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Headless Horseman

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About Headless Horseman

  • Rank
    GA Halloween Horror

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  • Age
    33
  • Location
    Sleepy Hollow
  • Interests
    Horseback riding, fencing, and terrorizing people on Halloween.
  1. Chapter 1

    “Laura knew someone—something—was following her, but all she heard was her own heartbeat drumming frantically inside her head and the clacking of her high heels on the asphalt. She sped up until she was almost running across the empty parking lot. Wrestling the keys out of her huge purse, she desperately pressed any buttons until finally a resounding ‘plop’ signaled the locks had opened. She yanked the door open, threw herself into the driver’s seat, and only felt safe again after the next ‘plop’ told her she had successfully sealed herself inside her car.” No one around the bonfire moved, not even to sip at the beers in their hands. Everyone’s gaze was riveted on Dirk, whose deep, compelling voice was only interrupted by the occasional crack of the burning embers which sometimes resulted in showers of sparks. When Ollie saw Zach slowly creeping up behind Hailey, he quickly hid his grin behind his hand. Then he elbowed Frank to shut him up. Obviously, he had seen Zach too and was about to warn Hailey. No way was he going to let him spoil the best part of Dirk’s scary story. “With trembling hands, Laura inserted the key. Luckily, the engine started on the first turn. One gaze into the rearview mirror and her whole body froze. Eerie green eyes looked back at her, and an ice-cold hand closed over her throat.” At the exact moment Dirk said ‘throat’, Zach’s hand gripped Hailey around her neck. Her high-pitched screams were exactly what Ollie had been waiting for. Even a few minutes later, everyone was still heaving with laughter—except for Zach, who was rubbing his sore arm, glaring daggers at Hailey. “This hurts like a motherfucker, bitch!” “Serves you right, ass!” Hailey slapped Zach again so hard he fell on his back. “I almost pissed myself when you gripped my throat! How did you get your hands this cold?” “I dipped them into the ice bucket!” “Shit, my heart is pounding out of my chest!” Hailey looked at the others who were still snickering and she grinned. It had been a good prank; she had to give it to Dirk and Zach. “One of you will walk me to my car later.” She pointed with her finger first at Dirk, then at Zach. “And check the backseats!” “We’re totally for checking her backseats, right?” Dirk slapped Zach on the arm, who pushed back at him and soon both were rolling around in the dirt. Ollie grinned at his friends. For many years, he had watched them pulling off something similar, always scaring the new girls on All Hollow’s Eve with their creepy stories and live performance, as they called it. “Hey, SWAT! Cool costume.” Ollie thought her name was Breanna. She ran a finger over the fastenings of his Kevlar vest. “I choose you to drive me home.” “His name is Ollie, and he just came in his work clothes, the lazy fucker!” Zach grinned at him. “You really are with SWAT? This isn’t just a costume?” Breanna’s eyes got big. “How cool is that?” Then she turned to Dirk. “So much better than a lowly firefighter in a cowboy costume.” Then her gaze was back on Ollie. “There must be some spine-chilling, authentic story you could tell us instead of that lame shit Dirk is sprouting every year.” “Hey! It worked, right? Hailey’s bloodcurdling screams shocked the wildlife out of their furry pants. I think I saw a squirrel dropping down in shock right over there.” “Yes, but only because you had help.” Hailey batted her eyes at Ollie. “So? About that story Breanna just asked for. I’m ready to get all frightened again.” “Back off, H! That one is mine. You already scored Zach and Dirk!” Breanna mock-glowered. “Ollie, I never knew you worked the streets, fighting the bad guys. That’s so cool.” An authentic creepy story... Ollie frowned, then his gaze fell on some friends who were just coming down the dirt path leading to the fire. He mouthed ‘Late as always’, but they just shrugged before they sat down across from him, and Ollie thought, Why not?. “I always wanted to be part of SWAT. After I graduated with a degree in criminal justice, one of my instructors came to me with a deal I couldn’t resist. Two years of serving as a conventional police officer in a small town that had trouble finding people who were willing to work there, and then he would get me into SWAT training. Of course, I agreed, and a few weeks later I arrived in Hollies Fork.” “Seriously? Hollies Fork?” Zach snickered. “Yep. And it gets better. Their police station is so tiny, it’s tucked into a side wing of the community center. The entire staff consisted of Chief Wagner, Officer Kristen Holloway and then me. Kristen’s husband worked as an EMT, which was why she stayed even after her two years were over.” “Idyllic.” Frank grinned. “It sounds like my hometown, and I just remembered why I couldn’t get away fast enough.” “Dispatch was handled by two lovely older ladies, Daisy and Elsie.” Frank shook his head. “No way! You’re making this up!” “Nope. Our main offenses were DUIs, livestock theft, domestic violence, and traffic accidents. The traffic accidents happened because of a busy highway nearby.” “You must have been bored out of your mind!” “I had to follow Kristen the first few months to learn how things were done in Hollies Fork, and after that they let me do my own patrols. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds.” “Any hot girls?” Frank mocked. “Probably.” “What do you mean ‘probably’? You do have eyes, right?” “He doesn’t swing that way, Breanna.” Frank watched her mulling over his words. “You’re gay? Damn!” Breanna pouted. “I thought I could snatch up a hot SWAT officer tonight.” Zach promptly wrapped his arm around her shoulder. “I parked my car near Hailey’s. We can watch her and Dirk ‘checking the backseats’, maybe do some checking ourselves before I bring you home.” “Fuck off!” Breanna still snuggled into Zach’s arm, making him wink at Ollie victoriously. “What about Chief Wagner? Was he hot?” Of course, Dirk had to ask that. He knew him too well. “I’ll let you judge that yourself. During one of our afternoon meetings, I reported that members of the school’s baseball team had beaten up another boy just because they thought he was gay.” “Uh-oh.” “Do you know what his answer was, Frank?” Ollie let his voice turn low and mean. ‘It was that little faggot, the Baker boy, right? You would think owning the auto shop, his father had better control over him. I hope you didn’t get involved too much. The kids will handle these things much better than us.’ ” Zach interrupted him. “You are making that up.” Ollie shook his head. “I wish. Kristen just looked away. I think she was embarrassed at least. Daisy, on the other hand, murmured something about ‘not right to lay with another man’, and I knew to better not let my preferences slip out accidentally. I also decided to have my eyes on the boy—Ryan Baker. I did a lot more patrolling around school and at the outskirts of town. Ryan was smart enough to stay on the main streets, and the other kids knew not to mess with him when I was there.” “So this really still happens.” Zach shook his head. “You would think we are past this shit.” Everyone was staring at the fire, until Breanna finally said, “This is all well and good, but when are you getting to the scary part?” “On Halloween—” “Aww...that’s more like it!” Breanna tugged at Zach’s arm and wrapped it around her. “On Halloween it was all men on deck. The whole town always went haywire. We had illegal fireworks, DUIs, underage drinking, and property vandalized. That year, someone smashed the window of the auto shop.” “Ryan Baker’s father’s auto shop?” Frank asked knowingly. “Yep. I was on the way to an abandoned hotel outside of town when it happened. The former ‘Hollies Fork Inn’ was a mere ruin, but the kids loved to party there away from their parents’ prying eyes, and the Chief sent me there to make sure it didn’t get out of control. You can guess my astonishment when I met several cars packed with teenagers, barreling down the road back to town. They only slowed down briefly when they saw my car, but then bolted down the road again as if the devil was after them. My first thought was that someone must have managed to spook them pretty good, and I couldn’t suppress a grin, especially as one of the drivers had been the leader of the boys who had beaten up Ryan.” “So, you reached the hotel—” Breanna urged. “Shush, Brea!” “Shush yourself, Dirk!” Ollie grinned. “When I reached the hotel, everything was suspiciously quiet. All what was left of the Halloween party were some empty cans, a few bags of chips, and a not-quite extinguished fire. I got my torch light out and searched around until the beam lightened the parking lot. One car was still sitting there, a car I hadn’t seen in town, and believe me, I would have noticed it.” “Bah! Get to the point already!” Even Zach was getting impatient. “It was an old, dented 1954 Cadillac Eldorado. It was covered in dust and dirt, as if someone had just dug it out or found it in a barn. When I came closer, I saw that it must have been red once, and even the license plates were still there. As it was routine, I shone the light inside and almost dropped it. Two mummified bodies were sitting in the front seats—” “Oh my God!” Breanna slapped a hand over her mouth. “What do you mean ‘mummified’?” Dirk looked intrigued. “Like dried skin stretched over mummies’ bones—” “No!” Hailey cuffed Dirk. “Would you shut up?” “You’re kidding, right?” Frank grinned incredulous. “It was a setup, right?” “That’s what I thought too. They couldn’t be real bodies. I looked around, shone the light between the bushes and along the walls of the hotel, the whole time expecting someone to come out of hiding, laughing their ass off. How they had not only scared the kids but a cop too, you know? Only, nothing happened.” “You mean, they actually were real bodies?” Hailey whispered. “I walked around the car and finally stopped at the driver’s side. The man—I was sure it was a man by then because of his clothes—had his hands on the head of the other, who was lying across his lap. Well, what was left of his hands.” “W-what was left of his hands?” Breanna was almost sitting on Zach’s lap. “The driver’s bones were broken in several places; his right hand didn’t have one finger intact.” “Oh my God!” Hailey burrowed her face against Dirk’s chest, waving her hand in Ollie’s direction. “Go on.” “I looked around again. This had to be a Halloween prank, right? It explained perfectly why the kids had run back to town like scared rabbits. Still not trusting the bodies were real, I fetched some gloves and—touched the shoulder of the driver.” “No, you didn’t!” Breanna shook her head. “Of course I did. I even sniffed at them.” “Ew!” Frank grimaced, and after hesitating briefly he asked, “How did they smell?” “Ew, Frank!” Hailey slapped Frank. “How can you ask something like that?” “What—” “They smelled like decay, old and weathered, but still...decay.” “So, they were genuine bodies?” Dirk perked up. “Yes.” Zach frowned. “What pervert would do that?” “Back then, I thought that someone must have found the car buried in the dunes outside the hotel and thought it would be funny to scare the kids. The desert there is extremely dry—dry enough to naturally mummify dead bodies. I took out my camera and took several pictures, all the while expecting someone to jump out of the woodwork shouting, ‘Prank!’. After that, I freed the license plates of the dirt, and ran the plates through the system. It took a while, but then I knew the car belonged to Ralph Hanson, 34, the owner of the local gas station, who had gone missing without any trace in 1954.” “You stumbled on an old murder case? I can’t believe it.” Zach glared at Ollie. “Why didn’t you ever tell me this story before?” “Does it matter?” Frank rolled his eyes, then he turned to Ollie. “Was one of them the missed Ralph Hanson? And who was the other one?” Ollie grinned at Frank’s impatience. “The remaining clothes suggested they were both male, which was all I knew at that moment.” “So, what did you do next?” Ollie looked at Frank. “At that moment? I still wasn’t one hundred percent sure I had a real case and my colleagues wouldn’t laugh their asses off at my gullibility, but I reported in my finding. Half an hour later, Chief Wagner reached the scene. He took one look at the car and the bodies, and called the coroner. I told him we had to secure the scene first, investigate more, call in the Feds maybe, but he didn’t want to hear any of that.” Dirk put down the beer he was drinking. “What? He just wanted to ignore a possible murder case?” “Yep. Without taking any additional pics, he let the coroner collect the bodies and had the car towed to the local junkyard, all the while lecturing me this wasn’t CSI Miami but reality. It was a cold case, much too late to find out what had happened.” “But how did he explain the car sitting in the parking lot all of a sudden?” Frank asked incredulous. “The same way I did; someone found it and thought it was a good idea to scare the kids. It was Halloween, after all.” “Someone!?” Breanna threw her hands up. “It was disrespectful towards those two people. How can he let someone get away with using murdered people for a prank?” “And it’s illegal!” Frank threw a twig into the fire. “What an asshole!” “The next day it was all over town; after more than sixty years, the police had found Ralph Hanson’s car. Everyone was sure that he was one of the bodies. Curiously, no one had any suggestions about the other person, though. Then I overheard Daisy and Elsie whispering rumors that included my favorite word again: faggots.” “Oh, no!” Hailey exclaimed. “They were killed because they were gay.” “Chief Wagner proclaimed that a misguided individual must have found the car by accident and thought it would be funny placing actual skeletons in the old parking lot of the hotel on Halloween. He said he wouldn’t condone such behavior, and he would ensure the bodies would be buried honorably. He said nothing about trying to find out their identity, or how they died. When I complained about the proceedings, I was informed that should I make a scene, I could forget my recommendation for SWAT.” “And you actually let it go?” Dirk snapped. “I’d thought better of you!” “What do you think? Those men had been murdered, and no one was interested in finding out how or why. That—and I was sure Chief Wagner knew something, seeing how fast he swept everything under the rug. The next evening, I drove to the old hotel to do some investigating on my own. Something was very wrong, and I couldn’t simply let the matter rest. I had this feeling I needed to do something.” “Good!” Dirk nodded. “I sat in my car and stared at the hotel. Suddenly, a man came out. He was about six foot two, with black hair, wearing black slacks, and a white button-down shirt that was splattered with blood. I knew him from old pictures I had seen that morning.” “Oh my God!” Breanna grabbed Zack’s hand and quickly wrapped his arm around her shoulders again. “Ralph Hanson!” “Is this where the ghost story starts?” Frank narrowed his eyes at Ollie. “Tell me you’re kidding!” “I got out of the car and Ralph stopped his approach. I remember thinking he really was a handsome guy in that rakish kind of way. When he knew he had my attention, he turned around without a word walking back to the hotel, while making a gesture with his hand for me to follow him.” “And you did.” Ollie nodded at Dirk’s question. “I did. We went through the lobby, which didn’t look as it had the day before. There was the dusty reception desk, wilted flowers in a vase, and some chairs and end tables in disarray. The whole hotel seemed only to have been closed recently. There was a feeling people had just left.” “Ralph took the stairs to a room on the third floor. There were dozens of flickering candles, a bottle of wine sitting in a cooler, and two glasses set next to some blankets on the floor. A younger man came out of what might have been the bathroom. He totally ignored me and went right into Ralph’s arms and kissed him passionately.” Zach lifted his hand. “Wait! Is there some sort of time travel going on now all of a sudden?” “I wouldn’t say time travel but maybe a flashback. I believe Ralph showed me what had happened at the hotel all those years ago.” “A flashback?” Zach lifted an eyebrow. “Now you’re inventing things, right?” Breanna shushed him. “Of course not! Ralph’s ghost needed Ollie to know. Now shut up already, I want to know what happened to them.” “You—” “Shut up!” Then she waved her hands at Ollie. “Go on!” “I was standing there watching them kiss, when a hard knock on the door interrupted them. It sounded as if several fists were pounding on the door. Both men froze. I guess they already knew what that meant for them. Ralph shoved the younger man out to the balcony. ‘Take the fire escape, Darrell. Hurry!” ‘I won’t leave you, Ralph!’ ‘You must. Quick! Penny said she would cover for me. Just tell them I’m waiting for her!’ The door was shaking in its hinges by then, and finally Darrell went to the balcony and grabbed the fire escape ladder, not a minute too soon. At least five men, armed with baseball bats and logs, pressed into the room. Seeing them, Ralph drew himself up and forced a smile on his face. ‘Chief Wagner! What can I do for you?’ ” “Chief Wagner!?” Zach frowned. “That can’t be. The man must have been too old—” Ollie stopped him by lifting his hand. “I’ll come to that. “ He took in a deep breath. “Chief Wagner hit Ralph in the face without warning. ‘Shut up, faggot!’ Then he looked around. ‘Where is the mayor’s son? Where is Darrell?’ Before Ralph could get another word out though, the men brought down their weapons on him. I tried to help, but I was just there as a witness, frozen in place, and forced to watch. By now, Ralph was lying on the floor, trying to protect himself with his arms, when his gaze was suddenly on me. I could hear his voice in my head: ‘Chief Wagner, Mayor Emerson, Edwin Meyer, Donald Muller, Wallace Green. Protect Ryan and Tyler! It is happening again.’” “Oh my God, Ollie!” Breanna’s hand gripped his arm. “That must have been so horrible, seeing that and not being able to do anything!” “One of the men was out on the balcony, bending over the railing. ‘He’s running into the dunes. Maurice and Gerald are on him.’ “There I was, helplessly watching them beating up Ralph without mercy, their intent clear; they came to kill. They stomped on his hands, broke his fingers, thrashed his arms and legs, kicked him between his legs, and I could do nothing but cry for him.” Ollie swallowed. “It could have stopped there, but it didn’t. I heard yelling from the outside. Pleading. And I realized I could move again. I ran down the stairs, out of the hotel. What I saw made my blood run cold: Darrell was on his knees, begging two men for his life, only to have them cruelly shoot him in the head.” By now, the girls were crying. Even the guys were secretly swiping tears from their faces. “After the ugly deed was done, the men piled into their cars as if nothing bad had happened. They were actually joking around and slapping each other’s backs.” “This is so horrible.” Hailey was sobbing. “I sat beside Darrell, but not able to touch him as my hands ran right through him. Watching the light of his life slowly fading from his eyes was the worst thing I had ever seen. When I heard noises behind me, my first thought was that the men had come back, but it was Ralph limping over to us.” “I thought he was dead!” Breanna exclaimed. “As did I. I don’t know how he even managed to live after the beating he took, let alone walking down the stairs. He sat down beside Darrell, took his hand in his, and we quietly cried for the senselessness of his death, the ignorance, the injustice. My heart broke when Ralph, as injured as he was, took Darrell into his arms and slowly carried him over to his car. They had smashed the windows, dented the metal, scratched the paint, and I think they even pissed on it. Ralph carefully placed Darrell into the passenger seat, then walked around the car and sat down in the driver’s seat. He pulled Darrell’s head into his lap. ‘We waited so long for you come along, Oliver. Don’t let them get away with it again. Protect Ryan Baker and Tyler Meyer. This can never happen again. Make the town see by telling our story.’ “The next thing I knew, I was sitting in my car staring at the dilapidated ruin of the hotel, with tears running down my face. The car with Ralph and Darrell was gone; everything looked exactly as it had in the morning. What should I do? I knew what I had just witnessed was what had happened more than sixty years ago. I couldn’t really call the Feds telling them two ghosts had told me about how they had been murdered years ago. So, with trembling hands, I dialed my instructor’s number.” Ollie’s friends were quietly watching him. That was when he became aware of the tears running down his face. “The next morning, Feds were swarming Hollies Fork, following an anonymous tip. Only I knew my instructor had called in some favors so they would react this quickly. Investigating the room where they had beaten up Ralph, they found traces of blood on the wall and the floor, candle stumps—and a wallet. It belonged to Darrell, the mayor’s son back then. Another team secured Ralph’s car just in time before it landed in the junkyard’s crusher. In its trunk were logs and baseball bats, one engraved with the name of the former police chief.” Dirk fished a beer can out of the cooler. “So, you want us to believe that happened for real?” “You asked for a genuine story. Anything can happen on All Hallow’s Eve when the dead can enter the world of the living.” “I just Googled Hollies Fork.” Hailey held her phone up. “It’s on their website: The Haunted Hotel Rainbow Festival. It says here they celebrate it every year in memory of Ralph and Darrell, who had been murdered in the fifties by bigoted citizens. Wow!” Zach ripped open a bag of chips. “You read that somewhere, right?” Offering it to Ollie, he said, “You never even were in Hollies Fork.” “Three of the seven men mentioned in the anonymous notice had already passed away, the old mayor among them. One finally confessed. Everything came out. After that, it was as if a dam had been lifted. Sometimes, unexplainable things happen and we just have to go with the flow. The important thing is that an old crime has been solved, and a new crime has been prevented.” “A real ghost story?” Frank grinned. Ollie smiled. “Yep.” He lifted a hand, a simple gesture of recognition to those two men who lost so much. They sat across the fire, listening to their story. The young men waved back, before Ralph and Darrell faded away. In his head Ollie heard them whisper, ‘Until next year?’ “Of course.”
  2. At a time of year when the connection to other realities is stronger, who knows what will come from a stroll through the woods...
  3. Horrible Holiday

