Dog Face, a Halloween Ghost Story
A group of teenagers are haunted when an act of vandalism invokes the wrath of a dead man.
Greetings. Since we're getting close to Halloween, I've decided to try my hand at entertaining you all with some horror fiction. I started this story around this time last year, with the intention of posting it on Halloween. I didn't have it done in time and lost interest after Halloween had passed. After a couple months of sitting dormant on my hard drive, I found the story again and decided to finish it. I had it completed in a few days and decided to bring it to you this year.
The story ended up being a lot longer than I expected (over 40 pages) so I'm going to be posting it in installments over the next few days. I didn't really try anything original here, it is just your bare bones ghost story. A group of rowdy teenagers, some attitude problems, a pissed off spirit, and plenty of revenge. I don't claim this to be profound, just fun. So I hope you will give it a read and enjoy it. And try not to get too scared, mwahahaha! *cough*
Dog Face, Part 1
It was getting dark. James had gotten a late start on his ride. It was early October, and although the night had been early riser for a several weeks now, James still had not quite adjusted to the limited daylight. Last week, he had gotten stared even later, and it was well after dark by the time he returned. That had been a pain; his Schwinn did not have headlights. He had almost ridden right into the ditch.
The road was a sea of warm colors. The trees had painted it with their red and orange leaves. It was not yet so late in autumn for the foliage to infect all of the trees. There was still some green swirled into fleet of plants that lined the street. It was a ride he made every Thursday, usually in silence, but as the pastel leaves stood out against the black asphalt, so too did the voices from the field up ahead stand out on this night.
By now he was about a half mile out of town. There was still an occasional house or farm, so civilization was still close at hand. Still, James had to wonder who would just be hanging out in the field. He slowed his pedaling as he rode past, just to wet his curiosity and take a glance, and then promptly sped up as soon as he saw.
He knew them, all right. Charlie Nelson stood with his back against his black Chevy Bel Air and one arm around his girlfriend, Elly. Ted Bennett was with them, and although James couldn’t see him, George Carlton must have been there, too. George’s blue Model T with the huge back tires was there, after all, complete with his arm candy du jour, Chrystal Kazanski. James knew them. Every senior at Eisenhower High knew them.
They were the school’s token gang. Fast cars, rock ‘n roll, girlfriends with attitudes, jet black hair with curls in the front that had turned rock hard from all the styling gel. The gang name stitched on the back of their leather jackets read “The Hawx.” (How quaint, James thought to himself.) James had a couple classes with each of them, and their goof-off attitudes matched their image.
James had gotten his share of wedgies from them in the years before. He was one of the school’s resident geeks. There wasn’t much about James that could be considered cool. A couple years before, he had started wearing horn rimmed glasses in place of the granny-style he always had before that. That was probably the only cool thing James had ever done in his life.
He sped up a little and hoped that the group was still oblivious to his presence. The cemetery entrance was right up ahead, anyway. Even if they did see him, he could duck in there and disappear.
Or not. After all, not two months after James switched his glasses, Buddy Holly’s plane went down.
James heard the motors start up and pedaled even harder. If the group saw him, there was no doubt that they would come and try to mess with him. It was only about a hundred yards until the graveyard. They would have to back their cars around. Maybe James would have enough time to duck into the safety of the cemetery and they would drive right by.
Sweat was pouring down his forehead like a waterfall by the time James approached the entrance of the graveyard. He felt almost feverishly hot in spite of the razor-sharp chill of the October air. It made James almost consider taking off his heavy blue sweater. That thought didn’t last long. The heat and the thought vanished in unison as James heard the motor pull up beside him.
“Hey, it’s Jimmy!” Ted Bennett called from the passenger window of Charlie’s Bel Air. “JimmyNelson! Well how the heck are ya, Jimmy boy?”
James didn’t turn to look, but he did slow down. He felt his cheeks flush. He hated being called Jimmy, and it was just a prelude to the hassling that they were about to bestow on him. James didn’t speak. Maybe if he ignored them, he thought, they would just go away.
“Hey Jimmy, where you goin’ with those flowers?” Charlie called from across the car. “You got yourself a sweetheart?”
James glanced at the red flowers in the basket of his Schwinn. He had almost forgotten about them. It made him a feel a little queasy to know that they had noticed them. It was inevitable that they were going to harass them now. He hoped that they would not try to take the flowers or something.
He sighed and looked back, giving up. He couldn’t avoid them at this point.
“They’re not for a girl,” James admitted. “I’m taking them to a grave.”
He glanced around. Charlie, Elly, and Ted were cast in shadows inside of the Chevy. George and Chrystal were both perfectly visible in the Model T following behind them.
