Halloween is just around the corner. One of the things I like to do is find creepy little short stories to swallow down between watching horror flicks and catching up on great horror books like John Everson’s THE PUMPKIN MAN or Bryan Smith’s ALL HALLOW’S DEAD
I was looking through my collections by various writers and picked four stories that I wanted to pass along to you. Each one will sneak under your flesh in their own loving, squirming way. From an author who goes somewhere he never should have, to a boy and his parent’s special house guest, to a reporter who finds out the truth about the Dalton Doll Company, and then to some kids who want to lose the weirdo their parents are making them bring trick or treating.
I love these stories so much.
Feel free to comment on these ones or make you own suggestions.
“Best New Horror” by Joe Hill (From 20th Century Ghosts)
“The Man Upstairs” by Ray Bradbury (From The October Country)
“The Harbinger” by Todd Keisling (From Ugly Little Things Vol. One)
“The House on Cottage Lane” by Ronald Malfi (Available for 99 cents from Amazon)
I also figured I’d share one of my own Halloween stories with you. A couple years ago, I put out my collection, SLUSH. “Halloween Worm” is one of the last stories that made its way in. I’m glad it did. This is a fun little number. I hope you like it.
“Halloween Worm” was originally published in my short story collection, SLUSH. Copyright © Glenn Rolfe 2014
Art by Tracy Hawkins
“Eat shit, Keith!” I picked up my little sister’s Barney pillowcase and scavenged as much candy as I could see in the darkened dirt lot beneath my feet. Franky had insisted on not cutting through the field, but I knew it would get us back to my house in time to catch AMC’s annual showing of Halloween. The field skirted Paul’s Pick-A-Part, a sort of vehicular organ donor center two roads over from mine. Franky had warned me about it being too close to Holt Street and its number one bad boy, Keith Dennis, but I let my love for Michael Myers override the undercurrent of dread that flowed at the dumb ox’s name, and now, here we all are.
Keith Dennis was a bully in the purest sense. Ugly as a dog gone mad from rabies. His face, with its too wide nose, fat lips that clung like leeches to his mouth, and a bad acne scar that flared on his left cheek like some horrible explosion in the cosmos, looked pure mean. The guy had a natural born instinct to single out kids half his size, throw some dumb insults about how their friends are their butt-buddies, and a rotten gift that allowed him to take and break the amazing glow sword that you busted your butt making from pure ingenuity (something guys like Keith Dennis couldn’t spell, let alone appreciate) just because he’s an asshole.
“What’d you say to me you little shit?” Keith said. He held the broken handle of my sword, dropped his own bag of candy, and stepped forward.
My guts turned, my voice of reason whimpered I told you so, but as my eyes landed upon the now non-glowing plastic blade lying in the dirt behind this jerk, the part of my genetic make-up that got me in trouble with guys like Keith Dennis did the unthinkable. Next to one of the bite-sized Snickers bars that had escaped my candy sack, there was a smooth, oval rock the size of my fist. Before I had time to consider the consequences, I snatched the mini-boulder, jumped to my feet, and cracked Keith across the temple with it. He stumbled backward, dropped the handle of my broken sword, and held his head. A thin trickle of dark liquid seeped through his fingers.
I looked over at Franky whose eyes were as big and bright as the full moon over our heads, and said, “Run!”
The blood gushing from Keith’s head as he pulled his giant mitt away from the wound birthed an outright sense of oh shit-panic, and spurred my need to escape. The fluorescent light I’d carefully placed inside the plastic blade of my sword crunched beneath my sneakers. I grabbed Franky by his ten dollar Dracula cape, and made for the dull lights of Holt Street.
“Dan, Dan, shouldn’t we tell somebody to…I don’t know help him?” Franky’s voice never sounded so whiny.
We hit the pavement, our sneakers slapping as we moved toward the first house, Mrs. Bean’s. “Just shut up, Franky,” I said. “You want me to get in trouble?”
Headlights cut the darkness as blue lights swirled to life.
Oh shit, oh shit!
“Is that Dan Trask and Franky Taylor?”
Officer Gilchrist. Grade A hard ass, and all around fuck-hole.
