A Halloween Happening - A Halloween Happening

VergeOfHistory.com
A Halloween Happening
Jim Carnicelli
4/19/2021   |   7/2/2021   |   7/12/2024   |   4,994

4,994 words
FNASR offered
Kira Carnicelli
<address>
titank239gmail.com

A Halloween Happening

by Kira Carnicelli

4/19/2021    7/2/21    4,994    22:11
Chapters in this section:
^ Up to main table of contents

I settled into the rocker by my living room window to wait for the furnace guy. The sun shone high in the cloudless blue sky while the multi-colored leaves rustled in the light breeze.

Mom said he should come between one and four just to give it a once over before winter. I told myself late September was too early to worry about that, but last year, we got snow in November. And if it wasn’t too early to decorate for Halloween, I might as well accept that fall was here and the next season, whether I liked it or not, was winter.

What am I gonna do for three hours? I thought in exasperation. I could read. I liked to read, but for three hours straight? Nuh-uh.

Sora, my black cat, lay on the bookcase across the room, basking in the reflecting light. Dead Donna hovered against the wall where we tied her last weekend. Dead Donna – my favorite ornament by far – was a plastic figure of a woman in a white shirt and pants stained in blood – well, “blood”. Did I mention she’s life-size? Almost five feet tall. Skeletally thin with long, spidery fingers arched in claws. The shirt kind of reminds me of those old-fashioned ones nobles wear, like on Interview with the Vampire. It adds to her boney appearance, which I love. She has long, stringy black hair that I thought would be funny to spray-paint purple. I was only joking – I would never actually do that – but Mom didn’t find the suggestion that funny. The black is a good contrast to her face, anyway. I mean, it’s whiter than her shirt! Even her eyes: she has no eyebrows, and her irises are these pale orange rings around tiny black dots. She looks psychotic. And did I mention she’s life size?

Inspired by Donna’s creepiness, I went to the shelf Sora occupied and grabbed an Edgar Allan Poe collection. That way, I didn’t have to think too hard about the poems and wouldn’t get too distracted. The furnace guy was supposed to call before he got here, but last time we had a guy over (an electrician), he didn’t.

Sora regarded me with bored curiosity – what could be so important for me to invade his sunlight?

Yes, Sora’s a boy. We adopted him four years ago, and I was in this phase where unisex names were really cool. I wanted everyone in the sixth grade to change their names to the opposite gender – except Leslie, Pat, and Sam, of course. I tried to make Jack be Sally and Julie be Phillip. I encouraged Erin to spell her name A-a-r-o-n. And I tried to become known as Justin, but it didn’t catch on.

“We’ve always known you as Louise, and that’s not going to change.”

They also asked, “Why don’t you change your name to Lewis or Lou? Something that sounds like your real name?”

Two answers. One: I hate my name. It’s an old-person name – not surprising, since I was named after my great-aunt who raised my mom. I’m lucky I haven’t been teased about it more than I have. And second: that’s boring. What’s the point in changing your name if you’re keeping it similar to the old one?

I grinned at Sora. “You like your name, don’t you, Sora?”

He blinked at me. That was encouraging, right? He wouldn’t blink at a name he didn’t like.

“And you like your name, don’t you, Scary?”

The stuffed crouching cat by the fireplace didn’t respond, but stared ahead with wild yellow eyes and a gaping, fang-filled mouth. Mom got Scary from a friend when I was like three or something, and I’d always point to him and say, “Scary”. The name stuck.

“You never want to talk to me.” I pretended to pout and returned to the chair. Sora watched me a moment longer before lying his head back down and dozing in the heat.

I opened to a random page in the Poe book, but before I could see what the story or poem was, I caught movement in my peripheral vision. I turned towards it – to the right, where nobody dwelled except Donna. She swayed side to side, a tiny, tiny motion, as if someone had brushed against her. She did that sometimes ... didn’t she? Even when no one touched her?

I tried to remember but couldn’t. I tried to figure out what caused it. There were no windows or vents near her, no breeze to disturb her stillness, and obviously nobody here but me and Sora ... and we hadn’t touched her.

The swaying continued. My heart started to pound. Was it my imagination, or was she gaining momentum? Did her feet just kick? Did her head just turn? Yes, I believe it did, and most importantly, it managed all by itself. Before I knew it, Donna was thrashing against the wall, kicking her plastic feet and jerking her plastic head from side to side, clacking against the cement that supported her.

Then I heard her grunt. I watched all this, frozen in terror. I’d never seen anything truly terrifying in my life, except a few Stephen King movies, but I wouldn’t have anticipated reacting like this. I’d have thought I’d be screaming and running for my life, not staring frozen like they say you do for car crashes.

