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This Means War

Being the new kid on the block, Ricky wanted so badly to be liked by the neighborhood kids, so he paid no heed to their snickering when they told him to fetch the kickball that had bounced over a neighbor's fence. He hadn't yet heard any of the stories of the creepy old man that had been traumatizing children for decades. He hopped the fence, spotted the ball, and rushed over to grab it. With his task half completed he triumphantly headed back towards his new friends.

That was when a tall, willowy wisp of a man came around the side of the house with a garden hose. They stood there staring at one another like some standoff in an old western. In this scenario, Ricky was the young, still wet behind the ears cowpoke twirling his pistols around like they were toys. The elderly man was the wizened old sheriff that wouldn't hesitate to shoot down anybody that thought they could waltz into his town and cause a ruckus.

Before the boy could pull his pistols, so to speak, the old man squeezed the trigger and blasted him in the crotch. He laughed wildly and blasted him in the face for good measure as Ricky reached for his tender little genitals. The damp little boy just stood there in shock with water dripping from his face and shorts. The old man dropped the hose and gave Ricky an annoyed look before leaning forward and uttering a quiet, raspy-voiced, "Boo."

Mean Old Man

No one would dare hand their baby to Mr. Withers, but if they did...

Ricky booked it for the fence and frantically scrambled over. He landed on the other side and ran as fast as he could. A moment later the kickball he had forgotten in his panic to escape bounced off the back of his head. He spun around to see the creepy old man towering over the fence. The crooked grin on his wrinkled old face told Ricky that he wasn't done with him yet. Then, he yelled the line that made the boy's life a living hell for the next few weeks. "Hey, you brats, stop pissing your pants in my yard."

The kids called him Trickle Rickle after that. For the next month, the little boy wrestled for control of his emotions. The neighborhood kids were brutal with their name-calling, but the mean old man down the street affected him ten-fold simply by sitting on his porch day in and day out, glaring out into the neighborhood. Every time Ricky pedaled past the wicked old man's house that grit worn face would turn toward him and stare with eyes like two burning coals.

The solution to both of his problems came to him one day while he was blowing up balloons for his sister's birthday party. That Sunday he gathered all the kids of the neighborhood together. Amongst all the snickering and whispered utterances of Trickle Rickle he handed out water balloons. Like a scene from "Braveheart" he admonished their enemy and called them all to arms with the rallying cry, "Mr. Withers must die!"

The old man nearly swallowed his Black and Mild cigar when more than a dozen kids rushed his yard and began slinging water grenades at him. He stood up in protest, but that only made him an easier target. He angrily swung his cane and shouted profanities until he was completely soaked from head to foot except for a little area on the small of his back that somehow managed to stay dry. The barrage finally ended and the kids scattered with yips of laughter echoing throughout the neighborhood.

Ricky hid in a bush across the street and watched the whole battle unfold. With a few dollars from his piggy bank and a bike ride to the store, he had engineered the first step in his campaign to end Mr. Withers' reign of terror. He thought for sure the old grump would tuck his tail between his legs and stagger inside, but the stubborn old coot just sat back down, lit another cigar, and acted as if nothing had happened.

Nobody called him Trickle Rickle after that. Many more maneuvers were planned and executed on May Street that Summer with Ricky directing them all. Mrs. Talmage, who unfortunately lived next door to the old man was baffled as to how the neighborhood kids managed to afford the dozens of plastic pink flamingo lawn ornaments they decorated his yard with, but it was definitely her favorite prank of the Summer. Covering his front porch with plastic wrap and filling the make-shift pen with toads was a thing of genius that gave the mailman the chuckles for a week.

Many of the residents secretly enjoyed the perfectly harmless and inventive pranks that plagued the neighborhood grump. Eventually, the parents of the neighborhood stepped in and called a cease-fire, but they certainly took their time doing so. Some of them had suffered at the hands of Mr. Withers when they were kids as well. That's right, the bitter old man had spent decades honing his special brand of mean.

Punishments were dished out and every child involved was ushered up Mr. Withers' front steps and made to apologize. It physically hurt Ricky deep in his guts to apologize. What bothered him the most was that the old fogey didn't even remember him. He was just one of many faceless kids the guy had harassed over the years. The old grump sat there soaking it all up with a look of superiority stamped on his face. The lesson Ricky learned that day wasn't the intended one. From that point on he plotted and acted alone, except on Halloween.

