Be careful who you cross- Weird Tales contest runner up
|Charlie Jenkins received repeated letters from the homeowners association regarding the state of his yard, about parking his car on the street, about leaving his garbage can out… the complaints seemed limitless.
The head of the beautification committee, Andy McQuinton tried several times to have Charlie fined. Each time Charlie gleefully gave him the proverbial middle finger.
A quiet guy in his mid thirties, Charlie lived alone. He was friendly, a good neighbor, and always willing to lend a hand when needed. Working nights as a nurse in a geriatric home, he often slept most of the day.
The housewives of the neighborhood whispered about him: "He's so cute and so nice, how is it he doesn't have a girlfriend?! He's GOT to be gay."
While he didn't care what the homeowners' association thought, Charlie cared about Halloween. He always gave out full sized candy bars for the kids, he loved to see what costumes they came with every year, and he especially loved the decorating.
Charlie went gangbusters every year for Halloween. His yard was full of howling ghosts hanging from trees. Zombies loomed in the styrofoam graveyard. The tombstones had catchy phrases like "Here lies our beloved Randy- kicked the bucket from too much candy!" A black light and fog machine created a festive haze to the front door.
The older kids loved it, but whenever Charlie saw the small kids become scared he would walk out to the street to meet them with a bowl of candy. "It's all just decorations, kiddo, nothing to be scared of!" he would say kindly. Charlie was the king of Halloween.
One year he received a letter from the homeowners association asking him to "refrain from decorating in an inappropriate manner and remove the decorations the morning after Halloween." Charlie decided this year was going to be bigger than every other year combined.
He got to work the night before. He hung floating ghosts uttering terrifying shrieks. Zombies dwelled behind the tombstones. This year invited friends and co-workers, making it a proper party. He invited a special guest to be his witch, wailing from over a foggy cauldron full of candy positioned next to the graveyard.
Charlie rose from his bed achey but excited on halloween morning. He stretched, poured himself a cup of coffee and headed into the yard to survey his work from the night before. Andy and his Bichon Frisee shambled awkwardly up the street. "Shit" thought Charlie "here it comes..."
"Did you get my letter?" Andy barked curtly as the Bichon barked uncontrollably. Charlie knew the dog had belonged to Andy's ex wife. Why he still had it no one knew. "Yes, I got it." Charlie replied leisurely.
Andy looked at him with contempt. "Are you going to keep it under control this year? Last year it took you two days to take it all down."
Charlie and Andy stared at each other in silence for a long 10 seconds. "I just hope this year you're more courteous to your neighbors." Andy shot Charlie the most intimidating look he could muster and dragged the fluffy white dog down the street.
After this unpleasant exchange, Charlie drove to work to pick up his witch. Magda was a patient in the geriatric care facility, and was as flamboyant as she was funny. They had grown close over the years, the stories of her youth as an actor in Hungary fascinated him. She had outlived her husband of fifty years as well as her only son. She told Charlie she had adopted him, now it was time for him to find a partner and make her a grandmother. "I'm not so sure that's gonna happen, Mags..." he'd say.
He helped her tiny frame gingerly into the car. She was in full regalia, complete with pointy hat and broom. A black tattered gown, face painted green, prosthetic warts and a pointy nose made her the perfect witch for a kid's imagination. They laughed together as she practiced her cackle in the car.
The sun was beginning to set. "We'd better hurry, they're coming soon!" The look of anticipation on her face warmed Charlie's heart.
The night was amazing. Charlie sat next to his charming, cackling witch, watching the children laugh as she handed out candy. Friends, family and neighbors mingled in the yard enjoying drinks and snacks. He had never had such a wonderful halloween. A little boy dressed as a ninja hugged at Charlie's leg. "The kids look forward to this every Halloween" said his mother, "thank you so much." Charlie was just about to tell her the pleasure was all his when he saw Andy stomping up the street. He looked furious.
"I thought we talked about this, now you disrespect your neighbors with the noise of this party?" he hissed, hate filling his face. Charlie realized this was not really about a halloween party.