    Camilo had it all and tossed it away when he screwed Terry. Two months later and Halloween has rolled around bringing Desean and Camilo face to face. Is this a treat or a terrible trick of fate.
  4. Shade

    Dalton and Bauer were going to start a bed-n-breakfast, until tragedy struck. With his husband dead, Dalton is having trouble coping, and having a haunted house isn't helping.
  5. Chapter 1

    Eleven-year-old Denny Larson sat in Mr. McMillan’s sixth grade English classroom looking out the window at the old Victorian farmhouse up on O’Reilly Hill. It was Halloween and he was devising his strategy for amassing the most candy of all the kids who were going out for the first time by their selves. The farmhouse was an enigma in all of Morton Bay. Some said it was haunted, but Denny knew old man Snell still lived in the house because almost every year a few brave kids went up there and were rewarded with almost more candy than their bags could hold. The only problem Denny could see was that no one had been brave enough to go up there for three years, so he didn’t know what to expect tonight. “Denny! What are you looking at?” Ms. Pendergrast called out. “Oh, sorry, what was the question?” Denny said expecting it to be a question as it always was a question. “We are discussing ‘The Graveyard Book,’ of which you were supposed to have read the third chapter. Did you or not?” “Yes, I read it, but it was hard to understand.” Books were always hard to understand when you had dyslexia and all the letters and words jumbled themselves together. “Good, at least you tried.” “Marianne, what was your impression of the Witch’s Headstone?” “Well …” “A deep hole in the ground.” “Yes, Ms. Pendergrast, but to tell the truth I spent most of the afternoon and evening making my Halloween costume. I’m going out as a fairy princess with lace wings my Gran made for me.” “Halloween! I suppose that’s what all of you have been thinking of for the past week. That was the purpose of reading this book being that it’s about ghosts and such. Okay everyone open your books and read chapter three from where you left off last.” Denny opened his book to the start of chapter three, but his mind immediately went back to old man Snell in his old house up on O’Reilly Hill. There was only one thing he could do and that was to go up and knock on old man Snell’s door. “Trick or treat, sir,” and that would be that. The bell sounded the end of the period, but Denny’s eyes were locked on that old house on top of that hill. “Denny Marsden!” “Huh? What?” “Class is over and come here,” Ms. Pendergrast said. Denny put his book back in his bag and slowly walked up to the teacher’s desk. She knew he was dyslexic and supposedly tried to make allowances for his poor reading skills, but sometimes he wondered how earnest she was. “Here is a note for your mother or father stating what tonight’s homework is,” Ms. Pendergrast said as she handed him the folded paper. “There is a place for a signature attesting to the fact you did your homework.” “Yes, Ma’am,” Denny said dejectedly. “But, it’s Halloween.” “I’m sure you can find time if you work at it.” “Yes, Ma’am.” * * * Denny, dressed like a pirate, started out the evening with Mark, Jimmy, Sarah, and McKenzie. Of course, as usual he was the odd boy of the group, but he got along with the other boys and their girlfriends so he didn’t worry about not fitting in. Sometimes, though, they kidded him for not pursuing a member of the opposite sex, but he just wasn’t interested in girls, yet. As a full moon slowly began to rise above the distant tree lined horizon, they went through the town collecting what candy they could because some homes wouldn’t give them anything saying they were too old to participate in the Halloween festivities. Finally, they came to the driveway gate for the house on O’Reilly Hill. Denny stopped and looked up the lane at the house with its dim porchlight on. “Come on, Denny, don’t tell me you’re thinking of going up there,” Mark said. “Yeah, Denny, I heard old man Snell died last year,” Sarah said. “You can’t think of going up there.” “No, I’m going,” Denny said. “There has to be someone up there. They left the porchlight on. Anybody want to go with me?” “No way, man, we’re not going anywhere near that place,” Jimmy said. “Are we, guys?” “No,” the other four said. “Have it your way,” Denny said. He pushed open the creaking gate enough to slip inside. Surprisingly, it slowly shut with a loud click when he let go. He turned and began to walk up the lane. A soundless object, maybe an owl, flew over his head and then circled back pulling at his pirate’s hat. He grabbed it and firmly put it back on his head. He resumed his walk, but after a few minutes something else knocked his hat off his head. He felt around in the dim light of the moon until he found it and put it back on. He looked up, but he couldn’t see the porch light. Maybe, it had gone out. Or, possibly the lane had gone around behind the house. He walked on with that supposition. In time, the lane came around to where he could see the porchlight again. In the moonlight filtering through the bare limbs of the huge maples around the house, Denny found the stone walk up to the front porch. There was no getting out of this now. His friends would surely mock him if he chickened out and ran back to the gate. Something swooped down and knocked his hat off, again. He found it in the dim light and put it on his head. He walked up the path and up the front steps to the broad porch. The light turned out to be like the ceiling light in his bedroom. It lit up most of the porch, but why the light didn’t extend down the hill was mystery. There wasn’t a button for the doorbell, but there was a door knocker in the shape of a skull with red crystal eyes that flickered from the porchlight. Denny lifted it and allowed it to fall back against the metal plate causing a dull clang to fill his ears. After a short while, the door creaked open revealing a bent over old man with boney hands and long yellow nails. His jumbled white hair hung past his shoulders and his straggly white moustache and beard were stained around his mouth. He smiled showing only a few broken teeth. “Well?” old man Snell hissed. “Uh, trick or, uh, treat, sir,” Denny sputtered. “Ah yes, the night when delicious little children seek sweet yummies to make their young tummies ache. Tricks or treats is it, my little pirate? Well, do you know any tricks or what do you have in your bag that an old man might want as a treat?” “I, I,” Denny sputtered. “Come in, dear child, let me see your tricks.” The old man’s hand reached out, grabbed Denny’s shoulder, and pulled him into the room. The door slammed shut as if of its own accord. Frozen in terror, Denny didn’t know what was going to happen. “Do you somersault, dear child?” old man Snell hissed. “What?” “No, maybe not; take off your hat so that it doesn’t get crushed and give me your candy bag so it doesn’t spill.” “What are you going to do?” Denny whined. “A somersault! A somersault! For a handful of candy!” With that Denny felt his head falling toward the floor, but somehow it tucked in and his legs and feet followed along behind until he spun in the air and was suddenly standing, again. “Very good! Very good! The pirate did a somersault,” the old man cackled. “What now my dear little boy? A backflip! Yes! A backflip!” Suddenly, Denny’s feet came up over his head pulling his body around until he was standing as before. He looked at the old man shoveling candy into his mouth as sweet slobber ran out of his mouth. Where was his hat? “A pirouette! Yes, a spinning pirouette!” the old man cackled. With that Denny’s right knee bent and he rose onto the toe of his left shoe. Suddenly, he was spinning uncontrollably. Then he began to rise up from the floor until he could almost reach up and touch the ceiling. He kept spinning and spinning while the old man continued to shove Denny’s candy into his mouth. “No! Stop!” Denny cried out, but he continued to spin far above the floor. “Denny?” a voice broke into what was happening to him in the old house. “Denny, wake up, son,” he heard his mother say. “Huh, what? Oh, it was horrible. Old man Snell was so horrible,” Denny cried as he tried to rub the sleep out of his eyes. “You’d better come down to dinner or you won’t have time to put on your costume. And, what’s this about old Arnold Snell? He’s been dead for nearly three years, now.” “But, the house? The porchlight was on.” “His grandson is restoring it and will be turning it into a bed and breakfast. Did you finish your homework?” “Most of it. My math.” “Did you have a reading assignment?” “Well, yes,” he said as he pulled Ms. Pendergrast’s note out of his bookbag. “I see, well, maybe you need to stay in tonight and do this reading.” “Ah, Mom, it’s Halloween.” “And, you’re not a little boy anymore. Maybe, it’s time for you to grow up a little.” “Oh, phooey!”
  6. The House on O’Reilly Hill

    Tween Denny Marsden is planning to be a pirate when he goes out with his friends for Halloween. In his English class, he is so focused on the night ahead he starts to dream of going up to old man Snell’s farmhouse standing on O’Reilly Hill for more than he will get at any other house in town. Much to his horror old man Snell is not as nice as he imagines.
  7. Chapter 1

