AT NIGHT SHE LIVES
by Matt Walker
First published by Dark Fire Fiction
“Because my mom said I had to take him.”
“Oh, leave off, Jay. He’s alright.” Ben put a hand on his younger brother’s shoulder. “He just wants to go trick or treating like the other kids.”
“Oh, well that’s just great.” Jay flung out his arms and his pathetic Dracula cape rippled in the October night. “Terrific. So we have to baby-sit an eight-year-old.”
“I’m actually ten.” Ben’s younger brother wore a hockey mask, though his voice came out small and not in the least bit scary.
“Ssh, Owen.” Ben shrugged his shoulders at Jay. His clothes were ripped and covered in fake blood. “He won’t be a nuisance.”
“He better not be. Hear?” Jay prodded Owen in the chest. “Hear?”
Owen looked at his feet and said nothing.
Jay turned back to Ben. “What the hell are you supposed to be, anyway?”
“A zombie, or something, I dunno. Just something dead and mangled.”
“You look like a heap of crap.”
“Well, you look like a woman wearing a face mask.”
Jay gave him the bird.
Ben grinned. “Come on, before it gets too late.”
“Too late? Your mom hasn’t told you to be back by 9 o’clock because of him—” he jabbed a finger at Owen, “—has she? We’re fifteen, Ben!”
“Shut up, Owen.” Jay sighed, and his fangs nearly fell out. “Fine. Let’s get going then, if we’re going to bother.”
Ben nearly threw up his arms and said, “Fine—let’s not bother, you miserable git,” but he would never say something like that to Jay. Later, of course, he wished with all his heart he had.
They went from house to house and tried their best to scare the residents into handing over sweets. (“Or money,” Jay had said, “try and get money, Ben.”) Ben would knock the door with Owen and say, “Trick or treat,” and all without fail would obligingly hand over handfuls of unwanted chocolates and sweets that would soon be out of date or already were.
Jay hid behind the garage, willing a homeowner to say “trick”—possibly with a mischievous glint in their eye—and then Jay would jump out and scream at them and make them crap themselves.
But no one did. It made him angry.
“Why isn’t anyone asking to be tricked?” Jay kicked the gutter.
“Don’t complain; they’re giving us sweets!” Owen grinned, already eating some of the night’s takings.
“Halloween isn’t about the sweets, it’s about scaring people. God, this is lame.”
They got to the end of the road and stood looking at the house on the corner.
“She won’t answer,” Ben said. “She didn’t last year.”
Mrs Lovejoy was an elderly widow, diagnosed as ‘batty’ and ‘off her rocker’ by the neighbourhood kids (and their parents too, truth be told).
“Just ring the doorbell,” Jay said, taking his position out of sight behind the garage.
Ben sighed and did so. To his surprise, Mrs Lovejoy answered almost immediately, as if she’d been waiting to dish out her old sweets to any kid brave enough to ring her doorbell. It’d have been better for everyone if she hadn’t. Especially herself.
“Trick or treat!”
“Ooh, don’t you two look a picture!” the old woman cawed, taking some snack-sized chocolates from the dish on a nearby shelf and dumping them in the sack Owen carried. “Don’t eat them all at once, now.”
“We won’t, thank you very...”
“Roooaaar!” Jay decided to jump out anyway. He’d been dying to all night, and he laughed as he did it. Ben and Owen jumped, and they knew he was there. Mrs Lovejoy gasped. Her eyes bulged.
“Jay, you idiot, that wasn’t funny...”
Jay laughed, and then his smile faltered. Mrs Lovejoy clutched her hand to her chest and choked out short, shallow breaths.
“Mrs Lovejoy... stop screwing around...” But Jay knew as well as anyone that the old lady wasn’t joking. It was etched on his terrified face. “Mrs Lovejoy?”
She fell to the floor and was still.
“Oh crap,” Jay said. “Oh crap.”
* * * * *
“We’ll have to leave her.”
“We can’t leave her!” Ben put both hands to his head. He was suddenly very, very hot.
“She’s dead, isn’t she!” Owen cried until snot came from his nose.
Jay looked over his shoulder. The street was almost completely hidden by the row of trees lining the front garden. “No one can see us. No one needs to know we were here.”
“You killed her!” Ben said.
“She had a heart attack! She was old! It was about time she died.” Jay’s eyes were as wild and feral as a rabid dog’s. “They’ll arrest you, too. You were here with me. They’ll take you away from your mom.”
Owen cried harder.
“I’m not getting done for this, Ben—they’ll put me inside this time. And everyone will think you’re a murderer too. We have to leave her and tell no one.”
Ben felt his own eyes burning. “I don’t know...”
“Yes. Yes. Promise me. We tell no one.”
And his eyes were so wide and scared and mad that Ben could only nod. “O... okay...” he said.
* * * * *
“Oh no, listen to this, kids.” Their father ruffled the local paper as he said, “Mrs Lovejoy from down the street died of a heart attack last night.”
Ben caught Owen’s eye, feeling his stomach knot. She’d come to him last night, you see. Crawled across the carpet and grabbed his ankle. “Jay will try to blame you for it all...” she’d said. “You can’t trust him...”
The cereal suddenly tasted like cold gruel and sank uncomfortably in his stomach. “A heart attack?”
“Yes. It says she phoned for an ambulance complaining of severe chest pains just before 9 o’clock last night, but she was already dead when they got there.”
The words punched Ben clean in the stomach. “She phoned for an ambulance?” His voice came out muffled and sounded like it belonged to someone else.
“Yes. That’s what it says. Are you alright?”
Oh Jesus, she was still alive when we left her... He closed his eyes, hearing Owen stifle a sob and dash from the table. Oh Jesus Christ of Nazareth... we might have saved her...