Halloween story – Feast of the Innocents

I wrote this story a fair while back for another Halloween, but I had to re-edit the original to fit the word-count of a story competition, giving it a different ending. This version is longer and darker, and I think it merits a re-airing. Enjoy the halloween weekend, and be careful what you eat from midnight takeaways…

We had been quite taken aback at the volume of custom at the old —- Arms on the night of All Hallow’s Eve. Trade had been dead up until one hour shy of the witching hour, when a crowd of drunken revellers dressed in garish 99p store Halloween costumes burst into the pub, their loud squawky laughter and hoarse student roar rattling the bones of the old public house, and my nerves too. Nevertheless by half one we had cleared out the last of their obnoxious number, and, having wiped down the sticky table surfaces and piled away in some mouldy corner the great towers of glasses, the dregs forming strange and mysterious maps, I sat down at the bar with the landlady and kissed a warm flat pint of Guinness. It was impossibly vile in that way only Guinness from New Cross can be.

I was tired. With the prospect of attending a dreary wedding in the morning, I gulped down the smooth body of my comfort, made my excuses and hurried out the door, desperate for at least a few hours’ kip. I shut the door behind me. The cold air brought me to my senses, and ludicrously I became aware that the rotten pint was making me feel somewhat drunk! I was about to check my watch when the wail of a bus careered before me: it was the last bus home! Wearily it pulled away, leaving me alone in the deserted high street to curse the name of the Fates. I scarcely knew the area, yet exasperated at my luck, I reluctantly decided to head off in one direction. Surely it would lead somewhere? Then the rain began to fall. And did it: the rain fell like it had never fallen before, its bullying spray battered windows, spoiled newspapers, swilled in blocked gutters. Fearful of its ferocity, I hurried for cover. Sooner or later it would wash the town away, wash the dirty looks off peoples’ faces, turning them into nothing less than festering and jabbering corpses. That is, if there were such souls even crawling these streets. But it was just me. My walk turned into a sprint.

Solace appeared a few minutes later in some neglected tributary off the main drag. It was an old derelict Victorian family house, surrounded in gloomy lachrymose weeds, buddleia peeping through the roof. Three or four stories perhaps, I didn’t care to look. It had a veranda, and that was shelter enough for now. My clothes damp and sodden, I shuddered and got my breath back. I was exhausted. Slumber weighing heavily on my eyelids, inebriety tapping on the doors of perception, I decided to disregard my better instincts and bed down somewhere here. The property was clearly abandoned. I knew it was sheer folly, sleeping inside an abandoned house on All Hallow’s Eve, but I’d done far more stupid things in my life, and was far too sceptical for the supernatural.

The door was locked. Remembering an old secret of the trade, I took a piece of conveniently-placed nearby timber in hand and, positioning my hand through the letterbox, managed to undo the door lock. I slunk quietly into the main hall, and tiptoeing, shut the door behind me. Dozily, I took in only the most brief of impressions of the house, but I was primarily overpowered by the dampness and dustiness of the place. It was as if the tongue of fresh air had never licked the yellow papered walls of this forgotten residence.

Suddenly my senses returned to me with grave anxiety, and I froze in breathless terror: through the door at the end of the hall, leading to the kitchen perhaps, I could clearly see a someone’s back facing me, a woman’s perhaps, but not in the conventional sense. An evil candle emitting a foul green light across the room, radiating through the hall, and melting into the moonlight that oozed through the front door’s frosted window lighted her body. Whether she was talking to someone else in the room, or babbling away to herself, I could not tell, but drawn by a sinister compulsion, the inexplicable sort that drags many a man to great discoveries and even greater dooms, I crept towards the kitchen door, with some hesitance and not a little temerity. As I drew closer I began to trace the syllables of her strange cockney speech. She had voice that sounded like it had been brought up from birth solely on raw onions and sour milk. Truly it curdled the blood!

“It’s all your fault you know”, it began. “I’d’ve never ad to go at ya with me Stanley knife if you’da just kept your mouth shut like I told you to.” I drew ever closer, crouching by a slit in the timber kitchen door, through which I could see the woman, squatting on the floor, her hair and long flapping dress even darker than the dank shadows that festered in the corners of the room. She seemed to be talking to a bin bag. My ear pressed against the timber, intrigued by this unseemly absurdity. “But you just wouldn’t stop ya whinin, would ya, love? I told ya to hush ya gums but you wouldn’t and by god you paid the price. You got what you deserved, you evil little man…no one treats me and my kids like a punch-bag! What you did was evil!”