A few dog turds strategically placed by his mailbox never gave the old man a whiff of any impropriety on the part of any neighborhood kids. A pale of salt water periodically dumped in his garden in the middle of the night only made him scratch his head in frustration with that year's wimpy squash yield. The number nine on the front of his house that kept falling off and altering his address was just one of many little nuisances that had cropped up since he unknowingly made an enemy of the little boy down the street.

Mr. Withers' actual name was Gerald P. Kramer, but the name kids had given him too long ago to remember fit him like a glove. His thin, withering white hair waved in the breeze looking as if it would pull free from his scalp at any moment and go in search of all the strands that had escaped years before. Plenty of elderly people go all to fat, but not Mr. Withers. He was tall as a lamppost and just as skinny. He seemed to sway on his feet like a tall blade of grass when he'd venture to his mailbox. Ricky had wished many times throughout his childhood that the mean old man would just blow away on a heavy wind and leave the kids of the neighborhood to play in peace.

Some kid who had grown up and moved away many years ago started the myth that Mr. Withers' hair was alive and it wriggled and writhed even when there wasn't a breeze. I'm sure you can imagine how a freaky detail like that could take on a life of its own amongst children who still feared monsters under their beds and behind closet doors. Typical stories of him being a vampire or even a werewolf ran rampant amongst the less imaginative children. Some said he was a wraith that wouldn't let go of this world; he certainly looked like one. Others believed he escaped from an insane asylum because he could no longer ignore his insatiable hunger for the misery of innocent children.

Ricky could never confirm anything supernatural or criminal about the old man. He just saw him as a mean old grump that deserved whatever bad things came his way. He was too young to understand that karma and revenge weren't synonyms for one another. The mischievous boy was well aware of how cruel some kids could be, but he had never witnessed outright cruelty from an adult until he met Mr. Withers. It was something that everyone learns eventually. Ricky might have learned that lesson a little too soon for his fragile young mind to handle. The angry little boy was playing with fire, fostering a bitterness that would eventually consume him if he didn't find a way to douse it.

Those Damn Kids

Gerald P. Kramer had been living in the neighborhood for nearly sixty years. His wife had only lasted eighteen. Every morning he would step into the bathroom to get ready for the day and memories of his wife would visit him. Adinah had known what kind of man Gerald was when she married him, but she truly believed she could change him. He really hadn't been a bad husband. He doted on her and gave her everything she'd ever wanted except for one thing.

Eventually she gave up trying to convince him that adoption was a perfectly viable option for couples like them. Over the years she grew less and less interested in day to day affairs like cooking, cleaning, and even basic hygiene. Her laziness as he called it sparked many arguments, but he never laid a hand on her. She eventually did that herself.

Adinah's exit via the bathtub came one day while Gerald was out of town on business. Images of the scene he came home to that horrible day almost forty years ago greeted him on mornings when his guard was lowered. On those rare occasions he'd sit on the edge of the bathtub, looking into it, and sob like he'd done on that awful day all those many years ago.

On those days he couldn't bring himself to step foot into the tub. Disheveled and feeling lost, he'd eventually make his way onto the front porch where he spent most of his time smoking and making snide judgments, mostly to himself, on the microcosm that was suburban life. Those were the days he was most likely to rail against, in his words, "The spoiled, snot-nosed brats that littered the neighborhood like little bits of garbage." His seething rants on those days created the latticework for the myth of the decrepit monster of a man all the children called Mr. Withers.

Halloween was coming soon, and he couldn't wait for it to pass. He hated the holiday with a passion even before, as he put it, "Those snot-nosed delinquents in this rundown neighborhood started defacing my property." He'd put an end to that last year and he didn't figure any of them would be brazen enough to try it again. Still, he'd be standing sentinel on his porch that night primed to swing his cane at any kid stupid enough to step foot on his porch with a bag of dog shit and a lighter.

