Jake sat in his tatty sofa in the corner of his darkened room. He didn't notice it, but there was a musty smell that hung in the air, just below nose level. Jake would be bored, but he had practised his inertia for so long that, were anyone ever to ask him, he would say it was his art, the one thing he was proud of.
People didn't talk to Jake, they talked about him. When they spoke of his nightly repose, they did not speak of it as his art, but rather his religion. Muslims fast over Ramadan, Catholics give things up for lent, Monks abstain from sex for eternity, Jake sat deadly still in his unlit apartment over Halloween.
Jake lived his life shrouded in legend, but he didn't know it. I for one grew up on Halloween stories about what Jake got up to in his room. My mom used his name in vain liberally: "If you don't clean your room, Jake will fetch you from school and take you to his house and when you come back you'll never ask me why again." As I grew a little older and more savvy, mom modified her mantra to include a mumbled "If he brings you back." Around Halloween I had the cleanest room in the state.
I have children of my own now, the eldest, Katie, had her first Halloween proper last year. My parents came around to join in the ritual, and my mother tucked Katie into bed with her first ever Jake story. Having lit the Jack o'Lantern and turned out the light, I hovered in the doorway to listen. I chuckled inwardly at the looks on Katie's face and tried to imagine myself making the same noises. Bedtime scary stories bring out a particular giggle, which has to be heard first hand to be appreciated.
When the tale had been told and Katie was suitably scared of getting out of bed until morning, my mother kissed her goodnight and left the room. On her way out the door, she took me by the hand and led me to the couch in the living room. My father poured us each a brandy and dimmed the lights. My mother may have been ready to hand over the Halloween storytelling baton, but she was going out in style.
You know, Darling, she began, I grew up on Jake stories too. Of course in those days, he was a bit younger - not much but a bit - and he used to be seen a bit more often. Not so much seen in person, but rather seen in shadow. If you were walking in the street, you could make out his silhouette as he moved around his ground floor apartment at night. You could see him getting up, walking around, sitting down in that chair. I bet it hasn't moved an inch in all these years.
We used to Trick or Treat at his door and never got anything out of him: neither a sweet nor a good scare. After a few years, he would turn his light off and make as if he wasn't home. We knew he was, so we'd still go around. We'd knock, we'd sing, we'd pelt his front door with rotten eggs and flour. We never got even the smallest twinge of a reaction from the man.
As the years went by, Jake would do his lights off trick a few days earlier, trying to give the impression that he'd gone away. Some of the younger kids fell for it, but we were nearly teenagers by then and we knew the score.
In early October, daylight sightings of Jake were a little less uncommon. He was like a squirrel getting ready for winter: stocking up morsel by morsel. We'd come home from school and occasionally overhear our parents: "Mr Eames at the store says that hermit of a man was in again today. Bought a can of beans and a carrot, stuck them in his tatty coat and left. Never looked him in the eye, never said a word."
One year we were kicking about in the street after school. The boys were rustling up the autumn leaves and trying to mess up our hair, hoping the breeze would blow up our skirts. We were all laughing and joking and then one of the boys, Tom was his name, pointed to the shadowy lane. "There goes Jake!" he cried. We all laughed more, but he was adamant. We looked down the lane and couldn't see a thing so a few boys ran down the lane. Tom was in front and he swore he saw Jake's hunched figure round the corner up ahead.
In fact Tom was so sure of himself, he said that would be the perfect opportunity to go snoop around Jake's place. We weren't so sure, but Tom insisted that if us girls stand guard, the boys could go peer through the heavy curtains, maybe try to prise open a window.
I was on the corner near the alley where Tom says he saw Jake. I never heard or saw a thing. The boys were all around Jake's apartment windows, peering, shoving, whispering, pushing each other out the way. "What can you see?" some of the girls yelled, and the boys either ignored us or told us to shut up and keep a lookout. There was only one way into Jake's apartment and we had it covered.
Eventually, it seemed anyway, though it was probably only five minutes after the original sighting, Tom managed to wedge a window open. It made a bit of a crack, probably dried paint - none of us had ever seen an open window on that apartment in all our lives. Anyway, Tom looked to me and the other girls standing sentry and we shook our heads: no sign of Jake yet. Tom hardly waited for our acknowledgements, he was inside.
The other boys stayed by the window, craning their necks to see in. "What can you see, Tom?"
"Tom! What's it like? What's inside?"
Not a sound.
We girls started to laugh a bit, Tom was pulling their legs, but when one of the other boys screamed, we stopped straight away and ran to the window.
As I got there, I managed to make out a wrinkly hand snapping the window shut. There was still no sign or sound from Tom. We all ran home, but one of the older boys must have gone to Tom's parents, because half an hour later I could hear the police sirens from our house.
I never saw Tom again after that. His folks moved away within a week or two. Some of the boys at school say they saw Tom, once, out in the store with his mom. He was holding her hand, sticking to her side.
The boys said that Tom told them that Jake had a Rancid Pickle and other Horrible Veggies and had poked him with them. You know, a Crusty Carrot, a Fermenting Turnip, a Rotten Radish, the lot. They say Jake had told him he wanted to make a Putrid Pot Roast and that Tom was just the sort of Bitter Boy he needed to give it a nice bile-infused gravy.
I sipped my brandy, looked at my mother and smiled. "Trick or treat, Mom?"
Written for Everything Quests: Scary Stories