Author's note: This is my entry for Cornconic's Halloween 2021 story contest.
The most pivotal point of my entire life occurred when I was 16. A moment that separated me from who I was, or potentially who I was supposed to be. This isn’t a simple coming of age story, I changed in a way that transcends my own understanding. I don't even really know what happened. I hope recounting the events will shed some light.
It was a cool, crisp fall. My birthday had just passed. Perhaps me being born in October gave me some sort of affinity for the weather, and the traditions. I loved Halloween.
There was nothing quite like getting dressed up, playing the role of someone, or something else entirely, and gorging on candy. As I got older, of course, it became less about candy and more about girls, drugs, and booze.
I’d fallen in with a group of, for lack of a better term, overachieving stoners. We were pretty open minded in the use of any drug we could get our hands on, but none of us were really junkies. There wasn’t a desperation for a fix, so much as a desire to expand our minds. It seemed noble at the time, but reflecting back on it, it was naive and outright dangerous sometimes. Whether or not it was due to the drugs, or simple teenage bravado, we always challenged ourselves and each other to stupid contests. Sometimes as simple as who could sprint the farthest with a lung-full of bong smoke, or as intensive as spending the night in the mall by our highschool. I happened to be the victim of the latter challenge. I’d deeply implore you to do the same!
There were some stupid stories, mainly bullshit that every other kid in our high school would make up, about the mall being haunted. It always came back to some half-truth legend about a gruesome Halloween. According to the legend, the mall, named The Eglinton Center, was not named for quite the same reason as the busy midtown Toronto street it was adjacent to. Story has it that the former site of the mall was a large manor. It was built, and named, in honor of the Earls of Eglinton, of Scotland (much like the street), but to the surprise of everyone involved, the Earl showed up to Toronto (then known as York), with every intent of staying there.
He threw lavish parties, and extravagant affairs, but over time they became associated with the disappearances of many local youths, some of whom were of wealthier stock. In an affair reminiscent of the burning windmill version of the Frankenstein monster’s demise, a mob torched the manor with him atop of the roof, on Halloween night, no less. His remains were never found, and not long after, the true Earl of Eglinton (ignorant of the malady to Toronto that he supposedly caused) sent word to the town council of his pleasure regarding the estate being named after him. All the way from Scotland.
No one truly knows what happened to the Earl’s imposter, or to any of the missing youth, as no remains were ever found. They claim the mall, which was a plaza before being upgraded, was named as a memorial to the victims of the Earl’s imposter. Doesn’t seem like a very good reason to name a mall, everything considered.
Twas the night before Halloween that the challenge was issued. My friend Jaque kept going on about how cool it would be to break into the mall on Halloween, and spend the whole night there, to see if there was any truth to all the rumours of ‘the Earl’s imposter stalking the halls for young blood’.
“You’d have to be an idiot to believe that story, let alone that the mall is really haunted..” I brazenly scolded Jaque.
“Sounds like you’re volunteering to prove him wrong then?” Will challenged. He always was an antagonist.
“And miss out on the Halloween festivities? Not a chance!” I tried to be nonchalant about the whole thing, but in truth, I really didn’t want to do it.
“Ah, sounds like you’re scared then after all?” Jaque butted in. “Not so brave as to put your money where your mouth is? I bet you $50 you couldn’t spend the night there!”
In truth, I didn’t have $50 to wager to begin with, but that money sure could be sweet…
“I’ll throw in a 6 pack of beer too!” Will added, successfully sweetening the deal.
“Fine, I’ll do it,” I caved, “but not that crappy Auspicious Ale you get your brother to buy you, I want decent beer!” We all laughed, before hashing out the terms of the deal. I was to somehow enter the mall around 11pm, and I had to stay in until 630am. The sun wouldn’t have even risen yet, but it was late enough for us to agree it counted as the morning.
