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Halloween Haunts: Heroes and Monsters by Patrick Thomas

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The monsters come out at Halloween. It was the time when they didn’t have to hide and the adults could see them and not realize what they were. Some kids could, while others didn’t until it was too late. They blended in, until they pounced with eggs, shaving cream and fists.

I hate bullies. As a kid as far I was concerned they were real monsters. Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster  were fun compared to dealing with the real thing. I’m not talking kids picking on kids. I’m talking full out brutality.

One chilly October in fourth grade while playing a game of Ghost In The Graveyard (basically team hide and seek) I wouldn’t give up my hiding spot to a couple of eighth graders who were on my team.  I was threatened, but even outnumbered and outmuscled I never did well with someone telling me what to do. It’s a personality flaw. Since I wouldn’t vacate willingly, an extremely one-sided fight that was really more of a beating ensued. When it was done, I was on the ground screaming with a broken arm. That banshee-like wailing continued until I ran home. Ironically, my screams scared off the bully that did the bone-breaking. Pity I didn’t try that first. After that day, I didn’t see the arm-breaker much despite him living up the block and  was fine with that.

It’s fair to say that that encounter and a few less severe left their marks on me and it shows sometimes in my writing. Bullies don’t fare well for long in my stories.

Halloween makes bullies more brazen as if the masks somehow protected them.

Me, I liked Halloween, not as an excuse to cause destruction but to wear costumes and get candy. And scare people.

I made my own costumes. Of course back then to buy a costume usually meant getting a box with  a plastic poncho with a cartoon character painted on it with a matching mask held on to the face by elastic.  Not something many over the age of six wanted to be seen in.

Even as a kid I worked and had a paper route and had to deal with a few bullies.  Most of the time they used hit and run tactics, afraid to be caught in the act by a watchful parent and ratted out to their own folks. On Halloween they lost that fear. They’d be waiting for any kid without an adult.

I timed collecting money for the papers with trick-or-treating. Tips were good, but money and candy was far better.

I always went as a hero or monster. I’d been Zorro, Dracula, The Mummy, a werewolf. That year I made a superhero costume. I don’t think he had a name at first, but I ended up calling him The Comet because I made the mask myself. I couldn’t sew, so I used staples and they made the mask look like a meteor. I believed Spider-Man might have made his web shooters, but no way he made a costume that good without sewing powers. My Comet hero also had a plastic shield I rigged up. Both were strategic.  The mask would keep my hair clean and the shield could block chicken-based projectiles.

With the help of a friend of mine, we rigged up a bunch of shaving cream cans to shoot about 10 feet. Wasn’t really that hard, it just took a match and a pin. My friend who was several inches shorter than me and had his own share of bully issues, insisted on riding shotgun. Neither one of us was much of a fighter, but we knew something about watching each other’s backs. That and we were both a getting little too old to trick-or-treat so helping me collect was a good way to get some candy for himself.

I was at the end of my route before anything happened.  Four kids were lying in wait, but we knew they were there. Not because of any great recon efforts on our part mind you, but we’d passed a kid they had already gone after and covered with yolk and shaving cream. The punks had even taken his candy bag.

I’d hesitate to call us nerds, but it mightn’t be a totally inaccurate term.  Because of that, they figured us for easy targets. Most days maybe, but not on Halloween. They led off with the egg attack, but my plastic shield and my friend’s garbage can lid blocked them all until they ran out of ammo.

Next they came at us with shaving cream cans a blazing, but our cans shot further. We turned them into cream covered snow men before they got close enough hit us. Next they resorted to the classics – beating us up and taking our candy.

We beat the monsters back that Halloween. Whether it was the masks we wore or a psychological empowerment after beating them at their own game, it didn’t matter. We weren’t suddenly great fighters. We didn’t lay them out with a single punch to each jaw and put one leg on their unconscious bodies, while triumphantly waving our cans of shaving cream over our heads. But we did run them off with their figurative tails between their legs. One left in such a hurry he left his goodie bag behind. We kept it as spoils of war. Well, we were going to until we passed the kid whose bag they had taken. We gave it to him, minus a couple of candy bars we nicked for ourselves.

I wouldn’t say the whole thing rated as a Halloween miracle, but I didn’t end up with any broken bones that time, so I counted it as a win against the monsters.

