Michael Ainaire is one of our Halloween writing contest finalists for 2015. We’ll be publishing our contest finalists every day until Halloween, when we’ll announce our contest’s winner.
House of Horrors
By Michael Ainaire
The Swamp Man arrived late to the party. It was his fifth year attending and the last few hadn’t been particularly fun, but the year before he and Bloody Mary had made out for a bit after everyone else turned in for the day. There were worse places he could be spending the end of Halloween.
The last kids he had caught trespassing in his swamp had been college age, probably on some sort of dare, and as the last of them had been sinking into the bog he had found two six packs of Oktoberfest sitting in a cooler in the backseat of their car. A good enough gift to bring to the party, he supposed. He would have felt bad mooching off everyone else.
The house was in the woods with a leaning graveyard on one side of the driveway and a thicket of poisonous thorn bushes on the other. He made his way up the steps to the house’s front door, webbed feet slapping on the weathered boards.
Boogeyman, whose house it was, answered his knock.
“Hey!” he exclaimed. Swamp Man had barely opened his mouth to reply when he found himself locked in a tentacle’d hug. “I didn’t think you were going to make it! What is that, Oktoberfest? Come on in and we’ll crack one open!”
Down a twisting corridor, past portraits that turned to follow them, spaced between Hands of Glory mounted on the walls. Swamp Man could hear organ music from a distant room. He looked down at his feet, self-conscious of the black ichor and marshy sludge he trailed behind him.
“The whole gang’s here,” Boogey was saying. “I invited a few from the new crowd—they might show up later. Even reached out to some of the old folks too. Got a soft yes from Baba Yaga and the rest…” he waggled one clawed hand in a see-saw motion. “I think you know everybody.”
The rest of the guests were spread out across a decrepit living room. Frankenstein’s Monster and his Bride were sitting on a loveseat by the window. Mummy was slumped in a corner. The American Werewolf was sitting on a stool by the old piano, rummaging through a plastic trash bag.
A smaller crowd than in years past. Perhaps the rest of them, after so long, had finally begun to tire of this yearly tradition.
“Everybody, you know the Swamp Man,” Boogey said. “Look at the two of us—Boogeyman and Swamp Man. We’re the Man men!” He laughed as if it were his first time telling that joke, and because it was his house and his party, the others laughed as if it were their first time hearing it.
They all felt bad for Boogey, Swamp Man knew. Three hundred years old and still single.
“Swampy!” called the Bride. “Come over here and sit with us.”
Swamp Man shook hands with Frank and gave the Bride a quick kiss on the cheek.
“Did Bloody Mary make it?” he asked.
“Her? No, she had business,” the Bride said. “There are a lot of slumber parties on Halloween. She does well for herself.”
“I wish I was that lucky,” American Werewolf said. “This will be my first halfway decent meal in months.” From his trash bag he produced a long pale leg with a black dress shoe on the end of it. He bit into it with relish; a thin spurt of blood landed on the floor at Swamp Man’s feet.
“How have you been doing, Swampy?” the Bride asked. “Keeping your head above the muck?” She laughed and raised her wine glass to her lips.
“I do okay,” Swamp Man said. He grabbed and Oktoberfest and bit down on the neck of the bottle with his pointed teeth. Beer and shards of glass trickled down his throat. “I try and keep things small, you know. Not spread myself too thin.”
“How’s that?” Frank asked.
“Well, I’ve become a kind of legend in my hometown. It guarantees me good eating around Halloween. And the whole small town thing means some kids are still scared of me. It all depends on who’s telling my story.”
“Yes, and what is your story again?” The Bride asked. “You weren’t always green and scaly were you?”
Swamp Man thought for a moment. “You know? I’ve forgotten.”
“That is the right way to do it,” Vlad said from across the room. Swamp Man looked over, startled. He hadn’t noticed Vlad was here. Tall and willowy in his black cloak, he stood hunched over a pool table that one of the dusty chandeliers had fallen on. Despite this, he was trying to sink one of the striped balls into the far pocket. Three young women hovered around him, stroking his arms, massaging his shoulders.
