They Don’t Always Feel Like Sweets

📅 Published on October 25, 2023

“They Don’t Always Feel Like Sweets”

Written by Jasper DeWitt
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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“They don’t always feel like sweets.”

Daddy told me that for the first time when I was seven.  I guess you could say he was planning ahead. Then again, I guess you could say he was protecting me, too.  Not that it did his old ass any damn good. You can try to keep Death out of your own home, and out of the homes of others a long, long time, but when the chips are down, that old grey bastard’s gonna come along, waving his sickle in the air. Folks always correct me about that, say Death carries a scythe, but dey don’t know their asses from their elbows.  Death moves too quick to swing a big old scythe around every time.  Whereas a sickle, you can at least hold one of those in both hands.  Not that he needed two hands to get Dad, but I thought he’d at least need ‘em to get me.  Went and got someone to cry to the cops.  Doing it this way is cheating.

Anyway, you want me to confess to killing, let’s see, three dozen people in the past three dozen years, right?  No?  What do you mean, y’all only identified ten?  Well, this is awkward.  But whether it’s 10 or 36, y’all can relax.  You’re gonna get a big, fat bonus this year at Christmastime.  If you’re still around to enjoy it with me dead.  Just remember, boys, I’m only gonna tell you one time: don’t let any of your family go out after dark on Halloween night, and don’t sleep any place that someone you love has died.

But I’m gettin’ ahead of myself, aren’t I?  Alright, I guess we oughta start with that there thing my Pa said to me.  “Dey don’t always feel like sweets.”

Pa first hinted at what was to come in the spring of ‘77.  The same year, appropriately, that I was 7.  Pa said he’d normally have waited ‘til I was eight, but that kinda coincidence of age 7 lining up with two more sevens?  He was a big believer in omens, and that one was too good to pass up.  Anyway, he told me that on Halloween night that year, I was gonna come with him, and…take care of some business. Men’s business.  Now, I don’t mind telling you, I was excited.  And a little intimidated.  ‘Cause you don’t to take part in men’s unless you’re a man yourself, and I wasn’t sure I was ready for that.  But since my birthday was in the spring, and Halloween wasn’t for many months, I eventually forgot about it.

Until the night before, when my Mama and my Pa got into a screaming match.

“Omens matter in my business, Charlene!”

“Oh, omens my ass, Henry Mills, if you think you’re taking my baby out on one of your nasty ass little errands…”

“You knew all about those ‘errands’ when you married me, Charlene!”

“I knowed dey was something you and your daddy got up to, and my mama begged me not to go steady with your ass ‘cause she knew it, too, Henry, but I was so sweet on you I was fool enough not to care.  But he’s too young.  You said your daddy didn’t do it ‘til you were eight!”

“It’s the way it’s got to be.  We talked about this ever since you gave birth to the little–”

I stepped out of my room, and the fight stopped.  Figures.  Dey never talked about this kinda stuff when they knew I was listening.  But I was a man now, according to Pa Paw, and I wanted Mama to know I was brave enough to handle whatever it was.  ‘Cause it’s a man’s job to look after the women in his life, and now that I was a man, that made Mama being scared my problem, too.

“Ryan!”  Mama gave me a haunted look when she saw me.  “Go back to bed, baby.  Your daddy and I are just having a discussion.”

The way she looked when she said it made me scared, but I didn’t let that stop me.

“I heard ya,” I said, trying to sound like Rocky Balboa in a seven-year-old body.  “I heard ya, Mama, and I ain’t scared.  I can handle it.”

“See?” Pa Paw didn’t miss a beat when he heard me.  “He ain’t complaining, is he?  He knows what needs to be done.”

Mama gave Pa Paw a look that would’ve killed at 20 paces, and then she closed her eyes and clenched her fists.  “Damn you, Henry Mills,” she whispered.  “Damn you to hell.”

