Some monsters draw strength from a crucifix.
|As the final hymn drew to a close, Pastor Marx moved from behind the pulpit to the center of the sanctuary. âGo in peace. Serve the Lord,â he declared.
âThanks be to God,â the congregation intoned. The pastor began his recessional as the postlude commenced, completing his journey at the back door of the nave. That familiar cue prompted me to grab Amyâs little hand and shuffle out of the pew toward the center aisle, where we were swept up in the rest of the crowd filing toward the exit. The pastor greeted the parishioners as they made their exodus and prepared to go about the rest of their day, and before long, it was my turn.
I offered my free right hand to the pastor, and he shook it with a firm grip. âHow are you doing this morning, Travis?â he asked, flashing a warm smile across his aging face.
âJust fine, sir,â I responded accurately yet very automatically. I mean, if I didnât feel fine, I sure wasnât going to launch into explanations right then and there.
After finishing with me, he focused his attention on my sister down below. âWhatâs up, kiddo?â he asked her, and Amy beamed. She was the type of kid who was so adorable that you couldnât help but smile along with her. The pastor lightly ruffled her auburn hair with one hand and patted me on the back with the other as I moved on. âTake care, Travis,â he bade, then resumed his greeting ritual with the next in line.
The narthex abounded with lingering, mingling churchgoers. As I navigated through the teeming mass of humanity, I felt a tug on the bottom of my shirt. âWhy donât we wait for Mommy?â Amy asked.
âMommy has a choir meeting,â I pointed out. âWe can go ahead and walk home right now, though.â
âI want to go trick-or-treating, Travis!â Amy exclaimed. Itâs no wonder she was in such a good mood this morning. What red-blooded American kid doesnât get excited at the prospect of Halloween? I was seventeen years old, so it had been about five or six years since I finally decided to call it quits. But seeing the spark of joyful anticipation dancing within her wide brown eyes recalled all the cherished memories I had of this day, and I would have the opportunity to relive those feelings of youthful exuberance when I accompanied her on her rounds tonight.
âNot yet, Amy,â I reminded her. âWe donât go trick-or-treating until nightfall.â
âBut thatâs when all the monsters come out!â she noted, her cherub face wrinkling in concern. âWerewolves and vampires and zombies and Freddy Kruegers!â Her familiarity with Freddy Krueger surprised me. After all, she was only five years old, born at the end of the â90s, so this would be her first time trick-or-treating. She didnât quite seem to understand the whole spirit of the holiday yet.
âYeah, thatâs true,â I played along. âBut Iâm not afraid.â
Her expression was one of amazement and reverence. âWhy not?â
âBecause Iâll have a guardian angel by my side,â I told her, inducing another bright smile on her face. She may have been young, but she was smart, so she knew I was referring to her. Amyâs inaugural Halloween costume was a silky white gown with feathery wings attached to the back, along with a halo of golden tinsel. An angelâit figured. After all, she didnât seem to have a malicious bone in her body. Sugar and spice and everything nice, you know.
I continued to weave through the crowd toward the exit, acknowledging the occasional nod or wave directed my way, when Cynthia Sherman crossed my path. She was a svelte blonde-haired woman, single and in her early thirties, who had moved into the house right across the street from us within the past year or so. She had really taken a shine to Amy.
Cynthia bent down to my sisterâs height. âHi, Amy! Thatâs a pretty outfit youâve got there,â she said as she admired Amyâs Sunday best, a colorful flower-print sundress.
âThank you,â Amy said, blushing.
âSo, your big brother is taking you out for your first Halloween tonight?â she inquired, and Amy nodded with the same look of delight I noticed on her face no more than a minute prior. âWell, make sure you stop by my house, because I have an extra-special treat for you!â
âAll right, goody!â Amy blurted.
âGreat,â she grinned. âSee you tonight.â Cynthia rose from her stooped position and left our company to greet another member. Amy and I continued to head for the door, and we finally emerged from the church to begin our walk home on this clear and crisp autumn day.
âWow!â I exclaimed, peering into Amyâs candy sack. âWhat a haul! Itâs a good thing we only have one more house to go, because that bag doesnât look like it can hold for much longer!â
Mom was one of those chronically paranoid types. We lived in a very safe, affluent neighborhood, but she still insisted that we not wander far from the house and only go to the homes of people we knew, and I pledged to humor her. Amy still seemed to have a good time, and I guess thatâs what ultimately mattered. Cynthiaâs house would be our final destination. Since she mentioned this morning that she had a surprise for Amy, we decided to save the best for last.
It was now well past sunset, but the light still wasnât on in Cynthiaâs front yard, and any jack-o-lanterns or other decorations that may have been present at some point were nowhere to be found. âShe must have quit for the night,â I suggested to Amy. âBut youâre a VIP, so she wonât mind.â
I hung back slightly as Amy climbed the several steps leading up to the front door of the extravagant dwelling. She pressed the glowing doorbell, and shortly thereafter, the door opened, revealing Cynthia.
âTrick or treat!â Amy sang the requisite phrase, holding her bag of candy at armâs length.
