The Last Trick-or-Treater

11 Jun

((Lori is spending Halloween house-sitting the doorbell rings late into the night. . .))

“Eeeya-ha-ha-ha!” Lori cackled, “Here ya go, kiddie.” She poured the last of her candy into a little vampire’s nearly empty pumpkin. “Now run along before I stuff your scrawny little butt into my oven for dinner.” The little boy sampled through her offering, then pouted.
“That’s all? Don’t you have anything else?” Lori shrugged.
“Sorry, kiddo, but I’m all out. I think your entire school has been by already. I just gave you what I was going to eat.”
“Aww,” he said, slumping further, “This isn’t fair. I wanted to go out with everybody else, but my dad wouldn’t come on, and now I’m too late for everything.” He looked like he was about to cry, and Lori couldn’t have that. Surely there was something she could do to resolve this quickly without letting this be the worst Halloween ever. No kid should have one of those on the most fun night of the year. Besides, it was so late, the little scamp and his dad had to be the last ones. The dregs had already come by so long ago that she was sure the festivity had ended already.
“Okay, look,” she rummaged through the pockets of her witch costume, “I’ve got. . .” Crap. All she had was a half-empty pack of gum, her cellphone and a ten dollar bill. She’d bought lunch today and already mentally added the change to her pay for house sitting once the Morgans returned in the morning. If she gave it away now, she wouldn’t have enough for that make-up kit she coveted. But, this was Halloween. And the kid was so, so sad.
“Here you go. It’s all I’ve got,” Lori said as she dropped the ten into the kid’s little pail.
“Oh, boy!” His eyes went wide, shocked as a forty-niner with a pan full of gold, “Wow, thanks lady!” He took off back to his dad who waited at the end of the driveway in a beat up Volkswagon.
“Don’t spend it all at once, kid,” Lori said as he got into the passenger’s seat. She watched as the car pulled off and turned the corner, probably going home since the little vamp probably had all he needed for the night. And congrats to him; at least she could make someone’s holiday special. May he always remember the six or so candy bars or the small toy he got with Lori’s dream money. She teasingly rolled her eyes at herself as she went back inside. She didn’t go back to her book immediately, but instead took five minutes to tape a sign on the door stating she was out of candy. And may that be the last awkward moment of the night.
Lori went back into the living room and plopped down into the thick sofa. The thing was too much cushion for her tastes, but if she spent anymore time in the guest bedroom she was going to start peeling up the yellow wallpaper. She pulled on her headphones and restarted her easy-listen mix on the lowest volume for a little background noise while she read. The one-story home was much larger than her tiny apartment and felt that much emptier. Add that she was house sitting on a holiday, rather than out getting stupid drunk with her friends and you had a late-in-the-year Valentine’s Day. At least the kids were plentiful this year.
Lori read a few more hours, then decided to turn in. She packed away her book and MP3 player into her overnight bag, then showered and fitted out the sofa for sleeping on. As many complaints as she had about the couch, it was much more comfortable than the bed in the guest room. And not as creepy. The last things she did were to set her phone on the charger and plop into her pillow.
She felt the edges of sleep at the corners of her dirt-packed eyes and was losing consciousness when a chill fell across her like the shadow of a cloud passing over on a scorching day. It snatched her back to wakefulness as effectively as ice water. Lori sat up and listened to the quiet night, studying the unfamiliar gray and black shadows contrasting an orange-yellow light coming in from somewhere outside. Something passed a window and Lori froze. It was at the side of the house and moving around towards the front. The chills crawled over her again and she hoped whatever it was would continue on its way.
The door bell rang and Lori shrank from the sudden noise. She reached for her phone to check the time. It was three thirty-three a.m.. The doorbell rang again.
Lori stood from the sofa and tried to decide whether she should answer the door or call the police. This wasn’t her house and no one was supposed to be visiting while the Morgan’s were gone. And what working men made house calls at this hour? The whole thing made her a rabbit in the scent of foxes, she couldn’t tell whether the threat was real or not. Perhaps she was still reeling from her horror novel.
The bell didn’t ring a third time. It was as if the person knew all they needed was to wait for her. She went and peeked through the peephole, half expecting a dark figure in black with one of those old-timey medical bags and shoulders broad enough to bust down solid wood doors. What the . . . ? There was a kid at the door. He stood on the edge of the steps, just within arm’s reach of the door knob. He couldn’t be more than eight by his height, but his head was down so she couldn’t see his face. He looked proportioned in arm, leg and body length; so he was likely all that he seemed. But, despite the odd oldness of his get up, Lori surmised he wasn’t dressed for trick-or-treating. There wasn’t even a bag or pumpkin. And he looked like he was alone out there. Maybe something had happened and he needed help.
