Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Halloween Story

That first Halloween, when I was eight, I lived across the street from a daycare. It was an old house, Spanish-style, with a fig tree in the back. Small. My brother and I shared a room and at night, we’d say our prayers and hide beneath the sheets with a flashlight telling ghost stories until neither of us could fall asleep. 

Daycare Across the Street From Where I Lived
We were born on the same day, my brother and I, a year apart, a half hour difference in our birth times. Growing up, we spent every birthday in the hospital—stitches, car accidents, drownings; our presents were never what we expected and far less than we’d hoped for. It wasn’t a coincidence. Our lives were too strange for coincidences.

Arizona was always hot. In the summers, you could cook an egg on the sidewalk, and by October, the storms moved in—giant things full of dust that swept out of the desert like the hand of God. Heat turned the soles of my feet into leather, so that by October, I could go anywhere, climb anything.

Five lanes separated me from the daycare on the other side of the road from where I lived. Five lanes and a chain link fence.

That first Halloween, when I was eight, the motorcyclist wore black. My jack-o-lantern pail was full of press-on tattoos, fake cigarettes, and apples that my mom would later check for razor blades. She never found any, but there were always stories. The boy who bit before he looked, swallowed before he chewed. You could never be too careful.

In those days, I didn’t know much about ghosts and monsters and things that go bump in the night outside of stories, and even those were nothing more than homogenized approximations of horror unworthy of the name. It wasn’t until years later when my sister saw a man in my closet, and I’d lie awake at night listening to the whispers, that those things became real to me and I understood.

But on that first Halloween, I heard the engine. Streetlights shone down their sickly orange light. Five lanes, a chain link fence, and a small pail separated me from the other side. 

The rider wore black. 

But Halloween is a greedy thing—it demands its’ costumes and chain link only has so much give. I remember pieces flying, shorn from his body, splattering on the merry-go-round in a kaleidoscope. He never slowed. Velocity and the weight of the motorcycle sandwiched the man and strained his flesh through unbreakable links. What things had those chains kept out of that daycare? What had they kept in?

Flashing lights came next. Died on impact, they said. But I’d watched that impact, and it seemed to last forever. Even now, when I close my eyes at night, and the whisperings start, I can see it going still, caught it slow motion—never-ending. Flesh on steel.

He never slowed.

People ask why I write about monsters and scary things. The answer is simple: because on that first Halloween when I was eight, horror found me. And since then, he’s never left me alone.

10 comments:

Jeffrey Beesler said...

Wow, that is a pretty intense way to be introduced to the horror genre.

E. J. Patten said...

It was pretty traumatic. Looking back on it now, I really wish someone would've introduced me to the romance genre instead.

Becky Mahoney said...

Oh my God. Whoa.

Alicia W. said...

Wow. That's intense. I have chills running up my spine, thanks very much!

Christina Strang said...

Yikes. Real life Halloween horror story! :S You told it well. Love the last couple of lines especially - gave me goosebumps! At least you were able to make use of it! Thanks for sharing. :)

E. J. Patten said...

Thanks for the comments everyone! This story was so different from the middle-grade fiction I normally write, the biggest difference being that I didn't make any of it up--the birthday weirdness, the man in the closet, the motorcycle accident. The picture is of the actual daycare where the accident happened, though it took me a while to find it. Probably not a story I should share on school visits. :)

Joe said...

It always amazes me the places that writer's come from. This is a horriffic story, beautifully written, and clearly very vivid to you now. Thanks for posting it and giving us some insight into where the darkness comes from.

Also, my son asked me today when the next book in the series is coming out. I told him I'd ask you myself.

E. J. Patten said...

Book 2 is scheduled for a Fall 2012 release. No specific date set just yet. I'm working on revisions now. A LOT of revisions. Ugh.

Joe said...

Thanks, E.J. Max is dissappointed it's not coming out sooner but he says he can be patient until next fall.

I hate revisions also.

Matthew MacNish said...

Wow. That is terrifying. No wonder you ended up so twisted.

When I was about that age, the house across the street burned to the ground. No one died, but the flames seemed to leap hundreds of feet into the sky. It was humbling.