What’s so scary about Halloween? Everything.
I’ve never been a fan of Halloween. For a long time, I couldn’t have told you why. It just… It gave me the creeps. I assumed I was sensitive. That I was one of those people who preferred the shininess and comfort of Christmas to the spooky and dark.
But apparently, it wasn’t all in my head.
It started when I was five, but I wasn’t able to figure it all out until much later. It’s not like I break a bone or crash my car, or that my wallet gets stolen or I lose my phone every Halloween. It’s Halloween itself that attacks me.
At age 16, I watched Child’s Play.
I started dating my first boyfriend, Miguel, my sophomore year of high school. Miguel loved horror films. He talked about them constantly and I would smile and nod. I was able to avoid watching them for the first few months of our relationship, but when he insisted we celebrate Halloween with a horror movie marathon, I reluctantly agreed.
Miguel didn’t seem to notice the tightness of my voice as he began to list the films we’d watch. He decided on three classics: Friday the 13th, Child’s Play, and Poltergeist.
And so on Halloween night 2004, I found myself sitting on the couch wrapped in a warm throw and holding a bowl of popcorn. Miguel smiled devilishly at me as he put in the first DVD and hit play.
I was surprised at how little the movies affected me. Miguel kept trying to scare me at first. Jumping purposefully during tense moment, trying to illicit a reaction from his timid girlfriend. When he realized I wasn’t fazed, he gave up. I guess trying to scare me distracted him from being scared himself, because as the night progressed I could feel Miguel’s body tense and spasm beside me as the music swelled. He’d jump out of his seat and I’d have to suppress giggles. At one point, I remember him jumping almost off the couch and then trying to act cool, running to the bathroom to pretend like he launched himself clumsily forward on purpose. I couldn’t believe such a horror lover was so skittish while I remained completely calm.
“Haven’t you seen these films before?” I ask as he clung to my arm, watching Karen snap the battery lid on Chucky’s back open.
“Shhh!” He shushed me harshly, his eyes never leaving the screen.
By the time the end credits rolled, Miguel looked defeated.
“I thought you were easily scared?”
I shrugged. “Guess not? That was actually kind of fun.”
He groaned. “Must be your lack of depth perception.”
I gasped in joke shock and hit him on the shoulder. “How dare you make light of my disability!”
“Aw, you’re my cute little pirate.” He said, pulling slightly at my eye patch band. Miguel was the only one I felt comfortable wearing it in front of, other than my parents. At school I always wore my glass eye but with him I could be myself. I could wear sweatpants and an eye patch and be called a pirate and it was wonderful. He made me so happy.
The only scene that really shook me was in Poltergeist. Miguel held his breath as the little boy began to lower himself slowly to look under his bed. I could feel Miguel tensing and I braced myself for the jump scare. I watched, wide eyed as the boy grabbed the bed skirt in both hands and lifted to reveal nothing. He rose to reveal the demonic clown behind him. I jumped, my heart pounding in my chest.
Miguel leered. “Uh oh, someone’s becoming blasphemous.”
“Oh fuck of.” I said, shoving him away from me playfully.
He leaned in and kissed me, the film blurring into white noise behind us.
The red glowing numbers of my clock read 11 as I crawled between my sheets. My parents were at a neighbor’s Halloween party and wouldn’t be back till late, but I still wanted to get to bed at a reasonable time. It was a school night after all.
Other than an awkward pre-teen punk phase that ended badly, I had always been an obedient child. A goody-two-shoes. My parents still joke that I came out of the womb a mini-adult and I’ve never had the heart to tell them what I went through as a child. What pushed me onto a religious path and kept me from toeing any lines. The things that go bump in the night that kept me safe in bed after dark and stopped me from exploring the more unscrupulous side of puberty. The thing that had taken my right eye.
I switched off my bedside light and laid down, my stomach full of popcorn and candy as my mind drifted towards sleep.
A crash startled me back to the present. I flicked on the light and looked around. The room was empty.
“Shadow.” I called, trying to lure the family cat from his hiding place. “Shaaadow. Here kitty kitty.” But the room remained empty. “Fine, be that way.”
I turned the light off and rolled onto my side, but another crash sounded before I got comfortable.
