A bit of Halloween free fiction…notes at the end…
The Trick or Treat Perspective
The man watched surreptitiously as his son approached the door. The boy walked forward tentatively and the man, from his hiding place, willed him on.
Tommy had insisted on the sack-cloth looking latex mask – the one with stitched over lips set against a muddy brown visage and with a faux rope noose around the neck. The mask had been worn many times and was showing signs of wear-and-tear but when the man had suggested buying something new, the boy had protested vehemently, so he had shrugged and continued to help his son dress for the evening.
It was late for trick-or-treating – too late really, the man knew: and certainly long past when the children dressed as ghouls, vampires, Frankenstein monsters or whatever this year’s fad was, had been and gone. Not that the house on Borstal Hill, set back from the main road, was visited by many: children or adult.
There were seasonal decorations across the windows and the large inset door – but they were sparse, and seemed to be hung there as the merest acknowledgement to the season and the man did not think that the house had been visited this evening. It had a reputation of course – ‘the house on Borstal Hill’. Not the most inviting of names, but the new owner had apparently embraced it: even restoring the plaque on the brickwork outside which declared that it had originally been built in 1878 and for years had executed its duties as a borstal prodigiously enough that the area had garnished the address name it and others nearby still assigned to them.
‘The home for naughty boys’ his own parents had told him when he was very young.
“If you don’t eat your vegetables you’ll go to the home for naughty boys…”
“Keep picking your nose and we’ll have to send you to the home for naughty boys…”
The large grey double-front-turreted house had been the go-to threat for any misdemeanour, no matter how large or small, in the years after the threat of Father Christmas not coming had diminished in its power.
The man remembered all this in not altogether pleasant memories as he watched Tommy step up to the door entrance. The boy paused, and the man could see the plume of breath escaping from beneath his mask in the cold night’s air.
“Do it, Tommy,” he whispered to himself, “Be brave, and do it…”
As if hearing his words, Tommy stepped forward to the bell, and out of the man’s view.
The building, the house now, the man supposed, had stood empty for fifteen years since the fire that had gutted it on that long ago Christmas Eve.
The exterior had survived.
The interior, and the boys and supervisors trapped inside it, had not.
By that point it wasn’t called a ‘borstal’ – the term: an informal one even historically, had officially been replaced to something more palatable in a ‘more enlightened age’ – by 1982 it was formally rebranded a ‘Youth Custody Centre’, and then later as a ‘Young Offender Institution.’
Whatever the discreet sign outside it said, it hadn’t made any difference to those living locally. It was still referred by all of them as ‘the borstal’, some of them no doubt still threatening their slightly wayward children with ‘the naughty boys home’ – perhaps in line with equality even extending it to include their daughters…he’d even heard it himself once; as a harried mother dragged her daughter away from the Woolworths’ Pick and Mix that the youngster had grabbed a handful of sweets from. As she’d unclenched the child’s hand, dropping squashed sugary treasure back into the plastic container she’d seized them from, for the next hapless shopper to select, he’d heard the mother hissing the admonishment, that she ‘was one step away from sending her to ‘the home for naughty boys and girls’’.
By the time of the fire, the home had been hopelessly outdated, and the authorities had given no thought to try and repairing it. The man, who had lived in this town all his forty-one years, guessed it would have been a difficult job even if twelve boys aged between 15 and 17, and two night-supervisors probably a few festive drinks to the worse hadn’t burned to death.
So the building had stood empty, and over time it had entered local folklore. The remaining panes of glass which hadn’t been broken down by firefighters trying to enter the building on that fateful night were gradually removed over the years by hurled rocks – becoming something of a challenge of skill as they diminished in size and number.
In the years to come, after what they presumably felt was a suitable period of time, the owners of the building and grounds had done their best to clean it up. The few homeless who would sleep there from time-to-time were moved on stealthily: a job made easier following the death of two of them in a, presumably drug and or alcohol fuelled rage, knife fight one cold January night.
While the headlines in the local newspaper over the vagrants’ deaths had not been as of much national interest as the inferno from two years previous (of which The Sun had lead on its front page with ‘Borstal BBQ!”), it was deemed ‘juicy’ enough for a young cub-reporter to enter his first, and last, story in the Courier with his own tabloid attempt– ‘Without a roof, Without a head. Beggars Butchered! The criticism of the insensitivity had not stopped at him – the Editor responsible for letting such a sick headline get past him (in truth he’d chuckled when the young would-be reporter, his nephew, had presented it to him) found his own position at enough risk to subsequently publish a two-page spread of the ‘brutal’ and ‘tragic’ (the ‘tragic’ had been particularly dwelt upon in his job-saving remorse) history of ‘Borstal Hill’ in the following week’s edition.
