69 HELLOWEEN  

jasonabadboy4u 29M
48 posts
6/17/2006 1:50 am
69 HELLOWEEN

69 HELLOWEEN
Mitch and Tara moved to their new neighborhood a week before Halloween. Almost immediately, they noticed the scarecrows. Not real scarecrows-decorative ones. Most were about three feet tall, decked out in overalls and flannel shirts, with stitched smiles beneath rumpled felt hats. Many were parts of displays that included a pumpkin and a harvest sheaf. Others stood alone. Some were simply doll-sized figures of dried silk twisted out of cornhusks and propped conspicuously in a window. But every house had one--except theirs. Mitch guessed that this was the average suburbanite's idea of "quaint." He thought the things looked damned ugly. Put one up in front of your house and it was like putting out a vacancy sign for bugs, spiders, and anything else that liked to crawl indoors. It made no sense to Mitch why a town that couldn't claim to have a single field or pasture would so obsessively display a prop everyone associated with farm life. Didn't people know scarecrows were created to scare animals away from crops? What point was there to putting one up as a decoration in an upper-middle-class neighborhood where the closest anyone got to farming was the produce section of the local supermarket? Clearly, there was a lot Mitch and Tara were going to have to get used to about their new home. Already, they felt like outsiders. Just three days before they had been shopping at the local market for a pumpkin. It had been their tradition for as long as they had been married to carve a jack-o'-lantern the day before Halloween and put it on their front porch. On Halloween night, the lit jack-o'- lantern served as a beacon to trick-or-treaters. But the only pumpkins to be found at the local supermarket were parts of scarecrow displays. Mitch had removed one and brought it up to the cash register but was told the store wouldn't sell it as a solitary item. He had argued, but the clerk remained adamant. Finally, Mitch told the clerk angrily to charge him for the whole damn display and to stuff the scarecrow wherever she wanted. Mitch felt good about having stood up for his principles, even though it had cost him fifty bucks. The clerk had told him on his way out that he might as well take the scarecrow, since he'd paid for it. "Over My Dead Body!" Mitch had muttered. That Saturday, Mitch and Tara carved their jack-o'-lantern, but by sundown that evening pieces of it were clotted on the front door. Someone had hurled it at their house! Mitch called the police department to protest the vandalism. The police officer he reached gave him a song and dance about mischief night, and kids beings kids, and how it wasn't likely they could catch the culprit if Mitch hadn't actually seen him do it. Mitch would not be deterred. On Halloween morning he drove to a store the next town over and bought an even bigger pumpkin. It was carved, lit, and out front, under Mitch's watchful eye, by noon that day. The evening came on fast and showed all signs of being a perfect Halloween night. The sun had turned the distant hills a fiery red as it set. In its wake, the moon had risen with a pinkish glow that Mitch knew made it what they called a BLOOD MOON. The air was just cool enough to sharpen smells and sounds. Mitch picked up the acrid waft of burning wood that told him several fireplaces were burning nearby. He had stocked up on candy for the neighborhood kids. They had taffy, milk duds, candy corn, and suckers in a large dish to choose from. Tara had wistfully suggested that they might get to meet some of the neighbors whose kids came trick-or-treating. By dusk they had already seen some kids out in costume parading around the block. But none came to their door. Mitch peeked through their blinds and saw one cluster of kids at the house next door. He waited for the ring of their doorbell---but it never came. After several minutes he peeked back outside again, and saw the kids heading up the steps at the house on the other side. Their house had been completely skipped over. It went on like that the rest of the evening. The neighborhood kids were out in droves, in costumes ranging from the store-bought to the crudely homemade. They laughed and yelled as they paraded up and down the street. But in every case they passed by their house like they didn't even see it there. Mitch and Tara had come close to getting only one visitor that evening. Early on, Mitch had seen one kid who couldn't have been more than three or four come toddling up the front walk in a ghost sheet. Mitch had stepped into the foyer, planning to open the door as the child came up the steps. But through the glass panes at the top of the door, he saw a woman--probably the kid's mother--run to the child and yank him away by the arm before he could even get halfway up the walk. "What the Hell was everyone's problem?" Mitch guessed the kids were just going to the houses of friends and people they knew. It was probably a good safety