What Objects Might Conspire
A Halloween Story
“Stay home tonight, I’ve made a cake.”
“It’s Halloween, Jane, not Stacy’s birthday.” Harry grabbed my wrist and pulled my fingers from his arm. “It’s never going to be her birthday again.”
My nails left bloody crescents in his skin. The cuff of his pristine office shirt was so close to the blood I could feel his fist against my jaw.
“If only you could see yourself; the look in your eyes. Goddammit, Jane. Go wash your face. Comb your hair; have you even looked in a mirror lately?”
“If you won’t stay for Stacy, stay for me. I’m afraid.”
“Afraid? Of what?”
“What man?” Harry looked out the window, toward his car, and the road that promised escape from his crazy wife.
“Don’t you listen to the news? There’s a serial killer loose in our neighborhood. Doing horrible things to women he finds alone in their beds, unprotected. He chops off their toes then he kills them.”
“Hush. Just stop. You’re having that nightmare again. It’s not happening in the real world. Get a grip on yourself.”
“It’s true. There’s a serial killer. He uses a butcher knife. It was on the news.” Of course, I don’t listen to the news.
“Ridiculous. Lock the doors and keep your phone next to you, you can call the police if you hear anything. You’ll be okay.” Call the police; not Harry, don’t bother Harry.
“What if children come? You said it’s Halloween. I’d have to open the door then.”
“They won’t be out in this storm.”
“There’s always some; usually the older ones; the ones that will play horrible tricks on you if you don’t give them their treats.”
“Don’t go to the door and stay away from the windows; they won’t know you’re here.”
“Do you think he eats them? Raw? The toes. The bones must be so hard.” I reached for him again, he jerked away. “Don’t leave me alone.”
“I have to. We need this account. We’re still paying Stacy’s hospital bills.”
“You say that like it’s my fault. Or her fault. She couldn’t help how she was born.”
“How she was born? You may have come home too soon. We have insurance now, you could go back.”
“Stop. Stop. Stop.” I covered my ears; he was being cruel. He just wanted to get rid of me.
“You liked it there, didn’t you? You had friends.”
“No. No, I didn’t. Please. It’s the storm; it throws me off. I lose my balance.”
Harry laughed. “It’s just a little weather, thunder and lightning used to arouse you; that excited me. Remember, you always said we made Stacy outdoors on a night just like this, that night on the hill, in the rain. We were soaking wet, you looked so good; I could see right through your clothes.”
His hands had drifted onto my body; I leaned into his arms, rubbed against him like a cat. He lifted his palms as if I would burn his skin; he turned away. “Here, I brought you some wine. This will calm you.” He opened the bottle.
“I’m not supposed to drink. Not with my meds.”
He took a glass from the cupboard, filled it, and handed it me.
“Sure you can. This is just wine. It’s okay. Drink one glass and go to bed, you’ll be fine. I’ll be back in the morning to change my clothes.”
He opened the door and I dared a quick look over his broad shoulders. The lightning made legs in the sky. Its tattered arms reached down for me and its spiked fingers walked to my door.
I covered my ears from the sound of the hollow footsteps of the thunder as it came searching, searching for a frightened woman alone in the dark. The sky tore open and a thousand tears smashed to the ground as Harry’s dark car sped silently away from me.
I knew he wasn’t going to a cold office; he had a place with warmer flesh than mine, and no dark history.
The wine tasted bitter but I drank it; I hadn’t had wine for a long time, perhaps I’d forgotten about the bite.
As my tears crystallized and sharpened my vision, I looked at the counter where I’d set my phone–it was gone. I always set my phone exactly there when I came into the kitchen. Always there and nowhere else. I felt my pockets, empty.
I shut my eyes and tried to remember, had I seen my phone on the counter tonight? I had. I’d seen Harry, gathering up something, some paper towels, though why, I can’t imagine, and he’d thrown them in the trash under the sink.
I reached into the trash and groped through dry paper towels until I felt the familiar hard rectangle that had to be my phone. I pulled it out.
The screen was black. I pressed the power button and waited. Nothing. I pressed it again. Nothing. Useless. I threw the phone across the room.
