Trick or Treat
First seen in Suspense Magazine September/October 2013
I’ve often wondered how diabetics felt during the candy begging season known as Halloween. After dragging the concept into the shadows, this is what emerged in the light at the other side. Seen in the October 2013 issue of Suspense Magazine, it is a tale of revenge that takes an unexpected twist
Ritchie stuck the needle deep, high into his thigh just as Nurse Betty had instructed nearly a year ago. The pinch still hurt, but he was growing more used to it, no longer cringing when it pierced. It was the tiny blood droplet that formed afterward that he still hadn’t quite gotten used to. His mother called from downstairs.
“Are you ready?”
He didn’t answer, withdrew the needle, licked his finger and rubbed the injection sight. Leaning forward, he popped the syringe into the red container sitting on the floor between the desk and trashcan and heard it fall. Other than being marked biohazard, various cartoon stickers decorated it, some in clusters, a gift from the middle aged and childless nurse who taught him the importance of controlling his diabetes. He viewed it with disgust, stood up, reached down and pulled up the sweat pants clumped around his ankles.
“C’mon Ritchie,” his mother called out again. “If we don’t hurry, all the best ones will be picked.”
“Alright mom!” he shouted back, knowing that wasn’t entirely true. Kliener’s Market always had a vast selection of pumpkins this time of year piled in the produce section along with many scattered around the store doing double duty as both a decorative piece as well as a product and so he didn’t weigh her comment too heavily. She was only trying to generate excitement in wake of the holiday anyway. But this year was the first time the eleven year old would need to abstain. His life depended on it.
He slipped into tennis shoes and verified the used syringe was still hidden under a stack of comics on the book shelf above his desk. It was and he considered taking the bio-container downstairs to pass off to his mother, who in turn would run it into Doctor Smithe’s office to properly dispose while he waited in the car. The first emptying he too went inside, watching as Nurse Betty donned rubber gloves and a mask before taking hold of the container, like it was something ungodly; contaminated and diseased. It made him feel dirty and parasitic; a leper or pariah. After spraying the interior with some sort of disinfectant that smelled like one of the toilet bowl tablets, she replaced the lid, added another sticker and hand it back to his mother, who expressed gratefulness. Ritchie didn’t feel all that beholden and never went inside again.
The sentiment was relatively the same at Springdale Middle School too, where humiliating daily lunchtime jaunts, joined by Wilbur Menster, another afflicted kid, to the nurse’s station.
Wilbur was an odd looking kid with long bangs that hung down over his eyes like he was hiding. No one ever associated with him and prior to becoming afflicted himself, neither did Ritchie. It wouldn’t have been so terribly bad had they been allowed to make the visit ahead of time, before everyone had already settled into the lunchroom. Not a school day passed that they were late entering and it soon became something of a last mile spectacle; the two of them entering the room together, walking side by side amidst snickers and hushed speech to the counter for their special bland food trays.
Of course, it didn’t take long before Ritchie was considered equal on the adolescent social ranking chain, as if they were afraid; fearful that by simply speaking to him they too would become stricken.
Learning the hard way how Wilbur probably felt, a remorseful Ritchie, through the bond of disease, tried to become friends. But it was far too late. Wilbur was already sucked deep inside and a mere shell, something that Ritchie feared occurring to him.
Since the container was barely half full, he decided to leave it and went downstairs. His mother was waiting by the door, purse in one hand, car keys in the other.
“Have you given any thought to a costume?” she asked, holding the door open for him.
“Not really,” he lied, going through the threshold and into the crisp fall air.
Over the past couple of months, he had given immeasurable thought and just like Wilbur, grew more and more detached. His days of trick or treating were over and what good is Halloween if fending door to door was eliminated. Oh sure, he could still dress up and parade around, maybe even enter the annual costume party at the fire hall. But, since the winners’ received a vast bag of nothing but sweets, there was really no use. Bragging rights didn’t matter.
September had seen him sinking deeper into seclusion, but by the time the decorations and candy oriented television cartoons of October rolled around, he had partially snapped out of it. But, it wasn’t the only thing that had snapped.
“How about being a cowboy?” his mother asked as they reached the car. “We could swing by Wilson’s…find you a hat and a holster with two six shooters…pard’ner.” She did her best John Wayne impression, which wasn’t all that good. Ritchie opened the car door and started to get in, but stopped partway and spoke sarcastically across the top.
“Halloween is supposed to be scary. Cowboys are not scary.”
He climbed in and shut the door.
She slid in behind the steering wheel.
