Recap #193: Quiet House by Norman Prentiss
Title: Quiet House, a Halloween short story, a.k.a. “That Got Dark REALLY Fast”
Author: Norman Prentiss
Cover Artist: N/A
Summary: On October 29, the Halloween decorations disappeared from the Myrick lawn. Instead, an official sign appeared at the edge of the property: “Quiet Zone: Death in the Family.”
This year, Jeremy would finally be allowed to trick or treat without his parents’ supervision, and he’d been looking forward to visiting the neighborhood’s most famous October attraction. Now, after all his anticipation, it felt like Halloween had been cancelled. To his young mind, even a grieving family deserves some version of the traditional “trick” but Jeremy’s impulsive act of revenge has far-reaching, terrifying consequences.
I came across this digital short story last year on Fantastic Fiction while I was doing a search for a random story I once glimpsed on Amazon a couple of years ago. You have to understand I’m prone to doing that if I have some bare trace of memory for a book or story and I’ll sometimes dedicate too much time on Amazon and Fantastic Fiction to try and locate it.
I came upon this story in my searches and thought the title sounded interesting. I purchased it through Amazon Kindle for a dollar, which is where I suggest you buy it as well to show support because this story, this, this is… I did not come into this story prepared for how dark it goes, and was assuming it’d be some “Tales from the Crypt” esque journey where the neighbors get revenge on Jeremy for his trick.
You aren’t prepared for how brutal this goes.
You can find more of Norman Prentiss’s work on his website here: http://normanprentiss.com/
Jeremy had been cheated out of Halloween for as long as he could remember, due to his overprotective mother’s desire to make sure his October 31st was carefully supervised. About a dozen houses worth of candy followed by his elementary school’s rather pitiful Halloween party of costume contests where everybody wins, “Scary” stories with morals how there aren’t any real monsters, and mini pumpkin pails of sugar-free, bite sized morsels starving mice wouldn’t touch. Not at all like his older stepbrother Sammy’s Halloweens, unsupervised nights of teeth rotting goodness and unabashed hell raising for those who caught the ire of him and his friends.
[Wing: Cry me a river, kid. I grew up without being allowed to celebrate Halloween at all.]
This year was going to be different. Jeremy was finally allowed to experience the height of Halloween. That is, he was finally allowed to experience the Myrick Haunted House. Every year, Mr. and Mrs. Myrick would go all out to create a superbly terrifying haunted house, both inside and outside, as reported by Sammy before capping off by giving Jeremy (“Germy” as Sammy calls him) his last favorite kind of candy. But on October 29th of this year, Jeremy was shocked and enraged to discover all their gruesome, hand made decorations were gone, save for a sign placed on the front yard.
DEATH IN THE FAMILY
What made Jeremy’s rage burn so white hot and absolute? Well, his parents DID say he could tag along with Sammy’s friends for trick or treating. Only, considerate Sammy agreed to THAT if Jeremy did double his usual chores that month. AND THEIR PARENTS FUCKING ALLOWED THIS, like it would make the whole thing more satisfying if Jeremy “Earned it.”
So Jeremy busted his ass doing laundry and cleaning the kitchen and bathroom and mowing the lawn while Sammy “Supervised.” And then Jeremy saw the sign and wondered who could’ve possibly died in their family? The Myricks didn’t have kids, so was it Mr. or Mrs. Myrick who died? Jeremy was conflicted, because he knew he was being petty and selfish thinking about his own desires when one half of a loving couple possibly died, but he still couldn’t get over those long hours he toiled and wasted just to learn “The cake is a lie.” How low can you get?
[Wing: Jeremy, I hope they eviscerate you, fucking jackass.]
Jeremy found out later the person who died was the daughter of Mrs. Myrick’s cousin, and Jeremy thought “For THIS? For THIS I lost the best Halloween I could’ve ever had? A COUSIN’S DAUGHTER???” Jeremy briefly hoped the decorations would go up after all, but no, because this woman was apparently like a daughter to Mrs. Myrick. And now Jeremy learned Sammy’s ditching him so he and his friends can go to a party at some girl’s house. Jeremy doesn’t have any friends, well, not the kind he does stuff with after school, so now he has to spend Halloween all by himself. He’s angry at everyone, his parents, his brother, the Myricks, and the dead woman. But the person Jeremy hated most of all was himself.
And so, the night before Halloween Jeremy went for a walk, stewing in impotent rage. He didn’t care if his parents had no idea where he was, fuck them for all he cared. On his journeying, Jeremy found himself at the Myrick property, and was amazed by the multitude of cars overflowing into the parking lot adjacent to the abandoned factory near the Myrick home. Scoping out the house from the vacant lot near the Myrick house, Jeremy could distinctly hear the sound of Mrs. Myrick’s laughter, followed by the laughter of several other Myricks or Myrick associates? Quiet zone? Bullshit! They’re not having a wake, it’s a party! And Jeremy can feel it, that the joke they’re laughing about is him, The Boy Who Lost His Halloween. Jeremy remembered the pranks Sammy regaled him with of Halloweens past, of the people who pretended they weren’t home and hoarded their candy for themselves. “You have to be brave,” Jeremy was once told. And that was when Jeremy found the rock.
Running through the parking lot, the rock in his hand, Jeremy releases all his pent up rage and frustrations in a single throw. Air whooshing! Glass breaking! And a… thud? That was the last sound Jeremy heard, because then it became quiet…
“Oh my God!”
A woman’s voice, weak and raspy yet rising in surprise and horror, growing loud and cracking in the shrill, final syllable. Like the cry of a tortured animal, or a person going insane.
It was the most anguished sound he’d ever heard.
Then other cries, too, a whole room full of people wailing in agony.