    Dominic lowered the heavy pumpkin into his Red Flyer wagon, the one with the high wooden sides he’d borrowed from a neighbor. He had needed it, because he’d intended to pick the biggest pumpkin he could find. Halloween had been a favorite holiday before Jason, and he was determined to celebrate it again this year. Friends had invited him to a Halloween party the previous night. Dom had gone grudgingly but found he’d had a lot of fun; the spirit had returned! He decided this year he would at least decorate his apartment with a nice Jack-o’-Lantern, if nothing else. Next to and around the large gourd he piled his other groceries, checked out, and then started the long walk home. He and Jason had always decorated and dressed in meticulous costumes to hand out Halloween treats, the efforts of which were lost on the little kids, and often on himself, if he were honest. Had always made it sound like he and Jason Brathwaite had been together for years. “Two. A total of two, before Jason left,” Dominic thought glumly. He pulled his hoodie tighter around him and stopped at the crosswalk. This light he’d always felt took longer than any other to change. As he stood waiting and pressing the Cross button repeatedly, he glanced over at Notbury Town Square. It was postcard-pretty, as his mother would say. Large oak and horse chestnut trees stood on either side of the avenues like old guards around the square; their branches overhung the roads and sidewalks. Restaurant patios spilled out onto the pavements during the summer, but in autumn, these were seen no more. Today, only citizens wandered the streets, as the weather grew too chill for all but except the hardiest of tourists. Dominic swore under his breath at the traffic light that seemed to never change. He was just thinking it was quiet in town, when in the tree next to him there was the most god-awful screeching. Dom peered upward into the chestnut tree’s branches. Leaves fell and something soft bounced off his head. He looked down. Plenty of horse chestnut pods lay there, both whole and split; the latter showing their shiny brown contents. “Hmmm, didn’t feel hard enough for one of them.” Dom looked up again. “Sounds like two crows having a disagreement, maybe trying to get a nut,” he thought. Then several black feathers floating downward seemed to confirm the fact. Dominic dismissed the incident while he crossed on the finally-green light. As he pulled home the morning’s shopping, he noticed several more crows, but paid them little attention. The four-story walk-up where he lived was in front of him and the idea of now lugging the heavy pumpkin up all those stairs was making Dominic re-think the whole I need to celebrate thing. Deciding he didn’t need the pumpkin that badly, he was just wrestling with the idea of leaving it downstairs when Gabe came along. Gabe was the building’s nosy-neighbour and resident weightlifter. “Dom! Whoa, that’s quite a load! You want me to spirit it up to your place?” Spirit it? “Um, you don’t mind?” “For you little buddy, anything.” With that, Gabe picked up the wagon and trotted up the three flights without any heavy breathing. Trudging after Gabe left Dom breathless. Gabe put the load down in front of Dominic’s door and looked at the smaller man expectantly. “Thanks very much, Gabe.” Dominic fumbled with the keys in the lock. Gabe’s gaze unnerved him. “Sure. Glad to help. You know what you can do to repay me?” Gabe licked his lips and leaned close to Dominic, a big hand slid onto the small of Dominic’s back. “Let’s go out, Dom. My treat.” “And I’ll pay later,” Dominic thought. His voice was shaky when he said, “Yeah, sometime would be terrific, but I’m just busy. I really appreciate the help though, Gabe.” “It’ll be a good time, I promise.” Dom was beginning to feel uncomfortable, but also guilty. Gabe had asked him out several times, and he did help Dom with the heavy lifting. He slid the key in his lock, drew in a deep breath and turned to face the big man. “Listen, I have some stuff to do. But why don’t I cook? Pasta, meatballs and a salad? Maybe you could bring a bottle of red?” Gabe smiled broadly. “I’d love that, Dom. Yes, I’ll bring wine and the bread. What time? About 7:00pm?” “Yeah, 7:00pm is good. I’m looking forward to it. See you later on.” “Thanks, Dom. Yeah, see you later.” After he closed the door, Dom pulled his Red Flyer to the kitchen and put away the groceries. He then man-handled the big pumpkin onto the kitchen table. “I should have asked Gabe in to do this … for me! Okay, you stay there. I’m going to make tea and sit down for ten minutes.” While he filled the kettle and prepped the tea pot, Dom was interrupted by tapping on the window. It was a crow. A big one. Dom walked to the window waving a brightly colored tea towel at the creature. It fluttered off but returned immediately and started tapping on the pane. “Go away! Shooo!” Dom ran back to the window in time to hear the glass thud. “Shit.” Turning, he pulled an oven glove off its small golden hook, which hung near the stove, and shoved his hand in. Then he pushed up the window and flapped the gloved-hand at the bird. The crow squawked, flew off to avoid being hit, but then turned and sped mid-air straight toward Dom. Dom dropped to the floor and watched as it flew straight over him. The jet-black bird settled itself on the pumpkin. It flapped once more before carefully folding large wings over its back. Dom watched the bird hop on the pumpkin as it stopped to peck it now and again. For a while, he remained sitting on the floor, wondering how he’d catch the large crow. He slowly got to his feet, keeping a close eye on the bird, and slowly moved toward it. He kept his gloved hand outstretched. Once he was within two feet, the crow rose with a flurry of wings and landed on Dom’s gloved hand. After he got over the initial surprise, Dom turned slowly and moved back to the window. “Don’t bother. He won’t leave.” Dom stopped when he heard the voice. It was a small voice. He’d heard it, even over the sound of his heart thudding in his chest. The bird was getting heavy, and it flapped as his arm started to drop. Dominic again turned, this time back to where the pumpkin sat on his table. On it stood a tiny man. He was dressed all in brown and wore a pointed hat. In his surprise, Dom’s arm dropped, causing the crow to caw and flap madly. It flew up and landed on Dom’s shoulder. “Shit!” “He won’t harm you. He’s a guardian.” The little man spoke in his tiny voice. “Guardian? Ow!” The crow had pecked Dom’s ear. He gave the bird a gentle shove, but the creature dug his talons into Dom’s shoulder. “No push Jupiter! Caw.” The large bird flapped, whacking Dom in the back of the head. Dom’s mouth fell open; he pulled in his chin, and turned his head to look at the bird. “Did … um … did you just say something?” “Foolish man. Are you deaf? He said not to push him.” The tiny man huffed and settled his hands on his hips. “Him?” Dom felt confused. “And what are you? This can’t be happening.” The little man stared. “What do I look like, fool?” “Like a fairy.” Dom flinched when Jupiter clacked his beak a bit too close to Dominic’s ear. “Fairy! Fairy? Well, I never! You are a rude impudent cuss, and you show your typical human stupidity.” The miniscule man shook his fist. “Bring your nose down here, and say that again. I’m a brownie, you dummkopf! Do you see wings?” “Hey now! There is no need to be aggressive, little brownie.” Dom chuckled and said, “By the way, I like to eat brownies.” “Oh, mein Gawd in Himmel!” the brownie swore. “Like I’ve never heard that one before.” The crow released his talons from Dom’s shoulder and flew off to land on the pumpkin behind the little man. “Look, I really have to ... this is just nuts.” Dom scrubbed his face, as reality seeped in, and he peered at the table. “Oh, my God. You’re really here. I was hoping it was a dream, but there you both are.” The brownie looked at Jupiter. “He’s an idiot. Are you sure he’s the one to help us?” “The veil thinnest here caw.” The bird hopped and flapped his wings. “Not up or down, caw here. Confluence here. Caaaw.” Dom listened. “Veil? Confluence? What are you talking about? Nothing is happening here except me starting to make dinner. I have a date tonight and …. ” “We know.” Dom gazed at the brownie. “How do you know?” “Because I jumped into your wagon, fool! How do you think I got here? Magic?” The brownie was shaking his fist again. “And even for a human you are hella rude! Don’t you offer guests a drink of water at least?” Dominic spluttered and wondered what he could serve the tiny man water in. Then he had an idea. He left the kitchen and ran down the hall to his bedroom. He settled on the side of the bed and rooted through the bedside-table drawer. “Here it is!” He opened the sewing kit and picked up the pink plastic thimble. “This should work.” Returning to the kitchen, Dom washed the thimble, rinsed it well and poured a small drop of cold water from his filtered water in the fridge. He set it down gingerly on the pumpkin top. “Thank you, human. How about a seat?” the brownie asked. “Really?” Dom pulled open his junk drawer and found a box of matches, which he put near the thimble. The brownie sat, picked up the thimble and sipped. He made a face and looked up to Dominic. “Is this organic plastic? Do you even know?” “Um, yes.” “I’m very conscious of polystyrenes and PVC, and all the other bad plastics these days…say, do have anything a wee bit stronger for a little thirsty fella?” “Um, not open. Sorry,” Dom said distractedly while pulling a large pot from a low cupboard and placing it on the stove. He then lifted down various cans of tomato products. “I have a date tonight. You both need to go.” The brownie said, “You know Dominic, that guy Gabe, you must know he’s got a past, right? He’s not worth your time. Why bother, and he’s getting fat.” As he hunted for spices, Dom thought about his neighbor. He’d always been helpful and polite, and he certainly wasn’t fat. Maybe tonight would be the start of a good thing. Dominic’s thoughts were interrupted when the crow flew over and landed on the lip of the pot. Empty, it nearly tipped under the added weight. It clanked back into place as the bird flapped and landed on Dom’s shoulder once more. “No leave. Confluence caw here.” Dom put down the can opener and turned to face the small brownie. “Look, get out. I have a date tonight, and it’s been a long time I’ve kept myself shut away.” “You aren’t getting it, human … Dominic! The fate of the world rests on our shoulders! We need to carve the pumpkin and get ready for tomorrow when the veil will be at its thinnest point. We must be ready to drive them back.” Dominic was losing his temper now. “Drive who back to where?” “Why, the devil and his minions, of course. Why do you think people carve pumpkins in the first place?” It took a moment for Dominic to hear what the brownie had said. When the thought crawled through the fog in his brain he promptly dropped the can of tomatoes he’d been opening. Ignoring the tomato juice everywhere, he turned from the counter to look wide-eyed at the tiny man. “Devil. You said, the Devil.” “Yes. The Devil; believe me, there is only one!” The little man waived a hand impatiently. Jupiter clacked his beak. “Caaaw. Losing time, we are! Must carve the pumpkin!” Black wings flapped in frustration. “Yes, I know Jupiter! I’m waiting for this lump of humanity to get the picture.” “Do you think I’m stupid? There is no such thing as The Devil. And what good would carving a pumpkin do if there were?” Dom began to clean up the huge red mess he’d made. The brownie squealed in frustration. “What good? Humans deserve their fate! Mein Gott!” The little man bowed his head and sighed. “Okay, on October 31, Halloween or Samhain, the veil between this world and the Otherworld is lifted. That’s why people wear costumes, to fool the spirits. Before pumpkins, turnips were carved to ward off the spirits and keep them back while the spirits on our side of the veil moved over.” “Turnips?” “Yes, turnips. They didn’t have pumpkins then in Europe.” Dom had finished cleaning and was mixing the meat while he listened. Jupiter hopped up and down, squawking! “Need start caw. Need start caw. Need caaaaw start!” The wee brownie regarded his guardian friend. “I know.” And then to Dominic he said, “You need to cut the top off this pumpkin for us so we can begin. We need to save the seeds though.” So thirty minutes later, and some nearly burned meatballs, the kitchen table was covered in newspaper and pumpkin pulp. The now-sticky crow carefully dug out and piled up the seeds. Meanwhile, the brownie and the human were having words. “Listen you pipsqueak putz, I want to carve it the old-fashioned way! Eyes and a mouth.” Dominic leaned on the table over the irate brownie. “And I’m telling you, you can’t! It needs the spell and runes to keep them back. I do not understand what you are failing to see, you stupid monkey-man!” “Fine. Carve it your way. I need to clean up and get ready for my date with Gabe.” Dominic turned away and walked down the hall to his room. “Clean sheets, put on!” squawked the crow after him. “Caw.” “Dirty mind!” Dom thought. Then, after a moment’s consideration, he decided it was a good idea. He cleaned the bathroom, his room, and had just finished dusting and vacuuming the living room when he heard the brownie call to him. Dom leaned on the doorframe of the kitchen. “So?” His sentence was cut short when he noticed the pumpkin on the table. It was beautiful. “Oh … how did you do that? Wow, that is amazing!” It was amazing. Runes and vines were intricately carved all over the pumpkin. Some were cut deep through the skin and flesh, while there were others where only the skin was removed. Dominic walked around it. “You did a wonderful job with this.” “Thank you, human. It’s not my first Halloween rodeo. We need a wee sacrifice now. You and I have to put in three drops of blood,” the brownie explained. He handed Dom the small carving tool. Dom looked at the stern-faced brownie, and then at the knife. “Okay. Three drops.” He held the sharp implement against his finger, but then pulled it back. “Maybe I should wash this.” The brownie screeched and jumped up and down. “What is wrong with you? If that devil and his pals make it through the veil, a little case of septicemia isn’t going to matter.” “I don’t know. I think I’ll wash it nonetheless.” Just as Dom turned on the tap, there was a knock at the door. “No! Do not open that door! The ceremony needs to be done now … before it’s too late. No, no, no!” Dom glared back at the tiny brownie as he proceeded to the door. He looked through the peep-hole and pulled the door open. “Gabe! You … you’re early. Can you come back in about … say, thirty minutes?” “I’ll help if you’re not quite ready, Dom.” Gabe pushed the wine and bread into Dom’s hands and moved his host gently to one side. Dom clutched the bottle and bag, kicked the door closed, and ran after Gabe. “No … no. Gabe, please don’t go in there!” Gabe stopped and turned around. “Not into the kitchen? Why?” Dom stopped. Gabe looked like himself, but there was something …. “Yes … please don’t go in there.” Smiling, Gabe replied, “Then since you don’t want me there, all the better reason for a look-see.” Gabe continued into the kitchen with Dom not far behind. “Jupiter, and you … you horrible little pixie! I should have known it would be you two,” Gabe said as he stepped into the kitchen. Dominic stopped in the doorway, eyes wide, and mouth open. “You know them? How … ?” “Oh, yes. I know Fric and Frak here.” Gabe picked up the pumpkin and gazed at it like he was reading. “Pixie!” screeched the brownie. “Bring your nose down here. I’ll give you pixie, you giant ape!” Jupiter took to his wings and dove straight for Gabe, who reached up with his free hand and plucked the crow from the air. He held the squawking bird upside down by the feet. “Shut-up, you black chicken.” Gabe turned to Dominic. “Have you donated blood to this project yet, Dom?” Dom had moved into the kitchen and placed the wine and the bread on the counter. “No, but how do you know—“ “Dom, I know lots of things about heaven and earth and what’s in-between.” Gabe looked back at the bright-red brownie. “Who are you calling ape? I think it’s time for you and your familiar here to move on. This party is over. This well-carved invitation is not required.” The brownie was beside himself. “Familiar? I’m not a witch! No … no, don’t you dare … do not, Gabriel. I’m warning you!” Gabe, holding the giant pumpkin shell pinched only between three fingers, walked to the still-open window. He glanced down and then dropped the pumpkin out. It hit the ground with a wet splat. “Now, what to do with you two.” He held up the crowing bird. During all this, Dominic had stood rooted to the spot. “Who … what … them?” There was a knock on the door. Gabe said, “Let Uriel in please, Dom.” “Who?” Dominic was asking, but he walked to his door and opened it. An angel stood in the doorway … with wings. He must have been seven feet tall. “Hi, Dominic. I brought these.” Uriel held up two golden cages. The angel stepped in and headed to the kitchen. Dom shut the door. He didn’t move for a moment; he was having difficulty processing everything and everybody. There had been a very tall man at his door with wings. Not in a Halloween costume either. The brownie’s blue streak and Jupiter’s angry cawing drew him back to the kitchen. Uriel held the cage as Jupiter was shoved in with the flapping of wings and loss of several feathers. Gabe locked the door. He turned his attention to the brownie, whose eyes seemed as big as his face. “No, no, no … no need for violence, gentlemen.” The little man backed away. Gabe moved closer, while Uriel flanked him. “Get in the cage, brownie, or I’ll put you in there.” The brownie stood up straight, shoulders back and glared first at Gabe, then at Uriel. “Fine. I’ll go quietly, you overgrown pigeon! But I’ll be back!” The tiny angry man marched into the cage and Uriel closed and locked the door. “I’ll take them back, Gabriel. Good to see you. Don’t be a stranger!” Uriel walked to the apartment door. “Goodbye, Dom. Take care.” After the door closed, Gabe turned to Dom, who hadn’t moved from his spot against the counter. “Are you okay?” Dom’s mouth opened and closed several times before he spoke. “Who … who are you?” “Gabriel, exalted or archangel. Depends which religion you’re referring to.” He moved close to Dom and pulled him into his warm embrace. He held on while Dominic struggled a little bit. “There, there. Not to worry. You won’t remember soon enough.” “Why won’t I?” “Because humans don’t remember interactions with celestial beings, not really.” Gabe guided Dominic to the sofa. “You’re tired. Why don’t you rest?” “Yes … yes, I will.” ***** Dominic wondered if he’d been stood up. Dinner was almost ready, and it was nearly 7:30pm. He was ready to heat the water to make the pasta for himself, when there was a knock at the door. “So sorry I’m late.” Dom had to grin at Gabe, who stood there with a sheepish look on his face. In his arms were wine, bread and a rather large pumpkin. “Let’s carve a Jack-o’-Lantern tonight. What’d ya say?”
  8. Chapter 1

