The midnight air cooled with the chill of a slight breeze as it wormed its path through the oak trees. The cloudy sky, with a full moon shining sporadically through bare limbs, made for an eerie sight. I could pick up the faint mirth of children as they marched down the street, crossing lawns to fetch the treats awaiting them at a stranger’s front door.
The tradition of Halloween is still present and accounted for in our small town. Shocking after discovering that poor boy’s skeleton in these very woodlands last year. I wondered what the parents were discussing as they walked behind their little ones, sipping their alcoholic drinks from their Yeti cups? I overheard a mother yell, “hang tight, Zoey.” Another parent stated, “Be friendly and tell them thank you.”
Yes, kiddos, stay close and be respectful. That will keep you safe. I laughed to myself.
The sound was harsher than a laugh. I crept onto the roadway to catch a good view. One lone kid was all I required to complete my night. My gigantic skull moved up and down the road. Supersonic hearing perked my ears. It was still early enough; I’d have to bide my time. I squatted down into the leaves as I laid my head on my furry arms. How did my life come to this?
* * * * *
Several years ago, my college roommates and I decided we wanted to cash in on the neighborhood fun. We dressed in white bedsheets, cut out holes for the eyes, and carried pillowcases to collect our stash. Kevin, our go-to weed guy, scored a potent strain and encouraged us to smoke a couple of bowls before heading out to the richest neighborhoods in the vicinity.
The dorms were on the outskirts of the city. Not much out there besides warehouses where companies stored excess merchandise. We roamed the desolate streets until booing sounds broke from underneath Mat and Jess’s blankets, accompanied by glee.
“Come on, guys, cut it out,” I responded, annoyed.
“Quit being a deadbeat, Tyrone.” Matt declared as he punched me in the rib cage.
“I want to stay out of trouble. It’s bad enough we’re taking candy from these turds.”
“This night is for everyone, big kids, small kids, even adults. At least we aren’t out robbing a store or breaking into houses.” Jess tried to justify our actions.
“Chill. I’m getting the munchies. Let’s hit up this house.” Matt motioned as he crossed the grass to what looked like an unoccupied residence. Set back from the roadway, it didn’t look inviting. No lights were on. The shutters hung to the side and moss grew along the eves. As we walked closer, security lights came on so brightly they could have lit up a baseball field.
I watched as the three wandered up the steps.
“Trick or treat.” They all declared in unison as they struck the knocker on the wood. I could hear them laughing as they waited for someone to open the door.
“Come on,” I shouted to them. “It’s unoccupied. Let’s get to town before it gets too late.”
Before I could finish my sentence, the immense door opened. There were no lights inside the dwelling as I stared past the opening. Matt, Jess, and Kevin turned to me when the door opened wider, and something large seized them by their heads and dragged them deeper into the darkness. The door banged shut behind them.
I stood frozen on the lawn, grateful I hadn’t joined them on the porch. But now what do I do? My companions may be in danger, and I’m stoned. Could they have planned this prank knowing what a chicken shit I was? It would serve them right if I left them there. But, no, I had to help them. They claim hindsight is twenty-twenty. From what I know today, I would have gone and ran into town alone, reported them missing the next day, and been done with it.
I raced to the rear of the house, which offered meager improvement. Five-foot-tall weeds graced the grounds. I had to find a way into the dwelling to retrieve my friends. I ditched the sheet and started trying all the windows. Heavy drapes surrounded the window panes, making it hard to see inside.
Buried under overgrown sod and rocks, I stepped on what sounded like metal; cellar doors. Lucky for me, there wasn’t a lock bolting it shut. It took all my strength, but I finally lifted a door free. Yanking out my phone, I selected the flashlight mode. Cobwebs blocked the half-dozen concrete steps leading down into a black hole. Dare I continue down there?
I bit the dust and started my move down into the cellar. These assholes better be worth it. As I shuffled through the blackness, I heard a low growl. What the fuck is that? Red eyes peered out at me. My palms were wet from sweat, and my heart was pounding in my chest. This can’t be happening. Imagination is a powerful element and seemed out of control because of my current state of mind.
The phone fell face-first onto the floor. I bent down to pick it up, bumping my skull on a brick piling. Shit. I saw stars floating around me, and down I went with a bang. That’s when the growling increased louder and closer. My mind refused to adjust to the total blackness. But it didn’t matter. The hot breath felt on my collar came from the creature I had detected earlier.
I lost control of my bladder, and my last thoughts were that I tried to save my buddies and met my demise.
I’m not sure how long I was out. When I awoke, blood covered all four of us. We were lying down on the front lawn of our dormitory. The sheets torn to shreds. I was the first to scream. Checking myself for cuts, I found none. Matt and Jess were in the fetal position when I rushed over to Kevin. Our shoes were the only object missing. I shook Kevin, screaming his name. When I checked on Matt and Jess, they were waking up but groggy. What the hell happened?
