Originally published on the website Not Now, Mommy’s Reading, October, 2015
In October 2015, the Not Now, Mommy’s Reading site turned into Not Now, Mommy’s Screaming. I served as the host with a series of interviews and stories and contests that appeared all month, and wrote this short Halloween-themed story specifically for the event.
“YOU’RE THE WORST,” Trevor said. “Always running away from a good time.” He looked at me with that disgusted look that reminded me more and more of mom – the downcast right eye, the puckered lips, the flared nostrils. When mom – or Trevor – wanted you to do something, they put their whole face into letting you know.
“I’m sick of trick or treating,” he said. “I’ve taken you all over the neighborhood. Now let’s go get in a game of two-on-two with those guys and give the candy a rest.”
I looked across the clearing at the two boys running back and forth on the old cracked basketball court and shook my head. “I’ll stay here,” I announced, and scooted back on the old wooden slats of the sagging park bench. “You go,” I said.
“You can’t play doubles with three people,” he grumbled.
“They’re half your size, so it’ll be even.”
Trevor liked pushing other people around; I figured he was so adamant about playing because he’d get his kicks out of creaming a couple kids in funny dweeby patchwork clothes who barely looked my age. Kids who probably didn’t even know how to play basketball. They were dashing around the court and throwing a ball back and forth, but they never dribbled. Eventually it became evident why not — when they stopped and actually shot at the rusty basketball hoops with the forlorn nets, the ball slipped through and fell to the ground like a stone. It never bounced.
“Suit yourself,” Trevor said, with obvious disgust. He hated having to cart his little brother around, and this was his way of rubbing my face in it. He knew I didn’t like sports.
I settled back on the bench, and dug my hand into the overflowing bag of candy. It was so full that I wasn’t sure if I could carry it all the way home. Trevor hadn’t lied when he’d said we had walked all over the neighborhood. This park was at the dead end of a street I wasn’t even sure I’d ever seen before. It emptied out onto this clearing that was surrounded by a stand of towering old pine trees and browning oaks. Trevor went jogging across the gravel and crabgrass to the basketball court; I turned away, and looked out at the old houses on the other side of the street. They seemed grey and dark in the gathering dusk. Colorless. Maybe they were actually grey; it was hard to tell in this light. I didn’t think Trevor’s game was going to last long; nobody would be able to see the ball soon.
I focused my attention on a Twix bar and a couple of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups. For a few minutes I couldn’t care about anything more than the amazing sensation of each sweet bite. It had been a long afternoon, and this was my reward at last. When I finally got up to find a trash bin to throw the wrappers in, I realized that I couldn’t see Trevor out on the court. The two kids were still playing, shooting a ball back and forth between them. Every now and then, one of them gave out a high-pitched laugh. At least, I thought it was a laugh. But instead of making me smile, it made me wince. I could literally feel the kid’s voice in my spine.
After tossing the wrappers in an old rusted can, I sat back on the bench and watched the basketball court. Trevor didn’t reappear.
After a few more minutes, I began to grow worried. It was now so dark that the two kids were just shadows, ghosting back and forth against the dark curtain of the woods beyond. Other than the occasional screech of the one kid’s donkey laughter, the neighborhood was completely silent. I picked up my candy bag and walked down the weedy path towards the court. The two kids didn’t seem to notice my approach, but as I got closer, I could see that the clothes that had looked odd from a distance were actually patchwork quilts of mismatched colors – squares of red and gold and blue and plaid all jammed together with no obvious pattern. They seemed chubby and squat and strange in their weirdly random clothes and somewhere in the back of my brain, a warning bell went off. Actually, I’d begun to feel odd about this a while ago, but now I had to admit that there was something not so normal about these kids who were out playing with a ball that never bounced in this court that seemed to have been abandoned long before I was born.
I stopped and watched one of them shoot the ball into the net across the court. The moon was beginning to rise, peeking out over the edge of the oak trees, and I could see in its cool light how the ball hung in the dark fringe for a moment, before dropping to the pavement with a faint splat. One of the fat little kids ran to grab it, and before I knew what was happening, the other called to me with voice that lilted and sang like a calliope that had wheezed flat.
“Do you want to play, too?” he said, just before the ball sailed through the air and into my arms. I dropped my bag of candy to catch it, and as my hands closed around it, I noticed a couple things right away.
The ball hadn’t bounced because it wasn’t really a ball. It was heavy. And wet and sticky. Something like a brillo pad rubbed on my palm, and I lifted the thing up to look at it.
The wide blue eyes of my brother Trevor stared back into mine. Only, his were simply wide and lifeless while mine were bulging out of my skull.
I shrieked and threw the head back into the air. One of the creepy kids darted forward to catch it, and with one arm lofted my brother’s head behind his back and up towards the listing net. Trevor’s forehead smashed into the backboard and then dropped through the net in a perfect swish.
“You can be on my team,” the kid announced. He pointed at a stack of dark logs to the right of the broken asphalt. I thought I saw a dark stain spreading out on the pavement next to them. “Those guys were all on his.”
I realized that the logs were actually a stack of bodies. Decapitated bodies. With squares cut out of their jeans and shirts. I suddenly understood where the patchwork clothes had come from.
“No way,” I cried, and took off running towards the silent grey houses.
“Don’t run away now, we’ll have a good time,” one of the boys complained. “And we can take you back to our house later. We’ve only got one night to play, you’ve got all year.”
I thought I saw faces in the windows of the grey houses across the street, but I just turned and kept running down the center of the street, in the direction I hoped was towards home. I didn’t slow, even when I thought of my brother, and the huge bag of candy I’d left behind.
Trevor had been dead wrong. Sometimes the best thing you could possibly do was to run away from a good time.