- Dream of Halloween -
By: Evans Light
WHEN IRIDESCENT SUMMER NIGHTS fade into sullen autumn gray, as the world marches grimly towards the slow, cold death of winter, something changes. Dark spirits strengthen, emboldened by lengthening shadows and huddled masses.
The sunshine of youth once kept these phantoms at bay, but the doors to my soul creak slowly open with the passing years, the seams of a skeptical mind loosen as the autumn of life approaches.
Might the celebration of Halloween obscure an underlying truth, a frightening reality that modern man fervently attempts to bury under mounds of candy, costumes and cacophonous celebrations? Does our collective unconsciousness know that some malevolent power reaches an apex at this time of year, our Halloween mimicry of all that we fear nothing more than an autonomic protective response?
If so, it doesn't work for me. Trust me, I've tried.
I don't believe in ghosts, but they believe in me.
One phantom in particular has taken hold, has pried its way into my life. I hesitate to write about it even now, in the daylight, lest it read these words over my shoulder as I type them; and, having read my confessions here, redouble its efforts to take up residence inside my head. If I acknowledge its existence, cede that it possesses power enough to affect the living, to make me believe it is real - might it, in fact, become just that?
I don't know.
An avowed realist and espouser of logic, nothing attributed to the paranormal could ever convince my conscious mind to believe when fully awake and alert. But now, this thing - this spirit, if I dare call it that - has found me, honed in on the precise moment when my defenses are at their lowest, and commenced tormenting me. There is a window of vulnerability through which I must pass daily, the time when this imp can successfully get inside my head: the fraction of a second each night, when under the covers of my bed I cross over from wake to sleep. Somehow, it senses the gap between the two, and slips through.
It started several years ago, in an autumn season not at all unlike this one, as the leaves outside my window turned red and the sun bled long shadows as it perished upon the horizon.
The first manifestation of this presence was a loud clamor in the darkness inside my house, just as I was about to drift away into dreams - as though a frying pan had been slammed down violently upon a granite countertop. A single blast of noise, not repeated.
The disturbance happened night after night, with increasing intensity as Halloween approached, though I didn't recognize the connection with the holiday at the time. One moment I'm in bed floating blissfully into oblivion, and the next I'd be panicked and alert from the noise, searching through the house with a flashlight for intruders while my wife and children rested peacefully, undisturbed and incognizant of my distress.
But nothing was ever amiss, no pictures fallen from hooks on the wall, all the brooms standing upright in the utility closet; the doors locked, windows secure.
On some nights, after being startled awake by the loud noise, I'd shake my wife from her slumber in the hope that she had heard something, too. I longed for proof that I wasn't alone in my madness; that something had merely tipped over, that there was a logical explanation for the sound that yanked me from the precipice of slumber night after night.
"It's all in your head," my wife would say, annoyed at my insistence that she participate in my anguish. She was right, I hoped, and it certainly made sense. The physiological transition from wake to sleep causes the release of a variety of neurotransmitters - gamma-aminobutyric acid, serotonin, melatonin - any imbalance of which could short-circuit the neural pathways responsible for hearing, could easily trigger an internal sensory perception of a loud "bang" inside my mind, a spatially-displaced auditory hallucination that only I would hear.
I kept reciting this rational explanation to myself, night after night, while my wife snoozed beside me. It was a futile endeavor, as the noises were soon joined by movement in the shadows, by frigid breezes that drove me beneath the covers.
This happened year after year, always starting in the fall and reaching a crescendo with Halloween. Then I'd forget about it, the noises and shadows easier to dismiss as mere silliness once they stopped, at least until the world would begin to die around me once again the following autumn.
* * * *
THIS OCTOBER, the damned thing has brought along a new bag of tricks, or maybe it's a whole new ghost.
I honestly don't know, don't want to know.
I just want it to stop.
