Ron glanced over his shoulder as he walked through Mr. Lem's front gate. The rest of the neighborhood kids stood in the dark, whispering for him to go on. He shivered. He couldn't turn back now. Shiela was watching. Ron had lived three houses down from her for his entire life, and yet she still made him nervous every time he saw her. Tonight, she was dressed in a long, dark cloak with purple lights that floated around her, and her thin face was painted lavender. She was an embodiment of warpfire: the phantoms that the grizzled warpgate captains went on about in the old histories. An indescribable beauty, they said. Ron thought it a fitting costume for Shiela.
He turned back towards Mr. Lem's house and put one foot in front of the other, clenching both hands around his plastic candy bucket. The autumn air was cool and dry, and the landfill was a huge, dark mound that blocked half the night sky. Mr. Lem had lived in the same house since before the warpgate had fractured and spread fire across the sky. The house had a slanted roof, peeling paint, and sat in the lee of the old landfill. Scraps of metal rusted in the yard, which could have been either pieces of worn out appliances or parts of ancient spacecraft. Ron passed an aluminum sheet shaped like a tombstone. The front porch loomed ahead of him. One window flickered dimly. He was halfway there.
Moments before, the kids had been standing around, discussing what they knew of Mr. Lem.
“He keeps kids down in his basement. Test subjects.”
“Never talks to anyone 'cause he lost his mind flying the gate.”
“I heard he's an alien.”
“No way. He married one though – one from the other side.”
Ron had stayed out of it, that is until Sheila floated the question of the night: “So, who's going to knock on his door?”
Now he was forcing himself forward, feet made of stone, up the two sunken steps onto Mr. Lem's porch. As soon as he stepped onto the porch, the door flew open, revealing a towering, tentacled-mouthed mollusk with razor teeth. Mr. Lem's mask melded into the sides of his neck and his costume (was it a costume?) looked like slick, rippling flesh. The monster stood, holding two bowls of candy, grinding its teeth.
Ron swallowed. “Trick or... treat?”
Mr. Lem could see the boy was trying very hard to be brave. He was short and pudgy. He looked a bit like Mr. Lem had, a very long time ago, except he had a painted, pale face and molded fangs.
“You're rather brave for coming to my door.” The mask transformed his voice into a growl. “Choose.” He held out two bowls, one in each hand. In his left, was chocolate and sugar. In his right were his special keepsakes, which had come from a special vacuum-fridge in his basement, staying fresh all these years: sugary ribbons that shimmered in rainbow colors, gummies which inverted the world, sweet and sour tabs that dissolved the illusion of time. Keepsakes from his distant travels.
The boy reached out hesitantly.
“Do you know anything about that, boy?” Mr. Lem shook the bowl in his right hand. He was enjoying the effect he was having on the boy. No one in the neighborhood so much as looked him in the eye when he took his twilight walks, and he didn't mind, but on Halloween he enjoyed being an attraction. “Those are from the other side.”
A group of silhouettes shifted outside his gate and there was a dim pulse of purple light. An old memory came in a flash and his heart fluttered. But, the light was just some girl in a costume.
The boy picked out a little morsel tied up in black foil.
“Interesting,” said Mr. Lem. “What are you then?”
“A vampire, sir.”
“Antiquated.” Mr. Lem smiled and the mask turned the expression into a hungry snarl. The boy did his best to walk calmly off the porch, but once his feet his the dirt he broke into a sprint. Mr. Lem gave one more growl for effect.
The warpgate was long dead, pieces burned up in the atmosphere or sunk to the bottom of the sea, but maybe the boy's generation would resurrect it. Although the news broadcasters always said there was no money for it, no political will, no need for something that complex, Mr. Lem thought it was inevitable. No one who knew could let something so miraculous lay in ruin forever. But, maybe that was just his silly fantasy.
The moon rose over the landfill, catching on bits of metal, and a breeze carried the smell of old rust into his yard. No one else came that night.
When Ron returned from Mr. Lem's house, he played it as cool as possible, thinking that this would impress Shiela. It took all his concentration to keep his hands from shaking, but it made no difference in the end. Shiela walked home with another boy, who was taller.
Ron dumped his bag of candy on the floor in the quiet of his bedroom. He reached for the little black foil package.
The texture was something between taffy and a snail, and with each chew he shuddered. He tasted ultraviolet. He breathed in the perfume of nebulae. His heart raced and lights danced around his room. He felt weightless.
Afterwords, he lay awake. His mouth watered from the lingering sweetness. The other side, Mr. Lem had said. Ron tried to think of everything he knew about the places beyond the gate. All he really knew was that the gate had led somewhere very, very far away – and this wasn't very satisfying at all. In the morning he went back to the house and, with a steady and sure fist, knocked on Mr. Lem's door.
This story took 2nd Place in our Halloween Flash Contest!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gary Gould is a writer formerly based in San Diego, currently living as a nomadic Californian. He's published a few pieces here and there, has a small book of short stories on Amazon, and has edited many pieces for authors and storytellers in the speculative genre and beyond. You can read more of his work at garyjgould.wordpress.com.