    Halloween has never been a very big deal for me, because my mom wouldn't let me celebrate it when I was younger. She was a devoutly religious person and claimed that Halloween was a form of devil worship, so she never allowed me to do the same things as the other kids. She even sent the following note to my school when I was in Kindergarten. "To the principal, teachers, and staff at Eastwood Elementary. Please be advised that I do not want you to include Christopher Cordes in Halloween activities, parties, or anything else related to that vulgar holiday. Thank you, Sarah Cordes." This meant that every year when the other students were getting ready to dress up, enjoy treats, and play games, I'd be sent to the principal's office. I'd end up sitting in silence while I watched the secretary work, and I would only return to the classroom when the party ended. This caused me to not only feel horrible, but I would also become miserable the more I thought about missing out on doing those things with my classmates. It also signaled to the other students that I was different, so I found myself ostracized by my peers and they would refuse to include me in other activities as well. The predicament didn't have anything to do with me personally, such as my looks, because I had people tell me before that I was cute. It wasn't because of the way I acted either. It was solely due to the fact that early in the school year the other students realized that I couldn't participate in the same things they did, so they thought I was weird. I had my mom to thank for that. She was convinced that she was right about Halloween being the work of the devil, because when she was growing up a series of disappearances occurred on that holiday. Over the course of twenty-five years several young boys had gone missing on Halloween night, although no one connected their disappearances at the time. This was due to the fact that it didn't happen every Halloween and the boys who disappeared didn't all live in the same community. When someone finally realized there might be a connection and looked at the cases more closely, they noticed there were several common factors, so it was likely they were connected. The relevant factors included things such as the boys' ages, because they were all between ten and twelve-years-old at the time of their disappearance. They also went missing on Halloween, and each one lived within a sixty mile radius around where I grew up. Unfortunately, none of the cases were solved and none of the boys were ever seen or heard from again. Whenever I'd beg my mom to let me dress up and go out like all of the other kids, she would repeat the story of what happened to those boys and insist that the same thing would happen to me if I disobeyed. Being young at the time, the thought of something similar happening scared the crap out of me, so I quit trying to get her to change her mind. However, it didn't prevent me from wishing that I wasn't the one who was forced to be different from everyone else. Over the years that followed, I gradually accepted my fate and it became easier to ignore what everyone else was doing each year as we reached the end of October. This changed, however, when I went to college and got away from my mother. I was amazed when I saw the other college students dressing up and making a big deal out of Halloween too, although they usually celebrated in bars or at private parties. Not only that, but the town held a parade for the kids, and seeing them marching down the street in costumes rekindled memories of what I'd missed while growing up. It also reminded me of the story my mother used to tell me, and that's when I began to wonder if it was true, or if she'd just made it up to keep me from begging to celebrate like the other children. I decided to research her allegations to see if those things had actually occurred. In an effort to find the answers I was looking for, I went to the college library to see if I could find any information about the disappearances, but I was unable to find anything relating to those cases. Since the disappearances had occurred before the internet came into use, I was unable to find anything online either. When I asked the librarian what else I could try to find information about this, she suggested that I go to the public library in town and check out the microfiche copies of the local newspaper from that time period. I thought her idea sounded as if it might be the only way I could find what I was looking for, so on Saturday I went there to see what I could discover. "Can you help me?" I asked the woman behind the front desk. "I was told I should ask about any newspaper articles you might have on microfish." "It's pronounced microfiche, and you'll have to go to the reference section. You'll find someone there who will be able to assist you." I was slightly embarrassed about her correcting my mispronunciation of the word, because I had thought the woman at the college library had mispronounced the word. It was an older technology that I was unfamiliar with, so I assumed she either had an accent or a speech impediment, but it looks like I was wrong. However, I listened as she directed me on how to get to that area, and I headed to the location and found the person on duty. After I explained what I was looking for and the approximate years involved, he explained that they used microfilm, which was stored on rolls, as opposed to microfiche, which is stored on cards. He then led me over to a cabinet filled with various rolls, but they appeared quite different from the film that had been used to shoot a movie. This film contained miniature copies of newspaper pages, and each roll was approximately four inches (10 cm) in diameter, and about an inch (2.5 cm) in width. Once he scanned the labels and found the rolls I needed, he showed me how to load them onto a machine that would allow me to view the contents. "I think I remember something about this," he said as he was helping me get set up. "I believe the boys were all pre-teens when they went missing, but no one connected their disappearances until it was too late. I remember reading that the first couple of boys were thought to have run away, and it was suspected that another one might have drown in the abandoned quarry. I vaguely remember that someone living in the area had said he'd seen a boy matching that description hanging around out there on the same day the boy vanished, but they never found a body. No one came forward with any ideas about what might have happened to the other boys until the connection was finally made, but like I said, that was too late. Yes, here's one of the articles now." We both read the information provided, which was quite detailed. It gave the name and age of the missing boy, where this happened, his physical description, what he was wearing when last seen, and it also included his photo. The article indicated that he had been out with a group of his friends for most of the night, but then he left them to return home. No one saw him after that, and I guess eventually the case went cold. To my amazement, the man assisting me stayed the entire time and helped me look through multiple rolls of microfilm. It took a few hours, seeing we had a period of twenty-five years to cover, but he said he had nothing else to do and stayed with me. The good thing was that we only had to look at newspapers for the first couple of weeks of November in each of those years. "The boys didn't all live here, so why were these cases printed in the local newspaper?" "Back then there wasn't an Amber alert system to get the information out to the public, so the parents or law enforcement officials would do other things. Besides hanging flyers close to where the boy lived, they would also send information to all of the newspapers in the surrounding area. The newspaper would print the story hoping that someone might recognize the kid and supply a tip relating to his whereabouts, but it didn't seem to happen with these cases." "Yes, it makes me feel awful that they were never found." I took notes as I read each of the articles, and by the time we'd finished I had a great deal of information on the missing boys. There had been eight in total, and each one went missing after he left his house to go trick-or-treating. Some had been with others at some point, but the rest were merely spotted from time to time as they went from house-to-house. I studied the photos that each boy's parents had given the newspaper to include with the article, and my initial reaction was that they were all quite handsome. This realization gave me a bad feeling about what might have happened to them, seeing they were never seen again. I had done all I could for now and had a list of their names, ages, the year they went missing, and their physical descriptions. I wanted to learn more about them now, but what was I going to do? This all took place long before I was even born, so I doubted I could find any witnesses or much more information, other than what I'd gleaned from the newspaper articles. I guess I had reached a dead end, so to speak. Seeing I couldn't think of a way to get more information, I packed up my notes in case I came up with more details or thought of another way to attack the problem at a later date. I didn't think of it again until after I'd graduated from college and had returned to my hometown. I was one of the fortunate ones and landed a job with a local business, and I was also lucky that I hit it off with one of my male co-workers, a guy named Scott Halliwell. Like me, he had been sort of an outcast when he was younger, so we had quite a bit in common. I found that I enjoyed having someone I could relate to and confide in, and we started spending more and more time together. We would mostly just talk about our common interests and similar experiences while growing up, and occasionally we would go out to eat or just stop to have a few beers. This went on for over a year, and I had just turned the calendar from September to October again when Scott asked me a question. "I hear a decent Haunted House has been set up at the old mall, and I was told it's pretty scary. Do you think you might want to go there and check it out?" "Gee, I don't know," I answered, and then I noticed the disappointed expression on Scott's face. "I've never done anything like that before, but what the hell. I'm willing to give it a try." His face suddenly broke into a smile. "How about going with me this Saturday then? We can go out to eat first and have a couple of beers, and that should be enough to build up our courage." Scott laughed maniacally after saying this. "Or it might just open us up to wetting ourselves or crapping our pants, seeing we would have just filled up." "Yeah, good point, so maybe you'd better wear Depends when we do this." Once again he released another sinister laugh. "No matter how bad it is, it can't be any worse than this case I've been trying to solve." "What case is that?" I then explained about the disappearing boys and my inability to find any more information about what had happened to them. "Hey, maybe you should try using a Ouija board then." "What the heck is that?" "It's a device spiritualists use to contact people who have died." "Really? I didn't know there was such a thing. Does it work?" "My great-great-grandparents thought it did, because they used one to contact loved ones who had passed away. I was told they made contact with my great-great-grandmother's brother who'd been killed in World War I, and they also got in touch with their son who'd died in a farm accident when he was sixteen." "So you think I might be able to contact some of those boys?" "It couldn't hurt to try, and maybe you'll make a connection." "But I don't have one of those things. Hell, I wouldn't even know where to find one or how to use it." "Don't worry. I can help you with that, because I've got the Ouija board they used. It's been passed down through the generations and I know how to use it too." "Ok, I'm willing to try anything at this point, but I doubt it will work." "You can't think like that or it won't work. You've got to believe this will do what you want or the spirits won't come through." "Let me look up information about it online and I'll check it out first. If I'm convinced it might do what I'm looking for, then we'll get together and give it a try. How do you spell it?" "Do you know how to spell the French word for yes?" "You mean oui? O-u-i?" "Yes. Just add j-a to the end. That's the German word for yes too, but the Germans pronounce it 'yhah', but in this case it's pronounced 'juh' or 'jee'." "Ok, I guess I can remember that. I'll check it out before we meet up on Saturday, and then I'll let you know what I've decided." I did quite a bit of research over the next couple of days, including Saturday morning. I found articles that made fun of the Ouija board, but I also found articles from people who were convinced that they'd made contact with deceased individuals. There were also comments about the possibility of accidentally contacting demons or evil spirits instead, and that scared me a little, but I was still willing to give it a try. I was ready to give Scott my answer when we met up later. At 6:00 I drove over to the restaurant where we'd agreed to meet, and I found him sitting at the bar. We each had a beer before going out to be seated, and then we talked while we waited for our meals to be delivered. "I think I've read enough to convince myself that this is going to work, so when do you want to do it?" "Have you got any plans for tomorrow?" "No. My calendar is clear." "Then why don't you come over to my apartment at 1:00 and we'll do it then." "Ok, that sounds good." We had a couple more beers with our meals, and then I followed Scott over to where the Haunted House had been set up. I had no idea what to expect, other than the rough idea Scott had given me, and shortly after we entered I wished I'd followed his advice and wore Depends. I knew he'd just been joking when he made that comment, but there were so many scary things in the Haunted House that I probably did wet myself a little. It all began when a scarecrow carrying a scythe attacked us as we walked through the door. He swung the scythe at us and I thought he was either going to decapitate me or skewer my chest with the implement. It even came into contact with my chest, and that's when I realized the blade was made of rubber, but that was only the first time I found myself badly frightened. As we made our way through the Haunted House, we encountered a variety of other scary characters with different weapons, and still others in incredibly frightening situations. We also found ourselves in rooms filled with unspeakable gore, which included dismembered bodies, and there were other characters that had nothing to do with humans. These included incredibly realistic looking monsters and space aliens, and the fact that we weren't expecting them made it even more alarming. There were also devices that we had to either pass through or cross over, and I was afraid I'd get killed as I moved through them or they would collapse under our weight as we made our way to the other side. It didn't happen, but the thought that it might was what scared me. There were also a ton of creepy critters, either real or simulated, and animated devices that came at us suddenly. Those items would either make loud noises as they rushed in our direction, or they would suddenly light up, catching us off guard. No matter which way they worked, those devices always caused us to jump away in fright. I could tell that Scott was thoroughly enjoying himself, but it was going to take some time before I'd be able to look back at this with any appreciation for what I'd just experienced. As soon as we exited the building, Scott asked a question. "So what did you think of it?" "I don't believe I've ever been frightened as badly or as often as I was when going through there." "Yeah, it was great, wasn't it?" "That's not exactly how I would have described it, at least not yet, but I'll give you a better evaluation after I've had a chance to consider everything, once I've calmed down." Since that was all we were planning to do, we got in our cars and went our separate ways. During the drive home, and even after I got back to the apartment, images of the things I'd seen kept popping into my mind. I have to admit that I also had trouble falling asleep later, because every time I closed my eyes a vision of one of the attractions that had scared me earlier would suddenly overtake my brain. I even endured a couple of very unsettling dreams, or should I say nightmares? But regardless of those problems, I somehow managed to get enough rest so I wasn't too tired to go over to meet up with Scott again the following day. He had everything set up when I got there, and he took time to explain it to me before we started. "This is one of the oldest boards you'll probably ever see, so it's also very simple in its design. Some later boards will have more decorations in the corners or around the edges, but this one has everything we'll need." I quickly examined the board to become familiar with it. There was an image of the sun in the upper left hand corner, a crescent moon and a star in the right hand corner, and stars in both of the lower corners. Next to the sun was the word 'yes', and next to the crescent moon was the word 'no'. At the top center of the board were two arcs containing the letters of the alphabet, and the top arc went from A to M, while the lower one went from N to Z. Below them was a small gap and then a straight line of numbers from 1 to 0, and below that was the phrase 'good bye'. "This is what we'll use to receive answers from the spirits," Scott stated as he placed a triangular device on the Ouija board. It had a hole about the size of a quarter at one end. "It's called a planchette, or pointer, and we're each going to place the fingers of both hands on one side of it before you ask a question. Please don't try to push the planchette around, because it will move on its own if we make contact with the spirits. Just be respectful of them, or things can go terribly wrong." "Ok, so what do we do now?" "We first need to put something silver on the board to repel any evil spirits." Scott and I both reached into our pockets at this point, and I pulled out a quarter that I placed on the image of the sun. Scott came up with a silver chain that he placed over the crescent moon. "Ok, that should do it, so lets get started." "What am I supposed to say?" "Just announce who you want to make contact with, and then ask your question." He then placed the planchette in the open area between the letters and numbers and we positioned our fingers on it. "I want to make contact with any of the boys who disappeared on Halloween in this area about forty or fifty years ago. Are any of you here with us?" I expected the pointer to start moving but nothing happened. "Did I do something wrong?" "No, it sometimes takes a few minutes before we get a response. I think the spirits want to check us out first, to see if this is a serious contact or if we're just playing games and doing this for fun." "No, this is serious and I'd like to find out more about the boys who disappeared. Are any of you here with us?" I waited a couple of minutes and was just about ready to give up when the planchette started to move. It slid to the top of the board and didn't stop until the hole was over the word 'yes'. I was shocked and elated at the same time. "Which boy are you?" Slowly the planchette began to move again and eventually settled over the following letters: V-I-N-C-E. "So you're Vince Rumsey?" The planchette moved to the word 'yes' again. He was the fifth boy who had gone missing and one of the twelve-year-olds. "Would you please go to the K if you were kidnapped, or A if you had an accident?" The pointer began to move again and settled over the K. "Do you know who did this?" I thought the planchette was moving toward the word yes, but it suddenly stopped over the following letters: D-E-K-E. It was an unusual name, so I thought it might turn out to be a really good clue. "Did he harm you?" Once again, the pointer moved until it hovered over the word 'yes'. "Do you know where he took you?" The pointer slid across the board and settled over the word 'no' this time. "Are the other boys here as well, because I'd like to talk to them too?" The planchette moved across the board again and came to a stop over 'yes'. "I'd like to talk to the one of the others, so if any of you are willing, would you tell me your name?" Over the course of the next couple of hours we heard from Mike Maynard, an eleven-year-old, Danny Coutts, who was ten at the time, Jamie Hopko, eleven, Josh Becker, ten, Tommy Hawes, eleven, and Steven James, who was also eleven. They gave me the same answers that I'd received from Vince, but none of them knew where they'd been taken. That all changed when we made contact with the final boy, a twelve-year-old named Peter Simek. He was the only boy who lived in the same town as me and had gone missing, and he was the fourth boy to disappear. "Do you know where you were taken?" The planchette began to move again and eventually settled over the following letters: Q-U-A-R-R-Y-R-D. "What kind of word is that?" Scott wondered, thinking it was all one word. "I believe he's telling us he was taken to Quarry Road. That's interesting, because there was a report that he was seen in the vicinity of the old quarry before he disappeared. I think I need to go back to the library so I can check out that article again, because I think it gave the name of the guy who'd mentioned seeing him. Do you think it's open today?" "Yeah, I believe it's open until 6:00." "Then I'll see you tomorrow at work, because I'm going there to look up the information." "Wait! You can't just leave a session open. You have to thank the spirits for their help and then say goodbye. That's why it's written on the board to remind you." "Oh, ok. I didn't know," I said taking my seat again. "I want to thank the spirit of each boy for helping me, and I'm hoping that I can solve the mystery of what happened to you. I'm doing this so it will bring you some peace. Goodbye." Scott said goodbye as well, and then I grabbed my notes and bolted out of there. I drove directly to the library, grabbed my notes, and rushed inside. When I got back to the reference area, I headed to the cabinet with the rolls of microfilm. "I see you've returned," a voice said behind me. "I'm surprised you're here today," I stated when I noticed it was the same guy who'd helped me before. "I only work on the weekend, since I'm