By George Sardis
“If you really believe in something, you can make it real!”
Johnnie’s grandmother used to say that to him. This was actually one of his first memories. He remembers playing at the backyard of his family’s suburban house. It used to be his battlefield, where he chased dragons and other imaginary beasts, his safe haven, where he could hide from the horrors that spooked him at nights, his pirate cove, where he could be an adventurer of the sea, despite the fact that there was no sea around for a few hundred miles.
His grandmother used to take care of him whenever his parents where too busy or absent from home. Johnnie was a kind kid. He liked ice cream, the color green and riding his bicycle for hours exploring places. His curiosity drove him to see new places and learn new things. Many times it got him in trouble but nothing serious, breaking a plate or two in the kitchen, painting the house walls with his markers, things like that.
Every Sunday he went to church with his parents. Little Johnnie had an interest for the Bible. He would always go to reverend Peter at the end of the service and ask him about the battles of Jesus against evil. Anything that had to do with demons, the supernatural and the revelation were what was Johnnie all about every Sunday. The revenant would gladly spent time with little Johnnie, after all he was a family friend. The whole community was living happily ever after. Until the revenant’s wife disappeared. Being an Orthodox Christian community, marriage in priesthood was allowed.
There was a police investigation. Relatives, friends and neighbors were questioned about the reverend’s wife.
REVEREND PETER: “Our marriage was going though some difficulties, but nothing we couldn’t figure out. I know that she will come back. I have great faith in her.”
The search ended nowhere. People could only guess and speculate what happened. Then the gossip started. Being in a relative small community gossip is something that couldn’t be helped.
JODIE: “I heard she ran away!”
MARY: “Ran away? Where to?”
KATE: “ She had a lover! From another town, a couple of hours away.. At least that’s what I heard.”
MARY: “Peter’s wife had a lover? Don’t be silly. No way. Just stupid rumors.”
JODIE: “No but it’s true! She ran away with him.”
MARY: “Poor Peter.. How will he recover from this?”
KATE: “It is terrible.”
The police kept the case open waiting for the wife to come back or communicate with a phone call of a letter. The phone call never happened, the letter never arrived. The case was forgotten and reverend Peter returned to his duties at the church. The community recovered and found its pace and routine again.
TWO YEARS LATER – PRESENT DAY
THREE DAYS BEFORE HALLOWEEN NIGHT
Inside the living room, a 4:3 CRT TV is on. A teenage boy is sitting staring at it. It is Johnnie at his home. The house looks very neat and tidy, an upper middle class estate.
TV REPORTER: “It has been a week since the three boys disappeared, leaving behind only the car that one of them was driving and belonged to his mother. The investigation by the authorities is still undergoing with the assistance of units from neighboring towns as well as the volunteering assistance of many citizens who immediately from the first day came forward to do their part in the search for the missing boys. The chief of the investigation stated that their teams are working as fast as they can, because in a situation like this time can be of an essence. However he noted that the case has a lot of similarities with runaway kids from home and that most likely they will come back shortly.”
Johnnie watches the events unfolding with great interest. He is sitting on the floor, close to the TV, staring at the grim images of the abandoned car that the missing kids left behind. His eyes widen as he hears by the reporter the theory that the kids might actually have been abducted. It is a truly terrifying thought.
There is a knock at the front door. Johnnie doesn’t make a move. Too distracted by the news report. His mother, Mary, walks by the living room towards the door. She opens it. It is Johnnie’s good friend, Mike. Same age as Johnnie.
MIKE: “ Hi Mrs. Mary, is Johnnie inside?”
MARY: “Sure is, come on in. Johnniee?? Mike is here to see you.”
Mike comes in the living room. He takes off his gloves and beanie. Seems that it is chilly outside.
He says to Mike without taking his eyes off the TV. Mike looks at the news report for a second.
MIKE: “Why is everyone keeps watching this? It is the same things over and over. My dad watches this all day since last week.. At least when he is actually at home… When they find the kids, we will know! There is no point to keep watching this now…”
JOHNNIE: “..Dude, will you chill? …sit down.”
