by Shari Held
This story has never before been published. This is the first of several Halloween short stories that will be going up this month.
Dare he go on alone? His friend Jamie was heading on home, and that meant Roger either had to call it a night or continue trick-or-treating all alone. In the dark. Past the old Jackson place.
No one had lived there in years. And for good reason. Old Man Jackson had killed his entire family in that house. His wife and kids: Becky Sue, Margaret Louise, Jay Thomas, John Martin, and baby Annie Mae. All axed to death. On Halloween. They said the blood ran an inch thick, brain splatter covered the walls, and eyeballs bounced down the stairs, one step at a time. But the worse thing, they said, is you could still hear the screams and moans of the family as they were dying.
“Are you coming back with me?” Jamie asked. “Or are you going to be stupid and go by the old Jackson place?” Jamie got a wicked grin on his face that made him look like the twin of the carved pumpkin on Mrs. Scott’s porch. “I double dare you.”
Roger wavered, but when Jamie started clucking like a chicken, he made up his mind real quick. No one was going to call him a chicken! “I’m going for it. Maybe meet up with some kids on the other side of town. You headed back home to your mommy? Who’s chicken, now?”
Jamie just smiled and started humming “The Hearse Song” as he clumped off towards home.
Roger hated that song. It gave him the creeps. Whenever he heard the gruesome tune, his mind automatically filled in the words. He couldn’t help it. “The worms crawl in. The worms crawl out…”
Jamie hadn’t gone far when he turned and said, “See you tomorrow. Unless the ghosts get you first!” Then he laughed and scampered away, the crisp autumn leaves making sharp, crunching noises beneath his sneakers.
“Hilarious, Jamie,” Roger muttered, still rooted to the spot. Would he have taken the dare if his kid sister, Cindy, had been with them? Probably not. She was home sick, and he’d promised to share his take with her. He didn’t mind. At thirteen, he was more into trick-or-treating as a time to get together with friends. Not so much for the candy. But his booty was pretty thin. Not really enough to share. He’d have to move on. Besides, no way he was going to let Jamie call him a chicken!
The once-white, wood-framed Jackson house loomed ahead on the right. Its windowpanes shattered in slingshot or BB gun target practice by boys long grown by now. Part of the roof had caved in and knocked out one of the walls. If you looked real hard you could just make out the staircase. That’s where they’d found Jay Thomas’s body. His head practically split in half.
Roger shivered. They never found Old Man Jackson. Some say he escaped into the hills of southern Indiana and kept on going until he was clean into the Appalachians where he lives to this day. Others said he’d killed himself once he got sober and saw what he’d done. But there was one thing everyone agreed on. Old Man Jackson returned to the house every year on Halloween. Depending on who was telling the tale, he was either reliving the horror of what he’d done or looking to repeat it and kill anyone who dared to show up.
Roger didn’t believe in ghosts. He’d never seen one, so why would he? Even if they did exist, they were just like puffs of smoke. You could see right through them. Ectoplasm they called it. Ghosts couldn’t kick ass like a vampire or a werewolf. Now, if he stumbled upon a vampire or werewolf in the middle of the night, he’d shit his pants for sure. Duh! But until that happened, he didn’t believe in them, either. That went for angels and demons, too. Seein’ is believin’ was his motto. Like that Descartes dude.
A pair of owls slowly glided by him, hooting to one another. Roger jumped. His Grannie Jones had been part Native American. According to the folklore, owls were bearers of supernatural evil. Sometimes evil medicine men shape-shifted into owls to do their sinful deeds. And hearing one hoot meant someone just died. He didn’t believe that either, but if it were true, at least two people had passed on to the other side tonight.
Roger picked up his pace. Once he hoofed it past the old Jackson house, he’d almost be clear of the rundown, rural section of town that had no sidewalk or lights. That would put him more than halfway to the Williams’ house. Now, they took care of trick-or-treaters first-class. And he knew just how to work them, too.
