Recently I was invited to contribute a story to a project sponsored by Cemetery Dance Publications—a series of eBook singles focusing on Halloween. A “theme” invitation is always fun, since it challenges you to write a story that you might not have written otherwise. This one should have been especially easy: I’ve always loved stories that take place on Halloween, and I always wanted to write a Halloween story of my own.
Halloween is such a rich subject because of the shared trick-or treat memories—with your parents and then, when you’re old enough, with your friends—and the iconic images of pumpkins, ghosts, broomstick witches, and pillowcases full of candy. Halloween is great when you’re a kid; when you’re an adult, it makes you feel like a kid again.
With all the nostalgic possibilities, I knew I wanted to tell my story from a child’s point of view. But I didn’t know what else to write. Maybe the problem was that there were too many horror elements to choose from–a wealth of riches! Or maybe I was afraid these “stock elements” would make my story too familiar. Or maybe (and I decided this is the real reason) it’s because I love the holiday so much, and wanted my story to be extra special.
So I had to pull back a bit, and think about how to generate a new story idea for the familiar holiday. I wanted trick-or-treat elements, and some form of neighborhood haunted house—but what could I add? I looked through my scraps of story ideas, trying to find some new “decoration” to fit my Halloween setting.
Then I found an old note I’d made about a house I walked past on my way to work, back when I was a teacher at Jacksonville State University in Alabama. I never knew who lived in the house, and the building wasn’t particularly odd or frightening—no loose boards or chipped paint, no “eye socket windows.” One day, though, there was an official sign posted out front, in the same red on white lettering used for a “No Parking” sign. This new sign said, “Quiet Zone: Death in the Family.” I’d never seen such a sign before, but immediately realized the reason for it: a family in mourning might not want to hear the laughter of playing children (an elementary school was nearby), or thumping bass from a passing car’s radio. I later learned that in Victorian times, they used to put fresh hay on the street to muffle the sound of a horse and carriage in front of a house where someone had died. Interesting facts, scribbled on a scrap of paper, lingering in the back of my mind for almost fifteen years…
My notes say it was Spring when I saw that unusual sign, but then I started thinking: What if this was Halloween? What if the house with the death in the family was traditionally the neighborhood’s best Halloween-decorated house? And what if my main character was a young kid who hadn’t been old enough to visit the house on previous years, and had really been looking forward to it? I came up with my first sentences, and knew I had my Halloween story:
On October 29, the decorations disappeared from the Myrick lawn. Rubber kitchen gloves, purple and stuffed with cotton, no longer reached hungrily from the lawn beside tilted Styrofoam grave markers. A faint autumn breeze no longer rattled the plastic bones of the full-sized skeleton that formerly hung from a leafless limb of their oak tree. From the Myrick porch, the motion-sensor eyes of a black ceramic cat no longer flashed red at children as they passed.
Of course, my young protagonist wouldn’t have the full understanding of a family’s grief. Instead, he’d feel cheated because hisHalloween was ruined. When people don’t give you a treat, they deserve some kind of trick as payment…and as with most horror stories, things get worse from there. That’s the premise of my story “Quiet House,” available as a 99 cent eBook from Cemetery Dance and from the usual online retailers. Give it a read, and let me know what you think!
I’m also pleased to point out that, by a happy accident, my upcoming novella from Delirium/DarkFuse has the release date of October 30—just one day shy of Halloween, so perfect timing, I would say! It’s called The Fleshless Man and is also a haunted house story, of a sorts—a house haunted by an elder parent’s lingering illness, with the resulting tensions helping to summon a strange, possibly supernatural entity. Here is the link to the book’s official page: https://www.darkfuse.com/the-fleshless-man-by-norman-prentiss.html
The print edition of The Fleshless Man is sold out pre-publication; the eBook edition is available early, priced at $2.99. Visit the DarkFuse site for details, or check with your favorite online eBook retailers.
Norman Prentiss won the 2010 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction for his first book, Invisible Fences. Previously he won a Stoker in the Short Fiction category for “In the Porches of My Ears,” which originally appeared in Postscripts 18. Other publications include the novella The Fleshless Man, a mini-collection Four Legs in the Morning, a chapter in the round-robin novella The Crane House: A Halloween Story, and anthology appearances in Blood Lite 3, Zombies vs. Robots: This Means War, Horror Drive-In: An All-Night Short Story Marathon, Black Static, Commutability, Damned Nation, Tales from the Gorezone, Best Horror of the Year, The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror, and three editions of the Shivers anthology series. His poetry has appeared in Writer Online, Southern Poetry Review, Baltimore’s City Paper, and A Sea of Alone: Poems for Alfred Hitchcock.
Visit him online at www.normanprentiss.com.