This is our 3rd Place Winner for our 1st Annual Horror Writing Contest.
IN THE DARK LURK QUIET THINGS
By Morgan Griffith
From my shotgun view through the passenger window of my brother’s Mustang I sat absorbed, eyes taking in the dark neighborhoods glowing with jack-o-lanterns, cobwebbing and occasional retail store animatronics. Q drove to keep me company.
He was not, as one might think, named after the John de Lancie character from Star Trek. Our
parents were fans of the original television series Dark Shadows. Only our Mom still called him
Quentin, and I went by Angie rather than Angelique. It could have been worse. He could have
been Barnabus or Burke. I could have been Josette or Pansy. Yikes.
We were too old to trick or treat. Convention dictates that twenty-somethings should be partying elsewhere. Q certainly would have preferred that. He had shied away from our horror fan upbringing, and was a damned talented guitarist and computer programmer. I had embraced the genre and even ventured forth to search out hidden treasure in old, used bookshops and online movie vaults. I had attended conventions; had a signed photo of Lara Parker on my wall (the original Angelique); and freaking LOVED Halloween.
It wasn’t candy we were after, though to be honest, who turns down a peanut butter cup or Kit Kat? I wanted to experience it all— to see every prop, from the October breeze making rubber bats flap against eaves, to the pricier zombies bathed in black light on shadowy porches. I wanted to hear the costumed kids laugh and scream.
Q’s friend James had heard of a place. This was after I shot down his first suggestion of taking a video camera to Benedict Canyon. I appreciate celebrity ghost stories more than most, but disturbing the area where the Tate/LaBianca murders happened, even though the house was torn down years ago, is and wrong on more levels than one. There are simply some lines that shouldn’t be crossed.
So he had heard of a place with a costume contest that was giving away prizes. A ton of those could be found on this Southern California night. The draw for Q was that the prizes were music related—signed band tees and and concert tickets. I could live with that, as long as there was a Halloween atmosphere. And chocolate. And as long as I got to check out decorations on the way.
James was dressed as the Gene Simmons KISS character, though he stood woefully short. Q was an excellent version of Rob Zombie complete with locks and tattoos and red cross on his forehead. I was River, from Serenity.
We stopped the car to watch a group of kids approach a place that was nicely decorated in eerie lighting. In the front yard under a large jacaranda tree someone had built a child-size wooden house, complete with primitive paintings of crows and skulls.
As the kids drew close one of its windows creaked open and fog leaked out, giving them pause.
As they hesitated a huge, latex black rat popped out. This wasn’t the run-of-the-mill dollar store variety, but a really nice prop with fully moving mouth and arms. It was puppeteered and given voice by a man who obviously liked Halloween AND kids, creatively asking them for some of their candy. After several kids threw treats at him we smiled and drove on.
I could have spent the entire night sightseeing. My companions, however, wanted to reach the party. Call it coincidence or spooks, but Q’s GPS was acting up.
It told him to turn right into a Mom & Pop supermarket and then to stop in the middle of an intersection. He gave up and turned it off. We asked for directions at a gas station where the attendant was dressed like Chucky. Buying coffee and Hostess cupcakes from Chucky tipped the scale way into odd, but hey, they were on sale. Q was clearly trying to be patient, but the man’s directions were vague and there was no sign of anyone else in the parking lot.
Following Old Myrtle Street was like driving down a dark road in one of those viral videos where a ghost in a flowing, white dress runs up towards a lonely car.
Stands of enormous eucalyptus trees entwined and grew overhead to meet from each side of the road. There were no street lights. Q was about to turn back when up ahead through the foliage and shadows we could see a weak, irregularly flickering yellow light.
“That does not look promising for beer or hot girls in zombie costumes,” James scowled.
“Maybe not, but let’s check it out,” I suggested hopefully.
“You’re the one who wanted a real ghost experience.”
Q and James shared a doubtful glance.
“If it’s a bust we’ll turn around and find someone who can give us better directions to the club.”
“Deal,” Q nodded, and steered on.
Leaning forward in our seats we went, eyes straining through the windshield to focus. The light was not unlike a candle in its erratic dance. Dark outlines of fences, more trees, and finally, an old house were slightly visible against the night skyline. As Q pulled onto a long, gravel driveway approaching it we could distinguish the light— a fluttering flame within a hanging, metal lantern on the porch that would have seemed more at home in Jack the Ripper’s London.
Pale illumination shone weakly over the porch. Shifting and twisting, it revealed fleeting images of piled rags on a rotten swing; a torn screen door hanging from its hinges and spider webs that rippled with a disturbing fluid motion that I silently prayed was caused by the wind.
No light shone within the house. There were six pumpkins scattered on the porch steps that had not been carved. Abnormally long, almost brittle-looking stems curled up out of their flesh. I couldn’t help but visualize the tendrils of Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones as our headlights played across the roots of a massive Cypress tree next to the house that had broken through the soil as if hungrily searching for souls.
