Nick is determined to find out what happened to the missing kids in his neighbourhood...
|A line of turnips stand upon a dusty, stained shelf in the darkness of a room. They are waiting for the right moment.
In the dead of the night, two young boys peered out of a window across the street, a pair of binoculars shared between them. His left eye squeezed tightly shut, Jake peered over at the old, decrepit house. It was completely dark.
"You think he's still up?" Jake whispered.
"Sure, he doesn't sleep." Nick nodded, shaking the spy glass between them.
"Quit it!" Jake hissed.
"Sorry... Look! There's a light."
Fight forgotten, both boys peered intently through the lens at the yellow glow blazing in the small basement window.
"What do you think he's doing?" Nick asked, clutching the window sill tightly.
"I don't know. I wonder how many bodies are down there," Jake suggested. "I bet there are too many to count. You heard the news report. Jonie Grable went missing two days ago and still no sign of her. And before that was Jonny Hexby, Amelia Langdale and that kid in your grade. What's-his-name?"
"Ben Rochdale," Nick offered.
"But how can they be so sure it's him that's got them?" Nick asked. Being the younger of the two he looked up to his older brother.
"Well... they didn't say anything about old Mr. Samael but I know it's him."
"But how?" Nick persisted.
A sudden thump followed by another signaled the waking of the parents. In a flurry of movement, the binoculars were dropped and both boys dived for their beds, one on either side of the window. Feigning sleep as their mother pushed open the door and peered inside, Jake and Nick both wore secret grins. Apparently satisfied, she left and the sound of the door dragging across the carpet meant that she was gone.
"Tell me Jake!" Nick hissed across the room, seeing only the whites of his brother's eyes peering at him.
"Tomorrow, go to sleep," Jake instructed, closing his eyes. With that, the conversation was closed. Reluctantly, Nick closed his eyes too.
A light dims in the dark of the night after he has finished his considerations of the turnips. He already knows how they will look.
The next morning at breakfast, Nick stared across the table at his brother, waiting for an explanation. None came. As soon as their mum left the room, Nick called across to him.
"Come on then."
"What?" Jake was groggy.
"You said you'd tell me today."
Just then, she bustled back into the room. "Are you two arguing again?"
"No." Their answers came in harmony. With a look that said she didn't believe them, she shuffled off with their empty bowls and dumped them in the sink. Glancing out of the window, she gazed at her husband, the father to her boys. Running about like a fool, he chased the carrion away from his precious crops, something his scarecrow failed to do. She shook her head with a sigh.
Outside, the sight of their dad flapping around caught Nick's eye. He loved his garden with a passion, especially since he got fired the month before.
"Come on, we've gotta get you both to school," his mum roused him from his thoughts with another deep sigh.
Without another word they rushed upstairs, heavy footsteps clomping on the steps.
"Jake!" Nick tried to get his brother's attention again, whining.
The conversation was dropped once more but as they passed the old man's house, both eyes followed it until it was no longer in sight.
That night, the four of them were sitting in the dining room eating tea with the dim rumble of the television from the front room providing a monotonous background noise. The news was on, and once again the newscast featured the story of the missing children.
"It has now been seventy-two hours since Jonie Grable was last seen on her journey home from school. Her parents, distraught, are appealing for any witnesses to come forward–"
"Isn't it awful they still haven't found that poor girl?" Mum remarked to their dad. He nodded in a passive way, shoving food into his mouth. He had been in his dressing gown since they got home from school.
"–Jonie was last seen on Orchard Street, only two streets away from her home. If you think you may have any information please contact us. This is the most recent in a string of disappearances in the South-East of town and authorities are no closer to–"
The television was suddenly shut off. Their dad held up the remote, staring at them with bleary eyes. "See, this is why I hate the news." His speech was directed to their mum. She nodded her agreement, though Jake could tell she wanted to know more.
"How's the garden, dad?" Jake asked, feigning interest. Gardening was something that bored him.
"Fine, fine," his dad answered irritably. The conversation was over.
Safe in their room after tea Nick brought it up, unable to resist. "So, you really think it was him?"
"Of course he did it," Jake nodded fervently as he snatched up the pair of binoculars. "You've seen how creepy he is. The way he looks is enough to tell the cops he's a weirdo."
Nick nodded his agreement. The last time he'd seen the old man, he was shuffling along the road in a green bin bag cut with ragged arm and head holes. His ashen hair was wispy and wild, curling around his ears in a style that reminded Nick distinctly of a professor. And the worst part, he was talking to himself. Nick would never forget that. The fevered words that choked from the old man's cracked lips, the yellow teeth bared in a grimace as he glared at the boy on his way past. Now remembering his reaction, Nick was embarrassed at how he'd turned and fled, running for safety. He definitely agreed with his older brother, Mr. Samael was a killer.
