It’s Halloween so without further ado, here’s a short story I’m sharing with you…
The forked tongue flashed across thin lips catching the thin strand of saliva that had gathered there. “I’m hungry!” it protested.
“Have some more kitten,” said its companion pushing the chipped plate over the battered table. The first creature pushed the rags of fur and bone over the white and blue patterned porcelain then sniffed dismissively. “Why can’t we go hunting?” it whined.
“You know the rules. All Hallows is for the mortals.”
“The rules are stupid!”
The second beast, which was the elder of the two, gave him a humourless smile and lit a thin yellow hand-rolled cigarette. “That’s as maybe but we’re not breaking them.”
“Oh why not? What’s going to happen to us?”
“I don’t know.” It took a drag on the cigarette that was clasped tight between its clawed fingers. “If you want to hunt feel free. I’ll watch the results with interest.”
The younger creature sat down and sighed heavily. It plucked a scrap of kitten from the plate and pulled a few shreds of meat from the bones. “What I wouldn’t give for a bit of human baby.”
“We agreed this; no more babies.”
The younger grunted and picked its pointed teeth with its foul talons. “Hey do you remember that barbeque in Italy?”
“I’d hardly call Pompeii a barbeque.”
“Twelve days of feasting on the beach!”
“As I recall it you ate so much you were sick for five of them.”
“Ah!” The younger sighed joyfully. “Happy days.”
“They’ll come again.”
“When?” He snarled greedily.
“Gah!” The younger spat dismissively as he sprang to his feet. “You always spout such tripe! We should be tearing this world apart! Feasting on the flesh of mortals, raping and revelling in our power! Not scraping scraps from scabby feral felines.” He paused to look out of the small wire framed window, its broken glass pane stained yellow with nicotine before catching sight of himself in the shattered remains of a mirror propped up in one gloomy corner. “Look at us,” he said sadly, “we’re pathetic.”
“Oh don’t be so melodramatic.”
“I can’t help it. I can almost taste them.” Its voice lowered. “Those fools with their stupid pumpkins and monster masks. Their squalling brats, bloated and sweetened with an excesses of sugar and oh!” He sighed lustfully, “as for the teens, ripe and juicy and oh so supple.” He was visibly salivating now. “Do you know how far you can bend their legs back before they rip from their sockets?”
“Of course I do. I was violating virgins before you’d tasted your first puppy!” The elder stood now and danced slowly across the room, hips swaying as smooth and sinuous as a snake. He started speaking softly but his voice trembled and rose with his excitement. “I was feared. Mothers hid their children when I approached. Young lovers took their lives when I came calling. Villages offered me their young, their pure, their finest as my playthings in the vainest hope I would let the rest of them be. I WAS A GOD!”
“And now you’re in a basement.”
The elder dusted his waistcoat down. “Well we all have to adjust to circumstances.” He walked slowly back to his chair. “Besides, if we stick to the rules we can survive long enough to see those days again.”
“Those days could be now! I’m tired of these feral strays and greasy pigeon meat. I want something that screams when it sees me.”
“You had those Jehovah’s Witnesses last year. Oh and that homeless guy in June.”
“He doesn’t count. He was almost dead when he got here.”
“Alright, but the Jehovah’s do. I kept mine alive for three days, He made this little gurgling noise whenever I…”
“Stop it! I don’t want to hear, it’s making me hungry.”
The elder shrugged. “Suit yourself”
The younger sighed loudly again and stared out of the broken glass. Then the bell rang above them. They froze. Neither quite believing what they were hearing. It rang again, echoing through abandoned rooms, reverberating past peeling paint, mouldy plaster and rotting wood. They could both picture it bouncing back and forth on its rusty spring, resurrected from its seemingly eternal rest by a hand on the chain. But who owned the hand?
The elder spoke first. “Do not make a sound,” he hissed between his pointed teeth. The younger started to nod then hesitated. “Coming!” he shouted suddenly and loudly.
“You bloody fool!” the elder snapped. “What are you doing?”
“I believe it’s called answering the door.”
“You’ll get us found! They’ll have police and dogs and…”
“And nothing we haven’t dealt with before.”
“Do you really want to be on the run again? Tonight of all nights?”
“Relax. Even if the police do suspect, they won’t be here in force until the morning.”
“But look at us! We can’t answer the door like this!”
“It’s Halloween, of course we can.”
The eldest grinned widely, refusal transforming into joyous acceptance, then they both bolted for the door laughing and snarling as they thundered up the rickety wooden stair and through the dusty silent kitchen. They stopped when they skidded side by side into the now silent entrance hall. Breathing heavily they moved slowly across the old chequer tiled floor, both of them fearing that their prey had fled. Then the bell rang again, the echoes bouncing back and forth across the wide space.
The eldest spoke in a hushed whisper. “If it’s more than three we let them go.”
“Four!” The younger hissed. “We can handle two each, even if we have to kill them quick.”
The elder nodded and they walked to the door. The younger placed his shaking claw on the handle. His head was spinning; he felt like a love struck teenager about to make the first move. He took a deep breath, the eldest watching him steadily waiting, poised and hungry. The door opened and they looked down.
