Adam Light has been one of my cheerleaders since I first began book blogging, and along with his brother, participated in the very first Halloween shenanigans – back in 2014 when this thing only lasted SIX days. Unfortunately, as happens, life kept getting in the way after his second Halloween appearance, and he was unable to share in the frivolities… until this year. He mentioned that he was going to write me a little story (the two of them each surprised me with stories in 2015) and I can’t tell you how excited I was to hear that. I have been a fan of the Light Brothers since I first started reading their stories and feel honored to share this, Part 2 of one of my absolute favorite stories by him (Tommy Rotten). Make sure you turn the lights off for this one… for dramatic effect. They are the PERFECT tale for the Friday before Halloween.
The Donnerly House languished in utter disrepair at the end of Cypress Lane, where once upon a time an opportunistic killer had taken a boy’s life, and started the legend of Tommy Rotten.
The boy, Tommy Rachen, had vanished without a trace on Halloween, and it was said that he now haunted the Donnerly House, and lured other children into his pumpkin patch to “rot” with him. Thus, the name.
The local legend had grown when a girl from a nearby home had disappeared on Halloween a few years ago. It had been whispered that Tommy Rotten had taken a wife. And now their tale’s woeful lesson gained traction not just in the neighborhood, but across the state, and beyond.
Carol Rotten only wanted one thing, a child. There was a growing divide between Tommy and her, a hole only the love of a child could fill.
Though she had sought out her new husband willingly enough, he had thoughtlessly pulled her over to this wasteland, and imprisoned her with him.
There was no escape, but in true death. She was content to stay in whatever state that passed for life she existed in now, but she needed some better company if she was going to be damned to rot with Tommy.
Tommy had sternly warned her that if she crossed back to the other side, she would not last very long, as the dead could never be reinstated into the world of the living, having long ago left their corporeal selves behind.
This was why he had drawn her to him, by tapping into the supernatural energy that flowed through the pumpkins that grew here, harnessing the power of his will to control the vines, and though the vines had taken her from that mortal coil, his love for her was also able to preserve her in death for eternity with him, here in their paradise of eternal life.
He had the power to control reality itself, but he stubbornly denied to use it for her benefit, claiming he felt horrible for killing Carol, and did not wish to take another child from its parents.
Carol understood this, and she loved Tommy with her very being, but she needed more. And she knew that Tommy was slightly power mad.
“My sweetest Carol,” he professed, “please understand that taking a living soul requires so much power that it nearly cracked the moon and scattered the stars the night you came to me.” He boasted, and paused for effect. “I also doubt you’d be able to live with yourself after taking a poor child’s mortal soul away from their poor mother.”
He eyed her, though maggots crawled in the empty socket like animated rice instead of eyeballs, which never ceased to make her smile. She never thought too hard about the fact that she probably appeared the same to him.
The moon and stars had not been in any danger that night, and he was well aware of it. He liked to exaggerate. Carol didn’t appreciate it much.
The pull of motherhood persisted like the tides, a power of nature itself, and though her longing consumed her, she resisted for as long as she could, hoping that some wayward child would seek her out.
After all, she wasn’t a killer.
Nor was she evil.
She could no longer be sure it mattered either way now that she was dead.
Still, Tommy had taken Carol from her life, and damned her to an eternity of nothingness in his kingdom of rotted fruit, and his wormy company, which proved inadequate to long sustain happy feelings, much less love. She wanted a baby, and taking the child was the only way it was going to happen. She had to convince Tommy to help her.
There was no escape from this place. Tommy argued that she had wanted to be here, and no one should be alone, even him, and because of his loneliness, he had wrongly taken her. But she had been keen to come here, nevertheless. Though he had guilt over it, it was not so bad that it had prevented him from killing her.
After all else failed, she threatened to throw herself back to the other side, so she could just die. She knew there was a way to do it, and he knew she wasn’t bluffing.
The thought of losing Carol was too horrifying to seriously ponder. He simply would not allow it. So, reluctantly, he agreed to help her.
And then, a few days before Halloween, a young girl, no more than 10 years old, came strolling up to the fence.
Charity Crane knew the stories, but still braved the trek down to the old spooky place, and faced the Donnerly House with a challenging smirk on her rosy ten-year-old face.