He says submissively and sits next to Johnnie.
TV REPORTER: “Andy was driving his mother’s car. He picked up his two friends, 15 year old twin boys to visit a local house party.”
ANDY’S MOTHER: “He said he was going at this party and was coming back at 22:30. He never did…”
She tries to hold her tears.
ANDY’S MOTHER: “I called at the house where the party was taking place at 22:50 to check up on him. I wasn’t worried since I know the people who live there. They are friends. But they told me they never saw Andy or the twins…”
She starts to cry. Her husband holds her, trying to comfort her. He looks extremely troubled too.
MIKE: “Those kids.. They are our age!”
MIKE: “I am sure they got lost somewhere or run away.”
JOHNNIE: “Maybe. It makes you wonder though.”
MIKE: “Wonder what?”
JOHNNIE: “What if..”
MIKE: “ What if? What if they got abducted? This is too creepy to be real. No way.”
Mike stands up and turns off the TV.
JOHNNIE: “Hey, I was watching that!”
MIKE: “We watched enough. You are forgetting that we have to discuss our plan for Halloween night, right?”
JOHNNIE: “Let’s go upstairs.”
Johnnie opens the door to his room and they enter. There are posters of old horror films on the walls. Some clothes are on the floor, next to the bed. For a teenager his room is moderately neat. Some small bottles and vials on Johnnie’s desk catch Mike’s attention.
MIKE: “Oh cool! Are those the stuff?”
JOHNNIE: “Yes. Do you know how long it took me to find all these? Since July.”
MIKE: “Awesome! Can we try some of them now?”
JOHNNIE: “No! We will only do this on Halloween. It has to be perfect. You can mess around with them after the 31st. If there is anything left.”
Mike picks up something from the desk. Looks like some sort of vial.
JOHNNIE: “That’s mascara. To make our eyelashes totally black.”
MIKE: “And this?”
He picks up a thick pencil with the thickest tip he has ever seen.
JOHNNIE: “uhm… Eye shadow. You know how in the movies when they wear masks they have those super black eyes behind the mask and it feels as if their eyes are holes? That’s what this is for!”
JOHNNIE: “Yeah, we are going to be awesome!”
MIKE: “We should totally go tell Patrick about all this.”
JOHNNIE: “We should. But where is he? I thought he was coming here.”
MIKE: “He was. Most likely he got stuck watching TV too.”
JOHNNIE: “Should we go and find him then?”
JOHNNIE: “Did you bring your bike?”
MIKE: “You know it! It is right outside.”
Johnnie picks up a hoodie from the floor and they leave the room closing the door behind them.
ONE DAY BEFORE HALLOWEEN
A news reporter’s voice comes out of a custom tree house on a very old looking and thick tree. The voice comes from a small battery radio.
REPORTER: “New evidence suggest that there was a forth person at the scene of the abandoned car. Police investigators stated that the car was found abandoned with one of its back doors open and that the footprints on the ground are irregular on the ground around the car, meaning there might have been a struggle. The circumstances of the scene remain unclear. A search team hasn’t stopped investigating the area as well as the river close by for clues. This thriller has kept the town awake the last week and everyone wishes that the three young men are healthy and they hope to find them really soon. Most of the Halloween events for tomorrow’s celebration have been canceled and many houses won’t decorate their yards in support to the families of the missing teenagers.
PATRICK: “Oh man.”
Patrick, a teenage boy holds the radio. He wears a baseball cap. He listens carefully at the news. Johnnie and Mike are in the tree house also. Mike is on the floor holding a wrench. A warped bicycle wheel is in front of him and he is trying to repair it. Johnnie is sitting on a chair next to a tiny table. The chair also is too small, as if it was made for babies. He barely fits but doesn’t complain. On the table there are creepy pumpkin head masks and black costumes. He is occupied making sure that they have everything they need for Halloween.
PATRICK: “This isn’t right. They are canceling Halloween!”
Johnnie and Mike stop what they are doing and look at Patrick. He has their attention.
