In celebration of Halloween, below is a free short story. Enjoy!
Every few years, on Halloween night, a legendary bogeyman stalks the rural town of Millcreek. For ten-year-old Corey Wilkes, tonight will be one filled with terror as he fears the killer is creeping through the darkness of his house. Will Corey and his family be the next ones slaughtered?
Read online below or read the PDF: The Jack-O’-Lantern Man by Brian Moreland Nov 2014
“That Jack-O’-Lantern Man”
Copyright 2014 © Brian Moreland
Published by Brian Moreland, Dallas, Texas
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means whatsoever, including photography, xerography, broadcast, transmission, translation into any language, or recording, without permission in writing from the publisher. Reviewers may quote brief passages in critical articles or reviews. The characters depicted in this story are completely fictitious, and any similarities to actual events, locations or people, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.
At ten o’clock on Halloween night, Corey Wilkes and his little sister, Paige, sat on the den floor, sorting their piles of candy after an evening of trick-or-treating. Corey, age ten, still wore his Darth Vader costume, all but the mask which sat on the floor. Paige, age six, was dressed as a pink fairy with silver wings.
Thunder roared above, making both kids flinch. Heavy rain clapped against the roof. Wind howled like a ghoulish voice, and cracks of lightning brightened the dark windows.
Corey and Paige sat wide-eyed as Dad topped off their night with a story that sent chills creeping up their spines. “Then out of the foggy night came the Jack-O’-Lantern Man . . . with a tall, dark body, hands made of twisted roots, and a head shaped like what?”
“A pumpkin!” the kids said in unison, having heard the story many times before.
Their dad smiled. “That’s right, with a monstrous face carved into it.”
Corey thought of all the glowing jack-o’-lanterns he’d seen around the neighborhood tonight. Some had silly faces, but others, like the one he and Dad had carved, contained evil expressions with wicked eyes and jagged teeth. Corey pictured the Jack-O’-Lantern Man with the face of the pumpkin on their front porch. The boy imagined its glowing eyes staring down as a dark hand reached for the victim’s throat.
As the story got to the good part, Paige squeezed her brother’s arm.
Dad leaned close to them. “To this day, they’ve never caught the Jack-O’-Lantern Man. Every Halloween someone reports seeing him creeping around their barn or in the cemetery or even in neighborhoods like ours. And every few years on stormy nights like this, children and their families mysteriously disappear. Because whenever he finds small children sleeping in their beds, he sneaks into their rooms, lifts back their covers, and gobbles them up.”
Dad lurched at Corey and Paige. The kids screamed and giggled as he tickled them.
Their Uncle Malcolm, who lived with them, sat on the sofa and stared with drool dripping off his bottom lip. Their Dad’s older brother was what their parents called “special.” He never talked and rarely looked you in the eye. He just stared. Tonight, Uncle Malcolm wore the same goofy costume he wore every year, a clown suit, because clowns were the only thing that made Malcolm smile, or show any emotion at all for that matter. Dad said their uncle was always aware, though, always listening. Malcolm just didn’t know how to express himself like normal people. Corey thought it was a little weird that a grown man still dressed up for trick-or-treating, but Dad said their uncle would always be a kid inside.
Dad continued to laugh and tickle Corey and Paige. Their mother entered the living room. “Okay little monsters, time for bed. You still have school tomorrow.”
Paige stood. “Awe, Mom. We were having fun.”
“Yeah,” Corey said. “Dad was telling us a really scary story about this bogeyman who eats children.”
She shot their father a look. “Well, I’m so glad your father could give you two the willies so you can have nightmares all night.” Their mother checked all the locks on the windows and sliding-glass door like she did every night.
“Mommy, I’m too scared to sleep alone tonight,” Paige said. “Can I sleep with you and Daddy?”
Mom said, “Sweetie, you know that once you got into first grade it was time you slept in your own bed. You’re a big girl now. If you want, you can sleep with the closet light on. Do you want yours on, too, Corey?”
“Would Darth Vader be afraid of the dark?” he said, posing like a dark knight who feared nothing. He swung his light saber and made swishing sounds.
“I guess not,” Mom said, walking his sister into the hallway. “I’m going to tuck Paige in. I’ll be back for you in a minute.”
