Christopher Kelley

The October Featured Writer is Christopher Kelley

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by Christopher Kelley

There were ghouls waiting outside the door. When poor Billy Heap flung it open, they held out sacks and tubs with their claws and gloved digits, demanding an offering. A muffled chorus squeezed through their cheap, plastic faces.  

“Trick or treat!” 

Billy backed away from them with a violent jolt, throwing away the tattered gym bag full of clothes in his hand. For the briefest of nanoseconds, he thought he was already dead. Captured, tried, convicted, sentenced, and executed … now greeted by Hell’s welcome party.

A gasp later, rationale returned to poor Billy Heap. These were not actual ghouls and Billy was not actually dead. But he would certainly get caught and might be convicted if he kept this up any longer—staring at a trio of licensed, pop-culture, costumed candy hunters on his front stoop. 

The police were most certainly on their way. It was time to blow.   

“There’s whatever inside,” Billy huffed in his dying panic, then grinned. “Help yourself.”

With that, he picked up his tossed gym bag and trotted past the kids to his getaway car, saluting the ghouls' beer-bellied chaperone along the sidewalk. 

The door to Billy's house was left ajar and the bravest of the candy hunters stepped inside.

Billy's run-down Chevy yawned at the ignition turning over and his short life on the lam began in the dying embers of sunset. He stuck his head out the window. “Happy Halloween,” he lied. 

The rest of the candy hunters followed their fearless leader inside the now abandoned house. Their plump chaperone chased after them, yelling, “You don’t just wander into a stranger’s home!” 

All four discovered the horrors within. 


But this tale is not about those bloody treats. Nor the years of therapy that followed for the four of them. The mention of their going into Billy Heap’s home is merely to share with you, dear friend, that he was a very bad man. 

Driving away, Billy’s blood was up, but he kept his speed and turns in check—quite the feat when impulse demands recklessness. There was no plan, just the need to go. Billy tried distracting himself into calm with mental replays of nice things and happy places—his cellar, for instance.

But, no matter what, his thoughts bent towards that snooping utility man. He’d come to read the meter and caught Billy in the act, peeking through the backroom windows. The utility man ran away in a panic before Billy could catch him. He’d spoiled everything.

This made him seethe and punch his steering wheel. 

Halloween. In truth, the date slipped Billy's mind. He hated the holiday because it was a lie. Some people believed it was a night for demons and evil doing, which would have been fine. Great, in fact. But Billy knew its history; he knew that, deep down, all the spooky traditions actually came from a place of good—to ward off fear and evil. And that was no fun.

Sunset had given way to fading twilight. Clans of mini devils and shrunken heroes were parading the sidewalks with adult valets in tow. All were surrounded by sugar and dead leaves.

Billy Heap caught sight of a police cruiser in his rear view. Distant, but there. Perhaps following. Perhaps running plates if there were sharp eyes on board. Even if the cop wasn’t in pursuit, it was probably best to ditch the Chevy and jack a new car.

He turned right onto the brick-lined block of Park Street with the care of a drunkard trying not to get pulled over. This was an old part of town – a chessboard of decadent architecture, of brick and stone, of turrets and stained glass, of arches and spindles – all up and down the block. Millionaire's Row, they called it way back when. 

Some of the ancient houses were in a state of disrepair, but most held onto the monied glamor they were built to showcase. By the number of feet on the ground, it was clear Park Street was still a popular place for trick-or-treating.

Billy rushed a parking job on the street, in a space just big enough for his little car. He sprang from the driver's side, leaving his gym bag behind, then forced himself into a casual stroll. The same urge to punch the accelerator gnawed at his gut as he pretended to tootle.

The streetlights were humming. The last trace of the sun had long since sunk, leaving only the moon and dark clouds in the blackness above. The concrete walks were dotted with zigging and zagging flashlight beams, leading the sloppy march of candy hunters. The sounds of laughter, roars, and screams bounced off brick walls and rippled through the trees. Choruses of “trick or treat” echoed over and over from corner to corner.

Creeping along Park Street was the trailing police cruiser. Billy jammed his hands into his pockets and spied a crew of child villains without an adult. He fell in step behind them and became their unsolicited guardian, hoping it was enough to fool the law. 

The kids raced each other to the next house on the block. 

Like most other homes in the area, it was a giant Queen Anne—unbalanced, Gothic, and foreboding in the dark. A large porch, ran the length of the front facade, above which a trio of stone masks depicting unsavory faces were spread. On the far left, a tower stretched from the ground to the home's highest point with an opulent second floor balcony in between. Patterned eaves surrounded the roof, which looked like a cluster of mountaintops covered by shingles. 

A hundred years ago, this house might have been the crown jewel of the neighborhood. On this Halloween, it was one of the more endangered structures of Millionaire's Row—swell, but rickety.  

A dozen lit jack-o-lanterns were spaced across the porch. Stuck in the lawn was a five-foot torch burning with a flame the size of a witch’s hat. The oak at the front of the property shed most of its leaves, leaving its bare branches looking like talons dangling over the cobblestone walkway. Candles glowed in over half the windows.  And there was a porch light that was bright enough to make parents feel at ease while their kids talked to the stranger inside. 