Many years later there was an even bigger win and it involved the arm-beaker. It wasn’t one where I kicked his butt. It was even better.

I was home from college when a blast from the past walked down the street calling my name. I guess I’d always assumed he’d turned to a life of crime or took up killing kittens as a hobby. I knew a couple of other bullies who’d ended up in prison.

Maybe he was out on good behavior and visiting his folks. As he got closer I readjusted my mental image. Over ten years had passed and I was now bigger than him. I’d taken years of martial arts, so I wasn’t afraid although I may have subconsciously dropped into a fighting stance, assuming he was still the same bully as when we were kids.

Then things got weird. Instead of wanting to throw down, he apologized for breaking my arm.

Turns out fracturing my limb gave him years of guilt. Enough that all those years later he sought me out to ask for my forgiveness.

If it had been a cartoon, my jaw would’ve been scraping the floor. As much as that trauma shaped me, it may have shaped him more.

While I had been sitting in the emergency room waiting for an X-ray, his parents were ripping into him. He was grounded and ordered to avoid me. The fear of what his parents would do to him if he screwed up again or hurt another kid set him on the straight and narrow. His grades improved and he graduated.

Over the years, his parents had become very close with mine, as apparently they appreciated my folks not suing them over the broken arm incident. My parents just asked them to cover my medical bills and left it at that.

Turns out that even as a kid, he appreciated that too. It seems people appreciate not being kicked when they’re down, even if maybe they might have deserved it. And that kindness can be a catalyst.

The biggest shocker came when I found out what he did for a living. The arm-breaker was now one of New York City’s bravest—a firefighter. Turns out somewhere along the line the monster had become a hero.

That one of my personal monsters could grow up to be someone who risks his life to save others took some mental maneuvering to get around. I realized even for monsters, redemption was possible.

Real-life horror, like the fictional kind, is filled with all sorts of people who do nasty, evil things. But sometimes the good guys win. And sometimes the bad guys join the good guys and then everyone wins.

TODAY’S GIVEAWAY: Patrick Thomas is offering one copy of his book, Lore and Dysorder. To enter post a comment in the section below or e-mail memoutreach@horror.org and put HH CONTEST ENTRY in the header. Winners will be chosen at random and notified by e-mail.

With over a million words in print, PATRICK THOMAS keeps busy writing the popular fantasy humor series Murphy’s Lore (Tales From Bulfinche’s Pub, Fools’ Day, Through The Drinking Glass, Shadow Of The Wolf, Redemption Road, Bartender Of The Gods, Nightcaps and Empty Graves) and the After Hours spin offs Fairy With A Gun, Fairy Rides The Lightning, Dead To Rites and Lore & Dysorder. His Mystic Investigators series has grown to include Bullets & Brimstone and From The Shadows both with John L. French and Once More Upon A Time. He co-edited Hear Them Roar and New Blood. Patrick’s humorous advice column Dear Cthulhu has been collected in Have A Dark Day and Good Advice For Bad People. A number of his books are part of the set and props department at the CSI television show. He is a member of HWA and was voted Preditors & Editors favorite author of 2010 and first runner up in 2011. Laurence Fishburne’s production company Cinema Gypsy Productions has taken a film and television option on Patrick Thomas’ urban fantasy Fairy With A Gun. A mockumentary about him has recently surfaced on Youtube. To learn more, drop by www.patthomas.net or like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PatrickThomasAuthor

Read an excerpt From FAIRY RIDES THE LIGHTNING, a Terrorbelle novel, by Patrick Thomas:

(Available on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/FAIRY-RIDES-THE-LIGHTNING-Terrorbelle/dp/1890096504/ref=la_B003AUIUJK_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1341928018&sr=1-2)

The kitchen door was halfway open and Thor was looking out the window. “Oh no. The goats are over bothering Mr. Needles’ farm animals again.” Thor turned to me. “Terrorbelle, would you mind rounding them up? I don’t need to be upsetting the neighbors any more. And if I leave now, the hors d’oeuvres and dinner might be ruined.”

I have been to four and five star restaurants, as well as those that should get no stars. Thor’s cooking would rate at least a seven on any normal scale.