I was vaguely aware of Sora having leapt from the bookshelf, fidgeting in the corner, fur raised, ears back, unsure whether to fight or flee – or where to flee to. He’d have to pass Donna, and who knew if he’d be safer to stay put?

The clacking grew louder as she thrashed harder. A moan escaped her lips, a low, despairing sound that grew from a wail to a scream. Finally, my terror broke and I joined her. I didn’t dare run. She didn’t seem aware, but what if that changed? Even so, what if she reached out in her delirium? With those long arms and fingers, who knew what harm she could cause?

I fled to the fireplace – the wall across from Donna. Sora huddled in the corner, fur still raised. He hissed. I could feel in my throat that I was whimpering but couldn’t hear over Donna’s shouts.

She uttered one final scream, then went still. Her eyes locked on me.

“Let me down.” Her voice was low and strong. “I won’t hurt you.”

“What are you?” I choked. “How can you be alive?”

“That’s of least importance. Let me down.”

I shook my head, partially out of refusal, but mostly out of disbelief. Her eerie orange stare turned hard, and I found it difficult to look away.

“Come here.” I obeyed, much as I tried not to. Sora hissed from the corner again. “Untie me.”

Up close like this, my fear was gone. Of course I knew why that was: I was under her spell. Something that would have increased my fear otherwise was that alive, she didn’t look any different. The life I saw in her – or lack thereof – was no different from a few minutes ago when she hung inanimately in place.

I reached around her narrow shoulders to the string that held her up. Before my fingers could touch it, Sora landed on my arm with a warning cry, wrapping around my forearm and biting my hand.

I yelped and lurched back, the spell broken. Donna glared and bared her teeth. “Awake!” she shouted. I glanced around, ready to run, when a black shape soared passed my legs, tackling Sora to the floor. He struggled and yowled as Scary, who was twice his size, pinned him down.

I moved to save my cat, but Donna stopped me. “One move that doesn’t involve getting me down, and he’ll tear his throat out.”

Part of what I loved about Scary – as I got old enough to appreciate him – were his plastic claws and fangs. They made him look more monstrous but wouldn’t actually hurt anyone. I didn’t know if that changed with him coming to life, but I wasn’t going to use Sora to find out. I lifted Donna’s string and set her on the floor. She was considerably heavier than the paper-weight I put up a week ago, letting me know Scary could indeed hurt my cat.

With determination still in her eyes, she grasped my shoulders, and then –

It was like a shot-change on TV – one blink, and a whole new picture. Only this was more than a picture. This was new everything. The first change I noticed was the damp, stony smell, along with the cold and pitch black. And the pain – screaming pain throughout my raised arms. I was seated on – correctly enough – a stone floor, legs splayed in front of me, propped against the hard, damp wall. I was naked, with no protection from my prison. Metal shackles held my hands above my head. As my eyes adjusted, I could see small candles in four parts of the room, but not much else. Except ... except a fifth candle, larger than the others, outlined by a tall shadow that ghosted forward, revealing deep blue, black, and red fabric, all velvet or satin.

The slacks and leather dress shoes were black, as were the jacket and outside of the cape. The inner cape was outlined in red, the same as the vest. The dress shirt underneath was white. When I saw his skin, his long, slender fingers, my breath caught in my throat, and when I saw his face under a mop of wild brown mane, I choked on another scream.

Blue. He was so white, he was blue. I knew that if he touched me, I would feel the chill of death. I’d never touched a dead person – never known anyone who died except a great-uncle in Utah – and had no desire for that to change. His features were sharp and angular ... suspiciously wolfish. And I’m not just saying that because of the yellow fangs that bared when he grinned at my fear. Freakiest still were the narrow red flames that passed for his eyes.

He crouched in front of me and grinned again, lightly grasping the candle holder between thumb and forefinger. The flame illuminated his face, accenting the angles of leathery blue skin. I could see his red-tinted gums and smell his meaty breath.

As I struggled against the shackles, against the wall on my back, he laughed – a rough, serrated noise that echoed off the walls. “Poor thing,” he mocked. “I see the difference in you already. You’re so not her.”

He didn’t seem to have trouble speaking around his teeth. Although he looked like a wolf, his deep pink tongue looked rough, like a cat’s. But those weren’t my main concerns.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

He chuckled again and rose to his feet. “Ah, where would be the fun in the kindness of telling you?” He turned and paced away from me. The cape swished with his lithe movements. “Then again,” he said, turning back, “there’s no fun in the kindness of secrecy, is there? You are her, and she is you. Question answered?”

