Trick or Treat (from Tunnels & Other Stories)
“You’re all too old to go trick or treating,” Mum had told us. “Leave it this year; let the little kids get the sweets. It’s not as if Tommy needs to eat any more junk!” She was right about everything, of course. We were too old and Tommy was already heading for a heart attack at the age of fifteen, his diet consisting largely of sausage rolls and fizzy drinks.
“We’re still children,” I replied, with a smile. “One last time, I promise. Anyway, it’s all arranged and I’m meeting some people.” I gave mum the innocent look that she could rarely refuse.
“What people?” she asked, studying my face to see if I was about to lie to her.
“Just Chloe and Phoebe. Tommy is walking over with them.”
“Like a double-date?” she asked, not looking as though she approved. She was strict, and was convinced that any time I would spend time with a girl would end up with her becoming a grandmother.
“Just friends,” I told her, and that was the truth, much to my disappointment. I liked both the girls, and so did Tommy. The difference between us was that Tommy didn’t stand a chance with either of them, which made things a bit awkward. After muttering something about being safe and not getting up to any mischief, she finally relented and gave her reluctant blessing. Before she could finish laying down the rules, I was already on my way upstairs to get into my costume; a Grim Reaper outfit, complete with a mask and plastic scythe. As a test run I decided to creep up behind my eight-year-old sister, who cried, so I guess it was sufficiently scary for the evening. I picked up my pumpkin-shaped plastic bucket which we had used for years to collect the treats in and told Mum that I was about to leave.
“Have you got your phone?” she asked.
“Nowhere to put it,” I explained, running my hands down the sides of the costume to confirm the lack of pockets. “They are meeting me at the end of the road in a few minutes.”
“And what if you need to call me?”
“I’m sure they will have phones with them, but we’ll be fine.” Mum looked worried. She always looked worried.
“OK, back at eight-thirty. That’s late enough to be knocking on stranger’s doors.”
“Nine?” I asked, cheekily.
“Eight forty-five, and not a minute after.” I lifted my mask to give her a peck on the cheek and ran out of the house, my black costume flapping behind me.
Tommy and the girls all lived on the same road, about a ten-minute walk from me. Without wanting to sound snobbish, it is a fact that my house is on the nicer side of town. This is why we planned to knock on doors near mine; apparently, some of the houses over their way weren’t very friendly. This also made things easier with my Mum, knowing that I would be close by. I stood at the corner of the road feeling a little foolish in my costume, waiting for the others who were late as always. The thinness of the material provided little barrier against the cold wind, and I shivered, beginning to get impatient. I tried to construct a logical route in my head that would reap the most reward, but my thoughts were quickly interrupted by the sound of giggling coming from behind me. Tommy was wearing his usual clothes; blue jeans and a football shirt which did not completely cover his belly. The extent of his Halloween efforts consisted of some white face paint with a couple of red lines, which I presumed to represent blood.
The girls, on the other hand, had put in a lot of effort, and I was thankful that mum had not seen them. They wore matching, white nurses’ uniforms. Their faces were painted green and looked zombie-like; I guess girls are good at the face paint and make-up side of things. Far better than Tommy, anyway. The uniforms were short, almost up to their buttocks, and red, fishnet stockings did little to cover the exposed flesh. I tried not to stare, but it wasn’t easy.
“Where do you want to start?” I asked. “I thought we’d do my road and then the houses up towards the church; they’re usually pretty good.” The others laughed, looking at each other as if they had a secret. “What?” I asked, not understanding what was funny.
“The girls want to check out the Monroe house,” Tommy stated, a mischievous grin on his face. He knew how I’d respond.
“Are you serious?” I asked, looking at the girls.
“Don’t be a baby,” Phoebe replied, taking my hand. As much as it felt like a terrible idea, peer-pressure and a pretty girl made my mind up for me. The Monroe house was isolated, being situated on the edge of a large, green, public space, out of sight of any other houses. Dog walkers were pretty much the only people to ever pass the house, and rarely after dark. At this time of the year, the Monroe house went all-out for Halloween, with elaborate decorations adorning the front garden and exterior of the house. None of us had met anyone who had actually seen someone living at the house, and this had sparked a range of playground rumours. Of course, the house was haunted, no-one dared to refute that out loud (although I doubted that it was the case). Only Max, a boy from school who was in the year above us, claims to have been there last Halloween.
“You don’t actually believe Max’s nonsense about knocking there before, do you?” I said, as we made our way past rows of terraced houses with pumpkins in the windows.
“It’s probably bullshit,” Tommy said, starting to feel a little nervous as we approached the darkness of the dirt track.