“Well, I certainly don’t want dinner ruined,” I said, my mouth watering at the smells wafting through the kitchen. I didn’t need to mention the antagonistic relationship between myself and the goats, because the thunder god knew it well from my last visit.

“Honestly, I think they do it because they like you, Terrorbelle,” Thor said. Obviously I didn’t hide the look of disbelief on my face very well. “I’m serious. The goats are foul tempered. They don’t get along with practically anyone, but when you come, they go out of their way to cause mischief. I think they enjoy playing with you.”

“I think they like messing with me. But as long as you’re going to feed me all weekend, I’ll put up with it and go get them.”

“Thank you,” Thor said, putting on an apron that said “Kiss The Cook.” In place of the normal crossed utensils, this one had a fork crossed over a hammer.

I put my hand on the doorknob and paused a moment longer than I should have before I went out.

A while back I won a bet with Thor and ended up with an amulet that controlled the wind for twenty-four hours. It was designed to give someone like me the ability to fly. Because Earth is so poor in natural magic and I was so big, flight was not an option for me on most parts of the planet. The best I could usually manage was a hover or to slow a fall. And a good wind could help me or send me crashing.

I was hoping that Thor would have made me another amulet. But none was forthcoming, so I finally opened the door, then stopped another moment to look at the coat rack.

I decided not to bother covering up my wings. First off, I could still jump while using the wings which gets me a lot further than using just leg power. Also attitude is helpful when trying to catch critters that can fly. And since Isabella didn’t seem the least bit put off at the sight of Thor plowing the fields without a tractor, I doubted the sight of me without a coat was going to upset her.

In fact, if the neighbors were used to flying goats buzzing their properties, I doubted the sight of a pink haired, pixie winged woman was going to cause too much commotion.

As soon as I got to the road, the goats spotted me. The troublemakers flew from Mr. Needles’ farm over to Isabella’s property, where she was working on her hands and knees in her garden with a big wide sunhat and dark glasses. The goats dove down like they were going to knock the poor lady over. Instead they stopped in front of her and she petted the two horned beasts. She reached into a box next to her and gave each of them what looked to be a dog biscuit. Each goat was bigger than a great dane, so maybe the snack made sense to her.

I knew they knew I was there, but I tried to sneak up on them anyway. As I made it to Isabella’s white picket fence, the pair simultaneously turned toward each other and then me. I swear the little monsters grinned. I leapt over the fence in an attempt to grab them, but they took off flying and I barely managed to touch Toothnasher’s tail.

I landed on my hands and knees next to Isabella.

“Come to help me with the gardening my dear?” she said with a grin.

“I’m not much of a gardener, but I prefer that to rounding up those two,” I said.

“Nasher and Grinder aren’t so bad. They are just looking for attention. And poor Nasher has a little limp,” she said. Isabella handed me the box of dog biscuits. “They love these. Maybe you can use these to entice the goats to go home.”

“I’m willing to try anything,” I said, filling my pockets with the treats. I would have taken the box, but needed my hands free if I had any chance of catching these two.

I leapt back over Isabella’s picket fence and tried to walk slow and determined down the street, like a gunfighter in a western. I knew I was beyond intimidating the goats, but it made me feel better to try.

The pair were dive bombing Mr. Needles’ livestock. The chickens were running and fluttering around the yard, not flying that much better than me. The pigs in their pen were squealing and trying to get out. The cows in the field had run to the far side, except for one bull that looked like he was hoping the goats would get low enough for him to get a shot at them. I admired the bull’s attitude.

I saw an older man, probably in his late sixties, run out of the house with a shotgun in his hands.

“Get off of my property, you flying varmints,” Needles said, punctuating his demand with a blast from his double barrel. The goats flew out of range.

This was getting ugly quickly.

“Mr. Needles, please put down the shotgun. I’ll take care of the goats,” I said.

“And who are you, little missy?” he said. I smiled. It had been a long time since someone called me little and at six feet, I was a good two inches taller than the farmer. “I’ll have you know that I shot those flying varmints dead more than once and the next day they show up again, good as new. That ain’t natural. What makes you think you can deal with these demon goats?”

“My name is Terrorbelle. My specialty is handling the unusual.”

