By Dillon Brown
Every year, for exactly thirty years running, Orson Archibald had built the finest haunted house attraction in town. There wasn’t an effort around – at least for 100 miles – that challenged him. Kids and adults alike flocked to his home on Ichabod Lane to walk through the 1,200 square feet of frights, chills and spine-tingling fun. Orson’s haunted house was such an undertaking that he’d begin construction every year around August and he’d still be putting on finishing touches come the night before Samhain. The townspeople would talk about the attraction until Thanksgiving, the papers would take photos for the morning news, and in the Spring everyone in town who saw him out and about would tell him about their excitement for whatever he had in store for them the next October 31st.
Until this year. This year, on year 31, the town of Craven Creek had elected a Haunted House Committee. Local officials had thought it best to enforce rules and regulations for what could and couldn’t be done in terms of Halloween decorating. They’d sent out a flier in the mail, detailing the additions and changes to the town’s policy on haunted houses.
It was to be a contest. Anyone and everyone could enter who lived within the city limits. The winner would receive a large blue ribbon to proudly display, and a $500 gift card to the Home Warehouse, a store that every homeowner practically lived at. He could replace that rickety old ceiling fan that clicked and clacked whenever it was on. Click-clack. Click-clack. All day and all night, enough to drive a man insane. This contest would be as good as in the bag for Orson. But this year, they’d laid very strict guidelines: no flickering or blinking lights, no loud noise effects, no fog machines, no contact with the attendees and last but not least, NO GRUESOME DEPICTIONS OF THE MACABRE. Click-clack. Click-clack.
“Utter and complete crap,” Orson said to his old dog, Wilson. “They’ve basically taken all of the fun out of the holiday with these rules. Who are these idiots? Young people come to town to get offended by my hard work? Ha!” He growled at the thought of everyone in town making cutesy, safe Halloween attractions for soft kids and their softer parents. “I won’t do it, Wilson. I won’t let them tell me how to decorate my house for Halloween.”
His neighbor Tim Kinkleman, a string bean of a man with a well manicured beard and perfectly combed hair and a nauseating way of saying “Howdy there neighbor!” whenever he saw him, was in the front yard setting up a cartoon character from a popular children’s show when Orson went outside to tend to his already-in-progress decorating. Almost all of his work was already in violation of the town’s new policies.
“Howdy there, neighbor!” Tim was at the fence, waving to him with a stupid grin on his always happy face.
“Hmph,” Orson grumbled. “Can’t talk. I’ve got work to do.”
“It sure looks like it,” Tim said. His golly-gee demeanor was grating on Orson’s soul. “Looks like with the new Haunted House Committee rules, you’re going to have your work cut out for you! If you need any help taking it all down, don’t hesitate to hollar!”
“I’m not taking anything down,” Orson snarled. Tim’s face sunk a bit.
“Oh, well, it’s just that: I can see five things right off the bat that are breaking the rules.”
“I don’t care about any new rules,” Orson said, stepping up to the fence. “I don’t care about these soft little baby rules for soft little babies who can’t just let things be the way they are! If you don’t like my Haunted House, then don’t come to it! It’s that simple!” Orson turned to leave but Tim stopped him.
“Mr. Archibald,” he began, “I don’t think you understand what’s going on here. We’re tired of the screams and the tears and the noisy chainsaw sound effects and the gallons of blood splattered all over everything. We’re tired of cleaning up fake spiderwebs until Christmas, and we’re especially tired of the silly, old-fashioned organ music that plays all night long. The policy is a reprieve for all of us on this street who have to deal with your ridiculous Haunted House every year.” Tim grinned.
“I’m the best there is at Halloween decorating,” Orson hissed, sticking one of his crooked old fingers into Tim’s face. “Nobody holds a candle to what I can do. And no little pissant is going to take that away.”