Now my wife is hearing and seeing things in the darkness, too. The loud slamming noises somewhere off in the house have since been replaced by tapping and rapping sounds inside my bedroom. They start near the door, always after we have turned off the light and are just about to fall asleep. The thumps are subtle, insidious, maddening: fingernails clicking on the hollow wooden door across the room as if to say, "I'm here." I come back from the edge of sleep, fully awake - but I lay still, eyes closed, feigning sleep. I don't want it to know that I heard, hoping to convince it that it has missed the window of opportunity this time, has already lost me to the unyielding grip of unconsciousness.
It fools me, too. Tricks me into thinking it is gone, has given up. I listen, motionless in the darkness. Extended silence lulls me into serenity; as I begin to doze, a series of sharp taps ring from the glass screen of the television near the foot of the bed, dancing even closer. I pretend to ignore it, motionless, heart pounding, sensing a presence but determined not to let it know my fear.
Two feet from my head, on my nightstand, a plastic water bottle crinkles as though being squeezed by a hand. I feel that familiar coldness hanging over me. I wonder what will be looming inches from my face if I open my eyes, but I don't.
Then it leaves. I know... I can feel it depart, a shift in the atmosphere. Relief swirls in its wake.
"I think somebody just went into the laundry room," my wife whispers beside me.
I open my eyes to find hers wide and bright in the slats of moonlight that squeeze through the blinds. She never gets scared, but it's clear that she is.
"Just go to sleep, it's nothing," I say, more to convince myself than her.
In the living room, around the corner from our bedroom, we have a nightlight with a motion sensor. It's handy when I get up for a drink of water in the middle of the night.
"Please, go check the doors," she pleads.
I sit up in bed, wanting to obey but reluctant to follow the thing into the darkness.
Then the motion sensor nightlight comes on.
"Go look," my wife growls, so I do.
The nightlight goes off the instant I set foot into the hallway, plunging me into darkness.
It's toying with me, I know, as I fumble for a light switch.
Around the corner, I think I hear soft footsteps running up the stairs, heading towards the kids' rooms. Before I can find the lights, my son starts talking loudly in his sleep - it's half of a conversation with someone, but I can't make out the words.
I find the lights, and scan the doors, the front, the back. All locked.
Upstairs, my son screams, "Get out!"
I'm running and in his room in less than three seconds. He's sitting up in bed, mumbling and rubbing his eyes. No intruder, everything appears to be in order. I tuck him back in and check the rest of the house.
Nothing. Doors locked. Windows sealed.
I go back to bed and finally manage to fall asleep. My wife wakes me up several times that night, talking in her sleep. I listen closely and realize that she's reciting our address. Backwards.
The last five days have been rough. I haven't slept much.
Halloween is tomorrow, and the sleep deprivation is getting to me, the lines between consciousness and unconsciousness are blurring to the point where I'm no longer sure if I'm awake and nodding off, or if I've already fallen asleep and am dreaming of writing this.
It's possible I'm unconscious at my keyboard and still typing. I wonder what will be written if my fingers keep moving after I've quit controlling them?
The thing, this daemon, has finally gotten inside my head. It's telling me stories now, directing my dreams, like movies unfolding on a screen in my mind.
In my dreams, it's Halloween.
I'm in a shopping mall and it's after hours.
A little girl with long blond hair is dressed up as a princess and carrying a plastic pumpkin full of candies wrapped in shiny foil. She's a little thing, at most four or five years old, and her silky turquoise gown swooshes as she tries to keep up with her parents.
She's blind. Her bright eyes roll unfocused in her blinking sockets, but it does nothing to diminish her smile, her joy at having gotten to trick-or-treat at the shopping mall's Halloween celebration.
Her mother and father work in the mall, own a small shop there, and the little blind girl follows her parent's footsteps down a long echoing corridor that runs behind the shops, not accessible to the public. Her parents are talking, but the little princess isn't listening to their conversation. She's thinking about the candies in her plastic pumpkin.
She wonders if she's got anything good, and can't wait to explore her sweet treasures with her fingers, to see if she can tell what they are before she tastes them. She could ask Mommy and Daddy, but that would take away the fun.
