Derek grinned as he stepped up to the porch of the Land house.
‘I showed that stupid fuck good,’ he grinned. The realisation of what he’d done never really registered.
Dwight and Fiona had come with him, reluctantly at first, but soon the cash was flowing or the eggs were flying and everything was good and forgotten and fun, y’know, real fun.
The haul they’d taken was heavy in the bin bags hung over their backs and they really didn’t need to visit the house they’d, as last year, left till last.
Dwight stood at the end of the path, his eyes widening slightly, his breath like barbed wire on his throat.
His heart pounded his ribs like it was trying to escape.
‘Come on, you pussy,’ Derek said, waving Dwight forward with a casual motion of his muscled arm.
Dwight gulped and stepped over the threshold.
As Derek raised his scabby fist to bray on the surface of the door – still marked with burns from last year, Fiona and Dwight noted with horror – they both felt the urge to stop him, to grab his arm and yank it away instead of letting him touch the scorched fabric of the house where they’d all contributed to the death of an innocent man.
But they were too slow.
The final knock echoed away into the night. This time the moon was fat and full, watching them like an unblinking eye.
‘Lights are on but no one’s home,’ Derek chortled. ‘Remind you of anything?’
Dwight laughed, more to avoid a kicking off Derek later. Fiona faked a laugh.
‘Get it?’ Derek grinned, his booze-glazed eyes like pinpricks in a pumpkin. ‘Cos the guy who lives here’s a fucking ’tard!’ He started laughing the kind of laugh you only get after drinking more than you can handle and brayed again on the door. ‘Yo? Open up, you stingy bastard!’
A realisation hit Dwight and Fiona like a falling building: Derek didn’t remember what had happened here last year.
They stared at each other for a numb second. Neither wanted to be the one to tell him and they came to the unspoken agreement not to broach it. After all, they’d soon realise there was no one home and move on to greener pastures, like the Richardson’s place on the next street, which was ripe for the picking.
‘Are you there, you goddamn simpleton?’ Derek bellowed, braying a fist into the door and swallowing half of his penultimate can of beer in a oner. His resultant belch echoed around the porch.
The latch of the door clicked.
The door opened with the kind of squeal you only ever hear in horror movies or in a nightmare. You don’t ever want to hear that sound in real life, trust me on that.
‘Yo, numbnuts!’ Derek shouted into the darkness.
‘Wait,’ Fiona said, pointing into the porch where a pumpkin waited for them.
‘Cough up or get fucked up,’ the legend carved into the pumpkin read.
Icicles ran through Dwayne and Fiona’s veins. Derek was too drunk and stupid to care.
As Derek stared down into the pumpkin, light dancing back and forth across his face, a dark fluid that looked like blood spat up into his face.
He cursed and wiped it off and gave the pumpkin a hearty kick. A handful of pound coins fell out of the open lid of the pumpkin.
Derek’s face lit up like that of a kid at Christmas and he greedily scooped up the pound coins and shoved them into his pockets.
One of ’em fell from his pocket and he ducked to pick it up, scraping his hand through the dark liquid on the floor.
‘This is blood,’ he said, suddenly fifty shades more sober.
He hurriedly wiped his hands on the curtain and spun. The house was still in darkness.
‘I don’t like this,’ Dwight said.
‘Shut up, you big girl,’ Derek said.
The chill in the air made them pull their clothes tighter round themselves.
The flicker of a flame came from the upstairs landing, though they’d all have sworn on their mother’s lives that it wasn’t there when they walked in the house.
‘I really don’t like this,’ Dwight said.
As he turned to walk down the stairs – eluding Derek’s furious grasp – the door slammed shut, sending waves of cold through the house.
Dwight gulped and turned towards his friend on the stairs.
Derek was first up the stairs of course, his pig-headedness wouldn’t let it be any other way.
The second pumpkin was there, halfway up the snaking staircase. The dying light cast by the candle in its hollowed out carcass scattered shadows across the walls.
‘Plenty more where that came from,’ was plastered across the wall in what looked like dripping blood. It appeared almost black in the fading light.
He saw the glint of gold in the pumpkin’s head, illuminated a little by the dancing flame atop the pumpkin’s candle.
He ducked his hand in, felt dozens, no hundreds, of pound coins in there, even the dry crinkle of paper money. A grin crossed his lips and left a split second later when the snarling jaws of the pumpkin snapped shut around his wrist.
He cursed, pulled away, taking a large chunk of his flesh. Blood spattered down onto the bare floorboards, seeming to melt into dark stains that were already there.
‘You ok?’ Dwight said. ‘We can go if you want to?’
‘Are you shitting me?’ Derek said, snatching his arm away.
Fiona gave the pumpkin a wide berth. The eyes seemed to follow her, the mouth to widen as if imagining how she would taste.
The top of the staircase was cast in a blanket of shadows. The floor up here was darkened, with what looked like a dried pool of blood staining the old floorboards. There were also burn marks.
It looked like there was the chalk outline of a body there, too.
Minus one of its hands.
They moved into the bedroom.
The pumpkin was behind the door this time. The pool of light it cast was dim, and Fiona and Dwight only saw the room for a second, before the door slammed shut.
‘Time’s up, motherfucker,’ Fiona would later sob, traumatised, onto police report and into local legend, ‘That’s what it said on the wall, in foot-high letters.’ She sobbed, sniffed, took a gulp of coffee. ‘That’s what Derek said to Harry, before he threw the lighter.’ She gulped again, let what she had said sink in.
The crime scene team, upon entering the room, had seen that her story was true. The foot-high letters were carefully traced across the wall in fresh blood. The prints didn’t match anyone on record, although Fiona had a funny feeling that they’d match the missing right hand of Harry Land.
