A challenge appeared on Tumblr a few weeks ago. Drawlloween. Intended as an artist prompt, to draw a little something from each of the 31 daily prompts through the month of October. I love Halloween. I consider October Halloween month. And while I do art on occasion, that’s way too ambitious for my limited skills. So I decided to undertake the challenge as a writing exercise–a short piece, each under 500 words, for each prompt.
As things often do, it became something… else.
I’ll be re-publishing them in blocks of 5 throughout the month here.
1 – Ghost
The blood curdling sounds of someone being stabbed to death in the next room woke Mark from pleasant dreams about the ocean. He blinked in the direction of his bedside clock. 2:25. Right on schedule. The Screaming Girl was back.
With a groan, he rolled out of the narrow bed and shuffled through his discarded clothes to the door. He fumbled with the light switch on the brick wall next to him, illuminating the single space that served as living room, dining room, and kitchen in his small Bronx walk-up.
Screaming Girl stood in a pool of phantasmal blood wearing a party dress circa 1985 with the shoulder pads to prove it. The dress was pale blue except for the front where a knife had carved up her abdomen like a Halloween pumpkin leaving the ragged remains slick and red-black. There was no assailant present as they’d had something like a three decade head start. Screaming Girl’s head was tilted back, mouth hung wide like a Cottonmouth snake in anguish, a scream that would shake the windows if the windows were psychically sensitive cascading out of it.
“Hey!” Mark said a bit too loudly, causing the scream to strangle off as she looked at him, momentarily confused. “I have classes tomorrow morning. Could you maybe not?”
“You can see me?” Screaming Girl said.
She always said that, every night since he moved in a week ago. Ghosts, man. Memory span like a chronic pot smoker. Absent-minded sacks full or rage and pain. “Yes. I can see you. I can hear you too. “
“Oh.” She looked confused. She looked at Mark then down at the killing wounds she’d been carrying ever since someone gutted her in her living room. “I’m dead.”
“Yeah. Are we done for the night?”
“I suppose,” she said. “Sorry.”
Screaming Girl faded out, taking the phantasmal gore of her murder with her.
Could be worse. At least she wasn’t like the poltergeist in that place in Denver that broke all his shit before he could move out. With a sigh, he turned out the light and returned to his bedroom.
Grandfather Yoshi was waiting for him, staring out the window at the still unfamiliar neighborhood, the yellow street lights showing through his wispy form. He was still wearing the military uniform he had been buried in one fine April morning, 1944. “Can you believe some people?”
2 – Devil
The bullets stopped—hovered in the air in a suddenly crystalline moment. He counted four: one that would surely miss, while three flew true. The one mere inches from his face was the most troubling as, like the bullets, Grant was also frozen in place.
He felt a chill that prickled the skin on the back of his neck mere seconds before he heard the voice. “Freaks you out a bit, doesn’t it.” A dapperly dressed, thick-set man stepped nimble as a baby dear into his vision, avoiding the rivers of blood on the off-white linoleum floor. Not fat. No, he’d never call this strange man with the sharpened smile fat. Thick.
“What’s going on?”
The stranger looked around as if for the first time, eyes mockingly wide. “Well, Grant, what’s going on is that you walked into this clinic, guns blazing, wounded eight women and killed five more. That’s what’s going on.”
“I was doing God’s work.”
The smile did not falter, but the eyes turned hard, like the big man wished he was biting the head off a chicken with those perfect white choppers. His voice was cold as he tapped out a cigarette and lit it with the tip of one finger. “So you said at the time. But I’m afraid you were mistaken. I’m the one here who’s doing God’s work.”
Grant found that being frozen such as he was, he couldn’t even void his bladder, though his instincts to do so were strong indeed. “Are you an angel?”
“Not so much. Needed room to stretch my wings, so I moved out of dad’s place. Moved downtown, if you know what I mean.”
Grant sized the big man up. It wasn’t exactly how he had pictured the Devil. “You’re here to take me to Hell? After everything I’ve done in God’s name?”
The mirth returned to the Devil’s face. “Buddy, it’s because of what you’ve done in His name that Heaven doesn’t want you. To be honest, I don’t want you either. You’re kind of a sad and petty asshole, and I’d rather not have to see you around. It would depress me.”
Grant was confused. “So, I get to live?”
The Devil’s laugh boomed. “No. You get to wander forever, burdened by all the pain you’ve caused. Invisible. Intangible. Forgotten. Now fuck off.”
With a puff of brimstone, time resumed.
3 – Goblin
The bars were long empty, the beleaguered cocktail waitresses and bartenders settling into cracked leatherette booths of all-night diners for a post-work dinner while their former customers staggered home or slept it off in their cars before attempting the drive on foggy Karlsburg streets.
And then there was Henry and Amy, leaning against each other for support as they snuck noisily into the dark playground of Nathan Hale Elementary. “You sure this is a good idea?” Henry asked, “Won’t the police have a problem with us being here after dark?”
“No one comes in here after dark,” Amy said. “Not after the dun dun DUN incident.” She punctuated her dramatics by turning and walking clumsily backward, making a spooky hands at her companion. She overestimated her ability to navigate backwards in her current condition and was sent sprawling on her ass in the shredded rubber chips around the slide with a yelp.
