A Halloween Story
By Audrey Gran Weinberg and Yoav Weinberg
The living room seemed dreary to Jeff and his 5 brothers and sisters after their parents had left, all dressed up in costume. Their father, as always, elegantly dressed in suit and tie, had put on a fake moustache. His mother had worn a dress with a leopard pattern that was very short and tight around her body. She had a black mask hiding her eyes and carried a long cigarette holder with her dark gloved hands.
“You be good, will you? No scary shows on TV, you know Jeff will be frightened, don’t you?” She addressed this to Tim, her oldest son who was already 21.
“Sure thing Mom,” he said, with a smile. “You can rely on me.” Tim was her darling, and although he smoked cigarettes, drank whiskey and had not so far been able to hold down any job for longer than 2 weeks, nothing he did was ever bad in her eyes.
“Yeah, Mom, of course Mom,” whispered Jenny, who at 11 was always being told to’ behave more like a lady’ - ‘smile and the world smiles with you,’ or worst of all, ‘no one likes a tomboy.’
“Did you say something, Jenny?” asked Mom, with a frown that creased her forehead. “You really must learn to articulate better!”
Jenny had sighed and went back to the book she was reading.
But finally they had left, and although it was halloween, they could not go trick or treating like other kids at school, since they lived out on a farmhouse, quite a ways out of town. Jeff had begged his older brothers to take him on the bus into town and take him along the route that the others were going, where he would see houses all decorated with ghosts and pumpkins missing teeth and glowing with candle light. He longed to sing out “Trick or treat, trick or treat, give me something good to eat.” His friends at school had already told him what their parents had bought to give out. Candy corn, caramel apples, candies that fizzed on your tongue... He was dying to go, but they all said no, and that it was far too childish, and his mother added from upstairs, “... and bad for your teeth as well, and besides, it’s far too late, and too cold up here in Wisconsin, and the bus only ran until 8:30 so he’d have to miss it this year...”
Fine, thought Jeff. Fine. I’ll show them! He wasn’t quite sure yet, how, but it felt good to be standing up to his parents and his brothers and sisters, at least in his thoughts. It was dreadful being the youngest. The one who never, but never ever ever got his way.
“What’re we gonna do?”
“No, let’s play Monopoly!”
Everyone’s ideas were shot down, one by one, by the others. Jenny was still stuck in the corner armchair, the one usually occupied by Father, with her nose in a book.
“I know,” peeped up Jeff, “let’s watch the film on TV!”
“You heard what Mom said,” said Tim, “She said it would be too scary for you.”
Jeff felt the tears well up in his eyes, but blinked them back. He really couldn’t stand one more disappointment. What’s the use of having a TV if you can never watch it? After all, how scary could it be to watch a film? It was just make believe, even he knew that. And if it was scary, his brothers and sister were there, weren’t they? He decided that crying would not be an option, since then, for sure they wouldn’t let him watch. “I won’t be scared,” he declared. “It’s only fake, anyway. Not real blood or anything.”
The room became quiet. The others looked at each other. Even Jenny looked up from her book. Most days Father choose to watch the news and then he would click off the TV firmly and pour himself a drink while reading through the evening newspaper. They didn’t normally have a chance like this.
“Why not,” said Tim, with a grin. “Why the heck not?” He loped over to the TV set and clicked it on. For a minute, all they could see was fuzz. Little dots of black and grey buzzing like a swarm of flies. Then shapes slowly came into view, and sounds, muffled at first and then, slowly more audible.
They all gathered around, and sat on the carpet, watching the film. It was a scary one, alright. The music was creepy and the characters seemed to do stupid things like running upstairs into the dark attic, full of bats, instead of out of the house and calling for help. The plot was predictable, but every few minutes another character was either dead, or badly bleeding. Jeff’s stomach was getting quite queasy and he held onto Jenny’s arm for support.
His oldest sister, Tina, the one just a year younger than Tim, stood up suddenly and said she was going to make popcorn. Sally offered to help her. The two of them hurried into the kitchen and turned on all the lights there. Soon, the smell of popcorn and melting butter came wafting from the kitchen.
“Great, having sisters, eh?” Tim winked at Jeff and Johnny and yelled out to them, “Bring us some milk too, eh?”
“Get it yourself, lazy,” shouted back Sally, as she entered the room with 2 bowls brimming over with popcorn.
