If you are wondering, yes, this story has appeared here before. It’s been rewritten half a dozen times and it is still one of my favorite holiday stories.
I want to tell you something real quick before you read on, especially if you have never read this piece before. The character of Cade Aver is the creation of S. Copperstone. When she created it I was actually miffed that I didn’t come up with it. I mean, Cadaver, really? I asked her if I could use the character for a story. She said, ‘yes,’ and she was extremely gracious about it.
Every once in a while it will get republished, or as was the case a couple weeks ago, I did a live reading of it. I always check with her and she is always cool about it.
I hope you enjoy Treats at the Aver Residence, and to S. Copperstone, thank you again.
“They’re going to love this year’s treat,” Cade said, giddily. He moved around the large steel table with a carving knife in hand. His milky eyes dazzled in the yellow glow of the overhead lights.
“What do you think, Mr. Mason?”
On the table lay Mr. Mason, covered by a sheet up to his chin. The man squirmed. His arms and legs pulled on the restraints that held him. His eyes were wide orbs, glassy and full of fear, a bruise beneath the left one. His dark hair was ruffled.
Cade lifted one eyebrow. His face loomed over Mason’s. “What? No response?” He shook his head, the joy of the time of year—the very day—coursed through his veins.“ Brighten up, Mr. Mason. It’s Halloween—the greatest day of the year.”
He checked the I.V. line running into Mason’s arm. The steady drip told him Mr. Mason would be flying high soon enough, but not too high. Mr. Mason certainly didn’t want to miss out on the festivities.
“All those years of being a surgeon come in handy this time of year, don’t you think?”
Cade looked down into Mason’s green eyes. The man blinked, and a stray tear fell down the side of his face. He let out a groan, not one of pain, but fear. Cade was certain if the white cloth shoved into his mouth wasn’t there, Mason would scream for all he was worth—and at that moment, he may not have been worth much more than a cheap bottle of wine to any drunk on the side of the road, but he was worth all the candy in the world to Cade.
“Don’t worry—you will only feel a moderate amount of pain, and for only a few seconds, maybe a minute, and then you’ll pass out.” He stroked Mason’s sweaty cheek, lovingly, as if he cared for the man before him. Cade’s eyes grew tender, his smile softened. “Then you won’t feel anything at all. At least until the children arrive.”
Mason shook his head, his eyes filling with tears. He strained to move. The veins on his forehead and along his throat, bulged against his skin.
“Stick around, Mr. Mason,” Cade almost sung, then patted Mason’s face. “It’s going to be a wonderful Halloween.”
In their homes, children sang and danced. Their mothers painted their off colored skin whatever shade of pale, brown or black they chose. Halloween shows like It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and Monster House, played on the television, and those who were finished with their dinners sat and watched until the sun began to set.
The anticipation made some of them bounce in their seats. Toes tapped. Fingers drummed. Betsy Wallabanger’s teeth fell out twice, and each time she put them back in she had to adjust her lipstick. Excitement hung in the air like a thick fog on an early fall morning.
“Would you like a smiley face or a frown? Or maybe a really scary face?”
Mason shook his head and moaned.
“Hmm … none of those? I have templates this year—got them cheap at the WalGreens in town. They practically gave them to me.” Cade rubbed the blade of his knife against the side of his head. A small flap of skin peeled back, and a few strands of dirty brittle hair flaked to the floor. Blood spilled down the side of his face. “Wow, that’s sharp—I guess I should be careful where I put it.”
Cade pulled the sheet away like a magician putting on a show. A pair of red underwear covered Mason’s privates. Other than that he was nude. His belly was plump, the signs of a man who liked to eat well.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I shaved your body while you were asleep. You had a lot of hair, and you know how kids are—most of them just don’t like hair on their treats. But I didn’t shave your head. Some of them like to keep scalps for souvenirs these days. I wouldn’t want to disappoint the few traditionalists still out there.”
Mason shook his head and let out a yell that was muffled by the cloth. He chewed on the rag as if trying to eat it so he could cry for help.
“I’m sorry you don’t approve, but you needed the shave. What’s done is done—you’ll just have to get over it.”
