This was an indulgence best saved for when no one else was around.
He brushed crumbs off his coat and called out, “Are we going to this party or what?”
“Party?” Dwayne, clad in a frilly white shirt, red vest, tight black pants, tall black boots, and a red bandanna wrapped around his head, stepped out of a curtained alcove. “I thought we were taking Laddie trick-or-treating.”
“Nice outfit. Vintage clothing shops, I presume?”
“We found enough pieces for everyone. You should see what Paul’s wearing.”
“I’m almost afraid to look.”
“Anyway, you promised Laddie we’d take him out before the party. You do remember, don’t you?”
“Sure,” David said, though he didn’t. He thought someone might have mentioned it at some point, but the details escaped him.
“Awesome! Free candy and party time! That’s what it’s all about, bro!”
David’s jaw dropped as he got a good look at Paul’s . . . costume. At least, he hoped it was a costume. “I’ve never seen so much glitter in my life. The tinfoil wig’s a nice touch.”
“Thanks! Marko helped. When he wasn’t working on his own costume, that is.”
“What’s he going as?”
“Uh . . . I don’t know. He’s kept it top secret for like three months. All I know is, it involves a lot of glue.”
“That can’t be good.”
“Aren’t you gonna go get dressed?”
David looked down at his usual clothes. “I am dressed.”
“I mean, don’t you have a costume? You’ll never win the contest in that.”
“Contest?” No one had mentioned any contest.
“The costume contest! There’s a $100 cash prize for the best costume, and I figure I’ve got it made.”
“No way! That hundred bucks is mine! There’s no way anyone is beating this!” Marko exclaimed, striding proudly into the room.
David took one look and his brain actually shut down. Paul went into hysterics of laughter. “That’s what you’ve been working on for three months? Oh, man, no wonder you kept it a secret!”
“Hey, don’t be cruel, uh huh huh.”
David’s eyes took in the white stretch jumpsuit, the full-length white cape with THE KING IS BACK spelled out in rhinestones, the pompadour wig, the mirrored shades. The crowning touch was the guitar slung over his shoulder by a strap that seemed to be made entirely of silver sequins.
When he found his voice, all he could say was, “That’s . . . pretty impressive, Marko.”
Paul was still laughing. “Oh, man, I can’t believe you’re actually wearing that!”
“We’ll see who has the last laugh when I win that prize money! Which I am not sharing with you!”
It was up to Dwayne to play peacemaker. “Come on, Paul, he worked hard on that . . . outfit. You’ve gotta admit, it’s pretty cool.”
Paul didn’t seem to agree. “I don’t know if you got the memo, Marko, but Elvis is dead.”
“I know! I was at the candlelight vigil the night he died!”
David nodded. “That’s where we met.”
“Dwayne?” Star, dressed in her usual clothes with the addition of a gypsy headscarf and shawl, stuck her head through the curtain. “Laddie’s having trouble with the boots again.”
“I told you we bought the wrong size.”
“They were the only ones in the shop that didn’t have platform heels!”
“Okay, okay, I’m coming.” Dwayne went back to help her.
David went and stood at the mouth of the cave, looking out at the night. It was just beginning to get good and dark.
“All Hallows’ Eve,” he said to nobody in particular. “Samhain, in the Celtic tradition. The night when the dead rise and walk among the living.”
He turned back toward the others. “So how, exactly, does that translate into ‘Gimme candy’?”
Paul sighed and threw his hands up into the air. Something jingled. “I don’t know! It’s just tradition!”
“Tradition or not, I am not making myself look foolish just to win some prize money. I’m going like this. End of story.”
“At least you could try to look scary,” Marko offered.
David suddenly changed, his fangs glistening in the fire light. “This scary enough for you?”
There was a commotion on the other side of the curtain. “Ow!” Laddie’s voice rang out. “You’re hurting me!”
“Sorry,” Dwayne said. “Don’t twist so much when you push.”
“Maybe if we tried it without the socks . . .” Star mused.
“It’s too cold to go without socks. We should just leave them off.”
