This is the Ninth round of the Title Writing Prompt Challenge. For them unfamiliar with the challenge, a quick summary: three writers offer the fruit of their labor and inspiration based on a given title.
The Round 9 Title — Behind the Green Door — was chosen by Perry. I’ll choose the title for the next round.
The writing challenge has no restrictions and the stories spans various genres. The majority of the stories fall in the G and PG rating range with a few perhaps pushing into the soft R-rating. Those ratings are guidelines but they are subjective. If you find a story disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, stop reading and move on to the next one. The same goes if you are not interested in finishing a story. It may seem like obvious advice, but these days many people go out of their way to experience outrage (and then complain about it).
And, here’s the blurb for this story:
It’s Halloween. I couldn’t resist waking a few classic monsters from their coffins or crypts. James, a backyard bard, tells a campfire horror story that gets just a little too real for his audience of neighborhood children. In the end, we’ll find out who the real monsters are (insert evil laughter here…).
Behind the Green Door
Copyright 2022 — R. G. Broxson
(4,060 words – approx. reading time: about 15 minutes based on 265 WPM)
“It was a dark and stormy night…”
“Oh, Gramps, that is so cliché,” Sonja sighed, rolling her eye, yes, only one eye; she wore an eye patch to cover the missing eye—but that’s another story. There was a titter of laughter among the circle of children sitting Indian style around a sputtering campfire. James had crumpled old copies of The New York Times to spark the flames. He could see through the inky smoke that his granddaughter was mortified by his lame introduction to, what was billed to be, an epic Halloween horror story.
In fact, James had spent only two minutes prepping for this annual nightmare and when it came to his darling Sonja, he couldn’t pass up an opportunity to totally embarrass his granddaughter—it’s a Grampa thing, he told himself.
“Who’s telling this story?” James eye-balled every kid in the circle. Francis caught his back with a high-pitched “You are!” James grinned and nodded graciously to young Francis, the boy with undescended balls wearing Harry Potter glasses and probing his nose with a forefinger.
“As I was saying…” James cleared his throat in staccato. “It was a very dark and very stormy night,” he began again, ghoulishly accenting his adverbs and glaring at his mortified granddaughter who seemed to be dressed as the female version of Captain Jack Sparrow, which was weirdly more masculine than the original. The children erupted into laughter—Sonja rolled her unpatched eye for the second time in as many minutes. Almost there, James thought.
“Okay, okay, settle down,” James reasserted himself as the backyard boss—the adult in charge. He dreaded this annual event, especially when there was football on and October playoff baseball, but James’ own daughter and her derelict husband were off to their annual Halloween party with the Knights of Columbus, an organization that seemed to be off the grid, at least as far as James could tell after extensive Googling. Probably some darknet underworld orgy organization, James guessed.
Every Halloween, the Emmerson’s, James and his wife Rowena, hosted a Halloween camp-over. While other kids were out trick-or-treating in candy-packed neighborhoods, the youth of Township Bluff circled up at the blunt end of a cul-de-sac. There, they sat crisscross-apple-sauce with crappy costumes and poor posture around a lackluster campfire, listening to a semi-scary story from an uninspired bard. Last year James had regaled the children with a half-remembered Golden Arm story he had heard around burned out campfires of the 1960s. It didn’t sell; he never got that look from the kids.
James knew that look. He was a history lit professor at the local Junior College. Every now and then, he connected with Grant or Lee, the Iliad or the Odyssey, and it was magical—it’s hard to describe. He had argued to Rowena that maybe he should enlighten his listeners with Poe, Shelly, Stoker, or their ilk. She always said, “Just tell them about growing up in the sixties—that’s the best horror story.” But it wasn’t. James had sighed and had given up.
Rowena had just smiled at his passion, pulled back James’ ball cap, and had kissed him on his receding hairline. She handed him a thermos and winked, “This will help you, Handsome. It’s a concoction that your son-in-law gifted us when they stopped by to drop off Sonja. He said it was home-made, most of the ingredients came right out of their garden.”
James took the thermos and swirled it around. “A little light,” he winked. “Have you already sampled the goods?”
Rowena smiled that smile. “When all the kids go home, you can come tuck me in. I’ll show you a trick…or a treat—maybe both.” She kissed her finger and touched it to her tight, vinyl Hotty-devil costume, right on her hip-curve. James almost cricked his neck watching Rowena walk back into the house. His own costume was lame. James always dressed up as a grumpy old guy that tells stories in his back yard. He took a swig, hoping for inspiration.
