the trick or treat bag.
Christina held out her hand. “Please come back, Roy, honey!”
He looked like he was listening to her. At least he didn’t run. Christina couldn’t stand anymore. She sank down on the step. “Please, come back.”
Roy waved to her and gave her his bright smile that made her heart ache. Then he turned away from her and walked around the corner of the house and disappeared again.
Christina pushed herself forward. She went down on her hands and knees and crawled down the steps. She kept crawling when she got to the grass. She didn’t care. She couldn’t walk and she wasn’t going to let Roy get away. Not this time. She crawled as fast as she could to the corner of the house.
Roy was walking away from her along the side of the house. Into the darkness. He wasn’t five anymore, more like ten, but he still wore the same costume.
He glanced back and for a second she could just make out his face. His eyes searched the darkness but he didn’t seem to see her. Then he was gone again, around to the front of the house.
Christina scrambled forward, crawling as fast as she could manage. When she forgot to keep her foot up the pain flared up her leg and nearly made her give up. But she couldn’t let her son get away again.
So she crawled.
The wet grass soaked her clothes even more. Hidden stones dug into her palms. Her nose ran and dripped but she didn’t stop crawling awkwardly forward until she finally reached the front of the house.
A young man stood in front of the porch, lit by light from the open door. He was good-looking, with the same blond hair that she remembered, only not a boy or a baby anymore. It was Roy, dressed entirely in black but a long black coat had replaced his costume. She heard music coming from the house. Music so beautiful and dark it made her want to put her head down and just die. Christina crawled out of the shadows at the side of the house, and then used the corner of the house to brace herself so that she could stand up on her good leg.
The young man that was somehow her son turned and looked at her. His eyes narrowed and then widened in slight recognition. He walked to her and she saw he was wearing an expensive black suit. A small curved silver tie-tack held a scarlet tie in place. A metallic black watch glittered on his wrist. He stopped several steps back.
“You’re her, aren’t you?” he asked, his voice gentle.
“Please Roy, please come back.”
Roy shook his head. “No mother, that’s a whole other world, don’t you know that? There can’t be any going back. Not now.”
“I don’t understand,” Christina said. “What’s happened to you?”
“I can’t explain it to you.” He looked at the watch. “But I remember seeing you, when I was little. I thought you were a ghost.”
“I’m not a ghost!”
Roy nodded. “I know. I understand it better now. I wish I could make it easier for you.”
The woman appeared in the front doorway. The same one that had snatched Roy away when he was a baby. “Roy, we’re ready to go. It’s time you went to work.”
Roy nodded. He gave Christina a sad smile and turned away. The woman that stole him came out. She wore a long flowing black gown. She was beautiful. When Roy stopped in front of her she straightened his tie, brushed his hair to the side with her fingers, and then they started walking down the porch. The front door shut behind them but the lanterns still lit the porch. The Jack-o’-lanterns were back, Christina realized, and the shrunken heads that swung in the breeze. Not only that the sky had cleared and the moonlight shown down on the yard and reflected off the roof of a long black car that sat in the driveway.
Christina limped along the wall of the house. “Wait! Roy! Wait!”
Neither Roy or the woman paid her any attention. They walked past her as if she wasn’t there at all and went to the car. Roy got in on the driver’s side, the woman on the other. Christina tried to step away from the house and fell. Her head struck the corner of one of the gravestones and the world went dark.
Hands grabbed her. Christina shrieked and fought.
“It’s okay! It’s okay!”
Someone held her arms. “It’s okay, ma’am. We’ll take care of you.”
The voice sounded soothing. She opened her eyes, blinked against the blinding light, and finally could see the face of the man holding her arms. He reminded her of her grandfather, with his white hair and round face. He smiled at her.
“There you go, we’ll take care of you.”
Christina swallowed and looked around. There were other people. Police. A woman beside her in blue. She wasn’t on the ground, but a bed, a gurney. And it was daytime.
Roy. “Did you get my son! Roy! They took him into the house!”
The older policeman looked over at the woman in blue and back to her. “House?”
Christina tried to sit up. They pushed her back with their hands but not before she saw the blackened overgrown foundation at the center of the empty lot. No house. No sign that a house had been there in a long time. An enormous howling emptiness engulfed her mind and she went limp. The only thing that remained was the memory of Roy, smiling.
This story is the 36th weekly short story release, written in November 2010, originally published under my pen name “R.M. Haag.”
Eventually I’ll do a new e-book and print releases when I am satisfied that I can create the cover art that I want for the stories. In the meantime I’m enjoying these weekly releases. Stories will remain until I get up the new e-book and print versions and at that point I’ll take the story down.
If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. I’m also serializing novels now on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Check back next Monday for another story. Next up is the One more spooky story The Thing in the Snow.