Kevin ran. He tucked his plastic sack of candy tight against his chubby belly, put his head down, and churned his stumpy little legs as fast as he could.
He almost made it. The warm glow of the porch light was reflected in Kevin’s eyes, he imagined rushing up the steps and through the big black door, heading upstairs to gorge himself on trick-or-treat loot. Then someone screamed and Kevin turned his head to look back.
The high school boy, Jack, had circled around and jumped down out of Mrs. Wimberly’s yard to intercept the middle-schooler and kick Kevin’s legs right out from underneath him.
Kevin fell, hard. His left hand came down to try and stop his fall, but his weak wrist was no match for gravity and mass. Half a dozen little bones in his hand crackled and popped, snapping apart right at the wrist. His plastic sack of Halloween candy hit the sidewalk and split wide open with a thwack. Morsels of delicious sugar and corn syrup bounced away, cellophane skins glimmering under the pale silver moonlight. Tears streamed down Kevin’s face, gluing the pig mask to his cheeks. He was still blubbering when the rest of the high school kids caught up to him.
Lissa, Kevin’s babysitter, someone he thought he could trust, crouched down on the sidewalk so she could look into his eyes through the slits of his mask. She dragged his ruined bag between them, sweeping the spilled candy into a small mound on the sidewalk. Her fingers sifted through the store bought treats, looking for that one special piece. Her fingers flicked away lollipops and jawbreakers, discarded bite-sized candy bars and puffy marshmallow pumpkins. It wasn’t there. Lissa stood up and kicked the sugary loot, scattering it into the street. “Where is it?”
Kevin’s lips trembled inside his mask. The pain in his broken wrist made him want to throw up. He’d do almost anything to make it stop. Anything except give up the one piece of Bee House candy he was allowed each year.”I already ate it.”
His babysitter grabbed Kevin’s chin and jerked his head up. “Did you, piggy?”
The jock hoisted Kevin up onto his feet and locked his hands on Kevin’s broken wrist, wrenching the injured arm up behind the younger boy.
Lissa shoved her hand in the front pocket of Kevin’s corduroy shorts and yanked it inside-out. Kevin bit his lip and tried not to sob.
His babysitter turned out his other pocket and caught the orange-wrapped chunk of candy before it could fall away. “What have we here, piggy?”
Then Kevin did sob. He struggled against Jack, and the big boy overreacted, jerking hard to the left. Something in Kevin’s wrist gave way with a liquid pop and he screamed. Broken-glass shards of pain shot through his brain, dropping Kevin to his knees. “Mine,” he howled, “that’s mine.”
Lissa’s friend, Amy, grinned. “Not anymore.”
Jack released Kevin’s arm to dig a flask out of his hip pocket. He took a long swallow of vodka and pulled Lissa to his side. “Gonna split it up now?”
Kevin couldn’t believe what he was seeing. They were going to take his piece of Bee House candy, the delicacy he’d spent the last year looking forward to. This isn’t how things were supposed to go. This wasn’t the deal. The injustice of it all filled him with a burning rage and he reacted before he had the sense to stop himself. Kevin lunged forward, snatched the candy out of Lissa’s hand, and ran.
Or tried to run. Lissa caught Kevin by his broken wrist, jerking him to a screaming halt. She licked her lips. “Where you going, piggy?”
Kevin panted through the pain but clenched the candy tight in his good hand. He couldn’t let them take it. “Wait.” He grunted when Lissa squeezed his injured wrist. “Please. I know where the others went.”
Lissa squeezed Kevin’s wrist until she could feel the bones shift, until it felt like the old bag of marbles she’d had as a kid. “Give me your piece. Show us where the others are, then you can have yours back, piggy piggy.”
He knew she was lying. Kevin knew he might never get his candy back. But the pain in his wrist was like a living thing, gnawing at his brain, eating his thoughts. He handed her the candy and tears leaked from his eyes when he felt the orange-wrapped nugget fall from his fingers.
Lissa released his wrist and shoved the candy into the purse slung over her left shoulder. Then she kicked the little brat in the butt with her pointy witch’s boots. “Get moving, piggy. I don’t have all night.”
