The armored delivery truck ripped around the corner.
“Watch those curves. You should save that kind of driving for when the howlers come,” Sam said.
“If they come.”
The thick air inside the truck smothered Sam like a dirty sock. He unfolded the metal blinds in his door to let the night air in. The engine mumbled and spat as they passed rows of darkened houses. Every lawn was dead. The brown leaves cowered beneath a full moon that shined like a gigantic flashlight upon the earth.
“I’ve got some lighted houses up ahead.”
Sam shut the blinds and looked to his driver. Dru’s face was painted white with black circles under his eyes and fake blood dribbling from his mouth. He smiled, revealing plastic fangs.
“When did you become a treater?” Sam asked.
“Finished training last week. When I heard you had an opening I jumped at the chance. I hear you’re one of the best.”
“No, just haven’t died yet. So this is your first candy run?”
“Yeah. Didn’t they tell you?”
“No. They didn’t.”
“Hey, no sweat! I finished top of my class. You’ve got nothing to worry about.”
Sam sighed and looked down at the clown mask in his hands. He squeezed the pointy rubber teeth and turned it over on its face before looking back up at the houses ahead.
“Let’s start at the end and work our way back,” he said, pointing toward a house several yards away.
Hundreds of orange lights hung from the roof and around two large pillars. Like every other lighted house neighboring it, a jack o’ lantern sat in front of the door, its carved face illuminated to ward off evil.
“So where were you when you woke up?” Dru asked.
“Let’s not get into a conversation. We have work to do.”
Sam fit the clown mask around his head and rubbed the fluffy, yellow ball on the chest of his costume.
Just like yesternight, he thought.
The truck eased to a stop as Sam stood, holding on to the open door. Hitting the pavement, he ran to the back and raised the lift before grabbing an open cardboard box filled with chocolate bars, suckers, and piles of different hard candies and peanut butter chews. He ran to the front door of the big, pillared house and rang the bell. The door was made of iron and free of any openings aside from the candy drop in the bottom. The windows were barred and boarded, releasing only a small amount of light from inside.
“Trick or treat!” Sam yelled.
He turned around to survey the neighborhood behind him. Dru waited in the sputtering truck, watching Sam as the moon frowned its face down on them.
This is taking too long.
He beat his fist against the iron and honked the horn clipped to his side. “Trick or treat, damn it!”
He could hear approaching footsteps from inside the house. The candy drop opened and Sam dumped in the rations until the box was half empty.
“Thank you,” said the voice behind the door. “God bless you all.”
“Happy Halloween,” Sam said and turned back to the street.
He was halfway across the lawn when a cold howl pierced the night from an unknown distance. More hollow cries joined the chorus from all around as Sam ran to the truck.
“What do you want me to do?” Dru asked from inside.
“Follow close. I’ll deliver the rest of this box to the next one. Then we’re gonna have to head back to base.”
“What about the others?”
“They’ll have to wait until later. Hand me a shotgun.”
Dru grabbed a .12 gauge from a duffle bag filled with firearms resting in between the seats. Sam slung it around his neck and headed for the next house. A woman dressed as a cat unlatched the door and held back a curious little girl mummy behind her leg.
“Stay back, Willow,” she said.
“Take the rest of this box and secure the doors and windows. Howlers are coming.”
The little mummy screamed and ran out of sight. Taking the box, the woman slammed the door behind Sam as he headed back toward the truck, the sound of hammering wood echoing behind.
A man wearing a hockey mask burst from the next house, waving a machete. Sam aimed the .12 gauge at his chest.
“Whoa, don’t shoot,” the man said, removing his mask and lifting his arms into the air.
“Sir, get back in your house.”
“What about our rations? We’re starving!”
“We’ll come back when the howlers have cleared the area. Now get inside!”
Before the man could yell back, a low snarl came from behind him. Sam looked at the darkness in between the two houses; a pair of eyes glowed white from within. The man screamed as an enormous wolf-like creature ran across the lawn towards him. Sam squeezed off a round but the howler dodged the buckshot, slamming into the frantic man and pinning him against the dead grass.
Its large teeth shred into the man’s neck, staining the ground around them with blood. Sam pumped another round into the chamber and aimed the gun at the creature’s jerking, gray head.
The howler rose on its hind legs. It had to have been more than seven feet tall. Blood dripped from its open jaws as it towered above Sam, its sharp nails flexing, ready to swipe across his face.
Sam blasted a shell into its body, sending it across the lawn with its splattered entrails. He walked to the lifeless shape of the man with the fake machete and placed another shot through the man’s head.
Another swarm of howls attracted Sam’s attention to the houses surrounding him. Over a dozen more howlers clawed along the rooftops, preparing to assault; their white eyes a contrast to the orange glow below them.
