Ultimate Halloween

Halloween had always held a special place in Beto’s heart. In his mind, he’d always idealized and fantasized extensively about the many things that could happen during such a magically charged night. Both he and his best friend an front door neighbor Tato love Halloween so much that they had made stunts and pranks an art form as soon as they had been allowed to go out Trick or Treating on their own.

This year’s was likely going to be the last Halloween they spent together; Beto was four years older than Tato, though still not officially an adult, and he was waiting to hear back about his college applications. If all went well, by this time the following year he’d be off to study abroad. Therefore, it was imperative that they make the most out of this one. They were going to pull all the stops, spare no one, the works!

They had spent two days scouring the neighborhood for dog turds, scooping them up with a little plastic shovel and depositing them in brown paper bags. This was a classic staple, a stalwart of Halloween pranks. They couldn’t, of course, forget about it no matter how basic it was.

They had also made liberal use of one Anarchist’s Cookbook, which had some very interesting home recipes for explosives – nothing too damaging, they decided, as they didn’t want to be terrorists about it, just vandals – and were geared up for a truly memorable night of stunts and wreaking havoc.

It was already 4pm and the day was growing unusually dark even for that time of the year. By the looks of it, twilight would be taking place well before 6pm and dusk would have its reign early.

Beto sat on the front walkway of his family’s house, right below the weeping willow of the front yard, which branches just managed to reach and hang above him. He smelled something in the air that kept making the hair on his nape prickle. There was a message in the wind, a whisper, a rumor, and he didn’t quite know what it was, but it was exhilarating.

It was a promise pregnant with the notion of adventure, of danger. It was like a dream where one is both hunter and prey, where the thrill of the chase is experienced from both vantage points. Complete.

Tato arrived with gear in tow: meters of rope, a bag of practical tools and goodies, and an extra change of clothes. They would need to change twice, at least, if they were going to pull the night off.

They talked about the plan; where they would go and how they would proceed, just running it back for review, to make sure they were on the same page. They were synchronized like pros. It would be a cinch.

Their scheming was interrupted by a veritable eruption of sound caused by a colony of bats so voluminous it blackened the twilit western sky. The contrast of winged things  rendered solid black by their contrast against the fiery background of the setting sun over the mountains painted a picture that pulled hard on the strings of both their hearts. It spoke to them of what was coming in as ominous a tone as any portent ever could.

They stared at the large flock for a few moments until they heard the distant wail of several sirens fast approaching. Their instincts were flaring alarms of their own, and the hairs on their arms felt like they were standing on end. This is going to be crazy, Tato said. Beto agreed with apocalyptic glee. Indeed, it would be!

Tato ran inside Beto’s to get the home-made  explosives and a wooden baseball bat. Beto remained outside, watching dusk fall with gusto and anticipation. Tato returned a few minutes later and they set out on the path of mischief.

They had but traveled two neighborhood blocks when they came upon the first disturbance. It appeared that the undead had risen, wherefrom they could not say, but there was only one thing to do about it: swing away and be generous with the gasoline and fire.

They had always wished for a night like this and so relished the wanton violence and chaos like babes suckling at the mother’s teat. All manner of foul beings and spooks to bandy blows with and feel alive, all sorts of myth to set alight, they both thought as they waded through the useless crowd that fled. They may yet have been children for all intents and purposes, but they knew how to bleed like men. Before the night was through they would both meet a most gruesome end, but what a glorious end at that!

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Work is Work

 

 

“…that the souls of men are demons, and that men become Lares if they are good, Lemures or Larvae if they are bad, and Manes if it is uncertain whether they deserve well or ill… ”

— City of God, Book IX, Chapter 11, Apuleius

 

 

 

 

Serge had spent enough time down in the gutter to know that his number was up. There were no two ways about it; he was gonna bite it and it was going to be awful.

 

 

He’d been assigned a case by the Myskatonic University’s External Survey division. Something about a Lapis Manalis – a gateway to the underworld, so to speak – popping up in a small town just outside of Springfield. He now recalled wondering if there would be an Evergreen Terrace there – unlikely – and chuckling at the thought. The morning had been just peachy; a promising bout of boring with an extra helping of kill yourself tonight, maybe. Oh, how wrong he had been about that particular forecast.

 

 

Fast forward thirteen hours and a few too many wrong turns of conversation and you had Serge in chains, naked, gagged, dehydrated and with a burning case of hemorrhoids the likes of which he’d not experienced since that one time he’d eaten too much Lebanese food. Oh, and the locals just happened to be the hybrid offspring of a chthonic deity bent on world domination through – get this – love. Yeah. That’s right. The ol’ L word baddie. The reason great empires were built and torn down.

