THE HALLOWEEN TREAT
A story by
There are five of them. They are pink and hairless, wriggling and wrestling with each other like baby hamsters, but much too small to be that. More like hamster embryos. The man holding the magnifying glass over them watches intently as they play. Suddenly there's a squirt of bright red. Then, more. One of them has teeth disproportionately large. And pointy. And numerous. There is panic in the litter.
The man smiles.
Now there are four.
Soon there will be one.
“Oh, shush. I wiped it off. It looks fine.”
“No, it doesn't. He ruined it!”
Bella was nine years old. This Halloween, she hadn't been able to decide between dressing as Wonder Woman or a Transformer, so she improvised and combined them. It seemed reasonable. In her view, the Wonder Woman costume itself just didn't work for her non-bosomy self, and besides, why do female superheroes have to dress so sexy? She figured that would be fine if Batman ran around wearing only Speedo swim trunks with a Bat Signal patch on them and The Flash let his drawers hang down off his butt and his boxers show. Until they did, her version of Wonder Woman would have an armor-plated chest guard and big, clunky, robot boots to go along with the gold headband and little blue skirt.
But there was now cocoa spilled on one of her Wonder Woman silver bracelets, which were not indestructible steel in this case, but sparkly, silver mesh. Seven-year-old brothers could be such klutzes sometimes.
“Okay, okay, wait a sec..."
Her mother went into the kitchen and came back with a half-empty jar from the fridge.
“Hold still.” She tilted it.
“What?! Are you crazy, Mom? That's Ragu!”
“Well, you have two basic choices in life. You can either whine because you're not happy with what life hands you, or you can take control. So. Do you want to be a wimpy, whiny half super-hero/half robot, or do you want to be a wounded and bloody superhero-robot who valiantly keeps battling?”
“Holy shit, Mom, that's freakin' brilliant.” This was fifteen-year-old Branson, who was merely fourteen yesterday.
“Stick a buck in the curse jar, birthday boy.”
“Oh, come on. It's not only my birthday, it's a holiday. Cut me a break.”
“All right, you get one gimme. One. You're lucky I adore zombies.”
She gave him a big, loud smooch on the forehead, then wiped the grey make-up off her lips. His costume had been much easier to create than Bella's. Cruddy, fraying clothes, dollar store horror make-up, and a rubber, dangling eyeball.
“I still say, if Wonder Woman was half robot, that would make her a Borg, not half Transformer.” Branson said.
“And I still say Borgs are from a zillion-year-old TV show and nobody who isn't old would even know what that is. Or care. Doofus,” his sister answered.
“Yeah? Say that at a Star Trek convention someday, wise-ass, and see what happens.”
He could feel his mother's stare.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” He pulled a dollar bill out of his pocket and stuffed it into the ceramic smiley face on top of the kitchen counter. “Someday you'll be able to buy a Ferrari, on me.”
“I don't doubt it. Now, hold still, Wonder Robot Woman.”
Bella scrunched up her face, expecting the worst.
“What, you think I didn't warm it in the microwave first?” Her mother laughed. Bella relaxed and smiled.
The Stephenson household was nearly ready for Halloween. An hour or so more and the kids would go out the door to haunt the neighborhood, and little ones would start ringing the bell. Halloween was a shared experience in this family; a time to be creepy, silly, scary, and most of all, inventive. No store-bought costumes in this house. You made your own and helped with each other's, or you stayed home. And although they ate healthy the rest of the year—not fanatically so, but within reason—tonight was the night to have a blast, Food Police be damned.
Treats were welcomed, treats were given, and fun was had by all.
“Hmmmm,” the man hummed. “Dumteedumdumdum.”
He was busy wrapping. The foil had to be just right, sealed completely. Oh yes, absolutely. It MUST be sealed. Perfectly. Perfection was crucial.
The package—the TREAT—sat in the center of the workbench now, looking as normal as could be. Shiny orange foil with cartoon spiders and witches on it, and the name Mama Carla's Chocolatey Caramel Delight in silver, reflected light from the bare bulb hanging overhead.
It is perfect, isn't it?
Just like the others...
He glanced over at the laundry basket full of foil-covered treats that looked exactly like it.
...only better. This chewy caramel center is special.
In his head, he says “carmel,” as his family always said it when he was a kid. But aloud he would say “car-a-mel” like everybody else around here, so as not to stand out, not to be noticed as the one who was different. Before the night was over, anyone “different” would be on a list of suspects. He knew that.
