The Witch's Hut
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October 3rd

«Douglas County Police closed the roads into Sloth's Pit today, citing a small earthquake which tore up the asphalt on all roads to the city. As of right now, the town, home to 20,000 people, is closed off to the rest of the world. Governor Walker has declined to comment on the situation—»

Laura Ashbrooke sighed and turned off the radio. As usual, the Plastics People were feeding bullshit to the outside world. She had tried driving out north of town, only to end up back on the southern end. Just another side effect of living in Freak City, USA.

Still, it couldn't be denied that Sloth's Pit was pretty much Halloween year-round, with the dozens of urban legends, odd rituals, and hauntings that occurred in the town. That suited the twenty-five-year-old all too well— she was born on Halloween, and always felt a special connection to this time of year.

That's why she opened up this place out of college— the Witch's Hut. The best damn costume store in Wisconsin that nobody knew about. They sold the usual stuff— rubber masks that had the breathability of a plastic bag, ironically sexy costumes (too many times she had wondered why anyone would want to fuck a bag of Skittles) but they also had high-quality facial paints, spirit gum, fake fur, nylon, liquid latex, and even free cosplay reference material for the occasional attendee of Kitsune Kon or Wizard World.

It was long past closing time, and Laura was in the back, fiddling with a motorized eyeball. She connected the motors to each other and flipped a switch, watching as the eyes set in the werewolf mask blinked and twitched out of sync. "Dammit."

She disconnected the electrical components and popped out both of the eyes from their incomplete acrylic mount— the eyes were more important than the fur, in this case, because she could conceal all of the wires and such beneath the fur. She also had to make sure that the electronics wouldn't let off stray sparks.

"Okay, you're a lost cause for tonight." Laura put the head down and turned to a sketchbook, starting to trace out the design of a new mask, before discarding it immediately. In addition to making custom masks, the made her own costume every year, but had no idea what to make herself into this year.

She laid back in her seat and popped open a bottle of IRN-BRU, smuggled— rather, "imported" from Canada by her boyfriend. It was a Scottish drink that was illegal stateside because of the orange coloring, but damn if it didn't taste good. She drank deep from the plastic bottle.

Liquid shot from her nose as the speakers in the main store blasted to life in the middle of the Ghostbusters theme song, where Ray Parker Jr. was talking about what to do if an invisible man came into your house. She slammed the bottle on the counter, and looked through the curtain dividing her workshop and the store itself.

The lights were on, and several of the costumes on one of the racks were moving, as if someone had brushed past them. A bulk package of vampire fangs in one of the aisles fell onto the floor with the loud slap of plastic on tile.

Laura grabbed a baseball bat by her door and walked out into the sales floor proper. The lights in the building were on as a deterrent to thieves, but it wasn't deterrent enough.

"I'm armed!" Laura called. "Show yourself!"

The shadow moved, the sound of scraping claws echoing against the floor. Laura's hair prickled, and she held her bat tighter, getting out her cell phone and dialing 911.

"Douglas County 911, do you require police, fire, or—"

"Police," Laura whispered. "Sloth's Pit PD. I- I'm in the Witch's Hut on Main Street, the costume store. I t-think a critter got in here with me."

"I'll notify them. Can you stay on the line?"

"I'll try— shit!"

Laura dropped her phone as she saw what stood before her.

All she saw was a pair of claws, scraping against the ground, like a pair of keratinous legs sliding on the tile. It took her a moment to realize that they were even claws— the hand they were attached to was incomplete. There was nothing else attached to the hand, no sinew, no shadow, not even a suggestions of what might be there.

The claws stopped and reached towards Laura. She saw a suggestions of where the arm should be, but the limb seemed to flex from all directions, pure ambiguity. She heard a whisper form from the non-existence, something which crept into her mind and made her consciousness freeze over, and all light and vision vanished.

The dark is real, and so is the cold, mask-maker, make my story be told.

"What the fuck are you?"

I am the half-formed idea in your brain, and if you obey me, boons you shall gain.

"A-are you— the-the pumpkin th—"

The Black Autumn? Nay, I am not a representative of the autumnal rot. I am something that comes from the Un— the Unknown, the Unliving, the Unthought.

"What do you want?"

As I said, mask-maker mine, craft me a story, one so very fine. And entitle it after me, if you will— the Pit Sloth, making their first kill.

Laura Ashbrooke startled awake, knocking over the mannequin head on her desk. She heard the chirping of birds through the window in the back room, and sunlight washed in. She groaned, and checked her pocket— her phone was still there, her bat was by the door. Just a dream. A freaky, freaky dream.

She sighed and rubbed her face, pulling out her computer. She'd been looking for something to write, to enter the horror writing contest the library held every Halloween. She'd failed to enter the last three years, but this would be different.


As opening time approached, Laura patrolled the hallways and took inventory. She heard the front door's bell jingle; Edward Valentine, her partner in crime, entered and looked down the aisle at her, carrying a pair of coffees in a styrofoam tray. "Morning."

