I haven’t posted a blog in a while and this is actually a short story I wrote for a contest.
The assignment: take a writing prompt and make a story out of it.
The prompt: There’s a house that gives out candy. There’s a lighted path leading to the front door, but everyone is scared to go to the door. Why? What are the rumors?
Morton Meadows’ Musings
Rhonda M. Hall
Bob and I thought we were living the American dream when we bought out my parent’s old home. They moved to condo living in Arizona.
We renovated the place and turned their little house into our own three bedroom-ranch. Things seemed to be going well and then we had kids. The kids were fine. Healthy, smart, vibrant children with lots of friends. The disagreement may seem minor to most people but not to me. I grew up in this neighborhood, and I did not want our kids trick-or-treating at the Bruning’s white-two bedroom-stucco.
They were our next-door neighbors. Mrs. Bruning wreaked havoc on our lives for years. If the dogs were out, they’d take after us. One of them bit my sister. My mom, the quiet-unassuming one, exchanged words with her. She told Mrs. Bruning if her dogs couldn’t behave she needed to keep them locked up. The missus said, “Why don’t you keep your kids locked up.”
I don’t mean to be cold hearted but why haven’t the Bruning’s croaked by now? They were old when I was a kid.
I write the neighborhood newsletter, Morton Meadows’ Musings. I am always on the lookout for a good news article. I studied Journalism in college, so I had experience, but even if I didn’t, it wouldn’t have mattered. I was infinitely qualified to write the newsletter because I volunteered.
Maybe, it was time I put all these stories to rest or bring them out into the open. If anything, it will satisfy my curiosity and ease my mind about my kids’ trick-or-treating at the neighborhood nut-job’s house.
We had heard the rumors that they had a boatload of children that didn’t come around anymore. They’d had a son who died. A tragic accident. I never heard anyone say the Brunings were responsible. According to the rumors, the son didn’t leave. He stayed around to help his mom.
Mrs. Marilyn Johnson, yellow siding, purple and yellow rhododendrons in the front. She said, Mrs. Bruning always had money problems. After their son’s death, she’d used the tragedy as a scheme to make some dough.
“The one boy, Terry, he was number two in the pecking order. The oldest, James, he was the one who died. She made Terry stand at the door. He had to collect two-dollars from everyone as they entered. Everybody wanted to see the boy ghost.”
“Did you ever go?”
“Heaven sakes, no, that Eleanor is crazy. Some neighbors said they were just a bunch of low-life’s ripping people off. Others would come out of there running. Their faces as white as a sheet of parchment paper.”
“Around Halloween, it created neighborhood congestion. People lined up to drive by their house. It was a pain. I don’t know what happened, but one day, it just stopped. I heard after all her kids grew up, the dead-boy stopped coming around.”
Over the years, a couple of neighborhood kids claimed they had trick-or-treated there. Liars. When I was a kid, no one bothered the Brunings, and they were even rumored to have Butterfingers.
Bob wanted to be inclusive. Mr. Neighborhood association President. He was curious and wanted to know more about them. That’s how we landed in this predicament.
My brother and sister loved to watch the local station’s version of a scary movie matinee, Creature Feature Monster Hour. Not me. I watched with a blanket over my head. I didn’t go in for all that spooky stuff. I guess, if we were going to get this resolved I needed to go up there and talk to them. Besides, I had to think about the article.
I decided to visit on Tuesday, October Sixteenth. That way, I’d still have time to get out the Morton Meadows’ Musings before Halloween. I wasn’t expecting a Pulitzer by any means, but visions of journalism greatness crossed my mind. I was terrified. I tell my kids to face their fears, and frankly, this was my life-long fear. The Brunings. God help us all.
I didn’t tell Bob my plan. He’d want to go with me. Normally, I would like that, but I can almost guarantee he wouldn’t see the same things I did. If a child ghost walked up and shook my hand, he’d be looking at the television and tell me to stop screaming so he could watch the game.
I dropped the kids off at school. Built-in 1925. Red and black brick-with a concrete entryway. Then, I drove home. My stomach turned in knots. Maybe, after a cup of coffee? The coffee was luke-warm. Of course, I had to make a fresh pot.
Afterward, I thought maybe I should have lunch and some hot cocoa. It was kind of chilly out. What if our chat lasted so long it extended past lunchtime? What if she got hungry and decided to make a meal out of me? Ala Hansel and Gretel. I fixed myself something to eat. I also wrote a note to Bob telling him my plan. In case, I never made it home.
I grabbed my notebook, cell-phone, pen, pencil and can of pepper spray. I stuffed it all in my back pocket. As I stepped out the door, I picked a bouquet of yellow and maroon mums.
I can’t remember the last time I saw the Brunings. They never went anywhere. For all I know, they’ve been dead for fifteen years, and no one has ever bothered to find out.
