Warnings: curse words, murder.
On a Halloween night of 2022, at the Ghostly Manor, at 224B of Rounery street, the doorbell rang.
In the weirdest hour of the night, Layla stared down at her little purple dress and grimaced.
Growing up, Halloween had been her favourite holiday, but at twenty-three years of age, she should’ve been at one of those parties where everybody was blind drunk and half-nakedly groping each other, dancing out of rhythm to a remixed Beyonce song.
But nope, there she was.
Standing in front of the Ghostly Manor, trembling like a leaf in her laughably cheap witch costume, her pointy hat clutched between her hands.
That damn bet. Why had she agreed to it?
Ah, yes! Because she was a moron.
Perfect Erika was standing there, daring her with her stupid arched brow to act like a coward before her forever crush. She knew the bloody bastard wanted him for herself, but Matt had been so kind, smiling at her each time she felt lonely in a crowd and talking to her each time she needed some silent support. Matt had beamed with joy, watching her accept the bet, and he was currently hidden behind the garden fence, grinning from ear to ear behind the screen of his phone, filming as Layla faced the gallows. The moon shone high in the sky, covering the house with a ghostly light.
Trying to calm herself, she took a deep breath, tapping one booted foot against the wooden porch of the old Gothic manor, and dragged her eyes away from the door.
Ten seconds, she thought, ten seconds and I ran away.
Her heart pounded within her ribcage as if it wanted to get out and run away without her.
But her eyes rolled over the decorations scattered about the porch, and she began to count.
A skeleton sat in a rocking chair, and it looked all too realistic for her liking—a knife clutched between the skeletal fingers and a cigarette between his rotten teeth. She was sure its void eyes were staring at her.
And around the creature’s feet, dozens of pumpkins were huddled next to each other. Each one of them is carved into the typical Halloween intimidating face with precision and exceptional accuracy. The sharp cut of the eyes and mouths was identical in all of them.
Blood rolled out of their jaws and bathed the wooden floorboards, spattering the walls and the tall windows.
The spectral light of the fire danced viciously in their carved eyes. That horrifying crowd seemed to gawk at every movement she made; every broken breath and every time her shoulders shuddered with cold and fear.
If she wasn’t scared to death, she would have felt admiration at how dedicated they had been to the decorations; the fake blood was still so fresh that it dripped down the walls like tears. Layla figured that the mysterious inhabitants of this house often came out to refresh the ornaments.
She shuddered as her watch ticked midnight. And Matt was growing uglier by the second.
She didn’t even care about the disappointed look he would’ve given her when she returned empty-handed. She just needed to run home and possibly even cry herself to sleep.
She was about to bail, to run and never look back.
The door cracked open.
“Well, look at you!” The voice emerged from the dark split of the door.
A hand grasped the doorframe, pushing it wide open, allowing me to look at the mysterious human that lived inside the Ghostly Manor. “We have a visitor,” the voice chuckled toward the darkness behind a shoulder.
Layla felt her legs soften so suddenly, she feared that she’d crumble and crush on the floor. But it wasn’t fear that she felt.
No. It was relief.
She had imagined every type of horrifying and dangerous thing on the other side of this door. Her mind had wandered through every horror movie her sister made her watch—even though she hated them—and had conjured weird monsters with horns or flashing fangs; some yellow-eyed demon that fed on children’s hearts; but now that she had a glance at the unknown, she understood nothing could’ve prepared her for what she saw.
It was normal.
She was normal.
A round, pink face—not green or scaly as some had claimed—framed big blue eyes and a mouth that arched upwards in a curious smile. Her eyes shone like someone who had just hit the jackpot; with happiness—and not ‘the anger of the devil’.
The lady was wearing a medieval costume, one of those long and beautiful dresses one could see in Pride and Prejudice and other period dramas. It was the most brilliant green she’d ever seen, so bright that the lady looked like a torch in the otherwise darkness that framed her. The dress hugged her plump and soft body, reaching a pair of silver pointed slippers. She had her hair in a high bun, and peering at it for a couple of moments, Layla was reassured that no snakes had jumped out of her hair.
“What can I do for you, my dear?” The Lady asked, awakening Layla from the trance she had slipped into. And she realised she had stood there, studying her with malicious thoughts.
Was I waiting for her to rip the mask off her face and expose her wicked nature? She thought, What do I do? What do I do?!
Then the words popped out of her mouth.
“Trick or treat?” Layla asked, her voice barely a whisper, and immediately felt the shame wash over her. Her cheeks turned pink and scorching. She nudged her hat forward to show the lady her makeshift basket, hoping she wouldn’t notice the emptiness of it, because the lady would definitely realise that Layla was not there to honour the traditions of her country. No, she was there to mock this small and fragile woman who looked at her with her sweet eyes.
“Oh!” The lady clapped her hands in delight. Her smile widened, and the flames of the decorations licked her eyes. Layla smiled at her, but she felt horrible. This lady was sweet and kind. How could the entire town how he could mock this old lady like this? No one knew why the rumours had started, but the girl felt hatred towards her friends. This lady could not be an evil person.
“I’m afraid I don’t have them here.” The woman looked at her hands, as if she was expecting the candies to suddenly appear. “Well, then, please, do come in!”
“Oh, I don’t think that’s necess—” she grasped Layla’s wrist in a hold and dragged her inside the house with more strength than she expected.
Her mother’s voice popped into her head, repeating that phrase that all parents say to their kids, ‘don’t take candy from strangers’ and ‘don’t go home with people you don’t know’. And, oh, would you look at that! She was doing both at that moment.
