Trapped inside a shop, a group share their Hallowe'en tales. 1810 words
|The storm hit hard and suddenly. The rain that had been falling all day intensified as thunder cracked and lightning struck the earth, the wind rising to a howl that sounded like it was in pain.
Across the city, people scurried for cover and cowered in their homes. Children were upset, their costumes drenched, their Trick Or Treat bags containing barely enough lollies and sweets to last a day. Parties remained indoors and the roads quickly cleared, apart from the emergency services vehicles rushing to place plastic where roofs once had been, to help with the sandbagging efforts, and to help those whose cars did not quite make it home safely.
It was a wild night, set to only get wilder. In the 7-11 just outside the city limits, Rajeesh was watching the weather pick up, ignoring the four customers wandering his shop, clearly sent here on an urgent dash by family. Except for Colin – come hell or high water, he was here at eight o’clock each night for his hot dogs, pizza rolls and two gallons of Coke.
“Uhh, excuse me?”
Rajeesh looked around with a start and stared at the woman standing at the counter.
“Sorry,” he apologised. “Quite a storm, eh?”
“Oh yeah,” she sighed. “I don’t really want to drive home in that.”
“Understandable.” He took the two cartons of milk and scanned them. “Is that all?” he asked.
The crash echoed through the shop, making the windows shake in their frames and causing everyone to swing around so they could stare out at the front of the shop.
“Oh, man,” the woman groaned.
Rajeesh just stared. A huge tree had fallen, landing right across the only entrance into or out of the car-park, knocking down a part of the fence that surrounded the entire area, but effectively trapping them inside.
“Now what?” Colin growled. “I gotta get home an’ watch the monster trucks.” His ample frame shook a little in his frustration.
“My husband and kids are waiting for me,” the woman at the counter said. “I’d better let them know what happened.” She pulled out her phone, tapped the screen and moved away to talk.
One of the other two customers, a man in a dishevelled suit, did the same thing. The final one, a man dressed in a thick hunting jacket and Chevrolet baseball cap just stared at everything around him emotionlessly, as though he’d seen it a hundred times before.
Rajeesh quickly picked up the store’s phone and cursed; the line was down somewhere. So, he took out his own mobile and called the emergency services. Meanwhile, Colin went to the front door – which opened automatically for him – and yelled at the storm even as the wind and rain lashed him. The noise inside was deafening.
Finally, Colin moved back, letting the door close, and the phone calls all ended, plunging the store into an eerie sort of silence, the outside weather no more than white noise.
Rajeesh looked at them all. “They say it might be hours before they get here,” he apologised. Everyone’s shoulders slumped.
“Now what?” the woman asked nervously.
All four customers slowly converged on the counter.
Rajeesh smiled awkwardly. “Coffee machine’s over there,” he said. “Help yourselves. No charge.”
Only the man in the hunting jacket did not take him up on his offer. They stood in silence watching the storm continue unabated. Then the man in the suit smiled. “Only on Hallowe’en, huh?” he said, forcing himself to laugh.
“What d’ya mean?” Colin demanded.
The man was immediately defensive. “It’s just that it’s like a Hallowe’en ghost story, the tree that blocks the strangers in,” he muttered.
“Ghosts aren’t just for Hallowe’en,” Colin growled.
They all watched as he gulped his coffee like it was Coke.
“What do you mean, Colin?” Rajeesh pressed.
Colin looked around. The faces that gazed back at him were interested, not mocking at all. He grabbed a plastic chair and sat on it. Rajeesh settled onto the counter beside the coffee machine, the man in the hunting jacket remained standing, leaning against the shelving, while the other two made themselves comfortable on the floor.
“Mah daddy went to ‘Nam in sixty-eight,” Colin said slowly. “I were ten years old, and we got letters from him each week. I’d wait by that letter-box and read ‘em over and over ‘til I knew ‘em backwards. Well, one week we didn’t get one. Then the next week we didn’t get one. Then we got one more, a short one, then nothin’ again.
“I got real worried, but mama said he were prob’bly just on man-oo-vers. So, I waited. Then, one night – it was August three, I remember that always – I woke up and went to the front porch. It was still night, still dark. I looked all ‘round. Daddy walked up the front steps an’ hugged me. ‘Yes, he’s home!’ I said. He didn’t say a thing back. I remember he were wet. He smiled at me, mussed my hair and walked back down the stairs.