Pa Paw didn’t react, even though I would’ve been scared to death if she looked at me like that.  “Hell’s full enough without me, Charlene,” he said wearily.  “I’m just trying to keep it that way.”

With that, he sloped off before Mama could yell at him anymore.  And even though I had nightmares something fierce that night, and was stone tired on Halloween, I still knew I had to be strong and stick out whatever Pa Paw had in store for me.  ‘Cause I was a man, and men do what needs doing.

Let’s just say it was the first of many surprises I was in for that night when Pa Paw told me he, not Mama, was gonna take me trick-or-treating.  It wasn’t til later that I realized why, but seeing as I was scared I was gonna miss all the candy doing whatever Pa Paw wanted me to do, this was too much of a relief to question it.  For the next few hours, I trundled ‘round the neighborhood, getting candy from every door that would open.  What was weird, though, was that Pa Paw wouldn’t walk me up to the door of all those houses.  Sometimes, he’d just leave me about 20 feet from the door and run off ‘round the back.  Again, I didn’t understand this, but in the fullness of time, I understood more than I wanted to.

However, eventually, and sooner than I liked, my trick-or-treating time had to end.  Specifically, it had to end right when the sun started going down.  At that point, Pa Paw took my bag, which was honestly not nearly as full of candy as I hoped, and gave me a funny look.

“Now listen to me, Ryan,” he said, kneeling down so he could look me in the eye, “you handle tonight like a man, and I’ll take you to any damn supermarket you want and buy you enough candy to fill up that bag ‘til Christmas.  But you’ve gotta help me, first, Ryan.  You gotta start learning how to do something that, when I die, is gonna be your job.  Got it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good.  Then come on back in the truck.”

I did as I was told, and soon as I’d shut the door, Pa Paw gunned the engine on his truck and took us far out of town.  Into the woods.  Deep into the woods, But, he seemed to know where he was going, because once we were there, he pulled over sharp and got out to check something.  I was about to follow him when the back seat’s one working door swung open and Pa Paw deposited something that made me want to upchuck all the candy I’d already eaten: the carcasses of three dead squirrels.  When Pa Paw saw the nausea on my face, he barked at me to cover my nose, and then got back in the truck and started driving again.  He made four more stops, just like that one.  And at every one, he’d drop another pack of rotting, dead animals in the back seat.  However, eventually, he got done with this and drove us back into town.

But we didn’t go home.  No, instead, we stopped outside a house that I dimly recognized from trick-or-treating earlier that night.  I seemed to remember that it housed a sweet, little old lady who’d had trouble opening the door when I knocked, but had handed me a full-size Snickers bar when she did get the door open.  I was confused.  Was Pa Paw taking me back to get more candy from her?  Because if so, I wasn’t complaining.

Then, Pa Paw turned to me.  “Now you listen, Ryan.  I want you to stay here, in the car.  You’re not old enough to see what I got to do now.  So stay here.  Whatever you hear, even if something scary comes out of that house, you stay put.  If everything goes well, I should be back in about 15 to 20 minutes.”

I wanted to argue, not least of all because I was still stuck next to about a dozen rotting animal carcasses, but I could see from the look in his eyes that Pa Paw wasn’t gonna take any backsass.  So I just nodded.  “Yes, sir.”

Pa Paw gave me an absent smile, and then shut the door behind him, locking the truck.  Then, he approached Snickers lady’s house.  Of course, he didn’t go straight up to the door, but doubled round the back again, until he was out of my sight.  I sat there for what felt like hours, my nerves and the smell of dead animal flesh both making me feel sick.  For a moment, I started to be really afraid that Pa Paw wasn’t gonna come back from whatever he was doing, which – based on the look in his eyes – seemed like it was something dangerous.

I was right.  It was dangerous.  But about his not coming back, at least, I turned out to be wrong.  Pa Paw was as good as his word, and appeared just barely over 15 minutes later, coming back round the house.  But he was moving slower, and after a second, I saw why.  He was pulling something behind him: something that looked like a trash bag full of something cumbersome.  And wet, as I realized when he got closer and shoved it into the truckbed with a nasty squelching noise.  Then, Pa Paw got back in the truck, and without saying anything, started it up again.

