October (a short story)

October

The old man sat stolidly surveying the wind-blown yard. He silently remembered every October which had come and gone in these past thirty years since he had turned his back on his one true love. He had spent so many years trying to twist the memories in his own mind so he could believe that he was not to blame.

No one could believe the story he screamed when the police had first arrived. He had been called a murderer, a lunatic, and many other terrible names. No matter who questioned him or how long they kept him in the sanitarium and despite the laundry list of experimental medications he never changed his story.

The detectives were vexed for an explanation which was made quite evident by their stuttering testimonies. These testimonies and a brief statement from a psychiatrist are what kept the old man from the electric chair but he was still remanded to the state psychiatric hospital for more than three years.

The old man recounted every detail fighting the chill this new October’s wind brought. He was ready. He wouldn’t run anymore. “This is where it started and this is where it shall end.” He spoke aloud with a hushed tone to the brown grass and the dead swirling leaves.

The veteran detective was hung up on a detail that neither he nor anyone else present that night could explain. What had happened to the woman’s body? The couple had just arrived home from a late movie where their neighbors had also been present and they had each pulled into their adjoining drives only minutes apart. The events that had taken place that night happened in mere moments.  The detective had conveyed this all to the jury with a cold horror filled face. Then as if speaking out loud in a dream he questioned, “Where had all the blood come from?”

The grizzled old detective concluded, “There was enough blood present at the scene of this atrocity to fill the veins of two full grown men. I do not understand this at all. In all my thirty-four years as a police officer I have never seen anything half as horrible as what I found that night.” He paused briefly and cleared his throat; he was trembling at the thoughts eating away at his subconscious. He wanted to scream demons or monsters did it but he knew he’d find himself in the sanitarium right alongside this poor man who had witnessed God knows what.

He shakily continued his testimony, “After further investigation it became clear that the blood we found came from at least six other victims. The blood that was present could not have been from the defendant’s wife because her blood type is type-O-negative and not one drop of her blood was found anywhere on the property. It is my professional opinion that this man is innocent and that we should be searching for a group of severely demented individuals.” He closed his eyes as he concluded and images of demons filled his mind.

The old man pulled his collar close around his wrinkled neck fighting the chill this memory had given him. That had been a full year after the “incident”. He mused at how polite the word “incident” was. That’s how they always referred to it in the sanitarium. He remembered how frightened he had been even a year after. The medications never eased his anguish or made him feel safe. No sane explanations could take away the terror which greeted him each and every night when the lights went low. No, nothing but death would ease his fear. Death he did not fear. Becoming is what he had feared most. Now, thirty years later even that paled in comparison to what he now knew was his greatest fear.

Three years after the incident and two after the trial he was released. He had begun lying in his therapy sessions. Telling the doctors he truly couldn’t remember what had happened to his wife. When asked he assured them that it was not demons or monsters which he had screamed at the top of his lungs for well over a year. He admitted something horrible had happened and in his confusion and grief of seeing his wife’s abduction by masked men he had lost his sense of reality. It had worked and he had been set free.

The first October after his release had nearly been his last. She had come so quickly from the darkness he had nearly been overcome. Despite the liquor coursing through his veins pure fear pushed him onwards through the locked door he had crashed in a full run. The door jamb splintered and gave way under his massive build.

As he remembered this night it seemed his chill doubled as if his bones were encased in ice. He had landed hard in the small foyer. The house was virtually unchanged from the night of the incident except for three years’ worth of dust layered upon every surface. He was certain he was having some sort of break down like so many of the other patients he had encountered in his stay at the sanitarium.

Then he heard her giggle. It resurrected feelings he had long since forgotten. How odd to hear such a welcoming warm sound from the cold unforgiving night. How could this be he thought. Then he slowly turned and his eyes fell on her. She was beautiful and young standing there in his doorway, their doorway. She did not enter but only gazed at him with longing, hungry eyes.

