“The Day After Halloween”

On the night before Halloween, here’s “The Day After Halloween”–a short story that was first published in the 2011 anthology Jack-o’-Spec: Tales of Halloween and Fantasy.


The Day After Halloween

By Joe Nazare


Night, like no other. October’s closing ceremony.

Drew McCormack stands gazing out from his front porch, joined only by the uncarved pumpkin propped on the gray wooden ledge. Curling his forearm to read his wristwatch, he sees that just two minutes have passed since last check. 9:48—which he once again translates to LATE.

“Dammit, Robbie,” he grumbles, but really he’s cursing himself. He should never have let the boy go out tonight.

Originally, he balked at the idea of Robbie heading out alone. It was too dangerous—too many up-to-no-gooders no doubt finding welcomed cover in nightfall. But Robbie was determined to hit up some houses. With oversized pillowcase already in hand, he implored his father to trust him. He was going to be fifteen years old, for crying out loud. “Besides,” Robbie clinched the deal, “you need to stay here in case anyone comes.”

Grudgingly, McCormack agreed. But he insisted Robbie stick to the immediate neighborhood. And that he get his butt back home as soon as he filled his makeshift goody-bag. “Be careful,” he called out as the boy hurried off.

That was nearly ninety minutes ago. Now, standing lookout on the porch, McCormack slowly exhales his unease. Rocking his body weight side to side, he vacillates between anxiety and anger. He squelches the urge to go searching for Robbie, realizing that he has no idea what route the boy chose, what house he could be at right now. And McCormack hates the thought of leaving his own home unattended, with so many beggars and mischief-makers surely afoot.

As if on cue, a figure swoops across the sidewalk in front of the house, momentarily framed by the break in the hedgerow. McCormack focuses first on the weapon in hand, a disconcertingly authentic-looking butcher knife. Next he registers the Halloween mask—literally, the wan, stoic visage of Michael Myers. This incarnation of the methodical slasher, though, has launched into an uncharacteristic sprint, a hastening that could signify either flight or pursuit. A frown elongates McCormack’s mouth as he listens to the Dopplering clomp of Michael-mask’s boots; he’s been reminded once more that on this particular night, anything goes.

And it seems like forever since Robbie went.

Meantime McCormack’s outstretched neck has started aching. Vertebrae crackle while he swivels, then tilts back, his head. As his chin thrusts forward, his view naturally lifts skyward. It’s a moonless night, casket-black, and against such a pitch backdrop he can just discern the cirrocumuli. McCormack pictures the inky gossamer strands as a tattered shroud, or a newborn’s caul.

“Anhhh.” He waves a hand in dismissal, wipes away such mental images. This unhallowed evening has given his thoughts a morbid cast. And it really was no time for fancy, not with more practical concerns pressing. The only shape he should be trying to make out is Robbie’s.

Leveling his sightline, McCormack refocuses on the street stretching past his home. Even when devoid of passersby, the scene hums with the anticipation of activity. Constantly, eruptions of disorder feel eyeblink-imminent.

Despite or precisely because of such charged atmosphere, the homes lining the roadway lie quiescent. Case in point: the Franks’ white colonial directly across the street. None of the strung holiday lights shine, the shades are drawn, and the front door looks nailed shut at this late hour. McCormack wonders if Robbie’s itinerary tonight has led him to a series of such sheltered residences. Wonders how much trouble he’s having trying to fill his pillowcase.

The house neighboring the Franks’ on the right, the Millers’, forms another unshining example of introversion. Swaddled in night and silence, it betrays signs of occupancy only via the faint blue flicker leaking through the slats in the shuttered windows of the upstairs bedroom. McCormack imagines the Millers huddled together there, and supposes he could be inside his own living room right now watching the TV as well. Rather than standing sentinel here on the porch and fraying his own nerves. But he had his fill earlier this afternoon. Honestly, he has little stomach for the limited fare dominating the airwaves. Endless repeats of the same horrorshows. Exploitative schlock, all of it.

