Once upon a halloween, p.1
Once Upon a Halloween
It's Halloween night. The old Witherspoon house stands all alone in the dark, the last house on a dead-end street. Its only neighbors are thick woods and a moonlit graveyard. Not long ago, a grisly murder/suicide took place in the house. Now, it is said to be haunted.
Haunted but no longer abandoned. Three years ago, Laura and Shannon moved in. They're young, pretty, friendly... and, best of all, generous with candy on Halloween. Tonight, they're getting ready for a costume party. Shannon is upstairs getting dressed and Laura is downstairs handing out candy to trick-or-treaters.
It's a perfect Halloween night until Laura opens the door and finds herself facing a lone teenaged boy... a terrified boy who says: "Let me in! They're gonna get me!"
And, for Laura and Shannon, the party begins.
It's Halloween night and there are ghosts and goblins in the streets. And something much worse in the graveyard.
From Publishers Weekly
Laymon and Halloween. That sounds like a perfect mix, with the author of the gleefully malevolent The Traveling Vampire Show (Forecasts, Apr. 24) taking on the spookiest night of the year. But his fans know that Laymon can be erratic, sometimes delivering shocking yet emotionally astute entertainments, at other times turning in tangled terrors drenched in sex and gore. The latter, unfortunately, more closely describes his new novel, despite its fast, smart start, in which horror descends like a howling banshee on two young women dispensing candy to trick-or-treaters. A teen boy, Hunter, comes banging on Shannon and Laura's door, claiming he's being chased by a pack of naked adults-witches? Soon the house is under attack by nude sword- and axe-wielding maniacs. A local dad escorting a bunch of kids gets caught in the ensuing mayhem, which features numerous cuttings and, in time, the spectacle of Shannon and Laura stripped and trussed together in the local graveyard as the villains prepare for human sacrifice. Laymon ups the ante to supernatural horror by tossing in a homicidal spirit who's haunting Shannon and Laura's house, but that element only adds to the confusion already made rampant through frenzied racing and chasing by too many characters who don't grow from beginning to end, despite their ordeals. Laymon boasts an intensely loyal following, so this novel will likely sell out its limited print run, but while his fans will love the richly depicted seasonal setting and Laymon's ability to make pages riffle as if in high wind, they'll also sense that, ultimately, this is one sputtering jack o'lantern.
OCR, formating & proofing: pua.
Once upon a Halloween...
The doorbell rang and rang and rang. It kept on ringing as Laura hurried toward the front door, scowling. "Jeez, kid," she muttered. "Take it easy."
The bell rang again and again as she grabbed the basket of candy off the table and swung open the door, expecting a small tribe of children in Halloween costumes to chant, "Trick or treat!"
But there was only one kid on the porch. A teenaged boy, out ‹›l breath and sobbing, arm jerking as he tried to yank open the screen door.
"Hey! Stop that!"
"Let me in!" he blurted. "You gotta let me in!" He glanced over his shoulder. "Please! They're gonna get me!"
"Stop tugging on the door!"
"Please, lady! Let me in! They're after me!"
Laura stepped closer to the screen door and looked past the boy. Beyond the lighted porch, she saw only darkness. "Who's after you?"
The boy glanced over his shoulder.
With a flick of her thumb, Laura unlocked the screen door. The boy threw it open. She leaped out of his way as he rushed into the house. He pulled the door shut and locked it.
As he swung the main door shut, Laura called out, "Shannon, you wanta get down here? We've got a situation. "
The boy leaned back against the heavy oak door, panting for air. He appeared to be fifteen or sixteen years old. His blond hair was a tangle, his eyes shiny and red, his cheeks wet. He wore a big checkered shirt, its tails hanging out over the top of his jeans. He sobbed and shuddered as he sucked air into his lungs.
"What's going on?" Shannon asked as she rushed downstairs. She must've just finished her bath. Her short hair, dark with moisture, was flat against her scalp. She wore her pink robe and her feet were bare. Her quick descent of the stairs made her breasts jump around inside the robe.
The kid didn't seem to care.
"We've got a visitor," Laura said.
"So I see."
"He says somebody's after him." His head twitched up and down. "Who's after him?"
"I don't know. He's pretty upset, though."
"So you let him right in?"
"Yeah. What was I supposed to do?"
Shannon gave her a look. She didn't need words; the look spoke for her...I'm not sure myself, but letting a strange guy into the house probably wasn't the brightest move possible.
She gestured for the boy to step aside.
He shook his head.
"Come on, kid, out the way."
"You're gonna open the door."
He moved and Shannon reached for the handle. "Don't," the boy said. "Please. They're out there!"
She opened the door and suddenly lurched back, shouting "Fuck!"
Letting out a shriek of terror, the boy whirled around and ran for the stairs.
On the other side of the screen door, five or six little kids in Halloween costumes were already screaming and running away. Laura started to laugh.
