By Gary L. Morton
Ronnie's parents were cat fighting again. His mom's cherry-red cheeks warped as she screamed like a banshee and tore her dagger-long mauve nails down his father's chest. Drops of dark blood sprinkled out on his matted hair as he pushed her off and grimaced, and then he grabbed his whiskey glass and threw the contents in her face. She bared her teeth, howled with rage and came on again, but Ronnie didn't stay to see any more. He spat between his crooked teeth as he bolted out the side door, happy in knowing that if they were fighting it would last for hours. He could stay out very late.
Dashing through the crisp leaves, he raced out of the lamplight and into the orange chocolate darkness of a windblown Halloween. Ducking through a hole in the link fence, he cut across old Mather's weedy property, headed for the rubble-stone wall on the far side. When he got there, he ducked behind the old oak and studied the yard. The windows were dark; meaning he was out. Faint patches of mist drifted in the yard. Wisps curled above the mounds of leaves like long fingers of poison. The light of the rising moon tinted the whole scene yellow and shone like gloss on the dozens of pumpkins in the garden. Ronnie knew Mather didn't tend the garden; he rarely went in it during spring or summer. But the pumpkins grew anyway and every year they got bigger and there were more of them.
A cottony cloud breezed over the moon, and when the light spilled back in Ronnie saw the faces cut in the pumpkins. Dozens of them, each face different in its ghoulish mirth, and each perfect in its own way. Mather had cut them. Ronnie knew that -- it was about the only time he came out -- in the twilight each year, just before Halloween. And the rest of the time, he lived in darkness, the only light being the faint one in his basement.
Hunger ached in Ronnie's belly; the pumpkins always made him drool for sweets. When they came, his parents always fought more and he was mostly locked in his room, dreaming of Halloween candy. Last year he'd got out and stole some candy from the other kids. This year he was too late and couldn't think of a way.
There was a party happening beyond the high wall. He turned and saw smoke ghosting up toward the stars. A multitude of voices and the relentless beat of dance music alternated in volume as the wind shifted. Eerie noise that made him think -- perhaps there would be candy at the party. Food of some sort would be there, so it was probably worth a try.
Then the jack-o-lanterns spoke in his mind and he knew for sure that it was worth a try -- more than a try. It was a wonderful way, an excellent plan. And it was a great thing that the pumpkins were kids, too -- with voices that were cheerful and resonant as they traveled on the crystalline moonlight and touched his thoughts with magic.
They spoke, they laughed and they knew -- and Ronnie saw the vines trailing across the yard … the first dense bunch leading to Mather's basement window and the second trail up and over the wall to the party.
Leaping to the wall, he climbed the vines and peeked over; it was a costume party as the jack-o-lanterns had said. He could see the grim reaper, George Washington, a cave man, Romans, knights, skeletons and many beautiful costumed women – all of them sharing drinks and talk in the smoky yard. There was a band shell with a DJ spinning discs and an open patio with tables, and most importantly, there was candy everywhere. He saw dishes of candy apples, and licorice. Candy kisses and humbugs, soft candy and peanut brittle, chocolate bars and toffee. So much candy it made his head spin.
He dropped back down the vine and ran in dizziness to Mather's basement window. The mass of vines had broken the dusty glass and a moonbeam shone down, illumining the room below. The voices told him to be careful and he was cautious, avoiding the shards of broken glass as he climbed in. Looking around in the faint moonlight, he saw guns. The walls were lined with them -- old revolvers, Saturday night specials, expensive new handguns and rifles and grenades. And in the centre of one wall of guns, a mask had been hung on a nail -- an orange jack-o-lantern mask.
Ronnie took the mask down and put it on, finding it to fit perfectly, and then he grinned, feeling his warm breath come partly back in his face. The pumpkins spoke and he obeyed, first pulling a sack from the closet then filling it with as many guns as he could lift back out through the window.
He was amazed at his strength as he pulled the sack through, but when he was finished he realized he'd never get a sack that heavy over the wall and threw some of the rifles back in. At the wall, he took the time to count most of the weapons and found that he had nine handguns, an Uzi, a Remington, a Ruger, two rifles, five grenades and some other small stuff. He knew all of the weapons were armed or loaded because that was what the pumpkins said.
With the music blaring, no one heard the clatter as two big sacks of guns landed in the flower garden below. And with all of the dancing, no one noticed jack-o-lantern Ronnie as he pulled his treasure through the grounds. This year things were better, Ronnie figured. He didn't like stealing and this time he'd trade rather than steal.
A pirate cavorted and leered, and then he whirled away as Ronnie stopped at a table in the garden. A punch bowl and a silver dish of candy kisses sat on the table, and when Ronnie was sure no one was looking, he dumped the candies in his bag, removed the Uzi and put it in the dish.
