Welcome, Dear Reader, to a double-bill of stories for this Halloween…
This first story appeared in ‘Underdog Anthology III: Treeskull Stories’ for Halloween last year. If you like it and want to know what happens for Halloween this year, you can find out by purchasing the latest Underdog Anthology – ‘The Gallows Stone’…
Dear Reader… Enjoy! ❤
Trick or Treat
By Roo B. Doo
Any day that starts with a Grim Reaper confrontation is probably not going to be a good one, especially if it’s your first day back at work, following an all-inclusive fortnight in the Balearics. That’s exactly what I faced, however, when the lift doors opened onto the 5th floor offices of F.A. Kontrell this morning. I smacked aside the knobbly phalanx rudely pointed in my direction, and heard rather and saw it bounce off the wall and skitter across the floor.
“Ow, ‘Arry!” the Grim Reaper cried in an accent more Thames Estuary than Afterlife. The hooded figure bent down awkwardly to retrieve the plastic skeletal hand, and dropped his plastic scythe in the process. “Jesus!”
“Oh no!” I replied, pushing open the door to the main office, “Is he here, too?”
The Bride of Frankenstein looked up from behind the reception desk. Blood red lips that appeared to still be bleeding smiled thinly in my direction. It made a change from the norm; Shazza generally avoids spending any time at her desk doing the job she’s paid to do. “Happy Halloween, Harry! WOooo!”
To think we’d nearly got shot of her back in the spring when her drunken behaviour at the County Business Awards had landed the firm on the front page of the local rag. If only the Fat Kontroller had seized the opportunity to sack the bitch then, my working life would be so much more pleasant. But he hadn’t, probably due to the good mood bestowed by winning the Green Business Award. He’d given Shazza a second chance and, today, as a result, the office is manned by a fucking freak show.
“Nice costume,” Shazza remarked slyly as I signed myself in.
“I’m not wearing one,” I replied slowly. “I’ve been on holiday.”
Shazza lowered her kohl-rimmed eyes. “Oh.”
The silence was broken by an unexpected bark of laughter from the Grim Reaper, who’d followed me in from the lift lobby and now slouched against reception desk, gazing longingly at Shazza. Far from being the Angel of Death, with the hood down, the Collector of Souls turned out to be none other than Ian, the gangly six-foot apprentice, with acme acne and unibrow. F.A Kontrell had taken him on during the summer, and Ian had taken an immediate shine to Shazza. Fuck knows why, but she was absolutely loving having a teenage acolyte hanging on her every word. They were turning out to be a match made in hell. My hell.
“Go anywhere nice?” Shazza continued, ignoring the ringing reception phone. “Bet it was really hot.”
“Ibiza and yes,” I replied curtly. I pointed to the phone. “Are you gonna get that?”
“Yes.” Shazza snapped her fingers and Ian reached across to pick up the receiver. “You’re very red, Harry. Are you sore?” she continued.
“No.” One of the curses of being fair skinned of the ginger variety is a tendency to turn into a shade of vermilion at the slightest sniff of sunshine.
“Oh, I thought you’d come as a burns victim. That’ll be a fiver.” Shazza held out her hand.
“A fiver for what?”
“The donation,” Shazza said innocently. “For not wearing a costume today. It is for charity,” she purred sweetly.
Fucking cheek! I fumed, but decided to keep my temper under control. At least for now; it was still early. “Sharon, I’ve only got Euros until I can get to the bank at lunchtime. You’ll have to wait.”
Ian, having finished dealing with the phone call decided to join in the fun again. He pulled the hood of his robe back over his head. “Later,” he intoned gravely at me. Shazza tittered.
“By the way, you two,” I pointed at each in turn. “Horrific, truly horrific. You’ve excelled yourselves. Kudos.”
I left them to their mirth and made my way to my desk. En route a zombie, a fairy and Elvis poked their heads up from the grindstone to mouth “hellos” and an “Uh-ha!” before resuming their computer screen vigils.
“Harry!” the Fat Kontroller’s voice boomed from out from his office. “Come on in here. Good holiday?”
I wandered through to see the boss, sat at an uncommonly tidy desk. He was wearing an opera cloak over his suit. “Yes thank you, Mr Kontrell. Erm, can I ask, what’s with all the fancy dress this year? We don’t normally dress up for Halloween.”