“Two days later we got the official letter. Mah daddy was killed on August three, 1968. He drowned coz he got shot in the back an’ couldn’t get up.”
Silence greeted his story. He glowered at them all. “Y’all think I’m jus’ a angry fat man,” he spat.
“No, Colin,” Rajeesh sighed. “I believe you.”
All attention was now focused on the store assistant.
“When I was a boy back in Sri Lanka, everyone went to a big religious festival, a festival of the family,” he said slowly, as though ready for ridicule. “My family was all there – my mother, my father, my six brothers and sisters. There were hundreds of people. But I saw one boy by the side of the road. He looked really upset. I went to him and asked him what was wrong. He said he couldn’t find his way home. I looked around, but my family was already gone. I said I’d help him.
“He took my hand and told me his address. I led him through the crowds, asked at shops where the street was and we walked there. At the end of his street he said thank-you and gave me a purple flower. I smiled and led the way to his house. I stood in front of it, and looked behind me, but he was gone. An old woman opened the door and asked what I wanted.
“I told her a boy said he lived here, but I lost him. She cried then. I didn’t know what to do, so I offered her my purple flower. She asked me where I got it. I told her the boy gave it to me.
“She asked me inside. She told me her little boy had died years earlier, but that on the day of the festival of the family, he’d always given her a purple flower, just like the one I’d given her. She showed me a photo of her son. It was the same little boy I’d helped.”
Outside the wind picked up a notch.
“My name’s Trina,” the woman said suddenly, “and mine’s about my mum.”
She fell silent. “Go on,” Rajeesh urged.
“Okay.” She didn’t need a lot of prompting. “My mum was a civil rights activist in the sixties. Did marches, got hit by water cannons, arrested, the works.” She looked at Colin. “My dad died in Vietnam as well. Black guys weren’t good enough to eat in restaurants, but were fine to die for their country.”
“Mah daddy told me in his letters ev’ryone bleeds red,” Colin said.
Trina smiled a fraction. “That’s true,” she muttered. “Anyway, back in sixty-three she was on a march in Alabama. They were being abused, trash thrown at them, spat on, you know the stuff. Well, mum was getting scared, and she was looking all around.
“That was when she saw her grandma.” She sipped the coffee, holding the cup in both hands. “She couldn’t believe it. Her grandma died back in 1957, but it was her. Without thinking, mum ran out of the march, pushed past the people abusing them and chased her grandma down an alleyway. She saw her grandma at the end of the road turning a corner. Mum ran after her. When she got there, her grandma was gone.
“Then came screaming and the sounds of gunfire. Mum threw herself to the ground and cried until she was helped up by some nice white ladies. Ten protestors and one bystander had been killed by the police. Mum had been saved by her grandma.”
No-one could look at anyone else. Outside the storm managed to grow even stronger.
“Guess it’s my turn,” the man in the suit said, “and if we’re doing introductions, I’m Kyle Watson. I work as an insurance adjustor at the city hospital. One night I was working late. I’d had a week off because of sickness, and my boss told me I had to catch up. So, it was late nights or else lose my job.” The others nodded their understanding. “So anyway, this night I was in the corridor talking to a nurse about how eerie and quiet it was, when we heard what sounded like a dog whimpering. The nurse – an old lady, a bit overweight – looked concerned. There definitely shouldn’t be a dog on the ward.
“I asked if we should call security and the dog whimpered again, louder.
“She told me they’d just get annoyed. It was probably a TV or something. She’d go find it. I asked her if she needed a hand and she nodded. She looked grateful, even. So, we went down the corridor, listening, and then heard a bark. Just one, a short one, so we opened the door of the room. Two old guys were inside. I saw a beagle run behind a curtain and I searched for it while the nurse checked on the men. Then she called me over urgently. One of the guys wasn’t breathing. We did CPR and brought him back.
“When we told him how we found him once he recovered, he just smiled. No surprise, he just said, ‘Ol’ Maisy’s still looking out for me.’ I asked him what he meant. He showed me a photo of him and a beagle. His dog. She’d died ten years before, but she’d still saved his life.”
They all fell silent again. The wind outside howled like an angry banshee.
All eyes now fell on the man in the hunting jacket.
He held his hands up. “Sorry, I can’t match any of these stories,” he sighed. He blinked once and then he faded away like the image on an old black and white TV, leaving just four startled people trapped in that 7-11 on that stormy Hallowe’en night.