The lady began guiding her into the old house.
The light was off, and the porch decoration continued throughout the house. Candles were placed at the sides of the corridor on shelves, flanked by books, photographs, rolls of paper with unknown contents and pictures that were somewhat crookedly arranged.
“Thank you, Mrs…?”
“Holland. Susan Holland.” She replied. It was weird knowing that this woman had a name. Yes, in her mind, she was no longer a monster emerged from the pits of hell, but learning her name was like discovering a secret of the universe, like something she had an obligation to guard forever. “I’m sure I can share my chocolate biscuit stash with you. Or would you like some whiskey? In my day I was drunk half the time,” Susan whispered as if confiding a secret, shaking her frail shoulders with a giggle. “Oh! To be young and not feel the weight of time!”
Layla chuckled, but she remained a couple of steps behind the woman. The idea of turning around and run out of the house was still present within her, despite telling her mind that she could relax, that there was no danger. “I don’t want to impose.”
“Don’t worry!” she said in such a sweet tone that made her teeth rot. “We do not bite!”
Layla felt a slash of fear piercing her chest. “W-we?”
The lady had no time to reply to her question, because Layla saw the other person in the room before she could force her lungs to start working again.
In the middle of the dining room was a big black table, and there, within a pile of orange pulp and fat candles, was another pumpkin as big as her head. I could see it was unfinished, it missed the mouth twisted in that creepy smirk she’d seen on those outside of the manor.
But the thing that made her freeze in place was him.
The man behind the table, also wearing medieval clothes; the fake blood was splattered on his white shirt and on his arms and face. He was tall and had coal-black hair. His eyes were turned downwards. It was only by following his gaze that Layla noticed the knife in his hands.
The man slowly raised his gaze, bending his head to the side. The fire of the candles shone in his eyes. He studied her as a wild animal does. And then his mouth opened in a smirk.
A shiver ran down her spine. Layla frantically looked to her left at the lady, but there was no sign of her. She had disappeared.
“Mmh,” he hummed in delight, rolling his eyes over the girl’s body, from mouth to feet and back up again. “I love when she brings me new toys.”
Layla didn’t need to spare another second. She spun around and ran.
She raced like never in her life with her heart pounding in her throat and her hands stretched forward as if trying to carry her faster to safety.
The door was still open, and she could see the army of pumpkins on the porch getting closer and closer. More and more that blood felt like the furthest thing from a fake decoration and now she knew that the voice screaming inside her that it was real was right. And if she didn’t get out of this house, her blood would soon splatter the walls of this damned house.
Finally, she was reaching the doorway. She was about to run out and scream to someone, anyone, to save her.
Hands grabbed her by the legs, shoving her against the floor. Layla dropped and slammed her face so violently that she felt the blood dripping out of her nose. A scream burst out of her throat; a cry so loud that even her ears were ringing. She had never heard herself produce such a sound before—an agonising scream of fear.
She raised her head and stared through the door to look towards the point where her friends were hidden. There was no one there; they had left her alone. Erika’s lasciviousness towards Matt had blinded her to the obvious truth; she would die in there.
No, this can’t be happening! She screamed in her mind. This can’t happen to me. Wake up, it’s a nightmare!
She was correct; it was a nightmare, but one from which she could not awaken.
The man straddled her, clutching her hair in his fist and pulling her face turned toward the ceiling.
His grin emerged, close enough to smell the liquor in his breath. “You can’t outrun me, doll,” he snickered in her ear.
He pushed her face forward again, crushing it against the floor. Once, twice, three times. Layla felt her nose snap before she started to feel the burning pain.
She screamed. It was too much; the most agonising pain she had ever experienced. Her lungs were on fire, she was struggling for air.
And all she could do was stare at the world through her blurry eyes as it moved outside of her. Her feet dangled under her as the man grabbed her and took off, dragging her somewhere.
A door opened and then slammed loudly behind them. They were no longer in the dark, but that didn’t make things any better.
The man threw her to the floor again, but before he could grab her again, she saw them. The empty, dead eyes of other people were witnessing this cursed night. Bodies were scattered about, slumped against the walls, and bent in strange angles on the pavement.
Layla was aware she was going to die, but she was also watching what would happen to her in the nearest future. The man grabbed her and crushed her against the floor, one hand on her throat, cutting off her breath, and the other on the knife’s handle.
He laughed and flashed his knife, plunging it inside of her stomach. Once, Twice.
The blood splashed his face, tinting his grin crimson.
The rumours were true, Layla thought before she plunged into the darkness. The devil lived in the Ghostly Manor.
On a Halloween night of 2023, at the Ghostly Manor, 224B Rounery street, the doorbell rang.
The man drove the knife into the pumpkin, twisting it to carve deep into its heart. The blood-stained hands held the handle of the knife as easily as a child held his favourite toy. His heart raced with adrenaline, but he had to be patient, so he waited. He stood and curving his knife into the pumpkin, he finally began to carve a mouth while listening to his wife’s voice transform, shaping herself into a socially acceptable person.
And then he heard them.
Footsteps drifted towards him. And a heartbeat later, a voice exclaimed, “ Damn, man, those trinkets outside are awesome!” The words were slurred together; it was obvious that this kid standing at the other side of his table had been taking some sort of drugs. He stumbled on his feet a bit and then concluded, “and that blood looks so real!“
The man raised his head and smirked.
Excellent, he thought, a new toy to add to my collection.