152-Old Joe

(A short horror story I wrote a while ago. Hope you enjoy it!)

In 1838 William and Alice Spar were blessed with twins. They had moved to Fort Laramie, Wyoming the year before, looking to set up a general store at the new trading post. The babies, one boy and one girl, were inseparable from birth, and with their warm smiles and white-blonde hair, (both William and Alice were dark-haired, so this was seen as evidence of God’s handiwork) they always looked as though the sun were shining down on them.

In the February of the children’s tenth year Constantine suddenly stood bolt upright in the schoolhouse and began screaming. (Constance, though already quite pretty, was slow and it had been decided to keep her at home to work the store and teach her the skills she would someday need to keep a husband.) The boy ran from the schoolhouse with tears in his eyes shouting “She’ll die in the dark! She’ll die!” Constantine got no more than two blocks than he was struck by a wagon speeding through the middle of town. With a loud “snap” the youth went into the dirt, bone protruding from his shin. By the time the town’s doctor arrived the boy had dragged himself another hundred feet towards his home, his wild screams and the bloody trail left behind enough to ward off the townsfolk. The doctor intuited that the child would not allow himself to be administered to unless the message of Constance’s possible jeopardy was delivered to the Spar’s home. He ordered one of the other schoolchildren standing in the street to do so and carried Constantine to his office.

When the boy sent by the doctor reached Alice, she was in the front yard of their small whitewashed house planting new roses. She had long ago understood the unspoken connection shared by the twins and was terrified to hear the warning. Alice scrambled though all of dark places she could think of, finally uncovering Constance, still and slumped over the edge of a rain barrel in the wood shed. Her head had been submerged and the skin of her face was bluish and clammy. There was no pulse. Alice held the girl upside-down with her knee in the child’s stomach to pump the water out of her, crying to God and whoever else would listen to return her baby to her. In a spluttery cough, Constance revived.

Both of the twins recovered from that frightful day, but they were not unmarked. Constantine continued to walk with a limp even after he was declared fully healed, but more worryingly, his personality seemed damaged as well, and not so easy to fix. The boy walked under a cloud, his face darkened and rarely, if ever, casting a smile. Constance, who had difficulty communicating in the best of times, withdrew completely, becoming, for all intents and purposes, a mute.

Alice and William struggled to keep spirits up in the household, but it was difficult. Fort Laramie had grown in the years they had been there, and theirs was no longer the only general store plying wares from the North Platte River. The townsfolk began to give the Spars a wide berth, avoiding the oddly changed children and the store as well. In early October William decided that if the situation had not improved by the first of December, they would move back to Missouri and he would go to work for Alice’s father, who owned several textile manufacturing plants.

As Halloween approached, Alice realized that she had an opportunity to re-integrate her children back into the town’s society. She ordered paint special all the way from Columbus, and when the day came, she set to work. She painted the twin’s faces to look like the clowns in the circus, who made all the town’s children laugh with delight. She painted twinkling eyes over sad looking ones, and smiles where there were none. She painted the best and the happiest she had ever seen her two babies. Then she colored their faces, one blue and one pink, so that no one could look at them without smiling themselves. It was the finest job she had ever done, and so hopefully, and apprehensively, she let them out into the night with their empty sacks and happily painted faces.

Several hours later, Constance and Constantine returned home. They were dirty and disheveled, their hair wild and matted with dirt and twigs. Their clothes were torn and their faces were smeared and Constantine was breathing so hard he could not speak, though there was a fierce look in his eye and a jagged smile on his lips. Their bags were full, and Alice gasped in shock when she realized that the bottoms of them were soaked through with blood. William snatched the bag from Constance’s hand and dumped the contents out on the family’s table. Alice screamed. For there on the table was a pile of pieces, bits and snatches of children, the children of Fort Laramie. Fingers, toes, eyes, teeth and tongues, other parts not recognizable and more lay strewn out on the table’s surface like the contents of some mad doctor’s toy chest. William began packing up the essentials the family would need to survive in the wilderness and Alice sat on the floor, weeping and unable to look up at her own children. Constantine placed his sack on the floor and went to his mother, sitting beside her and placing his arm around her waist. Out of fear, she did not recoil.

This is how they were when the first torch crashed through the glass window in the front of their home. Ironically, it was Constance who first understood what was happening, and with a shriek, ran through the front door. Jebediah Shaw was the man who struck the girl with another torch, sending her flying back into the house. The townsfolk surrounded the Spar’s tiny home, mad with their grief and anger. They allowed no one to escape as they burnt the building to the ground. They had heard from the mouths of their own young, the ones who got away, of two attackers, crazed, wearing dirt-encrusted clothing and gleaming, bone-white masks, one who ran with a limp and the other silent as the tomb, who fell upon the children with knives and animal desperation. They had found the mutilated bodies of the ones who had not escaped, and now they wanted revenge.

The townsfolk of Fort Laramie spent their anger that night, though the sadness left behind scarred the community for far longer. Of course, the frontier justice of that Halloween couldn’t bring back the children that had been lost, but life went on in the township of Fort Laramie. In fact, it was only just the very next day that Ida Shaw, wife to Jebediah Shaw, gave birth to twins, one boy and one girl, both with hair like bleached straw.

(Artwork by Lena Shore)

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