“Drive!” Sam shouted toward the truck.
The vehicle jerked forward, picking up speed as Sam ran along the grass beside it. He could hear the howlers behind him, their growls and the multiple thuds, as they hit the ground and broke into a run. The passenger door slipped further away.
He had to grab on to the rear door to pull himself in while a box of candy flew from the back as the truck swerved around a corner. He held onto the side, swinging like a loose tail light.
Pulling himself further into the truck, he sat up and looked back at the street. The howlers followed, all of them on their hind legs. The truck sped further ahead of the pack and Sam could hear the shouts of victory from inside the driver’s seat.
Not over yet.
The howlers leaped onto all fours and clawed like lightning against the pavement, clearing the gap between them and the truck. The howler out in front jumped toward the open trailer. A blast from the .12 gauge sent it flopping into the asphalt as the others evaded and continued their pursuit.
Sam hurried to reload the shotgun, digging extra shells from his left pocket. One of the creatures clawed onto the truck and snapped at his right foot. It pulled against his pant leg, jerking him toward the street, forcing him to drop the .12 gauge behind. His heart beat with the pulsing rhythm of the tires.
Clinging to the side of the door, his left hand exploded with pain. The other howlers ran up and bit towards his leg, taking advantage of the lead wolf’s grip on him. He could feel his fingers slipping, screaming to let go.
Sam stretched behind his head to scrounge for the gun. The only things he could grab were splinters and a rogue jaw breaker. His backside started to slide off the edge when his fingers finally felt the comfort of a stock and trigger.
The howler that gripped his pants threw a bulky, gray arm onto his leg, clawing into his thigh with its black nails.
“Son of a bitch!”
It roared back in response as he swung the .12 gauge around to set between the beast’s eyes. A quick squeeze and an explosion of brains and fur slapped into his face and around the edge of the trailer. The howler’s limp, headless body dropped to the street, tripping a few of the others while the rest held back to regroup with the immobilized.
Sam ripped the blood-stained clown mask from his head and limped toward the back of the trailer. The lifeless eyes of a mannequin stared back at him as he removed it from the wall. Hitting another curve, the back of the truck bobbed and weaved, sending Sam to the floor and the dummy on top of him.
“Take it easy!”
He picked himself back up and walked the mannequin to the edge as the howlers scraped around the corner and bounded towards the truck. Grenades bulged within the mannequin’s vest pockets as the silver rings attached to them hung out, ready to be pulled.
“I’m sending out a Stingy Jack!”
Sam removed each ring and shoved the mannequin off the truck. He watched as the howlers surrounded it, tearing into the plastic flesh and designer cotton.
The engine groaned louder as the decreasing image of the howlers became enveloped in shadow. A blast of fire and blood erupted in the middle of the street, shattering windows of useless cars and ripping apart mailboxes. Sam held his breath and waited to see if any howler would emerge from the flames and continue the chase.
“Pull over, Dru.”
The truck wheezed to a stop and Sam entered the passenger side. Dru’s wide eyes stared at him, his make-up running with the sweat from his brow.
“Back to base?”
“No. I’m still not feeling too easy about this. That explosion is sure to draw more to us. And I don’t think they’d appreciate us leading a pack to the safe zone.”
“So what do we do?”
“Let’s just ride around for a bit. Make sure things have died down,” Sam said, opening a Snickers bar.
“Sounds good to me.”
They turned onto a long stretch of road lined with trees that stretched out to each other from each side, giving the illusion of a dark, wooden tunnel. Sam tried to imagine what they would look like if the leaves still hung from them, if they ever did, instead of lying crumpled on the ground beneath the thick trunks.
“So you won’t believe where I was when I woke up,” Dru said.
“Well, I come to and I’m in my costume here and surrounded by these big white walls.”
“I start freaking out, thinking I’ve been buried alive or something, except it’s bright and I’m sitting down. Took me a minute to realize my pants were around my ankles and I was on the pot.”
They both laughed as the truck neared a deserted middle school. Most of the letters had fallen from the concrete sign but Sam remembered when it used to read Bobbins Middle School.
“You wanted to know where I woke up?”
“Right there,” he said, pointing to the school.
“Yep. Face down on the tile floor. Lights were off and kids screamin’ everywhere.”
“What were you doing there?”
“What were you doing on the crapper? Haven’t met anybody who remembers anything from before.”
“Yeah, me neither.”
The engine made a sharp, popping noise like someone had shot it from under the hood.
“What? No, don’t. Don’t!” Dru said.
“Did you check the oil?”
“Yeah, just before we left.”