From there, we drove around town, stopping seemingly at random outside individual houses.  At which point, Pa Paw would get out of the car, pull open the one working backseat door, and fish out one of the dead animals, which he’d then drop outside the front door of whatever house we were stopped outside. It wasn’t until he exhausted his supply of these, except for one limp squirrel carcass, that he eventually started walking back to the truck bed and pulling stuff out of that trash bag he’d brought.  It was too dark to make out what it was, at first, but eventually, we landed outside a house that had a porchlight, and I got a good look at what he was carrying.

I wish I hadn’t.  However, you can probably guess that it wasn’t something you could get from an animal.  But it was part of something dead.  Oh, it sure was part of something dead.  Anyway, he dropped it on that particular porch so casually, it was like he was delivering mail.  We must’ve made two dozen stops like this, where Pa Paw would fish around in his trash bag of horrors, pull out something bloody and mangled, and leave it on a porch.  Then, eventually, when the bag finally was empty, he got in the car, turned back to me, and gave me a cryptic but genuine smile.

“You’ve done good, Ryan,” he said.  “You’ve done real good.  Let’s go get you that candy, now, and then I’ll explain what we’ve been–”

“Pa Paw?” There was a quaver in my voice.  “Did you do something…bad?” Pa Paw went pale for a second, then sighed and climbed into the backseat with me.

“Yes, Ryan, I did,” he said.  “But, and you’re too young to understand this, what I did, while it was bad, it also stopped a lot worse from going on.”

“Why?”  My eyes must’ve looked like dinner plates.  “What could’ve happened?”

Pa Paw gave a grunt of resignation.  “How much you know about Halloween night, Ryan?  Besides the whole candy and costumes thing?”

“Nothing,” I said honestly.

“Well, Halloween night sometimes gets called All Hallows’ Eve.  And the reason it’s called that, is ‘cause tonight, all the souls of dead people are supposed to walk the earth and go visit their loved ones, who I guess are supposed to feel a bit better about their grief, knowing they can see dead relatives every Halloween.  Or at least, that’s the story.”

He rolled the window down and spat on the pavement.  “It’s bull, Ryan.  It’s all bull.  Truth is, the spirits of the dead are too goddamn hungry to remember who they are.  Now, fortunately, some enterprising marketing genius got hold of this little story, and figured he could sell candy with it, so most folks leave out a basket of candy on their porch, not realizing that basket might be the only thing keeping the hungry dead at bay.  But…”

And that’s when he looked me in the eye and said the thing that’s the reason we’re all sitting here: “They don’t always feel like sweets.”

He didn’t say anything after this, and I knew better than to ask.  Besides, even at seven, I could figure enough of what he meant, and what that meant about what he’d been doing.  Anyway, he did buy me all that candy, though I wasn’t really in the right mood to enjoy it.  The only other thing that happened that night that bears mentioning was that when we got home, Pa Paw pulled that last squirrel carcass from the back seat and laid it on the front porch next to our own basket of candy.  Then, he turned to me and said one more thing, which I now absolutely consider the moment my childhood died.

“Your mama don’t know the whole story, Ryan.  Far as she knows, I’ve just been carting you around and leaving dead animals on people’s porches all night.  And that’s all she ever will know, isn’t it, Ryan? ‘Cause I guarantee you, if she finds out about the trash bag and whatever you might’ve seen me taking out of it, you’ll never see her ass again.  And you don’t want that, do you, Ryan?”

I shook my head, with tears in my eyes, and Pa Paw smiled.

“Good.  Then give me your word as a man that you won’t say nothing about that, Ryan.  Your word as a man.”

