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I hate October. I wake up to a dead cat on my porch. Brown leaves skitter across my walkway, get stuck in the fur of my slippers. The sound almost masks the tiny laughter that sprinkles out between the tree skeletons that surround my house.
A hooded figure darts out from behind one skeleton only to disappear behind another.
The cat rests on its stomach with its head twisted around to look at me. The eyes bulge as if its last moment was a terrifying question followed by a frightening answer.
What are you going to do to me?
Look what they did to me.
The snickering continues as my audience awaits a reaction: What is Old Man Jerry Richardson going to do with the present that we left him?
Flies confuse my slipper for the dead animal. I step away and kick a dozen insects off my foot. I shake my fist and yell at the invisible tormentors.
I leave the dead cat where it lays and retreat inside. I slam the door on the rotting creature and the chorus of laughter.
This town is plenty ghoulish, even without that machine.
It’s the first thing my doctor asks when he takes me back.
“Do you want to try out the new machine?”
“What do I look like, a sadist? Jesus.”
The doc tells me to unbutton my shirt and rubs an icy stethoscope all over my chest. “Please breathe in, Mr. Richardson.”
“Lord, was that thing sitting in the freezer?”
“Is it too cold?”
“No, it’s not too cold. Believe me, if it was too cold, you would know.”
The doc sighs and pretends to not to hear the name I call him under my breath. He keeps telling me to inhale and the lines in his forehead grow deeper with each exhale. In my opinion, he’s not a very good doctor, just a private-schooled quack full of hmms. He notes my progress on his clipboard. A sheet of paper has a diagram of the human body and he circles the chest in red pen.
“You know, there was a dead cat on my porch this morning.”
“Hmm. Could you roll up your sleeve?”
“It’s those kids, I just know it. A bunch of little SOBs is what they are.”
“Hold still.” He doesn’t say please. The cuff inflates around my arm and he wedges that stethoscope in. It still hasn’t even warmed up. He jots down the result which, due to the severity of his pen strokes, seems to be dire.
“You think I could get some sort of virus from that cat? Rabies or hanta or something?”
“Honestly, I’m more worried about your blood pressure, Mr. Richardson. You’re in serious risk for a heart-attack, and soon, if you don’t make any lifestyle changes. You’re like a living pressure-cooker.”
“Jerry, I’d really like to run the machine on you. I think it would give us both some peace of mind. I could adjust my treatments accordingly.”
I fumble with the buttons on my shirt. The rage pulses through my ear-drums. “That’s exactly what you’d like, isn’t it. You and your greedy HMO would just love to drain more money from me. Prolonging the inevitable. Who knows what kind of scam you’re running with that machine!”
“Mr. Richardson, it’s been tested over and over. You’ve undoubtedly read the authenticity report from the American Medical Association.”
“Call it whatever you want, it still smells like bullshit. Besides, I’m too old. I’ve gotten what I want out of life.” I pause to button my collar. “What’s with all this death-obsession, anyway? A sign of the times, I guess. Get to my age and you I bet you won’t be so eager to use your precious machine. I die when I die. That’s it.” I ease up from the chair and hobble to the corner where my cane and hat rest. “Thanks for nothing.”
Everyone’s yard has become a make-shift cemetery. The headstones memorialize characters that, in my opinion, got what they deserved: Al B. Back, Bea A. Fraid, Ben Dismembered. My neighbors are idiots.
Thunder clouds collide overhead and become thick and black. I don’t have to feel the swelling in my knee to know that it’s going to be a long storm. The clouds make it difficult to see; the gloom does nothing for my depth-perception. I drive ten under the speed limit and cars fly past, nearly knocking me off the road.
Rudford’s is the type of restaurant that has roadmaps on the placemats—a dingy hold-out in the outskirts of our town, near the highway. I drive past three other diners to get there because it’s the last place that knows how to fry a goddamn egg. If I wanted cilantro or whatever-the-hell people like in their omelet, I’d ask for it. Edith knows my order and that’s how I like it.
Mort is in the booth that we sit in every morning. A grade-A jughead if I’ve ever known one. He stares out the window. The way he does it, you’d swear there was something worth looking at out there, something besides a gray sky, doctors with red-marked charts, and dead cats.
