Hallowe’en Serial: Final Night

Continued from #6.

*Bhrmmmm* *Bhrmmmm* buzzed the phone. Carol kept glancing at its screen to see if Miss Ziegenbusch had picked up yet.

She even knew where the woman lived, as Carol also did the job of Payroll Clerk and Human Resources Department. She did everything except attend pointless meetings, glad-hand clients, and look pretty at the front desk.

Hiring the current secretary, the woman she was now trying to reach, had not actually been Carol’s decision. Nor had retaining her.

“Hello?” said the phone. Carol’s car wobbled in its lane as she fumbled to answer.

“Hello?” –What was her name again?– “Um, Shelly?”

“It’s Cindy. Who’s this?”

“Cindy.” Right. “This is Carol Carter. Um, from work.”

…. “Oh.” …. “Uh, this isn’t the best time right now, Carol-”

For some reason, Carol felt she needed to be completely honest. “I’m being chased by something!”

She heard a gasp, then, “You are? Wait -is it that werewolf thing?”

Carol took a turn gasping. “How did you know?”

“Out of curiosity,” Cindy asked, “Has your radio also been playing songs based on what’s happening?”

Carol felt she was seeing herself from far away. Someone else was driving her car at dangerous speeds down the highway. Someone else was holding a cell phone with a grip like a vise. Someone else, surely, was doing all of these things at …she checked the clock on the dash…

At midnight. It was now Halloween.

“Carol?” Cindy’s voice called from the phone.

“I- I’m here,” Carol answered, pressing her phone closer to her ear.

Cindy sighed. “I thought so. Hey, I’m sorry for any bad feelings between us; but I really need to tell you something -something big.”

Carol wasn’t sure what Cindy could define as ‘big’ after her other revelations. “O…kay?”

“Um,” Cindy began. “You know that werewolf thing?”

As if on cue, Carol heard the tell-tale, Owooooooooo! She realized it had come through the phone, from Cindy’s end. “Cindy?!” she asked, in a panic.

“Oh shit.” Cindy said. “Um, sorry for swearing. I gotta go. …Basement…”

“Cindy?!”

“Yeah…?” Her breathing was more rapid. Carol could hear a door slam and hard steps on echoing stairs.

“What was the ‘big’ thing about the werewolf?”

Cindy paused. A cupboard from her end creaked, then Carol heard the unmistakable sound of a large gun being cocked. “Carol,” Cindy said, “That werewolf is Carl C. Carter. Your husband. I gotta go.”

And Carol was left alone, with the dead sound of a disconnected phone.

Hallowe’en Serial, 6th Night

Continued from #5.

Carol’s sharp, hasty turn brought her inches from a semi-truck approaching in the opposite lane. Its blaring-horn *Mruuuuuwwwmph!* trailed off behind her as she continued down the road at breakneck speed.

*Oh the werewolf, oh the werewolf / Comes a-stepping along* ♪

Her eyes flitted to the radio; back to the road. Werewolf? she thought. And, How in the heck does the radio know?

♫ *…Once I saw him in the moonlight, when the bats were a flying….* ♪

She chanced another look in the rearview mirror, yet could not see anything. The road was dark and ill-populated. She’d chosen to head East, away from the storm and towards the highway. She hoped to outrun the werewolf -or whatever it was- or at least discourage its following her.

The song stopped and “Thriller” began playing. “I’ve already heard that one,” she muttered, and switched to a new station.

“We’re here with Sergeant Riding to get the latest on this breaking story…” a businesslike female voice said. Carol’s hand, which had been hovering over the controls, slowly drifted back.

“Well,” a gruff male voice began, “We can’t say for sure what’s going on. We’ve had a lot of different reports. What we can say is that everyone ought to stay inside until we have a lead on this case.”

“Sergeant,” the female voice again. “Are you saying we’re on lockdown?”

The man laughed a short, humorless snort. “Now, we’re not trying to scare anybody. It’s more the advice that, if you want to stay safe, you’ll stay inside right now. Oh, and get your pets in real quick, too.”

“We-e-e-ell, I’m sure that’s all we have time for now.” The female reporter sounded worried to Carol. “Be sure to tune in next time for -Eeeeeeeaaaahhhh!”

*Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee*

Carol sat in shock. She was hurtling down a city road at 50 mph, but still felt numb. Slowly, she reached up and pushed Power Off on the dead radio station. She didn’t know where to go or who to contact; it sounded like the whole world was going crazy.

Slowing enough to multi-task, she pulled her phone to within visual range.

She had never, ever in her life used her phone while driving, a minor point of contention between her and her missing husband. But she was already finding herself breaking all sorts of personal and written laws in the face of potential death and dismemberment.

Scrolling carefully down her Contacts list, she tried to think of who she could call on a night like this. Anyone she was close to would not be awake to answer, nor would believe such a ridiculous story as she would tell if he or she answered.

“Gardener, Lawrence, Schwartz, Warner… Ziegenbusch.” At literally the end of her list, she paused over the last last name. Was she really desperate enough to try her nemesis, the front desk secretary?

Taking a deep breath, she pressed her finger on the Call icon. And waited.

Continued and ended at #7.

Hallowe’en Serial, 5th Night

Continued from #4.

Like any sane woman with a few self-defense classes under her belt, Carol panicked. “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” she screamed and flailed around helplessly. Fortunately for her, her left elbow bumped the Door Lock button mid-flail.

She heard the lock engage in the driver’s door just as the owner of the glowing eyes suddenly threw itself at her window. “Eeeeeeeeeeaaaaaahg!” she screamed again, and fell over the middle console to get away. Teeth, tongue, dark fur, manic red eyes, and long, long claws scrabbled at the window. The claws were the worst; each *Screeeee!* leaving a line behind and surely weakening the surface.

Carol looked around her small car, wishing for anything that might help her. The most lethal object she saw was a pen. She didn’t keep so much as a snow scraper handy in the front seat, believing all tools belonged in the trunk.

*Critch* went the window-glass, just as she spotted the garage door opener. A hasty getaway was her only chance, storm or no. She stretched up and pressed it, a brief relief touching her panic as the door to outside lifted.

Her attacker paused, distracted. She was surprised to notice he appeared to have remains of clothing on his …person. Carol squinted and could make out a few torn, striped strips, buttons, a cuff; maybe what once was a pair of khakis. The feral animal turned back to look at her; its brow lowered into a scowl. Carol could hear it growling as she saw its lip curl up in a malicious grin.

The creature squatted, then leapt. She heard a *thump* above her and watched its back legs and bushy tail thrashing through the driver’s side window a half-second before she realized what it was doing. “Eeek!” she squeaked out as the horrific face appeared in the passenger side, upside-down. She watched the whole of its body fall across the window, then was treated to the same desperate scrabbling on the starboard side. The attacks were more forced, more rapid this time. The car rocked on its suspensions; the glass creaked and cracked.

Before she had time to talk herself out of it, Carol slid back into the driver’s seat and started the engine. ♪ *…they don’t know -When / its coming,  / oh when / but its coming* ♫… crooned the radio. She put the car into Reverse and gunned it as she never had in her entire life.

♫ *Keep the car running* ♫

The poor sedan lurched and whined, hopping down the driveway in short, lame bursts. She smelt burning. The car was old, but hadn’t shown any signs of failure recently. She looked up and saw the hairy creature rising from where it had fallen in her hasty escape. Why couldn’t she go?! And then she saw the parking brake.

Without hesitation, she released it with a *Clunk*. The car shot backwards and collided into and up the opposite curb before she eased off the accelerator. Switching to Drive, she tore away down the street. She dared not look back, even to see if the garage door was still open.

♪ *And they don’t know / When it’s coming, oh when is it coming? / Keep the car running / Keep the car running / Keep the car running* ♫

The storm was closer; lightning illuminated the houses just a block away from her street and rain and wind buffeted her battered car. Just as she thought to slow down for the approaching stop sign, she heard a long, loud, Owooooooooooo!

Her eyes found the rearview mirror against her will. A flash of lightning showed a dark shape running down the street after her; hunger glinting in its red eyes and white fangs.

Traffic laws would have to wait. Quickly checking for oncoming cars as she drove, she ignored the stop and squealed a turn out onto the main road. Her sole thought was to get as far away from the man-creature as possible. She hoped no police were out, and not because she worried for her spotless driving record.

