Every Saturday in October Phil will be sharing a spooky short story in anticipation for Halloween. We thank him for these excellent & ghoulish contributions.
The word helpless comes to mind. Sopping wet in my own sweat and not able to just go to sleep. You’d think my parents being gone for the night would be all a kid dreams about, but it’s more like a nightmare when you have a fever. No one is there to tell you you’re gonna be all right. No one is there who knows what to give you, not even all the time I spent playing video games and watching late-night cartoons could make feel any better.
I’m starting to learn, too, staying up late isn’t a good thing. The shows all suck, pardon my language, and it’s less time spent sleeping.
I’m gonna have to break one of my own rules and turn off my closet light. Ever since I saw the original Halloween movie with my older brother, I’ve been too scared to sleep without the light on. If I turned it off, I couldn’t even make it back to my bed without hearing the song from that movie, those piano notes with that subtle tapping, and the thumping sound in the background, like the footsteps of the killer right before he gets you.
With sweat hanging on my hair then dripping onto my tanktop, I slide out of bed and walk toward the closet, my legs dragging a little since the pajama pants my brother gave me are just a little too big. I open the door, welcoming as much light as possible into my room, then once I flip the switch I slam it back and go into a full sprint, leaping back onto my bed, this time on the dry side.
Maybe I should run to bed more often. I can’t even move my legs now. If a serial killer enters the house, I guess I’ll just have to die. I hope he doesn’t wake me up.
What? There’s still a light on?
I roll up against the back of my bed to see this dark purple luminescence coming out of the cracks of the closet door. As I step outside my bed I feel the only way I could hope that I feel, normal, dry even, like I never even sweat. Since the light woke me up I guess I should turn it off. There’s no fear coming to me as my feet touch the carpet. Maybe I don’t even need that light on anymore.
As I step closer to the door I hear this whirring sound, as if there’s a wind tunnel on the other side. I feel a little bit of it on my wrist as I turn the doorknob, greeting my hairs with a cool breeze that invites the rest of my fur to stand at attention.
Once I open it though, my collection of t-shirts, basketball shorts, and school uniforms have disappeared. In their place is a purple path that stretches out and far beyond into what looks like outer space, nothing but a black sheet of a sky with a shower of stars. The same force that makes me want to run to bed prods me forward through the doorway, closing the door behind me.
Nothing but more space occupies everything on both sides of the path
“What the heck?” I whisper as I observe the voidy space around me. I can see the path ahead of me, still lit, despite there being no sun or moon to light the path. Turning around, I see my door is gone. I might have made a mistake. Then a giant squid floats in front of me, giving me a brief glance then floating on.
I definitely made a mistake.
I step backwards, a little too hard, tugging on the legs of my pants and causing me to trip.
Something grabs my arm just before I fall off the path, into the the obsidian nothingness that awaits down below. “Woah there!” Its easier to catch my breath once I stop looking at where I could have fallen. The person that caught me, can I even call him that? He at least looks kind of human.
A moppy head of silver hair descends out of the rim of his purple top hat. A white square patch covers one of his eyes, and his other eye, it’s entirely white, still with a thing gray circle where the iris should be, so I can at least tell he’s making eye contact. His grip pulls me fully back onto the path. “You’re Raffa, aren’t you?” The rest of his outfit looks as colorful as my drawings in art class. His t-shirt has a fading series of pinks, purples, teals, and turquoises and his yellow pants stand out on the blacked out background. Is he wearing shoes? I can’t tell.
He flips the cane in his left hand.
“Oh, uh, yeah, yes I’m Raffa.”
He grins at me. “Well then, you’re supposed to come with me. Everyone is really excited to have you.” On his heels he pivots around taking a few steps forward, kicking purple dust into the abyss. He stops, only slightly turning his head back to me, just so his patched eye can meet mine. “You’re welcome to stay out here and wait for more squids to fly by for the rest of eternity, but I can’t imagine that’d be much fun.” He keeps walking and finally I get the sense to run up to him, then walk at his side. “I haven’t introduced myself, have I?”
“Well, my name is Akrasiel.” He rises his cane behind his neck and lets his arms rest on it. A few other squids fly by in the distance I mutter his name three times to make sure I remember it. “I’m supposed to make sure your time here is a happy one.”
“Here?” The path begins to widen. “Where’s here?” A series of structures of appear ahead of us. Hanging over and under our path are more of those floating structures of land, like chipped off bits from a purple planet broke off and just got suspended here in this part of outer space. Some of them have water, beaches even. Speaking of outer space, the constellations actually have the lines connecting the dots like in the science books. A lot of them look like cartoony dogs. Some of them even form star shapes
“It’s called Tearal.” A plane silently glides by us, with cat eyes shark teeth painted on the outside of its cockpit, leaving a trail of smokey bunnies as its exhaust. Finally we see a couple of other people, not much older than me, and they both look like Akrasiel, all colorful clothes, pasteled wristbands, and shimmering jewelry. I can’t help but think about how much I stick out, with my black hair, tanktop, and, white pajama pants. They still all smile at me, like they’ve been waiting to see me.