Suddenly the TV flickered.
“You kicked the cord!” growled John at Tina.
“Shut up! It wasn’t me!” she said angrily.
The TV went back to normal. A weird black shadow was following a little girl down a dark alley. The children could see she was in danger. The music was getting louder and more edgy. Jeff could hardly watch, knowing what would happen.
The lights in the house all went out, as well as the TV.
“Oh no!” They all shouted. It was pitch black in the room, the only light coming from the full moon outside, shining through the half open windows in the living room. Tina got up to find some candles from the kitchen, walking hesitantly and with her hand stretched out in front of her.
“Boo!” shouted John, creeping up from behind her.
“Aaayyyy!” Tina jumped and bumping against the dish cupboard, lost her balance and fell backwards. “Darn you, John, that wasn’t funny at ALL!”
John burst out laughing, but Jeff realised that his hand was stiff from clutching Jenny’s sleeve. She moved her arm away from him and pried open his fingers, gently.
“Let’s just go to bed, guys,” she suggested. “It’s late anyway, and mom and father will be returning in a while.”
A few of them grumbled about that and Tim said something about a fuse box, but none of them dared to try to fix it, and eventually, holding hands and walking like a human chain, they inched carefully up the stairs. Each of them fell into their beds, pulling their outer clothes, seeing as it was far too dark to brush their teeth or find their pyjamas.
* * *
Much later, judging by where the moon had now risen in the sky, Jeff woke up with a start. It was quiet in the house, apart from the sound of the tree outside scraping the side of the house. The moon was big and bright. He saw the shadows of the moon’s face peering down at him. He closed the curtains, and turned over, pulling his wool blanket closer over his shoulders. It was no use. He kept imagining the moon’s face and hearing the scrape, scrape, scrape of the branches outside. Jeff got up, and decided to go downstairs for a glass of milk. Mom always said that drinking milk helped children fall asleep.
Downstairs, he noticed that the lights and the TV were back on. It didn’t seem so scary anymore, now that the lights from the kitchen were all lit, and the small lamp in the living room, next to father’s chair was on as well. He thought he might as well sit down for a bit on the chair, once he had poured his milk, feeling very proud that none had spilled as he did so. He settled into the big chair and although it was at an angle from the TV, he could still see the picture quite well. The film was still on, and he could see the little girl from before, clutching her teddy bear and walking down a wet street, lit by dim street lamps. Only something was different about her, but he couldn’t tell what exactly. He got off the chair, holding his glass of milk carefully and crept closer to the TV to get a better look.
Suddenly, there was a loud knock at the door. Jeff startled, his glass dropping to the floor and spilling milk all over the carpet. He stood still, torn between the urge to run to the kitchen so he could grab a rag and mop it up and the good manners which beckoned him to open the door. It was really late. No one else was awake. What had Mom said only about a thousand times? ‘Never ever speak to strangers!’ What if it were a stranger at the door? He felt his foot damp and sticky, standing in the puddle of the spilled milk.
The knock was louder this time, and accompanied by a voice, “C’mon, is anyone still awake? It’s us, we’ve mislaid our keys.” Phew, thought Jeff, it’s Mom and Father! He ran to the door and opened it wide, throwing himself at his mother’s legs and hugging her tightly.
“Oooh, you’re wet! Did you...?” she looked at his underpants, which were in fact a little damp from the milk.
“Nooo!!!! I didn’t.... “ He couldn’t say the word. It wasn’t nice to say it. Jeff felt himself blushing.
“Alright, that’s enough now, so, what’s going on?” His father’s low voice seemed reassuring, so Jeff told him how he had spilled the milk. His father looked at his mother, and she looked at him. Jeff could sense their irritation growing.
“I was gonna wipe it up, really!”
“Alright, young man, back to bed, right now, march upstairs!” His father gripped his shoulder firmly and steered him towards the stairs, when he a sound from the TV in the living room caught his attention. He turned around, still holding onto Jeff’s shoulder, and led him back towards the sound. They met his mother there, and she was white with fury, biting down on her lower lip and looking at the spilled milk on the carpet.
“Jeff, I am very very disappointed in you! How is it possible that you not only disobeyed my orders not to watch the movie, but you also spilled milk all OVER the carpet! You know how I feel about drinking in the living room!” Her voice was becoming higher and louder. Jeff both feared and hoped that she would wake the others.
