Trick Or Treat

 

“I swear if I have to listen to the Monster Mash one more time…” Danny muttered to himself.

Mickie looked past the stack of I99 forms between them, her mouth a perfect shocked ‘o’. “Sacrilege! How can you say that?”

Danny’s lips twisted up into a smile in spite of himself. He may have hated this daft American holiday and everything it stood for, but it was impossible not to smile when he was talking to Mikaela Sinclair.

“Maybe it’d be easier to take if they weren’t playing it every five seconds.”

“Gotta be longer than that, surely. Have to make room for the Ghostbusters theme after all,” Mickie said.

“Busting does not make me feel good, I’m afraid.”

“Mate, I want to burn you as a heretic right now,” Mickie said. “How can anyone hate Halloween?”

There were so many reasons, but instead Danny decided to just play it diplomatically. “I don’t hate Halloween. Just Sandra’s Halloween playlist.”

“Yeah, it is just the same three songs over and over again isn’t it? Monster Mash, Thriller, Ghostbusters theme. I think it might be against the geneva convention but,” Mickie leaned forward, her eyes darting back and forth to search for Sandra, “fuck it. It’s Friday, it’s payday, and,” she put on an affected Bela Lugossi in Dracula voice, “it’s All Hallow’s Eve. Mwahahahahaha!”

Danny tried his best not to laugh. It wasn’t even a good Dracula impression, she sounded like Mario. But Danny was only human, he couldn’t help but laugh. He admired the way Mickie could lighten any situation, even a rainy October afternoon in the office.

And she did have a point, it was pay day.

“You got any plans for Halloween then?”

“Yep, check this out.” She got up and circled around to his side of the desk they shared with her phone already in hand. Phones weren’t allowed, but Mickie didn’t even bother to check if Sandra was in the room.

Danny suspected that Sandra was out having the same three hour pub lunch she took every Friday. Afterwards she wouldn’t have the strength to do anything but draw the blinds in her office and lock the door until all the staff went home. Danny didn’t begrudge her that, if he was the boss he’d be tempted to do the same himself.

Mikaela leaned in close to him. He pretended not to care when her arm brushed against his and he tried to block his nose against the lilac scent of her perfume. But he found himself blushing anyway. It was pathetic having a workplace crush like this and he hated himself for it. But he’d spent eight hours a day with Mikaela for the past six years. Whenever he had trouble getting out of bed and slogging his way to this miserable job, he always just thought of her and it got him moving.

He reminded himself, for the millionth time, that Mickie didn’t come to work to be letched over. He owed her better than that.

Of course, the pictures on her phone weren’t helping.

“This came this last night so I thought I’d model it to see how it fits. What do you think? I’m gonna wear it to my sister’s Halloween party tonight.”

In the picture, Mickie was grinning wide, her red lips digging dimples into her chubby white cheeks. But that wasn’t what made his heart stop beating. It was the outfit. A skintight red leotard stretched to ripping point by Mickie’s stunning curves. It was almost too much for Danny to take. Especially with the woman herself leaning into him like this.

“Yeah,” Danny said, his voice turning into a pre-pubescent squeak. “You’re going as a devil?”

“Not a devil. THE Devil.” She leaned in close and whispered in his ear in her Dracula voice. “Mwahahaha.”

Even the smell of green tea and peppermints on her breath made Danny weak.

Mickie elbowed him in the back. “You should come.”

“I’m sorry?”

“To my sister’s party. She’s got this new boyfriend and everyone there is coupled up. I’ll need someone to talk to.”

“Sounds fun.” Danny looked at the ceiling fan as she went back to her seat. He couldn’t trust himself not to stare at the mesmerising sway of Mickie’s hips.

She winked at him and for an instant, he thought she’d read his mind. “You’ve gotta wear a costume though. That’s my sister’s rule.” She took a sip of her tea. “Come with me after work, we’ll pick something out for you”

Danny deflated back into his seat. “Tonight? I don’t think I can.”

Mickie screwed up her face. “Why not?”

“Ahh, I’ve got stuff. I’m sorry, Mickie.”

“Well, you’ve got my number if you change your mind,” Mickie said. “You got the stappler there?”

Danny handed it over just as Sandra blustered into the office, her face grey and pale as cigarette ash.

“Hold my calls for the rest of the day,” she muttered. She didn’t even pause to look at them before she slammed the door to her office and zipped up the blinds.

On the radio, Vincent Price was introducing Thriller again.

*

It was hard to walk to the shops while you were kicking yourself with every step, but Danny managed it.

He’d been trying to work up the courage to ask Mickie out since he’d realised how much he liked her. It wasn’t that he was shy around women. Not anymore at least. He knew rejection wasn’t the worst thing in the world and sometimes you managed to brighten up someone’s day. Even if you didn’t, it was better to say this stuff aloud rather than letting it fester.

But all that had changed after he’d met Mickie. He didn’t want to make things awkward. They had to see eachother every day.

