By Dani Brown
It wasn’t the children she was after. They were too fatty. She wasn’t one for slow cooking. Leaving them without their parents was the best solution for creating a better world. She was performing a public service really.
She cackled at her reflection, her mutant cat circling her ankles threatening to trip her up. Tonight was the big night. Parents sweated all summer long, exercising those muscles for nice lean cuts. On Halloween night, they dressed their little darlings up as extensions of themselves and dragged them door-to-door for candy.
This was the one night of the year the witch didn’t need to put on a costume – her naturally bad looks were the delight of children from all over the neighbourhood. And she gave out the best candy – full size, king chocolate bars with five dollar bills.
Parents laughed, thinking she had the best costume and had put in loads of effort with latex and special effects make-up, not realising that the face was the same for the rest of the year. She put the cat in a spider costume for small dogs to disguise his extra legs.
The candy sat in boxes by her front door with bags of five dollar bills on the other side. None of it was tainted. There was a time neighbours trusted each other and bobbing for apples on someone’s front porch was accepted. She missed those times.
Musty watched her from beneath his spider hat. The last few years had barely provided enough harvest to see through winter. They had to sustain themselves on cow and pig parts for the rest of the year. It was getting worse as paranoia levels increased.
If tonight didn’t bring in the tastiest of parents, she might have to put the children in deep freeze and offer ten dollar bills next year. Only in the old country during the sporadic plague outbreaks did she have to preserve children to last through the year. Their flesh was the preference for some but not for Mildpryᵭ, or Millie as she was known as today.
The first trick-or-treater stood on her porch. A lone teenager. Too skinny, otherwise she would have lured him inside and down to the walk-in freezer in the basement.
These last few years she’d picked up a few teens as well. The football players had some nice muscle but the girls were either too fat or too skinny.
She looked up and down the road before shutting her door. Everyone displayed Halloween decorations but no one was on the street. The sun was just beginning to set, but any other night of the year there would’ve been some lights on.
Mildpryᵭ sighed. Another year without food. She spent the last of her energy on a witches’ brew. If this didn’t lure parents to her house, she didn’t know what would.
There was a time when she was young and beautiful without the spell. The young men poked each other with sticks and even resulted to murder for the chance to kiss her hand. They all ended up feeding her and Musty. These days, they sensed the magic behind her appearance and stayed away.
She sat on the old rocker on her porch and waited with candy and five dollar bills. The neighbours declared they were off to a party. She thought about joining them but she couldn’t eat her neighbours – that was too close to home. There once was an old witch way back in the old country who was burned for that very thing.
It was better to get the parents coming in from the bad neighbours with their children. The rich neighbours adopted them when they found them wandering cold and alone once all the other children were tucked up in their beds.
Mildpryᵭ sang, a sound low in her throat. Musty joined in with a yowl. A special combination of words to open up the portals and bring the parents to her, fresh from the gym and still in their sweaty work-out clothes. The clothes would go in her fireplace to heat her pot of hot water and hopefully the first thigh-roast in a long time. The extra parents would go in the freezer, still with their guts on the inside (soups and things were made with the bad bits and her mattress was stuffed with their hair). Their children were sent to wander the streets.
Rumours used to spread about children going missing on Halloween but truth was, no children went missing – only parents. The rumours encouraged the parents to accompany their brats, much to the satisfaction of the old witch and her old cat.
Now, the rumours were something new. Something dreadful. And the revival of hard-core Christianity wasn’t helping. Those parents took their children to harvest parties at the church for songs and prayers, not door-to-door for sweet treats.
Her voice used to be more powerful than even the most vengeful god. It had been years since she last used it. There was risk attached to it but another year without decent meat and she may not live to see the end of the world. It would be a shame to go out now.
Musty purred on her lap. His yowls were only the backing track. He kicked in when needed. It was an old song, easy to remember, easy for it to chase parents into the light at the end of their lives. If tonight was the night they died, then they would go together. Followed shortly after by their song.
The air vibrated with their song. There was a cackle on the air. The dance of electricity lit up the space above the road. No one was there to see it apart from Mildpryᵭ and Musty.
Until they were. The children came out of the dancing blue first. Millie had her eyes closed but she could smell them. A distinct scent follows children around. She kept the disappointment and panic out of her voice.
Musty, purring on her lap, felt her ancient muscles tense below her layer of flab and added his yowls to her singing even though they weren’t needed.
The cackle grew louder. If the neighbours were home, they would have heard it above their voices. The children wandered with shuffles and wide eyes to Millie’s porch and spread out on the lawn. Buckets were held up waiting for treats.
The blue turned to purple and then to white. A dog yapped, stepping out and onto Mildpryᵭ’s lawn. Children were thick but there was space made for more and the dogs.
Musty continued to yowl, harmonising with Mildpryᵭ. He didn’t like the dogs. Big dogs. Small dogs. They were all coming through the electric wormhole. No sign of parents yet.
