Happy Halloween! I have a few special treats for you today, starting with a bonus story set in the world of The Blades of Janus.
This one is just…weird. There’s no getting around it. But when you’re creating an alien take on fairy tales, you’re bound to encounter some strange.
Trick or Treat
Copyright © 2016 Cassandra Chandler
Johnny headed to the door of the human habitation. Tiny orange lights were strung over the front porch and a vaguely humanoid bunch of black cloth surrounding a plastic skull stood by the steps. He wondered if maybe that’s what the Earthlings inside thought a wight looked like. If only they knew.
Chuckling darkly, he rang the bell.
The female who opened the door looked down at him and gasped, her eyes widening in true horror for a moment. She composed herself in microseconds, but Johnny enjoyed the moment of fear while it lasted.
She smiled, and said, “Wow, that’s an amazing costume.”
“Gimme some candy,” Johnny said.
The woman’s face fell. He’d messed up the password again.
“Oh, wait.” He ran a knuckle under his chin. “Trick or treat. Yeah, that’s it.”
“Yes.” She let out a strained laugh, then held out a bowl full of wrapped chocolate bars and other foods that had enough calories in them to last Johnny for months. Her arm was extended as far as she could manage, like she wanted to stay far away from him.
He chuckled again, grabbing a handful of food and stuffing it in the dirty bag that held the rest of his gatherings from the night’s expedition.
“What…are you?” she asked.
Johnny stopped short at her question, his blood turning colder in his veins. His size was in the range of a human child, but his voice was way too deep and gravelly. He also couldn’t seem to stop himself from drawing out some of his words.
But this was Halloween. The one night of the year when humans went out dressed as his kind, letting them blend in. She was asking about his costume—not his true nature.
“Goblin,” Johnny rasped.
“Oh. Of course. Your costume is amazing. You and your parents must have worked on it very hard.”
Johnny followed her gaze out to the street, looking over his shoulder at scarecrow and spriggan beyond the white picket fence. Scarecrow was finally reaching the front walkway, her legs moving in her weird slow stride. Spriggan was standing in the dirt-filled wagon she pulled.
Spriggan’s costume was hilarious—two dried out bouquets held in each of his stick-hands. He was supposed to be a tree.
He’d have been more convincing if he didn’t keep moving his arms. Since his body was as thin as a sapling’s trunk, there was no way he could be mistaken for a human in a costume. Maybe the Earthling would think he was some sort of mechanical decoration.
That was probably easier for the woman to explain to herself than the way scarecrow’s pumpkin head listed at a completely unnatural angle. Scarecrow was wearing a dark suit they’d found in a garbage bin and cleaned up special for tonight. As the human stared, scarecrow lifted one of her long arms slowly, extending each finger in turn at the same unnatural speed, then waving.
The Earthling returned the gesture with a hesitant wave, then let out another nervous titter, probably noticing that scarecrow’s fingers were twice the length of a human’s. And made of straw tied tight with string.
“What exactly is he?” the woman said.
“She,” Johnny said. “And I’ve no idea.”
“Your family certainly seems to be enjoying the season.”
He grunted, then remembered the standard ending to the exchange. Embracing the weird experience they were giving to the Earthling, he stretched his mouth in a wide grin, showing all of his serrated teeth.
“Happy Halloweeeeeeen,” he said.
Johnny turned as the woman’s voice trailed off, figuring they’d better get away while they could. Of all the houses they’d visited, this one’s residents seemed the most likely to call human authorities. As soon as he reached the street, he did his waddle-trot form of running ahead of scarecrow.
Even though scarecrow appeared to walk in slow motion, she kept up with him fine. Johnny thought maybe she existed in a slightly different timestream or something. All he cared about was getting back to their den.
Nobody bothered them on the trip, even though they walked through some pretty sketchy sections of town. All Johnny had to do was cast a menacing smile toward any humans who seemed too curious. Soon, they were back in the small derelict building they had claimed, deep in an area that humans had abandoned.
Spriggan threw down his dead flowers. In his hollow, rasping voice, he said, “My arms are killing me.”
“You didn’t have to hold those things all the way,” Johnny said.
“It was part of my costume.”
Johnny chuckled as scarecrow sat on an overturned wooden box, leaning her skeleton-thin arms on her knees.
“Gimme,” spriggan shouted. “Gimme, gimme, gimme!”
“Cripes, hold your sap.” Johnny dumped the candy from his bag and started unwrapping everything. He put the food in one pile, and threw the wrappers to spriggan.
“Yeah,” spriggan said. He tossed the plastic wrappers away, but pulled the paper ones closer. Shredding them with his razor sharp finger-twigs, he worked them into the soil around his feet. “Oh yeah. This stuff’s gonna make some great compost.”
Johnny grunted. “That reminds me.”
He walked over to the corner where he slept and picked up a Jack-O-Lantern that he’d stolen earlier that day. Heading back to scarecrow, he said, “Your head’s starting to rot. Here.”
Scarecrow angled her head at him a bit. At least, he thought she was trying to. The flesh of the pumpkin she was using was so soft, it wasn’t staying on her broom handle neck right. She pulled off the green-spotted pumpkin and set it down at her feet, then rolled it toward spriggan.
“Yes! Best Halloween ever.” Spriggan picked it up and started shredding the thing, working it into the dirt in his wagon.
Johnny handed the fresher pumpkin to scarecrow, staring at the stick coming out of the top of her suit while she didn’t have a head.
She slowly lifted the gourd to her shoulders, working it down over the top of the broom that made up her spine. It took some shimmying, but she managed to get it to stay in place. Johnny could tell when it took, because the dark holes of its triangle eyes and nose lit up with a flickering blue glow. The smile lit up last, as if she was smiling at him.
Cripes, scarecrow even gave Johnny the creeps.
He kicked over a bucket and sat on it, staring at the pile of food he’d collected. Impressive. Maybe even enough to get him through to the next Halloween, when he could go out and forage without worrying about being seen. When humans would give him all the food he needed.
Johnny let out a low laugh and shook his head. “I fuckin’ love this planet.”