Castle Roland

Short Story

Posted: 11 May 15

Trick & Treat

Copyright © 2014
By Kyle Aarons

Wednesday October 31, 2012: Koban Lake
Seven Miles West Southwest of downtown Little Rock, Arkansas
1825 local time

Noah sat in the back of his mom's minivan sulking. He wanted to trick-or-treat. It didn't matter that he was thirteen years old, it was Halloween and he wanted his allotment of free candy! But oh, no he was too old. It mattered none when he actually volunteered to take out his younger brother and sister. "Come on, Noah," his mom scolded him, "You're a teenager!"

His dad was even worse, "Son, I paid a great deal of money to send you and your friends to the Southwest Regional Paint Ball competition and it happens in just over two and a half weeks. I am taking you out of school, Jason is flying us there, and I booked a hotel for us for ten days. The least you could do is forget about your sweet tooth for a minute and get some serious practice time in."

"But Dad, it's Halloween! I even made up a costume..."

"And you can use at the party the Mender's are having Friday night. Now knock it off and get your gear into the minivan, so Mom can take you out to the park to take on the Knight Riders, or I'll call Jake's mom and see if he can fill your spot for the trip to Texas!"

Knowing all arguments were done, for to say another word was to risk not going on a trip they had all worked hard to qualify for, Noah's shoulders slumped in defeat as he made his way up the stairs to his room. Ten minutes later, after getting a pat on his head by his dad, his mom backed out of the drive even as kids his own age started exiting their houses with costumes on. Too young for the big scary haunted houses and too old to trick-or-treat. It just wasn't fair.

Making matters worse, the last thing he saw before his mom turned off their quite side street was his little brother and sister, each with a pillowcase in their greedy little hands, to accept as much candy as they could figure out how to get a hold of. The fact his fifteen-year-old sister was leading them, wearing a witches costume, which was really fitting in Noah's opinion, only made him more resentful. He knew his sister would break out something to collect candy in the second she was out of Mom and Dad's sight.

The fact his dad had to work and would not even be there to critique only made this worse. His dad had to finish the plans for the reflecting pool on the estate his company was building for this creepy old rich guy, who seemed to stare at Noah whenever the man was around him. He complained to his dad once, but his dad shrugged it off, "You probably look like one of his grandkids or something, Noah. Besides it's not like I am leaving you with the guy, and his project is massive. He is paying through the nose for us to build him a mini version of Linderhof."

To Noah, anyone wanting to build a scaled down version of a castle built by someone named 'King Ludwig, the Mad' already had a few screws loose. The fact the guy was always looking at him but would quickly avert his eyes when Noah looked back at him, only made it worse.

Noah sighed again as he saw a couple of kids about his age walking down a side street with sacks already starting to bulge with candy. This was just so unfair. It was bad enough to have a mom and dad who didn't like to buy sugary stuff, now he was missing out on the one time a year when the rules were bent into a pretzel shape. To take his mind off the fact there was nothing he could do about it, he started a double check of his gear even though he knew it was good to go.

Rule one, from the first day he had decided to take up paint ball as a sport, was to care for the equipment. It wasn't just the equipment either. In his dad's own words, it was 'his equipment'. The first time he had tossed his pack into his closet without cleaning it up had been his last, since the paint had dried and screwed up his gun until his dad cleaned it with some solvent. For two weeks of summer vacation he was grounded and three times a day he had to pull out everything, break it all down, clean it, and put it back together again. Failure to do so meant he missed the next meal. Missing a meal while grounded sucked too, since there were no snacks to the grounded child in the Hatchett household. There was water out of the sink and three meals. There was pretty much nothing else either; as in no TV, no radio, no iPod, no computer, almost no time out of the room, and just three meals and all the books they cared to read. The worst part, at least in Noah's eyes, was there was no school either, so he didn't see anyone outside of his family at all for two full weeks.

Two weeks of that was more than enough for Noah. His gear was always clean, always in top working order, and always put away ready to pull out and immediately use. So, even as he looked over his gun and checked to make sure his kit had a full supply of neon blue paintballs, he knew it was just a way to pass the time and not look out the window as him mom took him outside the city to the park where they had only practiced once before. It was mosquito infested and heavily tree covered. Even this late into October, the mosquitoes would be bad since they were going to be out right about the time it got dark.

