Dean and his boy, Jonathan, waited in line at their neighbor’s house. It was the young child’s first trick or treating experience and he wanted to be a ghost. Looking at his son prompted memories of Dean’s own childhood, not all of them pleasant. He remembered his ninth birthday party that his parents threw for him at the roller rink. Most of his classmates were there, but one friend, in particular, was painfully absent. He recalled glancing at the empty chair, the same one Michael always sat in. His friend was gone, and he wasn’t coming back.
The police never caught anyone, citing a lack of evidence. But that was lazy as far as Dean was concerned. He had known who did it, except no one wanted to listen to an eight-year-old kid. They’re dismissed like beggars on the street. Even after he explained the logical scenario, the officer in question replied, “Thanks, kid,” and pretended to write the statement on a blank pad.
But as time goes by, the memories fade. He went to college, got married, and started a family. Michael was almost forgotten by Dean, until this particular Halloween. Standing directly behind him and his son on the neighbor’s walkway, wearing the same dark stockings peeled over their faces, were Michael’s killers. Only now, there were four of them, one appearing much shorter in height than the rest. Four blank, faceless expressions glared to him in unison while Dean clutched Jonathan’s clammy hand and pulled him closer. More memories resurfaced, remembering the days leading up to his friend’s demise all those years ago.
Every day after school, the two boys would head to Michael’s home, where they would watch their favorite cartoon, ThunderCats. That was when Dean first noticed Michael’s pumpkin on the front porch, a single triangular-eye carved into its upper left side. “When did you start carving this?” Dean asked.
“I didn’t,” Michael replied. “It just kind of appeared this morning.”
That one instance wouldn’t have been too odd, but every morning leading to Halloween, a new feature had materialized with expert care. Another eye appeared the next day, then a triangular nose. Michael and his mother insisted they never touched the pumpkin, baffled with its mysterious transformation. When the police discovered their bodies on November 1st, both victims rested side-by-side, stockings draped over their faces, and the jack o’ lantern that had been mysteriously carved and ignited was absent from their porch.
The same situation occurred the following year with Mr. Reynolds’s pumpkin seemingly carving itself, right before he was also found on November 1st, draped out of his bedroom window, glazed eyes to the sky, a single stocking resting across his frozen expression.
And just like that, the odd occurrences ceased with no disruption for thirty years, forgotten like a bad dream. That was, until earlier in the month, when Dean noticed an abnormality with the fresh pumpkin his wife had placed on the front steps: a triangular cutout in the top left corner, leaving a glowing eye to stare back. Even after half a lifetime, his reaction was the same as it would’ve been a quarter-century earlier. After he dropped his briefcase, darting into the house and disrupting his wife and son’s breakfast, he asked her the dreaded question.
“No, I never touched it,” she replied. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” It wasn’t the response he’d hoped for. He nodded and walked outside to his car, ignoring the glaring eye’s presence. He avoided any contact with the pumpkin for the week leading up to Halloween, realizing it would only cause distraction within his daily life.
Halloween arrived on an unusually cold Friday… colder than it had been all month. And against his better judgment, and to appease his son’s nagging pleas, he promptly got the boy costumed and led him outside to start their night of candy collecting. But then, he caught a glimpse of the object that rested on his porch, the one he’d avoided all week, and stood stock-still, prompting his son to tug on his arm.
“Doesn’t it look great?” his wife, Lilly, spoke up behind him, exiting the screen door. “I don’t know what Good Samaritan carved it for us, but they even went to the trouble of lighting it.”
Dean never told Lilly about his suppressed childhood trauma—or the horrible demise that every person or family suffered after their pumpkins had been carved by a mysterious group of entities that only appear on Halloween night— and he wasn’t about to start now.
Dean and Jonathan managed six houses before spotting the Four entities in line behind them. After thirty years, the scenario was the same. They didn’t speak, and they moved their heads in unison, like thinking with a single mind. They glared at Dean the same way as when he was a child, brushing past him in line, in the same way, holding their brown woven bags at arm’s length and refusing to answer anyone addressing them.
