Pumpkin Spiced Madness
Johnny and Jimmy's mom set the oven for 30 minutes and 350 degrees. "You boys be safe! And keep those glow sticks where people can see them so you don't get hit!"
Johnny's eyes rolled. "We know, mom."
"Bye, mom!" Jimmy yelled.
The boys went outside and shut the front door behind them. Johnny checked to see if their mom was still watching. She wasn’t. Johnny chucked his glow stick into the yard. He opened a firewood box and started passing supplies to Jimmy. An extra plastic jack o’ lantern bucket. A plastic grocery bag with wet contents. A paintball gun.
"Tonight, we're taking over this town," Johnny told Jimmy as they headed down the driveway and into the neighborhood.
Jimmy nodded. "Yeah."
"They'll never know what hit 'em," Johnny said. "How are the eggs?"
Jimmy looked inside the jack o' lantern bucket. A dozen eggs were nested on a dishrag inside. It was Jimmy's idea to make a nest with a dishrag so they wouldn't bust. He might have been the younger brother, but it wasn't like he couldn't come up with a good idea every once and awhile. "They're good," he told his brother.
"Good," Johnny said. "Remember, 'Trick or Treat' isn't saying please. It's a threat. If they don't fill these buckets-" Johnny held up two identical but empty orange pumpkin buckets. "-we empty the other."
"Got it," Jimmy said.
The boys were armed for war. Johnny carried the fully loaded paintball gun (red pellets, so it would look like blood) ostensibly to match his Space Marine costume. It was a lame costume, just a hoodie sweatshirt with printed on satchels and gadgets and ammo belts, a HALO plastic mask that he wore on top of his head and the paintball gun. Jimmy was zombie troll warrior. Johnny had convinced him a regular troll warrior wasn't scary enough, so with the addition of more fake blood on top of the green face paint and rubber pointed ears, he was now a zombie troll warrior. He carried a plastic axe in one hand and the egg bucket in the other hand. He also had the plastic grocery bag with a half dozen soggy logs of dog poop they'd scooped out of their front yard that afternoon. Johnny said he didn't know exactly what they'd do with it, but assured Jimmy that it would come in handy. Jimmy gave his plastic axe a couple enthusiastic slashes through the air.
"This is the night, the one night a year where the kids are in charge," Johnny preached on as they walked. "It's like anarchy. All the parents have to stay home, and the kids rule Halloween."
Jimmy nodded, then slashed away with his axe. The eggs jostled inside the pumpkin bucket. The dog poop rustled in the plastic bag. "And we get candy," Jimmy all but asked.
"Of course!" Johnny said. "That's the best part of this town. Look at all these huge houses. We are going to score, big time! Come on. I know the perfect place to hit first."
The boys turned down the driveway of the biggest house in the neighborhood. It was set back behind some trees, isolated from the rest of the housing development by the long driveway with a pair of brick pillars on either side. There were other kids going to and from the other houses. Minivans and SUVs rolled from front walk to front walk. Kids laughed and screamed. Moms called after them to "be safe."
Johnny smiled as he watched them over his shoulder. They had no idea what this night was about. The brothers headed down the driveway to the big house beyond the trees.
The lights on the garage and front patio were bright and hard to see past to the front door. Jimmy was getting nervous being so far from the rest of the houses and kids. But when they came around the garage he saw the front door was open and a pair of Jack o' Lanterns were lit on either side of the steps.
There was a mom in the doorway, and two other kids on the front steps. Only the kids weren't standing up. They were lying down, and the mom was crouched over them. Jimmy shielded his eyes from the bright light and stepped closer for a better view. Johnny marched on like nothing was wrong. Jimmy followed close behind.
They stepped past the bright patio light and the doorway came into full view. The two kids were sprawled out on the concrete, their joints twisted in weird directions like human Swastikas. They were covered in blood. Real blood. It dripped down the steps. Blood and another tannish brown liquid. The smell in the air reminded Johnny of deer hunting with his dad. He didn't know why. Hunting, and... was that pumpkin pie? The mom came up from her crouch and sneered at the boys like a mean dog. Her face drooled more blood. Her arms were painted red from fingers to elbows. She held one of the kid's arms in her hand. The arm wasn't attached to anything. In the mom's other hand was a disposable coffee cup, the plastic lid missing and the contents dribbled out.