The Fat Kontroller grinned slowly, revealing sharp incisors tipped with blood. “Raising money, Harry. For the wictims,” he said rolling his R’s and finishing with a maniacal laugh.
I refrained from rolling my eyes. “Victims of what,” I asked.
“Does it matter? There are always wictims worthy of support.”
Oh fuck! What was the betting Shazza and co had waited until I was safely out of the country before springing the idea on the old man; I would have poo-pooed it. Or at the very least I could have joined in. “Was this a lastminutedotcom decision?” I continued to probe. “I don’t remember seeing anything about this before I left for holiday. I’m feeling like… well, kind of left out.”
“Oh don’t worry about it,” the Fat Kontroller said magnanimously, running his tongue over his vampire teeth but entirely missing my point, “You can still contribute with cash. It is for wictims.”
“Wictims. Right.” I turned to leave.
“Although,” the Fat Kontroller continued, “You know you are awfully red, Harry. You could get away with saying you’re a burns victim.”
Why are the first day back after holidays always the worst?
“I’ll let you get caught up with your emails and the like this morning. We’ll have a proper catch-up later on today, Harry,” the Fat Kontroller called out after me. “There’s much to do.”
“Right-O, Mr K,” I replied with as much enthusiasm as I could muster, which started at minuscule and was decreasing rapidly having caught sight of the piles of paperwork on my desk. FAK! I thought malevolently. That’s why the bastard’s desk is so clear!
I snatched up a gaily coloured flier that had been placed on top of my keyboard, where I couldn’t miss it. The day’s intended ‘Wictim Support’ activities and best costume prize were detailed,replete with an overdose of exclamation marks and crappy puns; the telltale signs of Shazza. And what was this? The best costume winner would get a bottle of Glenfarclas single malt whisky, courtesy of the Fat Kontroller!!! Other than the man himself, I knew of no other person in the office that would appreciate that prize as much as me.
I balled the flyer angrily and threw it at the paper recycling bin across the walkway from my desk. It flopped weakly onto the floor before reaching the target. Good grief, Harry! I scolded myself, you throw like a bloody girl!
The queue at the bank snaked back to the main entrance and was populated with a mishmash of people who looked like they longed for death. I had no intention of joining them in their endless quest to reach a cashier, and walked over to the desks at the back of the lobby. “Hi! I’m here to see Mr Williams,” I told the pretty thing, with dimples and chestnut curls, sitting pertly at one of them. She must be new, I hadn’t seen her before.
“Do you have an appointment?” she asked me brightly.
“No,” I said and glanced at the name badge fixed to her jacket. “Peta? Could you tell him that Harry Egg is here bearing holiday gifts.” I lifted up the duty free bag I was holding to an audible chink.
“Oh where have you been to?” Peta asked with a smile. “You certainly caught some colour.”
I briefly wondered if she were taking the piss before catching the smile in her eyes. “Ibiza. San Antonio. The weather was unseasonably gorgeous, thank you.”
Peta gasped and her whole face lit up. “I went there in the summer! I’d definitely go back again.”
“Yes, it’s a lovely island,” I said with a smile that also reached my eyes. “The nightlife was pretty good, too.”
“It is! Absolutely super,” she gushed. There was an awkward silence. “Your colour makes your eyes stand out. They’re really blue. Piercing.”
I’m not used to compliments – I blushed; luckily it was well camouflaged. “Thanks!” I was momentarily stunned. “Um. Lol, Mr Williams? Is he in?” I said, fixing her with a piercing blue stare.
Now Peta blushed. “Oh yes, sorry. Do you mind waiting? I’ll go tell him you’re here.” She smiled again and wiggled off in the direction of Lol’s office. And what a wiggle! Like two puppy dogs fighting under a blanket. It would seem my day was picking up at last.
I parked my arse on the edge of her desk, trying to look suave and nonchalant, awaiting Peta’s return. Piercing blue eyes, eh? I pondered and I nearly missed her frantic waving, gesturing me to join her. With a final glance at the sad saps standing in line, I sauntered off toward my best friend and his delightful new member of staff.