Lissa watched Kevin trot ahead, clutching his broken wrist to his chest. Jack threw an arm over her shoulder and mashed his lips against her cheek, but she didn’t have time for his drunken pawing right now. She was focused on the Bee House candy. “I told you not to drink,” she mumbled at her boyfriend.
Jack lifted his flask and took another drink. “Few drinks never hurt anyone.”
She stomped ahead, dragging Amy along in her wake. Every year, the Bee House handed out one piece of the most delicious candy to each kid brave enough to knock on the door. The memory of the stuff haunted Lissa. Since she was four years old, she’d looked forward to that candy. Now, though, she was about to turn eighteen. She wouldn’t be a kid anymore. And that meant no more candy. She’d already eaten her piece earlier in the night. The little piggy’s might be the last piece she ever had. Unless the kid was telling the truth and really could lead them to more.
Amy threw a weak punch at Lissa’s shoulder. “How many kids you think will be there?”
Just thinking about the candy had Lissa’s mouth filled with drool. She swallowed. “Maybe a dozen?”
Amy growled and gave Lissa a one-armed hug. “Oh, girl. That’s four pieces each.” Amy shot a quick look at Jack staggering along behind the girls, more interested in his vodka than the promise of candy. “If we share.”
Lissa giggled and gave Amy a playful swat. “Of course we’ll share.”
Lissa’s stomach growled at the thought of that candy. One piece wasn’t enough. Four probably wouldn’t quiet her hunger, either. She glanced at Amy. Lissa wasn’t even sure six would do the job.
The candy was warm in Lissa’s pocket. After twenty minutes of following Kevin, she couldn’t stand it anymore. The fat little kid was still chugging along, twenty yards or so ahead, she had a few moments. She just couldn’t let anyone else see what she was up to.
“I have to pee.”
Amy snickered and waved Amy toward a narrow cluster of trees. “Call of nature, baby.”
“Don’t lose the kid,” she tapped her cell phone through the pocket of her jeans. “If he does anything weird, give me a call.”
“Sure,” Amy said. “Now get out of here before you piss yourself.”
Lissa jogged toward the trees. Despite the cool autumn air, sweat trickled down her spine. “Screw it.”
She squatted in the shadow of the trees and leaned her back against the bole of a gnarled maple. Lissa could just see the little porker, Amy trailing him with Jack shambling behind. Plenty of time. She peeled open the waxy orange wrapper. The smell was enough to draw a string of drool from the corner of her mouth and for one moment her fingers shook so hard she feared dropping the candy. Lissa didn’t try to pry the sweet from its wrapper, she lowered her mouth to it and pulled the morsel away with her teeth.
It reminded her of a gummy bear, but one with more bite to it, more substance. She let it drop off her front teeth onto her tongue and shivered as the first wave of flavor washed over her taste buds. It was so sweet, but a flavor so much more complex and powerful than mere sugar. The hot tang of some spice she couldn’t identify came next, followed by the stinging hint of sea salt that at once cut through and enhanced the candy’s sweet flavor. She could taste something else, now, something fresh and clean and pure.
A weak groan slipped over Lissa’s lips as the flavors evolved, parting to let through a powerful umami note that was unlike anything she had ever experienced. There was a meatiness to the candy, a buttery heft that ignited a deep hunger. The second piece of candy was so much more intense than the first, so much more delicious than she had thought possible.
Then it was gone. The absence of that flavor was a physical blow, a pain as sharp and real as if she’d bitten through the tip of her tongue. A cold rage blossomed in her, filling her head until all she could hear her own anger buzzing in her ears. Her parents, her teachers, every adult she had ever known had worked to deny the children of this food like no other. Did they know what it was, how it became more delicious when you ate it more often? Of course they did. That’s what adults did – they lied to deprive kids of the secret pleasures they enjoyed themselves.
Lissa pushed off the tree and ran to catch up to Amy. Her legs felt stiff, a little kinked from the awkward posture, but that was all right. She would run a hundred miles for another piece of that candy. Two pieces down, what would the third be like? The fourth?
