Sunday, November 6, 2016


Carter had completed his Grim Reaper with a scythe that originally belonged to his grandfather. His robe was fashioned from an old black graduation robe. He never previously had picked up a needle and thread for any project more ambitious than sewing a button back on a jacket, but his home-fashioned hood fit well; he had reasons not to have purchased a ready-made costume where he might be remembered. The rubber skull mask was store-bought, but it was old and he hadn’t worn it in years, so no one would associate it with him. Carter’s 11-year-old son Keith walked alongside him. Keith was a ghoul, which seemed a suitable sidekick for Death.

Halloween had changed. When Carter was a boy he had roamed the streets with a half dozen of his friends without adult supervision. Only the smallest children back then were accompanied by parents. Now all of them younger than teens were, though not many older children were in evidence this night. Carter suspected older kids, even in disguise, balked at going out in the company of parents. Carter understood that point of view but he understood the parents’ view too. He knew all too well their reason. It was the reason why he accompanied Keith tonight. His own house necessarily was dark for the evening. He hoped no pranks worse than soaped windows would be played on it while he and Keith were out.

Carter and Keith climbed the three porch steps of the 1940s-era suburban house that looked like a suitable home for Andy Hardy. The householder had shown some artistry with the pumpkin, which grinned and slyly winked an eye. It sat on a milk box, which likely was as old as the house. Carter wondered if anyone under 40 knew what a milk box was. He looked around to be sure they were unobserved and then pressed the doorbell.

“OK, son, don’t be too eager. Wait for the moment.”

“I feel ridiculous this outfit. It’s not really cool,” said Keith.

“It’s Halloween. Are you worried some girl might recognize you?”

“Not until now, Thanks, dad.”

Malsworth opened the door and smiled. He was a paunchy middle age man with round glasses and a pleasant face. He held a plastic orange bucket with his left hand.

“Ho there,” said Malsworth. “Death comes calling. And his helpmate.”

“Trick or treat,” said Keith.

“Under the circumstances I’ll definitely go with treat.” He held out the bucket, which was full with a variety of chocolates. “You know, you’re my first callers. I was beginning to think I’d have to eat it all this candy myself.”

“I’ve heard about razors in candy,” said Keith.

Malsworth laughed. “Have you? I’m afraid there aren’t any in mine. You’ll have to mix in those yourself.”

“How about this one?” asked Keith. He pulled an old-fashioned folding straight razor out of his tote bag and flipped open the blade.

Carter shoved the man backward into the foyer. The bucket flew in the air and scattered candy bars inside the house. Malsworth grunted as he landed on his back atop a green and white Persian carpet. He and Keith quickly entered the house and slammed the door behind them.”

Malsworth sat up and tried to catch his breath. “What the hell…?”

A swipe of Carter’s scythe caught Malsworth on the temple. Carter had intended a hit just with the flat of the blade but it struck with enough of an angle to cut the scalp. Blood gushed. Malsworth fell over on his side, stunned but still conscious. Keith positioned his razor under the man’s throat.

“I suggest you stay quiet and don’t try to fight us while I tape your hands and legs together,” said Carter. “Do you understand?”

“Yes,” said Malsworth in a low voice. “Take what you want. I don’t have anything valuable but…”

“You obviously don’t understand what I meant by ‘quiet.’ Just nod yes or no. Keith, nick his chin to make the point.”

Keith cut a little deeper than Carter intended but Carter let it pass. “Do you understand now?”

Malsworth nodded.


Carter removed a roll of duct tape from Keith’s tote and wrapped several layers around Malsworth’s ankles. He rolled Malsworth on his face and taped the man’s hands behind his back. He rolled him face up again. The doorbell rang.

“Crap.” He slapped a piece of tape over Malsworth’s mouth. “Keith, hold the razor to his throat again. If he moves or makes a sound, cut it. Did you understand what I told him, Malsworth?”

Malsworth nodded.

