New neighborhoods , and neighbors can be frighteningly unpredictable
When more than just trick or treaters populate the night
Truth is scarier than fiction
"Oh wow, this looks great!"
Walt stepped back to admire the yard decorations. It had taken the better part of the afternoon, but their efforts had been rewarded. Km was draping the oak tree with fake spider webbing and pulled an edge onto the porch roof. The effect was perfect, something close to Spanish moss and ancient arachnid activity. With styrofoam tombstones painted to appear weather-beaten, combined with plastic skeletons clawing their way out of the soil, the exterior of the house had the perfect haunted look he wanted.
"I sure hope the neighbors don't mind," Km said. "The house is ugly enough without us making it worse."
"Naw, they're gonna love it." Besides, what did he care? They hadn't even taken the time to welcome them into the neighborhood. He and Km had been there for three weeks and not one living soul had bothered to say "hi". So, on this eve of All Hallowed Saints, he felt confident there would be no protest.
The house sat in a secluded cul-de-sac. With only two other homes, both old Victorians like his, he supposed their owners were probably as antique as their dwellings. He glanced up at the gabled roof. Yes, it really was creepy looking. A wooden shutter canted away from an upstairs window. Another thing to fix, but that could wait. Right now he wanted to take advantage of every frightful nuance of this old fixer-upper. Repairs would come later.
Km adjusted the position of a skeletal hand. "How's this?"
"Looks wonderful. You did a great job."
She turned to go into the house, then stopped and pointed to the gray house diagonally across the circular drive. "Someone's watching us."
A figure stood in the window of the third floor turret, dimly outlined behind lace curtains. It was the first human being he had seen in the quiet block since they moved in. He lifted his hand to wave, but the figure disappeared.
"They don't seem very friendly," Km said and went into the house.
No, not very friendly, but he wasn't concerned. Old New Englanders could be like that, suspicious of strangers. They planned to restore the place and become permanent fixtures in Mary's Cove. After eight years of college and then two more years of internship at a big law firm in Portland, he had finally found his niche in this quiet little village on the coast of Maine. Making friends with the neighbors might take some time, but he would, eventually.
Inside Km had already started carving the pumpkins. He'd let her do it, she was a much better artist than he was, and usually created a wonderfully spooky scene on their Jack-o-lanterns. She sketched a witch flying across the face of a full moon on the biggest. As he picked up the big plastic spoon, ready for his menial labor as pumpkin guts scooper, the doorbell rang.
"Isn't it a bit early for trick or treaters?" She asked.
He glanced up at the clock. Five forty-five. "No, it's dusk out. Probably a mom with a little one. They like to get their toddlers home early."
Km giggled when he opened the door and a toddler dressed quite effectively in a dark brown puppy suit grinned up at him from the porch. A soft plastic doggy nose muffled his words a bit.
"Tick or tweet!"
He was a cutie with his big brown eyes, that was for sure. One floppy ear hung halfway over his face, the other stuck out at an angle from his head. The fur looked very soft and fuzzy, just like a young pup. Walt reached for one of the bundles of candy Km had made up. Odd. Where was this child's mother? There was no parent waiting expectantly on the sidewalk.
"Uh, here ya go," he said, and dropped the packet into the tattered pillowcase the child held out. "You out all by yourself?"
A grin spread across his face. "Yip."
He turned and trundled down the stairs then scampered off toward the gray house.
"Must be their kid. Pretty trusting of them, he couldn't have been more than three." Km said.
"Yeah, very trusting. Especially when his parents haven't talked to us yet. We could be the new ax-murderers on the block for all they know."
Km giggled again and went back to carving. Her skill was mind-boggling. Bits and pieces of pumpkin flipped off the tip of the paring knife and slowly revealed the frightening visage of the Grim Reaper. The witch had already been completed. The third orange globe that was to fall under her artistic spell gave up its innards as he watched. She gave him an exasperated sigh when she finished long before he had removed the last of the seeds.
"Come on, pokey, it's dark out! I want to get these on the porch before any more kids come."