“But then it won’t look right!” Laddie complained.
“Okay, we’ll try again.”
Eventually they did finally get the boots on, and though they were tight enough that Laddie still complained (though not too often, or they would have taken him right home), they looked great.
“Can we go already?” Paul demanded impatiently.
“Go,” David said. “Wait for us outside.”
“We’re gonna miss all the good candy!”
David watched as they left. When Dwayne passed by, he fell in step beside him and said, “He’s such a child, isn’t he?”
“Were we ever like that?”
“I can’t remember.”
“Think he’ll ever grow up?”
“Eventually. Might take a century or two. If he lives that long.”
“Are you coming,” Paul called to them, “or what?”
There weren’t many houses close to the bluff, and most of those had their porch lights out. Laddie ended up doing most of his trick-or-treating on the Boardwalk, where the shops all had costumed employees standing outside, candy basket in hand.
They made a pretty good haul, even considering that the two kids from the comic book store looked at them suspiciously and then refused to give them any candy. Paul had wanted to go after them, but David talked him out of it. There would be plenty of time for that later, he said.
Their last stop was Max’s video store, which was decked out in black and orange streamers, paper cutouts of ghosts and black cats taped to the walls. The video screens were showing monsters, screaming victims, and the Great Pumpkin.
Max himself was wearing a black taffeta cape and evening suit, complete with plastic fangs. He was handing out the candy from a bowl shaped like a miniature coffin.
“Good even--“ he began, and then saw who it was. “What are you doing here?”
“It’s Halloween,” David said. “We’re just following tradition. Nice fangs.”
“Nice . . . lack of a costume,” Max retorted.
“How can you buy into this travesty? We shouldn’t be going begging from door to door! We should be out--“
Max gave him a warning look. “Let’s go into the office. I have to refill the candy anyway.”
David glanced over to where the other boys were gathered around the counter, flirting with Max’s sole employee, Maria, who was dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood. “I’ll be back,” he called out, but no one paid any attention.
He followed Max back to the tiny cubicle that served as the store’s office. Max lifted a paper bag filled with colorfully wrapped treats onto his desk, and began scooping out handfuls for the candy bowl.
“Now what is this all about?” he asked, taking out the fake fangs and setting them aside.
David sighed. “You know I hate to ask you for anything . . .”
“You’re in here twice a week. At least.”
“The boys like to ogle your eye candy.”
“My employees are off-limits. If any more young girls disappear in this town, people are going to start asking questions.”
David reached out and snagged a Kit Kat from the bowl.
“Trick or treat.”
“I thought you hated that--how did you put it? Travesty?”
“Well, I never say no to free candy.” He tore the wrapper off in one motion and gave Max a smirk as he bit into both chocolate-covered wafer sticks at once.
“That’s all you’re getting.”
“Not a generous guy, are you?”
“It’s barely seven o’clock, and that has to last for the entire night. Save some for the kids.” Having finished filling the bowl, Max put the paper bag, now considerably emptier, back behind his desk. “Now why are you here? I know it’s not just for the free candy.”
David finished the candy and wiped his mouth. “We need some more money, Max.”
“I give you plenty of money!”
“A hundred bucks a week was fine when it was just the four of us. But we’ve got more mouths to feed now. And if you’re serious about expanding our recruiting efforts, we’ll have even more soon. You’re supposed to provide for us.”
“If you boys were more careful with your money you could make a hundred dollars last a month. I once lived for three weeks on only twenty dollars--“
“In case you haven’t noticed,” David interrupted him, “it’s not 1954 any more. Things cost money. A lot of money.”
“I know that,” Max countered. “I’m saying that you don’t have to go out for Chinese food every night. You shouldn’t have to buy food at all, actually.”
“Star and Laddie haven’t taken a kill yet.”
Max gave the younger vampire a dangerous look. “What are you waiting for? Take them out and make them kill! If you wait much longer, they won’t be any good to us.”
“I’ll take them when they’re ready. In the meantime, you can increase our allowance to two hundred a week.”
