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Fiction Thriller Suspense

Lucas flips his jack-o’-lantern candy bucket and empties it onto the kitchen table when his Mom, Nancy, spots something. 

She stops what she’s doing, leans over the table, and asks, ‘Lucus, what’s this?’ 

Lucus spreads the candy as evenly as possible and considers a Butterfinger over some Sour Patch Kids. 

He hears: Lucus, I’m talking to you,’ and shrugs his shoulders. 

‘It looks like a note,’ Nancy adds.

‘Big deal,’ Lucus replies. ‘I’ve gotten worse.’

Nancy unfolds the note and reads it. 

‘Lucus, did you know this was in there?’

‘What?’

‘The note – Lucus – the note. Did you read it?’

‘I didn’t even know it was there.’

‘It says: signed Mrs. Applebaum.’

‘That it – signed Mrs. Applebaum?’ Lucus asks.

‘I wish.’

Lucus puts one corner of the Butterfinger’s foil wrapper between his teeth and pulls.

‘Wanna Kit Kat? I got like two.’

Lucus fills his mouth, chews using only the left side, and grimaces when he forgets he can’t chew using his right.

‘I thought you said you weren’t sore,’ Nancy says.

‘I’m not. It’s just – look, do you want the Kit Kat or not?’

‘No, I don’t want the Kit Kat, Lucus! Instead, I want to know why Mrs. Applebaum would put something so horrible in a kid’s candy bucket.’

‘I’m not sure I follow.’

‘Here,’ Nancy says, waving the note. ‘You read it.’

Lucus snaps the note from Nancy’s hand and stalls.

‘Lucus – read it.’

‘Okay – okay.’

Lucus reads the note twice and responds with, ‘Whoa. She just called you an unfit mother. 

… NancyI wouldn’t allow you to raise a Guinea Pig, let alone a teenager. …. In my professional opinion, your son and plenty more like him in this neighborhood are one meal away from having their clothes specially made. What does that even mean – specially made?’ Lucus asks. 

‘Professional opinion? That woman hasn’t left the house in fifteen years, for crying out loud,’ Nancy says.

‘Why would I have to get my clothes specially made?’ Lucus asks. ‘Is she saying I’m fat?’

‘Lucus, honey, you are not fat, and even if you were, big deal. Being fa-overweight is not a big deal. Mrs. Applebaum is a mean, spirited lonely woman, that’s all.’

‘You’re angry, Mom.’

‘I’m not angry. I’m disappointed, that’s all. Mrs. Applebaum should know better than handing out mean notes instead of candy on Halloween.’

‘We were surprised she even answered the door.’ Lucus says. ‘Rumor was she died, and the cats were feasting on her body since Christmas.’

Nancy knew Mrs. Applebaum’s seven cats and balked at the thought of them gnawing on Applebaum’s corpse under the flickering Christmas lights.

‘Did you not find it strange when the old bat dropped a folded piece of paper into the bucket instead of a handful of candy?’

‘I guess, but it’s Mrs. Applebaum, so what do you expect? I mean, we never even saw her.’

‘How can you be sure it was Mrs. Applebaum if you didn’t see her?’

‘Oh, it was her. I’d know that arm anywhere.’

Lucus pantomimes opening a door and an arm scurrying to safety.

‘Then what?’ Nancy asks.

‘After she dropped the note, she retracted her arm from the narrow gap and closed the door. Jonah wanted to egg her house, but I talked him out of it.’

Nancy re-reads the note but says nothing.

‘You’re still angry, Mom. I can see it on your face.’

‘I’m not angry. It’s just that witch called me an unfit mother. How dare she and all I do.’

‘Take no notice, or have you forgotten how this is the same woman that accused the postal service of poisoning her dog?’

‘Mrs. Applebaum never owned a dog.’

‘I rest my case,’ Lucus says.

Lucus cracks open a box of Jolly Ranchers and fills his palm.

‘I know …. It’s just... I never liked that woman from the moment we moved here. She started a rumor, you know?’

‘I know. I heard. You’re kinda famous in our school.’

‘You know?’

‘Of course, I know. It’s a small town, everyone knows.’

‘It’s not true.’

Lucus bets he can fill his mouth with the entire box of Jolly Ranchers without choking.