It had to be a gag. It had to be just dumb adults trying to scare them. It couldn't be real. But when Jimmy noticed his big brother's bleached face and retreating sneakers edging backwards, Jimmy knew this was no gag. He screamed.
So did the mom.
Johnny raised the paintball gun and pumped a dozen pellets into her already stained knit sweater. She didn't seem to notice. The brothers turned and ran.
So did the mom.
It was the fastest Jimmy ever ran. He didn't know when he started crying, but he felt the tears run from his eyes to his ears. He wheezed and panted to keep up with Johnny. Their sneakers echoed against the blacktop in the quiet night. The driveway was so long. Jimmy looked over his shoulder. The mom was still coming. She'd catch them before they escaped back into the neighborhood. Jimmy knew it. There was only one chance.
"Johnny!" he called to his brother. Jimmy stopped dead in the middle of the pavement and turned to face the mom. She was sprinting at the boys with flailing arms. Jimmy planted his feet, dropped his axe and grabbed an egg. One shot. One chance. Like David and Goliath. Jimmy threw the egg. It wobbled uneven through the air and then hit the mom square between the eyes.
She stopped and started screaming. She clawed at her eyes and raked away the yolk with sharp nails.
Johnny grabbed his brother by the arm. "Jimmy! Come on!"
Jimmy managed to snatch his axe off the driveway and then they were off and running again.
They didn't stop until they were a block away from the brick pillars. Johnny stopped first. He had to grab Jimmy to get him to stop. Johnny looked at his little brother’s face. The green and red zombie troll warrior make-up was streaked with tears. Jimmy panted like an animal. His eyelids couldn't spread any wider.
"Jimmy! Jimmy, listen! It's okay. It's okay. We got away," Johnny said. "We’re going to be okay."
Jimmy had his eyes locked on the scene beyond his brother's shoulders. "No," Jimmy said. "Look!"
Johnny turned and saw the rest of the neighborhood.
Other children were sprinting and screaming too. Little plastic accessories and costume pieces littered the roads and sidewalks. Abandoned and overturned Halloween buckets spilled candy over the street. Most kids were running. Some laid still, face first in front lawns. Pillars of smoke and fire rose into the dusk sky above the roofs of houses.
"It's the pumpkin spice!" an older kid called out from the middle of a four way stop. "They're all spiced up!"
The boy had enough time to say those words. Then a minivan plowed through the four-way stop, through the boy and into a telephone pole. The boy splattered between the thick wooden pole and the crumpled minivan hood. Something inside pushed the windshield out convex. The engine revved and whined not twenty steps from Johnny and Jimmy.
Johnny dropped the two empty pumpkin buckets and raised the paintball gun. He approached the minivan.
"Johnny?" Jimmy called after him.
"We have to see," Johnny said. He aimed the gun at the wreck. The boy pinned between the bumper and the pole didn't move. The minivan's sliding door was open. Inside it was dark and nothing moved. The transformer on top of the pole sparked and rained embers down around the boys. Jimmy threw the useless plastic axe away and grabbed another egg. He followed his brother.
The boy was dead. He used to be a vampire with a cape and fancy pendant on his chest. Now he was just a dead kid. The plastic fangs sat in the crevasse between the hood and the windshield with the wipers and bits of broken glass. Johnny peaked in the open passenger window and saw the driver's head was lodged into the windshield. No seatbelt. The lady's chest was smashed into the steering column. There wasn't much blood here, but there was that smell again.
Johnny reached in the open window and picked up a paper cup. The dash was covered in its spilled contents.
"Johnny, what is it?"
He smelled the cup. "It's coffee. Pumpkin Spice Latte." He threw the cup across the street.
Jimmy looked at the dead vampire. "He was trying to warn us."
A chorus of screams made the boys jump. Johnny raised the paintball gun. Jimmy clutched the egg. Four more kids went sprinting past the minivan, ghosts and ghouls terrified by what chased them: a teenage girl in Ugg boots and a fleece jacket. Johnny rapid-fired the gun with two fluttering fingers. One of the pellets hit the girl in the temple and she toppled over and face planted into the pavement. Chunks and crumbs of a muffin exploded from her fist. She collapsed and didn't move.