The final thing making his sour demeanor even darker was whom they were going up against. The simple truth was, they wouldn't get anything out of this. The team his dad had found to challenge them was the Knight Rider paint ball team. They were a joke. The Knight Riders placed tenth out of ten teams the last four times there were team competitions and they were older, all of them, than Noah was. Matter of fact they were all older than half his team. A couple of them were real jerks, too. They were always picking on the new middle school kids.

As his mom pulled off the main road onto a dirt road, Noah looked up. Not recognizing the area at all, he frowned, "Mom, where are we going?"

"This is where Dad says the Knight Riders set up to play you all. Dad plugged it into the GPS for me. He said he wanted you all to go somewhere you have never been and Dad got permission from Mr. Olcanson to use one of his properties. The GPS says we are only a couple of miles from where we are supposed to meet the others.”

This caused Noah to gulp; Mr. Olcanson was the creepy old guy who was getting a mini-castle built. The last thing Noah wanted was to be on the old coot's property when he didn't know what was around. His mind couldn't help but go to scary places. Did the man have secret cameras to film him hidden on his land? Would the guy be watching from some house tucked away on some remote corner of his property? Did the guy have a dungeon to hold people? Is that why he wanted a castle?

Before his mind could come up with too many more terrifying possibilities, his mom pulled off at a small barn. Noah let out a noticeable breath of relief at seeing cars of a couple of his teammate's parents already parked in the crushed rock parking area off to the south side of the barn. Before he could even jump out, Hazel moved up to help him with his gear. As usual she was first to suit up and, unlike Noah, looked thrilled. "You ready to kick some Knight Rider butt again?"

Noah forced a grin even as he glanced around seeing if he could spot any hidden cameras he was certain were around to watch him. "What a waste of perfectly good paint balls, huh?"

The fourteen-year-old girl snickered, "It's never a waste when I can spray Betty with a dozen rounds of paint!"

This got a giggle out of one of the other girl on his paint ball team, fourteen-year-old Debbie, "Hey, just save Jackson for me!"

Off to the side, fourteen-year-old Todd spoke up, "Oh, we are. So when is the wedding day?"

Debbie turned bright red, "If you weren't already suited up I swear I would shoot you right where you stand!"

The other kids all busted up, as did Noah's mom and Hazel's dad. Everyone on the team, including most of the parents knew Debbie and Jackson really liked each other, but neither one had worked up the guts to ask to do anything with the other. There was no question it was just a matter of time.

Even as Debbie glared at the others with a great deal of embarrassment, Doug's uncle pulled up in his H3. The back doors popped open at nearly the same instant and Harlan and Doug each jumped out. The two youngest members of the team had facial expressions that pretty much mirrored Noah's. It was clear they would have preferred to have hit the streets in search of sugar filled loot than come out to the sticks to shoot at the worst paintball team in the area. Doug, the youngest at just a few weeks over twelve and Harlan, who turned thirteen only days before, pulled their paintball kits out and made their way over to the others from their team with frowns plastered on their faces.

Harlan, who tended to be the smart mouthed member of the team, dropped his gear at his feet even as the H3 he had just exited turned and left, leaving a plume of dust as it did so. "I'm going to make the Riders regret screwing up my Halloween! Not only do we not get to snag some free candy, we didn't even get to a big haunted house this year!"

Noah's mom looked at Harlan with a shake of her head, "You're too young to go to those places. You'll have nightmares!"

"I'm going to have nightmares about missing all the candy people are handing out," Harlan grumbled in return.

While the other kids laughed, Hazel's eyes glinted, "Then I suppose you want to take point tonight?"

"Darned straight!" Harlan growled loudly, "Maybe if we get this over with quickly enough, I can get back and still get a few pounds of stuff to eat holes in my teeth!"

This got some extra snickers out of the rest, since all of them went to Harlan's dad's dentistry office for teeth work and in Todd's case, braces.

Hazel's dad brought the quick back and forth to a halt as he stepped up and pulled out a map of the area. He let out a whistle getting the kids' attention and put the map over the hood of Noah's mom's minivan. He pulled out a flashlight so all the kids could see in the rapidly dimming light. "OK, you are here where the red circle is. The objective is here." He used the flashlight to point to a green circle on the map. The Night Riders got to their drop off point over half an hour ago and their sole job is to prevent you all from getting to the locked sea chest. It has three keys to open it. They have one." He pulled out a large skeleton key and handed it to Todd, who had been voted in as team leader months ago and no one ever challenged him since. "Now you have one." He held up a third key. "I have the third.

"The winning team is the one who gets the chest, along with both keys to here." Once again the man used the flashlight to point to a spot on the map marked with a blue 'X'. "The losers get nothing other than a ride home."

