Halloween has always been a time of year that draws out the inner storyteller in all of us. As the shadows grow longer and the chill in the air crispens, we open ourselves up to the mystery of the world, the things we struggle to explain.
At its core, Halloween is pure escapism, an opportunity to step outside the rigid confines of our day-to-day selves to inhabit someone—or something—else. It gives us license to explore the darker sides of ourselves we otherwise are reluctant to indulge. And it's through stories, told around the glow of the flashlight or the crackle of a campfire, that we connect to the things that delight, fright and tantalize us the most.
For years now, Pique has shared some of these stories from a host of Sea to Sky writers. This year's triumvirate of spooky tales range from an idyllic getaway gone wrong, a cook's own personal kitchen nightmare, and an indifferent cat whose disdain for the family's newest member underscores a darker purpose.
Happy Halloween from everyone at Pique Newsmagazine!
- Brandon Barrett
By Dan Falloon
I usually sleep just fine.
In fact, my wife Patricia is envious of how easily I can drift off. I usually try to fight off slumber in order to give her a head start. With the way I snore, if I'm out first, it's game over for her.
But tonight is different for some reason.
The odd, one-off bout of insomnia isn't unheard of—sometimes I'll try to catch an early night's rest after sleeping until well past noon, or maybe I'll lie there rueing that 4 p.m. espresso, but tonight, I can't pinpoint the reason why my eyelids feel like they must spring open, why my mind won't start its shutdown process when I command it to.
Sure, we aren't in our own bed tonight, but that's never been a problem before. And it's not like it was an internal-clock-shattering travel day either, as we're just an hour down the road from home for this weekend getaway.
Frustrated, I kick at the sheets, not sure if being too warm is my issue, but, hey, it was worth a shot. Once the covers are off, I once again flip the pillow and let the coolness of the fresh side seep into my flesh. It helps, if only momentarily, as the cushion soon seems to heat right back up.
Blech, I sigh, and grab my phone and flip on flashlight mode to scuffle through my luggage and try to find the hardcover that's been on my nightstand for the last year and a half and yet has only 28 pages read.
As I tiptoe over to my bag, I hear something outside. It sounds like two women having a fairly casual conversation. I click my phone to check the time: 2:47 a.m.
I listen again. It sounds like two old friends having a chat: no hushed tones acknowledging they are walking between two houses in a residential community, nor any drunken boisterousness that suggests the two are oblivious to the world.
But who could it be? The homeowners, the Ingebretsens, had promised us a quiet, secluded getaway, and it certainly was. We are a kilometre or more from the highway, the town doesn't have so much as a convenience store, let alone a bar, and it's a weeknight. Who would even be up?
The Ingebretsens in the upstairs unit are an elderly couple, so even if they were inexplicably wandering around at this hour, the voices don't sound like them.
Enough thinking, I reckon. I crack open the door, wait a beat to hear the voices reduce to a slight, distant murmur, then call out a wavering 'Hello?' Hearing no response, I walk out the door. With the iPhone flashlight still activated, I huff and puff up the steeply inclined driveway, trying to determine the source of the voices.
I wave the device to and fro, but see nothing.
As I reach the top of the driveway and the street above, there is no evidence of anything: no voices any longer, no rustling in the bushes or clatter of footsteps on the pavement, and as I look down into a light dusting of snow, no footprints other than my own bare imprints. My unadorned feet start to tingle in the wet chill, so I head back inside, still unsure of what I'd heard and, well, not seen.
Whatever bodies the voices belonged to must have come up our driveway, right? They couldn't have been from further away.
I'd never been one to believe ghosts were real, but I'd also taken an approach of not denying anything unless I know for sure. If it was a couple of ghosts, they didn't seem to wish anyone ill will, it didn't seem.
With that in the back of my mind helping to calm my somewhat jangled nerves, I go back inside and opt to put on the kettle to make a cup of peppermint tea.
While waiting for the water to boil, I flip though some of the books the Ingebretsens bestowed upon the guest suite. There are some drugstore paperbacks, a worn copy of the Bible, and most interestingly, a short history of the townsite.
I leaf through it, finding mostly information about its mining history, which, I'll admit, wasn't my cup of tea.
Oh, right, my peppermint!
I place the book down as the kettle whines.
Returning to the couch, I grasp the book from the table, looking for where my skimming had left off.
My eyes search for something familiar about ... copper? Smelting? Nothing.
But something on a random page catches my eye: there'd been an early-morning rockslide during the community's heyday, trapping men, women and children in their homes.
The date jumps out at me: Nov. 21. That was around this time of year. Actually, today is Nov. 21! And the year? 1934. Exactly 85 years ago.
