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Dustin hit the sidewalk hard, his plastic vampire teeth popping out of his mouth and skittering across the cement. He could see them come to rest just on the edge of the street lamp’s light, a fanged disembodied smile dribbled with his saliva and a few specks of blood.
He’d kept his head from cracking against the ground by getting his arm in the way, but the wind was knocked out of him and he took sobbing, shuddering gulps of air. He could hear the ugly voices of the teenagers above him, but couldn’t make out their words before the pounding of their sneakers on the sidewalk receded into the dark, taking his hopes for a fun Halloween night with them.
Wincing, Dustin slowly pushed himself up so he was sitting, and crawled over to the cool grass of the nearby lawn, crunching dead leaves as he went. His palms stung, but the scrapes on them weren’t too bad as far as he could tell. The shock and cruelty of the sudden attack hurt even worse, and as he got his back against the lone sycamore in the yard and gingerly licked the skin of his palms, he felt something loose in his mouth and spat a tooth into his hand. Only then did he really start to cry.
Of course no one had seen this happen – the house before him was all dark, and this side of the street was empty, though in the distance he could hear the voices of other kids out trick-or-treating. If Chris had actually bothered to meet him like they’d planned, instead of going and getting a fever, he would have had a friend to back him up. The orange bag that had his candy and the flashlight his mother had given him was nowhere to be seen, probably snatched by his attackers after they had ambushed him.
Dustin sobbed bitterly, knees pulled up to his chest, hating himself for crying. Ten-year-olds weren’t supposed to cry. It made him look stupid, not just because the tears were probably smearing his white face paint. It had taken ages to convince his parents to let him trick-or-treat on his own, proved to them through his chores and homework in the weeks leading up to the 31st that he was responsible enough. He’d even bought all the stuff for his costume, and felt dashing stalking the cool Missouri night as Count Dracula, Lord of the Vampires. What would his mom and dad say when he came home, disheveled and bruised and without any Halloween sweets? If he was even allowed to go out next year at all, it would be with one of them breathing down his neck.
Caught up in his sadness, he barely registered the approaching steps on the grass until a small voice said “Hey Count. You dropped these.”
Looking up, Dustin saw a small witch standing in front of him, a broom held in one hand and his vampire teeth in the other. She looked to be about six or seven, short brown hair poking out from around her pointy purple hat and an earnest look on her face as she held out his teeth.
Dustin blinked at her stupidly. The girl cocked her head to one side like a curious dog. “Don’t you want ‘em back?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Dustin muttered automatically. “Thanks.” He wiped his nose on his cape with one hand as he took the teeth, feeling awkward that this little girl could see him brought so low.
“You’re welcome,” the girl replied. “Are you gonna be OK?”
Dustin’s gut writhed at this, still in turmoil. “No,” he said. He wanted the girl to leave him alone. He still held his missing tooth, and was aware that his mouth tasted like blood. He tried to spit out the side of his mouth, like he’d seen some of the other kids do, but it dripped pathetically down his chin instead.
The witch’s brow furrowed thoughtfully as she seemed to study him. Then she laughed. “It’s fine! I’ll use a magic spell!” She then promptly bopped Dustin on the head with the bristly end of her broom.
“Hey!” Dustin yelled, but the girl just giggled. Tangled a bit in his cape, Dustin stumbled and stood up. “What was that for?”
The girl was all smiles, resting her broom on one shoulder. “Plish plish!” she said. “You’re all better! You’re welcome again, Mr. Count!”
Dustin glowered at the little witch, and for one dark moment felt like pushing her over and taking whatever candy she might have, just to vent – just to make someone else feel as bad as he did. But the thought quickly shamed him, and as his anger cooled he felt tears sliding down his face again. Sniffling, he walked past her and started to escape down the sidewalk.
“Hey! Wait!” the girl called after him. “Don’t you wanna get back at those meanies that stole your candy?”
Dustin stopped, a little surprised. He turned around to stare at the girl. “You saw?”
She nodded. “I was down the street. Those three big kids knocked you down and took your candy, but I can help you get ‘em back.”
Great, so someone had seen, and it was this little crazy girl. “Who are you?” Dustin asked.