As the entirety of our group stood on Eglinton Avenue West, clad in a wide array of costumes, we stared down the narrow alley that led to the back access and loading docks of the mall. Everyone gave me words of encouragement. There was something particularly eerie about tonight. They say the veil between the spirit world and ours is thinner on Halloween. If there was any night to see a ghost or ghoul this was it, but there was something else giving me the creeps that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The air felt strangely void, as if there was supposed to be something there that was noticeably absent right now.
“Not too late to back out man, you could get in a lot of shit if security catches you.” Kyle, my most reasonable friend, cautioned. “You’ll get over the shame of being called a chicken in less than a week, I’m sure."
“Nah, it’s too late. Plus, I’ve always wanted to meet the Earl’s imposter.” I grinned wickedly as I cheekily responded. At about a quarter to 11, Hal walked out from an access door leading to the hallway behind the mall’s theater. He wasn’t really a close friend to any of us, but there wasn’t much he wouldn't do for weed.
“C’mon you ain’t got long, I’m supposed to be out of here already!” Will walked up to him, slipped him a small spliff, and put his hand on my shoulder. Then offered the final thing I’d remember clearly. Some excellent wisdom!
“You heard the man, get in there!”
As per Hal's plan, I raced to the food court bathrooms. The auxiliary lights weren’t on in the sub level, where the food court was. I knew the layout of the mall well enough. I ran to the men’s bathroom, but it was locked. I cursed, then ran to the women’s instead, locked too. As I heard what sounded like footsteps, night security I assumed, I ran out to the seating area. In the narrow light from the upper level I could see that the bagel stand’s gate wasn’t properly closed. Looked like it was damaged. I squeezed through, and hid under the counter. The footsteps stopped. The lights flickered on. I stayed in a snug spot between the register’s ledge, and a mini fridge. Minutes passed. That’s fine, I’ve got time. Still no footsteps though.
Curiosity got the better of me. I peeked my head up and saw something that made me immediately dive back under the counter. The food court was packed! Absolutely filled with people! People at tables, people lined up at the restaurant stalls, busier than I’d ever seen, but it was still silent. As I stayed below the counter, I rationalized.
“There’s no fucking way…” I muttered softly. I slowly inched up again. Empty, as expected. Must have been a trick of the mind.
Well over an hour has passed now. My heart stopped racing from the running and the crowded food court scare. I sent Will a picture text from behind the bagel shop counter. He sent back the least tasteful selfie of him with his tongue down some girl’s throat. She was dressed like a devil, or some kinda demon. More skanky than creative. Just another reason to regret being here on Halloween night, and not on a couch at a sick party with some cute girl. Whatever, I better focus on not getting caught anyhow. I snagged a cream cheese and salmon bagel from the fridge, checked the register (sans drawer of course, but worth a shot), and headed back upstairs, via the hallway with the bathrooms.
As I entered the hallway with the adjacent bathrooms, I started feeling something really strange. Happy to be there, nonetheless! As I looked down the hallway, it started to elongate and distort. I felt nauseated, as the funhouse corridor ahead of me contorted and twisted. I turned around, but the hallway behind me stretched even further. The two meters I’d covered became two hundred. I heard fast, rabid whispering directly into my ear, from behind. It was completely indistinguishable. I turned again quickly, trying to catch whatever it was, but there was nothing. The hallway was normal again. My nausea evolved into sickness. I raced to the nearest bathroom, the women’s, and began to throw up into a toilet. It felt excessive, like I had binged at the Chinese buffet in the mall right before racing to the toilet.
As I finally finished, and wiped my mouth on my sleeve, I held the toilet desperately. Then I thought to myself, I had tried this room earlier, it was locked. Someone was here, someone was fucking with me. I texted will.
“Who the fuck is here with me?”
No immediate response, probably living it up at the party. Asshole.
I went up to the main level and sat on the bench across from the liquor store. The lighting was poor, but most of the walls on this level were glass. It was easy to see outside. According to Hal, there wouldn’t be any security here past midnight. It was now 12:10. I shouldn’t have anything to worry about. I sat a while longer, considering whether or not I should leave.