The candy apples were on the patio, but when he went towards them, a lady mime grabbed him and spun him around in a dance, forcing him to head back into the grounds. He had little difficulty working under the vines and spotlights. Grenades went in the trade for Jube Jubes, an old New England revolver was payment for hard candies and a Browning snub-nose bought black licorice. He gave a Ruger rifle for the peanut brittle, while potato chips were worth no more than a Glock 22.
As his task neared completion, the tobacco smoke began to get inside his mask and burn his eyes. Ronnie decided he didn't like parties, at least not adult ones. The music was deafening, the games and dancing were silly. None of them ate any candy; they just drank a lot of booze -- like his mom and dad. Though unlike his mom and dad, they were friendly. He recognized the same evil slur in their voices and knew it meant lies, just like his dad's endless drunken lies.
He pulled the sack of candy back up the wall and then sat cross-legged amid pumpkin vines and scattered autumn leaves. A pirate's urge to count the booty struck him, and when he looked in the bag, he realized he'd forgotten the candy apples. It made him feel like weeping; and he decided to head for the basement to get another gun to trade. But before he could move, the jack-o-lanterns said no and a man at the party started yelling.
In a shadowy section of the garden, a costumed knight had drawn his sword. It trailed moonlight and it was real metal. “I promised you I'd get you, Jack!” the man shouted. Then he swung the blade hard. It cut into the neck of a man dressed like Robin Hood. Going deep so fast that blood and saliva fizzed up like cream soda.
Ronnie gaped as Robin collapsed, his neck lolling and spilling dark red syrup on some dead flowers.
A hooded woman screamed hideously.
“Don't let him get away!” yelled George Washington as the knight ran across the garden toward the band shell.
And at the point, the music died. The DJ upset his equipment and ducked off into the scrub. Then the grim reaper suddenly appeared near the shell, holding the Uzi. He fired a spray at the knight, but he ducked the bullets, causing three eighteenth century ladies to be cut down, the projectiles tearing their dresses and faces like invisible razors. Hot blood poured from the lines ripping through them and Ronnie cringed as he imagined how it must feel to have a tummy full of Halloween bullets.
The jack-o-lanterns whispered mad things in Ronnie's head. Full panic had now broken out under the yellow moon, and bullets continued to fly. Nearly all of the guns were in use now as costumed people seized them and fired at imagined enemies. George Washington got gut shot by a painted black man wielding the Remington rifle - and his fall was quite dramatic -- last words ejaculating into the night and then nonsense continuing to spill into the chilly air, along with a slab of reddish chocolate that hung from his open belly.
A Roman had found the dish of grenades and he tossed the first one at a pirate; sending him flying in five directions of candied fire, sticky blood, bits of flesh and limbs -- his torn head going straight over the wall to land and roll among the pumpkins.
The second grenade smashed the glass doors on the patio and showered the garden with shards, burst bags of M&Ms, and the hands and fingers of the Gypsy who’d been carrying them.
Splotches of whiskey flew like candy kisses as the grim reaper's Uzi swept across the patio. Several people fleeing toward the garden were also hit, the hot lead licking up tongues of blood fire as it danced across their faces.
The third grenade blew, leaving a cave man toasted; his body flaming like a marshmallow over by the pool. The pool cover had been knocked loose and tiny chocolate bars and blood floated on the water. A ghost splashed into it, hoping to escape the fire. And as his soggy costumed dragged him to the bottom, Ronnie saw two Romans cut each other down in a pistol duel.
A second cave man fired wildly with a Weatherby, only to have his fur fly when a skeleton planted a Smith & Wesson slug in his heart. Then it was bones turned to flying jelly as the Uzi came in for another kill.
The grim reaper finally got his, falling to pieces faster than peanut brittle when a Ruger shot hit him directly in the forehead. And a minute later gun smoke and the last man remained. He was one of Robin's merry men and there was more gun smoke as he turned his revolver on himself and painted the wall with his brains.
The house was on fire now and the flames caught a grenade sitting on the patio -- it blew, sending debris flying high. Ronnie ducked as candy apples and glass showered over his head. Then the smoke got so thick it choked him and he pulled his sack to the edge and dropped down into the darkness of Mather's yard.
It seemed weird to look up and see the black smoke drifting toward the moon. And even weirder when he heard a strange creaking and saw the vines moving on the wall. They were pulling back into Mather's yard, and as they did a corpse and body parts came with them, showering pebbles as they fell.
Spotting one of the candy apples, Ronnie scooped it up and took a bite of the delicious crust. In Mather's garden, the vines were squeezing blood from the corpse and the jack-o-lanterns were smeared with flesh and humming new music of their own. Music only Ronnie could hear. Opening his sack, he gathered more of the fallen apples and dumped them in. Then he thought of the guns and how nice it would be to take a couple home for mom and dad.
. . . . . . . . . . .