A banshee shriek pierces the night, rending McCormack’s thoughts. He whips his head to the left, spots the black muscle car screaming up the block. The din of the car’s passengers, whose hellraising yelps mark them as teenagers, is matched only by the music blaring from the radio. The bass sounds as if it’s been raised full-tilt, and pounds steady as a war drum. McCormack fights back queasiness as the noise pulses through him, but still manages to identify what he’s hearing. It’s that “Number One With a Bullet” song that Robbie liked to play ad nauseam on his own stereo, though nowhere near as loud as this.

The only saving grace, McCormack figures, is that this carload of cacophony will soon zoom past earshot. But as if to spite that expectation, the car promptly squeals its brakes. McCormack’s own hands squeeze down in conjunction, into fists so tight that his knuckles feel like they might erupt from the skin. Fighting the tremble mounting in his right arm, he braces for confrontation.

The car veers from its path down the center of the roadway, effortlessly jumping the far curb. Mouth agape, McCormack watches the bat-wielding passenger riding shotgun stretch his torso out the open window. More thug than slugger, the teen executes a single, booming swing that obliterates the Franks’ curbside mailbox. Gathering speed even as it sacrifices traction, the car continues in a diagonal vector across the Franks’ and then the Millers’ property. A four-wheeled rape of nature, it mows down flowers and tramples Walt Miller’s perennially envied rosebushes. The driver spins the wheel, and the fishtailing vehicle trenches what look like brown quotation marks in the lawn. Engine growling, the car then accelerates back onto the blacktop and the whooping teens speed off in the same direction from which they came.  In all, the blitzkrieg has lasted less than fifteen seconds.

His jaw now clenched, McCormack snorts his fury over such wanton destruction. No-good punks, acting as if this day sanctioned mischief.

For years now late-October lawlessness has been a growing problem here in Sedonia, but tonight’s incidents are of a different order altogether. What McCormack just witnessed across the street makes tossed eggs and t.p.’d trees seem like the quaint rituals of a bygone era.  And he knows it’s not just the particularly brazen nature of the present desecration that bothers him; it’s his own inability to do anything about it. And even if he had the temerity to march into the sheriff’s office tomorrow to make a complaint, would anyone really care?

He supposes he should be grateful he hasn’t seen anything worse transpiring. Be thankful he resides in the rural Midwest, since he can only imagine how riotous things must be in the big cities nationwide. In his mind’s eye he envisions all the mummies and skeletons, all the grotesques and other assorted ghouls filling the city streets tonight. He recalls how for decades good citizens way up north in Detroit have battled annual arsonists given to lighting buildings rather than pumpkins. God knows what sort of bonfire must be blazing there this evening.

But all that urban madness lay many miles over in all directions—days away as the crow flies, as it were. His concern right now is much more localized.

He scans the now-lifeless street once more. A small, internal voice chides him to relax, things will work out fine. He tries his best to heed that voice. Maybe he has magnified the cause for concern here. Besides, hasn’t Halloween historically proven a day of needless worry? Parents, don’t let your trick-or-treaters accept apples—madmen are splicing razor blades into them. Don’t let the kids take candy from complete strangers—it could be laced with poison. Or, more recently, the epitome of post-9/11 paranoia: keep your loved ones out of shopping malls on Halloween—terrorists have planted explosives there.

Like some pathetic attempt to douse flagrant thoughts, a soft rain starts falling, trickling onto the porch roof overhead. The precipitation rustles the oaks in McCormack’s front yard, unmooring brittle leaves that fall in graceful kamikaze swirls.

Influenced by such scene, McCormack presumes that the low scratching sound he suddenly hears represents the scurry of wind-nudged leaves across pavement. But the noise continues to morph, until McCormack identifies it as the scuff of sneakers.