In a Hail Mary pass to delegate his duties and catch Monday Night Football, James tossed out an offer to the crisscross crew. “It’s Halloween again. You’ve had 365 days to prepare. Does anyone else here have a scary story to tell?” He rubbed his hands together in front of the anemic fire, hoping to start a spark. The Colorado sun had just sunk like a bobber. The four boys, and one girl—Sonja—all looked at each other, then back to the fire—mute.
A mop-topped boy, Francis, dressed as Dracula, but strangely wearing a large cross on a chain, felt obliged to respond to any question, every question—even rhetorical questions. He raised his hand timidly. Knowing the type, James clenched his face like a fist but nodded—Francis began, slurping at his words with a mouth-full of wax fangs, “Oneth upon a thime, there were three thittle thigs…” James raised a stop-right-there hand and Francis bit his chagrined lips with his over-sized canines.
“You guys never use your imagination. It’s all we had back in my day,” James gave them the old man look. “You just look at your damn phones all the time.” Hearing a rare curse word, they all looked up from their damn phones.
James continued, glancing at his phone to catch the score of the Monday Night game. “If you don’t mind, Master Francis…Frank, if you really ever want to get laid,” he mumbled the last part under his breath, “I think I’ve got a tale that we will all enjoy. Would you all like to hear it?” Francis—hopefully Frank, looked relieved and nodded to the backyard bard.
James took a deep breath and another deep pull from the thermos that Rowena had provided. It tasted like tea, but had a hint of something rooty, herbal, he couldn’t put his tongue on it. He smacked his lips thickly, audibly.
James looked directly at his granddaughter and smiled. “It was not a dark and not a stormy night. It was a starry, starry night.” Sonja exhaled, releasing her first breath of the cool evening, and smiled. They all followed James’ heavenly gaze and Sonja’s visible breath up into the great Milky Way Galaxy. “But there was a full moon,” James added. As they all looked up, a lone wolf howled into the black velvet sky. A half-dozen more children of the night echoed the first. Thus began the sorrowful sound-track to James’ dark tale.
“There was once a real estate agent,” James began. Many of the children had soccer mothers that sold houses on the side—they knew the trade. They leaned in toward the fire, their faces pink. “His name was Jonathan Harker. He went to a house in…” James thought for a moment, “Atlanta.” The children gasped and backed away in horror. Wasn’t this the city that had been shunned by society? Stripped of the Major League All Star game because of its racists and radical voting regulations? Yes, they had followed this egregious affront to civil liberties from the safety of their Colorado classrooms. There could be no more frightful setting than this.
“Jonathan posted the ‘For Sale’ sign in front of the huge antebellum home. It was a pillared plantation, like the ones where slave owners once rocked in white wicker chairs on breezy white porches, stepping out into the humid heat only to whip slaves and drawl some racist epithets. Yes, they used the ‘N’ word a lot back then,” James whispered. The children were shocked.
“Jonathan Harker knocked on this southern door, far from his happy place, wishing he was back home in New England with his fiancée Beyoncé.” The children looked around at each other but said nothing. This is starting to get good, James thought, as he took another sip from the thermos and continued free-versing. The children were actually starting to give him That Look.
“The door creaked open. It was still daylight and a small misshapen man shaded his eyes against the setting sun. Mr. Renfield welcomed Mr. Harker into the mansion and asked him to wait in the parlor. Mr. Harker waited and waited, leisurely perusing the photos that adorned every surface of the great room. Oddly, they were all landscapes and backdrop settings, no family members were visible. Finally at 6:67 PM, the door opened.” James whispered an aside to his listeners, “The sun sets at exactly 6:66 on Halloween. Don’t ask me how I know this.”
The children murmured, some checked their watches, then settled down for more. “What did Mr. Dracula look like?” It was Francis, always Francis.
“You’re getting ahead of me Franc…Frank, give me a second.” James took another swig from the Colorado bottle. “He wore a…”
As James described the Dracula from his youth, a funny thing happened. Well, not funny, actually very scary. From the campfire arose a mist. It mingled and morphed amid the scramble of stars. Then it coalesced and condensed. It nestled between Francis and Sonja and then reassembled. As James detailed Dracula’s description to his audience, it simply came to be.