Dad wiped a tissue across Malcolm’s chin and then sat on the couch next to Corey. Father, son, and uncle watched the storm through the sliding-glass door. Another flash brightened their backyard. Beyond their two-acre lot stretched the old pumpkin patch that bordered their rural neighborhood.
The pumpkin patch had belonged to Corey’s grandfather and was passed down to his parents, who harvested pumpkins for the local stores that sold them. His mother made scented candles and baked the best pumpkin pies. Corey and his father worked these fields until their hands were raw. Uncle Malcolm helped out too. Even though he couldn’t talk, he was still able to do simple chores around the farm.
After watching the thunderstorm a minute, Dad said, “It was on a night just like this that we saw him once.”
Corey’s eyes widened. “The Jack-O’-Lantern Man?”
“In the orange flesh.”
“I thought that was just a story Grandpa told you when you were a kid.”
“It’s been a legend that the people of Millcreek have passed down from generation to generation, usually told as a story on Halloween, but it’s based on something that really happened.” Corey’s father looked at him with serious eyes. “Back in the 1950s, our town’s founding fathers were at war with a coven of witches who lived in a wooded area just beyond the edge of town. They were battling over the very land our neighborhood was later built upon. The coven refused to move.
“One night some townsmen with white hooded masks and guns came into the commune to scare the witches off, but they wouldn’t leave without a fight. The night turned violent and three women ended up shot in cold blood. Then the masked men took the coven’s leader, a man named Hector Ravencroft, and hung him from an oak tree. The hooded townsmen warned that if the men, women, and children of the coven didn’t vacate the land immediately, soon every branch of that tree was going to be hanging bodies. The witches were gone by dawn. As a reminder of the threat, Hector’s corpse remained hanging for weeks, rotting away in the sun, pecked by crows, ravaged by insects.”
Dad stood and walked to the sliding-glass door that faced the backyard. “Then a few weeks later, on the night of Samhain, what we call Halloween, the witches gathered in the pumpkin patch, the very one behind our house. According to the legend, they buried Hector Ravencroft in that patch and performed a ritual to put a curse on Millcreek.” Dad turned around and looked back at Corey and Uncle Malcolm. “Hector’s corpse rose from the dead to become the Jack-O’-Lantern Man. And he still lives in the patch today, somewhere underground. Every few years he rises on Halloween to seek revenge, sometimes snatching a child, sometimes butchering an entire family.”
“You mean he’s real?” Corey felt the hairs lift on his neck and arms, thinking that such a creature could actually be out there prowling the night.
Dad nodded. “I’ve seen him with my own eyes. I was about your age and couldn’t sleep because of a bad thunderstorm. I noticed that Malcolm had gotten out of bed and was at the window in our room. Back then, he was normal, like you and me.”
Corey looked at his catatonic uncle. “He wasn’t always like this?”
“No, he wasn’t born this way. That Halloween night changed him forever.”
“What happened?” Corey asked.
“I got out of bed and joined Malcolm at our bedroom window, watching the lightning streak the sky. I was afraid of storms and panicked every time the thunder shook the roof. He told me to be quiet―that he thought he saw someone moving outside. Our window faced the houses across the street, like yours does, and it was then that I saw him or it―just like I described, with a huge pumpkin head and a face that looked like it had a hunger for vengeance. His skeletal body was covered in roots and vines. He still wore the clothes that Hector had been buried in and a pair of workman’s boots. He was prowling on the dark porch of the neighbors across the street. I remember my heart racing when I saw him enter their house.”
Corey gasped. “Did you call the police?”
“Malcolm and I were too scared to do anything, so we just sat and watched the house for what seemed like an hour. The lights never came on. Then finally he came back out again, a tall grotesque shadow, carrying something long and sharp in his hand. A machete. He crossed the street through the rain, entered our front yard.”
As Dad was talking, Corey’s mother came back into the den and leaned against the wall behind his father, listening.
“The Jack-O’-Lantern Man came right up to our window,” Dad continued, “stared down at us. I backed away with terror, thinking he was going to break through the glass and kill us. His eyes were hollow black sockets and he held a machete dripping red. He pressed a bloody palm against the window, and Malcolm matched his hand against the killer’s. They stayed like that for a long time, just staring at each other. Then the Jack-O’-Lantern Man disappeared into the night. After that, Malcolm never spoke another word.”
