Horror Writers Association Blog

Zoinks! By David Ghilardi

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            Mitts was dressed as the Fonz, but now lolled at me like Droopy Dog.

            I couldn’t figure why. We’d decided Halloween was done for us. We were hungrily stuffing our faces. It wasn’t time to consider anything other than sugary satisfaction. We’d worked hard for our huge bags of swag. Enjoyment was set to last until Thanksgiving, at least. Mitts had decided to be like Ewell Gibbons, chomping into the toffee apple oozing with caramel and nuts.

            There was a pulpy crunch, then my friend turned towards me.

            “Roo rushes id luhg?” He garbled.

            I guffawed out a chunk of my Goo-Goo cluster.  Mitts had gone full Scooby-Doo. Agh, what a waste! I tried to grab the tasty chewy mess, hard-work that, and missed. It fell into Mitt’s pulpy puddle of bloody mouth bits. I thought Mitts was doing another daffy impression of the Sweat-Hogs. We loved ‘Welcome Back, Kotter.’ Caught me off-guard. I was still giggling when I looked up, noticing the razor blade protruding from my best friend’s cheek. Flat metal pierced his flesh like an arrow. It was a Wilkinson’s blade. I knew that, because my Dad used them when he used to live with us.

            Mitts’ mouth ran with red toffee. Maroon nuts clung to his cheek as matter slathered out of his ruptured face. He’d gone out dressed as the Fonz, but was now a bleeding Squiggy.

            “Does it hurt bad?” I asked, my conscience barely catching up with my fascination. Mitts stared at me, unable to fully grasp the magnitude of what just occurred to him. Gunk seemed to spew like a leaky faucet from his wound.

            Time hung like gnats lazily circling in the humid heavy Halloween night. I didn’t move, unsure what was to happen next. Mitt’s tongue seemed to swim, a dark snake in the mire of his ruined cheek.

            “We should get an ambulance.” I muttered dumbly. Knowing that this Halloween was over soon as adults got in the mix. Probably they would requisition all our gotten booty. I chuckled at that word. Booty. Halloween was bootilicious. Jesus Christ, I swore in that echoing cavern of my mind, what was I thinking?

            “Oh my godddddd!” Screamed an old lady. “So much blood! Look at you sweetheart!”

            Mitts and I turned to catch the pear shaped enormity of Mrs. Boyle. Her large countenance stood poleaxed as her little poodle, Skippy, shivered next to her. All the kids knew her as The Witch of Waveland. Weird, I thought staring at her large body dressed in a black costume, how art mirrors truth.

            “What did they do to you? What did they Doooooo?” She shouted into the hot October Chicago night. The crickets all scattered, hiding in silence, while the poodle lay coiled around her ankles. Screen doors slammed, other neighbors alerted by the screaming, Mrs Boyle’s alarm ripping into the lazy heat of the night. A siren brayed real close. Lucky for Mitts that an ambulance was nearby.

            “Mr Stranger Danger did it!” I blurted. My eyes filled with tears. I pointed accusingly at Mitts’ face. He held out his arms, the Fonz’s greaser cow-lick disheveling as he reached for the comfort of the nearest adult. Mitts and I were both 12, kind of getting to be too old to trick or treat. We both agreed this was to be the last year going out dressed up. We had been trying to make the best of the end of our ‘Kid-days’.

            So much for that.

            Mrs. Boyle who lived across the street from the open field adjacent to the school waddled out to attend to Mitts’ wound.

            Skippy, her tiny poodle dressed as a pumpkin, gave a yelp still hovering around its owner’s ankles. Mrs Boyle’s wailing brought out all the other neighbor ladies, even over the sound of ghoulish music, monster mash-ups and canned screams from Halloween displays nearby. Creaking screen doors groaned like zombie hordes themselves. They slammed like coffin lids. Dark figures grumbled, approaching from porches decorated by spider-webs, jack-o-lanterns and witches on brooms.

