**I wanted to write something for Halloween a couple of years ago, so my son helped me pick through possible ideas. I wanted the story to have the feel of the old horror movies I watched as a kid. A tiny bit of cheesy with a nice helping of “Jinkies”.**
Welders, shippers, and painters, they all stumbled toward the time clock, like zombies searching for their next meal. I stumbled right along with them. I shuffled my feet and waited my turn, a lunchbox in one hand and my timecard in the other.
The young man in front of me slid his card, grumbled under his breath, and sauntered off toward the front doors. I smiled. Wait until you’ve been here 20 years. I slid my timecard, and the machine displayed an error message. I slid my card again, and again, it displayed an error message.
“Strip’s bad,” said a plump woman with a pleasant smile.
“What’s that?” I said, wrinkling my forehead.
“The strip. It’s bad.”
I looked at my card then back to the woman. She rolled her brown eyes and shook her head, causing her curly, dark locks to bounce.
“Here. Let me try,” she said, stepping forward.
The woman snagged the card and slid it through again. The machine displayed yet another error. She flipped the card over, spat on the magnetic strip, and rubbed the card on the leg of her overalls. She slid the card once more, and the screen lit up and displayed, “ACCEPTED” across its front.
“Thanks,” I said, taking the card back between two fingers.
She chuckled. “It’s just a little spit, Bob.” She slid her card, still chuckling, and walked on past me.
The other employees never even noticed our interaction, so lost in their own personal monotony as they were. A woman behind me slid her card and moved right along. The guy behind her slid his card and sauntered off on his way. I sighed and stuffed my card into my pocket.
I shuffled out the front doors and through the darkened parking lot. A young guy in a hoodie nodded as he passed, one of the new ones they’d hired to pick up the slack. I hadn’t bothered to learn his name, so I returned the nod. It wouldn’t matter. He wouldn’t be around this time next year. I climbed into my old, pickup, set my lunchbox on the floorboard and yawned.
Cars zipped around the lot, hellbent on getting home in the quickest fashion. I started my truck and checked the rearview mirror. Three guys stood just on the edge of my bumper. My hand moved to the window button. I wasn’t about to stay here any longer than necessary. The tall man in the baseball cap moved to pat the man next to him on the back, and I saw him. My supervisor, not a man that would be told to move his ass on down the parking lot before I moved it for him.
My hand fell away from the window button. I pulled out my phone and stared at the contact screen. My finger hovered over Rhonda’s phone number, but the aches in my body made me hesitate. She’d want to screw, and she’d end up pissed when I fell asleep on her. I slid my finger to the left and entered a quick text before checking my mirror again.
The Dingleberry Trio had sauntered away from my tailgate, choosing to take their chat further into the parking lot. I threw my beast into reverse and wasted no time. My body went into autopilot. A right here, a left there, until I reached old route 80. I sped out onto the highway, ready to be done with my day.
My phone buzzed in my pocket, but I ignored it, keeping my eyes planted on the road ahead. Rhonda would have to wait. She wouldn’t like it, but she’d get over it. Eventually. I shook my head, already dreading our next conversation and all the “Yes, sweetie’s” and “I’m sorry, doll’s” I’d have to do.
One mile blurred into the next, and my mind blurred along with it. I rolled down my window and let the cool, night air blast me in the face. I twisted the knob on the radio and good, old rock-and-roll blared from the speakers. I’ll be damned if they find me in a twisted lump of metal.
A buzz in my pocket interrupted my thoughts. Rhonda. My shoulders slumped. I loved her, but sometimes a man just needed his sleep.
I pulled into my driveway and killed the engine. The truck shuddered to a stop. I grabbed my lunchbox and slid out, slamming the door as I exited. I trudged toward the front door of my farmhouse, and the security light blinked twice and fluttered just on the edge of dead.
I rotated my keys, scanning for the familiar red-tipped key before the light could go out. The light flickered, teasing me to hurry.
“Just give me a goddamned second,” I said under my breath.
I flipped the key ring once more and spotted the red-tipped key. I grabbed hold with a smile of triumph, took one step, and the light flickered once more before it died. Yawning, I shook my head at the light and trudged to the door. One foot after another.
The toe of my boot hooked something, throwing me off balance. My arms flailed at my sides. My body fell forward and smacked hard against the ground, driving the air from my lungs. I laid on the ground and struggled to regain my breath. Every inch of me hurt from either impact or tensing for impact.
“Fuck me,” I said, rubbing the side of my head.
Groaning, I released my lunchbox and pushed myself to my hands and knees. I twisted around, hands searching the ground for the culprit of my fall, something I could curse into oblivion. Rocks, none big enough to trip me. A small twig, again not big enough to trip me. A beer cap. Not it.
“What the–,” I said with a start.