All he had to do was politely dip his hand into their candy pail and take just one piece. Then he’d plaster the same look on his face he used at home when Mom was slicing the Sunday cake, and he’d ask Mrs. Williams if he could please have a second piece for his sick sister, Cindy. It would work like a charm! Heck, he’d probably end up with half a bag of sugary treats. And the Williams’ usually had miniature Snickers bars, too. His favorite.
He was right across from where the front door of the old Jackson house would have been, if it was still attached, when the clouds moved in and hid the moon – his main source of light. “Darn! Of all the times for cloud cover.” He dug his Nokia out of his pocket and turned on the flashlight app.
“Hey, mister,” said a tiny wisp of a voice right behind him.
Roger nearly shit his pants for real this time – and almost dropped his phone. He gulped and turned it toward the sound. In its weak beam, he saw a small shape with a blanket wrapped around its head and shoulders. It was shivering.
“Who are you?” Roger asked.
“I’m Andras,” the voice said, getting stronger now.
“Well, Andrea,” Roger said, “what are you doing out here all alone in the middle of nowhere?”
“Not Andrea. Andras!”
“What kind of name is that? I never heard of any Andras, and I ‘spect I know just about everyone in town. Are you visiting?”
The little girl, at least Roger thought it was a little girl, nodded her head. “Can you help us?”
“Us? Who else is with you? What do you need?” Roger asked.
“It’s my big sister. She twisted her ankle and can’t walk. Can you help us, please? It’s so scary out here.” The little girl’s voice ended on a sob.
“Over there.” The little girl pointed her hand toward the old Jackson house.
“What? She’s there?”
Andras nodded. “Her ankle’s swollen, and she can’t walk back to the road. You’re the only person I’ve seen. And it’s getting late.”
The little girl shivered again. Roger could swear he caught a glimpse of glittering gold eyes peering out from underneath her hood. He didn’t want to walk down the driveway to the old house. But there wouldn’t be much traffic down this way the rest of the night. And if the Hall brothers happened by in their pickup truck and saw the little girl, well, he’d overheard the old geezers in Carmichael’s garage when they didn’t think he was around. What they speculated the Hall brothers did with their little sisters and young cousins wasn’t pretty.
Roger breathed from the depths of his belly, his breath catching as he exhaled. “Let’s go, then.” God, I wish I’d gone back with Jamie.
He reached out to Andras and grabbed her hand. It was ice cold. But she pulled away when he tried to warm it in his. Whatever. Strange little kid. He couldn’t believe someone let the girls out on this side of town. Especially when they were only visiting and didn’t know anyone.
“It’s just ahead. Let’s go.” In her haste, the little girl practically flew.
The old gravel driveway leading up to the old Jackson house was close to a quarter mile, and it hadn’t been maintained for many years.
“Hey, be careful!” Roger cried. “You don’t have any light. There might be potholes. You could twist your ankle just like your sister.”
“Oh. Right.” She slowed down until he caught up with her.
“So where are your parents? Where are you from?” Roger had to pick his way carefully among the large rocks. They were sharp against the plastic soles of his Keds. He stopped and flashed the light ahead.
He reached the porch and shined his phone flashlight over it. No one was there.
“Hello. Anybody there?” Roger called. “What’s her name?”
“Rebecca, I’ve got Andras here with me. We’re here to help you. Don’t be afraid.” Dead quiet. Then the silence was pierced by the hooting of owls.
There must have been five or six of those things flying around. A whole friggin’ parliament of owls! He turned to look at the little girl. But she, too, had disappeared.
What the hey? This had better not be some kind of dumb-ass joke Jamie and the other kids had cooked up.
Just in case it wasn’t a joke, he’d take one more shot at finding the girls. If they didn’t show, well, he’d done his good deed. He could get the hell out of Dodge in good conscience and head into town.
“Andras! Rebecca!” No response. A tree branch overhead cracked making Roger look up. The clouds moved away and once again the full moon came into view, providing brighter light. The staircase in the old Jackson house emerged from the shadows, like he’d been looking at it in binoculars and finally got it in focus. Roger’s imagination kicked in and for a moment he thought he saw Jay Thomas lying there. He shook his head and looked away.
