Steve watched his mom hastily tossing papers into her work bag. She had that frantic look about her that meant an emergency had occurred at the office and she’d be pulling an all-nighter. His fingers tugged nervously at the faux leather vest of his pirate costume.
“Where are you going?” He asked, already knowing the answer.
“I have to run into the office. Dan called. There’s an uproar in Michigan,” his mom replied, stuffing her laptop into the bag.
“But tonight is Halloween. You said we’d go trick or treating.” She glanced up as a spasm of distress ran across the slack flesh of her face, emphasizing the worry-wrinkles that had taken root in her forehead over a decade ago.
The sound of the front door slamming came to the rescue, saving her from voicing another excuse as to why she wouldn’t be there-again.
“Mom! You home?” Travis called out.
“Yeah! I’m in here!” She glanced to the door and back at Steve, her composure regained. “Travis will take you.”
“What? Not Travis!”
“Travis! I need you to take Steve trick or treating tonight,” she called, but Travis was already rounding into the room.
Travis snorted, glancing at his little brother. “Isn’t he too old?” Travis sneered, giving a kick in Steve’s direction before frowning at him. “What are you supposed to be?”
Steve looked at his pirate costume and touched the mask on top of his head. With a frown of his own he glared at his brother. “A pirate king. You probably wouldn’t understand.”
Travis snorted and turned to the door. “Hurry up, twerp.”
The boys left together as the sun began to set. Steve set the trail towards the first set of houses, his plastic sword in one hand and pumpkin bucket in his other, but as he glanced behind him he noticed Travis setting off in another.
Travis stopped, turning towards Steve in irritation. “Listen Steve, you’re what – ten? You’ve got this. I’m going to go down the street to my buddy Jerald’s, and you can go trick-or-treat til your feet fall off. If you need anything, just call me.”
Salty tears threatened to flood over Steve’s lids as he watched Travis walk away. He was alone on Halloween. He’d never been alone on Halloween. A breeze picked up, running its fingers through the treetops and down Steve’s spine. Steve shivered.
Seeing a few kids down the street, Steve grounded himself. He could do this. He’d just stay close to the groups.
Steve could not find any reason why he should not at least try to enjoy himself. Knowing that the reward for his brevity would be a stockpile of sugary treats, the anxiety of being left on his own began to melt away. Trick-or-treating by himself wouldn’t be so bad; without Mom tagging along there would be no one to stop him from snacking on his haul before it was inspected. And no Travis meant that he could keep all of the candy for himself. No big brother there to overpower him and force him to surrender the best candies.
He spotted another group of kids behind him, and then more as he continued on his way. Soon the street had come to life with groups of children ambling from house to house, collecting the sweetest bounty. Steve worked up his nerve to approach the first house. He thought if he could do this, the rest of the night would be easy. It was always the first one that was a challenge, that first step always held so much weight. Pulling the King Arthur mask down over his face, Steve stepped up onto the porch of the house. There was a moment of hesitation, as he stood in the pale yellow glow of the porch light. Steve closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath. As he exhaled, he reached out and rang the doorbell. “Trick-or-treat” he shouted with enthusiasm.
The door creaked open. Steve was met with a breeze of warm, stale air. A wiry man stepped forward, out of the darkness beyond the door. “Yes, what is it?” The man regarded Steve with a look of annoyance.
“Trick-or-treat” Steve replied, holding out the orange bucket.
“Oh,” the man placed a bony hand on his chest, as if surprised, “is it All Hallows Eve already? The years do seem to pass by so quickly. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Steve remained silent, unsure how to respond.
“No, I don’t suppose you do.” The man took a step forward, crossing the threshold onto the porch.
He was dressed in a black suit that hung from his thin frame as though he were nothing but a wire hanger beneath. The hair on his head was disheveled and black as coal, against his pale skin. Steve took a step back, and considered taking several more. Something about this man set his nerves on edge.
“I apologize. It seems that I’m all out of sweet little snackies.” He bent down level with Steve, reaching out an arm, and placing it on the now terrified child’s shoulder. “But I’ll tell you what, my boy… I’ve got a trick for you that’s sure to be a treat. My name’s Sam H., and tonight you shall experience Halloween as never before.” Sam brushed a skeletal finger against Steve’s quivering cheek. “Off you go now. The nighttime beckons.”
As the moon peaked out from behind another cloud that had dared veil her beauty, the old man’s face caught in the silvery light that fell down seemed to glitter as if his skin were bedazzled with a thousand diamonds; and his eyes glowed bright blue like a pair of giant sapphires.
Steve found himself frozen in place wishing that his brother were there with him. The man smiled, showing ivory white teeth and two long and sharp incisors.
“It’s alright; you have nothing to fear from me. Wander off into the night and enjoy the treats that wait for you, the goodies and pleasures that lay in store.”
Something about the look in the man’s eyes caught him. Steve felt the fears wash away and a strange sense of calm fill him.