He stepped out of the car, lights still whirling through the night, and walked our way as we stopped and tried to catch our breath.
“Where you boys coming from, tonight?”
Think, think, think…
“They were with me. I fell back there by the lot, and they were running to get help.”
It was Keith, but he didn’t look…right.
“Ain’t that right, guys?” he said. Keith stepped up to my side, and placed one of his bear like arms around my shoulders.
Franky would have looked pale as the undead even without the make-up.
“Ah, yeah, we thought he was…hurt,” I managed. I felt Keith’s thick fingers press into my arm.
“Wanna tell me what you boys were doing down by Paul Meacham’s scrapyard?”
“Just kid’s stuff. Throwing rocks at the old beaters,” Keith said. “One bounced right back and hit me in the head. I got a little queasy when I saw the blood, but I’m okay.”
“I could bring you boys in tonight for throwin’ rocks down there,” Officer Gilchrist said.
He could, but he wouldn’t.
“I know Officer, but we didn’t break anything. Honest. We just wanna finish trick-or- treating and get home for some scary movies. Please don’t tell my dad,” I said. I knew I sounded like a little wussy boy, but Keith’s story was better than mine. Besides, there was shame in being driven home in a cop car, but dealing with Keith Dennis, well, that was just a matter of manning up and taking what you got coming.
“All right, but if I catch you boys back down here tonight, you’re all going in.”
“Yes sir,” Keith and I said in unison. I could see a grin, a just you wait grin, dance onto his ugly face.
The big lug kept me muckled to his side as we watched Officer Gilchrist drive away.
“Hey Franky,” Keith said.
Poor Franky looked over with eyes that begged not to be hurt. “Yeah?”
“Get the fuck outta here. Me and your boyfriend got some man-to-man business to deal with.”
Franky’s eyes met mine, and I nodded. He didn’t deserve the beatdown, I did. The empathy in his pleading eyes was good enough for me.
Keith and I stood like best buds, butt-buddies as he would say. I watched Franky skulk down the sidewalk, his small shadow bouncing along after him beneath the streetlamps. The lump in my throat threatened to choke me.
Before I had a chance to try and talk my way out of the maximum pain sentence Keith Dennis loved to dole out to his victims, his McGregor’s swept my feet from under me as he yanked the hood of my sweatshirt backward. I slammed onto the sidewalk, the wind from my lungs released faster than a rocket pass from Peyton Manning.
“I got something special for you, Trask,” he said. He dropped one fat knee atop my chest and fished around in his Halloween sack. He pulled out an orange prescription bottle. He uncapped it and wiggled something into his hand.
My eyes landed on the thing that squirmed between his fingers. A worm.
“This was in my Candy Apple from Mr. Danson’s house. You know that crazy old fuck on Emerson Road? He denies it, but my Uncle Jerry told me that fucker’s a sex offender, a child rapist. I ain’t scared of no pederast, so I knocked on his door last year. He gave me a candy apple. The sick bastard grinned like he wanted to suck my stump right then and there.”
I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about, and I never prayed so hard to see Officer Gilchrist in my whole life.
“I took that candy apple, opened it as I was walking down his shitty cat infested porch steps, and ate it on my way to the next house. I never looked back, but I could feel his creepy boy-fucking eyes on the back of my head.”
Keith looked like he was in the middle of a dream. I could see his eyes glisten in the street lights as he looked at the trees behind us.
“You see this fucking hole in my cheek?” he said. A more natural hatred fixed his eyes.
I did see the mark on his face. The one I thought was a bad acne scar.
“My ma took me to the emergency room that night.” He paused, a tear slipped from the corner of his right eye. He sucked in two quick breaths through his wide nose, trying to hide a hitch. “I could feel something tearing at the inside of my mouth all night. I was trying to enjoy Terror Train, but this, this thing, kept chewing at me. I thought it was some kind of bad canker. I tried to lie down and go to sleep, and I dozed right off with the screams coming from the TV. I opened my eyes an hour later, reached for my face and felt the blood…and then the hole. I didn’t bother looking at it. I just ran to my ma’s room and pulled her outta bed. She got us down to the ER where they got me right in.” He stopped, and stared at the thing between his fingers. It wiggled hello.
