Aphelion Issue 245, Volume 23
November 2019
 
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The Halloween Party Guest

by Gary Davis




The Halloween party was going full blast. Matt was surprised that his church had finally permitted a Halloween party to be held on its premises. Of course, the party was not taking place in the church sanctuary itself but within a “fellowship hall” annex. This celebration was chiefly intended for single adult church members of all ages. The minister and deacons apparently felt that a church party would at least keep their single members away from spooky and less savory places on Halloween night.

A local rock band was playing up on the stage at the front of the hall. It played songs from different time periods, including the 1960s Halloween classic, “Monster Mash.” “They did the monster mash...It was a graveyard smash.”

At the beginning of the party, there was a Halloween costume contest. Matt had always liked the Universal “Mummy” movies; the mummy was his favorite monster--slow but scary. For the contest, he hand-wrapped his head and left arm in “mummy” gauze. He slowly limped around the room proclaiming, in a deep voice, “The mummy’s gonna get you...sometime...maybe!” Everyone laughed. Matt won a third-place prize for his outfit.

The music started right after the costume contest. Matt unwrapped his mummy bandages. They felt hot in a crowded hall, especially the head wrappings. Matt walked over to the food table and helped himself to potato chips and a soft drink. He also noticed lots of big sugar cookies slathered in black-, yellow- and orange-colored icing. He would check those out later.

Lots of people were dancing now, both in and out of costume. Music, talk and laughter filled the large room. Matt noticed that the door at the back of the hall had just swung wide open. A new party guest entered. It was someone tall and dressed in a long, black, hooded robe. The hood fell way down over the head, so that Matt could not make out what mask the person was wearing, if any. The stranger’s outfit certainly looked scary. If he or she had shown up at the beginning of the Halloween party, the new guest might have won a prize in the costume contest.

Matt noticed that the stranger did not go to the refreshments table. The visitor walked swiftly towards a young lady standing alone along the far side of the hall. The two began having an animated conversation. Matt looked at them very intently while munching at the food table. The lady looked back and forth between the stranger and her smartphone. She appeared to become increasingly displeased or disturbed at whatever the new guest was saying and also at what she was reading on her phone. Finally, after a few minutes, she abruptly walked out the back door of the party hall. The hooded stranger followed her out the door a few seconds later.

Matt wondered about what had just happened. Was the new visitor just bothering the young lady, or was he or she actually threatening her? The stranger’s dark and gloomy costume was certainly not cause for optimism. Matt recalled other Halloween parties he had been to in the past. There was almost always somebody at these events who dressed and acted a little weirdly, who didn’t fit in with the other guests. This person often kept the costume on for the entire party, walking around the room but not talking much.

Matt decided to leave the food table. He felt the need to work off his consumption of potato chips, onion dip and soda. Also, mummies were not known for being fat. He quickly found a woman who accepted his invitation to dance.

As soon as he began dancing, Matt noticed that the stranger with the long robe had reentered the party hall. The young lady he had talked to earlier was not with him. Matt never saw her return to the party. This time, the visitor walked over to a middle-aged man sitting by himself and drinking at a small table. Once again, the new guest seemed to be initiating a vigorous conversation. The man at the table quickly took on an agitated facial appearance. He looked down at his phone and then back up at the stranger. A few seconds later, he stood up, appearing very distraught. The man then shrugged his shoulders and quickly exited the hall through the back door. The stranger followed him out a few seconds later.

Matt could see that this whole sequence of events was almost exactly the same as the earlier encounter between the hooded visitor and the young lady. Was the stranger going around insulting or harassing party guests? When the stranger had first entered the hall, Matt had simply assumed that he or she would want to socialize with other party guests in a friendly manner. What actually happened was totally different. Guests were getting upset and leaving.

Matt’s dancing partner, Susan, was facing away from the stranger. She was wearing an attractive black cat costume. Matt told Susan that her Halloween outfit reminded him of Edgar Allan Poe’s famous short story, “The Black Cat.” “I read a lot of Poe horror stories years ago,” Matt said. “I read some too, including ‘The Black Cat,’” Susan replied. “I liked the ending. The black cat exposed the murderer. Don’t mess with a black cat!”

Susan had noticed that Matt looked distracted while dancing. She asked him, “What are you looking at? It’s not just a black cat.” “You’re right,” Matt said. “I’ve been observing this weird party guest who’s also dressed all in black, with a long robe and large hood over the head. He or she seems to be angering some of the other guests, and then they leave the hall. Have you noticed this person?” “Yes”, said Susan. “I’ve noticed that person a few times. A strange guest at a Halloween party should not really be that surprising, however. The guest might be trying to cover up his or her natural shyness with a scary costume. People are different.”

