The Man by Karen Dent [horror]

Imprint - Horror Imprint Logo 200wThe Man by Karen Dent

When I was barely two he appeared and stood by my crib, staring down at me a long, long time. I’d screamed in fear the moment I saw him, my eyes spilling tears the size of marbles. He glided back and slipped into a thin slit of shadow in a corner of my room, where he stayed.

The first time, my mama had come in and tried to comfort me, cradling my shivering body and walking the floor. No matter which way she walked, I kept my eyes fixed on his spot. Finally, she said, real gentle like, “Don’t you worry, honey, they won’t hurt you none. They just get real lonely and want a little company like regular folks is all.” Then she put my stiff little body down and wiped my face dry. I clutched at her apron, but she plucked my fingers off, crooning, “Shush now and be my little angel.” Then she looked over to where I still stared and saw nothing. Nothing with her eyes that is, but she could feel him. Then she shuddered, patted my blanket, kissed my fingers and left. He remained and watched my life play out in grueling, tedious detail.

It’s hard to remember a time when The Man wasn’t a part of my life. As a child, he seemed to be taller than a shadow and just as dark. He wore a tall black hat, pointy beard and eyes—eyes that I could never quite see in the deep, shrunken hollow of his skull. He wore black clothes with a black cape and when I was a few years older, I named him Inquisitor after a movie I saw.

Mama used to see things too until she passed down Grammy’s legacy to me, her ninth child. She called it a blessing, but she seemed real happy it had moved on to me and left her ‘blessedly quiet.’ Anyway, it ticked me off, her giving me her gift. Most people just get an old dresser or cameo.

My mama would take me aside and try to explain how I was gifted and shouldn’t let people know. Then she’d go on and on about how hard my row would be to hoe. I didn’t figure that one out till I was six.

The Man stayed and seemed to be a perpetual blackness in the corner of my room. He’d watch impassively at all my childhood games, my beatings and the nights my Uncle Charlie would crush me under his sweaty, fat arms with his needs. The last time he tried to do more than grope, the Inquisitor slithered out from the shadowy depth of his corner and touched Charlie’s temple. That man shot off me with a scream of pain I won’t ever forget. The smell of burnt flesh filled the room and ever after, there was a mark on the side of his face that mama called the sign of the Devil. I called it Salvation. Uncle Charlie never came around no more and mama said good riddance anyways. Pop-pop was mad we lost a free babysitter and blamed me for ruining his life again. I felt the strap almost every day after that before mama finally kicked the bastard out. But she had another man waiting to take his place. She was weak and got lonely. I can’t blame her. We all have our ways.

My Man didn’t leave, and eventually I got used to him. He never left my room or spoke until that one time when he screamed in my ear “Jump!” Some low-life almost ran me over with their truck. I was so shocked, I leaped and landed in the bushes and struggled home with scratched-up knees and briars stuck all over me. People can be real hateful when they think you’re different.

I gave up trying to find out what Inquisitor wanted from me and just figured he was as cursed as I was and had to endure. I ignored him, he seemed to ignore me. In my thirteenth year, I was told I was too old for Halloween trick or treating unless I wanted to take some little kids. As I was a surprise baby in the last flower of mama’s youth, there were no little sisters or brothers in my family to take. All the others had grown up and had run as fast and as far away as their feet could take them.

My few friends, all too old like me, also wanted to go get free candy. We were hungry for the sugar high and tortured cavities a night knocking on doors would bring, except there was an unspoken rule around our neighborhood. No one over twelve was allowed to poach candy meant for the young’uns.

So, Callie, Harriet, who we called Harry, and Jess cooked up a plan to invade the other side of the river, the rich side. No one over there ever checked to see how old you were and no one over there knew our faces either. We hid our costumes and make-up in an old decayed hollow of a tree the day before and brought mirrors and flashlights to dress up with. Our master plan was to hit old Fogel’s place, high on the hill first, then catch a bus to the big lights across the water. Fogel was known for his cookies and sweets, sometimes letting a small group in for some soda and ice cream. He seemed to like older kids, maybe ‘cause they didn’t have parents trailing them and telling them to hurry up. So we trooped up the hill at dusk and waited in a pine grove while batches of ghosts and goblins rang his bell. Their high voices echoed in the chill wind with “Trick or treat” and giggles of pleasure as he dumped large handfuls of candy in their bags. He kept looking over at the pine grove like he could see us waiting, and I could swear he smiled.

Callie and Jess were cold and wanted to hurry and ring his bell, then move on, but Harry was on my side. I explained Fogel wouldn’t let us in if we were with a big group. If we could get all our candy here, why pay the bus fare from our hard-earned babysitting money if we didn’t have to? Callie whined some more, but shut up when the last of the fairy princesses floated away with squeals of joy and talk of swapping her gummy eyeball for a lollipop.

Finally, we trudged up the hill and stairs. I looked over and saw Inquisitor standing in the shadows and stiffened. Except for that one time warning me, he’d never been out of my bedroom. “What are you doing here?” I whispered, feeling like I just got sucker punched.

My friends all turned to where I was staring. Harry slapped me in the arm “Quit it, you freak. Stop messing around. Hey Jess, ring the bell already, I’m freezing.” Jess lifted her hand, but the door opened before she got the chance. Mr. Fogel stood there looking down at us, smiling that smile.