He turned the pumpkin upside down and patted its bottom. A hollow thock resounded as the final four seeds littered the newspaper. "Okay, here ya go. I'll put these out while you do your magic on this one."
He placed the eviscerated gourd in front of her. After taking the witch, he paused at the counter and stuck in a candle. A book of matches lay on the coffee table and he snagged it when he walked by. Outside, he carefully turned the face of the jack-o-lantern toward the street where it would have the best opportunity to be viewed. After retrieving the Grim Reaper, he set it opposite the first, then lit the candles in each.
"Cool!" A voice from behind him said.
Startled, he turned around. A young boy of about ten dressed in a dark brown dog suit stood on the sidewalk admiring Km's artwork. He grinned through a soft plastic dog nose, brown eyes sparkling, then spoke in a lower voice.
"Trick or treat!"
The kid looked to be the older brother of the toddler that had arrived earlier. Why hadn't they come together? It was sort of cute, though, how they were both dressed as dogs, one a puppy, the other a near Pluto look-alike.
"Well, hi there. Come up on the porch, I'll get you some candy."
The boy bounded up the stairs ahead of him and stood expectantly by the door. He suddenly barked out a sharp laugh and poked the doorbell, still grinning.
"Trick or treat, trick or treat," he said and bounced up and down.
"Hold on pardner, I'm coming." The kid seemed overly anxious for his candy, or was in a great hurry. Km opened the door just as he reached for it.
"Oh, good," she said and smiled at the boy. "Here you go."
She dropped a bundle in his worn pillowcase. The boy scampered off the steps without so much as a thank you, and raced back toward the gray house. If the kids were anything like the parents, it was no wonder they never bothered to welcome them as new neighbors. The screen door banged open a second time. Km stuck the final pumpkin, a graveyard scene with ghosts rising, through the doorway. This one was even better than the first two.
"Honey, you put me to shame. This is the best pumpkin yet!"
"Thank you, darlin'," she said, then kissed his cheek. "Want to cuddle by the fireplace while we wait for trick-or-treaters?"
"Yes." This aspect of Halloween he liked best, cuddling between visits. He quickly lit the pumpkin and set in on the wood railing above the witch scene. No use wasting anymore time outdoors. The neighborhood was as quiet as a tomb when he shut the door behind him.
The candy bowl held enough packages of candy for an army of kids. He and Km would likely be the ones that ate most of it. The crackle of newly burning wood enticed him into the living room. She had a bottle of wine open next to a dish of candy corn on the coffee table. Oh yeah, he really loved Halloween.
Forty minutes later, the doorbell rang. Km gave him one more passionate kiss before he got up. He was tempted not to open the door this time, but acquiesced to the demand. A wolfman mask looked directly into his face. It was an excellent rendition of the Lon Chaney classic. Furry gloves completed the illusion. A deep voice issued from the mask. Walt guessed the age of the "treater" to be the late teens.
"Trick or treat."
When he dropped the packet of candy into the bedraggled pillowcase he noticed there were two identical bundles inside, and nothing else. A closer look confirmed it. The toddler and the boy had carried this same pillowcase. What was going on?
A bit perturbed, he looked into the eyeholes of the wolfman mask. Slightly bloodshot, two brown eyes stared back at him. The teenager suddenly let out a howling laugh, bolted from the porch and sprinted toward the gray house. Walt watch as the young man disappeared around the side of the house.
This was getting to be a bit bizarre. The sound of the wolfman treater's baying laughter echoed from the back yard of his home. It evoked an unexpected shiver. He'd heard about places like this. Secluded areas with weird neighborhoods and even stranger people. Well, he'd just have to get used to them, or them to him, whichever worked out. He was here to stay, regardless of the eccentricities of the nearby residents.
"Who was that," Km asked.
"I don't know. One of our wacky neighbors I suspect."
"Oh well, it is Halloween, after all. And we did decorate the house to draw some attention. Just be happy they aren't soaping our windows."
