"Ding Dong" A Halloween Story
Copyright 2013 by Samantha Peters. All rights reserved.
The last box was so heavy that Aaron couldn't lift it, not by himself, so he pushed it all the way down the hallway to his bedroom, only to find that his room was already cluttered and there wasn't enough floorspace for the box to fit inside. He knelt down next to it right outside his door and started unpacking from there. It was his prized dinosaur collection, which had been perfecting since-
"Ahh!" Aaron cried, swirling around. His dad leaned against the wall, clutching his belly.
"You startle so easily!" he said between chuckles.
"I was deep in thought," Aaron replied, holding up his triceratops.
His father nodded, then gestured towards the garage. "When you get a minute, go help your mother. The garage is a lot dirtier than she expected and she needs help cleaning it."
Aaron nodded, and after unpacking his dinosaurs and tidying up his room so at least there was a walkway, he joined his mother in the garage. She had opened the large entrance door that led out to the driveway, in which the moving van still took up most of. She turned around and grinned at Aaron, tossing him the broom she was holding. "Great, I was hoping you'd come help me. Start sweeping. I want to get the van unloaded so your father can return it."
Aaron did as he was told and swept away, but to his surprise, his mother came back a few minutes later and took the broom from him. "Actually, sweeping can wait. I just saw a couple of kids pass by- they're probably heading to the park. You should go join them. Take a break, soak in some sunshine."
Aaron wasn't sure he was quite ready to dive in and make friends. His bed wasn't even made yet. But his mother had that look on her face, and he knew she wasn't exactly asking. He handed her the broom and half-jogged out of his yard.
Sure enough, there were two kids walking ahead of him: a boy who was probably around his age, and a girl who appeared to be his younger sister. He caught up with them, falling one pace behind them, keeping his hands in his pockets. He wasn't even sure they noticed him, until the boy suddenly stopped short and turned around.
"Are you following us?" he asked. His voice wasn't accusatory, but it was a bit weary.
Aaron scratched his head. "Well, maybe. I just moved here, and I saw you guys walk by my house-"
"Oh, yeah, the house with the tangled garden?"
"Well, for now. Mom will fix it up."
The boy grinned. "Well welcome to the neighborhood. I'm Joe Carter and this is my sis, Maddie. What's your name?"
"Aaron Lewis," he replied.
"Well, Aaron Lewis, do you like scary stuff?"
Aaron raised his eyebrow. "What kind of scary stuff?"
Joe's voice got deep and charged. "You know, like haunted houses, and gory ghouls, and warty witches- men with their heads cut off, ghosts that rattle chains in the middle of the night!" He shrugged. "You know, scary stuff."
"I don't believe in all that Halloween nonsense," Aaron replied coolly. "It's all make-believe."
Joe rolled his eyes. "Of course it's make-believe! But it's still pretty rad, right? Anyway, not all of it is fake you know. We have a haunted house right here in this neighborhood."
Aaron rolled his eyes. "Yeah, right."
"No, true story. In fact, Maddie and I were just about to go check it out. Wanna come with us?"
Now Aaron was 100% positive there was no haunted house anywhere, but he was curious was to what a kid like Joe would consider a haunted house. And his mother had told him to make friends. So he shrugged and said, "Sure, why not? Beats emptying boxes."
"Cool! Let's go."
So the three of them set off down the street, around the corner, took a short cut through a broken fence, crossed the ditch, took a couple more turns, and there they were. "Now look at this thing," Joe said, gesturing up. "And tell me it's not haunted."
Aaron had to admit that if there was such a thing as haunted houses, and one was in his neighborhood, this would be it. It was a good two stories tall with a pointed attic and a solid stone chimney, a large covered porch with one broken post, and three stairs that led up to it. The yard was ragged, torn, and yellowed, and there was one sad tree looping in front of it, not quite dead, but probably wishing it was. However, other than that, the house was in acceptable shape. Aaron could tell someone lived there, because the porch was decked out with five large grinning Jack-o-lanterns, freshly carved.
"Who lives here?" Aaron asked.
"Nobody knows," Maddie said, speaking up for the first time. She had that standard high-pitched squeaky voice that seemed to come with every little sister. "No one goes in, and no one goes out."
Aaron rolled his eyes. "That's crazy. They have to leave the house at some point. Nobody can stay locked in their house forever."
"See I think they're vampires," Joe said, his voice dropping back to that deep, rattled tone. "That's why nobody ever sees them during the day. They only come out in the late, late night, and find some unsuspecting victim-"
"Vampires aren't real," Aaron interrupted. "Nobody can survive off blood alone. It's a scientific fact. Look it up."
