Day 5 of My 13 Horrifically Silly Days of Halloween – Jen FrankelRegan Macaulay
Today I have the pleasure of welcoming back author Jen Frankel with a brand new story for this spooktacular holiday season…The Kensington Howler…
The Kensington Howler
by Jen Frankel
It started with a knock. An insistent, repetitive, and above all annoyingly intrusive knock. V. X. Morgoni, Victoire Xandrine TO ABSOLUTELY NO ONE, threw open the door bellowing “What?”
On the cracked concrete pad outside the entrance to her basement apartment were three figures, one short, the other two very short. Children. The tallest wore a low budget pirate get-up with a cape made out of a threadbare towel safety-pinned at the neck, the others a princess dress and crown in Barbie pink, and a witch’s hat with green face makeup.
In answer, they said in somber unison, “Trick or treat.”
What stopped her from slamming the door in their miserable little hopeful faces wasn’t the knowledge that most of the houses on Baldwin were dark tonight, despite it being Halloween. Kensington had seen a decade-long influx of upwardly mobile couples without children and older wealthier empty nesters. There weren’t a lot of choices for a bunch of kids looking for candy.
That was no concern of Morgoni’s. Children were an irritant at the best of times. She didn’t spend any time thinking about their emotional or entertainment needs. What stopped her was an uncomfortable, although brief, moment of recognition. These kids reminded her of a time long ago when she might have been in their shoes, or rather in their unseasonable winter boots. Some mother or father had helped these little monsters get ready, purchase or cobble together costumes, make sure they had reflective tape on their treat bags. Someone cared about these little…
“Are you a boy or a girl?” said the pirate.
Morgoni looked the pirate in the face. “You’re asking me that?” She honestly had no idea, now she had a chance to consider it.
“What’s your name?” asked the princess. “I’m Bellauroraella.”
“It’s all her favourite princesses smushed together,” explained the pirate.
“I was going to be Bellariella but it was too hard to say,” said the princess.
“What about you?” Morgoni said to the little witch who was clearly a boy. “Wicked Witch of Kensington Market?”
“No.” The green lips poured. “I’m Elphaba.”
“But really, that’s Dibber, Fawn, and I’m Juan Carla,” said the pirate, pointing in turn at the witch, princess, and then at their own chest. So no help.
“Morgoni,” said Morgoni and started to close the door.
“Wait!” said Fawn, the princess, with that child-urgency that stopped most grownups in their tracks.
Morgoni paused, door half closed, eyes narrowed. “I don’t have any candy,” she lied. None for them anyhow.
“We don’t want candy. We want to show you something.” It was Juan Carla this time.
Dibber pointed over his shoulder, almost knocking the hat off. “In the alley. It’s a supernatural femonemon.”
Fawn retrieved a cellphone, also Barbie pink but only because she’s taped a lot of pink tissue paper around it, and held it up. On the screen was Morgoni’s YouTube channel, The Supranormal Kensington Vlog. She turned the screen back to herself, tapped for a moment, then showed Morgoni the “About” screen which featured her own image, clad in her usual black watch cap, and sunglasses.
“We watch your shows,” said Juan Carla.
Okay, thought Morgoni. Fans? Is that what this disturbance to her routine was about?
“You have to come now.”
It was Dibber, and in the next second he and Fawn had both grabbed onto Morgoni’s hands. They pulled, and she could have resisted, but for some reason she let them. With Juan Carla in the lead, the strange little quartet climbed the stairs back to street level.
“We have to hurry,” said Juan Carla, urgently, taking the lead.
As Morgoni had thought, the trick-or-treaters were few, spaced widely down the length of Baldwin. Some were the size of Juan Carla and travelled in groups of three or four; a few were more Fawn-and Dibber-sized and held the hands of parental figures. I look like a freaking mom, thought Morgoni darkly.
