Estimated reading time — 16 minutes
I don’t celebrate Halloween. When the trick-or-treaters come out and start prowling my street, I make sure to keep my front porch light off and pull the shades down. If someone rings my doorbell despite all my precautions, I hide in the bedroom and pray that they don’t ring it again. There’s always a fear that maybe it’s not a child in a ninja turtle mask or wearing a sheet over their head.
Maybe, just maybe, it’s Granny Clark.
Granny Clark is the reason I stopped celebrating Halloween. Abigail Clark, known to everyone in Hollisfield as Granny Clark, was the kindest, sweetest old lady in existence. She lived in a little green house at the top of Tamarack Lane, one that bordered a broad expanse of forest. She’d lived there as long as anyone could remember. Someone once told me she was over a hundred years old, and nobody within earshot challenged the claim. I absolutely believed them.
Juniper Street, the street I lived on, just happened to touch that same forest as Granny Clark’s. There was a path that wound through the woods, all the way up the hill to her driveway. Many an afternoon was spent playing in those woods, climbing trees, building forts out of sticks, or running down that winding path from Granny Clark’s driveway to the end of Juniper Street, pretending wolves were biting at my heels.
I always felt somewhat unnerved being around Granny Clark. Maybe it was the way she walked, all hunched over, her arms bent at the elbows like a Tyrannosaurus. Maybe it was her shock white hair that stuck out in all directions. Or maybe it was the way I could see her blood vessels clear as day through her translucent, liver-spotted skin, and the way her fingers seemed unnaturally long and thin.
My mother took me to see her once when I was seven. They were coordinating together on an arts and crafts table at the local fair. I remember that her little green house smelled like lavender and moth balls, and the rooms were lined with photos of children. Some of the photos were in black and white, or faded like they had been taken many years ago.
“Are these all your kids?” I asked Granny Clark.
She smiled and looked around the room. “These are all my lovely babies.”
Afterward, as my mother and I walked down the path to Juniper Street hand in hand, I told her how amazing I thought it was that one person could have so many children. She just laughed at me.
“They aren’t really her kids,” she said. “Ms. Clark doesn’t have any children of her own. Those were photos of other people’s kids.”
“Why does she have photos of other people’s kids?” I asked.
“Because their parents gave them to her.”
“Did you give her my photo?”
I looked up at my mother with concern. “Please don’t.”
She frowned, but said nothing the rest of the walk home.
Five years later, I got permission to go trick-or-treating with my friend Spencer on Halloween. Spencer lived over on Rosemond Ave, a street which connected with a number of others, including Tamarack Lane. The neighborhoods over and around Rosemond were considered the best area for trick-or-treating in town, far superior to the neighborhood down around my neck of the woods. Together, we convinced both our parents that we were old enough to go on our own.
What I didn’t know at the time was that Spencer had other plans.
When my dad dropped me off at Spencer’s doorstep in my pirate costume, complete with eye patch, black marker goatee, and stuffed parrot velcroed to my shoulder, Spencer was already outside, sitting on the front stoop. He was going as either a zombie or an accident victim—I never really asked. His clothes were all torn and covered in stage blood, and he’d used some sort of wax to create open sores on his arms and face. I was genuinely impressed with the amount of work he’d put into making himself look grotesque.
Once my father’s car rolled out of sight, Spencer grabbed me by the arm and hauled me around the side of his house to the garage.
“Listen,” he said. “You have to help me pull something off.”
“It better not be your pants.”
“Ha ha.” He gave me a serious look. “Josh dared me to prank old Granny Clark.”
Josh Gurrey was a kid in our grade who Spencer had a habit of butting heads with. They’d had a rivalry ever since Spencer pinned Josh in under a minute during gym class wrestling. Since then, Josh always tried to make Spencer look weak in front of the other kids our age, and Spencer refused to ignore it whenever he did, probably as a matter of pride.
“Granny Clark?” I didn’t like the idea of doing anything to anyone, let alone an elderly person.
Spencer saw the concern in my eye. “We’re not going to do anything serious.”
“What were you planning?”
“It’s simple,” Spencer smiled. “You distract her by trick-or-treating at the front door. Just keep her talking. I’m going to go in the back—”
“No way!” I hissed, “I’m not going to be an accomplice to breaking and entering!”
“It’s not breaking in. She always leaves her back door unlocked.”