âHello!â Cynthia greeted her with genuine delight, gazing at the costume. âI was worried you werenât going to come! My, donât you look radiant tonight!â She reached over next to the doorway to grab what I assumed was the special candy, then dropped it in with the rest of Amyâs sugary treasures.
âThank you, Ms. Sherman!â
âYouâre welcome, Amy. I hope to see you again soon!â
With those parting words, Cynthia closed the door and Amy bounded back down the steps until she was once again by my side. âOkay, hold my hand,â I told her as we prepared to cross the street.
As soon as we arrived at our house, Amy excitedly poured her candy onto the living room table.
âSo, what did Ms. Sherman give you?â I asked as I glanced at the goods, trying to locate Cynthiaâs contribution, the one I had heard so much about. When Amy pointed to a Pixy Stix, I was a bit taken aback, to tell you the truth.
âAre they really good?â she wondered.
âYouâve never had one? I hate them. Some people absolutely love them, though.â I shrugged. âTo each her own, I guess.â
âRemember not to eat too much candy tonight, honey,â Mom called from the study, where she was busy working on the computer.
I returned my attention to Amy. âGo ahead and have one thing,â I told her.
Of course, she immediately grabbed the Pixy Stix. It seemed that my denunciation of them had only piqued her curiosity and made her all the more eager to add her thoughts to the great debate. She tore open the end of the straw and poured a heap of the crystals into her mouth, grimacing as she swallowed. âYuck!â she exclaimed.
âYeah, tell me about it. Youâre my sister, all right.â I scanned the pile and pulled out two fun size candy bars: Butterfinger and Snickers, my favorites. âHere, these will get that awful taste out of your mouth.â
I took the Pixy Stix from her, discarding the remnants in the kitchen trashcan. As I returned, she was ripping open the new wrappers and devouring their contents. âBetter, huh?â I asked, and she nodded with a smile. âBut itâs not fair to be angry at Ms. Sherman. She wanted to give you something, and itâs the thought that counts.â Amy agreed, and with that, she scampered off into the depths of the house.
My mission accomplished for the night, I sat down to watch television, but no more than five minutes later, I heard Mom calling. I journeyed toward the study, and upon arriving, I saw her seated at the computer with Amy standing alongside. Amy wasnât even out of her costume yet, and she was moaning as she clutched her stomach. âWhatâs wrong?â I asked with concern.
âMy tummy really hurts,â Amy stated.
Mom glared at me. âTravis, how much did you let her eat?â
âAll she ate was part of a Pixy Stix and two little candy bars,â I testified.
âThatâs what she said too. I donât know how that could cause such a problem, though. Oh, my poor baby.â She reached out to draw Amy closer for a hug, but before that could happen, Amy vomited all over the front of Momâs blouse and the surrounding area, causing her expression to shift from worried to terror stricken. âIâm taking you to the hospital, Amy,â she said as she bolted from her chair and grabbed her daughter, leaving her work and not paying the slightest regard to her stained clothes.
I was suddenly left standing alone in the study, but traipsed to the living room window in time to see the car speed away. Still quite rattled by it all, I lay back down on the couch to watch television, but not before looking to the sky beyond the ceiling and praying, âLord, please let her be okay.â Shortly afterward, I drifted off to sleep.
The sound of the doorbell roused me from my slumber. I glanced at the clock on the wall, which read about 11:30. Who rings at this time of night? Thereâs a kid asleep now! Usually, at leastâMom and Amy didnât appear to be home yet. And it was far too late for trick-or-treaters. I turned off the television, then rose to my feet and lumbered over to the front door. Upon opening it, I saw Cynthia.
âHi, Cynthia,â I greeted her. âIf youâre looking for my mom, sheâs not here. She took Amy to the hospital. Amyâs really sick.â
âNot anymore,â Cynthia responded.
âOh, thank God,â I said, breathing a sigh of relief. âDid my mom call and tell you how she was doing?â
She stared at me in silence for a few seconds. âDidnât you see the 11:00 news? Amyâs dead, Travis.â
My legs almost gave out beneath me, and I braced myself against the doorjamb, suddenly feeling very lightheaded. âI think I need to sit down,â I told her. âCome in, please.â Cynthia must have had an extremely hard time coping with this as well. She absolutely adored Amy and had seen her in perfect condition only a few hours earlier. The suddenness of her death compounded the simple shock I felt upon learning that my kid sister was gone forever.
âThank you,â she accepted, walking in and closing the door behind her. âI apologize for coming so late, butâŚI have to tell you something.â
I returned to the couch and sat down, fighting tears all the while. Cynthia sat in the chair nearby. âI took a nap for the past few hours. I had no idea.â I wiped my eyes and kept shaking my head in denial. âShe was fine one minute, and then they were suddenly rushing to the hospital, butâŚdead? I donât understand how this could happen!â
âCyanide poisoning,â Cynthia answered.
