As it is Hallowe’en I thought I might share the true story of the killer at the door. He rings the bell twice on Hallowe’en and those who answer are never seen again. The only evidence of him at all is his calling card, a bloody fingerprint of his previous victim on the doorbell. But before I share his story, I need to lead in with another true story of Hallowe’en.
There was an old lad who used to call to our house with two fresh eggs every morning without fail, when I was just a young boy. We called him John but for some reason I always suspected he was the possessor of a far more interesting name, for he certainly looked like a man deserving of a less plain name. He frightened me a little.
John you see was the overseer, the guardian, the protector as it were of a small orchard at the back of a very big old house, directly across the road from our humble little abode. He was more than that of course, but as he spent much of his time chasing kids out of the orchard, that was how we perceived him. The house is long gone now, but in its time it was rather grand to our innocent little eyes.
But if you took a closer look, if you peered beyond the rusting high gates that gave only a partial glimpse of the old place, it was clear that the decrepit old building had seen much better days. The same could be said of old John.
There were many stories about the man and none of them cast him in a favourable light. I chose to ignore the fact that for reasons unknown to me, he dropped eggs to our house daily, nor did I question this. Despite his daily visits we never spoke and my mother always took the eggs in. The shiver he squiggled down my tiny little spine meant I tried not to think about him too much.
John was a tall, skinny drink of dour melancholy and menace. Everything about him was out of place. As far as I could tell, he wore the same raggedy old work trousers, every extra day the God seemed to allow his ancient, furrowed brow to borrow. Likewise he always wore a dirty old Paddy cap and a tweed jacket that may once have cost money, but was wearing thin on the fabric by the time I first encountered it. His nails were broken and dirty, and his boots tied like his trousers, with string. He had the look of man that was somewhere between a farmer and a tramp, yet he carried with him a dignity and authority that none of us would challenge.
The man was always ready with the tip of his cap to my mother and father, and a scowl for any potential orchard thieving little scut like me, despite the fact that I was way too sweet to dare commit such a crime on my own doorstep. But I did have cause to cross his path when I was still a little boy and by a stroke of fate, it happened at Hallowe’en.
I was never allowed out late, my mother would sooner scalp my arse for no reason, than assume I could be trusted on the streets after sunset. You’d swear there were vampires about, although mind you, among us little ones, there were rumours. I never wholly dismissed such fantasy, just in case there might be an inkling of truth therein. In fairness Catholicism had prepped me for playing the ‘just in case’ card. I went to mass without really understanding why and said my prayers at bedtime; largely because there was a threat that hell was waiting if I didn’t. It was not even veiled, as I went to a Christian Brothers school and they made it pretty clear what awaited little wispy scutterlings like me, were I to even think of doing something vaguely sinful. In short, I was quite susceptible to suggestion when it came to things like vampires, ghosts, Banshees or anything that might possibly, but most likely didn’t exist. I denied my belief out of bravado, but crossed my fingers, said my prayers and hid under the blankets in the dark – just in case. But on Hallowe’en night, the curfew was allowed an exception, as every other little squiddler was out roaming the streets collecting for the night that was in it.
There were caveats of course. I couldn’t leave our road and I could not go beyond a certain house number. I had to be back in a designated time frame and if it got back that I even smelled the smoke from a firework, my mother would have my guts for garters. Of course I agreed to everything despite the excessive restriction. What she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her right?
The problem was that my route was too restrictive. There were only houses on one side of our road, as the big old walled house was on the opposite side of the road. So I skipped about the place dressed as a ghost. I didn’t need a sheet, because I was such a waif and because my mother probably couldn’t afford to spare a sheet just so I could cut holes in it for one night. I wore a very well adapted old pillow case instead. I’m sure I looked fabulous. I certainly thought so. I wrapped up in about fifteen minutes, running out of houses on the overly restrictive Mam list and besides, I had more than enough monkey nuts and apples after house number three.
As was my tendency back then, I got distracted. The old house caught my eye and I wandered over to peek through the gates. It was Hallowe’en after all and perhaps, there might be some ghoulish goings on inside those high walls. There was a heavily overgrown, winding path to the front of the house and all I could see was a dim light through one of the windows. I squinted. It looked like an old storm lantern. I’d seen it before. For some reason there were never any lights on at night in the big old house. Rumours were that the old man that owned the place, the man we never saw who old John worked for, was too mean to use his electricity.
Someone pushed me between my shoulder blades and I had to drop my bag of goodies to put my hands up so my face didn’t slam into the bars. By the time I turned around ‘Feno’ had grabbed my goody bag and tossed it over the gate. Feno was bigger than me, was always accompanied by at least two other mini-thugs and he pushed everyone around. He laughed but he had picked on the wrong little ghost. I kicked him in the nuts the way my brother had shown me and he started crying like a baby. He ran off with his dopey henchmen swearing to tell his Ma. I didn’t care. My only concern was the bag and how I’d explain its loss to my mother. She’d kill me and I would have no goodies when I got back. I didn’t hesitate, despite my fear of the place. My mam scared me more once she was crossed.
Like a baby monkey I scaled the gate and hit the ground running into the dark in the direction of the house, with only one thought. Grab the bag and leg it. It was so dark. I must have looked like a real ghost I thought, as I bent to collect my bag. But there was a sound behind me as I gathered it in my arms, a sound that made me freeze mid movement. I wasn’t alone in the dark of that place. Something else had been there all along, watching me peep through the gate in my little ghostly costume, waiting as I scaled the gates, and patient enough to hold its nerve until I had come too far… There was no escape… Hang on.. That’s the doorbell, there’s someone at the door…wait – there it goes again, I’ll have to get it, hold your whisht, … Wait there folks, I’ll be back…
Haven’t read a Max Power book yet? I think it’s time to pick one up.
Max Power’s books include, Darkly Wood, Darkly Wood II The woman who never wore shoes, Larry Flynn, Bad Blood and Little Big Boy
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