James described a pallid face with blood-red lips. There was slick-backed black hair, blazing, hypnotic eyes. He wore a burgundy vest mostly covered by a black satin cloak. It was him alright, sitting right there in their ‘safe’ circle. Dracula snatched the large cross from Francis’ neck and pierced a marshmallow with its tip, waved it at the fire for only two seconds then announced: “I like mine rare,” and he bit into the uncooked gooey cube.
“Great story,” Dracula smacked with a mouthful of goo. “Don’t let me interrupt. Please, go on.”
James shook his head, looked again at the bottle of Colorado Kool-Aid, tipped it back and continued. “Mr. Harker and Count Dracula discussed the cooling housing market, rising interest rates, appraisal fees, and Realtor percentages. Mr. Harker asked to take a look around, and the Count obliged.
“What is this room?” Jonathan Harker pointed to a steel door.
“It’s the basement. I rest there and dabble with my experiments. You could say I work from home.”
“Oh, really. What types of experiments?” Harker tried to sound interested in what was perhaps the Count’s butterfly collection.
“I’ll show you.” The steel door swung open with the wave of Dracula’s hand. Harker could not see any electronics, or even a door knob for that matter. “This way.”
The two descended into a dark basement. It smelled of freshly-tilled soil and a lingering acrid scent of raw electricity. Dim lights came on as they reached the lab. Harker kept close to his host. A huge table occupied the center of the room like a tiny island in the Caribbean. Cables and coils spiraled downward from somewhere high above and pointed at the island. A sheet, as big as a sail, covered a large lumpy something on the slab. “This would make an excellent man-cave,” the Count offered. “Don’t you think?”
A groan came out from under the blanket, and something flipped up like a folding beach chair. Harker drew back, cowering behind the Count. The sheet slipped down revealing a man-like monstrosity. The Count jumped in and…“Allow me to introduce you to…”
Francis piped up, “Frankenstein!” The others joined in gleefully.
“No, Francis. That is a misnomer. Frankenstein was the monster’s creator, as in Dr. Frankenstein. His creation was never formerly given a name.”
Francis looked dejected. “So, what did they call him?”
There was a deep, guttural grunting from the woods. James turned to Dracula. “What did he say?”
He said, “Not him, it’s Them.” He prefers to embrace the pronoun Them.” Dracula listened for another moment to the groans. “He thinks, that because he is made up of multiple parts and persons, that he should honor their contributions to the body politic.”
“Who’s out there? Show yourself!” James barked, staring into the darkness.
More indistinct grumbling from the wood line. Dracula translated: “He can’t come out just yet. You haven’t, you know, described him.”
James looked confused, but Francis jumped in. “What did Frank…he…they…them, look like, Mr. James?”
James closed his eyes and started visualizing Frankenstein’s abomination as he remembered him from childhood; Boris Karloff as the Hollywood Monster. As James spoke the words, the creature began to take his place by the fire. The large, scarred forehead, matted black hair, bolted neck, and sorrowful eyes formed first. A massive chest clothed in a Good Will jacket came next. He was outfitted with slightly short pants legs capped with knee-patches; his long legs ended in cinder-block sized shoes. The creature threw his stitched-on hands up when he noticed the fire, obviously frightened.”
“Don’t worry, Mister Them,” Francis soothed. “It won’t hurt you.” Francis put his hands out over the flames to show they were harmless from a respectful distance. The monster quieted, picked up a stick like the others and started roasting a marshmallow.
“Who’s next?” Francis asked, thrilled to be sitting between Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster who was now going by the name Them. Apparently he and the boy had bonded in a weird way.
James thought, then closed his eyes and resumed Jonathan Harker’s voice. “What’s this over here, Count Dracula?”
“You have an eye for antiquities,” the Count noted. “It is a sarcophagus from ancient Egypt. It was once buried beneath the mystical pyramids of Giza. See for yourself.”
Jonathan Harker, the ultimate real estate dynamo, brushed the cobwebs off the upright casket and pried at the edges of the lid. It came loose with a hiss of foul, yellow air seeping from its seams. Harker jumped back. Slowly, ever so slowly the lid slid opened. Wide open now, a cloth creature stood erect, unmoving.
“Gramps?” now Sonja was really interested. “What was it? Was it the zombie? What did he look like?”
