It’s Not Really Halloween Until It Gets Dark, Anyway
By Dan Dewitt
I’m a main road guy all the way, and I don’t do shortcuts unless I’m absolutely sure where they’ll take me. So I don’t want you to think that what happened happened because I’m an idiot who felt like injecting a little adventure into a routine drive.
But the little girl, standing there by the side of the road in her butterfly costume … even I wasn’t cold enough to just leave her there.
I pulled up alongside her and rolled down my window. “Are you lost, sweetheart?”
She kept her distance, but answered with rapid nods.
I pulled out my cell phone. “Do you know your phone number?”
She shook her head, because that would have been too easy. “What’s your name?”
“Okay, Jenny. Do you know your address?”
“Do you know how to get home?”
“I think so.”
“Okay, okay, that’s good. Now, I’m going to…” I was going to finish with “call the cops” but then I remembered what it is I do for a living. “Crap, I don’t know.”
“Will you take me?”
I hemmed and hawed to avoid letting a six-year-old girl climb into my car. Why? Again … not an idiot.
“Please, take me home. I don’t know if I can find it once it gets dark.” She started to cry, and her voice got smaller. “Please…”
Whatever heart I had left grew three sizes. I thought, What’s the harm? I mean, I knew that I wasn’t dangerous. Dangerous in that way, at least. And if I didn’t pick her up, she might not be as lucky with the next guy. I hit the power locks. “Hop in.” She did, and placed her bag of candy on her lap. I reached over, put her seat belt on, and drove.
“How’d you end up out here, anyway?’
“Some older kids dared me to go into the woods. They say it’s haunted, but I don’t believe it. They called me chicken. I’m not a chicken. I just couldn’t find my way out.”
“Right.” I struggled to make small talk. “Ummm, get any good candy?”
Her face lit up. “Oh, yeah!” She dug into her bag and pulled out a handful. “Want one?”
I was going to say no, until I saw the Kit-Kat. I tore the wrapper with my teeth and popped it into my mouth whole. “We almost there?” I hoped so. If we weren’t already in the middle of nowhere, it was definitely within spitting distance.
“I think-turn right here!”
I pulled down a dirt road that was framed by firs or pines or whatever the hell they were. I’d just begun to believe that the girl had gotten us well and truly lost when the road opened up and we came upon honest-to-goodness small-town trick-or-treatin’ America.
Swarms of costumed kids moved from house to house. I rolled down the window and the air was filled with their laughter. “Well, here you go.”
She fumbled with the door handle. I was confused for a second, then realized that the power locks were engaged. She opened the door and hopped out, but she didn’t close the door. “Come meet my friends!”
“I, uh, can’t. I have to be somewhere.” I really didn’t.
I thought about it for a second. I really wanted a little break from, well, from being me.
I mingled with the kids for a minute. Their costumes included Iron Man, a princess, and a vampire (the classic scary kind, not the angsty, sparkly kind). I wanted to make sure that none of them were the ones who’d dared Jenny to go into the woods. If they had been, there might have been an accidental tripping in their future. But everything was five by five.
More cars trickled in. I figured this was one of those out-of-the-way neighborhoods that people drove their kids to on Halloween because it was safer. Judging by the architecture, it also had money, so the candy was probably top-shelf, too. No fun sizes here.
The shadows were getting longer. I spied a diner, and decided to grab a bite or five before I hit the road again. I wanted to have a full stomach for when I probably got hellaciously lost trying to find my way back to the interstate. I said goodbye to the kids. Jenny held up a hand, and it took me a second to realize that she was giving me a high-five. I returned it and headed across the street. As I walked away, I heard Jenny yell, “I’m really sorry!”
The diner was … a diner. The guy behind the counter motioned for me to sit down wherever I liked. I decided I liked to sit in the booth next to the booth that contained the only other patron, a really cute redhead.
The counter guy came over with a menu in hand. I waved the menu off. I figured it was a safe bet that they had Western omelettes and coffee. It kept me from having to squint to read the menu in the low light. For some reason, the interior diner lights weren’t on.
“You got it, chief.”
I asked to his back, “And can you turn on the lights?”
“Don’t worry; I could cook a Western in my grave.”
