Growing up, my dad would tell me scary stories, ones he claimed he experienced during his childhood. His stories would both fascinate and terrify me. As I grew older, the stories he would share became less frequent until they eventually came to an end. Maybe because I stopped believing. I had come to the conclusion, that in a fun-twisted way, he was just finding enjoyment by filling my young imagination with haunted visions.
However, after a recent trip home, my mind has been changed. I believe him, and think his childhood stories are more rooted in reality than I would like to admit.
Earlier this month, I returned home from college for a quick weekend visit with the family. I was sitting on the living room couch, and my dad in his cozy recliner. We were flipping channels when we stopped on one of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. That’s when I asked him if he remembered the scary stories he would tell me as a kid. I was expecting a smiled response, but to my surprise, he seemed oddly serious. I chuckled out loud at his reaction, but with a straight face, my dad looked directly at me and said everything he once told me was the truth.
We continued to talk, and he reminded me that his family had moved to a small town in Mississippi when he was about 8 years old. The house across the street was vacant, boarded up, and he would quickly come to discover it was haunted. It was two stories and sat tilted like it could collapse at any moment. His parents would warn him to stay away, but that did not stop his curiosity.
It was not until several years later that the house was demolished, mysteriously leaving behind only the front wooden staircase and a stone covered well on the now eerie open field property. He thought that once the house was gone, things might be normal. He had experienced enough strange encounters, first hand, and also through stories his group of young friends would share amongst each other. But he said it wasn’t just the house, nor the oddities that took place in his neighborhood, but the entire town he grew up in was far from ordinary.
The more I listened to him talk, the more I started to believe again.
I asked him to tell me one of his many Halloween stories. He obliged, asking if I remembered the one about the disappearance of his best friend Jake, an event that still haunts him to this day.
My parents would never let me go out trick or treating alone, even in high school, and I remember this caused me quite some embarrassment with my friends. I joked with him, saying all he did was shelter me from having adolescent Halloween fun!
“You can blame my Apocolocyposis,” he responded.
I had never heard that word before, so I asked him what it meant…sounded like something he made up.
“Google it,” he said. “Believe it or not, there’s a phobia for everything. Even for your most obscure fears.”
My dad continued, saying he just wanted to be a good parent. He was only trying to protect me, to ensure I returned home safe and was in bed by night’s end. He has never forgotten about his friend Jake and the Halloween they spent out in the park, waiting for the O-Lantern Man.
Jake was my dad’s first friend when he moved to the small river town. They met at school, and would spend most of their free time hanging out around the neighborhood. Jake conveniently lived just a couple of streets away.
As they grew older, Jake quickly garnered the reputation of being the “bad boy.” He was always up to trouble and began spending more time in detention than in class. There are some stories my dad would rather not share with me, mostly because he was a bit ashamed of his behavior, but Jake’s antics would occasionally influence his decisions for the worse.
One day, Jake vanished.
He stopped showing up for class freshman year of high school and the rumors circulating around town were that he was sent to boarding school. His house was deserted and soon had a for sale sign out in the front yard.
Roughly a year or so passed, and a lot of my dad’s questions about what had happened to Jake went unanswered…that is until Halloween night when Jake made a sudden reappearance.
My dad had been left home alone as his parents attended an adults-only Halloween party. He promised them he would stay inside the house and hand out candy to the trick or treaters.
Only moments after his parents departed, there was a knock at the door. Expecting a group of kids in costumes, my dad was in shock and disbelief to see Jake standing on the porch. He was chomping down on a piece of candy, dressed in dark clothing with ripped jeans and sported a backwards hat. It had been about year, but my dad said Jake looked exactly the same. Jake wanted nothing to do with answering questions about his whereabouts. Instead, he pushed, teased, and under relentless peer pressure convinced my dad to accept a dare to play a Halloween variation of the game “chicken.” The rules were simple, see who could stay out the latest on Halloween night without running home scared.
Jake was acting very strange that night. The two weren’t speaking much, so to kill some time they ended up strolling around the neighborhood, searching for houses with candy bowls left outside.
Their final stop that Halloween was at the local park a few blocks down. It was located on the darkened outskirts of the neighborhood, tucked away from the houses. My dad and Jake would frequent this spot growing up. It had a little league baseball field and during the summers the two would spend hours playing home run derby and hanging out in the dugout.
My dad remembers it being a brisk October night. As they walked through the park, all he could hear was silence and the sounds of chirping crickets that echoed in the surrounding fields. There were no lights, and other than the glow of the nearly full moon above, the park was an eerie pitch black.
My dad kept wondering how the night would end. He tried thinking up several ways to scare Jake, determined to bring an end to the stupid game of “Halloween Chicken,” but nothing clever came to mind. It was going to take more than jumping out from behind a corner to send Jake running in fear.
The two arrived at the baseball field, only spending a few minutes sitting on the steel dugout bench before Jake stood up and began pacing back and forth. Something visibly had him on edge. My dad continued to press Jake for an explanation, to answer why they were sitting out in the cold, why Jake had come back so suddenly, on Halloween of all nights…
When Jake noticed my dad was wearing a wristwatch, he became obsessed with asking for updates regarding the time.
He first asked around 11:00 pm, followed by the same question almost every five minutes thereafter.
Finally, my dad said enough was enough. Jake was driving him insane.
