It’s Halloween Night. With the party over, Gina Ryan and Brie Duncan finally get to kick back and relax, and watch classic old horror movies. But their movie-watching keeps getting interrupted by some unusual trick-or-treaters, and something out in the darkness of the forest…

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Howling”

By

Ernie Whiting

mailto:erniewhiting@centurylink.net

“Listen to them, Harker,” Count Dracula said, his Hungarian-accented voice a combination of silk and venom, “the children of the night. What music they make!”

Dressed as Morticia Addams, in a long, straight black wig and a tight, hip-hugging black gown with a plunging neckline and octopus-like tentacles at her feet, Captain Gabriella Duncan, MD, USN, smiled a tired and wistful little smile as she leaned with her back against the front door of their Victorian-styled, Nevada City house. They had just come in from the barn, where, a short while ago, they had concluded their annual festivities and had locked down the barn for the night. They would clean up the party gear---the used paper plates, the wadded napkins, the plastic cups & flatware, the decorations and more---in the morning. “The end of another successful Halloween party,” she said softly. “Great party, great party…”

Dressed as Gomez Addams, in a brown pinstripe suit, a man’s short wig, and with a black moustache across her upper lip, Colonel Gina Ryan, USMC, had just dropped the remote control of the entertainment center onto the sofa--she had started the original “Dracula,” with Bela Lugosi and Edward van Sloan on DVD--and was now in the process of peeling off that moustache. “It’s always kind of a letdown, though, once the festivities are over.” The glue was reluctant to give up it’s hold on her lip; in spite of the sharp shooting pain, she pulled harder with a wince until the glue finally gave up. “It’s another entire year before the next Halloween.”

“Hey, look on the bright side,” Brie said as she straightened from her spot by the door, and then proceeded to shuffle her way into the living room. Resting on a small table next to the door was a bowl of candy for the few trick-or-treaters that still wandered through this rural neighborhood, in spite of its semi-isolation. That was why Gina and Brie threw these parties every year; considering the annual turnout, they were more like annual community events that provided for a safe Halloween. But there were still a few die-hards out there; older kids, who insisted on the challenge of wandering like specters through the darkness, following the dancing beams of their flashlights and keeping their ears open for mysterious sounds that followed them in the dark. “We took plenty of pictures; and there’s still Thanksgiving and Christmas to look forward to. And New Year’s football.”

Gina shrugged one shoulder as, with a little frown, she examined the false moustache for any traces of blood or skin. Finding none, she then reached up with her other hand to peel off the short wig, and shook out her long, midnight hair. “After Halloween, it’s all kind of downhill,” she said as she vigorously scratched at her itchy scalp while working her upper lip, to make certain that the latter still functioned properly.

“What,” Brie said, while looking at her with a half-smile of mild skepticism, as she shuffled like Carolyn Jones, with confined legs and brisk, short steps, across the living room and into the kitchen, “you prefer Halloween over Christmas? I mean, with Christmas you get presents, and with Thanksgiving you get turkey; with Halloween, all you get is tooth rot and a big fuckin’ dental bill.” She snapped on the lights, and the overhead fluorescents flickered to life to brightly illuminate the kitchen. The brilliance of the artificial light made her look even more pale in comparison to the black outfit she wore.

“I don’t know,” Gina said. “I just like the spookiness. You know, the ghosties, the goblins, the horror movies… As a kid, it was always my favorite holiday. Every year, Halloween just kinda takes me back, y’know? I can remember all the decorations my dad and I put up around outside the house…the paper skeletons, the witches on their broomsticks against the background of a full moon, the bats…” She sighed softly in fond memory of Halloweens gone by, and was silent for a long moment before she finally released those childhood memories in order to focus on her partner, who was now searching for something in the kitchen cupboards. With a suggestive little smile, she added, “Y’know, that costume is really you.”

Brie leaned back and away from one open cupboard door and to one side so she could be seen more easily. She grinned at her, and in her best Morticia Addams voice she said, “Why thank you, dah-ling…” Quickly returning her attention to the cupboard once more, she resumed her search.

Gina’s own smile expanded into a grin as she loosened her tie and opened her collar. As she did, lightning flashed through the living room’s big bay window, and an instant later thunder exploded outside in the black, night sky. In that brief flash of silver light, the room looked like the den of some mystery mansion. “It’s starting to sound like a perfect Halloween night.” Peeling out of her brown, pinstriped coat, she added, “I hope the little ones aren’t going to get drenched.”