I was more worried about having to eat it by touch. I started fiddling with my phone. Of course I had no signal, but I figured I could do a crossword puzzle to pass the time.
I heard a sweet voice say, “What, you couldn’t go the extra six feet?”
I looked up, and the redhead was smiling. Even I could read that signal.
When I sat down at her booth, she extended a hand and said, “Tess.”
What name was I using now? Oh, right. “Clay.” I tried to give her the 100-watt smile. To this day, I have no idea if it came out charming or creepy. She didn’t run in fear, so that was nice.
We made small talk for a few minutes. Turns out she was a teacher. I told her I was a private investigator. It wasn’t a complete lie.
The counterman brought the food over. Delicious doesn’t quite cover how it smelled. I threw down three bites by the time he was done refilling our coffees. “Where are we, by the way?”
“Haynesville,” he said. “Founded by Samuel Haynes in 17-something or other. Hasn’t really changed much since.”
“Well, it looks like you installed some of those newfangled electric lights at some point. How about turning on a few?”
“No artificial lights on Halloween. Tradition. It’s not really Halloween until it gets dark, anyway. That’s when the fun begins.”
“Yeah, be a trooper!” Tess teased and winked.
“That’s the spirit,” the counterman said, and left us again.
Tess pulled out her phone and set her wallpaper to an all-white picture. The makeshift flashlight gave me enough light to both eat and be distracted by some of the prettiest eyes I’d ever seen. “Fight the power.”
“I like your style.” I went after my omelette like it owed me money. In between mouthfuls, I said, “Am I alone in thinking this is an odd town?”
“It’s quirky. But it’s apparently still safe enough for the kids to go trick-or-treating without adults.”
“Maybe. What’s your kid dressed up as?”
“Your kid’s costume. What is it?”
“Uh, I don’t have kids.”
That ding you might be hearing in your own head isn’t the concierge calling for a bellhop. It’s an alarm bell.
“The only reason I’m here is I found a lost little boy by the side of the road. I brought him home.”
The bells in my head blew a whistle and started to conduct a full brass band riding a float in the “GET THE FUCK OUT OF DODGE NOW” parade. Once again, not an idiot. I did take one last bite of my omelette, though. It was that good. “We gotta go.”
She was reaching in her purse for something. “Didn’t you hear me, girlie???”
“I’m just paying the bi-”
I grabbed her by the arm and yanked her out her seat. I’m no knight in shining armor, but I wasn’t going to leave an innocent woman behind, either. “Fuck the bill! We’re gonna die!”
We got three steps before I slammed on the brakes.
The kids. The damn kids were lined up shoulder to shoulder on the sidewalk, filling up every linear inch of the picture windows. Tess gasped, but choked back the scream that must have wanted to come out. I was in the same boat, except my screams tend to come out as a stream of invectives.
And they began to shimmer. Maybe not shimmer: they began to fade in and out at irregular intervals. The effect reminded me of a strand of twinkle lights set to high.
I yelled at the counterman. “What is this?”
Tess pulled away from me and ran into the back. I heard her yell, “There’s no back door!”
I aimed at the counterman’s face. “Maybe you didn’t hear me. What is this?”
“You’ll die.” He said it so simply. “I and some others will live because of your sacrifice. It’s been that way for a long time. Trick or treat.”
I looked to the front of the diner. The kids were gone.
That’s what I thought at first. But they were still there. At least, absolute blackness in the shape of the kids was still there.
I flicked the light switches on the wall. Nothing. Big surprise. “Tess!” She came running. She had a large kitchen knife in her hand. “I just figured that you had that, so-”
“I don’t care if you rolled out of there with a bazoo-”
The shadows came for us. They didn’t even have the decency to bust through the glass like normal monsters. No, they came through the door all nice and orderly. Guess which way is more terrifying?
Instinct took over. I fired. I heard a screech. In the split-second of muzzle flash, I saw that the shadow had what looked way too much like butterfly wings to be coincidence. An hour before, that shadow had given me a Kit-Kat.
The Jenny-thing jumped back, hurt but not dead. Deader. Whatever.
“Clay! Did you see that?”
“The things! It looks like you hurt a bunch of them when you fired!”
