The leaves of autumn twirled, tugging at their branches in the brisk fall wind. Orange, yellow, crimson and deep brown. Days ended quickly with no intermediate evening, as in the summertime, to welcome the night.
Staying late after school, his evening route home seemed eerie.
The few people he passed with collars turned up and heads bowed into the wind presented a strange picture to his familiar journey. The jack-o-lantern and other Halloween decor added mystery.
Halfway through his trip home, a light stinging rain lent to the loathsome afternoon. A slight jog had tired him so he stopped to rest beneath a doorway of an old brownstone apartment house.
Five stories high, the old dilapidated apartments had only one tenant over the past couple years. He knew it was scheduled to be torn down soon.
Old man Grace was a recluse. Hardly anyone ever saw him and when they did he would always turn away. Looking up at the third floor, he could see the naked light bulb cast eerie shadows across the room. A harder rain made him move back in the doorway much farther than he liked. The dank, musty smell of the old structure made him feel like he was already inside. The stained glass door with beveled edges and a big copper doorknob maintained a small amount of elegance that the ancient structure once knew.
The rain was coming hard. His first thought was to bolt from his eerie haven. Patience prevailed. Besides, he had a head start on a wintertime cold. A few minutes late for supper wouldn't matter. He had called ahead to let his mom know he was going to be late. She wouldn't worry.
He felt the presence. Turning slowly the old man's face was framed in the stained glass door. A torrent of cold rain and a weakness in his legs prevented him from running.
The door swung open.
"Come, come out of the rain. Such a terrible evening."
A lump in his throat, he obeyed the command without question. A bare light bulb danced back and forth casting strange shadows as they ascended the stairs.
Once into the room, the air of mystery that surrounded the old building and Mr. Grace in particular was more apparent than ever.
An unusually large crucifix graced the wall above the head of a rollaway bed. Over the mantel, a satanic silhouette covered one third of the plaster-scarred wall.
This conflicting scenario of heaven and hell confused him even more. His emotions were curiosity and fright. He could not refuse the offer of hot tea from the kettle that hung on a rod across the fireplace. Somehow, he thought of it more as a brew than regular tea.
An old Underwood typewriter sat on a stained veneer desk. Stacks of yellowed typing paper lay stacked on the floor beside. Some written on some typed and some just wadded and wrinkled in the corner.
"Go ahead, pick it up, and read." It was a command tempered by a voice that wanted someone to read his work but afraid no one would like it.
Charles picked up the yellowed paper.
"Purple black the raven's wing
Inside my soul, I hear him sing
Demons dwell in shadows deep
He had no idea where the poem was leading so he stopped.
"I only write for myself. No one would understand. "They" understand but no one else."
Charles looked quickly around the room. "They" he thought as goose bumps ran up and down his legs.
"They, the other world, Him." He pointed to the silhouette. "They love my work."
He snatched the poem from Charles' hand and threw it into the fire.
"Now it becomes part of their world, it is my words forever and ever. I don't want anyone reading my works. The other side is forever. This doesn't even count."
A large flame erupted in the fireplace, much larger than the ball of paper could produce. A roar.
"It is him, it is him. He loves my work."
Fear consumed Charles. He sat petrified. It was as if some powerful force held him in place.
A voice from the depths of hell screamed. The old man wrestled with an unknown force before wrenching himself free.
Charles bolted from the chain. He touched every third step and fell. Crawling, his trembling hand turned the copper knob.
The rain stung his face, his lungs were bursting. When he reached home his rush through the front door startled his mom.
"You look as if you have seen a ghost."
"Worse than that!"
As he related the story to his mom, they heard sirens blaring across the city.
"Charles, I think you are making up a Halloween story just to scare your poor old mother. Don't start this nonsense when your dad gets home."
Dinner was late when his dad arrived.
"Traffic was backed up because of the big fire downtown. The old brownstone apartment complex burned completely down. Guess my curiosity got the best of me. I just parked the car and watched."
Charles looked at his mother. She gave him the same strange look.
His father went on.
"It was kind of scary. They knew old man Grace lived there so they braved the flames to get to his apartment.
"Did they save him?" Charles blurted out.
"Well, let's say they go to him. His corpse, that is. They said it appeared he had been dead for several days."