semi-retired, and I'm here both days. May I help you with something?" "Yes, I need to check something out," I answered, and then I told him the dates of the newspapers I was looking for. He retrieved the roll for me and set it up on the machine, and then he let me scroll through it until I found what I was looking for. I was right. There was a name in the article of the guy who said he'd seen a boy matching Peter's description. The man's name was Deke Johansen. "Thanks, I've found what I was looking for," I said as I grabbed my notes and left the library. This was all starting to come together. Some of the boys had confirmed that the person who had abducted them was named Deke, and the supposed witness was named Deke Johansen. Since Deke is such an unusual name, chances are that he's one and the same person. I drove over to the Sheriff's Department to see if I could get any information from them, since the newspaper article had stated they were the ones investigating the disappearance at the time. I went up to the front desk and told the deputy on duty what I needed. "I'm looking into a cold case from about forty years ago. Is there a chance that you might still have records relating to the case?" I then gave him Peter's name and the date he went missing. "We might have something in storage, because back then everything would have been recorded on paper, stored in a folder, and then placed in a box with other folders from the same period. It would probably take some time to locate it, if it's still in readable condition, but you might want to come back tomorrow and speak with the Sheriff. He's worked for the department for nearly fifty years, so he might even remember something about this case." "Thanks, I'll do that." My head was spinning as I went back to my apartment. Could this possibly help to solve the case, or is it just a coincidence? I doubted there would be two men named Deke living in this area, unless they were father and son, but even that would provide a connection to who might have done this. I was excited and couldn't wait to speak with the Sheriff now. I was bouncing around the apartment for the rest of the day, convinced that I might have the answer to a dilemma that had baffled the authorities for more than four decades. I was so excited that it took quite a while for me to fall asleep that evening, and then I dreamt about the boys and pictured each one vividly, since I'd basically memorized what they looked like from their photos. I was still fairly tired when the alarm went off, but I got ready and headed in to work. Scott came over when he saw me enter the office. "Man, you look awful. Is something wrong?" "I just had a rough night and didn't get much sleep." "Maybe you should take the day off then. Go tell the boss that you're sick and need to go home." "Yeah, you might be right." Without hesitating, I walked over to the boss's office and knocked on the door. "Come in, Chris. Damn, you don't look good. What's wrong?" "I'm not feeling well and didn't get much sleep last night. Would you mind if I take a sick day?" "No, go home. You won't be much help around here in the condition you're in now, so go home and take care of yourself. I'll see you tomorrow." "Ok, and thanks." I thought about going home, but I wouldn't be able to rest until I got some answers, so I drove directly to the Sheriff's Department. I asked the deputy at the front desk if I could speak with the Sheriff, and he called to ask if he was available. "He said to send you back," he stated, and then he directed me to the appropriate office. "Come in. You must be the guy who stopped by yesterday and asked about an old case of mine. I'd only been on the force a couple of years when that kid went missing, and it still bugs me to this day. What is it that you want to know?" "I've come to believe that a guy named Deke was responsible, and I saw in an old newspaper article that a Deke Johansen had reported seeing a boy near the quarry. Is it possible they could be the same person?" "I've only heard of one guy in these parts named Deke, so it's very likely, but where did you get your information that he was involved?" "You might not believe me if I told you," I answered as the blood rushed to my face. "My mother used to tell me about this case when I was growing up and it always fascinated me, so recently I started investigating to see if it was true. A friend suggested that I try using a Ouija board to get answers, and we did that yesterday. I think we actually made contact with all eight of the missing boys, and they gave me this information." "I'll agree your methods are quite unusual, but I won't dismiss your findings out of hand. My grandparents were into using the Ouija board too, and they were totally convinced that it worked. They even let me sit in on a couple of sessions with them when I was a young teen. So what did you learn?" "The boys all confirmed they were kidnapped and nearly all of them said the guy's name was Deke. When I asked if they knew where they'd been taken, only Peter Simek knew, and he spelled out Quarry Road." "That's very interesting, since Johansen was the one who said he'd seen a boy matching Peter's description near the old quarry, but my partner and I could never figure out what the boy would have been doing out there. He didn't live close by and wouldn't have gone trick-or-treating in that area, since there weren't any houses around there. Other than Deke, who owned a small farm on Quarry Road, there was only one other house that I know of, and it was at the other end of the road. When we questioned him about what he'd been doing when he spotted the boy, Deke said he was just driving home at the time." "I don't think that was the case." "Neither did we, although we couldn't find anything to tie him to the case, other than his report of seeing the boy." "So you suspected him?" "To a limited extent. My partner and I wondered if he'd reported seeing the boy just to throw us off the scent, but like I said, we had nothing to tie him to the disappearance." "Did he live far from there?" "His farm was a mile or two farther down the road, on the opposite side from the quarry. He was sort of an oddball, even back then, because he was basically self sufficient. He had his own garden where he grew the vegetables he ate, and he had a few apple trees and some blueberry bushes. He also picked the strawberries that grew wild out in the fields. "Deke also raised animals that he slaughtered for meat," the Sheriff continued, "and he hunted. He had a couple of cows that he milked and chickens that laid eggs, and he would occasionally eat one of them too. He only came into town when he needed something he couldn't provide for himself, and that's another reason we were interested in what he'd been up to when he was out driving. He merely gave us some lame excuse that he took the truck out for a spin to charge the battery, but it was good enough that we couldn't shake his alibi." "Is he still alive?" "No, he died a few years after all of this happened. In fact, it was probably about three or four years after the last boy disappeared. He was driving his old truck over the back roads to Culver City, although we had no idea why he might have been going there, and he was killed in an accident. It was believed it had happened around dusk, because the truck's headlights were in the 'on' position, and we assume he swerved to miss a deer or something else in the road. From the rubber left on the pavement, it appeared that he lost control of his truck, went over the embankment, and crashed into a tree. He wasn't wearing a seatbelt at the time and was thrown into the windshield. It was believed he died instantly from a crushed skull and broken neck." "Do you know exactly when this happened? Do you know the date?" "I'm not sure when the accident occurred, because no one saw it, and the truck wasn't even spotted until deer season. A couple of hunters discovered it on their way into the woods, and after the investigating officers recovered his I.D., they called us to notify his next of kin. The trouble was, he didn't have any." "So you're saying this might have happened on Halloween?" "I imagine that's possible, but the coroner couldn't come up with an exact time of death." "In that case, I'll bet he was out looking for another boy, because I'm convinced he did this. Does anyone live on his farm now?" "No, the place has been abandon ever since he died. I believe his old house and the barn might still be there, although I'm sure they're in pretty bad shape by now if they're still standing." "Ok, thanks for your help. I might drive out there sometime just to see where he lived." "Just drive carefully, because there are numerous animals out that way. There isn't much traffic, so they don't watch for cars when they cross. The noise might scare them, or headlights after dark, but you should still be careful out there." "Ok, I'll remember that." I thought about going out there immediately, but since I told the boss I was going home sick, I didn't want to push my luck. I decided to do it on the weekend instead, and maybe I'd ask Scott to join me. I went home, got undressed, and hopped into bed. My mind was still reeling from everything I'd just learned, and I was thinking about it as I fell asleep. I slept for three hours and awoke much more refreshed than I was when I went to work earlier. I spent the rest of the day thinking about everything I had learned so far, as well as thinking about what I might do next, in order to uncover more of the truth. I did that until I went to bed, which was later than usual because of the nap I'd taken earlier, but I still managed to get a little more sleep and was in much better shape when I went in to work the next morning. Scott came over to my cubicle and asked how I was feeling, and I merely told him I was doing much better today and would fill him in about it on the weekend. My boss also told me I looked much better and that he was glad I'd taken the day off, because it seemed to have had a dramatic effect. I didn't think he was insinuating anything and was merely grateful that I was feeling better. The rest of the week progressed as it normally would, and then on Friday Scott asked me to stop at the local sports bar and have a couple of beers with him before we went home for the night. I agreed, and we chatted as we drank our beer. "After I left work sick the other day, I drove over to talk to the Sheriff, to see if he had any more information about the case. Incredibly, he was just starting out as a deputy when he and his partner were assigned the case, which at the time was merely a missing person." I then went on to explain everything I had learned. "So are you done trying to figure this out now?" "No way! I'm not stopping until I get to the bottom of this and discover what happened to those boys. Tomorrow I'm planning to drive out to the farm so I can see where the guy used to live. Would you like to join me?" "Yeah. Why not? It might be interesting to see this place." We finished our beer and had another before we headed home. Before we parted ways, however, I told Scott that I'd drive over and pick him up at 9:00, and then we'd head out to the farm. As I was going through my usual routine that night, I was very excited about driving out to Johansen's old farm the next day. I didn't anticipate that I would find anything, but I wanted to see what those boys had seen after they were abducted, because I thought it would help me better appreciate how they felt. I went to bed looking forward to driving out there. I woke up early and flew through my morning ritual, which meant I finished so quickly that I had to kill an hour before it was time to go over to pick up Scott. I tried everything I could think of to pass the time, such as listening to music, watching a morning news program, and I even tried to read some articles online, but nothing worked. I merely ended up pacing around the apartment until it was time to leave, and that's when I finally started to calm down, because I was finally going to do this. Scott had obviously been watching for me out the window, because he opened his door as I was pulling into a parking space. He was all smiles as he hopped into the passenger's seat and asked a question. "Do you know the way there?" "Yes, I've already punched in our destination, so now I just have to follow the directions to get there." We were off, and we talked about the things we'd learned when we'd used the Ouija board, along with discussing what I was hoping to find when we got to the farm. I was a nervous wreck when we finally arrived at Quarry Road and I made the turn onto it. I slowed down when we reached the old quarry, but we weren't able to see much and I didn't want to take the time to check it out now, so we drove on. I wasn't sure how much farther we'd have to go, because the only thing I could punch into the GPS was the name of the road. "Keep your eyes open and see if you spot anything on your side," I told Scott. "The Sheriff said his place was a mile or two beyond the quarry, and I'm hoping we can see something so we'll know when to stop." "Ok, will do." I drove slowly from that point on, but it wasn't merely because I didn't want to miss the place. We were on a narrow, winding country road that was in desperate need of resurfacing, so I had to watch the road for potholes. I had to depend on Scott to find the place, but after a while I thought we might have already passed it and I'd have to turn around and go back. I felt as if we'd gone farther than we should have, but just as I was about to suggest the idea to Scott, he spoke up. "I see a building, so this must be the place." I came to a stop and looked out the windshield to see if I could spot what he saw. I wasn't sure, but I suspected the structure was the barn the Sheriff had mentioned, so I looked for a place to pull over and park. I didn't want to just stop along the side of the road, since it was narrow and I was worried about getting sideswiped if another vehicle were to drive by. Eventually, I spotted what appeared to have been the original dirt driveway, and although it was somewhat overgrown, I pulled into it, stopped the car, and we got out. "You go wherever you want and I'll follow," Scott said once we were both standing in front of the car. I began to walk up the driveway, unsure as to whether it was going to lead to the house or the barn. The area was badly overgrown with weeds, bushes, and even a few trees that had probably sprouted up since the place had been abandoned, but we plodded on. After walking about a hundred yards (91.5 m) the driveway suddenly split. I assumed that one fork was leading to the house and the other to the barn, so I randomly chose to go to the right, not knowing where it would lead me. After traveling about another 30 yards (27.5 m) I found myself standing in front of a dilapidated two-story house. "Man, this place is creepy," Scott stated as we both stared at the building. Most of the paint had peeled off or faded away long before we got there, so we were looking at the bare, weathered wood that had been used to construct it. The windows were all broken out as well, leaving only large holes in the exterior, and the front door was barely hanging on its hinges. As I glanced through the windows on the upper floor, I noticed there appeared to holes in the roof and it looked as if it might possibly collapse at any moment. "Do you think we should go inside?" Scott asked. "Nah, it doesn't look safe. I'm not sure if there's a cellar, so even just walking inside could be dangerous, because we might possibly fall through the floor and into the cellar, if there is one. I wouldn't trust the stairs leading up to the second floor either, so we'll just walk around outside before going over to check out the barn." He was fine with my suggestion, so we carefully walked around the perimeter of the house to see if there was anything more to find. When we got to the right side of the house, we found an old stone well, and across from it was another door leading into the house, probably going into the kitchen. When we got around to the back, I spotted an outhouse that was barely still standing in the far corner of what used to be the yard. It was about ten yards (9.1 m) from the back door, presumably so the smell wouldn't filter into the main structure. "It would appear that Johansen didn't have indoor plumbing. Being this far out I doubt he had electricity or any of the other amenities you'd find in most homes, such as a telephone and television," I observed. "And you said the Sheriff told you the guy grew his own crops, raised animals, and hunted for food, so he must have lived one hell of a hard life." "Yes, and it makes me wonder how long the boys had to endure the same things after he'd kidnapped them?" Once we got back to the front of the house again, I decided to check out the barn next, so we headed down the driveway and took the other fork. The barn was in the same basic state of disrepair as the house, so we merely looked through the openings to see as much as we could. We walked around the outside of the barn, and when we got to the far side we found a rotting wooden box-like frame with a makeshift door fastened to the top. There were several holes in the rotting wood, so we looked through them and noticed there were stairs leading downward. "I wonder what this was used for?" I mused. "My guess would be that it's either a root cellar or a cold cellar to store food so it would last longer," Scott answered. "It could also be a storm shelter, meaning a place where he would go during a really bad weather disturbance." "I just hope it wasn't where he temporarily kept the boys." "Yeah, I didn't think of that, but it might have been used for that too." The thought that the boys could have been kept there sent chills down my spine and caused me to shudder, so I decided it was time to leave. We'd seen everything we could safely, and now it was time to go home. Scott and I returned to the car and I carefully backed out of the driveway and onto the road, and then we made the return trip back to our apartments. "Man, that place was really isolated," Scott observed as we turned off of Quarry Road. "We didn't pass anything that appeared to be another house or farm on the way there, and it makes me wonder if we'd have found anything else if we drove past his place either." "I think the Sheriff said there might have been one other place, but it would have been at the far end of this road. I can see why Deke felt it would be safe to grab those boys and take them there, because I doubt if anyone else would have ever discovered them." "Yeah, you're probably right." After I dropped Scott off and thanked him for going with me, I went back to my apartment to think about everything we'd just seen. My first thought was whether Johansen had kept the boys in the house, the barn, or in that underground cellar during the time he kept them alive. I could only imagine what the boys had experienced and what thoughts were going through their minds. They must have felt absolutely helpless. When I went to sleep later, I found myself dreaming that I was one of the boys, and I experienced many of the same things I imagined they had gone through. From the looks of my bed when I woke up, I must have tossed and turned the entire night, because it looked as if a tornado had gone through there. Not only were the blankets falling off the foot of the bed, but the sheets were totally drenched, because it appeared that I'd broken out in a cold sweat sometime during the night. After removing the bedding and leaving the mattress bare so it would dry, I stripped off what I'd been wearing and headed to the bathroom to shower. I felt that I not only needed to clean off the sweat, but I wanted to wash off the things I'd experienced during my dreams as well. I had watched and felt that creep removing my clothing and exploring my body. I was also able to smell his foul breath and felt the rough calluses on his hands as they touched my bare skin, and it made me feel dirty. I was determined to wash off as much of that filth as I could, even though it really hadn't happened. However, I still didn't feel clean when I finished my shower, but I wasn't about to stay in there all day long, so I got out, dried off, and got dressed before heading out to the kitchen to fix something to eat. I spent the rest of Sunday mentally going over my dreams, along with what I'd seen during my visit to the farm, and I rehashed everything I'd discovered and had been told about this case. It was a long and very unsettling time for me, and I wondered if I would experience more dreams when I went to sleep later. I had to make the bed before I could do that, and then I had trouble drifting off. It was probably due to the fact that I was afraid I'd have more unsettling dreams, and when I eventually fell asleep, my worst fears came true. I experienced more nightmares and most of the visions were similar to those I'd endured the night before, but this time I also experienced what Johansen did when he was through with me. When that happened, I bolted upright in bed and screamed as my eyes shot open. Needless to say, it took quite a while before I calmed down again and was able to go back to sleep. I didn't want to, but I forced myself to do it because I had to go to work in the morning. I awoke in the same condition that I was in the previous morning, with my body and the bedding drenched in sweat and the bed in total disarray. After I removed the sheets, I left the bed unmade again and went into the bathroom to take a shower. I was hoping it would make me feel better, as well as improving how I looked so I wouldn't appear quite as bad as the morning when I had taken the sick day from work. Scott was the only one who noticed my predicament when I arrived, and he asked what was wrong. I merely told him we could go out for lunch and I'd fill him in then. He said that would be fine, and he went back to his cubicle and we both got to work. I didn't see him again until it was time to eat. We went to a local restaurant, and after we'd placed our orders I told him about the previous couple of nights. He didn't seem shocked, and I later found out that he'd been having some unsettling dreams as well, but not nearly as horrific as mine. It actually helped a little to talk about it, and I felt slightly better by the time we returned to work. When I got home later, I made a decision. Since the next day was Halloween, I would drive out to the Johansen farm again so I could see what it would have looked like when he brought the boys there after dark. I packed a backpack with a few items and placed it beside the front door