precaution these days. By ten o'clock not a single trick-or-treater had come to their door. Mitch had offered to answer the doorbell while Tara was online upstairs, but it seemed pretty pointless. The cries of the kids and the pounding of feet on the sidewalk had just ceased suddenly. Mitch looked through the front window and saw that the block was completely dark. The neighbors were either sending a signal to the kids that Halloween was over, or they were turning in much earlier than usual. Mitch was just preparing to go out and extinguish the light in the jack-o'-lantern when he was startled by a sound from the front porch Whummmp! The stillness of the night had magnified the noise. It sounded like something had fallen to the floorboards. Opening the door, Mitch discovered another jack-o'-lantern casualty. Someone had tossed it, candle and all, against the front door. This was worse than the one yesterday. The pumpkin was virtually pulverized. stringy clumps spattered the door, and flecks of pumpkin dressed the walls several feet on either side of the frame. It would have taken considerable strength to make that kind of mess. No little kid out for Halloween fun could have done this. Mitch stood in the doorway, peering into the darkness as though he might see whoever was responsible for this prank. The candle in the jack-o'-lantern had been smothered by soppy pulp, and he could smell that smoky, oily smell that he associated with a snuffed candle. But there was another, stronger smell behind it. A sweet-and- sour smell. It reminded him of that mixed aroma of alfalfa, manure, and newly turned earth that he associated with the country as a kid, he remembered how overpowering it could seem whenever he drove by a recently mown hayfield. It was the first time he'd ever smelled it in this town. What was putting that smell out so strongly? "HEY!" Mitch yelled into thick darkness, hoping to scare off whoever had tossed the pumpkin. A light breeze made the treetops dance shivery in the moonlight. Mitch heard a slithering rustle. "Must be leaves" But he knew that all the leaves had been off the trees a week ago. And that they had raked the last of them out of their yard before the weekend. The wind made the rustling sound again, and Mitch felt the hairs on his arms prickle. Rubbing them against the chill, he stepped back indoors. He had just picked up the phone to call the police and complain a second time when he heard the rustling noise again. Ssssssssssssss . . . It was coming from the front porch. Ssssssssssssss . . . Much closer than it had been before. It was followed by a clumping sound. Like something hitting the floorboards at regular intervals. Pok . . . Pok . . . Pok. Mitch turned out the lights. On tiptoe, he advanced toward the front window. Ssssssssssssss . . . Whatever it was, it was being dragged across the front screens. Sticking his fingers between the slats of the blinds, he peered out. Nothing there. Ssssssssssssss . . . It brushed over the screen on the window near the door. Someone was going to a lot of effort to put a Halloween scare into him. Pok . . . Pok . . . Pok. It sounded like footsteps outside the front door. Or someone tapping the porch with a pole. Mitch moved silently to the foyer and peeked through the panes of the window. Someone was standing on the porch! Mitch could just make out an overcoat and a slouch hat on the head. The person was carrying a walking stick in his hand, thumping it on the porch planking. A late trick-or-treater? Mitch clicked the light on as he pulled the door open. He was almost driven back by the smell he had noticed before. Now it was ten times stronger and nauseatingly potent. Concentrated, it reminded him less of wet straw and more of the stench of decay and death. The person on the porch was dressed like a scarecrow, with shocks of loose straw sticking out around his wrists and neck. He turned his face up to look directly at Mitch. And Mitch realized that the dark figure was not wearing a costume! Black holes marked where its eyes should be. Its mouth was stitched shut, but Mitch could have sworn the cheeks worked behind it, huffing and puffing as though it were alive! What Mitch had at first thought was a nose was actually a field spider the size of his hand. Other things he couldn't quite see wriggled in the straw jutting out beneath the figure's hat. The scarecrow took a step forward and Mitch saw that what he had mistaken for a walking stick was a weathered wood stave. It had a crossbar at the top. Its other end was a pointy stake. The thing moved fast. Mitch never had a chance. Neither did Tara. The next day, the neighbors saw two new scarecrows up on poles at the new people's house. They didn't look like the other scarecrows around the neighborhood. They wore Mitch and Tara's clothes. And they weren't stuffed with straw. But everyone agreed from the way they flapped loosely in the wind that they did a good job of scaring things away.


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