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Not So Much A Sneak As A Peek


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This had been an idea for the Halloween Contest.  I sorta junked it but it has moments of funny and cute.  I have been convinced to share, lol



St Anne, Florida, Late October, 1987

“Uncle Bobby?” came the plaintive tone of my 8 year old nephew.  I tried to ignore him.  I was kinda busy at the moment, bashing turtles and collecting coins.  I heard him coming down the hallway to my room and kinda rolled my eyes, knowing I couldn’t avoid whatever was coming.  I pressed pause and pulled my shirt down over my underwear to hide my boner. 

Something about playing video games always makes me bone up, lately.  Guess it’s pretty common.  My buddy Cal gets wood when playing over here sometimes too.  Well, Cal and Stan and most of the other guys too, but Cal more than others.  He thinks I didn’t see, but he wears really baggy shorts and that one time, when his leg was up, I could see right up his boxers and…

“Uncle Bobby?  Can you help me with something?”

“What Squirt?”

“I need help with my costume.”

“Who you going as?”

“A Rubix cube,” he grinned up at me.

“Yeah, that fits you.  Puzzled, all screwed up and mismatched, like your socks.”  He looked down and sure enough, he had one long plain tube sock on one foot and a shorter one with two red stripes on the other.  “What’s the catch?” I asked, knowing that for what should be a simple costume, there had to be something weird going on.

“I can’t get the bottom to close up.”

“Just go with it open.”

“But then I wont be able to use the space inside for extra candy.”

“How many bags you planning on filling up, Squirt?”

“Six!” he beamed.

“Jeeze, Michael!  You eat all that and you’ll be bouncing off the walls for days.  Does your mom know about this plan?”

“Nope, but she said you were a trick-or-treating champ and you’d show me the best places to go and stuff!”

“Uh, I’m not going.”

“Whaaaaaa?!” he said, his mouth hanging open in absolute shock.

“Said I’m not going.  I don’t do trick-or-treating anymore.”

“But… but… Mom said you’d show me,” he whined.

“Sorry, Squirt.  I got Uncle business tonight.  No can do.”

“Oh, er, right.  Okay.” He started to walk off, hanging his head like I’d just told him we’d cancelled Christmas.

I’m not gonna let him guilt trip me into doing this, I told myself, turning back to the screen.  I pressed the pause again and the game resumed, my tiny digital plumber in mid leap.  I got about four seconds into the game when I heard a muffled sound of an impact, coming from the living room/dining room area.  Then another.  And then the sound of something being thrown at a hollow sounding object.  I paused the game again, hearing the familiar coin noise, and went to go see what he was destroying.  I buttoned and zipped up along the way, pulling my shirt out so it hung down past my fingertips.

In the living room, Michael was throwing couch pillows at his Rubix cube costume.  He’d made it out of a packing box that he’d taped construction paper squares to, the pattern all mixed up.  Each throw of a pillow was punctuated with a string of little kid cursing.

“Stupid!  Ugly!  Broken!  Crappy!  Costume!” he shouted with increasing volume.  Tears were streaming down his face as he scooped up another pillow, whirling in place so he could hurl it again with all his 8 year old might.  Until he saw me leaning on the archway leading into the living room.  He spotted me and stopped.  The couch pillow fell from his hand as he stared back at me, almost as if afraid I was going to hurt him.

“Did that fix it?” I asked at some length, my arms comfortably crossed, hands tucked under my armpits.

“Leave me alone!” Michael shouted back, turning away from me, arms folded across his chest.

“Hey, don’t be like that.  I really do have something I have to do tonight.  How come your mom can’t take you out?”

“She’s workin’.  She said Maggie was sick and she was asked to come in an’ cover a shift.  And this stupid thing,” he said, giving the box a half-hearted kick, “doesn’t work anyways.  And Larry-n-Artie wont be able to go out either, cuz their mom’s said they could only go if you were with us.”

Damnit, I thought.  Little guy really knows how to tug on the heart strings.  His pout was kinda cute and kinda infuriating.  I had this feeling that he knew how to manipulate people at times, but he’s not so good at it that he can fake tears.  And the dent in the front of the costume spoke to the anger he flung at it through those pillows.

