‘It’s Hallowe’en, time for a scare,
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,’ Miss Hopper sang in an ominous sing-song voice while rolling her eyes up into the back of their sockets. In the dancing flames from the freshly carved pumpkins she looked the wrong side of insane. In fact, she looked positively demonic.
‘Stop it, Miss, you’re scaring the shit out of us,’ Kelly Forrest said with a shudder.
Miss Hopper let the curse go – though she usually pursued each and every cuss word like a shark after a blood-smeared swimmer – as she realised the effect her words were having on the class.
‘So what’s the story with Gary Land?’ Ray Potts said from the back of the class.
He slouched low in his chair, his muffin top poking out over his threadbare black trousers, his endlessly chattering jaw chewing a tasteless wad of gum while his chubby fingers drummed a restless beat on the desktop.
‘Harry,’ Kelly said.
‘Yes, Harry Land,’ Miss Hopper said, giving him her most furious why weren’t you listening? stare.
‘Whatever,’ he said, drumming harder on the desk.
‘Wait a minute,’ Miss Hopper grinned. ‘You don’t know the story of Harry Land?’ Her finger trembled a little as she pointed at Ray.
Ray shook his head, his jowls almost slapping him in the lugs as he did so.
‘Do any of you know the story?’ she said with malicious glee.
One kid raised his hand.
‘About how he used to piss in front of the school most mornings?’
Miss Hopper stifled a laugh – and the urge to slam him for swearing (Jeremy had it hard enough when his stepdad went upside his head for coming home covered in mud and bruises from the beatings of the school bullies, Ray Potts among them) – and nodded. ‘Yes that was him, but this story is about something different.’
A sea of puzzled and curious faces stared back at her.
She rubbed her hands together, her glee reaching fever pitch now.
‘Ok, then. I’ll tell you,’ she said.
The light from the pumpkins once more danced around her face, the moving, contorting shadows distorting her features.
‘Harry Land made a deal with the devil,’ she said. ‘Because God wasn’t listening. But that was later. What happened first was…’
Three young boys. One girl. Thought they were the loser’s club from Stephen King’s It or some shit.
Wandering around on Hallowe’en. Decked out in crappy, three quid Hallowe’en costumes, trying to score some candy and cash.
The youngest one, Derek Sykes, was drunk on his father’s whiskey. Thought he was God’s gift to practical jokes. The others were sober, just a few months into being teenagers, whereas Derek was only twelve.
They called on all of the houses on Harry’s street, even walked past his house, calling loud enough to make sure he knew they were coming back.
‘The time has come,’ Derek said, swaying slightly from the effects of the drink on his frail body as he stepped onto Harry’s porch.
Harry opened the door, mouth agape. If the surviving child’s words are to be believed, a thin strand of drool ran down over his pasty, stubbled chin and landed on the bare floorboards at his feet, just in front of where his chalk-white big toes poked out through the ends of his slippers.
‘What do you want?’ Harry said.
‘Trick or treat, motherfucker,’ Derek said, flashing his fingers in a crude gun sign. ‘Cough up or get fucked up.’ A malignant grin crossed his pale features.
His three companions, Reggie, Dwight and Fiona, all grimaced. The man was clearly not in his right mind. His eyes were rolled back in his head like a walking corpse.
Pissed as a newt, Dwight’s dad used to say.
‘Sorry, don’t get ya,’ Harry said, his glazed eyes and blank expression revealing that this was the truth.
‘Come on, Derek,’ Reggie said. ‘The poor guy’s sackless.’ He turned to walk down the path towards the ramshackle gate that separated Harry’s house from the main street.
Derek cursed and brought back his right fist to strike Reggie in the nose.
Reggie backed off, raising his hands to indicate he didn’t want any trouble, though he reckoned he could put Derek on his arse if he needed to.
Dwight and Fiona said nothing, just watched.
‘Cough up or get fucked up,’ Derek repeated, swaying even more. ‘That’s how we roll.’
Reggie shook his head, stared into Derek’s eyes. ‘Not with him. He doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. Hurting him would be like punching a baby. I’m not having anything to do with it.’
‘You help me wreck his house or I’ll knock you out.’
‘You couldn’t knock out a wank, you daft bastard,’ Reggie said, shoving Derek to one side and turning away.
Derek bounced off the wall and swung a punch that hit nothing but air.
Reggie looked Fiona and Dwight in the eyes for a second and slowly shook his head. ‘I thought you guys were better than this,’ he said, walking up the path away from the Land house.
Harry, scared and confused by this young troublemaker on his porch, began to edge the door closed. Derek’s eczema-scarred arm poked into the gap, jamming the door open.
