“Jane’s gonna go dressed as a clown because she already looks like a clown,” said Matthew, before sticking his tongue out and laughing.
“Well, you’re the one dating the clown, so the joke’s on you, loser,” retorted Jane.
“Ouch,” said Matthew, faking offence. He clutched his heart.
“Seriously, are you coming to the party tonight or not, Erin?” asked Jane.
Erin, who had otherwise been ignoring the excited antics of her classmates as they lingered around campus in the late autumnal sunshine after college, was shook from her thoughts at the sound of her name. She had been thinking about her younger sister, who had died a year ago today. Today was Halloween.
“Erin?” repeated Jane.
Matthew and the rest of the group of friends stopped fooling around for a second and looked at Erin.
“A party would do you good,” insisted Jane. “Won’t it, Matthew?”
“Yeah, come,” said Matthew. “We’ll have drinks and food. Jane will provide the horrifying entertainment. It’ll be cool.”
“You’re coming aren’t you, Travis?” asked Jane.
Travis, like Erin, had been distracted by something else. He was sat with the group but looked distant.
“Travis?” repeated Jane.
“Sorry guys. I was just thinking about … you know.”
Jane looked at Erin and then at Matthew who shook his shoulders.
“Travis, what are you talking about?” asked Jane.
“Tonight is Halloween.”
“No shit. That’s why we’re having a party, Einstein.”
“You know all about the legend of the suited man, don’t you?” asked Travis haughtily.
Jane rolled her eyes. “Not this again.”
“It’s real I’m telling you!” insisted Travis, spit flying out of his mouth.
Nobody took Travis seriously whenever he brought up the legend of the suited man. According to local tradition, if anyone spots a man dressed in a grey suit holding a briefcase who is just staring straight into their eyes, it means they will meet their end that night, on October 31st. Few believed in it – but Travis did.
“It’s a stupid superstition,” said Erin. “Nobody is seriously dumb enough to believe it.”
“It’s not stupid!” bellowed Travis before standing up, a look of pure terror in his eyes. “I just hope and pray that none of you guys spot him on your way home tonight. That’s all I can say.”
Travis grabbed his jacket.
“Hey, Travis has given me an idea,” said Matthew. “You know who I might go to the party dressed as tonight? The suited man! I’m gonna kill all of you in one go! One stare at me and bam! You’re all dead.”
Matthew fell backwards in a fit of giggles.
“Oh my God, you are such a loser,” said Jane, smiling unwillingly.
“You know what, Matthew? Ha-ha. Laugh all you want,” said Travis sternly. “I just hope you make it out alive tonight.”
With that, Travis stormed off, looking left and right like a terrified animal.
The group watched him.
“Lunatic 101,” said Jane.
“Oh my God, Jane, don’t look to your left right now, for there is a SUITED MAN OH MY GOD,” said Matthew dramatically, before standing up and running away screaming.
Jane couldn’t help but laugh. “Loser,” she muttered underneath her breath.
Erin rose and slung her rucksack over her shoulders.
“So, we’ll see you tonight?” asked Jane hopefully.
Erin walked away, leaving the group of friends to look at each other with both puzzlement and concern.
“What’s up with her?” asked Josh.
“You know what tonight is, don’t you?” asked Jane. “It’s a year ago since her eight-year-old sister died. Erin still blames herself for her sister’s death.”
“Oh, come on. That was a year ago.”
“People don’t just get over the death of their sister in twelve months, ass hole.”
On the bus ride home from college, Erin was left with her thoughts. Yes, she blamed herself for her sister’s tragic death. She knew she shouldn’t have left her alone for any time. She certainly shouldn’t have gone to the store while dinner was cooking.
Everyone had told her it wasn’t her fault. Her mom and dad lay no blame on her. But she blamed herself, and that’s all that mattered.
The rumble of the bus’ engines were soothing Erin, and she was enjoying watching the last golden rays of the sun as it said goodbye for the day.
Halloween had always been a day of fun and festivities for Erin. But she felt as though, for her, the scares were no longer a bit of fun. They were very real.
