A Short Story for Halloween by Robert Lewis Heron
Copyright © 2019 by Robert Lewis Heron. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this story may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
You’ve probably known kids like me. My dad was military, and like all kids, I was hauled here, there, and everywhere. Never anywhere fun like New York or LA. Just one boring town after another. Not easy making friends when moving from school to school every two years.
Dad died in a car wreck two years ago. Some asshole fell asleep at the wheel—a tractor trailer against a beat-up Ford—no contest. Last month we moved here, to Dunwich, an unimpressive east coast seaside town. My mom tries her best. Works two jobs. I also work, part-time, as a waiter at the Dunwich Diner, famed for its juicy burgers.
Dunwich is larger than the small towns we typically moved to before Dad’s death. I don’t stand out as much at Dunwich High, so at least there’s that.
I’m working the afternoon diner shift when Brody calls out to me.
“Stop daydreaming, Zee, and get back inside. We have customers.”
“I’m on a five-minute smoke break.”
“Well get the hell out of my sight. If you gotta smoke, take it around back. And five minutes is five. Not six, five.”
“Sure, Mr. Brody. No problem.”
“And empty the trash. I’ve told you to buckle down to hard work if you want to be my assistant manager.”
I don’t want to be Brody’s assistant manager, but the money is better than cleaning dishes so we’ll see. Besides, he skims half of my tips. I try to pocket them quick, but he’s always looking over my shoulder. Does the same to Pam, his daughter. She’s sweet as can be. Sometimes I think she must be adopted. No way she can be Brody’s. No way. She’s way too sweet.
Lately, I’ve noticed a group of local teens hanging out by the rancid dumpster in the alley behind the diner. Tonight is no exception. I walk toward the dumpster, a trash bag in each hand. I’ve seen them at school. Jake, Molly, and Mandy. Leather jackets and boots. Goths.
“Hi there, new meat. You bringing us snacks?” Molly says.
The others laugh.
“You’re free to trash dive. The burgers are really good tonight. Real juicy.” I heave the trash bags into the dumpster. “Looks to me you’d probably feel right at home crawling through garbage.”
Mandy flicks her long black hair over her shoulder, “Smart boy. You think you’re smart?”
“Thinks he’s funny,” Molly says. “What’s your name, new meat?”
Molly shoulder bumps Mandy. “Stupid name. Rhymes with pee. You, uh, pee your pants much, new meat?”
“Fuck you, bitch.”
Jake moves toward me. “Shut your mouth, Zee. No one fuck’s with my gang, except me. Comprende amigo?”
Both girls curl their arms around Jake’s waist and purr like cats.
Mandy points a long, red, perfectly manicured fingernail toward me. “As it happens, our gang is one male short. You man enough to fill the bill?”
“Gang? What gang might that be?”
“We’re the Death Squad.” All three turn around to show off the backs of their letter jackets. Each proudly display the gang’s name.
“What the hell?” I reply, more perplexed than impressed.
Mandy walks closer and wraps her pale arms around my neck. “We have lots of cool fun.” She licks my left earlobe then my right. Her hips gyrate against mine. “What do you think, Zee? Want to join our lil’ ol’ gang?”
The moment is broken as the back door to the kitchen flies open and light floods the alley.
“Zee, get your fat ass back to work,” Brody says. “Your five minutes are long over. People to serve. Now!”
“On my way, Mr. Brody,” I answer.
“As for you three creeps, how many times have I told you to stop hanging out back here. You’re nothing but shit. Next time you assholes show your degenerate faces I won’t be responsible for what happens. Comprende?” Brody turns, enters the kitchen and slams the door shut.
“Wait a minute,” Jake says, as I head back to the diner. “Are you in or not?”
“Your gang. Sure, why not. I’m in.”
All three smirk. Mandy shows off her pierced tongue, revealing a silver skull and crossbones charm. “Not so fast. First, there’s the initiation test.”
“What test?” I ask.
Jake pulls a gun from his pocket and hands it to me. “You’ve got to kill someone.”
I recognize the weapon as a Glock G42, capable of holding seven, .380 auto ACP caliber rounds. Before he’d died behind the wheel, Dad taught me about firearms. Spent a lot of time together on the firing range. It was the only thing about his military work I admired.
“Where the hell did you get this?”
“Never mind. You in or out?”
“No joke,” Jake replies. “You kill someone, you’re in. We’ve all done it. There’s a reason we’re called the Death Squad.
“You have 24 hours,” Mandy adds.
“Meet here tomorrow night, 11:00 PM. If you haven’t done the deed by then, consider the offer withdrawn, and consider yourself a chicken shit.”
At 11:05 PM the following night, long past closing time, I exit the diner by the kitchen door and approach the dumpster. Jack, Molly, and Mandy stand in the shadows by the dumpster.
“Over here, Zee,” Mandy calls. “We’ve been waiting.”
“I can hardly see you guys.”
Jake stands in front of the girls. “So?” he asks.
“It’s done,” I answer.
“What do you mean, it’s done?”
“I mean it’s done. I killed my fat slob of a boss tonight. Clean headshot right between his unsuspecting eyes. Should have seen him squirm. Felt so good.”