She was far from brave, but she was intensely curious about Tommy and Carol. Their story held her in sway. They wanted a perfect child.
Charity’s own mother was not much company to her now that dad was gone. The woman had been drowning her sorrows in the bottle for nearly two years, and wanted little more in life other than getting plowed.
There were no friends, no hobbies for Charity. Nothing really caught her attention like the story of these ghosts in her very own neighborhood.
Charity came to the fence, willingly enough. The girl’s shining presence held sway over all things out there in the land of the living, or so it seemed. To Carol’s mind, Charity was the one she had known would come.
Together, she and Tommy watched the girl curiously poking around in the honeysuckle that draped the chain linked enclosure, trailing her fingers lightly, but with little trepidation, only interest bordering on awe.
“She must know about us!” Carol gleefully shouted
Carol was over the bloated corpse moon with delight.
“Of course, she knows about us,” he chided, “what else do you suppose brought her to the creepy old deserted house, if not the spooky tales of Tommy Rotten and his Undead Wife?”
He thought he was funny, but Sally didn’t. She felt ridiculed, mocked. If she had cheeks, they would have been red. If she had tears, they would have spilled over her cheeks in tiny waterfalls.
Carol went on, doing her best to ignore mean old Tommy’s blasé reaction. “I can feel her looking for us, Tommy! If only she could see us. Can we take her now?”
“Not now. Only on Halloween.”
“Dammit, but okay. Fair enough, Tommy.”
She twirled her way gracefully, carelessly, Tommy might have said, down the front steps, out into the pumpkin patch, over to the fence where merely
fragrant flowering vines and metal mesh – not to mention the veil between life and death, of course – lay between her and the curious child.
Charity was truly special. She was brooding and intelligent, shining with a brilliance that could be seen as a hopeful aura, and smelled a thousand times sweeter than the most fragrant flowers draped between them. At once, she knew there was a deep well of sadness inside the girl, and that was the moment their noses were an inch apart.
Carol could take this girl’s sadness and make her whole.
The time was almost right. It was nearly Halloween. This was evident in the plumping of the pumpkins. The moon had grown cheeky, as well. Indeed, it may even be in full blaze come the magic night.
Carol watched Tommy as he whispered, cricket calls in the wind, his hollow eyes reflecting nothing, showing only the nothing that was, and the worms that wriggled. She could see the transmissions from his toothless smile, the bottom jaw cracked and splintered down the right side, a delicate fissure that threatened to eventually give way, and then what?
Tommy and Sally were bound together in their postmortem fairy tale marriage, and soon they would make it a true family.
Halloween came floating around as it does every year. It was a cool, pleasant day, and it fell on a Saturday, so the kids had the run of the weekend for their special holiday. It promised to be a Halloween for the ages.
Carol and Tommy embraced in the pumpkin patch, and stared deep into each other’s souls. Unbeknownst to Carol, Tommy had held Charity in his sway from that moment she’d arrived at the fence until now. For this to work, it was necessary for Charity to be extremely suggestible, for a stubborn soul could fight them off, and it would be for nothing.
“Charity!” their voices in unison called to her. Sang to her in mellifluous tones, enchanting her thoughts with their silky vibrations prodding into the deepest space between one world and the next. “Charity, its’s time to come home.”
“Are you sure this will work, Thomas?”
He grinned lasciviously, but the reason for his mischievous demeanor remained hidden on that shining curved slab of bone, broken and sagging, cracked and moldering in a couple of places, jaw slightly askew.
“What makes you think it won’t work, Carol my sweet?” “Never mind. Just hold me.”
They embraced again on that night of mist-shrouded moonlight, through the veneer of Spanish moss-laden limbs, and spider webs dotted with tiny cocoons. Their voices in unison, blasted out from eternity and into the hallowed night.
Their light blazed through the Halloween night. It came through the house, the fence, the vines, the pumpkins, and finally through her and Tommy. Eldritch beams shone and coalesced into a bridge of light arcing across the black sky, down through the trees and out of sight.
Carol and Tommy locked bony fingers, and rode the beams together.
The bridge conveyed their spirits out of death’s palace, and into the living world, past the sign reading Sunny River Estates, the housing development where their precious child currently awaited their arrival.