Yeah, they’d match those just as fine as you’d like.
‘So what did they do to him, miss?’ Ray said, suddenly sitting bolt upright in his chair, his eyes glued to her, his ears pricked up.
She smiled a knowing smile. ‘I could tell you but you’d have nightmares for the rest of your sorry life.’
‘Please tell us,’ the kids said.
She shook her head. ‘It’s enough to tell you that there was blood all over the walls. Derek’s own hands were missing, I’ll tell you that. His arms ended in ragged, bloody stumps. And his eyes, they were the worst part. They were just staring… glassy. Dead.’
A couple of the kids baulked. The rest were ok; in this day of movie violence and sadistic video games they’d no doubt seen worse on the idiot box.
‘So, what happened to him?’ Ray said. ‘I mean, who did it?’
The malicious grin once again played across Miss Hopper’s lips. ‘Who do you think?’
‘It was Harry, dumbass,’ Jeremy said, suddenly full of confidence.
Ray’s brow furrowed, his two thick black eyebrows meeting in the middle like a pair of particularly hirsute mating caterpillars. ‘But…’ you could almost hear the cogs in his head turning as he struggled to process this information. ‘…Harry died. How…’
Miss Hopper snorted laughter. ‘It’s Hallowe’en, time for a scare,’ she sang to remind him. ‘If you trick or treat you’d best beware. Don’t knock on the door of Harry Land, or the devil will come and chop off your hand.’
Ray’s brows furrowed further still.
‘He made a deal with the devil to pay them back, slowpoke,’ Katie Frank said, shaking her head in disbelief that he still hadn’t figured it out.
Miss Hopper smiled and nodded. ‘Yes, him and his friends.’
‘So what happened to them, Miss?’ Ray said.
That night, they got home, tried to sleep, but terror consumed them, prevented them from getting a restful night. They heard fingers drumming on the window like the legs of an immense spider.
And looked out to see a lone hand on the windowsill. No body attached to it, just a festering, oozing piece of dead flesh.
But it wasn’t dead, the fingers, though rotten and dead and harbouring countless maggots, had a strength and a dexterity that managed to open the latch on the window.
It crawled into the room, like some horrid creature.
It grabbed Dwight’s arm and pinned it to the mattress. He opened his mouth to scream but another hand – this one much smaller and fresher and scabbed with eczema – crawled up the bed and clapped down over his mouth so hard he couldn’t scream, could barely even breathe.
He fought hard, but it was too late for him.
Much too late.
This shadowy form appeared in the room, so dim and tenebrous he struggled to make it out.
He said there looked like horns on the top of its head and glowing red eyes that blazed through the snaking shadows. There was a snort that sounded like a bull or a goat, then his bulging eyes fell upon the razor sharp axe held aloft in the apparition’s huge hand.
It was the same axe Harry had used to chop off his hand.
It held it up for a second, and he was certain he saw it smile, heard it laugh. The noise echoed around in his head.
Then the axe plunged down, slamming into the skinny wrist with a force that instantly severed his hand.
Thick gouts of blood sprayed out, hitting the ceiling and bouncing back down onto his trembling body. It was like he took a blood shower, one of the cops who found him would later say.
And before he died, his own hand crawled up his body, slowly, savouring every inch it moved. The dead fingers flexed then grabbed tight around his windpipe. His struggles intensified, but the hands held him tight. He wasn’t going anywhere.
The severed hand crushed in ever tighter, forcing out the meagre amount of air that remained in his starving lungs. Then it pulled hard, tearing his throat out in hot hails of blood. It was the last thing he saw; his own, severed hand holding aloft the crushed length of his larynx.
When they found him the hands had gone, of course, but they found trails in the blood. Found Derek’s fingerprints, and those of Fiona, whose body was never found.
The severed hand was never recovered either.
‘Woah, that’s brutal,’ Ray said, a whiter shade of pale covering his already pasty face.
Miss Hopper nodded.
‘So now you know where the song comes from,’ she said. ‘And you know why you must avoid Harry Land’s house if you decide to go trick or treating.’
‘Ah, that ain’t gonna happen to any trick or treaters,’ Katie said. ‘That’s just a scary Hallowe’en story. Not true.’
Miss Hopper’s face was instantly robbed of the glee it had previously exhibited.
‘It is true. And none of you must ever go there. Every year since the unfortunate night of Harry’s death there have been kids curious and stupid enough to visit poor Harry’s house. And every year there have been kids who have never returned home. Hands that have never been found.’
‘Bull-shit,’ Jeremy piped up, his voice much more powerful than his usual timid self.
‘I don’t think any of us should go,’ Ray said. ‘It sounds scary as shit to me.’
The reversal of the usual classroom roles was startling for most of the class. Most of them began to heckle Ray.
‘You must promise me that none of you are ever going to go up there,’ Miss Hopper said, face grave.
The kids all looked around each other. A handful of them were reluctant to promise, but Miss Hopper saw that most of them were terrified. They’d rather swallow their own shit than go up there, judging by the timid, clammy faces that stared back at her.
Jeremy, Katie and Gerard were the only ones who were yet to promise not to go to Harry’s house.
‘Come on, guys,’ Miss Hopper said.
‘We promise,’ they said together with a complete lack of sincerity that made her think of the spin-doctor politicians she’d seen on TV spinning a web of lies ready for the next election. Not my fault if they get themselves killed, she thought.
She began to talk again, but the bell sounded. As the last bell of the school day, she knew she had more chance of flapping her arms and flying than keeping the unruly kids in class.
‘Please, kids, I’m begging you, don’t go up there,’ she shouted as they shouldered their bags and jostled to be first out of the door.
There was trick or treating to be done, scares to be dished out and no time to waste on school.