Except, I have seen they have their groceries delivered, and a lawn service mows every week.
When I was a kid, you’d see Mr. Bruning sitting in his truck reading the paper. The old truck still sat out front. Bob would love to get his hands on it and fix it up.
As I walked up their front steps, I saw the sidewalk had crumbled, and the stairs had given way. Plastic white skulls that alternated with mini pumpkins filled with little lights lined the path. The yard was a patchwork job of grass and weeds. The stucco needed to be reapplied and painted. I started to think about what kind of a life they must have led. Losing a child and then having to hawk out his ghostly appearances so they could scratch out a living.
My stomach did an extra flip. I looked for a doorbell and saw none. The yellow door’s paint peeled from age.
In my mind, we’d get along like old pals. The whole angry neighbor thing will turn out to be a giant misunderstanding. They will be great people. Mr. Bruning and Bob will work together to restore his old pickup. Bob and the mister can go driving together. I could organize a paint party for their house. We’d invite them over to a barbeque, and at the end of the evening we’ll all join hands and sing Kumbaya.
My fingers reached forward to knock. The moment my knuckles touched the door, it swung open so fast, you’d have thought a windstorm blew through.
Mrs. Bruning. I’d bet a million dollars; she was a hundred-and-five year’s old. She had waist length gray hair that ran down her back. She was the spitting image of an elderly Morticia Addams.
Mr. Bruning sat in a recliner with his feet up. A purple and black flannel blanket covered him. The house was big but stuffed with newspapers and knick-knacks. I couldn’t even begin to guess which door led to a bedroom.
“Who the hell is it?” Prince Charming bellowed from his chair. We weren’t but five feet from him, and he shouted as if an earthquake shook the place. She stood in front of him and blocked my vision. Then he hacked up something and spit somewhere. I didn’t know where and didn’t want to find out.
“It’s the girly from next door.” She squinted and pushed her glasses up her face by wrinkling her nose. Her eyes spotted the mums. “What’s that? Flowers for me?”
“She brought me flowers?” Mr. Bruning said.
“She brought them for me.” She yanked them away and tossed them to the floor. They landed next to a cauldron of candy. Candy from 1975. Probably, the last time they had a trick-or-treater.
“I’m allergic,” she sneezed.
“I’m sorry.” How was I going to delicately ask about her dead child after giving her flowers she hated?
“We’ve never really met before. I thought I would introduce myself. I’m Sara Norton from next door-”
She cut me off. “I know who you are. What’s the matter with you? You couldn’t afford to find a home of your own? So, you had to move into your parent’s house?”
“It didn’t happen like that, which doesn’t matter. The reason I came here…” I found myself stumbling for words. “I write the monthly newsletter, Morton Meadows’ Musings.”
“I’ve seen it.”
“I wondered if I could write an article about you and your husband.” The rest caught in my throat and it came out like a little boy going through puberty. “And your house.”
The squeak that came from my throat sounded a bit like the rubber ducky I used to give to the kids during bath time.
She squinted her glasses up her nose again and paused for a moment. “I’d like nothing better.”
She stepped out of the way. “There’s a lot of rumors about us, and we’d like to put an end to them.”
“Have a seat.” She motioned toward the floor. “Sorry, we only have two chairs, and we’re using them.”
Mr. Bruning looked to be in his early nineties. Good for the missus robbing the cradle like that. He wore a stocking cap and appeared to have on Mr. Potato head flannel pajamas. He pulled his blanket up to his neck. Maybe the jammies embarrassed him.
I pushed some discarded papers off my spot on the floor and sat on the carpet. Folding my legs in front of me, I had the sensation of something wet seeping through my pants. Maybe, the mister’s loogie? Maybe ghost blood? Doesn’t matter. I am a professional, and this is just another interview. I set my phone in front of me, so I could watch the time. Also, I may need to dial 911. “First, let me say I am sorry for the loss of your son. That had to be unbearable.”
Mr. Bruning snorted. Mrs. Bruning did nothing.
They weren’t making this easy for me. I pulled out my notebook, clicked my pen in earnest and took notes. “Mrs. Johnson says that…”
The mister sat in a funk while the missus interrupted. “Marilyn Johnson?”
“Yes, that’s her.”
“Don’t know her.”
“She said that…”
“Yellow siding with big what-a-call-it flowers?”
“Rhododendrons. She said after the tragic loss of our son, you got by, by selling tickets to your son’s appearances.”
“We still had mouths to feed.”
Mister cleared his throat again. It didn’t seem to work so he coughed a couple of times, hacked a couple more times and spit into a handkerchief. Seventy years of acid reflux will do that to a person. “It wasn’t about the money.”
I was relieved to know that he spit into his handkerchief which left the burning question, what was I sitting on? I pressed onward. “What was it about?”