A small bell above the door signals my arrival and I embrace the sweaty, sausage-tinged air. Edith raises her eyebrows; an unlit cigarette hangs on her bottom lip. She flips the page of a true crime novel she’s reading. She’s always on different literary kick and this season seems to be true crime. It suits her: she’s a tough old lady and, despite the shit we give her, she tolerates us. It’s an amazing feat.
She nestles a bookmark in between the pulp and sets the book down on the hostess podium. “You’re late. Your food will be out in a sec, hun,” she says, pushing past me to smoke. Her head shrinks into the warm valley of her shoulders.
“It better be. Not like I’m getting any younger.”
She grumbles into her hands as she blocks a lighter from the cold outside.
I sit across from Mort and he taps on his watch. “My goddamn doctor,” I say. “I swear they’ve started charging by the hour.”
“Don’t even get me started.”
“Said I was at risk. Blood pressure.”
“Join the club,” he says, sipping his black coffee.
“Like I don’t know that already. Who am I? Neil Armstrong—”
“Whatever. What do I care if my blood pressure’s bad? I’m no spring chicken, that’s for sure.”
“Truth.” Mort knocks his knuckles against the wood table.
“Get this” I say. “He wanted to test me on the machine. The machine.”
He sets his coffee down. “Did you?”
“Hell no. I told him where he could put it.”
“Nothing good will come of that machine. Mark my words.”
We fall into silence. Edith arrives with our food and the scent of stale cigarettes. She drops a pile of utensils at the head of our table.
“What’s wrong with you guys?” She sweeps Mort’s empty sugar-packets from the table. “I wouldn’t go as far as calling you a pleasure to wait on, but you both seem extra glum today.”
“Would you mind your own business, for Chrissakes?”
“It’s the machine,” Mort says.
“It’s your food,” I say.
“Oh. The machine.”
“Yeah,” he continues. “Just talking about death.”
“What’s wrong with people these days? All they want is instant gratification, even when it comes to knowing.”
“I said INSTANT GRATIFICATION! KNOWING!”
I expect a smartass comment from Edith, but she’s returned to her barstool and paperback.
“Speaking of death.” Mort pulls a rolled-up newspaper out from his back pocket and slams it on the table. It’s yesterday’s issue of the Clydestown Tribune. “Look at this,” he points to a side-column, “and tell me that I shouldn’t be worried.”
The Clydestown Tribune is the only paper that Mort reads, even though Clydestown is nearly two counties east. If you ask him why, he’ll claim that it has better writers, but their high school football team is the main rival of ours and I know that he tries to glean insider knowledge from their newspaper. Utter waste of time, in my opinion. I could care less what the kids of our town do.
The headline reads: ELDERLY SLAIN IN RESIDENTIAL BREAK-IN. After the first sentence, I crumple the paper up and throw it back at him. “What is this?”
“What is what?”
“The first sentence says ’George Harbaugh didn’t know how he was going to die.’ How do you start a story like that?”
“That’s how they all begin. People like to read about the predictions and the outcomes. Don’t you read the papers anymore?”
“Nevermind. Anyway, that’s not the point,” he says, smoothing his paper out. “George Harbaugh didn’t know how he was going to die,” he reads aloud. “The 82-year old Clydestown resident was alone in his house when the crime occurred.” He mumbles through some more details. “Oh here we go. It says that Harbaugh’s face was disfigured. This is the second attack during the month of October. Sheriff Lancaster, commenting on the case, stated ‘We understand that the prediction machine is a sensitive subject for some, but Harbaugh’s ticket might have been a clue to capturing this violent predator.’”
“Put the paper down, will you? I’m trying to eat here.”
Mort looks up from the paper, his eyes wide and rheumy. “I’ve been listening to the police scanners. I heard about it before it was in the paper. You know you can do that, right? On the internet, there are sites and you can listen to their scanners.”
“I’m not an idiot,” I say.
“On the scanners, they say this guy, this killer, they say he cuts up their faces. Makes them look like pumpkins. Like Jack-O-Lanterns.” Mort spreads his eye lid with his thumb and forefinger. “They say he takes out the eyes and slashes the corners of the mouth.”
“They don’t say that stuff on those scanners.”
