stories of faith and fright
Al Bruno III
They wore no costumes, just dark clothes and black greasepaint.
Don hit the kid in Frankenstein costume from behind, sending him flying. The kid hit the ground and sat there for a moment stunned and then started bawling as only an eight-year-old could. Roaring like animals Pete and Timmy ran up to the crying boy pushed him back down and stole his bag of candy. The kid screamed even while the three teenagers scurried back into the shadows, laughing hysterically and shouting, "Happy Halloween!"
Seventeen minutes later and halfway across Schenectady they hid behind a car and prepared to strike again.
"Check it out the kid in the skeleton costume over there!"
"Nah over by the alley is better, there are four of them. See?" Don whispered.
"Where?" Pete asked.
"Right over there!"
"Ohhhh. See any parents?"
"How old do you think they are?" Timmy said.
Don laughed, "Who cares? Lookit the size of those bags! "
The four children moved down the street, stopping at each house to ring the bell and chant 'Trick or Treat!'
In a few moments the brightly costumed foursome scampered in front of the parked car. Don darted out from hiding, running by and snatching a bulging pillowcase from one of the shocked children.
The kids were screaming by the time Timmy and Pete were on their victims. Timmy snatched the bag from his prey easily, Pete was having a bit more trouble. The girl in the princess costume was hanging onto her treats for dear life. Everyone winced at her high pitched screams.
Don and Timmy were halfway up the street when they turned to see their friend involved in a tug of war with a girl half his size.
A fat man stormed out onto his front porch, his voice a meaty bellow, "What are you doing? Hey you kid!"
Don gasped, “Aw crap!"
Several things happened at once. First the fat man called into his house, "Call the police Ellen!”
Then the faded blue pillowcase tore in half, spilling candy and one lone apple onto the street. Without thinking Pete bent to scoop up a handful and received a swift kick in the nose from the little girl. Pete fell to his knees. The four enraged children pounced on him.
The other candy thieves doubled back and started shoving and throwing fourth graders in every direction.
"Hold it right there!" The fat man was running across his lawn, puffing like he was in the middle of a marathon. "Hey you kids!"
Don pulled Pete up onto his feet and the three boys started running, the voice of the fat man driving them forward.
There was a small, nearly abandoned cemetery on the outskirts of town where no tombstone offered a date beyond 1940. A frosty wind wove its way between the dying trees, toppled headstones and defaced mausoleums, carrying in its wake the sound of laughter.
"The nose didn't hurt so bad. It was when the other one kicked me in the balls. That's what hurt!" Pete snickered through a mouthful of Milk Duds, "It hurt so bad I couldn't move! I thought I was gonna die."
Don had three lollipops stuffed into his mouth, "Is that why we had to carry you while we were running from that guy."
They sat in a small clearing; the unkempt grass was tall enough to mask their presence among the broken grave markers. Timmy ran his hands through the rapidly thinning pile of candy, "This's gotta be the best Halloween we ever had!"
Don bit down, chewed and then spit three bent white sticks out of sight. "Here's to tradition."
They had been doing this for four years, an idea born on an October afternoon when on of them had commented "I want to get candy, but Trick or Treating is so stupid."
The rest was history.
Don sifted through the pile of sweets, cursing at the unbelievable amount of candy corn they had. "Who eats this shit?"
"Can't stand it."
The other two looked to Don as their leader; mostly because he could always get them beer and was gifted with an almost magical way with the girls.
"Anyone want a toothbrush?" Timmy asked. Timmy was the tough guy of the trio, nobody messed with Don or Pete because of his presence among them. His reputation began in junior high when he stabbed an upperclassman in the knee. It had all been an accident but once the school rumor mill had spun out a much more dramatic story. "Man giving away toothbrushes on Halloween is so gay. It's worse than putting razor blades in apples. Hey catch!"
The toothbrush struck the side of Pete's head, "Ow!" He picked a bag of jellybeans and threw, Timmy ducked and the plastic bag bounced off the side of a tombstone.
"Hey!" A smirk spread across Pete's features "Quick- tell me who I am."
He began to waddle in place, thrusting his stomach far forward, "Hey you kids stop! Stop it right there! I mean it!"