“Yeah, maybe. In which case there’s no harm having a look,” Phoebe said, squeezing my hand. “And what if he was telling the truth?” Max’s version, which is highly debatable, was that he had knocked on the door of the Monroe house, bravely by himself, calling out trick or treat. Although he didn’t see anyone, Max told everyone around the school that some wrinkly fingers with long nails had pushed a fifty-pound note out of the letter box. He had stood staring at it in disbelief when the three full-sized skeletons that were decorating the garden turned to face him. He insists that they chased him away, and as much as everyone laughed at him, no-one dared to go there and find out for themselves. Hence, the legend began.
Part of me hoped the house would not have been decorated, that the lights would be off, that we would decide not to knock. I’m sure we all gasped a little as we turned the corner from the track and gazed upon the Monroe house. Three plastic skeletons were erected in the garden, positioned with shovels around a hole in the ground. A hole which looked to be the right size to bury a body. There were tacky decorations in all the front-facing windows; strings of lights with ghosts and pumpkins, decals of witches on the glass, and a light-up sign attached to the front door which read ‘enter if you dare!’.
“It looks pretty cool,” Chloe said.
“Guess so,” I muttered, my eyes fixed on the skeletons, just in case they moved. Which they didn’t, of course.
“Give the door a knock then,” Tommy ordered, from his position about six feet behind the rest of us. “Let’s get this fifty quid, and we’ll go somewhere else.” I looked at him as if he were an idiot. We were gathered by the small gate which opened on to the property, no-one wanting the take the lead. After a series of awkward glances had been exchanged, Chloe huffed and walked through the gate.
“If no-one else comes to the door, then the money is all mine,” she stated, turning to face us. Again, Phoebe gripped my hand tighter and followed her friend toward the door, dragging me with her. Chloe banged on the door, three loud knocks echoed throughout the house. We were greeted by silence.
“No-one home,” I declared with relief, turning to leave. Chloe knocked again. This time we heard footsteps, accompanied by a kind of dragging sound; the first image to come to mind was a heavy-set person dragging a body. We all took a step back and waited, suddenly hopeful that some money would be pushed through the letterbox after all. However, it wasn’t; the only sound was that of numerous locks being undone. I wanted to leave at this point, but I was also frightened to run away after we had disturbed whoever lived there.
When the last locked clicked, there was a pause. I wondered if the resident was elderly and had changed their mind about opening the door. Then, with a creak, it began to swing open.
“Trick or treat,” Chloe announced, trying to sound friendly. There was no-one there, just a dark hallway barely illuminated by a string of fairy lights of either side. “Hello?” she called into the house.
“Probably a good time to leave,” I said, no longer caring if my friends thought I was a wimp. There was no-one there and walking in would be trespassing.
“Hello?” Chloe called again, this time placing one foot across the threshold.
“You can come in!” came a voice, startling us all. It sounded as though it belonged to an old woman.
“Sorry if we disturbed you,” I called in response, whispering to the others once again that we should leave.
“It’s no bother,” the voice replied. “I’ve got some Halloween treats here, if that is what you were after? Just in the hallway, help yourself. Sorry I can’t bring them out; I’m a bit frail these days.”
“See! It’s fine,” Chloe said, not sounding entirely convinced.
“Seriously?” Tommy said, a little more loudly than he had intended. “She could make it to the door to open it, so why didn’t she bring the treats then?” He had a point. The temptation of money, or even some other decent reward got the better of us and each holding on to one another, we crept into the hallway.
“Leave the door open,” I told Tommy, who looked at me as if to say that was the most obvious thing in the world.
“I’ve set up a Halloween game in the hallway if you want to play?” asked the voice. “Do a trick, get a treat. I hope you enjoy it.” It was creepy, and I was beyond having second thoughts. I decided that we should see the Monroe woman, at least show our faces, so I walked into the dark room that the voice came from.
“Hello?” No reply. I fumbled for a light switch. It didn’t work.
“The power must be off,” Tommy suggested.
“The fairy lights are working,” I said, pointing to the plug sockets that they were attached to.
“Bulb must have gone, then,” he said.
“Hello?” I called again, moving further into the room. Nothing. My eyes adjusted to the dark a little and there was no doubt that the room was empty. I felt colder. Something was wrong. “I’m going,” I told them, turning back towards the door. Before anyone could answer me, the door slammed shut, the bolts’ locking of their own accord. Chloe screamed. Phoebe began to cry.
“What the fuck?” Tommy declared. He ran to the door, attempting to pull back the bolts but found them to be red hot; the tips of two fingers and his thumb now blistered. “Fucking hell!”
“I don’t like this,” Phoebe said, between sobs.