“Honest-to-God truth. I heard it.” He leans in close and brings his voice down to a whisper. I follow suit until our chins nearly touch the ketchup bottle. “They’re calling him he Trick or Treat Killer—the police are. You’re not going to see that in the paper.”
“Trick or Treat,” I repeat.
“Jack-O-Lanterns,” says Mort.
Edith arrives to fill our coffees, which surprises me so much I jump and hit my knee against the table. Coffee spills over and onto her hand.
“Oh my God!” she screams.
“I’ve had enough of this,” I say and throw a twenty on the table. I leave without telling those two jugheads about the dead cat.
By the time I get home the cat is gone. The only evidence that it was ever there is a greasy stain on my porch. I chalk it up as another victory and look to the woods for validation, but the only movement comes from a solemn raven perched on a jagged branch, cawing out of unkindness. The sound is without echo or timbre—what the inside of a coffin would sound like.
Or the inside of a Jack-O-Lantern.
I step inside and lock the door fast behind me. On cue, lightening flashes and gives life to the portraits of dead family members. My pulse matches the ensuing thunder and my fingers struggle to find the light switch. The cane becomes slippery as I try to regain my balance. My ribcage tightens around my heart.
Fingers find the switch. The lights come on and the portraits are just portraits.
Christ, Mort, your paranoid bullshit is going to get me killed. I wonder if that machine has ever printed a “Paranoid Bullshit” ticket?
Rain dribbles over the roof; the sound slows my heart and I relax. A clock reads well into the afternoon, but it feels much later. The days are so short in October. I turn on the TV and flip through channels but find nothing that doesn’t make me angry. My books have begun to smell funny. There’s no one to call. A cabinet full of nice wine is not going to get any nicer. What’s the use of trying to scrub my dirty bill of health? Might as well reap the benefits of dying.
I settle into my best easy chair, glass set against my lips so any spill will go where it belongs. The wine is vintage and tastes like how I imagine cat blood must taste—a reduction, a tempered version of the copper that still rings in my throat.
The glass is half-empty when I remember what Mort said about the police scanner. It seemed stupid at the time, but I could go for some noise right about now. All this silence, I don’t think I can handle it.
I keep my computer near my chair for convenience. I try to keep everything close to this chair. The police scanners are not as difficult to find as you’d think. I log onto the tri-county one and sit back while distorted radio voices boom out of the speakers.
Unit 5, we have a possible 502 occurring on the 5400 block of Bellevue.
10-4, we’ll check it out.
I sigh and pour some more cat blood down my throat.
I wake up sometime during the night, still cradling the empty wine glass against my belly. Rain pelts the roof like a Buddy Rich album—the sound of rushing water makes me aware of the burning in my abdomen.
God, I haven’t had to piss so badly since the last time I had to piss. It’s up to three times a night with this.
It takes forever to lift myself out of the easy chair. My knees don’t want to hold the weight of my body and the remnants of wine that coat my brain make it difficult to keep balance. I use both hands on my cane to lift myself up, perhaps a little too fast. The blood drains from my head, my vision becomes cloudy. I flail and my cane nearly knocks the mounted shotgun off my wall. It’s meant for decoration but I keep it loaded—you can never be too careful—even though my daughter thinks it’s too dangerous for precisely this reason.
I wonder if the machine has ever predicted “Death from Ornamental Shotgun Blast”?
Finally, all the bones responsible for standing align and the lightness in my head fades. Not entirely, but well enough.
I begin to hobble toward salvation when I hear breathing behind me.
I nearly release all the wine right there.
The laugh fades back into breathing. Then silence.
Unit 5, please respond.
Christ—just the scanner.
More breathing, heavy and gravelly. I forgot to turn off the scanner.
Unit 5, what’s your 20? Please respond.
The soft laughter begins again. I turn off the speakers.
The rain hasn’t let up in days. The parking lot of Rudford’s is slick with puddles and fallen leaves, but there are still kids skateboarding and smoking cigarettes. They watch me with hateful glares. I stare right back. Damn kids aren’t going to ruin my breakfast.
Mort’s in our booth; he looks out the window while Edith talks on her phone. She speaks into the receiver like she’s talking to the dead. It turns out I’m not wrong.
“WHAT? OH I KNOW, IT’S A SHAME. NOT TOO SURPRISING THOUGH. HUH?”
