And One Happy Halloween
by Beatrice Ogeh
Runestone, volume 8
Runestone, volume 8
And One Happy Halloween
by Beatrice Ogeh
Twenty-two minutes into our horror movie marathon, I go, “Does it hurt?”
I’m not sure why I ask. Now, instead of looking at the television, where original iteration Michael Myers is skulking after a teenage Jamie Lee Curtis, Andy’s looking at me. His eyes are far too blue, and they clutch at me, raising goose pimples under the sleeves of my skeleton onesie.
He says he’s okay. Everything out of his mouth sounds like a dry quip. “Could be worse,” he allows. “They gave me oxycodone for after the surgery, but I try not to take it too often. Don’t wanna get hooked.”
“Right,” I say. When Andy turns his gray head back to the movie, I deflate into the chill of his sofa. My nostrils swallow a silent breath before I add, “A few years ago, I had to go to the emergency room ‘cause my appendix burst, and they put me on morphine. It kinda messed me up for a while.”
In my lap, my fingers are galloping in place. I crunch them into fists, smooth them over the fading femur bones screen-printed on my thighs.
“Yeah?” Andy asks. He’s looking at me again. I only know this because his sharp profile has melted in my periphery. I’m itching to retrieve the beer I placed on his smudgeless coffee table, to drink myself up to a mild buzz that lets me forget my body, but his stare pins me in my seat.
This was a dumb idea, and of course, I’m the one who suggested it. Last Thursday, I went to Andy’s door with a strip steak wrapped in foil (from Morton’s, but I took the credit), a thank-you for picking my lock the night I lost my keys. At some point, while we were hovering in his doorway, it emerged that neither of us had left the building in the past two months — me, because I work from home; him, because he’s in recovery from having been creamed by a Honda Odyssey during a routine jog around the neighborhood — and I foolishly proposed we keep each other company.
I can’t remember the last time I was around somebody else’s things, let alone things this nice. Andy and I live on the same floor of the same apartment complex, just a couple doors apart, but I feel as if I’ve entered an alternate dimension, one of stainless steel and sleek furniture and sophisticated if not cold minimalism. Aside from the lamp in the corner, the spectral glow of the flat screen is the only light in the room. I’m unreasonably grateful for the darkness.
The plinking Halloween theme plucks me from my thoughts, back to Andy, whose slate eyebrows are hoisted expectantly.
I realize I haven’t answered him.
“Yeah,” I say, ears and neck fever-warm. At the concern that clouds Andy’s face, I amend myself. “I mean, I’m fine now, just — it was a bad time.”
He nods slowly, carefully, like I’m a feral cat he doesn’t want to spook. As we watch Jamie Lee Curtis talk on a rotary phone with her promiscuous friend Annie (who I recall as being the first to be knifed by Myers), Andy, almost too quietly to be heard, goes, “Note to self: flush remaining drugs down toilet.”
Without my permission, I snort. And it’s not a cute snort. This snort is resounding and impressively porcine. My hand slaps over my mouth not a second after, but it’s too late. Andy is already sniggering at me, his slim shoulders shuddering.
“You did not hear that,” I manage through laughter.
“I most certainly did!” Andy counters, eyes alight. He’s so pleased about it, about having caught me looking (or, more accurately, sounding) silly. His face is stuck in this god-awful smirk that I should probably feel humbled by, being its target, but it only thrills me, makes my stomach knot in that grimly satisfying way, the same way it does right before the big drop on a roller coaster.
“Well, that’s too bad,” I say. “‘Cause if you heard me make that noise, I have to kill you, Michael-Myers-style. Show me to your chef’s knives, please.” My heartbeat thuds at my own conversational audacity.
Andy chuckles, a dopey, low-pitched thing that makes him sound tipsy even though he’s dead sober. The air in the room is less sharp now. On the couch, my limbs are gelatinous; I’m drunk on successful human interaction. Halloween is still playing, but it’s slipped into the background, beyond the realm of my comprehension. I squint at the TV, trying to make sense of the shapes. Maybe Andy notices because, at once, he scoops up the remote from the cleavage of the couch and pokes one of the buttons. The TV screen freezes on a bright frame that sends his pallor to deathly proportions.
He claps his hands together and points them in my direction. “Worst injury you’ve ever had. Go.”
“Oh.” I flounder for a moment. “Uh, fractured my ankle when I was in high school. I went bouldering with these girls I worked with”—
Andy cuts me off with a groan. “What in the millennial nonsense is bouldering?”
