Nothing But Dark
by Gary Buettner
Even in the dark, Paul could see the old blood stain on the sleeve of his skeleton costume. Bobby died a year ago tonight, an eleven-year-old struck by a car on Halloween night, but the grief still sat on Paul's chest like a cinder block. He had held his friend's hand until there had been nothing left in his eyes. Now, he clenched Bobby's pocket knife in his hand as he moved through the dark woods.
“Its not the devil,” Bronwyn said. She looked perfect in her fairy princess costume, her wings sparkled. She was Bobby's older sister and this had been her idea.
“How did you even find out about this thing?” Alex followed close. He was Jason from Friday the 13th, hockey mask flipped up like a welder between welds. Bronwyn collected boys like a bright light collected moths. Paul was not immune.
“I had a dream,” Bronwyn said.
It found her, Paul thought, wondering if the bright light that he had compared her to wasn't a bug zapper. Or an oncoming train.
Ahead of them, gray-green light bled from a pile of massive pumpkins and twisted vines.
“Is this what's supposed to happen?”
Bronwyn said nothing.
Just as scared as us, Paul thought. “Bron?”
The heap moved, lifting with the weight of an elephant getting to its feet. Arms unfolded from the central mass, causing Paul to take a shaky step back. A head rose into view, a crude Jack O'Lantern. No candle flickered inside this pumpkin, though. Black eyes watched the kids as they shook with fear.
“You have nothing to fear from me,” the thing said. “I am the eternal spirit of All Hallow's Eve. We've come to an agreement, Bronwyn?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
“Bobby wants to come home, dear,” the thing said, sweeping a pile of dry leaves and branches away. Beneath it lay a dark mass. Bobby's body.
“Oh shit,” Alex said.
“Do not be afraid, Alexander,” the thing smiled, a dark curve. “Each of you have agreed, then?”
Everyone nodded. Somehow it seemed easier to sell your soul, or at least part of it, if you didn't actually have to say it out loud. That was the plan, then, each of us contribute part of our soul to bring Bobby back.
The massive creature produced a burlap sack. “Each of you place some candy, an offering, if you will, into my sack.”
Paul could not stop staring at Bobby's body.
Bronwyn dropped a handful of candy into the creature's bag.
Alex glanced at Bronwyn. She nodded once. “Okay,” he said, and dropped in a fistful of candy.
Paul shook his head. “I don't think this is a good idea,” he said, hands shaking.
“There's no reason to be afraid...,” the thing whispered.
Something tickled Paul's fingers. He glanced down and saw that the dried blood on his costume had soaked through the fabric and was now dripping down his arm. It traced the lines of his hand, drawing a handprint across his palm where he had held Bobby's hand as he died.
Tears welled up in Paul's eyes as he could feel Bobby's hand in his own. Something tugged on his hand, trying to lead him away. Paul's eyes flicked to the dark heap. “That...that isn't Bobby.”
“Of course it is,” Bronwyn said. “The spirit just needs a little to bring Bobby back. Please, Paulie. Please.”
There had been a time when he would have done anything for her. Even this. “No. I can't.” Paul turned away, back toward the woods.
The spirit-thing took a giant fistful of candy from his sack and devoured it in one bite.
Alex collapsed, dead before he hit the ground.
The spirit-thing licked its fingers. “Sweets for the sweet,” it said.
“What the hell?” Paul froze.
The spirit-thing smiled an empty grin. “Couldn't help myself.”
“Get away from that thing, Bron,” Paul said.
The thing loomed over Bronwyn. “Give me the candy or I'll tear her to bloody shreds.”
“Please don't let it hurt me, Paulie, please. “
Paul took a handful of candy and stepped to the enormous sack. “Okay...just don't hurt her.” Something squeezed his hand frantically.
Paul stopped, handful of candy dangling over the spirit-thing's sack. He stared at Bronwyn, her eyes slick with tears, her body shaking. “You're...you're not that good of an actress, Bron.” He dropped the candy back into his own bag.
She stopped crying and stood up straight. She nodded, almost smiling. “Give him the candy, Paulie.”
“It's going to kill us,” Paul said.
“Not...us,” Bronwyn said, turning her back on him. “Alex...you...your parents if you don't give him your candy.”
“Bobby was...my brother. How can you even ask me that?” She couldn't seem to make eye contact with him. “Its you or your parents, Paul. You choose.”
Paul dug his hand into his bag, took a handful of candy and dropped it into the spirit-thing's bag.
“I'm sorry, Paul...”
“Go to hell, okay, Bron?”
She nodded. “Probably.” She turned to the thing that wasn't Bobby. Did she even care? It began to move beneath the leaves.
The thing shoveled Paul's candy into its gaping mouth. “Very nice, very...”
Bronwyn's face went slack.
Paul looked away as the creature collapsed, clawing at its throat as black blood spurted from its neck.
Screaming, Bronwyn collapsed on the head of Bobby's remains, that had gone suddenly still. “What did you do? Paul? Paul, what did you do?”
“It wasn't him, Bron, it wasn't...” Paul tore the bloody pocket knife from the dead thing's throat. He reached out to Bron, but, even as she wailed over the empty pile of leaves, he could see there was nothing left of her.
Gary Buettner lives in Indiana with his family. His fiction has appeared in the anthologies Rotting Tales, Gone With the Dirt: Undead Dixie, Dark Things V, Daily Bites of Flesh, Powers: A Superhero Anthology, Leather, Denim and Silver: Legends of the Monster Hunter, It was a Dark and Stormy Night..., Ruby Red Cravings, Unquiet Earth, Dark Heroes, Dieselpunk, Penny Dread Tales: Volume 1, There Was A Crooked House...and online at Eschatology Journal.
Pieces Inspired by this Image
'Feeding the Imagination'
'Of Agrarian Advice'
'The Pumpkin Man'