The miniature princess in blue suddenly realizes that the world around her has grown silent. She listens intently, but doesn't hear her parents' footsteps. She calls out for them, but the only sound that greets her finely attuned ears is her own hollow voice, echoing back from the cavernous hallway. She grows fearful for a moment, as she's never lost track of her parent's voice or touch in a place like this before, but then she hears footsteps running towards her.
A game! Mommy and Daddy are playing a game.
The footsteps gallop past her down the hallway, not slowing for an instant. Without hesitation, she pursues.
The footsteps slow, and disappear inside a doorway to the right. Even though she's blind, she knows exactly where it is and how far away.
Princess steps into the storage room off the main hallway. She hears Mommy and Daddy inside, their breathing hard and heavy in the far corner of the room.
"You're funny!" the little girl laughs, a bright, shiny laugh that sparkles as brightly as the foil-wrapped candies insider her plastic pumpkin. She reaches in and pulls one out.
"You want a candy, Mommy?" she asks, and walks towards the corner, reaching for her mother, wanting to feel her, to reconnect, simultaneously frightened and excited by this unexpected game of hide and seek.
Her hand finds Mommy's face. It is hard as plastic and smooth. Is Mommy wearing a mask?
The little girl giggles as she pulls the wrapper from the candy and pushes it into the hard gap formed by the mannequin's mouth.
"Eat the candy, Mommy. It's good!" she squeals, as the sweaty man hiding behind the mannequin nods at his accomplice, thumbing the safety of his handgun into the "off" position.
A loud bang, like the firing of a gun, wakes me up from the unfolding story, from the dream. Whispered voices flutter past my ear. Ticking sounds dance across the room, across my TV, along my bedroom door. The sensor-activated night light comes to life in the living room as I sit up shivering in bed. A few seconds later, I hear my son talking loudly in his sleep upstairs.
I am defeated, helpless, as sleep comes to drag me away.
* * * *
I'M EXHAUSTED as the first light of dawn awakens me on Halloween morning, frustrated by the night of torment, yet happy to know that this haunted season will soon be at an end.
I wander into my library, where shelves burdened with tomes of fictional horror rise from floor to ceiling, enveloping me in a comforting cocoon. As my eyes flit across the spines, I briefly wonder if maybe one of those books I've brought into my home is cursed, possessed, the culprit.
I settle into my reading chair, and close my eyes, trying my hardest to steer my thoughts towards pleasantries, contemplating the fun I'll have trick-or-treating with the kids later that evening.
A ring at the door stirs me from my all-too-brief slumber.
I'm startled to see that the sun has vanished from the sky, draping my library in darkness. How long was I asleep?
I walk out into the foyer and find the house empty and quiet. The doorbell chimes once more, and I open the door to see who is calling.
A dozen eager trick-or-treaters are gathered at the door, and more are streaming up the sidewalk toward the porch. The front light is off, burned out, but still they come, pushing towards me with outstretched hands, mouths mumbling as though their words are made of caramel.
I grab a bucket of candy and fill their greedy, grasping paws until it is gone, but the crowd keeps growing. The yard fills with clusters of children, hundreds of them, until the masses spill out onto the sidewalk, the driveway, flooding the street.
The costumes of the new arrivals are even more ornate, the grabbing hands increasingly insistent. They push and growl until finally I retreat back into the darkened house, trembling, shoving the door closed behind me.
After a bit my courage returns and I venture a peek through the blinds. The yard has grown vacant and dark, except for a low rolling fog from a nearby smoke machine, glowing in the ghastly orange and purple lights of a neighbor's decorations.
The sight of the empty yard fills me with relief as I head for the bedroom to search for my phone, so I can discover the whereabouts of my wife and kids. Why would they leave me home alone sleeping, especially on Halloween night?
I take no more than five steps towards the bedroom when the front bell rings once more.