The crew of child villains were clattering along the cobblestones, bounding up the porch steps, and jockeying to ring the bell. Billy Heap stopped at the mouth of the walkway and feigned supervision, his back to the street. 

The police cruiser must have stopped behind him. Billy could see headlights on pause along the brick road in his left peripheral. Then flickering glows of red and blue. The cops must have spotted him standing still on the curb of Park. He played it cool and kept watch on the kids at the house. I'm just a papa keeping an eye on my stupid, little brats.

The villains were calling out to the home's occupant, a matronly old woman who greeted them with a giant bowl full of goodies and cooed over their deliciously evil costumes. “Oh, but don't you look terrifying! You’re some kind of vampire. And what are you supposed to be? A joker, you say? And you? An ice queen! I have something special for the lot of you.”

Billy’s nerves were clawing. He snuck a peek over his shoulder. 

A handful of starstruck kids were surrounding the cruiser. The lone cop inside was indulging their curiosity by showing them how his roof lights worked and passing them fun size servings of Smarties and candy corn—not at all interested in the real villain nearby.

“Young man,” a crackling voice called out from a distance.

Billy stretched his neck as far as he comfortably could to get a better look at the cop car. The officer was pantomiming a code-call on the police radio. This quickly shifted into a stern lesson on using gear responsibly.

“I say, Boy!” the crackling voice continued.

He thought he saw the cop flick eyes in his direction, as if perhaps the playtime was all a ruse before springing to make an arrest. Here, kids, let me show you my sidearm. See how friendly it is—now freeze, punk!

This was a ridiculous thought, of course. Officer Candy Corn had zero designs of apprehending Billy. The police probably didn't even know who they were looking for, yet. 

Seconds and seconds later, the cruiser was drifting forward again. Billy kept watch until the copper was nothing but taillights. 


The voice finally caught his attention and he straightened his neck to face the house. The matronly old woman was waving at him from the front porch. Billy assumed she was signaling more trick-or-treaters. He glanced around his other shoulder and spied empty sidewalk, then turned back to the woman. “Me?”

She beckoned with another brittle wave. “Well, come on.”

He waved back dismissively. “Thanks, lady. I'm looking after my nephew...”

Billy trailed off as he looked left and right and realized his wards were gone. The little costumed villains hadn't just moved onto the next house; they had vanished. He did a second sweep from side-to-side and found more empty sidewalk, more empty street. In fact, Billy couldn't see any trick-or-treaters on the block. The only sound was a chilly breeze brushing nature and setting off far-away wind chimes. 

Surely, this was just a trick of streetlights and shadow. Surely, this neighborhood was still buzzing with people. Billy looked again for signs of life and saw only the police cruiser's taillights suddenly brighten as it stopped. White reverse lights joined the red brakes a second later.

The old woman called out. “Are you Souling?”


“I have what you're looking for.”

Billy glanced back at her. Only half the old woman's face was visible – sharp bones trying to poke through papery skin, made orange in the flickering torchlight. The large bowl of goodies in her hand was now replaced with a silver serving tray – the same color as her hair. He couldn't see what was on the tray, but that was the least of what struck him. 

There were no more candles in the windows, no more porch light, either. The house was a collection of black shapes against the moonlight. And, yet, he thought he could see something moving inside – a blacker black drifting past where candles used to glow.

The police cruiser was moving backwards, creeping closer. 

Billy ambled over the cobblestones and stopped at the foot of the porch. The drooping branches of the naked oak tree tickled him along the way. He snuck one last peek at the copper before asking her, “Whatcha got, lady?” 

She was looming at the top of the porch, lowering the silver tray toward him. Billy looked at it. The tray was donned with short stacks of pastries. Thick, misshapen cookies, by the look of them.  Cookies with raisins embedded at the top, covered in powdered sugar. 

He smiled unconvincingly. “I'm a little old for this.”

“Are you going to pray?” Her voice, lower now, was full of scratches and close to breaking apart.

Billy's brow arched high. “Pray?”

“At church before the night changes over.”

“You want me to pray for one of these cookies?”

She might have rolled her eyes, but her sockets looked black in the shadows cast by the light of the torch. “Oh, young man. These are soul cakes.”

The name rang a bell—some ancient holiday tradition for the faithful. He looked back over his shoulder again, asking, “What are soul cakes?”

She shook the silver tray, making the cookie towers slide a bit. “These are soul cakes, young man. Spice cakes. Full of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. The best treats on Halloween.”

He turned to give her tray another look. This time, he didn’t look away.

She continued vigorously, “They’re bargains between living people. Take a soul cake and offer yourself to the dead. One cake for one soul.”

He reluctantly reached for a soul cake, but stopped when his skin chilled into gooseflesh. “I don’t think that’s quite right.”

