There was a knock at the door.
And then, impossibly, yet another.
Raymond Batista squashed out the short cigarette he’d been nursing for too long. He kicked the chair out using the backs of his knees and stood up, groaning. Raymond hated this fucking holiday. Little bastards from all over come banging on your door begging for candy, and if you don’t have any, they might egg your car or cover your trees with toilet paper. He made his way to the door, thinking that it must be high school or college kids at this time of night. The younger ones would all be at home now, digging into the private stash of goodies that they kept hidden from mom. Their braces and teeth slathered on caramel and nougat, sugar on their breath as they fell asleep and mommy and daddy secreted away their favorites.
There was another knock, a very quiet one, low on the door.
“I’m coming” Raymond barked, grabbing the nearly empty bowl of apples from the side table. HE always gave apples. And he always bought the culls from a local orchard for just this occasion. Not rotten, but bruised (and cheap) enough. When he was a younger man, Raymond used to fantasize about slipping a razor blade in just one of them, or a piece of glass - something extra to keep the night exciting. These days, in his early fifties, Raymond just wanted to be left alone. He’d had a hard life, and now just wanted to be away from all the bullshit that followed him around ever since…well it was a long time ago.
“For fuck’s sake.” Raymond swung the door inward on its creaking hinges to see… nothing. Nothing but leaves blowing around the porch, lit only by the single bulb above the stairs just beyond the front door. “Hello? Where the hell did you go?” He called into the night. There was a pop and the bare bulb went dark as it swung in the gusting wind. Leaves swirled into piles and then blew out into a flat spray against the front of the house. “Little shits” Raymond thought to himself as he stepped out to appraise the street. It was mostly abandoned houses, a closed convenience store on the corner under the only working streetlight exclaimed ‘GOING OUT OF BUSINESS’ from the plywood covering the windows. In either direction there was the sound of wind. From the south-bound side of the street, he could hear the far-off laughter of a woman, probably a prostitute, and the loud barking of someone’s dog. Bleak. Lifeless. Depressed.
He walked back into the house, closing the door behind him and placing the bowl of darkening apples on the stand. He sat back down at the kitchen table, the vinyl tablecloth showing years of cigarette burns and coffee stains. Fishing a Winston out of the open pack, he lifted the lighter to his face in the closing gloom. The tobacco caught, he inhaled, and blew out a stream of smoke followed by a cough. He turned in the chair and leaned over to the radio at the other end of the table. It was usually on, but tonight everyone played that ‘Monster Mash’ song, and he really didn’t want to have anything related to ‘Frankenstein’ in his head. He spent enough time thinking about it anyway, no need to be reminded.
He smoked on.
“Fucking kids” He barked angrily, rose and moved more quickly to the door. “I’m done with this shit.” He swung the front door again, forgetting that the bulb had blown out. This time, though, he was startled. Silhouetted against the yellow glow of the streetlight, and casting a shadow up the front of the house was a kid. A young kid, maybe not 12. Raymond couldn’t make out his face or costume, but it looked light and dark, maybe some kind of camouflage. The kid’s face was dark, too. Either he was black or in some kind of face paint. “What are you, some kind of soldier?” Raymond demanded. “Go home, kid. It’s late.”
There was a sound in the darkness to Raymond’s left. It sounded like a little girl screaming, but it was far, far away. Miles away. Maybe decades. He straightened and backed into the door frame, darting his eyes towards the sound. Nothing. When he looked back to where the kid had been, again there was nothing. Raymond was afraid and sweating, the Winston clinging to the long ash in a comical way. The tee shirt clung to him, making Raymond Batista look like something from one of Ralph Bakshi’s animated films - a caricature of an aging, overweight Spanish man caught in the act of something illegal. He shook off the moment, gathered himself and moved toward the steps of the porch. There was nobody there.
Seated at the kitchen table with a fresh cigarette, Raymond was feeling better. He’d decided to not answer the door again tonight. He was done. Screw the kids, it was late enough and the light was blown out anyway. As he sat there, he began to think about his family and his life. His brother had gone to college and become an accountant. After that dreadful summer, Donald Batista had found the straight and narrow road to success. He stopped being the local bully and made amends in every corner he could. He became class president in high school, and had a hand in getting money from state grants for summer programs for underprivileged kids. He was a model citizen. Their mother had disowned Raymond. No son of hers was going to be a murderer. His father never spoke to Raymond again, even after he’d served his time. Raymond paid his debt to society in an adult prison, even though he was not yet 16. He was tried for murder, pleaded to a lesser charge and did ten years for it. When he got out of Prison, he discovered that being a young Hispanic man with a record made it very difficult to find work. What a surprise. Raymond did odd jobs for years, wandering this way and that. He watched his younger brother succeed through the long-distance lens of the small articles that were published in the local paper. He tried to talk to his mother once, but she didn’t know him, or at least that’s what she said.