“Trick or Treat! Hey cool costumes.”
She was hard to age: she could have been twenty, she could have been twelve. Not that it mattered, she was alone.
The elder recovered first, the younger just stood there sweating and swaying slightly. “Come in, come in! Welcome to our haunted house. We shall be your guides through the horrors that await,” the elder said jovially.
“Oh goody I do like haunted houses.”
“Are you alone child?” he asked.
She nodded then looked down at her feet. “I’ve just moved here you see, but I love Halloween so I snuck out to come trick or treating.” She held up her basket of candy as evidence of her misdemeanour.
“A fugitive eh? Well fear not. No one shall ever know you were here.”
“You won’t tell?”
“On my honour child. The last thing I will ever do is tell a single soul that you were her.”
“Enough of this!” squeaked the younger, “it’s time to play.”
“Indeed it is,” said the elder cheerfully whilst shooting him a warning glance. “Prey fetch a pot for the child to collect her trinkets in.”
The younger looked flummoxed by this request and gave the elder an appealing look.
“In the kitchen perhaps?” the elder said with a meaningful nod in that direction.
“Now my dear,” he added as his companion glided uncertainly away, “you can leave your basket of goodies here. I assure you they will be quite safe.” He gave her an appraising look as she set her basket down. “Little red riding hood I see. Does that make me grandma or the big bad wolf?”
“That’s up to you,” she replied sweetly.
Meanwhile in the kitchen, the younger was somewhat distressed. This was not how it normally went! Open the door, get them in, and then start breaking them. That was the way it was always done! What kind of silly game was the elder playing at?
There was a crash from the kitchen and the child stared quizzically at the elder. “Excuse me,” he said somewhat distractedly, “I’ll just go and see what ails my compatriot.”
She watched him scuttle away then looked at her surroundings. It was a big old house but it appeared to be in a serious state of disrepair. Either the owners were very dedicated Halloween enthusiasts or very bad at DIY.
“What are you doing?” hissed the elder as he skidded into the kitchen with an uncharacteristic loss of grace.
“Me! What are you doing? We should be scragging the little flesh bag not playing stupid games!”
“Trust me! I know what I’m doing!”
“What? What are you doing? Because right now it looks like madness!”
“I need to check the book.”
“Why let’s just get her in the cellar and gag her!”
“Not yet. Distract her, play along and I’ll check the rules.”
“You’re insane, do you know that.”
“Perhaps,” replied the elder with a dry smile, “but humour me.”
The younger returned to the hall and presented the child with a container, of sorts.
“Is this a skull?” she said turning the cranium over in her hands
“Er yes,” he admitted thinking back to the day that the homeless soul had crawled into their lair seeking shelter from the freezing storm outside. He hoped she wouldn’t look too closely, there were little teeth marks here and there. Luckily she seemed unfazed.
“Cool.” She said, followed by, “So what’s this game then?”
“Oh it’s simple,” he replied casually having plotted this subterfuge in the kitchen with the elder. “You must search every room of the house for a piece of bone. Start at the second floor and then into the attic. Then come down here and the game ends in the basement.”
“Cool,” she said again quietly and started for the stairs.
Leaving her basket in the hallway and taking the proffered candle, she trod slowly and warily up the creaking wooden steps. Long ago these stairs had been covered with a lush red carpet, now all that was left was the stumpy remains of carpet runners, gleaming dully in the flickering light.
She reached the landing then the light vanished into the gloom. The youngest watched her go, drooling slightly, then hurried off in search of the elder.
“Well?” He snapped when he found him squinting at the ancient battered pages of the rule book, “did you find what you wanted.”
The elder raised a hand to silence him, his lips moving rapidly as he read in a low whisper.
“… lest the prey willingly enters or already abides within the lair of the beast…” he began to smile. “…known to keep victims alive for such sport on all hallows giving hope to…blah, blah, blah.” He slammed the book shut sending a cloud of dust floating into the damp air. “Lets play!”
The younger beamed as he danced his way back into the hall.
“My child?” the eldest sang into the darkness, “Wither have you gone?”
“I’m up here,” the voice floated down to them.
“Make haste child, there are many games to be played.”
There was a gasp from above them, followed by a short cry of dismay.
“What’s wrong child?”
“The candle,” she said tremulously. “It’s gone out.”
“Fear not!” cried the youngest, adding a “yet,” quietly so that only the eldest could hear.
“Yes, fear not!” the eldest repeated, “We shall hunt for you in the darkness.”
There was a brilliant flash and a rumble of thunder so loud that the walls shook. Then the rain began to fall.
The eldest felt rather proud of the dramatic timing, as if he’d had a hand in the weather himself. As they crept slowly up the stairs they giggled like naughty toddlers. Their footfalls and the creaking of the boards beneath their feet were masked by the sound of the water hammering into the roof, gurgling and dripping through broken drains and over weathered tiles. As they reached the top of the stairs the eldest called out again.
“Where are you?”
“I’m here,” came the soft reply.
He gestured to the youngest who nodded and vanished into another room. He would circle round and seize her from behind. That way it was easier to stifle the screams. The eldest licked his lips. ‘And what screams they shall be!’ he thought.