I slam the book shut and wait for dawn to break.
Hours later, Patricia awakes and I relay the night's events to her. She doesn't flat-out write me off, especially since me being up all night was unheard of, but it would take a lot more convincing that there wasn't some more plausible, reasonable explanation.
We check out of the room, pack the car and start to make our way back home. Meandering down the twisty, turny road, we don't get far.
I see flashing lights ahead and a short lineup of other vehicles. I put the car in park, get out and go to investigate. Behind police tape are two boulders in the middle of each lane, blocking the road just so that I couldn't help but feel that their placement was absolutely no accident.
Dan Falloon is Pique's sports editor, and is open to the concept of spirits roaming the Earth alongside us. But maybe he just watches too many scary movies now.
By Sara Marrocco
I slip into my black Crocs and remind myself, just like I do at the start of every shift, that I should probably clean them. The raw egg that slipped from its shell last week (last month?) has crusted over the left toe mound and attracted stray oregano flakes and airborne flour. Filthy. 'Tomorrow,' I promise myself, as committed to the statement as I was yesterday.
I switch on the lights in fear of what state I'm going to find the kitchen in today. The flickering, fluorescent bulbs offer me quick glimpses of the mayhem until climaxing with a giant "ta-da!" and a crash of a symbol that I think only I hear but I'm not a hundred-per-cent sure.
The stainless-steel countertops are textured with last night's prep: crumbs and a mystery paste that seems to have splattered then dried over what's soon to be my creative space. A tray of raw beef brisket sits on the rolling rack still waiting to go into the oven (that was left on)—but at least the swarm of flies are paying it some attention. There's a general smell of burnt and the floors resemble an early Pollock. The walk-in fridge is full of mismatched, unlabelled containers that could be from last night or last year and the dish pit is cluttered with stained aluminum and porcelain so caked with food remnants that they rival the crustiness of my mood. No easy feat.
With a dramatic sigh, I fill up a bucket with hot, soapy water, treat myself to a new, green scrubby (why not? I deserve this) and get to work on the countertops. In the midst of an unsavoury set of thoughts that may or may not involve burning this place to the ground, I notice a bunch of fruit flies have convened over an almost empty pint glass of beer, celebrating in the laziness of the Sous Chef and the subsequent cursoriness of the Dishwasher. I consider waving my hand to break up the flies' party but they seem to be having a good time and I figure that at least one of us should be, so I leave them be. They've probably got plans to hit up the box of brown bananas after this anyway.
With my countertops beaming in the glow of my high standards, I then tackle the dishes. Several grey buckets sprawl the area full of crockery the servers left to "soak" and there's another fruit fly get-together at the drain cover. With another sigh, I pull on a crumpled pair of orange gloves that are still wet inside. Something squishy is stuck to the end of my middle finger. A Band-Aid? I don't want to know. While I wait for hot water, I steal a glance outside, but I notice that there aren't any windows today. Huh. Perhaps that's my punishment for not recording the fridge temperatures.
My options for water temperature today are 'Arctic Cold' or 'Direct From the Depths of Hell' no matter how delicately I tweak the taps. I'll take 'Direct from the Depths of Hell,' please Alex. It seems the appropriate choice given my current location. The dish soap bottle is empty. so I'm forced to scrub extra hard. Crouched over the sink and standing in a dark grey puddle of what I think is either mussel juice or pork brine (or both!), I wash away the dregs of diners' devourment, brow furrowed at the repetitive and somewhat satisfactory thought that this isn't in my job description. But then again, none of this is. This isn't my job. This is my sentence.
Shaking that thought as well as my hands at the completion of the dishes, I scuff my way to the dry storage room to collect the same set of bland, predictable ingredients. I check the rattraps in the corners of the room while I'm there. Preparing for a cringe and a wave of guilt I find that they're still set, but the cheese has gone. Impressive, I think, nodding my head. That was some good cheese too. The Chef special-ordered some Manchego for a catering charcuterie board this weekend. He pre-portioned it so I couldn't try a piece, but insisted that the rats would prefer this one over the rubbery sliced Swiss we use for sandwiches. He was right, I guess.
Tasteless, unpalatable dairy products remind me that I should probably start prepping some food for this god-forsaken place. I need to dice onions today. I stare at the giant mesh bag of tearjerkers under the counter and prepare myself for the worst. I'd use the Robot Coupe but the latch on the lid snapped off yesterday (or whenever it was), so I grab a knife and a chopping board and begin. The knife is blunt, so I grab another. That one is also blunt. I look for a sharpener. There is no sharpener. My eye starts to twitch and I haven't even started chopping yet. Resigned, I start hacking away at the bulbous bastards, one after the other until I'm a blubbering mess, an inhale away from a sob. Hack after hack after hack, I make my way through the bag until I myself begin to feel like an onion. Finally, I get to the last one. And done. I try not to feel any sense of satisfaction. I know what's coming.