I nudge Mort. “What’s the deal with her? Who’s she talking to?” He shrugs and traces his finger along the red-lined interstates that cross his placemat like veins.
“DID SHE HAVE ONE OF THOSE TICKETS? THE DEATH TICKETS! NO. I GUESS THERE WOULDN’T BE ANY POINT. SORRY, WHAT?”
Through the large windows, I see the skateboarders have put on Halloween masks. Werewolves and vampires perform tricks while other kids sit under the awning and smoke. A vampire takes a nasty fall. The others shrug; one of them crushes his cigarette. He wears a t-shirt with a vulgar band name on it, even though it’s cold enough to see their breath. Irresponsible, I think.
“ALRIGHT, ALRIGHT. JUST KEEP ME INFORMED SO I CAN MAKE TRAVEL PLANS AND ALL THAT.”
I turn to Mort. “What, not hungry?” He huffs into the collar of his jacket. “You not eating? You need money? Here.” I slam a bill on the table. “I’ll buy you breakfast.”
“It’s not that,” he says. His voice is small—so small compared to Edith’s.
“I’LL TALK TO YOU SOON. OKAY. I LOVE YOU.” She hangs up, finally.
“Jesus, no wonder we’re the only ones in here,” I say. “Who was that?”
“My sister. Our uncle’s dead.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine,” she says. “He was sick. The only surprising thing, really, is that he made it so long.” She wipes her eyes with napkin, her lip quivers and that’s about as emotional as Edith gets. The moment passes. “Everybody dies, right?”
Mort sobs into his clenched fist.
“If you fellows will excuse me—I have travel plans to make.” She raises an eyebrow. “I wouldn’t want to disturb anyone with my phone calls.”
“Good riddance, you jughead.”
She leaves and I poke at my eggs-over-medium. The yolk breaks and bleeds yellow all over my potatoes. I throw some Tabasco over it all and shovel it onto the wheat toast. I’m about to take a bite when Mort places a little card in front of me.
“What’s this?” I ask.
“I’m scared, Jerry. Real scared.”
I flip the card over and read it.
“It’s a ticket,” he continues. “The police scanners and the papers—they got me all paranoid, you know?”
“Mort, what does this mean?”
“So I went to the doctor. I told him that I wanted to be tested. Told him I wanted to use the machine. I just had to know.” His voice begins to break. “I’m so scared” I flip the card over and over in my hands, expecting it to be a trick, some optical illusion. Expecting the bold typeface to fly off and reveal something benign, a natural cause. But it doesn’t. The card is real—the corners are sharp and poke into my fingers as my hand begins to shake. Over and over, I read the cause of my best friend’s death:
TRICK OR TREAT
The rain weighs everything down. The trees that surround my house slump inwards, engulfing my house. The raven moves from tree to tree, but never leaves—its wings are too saturated to fly. It’s trapped, like me. I hate October.
Mort’s ticket keeps coming back to me. That crazy jughead, going and getting tested like that; he’s got me all shaken up. I check and double-check the locks.
What kind of name is Trick or Treat Killer anyway? What is he, some kind of comic-book villain? I think back to those old EC comics I used to read as a kid, which showed severed heads and ghoulish baseball teams. The images were seared into my young mind, caused nightmares that took years to get over. It was so frightening to think of a world where that that stuff existed. The Trick or Treat Killer belongs in that world, not this one.
Most likely, Trick or Treat is just some kids playing games. Only kids would come up with something as ridiculous as the “Trick or Treat Killer.”
A crack of thunder sends me to the liquor cabinet. This wine isn’t going to drink itself.
I slump in the chair with a generous pour and put a blanket over my legs. I am safe from the cold and the rain. I am safe from October and Trick or Treat.
I keep the police scanner open on the computer so I don’t have to remember the address—just keep the volume turned down. As soon as I turn the dial up, the muffled voices of Unit 5 fill my living room.
-Unit 5, what’s your 20?
-On the corner of Grand and Rosecrans.
It has become my lullaby. I sleep and for the first time since I can remember, the nightmares I had as a kid—they come back.
- Unit 5, please repeat.
- Unit 5, please repeat—
- He’s dead… oh my God…
The static knocks me out of the horrible dream.
I open my eyes to a dark hooded figure standing outside my window.