Within the center of this treat, there was more. A wee bit of warmth. A soft, almost imperceptible tha-dub, tha-dub. If one held it up to their ear, they might hear that tiny heartbeat, might feel the slight thump in their palm, through the package.
There was nothing he could do about that.
Mammals tha-dub their way through life. Humans. Ferrets. Puppy dogs. And creatures much more interesting.
The witch cackled so loudly, two toddlers across the street clutched their daddy's legs and looked like they might cry, and the golden retriever in a front yard near the end of the block started barking. Then the witchy voice cracked and she coughed a little and thumped her chest over her heart.
“Ackk! That hurt.”
Eight year old Lily looked up at her, bored with all this waiting and not the least bit impressed by her mother's greenish skin, long, crooked nose (with a wart on the end, of course), purple lips, or pointy hat.
“Can we leave now? Pleeeeease?”
“Okay, okay, don't get your princess-y panties in an uproar.”
Down the steps they went. Lily's eleven year old twin brothers (one in vampire costume, the other a mish-mash of non-specific goriness) had gone on ahead. They'd headed toward Grover Avenue, where everyone knew the best candy was, even if some of the homeowners' decorations were so spooky they just about made you pee your pants. But, hey, we're talking full-sized candy bars. A little sacrifice was worth it.
The man loaded the basket of treats into the back of his SUV. They were to be shared, every last one, but not ever to be traced back to this house.
Niklas was shy, his eyes instantly downcast whenever he caught anyone's attention. He was nine years old and had been in the U.S. for only a few months. His father had some kind of government job that was a mystery to Niklas. For as far back as he could remember, they'd traveled so often that, if he'd stopped to think about it, he wouldn't really be sure which government that was, which country had given birth to him. Not that he ever did stop to think about it. Discussing it was even less likely. Grown-up subjects were not his business, he'd been told. And his father's scowl was something he preferred to avoid. It saddened him. That you've-disappointed-me-again dark stare.
That's why Niklas' English was flawless, his school grades were perfect, and his bedroom was immaculate, with everything in its correct place. He liked it here in the U.S.A., and wanted to stay. It seemed like every time he did something wrong, his father bounced them to a new country; a new continent, even. Or maybe it was just coincidence. Niklas preferred not to risk it.
Consequently, his Halloween costume was innocuous—his father couldn't be angry about a doctor's outfit, complete with plastic stethoscope, right?—and he would make sure to be in the house long before his curfew.
He'd heard so much about American holidays, and he wanted to experience them all.
They strode along 12th Street with all the yeah-we're-bad they could muster. All four boys were fourteen years old, best friends and troublemakers for as far back as anyone could remember, although this was surely the last Halloween when they would be a foursome. Two had recently started entertaining thoughts of college and careers, one had a new stepfather who was not going to put up with any bullshit, and the fourth—Ronald Freeman aka Blade—had been teetering on the brink of true criminality and finally tipped over the edge.
Their costumes were only vaguely interesting, nothing to brag about. There was purpose in this. Later, they would trade portions of those costumes—masks, make-up, shirts, etc.— and hit the same houses (especially the ones on Grover Avenue) again, separately, thus doubling their goodies intake.
Blade also made sure to eyeball the lawns and side yards. Much later, after all good little boys and girls were in bed, he would return to the houses that had bikes and scooters and other easy-to-sell items lying about, and toss them into the van his ex-con uncle would drive slowly down the street.
It slept. Tiny, curled up comfortably, enshrouded in caramel.
A whole gaggle of girls made their way along Oak Lane, heading for the Halloween party at the PAL center. They ranged in age from twelve to fourteen and considered themselves far too cool and mature to go trick-or-treating. Well, the older ones felt that way. The younger ones secretly missed going door to door, but they desperately wanted to be permanently accepted by the more glamorous 14-year-olds. Thus, no ringing of doorbells and no costumes. Besides, there would be plenty of candy at the party.
When Blade and friends sauntered by on the other side of the street, there was whispering and giggling among the girls as they eyed them, especially Blade. He had that whole bad boy thing going on, which made him nearly irresistible to any girl (and an occasional boy) who'd hit puberty.
As late afternoon became early evening, the last of the adult-accompanied little ones walked or toddled up walks and up steps, their sing-songy “Trick or Treat!” a little off-key, but their adorableness making up for it. Some nervously held out their treat bags, others boldly snatched what was offered, with only a few forgetting to say "Thank you" until prodded by a parent.