Carter gathered up a few candy bars from the floor, put it in the orange bucket and cracked open the front door.

A costumed 9-year-old stood on the porch next to her un-costumed mother. The woman took a step back at the sight of the skull face but then smiled, and said, “Oh my.”

“Not to worry. I haven’t come for either of you tonight.”

“Good to know,” she said.

“Hi sweetie,” said Carter to the girl. “I’m Mr. Malsworth. Let me guess, you’re Xena? Good choice. Always fight back. Here. Take a handful.”

Her mother frowned but said “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Be safe.”

Carter waited until they were out of sight and then turned off the porch light. He wanted no more interruptions.

“Mike Malsworth… May I call you Mike?”

Mike nodded.

 I don’t want you to think that you are the victim of some random psychopath, much as there would be a certain poetic justice in that. Oh no, we sought you out specifically. Oh, you look as though you have something to say. Keith don’t slit his throat so long as he speaks quietly. But the moment he raises his voice…” Carter drew a finger across his own throat.

Keith smiled and said, “Gotcha.”

Carter ripped the tape off Malsworth’s mouth. “Now, what’s on your mind, Mike?”

“Why are you doing this? Who are you?”

“Let me tell you a story. Don’t worry, it’s short. On a Halloween four years ago my wife went out with our daughter, who was a little younger than the ghoul holding a razor to your throat is now. That year he was sick with the flu and was very upset he couldn’t join his older sister and mom. He was lucky – the only lucky member of our family that night. You see, they never came back. Well, the remains of my wife were recovered from a drainage canal about a month later, but my daughter was never found.”

“I’m sorry, but what has this to do with me?”

I don’t know if you’re the sick SOB who did it – if you personally are the reason Keith doesn’t have a sister, but it was a scumbag very much like you. You’re the sex-offenders database and you happen to live the closest to my own house. So, you get the pleasure of our company. Should we start with castration?”


“No? You know, I’m afraid you’re probably right. That might give the police a clue about motive. So let’s make things look more random and Halloweeny. We’ll start cutting the ears and fingers, and then piece by piece until you bleed to death. How does that sound. It will take some time, but at the end the world will be a better place.”

“Listen to me,” pleaded Malsworth. “You don’t understand. I never hurt anybody. I’m on the list because on my 18th birthday my girlfriend was 15 and we…you know. The age of consent was 16. In another four months on her birthday we would have been legal. We were kids in love. Her parents found out and pressed charges. She refused to testify, but I was convicted anyway. It was 30 years ago. But I’m still on the list.”

“Sounds to me as though you should have waited four months. Besides, you’re probably lying. And I don’t want to hear any more of it. Now, don’t try to fight because maybe I’m just trying to scare you and I’ll leave you alive and mostly unharmed if you cooperate.”

Carter duct-taped the man’s mouth shut again, this time wrapping the tape around the man’s head.

“Sorry, Mike. I’m not just trying to scare you and you are going to be harmed a lot. Now, to work.”

Carter removed a second razor from the tote. Malsworth’s eyes went wide with terror.

Carter said, “Keith, you start on the left side, I’ll take the right.”

The Persian pattern first turned red but slowly browned as blood drained into it and dried. Body pieces were tossed onto the hardwood beyond the edge of the carpet. Keith on his own initiative began to work on Malsworth’s face, making it look as much like his jack-o-lantern as possible.

Carter put a hand on Keith’s shoulder. “Crap, I think he died on us already,” said Carter. “Might as well stop. He can’t feel it now.”

“That was fun.”

“As that may be, the important thing is that we rid the world of one monster. As soon as the coast is clear outside we’ll leave. We’ll have to burn our costumes when we get home. It’s a nice night for a fire in the fireplace.”

As the two walked home, few trick-or-treaters remained on the sidewalk, and none of them gave Keith and Carter a second look. Many were covered in faux blood themselves. Keith gave each passerby a second look however. He contemplated picking out this one or that for his own reasons next Halloween.

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