I drop the empty wine glass and it shatters on the floor. A white flash of pain races up my chest, through my neck and into my lower jaw. I clutch my chest and lurch forward in the recliner. When I look back to the window, the figure is gone.
On the radio, the dispatcher tries to remain professional, but panic laces her voice.
- Unit 5, respond with your location so we can send backup.
- We’re at… oh God… we’re on Lawndale and… somewhere…
Lawndale? That’s Mort’s street.
- Please be more specific.
- Yeah, sorry. It’s just…
Unit 5 begins to sob. I stand to turn the scanner down and step on the broken wine glass. A thousand tiny shards enter my feet.
“Shit!” I scream. “Goddamnit!”
Blood spreads across the surfaces of my heel and forms a thin layer before dripping to the floor. I fall toward speakers and grab for the dial to turn them off. A new voice comes on.
The voice is gravelly and deep—the product of expensive cigars and cheap scotch.
- Yes, Unit 5, what’s your 20?
- We are at 6175 Lawndale Ave.
6175? Is that Mort’s address? Can’t remember.
- Copy. Sending backup.
- Much appreciated, daaaarrrling. Sure is a mess over here.
- Unit 5, please utilize police codes on open channels.
- Old guy over here—he’s cut up reeeall good.
- Backup’s on its way—
- You should see his smile…
I flip the knob and end the terrible program. A small puddle has formed underneath my foot. I reach for my cane and accidentally put weight on my heel; glass ticks burrow further into my skin.
It’s going to be easier to crawl.
I curse my asshole son-in-law who recommended replacing the carpet with hardwood. It pushes my ribs tighter around my heart. It takes me five minutes to slither across 20 feet of beautiful redwood to the bathroom.
When I pull the curtain back, I’m almost too confused to scream.
It seems as if someone has used the shower to clean a much bigger, much nastier wound.
I’ve never seen so much blood before.
A clump of hair dangles from the shower-head, saturated with oily-black that only becomes red when it drips off in syrupy tendrils.
Scrawled across the tiles in jagged, red print, it says:
TRICK OR TREAT
Guess now I know what happened to that cat.
I use a walker to navigate the halls of the clinic because my cane is no longer useful. The doctor looks at his watch as I shamble down the hall. Every step sends a small tremor up to through my chest. I wheeze through every breath. Good lord, I’m the living dead.
The doc eases me up onto the paper-covered chair. Under my breath, I mutter that I don’t need help, but it’s not true; I accept the assistance. He flips through some charts, puts the tablet aside and washes his hands. “Mr Richardson, it seems that you had an episode last night.”
“An episode? It was a goddamn heart attack, that’s what it was.”
“Please calm down. Believe me, Jerry, if it was a heart attack, you’d be in the hospital right now.” The doc snaps on his gloves and tells me to remove my shirt. He presses the stethoscope to my chest. “With your temper and high blood-pressure, I have no doubt that what you experienced last night were the symptoms of angina pectoris.”
“What-gina? Where did you go to medical school?”
“See that’s exactly my point. Angina is heart pain due to a shortage of blood and oxygen to the heart muscle, which can be triggered by exertion, fear, or in your case, anger.”
The doctor moves his probe over my heart, his face shrivels with concern. “Mr. Richardson, have you been experiencing more stress than usual lately? Your heart’s jumping out of your chest.”
“Doc, would you say this angina could kill me?”
“Well, yes, but it’s very easy to control with the right medication. And if you make certain dietary and behavioral changes, this could possibly the last time you ever hear from it.”
He moves the stethoscope to my back, where he instructs me to breathe deeply. Medical posters stare at me from the sterile walls; vivisected humans with their innards on display, each a victim of a specialized serial killer. The Circulatory Killer, The Respiratory Killer, The Reproductive Killer.
The Nervous Killer.
In a world that can produce Trick or Treat, none of these things seem very ridiculous.
“No, I guess what I mean is… is it going to kill me?”
The doctor pauses. I feel the cold disk lift from my back. He returns to my field of vision. He tries to conceal a smile, that sick bastard. “Mr. Richardson, you know that there’s no way to tell you something like that unless—”
“Oh, quit your patronizing. Hook me up to the machine already.”
“Are you sure?”
Outside the window, a bolt of lightning cracks the sky. The fluorescent lights in the office flicker. The tightness jumps to my jaw.