“This is what the Doc pulled outta my mouth that night, except, it wasn’t moving. He told me it was dead. I asked him if I could have it. I was gonna torture it, dead or not. But after they patched up my face, and I got home, it began to move. I wanted to crush it, spill its guts, but I had a thought. I was gonna get that fucking pervert. I knew it was him.”
Captivated by his story, I couldn’t remember my own fear. His cheek was still discolored, but you couldn’t tell it had ever had a hole in it.
He grabbed me by the front of my sweatshirt with his free hand. My fear returned in spades.
Oh God, don’t let him make me eat that thing…
“Stop acting like a queer,” he said. He dropped the worm back into the little orange pill bottle and capped it. “That old man’s getting his payback, and you’re gonna help me.”
“What? Why me?”
He let go of my sweatshirt and stood back up. “Cuz I ain’t got anybody else. I got no real friends. And you owe me for hitting me with that goddam rock.”
He had me there.
“So, we doing this now?” I said.
“Fucking right we are.”
We set out. Neither of us said another word until we reached Emerson Road.
Mr. Danson’s house and its cat littered porch, sat in complete darkness. By way of bad omen, the street lamp next to his pervert shack went out.
We both looked up.
“Fuck it,” Keith said. “Come on. He’s getting his little friend back whether he wants it or not.”
I followed. Our candy sacks had been left behind. Keith carried the little prescription bottle with the odd cheek-eating worm in his hand as he led the way around the abandoned house next to Danson’s and into the old man’s backyard.
The night seemed dead: no cars, no children, and no wind. The hairs stiffened on the back of my neck. I wondered if Mr. Danson was waiting for us.
“Hold this,” Keith said. He handed me the bottle with the awful Halloween worm.
I tried to protest, but he grunted and glared at me. I took the little orange bottle with the white label.
“I’m going to walk around front and knock on his door.”
“What?” I said, louder than I meant to.
“Shhh. He’s gonna open up just like last year, and I’m gonna slam his ass to the ground. Once I rough him up a little, I’m gonna let you in the back. Then we’ll give him what’s his.”
It was a shit plan–a damn, shitty plan–but he was up and off before I could say so. I listened, hearing his footsteps around the house, crunching leaves the old man hadn’t cared to rake from under the tree hanging over the corner of his house like some sort of giant spider. After a few seconds, I heard Keith knock.
This is stupid. This is really, really stupid. I should just drop this creepy thing and go home.
“You son of bitch,” I heard Mr. Danson’s high-pitch voice yell.
There was a scuffle. I could hear feet shuffling, a door banging, and various grunts and curse words from both of them. And then, the door slammed shut.
Run. The good voice of reason screamed at me.
Instead, I waited. This silence wasn’t golden, but it was more like pure hell on a stick, dripping red with the blood of innocence gone wrong. Still, I, we waited… just me and the evil Halloween worm. What a pair!
The latch on the back door rattled and intruded on my thoughts. My body hair reached for the radio airwaves above. I held my breath.
The back door swung open.
“C’mon, man,” Keith said. He was breathing heavy.
A small burst of fireworks set off over my elated fears. A small victory.
“I knocked that geriatric pervert out with his own cane,” he said as I slipped into the dark hallway behind him. “He managed to whack me in the same spot you did, but all it did was piss me off. I jumped him, pinned him to the ground, and threw a couple solid punches into his old man face. Once I beat the fight out of him, I took his cane and whacked him good over the head with it.”
Jesus, I thought. Lucky if he didn’t kill him. I prayed that the guy–pervert or not–was still alive. Sure enough, there he lay sprawled out on a matted, forest green rug. He had a giant red mark on his forehead. Two of his dozen cats–one white, one black–sat mewling by his head as if to stir him to awake.
The living room of his home smelled like cat piss and shit, mixed with cigarettes and hamburger grease. At least six other cats strutted around and licked themselves, indifferent to the two newcomers standing in the room. The little brown couch against the wall opposite the front door was torn to shit. Stuffing spilled out of it like the guts of Braveheart. I looked around and saw a wooden baseball bat leaning against a metal rack between the door and small TV stand. Atop the metal rack was a fish tank. It was filled with dirt instead of water. Ant farm? More likely a worm farm. An evil cheek-eating worm farm.