“Well, okay then,” her voice returned to normal. “We could still swing by. I’m sure they have something scary too.”
The car started and began backing out of the driveway. Ritchie started having second thoughts. Maybe he had been too harsh with her. It wasn’t her fault. She was only trying to be nice.
“I was thinking about an evil clown,” he blurted out, restarting the conversation. Mentally picturing a creepy clown holding a hatchet, he added, “with blood and crooked teeth.” A sly grin spread across his face, but he was no longer thinking of the clown.
His mother turned the car onto Elm Street and he thought about the syringe again. The grin turned into more of a smirk. The wicked clown costume would work just fine.
Kliener’s wasn’t all that busy, which surprised Ritchie since it was a teacher’s in service day and every student had it off. He walked past an end cap filled with tiny cute pumpkins, but didn’t stop and headed down the aisle.
Partway down he passed a soccer mom, her toddler tucked neatly in the buggy seat; toilet paper and a box of Sweet and Crunchy cereal in the basket. It was a brand he was familiar with, but hadn’t been able to savor for some time now. His mouth watered and he swallowed while keeping on path.
The pile of pumpkins was in the exact same spot they had been for the past couple of years, the centerpiece of the fruits and vegetables section. He went straight to them, not bothering to offer glance at a bin of shiny red apples or the prepackaged caramel covered ones sitting around the bin’s perimeter lip.
This year’s pumpkin crop was no doubt striking, but it didn’t invoke anticipation or enthusiasm. Last year’s Halloween remained far too fresh in his mind.
Having just returned from the annual solicitation, along the way devouring much of a record haul, the odd feeling of tingling hands and lightheadedness came upon quickly. He didn’t give it much concern and kept right on snacking.
The next thing he knew, he was awakening three days later in St. Mary’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit with doctors, nurses and his mother, her face flush from tears, looking down on him. There was an IV tube running into each hand and his body felt like it was burning from the inside out. He had yet to realize that the world of sugary loot had abruptly come to an end.
Over the next hour or so, things began to focus as both doctor and mother explained. He recalled liking to have had his father there too, but the man was too busy traipsing about Reno or someplace like that and had been for a couple years now. Nonetheless, mother gingerly stroked his arm as the doctor’s joyful voice implied how lucky he was. Ritchie didn’t feel all that lucky. The diagnosis was grim. Three shots a day, eat properly, avoid sweets or die. Terrible choices for anyone to make, let alone an eleven year old with only two notable Halloweens under his belt.
“Have you spotted one yet,” his mother’s voice yanked him back to the present.
Startled, he stuttered, “nnnot yet,” and began moving a few of the pumpkins around, appearing to be looking underneath. Actually, he could have cared less and was mostly doing it to appease her, keeping the appearance that he was eagerly awaiting his once favorite holiday’s arrival. After rearranging a few more, he selected a plump, heavy one that was nearly twice the size of a basketball. She helped him put it into the buggy’s basket, and yet again, he felt helpless.
In the candy section, after fully reemphasizing his need to refrain, she let him choose this year’s doling out treats. Having anticipated this, he had already given plenty of thought, knowing exactly what to select. But, again to appease, he tinkered about looking at a bag of these and a bag of those.
He finally selected a supersized bag of Choconuts, small chocolate bars filled with crushed peanuts, and a bag of Nougeefruits, soft nougat bars laced with bits of dried fruit. This first bag was of no great concern. They were bait, ensuring plenty of foot traffic.
Familiar with the tangy, somewhat lemony flavor of the Nougeefruits, they would work well and divert attention. From personal experience, value wise, alongside a heaping bag of other assorted treats, they weren’t anywhere near as desirable and were usually one of the last to go. With Halloween falling on a Wednesday this year, he calculated that by the time Saturday morning cartoons came around, so would the Nougeefruits.
“Are you sure about these?” his mother asked accepting the bag of Nougeefruits.
“Why sure mom,” Ritchie replied.
“You wouldn’t be selecting badly on purpose, would you?” she questioned.
“Mom, please. I got these too.”
He handed her the much larger bag of Choconuts and she appeared to ease.
There was only one thing on his mind now.
At Wilson’s Department Store, his mother took off in one direction and Ritchie went in another, straight toward the special occasion aisle, knowing it was always stocked with a variety of products for whatever holiday was approaching.
Being a day before Halloween, most of the best costumes were gone, leaving rather slim pickings. A couple weeks prior there had been a zombie costume with a clear breast plate that trickled blood down over bony ribs every time you squeezed the hidden bladder and he looked for it again. But it was gone.