“The weatherman said there might be a chance of a thunder boomer or two,” Brie said, her voice echoing slightly from inside the cabinet, “but he didn’t say anything about actual rain. Besides,” she added a moment later, as she took out two wine glasses, “it’s late, and they all ought to be in by now anyway.”

Gina sighed heavily. Halloween was over for another year. Well, almost. “Y’know,” she said as she slipped out of her brown, wingtip shoes, “we still have movies. And wine. What do you want to watch?”

“I don’t know. You pick something. You want some Cabernet Sauvignon?”

Gina thought it over for a quick moment. “How about a nice Beaujolais?”

She scanned the interior of the cabinet with narrowed green eyes. “We don’t seem to have any…”

“There’s probably a bottle or two down in the basement. Why don’t you run down and get us a couple?”

Brie looked at her in mild disbelief. “Run?” she asked. “In this dress? I’d have to hop down one step at a time and hope to God I don’t trip and break my neck.”

“Excuses, excuses…” Gina muttered quietly.

“Excuses, my ass,” Brie said softly. And then louder, so Gina could hear, she added, “I’m gonna go change; I’ll be right back.” She shuffled her way over to the staircase, and as she pulled the dress up around her calves she managed to cautiously take the stairs one step at a time.

Draping her coat over a recliner chair, she approached the shelves that contained their DVD collection. Immediately, her sapphire eyes fell on her Universal Studios Classics Collection, which contained the original greats of the horror genre: Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s Monster and the Mummy; Bela Lugosi as Dracula; Claude Rains as the Invisible Man, and Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man… She still could not remember who played the Creature From the Black Lagoon. “With all this thunder and lightning, how about something from ‘Frankenstein’?” she called out.

“Yeah, sure,” the Navy doctor replied, her voice coming from upstairs. “I’ve never seen any of them; I guess this would be a good time to get caught up.”

She couldn’t believe her ears. She-Could-Not. She turned, and stared toward the stairway in disbelief. “Say what?” she asked. She just couldn‘t believe it! “Where’d you say you lived as a kid--in a cave somewhere?” she finally asked.

“I just never saw any of them. Never really took the time.” She was silent for a moment or two, and then a possible exception came to mind. “Does ‘Young Frankenstein’ count?” she called down.

“Oh, dear God,” Gina muttered under her breath as she slipped out of her brown, wing-tip shoes. And then, to Brie, she said, “You poor, deprived kid. You want to see where most of the stuff for ‘Young Frankenstein’ came from? I’ll show you.” She returned her attention to the video library and selected the Frankenstein DVD collection. She opened the tray and removed the Dracula disc, replaced it with the first Frankenstein, and pushed the tray in. Then she went into the kitchen to find a box of Ritz crackers and a small tub of smoky, bacon-flavored cheddar cheese spread. By the time the disc finished loading, Brie had come back down the stairs, dressed in white cotton socks, a pair of black sweatpants, and one of Gina’s black Marine Corps t-shirts, with its golden eagle, globe and anchor logo splayed across the front. Across the back was a white skull-and-crossbones, and a logo that read, “82nd Recon Platoon---Swift, Silent, Deadly.” The shirt was maybe three sizes too big for her, but it was still comfortable. She immediately headed down to the basement to retrieve a couple of bottles of wine, and returned only a couple of minutes later to find Gina preparing the snacks. With a pair of glasses and an open bottle of wine, and a plate full of goodies, they headed over to the sofa and got comfortable, and Gina started the movie as Brie switched off the lights.

***

“A strange apparition seemed to appear in the room,” Elizabeth Frankenstein softly declared, her voice hushed and filled with fear, as thunder rumbled once more; it was impossible to tell if the thunder came from outside or through the Bose speakers---which attested to the high quality of their sound system. There was a mild hiss that came through in the soundtrack, but that was only because the sound had been recorded in the days before Dolby. Yet the soft hiss and the occasional gentle pop of old recording techniques, along with the living room being illuminated only by the flickering flames of the fireplace and the light that came from the black-and-white picture on the widescreen television, added so much more of a Halloween atmosphere, and awakened so many childhood memories of Halloweens gone by. “It comes as a figure like Death, and each time it comes more clearly, nearer…it seems to be reaching out for you, as if it would take you away from me! There it is!” she suddenly declared, leaning across her husband’s supine form and pointing with one finger at some unseen being. “Look! There!” She rose from the bed, and backed away.

