A skeleton comes alive on Halloween
|Alicia turned up the drive. Night was falling and the moon’s pale disc hung in the sky.
Full moon on Halloween night, thought Alicia and gave a superstitious shiver as she drew up in front of her grandfather’s big old house.
“It is so nice of you to spend Halloween with me,” said her grandfather as he helped carry her suitcase into the house. “I didn’t want to be alone, not tonight.”
“It is nice of you to invite me,” she said. A year ago her grandmother had died of a heart attack and Alicia had been happy to forego the College’s Halloween party to keep the old man company.
He led the way into the drawing room and she sat on an armchair in front of the fire while he carried her case upstairs to the guest room.
Alicia looked around at the meagre decorations, a couple of plastic pumpkin heads were on the mantle piece and Grandfather had wheeled out Bertie, the skeleton.
Bertie had been the centre piece of Halloween, ever since grandfather had been a medical student. He had taken Bertie home as a prank and the hospital had never asked for it back.
Alicia stared at the skeleton, it was old, very old, the bones no longer white but brown and heavily varnished. It still hung from its original metal stand. She had always been frightened of Bertie, ever since she discovered that it was not plastic but a real skeleton from a once-living body.
“Ah, I see you are admiring Bertie.” Grandfather came back into the room. “Did I ever tell you about him?”
Yes,” said Alicia but her grandfather ploughed on regardless.
“He was one of the first skeletons the hospital acquired. Some say he was dug up by grave robbers in the early days when dissection was illegal.”
They chatted for a while and then went into the kitchen, where the old man heated some soup and took prepacked sandwiches out of the fridge. Gone were the old days, thought Alicia when her grandmother cooked delicious meals. She died of a heart attack. No one had been allowed to see the body – apparently there had been a look of terror on her face that had unsettled even the undertaker. Alicia felt tears prickle her eyes but forced herself to smile brightly.
“Salmon or ham?” asked grandfather.
Alicia opted for a ham sandwich and they ate supper in the kitchen.
“Nine o’clock already,” said grandfather, glancing at the clock. “I’m off to bed, but you can stay up if you like, Alicia.”
Alicia went back into the drawing room and sat in front of the dying embers of the fire. She listened to the stairs creak as the old man went up to his bedroom. Shadows seemed to stretch nearer and out of the corner of her eye she thought she saw movement.
She turned. There was nothing there but Bertie. She stared at the skeleton - was that a twitch of the leg? This was ridiculous, she was getting spooked. She got up, turned off the lights and went upstairs.
Alicia was dozing off when she heard a crash. She sat up in bed. What was that? It came from downstairs – had her grandfather gone down in the night and fallen over?
She got up, pulled on a dressing gown and hurried downstairs. “Grandfather?” She switched on the drawing room light and saw that Bertie had fallen from his stand. He lay huddled on the carpet and she felt her blood run cold as the skull tilted upwards and the hinged jaw opened.
Alicia stood rooted to the spot and watched the bones move, as if Bertie was trying to get to his feet.
Alicia turned and fled up the stairs to her bedroom. Frantically she looked for a lock, but there was none. She pressed her shoulder against the door and listened, scarcely breathing.
Creak, creak. Someone was coming up the staircase. Alicia felt her heart beating so fast she thought she would faint.
Creak, creak, the footsteps were coming nearer. There was a pause and then a scrabbling sound. Alicia stared at the doorknob. Was it turning? There was the faint squeak of a door opening.
No! It was going into her grandfather’s room.
Alicia ran to the her handbag and took out her mobile phone. She dialled for the police. “Help, my grandfather is being attacked by a skeleton?”
“Is this a hoax call?” The voice at the other end sounded angry.
“I mean an intruder. Please, come quickly I may be next.”
Alicia, ran back to the door and listened. She could hear faint sounds. Should she go and try and help? Fear had made her weak, made her legs shake and robbed her of her courage. If Bertie came for her she would not have the strength to hold the door against him.
At last she heard a siren and then heavy footsteps running up the stairs. There was a knock on her door and she was taken down to the police station for questioning.
“I regret to inform you that your grandfather is dead.” The walls of the small room seemed to close in on her.
“We won’t know until after the autopsy, but it looks as if he had a heart attack.” The inquisitor looked at her intently. “There was something strange, he was clutching a skeleton.”
“You must bury him,” urged Alicia. “It must be in a churchyard, in sacred ground.”
“I’m sure your parents will see to your grandfather’s funeral.”
“No not grandfather- the skeleton”
The inquisitor frowned. “It turns out that the skeleton is stolen property it has been returned to its rightful owner.”
Alicia stared at him in dismay. It wasn’t over. Who knows who might be next? All Alicia knew is from then on she would always lock her bedroom door on Halloween.