“It’s here,” said Juan Carla, and led the way down one of Kensington’s iconic graffitied alleys to a small parking lot. Its high wooden surrounding fence was crawling with the year’s burden of dying morning glory and river grape vines.
Morgoni saw nothing remarkable, just the usual deep shadows of the Toronto back alley world. Above, the stars were blotted to invisibility by the city’s light. She returned her gaze to the end of the alley, warned by Fawn’s abruptly tightened grip on her fingers.
A solitary trick-or-treater had entered the alley, dressed as some kind of weird baby doll: curly long blonde wig, white dress with ruffles that bounced around the knee. She was clutching her own matching dolly to her chest, an orange plastic pumpkin-shaped bucket around one elbow. Perhaps inevitably, she was wearing snow boots just like the other kids.
Morgoni shook off the hands holding hers as the Juan Carla, Fawn, and Dibber drew back toward the fence behind them. “What?” Morgoni said, taking her eyes off Baby Doll.
In response, Dibber hissed like a startled little snake, and pointed.
Baby Doll was gone.
“Wait for it,” said Juan Carla, cutting off Morgoni who was about to tell the trio off for wasting her time and dragging her out into the streets.
They waited. Morgoni was nearly done with the whole thing. She counted slowly in her head. When I hit thirty, I’m out of her, she thought.
She made it to nineteen.
A strange sound rose around them, like it was coming off the pavement along with the mist suddenly surrounding their feet. A faint trickle of sorrow, almost a cry, more of an animalistic yowl. It got louder until it was impossible to discount, the way the haze also seemed to billow from the ground itself in more insistent puffs, rising to the height of Fawn and Dibber’s heads. Fawn threw her arms around Morgoni’s leg and buried her face in her thigh, whimpering. Dibber was frozen, and Juan Carla jumped back into the vines on the fence.
Then, as suddenly as it began, the sound was gone, and so was the mist. Just…gone. No dissipation, no transition between here and not, just vanished more suddenly than it had begun.
Morgoni went cold from knit cap to boots. She shook herself free from Fawn and fixed all three of the kids with manic intensity. “You! Phone,” she barked at Fawn. “Film everything. You!” At Dibber. “Out to the street and ask if anyone else saw her. You, Juan Carla. I want a sweep of the whole perimeter. Look for spaces in the fence, doorways, anything, anywhere someone could have come or gone. Now!”
Miraculously, the kids jumped into action, Fawn with her pink tissue phone and the other two darting off as per her instructions. Morgoni noted this, cursing herself that she was for once without her video camera. On this day of all days, with this happening right in front of her.
She wasn’t scared, not precisely. The feeling inside her was uncomfortable, familiar but not familiar enough to be welcome. What had she just seen? Was it a real ghostly manifestation, or something explicable and mundane? She didn’t think the trio of children was capable of setting something like this up, and even if they had, what would be the point?
Although, and this thought struck her as she played out the possibilities in her mind that this was all some sort of hoax played for her benefit, if they knew her work as well as they seemed to, could this be some sort of bizarre audition to work for her? To put one over on her, more likely. Was someone filming all of this, ready to post and discredit Morgoni and her other investigations?
Was it something, and here she needed to pause and take a breath, was it something connected to her own past, so long ago and yet never far from her mind?
Her heart stopped.
Baby Doll stood on the other side of the alley, near the wall of the shop backing onto it. Closer up, Morgoni was struck by the translucence of the child’s skin. She had almond eyes with pronounced epicanthal folds that made it seem likely she had Asian heritage. Not really surprising in this area, just a hop from Chinatown.
Morgoni couldn’t take her eyes off the child to see where the other three were, if they were seeing this. If she looked away, she was certain Baby Doll would vanish again, again leaving no record. If Fawn was filming, good. There would be footage, of something, even if it was the absence of proof. But she owed it to her viewers to observe, dispassionately and fully. She could almost pretend she was unafraid.