“I see nothing, Elizabeth,” Henry said as she continued to back away in ever increasing terror. “Where? There’s nothing there.”

“There!” she said. “There! It’s coming for you! Nearer!” She gasped desperately. “Henry!” she screamed, her voice shrill in his ears. “Henry! HENRY!” And in sheer madness and terror, she threw a forearm across her eyes as she fell across the bed, screaming and crying hysterically.

Leaning with one elbow on the sofa’s armrest and with her head resting against her hand, Brie continued to watch in absolute, wide-eyed silence for a moment or two. Finally, from her corner of the sofa, she softly declared, “Yep…no doubt about it, that woman’s as crazy as a shithouse rat.”

With her arms folded beneath her breasts, her legs crossed and stretched before and her feet resting on the coffee table, Gina regarded her with a mildly sour look. “Nice simile,” she softly said, with mild disdain. And then, a little louder, she said, “You ever consider---”

A long, ululating howl, coming from somewhere outside, suddenly cut her off.

Brie’s hand darted to the cushion between them to snatch up the remote, and then she thumbed the pause button to suddenly plunge the room into silence. For a long, long moment, while the two of them listened intently, nothing could be heard but the crackling of the fire.

“What the hell was that?” Her voice was no more than a soft whisper.

Gina continued to listen silently for another moment or two, but the cry was not repeated. Were there any wolves in the Sierra Nevada foothills of northern California? they silently asked themselves. Successful experiments with the reintroduction of timber wolves in Yellowstone National Park, in Wyoming, had been conducted, but neither woman had ever heard of any such research being conducted in California. Still, though, they couldn’t be certain.

Finally, Gina softly whispered, “I don’t know…” She turned to her partner, and with as much seriousness as she could muster, she asked, “Maybe it was a werewolf?”

Already with a couple or three of glasses of wine in her, Brie thoughtfully gazed back at her for a moment, as if to say, “Y’think?” But a moment later the absurdity of the idea dawned on her, and the questioning look in her green eyes darkened into one of mild scorn. “Yeah, right---”

She was cut off by a sudden loud knocking at the door that made the both of them jump.

They stared at their front door in silence.

“Jesus H., who the hell would be out trick-or-treating at this time of night?” Brie asked as she started to rise from the couch.

Gina gently placed a restraining hand on her arm. “I’ll get it.” She rose from the sofa and made her way around it and through the darkness to the front door. The recon-force Marine could see no one outside through the peep-hole, so she cautiously opened the door to find…

“I was right,” she said. “Wolfman’s at the door.”

With saliva dripping from his sharp, gleaming fangs, the Wolfman gazed at her with baleful yellow eyes, and growled and snarled with murderous intent.

“Wow,” Gina said softly, and with a little smile of admiration, “these costumes are getting more realistic every year.”

Is that the sucker who was doing all the howling out there? Brie asked herself. She shrugged. “Well, give him some candy, and maybe he’ll go away,” she said from the sofa.

Gina shrugged. “Yeah, hell…” she thought. “…couldn’t hurt.” She turned from the Wolfman and grabbed a handful of candy from the nearby bowl, and as the monster raised one clawed hand with which to rip open her throat, she grabbed his upraised wrist and smacked the candy into his paw. “There y’go, big fella,” she said with an amused smile. “G’night. Happy Halloween!” She turned and shut the door securely, just as the Wolfman prepared to lunge at her.

He was never able to complete that lunge. The creature that had been doing all the howling suddenly leaped from out of the darkness of the night-shrouded woods with almost supernatural speed to attack him. Snarling and growling furiously, and sounding like an enraged badger, it sank its fangs deeply into the Wolfman’s thigh and began to viciously twist and tear at the muscle and skin. In response, the Wolfman lost his balance and fell backward down the wooden steps with a rapid and reverberating thump! thump! thump! He recovered quickly, though, and with his antagonist quickly renewing his attack, the werewolf had no choice but to beat a hasty retreat, limping in agony and whimpering in terror.