The old man jerked like he had suddenly awoken from a dream of falling. Two boys were noisily making their way down the sidewalk. They each gave the old man a wary glance and grew quiet as they passed in front of his house. They whispered as they moved on. He knew what they were saying. The story had become an urban legend in the neighborhood. A story told to the young to frighten them at sleepovers. Some versions say he ate her before the cops arrived. Others tell that he walled her up and that she is still in the house all these years later alive and well behind the living room wall. There is no end to the imaginations of children he supposed. He held no malice for these kids, he only envied their innocence because if they knew what really happened they would piss themselves and run home crying.

Things had changed over the years. He was no longer the lumbering hulk of his youth. He had become merely a shadow of his former self.  Each year she would come in October. The same Friday they had had dinner at the drive in. The same night they had laughed and talked of having a boy and a girl over hotdogs. The same night they had watched some cheap thriller and he held her close in his arms. She feeling safe from his embrace and him feeling safe from the love she had given him. In his bachelor years he had never believed someone could love him. When he met her his life was flipped upside down and turned inside out. He couldn’t speak around her without putting his foot in his mouth. The attraction had been mutual.

As he remembered how they met a smile crept onto his withered lips making him look so much younger than his years. He was all grease from head to toe driving a 48’ Dodge he had parted together from local junkyards. She was the prettiest thing he had ever seen in her bubble-gum pink poodle skirt with matching ribbons in her long dark hair. They had run into each other at the malt shop as he was entering and she was exiting. He had been horrified when he saw he had gotten a grease smudge on her blouse but she sheepishly assured him that it was ok.

She looked so perfect to him and the thought of that smudge haunted him ceaselessly so each and every afternoon he waited until he finally saw her again. He convinced her that he should buy her another outfit despite the fact she had made her own she had argued but he would not hear it. Any chance he had to see her he took. She was shy but she longed to see him just as much.

As he sat in the cold watching his last sunset he had tears on his tired cheeks as he remembered the love they had shared. They had been so very happy. Then the shame flooded into him as he remembered. He wept and thudded his big hand on the arm of his rocking chair. “I’m sorry.” He sobbed to the empty yard. “Please forgive me.”

On her yearly visits she would stand outside the door and he knew she wasn’t alone. He could hear the others and on the following mornings he would find small puddles of blood around the yard. Sometimes even dripping from the awning as if they had hovered above his roof but they never came into view. She had never tried to come inside and he always wondered why. The first visit she just watched cheerfully as he gaped from the floor disbelieving what he was seeing. She had stayed until nearly dawn and like the mist on a cold morning vanished with the warmth of the sun.

He quivered as he recalled the night she was taken from him. They were walking the short distance from the drive to the porch and instantly she was gone and he found himself flying across the yard. He looked back to find her but she was being dragged away and to his disbelief upward. The creature had the silhouette of a man but no man can fly. He remembered the smell, noxious like rotting meat. Had his terror not been so great he was sure he would have choked on the smell. He rose and started in her direction but then he saw them. They were all around, he froze in fear and even as she screamed for help he scrambled backwards and darted into the house. Her screams continued only a moment more and were then silenced. He knew she was gone.

The sun was now gone and he sat silently in the ever growing darkness. It was quite cold now. The sky darkened further as the first October storm rolled in. He could see his breath and he wondered how long she would make him wait. He had never stayed outside always sure to be in doors with some sort of protection. He wasn’t frightened of her. He was frightened of going on alone. He had spent nearly thirty years alone longing for her.  The thought of one more day was more than he could bear. That prospect was far worse than death. It even outweighed death at the hands of her companions and becoming what they had made her.

The two boys were walking back down the street early the next morning. It was very cold and rainy outside. They were bundled up so tightly trying to hide their faces from the brutal wind that they almost didn’t see the old man motionless on his front porch. They stopped to take a closer look. Despite the bite in the air and the rain the boys found courage in the early light. They slowly approached the old man.

One boy stopped halfway up the walk. There was a nasty looking puddle on the ground he couldn’t quite make out what it was but before he could inspect it any further his friend said “oh man, I don’t think he’s moving.”

The boy who had been inspecting the puddle joined his friend on the steps of the old man’s porch. They slowly approached together. Just as they reached the old man’s lifeless body a huge gust of wind moved the rocker causing the boys to scream and run.

The old man’s eyes were wide. There was a gleeful smile on his old withered face and in his clinched fist was a bubble gum pink ribbon.

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