“You mean in the old cemetery just up ahead?” Charlie asked. “That sounds like a fun field trip, we’ll go check it out with you. Lead the way, Jimmy boy.”
James groaned inwardly. His weekly trip to the graveyard was usually a nice, quiet time for humbling reflection. With Charlie and the hoodlums hanging around, the whole evening was about to go straight down the drain. He kicked off his bicycle and started toward the entrance, briefly entertaining the idea of riding off.
He squashed that notion before it even fully developed. They would chase after him and catch him for sure. If he cooperated, maybe he would get away with just a minor wedgie. He rode up the dirt path along the outer fence, the two cars strolling along behind him. James counted the rows of headstones out of habit. He really didn’t need too; he’d been here enough time that he had all the scenery memorized.
The sullen, gray grave markers stood in line like stone soldiers in their contingents. Short, simple slabs; tall, imposing monoliths. Even some elaborately shaped angels and crosses which may or may not have been statues rather than headstones. All different shapes and sizes, but all in neat rows. It looked like a chess board in the middle of battle. Some of them were dark and glossy, with bushels of flowers placed in honor. Others had become bleached to almost white. Still others were cracked or crumbling, the soil around them bare of decorations. The symbol of some long forgotten relative whose family had long since moved on. The only person to care now was the cemetery caretaker.
James kicked the stand down on his bike as he pulled up next to a small square headstone with a plaque. The two cars behind him stopped and he heard the engines shut off. James grabbed the flowers from his basket and knelt beside the stone with a little more hustle than usual. He didn’t want the hoodlums hurting the flowers, and he wanted to get them in place quickly in hope of deterring them.
“A friend of yours?” Charlie Nelson spoke from behind him in his unmistakably husky voice. Charlie’s casual enunciation gave him a specter of an accent, an unnatural one, and made the words “of yours” sound more like, “a yaws.” His voice sounded how James suspected the guy who played Malloy in that picture On the Waterfront might sound in nine or ten years.
“He was my uncle,” said James. He ran his fingers down the plague, feeling the engraved letters. “His name was James. I was named after him.”
“Touching,” said George Carlton. It sounded to James like there was a hint of sarcasm behind the voice, though he couldn’t be sure through the unlit cigarette muffling George’s voice.
“How’d he die?” asked Elly, sounding far more genuine than George had.
“Stroke, about two months ago,” replied James. It still kind of hurt a little. “I’ve ridden my bike here to put flowers on the grave once a week since then, usually on Thursday. We were very close.”
Nobody said anything for a moment. George cracked a flame on his lighter and ignited the tip of his smoke stick. James stood and turned to face the group. Elly and Charlie were both staring down at the grave. Charlie, with his hair carefully gelled into a neat mess, had slipped his jacket onto Elly’s shoulders and leaving Charlie’s own arms bare. It made James shiver just looking at him. It was a chilly evening, and James could see goose bumps on Elly and Chrystal’s calves poking out of their skirts.
George took a drag on his cigarette and filled the air with the musty scent of tobacco smoke. “Those sure are some purdy flowers. It’d be a shame if they got stepped on.”
He grinned an evil grin, revealing a couple wisps of smoke oozing out from between his teeth. The expression would not have looked out of place on the devil. If James wasn’t cold enough already, that notion chilled him even more. James felt the color drain from his face. His eyes bugged out in a way that some of the corpses lying around here beneath the earth must look. That was his worst fear confirmed, and for a moment, he thought he was going to cry.
“Relax,” said Charlie. He patted James’s shoulder and smirked. “We’re not that mean. We’ll leave your flowers alone.”
George chuckled and turned his eyes away. He took the cigarette out of his mouth and tapped the ashes onto the grass. “Shit, Jimmy boy, you’re awful jumpy, ain’t ya?”
“You looked like you were gonna have a stroke,” Charlie said (use more descriptive synonym) with a smile. “Don’t worry, we ain’t gonna bug you tonight, Jimbo. Just wanted to see what you were up to, that’s all.”
“But don’t think there won’t be a noogie waiting for you at school tomorrow,” said Elly. She reached up and ruffled James’s hair.
They turned and started to walk back to the cars when Chrystal spoke up for the first time.
“Hey, where the hell is Ted?”
The five of them looked around. James had not noticed that Ted was missing, either, and found himself just as curious as to his whereabouts as the other gang members were. He could not have gotten too far. They’d only been a couple minutes.
“Hey, Bennett!” Charlie called. His voice echoed through the yellowing leaves of the trees around cemetery. It was loud, and with the cold air, it seemed to bite. “Where’d you go?”
“Keep your pants on, I’m over here,” Ted called back. Everyone followed the sound of his voice to the head just barely poking up over a headstone three rows down.
