by John R. Reed
"Peter, Peter" is from Silver Webb's All Hallows' Eve: The Thinning Veil, an anthology of 13 wicked tales, now available in our bookstore and on Amazon.
I touched my knife to the pumpkin’s cheek. The fat vegetable cringed. A trickle of blood ran down. A week ago that would have freaked me out. But a stream of inexplicable oddities had swept over me the past week—about the time the cat disappeared, and now I was almost getting used to it. First, the late October frost revealed strange, pointed tracks across the lawn. Cloven hooves. Chains rattled behind faces in the window. Forces—which I knew didn’t exist—were at work. I tried ignoring them.
I stabbed the knife in, ignoring the blood, and slashed half a smile. I chopped out a ragged square, a first tooth, and finished the mouth leaving a wide, gap-toothed smile. I pulled at my knife only to find it was stuck in the corner of its smile. I tugged harder. The pumpkin had a grip on my freakin’ knife.
My new bride stood, arms crossed, in the kitchen door. “Hector, is that blood on your hands? It’s a sign, even you must realize that. Now the spirits are coming.”
“Fine.” She slammed the door.
Fine, now we’re all pissed off. The second chapter of our first fight. Though I keep arguing there are no such thing as spirits. somehow a sentient pumpkin has bled all over my porch and locked its lips onto my knife. I braced my boot against its forehead, yanked my blade free, and went back to carving. Three quick slices and I had a nose-shaped triangle. I repeated that shape on the blank orange forehead and carved two eyes.
Instead of the empty orange sockets I expected, fierce green eyes glared back at me. I whispered, “Muffy?”
A muffled hiss.
I threw down my knife and ran to the kitchen door. “Honey, I think I found the cat.”
“Wonderful. Is she all right?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Where is she?”
“Out on the patio.”
She looked over my shoulder “There’s nothing out there. What did you see, Hector? Was it spirits?”
The red smear on the deck was the only trace of my supernatural encounter. No pumpkin, no cat. What had I seen? I was not about to validate my wife’s belief in supernatural happenings. It was something we argued about constantly. “Never mind. I made a mistake.”
The bleeding pumpkin almost did it for me. I wondered if maybe my wife was right. There was no way to account for thumps in the attic, glowing lights outside the bedroom window. A ringing doorbell and a sinister cackle in the air above an empty porch. The madness was almost too much to ignore.
I couldn’t quite believe the “spirits” were conspiring against me. I wiped my bloody knife on my pants leg and fell back to my favorite defense. Trying to make a joke, mentally invoking that famous river in Egypt. Denial, denial, denial. Everything was fine.
Night fell. I went in the house, Soon the kiddies would be coming, and I had candy duty. My wife was nowhere in sight. The cat was still missing.
I dumped candy into a bowl, turned on the orange lights around the eaves. The scarecrow brandished its straw arms beside the gate. Time to get into costume. I wrapped a sheet around my shoulders, slipped on a pair of rubber monster feet with bloody toenails. But something was missing. I had planned on a pumpkin head, but now I had no pumpkin.
For the next two hours a steady procession of ghosts and goblins and political figures marched across my porch scooping up handfuls of miniature chocolate bars. I got several comments of “Nice costume!” But a plain old bed sheet didn’t seem particularly creative. My energy and my candy were running out. A knock on the door. Let it be the last of the munchkins. Two first-graders dressed as former presidents held out their goodie bags. “You know the drill,” the little girl said.
Her mom admonished her from back in the shadows: “Manners.”
The little boy unwrapped a bar and stuffed it in his mouth. His mother whispered, “Don’t be so greedy, Kevin.” He swallowed it in three bites, looked at me with a smirk. The smirk turned to a grimace of fear. He screamed. His mother rushed to him, held him to her breast and shouted, “You are a sick bastard.” She grabbed her children’s hands and dashed off the patio. The scarecrow made a grab for them as they went by.
Silence. The last of the kiddies. I switched off the porch light.
A smirking teenager stepped out of the darkness, hand outstretched. I held out the candy bowl. Only two bars left.
He sneered, “Come on, dude,” snatched one, ripped off the paper, and stuffed it in his mouth. Frost formed on his fingers. The whiteness spread up his arms and in a moment engulfed his entire body. His mouth gaped open, a drool of chocolate formed a brown icicle on his chin. He pivoted awkwardly and stumbled stiff-legged across the deck. His two buddies laughed and pointed. “Hey, great zombie bit, man.” Their laughter cut off when the kid tipped forward onto his face, scattering shards of pink and gray ice across the deck. His two buddies bolted into the night.
“Hector, come out here.” My new bride stood in the middle of the street outlined in the sulfurous yellow-green light. I climbed over the teen’s remains and stumbled toward her. I forced myself to meet her eyes. “Where have you been, my young bride?” I sounded perky even to myself.
“A place you can never go.”
She pirouetted, arms outstretched like a ballerina. Two lumps swelled on her shoulders. Her blouse tore open and leathery black wings unfolded in the evening air.
She smiled. “I see the spirits have caught up with you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You cannot mock the other world, Hector. I thought you had the potential to become a true believer.” She shook her head, signaling how unlikely she thought that would be. “Well, here is something you can believe in. You will never see me again.” Her wings became a blur. The downdraft blew a cloud of dust up off the street. She rose above the house, circled to the east, and disappeared into the darkness.
I unwrapped the last candy bar and stuffed it in my mouth.
For more strange tales of Halloween, consult Silver Webb's All Hallows' Eve: The Thinning Veil, an anthology of 13 wicked tales.
John R. Reed
John has written four espionage novels: Thirteen Mountain, Dark Forest, Shadow White as Stone, and The Kingfisher’s Call. John is well-known for conducting the Pirate Workshop at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, and his poetry has appeared in more than fifty literary publications. The Mountain of Ashes and The Mole Train are his novels from Shadow Spinners Press. johnreedbooks.com