“Macy Grant,” the witch replied. Again she looked earnest.
The name sounded familiar to Dustin; he guessed they probably went to the same elementary school. “Where’s your parents, Macy?”
Macy shrugged dismissively. “Plish. I don’t need ‘em. They wanted to come with me, but I sent ‘em home after I met Sal.”
Dustin found this hard to believe, but Macy spoke with a conviction and impressed Dustin, that she actually could have told her parents to let her wander around at night alone, weird as that was. From where she stood looking at him, she had an aura of authority about her, though it could have been the way her profile was thrown into silhouette by the streetlight behind her, making her shadow long and pointy on the ground, like a powerful sorceress.
So Dustin asked “Who’s Sal?”
Now Macy was smiling, and Dustin wasn’t sure he liked the smile. “Sal’s the October Man,” she said brightly. “He can help you. Let me take you to him.”
October Man? Dustin had never heard of anyone like that and assumed it was some sort of nickname of Macy’s. He wasn’t certain he liked the idea of following a little girl to meet a stranger, but as he realized how sincere Macy looked in seemingly every expression, considered that he had nothing else to do but go home and face disappointment, and noticed that his mouth had curiously stopped bleeding…
“Alright,” Dustin said, real tooth clenched in one hand and vampire teeth in the other. “Lead the way.”
Dustin followed behind Macy on a zigzag route through the neighborhood, every so often crossing a road or turning down some lane or another. They passed houses where jack-o’-lanterns grinned fiendishly from porches and through windows, plastic skeletons and ghouls hung from balcony railings, and tombstones were propped on front lawns. Gangs of kids dressed in all manner of costumes paraded by, yet Macy never stopped to join them begging for candy. She skipped along, tapping the handle of her broomstick on the sidewalk, chanting her strange “plish plish” noise in a singsong voice, like some sort of mantra.
Silently, Dustin kept pace, half-aware of the night’s revelry going on around him, replaying the ambush in his mind: how they’d first shouted at him from across the street when he’d turned down Shenandoah Lane to Mr. Narbourn’s house (who always gave out the big candy bars). Two boys and a girl, maybe a grade or two higher than him, dressed in leather jackets and sporting pale makeup and messy hair. The stockier boy was smoking a cigarette, and the stench of it had drifted across to Dustin. “What are you, some sort of gaypire?” the smoker hissed through his own vampire teeth.
The other boy, tall and with long black hair, nudged the girl with his elbow and made her giggle. “Get with the times, homo!” he yelled.
Dustin had done his best to ignore them, simply shrugging them off, but they must have been lying in wait for him on his way back up the street. They’d jumped him from behind a hedge on the corner house’s lawn, one of them stepping on the back of Dustin’s cape while another pushed him over, all the while shrieking and laughing.
Macy’s cry shook Dustin from his thoughts. They had turned yet again, and Dustin saw that they were now on Carolton Road, a sparse area on the edge of the neighborhood. Their side of the street had a few small houses, but the other bordered a dense patch of boggy woodland that was avoided by the local kids. Macy took Dustin by the arm and tugged expectantly, leading him across the street to the sidewalk before the opaque tree line.
They walked parallel to it for a minute or two, Dustin listening apprehensively to the night-sounds coming from the trees – the insect stirrings and tiny rustlings, and the deep croak of bullfrog. There were all kinds of rumors about the woods near Carolton; stupid stories from school about the forest being full of quicksand, or that a crazy man lived there and snatched kids who walked past at night. He thought the other kids were dumb, just making stuff up to scare their friends…But looking at the black, formless expanse of trees beyond the few and far-between pools of fluorescent streetlamp light, Dustin couldn’t help but feel a small twinge of unease shoot along his spine.
“Where are we going?” he asked Macy, his voice squeaking more than he wanted it to.
If Macy noticed, she didn’t react, though she suddenly stopped and sniffed the air, her head tilting this way and that, her hat’s point flopping from side to side as she did. Dustin did the same, smelled wet grass and damp earth and perhaps the faintest whiff of pumpkin smoke. Macy let go of Dustin’s arm and dug into a hidden pocket on her witch’s gown, producing a small flashlight that she flicked on.
