I squeezed the segments of the orange in my mouth, sucking them hard until the juices burst and ran down my throat. Mashing the skin and veins against my teeth until only the dry thin membrane remained. Spitting the leftovers on the fence of Jones’ old house. My mums on and off boyfriend she would always say. Working in the sound part of the television. He had the responsibility in choosing the sounds that get the best response and make sense. I always imagined if he got it wrong we would hear a cow bark or the boiling kettle give off a scream instead of a whistle.
Climbing over the fence, I stared at the windows at the back of the house. Only darkness inside; a void which in my mind was filled with someone watching, waiting for me to just step down onto the lawn and get a little closer. It was Halloween in just two days and the films last night haunted my mind. Freddy Kruger’s knife fingers luring me closer, tapping on the door frame in eagerness.
I dropped down. The grass hid the thud like a mattress. Frozen, I looked at the windows, waiting for some figure or sound to emerge and catch me. My scalp began to itch with a prickly heat. Creeping closer to the back door. A dying breeze softly rocked the open door, as if drifting off to sleep. The thought of exploring the empty house tickled my mind. Mr Jones was sure to be at work, I had seen him scarcely return in the day. The slam of his white van always woke me up in the middle of the night. Poking my head through the gap, twisting my neck into unthinkable positions, I managed to see the kitchen. A similar layout to my mothers. She always made me dry the dishes. After every meal, I would stand to attention beside her – faithful lieutenant. Careful not to let the plates slip from wrinkled fingers. Many cups had lost their arms to my ‘misplacement of attention’ as mum would say.
A large bowl winked at me from the counter of Mr Jones’ kitchen. Covered in ghouls and pumpkin pictures, the purple plastic bowl was filled with treasure. Treats and sweets; from chocolate cups to sour twisters that stained the inside of your lips. Gumballs of every colour poked their bald heads over the top, waving at me. My mouth began to water, pooling behind my bottom lip under the teeth. One sweet. Just one.
Stuffing the crinkled wrappers into my pockets to hide the evidence, I had eaten too much. Mr Jones would surely guess someone had been eating them. Some sneaky boy he would think, perhaps the boy next door? And come for me, telling my mum of my thieving. She would slap me. There were no packets in the cupboards forcing me to creep into the living room to find where the large packet was to fill the bowl back up. Everything sweated in a thick heat, the shag carpet sank under my sneakers. The wallpaper was covered in a pattern of leaves and trees, peeling up around the wooden skirting. Beside the sofa and armchair, a long desk with computers and machinery lay. A green light pulsed from the screen. Scanning the desk I saw a microphone tilted upwards. A long grainy scratch filled the room, originating from the speakers attached to the screen. I waved my hand over the mouse, brightening the screen. Video and music files marked with women’s names. Sliding the icon towards the first name, Delilah, the preview image looked like a face. Red and white smudged over the skin.
‘What are you doing Sam?’ said the voice from the doorway. The shock rattled me, almost forcing me to fall back. I stammered, watching Mr Jones, leant against the door frame, looking back at me. He was unshaven, white whiskers gathering on his chin and cheeks, his blonde hair fell over his forehead. ‘Did your mum ask for me?’ He was in a checkered blue shirt and jeans. His bare feet sinking quietly into the floor like a cat as he approached. I nodded and darted my eyes from his. He stood over, looking at the screen I had just been nosing into.
Mr Jones’ hand curled over my shoulder. I could feel each finger tighten for an instant, the tips digging under my collarbone. The pressure from his eyes drilled into the back of my skull, filling it with a tingling. ‘Is this work?’ I said. The hand lightened.
‘Yes Sam, its work. I work for the television…this in particular is for all those Halloween shows you kids love to watch. You like to watch scary things right Sam?’ I turned to look at him. He smiled at me, encouraging a response.
‘Mum thinks they give me nightmares.’
‘Do they?’ Mr Jones said. The heat in the room caused the skin on my scalp to itch beyond relief. I dared not scratch. ‘My mother never let me watch television, she was always so strict. Only classical music I could entertain myself with. Never the good stuff.’ He grinned.
‘My mum is wrong. They don’t scare me. Monsters aren’t real.’ He brought a finger to his mouth and gave a quizzical look.
‘Do you want to hear something scary I’m working on for tomorrow?’ I nodded. His lips parted, teeth like Wrigley’s gum all in a row, and leant over. Hair tickling my ear as he took hold of the mouse and clicked a folder. It opened up to reveal a list of other names, some boys this time like John and Malcolm. ‘You’ll be helping me on a very special project. Something everyone has wanted to know about for a long time now.’ He slid the microphone over.
I never told my mum what had happened in the house. I was a burglar, breaking into his home and stealing those sweets. Mr Jones would have me thrown into jail. Alone with the killers she would always warn me about. There were no killers here in the village. Girls ran away all the time. Their faces on the telly and stuck on lampposts, mothers gathered like turkeys gobbling and wailing.
Gwen chased me through the house, never catching me as I was always too fast. She was a way better babysitter than Jude. Jude always just sat on the sofa and cried over some guy named Harry. I think he was in a band. Maybe she ran away with him last spring.
I hid in the coat closet, wrapping an anorak around me, feeling safe from sight. Gwen finished counting down. A small sliver of light came from the partially open door. I was so stupid to leave it open. Gwen was in the living room. Flickering the lights to try and scare me. Nothing could scare me. Monsters didn’t exist. The front door handle rattled for a second or two. I watched from the crack in the door, how it twisted around. Gwen had locked it after the trick or treaters had all gone home. Maybe it was mum.
‘Help…’ whispered from behind the door. Little hairs rose on my neck and arms. It was a boy’s voice.
‘Help…me.’ It said again. Again and again it said help. Gwen shouted my name from down the hallway. I didn’t respond. I couldn’t let her catch me just yet. She walked down towards the door.
The boy asked for help.
‘Sam? Why are you outside?’ Gwen said, looking through the peephole. I wanted to jump out and say it wasn’t me. It sounded like me but wasn’t. I was me. The voice broke out into a blubbery cry. Gwen put her hand on the door handle. Was she scared? ‘Wait there Sam…I’m going to phone the ambulance.’ Silence. Gwen looked through the peephole again. ‘Sam?’
‘Help me I’m hurt! I’m hurt and it’s bleeding everywhere. Help me…’ The boy said again. I knew those words. The same words I’d read aloud. Gwen slid the lock from the door. The crying stopped. Cool air swept through the crack. I opened the closet door a little wider. Gwen stepped out into the porch.
I called out to her. Watching her turn to me, her foot stepping on something. Smiling at finding me in the closet she bent down and picked the object up. The small black box caused her to frown. She clicked a button. The boy began to cry again. Then I saw him, the boy who had been using the box. Standing behind Gwen – bright blue eyes like a baby shining out from the cut open holes of the bag on his face.
‘I’m coming in.’