He stood up swinging his cane at nothing in particular and yelled into the neighborhood, "You rotten little punks better stay clear this year if you know what's good for you." No one appeared to be out in the neighborhood at that moment, but it didn't matter to Gerald. He knew that little brat that instigated the pumpkin tossing two years ago was within earshot somewhere nearby. He was the only kid that didn't cross to the far side of the street to pass his house. Sometimes he would even park his bike on the sidewalk and glare up at him.

He was wise to that one and his antics. He spotted him a while back dumping a soup can full of slugs in his garden and it dawned on him why his strawberries had done so poorly the year before. He didn't recognize him at the time, but now he was convinced he'd seen him before. Of course, he couldn't really be all that sure. They all looked the same to him except for Tammy Swanson whom he liked to yell, "Eat a salad" at when she passed by.

When he was a child, he respected his elders and feared them as well, but all he seemed to elicit in children was fear. That was fine by him. He supposed fear was a kind of respect. He was convinced kids these days didn't know what the word respect meant anyways. They needed a healthy bit of fear drummed into them now and again to keep them in their place. Even though he felt it really was the parents' fault their kids were such little jerks, he stuck to the strategy he'd always used, terrorizing their children.

"Idiot kids nearly burned my house down with all those damn orange projectiles; useless vegetable, the pumpkin. You'd think they would have thought to put out the candles in them before they went tossing them into my bushes. It's a sad world we live in when parents are too busy trying to be best buddies instead of teaching their kids proper behavior. Seen and not heard was the rule in my day." His thoughts went on like that with a word or two occasionally blurted out loud until he went inside to try and take a shit.

Ricky poked his head around the corner of the house, counted to ten, and then quietly slipped onto the porch. He tossed Gerald's cigars into the bushes, dumped his drink, scattered a few cat hairs on the table, and then stole away as quietly as he'd come. 'The strategy of a thousand annoyances' as he called it was his favorite pastime and what he loved most about it was the old fart didn't have a clue all those little accidents over the years weren't anything of the sort.

Tricking Mr. Withers

Ricky's favorite month of the year was in full swing, and he had been wracking his brain for the penultimate trick to top off his final year of trick-or-treating. Mr. Withers was going to get it one more time, and he was going to get it good if Ricky had anything to do about it. He nearly bubbled over with excitement every time an idea came to mind, but nothing yet seemed right. He was going to hit Mr. Get Away From My Lawn's house so hard. The neighborhood would still be talking about it when he set off for college. It didn't even matter to Ricky if his parents grounded him until then. He was dead set on it, and nothing was going to stop him.

He was small for his age, but his ability to outwit sixth graders (some adults as well) and come up with creative pranks put him at the top of the food chain in his fifth-grade class. Kids listened to him and you could even say they feared him. His teacher, Mrs. Viscol, often remarked to her colleagues, "I see a bright future in politics for that one." Less than three months into the school year and he had already brought her nearly to tears twice. She was strongly considering retiring next year.

Last October the grumpy old man had gotten a reprieve because Paul Clark had forgotten to extinguish the candle in his jack-o'-lantern the year before. Ricky shamed Paul at school the next day for screwing up his trick and sent him to eat lunch alone for the rest of the week. The next year he reminded Paul of his screw up and made him sit elsewhere for the entire month of October.

One day while Ricky was pulling a rusty nail out of an old 2 x 4 to hammer into one of Mr. Withers' car tires, the perfect trick just popped into his head. Actually, it was two tricks. While he enacted the prank at hand, he thought through the details of his ultimate Halloween trick. It involved a maneuver he'd learned about in history class called a feint.

Halloween was fast approaching, and he needed everyone on board if his plan was going to work, so he forgave Paul for his past mistake. The kid had been punished enough, and Ricky figured letting him out of the dog house would make him more amenable to a special task he had for him. There was no way Ricky was going to let Old Man Withers off the hook this year; no way in hell.

Tricking Little Ricky

Gerald would have bought a DIY surveillance system years ago if he had known they'd become so inexpensive. It paid for itself just two days after he installed it. The footage of Ricky sneaking into his home through the back door while he sat on the front porch set him to boiling. He could barely keep from rushing down the street and confronting the boy with the proof of his crime, but he held himself in check as he scrutinized every second of the eye-opening video.