“Tell you what,” I said, taking a knee beside him.  One hand went instinctively to his shoulder, the other draped on one blue panel of construction paper on the box.  “Let me make a call and if things work out, I’ll take you guys out for a little bit.”

“You will?”

“Hey, I said a little bit.  I’ll try to get three hours, that way the three of you will have enough candy to be bouncing off the walls until Thanksgiving.  No promises, though.  I’ll see what I can do.  Is that fair?”

He thought about it for a moment, head still hanging down and not really looking at me before nodding, his lower lip still hanging out like a window ledge.

“You see about fixing this back up ,” I told him, giving him a playful poke in the ribs.  “And pick up these pillows before Nanny sees what you’ve done to her living room.”

“Thanks Uncle Bobby,” he said, leaning in to give me a quick side hug.  I left him in the room there and went to the kitchen to pick up the phone.  It was a long shot at best that I could arrive late.  But it was better to at least let everyone know I was going to be late than have them worry when I didn’t show up at the right time.  I dialed the number and waited for the other end to pick up.

“Hullo?” I heard a familiar voice reply

“Hey, Stan.  It’s Bobby.”

“Sup, dude?”

“Look, I kinda got roped into running my nephew and his friends about tonight.  Gonna have to have some words with my sister about that.  Looks like I’ll be late getting there tonight.”

“Wow, you get right to the point.  How long?”

“If I run them around for three hours, it’ll be about three and a half before I can get there.  Will that throw things off too much?”

“Nah, Jerry called and he’s in the same boat you are.  We’ll just hang out and wait.  Shouldn’t be that big a deal.  You got all your stuff?” Stan asked, his voice shifting to a lower tone.

“Yup, got it covered, dude.”

“Excellent!  Okay, so we’ll be waiting there.  Just, uh, don’t bring Squirt with you.  It’s not a place for kids his age.”

“No worries there.  Last thing I want is to finally have something to give my sister hell for and then her to have something on me right away.”

“Yeah, good luck with that.  Your sister is a terror!”

“Don’t I know it!  Okay, seeya.”

“Later Gator!”

Hanging up the phone, I returned to the living room to see that Michael had the box on its side and was laying inside it, his feet flat on the floor, knees bent up, messing around with something near one of the arm holes.

“Need a wrench?” I asked, grinning.

“Just some more duck tape.  Hey, why do they call it that?  Do they really tape ducks with it?”

“Ain’t got a clue.  But, I can run you guys around tonight.”

“Awesome!” Michael yelled inside the box.  “Can we go up to Hammersmith?”  Hammersmith was a very expensive sub-division.  It was well known among the trick or treating crowd that they gave out the best candy bars.  Usually big ones, not the little fun-sized type that come 50 to a bag.  Michael had his eyes set on a big stash of Halloween swag, apparently.

Long story short, we managed to set up his costume, despite the awkward dent in the left side.  I even managed to fold up the bottom with enough leg room that he could still walk, but that it created a shelf-like area in the bottom of the box where he could store extra bags.  The arm holes in the front were enough that he could tuck in and empty his plastic pumpkin bucket easily enough.  We set up two paper grocery bags inside his costume and I got him all decked out in his blue face paint, even down the neck and his ears.

“Don’t you need a costume?” he asked while I was tugging the wig onto his head.

“Nope.  I’m designated flashlight guy,” I replied.  The doorbell rang and his two buddies showed up.  Larry and Arthur were dressed as a circus clown and a cowboy, respectively.  Their suits looked better than Michael’s, but he had that hidden system for raking in more candy.

“Dude, that’s amazing!” Artie said, as Michael showed how his system worked.

“Yeah, wish I’d thought of that.  All I have is this hand-me-down from my brother.  It’s way too baggy.  I feel like I’m wearing a trash bag.”  Clearly, Larry was not happy.  And while his costume did look great, his sad face showed through the madly grinning clown make-up. 