He searched through the rack remnants, not finding anything remotely resembling something a clown would wear, and a feeling of dejection started to rise.
At the bottom corner of the metal rack’s end was a clumped plethora of odds and ends ruthlessly tossed by shoppers too lazy to rehang and he dug into it. When he saw it, the glumness immediately evaporated.
It was an outlandish looking one piece, half yellow and half green with white and blue baseball sized polka dots. He held it up to the front of him and looked in the temporarily placed mirror.
At the opposite side of the rack one aisle over, in the accessory section, he found a bright orange, curly haired wig, a red, soft foam round nose and a pair of teeth, which he didn’t really like but was all that was left. He browsed the hanging makeup kits and felt lucky when finding one specific for a clown, with greasepaint pockets of red, blue and green, a tube of white and a black crayon looking stick.
On the shelf above, plenty of tubes of fake vampire blood remained and he plucked one from the evil castle background cardboard holder and went to find his mother, envisioning drizzle the blood down the front of the outfit for added gruesomeness along the way.
Traipsing the aisles, he looked at the backside of the makeup kit, scanning some of the suggestions and pictured the clown again, this time more vivid and horrific as it peeked back from around a darkened corner. A twinge of excitement flowed, but it wasn’t holiday oriented.
The short lived enthusiasm was yanked away when he passed a life-size cardboard standup of Mr. Tastey, a chocolate covered caramel figure from the Sweets Inc. Company. Those too were quite good he recalled, but not as good as the Choconuts. Suddenly, he wanted to punch the top hat wearing figure right in the fake winking eye. But he didn’t.
Not long after, he was tucking the kit back into the bag and going downstairs.
His mother had already taken the liberty of wiping down the pumpkin and left it waiting on large, open sheets of newspaper at the edge of the dining room table. Various cutting tools, safety ones purchased the prior year, lay in a pile on the stencil book they came with. He wouldn’t bother with a stencil this year. It didn’t seem to matter and he began carving a typical triangular face. Suspecting she may ask why he hadn’t chose to be more elaborate, he was prepared to reply with wanting to be traditional or something to that extent.
He finished and although she had passed a few times, she said nothing and he faintly wondered why. Carrying the creation out onto the porch and setting it down on the stoop, he concluded that maybe she was affording self-closure.
Across the street was Billy Watson’s house, decorated with the normal holiday conglomeration. Being Halloween, this consisted of swoops of draping spider webs and a cemetery with plenty of tombstones. Two new additions, a coffin and a giant dangling skeleton were added this year, no doubt courtesy of his dad’s hardware store.
Usually, Billy was the one who initiated the heckling when Ritchie and Wilbur came into the lunchroom. Outside of school, when their sporadic paths crossed, Billy’s disposition was dictated by whether a watchful parent’s eye was around. He was sneaky like that. Spoiled, usually loud and typically obnoxious, rotten would probably be the best single adjective. Ritchie imagined Billy lying on his lawn writhing about in excruciating pain. He grinned, hoped tomorrow night Billy would be one of the last few stragglers to come trick or treating, turned and went back inside.
His mother had just finished filling the orange pumpkin bowl with the candy and had sat it on the table by the door. Nervously glancing around, she wasn’t in sight and he plucked five of the Nougeefruit bars and ran up the stairs, still grinning at the suffering Billy fantasy.
He tossed the bars on his desk and pulled out a small jar that was hidden behind a standing picture. The bluish concoction, a mixture of cleaning products swiped earlier in the week while his mother worked late, swished about and he set it beside the candy bars. Reaching up and lifting the comic stack, he pulled out the syringe.
Poking the tip of the needle in the jar, he drew a half plunger’s worth of the liquid and didn’t bother with flicking the excess air bubbles like he did before his injections. He slid over one of the bars near, pierced the white wrapper and pushed on the plunger, but it didn’t want to go. Vaguely afraid of this, Nurse Betty had explained using bone as an example, that if the needle was to impact, it could inadvertently plug the orifice, thus making the shot null and void. Annoyed, he pressed harder. The depressor broke loose, fast sank to the bottom and he withdrew the needle. A few seconds later the liquid seeped, moistening and staining the wrapper with a highly noticeable tinted blotch.
“Damn it!” he blurted out, loud enough to echo across the room. He froze in fear, wondering if his mother had heard, and sat deathly silent, listening for stairwell creaks indicating she had and was coming to investigate. After a couple of minutes, he knew she hadn’t.
At least the syringe worked, he thought to himself and although the candy bar was no longer salvageable, he felt better, more confident, and wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.