“Y-yes, I need to know.”
The machine doesn’t look as godly or sacred as I had expected. It looks like a medical instrument. Light doesn’t shine through the pastel-colored plastic that houses the awesome and awful powers that the machine possesses. I ask if the doctor has the wrong machine when he wheels it into the examination room.
“It looks like a glaucoma tester.”
“No, Mr. Richardson, this is it. The machine. All ready to go.”
He makes me sign some legal shit from the AMA and then more from my insurance company. I do without reading any of it. What do I care?
“Just place your finger right there,” he says.
“And that’s how it works?”
I feel pressure and a slight prick. I pull my finger away and blood drops to the floor to create a small constellation on the white tile.
“Whoops,” says the doctor. “Some people bleed a little more than usual. It’s perfectly normal.” He wraps my finger with gauze.
The machine whispers; it’s the sound of an efficient assassin. The whirring ramps up, plateaus, and cools down. A stiff piece of cardboard rises out a slot on top. The doctor plucks it out and reads it.
“Oh,” he says.
I snatch it out of his hands.
For the second time in as many days, I scream.
I shove past a group of teenagers and stumble through the doors of Rudford’s. One of them tells me to watch it, old man.
Our booth is empty—Mort’s not there. I check my watch and I’m half an hour late. There is nobody in the restaurant except a waitress—an acne-covered girl with her hair pulled back. She has taken the solitude as permission to smoke indoors. When she sees me, she snuffs her cigarette but regards me with typical apathy.
“Where’s Edith?” I ask.
“Vacation. Or funeral. I don’t know.”
“Has anybody else been here? We usually sit at that booth right there.”
The waitress shakes her head.
(-Old guy over here—he’s cut up reeeall good)
I sit down at the empty booth and feel the weight of age and fear and sadness and death perch on my shoulders like a lone raven. Tears come and I put my face in my hands to weep.
“I’m going to die. Christ, I am going to die.”
The girl sighs and throws a set of rolled up utensils in front of me. “We’re all going to die. Now, what are you having?”
Rain pounds on the roof; tiny fists pound on my door. Muffled shouts reiterating my death seep into my living room.
“Trick or treat!”
“Go away!” Damn kids. What kind of parents let their kids out in this kind of rain? I hate October. I hate Halloween.
The wine pours like snakes from a shaky bottle. The police scanner has been playing static for the last two hours. More knocks on the door.
“Trick or treat!”
Christ, what time do these kids go to bed? I take a sip and force down the expensive wine which has only become more sanguine through the aging process. Vintage my ass—only vampires should pay to drink this. The weak voice of the dispatcher tries to break through the static.
CKSHHH a 503 in progress at the corner of Wilson and CKSHHH
I pick up the cordless and misdial three times before getting the right number. The dial-tone lasts forever until Mort’s answering machine picks up.
“Answer the phone, you goddamn loony!” I think of Mort’s smiling corpse picking up the phone and quickly hang up before it can. I chug the last of the wine and pour myself another.
Thunder claps, the lights in my house dim. The raven squawks.
“Trick or treat!”
“You goddamn kids!” I shamble over to the door yank it open.
A lone Jack-O-Lantern stares up at me. The smile is cut wide and the teeth are sharp. The glint of reflective shoes flashes from the dark woods. An egg flies from the darkness and explodes on the doorframe, splattering me with embryo.
I slam the door. I feel my heart squeezing through the slots in my ribs like a food press. I clutch my chest to stop the pain.
Only kids would come up with something as ridiculous as the “Trick or Treat Killer.”
- CKSHHH Unit 5… what’s your 20?
- We’re just sitting nice and pretty. It’s that gravelly voice again.
The sky flashes and I see a hooded figure run past my window. I pull the shotgun off the wall. “I’m armed!” My voice bounces off the walls and returns to me scared and old. “If any of you kids try anything I’m going to… I’m going to blow your heads off!”
- Yep, just sitting here nice and pretty.
-Unit 5, please repeat—
-He’s dead… oh my God…
- We’re just sitting nice and pretty
- Old guy over here—he’s cut up reeeall good.
- He’s cut up reeeall good.
I lower the barrel and stare at the tiny, gaping mouths on the face of the speaker. These voices, this program—it must be a repeat. It has to be.
