LET THE JACK-O'-LANTERNS LIGHT YOUR WAY BACK
Dr Francis Tallow had been treating Bobby Fitch for a year and the boy’s version of the events of that night hadn’t changed once. One year ago, on Halloween night, the then-eight year old child had been found wandering the streets of his neighbourhood with his baby sister. When a concerned family out trick or treating had asked him where his parents were, he had directed them to a house that should have been empty. Instead, it contained the bloodied, mangled remains of Mr and Mrs Fitch. They had been torn to pieces by God knows what. When he had arrived on the scene Sheriff Abbott had taken one look inside and told Bobby that he and his sister should go with him to the station. Bobby had cheerily agreed. Abbott had given him a cup of hot chocolate and asked if he knew what had happened to his parents, Bobby had said yes. He told him the monsters did it.
In the year since the respected, even revered, Dr Tallow had made no progress in breaking through the wall that Bobby’s psyche had set up to protect itself. In most respects, Bobby had seemed to be a remarkably balanced little boy. He’d never shown any of the usual reactions a child displays to witnessing such horrendous trauma. The only evidence that he even needed regular psychiatric treatment was in this fiction that Bobby had created for himself. He claimed that he had come across his parents committing a terrible act, and that five of his neighbours had arrived to rescue him. The five neighbours had been two well-dressed British vampires (“Barbara and Peter”) and three witches (“Rebecca, and the twins Emily and Katharine”), two of whom had naturally been twins. These five supernatural beings had rescued him and his baby sister from the monsters that had been his parents.
Elements of the boy’s story had since been substantiated. The bodies of three murdered children had been found in the house’s basement, and it didn’t take the police long to prove that Bobby’s parents had indeed been the culprits. Subsequent investigation that had used the two as suspects had shown that they were behind many cases of missing children in the area. Bodies were found in the house they had lived in with their children, while those of other victims remained undiscovered. There was little doubt that the boy’s parents had been monsters in the truest sense, some of the worst criminals in the history of the country, let alone Illinois. However, the houses on Maple Lane that Bobby claimed had been inhabited by these witches and vampires had been unoccupied for months and there had been no indication that anybody had been there since. Precisely what had killed Bobby’s parents had remained a mystery. The popular theory was that one of their victims had fought back and disappeared but Tallow didn’t care to hazard a guess.
The child psychologist was impressed at how much they had managed to keep from Bobby. He claimed to have enjoyed a very happy childhood and that he had only discovered the truth on that fateful night one year ago. His teachers had all told him that he was a happy, well-adjusted boy. Then again, these were the same teachers who told him that Bobby’s parents seemed like a lovely friendly couple.
But while Bobby had appeared to be remarkably balanced, all this had changed one week ago with the boy complaining of terrifying nightmares that he believed were premonitions. Dr Tallow supposed he really should have seen it coming. The one year anniversary of the terrible incident would of course bring up some unpleasant memories. But there was a conviction to the boy’s fears that unsettled him. He told his doctor that his parents were returning from the grave to claim him and his sister. His foster family, a kind elderly couple who had looked after Bobby and Baby Lauren for nearly eight months now, had contacted Tallow seven days ago to say that they couldn’t wait for the bi-weekly check-up. He’d seen Bobby every day this week and he was only getting worse.
It was the end of a crisp, clear Halloween afternoon. Tallow sat opposite the nine year old patient. His blonde hair was longer than he’d sometimes seen it, but he’d never been heavier than skinny. However, Bobby was clearly suffering from a lack of sleep. His fingers worried at the sleeves of his bright red jumper, and his eyes kept glancing at the clock on the wall. Tallow leaned back in his chair.
“How are you feeling today, Bobby?”
“OK,” came the non-committal response.
“Mr and Mrs Stowe tell me that you didn’t sleep a wink last night. Is that true?” Bobby nodded without looking at his doctor. “Bobby, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you this but lack of sleep is only going to make these fears of yours worse. Now, these dreams you’ve been having, I know you know that they’re not real. I understand that they’re frightening but they’re impossible.”
“They’re coming back,” said Bobby. “They’re coming back tonight, for me and Lauren.” Tallow sighed.
“Bobby, listen to me. Your parents are not coming back for you. I want you to remember everything we’ve talked about in our sessions. I want you to remember that nothing that happened that night was your fault. Your parents were bad people but that does not mean you are too. You have people who care about you, who are worried about you. And they’re worried about the way that you’re acting.”
