THIRTEEN HAUNTS OF HALLOWEEN
black-eyed children (also called black-eyed kids): an urban legend of supposed paranormal creatures that resemble children between the ages of 6 and 16, with pale skin and black eyes, who are reportedly seen hitchhiking or panhandling, or are encountered on doorsteps of residential homes. The supposed origins of the legend are some 1996 postings written by Texas reporter Brian Bethel on a "ghost-related mailing list" relating two alleged encounters with "black-eyed kids." Tales of black-eyed children have existed since the 1950s.
Jamie Wright’s entire life fits in the 36 by 60 inch square of a Shell station bathroom stall.
The contents of her backpack spill out over the once-white tile: wrinkled tees and a balled-up sweatshirt, a pack of Camels with about three cigarettes left rattling around inside; her dead cell phone, tangled headphones, a lighter well past its prime; a matchless matchbook, a magazine with most of its glossy pages missing and a puzzle book with the cover torn off; car keys with a faded Publix rewards card and a broken, one-armed Statue of Liberty keychain. Jamie fishes her worn leather wallet out of the bottom of the bag, where it floats among silver gum wrappers and mints spilled from an open tin box. She counts the crumpled bills inside.
Jamie has forty-seven dollars and, after plucking the change tucked into the credit card folds, eighty-nine cents to her name. She has a quarter of a tank of gas in her ‘94 Corolla and fifty miles left to go.
“Alright,” she says, her voice shaky. She tucks a twenty dollar bill under the strap of her bra and stuffs the leftover twenty-seven dollars and eighty-nine cents back into the wallet. She grabs the gray sweatshirt from the pile on the floor and yanks it over her head. “Okay,” she says as she flips her ponytail out of the back of the crewneck. She returns everything to the bag and rises, hiking her jeans up and kicking the lever until the toilet flushes. “Okay.”
With a shaky breath, she steps out of the stall.
The taps have one setting: ice cold. She watches her hands under the frigid water and dries them of on her jeans. As she does, she hears a knock on the bathroom door. This strikes Jamie as odd, because there’s no key needed, no lock to undo, and the bathroom is your typical bank of stalls and sinks build for customers to come and go as they please. She slings her backpack straps over her shoulders and swings the door open.
There’s no one on the other side.
Jamie swivels her head left and right, but she’s as alone as she was when she first went inside. The sun has since abandoned the sky and the gas pumps across from the building are illuminated by harsh lights spilling from their overhangs.
Deciding that she must have imagined the knock, Jamie shook her head and stepped into the lot. The clerk behind the register is playing some game on his phone she walks up, and Jamie has to clear her throat to get his attention.
“Twenty,” she says, sliding the bill across the counter. “Pump four.”
“Sure,” the clerk says. He’s not exactly young, but not old either - he teeters somewhere in the interim, with salt-and-pepper sprays creeping down his temples and lines pulled at the corners of his eyes. He clutches an e-cig in one hand and puffs from it when he takes the cash. “You’re good.”
When Jamie goes back outside, she stills.
Across the lot, standing by the passenger side of her car, two figures with their backs to Jamie look to be peering inside the Toyota. She glances back to the clerk, but he’s too engrossed in his outdated 8-bit game to notice. Jamie turns back toward the car and sighs.
“I don’t have time for this,” she mutters, and then calls out, “Hey!”
The figures stiffen. As Jamie gets closer she can see they’re two kids - the taller one might be a teen, with the younger maybe a decade or so their junior. They don’t say anything and they don’t turn to look at her, but when she’s about five feet away they bolt. Jamie doesn’t think she’s ever seen someone run that fast in her life - maybe the kids are track stars.
She inspects the window, runs her hand along the door. Nothing’s scratched or broken, and there’s no graffiti to speak of. She doesn’t quite know what the kids were getting at, but brushes it off as a poorly planned prank and carries on with filling her tank. The twenty bucks gets Jamie just over half full, and she prays that it’s enough.
When she drops back inside the car, Jamie fishes a charger out of the glove box. It’s worn gray and the cable is split in several places, exposing stranded copper through the slits, but it’ll do. She jabs into the cigarette lighter and unzips her backpack, reaches inside to find her dead phone when-
Tap, tap, tap - the sound of knuckles on glass.
Jamie jumps. Her heart does, too, way up in her throat so far she thinks she might puke it up.