The sheet I had discarded in the backyard was now wrapped around my waist. Kevin, whose eyes had a glazed stare, spoke first. “Fuck, that pot was surreal!”
Matt and Jess, trying to stand, concurred with Kevin’s statement, “You think they laced it?”
“Do you recall anything after whatever hauled you into the building?” I asked.
They peered at each other and shrugged. “I figured I’d be seeing my Lord. The stench was the smell of death.”
“Okay, let’s go to our rooms, shower, and change. Meet you all down at the cafeteria. I’m starving. Don’t talk to anybody until we compare observations, got it?”
We settled in with our breakfast at a table far from everybody else and began comparing notes.
“The damn sheet was blocking my vision. I felt a hand or a hook grasp my skull and yank me down. Once I was down, I couldn’t breathe. Whatever had me, did it with ease.” Kevin said, looking down at his bloated stomach.
“And the heavy breathing?” I asked.
“It seemed like it filled the entire place, so it’s tough for me to pinpoint.” Kevin contemplated. As he recalled his ordeal, he started sweating from his forehead, fidgeting with his silverware instead of eating his food.
“While you all played upstairs, something sucked the air out of my lungs in the cellar. I struggled to free you, but I became a victim myself.” My forehead sweated as I talked about my experience.
Matt and Jess sat in silence.
“Why so quiet?” I inquired, wiping my brow with a napkin.
They both looked at each other. “I remember nothing. One minute it’s total blackness; the next, we’re lying down in front of our dorm, dazed and confused.”
Kevin and I stared at each other. Not sure how he suffered, but I knew how this affected me. I can be certain of one factor: whatever scared me, caused me to lose control of my bladder. It was best to leave it alone.
Feeling the redness of embarrassment creep upward from my collar, I blurted out, “Let’s make a vow never to tell anyone about what occurred.”
We all agreed. We placed our hands on each other, looking into one another’s eyes, and spoke in unison, “Friends till the end, through thick and thin, our secrets forever. Hooyah.”
* * * * *
Months passed before I discovered I had more hair on my back and chest. Records broken by me during track meets made my coach stand up and take notice. Girlfriends marveled at my stamina. Hell, I couldn’t believe it, but I didn’t complain.
It wasn’t until the following full moon night that things got hairy. I sat alone at my desk in my office when an insatiable thirst hit my throat. My twenty-four-ounce water bottle drained in seconds flat. The muscles in my arms and legs increased in size, and the hair on those extremities tickled my skin as it grew in length. On my face, my jaw hurt, and my teeth became sharp. A howl developed out of my dry larynx when I struggled to speak.
The mirror in my bathroom reflected an image I had only seen in horror movies. Murderous thoughts plundered my mind. I could detect my neighbors, understand them talking, and the horrible thirst needed to be quenched. I paced my apartment, puzzled. And if by instinct, I vaulted out the living room window. Glass flew everywhere, but I felt no pain. I overheard a woman scream.
I didn’t have time to prepare for what would come next. It didn’t seem new to me.
* * * * *
As I lay waiting, the sweet odor of candy and perspiring kids in plastic masks and flimsy attire permeated my thirst. Memories of our stoned adventure filled my thoughts. It was then that I realized what had happened several years ago. The blood, missing shoes, and the memory loss all because of the monster we encountered inside the darkened mansion.
That event turned my friends and me into monsters, monsters to do its dirty work.
Whatever it was, it took control of us. Every Halloween, for the past couple of years, a juvenile had gone missing in our town and somehow, I’d misplaced my shoes.
Indeed, hindsight is twenty-twenty, but tonight I will follow my gut. I rose on all fours and stretched. As the headlights on the darkened highway approached at a high rate of speed, I bound out of my hiding place. I sprinted across the roadway, and as the car made impact, the agony of my ribs cracking provoked me to howl a last time. To live was not an option. The misery and heartache I provoked wasn’t worth what little I contributed to society.
My torso sailed through the air and landed with a loud thump. I could hear the screams of the witnesses standing idle by the roadside. Parents shielding their children’s faces from the injured animal lying in the street. And as my last breath escaped my body, I felt I had made the best decision for me. I hoped my buddies would do the right thing as well.
* * * * *
The next morning, the local newspaper had a small, seventy-word article on the second page, top right-hand corner.
Last night, a speeding driver struck and killed a rare red wolf as it attempted to cross the road near Centerville. It appears to have been going after a group of children who were trick or treating in the area. The police believe the wolf may be responsible for the death of a local boy. A necropsy and a collection of DNA is to be performed by the zoo’s veterinarian.