"Hey," Laura responded.

"Plastics people are still sayin' we can't leave town. Word is they're gonna airlift in stuff."

"So, I can't go to Superior, and I'm almost out of liquid latex." Laura chewed her lip. "Great."

"Eh, it'll probably be safe to leave town by the time your clients need the masks." He stepped forward, brushing his black-and-white dyed hair from his face. He stopped and sniffed at the air. "Was there something burning in here?"

"Fuck, I hope not." Laura grabbed a stepstool and looked over the tops of the shelves. After 2016, she had learned to never stock rubber masks on the top shelves, in case the lights got too hot. To her relief, there was no smoldering synthetic materials on the top shelf. "Weird. I smell it, too."

"Playground at school caught fire once," Ed scratched his cheek. "Smells like that. Burning mulch."

"Don't have time to deal with phantom smells. As of right now, this, and whatever we have in the back, is our inventory. We need to manage."

"Hey, bright side? Nobody can go to the Spirit in Superior to get their Halloween fix. They gotta come to us."

"Yeah," Laura admitted, putting the stepstool aside. "Had a weird dream last night."

"Slept here again?" Ed guessed.

"Yeah. There was this giant… arm, just going through the aisles. It talked in nursery rhymes."

"What kind of arm?"

"Two fingers on the end."

Ed snorted. "Another Jurassic Park dream?"

"No," Laura shook her head. "This wasn't a T.Rex arm. It was… remember when we saw that sloth in the Duluth Zoo? It was like that."

"Great. Town weirdness is getting to us." He offered Laura the coffee tray.

Laura took one with a green dot on the cup before Ed could say anything, and took a deep drink of it. He gasped, "No!"

"What?"

"That was mine! It had almond milk in it!"

"Shit!" Laura bolted to the back room. Her Epipen was out on the counter, next to her laptop, where she had started writing. She grasped at it, catching a glance at some words on her screen. They seemed to form a distinct message.

The great hand chased her through the yard, its twin nails leaving trenches in its wake. Jenna had stopped being able to scream hours ago, and now, she just ran, tears running down her face.

She finally came to the back door after what seemed like hours. "Please!" she sobbed through the screen. "Carl! I need you to let me in! It's after me!"

"Fuck's sake, Jenna," her husband snapped, "There's no such thing as the Pit Sloth!"

Laura looked down at her Epipen. She didn't feel any swelling in her throat, no choking, no inflammation or panic. She could breathe, her heart was beating slowly, calmly. The pen stayed in her hand, and she put it down, her breath coming in and out of her nose clearly.

"You sure that was almond milk in there?" she asked.

"Yeah!" Ed dashed in after her. "Are you—"

"I'm… fine." She displayed the unused adrenaline pen to him. "What the hell?"

Ed frowned, and opened the top of the coffee cup, looking into it. "Fucking weird. Maybe they just screwed up my order?"

"Let's not look a gift horse in the mouth." She looked at the screen, at that bit of story. It wasn't showing anything odd, nothing that stood out. But she made a note to edit it later.


The Witch's Hut was bustling at 3:00 in the afternoon. High school had gotten out half an hour earlier, and now the kids from the elementary school were flocking into the shop. While a pair of seniors made lewd gestures with the sexy outlet and plug costume (something that Laura was giving them both a considerable stinkeye for doing), Ed Valentine helped a parent pick out fog juice that wouldn't trigger her son's asthma.

He waved her off. As he did, he looked at the front of the store, and noticed that there were two shafts of light coming in through the poster for the annual horror film festival, like a pair of clawmarks. They only way those marks could have been made was through the glass, but it was intact.

He shuddered, and went to the back to get another poster. This town was already weird enough, and it seemed to get worse every October. Still, if worst came to worst, the Plastics People would come through. They always did.

"Laura, hon?" He called as she finished checking out some customers. "Where are the posters for the window?"

"Third box on the right as you come in the door." She looked up and groaned. "While you're back there, pick up one of those inflatable Draculas? I think we've got some interested customers."

"On it." Ed dreaded what was to come— the Yard Draculas always found their way to the top shelves, and they were heavy, and hard to bring down from there. But they were profitable.

He ducked into the back room, and turned on the light switch. At the other end of the room, looking at him out of a pit of darkness, were a pair of black, beady eyes. Two pairs of claws seemed to be pushing it out of the pit.

Ed recoiled, blinking as he did so. The pit vanished, and in its place, he found an inflatable yard Dracula in a box.

"…okay." He swallowed, and collected the product. "Thanks… weird… hole ghost."

He collected the poster from the box and left the room. He'd seen ghosts before— but this felt different. It felt like he had just looked into a bad dream he couldn't remember— even now, he was starting to forget about it.

By the time Edward Valentine had replaced the poster, it had slipped his mind almost completely.

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