She licked her lips. It was going to be a great night.
Jack stumbled over a root that had pushed its way up through the sidewalk and went down hard. His flask bounced from his fingers and skittered away.
Lissa stopped the flask with the toe of her boot. She glared at Jack as he struggled to get to his feet. Just this one time she’d asked for his help, just this one time she wanted him to be sober instead of a slobbering drunk. But could he do that for her? No, no he could not. His loss.
In his current condition, Jack was of no use to her. Walking was a challenge; she couldn’t imagine him chasing down a running little kid. Lissa wasn’t going to share her candy with someone who didn’t pull his own weight.
She scooped the flask up off the sidewalk, unscrewed the top, and took a sniff. The venomous sting of vodka singed her nostrils. Lissa dug the bottle of eye drops out of her purse and half-turned away from Jack. He was probably too sloshed to even notice what she was up to, but Lissa didn’t want to take any chances. She squirted three good shots of the stuff into Jack’s vodka, then twisted the flask’s top back on. By the time Lissa reached Jack, he had just managed to stand.
He gave her a wide, sloppy grin when she handed him the flask. Jack didn’t wait, he opened it and took a deep swallow. “Ah, that’s the stuff.”
Lissa smiled at him, but declined the bottle when he offered it to her. “Not for me. One of us has to catch those kids.”
Jack laughed and hooked his arm around Lissa’s hips, smashing her up against his side. He leaned on her as they followed after Amy and Lissa found herself holding him up as much as walking with him. The big football player’s muscles were more of a hindrance than a help. She hoped the eyedrops would kick in soon.
Jack belched and clutched his stomach. He took a staggering step away from Lissa, then flopped down onto sidewalk, head between his knees. “I can’t,” he started, but his words were cut off by a torrent of vomit that poured out of him. The chill autumn air smell of fallen leaves and wood fires and pumpkin couldn’t compete with the meaty stink of half-digested pizza and vodka.
Lissa gagged and backed away from her stricken boyfriend. “I told you not to drink.”
But Jack wasn’t listening. His breaths were labored and heavy. His head dropped between his knees and Lissa wondered if she might have overdone it with the eyedrops. She’d read on tumblr that they were supposed to give people the shits, just a prank.
Lissa looked to see if anyone was around. Trick-or-treating was over, the streets were empty. She could see Amy up ahead, walking along behind their piggy. Lissa licked her lips and shivered as she caught the faintest trace of the sticky Bee House candy flavor. Six pieces. Six would be enough.
Kevin had to stop and wait for the big kids to catch up. His arm throbbed with every step, but he would be running if it meant getting this over any quicker. But they were so slow, lagging behind so much that he found himself stopping and waiting for them every few minutes. If he’d been of a mind to get away, Kevin knew he could have been long gone.
But he wouldn’t run. Not while she had his candy from the Bee House.
For the hundredth time that night, Kevin wished he had stayed with the rest of his group, wished he had been able to do what he was told and stick with the other kids. But he’d made his choice and he now he was stuck with it.
One of the girls came back into sight and Kevin let out a deep sigh of relief. He started walking again, heading up a long hill. Once he got to the top he could stop. Once he got to the top, it would all be over but the waiting.
Kevin felt bad about what he was doing. Leading his babysitter to the other kids made Kevin’s stomach squirm, but the thought of not getting his candy made his heart hurt. He couldn’t skip a whole year.
So he walked, and he waited, and he walked some more. Kevin held his broken arm to his chest and he distracted himself with thoughts of candy.
Kevin stopped at the top of the hill and looked down on his friends. There were a couple dozen of the kids from his school gathered in the cavernous mouth of the storm tunnel. Their flashlights darted and danced as they looked into each other’s sacks of candy, bartering away one kind of sugar for another. Kevin’s arm hurt. He felt tears welling up again and blinked them away. He could have been down there, trading loot, savoring the moment until he could eat that one, last piece. His arm wouldn’t be broken.
He wouldn’t have to watch his friends get their butts kicked.