- Backup’s on its way—
-You should see his smile…
- cut up reeeall
- Isn’t that right… Mr. Richarrrdson?
I cock the first barrel and fire. The speaker explodes and sends plastic shards across the room.
“You see? I’m not afraid to use this!”
The cordless in my hand sings so violent that I feel the vibration of the ringer. Unavailable number.
Just the sound of children laughter.
“Please,” I say. “I’m just an old man.”
A voice whispers: “trick or treat.”
The lights go out.
I collapse on the ground. My knees bust on the hardwood. I gasp for breath as I drown in the air of my living room. My hand finds the cordless and I dial three numbers.
“9-1-1. What’s your emergency?” It’s the dispatcher from the radio. I almost tell her that I’m already a big fan of her work.
“I think I’m going to die.”
“What’s your location?”
The moment I finish giving her my address, I hear something above me.
Footsteps run the length of the hall upstairs.
“Oh my God! Please hurry,” I say. “I think there’s someone in my house!”
“I have a unit on its way.” She hangs up.
“The police are coming! I suggest you leave now before you go to jail!” I add: “You little sonsabitches.”
The phone rings: Mort’s number. Calls from a dead man. I throw the phone against the wall and listen to it die on the ground.
More pounding on my door. More footsteps above my head.
“Trick or treat.”
I freeze. The voice doesn’t come muffled through the door. It comes from the top of the staircase. “Trick or treat,” it repeats.
I sit up and strain to see into the blackness up there—a hooded figure stands apart, darker than its surroundings, except for the shoes. Death wears reflective sneakers. He begins to laugh. Someone knocks on the door. I see the knob twist. When I look back to the staircase, the figure is gone.
I use the gun as a cane and hoist myself up.
The knob twists like it’s going to come out of the door.
I place both feet on the ground and steady myself.
The knob stops shaking.
The only sound in my house is my angina-troubled heart.
Someone knocks. I fire the second barrel through the door.
“TRICK OR TREAT!” I yell.
I hear the scream through the splintered wood of my door. I set the gun down and hobble over to assess my kill; my knees feel like they’re filled with fluid.
I open the door and find Mort cradling his face and neck. His TRICK OR TREAT-infected blood pours through his fingers all over my porch. Helluva shot.
H e sputters and a bubble of blood rises out of his mouth, pops and drips down his cheek. I kick the splattered Jack-O-Lantern out of the way and drag my friend into the safety of my house.
“What are you doing here… you goddamn jughead?”
“I-I-I… I was afraid. I was afraid of dying alone.”
That’s when I see it, all of it. The machine. Death—just a damn parlor trick. A twist ending printed on a cardboard ticket.
Blue and red lights flash through my new peephole. Two officers push the door open and storm in, guns raised.
I put my arms up.
The officer looks at Mort gasping on the ground, me over him. My hands are covered in his blood.
“Oh… God!” he says.
“I’m sorry.” The tears make my vision blurry. “I’m just an old man. I don’t want to die.”
Mort’s breathing becomes rapid. The officer motions for his partner to cover us. “I’m going to go radio for an ambulance. Watch them, make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid.” His partner points his gun at me.
“I’m so sorry, buddy,” I say. Mort focuses on me. I think he tries to smile. He pats my hand. Outside, I hear the officer talking into the radio.
- Unit 5 requests medical assistance immediately…
“W-w-what are they going to do to me? You think I’ll get the chair? I don’t want to die.”
The officer stops aiming his gun at me. He walks to the doorway; red and blue flash across his face.
He shuts the door and locks it.
“Everybody dies, Mr. Richardson.” His voice slides into a gravelly baritone. “You guys just make it so much easier for me.”
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Friday, October 29, 2010
Part 1: Instructions on how to read What Your Friends Never Knew About You
This story contains numerous, unintelligible sounds. Including:
HWUAHOOOOPHESTO – This sound is like the feeling of walking through a graveyard with a former love interest, an ex, if you will. Perhaps the two of you have are slightly drunk after a mutual friend’s party. She/he has asked you to walk them home and of course, the two of you have decided to take a shortcut through the graveyard. You begin talking about the past the two of you once shared. He/she asks if there was anything they could have done to change how things ended up. It's at that moment where you see a human form pass between two large headstones, but with more a brilliant luminance than any person could possess. You ask him/her if they saw that. He/she says "See what? You're trying to dodge the question." But you know they saw it. Then you realize that it was their idea to take the graveyard shortcut all along. That sudden loss of breath you experience—the feeling of not having the wind knocked out of you, but having your ribcage punctured and your lungs pushed up into your esophagus—is how to pronounce that word.