***

With two empty bottles standing before them on the coffee table, and with a third still half full, they were utterly relaxed and pleasantly buzzed, and slowly making their way through “The Bride of Frankenstein.”

“And now for our lesson,” the blind man said to the monster, as he held a loaf of bread in his hands toward him. “This is bread.”

“Bread---good!” said the monster.

“And this is wine---to drink.”

Still leaning on one elbow, head in hand, Brie pointed with one finger at the screen, and suddenly drawled, “Ain’t that guy’s name Harold?”

Gina sighed patiently, and said nothing.

Brie dropped her arm as she continued to gaze at the screen. “That guy looks nothin’ like Gene Hackman,” she said softly. Then she turned to face her partner. “Ain’t this just about where he smashes the Monster’s wine mug?” she whispered.

“Brie, please. Shush.”

She was silent, but only for the quick moment it took for her to reach for her glass and to sip at her wine. “A mute,” she said as she lowered her glass from her lips. “An incredibly big mute!” She grinned as this classic horror movie reminded her more and more of lines from the Mel Brooks comedy---which was a classic in its own right.

Gina leaned over her to gently but firmly place one hand over her partner’s mouth while her other arm encircled her shoulders. “Please,” she said softly, “stare zitto. Per favore.”

“Drink!” the Monster said with a grin. “Drink! Good!”

With her free hand, Brie pulled Gina’s away. “Here it comes, here it comes!” she excitedly said with sparkling eyes and a dazzling grin, as the two characters began to clink their clay mugs together in a toast. Her excitement mounted as the moment drew closer and closer. “They’re gonna…they’re gonna… …aww, man!” She suddenly flopped back into the sofa in acute disappointment. “They didn’t break! Shit!”

“We are friends, you and I,” said the old blind man. “Friends!” he reached out a hand, and the Monster accepted it, and they shook affably as they laughed together.

Brie watched attentively, saying nothing more. Judging the movie on its own merits, and after careful consideration of Boris Karloff’s acting and the thoughtful writing that had gone into the dialogue and the story line, Brie came to the conclusion that Gina was right, and that this really is a good movie!

“And now, for a smoke!”

And then Brie grinned again. “He’s gonna get his thumb set on fire!”

Gina grinned in spite of herself, and chuckled softly as she said in good nature, “Goddamnit, Brie, will you please shut the fuck up?”

Lightning flashed again outside, casting silver light and black, flickering shadows across the living room, and an explosion of thunder quickly followed it; and again, there was that howling outside. Loud and long, it sounded like a mournful, ululating cry of a lost and wandering soul.

And then, a moment later, there was another pounding at the door.

Gina glanced at the faux antique clock that rested on the mantle above the fireplace. “It’s a little late for more trick-or-treaters,” she said as she slowly began to rise.

This time, it was Brie who placed a gently restraining hand on her partner’s arm. “I got this’n,” she said, and with a soft groan she rose from the sofa. A little wobbly from all the wine, she leaned against the sofa with one hand to steady herself as she approached the door. When she unlocked and opened it, she found herself face-to-belly with... And then she tilted her head back, her eyes slowly trailing up the stomach and chest and throat so she could finally see the face of… “Frankenstein’s Monster’s at the door,” she reported at last. Rain water was dripping from the creature, who stood at the door with the bolts in his neck glowing with blue electricity and his arms thrust forward, his fingers curling and uncurling, as though he was preparing to crush someone’s throat.

“Well, give him some candy, and maybe he’ll go away,” Gina said from her corner of the sofa.

“Good idea,” she said. “Sounds kinda familiar.” She turned toward the bowl full of candy, and because of her shorter stature than Gina’s, the Monster’s arms abruptly yet harmlessly passed over her head when he suddenly made a grab for her.

A little drunk and completely unaware of the attack, Brie grabbed a handful of miniature Snickers bars, then straightened and reached up to stuff them into the breast pocket of the monster’s coat. “There y’go,” she said merrily, as she amicably patted his pocket. “Happy Halloween! Now, off you go. It’s late. Bye-bye.” And before the Monster could try for another attack, she stepped back and shut the door in his face, and locked the deadbolt.

Weaving her way back toward the sofa, she said, “You’re right, darlin’; these costumes are gettin’ more realistic each year.”