"Science can't explain everything, man," Joe replied.
Aaron looked at him, then at Maddie, and then at the house, then back to Joe. He could tell by the looks on their faces that they really believed something spooky was going on in that house, even if Joe was just pretending. "Well, there's one way to find out," he said, and he started up the walk to the porch.
"What are you doing?" Joe cried.
"I'm going to knock on the door," Aaron shouted back. "If they're vampires, they should be home."
Joe and Maddie exchanged incredulous glances, neither one of them having a clue what to do. They just stood their dumbfounded as Aaron made his way up to the porch.
The planks creaked below his feet and Aaron squinted between the cracks, faintly making out a dusty crawlspace underneath him. The Jack-o-lanterns sat silently to his left, completely apathetic to his presence. The window pointing out was shut tight with thick curtains. Aaron took a deep breath and rang the doorbell.
Aaron glanced over his shoulder at Joe and Maddie, their eyes locked on him. He shrugged and rang the doorbell again, listening to it echo through the house on the other side. Still there was no answer, no sound of movement, no voices, nothing. At any rate, Joe was wrong. They weren't home, which meant they did leave during the day.
Aaron trotted back down the walk and joined his new friends. "Nobody's home," he said casually.
Joe shook his head. "Man, you kinda startled me there. I mean-"
"You let your imagination run away with you?"
Joe grinned sheepishly. "I guess I kinda did."
"Come on," said Aaron. "Let's get out of here. I want to check out the park."
That night at dinner, Aaron told his parents about the house. His father was intrigued by the Jack-o-lanterns, having prided himself on carving some of the best pumpkins back in their old town. "I should check this place out," he said. "See the competition."
"Well anyway it'd be neighborly of us to bring a pie or something," his mother added. "Let them know we come in peace."
Aaron grinned. "We're the aliens, they're the vampires," he said, and the three of them laughed.
Due to the kitchen needing complete unpacking, a couple of unexpected visits from the neighbors, and work, it wasn't until three days later that Aaron and his parents were able to finally make their way over to the house. The crisp autumn air was too much to resist, and they decided to walk instead of drive, even though Aaron's mother wasn't too happy about having to carry her pie all the way there. When they arrived, his dad let out a low whistle.
"Wow would you look at that," he said, taking off his hat. "Look at those beautiful Jacks."
The Jack-o-lanterns looked even better in the dimming light, their candles lit aglow, causing their grins to pop out. Aaron hadn't realized their menacing quality when he saw them during the day. He also had either miscounted them, or the owners really loved Halloween, because there were three additional pumpkins that were not there three days ago. Although the expressions were pretty similar, each Jack-o-lantern was unique. Unique in the sense that they were all pretty creepy. Aaron was glad he was old enough to know they were just large vegetables.
His father leading the way, they walked up the concrete to the porch. He rang the doorbell just as Aaron did, and just as had happened to Aaron, nobody answered. "That's strange," he muttered. "It's after dinner. Who isn't home now?"
"Maybe they're watching TV," his mother suggested. "Ring it again."
His father obliged, to still no results. He did it one more time just to make sure, but Aaron could feel the weight of disappointment. He thought for sure the owners of the house would be home now.
"A little irresponsible of them to leave their pumpkins lit when they're not home," his father observed. "What if there was a fire?"
"We should blow them out for them," his mother suggested.
His father nodded, and gestured for Aaron to help him. Aaron wasn't quite sure about blowing out some stranger's Jack-o-lantern, but he followed his father's lead, and in a moment all the pumpkins were dark. Then his mother left the pie on the porch and they retreated home.
Aaron had a weird feeling the rest of the evening. As his parents relaxed, he tried to do his homework, but he kept thinking about the house. He wanted to go back, but he knew they wouldn't let him. So, he pretended to go to bed early, and slipped out of his window, promising himself that he'd be careful and come right back, and his parents shouldn't even know he was gone.
Taking the short cut put him at the house in under ten minutes, and just as he suspected, the Jack-o-lanterns were aglow. He stood outside the house looking at them, but not looking at them at the same time. It was like they were watching him. He remembered going to the art gallery on a field trip last year, and his teacher joking that the eyes of one of the portraits would follow her no matter where she stood in the room. This was exactly like that. Even when he returned home, Aaron knew it'd feel like the Jack-o-lanterns were still staring at him.