Something moved on the swing. It was probably mice, but I thought I could make out a pallid, sunken face above the rags.
“Oh Hell no,” James found his voice.
“Relax,” Q said calmly, but I could almost hear his body tense as he gripped the steering wheel, and he had not shut off the engine. “It’sHalloween. Don’t you think so, Ang?”
“Yeah, sure,” I managed to agree.
My heart seemed to be beating in my throat, but it was exhilarating.
I was scared and excited at the same time. Some people go to outrageous lengths to offer scares on Halloween.
And this was Westwood, in a supremely dark, remote area. You couldn’t swing a cat without hitting folks who could recite lines from Psycho and Texas Chainsaw Massacre by heart. The downside was, southern Cal had also had its share of serial killers.
“So what do you want to do, sis?”
Q’s eyes never left the porch, but he held up a hand to silence James.
“There’s no evidence we’re welcome,” I reasoned. “No big bowl of candy or decoration other than the pumpkins, which are debatable. No light on inside. Too many trees and too much darkness surrounding that porch. No reason to leave the car. Doing so would be on one of those “stupid actions why the first characters are killed in a horror film” list. Is unnecessary risk. Let’s turn around and find the party.”
“Good answer,” James nodded.
Tall weeds swayed on the driver’s side of the car. Before Q could react a horde of dark figures surrounded us, nails scratching at our windows to get inside.
They had moved soundlessly, pouring out of the shadows like a swarm of roaches over a squalid, kitchen counter.
I honestly thought the creatures would start peeling off expensive latex masks. I thought the party must be going on in a basement level with everyone parked around back—that beer and food and Halloween decorations awaited. But that didn’t happen.
My brother knew. He not only had better eyesight, but better instincts than I. His demeanor spoke volumes, and as he yelled at us to lock all the doors I saw him desperately check the glove box and under our seats for something to use as a weapon.
The rustling of a plastic grocery bag filled the car and James popped up in the back seat holding an aerosol can of Rustoleum Paint. Q had been to our grandmother’s to repaint her patio furniture last weekend and not removed the remaining supplies from his car.
“Use these,” he told my brother, handing over a lighter and the paint. “Aerosol flame-thrower. I have another lighter for this second can.”
“Not rolling down my window,” Q replied sternly. “But it’s something.”
My eyes must have been huge. The faces crowding around our car and pressing against glass were not as animalistic as I had first thought, but more like distorted people. There was something grotesquely wrong with each one, and they were only solid forms to the shoulders.
Below that they wavered in filmy shreds of light. Their mouths opened but made no sound. Their nails on metal and glass did, scratching with the fervor of wild things.
The car was still running. I heard James flip the lever to lower his window. He had his aerosol can and lighter poised to strike.
“No! You’ll set us on fire!” Q yelled, and gunned the engine.
We zoomed backward down the gravel driveway, spectral faces floating away from us similar to waves pushed aside by the bow of a boat through water. Q turned on a dime at high speed and our car squealed away. I looked back and saw only darkness.
No one spoke for several minutes. Shared glances were enough. My heart was still beating fast, and my eyes watering and throbbing with awe.
“What the Hell?” James finally asked, shaking his head. His voice was that of a frightened, little boy.
“They weren’t real, were they?” I asked my brother.
“Real people? Not even close, Ang,” he answered quietly. “But whatever they were, we didn’t imagine it.”
He didn’t stop the car until we were back in the supermarket parking lot. His hands ached from gripping the steering wheel. Completely at a loss after our experience, I silently offered him a Hostess cupcake.
There were other cars in the parking lot now. A woman who looked to be perhaps in her fifties was parked close to us, and came out of the store pushing a shopping cart. Q gave her a hand with her groceries and asked if she was familiar with the club we had been looking for.
She gave us proper directions, but something in our faces must have given us away.
“You didn’t go the other way down Old Myrtle, did you? Lord, they should have torn down that place years ago. There WAS a Halloween party there. I think it was around 1987. A terrible fire started somehow. A lot of kids were trapped. Part of the place was re-built and it’s been rented out several times. No one stays. It really should be leveled.”
She drove away and left us stunned.
“I was going to set them on fire.”
James as Gene Simmons, sitting quietly in the back seat, his eyes red and face paint smeared.
“Hey, it’s okay,” Q told him. “I would have done it too. We didn’t know.”
My brother smiled and nodded toward the supermarket.
“What do you say we get some supplies, go home and watch some movies? C’mon, buddy, I’ll buy you a beer.”
I bought one of those huge assortment bags of chocolate bars. No one said much as we drove home. I still gawked with appreciation at decorated houses.
I’ll always love October 31st, but I admit my perspective had been altered a bit. How can you not have moments of uneasiness when you’re at your most vulnerable— home alone, or taking a shower, or crawling into bed right after snapping off the lights and the dark is oh so deep and might be hiding all sorts of things?
Happy Halloween indeed.