A Bloody Night

Wallpaper can hide an entire wall of unpleasant surprises. Strip off ten layers of the stuff and find the blood spatters that paint didn’t effectively cover. A little research at Town Hall reveals the details of the unsolved murder that took place there in 1910. Unfortunately, the culprit never got caught, and the wallpaper was a cheap way of ignoring what had happened.

Somehow the stains leaked through multiple layers. Someone painted thick white primer over the wall at some point to block the “bleed through, ” but the next tenant just went back to the wallpaper. It was like the blood was refreshed year after year.

My friend had purchased the house as a teardown. But his wife had convinced him to renovate instead when construction prices hit the roof during the pandemic. So that’s how we came to peel the wallpaper and find the blood stains. They were still vivid after all those years. So we calculated how much blood had to be soaked in for that effect and decided that it must have an entire blood bank full.
My friend’s wife, Susan, was furious at us. We had been so fixated on the wall that we ignored the layers of bloody linoleum on the floor. So we pulled up layer after layer of stained linoleum to find blood-stained boards beneath. This provoked another trip to the records at Town Hall. There we found the report of the Medical Examiner. The body was exsanguinated, but the only wound was a laceration on the right throat. The cut was clean, with no staining around it. It appeared surgical in its precision.

Susan suggested using the house as a haunted house for the upcoming Halloween. Jase and I were creeped out at the idea, but money had its say. Gutting the house would be expensive. And here was the ideal way of recouping the cost of demolition and construction.
As an anthropologist and history buff, my part was further research, duplicating public domain materials for use in creating a tellable tale, and convincing local media that this was worth covering. I dug in and found lots for Susan and Jase to use. There had been a husband; he had never been found. And while he was the principal suspect, no murder weapon had ever been located. In fact, no one knew what sort of implement could have created the mayhem found the next day.
Even before the murder, the location had a reputation as being haunted. It was located on a plot of land known locally as Tophet, a place which in the Bible was associated with the sacrifice of children to Moloch, probably as a burnt offering. In addition, the early Puritan settlers in the area used the name to describe the wasteland they associated with infernal activities.

A little further research in the local history room of the town library indicated that Sarah Joyner, daughter of Ethel, had never been found. Concocting a ripe tale out of these bits and pieces was the work of a leisurely evening over dinner at a local inn that dated back almost as far as the town’s age. Sitting in the low raftered dining room by the fire seemed to encourage us to piece together the story of sacrifice to Moloch, the burnt offerings of a child, and a father so riven with guilt that he disappeared into the swamp only to return on Halloween. His fee for eternal life was his wife’s blood price and his daughter’s burnt offering. I took notes as Susan and Jase offered details created or culled from the old newspaper articles.

The house needed very little prepping. It had been vacant for years before Jase and Susan purchased it. The demo on the murder site offered a grim enough reality of the events of 1910. Susan would provide the commentary on the guided tour ending in the room beside the old kitchen where all the blood stains were. Jase was in charge of taking entry fees. I was to be moving lanterns about in the swamp to imitate ghost lights; I also had a tape recorder of creepy sounds. The local newspaper reprinted its 1910 coverage and sent a reporter to cover Halloween at the house. Local access television had a crew there to video the happenings.

At first, everything went according to plan. I moved about the swamp making noises and waving lanterns. Jase seemed very happy with receipts, and Susan dressed like Ethel Joyner told the tale of her husband’s betrayal of wife and child.

The town had issued a temporary business permit allowing the attraction to operate until 10 PM. But It was so well attended that Jase could not miss a good thing and kept admitting people until just before midnight.

I grew tired around eleven and went to the inn for some refreshments.
I returned at midnight and was in time to see the house light up with a brilliant white glow. This was followed by a rush of visitors running in every direction away from the house. Then, a sudden flash followed by darkness so complete that I was blinded.
Clearing my eyes, I ran into the building. I saw that the walls were just fragments of lath and bloody plaster. In the back of the bloody wall was a statue of a bull-headed creature. There was a large basin in its lap. What looked like burnt human bones poked from the pot, like grim appendages. A fire was beginning to run up the beams to the ceiling, and I hurried to help Susan and Jase from the developing inferno. Within a minute, the gas line blew, and the house was a jet of flames lighting up all of Tophet and the surrounding town.