He spots them just as they turn up the walkway. Dark sneakers, two pair, sported by the two approaching figures. Both are clad in denim jackets and jeans, their only concession to costume the matching goblin masks covering their faces in pale green deformity. Their lanky frames suggest they are really too old to be trick-or-treating. Nonetheless, they’re the first to venture onto the property tonight, which has McCormack cursing his luck. He should’ve known he wouldn’t get through the evening without any visitors.

The masked duo exchanges whispers while stalking toward the house.  But then wide goblin eyes lift toward the porch, and the pair’s progress falters as they are no doubt surprised to find McCormack stationed outside his front door. He doesn’t even give them a chance to speak, just offers a solemn shake of his head. They are halted in their tracks now, and McCormack can almost intuit the flow of their thoughts—the debate whether or not to accept such dismissal. The standoff, though, lasts only as long as it takes the goblins to give him a good look up and down. Apparently deciding to try their luck elsewhere, the grotesque twins do an about-face and steal back off into the night.

McCormack’s scowl outlasts their departure. Their unrewarded visit is just another reminder of how ill-prepared he is for this day. But he thinks of the chaos that desperate, last-minute shoppers must be raining down upon the town’s lone supermarket tonight. No, he was right to stay clear of that zoo.

Again, the sound of shuffling feet, loud this time, with no pretense to stealth. So the goblins have changed their minds and decided upon mischief. McCormack swallows, readies himself for them.

But his stiffened body sags with relief when he sees who it is, finally: Robbie, with his brimming sack slung over his shoulder, like some Santa who has mixed up his holidays. The cheeks of his ghost-white face puff out air as he hurries the last steps for home.

McCormack inwardly revels at the sight of Robbie’s safe return. His son—it doesn’t seem right to deem him a boy any longer—really is his entire world since Keira’s passing two years ago. Still, he can’t keep the sharpness out of his voice as Robbie mounts the porch.

Dammit, Robbie.”

“I know…I know,” Robbie says between gasps. “It took a lot longer than I thought. I had to go past the neighborhood. Try houses of people we don’t know, houses that looked deserted.”

Chafing once more at his own enforced stasis, McCormack mutters, “Alright, let me see.”

Robbie unshoulders and holds open the stuffed pillowcase. McCormack peers inside, immediately spotting the full bag of Milky Ways lying on top. He glances up at his son, who offers a sheepish grin in return. In the past McCormack has hounded his chocoholic son about eating such junk; now, though, it just seems silly to worry about. These few sweets weren’t going to cause Robbie’s teeth to fall out.

So McCormack doesn’t say anything, merely paws aside the bag of candy bars to make sure the rest of the sack contains more appropriate fare. And sure enough, he finds bottles and bottles of Evian.  Cans of Chef Boyardee macaroni. Cans of soup. Even a tin of Spam. Strictly nonperishables—just as McCormack had instructed.

Robbie stares at his father, clearly hungering approval. “You did a good job,” McCormack tells him, smiling thinly. Meantime he’s happy to note the pink returning to Robbie’s cheeks. “Now hurry up inside. Take all this down to the cellar.”

As his son steps forward to oblige, McCormack realizes what Robbie isn’t toting. “Hey, where’s your—” he starts, then catches himself.  “Never mind.” Because he’s spotted it. The pistol—which forms a matching pair with the one still clutched in McCormack’s right hand—is tucked into the waistband of Robbie’s jeans, partially draped by his unbuttoned flannel shirt.

Before proceeding indoors, Robbie stops to nod at the house’s façade. “We gonna board up the windows tonight?”

McCormack stares at the house, pondering, then shakes his head. “Not tonight.” Worry has drained him; any extra fortifications will have to wait.

“Go on, I’m right behind you,” he tells Robbie. He stops, though, and doubles back to the front of the porch. Sweeps the pumpkin up into the crook of his arm. Waste not…

Before he can cross over to the doorway, he feels a subtle breeze wafting across the back of his neck. Despite the unseasonable balminess of this October-terminating night, he shivers.

Instinctively, he turns his head left, telescoping his gaze toward the far western horizon. It’s faint from this great distance: an orangey glow radiating up against the black vault of sky, like a sunset trying to reverse itself.

