Saturday, October 26, 2019
Halloween Fright - by Helen Krummenacker
*Today's offering is from our anthology "The Vampyre Blogs - One Day At a Time". This is the first time this story has ever appeared on this blog. We have plans for other Halloween tales involving not only Nathan and friends, but other characters from "The Bridge" and "The Ship" in the near future. But for now, please sit back and enjoy a spooky little tale from Lisa and Marisa's childhood days, which hints at a future story set in modern times down the road. Helen is the sole author of this piece and I think she did a great job capturing the fun and innocence of childhood and trick or treat.*
Two giggling girls, nine years old, were getting to trick or treat on their own for the first time after solemnly swearing to their parents that they would stay together, not go into any houses, and stick to familiar streets. And Marisa and Lisa really meant it, too, when they gave their word.
But once they’d gotten their sacks more than a quarter full, they were starting to feel like the main part of town was a little bit boring, even with decorations. Marisa’s mummy bandages were meeting with confused remarks by neighbors who were more familiar with hospital dramas than ancient Egypt, nor did Lisa’s top hat and cape read as Mr. Hyde as much as “Abe Lincoln, maybe?”, killing some of the fun of dressing up. Toddlers and their parents, surrounding them on the streets, not only slowed them down with small talk, but stifled any real delightful shiver of uncertainty.
“I know a place,” said Lisa, “where there’s probably no one home, but it would be fun to explore.”
“What do you mean?” asked her best friend.
“Well, I know the owner, but he doesn’t live there. The place has been empty for years,” she told Marisa, savoring the word ‘years’, drawing it out for emphasis. “I don’t mean go in, but there’s woods and a little cemetery--”
“I am NOT going to a cemetery on Halloween night! The place sounds creepy.”
“That’s what makes it fun!”
Marisa grinned quickly, thinking of all the spooky old films she loved. “Yeah.” She thought about it. “How about we get our bikes and go there, but we stay in sight of the road when we’re there and don’t stay too long.”
Lisa nodded. “Sounds smart. But it’s really not going to be too scary. I mean, sometimes things that seem scary at first turn out not to be.” She couldn’t really explain her Uncle Nathan, but it didn’t seem like anything associated with him could turn out bad. After all, he was a vampire… and the sweetest grown-up she knew.
Marisa was enjoying the chill of the air on her face. “It’s beautiful out here.” The moon was overhead, the trees rustled mysteriously, and the scent of pine, cedar, and birch tinged the breeze. “I thought there were a bunch of old mines on this side of town, though. It’s pretty hilly out here.”
“Yeah, I think there were some old ones.” Lisa tried to remember what Nathan had told her. “They used to have a small one on the estate we’re going to, that just took out coal to sell in town in the old days. People used it in their stoves. It closed for a while, but then it was opened during World War II by government order, for industry.”
“How do you know this stuff?”
“I told you, I know the owner. He’s a family friend, basically. And he’s the last of his family, so sometimes he gets, what’s the word… nostalgic.”
They saved their breath to pedal their way up a long uphill stretch. At the top, Lisa stopped to let Marisa catch up. She pointed, “See, you can see the house past the field. I guess they kept this area cleared.”
“Someone’s got sheep grazing there,” noted Marisa. “Sheep aren’t very scary.”
“Does that mean you want to see the cemetery?”
“No! … Maybe.” They nudged each other, shoulder to shoulder, before taking off down the hill towards the big old house that stood under the moonlight, darker patches where the pale paint had flaked off, vines growing onto the expansive porch, trees beyond with branches scant of leaves, many already lost to the aging fall. It began to feel quite spooky again as they drew closer to see more detail. Faded velvet curtains could be seen through dirty windows. The wind in the trees made suggestive rustling sounds. The creak of their own pedaling could be footsteps on an old, loose floorboard from the rooms above. The girls got off their bikes as they reached a grass-overgrown gravel path leading around the house and began to walk the path, pushing their bicycles by the handlebars, trying not to let the gravel crunch too much under their feet.
It’s not that I’m scared, Lisa told herself. It’s just that it doesn’t seem right to be noisy here. Like being in a library or a museum. It was a matter of respect.
Something cold and clammy touched the back of her neck and she squealed before she could think.
“What is it?!” Marisa whispered, worried.
“A drop of cold water. It fell off the eaves.”
Indeed, the cool night air was producing condensation and the trees and overhangs slowly, almost silently, loosed accumulated moisture without sparing any thought for the nerves of passers by. “We’re being ridiculous,” Marisa said a little louder. “Thinking drops are a clammy finger or that the gravel is tiny bones crunching under our feet. It’s just an old farm no one lives in anymore. We drive past places like this all the time.”
“Not just like this,” Lisa said defensively. “There was a terrible tragedy here.” She wondered briefly about Marisa’s mention of the gravel sounding like crunching bones. Someone was getting carried away by their imagination, and that someone was not her. “During the Civil War, you know West Virginia and Virginia were on different sides. And the Virginians were very angry about it. There was this point during the war when a mob crossed the border and they killed a lot of people here.”
“I did not want to know that.”
Lisa realized the fun was starting to go out of this for Marisa. “It’s okay. It happened so long ago. And… it’s not like ghosts are real.” There, she’d said it. It might not be a very Halloween thing to say, but she didn’t want her friend to be seriously frightened.