But he hadn’t done anything, not really. He’d only thrown a rock. The way they cried out, you’d think Jeremy had killed someone.
That wasn’t possible. Was it?
That night Jeremy agonizes over what he did, so much so he spends the night vomiting and then dry heaving remembering the cries of despairs. His parents decided he should stay home from school the next day. The act of knowing what he did was nothing compared to NOT knowing what he did. He threw a rock, but what had the rock done? What had HE done?
All Halloween morning he strained to hear his parents and Sammy from his room, but could discern nothing. His father took the newspaper with him to work, and there was nothing on the news. Anything would be better than this unknown fear. Well, Jeremy thought that way, until his brother came home and told him what happened.
Sammy is genuinely humble and apologetic to his brother for the way he used him in the lead-up to Halloween. Sammy says he’s not going out tonight anyway, because no one in town is, out of respect to the Myricks and what happened at the wake. Sammy says Jeremy’s mom didn’t want him to know, and when their parents told him it was like they’d suspected Sammy had done it. Sammy earnestly responds if he knew the person, even if it was one of his friends, who’d done THAT, he’d beat the snot out of them. Anyway…
Jeannie Myrick was the cousin’s daughter who died. Jeannie was the type of person everybody liked, a hard worker, a smart girl, and a kind person. She volunteered with a group from her church and she also helped out at the local animal shelter. And she was going to get married the same weekend as her college graduation. Jeannie was often called to help with emergencies for the animal shelter because she had a good rapport with animals. One night she was called to help when a stray dog had wandered into someone’s backyard shed and gave birth to puppies, except by the time Jeannie and the shelter people arrived the dog had killed and was in the process of eating the runt of the litter. Jeannie, immediately concerned for the safety of the other puppies, attempted to get between the mother and her puppies. [Wing: Jeannie, I thought you were experienced with animals. What the hell are you doing?!] While the mother, who’d only been putting her baby out of its misery and sees this person trying to steal her children, well… this went far beyond brutal. The mother’s protective instincts went from zero to fucking overdrive, and clamped her jaws ON JEANNIE’S FACE. The rescue workers tried to help Jeannie and get the dog off, but the jaws were so thoroughly snapped down on Jeannie’s face her mouth and tongue were getting destroyed in the process. Somehow, she never went into shock which would’ve been a blessing, and she lived for two days in the hospital. Her face was destroyed and bandaged completely. The Myricks and Jeannie’s boyfriend were beyond devastated at how much she suffered.
The reason the funeral was held at the Myricks house was because the town was close to the family burial plots. And family traditions called for the viewing to be held more like a party, but that was going to be difficult for everyone considering what’d been done to Jeannie’s face. Miraculously, the morticians had been able to reconstruct Jeannie’s face almost perfectly, so her family would be able to say goodbye to her face-to-face. Jeannie’s boyfriend had been kneeling by the coffin, sobbing and wishing she could open her eyes, when Elizabeth (Mrs.) Myrick tried to comfort him… and then the rock came through the window.
“It landed on the beautiful reconstructed face. Smashed right through the mortician’s meticulous, fragile work, and the face cracked like an eggshell. Bone and plastic, chipped teeth and twists of wire, wads of cotton and fleshy red clumps all spilled out the sides of her collapsed head onto the silk pillowcase. It gunked up her blonde hair. Some of it splattered onto her weeping boyfriend.”
Everyone was stunned for a moment, and then Elizabeth Myrick screamed, and so did everyone else.
Sammy sees Jeremy’s pretty upset by this, by how the Myricks thought Jeannie’s suffering was over and then a stupid rock through the window brought the pain back a million fold, so he tells Jeremy it’s okay to cry. He apologizes to Jeremy once more about how his Halloween got ruined, but hey, there’s always next year.
That night, Jeremy is tossing and turning, and realizes how likely it is he’ll become a pariah if anyone ever finds out he’s the one who destroyed the Myrick Family. Jeremy realizes he’s not alone in his room, and thinks his mother’s come in to check on him, but it’s not his mom. No, it’s Jeannie Myrick, the rock still embedded in her face.
Wire and chipped bone poked through either side of the collapsed face. The blonde hair was matted with patches of of wet cotton and gristle. A tooth rolled off one side and dropped to the blanket.
Her hand swept the air between them. Her index finger curled and pointed at her ruined face and the rock he put there.
Jeremy can’t figure out why she’s here? To punish him, maybe? To make him confess? But the gentle way Jeannie Myrick takes his hand and gestures to the rock, she wants, what, take it back? Is this his chance to redeem himself? To take the rock from her face and try to make it whole? Jeremy’s hands grasp the stone, and Jeannie’s hand leans forward as he tries to remove the rock…
But then, in a fit of pure revulsion and despair, Jeremy grinds the rock back and forth in Jeannie’s face. He yanks it out and smashes her face more and more, spraying bone and tooth and blood and brain matter over his face. Screaming and thrashing over and over again, hating the young woman more and more for dying, as his parents and brother watch in mute horror while Jeremy batters the air, screaming he can never take it back no matter how sorry he is because life doesn’t work that way.
That was incredibly sad and fucked up and visceral.
Happy Halloween everybody from your pal Jude! 😀
I’m going to Hell.
No, but, seriously, I liked how Prentiss was honest with Jeremy’s conflicted, selfish desires and the extremes his emotions go through, and the way he avoided having this turn into a cliche “Twilight Zone” or “Goosebumps” story where Jeremy gets hunted down and tormented through some ridiculous revenge by the Myricks. The horror comes from human brutality and suffering and throughout it all, Jeremy is the engineer of his own unhappiness.
[Wing: This is an interesting short story. I’m not sure how I feel about the pacing around the ending, but I like the story overall, and I’m glad you recapped it here.]