Gerald watched the footage of the kid slinking through his kitchen, poking pinholes in various packages of food. He now knew why his bread always got stale so quickly and why freezer burn was so prevalent amongst his steaks and burger patties. Witnessing the kid shake what appeared to be an empty jar over his basket of fruits and vegetables suddenly solved the fruit fly mystery he'd been scratching his head about for so long. The old man paced back and forth in front of the monitor, growing angrier and angrier as every little inconvenience in his life was proven to be the work of a mischievous brat that was just entering the beginning stages of puberty.

He decided to wait until he caught him on camera enacting his plan. He figured the kid would strike on Halloween. Then he'd take the damning evidence over to the police station the next morning and put an end to the delinquent's tricks once and for all. He rushed out of the house to buy more cameras, so he could cover every room. Ricky had gotten sloppy a couple weeks back leaving a handprint on the back door window that Gerald noticed was too small to be his own and that's how easily you can lose the upper hand.

First, the Trick

Disney princesses, pirates, zombies, vampires, goblins, space aliens, and all sorts of other colorfully attired characters danced through the neighborhood. Ricky was the exception in his no-frills ghost costume. He had cut a slit in the back so he could easily slip the top down to show everyone that he was also on the hunt for candy. Once he had made his presence known and gathered enough candy to complete his alibi, he quietly slipped into the woods to meet up with Paul.

Just as Ricky had predicted, Paul was willing to skip the first hour or so of candy gathering if it redeemed him in the eyes of his friend. Being shunned last October had seriously injured his self-esteem to the point that he would have done just about anything to get back in the good graces of his group of friends. He didn't go trick-or-treating last year, because no one wanted him around, so he wouldn't be missed this year. He quickly donned Ricky's white sheet, repeated his instructions, and rushed off to trick-or-treat in his friend's stead.

Ricky, dressed all in black, rushed off to scope out the old man's house and wait for 'the signal'. It had taken a lot of painstaking effort to find the five well-hidden beauties that were going to do most of his work for him. Their globular, black, and red abdomens reflected in Ricky's eyes as he inspected them one by one in their glass prison. He made sure the lid was tightly closed and then slipped the jar back into his backpack.

He quietly came up from the backyard, snuck along the side of the house, and peeked around the corner. The old man was sitting on his porch in the dark like a trapdoor spider waiting for some unsuspecting prey to come near its entrance. The tip of his cigar came to life for one fiery second, illuminating the permanent scowl on his face, and then faded. He exhaled a cloud of smoke as he stared out at all the children going door to door while their parents followed along on the sidewalks at their own pace.

A flicker of movement in the corner of the old man's eye brought a wicked smile to his face as Ricky slipped out of sight and headed towards the back door. He tightly clenched his cane in both hands and considered going inside to catch him in the act, but decided to stick to his plan. As far as he was concerned, the 'movie' he was making exposed the whole neighborhood and made a great argument for doing away with all the new-age idiocies in favor of a more traditional style of living. He figured it was worth missing out on cracking the kid's head open with the metal tip of his walking stick.

It actually pleased the old man to have just one target to focus all of his ire on. He could strike at everyone and everything he despised with a short trip to the police station. He was convinced that the kid was responsible for every little aggravation he'd endured the last few years. Actually, his feeble, bitter, and irrational old mind blamed Ricky for every bad thing that had ever happened to him. That really wasn't anything new, though. Mr. Kramer's view was that children had been there at every point in his life to frustrate, antagonize, and shame him. He now had what he hoped was a way to quell all the unquiet ghosts in his head.

A loud crack sounded off the side of his house. Gerald posted off his cane and rose to his feet as an egg exploded against the porch railing and scattered bits of yoke and shell all over his pants. The old man reached down deep into himself and pulled forth a strength none of the hoodlums expected. He rushed to the steps, shouting every nasty epithet he knew, and bounded down them much quicker than anyone expected, effectively crippling their assault and sending kids fleeing in every direction.

Ricky had told them they'd have nearly a minute for their strike from the sidewalk because it took a little over two minutes for the feeble old man to get to and from his mailbox. He hadn't taken into account what an adrenaline-fueled rage could accomplish even in a 'feeble' old man. The kid that was supposed to climb the side rail of the porch and lock the front door, chickened out and ran. Ricky's assault plan was floundering. He was so sure it would go off without a hitch that he hadn't accounted for a shorter amount of time to accomplish his secret task inside.

