Hazardous Halloween - The Collection
A collection of two tales and one poem from three authors.
First up is the lovely Chantelle Atkins
Read Now, Die Later
The book sat on the bench in the bright October sunshine. Lois Tyrrell spotted it on approach and paused in curiosity. She looked around; in case the owner of the book was nearby. She supposed that the bench situated at the top of the hill on the common, was an ideal reading spot. Miles from anyone, surrounded by gorse, heather, and ferns, the common was a haven for wildlife and the place Lois most loved to walk.
Seeing no one else around to claim it, Lois picked up the book and perched on the bench. It was a slim book, a short read, with a tattered cover. The colours were eye-catching – red, yellow, purple, and green, as if a child had been let loose with a paintbrush. A pop-art style illustration depicted a screaming girl clutching a book. And the title was even more alluring – Read Now, Die Later.
Lois snorted her amusement but shifted slightly on the bench. Something in her gut made her want to put the book down and move on. But curiosity is a powerful thing. She turned it over and read the short blurb:
Read this book if you dare! From popular horror writer Stig Lowdry comes a new terror that will stop you sleeping at night! Anyone who reads this book now, will die later.
Lois frowned and again, felt the urge to drop the book on to the bench and keep walking. It was a short and nasty blurb, she felt. The publisher had used shock tactics and a sneering undertone. It told you nothing about the story, which made it impossible to decide if it was worth your time or not. Feeling annoyed, Lois turned it back around and opened it. A white card fell out and landed at her feet.
She picked it up and read:
Congratulations! If you’re reading this then you’ve found a hidden book and can join in the fun! Simply read, enjoy, then leave somewhere else for the next person to find!
‘Hmm,’ said Lois, sliding the card back inside the book. The tone of the card seemed at odds with the book itself. But she had heard of books being hidden and found and then hidden again and it seemed like a good idea to her. She scanned the first few pages, looking for information on the author and publisher, but there was none. That made her wonder if it was a self-published book, or even one someone had cobbled together and printed at home. It certainly had an amateurish feel to the front cover and the blurb.
Lois opened the book and started to read.
It was a cold October day…a few weeks before Halloween in fact, when my next victim took up the challenge. She did not know that she was part of the game, of course, none of them do at first.
Lois stopped reading and looked up sharply. A warning bell was crawling up her spine and as the shudder reached her shoulder blades and neck, it flicked up every hair on her skin. She swallowed, told herself it was the cold and read on.
I watched from the shadows, from the underworld, from the darkness…and they never knew I was there until it was too late.
Lois lowered the book slightly and glanced around. She didn’t think she had ever read such a creepy opening to a story before. It made her feel uneasy and watched, but perhaps that was the author’s intention. She had never heard of Stig Lowdry and doubted very much that he was a popular writer, but she decided she did not like him very much at all.
Unable to stop now that she had started, Lois decided to read the first page to dampen her curiosity and then leave the book where she found it. The thought of getting up and walking away from it suddenly filled her with a swell of hope and light. Yet at the same time, it seemed strangely impossible.
Her stomach sinking in despair as a cold sweat broke out across her shoulder blades, Lois continued to read.
She sat on the bench where I left the book, with a look of both horror and confusion on her pretty, young face. It was a sure-fire case of curiosity killed the cat!
Lois gasped and felt the urge to hurl the book at the ground. This author was vile, she thought. She had never read anything so creepy. Had that been their intention? Write a book about a girl reading a book she found on a bench, and then leave the book on a bench for a girl to find? It didn’t make any sense. It was cruel and twisted. Her breath was coming hard and fast as she turned the page, desperate for the actual story to start. She scanned the next page and the next then stopped:
This girl thought she could escape but she should have known better. Anyone who has watched more than one horror movie knows the drill. The victim makes a sensible decision and the audience sigh in relief. They watch her move away from the undeniable danger she had been straying into. They witness her change her mind, switching from recklessness to common sense. She’s not like all the others, they think, as she heads towards freedom. She’s done the right thing and outwitted the fiend watching from the shadows. They hope for her, they root for her, they bite their lips and hide behind cushions and still, a part of them, deep in the pit of their bellies, knows that it is too good to be true. They know deep down that she cannot be allowed to escape because that is not how these things work!
‘Absolutely horrible!’ Lois declared, her hands now shaking as they gripped the book. Her lips were pressed together and trembling. Her legs felt so weak she was frightened to test them out. Her eyes had filled with tears, and yet, her mind dragged her on, forcing her to read just a bit more, just another sentence, just another part on another page that might release her from this awful joke.