“This way,” she said. She turned and trudged down the small hill between the sidewalk and the woods, and Dustin noticed a thin line of well-trodden dirt that marked a trail. He stopped, heart beating a little faster, and watched Macy reach the edge of the woods before turning back to him. “Don’t chicken out, Count! Sal’s really nice, I promise!”
Dustin teetered on the sidewalk’s edge, curiosity the only thing keeping him from leaving the whole creepy scene behind. “Does he…live in the woods?”
“Nope,” replied Macy. “I think he’s from really far away. I only just met him tonight.”
“Here.” She pointed with her broom down the road. “My house is just down there. I saw him when we left at sunset, and he gave me a gift.”
Before Dustin could ask, the streetlight closest to him sputtered and died, leaving him in darkness. Jumping at the sudden change, Dustin found his feet carrying him down to the wilderness edge, where Macy stood like some Halloween buoy at the edge of an unknown sea. “Here,” she said, and handed him the flashlight. She then gently took him by the hand. “Nothing’s gonna happen. I’ll lead, and you light the way. Team work.”
Dustin cast a look over his shoulder, back to the faint orange aurora that was the neighborhood. He didn’t want to go, really; getting his candy back was not worth wandering into a spooky wood and meeting a stranger. But something else stirred in his mind – thoughts of the jeering faces of the teenagers as they’d pushed him down, hurt him, made him miserable – and he felt angry again, even defiant. He pointed the light ahead, and Macy nodded.
The black swallowed them almost immediately as they entered the woods, and if there was any trace of the neighborhood they left behind, it was quickly snuffed by the oppressive trees. Dustin felt the comforting fire in his gut weaken as they went along, his flashlight throwing wild shadows out from bushes, trunks, and gnarled branches they passed. He tried to keep an eye on his feet, out of a sudden fear of possible quicksand, but the trail was dry and a little dusty, almost hidden under a thick carpet of decaying leaves. He had a hundred questions but felt weirdly apprehensive about voicing them here; something about the night felt both foreboding and special, and that to disturb it would be wrong.
Macy, for her part, would often pause for a second to sniff loudly, like she was trying to pick up a scent, and then would march on, her hand never leaving his.
The trail weaved its way through the woods for another minute until they came to a small clearing. The skeletal canopy here was not so thick, and Dustin could see the sky awash with a billion stars. A huge oak stump sat at the middle of the clearing, its top oddly smooth and even, and Macy giggled as she clambered up on it, taking her flashlight back from Dustin and switching it off.
The night rushed in, not as completely black as it had been earlier, but more weighty somehow, more charged and substantial than Dustin had ever felt.
“This is it!” she said. “Sal’s around here somewhere. We just gotta wait for him to show up.” So saying, she held her broom aloft and swayed it in a circle over her head, as if giving a signal. “Sal Win, Sal Win, we wanna see you!”
Sal Win? Dustin pushed the broom back down, suddenly nervous. “Jeez, what are you doing?” He cast an eye toward the woods. “What if the wrong person hears us?”
Macy fixed him with a condescending look. “Are you embarrassed? I’m almost eight, you know!”
“I didn’t know, and what does that matter? I don’t even know who Sal is.”
“I told you,” said Macy patiently, like she was talking to a kindergartener. “He’s the October Man.”
Dustin groaned. “I don’t even know what that means!”
“You’ll see,” replied Macy firmly, staring straight into the dark trees. “He’ll be here soon.” She started spinning the broom above her head again, slowly and rhythmically. “Candlelit Octobers past, may your servant stand steadfast.”
For a minute there was awkward silence, Dustin shifting nervously from foot to foot while Macy kept her gaze on the forest, spinning the broom. The only sounds were the chirping of crickets and the occasional distant hoot of an owl – not even a sound of a passing car or the voice of a trick-or-treater came to break the ambiance. It felt like they were a million miles away from anything. The moon hung overhead like a cold, half-lidded eye, and a light breeze kicked up that shook the vacant limbs of the trees, making them hiss and whisper.
Macy suddenly grabbed Dustin’s arm and pointed toward the undergrowth. “Look! There he is!”