Shannon muttered, "Shit." Then she called out, "Hey, kids! It's okay! I'm sorry! Come on back and we'll give you some candy!"
Laura stood beside Shannon and called, "Don't run off!"
Beyond the lighted porch, she could only see darkness. She still heard the children, though - their shoes smacking the driveway, their costumes clinking and swishing, their bags of candy rustling, their squeals and sobs loud in the night.
From somewhere out there, the voice of a grownup woman called Out, "Shame on you!"
"Sorry!" Shannon called back.
"You oughta be ashamed of yourselves!"
"We are," Laura answered.
"Behaving that way in front of children..."
"I said I'm sorry."
"We're sorry," Laura called out.
"What sort of people are you?"
"Get over it, lady," Shannon yelled, and slammed the door. "Enough of her crap." She turned around. "Now where'd the kid go?"
Laura nodded toward the stairway.
"Hey, kid!" Shannon yelled. "The coast is clear. Come on down!"
He didn't answer.
Shannon met Laura's eyes.
Laura grimaced. "I'll go find him. But maybe you'd better keep an eye on things down here. Make sure nobody tries to get in."
Nodding, Shannon said, "I'll take a look around."
"I'm on the way," Laura called as she began to climb the stairs. "There's nothing to be afraid of. Why don't you come down and tell us what's going on?"
The boy didn't answer.
"We know you're scared. We just want to help you."
He said nothing.
Laura reached the top of the stairs. Just in front of her, the bathroom light was still on. The long hallway was dark except for light spilling out from the doorway of Shannon's bedroom.
"Come on, kid," Laura called out. "We have to get dressed for a party. Would you please stop hiding?"
"Terrific," she muttered.
She entered the bathroom. The air felt warm and moist. The mirror was still steamy around the edges. The bathmat showed Shannon's wet footprints.
I still have to lake my shower.
This kid's going to screw up everything... but if he's really in trouble...
No sign of him in the bathroom, so Laura returned to the hall. The air felt cool and good. She walked slowly, the tailing along the stairwell on one side, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves on the other, the glow from Shannon's doorway ahead.
"You know," she called, "Shannon's all alone downstairs. If somebody tries to get in, she'll have to handle it by herself. Don't you think we'd better get down there?"
What's he doing? Laura wondered. Is he so scared he just wants to hide?
Maybe that's not it.
Maybe nobody's after him, he just wanted in and now he's got me alone up here. Maybe the whole idea's to lure me away from Shannon and jump me. Take care of us one at a time.
She felt squirmy and cold inside.
Maybe he's waiting up ahead in the darkness... with a knife.
She stopped walking.
"Where are you?" she called.
"I'm not coming any farther."
Should I threaten to call the police?
Threaten, hell - I should do it.
She imagined herself swinging around and running for the top of the stairs... and the kid suddenly racing up behind her and plunging a knife into her back.
Where would he get the knife? she wondered.
Maybe he has one in his pocket. Or maybe it's too big for his pocket - a huge butcher knife or hunting knife. It could've been stuck in his belt, hidden by the hanging tails of his shirt.
This is crazy, she thought. He won't attack me. He's scared out of his wits.
Unless maybe he's a really good actor?
"My name's Laura," she called out. "My friend is Shannon We've got couple of guys coming by pretty won to tike us to a Halloween party. Why don't you come out and we'll go downstairs and wait for them, okay? Shannon needs to get into her costume. So do I. Not into Shannon's costume, into mine."
She listened. She heard noises from the wind outside the house, but nothing from the boy. "Guess you're not amused. Can't say I blame you."
Downstairs, the doorbell rang. And rang again.
"Laura!" Shannon yelled. "I'm in my robe. You wanta come down and get the door?"
"I'm on my way," she called. She walked backward quickly, watching the hallway, saying, "I've gotta go down now."
A dim, muffled voice called, "Don't open the door! They'll get you!"
The bell rang again.
"We'll be right there!" Shannon announced.
"Come downstairs and tell us about it," Laura called to the boy. Then she turned around, hurried to the head of the stairs, and rushed down.
As she descended, the doorbell rang again. "Just a minute!" Shannon said. "Hold your horses!"
"Trick or treat!" proclaimed several cheery, muffled voices from the other side of the door.
"We know, we know!"
Shannon came into sight. She was standing in the foyer, frowning up at Laura, waving her hand in a gesture to hurry. Laura rushed down the final stairs.
"Where's the kid?" Shannon asked.
"You got me. Up there someplace. He wouldn't even come out and..."
The bell interrupted.
Don't open the door! They'll get you!
Laura wailed a moment for Shannon to move out of the way. Then she opened the door. Through the screen, she saw three small kids and a teenage girl - probably an older sister - standing on the porch. The big girl, blonde and pretty, wore a cheerleader costume. The other kids were dressed as a tramp, a clown and a vampire.
"Trick or treat!" the smaller ones yelled... more loudly than necessary.