That seemed like an odd thing to know.
“Anyway, I’ll go in the back, sneak upstairs, and toilet paper her entire bedroom.” As if to prove the legitimacy of his plan, Spencer pulled a large roll of bathroom tissue out of his trick-or-treat bag.
“What will that prove to Josh? That you can TP some half-blind old lady’s house?”
“Are you going to help me or not? Because you can always walk home if you want.”
We stared at each other through our makeup effects for a few moments before I sighed and gave in.
“But promise me we’ll do a bit of trick-or-treating too,” I said. “Otherwise my parents will know we were up to something.”
“Of course! I want candy, too. Jeez.”
With that, we set out. Trying not to seem obvious, we meandered around the neighborhood for a half hour, letting the sun set and waiting for most of the other trick-or-treaters to finish going down Tamarack Lane, trying to reduce the chances of someone spotting us. I got some candy to get started on my alibi in case I was questioned later as to my involvement in scaring an old lady to death. My stomach was very unhappy with me and made it known by clenching up like a fist. I was hot in my pirate costume, but my whole body shook with anxiety.
Finally, when the street lights had turned on and all the very small goblins and fairies were carted off back to their homes, Spencer nudged me in the ribs and nodded silently in the direction of the forest. I nodded back and we made a bee-line for Tamarack Lane, trying to make small talk to continue looking inconspicuous. When we got to the end of Tamarack Lane, Spencer threw his arm out, stopping me in my tracks. We both stood, looking at the little green house at the top of the hill.
The front porch light was off.
“Shit!” Spencer hissed.
“Welp, she’s in bed. Abort mission.”
I started to turn when Spencer grabbed my arm.
“Wait, I think I see her moving about in the kitchen.”
There was someone moving around in the kitchen. I couldn’t make out who, just a silhouette pacing around in the back of the house, right near the door Spencer was planning to sneak in through.
Spencer reached into his trick-or-treat bag, fumbling around for a minute before pulling something out and shoving it into my chest.
“Here, take this.”
I took what he handed to me and looked down at it.
“A walkie-talkie? Are you serious?”
“Stick it in your candy bag. Then go ring the doorbell, and if you can’t keep her busy, just reach in and click the button on the front twice. I’ll hear it and bail.”
“Dude, the porch light is off!”
Spencer looked at me, and I saw the desperation in his eyes. He had to prove himself to Josh in this stupid, juvenile, ridiculous way, and if I didn’t help him, he was probably going to do something even dumber. Or worse yet in his mind, go back to school and confess to Josh that he didn’t do it.
I sighed and dropped the walkie-talkie into my bag.
“Just go and get it done quick. Granny Clark gives me the creeps.”
Spencer ducked down low and crept off into the trees and bushes by the side of the road. He was out of my sight in an instant, though I heard him shuffling around, snapping twigs and cursing as he stumbled through the dark.
Once he was gone, I took a deep breath and looked up at the little green house. It seemed bigger and a darker shade of green than it had before, though I knew it was more my mind playing tricks on me than anything real. Through the window, the silhouette of Abigail “Granny” Clark shuffled about in her kitchen, occasionally disappearing out of sight around the corner, only to shuffle past in the opposite direction a moment later.
I ascended the front porch steps, my right hand sliding into the candy bag to feel the walkie-talkie and make sure it was face up for easy access to the emergency button on the front. My pirate makeup was probably starting to run down my face due to the sudden sweat I’d built up on my forehead. The stuffed parrot on my shoulder felt like it was getting heavier. Somewhere, deep inside me, a little voice whispered, I don’t want to be here, over and over again. I felt certain I was going to hurl at any second.
“Time to nut up or shut up,” I whispered to nobody.
I hesitated to push the doorbell button. Trembling in fear, my finger hovered there in front of it for a solid minute. Then the walkie-talkie in my bag squawked once, loudly, and I clutched my chest as my heart lurched.
“Okay, okay,” I snarled quietly at Spencer through gritted teeth, knowing he was sending me a signal.
I rang the doorbell.
The sound of busywork inside the house stopped. I hadn’t really been paying attention to the banging and thumping going on inside, but when silence settled over the house, I became horribly aware of the noises that had been going on as I approached. A sliding sound, followed by another thump, then a louder thump.
Should I ring the bell again? I thought.