Finally, disgusted, and afraid, she got up and hurried away. Down the hill, loose white gravel scrabbling under her bootheels. Her hair whipped around her face as the wind picked up. Storm clouds threatened. Rain felt close. She breathed out slowly, steadily, regaining her composure as she headed down the path, towards the gate, towards the road, towards safety. Every time she heard the gravel crunch, she wanted to spin around, fearing some sort of attack. Every time the gravel flew, she told herself it was her own footsteps making it move like that, not anyone else’s.
Lois let out a low moan and dropped the book. She got up from the bench, feeling faint and dizzy and desperate to get as far away as possible. She stepped over the book, her stomach cramping and her bowels loosening. Trying to push out the words ringing in her ears, Lois started to run down the gravel path, away from the bench.
As she ran, she felt the cold wind lifting her long, brown hair and spraying it out around her. A sheet of it whipped into her face, blinding her for a moment, before she could hold it back. Through the trees beyond the hill, Lois could see the sky had darkened impossibly since she started her walk here. Spots of rain dotted her exposed skin and as she ran, the gravel flew up behind her, sending small pieces skittering to the earth, making it sound like someone was following her.
She promised herself she would not look. She would not be like the victims in the horror movies. She would not look back and then trip up. She would not ruin it all now. She would keep running and running until she was free.
The gravel continued to crunch and fly and oh God, it sounded so much like someone was racing after her, someone impossibly large and heavy-footed. Her imagination was playing tricks on her now, and all because of that stupid book! Mixed in with the crunch of gravel, she was sure she could hear something else…the puff of hot breath, maybe the softest, little giggle.
She was almost to the gate when she felt the heavy hand grab the collar of her coat…
Duncan Clifford reached the bench just in time. His old knees were aching and that twinge in his back had returned. Still, walking more had been the doctor’s orders, and the doctor was right. Keeping moving was the best thing to do when the arthritis played up. He let out a groan as he lowered himself onto the bench at the top of the hill.
‘What’s this then?’ he reached down to pick up a book that lay on the ground before him, covered with a scattering of gravel. Shaking off the dirt and stones, Duncan eyed the eerie title and chuckled appreciatively. ‘Load of old nonsense,’ he announced, with authority.
Still, he needed to rest for a bit and had some time to kill. He flicked through a few pages until something caught his eye: The old man sat down to rest his aching knees and picked up the book I had left for him. In his typically brash and know-it-all manner he dismissed it as nonsense and a bit of a laugh. He would soon feel differently about the book and about me.
Hazardous Halloween - The Collection
And a fantastic poem for number two
Ancient Rime by Frances Cooper
Break forth the seal of buried tomes,
Release the book of ancient runes,
Let tumble down from vellum page,
The wicked curse of witch’s rage.
Then all beneath the craz~ed moon
Will lose their wit and turn to loon,
Their coddled minds will bay all night,
At ghostly shades, consumed by fright.
To heal the soul from ancient crime,
Take now the words and twist the rime.
Those made ‘mad’ should seek reverse,
- A spell to ‘dam’ the evil curse.
The broken straw from cattle’s byre
Should stoke the flame of demon’s pyre,
Then write upon the parchment fast,
What was ‘before’, should now be ‘last’.
Seek not to put upon a scourge -
Hold back thy will against the urge!
Now throw to fire, and burn to hell -
Forsake the candle, book and bell...
Then purify with water deep,
Thy wretch~ed soul now cast to sleep.
And in the morning, when you wake,
This curs~ed hex, like dawn, will break.
Hazardous Halloween - The Collection
And finally, a tale with bite, from me.
THE PERFECT PUMPKIN
I saw a pumpkin in a shop today. Bright orange with no spots, a mouth and two eyes, I guessed someone had taken great care ensuring all the cuts were perfect.
I walked up to the girl behind the counter.
“How much is that pumpkin, the one nearest us?” I said to the back of the girl, so engrossed in speaking on her mobile, she fell off her chair.
Chewing gum, she almost choked as she spat it out. “What?”
I pointed. “That pumpkin, the big one. How much is it?”
“Same as all the others, I fink. Yeah, it’s three pound fifty.”
She carried on running fingers through her hair with her right hand, and took the money in her left. Awaiting my change of 50p was pointless, for she was already back on her phone.
“Keep the change,” I said as loudly as possible.
Home was only four streets away, yet, with the weight of the pumpkin being far heavier than I thought, my arms were aching by the time I’d opened the front door. All my planning, the food, the drink, the decorations were ready, to make way for the most perfect pumpkin, I had ever seen. I reverently laid the orange globe in the centre of the table, checked and double checked all was ready for my guests at 8pm, and walked upstairs for a long and hot shower.