The smile on the old man’s face disappeared, and he suddenly stood up right, a metallic creaking breaking the silence as he straightened. The man’s blue eyes shifted away from Steve and Steve turned to leave.
Steve saw a girl probably a year older than his brother standing behind him. She was dressed in a black gown with lace skirts and cuffs. Lace gloves covered her hands, and black make-up decorated her features. Her dark hair was long and straight, and highlighted with streaks of metallic blue.
She was watching the old man, her grey eyes fixed on the doorway behind. She didn’t spare a single glance at Steve.
He heard the sound of the door behind him close, and he turned back to find the old man had returned into the house. But as he turned back towards the girl, Steve was startled to discover the porch now empty. He felt a chill work its way through his back, up his spine and towards his brain. A wind had kicked up suddenly, and a handful of leaves were caught up in the breeze, dancing around where the girl had been; bronze and gold leaves of different shapes and sizes, swirling in a miniature tornado.
Steve looked around him, searching the streets that stretched out in all directions. But there was no sign of her or anyone else. The air was quiet and the world still, the houses that lined the sidewalks empty and dead, as if abandoned. The night felt darker.
He felt sweat pouring down his face, and the air inside the mask growing hotter. He removed the mask slowly, losing sight of the world for a second. And as he pulled the mask off his face, the world was back to its usual self; as if nothing he had seen happened.
Steve retraced his steps, back down the driveway to the sidewalk, leaves crunching under his feet. He looked around, trying to find a familiar or friendly face, but all he saw were masks and no way to tell who was behind them.
He looked back longingly toward where his brother Travis disappeared in search of his friend and thought of going after him, but his brother’s parting words came back to him. Yes. He was ten. Not a baby anymore. He could do it. It was his neighborhood. He’d lived here his whole life. Nothing to be afraid of, he told himself, but the dimming light of the short Fall day betrayed the words of encouragement.
He took a deep breath and with one last look back towards Jerald’s house, Steve walked the opposite way. His unsure steps took him to the next house and a group of kids and their parents.
He was surprised to see that everyone had intricate masks on. Even the adults.
Steve had never seen masks like these before. And didn’t remember so many adults joining in and dressing up for Halloween the previous year either.
Some masks were funny, like one of the moms, her mask was pink and had big red circles on her cheeks and her eyes were huge and they transformed into hearts every time she looked towards her daughter. The girl was little, much smaller than him and he knew he’d never seen her on his school bus, because he had never seen anyone that small riding with him. He always rode on the front of the bus with his classmates, and he got to see everyone as they boarded.
The dad’s mask was scary, contorted in a snarl, with sharp teeth and spit running down the corners. The eyes flashed red when he caught Steve looking at him. Steve looked away fast, kept his gaze low on the ground, and watched his feet instead. This way he could tell when they left.
He walked up to the next door and rang the doorbell. It opened before the sound had stopped, which made him jump back, startled. His eyes still downcast saw a pair of socks first, and as his eyes traveled up he saw it was a thin lady in a navy blue, knee-length skirt, much like the ones his Mom wore all the time. He felt himself relax a bit when he saw that she was holding a purple bucket filled with chocolates. But when his eyes met the woman’s face he almost dropped his own empty bucket.
Her head was huge. As big as the pumpkins decorating her porch. She smiled at him and he could see bits of candy and chocolate stuck between her teeth.
Steve stayed silent and rooted to the spot. The line he was supposed to say forgotten as he looked at the woman in fascination and horror, wondering how such a skinny person could bear the weight of such a huge mask on her head. At least he hoped it was a mask.
“Hi there, honey. Aren’t you supposed to say something to me?” Her voice was high pitched, in that way people talk to babies and puppies, and it reminded him that he was neither. I’m not a baby! I’m ten. I’m not scared, just nervous. I’m alone for the first time. He told himself.
“T-t-trick or treat?”
“That’s better!” She said as she leaned closer to him to drop a handful of candy in his bucket. Her breath smelled of a banquet—garlic, steak, cheese, chocolate, hot dogs, corn, bread— and so much more. It was as if the smell of every food this woman had ever ate was coming out of her at the same time.
Steve looked at the candies in his bucket, and wasn’t sure he wanted to eat them anymore, but he thanked the lady anyway, as his parents had taught him, and walked away still puzzling the odd contrast between the woman’s small body and the huge mask on her huge head.
Steve trekked on, pushing past his fears. But each house brought no form of relief. Each person answering the door was stranger and scarier than the last. And the masks? Why was everyone walking around in plain clothes and those awful masks?
“Halloween is a special night.” He whirled toward the voice behind him. “When you gaze at the world through clouded eyes – it can be deceiving.”
“Sam?” The old man with the glittering skin laid a hand on his shoulder. “Where did you come from?”
“I’ve been with you.” He shifted slightly and the metallic creaking filled the night air.
“But I didn’t see you … why is everyone only wearing masks? Why didn’t I know? I don’t fit in,” Steve whined. “I’m all alone and I’m different.”
Sam gazed about. “Looks like any other Halloween to me.”
“How can you say that? It’s not!”