I didn’t care which birthday this was, Stacy’s cake was aflame with candles. I barely noticed the lights had gone out, at first.
I poured myself another glass of wine and sang a teary Happy Birthday. I was growing used to the bitter taste.
The glow of the candles and the warmth from the wine bathed me in false, but happy, memories. I nodded off for a moment.
I woke with a start. Had I heard something fall, was someone in the house, or were children knocking at the door for trick or treat?
I held my breath and listened as I watched the final sputtering as the candles puddled into the cake and the house went dark. I hadn’t made a wish. Now there were no candles to blow out; no chance for wishes, and the house was cold.
Then I heard it again, an insistent rapping at the kitchen door.
“Who is it?”
“Do you have food please, ma’am?”
Not a trick or treater, it was a bum, looking for a handout. I had the cake; though it was sacred to me tonight, I wasn’t going to eat any of it. Tomorrow I would throw it in the trash.
I’d give him a piece, a large piece, perhaps, but just a piece. With my riches of food and a hungry person on the other side of the door, it didn’t occur to me that he could be the serial killer. Especially as the image in my mind was of a killer who would strike when I was in my bed.
“Just a minute. I have something.” I reached for a knife to cut the cake and sighed. Harry again. He had removed all my knives from the block. I got a table knife and a plate and cut a generous piece of cake.
I opened the door quickly and thrust my offering into his hands then shut and locked the door before he had a chance to get into the house.
“Bare plate!” He yelled then I heard cursing and the crash of china. I was shocked. I looked at the cake. Yes, I’d certainly given him a large enough piece. I didn’t understand.
The porch was quiet now; he was gone.
I was becoming groggy; I stumbled toward my bed.
If the serial killer came during the night, the dark would be my ally; I knew this place, he didn’t.
Yes, the house should be familiar to me, but the lightning threw odd shapes into my path. What objects would conspire to form a hooded shadow on that wall? Where in my house was the cross that threw its dark silhouette on this carpet? What room was that to my left? Which stairway was this here? What door opened to my right? What object fell into my path?
What perfume was that I smelled?
My house was unfamiliar on this night.
Then the lightning flashed and the room lit up in an awkward, unfamiliar slant of light. Was that a person in the corner? Then the house was dark again. I hadn’t had time to comprehend what the sudden static image had revealed. I froze waiting for another burst of light, a movement, or a bit of sound.
Another clap of thunder shook the house. A man could have fired a gun and I would not have heard it. A person could have screamed in agony and it would have been as if no sound escaped their lips during that roar of deafening thunder. Then the rain beat on the roof as if the sky were a blanket that had ripped apart. At the same time, I felt a boney tap upon my back.
Fear became my sudden compass, I ran right up the stairs and straight into my bedroom.
Once there I realized I should have checked the doors and windows on the floor below. Were they locked, or even shut? Harry used to check those things but lately his sense of responsibility for my safety had diminished; I’d often found the doors unlocked at night after he had gone to his purported work.
Should I retrace my steps and check?
Had someone touched my back down there? Did teenagers too old to trick or treat creep into the house to pull their tricks on me? Had the serial killer marked me as his next victim? Would I be walking into his trap? Was I safer here?
I opened the door a crack. I smelled smoke. Surely, the candles had gone out when they puddled into the cake. I should go down and check.
I opened the door a bit wider. Still I believed I smelled a bit of sulfur. More like a match. The house might be about to catch fire. I would go down.
I would be brave and reassure myself the candles were out, the doors locked, and all the windows shut then I would run back up here and leap under my covers where I would stay until the sun came up.
I tiptoed to the stairway.
Halfway down the stairs I froze. It was so velvet dark down there. There was no smoke, no fire; no one had touched my back. Of all the houses in this town, why would the killer choose to come to mine?
I didn’t need to go down there. I was certainly a fool. Harry often smelled of cigarettes now. He’d left the smoke in the house. This time the smell had seemed so new, so fresh.
I had a headache, surely brought on by all this stress. I would take something for my headache, something to help me sleep, and then I would go to bed.
In the morning, the sun would come up as it always did and I would laugh at my foolish fears. I didn’t need Harry and that was good because he was surely out the door.
