“Welcome back! Hope you all have enjoyed all the macabre festivities thus far. Our third and final viewing is about to begin. This will not be the end of the party. As you may recall the end time was strictly until ‘question mark’. Please leave by dawn though.”
“There are plenty of beds, sleeping bags, and tents!”
“Correct. Plenty of Tylenol and water to counter any hangovers. Now, if we may begin. Our last story for the Halloween weekend comes from Australia and involves a pair of kids playing around the neighborhood–a place they should be safe. This one is called:
‘Damn!’ The curse broke through the quiet of the afternoon. It had, of course, been preceded by the familiar rubbery ‘poing’ of a playground ball being kicked, and succeeded (after veering off to the left) by two more poings and a splash. Both year-fives watched as the ball arced further and higher than either of them expected and came crashing down on the concrete slopes of the canal and sent up glittering specks of water from the Wattle Grove Creek runoff. The previous day’s rain left enough water for a generous flow; while it wasn’t enough to carry a small boy by any means, it was plenty to assist a light rubber ball down the path towards the underpass of Cumberland Road.
‘I’m not going after that!’ proclaimed the roller, Ray Weatherford, best friend of the kicker, Adam Sutherland—who also shared his objection to the task.
‘Neither am I! You’re supposed to be the catcher!’
‘Yeah? Well you’re supposed to keep the ball up here!’
The two continued to argue as they both gave a half-hearted sprint to the canal tunnel entrance, watching the ball roll closer and closer to the stinking maw. Barring a few centimetres around the opening and the exit on the other side of the street, the whole of the enclosure was a dank void.
‘…remember last time when you kicked it into the yard with the dog? I had to go get it that time.’
‘Running out of time…match for it?’
Both boys held out their left hands, palm up, made fists with their right hands and placed them in the centre of the other.
‘On shoot?’ asked Adam.
‘On shoot,’ his friend confirmed.
They moved their throwing hands in time with their words:
Adam threw paper; Ray thew scissors.
‘Dammit!’ Adam cursed and moved down the pavement
‘Ha ha!’ Ray taunted from the footpath.
‘Yeah? Go to the other side of the street and make sure I’m not going in for no reason at all!’
Ray checked both ways and jogged across the street, stepped up to the footpath, gazed down through the chain-link fence and kept his eyes peeled. Nada. Heaps of rubbish and a steady flow of water. It was a bit odd, he reflected, that a good deal of the runoff diverted to the right.
‘Nothing over here!’ he yelled over his shoulder.
Ray quickly brushed the thought aside—had to be all the crap piled up down there. A wicked smile crept onto his face; the image of Adam trudging through mounds of shit struck a major chord of his funnybone. If Adam came out smelling something foul (and he would, with all his allowance down on that bet), he was going to give him hell for it.
That grin was wiped clean off his face when a high-pitch scream rang out from below. There was another sound…a low rumble of sorts. The shrill call of terror echoed through the cold cement. Ray pressed his forehead against the cold metal, trying to see down into the tunnel.
More screaming…and this time followed by what sounded like wiry branches torn from a full-grown tree. The water below faded to a disturbing shade of red.
Snapped from his horrified trance, Ray shot over to the side of the canal and skidded down the slope, splashing down into the murky flow. He wasn’t able to see shit. His courage suddenly faltered; it was like an invisible force field kept him from pushing on.
‘Adam!’ he screamed again. His lips trembled. The screaming within subsided to a delirious sobbing. Ray squinted his eyes…his friend was running to him. He held out his hands, tears coming to his eyes now.
As Adam wandered into the light, the colour left Ray’s face.
Limping just beyond the threshold of shadow, the young boy extended his arms… which ended just below the elbows. It was a sight Ray never would be able to forget: the meat of his arms torn and hanging—minced; the bits of bone sticking out at him, splintered apart like two over-sized needles, blood squirted like a shower-head with a kink in the line. He stood there, tears and snot dribbling down his face, no more than a few seconds before his eyes went wide. His clenched his jaw as if to stifle a cough…then he tried to swallow something down—
—and barfed all over the front of his shirt: chunks of his breakfast slathered in a red and black glaze. His eyes rolled into the back of his head as he was pulled—snatched—back into the void.
Ray ran for his life, screaming and blubbering down the canal and up the steady slope before the next underpass. Unaware of the attention he was drawing or where he was going, Ray kept running as fast as he could. Red blotches appeared on his cheeks and his own breakfast found its way up.
As is the way of things, no adult decided to run up to him or call the police until his wobbly legs gave out and he collapsed, the side of his head bouncing off the footpath with a crack.
All that was found of Adam after the local police started their search were traces of his blood in the tunnel and along several metres of the Wattle Grove canal. When the cops searched the tunnel he disappeared into, all they found was a makeshift wall (formed of cinder blocks and other large bits of rubbish left on the curbs for council pickups) keeping a sleeping bag, blankets and soiled pillows mostly dry. Resting against the refuse, a red playground ball.
While it was hit or miss with the locals (and the authorities, for that matter) in terms of whether they believed the gory details of the kid’s story, one thing that was universally agreed upon: Adam Sutherland was abducted—and most likely murdered—by a transient living unnoticed in the canal. Shortly after Adam’s funeral, both the Sutherlands and the Weatherfords moved out of their homes, which were subsequently sold off. Neither set of parents returned to suburb of Corroboree. And in the months following, deemed ‘too little, too late’ by the residents, the local council barred off all canal tunnels and kept a keener eye on maintenance inspections.
It was only during the council inspections that more remains were discovered: adults and children alike.
People that nobody had missed. People that nobody knew were there.
They were all homeless.
“Thank you everyone so very much for joining us for our first annual Halloween party. To those that joined in with us remotely for the viewings, we hope you enjoyed yourselves. With luck, we’ll have another bash this time next year!”
“For those of you here in person, if I could direct you back to the main party hall. Catering has just dropped off more eats. And we’ll be judging the pumpkin carving contest within the next hour. And those of you that need to wind down a little, we will be showing another triple feature: Garfield’s Halloween Adventure, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, and Hotel Transylvania!”
“Thanks again, everyone! We’ll see you for another viewing in two weeks!”