“What’s up, babe?” asked Freddy, her classmate who was sat behind her. He had decided to poke his leering face over her seat. She could feel his breath on her head.
“Not much,” she muttered. She wasn’t in the mood to talk to Freddy.
“Hey, how come you never wanna date me?” he asked. “I mean, I always thought the reason was that you were always in a relationship but even now that you’re single you don’t wanna date me. How come?”
“I don’t know. Maybe because you’re weird?”
There was a pause. Erin suddenly felt bad for what she said. She heard Freddy sink back into his seat. He was a nice guy, but he was weird.
As the bus paused at a set of traffic lights, Erin watched a group of giddy schoolchildren cross the road. Two small boys wearing scary masks were chasing screaming girls. Erin smiled. She spotted a young, dark-haired girl crossing the road by herself. Hands entrenched in her brown jacket pocket, she looked isolated from everyone else. With her hair in pigtails, she looked like Erin’s sister. Her head was bowed, so Erin couldn’t get a good look, but she could have sworn it looked just like her.
As the bus slowly began to pull away from the lights, another sight disturbed her even more: She spotted a man dressed in a grey suit who was holding a black briefcase. He was staring right at her. She met his icy, impersonal gaze with her own fearful one. Alarmed, she jumped up in her seat and asked Freddy if he could see the man.
“Where? Where?” asked Freddy.
“Just there, by the lights!”
The bus had pulled too far away, and Freddy – who had no idea where he was supposed to be looking or what he was supposed to looking at – couldn’t see the suited man.
Erin, who didn’t believe in stupid superstitions, felt a chill run down her spine.
“Don’t tell me you think you saw the suited man?” asked Freddy.
“What? No. Of course not.”
Erin sat back in her seat, not quite sure of what she had just seen.
By the time Erin had returned home and started dinner, it was 6.30PM and darkness had fallen. The first trick or treaters had already called, and she was bemoaning the fact that her parents were away tonight, leaving her to answer each time the doorbell rang sharply. Her parents had invited her to join them at their log cabin, but she had declined because of college.
“Honey, I’m sure your college will understand if you miss just two days. Especially after what happened,” said her mom. But Erin was insistent. She didn’t want to be someone who just ran away from her responsibilities because of something that had happened in the past.
But as her spaghetti boiled away in the pan and her tomato sauce bubbled fiercely from the heat, she was beginning to feel the stress. The doorbell sounded again.
“Trick or treat!” wailed three kids at her door. There was a fourth, a girl with pigtails who Erin recognised from the crossing earlier. This girl didn’t say anything; she just stared at Erin, as though questioningly.
“My, haven’t you guys got some great costumes,” said Erin with a smile as she handed out candy to the delighted children. She took another look at the sullen girl with the pigtails who was like an outcast. “And here’s some candy for you,” she said.
The girl didn’t take it, but slowly turned and followed her friends as they skipped down the concrete steps, excitedly talking about what Erin had just given them.
“Mine’s gold!” boasted the boy.
Back inside, Erin finished cooking her dinner and ate it in front of the television. She checked her phone, which had been on silent. Jane had texted to ask if she was coming to the party, while Travis had called. Seeing Travis’ name reminded her of the man in the grey suit with the briefcase who had stared at her from the pavement. She didn’t for one moment believe in the silly superstition that if you see this man on Halloween, you die that night. But as she sat alone in the house, a shiver ran down her spine.
She shook the thought from her head. Of course, the legend wasn’t true. That was precisely why it was only a legend – because it wasn’t true. No one had ever been able to accurately verify that folk who died on Halloween in the town had seen the man in the grey suit with a briefcase beforehand; it was just a spooky invention that someone down the years had come up with to explain the unusual number of deaths in the local area on October 31st. People need an imaginative explanation for that strikes them as otherwise unusual. It’s human nature.
As 10pm approached, Jane texted again to ask where Erin was. Erin was about to reply when she heard a disturbance in the back yard. It sounded like a trash can had been struck by something. Tentatively, she entered the kitchen, switched off the light and peered through the window into the yard. All she could see were black shapes. The brilliant white moon was shining in all its fullness, but it was the only thing she could clearly identify. Everything else was just a formless shape.