With my sales figures down, I’d had a bad week at work but already the hot water was washing away my fears of being asked to move on. Tonight would be a great night and tomorrow? Tomorrow, I’d look for a new job in sales.
Feeling weary, I lay down on my bed, closed my eyes and slept.
A voice, a sonorous voice was calling me. “Get up, William. You need time to prepare yourself for your guests.”
“Who, who are you?” I knew my voice was weak but trying to make it louder failed. I managed to stand up, but my body didn’t seem to be mine anymore.
“I’m so glad you chose me in the shop. Mind you, I had to make you believe my home, my pumpkin home, was the most perfect one.”
“My head is so woozy, surely this isn’t real.”
“Oh yes it is my lucky friend and you, young William, are going to be the best host ever.”
“Show yourself, damn you, show yourself.” I was screaming so much my throat hurt.
“All in good time, all in good time my weary friend.”
I sat in my favourite chair, too scared to move. Meanwhile, Pumpkin man busied himself with preparing my house for All Hallows Eve. Large scarlet spiders were spinning webs in every corner, whilst mini pumpkins were spreading over all the downstairs rooms. I could see many bats flying inside the blackness of my conservatory and a large black dog was baring its sharp canines at me whilst wagging its long tail.
“It is done, William. Happy Halloween.”
A flash of bright light, a peal of wicked laughter and my home was as it was before. My brain was sending out conflicting messages. One part was telling me to wake up from my dream, yet the other part was fearful of my sanity and urged me to seek help. With everything back in its place, I dismissed any notion of insanity. To be safe, and to calm myself, I poured a generous measure of brandy into my favourite cut glass tumbler and downed it in one go. Soon after it hit my empty stomach, I relaxed, but the doorbell chiming away incessantly brought me out in a cold sweat.
Like a man in a lunatic asylum, I edged my way slowly to the front door.
“Who, who is it?” I asked in a quiet voice, a befuddled head, and an iffy stomach.
“Come on Willy, stop fooling around and open the door.”
I knew that voice; it was Della, my sister, and with a huge sigh of relief, I opened the door. And there they were, all of my best friends together. Robbie was dressed as a werewolf, his partner, Wanda was a witch, and Della was a ghoul in white and holding hands with a vampire; I guessed her partner, Michael. Dishy Dora, my girl was dressed like the most beautiful vampire I’d ever seen, and their friends, Amy and Tom, were banshees.
With so much drink I’d been storing away for weeks, everyone was supping away and making more noise than a football crowd.
“Now that’s what I call a pumpkin, it’s so perfect. Willy, where did you find it?”
As I told Michael the story, my friends gathered around. They wanted to know everything that had happened and I had to repeat myself several times.
Dora was holding my hand and when I had finished, she bought me another large brandy.
“I love you so much, Willy.”
Our kiss was long and wonderful.
And when I opened my eyes all our friends were gathered in a circle and smiling. A flash of bright light made me momentarily close my eyes. Once opened, a sense of Deja-vu hit me. The spiders were bigger, the bats were flying over my head, the dog was drooling and the small pumpkins were rolling all over my new carpet, leaving juice marks behind them.
For some strange reason, I looked at the perfect pumpkin. The face was bright, the smile wider than before.
“Well done Willy. Your friends have been my friends for so long now, it’s only right you should join us.”
“Did you hear that, did you see the face on the pumpkin, did you hear it talk? I was screaming at my friends.
“Too much to drink,” said Michael.
“Way too much,” Amy agreed.
“Time for bed then,” suggested Tom, his laughter infectious.
“What… What the hell is going on?”
“My beloved Willy, I’ll have to tell you the truth now. Once you picked up the pumpkin, you were destined to be like us. But you have a choice. Werewolf? Banshee? What about a Vampire, like me? You choose sweetheart.”
Sinking to my knees hurt, but the pain in my broken heart was tearing me apart. My friends were turning into the evil creatures I had loathed since my teenage years, and my gorgeous Dora was now a vampire. My body was shaking, my eyes were shedding water, and my hands were clenched tightly. Inside my head, my brain surged with conflicting thoughts, ideas and courses of action. But there was only way I could take, even though it would break my heart.
I took the wooden cross from the wall, quickly spun around and buried the sharp end into the middle of my beloved Dora’s heart.
She screamed, withered, and died at my feet, her oily blood seeping into the carpet. The voice of the pumpkin screamed in horror and my evil friends instantly raked my body with their hidden talons and sharp teeth. I fell, my life-force slipping away in a pool of bright crimson.
Looking up at their vile faces made me angry, as surely this wasn’t my time to die.
A bright light glowed ever brighter.