I wrote a short story for Halloween. I’m going to post it in three parts for three days. 

Part One can be found here.

Here’s part two:

Nightmare House, A Halloween Story

Part Two:


It was the Halloween night, and trick-or-treating had ended, easily our busiest time of the year. It’s tough to notice individual people in a big crowd, but somehow, this little boy caught my attention. He looked about eleven or twelve years old and his eyes were kind of bright and kind of hollow at the same time.


I figured that he was going to be one of those mean kids. I’m not proud of this, but I kind of enjoy watching the mean kids get scared. They’re the ones who try to show how fearless they are by making fun of demon house, which usually means mocking me and ruining my act. I’ve had kids throw trash at me more times than I’d like to admit. Sometimes they shout me down during my introduction, which, as I mentioned, is the only good part of my job. This is going to sound a little silly, knowing what’s about to happen to them, but those kids hurt my feelings. They don’t know what I’m planning. As far as they know, I’m just some working stiff who they push around for selfish amusement.


So, back to this kid. I thought he was going to be a jerk, so when his group got to the front, I gave them the best, most mock-proof “Welcome to Nightmare House” spiel I could muster. But the kid was quiet and respectful the whole time. When I was done, a few of the youngest kids gave a tiny applause and he joined in. He seemed to be nothing but polite. I had no time to figure him out because they were all in the house in less than a minute. I shut the door and stood back as the nightmares began to come to life.


As usual, the room came to life with skeletons, zombies and clowns. There was a kid who seemed to be dreaming that he had poisoned himself (I hate watching the smart kids. They always come up with the worst psychological tortures to inflict on themselves.)


That’s when I noticed the worm. I had been working for Nightmare House for years, so I’d seen pretty much every imaginable fear in some form or another. But I had never seen anything quite like that worm before. It was the size of a small dog and growing fast. It had skin that looked like my demon bosses’ skin, except folded into worm segments. It was oozing a putrid purple vapor and it seemed to be growing tentacles that could be feelers or extra heads. It seemed to be chewing on the remains of something that was probably once human. Again, descriptions can’t do it justice. It just gave me a really awful feeling. And it was about to get worse when I noticed that no one seemed to be looking at the worm beast. What if it wasn’t a nightmare? What if this thing was actually in the room with us? By now, the worm had grown to the size of a small car and showed no signs of slowing. Watching other people’s nightmare come to life had always been more disturbing than scary to me, but this thing was flat out terrifying.


The creature started to advance on the boy with the strange eyes. It must be the boy’s nightmare after all, but that thought did little to comfort me. How did a kid even imaging a thing like that, even in a nightmare? Is he psychotic? Or…is this something he had seen before?


Somehow, over the usual sounds of screaming and panic, I became aware that the boy was talking softly. No, he was chanting, chanting in a language unlike anything I had ever heard before. And the more he chanted, the slower the nightmares seemed to move. Then, the nightmares started disappearing. Not all at once, as they usually do when a tour ends, but one at a time. And, for the first time, kids were coming out of their trances at different times, so the first to break the spell could clearly see they were standing in a room full of nightmare illusions and traumatized children. Then, just like that, all the remaining nightmares vanished, along with my demon bosses. The little boy yelled, “everyone get out of here!” and all the other children took off either out the exit or back through the front door, until there was no one left in the room except the boy and me.


He turned on me and asked, “Where did they go?”


“I don’t know,” I answered, trying to shake off my own fear as fast as possible, “there’s just this one room.” From inside, without the distraction of the illusions, Nightmare House was very clearly made of just four plywood walls.


“Think hard. Where else could they have gone?” He asked, sounding very serious. It seemed like such an absurd question. Where could they have gone? My demon employers had never told me about any escape plans. Thinking harder was not going to change that. Somehow, the urgency of the moment forced an idea to form. Nightmare House had a few cheesy decorations to help convince people that this was a normal haunted house. One of these decorations was a fake door, covered in fake chains to imply that there was some kind of fake monster behind in. Most of the decorations went on the outside of the house, but the door was the only one that fit on the inside.


“Over there.” I said, “Try the fake door.” The kid ran to the door and flung it open as if that were the most natural suggestion in the world. If it had been a fake door, the boy would have opened it to see a plywood wall. If it had been a regular door, it would have opened into the parking lot outside, where, no doubt, an angry mob of parents would be demanding to know just what was going on here. The door was neither of those things. Instead it opened to reveal a staircase, a staircase which led up to what looked like the inside of a steeple tower. From this angle, the tower looked disturbingly like the fake, four-foot plywood tower I fixed to the top of Nightmare House. That is, if that prop tower had been real. The boy started up the stairs. “Come on!” he called down to me.


Going up those stairs felt like a horrible plan. But then, so did staying behind, so I decide to follow and see how it all played out. After all, I knew these demons. Maybe I could still smooth this over and keep this kid out of trouble. “


They’re not as bad as they seem,” I said in my most parental voice as we climbed the staircase, “they just need fear for food. They do this to stay alive.”


“Is that what they told you?” The boy responded without looking back at me. “They don’t eat fear. They’re using it for something else.”


I had slowly been feeling more confident ever since the worm beast disappeared, but those feeling of confidence were slowly being consumed by fear again. This was a different kind of fear than what I had felt when the worm beast appeared. That fear was panic, pure and simple. This new fear was dread. Deep-rooted, psychological, all-consuming dread. Why had I never questioned the stories about eating fear? I’ve spend the last several(?) years of my life years of my life taking the word of demons, for pity’s sake! Why had I gone along with all of this so complacently? This boy’s comments were removing all my suggestibility. There was no glamour left. Only more dread.


“What do they use fear for?” I asked. Despite my years of demon experience, this kid somehow seemed to know much more than I did.


“I don’t know,” he said, still not looking back at me, “but it won’t be good.”


“What can we do?” It was laughable to think that I imagined myself the adult in all this less than a minute ago.


“I can finish my spell. I was powerful enough to chase them away. Maybe the whole spell can destroy them.”

We were nearing the top of the stairs. I tried to remind myself that this would be okay. These were the demons I’ve known for years, right? It was tempting to think that this was somehow all a misunderstanding, but if I held out any naive optimism, I might fall victim to the glamour again. I couldn’t allow myself the luxury of false hope. We were at the top of the steps.


(The third and final part of the story will run on Thursday, October 30.)