“I may be in over my head,” I remember thinking out loud.
Footsteps clacked against the smooth floor of the upper mezzanine.
“Fuck this, I’m definitely in over my head!” I muttered as I ran behind a large ornate pillar. There wasn’t supposed to be any security now! I looked cautiously around the pillar, but I couldn’t see anyone. My eyes darted around, to the still escalators, to the stairs down to the food court, to the entrance. I knew it was my chance. I sprinted to the doors, fully prepared to trigger the alarms as I’d push past the emergency door. I stopped dead in my tracks. There was a dark, shaded figure in my path.
“Oh fuck…” I heard the words leave my mouth, as the figure moved closer to me. Silhouetted in the street’s glow behind it, I could see the shadowy grotesque features of the ‘man’ in front of me. They looked like tendrils, reaching out from its face, all moving in different ways, different directions. All to the same end. Coming for me.
I ran without thought. To the upper level, to the other exit at the front of the theater! Whatever horrible eldritch abomination was after me couldn’t be my end, it wouldn’t.
“Stop!” I could hear from behind me, the voice was familiar, but I wouldn’t stop.
The yelling figure was in front of me suddenly. I slid to a stop on the overly polished floor. Face to face with.. Kyle?
“Kyle? What the hell?”
He stood there with a smug expression on. He looked proud that he scared the shit out of me. His mask was a cheesy lion mask, with pointed wispy pieces of plastic for the mane. “Kyle, man, I’ve seen some crazy shit here. Something’s going on. I don’t know if it’s Halloween, or if it’s this damn mall, but something’s going on.”
“Were you spooked by these..?” Kyle stifled a chuckle as he rattled some cheap paper ghost halloween decorations outside of the bookstore.
“Whatever man,” I muttered, embarrassed. “What are you doing here anyways?”
“So, I don’t want you to be concerned, but Will and some of the other guys thought it would be funnier if you were tripping for this.”
“You came to bring me drugs? What the hell man, I’m not getting high here.”
“Will said you’d chicken out… He slipped you something earlier. I didn’t think it was right. Leaving you here, alone, not knowing you were dosed. Seemed kinda fucked up to me.”
“Are you serious?! What the hell did he dose me with?"
“I don’t know, really…”
Kyle and I returned down to the food court. I ran him through everything I saw and felt along the way. He didn’t seem surprised at all. I thought about leaving. I should have left. If I did, I’d never have had such a life changing experience though! As a foolish point of pride, I decided to stay. After all, I had Kyle with me now at least.
We sat, in silence, in the darkened food court. I saw some weird things here and there, obviously small clues pointing to whatever Will had slipped me being a psychedelic. Strange hues, creeping patterns. All indicative of a mild acid trip.
“I’m happy you showed up dude. I’m happy you told me. This night could have been pretty terrifying if I didn’t know. Maybe I’d have caught on from some of the hallucinations, or chalked it up to being a flashback, but the stuff I’d seen earlier was so vivid. Nothing made me feel like it wasn’t real.”
Kyle didn’t respond, he simply sat in the high food court swivel stool, creaking left to right ever so slightly. At that moment I kind of realised, it was almost serene here. Living in a busy city, you really don’t get the opportunity to have silence, real silence. When it happens you almost hear a bit of a ringing in your ears, as if your body is trying to compensate for sound. I wandered down the lengths of the fast food kiosks, basking in this mellow euphoria. The food court began to brighten slightly. A strange, creeping colour started to edge toward me from the far exit, I could smell it. It was quite foul. As it continued to gently glide along the floor toward me, slowly blanketing the length of the food court in it’s vile miasma, I began to panic. Deep breaths.
Where was Kyle? He wasn’t on the stool. By this point the food court was well lit, a bright gaudy fuschia. The acrid stench insidiously attempted to halt my deep, rhythmic breathing, the only thing keeping me calm.
I ran back up toward the mezzanine.
I landed flat on my ass. My forehead had collided with someone else’s.