He should’ve just gone to the party with her. Any other season, any other holiday and Danny would’ve been right there.

Halloween was different. It wasn’t just that he hated the music, didn’t care for horror films and was too old for trick-or-treating. Anything involving fancy dress made him shudder. The thought left him paralysed with dread. Pretty fitting for a holiday based all around horror.

The only year he’d gone out in a costume he’d had people coming up to him all day asking questions, taking pictures. It was hell for someone like Danny, who always felt more comfortable blending into the background.

If he wanted to go out with Mickie, and he really did. He wanted to put his best face on. That wasn’t squeezing into a skeleton outfit he’d hate every second of wearing.

He didn’t know what his best face was, but if definitely wasn’t that.

There was a man in the booze aisle dressed as a mummy with a case of Budweiser under one arm. Danny tried to ignore him as best he could as he grabbed a bottle of whiskey and headed for the check out.

The till was festooned with colourful packages of chocolate and candy to cash in on the Halloween impulse buyers. It worked on Danny. He grabbed a few packs and loaded them up on the converyor belt. This would be breaking the strict diet he’d been on since January, and he’d have to do an extra shift in the gym next week to make up for it, but it was the season of sweets after all. Might as well extract some joy out of it.

“Getting ready for the trick or treaters?” asked the guy working the till.

“Yup, that’s exactly what I’m doing.”

*

“KEEP THAT NOISE DOWN!”

Danny nearly dropped his shopping down the stairs. Eddie from the flat below was snarling at him through the crack in his door.

“Sorry?” Danny asked.

“That bloody guitar music! All night! YOU KEEP IT DOWN! Alright?”

Danny was too stunned to think up a comeback. It wasn’t like he didn’t have ammunition. He didn’t play his guitar past eight o’clock in the night and if he listened to any music he always used his headphones. In his last flat Danny had lived next to a couple who played drum and bass music half the night and argued for the rest. He always tried to respect his neighbours. He couldn’t imagine what Eddie’s problem was. And if Eddie had a problem with noise, maybe he should look into the volume on his own television.

Instead of saying that, he just nodded at Eddie. “I will Eddie, sorry.”

Eddie sneered and grumbled something under his breath. He slammed the door, a pretty impressive feat since it was on the security chain and he only had about an inch to work with.

Danny headed up the rest of the stairs as Eddie plopped back onto his couch with a thump and turned raised the volume on his TV.

*

Danny didn’t have a woman to love, but that extra joy and romance in his heart came pouring out through his guitar strings.

He took intermittent sips of his whiskey bottle between Bowie covers, reggae impressions, and stripped down acoustic versions of heavy metal hits. He imagined himself on stage, making those strings sing with words he could never say with his voice. He could almost hear the roar of the crowd. The applause.

Mickie in the front row yelling for more and getting her lighter in the air for him.

He shook his head and leaned back. Fuck, he’d come so close to forgetting her.

The clock on his wall told him it was seven thirty. He supposed Mickie would be at her sister’s place by now. Or at the very least she’d have squeezed into that devil costume again…

He grabbed a handful of jelly sweets and packed his mouth with them. He’d been taking handfuls of sweets in between slugs of neat whiskey and his teeth were aching. But the burst of sweetness and energy took his mind off his creepy obsession with his co-worker.

Somebody thumped on his floor and nearly made him drop his beloved guitar. His heart punched against his rib cage until his lungs ached.

That was another reason why he hated this holiday. He couldn’t stand people jumping out on him. He didn’t have the constitution for it. And every horror movie seemed to be nothing but jump-scares these days.

“Trick or treat.”

“Fuck off with yer!” Eddie called. He banged on Danny’s floor again, like this was his fault.

“Trick or treat.” That voice went right through Danny’s bones like a cold wind. It sounded like children but more guttaral. Like they were screaming each word through a basin of oily water.

“Trick or treat.”

Eddie’s door opened with a creak. “Piss off!”

“Trick or treat, Edward Bamber.”

Eddie screamed. Danny’s guitar tumbled out of his hands, the neck swipin the bag of sweets off his coffee table and onto the floor. Something wet struck the bottom of Danny’s floor, where the ceiling of Eddie’s flat would’ve been. Eddie gargled something before he was drowned out by the sound of a heavy impact, like a horse kicking at a steel fence.

The strange voice began to chant.

“Trick, trick, trick.”

Crunching and slurping noises echoed from downstairs, like a starving man tearing through a plate of ribs. Danny shrank into his couch as a foul smell wafted up through his floorboards.

“Trick.” The voice creaked.

Eddie’s door closed with a slam that made Danny bolt up in his chair. He went through his pockets for his phone but all he found was handfuls of lint and loose change.

The whiskey and the adrenaline were fogging up his memories. He’d come in from work, put his phone on charge in his bedroom. Or was it the bathroom? No, that was a silly thought. The bathroom didn’t have a plug for his phone charger. It would have to have been in his bedroom.