“I am not giving you that much money! I might be willing to give you an extra twenty-five dollars . . .”
“One-fifty. And that is overly generous.”
“One-fifty it is.”
David stood up, but Max said, “I haven’t dismissed you yet. Sit down.”
“I don’t want you boys hanging around here so much. If someone--the wrong someone--sees us together so much, they could put two and two together, and then we could be in serious trouble. Do you understand?”
“It’s not like we’re here every night--“
“You’re here enough. No more. You’ll attract attention we don’t need. Now go enjoy the annual travesty.”
“We’re going to a party, actually,” David said as he and Max left the office.
“Enjoy your party, then.”
“Don’t forget your plastic fangs.”
Max reached up to his mouth, felt the absence of anything plastic and pointy, and dashed back to retrieve them.
“Let’s go, boys,” David called out.
On their way out, they each grabbed a huge handful of candy and dumped it in Laddie’s bag. So there, Mr. Cheapskate.
By eight o’clock the trick-or-treating was pretty much over.
“We might be late,” David told Star as she settled in for the night. “So don’t wait up.”
“Are you going to, um . . .”
“Kill? Probably. We’ll wait till after the party to go hunt. Want a doggie bag?”
She looked distressed at the suggestion. “No thanks, I’m fine.”
“Okay.” Despite Max’s plans, David had no desire to force Star or Laddie out on a kill. They’d come when they were ready.
Meanwhile, there was a disturbance in the main chamber.
“Aw, crap, who ate the last Twinkie?” Paul turned the empty box upside-down and shook it, as if it might be crunched up in one of the corners. “Shit, I was saving that!”
Dwayne gestured to the overflowing candy bag in the corner. “There’s enough sugar there to last you a month! I’m surprised people even gave you anything.”
“You’re never too old for free candy!”
“All right, all right!” David broke it up, trying to deflect attention from himself and his own guilt. “Let’s just go to the party already!”
“When I find out who ate my Twinkie, I’m gonna--“ Paul’s voice faded as he went up the passage to the outside.
“I hope we don’t miss all the free stuff,” Marko said.
“What free stuff?” David asked.
“The radio station’s giving away loads of free stuff like posters, CDs, Monster Bash hats--“
“They’re calling it Monster Bash?” Dwayne grimaced at the bad pun.
“Hey, I didn’t come up with the name. Don’t blame me.”
“Free is good,” David said. “Let’s go get our freebies, gentlemen.”
“Wait a second, I can’t find my shades.”
They turned up in, of all places, the top of the candy bag. “You musta dropped them when we came in,” Paul said.
“I’m just glad you didn’t eat them, you sugar addict.”
There was not a parking space to be had for four blocks around the party venue. The boys had to park in a drugstore lot down the street and walk back.
“Hope we don’t get towed,” said Marko.
“Fuck it,” David shrugged. “We can always get more bikes.”
As they crossed the final corner, a couple of guys clustered around a pickup truck made some rude comments.
“Hey, faggots,” the tallest one said. “Going out dancing?”
“Yeah, with your mother,” Paul shot back at him.
“That wasn’t nice, Tucker,” the man to the leader’s right said. He was wearing a baseball cap with the name of a trucking company across it and big yellow construction boots. “I think you ought to make him take it back.”
“An’ Ah thank,” Paul said, in an exaggerated country accent, “y’all oughta leave us aloan.”
The third member of the party, in flannel and black chinos, lunged for them, but Tucker held him back. “Not now, Donnie. Don’t wanna mess up their pretty outfits. Little late for trick-or-treating, innit?”
“We’re going to the party across the street,” David said. He kept his tones modulated, but the bloodlust was rising. “We won’t give you any more trouble.”
“I’ll let you go,” Tucker said, “if you take back what you said about my mother.”
“Paul?” David looked over at the seething Lost Boy.
Come on, we can take these guys!
Not now. There’ll be plenty of time for that after the party. Apologize to the nice redneck and let’s go.
Paul cleared his throat. “Sorry for what I said about your mother,” he muttered.