“No!”

“I thought not.”

“Who are you?”

“If you need a title, call me Gloom, or Cold, or Dark, or Pain. Perhaps Please if you’re a beggar – but you all become beggars given enough time. Oh! This one will send chills through your blood: Call me Life. Call me Life, and remember my names.”

He was right: I did get chills. I shuddered, feeling the cold both inside and out.

“Where is this place? Am I in Hell?” I wasn’t religious, but my Great Aunt Louise raved about the place every Thanksgiving ... and Christmas and Easter. This pretty much hit the mark.

“Like I haven’t heard that one before.” He smirked. “I never know which answer will be most satisfying. Suppose I let you come to your own conclusion? That will be fun.” He knelt in front of me again. “Suppose I give you a hand?”

And he raised his blue hand, extending it towards me, going slow, mocking me again.

“No! No!” I protested, knowing it was pointless. When he placed it against my bare chest, right over my heart, I shrieked. The iciness of his dead flesh jumped through my skin, into my blood and the marrow of my bones. The cold spread through my entire being, and I was sure I’d die from it.

Gloom/Pain/Cold withdrew his hand. I slunk against the stones – which now felt warm – as the ice drained away.

“Please –”

“Yes?” he teased.

Although I knew asking questions and expecting an even remotely honest answer was stupid, I couldn’t resist. “Why is this happening?”

“The beauty,” he replied, shoving to his feet, “is that you already know.”

And with that, he left. I shivered. I cried. My arms hurt. Beyond the burning numbness, I couldn’t really feel them anymore. What had happened? Ten minutes ago, I was waiting for the furnace guy, reading Edgar Allan Poe. Next thing I knew, I was in this hell dimension with this ... ghoul, corpse – I didn’t even know what he was – with no clue how to get home. Why? How? Had Donna killed me? If so, how’d I end up in Hell? I wasn’t a bad person – sure, I argued with my mom, got on her nerves with my sense of humor, lied about doing homework or chores, but was that bad enough to land me in Hell?

I brought my knees to my chest – they were stiff, as if I hadn’t moved them in hours – and wiped my cheeks on them. Dang, if only my hands were free!

Wait, something’s wrong ...

The bones in my knees seemed to bulge, because there was nothing to cushion the bones in my legs. Where was my muscle and fat? I had plenty of each ten minutes ago. And how the hell did my legs get so hairy? I just shaved them last night!

This wasn’t my body. I knew it immediately. This was the body of a prisoner, atrophied and emaciated. Anxiety-packed questions overwhelmed me, but before I could cry again, I heard a soft mewing sound. I perked up, trying to see in the blackness.

“Don’t be afraid,” came a soft purr. “I’m going to set you free. Please, don’t scream when I touch you.”

Despite the warning, I did gasp when something furry brushed my ankle.

“Who are you – and why are you doing this?”

“I’m afraid you won’t believe me, but I’m Sora. I have to climb on you now.” Rough little paws made their way up my knees to my shoulders. Kitty-cat claws pricked me as he climbed my arm. Under normal circumstances, I would have been skeptical, but today I’d take his word. My most immediate concern was the strain in my arms, enhanced by the cat’s weight.

“Ow!” I hissed.

He twisted around a bit, making some sort of clicking sound, and then my arm dropped free, slapping the floor. The cat went with it. I moaned at the tingling explosion in my bloodless limb.

“Sorry,” he murmured. “Try to be quiet.”

“Sure.”

He repeated the process, and this time I didn’t moan, but I did hyperventilate a bit. “Thanks. How did you do that?”

“With this.” He nudged something narrow and plastic-y against my leg. “The finger of the witch you let off the wall. I broke it off when she attacked you.”

I picked it up, exploring it through touch. “Are all cats this handy with fake fingers and locks?”

“It’s a simple matter of energy exchange, which is also what allowed us to be here.”

 “Huh? That makes no sense to me. And where’s here? And how do you know if I don’t?”

“This is another world, one with a different natural order than the one we occupy. I know this when you do not ... perhaps because we’re different species. Cats grow, age, and learn faster than humans. We also seem more attuned to the universe around us, whereas humans only acknowledge their immediate senses. I don’t know why this is.”

I’d buy that. I’d seen all the shows where animals sensed spirits in a haunted house, or knew when a person was going to die or have a heart attack, or be a murderer or rapist. Still ... “Learn?” I snorted. “It took you over a year to respond to your own name.”

“I recognized my name within the first ten times you called me. I just never let on. There comes a point where ignorance is preferable to knowledge, and vice versa. When I feared you were seriously considering changing my name, I chose knowledge.”

