Home alone. It wasn't a situation that particularly bothered Joan, despite the darkness of the other rooms and the creaks from distant corners of the house. She knew she was the only one in, and there was no such thing as ghosts. Not even on Halloween. In fact, especially on Halloween. What self-respecting ghost would come creeping on the one night of the year when no-one would take it seriously? And so, Joan sat in her room typing away at her computer, untroubled by thoughts of spectres and ghouls.
A thudding sound echoed up from downstairs. Slow, evenly-spaced bangs, like something falling repeatedly against her front door. She frowned. Hadn't she put up a sign saying “no trick-or-treating”? Deciding to ignore it, she continued with her work. Thud. Thud. Thud. After ten minutes, during which it continued without a break and kept interrupting her train of thought, she pushed herself away from the desk with a huff, and stamped downstairs to confront whatever irritating child had taken it upon itself to disturb her. Her footsteps clacked against the wooden floorboards of the hallway. Now she could hear something else, too. A dull moaning sound, weaving between each bang, and scratching, like nails being dragged down wood. As though an arm was being dropped against the door, and then the nails dragged down. There was a strange urgency to it.
She hesitated. Being home alone might not frighten her, but she didn't much like the idea of opening the door to a stranger at night. It sounded too heavy to be a child, too.
She bent in front of the letterbox and pulled it open with a finger.
“Yes? Who is it?”
The sounds intensified, the scratching becoming louder. She sighed.
“Henry, is that you?” There was no reply. “Look, whoever you are, I’m trying to work. Please leave me alone- agh!” She jumped back with a cry, staring at the hand that had just forced its way through the letterbox. It was pale and mottled, bloated. Reaching out towards her.
And then it fell off.
Her heart skipped a beat and she instinctively retreated a few steps, suddenly afraid. The hand lay still on the floor, underneath the stump of a wrist that was still trying to push through. She could see the white bone of the arm, tatters of discoloured flesh and rotten muscle dangling around it. A stench of decomposing flesh began to permeate the air. Swallowing hard, she forced her fear down. Impressive costume. And some sort of Halloween-themed perfume? She had to admire their dedication. But she wasn’t going to let this person make her look a fool. The hand twitched. Animatronics? Very clever.
“For goodness sake, go away! This is silly. You’re not scaring me, you know. If you don’t leave I’ll call the police and report you for trespassing.”
The hand twitched again. And suddenly scurried at her, dragged by its fingers. She gasped and backed away, but it kept coming. And it was fast, too, fast as a spider. She found herself running backwards just to keep ahead of it, until she reached the stairs and tripped. She scrambled halfway up them, still not daring to take her eyes off it. It scrabbled and writhed at the bottom, trying to reach the top of the first step. Eyes wide, heart pounding, she gripped the bannister hard with one hand and slowly pulled herself to her feet. Very- very good animatronics.
“GO AWAY!” She yelled. Gathering her courage and her rationality, she ran down the steps and jumped with all her might on the hand. It crunched beneath her weight and fell still. She stamped again and again, until it couldn’t possibly get back up. Breath still racing, she hopped back onto the stair and looked down, expecting to see twisted metal and wires.
A gory mess of squashed flesh and bits of pale bone met her gaze. Not one wire in sight. The world span and she clutched the railings, petrified with horror. A cold shudder ran through her, and with a terrified sob she turned and fled, back up the stairs, back to the warm light of her room. She slammed the door and pushed her desk against it to barricade herself in, then kicked off her shoes, leapt onto her bed and wrapped herself up safe in her blanket. She didn’t dare sleep though. She just sat there, watching the door, listening to the thing outside, expecting every moment that it would manage to force its way in. And it had another hand too, surely. More sobs shook her and she pulled the duvet tighter and fumbled for her phone. She’d call Sally, that’s what she’d do, and ask her to come over- but then it might get Sally, too- maybe she should just warn her instead.
With shaking hands, she swiped the name and held the phone to her ear. It went through to voicemail.
Ok, ok, no matter, she could try Tom.
She tried everyone in her contacts list, increasingly hysterical, but to no avail.
And then there was a sound. Faint, but to her straining ears it was clear. A soft hshhhh of something against carpet. Out in the hallway, drawing closer. She held her breath, trying to work out where it was, how big it was. Small, it was small. And it was close, closer, closer- right at the door, right against it- there was a squelching noise, and soft scraping. Her eyes, glued to the dark crack of bottom of the door, picked out movement.
The pulped hand oozed into the room, followed by a trail of sludges of skin that slithered like slugs.