“Harry!” Lol ushered me into his office. “Peta, could you rustle us up a couple of cappuccinos? Thank you.”
Peta left and we slunk down onto the sofa in the corner of his office. “When did you get back?” Lol asked, loosening his tie.
“Last night.” I yawned involuntarily. “I’m absolutely knackered today.” I passed him the chinking Duty Free bag. “Here, your present. I’m afraid it’s booze.”
“No imagination whatsoever,” Lol playfully chided me before giving me a kiss and a hug. “Thank you!”
“I kept the giant Toberlone for myself.”
“Well you never know when you might need it,” Lol said with an exaggerated wink. “Now come on, tell me H, did you have a good time? I can see you’ve caught some colour…”
There was a knock at the door, heralding the return of Peta with our coffees. She set the foamy cups down on the table in front of us, smiling the whole time and showing her dimples off to their best advantage. I flashed some ‘piercing blue’ at her and wondered if she had any more dimples secreted elsewhere.
Lol waited until she left for a second time before opening up one of the bottles. “Why don’t we Irish up these coffees? So, come on, Harry, spill. Did you get any good minge?” he asked, raising a quizzical eyebrow as he poured slug of whisky into each of our cups.
I laughed at my friend’s directness. “Lol, you have no interest in minge and absolutely no idea what constitutes good or bad minge!”
I’d met LoL at university during Freshers. We’d hit it off straight away like a long lost brother and sister reunited, but with zero potential for incest. We’re a queer, old fashioned pair; neither wore our sexuality on our sleeves. Fag and Fag Hag. Both happy to keep each other company in the closet. Much like that song by the Cure.
“Alright then, did you get any minge at all?” Lol pestered. “Come on, tell me you got laid, Harry. You’ve not been on Facebook or Twitter these past two weeks. I have no idea how your holiday went.” He sipped his coffee and licked his lips. “I’ve missed you.”
“Aww, that’s so sweet,” I said slapping his knee. “I needed some time out, away from emails and social media and work.” I fairly spat out the last word. Since the Fat Kontroller had deemed it necessary for me to be issued with company mobile phone and laptop, I’d been tending to keep on top of my workload in my own time. I wanted to completely remove any temptation to do that during my holiday, and had left all electronic devices at home. Of course, I had second thoughts about that decision as soon as I discovered more than 1,500 emails awaiting my return. It had not been a fun morning.
“Minge?” Lol reminded me.
“Oh my god! You’re incorrigible!”
Lol was not deterred by my rebuke. “British? Foreign?”
“Ah, ze Hunny cunny. Das ist gut! Wunderbar?”
“Ja! And I had an English,” I added, clearing my throat.
“Did you swing low, sweet Harriet?”
“Always,” I grinned at his exuberance and slurped from my cup. “There’s nothing like a Manc-muffin for breakfast.”
“Ooh Harry! You filthy tramp! Both at the same time?” Lol asked eagerly.
“No, sadly,” I sighed. “Hey, I was going to ask you, what’s the deal with Peta? She’s new isn’t she?”
“You are not corrupting my staff, Harry,” Lol said with a stern look. I returned it with one of innocent affront, to which he snorted derisively. “She’s straight, I think, but young. I did hear on the grapevine that she’s not adverse to a bit of Toberlone when tipsy.”
“Hmm, I’ve not had much luck with chocolate in the past,” I mused pensively.
“And how is the fair Josie?” Lol asked. He was referring to a stunning goddess masquerading as F.A. Kontrell’s HR Manager. We’d had a close encounter the Christmas before and I’d ended up with concussion courtesy of Alfie, the troll masquerading as her boyfriend. I’d pretty well much kept my distance after that but, as I said, goddess. And how often do you meet one of those in real life? I had to give it a go.
“I dunno, I haven’t seen her since I got back,” I said, which reminded me: “Ugh! You’ll never guess. Every fucker in the office is wearing fancy dress today.” I grimaced and reached for my handbag. “Even the Fat Kontroller. He’s wearing bloody fangs, for fuck’s sake. I’m the only one not in costume!”
Lol leaned back and surveyed me quietly. “Harry…”
I rummaged for my purse. “Yes.”
“Have you thought…” he continued slowly.
