Things That Go Crunch in the Night by mattygirl

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Story Notes:

Written for the GFIC Group's Oct 2008 Challenge.

Elements: "A long-drawn wail came down the wind, like the cry of some evil and lonely creature. It rose and fell, and ended on a high, piercing note. Even as they sat and stood, as if suddenly frozen, it was answered by another cry, fainter and further off, but no less chilling to the blood. Then there was a silence, broken only by the sound of the wind in the leaves."


Author's Chapter Notes:

Author's Notes: This story is set in the pre-quest period. As such, Frodo is 32, Sam is 20, Merry is 18, and Pippin is 10. I might write the boys sounding younger than they really “should” be at that age, but I think it is appropriate in the context of the story. This story was beta-ed by the lovely and talented Ladyhawke Legend. Happy Halloween!


Frodo looked critically at himself in the mirror and shook his head in consternation. “No,” he said finally, “it doesn’t look right, something’s missing.”

“Whatever are you on about Frodo?” asked Merry, who at the moment was busy adjusting his own All Hallows’ Eve costume.

“My costume!” Frodo said dejectedly, now pouting slightly, “It’s missing something but, I just don’t know what!”

A giggle was heard from the doorway making both Frodo and Merry look up. Their tiny cousin Pippin stood in the doorway. This year, his mother had finally deemed him old enough to be with his cousin’s for All Hallows’ Eve. Normally, the Hobbit lads would have gone to Fatty Bolger’s All Hallows’ Eve party. But this year, in honor of Pippin’s first coming, they decided to try something a little more adventurous.

Every year, there was a tradition that someone would try to frighten the guests of Fatty’s party. It was an informal contest between the Hobbit lads and lasses to see who could scare the party guests the most. Each year someone designated themselves as “the scarer”, and everyone else at the party became “the scaree”. Once the party was over, and some elaborate prank had been executed, the partiers determined whether that year’s scare was better or worse than the last. If it was better, a new standard had been set forcing the next year’s scarers to come up with something even more spectacular.

It had been many years since anyone had been able to top the Gaffer’s legendary scare. Every scarer lived in hope of scaring as well as he had. This year, Frodo and Merry had declared themselves scarers in honor of Pippin’s coming, and thus Sam, following as always in his Master’s footsteps, had become a scarer too.

Frodo and Merry took one look at little Pippin standing in the doorway waving his arms menacingly and burst into laughter. Pippin looked extremely forlorn at their reaction. Merry was holding his sides, tears of mirth streaming down his face. Meanwhile Frodo managed to choke out, “What in the name of Middle Earth are you supposed to be Pip?”

Pippin frowned and said, “I’m supposed to be Lobelia!” Both boys immediately stopped laughing. Frodo shivered in disgust and said, “Ugh, you’re right Pip, she is terrifying!” Merry nodded in disgust as well. Most Hobbits found Lobelia Sackville-Baggins to be grating, annoying, and downright rude. Her husband Otho and her son Lotho, weren’t much better.

It was plain to Frodo and Merry, as well as many others, that the Sackville-Baggins’ goal was to occupy the hole under the hill. True, Bilbo was getting on in years, but he still seemed as spritely as a young lad – and indeed he still looked it too. As if that wasn’t bad enough, at least according to the Sackville-Baggins, now the old Hobbit had also adopted some young Bucklander to be his heir! Their frigid attitude toward Bilbo and Frodo – indeed toward all who had regular contact with the Bagginses – made it clear that their hatred had none diminished over the years since Frodo had arrived. Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, when riled, was indeed quite frightening.

Merry looked his small cousin up and down, mentally appraising his costume. His tiny cousin was dressed in an ugly, old, purple dress and had done his best to make his hair look wild and mad, as it usually did when Lobelia was ruffled. But, there was one thing that seemed unusual. The dress was shaped as it would be if a lass were wearing it. “Pip?” asked Frodo cautiously, “Where did you get that?” He jabbed his finger suspiciously at the lump that was little Pippin’s chest.

“I stuffed it!” Pippin proclaimed proudly to reveal two small pillows from his bed which he had stuffed up under the dress. Both Frodo and Merry broke into laughter again.

“Well done, Pip!” Merry said jovially as he clapped his cousin on the back. Pippin beamed at the praise - he was a big boy now, and he had just been accepted by the other big boys.

“Frodo?” Pip queried, still smiling, “what are you supposed to be?”

He sighed and returned once again to scrutinizing himself in the mirror. “A dragon,” he said sadly, “but I’m missing something, but I don’t know what!”

Pippin circled his cousin, looking critically at the costume. He had certainly heard plenty of dragon stories from his Cousin Bilbo, and thus, he knew what dragons were supposed to look like. He took a mentally inventory of all the dragon parts. Sharp teeth? Check. A row of jagged cloth teeth hung around Frodo’s head. Big head with small eyes? Check. The head of the dragon came up over Frodo’s head. It actually looked like the gaping mouth was eating his cousin’s head and the small beady eyes were made from bits of glass shaped into smooth balls and painted yellow. Orangey-gold, scaley skin? Check. When Bilbo told his stories, Smaug always had scales the color of flashing gold coins. Frodo’s costume was made up of lots of half circle shaped orangey-yellow fabric swatches, sewed together so that they overlapped, making a set of glorious dragon scales. Apparently, Belle Gamgee had been busy helping to make this. Pippin was smart enough to know that she was the only one nearby who possessed the sewing skills to create such a costume.