Johnny and Jimmy let the four kids keep running. The brothers crept up to the teenager from two sides. Johnny trained the barrel of his gun on her head. Jimmy picked up a piece of the muffin and sniffed it.
"Pumpkin flavored," he said. He threw the chunk at the limp girl’s head. They slowly backed away, and when Johnny felt safe enough to take the gun off of her, they ran.
They found an unlit backyard away from the street and the screams of kids and adults. There was a small space between a privacy fence and storage shed. Johnny and Jimmy stopped there.
"It must be something in the flavoring," Johnny said. "Some chemical got spilled in the factory and made its way into all the pumpkin spice food."
"That stuff's in everything! Grown-ups love that crap!" Jimmy cried.
"Jimmy, we have to get back home," Johnny said.
"No, Johnny! We can hide out here. We'll stay in this shed and just wait ‘til morning."
"We can't, Jimmy. We have to get home."
"’Cause mom's making cookies."
The boys had just moved into the neighborhood last winter, but they'd learned most of the backyard shortcuts and alleyways over the summer. All they had to do was stay away from the busy roads and they'd be fine. Sure they could hear the sounds of car accidents and sirens and cries from just blocks away, but if they could stick to the shadows, maybe they could make it back home.
Johnny led the way. Every twenty or thirty paces, Jimmy would turn a full 360 degrees to see if anyone was following. No one was.
"This way," Johnny said. With his free arm he pushed aside the leafless branches of a hedge and opened a way out of this backyard.
Jimmy went through the hedge and found himself on a paved bike path. The sun had gone down and there was no light back here, just a long straight path running between backyards. Jimmy looked both ways. He was completely turned around and didn't know which way lead home, and which lead to more pumpkin spiced madness.
"Come on," Johnny slapped his shoulder. "This way."
They walked. The way seemed safe. It was hard to see through the dark. Everything was silhouettes and soot-shaded shapes.
"What's that?" Jimmy asked. Something was up ahead. It made a slurping, lapping sound.
Johnny squinted but couldn't make it out. He noticed the glow stick dangling around his brother's neck. Their mom had made Jimmy wear the stupid thing so he wouldn't get hit by a car. He had meant to trash the stupid thing before they started vandalizing the neighborhood. "Give me that," he said and pulled it off his brother's neck. One of the rubber troll ears fell off and landed on the pavement. Johnny underhanded the glow stick down the path.
It tumbled and bounced and came to rest in front of a dog. A yellow lab. A friendly dog. It was even on a leash. A leash that lead from the dog's collar to a dead man laying in the middle of the bike path. The man's limp hand was just a few inches from another one of those paper coffee cups. There was a dull tan puddle. The dog was licking and slurping.
"Oh no," Jimmy said.
"Good puppy," Johnny said.
The dog looked up and growled from someplace deep in its torso.
"Run!" Johnny yelled, and they did.
The dog took off, its nails scraping and digging against the blacktop, its retractable leash clicking and paying out more and more length with the deadman at the trigger unable to lock it down.
Johnny saw a fence and careened off the path. He vaulted over the waist high obstacle with one hand on the rail and the other holding the paintball gun. Jimmy dove belly onto the top of the fence. Johnny tumbled into the lawn as Jimmy struggled to get over. The dog ran out of leash inches from his brother's shoe. The dog’s jowls snapped and snarled at the rubber soles, its whole body straining against the taut leash. Johnny scrambled to grab his brother and pull him over. Then they heard a moan.
The man wasn't dead. He sat up stiff and looked at the boys and his dog. When he sat, he gave the yellow lab just enough slack. The dog lunged and clamped down on Jimmy's flailing ankle.
"Johnny!" he cried.
Johnny grabbed Jimmy by the collar and pulled with one hand. His other hand unleashed a fusillade of blood-red paint pellets at the dog's head. The dog released and both of the boys tumbled into the lawn on the other side of the fence. The man moaned again and stood up. The dog pounced into the chain link fence, its teeth gnashing into the metal. Jimmy could smell pumpkin on its breath. Johnny came up to a knee and started firing more paintballs, alternating between the dog and the man.