Lori shuddered and mentally did everything she could to convince herself that this scene was non-threatening, but something about it was off—and not just the early morning bit, either. Something in the way he stood unnaturally still, his face concealed, and demeanor patiently calm sent up all sorts of red flags. Her body was deep in the fight-or-flight response and she clutched her cellphone so hard that the hand numbed around it. She was on the verge of a panic she couldn’t explain and everything in her screamed not to open the door.
Lori opened the door just enough to poke out her head, with her frame set against it in case she needed to slam it shut in a hurry.
“I don’t,” she said, then cleared her throat, “I don’t have anymore candy. I’m all out.” The kid’s head leaned slightly to the side as if he were studying something important at his feet. “I said I don’t—”
“May I come in for a glass of water?” The child asked. His voice was rough and dry and made Lori feel parched by only the sound.
“Are you alone, kid? Where are your parents?” Lori asked as she surveyed the surrounding area. The street was quiet and empty, the houses still and sleeping. Just this kid was out of place.
His head leaned to the other side. Lori waited for an answer or an explanation but nothing showed. This kid was getting annoying now.
“Look now,” Lori said, “I’m not going to put up with any of your games. Halloween has been over, for hours. If you don’t leave I’m going to call the police.” The kid straightened. That seemed to sink in. A relief washed through Lori like a deep breath.
The kid looked up, meeting her eyes for the first time since she’d opened the door. Lori choked and nearly leaped back from the door. The kid’s face was lit in the sickly orange pervading from the unseen light, but his eyes were deep black holes in his skull. No ounce or inkling of white or colored pupil or even life in them. The kid spoke once more, this time his voice was deep and clear.
“Please let me in, Lori.”
Lori slammed the door shut and locked it in a blink.
“May I come in, Lori?” he asked, his voice louder and deeper with each syllable. If she hadn’t been looking at him, she’d have thought James Earl Jones was at the door. She backed away. Her hands were fisted and trembling at her mouth as her feet moved her of their own volition. Her brain was a hollow cavern echoing emptiness to her numbed limbs.
“Lori . . .” He—it—said and rang the doorbell. The whole house was darker suddenly. The orange-yellow light draining into the oil-dark blackness of the house. The thing-child called to her again and told Lori to open the door. Her voice was gone and her whole body quaked. She shook her head, continued to back away. Were the shadows reaching for her?
A soft hand nudged her in the back and she jumped away screaming. Something fell by her foot and skittered across the floor. She flew away, her arms flapping wildly at invisible attackers while her throat alerted the neighbors. She stumbled over a chair in her haste and fell, hitting the floor hard and feeling nothing. She crawled on hands and knees under the table and wrapped around the one leg it stood on, the straw in her drowning madness.
But no one was there; nothing was after her. Everything was quiet. Even the door.
Lori’s wits momentarily returned and she realized she’d merely bumped into the back of the sofa. That was all. There hadn’t been a hand at her back. And the thing that had skittered by was her cellphone, dropped in her panic and now lying two feet from her on the linoleum. She snatched up the phone and flipped it open. The battery was full and she had all bars. She could call for help!
It took her hours to remember 9-1-1’s number and years to dial it with her quivering digits, but relief was instant at the sound of ringing. She peeped from her hiding place, but didn’t see anything. She didn’t hear anything either, but that didn’t mean the kid was gone. That just meant—
A ring cut short in the phone, and silence followed. Lori waited for the space of two more rings but the joyous sound did not return. Her phone was still on, still charged, still had all bars; even appeared to think it was still calling, but she didn’t hear anything. And then she did.
“May I come in for a glass of water?” The man’s voice echoed in the line. Lori snapped the phone shut and threw it anywhere. It slammed hard into a wall and bounced away. The child-thing started up again.
“May I come in and use your phone?” It asked, sounding like a slowed audio recording. She could almost hear it laughing at her. Lori shook her head.
“No!” She yelled to the door, “Go away!” A full three seconds of silence, and then the door nearly bucked in.
“Open the door, Lori!” The thing yelled back. It beat and clawed at the wooden obstacle. A tremor began under Lori’s feet until the very walls were shaking around her. “Let me in, Lori! Let me in, now!” Dishes clattered in the cabinets, chairs vibrated away from the table, pictures fell off the walls and a vase shattered. Lori’s teeth rattled in her head. The doorbell’s called like bats from hell jouncing against the walls and through the house. And the place had become so dark now that the windows were rectangles cut into black paper.
“LET ME IN, LET ME IN, LET ME IN!” The thing roared over the tumult of the quaking. Lori could hardly hear herself crying as she felt her way from beneath the table. She found a wall and followed it towards where she hoped the guest room was. It had the options of a bed to hide under and a closet big enough for the fetal position. Whichever she reached first would be it.