            A long white ambulance, its red light spinning zoomed up Waveland towards the gathering crowd. Like the show, ‘Emergency’, it sped with purpose towards us. Both candy bags in hand, I shrunk away from the gathering crowd. ‘Zoinks!’ I thought, too much for me.

            Mitts brayed like Hörshak. I receded into the shadows, trying to escape into a nearby alley. Mitts began to mewl like a butt-fucked cat, (I know since our own calico had gotten corn-holed one night last night by a huge feral cat. He had yowled like the dickens after being trifled by the gay bully feline), then threw his neck back gurgling, then choking out a loud howl.

            The ambulance refused to slow. Its dramatic entrance seemed to have blown its mark. Neighbors began to scatter to avoid becoming a hood ornament. The Witch of Waveland was not fast enough to clear. Mrs Boyle watched as Skippy was crunched under the wheels of the whining ambulance. The entire street was blanketed in the red strobe of its lights. A collective ‘Ohhh’ rose from the hot night. The siren died like a sick organ pipe farting its last.

            “Skippy!” Mrs Boyle wailed from the curb dropping my wounded friend. Mitts opened his mouth further in scream before realizing the amount of pain it caused. Mrs Boyle killed off at least two more registers of everyone’s decibel level, before her screams abruptly silenced as she pitched forward into the street face-planting onto the pavement.

            Two male EMTs spilled out of their whambulance, both dressed as vampires. This wasn’t like ‘Emergency’, I thought.

            They crossed each other paths, bumping into one another. The taller one smacked his fangs on the smaller bald guy’s skull. The taller one began gushing blood. Maybe lost a tooth?  Any other time it would have been funny to watch, but I didn’t think so now. Another ‘Ohh’ went up from the crowd. Mitts blubbered on.

            I ran away, down the alley, my friend’s wailing following my cowardice into the night. Being a hero wasn’t what I was, man. It wasn’t me. Maybe that’s why I was dressed as Shaggy. Zoinks!

            My life was insane!

            Jumbled thoughts were powered by the realization that I had purloined Mitts’ Halloween stash. I had grabbed both bags and like a bank robber was scurrying away with our haul. Wouldn’t do Mitts any good now, I decided. No chewing for him for a while. I scooped up brain food. Boston Beans were amazing. I kept munching away my shame. How could I help Mitts? What would Shaggy and the Gang do?  I chomped furiously.

            Who had given us the toffee apples?

            Gingerly, I reached into my bag. There, wrapped in a mound of sticky Bounty towels was a sweaty mound of harm. I plucked the dangerous apple by its stick. My eyes perused the treat. I noticed by the dim light of nearby curtained windows, there beneath its apple’s surface was the neat edge of metal covered by nuts and toffee.

            Who would sink this hateful blade designed to hurt kids?

            I was 12, almost 13, short for my age, so everybody teased me, calling me ‘Tiny brain’. My mind had surpassed my body. But not my emotions. I considered myself a kid. Still loved my hot wheels. My Action Jackson figures given to me by my Indiana cousins were still played with. That lunar rover was boss! But my childhood was becoming distracted by the outside world. That’s why Mitts and I decided to call it a day with Halloween and trick or treating. Girls, sports, and other stuff drew off my attention. I was learning that the world intruded. Its abrupt knock was not always pleasant.

            Who would do this to kids? I racked my brains, who had given us the apples?

            It had to be while Mitts and I were across Pulaski street. New territory for us. We both had never had the guts to go into Avondale Heights before. That whole area was considered wealthy Chicago. Expensive cars, expansive well-kept yards. Huge brick homes with those weird old 1920 street lamps that hardly gave off any light. It seemed like a cool way to end our trick or treating career in an area that gave better candy.

            Then, It hit me like a hoof to my head.

            The creepy guy that smelled like cabbage.

            One the the last places we tromped to was an old brownstone apartment building off of Pulaski. Mitts and I swooned at the thought of so many people clustered in one place. With candy stashes. The whole apartment building would unload candy on us! I remember there was a Creepy guy in tan slacks, blue work shirt and matching tie who ushered both of us into his apartment, which reeked of cabbage and Murillo cigars. His windows yawned open, like hungry black mouths. Halloween was so unseasonably warm.