‘Lucus?’

Lucus stops midway, eyeballs his palm, and then Nancy.

‘Relax, will you? I know you didn’t murder Dad. Here, have a Jolly Rancher.’

Lucus extends his arm, and Nancy reluctantly plucks a Jolly Rancher from Lucas’s palm – a yellow one, for old-time’s sake.

‘No …. one …. actually…. believes…. I murdered… your Dad, do they? I mean, you read the note. Remember, he felt trapped? The coward left! He didn’t want to be a Dad anymore? Like it’s a choice.’

‘I haven’t seen you this mad since ….’

‘Since ….’

‘The day before Dad left.’

‘Is that right?’ 

Nancy reaches for the nearest candy bar and hands it to Lucus.

‘Here, have a Whatchamacallit … and the next time someone says your mom killed your dad, I trust you will put ’em straight.’

For a moment, Lucus forgets what he’s doing and bites down hard on a Jolly Rancher. He winces with pain and clutches his jaw.

‘It’s my tooth,’ he says.

‘I can see that,’ Nancy snaps. ‘You told me it wasn’t sore anymore.’ 

‘It wasn’t.’ Lucus massages his jaw. ‘I’m going to need a painkiller.’

‘What you need is a dentist.’

‘Painkiller for now, please.’

Nancy searches the bathroom cabinet and finds an empty Tylenol box. She remembers last week’s migraine and the spare box she left in the glove compartment for emergencies. 

She hands Lucus the empty box at the foot of the stairs.

‘You’re kidding me?’ Lucus says.

‘Keep your panties on. I got a spare box in the car.’

A long moment later, Nancy returns and tosses the box. Lucus is waiting beside the refrigerator with a glass of water. 

Nancy says nothing and starts stacking yesterday’s dirty dishes one by one.

‘What happened?’ Lucus asks.

‘It’s nothing, okay. Just …’

‘Mom?’

‘Look, you won’t believe me.’

‘Try me.’

‘It’s Applebaum–’

‘What about her?’

‘She was spying on us – me.’

‘Nooooo – wayyyy. Applebaum hasn’t left the house in fifteen years

‘I never said she left the house. I said she was spying on me.’

‘How?’

‘Through the curtain. I saw it move. I know it was her.’

‘Applebaum is a curtain twitcher. She has to be; she never leaves the house. She probably was waiting for another bunch of kids to scare, that’s all.’

‘Where’s the note?’ Nancy asks.

Lucus points to the garbage can with his chin. ‘I threw it in the trash where it belongs.’

Nancy goes fishing, finds it under some candy wrappers and an empty OJ carton, and reads it for the third time.

‘You’re angry,’ Lucus says.

‘You damn right, I’m angry.’

This time Nancy balls the note, steps on the garbage can foot pedal, and stalls.

‘What’s the problem?’ Lucus asks. ‘Just put it in the trash can where it belongs.’

Nancy slowly lifts her foot, and the lid closes.

‘D’ya know what?’

‘What?’ Lucus asks.

‘I’m going to cross the street and give Applebaum a piece of my mind.’

‘Okay, but can you show me where the pumpkin is first.’

‘Pumpkin?’ Nancy asks.

‘Yes – competition starts in less than an hour in Market Park. The winner gets 200 bucks.’

‘Competition?’

‘You forgot, didn’t you?’

‘Oh, Lucus. I’m sorry. With everything going on, it must have slipped my mind.’

‘Okay, you forgot to carve the pumpkin, but you got a pumpkin, right?’

Nancy purses her lips and shakes her head.

‘Lucus, give me five minutes.’

‘Why, where are you going?’

‘Mrs. Applebaum’s.’

‘Why and what about the pumpkin?’

Nancy reaches for a scarf and wraps it around her neck.

‘Lucus, if I don’t go across the street and give Applebaum a piece of my mind right now, I never will. The competition starts in an hour, right?’ 

‘Right.’

‘I promise I’ll carve something to get you third place at least.’

Nancy smiles and kisses Lucus on the forehead. 


Nancy is waving the note above her head when she spots the curtain move for the third time and a pair of eyes retreat into the dark.

‘Open the door, Applebaum! I know you’re in there!’

Nancy knocks again, and Mrs. Applebaum answers the door waving a paper fan across her face.

