Midas Papadopoulos drove through the residential streets and observed the many for-sale signs with his name on them with deep satisfaction. Life was good. The real estate business was hot as a griddle, and Midas was flipping homes like flapjacks. He had some time to wait before his next appointment, so he cruised north for a bit, driving out of his usual territory. He turned his silver Jag down an unfamiliar side street.
Nestled between two recent two-storey renovations, a dilapidated bungalow caught his eye. Midas cruised to a stop at the curb. A gravel drive, curling asphalt shingles, peeling aluminum siding - Midas hadn't seen a more beautiful sight all week. A granny house if ever he'd spied one, and ripe for plucking!
Midas bounded up the driveway and rapped exuberantly on the door. "Hallo!" he shouted for good measure. Grannies tended towards deafness, and they shouldn't be home alone ... not when they could be in a nice cozy room at the Villa while Midas sold their houses, anyway. He stopped rapping and listened intently. No sound - no radio or TV, no footsteps. No tribe of pesky cats underfoot, either. Was he too late? He stepped along the porch and peered into the living room's big picture window. Through the ghastly orange lace curtains he could see very little of the dark room. He banged loudly on the window, still to no effect.
Midas glanced at the brass number plate as he whipped out his multi-functional PDA. 13 Medallion Avenue. "Lucky 13 on Halloween," Midas thought as he keyed it in. He had a strong feeling about this one. He even felt an urge to try to get inside for a look. Of course he knew better ... Midas' PDA bleeped urgently at him, shattering the thought. It was time to go! He tucked an "Everything Midas Touches" information packet into the black metal mailbox along with a four-color glossy for a local geezer storage bin. He'd glance through the obits later, to see if granny had gone stiff recently. Maybe there was a grieving family to console with thoughts of profit.
• • •
About ninety minutes after Midas drove off, a nondescript box van
rolled to a stop in front of house #13. The driver and his companions looked intently at the home.
"I don't know ... the grass is short. No junk on the porch. Someone's been home," offered the thin, blond man seated on a box just behind the front seats.
"Nah. Look - no power line, no cable line, no telephone line. It's empty. Probably a caretaker comes by," replied the tall man in the passenger seat.
The dark-haired driver sighed. "I agree, let's move on." But he made no motion to start the van again, and the three of them continued to look at the house.
"Check it out, though, there's a TV antenna out back," replied the blond man. "We'll have antiques inside for sure." He pronounced it "anti-queues". "I smell vacuum tubes, a vintage 8-track stereo system and some eBay-able swag lamps. We've gotta check it. Vlad?"
The driver sighed. "OK. Do a quick recon, see what we've got, Matt."
Matt grinned and was out the back door of the truck in a flash, clipboard in hand. He bounded up the walk. Unknowingly, he more or less repeated Midas' knock-and-holler routine, with the same lack of result. Matt casually fished out the contents of the mailbox and pinned them to his clipboard as he strolled back to the truck.
Matt leaned in the passenger window. "No posted mail at all," he reported, "just a pizza flyer and a come-on package from some reno guy with a bad toupee. Sorry, no homeowner name on anything." He tossed the clipboard onto the floor of the van. "It looked real dark inside, Vlad. I'd say Steve's right after all. Nobody's home."
Vlad looked at the others. "The street's pretty quiet. Let's run with 'gas line inspection' and see what's what inside." Vlad flipped the gearshift into reverse and backed the van smoothly into the driveway. He and Steve got out. Matt and Steve opened the back doors of the truck and strapped on tool belts. Vlad applied magnetic decals to the van's doors and hood. These proclaimed it to be under contract to the municipal gas company. While he did that, Matt and Steve circled the house on opposite sides, waving official looking but non-functional gas leak detectors. After a careful circle of the house, they returned to the front yard.
"There's no sign of anyone inside," said Steve. "The side door is shielded from the street by this garage, and the home next door here has no window on this side at all. There's a thicket of nasty thorn bushes in the back yard. Pretty sweet - nobody's going to see us working."
Matt nodded agreement. "We can jimmy that side door and be inside in no time," he said.
