Thank you for letting me know that you’d like to be notified about my ghost stories on BBC Radio 4 this Halloween! In the meantime, how about a spooky slice of flash fiction…
“Mom, why don’t we have a pumpkin for Halloween?”
Michael looked out the window at the houses across the street. Each one boasted a lit jack o’lantern by the front door, the flickering candlelight throwing jagged faces across their front lawns.
“I don’t want any of the dead finding their way back here,” said Nancy.
“What about Dad?” asked Michael.
“Especially your dad.” Nancy muttered as she turned back to the kitchen counter where dinner lay in various parts across an array of plates.
Michael and his brother Jason clambered onto the sofa, Michael dressed as Woody the Cowboy and Jason as Buzz Lightyear. Their cousin Freddie would be over soon to take them trick or treating. She didn’t agree with the commercialism that had crept into the holiday, as the tradition of the poor offering to say prayers for the dead in exchange for soul cakes from richer households was perverted into children begging for candy. Still, the boys being out of the house would give Nancy time to make her preparations.
The doorbell rang. Jason leapt off the sofa and ran across the room. He yanked on the handle and pulled the front door open.
“Honey, I’m hoooooome.”
Jason squealed and Nancy whirled around to see Patrick framed in the doorway. Dirt clung to the tattered remains of his burial suit, and grass stuck to the patches of skin worn away through the rotting process. A gnarled hand reached out for Jason, but the boy ducked out of his grasp and threw himself across the room to join his elder brother.
“You didn’t leave a light out, honey.” Air rasped across decayed vocal chords in a ghastly imitation of speech.
“Boys, go fetch your buckets from the laundry room.” Nancy backed slowly across the kitchen.
“Aw, don’t you wanna see your dad?” Patrick turned his dead gaze to Michael and Jason, but they dashed towards the laundry room before he could lurch two steps across the carpet. They passed Nancy and dived into the small laundry room next to the kitchen. Nancy had stashed their candy collection buckets in there anyway, so the ruse wasn’t a complete lie. She just didn’t want them to see what she was about to do next.
“You can’t keep your kids from their dad, Nance. It isn’t healthy.” Patrick continued to rasp as he forced his feet forward two more steps.
Nancy darted forward and snatched up the shotgun from its resting place against the door jamb, kicking closed the door to the laundry room as she did so. Patrick’s dead eyes lit up with a terrible understanding as she raised the shotgun and pulled the trigger.
The boys cried out in the laundry room, but they left the door closed. The blast sent shards of bone and tattered scraps of cloth and flesh out of the open front door and across the front path. Nancy glared at the corpse as it swayed, before landing with a wet thump on the carpet. Patrick had never been a tidy husband, but now he’d left a dirty great stain on her living room floor.
She heard voices at the back door, and realised Freddie had arrived. His back yard backed onto hers, and he preferred to cut across the lawn instead of going the long way around. She opened the back window and called out to her nephew.
“Could you take the boys out now? Just cut around the side of the house.” Nancy gave him her biggest smile. The teenager, dressed as Wyatt Earp, gave his lop-sided grin, and led the boys across the garden.
Nancy ducked back inside and pulled what was left of Patrick into the house, closing the front door so the boys wouldn’t see. Their father would be gone by the time they got back – and this time, he’d be gone for good.
Ghosts & goddesses
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