“So you like your name?” Mom always insisted the cat never responded because he hated his girly name. After a year of calling “Sora!” and getting no response, I worried she was right.

“It’s unique, and a tribute to your non-conformity.”

“Why thank you.” My circulation was back, for the most part, so with the help of my arms, I shifted into a cross-legged position on the cold stone floor, which pressed so painfully against my bones that I struggled to my feet – my legs were so weak they barely held what little weight I had – and tried to stretch out the stiffness from not having stood in who-knew-how-long.

“Ow. I don’t know why I look like a starving prisoner in this world, or how I got to be one, but I hope I’m normal when we go back home.” I took a few steps. My feet made soft patting sounds on the stone. I made a mental reminder to keep my voice down in case Gloom came back. If he did, I was pretty sure we were screwed no matter how quiet we were. That being decided, I also chose not to sit back down. If his hearing was sharp enough to detect my footsteps, it’d be sharp enough to hear even our softest whispers. “First we’ve got to figure out how to get home, which I’m guessing you already know. I also wish I knew how this happened, and why. Gloom said I already know, but I don’t!”

“Careful! You almost stepped on me.”

“Oh, sorry.” I stopped pacing, unaware of having started.

“With all due respect, the answer is painfully obvious. Just think about who you’re dealing with.”

I obeyed and thought. Dead Donna, Gloom, Scary, Sora ... Wait a sec, he was right. God, how did I miss it? The answer was nested in my heart and mind, fed to me every year this very season by my mom, often around a hot fire with a cup of homemade cider.

“Holy crap. Sora, do you remember the myth Mom told us about Dead Donna? How she used to be a priestess battling for power with the warlock – the one so omnipotent he had many names? He knew she was too powerful for him, so he put her to death – but she kept coming back to life, forcing him to perform a spell to send her back. It left him drained, so he placed another spell on her so she could only rise once a year. It was enough to almost kill him, and when he found he had to perform the same spell every year, he kept her alive in some prison where he could torture her forever.”

“Yes. Her spirit was worn for many centuries, but she’s regained her strength. She’s escaped through you, and now you are Donna.”

“That was supposed to be a myth!”

“Anything one can think up has already occurred in one universe, in some time.”

“That’s supposed to be a myth, too,” I argued in the darkness. It felt strange, staring ahead at nothing, arguing with a cat I couldn’t see. A cat who, with the well-known cat-coolness, chose to ignore me. I took a moment to feel immature and take a deep breath, coming back to focus.

“Gloom must not care that she escaped, as long as he still has someone to torture. But why did we get chosen?” I pressed, certain the cat wouldn’t have the answer; but he surprised me.

We weren’t chosen. You were, because you had the ornament and a life that appealed to Donna. I felt what she did and mimicked her as the spirit in the thing you call Scary returned. I told you, it’s a simple harnessing of energies – quite difficult for humans, apparently. I followed the spirit of that cat – chosen specifically to fight me off – through Scary. We warred for this body, and by sheer force of will, I won. Now, there’s a loose spirit floating around in this universe and the lifeless body of your cat at home. But that should change once we’ve returned.”

“Okay, so if you have all the answers, how do we get back?”

“You must will your spirit through that finger key. Take hold of me, and I should go with you, if I lock my spirit to yours.”

“But how do I will myself through?”

“Feel the energies, the forces of life, and the atmospheres, and jump.”

“You make it sound easy.”

“It is.”

“Then why don’t you take us through?”

“You cannot lead someone you can’t reach.”

Suddenly the door burst open – or so it seemed. No light shone in except that of Gloom’s candle, fighting off the shroud of his silhouette. The sound he made was sixty percent hiss, forty percent growl. “You’ve escaped ... with the help of a house cat. Oh, Donna, will you regret this!”

I gulped. Maybe he’d been listening the whole time.

“Get back over there,” he snarled.

I can’t see,” would have been my ideal reply, but alas, I stood speechless. He stretched out his arm as if to catch or grab something, and a stream of pale blue burst forward, setting his claw aglow. It enshrouded me before I could react. The previous shock from his touch was nothing compared to this. The ice paralyzed me, leaving me unable even to shiver as the cold attacked my organs. I felt my blood stop, my muscles lock, my lungs close. If I wasn’t already dead, I would be soon. Or I’d be frozen forever, feeling this terrible living death, a prisoner in my own body.

A stranger’s body, I reminded myself.