Cade set the knife on a counter behind him and rifled through the templates. “Frankenstein? Oh, how about Shrek—he used to be popular with the kids.”
After going through all the patterns, he set them down, and picked up a black marker. “None of those will do. Not for you, Mr. Mason. I’ll just have to come up with something on my own.”
He stood over Mason’s ample belly and drew an odd oval just below the ribs. He drew a second oval, then a triangle around Mason’s belly button. Cade tapped his temple with the marker and looked up at the ceiling. Many images ran through his head. Then the right one came to mind. A smile creased his face.
“Oh, you are going to love this.”
He drew the large squiggly line below the triangle, then brought it down close to his waistband of his underwear. Cade picked up the knife and looked at Mason. “Are you ready for this?”
Mason screamed as Cade plunged the knife into his stomach.
“Come on, let’s get into your costumes.”
Children squealed with joy when the mothers beckoned them to get ready for the festivities. They hurried to their rooms and donned their outfits. They were vampires and werewolves, neither of which sparkled or walked around shirtless. They were witches with warts on their noses and brooms by their sides. They were zombies—oh so many of them were zombies. Betsy Wallabanger dressed up as a corpse bride, her hair jutting this way and that way, her outfit a natural dirty shade, complete with stains across the front. Her mother had worn that very costume when she was Betsy’s age. There were no princesses or Batmans or video game stars. There were no cute little lions, tigers or bears, oh my. There was an Alice and she carried a bucket shaped like the tardy rabbit’s head that dripped blood every few steps she took.
They practiced the chants they learned from Halloweens past. Their voices rang up to the ceilings and none were off key.
“Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat.”
Some of the older kids added extra verses. “If you don’t, I won’t cry. I’ll slit your throat and then you’ll die.”
Mothers gave approving looks and fathers ruffled the enthusiastic heads of the extra verse singers.
There were no idle threats of ‘behave or else.’ Those were reserved for parents in towns where Halloween was more of a burden than a rite of passage. Besides, the kids in Dreads Hollow knew the parents would never stick to their threats of no haunting the neighborhood if they behaved—it was just as much fun for the adults as it was for the children. Then there was always the one house at the end of Corpse Avenue that did something different each year. If anything, the parents wanted to see how Mr. Aver had decorated. If there were no haunts for the kids, there was no visiting the Aver residence for the adults.
Cade pulled away part of the flesh of Mason’s stomach. He bit down on a piece of it, chewed and nodded. “Tasty,” he said. Blood dripped down his chin. He wiped at it absently.
He looked inside Mason’s stomach. He had deadened the nerves and cauterized the flesh where he had carved away the precious meat. Blood still flowed from the chest cavity and Mason still breathed, though shallow as it was. The carved face was gruesome, but Cade hadn’t finished. He left a long slit beneath the reamed out mouth. A mesh was sewn in place, holding Mason’s intestines in.
Cade looked down at the man who had once said, ‘Halloween is for the devil’s children.’ He wanted to correct him—oh Halloween was so much more than for the offspring of Satan, it was for everyone, young and old, tall and small. The day didn’t so much matter, but the spirit of Halloween, that’s what drove Cade and every other person who loved the day so much to celebrate it. He slapped Mr. Mason’s face gently with a bloodied glove, leaving four red imprints on his face. “Stay with me, Mr. Mason. Your moment is coming soon, and you won’t want to miss it.”
Cade carefully moved Mason’s body onto a gurney he had procured from one of the medical catalogues he still received, though he hadn’t practiced his once chosen profession in well over seventy years. Mason moaned and opened his eyes. Gray bags clung beneath them and he seemed to stare off at the ceiling, not noticing Cade at all. A few seconds later, his eyes slid shut and he was unconscious to the world around him. Cade pushed the gurney through the house and onto the front porch.
Out in the fresh autumn air, Cade took a deep breath. The cool air filled his throat but burned his ancient lungs.
“I love this time of year.”