Pippin stopped; he knew what was missing. “A tail!” he shouted. “Frodo, you’re missing a tail!”

Merry laughed and Frodo exclaimed, “Of course, how silly of me! Now what to make it out of?” There was silence as all three contemplated what they could use to make a dragon tail.

Merry sat down to think, his white ghost costume pooling around him on the bed. It was rather large for him, but then again, Merry reasoned, ghosts were supposed to be rather flighty and yet at the same time menacing. When he pulled the hood of his costume over his head, only his eyes were visible, giving the illusion of a white, long-armed, gliding ghost. Between the three of them, they were ready to scare…provided of course they could find a tail for Frodo.

They sat in silence pondering, and when no ideas seemed forthcoming, they decided to go ask for Bilbo’s advice. The old Hobbit was always full of fun ideas – he often thought in ways that other Hobbits did not, which was part of what had earned him the “mad Baggins” reputation.

Skittering eagerly through the cozy smial, the boys eventually found the Hobbit in question ensconced in his study reading a very large book. The set the tome down upon seeing the three lads enter. “My goodness,” he said jovially, “you look frightening enough to scare half of Hobbiton to death!” All three costumed boys beamed. “Pippin, are you supposed to be Lobelia?”

He nodded, happy that Bilbo had recognized his costume so quickly. Bilbo shivered, saying with a wink, “You’re right, she is quite a fright! Now what can I help you lads with?”

“Uncle, I need a tail!” Frodo exclaimed, turning around so that Bilbo could see the problem spot.

“Oh, yes indeed,” said Bilbo, “can’t be a proper dragon without a nice tail. Hmmm…tail…tail…what’s a tail…”

After a few moments, Bilbo leapt up and began gathering things. Some of the left over orange-yellow fabric was still sitting in the study along with a box of small sewing pins that Mrs. Gamgee had accidentally left upon finishing Frodo’s costume. He raced into the living room and gathered up a long thin pillow from the couch. He set his supplies on the floor and sat down, working rapidly. Three sets of eyes followed his progress. Within a few minutes, he had taken the long, thin pillow and wrapped the remaining fabric deftly around it. He secured it with the sewing pins.

He beckoned his nephew closer and bid him to turn around. With a warning of “stand still” and a few more heavy duty sewing pins, Frodo’s dragon costume was now proudly supporting a magnificent tail.

“Oh, Uncle!” Frodo cried happily, turning around and around in a circle in an attempt to see his own tail, “It’s wonderful!”

Bilbo beamed with pride, modestly saying, “Well, it’s not as good as Mrs. Gamgee’s work, but it will do well enough. She’s busy right now making Sam’s costume.”

“Sam’s costume?” chorused all three boys.

“Yes, Sam’s costume.”

“But, what is it?” They asked.

“I have no idea,” said Bilbo with a twinkle in his eye, “but whatever it is, it will most certainly do young Sam proud.”

As if on cue, there was a timid knock upon the door of Bag End. Bilbo opened the door and couldn’t help but grin at the sight before him. He surely recognized the Gaffer’s youngest son, Samwise, but what he was supposed to be was beyond Bilbo.

Sam was a sort of brown, round, lump with black splotches all over. Rather than embarrass the timid Hobbit lad, Bilbo instead ushered Sam into the living room. As soon as the other boys saw Sam, they crowded around him, trying to critically determine exactly what he was supposed to be.

“A monster!” said Pippin finally.

“No, a – a –” Frodo stalled at a loss, “What are you supposed to be, Sam?”

“A ‘tater, o’ course,” he said happily, beaming down at his bulky costume.

“A potato?” chorused all three boys. Pippin and Merry began to laugh. Sam looked crestfallen.

Though he wanted to laugh, Frodo could tell his friend was hurt and so he instead asked, “Why a potato, Sam?”

“You do know,” Merry cut in, “you’re supposed to be dressed as something scary don’t you?”

Sam’s eyes widened and he said, “A rottin’ ‘tater is scary, sirs!”

“A rotting potato?” Pippin said incredulously, “You’re not even a good potato?” Pippin burst out laughing.

Bilbo put his arm supportively around Sam’s shoulders and said kindly, “Why is a rotting potato scary, Sam?”

Sam, who had looked close to tears at the thought that no one “got” his costume, looked up at the wizened old Hobbit and said, “Well, if a ‘tater’s rottin’, then it goes all spotty and dark. And if there’s other ‘taters touchin’ the bad one, they start to rot too! So a coupla bad ‘taters can ruin a whole crop o’ good ‘taters, and that’s scary!

Bilbo smiled fondly down at Sam. Only a gardener’s son could truly appreciate how “scary” a failing crop could be. The other boys merely smiled indulgently as Frodo said, “You’re right Sam, that is scary!”