“I see a princess, a ghost, a pirate … some furry red … yup the same.”
“You’re lying! You’re teasing me!” Steve wasn’t sure why he was so worked up, but Sam’s bony hand on his shoulder wasn’t helping.
“You’re seeing fear. Not truth.”
“You’re following me?” Steve spat. “If you’re a kidnapper, I’m too smart for you.”
Sam chuckled. “Don’t you want to collect more candy? I know a place.”
Steve did want to go someplace better, but he also knew that going with this strange man could be trouble. Then he thought maybe it would teach his mother and his big brother a lesson. Maybe if he was stolen away in the night they would care. Then they would be sorry. They would be so sorry! “Where? A party?”
“A place where they give out candy.” Sam touched his shoulder and in a blink, the neighborhood streets were gone.
“Where are we?” Steve scanned the new room in disappointment. It was plain. No Halloween decorations. Actually, it looked like someone wanted it to appear fancy, but it was nothing but generic furniture like he’d seen in the doctor’s office. Half wood, half papered walls, and stupid fake antique chairs covered with vinyl. Worse, the air was heavily dosed with the scent of cleaning products.
He wanted a real Halloween party, but this was no party. “No one is wearing costumes here either.”
“Not that you can see.”
Someone hollered and Steve whirled to find a woman hanging over the side of a wheel chair. Hair so thin he could see scalp. A man hobbled by with a walker. Too big clothes swallowing a bag of bones. What was this place? How could Sam leave him some place full of – of – zombies? And kids in their masks were lined up to take treats from each one. Shuffling slowly with their masked parents like they were wearing invisible chains. The zombies smiled toothless grins and poked at them.
Steve fumed. Now he was stuck in this place when he could have been having a really good time. If only someone cared … if only someone paid attention.
A woman carrying a cup in her hand came rushing his way.
The woman walked right through him.
“Huh?” Steve spun around in confusion as she continued on.
“No one can see us.” Sam whispered in his ear with a wide, fangy grin.
It took Steve a moment to grab a hold of his fear. He turned to Sam. “We’re ghosts?”
“Sort of.” The old man shrugged.
Now he was really scared. He watched his mother as she paid so much attention to the creatures around her. But she still didn’t see him. Like always.
Steve thought about all of the times she had brushed him off or ignored him in the last year. “Ugh! I hate my mom! She never does anything with me anymore!”
Sam swooped in close and captured Steve’s gaze. “Is that the truth? Do you really hate your mother?”
“Yes!” Steve screamed.
“Tonight is the night for wishes,” Sam replied in his too calm and not so clear way. “Choose wisely.”
“I wish I had a new mom!”
And with that Sam nodded and faded away, leaving Steve in the room alone. The haze faded quickly and he was no longer a ghostly onlooker.
“That’s my Grandson. Come here, child.”
Steve twirled toward the brittle boned finger. The woman’s eyes were sunken. A skeleton draped with a thin layer of blue lined skin.
“You’re not my grandma.” Steve stated, but the woman was saying the same thing to another kid.
“Mom!” He yelled to the woman kneeling beside a drooling zombie. He rushed to her side. “Mom!”
“Take this medicine for me.” She softly asked then turned to address Steve. “Can I help you, young man?”
“Mom? Don’t you know me?”
She smiled sweetly. “Awe, I wish my son was still as young as you. He’s nearly grown now.” She smiled. “He doesn’t need me as much these days.”
“But I need you.”
“You better find your parents, Sweetheart. You could get lost easily in this crowd tonight.”
It really happened. He backed up until he couldn’t move. He’d wished his mother away. He stood against the wall watching this woman he’d known all his life. He’d never known what her job was. He knew she always had to leave and go to the office. She always said she had to work on the floor because there was no one else.
He began to think of all the fun they had when she wasn’t at work. The way they ran around the yard playing football. How she scooped him up in her arms when he ran for a touchdown. He thought about the cookies she made for him on snow days and the way she spent all day decorating his birthday cake and she would never let him see it until it was time. He remembered the way she cheered him up … how she took care of him when he was sick … and he’d wished her away.
He stared at the beings. One reached out and touched him. He stared at her. Her wrinkles melted and he saw a very beautiful young woman. Then she let go and her mask returned.
“Sam!” He screamed. “Sam! Come back!” He ran then, screaming Sam’s name. His legs moved faster than he ever imagined possible. The walls were a gray blur, each blending into the next as he raced by. Occasionally he would see a window out of the corner of his eye and make out an outline of a masked face pressed against the glass. He could have sworn their mouths were moving in laughter, as if the masks were becoming their actual faces.
Tears fell freely, he didn’t care how babyish they made him appear – he just wanted to be home with his mom and his jerk of a big brother. He began to slow from exhaustion, panic squeezing his heart because the exit was nowhere in sight. At least, he mused, he was alone now and not surrounded by masked people.