One day until All Hallows Eve, and then the carving would begin. Currently there are four to be hollowed and carved. Maybe more yet to come. A sign punctuates the darkness, a puff of stale breath filling the space. Soon.
"The search is now reaching a critical level and all available police officers are following leads relating to the Jonie Grable case. The police would like to remind people that anybody who feel they may have information should come forward immediately. She was last seen on Orchard Street. The disappearances of three children previous to Jonie, all thought to be related, all took place within the same vicinity between Orchard Street and Ember Avenue."
Once more the television was clicked off and Nick turned to look at his father. Wearing an untied robe and his hair unbrushed, he was a dishevelled man. Nick, for the first time, began to realise how losing his job had effected his father.
"Are you okay, dad?" Nick ventured.
"Sure son, just tired."
"How come, didn't you sleep well?"
"No not really, I had quite a late night." The sentence was punctuated with another yawn. He glanced out of the window at the garden, distracted. "Halloween tomorrow, are you excited?"
"Sure am!" Nick's face lit up. "I can't wait to wear my costume."
"How about Jake?"
"Oh I don't know." Nick shook his head at the thought of his older brother. They were a year apart, yet already Jake was showing signs of the dramatic teenage strops at the age of thirteen. "He says he doesn't want to go anymore."
"He will." His dad shot him a grin. "Don't worry. Time to get ready for school, go on."
Nick ran off with thoughts of his new zombie costume filling his head.
The night before All Hallows Eve the turnips are gutted, their insides heaved out in preparation for the carving the next day. He eats the guts of those turnips that night.
"So class, does everyone have their costume ready for tonight?" The young teacher shot a smile across the room. She was met with a babble of voices that remained completely undecipherable.
"I'm going to be a witch!" A particularly unpleasant girl in the back row called out.
"I'm going to be a werewolf!" Tom, the class geek, shouted. He sat in the front row and pushed his glasses up his nose every few minutes. Nick decided he wouldn't make a very good werewolf; after all, he needed glasses to see.
"Halloween isn't all about trick or treating," Miss Applewood began again, calling the class to hush. "What other things do you do?"
"Dooking for apples," Ben Yearly suggested. The teacher nodded her approval.
"Dressing up," Maria called out. She was the girl at the back of the class.
"Carving pumpkins!" Nick shouted out.
"Ah yes," Miss Applewood stopped on that subject. "Can anybody tell me the story behind pumpkin carving?" The whole class fell silent. The young mentor stifled a grin as she caught the eye of several students. "Well, in the olden days, it used to be a turnip that people carved, not a pumpkin. People used to do it as a way of remembering the people who were lost in purgatory."
"What's purgatory, Miss?" Maria asked again, popping gum.
"Purgatory is the place where souls go; it is somewhere between Heaven and Hell and sometimes spirits get trapped there if they have unfinished business or are killed in a particularly grisly way."
"Like, if they're murdered?" Nick ventured.
"Yes, Nick. So for each person who was murdered, a turnip would be carved to remember his soul. So, when you're carving your pumpkins later, remember those in purgatory." She shared a sinister smile. Just at that point the bell chimed. School was over and the trick or treating could begin. Nick was first out of the classroom.
All Hallows Eve arrives in a cold flurry of orange and brown leaves skittering across the pavements of the tree lined street. He waits with his knife, turnips in front of him. It is time to begin. Methodically, he begins to carve a remembrance of those who have disappeared into the skin of the turnips. Faces sliced in ragged lines, macabre masks that aim to remember the young ones. He smiles as he works.
Nick rushed downstairs, an orange pumpkin basket swinging from his hand.
"Wow son, you look terrifying!" His dad pretended to cower away from the blood-covered zombie that stood before him as he washed the dirt from his nails at the sink. Nick could barely suppress a grin. Lifting his arms in front of him ram-rod straight, he began his shuffling walk, moaning as he maintained a glazed look in his eyes.
"You make a most excellent zombie," his dad continued, drying his hands. Some remnants of soil clung to the white towel.
"Thanks dad!" Nick's gait halted as he grinned up.
"Still getting ready I think."
"Jake!" his dad hollered up the stairs.
"What?" came the sullen reply, accompanied with several foot stomps.
"Nick is waiting for you."
"I'm coming." Several minutes later Jake tramped down the stairs. He wore a long black cape with entirely black clothing and plastic fangs that looked uncomfortable in his mouth.
"I vant to suck your bloood!" Jake cried as he spread his arms, lifting up the cape like wings.