Continued at #6.

Hallowe’en Serial, 4th Night

Continued from #3.

Memories of uneasy feelings, eerie desk décor, and an empty car were amplified in the yawning, open, Carl-less garage. Carol put her car into Park and pushed the Door Lock button, too worried to even enter.

Any other day, she would have gone into the house alone. She would have eaten leftovers, watched some television, taken a shower, cleaned her teeth, climbed into her twin-sized bed in her own bedroom, and slept with the contentment of an overworked, underhappy 50-year-old woman.

Today was not any other day. Tonight had not been another other night. The radio station began playing Thriller.

At the opening wolf howl -Owooooooooo! ♪-, the moon released itself from graying cloud cover and shone a beam or two within Carol’s car. One reflected a glowing outline round a small, plastic-cased device resting on the passenger seat: her cell phone. She picked it up and checked for updates. Surely Carl had texted her, or left a voice mail; perhaps something was scheduled and he’d not put it on her calendar.

But, like with the orderly garage, there was nothing. “Carl C. Carter,” she said, “Of all the times to be gone….”

The night once again shrouded itself in dark mystery as the glowing moon moved aside for rapidly-approaching storm clouds. One minute Carol was sitting in her driveway contemplating her husband’s absence; and the next, bright lightning streaks and thunderous sky shouts seemed to come from just half a mile away. Surely her immature fears were not worth driving somewhere else in torrential rain, nor walking in it if she refused to park inside the garage.

What was so bad about her house, anyway? She and Carl had lived there for fifteen of the twenty-two years they’d been married. She knew the rooms, the light switches, the location of her mace. She’d be fine.

Where was Carl, though? She’d text him first, and see how late he expected to be.

*Hi, Honey. Just checking when you’ll be home. Let me know.

She stared at the cheerful message and thought to add a smiling face from her Extras menu. Thinking on Carl’s usual preferences of succinctness, she refrained. If she included one, he was also liable to suspect her phone had been hacked. She sent it off as-was, adding a silent wish for a quick response.

After ten minutes of nothing but Halloween songs to interrupt the silence, she conceded defeat. Though not a religious woman, she bowed her head and uttered a quick and direct prayer: “Whoever might be listening, tell Carl to call me; and keep me safe tonight.”

Finally, she pulled forward. Automatic lights warmed the empty space. She turned off the engine and pushed the remote to close the garage door.

Just before opening the driver’s door to exit, however, she caught an image in her rearview mirror. For the fourth time that day, her heart leapt and her breath grew rapid. No excuse like ‘too short a driver, surely,’ or ‘must have been seeing things’ could explain what she saw this time.

From just inside the recently-closed garage door, a pair of glowing, hungry eyes stared right into her own.

Continued at #5.

Hallowe’en Serial: 3rd Night

Continued from #2.

Carol noticed nothing, the image of a few bent window blinds storing itself cozily into her subconscious as she listened to her new favorite radio station.

♫ “You hate your boss at your job…” 

She sang along, though she didn’t hate her boss. Her boss was her husband. They were happily married, and had been for twenty-two years this November. No kids, of course. Carl hadn’t -well, maybe it really was Carol’s fault as he had suggested.

Miss Tight Skirts was expecting, probably from some discount store clerk. That’s where she got the ugly decorations from. Ugly decorations that could move…

No. Carol pushed the thought from her mind. Ceramics didn’t move, desks didn’t move, blinds didn’t -a black sedan pulled out into her lane and she had to jerk the steering wheel sharply to avoid impact. They honked at her and sped away into the night.

Her breathing almost matched her rapid heartbeat. This was the second time in one day she’d been scared enough to worry for her health. She tried to drive straight as she slowed her panicked breaths. Now, what had she been thinking about? Things looking at her?

♪ “Well, if you hear somebody knocking on your door / If you see something crawling across the floor / Baby, it’ll be me and I’ll be looking for you” ♪

Carol hadn’t heard the song; it sounded old, but still good. Catchy. Jerry Lee Lewis, perhaps… Her mother had kept a record.