“Call someone,” I suggested. “I left my phone at home.” The three of them all pulled their phones out of bags and pockets. No signal on any of them; not phone signal or Internet coverage. The only option for us was to look for another way out. From the outside, we saw two large windows on the ground floor, with the hallway being central to the house. The living room that we had investigated was on our left; there should have been a door to the right but the wall was solid. There were three, front-facing windows on the first floor, but we could not see any stairs as we approached the end of the hallway. It was dark, but I could sense the dread that the others were feeling, hear the sobs that Phoebe tried to stifle.
“We’ll have to smash the living room window and climb out,” Tommy suggested, his voice rising in panic. Unable to think of anything else, we walked back along the corridor only to discover that there was now no door on either side. We returned to the entrance, to find the locks still white-hot. We were trapped, completely walled in. Chloe flicked on the flashlight app on her phone. The only items in the hallway were two boxes, each about two feet cubed. One was labelled tricks’; the other was labelled treats’. Tommy opened the treats’ box as Chloe shone her light into it. It was empty. Cautiously, the pair opened the tricks’ box. There were five black envelopes in the box, each numbered, beginning at one. Tommy picked up the first and opened it, pulling the card from inside. As he read it, he couldn’t help smiling and, for a brief moment, I thought everything was going to be OK.
“What’s it say?” I asked.
“It says,” Tommy began, “that when we complete the trick card, we will get a treat card.”
“But the box was empty.”
“Yeah, well the bloody living room was there a moment ago.”
“And what is the trick?”
“It says we have to kiss each other.” Tommy was smirking.
“Oh, piss off!” Phoebe said. “You’re making that up. It’s hardly the time for joking about.” Tommy showed us the card, and he was right; ‘Kiss the other members of your group’. It sounded simple enough. We all looked at each other, a little uneasily. Then Phoebe kissed me, full on the mouth. My teenage brain kicked in, and I kissed her back, not wanting to waste the opportunity. When she eventually pulled away, we looked at Tommy and Chloe. He wore a huge grin, but she looked as though she would vomit.
“It’ll be fine,” Phoebe told her, as if trying to prepare her for an unpleasant ordeal. They kissed, awkwardly and quickly, before opening the treats’ box once again. Empty.
“I read the card, so maybe I have to kiss both of you,” Tommy said, winking at Phoebe in the dark. She didn’t hesitate, and having nothing better to suggest, kissed him on the mouth. Still no treat, unless you count the pleasure Tommy was getting from it all.
“Or maybe you have to kiss everyone,” Chloe suggested, looking a little pleased with herself. It took me a moment to realize what she meant.
“Nope!” I said, without hesitation.
“It’s no more gross than us having to kiss him,” Chloe told me.
“Thanks!” Tommy replied. “Come here, big boy!” he said to me, trying to make light of the situation.
“OK, but no tongues,” I warned him. He didn’t listen, finding the whole thing funny as he slipped his tongue into my mouth. I leapt back in disgust. Chloe was right. He had needed to kiss us all, and there was now a treat envelope to open.
“Ten pounds,” Tommy announced as he pulled it from the envelope and stuffed it into his pocket.
“To split,” Chloe said.
“It was my card!” he retorted.
“You were the only one enjoying it; we should be paid for having to kiss you!”
“Like a prostitute?” Tommy replied, smugly. Chloe stopped talking after that.
“We can worry about that if we get out of here. Who is going to open the second trick?”
“I’ll do another,” Tommy offered. “Maybe I’ll get a hand-job this time.”
“I’d rather die,” Chloe said. “I’ll do it.” Handing the phone to Tommy to hold, she read the second card aloud. “Slap the other members of your group.” With an idea of the rules, and no restraint, Chloe smacked Tommy across the face, hard. He yelped and looked angry but kept his mouth shut. She proceeded to slap me, not with much force, and then Phoebe, muttering an apology as she did it. Quickly, she turned to the treats’ box and pulled out the new envelope, stuffing the twenty-pound note into the top of her stockings.
“Now you really look like a whore,” Tommy told her. She ignored him. “Who’s next?” He looked at Phoebe and I. I let her choose and, with the assumption that the tricks would become more severe, she asked to go next. After I had nodded, she opened the box, taking out the third envelope and reading it in her head. Her eyes widened a little, and she looked at us nervously.
“I’m not doing that,” she said, holding the card to her chest. “Let’s check the door again, maybe we can touch the locks with something over our hands?”
“Like what?” Tommy asked. “You two are pretty much naked and that Grim Reaper outfit looks like it’d burst into flames.” Phoebe headed to the door regardless, and we heard a clink as she slid one of the bolts aside. I ran over to her in excitement.
“Have they cooled down?”
“Only the bottom two. You can feel the heat from the other four.”
“Two cards, two locks,” I muttered as our eyes met. “We’re going to have to do all of them.”
“But there are five cards and six locks,” she pointed out.
