It was a hot October afternoon (stifling, even), and Doug paused to wipe the sweat from his forehead. This was their first "spooky season" as homeowners - and Janet simply wouldn't allow the front yard to sit vacant while the neighbors erected tasteful (and a few distasteful) Halloween decorations. They had to be "fun" neighbors - they had to quite literally keep up with the Jones's next door.
A few clicks around the World Wide Web, and they had a good half dozen blow-up lawn ornaments arrive in eerily quick time. That's just how the world was nowadays, and Doug was none too made about it.
Now was the moment of truth. Their extension cord zig-zagged from the garage, out onto the front lawn - where Janet took the honor of plugging in the blow-up ghouls. "Get a video for your mom! She'll get a kick out of this," she yelled over the collective buzz of the tiny inflatable motors.
Deep down, Doug knew that he was agreeing to this whole ghastly lawn affair in order to please his parents - who'd always gone full-blown bananas with decorations for the holidays. He fumbled for his iPhone and hit "record" as a ghost, Jack-o-Lantern, and some other freakish Goblin inflated to uncomfortable heights.
Midway through their rise, a nearly forgotten memory drifted back to Doug - as a ship might slowly appear through a mist. He was suddenly twelve years old again, riding his bike on a crisp October day to the beach. Somebody grabbed his shoulder as he went to lock the bike, and he spun around to find an ancient-looking woman (in his mind, she might as well have been mummified) staring at him with gigantic green eyes. "SPARE A CUP?!" she cackled as Doug instantly fled the scene. He never returned for the bike - and could never figure out what she meant.
Back in the now, he looked up from his video to find those same fiery green eyes on the blow-up Goblin Thing. He stopped the video and stammered back inside - brushing off his weird mood as exhaustion as Janet went about the rest of her day. It's nothing, he thought... but seemed unable to shake the unnatural chill from his bones.
Doug awoke the next morning before dawn and made a pot of coffee (a delightful new seasonal feature from Latigo). He poured some of the sweet nectar into his favorite mug, and just then he could feel the hairs stand up on the back of his neck. He was being watched (he was sure of it) - but before he could think another thought, a hand came down on his shoulder. "Spare a cup?" the blow-up goblin asked him casually... only now it was real, and it looked thirsty.
"GGGHHHHAAA!!!" came Doug's reply, which the ghoul seemed to interpret as a "no." Janet emerged on the scene - only she wasn't exactly Janet anymore, and her eyes had turned the same fiery green. The ghoulish tandem proceeded to drink all the coffee, leaving Doug without a single drop. That's when he went well-and-truly mad, and was never heard from again.
Oliver woke with a peculiar taste in his mouth. As a creature of strict routine, he found this very simple fact off-putting. He smacked his lips and evaluated; a salty, processed, strange yet familiar flavor came to mind. It almost tasted like ketchup. No matter. Must have bitten my tongue in the middle of the night, he reasoned. Which added up, since stress had been piling up at work as of late. He cleared his mind in the usual way - with a chorus of morning rituals, each one executed with a sharpshooter's precision.
Just as he was wrapping up his daily cold plunge (timed at exactly five minutes and thirty seconds), a terrible memory arrived and froze him from the inside. He'd run out of coffee the day prior, and had somehow (somehow!) forgotten to grab a fresh bag on his way home from the office. Oliver raced out the door to make time for a coffee stop before work.
He pulled up to the cafe in the dark, not a fleck of daylight yet to be seen on a late October morning. His eyes struggled to make a picture of the strange sight before him. It was gone. The local coffee shop he'd visited on many occasions... simply vanished. What is happening to me, Oliver thought as he closed his eyes and tried to make sense of things.
... but no, he was wrong. It was still there - but had somehow magically transported to the other side of the street. Get ahold of yourself. Oliver parked and walked inside, gathering all of his strength just to act normal. The place seemed happy and chatty. He walked to the counter in a dreamlike state and ordered a coffee.
While he waited, it started feeling as if the happy background noise wasn't taking place in English... or any real language at all, for that matter. It was just a blur - the kind you’d hear in the background of sitcoms. And why was everyone’s upper lip stained with with a red...
“Sir? Your coffee?” came the barista's interruption as Oliver whizzed around. Wasting no time at all, he quickly raised the cup to his mouth - and gulped down a horribly familiar taste. Ketchup. A cup full of ketchup. As the mug fell from his grip and shattered into a hundred piece, the place fell silent. He slowly gazed up as every inch of his body shivered. The barista had turned into a ventriloquist dummy - the kind that haunted his dreams as a child. His knees buckled as he attempted to run away, and the dummy lurched his way.
The happy-go-chatty clientele had also turned into monsters, and slowly closed in. Oliver closed his eyes, and wondered if there could have been a way to avoid this. A simple coffee delivery service that could have saved him from such a cursed adventure. Could such a thing exist? Maybe with a splash of personality and a fun Spotify playlist?
That’s when the monsters tore his face off, and all thoughts for Oliver ceased.
He awoke on his back in fresh snow, a Man who couldn't remember his name. The bare limbs of an ancient white spruce sprawled above him in every direction. Looked as if they might reach right down and carry him away if he wasn't careful. A frightening thought. Using the tree's trunk as support, he slowly hoisted himself up and was met with a throbbing headache. He felt the bump above his left temple - and as his eyes adjusted, he noticed a small cabin up ahead with smoke gently puffing out of an old stone chimney.
The Man closed his eyes and tried to remember... anything. Pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name. An old song lyric? All around him was silence - the kind only a fresh dumping of snow can afford. His momentary peace was broken by the loud cackle of a crow, perched atop the spruce. When he looked back up, he saw it was not just one ... but perhaps a hundred of them. All "ca-cawing" in every direction until they all stopped at once and glared at him.
Time to move. Slowly, carefully, he forged through the thick snow to the cabin's front door. As he got closer, it truly did resemble something out of a fairy tale. Maybe there'll be a fresh pie waiting for me inside, thought the Man.
Just then, the cabin's old wooden door creaked open. The Man was too freezing to reconsider and rushed inside, slamming the door behind him (or did it slam itself?). To his left: a rocking chair, draped with a thick wool blanket that he snatched and threw around his shivering body. From the kitchen came the whine of a teakettle. He wasn't alone.
The Man tiptoed around the corner to the kitchen, ready to plead his case to whomever dwelled here. A french press was setup on the counter, next to a bag of Latigo Coffee (oh, thank God!) and the blood returned to his face. He brewed a cup of coffee, and the memories started coming back. Horrible memories - as this wasn't his first time in this kitchen. In the teakettle's reflection, he saw the skeleton creature lurk up from behind with it's beady red eyes and giant smile. Welcome back, friend!
Nnnnooooooo! cried the man as he whipped around and hurled the kettle at the monstrosity. He raced out the door into the snow - running for his life with a newfound injection of caffeine. From behind, a bellowing laugh that seemed to shake the whole wood. The Man glanced back while still at full sprint, and saw that the cabin had vanished. That's when he smacked his head on the spruce's lowest branch, knocking him unconscious on a day that never would end.
He awoke on his back in fresh snow, a Man who couldn't remember his name.