"I got us covered! Go!" he called.
Jimmy was surrounded by a bucketful of spilled eggs. He took one white orb, chunked it at the man, and took his brother's advice and made a break for it. Johnny was quick to follow. The man was coming over the fence. They ran through the backyard. Through the front yard. Into the street.
Jimmy's sneakers squeaked to a halt against the blacktop. Johnny almost ran straight into him. He stopped when they saw what was in front of them.
The neon lights of Burgers Boys colored them orange. All the windows were busted out. Blood red handprints spotted the walls and glass doors. There was an abandoned car left running in the parking lot. Inside was a cage match of insane grown-ups tearing each other apart. The fast food joint had been advertising their Pumpkin Spiced Cheesecake dessert for weeks.
Jimmy's third grade English teacher clawed up from one of the booths. Blood and cheesecake matted her hair.
"Miss Carlson?" Jimmy said.
Miss Carlson saw the two boys standing in the glow of the neon signs in the middle of the street. She stretched out her arm through the broken window and pointed at them. She cried out, "Children!"
The other adults stopped tearing and biting and clawing at each other. All their heads turned to the boys. Soulless eyes found fresh meat. There was a moment of relative silence. Police sirens wailed blocks away. Somewhere a kid cried. Behind them a dog barked, but between the street and the dollar menu everything was quiet.
Miss Carlson jabberwocked up in the booth and leaned further through the broken glass. She screamed again, "CHILDREN!" It wasn't a plea for help. It was a meal order.
Burger Boys vomited the grown-ups from every door, drive thru station and broken window. Miss Carlson led the charge.
"Quick! The car!" Johnny yelled.
The family sedan with a running engine was in the parking lot, closer to the pumpkin spiked hoard than where they stood, but it was their only chance. Johnny kept his fingers on the trigger of the paintball gun. Jimmy made a break for it. As they ran, the mob rushed towards them. The man and the dog chased from behind. The paintballs knocked a few of the grown-ups down, but not enough.
Jimmy dove into the passenger window of the car. Johnny jumped and slide across the hood. Miss Carlson slammed into the passenger side door and started clawing through the open window. Other adults piled against her and smashed against the back windows. Johnny got behind the wheel and slammed his door shut before a nice old grandma missing an ear and an eyeball could rip out his throat. Miss Carlson had a hold of Jimmy's neck and was started to draw blood with her French manicure.
"Hey teach!" Johnny yelled. She looked up and saw nothing but the barrel of the paintball gun. "Conjugate this!"
The half dozen paint pellets knocked her back out of the car. Johnny slammed the sedan in reverse and plowed over four or five adults. More were clinging onto the luggage rack. Johnny threw the car in drive and slammed on the gas. The rest fell off and four more were run down on their way out of the parking lot.
"Jimmy, are you okay?" Johnny asked.
It took a little bit for his brother to stop coughing and sputtering. "You shot my English teacher."
"Hey, what are older brothers for?"
Jimmy smiled. "Thanks."
"What did I tell you. It's Halloween. Kid's rule this night."
"What about mom and dad?" Jimmy asked.
Johnny’s stomach sank when he thought of it. Dad had gone out. He was a big tough burly man. If they had any luck at all, he'd be safe from all the fancy lattes and muffins and cookies and cheesecakes. Their mom on the other hand, had been mixing up a batch of her pumpkin ginger sugar cookies when they headed out. 30 minutes and 350 degrees. That was all the time it took. But maybe they weren't too late.
Johnny didn't really know how to drive, but that didn't stop him from pushing the pedal to the metal.
When they pulled up to their house, everything looked fine. The neighborhood was quiet. Sure, little Anna Anderson was lying dead in the gutter just two doors down, but everything else seemed okay.
Johnny parked the car in the driveway and killed the engine. The sounds of chaos still rung through the night, but the clamor was further away now. Almost quelled. The brothers didn't bother to shut the car doors. The noise might have drawn more pumpkin possessed adults. They crept up the front step.