For a brief second Corey thought his uncle’s eyes glanced sideways at him. It happened so fast Corey wondered if it happened at all. In a blink, Malcolm was back to staring out the window.
“What happened to the people across the street?” Corey asked.
“The whole family was found murdered, their faces carved like jack-o’-lanterns.”
“Okay, that’s enough, Robert,” Corey’s mother said. “You’ve got Paige too scared to sleep by herself.”
Dad said, “My dad told me these stories and they didn’t kill me.”
“No more vampires or pumpkin creatures. Corey, give your Dad a hug, and then get ready for bed.”
Dad squeezed Corey tightly. “Goodnight, Darth Vader. May the force be with you.”
Corey smiled. ” ’Night, Dad.”
While his father walked Uncle Malcolm to his bedroom, Corey gathered all the uneaten candy and put it back in his trick-or-treat bucket. When Mom wasn’t looking, he couldn’t help but toss a couple of candy corns in his mouth and secretly stash a Reese’s peanut butter cup for later. He purposefully took his time, wanting to make his favorite night of the year last as long as possible.
Mom stood with her hands on her hips. “Corey, you need to brush your teeth and change out of that costume. Halloween’s over.”
“It’s not over till midnight.”
“It’s over for you. Now get into your pajamas.”
“I want to sleep in my costume, please?”
“Won’t you be uncomfortable?”
“No, ma’am. I can dream I’m Darth Vader, leader of the Galactic Empire, master of the dark force.” Corey didn’t want to admit he felt safer in his costume. In the Star Wars movies, Darth Vader wasn’t afraid of anybody. He ruled the galaxy.
Corey quickly brushed his teeth, then climbed into bed, black costume and all. Mom tucked him in and kissed him on the forehead. “Sure you don’t want to leave on your night-light?”
“I don’t need it anymore.”
“You are growing up fast. Well, goodnight, my little man.”
She stopped at the door. “Yes, honey?”
“Do you believe in the Jack-O’-Lantern Man?”
“That’s just a ghost story.”
“But Dad says the legend is true.”
“Your father was just having fun with you. Bogeymen aren’t real. Now, go to sleep.” She turned off his light and closed the door. The room got so dark Corey couldn’t see anything, except when lightning flashed outside the windows.
After an hour of listening to thunder hammer the sky and rain hitting the roof and windows, he finally dozed off. But instead of having dreams of leading storm troopers into battle against Jedi Knights and rebel soldiers, Corey dreamed of dripping pumpkin fangs and black shadows creeping all around. He heard rain slapping against his windows, the moaning wind, and . . . were those screams coming from the house across the street? The cries seemed to echo in the storm, penetrating his dreams. Then he was at his window, and a rain-drenched woman ran across his yard and up to his window. Blood covered her white nightgown. Her face was a mask of terror. Her bloody hand smeared his window pane. “Let me inside, please, please!” she screamed, looking over her shoulder. That’s when Corey spotted the tall, pumpkin-headed shadow walking behind her. Lightning flashed, shining on half its horrid face, the bloody machete as it rose over the woman’s head . . .
Hands tugging at Corey’s feet woke him.
He sat up and screamed.
The tugging stopped, and he stared at the darkness at the end of the bed. “Who’s there?”
No one made a sound, but he had the strangest feeling that he wasn’t alone in his bedroom. That someone or something was huddled in the black corner at the end of his bed. It wasn’t Paige, because she was deathly afraid of the dark. Besides, the tugging hands had been too big and strong. His uncle was a chronic sleepwalker, and sometimes Corey woke up to see him standing over his bed.
“U-Uncle Malcolm, is that you?”
He imagined his uncle standing in the darkness, still wearing his clown suit, strings of drool dripping off his grinning face. But it was too dark to see if anybody was there. From beyond the foot of his bed he swore he smelled mud and roots, the same odor as when he and his sister explored the creek after it rained. There was another scent too. Earlier that evening Corey and his father had gutted a pumpkin, pulling out all the stringy innards and seeds so they could carve it. The room was now ripe with that smell.