It started to shake, smoking as the truck lost its momentum and came to a stop in front of the school.
“I’ll radio in,” Sam said, unhooking the receiver from the CB. “Frankenstein to base.”
“Go ahead, Sam.”
“We’ve got a break down right in front of the middle school. Can you send some help?”
“It’s gonna be a while. Casperelli’s truck never came back from the east side of town. We’ve sent everyone else out to search for him and Wendy. Might be an hour or two.”
“Damn it!” Sam said, away from the receiver. “All right, we’re gonna hole up in the school until someone shows.”
Sam chunked the receiver to the floor and pinched two fingers against the bridge of his nose.
“Why are we going into the school?” Dru asked.
“We’re dead if we stay out here. The armor wouldn’t hold for long and it’s not like the moon is ever going dark. Hurry to the back and grab two boxes. I’ll get the guns.”
Dru sighed and stepped out of the truck. Sam watched him until he disappeared behind the trailer, and then opened the glove compartment. He had to brush away piles of candy wrappers and a screwdriver until he found the first-aid kit. Taking several glances at the side mirror, he pulled up his right pant leg and wrapped a roll of gauze around the bite above his ankle.
He looked again at the mirror and saw Dru coming back with a box in each arm. Covering the bandaged wound with his pant leg, he bent over to retrieve the bag of guns.
“You coming?” Dru asked through the window.
“Yeah, just tired.”
Sam met him on the other side of the truck and they headed up the steps to the chain-locked doors.
“You ever get tired of this stuff?” Dru asked, shaking a box of candy.
“Sure. But what else is there to eat?”
“Heard about these guys a while back runnin’ a truck over in Harvest Estates.”
Sam set all but one gun down and motioned for Dru to step back. He blasted the lock open and pulled the chain from behind the door handles.
“They had delivered everything they were carrying for that night and got to feelin’ hungry,”
Sam continued, walking inside with the steel chain. “They had also taken down an entire pack that night and one of them gets to thinkin’ that maybe they should put the bite on a howler for a change.”
“Started themselves a fire. Chopped off an arm or a leg. Had a nice little picnic. Poor bastards turned before they could finish eating.”
“Damn! I didn’t know eating one could do that.”
“Neither did we,” Sam said as he finished wrapping the chain around the door handles. “So I’ll just stick to candy.”
“Yeah, me too.”
Darkness flooded the hall in front of them and coursed around beams of moonlight that entered through the windows. Sam led the way. The sound of their hollow footsteps and the smell of stale wood brought back the sensations of the night he woke up. The cold floor. The screams. The endless amount of blood pouring from
Focus, he told himself. It’s just the bite messing with you.
No. Don’t think about that either. It wasn’t that deep. You won’t turn. You can’t!
“What the hell happened in here?” Dru asked.
He was a few feet behind, sticking his head inside an open classroom door. Sam stepped beside him and looked in. A faded but thick, red stain covered the walls. Crusty droplets of the same color were splattered against overturned desks and posters. There was one of a man with wild hair and a moustache; another glossy one with groups of letters and numbers written in a grid of boxes. The full moon smiled down on the scene through a pair of large pane windows.
Sam sighed, walked to the large desk in front of the chalkboard, and set the guns down.
“You were here when you woke up,” Dru said, placing the boxes on the floor. “What went down?”
“Howlers got in while everyone was unconscious. Some of the kids got out in time. Most of them weren’t so lucky. A lot of them crowded in here but that just made it easier for the wolves.”
“Where were you?”
“Locked myself in the room across the hall,” Sam said as he sat down in a desk.
Dru stared at him for a moment, his face blank as if he had lost the capacity to think.
“What was I supposed to do?”
“Hey don’t sweat it—”
“You didn’t have any weapons. Hell, you didn’t even know who you were.”
“Still don’t. Anyway, I’m repenting for it now. Every night I go out treating.”
“Hey, look! They’ve got a TV.”
Dru rushed to the large monitor on top of a black dolly pushed against the far corner. He wheeled it to the center of the room, facing it toward the desks, and began to unwrap the power cord.
“We don’t even know if the power works,” Sam said.
“We can try. And I’m not expecting much but they’ve got a VCR here with a tape still in it.”
Dru pushed the cord into the outlet and both devices popped to life.
“All right! We’ve got power.”
Dru sat in a desk beside Sam and they both stared at the black screen as it transitioned to a bright blue. The words “DERG Atom Smasher” appeared in large white letters. The title card faded and a brown haired woman with olive-toned skin appeared, standing with a large building over her shoulder in the distance.
A sun was in the sky.
“Holy shit! Look at that,” Dru shouted.
“Shh! Just keep watching.”
The woman spoke.