PATRICK: “I mean… It is really bad what is happening and everyone is getting nervous and scared, but like Mike said, there must be an explanation. They are probably runaways or they got lost in the woods somewhere. I can totally see the twins getting lost even in their own house. They are strange like that.”
JOHNNIE: “What do you mean they are canceling Halloween?”
MIKE: “You can’t cancel Halloween, don’t be stupid.”
PATRICK: “That’s what it says on the radio. There will be no events, no haunted houses and backyards, no spooks on the streets and NO CANDY!”
MIKE: “They are canceling trick or treating too?”
Mike is disappointed. Johnnie seems shocked. All of them stay silent for a moment.
PATRICK: “What are we going to do?”
Johnnie keeps his composure.
JOHNNIE: “We will stick to our plan. Dress up, spook some people and get spooked!”
MIKE: “But where can we get spooked? All the haunted houses will be closed. No ‘Jessie’s Slaughterhouse’ or ‘Devil Fox Ride’ this year… It sucks.”
Johnnie contemplates their options, but they don’t look good.
PATRICK: “Should we try the cemetery?”
JOHNNIE: “No. There is nothing to spook us there. Only old Randy will get spooked by us.”
MIKE: “How long has he been a janitor there? I remember him living there since forever.”
JOHNNIE: “Too long.”
Mike tries to think. He notices a small cross hanging on the wooden wall next to the opening the house has for a window.
MIKE: “Guys, I have an idea!”
Johnnie and Patrick look at him with hope in their eyes.
MIKE: “Have you seen the reverend’s house?”
JOHNNIE: “Father Peter’s?”
PATRICK: “It is really nice. And expensive.”
JOHNNIE: “Yeah, it is more like a mansion. My mom told me his grandmother gave it to him.”
MIKE: “It is big. Too big for a couple… or for one since he lives alone.”
The guys don’t have a clue what he is trying to say.
MIKE: “And since he is a priest for all those decades he must have a lot of strange religious artifacts and books and cool stuff…”
PATRICK: “I don’t understand this idea…”
Mike turns to Johnnie.
MIKE: “We could sneak in the house to find the cool stuff!”.
JOHNNIE: “You mean break and enter into the reverend’s house?”
MIKE: “But it’s not. We won’t steal or do any damages. Just have a look around for creepy stuff. Imagine all the books he might have about demons and witchcraft. What if he has a special room for exorcisms with a chest full of exorcism tools? Or a locker where he keeps confiscated satanic ritual instruments?”
Johnnie’s eyes sparkle to the prospect of seeing something like that.
MIKE: “We can give it a shot. If we can’t sneak in safely, we walk away. Come on dudes, you know this beats scaring old Randy at the cemetery…”
Johnnie keeps looking at him undecided.
HALLOWEEN NIGHT – 31st OCTOBER
The streets are too quiet for a Halloween night. Only a handful of houses have some decorations and give away that it is this time of the year. A carved pumpkin with its glowing eyes by the candle fire here, a hanged skeleton there. A small group of kids dressed up as witches and undead images are out trick or treating without making a lot of fuss, trying to enjoy as much as they can this special night despite the general pessimism of the days.
At a nearby tree, an owl sits on a leafy branch, observing the surroundings, waiting patiently for its lunch. A tiny shadow moves on the street, along the corner where the pavement and the tarmac meet. It is a rat. The owl notices and tracks its movements with its big eyes. Suddenly a sound from the street closing in from the distance distracts the night predator. It looks towards the source of the sound. Bicycle wheels, approaching from the darkness!
It’s Johnnie, Mike and Patrick. Suited up to match as three variations of an undead humanoid pumpkin head demon. They wear rubber carved masks, black, ripped capes and gowns. Long, almost covering the bicycles, seem like they are floating on the street.
Patrick wears a round pumpkin mask. The bright orange makes it look as if it is a freshly cut pumpkin. The whole design though looks like an overweight demon with a big head. However the dark eye sockets and the devilish smug smile confirm that this character is everything but a lovely, chubby fellow.