They moseyed over to where he was crouched. James tagged behind the rest of them, weaving his way around the gravestones from a few feet behind. It surprised him that he was even going with them to begin with. His business was done, their business with him was done. Maybe it was because they had been nice to him for a change. Maybe it was being alone with them in this fall night. Maybe it was just curiosity.
Ted was squatting in front of a medium-sized grave stone fiddling with something. James’s heart sank when a sharp hiss burst forth from whatever it was Ted was messing with and rippled through the dusk air around them. A rancid chemical smell startled him even more, and James hopped forward to get better look.
“The hell are you doing?” asked George while taking another drag on his cig.
“Marking our territory,” Ted half-snarled, half-laughed in reply. There was a can of spray paint in his hand. He held it next to the stone slab and swiped the blue mist across its face.
James stared with horror at the blue “H-A-W-X” scrawled lazily across the nameplate. There was military insignia emblazoned on the top. Engraved in face of the stone was the name “Lieutenant Dennis ‘Dog Face’ Harpman,” over some information about division and infantry. All of this was ruined by the blue paint now adorning the front of the headstone.
“What are you doing?” James shouted. He flinched at the sound of his own voice. It sounded extra loud in the otherwise quiet autumn air, especially bouncing off of the trees. Mostly, though, it was surprise that he had the nerve to outburst in the first place. “How could you do this?”
The others turned and stared at him. They all looked surprised, too. For a moment they just stared at him, taken aback that he would speak out of turn. The awkward moment lasted just long enough to snap James out of his rage and realize that he had just chastised the local tough guys.
Oh boy , he thought to himself. Now I’ve done it.
George took another puff on his cigarette. It had burned almost to the filter by now. He pulled the yellow paper from his lips and started to laugh, the timber-gray smoke puffing out accordingly. The others broke their stunned expressions with smiles, and Charlie finally stepped forward and clapped James on the shoulder.
“You geeks,” he said, shaking his head.
“I’m serious!” James protested, though with a little less force than before. “You can’t just vandalize a grave! People they deserve respect!”
“They’re dead, dude,” said Ted.
“These people lived lives and now they’re gone and now they’re supposed to be honored and you just wrecked this poor guy’s grave!” James stopped himself to take a breath, then motioned to the top of the stone. “Look! He was even a solider!”
“Jimmy, my boy,” Charlie continued. “These things are old. Nobody cares about some dumb ol’ dead guy’s headstone. It’s not fancy or nothin.’ Nobody cares, it’s just some harmless fun!”
James felt his mouth drop open at the inclination of such. These people lived their lives on this earth. They called it home. Now they were gone, leaving behind nothing but this burial plot and the mark. They existed, and this was the place where they were to be honored and remembered. He couldn’t believe that they would take such a thing for granted.
“Come on guys,” said Charlie. “Let’s get going.”
They started walking back to their cars. About halfway there, Ted turned and looked at James. “Don’t be a square, man.”
James stayed put and watched without speaking. He’d gotten away without any trouble for himself, but this was hardly a victory. The stone was covered in blue paint. A grave was ruined, the honor of soldier desecrated. He never thought that those guys would stoop that low.
James felt himself grinding his teeth as he watched them drive away.
James dreamt that night. At least, he thought it was a dream. I thought it was a dream because he woke up out of it, laying in his bed, safe and sound without a scratch. Scared out of his mind, but still, without a scratch. It had just felt so damn real. It didn’t help that it took him a while to wake up, either.
He dreamt that he was standing in a cave. The floor was wood and the walls were dirt. It was too dark to actually see anything, he just knew. It that sort of omniscient feeling you get in your own dreams, he just knew. There may have also been dank, earthy smell to the place. James thought he remembered it, at least, though if it was there, it was buried under the layers of putrid rot.
The whole cavern wreaked. It smelled like garbage left in the sun. James held his breath. Even breathing through his mouth, it still burned. He could almost taste the scent on his tongue. If death had a fragrance, that cave was where it’s perfume came from. It made his eyes water from the intensity. James didn’t make a habit of sniffing road kill. If he ever did, though, he would not be surprised to find the smell of it to be more pleasant than the aroma inside of the cavern.
He was starting to choke on air when he saw the man. The man was about a stone’s throw directly in front of James, facing him. He was clothed in a military style uniform. Not combat gear, but official formal attire. His chest glimmered with the metal of a handful of decorations pinned on in recognition of whatever achievements he may have earned in his service. His suit was neat and tidy, sharp as a razor, exactly how a good soldier should be, with one exception.