Nick giggled and their dad put on his terrified face once more.
"You guys have fun tonight," he told them. "And stay together."
The street was lit in a dim orange glow as the lamps flickered on, illuminating their path. The houses in the tree lined street were all huge and decorated with flickering pumpkins, gravestones and cotton wool spider webs that draped across the porches. One house had a rocking chair that rocked on its own. Another had a skeleton in a coffin. The night was alive with creatures galore, running from house to house, screeching trick or treat at the amused patrons. No tricks were played that night. Everyone in the neighbourhood was game for Halloween and the candy was ripe for the reaping.
It wasn't until they reached Mr. Samael's house that they stopped. Somewhere between the boundary of fear and excitement, both boys stopped to stare. The house was dark and ominous, the windows dark, covered with black shades. On the outside, they were rotting, the white paint almost all gone. The porch was growing green mold and mushrooms on its roof as well as on the floor. They sprouted between cracked floorboards which could be seen through the chipped screen door.
"Do you think he's home?" Nick whispered, his voice carrying on the still night air.
Jake nodded. "Course he's in. He just doesn't want us to know."
"Why do y'think that is?"
"He's busy cutting up the bodies in his basement of course!" Jake spat as if it was the most obvious answer in the world.
A chill coursed through Nick, goosebumps on his flesh. Does he really have bodies hidden down there?
"Come on," Jake hissed as he began to wade forward through the long grass.
"Where are you going?" Nick called after him, a hint of panic adding a shriek to his voice.
"I'm going to see."
Nick was frozen. He could follow Jake to spy on Mr. Samael and take a look at what was really in his basement or... he could wait in the dark on his own. A quick glance up and down the street secured his decision and he ran off after Jake, calling for him to stop.
Soon both boys were pressed against the tiny box window of the basement. A dim glow emanated from within, shielded by years of dirt on the glass.
"Can you see?" Nick whispered.
"Not yet." Grabbing the hem of his cloak, he pulled it forward and rubbed at the window vigorously until, finally, a small circle of muck came off. They both learned in, each peering with one eye through the small patch. Nick gasped at the sight before them. The old man was sitting in front of a work bench lit by black candles. Four turnips were lined up, a knife still hovering nearby. Each was lit with a small, flickering flame. Mr. Samael simply sat there, hands folded in his lap, staring at the grotesque turnips. Suddenly, he turned around. Beady black eyes focused on the exact spot the two boys were leering in. Nick felt his heart stop in his chest, frozen with a paralysing fear. He's seen us! The wind was knocked out of him, he couldn't breathe. Then the worst of it all, the man disappeared from sight. He's coming for us.
Without another word, Nick jumped up and grabbing Jake, they sprinted across the road towards their house. Right before they made it to the safety of their own porch, a door slammed behind them, creaking in the darkness.
"Come back you two!" a voice yelled, commanding. Nick shot Jake a look and they dived for cover, through the porch door and falling into a crouch, hiding. Nick's breath came out in ragged gasps as his asthma threatened to wreak havoc with his body.
"He saw us, Jake," Nick hissed to his brother.
"Shut up!" Jake peered over the porch, ducking back out of sight. "He's gone."
"Do y'think he'll come for us?"
Jake shook his head. "No, we're safe here."
"I hope so."
After ten minutes both Nick and Jake finally managed to calm down enough to stop shaking.
"Jake," Nick began. "In class today Miss. Applewood told us the real reason pumpkins are carved."
"Why?" He unwrapped a piece of candy from his tub and shoved it into his mouth.
"They were to remember the souls of the dead trapped in purgatory."
"You don't think that–"
"What, that Mr. Samael was carving those turnips for the dead?" Jake scoffed.
"He could be!" Nick defended himself. "There were four turnips. Four kids have gone missing."
"There's nothing to say they're dead, but I guess it would made sense."
"You said it yourself, he's probably got bodies down there," Nick argued.
"Probably," Jake agreed.
"What should we do?"
"Nothing." Jake unwrapped a lolly pop and stuck it in his mouth.
"No, nothing at all."
"But what if those kids are down there?"
Jake rounded on his younger brother, popping the stick out of his mouth. He meant business. "Who would we tell anyway? And who would believe us?"
"We need proof," Nick determined. His sweets still lay untouched.
"We could sneak over there."
The thoughts of being in that old man's house sent his heart slamming against his ribs. "When?" He swallowed.
"Tonight," Jake replied nonchalantly.
"Tonight? But what if we get caught?"
"Are you chicken?"
"No!" Nick insisted.
"Then let's do it. Tonight. At midnight."