Stung by her chilling words, I had clearly outstayed my welcome. Quickly I turned to make haste back to the front door, but another voice bubbled from the kitchen, a deeper, gruffer, even more sinister voice. My legs failed me, breath refused me! Aghast, I sat paralysed by the door. The voice appeared to originate from a rather gruesome zombie prop splattered on the floor, a rather life-like skull of a middle-aged man. Soon the words began to sink into some context: “…no wife of mine has got the right to answer back to me…and those orrible little barsets deserved what they got. I tell ya, as long as god reigns over me, no wife nor child o’ mine has the right to attack me…all because…you were too stupid to do what you was told! If little Jimmy hadn’t of sworn at me, his own dad!…he wouldn’t be under the floorboards like e is now. And his stupid little brother should’ve gone back to bed…but no…he got involved…and he got his comeuppance! And I’d’ve had your guts for garters if….I’d’ve got you first! I never knew a wife of mine could be so handy with a stanley knife! Now…are you gonna put my body back together or what?

The woman’s voice returned, and the bickering picked up pace. Certain words peeped out above the morbid miasma, “chopped onions” and, what I think was “a rat ate my eyeball”. It had to be a sick joke. From what I could deduce, the man had been cut up and left inside the bin bag. This had to be some vicious prank. Ready to confront and unmask the scheme of these black-humoured hoaxers, I stood up, my frame filling the greasy window of the kitchen door. I was about to push open the door when I saw a spectacle of a nature truly of the grotesque and arabesque. I quaked. Either paralysed by the cold blood of fear, or ensnared by some masochistic compulsion to bring about my own immediate destruction, I stood there, gaping like a stunned pheasant.

From the binbag in the centre of the room, resting next to an upturned dining table, a mocking hand peeped out, hirsute and bloody. The woman, who seemed more like the undead, was slicing off a section of torso. About an inch deep, the rain-water that had collected in the kitchen took on a sickly red hue. It could not be! I could not restrain a pathetic high-pitched yelp! “WAAAARRGH!”

Whether the bickering sweethearts were distracted, or had not ears to hear me, I could not tell, but at the same moment of my terror, a series of thick and menacing thumps which I had presumed to be my very own slobbering heartbeat, suddenly ruptured loudly through the kitchen floorboards, and, furthermore, two pairs of short stubby arms erupted from the subterranean hell! In less than a second, two filthy and bruised children climbed out from under the floorboards, and now were standing in the kitchen right before me, staring with hungry eyes at the bloody bag of gibbering giblets! And no one was paying a damned bit of notice to me!

“You killed us dad. You stole us from the living world because we said your cooking was rubbish compared to mum’s. We’ve been hungry for a long time since then. Won’t you join us for dinner?” The woman by now was standing by a rather antiquated oven, upon which a frying pan suddenly sizzled to life. “No way! You can’t eat me! I’m your dad!”, yet his appalling cries went unheeded, and together the reunited mother and boys emptied the bin bag into the hungry pan. A doleful scream filled the air, gurgling away as the stringy flesh sizzled from pink to a whitey colour. The head had tried to roll itself out of the pan, but with admirable precision, the younger of the two boys speared it with a fork and plopped it back into the searing stew.

Without even the slightest bit of irony or seasoning, daddy’s guts were plopped onto three silver plates. The undead three sat down to dinner with a most cordial and untroubled serenity, and the tranquil silence was finally interrupted by a few words of grace. They were about to tuck into their stew when the mother raised her head, and with glowing yellow eyes, whispered to the two, “Aren’t we forgetting our guest?” And with that, I realised that my presence had been discovered. Their eyes turned towards me. “Won’t you join us? Won’t you be our daddy now?”

Now I have always been a carnivore, enjoying a kebab or chicken burger as much as the next person, and I would be lying if I said that the porky odours oozing from the cooker hadn’t whetted my appetite. It would be a folly to insult the hospitality of my new family, and besides, they said no mortal could witness this evil alive, unless he had tasted at least a bite of mother’s home recipe breast chops! We all sat down at the feast of the Innocents, and by god the stew tastes so good, I slurped up every last spoonful, yum yum!

Sleepy, I sat back on my armchair, rubbing my belly, and with a content smile, sighed. It then occurred to me that my family had not eaten a spoonful of their stew. “What’s wrong?” I said, nervously laughing, “were you not hungry? I dare say it was a little….rare” No one said a word, but by the wounded glares of their deep and bloody eyes, I realised I had somehow offended them. Had I eaten too quickly, too gluttonously? The older of the two boys growled at me, with a loud reedy roar, full of sickles and malice and bile. “You ate my daddy.”

I laughed, even more awkwardly this time, and scratched my neck. A voice peeped out from me, dumb courageously: “I may have ate him, but I certainly didn’t kill him! That guilty lot falls on your mother, my little angry friend!”

His voice returned, growling, backed up this time in unison by his family, who together stood (had they always been standing?), and drew slowly towards where I was sitting. “You ate my daddy, and now…….we’re going to eat you.”

I had scarcely leapt out of my chair by the time a well-directed Stanley knife slotted itself snugly inside my eye. Suddenly the bizarre chain of events began to feel stomach-churningly familiar, and as my eyeball rolled inside the gaping mouth of mother, I cursed my luck, again…

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