A puddle of blue liquid lay splattered across his torso. It was some kind of thick slime, not soaking in nor running off, but spilled on the man’s uniform like a gallon of sky-colored ketchup. The liquid had no rhyme nor reason to its pattern. It was as though some would-be prankster had hidden around the corner with a bucket of the stuff, and when the unsuspecting soldier came around, he caught of splash of whatever it was right across the chest.
In the back of his mind James noted how strange the lighting was, in that there was none. As though being in the cave with a messy soldier weren’t odd enough. There was not a single source of light in the whole cave, yet the man before him was crystal clear. Everything else was totally black, yet this soldier stood visible. James could not even describe it as a dim light -- there was none. Not even the dynamics of a light source were present. Everything was dark, and the soldier just wasn’t.
None of these things frightened James. They were odd, unsettling, creepy, and any number of synonymous for “weird,” but none of it was genuinely fear-inducing in the truest sense of the word. No, that part belonged to the face.
This man was dead. Long dead, too. He was not pale or ghostly at all. He was a corpse. A lifeless, decaying body that was slowly on its way to becoming mush. The flesh was dark; grayish-brown. It didn’t resemble skin anymore. It was layered on like peanut spread lazily over a piece of toast. Lumpy in some spots, saggy and smooth in others, like wax that was hot enough to melt but not so hot to actually liquefy.
On the top of his scalp, the skin had thinned to the point of transparency. A large patch of it had been ripped off entirely starting at the would-be hairline, wrapping around his eye-socket and ending near the tenderized ear dangling from the side of his head. The eye sockets were empty, leaving nothing but two gaping voids. The black within was darker than the room that James stood in, yet James swore he saw a couple maggots poke their heads out of the sockets.
Between the twin abysses was a crumbled growth that James couldn’t imagine ever having been a nose. The soldier’s lips were missing; torn right off leaving only a loose rim of skin around the teeth. The teeth themselves were in surprisingly good condition. Pristine, pearly white, and not human at all. They were thin and sharp, each on coming almost to a point. They looked like the teeth of a dog, and it sent a shiver down James’s spine.
That was when James became aware that he was dreaming. That whatever alternate dimension in which he now stood existing only in his sleeping brain. It was a nightmare, literally, and he wanted to wake up.
Wake up! he thought to himself, so loud that his sleep-counterpart almost yelled the words. He screamed it inside his head. A desperate escape attempt from the sick joke his mind had decided to play on him that night. Yet he didn’t wake. He knew he was dreaming. He was trying to wake himself up. It just wasn’t happening.
Another shiver tickled his back, and a thought popped into his head that made his heart skip a beat. Was he so sure he was dreaming? He had become aware during dreams before, and now he was aware of just how dreamlike this was not. James could feel the ground beneath his feet. He could taste the cold, stale air in the chasm. He cold smell the explosive stench of this man’s rotting body. It was the most real a dream had ever gotten. Maybe it was not a dream at all. Could it be? Was he actually there?
The panic started to sweep him when the soldier lifted his arm and pointed at James. The hand was as decayed as the face. One of the fingers was missing, two were stripped to the bone, and the thumb was totally severed at the knuckle, leaving a lumpy black stump that looked like the end of a half-smoke cigar. The man’s index finger was the only one totally intact, and the skin had receded to the point where the nail was more like a claw, and it was pointed straight at James.
James could feel it. He could feel the man’s attention. The eyes were gone, but whatever rested in the crevices that once housed them was focused on James. James’s heart stopped beating and his lungs stopped drawing air. Whether it was from fear or some kind of monstrous spell from this being was anyone’s guess. Fear was definitely present. Like an ocean filling the cave, fear pooled around him, raised over chest level, and started to poor into his nostrils before he could escape.
He caught one more glimpse the soldier’s excuse for a face before it faded. Then the fear faded, then the cavern faded, then James himself faded. Then he opened his eyes.
James had never been more relieved to see his bedroom ceiling in all of his life. He had not had a nightmare like that in years. The monsters under the bed disappeared with his childhood. This monster, on the other hand, was not under the bed. He was not even sure if it was in his dreams. For all intents and purposes, that monster was real!
He sat up, slowly, and wiped the cold sweat from his brow. He could not even claim that he had woken from the nightmare. It did not feel that way. James had tried to wake up from it, to no avail. Nor was this the jolting wake that he expected. It was like the nightmare itself had released him from it. James wanted to wake up. It was only when the dream itself gave him permission to wake up that it actually happened.
James pulled himself out of bed and started toward the kitchen for a glass of water. His knees shook like an earthquake and he had to pause to lean against the door and calm himself down. He took a deep breath and felt his heart skip another beat: the smell was still in his nostrils. Not a memory, not a remnant of the nightmare. It was faint, but surly as day and night, it was there.
James did not get much sleep that night.
To Be Continued...