âCyanide? When was Amy ever exposed to cyanide?â I wondered in confusion. âAnd why would the symptoms set in so quickly?â
âBecause I put enough cyanide in that Pixy Stix to kill several grown men, Travis.â
She delivered that line in the most frighteningly casual manner I could ever imagine. At first, I could only reason that she was jokingâthe most distasteful, heartless, badly timed joke I ever heardâbut I soon knew better. My eyes shifted to the trashcan where I had disposed of the Pixy Stix, then back at Cynthia, whose gaze was locked on my own. As I inspected her countenance, I saw nothing but absolute sincerity. âOh my God, what have you done?â I screamed, leaping to my feet as I came to realize the dreadful truth. âHow could you do this to her? Amy loved you!â
âAnd I her,â Cynthia replied, still seated as calmly as ever. âThat is why I had no choice.â
I couldnât believe what I was hearing. âWhatâs happened to you, Cynthia?â
âWhatâs happened to me? I came to my senses! This nation is bound for Hell, and I finally decided to take some action to stop it! We glorify terror, chaos, and violence, and Halloween epitomizes them all! This is Satanâs night of choice to recruit more soldiers for his unholy army! Halloween is a scourge on our children and our society, and if I can save even one soul from perdition, then my life has been worthwhile!â
âWell, most of us celebrate Halloween, and most of us donât murder children when we grow up! And you didnât even kill some brat who egged your house; you killed an angel! She trusted you with all her heart!â
âI know,â she admitted. âIâve never met anyone so pure, innocent, and full of love. I couldnât bear to see her corrupted by all the horror and hatred in the earthly realm. God has something much greater planned for her; her sacrifice will never be forgotten.â
âShut up! It wasnât her sacrifice; you sacrificed her! This isnât about Amy at all! Itâs about nothing more than a sanctimonious, self-righteous person who thinks she knows everything God wants! You could have just kept your mouth shut, but you had to go and be a martyr by feeding me this bullshit about how you saved humanity from eternal damnation!â I headed for the kitchen and, with trembling hands and watering eyes, picked up the telephone. âYour life is over, Cynthia!â I said as I dialed the police.
âNo, Travis,â she countered. âMy life has only just begun.â
April 19, 1999 â October 31, 2004
Our angel, now and forevermore
As I stand here reading the tombstone, all the memories come flooding back in full force, even though the events unfolded five years ago to this day. Itâs hard to believe itâs been that long. Cyanide Cynthia, as the media dubbed her, died this afternoon, since the judge sentenced her to be executed on Halloween. I greatly appreciated his keen sense of poetic justice. California typically administers lethal injections, but Cynthia, ironically, opted for the cyanide gas chamber. Did she really think she would salvage a shred of compassion from our family through choosing to die by the same means as her victim? Or did she intend it all to be a cruel reminder of what transpired that day? Hell, I bet she would have loved to be crucified.
Amyâs murder was national news. I thought it was the first time anything like this had ever happened, but after the fact, I learned that some maniac in Texas did the exact same thing thirty years earlier, back in 1974. He gave the cyanide-laced Pixy Stix to his son, whose life was insured for $20,000, and even distributed the tainted treat to four other children as well, including his daughter, to make the incident appear to be a random poisoning. Luckily, none of the others ate the candy before the discovery was made, so his son was the lone fatality.
Both crimes were merciless, calculated slayings, but whether or not that father showed any remorse, Iâm positive that he realized there was absolutely no justification for what he did. Cynthia is another story. From the night she confessed her grisly deed to this, the day of her execution, her eyes revealed a person completely at peace with the terrible act she had perpetrated. I think she truly believed, in the depths of her soul, that what she did was just and rightâthat she was fulfilling the will of Godâand that realization shook me to the very core of my being. I originally thought Cynthia just snapped, but I was wrong. That night, as many Americans donned costumes and masqueraded as those things they really werenât, she finally shed her faĂ§ade and revealed the true monster that lay beneath.
Unfortunately, Cynthiaâs goal to sabotage Halloween was largely accomplished. All across the country, the past four Halloweens have been nearly bereft of trick-or-treaters. Most who do venture out now attend those controlled trick-or-treating activities at malls and the likeâChrist, if you can even begin to call that trick-or-treating. Itâs bad enough to have foreign terrorists targeting our government and financial institutions, but now weâve got the kids ensnared in this whole goddamn web of paranoia. She didnât save our childrenâs innocence that night; she delivered the coup de grace.
I hope Cynthia burns for what she did. No, on second, thought, I donât; Iâm not that vindictive, and it wonât change a thing. Closure is a mere fantasy, especially when I realize that Cynthia was far from alone in her mindset. She has become a martyr to so many others who were and still are willing to do whatever it takes to make their voices heard. Cynthia said this nation was bound for Hell, and the ultimate tragedy is that I canât say I disagree with her.
As I look up, the ominous, overcast sky looms above me and the frigid October wind chills my face. It looks like rain is coming.
Although motivated by an actual event, mentioned near the end of the story, this particular tale is fictional. The Halloween poisoning that inspired this is the only Halloween poisoning death that has ever occurredâand the culprit was the boyâs own father, contrary to what all the worry over taking Halloween candy from âstrangersâ might lead one to believe. I decided to post this note after three people mistook this for a genuine experience of mine and mentioned the pain they felt for me; I donât want to cause any unnecessary grief. Iâm flattered that readers have found the storytelling so authentic.