“But I only hit one!” Then it clicked. “No artificial lights on Halloween. Tradition. It’s not really Halloween until it gets dark, anyway.”
Tess, who was apparently one of those smart teachers, came to the same conclusion. She snatched her phone off of the table. She held it in front of her like a crucifix. The things had recovered and began moving forward again. Her wallpaper just wasn’t bright enough to hurt them. I fired and they retreated.
I grabbed my own phone and handed it to her. “Use the camera flash!”
“Got it!” She fumbled with it for a moment. “Do you have a flashlight app?”
“There’s a flashlight app?”
“Never mind! I got the flash!” She popped one off and those things double-timed it backward.
It was almost funny. I had a .45, she had a cell phone, yet she had the big gun. I asked her where she was parked. The nutshell answer was even farther than I was. “All right! We have to make it like 400 feet!”
“That’s more than a football field!”
“Just keep flashing!”
Yeah, totally said that.
I’d taken a lot of pictures with that phone, and I was aware of how long it took to cycle out of the picture that had just been taken. It was only about 5-7 seconds, but I’d seen a lot of kids when I arrived. If they were all like … that … we were in trouble. I’d have to supplement with the .45, but I only had 13 rounds left. I was actually grateful; I’d almost left it in the car.
She got off two more and cleared the doorway. I turned around and wasted a round on the counterman. I say “foolishly” not because it was a waste of a round (killing that guy was the right thing to do), but because it had no effect. He just kind of chuckled.
I really hate that guy, damn the omelette
We hustled out the door, and fought our way across the street.
Quickly, we were halfway there, but we were also surrounded. There were even more kids than I thought.
“What do we do?”
“We-” I felt a searing pain in my upper arm. My arm went immediately numb. Thank God it wasn’t my firing arm. I blindly kicked out and connected with something, and followed it up with three panic shots. In the flash I could make out a shadow with claws. If I’d had time to count, I could have told you if it was Wolverine or Freddy Krueger.
“Are you okay?!?”
“Shit, no! We have to make a run for it!” I did something nuts just then: I handed her my gun.
She used the flash again. The things were getting closer and closer. “Why do I have this?”
“You’ve gotta clear the path! Don’t worry about accuracy! Go!”
She went, and I was hot on her heels. She did an admirable job keeping the shadows at bay as much as possible, but there were just so many. And those little bastards were fast.
Still, I thought we could beat them to my car, if only a bunch of them weren’t standing between us and it. Worse, I was counting rounds, because I always counted my rounds. She was out. We were now armed with nothing more than a cell phone and my car keys.
“Forget the flash! Just run your ass off!”
“Those things are there!”
“Just trust me!”
For whatever reason, she did. She ran for all she was worth right at those things. I held my key fob outstretched in my hands, and I was pressing the button as fast as I could. The shadows in front of my car decided to help close the gap between us even faster.
I kept pressing.
One of the kids coming for us was wielding something that was shaped like an ax. A bunch of gashes in my arm said it could do the same damage as a real one.
The ax began to move in a flat arc, at a level meant to separate Tess’s top half from her bottom half. Lacking any other options, I grabbed her collar with my good arm, yanked us both down, and prayed I wouldn’t drop the keys. I dipped her as low as my back would allow and ducked. The ax whistled over our heads harmlessly, but still too close for comfort. The shadow was thrown off-balance by its miss and stumbled, but it was already regaining his feet and coming for us again.
I covered her up as best as I could and clamped my eyes shut as the shadow brought his ax overhead for the killing stroke.
My thumb found the button, and I had time to press it once more.
Finally my engine roared to life. And with it, my headlights. I heard shrieks. When I was pretty sure we weren’t dead, I opened my eyes and surveyed the scene. I saw that the shadows in front of the car were gone, and the rest were retreating away from the unforgiving glare of the halogen bulbs.
We were bathed in light, temporarily safe. Tess opened her eyes a few seconds later. She looked up at me and said, “Clay, I just…thank you.” Her dark eyes locked on mine with…was it gratitude? Anticipation? Disorientation? Or was it something simple like utter disgust? “We’re really alive?”
“I say we get in that car, come back next Halloween with spotlights and cases of flashbangs, and wreck this place.”