Dustin started and looked, at first discerning nothing. The darkness was like a solid wall, impenetrable and thick. Then he saw a flicker of orange move between the trees, a fluttering light that soon was lost, only to reappear a few seconds later. With a mounting sense of dread Dustin noticed that the light was getting a little closer every time it bobbed out of his sight, each time growing larger as it slid back into view. Suddenly Dustin could see that the light had shape – a flashing pair of eyes in the dark, and a wicked smile.
Dustin wanted to bolt, but Macy still held his arm. “Don’t panic!” she whispered. “It’s just a pumpkin, see? Sal’s just got a pumpkin.”
It was true; on a second look, Dustin could see the classic candlelit shape of the eye and mouth, the pumpkin sneer he’d seen on so many doorsteps. The pumpkin was now coming out of the woods, held under the arm of…someone?
“Plish plish!” cried Macy happily. “Hi, Sal!”
Somehow the shape that emerged from the woods was darker to his eye, even against the inky quality of the trees. It stopped right at the edge of the clearing, a tall shadow that Dustin was sure towered over him. He took a step back, feeling terrified but also mystified by this figure. It remained where it was, and seemed to shift and billow in the breeze – Dustin guessed it was wearing a cape not unlike his.
Macy nudged him. “Don’t be rude,” she whispered. “Introduce yourself!”
Dustin’s mind had locked up, and he was sweating up a storm. Nevertheless, swallowing, he stammered “Are you Sal? The…the October Man?”
The figure made no sound, no motion in reply, but Dustin felt a nod more than he saw it, and thought it was enough. This reassured him more than it should have, and Dustin pulled his cape up to cover the bottom of his face. “I am…Dracula,” he said in his best Bela Lugosi voice, wondering immediately why he’d chosen to do that, or why it felt so right.
Again there was no reply. Macy laughed and tapped her broom on the stump, making a knocking sound. “Oh, he liked that! I can tell!”
She could? Dustin looked between her and the October Man, confused.
Macy gave Sal a surprisingly genteel curtsy. “Sal, the Count here needs your help. Some other vampires stole his candy.”
Hearing Macy say it like that, Dustin felt a fresh bout of embarrassment. His problem seemed stupid in the presence of Sal, who made the bullies seem petty with his presence alone. Sal was a living shadow, a patch of pure October made manifest, a little bit of every All Hallows Eve that had ever been all molded together. Dustin began to worry that there was something wrong with his eyes, if they hadn’t adjusted to the dark yet.
And still the October Man said nothing, did nothing but crinkle and twitch like an autumn leaf yet clinging to its branch, though the breeze had long died away. The candlelight in the pumpkin sputtered rapidly, the face silently laughing.
“Sal wants to know what you want,” said Macy. She too was taller than Dustin from her stump perch, and was staring adamantly at him. “He can give it you, but you have to tell him what you want.”
Dustin thought, and remembered – the harsh words, the laughter, being totally incapable to defend himself. Recalling it all made him sick, the little spark of anger in him flaring, fastening, growing.
“You want to get ‘em back, yeah?” Macy danced anxiously on her stump podium. “Get ‘em good, yeah? Make ‘em pay, those meanies! Shake ‘em up!”
He wanted to get even, that was for sure…but he wanted to do more: he wanted to hurt them back, make them feel weak and helpless like he’d felt. He wanted to ruin their twisted Halloween…no, all their Halloweens from here on in.
“Revenge,” was what Dustin finally whispered.
The October Man seemed to ripple at the word, his jack-o’-lantern the only light in the deep blackness.
Dustin now felt his heart pounding with both fear and anticipation, and knew he wanted it. He glanced over at Macy, who grinned a very witch-like grin and nodded.
“Beget to him,” she said to Sal in a strange voice, “what he is to us. I beseech thee, Sal Win!”
The shadow moved forward.
Heart hammering in his ribcage, torn between dread and desire, Dustin popped his plastic fangs back in his mouth. The October Man grew larger, spread his cloak out, wider and wider around him until Dustin was surrounded by his darkness.
Hunger. Rage. Renewal.