I backed up the staircase.
Yes, I would take a few pills to help me sleep.
After I’d gone to the hospital, Harry’d cleaned out my medicine chest, or so he thought.
I confess. I had a full, unopened bottle of sleeping pills. I’d hidden it from Harry.
I flicked the switch; still the lights did not come on.
I felt around the counter but I couldn’t find my water glass. I always kept it in the same place. Harry, again. Harry must have been up here tonight, he must have moved it. Oh, well, I’d take them dry.
I reached into my secret place and wrapped my hand around the precious bottle of relief, my sleeping pills. How many should I take? I’d need a lot.
I twisted off the lid and turned the bottle over onto my palm. One pill fell out. Harry had found them. Damn him.
Would one pill be enough to keep me asleep through the lightning and thunder? I surely hoped so.
It wasn’t enough. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
I woke still wrapped in a blanket of darkness. “Harry, is that you? Did you come back, Harry?” No answer. I shouldn’t have spoken. The bedroom window was open; the curtain flapped in the cold wind, rain wetted my face.
The stench was horrible.
It was the killer. He’d come to get me. To commit his vile acts on my body then cut off my toes and kill me. I would fight. I would run.
I couldn’t move. The sleeping pill. Could one pill immobilize me?
What was that pill?
Harry had switched my pills.
Harry had disabled my phone so I couldn’t call for help.
I was in this alone, until Harry came back in the morning. Right, until Harry comes back. I couldn’t trust Harry. As soon as it’s light, I had to get out of here, before Harry returned. If I was still alive. Was the killer in my bedroom?
I tried to move my left arm; it was so heavy, I drug it across the bed to my side. I raised my hand just a bit, brought my fingers together, and pinched my leg. I could feel it. I was awake but my body was so heavy.
Now I tried to move my right arm, I pushed it out. Something was in the way.
It was a body.
Inch by inch I slid my hand up the body. It was cold, inert, and dead. The size, the shape, began to feel familiar. At the shoulder, I was sure.
“Harry, you came back.” I felt tears running down my cheeks. Why was I crying, of course he came back, he came back to finish me off. I told myself he was asleep but I knew I was wrong.
My hand slid down his chest and my mouth opened in a scream so pure it was silent. The wine rose and burned in my throat as my fingers closed around the handle of the butcher knife that was stuck in Harry’s chest.
Now something was definitely on the bed. The killer?
But it was small, like a cat walking across the quilt.
I don’t have a cat.
The stench grew stronger.
I felt a slight pull on the quilt, a tiny tilt of the mattress, with each step it took toward me.
My chest tightened. I tried to summon the strength to move my body, to rise from the bed. Impossible. I was frozen.
I felt the pads on the ends of its limbs as it pulled itself onto me, as it grasped at me and creeped up my leg.
Panting its foul breath on my face, it curled on my stomach as my heart broke.
Tiny fingers curled around mine, a little hand kneaded at my breast.
Terrified, I threw it off me and found the will to stand. I ran down the stairs, clutching the knife in my hand. Someone was pounding on the front door.
“Trick or Treat! Trick or Treat!”
“Let’s go. Nobody’s home.”
“We’ll break in. Who’s with me?”
“No, come on, I got my little sister here. I don’t want to do this.”
“Then you’re it! Get in there, Sucker! Little sister first.”
Their words made no sense.
The door burst open; Stacy’s brought demons with her this time. Maybe I really should have made a cake.
I have the knife, I’ll chop them down, like a video game, it’s all just a dream, anyway, isn’t it, Harry? One of my nightmares. Yes, I’ll chop them all down. Harry can take me back to the hospital in the morning.
But Harry isn’t coming back. He didn’t really drive away; he got nostalgic, drank some wine, and took me to bed.
Maybe. What do I know, I’m crazy, right?
My husband’s left me; he thinks I’m mad. There’s a serial killer on the loose, or is it just my nightmare? I lose my balance when it storms. I’m all alone against the demons that shattered my door in the middle of the night. To save my own life I fought like a maniac, I chopped them to pieces.
God how they screamed.