If I’d been a little older, I might have realized how fanciful it was to think Mama would just leave me with a man capable of what Pa Paw had done that night.  But I’d seen how mad she looked the previous night, and I was still too scared to think straight, so I gave him my word.  And I kept it.  Right up until Mama died, I kept it.  Though, by then, that lie was to protect me as much as Pa Paw.

‘Cause that wasn’t the end of it, oh, no, sir, not at all.  That was just the start of what became a yearly ritual with Pa Paw, and every year, my involvement in the night’s “errands” deepened.  At first, when we made the initial circuit of the traps Pa Paw laid every year the night before Halloween, he’d tell me to come out and fish out one of the animals.  Then two.  Then, over time, he’d have me empty a whole trap.  Then two traps.  Then all the traps.  And finally, when I was 14, and didn’t even flinch at the thought of touching dead animals, he initiated me into the other part of his errands.  The real bad part.

Now, because I was too old to trick or treat by then, we had to come up with a different cover story for what I now realized was Pa Paw scouting all the houses in town to find out which ones either left their doors unlocked, or had locks that were easy to pick.  Pa Paw always used to say we had to take the people with the least life left, and with the weakest defenses, because that way it wasn’t like we were picking and choosing our targets.  More like we were a natural disaster that’d wipe out whatever unlucky son of a bitch wasn’t prepared, so it wasn’t really our fault.  Anyway, eventually, Pa Paw hit on a really ingenious ploy to hide what we were doing: he took a shift as part of the neighborhood watch, which had really only formed because every Halloween, someone would unaccountably disappear.  Say what you like about Pa Paw, but he sure had a hell of a sense of humor, to come up with that.

Anyway, that year, it turned out that our most promising prospect was an old-timer named Jerry Knowles.  He lived on the outskirts of town, so Pa Paw thought any noise we might make wouldn’t be as much of a problem.  Since it was my first year, you see, he figured noise was probably gonna be unavoidable.

Now, I won’t insult your intelligence by pretending that what we did that night came as a complete surprise.  I’m no Einstein, but I wasn’t so stupid that I couldn’t work out what Pa Paw had been doing. Even so, knowing and doing were clean different.  I was already shivering by the time Pa Paw told me to pick the lock on old Jerry Knowles’ back porch, and not ‘cause of the cold.  I couldn’t hold the tools still long enough to make the lock break.  When Pa Paw saw that, he shoved me aside roughly and did it himself, before turning to me with a hard expression and thrusting something heavy and metallic into my hands.  I looked down and saw that it was an old-fashioned snub-nosed revolver with a silencer attached.

“Wanted to spare you this, Ryan,” Pa Paw growled.  “But if you can’t pick the lock, then I guess you’re gonna have to do the only other useful thing there is.  Don’t worry, I’ll get him nice and unconscious so you can’t miss.”

“Pa Paw, I don’t think I can–”

“You can and you will, Ryan.  I didn’t raise no sissy.  Can’t afford to have done.”  There was no room for argument in his tone.  “Now c’mon, before things get harder.”

We found Jerry Knowles in his sitting room, sleeping in a recliner with the TV showing static and an empty bottle of whiskey in his lap.  Probably for the best, honestly; made it even harder for the poor bastard to hear us.  Or to resist.  Though he still tried.  Oh God, he still tried.

Now, y’all already know I killed a lot of people, so it might surprise you to hear that I can still remember what happened in such detail.  But murder – not that you’d know – is like sex in a lot of ways, and most predominately in that you never forget your first.  So here’s what happened to Jerry Knowles: Pa Paw crept up behind him and grabbed him by the throat with both hands, and started squeezing.  Even with the booze in his system, Jerry woke right up at that and sure enough, he started kicking.  Kicking, and clawing at Pa Paw, and making these weird little hacking noises like he was a goddamn cat trying to spit up a hairball.  I couldn’t see his face while Dad did it, but I could still hear the shock and terror he must’ve been feeling in those last few minutes.

