The after-school discussion on where to find this year’s Halloween costumes was off to a rough start. Kylie, Logan, Penny, and Sam had all agreed that this year they were dialing up the scary with their outfits. Unfortunately they were also in the seventh grade and only knew of so many places in the area to search. The pop-up Halloween stores were always an option, but Penny had already scoped one out running errands with her mom and reported it was the same recycled inventory from the year before. Logan suggested Target only to be called a baby by Sam. Logan in turn told Sam to eat farts, forcing Kylie to once again pull rank as the oldest member of their little group and tell them to kick rocks if they wanted to keep fighting. They had more important things to worry about.
“We could try and make our own?” Penny threw the suggestion to the others with all the confidence of broken stool.
Kylie scrunched her face. “Maybe if we had started a week ago. But Halloween is this weekend. No way we could all come up with something actually scary at this point.”
“I can help. Maybe.” The crew turned to follow the voice back to its source, and saw a tall, scraggly boy with dark disheveled hair standing a few feet behind Kylie.
It took a moment, but recognition finally hit Kylie. This was the new kid, Kelvin, who shared second period math with her. She didn’t have a lot of interaction with him but he always seemed nice enough, though he always looked out of place. Not so much because of his appearance as the way he carried himself. He seemed to want to be a part of whatever was going on, but it also felt like he was consciously holding himself back. “Alright, what do you got, new kid?”
Kelvin stepped closer to the group. “My dad owns the new costume shop on Fuller. I bet you can find stuff there.”
Sam shook his head. “I saw that place. It’s like costume costumes. Like if you were going to some old-timey ballroom or something. There’s nothing scary there.”
Kylie could see the little bit of confidence Kelvin had mustered evaporate, but somehow he managed to keep going. “No, I mean yeah, he sells a lot of that kind of stuff. But there’s more. He has a room in the back that has all sorts of cool masks. Monsters and aliens and skulls and stuff. Even some celebrities. And they are all super realistic.”
Logan and Sam both looked skeptical. “Why is it in the back?” Logan asked. “If they’re so cool why are they hidden away?”
Kelvin looked down at his feet. “Kids aren’t allowed back there. My dad has an ‘Adults Only’ rule for it.”
“So it’s like a porno room!” Sam exclaimed, looking to his friends for chuckles and approval that did not come.
“We got complaints from parents in our old neighborhood,” Kelvin continued. “Kids would use them and scare each other, and some kids got really scared, so my dad started keeping them in the back so they wouldn’t cause a fuss.”
Kylie was intrigued. Masks that were too scary for kids to buy? That was exactly what they needed. But…
“But if they are in an ‘Adults Only’ room how are we going to get them?” Kylie inquired.
Still looking down at his feet, Kelvin kicked at non-existent stones. “Well, I was thinking I could let you in. I have a key to the shop, so I can let you in after dark when no one would be around?”
Penny shuffled up next to Kylie, the offer making her tense. “I dunno,” she said softly to Kylie. “I don’t think my parents would like me breaking into a store with a stranger.”
Kylie’s parents had also warned her of the dangers of following strangers. They also told her Santa Claus was real. Kylie took all of their advice with a grain of salt. “Ok,” she announced. “We’re in.” Kylie turned to look at her cohorts. Penny looked uncomfortable, Logan looked unsure, and Sam looked unimpressed, but none of them contradicted her decision.
Kelvin, finally looking up from his feet, smiled. “Great,” he said, and the plans for that night were settled.
The autumn air was crisp and the moon almost full as the costume searchers waited in the alley next to the costume shop for their inside man to arrive. It was late, and there was much second guessing and uncertainty among the group, but Kylie was holding firm. The potential was too great. If it was a bust it was a bust, but she knew she’d be kicking herself for not trying if she ended up in some lame store bought grim reaper outfit on Halloween. It was go big or go home time, and masks that were so scary parents forced a store to keep them locked away from kids was as big as it got.
Kelvin had finally arrived, his tall, slender frame moving like a specter in the street lights. He motioned to the alley for them to follow along to the front door, and with one final look around to verify the street was empty, turned the key to let them in. Sam was right, the shop had a lot of fancy old-timey clothes and big flowing dresses. The wall on the right was completely covered in various wigs of all shapes and colors. But none of this was why they were here.
Kelvin used his keys again on a dark red door in the back of the store. This was it, the much promised vault of treasures, and Kylie held her breath as Kelvin pushed it open and flipped on the lights. As her eyes adjusted she nearly forgot to start breathing again. It was only when Sam started laughing that she finally released the air trapped in her lungs and began to smile wide.
Every wall was lined with masks. But not just any masks. Kelvin had told no lies, these were indeed the coolest, most realistic masks any of them had ever seen. Rotted skulls and werewolves and killer clowns. Aliens with sharp teeth and mutants with boil-covered faces. There was an incredibly realistic mask of President Obama and an incredibly grotesque mask of President Trump. It was everything Kelvin had promised and more.
They all ran to try on masks. Logan pulled the face of a zombie pirate off the wall and placed it over his own. “Dude!” Penny exclaimed as she reached for a yeti mask. “That looks so good on you!”
It really did, Kylie thought excitedly. The mask fit perfectly over Logan’s face, forming itself to him. When he talked, the mask moved with him so that it looked for all the world like an actual person speaking. Even the eyes were perfect, with no awkward gap between the holes and the actual eyeball. They were going to have the best costumes of anyone at the school.
“Hey Kelvin, why don’t you try one on?” Sam asked as he prepared to try on an incredible likeness of Benedict Cumberbatch. Kelvin was standing in the middle of the room, seemingly content watching the rest of them run amok in their excitement. He smiled and shrugged.
“Yeah, come on,” Kylie added. It seemed only fair for Kelvin to join in. None of this would have been possible without him.
“Well, ok,” Kelvin gave in. He stepped toward a werewolf mask and raised his hands as if to pull if off the wall. But rather than grab the mask on the wall, Kelvin instead reached up toward his own face. In one fluid movement Kelvin grabbed the flesh on either side of his neck and pulled his skin and hair clean off.
Kylie dropped the mask she was holding as she stared in horror. Gone was the normal, human face Kelvin had just a second ago. It had been replaced by a greenish head, wet with some sort of thick mucus. With two yellow, bulging insect eyes and a mouth full of writhing, slimy tentacles. Kelvin dropped his human face, which hit the floor with a splat. Behind her, Kylie could hear Penny screaming as Logan began retching. She heard nothing from Sam, and wondered if he had left them to deal with this nightmare on their own. Kylie would have turned to check, but found that her body had ceased working. All she could do was watch as this new Kelvin, the real Kelvin, pulled the werewolf mask down off the wall and carefully covered his wet, wriggling face with it. After adjusting it for what seemed like an eternity, he turned to face the rest of them.
“Well?” he asked sheepishly. “What do you think?”
Tim Gaydos is a horror junkie who has always been partial to the raptors from Jurassic Park, fantasizing about having one as a pet during his grade school years. His previous work has been featured in the horror anthology After the Kool-Aid Is Gone, the Daily Drunk anthology A Drunken Midsommar, and the comedy site Robot Butt.