"I'll take it down first thing in the morning," Charlie was doing his best not to raise his voice in front of the kids, "Why don't you join us, have a glass of wine?"
Andy looked as if he may explode. "I don't want these kids coming to your house! You people are child molesters!" he gestured toward Magda "You're probably molesting her too, you sick bastard!"
The yard fell quiet. Charlie felt as if he'd been punched in the gut. Tears choked in his throat. The ninja's mother put her hand on his shoulder.
"YOU are a bad man," came an otherworldly voice behind him. "VEGED LESZ, MINT A BOTNAK!!" Magda shrieked. Her face set like stone, she was pointing a bony finger at Andy. In that moment, she was truly a witch.
Andy's face went pale, he trembled where he stood as if he understood the old woman and was terrified by her affront.
"What did she say, do you speak Hungarian?" Charlie asked, confused.
"Of course I don't, you idiot! I have no idea what she said, nor do I care!" His defiant demeanor betrayed him as he walked unsteadily down the street, shaking his head and muttering to himself.
Charlie packed up early. He apologized to his friends, sending them home with leftovers. After turning off the fog machine and sound effects, he placed the cauldron full of candy next to his mailbox with a note: "Help yourself, happy halloween!" He led Magda to the car, making sure she didn't trip over her costume.
On the drive back to the home his curiosity got the better of him. "What did you say to him back there?" he asked. In spite of the somber mood, a smirk spread across his face. "Did you put an old Hungarian curse on him or something?"
"I simply told him he would meet his end like a stick."
"What does that mean?" Charlie asked.
"It means his life will not end comfortably in his bed, I tell you that. He won't bother you anymore, lelkem." Charlie knew this was a term of endearment. She had once told him, "It means sweetie, or darling, like that."
After tucking her in bed, Charlie left Magda to go home. He became uneasy about this "curse". He suspected something terrible was waiting for Andy McQuinton.
Charlie pulled into his driveway. It was late, the kids were safe in their houses. "Safe from the child molester at 608 Wabash." He had never felt such anguish. Eventually he collected himself and got out of the car. The air was suddenly charged, like lightening was nearby. There were no storms around.
His front yard began to breathe. Terrified, he stepped back against the car. His decorations sank into the earth. Taking the tiniest step forward, he leaned cautiously over the movement. It was a crack, pulsating with life and muffled screams. He looked frantically up and down the oddly deserted streets. The neighborhood had been abandoned.
The earth churned and crackled, the screams became louder. He stifled a scream as sticks, no, arms came jutting upward. They were leathery, clawing frantically. All he could do was watch, frozen with fear. An arm, different from the others jutted from the earth. It wore a plaid cuffed sleeve. It was Andy's. The world spun around him, and Charlie lost consciousness.
The next day he checked into an extended stay hotel. He put his house on the market the first week of November. He considered filing a missing person's report for Andy, but what would he say?
Magda passed peacefully in her sleep three months later. Charlie was devastated. He arranged her requested cremation, and brought her ashes to her sister back in Hungary. Charlie cried as her ashes swirled gracefully in the breeze over the field of wildflowers next to her childhood home.
Before she passed away Magda told him: "Don't let anyone filled with hate take your joy, lelkem. Don't let them ruin what you've built with love."
Charlie took his house off the market. Back in the neighborhood, it seemed everyone had forgotten about the confrontation. No one seemed concerned that Andy McQuinton went missing after that night. "He probably moved out in the middle of the night." offered a neighbor around the corner, "His finances were shit, he was getting ready to foreclose on the house." Another neighbor conjectured, "He probably disappeared to avoid the divorce proceedings, his ex-wife was about to take him to the cleaners. He kept that dog just to spite her, you know."
Time passed. He no longer feared mowing the yard or weeding the wildflower bed which had inexplicably grown bountifully. The wind sung him to sleep through his open windows on mild evenings. Eventually, those evenings became blessed with a partner with which to share his home.
They celebrated Halloween with joy together every year after.