In the diminutive house on Tallow Lane, Charity cowered in the corner of her bedroom, while her mother slept drunkenly in the tattered old recliner adjacent the front door, whiskey bottle and old tattered bible forgotten where they lay at her feet. She snored like an aging old hound as the vines crept into the house through a portal which had opened in the hall.
The vines crept along the walls, and slinked over to where the large woman slept. Then one of them inch-wormed its way up her nightgown, and up her ample bosom. It stopped, inches from her face, while more caught up.
Mother slowly stirred, and when she opened her mouth to yawn, the vines rushed in and filled up her lungs.
All afternoon, Charity had waited in her bedroom, knowing that something was going to happen, but unable to put it into words. She felt like she was about to die. Because she had nobody and nothing to really lean on, she felt as if she was nothing more than a ghost anyway.
And now, the monsters had come. They were here for her.
“Mama!” Charity tried to scream, but that single word croaked out maybe an inch from her sweaty face and died. She saw the vines, and two lumbering skeletons behind them, closely followed by eerily glowing pumpkins, as they all poured forth from the tunnel in her wall.
The vines enveloped her.
Charity fought and tore at the ropy attackers, but her strength was inadequate to the task. She weakened easily, and she was easily subdued.
She felt a sudden loosening, as if she had become unhinged and had fallen out of gravity’s hold, and into the air above her. She had screwed her fists into her eyes to shield her from this horror show, but she now quickly opened them, and wildly surveyed the scene. She screamed in horror as
Tommy and Carol Rotten materialized out of the opening in the wall in front of her.
Though Charity had initiated the contact with them, she had not really believed the Rottens were real, or that they could physically harm her or her mom.
But they had come for her, and they meant to kill her.
She had known her situation was about to get infinitely worse, and a gasp of terror and perhaps a bit of joy intermingled and caught in her throat, as the pumpkin vines knotted around her wrists and ankles, looped around her waist. Then, the vines gracefully lifted Charity into the hole in the wall with them. The tunnel through the wall impossibly stretched on and on, though the hallway should have been inches away, just on the other side of it.
She screamed as loud as she could, but her cries were cut short by the coiling vines, as they rushed in.
The two skeletal ghouls reached out of the darkness and grabbed Charity tightly and immediately the vines retreated back, releasing her to their masters and her new parents, the Rottens, to whom cruel fate had bequeathed her immortal soul.
Charity was transported then to her new life with the Rottens. She was reminded of a film, the name of which floated just out of reach. It was of little consequence, though. No part of her past life mattered any longer, now that she was dead.
Wanting only to curl up into a ball and cry, Charity was instead gathered into Carol’s dead, loving arms and held close to that awful, fleshless breastbone, and that new mother of hers hummed a sweet, lovely tune to her.
Though she had no ear to hear it, she did hear, and the wordless melody quieted her turbulent soul, just enough to ease her anxiety, if only for a fleeting time.
As she faded into unconsciousness, one thought came through with perfect clarity, just before she slept. She would bide her time, but one day she would have her revenge on the Rottens.
Boo-graphy: Adam Light writes stories both weird and horrifying. Most of his previous short fiction is now collected in Dreams for the Dying, published by Corpus Press in 2021. He is currently working on more.
Tommy Rotten: A Halloween Tale — Tommy Rotten lies immersed in a billowing blanket of fog, wringing his cold hands in elated anticipation. He is optimistic that this year someone will finally come. He fantasizes about the potential candidates that will come tromping through the neighborhood, roaming the night in their delightfully hideous homages to the serial killers and demons and ghouls – normally inhabitants of their nightmares – but tonight, Halloween, brings them endless delight.
Dreams for the Dying — Bad dreams don’t always evaporate in the light of day.
Some refuse to fade, forever haunting dark corners of consciousness:
The dread of an approaching headlight on a deserted road . . .
Swirling black clouds claiming the sky, bringing death and madness . . .
The cabin of a trucker’s rig, where a waitress lies bound and gagged . . .
A cursed soul in a moonlit pumpkin patch, desperate and lonely . . .
These are songs for the damned, poisons for the cure, and Dreams for the Dying.
For years, Adam Light has frightened and delighted readers around the world with his stories of horror and the bizarre. Fully revised to best represent the author’s original vision, these fearsome tales of the macabre are finally collected under a single cover for the first time.