They stood there beside the empty old house in silence for a moment, looking at each other, wondering what they really believed about any of these things. They were not that far from home, really. There wouldn’t be anything wrong with being here for a picnic on a bright, sunny day. Maybe they were only really afraid because they were breaking the rules. Maybe they only got goosebumps because the night was a little damp and the breeze was making them cold.
Or maybe they weren’t quite sure that things didn’t go bump in the night. The breeze, which had joined them in stillness, rose up again, and a small, thin voice was carried with it. “Where is everyone?” It was a girl’s voice, sounding a little younger than they were, or perhaps she just sounded even younger because it was high with a plaintive note.
“Where is everyone?” The voice said again, with a slightly different inflection. Lisa and Marisa opened their mouths and screamed in unison. They climbed back onto their bicycles and got back onto the road. They had pedaled at least a tenth of a mile before they realized they had headed the wrong direction, still traveling away from the town. Now, beyond the house, the trees were the scraggly remains of old orchards, interspersed with volunteer trees grown wild from seeds left by birds or squirrels. Lisa signaled for Marisa to stop.
“Are you okay?” they asked each other at the same time, then laughed a little, still nervous but feeling reassured by friendship.
“I’m okay,” Marisa said, “but she sure made a monkey out of you!” They laughed again.
“We’re both fine,” Lisa said bravely. “I mean, so I was wrong about no ghosts, but she was a kid, like us. Just a kid…” she sounded sad now, because she thought she might know who the girl had been. A girl who had died from illness, months before the massacre. But then, why would she be looking for her family?
“Hey,” Marisa said as she saw tufts of grass sticking through breaks in the thin asphalt, “I think the main road turned and we missed it. This doesn’t look right.”
Lisa thought the same thing, noting that the hill rising to their right was just off the shoulder of the single lane, instead of beyond beech trees. “I guess we ended up on the road they used during the war when they were moving out coal.”
“You like history a lot, don’t you?”
“I like knowing why things happened. Roads don’t build themselves, and they don’t start falling apart if people want to use them still.” She had her mouth open to continue, but a weird deep rumble came from the ground to the right, ahead of them. “I don’t know what that is,” she said.
Some muffled booming sounds followed. “It’s real,” Marisa said. “If there’s a mine here, it sounds like it could be ready to collapse.” They craned their heads to look down a shallow curve of road, to where the mine main shaft entrance was. An old metal elevator stood there, dim in the dark, before suddenly being lit from below with an orange glare. A plume of black smoke rose. There was another rumble.
“Fire!” They agreed. Marisa was the first back on her bike this time. “We need to go back and tell someone!”
They rode as fast as they could, legs getting sore. It wasn’t like the panic when the ghostly voice had spooked them. Rather, they had a purpose, because the mine should be abandoned, but what if some homeless people were using it for shelter, or some teens had set up a makeshift haunted house. There had to be a reason that the mine had suddenly caught fire, and it could be that someone careless had lit a candle or something down there, forgetting that gasses or coal dust could catch fire easily.
When they got into town, Lisa’s parents were nearest, which was good because they knew the way. The girls were all for calling out the fire department right away, but the town was very small, so Mr. and Mrs. Weston insisted on going to check on the fire for themselves. “It might have just been something like a will-o-the-wisp near the surface,” Lisa’s dad said as he bundled them into the car. “Or a prank from some teens. There’s likely to be enough trouble-making tonight, so we don’t want to draw in emergency services if it isn’t necessary.”
Much to the confusion of the girls, when they arrived at the mine, the light had gone out. Mr. Weston killed the car engine and they sat in silence for more than a minute to be sure there were no strange rumbles or percussive noises. “What,” said Mrs. Weston at last, “made you think this would be funny? You did say you’d stick to familiar streets.”
“Technically,” Lisa ventured, “the main road out of town isn’t unfamiliar. I mean, we’ve been out this way before. And we only came this way by accident, because the ghost scared us so bad I just fled without paying attention to where. It wasn’t Marisa’s fault, either; she was following me because I knew the way and had glowsticks on.”
“Now it’s ghosts?” said her dad.
They knew then that further attempts to explain would just dig them deeper into trouble. The Westons took Marisa home in their car, and Mr. Weston had a word with her father while she was told to go get ready for bed.
The next day was a school day (another reason it had been a bad idea to go off looking for adventure instead of sticking to the plan to trick or treat), and Lisa and Marisa were even more eager to get together and talk than ever. First, they wanted to compare memories of the night before. Had they heard the same thing from the ghostly voice? Did they both see the smoke, a pillar of it, filling the mine entrance and briefly obscuring the fire? Had they both still seen a ruddy glow, even through the smoke?
They wished they could go back out there by day and check to see if there was fresh soot or something to verify their story. But that was impossible. Marisa’s bike was still on Lisa’s lawn, propped against a tree, and they were both grounded at least until the weekend. Furthermore, there would be no trick or treating for them next year.
“Dad says,” Marisa told Lisa, “that he’s going to personally supervise me next year, and I’m not going anywhere. He says it’s going to be a black and white horror movie marathon for us.”
“My folks,” Lisa said grimly, “won’t let me go anywhere unless there’s going to be an adult present at all times. And it has to be one they know.” She wondered if Uncle Nathan would come if she asked him to. But he moved around a lot so she didn’t know how to reach him.
“Good thing,” said Marisa, with a sly smile, “that they know my dad.”
“Because he was only a little mad, and he says we can have a sleepover.”
This time, their unison scream was a happy one, even if it made the whole cafeteria stare.