Author’s Note: This story was written live on stream with the audience bidding tokens (earned while watching) to determine the path of the story. The underlined phrases in the choice of three were the winning pathways. Stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade if you’d ever like to participate in our interactive fiction.
Mr. Rind Needles Hairy Pit
You were never supposed to go to the house with the teal roof, at least not on Halloween. Every other day of the year it was fine. The little old lady or the little old man would answer the door, or get their mail, or harass their cat into coming back inside, without bothering a soul. The teal roof wasn’t even that menacing, until it was lit in just the wrong way in late October.
It was Halloween. Theresa, who told everyone to call her Tea because she thought the number of syllables in her name suggested someone who was thirty rather than eleven, stood in front of the house with the teal roof alongside her younger brother Louis. Louis had copied her in the naming department and similarly declared himself Ell.
Everything had gone well in the costume department. Tea was a giant teabag, with all sorts of autumn leaves visible in the clear parts of her costume. Her tea tag was her trick-or-treating bag, attached to the main body of the costume in a way both practical and thematically appealing. She had even decided that she was Earl Grey, and thus also wore a monocle with a plastic lens.
Ell had seen only one costume path available in this, the year he adopted his new shortened name: Ell Diablo. He had the horns, the red suit, the pitchfork, and a very convincing mustache clipped from a hand broom. It was better than the old shoe polish make-up ones, and totally worth getting grounded for an amount of time roughly equivalent to the value of a hand broom.
The house with the teal roof was their last choice for the night. They could risk it. The reward would be only a few extra pieces of candy, but they were chasing the high. None of it was from the sugar itself, merely the anticipation. They’d self-imposed the structure for their trick-or-treating: no candy until you’d poured it out on the living room rug, categorized it, and done all your trading and candy business during market hours.
The problem was that the old couple in that house got strange on Halloween. They never spoke to you or commented on your costume, no matter how clever. Their candy was always a mystery, because they handed it to you in a closed fist, and would only drop it straight into your bag. Ell had argued their demeanor didn’t matter as long as they heard the candy hit the pile. Tea was in agreement. They were very close for siblings of that age, and so went about plotting their candy crusade like business partners. They shook on the latest proposal and headed for the door.
The doorbell sounded normal enough. The paper witch hung up on the porch light had a friendly smile. It didn’t take them long to answer. Tea thought it a little odd that they both answered, standing shoulder to shoulder. One of them held a bucket shaped like a black jack-o-lantern. The other reached in and grabbed the candy, but they held it too high for the children to see.
The old man held it out, but did not look down at them. His face was blank, his eyes glassy and distant like a dusty telescope seen in an antique shop window. He thrust his hand deep into Tea’s candy bag. The hair on his wrist rolled backward against its edge. His fingers opened, cracking as they did. Something hit the bottom of the bag. Tea and Ell said their thanks, but got no response. They closed the door.
The partners called another meeting off to the side of one of the small pine trees at the end of the street. They sat down in a grassy depression leading to a sewer pipe. They both agreed they needed to see what it was before it contaminated the rest of the candy with its strangeness. Tea reached in apprehensively. She would’ve waited longer, but it was dark and the cold air bit at her fingertips. Nobody wanted cold tea.
“Ahch!” she exclaimed, pulling her hand back out. Something held on, its metallic limb tips embedded in the side of her thumb. As soon as it was in the open air it released her and stood tall on her palm. Two minute droplets of blood swelled where it had poked. The children stared dumbly at the creature: a thing of thin metal, a piece broken off from the stack you might find a piece of hay in. Its teeth were crooked and thin as hair. Its eyes were white dots brighter than the street lights.
“I am Needles,” he introduced himself.
Make an Offer Give Ultimatum Cast a Curse
Before they could respond with their own names, or screams, Needles lifted his pointy hands and rubbed them together as if attempting to start a fire. To the further surprise of the children, he succeeded. A tiny yellow flame sparked to life. He tossed it back and forth, split it in two like someone cutting a watermelon with a sword, and then tossed the tiny flames at the children’s open mouths.
