WOULD YOU GIVE?

Charles M. Saplak

 
     Halloween, and John Tabor hoped there wouldn't be many trick-or-treaters coming to his door.  "Celebrating" holidays had been Carla's thing.  He was ready for a quiet night.
     There were a few things working in his favor for that.  Carden Court, where his house sat, was an isolated cul-de-sac.  The locust and beech trees kept the court in deep shade most of the year, and now, stripped bare as they were, gave the neighborhood a skeletal, otherworldly appearance.  It didn't present an attractive prospect for any trick-or-treaters.
     Also, today had been chilly and overcast, with an off-and-on drizzle.  It was a much better evening for a party indoors, for apple-bobbing and ghost stories, for cider and games, for a walk around a shopping mall, than for an outdoor trek for candy.
     Most important of all, Halloween this year fell on a Wednesday.  School age children would feel a few more restraints on their revelry than they would on a Friday or Saturday night.
     John had bought a plastic bag of snack-size SnickersTM bars at Krogers on the way home from work and he'd found a bag of Halloween candy he'd stashed away from last year's collections that Mike and Chandra had made.  Mostly awful stuff like candy corn, waxy miniature pumpkins made from spun sugar, pastel skulls-and-crossbones cast in rock candy.  Look Ma, I'm recycling.
     He hoped this meager amount would last the night.  A light turnout of trick-or-treaters would make sure he didn't run out.
     Of course, if he did run out he could just turn off his porch light, and that was a fairly well-recognized signal that he wasn't participating in the holiday.
     Hell, he could just leave his porch light off right now and not answer the door.  That was what the majority of people did anymore.  Leave me alone, I'm not participating.
     But no; that was utter defeat.  It was too tempting.  Once he decided to do what he really felt like doing -- shutting the damned door and not participating -- where would it stop?
     He wondered what Mike and Chandra would be doing tonight.
     Once he had the candy out of the bag and into a glass bowl which he could keep in the foyer, John Tabor settled down in his recliner before the television.  Now who would be running a good horror marathon?
     American Movie Classics had an Abbott and Costello clunker about Dracula and The Wolfman.  Tabor had never warmed to that particular slapstick treatment of the Universal monsters.
     FX was presenting a marathon of 80's slasher flicks.  Disgusted, Tabor clicked on past.
     The History Channel had a movie about Lizzie Borden, an old made-for-TV thing with Elizabeth Montgomery.  As gorgeous as she was to look at, Tabor didn't feel like following something so psychologically dramatic.
     On The Discovery Channel, a documentary about Vlad Tepes was spiced with snippets of interviews with Camille Paglia and Anne Rice.
     No, nothing caught John Tabor's eye this evening.  He was alone in his house.  Somewhere people were having fun.  Perhaps a little bourbon?
     He found some of Carla's old airline-size bottles of George Dickel.  Some ice, some Coke, some little touch of George.
     John settled back into the recliner.  No trick-or-treaters yet.  He took a drink and got that sweet, warm taste of the bourbon.  Nothing could exorcise the chill of an Autumn evening like bourbon.
     John raised the remote and clicked into something which looked a little interesting.  An old movie with a man, woman, and child living in a weird, disordered mansion, or castle.  Crisp black-and-white film work treated Tabor to screens full of massive furnishings, jagged shadows, bizarrely angled walls, stairs, and ceilings.
     "Son of Frankenstein," Tabor whispered to no one.
     He set down the remote and enjoyed a little bit of the old film, sipping some bourbon as he did so.  Even with the Inspector scenes which no one could watch without giggling since Young Frankenstein, Tabor enjoyed The Monster lumbering across the landscape.
     Was that Karloff, or was that the same guy who played the bartender on Gunsmoke?
     The doorbell rang.
     Tabor pushed his way forward out of the recliner, tottering a bit as he stood.  At the foyer he put down his half-empty glass of bourbon and took up the glass bowl of candy.
     He swung open the door, and expected to be looking down at a group of waifs who'd braved the weather, done up as Barbie Princesses, or Caspers, or Muppets.
     Instead three figures stood at the entrance to his house.
     God, how elaborate!  What costumes, what makeup!  The three formed a themed group, and they stood before him in a dramatic tableau.
     The central figure -- now was it a monster (maybe even the Frankenstein Monster)?  Was it a colossus, a cyborg, some immense scarecrow?
     The thing, in its costume at least, had to be seven feet tall.  Platform shoes?  Stilts?
     Its clothes were hard to distinguish.  A tunic, or tunic and trousers.  It seemed to be wearing an elaborate wrapping of numerous yards of filthy rags.  From this ragtag garb it extended two boney arms.  One gnarled hand held the ends of two leashes, and at the ends of each of these two leashes were each of the accompanying figures.
     On the monster's right side was a willowy young girl, approximately Chandra's age.  She wore a dirty, frayed dress, and was tugging at the leash around her neck.  Her eyes, which she reluctantly raised to look at Tabor, were imploring.  She kept her lips tightly closed.
     The girl wore a sign around her neck:
 
WOULD YOU GIVE
YOUR TONGUE
TO REPLACE THAT OF A GIRL WHO WOULDN'T STOP TALKING WHEN TOLD?

     On the monster's left was a boy somewhat smaller, more like Mike's size.  His costume was incredibly elaborate, some kind of bodysuit which glistened in the wet weather, and which was painted to look like raw muscles, nerves, veins, and arteries, and odd bits of naked bone.
     He, too, wore a sign around his neck:
 

WOULD YOU GIVE 
A PIECE OF YOUR SKIN
TO REPLACE THAT OF A LITTLE BOY WHO WOULDN'T STOP TOUCHING THINGS
HE SHOULDN'T HAVE?

     Tabor was dumbstruck, and looked from one child to the other, and then looked back to the monster.  Its face was deeply shadowed, and he couldn't tell if it was made up to look like some skull, or some metallic skinned thing, or some scaled creature.  Its eyes were inscrutable, beneath the ridges of its beetling brow.
     And in the hand which didn't hold the leashes, it held a crudely-lettered sign:
 

WOULD YOU GIVE
ME SOMETHING OF YOUR OWN FREE WILL IN ORDER TO NEVER SEE ME AGAIN?

     Tabor threw the glass candy bowl at the thing, and as it struck the monster in the chest the glass shattered and the candy disappeared.
     And the monster smiled.
     Tabor slammed the door behind him, and immediately began to mutter.
     "That did not happen. That was not there. That did not happen."
     And he realized just how quickly his heart was racing, how loudly blood pounded in his ears.  He realized how heavily he panted, and how clammy he was with cold sweat.
     Then Tabor had a succession of jumbled thoughts.
     His first thought:  How tasteless a practical joke these people were playing.  Just how sick and how ugly and mean-spirited, for people to walk around in such garb.
    His next thought:  Why wouldn't demons walk this night?
    Perhaps their natural preference for this last night in the moon cycle of late Autumn had given rise to the most ancient superstitions and traditions. Or perhaps those in the Otherworld had one day realized that when normal people pranced about in costumes, so could true demons walk visibly about, sufficiently disguised.
     And his last thought:  Look at the glass of bourbon on the foyer stand -- how similar was the color of the liquid to the monster's color, just as the monster's substance was similar to the bourbon's swirls and bubbles.
     Without thinking about what he would do or say, John backed away from the bourbon and threw open his front door.
     No candy was on the porch or walkway.  The street was quiet and empty, deeply shadowed by the skeletal trees. Cold drizzle sparkled as it fell on the numerous shards of broken glass at John Tabor's feet.
 

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