After tons of requests, alright, only three requests, I decided to merge my Ghouls trilogy from Halloween past into one story. It was either that or write a Turkeys of Thanksgiving piece, and I had trouble wrapping my mind around that one.
Ghoul of Halloween Past
Sam Hollis had driven most of the day and into the night trying to get home. His eyes were gritty from lack of sleep and his head kept nodding and then jerking to an upright position. When a rest stop exit sign appeared in his headlights at 9:30, he decided to pull in and sleep for awhile.
The I-10 rest stop was lit up like noon, so Sam backed into a spot furthest from the lights and reclined his seat. He cracked his windows an inch and settled in for a nap. Just before he fell into sleep an image of his former business partner and friend, Eric Marks, popped into his head. Eric’s funeral was the reason Sam was traveling on this late October night, and Sam couldn’t quite shake the feeling that Eric’s death was his fault. No, he hadn’t pulled the trigger, Eric had done that, but his suicide came hard on the heels of the end of their longtime partnership.
A scratching sound awakened him. Sam sat up, disoriented. Beside him, on the passenger seat, sat a man-sized rat.
“What the hell!” screamed Sam, scrambling for the door handle. The door wouldn’t budge, and Sam felt his heart banging against his chest wall.
“Relax, Sam,” said the rat. “It’s me. Eric.”
Sam screamed again and felt a liquid warmth spread across the front of his suit pants, “Just a dream, just a dream, just a…”
“No Sam. You’re not dreaming. This is Eric, and I’ve got a message for you from the other side.”
“Heaven?” gulped Sam. His heart continued to race and he thought a heart attack imminent. Oddly, the thought that he should have exercised more crossed his mind.
Eric laughed grimly. “Not exactly.”
“Look buddy,” the rat with Eric’s voice continued. “I’ve only been dead for three days and already it feels like eternity. But the big boss downstairs offered to lighten my torture if I could haunt you into following my lead.”
“You mean get me to kill myself?”
“Exactly. I mean, what have you got to live for? Marie’s about to leave you. You’re gonna get audited by the IRS this year. Your old man’s about to cut you out of his will.”
“Wait, you’re making this up. None of this is true.”
“Whatever. I’m out of here for now, but before the night is over you’re gonna have some visitors. Three of them. Once they’re through with you, you’ll be dying to join me.”
With a start Sam awakened. “Holy shit,” he said aloud. He cautiously felt the front of his pants and let out a sigh of relief. Dry. So it had been a nightmare. Shakily, Sam started the car and pulled back onto the interstate, anxious to put some distance between himself and the site of his dream. Glancing at the clock on the dashboard he realized he’d only been asleep for twenty minutes or so.
His mouth felt cottony and Sam decided to stop at the next town on his route to get some caffeine in his system. Already the nightmare had begun to fade. Sam shook his head and smiled at his own foolishness. “That’s what I get for eating greasy fast food after a funeral,” he thought.
At the Live Oak exit Sam located a mini mart and parked. Inside the store he grabbed a donut and poured a steaming cup of hot coffee. For good measure he grabbed a bottle of water and waited in line behind an elderly man at the checkout. The man was buying scratch off tickets and taking his sweet time.
“Give me two of them new ones,” the old man told the clerk. “No, not those, the ones next to them.”
“You want the ‘Devil’s Due’ game, old man?” the clerk asked.
“Might as well,” he cackled.”I’m deserving of it ain’t I?”
Sam cleared his throat and the man looked over his shoulder. “What’s your hurry. We all going to the same place.” he told Sam. “Least ways, you and me is.” Sam took a full step back as the man turned to face him. His white hair was long and stringy, his teeth yellowed from years of smoking. And damn! His breath smelled like rotten onions, slick with slime.
In a blink the old man grabbed Sam’s arm and transported the two of them out of the convenience store. For the second time that night Sam felt as if his heart was about to explode inside his chest. A high pitched scream emanated from his trembling lips as he and the ghoul, for that was what he must be, rose into the October night.
“You kept me waiting, boy,” the man growled. “You’ll pay for that, you will.”
Sam closed his eyes as he felt bile rise in his throat. His stomach fell as he and the old man dropped suddenly, landing with a thud.
“Open them eyes,” rasped the old man. “I said open them, now!”
Hesitantly, Sam dared a glance at his surroundings. “Whe-where are we?” he gasped.
“Where’s it look like boy?”
When Sam realized he and the old man were sitting on the topmost arm of an old elm tree he gulped audibly and steadied himself on the branch. One wrong move could send him plummeting to his death.