Shivering, Corey yanked the covers over his head, hoping that whatever intruder was in his room wouldn’t be able to penetrate the shield of his Star Wars blanket.
The storm created a din inside the room that washed out any sounds of movement. But Corey still felt a presence. He lay in a ball under his covers, wondering why his parents hadn’t come to his rescue yet. They always came in when he woke up screaming from a nightmare. He yearned for the comforting touch of his mother’s hand on his shoulder, the reassurance of his father’s voice that always seemed to chase the bogeymen away. Corey kept waiting for the hall light to turn on, but it never did.
The storm, he thought. They couldn’t hear me because of the storm. He wanted to yell for them to come in here, but didn’t know if he should chance it. Whoever or whatever was in the corner might yank back the covers and . . .
If I lay here long enough, he’s going to get me.
His ankles still felt the phantom touch from when the hands had grabbed them and tugged him awake. That sensation had been too real to be part of his dream.
I’ve got to make a run for it. I’ll jump out of bed, turn on all the lights, then sleep in Mom and Dad’s room, or with Paige, just until morning. Then Halloween’ll be over and everything’ll be okay.
Taking a deep breath, Corey counted backwards in his head, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1! He threw back the covers, leaped off his bed, and raced for the light switch. When he hit it, no light came on. He felt for the door, but it was already open, even though he remembered his mother closing it. Feeling the air of someone moving behind him, he darted into the hallway, hit the light switch.
Again, no light.
The power must be out. His heart pounded. Running through the hall, he turned into his parents’ room, approached the bed.
“Mom . . . Dad . . . I’m scared.”
Shadows cast across their bed. Two dark lumps lay in the faint light of the windows.
Corey walked to his mother’s side. “Mom, wake up. I can’t sleep. Mom?”
He shook her arm, but the dark lump didn’t move. His father wasn’t snoring either. And his mother’s arm felt . . . cold.
Outside, the night lit up in a bright flash that illuminated the room. The boy reeled. Blood splatters covered the pillows and headboard. His father’s head was missing, a carved pumpkin in its place. When the room flashed a second time, he saw his mother’s head was still attached but looked all wrong. Her eyes were wide open, staring at nothing. Her face had been carved to look like she was grinning from ear to ear, all her teeth visible along the jawbone.
Corey backed against a dresser and froze, again feeling a strange presence with him in the darkness. The muddy creek smell returned. He studied the large windows at the far end of the room. Through cracks in the curtains storm light creeped in, but there were also sections of the curtains where shadows prevailed.
When the lightning flashed again, he saw movement in the corner of his eye by those curtains. He watched the surrounding darkness, praying his black costume camouflaged him enough to stay hidden. But then in another bright flash he saw a tall silhouette standing on the opposite side of the bed. The killer had a pumpkin-shaped head and gripped a machete.
Corey gasped and its head turned toward him. The shadow pointed the blade at him. Then the killer began to advance around the bed just as the room turned dark again.
Corey bolted out of the room and down the hall, knocking off family pictures as his flailing arms brushed the wall. He dashed into his sister’s room and closed the door.
“Paige! Paige!” he whispered. “We gotta get outta here. Wake up!”
He shook her body, which was stiff and lifeless in her bed. The lightning confirmed his biggest fear. On his sister’s pillow, staring at him, was a pumpkin engraved with her face. Blood covered the blankets. Corey clamped a hand over his mouth to stifle a scream.
“They’re all dead,” he whimpered, trying to hold in the tears. “I’m alone.”
A hand lurched from beneath the bed and grabbed his ankle. He yelped and fell to the floor, kicking his legs in panic.
“Shhh, it’s me,” whispered Paige.
He crawled on his stomach over to his sister.
“I’m scared,” she said. “A monster came into my room.”
Paige sniffled. “I want Mommy and Daddy.”
Corey didn’t have the heart to tell her their parents were dead. He still couldn’t believe it himself. He did his best to shove the image of his mother’s jack-o’-lantern face to the back of his mind. All that mattered now was protecting his baby sister. He gripped her hands and whispered, “It’s going to be okay. I need to you to be really, really quiet.”