The fact the town had few homeless (and two less after that night, the watching man thought, admonishing himself for the black humour even as he did so). No – the borough had become a prosperous area: within commuting distance of the city, and increasingly desirable for young families, wealthy retirees and professional types in between. If anything the borstal had been out of place, sitting as it had so close to the most well-to-do areas in town: the fact it was set back off the street proved of little comfort to those living around it.
With property at such a premium the land owners probably thought it would sell quickly: even if someone didn’t have the will or capability to remodel it to their taste, it was on a good-sized patch of land – especially with the spacious greenery to the rear of the building: what had once been the sanctuary for rambunctious young rapscallions to expel their excess energies via the football or the rugby ball, was now room enough for a plot to fit six or seven new builds, or to build a small business office, an artists’ studio, or a granny flat, if the new buyer so wished. To do anything they wanted really, the man supposed: his imagination didn’t stretch to such grand designs, and his wallet didn’t bulge enough for him to ever have been in a position to consider how he might re-imagine the property even if he had the desire to do so, which he did not.
Of course, they hadn’t really been ‘rambunctious young rapscallions’ who had inhabited the place – while some of them over the years might have been what today would be called ‘emotionally challenged’ (a word the man was all-to-familiar with), for the past ten years of its’ existence the man knew they weren’t ‘misunderstood’ youths wrongfully committed there: they were ‘wrong ‘uns’ as his own father used to say. And in their deaths they became more talked about, more imagined and feared by the children of the neighbourhoods than they had been in life.
The house on Borstal Hill had become the stuff of legend. It was the place the youths would go to: for initiations, for dares, for answered taunts of cowardice, and, even after the hideous murder of a young courting couple, or maybe because of it, a ‘make-out’ place for older teenage boys to take impressionable younger girls. Whoever had made up that story deserved a medal from a legion of randy young boys who followed in his lying footsteps the man thought.
Tommy rang the bell and, even from where he was, the man could hear the new owner of the house had chosen to retain, or more likely replace with a modern version of, the ‘Butler’s Bell’ with its long-hanging-pull-rope, which sent ringing notifications around different parts of the house.
As the clanging chimes rang out, the man thought back to that local newspaper headline and the outrage it had caused. Had it really been any worse than what parents had threatened their children with? He wondered. Indeed, with the threat of sending them to the ‘naughty home’ snuffed out, the parents had become even more imaginative with warnings to their offspring – even returning to the festive threats, “You see what Father Christmas brought the naughty boys and girls at the house? Warmed them up a bit didn’t he? Now you just sit down and shut up…”
The man smiled thinly at the thought of such cruel, if inventive, parenting. He himself was a reasonable father, and a reasonably good father. He was sure of that. He’d raised the boy alone, and while he was the last person in the world to brag, he felt he’d done a reasonable job at doing so. The word ‘reasonable’ was important to him, and if he used it too much, well, that was… ‘reasonable’: and if the boy was a little too much in his own mould than some would see as wholly good for him, well, there was little he could do about that now: the die was cast.
He listened for the door opening and wondered how nervous Tommy was, in these moments as he waited for the bell-pull to be answered, and realised he was nervous himself – nervous on behalf of his son, who was big for his age: taller than others, broader too, but still, after all was said and done, a child. He breathed shallowly as he waited, hoping his son would not freeze; would not forget the words to the door- opener.
And he wondered about the door-opener.
Someone who had avoided all but a few sightings around the town. An old man – seventy, the man guessed: and probably too old to be undertaking such a renovation, unless he had very good reason. Someone who, despite the scrutiny a newcomer to a small town like theirs received, had kept himself to himself. Someone who did not seem to have any family in the most famous building in the borough with him, and had shied away from the attention it brought with it. If not the Lord of the Manor, he was a cause celebre who had so far deflected it: refusing the request for an interview with the local newspaper ten or so editors on from the days of previous, and someone who had worked privately, secretively, on whatever he was doing inside the building.
The man wondered again if he should have let Tommy visit this home tonight. But his son had been determined – desperate almost, to don the mask, and come. The boy knew the stories about it, of course, and the man had no doubt the boy was doing this to prove something to himself. Himself and the others – to those who had mocked him in the past about his size, about his clumsy gait and his apparent timidness; his faltering speech and his reluctance to join in with others. The man knew that most of all, Tommy was doing this for him though, and he couldn’t deny he felt touched.
But this someone…this door opener…who knew how he would…
His thoughts were cut short as he heard the door open: not a long, protruded creaking of a haunted mansion, but loud enough. The man knew the most dangerous doors sometimes opened quietly.