I brought the object to my face. A silver horn. I gave it a squeeze.
I looked up from the horn. The hairs rose on the back of my neck. I leapt to my feet, forgetting my pain, spun around, and scanned the nearby tree line and cornfields that surrounded my little house.
Nothing moved. Just darkness in all directions.
A shiver crawled up my spine, dragging its ice-cold fingertips along as it went. Someone had been here, someone with a shitty idea for a joke. I snatched up my lunchbox and keys and hustled to the door.
Using the light on my phone, I searched through my keys with a newfound urgency. I jerked my head up and searched the area once more. Nothing. My heart raced as I dropped my attention to the keys again. I snagged the red-tipped key, threw open the screen door, and drove the key into the lock. Tension thrummed through my shoulders.
Shoving the door open, I hauled myself inside, slammed the door, and locked it. I took a few deep breaths to steady myself and peeked out the window. The light from the window crept no more than a foot into the darkness, making it impossible to see past the small square it illuminated. I shook my head and chuckled to myself. Scared of a little horn, Bob. You’re losing it in your old age.
I shuffled into the kitchen and dropped my lunchbox on the table along with the horn. An engraving on the side of the horn caught my eye. I snatched the horn up and turned it over in my hands. Intricate symbols and shapes decorated the outer rim of the tarnished horn. I slid my thumb across the symbols, feeling their sharp edges. The engraving sliced my thumb and blood sprang from the wound, running down my thumb and the horn.
“Son-of-a-bitch,” I whispered as I threw the horn on the table and rushed to the sink.
I ran my finger under the tap and cursed my bad luck. Grabbing a dish towel from the cupboard, I wrapped my hand and dragged myself to the refrigerator. Bottles clinked together as I opened the door and grabbed a beer.
Twisting off the cap, I took a long pull and sighed. I sat down at the table, swigging my beer and unlacing a boot, sure, I’d struck the unlucky lottery. Sliding my boot off, I wiggled my toes and set to work on the other boot.
A rainbow of colors swam across my vision. I flipped my head toward the kitchen window just as the colors slipped out of view. Jumping up, I hustled to the window and craned my neck but could see nothing in the darkness. I shook my head and took another swig from the bottle. Whatever was going on could wait until morning.
I threw back the last of my beer and tossed the bottle into the garbage can. The bottle dropped in and clinked against some bottles hiding within the can. I rose from my seat and yawned. Shower and then bed. I scratched my stomach as I made my way to the bathroom.
The hot water ran across my tight muscles, giving me minor relief from my fall. I would have stayed under the water the rest of the night, but exhaustion overwhelmed me. I turned the knobs and exited the shower. I dried, mostly, and lumbered off to the sweet comfort of my bed.
Pulling back the blankets, I slid between the sheets. My phone buzzed on the nightstand, and my shoulders sagged. I couldn’t handle a fight with Rhonda tonight. I reached across the nightstand and held the power button down. I’d call her in the morning. Tonight, I needed sleep.
I pulled the blankets over myself and drifted off to the soft swish of the wind. Was that the wind? My mind drifted, and my last thoughts with it.
I sat on a log near the campfire. The fire crackled, sending sparks dancing up into the night sky. I leaned my head back and watched them go, swirling upward, following their own course.
A hot dog roasted on the end of a stick I held, sweating out its juices, sizzling as they hit the flames below. I twisted the stick, giving the other side of the dog a chance at the flames.
I twisted my head from the fire to the darkness surrounding me, but the pitch blackness of the forest hindered me from seeing more than a few feet in any direction. I twisted the other way, more darkness. I shook my head. Probably just a couple of kids camping.
Turning back to the fire, I found it replaced with a lake. I squinted my eyes at the sun glinting off its surface and scratched my head. I brought my other hand up to shield the sun but found it holding a fishing pole where my hot dog stick had once been. Odd.
I cast out my line, reeled in, and set the end of the pole against my leg. Within minutes I felt a twitch on the line. Gripping the pole, I waited for the yank I knew would follow.
The pole dropped from my hand, and I turned to search for the noise. The lake and forest fell away as I turned, replaced by my high school football field. My coach pointed out toward the field, patted me on the ass, and off I ran.
I struggled to open my eyes. Sleep wanted me, and frankly, she could have me.
I sat upright, rubbed my hands down my face, and tried to make sense of my surroundings. Moonlight danced across a silver object, drawing my attention to the end of the bed. A shadowy form over six feet in height stood, staring at me.
Fuck, fuck, fuck! My heart hammered in my chest, and I slid myself back, trying to distance myself from whoever stood at the end of my bed. My back hit the headboard, causing a hitch in my breath.