Then, he went limp, like he’d just fallen back asleep, and that’s when Pa Paw stepped back round the chair, grabbed me by the shoulders, and shoved me in front of poor Jerry Knowles.  His chest was still rising and falling slightly, even though his throat kept on making this nasty whistling noise every time air came in and out, and before I knew what was happening, Pa Paw had seized the hand I was holding the gun in and pressed the muzzle to old Jerry Knowles’ wrinkled forehead.

“Now, Ryan,” he panted, still getting his breath after strangling the poor old bastard, “one between the eyes and one in the heart, nice and clean-like.  I’ll keep hold of the gun so your hands can’t shake.  Do it.”

But I couldn’t.  I just kept staring at Jerry, just thinking about all the people who were gonna lose him when I pulled that trigger.

“Do it,” Pa Paw repeated, harsher this time.  “We ain’t got much time before he wakes up and it gets messier.”

Still, I couldn’t pull the trigger.  Pa Paw sighed, and then, with his other hand, he grabbed my fist and squeezed.  The gun went off and Jerry slumped, the whistling of his breath stopping.  Pa Paw pulled my hand roughly down to his heart and this time, I didn’t need his help.  The deed was already done.  I fired that second bullet, and felt my stomach boil.  I started to retch, but Pa Paw cuffed me across the face before I could do it, which shocked me enough to make me stop.

“You stupid?” he barked.  “What do you think’s gonna happen when the cops investigate and find your vomit on Jerry Knowles’ floor?  Outside, Ryan.  If you gotta upchuck, do it outside.  In the back.”

So I did.  I walked out of that house, through the same door we’d used to get in, and I spilled everything I’d eaten that day out onto the dirt.  When I’d finished, I saw Pa Paw coming out of the house, dragging Jerry’s body behind him.  He gave me a disappointed look and jerked his head at the fence.

“Wait in the car, Ryan.  If killing a man’s gonna make you lose your lunch, then it’s just as well you don’t see what comes next.”

I swallowed.  “What…?”

“I gotta cut him up, Ryan.  ‘Cause this is just like one of my buddies in ‘Nam told me.  He came from Injun stock, and he said his people believed when you kill something valuable, you gotta use every part.  Well, that’s what we’re gonna do, Ryan.  That’s what we’re gonna do.”

I went back to the truck and, sure enough, about ten minutes later, he came back to the car, dragging one of his trash bags full of wet things.  Only he wasn’t the one who emptied it, that night.  He made me take every single one of Jerry Knowles’ bits and stick ‘em on the porches myself.  By the time it was over, I was too numb and too empty to do anything but stare as we drove back home.  And say what you like about Pa Paw, but hard as he was, he was still a father, and he noticed how I looked.  He got this queer, tender look on his face, and then he reached over and squeezed my shoulder.

“It gets easier, Ryan,” he said.  “I know you’re probably mad as a wet cat at me right now for making you do that, but I promise, it gets easier.  And it has to be done.”

But I didn’t believe him.  Which was the worst mistake I ever made.

By the time I had to go back to school, I’ll admit, I was still a mess, but not so much of one that I couldn’t put on a brave face round everyone. The only place I really let my feelings out was on the football field, and truth is that night was probably what got me on the Varsity squad, even though I was still just a freshman. God, I wish it hadn’t.  ‘Cause if it weren’t for that, I probably never would’ve started dating Lola Barnes.

Ah, Lola.  If I’m sorry for anything connected with what I done, it’s her.  She was the prettiest little thing in my grade; could’ve been a movie star, or a beauty queen, probably, after a few more years.  She was certainly the best dancer on the cheer squad, at least for her age, and wouldn’t you know it, the fact that I was so fierce that I could knock down boys twice my size on other schools’ offensive lines impressed her.  We started going steady that winter.  After the first three months, I thought I was gonna marry her.  After we took each others’ virginity – ironically, in the same damn flatbed where Dad laid out corpses every year – I was sure I was gonna marry her.  She was the only pure thing in my life. The only innocent thing.  The only good thing.

