Halloween was only delayed by the storm. With the thunder rumbling in the distance and the downfall turned drizzle, kids flooded the neighborhoods with treats and tricks on their minds.
Todd was in the latter group. He spent the start of his night sneaking sips of beer from his mom’s costumed party guests. She had not noticed, pressed against a stranger in a Freddy sweater, when Todd left the apartment without saying where he was going.
Weaving in and out of back alleys and on and off of damp streets, he cycled toward a better end of town, where Danny and Mark told him the candy were full-size and the kids easy prey. After tonight Danny and Mark would be watching Todd’s back full time.
Turning down a suburban block of identical houses, he spotted a target. Todd covered his face with a skull mask and pulled a black hood over his head.
A boy dressed as a heavy-metal rocker, wearing a leather jacket and spiky-haired mullet-wig, walked with a bag of candy so weighted it almost dragged on the ground behind him. Another boy, dressed as a colorful caped super-hero, accompanied the rocker. Behind the two boys, strolled a bored-looking girl, probably their sister, texting on her cellphone.
Todd pumped his legs as fast as he could, aligning the bike with the group.
“Look out!” Todd screamed behind them at the last moment.
The girl glanced at him before jumping aside. The trick-or-treaters were not as quick.
The bike rammed into the boys. As Todd raced by, he snatched the rocker’s candy. The super-hero was clipped, spinning to the pavement and splashing into a puddle. The rocker latched onto his bag like a good mother would her baby, but lost his hold when he was pulled to the ground
Adrenalin fueled Todd’s legs as they churned. He heard crying and cursing but the thud of his pulse in his ears dulled the distant sounds. Speeding out of the neighborhood, he didn’t slow until he was minutes away from the scene.
He stopped under a light post near the 23rd street intersection, where Danny and Mark told Todd to meet them with the bag. Remembering the expression on the kid’s face as the candy was torn from his clutches, Todd’s heart twisted with regret. He thought back to Mark’s words about belonging to a brotherhood being worth it, even if it meant carrying out Danny’s stupid schemes.
Todd hoped so.
A gray van came to a halt at the red light. As the light turned green and the van rolled onto the crossroad, a little girl peered through the back window. She looked at Todd with wide eyes and a face painted like a frowning clown’s. Her blonde hair was tied up in pig-tails. An apple was lodged in her mouth and her wrists were bound with rope. She held a card-board sign that read HELP in black-marker. The girl fell out of view as the van completed its turn.
Fear bubbled in Todd’s gut but was engulfed by some kind of fire rising within him from a hidden place.
He could save her.
Todd followed the van to a shady side of town. It took a bend into a dark alley.
Stashing his bike and bag of stolen goods behind a dumpster, he watched as the vehicle parked. A lean man in a black hat and coat exited the van, leaving the engine running. The man vanished into the shadows of a building that appeared abandoned.
Todd rushed through the alley for the back of the van. The door opened on the first try.
The girl was not in sight. Her sign lay near a mound of blankets. Deeper into the van two teen-aged boys, Danny and Mark, lay bound like hogs at the wrists and ankles. Apples gagged their mouths. Mark was unconscious and Danny stared at Todd for help with tears in his eyes.
The man in the black coat caught Todd from behind, ripping off his skull mask and hood. Todd’s scream was cut off as his mouth and nose were covered with an oily rag that smelled so intensely sweet, he felt as though he was going to puke before passing out. The fire inside was extinguished by his overflowing fear. As his world faded to black, he saw the little girl emerge from the blankets. She approached him with her painted frown contorted with a smile of glee.
In her hands she held a rope and an apple littered with razor blades.
Michael J.P. Whitmer is a father, husband, student, and speculative fiction writer, living in his hometown of Jacksonville Beach, FL.
Tim Bougger is an artist living in Des Moines, IA. See his artwork at www.virtualtim.com.