Halloween Story – 2005 – Ann Stolfa

 

It was a dark and stormy night (no really, it was!).  Kid and Heyes had been riding for what seemed like hours, the cold rain drenching them to the bone, the wind howling through the skeletal trees.  They both knew their horses, and they themselves, couldn’t take much more.  Heyes was in front, letting his horse follow a faint track through some overhanging trees.  It wasn’t so much that Heyes knew where he was going, it was just easier to let the horse go where it wanted than to fight it along a different route.  The cold and dark were lulling Heyes and Kid both into an exhausted stupor.

 

Through the fog covering his brain, Heyes realized that the horse had stopped.  A screeching sound followed by a loud bang startled him into full wakefulness.   In front of them was a large structure that on closer inspection was an old barn.  Heyes dismounted, motioning Kid to do the same.  They entered the barn cautiously, making sure to grab the banging door so it didn’t spook the horses.  Heyes pulled a match, thankfully and miraculously dry, from his pocket, lit it and quickly surveyed the surroundings.  It wasn’t a large barn, but it was snug against the storm.  The dust and cobwebs gave them the idea that it hadn’t been used in a long time, so they decided to bed down the horses for the night – not that the horses or the men had any intention or desire to go back out into the storm.

 

Kid looked out through the crack between the doors, old habits making him check that no one had followed them. 

 

“Heyes, look at this…”  He held the door open a bit more so Heyes could see the outline of a large bulk of a house.  They were both surprised they missed it as they rode up, but chalked it up to exhaustion and the dark.  There were no lights on in the house, but the occasional flash of lightning lit up the surrounding area, giving the two-storied, gabled house an eerie look.

 

“Guess we better make sure no one is home.”  Heyes grinned, the state of disrepair of the barn telling them that no one had lived there for years.

 

“I don’t know Heyes; the barn is fine with me.”  Kid couldn’t explain the uneasy feeling that the thought of going into that house gave him.  Maybe it was too many of Heyes’ spooky stories when they were children.

 

“Oh c’mon Kid, it’s got to be better than sleeping on moldy old hay.  I’m going; you can stay here if you want to.”  Heyes headed back out into the storm, the wind grabbing the door and slamming it back against the outside wall.  Kid sighed and followed, shaking his head.

 

They stepped up on the decrepit porch, making sure to glance in the windows just in case they were wrong about no one living there.  The lightning lit up the interior enough for them to get a glimpse of broken furniture and more cobwebs.

 

“Looks pretty deserted to me; I’m going in.”  Heyes reached for the doorknob, which turned easily in his hand, but the door wouldn’t budge.  “Give me a hand here Kid.”  Kid thought about clapping, but common sense won out and he went over and both men threw their weight against the door.  It held against them for a few seconds, then flew open like it was pulled from the inside.  Heyes landed on the floor first, Kid landing on top of him, knocking the breath out of both men.  They looked up sharply at the sound of a match striking, and a raspy voice…

 

“It’s about time you got here; I’ve been waiting for you.”

 

Kid rolled off Heyes and had his gun out before anyone could blink.  A lamp flared to life, illuminating the figure and the dusty room. 

 

“Oh dearie me, that’s a large gun you have there sonny.”  The old lady held the lamp higher and squinted through the thick lenses of her glasses to get a better look at Kid.  “I assure you, I’m not armed.”  She cackled, although not in an unfriendly way.

 

Kid slowly holstered his gun, still a bit shaken.  “Sorry ma’am;  I didn’t mean to frighten you, we didn’t know anyone was here.”

 

Heyes stood up and dusted off his pants and coat.  “What did you mean you were waiting for us?  Do we know you?”

 

“Oh no, I saw you go into the barn and I figured you’d make it around to the house eventually.  Goodness, you must be chilled to the bone.  Let me get you some hot chocolate.”  She turned to go into the kitchen, assuming they’d follow.  In the retreating lamplight, they looked at each other, shrugged, and followed after her.

 

The kitchen was in the same state of disrepair as the rest of the house and barn.   They gingerly sat down on a couple of rickety chairs as the woman busied herself at the stove.  She chatted away like it was every day two strange men burst into her house.