The kids are back, and this time she sees their round faces pressed up against the passenger window, the taller one stooped down to see inside. Both have their hands cupped around their dark eyes to better see inside. Jamie swallows her fear and it comes back up as rage.
“What the fuck?” she shouts. “That’s not fucking funny!”
The kids don’t budge. In fact, the taller one leans in closer, their forehead bumping the glass.
“We need help,” the little one says. “Please, can you help us.”
The girl’s voice is muffled by the closed door. She presses her little palms against the window and leans in like its - what? Brother, most likely. They have the same dark eyes and unruly black hair. The girl might be six, her brother sixteen, and they stare into the car with blank faces. Even the little girl’s voice is expressionless, though Jamie figures that could be exhaustion on either her part of the kid’s. She shakes her head and points toward the station mini-mart.
“Talk to the cashier,” she says, a little louder than needed to be sure her voice carries through the shut window. Neither kid moves. They keep staring into the car. “Hey, did you hear me?” Jamie says. She pumps the gas and the engine roars, but the kids don’t startle.
“We need help,” the little girl repeats.
Jamie revs the engine again and says, “Go inside.” When the kids still don’t move, Jamie cracks the window. “If you need money, I don’t got any,” she says. The kids don’t budge. Jamie sighs, and grabs her wallet from her open backpack. She plucks out a ten dollar bill and holds it toward the kids. “Go on,” she says. “It’ll get you some food at least.” The kids stare at her, and in the darkness of the night Jamie can’t see any whites to their eyes. Eventually, the boy pinches the bill timidly between two fingers. He takes it, leaving Jamie with seventeen dollars and eighty-nine cents to her name.
The boy stares at Jamie, and so does his sister, and Jamie glances between them, suddenly feeling more nervous than she ever has in her life. “Alright,” she says slowly, the vowels all drawn out, and then she says, “You’re welcome, I guess.” The kids don’t move, even as she closes the window and revs the engine. The boy is holding the ten as if he’s never seen one before. Jamie watches him a moment longer before she pulls away.
As Jamie’s little Corolla putters down the highway she can see the kids standing stupidly in the gas station lot, their heads and strange dark eyes following her until she dipped down a great hill and out of sight.
Logan lives on the far edge of Lee County, off a sharp turn down a dirt road without street lamps and dotted with black-and-yellow wildlife crossing signs. Cougars, chickens and ducks, horses. After the third sign with a bobcat on it Jamie turns down a long dirt-and-gravel drive.
The porchlight is on - a single bare bulb screwed in over the front door. On the edge of its yellow glow a shadow pushes off a wooden rocker and steps into view. Logan is wearing tattered jeans and no shirt. His feet are bare and he’s got a cigarette tight between his teeth. He smiles around it when Jamie steps out of the car. A chorus of barks, both high and low, clamour on the other side of the door.
“You made it,” Logan says. Jamie walks into his open arms. She lets them wrap around her shoulders and squeeze. She rests her head against his shoulder for just a second, breaths in the scent of hay bales and cigarette smoke.
“Hey, brother,” she says.
“Hey,” Logan says. He guides her inside where dogs big and small jump up to lick her hands. Logan shoos them all away, but they just circle around one another to take another turn. This continues until they get to the kitchen table where Jamie drops into a chair. “Drink?” Logan offers, already halfway to the fridge. Jamie scrubs at her face and nods.
“Yeah,” she says, and when she opens her eyes just a second later a Pabst is already set in front of her. She pops the tab and takes a long sip. “Thanks for letting me crash.”
“Ain’t like you wouldn’t do the same for me,” Logan shrugs. He downs half his beer in one long gulp and sets the can down on the table. “I’m just glad you’re outta that fucker’s house.”
“Amen,” Jamie agrees.
“You still got the ring?” Logan asks.
“Gonna pawn it tomorrow,” Jamie says. “So I can get outta your hair sooner.”
“Ain’t in it,” Logan says. “But I can put some feelers out for you, if you want. For a place.”
“S’what family’s for.”
They lapse into a comfortable silence, broken only by the tick-tack, tick-tack of dog claws o the hardwood floors. Logan has four of them, and when they all line up they look like those old raising the bar cell phone commercials. Every now and then, the littlest one jumps up on someone’s leg to sniff at the table.
“So,” Logan begins, rising from the table to get himself a second beer. “I don’t got a guest room. But you take mine, and I’ll crash on the couch for however long you’re here.”
“I don’t wanna put you out,” Jamie says.
“You’re not,” Logan says.
