In the Spotlight: Justin Boote
Justin Boote is an Englishman living for over twenty years in Barcelona, working as a stressed waiter in a busy restaurant. He’s been writing short horror/suspense stories for three years, and to date has published around twenty-five in diverse magazines and anthologies. He is also moderator for a private writer’s forum, The Write Practice. He can be found at Facebook or at his Amazon author page under the same name.
You can visit Justin Boote at: email@example.com
From the moment little Stevie Herbert saw who was to be his babysitter for the night, he didn’t like it. To spend a night with a stranger was bad enough, but that this woman’s features resembled something out of a zombie movie made it far worse. Her face was a map of volcanic acne that threatened to erupt at any moment. Her smile was weak and forced and fake. And the way she towered over him from her doorstep, looking down on him as though something disgusting that she might crush under her foot, only added to his unease. Her eyes were small and dark and menacing and reminded him of his school headmaster; knowing eyes. And Stevie was going to be spending all night with this woman.
“I said, don’t be rude now, Steven. Say hello to Samantha.”
Stevie jerked, surprised. He realized with mild embarrassment that he’d been unable to take his eyes off her this whole time and hadn’t been listening.
“Hi,” he managed at last. His lips were very dry.
Samantha’s mouth opened to reveal teeth the same color as his grandmother’s; yellowed and stained. But she had smoked heavily her whole life. He hoped Samantha didn’t smoke too; a habit of grown-ups—among other things—he could never understand.
“Hi, Steven,” she said. “Are we going to have fun tonight, or not?”
“I don’t know. I’d rather be out with my friends, trick or treating.”
And what might her idea of fun be, anyway? Locking me in the basement with the bugs?
“Yes, I’m sure you would, but for one year you don’t go, it won’t kill you. It’ll still be here next year.”
“Suppose so,” he mumbled. This was probably true but waiting a whole year for Halloween to come around again was an eternity. And eternity was, well, pretty damn long.
“Come on, Steven,” interrupted his mother. “You’ll be fine. I’ll be back tomorrow and if you behave, I’ll take you to McDonald’s for dinner. How’s that sound?”
Stevie smiled. Somewhat forcefully because one thing didn’t compensate the other, but it was the best he could manage.
“Good. Okay, and thanks, Samantha. He’s all yours.
“Remember, Steven; you behave and no scary movies!” She kissed his forehead, ruffled his hair, and left.
And that was that.
“Right, there’s the TV. Here’s the remote. All yours. You want anything, go and get it. Don’t bother me.”
Stevie watched as she sat at the table and began scrolling through her cell phone. He started flicking through the channels in the hope of finding something interesting to watch and soon gave up. After an hour, he was already bored, and Samantha seemed to have forgotten he was even there. This was going to be a long night.
“So why aren’t you out tonight with your friends, Samantha?” he asked, not particularly caring why, but wanting to talk about something, anything. He’d turned off the TV and the silence in the house was starting to freak him a little. Especially as it was now night-time.
She looked up, startled. “What?”
“I asked why you aren’t out tonight with your friends? It’s Halloween. Everyone goes out tonight.”
“I can’t. I have to take care of Bobby. He doesn’t like Halloween. It scares him. And it’s Ms. Simpson to you.”
Stevie frowned and looked around. Bobby? There was no one else with them. Who was Bobby? The cat? He looked for the cat’s food bowl and litter tray and saw neither.
“Who’s Bobby? Your cat? Dog?”
“Don’t be silly. Bobby’s my son.”
Stevie thought about that. There wasn’t the slightest indication she had a son. No toys lying around, no photos on the wall, and worse, they’d been here now for three hours and he hadn’t heard a sound. Maybe he was asleep? But it was still only nine o’ clock. Did he sleep, like, twenty hours or something?
“So…where is he, then? Asleep? It’s early to be sleeping already, isn’t it?”
“Of course he’s not asleep. He’s playing.”
“In the basement, of course. That’s where he plays when he’s frightened.”