They had to be home now, surely. They had to have come home and seen their pumpkins extinguished, and relighted them. Aaron new it was late, but it was not quite late enough to be crazy to ring the bell. He'd only ring it once. Maybe they'd be mad at him, but at least he'd know. At least he could tell Joe and his dad and the mystery would be solved.
He took a deep breath and sauntered down the walk like he owned the place, climbed the stairs to the porch, and rung the doorbell, trying to ignore the Jack-o-lanterns. He couldn't help but feel like they were still staring at him, even though they were facing forward. He waited a few minutes- how long he wasn't sure, and again, nobody answered.
Aaron sighed. He glanced at the spot where his mother had left the pie, and sure enough, it was gone. So the residents are too good to answer the door to their neighbors, but not too good to eat the pie they leave them.
He looked at the pumpkins again. Suddenly he was very angry. He wasn't really sure why, but there was something that bothered him to a point he'd never been pressed to before. Without thinking, he went through and blew out all the candles in all the Jack-o-lanterns, and once they were extinguished, he lifted them, one by one, and threw them over the railing of the porch. They busted on impact, imploding almost, and as he looked at them over the railing they reminded him of orange snowmen, almost all the way melted, their faces twisted in the harsh sunlight. He ran down off the porch and picked up the bigger pieces, and threw them again, and he kept throwing them and throwing them until half the yard was covered in pumpkin guts, and his hands were sticky and oozy. He looked back at the house and still no one came out, and so he stuffed his hands in his pockets and ran home.
The next day at lunch, even though Joe and their friend Scottie Wilson tried to engage him in conversation, Aaron sat sullen, barely eating his food. Joe still walked home with him, and was surprised when Aaron took the long way, the long way by the house.
"I just want to see something," he said.
Joe was a little weary, but then shrugged and said, "Sure."
Aaron wasn't surprised to see the yard cleaned up. He was surprised to see the accuracy of it. Not one single hair-like slither of pumpkin remained. But what really surprised him were the presence of more Jack-o-lanterns, sitting there in the late afternoon sun with no lights in them, just regular pumpkins. There were more than last night. How could the owner have carved them so fast? How many people lived in that house? And why didn't they stop him last night?
"What's up?" Joe asked him, looking at his face.
Aaron shook his head. "Something has to be done," he murmured.
"Done about what?"
"About this... this... jerk!" Aaron shouted, not really knowing a better word to call the homeowner. "He doesn't answer the door, but he keeps carving pumpkins, and eats my mom's pie, and just cleans up like nothing happened..."
Joe raised his eyebrow. "What are you talking about?"
Aaron opened his mouth to tell him, but then thought of a better idea. "Come on, let's go over to Scottie's. I'll tell you all about it there."
Scottie Wilson, known as one of the coolest kids in school because he had a ham radio in his room and his own tree house, was sitting outside his house playing with his dog when they walked up. "We got a situation," Aaron told him. "Can we go to your tree house?"
Scottie nodded. "Sure."
He quickly filled Aaron and Scottie in on what happened, and how the Jack-o-lanterns had mysterious re-appeared. When he was done speaking, he said, "I know someone lives there. They have to. What's with all the Jack-o-lanterns anyway? It's just weird. I keep ringing the doorbell and nobody answers. I think we've got to do something a little more creative if we're going to get to the bottom of this."
"What do you have in mind?" Joe asked.
"The other day, when I went with my parents to visit, my father blew out the candles in the Jack-o-lanterns because he was worried about a fire. Well, what would make a person come out of their house faster than a porch fire? We'll just go on down there, and tip one of the pumpkins, and watch from the bushes what happens."
There was a weird quiet following his statement. Joe looked at him expectantly, thinking there was more to it, that Aaron had a way to make the fire safe, or he was just kidding, or something. Scottie, however, seemed to think what Aaron had said was perfectly normal, and his face erupted in a huge grin.
"Let's do it," he said.
"You're talking about setting fire to someone's house," Joe repeated.
Aaron rolled his eyes. "No, that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying we're going to cause a little disturbance on his porch, that's all. Look, we'll ring the doorbell, knock over the pumpkin, and ring the doorbell again, like, five times. We'll make it sound urgent."
"What if he doesn't come out in time?" Joe pointed out.
"My dad has an industrial-sized bucket," Scottie said. "We could like, fill it up with water and take it with us. That way we can just put out the fire ourselves if we have to. It'll be like a campfire, right Aaron?"
"Yeah, it'll be like a campfire."