 

“I was just fixing myself a pot of hot chocolate, I’ll just add some more.  You’re in luck – I just finished baking some cookies.  Warm cookies and hot chocolate are just the thing for a blustery night like this.  I always fixed them for my husband, Carl, when he was alive.  Poor dear, he died on a night just like this one – went out to look for some cattle and just never came back.  I never have liked stormy nights since.  It sure is nice to have some company.  My boy and I don’t get much company out here.” 

 

The combination of the relatively warm kitchen and their exhaustion had lulled Kid and Heyes into a sleepy state, but at the mention of someone else, they perked up always on the alert for danger.

 

“Your boy ma’am?  Is he around?”  Heyes asked, trying to peer through the darkened doorways leading out of the kitchen. 

 

“Oh I expect he’s around somewhere.  That boy, always prowling around, I don’t know what gets into him sometimes.  He’ll be gone for days at a time.  But, he’s a good boy; always takes care of his mama.”  She hummed a little tune as she stirred the hot chocolate.

 

“Heyes, I don’t like this.”  Kid whispered. 

 

“What’s not to like?  Cookies, hot chocolate, a shelter from the storm?  I figured you’d at least like the cookie part…”

 

“There’s just something not right about that her.”  Kid started to say more, but the woman put two steaming mugs and a plate of cookies in front of them.

 

“Thank you Mrs…?”  Heyes said, realizing the woman hadn’t introduced herself.

 

“Mrs. Perkins, Antonia Perkins.  And you are?”

 

“Smith, ma’am, Joshua Smith and this is my partner Thaddeus Jones.” 

 

“Well, Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones, drink up before it gets cold.”  She sat down and smiled at them, obviously pleased to have company.

 

They both took a sip of their hot chocolate.  It was surprisingly rich and creamy, and was just perfect to warm them up after being cold and wet from the storm.

 

Mmm, that’s good, thank you.”  Heyes took another long drink while Kid started on the plate of cookies.

 

“Now that we’ve all been properly introduced, I insist that you spend the night.  There’s no sense in you getting back out into the storm when I have perfectly good bedrooms upstairs.”

 

“Ah, no ma’am, we couldn’t impose on your hospitality.”  Kid said, although he was starting to feel kind of woozy, and he couldn’t remember why he didn’t want to stay in the warm kitchen.  He looked over at Heyes, who was looking quizzically down into his hot chocolate, and starting to slump over.

 

“No really,” Mrs. Perkins said, “I insist.”  That was the last thing either one of them heard before they slipped into unconsciousness.

 

 

Heyes awoke to a ‘drip…drip….drip’ sound right next to his ear.  He tried to stretch and realized that his arms and legs were bound with stout ropes.  His head was pounding and his mouth felt like it was lined with cotton, but he painfully looked around, his first thought being of Kid and whether he was ok.  He breathed a small sigh of relief when he saw Kid slumped over against the opposite wall, hands and legs tied as well.  He turned to survey the rest of the room, which appeared to be a basement; weak light was coming from small rectangular windows high up on two walls.  The dripping sound came from a pipe overhead, and there were bits of rubble and old junk laying around, not to mention little scratching and squeaking sounds that Heyes didn’t want to think too hard about what was making them.  The worst part was an unusual number of rusty farm implements hanging from the ceiling – scythes, plow blades, flails, you name it - if it cut something, it was hanging from the ceiling.  Heyes suppressed a shudder and tried to rouse Kid.

 

“Kid  He rasped, his voice not more than a whisper.  He swallowed and tried again.  “Kid!”  It was loud enough to get a groan from across the room, and Heyes was pleased to see Kid stirring a bit, especially since there were footsteps coming down the stairs.

 

“Oh it’s good to see you boys are awake; I’ll have breakfast in a bit.” Mrs. Perkins’ smile didn’t quite hide the psychotic look in her eyes.  “It’s so nice to have nice young men to cook for again.  Not like my ungrateful husband and son.”  She whipped the sheet off a mound in the corner and revealed the petrified body of a person tied in the same manner as Heyes and Kid.  “Carl shouldn’t have tried to get away.  He was going to leave me you know.  Said I was crazy.  I showed him though.”  She patted the body sweetly on the head and turned to go back up the stairs.  “Oh, I almost forgot,” she turned back for a moment. “my son returned this morning; I’ll send him down to get acquainted with you.”  She went back up the stairs, still humming a happy, crazy tune.