Artie’s cowboy get up was authentic and looked a little heavy for him, what with those leather chaps and the gun belt.  His cap guns were fully loaded, but I doubt anyone would mistake them for the real deal.  The big red plastic tips usually are a giveaway.  As the kids chatted about how much swag they were going to haul home, Artie blew a big, pink bubble from the gum he was chewing, loudly.

I had some quick chit chat with Larry’s mom and both of Artie’s parents before we headed out.  I told them we’d be out about 2 ½ hours, hopefully traffic wouldn’t be too bad.  They wanted to know where all we’d be going and I told them we’d start in the nearby Hammersmith and Greenwood and Fern Hill subdivisions and then finish up here so that Larry and Artie could walk home.

Mom drove up, just as the other parents were getting into their cars to return home.  She’d worn cat ears and a long tail to work, with whiskers and a kitty nose drawn on her face.  Other than that, she had on her usual work clothes for going into the office.  Mom worked for an attorney down by the courthouse, so she always had on nice, businessy clothes.

“Nanny!  Look!” Michael said, turning to show his whole costume off.

“Oh, Michael, that’s wonderful.  Did you do that yourself?”

“I had a little help,” he said as Mom bent over to kiss him on the cheek.  She then turned to me and kissed me as well, transferring some blue from Michael’s face to mine in the process.

“You gonna run behind these little beasts?” Mom asked.

“Yeah, and without leashes, either,” I grinned.  Mom got the joke, but the three boys looked at each other like they were worried I might just find a way to put them all on leaders.  “Denise got called in.  We wont be out too long.”

“You said we’d hit Hammersmith and all them places?” Michael whined.

“We will!” I almost growled back at him, getting a chuckle from Mom.  We stopped for a second and Mom snapped several pictures with her Instamatic and then made the four of us stand together for a few with her 35mm.  The boys liked it and were all mugging for the cameras.

“We’ll you boys should hurry back.  I have some fresh apple cider and by the time you get back, the banana bread should just about be cool enough to eat.”

“Nanny, you’re the bestest!” Michael said, grinning broadly.

“Scoot!” she said, shushing us away.  “Good luck, you little monsters!”  I turned to go but she called to me.  “Bobby, don’t be out too late.  Tonight is all fun for them, but it’s…”

“I know, Mom.  I’ll have him back around sundown.”

“You and the boys going to, eh…” she left the question hanging.

“Plan’s already made.  Just have to take a little extra time, you know?”

“You’re growing up too fast, you know that?” she asked, one hand reaching out to stroke my face and neck.

“Can’t help it.  Somebody’s got to do it.  I better get them on the road or I’ll never hear the end of it.”

“Okay.  I’ll have your pack waiting by the front door when you get back from running those three down.  Be careful tonight!” she called a little louder as I started walking away.  Anyone on the street would think it was for the Halloween traffic she warned me.  Which is a good thing, since some secrets don’t need everyone knowing and some warnings bear repeating.  I knew what she really meant.

The boys were a bundle of energy.  I kept them in line by constantly asking what they’d gotten in between houses.  Michael was definitely dedicated to getting as much candy as he could.  The leg opening in the box made him have to take short, quick steps to keep up with his buddies and it was beginning to tire him early.  Still, he was a trooper and wasn’t about to be undone, especially with his costume’s hidden bags.

We breezed through Fern Hill rather quickly, and since Greenwood was basically a single road with three short cul-de-sacs, it wasn’t long before we were using the shortcut through the woods between our subdivision and Hammersmith.  Along the way we stopped to water the trees.  Michael needed help getting out of his box so he could empty his bladder.  The other two boys just weren’t strong or tall enough to lift the box up so he could wiggle out.  They took the time to empty their goodies into the hidden paper grocery bags while Squirt squirted.

We got Michael buttoned up again and back onto the trail just as the light was getting redder in the west.  A deep purple began to claim the eastern sky.  A mostly full moon showed on the horizon, through the trees, looking huge at this early hour.  A slight breeze had been building as the sun went down, giving a pleasant thrill to the air.  All around, the fallen leaves crunched under my feet, making our steps crinkle and snap.