Km, always the accepting one, knew exactly what to say to reassure him. And he did need reassurance. He was a bit unnerved by the whole evening. Three boys, three dogs, and no one else. It was already quarter to eight, and there hadn't been one Dracula, Frankenstein, or even a little girl in a fairy costume.
"Come back by the fire and stop fussing."
Well, that was as good a diversion as any.
Two hours later he came up for air. There had been no further interruptions, and it was time to go put out the candles in the jack-o-lanterns. The unwritten rule for trick-or-treaters: if you haven't gotten your candy by ten, you're out of luck. He checked the clock, almost ten. What the heck. With only three to their credit, they might as well shut down for the night even if he was a few minutes early.
Cool night air swirled around him as he stepped onto the porch. The Grim Reaper had already gone out. He blew out the graveyard scene, then stepped down the stairs to put out the witch. An unearthly howl shook the stillness and made the hair on the back of his neck prickle. Whatever made the long wailing cry sounded close. Frozen on the spot, his heart pounded wildly against his ribcage.
The howl ripped the air once again, even nearer. Walt stepped backwards, gingerly placing his foot on the stair one up from where he stood. Staining his eyes, he peered around him as he took a second step. A dark form to his right seemed to move closer, stealthy, stalking, closing the distance between them.
God, he prayed this was just another one of his mysterious neighbor's tricks. What approached was the ultimate in terror. Not a puppy, or Pluto, or even Lon Chaney depicted in a werewolf mask, this was undeniably the real thing. A huge, hulking wolf, yet not a wolf, approached. Yellow eyes gleamed at him as it silently crept nearer. Its red tongue slipped between ivory fangs and delicately traced the outline of its distorted muzzle. Muscles rippled in its massive legs that ended in paws not too unlike human hands gnarled and twisted and covered with dark brown hair.
In panic he froze by the graveyard pumpkin still burning merrily in the dark. Mesmerized by the approaching beast, he could only pray that the end would be swift and painless. Unfortunately, the opposite was probably true. The beast's long, vicious fangs would rend him, bleeding and shrieking, into a thousand pieces, rip and tear until he could cry out no longer.
The porch light came on behind him. God no! Not Km! But it was too late. The wolfish creature had seen her open the door. Its malevolent gaze transferred to the open doorway.
"Here you go." Km tossed a bundle of candy at the werewolf.
The beast jumped up and snagged the packet from the air, then trotted off towards the gray house.
In complete shock, his legs gave out and he slumped to the porch. "Jesus!"
"Oh, please," Km said, and grabbed him under the arms. "You're a lawyer, for Pete's sake!"
© 1998 Sharen Nehoda
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"Jake Whitlow! Stop tryin' to scare me," Beccah hollered as her red-haired neighbor leapt at her from the shadows beside the terrace. "I'm tellin' your mom!"
Jake, being the twelve-year-old ornery boy he was, just stuck his tongue through the Gremlin mask eye hole and ran behind Mrs. Blakemoor's prize roses.
If Mrs. B caught him, she'd skin him and return the tanned husk to his parents. Would serve him right, too. There hadn't been one day's peace since October tenth. Every day he tried something new, the brat. At sixteen she didn't have room in her life for a sexually precocious neighbor boy whose only aim in life was to see her boobs.
Gee whiz. Last week the rotten stinker had climbed the old oak that overhung the back fence and ogled her as she undressed to take a shower. Had she not looked up just as she was squirming out of her slip, she would have given the little creep an eyeful. Disgusting pervert. Twelve and already a deviant.
Putting Jake "the bother" out of her mind, she returned to arranging the corn stalks and pumpkins on the front porch. Earlier, after a short discussion, she'd convinced her mom to give out candy this year so she could attend Randy York's Hallow's Eve party.
Randy! The embodiment of her dream boyfried. She sighed as she visualized him, tall, black hair, soft brown eyes, so handsome you could melt. But, Randy had a girlfriend, Amy Phillips, that slut. What he saw in her she would never know. God, the girl even had dark roots. Dark root, for Pete's sake! At least her own golden tresses were real. She gave them a fluff, emphasizing the point to no one in particular.