His bedroom was only a few short steps from his couch. Into the corridor, past the bathroom on his left. Right at the poster of Jimi Hendrix and his framed Motorhead concert ticket from a few years ago. There was his bedroom. He’d made the journey thousands of times. So many times that he didn’t even think about it anymore.

But he heard footsteps booming out from the staircase just outside his door. His bedroom may as well have been on the other side of the world. His legs felt like they belonged to another person’s body and they refused to move when he commanded them.

The footsteps were coming up the stairs. Getting closer. There was no back entrance or escape hatch for Danny, the only other way out of the flat was through the window. And Danny didn’t think he’d survive the four foot drop to the street. He imagined what he’d be like to hit the ground, he’d shatter his legs for sure. He’d be completely helpless in front of that thing on the stairs.

The foul smell closed in on him, so thick that it almost blurred his vision.

It struck his door with three swift blows that made the whole flat shake around him.

“Trick or treat.” It whispered under his door. Danny let out a little whimper.

But what if he just hid? Switched out all the lights and pretended not to be home? It was a tactic that had worked on Trick-or-Treaters before.

“I can hear you breathing.” It said in its greasy, childlike voice. “Trick or treat.”

Danny didn’t know what else to do. He had to answer the door.

He stood up on shaking legs and scooped up the bag of sweets he’d knocked over earlier on. He wasn’t sure why, but it was Halloween after all.

“Trick or treat.”

He made his way to the front door, leaning with one arm on the wall alongside him like a blind man. Danny hadn’t really thought much about thin his door was. Just a few inches of flimsy wood between him and whatever was outside his flat. Anyone could boot their way in in a matter of minutes if they were determined enough.

And this thing definitely seemed determined.

It thumped on the door again. This time splinters of wood rained down onto the carpet and the door bowed in the middle.

“Trick or treat.” It said.

Danny had no other option. He opened the door.

It was too tall for the corridor outside. It had to crane its neck sideways to look in at him. Danny could see himself reflected in its shimmering black eyes.

It opened a mouthful of needle sharp teeth. They were caked in fresh blood.

“Trick or treat, Daniel Curtis,” it said.

Danny held out the half empty bags of sweets. Something warm and wet spilled down his legs.

It ripped the sweets away from him with a swipe of its long-fingered hand. Its dessicated lips peeled back a little more, revealing another row of teeth at the back of its throat.

“Treat, treat, treat.” It chanted. Its grotesque hand reached out across Danny’s threshold. Its palms were were rubbery and covered in hundreds of tiny circular bumps, like the suckers on a squid’s tentacles. Its long fingers were almost the size of Danny’s forearm and tipped with black, dagger-like fingernails that whisked against Danny’s shirt.

Danny would go mad if those hands touched him. His mind would snap completely long before those fingernails could dig through his flesh. That wasn’t much of a comfort though.

The fingers coiled around his door. With one final, blood-caked grin the creature snatched the door closed with a slam.

Its heavy footsteps rumbled away. Receding down the staircase. It was taking its time, like it was still toying with him. Danny backed away from the door and hit something solid and cold. He started to cry.

But it was just his wall. He sank against it and slipped to the floor with his head in his lap, weeping into his own piss-stained trousers until the last of the footsteps bled away.

Something screamed from his bedroom and in a split second Danny imagined every gruesome scenario and every horror story he’d ever heard. It took him a while to catch his breath even when he realised that it was just his phone.

He managed to get up and answer the phone. The caller ID said it was Mickie and relief flooded through him. He wasn’t scared of asking her out anymore. He knew that there were much scarier things out there in the world.

“THEY’RE PLAYING OUR SONG!” Mickie yelled. He could barely hear her over Bobby Pickett’s classic Halloween anthem.

“Hi.”

“HELLO? DANNY? DANIEL CURTIS?”

Trick or treat, Daniel Curtis.

Danny imagined her face and the smile came. It even found its way into his voice.

“Mickie hi! How’s the party?”

“I’m wearing my devil outfit! Come see it!”

It was as if he’d been drowning and Mickie’s voice was a rope that’d been cast into the water. He clung to it tight and tried to fill his lungs.

“I don’t have a costume,” he said.

It quietened down a bit in the background. Mickie must’ve been going somewhere away from the music. “Fuck that shit, Dan. Get down here and wear whatever. You’re not going to be the only person here without a costume and I’m lonely.”

“I’ll be there, Mickie. It’ll be really good to see you. Can you text me the address?”

“Yes! I can’t wait! Oh there was one more thing, my sister ran out of sweets. Could you pick some up on the way? I don’t think there’ll be any more trick or treaters out at this time but you never know!”

“You’re right there, Mickie. I can’t wait to see you.”

Mickie was right though. You never know when you’ll need sweets by your door on Halloween. Make sure you stock up, won’t you?

— Matt Holland 30/10/17

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