James thought about it, trying to blank out The Walking Dead version from his brain—his delicious brain. “Well, this Zombie was regal, like a king or pharaoh. He was wrapped up in dressings…”
“Hey, these are pretty good?” James and the children looked up. The Zombie stood behind Them (formerly Frankenstein’s monster) with a handful of brain matter he had scooped out of Them’s opened skull. It was apparently just a screw-off lid like a jar of pickles. “I don’t remember ever trying brains, but I seem to have a weird craving for them now,” The Zombie said. The children looked at James and knew he had been watching the ‘WD’ series.
“My bad,” James admitted. “When Rowena nods off at night, I sometimes flip to the Walkers. It’s apocalyptic I know, but it’s addictive.”
Just then a howl shattered the awkward silence of James trying to explain his zombie addiction. James thought for a moment and a face formed in his mind. Beside Them now sat the Wolfman. The hirsute, vulpine creature snarled gleefully and held out a large bent branch over the campfire. It speared a large hand with wiggling fingers, roasting over the flames.
Them looked down and groaned something unintelligible. He waved his remaining hand in rage as the Wolfman began stripping his green fingers like BBQ pork ribs.”
“Finger licking good,” the Wolfman growled.
“James! Children! It’s time to come in and get ready for dinner; I’m cooking Bat out of Hell Meatloaf,” Rowena called from the back porch.
“The end!” James announced. He looked at the empty thermos, then back to the house. “I love Rowena’s meatloaf.”
James started to get up, practiced at following his wife’s commands, when his granddaughter caught his arm. “Gramps, you’ve got to finish it. We can’t just go back in there and eat meatloaf while these…” she pointed to the monsters sitting around the fire, “while they, wait to fulfill their…whatever.” A catch-all word for all fourteen-year-old girls.
It was then that young Francis’ balls descended. “Sonja’s right.” He looked at the pretty pirate and she smiled at his courage and support. Her singular eye sparkled. He then borrowed a line from every horror movie ever, “We’ve got to end this…tonight!”
James sighed, sat back down and tipped back the empty bottle in hopes of another drop. He shrugged and continued. “We don’t have much time left, so I’ll fast-forward to the scariest part.”
The kids and the monsters all leaned in, all staring at James over the waning flames—he saw the look and he was hooked. James closed his eyes again and took a deep breath. He let it out zenfully. He placed a flashlight under his chin and switched it on. The children oohed and ahhed. Even Them reacted.
“Do you have any other rooms you would like to show, Count Dracula?” Jonathan Harker inquired. “They might add to the value of your property.”
The Count cringed and admitted that there was one more room, for better or worse. He motioned to a door, a green door, with padlocks and keyholes all along its frame. “What is it?” Jonathan asked, making notes on his I-pad. James looked at the kids to see if they caught the anachronism—nothing.
“It’s everything, and it’s nothing,” Dracula waxed philosophically.
Harker looked at the Count and shook his head. “You know I can’t put that in the property description; can you elaborate?”
“Yes, but, unlike us, these are real.”
“You mean that you and the others…Them, Werewolf, and the Zombie, aren’t real?”
“We are only as real as you need us to be. We get to come out and play every October, but we go back into our crypts, castles and closets when you grow weary of us. The monsters behind that Green Door don’t play by these rules. They are dark, darker than a blind man’s dreams. We keep them locked up for one reason.”
Harker asked, “Why?” already suspecting the answer.
“They scare us,” the Count whispered and cringed beneath his caped arm.
“But you scare us, Count. You and Them, the Zombie, and the Wolfman. You scare the bejesus out of us,” Harker said sincerely.
Dracula laughed. “Perhaps once upon a time, my succulent friend. Perhaps we lived under your beds or haunted your dreams. No more.” He looked far away, “Count Dracula once fought against Frankenstein for your fears, now we battle only to see who can sell the most cereal—Count Chockula or Franken Berry? I have even stooped to teaching toddlers to count. One…Two…Three-ee.” The Count bowed his head in shame.
“Perhaps this is our penance for our…”
“No, Count. You have nothing to be ashamed of.” James was standing now, talking directly to the fire. The children looked around at each other, unsure of what was happening. “You and your friends helped us cope with the real fears: the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam War, Nixon,” James spat into the fire when he said the name.
The Count looked at James with hypnotic eyes. “Yes, we once pasted our faces onto your most feared fears. But now we are merely cartoons, caricatures, merchandise, and something called memes.”