“Fine,” Jamie concedes. “Thanks.”
Again, that easy silences washes like a gentle wave, and stretches on until-
Tap, tap, tap- knuckles on the front door. Jamie looks at Logan.
“You expecting someone else?” she asks.
“No,” Logan says, rising out of his seat. The dogs have already crowded the door, their barking less excited this time and, the longer they stand there, growing almost panicked. Soon enough the little one is whimpering and whining, turning circles around Logan’s ankles as if begging him to keep her safe. Curious, Jamie gets up, too, and stands where she can see the doorway as it opens.
“Little late for Girl Scout cookies,” he says at the same time Jamie says, “What the fuck?”
She races to the door, grabbing at her brother’s elbow if only to have something to steady herself. That same feeling of ice-cold dread runs all through her veins. It seems to seep through her very fingertips and catch under Logan’s skin because she feels him stiffen, too, and hears him swallow thickly. She wants to look at him, to tell him to shut the door, but she can’t turn away from the kid’s strange eyes.
Black. Nothing but black eating up iris and sclera, like their eyes are just huge pupils stuck in the sockets. They seem to stare both at and through Jamie at the same time. She holds her brother’s arm so hard her nails dig into his skin.
“Please,” the little girl says. “May we come inside?”
“We need to call our parents,” the boy says. He is still clutching Jamie’s ten dollars in his hand. She can see the green of the bill poking between the fingers of his clenched fist.
“We need help,” the little girl says. “Please, can you help us?”
“We need to call our parents,” the boy repeats. The little girl opens her mouth to speak, but Logan slams the door in her face. His breath is shaky. The dogs scramble around Logan and Jamie, each of them whining, each of their tails tucked nervously between their legs. After a few seconds-
Tap, tap, tap- the sound of knuckles of the door.
“Don’t open it,” Jamie says.
“I feel like-”
“Don’t,” Jamie says firmly. She yanks Logan away from the door and all the dogs follow them. The knocking picks up pace, rapping the same monotonous beat against the wood.
“Their eyes,” Logan says. “Did you see their eyes?”
“Please,” a muffled voice calls through the closed door.
“I saw,” Jamie says.
“May we use your telephone?” a second voice calls.
“Weird?” Jamie suggests.
“Scared,” Logan says. It’s the first time Jamie’s heard hims use the word since they were kid, and that makes the ice inside her freeze colder.
“Me, too,” Jamie says. The knocking continues, and even from his spot perched on the couch, one knee bouncing nervously up and down and Jamie’s hand still tight around his arm, Logan’s eyes are drawn toward the door.
“I feel like I just-“
“Don’t,” Jamie repeats. “I saw them back by Bonita, at a gas station. Tried to get them to go away by giving them some cash, but they just stared at me. It was dark, so I didn’t get a good look at their eyes.”
“They followed you all the way from Bonita?”
“I don’t know how. They didn’t even have a car.”
“Please,” the girl’s voice calls. The knocking continues, but it never grows frantic or loud. It sticks to the same steady rhythm, like a rock band drummer.
“May we use your telephone?” the boy’s voice follows.
“What do we do?” Logan asks.
Jamie considers this, then says, “Wait it out?”
Wait it out they do. For hours. They turn on the TV, watch bad comedies to drown out the sounds of the knocks of the door and the monotonous pleas for help. Wait between bursts of all the dogs barking, then whining, then whimpering, and then back to barking again.
And then suddenly, the knocking stops. Not fades. Not quiets down. Just stops. Logan flicks the TV off to be sure, and sure enough the house is plunged into silence. Silence, and the pitter-patter of dog footsteps circling round and round the floor.
“We have to go now,” the girl’s voice says eventually.
“Thank you,” the boy’s voice follows.
Logan and Jamie share a cautious glance. Their heads turn the door, then back to one another. Slowly, wordlessly, the both stand and make the quiet trek to the door. There is now sound on the other side.
Jamie reaches for the handle and opens the door just a crack. Logan peeks through the sliver of right. At the bottom of his drive, there are two tall men. It’s hard to tell in the dark, but they seem to wear nearly tailored suits. Their heads are down, faces covered by the brims of their hats. The kids were walking towards them like two little soldiers, each step meticulous. When they meet the men, the little turns around. Her black eyes land on Logan. She waves him, but the expression on her face remains unchanged. Logan pushes the door closed.
He and Jamie stand together; they soak up the silence for a long while before Logan finally says, “I need another drink.”