The Halloween Project 2020 - Story 12: Mister Tricks
Last story of 2020 and I've decided that the last one will always have to be about Halloween. Also, I'm introducing a recurring character for the first time. He'll pop up from year to year. So thank you for reading the Halloween Project and may I introduce you to...
Five years ago, when I was 11, was the weirdest Halloween of my life. In a bunch of ways. The year before, 1980, a kid was killed in a park on the other side of town. The story was they found him wrapped up in the swings. Jeez.
So most parents were a little nervous about sending their kids out trick or treating. My parents were different. My mom put up a fuss until my dad yelled while pouring his fourth rye and ginger of the afternoon, "Helen, shut the hell up! It's Halloween! He's hanging out with a bunch of other kids! Alright!" He wasn't really asking. Mom just poured herself another glass of white wine, plopped onto the couch, and clicked on Mothra vs. Godzilla or some other old-time horror movie. She'd be gone by the next Halloween. Word was she went off with a guy who worked at Denny's. Went to either Idaho or Iowa, I always get those confused.
So I did get to go out with my friends, a whole herd of them, maybe 12 or 13 of us. We were just acting like jerks, jumping out of bushes at each other, telling goofy stories about the boogeyman and ghosts and razor blades in candy. We were trying to spook each other, and to be honest, it kind of worked. We were loaded down with candy and just a touch scared when we saw the guy about a block down.
"Who the hell is that?" someone said. We all turned and looked. He was definitely dressed for Halloween, all raggedy clothes, a bum I guessed. The same kid yelled down the street, "Hey, leave us alone you old fart!" We all laughed and the figure moved back behind some bushes.
It was running around 7:30 or 8:00, not really late, but some kids were beginning to peel off toward home. In a half-hour there were like six of us left and we saw him again. This time just a house down. My reaction was a little crazy. My father always listened to this record by someone called Jethro Tull. Is that any name for a band? It was called Aqualung. I never could tell what the heck it was about but on the cover there was a drawing of this nasty old man, maybe a drunk or homeless or something. His coat is all torn and his face is a mean scowl and his hair is long and wild and it freaked me out.
This guy was much worse. It looked like he just draped rags over his body. You could barely see his face except for some stringy hair and he had a kind of droopy black hat. His feet didn't have shoes or boots, but more like wrapped in cloths. His hands hung at his sides, bony and long.
We got a move on and some more kids dropped off. I realized my house was gonna be the last one and I would have to walk the last two blocks by myself. I said "See ya," to two brothers and headed off. I reached the street corner and there he was across from me and between me and my house. And then it started to happen.
"Brunswick," he called to me.
I froze, my feet stuck to the edge of the curb. Now I have the stupidest name in the world. No one can ever guess my name. Why my parents named me that I have no idea. Ask my mother if you can find her. Everyone calls me 'Brun' which is also totally stupid.
"Brunswick. Come here," he called softly. His voice was real low, but rough underneath, like he had swallowed a whole handful of sand. And here's the thing that I never understand, not even now. I didn't run and I didn't start yelling my head off. I just did it. A little slowly, but I stepped in the street and crossed to him.
As I came up close I could see he was much worse looking than Aqualung. I could only see one eye and it was bloodshot yet gleaming from the streetlight. His hair was greasy and tangled, his clothes seemed to move in little lumps and shivers hanging on his body. Then he simply turned and we walked, side by side up the sidewalk. His breathing was shallow and raspy, his clothes, if you can call them that, smelled terrible and seemed to keep moving like he had things inside there with him. He was quiet until,
"Brunswick, take my hand." God knows why, or maybe even he doesn't know, but I reached up and took hold. His hand enveloped my completely. I thought I might just throw up. It felt like an eel covered in sandpaper had grasped onto me. He held tight, but not squeezing. We walked another half block and he said, "Brunswick, would you like to walk to the park with me?"
I never really looked at him mainly because I couldn't believe this was really happening. My voice, calm out of sheer terror, replied, "No, I don't think so."
And then it sighed. Kind of let out a smothered release of foul air. He stepped forward and we stopped in front of my house where he turned, looked down at me, and released my hand. I caught that glowing eye in the front porch lamp and stepped back, then walked halfway to our front steps. He never moved, just watched.
To this day I have no idea what possessed me but I turned and said, "What's your name?"
For the first time he smiled and that mouth still fights its way into my dreams some nights. Of course his teeth were sharp, some missing, some black, some ivory, but it was his tongue... I can't be certain how many tongues he had. But it didn't matter, there were a lot.
"You can call me...," he hesitated, then began again, "call me Mister Tr...," then he stopped completely.
His horrible smile widened taking up half his face.
"Call me Santa."