“What is?” Swamp Man asked him.
“Keep things small. Keep your legend local. Me? Fah!” He gestured theatrically with one arm. “Mine has grown too large. People now make children’s films about me, where I manage a hotel. Can you imagine such a thing?”
On the loveseat, Frank was nodding in agreement. “I hear you. They make us all too cuddly in the end. It’s hard coming back from a reputation like that.”
“What about you, Vlad?” Swamp Man indicated the three women hanging onto the vampire’s bony shoulders. “You seem to be doing alright.”
“I am a hit with the foreign exchange students,” Vlad admitted. “They always insist on taking the castle tour around Halloween. And always they think my costume is very realistic…”
The three girls turned to Swamp Man in unison, red eyes glaring flat and feral. They bared elongated canine teeth when they smiled.
“Man, do you remember when it was no work at all scaring people?” Boogeyman said. “Just the mention of your name and…” He produced a wet sucking sound with one of his mouths. “That was all you needed. They were terrified.”
“Fear tenderizes them,” the Werewolf said, smacking his lips as well. “Gets that nice, fall-off-the-bone flavor.” He took another bite of the leg. The dress shoe bounced and bobbled.
“How hard can you have it, Boogey?” Frank asked. “You’re fear incarnate. No one knows how to make you cuddly.”
“It’s the name,” Boogey said. For the first time at any one of his parties, he actually looked glum. “The stupid name. Kids hear it now and think of big hocks of snot…”
The party rolled on. Swamp Man finished his beers, swallowing the bottles whole when he didn’t feel like drinking them. The place where he sat was growing damp and sticky beneath him. Soon it would be time to head back to where he came from, bide his time until next year.
“—he was the best!” Frank was shouting, his gray face flushed red. “The absolute best! When he was making movies, none of us went hungry. To Boris!”
“To Boris!” echoed the room, and they raised their glasses. The Bride was looking less than happy about it; this had to have been their sixth or seventh toast of the night to the late Mr. Karloff.
“Boogeyman, what happened to the other invitees?” Vlad asked. “I believe you said you invited some of the masked killers? Slenderman?”
Boogey waved a dismissive claw. “They’re not coming. Too good for this crowd.”
“Oh, honey, you know that’s not true…” the Bride began, but Boogey was staring morosely into his drink and didn’t seem to hear.
“They will be lucky to attain a fraction of the longevity we have,” Vlad said. His girls were pawing at him and making soft mewling noises. “Oh, if you insist…” With one fingernail, Vlad opened up a gash in his long pale throat. Blood leaked out, black and thick, and the girls were all over it in an instant, heads darting, tongues lapping greedily.
“The black and white days,” Frank said, more to himself than anyone else. “When the nights were longer and the shadows were deeper.”
“Oh come on, everybody, that’s enough,” the Bride said. “It seems like all we’ve done at these parties the last few years is drink and talk about the old days. There has to be something else.”
Mummy stood up from his corner, mumbled something beneath his bandages, and passed out face first onto the floor.
“Now there’s a sad case,” Boogey said with a shake of his head. “Who do you know who’s scared of him anymore?”
“Tomb robbers, I should think,” The Bride said. Swamp Man could not tell if she was being sarcastic or not.
From beyond the living room window, where the first hints of dawn were already staining the sky, came the sound of footsteps on the driveway. Voices.
“Who could that be?” the Bride asked.
They crowded around the window and peered out. Three kids—teenagers, probably—were making their way up the steps to the door. It was the classic setup: a big guy in a letter jacket. A smaller, slighter boy with glasses—probably the jock’s best friend. And a lithe young girl with tumbling waves of hair and a perky chest. The three of them positively glowed with nostalgia.
“Come on Krissy,” they heard the big guy saying. “No one’s lived here for years. And it’s almost daylight anyway. Come on. You aren’t scared, are you?”
Swamp Man could see everyone’s faces lighting up. The words were music to their ears.
“What do you say, everybody?” Boogeyman asked. He smiled with all his terrible teeth. “Want to see if we’ve still got it?”