“Oh for fucks sake, Shadow!” I said angrily as I shot out of bed, turning the light back on in the process. The room was still and everything was in its place. Everything except for the closet door, which now stood a few inches open. “Ha, gotcha.”
I opened the door expecting to find Shadow crouching beside some fallen clothes, but was surprised to find Sandy on the closet floor instead.
Sandy was my beloved childhood doll. One of those “custom” American Girl dolls my young self had designed to look like me. She must’ve fallen from her place on the shelf of my old keepsakes. I looked above me to see if Shadow had somehow made his way up there, but the shelf was as it always was: disheveled piles of trophies and stuffed animals I had outgrown but that were deemed too precious to throw away heaped up against the closet wall.
I picked Sandy up, brushed the hair out of her face and put her back. I looked again for Shadow, but he was nowhere to be seen. I closed the door and went back to bed.
As I switched my lamp off, another crash came from the closet.
Fuck, I must’ve locked him in there. My closet wasn’t very big and, as Shadow had discovered over the years, there weren’t many hiding spots. But I must’ve missed him. At this point I was tired and the damn cat was getting on my nerves.
I stood without turning the light on and walked to the closet. I opened the door and felt something fast brush past my leg as it escaped the small space. Reaching up, I pulled at the overhead light chain. Yellow light washed down, illuminating everything in a warm glow. The closet was undisturbed. I rolled my eyes and sighed. At least he wasn’t slowing down with age. I went to turn the light back off when I paused. Sandy was no longer where I had placed her. I looked down and pushed at an old sweater with my foot, making sure to expose all of the floor, but she wasn’t there either.
Mental images of that damn clown waiting behind the little boy flashed through my mind and I whipped around. The room behind me, barely illuminated by the glow of the closet light, was still empty. I swallowed, squashing the growing fear down as I turned off the light. My room was once again cast in darkness and shadows and I felt cold sweat form at the back of my neck.
I was being silly, I told myself. I had thrown her up onto the shelf without looking and Sandy had landed out of sight. She had simply fallen and was now hidden behind another stuffed animal or some random piece of clothing.
Still, I reached behind me and turned my closet light back on. I crawled back into bed and closed my eyes, letting the dim light of my closet blanket me with comfort. Just like my old nightlight had when I was little.
A small, muffled sound started from the far wall, approaching me. My ears strained to make it out. Something muted and rhythmic, but not steady. The noise came, paused, then came again. One after another, a light padding noise. Then I realized what it was. The soft patter of tiny feet across carpet. My mind lept to images of that clown and Chucky and my heart skipped a beat in a moment of pure terror as I closed my eyes tight. The footsteps paused and I heard a faint groan, deep and animalistic. I sighed in relief. Shadow was finally coming to bed and being a pain about it, like always.
I waited patiently for the comforting weight of my cat but nothing came. I made my usual soft kissing noises, but still he hesitated. “It’s ok Shadow,” I cooed.
He shifted, the gentle brushing of his body against the carpet as loud to me as if he were right by my ear. I listened to the footsteps cautiously approach my bed and stop beside me, my comforter pulling downward as he stood on the corner of the blanket that draped onto the floor. I reached my hand out to pet him, but as my fingers brushed against his fur I felt his body jolt away. The tiny footsteps bounded to the door and out into the hall. I groaned and turned onto my side. Screw Shadow. Screw Sandy. And screw Chucky. I was tired and I just wanted to go to sleep.
I must’ve dozed off because when I awoke next, the clock read 12:02. I blinked as my mind tried to recall what had woken me. Moving my leg, I felt Shadow resting against my shin.
“There you are, baby.” I reached my hand down to find his head. His soft fur was cool to the touch as if he had just been sitting in a window. I found his scalp and began to scratch at his ears. My fingertip pressed into something soft and wet and my hand shot back. I sprang up and turned on the light.
Shadow lay in front of me, his fur slick and spotted with a thick sticky substance. I looked at my fingers, which were now covered in blood. Shadow’s beautiful black fur was clumped and matted with it. Blood had begun to pool onto my blanket around him and with absolute horror and disgust, I realized that his head was completely severed from his body. Wet brownish red meat glistened around white bone that protruded from his neck, now a stump. I screamed and pushed away from my mutilated cat, desperately trying to distance myself from the horrific image. Tears streamed down my face as I fell to the floor.