"Fine." What have I agreed to?
It was shortly after the clock struck midnight that Jake roused Nick from a restful slumber.
"What?" Nick groaned, curling even more tightly into the blanket.
"Come on," Jake hissed. "It's time to go."
A sudden icy grip clutched Nick's heart as he remembered what he agreed to. He was suddenly wide awake, staring at his brother with wide eyes. "Maybe we should do it tomorrow instead," he suggested.
"Don't wuss out on me now."
"But I'm so tired." It wasn't entirely a lie.
"The turnips will be gone tomorrow, tonight is our only chance." Jake heaved the blankets off Nick who was exposed to the cold of the room. Jumping from his bed, he slipped on a pair of jeans over his pajamas and shrugged himself into a jumper. Jake held up a torch and signaled for Nick to follow, pressing his finger to his lips.
Nick crept along the dark hallway, feet padding on the carpeted floor. They made it down the stairs and out the door without making a sound. Outside, the wind buffeted Nick, cutting right through his wool jumper. His shivered as he cast a glance across the road; it wasn't entirely temperature related.
"Come on." Jake flicked the beam of the torch on, and after taking a glance up and down the street, they sprinted across the street. Nick felt the dewy grass soaking through his plimsolls as they crossed Mr. Samael's lawn. Soon, he found himself crouching by the cellar window as he had only hours before. Nick peered through the clean patch of glass Jake had created and saw the turnips still lined up across the bench, flickering dimly.
"They're still lit," Jake hissed, stating the obvious. His eyes roved left to right. "Come on."
"What are you doing?" Nick asked as Jake began to prise the window upwards.
"We're going in."
"What?" Hysteria rose in his voice as he fought to keep quiet. "We can't go in. He's a madman!"
"I'll look after you," Jake ignored his protests and held the window up. "I'll go first, you follow." Without any further chance of challenge, Jake slipped in through the window legs first, and disappeared with a small thump.
"Jake!" Nick hissed after his brother, peering into the gloom of the basement. There was no answer. "Jake!"
"Shhh!" Jake remonstrated his brother. "Come in, he's not here."
Trembling, Nick swung his legs around and slid them in the black hole. He took a deep breath and plunged into the darkness just as something grabbed his leg. He stifled a shriek as he tumbled onto the concrete floor and rolled, coming up into a fighting stance only to find himself staring at Jake, hand covering his mouth and giggling profusely. Anger swept through him and he lunged, punching Jake in the arm, knocking him backwards. Jake held up his hands in apology.
"You idiot!" Nick scolded him.
"I couldn't resist." Jake shook his head. "Anyway, look at this place."
It was the first time that Nick was able to take a look around the dull basement. It was dark, shapes silhouetted against other shapes. As he followed Jake, he found himself avoiding obstacles. Soon, they reached the bench. The four turnips were a garish mask of terror. Four of them, flickering dimly, sending grotesque shadows splaying across the walls. Nick was glad he wasn't alone.
"Hey, what's this?" Jake whispered. He stepped closer and bent, staring at little cards left at the bottom of each turnip. "Nick..."
"Look at this."
Nick could see Jake had paled, even in the artificial light of the torch beam. He craned his neck closer to get a look at the cards, and felt the colour drain from his face too.
"Jake, he's named them."
"Named them after the four kids. The one on the end there is for Jonie." He pointed.
Nick saw the turnip. It was cut with jagged lines and had sharp, pointed teeth and eyes that were narrow and watchful. He shivered. "And there's the rest." He read along the line of cards. "Jonny, Amelia and Ben. They're all here."
"Let's get out of here," Jake insisted, making a dive for the window.
"Wait." Nick grabbed his arm, stopping his escape. "We've come this far, let's at least have a look for them..."
"Yeah." Nick nodded. "That would be proof."
"Okay," Jake agreed reluctantly. The boys began their search of the basement, sticking close together the whole while. The beam of the torch searched out old monsters, hidden recesses and dark corners, but as they traversed the jungle of the basement, they found nothing of evidence.
"He could have them somewhere else?" Nick suggested.
"Yeah, but we can't check the whole house. Come on, let's get out of here."
Without further hesitation, Jake boosted Nick up to the window who crawled onto the wet grass, gasping for breath, his heart racing. He helped pull Jake up and together, they ran for their house, not stopping until they were in the safety of their own bedroom.
"We have to tell someone," Nick insisted as they stared at each other across the expanse of floor in the moonlight.
"Tell them what?" Jake argued. "That the old, crazy man across the street has turnips in his basement? They'll wonder what we were doing there, nothing more."
"But Jake, what if he takes someone else?"