Amy's attributes must have all circled around her mouth, because the rest of her needed talking up to be appealing. She let out an indignate harumph as she twisted a stabilizing wire around the dried husks on the newel post. Beccah, on the other hand, had a strong, muscular body from years in track, her own legs, although long and slightly horsy, had nicely turned calves that put Amy's to shame.
If someone compared faces, Amy's pinched, pig-eyed, too much make-up visage would seem a sad excuse compared to Beccah's own girl-next-door looks. She growled to herself. What in the world could gorgeous Randy see in frumpy Amy, anyway?
The creepy feeling of eyes on her made her spin around. "Jake, you booger, get outa here!" she said, then realized no one was behind her. Odd, she could have sworn the little creep was sneaking up behind her to flip her long gypsy skirt up and get an eyeful.
The feeling persisted. "Who's there," she asked, still certain Jake was the one hiding in the shadows of Mrs. Blakemoor's rose garden. Only the faint rustling of autumn leaves answered her question. "Well, whoever you are, knock it off," she said. A tickle of cold apprehension nudged a shiver from her.
"Oh, you'd just love to see me shimmy, wouldn't you?" she whispered, then went pack to tying the corn stalks to the porch columns.
"Beccah, you about finished? It's getting dark and the trick-or-treaters will be arriving soon."
Her mom stood in the doorway in a flowing white robe, hair done up like the bride of Frankenstein. Her mother was an impressive sight.
"Oooo, coool. How'd you manage that?"
"Brookway's on Fifth had a deal on costumes, the hairpiece was thrown in for free. Do you think it will give the kids a scare?"
"Yes. You look great, mom."
"Your gypsy costume looks good, too. Those silver hoop earrings and bracelets add an air of authenticity, even if your hair is too light." Her mom winked and closed the door.
So what if her hair wasn't black, she wasn't trying to catch some King of the Gypsies, she was after Randy, and he preferred blondes as far as she could figure.
"I'm all done. Can I go to the party now?"
Her mom checked the decorations and nodded her appreciation. It did look good, quite festive and scary.
"Off you go, just watch out for the boogie man."
She rolled her eyes then blew her mom a kiss as she went back inside. A glance up at the sky showed dun colored clouds clotted the horizon, the faded colors seemed appropriately somber for the beginning of the celebration of the preternatural. There was no breeze, the evening listlessly calm. A rustling of leaves by the pachysandra startled her.
"Jake, cut it out," she said, and tromped down the stairs, indignant that the little pervert persisted in his sick fascination. "Leave me alone!" she hollered and booted a rock into the bushes. When nothing happened, she spun on her heels and headed for Randy's.
Early trick-or-treaters were beginning their evening forage for candy. Parents followed a few paces behind their little ones. A cute panda bear costume approached carrying a pillowcase.
"Hi, Tommy, Mrs. Mabry," Beccah said when she recognized the toddler. "You're out early."
Tommy dashed by and clambered up the steps in the clumsy way only a three-year-old can manage and still look cute. Mrs. Mabry gazed at Beccah's house and waited for her mom to give panda boy his treat.
"Don't like keeping Tommy out after dark. Little darlin' is afraid of his own shadow. Besides, I heard of some strange goings on a few blocks over."
"Seems every blame pumpkin on Kensington Way was smashed to a pulp. Some neighborhood animals have disappeared, too. A collie and three cats. Mrs. Pardee found a big pool of blood in the middle of her yard and a few burnt sticks like someone had been roasting something there. Gives me the shivers."
Mrs. Mabry's shoulders shimmied in a great imitation of a carnival hoochy coo dancer. Beccah just knew Jake was someplace close, taking it all in.
"I think it's just some kids. You know, little boys trying to scare people." She said it loud, just in case Jake was within earshot. "This holiday brings out the weirdness in a lot of people. I wouldn't worry much about it."
Tommy trotted up, a smudge of chocolate on his chin.