“My husband, Charles,” she carried on in her fractured voice. “He died, long ago. A difficult man, stubborn in his unpopular beliefs. Not very well liked, I’m afraid, but, to me, he is…was…” She bit the end of her story off. “No matter. You see, I fear for his soul. It lingers in this world and,” she betrayed a look of scorn, then smiled again, “I make soul cakes for people like you. To strengthen his soul.”

Billy saw scattered piles of crumbs at his feet, but they meant nothing to him. “You mean pray for his soul?” 

“Sure. If you’re Souling, proper. But, if you’re not of the faithful…Well, let me look at you.” She leaned a bit closer. “Yes, I see what kind of man you are.  Not the praying type, one might say.” Then she shrugged, her smile bolder.  “I don’t think the dead will mind.”

The branches of the oak tree began whispering behind him, blending with her next words, which were slow and willful. “You’ll take one, won't you?” 

Billy stared at the uneven stacks of cakes and their chunky, cracked shapes. His mouth grew wet with the strange desire to eat. He imagined biting into one and tasting something like a cousin to carrot cake with a soft, dense texture. He imagined collecting one of the raisin toppings with his second bite and noting the subtle flavor differences with its inclusion. He imagined variations in taste, bite-after-bite. He imagined the powdered sugar falling onto his fingertips and licking them clean. 

The old woman stretched closer to him, where he could see that her black eyes were not just shadows, and repeated, “One cake…for one soul.”

He found himself overcome with dreadful wonder. One cake for one soul. The words had a spellbinding effect coming from this old woman, glowing orange. He saw her smile disappear in the torchlight, but it didn't matter. Billy, the monster, was bewitched. He lifted himself up the porch steps where he could look down on the treats, judge them all for rank, and finally choose one.

One cake for one soul.

And, so, he chose his soul cake. And he devoured it, tasting everything he’d imagined. Then, with a final lick of the powdered sugar off his thumb, Billy stopped and shuddered. Something was wrong. He might have said it felt like someone was pouring molten brass down his gullet—an offense Billy was somewhat familiar with—but he could not find the power to speak. He could feel himself burning up, inside out, and falling apart. He could not scream.

The old woman’s smile returned in a slow reach across her face. Her lips stretched and cracked her crispy skin, curling up until orange-tinted teeth emerged.

And then, Billy Heap disappeared. Nothing remained of him but a fresh pile of fallen crumbs.

The old woman set aside her silver tray and bent down to scoop all the crumb piles into a nearby dust pan.

“Ma’am, everything okay?” The police cruiser had backed to a stop in front of the old woman's house. The cop, who had been entertaining kids just a few moments earlier, was leaning through the passenger window.

The old woman was standing alone with the tray of soul cakes. The porch light was on again. Lit candles adorned nearly every window. She waved and said, “Just fine, Officer.”

“Great. Well, we’re asking residents in this area to pack it in early, tonight, for their safety. So, you might want to close up the candy shop and lock your doors. We’ve steered all the trick-or-treaters away.”

She looked troubled. “Oh, my. Nothing serious, I hope.”

“No, ma’am. Just playing it safe. You never know on Halloween, am I right?”

Her troubled look switched to relief. “No, I s’pose you never do.” 

He tipped his hat. “Good night, ma’am.”

“Oh, Officer?” She waved for his attention. 

The cop raised a brow.

She gestured with her tray. “Would you like a soul cake?”


Inside the ancient Queen Anne, in a kitchen untouched by modern conveniences, the old woman molded clumps of crumb into flat, little pastries—the same pastries she formed year-after-year for nearly a century. A restless shape, blacker than black, swooped back and forth behind her, provoking the ire of an irritated wife.

“Oh, hush now, Charlie-Bear. You’re the one who chose to up and die.”

The shape grew still and bowed away, much in the manner of a humbled husband.

She carried the tray through the dark house, down a corridor, and into the parlor where the specter, Charles, waited—no longer blacker than black, but more man-colored, floating inches above the hardwood. A fire roared in the hearth behind him. She could see its light glimmering through Charles’s glassy form.

“Wicked souls aplenty, this year,” she said in a haughty tone.  “More and more every year—heh! Ahhhh, the more righteous they feel, the more rotten they are. ‘Cept for the last boy; he was doing good, so he was.”

The floating ghost drifted towards her, looking at the silver tray full of soulful treats. Charles fed, and the devoured souls sparked a tremendous heat from his visage that made the woman back off several steps. She nearly dropped the tray. The specter took note of the happening and drifted away so as not to cause her anymore pain.

“It’s no bother,” she assured him. “I’ve not felt a power like that, before. ‘Tis a comfort. When will it be time? When will you have enough to end them all?”

Charles drifted close to his still-living wife, careful to keep his power contained. He stroked her cheek with a vaporous fingertip and said without speaking, “One more Halloween.”

Christopher Kelley is a writer and video producer whose work has appeared in Allegory and Bewildering Stories. He lives in the belly button on the beer belly of Illinois (a place called Quincy) with his wife and four, villainous cats.