By Gordon S. McLeod This is a story I wrote for my first term Introduction to Storytelling class at IADT. The plot is an adaptation of a part of the overall plot to the comic I worked on some years ago, October's Fools. (Thus the name of this site, as well.)
Morrisdale, OF seemed like your typical small Canadian town until you got beneath the surface. It was a university town, a home town, a bedroom town, a quiet town, and even a haunted town if you believed the rumours spread by neighbouring communities. But no matter what anyone told you of Morrisdale's nature, no matter how they described it, the word “weird” would invariably enter into the conversation.
Bob was a typical inhabitant of Morrisdale. He lived with his roommate in an old 6 story apartment building that was much like apartment buildings anywhere and everywhere. Its only distinguishing feature of note was the view; the windows of the south side overlooked the Morrisdale Cemetery. He worked out of the apartment running a small web design company; his success in such a small and remote location was a bit strange, but he was very successful in spite of the global nature of the web. People somehow found him and his work though the noise of the ‘net, despite the overwhelming number of worldwide competitors.
One fine evening in early October marked the end of Morrisdale's merely being weird and began to bring the town to the brink of the utterly bizarre. Bob walked home after a late afternoon meeting with clients. He loved the outdoors and took off to the mountains to hike and camp whenever he could; when he couldn't, he would walk out-of-the-way paths through the town's many small parks to try and remember what nature was like. The familiar sights and sounds of the park bordering the cemetery were a constant source of comfort to him. But this night, something was wrong.
“Is someone there?” he called, though he did it quietly. He was on a long stretch of dense tree-and-bush lined path that curved around the outside of the park's area. It was still some distance to The Grinder, the coffee shop he frequented with his friends. The path was not well lit in this area of the park, and he could have sworn he'd heard something in the bushes.
“I have no money tonight,” he said, even quieter. While very uncommon, beggars were not unknown in Morrisdale. At least the odds of finding a beggar were better than the odds of finding a mugger.
Straining his ears, he heard nothing. The park was quiet, with only the faint stirring of the breeze brushing against bush and tree disturbing the silence, wafting the scent of pine and leaves turning their colours. Pine, leaves... and just a hint of something more. The hair started to rise on the back of his neck as he tried to decide what that odd scent was.
Burning leaves? Pot? No, not quite, though like muggers and beggars, neither was unheard of. Something rustled in the grass near his foot. Through a cloud of his own visible breath, he saw something slithering in the grass in the dark towards his foot. Jumping backwards, he fell awkwardly with a cry and scrambled back. The snake (it must have been a snake, snakes don't have leaves, it must have brushed one along with it,) snapped back with lightning speed into the bushes.
Breathing heavily, Bob climbed to his feet, keeping towards the middle of the path. Something large and man-shaped moved in the bushes, rusting and rattling branches as it pushed towards him. Bob tried to make a break for the direction of The Grinder, but ... SOMEthing sprang from what should have been the man's arms, some sort of vine-like growth, and wrapped about him tightly. The cell phone in his pocket tumbled out, away from his hands. “Mrrrmph!” The vine-like thing wrapped about his mouth as he struggled, preventing him from crying out. A low, eerily pitched chuckle sounded from a very large, misshapen head.
It looked man-like at a distance, in the near-black of night, but as it drew closer and edged towards the circle of light the impression of humanity melted away. Thick, rough green vines, complete with leaves, spread out from the top of the dangling head - the large, orange, irregularly-shaped pumpkin of a head. As it stepped closer, golden wedges of light slowly appeared on the face as though they were on a dimmer switch. They looked a little like flames, but were made by no candle Bob had ever seen.
The scuff of a shoe in the distance saved his life in that moment. Attention diverted, the fiery eyes narrowed and the tentacles withdrew soundlessly. Bob's own mind filled in the 'snap' that should have accompanied such swift movement. Dazed and half-crazed, he blinked but could see no sign of the apparition, nor where it might have gone to. He certainly was of no mind to notice that a single thin vine had broken off and was still wrapped around his wrist.
The footfalls got closer, but it wasn't until she was right on top of him that Bob was able to focus on his savior. Becky Heitmeyer, the tall, athletic trainer at the local gym, jogged to a stop beside him and stared down unblinking.
“Geezus Bob. You spend all your time hiking in the woods and mountains and never so much as a sprain a toe, and now the park paths are too much for you?” She nudged his shoulder while helping him up and returning his cell phone to his pocket. “What on Earth happened to you? You look like you've just seen a ghost!”
Bob's mouth worked, but no sound came out. Brow furrowing a bit, Becky nodded. “Right. There's only one cure for this, and it's on me. One double-double at The Grinder. Jack and Allison are meeting me there, and I was supposed to try and drag you out to join us. I didn't expect the dragging to be quite this literal, though!”
Wrapping her arm under his shoulder to support him, Becky half-led, half-pulled Bob down the path, around the bend, and on into the better-lit areas that led to the coffee shop. Behind them, the faint tracings of a fiery face stared balefully from the branches of the hedgerow.
* * *
The Grinder was the kind of softly lit, always warm feeling coffee shop that seems to spring up somewhere within a couple of kilometers from any college or university. Warm yellowish light filled the place as though it were bathed in candlelight, complete with a slight flickering. The clink of mugs and gurgle of brewing coffee generally soothed away the cares of a trying day.