McCormack, who for seventeen years up until today has served as a social studies teacher, suddenly can’t help but to recall the Old World roots of Halloween. For the ancient Celts, the harvest festival “Samhain” marked the End of Summer, and was considered a time when the dead crowded the same plane as the living.

So maybe today’s a typical Halloween after all…

Chuckling hollowly, McCormack steps inside to join his son in setting their stores against the long, dread winter on its way.

How the Crowd Gathered

In conjunction with the recent American release of the Terrifying Ghosts anthology, Flame Tree Press has published a special post on its blog today. Eighteen of the contributors (myself included) discuss the inspiration for their respective stories (other authors from the ToC such as Edgar Allan Poe, M.R. James, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Edith Wharton have yet to respond to the prompt, but based on the theme of the anthology, I’m still holding out hope!).

So check out the post here to find out which classic story was a formative influence on my piece “Theater Crowd.” And be sure to head back to the Flame Tree blog next Wednesday, for a post in which the contributors discuss our favorite titles in the ghost story genre. [Update, 7/7: the second post is now up on the website]



“Scourge to Multiply” (flash fiction)

In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, I wrote and submitted the following piece to the Tales to Terrify Flash Fiction Contest (whose prompt was to compose a story inspired by the picture above–“The Plague” by Arnold Böcklin [1898]). Alas, my entry ultimately wasn’t chosen for the podcast, but I thought I would post it here.


Scourge to Multiply

By Joe Nazare


The town might as well have been designed for the Downfall. Close-constructed quarters form opposing facades that turn the main street into a canyon of entrapment for unsuspecting travelers. Sudden as wind gust, the nightmare creature swoops in, and the leveling begins.

Pair by pair, eyes widen and instantly roll up into whiteness, unable to bear a sight as sublime as this sailserpent. Too incomprehensible is its molten, smoldering visage, not to mention the corona of smokecloud roiling about its reptilian anvil of a head. A single glimpse, unmerciful if brief, sends the townspeople crumpling bonelessly to the cobblestoned road. Men and women lie sprawled, sometimes even piled on top of each other in listless orgy.

The wizened rider knows the danger of marking the beast, although that is not the only reason the figure straddles the sailserpent backwards. It’s a sexless revenant, its shift a soil-dark shroud hanging loosely on the emaciated frame. Taken together, the gray, cadaverous legs don’t measure half the girth of the mount’s body stretching obscenely between them with suppurating sores running its length.

This harvester perched atop the airborne terror like Death personified gives its attention not to the decimation in the street below. Instead, its gaunt face glares back blackly through the gauntlet. Its rictus bares teeth clenched in grim determination. Flensed of muscle tone, those sticklike arms look too weak to loft, let alone wield, the great blade grasped between skeletal fingers. Nevertheless, the scythe swipes, sharply intoning that the Downcast must not be disfigured. The carrion birds that follow in the sailserpent’s wake, devoted as ducklings, squawk and scatter. Yet inevitably, the eager feeders regroup and circle back in pursuit of meaty morsel.

The sailserpent, meanwhile, continues its swift course, and engages on two fronts—fore and aft. In a macabre mockery of anatomy, its long tail terminates in a second, bulbous-eyed head. Pointed beak hinged wide, the industrious tail-head engulfs the faces of the prostrate townsfolk with its pestilential breath. The emission fogs forth like the spume of some unholy censer.

Every last insensate human in the thoroughfare is sufficiently sprayed. Then, just as abrupt as its advent, the monstrosity with its hind-facing rider makes its exit. The tips of its titanic, bat-like wings whispering against the fronts of the looming buildings, the sailserpent soars out of the street scene and renders itself invisible in the vista.

A moment thereafter, the townsfolk resuscitate.