Just then, a bright pair of headlights entered the road at her left side and she swerved to avoid yet another collision. “What is with the maniacs tonight?” she wondered aloud. She glanced over to at least glare at the driver. She couldn’t see anyone, so faced forward instead. Her mind did a double-take and she looked back.

No one.

It’s probably just a really short man or his seat’s set back really far, she told herself. The night was cloudy, too. The road was dark. She was tired. The driverless car drove off.

Carol slowed and turned onto her own suburban street, noting the tacky inflatable jack o’lanterns and grim reapers and Charlie Browns on her neighbors’ lawns. She’d forgotten Halloween was coming -in just one night, she realized. She’d have to pick up some candy and watch all the children. All the sweet children she’d never had to dress for Halloween nor take trick-or-treating.

Sighing, she drove up to their house. It was dark. Carl often forgot to leave the lights on for her, but he was never to bed this early. She opened the garage door and stopped in the driveway, engine idling.

Carl’s car was not there. The garage was as empty as a tomb.

Continued at #4.

Hallowe’en Serial: 2nd Night

Continued from yesterday:

“Ah, Carol!” a familiar voice said at her elbow.

She jerked; breathed a quick, short, loud intake; and clutched at her heart.

“I was just going to –what in the world d’ya do to your desk?” Ever slow on the obvious, Carl C. Carter stood next to his wife at the doorway and surveyed the disarray inside with confusion. Then he noticed Carol. “Oh, hey -did I give you a fright? Sorry. —

“I was just going to head over to that business meeting I told you about. If anyone calls you’ll be sure to tell them I’m up to my eyeballs in work, won’t you?” He touched Carol’s shoulder, smiled a quick, grandfatherly smile, straightened his striped dress shirt, and turned to whistle down the hall.

Carol hadn’t moved; her left hand still on her chest, her right on the door handle. She breathed out. She tested her feelings like a mentalist dipping a toe into physic waters but only felt annoyance. Carl and his design team held meetings according to his whim, and left her to reschedule the pieces.

“That’s what Miss Dollar Store is supposed to be for,” she mumbled, as she bent to begin cleanup. “But, she’s always ‘taking notes’ in your ‘meetings.'”

———-

Hours and phone calls and legal contracts later, Carol walked back out to the lobby. All was dark and silent; she was the last to leave. Her shadow from the outside lights ran over the hideous ceramics perched on the secretary’s desk as she walked past. From her peripheral vision, she thought she saw movement and turned. Were they always staring right at her -no, that was silly- right at the door? Carol could have sworn Miss Bad Taste had arranged them facing each other.

If she hadn’t been the only person in the office, she’d have examined them more closely. She swallowed, and backed toward the outside door. The little, scowling cats and their neighboring scarecrow and crows remained stationary.

Carol exited and locked the door, glanced at the blinds to be certain they were closed, and walked to her car. *Clack* *Clat* *Clunk* echoed from her cheap shoes as they trod across the vacant lot. Her mind wholly on the ride home and the work that awaited her there, she did not think to look back.

She started the car, and shifted into reverse. The radio was playing garbage again; she set it to scan. Her headlights swept a glare across the windowed office front as she pulled out of the narrow parking space.

The swirling numbers of the radio dial settled on the station she’d found that morning, just as the blinds closed back together in the dark office window, and just as Carol pulled out onto the street.

Continued at #3.

Hallowe’en Serial, 2018

Halloween!!! It’s a-coming, whether I’ve actually finished kids’ costumes or not. For the next seven days, at just before midnight, I will post a segment of a SCARY serial story. Enjoy!

———–

Loud static greeted Carol on every radio station -that, or, “So what do you think about terrible bosses, Jean?” from raucous, annoying morning show hosts.

“Isn’t there a single station playing music?” Carol asked her dash. She pushed the Scan button and returned her attention to the stop-and-go traffic around her.

*Bzzzhrrrfffftttzzz*

“And…” Ha, ha, ha, “then he asked me to turn in yet another-”

“Your next stop for tires. You know, when you need tires, you need-”

*Pzzzzschhheeewwww*

“I thought I’d get a break, finally, but that was when he extended my hours to-”

“I’m driving; here, I sit.” ♫ “Cursing my government-“

A pickup truck cut into the too-small space in front of Carol’s sedan; she braked, hard. The radio, unchecked, continued on to, “We’ve got Josh on the line now to tell us about his worst day at the office. Josh?”