Footsteps answered my question. Heavy, slow footsteps coming to the front door. The sound of their approach served to fill my tankard of dread even further. There was a hesitation in them, like Granny Clark wasn’t sure what to do. Or maybe she was waiting to see if I’d leave.
Please don’t make me ring the bell again.
The porch light came on, and I froze. It was like being cast suddenly in a spotlight. There I was for all to see.
Through the small, semi-circular window in the door, I caught a brief glimpse of someone looking out to see who had rung the bell. I couldn’t make out her eyes, just her eyebrows in the darkness. Then the door creaked open, and I was face-to-face with Abigail Clark.
She looked haggard. Her eyes were sunken and hidden in shadow. Her features were even more pale than usual, and her whole face seemed to hang off her skull. She had pulled a shawl over her head, hiding most of her shock white hair. I could only see a few strands hanging down in her face.
I swallowed the lump burning in my parched throat. I could barely squeak out the words, “Trick or treat?”
Granny Clark didn’t say a word. She just stood there, not moving, staring at me with her dark eyes and that sickly-looking face.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of movement behind her, in the kitchen, and knew Spencer had entered the house. I needed to fill the silence or he’d be busted for sure. I coughed loudly, then blinked several times, trying to think of something to say.
“Ms. Clark?” I stammered. “I’m sorry if we—if I woke you.” Oh shit, I said “we.”
“My mother insisted I stop by and say hello while I’m out trick-or-treating tonight, and I almost forgot. I knew she’d be disappointed if I went home and told her I hadn’t p-paid you a visit, so I was hoping that despite your light being off, you’d—”
Granny Clark opened the door further, stepping halfway out onto the porch. As she did so, I noted the heavy brown coat she wore. I also noticed a pair of thick gloves on her hands. She seemed to straighten and turn, reaching behind the doorjamb for what I assumed was a bowl of candy.
“Are y-you having trouble with the heat in your house, Ms. Clark?” I could hear myself, and it sounded like I was going to cry.
Why wasn’t she speaking?
One gloved hand beckoned me closer. Her breathing sounded labored and ragged, every exhalation gurgling like a diver using a snorkel. The expression on her face never changed. There was no sign of the joy or excitement I had seen every time I’d visited her in the past. She seemed like an entirely different woman, and I felt sensations of discomfort and fear battling each other in my gut.
I stepped closer, holding my bag out, when a heavy thump came from the back of the house, followed quickly by a clatter of dishes shattering on the floor. Granny Clark and I both stiffened.
Oh shit, I thought.
Granny Clark turned her head in the direction of the kitchen, where Spencer seemed determined to make as much noise as he possibly could. It sounded like he had started having a seizure back there and was flopping around on the kitchen tiles, slapping everything in sight.
Panic lurched out of the pit of my stomach. It felt like my eyes were going to bulge out of their sockets as I tried to think of anything to say to save the situation. My mind blanked, with the single word “GO” flashing like a neon sign in the center of my brain. Without another word, I turned away to make a hasty retreat.
Granny Clark’s heavily gloved hand clamped down around my wrist. For being over a hundred years old, she had a grip like a lumberjack. She squeezed so tight that my legs turned to gelatin, dropping me to my knees. My goody bag hit the ground with a loud clatter as I grabbed at her hand, crying out in pain.
“Ms. Clark, you’re hurting me!”
Her other hand behind the doorjamb appeared, holding not a bowl but a large box cutter. She extended the blade, looking at me with the same emotionless expression, and pulled me closer to her. The whole moment was so surreal that I just knelt there on the porch as she dragged me toward her, trying to understand what was happening. Why was she holding a box cutter? Where was the candy? What was going on?
It was Spencer who saved me. His voice echoed, at once screaming distantly from the kitchen while also crackling over the airwaves and coming out of the bag at my feet.
Granny Clark turned again in the direction of the kitchen as she caught sight of Spencer dashing past, throwing open the back door and disappearing into the backyard. In so doing, her grip loosened on my wrist ever so slightly, just enough for me to twist my arm and squeeze through her fingers. She turned back to me, grasping at me with her free hand while the one holding the box cutter arched back threateningly.
Even then, kneeling on the porch, watching the kindest old woman in town come at me, the blade of the box cutter glinting from the streetlights, I tried to rationalize the situation. This wasn’t the Granny Clark I knew. I looked up at her, sobbing in panic and trying to find the words to calm her.