Henry looked a shade more sober than before as he looked around, eyes wide. “Wait, this is the school they say is haunted? The one where they found that body a few years ago?”
“Five years ago. And it’s not haunted,” Amy said, waiving off the help to stand that Henry, in his fear, wasn’t bothering to offer. She used the slide’s corrugated metal later as a brace and struggled to her feet. “Haunting are ghosts. No ghosts here. At least I don’t think there are any ghosts here. Never heard of any when I went here.”
Henry decided there was safety in numbers and edged closer to Amy next to the bulk of the old metal slide. “You went here? I thought you said you moved here from Boston.”
“I went to Boston for college, but I grew up here.” Amy waved her arms wide. Her voice took on a note of melancholy. “I grew up right here. You know, they say this city’s name is derived from the word kobold.”
His attention was split between Amy and the deep darkness of the unfamiliar space. He could swear he heard skittering footsteps on the surrounding asphalt. “Kobold? What’s a kobold?”
“Goblins. Like toddlers gone horribly wrong. Big, black eyes. Big scabby ears. Smile that looks like a rusted hacksaw.” Amy grabbed ahold of his hand as if for safety and he squeezed it reassuringly. “They don’t like the light. And they’re always hungry.”
Through the alcohol haze, he felt the cold touch of a handcuff around his wrist. He tried to pull away in shock to find the other end attached to the sturdy frame of the slide. Amy stepped out of arm’s reach. She seemed more sober than before. “Stop fucking around. This isn’t funny.”
But she wasn’t paying attention to him anymore, her eyes searching the dark playground, arms wide, inviting. “I brought you another offering,” she shouted. “Five more years! That was our deal!”
Henry was sure there was movement in the shadows now. And they were hungry.
4 – Vampire
The jangling bells of the princess phone next to the bed woke her well before her alarm, before even the sun had cracked the horizon. In that transition from drowsy to full wakefulness, she dropped the receiver on her face trying to answer it, a whine of “Ow” before her mumbled “Hello?”
“Jackie, it’s Hamilton. Sorry I woke you but I needed to talk to someone before the end.”
Jackie sat up in bed, heart racing. She hadn’t spoken to Hamilton since he’d broken her heart two weeks ago, but she hadn’t stopped loving him. “Before what’s over? Ham? Are you about to do something stupid?”
“Things are moving too fast,” he said. “The world, I mean. The world is moving too fast. There was a time I thought I could keep up, but ’85 has been a weird year for me.”
“Baby, what are you talking about?”
“There are things I haven’t been completely honest about. When I said I was born in New York in ’59, I meant York. In England. And I meant 1659.”
Jackie opened her mouth to try and talk sense into him, but suddenly a lot of the things that had caused stress in their relationship started to make sense. The objections that formed in her brain came out as a simple, “Huh. Vampire?”
“Yeah. Sorry. I wanted to be honest with you, and I guess better late than never.”
Now that she knew the truth, she wondered if there was a way to start over, a way to make things work. Sure, he was a creature of darkness, but he was a lot better than all the other guys she had dated. “It’s okay, Ham. We can make this work. You want to come over? I can keep the blinds down.”
Hamilton was quiet on the other end of the phone. She thought she could hear the hiss of truck brakes in the background. “Love you, Jackie. Had to call and tell you that. I’ve been feeling lost and afraid for a long time and you’ve been a bright spot in the dark. And I want to see the sun again.”
Fear chased the last of the sleep from her blood. “Where are you?”
“The park where we met, near the bench with a great view of the sunrise.”
She hung up and threw on clothes. The park was only six blocks away and panic gave her feet wings. But it wasn’t enough. The sun was fully up by the time she reached the park, the bench with the view, and the glass phone booth. A block of wood braced the door closed from the inside.
And on the floor, a fine, gray dusting of ash.
5 – Werewolf
The back door was ajar, though he would have burst through if it hadn’t been. It would take more than a sliding glass door to stop a mighty werewolf! He knocked over the trashcan just inside the door. A discarded milk carton and soggy filter full of coffee grounds toppled out onto the linoleum. He howled, staggered into the center of the kitchen and howled again.
A woman’s voice from the next room. “Jerry?”
He stopped in his tracks, teeth barred.
His wife entered the kitchen with a rolled up copy of Marie Claire. “Jerry! The Millers called. What the hell has gotten into you?”
“Get away, Wendy! I’m a werewolf!” He growled at her, menacingly.
She sighed. “No, Jerry. No you’re not.”
Jerry lunged for her only to be smacked on the nose with the magazine. He backed down with a whimper. “I’m the Alpha.”
“You’re an idiot who doesn’t realize he’s not a kid anymore, who took three hits of acid you got from hell knows where, and then decided to crash our neighbor’s barbeque, crap on their lawn, and bite their Golden Retriever.”
“He was a Beta…” Jerry started only to be whacked into silence with a few more blows from the magazine.
“You’re going to sleep this off on the sofa in the den,” she said, pointing a manicured index finger at him. “Then you’re going to take a shower and go apologize to the Millers. I’m not moving because of you again.”
He cowered, eyes down, tracing lines in the damp coffee grounds on the floor next to him. “Yes dear.”
“Now clean up your mess,” she said, returning to her book club in the other room. “And get your shit together, Jerry. Or I’m buying a gun with some goddamned silver bullets.”