Mr. Withers looked ten times more frightening than Tammy Swanson had ever seen him look before. The enraged Mr. Withers was on her before she could do more than turn to run. His cane took her behind the knee and then quickly cracked her across the ass as she toppled to her knees. He raised his cane up as high as he could to bring it down on her ass again, but his left leg buckled underneath him. He managed to stay upright, but the chubby preteen had crawled to the sidewalk and gotten to her feet by the time he steadied himself.

She crouched there tangled in her mummy bandages looking as pathetic as a cow caught in a barbwire fence. Wiping tears from her eyes, she looked at the tip of his cane as he brought it down on one of her bandages that lay at his feet. He relinquished the bit of her costume just as she grabbed it and yanked as hard as she could. She went head over heels backward and toppled onto the treelawn.

Mr. Withers covered the distance between them and came to a stop before her just as she rose to her hands and knees. She began to ball her eyes out as his shadow completely engulfed her shivering form. Later she would convince herself it was just her imagination messing with her head, but at that moment his shadow cast over her seemed darker than her room at bedtime. She had given up all pretense of getting away. The old man snorted like a pig and delivered a line she would repeat to her shrink years later, "Back to your wallow, little piggy."

He continued to snort and squeal as he turned and hobbled back to his porch, leaning heavily on his cane. All the rage-fueled strength had drained out of him and he was just an old man again. By the time he flopped heavily into his chair, Tammy was nowhere to be seen and the street was empty. He laughed aloud at the realization that it was him that had sent kids and adults alike scurrying off to some quieter part of the neighborhood. Only Mr. Withers could openly beat a child and get off without further altercation. He rested his head against the back of his chair and muttered, "It's good to be king."

He lit a cigar and gave it a few puffs to get it burning brightly. Just then a scream followed by the sound of shattering glass came from inside the house.

Then, the Treat

Ricky slipped out of his hiding place and headed for the back door as soon as he heard the first egg burst against the house. He was inside a few seconds later slowly creeping towards the hallway that led to the bedrooms. He had wondered before why the old man slept in the smaller of the two rooms, but right now all he had on his mind was the task at hand. He silently crept forward, guided only by the moonlight that shined from Mr. Withers bedroom on the far side of the house.

He stopped at the hall entrance to listen for the commotion outside, but the only noise he could hear confused him. "Squealing?" he muttered to himself. The hallway seemed much longer and narrower in the dark. The boy gulped involuntarily, clutched tightly at the shoulder straps on his backpack, and then slipped further into the darkness of the musty smelling old house.

The silvery light at the end of the hall beckoned him forward. He began to worry the assault on the front yard hadn't gone as planned, so he took a deep breath and quickened his pace. He reached the bedroom and rushed in, banging his knee on the dresser along the wall. Pain shot down his leg and stilled the panic rising in him. He took another deep breath and then tiptoed to the bed.

He pulled back the blankets, swung his backpack onto the floor, and pulled out a glass container. Shaking everything to the bottom of the jar, he unscrewed the lid, and carefully dumped the contents onto the bed. Four shiny black specks about the size of Tic Tacs crawled across the moonlight covered bed sheet. Ricky did a double take, stared into the empty jar, and then let out a loud yelp. He slapped the tiny biter away, dropping the jar in his panic, and clutched at his arm. It was only in his mind at this point, but he swore he could feel his arm throbbing and swelling.

Unbeknownst to the poisoned boy, the spider was on his finger, clinging tightly as her kind are wont to do. She sank her venomous fangs into his flesh once again. His voice cracked as he screamed out even louder than before. Ricky felt three more pinprick sensations on his hand and wrist as he danced spasmodically around the room before the spider dropped to the floor and disappeared beneath the dresser. The frightened boy instantly understood the parables he'd heard all his life that warned against seeking revenge.

Spiders Bite

The fear of the poison rushing through his bloodstream was instantly replaced by a dread he was reluctant to admit he'd felt every day of his life since he first climbed Mr. Withers' fence all those years ago. He slowly turned to the doorway and there stood his greatest enemy. Ricky burst into tears and began to blubber incoherently at the tired old man. He professed between sobs that he was sorry for everything that he'd ever done to him and promised to make it up to him if he'd only drive him to the hospital.

