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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Fictional tales to summon Halloween spirit

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Logan Evans/The Collegian

Logan Evans
Managing Editor

Lost Cat. Answers to ‘Ash’

Illustrated by amber Davis

 

The boy spent the afternoon tracing the suburbs on foot, taping up posters on doors and mailboxes and telephone poles, keeping a watchful eye for any place his missing cat could be tucked away.

Ash had always been drawn to small spaces. She had a tendency to wander off and it wasn’t uncommon for her to stay gone for hours at a time. When evening began to settle and she was still outside, the boy would stand out in the garden, hold his breath and listen.

The cat was always nearby, a ball of soot tangled in beet leaves or lodged beneath a bucket. Looking up at him with pale green eyes and a tiny whimper that said “here I am.”
Only last evening that whimper never came.

“Give it time,” Mama told him. “Cats explore. They get lost. They find their way back. Don’t worry.”

But the boy wasn’t so sure. Grown-ups had a knack for taking his concerns and wringing them out until he felt silly for having thought them up at all. The idea of Ash out there and alone felt — to him — like a worthy worry to have.

That morning he snuck into his father’s study and collected materials — paper, pens, tape — and set to work.

Lost Cat. Black. Red Collar. Longhaired. Answers to Ash.

The pictures were crude, but they would do. The boy thought a moment, then added in scratchy pen “Has a sweet, small meow.”

“Ash!” the boy called, walking down the curving lane. “Ash! Where are you?”

A sharp chill bit at the boy’s ankles. Every Texas October pits the seasons in a tug-of-war.

On one end is summer, holding on for dear life, fighting to keep its kiss of heat over the rest of the month. On the other end is winter, fighting for pine needles and woodsmoke and cold. For weeks, the seasons tug, spitting and thrashing, until a loser is pulled headfirst into the dirt.

The boy looked around at the already-barren trees, their fallen leaves brown and crushed into front porches and storm drains. Winter was winning this year.

“Ash! Ash, where are you?”

The boy pulled the last poster from his backpack and took his time posting it to a nearby streetlight. Evening was setting. Just as the boy finished smoothing over the tape, the light flicked on.

“Ash?” Of course, no answer. The streets were still.

The boy returned home and sat out on the back porch, listening. The setting sun bled out into the sky like a cracked egg, casting the sharp branches of skeletal trees from the yard into spiderweb silhouettes. The biggest tree — an ancient oak in the corner of the yard — had a deep hollow set into the middle, which fell into absolute shadow as the evening grew dark.

From across the yard, the boy looked deep into the hollow. Then, he heard it — quiet at first, a small sound barely even there.

Meow.

The boy jumped up.

“Ash?” He crept towards the tree, stepping over patches of garden and overgrown weeds. The sound came again, louder this time. The boy stepped up to the hollow and strained his eyes to look inside. He turned his ear to the darkness.

The voice sounded like Ash, but there was something wrong. It was warbled, unclear, pained — but it was unmistakably her. No other cat had a voice that sweet meow.

The boy stepped up to the hollow and began reaching his hands inside when a splash of color caught his eye in the fallen leaves below. It was a collar — torn apart and frayed on the edges.

“Ash?” The boy strained his eyes. There was a shape moving in the hollow, rocking back and forth, convulsing. The soft mewling voice distorted. The shape sulked into the dim light. It wasn’t Ash.

The thing in the hollow opened a sawtoothed mouth, spitting past a reptile tongue with Ash’s exact voice. Meow.

The boy was yanked deep into the hollow. The creature spat the boy’s torn-up clothes out from the tree and sat a moment, trying out its new voice. Making it sound just right.
“Ash? Ash, where are you?”

Home Movies

Logan Evans/The Collegian

It was an old VHS tape with a label that read “DO NOT REWIND.”

Aster held it in her hands and laughed. She looked around the dark attic and raised her eyebrows at Sasha and me. Beside us, the pile of Mom’s things sat unsorted. A whole life in a pile of junk.

“I wonder what’s on it,” Sasha said, pointing at the tape.

“A home movie, probably,” Aster said. “Precious moments.”

Sasha laughed. Mom never took video of us when we were little.

The attic, not changed since the 90s, had a small shoebox television set on a table in the back corner. Sasha fed the tape into a dusty VCR and it disappeared into the box with a hiss. The television set erupted into static like a million bees trapped in a mason jar.