And Baby Doll was gone. From one blink to the next, just abruptly not there.
Morgoni spun, seeing Dibber at one end of the alley, Juan Carla at the other end, and finally Fawn with her phone trained on the empty space by the wall. “You saw her,” Morgoni said, her voice not quite as confident as she meant it to be.
“Every Halloween,” said Juan Carla, walking back toward the middle of the alley, oddly pointing up at the second storey windows above.
Dibber ran back to the others, shaking his head in silent answer to Morgoni’s unasked question. Of course no one had seen her. She’d never left the alley. Never actually been there.
“Wait for it,” said Juan Carla, and after another second, the animal howl came again. This time, it vibrated through the asphalt into Morgoni’s feet, and she felt unforgivable tears stirring in the corners of her eyes. She did not cry.
“Is there more?” she asked, keeping her voice steady.
Three heads shook in response.
“Did you get it on video?”
Fawn looked down at her phone as if she’d just remembered it existed. She held it up, turning the screen to show them a video of an alley empty but for them.
Morgoni’s head spun, thoughts racing. “We’ll need some other kind of video, maybe heat? Maybe something that captures movement, or triggered by it, or…” She trailed off.
The trio was hovering, apparently fixated on her words, Dibber smiling faintly.
Juan Carla spoke to fill the awkward silence. “That’s my bedroom,” she said, pointing up at the second storey again. “I see her every year. It, you know, got me interested in ghosts. And everything else on your channel.”
Against her instincts, Morgoni felt a sudden kinship with these annoying little people, a solidarity that reached deep into her own troubled history. When you saw something like this, experienced it even once, especially as a child, the unsettled feeling never went away. You never went back to how you saw the world before.
“Come back next year,” said Morgoni. It was all she could afford to give them, as vulnerable as she intended to be. “I’ll have more equipment for us.”
They didn’t move, not a muscle. “Well?” said Morgoni. “What are you waiting for?” We’re done, she wanted to say, but she didn’t make a move to leave either.
“I’m really good with Google,” said Dibber, apropos of nothing. “And with alleys. I can find anything.”
“I want to be a videographer,” said Fawn, stumbling over the word a couple of times before making it emerge mostly intact.
“My parents have a shop on Baldwin. I hear everyone talk about everything,” said Juan Carla.
Morgoni, parsing the information, jumped to a conclusion about where this was going. Yes, she was a solo act, but to have eyes and ears on the street, especially belonging to the most inconspicuous of Kensington’s denizens, a trio of kids?
She pursed her lips. “No word of my investigations to anyone outside the four of us. Ever. No ‘How I chased a ghost on my summer vacation’ essays, nothing.”
Two of them shook their heads, one nodding, which Morgoni guessed made them all in agreement. “And I can’t pay you. You’re strictly interns.”
Nods all around. Morgoni felt she was maybe getting too much for nothing, if they delivered anything at all for her vlog. “Maybe I can give you some comics.” Eyes brightened. Remuneration settled.
Fawn and Dibber, apparently surmising that the negotiation was over, grabbed Morgoni’s hands again. She pulled them away. “And none of that! Unless, you know. If you’re scared.”
The two little ones shared a glance, and seemed to agree that no, they were not at all scared. “Okay then,” said Morgoni. “If that’s it for the night, I’m headed home to write this up. You, Fawn, upload your footage and send the link to the show.”
She headed back toward the street, then stopped, turning back toward her new assistants.
“Go and get some candy,” she said, and they scampered past her into Kensington, whooping.
Morgoni waited a moment longer, gazing down the alley, cursing the lack of concrete evidence of what they’d experienced. But she’d waited for proof of the supernatural from the time of her first experience, that long-ago tragic moment in her own past when she’d done the absolute wrong thing. Now, she finally had shared an experience with others, and even with no objective record of what she’d seen, the proof was there, in the eyes of the three kids who’d come knocking on Halloween. It was enough.