Vlad considered. "Ok, guys, pop it open and if nobody hollers, take a quick look around. I'll keep an eye out here." Steve nodded and grabbed a few more tools. He and Matt headed around the side again.
• • •
Back at his office, Midas was poking at Google Maps
in some confusion. Once again, he zoomed in tightly on the satellite photo
of Medallion Avenue. There on the screen were the two recent renovations at 11 and 15 Medallion Avenue. The display showed them side by side. There was no bungalow in the picture — only a strip of about three feet of neglected-looking lawn in-between the houses.
• • •
Standing watch from the van in the driveway, Vlad sighed. He was having unhappy feelings about this job. He tugged idly at a lock of his hair. Years ago, his Romany babushka
had delighted in telling the young Vlad scary Russian folk tales. Robbing a house on Halloween day stirred those memories. It felt like courting trouble. But now they were here, and it was less risky to act than to come back on another day. Vlad took another long look up and down the street. Nothing was stirring but a few fallen leaves.
A click from the front door drew his attention. Matt stood in the open front doorway with a cheap plastic Star Wars mask strapped to his head. "VLAD," Matt intoned, "I am your FATHER!" Vlad laughed and vaulted up onto the edge of the porch. "No," he cried as he held onto a post one-handed. "That's impossible!" he continued in a high, squeaky voice. Matt stared at him blankly, but inside the house Steve was laughing.
Vlad swung fully onto the porch and looked into the house. In the front hallway were two plastic bowls of candy, mostly Rockets and cheap candy kisses. Steve came out of the living room. "Other than the candy and THAT," Steve gestured down the hall behind him, "I don't see much here of interest." THAT was a department store mannequin, seated in the kitchen doorway in a folding chair. She was dressed in black slacks and a square-necked white top, with a synthetic blond wig completing the look. "Must be set up for a Halloween party," Steve guessed.
Vlad grimaced as he eyed it. "Now that's creepy," he said. "Still, someone's obviously planning to be here tonight for trick or treat. Someone who gives out cheap, crummy candy, and who has a mannequin for company." Vlad shuddered. "If there's nothing valuable here, let's cut our losses and scram now."
"No way! C'mon Vlad," cried Matt, taking the mask off. His eyes gleamed. He held a C-3P0 mask in his other hand. "These babies are vintage, from 1978, each worth a ton to collectors! Found 'em right here in the hall. Other than the snapped elastic band on the Threepio, they're mint. Just give me 30 minutes to look around."
Vlad looked at his watch. The time had not yet gone 3:00 p.m. They had plenty of time so long as the hypothetical Halloween host didn't roll by too soon, and it was likely too late to find another site before trick or treat time started. "OK," Vlad said, "you can have 15 minutes. And don't you get all Andrew McCarthy with Kim Cattrall over there." Both Steve and Matt gave him blank looks this time. "Philistines," Vlad muttered, shaking his head. He went out to the truck to keep watch.
Steve followed Vlad out and leaned against the van. "I'm telling you, there's nothing valuable in there. Matt's wasting his time."
Vlad shrugged. "He's the eBay genius; he's made money with all kinds of stuff you and I would've left behind as trash. Let him have a bit of fun."
• • •
Midas had exhausted his resources and still had no clues about 13 Medallion. There was no record of land or deed
for #13, and no record of ownership.
He had found a reference to Medallion Avenue on the internet, though, on a personal web site. It was the site's main, perhaps only, purpose for being. The site claimed that mysterious forces were abducting children from the street on Halloween according to some yet-unknown pattern. Supporting this claim were scans of old newspaper stories. The stories mentioned two children disappearing in the neighborhood on Halloween back in 1979. The police had never found any trace of any of the children, but apparently Medallion was the last place that the kids had been seen. Midas flipped back to the main page. Included was an image of the two missing children, from Halloween 1979. In the picture, two kids stood posed in front of a blue El Camino, wearing their Halloween costumes. They were dressed as Darth Vader and C-3P0.
• • •
Steve and Vlad talked sports for 15 minutes while they waited for Matt to finish up. Having fully chewed over the new NBA
season, Vlad checked his watch and snorted. "Time's up!" he yelled into the house. There was no response. Vlad's sense of unease returned.