In front of me was a line of bloody human shaped footprints, too small to even belong to a child. They stretched from my bedroom door to my bed.
I coughed out a sob, half in sorrow and half in panic. All my nightmares and fears from the night flooded my mind as I tried to scramble. But something else was wrong about the scene. I got up on my knees and began to push myself into a standing position, my legs shaking beneath me. Something was seriously wrong. And then I stopped, realization crawling up my spine in a chilly tingle.
There weren’t any footprints going out.
A small high-pitched laugh, like someone mimicking that of a little girl’s, sounded behind me.
I didn’t turn around. I didn’t look. Instead, I ran. I burst from my bedroom into the hall, my sobs and screams mixing in incoherent unfiltered emotion. I threw the door to my parent’s room open but their bed was empty. They were still out.
Not risking a glance back, I stumbled down the stairs, missing the last few steps and landing on my right ankle hard. I screamed in pain, but it didn’t matter. I had to get to the phone. I had to call them. My heart raced with adrenaline as I acted on instinct. Nothing made sense. None of it made sense. But it didn’t matter. All I knew was that I needed my parents. I needed them to help me. To fix this.
I reached the phone in the kitchen and grabbed the wireless receiver from the hook, spinning around to finally face what was behind me. But there was nothing there. I sobbed as I began to dial, my fingers shaking so hard I could barely press the right buttons.
I brought the phone to my ear but the line was silent. I mashed the end call button but there was no dial tone.
“Fuck!” I screamed as I threw the useless device at the wall. It snapped with a plastic crack, falling to the floor with a clatter. Deja vu hit me as the image of a white planchette shattering against a bedroom wall cut into my mind but I blinked the vision away.
I swallowed hard, trying to orient myself. To my right was the living room and the stairs to my bedroom and to my left, the dining room. I couldn’t call anyone so I’d have to make a run for it. The front door was back by the stairs. I looked to the dark living room, where I had just come from, and then back towards the dining room. The back door was closer than the front door. I could even make out the edge of its frame from the kitchen. It was so close. Chances are Sandy would be following me from the living room. She’d probably still be coming from there. But we lived in an old New England home with lots of interconnecting hallways and rooms. The bitch could be anywhere. I hesitated though, feeling lost on a small island of light. Weighing my options, I began to limp to my left. I was going to make a run for the back door.
The childish giggling sounded again and I stopped dead. The shrill noise had echoed through the house, everywhere and nowhere all at once. Sucking air down with determination despite my utter terror, I started again, pushing against my bad ankle as hard as I dared.
I slowed to a stop. I thought I had seen something. I shot my head right, trying to catch it. A blur or movement in front of me. It had been on my bad side, the one with the glass eye, but I knew I had seen it. At least, I was pretty sure I had. I slowed my limping.
I am a survivor. I told myself. I have survived this before. I trust myself. I turned and booked it, jogging painfully towards the living room. As I left the safety of the kitchen, the power cut out.
I stood, frozen in the spot. I covered my nose and mouth with my hand, trying to quiet my frightened crying as I strained my ears. A small noise from behind me made me whip around. I couldn’t see anything, but the sound was unmistakable. Tiny footsteps echoed across the kitchen’s linoleum tiles. So loud, they again rang in my ears like they were right beside me.
I pressed my palm into my mouth to try and quiet my uncontrollable whimpering. The final girl from Friday the 13th came back to me. Her pathetic cries. Useless screaming. I was the protagonist of a slasher film and there was nothing I could do about it.
I grit my teeth and squeezed my lips shut, trying to keep silent as I began to make my way around the couch. The front door was two rooms away past the stairs, but the bathroom was behind me to my right. I just needed to get there. I needed to lock myself inside and then I would be safe. I could hide there until my parents came home.
The footsteps stopped and so did I. My breaths escaped through my nose violently as my breathing grew heavy again, each inhale and exhale accompanied with terrified whines. I tightened my hand even more around my mouth, searching the darkness in front of me for the intruder. But I could see nothing. I chanced a glance back. The bathroom door stood wide open and it was so close, only ten or so feet. I could make it.