 

Serge wasn’t a fan, and much less now that it was the very reason he was there about to meet an untimely death. There was, after all, only so much a man could take of the dreaded chemical on its own. Couple it with actual threats to his physical well-being and, well, you got one dogged aversion to romantic notions.

 

 

Of course, as much as he hated to admit it even to himself, Serge had fallen prey to a woman. Yes, he had swallowed the whole thing, hook and sinker. That very lady was the person responsible for his current predicament.  Oh, he was a fool and he knew it.

 

 

Speak of the devil! There she was, sharp knives and all, and Serge still found her charming. He really did deserve to get offed. He had sold out the world for a sweet smile and the promise of little tender love and care.

 

Here comes the blade! Yup, there it is, on his neck, right on… the slash came, as expected, and he felt his lifeblood deluge out through his neck. Samantha, she’d said her name was. If that could be believed. It took seconds and the noise he made was embarrassing, but it’s not like you get to practice dying, now, is it?

 

A minute later he was a disembodied something, looking at what was the most pathetic thing he had ever seen: his dead, unflatteringly underkept corpse. He had not been kind to himself in life, that was evident.

 

He felt a strange pull, something beckoned him…

 

Ah, there it was, the chthonic deity itself. It was a dark, oddly female shape. Voluptuous, full, and every bit the opposite of what most would consider sexually attractive… and yet she stirred feelings in Serge he didn’t even understand how they could happen without, you know, having an actual body any longer.

 

You are not worthy. Spoke the strange deity. But you are not devoid of value, either.

 

Oh, shit. He was being judged. Weighed. He had the terrible notion that he would not pass muster. As usual. Why should things change just because he was dead?

 

You will remain and help. You will remain and either redeem your soul’s worth, or damn it beyond redemption.

 

This was a far better outlook than Serge had expected. However, he still felt a strange sense of foreboding. Something heavy was just placed upon him.

 

You will remain.

A Burnt Child Dreads the Fire

You must come, O dread Impaler, confound them to your care.
Split them in two partitions, here the fools, the rascals there;
Shove them into two enclosures from the broad daylight enisle ’em,
Then set fire to the prison and the lunatic asylum.

Mihai Eminescu: The Third Letter

 

The house of the Dragon had seen better days. Much better days, truly. It had now fallen into disrepair and Vlad had no one to blame but himself. Wasn’t that always the case, however? Yes. Yes, that was always the case: the onus of it all was on him alone. That burdensome knowledge, that it all started with him…

How long ago was it? How long, exactly, since Mina had left with her Jonathan Harker? Too long. Entirely too long for him to continue dwelling on the pain of her departure, and yet there he was, pining, longing, wallowing in a mire of misery.

He had so much practice at this that he should have already turned self-pity into an art form. Ah, but for all of his talents, this was not one of them! What ever happened to the strapping, bold warrior who’d once brought the Ottoman empire low? Where was the Impaler, the Wallachian Dragon? Gone to soil, it would seem.

For one so old and experienced, he seemed to be none the wiser on matters of the heart. He knew dawn was fast approaching, so the question, once more, was if he would be able to do it. So many times he had stood on the roof of this god forsaken mansion, contemplating the thought of giving himself up to the morning sun and seeing about testing the feud with a divinity silent save for the curse it brought upon him.

It was tempting, certainly. Was he that weary? Perhaps he should seek the company of mortals once more. Yes. That or a flaming death. Both, in tandem, would be a fitting end to his long reign, would they not?

He almost felt a spark of euphoria at the thought of moving among the mortal flock anew, like a reaper on a golden field of barley. Perhaps there would be time to visit his old castle and scare up a storm in there. Make one last, triumphant appearance for old time’s sake. That should get the old dead heart flaring, for once.

He had let himself be beaten too many times already. It was time to fight and give no quarter. The old Vlad was stirring.

Go out with a bang, old Vlad, he told himself. With. A. Bang.

 

News Report: In a shocking turn of events, Bran Castle, in Romania, better known as Dracula’s Castle, has gone up in flames. Firefighters and emergency responders are at the scene trying to put out the conflagration, but reports indicate that the fire may have already caused irreparable damage.