so I'd remember to take it with me in the morning. I wasn't sure what I expected to happen or what I might find, although I was hoping it would give me some additional insight into those events. I was anxious the entire next day at work, as I thought about what I was about to do. I didn't tell Scott, because this was something I wanted to do alone, and when the workday ended, I rushed out of the office, jumped into the driver's seat, and took off for Quarry Road. It was dusk as I started out, but it continued to grow darker as I made my way there. My heart was pounding in my chest as I turned onto Quarry Road and headed toward the farm. I put the headlights on high beam so I could see the road better, because I didn't expect to run into anyone or anything, except maybe an animal or two. As I got closer to where I knew the farm was and where I'd find the driveway, I thought I saw movement up ahead. I was hoping it was only a deer, as opposed to a bear, but I was totally shocked when I was able to make out what was actually there. It was a small group of naked boys walking single file along the side of the road. I came to a stop, unable to breathe or believe what I was seeing. How could this be? Was it just my imagination, or were these the spirits of the kidnapped boys? As I looked more closely, they appeared to be older than what the kidnapped boys would have been, so maybe this was another group that Johansen had done the same thing to. I was still gawking at them as they continued to move on, when suddenly the last boy turned and signaled for me to follow him. Oh, shit! Not only was I aware of them, but they were aware of me as well. Since I was being summoned, I followed behind until he waved for me to pass by. The boys had come to a stop and they were all waving me forward as they faced the road. This meant I could see their naked fronts now too, since I had already observed their naked backsides as I followed them. When I reached the first boy in line, he pointed toward the ground at the side of the road, and that's when I realized he was pointing out the driveway. He was indicating that he wanted me to pull into it, so I did, and the boys walked beside the car until I came to a stop. I was actually trembling as I put the car in park and turned off the engine. I wasn't sure if I should get out, because I was a little leery about what they might try to do to me. Was this some kind of a ghostly trap, so I'd end up dying out here too? After thinking about it briefly and watching the boys urge me to join them, I didn't feel this was the case. Maybe they trusted me after we'd communicated via the Ouija board, so now they just wanted to give me more information that I could use. I grabbed my backpack as I got out of the car and slung it over my shoulder. I also pulled the tactical flashlight out of the pocket in the front and flicked it on, because I needed to see where I was going, even if the boys didn't. Somewhat hesitantly I acceded to their urging to follow them as they led me down the driveway. Without hesitation, they took the left fork and headed toward the barn. We were halfway there when I caught a rapid movement out of the corner of my eye. As I turned to look in that direction, I saw the apparition of an older man charging in my direction. The boys must have become aware of what was happening at nearly the same time, because they all came charging back and placed themselves between me and this other ghostly figure. Since the older male figure only slowed down slightly at this point, the boys reacted as a group and attacked him, virtually restraining him before he was able to reach my location. If this was the same group of boys I had been investigating, they appeared older now than when they first disappeared, which meant they were also more capable of standing up for themselves, especially as a group. As I watched this scene playing out, I wondered what was happening, and then it dawned on me. As long as the boys bodies stayed buried on the farm, they were trapped there for Deke to abuse, even after death. That was probably why the boys were struggling against him, because they understood that this was probably their best chance to break free from his control. It was also the reason Deke was trying to stop it from happening, because he didn't want to lose them. At this point, one of the boys slipped away from the others and signaled me to continue following him, so I did what he wanted. As we were walking away from the others, I kept turning my head to make sure the remaining boys were able to keep the other apparition in check. It appeared they were, so I felt safe to consider what had just happened. "Was that Deke?" I wondered as I continued following the eighth boy. "Was Deke trying to prevent the boys from communicating with me and helping me to understand what had happened to them?" I wasn't sure, but it was my best guess as I continued following the lone naked youth. He didn't stop when he got to the barn and merely walked through the wide open double doors. I paused briefly as I considered if this would be safe, but he waved for me to follow him as he headed toward an identical opening at the rear of the barn. Since I didn't feel he would put me in a situation that might harm me, seeing he and the others had collectively done their best to protect me from Deke, so I continued to follow him. It didn't take long before we were standing on the other side of the barn. The boy didn't hesitate and kept on walking, and we probably went another couple hundred yards (approximately 183 m) before he eventually came to a halt. It was also when he pointed at the ground in front of him. "Are you telling me this is where he buried you boys?" He nodded in agreement. "Ok, let me get something to mark this place." I looked around until I found a couple of good size stones and I used them to mark the location. Then, I turned to speak to the boy again. "I'll bring the Sheriff out here so he can retrieve all of your bodies, and then hopefully all of you boys will be given a decent burial by your relatives so you can rest in peace." He gave me a weak grin, and then suddenly disappeared. This left me standing alone in the middle of the badly overgrown field hoping that I could find my way back to the car. That's when I noticed there was a path of trampled grass and weeds that I'd made on the way there, so I merely followed it back to the barn. After passing through that decaying structure again, I looked to see if the other boys and Deke were still there, but they had disappeared as well. Feeling slightly better, I made my way over to where I'd parked the car, hopped inside, and started the engine. After carefully backing out of the driveway and onto the road, I headed in the direction of my apartment, eager to place as much distance as possible between me and the farm. My head was spinning during the ride home. I never in my wildest dreams would have thought those boys might appear so they could lead me out to their current resting place. I didn't expect to see Deke there either, but he obviously wanted to keep his crimes hidden. The boys weren't about to let him do that, and it gave me a great deal to think about on the ride back. One of the first decisions I made was that I planned on driving over to the Sheriff's Department during my lunch hour the next day so I could explain what had just occurred. I also wanted to see if the Sheriff would go out to the farm with me on the weekend, so I could show him were the bodies were buried. I initially thought about doing this after work later the next evening, but then I realized it would be dark out then too, just like it had been when I just went out there. That's why I chose to do it on the weekend instead, and I just hoped that the Sheriff would believe me and agree to do this. I didn't tell Scott about my encounter at the farm, but I called the Sheriff's Department in the morning to see if the Sheriff would agree to meet with me during the noon hour. He said he'd take a late lunch and would wait for me, so I was on edge for the rest of the morning and remained that way until it was time to leave. As soon as I got there, I announced to the deputy at the front desk that I had a meeting scheduled with the Sheriff. He looked up, smiled, and told me to head back to his office. It was the same deputy as the last time I came to see the Sheriff, so he understood that I knew my way there. I knocked on the Sheriff's door and was told to enter. "I don't know if you're going to believe me, but this is what I've done so far and what I've seen," I began, and then I told him about my initial visit to the farm with Scott, and my trip there Halloween night on own. The Sheriff kept nodding, although sometimes he would shake his head as well as I told him the story, so I had no idea what he was thinking. When I finished, he looked at me and spoke. "As I told you previously, I believe that things like this are possible, and you've obviously made a supernatural connection with those boys." "But I'm not sure if it was the same group, because they looked older than what I'd expected." "I'm sure we'll find out once we have the remains. In the meantime, I'll see if we can get DNA samples from any surviving relatives, and I'll also see if I can get someone with a bush hog shredder to cut down the overgrowth and remove it for us. Since this happened so long ago, we won't be able to use the cadaver dogs, so I'll see if I can get my hands on some ground-penetrating radar. That should help to locate the graves and narrow the amount of digging we'll have to do. Meet me here Saturday morning at 10:00, and then you can ride out to the farm with me." I agreed, but I didn't say anything to Scott about this until Friday. After asking him to stop for a couple of beers with me before going home, I filled him in about Halloween night, my meeting with the Sheriff, and our plan to go out there on Saturday to dig up the remains. "Man, I wish you'd have included me in on all of this," he stated, looking slightly dejected. "First of all, I didn't really know what I expected to find when I went out there, and I didn't know if the Sheriff would believe my story when I told him. I don't think he wants anyone else out there when we do this, because he's hoping to be able to retrieve DNA samples so he can verify if these are the same boys. I believe he only asked me to go, because I'm the only one who knows where that spot is." Scott eventually accepted my explanation, but he made me promise to call him as soon as I got back, so I could tell him what we'd discovered. I promised I would, and eventually we left the bar and went home. That evening I was like a kid on the night before his birthday or on Christmas Eve. I was excited and eager to do this, and all night long I wondered what we were going to discover. Were these the boys I'd been tracking down, or was this another group of boys that Johansen had done something similar too? How long would it take before we knew the answers, because I was going to be on pins and needles until I found out? After a restless and dream filled slumber, when I awoke I had a sudden thought. Could the boys have somehow been able to affect my dreams as well? The dreams I had about what had happened to them, including being there myself, were all so real and included things I wouldn't have known about or even imagined. Had I made more of a connection than just communicating with them through the Ouija board? As it got closer to the time I was supposed to meet the Sheriff, I got dressed, got in my car, and drove over to his office. He told me that some farmers would be at the site when we got there, and a guy with ground-penetrating radar would show up too. A little later we would be joined by a team of forensic archeologists, and they would be the ones who would excavate the site, once we verified there were bodies present. The Sheriff then led me out to his personal car and we took off for the old farm. "I haven't been out here in years," he said as we were driving down Quarry Road. "It looks like the D.O.T. hasn't been out here either." He laughed after saying that, and I did too, because he was correct. No one had been out there to work on the road for a very long time either, or else it wouldn't have been in such rough shape. When we reached the old farm and were pulling into the driveway, I noticed two tractors near where it forked, and each tractor had a different mechanism attached to it. They were obviously the farmers who'd agreed to clear the land for the Sheriff, and he briefly explained to me what they were going to do. "Ok, you lead the way and we'll follow," the Sheriff urged once we reached the tractors. "You've obviously gone through this mess before, so I'll just have these boys follow us out and clear the way for the others." I didn't have a problem with this, so I led the Sheriff toward the barn. I heard the tractors start up behind us, but I didn't look back. I knew the one was going to cut down the grass and weeds with the bush hog shredder, while the other one use the blade scraper to clear the debris and leave a smooth dirt finish. I merely continued on and led the Sheriff through the barn before making my way out to where I'd marked the spot the boys had showed me. When I reached that location, I pointed it out to the Sheriff and we removed the stones so the tractors could clear the area. Once they finished their task, the Sheriff thanked them and said he'd have a check mailed to each one for their time and assistance. The men merely nodded their acknowledgment and left. After we put the stones back where we'd found them, we were able to walk around and investigate the area as we waited for the others to arrive. The next one to show up was a guy with a van, and I watched as he took something out of it that looked similar to a lawnmower. He explained it was the ground-penetration radar as he followed us out to the site. He also explained how it worked and described how he would search the area. The Sheriff and I stood out of his way and merely observed as he walked back and forth over the patch of land that had just been cleared. "I've got something here," the man shouted as he signaled for us to join him. "I wanted to make sure of it before I said anything, but there are several objects buried about two or three feet down, and they appear to be bodies." "That's what we were expecting to find," the Sheriff confirmed. "Just let us know exactly where each one is and we'll mark the spot with something." At that point the Sheriff and I grabbed the stones I had used previously to mark the site, and we placed those over the first two graves. After that, we scurried about looking for other objects we could use, and that's when I spotted an old fieldstone fence. We quickly grabbed a couple of stones each and returned to mark the next four spots, and then I ran back to get two more stones. The man with the ground-penetrating radar had pointed out eight locations, so apparently all of the boys were buried here, if it truly was them. After the Sheriff said goodbye to the guy and promised to send him a check too, the man packed up his equipment and took off, while we waited around for the next group to arrive. About thirty minutes later, two SUVs pulled in and came to a stop, and I soon learned that these were the forensic archeologists. As soon as the Sheriff explained the situation and showed them the locations we had marked, he turned to me and spoke. "There's no sense of us sticking around any longer, because they'll take their time digging up the remains, to make sure they don't lose any evidence. Once they've retrieved all of the bones, they'll have them transported to the coroner's office, and he'll perform a further examination on the remains. He'll also take DNA samples and send them to the lab, but it can take several weeks before we learn the results." "I see, but I'd like you to call me when you hear anything." "Trust me, I will, seeing you've been such a vital part of this investigation. I owe you a world of thanks, because this will most likely close this case and give me the answers I've been seeking all these years." I gave the Sheriff my phone number, which he entered into his phone, and then I rode back with him to the Sheriff's Department. Once we were there, he thanked me for my help, and I thanked him for his assistance and for including me in the process. Then, I got in my car and drove to the apartment. I called Scott as soon as I got there and explained everything we'd done. I also told him what the Sheriff had said about how long this would take, and then we said goodbye and I went about my business. It was several weeks before I heard from the Sheriff again. He called one day while I was at work and asked if I would stop by his office later, so he could explain everything to me. I immediately agreed, and I was bouncing around excitedly at my desk as I waited for the workday to come to an end. I was surprised I didn't get a speeding ticket as I raced over there, but I wanted to hear what he had to say as soon as possible. I hurriedly parked my car, sprinted to the front desk, and was given permission to go back to the Sheriff's office. He rose from his chair as soon as I knocked on the door. "Come in, Chris, because I want to explain what we've discovered." I went inside and sat down as the Sheriff closed the door behind me. After he returned to his chair on the other side of the desk, he looked at me and began to speak. "When I got the coroner's preliminary report, I was afraid we'd found the wrong set of graves, because he estimated the bodies were of boys in their early teens. That was older than the kidnapped boys, and his conclusions were based on the bone structure and dental examinations. I was disappointed, but I decided to wait for the DNA reports before I came to any conclusions." "Have you got those back yet?" I blurted out, interrupting him. "Yes, I got a copy of that report yesterday, and I took time to study it before I called you. The lab has confirmed that there is no doubt that the bodies are those of the missing boys." "But how can that be, if they are older than what they should be?" "It appears that Johansen must have kept each of the boys alive for two, three, or maybe even four years after he'd abducted them. I don't want to speculate about why he might have done that, because none of the reasons I can come up with are reassuring, but you've closed the case and we're going to turn the remains over to each of the boys' next of kin." "If he kept them alive for all that time, where did he keep them? In the barn, or in that hole in the ground beside it?" "To tell you the truth, seeing that place was so isolated, he probably just kept them chained up inside the house." "I guess that's better than those other two places, but those poor kids must have been scared to death. Do you know how they died?" "The coroner found evidence to suggest how it happened, but just let me say that it wasn't from natural causes. However, the fact that he kept them alive for a while explains why there was a gap between the kidnappings. We can probably tell how long he kept each boy by looking at how long it took before he snatched up the next one." "I've already figured out how long it was between when each boy was taken, so that would mean he kept the younger boys the longest." "Yes, it appears the more they matured, the less interested he was in them. The coroner determined that each boy was probably fourteen or fifteen when he died." "That's still too young." "Yes, it is." I thanked the Sheriff for the information and left his office. I called Scott as soon as I got home and explained the same things to him. At least now we knew for sure what had happened to those poor kids. By early spring, the Sheriff called to inform me that the remains of each of the boys had been given a proper burial by their families. So now the spirits of Mike Maynard, Danny Coutts, Jamie Hopko, Peter Simek, Vince Rumsey, Josh Becker, Tommy Hawes, and Steven James could rest in peace. I just hoped they had now moved on to find peace and appreciated the extremes that I went to so it could happen. I got my answer the following Halloween. Scott and I had gone to another haunted house first, and then we stopped to have a couple of beers at a local bar. While there, we discussed our experiences from the previous year, and I mentioned that I hoped the boys were finally able to rest in peace. Scott said he hoped so as well, and eventually we said goodnight to each other and returned to our apartments. As soon as I got there, I showered and got ready for bed. I was still thinking about the boys as I crawled under the covers, and even though I was a little restless at first, I slept soundly throughout the night. When I awoke the next morning, to say I was shocked by what I found would have been a gross understatement. I awoke in the center of the bed, but there were no covers on me. They were all pulled back and neatly arranged at the foot of the bed, completely the opposite of how I had found them after experiencing horrific nightmares the year before, but that wasn't all. There were other objects on the bed with me as well, things that had not been there when I went to sleep. That's when I started to become scared and immediately began to wonder if someone had broken in after I went to sleep. On my right I discovered a Spiderman mask, a football helmet, a cowboy hat, and a baseball cap. On my left was a Power Ranger mask, a fireman's helmet, an Indian headdress, and a Darth Vader mask. As I looked at the various objects, I wondered where they'd come from, and that's when I noticed something else. Next to each object there was something written on the sheet, so I got up to examine what it said. That's when I discovered that next to each object was the signature of one of the boys who'd gone missing. At that point I began to choke up, because I realized this was their way of getting a message to me. As the significance of this was slowly sinking in, I noticed something else. Just above the folded bedding at the end of the mattress, there was something else scrawled on the sheet. Much larger than each boy's signature was written, 'Thank you!' Deeply moved, I collected the various objects the boys had left me, because they were obviously part of the costumes they'd been wearing when they disappeared. I would keep them as cherished souvenirs, along with the fitted sheet I'd just removed from the bed. They would serve as a reminder of the time I'd spent investigating their disappearances and the brief time I'd spent with them on Halloween night. Happy Halloween to one and all!
  9. The Naked and the Dead