I don't want to look, but I do. I'm surprised to find that the porch is empty, save for a small pile of shiny foil-wrapped candies scattered in front of the door.
I step out to clean up the mess.
"I can see now!" a small voice proclaims from my right side, causing me to jump back against the brick wall, scraping my skin, causing my heart to thrum in my chest. It's the tiny blind princess from my dreams, seated in a rocking chair, smiling brightly. Her eyes are gone, replaced by empty sockets that gently weep blood onto her turquoise gown.
"I can see now," she joyfully repeats, opening her palms to reveal glistening plucked eyeballs with trailing optic nerves. They resemble freshly sucked lollipops. "These were in the way. Now I can see everything."
I turn to flee back into the house, but I'm bound, held tight from shoulder to ankle. I try to twist away, but the snare in which I'm caught only grows tighter.
In the distance, a loud crash startles me awake.
I sit up in my bed, tangled in covers, sweating.
Across the room, invisible fingers tap across my television screen.
My wife murmurs in her sleep briefly before the motion activated light comes on in the living room.
I wait, wondering if I'm awake or if this is all part of the dream. It's always worst on Halloween.
I pull the covers over my head as, in his bedroom upstairs, my son laughs loudly and then begins to scream.
Have I become the ghost inside my head, the life I thought I had not real, not what it seemed? Perhaps I am the phantom, nothing more than a dream of Halloween.
About the author:
Evans Light is a writer of horror and suspense, and the author of Screamscapes: Tales of Terror, which includes ArborEATum, Crawlspace, and many more.
About the books:
Screamscapes: Tales of Terror
Genre: Horror, Short Story Collection
Publisher: Corpus Press
Publication date: 10.10.2013
Screamscapes: Tales of Terror is a collection of uniquely twisted tales designed to delight fans of modern horror. Razor-sharp scares and Tales from the Crypt-style mayhem lurk within these dark stories of possession, obsession, deception and revenge...
This collection includes:
Fooling around on your wife can be hazardous to your health.
Just ask Tom. He's a man with a lot to juggle: a frustrated wife, a secret new girlfriend, and the unpleasant task of trying to keep his deteriorating vintage farmhouse from falling down around him.
Now, with his wife out of town, Tom is eager to get busy under the covers with his beautiful new lover - but first there's something he has to finish up in... the Crawlspace.
Whatever Possessed You?
A strange encounter and a cryptic message leaves Gerard Faust a changed man. Now a novel he can't remember writing is burning up the sales charts, but is something other than his own talent lurking within?
When a band of westward pioneers - lost, starving, and desperate - stumbles upon an unlikely oasis in the middle of a barren prairie, Micah wonders if his family has finally caught a lucky break... or does this new Garden of Eden hide a forgotten terror behind a veil of earthly delights?
Curtains for Love
When Claire and James move into a beautiful Victorian home together, she soon discovers that he is being seduced by a secret from his past, one thought buried long ago.
"Tell me something interesting about yourself."
"Well, I have a symbiotic twin named Gertrude. She lives in a small cavity under by ribcage, next to my spleen. If I lie still in bed at night, I can hear her. I think she might be crying."
So begins this short twisted tale where an obvious lie faces off with the truth.
William and his brothers are on their way to summer camp. But when a wrong turn leads them to an abandoned campground, things start to get weird in this nail-biting and suspenseful short story.
The Mole People Beneath the City
Late at night in the subway, a little girl and his father wait for a train that runs deep beneath New York City. It will be a ride they never forget.
Stephen Hill has been heaping abuse on poor Joe King since second grade.
Now they're grown men with nothing in common, and Joe still patiently endures Stephen's unrelenting ridicule. But when friendship is only a matter of perspective, PAY Back might be just around the corner in this irreverent and darkly humorous tale of revenge.
A man thinks he might be losing his mind when he starts to hear voices inside of his nose.
When a world-famous personality discovers there's a way to enlarge his "package" to become the world's biggest, he finds it an opportunity too enormous to resist.