With a slight rise to her voice, Mildpryᵭ cleared a path on her front lawn for adults to walk up to the house while their little brats stuff their faces on chocolate and throw toilet paper on the neighbour’s cherry tree. But, still no sign of them.
Children and dogs stared from the street. There was no more space on the lawn. Her voice went higher with Musty’s yowls emulating from her lap (he stopped purring).
The white electricity rolled into a ball. The first adult stepped out. More followed. Musty jumped off her lap so she could open the door. With the singing, they would find their own way to the walk-in freezer in the basement and remember to shut the door behind them until no more could fit in.
It left Mildpryᵭ with a lawn filled with children and dogs with vacant expressions. She threw candy and five dollar bills at them but they wouldn’t disperse. They didn’t even try to catch the bars of chocolate.
The cackle of electricity grew stronger, even without Millie and Musty singing. It stretched to the other side of the street, connecting the two houses across from each other. The crystal glasses that social-climbing residents liked to keep were on display. Broken crystal was the only way to break the electrical portal.
Satisfied there were enough adults in her walk-in freezer, Millie cleared a path through the children and dogs for a spot of breaking and entering. The first house didn’t have the door locked which made her life a lot easier. She was too old to be climbing in through windows.
An umbrella stand waited. She helped herself to the one most closely resembling a baseball bat. She followed the electricity visible on the air looking for the crystal. She found it in a case in the dining room.
She smashed the entire case. Her neighbours would have insurance, but even if they didn’t, busting the portal before anything else could come through was vital. But the portal wouldn’t break. The electricity grabbed broken pieces of crystal and became stronger.
The cackle was like being in the front row at a concert. Deep echoes stamped around behind the pure white light. Something big was coming through. She smashed some more. Musty wasn’t with her to help – he was back at home herding adults into the walk-in freezer.
The crystal was protected by shards of wood and glass. She was too old and too tired. Breath caught in her throat and mixed with the dust on the air (all of it sharp). A trickle of blood ran out of Mildpryᵭ’s nose.
She kept smashing even though her nosebleed became worse and splattered blood on her neighbour’s horsehair wallpaper. The echoes became closer. Something ripped somewhere within the sheet of electricity.
A face poked out. Mildpryᵭ aimed her umbrella at it. Grotesque, reptilian and green with scales and feathers, she thought it was a dinosaur from some far off place and time – not one ever seen on Earth.
The thing opened its mouth revealing a triple row of pointed teeth. Mildpryᵭ thought it was wearing a costume for Halloween, but had had no way to hide its teeth. The portal stretched to allow it through. The feathers seemed fake; the rest of the creature, only too real.
“Some Halloween costume,” Mildpryᵭ thought.
It sniffed her with a long snout. She could see right up its nostrils. A lump of green snot looked ripe for picking. Allergies were a concern wherever the creature was from (she didn’t think it was the same place as all the children). It sniffed her again. When she looked up, the green snot was dripping out of its nose. She could only hope it didn’t sneeze.
It lost interest in her. Something even bigger was trying to get through. She smashed harder. The portal was connected to one of the crystal glasses. Trouble was, Mildpryᵭ didn’t know what piece of crystal it had attached to.
The creature cleared off, only to make space for something larger, and rampaged through the neighbourhood. Mildpryᵭ didn’t sweat but her dry skin flaked away as she went crazy on the display case and crystal. The portal cackled as the electric storm inside kicked up a notch.
Breaking the other connection might break the portal. She ran across the street with the same umbrella. This door was locked. A window was open.
She looked around for something to slash the screen. Musty’s claws would come in useful here but he was too busy with the herding. She ended up using her own nails. Nail care was something of an afterthought in her life but they were sharp enough to cut through the screen. She was lucky it was one of the soft ones. A bit of steel mesh would’ve proved impossible, even for Musty.
Her bones creaked objections as she climbed through the window. They couldn’t be heard over the sound of the portal. She followed the light through the house into the dining room. The set-up was the same as across the street. All the houses were the same. It was rather boring but made her life easier during this rare spot of breaking and entering.
She was more careful with her smashing this time. It wasn’t as reckless. She couldn’t pinpoint the exact glass that held the portal. But she could locate the shelf it sat on with its sisters. She smashed all of those. The electricity dancing on the air made her body hair stand up. The portal didn’t break.
Something large was once again coming through. Boring and repetitive, she thought. Until she looked in its eyes. It was much larger. She gave up on her ordered smashing and set about randomly destroying everything, calling on her last reserves of power to invoke destruction through magical means.
It was of no use. The thing coming in was large enough to make the rip through reality a permanent feature. She aimed her own electrical currents at it and some fire for good measure. She passed out. She hadn’t eaten a proper meal in too long of a time to keep going.