“You’re new here aren’t ya?” The voice whispered from a dark corner to his right, behind a massive unkempt indoor plant. He started to back away when the person owning the voice popped out and wasn’t wearing a mask. It was a male child, one who looked about his age, if not a bit younger. His clothes were worn and ratty and his face looked like it hadn’t been washed in ages.
“Don’t be scared! I’m not one of ‘em.” Steve began to approach the boy, maybe he would be able to help him get out of this place. As he drew near he noticed something was off. Up close he could see, to his horror, small stitches holding the child’s face to his head and what he thought was dirt was actually dried blood. Steve turned and fled. It followed after him.
“Come back! I need a new mask! This one is too old!” Its voice sounded so innocent despite its words. Sweet like candy. Suddenly hands grabbed him from the side and dragged him inside of a room. He tried to scream but found no sound would come out.
“Honey, I’ve been looking everywhere for you! Hurry put this on. Silly, walking around without a proper face. No son of mine is going to be seen like one of the faceless.” The woman was tall and thin, skin and bones his mom would say. In fact it appeared that her bones would pop out of the shell that was her paper skin. She wore a mask like the rest of them, it was painted white with high black eyebrows made to look like a scowl and the lips were pursed to always appear disappointed. She tsked and turned around, producing another mask from a large bag on her arm.
“Taylor get back here and put on a mask!” She hollered as she strode off, leaving Steve alone. He looked around the room in a panic.
“SAM!?” He called out.
“He’s not here anymore. He granted your wish so now he’s gone,” a voice behind Steve said. He whirled around and standing there was the girl dressed in the black lace.
“You…you can see me? You can see what’s happening to me?” The girl nodded.
“I know exactly what you’re going through right now.”
“Because he did the same thing to me.”
Steve took a step back in shock from the girl. “What happened? Who are you?”
“My name’s Serena. I was trick or treating alone fifteen years ago when I went to Sam’s house and he did the same thing to me that he is doing to you. That’s why I was there tonight, so I could warn you and anyone else that would come to his place. I couldn’t warn you in time. I’m so sorry.”
“Fifteen years? But you look like you’re sixteen, maybe,” Steve responded.
“Yes, after the clock strikes midnight and it becomes November 1st, you’ll be stuck in here forever just like me, only being able to come out on Halloween every year. Once we’re in here, we never age.”
“I’ve got to get out of here! We’ve got to get out of here!” Serena shook her head. Steve knew exactly what she was saying. There was no way out. She’d been trying to get out for fifteen years. No, there has to be a way to get out of here. There has to be. And what about his wish? Was there any way to reverse it and get his mother and brother back?
Steve collapsed to the floor, tears welling in his eyes. He’d been so angry at his mother for abandoning him again that he’d wished her away on whim, without a second thought and had immediately regretted it. What kind of a son does something like that? Not the kind he’d want to have, that’s for sure. Serena sat next to him and put a hand on his shoulder.
“I’m so sorry.” Serena took the glove off of one of her hands, revealing beautifully painted and decorated nails. On the palm of her hand was a mandala, fancifully drawn in what appeared to be common black ink from an everyday pen. Steve took her hand and started carefully tracing over the intricate design with his finger. Serena smiled briefly before taking her hand away to look at the watch on her wrist, the sole reason she’d removed her glove in the first place.
“If you’re going to find a way out of here, you’ve got ten minutes.”
“Ten minutes?” Steve gasped. “What can we do in ten minutes? Except maybe eat one of these lollies.” He held his hands to his face as the pumpkin bag carrying his booty swung limply around his wrist.
“Ten minutes isn’t even enough time to work out what the hell is going on here, I don’t even know where we are, or who you are…or” he looked up to see Serena calmly holding out her painted hand that poked from the ruffles of her sleeve like a china doll arm.
“Come with me Steven” she smiled calmly, the dimples in her freckled cheeks deepening. “I know a place where Sam doesn’t visit, but you have to be very quiet, okay?”
Steve nodded, wiping the snot from his nose onto his sleeve. Serena looked disgusted for a moment but smiled politely as he took her hand and stood up. “You’ll have to put your mask back on though, okay, and do whatever I say…you understand Steven?” Steve nodded. “Good boy” her dimples made her look like one of the cutsie dolls Steve had seen in the toy shop window, ones with the heavy make-up and red glowing cheeks.
He lowered his king Arthur mask over his tear streaked face, and let himself be led away from the stinking confines of the abandoned room by Serena, who was now skipping along scuffing her petite white shoes along the dusty corridor.
They passed several doors along the corridor, Steve wondering what monster each one restrained behind the wooden barriers. Some of the doors were swinging and creaking slightly, but when he tried to peer inside, Serena pulled him on. “NO PEEPING STEVEN! Okay?” Steve peered through the small eye holes in his mask and nodded as her grip tightened around his wrist.
Serena pulled him behind her once more, as he breathed heavily through the mask, trying to keep up. She was quickly skipping away as if they were in a schoolyard playtime break. At one of the corridor junctions she stopped suddenly, turning to Steve with a small finger raised to her mouth. Shhhhhhhhhhh. She pointed. “Don’t wake them!”
