Sixteen – First Runner up in the Crimson Skull Contest

Kathleen clicked the TV off and sat in the gathering gloom of a quickly falling All Hallows Eve. She was depressed and the news on the tube – all murder, war and celebrity piffle – had deepened her dark mood; particularly the item concerning a series of bizarre decapitations occurring across the city, which the press had dubbed The Jack o’ Lantern Murders after the killer’s habit of leaving said item at the scene in place of the victim’s heads. Fifteen murders so far and the police had no clues. She sighed. Halloween had always been tough on her, bringing up as it did the memories that she fought all year to keep buried. It had been a late Halloween night sixteen years ago…

She was sixteen, perhaps a bit old for trick or treating but that’s what she’d been doing; walking a block or two ahead of her small group of friends when the man pulled her into the shadows between two dark houses and took her virginity with cold hands, violent thrusts, and a silence that was broken only by her soft whimpering. She never saw his face. Through it all, the grotesque mask he wore – like a Jack O’ Lantern with wild hair, glowing red eyes, and long, snaggleteeth – leered down at her. When the man came inside her (it was a man she told herself again and again, though he always appeared in her nightmares as a living shadow, a body of darkness with that horrible pumpkin face atop), it was like an icy wind blowing into the middle of her.

The child had been taken from her at birth. Just like the poor thing’s father, she never even saw the baby’s face. All she knew about the child was that it was a boy. And that there was something terribly wrong with him. She could still see the looks of horror and disgust creasing the faces of the doctor and nurses as they pulled him from her.

“What!?” she’d cried under the harsh lights of the delivery room, her legs splayed, soiled by blood and afterbirth and the product of her own bowels. “What is it!?”

But, with the exception of the child’s gender, they had refused to tell her anything. She shook her head in the darkness, realizing that he would be sixteen years old now. Surely he must wonder about her. She hoped not, for all of her associations with him were of pain and terror and sadness. She remembered the feeling of him growing inside of her, like a sickness…

Ding Dong!

She started when the doorbell rang, shaken by the chirpy chiming from her grim reverie. The evening had ripened into full darkness around her and she wondered who could be calling, as she was expecting nobody. Then she recalled again that it was Halloween. Of course! Still, she had no Jack O’ Lantern glowing on the porch, no seasonal decorations of any kind, in fact, and the house was dark inside and out. No trick or treaters would approach so dark a place, would they? She certainly wouldn’t.

The bell chimed again and she rose in the darkness, wondering what to do. She had no treats to offer and she definitely did not need any tricks. She was tempted to simply ignore the callers when she remembered some candy she had stashed in a cupboard to indulge her occasional sweet tooth. It wouldn’t go far but what the hell, she thought.

“Just a second!” she called out, moving through the dark to turn on a light and dig out her meager candy supply.

When she finally opened the door the porch was empty, only the dim glow of the sodium streetlights and a cool breeze there to greet her. “Impatient little bastards,” she mused aloud. Just as well, she thought, looking at the half eaten bag of “fun size” chocolate bars – these really wouldn’t last long. Closing the door, she turned back into the house and promptly dropped her candy and her jaw to the floor.

The man who had destroyed her innocence, and her life sixteen years ago stood before her. Impossible as it was, he stood there wearing the same frightful mask – a bulbous Jack O’ Lantern with crazy black hair, burning red eyes, and large snaggletooth mouth. It was as if he’d stepped from her nightmares, come from the darkness in her head to pay her a visit this Halloween, the sixteenth anniversary of his crime. She felt a scream rising in her throat when that horrible mouth opened and the truth hit her like a hammer over the head.

“Mother…” said the mask that she knew now was not a mask. “It’s my birthday…”

Her son, for that’s who this was her reeling mind and pounding heart told her – and my god didn’t he look just like his father!? – stepped aside and swept his long arm back, gesturing toward the sofa behind him, from whence she had risen only moments before. Placed side by side in a neat row upon the plush cushions were the heads of fifteen men and women. They stared up at her with blank eyes, blood oozing dark and sticky from the tattered stumps of their necks. Horribly, the snaggletooth mouth grinned – her son, The Jack O’ Lantern Killer! Crazily, she found herself thinking that the gore would never come out of the fabric, and that she simply could not afford new furniture right now.

“I’ve come for my present,” the impossible figure continued.  

“I…I…” she stammered, “wasn’t expecting you!”

“I’ve come for my present…” her boy repeated, stepping forward now and gripping her face in his long fingered hands. “I’m sixteen today…”

His breath on her face was like a graveyard wind, cold and vaguely rotten. “I know,” she whispered, feeling his fingers around her skull. “”I’ve thought of you often, my son… I love you…”

Before she could utter another lie he pulled her head from her body like a cork from a bottle, laughing as the arterial gush painted the room red. “Today I am a man,” he said, and kissed her on the lips.

By Richard Cody

Richard Cody, a native Californian, has been known to write poetry and fiction. His work has appeared more or less recently in Pulp Metal Magazine, Daily Love, Microstory a Week, The Carnage Conservatory, Askew Poetry, Red Fez, a handful of stones, and The Big Sur Round-Up. Richard writes what he sees – all the horror, all the beauty. Those interested in his darker scribblings are urged to check out his dark fiction/horror collection, Darker Corners, available as a paperback or eBook at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/ricksha777. Richard also maintains the haikuish blog,  http://notesfromalife.blogspot.com/, perfect reading for those with little time and/or short attention spans.

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