Bobby turned away from the window to look at Tallow, the beginnings of tears forming in his eyes. “I know that Mr and Mrs Stowe care about me. But it won’t make any difference. Because they’re coming back and they’re going to take us.”
Tallow stood up and walked around to place a hand on his patient’s shoulder. “No they’re not. Because they are dead and there is no coming back from that. I know it’s Halloween but there are no monsters out there tonight. It’s all make-believe, Bobby. You must understand that.”
Bobby shook his head, his blonde hair waving from side to side. “The people who helped me last year were monsters. They killed my parents and they saved me and Lauren. If they exist, my parents can too.”
Tallow fought to keep his temper. A year had passed and he had not been able to dent the boy’s conviction in the slightest. If he couldn’t convince Bobby that he hadn’t been rescued by monsters, how could he convince him that monsters weren’t coming to get him? He was an old man now. He’d seen his fair share of patients and he knew when he was losing them. He took a deep breath and restored calm to his voice. “Look, just listen to me. It’s not real, Bobby. I don’t know who saved you that night but they weren’t monsters. There is no such thing. And this is why you will be safe tonight. Because the dead cannot rise from the damn grave.”
He walked back round to his side of the table. He hated that he had nearly lost his temper but he had to get through to this child. Robert Fitch had been through so much already. He went to the window and watched the setting sun through the autumn leaves. It was such a lovely time of year and it was a source of great joy for so many. He hoped that one day Bobby would be able to enjoy it. “So, Bobby, will you be going trick or treating this evening?”
Before he got an answer the door was opened and a young male orderly hurried in, out of breath but determined to speak.
“Doctor Tallow, there’s a telephone call for you. It’s urgent.”
Tallow switched his phone off as a matter of principle during his sessions. He followed the orderly down the hall to the nurses’ station where he found a gaggle of grave-looking hospital staff standing around the telephone. “Yes, alright, everyone, I’m here now,” he told them as he picked up the receiver. “Doctor Tallow speaking.”
“Tallow,” came the cracked voice from the other end of the line. “Finally. This is Sheriff Abbott. For God’s sake, Tallow, I’ve been trying…I’m over at the Stowe place. It’s a mess over here, Tallow. Is the boy with you?”
Tallow struggled to keep up with the Sheriff. “Yes, Robert’s here. Sheriff, what’s going on?”
There was a pause on the end of the line. “Doc, the Stowes are dead. Listen, we could barely tell it’s them. It’s taken some time to make sure but Lauren is gone. Whoever did this took the kid with them. Are you sure you’ve got Robert safe?”
Tallow stood stunned for a moment. Then he understood that he was needed. “Hang on; I’ll call you on my cell. I’m going to check on the boy now.”
He hung up and ran back as fast as he could. He could have cried when he saw that Bobby was sitting where he had left him. “Bobby’s, thank God. Right, we’re going to have to stay here for a little while, is that OK?” Bobby nodded and Tallow smiled. He turned his cell phone on and dialled the number for Abbott. “Sheriff, Robert’s fine. What…what are we going to do?”
“Alright, you stay with him. We’re heading over to the hospital now. Don’t let him out of your sight. I’ve alerted the security staff there but for now the most important thing is that we get Bobby someplace safe.”
“OK. I understand.” Tallow took a seat next to Bobby and did his best to keep the fear out of his voice. “Sorry about this, Bobby. The Sheriff is coming over and he’s going to take you to the police station for Halloween, he’s got something fun planned for you.”
Bobby stared up at him. “This is what they said would happen, in my dream. Mom and Dad told me that they’d get Lauren first, then they’d come find me. They said the police would try and stop them but it wouldn’t do any good.” There was no fear, no excitement in his voice. This was just something that he knew would happen.
The room suddenly seemed a lot darker to Tallow. The sun had set and he went over to switch the light on. “No one is coming to find you, Bobby,” he told him as he crossed the room. “The only person who’s coming for you is the Sheriff, because he wants to help look after you. We’re all going to go down the station together. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“Mr and Mrs Stowe are dead, aren’t they?” asked Bobby and for a moment Tallow couldn’t think of an answer. He flicked the light switch, filling the room with a cold fluorescent glow. But only for a moment. The lights went out. Not just in that room, but the hallway too. Tallow opened the door and looked down the corridor. Pitch black.
“Don’t worry, Bobby, I’m sure this is just a temporary…” Tallow began, before there was a squawk of the PA system being turned on. Then the sound of a woman crying came over the intercom.
“Bobby…” said the woman’s voice. Tallow recognised it as Nurse Freemont, the head nurse. She was the toughest member of staff in the entire hospital, she’d seen more than anyone. But her voice was choked through her tears. “Bobby, your mom and dad want you to know that they love you very much. They want you to know that they’re here now. They’ve come to pick you up. They’ve…”
The words stopped with a brief cry and gruesome snapping sound. Then another voice came on, barely a voice at all. A low gurgle. “Hi, baby. Mommy and Daddy have been in the waiting area. But now we’re coming to find you.” There were a few seconds of guttural laughter and another screech of feedback as the PA cut off. Tallow dialled the Sheriff’s number again.
“Abbott, where the hell are you?” he hissed.
“Five minutes away, what’s going on?” barked the Sheriff over the sound of the sirens.
Tallow felt his gut drop. “You’ll be too late.”
“Yes, they will,” said a woman’s voice from behind him. Tallow dropped the phone and span round. A man and woman stood in the doorway, concealed by the darkness. Tallow backed away towards Bobby. Good god, he thought, this isn’t possible. He heard the sound of a scraping chair as Bobby leapt to his feet.
“Barbara!” he cried and ran over to greet them.
“Hello, sweetheart. It’s time to go.” The couple stepped into the room and in the moonlight Tallow could see that they were immaculately dressed in beautiful Halloween costumes. Both had black hair, his combed neatly back and hers hanging down to near her waist. Tall, skinny, and beautiful, they could have been models. Models dressed up like…were those fangs? “Who’s this?” asked the woman, in an accent that Tallow could have sworn was British.
“This is my friend, Dr Tallow,” Bobby replied.
“Dr Tallow,” said the man, stepping forward with an outstretched hand. Stunned, Tallow shook it. The man frowned as he looked around the room. “My name is Peter, this is my wife Barbara. I assume Bobby has told you what we are. Now, you have a choice. You can either wait here for Bobby’s parents to arrive, or you can leave via the window with us.”
“We’re five stories up,” said Tallow. Peter grinned.
“We have our ways. What’s the answer?”
A scream came from the other end of the corridor accompanied by a wet noise that Tallow didn’t want to think too much about. “Window,” he answered.
“Excellent choice. Come on, everyone.” Barbara swept Bobby up in her arms and Peter took Tallow into a fierce bear hug. “Trust me,” he told him, and leapt through the window, taking Tallow with him in a shower of broken glass. For a moment the doctor felt the cold wind rushing past his face and then he was simply standing in the hospital car park. Before he could attempt to fathom it Peter took his arm and dragged him over to a grey van a few feet away. The van’s side door was opened from the inside and Tallow was pushed in.
Sitting opposite him were three dark-haired women. He would have guessed that two identical twins were in their early twenties, while the third was in her late fifties. The eldest grinned at him. Barbara helped Bobby in beside Tallow as Peter clambered in the front and turned the keys in the ignition.
“These are the witches, Dr Tallow,” said Bobby, who could only smile politely. “Where are we going, Barbara?”
Barbara had climbed into the front to ride shotgun by her husband. She looked up at the rear-view mirror and Tallow felt giddy when he realised that he couldn’t see her in it. “We have to take you back to the house Bobby. We need to go back to where it happened, I’m afraid. They’re vulnerable in that spot. Outside of that house, nothing could kill them. I’m sure the security staff at the hospital wasted a few bullets figuring that out. But inside, we’ve got a good chance of sending them back.”
“I’m sure you’ve got a lot of questions, Doctor, but it’s actually fairly simple,” said the eldest witch flaunting that grin. “We killed Bobby’s parents a year ago. We thought we’d purged the evil. Well, that particular evil, anyway. But there’s always a risk when you send away something bad on Halloween that it’ll come right back again. Lots of closed doors find a way to open; lots of things that should be chained up find a way to get free. It’s their night after all.”
“Luckily for Bobby,” said Barbara, turning back with a grin, “it’s our night too.”
Tallow glanced at the boy. He looked more relaxed than Tallow had seen him in the entire year that he had been treating him; indeed, he looked up with a grin.
“I told you they were real, Doctor. I told you that the witches and the vampires saved me.”
A ripple of laughter went around the van.
“You can’t blame the doctor for not believing you, Bobby,” said Peter as he slowed the van for a traffic light. “You’re a very lucky boy, you came across us and you’re still alive. There aren’t many people like you, not in the whole world. We’re not exactly known for being friendly.”
“Why…why did you spare Bobby?” asked Tallow. The twins, Emily and Katharine, he remembered their names were, looked up at him; their expressions worryingly close to angry.
“Because we like him. He’s adorable. It’s not his fault his parents are monsters.” They spoke in unison, which Tallow found deeply unnerving but somehow not surprising.
“But aren’t you all…?” he asked, not wanting to finish his sentence and offend them further.
“Well, yes,” said Barbara. “But there are monsters and there are monsters.”
“That’s what you told my parents last year!” said Bobby, giggling. Tallow decided that perhaps it would be best to just stay quiet.
It wasn’t long at all before the van was stopped and everyone piled out into the street. Tallow realised where they were. Maple Lane. This was where Sheriff Abbott had found Bobby and Baby Lauren, dazed but miraculously unharmed. Jack-o’-lanterns had lined the street that night and people in fancy dress had crowded the crime scene, desperate for a glimpse at what had happened. Now, one year later, and the street was empty. Nobody would dare to trick or treat here. Tallow watched as his companions took their bags from the van and walked up to the house. Once inside, the witches immediately started unpacking while the vampires directed Bobby to the sofa.
“What’s the plan then? Are you going to, what, drink their blood?” asked Tallow.
“Not an option, I’m afraid,” said Barbara gravely. “We can’t drink the blood of reanimated corpses and even if we could drain them, it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference. They’re driven by something stronger than blood, hard though that might be to believe. We have two options available to us and we’re going to try both. The witches will attempt to remove the souls from the bodies, before sending the souls back to wherever it is that they came from. My husband and I will be taking a more direct approach: dismemberment.”
Rebecca, the elder witch looked up from the symbol she was drawing in chalk on the floor. “Dismembering them won’t achieve anything in the long run. There’s no guarantee that they won’t come back. Even if you burn the pieces.”
“Yes well, we can think about the long run once we get rid of them, can’t we?” said Peter, who reached into the cupboard under the stairs and produced a large axe, which he began to wield decisively. The witches clucked their tongues and got on with unpacking.
“Can I do anything to help?” asked Tallow. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to but felt that it was only right to ask.
“Look after the child,” said the younger witches without looking up from their work. Tallow sat down on the sofa next to Bobby. It did look as though the young boy was starting to lose some of the confidence he’d found. When he looked up at Tallow the doctor could see the fear in his eyes and sympathised.
“Do you think they’ll bring Lauren with them, when they come?” he asked quietly. Tallow didn’t have an answer for him but he knew he had to produce one.
“I don’t know, Bobby. I don’t think they’d hurt Lauren. She’s still their daughter. I think we just need to wait and let your friends do their thing.”
Bobby nodded and the two of them sat there, watching the monsters in front of them prepare themselves. The three witches had created some kind of pentagram on the floor and huddled over it, muttering words in a language that Tallow didn’t know. The vampire Peter had found another axe somewhere and had given it to Barbara, and now the two of them were testing the blades and practising strokes. After a minute or two everything went quiet It seemed that the monsters were ready.
When silence fell nobody broke it. It was as if everyone agreed that quiet was important. Tallow wondered if they were scared. It seemed like an awful lot of trouble to go to if they were confident.
There was a thud at the front door followed by a squelching sound. Peter nodded at Barbara and carefully walked around the witches’ symbol to open the door. “It’s a pumpkin,” he called back to the company. “Oh…and here they are now.” Peter walked slowly back into the room, lifting the axe in readiness. Tallow could hear the horrible laughter from outside.
“Trick or treat, trick or treat, give us something good to eat.” The voices outside sang in unison, before the man spoke up. “We remember you. You must remember us. You tore us to bloody chunks; you took us away from our children. Well, we’ve come back.” There was something so ridiculous about their words that a part of Tallow’s brain fought to ignore it. It was impossible. All of this was impossible.
“Bobby’s in there with you, isn’t he?” The woman’s voice this time. Bobby shrank against Tallow. “Bobby, sweetie, it’s Mommy and Daddy! Come on out, that’s a good boy!” Tallow could feel Bobby trembling but he didn’t move. After a moment of silence from outside a groan was clearly audible. “Fine. We’ll just have to come in and get you then.”
There was a collective intake of breath from the room as everyone prepared. Tallow felt his jaw drop as he saw what entered the house.
The naked, shredded corpses of Bobby’s parents had been reassembled. There didn’t seem to be anything holding them together except perhaps whatever force had brought them back in the first place. Hunks of flesh jostled against each other and some dangled perilously. Teeth hung from their gums by roots gone brown. Eyeballs wobbled loosely in their sockets. The stink of rotted flesh filled the room. These two nightmares looked at Tallow and the boy next to him, and Tallow stifled the scream that came to his throat.
“It’s time to come home, son,” said Bobby’s father, stretching a ravaged arm out towards his boy. As he did so three voices began to chant. The ghouls turned to face the source and saw the witches sat on the floor, holding hands, eyes closed. They started to laugh and move towards the women before stopping abruptly.
“What…Is this magic?” asked Bobby’s mother. She pushed hard against whatever was holding her back. “Won’t last,” she laughed. “We’re magic too, now. I can feel it in my pieces. Let’s see who’s stronger.” Indeed, it appeared that the parents were making headway as they struggled. Tallow saw the elder witch open one eye and a jolt of fear flash across her face. He realised it would only be a matter of moments before the creatures got through.
“Enough, ladies,” said Barbara, and the chanting stopped. As it did, the two vampires raised their axes and brought them down cleanly. Two severed heads dropped to the floor, followed by the rest of the bodies. “I told you our way would be more effective,” she told the witches.
“Oh, Jesus, look,” muttered Tallow, pointing at the heads. The eyes were still moving. Their jaws flapped. Somehow, they were trying to talk.
“Smaller pieces needed, clearly,” said Peter. He raised his left foot and brought it down on the father’s head. The head collapsed under the weight, creating a gory mush under his shoe.
“For God’s sake, Peter, wait!” cried Barbara. “We need to know where Bobby’s sister is!” Peter looked up guiltily, muttering apologies about how he’d got carried away. The remaining head smiled as the jaw moved up and down like it was trying to laugh. “Don’t worry,” Barbara said to Bobby. “The head might not be able to talk but our friends here have ways of finding out what they want to know.”
The witches picked up Bobby’s mother’s severed head and took it into the kitchen, as Barbara and Peter set to work rendering the rest of the father’s body into a paste which could surely never reconstruct itself. After a few minutes, the witches returned without the head. “You can start work on the mother,” said Rebecca. “Lauren is outside in the bushes. They’d planned to grab Bobby too, then…well, not in front of the boy.”
“We found out just in time,” said Emily and Katharine. “The head started to liquidise. It was disgusting.”
Bobby ran outside and Tallow followed. And praise be, there she was. Under the bushes sat two-year-old Lauren, looking furious that she had been forgotten. Barbara came out to join them. “I think it’s best if you and Doctor Tallow leave now, Bobby. We’ll take care of the rest of this. And if you need our help again, we’ll come back.”
Tallow looked back up at the house and saw Peter, Rebecca, Emily and Katharine standing in the doorway looking out at him. “Look after Robert and Lauren, Doctor,” said Barbara. “We’ll see you soon.” The doctor nodded as he took Lauren in his arms and put a hand on Bobby’s shoulder. “Oh, and Doctor Tallow? Happy Halloween.”
And with that, Tallow, Bobby and Lauren walked down Maple Lane towards the approaching sirens.
Hello again, thanks for reading this year's Halloween tale, I really hope you enjoyed it. This one's a bit bigger and madder than last year's but I hope you think it's fun. It kind of gets a bit madcap in the second half but I wanted the monsters to come back and rescue Bobby and the only solemn way I could think to do that would be basically a repeat of last year's ending. And it's a Halloween story, there's room for silliness. Well, I hope you agree. And yeah, Dr Tallow is basically Dr Loomis under a different name. Last year's story was heavily influenced by the film Trick 'r Treat, and this year I put a bit of Halloween in there too.
The next story on the blog will be....well, I'm not sure yet but there's a strong chance it will be Slide Left, if the idea I have for it works out.