Filling the syringe again, this time only a quarter full, he carefully prodded the needle around in the second bar. This time the plunger moved comfortably. Allowing the liquid to trickle rather than squirt, he slowly pressed until it was empty and waited a few moments before withdrawing. A closer inspection signified that the course was true and the liquid remained inside. He refilled the syringe.
Three candy bars later, the injections were finished. He put the syringe in the biohazard container and hid the mistake at the bottom of the trash can beside the jar of toxic remains. He tucked the bars behind a stuffed bear sitting on a chair, cleared the desk of clutter and started setting out the costume items.
He had borrowed a small round mirror from the bathroom cupboard and centered between the items, the desk took on an appearance of a backstage dressing room vanity. He looked in the mirror, rotated, readjusted and looked again.
Tomorrow, right after school, he would get started.
Tossing his book bag on the floor beside the table, his mother saw him come in and tried to make small talk. He mumbled something indistinguishable and went up the stairs. Earlier in the day, while gathering up dirty laundry, she had noticed his decorative intentions and simply smiled as she watched his ascent, grateful for him embracing the holiday.
Ritchie sat down, glanced in the mirror, looked at the makeup, and looked in the mirror again. He picked up the black grease stick and starting with the left eye, began outlining, making an oblong circle running from just below the cheekbone to high above the eyebrow. On the right side he did the same. They weren’t exactly equal, but close enough that no one would notice, unless they peered real close.
He squeezed a little dab from the tube of white onto his finger and started painting what would be covered. There was a little smudging where the white met the black outline, blending into a milky gray, but it wasn’t all that bad.Finished with the white, he paper towel cleaned and flicked the tip of the finger back and forth in the smooth, soft blue puddle. Obtaining a good coating, he peered in the mirror and followed inside the black line around the left eye. The color ran out quickly and with a few more dollops, had filled the circle.
There was still a thin line of flesh color showing on the inside bottom eye lip and he dabbed again, not quite as heavy, and ran the fingertip along the lip, covering the line. There was a burning sensation and tears began forming and flowing down passed the side of the nose. He blinked incessantly until the sensation faded and the tears slowed to a stop. Streaks of darkened blue had run down across the white and gave half his face the impression of a demented, weeping jester and he liked the effect.
He lopped into the green and began with the right eye. The same flesh line occurred, but this time he was much more careful, drawing down the bottom of the eye lip first before painting it. The action worked well until letting go of the lip and it seat back into place. It too began burning, but not nearly as bad as the left one had. Still, a few tears managed to trickle and fall, pooling at a clump of intertwining white, black and green just above the cheekbone and he used the corner of the paper towel to soaked it up. One side of tearful streaks was enough.
Satisfied, he gave consideration to the type of mouth. Most of the clown pictures he had seen were of wide, boisterous smiles and bright red happys. Joy needed to be evaded and using the black crayon like a stick of lipstick, he painted the lips. Afterward, just like mother did, he rubbed and smudged both lips together creating an even covering and puckered up, as if offering the mirror a demented, ugly kiss.
The precut slot in the foam nose fit well, adding brilliance but not eliminating the overall effect. Placing a glob of fake blood at the corners of the mouth, the blob glistened and rolled down onto the chin and dripped off onto his lap, dotting and staining his jeans.
Content with the left eye streak, the right one seemed to lack and he put the tip of the blood tube at the inside corner and squeezed. A heavy glob formed before oozing down across the cheekbone almost to his upper lip. He set the tube aside, not bothering to cap it and peered closely at the reflection staring back. Both irritated eyes had taken on a bloodshot appearance, adding to the overall effect and he was content.
He stripped off the school clothes, tossed them aside and put on the dotted outfit. The elastic bands kept the sleeves and leggings in place and it was comfortably baggy, allowing plenty of room to move. With arms out wide, dangling like a puppet, he leaped from one foot to the other and smiled a wicked grin.
Taking the tube of blood again, he squirted down the front and by the time he was finished drizzling the bright flamboyant dots could do nothing to eliminate the maniacal appearance. He slipped on the orange wig, inserted the teeth and slid on a pair of dingy white gloves his mother had contributed. Smearing the palms down his front, they smudged red and holding claw like hands, he posed and offered a final look in the mirror…tremendous.
Removing one glove and holding it in the other hand, he clutched the four tainted candy bars and went downstairs.
“Mom!” he called out, a diversion verifying her location.
“In here,” she replied from the kitchen and he hurriedly went and mixed the bars in the candy bowl, which now included fresh baked chocolate chip cookies sealed in ghost decorated clear bags.