She peered around the corner, and then turned to look the other way quickly. “We have to be quick here Steven!” she whispered, and he nodded, “AND NO PEEPING!” She looked stern for a moment, and then beeped the molded nose on the plastic mask with a giggle, “Promise me Steven, don’t look down that corridor okay?”
Steve nodded, “I…I… pinky promise.” he said as he slowly held out his pinky. Serena looked down at his grubby digit before raising her own pinky.
“Pinky promise…right!” She giggled again as their fingers intertwined.
Serena smiled and turned, “Okay let’s go!” she gave him no time, quickly pulling him across the corridor junction. Steve tried not to peep, really, he did, but something told him deep down to look – and he did. It was the briefest of glimpses down the corridor they were crossing, but what he saw in that briefest of moments, terrified him. His legs began to buckle as he stared, but Serena just kept pulling him until they were clear.
“I told you no peeping!” she hissed, her cheeks puffing out as she squeezed his hand tight. But it was too late. He had already seen what he was not meant to see.
“Tr….Travis?” Steve whispered as he stared. Travis’ eyes were coins—glowing red disks that illuminated the dark corner he stood in.
Serena whispered to him. “That’s not Travis – at least not as you know him.”
“W-what do you mean?”
“I mean, this is merely one projection of who Travis could be. Like, a Travis from another place and time or dimension.” A chill ran through Steve’s body at the monster’s intent gaze. “Don’t look him directly in the eye.”
Steve stared at the ground. “I-I have to look.” He ground out.
“I know, that’s the job of the Unmentionables – looking into their eyes is a tug at the soul. Eventually, they’ll drain your very being from you until you’re a mere shell.” Serena took his hand again.
Even though Travis had abandoned him, leaving his brother behind was one of the most difficult things Steve was ever faced with. Sure, it wasn’t actually his brother, but aside from the eerie and glistening eyes, everything about Travis seemed the same –his hair, clothing… Exactly the same, and for the quick second, Steve wanted to run back and save the other-worldly creature. But Serena’s grasp on his hand tightened. She wasn’t going to allow him to look back.
Keep moving forward. Wasn’t that the way with life? Wasn’t the foreboding scenario simply a parallel to his everyday life? What if he did get stuck? Trapped in this new world with all the strangers and their masks? How would it differ from his mom’s demanding work schedule and Travis neglecting to be there for him?
Serena dragged him on through the twisting corridors, but the further they ran, the less they seemed like corridors. The walls became narrower, closing in like old mining tunnels that moaned and creaked. Behind them, the screams of Other-World-Travis rattled like the hack of a smoker’s cough.
“Steve,” he cried, his voice sounding panicked. “No, Steve. Come back! Don’t go down there!”
“Faster!” Serena yelled, dragging him on by the wrist. “Come on, boy, move!”
Steve tried to keep up, but his exhausted legs refused to help him out. Serena hauled his upper body so quickly his feet couldn’t pound fast enough.
“Slow down!” he shouted. Seconds later, he crashed face-down in the mud.
“Steve, wait!” Travis’ voice hollered, but it no longer shuddered through the air like thunder. It sounded faint. So distant. “Come back!” The calls drifted further and further away, until Steve couldn’t hear them anymore.
“We made it,” Serena said, turning to face him. Steve raised his head from the cold ground and Serena hauled him up by the hand.
“That was a close one,” she said.
Steve wrapped his arms around himself, screwing his nose up at a terrible smell that plastered itself inside his nostrils and all over his tongue. The corridors, faceless people, and zombies were gone. No secret rooms lurked around corners. There were no corners. No corridors. No coins-for-eyes Travis.
Steve found himself and Serena buried in a moonlit forest. The trees looked funny, though. They had no leaves. No bark. Wait… they weren’t trees, at all. Steve started creeping backwards, shaking his head. “Serena, where are we?”
Her lips tugged up at the corners. “This is the bone copse,” she said, her eyes sparkling as though veiled by moisture.
Steve shuffled further back, glancing over his shoulder. Nothing but dark shapes surrounded him. The moon brightened and showed the trees that weren’t trees were in fact white – white, fractured, and broken. They were covered in something, too. It looked wet and draped across them in ragged clumps. Steve’s eyes widened, straining in their sockets as he realized the giant bones were coated with shreds of rotting flesh.
He started to breathe faster and stumbled around aimlessly. Lost in his little world of terror, he heard low grumbles ease their way through the dense maze of odious matter around him. Tears collected on the brims of his eyelids. “I want to go home,” he squeaked, trembling and hugging himself. “Serena, please.” He turned to face her again, but his mouth dropped open.
The girl smiled at him, lips parted widely, fangs on display. A reptilian tongue lashed out. Her eyes flickered like a mirror catching the light. She reached towards him.
“No!” Steve leapt away, but caught his foot on a bone shard, yelped, and fell on his butt. He scampered backwards.