But nothing good lasts, which is why, when I showed up at Lola’s house to take her to the movies that next spring, only to find her crying on the front porch, I should’ve guessed where things were gonna go. She looked up at me with this look in her eyes like a wounded deer, and told me both her folks had died.  A car crash, she said, caused by some drunk.  He was gone, too, which I guess was some kinda justice, but that wasn’t the important thing.  The important thing was that now, the only person she had left to take care of her in the house was her grandpa, Kit.

Now, I didn’t pay much mind to that when she first told me, ‘cause from where I was sitting, the only thing that mattered about it was that she wouldn’t have to leave town.  Besides, I knew old Kit Barnes, and I liked him; I thought together, the two of us could maybe help poor Lola recover.  That maybe we could put her back together, not good as new, maybe, but good enough for her to be happy again.  To smile and laugh again, and to one day, be my wife.  That’s what I thought, big dumb fool that I was.

That is, until Halloween rolled around and Kit forgot to lock his door.  When I saw that, and realized what it might mean, I silently prayed that someone else in town would be equally careless.  But they weren’t, which meant that this year, Pa Paw was gonna kill Kit Barnes, and steal the only other person Lola had in her life.  That is, unless I stopped him.

“Pa Paw,” I said as we drove out to the first trap, “I need to talk to you about something.”

He grunted.  “What is it, Ryan?”

“Well, you know I’m sweet on Lola Barnes, don’t you?”

“What about it?”

“Well, see, she just lost her folks this year, and it’s her grandpa who left his door unlocked, and…”

Pa Paw jerked the car to a stop and gave me a long look.  “And what?”

“I just thought, maybe we don’t have to take him?”

“And do what, instead?” I should’ve paid more mind to the danger in Pa Paw’s voice, but I went on like a fool.

“Well, maybe we just…I don’t know, grab a box of chicken legs at Sam’s Club and leave those out instead?”

“Chicken legs?!  You lost your wits, Ryan?  The things we use gotta be fresh dead, you know that.”

“Well, then maybe…I don’t know, maybe we find someone else?”

Pa Paw’s eyes narrowed as he looked down at me.  “I see.  What you’re really saying is maybe, this time, we could pick and choose.”


I could hear Pa Paw’s teeth grinding as he glared at me.  Then, he reached over and shoved the passenger side door open.  “Get out.”


“Get.  Out.  In fact, you know what?  I think I missed a lesson with you, Ryan.  Take the night off.  Take the night off, and go spend it with your girlfriend.”

“I don’t—Pa Paw, I can still–”

“Go.  Spend.  The night.  With your girlfriend.”  His voice sounded like a razor being sharpened.  “I insist.  Don’t try to come home til it’s light.  Go and sit outside her house all night if you have to, since you’re so bent on protecting her and her grandpappy.  Go on.  Git.”

“Pa Paw–”


I got out of the truck and he peeled off, spraying dirt in my face.  Suddenly, and for no reason I could understand, I felt deadly nervous, but I knew that trying to catch up or apologize would just get me in the same pickle I’d been in before: having to kill my girlfriend’s last remaining family member and somehow still live with myself afterwards.  So instead of going after Pa Paw, I did as he said.  I went back to Lola’s house, and even though it was late, there was still light in her window, so I picked up a pebble and threw it just hard enough to get her attention.  A second later, I saw her face at the window, and in a few minutes, she’d crept out of the house, wearing a tiny little red devil costume that made every part of me stand at attention.

However, before she could come round the house to meet me, something else, just out of my field of view, distracted her.  Her eyes went wide, and a delighted, if uncomprehending smile came over her face.

“Mom?” she breathed.  “Dad?”