They felt a dry crackling heat race down their throats and hit their stomachs. Ell, despite his devilish costume, couldn’t handle it very well. He hacked and coughed and tried to spit it out. Tea was too stunned to respond that way. She simply closed her eyes and tried to feel where the fire had gone. Something felt different, but she wasn’t sure what. Thoughts of their parents, who were supposed to pick them up at the end of that street in twenty minutes, dissipated. Suddenly all the darkness around them not pushed back by the streetlights felt like a cluster of sinister black branches. She felt like she was in a forest, growing horns in order to fit in.
“Heeeheheheheheheheheeeee!” Needles chortled, his voice like a hummingbird screaming. “You’re cursed, you’re cursed!” He turned around and slapped his sharp bottom repeatedly in mocking. It sounded like someone playing the triangle. “Cursed, cursed, cursed! Heeeheheheheeehehe!”
“I think Mom and Dad told us not to get cursed,” Ell coughed as he regained his senses. “What are you? Also, what is everything else that’s happening?”
“Oh I don’t explain things,” Needles said, “that’s the job of my assistant.” He clapped his needle hands together. There was a puff of purple smoke and another tiny creature emerged from it: a frog-ish thing with fluttering bat wings. “Go on Marty, explain it to the children!”
“Welcome to Halloween under the curse and care of Needles: mischievous imp supreme, top troublemaker of Boilmud, second to none. You have been given a trick-flame; it now rests in your little human stomachs waiting to explode,” Marty informed, his voice monotone. “Needles will remove it at the end of the night provided you serve admirably.”
“What do we have to do?” Tea asked.
“Help Needles commit mischief while the darkness lasts. Aid him in spreading portals to the impish realm of Boilmud.”
“What happens if we don’t obey?” Ell asked.
“The trick-flame will explode, you will be fully transformed into imps, and taken back to Boilmud as slaves.”
“Yes that’s right!” Needles said. “Thank you Marty.” He clapped his needles again and Marty vanished in the same puff of smoke. “Marty was the last child who wouldn’t help. Heheheheheheeheheeee!” The children swallowed, feeling the crackle of the fire at the base of their throat. At best, their parents were going to be extremely pissed.
“What now?” Tea asked.
“Put me back in the bag and take me up the street,” Needles commanded. “I have plans for this evening.” Tea lowered him back and closed her hands around the top. “Don’t do that idiot, I need to breathe!” She considered suffocating the thing, but he was likely to simply poke his way out or prematurely detonate his flames. Instead she simply let the bag hang open in one hand. “Now march!” The kids walked away from the street corner, ascending the grassy hill and rejoining the thinning crowd of trick-or-treaters.
“How did we get into this?” Ell whispered to his sister, who simply shrugged. She should’ve figured that old people could just naturally develop curses, like bunions or shingles. She snuck a glance into the bag and saw Needles stabbing wrapped pieces of candy and taking big bites out of them paper and all. He didn’t seem capable of actually eating, just destroying things and enjoying it. She bit her tongue. She took candy very personally.
Sewer Plan Gargoyle Plan Heist Plan
Their hopes of Needles being interested in nothing but practical jokes faded when he corralled them past the rest of the street and into a more isolated area, with only the occasional house and dirt road leading up to it. They knew nobody watched them, because Needles felt comfortable enough to toss fireballs in every mailbox along the way and blow them up.
“How did you get here?” Tea asked Needles as they split off from the road and headed into an empty field. “Did you do something to those old people? Like hypnosis or possession?”
“I didn’t do it,” Needles said, honestly affronted at their accusation. “Their house has been a portal to Boilmud for years. Decades. Some other imp opened it when those idiots tried to contact Satan. I think they wanted their dead cat back or something. It reopens every Halloween, with just enough room for five or so imps to come through. I got a slot this year, hehehehehehehehe.”
“Can they not close it?” Ell asked. He kept adjusting his costume, as if it was getting tighter.
“They don’t know how,” Needles answered. He leaned out of the edge of the bag now, eyes trained on some stony things rising in the distance. “They didn’t even get the right portal in the first place. Boilmud is nothing like Hell. Hell imps are no fun. They know if they disobey us hooooooooorrible things will happen to them. Hehehehehehe. So they have to listen when we tell them to give us out like candy.”