“If you’re really the best,” Tim said, “then you’ll still win even with the rules in place. Good luck, neighbor!” With that, Tim spun on his heels and trotted back to his stupid yard to continue setting up the stupid cartoon character lawn decorations. Orson’s face felt hot and he wanted to walk over there and knock the man’s two front teeth in, but he just exhaled sharply and looked down at Wilson, who was sitting like a good boy at his side.
“This year,” Orson said to his dog, “we’re going to make the scariest attraction yet. We’ll scare the Haunted House Committee so badly that they’ll never even think about setting foot on our street again!”
There was an ad in the paper for “Something Truly Shocking! A Crime Against Nature! An Abhorrent Abomination! THE GHOUL!” and Orson knew he had to have it for his haunted house. Whatever it was.
He half expected to arrive at an old carnival, closing down for the winter months or perhaps on its last leg due to poor attendance, that was offloading its curious inventory. But it wasn’t anything fantastical like giant circus tents and trained elephants and bearded ladies watching him as he drove his old blue pickup to the address provided in the paper. It was a simple farmhouse, in the country, with a nervous looking man and wife waiting for him to show up. They took him to an outbuilding with a large crate inside, chained up, with a bold warning sign in red paint across the door.
“What is it?” He asked the old couple.
“It…,” the frail looking woman let her voice trail off.
“He’s our son,” the old man said. “Or was.”
“What happened to him?” Orson asked.
“Pay no nevermind to how or what,” the old man said. “You want it? Cash only.”
The wooden crate shook around violently as whatever the hell that was inside – the “Ghoul” they had called it – tried to get out. Orson peered inside between two slats, unable to see much more than a large shape with yellow eyes, and grinned wide.
“I’ll take it,” he said.
Halloween night. His favorite night of the whole year. The house was decorated modestly this time. He hoped his signs out front would drive the usual crowds inside despite the absence of the strobe lights and giant animatronic spiders and the plastic spikes with severed foam heads impaled on them. He hoped the words “Look! A Real Life Monster! The Beast of Craven Creek!” would be enough to get them all inside, where he could unveil the hideous monster and send them all screaming into the night. He’d scare the Haunted House Committee so badly that they’d never think to set foot near his home again. Maybe they’d even leave town, knowing what was living up there on Ichabod Lane in that wooden crate.
A terrible crashing sound alerted Orson just as he was peering through the window to see if the usual crowds of trick’r’treaters were headed up the hill. Orson crept down the stairs, to his basement, where he was planning to lure his audience before unleashing the hideous beast. Splinters of wood littered the area and the large chain holding the crate lid open was snapped and lying on the ground.
“Oh dear God,” Orson muttered to himself. He could see large scratch marks across the walls and leading to the stairs that went to the hatch that lead into the back yard. The door was swung open and he could feel the cool October air already sneaking inside. Orson walked up the stairs and outside. He could see where the Ghoul had walked, leaving large, three-toed tracks in his manicured lawn. He followed them to his fence line and gasped as he saw boards crushed and torn apart, the large tracks continuing across the lawn, a goofy cartoon mouse decoration torn apart, a front door ripped from the hinges. The Ghoul was in Tim Kinkleman’s house.
Orson slipped in through the splintered entryway and then stopped suddenly when he saw a bloody hand print smeared across the adjacent wall. He could smell something awful; like rotten eggs and feces and vomit, all rolled into one. It was enough to induce gagging, and Orson pulled his shirt collar up over his mouth and nose to try and obstruct it the best he could. He moved down the hall, glancing at the pictures of the Kinkleman’s hung up in fancy frames; all of the kids sharing that same stupid grin.
But when Orson rounded the corner and saw Tim Kinkleman’s face, it wasn’t grinning that annoying grin, because his bottom jaw was hanging loosely with the corners of his mouth ripped almost to his ears, and his trachea poking out, puckering and quivering as he tried to suck in breath. Blood covered the room, undoubtedly the rest of the Kinkleman’s, and Orson looked up to see the massive creature, a hulking monstrosity unfit for this world, stepping on Tim’s back as he reached out towards Orson for help.
