Bob sat awake, watching jagged silhouettes bounce across the window of his New England townhouse. A frigid breeze wafted from beneath his bedroom door. The night was spooky. It was creepy. It was…oh, who knew anymore? He hadn’t written an original work in fifteen years. And tonight, he knew, it was coming to haunt him.
A rustling to his side. He turned.
“Sweetie, is everything okay?” his wife said.
He thought about the box downstairs. Fifty advance copies of Ghoul Lagoon VII. Hot off the presses. Before the presses, it was hot off some .doc on a MacBook in East Hollywood. Not his MacBook.
“It’s just the draft,” he said, nodding towards the door.
“Of the book?”
The words hung in the air like booger-green slime hanging from the ceiling. The extra-obvious pun had eluded him. In his prime, he had been the self-described king of “Horror-ble Puns.”
Bob shook his head and slunk back onto his pillow. He closed his eyes. Outside, the wind picked up and began to howl. It was this same howl that inspired the shorts-shivering howls Grady heard in The Werewolf of Fever Swamp. That was 1993. Now, it was Bob who was shivering in his shorts.
The phone rang. Bob kept his eyes shut and pretended not to hear it. His wife shook him by the arm.
“Honey, just answer it and we can go back to sleep.”
His quivering hand reached for the receiver. Mustering up what little will he had these days, he yanked the phone to his ear. Silence.
“H-hello?” he asked.
“RL?” said the voice. Bob shuddered at that name. The one found on countless lunchboxes, glow-in-the-dark T-shirts, and forgotten VHS sleeves across the world. The one kids used to call him at book signings. The one his son used to call him when they fought over what Halloween costume he should wear.
“What do you want?” Bob asked.
A ghastly hand came to rest on Bob’s shoulder. He turned.
“Who’s calling at this hour?” said his wife. Bob waved her aside feverishly.
“Who is this?” he asked the voice. But he already knew. He could hear it in the voice’s contrary, passive aggressive tone. He sounded that way as a young hotshot with an English degree, thinking he could take the literary would by storm. But every storm abates. Even the ones that make extra-spooky, bone-chilling thunder. Whatever dark, youthful force was making the call would learn that.
“It’s Eric,” said the voice. “Just calling ’cause I haven’t gotten the check for Ghoul Lagoon VII and VIII.”
“Y-you wrote eight already?”
“Yeah, I banged out the last one yesterday after work. So the kids escape again, but there’s bubbles. Like something’s still there.”
Bubbles. The kid was good.
“Eric, do you know what time it is?”
“Oh, shit, are you east coast?”
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Stine. I can call back tomorrow.”
“Call Marty. He’ll sort out the check stuff.”
“Okay, sorry to bother you.”
“No, it’s fine.”
“Ghoul’d night.” The pun was subtle, and he didn’t know if the kid picked up on it. But he didn’t make the pun for the kid. He made it for himself. To prove that he still could.