The old man growled, “it ain’t where we are, it’s where you used to be. Recognize the building down there?”
Sam looked down at the old three-story brick edifice. Every light in the building was on. At first, Sam couldn’t recall where he’d seen the building, then it came to him. Old Andrews Ward, the elementary school he’d attended in fifth and sixth grades.
Briefly, Sam forgot his fear. “My god! I remember this place. Eric and I met here when we were 10 or 11, but this old school was closed years ago. What’s going on here tonight?
“You’re seeing this place as it looked 47 years ago. Halloween 1967. You remember that boy?”
“I remember the carnival. Stupid kiddie games. Eric and I got kicked out for some reason.”
“That’s why we’re here,” the ghoul said. “I’m the ghoul of Halloween Past and you’re gonna get educated.”
The man wrapped his bony fingers around Sam’s arm and in a heartbeat Sam found himself inside the old school gymnasium. Black and orange crepe paper swags looped around the walls and festooned the booths set up on the edges of the room. Kids of all ages lined up to test their skills in tossing rings around bottles and scooping plastic fish from a tub of water. Kids bobbed for apples and had their fortunes told by a fake gypsy.
In spite of himself, Sam found himself grinning. He’d had fun here. That he remembered.
“See that girlie over there?” the man asked.
“Holy hell! That’s DeeDee Dunn!” gasped Sam. “She was the hottest girl in school. Eric and I both had the hots for her. We called her ‘Double D'”. For a second Sam’s memories made him smile.
“How about that girl?” the old man said, indicating a scrawny girl in the corner. “You ‘member her?”
When Sam saw the girl standing alone next to the far wall of the gym his face lost all color.
“Yeah, you know her all right. Little Scarlet Jackson.” The man’s evil grin turned on Sam. “You boys really taught her a lesson that night.”
Sam made an attempt to leave, but the old man held him firmly. “Yep, you and Eric got yourselves kicked out of the carnival that night. Just watch and remember.”
As Sam looked around the room he saw the 14-year-old versions of himself and Eric heading nervously towards DeeDee Dunn.
“Hey DeeDee,” crooned Eric. “Wanna come hang with me and Sam?”
DeeDee shook her head and gave the boys a polite, but vacant smile.
“Bitch,” whispered Sam. “She never even knew we existed. Thought she was too good for us.”
“Is that why you two turned over the table with the cakes displayed? asked the old man.
“We were just pissed off,” Sam said, watching his younger self help Eric heft the cakewalk table onto its side.
“But why did you two decide to mess with Scarlet?”
Sam watched as he and Eric sidled up to pitiful little Scarlet, smiling like they had something good to tell her. “I don’t know,” Sam replied truthfully. “I guess we just wanted to take our bad moods out on someone.”
When the school principal came charging up to banish the boys from the carnival, Eric grabbed hold of Scarlet’s hand and pulled her out the door with them.
“I don’t need to see this,” said Sam.
“Oh yes you do boy.” The old man cackled. “You need to know one of the reasons why Eric took his worthless life.”
It started out sweet. Both boys lied to Scarlet, telling her how beautiful she was. Eager for any kind of attention, the girl quickly fell under their spell. Eric led the trio to the football field and underneath the bleachers.
“Really,” says Sam. “I remember. Please don’t make me watch this.”
The old man tightened his grip on Sam’s arms, forcing him to watch the attack on Scarlet. The two boys threw the skinny girl on the ground and ripped her clothes off. They taunted her with insults, calling her a skank and a lowlife.
Sam watched as Eric held Scarlet down and then threatened her life if she told on them. Eric stepped aside and gestured for Sam to take a turn. But Sam shook his head, “no.”
“I didn’t do anything!” screamed Sam.
“You sure didn’t,” cackled the old man.”Not a damned thing.” He lunged for Sam, his clawed fingers poised to rip and tear.
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 had done, 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.
Ghoul of Halloween To Come
Sam opened his eyes to find himself face down on the road next to his car. Tears streamed down his face and roadside gravel clung to his cheeks. Sobbing he crawled to his car and placed his forehead on the door. A faint smell of road kill mixed with the taste of self-loathing made him gag.
How could it be? Marie was Scarlet? Had Eric found out? Had he known all along? Sam had met Marie in college. She’d been innocently beautiful, totally unaware of the effect she had on the opposite sex. He knew there’d been a secret in her childhood. She’d told him about years of therapy, but that just made her more precious to him. He’d only wanted to protect her.
But why had she hired a private detective? Had the desire to know her whole story driven her to find answers? Sam became frantic. He needed to get home. If what the ghoul had shown him was happening now he needed to be there when Marie walked in the door.
