“All Messed Up” By David Ghilardi
A hippy was standing out by the back gate. He seemed drunk, looking thru trash. I ignored him.
“They’re coming to get you, Barbara.”
“Stop teasing, Johnny.”
I glanced at our black and white television. The nerds were still in the cemetery.
Even though stern adult voices warned that ‘images were intense’ and admonished ‘younger viewers should leave the room’, not much was happening. The music was creepy, sure. But I’d seen worse from Vietnam War newscasts. That Walter Cronkite guy’s voice gave me the willies. Swiveling in my jammies towards the yard, the vagrant there had not moved. Looked like some dude with messed up long hair. He had on a long coat. And he listed, a tattered scarecrow in a breeze.
“Mitch, look.” Warren whispered. My brother was curled up with his security blanket eating his spoils gotten from Halloween like Linus with a sugar-addiction.
On screen, an ugly white ghoul hit Johnny with a rock. They quarreled on the ground. My brother whimpered.
“Should I turn it off?”
“No way.” Warren insisted as he hid under his blanket.
“Hold your water, like grandpa says.” I parented.
My mom and Charlotte, her lover, had slunk upstairs to have some alone alone time. They’d taken us out earlier trolling for candy, returned home, declared exhaustion, then grabbed a bottle of Chianti up the steps with them. Warren and I were on our own. Our legs were twitching after trekking for hours having tracked down our sugary loot. It was well after ten pm.
The best scary films always aired super late on Halloween. Only on a night like this could two young old boys push their luck. Best yet, it was Saturday night. No school. Cowabunga!
A swell of music brought me back to the television.
I saw the blonde-looker pop the clutch of their car, rolling away from the ghoul. It crashed into a tree. I jumped as the ghoul caught up with her. She escaped into the woods.
“Don’t go in there.” Whispered my brother.
“No kidding.” I agreed. I looked back at the bum.
There was an alley lamp that illuminated our yard pretty well. The figure there had not moved. I stared at him. His weaving slightly was a bit hypnotizing. What did he want?
Rogue fireworks popped off nearby. Sounds of laughing teens. Only high-schoolers were allowed out that late in the ’70s. The rapscallions were still causing trouble before all porch lights turned off and Halloween finally died in the dark.
I turned forward and saw a band of survivors made it to a farmhouse.
There were now other people in the basement of the house. A black dude seemed to be the natural leader. He was cool. Most level headed of them all. Like me, I imagined, if a horde of flesh eating ghouls suddenly burst on a rampage. I swiveled to check on the man in the alley. Still there. Why was he out there? A twinge of fear clutched in my scrotum.
“Agh! They’re breaking in the windows.” Warren warbled.
“Calm down. They got weapons. Holy cats, that’s nasty.”
Parts of the dead-things’ hands were hacked away.
“Mitch. I’m scared.”
“Okay, that’s it. I’ll turn to channel 32. ‘Frankenstein’s Bride’ is on.”
I knew that would miff my little brother. He hated girl monsters. I was bored with the old guard. These meat eating ghouls were terrific. White flesh eaters? Sure to have bad nightmares tonight.
Totally worth it!
I rotated the dial to static. Easy to do then. Chicago only had 4 channels.
“Please. No. I’m okay now.”
“Just don’t pee yourself.” I warned.
I clicked the dial back. The cute girl and lifeguard guy decided to escape by getting to a truck and gassing it up. Slowly, I peeked back at the alley. The strange man was standing inside our yard now, by the metal trash cans. I thought I heard one scrape against the other as his body leaned upon it.
Boom! The car exploded.
“Mitch! People got caught inside.”
“Uhhhh! Are they eating their remains? So gross. Cool.”
The black guy got locked out. He was angry with the baldy man who appeared to be hateful towards everyone. Heart pounding, I turned towards the back yard. The figure was still there. I gulped. I was breathing faster now. What would the black guy do? He was running around trying to secure the doors.
Since my mom and her lover had gone upstairs with orders not to be disturbed, that left me head of household. I had to protect my little brother. Little toad, hope he appreciated me keeping him from being eaten.
“Be back quick.”
I darted out of the room to check the back doors. Glass slider, clicked shut.
“Don’t leave me here alone, Mitch.”
“Stifle yourself, Edith. I’ll be back real quick.”
Where else should I check? Basement, where that baldy guy was hiding his family. Ugh. Down into the dark? I hitched up my pajama bottoms and ran down creaking spiral steps. The ones that curled out of view and where a ravenous ghoul from the alley could wander in and bite my ankle clear down to the bone.
Fast, fast, fast I ran, flinging deadbolts and triple-checking doorknobs.
(Were ghouls responsible for my future OCD relationship with locks? Could be).
“Mitch. Hurry. You’re missing it all!”
Satisfied, I ignored the basement whispers padding my way back up to the first floor. Checked that the front door was secure and lights turned off to thwart any remaining trick or treaters and stymie marauding flesh eaters. What would my little brother taste like anyway? Sugar and ham? Warren had eaten so many pixie sticks and marathon bars, his belly was distended.