“We’re here in Norway to speak with the scientists of DERG about their new SSC atom smasher, a controversial machine that measures over eighty miles in diameter. I’m Trish Lingle. Join us as we enter through previously classified and mysterious doors to investigate exactly what the Super Strangelet Collider will do, here on Science Tomorrow.”
Music played as a montage of different animals, symbols, and numbers flew around on screen. Dru kept his eyes on the pictures like a brainless drone while Sam took a chance to look out the windows to his left. Nothing but the moon.
He turned his head back to the television. Crowds of men and women in white coats bustled in a small room with millions of blinking lights around them.
“This is Grand Central. Hundreds of experts in their field have come from all over the globe to participate in what many are calling the most important event of our time. But they all look to one man. Doctor Herman Zufraden.”
The picture wiped to a white-haired man with a matching goatee.
“Doctor Zufraden, thank you for having us,” the woman said.
“You are most welcome.”
Dru spit out a laugh. The man on screen spoke with a strange accent Sam had never heard before.
“Doctor, you and your team are set to launch the SSC at the end of this month. Can you tell us why you chose Halloween?”
“That day is as good as any other. But also, we wanted to operate the collider sometime after the equinox. The moon will also be at its fullest and closer to the earth than it’s been in centuries. Plus, we thought it would be a little fun.”
“Many, including very prominent scientists, have voiced their disapproval of activating the collider; saying that doing so could bring about the end of the world. Is there any possibility?”
The man on screen removed his glasses, laughing.
“I have heard so many preposterous allegations ranging from a black hole being created, to the earth’s rotation shutting down and sending half of the earth into eternal night. All of these have no….”
“Stop the tape,” Dru said.
Dru’s face had changed from an anxious curiosity to something that resembled a fearful anger.
“Fine! I’ll do it,” he said, charging from the desk.
“What’s your problem? You’re the one that wanted to watch it. And now that we’re getting some answers you want to stop?”
Sam rushed to Dru as he yanked the cord from the wall.
“We don’t need to know,” Dru said.
“The hell we don’t! I don’t know about you but I find a little comfort, at least in the smallest amount, that the world wasn’t always as jacked up as it is now.”
“I like the way things are. I don’t know who I was before but I know who I am now. I’m a treater. And I’ve worked too hard for all of this to go away.”
“That’s why you’re pissed? Job security? Forget this. I’m bringing the tape back to base,”
Sam said, reaching for the power cord.
Dru punched him in the gut and knocked him to the floor. Sam’s entire right side ached with a sharp throb, but it was nothing compared to the increasing rage of the wound on his ankle. He could feel its white heat coursing into the rest of him. Dru grabbed an Uzi from the bag on the desk and kneeled.
“Are you nuts?”
“I need you to swear you won’t take this information out of this building,” Dru said.
“Screw that! You can’t intimidate me. I’m a treater. You’re just a pussy with a gun.”
“Swear!” Dru shook the gun, as if pressing some invisible button to induce obedience. The sensation coursing through Sam’s body shot to his heart and brain, bringing him again to his knees. “Get up!”
Sam tried to speak but all that came out was a blistering roar. The pain strangled him.
“Are you having a heart attack? Oh my God! What do I do?”
A shadow appeared in the window behind Dru. The dark shape was like a mist, building up under the moon and against the glass until it poured into the classroom. It swam across the floor toward him, forming into the head of a wolf.
Its teeth gnashed from side to side and the head lifted back in a howl, although the only sound in the room was the staggered breath of both men. The shadow snaked through Dru’s legs and entered into Sam’s torso.
“What the hell?”
The muscles in Sam’s arms tightened and swelled to an enormous size. A thousand gray hairs ripped through his pores, his teeth grew sharper, longer. Looking to Dru, he could not only see the fear pouring from him like a slaughtered lamb, he could smell it. It was like a river of colors and fumes that begged to be consumed.
Dru lifted the gun but Sam’s claws had already slashed across his throat and face. He dropped to the tile with a wet flop.
He gripped himself from inside in some hope to control the change. Stumbling through the pool of blood leaking from his partner’s body to the bag of weapons resting on the desk, he reached into a small pocket to pull out a vile of sparkling, silver liquid. He downed it in one gulp and fell to the floor.
“Please,” he said, looking to the ceiling, “please.”
His body shrank and cooled. His teeth still ached but, feeling them, he knew they had regained their shape. Putting the cord back in, he ejected the tape and sat against the desk beside Dru. He unwrapped a red Tootsie-Roll Pop. It would still be an hour or so before somebody from base would show up. Plenty of time to come up with an excuse for Dru. Plenty of time to find a way to word the truth.
This story originally appeared in Children of the Moon.