***

Both crestfallen and annoyed, the monster stood on the porch a moment longer, speculating over whether or not it was worth its while to smash through the door to attack the two occupants inside. The decision was quickly taken out of his hands, however, when that mysterious, howling night creature that had sent the Wolfman limping away in terror and agony turned its attention on the gray-skinned, black-haired, red-eyed and seven-and-a-half-foot-tall lumbering monster. Snarling furiously as it launched itself from under the porch---as though it had claimed this porch as its own territory and would defend it with his last dying breath---it leapt from the ground and sank its fangs deeply into the monster’s left buttock, and would not let go. With a loud, snarling roar, the monster turned left and then right, and then back again, attempting to swat at its attacker; but each time it turned, the animal refused to let go. Tenaciously, it hung on by its teeth and swung from side to side in wide arcs, its legs flying out behind it from the nearly overwhelming centrifugal force, but never letting go. The monster took another step to one side, and then it suddenly lost its balance. With an “Oh, shit!” look of impending danger in its eyes, its arms pin wheeled uselessly in a vain attempt to regain its balance as it pitched forward, and went sliding face-down along the wooden steps, its chin thudding hollowly and painfully and its head bouncing jarringly against each wooden step. When it regained its footing, it hurriedly went lumbering off to seek safety in the woods.

Satisfied that its job was done, the howling night creature from the woods finally released its grip to let the whimpering monster escape into the darkness of the forest.

***

Completely enjoying the spirit of the holiday and the atmosphere of the night, and most of all just enjoying each other’s company on Gina’s favorite night of the year, the two women continued to watch the movie, shoulder-to-shoulder and in companionable and comfortable silence, while muted thunder rolled gently through the night sky as the rain continued to shower the roof above their heads. Occasionally, one or the other would make some quiet comment about the movie; the sets, the dialogue, the cinematography, or the acting.

“That Doctor Praetorius here again, sir,” said the maid.

“There,” Henry said. “I knew it. Send him away. I won’t see him.”

“I certainly will,” the maid said firmly.

Instead, Praetorius forced his way into the room.

“Rude li’l fuck, ain’t he?” Brie softly asked.

“The guy’s definitely not known for his good manners,” Gina replied. “If it was up to me, I’d---”

Something scratched insistently at their door.

“Jesus Christ, what’s goin’ on now?” she asked. “Howling, knocking, pounding… This is really starting to irritate me.” She paused the movie, and then rose from her seat to head for the door. And this time, Brie got up with her. Reaching for the door knob, and announcing in a loud voice, she said as she pulled it open, “This is too damned late for more trick-or-treat---”

There was nothing there. Nothing.

And then a soft whimpering made them look down. Sitting on their porch was…

“Oh, my God,” Brie said, her green eyes wide in surprise.

“Jesus!” Gina agreed, her own eyes wide with wonder.

It was a young, wet, and shivering Queensland Heeler, no more than four months old. It was just sitting there, all by itself, with no box or basket, nor any note of explanation, as one would have found had a caring but ill-equipped owner been trying to find their pet a new home and a more deserving owner.

“You poor li’l thing!” Gina said as she knelt to scoop the dog up. With her hands under its front legs so that the dog dangled face-first before her, she added, “You poor li’l girl---” She arched one eyebrow in mild surprise. “---’scuse me, li’l fella! Did somebody just leave you out here, with nothing to keep you warm? You poor baby…” Holding the dog close---and surprising Brie with this sudden show of maternal instincts---the recon-force Marine turned and headed back indoors. Close behind, Brie closed the door against a sudden gust of wind and a sheet of rain.

“Poor li’l thing’s soaked to the bone,” the doctor said. “I’ll go find a couple of towels.” She quickly headed upstairs, and returned shortly with a pair of big, fluffy royal blue bath towels, to find Gina sitting cross legged on the floor near the fireplace with the dog. The dog, however, was anything but still; it was struggling in her lap, and licking merrily at her face to elicit delighted laughter from her.

“My God, you’re a little wiggle worm, aren’t you?” she asked as Brie settled down next to them. Immediately, the dog went after Brie’s face with a warm tongue and a frantically wagging tail.