She grinned. “It’s a date.”
No one has ever accused me of having good impulse control. It’s a character quirk that keeps my lawyers very happy to have me as a client. My body gave my brain a second to chime in, but my brain was slow in responding, so my body left a message and just did what it wanted to do. I pressed my lips to hers in a kiss that was so violently necessary that I, just for a moment, forgot all about the dangerous situation we were still in.
When I felt her free arm snake up my chest, grab the back of my neck, and pull me even closer…well, let’s just say that I took that as a good sign.
That kiss could have lasted a year and it wouldn’t have been long enough. I reluctantly pulled away from her. She exhaled slowly, and then began to laugh.
I didn’t know what to think about that, and I said as much. “I expected a lot of things, like maybe a sock in the jaw, but this wasn’t on the list.” Her laugh was sincere and almost musical to me just then. It was also contagious, and I soon found myself laughing without knowing why.
“Whew. That was … something else.” I must have had a look of shock on my face, because she said, “Hey, I’m as surprised as you are. Maybe it’s the fear talking.” She composed herself and gave me another, more deliberate, kiss. “Mmm. Nope. Happy Halloween.”
“Was that a trick or a treat?”
“Little of both.”
“Good to know.”
“Well, Marlowe, I don’t know if things just got simpler or more complicated.”
“Teach,” I said, as I helped her to her feet, “I don’t do simple.”
Dan DeWitt is a freelance writer and editor with a bachelor’s degree in English from the State University of New York. He has published several short works of fiction in various ezines, and his profile of “Military Mom in Action” founder Kathy Buckley was featured in Success Magazine, Ltd.
He was born and raised in North Attleboro, Massachusetts. His mother is an avid reader and he manifested the same trait at a young age. He began raiding the family library on a regular basis, reading multiple genres, and found that horror is what most appealed to him. After a less-than-distinguished high school career, he joined the military to both serve his country and finance his education.
Dan spent eight years in Security Forces for the United States Air Force. Many long overnight shifts meant a lot of odd conversations, some of the liveliest of which began with, “What would you do if zombies attacked right now?” Those tactics-heavy discussions planted the seeds for his second novel, Orpheus
. He is currently at work on Croatoan
, the novelization of his original screenplay of the same name that placed in the top 10% at the Austin Film Festival.
Though a native New Englander who was taught to shun r‘s, he now lives with his wife and son in upstate New York, where people add an s to the name of every retail store, for some reason. He just can’t win.
Cameron Holt is lucky enough to survive the initial outbreak that turns an idyllic New England island community into a hive of the walking, and running, dead. So is his son, Ethan. Now, the only thing keeping Holt going is the desire to either rescue his missing son from the zombies or, more likely, remove him permanently from their ranks.
A phone call is cut short just as Ethan defies his father and goes looking for his mother. Holt fights his way to the hospital and finds it under siege. He and other survivors eventually form two teams, each with a drastically different purpose. One saves people, the other eliminates everything in their way. The teams are constantly at odds, as are Holt and the arrogant head of the hospital, his ghoulish lead researcher in tow.
Holt is understandably obsessed with finding his son, but can’t ignore the simple fact that people are looking to him for leadership. If he’s not perfect, people will die. During his search, he discovers a new breed of zombie and a frightening hidden agenda, but he doesn’t do it alone. His team is with him every step of the way.
The skills he learned in the military help keep him and others alive, but he’s no superhero. Holt is only a man, physically and mentally exhausted, who lives at his limits simply because that’s what a father does.
Ethan, unmistakably his father’s son, has his own story to tell, as well. It begins with a movie date a few feet from Patient Zero.
Vengeance…desperation…murder-for-hire…horror in real-time…a healthy dose of zombies…spectrophobia…even a little bit of hope. They all come together in a place underneath the one we know.
*Nikki here, I must say I LOVED this post! Dan is someone I met on Twitter and if you’re on there you need to follow him too! He’s hilarious and talented and just a awesomely cool guy. Yes, he is paying me to say that. Alright, he’s not and even though I will probably not hear the end of it from him…it’s the truth. He’s gonna get a big head now…*sigh*…hope everyone enjoyed the short story and have a HAPPY HALLOWEEN!*