The rain continued to beat down on to the windshield of Eric Bellinger’s black ‘95 Toyota Avalon. That combined with the fast approaching night made it more and more difficult to drive along the highway properly. In addition he had now been on the road for 20 hours. He had stayed up this long because of the pure adrenaline rush from his crime, but that was depleting. He took a look at his rearview mirror and saw how bloodshot and droopy his eyes appeared.
“Next exit.” He muttered as his eyelids gained weight with each blink.
There he sat, all alone on the road except for a vehicle that drove about 10 yards ahead of him. His tired eyes noticed a sign saying he was two miles from the exit. The taillights of the leading vehicle danced a bit as the highway curved. Eric felt worried that sleep would overcome him, but somehow, despite almost nodding off many times, he made it to the exit and pulled off as the vehicle he trailed behind continued on down the highway, lost forever behind the curtains of falling rain and dark of night. The exit veered away from his previous route completely and he watched as the road’s quality continued to decline. Leaving the highway, he drove into engulfing darkness, pierced only by his weak headlights. He checked his gas gauge which neared emptiness conveniently as he spotted the lights of a gas station in the distance of the dark road. The rain had now ceased.
A minute later he made it to the gas station and pulled in. The neon sign at the entrance displayed the words “Helen Wood Fuel”. He drove up to the pump furthest from the building, noticing a group of four people. Two guys, two girls that were filling up a grey SUV at the pump across from him. They were all done up in elaborate zombie style makeup and ragged clothing. He would’ve been scared, but it was Halloween night, and the group was chatting and laughing normally as music played from their vehicle. The gas station itself wasn’t remarkable in size or quality. Just a small square building housing the worker and four pumps placed outside. He went through the motions of preparing his vehicle, but kept a close eye on the group and the building. He walked to the back of the car and popped his trunk. Again taking a quick glance in the direction of the group, he reached down into the trunk and unzipped a large grey duffle bag which revealed itself to be filled to capacity with money. His hand trailed over all of the cash. It was about $40,000 wrapped neatly into stacks. Eric’s sleepiness left him momentarily as he was filled with a bit of excitement from the sight.
Glancing back and forth between the people and his prize, he subtly slipped out a single hundred from one of the stacks.
“Thank you Uncle Matheson.” He whispered with a smile and slammed the trunk shut.
He walked towards the gas station as the group loaded into their SUV. The guy driving started whooping as they pulled out of the lot. Eric paused to watch them. The driver noticed Eric looking.
“THIS IS MY JAM!” He yelled at him.
Eric turned away shaking his head as he walked into the gas station. An overweight caucasian man with a greying beard and thin, wispy hair combed back in a smooth pompadour like style sat behind the counter. He looked preoccupied gazing down at a smartphone through a pair of silver, wire framed glasses.
“Just.. a.. moment, my friend.” He said as Eric stepped up to the counter. The name tag stuck to his employee polo simply read “Nick”.
Nick looked up and placed his phone aside.
“Jeez, buddy you look like hell.” He said.
Eric looked down at his ratty, grey suit, acknowledging it for the first time after so long. He hadn’t changed since he had committed his crime. The coat was open and the white shirt looked worn and stained with a few specks of blood here and there.
“You’re sure to knock ‘em dead with that costume. What are you a murderer or something?” Nick asked squinting his eyes a bit.
Eric looked up with a jerk.
“What?” He asked with his eyebrows furrowed.
“Your costume.” Nick paused as he pointed and slightly shrugged his shoulders. “It’s good.”
“Oh. Thanks.” Eric replied as he looked down in embarrassment and forced an uneasy laugh.
He placed the bill on the counter.
“Put that on that car over there.” He gestured outside to his vehicle. “Keep the change.” he added.
“Oh yeah? Don’t mind if I do.” Nick said smiling. He looked up from the register and back to the screen. “Pump four.” He said to himself.
As he went through the transaction, Eric spoke.
“Any place where I can sleep around here?” He asked.
“Yeah.” Nick replied shutting the register. He pointed towards the direction Eric was driving. “A mile down that road, turn right when you see a sign for this neighborhood called ‘Helen Wood Estates’. Not too big of a neighborhood, but they got lodging.”
“Thanks.” Eric replied.
