Thin streams of moonlight trickled down from beneath thick, murky clouds, and the shadows danced around the sidewalk playfully at Marcus’ feet as he walked home from another yearly viewing of the Hell-O-Scream Movie Marathon. He hadn’t wanted to go. Like every other year, he protested; asked why he and his friends couldn’t just get drunk and pig out on junk food, like everyone else their age.
“Don’t be such a goddamn pansy,” Jacob had said to Marcus. Marcus remembered how Jacob puffed out his chest, and how he looked like a great, stupid pigeon in a varsity jacket about three sizes too big. “If Julie’s going, maybe you can show her how brave you are by making it through all five movies. You might get some treats of your own.”
After five years of the same commentary, Marcus had learned to suppress the urge to groan. Hell-O-Scream always managed to scrape together four of the scariest, hands-over-your-eyes sort of movies. He went, against his better judgment, and left the evening, and his friends, feeling like he’d wasted another perfectly good evening that could have been spent working on a new painting.
As Marcus rounded the corner, the streetlight overhead flickered off and on, intermittently illuminating a shape just behind the bushes up ahead. Just like in Night of the Blood-Drinking Mangler, he thought. The leaves rustled, as something shifted and crept among them. Marcus’ heart pounded as he picked up his pace significantly. The bushes shook alongside him; whatever they concealed was following him now, and he knew his life would be over soon. Just then, out from the foliage, darted a startlingly obese black cat. It flopped across the sidewalk, and then the street, before disappearing from Marcus’ view.
“Shit,” Marcus said to himself, having stopped to compose himself. He took a moment to be grateful his friends hadn’t been there; he’d have never lived that momentary panic down. He resumed his walk home, now with a little more speed and purpose to his step. The sooner he was inside, with the door locked behind him, the better.
Two blocks later, the front porch of his house came into view. The trash cans still stood, neatly arranged, at the edge of the sidewalk. Marcus made sure he’d put the garbage out earlier, recalling previous years when he’d been so preoccupied with the monsters from that night’s movies he’d forgotten, leaving his house to stink of week-old pizza boxes.
It started with a slight shudder of the garbage cans, their metal exteriors lightly clunking against each other. Marcus slowed his pace. He eyed the trash cans, suspicious. Probably just some raccoons, he thought, getting their own Halloween feast. The slight tremors of the trash can became more pronounced; their exteriors clanged and crashed together as Marcus got closer. The one closest to him toppled over abruptly, vomiting its contents onto the sidewalk. Another cat sauntered off into the distance.
“This is ridiculous,” Marcus said with a sigh. He reached into his pocket, produced a key, and let himself into his house. The living room light had been left on, but the rest of the house was dark. A small note on the coffee table reminded him his parents had gone to a costume party, that there was pizza in the fridge, and to have a Spooktacular Halloween. Marcus set the note down, then made his way to the kitchen. He flicked the light switch into the on position. The lights came on, dimmed, flickered, and returned to a moderate level of brightness.
Marcus opened the fridge, found the pizza the note had promised, and shut the fridge door. As he walked past the kitchen window on his way to the microwave, he caught sight of a peculiar reflection. A masked figure, dressed in all black, was only a few paces behind Marcus, and it was holding a knife in a way suggesting it hadn’t arrived to help him prepare his leftover dinner.
“I don’t suppose you’re a cat, too,” Marcus said, as the color drained from his face and the cold pizza dropped to the floor.