Doctor Albrecht Cula at Number 42 opened his door to find three child-sized mounds of dirty cloth and gaffer tape holding out pudgy hands and peering through misshapen eyeholes. They stood in height order, shortest one on the left, tallest one on the right.
“Trickle Treat?” asked the tallest mound.
“I’m sorry?” asked Doctor Cula in a thick foreign accent. “Vot did you say?”
“Trickle Treat?” asked the mound again.
The middle mound turned and stage-whispered to the tallest,
“It’s Trick or Treat, you div. Not Trickle Treat.”
“That’s what I said,” replied the other mound. “Trickle Treat.”
The smaller mound stepped forward and waved its mucky dustsheet.
“Woooooo. I’m a ghost,” it said, by way of explanation.
“You’re not supposed to explain yourself, Hannah,” said the middle mound prissily. “You’re supposed to scare him.”
“Oh,” said the smaller mound.
Doctor Cula relaxed. He’d placed the voices now.
“Harry and Hannah? Is zat you?”
“No,” said the small mound. “I’m a scary ghost. Boo.”
“Yes, Doctor Cula,” answered Harry with an exasperated sigh.
“It’s me and Hannah.” Harry pointed a finger at the taller mound. “And this is my cousin Jeremy. We’re trick-or-treating for Halloween.”
The taller mound waved a grubby hand.
“Oh, I see,” replied Doctor Cula. “I’ve heard about zis. Very good. Vell done. Nice… er… costumes. Very spooky.” He paused, not knowing what was supposed to happen next.
The mounds stared back at him expectantly.
“Goodnight zen,” he said and shut the door.
There was a moment when all three mounds stared at the door in surprise. Then Hannah turned to Harry.
“I thought you said there would be sweets.”
Harry sighed. “That’s the treat part. If he doesn’t give us a treat we’re supposed to play a trick on him.”
“Yeah,” said Jeremy who had always been a sadistic little boy.
“We should really, really scare him.”
“I don’t want to scare him,” added Hannah twiddling a corner of her dustsheet between her fingers. “He’s nice to us.”
“We have to follow the rules, smelly,” explained Harry. “We have to play a trick on him.”
“Yeah,” said Jeremy.
Hannah was only seven, nearly eight if you discounted the next seven months. She wasn’t sure if it was right to play a trick on an old man, but she had to concede that the rules called for some sort of practical joke. She didn’t have to like it though.
“Let’s play a nice trick then,” she said. “One that he won’t mind.”
“I’ve got an idea,” said Jeremy. “Follow me.”
Jeremy ran off around the side of the Doctor’s house. Harry watched him go then reached out and took Hannah’s hand.
“Why does Doctor Cula talk like that?” asked Hannah.
“Mum says he’s foreign,” answered Harry in his role of older, and therefore wiser, brother. “She says he’s from somewhere called Pennsylvania.”
“It’s near Wales.”
“Come on, smelly. Let’s catch up to Silly Jeremy.”
They found Jeremy’s legs poking out of a small open window at the back of the house. His right shoe had fallen off and was now dangling by its laces from an outdoor tap.
“I’m stuck,” said a muffled voice. “Give me a push.”
Harry found this amusing. He turned to see if Hannah appreciated it as well and realised that dustsheets couldn’t smile.
Smiling from ear to gaffer tape, he reached up and grasped Jeremy’s feet. He took a deep breath then pushed with all his might. Nothing happened for a few seconds then Jeremy suddenly shot inside the house and disappeared. The only clue to his progress was an assortment of crashes, bangs, and curses (the sort reserved for times when parents weren’t listening). Then there was nothing but silence.
“I don’t think we should be doing this,” said Hannah in a low voice.
“Neither do I,” agreed Harry, committing the cardinal sin of agreeing with his sister. “But we can’t leave him in there. He might get caught and I’ve heard that Doctor Cula does some very strange things at night.”
A rattling noise came from the back door. Harry grabbed Hannah and ran behind a large bush at the corner of the house.
The door opened with a creak.
A pool of pale light spread out on the ground.
A tall shadow crept from the base of the door into the patch of light.
“Pssst,” hissed the shadow. “Harry? Where are you? Are you hiding?”
Realising that he might look slightly cowardly, Harry stood and strode out from behind the bush, trying to swagger as if he wasn’t afraid. He was doing quite well until a piece of dangling gaffer tape caught under his foot and almost sent him flying.
“Quick!” urged Jeremy, pulling Harry and Hannah towards the door. “Come inside! You’ve got to see this place. It’s brilliant.”
Harry stumbled into the house. Hannah followed as closely as she could.
“Is this place cool or what?” whispered Jeremy when they were inside.
All three invading mounds leaned back and surveyed the hallway that stretched from the front of the house to the back.
From the outside, Doctor Cula’s house was a normal three-bedroom suburban semi. It even had painted gnomes sitting by a small goldfish pond and multicoloured bedding plants in the borders. It was a picture of normality.
But on the inside it resembled a castle. Ornate windows hid behind heavy black curtains. Fluttering light came from candles on the walls. A stone stairway led up into the darkness of the first floor. Pictures of sallow people with strange clothes hung on the wall like bored prisoners behind dirty windows.
“This place is spooky,” said Hannah. “I want to go home.”
“Don’t be silly,” replied Jeremy moving to the foot of the stairs and looking up into the darkness.