Tucker stepped aside and let them pass.
“Enjoy your party, girls.”
David looked back and felt his fangs lengthening. He took a deep breath and got himself under control. Later . . .
There was a table in the entrance hall of the party venue. A pert young brunette in a witch hat sat with a clipboard. “Hi, you look great!” she said. “Can I have your names for the costume contest?”
The boys looked at David. Names?
Make something up.
Dwayne shrugged and went first. “Dwayne Alfonso,” he told her, and though he spelled it carefully, she still misspelled it as DUANE. Beside it, she noted “Pirate”.
Next up was “Paul Maxwell, rock star.” He gave the girl such a long look that David had to physically pull him away. No flirting till the end of the night. You can sip a little, but no kills here. Too conspicuous.
I’m saving it for the Good Old Boys.
“Mark Angelli . . .” the girl was writing down. “Elvis Number Three.”
“Number Three?” Marko looked at her in surprise.
She gestured toward the doorway, where two other revelers in white jumpsuits lounged in folding chairs.
“I worked two months on this outfit!”
“If it helps,” she said, “I think you’re the best one. You just . . . sparkle.”
“I do?” Marko’s face split in a big grin. He rejoined the other boys. “You hear that? I sparkle!”
David rolled his eyes. “Vampires shouldn’t sparkle,” he said.
“And your name, honey?”
“Oh.” He stepped up to the table. “David Maxwell.”
“Really?” She gestured toward Paul. “Are you two brothers?”
“Cousins,” David said.
“Okay. David Maxwell . . . vampire.”
He gave her a sharp look. “How did you know?”
“Oh, it’s obvious. All the black. Great costume! Very subtle.”
“But I’m not even wearing a costume!” David protested.
Dwayne tapped him on the arm. “C’mon, man, let’s hit the refreshment table.”
With one last glance back at the girl, who was checking in a mummy and a woman in a very short French maid costume, David followed him into the party.
There was no bar; a long table held cookies, cupcakes, and punch, all in Halloween colors. There were spider webs in every corner, and plastic Jack-o-lanterns near the ceiling gave off an eerie light.
David got in line at the soft drink table behind a zombie in authentic-looking rags. “Nice outfit,” he said, to break the ice.
The zombie turned around. “Thanks, man. I like yours, too.”
“I’m not--“ he started to protest again, but checked himself. “Thanks. Just pulled this together at the last minute.”
“Yeah, me too. I was gonna go with a group of my friends, as the Village People, but half of them couldn’t go. Kind of kills a group costume when the group’s not there, right?”
“Yeah.” Group costume. Why hadn’t he thought of that?
“I went to this thing last year. Half the room was Dracula. What’s the point of picking an outfit if everyone else wears the same thing, right? I like how you didn’t go over the top with the black. And no plastic fangs. They’re so tacky.”
“I agree with you completely.”
They reached the table, and David grabbed a plastic cup and filled it with ice.
“Do you see any RC Cola?” the zombie asked.
David looked. “It’s way over the other side. You like RC, too?”
“Dude!” He reached for the bottle, poured his own, and then filled David’s cup. “Nobody I know has even heard of RC. You think if we kept the whole bottle for ourselves, anyone would notice?”
When no one was looking, David snatched the bottle off the table, and he and his new friend carried it over to a far corner, where they sat and talked about nothing in particular.
Across the room, Paul was stalking a girl in bunny ears, Marko was comparing notes with the other Elvises, and Dwayne was chatting up a Wolfman mask.
At the front of the room, by the DJ table, a sexy red devil woman picked up the mike and tapped it. “Can everybody hear me?”
The room quieted down.
“Good evening. Nice to see all of you here. Well, Happy Halloween!”
There was an appreciative cheer.
“Thank you! I’m Judy Jankowski from KZOU, and I want to welcome you all to our third annual Monster Bash! We have some free stuff for you over here--we have some bumper stickers, some key chains, and even some monster eyes!” She put on a pair of glasses with dangling eyeballs on springs. “Plus there’s plenty of food and drinks over here, so help yourselves!”