    Christopher Cordes was never able to celebrate Halloween because his mom thought it was devil worship. She would tell her son the story about several boys who'd gone missing on Halloween when she was younger, so when Chris was older, he decided to find out if that story was true. He started his own investigation, but what did he find? Was the story true, or had she just made it all up. Chris was shocked by what he discovered.
  10. Chapter 1

    Verhun rolled his middle eye as the other two orbs narrowed. He exhaled a puff of smoke and twitched his tail. “Humans aren’t real. They’re just a story our parents made up so we’ll misbehave.” Gorlach stomped a cloven hoof and crossed his arms. “They are too. My dad says they’re hideous. They have to cover themselves in cloth because they don’t have scales or fur. If you touch them too hard, they practically explode.” “Eewww! Gross!” Drogar’s scales faded from bright blue to pale green. He hugged his wings around his head until just his eyeballs peered out from the top of his eye stalks. Gorlach laughed and reached into his backpack. He looked around the small cavern where the three friends sat, forming a lopsided triangle. “You can’t tell anyone about this. Promise me.” Verhun snorted and fire spewed from his nostrils, stopping just short of Gorlach. The goat-boy scowled. “Knock it off! If anything happens to this, my dad will send me to the humans!” “Well what the heaven is it?” Verhun sat back on his haunches and stared at Gorlach, who pulled a rectangular board wrapped in black leather out of his pack. He set it on a flat, table-like rock in the middle of the room and unwrapped it. “It’s called a Ouija board. My dad says that humans use it to summon us or to talk to the dead.” Drogar shivered and lowered his eye stalks so his wings covered his eyes and his head. “I don’t want to hear about this!” he said, his voice muffled. “And I suppose you also think that a human will appear and try to possess you if you look in the water and say ‘Pretty Peggy’ three times.” Verhun rolled all three of his eyes. “How do you know she won’t? Besides, the enemy of one of my dad’s enemies’ enemy was possessed by a human once,” Gorlach stated. “Oh really? And how, exactly, did that happen?” “He was on patrol in the outer lands and came across a breach in the barrier between worlds. It happens once a year, on what the humans call Halloween. On that night, humans and demons can enter each other’s worlds. Well, a human entered our world, so the demon ate him. He was never the same after that. He started planting gardens, and eating vegetables. He even—” Gorlach shuddered. “—started writing poetry!” Drogar raised one of his eye stalks and directed his gaze on the now-silent Gorlach. “Can we stop talking about humans, please? I thought we were going to work on our torture homework?” “Torture is boring. This is much more exciting. You do know that tonight is Halloween, right? The perfect time for summoning a human.” Verhun laughed and fire burst from his mouth with each breath. “Summoning a human! You’re a real solartic, you know that, Gor?” “What the God’s going on in here?” a loud voice thundered through the small cavern, causing a small shower of dirt to rain down on the trio. Gorlach’s eyes widened and he grabbed for the Ouija board. Before he could reach it, Drogar hopped onto the table and covered it with his wings and his ample bulk. He allowed one eye stalk to peer out of his self-made cocoon as the formidable presence of Gorlach’s father entered the room. “It’s too quiet in here, Gorlach. I thought you were going to practice your torture homework? I should be hearing screams coming from here. You must be up to some good since I haven’t heard a thing.” “We are practicing, Dad!” Gorlach pointed to the trembling blue mass occupying his desk. “Why do you think he’s so scared of us?” The adult demon leaned his large frame over the cowering Drogar until his horns almost touched the quivering azure wings and his hot breath forced Drogar to close his exposed eye and retract his eye stalk. He snorted in derision. “You better demon up, son. You’ll never make it in the torture division. You’re going to end up behind a desk in infernal affairs instead!” His large, cloven hooves produced echoes throughout the small chamber as he strode toward the exit. “I better hear some screams coming from here, or you’ll all be in trouble!” Drogar flattened himself against the cold stone. “My dad works for the department of infernal affairs,” he muttered. “Nothing wrong with that.” Gorlach exhaled. “Quick thinking, Dro. He’d have sent me to heaven if he caught me with that board.” Drogar folded his wings behind his back and swiveled two of his eye stalks to look at both of his friends. “What are we going to do now?” Gorlach reached into his pack and held up another item. “I found this thing in my dad’s closet too. You can record your voice. Listen.” He pressed a button on the silver-colored, rectangular object. Loud screams echoed throughout the cavern, causing both Verhun and Gorlach to jump. “What is that?” Verhun stared at the now-silent object in Gorlach’s clutch. Gorlach shrugged. “No idea, but it should keep my dad off our backs while we try this Ouija thing.” Verhun and Drogar looked at each other, then at Gorlach, with big, toothy grins on their faces. “So let’s get started, then!” Verhun rubbed his paws together. “I thought you didn’t believe in humans.” Gorlach snickered. “I don’t. It will be fun proving you wrong.” “All right. We need to gather around the table. Drogar, it would be helpful if you’d get your fat ass off the board.” Drogar’s scales flashed bright red as he hopped off the table and onto the floor. “Ver, put that sound thingy near the door and turn it on so my dad thinks we’re torturing Dro.” Gorlach put a triangular object on top of the board as screams reverberated around them. “Perfect! Now, we each put a claw on this, then one of us asks questions to try and summon a human. Verhun, I think you should ask the questions, since you’re so skeptical.” “Me? I don’t know what to ask!” “You’re smart. You’ll think of something.” “Then what?” Drogar asked. “If the humans respond, then the triangle thing will move and point to letters, spelling out a word.” “How will we know it’s not one of us moving the pointer?” Verhun narrowed his eyes. “This is stupid.” “Oh shut up and just try it, will ya?” Gorlach placed his brown pointer finger lightly on the object, followed by Drogar’s now-blue finger, and Verhun’s red. “Well… ask it something!” Verhun scowled. “I don’t know what to ask!” “Just ask if there are any humans here or something,” Drogar said. Verhun exhaled a puff of smoke. “Oh great Ouija board… are there any humans present?” he intoned dramatically. The only response was a blood-curdling scream from the tape recorder by the door. “Don’t be a smartass. Maybe they don’t like that,” Drogar suggested. “Fine.” Verhun cleared his throat. “If there are any humans here… give us a sign.” The pointer moved to the word ‘yes’, producing gasps from all three participants. “You guys moved it!” Verhun yelled. “There’s no such thing as humans!” His eyes widened and his hand trembled. “I didn’t move it!” Drogar said. “Neither did I.” Gorlach raised his hand slightly above the pointer. “Guys… I don’t like this.” Drogar whined and hid behind his wings. “Stop moving it!” “Oh would you knock it off? You’re worse than a sniveling thrall.” Gorlach sneered. “Ask another question, Ver.” They all replaced their claws on the pointer and stared at it intently. “What is your name?” Verhun asked. The pointer moved from letter to letter until it spelled J-o-n-a-t-h-a-n. “Joe-nae-tin? What kind of name is that?” Drogar asked. Verhun’s eyes widened. “A human name.” They all jumped as an ear-splitting scream echoed throughout the cavern. Gorlach rolled on the floor, laughing. “It’s just the recording! Demon! You should have seen the looks on your faces!” Verhun scowled. “Yeah, well it was the same look on your face!” “Can we practice our torture homework now?” Drogar asked. “Nope. C’mon. Ask another question.” Gorlach sat up and, once again, they all placed their hands on the pointer. “All right, Joe-ni-tan. If you’re really here, give us a sign.” Verhun’s right eye looked to the right, left eye to the left, and his middle eye looked upward. “It’s pronounced ‘Jonathan’.” Drogar and Verhun wheeled and jumped to Gorlach’s side. Drogar’s scales flashed dark purple and blue flame shot from his mouth toward the door, mixing with Verhun’s bright red flame. “Hey! Knock it off! You’re going to roast me!” the new arrival cried. “Oh my Lucifer… it’s a human!” Verhun’s three eyes stared at the small boy while his mouth gaped wide open. Drogar yelped and flopped onto his back, all four legs in the air, and his wings stretched limply out to the side. “What the heaven are you doing, you freak?” Gorlach kicked Drogar’s fleshy side. “Get up!” Drogar swiveled an eyestalk to look at Gorlach. “I heard you’re supposed to pretend you’re dead if you see a human. Then they won’t eat you.” Gorlach rolled his eyes. “It’s the three of us against one of them. Do you really think it’s going to eat you?” Drogar aimed another eyestalk at the human. “Yeah. I suppose you’re right.” He flipped back onto his feet and sat, trembling. Verhun looked at Gorlach, who seemed awfully calm for someone who just had a human appear out of thin air in his bedroom. He narrowed his eyes as a suspicious thought occurred to him. “Humans aren’t real,” he stated, then walked over to the boy, who stood frozen, staring at the young demons with his eyes wide open. Verhun sniffed him from head to toe in one giant inhale, then poked Jonathan’s arm with a clawed finger. An angry red welt appeared as blood oozed from the wound and dripped down his arm and onto the cavern floor. “Ow! Please don’t kill me!” Jonathan wailed and sobbed as he backed away from the little red demon. Verhun ran back to his friends. “His blood is red! Who the heaven has red blood?” He scowled at Gorlach. “What are you trying to pull? Humans aren’t real, I tell you. They’re not!” Jonathan sat on the floor, holding his bleeding arm and crying uncontrollably. Drogar swiveled his eye stalks between the distraught human and his bickering friends and his whole body shook until he opened his mouth wide and let out a keening cry that shook the whole cavern. Jonathan stopped crying and added his own screams that rivaled the pale blue demon’s. Gorlach put his hands over his ears. “Stop it! Would both of you shut the devil up!” Drogar and Jonathan stopped shrieking. Verhun crossed his arms and stared at Gorlach. “Start explaining.” “Explaining what?” “Oh don’t act so eviler than thou. Who is this, and how’d you get his costume to look so real?” Verhun gestured toward the trembling human. “It’s not a costume. It’s a real human,” Gorlach said. Verhun narrowed his eyes. “Yeah, right.” “I’m telling the truth! I looked up a summoning spell and cast it right before you guys got here. I can’t believe it worked!” Gorlach rubbed his hands together and grinned. “So you’re telling me that this is an actual human?” Gorlach nodded. “Yup.” “Is… is… is one of you named ‘Gorlach’?” the boy asked. Verhun and Drogar trained all eight of their collective eyes on the horned goat-boy. Gorlach’s brown face turned pale white. “Uh… I’m Gorlach.” He raised a clawed hand. Verhun narrowed his eyes. “How does it know your name?” “Um… well… you see… um… lucky guess?” “Or maybe it’s not really a human,” Verhun stated. “What the heaven else would it be?” Gorlach snorted. “A trick?” Verhun puffed a cloud of smoke. “I’m not that stupid, you know.” “Well that’s up for debate. I’m just as surprised as you guys, you know.” “Then why aren’t you acting like it?” “Remember rule number one from torture class? Never show fear. Guess I’m better at it than you two cowards,” Gorlach stated. “Torture class?” Jonathan swallowed. “You’re not going to… torture… me are you? I thought you were my friend, Gorlach!” “Friends? With a human?” Verhun snorted a puff of black smoke. “Oh, so now you believe it’s a human?” Gorlach smirked. Verhun shrugged. “Maybe.” “We’ve been ‘talking’ through the Ouija board all week. At first, I thought it was my friends pulling a prank. Now I’m not so sure. Where the hell am I?” the boy asked. “All week, huh?” Verhun took a step toward his sheepish friend. “Yes,” said Drogar. “You are in Hell.” The boy’s eyes widened. “You’re joking. Ben! Aiden! This isn’t funny anymore!” He looked at the three demons and gulped. “One minute I was sitting on the floor in my room with my friends, using the Ouija board, then the air got all wavy and the lights went out. Next thing I know, I’m standing here looking at two dragons and a goat!” “Dragons?” Verhun’s eyes narrowed and he crossed his arms. “We are not dragons! We’re demons!” “And I’m not a goat! I’m a satyr!” Gorlach stomped his hoof. Verhun roared with laughter and bright red flames shot over Gorlach’s head as he ducked. “That’s a good one, faun!” “Well sorry. I have no idea what you are. I’ve never seen anything like you before!” “Yeah, well, we haven’t seen anything like you before, either,” Verhun retorted. Drogar slowly crept toward the human, keeping his body low to the ground. The boy backed away from the advancing beast until he hit the cavern wall. He jumped when the tape recorder produced another blood-curdling scream, adding his own terrified shriek to the mix. Drogar stopped and cocked his head to the side. “Why are you screaming?” “Um… because I’m in Hell?” Drogar huffed. “Well that’s no reason to make such a fuss.” “Who… who’s screaming like that?” Jonathan asked. Drogar hopped forward a couple of steps, picked up the tape recorder, and held it up. “It’s this thing. We put it near the door so Gor’s dad would think we’re working on our torture homework instead of using the Ouija board.” The boy’s eyes widened and he swallowed. “Torture homework?” “If I get another A, my dad is going to send me to heaven.” Drogar took another step toward the cowering boy. The boy tried to move, but he was stuck in a dip in the cavern’s wall. Drogar reached a clawed hand toward the human. “Dro! Stop! Don’t touch him! He might explode!” yelled Gorlach. Drogar snatched his paw back, then leaned forward and sniffed Jonathan. He flicked his tongue out and licked his arm. “Eeeeew! What are you doing?” Drogar’s scales turned bright red. “I just wanted to see what you tasted like.” “Well, don’t!” “Back off, Dro. Remember what happens if you eat a human?” Gorlach reminded him. “Oh yeah! Yuck! I hate vegetables!” Drogar scurried back to his friends. “Me too,” the boy said. “Especially peas.” He scrunched his face. “Yuck. But what do vegetables have to do with eating humans?” “The enemy of one of my dad’s enemies’ enemy ate a human once. He was never the same after that. He started acting like a human. All he ate was vegetables, and he wrote all these stupid poems about love.” Gorlach grimaced. Jonathan laughed. “Well if it makes you feel any better, I don’t know anyone who acts like that.” Gorlach frowned. “What do you mean?” “The only people who eat just veggies are vegetable-tarians. The rest of us eat meat, too.” Drogar licked the drool off his mouth. “I love meat. A nice, raw fireschwein shank is my favorite.” “I like steak. Not raw though. That’s disgusting.” Jonathan scrunched his face. “How do you eat it, then?” Verhun asked. “We cook it.” “Cooked meat? Like over a fire?” Drogar’s scales turned pale green. “How can you ruin good food like that?” “I’d get sick if I ate it raw. Besides, it tastes a lot better cooked.” “I’m glad I’m not a human, then. I don’t think I could live if I had to eat cooked food,” Drogar stated. “Me either,” Verhun replied. “Wow… I can’t believe humans are real! I always thought they were a story adults made up so we’d misbehave.” “And I thought demons were just a story to scare us into going to church!” Drogar hopped up and down and wagged his tail, sending Gorlach flying across the room. “Humans aren’t scary at all! They’re actually kind of cute.” Drogar’s scales flushed bright pink. “Oh my devil, Dro! Get ahold of yourself! Don’t let anyone hear you talk like that, or they’ll ship you off to the solartic asylum.” Gorlach scowled and dusted off his furry legs. Drogar turned dark red and curled his tail into his side, then folded his wings. “Sorry, Gor.” “Jonathan? Jonathan, where are you?” “Ben? Can you hear me?” Jonathan turned around, trying to locate the source of the sound. A large circle of shimmering air appeared in the middle of the cavern. The four occupants of the small room shivered as the temperature dropped. “Yeah, we can hear you. What’s going on? Where the hell are you?” “Exactly!” Jonathan exclaimed. “What?” “You won’t believe me when I tell you!” Jonathan looked at the three demons. “This has been fun, but I better get back now.” “Maybe you can come back next Halloween?” Gorlach suggested. “That’d be awesome! Maybe I can get Ben and Aiden to come too!” Jonathan waved. “Bye guys!” He stepped into the shimmering air and disappeared. The three young demons stared at the empty space for several minutes in silence. “I can’t believe you licked him, Dro,” Gorlach said. “Yeah, well, I was going to eat him, but he tasted gross.” “Yeah, right. C’mon. We better mess up this room before I get into trouble. My dad will never let me have another sleepover again.” Verhun and Drogar grumbled, but set to untidying Gorlach’s room.
  11. Chapter 1