Mike’s mask looks like an elf or a ‘grey’ alien straight out of the UFO conspiracy theories, featuring long heads and big black eyes. Only the texture makes the thin mask look like a pumpkin. The oversized eyes and the small expressionless hole for a mouth combined with the eye shadow Mike wears underneath make the eyes look like holes to the abyss and the floating effect of the costume contributes to a rather creepy sight.
Johnnie’s mask on the other hand looks rotting and truly undead. The color is dark and faded orange, the texture is wrinkly, cracked and dirty looking. The eyes and mouth are wide open. The expression is a mix of a roar and an agonizing cry but ‘melting’, matching the decaying design of the rest. They ride in formation. Johnnie is on the front in the middle and the other two slightly back on his sides. This is their night. Tonight they own the streets. They are the ghost riders and they mean business. The bikes slow down to a stop. The three pumpkin head devils look far ahead, then at each other.
PATRICK: “Is this it?”
At the distance, a couple of blocks away stands tall father Peter’s house. The front garden is quite small. A carefully made cobblestone path leads to the back of the house where the garage is. A short wall surrounds the open front gate that leads to the yard and the house. The wall becomes higher to the sides and at the back with bushy plants touching it from the inside. At the top of the wall there are pointy metal ‘flowery’ spikes. They don’t look threatening but definitely a difficult place for trespassers to climb on to.
MIKE: “Ok, what do we do?”
PATRICK: “Don’t you have a plan?”
Patrick seems surprised if not annoyed by Mike’s question.
MIKE: “I am the ideas guy!”
PATRICK: “More like the lazy ass guy.”
He says playfully.
JOHNNIE: “Guys, guys!”
They stop arguing. Johnnie looks and examines the house.
JOHNNIE: “Here’s what we will do. Just follow me.”
He rides towards the house. Mike and Patrick follow. They reach the side of the wall and they unmount the bikes. They place them next to the shadowy corner of the wall as silent as they can and slowly crouch to get together. Johnnie removes his mask and stands up to take a peek inside above the wall. From that angle he doesn’t see any interior lights on. He comes back down.
JOHNNIE: “I don’t see anyone inside. I think we are clear.”
MIKE: “Let’s go at the back and have a look. It is probably the only chance to find a window of door unlocked.”
JOHNNIE: “Right… but no.”
MIKE: “Why? What then?”
JOHNNIE: “We split up.”
MIKE: “Why do we have to split up?
JOHNNIE: “Just hear me out. You and Patrick will go from the front and knock at the door, you know, to trick or treat.”
PATRICK: “…I already ate too much candy at home.”
JOHNNIE: “No silly, that’s not the point. It is just to test if anyone is inside.”
MIKE: “Cheeky! What will you do?”
JOHNNIE: “I am going to the back and check for a way in, a window or door. If everything is clear we will regroup.”
Mike is pondering at the plan. He looks at the spikes on top of the wall.
MIKE: “What are you going to do with these?”
He points with his finger at the spikes. Johnnie looks at them.
JOHNNIE: “I brought just the thing!”
He crouches to his bike and opens a side bag attached to the bike. He takes out a rug that has ‘WELCOME’ written on it.
PATRICK: “A rug?”
Mike gets it.
JOHNNIE: “So, I will see you inside.”
Mike nods at him. Johnnie crouches along the wall holding the rug and disappears behind the corner at the back. Mike nods to Patrick to follow him and they start casually to walk towards the front gate. They both hold plastic bags to put the candy in them.
PATRICK: “Hey Mike?”
PATRICK: “What if Father Peter is inside?”
MIKE: “Just say ‘trick or treat!’. He will give us some candy and we will be on our way to get Johnnie and retreat.”
Johnnie reaches the back wall. He looks at the spikes to calculate in his minds how he will go about climbing. He throws the rug aiming for the top of the wall. He misses and the rug falls back at him on the ground making a loud thump sound. Inside at the house on the second floor there is a study where a man is sitting on the desk. Only a few lamps are lit, producing a pleasantly subtle, warm ambiance to the room. He notices the sound and looks towards the back corridor that leads to a window that faces directly at the backyard and garage. He stands up. Patrick and Mike are at the front door of the house, but Patrick seems nervous.