"Oh, baby, you're supposed to let mommy check your candy first." She glanced up at Beccah. "But since it was Beccah's house, it's okay this time."
"'Kay," Tommy said with a brown-stained grin, and headed for Mrs. Blakemoor's.
"Hope you're right, Beccah. You take care tonight," Mrs. Mabry said and followed her son next door.
The leafy rustle in the pachysandra caught her attention. "I'm going to ignore you, you little creep," she said to herself. Jake was not going to spoil her evening at Randy's.
Slate gray descended on the neighborhood, the now overcast sky darkened to cobalt. With the sunset, a flat dimensionless monotony transformed the once cheery avenue into a foreboding cemetery populated with miniature ghouls and ghosts accompanied by vigilant fathers and mothers. Scattered across the somber view were occassional bright splashes of orange and gold, the carved visages of delightfully spooky jack-o-lanterns.
Three white-sheeted ghosts fluttered by giggling and whispering. A fourth, obviously the younger brother, scampered ahead winging his candy sack around in a circle, its precious contents temporarily forgotten in the excitement of the coming night's adventure.
Beccah turned the corner by Amy's house. How cool. They had a stuffed Frankenstein sitting on the porch with a bloody ax in his hand. What a great job they had done. He looked almost real, although the Frankenstein head was more wolfish than Frankish. Franky's jaws were pronounced and large, sharp, bloody teeth protruded from its semi-open mouth in a viciously humorous grin. But the head was squared and green, with knobby outgrowths on its neck, so it was a reasonable representation of the famous monster.
For a moment she wondered whether Mr. Phillips had donned the costume, but decided not. A small man, he was only five foot seven, this Franky was well over six feet and strained the clothing with its massive bulk. She stuck out her tongue as she passed, then lifted her chin. A pang of fear jolted her when she noticed the Phillips's pumpkins were all smashed.
That was just what the creep wanted, wasn't it? Scaring people on Halloween. Oh well, at least they didn't mess with Franky. Probably too scared, he was intimidating and quite dangerous looking. Whether Amy had made the head or bought it, it looked real enough to get her feet moving a bit faster. A nervous giggle forced its way out when the eyes flashed yellow in the fading light.
"Good effect," she whispered and increased her pace, finishing the block and a good section of the next in record time. Banishing the unsettled tingles of fright, she concentrated on her goal. Randy. A sigh quickly soothed any nervous tension. What a hunk. He'd better be ready, she was going to make sure Amy was put to shame tonight. In fact, she planned to dance next to him whether Amy was with him or not. If Amy got mad, all the better. She'd run home to Daddy and boo hoo hoo all over Franky.
Another nervous giggle bubbled out when a leafy rustling behind her jangled her train of thought. It had to be Jake, that bother, trotting along like a love-sick puppy. Stupid boy. She wanted to spin around and tell him to get a life, but decided not. No use being rude, after all he did have a crush on her, like she had on Randy. And she wouldn't want him to be mean if he didn't like her.
A repulsive squashing splat to her right brought her to an abrupt halt as a gob of orange goo spattered her ankle.
"Oh, ick!" she said and shook her foot. Searching the deep shadows by the Woodruff's porch showed nothing out of the ordinary except an exceptionally large pumpkin with a wide chop in its crown that sliced clear through its crooked grin and cleaved the globe in half.
Blinking, she glanced around trying to discern who the culprit was, or if anyone else was near. A few children were knocking on the door across the street, but other than that, the block was deserted. Icy fingers of fear tickled their way up her spine. This wasn't funny. Only an ax could have cut such a gaping wound in a pumpkin that big. Franky immediately sprang to mind, but it couldn't have been him. Could it?
On wooden legs, she stepped closer to the Woodruff's porch, morbid fascination drawing her to the ruined jack-o-lantern. Two steps away she stopped short, her breath rapid little gasps of panic.
On the edges of the ravaged, pulpy rind were dark crimson smudges. Their glistening sheen suggested only one thing. Fresh blood.