Behind him, twigs snapped, and Roger heard a low growl. His heart began to race.
“If this is your idea of a trick, Jamie, you’re going to have to do better than this!”
Roger turned. His jaw dropped. It wasn’t Jamie. It wasn’t even Old Man Jackson. It was an angel. At least it looked like an angel from its feet to its neck. It had wings and everything. But this “angel” had the head of an owl. And there was a huge sword strapped on its side, like from the Pirates of the Caribbean, only straight, not curved.
The dude might have been wearing castoffs from three separate Halloween costumes. Logically that could make sense. Except for one thing. He was sitting astride a giant, black wolf.
Maybe Mrs. Tate had spiked the hot chocolate at his last stop.
“Well, boy. You just going to stand there and stare? It’s quite rude you know.”
Dang! It was talking to him.
“Who are you?” Roger managed to spit out.
“I’m Andras, the Sower of Discord. You met me earlier. But this is my true form. Every Halloween Wolfbane and I come back and watch a reenactment of my handiwork.” He patted the wolf on its head.
“Wh-what are you?” Roger asked, trying not to toss his cookies. “Are you an angel?”
Andras cocked one eyebrow. “Do I look like an angel to you?”
“Well, you do have angel-like wings.”
“Ah. Right. I used to be an angel. I received my owl face when I became a Fallen Angel. That’s demon to you, boy. As the Sower of Discord, my specialty is killing every member of a household, from babes in arms to tottering, toothless grandparents.”
He pointed toward the house. “This was one of my better jobs. I forced the father to wipe out the mother and five kids in one fell swoop. They never saw it coming. I topped it off by driving the father so crazy with remorse he blew his brains out.”
Andras laughed, a sound so terrible Roger felt like every one of his vertebrae had one-by-one turned to ice cubes.
“That’s the part I like best,” Andras said. “When they come out of the trance and realize what they’ve done.” He laughed again.
Still facing him or “it,” Roger slowly started backing down the driveway.
“Where do you think you’re going, boy?” Andras fluffed his wings and stared at him with his piercing, golden owl eyes.
“I . . . I have to be getting home now,” Roger said.
“So soon? I think not. You’re staying right here. I’m not yet done with you.” His hand slid to his scabbard.
That didn’t sound good. Roger’s knees began to knock uncontrollably.
The demon whistled and six owls landed on the roof of the old home. He pointed his sword in their direction and said a few words in what sounded like gibberish to Roger. Maybe it was Latin. Then each owl glided to the ground and transformed into human form. There was a grown woman, a baby, two little girls and two boys.
The demon pointed his sword at the old Jackson house, and it appeared reconstructed. Just like it would have looked back then. There were Jack-o-Lanterns on the porch and lights in nearly every window.
“Introduce yourselves,” Andras commanded. One by one they called out their names: Mrs. Reba Rae Jackson and baby Annie Mae, Becky Sue, Margaret Louise, Jay Thomas, and John Martin.
“Are they g-ghosts?” Roger asked. Then he wondered why he should think that would be so odd, considering he’d talked with a demon, a Fallen Angel demon, no less, for the last few minutes.
“Yes. I think that’s the human term for it.”
“But they look so real. Why did you bring them back?” Roger wasn’t so sure he wanted to hear this.
“So you can kill them, all over again.” The demon mumbled some more gibberish, and a bright, shiny axe appeared in his hand. “Here, catch!” The demon threw it to Roger who jumped back. It landed on the ground just a few inches from his left Ked.
Roger looked over at the Jackson family. If it were possible for ghosts to get any paler, they had. They looked terrified. This time they knew what was coming.
“No. I won’t do it,” said a tiny voice that Roger didn’t recognize.
“Oh, I think you will, boy. After all, Frederick Jackson did my bidding and he had far more to lose. Now, originally Reba Rae and Annie Mae received the first blows. But if you want to get inventive, that’s okay. Actually, let’s do that. They’ll all go to their places and you’ll take them out however you see fit. It will all be a delicious surprise.” The demon smiled.