“Well,” Mr. Marvin said, standing at his front door with a large bowl of candy, “I’m not obligated to legally give you any treats until you say the magic words.” They ignored him and turned to stare back at Dean. “So, what are y’all supposed to be?” he nervously pried for any response. “Well, okay, then. Here you go,” Mr. Marvin continued, grabbing fistfuls of candy and tossing it haphazardly into each of their bags, causing fallout casualties to miss their mark and scatter to his feet. “All right, thank you for coming. Goodbye, now.”
The Four kept their heads twisted towards Dean, but Marvin’s instructions prompted them to turn their lower bodies towards the front of the yard, again in unison, and glide past Dean and his frightened son… who now had the eyeholes of his ghost-sheet pulled down to his chin. “Well, I wonder what all that was,” Mr. Marvin said, stepping out of his doorway.
As the men watched the quartet make their way down the street, Dean replied, “I’m not sure. But I should be getting my son home.”
Marvin gave Jonathan an extra-large handful of Reese’s Cups before Dean rushed him to their own street, crunching through forgotten hills of dead leaves. They were almost home when Dean noticed the Four standing shoulder-to-shoulder at the crossroads of their block. He realized Jonathan would only slow them down, so he scooped the boy up in his arms and sprint-walked quickly to his front yard, ignoring their advances from his peripheral vision.
“Lilly!” Dean yelled as he burst through the front door, looking out the living room window at the Four shadows gliding gracefully towards his front sidewalk.
His wife rushed from the kitchen, frantic from her husband’s sudden emotional disruption. “What’s the—”
“You need you to take Johnny and go to your parents!”
“I don’t understand what—”
“Don’t ask questions, just leave right now! Go out the back door!” Jonathan was sobbing uncontrollably by the time Lilly grabbed her keys and tore outside to her car. Once Dean saw them pull out of the driveway, he rushed through the dining area to the living room, switching the lights off as he went. After plowing onto the couch, he peered out the windows, expecting to see the shadows converging on his front lawn. But the outside street was desolate, and Dean briefly wondered if he’d just imagined everything, experiencing a slight surge of stupidity.
That was immediately before the pounding at his front door snapped him back. After a lull, his breathing ceased when the pounding resumed. Exhaling and easing himself off the sofa cushions, he felt relief that his family was safe, …but also realizing that he might never see them again. Whatever these damned things were, they had finally come for him, just like Michael, and he knew that he couldn’t run. If they didn’t get him this year, they wouldn’t rest until he was theirs, and he wouldn’t, no, he couldn’t jeopardize his family that way. He was ready to make that sacrifice.
The front door wasn’t locked, and he wondered what would happen once he opened it, hoping they wouldn’t take it as a welcoming gesture. As he reached for the knob, another pounding came, this time louder than the last, and he felt a warm rush of wetness down his left leg.
After ignoring the fact that he pissed his pants, he quickly twisted the knob and threw the door open. Standing at the edge of the porch were the Four shadows. But now, their face stockings were better lit and more pronounced.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” Dean asked. “Come and get me if that’s what you want.” The three taller shadows began to move forward but were stopped when the shortest of the Four stood in front of them, extending its arm to block their advancement. The others backed off as it nodded at Dean. Then picking up the jack o’ lantern, it turned and began walking down the path with its companions.
Something about the way the shorter one walked triggered a memory in Dean. “Michael?” he blurted. The shadow turned and nodded again before disappearing into the night.
About The Author
Phil Thomas is an author and screenwriter from the suburbs of Philadelphia. His screenplays have been produced into feature films “False Face” and “Always from Darkness,” and are available in major retailers such as Best Buy and Target, as well as availability on Netflix and Amazon on Demand. He is a member of the “International Association of Professional Writers & Editors” and he currently writes for Cultured Vultures, Game Skinny, and Bloodydisgusting.com.
He is also the co-host of “What Are You Afraid Of?” a weekly horror and paranormal show, available on iTunes, iHeart Radio, Stitcher, and is aired on Para-X radio on Friday evenings at 9:00pm. He will be featured in the upcoming Monsterthology 2 collection, released by Zombie Works Publications, with his story, Tinfoil Bullet. His debut novel, The Poe Predicament, is set for publication in 2020 by Foundations Books. He is currently putting the final touches on his second novel, Worst. Afterlife. Ever.
You can check out Phil on the What Are You Afraid Of Podcast