Her head snapped up and she looked around, fear gripping her heart in its chilly fist. Black shadows had filled the spaces between the yards, the ghostly shapes of hedges mere hints in the gathering obscurity.
She wanted to run back home, but Randy's house was closer, only another block and a half. A glance up at the door brought a fresh surge of fright. A large, bloody hand print caressed the doorbell like the kiss of death.
Across the roadway the home where the children had visited just moments before, went dark. The sickening thud of another pumpkin being chopped echoed eerily in the silent street.
Heart racing, Beccah tiptoed across the yard and hurried down the darkened lane. No porch lights were on, and the thick tang of fresh pumpkin hung in the air. A dry rustling behind her compelled her feet to run and she bolted for the end of the street, then ran diagonally across the road and cowered under the pale yellow glow of the street lamp. A circular oasis of light surrounded her in the still gloom.
A car turned the corner at the end of the block and she dashed toward it, knowing it had to be a party-goer. The bright welcoming light from Randy's home and laughter greeted her when she drew closer and scampered up the steps.
Randy opened the door and smiled his gorgeous smile. All her fears disappeared in the melting gaze of his soft brown eyes.
"Hi," he said and motioned her in. "I was hoping you'd come. I'm stag tonight. Amy didn't show."
All the better for her. "Gee, that's too bad. Is she sick?"
"No, I'm not sure what's up. No one's answering the phone at her house. Mr. Phillips is always home on Halloween, likes to see all the costumes and give out the candy. Maybe their phone's out of order."
"Maybe," she said, but didn't think that was the reason.
Fear began its skidderish return and she was about to tell Randy about her weird experience at the Woodruff's when the doorbell rang. Before she could warn him, Randy opened the door.
It was Franky.
© 1997 Sharen Nehoda
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"That story was so phony."
Nelson poked his stick into the fire and sparks drifted upward illuminating his plump, cherub-like face.
"I don't know how anyone could be scared listening to that."
Nelson could be such a party pooper. Mark wondered if he'd invite him to a camp out again. He sat there, sullen, chubby gut poked out of his tee-shirt and hung over his jeans. Maybe the fire was toasting it like the marshmallows for the s'mores. Since Nelson had eaten most of them anyway, it seemed appropriate his belly should be toasted, too.
"I suppose you have a scarier story than "The Hook"?"
"No, a fact. I know a true story, not some made up kiddy tale."
He couldn't help scoffing. Nelson talked like an encyclopedia, but was about as authoritative as pudding. Everyone at school knew he made things up just to make himself sound big. Nelson puffed up and looked like he was getting himself ready for a prodigious fibbing session. Why was it you could always tell when guy like this were lying?
"This is the truth, swear to God."
Jess leaned toward the fire and acted like he was interested. Maybe he was. For all Mark cared they could listen to the fat boy lie until sunrise as long as it kept them awake. That wasn't really fair. He liked Nelson even if he was a geek. He just rubbed him the wrong way some times. Since they were all thirteen and too old to go trick or treating, that was per his dad, the man really could be a pain, best buds might as well have some fun on Halloween
"Tell us a story, Nelson," Tony said and skewered another marshmallow.
Nelson looked toward Mark, expectant. "Yeah, go ahead. But I swear, if it's a shaggy dog story, I'm gonna make you strip naked and run across Nancy Wilson's front yard."
The head cheerleader and heartthrob of every pubescent boy at the middle school, to flash Nancy would mean her eternal scorn, and zero chance for a date. Nelson seemed unperturbed by the suggestion and popped all his knuckles by turning his interlaced fingers palm outward.
"You all know the story of Punkin Head?"
Tony groaned. "Duh! We just got done telling that one before the Hook. You been sleeping, or what?"
"I know that," Nelson said and rested his elbows on his knees. "I wanted to tell you the true side of that story. Bet you didn't know that most myths are based on fact. Truth is, behind every scary story is a bit of fact, just glossed over and spiced up to make it seem more supernatural than what it really is."
Well, there he went, trying to be the foremost authority on scary stories. Nelson better make it good, or he would definitely be mooning the stars.