“Let me ask you something.” The missus said, “If you were in my shoes, God forbid, and you lost your son. What would you do? Wouldn’t you do anything to see him again? Who cares what other people think or do? You now have one sole existence, to see your son one more time. No matter, in what capacity. Time doesn’t matter. You want to see your son. That’s it. Oh, you can’t hold him. You can’t even talk to him, but I guarantee you, you’d do it.”
It wasn’t my place to debate them or tell them my beliefs, but they asked. “If something that terrible happened to me, I’d want to see them again in the afterlife. But that’s just me.”
The missus sat back in her recliner and rocked forward. “There’s no guarantee we are going to go there. So, we had to keep him around as long as possible.”
“Your other children? How are they doing?”
“They all moved away. They feel cheated out of their childhood. Our daughter, Sally, was even on the Jerry Springer show.”
She held her fingers in the air to make air quotes. “My Parents Love My Dead Brother more than me.” She slapped her knee in a combination guffaw and how double damn dare her.
“That had to be painful.”
“We don’t even have a television anymore. We heard about it from our other son, Murphy. He’s a tattle-tale.”
The missus looked at a clock on the wall. “It’s almost time.”
He sat back and released the footstool on his recliner. It made a loud clang as he pitched forward. He looked at his watch.
“Wait until you see this.” Mrs. Bruning slapped her hands together.
They both stared into space. I felt my heart drop. Footsteps from another room made their way towards a closed door next to the kitchen. All their kids had grown up and moved away before my parents ever moved in. I doubt they had another guest.
The door slowly squeaked open. The creak rivaled anything I’d ever seen or heard on Creature Feature Monster Hour.
No one stood on the other side. The footsteps continued. Step by agonizing step someone or something entered the room. Large corduroy carpet slippers with worn heels made their way into the living room. No person or body came with them as they seemed to slop off someone’s feet. It was almost as if a child wore the larger shoes of his father.
I didn’t see anyone but had the sensation, that the boy ghost looked right at me. The hairs on my arms were standing straight up. Arm hair doesn’t lie. The boy ghost didn’t know what to make of me, so the slippers turned and walked toward the kitchen.
From my vantage point, I could see everything taking place.
A cupboard door opened and a small bowl from inside the cabinet floated its way on to a table. A box of cereal flew down where a healthy serving of Rice Chex made its way into the bowl. The refrigerator door opened, and a carton of milk floated toward the cereal. After they put the milk and cereal back, a spoon went into the bowl, and I could hear someone eating.
I jumped to my feet. “Thank you, for your time. I think I have enough for the article.”
I raced out their front door and promptly dropped my notebook. Without stopping, I picked it up and pretty much flew to the door and out. A cold draft hit my backside. Of course, I knew I sat on something wet, but the Bruning’s must have noticed and thought I urinated on myself.
I was down their yard and inside my house, when I realized, I had forgotten my cell phone. They’d never bring it to me.
I had to go back. God help us all. I know I already said that, but it bears repeating.
Remorse and anxiety filled my body and nearly took me to the floor. But my floor wouldn’t be wet with ghost droppings.
Maybe, I could get Bob to go. That wouldn’t work either. He’d want an explanation, and the Brunings could have telephoned Tunisia by then.
First, I needed to change my pants. Of course, I hadn’t done the laundry and had nothing clean, so I spent five minutes with a blower dryer up my rear end.
I went back up the dilapidated walk, the cracked steps, past the skull and pumpkin lights and knocked on the door with the peeling paint. As I approached, the unmistakable sound of uproarious laughter came from inside.
The missus flung open the door in the same manner as before. She put her hands on her hips.
I wanted my cell phone back, but found myself saying., “I didn’t wet myself. The floor…”
She stared at me like I was a bug.
“I forgot my cell phone.” I stepped inside. As I reached down, I tripped on her cauldron of candy and splayed forward. My face was practically even with the inside contents of the carpet slippers. I reached inside and pulled out some sort of mechanism. The soles of the shoes had little rollers on the bottom.
Mrs. Bruning snorted. “The mister was a magician in a past life.”
I grabbed my cell phone and stood. “Newsletter comes out next Saturday.”
She folded her arms across her chest. “Don’t go ruin it for everyone else. Our son does visit us, but he’s so unreliable. We have to give people their money’s worth.”
“Uh, huh.” That was all I could manage to say. I have a college degree. Countless classes, social gatherings and normally a razor-sharp wit and all I could say was, uh, huh.
I turned to leave when I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. I’m not given to exaggeration, but when I twisted back, an eleven-year-old child stood next to me. Half there. Half not. He floated around me and whispered with a smile, “Boo.”
I ran out again. Their laughter filled the white stucco house. They could paint the damn thing themselves.