He heard the older girls coming up the hill, but didn’t look at them. He watched his friends and hoped everything was going to work out all right.
Lissa thumped Kevin on the top of the head with her knuckles. “So all your little buddies are down there?”
Kevin nodded and pushed his mask up onto the top of his head. He wiped the snot from under his nose with the back of his unbroken wrist. Kevin couldn’t stop crying and when the tears flowed, so did the snot. “Yeah,” he said, still trying to catch his breath. “This is where we were all supposed to meet.”
The girl wasn’t looking at him anymore. She was staring down the hill, the flashlights flickering in her eyes. “Except for you, piggy? Because you were a bad piggy and broke the rules.”
Kevin rubbed his nose and looked up at his tormentor with watery eyes. “I didn’t want to wait. I just wanted to have it.”
Lissa’s tongue darted along her lip. “I bet you did, piggy. You wait here, I’ll be back with your candy.”
He wasn’t going to get his piece. The older girl and her friends were going to take all of the candy. The thought made Kevin want to vomit and cry and vomit some more. All the rules were being changed, the firm footing yanked out from under him. You always got one piece of candy from the Bee House on Halloween. Just one. That was the rule. Except now that rule was broken and part of the blame was his. “But you said –” Kevin stuttered.
“Shut up, little piggy.” The older girl shoved Kevin, hard.
His feet went out from under him and he started sliding. Then his shoulder hit a rock, hard, and he flipped over and started tumbling down the hill. His broken wrist slammed into the ground again and again, jolting Kevin with blasts of pain until he thought he might die.
Kevin flipped over one last time and the back of his head smacked into a rock the size of his chubby little fist. He heard the meaty knock and then everything went black.
Lissa watched the kid bounce down the hill. Every time his broken arm hit the ground, he made this little squeaking noise that made her heart flutter. Watching him flip and flop and finally come to a head-cracking stop filled her mouth with saliva. She could taste his candy, that little stolen piece of sugary delight.
None of his little friends seemed to have noticed his spectacular fall. They were too absorbed in the traditional bartering of sugar and chocolate and caramel to pay attention to anything outside of their sacks of loot.
Amy leaned into Lissa. “He okay?”
Lissa threw an arm over Amy’s shoulders. “You know how kids are. They bounce. Let’s get down there and get ours.”
The girls started walking down the hill, but the steep incline had them jogging in no time. Amy moved ahead of Lissa, her shorter legs churning as she tried to stay ahead of gravity and keep her run from becoming a fall.
Lissa grinned into the wind, leaping over rocks and gliding down the steep hill with long, sure strides. It felt like flying, the way a hawk felt in that moment before its talons snapped closed around a field mouse’s spine. Sweetness tickled her taste buds. “Amy,” she shouted, “look out!”
Amy half-turned toward her friend and that was all it took. She stumbled and her ankles clacked together and then she was airborne. Her chin caught first and crushed blades of grass stained her lips and throat green. A patch of gravel scoured layers of skin from Amy’s chin and the friction slowed her head while the rest of her body flipped over. She spun into a rag doll cartwheel that ended face-down on the concrete slab outside the storm tunnel.
Lissa whooped and lept over her fallen friend to land in the midst of the candy traders’ bazaar. Ropy strands of saliva dangled from the corners of her mouth. She could smell the candy in the air, taste it. It was all hers now.
She snatched a bag from the first kid and flung it into the darkness. Lissa grabbed the kid by the front of his white hoody and jerked him forward so fast his sheep mask slid back on his head to reveal his doughy pink face. “Where is it?”
The kid shoved his hand into his pocket to protect his loot, but Lissa was having none of it. She grabbed his arm and ripped his hand out of his jeans. One quick jerk spun the screeching kid around, arm up in the air behind him. She snatched the prize from his clutching fingers and kicked him in the butt, hard. He fell onto his knees, crying. Lissa punched him in the back of the head on her way to the next kid.