The Gaffer’s son fairly beamed at Frodo’s praise. “Well boys,” said Bilbo, breaking the somewhat awkward silence that followed, “it’s time you were heading to Fatty’s party, after all you lot have some scaring to do!”

The group nodded and headed out, off to the party. Stopping along the road before Fatty’s house, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin crept cat-silent through the forest, circling around to the back of the party to plan the perfect moment for their surprise. This year was a year for change, Frodo could feel it in his bones. They would scare better than the Gaffer!

The party was going strong. In full swing, dozens of costumed Hobbit children were enjoying a veritable feast of Harvest fare – pumpkin and pecan pies, large ears of corn on the cob, dripping with golden butter, whipped sweet potatoes, fresh salad greens, warmed apple cider, and fresh peach cider. The boys’ mouths watered, but they had work to do. And now was as good a time as any.

The plan of attack was simple, they would separate and blow out all the lights and then in the ensuing darkness and chaos, they would sneak in amongst the party goers growling and pushing, and generally scaring everyone. Pippin had suggested the plan – not the best, but it was better than anything anyone else had come up with. Besides, the last year’s attempts at scaring had been downright pathetic. It wouldn’t be too hard to at least top the last year, Lotho’s attempt at pretending to be a monster had been downright pitiful.

The boys were just preparing to separate and put their plan into action, when the hairs on the backs of their necks stood on end. A long-drawn wail came down the wind, like the cry of some evil and lonely creature. It rose and fell, and ended on a high, piercing note. Even as they sat and stood, as if suddenly frozen, it was answered by another cry, fainter and further off, but no less chilling to the blood. Then there was a silence, broken only by the sound of the wind in the leaves.

Too terrified to move, the boys hunkered down in the grass, scarcely daring to move. Frodo felt his blood run cold. Sam’s hands were shaking. Pippin was on the verge of tears. Merry was frozen stiff, barely breathing, as if even that small noise might alert the foul creature to his presence.

The noise of the party down below was deadly silent, like an open spring field after a terrible storm had blown through. The music was silent, the children motionless. Even the All Hallows’ Eve decorations, which a moment before had been fluttering in the light breeze, were dead and still.

Frodo let out a small sigh of relief after a moment when nothing happened. It had probably just been a bird call or a fox or something, he reasoned. He was just about ready to get up and continue on with their prank when – crunch…crunch…CRUNCH…CRUNCH!

Loud, thumping footfalls came closer and closer; the apparently monstrous figure snapping twigs and crunching branches and leaves beneath its feet. A dark shape loomed above the scarers-turned-scarees. It came a few steps closer; all were too scared to move.

When it finally came into view, the fear in the air was palpable as they took in the sight before them. It was a tall, bulky beast, with long arms extended and hanging in a loose, oddly menacing way. Its head was a distorted, swollen mass. Mud dripped from its limbs; its mouth opened in a crooked grimace.

Pippin let forth a gut wrenching shriek, which did his girl costume proud. Frodo yelled, high and loud, falling backwards. Merry gasped, his mouth opened to scream though no sound came out. Sam gave a holler, face white, his mouth open in a rictus of fear. With another shriek, and all thought of scaring the others lost, the boys ran screaming down into the All Hallows’ Eve party.

Dragon, ghost, woman, and potato all ran for their very lives. Another echoing shriek could be heard from behind them. The partygoers erupted into panic. Like a fire in a crowded building produces panic, so did a ripple of sheer, unadulterated terror pass through those assembled. Rosie Cotton ran screaming into Fatty Bolger’s house. Lotho Sackville-Baggins, rotten brat that he was, actually pushed a smaller girl out from behind a table so he could hide. Children hid behind each other, under tables and chairs, or ran pell mell back to their own holes. Tables were knocked over, banners ripped, and children cried. And still the monster came.

Then, as quickly as it had come, it was gone. The silence that settled was surreal and even more unnerving than the unholy shrieking that had previously rent the air. After a few moments where not even the air dared to move, the children began reappearing, popping bushy and disheveled heads up from their protective cocoons. There was no sign of the monster.

The children gathered together frightfully and quickly returned home, at least one other child accompanying them. Packs were safest; perhaps it wouldn’t eat them if they were all together.

And some distance away, far from the chaos, the monster laughed.

The next morning, the partygoers were twittering about the night before. No one had ever done a scare like that before. Fatty had been so scared that he cried, Rosie had fainted dead away, and Lotho had actually wet himself. The decision was clear; Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin were the new paramount of scaring.

The next morning when the children had carried away the boys, begging to know how they had pulled off such prank, Bilbo was left alone, setting out tea for the guests he knew would be soon coming. In a few moments, there was a knock at the door. Bilbo opened it eagerly to reveal Hamfast Gamgee, Paladin Took, and Saradoc Brandybuck.

“Come in, come in!” Bilbo said heartily, “Tea is just finishing.”

The three came in and settled into the living room, while the Bilbo closed the door and finished preparing tea. After serving all his guests and then himself some tea, Bilbo looked at the others and said, “I’m very sorry Hamfast, but I think we beat your old record.”




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