HATHEEEETHAHAASHHHH – Pretty self-explanatory, really. This is the sound that your three-year old son makes when you ask where he got those scissors. He doesn't respond, but turns and begins stabbing the air toward you. "Stop it," you say, laughing at his misappropriation of the scissors because he is far too young to know the harm they can do, how they can be used as a weapon. He doesn't stop. You reach for the scissors and he stabs your hand deep enough to break the skin. The boy laughs maniacally and comes at you. You run to the bathroom and lock the door to wait for your spouse to come home.
COOOWOOSHAROOAGH – This sound is a little trickier to describe, but think how it must feel to bring dead tissue back to life. Popular literature and movies have not dissuaded you from pursuing the gift of eternal life. This is especially true when your best friend becomes involved in a horrific, decapitating car accident. You wait it out, keep the head on ice while you endure the obligatory mourning/therapy sessions to convince yourself and others around you that doing anything rash would be crazy, mad even. You are not a mad scientist. But time for getting your best friend is nigh—it's not your fault that it happens to be on a dark and stormy night. Right when the head achieves consciousness, there is a knock at your door. You throw a sheet over it and see who it is. It turns out to be the wife of your best friend. Despite the time since the accident, she still can't shake her husband’s tragic death and has sought your companionship for comfort. The rain has soaked her. She begins to cuddle. She's confused, possibly drunk. You run your fingers through her hair and she stares up at you. You know she's not seeing you, but her husband, whose head is buried under a sheet in your room. Then, she begins to kiss you and you don't stop it. You kiss so passionately that you don’t notice the thump from other room, the strained rolling. When the head of your best friend finds you kissing his wife, it emits the COOOWOOSHAROOAGH. It's a passing of air meant for a scream, the sound of a heart breaking where there is no heart.
CTSHCTCHKIII – The sound of scuttling. Terrible, unholy scuttling.
PIBTHSH – This would be the soundtrack to those dreams you have where your teeth fall out.
GHAWHOOOR – Finally, this is a sound you've heard, but you don’t know it. It's a subliminal sound that signals the release of the endorphins usually ascribed to fear (or sometimes excitement or orgasm, which is easy to see why it's so easy to get all three confused). But this sound is fear building inside. The sight of blood triggers it. You don't know where the blood is coming from, but your body is telling you "something's wrong". And then you see it. The non-sound rings in your ears, deafens you. Makes you blind the broken windows, lamps and glass around you, but not the resting place of your childhood doll, which is not where it was when you left.
Part 2: What Your Friends Never Knew About You
"I know how to summon ghosts," you say. "I bet you never knew this about me." You summon a terrible ghost and it says COOOWOOSHAROOAGH! Sally keeps saying "Look at those eyes! Look at those eyes!" and cries HATHEEEETHAHAASHHHH. She’s almost too scared to talk: GHAWHOOOR. You try to make it stop but the ghost is just too terrible. HWUAHOOOOPHESTO! You think it's gone, but then one last PIBTHSH and then CTSHCTCHKIII. The ghost appears to be gone. For now.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Stores by Ryan Bradford, Michael Gillham, Natanya Ann Pulley, and Jay Wertzler. Art by Julia Gualtieri and Zandria Ann Sturgill. Want a copy? All you have to do is ask. Send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, September 24, 2010
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Monday, September 13, 2010
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Friday, September 10, 2010
Friday, September 3, 2010
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Animal or plant, liquid or viscous, cage or handcuffs.
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Monday, August 30, 2010
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Friday, August 27, 2010
Murdering your adopted, Antichrist son is the best answer. Bonus points if you're Gregory Peck.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
And the joke is actually more of a prank. And it's a prank that involves adhesives, a scalpel and Garbage Pail Kid cards.
And how many children paid dearly for it.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
And try to remember how it got lodged up there in the first place.
Was it the for location of your wife's head? I bet it was for the location of your wife's head.