 

Kid, fully awake now, shuddered visibly at the thought of being at this crazy woman’s mercy.  He pulled hard at the ropes, but they didn’t give at all.  “Heyes, I’m hoping you’ve come up with a plan for getting out of this already…”

 

“I’m working on it; give me some time.”  Heyes laid his aching head back against the cool stone wall, hoping for any idea at all to come to him.  He looked up at the rusty scythe hanging from the ceiling above his head.

 

“Hey Kid,” he whispered.  “Remember the story that fella Poe wrote, something about a pit and pendulum?”

 

“What?  Heyes, are you out of your mind?  Who cares about a story at a time like this?” 

 

“Now wait a minute Kid, seems like that fella in the story had a sharp blade hanging over his head just like this one,” he gestured up with his bound hands “but he figured out if he had just a little patience, that worked for him.  Sorta like this…”  Heyes laid flat on his back and kicked the scythe, causing it to swing back and forth.

 

“Heyes, even for you, this is a crazy plan.”  Kid sighed. 

 

Heyes gave him a sideways look.  “You got a better one?”

 

Kid just shook his head and sat quietly as Heyes watched the blade swing back and forth, timing its movement.  He suddenly stuck his legs up in the path of the blade, which sliced through the ropes, and a bit of Heyes pants, with surprising ease.  He did the same thing with his hands, that being easier now that he could stand up.  Kid let out a sigh of relief as Heyes stopped the scythe from swinging and brought it over to cut Kid loose.

 

“You’re one lucky man Heyes.”  Kid teased.

 

“Luck has nothing to do with it.”  He gave Kid a grin and a wink.  They both froze at the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs.  Heyes and Kid quickly went back to their original positions, trying to make it look like they were still tied.  The shuffle, THUMP sound of the footsteps were eerie, even with all the things they had already encountered in this house.

 

The person slowly emerged from the shadow of the stairwell.  His misshapen body making Kid and Heyes recoil in horror.  The face was a mass of scars, one eye sealed nearly shut, the other bloodshot.  His hunched back making him seem small yet sinister, and one leg drug behind the other, making the shuffling sound.  He carried a tray with two bowls of what they assumed was oatmeal, and two mugs of coffee.

 

He set the tray down on the floor between Kid and Heyes.  “Mother says eat!” He growled in a deep, raspy voice, his one bloodshot eye glaring at them.

 

“Can’t eat with my hands tied.”  Heyes gave Kid a meaningful look; Kid returned a slight nod.

 

The man looked at him for a minute, grunted, and turned towards Heyes, bending down to untie his hands.  Kid moved like lightning, jumping on the man’s back as Heyes brought his fist up in a powerful punch.  They were surprised to find the man did not fight back; he curled up in a fetal position on the floor.  They stood over him, puzzled. 

 

“Oh please, don’t hit me.  Mother hits me.  She hits me when I’m bad.  What did I do that was bad?  Please, no more hitting.”  The man sobbed.

 

“Hey, look, we’re sorry.  We didn’t know…” Kid bent down and awkwardly tried to comfort the man, who cringed away. 

 

Heyes knelt down on the other side. “We are sorry.  Your mother hurt us and we were afraid you were going to hurt us too.”

 

“Mother is good at hurting.  She hurt my dad and all he does is sit there now.  He was the only one that was nice to me.”  He sat up and glanced sadly at the body in the corner. 

 

Heyes patted him on his shoulder.  “I’m sorry about your dad.  We don’t want your mother to hurt us anymore either.  Will you help us get out of here?”

 

“No!  No!  Mother will hurt me if I let you go!”  He started sobbing again.

 

“Ok, ok, calm down.  How about if we make it where your mother won’t hurt you anymore?”  Kid gave Heyes a questioning look.

 

“Uh Heyes,” he whispered, “how do you plan on doing that?”