Stevie then thought about this. He was down in the basement playing, and she hadn’t been down to see him in all this time? What was down there for him to be left alone for so long? If his own mother didn’t hear him after twenty minutes, she usually called to him in his bedroom to see what he was up to.
Stevie squirmed on the sofa. He stared at her for a while expecting to see a smile appear on her face, and then say, ‘ha! Gotcha!’ But she didn’t. She seemed lost in her cell phone and hadn’t even attempted a smile or suggested they play a game or anything. He thought that if he got up and left, she probably wouldn’t even notice.
“So…when will he be coming up? Can I meet him?”
“No, he won’t be coming up, and no, you can’t meet him.”
“Because Bobby gets scared on Halloween. And when he’s scared, he can be…troublesome. Best to leave him alone.”
Stevie sat back and thought some more.What did she mean by ‘troublesome’? And surely she didn’t mean to leave him down there all night? Being down in the basement—no matter how big, and how many toys he had—had to be scarier than being up here, didn’t it? And he’d have to eat soon, wouldn’t he? At the thought of food, Stevie realized he was hungry himself.
“But you’re gonna take him something to eat, aren’t you? I’m getting hungry myself.”
“Yeah? Well okay, I’ll put a pizza in the oven.”
She put down her phone and headed into the kitchen. Stevie was indeed hungry, and pizza sounded good, but he was more interested in whether he would be sharing it with Bobby. Would she take half downstairs to him, or would it be all his? If she didn’t, well, she had to be joking then, didn’t she?
Ten minutes later, Ms. Simpson returned with pizza. His stomach was churning and not just from hunger. It felt like when he’d waited last summer to go on the big rollercoaster for the first time. Exciting but scary at the same time. What if they fell off when they were right at the top?
She put the pizza—the whole pizza—on the table.
“Okay,eat. I’m going to check on Bobby. I’ll be right back,” she said and headed off down a hall by the stairs.
Instinctively, Stevie began munching on the pizza, but he was far from happy. There was something wrong here. Unable to resist, he followed behind her. His heart was thumping and he didn’t really feel like eating any more, but he had to know if she was playing with him or not. It was Halloween after all. Maybe she was bored too and wanted to freak him out a bit.
He waited until she’d closed the basement door. He could hear her footsteps on the creaky steps, but nothing else. Pressing his ear against the door, he listened.
And jumped back, startled.
Ms. Simpson was talking to somebody down there. He couldn’t quite hear what she was sayingbut someone was answering her back. And then he heard her, clearly:
No, you can’t come upstairs. I’m babysitting tonight. You’ll scare him. And we wouldn’t want that, would we?
Stevie dropped the crust of pizza he’d been eating and took a step back. She’d been telling the truth! But, why would he scare him? What would he do? Then, before he could think of an answer, he heard her coming up the stairs again. He ran to the sofa and threw himself on it.
The pizza! He’d left the crust by the basement door. Praying she wouldn’t notice, he grabbed another slice and tried to divert her attention,
“How’s Bobby? Still scared? This pizza’s great.”
Ms. Simpson came into the living room and sat again at the table. She hadn’t noticed the pizza crust. Yet. “Yes, he is still scared. He hates Halloween, but he has his reasons. Finish the pizza then time for bed for you too.”
Stevie didn’t argue yet at the same time felt anything but tired and sleepy. He couldn’t get that phrase she’d spoken out of his head. It didn’t seem possible that a boy could spend all night down in the basement alone. His own was terrifying; full of spiders and bugs. All basements were full of spiders and bugs. And how was it possible that Bobby might scare him? Was he…was he wrong in some way?
He decided the best thing to do was go to bed, pretend it was just a joke to scare him on Halloween and try and fall asleep as soon as possible. His mum would be back from her business trip tomorrow and then he could ask her about Bobby. Simple.
As suspected, Stevie found sleep impossible. Every time he closed his eyes an image of Bobby coming into his room forced him to open them again. Bobby; who would be groaning and making strange noises in his throat, maybe his skin peeling like the zombie movies he occasionally watched with friends, or great fangs to rip his throat open with. But then,a noise coming from downstairs awoke him fully.