He grabbed Jake by the shirt collar and pressed him up against the dugout fence. One last time, my dad demanded answers, but Jake remained silent. That’s when my dad finally gave up and decided it was time to go home. To this day, he is still haunted by some of Jake’s final words.
As he took his first step outside the dugout, he heard Jake begin to softly speak.
“Be home by midnight on Halloween night, or the O-Lantern Man will sense your fright.
For all bad souls who are not in bed, O-Lantern Man will snatch your head.
And with your head, he will cast a spell. A Pumpkin you shall be, from now until next Hollow’s Eve.”
“He’s real!” Jake shouted. “He’s not some stupid folk lore-Halloween tale to scare us. The warnings are true. I have seen him with my own two eyes. I swear to god O-Lantern Man is real!”
My dad admits his emotions caught up to him, he was freaked out, by Jake’s odd behavior and his urban legend warning. He did not know what to believe, and it was late. He knew he should be home, not out alone in the park.
Rather than encourage Jake’s bizarre behavior, my dad decided to say goodnight and continued on his way. Jake yelled out, requesting one final update for the time. My dad glanced at his watch, it was midnight, but this time he decided not to answer.
He was only a short way up the gravel path, when Jake let out a horrified gasp. My dad turned around and could see Jake pointing out in the direction of the outfield grass.
“Do you see it?” Jake whispered out loud.
My dad peered out into the surrounding darkness and in the distance could see a faint, flickering light. He stood still, watching, as the mysterious glow moved closer.
Attempting to get Jake’s attention, my dad shouted out several times that it was time to leave. But Jake was stuck in a trance, continuing to mumble the warning out loud…
“Be home by midnight on Halloween night, or the O-Lantern Man will sense your fright…
For all bad souls who are not in bed, O-Lantern Man will snatch your head…”
The light shined brighter, moving closer with each passing second. My dad was frozen in fear, blinded by the orange blaze. It was now just outside the dugout, directly in front of Jake. A loud and high pitched crackling laugh echoed through the park. In a sudden moment of awareness, Jake began to run for his life.
My dad says it was hard to see who or what was hiding behind the light, but he caught a glimpse of what looked like a fire lit jack-o-lantern, carved out with an evil, sinister face.
The two friends ran together side by side as fast as they could, away from the park and back into the neighborhood. My dad, who was quicker than Jake, continued speeding ahead.
As my dad approached the porch of his house, he could hear Jake screaming in the distance. But at the moment, he could only think for his own safety and barreled his way into the house, locking the door behind him. He called out for his parents, but they were still gone, he was alone.
He debated calling the police but before he could make any rational decisions, there was a loud thud at the door.
He could hear Jake screaming for help. My dad raced down the stairs, towards the front door, but the loud cries quickly became a disturbing silence. Nervous to unlock the door, he shouted out several times for Jake to respond, but there was no answer.
Mustering up the courage to slowly crack the door open, my dad peeked outside. He glanced around, and was suddenly shaken by yet another mysterious discovery. On the porch, piled on top the welcome mat was a dark shirt, ripped blue jeans, a pair of empty shoes, and a baseball hat. He recognized them as Jake’s belongings, the same exact items he was wearing that Halloween night, and hidden underneath the clothes was a giant orange pumpkin.
To this day, my dad is still unsure if it was a well thought out prank, or if he and Jake had indeed encountered some kind of evil entity that Halloween. But one thing my dad does know for certain…he never saw Jake again.
I jokingly teased my dad about the O-Lantern Man story and I tried to get him to admit the absurdity of the urban legend, but he held on to his truth. He insisted that the more he thought about it, the more he believed Jake was genuinely scared that night, that something terrible had happened to him, something unexplainable.
I asked him about the pumpkin, the one he found on his porch hidden beneath Jake’s stuff. What happened to it? If he believed the urban legend to be true, did he save the pumpkin thinking it could be…Jake?
My dad said he left everything outside that night, he was so scared, he locked the door and ran straight to his room to hide in his bed. In the morning, his parents asked him what happened to the front porch. They seemed upset, and my dad played dumb, hoping that maybe it was all just a nightmare. His parents told him to go take a look, and he remembers nervously trembling as he approached the door. When he stepped outside, he saw that Jake’s belongings were still there, but scattered across the entryway, and the pumpkin…it had been completely smashed.
Teenage Halloween vandals? Possibly, he thinks. Or if you choose to believe the urban legend, maybe the O-Lantern Man returned to ensure that a bad soul like Jake would never be coming back to celebrate Halloween ever again. Because for Jake, Halloween was never about trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, dressing up in costumes, or watching scary movies. His idea of Halloween fun was giving in to the impulses of mischief, causing trouble, disobeying his parents, and staying out past midnight.
For those who choose to celebrate the Halloween spirit for the wrong and evil reasons, let it be known that there are consequences…the O-Lantern Man will get you.
“Apocolocynposis,” my dad says again. Only this time he tells me what it means.
“It’s the fear of turning into a pumpkin. It’s a real phobia, and because it exists, that means I’m not the only one who has it.”
I must admit, after hearing my dad recount his Halloween tale and telling it to me today with the same truthful seriousness, I can feel my childhood excitement for horror returning. Once my dad was done, I only had one last question for him.
“Can you tell me another scary story?”
Publisher’s Note: This story is followed by a sequel. To read the next chronological installment of this series, please click here.
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