Muttering to himself as he always does, ole Gus shuffled to the basement door, pulled it open, and carefully descended the barely lit stairs. Once in the subterranean cavern – as he liked to imagine it – he began searching the dusty shelves for boxes marked ‘Halloween’ in Ester’s neat, tidy handwriting. God rest her soul. Given what a pain in the ass his wife had been in life, he’d never thought he would miss her nagging so much now that she was gone. Oh well, done is done, can’t dwell on the past. That’s the way he’d always lived his life, no reason to go changing things now. If he could just get that damned Priest from their church to stop ‘dropping in’, he could finally catch up on his shows. That old coot would do just about anything to get a little extra change on the Sunday plate. Gus couldn’t see any other reason why the man kept coming by to console him; always bringing casseroles, and baked this or homemade that, from strange women he’d never even met. Yup, it had to be that Sunday Salvation savings account he kept making deposits into. No other reason for it. She’d been dead for, Christ – what was it, three, four weeks now; it was time to stop treating him like a lost mute-child found wandering the streets! These people just didn’t know how to keep to themselves and quit meddling in his affairs. Well, at least he was eating well. Ester, God rest her soul, was a fair looking woman with many fine qualities, but cooking wasn’t one of them. Nope. She must have been looking the other way when that train went whistling by. Oh well, done is done.
Rooting around the musty shelves in the dim light, Gus finally came across what looked like the right boxes. ‘Course, they were behind the ‘X-Mass’ boxes; now he’d have to move those first. Speaking of ‘X-Mass,’ that was something he’d always wondered… why spell it with two S’s on the end? Christmas was spelled with one S, and he couldn’t see the Arch Diocese endorsing X-Priests, like X-Men, so X-Masses were probably out of the question. Now that would be a service he wouldn’t mind donating to – hell, they could charge admission. Those money grubbing, wafer toting, alcohol peddling Men of the Cloth zipping around with special powers… that would be a show! What, no change for the plate? Father Laser Eye, incinerate that cheap son-of-a-bitch. Zap! Ha! Ahhh, well, it would probably be more like Father Lazy Eye with those clowns. Anyway, speaking of clowns, if he didn’t stop imagining The Flying Priest-capades in his head, he’d never get the lawn set up for tomorrow night. And Ester, God rest her soul, wouldn’t have that at her home. Nope. Better get back to gettin’ to it if he was finally going to get back at those little shits for the years of fucking with her lawn.
A few hours later, he’d managed to drag all the boxes and loose pieces of seasonal ornamentation up from the basement and out onto the porch. Looking around at the leaves cluttering the front yard, Gus figured there was no sense in raking them; they added to the ambiance. Plus his back was way too sore for that kind of manual labor, especially considering what was still to come. Yup. Ester, God rest her soul, was going to be proud of his efforts this year; and whether she was too kind-hearted or lady-like to admit it, she’d enjoy the vengeance he had planned for those crap-faced teenagers. Ha! Well, time to break out the cob-webbing, and get the decorating over with.
Gus worked long into the night, waving to passers-by as they called out a hello, taking a break only to sit and eat the latest dish of whatever-you-call-that-stuff the Priest brought by. To any and all watching, it seemed the kindly old widower was going about making his home as inviting as he could for the pip-squeaks who would come mooching for candy tomorrow night. Sometime around 10:30 pm, he placed the final prop in its honored and very conspicuous place. It was the most realistic, most expensive severed head he and Ester, God rest her soul, had collected. It was really a bit too pricey for them, but from the moment she saw it, there was no talking sense to her – she simply wouldn’t leave the store without it. He’d spent the last several years sitting up awake on All Hallows’ Eve just to protect that one piece from the neighborhood vandals. They’re just kids having fun, Ester, God rest her soul, would always say. Kids, my ass, he always thought. Lighting his last cigarette before heading inside to wash up and sleep for a few hours, Gus wondered just how much fun they’d be having this year. After a few drags, he flicked the butt onto his neighbor’s lawn, picked up the prized latex head, and trudged inside to catch a little shut-eye.
At 2:00 am, his alarm clock sounded. After splashing cold water on his face and shaking off the sandman, Gus got down to the real business of this year’s decorating. Collecting his shovel and pickax from the shed out back, he shambled his way around to the front lawn. He might be an old geezer, but years of working in the mill had hardened him into something much different than most people thought. He was a smart man, one who knew how to foster good will and empathy, but one who also knew when it was time to use his strengths to his advantage. Making his way to the spot where the prized head would sit later that evening, he tossed down the shovel and began breaking up the dirt on his front lawn.
Back inside, he made his way to the shower, cleaned himself up, then cooked a hearty breakfast of poached eggs, instant grits, bacon, maple sausage links, and six slices of toast. Just like Ester, God rest her soul, used to make… well, maybe a little better, but don’t tell her that.
Sitting on his front porch that afternoon and evening, Gus dutifully rewarded all the little children with their hands held out begging for candy. As the night wore on, he was sure to keep an eye on that ghoulish head, and all the little bastards who had their eye on it, too. He knew that one of them would come back and make a play for it well after everyone was asleep. With all the wee ones home by 9:00 pm, it was just a matter of waiting the right amount of time. By 11:30 pm, Gus had been alone on his porch for an hour and a half without seeing another soul. Giggling to himself and saying a silent prayer that Ester, God rest her soul, was watching, he began his own Halloween fun! Tucking the latex head inside the house, he slid the board covering the hole he’d made in the early hours of the morning out of the way and tossed it under the porch, hiding the evidence of his deceit among the other debris stored there. Sitting down on the lawn, Gus dangled his legs over the opening for just a moment before he shimmied his way into the ground. Having left one arm free, he scooped the loose dirt and leaves that had concealed the board onto his broad shoulders, then worked his arm into the dirt as well. Buried up to his neck, Gus stood in the tight confines of the vertical grave he’d dug earlier and waited. It didn’t take long.
Judging it to be about half past midnight, he heard a rustling sound, and the drunken whispers of the aforementioned idiots approaching. Holding dead still, eyes closed, he waited and listened.
“Damn man, it looks so real!”
“Of course it looks real, dick-head, that’s why it’s such a great grab for this year’s scavenger hunt. Plus that pain-in-the-ass isn’t sitting on the porch guarding it like he usually is.”
“Show some respect, man. The dude just lost his wife. My dad comes by here with food and shit from the church cronies like every night.”
“Yeah, I’m sure he does it out of respect. He’s just hoping the old fuck leaves his money to the parish.”
“Whatever, asshole. Just grab it so we can get the hell out of here before someone sees us.”
The sound of footsteps grew closer as the leaves crunched in his ears. Gus felt the warmth of the little bastard’s hands nearly touching him.
“You sure the coast is clear?”
“Yeah, man. Just hurry the fuck up and grab it!”
Sensing the impending hands closing around his head, Gus’s eyes shot open as quickly as his jaw. He’d taken the time to file his teeth to razor sharp points while he’d waited inside. In one fluid motion, he turned and snapped his mouth closed on the arm of the fuck-wad trying to steal his head. His teeth sliced clean through the connective muscle and sinew at the boys elbow; as soon as the kid yanked backward, his forearm detached with a sickening squelch. They all started to scream like the little piss-ants they were. Blood spurted everywhere, making Gus’s head really look like the latex gem. As the teens ran screaming for their lives, Gus spit the arm out toward the bushes. Cackling with maniacal laughter, shreds of fabric and gristle still clinging to his teeth, Gus shouted, “See Ester, God rest your ever lovin’ soul, I found the perfect prop to finish our display!”
~ Nina D’Arcangela
© Copyright Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved