Diane Arrelle is one of our Halloween contest finalists.
by Diane Arrelle
It had been a cold, windy October and the trees shed their leaves a few weeks earlier than usual. But today the wind was still and the crisp bite in the air tasted like Halloween. It promised to be the perfect evening for trick-or-treaters, the sun would set by late afternoon and as it grew darker I imagined the clouds would skitter across the crescent moon, casting eerie shadows that would cause the costumed youngsters to both shiver in terror and giggle with false bravado along with their friends.
As I sat at my desk and looked out the window, seeing at my reflection, I wished I were a kid again so I too could travel door to door, with my identity hidden and my greedy lust for sweets worn proudly like a badge. But I am an adult, almost 30 years old, so the most I can do is open my door to those junior ghouls brave enough to ring my bell and then share in their fun vicariously.
I guess it was about three thirty when I had the urge to leave work a little early. I decided I wanted to go to the store for Halloween candy, just in case some kids showed up before I had to go out to dinner. I know I romanticize trick or treating and Halloween but I live alone in the gray duplex at the end of Downy Street, the last house right next to the woods so I almost never get anyone to ever come to my door. I don’t blame them, not a lot of kids will brave a spooky street for some cheap candy, so while I was out I stopped by the party supply store because I decided to get some Halloween decorations too. I thought maybe plastic pumpkins lit with eerie colored glow sticks would attract more trick-or-treaters.
I was heading for the pumpkins and light up displays when the wall of silly cardboard wall decorations caught my eye. I don’t know why, but I just had to look through them. This is dumb, I thought as I was sorting through the jointed door hangings then he caught my eye. He was a paper vampire, not one of those silly caricatures of The Count, but a photographic image. I stared at him, folded in thirds, hanging in a plastic bag on the pegboard wall display, and I swear he looked alive. His deep black eyes stared back with an intensity that seemed to be just for me. I could feel myself blushing. He was so damned handsome. I had to have him.
I’d always been a good honest person. Maybe because I have always been afraid that my luck would be bad, but when my other friends tried shoplifting in middle school, I never did. So I’m not sure why, but I not only took him off the wall, I stole him. I walked right out of the store with him under my coat. Call it a compulsion, but something seemed to whisper to me that I was doing the right thing. A shadowy voice in my head told me he didn’t belong there at all, he was just waiting for me!
I guess luck was on my side because nobody noticed me at all. It was as if I was invisible. I smiled as I6 cleared the doorway, amazed at my bold, daring feat. I knew my fiancé, Jake, would never understand. He would be not only shocked by my new criminal bent, he’d be insulted that I could actually get caught up in an infatuated fantasy with a paper vampire. I could almost hear him snap, “Oh seriously, Brenda! This is ridiculous!”
The whole way home I kept one hand on the steering wheel, and the other on the cutout. I imagined what it would be like if my count were real. I pictured myself running my fingers through his graying temples so dramatically offset by his deep black widow’s peak. Shivering, I swear I could feel his response. When I pulled into my driveway, I looked at him in the fading daylight, and realized I’d never be able to hang him outside on my front door where the elements could hurt him.
He belonged inside with me, in my bedroom. Feeling a little silly and yet incredibly aroused, I took him out of my car, out of the plastic bag and unfolded him to his full length. He was life size, about six feet long from head to black shiny shoes. There was still no wind so I held him up at his shoulders and smiled at my new acquisition which seemed to be standing right in front of me. Living alone does have it’s advantages, because you never have to worry about looking silly.
“Hi, my name is Brenda, what’s yours? You new around here? Well this is my rental, wanna come inside for a drink, take the chill off?” I laughed, how positively ridiculous. The real me would never approach a man and invite him in for what not. The real me, the one that didn’t steal or lust after fictional decorations, would have never talked to a handsome stranger at all. I took him in and after looking around hung him on my bedroom closet door.
As I stepped away from the door to study my cutout count, his smile seemed wider, more inviting. I sat on my bed and felt myself getting warm, hot, as we watched each other. I tingled all over, my flesh craving to be touched by his long, delicate fingers. I lay back, my head on my pillow, and closed my eyes. I could hear him moving, coming to me, promising fulfillment. I wanted to stay there with him all night, or maybe even forever. I could feel him slowly coming closer and I ached for the moment to arrive. I needed him, I thought I was going to explode if he didn’t hurry. He reached the bed, the mattress sank under his weight, and I held out my arms wishing I could open my eyes to see my love. But I couldn’t, my eyes were sealed by a will greater than my own. His voice a rumbling whisper, echoed in my head, “Brenda, my love.”
Suddenly the doorbell rang. I jerked to a sitting position and opened my eyes cursing my bad luck. Talk about bad timing. The cutout was still on the closet and I felt foolish. I must have fallen asleep and dreamed the whole thing. The doorbell rang again and I suddenly remembered my date with Jake. I got off the bed and as I left the room, I rubbed my hand across the vampire’s dark suited chest in a lingering caress. “It’s all right Count,” I whispered. “I promise I’ll be back soon.”
I opened the door for Jake and somehow I felt uncomfortable looking him in the eye. “I’ll be ready in a flash.” I said and turned away from him to go back to my bedroom.
He laughed and said, “Take your time, Honey, but remember I’m a starving man.”
Usually I’d say, starving for what and he’d answer, for you of course. But tonight I wasn’t a playful mood, at least not for Jake. He suddenly seemed dull and one dimensional, almost lifeless compared to my paper cutout. Confused by my new feelings, I ran to my room to throw on my dress. Without looking, I knew those flat cardboard eyes were watching me as I peeled off my jeans and sweat shirt and I knew they were filled with approval. I got so flustered by the very idea that I caught the zipper of my new dress while pulling it up. I needed help and I imagined the Count sliding off the door hook and freeing those material-clogged teeth. My knees got weak and shaky as I almost felt his cold hands on my shoulders and his warm, warm breath on my neck.
“Jake!” I yelled, squeezing my eyes shut. “Jake come here a minute and give me a hand.” I spun around and looked at my cutout. He was still on the door, it had only been my imagination again. Yet, his eyes were twinkling, laughing at me. I felt so befuddled, somehow disappointed and relieved. I couldn’t help but wonder if bringing him into my home had been such a good idea. Then that whispery voice told me it was and I stopped worrying.
Jake came in, finished zipping me, then noticed we weren’t alone. He took a step backwards and barked in a rough voice, “What’s that?”
“It’s the Count,” I answered in my sweetest tone. “Isn’t he just great, I picked him up for Halloween.”
“Ugh, he’s grotesque!” Jack said with a shudder. “I’ve never seen anything so evil looking in my life.”
“Ah Jake, what’s the matter? Scared of a paper man?” I said, getting annoyed at his over the top reaction. Jake glared at the cutout and I swear the Count sneered back at him. “Throw him out!” he commanded me.
“No!” I was now past annoyed and well into anger.
“That thing is an abomination to humanity. I’m telling you to throw him out!”
“NO!” I shouted. “He’s mine! If you don’t like him, go home. He can’t hurt you from two blocks away.”
“I’m getting rid of that thing, then!” he yelled. Before I could react Jack tore my cardboard fantasy from the door and ripped my paper Count to shreds. Quickly, he carried the tattered remains outside and dumped them into the trashcan at the end of the walk.
As he came back up the sidewalk, I blocked the doorway. “Go home!” I sobbed, heartbroken over the loss of a cardboard cutout and was frightened by my own irrational behavior. “I hate you!”
A wounded expression distorted Jake’s boyish face. “All right, Honey,” he sighed sadly. “Call me when you’ve realized that I’ve done the right thing. I’ll be home waiting.”
He left, the dark night swallowing him as he crossed the street.
I sat outside on the steps, crying in the still, chilled, October evening until the cold finally overcame my grief. Slowly, I went over to the trashcan reached inside and found it… empty. My Count was gone! I wanted to blame it on the wind, but there was none. He was just gone.
My feelings of loss were replaced with a dawning horror. The Count had gone where? But I was sure I already knew. I had to warn Jake! I ran into the house and hit automatic dial. I waited for him to pick up the phone but the droning tone just rang on and on. Jake didn’t answer. Instinctively, I knew he couldn’t answer, would never answer.
Really frightened, I stood in the middle of my living room and wept. Tears slid down my cheeks and I didn’t even bother to wipe them. I understood everything and I was crying for both of us, Jake and myself.
A part of me was horrified that my fiancé was gone, dead. But what made me cry harder was the little voice whispering to me again, telling me it was good luck that I had found him in that store, telling me I didn’t need a mere man anymore. Scared as I was, I nodded to the phantom voice, acknowledging that what was waiting for me was unspeakable and yet somehow worth it… that I was a lucky, lucky woman. But deep down inside I knew it wasn’t good luck at all, hadn’t been good from the moment I decided to go shopping for Halloween.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a shadow pass by the window, the one with the broken lock. I remembered that I had playfully invited him into my house, had made a vampire welcome to come inside.
Shuddering, I listened to the tap-tapping at the glass, like the sound bare branches make scrapping the outside walls. Too bad for me it’s a still night, I thought as I went to change into something a little sexier.