I steal a glance at the clock, merely out of habit because I know that time doesn't really exist here. Why is there even a clock? It doesn't have hands. The white face stares back at me perplexed. 'I don't know. I'm just a clock,' it replies. Or does it? I don't know what's real anymore. Deep, calm breaths will help me now, so I close my eyes and begin, but on my first breath, I take in a poor fruit fly that sticks to the back of my dry throat, leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. Yep.
I splutter my way to the sink for a glass of water and smugly decide to add ice and a wedge of lemon today because I've earned it. When a stray ice cube falls from the scoop to the floor with a crack, I slyly kick it under the ice machine. Without a second to waste, another 10 or so ice cubes appear at my feet. I can't get away with anything here. I pick them all up and throw them in the sink a little too aggressively, if that's a thing.
Sandwich time. Like a tired machine, I stack the same ingredients a hundred times over. Bread, ham. cheese, tomato, bread. Bread, ham, cheese, tomato, bread. Not even a condiment. Bread, ham, cheese, tomato, bread. I do this until my hand cramps from slicing tomatoes. The sandwiches pile up, higher and higher until I can't see over them anymore. Towers of toasties surround me. I can't stop and it won't stop. It's relentless and it takes over me like a mouthful of wasabi. Bread, ham, cheese, tomato, bread. They creep higher and higher, multiplying until the ham and cheese packages fill every spare inch of the room; behind forgotten appliances, between the crevasses of unalphabetized spices, under freezer handles, impaled on the check spindle, inside half-empty plastic totes. Now, they are at my neck and rising to my widened eyes, my voice soon muffled by the padding of stale sourdough. I am suspended in a sea of sandwiches that cover my entire face. It becomes dark and I can't see. I can't breathe. The world spins.
Suddenly, I'm staring down at my dirty shoes. The fluorescents are off. A fly buzzes past my right ear and lands somewhere on me. I can smell warm, rotten fish and something pickled that perhaps isn't supposed to be. There's an inconsistent dripping of tap water into what I'm guessing is a collection of soiled pans. Even in the dark, I spot the outline of a giant mesh bag under the counter barely containing the onions that fill it. I slide into my Crocs which now have tomato seeds planted all over them ('Tomorrow') and make my way over in fear of what I'm going to find today but knowing deep down that it's not going to be pleasant. I sigh. Just another day in paradise.
Sara Marrocco is a Squamish-based actor, writer and cook who enjoys acting, writing and cooking and referring to herself in the third person. Her adaptation of C.S. Lewis' The Lion, Witch and The Wardrobe premieres at the Eagle Eye Theatre next month.
What the cat coughed up
By Katherine Fawcett
So, my sweet, shall I tell you again? The story of when you were wee? The story of how you came to be here? Yes? Alright then, my kitty, fold back your ears and enjoy. Don't purr too loud or you'll miss the best parts.
Back when you were just a scruffy little fluff-ball, black as night and soft as smoke, someone put you in a shoebox and left you on the doorstep of the animal shelter.
The volunteer who discovered you opened the lid of the box, and there you were. The prettiest darn kitty-cat she'd ever seen. She snapped a photo of you for the shelter's website. The adoption applications poured in.
A young couple—let's call them the Smiths—fit all the required criteria. They were overjoyed at being selected as your new family.
The volunteer warned Mr. and Mrs. Smith of the dangers of coyotes and anti-freeze and cheap, grocery-store cat food. You were so cute, she was sad to see you leave the animal shelter parking lot in the Smiths' hybrid car. But she had a job to do, and she took her responsibilities seriously. (You did notice, my clever puss-puss, when she slipped the application fee into her jean-jacket pocket, you smart creature. I tell you: it took a mere 10 minutes for her to lose it all on the slots at Chances Casino that night.)
At your new home, there was a cat door for easy access to the front garden, a cat tower made of wood and carpet, a fuzzy ball with a tinkly bell inside and a miniature fishing rod with a dyed-yellow feather on the end, which Mr. and Mrs. Smith would tease you with. You made your new owners laugh and laugh. "What a sweet little firecracker you are!" they said. "Who ever said a black cat was bad luck?"
You let them pat you and nuzzle their faces into your soft fur. They poured you cream and watched you lick it up. You kneaded their thighs and found comfort upon their laps. The arrangement suited you just fine.
Then Mrs. Smith's belly grew large.