I dove for the light, turned the knob, and it blared to life, chasing away the darkness. I closed my eyes to the sudden pain and blinked, trying to get used to the change before my guest moved. My breath quickened. I looked back to the figure. Please let it be a dream.
A clown dressed in a colorful, striped, silk garment stared back at me. One hand wrapped around the end of the engraved horn, and the other wrapped around the handle of a wicked-looking, slim blade. The clown lowered his head to the side like a dog trying to understand its owner. The curly red hair on his head bounced with the sudden movement.
“Get the fuck out of my house!” I leaned over and snagged my phone from the bedside table.
The clown slid the horn onto his belt with the casualness of someone returning their cellphone to its clip and started around the bed. I rolled off the opposite side and pressed the power button on my phone. Nothing happened.
My eyes widened. I watched the clown edge to the end of the bed, his head twisting from side to side. I pressed the power button. Again, nothing.
I held the button down, hands shaking, and prayed like a preacher on Sunday. For fuck’s sake don’t let me die at the hands of a fucking clown. The phone twinkled, letting me know it was powering up, but I didn’t spare it a look. I only had eyes for the clown and that god-awful smile, like a split in a tomato.
The clown edged around the bedpost with slow, deliberate moves, but to me, he might as well have been sprinting. I dropped to my hands and knees on the mattress and crawled forward, attempting to put the bed between me and him.
He dove for my ankle and connected with an iron grip. Fuck! He jerked my ankle hard, bringing my knee out from under me. I brought my free leg up and kicked it hard into the clown’s stupid, smiling face.
The clown lowered his head and stared at me. Not a move, not a sound. I wasted no time.
A vice-like, burning hand gripped my heart, but I ignored the pressure in my chest and the growing pain spreading through my torso. I had time for one thought and one thought alone, move!
I struggled in the clown’s grasp, kicking and screaming at the thing. I might as well have been kicking a tree for all the clown reacted. I brought up my leg with another quick kick to his face. Fuck. What the hell are you?
The clown brought the slim blade up, and it flashed by in an instant that felt like an eternity. The blade sank deep into my thigh all the way to the guard. My screams filled the tiny house. I gripped my wound, and the clown’s lips peeled off sharp, white teeth, drawing a whimper from my throat.
With the strength born of those who know death has come a-knocking, I thrust my free leg out while twisting my captured, injured one. I reached an arm out and ripped the tiny table lamp from the nightstand. I sat up and swung the lamp into the clown’s face.
The clown showed no signs of pain. He dropped my ankle and stared at me. I scrambled onto my knees, crawling across the bed as fast as my old ass would carry me. I rolled myself off the bed and took a wobbly stand. The clown raised his lip in a soundless snarl and darted around the end of the bed. I let out a squeal and hobbled for the door.
The pressure around my heart increased and forced me to abandon my leg wound. Instead, I gripped my chest, willing myself forward. I could hear the clown’s pounding footsteps behind me. I’d never escape, not with the leg and not with this vice on my chest. Limping with all the speed I could muster, I turned and fell into the spare bedroom.
My eyes widened. Ignoring the pains in my body and the crushing death in my chest, I stumbled to the closet and dropped to the floor. My hands reached out, searching for the small, metal box I knew to be hiding along the closet wall.
My hands hit metal and relief flooded through me. I grabbed the box, felt across the front for the scanner, and pressed my index finger to the screen. The box beeped, and the screen turned green. I pulled the latch and raised the top with trembling fingers.
Footsteps at the doorway alerted me to my intruder. I grabbed my Colt 1911 from the lockbox, slid the thumb safety, and took aim. The clown filled the doorway, making a perfect target.
Aiming at his center mass, I fired three shots right in a row. My ears rang with each shot. The clown looked at his chest, back to me, and stepped forward. My breath caught in my chest. I fired three more shots, but the clown kept coming.
I raised the barrel, took aim at his smiling face, and fired. The clown’s head rocked back and when it righted a small wound had bloomed on his cheek. The wound knitted itself back together, and the clown gave me a silent snarl.
“Fuck you,” I screamed, throwing my gun at his face. The gun bounced off him and to the floor.
Big, red clown shoes thundered toward me, stopping only when they connected with my thigh. The clown stared down at me. His lips split in a grotesque smile. I clutched my chest, gasping for air. If the clown wanted to kill me, he’d have to beat the heart attack to it.
Pouncing, the clown drove the blade into my chest. I fell back with a scream. The clown followed me to the floor. My breathing grew ragged. The knife came up and down into my shoulder and chest like a judge’s gavel delivering judgment.
I whimpered, and the clown resumed his work. The pressure in my chest subsided. My eyes fluttered closed and opened again for the last time. The clown’s curly, red hair encompassed my view, but such things no longer mattered.
“Sllpp, thunk,” went the clown’s knife long after I had ceased to protest.