The creature snorted as it saw Orson. It stood almost to the ceiling, easily clearing eight feet, and it’s body was covered in pustules and sores that leaked a yellow fluid causing the putrid odor. The Ghoul’s legs were thin and long, and the feet were over-sized and looked amphibious, with large spines jutting out of the back of the raised heels. It stood on its toes, much like a bird would walk, and it had three long claws coming out of each. The creature’s arms were long and powerful, with gangly fingers and claws on each, one hand gripping Kinkleman’s foot. But it was the thing’s face that paralyzed Orson with fear: a bulbous skull around the back, with a clear absence of a nose or a forehead, and bulging, yellow eyes that seemed to move around independently, like a chameleon. The mouth opened up to show large, wet gums lined with jagged, uneven and blood-stained teeth.
The Ghoul screamed out with a wet, shrill roar and then yanked Tim Kinkleman off of the floor and dangled him upside down in front of its hideous face. Tim tried to yell out, but his disconnected jaw just flopped languidly from side to side, and the creature lifted him high over its head, opened its maw to an impossible width, like a boa constrictor, and then viciously tore the man’s head from his shoulders and slammed the body into the ground, sending viscera and guts in all directions. Orson gasped and the Ghoul turned its attention to him, still chewing and grinding Kinkleman’s skull before swallowing it down in sickening gulp. The creature took a step towards him and Orson started to turn back for the door, when he ran into a crowd of people, all covering their mouths and staring eyes wide at the monstrosity before them.
The Haunted House Committee.
Fronted by a studious looking woman in a business suit and a ghastly white complexion, the Committee stood silently for a moment, looking around at the remains of the Kinkleman’s and then again at the Ghoul, who stood and watched them curiously. The creature snorted and large globules of mucus shot into the air and splattered across the ground.
“Well this is just despicable,” the woman said, looking around. “Absolutely disgusting.” She had her arms crossed and she was tapping her high-heels on the blood soaked wood floors. “But,” she started again, “it’s quite impressive. I’ve never seen something so… realistic. It’s almost like Mr. Kinkleman took everything we laid out in the new rules and did the exact opposite. The defiance is so… edgy. The statement against rules and regulations is almost too incredible to dismiss. This is truly a work of art. An artist with something to say.” She started to smile. “Bravo!” The woman laughed and started to clap her hands, with the Committee falling in behind her with applause. A portly man with round spectacles and a red face stepped forward and handed her a large blue ribbon, to which she walked over and pinned to the Ghoul, who grunted and looked around, almost as confused as Orson, who most certainly couldn’t believe what was happening.
“Congratulations Mr. Kinkleman!” The group cheered and then laughed and pointed at the slaughtered family, commenting on the attention to detail of their costumes and the realism of the props.
“And the $500 gift card to Home Warehouse!” The woman in charge placed the gift card on the coffee table and then patted the Ghoul on its arm, before shuddering at its appearance and then cackling and laughing as the Committee started to leave the house. She stopped at Orson and looked him up and down for a moment. “I can’t help but feel you were only here to spy on what Mr. Kinkleman was doing. I can’t believe the so-called ‘Haunted House Expert’ was leeching ideas from his neighbor.”
Orson stood in silence, feeling his face grow hot and his stomach drop. He couldn’t believe it. Kinkleman had somehow beaten him, even after being ripped to shreds by something forged in the fires of Hell. Something he had been responsible for. The Ghoul snarled and then crouched down to continue feeding on the Kinklemans as Orson turned and left the house, furious. The blood splatters, and the guts hanging everywhere. The brains, the eyeballs, the severed limbs. Tim’s head being swallowed by a hideous abomination. It was all him. He’d created that. He hadn’t lost his edge; this was the best attraction he’d come up with and he was never going to be recognized for it.
He walked back home and went inside, sitting down in his familiar recliner chair and staring blankly at the wall in front of him. He looked up at that damned old ceiling fan whirling over head.
Click-clack. Click-clack. Click-clack.