The objects grew until the children recognized them as graves and monuments. He took them right into the midst of an old boneyard, one they had never known existed. Its front had gates, but the trees had grown over them aggressively, some roots even twisting between the bars like pythons.
Needles was only interested in one grave in particular, but the body under the Earth was of no concern. The imp instead stopped them and pointed up at the stone figure atop the cylindrical monument. It was a gargoyle with wide lidless eyes, fleshy lips like a cartoon duck’s bill, the horn equivalent of a bad hair day, and a muscular physique. Its pointed tail wrapped around one of its own legs five times.
“I’m here!” Needles shouted up to it. Nothing happened. “I’m heeeeeeeere!” Needles pricked the side of Tea’s hand again and ordered her to pick him up. She did as she was told and held the imp as high as she could, near the toes of the gargoyle. “I am here. Let’s do this already.” He tapped a stone toenail and then recoiled. The gargoyle finally stirred, its cracks and pits vanishing until it was as smooth as a river stone. Its eyes came to life and its lips retracted to reveal curved fangs. It stood up and flexed the muscles of its arms.
“Is it Halloween already?” it asked, not bothering to look at them. It flexed some more. “I can’t believe you got a slot this year Needles. The Trokes’ portal isn’t as exclusive as it used to be I guess.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Needles muttered, absent-mindedly staring down and kicking, which made Tea wince as the sharp tip of his foot drew blood. In her mind she cycled through excuses to tell her parents. Perhaps someone had literally pulled the old razor-blades-in-the-apple trick. That wouldn’t work. Her parents knew she’d never take an apple and not throw it at something before the night was out.
“What are you offering?” the gargoyle asked, flexing in his seventh distinct pose.
Ell The Candy A Part of his Body
“You know what I’m offering,” Needles spat. “The only thing you’d take.” The imp reached down and touched his own thin metallic neck with a needle arm. He drew the arm across swiftly, slicing off his own head. Tea had to fumble for a moment to keep the piece from dropping into the dark grass. Needles’ arms continued even without an attached head to guide them. The imp bent himself in strange ways, slicing off his own arms and legs as well. Once he was done, the gargoyle reached down with two fingers and picked up the needle that had been Needles’ torso.
“Ooh,” the stony beast said, opening its lips once again to use the needle as a toothpick. It pried a snail out and flicked it away. “This will do just fine.”
“You’ve got it, now release him!” Needles ordered. The gargoyle sighed and then opened its mouth wide. Wider. Wider. It opened like a book, its gray esophagus fully visible. Out from its dark gullet crawled a rusty thing very similar to Needles. It jumped down to Tea’s palm, breaking her skin in yet another place. Blood dripped from her hands now. Ell, helpless before her pain, quietly cleaned her up with the fabric of his costume’s tail.
The rusty imp hugged Needles’ head. They rubbed their metallic foreheads together affectionately, which caused a few flakes of rust to fall into one of Tea’s open cuts. She hissed, but not too loudly. Things were getting interesting and she didn’t want to interrupt.
“Get us out of here,” Needles ordered his child slaves as he stared into the eyes of his companion. They obeyed, sparing a few backward glances to see what the gargoyle would do, but it just continued flexing and eyeing its sparkling needle prize. When they were nearly out of sight Ell thought he saw the creature swallow the needle.
“Are we done now?” Ell asked.
“Pretty much,” Needles said, his head cradled in the arms of his companion. “I’m done too. Can’t do much without that needle. Heh.”
“What was that all about?” Tea asked. “I don’t mean to be rude, but it didn’t seem very mischievous.”
“Rude is polite where we come from,” the rusty imp said. “That nasty gargoyle was one of us. If you can figure out how to stay on Earth past Halloween you get to grow here. He’s a lot bigger than when he first came through the Trokes’ portal.”
“Why did he want your body?” Ell asked. They were getting closer to their original street now. They were nearly two hours overdue for their rendezvous with their parents. Plus, the fire inside them seemed to be getting hotter as the night dragged on.