“You’re mine now, boy,” Serena snarled, prowling towards him. She grew taller, thinner, and more contorted with every step she took. Her shadow spilled over Steve. Her body twitched and her head darted about on a neck far too long. She lifted her delicate hands, revealing claws in place of painted nails.
“Sam tried to warn you,” she growled, dropping to all fours and crawling so her face lingered inches above Steve’s. “He gave you the gift of clouded eyes, but still you didn’t see. You wished your own mother away and abandoned your brother as he tried to rescue you, and now you’ve followed me to the gateway. Stupid child!”
Steve tried to back away but his back pressed up against a chunk of skeleton that sprouted from the ground. He panted in terror as tears snaked down his cheeks.
Serena’s hot breath touched his skin. “I’ve been trapped here too long,” she said, lifting her claws above him. “Far, far too long.”
Steve crossed his arms over his face. He whimpered pathetically and called out, “Mom!” Serena just laughed.
Steve cried out as rough, scaly hands grabbed his forearms and easily moved them. She is so much stronger than me! He should have known the feeble attempt to hide from this nightmare was useless. She grasped both of his wrists together in one of her too-large hands. He whimpered and turned his head to the side as she hissed near his face, sounding far more reptilian than human.
She pressed a claw against his temple with an indecipherable whisper and his head exploded in pain. He screamed louder than he ever had as an overwhelming weight pushed against his temple, filling his skull behind his ears. His breath gave out from the scream and he sucked in another ragged gasp before he tried to fight Serena off. She firmly held his arms with her scaly, clawed hand and the pressure increased.
His entire head felt full and foreign, and slowly the internal weight sank downwards. As the heaviness filled him, he lost his ability to move. By the time he realized Serena was no longer grabbing his arms, he couldn’t make them move. He couldn’t stand and flee. He was stuck as the mass began pushing outward, filling his entire body.
Steve couldn’t even breathe as heavily as his panic demanded as the mass stopped moving around and seemed to…settle. Suddenly he was thrown back inside his mind, no longer in control. He watched as his body looked around at their surroundings and stood. Serena was nowhere to be seen. With a foreign giggle he jumped into the air once. As his feet settled on the ground, Serena’s voice sounded in his mind.
Ah this is great. The last one was too old. She wasn’t a good fit. I think this suit will do amazingly. Oh and Steven dear, don’t worry. You’ll fade before your mother and brother have a chance to know you’re gone.
Steve tried to speak but, externally, his mouth stayed firmly shut. He watched in horror as she turned and reached up to the nearest bone tree. His hand grasped at the rancid meat hanging there and struggled to tear a chunk from it. With a grunt there came success. He felt himself smile. The idea of vomiting crossed his thoughts as Serena brought the meat to his mouth and bit into it. The smell alone should have made him lose the contents of his stomach.
“Oh this is delicious. It tastes so much better when your taste buds aren’t dead.” She said out loud, with his voice. He pictured his mental-self sitting on a stool like the one at home in the kitchen and suddenly he was. He had no choice but to sit and stare in horror as she ate until he was overfull. “Those transformations always make me so hungry.”
With a rude burp she turned and started walking through the humid bone copse. Steve tried to control his steps, or his voice, or even form any kind of word, but he couldn’t. For a brief moment, the feeling of being trapped made him appear in a cage. He quickly banished that thought and his stool returned.
The trees stopped steaming and smelling of death as she briskly walked down a path. Each step crunched as if it were gravel, but that wasn’t quite the right sound. She tripped at one point and looked down, giving Steve a clear view of the trail beneath them. Bones in fragments, pieces, and whole were packed into the earth under his feet. If he had been in control he would have jumped off of the path quicker than he avoided chores.
A cool breeze blew past him then, and his gaze involuntarily focused on a spot between two trees. The moon was visible between them, as well as a line of houses with their porch lights on. People streamed by, chattering in garbled voices. With a giddy feeling that most certainly did not belong to Steve, he stepped through the trees onto the street.
He wasn’t able to look behind him. He could understand the voices now, but he wasn’t able to focus his hearing. He didn’t know what they were saying. His attention was immediately drawn to a taller form storming over with a set jaw and crossed arms. Summoning every ounce of his being, Steve screamed at his brother for help. He wailed against the walls he felt around his mental self and pleaded to be heard, to be recognized as not himself.
“Where the hell have you been?” Travis demanded as he stopped in front of Steve’s possessed body. Steve tried to tell him, but the words that left his mouth weren’t his own.
“I got lost.” Serena answered with his voice. Travis rolled his eyes and reached down to grab Steve’s upper arm.
“Let’s go home. I’m sick of this. You’re so difficult.”
Serena hung Steve’s head in feigned chagrin and plodded along side his brother as they headed home. After a moment Travis sniffed and rubbed at his nose.
“You smell like shit, Steve.”
“Sorry.” Serena said with a pouty lip, though Steve knew she was smiling mentally. He tried to call out again, but felt himself shoved further into his own mind. Serena’s laughed drifted to him.
You’re going to fade by morning. Stop worrying so much. You won’t feel a thing.”