            Creepster held out a tray of toffee apples. A thin cigar dangled from his lips. Marlboro, I think, my Gramps smoked the same. This guy smirked as he offered the apples. Other kids were stomping up the moldy carpeted hall steps, the door ajar, just outside. The staircase stank of ammonia and cabbage. Creepster just ignored the other kids, focusing on us with his apples. Both Mitts and I were too polite to say no. The man nodded to a roll of towels.

            I tore off a few sheets, wrapped up my apples and placed it in my bag. I totally would let my mom check that item before I ate it.

            Mitts had taken longer, his OCD kicking in,hand wavering over the many toffee bumps.

            “Take one, kid.” Creepster rasped, with an impatient toady croak.

            Mitts licked his lips going for a large one in the middle. Then we were off for more booty.

Booty, I thought. Heh.

            I stood there in the alley, realizing this freaky guy was still out there somewhere.

            And I felt I had to do something.

            “Like dark alleys, do ya?”

            My heart rabbited from my chest. I began to dart back towards where I came from, but Mitt’s wailing halted my spurt. Emerging from the shadows of the corner of the alley was Ichabod Crane in a red shirt and sun-glasses.

            “What the hell are you dressed like?”

            “Lane? What the hell, man?” I said. I nearly peed myself.”

            Lane Amos was this hulking Jewish kid. He loved Starsky and Hutch. Even at 13, An early growth spurt turned him into a gangly Paul Michael Glaser wanna-be. In school, at lunch, Lane would flash his wallet, pretending to be a detective all the while absconding with your potato chips. He always   dressed as Starsky. We didn’t mind, because Lane always made you laugh. He was cool. He always wore shades. Even now, in the dark, he had a pair on.

            “Saw what happened. With you and Mitts. You thinking what I’m thinking?”

            His mouth barely moved. I looked up at him. Maturity had crashed into his body forcing him into an early adolescence. He looked like Sasquatch Starsky. I felt like a baby next to him.

            “Gotta be that freaking guy on Pulaski, yeah?” Lane decided.

            I nodded.

            “That’s crap.” Amos Lane decided. We gotta stop that garbage now.”

            “Huh?” I shifted on my feet. How?”

            Amos Lane eyed me up and down.

            “What you dressed as anyway?”

            I grabbed at my green t-shirt, looking over my dirty scuffed shoes and ripped up brown pants. At least, I thought my painted on whiskers were probably worn away. I was embarrassed to dress like Shaggy, but Mom had no money. Dad was refusing to pay alimony, so a throw-it-together costume it was. I refused to tear up, thinking of my cheap costume. Good for me.

            “Shaggy. You know, Scooby-Doo’s pal.” I said defensively. Jeez, can’t you tell?”

            Lane considered.

            “Maybe, earlier you were. Now, you’re Hutch. Here.”

            Amos lane produced another pair of shades for me.

            “Okay.” I gave in. It felt good to go along with his idea. I wanted to help Mitts. Maybe with a bigger kid, like Lane, we could.

            He made me follow him to a secret place in a copse of bushes where we hid the bags of candy. We both lit out for the brownstone together.

            “For when the fat lady sings.” Lane said, brandishing pink gum cigars. Lane was cool.

I don’t know how he saw in the dark with sun-glasses, but he did.

            We strode down Warwick street in the hot, hazy dark. Starsky and Shaggy-Hutch with a purpose to avenge our maimed buddy. Witchy-poo, Captain Marvel, Wonder Women and other figures shuffled out of our way.

            Bolstering our courage, we masticated on Seven-up bars, Black Crow gum drops and caramel Marathon bars. Sweet Jesus, we were flying with our sugar highs by the time we trotted diagonally across Pulaski street, avoiding hooting drivers who tried throwing Jack-in-the box burger boxes out the window at us. Sweet Jesus, we were ready to employ some Chicago justice on this child-maiming Creepster.