“I can’t see you child, call to me.”
“Over here,” the voice said clearly and he changed his course, his body tensing as he drew closer.
“I can’t hear you,” she said, “Where are you?”
The voice came from behind an old dresser, its stout build having survived the slow decay of time better than the sad remnants of its more elegant neighbours. “I’m here!” he hissed rounding the corner with his talons raised.
The child wasn’t there.
“Where?” she called; the voice was right in front of him, only slightly dulled by thin wood and mouldering plaster. She was on the other side of the wall. He hissed, it was a foolish mistake to have made.
“Don’t fear child. I am coming for you.”
“Please,” she whimpered. “I’m scared.”
The eldest grinned in the darkness and sniffed the air to revel in the faint whiff of fear.
He heard the floorboards creak as she moved in the neighbouring room and took great leaping strides back to the corridor, gracefully landing on tiptoes with each bound, the sound of his progress inaudible over the patter of the rain on the broken tiles above.
There was a splash from another room; she’d moved further than he thought. “Eeeew! There’s water everywhere!” A moments pause, then, “er guys, the roof is leaking!”
He tiptoed over the bowing timbers towards her voice. A movement to the left told him that the younger was still hunting, moving like lightening through the empty chambers.
“Walk towards me,” he called.
“Can you see me?”
“I think so.”
He could see her. Standing by the banister, peering into the darkness of the hall below. The younger rose up in the doorway behind her and he felt a twinge of pride at the creatures’ stealth and speed. Then the younger leapt, a great arching pounce to seize their prey with pale choking fingers. The elder grinned as the younger reached her, his long limbs gracefully poised as he shot towards her like a deadly arrow in the night. Then he passed through her and fell screaming onto the hard floor below. The elder winced at the thud and sickening crack that cut the scream short. He could picture his friend’s body, broken and splayed, blood pooling on the chequer tiles below.
He felt a moments regret but this passed when he realised that at least he’d have something to eat tonight.
He reached the mouldering chair piled with mildew soaked blankets that he’d mistaken for the child. Why the younger couldn’t see the difference from here he’d never know.
“What was that noise?” the small frightened voice came from above him.
“Nothing child. Just my friend getting into the spirit of the day.”
She was in the attic. “Ghah!” he spat. He enjoyed the chase but this was getting silly. He moved quickly to scale the rickety steps to the very top of the house. Part of the roof was missing and as he rose like a demon from the stairwell, lightening bathed the room with a brilliant flash. The shimmering pools of water that lay beneath the void mirrored it, sending light dancing into the corners of the room.
It was empty.
He yelled. “Where are you child?”
“Down here!” She laughed and he thundered back down to the floor below.
“Where are you?” he growled, leaning over bannister, scanning the darkness below.
“I’m here.” The voice whispered in his ear, he span round ready to throttle her, but there was no one there. “Or maybe I’m here…” the voice called from downstairs.
Despite himself he was shaken and his composure was slipping, “You little bitch!” he screeched, then struggled to lower his tone. “Let us not play games now,” he said more calmly. “I have such a treat in store for you.”
“And I have a surprise for you…”
“Oh your presence is a gift enough,” he simpered slowly descending the stairs.
“I never said it was a gift,” she said as the noose dropped around his neck. She dropped lightly to the floor beside him, the other end of the rope grasped firmly in her hand. He rose struggling onto his tiptoes, hands clawing at his neck. “Just a surprise.” She finished tying the rope to the end of the banister before vanishing into the darkness.
She returned in a bubble of light from a glowing candle, the rule book now tucked under her arm. She regarded the elder for a moment who had reached the rope above his head and was trying to pull himself up it to slacken the grip around his throat, then sat primly on the shattered body of the younger and began to read.
“… lest the prey willingly enters or already abides within the lair of the beast. As consequence some have been known to keep victims alive for such sport on all hallows. Giving hope to such victims and striking fear into those who would harm them is the legend of the hunter, for she may only hunt on All Hallows. Although she prefers to catch those who break the rules she may hunt them in their lairs if she is invited in willingly.”
The eldest gasped and flailed at his neck again desperately trying to draw breath. She closed the book and untied the rope from the rail before yanking it firmly with one hand. Her catch jumped up into the air, pulled firmly on his line. There was a ‘snap’ and his body jerked and rocked limply as it pulled taut on the swinging cord. She let him fall and sighed. She would drag the corpses out into the rain and with luck they would have dissolved by morning. Not that it mattered; she would be long gone. Off to a new life, a new town, ready to hunt again. Not that these two had been much sport, she thought. They were half starved and in the first throws of madness. Stupid creatures, they made it far too easy.
She pulled the younger by his feet, out onto the packed earth of the weed choked yard. She brushed the sodden hair from her face and tossed the cheap red cloak onto his corpse which hissed with each blow from the raindrops. So the world was marginally safer, which was of course the point; but they made it so easy! Even after all this time they didn’t know the rules, relying instead on rumour and hearsay, even though every pack had a copy of the book with them. She sighed as she went back to collect the elder. On reflection she mused, she did wish they’d read more.