"Shut up and go to sleep!" Jake was clearly rattled. He jumped into bed, fully clothed, and pulled the duvet across his shivering body. "I mean it Nick," he warned, closing his eyes.
Nick sat in the dark, the moonlight filtering through the blinds, cascading onto the floor. They reminded him of the bars of a jail cell. That's where Mr. Samael should be. His mind made up, he stepped from his bed and crept to the door. Jake didn't stir, not even when it clicked shut.
Nick stood outside in the passageway for a moment, deciding the best course of action. He would alert his parents, they would know what to do, but just before he was about to knock on their door, he heard something coming from downstairs. What is that?
Gripping the bannister in his hand, Nick snuck down the steps, avoiding the ones that creaked underfoot. As he made his way down into the kitchen bathed in moonlight, he noticed a yellow glow coming from under the basement door. His brow wrinkled, he continued forward. Who's in the basement? As his hand clutched the brass knob and turned, he sucked in a deep breath. A knot curled in his stomach as the door flung open and the sound of a machine filtered through his ears. A machine, something mechanical. Another frown creased his pale forehead.
"Dad?" he called out as he took a tentative step down. He was met with no reply, only the monotonous sound of the machine. Why is he working this late? He glanced around him, noticed the cobwebs that drifted in a cold draught, the insulation against the walls of the basement, the padding on the ceiling. What is that for? He vaguely wondered.
Abandoning caution, he trundled down the wooden steps, careful not to snag his bare feet on the rough wood. His dad was over in the corner, a light illuminating his silhouette to Nick. He was hunched over something, big, powerful shoulders working furiously.
"Dad?" His voice was heard through a cut in the machine as his dad paused.
The man spun to face Nick, his expression registering shock. "Nick, I told you not to come down here. It's dangerous." He dropped a jigsaw on the floor carelessly and rushed towards the boy. "Back to bed with you."
"But dad I..." As his dad shifted position trying to maneuver the boy up the stairs, Nick caught a glimpse of what he was working on.
Jonie's small form was stretched from the ceiling, her tiny hands bound with heavy chains. She was naked and still. Blood dripped down her tiny form, pooling at the point where her feet brushed the concrete floor. Her eyes were open and staring, dead.
A scream pierced the air. It took Nick a few moments to realise it was his own voice. He stepped back, the bottom step catching his feet. He stumbled backwards, falling onto the step.
"Son," his dad began, picking him up effortlessly and thrusting him in the direction of the the girl. "I warned you not to come down here." He continued up the steps to the door, pulled it shut and bolted it. He slowly paced back to the basement.
Nick couldn't take his eyes off the dead girl, swinging helplessly. Pieces of her anatomy had been cut off. She was missing most of her fingers, her ears. Closer to the back of the basement, he could make out hunched shapes in the background in a tangled heap. Though he couldn't make out the form of them, he knew the other three children lay butchered there.
Standing against the wall, a final form. As he stepped closer he saw the stake holding up the torso. It had been cut at the waist, right through, a boy's body. A pair of legs, somebody else's legs had been attached, stitched together like fabric. The arms looked muscular and long, also threaded to the torso. It was missing a head. A real live scarecrow, almost.
A hand grasped his shoulder, spinning him. He found himself face to face with a pair of dull, black eyes, watching intently. "We thought... we thought it was Mr. Samael," he stuttered.
"I know." His dad smiled, pushing him down to his butt on the cold floor. "He's eccentric enough, I suppose. But no, I actually think he has his suspicions about me. He'll be next, well..." He glanced down at Nick, his eyes flashing with sympathy. "He'll be next after you. You'll be the next one, the fifth to go missing."
"But why, dad? Why?" Nick scooted backwards, away from the knife that his dad had pulled from a bloody apron. He advanced, holding it up. It glinted in the light, old remnants of blood and gore still attached.
"Those damn birds," he muttered, anger flashing in his eyes.
Nick felt a frown crease his face as he shuffled further away from the man who was his father. He bumped into something, felt it move across his back and he winced. He'd just ran into Jonie.
"They won't listen. Won't go away. Have to do something to protect the garden," he was muttering in a fevered frenzy, striding forward with the knife still brandished.
Nick didn't understand. He leaned away from the knife pointed at his face, his hands landing in something sticky. He pulled it away, wiping off the drying blood on his top.
Tears stung his eyes as he screamed again. "Don't do this!"
"But I have to Nick, don't you see?" Another glint of empathy shone in his eyes. "I need a scarecrow, a real scarecrow. It's the only thing that'll do."
Raising the knife high above his head, dark malice shone in his eyes. "I love you son." The blade came slashing down.
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