Brice knew they weren’t going to have a costume for him. No wonder his mother had practically pushed him out of the car before speeding off.
He had to walk up to the door of his “friend’s” house all by himself, his mom nearly going on two wheels as she performed the mother of all rolling stops and made a hard right at the stop sign at the end of the block.
Brice barely even knew Nick. He was just some boy who’d been sort of (sort of) nice to him. And Brice had only mentioned Nick to his mom because she’d been asking and asking whether he’d made any friends at the new school.
When she called Nick’s mother–and how she got her number in the first place was beyond Brice–he’d tried pleading with her not to force him on Nick for trick-or-treating, but she waved away his pathetic Mom!-ing with the implied threat that if he kept it up she’d do more with her hand than wave it at him.
His mom could be sweet as pie (one of her favorite expressions) but stability wasn’t her strong suit.
“Hi, Brice,” Nick said, enunciating the name as though it were a rare bird.
“Is that . . .” Nick’s mother said, appearing over Nick’s shoulder.
“Brice,” Nick said.
“Brice,” Nick’s mother repeated.
“Who’s that?” a male voice called from deeper in the house.
“It’s . . . it’s Brice,” Nick’s mother shouted back.
Something twitched in Brice’s intestines.
“Who?” the man bellowed.
“Brice!” Nick and his mother both shouted.
Brice thought he might throw up.
Nick’s father appeared and looked at Brice as if he had just discovered an elephant taking a dump in his living room.
“Where’s your costume?” Nick asked.
Brice swallowed acid.
“Uh . . . my mom said you had one for me.”
Nick’s mom looked from Brice to Nick to Nick’s father, who in turn not only didn’t mirror her concern but actually barked laughter.
Brice knew it.
“Jesus Christ,” Nick’s father said. “Your mom’s a piece of work, ain’t she, son?”
Brice supposed his mom was indeed a piece of work. On a Sunday a month and a half before, she’d woken him at 4:30 in the morning and maneuvered his unresponsive limbs into his best set of clothes, shushing him all the while, telling him they were going on a trip.
In hindsight, he should have been more suspicious.
The fact they were leaving without his father–and must not wake him at any cost–wasn’t exactly reassuring.
But Brice had been half-awake at best, and what could he possibly have done about it?
So a month and a half later Brice found himself in a new town rooting through the closet of a kid he barely knew for something that would with a little luck approximate a Halloween costume.
He’d seen neither hide nor hair of his father since they’d left that Sunday morning, and his mom refused to talk about it, even to feed him a bogus story.
Brice finally emerged from the closet with a lacrosse mask and a pair of monster-hand rubber gloves.
Nick, meanwhile, had climbed into an astronaut suit, complete with an authentic-looking helmet.
It must have cost a fortune.
Inside the monster hands, Brice’s sweat began to turn the powdery coating into paste, but he couldn’t bring himself to remove the gloves.
In for a penny, as his mom always said.
Brice could only see his own distorted reflection in Nick’s faceplate, and faces were all like Nick’s, there one minute and gone the next.
Brice could almost believe Halloween had passed and the next had come around again.
But then Nick swiped up his visor, his face just a boy’s, and said, “Let’s get this over with.”
Nick’s mother was staying behind to pass out candy. “You boys have fun,” she said doubtfully, lingering over Brice’s monster hands and the lacrosse mask he couldn’t quite disappear behind.
Down the street, figures emerged in the fading light. The costume of choice that year appeared to be black cloaks distinguished only by red slashes where the mouths were meant.
But the red shouldn’t trail behind the figures, nor should it cloud the air.
Nick’s father had donned a hockey mask, perhaps subtly mocking Brice.
Nick had slid his visor down again too, so father and son had lost their faces and might have been anyone.
Brice could have predicted it. He should have predicted it. At the third house Nick’s father, a hand at Brice’s back, urged him toward the door while Nick fell into a group of three black cloaks.
Pushing at his back, seemingly rebuking Brice for twisting his neck to see the boys and their trailing red mouths, Nick’s father growled, “Go ahead.”
But the voice didn’t sound anything like the voice Brice had heard earlier.
The lacrosse mask didn’t do much to hide Brice’s tears as he was compelled through the neighborhood, and Brice could no longer see more than five feet through darkness that had fallen more swiftly than he could have imagined.
Nor did Nick’s father say another word.
Nor did Brice see Nick again.
Nor could Brice call for his mother.
Or hope she might pluck him from streets unrecognizable.
Nor would Brice have been able to find his way back to Nick’s house.
Nor did Nick’s father cease to change every time Brice looked away–at one house thinner, at the next obese, at one of the endless houses wearing a red shirt, at another, blue.
Nor did Brice struggle or attempt to run when the man he could no longer even pretend was Nick’s father twisted Brice’s arm and thrust him into a truck.
Nor did Brice cease wondering if the man driving the truck might in actuality be his father, who had so suddenly been lost from his life.
But nor did Brice have any real hope that that might be the case.
James Gallagher is a horror writer and copy editor. James has been published in Theme of Absence, Liquid Imagination, The GW Review, Horror Garage, Horrorfind.com, and Cabal Asylum. James is also the recipient of the Vivian Nellis Award for Creative Writing.