'Tweens came and went, and they were all about the costume. Not so much coolness as an homage to whichever celebrity (yes, there were more than a few Miley Cyruses, but fortunately they kept their clothes on), superhero, or cartoon character they loved (Bart Simpson was still hanging in there in popularity). One group of giggly girls went as New Direction, although most adults would probably have no clue which boy each was supposed to be—not that there was ever a 10-year-old who was trying to impress the old geezers who handed out treats anyway.
Last was the early-to-mid-teens, who were more about hanging out, running into friends, making fun of dweeby costumes, and sticking to the houses with the biggest payoffs.
The creature awoke to hunger and an odd swaying sensation. Its little caramel world was in motion.
As it got later, the air took on a damp chill, curfews approached, and the parade of costumed bell-ringers became more of a trickle.
“We're not supposed to eat anything till Mom checks it first.”
“Shit, what a baby you are. Luckily, I'm the older son, so I can eat when and what I want.”
“Older by, like, three lousy hours.”
“It still counts.”
This I-was-born-first conversation by Lily's brothers was a rerun of a rerun of a rerun.
“Mom'll be pissed.”
“If Mom knew half of what I do, her head would explode. Now, shut up. I can't decide between the Nestle's Crunch and the Mama What's-her-face caramel thing,” Brent said.
Younger brother Beau hesitated, then said, “Okay, screw it. I'm starting with the Milky Way bar. Then the caramel thing. Then the Gummi Bears. Mom can check out the crappier stuff.”
“Welcome to the Dark Side, little bro.”
They weren't the only trick-or-treaters who'd promised parents they'd hold off eating their goodies till they got home. Despite being faced with enormous temptation, one or two probably even stuck to that promise.
Teeth bit through chocolate and into the caramel center. The creature skittered out of the way of this sharp wall which had come down upon it's sweet, gooey world. This was after the crinkly sound, seconds ago, which had frightened it. Now it scrambled across a soft, wet surface (enticing many taste buds as it touched them), and slid downward.
One swallow, and that mouthful was gone, joining the masticated Hershey Bars and Sour Patch Kids and other tastiness below.
The group of girls left the PAL Center and retraced their steps down Oak Lane. It had been a fun night, even if the older ones would never dare admit it. They all carried bags of Skittles and Twizzlers and every chocolate-covered goodie known to mankind. Fourteen year old Amy had a more coveted treasure: the phone number and Twitter name of a fifteen year old boy with blazing blue eyes and the first wisps of a mustache. Thirteen year old Natalie had a stuffed bear she won in the Dunking For Apples contest (none of the older girls could believe she'd risk messing up her make-up in such a childish endeavor). The 12-year-olds were chattering amongst themselves about how much fun they'd had tonight. Evie Parker, just a week shy of her fourteenth birthday, was less enthusiastic. She felt downright pukey, in fact. She was the official chocoholic in the group, and there had been just too much temptation at the party. She felt fairly awful, both physically and when she contemplated the number of calories she'd consumed. In a few minutes she would be home. If only she could throw it all up (or “feed the porcelain monster,” as her bulimic older sister liked to put it), but she already knew from experience that she wouldn't have the nerve to do the finger-down-the-throat thing. Ugh.
The boys sat on the grass at the top of the hill, outside the east side cemetery fence. You could see the entire town down below from this site. The almost-full moon was bright enough for them to distinguish treat types. They'd already competed to see who could fling the oranges and packs of trail mix the farthest. The amount of candy they'd collected was impressive. So was the amount they'd already consumed. The fact that they could wash it down with beer swiped from Blade's older brother and not vomit right then and there was fairly amazing. Brian Weest, the youngest of the foursome, was determined not to give in to the stomachache and nausea he felt. Let someone else be the first to puke. Then, as long as he could avoid getting any on his clothes so his stepfather wouldn't smell the beer and ground him for a month (if he was lucky), he would consider himself the victor. All he had to do was ignore that strange, slip-sloshy feeling in the pit of his stomach. It felt like about a pound of worms were wiggling around in there.
Bella poured her bag of treats on the bed and began separating them into categories.
The first quiver in her stomach happened as she was inspecting the pile of stickers she'd collected. She was happy to see that some of the treat hander-outers had given her both girly stickers and superhero ones that they probably wouldn't have if she hadn't customized her costume. Grown-ups could be so sexist sometimes, but maybe they learned a little something tonight.
“What's the matter, B?” her little brother Ben (the cocoa-splasher) asked, still in his Spiderman costume, sans mask.