Near the edge of Hammersmith, we heard a blood curdling scream, followed by eerie airy sounds, someone playing “Tocata and Fuge in D minor,” on a pipe organ.  The usual sounds of Halloween being piped from someone’s house party nearby.  We stepped through a screen of trees, having to help Michael maneuver his box between some scrub brush, and beheld the wonder of Hammersmith at Halloween time.

The houses were decorated elaborately, like they were in competition with each other for the spookiest holiday scene.  One house had a coffin set up in the front yard that would open and a man dressed as Dracula would hand out candy to the kids, commenting on their costumes and joking with the parents.  Another had some kind of articulated werewolf device that stood up and howled as anyone got near and then would go back to standing on all fours like a regular wolf.  Further down the street a couple dressed up as mummies was talking with a headless horseman guy while their kids ran up to the doorway of a house decked out like a graveyard with a lady dressed as a witch in full green makeup stirring a bubbling smoking cauldron on the driveway as she handed out “poison apples.”  I think they were really popcorn balls sprayed with cherry gelatin so they looked red.  These folks clearly knew how to go all out for the season.

That’s when I saw him.  Or more accurately, felt him.  The boys had run up to the witch’s house, clearly fully in their element.  I had been looking at a display of at least ten awesomely carved jack-o-lanterns at the next house when he bumped into me, his shoulder slamming into mine with a lot more force than someone who’d accidentally brushed arms with you would have.  I turned to see who this rude person was and got a shock as I saw him walking backwards away from me, smiling.  How did I not sense him coming up on me? I thought, my fists clenching in alarmed preparedness.  Instantly I recognized him for what he was, and I tried to control my fear.

He wore his jeans tight, like me, with a red bandana wrapped around his right thigh.  His t-shirt had a Local Motion print of a surfing ape on pale orange fabric, which stood out sharply against the black Members Only jacket that hung open on his frame.  His sneaks were some high tops, although I couldn’t’ make out the brand right away.  His dark hair was done up, short, spikey, and his eyes, while a bit bloodshot, were clearly hazel.  It was the smell that caught me most, that cloying scent of burnt cloves hung to him like cigarette smoke.  He looked like he musta been at least three years older than me, 18 or 19, maybe 20 at most.

“Nice costumes on your little brothers,” he said, grinning again, this time showing more teeth.  He kept walking for a few more steps.  A slight nod indicated the boys as they were returning from the witch’s house.  “Cute kids,” he said, turning and continuing on his way.  I thought about attacking him, right then and there, in the open.  But that might draw more attention, get people hurt if they were caught between us.  And he’d basically just singled out my nephew and his friends.

He was a ghoul; a vampire in training!  Still able to stand some sunlight, still mortal, but possessed of far greater strength and speed and resiliency than a normal human.  Usually, such a creature’s duty was to protect his vampiric master during the daylight hours.  But they were also the instruments of their masters will, sent on missions to do things the vampire couldn’t do.  Or sent to select targets for his master’s blood thirst.  Or to act as messengers.

Part of me wanted to immediately just throw down and take this guy out.  At the very least follow him, maybe.  But I had the boys with me, and from the ghoul’s words, he had singled them out.  And he apparently also knew what I was.  Neither of which spoke well for my activities later this evening.

“Uncle Bobby, look at what she gave us!”

“That’s awesome,” I said, keeping my eyes on the ghoul as he retreated down the street, never breaking stride.  “You guys about done?”

“Awww, you didn’t even look!” Michael said, getting in front of me, holding the poison apple up.  I moved my head right to keep eyes on the ghoul as he rounded the corner, and dodged out of the way of a group of running kids.  He looked back at me and shot me a finger like a cowboy six shooter, blew the imaginary smoke off the end of his finger and winked at me as he “holstered” the invisible weapon.  Squirt moved the popcorn ball in front of my face, bouncing up and down.

“Uncle Bobby!” he whined over the sound of candy rattling around in his costume’s hidden compartment.  I looked at him, hard, which stopped his hopping up and down.  My eyes flashed back to where I’d last seen the ghoul only to see he’d vanished.  The throngs of kids, the distractions of the amazing displays and just the density of the houses and cars around the neighborhood gave him so many possible hiding places.  I’d lost him both visually and with my other senses.