Don and Timmy laughed till they were sick.
Pete had been playing the part of the clown since nursery school; he knew by instinct how to make people laugh. It always seemed to casual observers that he didn't quite belong with his two friends. Why would this gentle faced, giggling boy hang out with a pair of hoodlums? And consequently why would they put up with him?
The simple fact was they had been hanging together since grade school and facet of growing up had been able to separate them. It was unimaginable to them that they could ever be anything else.
Suddenly Don hissed, "Shhhhhhhhh!"
"What?" Timmy grinned, "What?"
"Be quiet! I heard something!" Don whispered frantically. "Something like this?" Pete leaned over and let loose a dry rasping fart.
"Oh wow. I just got a great idea!"
Don was scanning the dark cemetery for with wide, nervous eyes, "Will you guys fucking listen?"
"You got a lighter Timmy?"
"We can take turns lighting our-"
"Somebody's out there! Somebody's out there!" Don was trying to whisper and shout at the same time.
"What the fuck are you talking about?"
"I. Heard. Some. Body. Out. There!"
And in that moment of silence that followed they all heard it; footsteps, moving quickly through the long grass.
Timmy turned pale and tossed the beer can he held out of sight. "I hope that it ain't the friggin' cops." He whispered, "I'm still on probation."
"I'm gonna go see what it is.” Don announced, "If it's the cops I'll make lots of noise." And then he disappeared into the long grass.
Pete and Timmy looked helplessly at their surroundings and each other. Toying with the silver ring on his left hand, Timmy tried to block thoughts of the consequences of breaking probation. He'd already spent two months in the JDH; it had been a savage, nightmarish experience. The thought of going back terrified him. The wind picked up speed, bending the sickly green blades of grass back and sending a shiver through the two boys' bodies.
For the first time they truly became aware of where and when they were; their stomachs were sick with butterflies. Pete shifted uneasily away from the tombstone he'd been leaning against, unconsciously trying to get closer to his friend.
Timmy stood, "He's been gone too long. I'm gonna go an see if I can find him."
"No!" Pete half- shouted as he grabbed the taller boy's shoulder and forced him back down into a sitting position, "He's only been gone five minutes!"
He flashed his watch, "It's true. Calm down."
Pete tried to remind himself that this place was a popular local hangout and if anything Don would be coming back with some other eager partiers; maybe even some female partiers. The fantasy was distracting but it vanished quickly. For some reason Pete was reminded of a poem he'd heard when he had been half-paying attention in English class, something about a burning tiger in a fearful cemetery.
Pete yelped and Timmy grabbed his chest at the sound; then Don stepped into view.
"It weren't no cop." he said, "It was a kid."
Pete's face creased as he read his watch, "A kid? At eleven o'clock?"
"Shhhh. He's still around, an he's- No waitaminute, you guys gotta see this yourself."
A child half-ran, half-skipped through the shadowed graveyard, clutching an empty pillowcase in each hand. The store-bought skeleton costume and mask made the wearer indistinguishable from any other of the kids they'd seen tonight.
"I thought you said the kid had two full bags." Timmy whispered from behind the cover of a tombstone.
Don watched the small figure recede "He did."
"Well maybe he was realllllly hungry." Pete snickered.
Without warning Don clouted Pete upside the head, "Fuck you."
"Ow! What did I do?"
"Maybe the kid lives here." Timmy suggested.
Pete laughed, "No one lives in a cemetery."
"No duh!" Timmy sneered, "I meant maybe he lives close by the cemetery."
"Maybe he's got a tree house or somethin' around here." Don stood, "Lessie if we can find it."
He lead them back along the path the costumed child had come from until they found themselves standing in a clearing. The darkness made the landscape surreal; the boundary between shadow and solid reality seemed to twist and blur. It took their eyes a few moments to realize what occupied the center of the clearing.
When realization came it kept them standing there, struck dumb by awe and greed. A crude table had been made from a trio of tombstones, and scattered around it was candy.
Candy of every conceivable, size, flavor and type carpeted the ground in clumsy mounds some as deep as three feet. Foil wrappings glittered darkly as the wind picked up a trio of Yummyburger gift certificates and carried them out of sight.