"Vengeance has always been a means of justifying righting a wrong. Like in the Punkin Head story, a man's son is killed and he calls up a demon to avenge the boy's murder."
Jess yawned and stretched, making smacking noises. He couldn't help laughing at him, and Tony cracked up, too. Nelson's face grew dark so he knew he was pissed off. What did he expect, his story hadn't become interesting yet.
Nelson leaned forward, the firelight flickering across his face making grotesque shadows under his jowls and cheeks. Orange flames reflected in his pupils grown large in the dim light. For a moment, a shiver gripped Mark. Nelson looked somehow dangerous. He quickly shook it off.
"Sorry, just laughing at ol' sleepyhead Jess. Go on."
Nelson gave Jess a sidelong glance, then continued.
"Have you ever considered that demons, Punkin Head for example, are just ways of hiding what is really in all of us? A story about some unstoppable, inhuman, blood-crazed beast is easier to accept than knowing your kind-hearted neighbor is actually a cold-blooded ax-murderer."
Well, this was rather interesting. He'd never considered that before. "Good point, Nelson."
Nelson smiled and crossed his arms. "Vengeance can make the most meek of beings turn into a volatile, relentless fiend. For example..."
Tony and Jess leaned closer, anticipating the meat of the story. Mark had to admit it, Nelson had his attention. At least his idea was original, even if he did have to borrow the Punkin Head reference to give it credibility.
"Do you remember last month, when David Jackson was found mangled beside the railroad tracks behind his home?"
"Sure," Tony said, "I remember that. But everyone knew David loved to play chicken with the trains, so it was just a matter of time before he got hit."
"Was it?" Nelson asked.
"Are you saying someone pushed him?" Mark asked.
"Look at it this way. If someone were to exact revenge against someone who played "who blinked first" with freight trains, what would be the simplest way to kill him and never get caught?"
"Geez!" Jess ran a hand over his forehead.
"And there would never be any suspicion, either, since vengeance is a personal thing, rarely known to anyone outside the offended party. A vicious savage could be rippling under the skin of your sweet, maiden aunt, and you'd never know it."
"Well, that's just speculation about David," Mark said. "He was a cool guy, just not wound too tight when it came to locomotives."
Tony laughed. "Yeah, he had loco motives!"
The dark, surrounding treetops echoed with their laughter. Mark tossed another log onto the fire and watched the sparks drift upward, buoyed by their good humor.
"Might be speculation," Nelson said softly, "but consider Old man Denker."
A laugh caught in Mark's throat and he glanced at Jess. His mouth hung open in a shocked parody of a laugh. Tony seemed equally uncomfortable. Denker had burned to death, the victim of smoking in bed. Funny thing about it, everyone knew Denker had quit smoking for almost a year. Why he had suddenly taken it up again only to be turned into a French fry on his Simmons, no one knew.
"You think that was payback for something?" Mark asked.
"Wouldn't it be sweet retribution if Denker had been cruel, perhaps burned a young child with a cigarette under the guise of teaching him a lesson, and it was repaid in kind?"
Mark glanced at the round scars covering Nelson's forearms. He always thought they were from a rip-roaring case of the chickenpox, now he was suddenly unsure. And, Denker was Nelson's uncle. All this talk about revenge was making him quite uncomfortable.
"Interesting," he said, needing escape the uneasiness. He clapped his hands together and said, "Any other stories tonight?"
"I'm not done yet," Nelson said quietly.
Jess shuffled away from the fire. "I gotta take a whiz. Be right back."
Nelson eyed him as he disappeared into the darkness. Biding his time, that's what he looked like, as if he had a bigger shoe to drop on them. Fidgeting with a red hot coal, he poked and prodded at it, trying to look nonchalant. This conversation had unnerved, and downright spooked him. The nape of his neck crawled and his spine tingled with dread. For some reason he ran through everything he had ever said or done to Nelson, hoping there was nothing mean or cruel that might come back at him. Imaginary demons weren't nearly as scary as sitting next to a potential killer.