Jack, or Jackson, was Bob's roommate. He attended Morrisdale University, studying philosophy, literature, mythology and religion, and worked as a writer-in-residence. Like any good philosophy student, he drank far more coffee than was good for him, and was swallowing the last drops of his third cup when Becky unceremoniously dumped Bob into the chair opposite him. His eyes flickered in surprise and mild curiosity. “What's with him?” he asked, as Bob sat unmoving, unaffected by the familiar surroundings.
“I don't know. I found him collapsed on the path. I thought he had tripped, but now... well, he hasn't reacted at all since I found him.” Becky bit her lip, eyes worried.
“Bob, trip? That'll be the day.” Allison, a short, dark-haired girl with round glasses, set four large double-doubles in white ceramic mugs on the table. She stood with hands on hips, lips pursed. Leaning in, she snapped her fingers in front of his eyes and by his ears, frowning at the lack of reaction. “What do you think we should do?”
“Do... what... what am I... doing here?”
“Bob! What on Earth happened to you!?” Becky's concerned face filled his blurry, orange-tinted vision.
“You... didn't see? You were there... what were you doing there? It came from the hedges... flame... flame and vine...”
“Whoa, easy big fella. Here, you sound like you desperately need some of this.” Jason, by far the tallest of the group at almost 6'5”, pushed Bob's coffee towards him. “You're not making any sense. Flame and vines? What came from the hedges?”
His wrist itched and burned. Scratching it, Bob hesitated a moment before reaching for the coffee. There was a thin white line spiraling around his wrist, outlined with red inflammation. He shifted his arm in its sleeve to conceal it. These people had been his best friends for years now, but how well did he really know any of them?
“What were you doing in the park, Becky?” The heat in his tone took the others aback. “It’s awfully convenient that it left just as you were arriving.”
“Bob, what the hell are you saying?” Becky's face was hard to read; shock, anger and disbelief warred on her fine features. “I was jogging from work to your place to get you. We were going to meet here, right?”
“Mmm.” His head was pounding; he couldn't think straight. His arm was on fire.
* * *
As they left The Grinder, Becky looked off across the street into the darkness of the park path. “I don't like this at all. Are you sure about this? A demon? For real? Those are just old legends, right?” The darkness outside seemed somehow much more oppressive than it had hours before.
“I don't much like it either, believe me. But I saw that mark on his wrist. So did Allison. You know her and her gardens; she recognized that creeper. It's too much like the stories to be coincidence.”
“But that's just too... I don't know. If I hadn't seen the effects, I'd say silly. I mean, come on. A talking jack-o-lantern, in October? That’s weird even for this place.”
“That's where a lot of the Halloween associations came from; old stories.”
“I suppose. I didn't notice the wrist thing, but the eyes were hard to miss. I'm scared; what if we can't get it out of him in time?”
A faint rustling from above marked the end of their free time as a vine looped down around Becky's neck. Jackson tried to catch it, but it snaked out of the way as several more vines dropped, clutching for Becky. A spectral rasp uttered “Wheeeere isss heee?”
The main mass of the creature dropped to the ground before them. It was wrapped up in what looked to be old clothes, making it look like nothing so much as a scarecrow with vines in place of arms and legs. It took a step, or a slide... it was hard to say which. It drew closer to her, hellfire burning into her soul from the jagged eye gashes. Jackson seized its 'arm' in a tight grip and dragged it halfway around, wrestling it away from her. She took the opportunity to snap off one of the smaller leafy vines around her neck.
Head whipping back, it sent a rippling wave down its arm mass, flinging Jackson a good 7 meters away to slam into the ground with a crash. “Where... issss... heeee?”
From around the corner, eyes still aglow with their orange nimbus, Bob walked into Becky's view, something clenched in his hand. She gasped and gathered herself for a surge of action, determined to keep its attention on her for as long as possible. Arm muscles straining, she tore off another, larger vine from its arm mass.
Its response was immediate. Keening an ear-rending wail, it thrashed its remaining vines savagely, throwing Becky clear across the street to strike halfway up a telephone pole. Her shoulder shattered, raining blood and fragments of bone, and she lay very, very still.
Something in the image of his friend's broken body snapped deeply into Bob's mind, twisting and fighting the snaky strands of fog that strained to keep his thoughts repressed. He stood, physically shaking with the effort, and looked around him with half-clear eyes.
The ... thing... that had invaded his mind was ignoring him for the moment, intent on Becky's broken form. He could see that she was still moving very slightly, breathing at least. Its tentacles crept quickly towards her good outstretched arm.
Bob's hand tightened around something; looking down, he found he held a large knife. He didn’t know where he’d gotten it; nor did he care. Moving slowly, limbs feeling like they belonged to someone else, he started towards the creeping nightmare. Images crowded through his mind, doubts about his friends. But the sight of Becky smashing into the pole chased them off.
She saved me. She saved me twice tonight, and look what it's done to her. Assuming she survived, an injury that bad could cost her her job, her dreams, even her arm itself. No nightmare demon creature from any hell could convince him she meant him harm after that.
The last of the clutching creepers of fog lifted from his brain. Step quickening, he slashed with the knife at the stem of the vines protruding from the back of the pumpkin head.
The twisted, unearthly howl that he heard was something he could never thereafter describe. The creature's body wavered in the air before him like a heat mirage, head turning back to pierce him with the most frightfully hate-filled gaze he had ever known. For a moment, the tendrils of mental domination slid back into his head, but found no purchase; they faded into nothingness, following in its body's footsteps.
Numbly, Bob pulled out his cell and dialed 911.