Immediately, I felt something foul pool in my stomach, as I remembered what Pa Paw had said about the spirits of the dead coming back on All Hallows’ Eve.  Particularly the part about how they were too hungry for any kind of happy reunion to result from their appearance.  Without even thinking, I sprinted for Lola like she was a goddamn quarterback about to make a game-ending play, but as I moved, I saw what she was looking at, and halted ever so slightly as the horror of it struck home.

Her mom and dad were, indeed, in the street.  However, they didn’t look quite like themselves.  For one thing, while they looked mostly solid, there was just enough transparency to their bodies that I could almost make out the street behind them.  For another, they weren’t…well, the only way to put it is that they weren’t in color.  Everything about them was a shade of grey, almost as if I was watching people who’d been filmed in black and white walking around in a full-color world.  And that’s before I saw how they moved.

I know what you’re probably expecting me to say: that they shambled like zombies, or something.  But it wasn’t like that; if it was, the threat would’ve been obvious.  It was more like…again, I can only really use film as a reference, but it was like they walked normally, except every few seconds there’d be a frame missing, so they’d just jerk into a new position.  It was so subtle you almost wanted to think your eyes were playing tricks on you when you saw it, but I knew better.  And knowing better, I also knew what needed doing.

“Lola,” I said over my shoulder, “you get on in the house now, you hear?  Get on in the house and don’t come out no matter what happens.”

But I didn’t hear no footsteps.  “That’s my mom and dad, Ryan,” she said.  “Why you trying to keep me from my mom and dad when y’all know I missed ‘em so much?”

Her “mom and dad” were less than ten feet away from me by this point, and I raised my voice, hoping she’d get the picture.

“They ain’t your mom and dad no more, Lola!  They ain’t gonna love you.  More like they’ll eat you.”  Five feet away now.

“Get on in the house!  I ain’t saying it again.”

Something in the way I said it must’ve clued Lola in that something was really wrong, because I heard her take a few hesitant steps backwards toward the house.  I backed up, as well, trying to keep as much space between me and the dead things that were advancing on us.

“Y’all get gone, now,” I said to them.  “This house is protected.  There’s dead flesh other places y’all can eat.  Go on.”

Lola’s “mom” craned her head sideways and considered me for a second, hearing this.  I guess she and the “dad” must’ve understood what I said.  Then, they disappeared, and I thought for just a second that maybe that meant they’d got the message.

They did, but not in the way I was hoping.  Not at all.

When I heard Lola’s scream from behind me, I prayed at first that she might be crying at them disappearing on her again.  I hoped, and prayed, as I turned round, that that was all it was.  But screams of grief don’t come that high-pitched, and they definitely don’t end in choked gurgles.

Even so, what I saw when I turned is gonna live behind my eyes til they close forever.  Lola’s “mom” and “dad” had popped into existence right next to her, and her “dad” had hold of her by throat.  Then, her “mom” picked up her legs, til they were holding her horizontal-like between ‘em.  Then, both their jaws unhinged, revealing nothing but hungry, sucking blackness underneath.  The sight should’ve frozen me to the spot, but fool that I was, I tried running toward them, hoping I could tackle her away. And in a technical way, I suppose I did.  But not before those black voids in their mouths sucked everything off her bones so that when I finally grabbed Lola – my Lola – and pulled her away, it was only a skeleton I was holding.

And I kept on holding it.  Until dawn came.

I guess you might as well know that whatever took Lola that night also went in the house and took her grandpa when they were done.  That’s the only conclusion I can draw, seeing as there wasn’t nothing left of either of them but their skeletons.  To tell you the truth, I kind of wished they’d taken me, too, after that.  I was already thinking of cutting out the middleman and killing myself when I got home that day.  Hell, maybe I would have, if not for what happened when I got home and found Pa Paw sitting there in the living room, cleaning his gun and whistling.  When the door shut, he looked up at me with this queer, cold look in his eye.