Someone in the back of the room shouted something about vodka.
“Where’s the vodka? Sorry, not at this party,” Judy said. “But we’ve got lots of fun stuff coming up for you. We’ve got a costume contest going on--I see a lot of cool costumes just from where I’m standing. Our judges will be making the rounds, and if they hand you one of these--“ she held up a small orange plastic tag--“hang onto it, cause we’ll be calling you up here around ten o’clock for the final judging. We’ve got some great prizes for you.” Reaching behind her, she held up a small square box. “Third prize is this boxed set of the Friday the 13th movies!”
David clapped along with everyone else, but he wasn’t too impressed. If they won the movies, they’d have nothing to play them on.
“Second prize is a $50 gift certificate for P. D. Strauss’ on Laguna Drive! They’ve got great food, and the place is a lot of fun. So go, even if you don’t win!”
Fifty dollars worth of food sounded pretty cool. “You been to that place?” David asked the zombie.
“Yeah. It’s pretty good. Their buffalo wings are awesome!”
“And our grand prize, for the best costume of the night . . .” Judy held up an envelope. “One hundred dollars cash!”
The room went wild.
“Okay! So have fun, we’ll be around looking at your outfits and handing out finalist badges. But don’t feel bad if you don’t get picked. I think you all look great!”
To cheers and applause, she left the stage. The DJ put on another record.
“'Thriller?' Oh, come on!” Clearly the zombie was not a Michael Jackson fan. “At least play 'Werewolves of London' or something cool!”
“They will,” David said. “There’s only so many Halloween songs, and 'Thriller' happens to be one of them. At least we only hear them once a year.”
Paul and the bunny joined them. “Hey guys, this is Freddie.”
“Freddie?” the zombie asked.
“Short for Fredericka,” the bunny explained. “I hate my parents.”
“Don’t we all?” David said. “I’m David, and this is . . . I’m sorry, I don’t think I ever asked your name.”
“It’s okay, man. It’s Gary. Short for Gareth. Allow me to join the parent-hating club.”
Freddie giggled. “Sure. You look great. Both of you.”
“Babe, why don’t you go get us some punch?” Paul said.
“We have drinks,” David pointed out.
“Fine. Get me some punch,” Paul amended.
The girl giggled again. “Sure!” She sashayed off toward the refreshment tables.
Once they were alone, Paul said, “You can stop playing around now . . . Julian.”
David looked surprised. “You know him?”
“He stayed with us for a while when you were away doing Max’s evil bidding.”
“I was only gone a week!”
“I only stayed a few days,” Gary/Julian said. “I didn’t think you’d go to one of these things.”
David looked around the room. “Imagine if they knew,” he said. “If they knew there were real monsters among them. Would they scream and run?”
David was still mentally kicking himself for not recognizing a Brother of the Fang when he saw one (makeup aside), when a man in a loud plaid suit handed him one of the orange tags.
“Congratulations!” the man said. “You’re in the finals!”
“But I’m not even . . . oh, forget it.”
When Freddie came back with the punch, she had a tag in her hand. “Ooh, they liked me!”
“Yeah. Great.” Paul took his glass of punch and scanned the room for the judges with the tags. “What time is it?”
There was a clock on the far wall. “Quarter of nine,” Julian said.
“Still plenty of time, then.”
He was still saying that an hour later when the last of the tags were handed out. About fifteen people were holding them, waiting for the judges’ decision. Marko, in his sparkly Elvis costume, was one of them. Paul wasn’t.
“You got one?” he exclaimed, seeing orange peeking out from between David’s fingers. “But you’re not even wearing a costume!”
“I guess they like me just the way I am, then.”
Julian was turning out to be a decent guy, and David was sorry he had missed his visit. “You can come stay with us anytime,” he offered.
“That’s okay. I have a pack down in the Valley now.”
“The ones who couldn’t make it?”
“They didn’t want to come. Said it was ‘perverting the whole spirit of the holiday’ or something like that.”