 

“Not sure yet Kid, but we can’t leave him here.  Maybe he can go with us.”

 

Kid looked dubious, but he knew Heyes was right.  He wouldn’t have felt right leaving this poor creature with that awful old woman.

 

The man looked up hopefully.  “You’ll take me with you?  Away from mother?”

 

“Yeah, we’ll take you away.  We just have to figure out how.”  Heyes sat down on the floor next to him.

 

“Oh, oh, I know!”  The man bounced up and down excitedly, startling Kid and Heyes.  “Mother goes to town on Tuesdays to get supplies.  I think it’s Tuesday, is it Tuesday?” 

 

“Yeah, it’s Tuesday, that’s great that you remembered that.”  Kid patted him on the back again.  The man looked pleased at the praise, then he jumped up.  “Oh, mother will be waiting for me to hitch the horses.  I’ll come back when she leaves.”  He shuffled to the stairs.

 

“Hey, wait, what’s your name?”  Kid asked. 

 

The man paused for a moment, face screwed up in thought. “Well, mother just calls me ‘boy’ or bad names when she’s mad.  My dad called me ‘Norman’ so I guess that’s my name.”  He smiled as much as his scarred face would allow and went up the stairs.  The door at the top shut with a heavy bang and the sound of a padlock clicking was loud in the silence.

 

As soon as they didn’t hear footsteps upstairs, Kid and Heyes spent some time looking around the room, checking the windows to see if maybe they were unlocked, and trying to find anything that might help them escape.  By unspoken agreement, they avoided the corner where Mr. Perkins met his unfortunate end.

 

After what seemed like hours, they heard the “click” of the padlock being unlocked and heard Norman calling them.

 

“Hey misters, mother is gone, you can come up now.” 

 

They made their way slowly upstairs, trying to be quiet just in case.  The bright light in the kitchen blinded them for a minute after being in the basement for so long.  The kitchen wasn’t in much better shape than they had seen last night; dirty dishes and cookware strewn all over, something greasy bubbling on the hot stove.  Kid and Heyes stood for a moment, blinking in the light.

 

“I saddled your horses after mother left.  C’mon, let’s go.”  Norman bounced up and down, his mental state still one of a little boy.

 

“That sounds like a good idea to me.”  Kid turned towards the door leading through the living room and out the front door.  The slamming of the back door made all of them jump.

 

“I knew you’d be up to mischief; good thing I came back to check.  You’re no good, just like your father.”  Mrs. Perkins pointed a shotgun at Kid and Heyes, and at the same time, raised the buggy whip she held in the other hand and started beating Norman.

 

“Now look what you’ve caused me to do!  I’m going to have to kill these young men and it’s all your fault!”  She punctuated each word with a slash of the whip across Norman’s face and arms.

 

“No mother no!  No more hurting!”  In a show of courage, he grabbed the whip, yanking it from her hand, startling her into dropping the shotgun.  Before Kid and Heyes could react, Norman pushed his mother away, the woman falling into the stove and tipping the hot grease over her dress, which caught fire.  Stunned, they reached to help her, but the fire spread to the greasy table and walls and threatened to engulf the entire house.

 

“Kid we have to go now!”  Heyes screamed over the roaring flames.

 

Norman come on!” Kid was trying to reach Norman across the burning table.

 

“Oh mother, what have I done, what have I done?”  Norman was beyond hearing, rocking back and forth, sobbing to himself.  Heyes grabbed Kid and they fought their way through the thick smoke out of the house.  Reaching the barn where their horses were tied, they watched the flames lick out of the windows and up  the side of the house until it was completely on fire.

 

“We should have been able to do something to save him Heyes.”  Kid said in frustration.

 

“We tried, it was just too hot.  Something tragic was bound to happen here Kid, well, more tragic than already did.”  Heyes said sadly. “She was insane and she ruined two people’s lives.  We’re lucky we weren’t the next ones.”

 

“Yeah, I know you’re right, it still doesn’t make me feel better.  We’d better get going before the smoke attracts the attention of a sheriff or something.” 

 

They mounted their horses, riding quickly away from the burning house, and the gathering storm clouds in the distance.