Talking. Probably Ms. Simpson on her beloved cell phone. So why could he hear anothervoice as well, then? And he wasn’t so sure it really was talking. It didn’t sound like it. It reminded him more of when his cat saw a bird on the garden wall—too far away to catch. A whining, screechy sound.
He shivered, saw goose-bumps appear miraculously on his arms and pulled the blanket tighter against him. Ms. Simpson was telling whoever it was to behave and to get back down in the basement. No, she said, he couldn’t meet Stevie. That was a very bad idea.Despite the fear that smothered him like a secondary, heavier blanket, Stevie had to know. Curiosity was too powerful to resist. Just a quick peek to see if it really was Bobby, and what he might look like, then dash back to bed.
He crept over to his bedroom door and peered out. She was dragging something back to the basement. From his position overlooking the stairs, he could see the back of her and something small and skinny in front.
“I don’t want to go. I want to play with Stevie,” it said.
Stevie gasped and quickly put a hand over his mouth. He couldn’t believe it; Bobby was real.
“I told you, Bobby. You can’t. You’ll scare him,” she answered, then opened the basement door and pushed him in.
The door closed and Stevie watched with horror as she bent down and picked up the pizza crust he’d dropped earlier. She looked up towards him just as he ducked out of sight and dashed back to his bedroom.
Desperate, he covered himself with the blanket and pretended to be asleep. After a few moments, confident that Ms. Simpson wasn’t coming up the stairs after him, he relaxed a little. But them, a horrifying new thought took over.
What if she’s lying? What if she’s a bad person and is really punishing him by keeping him down in the basement? Kidnapping him?
This seemed a far more realistic possibility. Bobby had sounded weird when he heard him speak, but that was to be expected, wasn’t it? If he’d been in the basement all day with no food?
So what are we going to do about it?
The answer came when he heard Ms. Simpson enter her own bedroom next to the one he was using for the night, then the clonking of springs as she climbed into bed. He waited for what seemed an age—still not quite believing what he was going to do—until once more he crept out of bed and headed towards the staircase. No light shone from under her door, so he tiptoed down the stairs until he came to the basement.
While he stood in front of the door, he saw that his hand was trembling as it hovered over the handle. He was hot and clammy, his pyjamas sticking to his chest, then discovered he was holding his breath. Slowly, he allowed his lungs to function again, trying his hardest to breathe through his nose so neither she nor Bobby would hear him.
From down in the basement came a thin whimpering. He wasn’t sure exactly what he was going to do if Bobby came flying up the stairs towards him, or even if he confirmed his suspicions. All he wanted was just to catch a glimpse of Bobby, see if he really was just a normal boy like him, then run upstairs again. Tomorrow he’d tell his mum and she could phone the police. If Bobby was still alive. that is.
A crashing sound came from down below. The whimpering grew in intensity until it became loud sobs. Stevie opened the door as slowly and quietly as he could and peered through the small crack. A dim light showed enough of the basement for Stevie’s suspicions to be confirmed. It looked filthy. Spiderwebs hung from every corner. Footsteps were clearly visible on the stairs thanks to the accumulation of dust and it smelled as though months of garbage had been left down there; rotten eggs, vegetables, meat.
He stifled a cough and opened the door further. A shadow moved around below. The sobbing echoed off the walls making it sound as though there were several people down there. Something fell to the floor and broke sparking a squeal of anger. And then, the shadow moved closer to the stairs. Stevie gasped when an arm took hold of the bannister. Enough light allowed him to clearly see its condition and this scared him. He had been right; Bobby was indeed wrong.
His first thought was of the zombie movies again. The skin was white but great portions of it were red and scabby. Blisters like the acne on Ms. Simpson’s face, yet even greater in size casting bizarre shadows on the floor and allowing Stevie to see the bone through the muscle tissue. His fingers looked as though they had melted or the tips had been bitten off.
