James adjusted his cheap plastic pig mask, the inside of it wet and uncomfortable with his own breath. Through the piss-poor eyeholes, he could just about make out the battered man slumped against the brick wall. The dark of the night didn’t help. “Why the fuck are we wearing these things again?”
Andrew looked up at him, fresh blood spattered starkly against the white of his ghost mask. “It’s Halloween!” He continued to empty the pockets of the slumped man into his bag. “It’s tradition, isn’t it?”
“No one has celebrated Halloween in years,” James replied. “You just happened to find these masks, that’s all. Is it even October?”
“Oh, come on, it’s fun!” The man in front of Andrew groaned, blood filling his mouth. “Hey,” Andrew said, pushing his bat up against the man’s chin. “We said trick or treat, you told us to fuck off. You brought this on yourself. No complaining.” Andrew stood up and swung his bag over his shoulder, looking back at James. “Let’s go. The night is young, after all!”
James stepped over the bleeding man and wandered after Andrew. The old alleyways of London were a perfect place to stalk out of sight; dark, damp and quiet, thanks mostly to the swarms of rats and rivers of shit which spilt from the long-flooded sewers. Not a pleasant place to spend even a small amount of time.
Tonight was the same as any night if you took away the masks. Even after the power went out forever three years ago, London was still heavily inhabited by people; although infestation might be the better word for it these days. They lived among the cracks and filth, flitting out to take what was needed when it was needed, from whoever happened to have it.
Andrew swung his bat around in a merry fashion. “He had some decent stuff on him. Couple of cans of beans, and some dry clothes.”
“Reckon that’ll be the best we find tonight?”
A rat squealed as Andrew stumbled onto it in the darkness. “I fucking hope not.”
The pair of them wandered for a while, stalking the alleyways without much luck. The stink of shit seemed to subside, their noses somehow becoming used to the constant barrage of it.
Andrew held his bat out to stop James. “What’s that?”
James squinted through the pig’s eyes. “What’s what?”
James caught a glimpse of it, a dull glow of light coming through a dirt-caked window. “Someone’s in?”
Andrew giggled to himself. “Come on, let’s go!”
Before James could reply, Andrew crept along and kept close to the wall. He ushered James to follow him. As James approached, the light behind the window went out.
Andrew cleared his throat and gave a nod to James. “You ready?”
James sighed. “Can I at least take the mask off?”
“No! Don’t be a little bitch and ruin it.”
Andrew located the poorly-fixed door and hammered it with his fist. “Open up! Trick or treat!”
James stood silently in the dark, listening for movement. There was someone in there, otherwise who turned out the light? Even though there was no sound, it was a tense quiet; the type where you know someone is nearby, intentionally being quiet.
“We know you’re in there!” Andrew yelled, hammering the door again. “Come on. Come open the door. Trick or treat!”
A muffled voice came from beyond the door. “Go away. We don’t want any trouble.”
“Then open up and give us a treat,’ Andrew replied. “Then we’ll go away.”
James came closer to the door, straining to hear what was happening on the other side. Lowered voices talked in fraught conversation, although what was being said was a mystery.
The door opened a fraction. A grim face peered out, her lank hair stuck to her skin with grease. Her eyes widened at the sight of the two of them in their masks. “Fuck the pair of you,” she rasped. “I’ve got kids here to feed.”
Andrew jumped forward, pointing his bat firmly at the woman. “You’ll all be dead if you don’t hand something over.”
The woman scowled at them for a moment, James catching a glimpse of her hateful gaze through his mask. She growled under her breath. “Yasmin, grab me a tin of something, will you?” She kept her eyes on the pair at her door.
She looked back momentarily before throwing something out onto the old cobbles. “Now fuck off. I hope the New Law catch you.” She slammed the door shut.
Andrew muttered to himself as he bent to scoop the dented tin out of the gutter, wiping something foul and brown from it. “More beans.” He dropped them into his bag.
“Better than nothing,” James said.
Andrew shrugged. “You’d think there’d be more exciting food after the apocalypse,” he said. “People eating each other or maybe some five-headed chickens, or something. But no, just beans. I had beans every other day before everything went to shit.”
They wandered on, trudging down the old capillaries of the country’s rotten heart. The moon made the occasional appearance, silver light painting the old brickwork of Victorian-era houses and the abandoned cars which cluttered the main roads they passed. It was a quiet night, almost too quiet.
James looked up. “What?”
“You’re quiet,” Andrew said. “Almost as quiet as tonight.”
“About what that woman said,” James replied. “About the New Law.”
Andrew snorted a laugh. “That’s bullshit. We’ve been hearing about the New Law for months. Have we seen them? Have we fuck.”
James gave a quick glance over his shoulder, studying the shadows behind them. “Yeah, but the streets have been quieter at night, haven’t they?”