Harlan looked up, "What's in the chest?"

Hazel's dad simply smiled. "Get to it, secure it, and you find out. Don't and it doesn't matter. If neither team makes it to the extraction point by nine thirty with both keys then you all lose and you go home, clean your gear and hit the sack so you are ready for school tomorrow. Remember you get hit and you are out. No cheating. We have a trio of judges hired to verify splatter. Use your radio and don't shoot again unless you get a paint splatter ruling. A hit and you're out. Goggles on and have fun kids."

It was pretty clear some of the parents didn't know about this as a couple of them, including Noah's mom, glanced over at Mr. Irving with raised eyebrows. However, this was not the first time the men had gotten together to pull an unexpected surprise on the kids. It was also readily apparent the men had been correct, since the Griffin Paint Ball team had not lost a match in almost eight months. In addition, they had even qualified for regional finals in an age group above where their ages said they should be.

Even as the parents moved to gather around Hazel's dad to get more details or just shoot the breeze, the kids quickly formed up and moved out, Harlan took point, Debbie and Todd stayed within visual, which was closer than normal since it was starting to get dark, Noah took his normal sniping position to the far left, Hazel took sniping position to the far right, and finally Doug stayed well back and covered their flank.

Not knowing the area proved to be problematic. It took almost forty minutes for the six youngsters to find their target. As they closed, they finally spotted a clearly abandoned two-story house with no windows left and a front shutter swaying back in a light breeze. They all moved in slightly closer to each other and took a knee without saying a word. The nearly full moon, just starting its Waning Gibbous, gave enough light to make the dilapidated structure look extremely creepy.

Harlan held up his right fist to get everyone to stop. He then waved his hand in front of him in a wide arc, a sign he wanted everyone to look for possible targets. After nearly five minutes and an exchange of hand signals from all six kids saying they saw a whole lot of nothing, Harlan moved forward again. He stayed low in the tall grass knowing as he did so he would almost certainly end up with a tick or three and several chigger bites, but he wanted that chest. His bet was it contained fruit or some healthy snacks, but he held out some hope there was some chocolate goodies in it too.

Still nothing moved. As long as it took for them to find the place he was certain the Knight Riders would have gotten here first, but maybe not. Still, there was no way he was going to let down his guard. It would be just like Jackson to try to spring a trap just as they got to the front door or something.

Todd clearly had similar thoughts as he moved forward and knelt next to Harlan, he whispered, "This is wayyyy to easy."

"Yeah, maybe we beat them, but Mr. Irving said the Riders got dropped off a half hour before us and while they can't hit the broadside of a barn if they were inside it, they ain't stupid."

"Agreed. Time to send in the cannon fodder."

Harlan shot Todd a grin even as he motioned for Doug to move forward. Doug was a glutton for punishment and was, nine times out of ten, the first and often times only one to fall to enemy paint balls. However, the kid had the eyes of an eagle and the grace of a pouncing tiger, so if he did get caught in the open, chances were good he would take out one or two even if he fell.

Doug moved out at a low sprint, randomly zigzagging toward the house. He got to a lower window and realized the broken glass had been cleaned up. At first he took this as suspicious, but then realized their parents had probably spent a few hours making sure the floors and walls were not going to fall in on them and they would have certainly cleaned up all the glass. He took a few deep breaths, then held it for thirty seconds listening for anything. He heard nothing.

Doug waited another minute before peaking in the window, then diving in. He purposefully made extra noise, hoping to hear some kind of alarm. Still nothing. No matter the lack of noise from around or above him, he was not ready to accept they were first. Instead, he pulled out his flashlight, flipped it on and played the beam around the room. Spotting a table, he rolled under it and knocked it over so he was behind it with the only door exiting the room being blocked by the front of the table. With a decently secure position, he called out, "I got nothing guys!"

Todd was still not convinced, so he motioned for Noah and Hazel to move in. The other three all brought their paintball guns up and aimed at different windows.

Four minutes later, Noah and Hazel blinked their flashlights, sending an all clear. The other three moved in cautiously. One by one they entered the through the front door, which was half off its hinges and was a bit difficult to pull open. It made a wicked sounding creaking noise in protest as Todd forced it open. By this time, they were certain they had gotten to the building first, but were not ready to totally let down their guard. They paired up and started a room-to-room search. The upper floor was secured by Noah and Hazel, the lower left side by Todd and Harlan, while Doug and Debbie took the lower right. Fifteen minutes later they met by a doorway with wooden steps going down.

