by Meg Grimm, the Story Spinner
On the morning after Halloween, one of us always opens the front door.
Reaching down, we pick up a miniature, wooden rocking chair that has appeared there during the night. It is always facing the house as though some tiny person has sat in it all night waiting for the door to open.
It all started when the strange man appeared.
My little brother Max and I were in the yard. He was practicing shooting hoops, and I was reading. I glanced up to see a tall, thin man approach holding a cardboard box. He had greasy, dark hair and jumping eyes.
“It looks like you need a reading lamp, little lady,” the man said, his eyes darting all around.
I blinked. “Excuse me?”
The man pointed to the open book in my hands. “I have just the thing. These are new. Just came out.”
He sat his box down on the grass. It appeared full of gadgets. He rummaged around and pulled out a contraption apparently meant to be a lamp. He began twisting and snapping its parts, showing me how it worked, and how I could attach it to my bedpost. Finally, holding it out, he grinned revealing brown teeth.
“For only twenty-five dollars, it’s yours," he said.
I shuddered. “Oh, no thank you, I…”
“I can do fifteen, but I can’t go any lower than that,” he said. “You really can’t ask me to go lower. That would just be insulting. I mean, look at this thing.”
I didn’t know what to do. I looked around for Mom, but she was inside.
“I-I don’t have any money,” I stammered.
Suddenly, Max was beside me. “I have money!” he interjected.
The man’s eyes shot to him.
“You better ask Mom,” I said.
“Mom said I can spend my money on whatever I want, Sarah,” he retorted, and then asked the man, “Do you have any ninja turtles?”
The man thought for a moment, his eyes darting around at the sky. “No, but you’ll want this.” He pulled out a small knife from the box and placed it in my brother’s waiting hands. “It’s a whittling knife. You make things. Out of wood.”
“Wow! How much is it?” Max cupped the knife like a treasure.
“For you? Ten."
My brother's face fell. “That’s all my money."
“How about eight? No? Six? Five? Five, and it’s yours.”
I watched them make the exchange.
At last, the thin man picked up his box. “You kids have a nice day,” he said and scurried away.
Just like that he was gone.
Max was determined to learn to use his knife right away. Dad gathered a wood scrap pile for him in the basement and taught him what he could. Soon enough, my brother had produced his first creation. It was a man! Even I was impressed.
The figure was about four inches tall with a bird beak and wings for arms. Odd, but Max was odd.
Max went to work again, and again. More strange creatures emerged from the wood pile. Bat creatures, bear creatures, bird people, fish people. Each grotesque figure was more real than the last. I could hardly believe it. None of us could.
Soon enough, Max spent all his free time down there amid piles of wood flecks. That was when he started to build the town. Terror Town, he called it, where his creatures could live. Tiny houses, stores and even cemeteries sprang up from the basement floor.
One afternoon, Max created Lukan Black. Lukan was an old man with a scowling face. He sat in a rocking chair on the front porch of his teetering farmhouse. He was Max’s best work yet. I couldn't look at Lukan without cringing.
“He keeps watch over the town day and night,” Max explained to us. “Everyone in the town has a job to get ready. Lukan makes sure they do it.”
“What are they getting ready for?” Dad asked.
As the weeks went by and the season changed, Max became pale and thin. Our parents told him to spend more time on other activities. He didn’t.
One night, I went down into the basement to retrieve some ground beef for Mom from the deep freezer. I heard a faint creaking sound and turned around. My gaze locked on Lukan. He was slowly rocking back and forth in his rocker!
I screamed. I dropped the meat and rushed back up the stairs. Mom grabbed me as I scrambled into the kitchen.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Lukan is moving!" I could hardly breathe. "He’s rocking!”
Max was there in the kitchen doing his homework. He didn't look up. “I told you,” he said.
After that, my parents made Max stop going in the basement. He could not work on Terror Town for awhile, they said.
Nevertheless, one afternoon a few days later, Max came out of his room. He walked right by the three of us in the kitchen and headed for the basement door.
“Woah, where do you think you’re going?” Dad said. “I thought we agreed to give it a break.”
Max didn’t stop.
"Max!" Mom said.
“I have to do it," Max muttered. "There’s work to do.” His eyes were fixed on the basement door.
We all saw it at once. Max was staring at Lukan, who was standing in the cracked-open doorway of the basement, upright, not in the sitting position in which he had been carved. Max picked him up on his way down the stairs before anyone could stop him.
Mom clutched Dad's arm in horror. “I told you! I was hearing things down there!” she cried. “We have to call the priest right now.”
Mom ran to the wall phone while Dad went after Max, but my brother was already coming back through the door. He glared at Mom while she made her phone call. When she hung up, Max addressed her in a low voice that startled us.
“Mother, look at me. I am fine. Call Father Monroe right back. Tell him not to come.”
Mom's lips moved as she searched for words. “Honey, Father Monroe is just going to come and talk to you for a little bit. Your creatures should not be moving on their own. How long have they been doing that? Max?"
My brother’s face contorted. He sneered, and his sunken eyes blazed. “Mother,” he snapped. “Call him back!”
She gasped, and we all froze for a moment, unsure what to do or say. Max scowled darkly at all of us, and then stormed back down the stairs.
Dad ran after him, but he returned moments later rigid and white-faced.
“Where is he? What’s happening?” Mom asked. Her voice was shrill.
“The town,” Dad managed to whisper. “It’s alive. The whole thing… It's moving.”
Dad shook his head and revealed bloody bite marks in his arm. “I can’t get him up here without hurting him.”
We all sat down on the couch, rowed up in silent, horrified shock, helpless and waiting for Father Monroe. Sounds from the basement tormented us with fright. Clanking. Scratching. Tapping. Scurrying.
At last, the old priest arrived.
“Have there been any foreign objects brought into the home?” he asked.
Everyone thought of the whittling knife.
Father Monroe nodded. “How shall I say this?” he began. “Evil spirits endlessly seek openings. Weak points. Doorways into our lives. If they find one, they will come in and establish a stronghold. Unfortunately, they have discovered an openness in Max’s heart. As far as this ‘getting ready for Halloween business’ Max mentioned... Halloween has historically been an evening when many doorways are purposely opened. People all around the world unwittingly open their hearts and minds to the darkness on that night. But don't fear." He waved a finger. “These particular devils will harm your son no longer.”
The priest and my father went down into the basement, and before long, they carried up a sleeping, rosy-cheeked Max, who, when he awoke, remembered nothing about his creatures coming to life. He recovered as though none of it had ever happened. He never even whittled again.
Father Monroe instructed us to dispose of the whittling knife and to burn the wooden town and all its inhabitants. I remember their horrible, open-mouthed grimaces as the creatures went up in flame.
That first Halloween, we did not answer the door for anyone. Trick-or-treaters eventually gave up. We just sat together waiting out the night, Max’s words haunting us.
The next morning, my mother was the first to discover the little rocking chair sitting outside the front door. When she screamed, we thought something terrible happened. I suppose it had, or at least, it almost did.
We took the tiny chair to the burn pile, lit it on fire, and watched it burn down to ash. The same as we have every year since.
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*This is one of my oldest stories. I wrote it when I was probably around the age of Sarah in the story, and my little brother Jesse was like Max. I have tweaked it to post it here, but I am still in wonder by the little girl who wrote it. Where would she be now if she had kept writing and didn't start dating until much, much later? Ah well, better late than never.
Copyright by the author Meg Grimm.