Whistling, Jess returned and plunked himself on the log. In a rather obvious show of being carefree, he juggled three marshmallows before catching one in his mouth, then ramming the other two onto his toasting stick.
"Got any more graham crackers?" he asked.
Tony handed him the package, its wrapper crackling only slightly louder than the campfire. Inevitably, Mark heard Nelson clear his throat. Time for the coup de grace.
"A final example of the vicious nature of man, more corrupt, possibly more conniving and cruel than any Hell spawned fiend."
Nelson paused, his eyes traveled slowly from face to face, catching Mark's gaze and holding it for just long enough to cause him to be uncomfortable, then traveled on to Jess. He was savoring this, Mark realized, loving every second of twisting their guts into knots of dread.
"Oh man! I think I'm gonna hurl," Tony said.
Jess threw his stick into the fire. "Why'd ya have to mention her?"
A wickedly humorous smile covered Nelson's face. Obviously, this was exactly the reaction he wanted.
"Because she is the prime example of what I have been speaking."
Tony made a choked sound and spit on the fire. A bright sizzle was quickly spent.
"She was ate by her dogs, man. Her own dogs! No person did that."
"Hmmm." Nelson tapped the edge of his jaw with his finger. "Exacting revenge might take on strange forms, but nonetheless is still by the hand of the vengeful. Let us consider Mabel Peterson, a cruel, heartless woman with five rather large rottweilers."
Mark was struck by Nelson's composure, how cool he was, even his words had been picked to draw them in, convince them of the righteousness of his theory.
"Wouldn't it seem possible that this woman, totally uncaring for anything but herself might one day require severe corrective measures? Perhaps she had watched, even egged on her canine hoard to disembowel and dismember a cherished family pet. Then, when the savage frenzy had ceased and the poor beloved animal's remains were requested for burial, she might have once again set her beasts upon the remains. Laughing and clapping as the last vestiges of a sweet innocent were consumed by her slavering brutes, she made sure they left nothing but a horror stained memory."
Mark was speechless as he gazed at Nelson. He had owned a beautiful, black Persian with deep green eyes. Smoke was the sweetest, most mellow cat he had ever known, and he knew Nelson loved it dearly. The cat used to come to the street to meet him as he walked home and obeyed him like a dog. Among his amazing abilities were begging, rolling over, and a simulated version of fetch the stick played with a catnip mouse.
Right in front of Nelson, his little sister Elly, and Mark, Mabel Peterson's dogs killed Smoke. He definitely remembered the hatred he had felt for the woman, his disbelief at her cruelty. That had been over a year ago. Six months later, on a cool May morning, Mabel had a similar run-in with her own animals.
"Everyone knew those dogs were vicious. It seemed inevitable that they would eventually turn on her." Mark had secretly been glad, although horrified by the circumstances of her death. When they put those five dogs to sleep, he rejoiced. Smoke's terrible fate had been avenged. Strange, it felt good to admit that to himself. He looked at Nelson and nodded his head slowly.
Nelson smiled. "And, Punkin Head found a way. He might have discovered the woman would be away for a week and talked the neighbor boy she hired into allowing him to feed the dogs. Actually, the kid probably was terrified of the dogs and glad to hand over the responsibility. Then, over the course of the week, smaller and smaller amounts of food were provided so the dogs were starving by the time she got home. A strategically placed wire, twisted free from the kennel fence would cut her leg when she entered. Ravenous, and excited by the scent of blood, she soon experienced what that poor pet had."
The glittering of the fire in Nelson's eyes seemed cold, like vengeance. With nothing more to say, it was possible all of his story could have been just that, conjecture. But, somehow, Mark knew what Nelson had said was the truth. Punkin Head may not have been Nelson, could have been his father, or perhaps even his mother, but he wasn't sure.
"Good story, Nelson," he said, knowing there was no way sleep would bother him that night.
"Thanks." Nelson grinned and skewered another marshmallow. "So what's the next story?"
© 1999 Sharen Nehoda
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