“I’m sorry,” Squirt said, wilting after my harsh look.  He looked like I’d spilt his ice cream cone on a hot sidewalk.

“Dude, I’m sorry.  I thought, uh, that I knew that guy who was just here.  He was kinda rude.”  I knelt down and looked to his hand, still holding the poison apple.  “Is that a rock?”

“No,” Michael said, his face still aiming down.

“Is it a monkey brain dripping with spaghetti-o’s?”

He smiled slightly.  “No, silly.”

“Is it a bloody, beating, still warm heart of a lion, carved out by a witch doctor?”  The boys burst into giggles.  “Or a fossilized tomato covered in dog pee?”

“No, doofus!” Squirt managed to blurt between disgusted tittering.

“It’s a poison apple!  See, there’s even a piece of Twizzler as a stem!” Larry said, showing his.  “Show ‘im, Farty!”

“Yeah, whatever, Lori!” Artie fired back, holding out his apple.  I had to admit, the things looked awesome.  The boys started shouting names at each other as they started walking to the next house.  Blissfully ignorant of the danger.

I took them around for another twenty minutes, the whole time my head on a swivel.  I spotted at least three more possible ghouls, but with all the makeup and masks, who could be sure.  And for some reason, my other senses weren’t giving me any warning.  I tried hard to keep my panic from showing.  When we walked home, I on purpose took the kids out by the main road instead of through the woods.  The sun was just about all the way set when we entered our subdivision.

Squirt and his friends were grinning like idiots.  They’d filled the grocery bags and their own buckets and their own pockets with candy.  Such a haul you’d almost have thought that they just bought bags of candy themselves.  Along the way, I saw a few guys and one chick that could have been ghouls.  I felt so exposed, and with the kids with me, I couldn’t take off to chase them or track them.  I was more than a little anxious.

Not sure how I herded the boys back to the house, but I couldn’t get them there fast enough.  The sun was twisting the clouds on the horizon into stringy shapes laced with oranges and purples.  If you stared hard enough, you could just make out the shape of Orion rising.  Shadows had grown long and deep in the sleepy little subdivision I’d grown up in, with the trees still just changing leaf colors.  Fall in Florida sometimes takes a long time.

“Okay, guys.  You go inside and have fun with Nanny for a while.  I got to get going,” I said.  “We walked into the house and they took over the living room.  I helped Squirt out of his box, only partly spilling the contents of one bag.  Man, these kids were going to be in sugar shock tonight fer shure.

I grabbed my pack by the door, and slung it up onto my back.  Mom came into the hallway, having just put plastic cups of cider in front of the boys.  I was about to head out when she caught my shoulder and drew me into a hug.  I held her gently, sensing an uneasiness in her.

“I’ll be okay, Mom.  You know how careful I am.”

“I know, Bobby, but… I have a bad feeling about this tonight.  You boys watch each other’s backs, ya hear me?”

“We will,” I said softly as she let me go.  “Save me some cider?” I grinned back.  Which caused her to grin, despite the single tear that slipped off her left cheek.

“Alright.  Get going.”

“Thanks,” I said, and out the door I went.  I grabbed my Mongoose off the front lawn and rode as quickly as I could into the gathering gloom.  The moon had lifted slightly, showing the ears and head of the rabbit poking out of the hole quite clearly.  Most people only see the man in the moon, but I like the rabbit idea better.  I was unconsciously humming Breathe by Pink Floyd as I peddled on, racing past the last of the trick-or-treating crowds.

At the end of Burgundy Street, I hopped the curb and tucked between the small copse of pine trees into the vacant lot.  It was overgrown with tall grass and shrubs gone wild, but the trail was still easily visible, even in the gathering darkness.  I followed the trail, remembering to duck under that one low oak tree branch, and really dug in with the wheels as the trail took an uphill bend.  It was a difficult bike path in full daylight.  Anyone else might have thought it impossible at night.

But I’m not just anyone else.

At the top of the hill, I followed the trail across the edge of the wide area we used as our meeting place.  I saw them sitting under the giant live oak, bikes dropped on their sides, except for Marcus, who always insisted on using his kick stand.  I “parked” in the usual manner and walked up to the guys.