“Because it was a great needle!” Needles insisted, as if it were obvious. “It was lost in Earthly haystacks and found thirteen separate times. It helps you find things. It’s how I found my slot for the portal this year. Now it’s gone though. Worth it. Heh.”
“How did the gargoyle capture your friend?” Tea asked. She thought she saw police lights flashing in the distance. Perhaps they were missing children now, or perhaps someone had just noticed their smoking mailbox.
Ate them last Halloween Lured them Magnetically Wooed them
“I was a fool,” the rusty imp explained. “The gargoyle came to Earth years ago, but he wrote to me: letters made of cigarette smoke and magic that could pass through the worlds. He told me he loved me. He arranged for me to get a slot in the portal last year. I was so happy when I saw the horrified looks in the elderly eyes of the Trokes. I thought I’d found true love. I thought he and I would grow fat and terrifying, feeding on Earth’s stupidity and innocence.”
“We’re not that stupid,” Ell defended.
“Youre wearing a Satan costume,” the rusty imp said with an eye roll. “Do you know how many beings in both Boilmud and Hell would kill you just for that?”
“I do not,” the boy admitted. He was too tired to argue. He didn’t care which hellish creatures were in love with each other or imprisoning each other. He just wanted to go home, vomit up the little fireball, and then unwrap new fireballs flavored like cinnamon. He wanted to barter candy with Tea and go to bed.
“What’s he going to do with that needle?” Tea asked the reunited imps.
“Find more cursed things, get more powerful,” Needles said, “who cares? He lured me out and got what he wanted. His fate will probably be the same as every other imp that tries to keep growing. A human somewhere will shoot him or stab him in daylight and he’ll die. In horrific pain. So many want to make Earth their own Hell, but none of us are crafty enough.”
“Well that’s good,” Ell said. “You guys suck.” Needles glared at him, one of his detached arms pointing in Ell’s direction. The children assumed he tried to activate the fireball, but nothing happened. They looked at each other, eyes widening. Tea and Ell stopped dead. Those were definitely police lights, and they were certain they didn’t want any adults getting involved if they could prevent it.
“You can still get these things out of us, right?” Tea asked the imps. She brought her face very close, not caring if they poked her in the eye. “Right?”
“I’d need a body for that,” Needles said indifferently. “All my magic is in my left arm, but I need a body so my head can pass the idea through it to the arm. Geez, do they not teach you kids anything about imps in school?”
“Well we’re not keeping them,” Tea argued. “We’ll get you a new body, take you back to the portal, and call it a night.”
“I don’t think so,” Needles said. “You kids don’t have anything worth making a body out of. Don’t worry. Turning into an imp will take a long time without me blowing those things up. You probably won’t get horns until you’re like thirty.”
“We have stuff,” Ell insisted. “Lots of stuff. Here. Taaaaake this….” Ell rummaged around in his candy bag. They were expert trick-or-treaters. The last house had just been a miscalculation. Surely something they’d gathered could sway the imp.
Toothbrush A Candy Necklace A Plastic Whistle
Ell pulled out one of the only non-candy items available: a plastic whistle in the shape of a black cat. To demonstrate its power, he blew into it and produced a shrill note. Unfortunately, it seemed to draw the attention of the police over the hill. Flashlight beams turned their way.
“Crap,” Tea hissed. “We can’t explain this. Just take the body Needles and get out of here. We helped you, hold up your end and take your fire too.”
“I don’t know,” Needles said. “I don’t want to change my name to Needle-whistle. That seems stupid.” The rusty imp tapped his forehead a few times. “What? You like it?” They whispered to each other for a moment. “I mean, I guess I could use it to open portals. If I can match the note in some of those stupid human summoning songs… okay.”
Ell handed the whistle over and Needles rapidly reassembled himself around it. He tested it out, blowing the shrill note once again. The flashlights bobbed up and down as they got closer. Tea’s head whipped back and forth, but when she looked at her injured palms the imps were gone. They left behind nothing but a faint wisp of greenish smoke and a chill where the trick-flames had been. Not even a goodbye. Two officers ran up to the children and turned them around.
“Don’t worry officers,” Tea calmed them, “nothing but Satan and some cold tea.”