Jase and Susan lost the property and much else from the lawsuits. Unfortunately, they left town, and I only hear from them at Christmas.

The town eventually took the property for back taxes. After that, the site sat abandoned because Tophet was now a protected wetland. But finally, someone came up with a plan to build right on the roadside where the old house had been. I was the only one who spoke against the project at the Zoning Board appeal. Just a crazy old coot with a long greasy beard muttering about Moloch, human sacrifice, and how the early settlers had been right – Tophet was an unholy ground. They laughed, and I felt humiliated.

The new house went up, and there were rumors of vandalism even before they finished it. Blood or paint being splashed over everything seemed to happen every Halloween. The police never caught anyone.
An investigation showed that it wasn’t paint; it was blood. So then the paper sent someone around to interview me, but they never printed the article. They didn’t want locals to think they were one of those tabloid papers you read on the supermarket’s checkout line.

Meanwhile, I know that Ethel and Sarah Joyner die again and again in a blood sacrifice every Halloween. So my only question is, where is all that blood coming from?

What Jerry Did

Halloween week can be an iffy time of the year to be on the road. Sometimes it’s like late summer, and others its almost full-on winter. I never particularly liked hitching during this holiday week. Too many cruel people hide among merrymakers dressed as ghosts, goblins, and political figures.
This particular year I was strongly motivated by the economic need to be in a different state to make money at a new job. It was my bad luck to be stuck on the road on Halloween. It’s trite to say that it was dark, windy, and damp, with the clouds scudding rapidly like clippers before a storm. But it was. A low bank of fog was forming, and visibility on the road was becoming non-existent. I needed to get off the highway and into shelter soon.
I stumbled through the woods adjacent to the highway until I found myself in a clearing. The sort of clearing it was wasn’t apparent until I collided with a half toppled tombstone. Finding the aisle between the graves, I proceeded to walk through the graveyard until I came upon a massive and ornate crypt. I walked up onto the covered portico looking for shelter. There was not much. Looking at the ornate ironwork gate and the door behind it, I noticed that the locks had been broken. This was not my idea of a great refuge from the weather, but I wasn’t about to go too much farther without any alternative shelter.
As I entered, I noted the small podium with an open ledger book on it. To the right was a carved stone bench, and on the opposite wall was a weeping angel with her face covered. Creepy; it reminded me of the Weeping Angels in Doctor Who. I didn’t think I would do much sleeping tonight. Behind me were a double row of unused stone benches that I assumed were meant for the crypt’s owners’ coffins—never used. I shut off my flashlight and reclined on the stone bench opposite the angel – “I’m keeping my eyes on you, sweetheart.”
I guess that I did sleep for a while. On waking, I nervously checked the angel -” glad you behaved darling.” from outside came the sounds of teens taunting a member of their group. ” come on, you said you’d go in. All you do is lie down on where the coffins go, and stay there till midnight. I’ve done it lots of times!” ” but Jerry, it’s a tomb. I don’t want to!” ” look, Sal, I’ll show you how to do it, then you do it. OK?”
Jerry and his friends surrounded Sal, who looked like someone’s younger sister about to be victimized by her older brother and his friends. They were nervously capering around, seeming to be caught between anticipation of a good joke and outright fright.
Jerry strode up the steps to the entrance and eased open the gate with a big grin on his face. Seeing my chance to turn the tables on a bully, I pulled up my hood and grabbed my flashlight. As Jerry stepped inside, I lit the flashlight directly below my chin, placed a hand on his shoulder, and in my worst Boris Karloff voice, said: “Jerry, we have been expecting your arrival…welcome!” Jerry screamed, ran out, fell flat on his face at the end of the stairs, got up, and ran away. The entire gang joined him, running away in panic. I stood in darkness on the steps, hood drawn up, and light under my chin.
I gathered up my pack and guitar and headed downhill towards the highway. I’d had enough Halloween for this year.

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