October is my favoritest time of year! I love the change of season, hot cocoa by a fire, falling leaves, pumpkins…and of course, Halloween!
Even though I usually write romance, I can’t help but get into a crreeeepy spirit this time of year.
Here is a short free Halloween read for you. This is definitely NOT romance. If you don’t like creepy things, maybe don’t read this one.
**Even though this is a free short story, please don’t use/copy without my permission. If you know someone who would like to read this story, direct them to my website.**
The Lemon Drop
by Marci Boudreaux
My mother’s voice echoed through my head. “Never take candy from strangers.”
Her face, sweet and kind, filled my mind. I remember how she used to crease her brow as she gave me stern warnings borne from maternal worry. When I left for college, she told me not to walk alone at night. Not to leave my drink unattended at a party.
But she forgot to remind me to never take candy from strangers.
I wish she were here now.
But, I’m alone. Stumbling toward my car. Fumbling for my keys. Feeling like I was leaving a frat party instead of a gas station. The parking lot reminded me of a dystopian sunset—the area was encased in the orange glow of the low-pressure sodium lights high in the posts. Any moment zombies could come dragging themselves from the darkness at the edges of the lot. Rabid dogs could come charging. Giant spiders could descend from above and wrap me in a web.
Any of these things could happen and they’d make so much more sense to me than the reality of what was happening.
“Here,” the old man behind the counter had said as he handed me my change, “have a candy.” He had held his wrinkled hand out. His fingers had trembled as I looked over the various colored treats wrapped in clear cellophane.
After a moment, I chose a yellow piece.
He had smiled and winked. “Lemon. That’s my favorite.”
I had unwrapped the little lemon drop and popped it in my mouth before gathering my cold bottle of water and bag of salty chips. I still had an hour before I made it home for a long weekend and needed a snack to hold me over. Mom would have food waiting, she always did, but I needed sustenance now.
The citrus flavor burst over my taste buds and saliva instantly began to flow. It was much more sour than I expected. So tart that my tongue felt a little numb. I swallowed as my mouth filled with spit.
Holy cow! What kind of candy is this? I thought as I stepped off the sidewalk and stumbled. My water fell from my hand and rolled way. I watched as it seemed to go in slow motion. My body was starting to feel disjointed—like medicine head, only ten times worse.
Then I heard Mom say in the echoes of my mind, “Never take candy from strangers.”
I opened my mouth and spit along with what was left of the candy slid down my chin. My keys. Where were my keys? Oh god. Where? Where did I put them?
I patted along my pockets, but my hands felt like water balloons. Every time I touched myself, tingling waves rolled through my fingers, through my palms, and up my wrists.
I reached my car door but couldn’t open it. My keys. Where are my damn keys?
Like my hands, my legs began to feel too heavy, too thick. I tried to keep walking. If I couldn’t drive away, I could run. I could run to the road. Flag someone down. But who? This road was the shortcut. The country road. The out of the way, no traffic road.
Falling, I blinked when my cheek hit the pavement. That should have hurt, but other than that crazy wave of pins and needles, I felt nothing.
The old man kneeled in front of me. I could see it now. The menace behind the crooked smile. The filth of his teeth. The crazy in his dark eyes.
I hadn’t seen it before. How had I missed that?
“Yeah. Those little lemon ones are my favorites,” he said.
I tried to scream but my throat was too tight. I couldn’t move. Couldn’t make a sound. But I did feel the burning hot sensation of a tear leaving the corner of my eye and trailing down the side of my nose.
He scooped me up off the ground. A bitter scent filled my nostrils reminding me of when I was a kid and my dad would come in from working on his truck. Oil or some other fluid. I couldn’t place it. I’d always hated it, but now I inhaled deeply.
My dad was kind. He was gentle. He’d sit next to me at the kitchen table and coach me through my algebra. Even now, in college, I’d call him when I was stuck on a problem. I wanted to call him now.
Dad. Help. I think I’m in trouble. Daddy?
He didn’t come. He didn’t help. As the old man eased me down, the dampness of more tears trailed down the sides of my face and landed in my ears. They tickled as they pooled there but I couldn’t reach up and wipe them away. I couldn’t move any more now than I could when I hit the ground.