Call it a spot of deja vu, but I knew what was coming next; I flashed him a look. “Don’t!”
Lol grinned mischievously. “Well, you are kind of glowing. Have you thought of saying you’re…”
I cut him off. “A burns victim?”
“No!” Lol snapped. “No, I was thinking you look more like a Bloody Mary. But yeah, a burns victim works just as well.”
I watched him convulse with laughter at his own joke before holding out a wad of Euros at him. “I’m glad I amuse you so, oh bestest friend that’s also happens to be a bank manager.” I placed the money in his hand. “Now, be a dear and change this lot into Sterling for me. And I’m not paying commission.”
Lol went off in search of the cash and I finished my coffee. I was contemptuously contemplating the afternoon ahead – apple bobbing and pumpkin carving were on the agenda courtesy of Shazza – when there was a soft tap at the door. It was Peta.
“Hi, Harry.” She sounded nervous. “I just wanted to say it was very nice meeting you today.”
Interesting… I decided to play it cool; no need to shit all over Lol’s warning off straightaway, and it was entirely possible Peta was mistakenly brown nosing her boss’s ‘girlfriend’. Softly, softly catchee monkey. “You too.” I smiled brightly; teeth and eyes. “I hope to see you again soon. Maybe for Christmas drinks.”
She didn’t get a chance to answer because Lol returned with my cash. After that we said our goodbyes and made plans to meet for a proper catch up at the weekend. I left the bank with a spring in my step – possibly down to the Irish – and walked back along the High Street, back to work. And then I saw it. In the window of a shop. Of course! I mentally slapped my own forehead, even as a creeping smile split my face. I took the crisp notes Lol had given me and went inside.
Impatiently I ascended to the fifth floor of our building, willing the ancient, groaning lift along the way. I wanted to get to the toilets, preferably without anyone seeing me, so I could change into the costume I’d seen in the fancy dress shop. Luckily there was a dearth of people in the outer office of F.A. Kontrell when I arrived, but a noisy hullabaloo was emanating from the conference room: festivities were in full swing. I rushed to the ladies and locked myself in an empty stall.
Inside I shrugged off my clothes and stood naked, shivering, ripping at the plastic bag holding my costume with my teeth. I heard the outer door to the toilets open and somebody enter and lock themselves into the stall next to mine. I hope they’re not having a crap, I thought fleetingly as I struggled to release the silky material from the packaging.
Quickly I changed into the costume and stepped out and over to the wash basin mirror to adjust the fit. Saggy and tight in equal measure, it was a typical shop bought costume and I was both pleased and disappointed at the way I looked. I shook the few cosmetics that I own out from my handbag and set about finishing the look. The toilet flushed behind me and my heart skipped a beat as I caught the reflection of Wonder Woman emerging from the cubicle.
“Hey, Harry! How are you?” Josie said blithely. “Is this yours? It slipped under the gap.”
Yes. Yes. Oh fucking yeah! I mentally screamed as I drank in the sight of the woman I lusted after. From the soft fall of her naturally raven black curls over her shoulders, down to the skintight boots via voluptuous chest, crotch and lean, tanned thighs, Josie stood every inch the embodiment of that most Marvelous creation. Girl, you should wear that every day!
“Horns!” I blurted out and took the plastic package from her hand. “Thanks! You look amazing!” I said thickly, no doubt down to my drooling tongue.
Josie strode purposefully – how could she not in that outfit? – over to the washbasins and washed her hands, all the time smiling at me in the bathroom mirror. “Thanks. You look great too, Harry. Did you have a good holiday?”
“Yeah, it was nice to get away,” I said unable to take eyes from her hard curves and inviting crevasses reflected back at me. “Just back today actually. I didn’t know it was fancy dress.”
“Well you look suitably devilish now.” Josie finished washing her hands and pushed past me to get to the hot air drier. “Do you need a hand with that?”
I’d been gawping, holding the horns in one hand and an eye liner pencil in the other; half a mustache painted over my top lip. “Okay,” I said meekly.
Josie hit the button on the drier and warm air blasted out, rustling the hem of her cape as she dried her hands. I had an idea.
“You should try this,” I said, adjusting the air drier so that it blew upwards, lifting her hair and billowing her cape. “Now, that’s the Wonder Woman look!”