It was James’ turn to laugh. “So have we all,” he said, “so have we all,” shaking his head.
“Come on in guys, the meatloaf is getting cold,” Rowena trilled from the back porch.
Sonja looked at Francis; Francis looked at James; James looked at the Count. “Let’s finish this. What’s behind the Green Door, tell me, tell me I implore?” James always enjoyed a good Raven riff.
“Sit back down, my children of the night,” Count Dracula commanded with his eyes as a pack of wolves howled a chorus on cue. Everyone sat—mesmerized. The blaze from the sputtering campfire suddenly twisted and rose like a flaming tornado. They all looked deeply into the swirling furnace and one voice arose.
“What’s behind the Green Door?” It was Jonathan Harker now, intrepid real estate agent, standing in front of them all. He wore fine European clothes from the 18th century and spoke with a flat, forced British accent—like Keanu Reeves. James shrugged.
Behind them, a Green Door formed just beside James’ oak tree, the one that sported a tire swing. “Let’s find out,” Count Dracula waved them all forward and reached for the doorknob. His hand burned when he touched the brass. “I can’t open it,” he hissed. “It must be unlocked by someone pure of heart. As you may know, I have a bit of a drinking problem.” The Count looked around.
James stepped up and burned his hand on the knob. “Ouch!” he cried, and sat back down looking back at the Count.
“We don’t judge here, my friend. We are all monsters,” the Count nodded.
The children looked at each other; some even wore a purity ring. But each suddenly remembered YouTube and TikTok videos they had ‘liked’ just a little too much and stepped back from the Green Door.
The Werewolf, hunched and unsure, loped up to the shiny Green Door in the middle of James Emmerson’s Backyard, Colorado, USA. Wolfman, reliving a crazy phrase from the old gypsies, raised a furry paw to the knob and it turned. It worked; all the locks popped and jangled from their hooks and hinges.
Wolfman celebrated by back-flipping and high-fiving everyone and everything. He paw-tagged all the kids, the creatures, and James, and then high-fived all the foliage in the back yard. He knocked the last of the fading flowers off the azalea bushes and doubled up like a drummer on the elephant ears.
Wolfman howled to the full moon once and then reeled it all back in. He recalled his origin and the gypsy hymn: Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright. The Wolfman, once a young shepherd defending his flock, had always said his prayers and had lived by man’s morals, but now his lunar nights were haunted by half-remembered nightmares of fang and blood—a pure-hearted monster.
James stepped up behind the Wolfman and put his hand on the creature’s shoulder and said, “This is not for you and yours.” James was perhaps feeling false bravado from the Colorado Koolaid. He glanced at every member of the fireplace circle. “If you are afraid, you can go on inside and bob for apples, or eat meatloaf with Rowena, no one will say a word.” He paused for dramatic effect. “If you are ready to confront the real monsters, follow me. But once you’ve seen this, it can’t be unseen,” he warned.
The room inside the Green Door was dark and cavernous, belying the fact that it was somehow tucked away in a tiny corner of James’ backyard. James drew out the flashlight that he had used to light up his face just minutes before. He swung it from side to side like a search light but the darkness absorbed, devoured, each photon like a black hole. Then there was click and the room lit up, now as bright as it had been dark. Francis stood along the wall beside the door, his finger still on the flip switch.
James pocketed the useless flashlight. For as far as he could see, there were rows of clear, cylindrical tanks. Each one held a monster. Each tank bore a placard describing the beast within. The first tank contained a blob of man floating in urine-colored liquid. The placard read: Christopher Columbus, 1451-1506. Murdered millions
A thorny-crowned Jesus was right behind CC; hundreds of other die-for-me deities adorned the warehouse crypt. It was clear that each cylinder contained an agent of chaos, a denizen of death.
Death was death. It didn’t matter your good intentions as a crusader or a shining beacon of Whatever (as Sonja would say), those that perished in your name were just as dead as those that ate opium, caught Covid, or withered with black syphilis.
James gave one last weak warning. “Don’t…” and then he sank to his knees.
The children spread out like pinballs, bouncing from one tank to the next. There were echoed shouts from all over the room. “I found Hitler,” one exclaimed.
“Who’s Jeffrey Dahmer?” inquired another.
“Why is Mother Teresa in this tank?” James heard Sonja’s confused cry.
“Here’s an empty one with a name tag and no death date yet. It says…”
THE END… of Everything
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