Sam jumped behind the wheel and buckled his seatbelt. The dashboard clock read 11:05. Five whole minutes that had changed his life forever. The car lunged onto the road and Sam gripped the wheel like a vise, hunching over the steering wheel as if possessed. Periodically he’d wipe fresh tears from his face. He considered calling Marie, but he knew that she wouldn’t answer if his name appeared on her cell phone.
At ten minutes to midnight he pulled into his side of the garage. Then, reconsidering he backed out and parked down the street. Marie wasn’t home yet and just maybe he would be able to catch her off guard if she didn’t see his car in the garage. He jogged back to the house and let himself in through the garage entry. The house was pitch black, but Sam didn’t want to risk a light in case Marie came home. Using his cell phone as a flashlight he went into the master bathroom and began washing up in the dark. Lowering his face to the sink Sam ran water over his weary head. What would he say to Marie? Whatever it took, he’d do it.
When he felt a touch on his shoulder he looked up, expecting to be face to face with his beautiful wife. Instead, there hovered the most gruesome ghoul of the night. Where the previous visitors had borne some semblance of humanity, this apparition looked like a poorly formed lump of clay. Its gaping mouth revealed two rows of stubby brown teeth. Its eyes were yellow blobs with irises of blood red. Arms and legs appeared at random, shifting with every movement of the hideous monster. And it stunk. Like death and decay, rotted flesh and burnt hair.
Sam put both hands up to push the monster away, but they dissolved into the ghoul. Sam screamed in terror as the ghoul pulled him in, completely entrapping him within the monster’s own body. For ten terrifying seconds Sam feared he would suffocate encapsulated as he was inside the creature. When he took a first shuddering breath he realized that as bad as the thing had smelled on the outside, it was multiplied a thousand times on the inside. Gagging and retching Sam futilely tried to claw his way out.
“What do you want?” Sam screamed. “Show me or end me!”
Pure silence answered Sam’s demand. For the first time Sam opened eyes he didn’t realize he’d shut. On the inside of the ghoul a silent movie played.
First, Sam saw the interior of an office. An elderly man sat crying at an ornate oak desk. As the camera moved behind the elderly man and panned the desk, Sam realized that it was his father sitting there, looking over his last will and testament. Sam watched as his father, with tears in his eyes took a pen and repeatedly slashed through his son’s name on the document.
The image changed. Two anonymous women sat at a pair of adjacent blonde desks in a non-descript office. Each stared intently at the screens of their twin computers, scrolling through dates and names and numbers. As Sam watched the camera moved to show an opened file on the desk of the first woman. He caught a name on the file “Headspins”–the name of the business he and Eric had jointly owned until a few weeks prior. Sam wanted a closer look, but the camera panned out to show the lettering on the office door: “IRS Dept. Of Fraud Investigation.”
Again the image shifted. Now Sam watched a group of solemn mourners at a funeral. He watched as the camera focused in on a recently erected tombstone, but all he could see was the death date: Nov. 1, 2014. Tomorrow, almost today. But, whose grave was it? He didn’t recognize any of the mourners assembled in the cemetery, but he saw the grief plainly etched into each face. Whoever lay there had been loved.
Again the film looped back to his father’s office, replaying the first vision like a record needle stuck in a groove. Sam began to panic. “Please God, let me out!” he screamed. The ghoul’s flesh shifted from opaque to transparent as a light was flipped on in the bathroom. Marie! Marie was home!
Sam moved toward his wife. Her terrified scream echoed through the room. Marie turned and ran and the ghoul with Sam inside followed her into the master bedroom. Marie frantically fumbled in her dresser drawer, turning to point her small pistol at the monster.
“Marie! It’s Sam! Don’t shoot me Marie!” The Sam/ghoul pled. Marie, who heard only a garbled growl, pulled the trigger. The bullet ricocheted off the monster and into the face of Marie. As Marie collapsed in a pool of blood, the ghoul evaporated leaving Sam a huddled mess in the middle of the room. He crawled to Marie, cradling her lifeless form in his arms.
“Oh no! No!” he sobbed. Taking her gun he pointed the barrel into his mouth and pulled the trigger. A death-filled silence enveloped the room.
Then, as Sam’s blood soaked into the beige carpet, “Marie” rose from the floor. “Never trust a rat, Sam,” she said. “There were four, not three, ghouls tonight. Just call me the Ghoul of Halloween Lost. What a pity that the real Marie has to come home to this mess, but really, she deserved so much better.”