“Maybe the last treat is the final bolt?” I said, hopefully. “What did your card say?” She passed it to me and looked at the floor. ‘Take blood from the other members of your group’. Attached to the card with some tape was a razor blade.
“It’s fine,” I told her, putting my hands on her shoulders. “I’m sure just a drop will be enough; it won’t hurt.” I unstuck the blade and handed it to her, extending my fingers in front of her. “Just prick the end.” It stung like a paper cut, quickly turning crimson as a few drops fell from the end of my forefinger. Tommy and Chloe were still bickering and hadn’t heard what we needed to do. Perhaps the strangeness of the situation had gotten to them, but they did not try to refuse. After all, what else could we have done. Phoebe went to the door to check our theory out and found three bolts were now cool enough to handle. In the treat box was an envelope containing a fifty-pound note.
“I guess I’m up next,” I said, moving towards the box.
“Shit, sorry,” Tommy mumbled, holding card number four in his hands. “I’ve just read it.” He didn’t look happy. I snatched it from him; ‘Choose one member of the group to leave behind’.
“Well I don’t see what you’re meant to do, it’s not as if we can get out yet,” I told him.
“And we aren’t leaving anyone behind!” Chloe said, panicking that Tommy would choose her. I opened the treat box but found nothing. We were puzzled, not understanding what was required of us.
“Just pick someone and say the words,” Phoebe suggested. “As long as we all understand that we don’t really leave anyone here.” We all nodded.
“I choose Chloe to leave behind,” Tommy announced, loudly. Chloe slapped him for a second time, muttering ‘prick’ under her breath. “Easy money,” Tommy said, tearing at the fourth envelope. “This is becoming quite profitable,” he said, holding up eighty pounds with a greedy grin. He added the money to his earlier ‘prize’, and then it happened. Perhaps it was a delay from him saying the words, maybe it needed him to actually pocket the cash, but that was confirmation enough. A swirling pattern began to appear on the wall behind Chloe. Before we could warn her, six arms reached out as far as the elbow, wrapping around our friend. She let out a muffled scream, but it was too late; they pulled her into the wall, and she was gone. Too quickly for us to react, too suddenly for us to even process what was happening. Phoebe launched herself at Tommy, pounding his huge gut with punches. He felt responsible, that much was obvious, but she was gone and there was no obvious way to get her back.
“One more card,” I said. “Let’s get this done and get out. We can find help once we escape this house.” I picked up the final card, ignoring my apprehension. I just wanted this to be over with. Inside the envelope was a small rubber stamp and ink; the sort of thing you find in gift shops at tourist attractions. I opened it to see a skull design. ‘Choose one member of the group to play with the skeletons.’
“That doesn’t sound like something any of us want to do,” Phoebe said. “Remember Max said those things in the garden chased him.”
“If that’s the case, then I should choose myself; I’m most likely to be able to outrun them.”
“What if you can’t? Or if that isn’t what it means?” We both looked at Tommy.
“Do whatever,” he said, not seeming to care. “If those bony fuckers try anything then I’ll sit on them.” He was trying to sound brave, but his voice quivered as he spoke. It was selfish of me, but he had done that to Chloe so it felt fair. If I had to choose between Tommy and Phoebe then there was no choice at all. I walked over and stamped a red skull on Tommy’s forehead.
“That was the last card,” I pointed out, opening the treats’ box. There was a larger envelope; thick and padded. From inside I pulled out a card with a grinning clown, and a thick glove. I stared at it for a moment. Heatproof, I told myself, slipping it on. We ran to the door, pulling across the last of the bolts and yanking it open. Outside was dark, but nothing like what we had been enclosed within. As we stepped into the fresh air, our path was blocked by the grave-digging skeletons, heads cocked to one side as they surveyed us. We froze, just for a moment. Then something registered with them as they seemed to notice the stamp on Tommy’s head. It happened in the briefest of moments; he was surrounded and all three, simultaneously, extended their bony hands. They jabbed at Tommy’s belly with such speed that they became a blur, the white bones turning red in the spray. Tommy’s eyes were wide, his mouth gurgling blood as he dropped to the ground. We didn’t try to help him, it was too late, so we ran. Phoebe and I, together, leaving our friend to be dragged into the freshly dug earth.
The house was deserted when we came back with help. There were no decorations, no old lady, just dust and empty rooms. The doors were where they should have been, as were the stairs. It was as if nothing had happened, and it was just us playing a Halloween prank. Of course, Chloe and Tommy were never found, and we were under scrutiny regarding their disappearances but no-one could prove anything. The only person that believed us was Max, who had actually had company when he visited the Monroe house last year, but had been too afraid to mention the disappearance of his older brother. A year later and Max’s parents still think their oldest child is travelling the world.
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