“About time you got here, Mathews,” Cal said.  Lately he’d started using everyone’s last names.  He was kinda a jerk sometimes, but only in groups.  One to one, he wasn’t such an ass.  He had his baseball catcher’s guards on his legs and the catcher’s mask pushed up on his head.

“Gave the brats the slip?” Stan asked, bumping knuckles with me.  Stan wore his BMX chest and back guard and his shin pads from soccer.  Other than that, he only carried his knife and motorcycle gloves.

“Mom’s got ‘em organizing their haul.  Squirt had grocery sacks hidden in his costume.  They made out like bandits,” I grinned, slinging the pack off my shoulder.  I pulled out my own batting helmet and set it to the side.

“Pretty smart, that one,’ Stan agreed.  I dug into the pack and started gearing up.  The rest of them were all wearing their stuff, which meant they’d been waiting a long time.  I felt sort of guilty about that, but it couldn’t be helped.

“Just waiting around for Parker, now,” Cal said, examining the tape around the handle part of his aluminum baseball bat.

“Somebody talking about me,” Jerry said, skidding his Huffy to a stop.  “Thought I felt my ears burning.”  I didn’t even hear his bike chain as he rolled up.  Either he’d just tuned it up or I was slipping.  I mentally kicked myself as I put the racquet ball racquet into its shoulder sling.  I felt Stan bend over and tie the leather thong around my thigh.  He pulled the knot almost as tight as my jeans, making sure my knife holster was not going to flop around.

“That’s everyone,” Marcus said, standing up and adjusting the bandoleer of wooden stakes flung over his left shoulder.  His long hair contrasted with how everyone else seemed to have recent cuts.  He carried that really long mop handle like it was a walking stick, but we knew it was so much more.

Jerry pulled out his gear as well, quickly getting out the pair of machetes that he was so skilled at using when we worked in the summer cutting lawns and hacking shrubs.  He had worn his dad’s ancient army jacket with the thick metal rings sewn into the fabric.

So there we were, five teenaged bad asses, decked out in homemade armor and weapons, walking our bikes across to the other side of the hill, ready to do battle with the forces of darkness.  We were quiet as we moved to the edge of the hill.  Below us, in the shallow valley with all the subdivisions, our enemy awaited.  Every year since we’d turned 13 we’d been at this.  Some accident of fate or just plain lucky genetics made us into vampire hunters.  Oh sure, we’d fought them on other nights than just Halloween.  But this was one of the few nights of the year that they’d be bold enough to actually walk around among normal folks.  Able to blend in, hide in plain sight, and hunt almost openly.  Most people just chalked it up to great make-up and costumes, people playing it up, having fun, you know.

“Guys, I think we need to be extra careful tonight,” I said, as we stared down into the concrete lined canyon below us, watching flashlight beams bob and weave.  “I was spotted by a ghoul.  He actually got close enough to bump my shoulder before I knew he was there.”

“You sure, Mathews?” Cal asked, looking sideways at me.

“I’m sure.  He pretty much identified my nephew and his buddies.  I have a bad feeling about that.”

“So maybe we swing by your house, see if any blood suckers are staking the place out,” Marcus said, his dark skin seeming to vanish in the darkness.

“Oohh, not with the bad puns already, Marcus,” Jerry said.  “Just ‘cuz your dad is a comedy writer, don’t mean you gotta punish the rest of us.”

“I mean stake out as in watch for vampires, you red neck nit wit,” Marcus returned, grinning broadly.

“Either way,” Stan interrupted, “if they can get by Bobby’s senses, then we have a real problem.  I heard that some ghouls get to be so strong they can mimic normal heartbeats and mask their smell.  If they can…” he said, leaving it hanging.  We all knew what it meant.  It meant that we were going to be going into situations blind.  Fighting ghouls is tough enough when you can sense them coming at you.  Camouflaged like that, they had yet another distinct advantage.

“As long as we stick together, stick to the plan, we’ll be okay,” Cal said.  “Everybody ready?”

“Maybe a quick warm up?” Stan suggested.