Musty heard the sound made as the thing tore through and beamed it into Mildpryᵭ’s brain. She wasn’t dreaming. She heard but couldn’t force herself awake. She lay there, between worlds, taking shallow breaths, with drool seeping out of her chin.
The thing stepped out and smashed the house apart with its size. It didn’t step on Mildpryᵭ. No debris from the broken house fell on top of her through pure luck. The creature was from a different place to the reptilian creature.
It was large enough to tear the fabric through many dimensions but nothing as big as it stepped out. It didn’t have to move to snatch the previous reptilian creature from the street and swallow it.
Another creature stepped through between its legs. The appearance was humanoid but Mildpryᵭ was too passed out to notice. It held its hands above its head. Purple light shot out from the palms and wrapped around the creature.
Musty projected into Mildpryᵭ’s head and forced her eyes open. She couldn’t see but he could. The humanoid was a tamer. The creature was subdued beneath the purple energy. Another tamer stepped out of the portal.
Everything running on electricity up and down the street and for several blocks switched on to full power. Fuses were blown. The portal was growing. It swallowed its first house and the boards of the broken one, leaving Mildpryᵭ on a bare floor.
The gawking trick or treaters that had first come through to Mildpryᵭ’s world were sucked up with their buckets and dogs as creatures from other worlds stepped onto the street. The parents were safe in Mildpryᵭ’s freezer, some still not dead despite the frozen state of their hair and clothing.
The electricity searched out crystal in all the houses. It was easy to find. Showing off collections of antique crystal glasses passed down through a handful of generations was a favourite hobby of the people in this neighbourhood.
It had trouble once it passed over the train tracks. Crystal came in the meth variety in that neighbourhood. It wasn’t as conductive to transdimensional electricity. It couldn’t go any further that way.
The other direction however, was the shopping district. The people in the neighbourhood needed places to buy their fine crystal and pass it off as family heirlooms. It was there they did their shopping. Every store was stocked with it, even the grocery store. The portal no longer looked like a portal but a mash-up of fifty million different places all fighting for a place.
Musty urged Mildpryᵭ to pick up her head. It felt dead inside but she still breathed. Still had a heartbeat. For lack of knowing what else to do, he urged his mistress awake. She didn’t even swat him away. She wasn’t entirely gone but she would be before long. He jumped heads, projecting until he found someone who could do something.
A new arrival in this world. He sensed the cat in his head and the chaos all around him on the most sacred of nights. The veil between worlds was already thin (or at least between his world and that of Mildpryᵭ and Musty). Thinner still on Halloween night. A tear in the fabric of all realities meant the dead now roamed the Earth. But death didn’t cause him to lose himself to decay.
Where the electricity tried to dance on crystal meth, it was weaker. He saw the immediate need to cook up more despite an explosion in the lab being responsible for his untimely demise. He still sported the burns and molten flesh to prove it.
Pharmacists could provide prescriptions for cold and sinus medicine, so the pharmacy was a good stop. He found what he needed locked up behind the counter in the same drawer as pain killers. Narcotics couldn’t relieve the agony of death so he left them alone.
The dead and the living from other dimensions left him alone. The neighbourhood itself had been deserted prior to the portal being opened – something of a blessing really. He did what he had to do, cooking up the biggest batch of crystal meth ever seen. The dead had no problems remaining calm. Stress hormones couldn’t exactly course through his system.
Musty left the dead guy to it – he didn’t want to be inhabiting him if he blew his arms off (amazing he still had them after the accident that killed him). The trick or treaters not sucked into the vacuum of oblivion stared from the front lawn. Musty scratched the ankles of a girl not wearing stockings. She didn’t have a reaction.
The cackle of electricity spread, opening up more worlds. Musty wasn’t sure if throwing crystal meth into it would stop it spreading or break it. He wasn’t sure the worlds would be restored to the way they were an hour ago.
Either way, Mildpryᵭ was a goner. She was close to death now. If the world was restored to a time before the portal was opened, the freezer would be empty and death would be slow and painful. Musty curled up next to her purring. No one should die alone. Even old cats spent most of their lives asleep.
When the crystal meth was ready it was thrown into the white electricity. The sound it made woke Musty. Mildpryᵭ was dead. She was sitting up, cold dead eyes looking around. The way to the afterlife might be barred after this. Her cold hands sent a shiver up the cat’s spine, but he didn’t stop his purring.
A deep darkness spread from the portal. It wrapped around everything that wasn’t meant to be there. Musty was pushed off Mildpryᵭ’s lap and chased by a tentacle of black. He watched it wrapping around her. She was allowed to turn around.
“Goodbye dear Musty.”
And with that, he was a stray. He went to meth chef. For this good deed, the man was allowed to return to life as long as he promised to only cook meth in times of need. Musty pawed the burn marks on his ankle. He scratched Musty on the ears with his scarred hands. Musty brought the stray man home.