I stared up at a high ceiling. There wasn’t much light, but it seemed like a garage—the kind a mechanic works out of. There was a different smell now. I couldn’t place this one. Metallic. But not oil or transmission fluid. Not anything I recalled smelling on Dad.
It was almost…almost like…blood.
I gagged. The taco from the drive through I gone through before leaving the city lurched up.
“Oh, careful now,” the old man said and turned me on my side. “Don’t want to drown in your own vomit.”
My body jerked involuntarily as he tilted my head over the side of the table. The floor was dirt so the bile and bits of undigested food landed in a puddle but didn’t splatter much. The dirt was darker in some places. Stained.
Flipping me back over, he smiled as he wiped my mouth. “All better?”
I couldn’t answer, but I wanted to beg. Beg for mercy. Beg for help. Beg to be let go.
He stroked my hair like my mother would when I got sick as a child. “Now don’t you worry. I can clean that mess up in no time.”
I wasn’t worried about the mess. I was worried about what was going to happen to me. Nothing good, that much I knew. But then he stepped away. I couldn’t turn my head, but my eyes tried to follow him. I couldn’t see him. Where had he gone?
Had he left? If I could roll over, maybe I could get off the table and crawl away. Maybe there is someone close. Someone who could help me.
Something snapped. Like a surgeon’s glove. Then again.
My hearing seemed to have increased, but I had to hold my breath because the rush of air in and out of my lungs started to drown out everything else. I stopped breathing.
Soft footfalls on the dirt floor.
Then he started whistling.
An old song that my grandfather had on vinyl. He used to put the old records on as he painted landscapes. He wasn’t a good painter. I knew that even as a child. But the song took me back to his house. A tiny clean space with bad paintings on every wall and songs from the ’40s playing from scratchy records that spun and spun, the needle moving closer to the center with every quick pass.
Grandpa died four years ago. I didn’t keep a single one of his paintings. Why? Why hadn’t I taken just one? If I had, I’d hang it in my dorm room. Above my bed so I could see it every night and think of that time with him—back when my world was small and safe.
The whistling grew louder and the old man reappeared.
Don’t hurt me. Please.
I gasped as my body finally made me breathe again. As I did, more tears fell.
“Do you know why lemon is my favorite?” His breath was rancid as it hit my face. My stomach turned again. “Because the little girls who choose lemon take the longest to die.”
I wanted to scream. I did inside my mind but my voice still didn’t work. My muscles were frozen. The only thing I seemed to be able to control were my eyes and my breathing. And I looked everywhere my eyes could see when he left my side again.
When he reappeared, I noticed he had on long gloves. The snapping sound I’d heard.
He lifted jumper cables and smiled. “Do you like fireworks?” He touched the cables to a car battery and laughed when sparks flew. “Whew! Got a live one here!”
He tossed the cables aside and went to work on unscrewing the caps along the top of the battery. “Know what makes lemon taste so sour? The high level of acid. Yep. Lemon is my favorite.” He started whistling that damn song cheery again. This time, hard as I tried, I couldn’t conjure up images of my grandfather. Or of his paintings.
This time, I couldn’t stop staring as the old man tipped the battery and poured the clear liquid into a glass jar.
“That should do it.” He lifted the bottle up and smiled at me. “Have to use glass. Acid doesn’t eat the glass.” His smile widened. “Will eat you from the inside out, though.”
I tried to move. Tried to roll away. Tried to beg and scream.
I was frozen as he pulled the plunger of a large syringe, sucking the battery acid into the syringe. Showed me the full needle. Flicked the side like a television nurse, then focused on my arm. I couldn’t see what he was doing, couldn’t feel the prick of the needle, but he chuckled.
“You’re a bleeder, aren’t you? No worries. No worries. I’ve got bandages.”
He tore one open. It wasn’t flesh-colored. It had colorful little horses on the surface, as if that would magically make the injury better. My breathing increased—I no longer had control. My eyes darted back and forth—seeking, searching, but finding nothing.
My body started to warm. I couldn’t feel pain, but I could feel heat. Pulsing through me with every erratic heartbeat. Warming me, burning me. From the inside out.
There was no pain. There was only heat and fear.
And my mother’s voice.
“Never take candy from strangers.”