A sniffing sound broke the sobbing and it was then Stevie realized he was sobbing in terror himself. He backed away from the door but was in time to see the head slowly appear in the weak light. He could only see half of it but what he saw was a scarred, bald, rotting thing. A glowing eye looked up at him and blinked. Stevie was frozen, unable to turn and run or close the door. A foot appeared on the bottom step; shoeless and with toes twisted and melted also.Then he stepped into full view, and Stevie screamed. Bobby was going to come up the stairs and eat him just like in the movies. A demented grin cracked the features of his face as he began to rise the steps and Stevie’s bladder finally broke.
“Stevie! What are you doing?”
The shock of the voice behind him caused him to scream again. He looked back to see Ms. Simpson standing over him, then slam the door shut and lock it with a key.
“What did I tell you about not going down there? I knew you’d looked because I saw the pizza crust earlier. You leave Bobby alone and get back to bed.”
She dragged him to his feet and nudged him towards the stairs. He staggered, his legs useless, and tripped on the step. A pounding on the door and croaked whimpers provoked another gasp of horror.
“Bobby! You get back down there. I’ll be down in a moment.”
The pounding and whimpering stopped. Ms. Simpson turned to Stevie and ushered for him to go. His body shaking, his lower lip quivering, he dragged himself up the steps and crawled into his bed, the blanket pulled up over his head. He was shivering with fear and shock, his pyjamas soaked, and could only beg for his mother to come and take him away from this nightmare.
He stayed this way for a long time until sheer exhaustion forced his eyelids down and for heavy panting to become mild snores.
“So how was your night, Steven? Did you have a nice time with Samantha?”
Stevie looked at his mother and shook his head
“No? Why not? She didn’t let you watch scary movies, did she? I specifically forbade you to watch them. You know you have a vivid imagination and they give you nightmares. I shall speak to Samantha later.”
“Mum?” he interrupted.
“Samantha’s son—what happened to him?”
“What son? Samantha doesn’t have any children.”
“She does. Bobby. Ms. Simpson’s son. I saw him.”
“I think you’re mistaken, Steven. And Samantha’s surname is Wilcox, not Simpson. A few years ago, there lived a Ms. Simpson there at the house, but she and her son died in a fire in the basement. Terrible tragedy.”
Stevie looked at his mother, just as he had Ms. Simpson, expecting a grin to break out on her face and say ‘gotcha!’ But, as with Ms. Simpson, she didn’t. So he thought about this.
Either Mum is tricking me for some reason because Halloween was yesterday, not today, or maybe I imagined the whole thing? Perhaps I fell asleep and dreamed about Bobby? But Mum had presented Samantha to me when we arrived at her house, so who had been there, then? Who’s Samantha Wilcox?
Stevie concluded that he didn’t know the answer to any of these questions, so the best thing—the safest thing—was to pretend he had imagined it all. It would make a great story to tell his friends later, though.
Having decided he wasn’t going to fall for Mum’s trick or insist he really had seen Bobby, he finished his burger, and together they left McDonald’s. As they walked past Samantha Wilcox’s home to their own, he looked up to see a young boy waving to him from an upstairs window. It was hard to recognize any features; his face was missing most of the skin and flesh, and what was left looked terribly burned.
Previous Authors in the Spotlight:
September 2019 — What the World Needs Now — David Rae: Davidrae-stories.com
August 2019 — Flickerings –Evie Haskell: http://www.echaskell.com
July 2019 –The Love Birds Saga I–Margherita Crystal Lotus: https://thecrystallotus.com
June 2019–Where There’s a Will-Chapter 1–Pat Leo: firstname.lastname@example.org
April 2019 — Love is Messy (Finding You Again – Book 1)–Callie Sutcliffe: https://calliesutcliffe.com
March 2019 — The Dieppe Raid — Des Dixon: email@example.com
February 2019 — I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead–Jodi Elderton: http://jodielderton.com
January 2019 — The Raven Watched–Karin Weiss: https://kweisssite.wordpress.com%20%20
December 2018 — Blessed Mother, Blue Sky–Terry Chase: http://www.drterrychase.com
November, 2018 — Heidi–Izzy Richards: https://izzyrichardsblog.wordpress.com
October, 2018 — Darkness in the Amazon–Stephanie Colbert: https://www.stephaniecolbert.co/