And then the cold left. Everything within me relaxed. I collapsed in what felt like the well-heated dungeon, gasping in air with the vigor of a person trapped for too long under water. The body I inhabited racketed with shudders. I hated how pathetic my gasping sounded. Hated to give this loathsome creature Gloom the satisfaction of causing me torment. Poor Donna, to put up with this for so many centuries.

“Last chance,” he warned, a smile clear in his voice. “Or I’ll move you myself.”

To his credit, he did give me time to push to my feet. I wondered, for a moment, just how good his eyesight was, knowing that he could see every inch of my naked flesh and had, in fact, touched me just above what I considered a rather private part. How much had Donna endured in that respect?

But nudity wasn’t my biggest concern at the moment. Maybe later, in the comfort of my own home – and body – I’d think about how the first non-female to see me nude was this sadistic brute. Right now, I wanted to get back to that home and body – fast!

When I remained still, perhaps with some defiance in my gaze, he thrust his hand forward again, and before that icy flame could hit me, I clutched the finger close to my chest, ducking my head. I felt a pulse, a flowing, from inside the finger. Everything happened at once: I opened my eyes to see a faint light radiating through it, felt my heart in my throat, felt a force like distant, running water, and, through a scream that wouldn’t come, through a burst of energy – of terror – I’d never felt before, leapt for that light.

I’m doomed! I thought. I’m dead! We’re doomed! My cat! I want to go home!

And then I was on my back, staring up at the gentle tan of our ceiling. I was clothed in light-weight garments. I sat up, feeling lighter than my clothes. I twisted around, climbing to my feet. I saw myself sitting in the rocker, reading Poe. Only it wasn’t me. And when she saw me, her eyes filled with shocked fury.

I ran at her, grabbed her throat in both plastic claws and, using my rage and remaining terror, jumped into the pulsing glow that was her spirit.

Then she was gone. I was in her place, clothed in comfortable blue jeans and a sweater, hardcover in hand, cradled by a padded rocker. But before I could breathe that sigh of relief, Sora landed on the inanimate ornament with a cry. He looked up at me urgently.

I understood. Right as the figure began to move, I was on it, foot smashing its face, arms, plastic claws, knee caps.

The scraps I was left with twitched momentarily, then went still. I dropped to my knees. My cat brushed against my side, letting me pull him into my arms.

“Is it over?” I asked him.

He blinked up at me.

“Can’t talk anymore, huh?”

With a slight tilt of his head, he blinked again, a little slower as if to say, “Alas, no.”

Then, maybe because I’d lost my mind to terror, or was in the process of, I joked, “Do I ask too many questions?”

He nodded once. I burst out a laugh. It started normal, then escalated to a high-pitched giggle, which turned to tears. Sora nuzzled my neck as I clutched him to my chest.

We stayed like that a few minutes until the doorbell rang. I got up, trying to compose myself. When I couldn’t, I explained to the heavy-set furnace man with the thick mustache that my favorite decoration was broken.

He nodded and grunted in a way that was supposed to pass for empathetic, and I had to appreciate the effort.

I showed him to the downstairs furnace before gathering up Donna and shoving her to the bottom of the trash can. Sora followed me through the brief process. Afterwards, I looked at him and asked, “Well, since you’re the cat with all the answers, is that it? Are we done?”

He gave me that innocent blink again, and in a gesture so nonchalant it was endearing, raised and lowered his shoulders.

***

Finding an explanation for why Donna was officially dead and in the trash was harder than expected, so I told Mom that Sora did it. She just frowned at me and asked why and how. When I replied, “I don’t know,” she pressed a little bit, but eventually let it go.

I thought about practicing harnessing energies, maybe exploring different universes, if they were out there, or different lives. Maybe spend some time as a bird. But after a few failed attempts, I realized I was too scared. No matter how boring life was, or how cold the winter got, at least I could walk to the bookshelf or pick up the phone, or turn up the furnace (which was working fine, thank you for asking).

Sometimes I wondered about Donna. Was she back in the dungeon? If she had strength enough to make her spirit travel, couldn’t she have gone somewhere else on earth, or another universe? I wished Sora could tell me. I never heard him speak again, but I learned to listen to his blinks a little more closely.

A few weeks after our trip to Donna’s world, I started noticing a black bird around our house, perching from the tree, cawing from the rooftop ... It was always alone, and never seemed to be afraid. I would approach it, and it wouldn’t fly away. Out of curiosity, I gradually got closer and closer. Once, I was a foot away when it reached forward and bit my ankle, leaving two small puncture wounds and holes in my jeans. I didn’t approach it after that.

But sometimes, if I was walking to school and the crow happened to be in the yard, I’d find myself very close to it. And I would swear that if the light hit it just right, I could see a faint orange shine in its eyes.