I popped my wings up behind me and went into overdrive. My wings buzzed faster than a hummingbird and I slowly lifted off the ground. Needles had a wooden plank fence, the kind that had a post every ten feet or so with two boards lengthwise attached to each post. I went forward over the fence and lowered myself down onto the ground.

“That sure was impressive,” he said. I thought so too. Sadly that was about the upper limit of what I was going to do without a really good updraft. “I guess I could give ya your shot at rounding them up. How’s ten minutes sound? If you ain’t got ‘em by then, I’m gonna do me some skeet shooting. They come here so often, I stocked up on ammo.”

“Thank you for you indulgence, Mr. Needles,” I said.

The goats had been hovering nearby watching the exchange.

“Ya hear that ya blasted varmints, she’s gonna get ya,” Needles said, waving a fist in the air at the goats. As a team they flew over Needles’ sage green pickup truck and did their best pigeon imitation, covering his windshield in manure.

Needles pumped the shotgun and again emptied both barrels in the goat’s direction, but they were already flying away and escaped unscathed.

I put a hand on the shotgun and gently pushed it toward the ground. “Please Mr. Needles, I said I would get them.”

“Well, who’s gonna clean off my truck?” he said.

I sighed. “I’ll take care of it.”

I got a shovel from the shed and scooped the goat poop off the truck. Next I got the garden hose and sprayed it until the windshield and the truck were both clean.

As I was putting away the shovel, I walked in front of the open barn. There were a bunch of old tractor parts hanging from the rafters in a fish net.

“Sir, do you mind if I borrow your net and a few of those stakes?” I asked.

“I like the way you think, missy. Help yourself to whatever you need long as you put it back where you found it when you’re done,” Needles said.

I jumped up near the ceiling and used my wings to hover there as I unhooked the net from the hook it was hanging from. I carefully placed the tractor parts on the floor and got the feel of the net. Decent quality, although not anywhere near the strength of the nets folks used for catching game or people back in Faerie. Still, it would do.

“I wish you had two nets,” I said.

Needles grinned and went to another part of the barn that had a couple of saddles.

“Back in my day I did some rodeo work.” He likely did more than some. He sported a gaudy belt buckle that only a rodeo champion would want to wear. “These days I only keep the one horse, but I have a couple of these.” Needles held out a western style lasso. “You want to borrow one?”

I grinned. “Yes, I do.”

Needles put down his shotgun in the corner, clicked the safety, and handed me one lariat, taking the other for himself. “I think maybe I have been looking at these varmints all wrong. Instead of seeing them as nuisances, I should have been looking at them as a challenge. I use to be able to rope cattle with the best of them. I even won the national hog tying competition ’bout twenty seven years ago. I may be a little rusty, but I never tried to lasso something that could fly before. I trust you wouldn’t mind me lending a hand?”

“As long as the shotgun isn’t involved, I’d be happy to have the assistance.”

We walked out of the barn. I had the net laying across one shoulder, held the bulk of the rope in my left hand with the lasso part in the right. Needles went ahead. The goats floated mockingly in the air in front of us. I heard Needles laugh as he swung the lasso around a couple of times and threw once. To my amazement it went right around the neck of Grinder.

“You’re goin’ down, ya flyin’ varmint,” Needles said.

The old man pulled and the goat came down about two feet. Then the goat pulled back and started flying. Needles didn’t let go, instead dug his heals in. The problem is that a magical goat is a lot stronger than a horse or a bull. Needles was dragged through his yard, leaning back like he was waterskiing. Dust flew up around his boots. The old man wasn’t frightened. As a matter of fact, he was yelling yee haw as he bolted across his farm and was having a grand old time.

Despite his upbeat attitude, I didn’t want him to get hurt so I ran after both of them. They came to the end of a fence. Needles let go with one hand and looped the rope around the fence post as he went by. The goat got pulled backwards and jolted like a dog running fast and reaching the end of his leash.

The fact that the lasso was around the goat’s throat limited how hard he could pull. If it had been around his chest, I had no doubt he would have been able to yank the fence post right out of the ground. Even as it was, the fence post was rocking. I caught up to them and threw the lasso. I missed by about two feet.

“No missy, you got to use your hand on the inside of it to keep it open and use the movement of your arm to throw so the circle stays that way. As soon as you get it around you’ve got to pull it tight quick.”