“What the devil are you doing, running around like some rabble rouser!” I heard from just ahead of me.
As I started to regain my composure, I noticed the strange lighting was gone. Well, somewhat gone. Instead of a garish pinky colour, it was now a glowing yet subtle yellow, almost like candle light.
“Sorry,” I said, rubbing my head as I stood.
“Here, take my hand.” I reached out toward the figure, who was dressed in a very authentic looking Victorian-era outfit. “I dare say, you must be more careful. Had the Earl seen this display, you’d be out with the wolves!”
The peculiar individual grabbed my hand and looked at me. He was wearing an elaborate and ornate mask, the kind you’d wear to a masquerade ball. Come to think of it, he’d obviously put a hell of a lot of effort into his costume. Just seeing it reminded me of Halloween, bringing me back to reality.
“Why are you in the mall at this hour…?" I asked, dubious that he had any real reason to be here at all.
“Why for the ball, of course! Only a fool would refuse the iconic majesty the Earl’s parties! The Halloween ball alone could rival Byron’s extravagance!”
This guy was either severely unhinged, or madly devoted to his costume. As we stood for a moment, dusting ourselves off, I saw him eyeing my outfit up and down.
“What manner of clothing is this? Come, we must get you some appropriate attire. No guest of the Earl’s shall be dressed so drab,” he condescended.
I hesitated, then thought why not? I suppose I haven’t been very much in the spirit of Halloween tonight. I hadn’t even dressed up.
We walked up the polished marble stairs, up to the mezzanine. I swear there used to be an escalator here… My confusion was further agitated by the massively overstated chandelier. This didn’t look like the mall anymore. I was somewhere else. There were dozens of people, all dressed in exquisite, yet antiquated outfits, dancing slowly and sombrely.. all with beautiful and extravagant masks.
“I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore…” I mumbled to myself as I pinched my arm over and over. Whatever drugs Will slipped me.... They were nothing like anything I’ve experienced before. The gentleman led me around the outskirts of the illustrious room, to a small parlor in the back.
“There should be an outfit in there for you. You may leave your...” he paused for an awkward amount of time, as I began to undress. “Your clothing in this room. Don’t worry about your possessions, they will be attended to. As for a mask, seeing as how mine is now reprehensibly damaged, you may borrow it. I shall have to find myself another.”
I couldn’t shake the feeling that his voice was familiar. It was obscured by the strange vernacular he used. Although I had no reason not to trust him, I tucked my cell phone and my wallet into my underwear’s waistband.
I emerged as an unfamiliar sight, to be sure. I slowly fastened the mask’s delicate ribbon behind my head, noticing the chip ruining the perfectly etched teardrop shape of the right eyehole.
“Splendid. The Earl will want to see you promptly, I’m sure.” I looked up to see the exposed face of the gentleman. That rat bastard.
“Kyle, you jackass!” I shoved him aggressively. The moment he fell to the floor, the ambient colours of the room began to change to a lustreless gray.
“How dare you! I can understand an unintentional collision, and have handled it with nothing less than absolute grace! You forget yourself!” he got up, almost in an instant. His face now obfuscated, and dark.
I set off toward the hall, but in a moment Victorian Kyle was in front of me, blocking the way.
“You shall be the host, accept it or not, it will make no difference.” the voice was no longer eloquent. It no longer sounded like Kyle either.
I pushed past him, as he ripped the mask off of my face.
The dining room was no longer warm and welcoming. The chandelier looked macabre, the candles had melted down completely, with sharp icicles of wax hanging down ominously. The carpeted floor was now torn and scraggly. No one was dancing. All the guests were now standing still, facing me. Not a sound could be heard.
With my mind racing, and my heart pounding, I fought against a paralyzing fear, and continued walking back toward the food court. Looking back over my shoulder, I could see every partygoer turning slightly, never breaking their line of sight, with every step I took. It was cold now, as if we weren’t protected from the elements outside either.