I couldn’t take my eyes off Inquisitor, who just hovered over some dead brown leaves in the blackest part of the porch, and stared at me mournfully.

Mr. Fogel’s grin got big and toothy as he looked down at us. “Well, well, well. Only four?” He leaned out and looked around for our moms, and Harry pushed to the front.

“Just us, Mr. Fogel. Trick or treat,” and opened her burlap bag. Hopefully, she craned her neck around his body and looked into his living room. Piles of candy and cookies winked at her from huge glass bowls while hot cocoa steamed on a table, beckoning seductively.

Mr. Fogel’s eyes gleamed as he said, “Then why don’t you come on in. I’ve got a pot of imported hot chocolate I just made and a batch of cinnamon cookies fresh out of the oven.”

“Thanks!” Harry said and lunged into the room, followed quickly by Jess and Callie. Their whispered squeaks of joy snaked out to me as they ran to the table and greedily grabbed handfuls of candy from the crystal bowls and dumped them in their bags.

Mr. Fogel looked down at me impatiently. “You’re letting out all the warm air. Come in already.”

I looked back over at Inquisitor, who seemed to ooze a black puddle of grief and sadness.

Mr. Fogel grabbed my shoulder and tried to wrangle me into his house. “I’ve been waiting for you. No need to be afraid, I saw you in the grove and you seemed like nice young things, wanting a little something extra. I made the chocolate just for you, so come in and have a cup.”

He seemed a little too anxious, so I dug in my heels and refused to budge. I looked at him then, real hard. His eyes were like glass—such a soft, faded blue you could almost see through them. His hand had a thick, ribboned vein that seemed to twitch and jump right before my eyes. I stepped further back and away, and the wind whipped my hair as I watched my friends laughing and happily eating cookies while they sat on his couch. The light was all golden yellow and sparkly, and I desperately wanted to join them. I turned and reluctantly walked down the steps, noting as I did the flash of surprise on Mr. Fogel’s face.

“Come back here, you ungrateful little bitch!” he barked. Now that kind of language I understood and I picked up my pace. He quickly followed down the stairs and I saw the shadow of his hand reaching for my pony tail. I ducked, darting to the side and ran down the hill at breakneck speed, stopping only when I didn’t hear the thudding of his footsteps behind me. I turned and watched. He stood looking down at me, then turned and stiffly walked up his steps. He paused at the top and turned to the dark corner where Inquisitor had been standing. He viciously kicked at the dead leaves, then turned back to stare at me. I sucked in my breath as his eyes glowed orange, then red, before he entered his house and slammed the door. It was creepy how those faded blue eyes could reflect light like that, but then I thought—what light? There was only darkness. Beads of sweat gathered on my upper lip and I felt slightly sick.

I waited. If my friends didn’t get kicked out right now, I would pick up a couple of rocks and break his windows. If he came out, I’d throw one to break his nose. If they still didn’t come out, I’d go to the police, even if I did get into trouble. I bunched up my muscles to run back up the hill and scanned the area for rocks big enough to pitch and do some damage. Abruptly, Callie, Jess, and Harry came flying out, him in the doorway yelling, “And tell your friend she’s never to come back here either! I labored long and hard on your treats and this is the thanks I get?! Bitches!” and he slammed the door again.

I sobbed in relief and ran to meet them, then Harry pushed me down and screamed, “Are you out of your mind, you psycho?!” Why’d you go and do that?! Why?” she asked, hand on her hip and eyes slitted to a thin thread.

“Yeah,” Jess piped in. There were piles of cookies in there!” She quivered, cookie crumbs still clinging to the corners of her mouth.

I got up slowly and looked at them like they were all crazy. “Are you kidding?! I saved you. He was some sort of demon or something and…”

Harry blurted, “You are such a freak! I should never have come with you. Lorraine fessed up that she and Dodger were going trick or treating and asked me if I wanted to go with them,” she grumbled, “and I shoulda!”

Callie said slowly, “Actually, Harry, I’m sorta glad he kicked us out. He didn’t feel right.”

Jess turned on her. “What do you mean? He had cookies! Hot stuff to drink! We could have stayed for hours.”

Harry bunched her fist up. “You saw that stupid Man, didn’t you?” At my look, she let out all her breath. “Oh, for cripes sake, he’s not real! Food is real! Free food is extra real.”

I turned and started walking home, no longer interested in celebrating Halloween. “I’ll see you guys tomorrow.”

Callie called “Wait up. I’ll walk home with you.” She paced beside me and we walked home in silence.

The next day, Lorraine and Dodger were missing. We told the police about old Fogel, but they said he was in Europe where he stayed till April; told us the holidays got him down ever since his wife and three children went missing 30 years ago.

Harry and Jess never talked about that night, and they stopped hanging with me too. Callie’s parents moved so I don’t see her much anymore either, but we try and write as much as possible.

When I came home that night, Inquisitor was there in his usual spot and I went right up to him and said, “Thanks.”

Every day now, I say, “Good morning” and “Good night,” and sometimes I’ll read some of my school books to him. He seems to like that—I think. Maybe it’s my imagination, but I think his dark corner is getting a little lighter these days.

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