Warnings: a description of graphic violence.
An answer to the CT Halloween Challenge 2000. Story must include:
old running shoes
orange and black crepe paper
It was a dark and stormy night, literally. The rain poured periodically and the breeze had a distinct chill, heralding the coming winter. Jim Ellison leaned casually against the window frame keeping the activity in the house across the street in his sight. Both the detective and his partner, Blair Sandburg, had been keeping a close eye on all the innocent trick or treaters that were walking past the alleged drug lab. The Sentinel wished he could keep them from even passing in front of the house but he couldn't yet prove the suspects were guilty. So he watched and he waited.
Blair shifted uncomfortably in the fold up camping chair he'd brought from the truck. "It's cold in here."
"It's a condemned house, Chief. Nobody's lived here for years. It's kinda hard to keep the wind out when half the windows have had rocks thrown through them."
"Why's it condemned? It looks like a nice house, needs some work. Ok, a lot of work but it could be saved."
Jim glanced around the room, "Yeah, very becoming in it's day. I don't know, usually something bad happens in a place and then no one will live there." He turned back to the window.
"What happened here?"
"I don't know. It's been empty ever since I can remember. Hey, Queen Amidala and Darth Vader, now there's a pair."
Blair chuckled, "And prophetic if things are as they seem. This isn't going to distract me, Jim. I'm still cold." He stomped his feet on the floor in demonstration of how cold he felt.
"If you'd worn something besides those old running shoes."
"I like these shoes."
"And your feet got wet last time it rained."
"They are wet now, thanks for asking."
The house creaked in the wind. Jim stepped back from the window as fresh rain pelted through the opening. His attention remained across the street but he tried to keep his partner from noticing the declining weather conditions. "So what would you be doing if we were in the nice, warm loft besides not studying that textbook you brought along?"
"You won't let me use the flashlight to read by. Let's see, hanging black and orange crepe paper from the railing around your room?" Blair suggested.
A wicked grin appeared on Jim's face, "Next year, we should hang a scarecrow from the balcony and see if anyone notices."
"By a noose? That's sick, Jim, real sick. Says bad things about your sense of humor. I bought a pumpkin but I've been too busy to turn it into a jack-o'-lantern, might as well turn it into pumpkin pie instead."
"I like pumpkin pie," Jim shivered suddenly.
"See, you're cold too."
The sentinel turned and scanned the room around them. His eyes settled on a faint light on the far side of the room. It could be a reflection off something but Jim couldn't detect it's source. He gave Blair a glance, "No, I'm not cold. It felt like, you know that saying, 'someone just stepped on my grave?"
Blair squinted at where Jim was staring but he couldn't see anything out of the ordinary, "You see something?"
"No," Jim shook his head and turned back to the window, "just a feeling."
The rain slowed again. The trick or treaters who had disappeared into their parent's cars emerged once again.
Jim chuckled, "Look at that kid, a baboon on a unicycle."
Blair picked up the binoculars, "That's a gorilla. I still think the race horse we saw a couple of hours ago was better."
"Nah, you could see the straps holding up the horse costume."
Blair shifted in the chair to avoid another cold blast from the window, "When's our relief coming?"
"Brown and Rafe will be here at midnight. We got any pizza left, Chief?"
"The witching hour great," Blair leaned over and opened the box on the floor, "yeah, you want the last piece?"
"It's raining again. Kids are all going in, it's getting late."
"You sure we can't turn on a light?"
"Sure as I was the last time you asked. We don't want anything to tip off the suspects that we are in here."
"Nope, all quiet."
Blair joined Jim at the window. "You think there's anybody there?"
Jim cocked his head to one side, listening, "Yeah, they're watching the game." The sentinel's body shuddered as if suddenly chilled.
He turned to see a different room, brightly lit and clean, well furnished, a mother, two children, a boy and a girl. The children sat at the table sorting their Halloween candy. He was a cowboy and she was a tiny ballerina in a pink tutu and tights. A vase of daisy's sat on the table between them. Jim could smell their fragrance as he listened to the delighted giggles.