Mr. Smith would lay his head against it like it was some velvet cushion. He'd stroke the veiny orb and smile like he'd caught a mouse. They no longer dangled the yellow feather from the fishing rod for you. They no longer nuzzled you. Your mustard-yellow eyes narrowed and your whiskers twitched when Mrs. Smith lifted her shirt and gazed at her moon-shaped figure in the full-length mirror. You suspected there was a separate living thing within that huge, grotesque belly.
And since you are a cat, the wisest of creatures, you were correct.
Soon there appeared a small, hairless thing in your home.
The Smiths became obsessed with this shrill and sticky flesh-ball. They rarely let it out of their sight. They held it against their chest and shoulders and tapped its back until it belched or vomited. They collected its feces in soft white cloths. They acted as though the thing was the Prince of Persia.
Now, when you wound yourself around their legs in a sultry figure eight, they booted you across the hardwood floor. When you settled upon their laps, you were tossed aside like a snotty wet-wipe. They nailed plywood over the cat door and called it baby-proofing. They put the cat tower on the back deck to make room for a new changing table.
You were in the crib when the child stopped breathing.
It was only a minute or two, really. The thing was barely even blue when Mr. and Mrs. Smith came into the room, became instantly hysterical, and flung you out by the tail. You lay in the hallway, half-dazed and humiliated. The paramedics practically trampled you on their way to the nursery.
Everyone blew it all out of proportion. The next day you were thrown into the Prius and driven back to the animal shelter. They told the volunteer that you were wicked; that you had tried to kill their precious child. They accused you of trying to suffocate it. Of drawing its breath away. Of putting a curse on it.
The volunteer was skeptical. She knew what new parents were like.
She chewed the end of her pencil and told them it was way, way, way more difficult to re-home an older cat.
I know, I know! Older! You hadn't even had your first birthday. People have a warped sense of the aging process these days. But let's not interrupt.
"Well, do what you gotta do," said Mr. Smith.
The volunteer told them there was a Return Fee.
"No problemo," said Mrs. Smith, and whipped out her debit card.
"Oh. Sorry," said the volunteer. "Our machine thingy's broken. Do you have cash?"
Mr. Smith held the baby while Mrs. Smith dug through her purse. The volunteer started preparing the Return of Animal paperwork.
Even if they had put in more of an effort, it's doubtful anyone could have caught you when you bolted. Like a demon on a day pass, you darted across the mini-mall parking lot, along the boulevard, over a six-lane bridge and through the adjacent neighbourhood. You ran through playgrounds, backyards, a cemetery and a mini-golf course until you were outside the city limits on a pathway that led into the dark woods.
The sky became black with storm clouds. Rain fell in thick waves. But did that stop you?
It slowed you down somewhat, but you were a trooper. Your tail dragged through mud and puddles. Your whiskers, wilted and sad, stopped functioning properly and you kept bonking into rocks and tree stumps. Your soaked black fur stuck to your pale skin. You looked like a goth girl who'd fallen out of a canoe.
Finally, you came to a clearing. Through wet mustard-yellow eyes, you saw the cabin. When you leapt into my arms, you nearly knocked me over. You were so much bigger than the last time I'd seen you!
I set aside the crystal ball through which I'd been watching your journey. I dried your fur with a tea towel and wiped the muck from your paw-pads.
But you were not well. You coughed and sputtered. It sounded grave. Others would have blamed the cold wind and rain, but I knew better. You'd fulfilled your purpose, so I gave you a potion that would make you expel the tender inner linings of your lungs.
Others would say you spat up a hairball, but again, I knew better. I picked the inner linings of your lungs off the floor so carefully. They were delicate, like silver doilies, and they contained the molecules of genuine fear and terror that I'd been hoping to acquire for many, many years.
I lay them flat on a cookie sheet and dried them at a controlled temperature in the oven overnight. The next day I crumbled your discarded lung linings between my palms until they formed a coarse dust. There was enough of this powder to fill a medium-sized jam jar, which I labelled "Nightmares of a Human Infant."
Others would say that infants can't have nightmares, for they have yet to experience evil in their short, innocent lives. But I know better. And so did you. Undefined evil, unlabelled fear, unnamed terror is the wickedest kind. And the most potent.
I am so grateful to you for bringing me these nightmares. These gems.
So difficult to obtain! And such essential ingredients for creating elixirs, potions, and poisons. You did a wonderful job, my precious cat.
Now. Come onto my lap. Knead my old thighs as you wish.
And always remember my promise: no more shoeboxes for you.
Katherine Fawcett is a Squamish-based writer. Her first book, The Little Washer of Sorrows (Thistledown, 2015), was recently translated into French. Her new short story collection, The Swan Suit (Douglas & McIntyre, 2020), will be released this spring.