She didn’t wait to start eating the candy. She tore the waxed paper with her teeth and scooped up the chunk of heaven with her tongue. Sweetness filled her mouth, flowed down her throat, and seemed to wash into all her nooks and crannies. The delicious flavor flooded through her as if every cell was a taste bud. The overwhelming flavor paralyzed Lissa. For long seconds, all she could do was stand still and shiver. Then it was gone and all that was left was the hunger for more.
The little runts were in a panic. Some of them ran deeper into the storm tunnel, trying to hide from her. Others tried to run out into the night, past her. All that candy running, running, running.
Rage buzzed in Lissa’s ears. She could not let those tiny morsels go. Already her stomach was growling and the empty air in her mouth tasted like ashes. She had to have more.
She snatched the nearest running kid, fingers twining in the little girl’s hair. The punk screamed and both hands shot to the back of her head as Lissa yanked her off her feet. “Give it,” Lissa snarled.
The little girl kicked out, but Lissa didn’t feel the weak blows. She was too busy digging in the girl’s pockets, stuffing her free hand into the little heart-shaped pouches on the front of her skirt, then digging into the soft pockets of her jacket. Lissa found the treasure there and dug it out.
Lissa tried to drop the kid, but her fingers were tangled up in knots of hair. It was as if she couldn’t open her hand, like it was frozen into a fist. She jerked and twisted her arm, but her hand wouldn’t come free. The little girl screamed at the end of Lissa’s hand. But all Lissa could focus on was the candy in her hand. The candy she could not open because she only had one hand.
The little girl tripped over her own feet and fell, jerking Lissa’s arm down. Perfect.
Lissa stood on the girl’s chest with one foot and pulled. The little girl’s screams turned into anguished shrieks, but Lissa could feel her hand coming free. She leaned back, jerking her hand again and again until it came free with a fierce ripping noise.
The little girl crawled away on her knees, hands fluttering over the patch of bloody scalp on the top of her head.
Lissa still could not get her fingers to open. They were cramped tight around the dripping tangle of hair and scalp. Meanwhile, other kids were getting away with their candy. She didn’t have time for this. Lissa popped the candy into her mouth, wrapper and all.
It was like licking a bolt of lightning. The sensation went beyond flavor, it extended into a realm of senses that staggered Lissa and dropped her to her knees. Her whole life felt like a lie. The adults were hoarding the stuff, spending their nights behind closed doors shoveling it into their fat, lying mouths. Well, she was going to get hers.
Her left leg didn’t want to work, but that was okay. She licked her lips and dragged herself forward with her one good hand and one good foot. A kid tried to get past Lissa. “Hey,” she growled and snatched his foot. He fell down hard and she heard the wind blow out of his lungs.
He was spunky, though. He rolled onto his side and kicked Lissa with the other foot, raking his hiking boots along her wrist.
Lissa pulled him closer to her and raised her knotted fist and its clutch off bloody hair over her head. “Give me the candy.”
Instead, the kid kicked her again, right in the stomach. The attack was enough to loosen her grip and the little jerk slipped free. Lissa threw himself after the kid and slammed her fist down on his back. Then on his neck, his head. He kept struggling, so she grabbed his hair with her good hand and yanked his head back until his shouts turned into a high-pitched gurgle.
Lissa shoved his head forward, smacking his face into the concrete hard enough to send a jarring pain shooting up into her shoulder. That settled him down.
She emptied his pockets, conscious of all the candy she was not able to get. Kids were getting away, screaming into the night and disappearing into houses. But she could get a few more pieces. It would have to be enough.
The candy in the kid’s pocket was slick with moisture, but Lissa didn’t care. She shoved the wet packet in her mouth, relishing its salty bitterness before plunging her teeth through the waxed paper. The taste blinded her and filled her head with a droning buzz that thudded and roared along with the erratic pounding of her heart.
Then the flavor faded to the acrid sting of ashes and Lissa felt herself falling.
Kevin’s brain felt cool and light, despite the throbbing ache at the base of his skull, like the wind was blowing through a hole in his skull. He opened his eyes and the stars wheeled in dizzying patterns above him. Kevin blinked and the stars settled down. It was still night, he still had time to get his piece.