The door opened and the children turned to greet their father. Their cries of joy suddenly silenced as the light flashed twice against the bloody blade of the knife. The mother's scream ceased mid-wail as her vocal cords were sliced. The knife flashed one last time as the man turned it on himself. A moment of horror and then silence. The daisy's scattered on the floor, their white petals stained with drops of red.
"That's it, Jim. Come on back to me here."
The sentinel's eyes closed and his knees gave way. Blair cushioned his fall and held him upright on his knees and hugged him close.
After a moment, Jim's arm found it's way around Blair's waist and held on as he shook, "Oh god."
"Hey man! Trick or treat! Whoa, did we interrupt something here?" Brown's cheery voice boomed.
"I think he fainted for a second," Blair explained as Jim struggled unsteadily to his feet.
Rafe steadied Jim from the other side, "Are you ok?"
"I'm fine. I just need some air," Jim lurched toward the door. "You coming, Chief?"
"Wait," Rafe called, "Anything happening across the street?"
"No, it's all quiet, they were watching the game," Blair called over his shoulder as he grabbed his pack and ran toward the truck, "Jim, I think I better drive."
The sentinel nodded and slid over to the passenger side of the truck. Blair started the engine and pulled into the alley.
"Station, I need to go to the station."
"Don't you think we need to take you to a doctor?"
"I'm fine, Sandburg."
"You've never fainted coming out of a zone before."
"It wasn't a zone."
Blair stopped the truck, "What did you see? Another ghost?" He could see Jim's pale face in the dashboard lights. Whatever it was, the sentinel was definitely still in shock.
Jim nodded, "Yeah."
"Another murder we have to solve, so we can put the ghost to rest? Is that why we have to go to the station?"
Jim shook his head and spoke quietly, "I don't think there's anything we can do. Justice has already been done. I...I just need to know."
Blair pulled back onto the street, "Did something really bad happen in that house? Is that why no one lives there?"
"Yeah, something bad."
It took Jim the rest of the night to track down the paperwork in the dusty file boxes in the basement of the station. He handed the folder to Blair with shaking hands. After he read it, Blair met Jim's still haunted eyes, "Is this what you saw?"
Jim nodded, "The report says he'd lost his job and they were about to lose the house. He just lost it. This wasn't like before. They didn't ask me to do anything. I don't think there's anything I can do, Chief."
"There you two are. The desk clerk said you'd been down here all night." Simon looked over Jim's shoulder at the report, "I remember that, I was a kid, terrible. Is this what brought you in here? Wait, nevermind, I don't want to know. They are tearing down that house later today. We're going to have to find another place for the stake out teams to hold up." Simon took the yellowed report from Jim. "Brown tells me you passed out, does it have anything to do with this thing I don't want to know about?" He refiled the report in the box and closed the lid.
"I'm fine, sir."
"You don't look fine, Jim. You look like you've just seen...nevermind. Blair take him home. I'll see you both tomorrow but only if he's feeling better. He's caught one of those colds again."
Blair drove, "Man, I am definitely getting older, I can't do these all nighters anymore." He stifled a yawn.
The sun peeked over the horizon and Blair moved the visor to block the bright rays. The shop keepers were just beginning to stir. Blair watched a florist pull a cart of fresh flowers out onto the sidewalk as they waited at a light.
"Wait here, I'll be right back."
"Jim! Where are you going?"
Blair checked the mirror, not another car in sight so he could wait without getting ran over when the light changed. Jim returned with a bundle of daisies in his hand. He didn't even have to ask. Blair flipped the signal on and turned the corner. They headed back to the big empty house.
Jim reverently laid the flowers on the dilapidated front porch and stood there a long time. He knew Blair was standing at the bottom of the steps, watching him closely but he allowed the sentinel his space. When Jim turned back to the truck, his eyes were no longer haunted.
Blair ran to keep up with him, "Well, what did you see?"
"Nothing, but they're ready. It's time to let go. I can sleep now."
"How do you know? What sense tells you that?"
The sentinel considered, "I just know and no we're not gonna test it today," he grinned. "Just take me home, Chief."
Jim looked back to see the eerie light in the window vanish as the bull dozer rolled forward. The sentinel laid his head back against the glass behind him and closed his eyes, yes, now he could sleep.
16 October 2000
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