“Jeffrey Sidney McGavin,” said his father, “I would like an explanation for this whole state of affairs tout de suite!” His voice boomed out and Jeff cowered, covering his ears with his hands. He shut his eyes, and waited for their next move. Would he be punished with a spanking? In the meantime, both parents started quarrelling loudly between themselves, blaming each other for having raised undisciplined children and for the fact that Tim could never be trusted to do as they asked.
“You!” said a strange voice, echoing like it came from a deep dark cave, “That is QUITE ENOUGH!” Jeff opened his eyes, still half hidden between his fingers and saw, with a shock, that a strong muscly arm and hand had come right out of the TV and had grabbed both his mother and father around their waists. The hand pulled them both, unbelievably, into the TV itself.
Jeff saw them suddenly, looking like little puppets banging on the TV screen from the other side. “Let us out,” they shouted, “Let us out!” At this, Jeff ran upstairs, screaming at the top of his voice, “Tim, Nina, Sally, Jenny, John, HELP me!!!!”
* * *
They all huddled together in front of the TV, and tried to decide what to do. It seemed that their parents could not see them, but they could see their parents, alright, standing now in a dark road, with a haunted house in the background. The little girl, who seemed to be sleepwalking, and dripping blood was getting closer and closer to their parents. Sally suggested that they could break the TV and in that way, maybe break the spell that had captured their parents, but Jenny said she didn’t think it would work. After all, wouldn’t their parents be stuck their forever? John, usually quite brave, started to sniff and it was Jeff who comforted him and told him that since it was only a film, there had to be a way they could go get their parents.
By a vote among all six, it was decided that Jeff, who said that it was his fault his parents were there, and Tim, whose fault it had been for letting them watch the film in the first place, would be the ones to go in after their parents.
“But how will we get in?” asked Tim.
“You have to yell at me, and push me a little, and we’ll stand like this,” said Jeff, positioning his brother with his back to the TV. They began a pretend fight, and nothing happened. The others were watching, holding onto each other, and glancing behind them and urging them to hurry up, since their parents were now running into the house with dark shadows following them.
“You’re not doing it right!” shouted Jeff at Tim.
“Well, whaddya want, little punk? I’m not the one who got them there in the first place!”
“Do it right!” said Jeff with his little body all tense and angry. “Finally do something right Tim, you’re such a loser!”
“A LOSER? A LOSER?” Tim turned red, his ego hurt in front of his other brothers and sisters. “Don’t call me that, little punk. You’re the baby with the wet pants!”
“ENOUGH!” boomed the echoing voice behind them, and before they realised what was happening, they too had been drawn into the television and into another reality.
* * *
Jeff looked around, and at Tim. Suddenly Tim smiled. “It worked!” he said.
“I told you it would, and I’m not a little punk!” said Jeff, but he too was glad they had made it inside. It looked different from here, and not at all like what they had seen when watching the film. Here, everything was black and white, including themselves. There was no street, no house, no floor nor ceilings. Everything was white, a flat dull white, like snow, only neither cold nor warm. It was hard to judge depth or where to go at first. But as their eyes adjusted, Jeff began to see they were actually in a long corridor of doors, like in a large hotel.
“C’mon,” he pulled at Tim’s hand and began to try the doors. “We gotta find Father and Mom!”
The first two doors wouldn’t open, but then some did, to their dismay.
The third door was stiff, but did open, slowly, like a heavy door to a vault. It creaked as it opened, like fingers on a blackboard, and both boys hesitated and looked at each other. Jeff inched forward first, and peeked in. It was dark inside, except for a small glow of flickering light far in the distance. “Let’s go,” he urged Tim, who was still holding onto the door frame. As Tim stepped in, the door closed behind them with a boom. It was dark in there, pitch black.
“HE HE HE HE!!!” they heard, and suddenly the flickering light grew larger and closer and the boys felt the hairs on their arms rise with fear. They backed up quickly, left that room, slamming the door behind them, and panting as they leaned against it.
Back in the white hallway, they each looked more worried than the other. Simultaneously, they shouted out to their siblings outside: “Help us! Help us! We need you!” They hoped the others would hear them and figure it out.