“Okay, all right!” Brie laughed as she tried only half-heartedly to fend off the dog. “I know, I know… Here, lemme help dry you off…”

Between the light from the fire and the light from the television set, they could see that the dog was mostly black. Actually, he looked almost as though he was wearing a tuxedo; his chest and front legs were mostly white, with some traces of black and tan, and his lower muzzle was mostly tan, along with the insides of his upright ears, and there was a single tan spot just above the inside corner of each eyebrow. There was also a tiny streak of white on top of his black head, and the tip of his black tail was white, almost as though someone had dipped it into a can of white paint.

“My God, you’re a handsome guy. I’ll bet you’re hungry, aren’t you, guy?” Gina asked the dog, and the dog almost seemed to understand what she was saying. “I’m sorry we don’t have any milk bones or anything…”

The dog pricked up his ears, and gazed at her.

“We got cheese and crackers,” Brie said. Then, to the dog, she said, “How’s that sound?”

The dog turned his interested gaze on her to watch her with intelligent brown eyes.

“You want some cheese and crackers?” she asked again as she began to rise. “Come on, li’l guy, let’s go get some cheese and crackers.”

The dog quickly rose to his feet and followed her into the kitchen, his nails clicking on the hardwood floor, and then began to dance in excited circles as she took out another stack of crackers.

“Okay, all right!” Brie laughed. “Calm down, calm down…”

As if the dog actually understood her, he settled down to wait patiently.

Brie smiled down at him. “Wow. Handsome, smart and polite. How come there aren’t more men like you?” she asked while she smeared a plateful of crackers with more soft, smoky cheese. Once she was done, she headed back into the living room, with the dog bouncing up and down with excitement.

“Jesus Christ,” she said with a dazzling grin, “you’re like a SAM missile; a regular Surface-to-Air Mutt, aren’t you?” She finally settled back down next to Gina, who was in the process of refilling their wine glasses.

Instead of lunging hungrily for the dish, the dog stood between the two of them, facing the TV set, and waited patiently. Brie held forth a cracker, and instead of impatiently snatching the treat from her as most dogs would do, he gingerly took the morsel from her fingers, ever mindful of his manners and careful not to nip the fingers that fed him, and then lowered his front end to the floor first, and then dropped his butt with an almost audible thud, before crunching on the cracker.

“What a sweet dog,” Gina said as she stroked his head while watching him in wonder. Then she raised her sapphire eyes to her partner. “You think we ought to keep him?”

“Sure!” Brie replied, without a moment’s hesitation, as she gently raked her nails along the dog’s back. “What are you, kidding? Look at ’im---how can you possibly think of giving him up to someone else?”

“Okay, I guess it’s settled,” Gina agreed. “We officially have a dog.”

Lying between them, the dog looked up, as if to say, “You mind if I have one more of those crackers?”

Gina smiled as she gazed affectionately at the dog, and gave him another cracker.

Brie watched her. “What are you smilin’ about?” she asked.

“Surface-to-air mutt,” she said fondly. “That’s how you described him. I guess that settles what his name ought to be.”

“What’s that?”

Gina looked at her, and smiled. “Sam.”

Brie grinned back at her with green eyes that had suddenly gone a little misty. “Perfect name,” she said softly. “Perfect.”

The dog turned his attention from one woman to the other, and he thumped his tail against the floor in agreement.

Gina turned to him. “So what do you say, Sam?” she softly asked. “You like horror movies? This one’s a classic…”

“Did you know,” Brie quietly told the dog, “that it took something like seven hours to put all that makeup on Boris Karloff?”

And damned if it didn’t seem like Sam was actually listening to them and understanding them as he held a cracker between his front paws and munched.

“In my own humble little opinion,” Gina told Sam, “I think they should have quit making Frankenstein movies after the third one. Karloff’s interpretation of the monster was the best; he made him seem more human.”

“Yet still a deranged killer,” Brie added.

“Just a poor, misunderstood creature…”

Thunder rumbled once more across the black night sky, and the rain continued to pelt the house; but inside all was warm and safe and secure as the family of three settled in to enjoy this Halloween night, and to watch the rest of the movie.

The End

 

In Loving Memory

Sam Whiting

Spring Equinox, 1999---2 October, 2008

Four-footed companion, brave and loyal friend,

My good boy forever.

I miss you, pal.

 

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