En masse, the Downcast rise to their feet and casually brush the dust from their clothes. Unremembering what just transpired, and unaware of what they inhaled, the people carry on with their lives. They still believe themselves justified in ignoring the burgomaster’s warnings, in disregarding the reports of a strange plague spreading this way from afar. Yet whatever ill-advised errand led them to venture out in the first place has now been forgotten. Hurried return is the unconscious imperative directing their steps. The elected couriers move silently, with nary a cough or sneeze sounding amongst them as they head straight back to welcoming kin.

Unbeknownst at this point to all those who would soon enough bemoan, cataclysm begins at home


Liquor Treat (Halloween short story)

In honor of the High Holiday, here’s an original short story posted to this website.

Happy Halloween to all the celebrants in the Macabre Republic!


Liquor Treat

By Joe Nazare


“You’re never gonna believe this,” Tyrese forecasted as he stormed into the room.

Frankie sat cross-legged atop his bed, sifting through his afternoon haul. He’d already sorted out M&Ms and Milk Duds and Tootsie Roll Pops and Smarties. Reluctantly, he turned his attention from his sweets. “What?”

Tyrese, looking half-gruesome in his Harvey Dent costume, needed a moment to catch his breath before blurting: “There’s some lady over on Stevenson Ave. handing out alcohol to trick-or-treaters.”

What?” Frankie repeated. “Gimme a break.”

His friend stood there nodding insistently. “It’s true. She’s giving out bottles of stuff right there at her door.”

“Oh yeah? So then where’s yours?”

Tyrese grunted his frustration. “I didn’t say everyone: only the bigger kids are scoring liquor. For the rest, it’s standard candy. But Jeff Marion and Glenda Walinski and Peter Settembrino got a bottle each,” Tyrese said, naming the trio of sixteen year olds from Hallorann High.

Although Frankie could easily picture the teens (who he’d often seen hanging out in front of Shop Rite’s liquor annex) being supplied with alcohol, he still struggled with the scenario Tyrese painted. “But why would this lady just be giving the stuff away?”

“What do I know?” Tyrese shot back, in the key of “what does that matter!” He lowered his voice and theorized: “Maybe she’s goin’ on the wagon. Maybe she’s moving away and has to clean house. Maybe she’s one of those rare, cool adults who don’t mind kids partying. The point, nimrod, is that she’s handing out free booze. So why just sit here asking why?”

Finally Frankie understood where this was heading. “Hey, you really think I could get a bottle off of her?”

“If there’s an eighth grader who can pull this off,” Tyrese said, “it’s you.”

Frankie took the statement as fact rather than flattery. While he didn’t have much meat on his bones, he had plenty of height in his favor. Barely thirteen, he stood two inches shy of six feet. He played center on his CYO basketball team, towering over not just pipsqueak point guard Tyrese but the rosters of the entire league. A young man amongst boys, Frankie wore the signs of maturation plain on his face. When he used his mom’s makeup to rub fake beard growth onto his cheeks today, he didn’t have to bother with his upper lip, where puberty had already penciled in the dark strands of a mustache.

Sitting in his bedroom now, Frankie imagined how his schoolyard cred would skyrocket if he managed to snag a Halloween bottle of liquor. “And you know exactly where this lady lives?” he asked. When Tyrese bobbled his head “yes,” Frankie popped to his feet and quickly reassembled his costume. He slid back into the old flannel shirt that had belonged to his father. Then hefted the broomstick with the sock-stuffed bandana tied around its end. “Okay, let’s go.”

They barreled downstairs and toward the front door. “Going out to do s’more trick-or-treating with Tyrese!” Frankie announced as they hurried past the laundry room, where his mom stood pulling a tangle of clothes from the dryer.

“Be careful,” she called after him. “And make sure you’re back before supper, hear me?”

Tyrese, who liked to watch old shows on Nickelodeon from the dark ages of black-and-white, intervened with his best Eddie Haskell imitation. “G’night, Miz Baldwin. Don’t worry, Frankie and I’ll look out for each other.”

Then they were out the door. Following the sun’s lead, the temperature had dipped in the time since Frankie’s return home earlier. And the wind had picked up, raking orange-red leaves across the slabs of sidewalk, leaves that crunched underfoot like squashed beetles as the boys sped down the block.