In the meantime, they tried another door. This time, Tim was holding Jeff just behind him, and he grasped the door handle and turned. It didn’t open. The handle just kept turning and turning in his hand. The following door, Jeff tried. He reached out, but as soon as he touched the door knob, he jumped back with a cry of pain, “It’s hot!” Both Tim and Jeff looked up and down the long corridor of doors, realising that they couldn’t even tell which doors they had tried and which they hadn’t.
“We can’t give up,” Jeff whispered. “We’re in it now. And we have to save Mom and Father!”
The next door they both grabbed at the same time, and just as it was about to open, the entire door disappeared in a puff of smoke and the boys stepped back, and Jeff felt his heart pumping so hard, that it seemed about to burst out of his chest.
The task seemed endless, and with a knot in his stomach, Jeff realised that he might never see his mother or father again, nor his other siblings. He looked at Tim for answers, but Tim was rubbing his forehead and looking confused. Then he saw that Tim was whipping his head first left and then right. What was happening, wondered Jeff? He looked where his brother’s gaze had led, and saw the hallway was closing in on them, and becoming more and more narrow, the doors disappearing with a puff of smoke, one by one.
* * *
The boys quickly ran to the last door knob they could see, and pushed it open without hesitation. Rats rushed out loudly and swarmed over their feet, and the boys startled, but pushed their way into the room. In the corner of a dim room, they saw their parents, their elegant clothing dirty and torn, their mother’s hairdo all undone and lying like flat damp strings around her face. His father’s glued on moustache was still handing by one corner but now half covered his mouth. His parents looked up when they heard the rats squeaking and saw their boys, like heroes, standing there before them! “We’re so very sorry,” said his mother softly, in a quiet and sad voice.
At that very moment, the boys were pulled out of the dim room and back into the bright hallway by what seemed an invisible force, but looking down, they realised it was the Hand again. They broke free of its grip and Jeff hugged Tim tightly.
“At least we know where they are!” Jeff said. But as he said it, he realised that they were standing in a very cramped space, with no doors to leave by and no way of knowing exactly where it was their parents were.
* * *
“Tim, Jeff, we’re here!” Suddenly the boys saw, appearing in front of them: Nina, Sally, John and Jenny. They had been hard to see at first, since they too were all white and grey shadows and seemed more like a cloud of dots than real people. Still, the dots that most resembled John carried a big ax, and they all rushed up behind him, to encourage him to break through the walls.
“Go on, John, if anyone can do it - you can!” Sally said. She turned to Nina, “You know he’s been cutting all the firewood for the kitchen since Father’s back started hurting him.” She turned back to John, and said in a firm voice to the others, “We mustn’t be scared. We can do this thing.” Jenny smiled a half smile but also looked very worriedly at the walls which appeared to be getting closer and closer. The space they were in now resembling a small elevator, more than anything.
John hardly had any room to swing his ax, but he lifted it high and the others crouched low behind him. “Do it John, do it!” they all shouted in unison, and John lifted his ax again again, only making a small dent in the ever shrinking white walls.
“We have to shout to Mom and Father,” said Nina, “so they will know we are coming.”
The children all shouted, “We’re coming! We’re coming!”
And they continued to tell John too, “You’re so strong, You have to save us all, John!” John swung the ax with all his strength one last time, the sweat pouring off his forehead. With a loud smash, the walls around them suddenly broke open, like fragments of dull white glass.
Their parents rushed to them and held them tightly. They all held each other and wept with relief to be reunited.
* * *
It was Jeff who noticed first what had happened.
The world they were in was no longer black and white. The colours had returned and they could hear the sounds of nighttime on the farm. The owls hooting outside, the wind in the trees, and he noticed that the TV still on, but with only the funny looking number dial that showed up when all the programs were done for the night.
“Forget, forget, forget,” Jeff thought he heard a low deep voice echoing from the direction of the TV, but he didn’t know what he was supposed to forget.
* * *
“We’re so glad you’re home, Mom and Father!” said Jeff. “All the lights went out and we didn’t know how to change the fuse, so we were gonna go to bed, but it was pretty scary here without you. I’m so glad you’re home.”
“Oh dearest children, you’re so adorable,” said Mom, and she looked so tidy and elegant, her hair coiled in a chiffon bun on her head, and her make up perfect as always.
“Now off to bed with you, young’uns” said Father and after kissing them each on the top of their heads, except for Tim, who was taller than he was, and whom he patted on the shoulders, he whooshed them upstairs, where they were, for a change, very happy to go.
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