A Different Halloween
By: Gabriella Balcom
"What's wrong with you?" Carinda demanded of Dougal that evening. "I go to work almost every single day while you do absolutely nothing. The only money coming in is from my job. It pays for the roof over your head and the food in your belly, but you're unwilling to do the smallest, easiest thing for me?"
"How many times do I have to tell you?" he retorted. "That brat doesn't need to be spoiled."
"A little trick-or-treating isn't spoiling a child, and there's nothing wrong with a kid having fun. In fact, it's only fair you take Aileen since the beer you're drinking and the cigarettes you're puffing were paid for with money you stole from her."
"What've I told you, woman? I'm not gonna put up with no lip."
"Fine then." Carinda's eyes flashed. "I'll ask the neighbors if she can go with them this year."
"No, you won't." This time he spoke in quiet, deliberate tones which were much scarier than his louder ones. "She's staying in this house, or you're both going to regret it."
Aileen, who'd been listening out in the hallway, trudged to her room. She curled up into a ball on her bed and cried.
Mama walked in a few minutes later. "I see you heard. I'm so sorry, Sweetheart. This is my fault. If I hadn't gotten with a loser in the first place, none of this would be happening." Tears welled up in her eyes.
"Mama, don't cry." Aileen threw her arms around her mother's neck.
Carinda hugged her and wiped both their faces. "I know I've said it before, but I really will make this up to you. Right now, though, I've got to leave for work."
"Why? You're supposed to be off."
"Sally called in sick and I was told I had to come in. I need this job, so I couldn't just tell the boss 'no.'"
Aileen heard the truck leave within minutes. A little later, Dougal peeked into her room. She lay on her stomach and pretended not to notice him. But she peeked through her eyelashes and saw him sneer before walking away.
The neighborhood was illuminated by the sliver of moon and streetlights. However, everything darkened when the streetlights flickered, then went out.
Outside Aileen's home, the bushes quivered, and the raven-werewolf emerged, followed by BranchMan. They gazed at the houses next door and ones across the street, and their lights winked out.
A cat padded into the front yard. Upon seeing the two, her eyes widened, and she rapidly turned tail to leave. However, she toppled over when the raven-werewolf snarled. She rose within seconds, but moved jerkily, as if she were a marionette in the hands of an unskilled puppeteer. Her fur fell off in clumps. Portions of skin peeled away, the underlying flesh dissolving from her bones. Her eyes within their hollowed-out sockets vanished, leaving eerie black holes with flickering pinpricks of green, and her mouth twisted into a cruel grin, revealing jagged teeth below her scar of a nose. "Mmrrrooow?"
"Caw," the raven-werewolf uttered.
BranchMan pursed his lips and blew toward the ground. Ground beetles, grubs, centipedes, and ants poured from the soil. They grew several times their original size, and their bodies exuded yellow slime.
Raising a twig finger, BranchMan pointed toward the bushes. Insects and caterpillars crawled out. Some crickets transformed, their lower bodies changing into those of slugs, and they partially-hopped, partially drug themselves toward the front steps.
All of the creatures turned their head toward the raven-werewolf and BranchMan, their eyes glowing red, before making their way up the stairs.
A robin soared by overhead but stopped in mid-air when the raven-werewolf glanced up. The bird flew down, landing on the ground. Its head grew larger, a large hook nose extending from its face, while its torso elongated into that of an alligator.
All of the beings outside the home shimmered, turning translucent before they went straight through the solid-wood front door.
Dougal sat in the front room watching TV, chewing popcorn, and drinking beer.
A tapping sound came from the front door. He opened it, found no one outside, and returned to the couch. Faint knocks then rang outthis time sounding as if they were directly underneath himand he frowned, jumping up. He got on his hands and knees to look under the sofa. Nothing was there.
"Miserable nuisances," he muttered, reasoning a neighbor's pet had gotten loose and under the house. Once more, he turned his attention to the show he was watching.
"Gaaa!" he exclaimed after an icy blast of air hit his neck. He hurried to shut the living room window behind him, wondering who'd left it open. A vague question formed in his mind about the temperature, too. Why was the air cold when outside temperatures had been in the 80s? The TV captured his attention again, though, and he shrugged.