“Okay, give me the worm,” Keith said.
“All right you fucking pederast bastard, time to take your medicine,” he said. Keith popped off the white cap, squeezed the old man’s cheek, and opened his toothless mouth. Mr. Danson looked like a dying fish. Keith jiggled the orange bottle directly over the open 0.
I watched the worm drop in and disappear. Mr. Danson jerked and gagged. Keith clamped his hands over the old man’s maw.
“What are you doing?” I said. Mr. Danson’s eyes shot open. He squirmed and writhed behind Keith’s hand, gagging all the while.
“Shut up, Trask,” Keith barked. He turned back to Mr. Danson. “How do you like it you fucking perv?”
Mr. Danson’s eyes were wild. He brought his right hand up to Keith’s face. I couldn’t do anything but watch as the old man drove his thumb through Keith’s left eye.
Keith’s scream devoured the silence. He flailed at Mr. Danson. Keith’s arms looked like one of those crazy daisy lawn toys that shook every which way.
Mr. Danson’s thumb jabbed over and over into Keith’s ruined eye. The sick man’s gaze sparkled with madness. He was delirious with a wicked joy. I should stop this. I should kick him in the head, or smash him in the face with something…I stumbled backward plopping down on the gut spewing couch, playing witness to this horror. Keith, reaching for his eye, fell off the crazy old man.
Mr. Danson stood. My eyes caught the tenting in the front of his sweatpants. Keith rolled back and forth on the carpet and held both hands over the latest damage inflicted by this strange man.
“You boys should have stayed home tonight,” Mr. Danson said. “Hold still, you cry baby faggot,” he said. He placed his boot on Keith’s ankle and leaned forward. “I said, hold still, faggot!”
“Arrrgggh!” Keith’s pain cut deep into my heart.
Mr. Danson moved up to Keith’s head, stepping on various parts of the bully on the floor along the way. He turned his devil eyes to me. “This the kind of company you keep, boy?”
I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe.
He stood over Keith, and looked down upon him with disgust. “I should pull out your dirty little thingy and give it a good tug. Would you like that? Huh?” he said, pushing the toe of his boot down on Keith’s hand-covered eye. There was blood all over Keith’s face and hands. “Yeah, I bet you would.” Mr. Danson’s leer returned to me. “How about you? You a faggot, boy? You want a little sweet tug from an old pro?”
“You sick son of a bitch,” I cried out.
His smile dropped, but my balls on the other hand flew north for the winter, never to be seen again.
“Well,” he said. He took a step back, and looked down at Keith. “Looks like I got another date tonight, boy. Sorry. Say hello to heaven for me.” With that Mr. Danson raised one booted foot and crashed it down like a flash of lightening, striking once, twice, three times before he dropped to his knees, and hunched over Keith’s broken face. Keith wasn’t moving. Mr. Danson bent down to Keith’s lips. I thought he was going to kiss him. Instead, Mr. Danson spat the worm directly into the Keith’s bloody mouth.
His head turned to me, like a wolf spotting fresh prey.
I gasped, and scrambled to my feet. Mr. Danson didn’t bother to get up, he just came crawling on all fours.
Out of pure reflex I stepped forward like this was kickball, and caught him square in the face.
He sat up and cried out.
Instinct screamed at me to keep on him, not to let up.
Before I had time to act, Mr. Danson sprung at me. His fingers climbed into my mouth like a creepy-crawly in the night, and yanked in opposite directions. My lips felt like they could split at any second; his calloused fingers tasted as bad as the bottom of our garbage can smelled. The rank image of squirming maggots and slimy leftovers shuddered through me. I screamed and pushed back against my perverted attacker with all of my strength.
“Oooh, a fighter, heh?”
The bastard stood. I continued to drive us backwards. His fingers slid from my mouth and journeyed down my chest to my waist.