“Huh? No biggie. I probably should have skipped that second bag of M&Ms, that's all. My stomach's not happy about it.”
“You want me to take the rest, so you don't eat any more and make yourself sicker?”
“Nice try, Spidey. You have your own stuff. You want more, go mooch off of Branson. He's got so much, he could open his own candy store.”
Later, she snuggled in bed with a Wind In The Willows paperback, and the taste of Pepto Bysmol on her tongue.
It was warm and wet and dark here, and there was a comforting pulsing sound. The creature, much bigger now that it had consumed the sweet and wonderful soup surrounding it, knew the sound to be blood, flowing through vessels ... everywhere. The urge to chew its way through to them was powerful. But something else drew it as well.
It was an ancient urge. Blood was essential, any blood would do, but to consume the blood of its own creator was always sublime.
It was an ordinary house, on an ordinary street, in an ordinary town.
But it was connected to something extraordinary.
Long after midnight, the former trick-or-treater awoke with a feeling of urgency, stomach on fire, mind racing with a blasting stream of unfamiliar thoughts and feelings and urges, all competing for attention.
As the child shivered under the covers, knees up and arms wrapped around them, this cacophony of feelings and words and images slowly melded together and became one overriding concept:
All else faded away, all conscious thought.
Ignoring the chilly floor, bare feet padded past warm slippers and stepped into the hall. The rug was more comfortable, but the child didn't notice.
Down the hall, down the steps, and out the front door.
It sensed its creator, smelled him, felt the very current running through his brain.
The small human who had carried it here was no longer necessary.
The fogginess and overwhelming urgency which had dominated Niklas' brain faded now, and he was confused. He stood in his pajamas, in this unfamiliar place (a basement, he could tell, but certainly not his own), in front of a man he didn't recognize.
Niklas felt an upheaval below. A sick feeling, as the creature, now the size of a small chipmunk, began battering against his stomach lining. Then pain, sharp and searing, as it used its teeth and claws to rip its way out, through his abdomen.
The little creature was still hairless, but no longer pink. More of a burnt umber color, beneath the bright red blood that covered much of it. It leapt out onto the floor.
The man blinked as that concept formed in his head. Not words, not quite, but the meaning was clear, the emotion strong and ... loving. He sensed that, yet stared with disbelief. What was it doing here? It shouldn't be here.
“Go. Go. It's out there. The whole town. Why aren't you out there doing what you were created for?”
Father. It was you. It was always you. Didn't you know that?
The man stared, blinking. The not-quite-legally-obtained, ancient scroll's instructions on how to create this wondrous little creature had been so clear. So easy. The rest of the writing had seemed almost like gibberish, but so what? Just the words of some show-offy ancient mystic, pontificating. Or so it had seemed.
It took but an instant. The creature skittered up the man's clothing and sank its teeth lovingly into his throat.
Bathed in his blood, it was finally home.
The man dropped to the floor, quivering for only a short time before becoming completely still. The creature meant to drain him of every drop of his warm, wonderful blood.
And it would have, if it hadn't sensed something was wrong.
A few feet away, Niklas still stood. He shouldn't have. He should have been in a heap on the floor, just as dead as the man across from him.
Instead, his eyes were bright with excitement and an unmistakeable hunger. There was a distinct click! as his lower jaw extended downward and outward, his mouth now huge, his canines long and sharp.
The much smaller creature stood upon its creator and watched in fascination, blood dripping from its own jaws, shreds of flesh in each hand.
The thick, forked tongue writhing in Niklas' mouth shot out and crossed the short distance between them so quickly, the little creature didn't even have time to be startled. The tongue scooped it up and pulled it back to Niklas, holding it in mid-air as he stared at it. Its frog-like eyes stared back. There was no fear in them. It struggled, hissed with frustration, but it was wrapped up tight and had no chance at all.
It was a lovely, juicy mouthful.
Now for the main course.
Niklas squatted over the man's body and feasted.
Cleaned up and once again in his own bed, his body back in its original undamaged human form, Niklas felt a sense of loss, as he often did afterward. He always tried to only eat the people no one important cared about—parolees released from the private prison at the edge of this town, for instance. But ... things happened. Life happened. Death happened.
He would see his father's disapproving scowl again. He would feel ashamed. And they would repeat the actions they had for centuries.
Niklas wondered which country they would live in next.
Copyright ©2013 Nik Barnabee. All Rights Reserved.