            The dark brownstone before us stood stolidly in the dark like a sullen linebacker for the Bears. Huge, scary and full of possible violence. Other trick or treaters darted in and out of the building like drone bees.

            Starsky and Hutch had no plan. Amos looked at me. I stared back at his shades.

            What were we going to do? Have a dance off with the creep? Embarrass the freak enough to cry, throw up his arms and give up? We weren’t Scooby and the gang. Velma had more balls than me.

            Lane Amos nudged me.

            Approaching to the left of us, a gang of leather clad high schoolers were hurling shaving cream at each other. One of them were beating another one with a car antennae. They were dressed like robbers with striped shirts, lazy zombies with only their face painted. Ben Max make-up. Another two had painted scars on their foreheads. Big kids, what Lane and I would become.

            “Tricks are for kids.” Lane shouted. I stared at him. What did that mean?

            The high schoolers stopped their violent horseplay. I could see three of the band were already bleeding from their scuffles. One boy, dressed as Elvis, stopped whipping a red-head with a Ford Antennae. He must have been the leader, since all the rest perked up. Lane and I were looking at what we would become in just a few short years. Months, even.

            “Sasquatch Starsky!” Elvis hooted. Tiny Shaggy couldn’t find a Scooby-Doo mask to hide his ugly face—ruh-roh!

            Lane coolly adjusted his glasses. He smiled.

            “Guess you’re Huggy Bear, all sweat and no class.”

            The high-schoolers, bigger than us, meaner than us, who could beat us to a pulp especially on a night like tonight, looked confused.

            “Huh?” Elvis peeped.

            “Try to figure it out, genius.” Amos Lane gloated.

            Starsky threw his cuffs, turned and pulled me along with him into the brownstone.

            “What the hell, Lane!” I said as we jogged up the stairs into the reeking building.

            We both strided the steps three at a time.

            “Try to keep up.” Starsky laughed.

            We heard the outraged cries of stupid animals outside refusing to be beaten by younger quarry. Starsky and I fled up-stairs with the high schoolers right behind us.

            I pointed to where Creepy guy’s door was. The hall light was gone, its bulb broken in its case, Amos got to the door first, banging on it.

            “Yeah?” Creepy queried within. I looked behind. High-schoolers were a floor below.

            “Police,” Floated Starsky,”We need to ask you a few questions.”

            His sun-glasses reflected my fearful reflection.

            “What?” I mouthed silently.

            Behind us, the gaggle of gangly hyped-up high schooly thugs,thumped up the final bunch few steps. Creepy guy’s chain rattled, his door opening a crack. I managed to grasp the door jam just as our hostile pursuers stormed into Sasquatch Starsky. Lane flew into the creepy guy who held out a tray of razor bladed apples. They flew up into the air. One dark haired boy dressed like Conan the Cimmerian thunked his plastic battle axe into my head. My cheap brown Shaggy wig, padded the blow. Conan then grabbed my costume and threw me into the room.

            It was bedlam. Fists were flying everywhere. Conan readied his axe to cleave my skull, but was elbowed in the face by Sasquatch Starsky’s flailing. Other boys were skirmishing. I looked at all the caramel apples rolling on the tile. I picked one up by its stick.

            There. A razor blade protruded, dislodged from beneath the red skinned caramel. The horror of its sharp simplicity shocked me. I had my evidence.

            “Look.”

            My voice refused to carry.

            I saw Creepy guy in tan slacks, blue shirt and matching tie near the yawning windows.

            His dark eyes locked with mine. A smile played across his crooked lips. His dark hair was sopped with guilty sweat. Creepy guy was shaking.

            “Look what he did.”

            My outraged voice shrieked out of me. A few high schoolers were still beating each other, but Elvis turned to look at what I held in my hands.

            Elvis sneered as he grabbed for the apple.

            “Wait.” I piped, his hands sweeping it to his mouth, chomping down upon the deceptive looking treat.