“…you won’t feel a thing.” The words echoed in his mind. She was right, he didn’t feel anything. He was neither awake nor asleep. His limbs, controlled like a marionette, trudged forward manipulated by mental strings emanating from Serena’s will.
“…stop worrying so much.” How could he do anything but worry. He was walking next to his brother back to his home where Serena would have control. What would Serena compel him to do? Steve thought back to her eating the rancid remnants of flesh from bones of a recent victim. Is that what Serena was doing? Sending him out to gather food?
“…You’re going to fade by morning.” By morning. That was all the time he had to save his family from Serena and break the mental grip she had over him. But how? He felt overwhelmed, he wanted to grab onto Travis like he did when he was a toddler. Travis was always an idol of sorts to him even if he did tease him and dismiss him as he got older. He didn’t care that Travis bailed on him a few hours earlier. This was different. This was grownup stuff, and he felt scared at the responsibility. He didn’t know where to start and he started to cry, inside.
He just wanted to be home, in his room, with is brother teasing him and his mother being too busy for him. Without knowing it, he cringed his eyes closed trying to fight back tears. When he opened his eyes, he startled. The thought he had of home was now before him. It was his room. He was alone. His bed still unmade, his video console still on the floor next to his small TV. The sneakers he had kicked off to put on his pirate boots lay in the middle of his room.
He felt thrilled, like the nightmare was over. Was it over? He went to stand up and realized he couldn’t move. He looked at his hands and willed them to grab his gaming control. He couldn’t’ move. He tried to get up to sit on his bed, his legs remained still.
What a charming little room for a charming little boy. Serena sang to only him.
But he was in his room, after thinking about it. Just like when he thought about the bar stool in the kitchen, he then found himself sitting upon it. Was that it? Was that the key? Would he literally need to will himself out of Serena’s control?
Oh how cute. You think you can get away. This is why I love little kids: they always bring me home, they always have family and they are always so scrumptious.
Steve listened, panic rising in his mind. How was he going to break free from Serena? He understood that he could change the setting he was in by thinking about it, but Serena seemed attached to him mentally. How could he break the psychic bond? If he was connected to Serena through the inner-working of his mind, how could he sever that connection.
“Well, Steven,” Serena purred out loud, “you could always cut your head off.”
Steve hurriedly recalled all the comic books he had ever read and all the movies he had seen; trying to think of something that might help him exorcise Serena from his body. Maybe some holy water to remove her?
“Except I’m not a demon and you can’t control your body to get any,” She snickered.
Maybe I can call out to Sam for help.
“You mean the one who set the trap for you in the first place? That is about as smart as anything else you have done tonight.”
There has to be a way out of this. Obviously you haven’t won before or you wouldn’t need my body. Or have you tried and you have just failed because Sam won’t let you keep my body? He thought desperately.
“Boy I have been around since the first All Hallows Eve, You are not the first child I have taken and you will not be my last. Once the day has ended and I have control of your body, I will use it like I do all the others. However as a special parting gift I will make you watch tonight as I kill your loved ones. Your brother will have an accident going down the steps soon. “
As she speaks, Travis screams in the hallway. Steve’s body stands up and starts to walk out into the hall
“Mommy come quick I think Travis is hurt.” He hears his voice and can do nothing to stop it. “It looks like he fell down the stairs. His neck looks funny too.”
As what can only be fake tears stream down his face he watches in horror as his mother runs towards the sound of his cry and his brothers whimpers. As soon as she arrives she starts screaming in horror at Travis’s body as it lies on the floor in the most unnatural position. His knee, the one he injured playing baseball just last month, has what appears to be bone fragments sticking out of it. His arm is bent wrong, almost backwards. And what is quite possibly the worst part of the scene is his severed tongue lying inches away from his mouth with a jolly rancher still sticking to it in shards.
No sooner does the scream escape from his mother’s mouth then the shiny tip of a pumpkin carving knife enters her throat on one side and leaves the other. Blood gushes from her throat and she collapses
” Now that I have access to all of your thoughts and memories I know where your late father’s gun is located. “ There’s a smile on his unwilling face. “I will take that and sit on the steps waiting for the, hrmm let me find it, you call them ambulances in this day and age how peculiar.” She brushed at a spot of blood on his shirt. “Regardless once the paramedics come I will shoot them both. That’s right boy I am going to use your body to KILL. Once I have gone through and destroyed as many people as I can, I am going to give your body back to you. After all it wouldn’t be much of a treat if you didn’t get it back when I was done.”
Steven curled up in a ball in the corner of his mind and cried, begging her to stop. But his body just walks towards his parent’s room. Serena laughs in his mind.
“I chose so well. It’s obvious you have no friends. Your own brother deserted you. You’re wearing a pirate costume with a King Arthur mask, for god sake.”
Steven continues to whine and whimper in the corner of his mind. He cannot escape her taunting. It’s worse than the bullies at school. At least he could hide in the bathroom. With no physicality, he cannot even cover his ears to muffle the hateful words. They reached the closet and Serena forces his body to climb in behind the stacks of things.