He tried to open the window beside her bed, but it was double-locked. His parents had recently installed storm windows and it was impossible to open them.
The floorboards creaked in the hallway. Footsteps echoed closer and closer.
Corey squirmed under the bed with his sister. She was trembling and sobbing, and he had to cover her mouth to keep her quiet. They lay side by side for several seconds, peering out from beneath the bed. The relentless storm put on a flickering light show in Paige’s bedroom, flashing on the faces of dolls and teddy bears. Corey’s heart kept hammering his chest. He held his breath as the bedroom door creaked open. Again came the smell of mud and roots.
A pair of muddy workman’s boots clumped across the floor, inches from where Corey and Paige hid. He felt a warm puddle pooling around his leg. His sister had wet herself. Corey held onto her tight, praying she didn’t make a sound. Praying the killer didn’t crouch down and peer under the bed.
The legs that were clothed with dark green trousers moved away from the bed and vanished into the walk-in closet. Corey could hear the sound of wire hangers being moved from side to side as the killer searched for them. Then came angry whacking, as is if the machete was stabbing into the wall. A few seconds later the boots stepped back into the room, walked toward them.
Don’t look under the bed, don’t look under the bed . . .
A sound echoed from another part of the house and the killer turned and hurried out of the room.
Corey let out his breath and pulled his hand from Paige’s mouth. He whispered, “We have to sneak out of here.”
They both crawled out from beneath the bed. Corey picked up Paige’s baton for a weapon. Holding his sister’s hand, he led her into the hallway. To the left was his bedroom and beyond a long tunnel of darkness, his parents’ room. There was no way he was going back in there. He didn’t want his sister to see their butchered bodies. He pulled Paige toward the other end of the house. They quickly ran past a study and den to the foyer. Corey tried to open the front door, but it was dead-bolted and the lock required a key.
“What now?” Paige asked.
Corey put a finger over his mouth, signaling to stay quiet.
He considered their options. Another escape route was through the sliding-glass door in the den. Corey had the strongest sensation the killer was in there. The den was cluttered with furniture, Mom’s boxes of jarred candles from her side business, and Dad’s collection of taxidermy animals. Too many places in that room for a killer to hide.
Then Corey remembered Uncle Malcolm’s room led to the garage. Maybe the Jack-O’-Lantern Man hadn’t gotten him yet. His room was at the far end of the house. Corey and his sister would have to make it all the way through the living room and dining room, kitchen and breakfast area before reaching the back bedroom. He had never realized what a maze their one-story house was until he had to navigate it in the dark with a killer looking for them.
He and his sister hurried through the gloom-shrouded living room and dining room to the kitchen. The drapes to the window above the sink were open, so enough flickering storm light leaked in to see parts of the kitchen. Water streaming down the window made the gray light dance like specters among the shadows.
Corey and Paige crouched behind a butcher’s block. He traded the baton for a butcher knife, liking the feel of a blade in his hand a whole lot better. He heard a scraping sound coming from the den, like a blade dragging across wood. Ushering his sister into the walk-in pantry, he said, “Stay here and keep really, really quiet. I’ll come back for you.”
“Don’t leave me.”
“I’ll be back for you, I promise. I have to find us a safe way out.”
Paige nodded and crawled under one of the shelves. He placed a few bags of flour and cereal boxes in front of her. He hated leaving her, but he felt vulnerable moving through the house with her. He’d rather lure the creature away from her and confront it alone.
Squeezing his knife handle, he drew upon the courage of the superheroes he’d read about in comic books. They always confronted danger with bravery. It took every ounce of will to push down the voice that reminded him he was just a ten-year-old kid and no match for a killer.
Corey needed to get to the garage where he could escape out the backyard and run to a neighbor’s house. First he had to get past the breakfast area which faced the second entrance into the den. Creeping around a kitchen counter, he counted to three then ran past the den and breakfast table. He half-expected hands to grab him, but nothing did.
The sliding-glass door was open, the curtains billowing like ghosts, and rain pouring into the den. Had the killer left? Gone to a neighbor’s house to slaughter another family?
Corey thought of getting Paige and running out the open back door, but was stopped by a cold rash of fear. What if this was a trap, the killer crouched and waiting for them to make a run for it?