Hurriedly, Carol pushed the back arrow. She’d heard music; she knew she had. The display jiggled through a few numbers and rested on yet another set of commercials. She glanced up and only saw the large rear bumper and even larger tailpipe of the pickup truck. Traffic hadn’t moved.

Carefully, she edged the tuning dial up a tick. Static. Up another tick. Static. Vehicles edged forward as she moved her wrist just one more turn to the right. ♫ “When she turns 50 / I might be dead / But acting happy again / For singing his songs about rush-hour traffic jams…”

Paydirt. She smiled, certainly happy despite being in her own traffic jam. And being 50.

The song ended, and another began. This was more mainstream, and she sang along. The station played song after song all the way to work; the last ending just as she pulled into a space on the office building’s left side.

Carol found herself humming as she walked in through the front doors. A verse or two escaped her lips from recent memory. ♪ “There’s a problem at the office,” Hmmm hm hmmm ♫ The front desk secretary glanced up, her expression one of surprise. Carol continued past her and her cheesy Halloween decorations. Carol had hated the secretary since she’d arrived with her short skirts, fake makeup face, and too-high heels. A penchant for black cats and smiling ghosts from the dollar store only made Carol avoid the front desk more.

She walked on to her office, just down the hall from her husband’s. “Carl Carter, head of C & C Contractors,” she said aloud. Pushing open the door, Carol stopped. Her normally tidy desk was overturned, its contents strewn across the floor. Bits of papers fluttered in the air she’d disturbed at her opening, folders flopped and shielded their former contents, and her flat-shod feet crunched on a discarded pencil.

The mess wasn’t the only reason for her hesitation, however. Her entry had created a stir in the papers; a noticeable one, a visible one. Carol could not shake the feeling, however, that she had also interrupted something else; something not so visible.

Continued at #2.

Time in a Bottle

“Step forward -that’s right! Now, grasp this sand -yes, in both hands. That’s right, sir.”

Wondering, he thrusts both hands forward. Sensing the weight against calloused palms it overflows, draining with the pull of gravity to spill upon his shoes, the floor, the table legs.

“That’s right: step forward to the table. Quickly, now! Choose which of these bottles in which to pour your sand.”

Gravity is cruel. It pulls more and more from his hands as he frantically searches for an identifier on the glass bottle fronts. Which is which? How will he know what he is choosing -!?

“Your time is running out and you cannot get more until tomorrow…”

A blue bottle catches his eye; a portly one which reminds him of a fat man. He leans and manages to dump a measure in, to a halfway point. -Not too much, though; what if he chose poorly?

“That’s it. Good. But what of the others? Do you wish to spend all day at that one?”

Probably not, he thinks, and thrusts toward the nearest bottles. A squat red jar, two narrow green-tinted vases, and a pinkish jug each receive a bottom’s full. The red jar’s neighbor, a dubious black container, accidentally receives a bit more than even the first.

“Hmmm…”

The booming tone frazzles his nerves, already high-strung from the continued loss of sifting hand-sand. With not much left, he jerks his cupped palms hither and thither. The table claims much if not most of what’s left. Ten random jars each carry a small dusting. He looks round; no one seems to be watching. Quickly, he gathers table sand and deposits it into a comely emerald urn. He dusts any lingering pieces from his fingers, his heart racing.

“Ah, I see you are done. Let’s see: Fortunately for you, your first choice was sleep. Some poor fool last hour completely neglected that one. Not a bad number in exercising, either. Work has even more than sleep; yes, this black one, here. I’m not sure how you’re going to feel much accomplishment from only a few grains in household upkeep, budgeting, personal hygiene, nor expenses. The fewest grains seem to be, here, in leisure….”

His hopes raised at the news of sleep; deflated somewhat at the exercise. He was just going to ask whether leisure might be a bit higher than budgeting when he notices a shadow frowning over the green urn.