Stalk, creep, smell. Darkness engulfs, darkness hides and protects. Moving through, moving with, flowing with the tendrils of night.
The Dead whisper, their words gossamer: “There! Hear!”
Hissst…Voices. Vile sounds, ugly curses. The Dead guide, pockets of void in the All Hallows air. The Living suspect nothing, deserve nothing.
Observe: the trees are their prison, the undergrowth their barrier. The stench of one is unbearable – smoldering plant, burning paper. His smell keeps him from the others…Move swift, silent.
Closer, closer…Time enough. The light. Put it out. Wrap them in darkness, smother them in shadow.
Trick, or treat?
There. Treats. A feast of thieves! But…No. A Trick instead.
Fear, perfect fear. Exquisite. Light is gone, night is here. Let them catch a glimpse.
Jaws. Claws. Blood. Jaws claws blood jawsclawsblood jawsclawsbloodjawsclawsbloodbloodblood…
The Children of the Night.
What sweet music they make.
Dustin stirred and opened his eyes, feeling groggy. As his vision cleared, he saw he was staring up at the night sky again, though not the patchwork of stars he remembered from the woods. Groaning, he sat up and recognized the low stone wall that surrounded his own front lawn, and realized he’d been lying on the grass.
His stomach lurched painfully before he could take everything in, and he knew he was going to be sick. Panicking, he jumped up and stumbled to his own front door, his cape getting in the way. He felt the bile rising as he pushed it open and careened down the front hall, past the open living room where his mom and dad were looking up from their couch with surprise, and into the bathroom at the far end. He made it just in time.
Dustin was in agony, as anyone would be, until the last heave left him. Shivering and shaking, he looked into the toilet at what he had brought up, and vomited again. He’d eaten too much Halloween candy before, but this…There was something wrong with him, with the bile: it was too thick, too red.
Dustin had flushed the toilet at least three times before he was done, quaking all over and worried he might fire away again, worried that someone might see him. Confused and upset, he practically crawled to the door, trying to think, to remember, to get some sense of what had happened to him.
Macy was standing in the hall talking to his parents. “Nothing to worry about,” she was saying, in a calm and rational tone, as if his parents were younger than her. “Dustin just has a tummy ache, ‘cause he at too much candy. You can go back to whatever you were doing now. Dustin just needs a break.”
Dustin gaped, first at Macy, and then at how his parents reacted: they nodded, shrugged their shoulders, and thanked Macy before returning to the couch to resume watching The Haunting. Smiling sadly, Macy looked at Dustin and waved before skipping back out the open front door and into the night.
Dustin would have followed her if he could – too many questions were knocking around in his skull – but he was feeling weak and disoriented, and maybe a bit scared of Macy too. Even so, he went to the door and peered outside. It was late by now, the street littered with fallen leaves and candy wrappers. His orange bag, which he didn’t remember getting back, was sitting on his front lawn. Macy was already at the far end of the street, and Dustin thought he saw something move near her – a glimpse of a billowing shadow and an orange glow – but it was soon lost from view along with Macy, her “plish plish plish” fading into the evening.
Dustin crawled into bed without shedding his costume, nor receiving a goodnight kiss from his mom. His sleep was restless, nightmarish visions and remembrances flashing across his mind that both repulsed and darkly delighted him. Feelings of both relief and misery washed over him when he awoke, knowing that Halloween was over, and that it would never feel the same again.
The next morning brought little change. Since it was Saturday, no one bothered him about staying in bed, but Dustin felt tired and haggard, and had no appetite. He barely remembered what had happened the night before, barely acknowledged the hushed conversation between his parents at the kitchen table that three local teenagers had gone missing last night, and the police were combing the area for them. But something dawned on Dustin as he stepped into the bathroom to brush his teeth.
Checking the mirror, he ran his tongue over his teeth – hadn’t he lost a tooth the night before? And why was that one tooth now pointier and sharper than he remembered?
Credit To – CrackedMack
The author also produces a podcast called “Midnight Marinara” – if you’re curious, please visit any of the following links:
Midnight Marinara Homepage
Midnight Marinara @ YouTube
Midnight Marinara @ SoundCloud