Whenever the family had gone deer hunting, Corey’s dad had taught him to always follow his gut instincts. Now, checking his gut, the garage felt like a safer route.
The door to Malcolm’s room was closed. Corey opened it, the hinges creaking, and moved through the blackness toward the bed. He whispered, “Uncle Malcolm?”
Normally, his uncle was a loud snorer. Tonight, he made no sound at all. Corey dreaded reaching for his uncle. His mind conjured images of a blood-soaked body, a face carved with a permanent clown’s grimace. When Corey felt the bed, terror ripped through him. The mattress was empty. He stumbled back away from the bed.
Where had Malcolm gone? Was he sleepwalking again? Then a more disturbing thought struck Corey. Had his uncle murdered his parents?
Most of the time Malcolm sat and stared at nothing, but there were moments when he would turn his head and stare at Corey. Your Uncle Malcolm may not talk, Corey’s dad had told him, but he’s always aware, always listening.
Corey ran for the doorway but was stopped when he ran into something that hadn’t been there a minute ago. He tumbled to the floor.
An unseen thing breathed heavily at the doorway. Metal scraped against the wood, splintering it. Corey scooted back into the deeper gloom of a corner. He imagined his catatonic uncle wearing a jack-o’-lantern over his head, peering out the triangles with those flicking eyes, only Malcolm was completely aware of what he was doing.
Corey sweated beneath his costume. He tried to remain as quiet and still as his nerves would allow him.
The scraping-breathing thing at the doorway moved into the bedroom. Corey could hear it by the bed, ripping the mattress and tearing pillows. The scraping blade moved down the wall, toward the corner in which Corey huddled. Just as he felt the machete dragging above his head, he tore from the corner. He banged his shoulder against the door as he ran back through the den and into his dad’s office. I’ve got to do something. I can’t let Malcolm kill us.
Picking up the phone, he dialed 911 but the line was dead. Feeling the urge to break down and cry, Corey hung up the phone and hid under the desk. He tried to think of what to do next. Maybe he and his sister were better off just staying put. I’ll wait here till morning, he thought. Then Halloween’ll be over and everything’ll be okay.
Then he heard his sister’s high-pitched scream.
Paige! Corey crawled out from beneath the desk and ran toward the sound. When he reached the den, her voice squealed outside. The sliding-glass door remained wide open.
Still holding the butcher knife, Corey raced out of the house and into the pouring rain. A crackling vein of lightning lit up the backyard and field behind their house. A hundred yards ahead, the killer marched into the pumpkin patch, carrying Paige. She had fallen silent.
Corey scolded himself as he ran through the pelting rain. I should have hidden in the pantry with her. I should have protected her. He prayed he could get to her before it was too late.
At the center of the field stood a two-story barn. The killer opened the double doors and stepped inside.
Corey entered the patch, weaving around pumpkins that were rotten and misshapen, the rejects of the harvest. The clinging vines and sucking mud made his efforts difficult. A couple times he tripped and fell, crushing pumpkins beneath him. When he finally reached the barn, a light was emanating from inside. He slipped between a crack in the double doors. Inside, the barn was warm and dry and smelled of dust, old wood, and metal tools and, dominating all smells, the orange fruit of the patch.
Growing up on a pumpkin farm, Corey had explored this barn many times. He’d learned every nook and cranny of the ground level and the second-story loft. But for all the times he had spent inside this barn, he never knew that it had a basement.
A trap door in the floor was now open, and flickering candlelight glowed from beneath the wood floor. The last thing he wanted to do was to go down there, but the killer had his sister. Corey would die before he’d abandon her. His sweaty palm gripped the knife. His heart beat wildly as he followed a set of wooden steps underground. Built of flaking concrete walls, the basement was damp and covered with mildew. Spider webs clung from the rafters. At the bottom, candlelight danced in the carved eyes and mouths of a dozen jack-o’-lanterns perched on crates and metal shelves.
Corey rounded a corner and wasn’t surprised to find Uncle Malcolm sitting in a chair. He was dressed in wet, muddy farm clothes. His eyes held Corey’s gaze a few seconds before going catatonic. Paige sat in another chair, soaked to the bone and frozen in a state of shock. Corey ran over and hugged her tight. “Thank God, you’re alive!”
