- Pumpkinhead - Self-Portrait, Jamie Wyeth
My friend Susan has posted a short story for Halloween ... Halloween (a short-short). Susan and I first met at a writers BBS almost 15 years ago :) Anyway, she has inspired me to post a short story for Halloween too, one written back when I was at the BBS ...
Crestview Shopping Mall, 9:15 pm
David Fletcher crouched behind some crates in the dim cluttered storeroom/office at the back of the toy store, his stomach doing flip-flops. Glancing at his watch, he saw that it was just after closing time. David knew, from prior observation, that in moments the owner of the store, Mr. Sims, would come to this room to put the day's receipts in the small safe near the desk. That would be David's opportunity.
Seeking the courage necessary to his task, David turned his gaze to his ten year old daughter Emily. Lovely in her pink cotton dress, she leaned in silence against a crate further back in the shadows, staring at him. In that stare, he found the resolve he needed.
A sudden noise snapped his attention back to the door and he saw the owner walk through it, the cash-register tray in his hands. David pulled his pistol from his pants pocket and crept up behind the man as he bent to open the safe. Taking a deep breath, David swallowed down his trepidation and struck the other in the head with the pistol, felling him.
He dragged Sims' heavy inert body back to Emily, studying the man as he did so. In his fifties and overweight, the man looked little different than he had at the trial all those months ago. Unconscious, he seemed almost harmless, pathetic, and David cast a questioning glance at Emily as he reached her side with his burden. Her expression didn't change and he suppressed a sigh ... there was no mistake ... Mr. Sims was the one.
David opened a duffel bag that lay on the floor at Emily's feet, pulling out a roll of duct tape and a long bladed knife. Tearing pieces off the roll, he bound the store owner's wrists together and then his ankles. Last he placed tape over the man's mouth. The he sat on the floor, his back against one of the crates, to await Sims' return to consciousness. David could not perform the final ritual without asking one essential question of Sims. Once that question had been asked and answered, David could finally cut out the other's still beating heart.
* * * * *
Surrounded by his friends, Tom Fletcher walked through the parking lot of Crestview Shopping Mall, planning to spend a few hours in the mall's video gaming center. Those plans changed for Tom when he caught sight of his father entering the back exit of the toy store, carrying a large bundle. Tom knew who owned that store and his stomach did a queasy roll as he contemplated his father's possible intentions. Leaving his friends, he slowly walked to the toy sore's exit door, taking out his cell phone.
One year ago today, something terrible had happened to his family. His dad had been devastated and Tom had despaired of things ever getting back to some semblance of normality. Then a few months ago, his dad had suddenly improved in spirits. Things weren't the way they had been before, of course, but his dad seemed content, at peace. He'd begun working on some project out in his tool shed and Tom hadn't cared to inquire into the details. But now he had to ask himself ... what could his dad be thinking?
Tom reached the exit door and saw that the lock had been jimmied. Worried, he entered the toy store and walked down a dim hallway that led to the back room. He strode into a chamber filled with crates and with a desk at the far end. Turning down an aisle, he was startled to find his father standing there, a pistol pointed in his direction.
"Tom! God, I could have shot you! Why are you here?" David shoved the pistol back in his pocket and hugged his son.
As his father released him and stepped back, Tom saw Sims' body on the floor. "Dad, what's going on?"
"I know how it looks, son ... just give me a chance to explain." David led Tom over to Sims, who was now awake. "This is the man who hurt your sister last year. He has to be punished."
Tom looked down at Sims then back at his father, frightened. "Dad, there was a trial, remember? He was found innocent, he had an alibi."
"I remember, son. And I accepted the verdict. Until a few months ago. That's when your sister told me ..."
"My sister?" Tom interrupted. "Emily is dead ... she can't tell you anything anymore. Dad, tell me you know that Emily's dead." Tom searched his father's face anxiously, fearing the worst.
David gave his son's shoulder a reassuring clasp. "It's okay, son, I'm not losing my mind. I know Emily died last year ... her body, at least."
Tom's burgeoning smile of relief faded as his father continued.
David sighed. "Her spirit is still here, though ... bound to her body by the injustice of her death. She came to me in a dream, saying that Mr. Sims had indeed killed her, after ... " David's voice faltered. "After abusing her. The woman who falsely provided his alibi was his accomplice. Emily said that the only way her soul could be released was if the guilty were executed."
Tom began stumbling backwards, shaking his head in denial, until he bumped into something. Turning, he saw Emily. Eyes bulging, he gasped. Was he seeing a ghost? Then he took in the seams in her grayish skin, held together with tiny regular stitches ... recognized the too bright sheen of polished glass eyes ... caught the stench of decay. Tearing his gaze away, he retched.
David held his son, then helped him to a seat on one of the crates. "That's the project I've been working on lately ... Emily asked me to exhume her, fix her up as best I could. Then she asked me to bring her here. She wanted to see Mr. Sims with her own eyes, so to speak, before I ... before he was punished. Speaking of which ... "
Tom watched in horror as his father picked up the knife and bent towards Sims. "Dad, no! This is crazy!"
Ignoring him, David pulled the tape from Sims' mouth. "Do you repent of your crimes?"
The older man began to weep, turning his eyes to Tom. "Please, you have to help me! I'm innocent, I swear ... oh God, please help me!"
David, visibly upset by the man's pleading, replaced the tape and began to unbutton Sims' shirt.
Trembling, Tom appealed to David. "Dad, don't do this. You're not behaving rationally." His father didn't respond. Tom tried again. "Just before entering the store, I called the police ... they'll be here any minute. Leave him and get out of here while you can."
Disappointment in his voice, David repeated Tom's words. "You called the police." He placed the point of the knife against Sims' now bare chest and looked up at Tom. "Then I guess I'd better hurry."
* * * * *
Nine months later
Tom lay in his cousin's darkened bedroom, listening to the other's even breathing as he slept. Once Tom's dad had been arrested for Sims' murder, he'd come here to live with his dad's brother. After all this time, the horror of seeing his sister's taxadermied corpse, of watching a man's living heart cut from his chest, was starting to fade a bit. But he knew that the horror of his dad's descent into madness would never go away. Tom closed his eyes and sought the sleep of forgetfulness. He'd barely drifted off before a familiar voice called his name.
"Tom ... Tom ... one more person still must die before I'm avenged ... you must cleave the beating heart from Sims' accomplice to set me free." Emily's whisper was not quite drowned out by Tom's screams.