“Please!” I scrambled back a foot. “It was just a joke! I’m sorry!”
The left half of Granny Clark’s face seemed to sag like it was melting. Her eye looked funny, droopy. The guttural breathing suddenly sounded more like a snarl, feral and angry. She brought the blade down, and I instinctively raised my hands to protect myself, screaming in pain as I felt its edge slice through the fabric of my costume and open the flesh of my arm.
I did not give her a second chance. My legs that had initially surrendered to gravity now felt the intense burn of adrenaline pumping through them. Tucking into myself, I rolled backward, trying to gain my footing only to end up tumbling down the porch steps instead. White hot pain shot up my left side, and I screamed again, but I refused to pause. I was too driven by blind panic. I got to my feet in a hurry as the old woman on the porch straightened up, towering over me like a giant. She tromped toward the steps with a frightening determination.
Spencer, eyes wide with terror, came around the corner of the house at full tilt. He surveyed the scenario unfolding on the front porch, and a look of confusion washed over him for a second before he grabbed me by the arm and spun me around.
“Make for the woods!” And with that he was off like a shot, sprinting to the end of the driveway where the forest began.
I ran, hot on his heels, my arm and my head both throbbing. Dizziness and nausea swept over me, and I tripped over my feet, colliding with the side of Granny Clark’s car and pausing for the briefest of moments to vomit down the side of it. How had everything gone so wrong?
Before I could collect my thoughts, I heard the heavy thud of boots and, looking back, saw Granny Clark’s hulking form lurching toward me. Silhouetted by street lamps in her heavy coat with the shawl over her head, she looked massive, like a lumbering horror, hell bent on my destruction.
Nobody’s going to believe this. Even I don’t believe it, and I’m seeing it, I thought.
I shook it off and bolted for the treeline. I knew that, if I could just make it to Juniper Street, I’d be safe. The trail was a winding quarter mile, but it was all downhill, and I had enough terror-based energy pumping through my veins to keep me going. I’d run that path for years and knew every gnarled root that might trip me up, every change in the angle of the descent, every curve to avoid a tree in the dark.
Just get home.
The moon was out and it filtered through the branches, making beams in the dust kicked up by Spencer before me. It highlighted the path, and cast the forest in a creepy blue hue. Everything around me seemed to glow. If I hadn’t been running for my life, I might have stopped to take it in.
The adrenaline coursing through me made time slow to a crawl. Every footfall felt like I was slogging through thick mud. I’ve never been as perfectly attuned to my senses as I was sprinting through the forest that Halloween. I could hear everything around me: my breath coming out slow and focused, my heart thumping in my ears, the snapping of branches further down the path as Spencer, less familiar with the way, ran ahead…
…and the heavy clumping of someone coming down the trail behind me.
I turned to look.
I did it, knowing all the stories of people being told not to look back, and all the bad things that happened to them when they did. I did it, not wanting to really see what it was, because I knew. I did it, and all my hopes of making it home disappeared in a flurry of wings like a flock of startled pigeons.
Granny Clark was right behind me, thundering down the trail like a rampaging elephant. She was a good twenty paces back, but I could see her perfectly in every sliver of moonlight we both ran through. The most frightening thing about her was the look on her face. It wasn’t one of anger, or even of determination. In fact, there was no expression whatsoever. Her eyes were dead. Her mouth seemed to hang open. The left half of her face still sloughed down like melting candle wax.
And then the wind whipped her shawl off, and her face went with it.
It just slid off as easily as a Halloween mask, disappearing somewhere on the trail behind her as she closed in on me, as determined and frightening as ever. Where her face had been, there was blood. Just blood everywhere. But I could finally see her eyes through it all, and they stared at me with a terrible rage and madness like I had never seen before.
I thought I was going insane.
She bore down on me, the sight of her hate-filled, bloody face burning forever into my mind. Her hands reached out, trying to grab me and guide me to Hell, but all I could focus on was that scarlet face, the true fury within her finally revealed.
There was a sharp turn in the path, and I slowed for only a fraction of a second to make it. Granny Clark was not as familiar with the trail, her momentum driving her straight on. Her fingers licked past the back of my head and wrapped around the stuffed parrot on my shoulder. She tore it off just as she barreled headlong into the trees behind me, crashing to a stop with violent abruptness.
She can have the parrot, I thought.