"Well, if it's just a campfire, I guess that's not a big deal," Joe said slowly. "But yeah, let's bring the bucket, just in case."
So they filled up Scottie's dad's industrial-sized bucket and quickly realized that there was no way they could carry it. They barely tipped it over to empty some of it out, but then they estimated wrong again. Finally they realized that a bucket about a third full was their best.
Then they had to carry it through the neighborhood, which presented two problems: one, it was very difficult to walk and carry the bucket at the same time, and two, people kept looking at them strangely. "Don't worry about that," Aaron heaved between breaths. "If anyone asks, we'll just say we're pouring water in the ditch for fun. It sounds dumb, but grown-ups always think kids are dumb."
Then they finally made it to the ditch. It wasn't very deep, only about four or five feet. But walking down the slanted side and then walking up the other end proved very difficult, and a lot of water sploshed out of the bucket. Joe wasn't sure there was enough in there to put out a camp-sized fire, but Aaron pressed on, confident.
Finally they got to the house. All the Jack-o-lanterns were there, just like before, but Aaron was surprised to see a row of eight pumpkins in front of the porch, by the steps. They weren't carved like the others, with faces, but instead had some other kind of design that wasn't apparent at first. They cocked their heads, and it was Joe who spoke first.
"Aaron? Does that say what I think it says?"
"It does say something, I knew it!" exclaimed Scottie.
Aaron looked at Joe and grinned. "These guys love Halloween a lot. That says 'turn back'."
"Just like a real haunted house!" Scottie exclaimed, unable to keep his voice in check.
"That's just cool," Aaron said, but Joe wasn't so sure. Maybe the owners of the house were sick of the kids bothering them, constantly ringing their doorbell.
"Maybe this isn't such a good idea," he said uneasily. "Maybe we should just leave these people alone."
"We will, we will, as soon as we get them to come out," Aaron replied. "I just want to see them, that's all."
Joe sighed and followed Aaron and Scottie up the to the porch. They had left the bucket of water behind, because they were all tired of carrying it. Aaron observed the Jack-o-lanterns, as if tipping one over would only work if he chose the best one. Aaron fidgeted, wishing he'd get on with it.
Finally, Aaron pointed to one that was in the middle. "That one," he said. "That one is the best."
"All right, tip it over," Scottie instructed.
"Aren't we going to ring the doorbell first?" Joe asked.
Aaron sighed. "All right, you ring it. Just once though. A warning."
Joe actually didn't really want to ring the doorbell, but it was better than just lighting the porch on fire without notice. He squinted his eyes as if the doorbell would explode on contact, and pushed it. They heard the gong echo through the house, and naturally nobody answered. "Please be home," Joe whispered to just himself. "Please, please be home."
"All right, warning's over," Aaron declared, and with that, he pushed the Jack-o-lantern with his foot until it rolled over on its side, causing the candle inside to tip.
The flame roared faster than any of them could have anticipated. Within a moment, the entire pumpkin was on fire. Scottie jumped back, then off the porch. Joe thought he was running to get the water, but he ran right past the bucket and down the street, disappearing around the corner. Joe sighed and turned to Aaron, who just stood there, watching the blaze get bigger and bigger. Joe glanced at the door, which wasn't opening.
"Man, I don't think they're home, Aaron," he said. "We gotta get the bucket. Come on."
But Aaron didn't move.
"Aaron, please, this is going to-"
"Just a few more seconds. They'll see it. They know we're here."
Joe bounced on the balls of his feet and stared at the door, that formidable door, that stubborn damn door that just wouldn't open. Finally he twisted around and pounded on it, with both fists, and yelled, "Come out you idiots! Your porch is on fire! Your porch is ON FIRE!"
"They're not home, man," Joe repeated, tugging on Aaron's sleeve. "We gotta get the water. In a couple of seconds it won't be enough to put this out."
Aaron didn't move, and so Joe leaped off the porch and ran to the bucket. He could lift it, just barely, and he dragged it up to the house as best he could, trying not to let any water slosh out. It took longer than he thought it would, and by the time he got there, the two pumpkins on the side of the first one were ablaze.
"Help me lift it!" he shouted at Aaron.
Finally Aaron snapped out of his trance and reluctantly met Joe on the walk. He lifted up the other side of the bucket, and the boys barely were able to bring it up to the fire. Heaving it at the flames seemed the right thing to do, but Joe was afraid it wouldn't be enough. Aaron, however, didn't wait to discuss it. He launched his side of the bucket and so Joe was forced to follow suit.