I continued down the marble staircase. The food court wasn’t down here, in its place was some kind of cellar, probably not the best spot, but I couldn’t go back up. I was just thankful no one followed me. A pungent smell tickled my nostrils again. Not the same acrid vapours that previously assaulted the senses, but a thick scent of smoke, wood and fabric.
I found myself in a large open room with many barrels. It was dark, but the layout seemed familiar, like it mirrored the food court. I remember there being an exit to some kind of underground garage near where the bathrooms were. It seemed like my best chance. Once I turned the darkened corner, I felt a strange vibration. Then it stopped. What the hell?
Again the vibration! Then it hit me. Fool that I am, my cell phone! I hastily tore through the layers of vintage clothing I was bound by, grasping desperately at my underwear.
“Incoming Call: Kyle”.
I deliberated on answering. It stopped. Maybe I should have answered? Maybe…
Without hesitation I answered the phone.
“Hey dude, how’s your Halloween shopping going?” Kyle’s voice was loud. There was a lot of background noise, he was obviously yelling into the receiver.
“What the hell is going on man. Where did you go?” I barked aggressively, while still attempting to remain quiet.
“...What are you talking about?” he sounded genuine, but he always was a good actor.
“What kind of friend runs off on his buddy, in the middle of an intense trip?!?”
The background noise began to get louder, and the call started to gain static. I turned back around the corner. To my relief, it was the food court.
“What did you take man? Acid? Why would you take something strong alone, in a creepy old haunted mall?” I could hear the concern in his voice.
I began to walk toward the street exit.
“Whatever Will slipped me dude, c’mon stop dicking around!” I could hear him asking something to someone else.
“No man, Will didn’t slip you anything. He’s kinda pissed that you’d think he’d do that.”
The static grew louder.
“Screw it man, I’m bailing on this stupid dare!”
I pushed the bar on the door, storming through to the staircase outside. The call ended with an abrupt beep.
As I looked up to see the final set of doors to my freedom, I spotted something in the way. At first I thought it was a Halloween decoration, but then I noticed some small appendages moving. It was the tendril faced creature from before! I took off, back down to the food court. I kept running. As I turned the corner to where the bathrooms, and the garage access was, my heart sank. I was in the cellar again.
“What the hell is happening? I need to get out of here, but why would I leave?” I paused, confused as to why I would second guess myself about being free of this nightmare. If what Kyle said was true, the third Kyle at least, I am not drugged. How the hell could I explain these hallucinations then? Every time I try to escape I’m confronted by some sort of monstrosity, I apparently traveled back in time to what I assume is the estate of the Earl’s imposter, and I hear whispers while reality distorts around me. I’m either going insane, or this place really is haunted. I stopped to think. The movie theater has several exits, at least I know if I can get back to the mall, I can escape through there. If the monster blocks one exit, I’ll take another.
I ran. Through the darkened cellar, up the marble staircase. I was prepared to be greeted by a ballroom filled with darkened antagonists, but to my surprise, it was empty. I stopped to try to get my bearings in this twisted, historical version of the mall. It was hard to tell if this eerie, dim ballroom was less creepy without the guests, or more.
Then, as if it just appeared and outstretched in front of me, was the most marvelous and magnificent staircase I’d ever seen. Imagination couldn't do justice to the sight of the deep merlot red carpet, and perfectly manicured oak bannister, gilded and adorned with precious metals and stones. It contrasted the dim haunt of the ballroom starkly. I couldn’t help but know that deep down, this is the way.
One slow step after another, I ascended. The sense of urgency and haste lost in the glamour. I couldn’t help but feel as a guest myself, attending the most luxurious party, in the finest of raiments. I savoured every moment, until I was snapped back to the confounding reality of my journey by a smooth, ornate, teak door. It was less overstated than the other decor. This isn't where the theater would be, but I couldn't see any other way up. I pressed my hand against the door, and immediately recoiled. It was scalding hot. The focus on my pained palm was lost by the slow, throaty creek of the door swinging ominously ajar. Darkness. I pulled out my phone to use the light to guide me, but a voice greeted me from within.