Bran Castle has been a tourist attraction and Romanian national landmark…

Magic This Away

They all seemed so… tasteless, did they not? Just so insipid and vapid and boorish. She had only lived a little over a hundred years, but she remembered her past lives, and she remembered every little detail of them, at that. So much memory was not a good thing, contrary to what most people think; there’s an inescapability to it, a sense of being shackled to it, to the past, where every smell, every bit of sensory stimuli set off a concatenation of events and emotions that could go on in a retro-fed loop indeterminately unless she put a conscious stop to it. Stopping it, after all this time, was no longer an easy task. There was no “off” switch to memory and a mind that had become her own worst enemy.

People don’t realize what a luxury it is to be able to forget, to have memories grow fuzzy and distorted with time until they disappear completely, relegated to some archival corner of the mind, never to be brought to the fore of conscious thought again.

Lilith didn’t realize she was now wading into the scrying pool. How long had she been walking aimlessly, ambling like a fool lorn in an opium dream? Time was a funny thing, especially when you were an old witch on the brink of senility. Or was she already well in the throes of it? Was she now in its arms, being carried aloft to some aerie height where the mind need not be in the present any longer?

The bad thing about magic power was that, no matter how useful it was in the most practical matters, in the end it couldn’t save the mind, and it certainly couldn’t fix a life. It couldn’t change the way things were. It couldn’t change the way other people felt, not really, and it couldn’t alter strings of fate. That was truly tragic, she thought wistfully. How many had gone before her, of those she had loved – still loved, because that, for her, simply doesn’t change – and those who had shared with her some of their lives? It was impossible to tell.

Her bargain with the devil, figuratively speaking, had been struck a very long time ago, in a place the sands had now covered and would likely never give up again. She wondered how many more life cycles she would have to endure, how many more forays into the metempsychosis of demi-mortal existence… how many?

She was so tired. She was so confused. She just wanted to rest.

That Old Monster

The years had been unusually kind, in a way, for him. Much had transpired since his inception in the late 1700’s when, during a particularly powerful thunderstorm, his progenitor and creator had placed him on a stone slab and lifted him up through a complex mechanism to the roof of his palatial abode so that a cobbled-together configuration of human organs and extremities might meet lightning directly and from the miraculous phenomenon of naturally-occurring electricity, spawn a spark of life in the ersatz vessel.

Much, indeed! Since the day after his creation, when he ran into the dark wilderness and had his first interactions with humankind. His first brushes with hate and intolerance. His baptism into violence… He had, thankfully, outgrown and shorn the trappings of such an existence long ago. After his initial ire against his creator, his father for lack of a better term, he learned to educate himself, and soon enough became as proficient a surgeon and scientist as his creator – much better, perhaps. He had then set to perfecting the opus left unfinished by his creator; himself.

The toil through the centuries had yielded a perfect specimen of human beauty and performance. He truly had become Prometheus. What he had never entirely managed, however, was getting a reign on the human emotions he experienced. All the time he had spent as both an outsider and as a master socialite had only served to further befuddle him in his pursuit for understanding the human heart. If it were only as simple as transplanting such an organ, he often thought while sitting alone in his study as he sipped on some fine single-malt scotch. For all his intelligence – which may as well be boundless, judging by his development thus far – and all his capabilities – which were countless –, he still had no clear grasp of the multi-dimensionality of breadth of human emotion. Every time he thought he might finally have a working hypothesis that might yield a proper theory, it crumbled into dust and sand in his very hands.

And what of this elusive, ethereal, abstract construction they called love? It was based on chemicals and electric currents within the brain, a staple of evolution and absolutely necessary throughout human history and prehistory for the preservation and proliferation of the species, and yet so strangely mutated and distorted in the past three hundred years or so. Perhaps even longer… The fact of the matter was that there really wasn’t much documentation of any scientific value on it, at least not in the higher thought area of the phenomenon. There was certainly a lot of data on the basic biochemical processes and bioelectrical interactions, how the neural pathways were altered through the presence of this strange and uniquely human abstract – though he suspected that certain apes and simians were well capable of it, as well.

What little he had been able to conclude was that there was a certain hint at madness, at mental disorder and neurological disease that went hand-in-hand with love. Philosophically, this was not the equal of what self-less love should be. Many religious and philosophical writings had been devoted to the notion of true, selfless love, denouncing any other manifestation of love as untrue. He had spent much time pondering this, in contrast with the depth of his own experience in the human condition, and found that the existence of one did not outright preclude the other. No, it was not exclusive that one would exist while the other could not and vice versa. Sometimes, the existence of the features of the less purely perceived permutations of love only meant that there were peculiarities in the features of the sentimental landscape of the person who was feeling it, while being perfectly capable of experiencing and expressing the more self-less aspect and, at some point reaching the pinnacle. However, this pinnacle was never truly sustained; it was only natural to reach it and loses it and reacquire it. Nothing ever remained the same.