Pulling the glove back on, he went to the kitchen.
“Wow!” she said through the orange duck-like beak she was wearing and stopped bagging cookies. “You really look scary.”
Already in her Mother Goose costume, the puffy blue dress fully complemented and Ritchie grinned, mostly at the compliment.
The doorbell rang and he charged to the long vertical windows at the sides of the front door. Drawing the white mesh curtain back, he peeked out with one eye. It was a little girl dressed as a princess along with what he assumed was her mom, a happy looking witch. A chill ran down his spine. He didn’t want her to get one of the bad bars, but it was too late. There was nothing he could do about it now.
He let go of the curtain and it rippled back into place, a red stain now breaking the pristine white. He stepped back, bumping into his mother who was reaching for the doorknob with one hand and holding a tall, golden hooked cane in the other.
She looked surprised at him and opened the door.
“Trick or treat,” the little girl’s voice rang out cute and soft. Ritchie peeked through the door and wall seam crack and watched as Mother Goose held the bowl out to let the girl select. The girl reached and grabbed a Nougeefruit bar.
Ritchie’s mind screamed. NOOOOOOOOOO!
As if having heard, the girl immediately dropped the bar and chose a cookie instead before turning away. Relief overwhelmed as his mother closed the door.
“Don’t you want to hand out?” she asked, setting the bowl down on the table.
He would of liked to say yes, but wasn’t about to deal with an endless evening of unanticipated emotional rollercoaster rides. This was something he hadn’t expected and now that it reared its ugly head, he thought that maybe it best if he wasn’t here to see who took what.
“I was sort of thinking about going out myself,” he replied.
“Well, okay,” his mother’s voice harbored a touch of disappointment, having hoped that he and her would be making an evening of it together. “Just please, don’t eat any candy. You know what will happen.”
In a flash, the anger returned in full force as he recalled the whole ordeal again. Awakening in the hospital; the IV’s draining into his arm; burning hands and feet; the worried faces of those involved.
No, he wasn’t about to go through that again.
“I won’t,” he replied and went out the door.
“Remember, we have a date later,” she added as he closed the door behind him.
Bounding down the porch steps, three trick-or-treaters were coming up the sidewalk and fearfully stepped aside when they saw him. A grin blended in with the makeup and he gave a quick jig dance before heading down the street.
A couple hours later he returned to find the bowl empty and his mother sitting in the dark on the couch in front of the television waiting for the George Romero classic Night of the Living Dead to begin. Just as they had last year, all week prior, Channel 13 had been advertising and he was looking forward to it. The same plans were made last year, but unfortunate circumstances dictated otherwise. Although, after returning home from the hospital, his mother tried to reenact, renting the film for them to screen, but it just didn’t feel the same.
“Did you have a good time?” she asked.
Having only crept around a few blocks, taking in the various costumes and watching the joy he could no longer appreciate, he lied and said yes.
“The show starts in ten minutes,” she added.
Galloping up the stairs, he hurried to his room, stripped off the outfit, tossed the nose and teeth on the desk and went to the shower.
No less than four facial scrubbings later, he was drying off and looking in the medicine cabinet mirror. His face had taken on a bright, pinkish tone with lingering blue and green shadows around his eyes giving the appearance of a fading, kaleidoscopic ghoul. He tossed the towel into the hamper and went back to his room to dress.
Coming down the stairs just in time to hear Johnny telling his sister, they’re coming to get you Barbara, he plopped on the opposite end of the couch.
Forty-five minutes into the movie, his mother looked over at him.
“Would you mind if I cut the evening short?”
“No, it’s okay mom.”
She rose, lightly folded the blanket she had been using across her lap and draped it on the back of the couch.
“Be sure to turn the TV off when you’re finished,” she added through a cringing face, and gave his head a quick rub. He thought that maybe she was sad since he couldn’t have sweets and he watched her slowly tread up the stairs.
The movie ended and he glanced around for the remote control. Spying it on the end stand where his mother had been sitting, he slid across the couch.
Retrieving it, his hand bumped something and he watched it roll off the edge of the stand and out into the middle of the floor. Looking closer, his eyes grew wide. It was a tightly balled Nougeefruit wrapper. His heart sank and terror overwhelmed.
Snapping his head, he looked at the stairs hoping to see her descending, hoping that, like many times before, she was coming to turn the television off and toss a cover over his sleeping body. But she wasn’t. He recalled the earlier pain in her face and realized that she never would again.
As tears started to well, he gave somber thought to the mistake at the bottom of his trashcan and was oddly looking forward to having one last candy bar.
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