He shuffled out of the gas station and quickly walked over to his car. As he pumped gas he looked back towards the building. Nick was watching him intently from the window but looked down as they made eye contact. Eric finished and got back into the car pulling out of the lot with haste. He needed sleep badly. Sure enough as he made his way along the forested road, he reached the sign and turned down a narrow, gravely path leading into the woods. As he traveled slowly down the path, his car came upon a clearing which featured a circle of about 10 homes and lanterns placed between them giving off a soft, eerie glow. The homes were all wooden and old looking but quaint. All of them somewhat lit inside indicating that life was indeed present. A few parents and their children milled about. Eric pulled up to a woman holding the hand of a child in Dracula Garb.
“Okay, Sammy, remember you can only have one piece of candy tonight.” He heard her say as he stopped.
“Excuse me, ma’am. I’m looking for a place to stay the night.” He said to her.
She looked at him wearily as Sammy’s eyes darted between Eric and his mother.
“Right over there, darling.” She said pointing to the opposite side of the clearing.
Eric looked up ahead to see a house he had not noticed at first. Which was strange because it was much larger in appearance compared to the other homes, but it seemingly emerged from the darkness.
“Thanks.” He said looking back to her. But, she was no longer standing there. Sammy remained, however.
“Where’d your mother go?” He asked looking at the child who didn’t seem scared at all. Eric was confused. He watched as the other adults and children started to make their way into their homes.
“You should go home kid.” He said looking back at Sammy.
Sammy silently stared into Eric’s eyes.
“You have blood on your hands. I like blood.” He said to Eric in a quiet monotone voice. He then turned and walked towards one of the homes.
Eric watched, confused and a bit nervous. He sighed and drove towards the large estate. As he neared it, he realized how dilapidated it was. It may have once been quite beautiful, but the wood looked like it was rotting and cracked in many places. He parked his vehicle in front of the steps leading to the front door and got out of the car. Retrieving another bill from the trunk, he walked up the cracked steps to the front door which was illuminated by small lanterns hanging on either side of it. He reached down twisting the cold knob with ease as the door creaked open. A bell overhead rang as he stepped inside. He entered a dimly lit room which was spartan in detail. Adorned simply with a centered reddish, shag rug. At the corner opposite the door was a counter with a bronze call bell and two lit candlesticks on each end. Behind sat an old man on a stool. He looked to be in his early 70’s.
Eric walked up to the counter, noticing that the man slept with his head propped on his elbows. He looked older up close, with a bald head and withered, wrinkled face. He wore a simple, white long sleeved dress shirt and black suspenders. He had a curtain behind him.
“Hey… excuse me!” Eric said waving his hand in front of the man’s face. He looked down and tapped the call bell a few times.
“Haaaaan…” cried the old man as he woke up with a start. His eyes blinked a few times and he rubbed them with his fists. He opened a drawer behind the counter and pulled out a set of rimless bifocals. He looked up at Eric.
“Oh my. Sorry young man. We didn’t expect anyone to be coming in tonight.” He said in a sleepy smoker’s voice.
“Well here I am. I need a-.” Eric paused. “What do you mean WE?” He asked glaring at the old man.
“He’s talking about me.” A woman’s voice spoke behind Eric. Startled he turned around to face an old woman in a slim, black, floor length dress with long sleeves. Her white hair was pulled up in a tight bun. She also looked to be in her 70s with a face that was beautiful in a haunting way with hollow cheeks and piercing, green eyes.
“JESUS, LADY!” He exclaimed.
“Oh, you won’t find him here dear. I do apologize for scaring you.” She responded. She walked away to a door beside the counter. A moment later she stepped out of the curtain behind the man and placed her hands on his shoulders.
“My name is Henry and this is my wife Margaret. How can we help you, young man?” The old man said to Eric.
“I’m Eric. I need a place to stay the night.” Eric responded.
“Of course. I’ll go bring you a key.” Margaret said as she disappeared behind the curtain.
“Here.” Eric said as he pulled out the bill he had and placed it on the counter.
“Oh, there’s no need for that. Consider yourself at home, Eric.” Henry said.