He understood that he would likely outlive humanity as a species, and one day become something else entirely. He comprehended, as well, that he might never be able to understand this subject at all.

Patches

“There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.” – Linus van Pelt, Peanuts

Tending a pumpkin patch during the autumn months wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Well, Murray thought, there wasn’t much to crack at when you got down to brass tacks. He made the best of it by arranging the plumper fruit in ways that might give the local kids a fun time to play around as they often did in the days leading up to Halloween. It was his favorite holiday of the year, hands down. Christmas was fine, but he wasn’t all that fond of the snow, and there really was something dishonest about how much it had been changed and pilfered from its mishmash of pagan folklore origins. Halloween was still close enough to its dark, raw source. The ugly side of things celebrated even by the children, as it was in the olden days.

Murray had spent his life, since coming to the North American continent and settling in the upper Midwest, as a groundskeeper for the Blackwell Estate. The estate was a sprawling property with plenty of patches of different crops dealing mainly with varieties of squash, as well as watermelons (in one of the green houses), and they all had the same general purpose: just to be there and grow.

Murray understood the reasons behind that; they all dated back to the old country, to European folklore and legend. Whether any of that would fly out here where other myths and legends abound. Through the murk of the ages Murray had lived, he still managed to keep a clear vision of what his role was. So, he waited and tended to the vegetable and fruit vessels of the ancient overlords.

It had been so long since he’d seen a proper, full-fledged vampire watermelon…

Murray was putting down mulch around the pumpkins, making sure there wasn’t any rot or the like since these were humid months, after all, when he heard the rustling. At first, he thought it might be local kids rummaging and running amok through the patch, but a careful minute spent in observation proved that to be an erroneous conclusion.

The rustling came from the squash patch, he deduced, and so made his way there slowly, carefully. He made it to the patch and found that there was a clearing where a very large squash must have been. In the little clearing, he found a baby-blue blanket – the kind a child might use as what is colloquially referred to as a security blanket – and a pair of children’s shoes. He wondered at that, trying to puzzle out what it meant, when he heard the peals of a small child’s laughter ring through the air.

He looked toward the horizon and its fire red and indigo blue hues and he saw… what? It couldn’t be, could it? It was. It was the biggest squash he had ever seen, easily a meter in diameter half again as long judging from its size relative to the diminutive child with a red shirt who rode it as it flew around in the air.

Well, I’ll be damned, Murray spoke aloud to himself. I guess they really are back!

The Nursery Rhyme

Willie-why

In the night

Hissing high

Children moan

Brittlebones ring in tones

Crack and break, his delight

 

Willie-why

Gloom and fog

Rain and sleet

Cloud and mud

Through the boughs, apish, goes

He, where old the devil trod

 

Willie-why

Tears are shed

Mothers mourn

Children bled

Harvest swift the supple cries

The salty tears, their little eyes

 

Willie-why

Ever heard

Ne’er light

Seek the word

Looping thoughts in little heads

Coldest fear you’ve ever felt

 

Willie-why

Do you cry?

Willie-why

Do you sneer?

Hollow halls full of falls

Dwarfish polymorph, there, leers

  • “Willie-why” from “Rhymes of Endor”

The trauma ward in St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital had fast become a second home for Jane. Much like it had for its young denizens, the children, though in her case it was work, a far more fortunate arrangement than theirs, of course. Nevertheless, she had come to see the place as her nest in the past three months, and the patients her little siblings. She was their big sister.

She often pulled all-nighters, not because of the pay – that was hardly an incentive – but because most of these children had traumatic injuries and experiences which caused them to suffer from night terrors. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was common in the ward, and Jane herself knew a little bit about what that was like, having had a difficult childhood as an orphan making it in and out of the foster system until she finally turned eighteen. It was easy for her to see all the little ones as family, and her own experiences had made her prone to attach in a rather naïve way to those in need of care as well as any who showed genuine interest in her – thought this latter had become her bane where romantic relationships were concerned. She had basically imprinted on the children of the ward, the Regulars, as the rest of the staff referred to them.

Jane had done her best not to pick any favorites, to spread her love and attention as equally as she could among the Regulars, and had managed it rather well. That was until little Tommy had arrived a week before.