When I burst out of the woods and onto the tarmac of Juniper Street, I was moving like all of Hell was on my heels. Ahead, I saw Spencer slowing down, trying to catch his breath as he reached the driveway to my house. Somewhere along the way, he had lost his own trick-or-treat bag, and most of his makeup had run off.
“Don’t stop!” I screamed at him.
He turned, seeing me hurtling down the road, and hurried up to the front door, banging on it and shouting.
I dashed up the front sidewalk, shoving him aside and throwing my shoulder into the door, having just enough sense to turn the knob and open it. We fell over each other on the landing and Spencer kicked futilely, trying to close the door behind him. I climbed over him and slammed it shut before dead-bolting it and leaning my full weight against it. I broke down into tears while clutching my arm.
“Jesus Christ!” Spencer yelled.
We both started shouting over each other, neither one listening to the other until my mom and dad, hearing the commotion, ran in from the living room to find us yelling and bloody. They looked us over with mild annoyance until my mom saw my shirt soaked red with blood and her eyes bugged out.
“What the hell happened?” she yelled at us.
I sobbed. My mind retraced through everything that I had just witnessed. “Her face—!”
“They took her face!”
“—It came right off!”
Both my parents looked equal parts concerned and utterly perplexed. I could tell they thought we had just spooked ourselves and gotten hurt running away. I waved my hands at Spencer to silence him, then told them everything. As my story unfolded, their expressions wavered between doubt, anger, and concern. Honestly, telling them that Granny Clark attacked me with a knife and then chased me through the woods before her face peeled off, I had a hard time believing it myself.
When I finished, Spencer told his side.
“When I went in through the back door, I could see Will and what I thought was Granny Clark at the front door. I tried to creep around to the stairs, but I tripped over a pair of legs. Ms. Clark’s legs. She was lying in the food pantry.”
I’d never seen Spencer cry before, but his eyes welled up with tears as he continued.
“Her face was missing. I could see all the stuff underneath. They had pulled it all right off, just like peeling an orange! Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, they took her face!”
My mom disappeared into the kitchen, where I could hear her using the phone to call the police. My father stood there, shaking his head in disbelief at us. Spencer and I locked eyes.
“That wasn’t her,” Spencer’s voice cracked. “I realized it wasn’t her on the porch and I told you to run. I’m so sorry.”
I hugged him, forgetting the pain in my arm for a moment as he balled his fists up in my shirt and buried his face in my chest, adding his tears to the blood and sweat I was thoroughly soaked in.
“I’m so sorry.”
When the police got to Abigail Clark’s house, they found her just as Spencer had described. Her throat had been slit, and all the flesh on her face had been removed. In the woods, they found the remains of her face, cut from ear to ear and worn like a mask. They also found my stuffed parrot lying in the leaves by a blood-covered tree at the turn that had saved me. One of the branches on the tree was snapped and dripping with the blood. Even more was found where the path opened out onto Juniper Street, but after that, the trail went cold.
They found the killer a day later, an unemployed carpenter from two towns over with a history of violence. He checked into the hospital with a gouged-out eye, claiming he had accidentally impaled himself while hanging a picture. Apparently his blood work came back with two different types on him, one of which was identified as Abigail Clark’s. Thankfully, he confessed, saving the police from having to ask Spencer or I if we could identify him. Neither of us would have been able to, and neither of us wanted to ever see him again.
I do see him though, regularly, whenever the scar on my arm flares up and my dreams turn to running down that moonlit trail in the woods with him just ten steps behind me. Of course, the face I see isn’t his. It’s always Granny Clark’s face, devoid of emotion, yet every step filled with anger, determined to catch me and put me in the ground. Granny Clark, the most beloved person Hollisfield has ever known, is the monster that haunts my worst nightmares.
Check out William Dalphin’s critically-acclaimed fully-illustrated collection of short scary stories, Don’t Look Away: 35 Terrifying Tales from the Darkest Corners, now available on Amazon.com.
From veteran short horror author William Dalphin comes Don’t Look Away, a chilling compendium of 35 hair-raising, handpicked tales, illustrated by Emily Holt. Each of the dozens of stories in Dalphin’s frightening debut collection is bound to tingle your spine and leave you looking over your shoulder. If you enjoy a good shudder, Dalphin’s terrifying tome will satisfy your craving for the macabre. But be prepared… Lock your doors, check your windows, and whatever you do… don’t look away.
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