Furious, he spun and faced his uncle, holding out the knife. “You . . . you killed Mom and Dad.” Corey raised the knife, ready to drive it down into Malcolm’s chest.
“Don’t hurt him!”
Corey stopped and turned when he heard the voice.
From the shadows stepped his father, wearing green trousers and muddy workman’s boots. He removed a pumpkin mask from his head.
Next to Dad stood Mom, her face and nightgown covered in blood. “We’re not dead, Corey. See?” She peeled prosthetic knife wounds off her cheeks. “Mommy’s all right.”
The knife fell from Corey’s hand as he stared at his parents with shock and disbelief. Everything that had happened tonight, all the adrenaline and terror, hit him all at once and he started crying. His mother placed a hand on his cheek. “It’s okay, honey, it’s okay.” She looked back at Dad in anger. “Robert, I told you the kids are too young for this. We should have waited another year.”
“They’re old enough,” Dad said. “You and I were their ages when we found out.”
Corey didn’t understand. “Found out what? Why did you scare us? I thought we were gonna die.” He felt ashamed that he was crying so hard, but this Halloween prank was the cruelest thing his parents had ever done.
“Tonight was your initiation,” his father said. “Every member of the coven goes through it. Boys at around age ten, and girls when they turn six or seven. Come with us.” Dad took Corey’s hand and Mom took Paige’s. Corey felt numb as he was guided around a stone wall toward the back side of the basement. The room had a musty, rotting stink to it. Paige hid behind Mom’s leg and Corey squeezed Dad’s hand at the sight of what met them in the room. Sitting against three walls were skeletons dressed in tattered farm clothes. At least a dozen of them.
“These are some of our elders,” Dad explained. “Coven members who used to farm the patch. That one over there was your grandfather. You two were probably too young to remember him, but Grandpa was a hard-working man who loved his family and would do anything to protect us. The night that Malcolm and I saw the Jack-O’-Lantern Man slaughter the family across the street, it was our father wearing the pumpkin head. That night was our initiation into the legacy of our coven.
“And this man over here . . .” He led the kids and Mom to a wall where one corpse sat off the ground on a platform. The skeleton was tall with long bones wrapped in roots and vines, some of them still green with ivy. Its bony arms, supported with sticks and baling wire, were raised as if it were blessing the long-dead followers. Its hands were massive, the root-entwined fingers resembling claws. A large pumpkin atop its shoulders had blackened and molded around an enormous skull.
Mom and Dad got down on their knees and encouraged the kids to do the same. With deep emotion in his voice, Dad said, “This is the Jack-O’-Lantern Man, the original leader of our coven, Hector Ravencroft.”
Corey stared in awe at the legendary monster. Mason jars with candles burned around the skeleton’s feet. There were dried flowers there, too, and other little offerings. Corey spotted a blue rubber ball that he’d been missing since he was five, jars full of baby teeth, and one of Paige’s dolls, its pink dress and plastic face covered in dust.
Mom said, “The Jack-O’-Lantern Man makes sure that every year we have a good harvest, and he protects our family from the evil people of Millcreek.” She pulled both kids into her arms. “We expect you kids to always respect our protector and to never, ever mention him or this place to anyone. This is our family secret.”
Dad knelt beside Corey. “In order to keep receiving his protection, we must make blood sacrifices. As children of his coven, it is our duty to carry on the curse against this town.”
Corey swallowed hard as he looked at his father. “What do you mean, Dad?”
Dad smiled. “It means you never have to fear the dark or the bogeyman again.” He pulled a freshly-carved jack-o’-lantern from the platform and placed it over Corey’s head. He stared through the triangle eyes as Dad handed him a machete and gave him the look of a proud and loving father. “Son, from this night forth, you and I are the bogeymen.”
Author Bio: Brian Moreland writes novels and short stories of horror and supernatural suspense. His books include Dead of Winter, Shadows in the Mist, The Girl from the Blood Coven, The Witching House, The Devil’s Woods, The Vagrants, and Darkness Rising. Brian lives in Dallas, Texas where he is diligently writing his next horror book.
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