Mr. Withers just leveled his cane at Ricky's chest and poked him hard. The boy stumbled backward a few feet and was met with another poke that pushed him back further. Suddenly he no longer had the moon to see by. Then the closet door slammed into him and he fell to the floor. He leaped to his feet and began to bang on the door when instead he should have reached for the doorknob. That realization came too late to do him any good, though. Mr. Withers slid a chair against the door and snugged it under the doorknob.

"I've got you now, you little turd. Every step you took in my home has been caught on camera. Be sure to put my name on the visitor's list, so I can visit you in juvie." Ricky backed away from the door and felt something small and thin bounce off his head. He heard the sound of glass crunching under Mr. Withers' feet and a few seconds later a long sliver of yellowish light showed under the door.

Instantly, he reached up and tugged on the string dangling from the ceiling. The light fixture clicked but brought forth no light. He frantically tugged on it a few more times with the same lack of results. He dropped down and pressed his face to the floor, but the door was too low to see under.

Mr. Withers saw his blankets were pulled back on his bed. That observation combined with the broken glass scattered all over the floor gave him an inkling of what he figured the boy was doing in his room. "You're quite the mischievous entomologist, aren't you? Slugs in my bed or..." He instantly recalled the flea infestation he had a couple of years ago. "Why, you little-"

Ricky heard a loud crack followed by shattering glass. "Ah, look what you made me do now! My wife loved that mirror. I guess they can add vandalism to the charges. That's it, I'm calling the police." The boy heard more glass crunching underfoot. Suddenly the old man's voice seemed strained and weaker than before. "Oy vey ist mir! Not now Adinah, please not yet. I'm not ready to-" A loud crash cut off any further words he might have spoken. The old hardwood floor shook slightly underneath Ricky in concert with the loud noise.

He pressed his ear to the door and listened for any hints as to what was going on in the room. What he could only interpret as an incoherent whispering paired with erratic thumping raised goosebumps on his arms. A sudden loud gasp like someone breaking the surface after being underwater for nearly too long shattered the strange reverberating hisses and foreign sounding curses resonating through the room. Ricky slammed his head against the doorframe and then retreated deeper into the closet. He sat there for several seconds on the very edge of hysteria, enveloped in darkness and paralyzed with a dread he had never felt in his life. Then a low, choppy groan broke through the silence.

The eerie and hope disabling chant continued for several minutes until the frightened boy broke down and began to sob. The disheartening tone of his weeping mingled with the weak, inhuman wails caused him to retreat deeper into his mind as well. His imagination sought out the stories he'd heard in the neighborhood about Mr. Withers' wife. Some kids said she killed herself to escape her husband's limitless cruelty. Others said she refused to be tamed by her overbearing husband, so he chained her up in the attic or basement (depending on who told the story) where she slowly went insane.

Ricky knew the house didn't have an attic or basement, but it suddenly made sense to him why the other bedroom was always locked when he visited. His knack for sussing out the shape and size of areas without seeing them in their entirety told him the room right across the hall was bigger than where Mr. Withers slept. The idea of a man cruel enough to lock away his wife for decades but sleep in a room about half the size of her prison didn't make much sense to him.

His attempts to interpret the ghostly moaning left him puzzled and fearing the worst. Was there something more dangerous than Mr. Withers in the house? What was going on out there and why wasn't the old man berating him through the door? Surely a call to the police shouldn't take so long. The old grump didn't seem like the type to miss out on gloating over his victory.

Just when Ricky was near to screaming and clawing at his injured arm, the insistent noises dropped away and the entire house fell dead silent. Eventually, the silence became too much for the frightened boy. He began to drum his fingers on the floor in an effort to stave off the panic rising up inside of him. After a while Ricky became unaware of his tap, tap, tapping on the floor and attributed it to the banshee across the hall. In his heightened state of hysteria he had convinced himself that it wasn't Mr. Withers but some creature far worse that he needed to escape from.