Josie giggled her delightful giggle, the one what made me feel all wet and gushy. “Harry, you and your bright ideas. Now come here and I’ll finish your mustache off for you.” She gently held my chin and with a few deft flicks of the eyeliner, completed my look. Then she took the plastic horns from my hands and adjusted them on my head. “Perfect.”
Maybe Peta was on to something because I definitely felt a frisson pass between us, as my piercing blues met Josie’s chocolate browns. She continued staring at me and it felt as if time itself had stopped. “Alfie and I have split up,” she stated calmly.
I was about to reply: “Thank fuck! The man’s a brute and totally undeserving of you”, but was rudely interrupted by the door to the toilets crashing open, quickly followed by a screeching howl of pain. Shazza rushed in, tears streaming down her contorted face, holding out her hand, blood pouring from the palm. The Grim Reaper followed, hopping anxiously from foot to foot.
“Are you alright, Shazza? I’m so sorry!” Ian cried with anguish. “Shazza. Shazza. I was only trying to help.”
“Arghhh!!! It hurts!” Shazza screamed, thrusting her hand under the basin cold tap. “You idiot, Ian!”
“What’s happened?” Josie gently shoved me aside to get to our bleeding receptionist. “Oh shit, that deep? You’re going to need stitches.”
Shazza glared at Ian in the bathroom mirror with pain and rage; he looked back with stricken despair. “I was carving my pumpkin quite nicely when he comes along and… Oww! Oh my god, that really hurts!!!”
“I’m sorry Shazza,” Ian wailed, his voice breaking with barely contained sobs. “I was… I was only trying to help you with the… with the eyes!”
“The eyes were fine! IDIOT!!!” Shazza roared back.
“Okay, okay. Let’s just calm down now shall we?” Josie said grabbing a roll of toilet tissue from the cupboard under the sink. She placed it firmly against the cut on Shazza’s hand and blood immediately started to saturate the roll; creeping up and spreading out. “Hold that there. I’ll take you to the hospital and we’ll get that seen to, okay. Harry…”
“Yes okay,” I said springing into action. “You two do that. I’ll take the lad for a cup of tea and a sit down, and then I’ll clean this blood up.”
“Thank you,” Josie said with a strained smile as she ushered Shazza out of the toilets.
Ian’s top lip was wobbling quite badly. “Come on, darling,” I said gently. “Let’s take you round the corner for a cuppa, eh? You know, you really shouldn’t be in the ladies toilets, Ian. Didn’t we mention that during Induction?”
“Na…na…no,” he sobbed.
“Oh that’s okay, sweetie.” I rubbed his shoulders and guided him out of the toilets. “We know now and can include it for the future, eh? You’ve helped us improve our induction process. Well done you. Okay? Come on, let’s get that cup of tea.”
The rest of the afternoon was a bit of an anticlimax after all the excitement of the ladies toilets. No one noticed I was now dressed as the devil. Except for the Fat Kontroller.
“Superb costume choice, Miss Egg,” he informed me when we finally sat down to catch up on business. “Sadly you haven’t won as you didn’t wear it all day, but I love the improvisation with Deviled Egg. Very good. Eggcellent in fact!” he chortled loudly. In fact he carried on chuckling at his cleverness throughout the meeting. Oh, how I laughed.
The Grim Reaper eventually calmed down and volunteered to help me with the mounds of paperwork on my desk. I declined but thanked him, noting the new found respect in his offer. I should have got him to mop up the blood.
Neither Josie nor Shazza made it back to the office in time for the costume prize giving, and I wondered if I’d ever get the chance to see Josie in her Wonder Woman costume again. That, I thought emphatically, now, that’s what I want for Christmas!
I still don’t know which wictims will benefit from the £22.50 raised from the day’s Halloween themed activities. No doubt they’ll be grateful when they find out. As for the Fat Kontroller’s bottle of Glenfarclas, that was won by Elvis. She received it with hip wiggle and extremely droll “Thank you very much!”
*Yeah, I suppose Harry could have gone as Santa, Clicky… /blows smoke ring… Butt that would have spoiled the Fat Kontroller’s Devilled Egg enjoyment…*