“Okay, macho man. Sounds like a pile of bullshit,” Jake replies. “I’ll take back the gun now.”
“No bullshit, Jake. You can look if you want. The body’s in the diner kitchen. Actually, I could use some help burying his fat ass.”
“Bullshit. The gun was loaded with blanks, Zee.”
“About that … I took the gun to the range today. Wanted to get used to it. I know about handguns, but that’s another story. I shot your stupid blanks and reloaded with live bullets.”
Mandy and Molly take a step back, mouths wide open. Jake follows. “You’re telling me you put real bullets in my gun and shot Mr. Brody?”
The girls back up further. Mandy leans against the metal dumpster’s side. They gasp and start to cry.
“Wait one friggin’ minute here. Are you telling me this whole gang initiation shit was a hoax?”
“Of course it was a hoax!” Jake says. “Who the fuck goes around shooting people?”
I step back, facing all three figures, Jake out front and Molly hiding behind Mandy.
“Now we have a problem, kids,” I say.
“Not we—you have a problem,” Jake answers.
“The way I see it, Jake, it's like this. I have a gun and you three bitches don’t. You know I killed that fat slob, Brody. So correct me if I’m mistaken, but my problem goes away if you three go away. Right here, right now.”
“Wow … wow … wait a minute, amigo,” Jake pleads. “We won’t say anything. You’re in the gang, and gang members don’t snitch on other gang members.”
Molly and Mandy’s sobs increase. Black mascara streaks run down both their cheeks.
“Zee, it’s our fault,” Mandy says. “We should never have tried to trick you like this. It’s just a misunderstanding. I think … I think you’re real cute. You can be my, ya know, boyfriend. Look, I’m real hot for you. You can kiss me if you want.” Her voice cracks with distress, like a condemned prisoner asking the hangman for a reprieve.
Molly, equally desperate, adds, “You can kiss me too. Any time you want. Just please, please don’t hurt us.”
Three 9-millimeter bullets is all it takes.
The first bullet pierces Jake’s eye and explodes through the back of his skull. The second strikes Mandy’s forehead and she slams back against the dumpster before dropping to the ground. Molly screams, but those cries quickly end as her jaw is ripped apart, the bullet continuing through her upper carotid artery.
And just like that, the Death Squad is history.
The kitchen door opens, casting a revealing light over the bodies.
“Excellent, Zee” Mr. Brody says. “Job well done. Looks like you are assistant manager material after all.”
“Thanks, Mr. Brody.”
“Call me Brody. You deserve it. Let’s get this meat into the grinder. We’ve got juicy burgers to make.”
In the basement of the diner, Brody oversees as I grind bone and sinew into pink burger meat. I’m intrigued by this new unfolding reality, an eager student embarking on a dark career path. “Brody, what do you want me to do next?”
“As assistant manager, I expect you to provide a steady supply of burger and hot dog filler. Plenty of sources to be found in this town. You’ve got homeless sleeping under the boardwalk at the beach. Tourists, and student types I call June bugs. Always plenty of June bugs around here. And, of course, the schools are full of young meat. You figure out the rest.”
“Excellent, and thank you for my promotion. Can I ask, what happened to your previous assistant manager?”
A high-pitched whine resonates from the grinder.
“What do you think happened to him, Zee?” Brody grins, patting his round belly. “You won’t have to worry about that. Long as you keep that sweet meat coming. Everyone loves June bugs. So young and juicy.”
I nod, understanding. The whining increases as skull bones are shredded by the grinder’s whirling blades. Skull bone is so, so hard.
Everything is great for the next year or so. I bring home more money to help Mom and become quite adept at the finer points of assistant management and meat grinding. However, nothing in life is certain. For example, when Hurricane Jasper devastates our cute little seaside town, the June bugs stop coming around. The homeless relocated to Seagull Island. Security at the schools is tighter than ever since the most recent mass shooting. The only real juicy meat left around these parts is me. I’m largely to blame. I just love burgers and fries and have gained nearly one hundred pounds in the past 12 months.
Which is why I’m going to die tonight. The likelihood is high, as in one hundred percent high. As high as June bugs in June.
They say shit happens when you least expect it. I knew this might happen. What the heck. As I said, it’s nobody’s fault but mine. Then again, some folks are real sick in the head. Know what I mean?
The thing is, I thought Brody and I were tight. Allies with the same objectives. Although I had noticed, quite recently, that he’d begun looking at me a bit …hungrily … I sure as hell didn’t expect him to attack me. I suppose that when inventory is low, 275 pounds of juicy flesh is difficult to resist … for a madman.
His first deep stab wound (of many) tore through my shoulder, and as I turned he plunged a meat hook through my groin. The pain is almost gone now. I’m bleeding out, and it’s now just a matter of time. Brody, meanwhile, won’t be finishing the job. He lies at my feet, poisoned. I thought it would act much faster. Didn’t expect the attack. Guess I’ve lost my promotion. To think I had ambitions of managing a place of my own.
Nothing to do now but wait. Yep, looks like I’m dead meat.