A few minutes later, he heard scratching. It seemed to come from right beside him, and he frowned, staring at the couch with raised eyebrows. A clicking sound came from in front of himwhere nothing wasand he scratched his head. Faint whistles rang out, along with what sounded like something being dragged across a floor. He turned off the TV, listened, but heard nothing now. "Hmm."
Dougal checked under the couch again, looked around the living room, then walked through the entire house. Nothing was amiss, from what he could tell.
Getting comfortable again on the sofa, he raised his beer can to his lips. But laughter rang out above him, and he slowly tilted his head back. Nothing was there, and he chuckled nervously. "Don't be a wuss," he muttered. "You're just jumpy because it's Halloween."
"Chicken," a voice whispered in his ear.
A strangled yell escaped his lips, and he leapt up. No one was behind him. Biting his lip, he stared at the can in his hand, and went to pour the remaining beer down the kitchen drain. No doubt he'd imagined stuff because he'd drunk too much. He grinned, but his humor faded when he heard the clicking sound again.
He knew nothing was there, but glanced over his shoulder anyway, and shrieked.
A bird with a large nose and alligator body stood several feet away, taking slow, deliberate steps toward him.
Unable to believe what he was seeing, Dougal rubbed his eyes, but the thing didn't vanish. Instead, its lips curved upward in a parody of a human smile before it ran toward him. He gave a high-pitched squeal and fled, almost tripping over his feet. But he managed to get outside safely.
Fifteen minutes later, Dougal scowled at his neighbor Mitch's back as the other man walked away. He'd searched the house from top to bottom with Dougal at his heels, while Aileen stood outside. They'd found nothing, and Mitch had laughed his head off at Dougal's description of what he'd seen.
He didn't appreciate being the butt of laughter and jokes, but he clamped his mouth shut. What he'd seen looked real. Too real to shrug off. But he had been drinking all day, so he was forced to agree he could've imagined it all..
Once Aileen went back to her room, he opened another beer. He was just raising the can to his lips when he saw the yellow eyes staring at him from its side, and he dropped it.
He gingerly nudged the can with his toe, but it looked normal. He picked it up and examined it, but... "Man, oh, man," he muttered.
The eye business had almost made him pee on himself, so he went to take care of business. Afterward, he was about to leave the bathroom when he heard clicking below him.
"What the...?" Beetles skittered around the tile and over his bare feet. But they were larger than normal. His breath caught in his throat when their heads all swung in his direction at the same time. They had eerie, humanlike faces and glowing eyes.
He jumped over a group of them. Looking back over his shoulder, he saw a hideous creature climb out of the toilet. He slammed the bathroom door shut, and bellowed for help, hoping the things couldn't get out and follow him.
Dougal ran to the living room to retrieve his cell phone. Yellowish-green slime oozed from the front, separating, and transforming into dozens of tiny worms. Their heads swayed this way and that before turning in unison toward him. Once again, he saw distinct faces, all giving him sinister smiles.
He dropped the cell, yelled for help again, and wondered why Aileen hadn't come out of her room. Why Mitch hadn't come back, either. He hurried to the landline, but a skeletal cat with glittering-green eyes dropped down from the ceiling in front of him. It hissed, then picked up the receiver with one paw. Holding it out to him, the cat cackled like a gleeful witch.
Dougal darted toward the front door, but found his way blocked. Something looking like the cross between a bird and a werewolf stood there. It snarled at him, and he got a better look than he wanted at its sharp teeth and tusks. Tall and furry, the creature had overly long arms and fingers tipped with long claws.
As he backed away, Dougal's eyes bugged out and he panted. Cool air blew on the back of his neck, and he turned to find the refrigerator behind him rather than in the kitchen where it belonged. A demonic face grinned at him from the freezer door. A hand extended from the fridge, the fingers wiggling playfully before turning into snakes.
"Mitch!" he screamed. "Aileen!" They probably couldn't help him, but maybe their presence would distract the monsters long enough for him to escape.
He looked one way, then another, uncertain what to do as even more creatures approached. Some had gaping mouths and hollow-eyed stares. Others snarled, their mouths dripping saliva, burning holes in the floor.