“Maybe they have a point,” David said. “We do have . . . other things we could be doing.”
“We can do that any time. Why not have a little fun? Look at you--you came in your everyday clothes, and no one even noticed. I bet you could flash them a little fang right now and they’d just ask where you got the cool fangs.”
David was about to reply when Judy Jankowski picked up the mike and said, “Can I have everyone’s attention, please?”
The raucous sounds of revelry quieted down to a dull roar.
“Would everyone holding an orange tag please come up here right now? We’re about to have the final judging. Everyone with one of the orange tags, come up here by me. You, in the gorilla suit, come on up here!”
“This is so unfair!” Paul protested, as David and Freddie got up to take their places at the front of the room. “You wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for me! I told you about this party! If you win, I get half!”
David just smirked and stood between a Good Fairy and an Elvira clone. He didn’t expect to win. He hadn’t even wanted to come. But he was glad that he had.
Once everyone was lined up, Judy announced, “Okay! Let’s have a big round of applause for all our finalists!”
The crowd obliged.
“And now,” Judy said, as the man in the plaid suit handed her a sheet of paper, “our judges have made their final decision. Our third-prize winner is . . .”
The DJ played a tape of a drum roll.
“Cindy Loomis, as Elvira!”
David clapped politely as the girl next to him accepted the videos.
“All right, Cindy! Second prize goes to . . . Mark Angelli, Elvis Number Three!”
A louder round of applause this time. Marko crossed the stage, took the gift certificate from the judge’s hand, and then turned to the crowd and said, “Thank ya. Thank ya very much.”
David was cheering as loudly as anyone else. Two months of work had paid off after all. And that restaurant gift certificate would come in handy, at least until Max came through with the money he had promised them.
“And finally,” Judy said over the drum roll tape, “our grand prize winner, of one hundred dollars in cash . . . David Maxwell, vampire!”
David started clapping before he realized she’d just called his name. No, he couldn’t have heard that right. He wasn’t even wearing a costume! How could he have won?
“Come on up here, David! You deserve this!” Judy personally handed him the envelope with the prize money inside. Still not believing this was happening, he accepted it and thanked her.
“Let’s have a big hand for all our winners!”
The whole room was cheering and applauding . . . him. Someone in the crowd--it might have been the vodka guy--shouted, “Dude! You rock!”
If they only knew, David thought, stepping down as the applause faded. If they only knew this is for real.
“Aw, man, I can’t believe you won!” Paul said, as they walked back to where they’d left the bikes.
Julian walked with them as far as the corner, promised to write them in care of Max’s store, and then disappeared into the shadows.
“And to think I was trying to get more money out of Max,” David said. “We won’t tell him about this, will we, boys?”
Marko was about to say something when they rounded a corner and saw a familiar pickup truck.
And a familiar trio of rednecks.
“Well, look who’s back,” Tucker said, as if they had just met by chance and not been waiting for them all this time. “I think we have unfinished business, boys.”
“So do I,” David said, and changed.
Tucker started, but then looked closer and smiled. “That’s real good. Those don’t even look like plastic--“
“Uh, Tuck?” said Donnie.
“What? Don’t tell me you’re scared of trick-or-treat--aaahhh!” The rest of the boys had changed, their red eyes and long claws looking incongruous with their Halloween costumes.
“Run for it!” said the third member of the trio, who would die nameless. Dwayne caught up to him before he’d run half a block and tore his throat out. In the struggle, he lost his red bandanna, but he wouldn’t be needing it now.
Marko and Paul went after Donnie, who was harder to catch, but made one fatal mistake. He led them into an alley which turned out to be a dead end.
There was nowhere to run now. Nowhere to hide.
David swooped down on Tucker and took delicious satisfaction in the expression of terror on the man’s face.
“We was just foolin’ with you,” Tucker gasped out. “We didn’t mean nothin’. Don’t hurt me--doooon’t--“
“Happy Halloween, asshole,” David growled, as his claws severed Tucker’s jugular vein.
Now this was what Halloween was all about.