PATRICK: “What if he catches us sneaking in?”
MIKE: “Nobody is going to catch us. We will check if anyone is inside, if not we will have a quick look and leave. If anything feels weird, we’re gone. Get ready, I am ringing the bell.”
The man upstairs is approaching the window. If he looks outside from there he will clearly be able to see Johnnie climbing on the wall. Johnnie is still from the outside. He tries again and throws the rug one more time. It lands right on the spikes covering them. This will provide a safe climbing path for him. Meanwhile at the front door:
MIKE: “What is it now?”
PATRICK: “You can’t have your bag empty!”
He puts his hand in his costume’s pocket and takes out a handful of candy. He stuffs Mike’s bag with it. Johnnie jumps, puts one foot on the wall to support him and hooks his hands on the rug. He pushes upwards and sits on the rug safely. The man inside needs only a few steps to reach the window. If he reaches it he will definitely see Johnnie. Mike presses the bell button with his finger. The bell sound stops the man for a second. Johnnie lands carefully inside the backyard. He removes the rug from the wall and sneaks in. He crouches next to the garage gate. The man upstairs takes a look outside the window. Luckily Johnnie is on a blind spot from the window. The bell rings one more time. The man turns around and walks casually downstairs to open the door. He is reverend Peter.
Johnnie looks for a way in. The main garage gate is obviously not one. He tip toes around and sees a door that leads to a room next to the garage. It is the kitchen. Peter opens the front door.
MIKE/PATRICK: “TRICK OR TREAT!”
PETER: “Oh my, look at those creepy fellows! Now who is it underneath those pumpkins? Huh?”
MIKE: “It’s Mike.”
PATRICK: “And Patrick.”
PETER: “Mike and Patrick. How are you boys? How are your families?”
PATRICK: “Very good sir.”
PETER: “Good to hear.”
He looks at the bags they are holding.
PETER: “Oh right! Let me get you your treats. I am pretty sure I wouldn’t want you guys to trick me tonight, hehe.”
There is a table/drawer close by at the hall. On top of it a glass lamp and a mirror hangs from the wall. Peter walks down the hall.
PATRICK: “What do we do?”
He whispers to Mike. Mike motions at him with his palm to stay there and be calm. Johnnie looks through the kitchen window. Everything seems clear inside. Lights off, nobody is in. He gently touches the knob and turns it. Peter looks inside the drawer in the hallway disappointed.
PETER: “It seems that I am out of candy here. I believe I have some in the kitchen though. Patrick, why don’t you come with me to give you some for both.”
Patrick looks at Mike hesitantly. Mike very subtly nods negative to him, but before he finishes this motion:
He steps inside the house and follows Peter. Mike stays behind at the front door while they disappear to a corner of a corridor that leads inside. Peter turns on the lights of the kitchen. It is empty, everything is in place and the door is closed.
PATRICK: “This is a nice kitchen!”
PETER: “Thank you. Let me see if I can find the treats. I am sure I have some around.”
Johnnie is not in the kitchen nor outside. On the wall next to it, where it connects with the garage there is a small window that is open. Johnnie made it inside the garage. It is pretty dark but he can see two doors and a big rack full of things like gardening hoses, stacked magazines and tools. He places his head right on one of the doors and can hear Patrick chit chatting with Peter.
Mike is still at the front door waiting. He takes off his mask and looks inside. He can’t hear Patrick or Peter. Johnnie investigates the tools on the rack. He goes through them with his hands looking for something. He finds it. Fiddles a bit with it till a light comes from it on the ground. He found a flashlight. He points it to the other door that he didn’t check. He tries to listen if there is anyone on the other side. Nothing.
He opens the door and to his surprise it leads downstairs. Way downstairs to a basement. His eyes go wide and he feels compelled to investigate further. He can’t see the end of the stairs because the light reaches that far. After a few steps he hears a startling and muffled whine from deep bellow. He drops the flashlight that rolls step by step to the bottom. Johnnie gasps as he tries to catch it partly because he is creeped out and also because of the noise it makes.
PETER: “Did you hear something?”