“Hmmm. Odd. You’ve a fair bit in meals, here, but they’re not the best quality. It’s almost as though some other, older bits of grit are in here. …Perhaps the urn wasn’t quite cleaned -or the sand. Well, I’m afraid your nourishment will not be the best sort. At least you’ll have it though, eh? Not like that woman just yesterday…”

He watches in astonishment as arms wave over the table and every bit of sand within the containers rises into the air. They’re colored like the vases or jugs or urns they traveled from and dance in a dusty swirling cloud which follows the circling arms. The cloud condenses within the taskmaster’s shaping hands and resolves into parchment.

“Your day. You’ll see it has everything you chose. Now, take it and exit behind me through the large wooden doors. Move along, move along.”

He stumbles unsteadily out the exit indicated, an exit he swore was not there when he first entered the room with the pouring sand and the table. Between his careworn yet clean fingers he clenches his hard-won paper prize. From the closing door behind him calls the echoing voice again:

“Next! Now, don’t be shy -don’t be shy. Step forward, ma’am, and take your sand…”

javardh-1056973-unsplash

Honest-To-Goodness

Maybelline hadn’t been at the property fer long afore she knowed why they called it The Ranch. The smell alone was enough to put a gal off her vict’als, fer sure. She’d never seen or smelled outbuildin’s what could have their stink seen afore a body could smell ’em. But even the honest smell o’ horses wasn’t what told her.

It was the look of it all. Wild weavin’ grasses danced and clumped round lonely, broken fence posts. The wildflowers filled in the rest -at least, what wasn’t already filled by the Apens and Cedars.

The crownin’ glory of ev’rythin’ was the house. She leaned a bit, sure. She needed some paint what to make her decent. Maybelline even suspected a hole or few in the roof as she’d seen a bunch o’ sparrows take flight as she stomped up the path.

Still, a ranch couldn’t bear to keep such a name without use and purpose. That was the very reason Maybelline had made sure to ask around in town about settin’ up.

“Ah need a handyman, a-course,” she’d told the gossipy postwoman. “And I’ll be wan’in’ a few animals once he can patch up stalls or whatever else needs fixin’.”

“Sure, sure,” Postwoman Gloria had nodded. “You migh’ wanna post on the job board, yonder.”

Maybelline had, knowin’ full well Gloria would pass word ‘long much faster’n a postin’.

Sure shootin’, she’d barely stepped inter the house an hour later afore she heard callin’ from outside the warped kitchen winder. A waverin’ shadow became a solid form of a man against lunchtime sun as she walked back out to the wide, dusty porch.

He removed an honest-to-goodness cowboy hat, placed it against his chest. “Ma’am.”

Well, I do declare, Maybelline thought. “Howdy,” she answered, and smiled.

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Submitted for the Carrot Ranch Free-Write Contest.

Sanctuary in the Sands

The days without wind had been impossible. The days with, however, proved impassible. Hot desert breath pulled and pushed at his shaking, stalking frame in confused bursts of sand. He squinted every few steps for a bearing, yet was always rewarded with another hill.

He stood and breathed heavily through his makeshift scarf. Moving air whipped more gritty dust across his face, obligingly. He blinked, then couldn’t believe his eyes. Surely the wavering green upon the horizon was another imagination-induced reprieve, an apparition of his thirst-starved mind. Blearily, he licked the moist dirt from his lips again and again.

Step by sliding step he mounted the dune before him. Why not, since he had nowhere else to go but a forever dust-sleep? No one would ever find him as the sand piled over his prone form. He would become a sand hill himself, upon which other wanderers might slowly stumble to a dehydrated death.

I am the Sandman, he thought.

Taker of dreams…

Then his worn boot found footing more solid than dune. Then his other. And his ears realized a silence in the days-long howling of wind. He breathed simply air. He squinted, rubbed a gritty hand beneath each brow, fully opened his eyes.

Oasis. The word flitted across his mind as it tried to accept the picturesque glen his dust-crusted eyes could see.

He fell to a kneel and his swollen tongue slurred thanks to Heaven. His filthy hands dipped forward to the ready pool and scooped liquid manna into his parched and gasping mouth. Lovely, wet, clear water ran everywhere in his fumbling haste.

Nearly a full ten minutes of bliss passed before he noticed he was not alone. Large, beautiful eyes stared at him from beneath the rippling surface. Feminine eyes.

She smiled.

 

Written in response to Carrot Ranch’s 24-Hour Free-Write contest.