The water did extinguish some of the fire, calming it a bit, but it did not go out completely. Aaron and Joe looked at each other. "What do we do now?" Joe shouted.
"We run!" Aaron shouted back, and as much as Joe hated to admit it, he knew Aaron was right. They ran down the porch and onto the walk, out onto the street, and dashed as fast as they could all the way home. Joe's heart was thumping in his chest and he could barely breathe. He kept thinking someone saw them, someone was behind him, or right around the corner would be the police. But not Aaron. Aaron's heart soared, the wind ripped through his hair. He felt great. He felt alive.
Aaron expected to hear about the house on the news, but there was nothing. No one even seemed to notice. He and Joe had gotten away with it, only Joe didn't want to talk about it. He didn't seem to really want to talk at all, and Aaron noticed that Joe specifically didn't sit with him at lunch. Aaron shrugged it off. He was more of a loner anyway.
Aaron hadn't thought about the house or what had happened in days. He was getting ready for Halloween by prepping his costume- a skeleton with a bloody face- and planning a trick-or-treat route with Scottie Wilson. Joe wouldn't be joining them, and that was fine. They now knew where they stood with each other.
His parents wanted to go to a party, and so Aaron had to be finished with trick-or-treating by seven. He had well-looted the neighborhood and planned to spend the rest of the night gorging himself on candy and watching old scary movies they were airing on TV. His mom left him a big bowl of candy for later trick-or-treaters, and Aaron promised to pass it out even though he really wasn't planning on it. He ignored the first couple of trick-or-treaters and it seemed like things were slowing down around seven thirty.
And then the doorbell rang.
He had turned off the porch light and so figured that, combined with not answering the door, would be a clue enough. But a minute later, the doorbell rang again. "Go away!" he called. "We're not passing out candy here!"
"All right all right," he said, getting up from the couch and grabbing the bowl from the side table. He opened the door, about to say, "Persistent, are we?" But he stopped short. There in front of him was a kid about seven or so, wearing a black cape that covered his body from his neck down, and a great Jack-o-lantern mask up top. It even glowed.
"Wow man, cool costume," Aaron said. He picked up a piece of candy and went to drop it in the bag, but the kid didn't have one. "Uh, where's your bag? You want candy, right?"
The kid said nothing.
"Uh, okay, whatever. Good prank kid. If you want your candy though, you're gonna have to take it."
He just stood there.
Aaron shrugged and said, "Suit yourself," and shut the door.
DING-DONG. Aaron whirled around and flew the door open. The kid was there like before, and so he tossed a piece of candy out. It landed right by the kid's feet.
"Take it!" he shouted, slamming the door behind him.
Aaron breathed a sigh of relief. "Don't be stupid," he told himself. "It's just a coincidence. Just a really weird coincidence."
He went and sat back down on the couch. He unrolled a Tootsie Roll pop and just as he was about to pop it in, the doorbell rang.
And again, and again.
DING-DONG DING-DONG DING-DONG.
He leaped up and flew open the door, but the kid was gone. Aaron stepped out of the doorway, looking around. The night was quiet and cool. He could hear children laughing in the distance, maybe one or two streets over. He decided to go back in and call Scottie, see what he was up to.
He turned back to go inside and screamed. The Jack-o-lantern kid was there, but this time it didn't just glow, it was on fire. It ran at Aaron full-force, grabbing him, and with full force threw him against the concrete porch.
"Ooowwww!" Aaron screamed. The Jack-o-lantern was on him again, lifted him up, and threw him down. Then again. Then again. Aaron couldn't do anything but scream as his body seared in pain, his bones broke, and his blood burst through his skin. Finally the Jack-o-lantern stood over him, straddling him, and looked down. "Noooo!" Aaron cried, but it was too late.
The Jack-o-lantern fell off the neck, knocking Aaron out, and setting him on fire.
One Year Later
"Let's just drive by it," Joe's mother said. "I think you'll feel better when you see someone has bought Aaron's house, and now it can create new memories."
"Fine," Joe reluctantly agreed. He hadn't wanted to think of Aaron, not at all, that whole year. But now that Halloween was around the corner part of him realized he couldn't hide from what happened anymore. The old house had been bulldozed after the fire, and was now a community garden. Aaron's parents had moved away and put their house on the market, and finally, just a few weeks prior, someone had bought it.
They turned onto Aaron's street and pulled over in front of the house. Joe forced himself to look at it.
"See? Nice people live here now." said his mother. "Look at that. They've even carved a Jack-o-lantern."