“Well, you could be right about that,” replied Matt. “I’ve thought the same thing myself. Except that this person is not shy. The hooded stranger immediately walks up to someone and starts talking right away. Judging by the latter’s visual reaction, it’s always a negative encounter.”

“Hey, let’s go back to the refreshments table,” interjected Susan. “Dancing made me hungry again.” Matt and Susan each picked up a soft drink and then sampled the Halloween cookies. Matt turned around and scanned the hall once again. The black-robed visitor had just returned to the party. The middle-aged man who had left a few minutes before was still gone. This time, the stranger walked up to an elderly lady who was standing by herself. Matt noticed that the two of them appeared to go through the same set of exchanges he had seen before with the young lady and the middle-aged man. The old lady became increasingly upset as she looked back and forth between her phone and the stranger. The two of them quickly left the hall.

Matt felt really angry this time. The weird party guest was now harassing an old woman. Matt decided that he would confront the stranger outside the church hall. “I’m going to have a talk with this hooded visitor right now, before he or she bothers someone else,” Matt told Susan. “OK”, said Susan. “I understand. Just be careful and don’t get into a fight.” “Don’t worry,” Matt responded. “I’ll be back soon. I just need to find out what’s going on here.” Matt walked briskly towards the back door of the hall. As he left, he noticed that Susan had a very concerned look on her face.

Matt found the stranger standing on the grass next to the church parking lot. The old lady who had just left with him was nowhere to be seen. Matt shouted, “Hey, you there!” The visitor turned around and faced Matt directly. He pulled his deep hood back a little bit. Matt could finally see the stranger’s face. Matt’s jaw dropped. He had seen nothing like it before. It was the face of an extremely old man. He was almost completely bald. The skin looked very thin and was stretched tightly across the bones of the head. The eye sockets were deep and the eyes small but piercing. The nose was flattened. The cheeks were hollow. The lips were drawn back, exposing dark gums and yellowed teeth. The visitor’s face looked totally unreal to Matt, but it did not appear to be a mask. This person was indeed the strangest of Halloween party guests.

Matt felt intimidated by the old man’s stare. He could hardly summon up the nerve to speak. Finally, the visitor said, “What do you want?” Matt replied, loudly, “What do I want? The question should be, what do you want? You have been repeatedly harassing guests at this party. I’ve seen the look on their faces. They leave and don’t come back.”

“Well, allow me to explain,” the old man stated. His voice was deeply resonant, despite his obviously great age. “I conduct souls to the Other World when their time is done on Earth. I’ve been doing this for centuries. Obviously, I don’t look out of place at a Halloween costume party.”

It dawned upon Matt who he was dealing with. “Aren’t you supposed to be carrying a long scythe with a big wooden handle?,” Matt inquired. “That’s what all the pictures show.”

“I don’t need to carry the scythe on Halloween,” the old man replied. “The barrier, or veil between this world and the Other World is thinnest on Halloween. That’s what all the Halloween history books say. My work is easier on this particular night; only a little push--ha, ha--is necessary.” Matt trembled at the visitor’s morbid sense of humor.

“I’ve also modernized my technique the past few years,” the old man continued. When I’m talking to people, they see the same message on their smartphones. People always believe their phones nowadays. Furthermore, at a party like this, held for members of a church, I assume that everyone is a true believer. They should be ready to go at a moment’s notice.”

Matt was speechless. He was afraid to look at his phone again. The eerie guest resumed speaking. “Do not be concerned for yourself. Your time has not yet come, and likewise for your friend Susan. My work is done here for tonight.” He abruptly turned around and walked away from Matt.

The robed visitor headed towards a thick line of trees on the far side of the church parking lot. He approached a path in the woods that Matt had never seen before. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning struck the entrance to the path directly in front of the party guest. This seemed strange to Matt since there were no clouds in the sky; he also heard no thunder. Matt assumed that the lightning strike would fully illuminate the old man’s approach towards the dark path. Instead, Matt saw no one. The Grim Reaper was gone.



THE END


2019 Gary Davis

Bio: Gary Davis loves all things classic horror and Halloween. He has published Halloween stories in Alban Lake’s FrostFire Worlds in November 2016 and November 2017. He has also published horror poetry in Tales of the Talisman, Bloodbond, Illumen, Scifaikuest, Star*Line, Aphelion, in two Lester Smith Halloween anthologies and in a sci-fi anthology, Kepler’s Cowboys (2014-2019).

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