He began to stroke the floor with his injured hand while he continued to tap with his other. His fingernails dug into the old wood, driving splinters into his flesh, but he didn't seem to feel it. He was certain Mr. Withers' wife was slowly clawing her way out of her prison and soon she would be at the closet door. The very door that trapped him there was soon to be his only protection from the insane creature that he knew hated him and everything in the world more than the evil old man was ever capable of. Once she was free of her prison she would only need to knock aside the chair keeping him trapped and she would have him in her clutches.

Eventually, the banshee quit her incessant scratching. Was she free? Was she coming for him now? Ricky raised himself to his feet and waited for the door to swing open. Maybe he could dash past her and escape. He waited, poised to shove past her and run for his life, but she didn't come for him. Tired and feeling weaker than he'd ever felt before, he slid down onto his side and curled into the fetal position.

Time passed yet Ricky heard nothing: not the old man, not police sirens, nor the wicked thing from across the hall. He laid there on the floor and tried to ignore the awful, throbbing pain in his hand and arm. He couldn't judge how long he'd been trapped. The concept of time was lost to him. His shoulders and back were cramping up fiercely. He could hear his heart beating madly in his ears like when he used to see how long he could hold his breath underwater. His eyes slowly slipped closed and he fell asleep.

He woke up later to a horrible pain in his abdomen. He felt like the closet was spinning and the strong smell of cold vomit and piss crippled his sense of smell. Having lost all concern for what lurked on the other side of the door, he weakly pulled himself to a sitting position and banged on the door. "Hello? Is there anybody out there? Is there anyone at home? Hello?" He yelled and banged on the door until both his throat and hands were sore. Eventually, weakened by his violent efforts, he laid down and slipped into a coma-like sleep.

While the spider's venom coursed through every inch of the little boy's body he dreamed of a shadowy vale shrouded in a dense fog. He stood there staring across the wide distance at a young woman standing by a tall apple tree in full bloom. She turned in his direction and then began to move away from the tree at an impossible speed. As she drew closer to Ricky, her billowing white dress grew ragged, smudged with dirt, and hung strangely on her rapidly withering body. Blossoms withered and fell off as the apple tree grew more and more bent and ugly the closer she got to the dreaming boy.

Finally, she came to within a few feet of him and stopped abruptly. She seemed to float there before him in decayed, yellowed rags, her legs below the knee shrouded in a thick crawling mist. She gazed at him with a sad resolute look on her beautiful face, untouched by time. Her bony shoulders and hips showed through the tissue-thin fabric draped loosely on her shriveled, pale form. Her skin was dry, cracked, and yellowed like her wedding dress. He didn't even flinch when the ghostly bride glided effortlessly up to him and took his hand in both of hers.

She looked deep into his eyes and with a voice like his mother's, she whispered, "You have to say trick or treat or else they won't give you any candy. Now, knock firmly and don't hesitate when the door opens." Ricky burst from his dream and pulled himself up to his knees. He began to slam his forearms against the door with every bit of force he could muster. He slowly raised himself up off the ground as he pounded at the door until he felt something give way.

He heard something clatter to the ground as the door creaked open a few inches and came to rest against some object lying in front of it. He shoved the door open, knocking the chair to the side, stumbled to his knees, and came face to face with Mr. Withers. The wicked old man laid stiffly in the doorway leading to the hall with his arms stretched out to either side of his motionless body. His wide-open eyes stared right at Ricky. The boy struggled to his feet and managed to stagger diagonally, grabbing hold of the dresser to steady himself. Mr. Withers' fear-stricken face looked past him then, gazing into the darkness of the closet.

Ricky rubbed his light-sensitive eyes. The Sun shined through the window and doused the entire room in its glorious rays. Ricky pushed off of the dresser and staggered to the window; he didn't have it in himself to step past Mr. Withers. He flipped the latches on the window, but little did he know the old man had painted the window shut many years before. He pulled and yanked at it to no avail. Sapped of every bit of strength he had left, he sat down on the bed and rolled onto his back.

Ricky's left foot hung down and slightly rocked back and forth amongst a hastily constructed spider's web under the bed. He didn't even notice when the disturbed spider bit him on his ankle as he fell asleep once again. Between the end of the mattress and the headboard rested the beginnings of another tangled web.



Written by Kolpik
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