It took him almost a minute to get back on his feet and staying upright took most of his concentration. He turned his head from left to right, looking for someone, anyone. But he was alone with the stars and a handful of dying flashlights, which were scattered around the concrete apron that jutted out from the depths of the storm tunnel. The rest of his pack had fled.
Still, he could see glistening bits of candy strewn about. Sacks that had fallen like bombs and thrown sugar-coated shrapnel in every direction. He shuffled forward, careful to watch for cracks and holes that would trip him up. He picked up one of the little flashlights and used it to search for what he needed, for just one of those little orange-wrapped bundles.
He walked for what felt like an hour, with no luck. He could smell the stuff, a sweet perfume on the air. But there were no pieces of it anywhere he looked. Kevin closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and followed his nose.
The smell was getting stronger. Kevin closed his eyes, got his bearings on the scent, then looked around and took a few more steps. He repeated the process over and over, getting closer to the source of the smell. Before long it was a physical presence, almost a taste as much as a smell. It clung to his tongue and coated his throat. One more time.
Kevin opened his eyes and frowned. The smell was so he was sure he would find himself standing in a pile of unwrapped candy. Instead, he was looking down at the mean older girl who had caused this whole mess. Tears formed in the corners of his eyes, because it looked like the girl had indeed taken all the candy for herself. She was smeared with the stuff, it hung in her hair like sticky golden strands and glued one of her hands closed with crystalline nuggets the size of his thumb.
He walked around the candy-coated girl, but she did not react. She was on her side, on top of Danny, one of the kids from Kevin’s class. Danny didn’t move either. His eyes were closed, even though his mouth was open.
Kevin crouched down and plucked at the girl’s fingers, working at the candy clinging to her. Clots of black hairs stuck out from between the fingers, but he thought he could work around that. He took her index finger and tugged at the candy on the end of it.
There was a wet snap and Kevin found himself holding the tip of Lissa’s finger. Or a chunk of candy that looked like her finger. The smell was overwhelming. Kevin still wanted his piece.
He popped it into his mouth. Tears of relief poured from his eyes and snot ran down his chin as he sobbed. It was so good. Every year, all the kids waited for this moment, but he doubted any of them appreciated it like he did. He had snatched victory back from the nasty jaws of defeat and the candy was all the sweeter for it.
The girl still had not moved. Kevin reached his hand out and tugged on her thumb.
A loud buzzing noise sent him scrambling away from the girl. It sounded like a swarm of bees had landed right behind him.
The Bee Woman knelt on the ground next to the girl, her yellowed teeth a gleaming slice in the moonlight. “One piece is the rule, Kevin. Even for you.”
He nodded, ignoring the pain from his bobbing head.
The Bee Woman lifted a stack of orange, waxed paper squares from her purse and arranged them on the ground. A small hammer and very large knife appeared from the depths of her purse next. She raised them toward Kevin. “Don’t just sit there, I need some help.”
Kevin shook his head and scooted further back into the darkness.
“After all the help you’ve been so far, you won’t do this last little thing?” the Bee Woman sighed. “I guess next year we won’t have quite as much candy as we’re used to. Someone may not get any, at all.”
Kevin’s mouth watered as he crawled back to the Bee Woman. She offered him the little hammer and Kevin thought it felt good in his hand, just right.
The bees buzzed, a sleepy, contented drone that covered their little town with the warm, comforting hum of tradition. Kevin hoped someone else would be picked to be the bait next year.
He swung the hammer.
Sam lurks in a secret bunker beneath the Dallas metroplex, where he spends his days fighting with words and his nights avoiding ravenous hobo gangs.
In addition to his short stories, Sam is slaving away on Half-Made Girls, a serial novel brimming with meth heads, cultists, and Lovecraftian horrors. You can read two new chapters each week, at http://www.jukepopserials.com/home/read/554.
You can peruse frequent, brief dispatches from the secret bunker by following @samrwitt on twitter. For more sporadic, but lengthier missives, please consult http://www.samwitt.com. If you are one of those who believes the Internet has only one site, you can also find Sam at http://www.facebook.com/SamWittWrites.