Harlan played his beam down the steps, noting a trio of them looked very new. "Didn't want us falling through them, I guess. You think the Riders are down there?"

"Possible," Todd answered, "but if they are, they have been way quiet."

Doug grinned, knowing it was time for him to find out. He bounded down the stairs, paint ball gun ready. His form stopped suddenly and he screamed.

"Doug!" Todd shouted, as he wasted no time rushing down the steps. With no sign of this being a paint ball trap set by the Knight Riders and no sounds of firing paint ball rounds, the other four quickly followed Todd with Debbie being the last one down.

The moment Debbie's foot hit the bottom step, there was an audible 'Thunk' sound at the top of the steps. Sshe turned only to see a wooden paneled door down and cover the doorway leading up and lights came on. At the same time, gasps and shouts of fear came from nearly everyone behind her. Doug, however, was simply shaking like a leaf and puking.

She spun and almost puked herself. There was a bloody hand, just a hand, holding a key that was put into the lock of a large iron bound chest with three locks. A trail of blood led from the chest over to a side door with narrow bars over the windows. As she played her flashlight around, she too screamed as she noticed the body hanging from the rafters with a chain around its neck. While the head had a hood over it and the body had generic paint ball coveralls on, the shoes were definitely Alicia's, one of the members of the Knight Riders.

As the stunned kids looked on in horror, an arm came through the bars but a blade sliced it off. There was a blood-curdling scream from the other side. At the same time, the hand and arm from the elbow down fell to the floor and blood ran down the door from where the blade had removed the arm. As the arm hit the ground, more than one of the kids noticed the wrist had a medic alert bracelet. It had to be Andre's since he had a serious shellfish allergy and always had his bracelet on.

All six kids ran up the stairs and fought to get to the now blocked exit. They pounded on it, they kicked at it, a few of them even accidently shot each other with their paintball guns as they desperately tried to get out of the horror filled basement, even as the voice of a kid who sounded a lot like Mitch pleaded with them not to leave him behind. Harlan ended up tumbling back down the steps and breaking his paint ball gun as one of the others accidently or purposefully pushed him out of the way to get to the door.

Suddenly the voice of an older man could be heard coming from speakers in the corners of the room, "The others weren't very nice. I gave them the chance, but they refused and you see what that got them. Now I offer the same deal to you, but you have the advantage of knowing what happens if you refuse me."

Todd, trembling so badly he couldn't stand any longer, managed to speak up even as he dropped to his knees on the steps, "What do you want?"

The old man's voice snickered, "Quite simple, one of you."

"One of us!" Debbie shouted in horror, "Why?"

"To do what I want with, child. If it is not you, then what difference does it make?"

Harlan shook his head as if he was hearing things, "Where are the others?"

"None of them volunteered, so they became useless to me. They sealed their own fate by not choosing. Those who are still alive are not your concern. I want someone who is willing."

"Willing for what, you nasty old man?" Hazel demanded to know, finally finding enough breath to say something even as she tried to claw at the door again.

By this time the screeching from the back room had diminished to a voice whining for help, but sounding weaker by the moment. From somewhere further beyond the door with the barred and bladed window, a voice, again probably Mitch's, pleaded for help. Noah, shaking like a leaf moved back down the steps and shouted up, "Mr. Olcanson, you know my dad will kill you for this, but I'll stay if you let my friends go and you also let the others down here go too!"

There was a pause of silence, other than the pleas for help coming from beyond the door in the basement. All five of the others looked at Noah in shock. Todd was the first to shake his head, "No, Noah, no!"

The others quickly chimed in, even as a couple of them tried the door again.

Noah shook his head, "Guys, I'll stay...."

Before more could be said, the door popped up and the fathers of all six kids could be seen standing at the top of the steps. At the same time the door in the basement opened and the Knight Riders all came out with massive grins on their faces, but a few of them moved up to Noah and patted him on the back.

Even as all six youngsters realized this had been a horrible, nasty trick, they gazed over at Noah. With his hands still trembling, Todd pulled off his captain's armband and handed it over.

Hazel's dad pulled out the third key and tossed it down to a still quivering Noah, "Boy, that took some serious balls. You get first pick out of the six bags of candy in that chest!"

As the first nervous snickers came out of the kids, Noah's dad stepped up with a hand full of tickets in his right hand, "Now who wants to go to the big haunted house tonight under the condition no one tells a mom?!"