“What’d I miss?” I paused in the doorway.
Warren was totally covered with blanket now. He gripped himself. Nothing like holding your scrotum for security when you were a kid. Candy wrappers were strewn everywhere.
“The girl in the basement ate her mom.”
It appeared as if pretty much everyone in that lonely farmhouse was dead or eaten. The skinny blonde lady was taken away by her brother Johnny who had joined the ranks of the ghouls. I stood in the doorway, taking comfort in the solid wooden frame as we watched all the actors dwindle. The black guy fought on.
He was now hiding in the basement hoping the hungry freaks would not break through.
My brother and I looked at each other, mouths wide open. The grunting and moaning of these undead things really got to us. First time sharing fear with my annoying little brother was a comfort to me.
Standing, my heart pounding, I peered out the back windows. I knew the panes protruded a good six feet off the ground, no way a flesh mongering dead thing could scrabble up or gain purchase on the short sills. The figure stayed back there swaying against the metal cans by the back gate.
Holy Christmas, I thought. What if this film was like one of those docu-films like the Vietnam War movies on the news with Uncle Walt? What if this movie about ghouls-all black and white-was, shall I even consider it?–REALLY HAPPENING NOW?
Moans continued on TV, as ghouls kept bashing on the splintering basement door. My eyes were locked on the undead scarecrow in our backyard.
What would I do? How would I protect my brother? What weapons did we have in the house? Hammer, check. I could use a circular saw for close range, saw their darn arms off! Check. Even a metal angle ruler, we could use it as a death-boomerang, like Bruce Lee. Check. My heart beat super fast.
“Check it, Mitch. The fuzz!”
The film had switched to a helicopter chasing down the flesh eaters with sheriffs and farmers blasting them to their unearthly reward.
“Burn’em. They go up pretty good.” The Willard sheriff said. “Yeah, they’re all messed up.”
“See, the hero won.” I sighed, relieved. We thought it was over.
The black guy slowly came out of the basement, ready to be rescued when one hyped up farmer claimed he saw something in the house.
“Something’s moving.” The bumpkin said.
“Oh no.” I whispered.
Too late. One shot killed the black leader. My brother and I held our breaths. Eerie music rose then, with the most horrible tableau in black and white. And meat hooks. The crazy farmers were using meat hooks to drag away the bodies. It was the only time I looked away.
The credits crawled like ghouls themselves: unforgiving and purposeless in the Halloween night.
“That was horrible. Scared the daylights out of me.”
“The hero died.” Warren whispered.
I paused. What did it all mean?
The TV loudly returned with commercials hawking early toys for Christmas. The news was next. A reporter came on to warn about children eating apples with pins in them. There was no mention of walking corpses or hordes of undead ghouls invading the Chicago area. At least, not yet.
I exhaled. The pounding in my head had stopped. It felt good. We had survived a roller-coaster for adults or like the time that maniac had tried to make us sick on the Tilt-a-Whirl by increasing the speed of the machines at Kiddie-Land. Freaky guy tried to make us hurl.
Looking out the window, the decaying scarecrow had retreated back to the alley again. His arms remained at his side. His head lolled a bit, like a neck hinge was loose. Overgrown bushes provided places for him to hide. I would have to wait until morning to confront him. Damn, the world was one scary place.
“Were you afraid?”
I smiled and laughed.
“Being honest, yeah. It sure got me.”
“Me too.” Warren nodded. “Don’t be mad.”
“Mad? Why would I be mad at you? That’s crazy.”
Warren still gripped his privates.
“I peed myself.”
My little brother, his innocent face framed by a bowl haircut our cheap mother had visited upon him to save money, redeemed me that night.
“No problem. Take a bath. Then get on new pj’s. I’ll close up here.”
He slowly slid up from the floor taking care not to drip a slime trail. I returned to check on outside security. The figure in back stared at me, then slowly shambled away down the alley disappearing amidst the shadows of neighboring garages.
I heard the tub rumble and fill upstairs. The dying of Halloween continued staggering past midnight. Snatches of echoing laughter rose faintly from the streets, a window broke at Schurz High probably by caused rogue high schoolers. Crickets droned on calming the shadows. Dark solace fell over Chicago then, tucking away all the monsters of the night. I tuned off the lights in the living room. Only the fading glow of the black and white television tube reflected on the walls. Strange creatures of the night, time for all to rest.
In the morning, when the sun was high, I inched across dewy grass safe in the belief that no monsters came out during the day. Our back gate remained open. In the alley, near the metal cans, were ripped up pieces of moldy paper left like bread crumbs leading away from our house. They seemed to disappear mid-trail. Present for a few feet, then gone.
I realized my belief about monsters was wrong.
It dawned on me too, heroes don’t always make it to daybreak after all.
David Ghilardi, HWA member, is the author of the Dark Chicago series: Olde Irving Park, Dark Shadows of Chicago and Gray Land. He’s the creator of Mix (television series).
Autographed Books available at davidghilardi.com