            Elvis’ mouth tore into the caramel and nuts. His eyes grew wide as it dawned on him that something was wrong. He yanked back his head, a bloody strand of drool stretching like a red strand of spider webbing, from his mouth to hand.

            Elvis’ green angry eyes, glared at the offending fruit in his paw.

            “What the Fu…?” He uttered.

            The Wilkinson blade had slit his lip, cutting into his mouth, but had not gone any deeper. The apartment went quiet. Flimsy curtains wafted on the hot breeze. We all could hear the traffic on Pulaski street four stories below. Some car in need of a new muffler rumbled by.

            Every one of us were staring at Creepy guy. He merely grinned at us, tittering a bit. The maniac’s grin blazed at us with bleached white teeth. Unkempt hair plastered against his scalp. He whispered one sentence.

            “I’m not sorry.”

            He giggled then, crouched into a haunch, then dove out the open window.

            No one moved. Silence filled his sudden exit. We all heard a crunchy splat on the street below. Another window opened nearby. Then, the screams began.

            Elvis grabbed an outstretched towel from Conan. He bolted first, the Cimmerian after. The older boys all pushed out the door. Somewhere near, a Cop siren began.. Chicago cops were on their way. I wondered if the ambulance would be the same as Mitts, if so, did it still have dog bits in its wheels?  Starsky and I collided into each other in the doorway. Amos sported a black eye, a bloody nose and swollen lip, yet he was smiling. Apartment doors opened as we leapt fleeing. Voices queried, but our rush to escape turned them into a blur.

            Hot, sweaty, free of some invisible weight on our shoulders, both Amos and I pounded down the remaining creaking steps, exploding out into the street. There already was a crowd nearby hovering over the prostrate body of Creepy guy. We sprinted into the night. Chicago sirens chased us even as we disappeared into shadow.

            Three blocks later, Amos and I slowed our roll, trying to blend in to the gathering melee of Halloween ghosts, Batmen, Steve Austins and guys in white disco outfits. We listened to the peals of laughter in the heat. Amos lane and I remained quiet. Nothing this Halloween night seemed real.

            We came to the copse of bushes where the massive bag of candy lay hidden. I shook all the Boston beans I could find into my mouth. Adrenaline was wearing off.

            “What the hell was that?”  Amo’s body shook as he asked.

Shaggy shrugged. Zoinks! I had no idea what had just happened. We were just kids for Christ Sake.

            “What does it mean?” Lane whispered.

            Amos put his head into his hands his hands. His body looked older than he really was. Lane Amos was still a kid too. I realized that my cool friend was crying.

            “Here.” I said.

            I gave him my last Seven-up bar, dang it wasn’t the best. I followed it up with an awkward hug. Lane Amos actually took off his sun-glasses. Starsky was gone. Only Lane was there. It was too dark to look into his eyes. Lane allowed my few awkward hugs, then brusquely pushed me off and exited. He disappeared into the Halloween night.

            Walking home with two heavy bags of candy, my head throbbed with overwhelming choices. Should I tell Mom about what happened? Probably. Have her call the police? Ugh. Why did this all have to happen?

            I shrugged off the chaos.

            Some things were beyond me, I decided. Mitts, Lane and I were living out the final days of our childhood. Adolescence seemed like a bigger, scarier neighborhood no one wanted to visit.  I decided to sort the candy bags at home with Mom, talk to her, call Mitts and read a few comic books before hitting the hay.

            Growing up could wait for a bit longer.

   

BIO:  David Ghilardi is an actor, writer with roots in Chicago. His acting goes from independent movie shorts and TV and more than 100 theater plays. His recent television/film project was the MiX series (season one can be viewed for free on  davidghilardi.com).

David writes short stories and about Chicago, its legendary tales told in hushed whispers in the dark. David’s books and The Dark Chicago series can be found on Amazonand davidghilardi.com.

My Odds, Their Ends will be David’s 5th books out in October 2018.

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