So Raymond was alone in life. He never had kids, or even a steady date. Prison had help make some changes to his sexual preferences that weren’t well supported in this neighborhood, so to speak. He never had a girlfriend, or even a steady interest. He’d found God for a short time, until it became obvious to him that God wasn’t going to help improve his life any more than the drugs would. So Raymond was clean, celibate, agnostic, and alone while his brother never once mentioned him in public nor offered help.
Raymond heard the sound from far away. He was drifting off to sleep in the kitchen chair, his head bobbing slowly downward to be propped up by his chin resting on his chest. He breathed slowly and rhythmically as the knock came again. “come in” he uttered reflexively though his near-sleep state. The front door swung inwards and the silhouette of the boy was there again. It stepped forward, stiffly and Raymond’s dreaming-self turned to see the shape coming towards him. He tried to scream, but only a stream of letters floated out of his mouth. “A’s” and “H’s” streamed out of his mouth in a glowing, comic-book style. Raymond stood up, now 15 again, and blinked as he looked at his young hands. He looked around wildly and caught his reflection in the glass of one of the kitchen cabinets. His reflection spoke back to him “You’re dreaming, asshole” it shouted through a speech balloon that appeared to the right of his head. He turned back to the kid coming closer. He realized what was happening.
He was holding a gun in his hand now, the barrel smoking. That kid teasing his brother wasn’t going to tease him anymore. Not ever. A girl in the crowd screamed, and his brother Donny first smiled at Raymond, but then looked at the bleeding kid on the ground and fell beside him, shaking him, trying to… what? Make him not dead? Raymond was dragged to the ground and eventually stopped struggling once the gun was kicked from his bloody hand. He just stared at the dead kid In his brother’s arms.
The dead kid’s eyes moved to meet his own, and Raymond started screaming. It was pretty much a month of nightmares for him after that. Eventually, Life took over and Raymond had real monsters to worry about, not nightmares. Not a dead kid staring at him.
The kid shuffled forward, his blood-stained tee shirt clinging to his young body. But it was his eyes, his begging, saddened eyes that scared Raymond the most. “Ray-Ray” it muttered, breathlessly. Raymond stiffened, looking back at his reflection. It was now his brother staring back at him, the cabinets were gone and they were in the street. It was summer. It was sweltering. Donnie mouthed some words, and they appeared from his mouth in a run of letter that Raymond had to read. “WHY RAY? WHY DID YOU KILL HIM?”
Raymond tried to scream back, but only letter came out “FOR YOU, DONNIE… FOR MY BROTHER!”
The dead kid closed his hand around Raymond’s arm, Instinctively, Raymond raised the gun and popped two shots into the dead kid. It laughed at him. Raymond tried to turn away, to run. The dreamland made his motions impossibly slow, and the dead kid fell on him like a tree in the forest. An eleven-year-old tree made of bone and sinew. And blood. And staring eyes.
They fell backwards, down a long cliff. The sky tumbled past and Raymond felt his grasp on his brother’s hand slipping. Donnie stared down the cliff at them as they fell, Raymond and the dead kid. Donnie’s face grew smaller as Raymond realized what was going to happen.
Raymond woke suddenly from his dream. His chest was tight, his breathing hard, and he was soaked in sweat. He clenched his chest and turned in the chair to the open front door. He fell to his knees, pulling the vinyl tablecloth off the table as he went , spilling everything onto the kitchen floor around him. The radio turned on, sparking to life in a chorus of “They did the Mash… They did the Monster Mash…”
Raymond struggled to breathe against his looming death. He turned his face up and said through tears, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry Frankie. I’m so sorry.”
The dead kid in the blood-stained shirt looked down at Raymond with sad eyes. He leaned down to touch Raymond’s face to turn it to meet his own. Franklin James Stein spoke softly to his murderer through dead lips “Don’t worry. Your brother will be joining you soon.”
“No. Not him too…” Tears fell down Raymond’s face and he died face down in the kitchen of his empty house. Alone.