    Opening the door to my apartment, I immediately notice all the lights are out. Goosebumps prickle my arms. I curse under my breath as I try to tamp down my anxiety. "Damn it. He did it again." My roommate has a habit of turning off all the lights, even though I've asked him repeatedly not to. My fear of dark rooms had been thoroughly inbred by my step-father—his version of 'time-out' was a quiet dark closet. So even though I was eighteen, I still had the irrational fear of dark closed spaces. Outside I was fine, but put walls around me and turn out the lights... forget it. I close the door, dropping my keys in on the small table by the door. "Linden?" Silence. Not surprising. The damn guy was the quietest roommate ever. I turn, fumbling for the switch when a white apparition near the window caught my eye. "Jesus!" I jump, slamming into the door, my backpack falling with a loud thump. I clutch at my heart as my roommate silently unfurls himself from the bench he'd placed in front of the window. The guy was beautiful, there was no question about that. Ethereal. His porcelain skin and the cream pajama pants made him spirit-like. "Make some noise next time! And turn on a damn light!" "Sorry. I forgot. I was just, well, you know, thinking." I slam on the light, causing him to blink. Linden did that a lot: sitting by the damn window staring out. He also seems to have unnaturally good eyesight in the dark. I've only known him for about two months, since school had started. We get along well, for the most part. He's quiet, watchful. There are moments when I think he is interested in more than just a friendship, but he's also never given me any indication he is interested in guys at all—even though I've outright told him I was gay. I thought it was important to know how he felt about that right off the bat. I didn't need some homophobic asshole for a roommate the minute I got out from under my parents' roof. "You're later than usual, Woody." Linden makes his way to the kitchen, starting his usual cup of tea. Yeah, that's right, my name is Woody. Well, Woodson, actually, but people call me Woody. I like it better than my first name, my real first name. Leaf. Seriously, my mom was a hippie when she and my dad met, lived on a commune and everything. Until he died of malaria on one of his treks to 'find himself' in South America. Hence, how I ended up with the step-dad from strict-ville when I was six. Of course, I never tell anyone my name is part of a frickin' tree. No, I tell them it's Leif, like Leif Erikson. The fucking Norse Viking. So Leif Woodson, that's me. Maybe the Leif name would stick better than Woody if I actually looked like a damn Norse god. In reality, Woody fits better. I move to join Linden in the kitchen, automatically grabbing the jar I use to water my plants. "I was finishing up at the lab," I explain as I fill the jar with water before moving around to all the various herbs and plants dotting the apartment. Did I mention I'm studying to be a botanist? Yeah, love the feel of dirt and soil and rough bark under my fingers. Another reason the Woody nickname stuck, I was always running around the woods, exploring. "I wanted to get everything done so I'm free to enjoy the weekend without worrying about school work." I'm tired from the busy week, but I'm looking forward to spending some time with my boyfriend tonight. "I was just worried you wouldn't get back before it got too dark. Especially tonight." I laugh. "What? Are you superstitious or something? You think a bunch of ghosts and ghouls will come out?" Linden's nose wrinkles ever so slightly as he plucks a mint leaf from the herb garden and crushes it in his tea. "No, but Halloween brings out other... evils..." I quirk a brow at him, practically rolling my eyes. He sighs heavily, dropping his cup. "Okay, so it might just be stupid idiots drinking until they can't stand and doing really stupid things." "I can take care of myself. But thanks for the concern." I grab a piece of cold pizza from the fridge, needing to eat something before Sam gets here in a while. I still have no idea what I'm going to dress up as, but I'm sure I can come up with something. He said it was just a bunch of friends hanging out at a bonfire anyway. After scarfing down one piece of pizza, I grab another before heading to my room to figure out some sort of costume for this Halloween get together. I rummage in my closet, hoping some idea will come to me. Maybe I should dress up as a tree. Ha! Wouldn't that just be hilarious? Woody as a tree. I've almost given up, when I spot my Baltimore Ravens football jersey. Perfect. Some tennis shoes, a swipe of black stuff under my eyes, easy. "What are you doing?" "Fuck!" I jump, nearly bumping my head on the closet bar. I turn and glare at Linden leaning in my door frame, his arms crossed casually over his pale defined chest. My eyes drop to his slender bare feet peeking out from under his pajamas. "Damn ninja," I mutter under my breath. I toss the jersey on the bed before tugging off my polo shirt. I scrounge for a long sleeve shirt and sweats to complete my outfit. "I'm getting my costume ready." Linden straightens, tensing. "Costume? Why? I thought we were staying in and watching movies tonight?" Oh, yeah. I did say I'd do that. But that was back in the beginning of October, I didn't have any other plans, then—let alone a boyfriend. "Oh, well, I was invited to go hang out with some friends tonight. At a bonfire." I yank off my khakis so I can slip into the sweatpants. "But you can't," Linden insists. "Not tonight—" he cuts himself off, biting his bottom lip. "I can't?" I frown at him, until I notice the little pout he has going on. Again, I'm struck with the thought that he might actually be interested in me. So I saunter over to him, leaning close, dropping my voice to a sultry whisper. "Why not?" Linden sucks in a breath, swaying slightly before he steps back. Yeah, either in denial, or too shy to step up. "It's—it's just not safe." I scoff. "I promise not to drink too much. Sam will be there too. He'll make sure nothing happens, all right?" "Sam? The guy you just met two weeks ago?" "Yes. Sam Hain. I've told you about—" I look up and freeze. Linden has gone pale. Well, paler than usual. "Oh, hell, are you okay?" "Yeah, yeah," he says almost breathlessly, his hand reaching out to grab my arm. "But I really don't think you should go out. Please." Okay, now the guy's just being annoying. I get that he wanted to spend Halloween night hanging out and watching scary movies, but hell, I actually have a social life now. Well, sort of. If only I could get Sam in bed. He's been frustratingly gentlemanly so far. I finish dressing in my football outfit, tying on a pair of tennis shoes. "What if—what if he tries to take advantage of you?" Linden presses his arguments. I laugh at that. "I hope to hell so! I've been trying to get into his pants for over a week. He thinks my first time should be 'special'. I'm done waiting for special. It's not like an angel is going to drop from the sky and woo me with his harp and lay me on a bed of feathers or something. Just give me some rough and dirty." Linden looks like he's about to say something more, even reaches out like he's going to touch me or something. I finally sigh. "How about we watch a movie together until Sam gets here? Okay?" I figure maybe that will appease him. He nods and follows me to the couch where I grab the remote and flick on the TV. I scroll through Netflix until I find a movie I haven't seen before—Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers. I remember watching some of the Halloween movies but never bothered after the third or fourth. Linden settles in next to me. Even though we've left the kitchen light on, the dimness of the room has me fading a bit as I drop my head back on the couch. A hard knock at the door has me jerking upright. Shit, I'd fallen asleep. "That's probably Sam," I say, rising to open the door. Linden gives me another sad-puppy pleading look, and I think about telling Sam I'd meet his friends another time. But Sam has been talking about this night for several days now, so excited for me to meet some of his buddies; I can't deny him that. "Look, Linden," I soften my voice, knowing I'm going to disappoint him. "We'll watch some more movies tomorrow, okay? I just... Well, you know, Sam's the first guy who's really been interested in me, the first to stick around for more than one date, you know?" I know I sound a little pathetic. I'm pleading with my roommate to understand my want to spend time with my boyfriend. Linden murmurs something as I brush by him, heading for the door. I pause. "What?" He's biting on his thumbnail. "Nothing." "No, what did you say?" I'm feeling a little more defensive, thinking he's just said something derogatory about me. He looks like he's not going to answer, so I huff as I turn to the door again as another knock sounds. "I just said... no, he's not." Linden's whisper stops me dead. Well, fuck. But I don't have time to deal with his coming out to me at the moment. I'm not sure how to feel about it actually. I like Linden. We enjoy many of the same things. If only he'd given some indication of his interest earlier. Before Sam. Before tonight. "I have to go, Linden. I promised Sam I would," I choke out, emotions clogging my throat. "But... but we'll talk, okay? Later?" I don't turn to look at him, afraid I'll lose my resolve and cuddle him in my arms like I've almost done a dozen times before—but didn't because I didn't think he'd appreciate a man hugging him. Now I know different. I stride purposefully to the door, yanking it open just as Sam goes to knock again. "Hey! How's it going?" Sam looks down at me, his dark eyes devour me. He's a couple inches taller and about fifty pounds heavier, with all his bulky muscles. A smile tips his mouth as he looks down a me, his tongue tracing a line over his bottom lip. Damn, he looks like he could eat me right here. "I'm good," he says in that husky voice of his. "You ready to go? The guys are waiting for us." I nod, finally taking my eyes off his tantalizing lips and notice what he's wearing: all black, with some sort of cape. "What are you supposed to be? A vampire?" A grin quirks in lips. "Something like that. Just threw something on." "Okay, well, let's go." I shove my phone and keys in my pocket. "Call me," Linden's voice pipes up from across the room, "if you need anything. A ride or something." Sam lifts his head, his eyes narrowing as he takes in Linden's half naked body. I place a hand on his chest and shove him back before the jealousy I see brewing in his eyes manifests itself physically. "Will do," I call back to Linden as I pull the door shut behind me and lead Sam back out of the apartment building. "Who was that?" Sam asks in his velvety deep voice. "My roommate. He's just a little disappointed I didn't stay in with him tonight," I explain as we make our way to his truck. He grunts as he climbs into the driver's seat. He's never been a huge conversationalist. So I babble at him about my classes and professors, describing my lab project with fertilizers, knowing he's not really listening. If I really think about it, he hasn't shown that much interest in my field of interest, not like Linden—but then Linden and I are both studying botany. Sam is a literature major, focusing on mythology, so the sciences are not of much interest to him. Don't get me wrong, we've had fun together—going to football games, a hockey game, the movies. We just don't have really deep conversations. I've tried to get him to go out for a picnic or a hike in the woods, something a little more intimate where we could talk, but he's dodged my attempts. "You know maybe I should just go home," I mutter, suddenly feeling grouchy that we've never done anything I've suggested we do. "No." No? Really? That's all he has to say? "Sam, come on. You can just pull over, and I can call my roommate to pick me up." He glances at me. "I promise, we'll have a good time, then tomorrow we can go where ever you want. Please." Well, crap. I can't say no to that, now can I? "Fine." I give up talking and rest my head against the window, closing my eyes for a few minutes, figuring I'll rest up a bit more before facing the midnight partying. We turn off onto a gravel road heading into the woods. But then I guess a bonfire would have to be out of the way somewhere. He makes another turn onto a dirt path, the dark swallowing us up for a few minutes before I can see a blaze ahead of us. He pulls to a stop behind a few other cars, grinning at me before climbing out. I follow him to the clearing in the circle of trees. My first instinct is to check how close the fire is to any of the trees, looking up to make sure the popping flares can't reach any of the leaves. I'm relieved to see the bonfire is well contained. "You're finally here!" someone yells, and cheers go up around us. "Is this him?" another asks Sam. "Yeah, this is Woody." Someone leans in close. I can smell some sort of alcohol on his breath as he leers. "Ahh, the virgin sacrifice." I jerk back. "What?" Sam and the others laugh. "Don't mind Drake. He's a drunk asshole." Sam shoves Drake away from me, causing him to stumble. I shake off the unease Drake caused, letting Sam lead me around the fire, introducing me. As he does, I notice everyone here is dressed in black, similar to Sam. I stand out with my white and purple jersey. I punch Sam on the arm as he digs in a cooler and pulls out a beer. "You didn't tell me there was a dress code." "What?" Sam asks distractedly, his eyes roving the clearing. "Black. You could have told me I should have dressed like a vampire or wizard or some goth punk or something." Sam chuckles. "Don't worry about it. They're just boring when it comes to costumes. You look good." I can't help the slight swell of pride at the compliment. "You want one?" he offers, indicating the beer. I shake my head, remembering Linden's concern about drunken evils. For some reason, I don't want to be one of those drunken idiots he was talking about. And I've never held my liquor well anyway. One or two would have me tipsy in no time. "Water?" Sam picks up a bottle from the cooler, offering me a Deer Park. "Thanks." I take it, twisting open the sealed cap and taking a long swig. The cool water feels good down my throat. I allow myself to settle in, listening vaguely to the conversations. Someone has put on eerie Halloween music, and I hear someone else telling tales about ghosts. Sam sticks near me, which helps ease my nerves about being around a bunch of strangers. His hand on my back calms me. I'm hazily aware of time passing although it hasn't been very long. The guys are becoming more rowdy, getting louder, more lewd; dancing and chanting around the fire, pretending to imitate the ghosts and demons they've been telling stories about. Sam fits in with these guys. But I can tell I don't. Maybe it's because Halloween has never been that fun of a holiday for me. "Damn, you're one hot virgin." The words and hot breath on my neck have me whipping around. What the hell? I glance at Sam. Has he told his friends something I confided to him in private? The bastard. I shove the drunken Drake away, rounding on Sam. "Did you tell them I've never had sex?" I hiss at him. His eyes widen slightly, lifting over my shoulder and narrowing on Drake. "Shit, Woody, I'm sorry. I might have let it slip," he admits. Then he wraps his arm around me. "I just thought it was so cool to be dating someone untouched." He leans closer, nibbling at my neck. "Someone just for me." Well, damn, when he puts it that way, it's hard to be too mad at him. He leans down to the cooler, rummaging around and pulling out a bottle of water from the icy slush. The label has fallen off, and droplets fall from it. He smiles, gives the bottle a little shake, before twisting off the top for me. "Here, have some more water," he says. "We'll leave soon, okay?" I nod, taking the bottle. I really want to leave right now, but it's only been a little over an hour. It's almost midnight. It'd be rude to demand Sam take me home so soon. As long a Drake the Asshole doesn't come near me again, I suppose it will be okay. I take a long drink, noticing several of the guys staring at me. Smiles stretch across their lips. Damn, I must have attracted attention with my outburst. I focus on drinking the water, having nothing else to do, and try to keep from meeting their gazes. The fire crackles, and I find myself staring into the flames. It's mesmerizing, the yellows, reds, oranges... Flickering and dancing... popping and snapping... The voices around me sound distant. I feel light and a little fuzzy. I look around. Everyone seems to be moving in slow motion. "Sam?" The near empty bottle of water is taken from my hand, and hands grasp my shoulders, guiding me. I can't seem to resist. Faces are leaning in close, grinning before backing away. I see a glints of metal flashing with the reflected firelight. "Sam? What... what's..." I can't seem to finish my sentence. I see Sam, somehow managing to pick him out amongst the rest of the dark figures now crowding me. Someone is holding my shoulders from behind—and I'm actually grateful as I feel like I might fall over. Did I drink a beer? I don't think I did. But why...? Sam raising his hand over his head, holding something against his hand, something metal. He draws it over his palm, leaving behind a trail of blood. "Brothers! Mark the circle and ready the sacrifice." I'm squinting at him now, confused, but unable to make my body move on its own. I'm shoved, and I collapse into a strange pile of sticks, pine needles, and leaves. Other scents assault me, herbs I know I recognize, should be able to name... Anise... that licorice smell... out here? In the woods? Vervain...? Wormwood...? I shook my head as I was rolled to my back, hands arranging me. No... no... something wasn't right... Sam... I cast my eyes around, searching, only to see the glint of blades in each of the hands as they slash a slice across their palms like Sam had done. They turn their backs on me, and I have the momentary sense that I should run... run like hell... but my limbs are heavy, unmoving. Sam and the others move to the circle of trees, spreading out until they are each facing one of the oak and maples surrounding the clearing. They raise their knives. Sam slices a gouge in the bark. "No!" I scream. I feel like he's just sliced into me, watching him mutilate the bark as he etches a symbol in it. "Stop! Please. Don't." I'm panting as he steps back and I can see he's desecrated the tree with a star. An upside-down one. Sam's dark slitted eyes flick to me as he rubs his bloody hand over the symbol and it feels likes he's just burned me. It makes no sense; how I can feel what he's doing to the beautiful tree. "Don't..." I struggle to move, but only manage a twitch. They ignore my pleas. The others turn, repeating Sam's etching on the other trees around me. I scream as it feels like I've been stabbed a hundred times. Each slice they've made I feel, I can feel the trees weeping, screaming their own pain. I scream for them, giving their torment a voice. "What the hell's wrong with him?" someone asks. "Stop! Stop!" I can't help but to plead with them, even though I know they won't. Sam moves closer, along with someone else. They're frowning down at me as the others continue cutting marks into the trees, their faces a blur. I'm writhing, struggling to escape my invisible bonds. I feel white heat burning inside me, straining to erupt. It feels like I'm going to explode. "Oh, fuck... He's a dryad!" I'm gasping, trying to breathe through the pain. "Finish it! Quick! Before he—" "Burn him! Now! He's going to—" Hands are on me, dragging me. Rage fills me at what they've done, but I'm only able to stare up into the dark sky. Heat boils in my blood; I want to kill them all for defiling my trees, for planning on killing me. But it feels like I'm dying inside, burning. Gasping for air. As I crack my eyes open, I think maybe I already have as I see a white figure floating above, luminescent wings outstretched. An angel... Wait... I squint. Linden? I chuckle at the irony that I've imagined my roommate as the angel coming to take me from this world. The heat from the fire is closer. I'm limp in Sam's arms. The man I'd kissed. The man I'd trusted. His face is hard, snarling as he carries my limp body. He's cursing at me; I've ruined his plans. Fuck you, I want to say, but I can't get my dry throat to work. The fire looms. My one arm that's hanging limp is scorching as Sam approaches the inferno. Tears are leaking down my temples as I look up at Sam, begging him with my eyes to not do this. "Please..." I croak out. His stubbled jaw is tight as he lifts me higher, almost like an offering. "Finish the markings!" I convulse as I feel several sharp stabs. "NO!" My scream is ripped out of my throat. Heat explodes out of me in a wave, and I'm suddenly falling. I brace for the impact of burning embers, expecting to feel the searing heat burn through my tender skin. Engulfing me, suffocating... A whoosh of cooler air and I feel lighter, floating... I manage to crack open my eyes. The white nearly blinds me, but the cool air rushing around my skin is heaven. I glance down wondering where the fire is and suck in a breath. I'm floating... No, I'm flying... No, I'm being flown... over the clearing. The fire is out. No one is there. I see only piles of gray ash being blown in the wind. My relief at not being burned, turns into panic as I realize just how high I am. I look up. Wide white wings flutter above me. Linden smiles softly down on me. "Hello there, my dryad." "What?! No!" I scream, jolting upright. I'm dead. Oh, God. I'm dead. I struggle, tangled up in something that's wrapped around me. "No! No!" "Woody!" a sharp voice cuts into my panic. I blink. "Where—?" Sunlight filters through the window, casting my room in a soft glow. I scrabble at the sheets wrapped around me. My skin is soaked in sweat, even though the room is cool. "Are you okay, Woody?" Linden asks from the doorway, haloed in the sunlight. "Huh?" I glance up at him—my normal, human roommate— numb from the shock of my nightmare. A nightmare. Fuck. Just a damn nightmare. "Uh, yeah, yeah, I think so," I mumble, rubbing my hands over my face. "You sure? You look a little... pale." Linden steps closer, moving to sit on the edge of my bed. "Yeah, uh, just a bad dream, I think." I blink several times trying to get my mind to catch up to the fact that I'm not burning and I'm not dead being carried to heaven by a Linden-Angel lookalike. "What... what happened last night? I don't remember..." Hell, it had all seemed so real. When had I come home? Had I passed out and Sam brought me home? Had I called Linden? I don't remember ever crawling in the bed. "You don't remember?" Linden cocks his head with a smile before answering. "You fell asleep on the couch while watching the movie." I nod. "Yeah, but then Sam arrived and I went to the bonfire—" Linden was already shaking his head. "No. He never came." He chuckles. "Maybe he spontaneously combusted or something." "What?" My eyes are wide. "Why would you say that?" He laughs. "It's a joke. Chill. Anyway, I managed to get you to move to the bed. You were dead tired." I groan. "Don't say that." Linden looks at me quizzically. "The nightmare was just really, really weird. I swear I'm never watching another scary movie again. I dreamt I was being sacrificed by Sam and his friends at the bonfire," I explain. "Really?" Linden's eyes are soft, understanding. He rests his hand on my thigh. "Are you better now?" "Yeah, I'm fine. It just seemed so real," I mumble, then I chuckle. "Although I did dream you were an angel taking me to heaven." Linden laughs with me. "An angel, huh?" "Funny, right?" "I'll be your angel anytime you need me," Linden whispers. I wrap my hand over his where it's resting on my leg. A tingly warmth radiates through me. How had I missed how much this man cared? "How about we get dressed and go get some breakfast?" "Sure." He smiles sweetly and heads to his own room. I sigh heavily, still shaking the last visages of the nightmare from my mind. I lean forward, dropping my head, and running my hands through my hair. I freeze as I feel something tangled in the strands. I pull it free, staring at it in horror. A pine needle.
  12. Calavera

    The last thing wanted Diego wanted to do was go to his ex-girlfriend's Halloween party, or get involved with another one of her ridiculous Halloween pranks. But his mood changed when he met a handsome stranger with a mysterious past and a beautiful smile.
  13. Oh, the Humanity!

    Kids will be kids, no matter what species they are.
  14. In Between

    Woody has just started collage as a botany major where he's glad to be out from under his parents' domain. Now free to explore his sexuality, he's been dating Sam for the last couple weeks, although he's wondering about his shy roommate's interest as well. He's suppose to be going out with Sam on Halloween night, but his roommate doesn't want him to go. He's caught in between.
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