‘Mrs. – Applebaum I … I …’

‘You what – can’t take no for an answer?’

‘I’ve been knocking for over five minutes.’

‘I’d hardly call what you were doing knocking. Anyway, aren’t you a little old to be trick or treating?’

‘Have you a problem with me?’ Nancy asks.

‘What makes you think someone like me would have a problem with someone like you.’

‘What the hell is that supposed to mean?’

‘You know well what it means. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be stood outside my house.’

‘I’m here because you put a nasty note in my kid’s candy bucket, and I want to know why.’

Mrs. Applebaum scoffs. ‘Oh, please. Heaven forbid anyone would call any of you people out.’

‘You people? Oh – my – God, Applebaum. You’re not making any sense.’

‘That’s Mrs. Applebaum to you.’

‘Mrs? You were never married.’

‘Yes, I was. A long time ago.’

‘Whatever. Look, you called my kid fat and me an unfit mother, and I want to know why.’

Mrs. Applebaum’s newest cat – Mittens – appears from behind a door and brushes against Mrs. Applebaum’s leg. Applebaum narrows her eyes.

‘Why do you keep staring at me.’ she asks.

‘I’m not starting at you,’ Nancy replies.

‘Yes, you are, and don’t deny it. You’ve been eyeballing me since I opened the door. There’s nothing wrong with my eyesight, you know?’

‘You look different, is all.’

‘Well, if you must know. I – I lost ten pounds.’

Nancy does her best not to laugh.

‘I don’t care. I want to know why you left a note in my kid’s candy bucket.’

‘I want you to leave.’

‘Leave?’ Nancy asks.

‘Yes. You’re scaring me, and well, I’ve heard stories about you.’

‘A rumor, you mean. A rumor I know you started.’

‘Oh, please. Everyone in this town knows what happened to poor Stan. Stan was such a lovely man.’

‘Oh – my – God. You are delusional.’

‘Really? Tell me – Nancy – what exactly do you see when you look at your kid because I sure as hell know what I see. I see a burden. I see diabetes. I see cancer. I see a butterball.’

‘You – are, without a doubt, the nastiest piece of work I have ever seen. I mean, have you stopped to look in the mirror lately?’

Mittens meows, and Mrs. Applebaum takes him in her arms.

‘C’mon, Mittens. CBS is showing re-runs of Unsolved Mysteries.’ 

Mrs. Applebaum closes the door.

‘Hey, I’m not done talking to you.’

Nancy briefly thinks about knocking on the front door a few more times but decides against it. Instead, she hurries to the rear of Mrs. Applebaum’s house and finds the backdoor unlocked. She slips inside unnoticed. A large pot is boiling on the stove, and Nancy can hear Mrs. Applebaum talking loudly to her seven cats in the next room. A moment later, Mrs. Applebaum cracks a can of soda and opens a bag of chips while the springs in Applebaum’s Lazyboy squeak every time she moves. Nancy has a plan and tip-toes her way to the sink, fills the kettle, and leaves it on the stove beside the pot. Nancy uses the pantry to hide while the kettle boils. A moment later, the kettle begins to whistle. Nancy watches through the slats in the pantry door as Mrs. Applebaum shuffles into the kitchen, flanked by her seven cats. 

‘Scoot,’ she says. ‘Scoot.’

She spots the kettle and removes it.

‘What the hell? I don’t remember –’

Mrs. Applebaum slowly stops cooling her face with the paper fan when she hears the pantry door hinge whine as its pushed open. Eeeeeeek!

‘You have wayyyy too many photos of your cats,’ Nancy says, shaking her head.

Applebaum awkwardly turns her body and Nancy is instanlty reminded of the way a Sumo Wrestler stomps his legs.

‘What the hell are you doing in my house?’ Applebaum snaps.

‘The door was open, so I figured I’d let myself in.’

‘I’m calling the police.’

Mrs. Applebaum takes the phone from the cradle and uses her thumb to dial 911 when an automated voice says: ‘We’re sorry. The number you have dialled does not exist.’

Over Mrs. Applebaum’s shoulder, Nancy makes a tut-tutting sound and stretches and presses the switch hook.

‘Wanna know why you can’t dial 911? I’ll tell you why – because your thumbs are too fat.’