“Sounds good,” Jerry agreed, the two of them dropping their bikes and moving back from the edge of the hilltop.

“Barbarians,” Marcus muttered as he set the kickstand on his bike, and spun his thick pole through a few practice swings.  Jerry was going crazy with his machetes, their gleaming silver edges making whistles in the cool fall night air.  Stan threw several punches at Cal, who tried to parry them, only succeeding about half the time.  Fortunately, Cal was a lot tougher than the rest of us, because Stan’s punches literally released small explosions.  Puffs of fire and smoke erupted on each strike.

“Your turn,” Marcus said to me.  I barely had time to turn fully in his direction when that improvised quarterstaff of his came sailing at my face.  I reacted without thinking, which was part of my gift as well.  The hardened wooden end passed over my face by less than a pencil thickness.  And he wasn’t going to give me a chance to think of a way to get to him, when the other end of the pole came around, nearly taking out my knees.  I flipped backwards, handspringing, and brought out my graphite racquet in time to intercept the business end of a thrust at my neck.  I leapt on instinct, knowing Marcus was going to make a hard, full length swipe at my back, his whole body twisting with impossible speed.

My backflip landed me with my feet spread perfectly, balanced.  The next swipe of the pole came in diagonally, aimed at my back.  I caught the pole flat with the wide part of the racquet face, banked it up and over my head.  That was my chance.  So I spun around backwards, actually moving in towards Marcus and faking a swipe at his face with the edge of the racquet, while simultaneously jumping into the air, spinning rapidly and lashing out with my left foot.  He was surprised by the move, but not so much so that he was going to just stay there and take my kick.

Marcus was a blur as he stepped back from me, swirling his pole around in a very defensive pattern.  I regained my feet in a three point crouch, holding my racquet back behind me, out of his view.

“You warmed up now?” Marcus asked me, grinning.

“Broke a sweat,” I replied.

“Hope you’re ready to break more than that,” Cal said, getting a hand up from Stan.  Stan grinned at me, and not for the first time did I find myself looking him up and down, hoping no one else saw.  And hoping no one saw how I had to fidget with my jeans a second there.  I mean, we’re all guys, and nuts have to be scratched now and again.  I just didn’t need everyone seeing me have to shift something around.

“Oh, yeah, I’m so ready,” Jerry said, returning his machetes to their scabbards.  He was the only one of us in cut-offs.  I wondered how he wasn’t getting eaten alive by mosquitos.

“Then let’s do this,” Cal called out, rubbing punch blast soot off his bat.  “Saddle up!”

We rode in relative silence, despite the fact that Stan kept cycling his ten-speed’s pedals backwards several times.  The trick-or-treaters had thinned down, only the older ones traveling in un-shaparoned groups of three to five were wandering door to door.  We rounded one corner to see one such pack running after smashing a pumpkin against the side of a house.  I made a mental note to pay a visit to those kids.  But for the moment, we were on a mission.

“I got one,” Jerry said, pointing towards my



This is stupid. 



In the hospital room, the steady beep-beep-beep of the heart monitor was the only sound, punctuated by the rise and fall of the breathing machine.  Sometime during my story, Michael had drifted off to sleep, still clutching my hand in his.  I thought about getting up to leave, but I knew he’d panic if he woke up and was alone… again.

I stretched out in the chair a little bit, feeling all the stiffness in my legs and back ease slightly.  My face felt warm as the last rays of the sun crept through the sixth story window of the hospital room.  I had nowhere else to go, so, I settled back in, hoping maybe for a nap when I felt Squirt’s tiny hand twitch and grip my fingers tighter.

“Tell me again, Uncle Bobby.  Please?”

“Sure, Squirt,” I replied, and smiled, warmly.  “What was the last thing you remember?”

“Getting the candy home,” he groaned, his small, shattered body shuddering as the slight movement of his throat caused pain through his chest.

I grinned, despite the tears, and started the story again, hoping he’d just remember it as a story, and forget the other bad things that had happened this night.  Like how his Mom had been turned into a vampire and tried to drain him like a juice box.  Or that I had to kill my own sister.

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