by Teresa Leigh Judd
Ghosts, Goblins and Witches, Oh My is the last of our top 5 in our Halloween Mystery Short Story contest! Check out the rest of the top 5 this week, including the winner, that have already gone up!
Rachel picked up her cup and sipped. “I love this fall weather, don’t you?”
Her friend, Elizabeth, nodded. “It’s just the best. Only one fly in the ointment.”
“Halloween is approaching.” Elizabeth lowered her voice, and hummed the Jaws theme.
“What’s so bad about this Halloween?” Rachel asked.
“Let me count the ways,” Elizabeth laughed. “First, the crucial costume decision. In the case of Mikey, throw a sheet on him and call him a ghost. He doesn’t care. It’s the candy that’s important. But, in the case of Andrea, it’s how fantastic she can look and for James, it’s how authentic his costume from the latest sci-fi flick is. Weeks of drama, I can tell you.”
“I guess I’m lucky. Emma is past the Halloween stage and Mark is more interested in computer games than candy. “
“And that brings us to the other Halloween horror,” Elizabeth said. “The candy! Those kids come back home with enough candy to feed a third world country for a year. Talk about sugar highs!”
Rachel smiled. “I have to admit, I sneak some of it though.”
“Guilty as charged,” Elizabeth agreed. “And I don’t need the extra pounds. Oh, well, it’s only once a year.”
“Are you going out with them? Or is Jim?”
“I’m going. Jim loves to hand out the treats and see everyone’s costumes. What about you?”
“Paul will be home and Mark is old enough to go with his friends. Do you want some company while you’re escorting kids?”
“That would be great. Actually, it’s kind of fun strolling the neighborhood in the dark, with little goblins and
ghosts flitting about.”
“I pretty much have to,” Elizabeth sighed. “The Woman’s League is sponsoring it.”
Rachel nodded. “We were lucky to escape having to provide zombies and bloody bodies. So, you’re right, we should at least make an appearance and help their fund-raiser. I’ll come over to your house. What time are you thinking of going out?”
“Probably around seven.”
“Okay. I’ll be there before then. I think I’ll wear my witch hat.”
“I can’t wait,” Elizabeth said dryly. “But I appreciate the company.”
The doorbell began ringing steadily from six p.m. on, but when Elizabeth opened the door at a quarter of seven, expecting another small goblin, her eyes looked down on stylish black boots below a black cape. Raising her eyes, she beheld a green-faced witch in a tall black hat.
“Rachel,” she said. “You never looked better.”
“Ha, ha. Ready to go?”
“Let me gather my minions. James already left with a bunch of his friends.” She called out, “Mikey, Andrea. Rachel’s here. Let’s go.”
Immediately a small figure in a white sheet and a gangly girl sporting black ears and whiskers appeared at her side, each carrying a large bag imprinted “Trick or Treat”.
The small ghost skipped ahead of them down the sidewalk. “C’mon, Mom. Hurry up.”
“So, what’s the plan?” Rachel asked. “Haunted house or Trick or Treat first?”
“The haunted house is open until ten and you can see the kids are anxious to get their loot. We’ll let them hit all the homes around here before we go through the haunted house. That way, they will be sufficiently worn out and we can go home right after. Between the candy and the zombies, it will probably be a sleepless night for all, anyway.”
An hour and a half later, the four of them approached the haunted house. Eerie music floated through the air. It was pitch dark since the house was set back on a side street behind several businesses. The owners had donated the use of the vacant building for the League fundraiser.
Large pumpkins carved with gruesome smiles and lighted with LED candles lined the steps up to the rickety doorway. Cobwebs brushed their faces and a recorded voice growled “Enter at your own risk!” as each person stepped on the doormat. A green goblin cackled as she took their tickets and gestured towards the entrance hall.
The room immediately to their right featured three horribly disfigured witches circling a large cauldron belching steam.
“Bubble, bubble. Toil and trouble”, they chanted, while one brandished a rubber frog soon to be added to the mix.
As the children peered into the room, a bloody zombie jumped out of the closet at them. When a ghostly figure rose slowly from a coffin in the next room, Rachel turned swiftly away and found herself face to face with an ugly green witch. Taking a step backwards, she discovered she was looking in a mirror. Laughing at herself, she led the way down the hall, dodging a vampire that appeared suddenly out of an alcove. They reached the back of the house just as high-pitched screams began to shatter the air.
When they entered the kitchen, they found the source of the screams. Seated at a small wooden table was a headless man, holding his bloody head under his arm and across from him, a body lying face down on the table, a huge carving knife protruding from his back.
The screams were coming from Hope Stanley, chairman of the event. She was dressed in street clothes and wasn’t acting. She pointed towards the slumped figure.
“It’s Ethan Foster and he’s dead!”
“Oh, my gosh,” Rachel said. She started toward the man at the table, changed direction and went to steady Hope, who looked ready to collapse.
“Come on, kids,” Elizabeth said. “Let’s get out of here.” To Rachel, she said “I’ll call 911.”
“Is he really dead?” Mikey asked, looking at the blood stains beside the body.
“I don’t know, but we’re calling an ambulance,” Elizabeth answered, pushing the two children in front of her out the back door.
“He looked dead to me,” Andrea said, with all the aplomb of a seasoned law enforcement agent.
Television, Elizabeth thought, making a mental note to monitor the kids’ viewing more carefully in the future.