For the three boys it was not unlike seeing the pyramids or Stonehenge for the first time; they were speechless with wonder.
"Do you guys see what I see?" Timmy said numbly.
"I don't know. " Pete whispered, "What do you see?"
"I asked you first."
"I want to find out if your seeing what I'm seeing before I say anything."
Both were silenced by Don, "Look at all this fuckin' candy!"
Pete and Timmy breathed a sigh of relief.
"Will you look at all this fuckin' candy!"
"How could one kid get all of this?" Timmy asked no one in particular.
"Maybe he steals it like us." Pete guessed.
Don was still shaking his head, "This is a lot of fuckin' candy!"
The small shape in the skeleton costume stepped into view and began to sing.
Each of the boys issued a gasp. Pete thought to himself that he was going to have a heart attack before this was over.
"Who are you?" Timmy shouted, angry at allowing himself to be frightened by a kid.
Another child, dressed identically to the first left the cover of the treeline and joined in on the singing.
"OK." Don said, "This is weird."
A third similarly dressed child joined the others.
And then another.
By the time there were seven of them Pete stopped counting, "I think we should go." He started to get really creeped out; he swore he could see some of the candy... moving?
"You kids get out of here!" Timmy shouted, "No one saw us take anything!"
"Guys?" It was like watching an avalanche in reverse, the small brightly wrapped packages were rolling up the mound of sweets.
Don stared bewildered at them, "What the?"
The sound of paper and plastic rustling became loud, almost deafening in its intensity, drowning out the sounds of the children singing.
The heap of candy surged upwards and took on a shape that was huge and undeniably humanoid. Seven feet tall and still solidifying; with huge hands it snatched Timmy up and swallowed him whole.
Screaming the two remaining boys broke into a run.
It gulped the last of Timmy down and set off after more. It gave chase, its every movement marked by the crackling of cellophane and foil.
Pete heard Don cry out and fall, without thinking he ran to help his friend. He threw an arm about Don's waist and pulled him to his feet. "Come on. Come on." He panted.
Before they could take a mutual step it had them both.
They were lifted into the air by claws made of Hershey Bars and rolls of Lifesavers. Pete pulled and pried at them but all he managed to do was tear the waxy paper and expose the sweet smelling candy beneath.
It placed Don's screaming head in his mouth and bit. Pete's hands flew to his ears but there was no masking the cracking tear. It spat the severed head away and gulped at the jets of blood that sprayed from the ragged, red hole till it was dry.
Dropping the headless body it turned its attention to Pete, he had gone mad and he giggled fitfully at the nightmare before him. His laughter became more intense as the huge face loomed in front of him. It was a face made of sourballs with a pair of shining lemon drops for eyes; its ears were candy apples, its teeth a gaping maw of candy corn.
The thing split him open and began to suck out his soft filling.
After a while the screams had died down. The costumed children waited patiently at the gravestone altar. The masks had been taken off revealing soft faces and disheveled hair. They were scared, scared even though their dreams had promised that the Confection wouldn't harm them.
But how could they hear screams like that and not be afraid?
The Confection stepped out of the woods, licking its fingers in a self-satisfied way. Its stomach of Kit Kat bars and Pixie Sticks bulged. Instinctively the children resumed their dream-hymn. Grinning the Confection made its way through the identically dressed throng, pausing to pinch the occasional cheek or pat the occasional head. "All in all very fine." Its voice was a dignified rustle, "But next year, less quantity, more quality. Something younger, something plumper."
The children nodded. It stepped up onto the gravestone altar and looked out over them. The Confection raised its arms and the singing stopped. Over a dozen little skeletons surged forward. They tore the Confection limb from limb. Then they tore those limbs apart piece by piece and filled their pillowcases and store bought bags with candy. Curiously none of the sweets were streaked with blood or dirt.
And when the morning came they knew they would find more treats mixed in with the candy, wrinkled currency and tarnished trinkets of gold and silver. Each of the children paused a moment at the gravestone altar to offer thanks and whisper a wish. Already some were making plans for next year, figuring out ways to lure cruel adults and schoolyard rivals into this dark and scared place.
Next year was going to be the best Halloween ever.