Eric was confused but too tired to question the old man. He grabbed the bill and slipped it back in his pocket as Henry gave him a wide toothy grin. Margaret reappeared from behind the curtain and slid a large, silver, antique key across the counter to Eric.
“You’ll find your room at the top of the stairs behind that door. First door to the right.” Margaret said, pointing to the door she had went through earlier. She put on a slight close-lipped smile.
“Alright. Thanks.” Eric said as he walked to the door. He paused in front of the door and looked back at the couple staring at him and staying completely still. Henry still had the grin plastered on his face.
“Enjoy your stay!” They said to him in unison.
Eric nodded opening the door and entering. He stepped into a small hallway with a door to his left and stairs at the opposite end. He continued his soon to conclude journey up the stairs reaching the room that he had been given. He inserted the key and turned it listening to the lock click. He opened the door and stepped into a small room about the size of the downstairs vestibule where the couple were. A bed with white sheets and a wooden headboard was centered against the wall in front of him. A night stand sat beside the bed with a lit candlestick set in the middle of it. Eric closed the door, removing his coat and hanging it on the wall mounted coat rack beside the door. He did the same with his shirt and kicked off his shoes. He walked over to the bed and collapsed on the mattress, sleep coming to him almost immediately.
He saw the face of his wife. Serene. Delicate. Glowing. It was as though he was standing before the sun. Her face was all that was in his vision. Her eyes were closed. She slowly opened them. She smiled slightly, but then her face contorted into something else. Much more menacing, and angry. She opened her mouth letting out a shrill scream.
“Oh God!” Eric exclaimed as he jumped awake from the nightmare. He sat up in a cold sweat, looking around the room as though to familiarize himself to it again. He heard footsteps outside the door and suddenly it swung open. Nick from the gas station entered.
“Jeez buddy everything okay?” He said to him.
“What the hell are YOU doing here?” Eric asked confused. He stood up from the bed quickly.
“I’m just making sure you’re alright, my guy.” Nick responded matter of factly.
“That’s no way to talk to someone.” He continued. He walked closer to Eric. “All this nonsense for your wife’s inheritance”
“STAY RIGHT THERE!” Eric yelled at him. He stepped back, his leg bumping the night stand and causing the candlestick to fall over. Upon impacting the wooden floor, a flame started. Eric jumped across the bed in a panic. His eyes darted between the growing flame and Nick who stood by the door seeming unaffected.
“Now look at what you went and did.” Nick said. He looked at the flame and then glanced up at Eric. He slowly started to walk towards Eric again. The flame growing behind him reaching the doorway. Eric backed away until he hit the wall.
“Go away old man! I don’t want to hurt you!” Eric screamed.
“Look at what you went and did.” Nick said again, closer now. About a foot away, he reached his arm out and froze. Eric stood there against the wall, frozen in fear and shock. The blaze was also frozen as though a paused video screen. Eric stared in horror at the image of Nick reaching out to him with flames erupting behind him.
“What the hell is going on?” He asked no one in particular. As soon as he asked, the image before him and everything else that surrounded him started to melt like candle wax. Eric watched terrified as the face of the still Nick distorted and fell along with the unmoving flames. Eric fell back onto the ground as the wall behind him melted as well. Darkness befell all over and it was as though he was seated in a pitch black room where the only thing visible to him was his own body nestled in the middle of this blackness. He could feel the floor beneath him and stood up. Looking around all he could see was black space. He stood there confused.
“You have blood on your hands.” Said a small child-like voice.
Eric felt shock. He slowly turned to face Sammy, the child from earlier, in the same Dracula costume.
“I like blood.” The child said once they faced each other.
“What the hell do you want from me? Where am I?” He asked in anger. He clenched his fists tightly.
“Don’t you know Mr. Bellinger?” Asked Sammy.
Eric rushed forward to punch him, but he passed through the child completely and his momentum caused him to fall to the floor. He quickly stood and turned to see Sammy’s back. Sammy slowly turned to face Eric.
“You killed your wife, Mr. Bellinger. Your poor innocent wife. Now you have been damned.” Sammy said. He raised his hand and snapped his fingers. Beneath Eric a trap door gave out and he plummeted down. There was a blazing brightness and heat below him as he realized that he was falling into flames. He could see Sammy with a blank face standing at the edge above him, watching him fall to his demise.