Lori had the thought to escape out of a window, but every time she neared one she felt that cloud pass over again and she wouldn’t risk it. As if it was somehow following her. Instead, she continued her wobbling, hands-over-knees-over-hands march towards anywhere. She found the bottom-edge of the bedroom’s door and pulled herself up by the doorknob. The voice seemed louder in here than anywhere else in the house and the beating of the door redounded in the walls. This multiplied once the room’s door shut behind her.
“LORI, OPEN THIS DOOR!” She crawled for the closet but came across the bed first. She slid underneath, but found there wasn’t enough room, so she vacated to the closet. Safely inside, she curled up in a corner and pulled her knees up tightly to her face. The whole world suddenly stilled. The house stopped shaking, the cacophany ceased and the thing at the front door hushed. The only sounds left were Lori’s whimpering, panting and sniffles, a caterwauling too loud for the tiny space. She covered her ears and buried her face in her lap. Convinced she was going to be drug from the closet and killed any second, she just let herself go. She cried and cried and cried.
# # #
Lori startled awake. The sound repeated itself and she held her breath to listen. There was movement in the house.
“Lori?” a familiar and completely non-scary voice called, “Lori, are you here?” It was Mr. Morgan. He and his wife must have come back from their trip. Lori’s heart leaped in her chest and clamored for the door—
The girl stopped herself. Relief had swept through her in a rush that was borderlining commonplace since last night. And every time that particular feeling came along, disappointment lashed it to shreds. Lori remained where she sat instead, and quietly played with her hands. The door of the guest room opened.
“Lori, you still here?” Mr. Morgan—assuming that was him—asked. Lori wanted to respond, yet couldn’t. She didn’t imagine she had much of a voice anyway. Her throat was raw from the back of her mouth to the top of her chest. She planted her face back into her knees.
Mr. Morgan entered the room, then exited soon after. He said something to Mrs. Morgan in the hall, to which she’d replied, ‘God, I hope so too.’ Lori sighed and allowed relief to sink in deep this time. The presence of two known voices was proof enough for her that Mr. Morgan was indeed Mr. Morgan. At any rate, she could either wait to be found or come out herself, but she couldn’t set up zip code in the Morgan’s guestroom closet. On top of all the other legitimate reasons, the most pressing was that she’d need to pee soon.
Lori crept from her hiding place and stepped out into the the hall as Mr. and Mrs. Morgan were making their second or so run through the house. It was day, with sunlight pouring in and filling every nook and cranny to dispel whatever dark was still hiding there. However, that wasn’t all. Her cellphone lay shattered in the middle of the floor, a dent in the wall the only other sign of its incident, yet that was all there was of last night. From where she stood she could see the dining table’s chairs were in their proper places and pictures hung as neatly as they had at her first arrival. There wasn’t a stray thread in the house.
“Oh, Lori!” Mrs. Morgan was the first to see her and ran to pull Lori into her arms. “Darling where have you been? After we saw the door, we got so worried. And then we found your cellphone. . . Oh, dearling, you look awful. Have you been crying? Where were you?”
“I was in the closet,” Lori said. She was hoarse and almost inaudible to her own ears. Mrs. Morgan became more concerned. Mr. Morgan frowned too.
“Lori, what happened? Are you alright? Are you hurt?” He asked, giving her a quick once over for any visible blood or injuries. Lori couldn’t answer. She didn’t know. She just hugged and hugged Mrs. Morgan until someone called her parents and had her picked up. A few days later she’d tried to explain what had happened, and about the boy with the black eyes that had wanted to come in. Of course, no one believed her. At least, not all of it. The story sounded too much like one of her horror novels.
As it was, she’d simply been pranked. All of her friends had alibis at the time and were nowhere near the house, so it was probably some random kids making mischief at her expense. Some vandalizing trick-or-treater had gone too far to spook her and had beaten in the door. In her panic she’d dropped her cellphone and couldn’t call anyone, so she ran and hid. Soon after, she drifted off and had a nightmare. That was all and nothing more. The Morgans, as well as Lori’s friends and family, were all just relieved that she hadn’t been broken in on and hurt or killed. A police report was made and the incident was dropped.
Over time, even Lori had begun to believe the new story. It was so much more plausible than the dream she’d cooked up about black-eyed people and Halloween frights. Still, just to be safe, she never spent another Halloween alone if she could help it. Not ever, ever again. And when she couldn’t help it, she camped out in her closet with all the doors locked and the lights on—surrounded by stuffed animals and a pee bucket and all things smiley. She was still a horror reader, but she steered clear of Halloween. One could never be too careful about nightmares on the most horrible night of the year, least they come a knocking to get in.

THE END

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bottledworder

easy reading is damn hard writing

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