Warning: May not be appropriate for children under 13.
This is a short story that was written for the Women's National Book Association's Halloween Story Jam (WNBA - Greater Philadelphia Chapter), October 2016.
The Disappearance of Margot Banks
a Short Story (flash fiction)
by Kim Lehman
On Halloween night, 1997, fear struck a small town in southern Illinois when the residents of the gated Sawyer Cole community began disappearing one by one. There was no trace of them, no clues left behind. By 10:25 p.m. four residents had been reported missing and the police had arrived to investigate. All witnesses made the same statement: “The victims were in their own homes. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary or out of place. One moment they were there, the next, they were not.”
A mandatory curfew was implemented. Residents were ordered to stay inside until further notice. Margot Banks, one of the residents, stood at her living room window. The moon was full, but not visible from behind a curtain of dark grey clouds. With arms crossed and forehead creased, she watched as two police officers inched along house-to-house panning their flashlights, searching under cars, behind bushes and among the trees for any trace of a suspect or victim. Their uniformed bodies drifted in and out of the dense fog that floated through the air like breath on a winter’s day. Their movements stiff and robotic, made it seem as if someone or something was willing them forward. Everything about that night felt ominous.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” Margot said to her husband, who was seated across the room in his leather recliner, reading a book as if nothing unusual was going on. He turned a page. “Ted, did you hear me?”
Lifting his head slightly, he peered over his bifocals. “Hmm?”
Margot shook her head. “Aren’t you the least bit concerned about all this?” She pointed out the window at the police foraging through their yards.
Ted shrugged. “We can’t go worrying ourselves, Margot,” He glanced down to continue reading and added, “The police have it under control. All we need to do is listen to them and stay inside.”
Margot nodded in agreement, but she didn’t agree at all. Worrying was all she could do. “I’m going upstairs to check on Sean.”
Ted sighed. “Let him sleep.”
Margot ignored him. She exited the living room and ascended the stairs. Each wooden step creaked under foot until she was on the second floor. Once she was at her teenage son’s door, she knocked gently. “Sean?” A long silence. Her chest tightened. She knocked louder. “Sean?” Her voice shook.
“Yeah,” came a groggy, muffled sound.
Margot let out a breath, turned the knob, and pushed. The dim light from the hall created shadows across the room.
Her son rolled over, pulling his head out of his pillow. “What’s wrong?” He didn’t know what was happening. He hadn’t been downstairs when the police came to their door.
“I… I just wanted to make sure you were okay,” she said, making every effort to hide her distress.
She received a mumbled, “I’m fine, Mom. I’m sleeping.”
Margot crossed his room, scanning to make sure no one else was there and nothing was out of place.
“What are you doing?” her son grumbled.
“Nothing, sweetie. Go back to bed.”
Sean muttered something undecipherable and buried his head in his pillow.
Margot reached the far window, separated the blinds and glanced outside around the yard. Besides the small search party, everything was relatively quiet. She looked toward the neighbor’s house. Their lights were still on. Sean’s best friend, Nate, was in his room. Light from a television reflected off his face. Downstairs, his parents, Donna and Phil were sitting in the living room in front of another TV. Relief washed over her. Maybe Ted was right. Maybe she was overreacting. Maybe when they woke up tomorrow morning, things would be fine and all of this would simply feel like a nightmare. Margot pulled her hand away from the blinds.
A movement outside caught her attention. She froze. Her gaze locked on to a dark shadow, like a thick circular fog descending from the night sky. It entered like a ghost through the roof and stopped abruptly at Nate’s room. Her eyes widened as she watched the figure descend and circle around him. Nate’s body turned rigid as the form clenched him like a vice and lifted him up out of the house and into the darkness. Margot took in a sharp breath. The color drained from her skin. Her focus shifted downstairs to Donna and Phil. They were no longer there. Empty cushions remained in the spaces they once sat. With slow, steady steps, Margot backed away from the window. Her mind raced. There was a reasonable explanation. They were fine. She would call them. They would answer and confirm. “Sean,” she turned, “Stay here, I’m—“ Sean’s bed was empty. Where had he gone? Frantic, she looked around the room, under the bed, in the closet. She raced into the hall. The bathroom door was open. The light was off. No sign of him.
“Sean!” She screamed, racing down the stairs. She ran into the living room shouting to her husband. “Ted! Ted, Sean isn’t…” her voice trailed off. The living room was quiet. Her husband’s recliner was vacant. The book he had been reading was on the floor, next to his glasses.
Margot’s body went numb. “Ted? Sean?” The words trembled out.
Her eyes dodged left to right. Someone had been in their home. She sensed it. She swallowed hard. She didn’t know what to do. A shadowy figure walked past the living room window. Margot’s hand jumped to her chest. A police officer. She sighed. He was flashing a light around her yard, looking into the branches of their oak tree. Margot unlocked the front door and sprinted after him. “Officer! Help!”
The officer turned, startled.
“Officer!” Margot panted, out of breath as she grabbed his arm. “My… my husband…” Margot could hardly get the words out.
“Ma’am. You shouldn’t be out here. I need to ask you to get inside.”
“But my son! My husband!” Margot shouted. Tears streamed down her face. “They’re gone. They’re just…” she didn’t know how to finish.
The officer glanced over her shoulder toward her house. “Is that where you live?”
“Come on. Let’s get you inside. We’ll talk about it in there.”
“No!” Margot shook her head. “You don’t understand. It’s in my house. Something is in my house. The neighbors… I saw this thing… this… this a giant thing, it came down from the sky!”
The officer nodded with a look of sympathy. “You’re in shock. I understand.” Movement rustled in the tree branches above them.
“I’m not crazy.” Margot demanded. “I’m not.”
The officer patted her shoulder and began to guide her back to her house. “I know. Why don’t we just—“
The same ghostlike shadow Margot had seen over Nate’s room appeared from behind the tree. It was coming toward them, fast. “Look out!” Margot yelled, but it was too late. The officer didn’t see it coming. The mysterious presence clenched around him and pulled him up. Wide-eyed, Margot screamed. She watched the officer disappear through the branches and into the darkness. Her knees shook. Her teeth chattered. She scrambled toward her house, not knowing where else to go for safety. She reached her front porch as a thunderous crack and an ear-piercing screech ripped through the air. Margot fumbled with the door handle, struggling to open it as a blinding light shot through the night sky and streamed across the street in a straight line like a giant spotlight. Margot’s tears fell faster. It was coming for her. It wouldn’t stop until it got them all.
She held her breath as a deep, angry voice bellowed overhead through the entire community. “Sawyer!” It said, slow and haunting.
Every tree across Sawyer Cole community shook. Margot couldn’t see anything. The light was too bright. The voice bellowed again. “Sawyer, I told you to stop playing with those toys and go to bed.”
Another voice roared. “Okay, Dad.”
The shadow came down for her fast. There was no time to make sense of what was happening. The mystery figure scooped Margot up, lifted her off the ground, and took her away into the night.
© 2016 Kim Lehman. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reprinted without permission.