We hit something on the floor and tumbled down together. I heard a loud, thick crack. Mr. Danson groaned and fell silent. I landed atop of him. I could feel the hard stick in his pants go limp beneath my ass. Then the dirt began to fall.
“…ohh…huh?” he moaned.
The dirt–more like a damp soil–piled up on my shoulders, my thighs, and my forearms. The earthly smell was welcomed compared to the rest of the piss-soaked house.
At first, I wasn’t sure what the hell he was talking about. I figured he’d hit his head too hard and was having some kind of dizzy vision. Then I remembered the cracked glass, the dirt, the ant farm…the worm farm.
I bolted upright and swiped at the dark clumps of soil attached to me. I saw the creatures hidden within the dirt begin to squiggle just before I felt the first bite. I jerked my forearm and barked out a sharp cry. I swatted the filth and its hungry inhabitant from my skin. A flap of flesh where the thing had bitten me drooled blood and a snot-like residue. Another pinch sunk into my thigh, followed by another and another. Behind me, Mr. Danson began yelping. I turned and saw more of the worms dig into his wrinkled flesh. One was burrowing into the side of his neck, while another turned up toward his eye. Even as one sank its strangely-fanged maw into my shoulder, my gaze locked on Mr. Danson’s right eye and one of his “babies” with the evil intentions.
The splultch sound of the worm latching its fangs into his eyeball was followed by Mr. Danson’s high-pitched shriek.
Eye for an eye.
I shot up to my feet and swatted at every inch of my body I could reach. In my mind’s eye, I saw millions of the tiny beasts trying to devour me. I managed to clear the one from my shoulder, and the ones that were still on my arms and thighs. I tap-danced away from the rug at my feet and the thirty to forty gross, pale worms writhing around on the floor. Mr. Danson flailed and flopped like a giant fish pulled from the sea.
Keith was silent. His body still.
Two of the pale worms were trying to bite through Keith’s jeans. I knelt down and whacked them from his pant leg. His chest did not rise or fall.
“Keith?” I took his head in my hands and slapped him hard across the face. “Keith!”
I jumped at the dirty, yellowed fingernails that dug into the side of my neck. I shrugged him off.
“You did this! You did this!” Mr. Danson’s closed and tattered eye leaked the odd mix of blood and slime down his cheek. His clawed hands reached out for me. I stood, and spotted the baseball bat by the door.
I stepped over Keith and gripped the bat.
Mr. Danson gave out one last ear-piercing squawk before I planted the bat down upon the center of his forehead. He dropped to the floor and lay across Keith’s legs. The worms went to work on his exposed flesh.
I stood still, the bat gripped in my hands and held out toward the perverted worm meal like a ninja warrior from one of the games Franky always liked to play on his Xbox. I looked at Keith. I was pretty sure he was dead.
After a moment’s hesitation, I bolted out the door, the murder weapon (I was certain that my strike had killed the old man) in hand, and ran out into the cold, dark night. Halfway home, I tossed the bat into a thicket of woods near the end of my street. My lungs, my gums, my throat, all burned. Still, I ran. I pumped and pumped my legs, and propelled my body onward, away.
I stumbled into my backyard. The site of our back porch and my dad’s trusty grill welcomed me. I dropped to my knees and flopped down on my butt. Keith Dennis may have been a jerk, but he deserved a better end than the one he got. Mr. Danson, however, earned every last nibble that he had coming from his Halloween worms.
I spat down at the yellowed grass between my legs. Try as I might, I could not rid my mouth of the taste left behind from the nasty pervert’s grimy fingers. I brought my knees up, and reached around and locked my fingers together. I stared toward the woods down the street. Would Officer Gilchrist know I had been there, too? When he found Mr. Danson and Keith Dennis, would he know that a third person had been involved? Would he find the bat?
I felt the urge to seek out the weapon and toss it into the Kennebec River. My gaze dropped to the wet wound on my forearm where one of the worms had bit me. How much could one worm eat? How much of Mr. Danson could thirty or forty of them eat? Would there be anything left?
Would they finish Keith, as well?
My face refused to show it, but inside, I smiled when I thought about the conviction of the school bully. It may have killed him, but like a great warrior, Keith Dennis got his revenge.