The Ghoul of Halloween Present
Sam came to with a jerk.
“Hey man. Man! You going to pay for that stuff?” demanded the clerk.
Sam almost fainted with relief to find himself back in the minimart. The old man was nowhere in sight, but Sam was drenched in his own sweat. He carefully patted at his face, expecting to find it ripped to bloody shreds.
“C’mon man. Buy the stuff or leave before I call the cops.”
With shaking hands, Sam paid for the coffee, which was still hot. The whole episode at the school must have lasted only a few seconds. Back in his car, Sam flipped down the visor and studied his face. Aside from looking as if he’d seen a ghost (ha!) everything looked fairly normal. There were no scratches, there was no blood. At least not outwardly. Inside he felt scraped raw.
How had he forgotten about Scarlet? That was a memory he’d buried deeply. She was one of those shadow kids in school. A cipher, but also the butt of many a cruel joke. “You got Scarlet cooties!” “Sam and Scarlet sittin’ in a tree, g-a-g-g-i-n-g.” While Sam had never been openly mean to the girl, he’d sure laughed at all the jokes, and when Eric pulled her out into that long ago October night, Sam was a willing participant. Right up to the last part. Sam couldn’t believe what Eric did, but he didn’t stop him either.
Could the memory of what had happened to Scarlet that night been what caused Eric to shoot himself? Maybe. It was certainly brutal enough. Scarlet had never returned to school after that. Rumor had it that her parents moved away and enrolled her in a convent school. No one ever questioned Eric or Sam about that night. It was as if none of it had ever happened.
Sam wondered if he was capable of driving the remaining two hours of his trip. It was 10 pm, and his encounters with the supernatural had left him simultaneously wired and exhausted. Rubbing his eyes with the palms of both hands he took a deep breath and decided to press on. Maybe all he needed was to get home to Marie. He turned the ignition and guided the car out of the parking lot and onto the I-10 on-ramp.
The silence in the car was overwhelming, so Sam turned on the radio. A conservative talk show host raged about the government paying for birth control so “sluts could have all the sex and none of the responsibility.” Sam quickly switched channels to an all music station. Credence Clearwater sang about a bad moon rising. “No shit,” he thought.
He drove uneventfully for an hour and began to believe he’d imagined both of the incidents. Eric ‘s death had him jumping at shadows and remembering events his psyche had hidden. No wonder he was seeing things. When he noticed the red and blue flashing lights in his rear view mirror, it was almost comical. What could be more normal than a speeding ticket? He slowed down and pulled well onto the shoulder, hoping against hope that the state trooper would fly on past, but he pulled in right behind Sam’s car.
Sam waited until the officer knocked on his window to roll it down.
“Turn off your car, sir,” said the trooper. “I need to see your license and registration please.”
“Sure, Officer…Delgado,” Sam said peering up at the officer’s badge. “What seems to be the problem?”
“I need you to step out of the vehicle,” Delgado said, “And move away from your car with your hands on top of your head.”
“What? For speeding? Look, I know I might’ve been going over the limit, but…”
“Sir. Get out of your car right now. Do not make me tell you again.”
Reluctantly Sam got out of his car and placed his hands on top of his head. None too gently, the officer grabbed his hands and began slapping handcuffs on him.
“Hey! What the hell?” said Sam. The officer used Sam’s bound arms to propel him to the squad car.
“Relax, Sam. You’re coming with me.” whispered the officer, his putrid breath blowing on Sam’s cheek.
Sam whimpered, “No! Please no.”
Officer Delgado laughed viciously, “Yes, Sam. Oh yes. I’m your Ghoul of Halloween Present.”
The ghoul shoved Sam into the cramped backseat of the cruiser. With his hands cuffed there was no comfortable position and already Sam felt his arms going to sleep.
“Where are you taking me?” asked Sam.
“I thought we’d pay a little visit to Marie. See what she’s up to on this fine Halloween night.”
“Promise me you won’t hurt her,” Sam begged.
“I don’t think you need to worry on her account,” grinned the ghoul. In the rear view Sam caught a glimpse of the ghoul’s menacing smile and did his best to make himself small in the backseat.
Instantly Sam realized the cruiser had come to a stop; although, he couldn’t really recall having heard it start. Officer Delgado opened the back door and hauled Sam out.
“I don’t guess you’d take the cuffs off, would you?” asked Sam.
“Why not? You certainly aren’t going anywhere.”
Gratefully Sam began to rub his wrists. He expected to find himself in front of the home he shared with Marie. Instead, Officer Delgado led him into the lobby of a Doubletree Inn.
“You didn’t think she’d be sitting at home while you attended the funeral of a rapist, now did you?” growled Delgado.
“She didn’t know about all that,” Sam said. “She always liked Eric.”
“You really don’t know your Marie very well now, do you?”
Intrigued Sam followed Delgado into the elevator and up to the second floor lounge. There he saw his beautiful Marie sitting at the bar, deep in conversation with a tall, well-built man. His first instinct was to rush to her side, but the ghoul caught him by the arm.
“She can’t see you. Nobody can. Think of it as watching a movie, Sam.”
Sam gulped. “Can we listen to what they’re saying?”
“Sure,” grinned Delgado. “If you’re up for that kind of masochism.”
Up close to the bar, Sam heard Marie say, “This can’t be true! Where did you get this information?” Her voice was high and strained, and Sam’s heart broke a little when he heard it.
Muscles answered, “I used your retainer to travel out west. A little visit with the right person opened up the school records back to the 60’s. There were just a couple of paragraphs about an incident involving an S. Jackson. From the information you gave me I deduced that was you. Two boys, Sam Spencer and Eric Whitehead were mentioned as possible culprits, but it looked like Whitehead’s dad was a big shot in town and made it all go away.”
Marie sobbed, “My God! How could I not have remembered? I know I was traumatized, but you’d think when I met Sam, and then Eric that something would have been triggered! Did they not get into any kind of trouble?”
Muscles patted her shoulder awkwardly and shrugged. “Not publicly anyway. I did a little more checking into the Whitehead kid’s dad. He was loaded, by the way. It seems he paid a considerable amount of money to a Robert L. Jackson on November 2 of that year.”
Marie collapsed in tears, laying her head on the bar, ignoring the looks of the other drinkers. After a moment, Muscles asked, “Marie, how is it they didn’t remember you?”
“I grew up,” she cried. “I used to be so skinny. I got braces, dyed my hair. And I changed my name. After what happened that night it was too painful to be Scarlet anymore.”
Sam sank to his knees in the bar as the ghoul laughed maniacally, his yellow teeth shining in the dark. “My god what have I done?” he screamed as the ghoul’s fingers wrapped around his throat.
Tomorrow: The Ghoul of Halloween To Come