Settled into the closet behind his mother’s clothing, Serena giggles loudly. He’s not sure why she’s brought his body here, but apparently, there will be waiting. The image of his mother’s gushing neck hits him suddenly and he feels the need to vomit.
“Have you ever had a pet, Steven? Cats are not the only creatures that play with their food. Oh, this will be such joy!” Serena cackles. It sounds weird coming from his mouth.
Steve shivers in the dimly lit closet. “Why me? Why my family?”
Laughter bursts from her and she responds, “Your family is simply a lovely fringe benefit. Once I’m you, they have no chance. I chose you, my little sad sack, for your singular nature, for your loneliness. A fatherless boy with no friends, perfect for the taking. You fell so quickly.”
The error alerts Steve to Serena’s fallibility. She doesn’t know that his father is away for contract work until the New Year. She only knows that he’s not there. He drags himself out of his grief and searches for a way to distract himself from thinking about his only living relative.
This is the song that never ends. It just goes on and on and on. Some people started singing it, and I repeated it. This is the song that never ends. Steve sings in his mind as loud as he can while he cogitates on releasing himself from this monster. She may be brawny, but this little loner is smart.
This is the song that never ends. It just goes on and on and on. Some people –
“What is that? Stop that!”
This is the song that never ends. It just goes on and on and on. Some people started singing it, and I repeated it. This is the song that never ends.
“Stop that right now! I can’t think when you sing. That is the most annoying song. I’ll not have any fun killing if you wreck it with that awful singing. Whoever said you could sing? You can’t. You’re terrible. Stop it!” She sounds more murderous now than when she was relaying her scheme to destroy his family.
Steven continues, realizing that he may have found the key.
As Steven sang in his head, over and over the stupid song he had heard once in school, or maybe from Travis —he wasn’t sure where— he felt the grip Serena had on his mind slowly slip. It was not as if she was leaving or abandoning him, she was still very much there, very much gripping onto him, circulating on his blood stream like a parasite you would find in a bad order of sushi.
This is the song that never ends. It just goes on and on and on.
As Serena’s mind grip loosened, if that was the real name of the creature inside of him, he felt a tingle in his fingers. The song was on a loop, his thoughts were blank.
This is the song that never ends.
He didn’t remember where he had heard the song. Did it have an author? Was it just something everybody knew by default? It never ended, it just started, it just repeated. Some people started singing it, and I repeated it.
He came to a realization, a grim one. The song was a key, but it was also the answer. There was no end to this. Even if he managed to expel the creature from inside him, to shove it back to whatever place it had come from, it would only be repeated. By someone else. The creature would wait in darkness, yes, but next year it would find another vessel to impart its mischief, maybe not in this town but in one miles away, but it would find a way to come back, to kill, to feed, until the next October rolled and the flesh from the land of the masks rotted completely..
This is the song that never ends.
His brother was dead and he could see his hands in front of him pushing him down. His mother was gone, his own hands holding the knife that pierced her throat, her blood staining his pirate clothes and splashing his King Arthur’s mask.
This is the song that never ends. It just goes on and on and on. Some people started singing it, and I repeated it. This is the song that never ends.
He could feel his hands again, and the voice inside him was screaming, clawing at his insides, trying to rip apart the flesh of it hosts. As much as Steve was trapped by Serena – or whatever the foul creature’s name was… She was trapped inside him too, no living vessel in the house she could pick as a new suit. They were alone.
He kept singing, pain raging through him as the creature tried to stop him. He could feel his legs, he could move, the roles had been reversed, but for how long? How long could he keep singing? How long could he keep it inside before his father returned or an advertisement on the TV or the growl of his stomach distracted him and the song stopped despite its name? Then what? Then he would be a puppet again, then he would go outside and walk until he found another kid, another victim for Serena to hold on to, and he would be left alone… a boy with a dead brother and a dead mother and a story about a man called Sam and people with masks made of flesh and deadly creatures living in bone forests, and blood on his clothes.
This is the song that never ends. It just goes on and on and on. Some people started singing it, and I repeated it.
He was not going to repeat it. This was grown-up stuff, and he was now the most grown human in the house. He moved in the closet, standing on his toes and then on plastic boxes his mother kept for her winter clothes, until he reached the top shelf, the one that held the shoe box that held his father’s gun. He pulled it down, singing and singing, now his mouth uttering the words too as Serena cried in agony, realizing that she too had no escape, that her song and tale were coming to an end. He had made many mistakes that night, but he had been her mistake.
He had seen his father do this before, and he had seen it in movies and videogames. He took out the metal, he pulled the little safety off, the screaming so painful inside his head, inside his bones, inside his everything that he could barely focus on the song.
This is the song that never ends. It just goes on and on and on. Some people started singing it, and I repeated it.
He tasted metal and then salt from the tears that poured and traveled down his cheeks.
Serena ripped and clawed at his mind, the screaming and cursing getting louder. With a shuddering breath he sang one final verse before tightening his finger.
And then it stopped.