He worked like a cautious burglar, careful not to set any alarms off and give himself away. In Cade’s case, he was careful not to jar Mason’s body and have his efforts ruined by an act of clumsiness. He slid his arms under Mason’s legs and back and carried him down the steps. Cade sat him on a sturdy lawn chair, not bothering to brush off the leaves that had fallen on it or the spider web that hung between one armrest and the seat. The spider on the web crawled from one sticky line to another until it sat on Mason’s forearm.
Back inside, Cade grabbed the accessories, chip wrappers and empty beer cans. He littered the area around Mason with the garbage and placed one of the cans in the man’s hand.
Cade stepped back and looked at his creation. The backdrop of his old house with its warped steps, shuttered windows and flaking paint would give anyone from outside of Dreads Hollow the creeps. Those people would cautiously walk away, their eyes not wavering from the sight before them, or they would run as if their hair was on fire. Cade smiled and shook with something akin to lust. His body tingled. His heart raced with excitement.
They walked the streets of the neighborhood, clothed in their homemade outfits and masks. Each child’s eyes beamed with excitement as they went from door to door. The welcome lights shone brightly at each house, luring the kids to knock and speak their chants. Neighbors opened doors, smiled and played along. They oohhed and ahhed at the costumes; they told the children how scary and terrifying, and even how sickening they were; they gave them treats of lady fingers and animal eyes, of hair necklaces and cooked tongues.
“I got a rock,” one kid said when he left each house.
Tunes of Trick or Treat rang throughout the night until they reached the Aver residence at the end of Corpse Avenue. A dim bulb hung from the porch’s ceiling. It cast shadows that looked like pointy fingers stretching across the ground. Cade stood on the porch, his face covered by a mask made from the skin of Mason’s stomach.
Children approached the house. Their bodies hummed with anticipation and their eyes darted about the yard. Mason sat in the shadows near the porch, one hand wrapped around the beer can. He moaned weakly. The children stopped. Some of the parents leaned into get a better look.
“I call this Drunk Man,” Cade said and flipped a switch that lit up the yard.
Loud gasps echoed through the night as parents and children alike took in Cade’s work. Mason’s stomach had been carved out as if it were a normal pumpkin face, the lining of his insides burned black. A trickle of blood still washed down into the man’s briefs. Mason’s eyes had been sewn open and crusted blood clung to his face. His intestines, which had been held in by the mesh earlier, now dangled on Mason’s lap. It appeared as if they had been vomited out of the wide mouth of his belly. The cloth that had been in his mouth earlier was gone. Mason’s bottom lip trembled.
Betsy Wallabanger—six past a hundred years of age—approached the creation, cautiously. “He’s still alive,” she said with wide blue eyes that held childish excitement in them. She reached forward with one hand, then pulled it back quickly, uncertainty stretching across her face.
“Go ahead. It’s okay, he can’t move,” Cade said.
Betsy set her pillowcase bag on the ground and leaned down. She sunk her teeth into one of Mason’s thighs. A scream came from his throat as she worked her jaw from side to side. She ripped off a piece of flesh, her teeth coming out slightly. She shoved them back in place and chewed. After she swallowed, she smiled. “Delicious.”
Cade clapped his hands like the young child he no longer was. He motioned with his hands. “Come, little ones. Enjoy this year’s treat from the Aver residence.”
Children squealed as they lit in on Mason. His screams filled the night, much to Cade’s satisfaction. The parents looked on with a happiness reserved for their offspring.
“You really outdid yourself this year, Aver,” one of the fathers said before he walked away with his little boy. Blood soaked the front of the boy’s costume and he licked his fingers clean of the blood that had been on them.
Cade sat on the porch in an ancient rocker that squealed like a wounded rat as it went back and forth. The sounds of singing, happy children had long since faded. What remained of Mason lay scattered on the lawn. There were bones here and there, a clump of hair by the sidewalk—the scalp had not been taken this year. One of the kids had bit off his privates. Or was it one of the moms? Cade didn’t know, and honestly, it didn’t matter. The birds and bugs would come and clean up the mess, leaving only bones behind.
On his lap sat a skull. Part of it was still pink from blood and meat. He pulled a piece of flesh off the cheekbone and plopped it into his mouth. He chewed, then swallowed.
“Hmm … Delicious.”