A short while later, the ambulance pulled out of the driveway with the body of Ethan Foster inside. Crime scene investigators had arrived and the inhabitants of the haunted house were gathered in the front room around the large black cauldron, waiting to give their statements. Elizabeth had been allowed to take the children home and had returned with a large black coffee for Rachel.
“Thanks, Elizabeth,” Rachel said, removing her hat and taking the cup. “This is just unbelievable.”
“What have they found out so far?”
“The last people through before us were a young couple with two children. They said there was only the headless man in the kitchen as they left. Apparently Hope went around back just as we were entering the front and found Ethan.”
“Who is he?”
“He did all the special effects. He’s into that kind of thing, takes classes, hoped to get into some type of entertainment business.”
They were interrupted by Sheriff Mason as he entered the room.
“So as suspects, I have three witches, two zombies, a vampire, a goblin and two housewives, one with a green face at that!” he glared at all of them. “Oh, and anyone else in town who felt like wandering in the back door. Give your statements to Officer Barker, here, and you can all go home. We’ll get in touch with you if we need more information.”
“Have you heard anything more?” Elizabeth said with a yawn when Rachel called her the next morning.
“I talked to Hope last night. She said that she didn’t know the young man personally. He had come up to her and volunteered to do the effects for free and she was thrilled to have him. Oh, and apparently we are not suspects. Even the sheriff couldn’t believe we would stab a man in the back while being accompanied by two impressionable children.”
“That’s a relief,” Elizabeth laughed. “I wonder who could have wanted him dead. Seems odd for someone so young.”
“According to Hope, he didn’t have any family here. He was rooming with a couple other guys and going to community college. He brought them with him to help set up. I imagine the police are questioning them. I hope they find out who did it. It certainly put a damper on the fund raiser. A real dead body is a lot different than a bunch of fake ones. No one will want to be involved with a haunted house any time soon. All the volunteers were really shaken up.”
“Wait a minute!” Elizabeth said. “I just remembered something.”
“When we were all in the living room, the detective said his suspects were three witches, two zombies, a vampire and a goblin.”
“Are you sure? You’re not thinking of the two zombies, are you?”
“I know my zombies from my vampires,” Elizabeth protested. “Besides they were dressed differently. One was in a black tuxedo and black cape and turned out to be Hope’s husband. The other one had on a full face mask and a cape with red lining. We passed him at the back of the house, just before we went into the kitchen. Hope’s husband was the one still there in the living room. I remember because he was worried about her and wanted to take her to the hospital, but the police wouldn’t let him leave. The question is who was the other one? I don’t think all the volunteers knew each other and with all that makeup, it could have been anyone. Easy enough to stroll out during the confusion and mingle with all the other costumed people on the street. We’d better tell Sheriff Mason.”
“You call him. I don’t pretend to be a detective.”
“Oh, and I do?” Elizabeth huffed.
“I’m just saying…if the shoe fits.”
“Make fun if you want to. I have helped solve a few cases in the past.”
“Let’s not argue. Call the detective. That’s information he should have. Got to go now. Let me know if you hear anything.” With that Rachel hung up.
Elizabeth looked at the receiver and dialed the now familiar number for the sheriff’s office.
The next day was the regular Women’s League meeting and when Rachel and Elizabeth arrived, they found it was overflowing with people all chattering about the haunted house.
“And, I heard,” the local gossip, Ethel, remarked to the woman next to her, “no one knows who the second vampire was. There was only supposed to be one. I bet it was the murderer. Now, if we only knew why someone would have wanted to kill poor Ethan.” Her voice drifted off.
The pounding of a gavel slowly quieted the room and the minutes were read. The president announced that there was no new information regarding the haunted house and that they would get on with League business.
“Well, that was a waste of time,” Elizabeth said as they left.
“Right. Nothing new at all,” Rachel agreed. “I guess we’ll have to wait until the police check out his friends and acquaintances. Certainly, it was no random act.”
The next day, Rachel picked up the morning newspaper and called Elizabeth.
“You made the paper again,” she said.
“What do you mean?”
“It says based on information provided by a ‘ local resident’,” Rachel reported, “police visited the local costume rental shop and discovered that a vampire outfit similar to the one described was rented to one of the murdered man’s roommates, a guy named Morgan something.”
“Why am I always a ‘local resident’?” Elizabeth whined. “I have a name.”
“Anyway,” Rachel continued, ignoring her, “according to the third roommate, the two had been fighting over the rights to some of the special effects they were working on. It had gotten really ugly and Ethan was refusing to give any credit at all to this Morgan guy. I guess Morgan figured the patents would all be his if Ethan were gone.”
“He sounds awfully dumb. Didn’t he think the police would trace his costume?”
“I guess he thought it wouldn’t be a problem. A lot of people rent costumes for Halloween. He didn’t count on super sleuth, Elizabeth Russell, noticing an extra vampire in the house. What’s one vampire more or less on a dark Halloween night?”
“Super sleuth, really?” Elizabeth picked up on the phrase. “Do you think so? I really do have a knack for this detective stuff, you know.”
“Actually, I think you just read too many mysteries. By the way, I picked a really scary story for the next book club meeting.”
“Does it have vampires in it?”
‘Not that I know of.”
“That’s good. As far as I’m concerned, I’ll just put off any additional Halloween horrors until next year or forever, for that matter. No more haunted houses for me.”
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories, and more Halloween stories all month, in our mystery section.