Aster pressed the rewind button and the tape began to turn back. First, there was nothing. Just darkness whirring backwards over itself. Then, foggy splotches bled out onto the screen. There was a flash of blue, and then an image.

It was us, but not us when we were younger. Us now. Sitting in front of the same TV set, watching. It was like looking into a fuzzy, grain-soaked mirror. Nobody said a word. Sasha reached out to pause the tape, but Aster held her hand out and stopped her. We kept watching.

As the VCR rewound, the images of ourselves on the screen were growing younger, twitching back and forth in a thousand tiny movements. Weeks, months, years shed away like the skin of a dead bird in a time-lapse video. Our eyes were cold onscreen, fixed straight to the apparent camera.

“Aster, stop it,” Sasha said. “Are you doing this?”

Aster shook her head. I looked down at my fingers, wriggled them around to make sure this was real. When I looked back to the screen, the versions of ourselves sitting in the attic were only toddlers, shrinking smaller around the bones. Then, we were infants. Then, nothing. Three black marks sat in the video-version of the attic where we once sat. It was like three dark stains on the tape itself.

Sasha pushed Aster aside and practically tore the cassette out from the VCR. We heard a shrill ripping sound and looked down and saw a trail of glossy black tape spooling out from the cassette. Sasha yanked harder, but the tape was stuck inside the box. The VCR began screeching,

On the screen, the black marks started convulsing. Out from their darkness sprouted three white, pallid faces. They were our faces, but only hardly discernible as us. It was like looking into the deepest makeup of our souls — all the grime and guilt burned away.
The faces were smiling.

Tears streaming down her face, Sasha started pulling at the tangled tape, but Aster and I were quiet. We knew there was no stopping this.
We sat shaking and watched our home movie.

Sickly Sweet

Logan Evans/The Collegian

The old legend went like this: on Halloween night, if you left your trick-or-treating candy out on the Miller overpass, Sickly Sweet would pull himself up from the bridge and trade you all your bucket for just one red piece of hard candy. It was supposed to taste better than anything.

It wasn’t a story we heard very often. Ten years ago, a kid fell off the overpass while trying to summon Sickly. The police report omits any mention of the ritual, but everyone knows that’s what he was doing. They found an empty pillowcase and a red crinkle-wrapped piece of candy in his mouth. Still wrapped.

Nobody told the story much after that.

The boy who died was the older brother of my friend Ellie. This Halloween, she wanted to visit the overpass. To finally see what her brother saw.

We didn’t want to spend all night trick-or-treating, combing through the houses of our little town for one piece of candy at a time, so I stole money from my mom’s purse and bought an assortment pack at the grocery store. We wanted to recreate the specifics of that night, so I poured the whole bag into an old pillowcase. Ellie’s brother was dressed as a skeleton, so we did the same — glow-in-the-dark bones on a black jumpsuit with a skull mask — and set out into the night.

It took an hour to reach the overpass. The night was black, pricked with razor wire stars. The last cicadas of the summer sang a funeral dirge.

I tossed the bag as far as I could and it landed about halfway down the bridge. Then, we waited. We didn’t expect anything. We were doing this as a memorial. For fun, really.

I started to turn back when Ellie drew a sharp breath. I looked and she was pointing in the direction of the bag. There was a shape snaking its way up the side of the bridge. A tattered striped sweater. Matted yellow hair. The shape unfurled a handful of spindly fingers and began sorting through the candy bag, piece by piece. Taking its time. Trees rustling. Cicadas droning.

When he reached the bottom, Sickly Sweet rose up from the ground, a wiry frame stretching into the carnivorous sky. He threw the bag over the side of the bridge. Ellie started shaking.

“No,” she said. “No, wait. It’s not right.”

I was stunned, watching the creature trace the length of the bridge toward us.
“We didn’t do it right.”

Sickly Sweet was just ahead of us. In the moonlight, I saw that he had no mouth. Just smooth, pale skin. As he drew closer, the skin began parting, revealing a set of jagged teeth.

“We got the candy the wrong way. We didn’t—

“Trick or Treat,” Sickly Sweet said.

His fingers unfurled and dropped a single piece of crinkle-wrapped candy. But it wasn’t red. It was the most empty black.

Sickly Sweet opened his mouth.

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