"Sorry I kept you waiting," Laura said. "Hang on just a second and I'll get the candy." As she stepped over to the table and picked up the basket, she noticed Shannon off to the side, watching her in silence.
She returned to the screen door, unlocked it and pushed it open. Quickly, she looked around. Except for the kids on the porch, she saw nobody.
Dropping miniature Milky Way bars into the bags, she asked, "Been having a good time?"
"Yeah!" the three little ones blurted, pretty much in unison.
The teenaged girl smiled at her. "They're having a great time."
"Glad to hear it. Hey, you haven't seen anything funny tonight, have you?"
"Funny like how?"
"I don't really know. This kid showed up in a panic a few minutes ago, said somebody's after him."
The girl scowled and shook her head. "That's sorta weird."
One of her sweater-clad shoulders hopped up and down. "We haven't run into anything like that."
"Well, that's good. Maybe the kid's just paranoid or something. Be careful, though."
"Oh, we will. Thanks for the warning."
They turned away. Laura watched them descend the stairs. Walking toward the driveway, they left behind the glow of the porch light
Barely able to see them anymore, Laura stepped outside She looked around quickly, then cased the screen door shut. Standing at the front of the porch, she stared into the darkness. Though she could no longer see the kids at all, she listened to their footfalls and voices and the rustling of their bags. She also listened for others... for anyone who might be following them. Or sneaking toward the house.
From off in the distance came sounds of car engines, thudding doors, kids yelling and laughing. The only nearby sounds, however, came from the four recent visitors and the strong wind.
Laura jumped, then whirled around and saw Shannon striding toward her, long legs bare in front of her blowing robe. "Sorry," Shannon said. "The wind got the door."
The wind looked as if it also wanted to get Shannon's robe, but she held on with both hands. "Everything all right out here?" she asked.
"Guess so. I just wanted to make sure nobody went after the kids."
"There'll be a lot more kids tonight," Shannon said.
"For the next hour or so, anyway."
Laura nodded. She and Shannon had been living together in the house for three years. Though it was the last house on the end of a dead-end road, surrounded by wooded hills and so secluded that no other dwellings could be seen at night, it was within an easy walk of a crowded housing development called Beaumont Estates.
On Halloween, children from the development swarmed the whole region, probably not missing a house - but especially not missing this one - one of the best places to visit on a night made for scary fun. Old and creeky and isolated, it looked spooky even to people who didn't know about the cemetery beyond the nearby Woods... and even to people who didn't know the house's grim history But most of the local people knew about both.
Each year since Laura and Shannon had moved in, they'd been visited on Halloween by forty to fifty trick or treaters, mostly small children who arrived between about five o'clock in the afternoon and eight in the evening. After around eight, they rarely had more than a handful of visitors.
"I wish there was some way to stop them from coming up here," Laura said.
"We don't even know what's wrong... except we've got a strange kid running around loose in our house."
"What if someone is after him?"
"Guess it depends on who," Shannon said. "But if anybody dangerous is hanging around, maybe we'd better get back inside."
Nodding, Laura followed her toward the front door. On each side of the doorway sat the jack-o'-lanterns they'd carved the night before. The faces of both pumpkins were dark.
Laura figured the wind must've blown out the candles.
Just as Shannon pulled the screen door open, Laura heard voices an
"I'll take care of them," she said. "Maybe you'd better go ahead and get dressed."
"The kid oughta like that."
"Maybe you can find him."
"I oughta brain you."
"I know, I know."
Laura hurried into the foyer after Shannon, grabbed the candy basket off the table, then took it outside so she could watch the approach of the trick or treaters.
Shannon climbed the stairs quickly. Not bothering to search for the boy, she walked straight down the hallway and entered her bedroom. She left the door wide open.
"Can you hear me, kid?" she asked in a loud voice. She knew she sounded tough and annoyed. Might not be the best approach if the boy was truly terrified, but Laura had already tried the gentle, coaxing approach.
"It'll take me a couple of minutes to get dressed," Shannon announced. "You can use that time to decide whether we're going to be friends or not. If you want to be friends, don't make me come looking for you."
She turned around slowly, scanning her bedroom. No sign of the boy. Nor did he seem to be peering in from the hallway. More than likely, he had concealed himself in one of the other rooms or in a closet somewhere.
She walked toward her bedroom closet. Its door was open, its light on. The kid obviously wasn't hiding inside, so she took off her robe. Standing naked in the doorway, she slipped her robe onto a hanger. Then she turned around.
Still no sign of the kid.
He's missing a good show, Shannon thought.
Or maybe not missing it. Are you looking, kid?
Striding toward the dresser, she watched herself in the mirror.
How's this for a Halloween treat, fella?
"You'd better not be spying on me," she said, unable to keep a teasing lilt out of her voice.
No answer came.
As if he's going to admit it.
She turned around slowly, looking for him but also giving him a good long chance to view her body... if he happened to be watching. When she faced the mirror again, her skin was flushed.