He held his hand out, feeling totally, utterly entitled to something from poor old Harry.
‘And he was entitled,’ Miss Hopper said, allowing herself a sinister little smile that played across her lips for the merest hint of a second. She snorted laughter, a hideous, sadistic sound that chilled the children’s blood. ‘But not to what he was expecting.’
Before anyone could butt in, Miss Hopper had continued.
‘Please, leeme alone,’ Harry uttered. Again, the survivor of the hellish ordeal swore a string of drool tumbled from the man’s hesitant lips.
Derek’s eyes lit up with a maleficent light.
He leaned in low, the alcohol on his breath stinging poor Harry’s nostrils.
‘Listen, you retard, it’s Hallowe’en. You give us kets, or preferably money, and we don’t egg every inch of your sorry house.’
Harry’s eyes grew wide, his lips struggling to articulate the fear he felt.
‘My mam,’ he said. ‘Asleep in bed. She ill, you wake her.’ His face displayed total childish innocence. He was harmless, wouldn’t have hurt a fly.
Until what they did to him, of course.
Derek smiled wider, clearly too stupid or drunk or mean to realise – or care – that Harry didn’t have the slightest idea what was going on.
His arm drew back, the first egg sailing up towards the crescent moon that smiled down upon them.
The egg seemed to take an eternity to land but it shattered right across the bedroom window, spattering its yellow payload across the dirty glass.
Harry cried out, holding his hands to the sides of his head.
‘Plenty more where that came from,’ Derek said, pointing to the cool-box full of eggs he’d toted round the street.
‘I think we’d better just leave it,’ Fiona said, grabbing his arm and trying to lead him away.
‘Get off me,’ Derek snapped, pulling his arm away and raising his fist to slug her.
Dwight watched, too startled to do anything.
Fiona cowered away.
‘We do it, or none of ’em will give us anything next year,’ Derek said, his tone indicating that he thought this would be the worst thing in the world.
He had no idea of the worst thing in the world.
Not yet, anyway.
Harry cowered after taking an egg in the face.
Derek’s laugh filled the porch. Fiona looked to Dwight. He was too chicken to resist Derek, even when he knew he was doing something wrong. Dwight picked up an egg too and sent it sailing in through the doorway. It bounced off the back of Harry’s head as he turned to wipe the first egg off his face.
Derek began to sense that he was getting nowhere, sensed it was time to up the stakes.
Mere eggs were not going to get the result he wanted.
He pulled out the bottle of lighter fluid he’d hidden in his pocket. Dwight and Fiona both gulped. This was suddenly a hell of a lot more serious than they’d thought.
Harry didn’t react, he was too busy pulling shards of egg shell out of his bloodshot eyeball.
‘Cough up or get fucked up,’ Derek said, holding the lighter fluid aloft like a trophy. ‘Shit just got real.’
‘This is a really bad idea,’ Reggie said from the sidewalk.
‘Get lost then,’ Derek spat.
Reggie moved back a little, unsure of how to react.
Dwight and Fiona froze in inaction, gawping at each other, their eyes occasionally flicking to the bottle of lighter fluid.
‘I’ll tell everyone how you pussied out,’ Derek grinned.
Dwight and Fiona shrugged, this was somehow worse than whatever lunacy Derek had in mind.
‘Listen to me, you backwards bastard,’ Derek said, carefully enunciating every syllable. ‘If you don’t give us money, paper money, we’re gonna set your shithole house on fire.’
To prove his point, he took the lid off the bottle and threw it into the hallway of Harry’s house.
Harry’s eyes widened again, and, in a moment of hideous clarity, they saw the tiny shard of egg shell that stuck in his iris.
They saw he understood.
Saw he was foraging in his tattered pockets for money to stave off the murderous drunkard on his front porch, his trembling hands scattering coins across the floor.
They also saw that it was too late.
Harry was down on his knees now, trying to pick up the dropped coins from under the heavy wooden sideboard that occupied the space behind the door. Derek ran in and tipped the sideboard over, making Harry utter a scream as his hand was trapped beneath it.
The zippo lighter Derek had lifted from his father’s jacket glinted in the pale light of the moon.
Reggie had seen what was going down from his spot on the sidewalk – he’d been unable to leave the scene, as instinct had told him that something bad was going to happen – and had ran in to stop it.
The surviving kid had later said they’d seen the devil’s reflection in that lighter, in place of where poor Harry had been, but of course, the words are a little on the unbelievable side.
Nothing anyone did was quick enough.
‘Time’s up, motherfucker,’ Derek spat, and threw the flaming lighter into the house…
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