“No need for such infernal creations,” a bold and ostentatious tone noted. “We prefer to keep our ambience relaxed.”
I walked into the darkness, able to see a faint light ahead as my eyes adjusted. Take a seat. Seemed like a good idea. Barely making out the silhouette of a long, short couch, I sat. The room began to gain clarity. As if it wasn’t an absence of light that obscured my vision, but some strange veil over my eyes that was now lifting. The room was large, and regal, as expected. What I would have assumed a classy opium den would look like. There were a few people, unconscious, draped over the furniture as if they were little more than decorative throws.
“You may grab a seat closer, if you’d like. I won’t bite.” again, the pompous tone spoke. As if painfully trying to sound wealthy, or aristocratic.
“I’m fine where I am, thank you.” I spoke loudly, trying to sound confident, but my tone betrayed me.
I scoured the room, trying to make out a conscious soul. Then I spotted him. Not a particularly intimidating figure, but somehow carrying an essence of command. A man of at least 40, balding, but compensating with an exceptionally large and oily looking moustache. At his side was a young girl, perhaps around my age, half naked. I was trying to spot signs of life, small twitches, chest rising and falling in breath, but to my dismay I saw none.
“No doubt you’ve been enjoying the luxuries of my esteemed estate. Tell me, do you know why you’re here?”
He began curling the young girl’s auburn locks between his fingers, as if he’d noticed my concern and decided to play upon it.
“I’m actually just looking for the exit now. I want to leave.” I said, trying to mask the tremble in my voice.
“How terribly predictable. You youth have no stamina. Not once I’ve had my way at least.”
He began a throaty chuckle. I attempted to stand, but my body didn’t respond. I felt paralyzed, helpless. As the room slowly darkened again, I could make out hazy whisp-like vines, grasping all over my body.
The imposter began to rise, and slowly crept his way toward me, taking his time, appreciating the form of each strewn about body he passed.
“I’ve found an excellent way to keep my youth throughout the years, but alas, sometimes a more drastic action must be taken. I’ve attracted some… undesirable attention from the locals of this wretched area.”
“What do you want with me!” I croaked, barely able to speak through the choking hold of the hands.
“This estate, this diamond in the rough, will soon be immolated by yokels. Luckily for me, I won’t be here when it does. Unfortunately for you, I’ll be taking you with me. This night, this Samhain, I can take advantage of the shroud that separates this world from the next. Oh, no, you may expect death, but I can assure you it is quite the opposite. The abundance of life! One body, two souls, you see…” he trailed off as he bent over me. The hands began to cloud my vision, and eventually, my mind as I summoned the last bit of strength I had to scream...
I woke with a startling fright to my alarm. 11:50 PM, October 31st. Hastily turning it off, I looked around wondering what I was doing at my desk. Looking at the notes strewn all over it, it all came flooding back. One night, one night a year I can regain some semblance of control. I need to finish the story, I need someone to know the truth! Feverishly I scrawl, taking in my surroundings through my peripherals on occasion. I’m in some sort of cabin, no doubt remote. If he fights hard enough for control, the body loses consciousness, that must be why I was asleep.
11:58, I’m almost out of time. Then my eyes catch a note.
If you lose hope, end it.
I remember. The fallback plan I came up with while being a passive observer in the parody of a life being played out before my very eyes. I won’t go another year as a prisoner. I hurry to the small kitchen, and pick up a steak knife from the sink.
Then, I put the knife down. No. I walk over to the desk, and pick up my writings. No. I walk over to the fireplace, and cast them in. No!
“I’ll have to be more careful in the future. Looks like we’re getting some bright ideas of how to end our little relationship.” I hear the words in my voice, as I walk toward a door and open it.
“We have a good thing going here...”
My mind begins to fog as I approach a bound person, barely squirming on the bed. “Let’s not spoil it…”
Written by Tewahway