THE hammer came down in a perfect, beautiful arc.
Caleb turned his face away from the goopy spray, laughing.
Keith shoved him. “Hey, I was supposed to get the little one!”
“You got the last one, and you can have the next one. Jeez.”
Keith pouted, but not with much effort. How could he? They were having too much fun.
A long family tradition, they were told: every October 30th—Mischief Night, what a glorious name—the boys grabbed their hammers, dressed entirely in black, and ran amok through the local neighborhoods, smashing away. They wouldn’t hit every house—who had the energy for that?—but they would get five or six, easy. The previous year, they’d gotten ten, but had barely managed to make it home in time for bed, and had received such a scolding that they’d vowed, to their parents and to themselves, never to push it like that again.
You’ll outgrow it soon anyway, their mother had told them. Maybe, Caleb thought, but they were only ten, and he figured they had a few years left, a few more neighborhoods to ransack.
“The Cliftons next?” Keith asked.
Caleb grinned and nodded. They snuck across the street on tiptoes, eyes roaming. No one out this time of night. Just them. Just the Thompson Twins and their Thunderous Hammers of Mayhem. Making mischief on Mischief Night.
Caleb, true to his word, let Keith smash the smallest one. Those were, of course, the easiest and most fun. The hammer broke through with almost no resistance. It wasn’t so much fun when you had to work for it.
When he was done, Keith slipped his tiny hand into the gaping hole and pulled out a glob of the dripping, slippery innards. He licked it daintily with his tongue, paused, then licked it harder.
“Not bad,” he said, holding a handful out to his brother. “Wanna try?”
Caleb winced. “Only in pies,” he said, looking away as Keith shrugged and had some more. No accounting for taste, even amongst family.
They had time for one last house; neither brother could remember the name of the people who lived there. Not that it mattered, of course. They squashed all alike, rarely with any preference. When they were done, they sat on the front porch for a moment, taking a breath. All this squashing was tiresome work. Then they stood and trotted two blocks away, to their own home. There was a faint light showing through the living room curtain; Caleb hung his head. Hopefully their mother wasn’t up.
She was. They both were. Their father was reading a paper by lamplight, their mother sitting on the sofa with her arms crossed. She looked like she’d been rehearsing her scolding.
At first, she said nothing. The brothers closed the door behind them and then stood there, waiting. Their mother opened her mouth to speak, closed it. Then her eyes squinted and she said, “For God’s sake, will you look at that?”
The boys glanced down. They stood in an ever-growing puddle of dark, muddled red. Flecks of gray and black matter dripped from their hammers onto the carpet. Their clothes were soaked, the black somehow darker, richer.
“Who’s going to clean that up?” their mother said. “You’re a fool if you think I am!”
“But Mom,” Caleb said, “we’re moving tomorrow anyways!”
“That’s no excuse!”
“Ah, Susan, leave ‘em alone,” their father said. He lowered the paper. “Please tell me you got the McKenzies, at least?”
Keith nodded vigorously. “Yep! It took both of us to smash the biggest one. It put up a fight. The littlest one went pop!” He smacked his lips.
Their father smiled grimly and nodded. “Good. Worst goddamn neighbors I’ve ever seen.”
“Don’t encourage them, Gerald.”
“What? I did it when I was their age.” He paused at the memory. “Come to think of it, my mother got pretty pissed about it, too. Tracking in all that human filth. Like a dog rolling in shit.”
Caleb watched as their mother frowned—but he could tell part of her wanted to laugh.
“All right,” she said, shaking her head in resignation. She sighed, her forked tongue sneaking between her fangs in exasperation. “Get to bed. We’re leaving before dawn.”
The boys ran up the stairs giggling, leaving a trail of gore in their wake. Caleb thought about taking his clothes off, but decided to jump into bed the way he was. And why not? They’d be leaving soon anyways. And besides, he was tired. It’d been a busy night.