And straining, he heard Tommy’s voice. Nervous, breaking slightly as he spoke.
“Trick or Treat.”
Then for a moment, even with taunted ears, he heard nothing – heard nothing but saw everything clearly in his mind’s eye. The old man at the door, looking past his son, searching around to see if the boy was alone and, confirming that he was, thinking to himself briefly – perhaps panicking the man wondered, the old man trying to make a snap moment decision…
And then he heard the scream.
Sharp and high pitched, like a young boy would make.
By the time he was moving; running fast, the man could hear the struggle. Something heavy and breakable smashing loudly. He moved as fast as his forty-year-old legs would carry him, stumbling slightly as the long period of immobile crouching shouted in anger at this sudden activity.
The screaming had stopped, replaced by a gurgling and thrashing.
And as he got within twenty-feet of them, the front door slammed shut heavily – kicked closed, he guessed.
But by then there was no time for guessing, no time for thinking. By then he was leaping down from the stairs, onto the parquet flooring of the wide reception room and saw them thrashing around on the floor, the gurgling coming from a throat with strong hands wrapped around them, and he stopped, frozen.
He stood, silently and watched – ready to move if he needed to.
But there was no need.
As Tommy sat on top of the old man’s chest, his hands continuing to work at the throat, the cries and struggling dissipating second-by-second after the initial adrenalin rush burned out, the man realised everything was alright.
Tommy continued working at the prone figure long after he needed to, but the man didn’t stop him.
The boy had to learn.
Eventually, his son looked up, releasing one of his hands from both the man’s throat and his dead grip, and he took off the mask.
He wiped at his sweating forehead, and brushed wet hair away from his eyes, breathing heavily and eventually falling off the dead body into a sitting position, looking up at his father.
“Pretty feisty for an old man…”
The man smiled and lit a cigarette, “He always was.”
The boy stood up, as tall as his father was now, and three inches more so than the man had been at his age. His sprouting hadn’t come until a year later; around his fifteenth year.
“Look familiar?” The boy asked.
The man turned around as if he hadn’t already checked the whole place out before taking his hiding place upstairs, and shrugged. “He’s done it sympathetically enough. I’m glad he kept the fire-escape there. It did the job getting in as easily as it used to getting out.”
They wandered through the house: much of it completely unrecognisable to his naked eye, but as he pointed out and elaborated on the often-told bedtime stories to his son, in the man’s memory they were as clear and real as they had ever been.
They found the framed photograph in the bedroom; a young smiling fellow, certainly younger than the man himself was now. The smiling chap was shaking hands with a portly gentleman wearing gowns which, had the photo not been in black and white, would surely have stood out in the red clothes and gold chains of mayoral garb. The date inscribed underneath the picture read ‘1976.’ The old man had lasted a long time in his position as Governor – a full twenty-two years before the fire had spoiled his empire. Less than some dictators. But more than many others.
The boy dropped the framed photograph to the ground, stepping on it, rather than stamping, emotions used up now, nothing left but distain.
They walked back downstairs to the hallway and the body.
The man looked down and sighed. “The arrogance of age must submit to be taught by youth.”
The boy said nothing for a moment, looking at him with love and devotion. At length, he finally spoke, “Merry Christmas, Dad.”
His father looked from the body to the boy standing in front of him, pride almost making him tear up, “You too son. Merry Christmas, and thank you. The thoughtful gifts are always the most important.”
He lit another cigarette, and with the lighter still aflame, touched it to the drapes to the left of the front door. Once it had caught, he moved across and did the same to the one on the right. When they had both caught hold properly, he opened the oak door and held it for his son.
Shutting it firmly behind them, they walked arm-in-arm down the lightly snow powdered driveway.
And there you go.
As I wrote in an earlier post here, I decided to write a speed piece a couple of weekends ago: 3 hours to get a story written, with an extra hour to edit it. I wrote in a follow up post how I thought it had gone here. And now, here you see the results of it. Is it a straight forward Halloween story? Not really – it’s more along the lines of something you might find in You Could Make a Killing, my second collection of stories which are more crime/ murder than flat out horror, some of which can be found in Basement Tales.
I wrote the piece with a Story Telling evening which was coming up in mind, and I did read it there, albeit badly, and mainly to ‘select’ group of other authors speaking that evening.
If you did like the story and/ or want to see more of my stuff, you can find it in the above mentioned book, and also one of my stories in the newly released anthology Burning: links to all three for sale on Amazon are below. Basement Tales is currently on special offer (courtesy of Amazon’s pricing department, for some reason, but it’s all good for me…)
All titles are also available in Kindle – you can get full details at my author page.
As always, let me know what you think…