“I don’t think we should be in here,” commented Harry. He was wondering where Doctor Cula had gone and whether they would be heard. Something wasn’t right.
“Nonsense,” replied Jeremy stepping onto the first stair. “That old duffer won’t hear us. He’s older than my granddad. He’s probably fast asleep in a chair by now.” He climbed a few more steps. “Besides, we owe him a trick.”
“But we don’t know what trick we’re going to play,” whispered Harry.
“I know,” replied Jeremy. “My dad played it on me once and I was really surprised.”
“Well?” asked Harry watching Jeremy slowly climb the stairs.
“What are you going to do?”
Jeremy was almost to the top of the stairs. Only his trainers were visible in the dark. “You’ll
With that, he disappeared.
Hannah moved closer to Harry.
“How long will he be?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” said Harry.
“What’s he going to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“What time is it?”
“I don’t know.”
“What’s that strange thing in the corner?”
“I don’t-” Harry snapped his head around. “What? What thing?”
“That thing,” replied Hannah pointing into a dark corner.
Straining his eyes, Harry looked into the dark corner. A pair of red eyes looked back at him.
“Erm…” he muttered, held in the weird gaze from the dark and not seeing what owned it. “I think we should go now. Yes. We should go.”
“What about Jeremy?”
It was at that moment that all the lights came on and Doctor Cula appeared at the top of the stairs. Harry and Hannah froze on the spot, blinking.
“Children?” asked Doctor Cula rubbing his eyes sleepily. “Vot are you doing here? How did you get in?”
Harry and Hannah looked up at him then back to the owner of those red eyes. It turned out to be the bead eyes of an old, threadbare teddy bear sitting on a chair. One of its arms was raised as if it were waving hello.
“Are you alright?” asked Doctor Cula. “Do you need my help vith anything?”
Unable to think of a valid excuse for invading the old man’s home, and unwilling to tell the truth about their plans for trickery, Harry and Hannah stayed mute.
Doctor Cula tilted his head slightly. “Hmmm. Cat got your tongue eh?”
The children stared back at him.
A thought worked its way from the Doctor’s frown to his mouth. “Vere’s your friend?”
Still, the children stayed quiet.
“I’m sure you had a friend vith you. Vot vas his name? George? Gary? Jerem-”
It is a mistake to suddenly surprise old people; they have a habit of looking stunned, clutching their chest, and collapsing in a dead heap. Playing that surprise at the top of the long flight of steps made of hard stone is also a mistake. Add the two mistakes together and you get a nasty fall and a visit from two strong men in luminous jackets that drive a van with a flashing light on top. This all makes perfect sense when you think about it.
Unfortunately, Jeremy rarely thought about anything he did. He simply did it, and waited to see the result.
The result was Doctor Cula tumbling down his stairs and slamming against a wall with a nasty thud and sickening crack.
“Oops,” said Jeremy.
“Ow,” said Doctor Cula, winning the top prize for understatement.
Hannah was the first to rush to the Doctor’s side, which was difficult because the Doctors side seemed to twist around his spine by a half turn. His feet pointed in the opposite direction to his face.
“Doctor Cula?” asked Hannah kneeling down. “Are you alright?”
“No,” replied the Doctor. “I’m late for an appointment.”
“The trifle is marching to Harrods and it will be taking a room at the Ritz.”
“What?” asked Hannah. “I don’t understand, Doctor.”
“He’s hit his head,” said Harry appearing next to her. He looked down at the Doctor solemnly. “And he’s hurt his back. Badly.”
Tears appeared in Hannah’s eyes. “Will he die?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
Harry reached across and stroked her head through the dustsheet. He sighed and looked back at Jeremy, who had arrived at the bottom of the steps.
“We’ve got to do something,” said Harry. “We can’t leave him like this. Remember what Mummy said?”
Hannah sniffed. “What?”
“She said that we shouldn’t ever leave a victim alive. She said we had to finish the job or the authorities would find out what we are.”
“Yeah, that’s what my mum said too,” agreed Jeremy.
“We have to kill him?” asked Hannah.
“Yes. And we have to drink his blood like Mummy and Daddy do.”
“‘Waste not, want not’, says my Mum,” commented Jeremy kneeling down next to the babbling old man and extending his sharp canines. “Drink every last drop.”
“I’m not hungry,” said Hannah stepping back. “I don’t want any. I want to go home.”
Harry knelt beside Jeremy, who was already tucking into the old man’s neck and making slurping noises. He looked back at Hannah. “Then wait for me and Jeremy to finish him off and we’ll go back home with you, alright?”
“Okay,” agreed Hannah.
She waited until they were done and followed them out of the house. The night was still young and the air was fresh. A wolf was howling in the distance and two bats flew overhead. She felt better immediately.
They arrived home and told their mother all that had happened. They described every detail, leaving nothing out, being as honest as they could. Their mother nodded, commended them on finishing the job, and then sentenced them to an early night in their rooms as punishment.
It was at least three hours until dawn when Hannah lay down on her earth, but she was so tired from the kill and so comfy snuggling up to the old man’s teddy bear that she instantly fell asleep and slept for fourteen hours.
That day she dreamt of Halloween and pumpkins and nice pulsing arteries.
(c) Miles Deacon, All Rights Reserved.