By Tiffany Shull Peterson
Darla loved Halloween. She waited for autumn equinox each year before allowing herself to drag out her seasonal décor. Spurred by excitement, she hauled boxes, bins, and bags from the cellar to the main floor of her 50’s style bungalow. They were meticulously organized and bore labels from ‘bats and spiders’ to ‘ghosts and graveyards.’ The Bluetooth speaker blared a monster mash playlist as she danced around unravelling skull garlands and detangling sticky webs. With the décor containers emptied and their contents splayed throughout two rooms, Darla began carefully wrapping her usual knick-knacks. For the next six weeks they would occupy the space where her Halloween hoard hibernated between seasons so the spooky ornamentation could take their place. A curdling scream interrupted Darla’s macabre merriment as her seasonally appropriate ringtone cried out.
“Hey mom, I’m doing my Halloween stuff right now, what’s up?” She tried to hide the irritation in her tone. She did not like to be interrupted, but she would never ignore a call from her parents.
“Oh how fun! I just wanted to make sure you were still having us over? I’m going to pick up pizza,” she asked.
“Yep, 7pm!” Darla checked her calendar and confirmed.
“Lovely, your mama and I can’t wait to see you! Love you, bye.” Her mom let her go without further chatter.
“Love you, bye.” She said automatically and turned to assess the room.
Hairy spiders the size of terriers flanked one side of the living room. Darla didn’t especially tolerate arachnids, but she made an exception for Halloween. Next to those lay several life-sized mannequins of a lady in white, bloody scarecrow, and ghoulish phantom. She decided to start there. It would be simple enough to hang them in the large windows surrounding her main room. There were also piles of bones, dismembered limbs, and rotting tombstones to contend with. She sighed happily and got to work.
The clock had just hit 6pm when Darla finished. She sat satisfied, looking at the curated shelves, windows, and walls of her open floor plan. From her wingback chair she could see through the living room to the kitchen, where a particularly nasty nest of faux spiders were assembled as though crawling across the ceiling. Black electric candles in varying sizes flickered on most of the surfaces, punctuated by realistic looking creepy crawlies of every species. Orange strands of lights glowed in the windows, layered with garlands composed of shrunken heads, bones, and dead flowers. She would have lingered longer, but with her moms coming soon, Darla headed to take a shower.
She idly hummed famous horror movie themes as she rinsed off the bubbles and stepped from the tub. Donning her favorite leggings and a sweater, she went to work primping her curls. A tickling sensation brought her gaze down to a monstrous cockroach scuttling over the top of her foot. Leaping and screaming, Darla dashed from the bathroom and into the hall. She leaned against the wall and tried to catch her breath. When it came to real bugs, her home had a zero tolerance policy. She brushed her hands all over her body, sweeping the anxious tingling away, before marching determinedly to the kitchen.
The sun had gone down while she showered, leaving the house filled with an eerie evening glow. As she knelt, sorting the bottles in the cabinet beneath the sink looking for bug spray, a soft purring caught her attention. Darla’s heart skipped a beat. She didn’t have a cat. Filled with tension, she slowly craned over her shoulder toward the source of the sound, but the room was empty. Rhythmic electric candle light created shadows that danced over the walls. The low purr began again, just above her.
Darla peered closely at the hulking mass of the faux spider’s nest in the corner above her. One of the legs moved. She reeled backward and screamed. The nest broke into several of the hairy creatures as they scattered across the ceiling and into the darkness of the hallway. Darla propelled herself across the kitchen floor and into the living room, putting as much distance between herself and the spiders as possible. A cacophony of voices and moans greeted her. She watched in horror as the shrunken heads wriggled on their garland. Tiny stitches stretched over muffled tones as they tried again and again to pull their sewn mouths open.
Darla crawled into the furthest corner of the room, her back to the wall and knees pulled tightly to her chest. Bats flapped and squeaked across the ceiling, taking turns to dive at the countless bugs crawling over the furniture. In the windows, the woman in white began to shriek as her handless arms thumped useless against the glass. The zombie and scarecrow were similarly agitated, pools of blood forming beneath them. She pressed her hands tightly over her ears, tears flooding her eyes, as she began to rock back and forth. She shook uncontrollably as her own wailing sobs drowned out the horror bearing down on her.
“Darla!” Her mom’s voice cut sharply through the fray. She cautiously opened her tear soaked eyes only to be blinded by an overhead light. Blurred shapes hovered over her.
“Oh thank god.” Her mom exhaled. “There you are baby.”
A hand rested gently beneath her head and began to slowly lift her until she was sitting upright. Darla rubbed her eyes, her head pounding painfully in reply, as her vision cleared. She was on the floor in her bathroom, naked with a towel wrapped around her, her mom on one side and mama on the other.
“What happened?” She asked, groggily, her heart still racing.
“It looks like you slipped out of the shower,” her mama answered. “You were unconscious when we got here.”
Darla’s hand went to the back of her head, where a lump was forming. With the help of her parents, she stood unsteadily and allowed them to guide her into the hall. Her breath caught in her chest as she remembered the spiders lurking in the darkness. But the light was on and the ceiling bare.
“What’s wrong baby?” Her mom asked as they walked to her room.
“Did you notice anything strange when you came in?” Darla asked.
“Besides you sprawled on the floor next to a dead cockroach?” Mama answered. “Nope. Why?”
“Cockroach,” Darla repeated weakly, her head spinning as they helped her to bed.
“Mmm,” her mom soothed, “I assumed you slipped while trying to smash it. Your decorations look amazing by the way. The spiders in the kitchen almost stopped my heart.”
“I know what you mean,” Darla said, shutting her eyes.