“Raffa!” Shouts one of them, a girl. She runs over and hugs me like I was her brother or her boyfriend. “You’re finally here!” Her hair smells nice, almost like good candy. I can feel the scars on her wrist bump against my neck as she breaks the hug. Her friend gives me a boyish pat on the back, stepping in front of me so I can notice the rope burns around his neck. They walk alongside us, taking up all the space. The girl fights through to be next to me.
I smile, but still ask, “Who are you?”
She holds back her laughter, “You don’t know? It’s me, Cera.” Cera, I’ve never heard that name before, but why do I know it? Why do I know she spells it with a C instead of an S? Maybe I was born knowing about this somewhere hidden in my heart. “This big guy is my guardian by the way, Raguel.” He waves, his hand making a quick breeze for me to enjoy.
The ground spreads out we enter into what I guess could be called a town, tall structures with cat eyes and ears watch over us while cobalt palm trees provide shade. Walls only border parts of the ground, and the staircases that ride up them lead nowhere, just something for kids to slide down. The structures all look like the cat drawings I make when I’m bored. Their eyes even follow us as we step around the cluttered ground. Scattered all about it are kids messing around with all types of toys: cards, jax, dice, and incomplete puzzles. The area even has a basketball court, just like the middle school playground at the Academy.
Other bits of furniture float around the exterior, either suspended by space or water, but it all seems to run together here. Some objects like comic books and video game cartridges simply float out on the periphery, always within arms length, but on that same area, pink dolphins jump out and dive in, disappearing into the space, still creating ripples in the void.
The girl skips away from me to a patch of color-changing flowers. Every face on every body we pass is just so happy to see me. Even the ones that don’t look at me are a world of content, lounging in the deceptively deep puddles and pools. Akrasiel spins to face us, then leans back falling into another puddle, vanishing without creating so much as a splash. The boy follows him down and before I even get the chance to hesitate I feel that girl’s hand push me in.
For a moment, I panic, throwing up my arms trying to swim up, only to realize I’m still breathing. Calmly I sink down, slipping into a seat at a round table with Akrasiel and the other boy. I can’t tell if we’re in some type of shark tank, or the rest of the world is in one, either way people pass on the other side of a window between us and them. Some skip, while others drift through space, completely in a relaxed daze. “We got you some ice cream,” he says pushing a shiny black bowl full of circular heaps of purple goodness, sprinkled with yellow stars. The taste is like a rainbow sparkling on my tongue.
“Raffa!” shouts Cera as she glides down to our table. Gracefully she takes her seat, clutching something in her hands, and keeping her arms folded to let it stay a secret. “I thought you might be worried that you didn’t fit in. So I made you this.” She shows what she had been hiding to be a crown made from those color shifting flowers all tied together like the rim on a wicker basket. “Let me put it on.” Bowing my head, I feel the petals brush up on the follicles of my hair as it rings my head.
I scan the table looking at their smiles, so genuine, so authentic. “why are you guys so nice to me?”
“You’re going to be here for a long time,” answers Akrasiel. “You might as well be happy the whole time.”
I drop my spoon, which doesn’t produce a clanking sound, more like a violin note. “Wait, when do I get to go back home?”
Akrasiel’s hand begins trembling over his mouth. Raguel’s eyes go to the invisible floor and even Cera is having trouble keeping her smile. “Go to the window. You’ll understand.” I push back then step at the window as it ripples, distorting itself into a mirror. Something doesn’t look right about my reflection though, its limbs all look stiff, like something on an action figure. “Take off your tank top.” I do as he says, and once the black curtain of my tanktop leaves my eyes, I gasp.
All over my chest, my ribs, red and faded stab wounds. My knees buckle, as I start crying. “What happened?”
“Everything you were afraid would happen when you turned the light off.” He can’t even say it. I don’t even want to hear it. Before I can think how bad things are I feel Cera tackle me, her arms binding themselves under my shoulder. I wish I could see her through this murky mess in my eyes. “Cera,” calls Raguel. “Let him cry. You had to do the same thing when you got here.” She unhooks her arms and steps back.
With my eyes clearing up I watch her slide off her wrist band, revealing a scar. She offers it to me. “In time you’ll learn to live here, maybe even do the same as us,” says Akrasiel as I take it pulling over my hand, then onto my arm. “But until then, we’re here to make sure you never have to cry again.”