“Basically, some asshole decided rock-climbing wasn’t dangerous enough,” I say, rolling my eyes in agreement. “Anyway, I only went because I wanted my coworkers to like me, but they ended up being bitches, and I ended up with a bunch of screws in my leg.”
Andy shakes his head in commiseration, or mock commiseration, judging by the squirm of his lips. I want him to keep talking, for us to keep talking, so I turn the question back on him. “What about you? Your worst injury.”
“Shockingly,” Andy says, dry as a bone, “it doesn’t get much worse than getting your insides rearranged by a speeding minivan.” One of his hands curls around his side, and it takes me a second to work out that he’s got stitches (or perhaps, at this point, just an angry scar) under there.
Idiot. “Right. No, duh. Sorry,” I stammer, then lunge for my beer. I down it even though it tastes like old piss, swiping at my chin when a bit dribbles over my lip.
To his credit, Andy looks little more than mildly amused. “No harm done,” he says. “Now, come on, ask me something else. Do your worst.” He crooks his fingers toward himself as if to say bring it on.
“Okay, how about…best Halloween costume? I mean, besides this year’s, ‘cause clearly you went all out,” I say, gesturing at Andy’s plain gray t-shirt.
Andy barks a brief, monosyllabic laugh. “Screw you, it’s not even actually Halloween yet. I don’t have to start thinking about a costume for another” — he stops, fishes his cell phone out of his pants to check the time — “fifteen minutes. You’re the one acting like an absolute madman, dressing up a whole day early.”
“What can I say? I love Halloween,” I shrug, pinching the shoulders of my unfashionably oversized footie pajamas. The Savers downtown sold them to me for seven bucks, an over-fair appraisal considering the thin cotton was already nubby and pilling in little black dots. Still, I stand by the purchase; it’s another piece for the collection. So far, I’ve amassed nine sheet-ghost figurines, three ouija board planchettes, eight animal skulls, five dead women’s diaries, twenty-seven newspaper obituaries—
And one skeleton onesie.
“Maybe I’m overcompensating,” I concede. “My parents didn’t let me go trick-or-treating as a kid.”
I shake my head. “Immigrants. They were always overprotective. God, they had a fucking field day when they found out some freak was putting razor blades in lollipops.”
“That’s sweet,” Andy says. He suddenly sounds sleepy. “My parents never gave a shit where I was, long I was out of their sight. And to answer your question, Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe was and will remain my greatest Halloween costume of all time. I got to bring a sword to school and everything.” Then, to the empty can in my hand: “You want another beer?”
“Why not?” I ask, and I have to restrain myself from getting up. Earlier, Andy told me that his physical therapist insisted he try to do everything by himself, that the harder he works, the sooner he’ll be able to walk without a cane. I used to catch Andy in the hall sometimes, when leaving to grab the mail or returning from bumming around CVS, and he’d be pacing, white-knuckling the handle of his cane like a nervous driver grips a steering wheel.
He doesn’t lean on it as heavily now. In fact, there’s something quite dignified about his gait, easy and unhurried as if he’s got nowhere to be, no one to impress. I suppose he doesn’t. As soon as Andy disappears into the kitchen, I fan at my underarms. The A/C’s done nothing to subdue my overachieving sweat glands. Just then, the kitchen light flicks on, spilling a fluorescent patch into the living room.
“Shit, I think I just found my costume,” Andy calls out, laughing to himself.
“Oh, yeah?” I pad into the kitchen to find him wielding a box of Grape-Nuts in one hand and a meat cleaver in the other.
“Get it?” he asks. He waits a few seconds for me to catch up, but I never do. “I’m a cereal killer!” he exclaims, stabbing the air around the cereal box with the cleaver.
It’s the granddaddy of dad jokes, but my lips fight a grin anyway. “God, the trick-or-treaters are gonna love you. I’d maybe go with a butter knife, though.”
“Good note.” Andy sets down his props to open the refrigerator. He stoops to grab a PBR from the bottom shelf, and the back of his t-shirt yanks up to uncover a pale scrap of skin. Without knowing why, I drop my gaze to the floor.
Miraculously, my hands catch the beer when Andy tosses it to me. “Thanks,” I say. I pull back the metal tab. It feels a little strange, drinking in front of someone who can’t, but Andy assured me that the very real threat of his death following alcohol consumption makes the activity somewhat unappealing. So I sip while he stands in the crook of his kitchen counter, watching me with an inscrutable expression on his face. Feeling bold, I watch him right back.
