Jamie Eisenberg was halfway down Crescent Avenue before the sight of his own breath stopped him cold. Jamie’s run had no real aim, only pleasure, but the weather simply wasn’t conducive to such activity.
Halloween was two weeks past and winter was already draining the color from the landscape. The days of snow forts and sledding had yet to arrive, and as the fire on the trees dulled and littered the streets with brown, he couldn’t help but feel as though he was in the heart of something dying.
Neither Shane nor Jacob wanted to venture from their homes that day, and now, Jamie was beginning to realize they had the right idea.
What the hell could he do out there? Most of the neighborhood’s overripe Jack-o’-lanterns were already smashed at the bottom of the quarry, and the cold demanded heavy coats and gloves that made sports more trouble than they were worth. All he could do was walk, and already a block from his house, he would have to do exactly that.
Turning the corner, Jamie stomped his way through a ridge of dead leaves on the side of the road. He hated them. Each footstep squelched, and not once did he hear the crunch of a proper autumn leaf. He took a moment to root through the debris with the toe of his sneaker before venturing on. Even the crickets were dormant.
Jamie knew the storm was to blame for most of it. The winds tore nearly all the remaining foliage from the branches, and the rain permeated the soil to the point of overflow. He could almost swear he felt the asphalt yielding underfoot.
Despite his mood, Jamie smiled as he reached Mr. Rutner’s house. The man was a neat-freak, and everything around his place looked immaculate even after the squall. He might be good for a little fun later that night if he could sneak out without waking his folks. There were still a few eggs left in his Mischief Night stash he was dying to make use of.
Jamie was nearly beside the next yard when he noticed the mound of color earlier obscured by Mr. Rutner’s hedges. The leaf pile looked tall enough to reach his waist, and even in the shadow of the greenery, Jamie could determine the quality of the leaves--dry, bright, and ready to be crushed by a falling body.
Jamie didn’t know why Mr. Rutner hadn’t bagged and hauled the leaves to the side of the road for pickup, but he didn’t care either. It might be a bit childish, but nobody was watching, and neither Shane nor Jacob was there to tease him.
Jamie took one final look around to ensure his privacy and made a beeline for the pile.
As he raced forward and leaped into the air, he got the strange impression that the mound already had an imprint at its center. It was large, child-size, and he wondered if one of his friends might be as immature as himself as he landed at its core.
For a moment, he lay there panting. The crunch he was expecting was absent, and the leaves his hands rested on around the rim of the imprint felt harder than they should. He tried to squash one in his palm and failed, yelping instead as he felt blood trickle through the slit across his glove.
The wound distracted him. Jamie did not notice the slight tremor in the mound until the borders were already swelling over his head. His scream was muffled as he again felt something sharp bite through his clothing. Sinking deeper into the maw of the thing, he finally heard a crunch.
Patrick Rutigliano resides in Fort Wayne, Indiana with his fiancée and a bloated collection of weird fiction. Since embarking on his writing career, Patrick's work has appeared in History is Dead, Monstrous, Northern Haunts, and Shroud Magazine #6. His stories are also slated to appear in numerous releases from both Library of the Living Dead Press and Library of Horror Press. Updates as to his progress and a full bibliography are available via http://www.patrickrutigliano.blogspot.com/.