The little girls started crying. They all moved in a huddle with the mother and the bigger boy on the outside, trying to protect the others. But they knew it was useless. Roger could see that in their eyes.
“Now, pick up that axe, boy. Or you’ll become my entertainment. I can guar-an-tee that. Ever seen what a body looks like when Wolfbane gets through playing with it?”
“If I do it, you’ll let me go?” Roger asked.
“I let Frederick go, didn’t I?”
Andras looked over at the Jackson family and snapped his fingers. Instantly, their huddle broke apart. “Okay, everyone. Get to your places.”
He nodded to Roger. “You, get going. And make it good. I want lots of blood, and gore, and screaming. Understand?”
Roger considered his two options. Do what the demon wanted and live with what he’d done for the rest of his life – that is, if the demon honored his promise. Or refuse and get ripped to shreds by Wolfbane.
“No,” Roger said. “I won’t do it. Get someone else to do your dirty work.” He stood taller and balled his fists. He was going to die here. He looked at the Jacksons. He hoped he’d only die once. He tried not to think about how sad his mom and little sister would be.
“No? You said no to me, Andras, the Great Marquis of Hell and the sixty-third of the seventy-two spirits of Solomon? Me, the commander of thirty legions of demons who delight in hunting and killing your species for pleasure?”
Thirty legions of demons? Roger wasn’t sure how many that was, and he was pretty sure he didn’t want to know. He just hoped death was quick.
The demon dismounted. “Wolfbane, looks like you’re going to get a little Halloween treat.”
Roger squeezed his eyes shut and waited for death to come. Instead, he heard the sound of hundreds of flapping wings. He looked up and the whole night sky had turned white. Then one glowing figure floated down and landed between him and Andras.
It was an angel. A real angel. No owl head or anything. And it was a kick-ass angel, too. Armed to the teeth. It drew its sword and faced Andras.
“If you know what’s good for you, Andras, you’ll get back to Hell where you belong. And you’ll leave these humans alone.”
Andras looked pissed. “It’s Halloween, the one night each year the veil between the Otherworld and the world of humans can be pierced. I have every right to be here, Anarel. I’m just having some fun with these mortals.”
“Enough is enough. You’ve abused your power. I’ll give you two choices. Leave here and never return. Or face my sword. I put you in Hell before, and I can definitely do it again. What will it be?”
Andras whispered in Wolfbane’s ear. Then he pulled his sword and headed straight toward Anarel.
The clash of their swords was louder than anything Roger had ever heard. He hid behind a tree to watch the awesome spectacle. Both angel and demon were enveloped in light so blindingly bright all he could see was vague forms moving around. He had no idea who was winning. Or what would happen to him when it was all over. Would the bad-ass angel let him live if it won?
The fight continued for what seemed like an eternity but was probably only a few minutes.
Finally, the forms separated, the light dimmed, and Andras threw his sword to the ground.
“Another time and place, Anarel. I promise you things will be different then.” Wolfbane rose in the sky, and they were gone in a flash.
Roger wondered if they were headed in the wrong direction, but what the heck did he know about the whereabouts of the portal to Hell.
The angel turned toward the Jackson family, said some gibberish, and one by one they faded away, smiles on their faces. The house reverted to its deserted, dilapidated condition and was once again blanketed in darkness.
Then the angel turned to Roger.
“I am Anarel,” the angel said. “I protect humans from the evil demon, Andras. If he returns, call upon me and I will come.” Anarel shot straight up into the night sky and his band of angels followed.
Roger didn’t need to pinch himself to know all this had actually happened. He’d witnessed two angel dudes square off against one another and the Jackson family ghosts. But what the heck was he going to tell Jamie? The truth? No way! He wouldn’t believe him. Heck, he wouldn’t believe it either if he hadn’t lived through it. Maybe he’d tell Jamie he saw Old Man Jackson! Now, that, he’d believe!
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