He looks different in the light. Skinnier. Older. His drawstring pants hang off of him in the desperate manner they would a testosterone-lean teenager, but he’s given away by the lines that branch from the corners of his eyes, the dark-and-gray swirl of his thinning hair. I wonder if he looked like this before, or if this is just one of the infinitely many ways in which his life has changed since the accident. I don’t ask because I don’t know how.
“It’s your turn,” I say instead. Andy’s brow furrows, and I clarify. “Uh, to ask a question.”
“Oh, right.” He hums in thought. Then, an impish smile stretches across his face, throwing his sharp features into stark relief. “Okay, I got a good one,” he says, and he pauses for dramatic effect: “Have you ever seen a ghost?”
In my head, the question echoes. “No,” I rasp, all of a sudden choking. “I thought I would — when my mom died? But nothing. And then my dad passed away a couple years later, and I was sure something would happen. Everyone kept telling me that they’d come to me in a dream, or that one day the phone would ring and I’d pick it up and they’d be on the other end. But nothing ever happened.” The laugh I force sounds more like a squawk. “I don’t know, maybe I want it too much.”
I can’t keep the judder out of my voice. Or my hands, for that matter; I place my trembling beer on the chunk of counter closest to me. When I look up, Andy’s making the face I always hope I’m making when someone tells me something horrible. It’s overwhelming to be on the receiving end, makes it hard to breathe. Then I realize I’m holding my breath.
“Jesus,” Andy whispers. “I’m so sorry.”
“No, I’m sorry,” I say. I try for a grin that must look manic, adding, “Way too serious for a first date. I don’t think you’re supposed to broach dark subjects ‘til, like, date three.”
Andy smiles sadly. “I think that’s sex.”
“Maybe it’s both.”
Andy nods. He opens his mouth to say something, but there’s a beat, a moment he seems to demur before finding the confidence. “Hey, can I ask you something?”
“Pretty sure it’s my turn to ask a question,” I joke, “But yeah, go for it.”
“What brought you here tonight?” Andy asks, and this time, his Sterno-hot stare doesn’t scare me. “Because I’ve got a sneaking suspicion you don’t do this with all the neighbors.” His voice is soft but firm, like he doesn’t want to pressure me but wants to, needs to know the answer. Unfortunately, I can’t help him because—
“I don’t know,” I reply, quiet as the whir of the Frigidaire. “I just…had a feeling we’d get along.”
I really don’t know what it is that drew me to him. Maybe it was that he actually stopped to help that night I lost my keys, while everyone else pretended not to see the sniffling lump that had taken up residence in their hallway. Maybe it was how serious he always looked, prowling our floor with his shoulders hunched, the telltale posture of an unrepentant pessimist. Maybe it was the simple fact that, despite his wearing a wedding ring, I’d never seen him with another person in my two months of living here.
“I guess I needed a friend,” I say. With a smile, I continue, “Plus, I really couldn’t do another solo horror marathon. It’s so much more fun when there’s someone to help you roast the characters’ dumbfuck choices.”
Andy’s mouth curves up gently. “I can do that.”
We return to the couch and resume the movie a few minutes before midnight. Michael Myers springs up out of the backseat of a girl’s car and traps her in a chokehold before slicing her throat open. The John Carpenter score subsides, and I ask, “What should we watch after this one?”
“Nightmare on Elm Street?” Andy suggests. “We should honor your parents by watching the slasher they named you after.”
His arrow-straight delivery shocks a guffaw from me. “Fuck you,” I laugh, socking him in the arm.
We sit there in the dark, silent for a total of thirteen seconds, and then Andy goes, “Did you know the Michael Myers mask is actually”—
“Inside-out Shatner? Yeah, that’s in, like, paragraph one of the Halloween Wikipedia, don’t insult me.”
Jamie Lee Curtis is sobbing, stumbling away from the butchered bodies of her friends when Andy taps me on the knee. He shows me his phone; the glowing screen reads 12:01.
“Happy Halloween, Freddie,” Andy says, warm enough to make me want to run and hide.
I stay put. “Happy Halloween,” I say back.
University of St. Thomas
Beatrice Ogeh is a senior at the University of St. Thomas majoring in communications. She is a wannabe novelist, an unintentional loner, and often inappropriately sweaty. Someday, she will get paid to write stories that make other weirdos feel seen.