Back in the living room, Erin was startled to find her TV had switched itself off while she was away. Or had it? She couldn’t remember if she had been been watching TV or not. Part of her was sure that she hadn’t, but part of her was doubting herself. She looked out of the front window. No one was around. The street was quiet. The lamplights shone dimly, but all the trick or treaters had now gone home.
She looked at her phone and thought about calling Jane. She felt it was too late now for a party, but maybe getting out of the house was a good idea.
When she picked up her phone, however, she decided to call Travis.
“Yeah?” answered Travis. Loud music was playing in the background, and Erin could barely hear him.
“Where are you?” asked Erin.
“At Mikey’s party, of course! Hey, you coming? I tried ringing you like an hour ago. Freddy is here.”
“Travis, I saw the man in the suit earlier.”
“What?” asked Travis, as though he had no idea what Erin was talking about.
“The man in the grey suit you were talking about earlier. With the briefcase? I saw him.”
Travis took the phone into a quiet room.
“Erin, what do you mean you saw the suited man earlier? Are you fucking kidding me?”
“No, I’m not,” said Erin nervously. Her voice was quivering. “He was standing on the pavement as I was sat on the bus. He just stared at me.”
Travis sounded genuinely alarmed.
“I always said I don’t believe in this stuff – and I don’t – but, like, I’m feeling really vulnerable right now.”
“Erin, come to the party. Come right over.”
Erin thought about it for a second, and then decided that it was the right thing to do.
“Okay, I’ll come. What’s the address? … Travis?”
The line had gone dead.
Erin checked her phone – her battery had died.
For the next twenty minutes, Erin tore up the house trying to track down her phone charger but it was all to no avail. She couldn’t find it, and because her laptop had given up the ghost over a month ago, she had no means of contacting anyone. Without Mikey’s address, there would be no party for her.
It was near to midnight when a knock on the door awoke Erin from her snooze on the sofa. At first, she wasn’t sure whether the knock had been in her dream, or had come from the television or the door. A second knock confirmed it had come from the door. But why hadn’t they used the bell?
She got up and, feeling disoriented from being awoken suddenly, had to steady herself by holding onto the sofa arm.
She opened the door to find the small girl with the pigtails looking up at her with a sullen expression.
“What the … Yes?” asked Erin. “My gosh, what time is it? Why are you out so late?”
“I’ve come for my treat,” said the girl.
“You didn’t give me one earlier, so I’ve come for my treat.”
“Do you know what time is it?”
The girl stared coldly into Erin’s eyes.
“Okay, I’ll … I’ll go and get your treat,” said Erin, not quite sure what the heck was happening.
She fumbled around in the kitchen for the candy before finding some in a cupboard. She made her way back to the front door, but found that it was closed. Tentatively, she walked quietly towards it, and then opened it slowly. The girl wasn’t there. She heard the noise of distant sirens, but could see nobody around. She closed the door and locked it.
Once back in the living room, she shuddered and looked at the candy in her palm. It had melted and turned black and hard, as though it had been burnt. Erin let out a yelp and dropped the candy onto the floor. Looking at the palm of her hand, she saw a scarlet red mark.
“This night is getting too freaky,” she said to herself, before resolving that it was time for bed.
But as she began to make her way up the staircase, there was a knock at the door. Erin paused and cussed. Turning back, she unlocked the door and opened it. The small girl with the pigtails was standing there again, a look of fury on her face.
“I said I want my fucking treat!” she said harshly.
“Okay, who on earth are you?” asked Erin, tears welling up in her eyes. “Where are your parents? What are you doing out at this time of the night?”
“Where is my fucking treat?” asked the girl through clenched teeth.
Erin, feeling a sense of rage and frustration overcome her, raced into the kitchen, grabbed a handful of candy, and raced back to the door. But when she got there, it was again closed. This time, however, the girl was inside the house, and she was holding hands with a man dressed in a grey suit who was holding a briefcase.
The girl pointed to Erin.
The man nodded. The pair began to slowly walk towards Erin.