He asks Patrick who is already eating a chocolate treat he just unwrapped.
PETER: “Sounded like it was coming from the basement.”
He looks from the kitchen window at the garage and notices the open small window. He seems rather concerned and places the bowl with the candy he was holding on the kitchen table.
PETER: “Patrick, I want you to follow me for a second.”
PATRICK: “Where to?”
PETER: “uhm… I just remembered where I put some nicer treats. I want to give you some of those too.”
PATRICK: “O-Ok. Let me go get Mike also.”
PETER: “No! Don’t worry about him. Let’s go first and then I will go get him.”
He places his palm on Patrick’s shoulder to encourage him. Meanwhile Mike has come inside the house at the living room. He starts to get impatient and walks toward the inner corridors and room of the house. He looks at the nice furniture and the hanging art on the walls. In the basement Johnnie has reached the bottom. He is on his knees trying frantically to find the flashlight with his hands. It turned off as it fell. He finally gets a hold of it and turns it on. As the light hits the basement the same bizarre muffled whine brings chills to Johnnie’s spine and freezes. He slowly turns the light towards the source of the source and witnesses an unbelievably horrifying sight.
Mike enters the kitchen. The lights are on, a bowl full of candy on the table and a couple of unwrapped treats.
MIKE: “Patrick? Father Peter?”
No response or any sounds at all. As if he is suddenly alone in the house. He keeps looking in the next rooms. In the basement Johnnie is terrified by his discovery. He doesn’t know what to say or do. A woman is tied on a big and sturdy wooden chair. Her mouth is tied with a piece of cloth. She looks middle aged, sickly skinny, wearing a filthy and long dress.
Food and sweat stains are all over it. Between her legs and on the floor, there are urine and feces stains. She has been down there for a long time. Johnnie covers his mouth and nose with his hand. Next to the nailed to the floor chair, there are two metal bowls. One seems to have water and the other some sort of food. They look like a dog’s bowls.
JOHNNIE: “I-I know you… W-What happened? Did your husband do this?”
JOHNNIE: “Did Father Peter do this?”
To the sound of that name she jerks her body violently and tries to scream but fails due to her weakness. Johnnie is startled again and steps back when he hears a metal rattle coming from his side. He instinctively turns the light. He sees three cages. Two of them have inside two boys! The cages are too small for them, they both are on their four kneeling, gagged and tied on the cages. The third cage is empty but has inside a pair of jeans, a hoodie and skateboarding sneakers, definitely a teenager’s belongings. The two boys in the cages raise their faces in response to the light hitting them. They look identical.
They are the missing twins! Johnnie is completely out of words. Upstairs Mike walks to the hallway looking for Patrick. This is not funny anymore. He passes by the bathroom but stops. The lights are on. He goes back to the bathroom and looks inside. Patrick’s mask is on the floor. He notices a shadow behind the bathroom curtain. He approaches and adrenaline starts to pump in his heart.
JOHNNIE: “I am going to get you out of here. I am going to get you out of here. I am going to get you out of here…”
Johnnie is in panic and tries to break open the cages.
JOHNNIE: “Where are the keys? Where is Andy?”
The twins are in a bad shape. Can’t answer or help. In the bathroom Mike touches the curtain and slides it open slowly. Patrick is laying on the bathtub. He seems unconscious and his limps have a weird angle as if someone just dropped him in there. Mike is horrified because Patrick looks truly dead. He bolts to the door to run out. The door slams shut to his face and a key locks it. Mike slams his hands to the door to no response.
Johnnie hears the door slamming upstairs. He can’t free the boys.
JOHNNIE: “I am going to… I am going to bring help. I promise. Just hang in there… hang in there.”
He runs up the stairs as fast as he can. He uses everything he has running up the long staircase. A shadow appears from the top and overshadows Johnnie’s figure. He stares in terror with tears in his eyes at the man who casts the shadow.
REVEREND PETER: “Johnnie? Is it you?…You really shouldn’t have come here. What are we going to do about this curiosity of yours?”
The door of the basement shuts behind Peter.
Photo by Alexandria Somirs