I turned to look back at the kitchen and my heart stopped. The muscle grew painfully tight as if a cold fist had clenched around it. There, in the doorway, was a small doll silhouette. The shape was only slightly darker than the darkness of the room, but I saw her clearly. She stood there, only a foot or so high. I couldn’t see her eyes, but I felt them drilling holes into my soul. There was movement from beside her as something shiny caught the light of a street lamp outside. It glinted red and I realized she was holding a large kitchen knife.
I screamed, the sound muffled by my sweaty palms as I turned and lunged at the bathroom door. I heard her start after me as I kicked off the floor with my good foot, spurring myself forward. A sharp pain bit across the back of my right calf but it didn’t stop me. My hands reached out desperately, my newly freed screams echoing off of the high ceilings. I fell into the bathroom and turned, reaching out for the door.
I saw the small shape, only a few inches behind me, jump up. My hand wrapped around the knob and I pulled the door towards me just as her small body rose to meet me. She held the blade high over her head, letting it fall into my hand as she crashed into me. I could hear bones snap with the unnatural weight and strength of the small figure. I saw more than felt the blade sink deep into my tendons. A warm wetness sprayed across my face and pain I had never experienced before flooded through me.
I screamed and tried to kick her away but small hard limbs wrap tightly around my foot, pressing her soft body into me. I thrashed my leg up and down, electric pain shooting through the heel of my foot with each impact on the hard wooden floor. The knife dropped, taking parts of my mangled hand along with it. It hit the bathroom tile with a ringing clang and the thing released me, falling to the ground. I saw her tiny arm reach for it as I kicked again, this time my toes connecting with her face with a crack and she flew back into the living room.
I forced my damaged fingers to wrap around the handle one last time and brought the bathroom door towards me. As the door closed across my vision I remember seeing her one last time as she stood, her body lowering as she prepared herself to jump again. The door slammed shut just as her plastic body thudded into the wood with a loud bang that reverberated through the house. I pushed the lock button into place and fell to the floor. With the last of my strength I pushed my feet into the door, bracing myself on the far wall.
The door buckled and shook with unnatural ferocity. I sobbed as I reached up and grabbed a towel, pressing it into my damaged hand as I tried to stop the blood which was flowing so freely from me. I screamed with the pain and barred my teeth, sobbing with terror. The blackness of the small room crowded around me, suffocating me with nothingness as the door quaked and shuddered. I was alone except for that–that thing from hell outside. A slim piece of hollow wood the only thing protecting me.
The door at my feet grew still and I shook with deep sobs, trying to prepare myself for whatever fucked up thing was coming next.
Voices rang out from the front entrance way.
“Damn, I think the powers out!” I recognized it immediately through the thick layer of beer. It was my dad. My parents were home.
My throat was sore and my voice thin but I inhaled as deeply as I could and I screamed. The sound was loud and shrill and as it ended, I felt my body begin to fall to the ground uselessly. As I blacked out, I remember thinking that my mom was going to be pissed I ruined the decorative hand towel.
I awoke in the ambulance. My father stood above me, his eyes wet with tears as he stroked my hair. I began to register the pain throughout my body. My hand burned as if I had stuck it in a fire and I sat up, screaming. I could hear my father try to comfort me but the gesture was useless. I brought my knees up to my chest and began to rock back and forth, the screams falling over one another as I let them pour from me. All the anger, all the pain, all the hatred and confusion and sorrow and disgust and disbelief flowed from my body like vomit.
As the violent screams flowed from me I began to remember. Years of memories flooded back and I remembered everything. The Halloweens of my childhood washed over me like hot waves of fear. Memories hidden and blocked jumping from behind closed doors and stabbing my eyes with red hot pokers. Fire sliced through my brain, cooking me alive from the inside out. Black beasts growled at me and tiny evil creatures pricked at my skin, their nails dragging through my flesh. Each one a leather tendril of a cat o’ nine tails whip slicing through me. Poison filled my eye and tried to infect my mind, to take away my humanity. Red eyed demons wrapped their hands around my throat and squeezed, my lungs exploding with the pain as my vision blackened. Their pupil-less eyes floating above me, laughing at my misery. Licking at my pain, slurping as it spills from my body onto greedy tongues.