The door was closed but unlocked. Johnny worked the latch and gently pushed up the door. It creaked and whined. Inside, they could hear Charlie Brown and Linus wait for the Great Pumpkin on TV, but that was it. The boys went in. Jimmy closed the door behind them.
"Mom?" Johnny called out. His hands still aimed the paintball gun.
"Mom, we're home," Jimmy said. No response.
They came into the kitchen and circled around the island counter. The house reeked of delicious pumpkin ginger sugar cookies. The oven door was open. Their mother was on all fours in front of the hot oven. Trays of cookies were spilled out on the linoleum. She scarfed fistfuls of half cooked dough. Her mouth chomped and spilled out cookie clumps like she was on Sesame Street. Her fingers burnt and seared as she scraped the cookies off of the hot trays.
"Mom... No..." Jimmy sobbed.
She looked up and hissed at them.
"Mom?" Johnny said, his fingers on the trigger.
She lunged at him like a cat. Johnny fired the gun but it didn't matter. Two shots hit their mom. Two more shots splattered against the wall. Six more pelted the ceiling as she tackled him and they hit the carpet. The paintball gun fell from Johnny's grasp and bounced into the living room.
"No!" Jimmy screamed.
Their mom started clawing and pulling at Johnny, feverishly and animalistic. Jimmy jumped on her back and tried to pull her off, but it was no use. The pumpkin flavor mix had filled her with inhuman strength. Her nails raked across Johnny's face and drew blood. Jimmy pulled on her hair as she bared her teeth towards her son's neck.
"It's the pumpkin spice!" Johnny yelled. "We have to get it out of her!"
Their mom strained and fought to sink her teeth into Johnny's face. As much as Jimmy pulled, it wasn't enough to hold her back. He had to do something.
The dog poop.
Jimmy looked down. The plastic grocery bag full of turds was still tucked into his belt. He clung to his mom with one arm around her neck. With the other hand he reached down and scooped out the fresh dog poop. His stomach lurched when his fingers felt the texture. He only hoped it had the same effect on his mom. He pulled a handful of dog crap out of the bag. His mom's mouth was wide open, her gums pulled back to show her teeth. Jimmy reached around and shoved the dog poop straight into her waiting maw.
She tried to scream but Jimmy held his filthy hand over her mouth. She fought for air, and in doing so choked down some of the brown wet poop. She wretched and bucked. Jimmy held tight like a rodeo cowboy. She clawed at his hand on her mouth. Her nails cut into his skin. She convulsed. He cried. Johnny scrambled out from underneath her. Jimmy held tight, but as her nails dug deeper into his skin he knew he couldn't last.
She bucked. Jimmy fell free. Johnny picked up the paintball gun and trained it on their mom. She coughed a big wad of dog poo into the carpet. She hacked and her stomach lurched towards her throat. Jimmy scrambled away from his mom and next to his brother. They watched her hack up more crap.
Then she puked. First it was just dog poop. Then cookie dough and coffee. She heaved and struggled to breathe. She puked up the tater tot hot dish they had for lunch. Tots. Green beans. Hamburger chunks. It was a deep vomit. Just when it was all out of her throat and on to the living room carpet, she collapsed into the mess.
"Mom!" Johnny called out and scrambled to her. He dropped the gun and lifted her head out of the puddle. He rolled her onto his lap. Jimmy came too, brushing the hair that clung to her messed up cheeks out of her face.
"Mommy?" Jimmy said.
She coughed and sputtered. A few more hacks. She spit a green bean onto her chest.
"Boys?" she said.
"Mom, is it you?" Johnny asked.
"Where am I? What happened?" she asked as if waking up from a dream. "Are you boys okay?"
They cried and wrapped her in hugs. The pumpkin spice was out of her. They'd saved her. The boys and their mom held each other in that mound of mess and vomit and paint pellets and dog poop and love. Things were going to be okay.
The front door opened. The three of them looked up.
Dad was home. He was a big man in a duck cloth coat and steel toed work boots. In his arms was a case of Boston Brewery Pumpkin Spiced Ale. He sucked down the dregs of a bottle, tossed it to the side, and then looked at his family. He smiled a devilish orange grin.