Tommy’s family had met a rather gruesome end. His two sisters and his parents had been murdered in what was being dubbed by the media as the most disturbing domestic case of the century. Apparently, they had been butchered in most devious fashion, the details too horrid to be released even by the death-mongering vultures of the tabloids.

Although the particularities of Tommy’s situation weren’t entirely known to Jane, she had immediately felt something in the quiet, wide-eyed child whose head was entirely too large for his slight frame but somehow was even more endearing for that very asymmetrical defect. At 7 years of age, he should have grown a little more than what his diminutive stature indicated, yet there he was, runt of the litter, perhaps forevermore.

Jane had taken special care to reach out to the little guy, to make him feel safe, because she could only imagine what he must feel after what he had gone through. He had been in the house when his family had been murdered, and had been found hiding in a cupboard. His small size ended up being the very key to his survival in that situation.

Jane had learned that Tommy never spoke at all. She’d been assured by the other nurses, who’d had access to some of his medical case files, that he had been a regular chatterbox before the incident. Now, however, he kept mum about everything. He seemed to rely on the exquisite expressiveness of his sweet blue eyes, those too-large-for-his-head orbs that seemed to convey far more than Jane could ever hope to decipher.

There was the one thing he did say, late at night when he was spooked – which was every single night since he’d arrived. Willie-why, he would whisper under his breath while rocking himself as he sat on his bed, looking out the room’s windows as if expecting something to be there.

Jane hated to admit it, but as she set there, unable to hold Tommy because he didn’t react well to human touch, she had begun to feel observed and, not matter how much she talked herself down from it, she couldn’t shake the sensation.

This sinister feeling of being watched only grew as the days went bay, the nights becoming darker for Jane, somehow. It was as if there had been a filter places before her eyes, tinting the world in a grey murk that would let up no matter how much light was around.

Jane had come in this night with a slight fever. She’d woken up in the afternoon with a high fever and cold sweats, and had taken all the pills she could that would lower the temperature and lessen the symptoms while still allowing her to function. She refused to miss her shift and leave the Regulars in the hands of someone else that wouldn’t give them the attention they deserved.

Such had been her fever-induced fog that she had scarcely noticed how empty the ward had been as she walked in. The little lobby at the ward’s entrance was unmanned, she now realized, a few minutes after she’d sat there trying to focus on her tasks for the long night. It was also eerily quiet, even for the ward. It wasn’t silence, but rather a vacuum-like absence of sound, as if there was a negative pressing in her ears, pressing down on her head, a gravitational force that denied the existence of the aural.

She attributed it to her flu and decided to make her rounds and say hi to the Regulars.  She didn’t have time to dwell on nonsense. As she walked down the halls of the small ward, and made her way from room to room, the absence of sound was alarmingly replaced by the absence of the Regulars and the rest of the nursing staff. Jane’s stoic, calm demeanor was soon taken over by urgent despair and panic. Something had gone terribly wrong.

As her agitation led her to scurry through the halls, futilely peeking into every room in search of the children, she noticed a strange trail of darkness, a murk, a veritable thread that hung in the air in front of her and went on down the hall turning the corner. She was frozen with fear for a moment, then mustered the courage she had drawn from so many times when she found herself in a situation that seemed too dire to survive, and she followed the dark line.

To Jane’s ever-growing horror, the ominous thread led into the nursery play room. The door was slightly ajar but didn’t allow her to look in, so she took a moment to compose herself and pushed it open. What greeted her would never leave her mind. It would never allow her the comfort of peaceful sleep. It would rob her of what little humanity she still possessed and turn her into a shell of a human being, alive but for the hope of dying one day and escaping the things that dwell in the shadows of this world.

Whatever had taken Tommy’s family had come to collect the one who survived, and with the child every other life nearby. The gore that painted the walls of the play room would haunt all who saw it before the crime scene clean-up crew had had their chance to remove the biological matter. The remains were barely recognizable as human, save for the heads of all the children, carefully arranged in a mock play that seemed to hint something coming in the days ahead.

What Jane had seen, aside from the remains, she would never tell a soul. She had seen it, because that wasn’t something that could possibly feel. It couldn’t. How could such a thing exist? She didn’t understand and wouldn’t even try, because, in the years after the incident at the trauma ward, she would drown herself in opiates in pointless effort to escape the horror of even thinking, though she would never know peace until, perhaps, the drawing of her final breath. It couldn’t possibly come soon enough.