“Been waiting on you, boy,” he said.  “How was y’all’s Halloween?  Lola okay?” My hands balled into fists.  “No,” I said.  “No, she ain’t.  She’s dead.  And I’m betting you knew that already.” He nodded, that queer, cold look getting stronger.  I took a step toward him, but he raised his gun and cocked it.

“Now, Ryan, don’t you go doing something we’ll both regret,” he growled.  “I don’t want to take out one of your legs, but I will if you raise a hand to me.”

“Why?” I spat, trying to force all the pent-up aggression in my body into my voice.  “Why’d you do that, Pa Paw?  Why’d you let me go and watch her die?  Why?!”

Pa Paw gave an insolent shrug, and his lip curled with disgust.  “I don’t know what y’all are so upset about,” he said with icy unconcern.  “You wanted to pick and choose, didn’t you, Ryan?  Well, you done picked.  You done chose.”

He stood up and walked toward the stairs, keeping his gun trained on me.

“I’m going upstairs to have a little rest, Ryan,” he said.  “If you start thinking you want to do something about all this, just know, I’m a real light sleeper.”

And with that, he vanished up the stairs.

I realize now what lesson the old bastard was trying to impart to me: that if you go picking and choosing who dies, sooner or later, Death’s gonna pick for you.  But right then?  All I could think was that if Pa Paw wanted to get so far up his ass about whatever code he used to justify what we had to do, then I was gonna break that code every chance I got.  And I did get a chance, eventually. Not right then, not even for a couple months, but eventually, I think Pa Paw must’ve convinced himself that I’d moved on, or maybe he just needed my help bad enough that he asked me to come out that next Halloween.  And when he handed me the gun to kill whatever poor old biddy we were supposed to get rid of that year, I did pick and choose who died.  I put one in his head, and one in his black heart.  Just like he taught me.

What I didn’t know at the time was that I should’ve waited just a little longer.  ‘Cause there was one lesson that Pa Paw hadn’t taught me yet, and one that, I found out very quickly, I needed.  See, Pa Paw, he was the town mortician, so if someone died, he already knew if they had grieving family left over to eat, which is how he knew which houses to drop his little offering at in the first place.  But what he didn’t tell me was how he picked which ones had visitors who’d want human remains, and which ones had visitors who’d want dead animals.  Which is why, as soon as I start doing his duty, folks started waking up to find their neighbors turned into skeletons, with the severed hands, and lungs, and God-knows-what-else of complete strangers outside their doors.  Pa Paw had a system, and if I’d been a little less hot under the collar, I’d have known I needed to learn it to do the job effectively.  That’s why, sooner or later, I realized I had to run from town to town and change my name each time just to avoid suspicion.  In the course of 36 years keeping people safe from the hungry dead, I went from being a mortician, to an eldercare worker, to a bartender, and finally, to being a bouncer at the Cute Kitty Club.  And one thing I have done effectively: far better, in fact, than Pa Paw did.

I’ve picked and I’ve chose.  That’s why I eventually started working in dead-end jobs, where folks who sell drugs, or drink to excess, or pimp out women for cash run around.  ‘Cause those folks are throwing their lives away, so why not just take those lives to keep everyone else safe?  I ain’t sorry for any of it.  Truth be told, boys, I think of myself as almost one of you, except you’ve got the luxury of being able to lock up the folks that kill.  And while I know most of y’all are gonna say I’m crazy, and probably clap like trained seals when I get sent to the chair, I figure maybe one or two of you are gonna listen to what I’m saying.  Maybe one or two of you lost someone inexplicably on Halloween, or know someone who does, and will realize what needs doing, especially in a city this big, which let’s be honest, one man can’t protect alone.

So if that’s you, then all I ask is that you remember what my Pa Paw said, and what I had to learn over the dead bodies of those I loved: The dead do come back on Halloween, and when they do, they’re hungry.  Leaving candy out might work nine times out of ten, but you just remember, now: They don’t always feel like sweets.

Sometimes they want something a little more savory.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Jasper DeWitt
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Jasper DeWitt

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