This story is by J. H. O’Rourke and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“BOO!” he’d shout, just before slapping his hand over the mouth of his young, unsuspecting victim. Then he’d pick up the child and run.
How do I know this? I was there. I was always there.
Every Halloween for the past six years, Rupert would play snatch-and-grab with a neighborhood kid. Then, once we were safely inside the hidden shed that doubled as our clubhouse, things would go from bad to worse.
You see, my best friend is a serial killer. One who murders innocent children for fun.
Most people would say he’s a monster. But Rupert is the only person who cares about me. He is my one true friend.
We were just nine-years-old when we met in the woods behind the house I shared with my dad. My mom and sister were gone by then.
I was playing with the only toy I had. A dinky car I had found half buried in the dirt a few days earlier.
I looked up from my mini red Mustang and Rupert was just… there. Staring at me.
Neither of us said a word. Not that I remember, anyway.
Dad told me it was my fault that Mom and Hattie had left. That Mom hated me. So she took Hattie and moved away.
But I knew the truth.
Dad had hurt Hattie again. Mom found out and was confronting him about it… again. But this time, Dad didn’t stop at giving her a black eye or a split lip.
This time Dad beat Mom to death. I watched it happen from the upstairs hallway while peering down through the bars of the railing.
The fight woke Hattie. Before I could stop her, she bounded down the stairs. Screamed when she saw Mom lying there bleeding.
So Dad killed her too. Threw her on the floor and kicked her in the head. Over and over. Till she was dead.
For some reason, Dad’s never hit me. Not once. I suspect it’s because I’m a boy.
He buried them in the backyard on a hot summer night. Dad kept glancing up at my bedroom window as he dug their graves. As he tossed their bodies in. As he covered my mother and five-year-old sister with dirt.
Was he checking to see if I was watching? Or making sure I wasn’t?
The next morning, Dad locked me in the basement. He told me it was punishment for forcing my mother to leave.
I wondered why he didn’t just kill me too.
A rusty, metal cot without a mattress became my bed.
A bucket in a corner was my toilet. It sat beside the stained sink that offered a trickle of cold water.
Rats and bugs ran across the dirt floor.
High on one wall, a small window offered the only illumination within the musty room.
Dad sometimes brought me food. Usually stale bread. Or the canned food we fed our cat, Misty. He never said a word.
After a few days, I couldn’t stand the stifling heat and solitude anymore.
So, while Dad was at work, I moved the cot under the window. After several failed attempts, I managed to slant it upright against the wall. I climbed to the window. To my surprise, it opened with just a push.
From that day on, I’d sneak out to play in the woods behind the house. I’d make sure to return to the basement before Dad arrived home. It got so I could turn that cot into a makeshift ladder in just a couple of minutes. And move it back into the corner where it belonged without making a sound.
I’m not sure why, but it simply never occurred to me to run. To escape.
Rupert appeared nearly every day. We talked. We became friends. I started sneaking him into the basement. When Dad came downstairs, Rupert hid in the tiny closet or huddled under my cot.
I lost interest in going outside. I even lost interest in my red dinky car. I had Rupert with me now. He often stayed with me in the basement all day. Sometimes he would sleep on the floor beside my cot at night. He was often gone when I woke up. But some mornings he was still there.
He was my best friend. My only friend.
One day, the police showed up. They were responding to complaints of a foul odor emanating from our backyard.
After they located the bodies and arrested my father, two officers searched the house and found me curled up on the cot.
Rupert was nowhere to be seen.
He must have been hiding in the closet.
Before I knew it, I had been placed in a foster home. A nice house with a kind couple, three young children, and, best of all, lots of toys. Oh, and food.
But I missed Rupert desperately.
Then, on the third morning in my new room, I woke up and he was there. Just sitting on the rug beside my bed. I didn’t know why or how. I was so happy to see him that I didn’t care.
I had my best friend back.
That’s all that mattered.
The annual hunt began on the first Halloween we spent at our foster home.
The other children dressed in their costumes, excited about going trick-or-treating with my foster mother.
Rupert and I didn’t want to be seen with the little kids. But our foster parents told us we were too young to leave the house without an adult. So we had a choice. Go out with my foster Mom. Or stay home with my foster Dad instead of collecting treats. We chose to stay home.
Then, with a mischievous gleam in his eye, Rupert suggested a third option.
So, after everyone left and my foster father was working on his car in the garage, Rupert and I donned our identical clown costumes and quietly left through the back door.
Rupert suggested we start at the opposite end of the street. An area few children had reached yet in their quest for candy. In fact, there was just one little girl and, a few feet away, a bored-looking teenager staring at his phone.
We ran in that direction, confident that we were unrecognizable behind our silly homemade masks.
Rupert snuck up behind the little girl and yelled, “BOO!”
The kid jumped, then noticed Rupert’s hilarious costume and laughed. Her brother didn’t even bother looking up.
Without warning, Rupert clamped his hand around the little girl’s mouth, lifted her up, and took off running. Not knowing what to do, I ran after them.
We sprinted into the woods. To a deserted shed we had played in before.
It was there that Rupert threw the child to the floor. And kicked her in the head until she was still.
Until she was dead.
Our costumes were splattered with blood, so we removed them, left them there, and hightailed it home. We snuck into the house and acted as if nothing happened.
The next day we went back and buried the body behind the shed.
The hunt’s happened five more times. Every Halloween since.
The victim was always a little girl. A little girl around the same age my sister had been when my father killed her.
Every other day of the year was normal. We’d go to school. Do our homework. Chill out at our clubhouse. Share secrets.
We never hung out with other boys. They tended to ignore Rupert.
Maybe it was because, at fifteen years of age, Rupert still looked as he had when we first met six years earlier. He hadn’t grown taller. His voice hadn’t begun to crack like mine.
Maybe those mean teenage boys didn’t want to be seen with someone who could pass for a nine-year-old.
Not me, though. Rupert is my best friend. My only friend. And I am his.
Today is Halloween. I’m lightheaded. Anxious. Sick to my stomach. I can’t think straight. I figure it’s because I know what’s about to happen.
The annual hunt.
We’re old enough now to go out on our own, so Rupert and I just walk out the front door.
A couple of blocks away, he spots his target. A little girl with her big sister. No one else is around. We approach.
Rupert creeps up behind her. “BOO!” he shouts.
The kid jumps.
But she doesn’t laugh like the others had. Neither does her sister.
Rupert and I look down in unison and realize why. We have forgotten our funny costumes that make little girls laugh. And become distracted.
But this doesn’t stop Rupert from performing his ritual. He grabs the young girl, one hand clasping her mouth, the other surrounding her body.
He takes off running. So do I.
The older girl screams and chases us.
She tackles me to the ground.
Her sister escapes my grasp.
Where is Rupert?