‘I want you out of my house right now, Nancy. Do you hear me? Right now!’

Nancy slips the phone from Mrs. Applebaum’s hand and into the cradle while Mrs. Applebaum grips the edge of the countertop behind her with both hands and nervously shuffles away.

‘I didn’t kill my husband. There is nothing wrong with my son, and I am not an unfit mother, you hear me?’

Mrs. Applebaum pretends not to hear and summons Mitten with the click of her fingers.

‘Are you even listening to me?’ Nancy asks.

Mrs. Applebaum mutters something under her breath and scoops Mitten from the floor and into her arms, where she strokes him between his ears. He purrs.

‘I need you to go now. You’re scaring my cats.’

Nancy notices a pumpkin on the kitchen table and a carving knife beside it. It reminds her of Lucus and the competition in Market Park in less than an hour.

‘Okay, I’m going, but if you ever look sideways at my kid or me again, you’ll regret the day you were born.’

Nancy takes the pumpkin under her arm.

‘Hey, where do you think you’re going with that? That’s my pumpkin.’

‘Well, it’s mine now,’ Nancy says.

‘You’re gonna need more than a pumpkin to feed that fat kid of yours.’

Nancy abruptly stops, leaves the pumpkin down, and slides the carving knife off the table. She tightens her grip and turns her knuckles white.

‘Oh, please. You don’t scare me.’

‘That’s funny,’ Nancy says.

‘What is?’ Mrs. Applebaum asks.

‘Stan said the same thing.’


Nancy is putting the finishing touches on the pumpkin when Lucus leans in and scoops the carving knife with his hand.

‘What’s this?’ he asks.

‘It’s a carving knife. What does it look like?’

‘I know that, but it doesn’t look like one of ours. See, the handle is different, and the tip is slightly bent.’

Nancy smiles, hiding her teeth.

‘I found it in one of the drawers,’ she says. ‘Anyway, what do you think?’

Lucus leaves the knife down, lifts the pumpkin, and inspects it. He nods his head.

‘You’re right. It won’t win, but third place and fifty bucks sound good.’

‘Great.,’ Nancy says. ‘Next year, I’ll be more prepared. I promise.’

‘Hey, how did it go with Mrs. Applebaum?’ Lucus asks.

Nancy takes the knife from the table and inspects it against the light, twisting and turning it as if she’s looking for something in particular. 

‘I knocked, and I knocked, but that mean old bat refused to answer. Now, get out of here before you miss the start of the competition.’

Lucus leans in, but before he can kiss Nancy goodbye, he notices a speck on her cheek.

‘Is that a cut?’ he asks.

Nancy panics, licks her finger, and cleans her cheek.

‘No, just some dried pumpkin juice, is all. You should have seen me. I mean, I really went to town on that poor pumpkin.’

Nancy smiles, pushing her cheeks as high as they can, and stabs the air more than once. 

‘Love you,’ Lucus says.

‘Love you too, Lucus. Have fun!’

 

October 28, 2022 20:34

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4 comments

Renee Atherton
04:47 Nov 04, 2022

I like the originality of this tale! I think most of us that wrote on this prompt, made our murder after the pumpkin carving, I for one didn't even think of carving the pumpkin after! Well done! My only critique is in regard to the following dialogue: " ‘Why do you keep staring at me.’ she asks. ‘I’m not starting at you,’ Nancy replies. ‘Yes, you are, and don’t deny it. You’ve been eyeballing me since I opened the door. There’s nothing wrong with my eyesight, you know?’ " I'm certain that Nancy meant "staring". It's a simple spelling e...

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08:04 Nov 04, 2022

Hi Renee. Thank you for the words of encouragement. Much appreciated. 'Starting' was an unfortunate typo I'm afraid and sure by the time I noticed it the submission was closed to edits.

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Delbert Griffith
13:00 Nov 03, 2022

Nice story, Michael. You really hit the nail on the head with the prompt. Although I found some of the dialogue a bit stilted, it is a minor thing, and probably nothing more than personal taste. Overall, this is one of the best stories I have read on this prompt. Well done!

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13:44 Nov 03, 2022

Hi, Delbert. It's always nice when someone takes the time to read your story and leave feedback. I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.

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