The Arapahoe Pinnacle

“The Mansion” Halloween Flash Fiction 1st Place Winner

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Marilyn K Moody, Author

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Huge. Spooky. Rundown.

Hattiebelle’s house is the biggest and creepiest house in my little hick town in downstate Illinois. We all just call it “The Mansion.” It looks like one of those southern plantation manors with white columns and a circular driveway in front.

The Mansion is surrounded by tall weeds and a maze of abandoned rock gardens. Mostly what you see now are crumbling piles of rocks, random succulents dotting the stones, and a few stubborn flowers that occasionally half-heartedly bloom.

Little known fact: Hattiebelle’s father won his first farm in a high-stakes poker game.

Little known fact: When Hattiebelle’s father died instantly in a car accident, Hattiebelle instantly became the richest woman in the county.

Hattiebelle and her long-time housekeeper Isabel, who constantly smokes foul-smelling cigars, are suspicious of visitors. One time when I was a little kid and Hattiebelle had commanded my family to come to The Mansion, I realized I had to pee. Badly. Isabel grudgingly allowed me to use the bathroom near the kitchen.

“Don’t flush. It wastes water,” Hattiebelle said.

The bathroom floor was filthy, and the toilet bowl was streaked with brown stains and half-filled with soggy strings of used toilet paper. I gagged as I tried to avoid breathing in the air thick with Isabel’s swirling rancid-smelling cigar smoke mixed in with the strong stale pee odor. I realized much too late that holding it in, however difficult, would have totally been worth it.

Rumor has it that Hattiebelle forced one of her many browbeaten tenant farmers to catch and let loose a bunch of young copperhead snakes in the rock garden one long ago fall day. They were supposed to kill the mice overrunning the place. The old guys at Lou’s Diner say the descendants of those copperheads are still there, including some terrifyingly huge six-foot-long monster snakes.

“Unless you’re just plain unlucky, a copperhead bite won’t kill you,” said Jess.

“The bite sure hurts like hell, though, and makes you sicker than a dog. You’ll wish you had died,” old man Jones countered.

My father hates Hattiebelle. Just for starters, he hates that she insisted that he and his wife and kids move into an old rundown tar paper shack on her land when he began farming for her. The house didn’t even have running water back then. Two little babies and no indoor plumbing.

He hates how she always seems just this close to cheating him, but it’s never anything he can prove. He hates the frequent summons to The Mansion where she lays out her weird demands that he doesn’t dare refuse if he wants to keep farming that damn land.

Little known fact: My father was the young and scared tenant farmer who caught and let loose the copperheads for Hattiebelle those many years ago.

It’s Halloween. My friends and I pile into my red beater Chevy Impala with a bent coat hanger making do for the radio antenna. Too old for candy treats—we’re ready for drinking beer and playing nasty tricks. It’s a clear and unusually warm October night, with a big old full moon in the sky. The little trick-or-treaters are running around without coats and barely need flashlights.

I roll down the window and pitch another beer can out; it lands in the brick street with a clatter. Plenty more left. We drive up and down Main Street, honking at other cars with high school kids crammed inside. I recognize all the cars. Except one.

It’s a black Buick without any plates. New. Shiny. Tinted windows. The only people around here who drive cars like that are bankers or from Chicago.

We keep driving aimlessly around. I usually avoid driving by The Mansion. Too many bad memories. Tonight, though, it’s time for some tricks. We’ve saved two dozen eggs for the gate at the front entrance of the driveway to The Mansion.

“Just like last year,” I say. “We’re going to really let those eggs fly.”

The black Buick pulls up down the street from The Mansion. A man in a black trench raincoat and black leather city shoes gets quickly out of the car, leaving it still running and the car door slightly ajar. From his location, he can’t see our car, but we can see him.

“Shut up you guys. Just keep quiet. I want to see what happens,” I whisper to my drunken buddies.

The man walks purposely to a window on the first floor, clutching a screwdriver in his hand. In no time he’s got the window up and is crawling through the open space.

We scramble out of my red Chevy to better see what’s going on, but cautiously keep ourselves hidden from view. The man reappears a few minute later and throws a bag out the window before climbing out himself.

It’s then that we hear the first screams.

Hattiebelle runs out the front door. “You goddamn thief! I’m going to kill you! You can’t take my money!”

Hattibelle grips a pistol in her hand. BAM!! Hattiebelle fires again. BAM!! BAM!!

One shot clips the man. Blood spurts from his shoulder. He takes off running through the old rock garden. Hattiebelle keeps screaming threats and obscenities and chases after him.

Sounds of multiple shots from more than one gun: more screams, thrashing sounds, moaning sounds. Silence.

We run for the car.

Little known fact: A freshly killed copperhead can still bite you, and its venom will ooze into you as it holds you tightly in its dead viper grip.

My family didn’t attend Hattiebelle’s funeral. My father said we’d already spent enough time with her. The man in the black Buick was Hattiebelle’s nephew. No one ever claimed his body.

Little known fact: Despite what old guys in a diner might say, you can die from a copperhead bite. Especially if you’re unlucky enough to disturb an entire den of monster copperheads on a warm moonlit Halloween night.

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