I followed his advice and got Grinder on the second try. I yanked the rope tight quick, then started pulling down. So did Needles. Slowly, the goat descended, but it was like the two of us were trying to handle a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade by ourselves.

When we got Grinder low enough, I was going to grab hold, but Needles beat me to it and hog tied the goat.

“Nice work,” I said.

“You too missy. We might make a rodeo gal out of you yet,” Needles said, then ducked as the brother goat dive bombed him.

I took the net off my shoulder and waited. It didn’t take but a couple of seconds before Nasher decided to dive bomb us again. Throwing a net is something I’d been trained to do repeatedly. Earth military tends to train soldiers in guns and knives. In Faerie there’s a much wider choice of weapons one has to be proficient in.

I caught goat number two on my first toss. I grabbed the ends of the net, closing it with him inside. He tried to fly off and pull me across the yard like his brother did Needles, but I pulled the net and swung it like a sack of potatoes until he hit the ground. Not hard enough to hurt him, just enough to knock the wind out of him. I thought about staking the net to the ground, but as he pulled against me, I realized it wouldn’t hold him. Instead I took one of the dog biscuits out of my pocket and gave it to him. He calmed down, so I tossed Grinder one. Both seemed content to nosh for the moment.

“Missy, you’ve got to be the most impressive gal I ever met. You’re welcome to come by my farm anytime. Hell, if I’d known these varmints could be this much fun, I’d have invited ‘em back sooner,” he said. “Can you manage to get ‘em back by yourself? We can put ‘em in the back of the pickup and take ‘em back to Thor’s.”

I slipped the troublemakers another biscuit each, then grabbed the netted goat with my left arm and the hog tied one with my right. They may have been the better fliers, but I was stronger.

“No thanks. I can manage them. I appreciate your help Mr. Needles,” I said.

“Happy to oblige. Most fun I had since I retired from the rodeo.”

“I’ll be back to clean up later,” I said.

“Don’t worry your pretty little head about it. I’ll take care of it,” Needles said.

“Thanks,” I said.

I may have been stronger, but that didn’t negate their gravity defying magic. They may not have the muscle power to break my grip, but they could still fly. With me holding onto each of them they took off into the air. I could hear Mr. Needles below me yell, “You ride ‘em girl!”

I used my wings to try to slow us down, but that’s about all it did. I have four sets of razor sharp wings, two on either side. The joints where they attach to my back are extremely flexible. I put a wing on the back of the neck of either goat and dug it in a little.

“You know you’re not going to be able to throw me. You also know that I may not be able to fly as well as you around here, but I can certainly lower myself to the ground.” That was only a mild exaggeration. I could usually glide and slow my fall, but it depends on how high they went. If we got to parachute height, my wings wouldn’t be strong enough to stop me from hitting the ground like a pink haired meteor. “If you even try it, I’ll cut both of you through the neck and cook you up for dinner tonight myself.” Not that I was being cruel. Another part of the goats’ magic allowed them to be killed and eaten then brought back to life the next day so long as all their bones were put in a pile before sunrise. Thor did it on and off for centuries. Couldn’t be pleasant. I figured it was part of the reason they were so ornery. The reason Nasher had a limp was one time someone broke one of his bones while they were eating and he regenerated wrong. “Are we clear?”

Magical animals like the tooth brothers and Morningdour had enhanced intelligence. Some of them were smart, even smarter than people. The goats were bright enough to nod yes in unison.

Even when I wasn’t the driver, flying was a wonderful thing, once I got over my fear of falling. I was pretty sure I had the goats intimidated enough not to try anything. And despite our rough and tumble relationship, they had done nothing more than be mischievous, never doing me any actual harm. And killing them would only be a day’s inconvenience.

“How about we do a couple loop-de-loops before heading back? I bet Thor has those appetizers ready.”

I swear the goats smiled as they did a dozen loop-de-loops. It was enough to make even me nauseous. I learned a long time ago as a soldier in Faerie to never show signs of weakness, so I didn’t say anything as they flew down and into Thor’s yard.

But I didn’t let go of either of them until we were inside Thor’s kitchen and Rudy had locked the screen door behind us.

 

 

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