Nobody wants an ice cream in November, but that doesn’t stop Tony from making his rounds. He drives around the estate every evening at five, every day of the year, even Christmas, but nobody ever buys ice cream from him. Not in November. Not in August. Not ever.
The jingle jangle of When You Wish Upon A Star was torture on hot summer days when I was a kid. We’d all hear it, no matter where we were, every day at five PM. I used to plead with my Mum for an ice cream, but every day, she’d always refuse. I was in too much of a strop to really notice at the time, but looking back, there was always a slight nervousness to the “No”, as if it wasn’t really ever about the ice cream.
Everyone knows the rumours about ice cream vans that sell their wares after summer. They’re a front for drugs or organised crime, but behind the decorated doors and windows of Tony’s van lay a much darker secret.
My mother knew the secret, as did all of her friends. All of our parents knew, and now, so do I. My Dad almost told me once. I asked him for an ice cream and he lost it.
“Do you want to end up like your Uncle Matthew?” He blurted out, before my mother shot him a furious look and he went quiet. I didn’t know that I had an Uncle Matthew, and I didn’t know what had happened to him, but now, I do.
It was the end of November, and all the children in the neighbourhood were on their best behaviour as Santa was just a few weeks away from visiting, all the children except Ricky, that is. Ricky was a little shit, but he didn’t deserve what happened to him. No kid deserved that.
He’d been playing up all day, and as his mother called him in for dinner, he just pulled a face at her and ran down the road, right into the path of Tony’s van. The familiar tune rang out as the van screeched to a stop, and Ricky stared up at the van, licking his lips as the thought of forbidden ice cream seemed to fill his mind.
His father rushed down the street, snatching the boy up in his arms and pulled him away from the van. Ricky was carried, kicking and screaming back into his house as the rest of the neighbourhood kids laughed and jeered at the little troublemaker. We all went in for our dinner too and the night went on, as normal. We all thought that would be the end of it, but that night, as the neighbourhood slept, I could hear that song again, just down the road.
I crept quietly to the window, hoping not to make a sound as I pulled the curtains back and peered out into the dark night.
Tony’s van was idling outside of Ricky’s house, and up the garden path towards the gate tottered Ricky, barely awake, almost in a trance.
I was watching Ricky walk towards the van when something else caught my eye. Out of the window, a long, thin claw extended, white as snow, beckoning the boy closer.
He walked, silently through the gate and towards the van, a hideous creature crawling from the window to meet him.
Its whole body was white, ridged and ragged. It watched Ricky with soulless, silver eyes and let a long, black tongue smack against its pale lips, before smiling down at the boy, rows and rows of sharp teeth glittering in the moonlight.
Ricky rubbed his eyes, looking up at the van with a start, seemingly awake at last. He screamed, but it could only be heard for a second as the creature captured him in his arms, lifted him high above its snapping jaws and dropped him into its mouth.
Ricky fell silent, with only the sounds of the creature chewing left to fill the empty, quiet night. I couldn’t look away, frozen by fear as the creature spat Ricky’s skull to the pavement and then turned its head towards my window, its jaws bursting into a bright smile as its eerie, endless eyes locked onto mine.
“Would you like an ice cream, Denice?” The creature called, its bones seeming to shift and shudder as its skin shifted to a human colour, hair began to sprout on its head as its jaws retracted and as the seconds went by, I realised that it was turning into something familiar… or somebody familiar. Tony. “I’ve got plenty of red sauce to go on top.” He cackled, slamming the serving window shut as I scrambled back to bed, pulling the covers over my head.
I was awake all night, shivering under the covers, jumping at every sound and praying for the morning to arrive. The night seemed to last forever, but eventually, dawn broke, and with it came the most horrific sound I’ve ever heard. A howling, hurt, heartbroken scream from Ricky’s mother woke up the whole street. She sobbed, hysterical and horrified as the neighbourhood rushed out of their houses to find out what had happened.
I stayed in my room, looking down from the window as she clung to her little boy’s skull, rocking back and forth, her eyes full of tears. She knew exactly what had happened. They all did, but they didn’t dare say, and now, I knew too. It’s been weeks and I can’t get the sound of her screams out of my head, or the visions of poor Ricky and what Tony did to him.
I told my Mum what I’d seen as she walked me to school, and she went white as a sheet, pulling me off the pavement and into an alleyway, shushing me as I tried to resist. She just stared at me for a second as we stood, alone in the alley, and then she pulled me into a tight hug, shaking as tears fell from her eyes. I didn’t go to school that day, she took me home, locked the door, and told me everything.
My Uncle Matthew was her older brother. They had lived on the same street, and one day, Matthew had gone to buy ice cream for the two of them. They’d only just moved in, so nobody had been able to warn them about what happened to Tony’s customers. She didn’t know how long he had been roaming the neighbourhood, or why he had settled on us, but she knew that nothing good ever came from that van, or the thing that lived inside of it.
Tony still drives around in his van, stopping extra long just outside of Ricky’s house, dripping red sauce from the serving window across the pavement with a devious chuckle, but everyone stays inside, running for their front doors the second they hear that song. None of the other kids know why, but they’ve been told to do it, and I suppose the fear of being on the naughty list is enough to keep them in line, but I know exactly why we run, and I know that we’ll keep running, because Tony’s got a taste for the neighbourhood kids.