“Maybe, maybe not,” Andrew replied. “There’s good nights and bad nights. Always happens.”
“But they’ve been quieter, haven’t they?”
“Nah,” Andrew said. “It’s just your imagination.” He poked his head out of the alleyway and into the street they approached. A thick fog now settled in, the moon becoming a strange glow behind the haze. He craned his neck as if attempting to make sense of what he was seeing.
“What is it?” James asked.
“There’s someone there. Someone alone.” His smile may have been hidden by his mask, but it was evident in his voice. He looked back at James. “Let’s go get them!”
James hurried out into the quiet street after Andrew. They darted between the rusted cars which clogged and rotted in the streets. James breathed heavily beneath his mask, his own breath seeming deafeningly loud as he lumbered onwards. His bag was heavy now, even without anything else in it.
There was a figure visible in the fog, strolling along in the oppressive darkness. Andrew leapt over the bonnet of a dead hatchback and bounded towards him.
“Trick or treat motherfucker!”
The figure turned towards them, pausing hesitantly before dashing off through the fog.
James grasped his bag and joined Andrew in the sudden pursuit. Most people cowered or begged, there was always a strangely small amount of runners. Perhaps it was because they knew they were in for an even worse beating if caught.
The figure took a hard left and disappeared back into the maze of alleyways. Andrew howled at the top of his lungs and dived in after him. James’ lungs burnt as he sucked down lungfuls of hot air.
The fog was thicker now. James lost sight of the figure, so instead followed Andrew’s back. He stumbled over loose brickwork and slick cobbles, hoping not to lose his footing and plunge into the filth around his feet.
The alleyway opened up into a small square. Andrew came to a halt, swinging his bat. James caught up with him, ragged breaths forcing him to take down more oxygen.
The figure had stopped, seemingly just as out of breath as them. They bent double, a hand clutching on to an old iron fountain; a cherub looked down from the top at the three of them, giggling.
Andrew stepped forward. “You shouldn’t have run,” he said menacingly. “It’s going to be worse now, you know that?” He turned back to James. “Go on, ask him.”
James still struggled for breath. “Do I have to?”
“You haven’t done it all night!”
“Alright,” James sighed. He looked toward the figure. “Trick or treat?”
Andrew laughed. “Give it some effort, for God’s sake!”
James cleared his throat and gave it his all. “Hey, I said trick or treat!”
The figure stood tall and turned toward the pair of them. A quiet laugh came from beneath their hood. “Trick.”
James frowned. Footsteps slapped against the wet stone floor behind him. He turned to see a number of figures emerging from the fog. There were four at first, then more appeared to surround them both. James stood still, his fight or flight response scrambling his brain.
Andrew backed away from the figure, bumping into James. “We’ve got tins, plenty of them. If you want them, just take them.” He dropped his bag from his shoulder and threw it to the floor. “See?”
The figure took a couple of deliberate steps towards them. “We’ll take them, sure. But we’re not here for the goods. We’re here to spread the word.”
James swallowed the lump in his throat. “The word?”
Something thumped into his stomach, sending him to the floor. A fist, or perhaps a cricket bat. A firm boot sent him sprawling onto his back, his bag spilling tins all over the floor. He groaned. Another hit cracked his mask. The night air was cold against his sweaty skin.
James rolled over to see the figure stood over Andrew. He crouched down and grasped him by the collar of his coat. “My turn,” the figure growled. “Trick or treat?”
Andrew mumbled something inaudible in response.
The figure shook their head. “Sorry isn’t good enough.” He looked up at the other figures stood around them. “Take him. Finish him. We need to make another example.”
The gathered shadows came out of the gloom to take Andrew away. Andrew shouted and screamed at the top of his lungs. There were a number of swift cracks and then there was silence.
The figure stepped towards James. This close, James could make out some of his features. She had sharp features, her piercing eyes boring into him. She grasped his collar. He winced.
Her voice dropped to a whisper. “You go back to whatever shithole you crawled out of and tell them the New Law is here now, you hear me?”
James whimpered and nodded. His heart raced with adrenaline.
She crouched down and smiled. “You’re the lucky one tonight. Your friend got the trick, you get the treat.” Her voice became a growl once more. “If you’re seen around here again, you’ll be joining your friend in the dirt, understand?” She waited for a nod of affirmation before dropping him back to the floor.
James watched as she retreated back into the fog, the other figures disappearing into the night. He breathed a sigh of relief, letting his head roll to one side. In the cold of the early morning, a ghost mask stared back at him.
About the Author
Geek and sci-fi writer. Dabbles with horror and fantasy and post-apocalyptic. Occasional voice actor. Debut novel Traitors of Sol now available in ebook and paperback worldwide.