Steve stretched. "I'll fetch him," he said, and opened the front door. "Well, shit!" he said. He looked back at Vlad. "That mannequin's gone. What the fuck is he up to?"
Vlad rolled his eyes. "Damned if I know. Get his sorry ass out here and we'll skedaddle."
"Sure thing, boss," Steve replied. "MATT!" he yelled as he entered the house. The front door swung shut behind him. "Matt," he yelled, "where the CRAP are you?" Steve quickly glanced through the main floor's rooms. There was no sign of Matt. He must be in the basement, Steve thought, and went to the stairs. Lying by the basement steps were the two simple Star Wars masks. One of them was cracked. It looked like it had been stepped on. That was uncharacteristically careless of Matt.
With no power to the house, it was very dark on the basement steps. Steve took a flashlight from his tool belt and turned it on. He descended and pushed the basement door open. "Hey, dumbass!" he yelled. There was still no response. Steve took a few steps into the basement and shone his flashlight beam around.
This level seemed to be a single room, unfinished and strangely rough. It was almost like a cave. The house supports were bent and gnarled, more like roots than beams. The house was probably condemned, Steve thought, another reason to give up and get out.
Steve's flashlight picked out a pile of faded clothing, rayon and plastic, like kid's dress-up costumes. He turned his flashlight slowly, and it picked out a pile of off-white spheres and sticks further back in the basement. He took another few steps forward. As he considered a disturbing idea about them, something close nearby caught his eye. He turned the flashlight beam and found himself standing right next to the mannequin. It was holding a knife and wearing a bloody butcher's smock. Steve jumped back about five feet, and then he laughed. "That's very funny, asshole," Steve said loudly. "I won't ask how you rigged this up, but it's time to go now."
There was still no reply, just a slow drip, like a tap not quite shut off. Steve noticed that the floor were he was standing was wet ... sticky ... he played his flashlight along the floor, following the spreading stain to where the liquid dripped from the object in the mannequin's left hand. Matt's bloody, severed head.
• • •
When the front door clicked shut behind Steve, Vlad felt the hair rise on the back of his neck, just as it had during baba's scary stories. Alarmed, he mounted the porch and pulled on the front door. It was stuck fast, immovable, seeming not so much locked as welded shut. Vlad jerked in growing panic on the door, until Steve appeared at the living room window. Steve's face was white and he seemed to be screaming, though no sound at all came to Vlad through the glass. Steve held the folding chair and he began pounding the window with it, but the glass held firm, and only a muted thudding sound came through. Vlad ran back to the truck for a sledgehammer
, then raced up the stairs toward the window. He had only lost sight of Steve for a moment, but when he got back to the porch Steve was gone.
Vlad took careful aim and brought the sledgehammer down hard on the door handle, careless of who might be watching. It was like hitting diamond, the shock of impact jarring the sledge from his hands. The door handle was unmarred. Then, faintly from inside the house, Vlad thought he heard an anguished scream.
Not for nothing had Vlad's babushka filled his head with tales of Baba Yaga. With only a moment's hesitation, Vlad abandoned any further thoughts of heroism and fled to the van. He tried to start the engine, but it wouldn't catch. Then the van's door locks clicked shut. Behind him, he heard the garage door squeal as it started to open....
• • •
Around 9:00 the next morning, Midas turned onto sun-lit Medallion Avenue and pulled to a stop in front of number 11. A rusty blue El Camino was parked just in front of him, at number 15. As Midas had half suspected, there was no house number 13 at all, just the three-foot strip of grass between 11 and 15. Unlike the image in the aerial photo, the grass strip was lush and healthy.
A tired-looking man who was leaning on the old car stood up as Midas came up. He took in Midas' uncertain expression. "You saw it?" the man asked him imploringly. Midas hesitated, then nodded. It was clear what "it" was. "Yes, about 1pm yesterday."
The man swore softly. "It never came back. I waited all night, but it never came."
An original story by the author, written for The Night's Plutonian Shore: The 2007 Halloween Horrorquest. There's a longer story here, but I ran out of time to tell it.