"Help!" Thinking of possible weapons, Dougal ran into the kitchen. He fumbled with the silverware drawer, arming himself with the largest knife and a meat cleaver. When he held them up, though, eyes appeared in the blades. They bent backward toward his hand, sprouted mouths, and nipped him, drawing blood. He yelped and threw them across the room.
Tools would work, too.
He looked around and gasped. The toaster, coffee maker, and can opener had come to life. Hands and feet protruded from them, and they now had eyes and mouths full of pointy teeth.
Oversized bugs swarmed into the room, along with centipedes, worms, ants, and other monsters. Their eyes glowed as they advanced. Some licked their lips. Behind them, larger creatures which could've stepped from horror movies slunk forward. The skeletal cat padded in. Its mouth opened in a wide yawn, revealing bloody incisors.
Dougal's heart pounded like crazy, and he couldn't think.
"Doooogal," the raven-werewolf whispered. Something that looked like bundled sticks walked in, and said the man's name, too.
"Get away from me," he demanded, backing away until he bumped into a wall. There was no way out.
The skeletal cat shot toward him, biting his leg.
"No!" he screamed. Then he realized he hadn't felt any pain. Glancing down, he gasped, and a new horror filled him. A chunk was missing from the side of his leg.
Another creature landed on his shoulder and took a bite.
He knocked it down, frantically staring around for a way to escape. Any way.
But his unwelcome attackers swarmed him. He punched, kicked, stomped, and flailed around, but no matter how much he tried to fight them off, they kept coming. One after another and in groups, they bit off more and more of his body until nothing was left except clothing fragments.
Aileen lay on her stomach reading. She looked up when she heard a faint sound outside her door. Setting her book down, she went to look in the hallway. Nothing was there. And nothing was in the bathroom or in Mama and Dougal's room.
Her stomach rumbled. She hadn't eaten supper, so she got a banana from the fridge.
Then she realized she hadn't seen Dougal. Walking around the house once more, she still didn't find him. "Dougal, where are you?" she called out. He didn't answer. She went outside but didn't see or hear him there either.
She saw children going down the road, all dressed up for trick-or-treating, and tears filled her eyes.
A faint sound came from behind her, and she turned to see a child dressed as a skeletal cat standing there. "Wow!" she exclaimed. "I love your costume. You really look like a cat."
"Are you ready to have some fun?" a kid dressed like a bunch of branches asked.
"Your costume's wonderful, too," she told him.
"Here's one for you." The tree-child extended his hand, which looked like a small branch. "You'll like it."
Aileen accepted the gift, and gasped when she saw it was a fantastic monster costume. "I love it! It's amazing!"
"Well, put it on," the cat urged her.
She ran back inside, changed, and studied herself in the bathroom mirror. A scary creature with a crocodile's body, bird's head, red eyes, and long, sharp teeth stared back at her. The costume even felt real, all damp and clammy. "This is the best costume ever," she told the tree-child when she saw he'd followed her inside.
"Are you ready?" he asked.
"Yeah. I can't wait." She followed him outside, then remembered Dougal and her shoulders drooped. "I almost forgot. My step-father told me not to leave the house."
"He doesn't mind."
"Really?" Her eyes widened. "How do you know? Do you know him? Did you see him? Where is he?"
"We all saw him," the tree-child replied. He grinned and looked behind them. "Didn't we?"
That's when Aileen saw all the other children. She looked from one costume to anothersnakes, beetles, centipedes, birds, and many moreand giggled. "Are you all from my school?"
"We're from your neighborhood," a tall child said. His voice was deep, and he was dressed like a werewolf with a bird's head.
"Come on," the tree-child said. "Don't you like trick-or-treating? Don't you like candy?"
"I love candy and trick-or-treating," she replied. "I just don't want to get in trouble."
"You won't. Dougal won't get angry this time."
"Are you sure?" Aileen bit her lip, looking at her new friend with worried eyes.
"I'm sure," came the confident answer. "He doesn't care."
She bounced on her feet, so excited she could barely stand it. Walking down the sidewalk with the others, she glanced around and was amazed how many there were. She hadn't realized that many kids lived around her.
"Are you ready to have fun?" the tree-child asked.
Aileen imagined knocking on doors, people admiring her costume, and giving her yummy treats, and burst into giggles. "I can't wait."