They wove through the neighborhood, Tyrese in the lead. His pace doubled when they made the final turn onto Stevenson.“There,” he said, stopping short and pointing diagonally across the street.

Just an ordinary-looking house—brown brick front and dented beige siding. A wide perimeter of patchy grass separated the house from its nearest neighbors. Frankie had probably passed the place hundreds of times in his life, oblivious to it. But he studied it closely now, wariness gnawing away at his anticipation.

“Go ahead, big guy,” Tyrese prompted him.

“You’re not coming with me?”

“I can’t,” he said. “She might not give you the liquor if she sees me with you. I don’t wanna blow your cover.”

Frankie could understand the reasoning, even if he didn’t relish the thought of going solo. But then he considered how approaching the house alone would only enhance the story of his exploits.

“Alright. Wait here.” Prepping himself with a deep breath, Frankie hurried across the street and onto the flight of concrete steps. He wondered who waited on the other side of that front door. Some senile old bat who’d lost the distinction between a bottle of Scotch and a bag of Skittles? Or did she know exactly what she was doing?

Still scaling the steps, Frankie glanced back over his shoulder. Tyrese had squatted down behind the fender of a parked Jeep. His waving hand directed Frankie to keep going.

A sudden, horrid thought, though, stalled Frankie. What if Tyrese was even more two-faced than his costume suggested? What if he’d set him up for a Halloween prank? Were his goblin-masked accomplices huddling behind the front door right now, waiting to jump out once Frankie approached? The more he thought about it, the whole story about a woman treating kids to bottles of liquor sounded too good to be true.

But what if it was true? What if he blew a once-in-an-underage-lifetime opportunity by chickening out? One thing Frankie was certain of—he didn’t have time for indecision. All too soon, his mom would be expecting him home.

Chafing at the thought of his mom’s unwavering overprotection, Frankie made up his mind. In a burst of gangly movement, he finished the climb to the doorstep.

Masking tape covered the presumably dead doorbell; PLEASE KNOCK had been inked across it. Swallowing, Frankie followed the instruction.

Within a half minute that felt like a half hour, Frankie heard shuffling footsteps inside. The door swung inward, and the space filled with a solitary female figure.

This wasn’t some crazy hag, Frankie saw, just a middle-aged housewife dressed in a purple turtleneck and blue jeans. She was nowhere near as elderly as his imagination had cast her, but for some reason she also struck him as looking older than her actual age. Shadows rimmed the eyes sunken in her otherwise pale face. Her scraggly black hair had a skunk stripe streaking back from the temple, just like Johnny Depp in that Sweeney Todd movie Frankie and Tyrese had snuck in to see at the Cineplex.

The silence growing exponentially awkward as the lady eyeballed him, Frankie stammered, “Umm, t-trick-or-treat?” A Tyresian voice immediately sounded in his head: C’mon, nimrod, act like you’ve done this before.

But the imagined chastising only made Frankie realize what differed from his previous foray that afternoon: he’d forgotten to tote the old pillowcase that served as his candy bag! He felt practically naked in his present empty-handedness.

The woman’s gaze narrowed. “How old are you, kiddo?” she asked in rasped voice.

“Sixteen,” Frankie lied, not daring to stretch the truth any further.

“Sixteen,” she repeated, seeming to chew over the answer. She looked him up and down, and then past his shoulder, perhaps checking for adult supervisors or other potential witnesses curbside.

“Okay, hang on,” she told him at last, pulling back behind the partly-closed door.

Frankie was so keyed up by that point, he didn’t know what to expect. Would she come back holding a candy bar? A demonic barber’s straight razor? A phone with his mom on the other end of the line?

But a torturous moment later, she stepped back into view choking the neck of a long bottle of clear liquid. Amazingly, she held it out to him. “Here you g—”

Before she could finish the sentence, Frankie snatched the offering and bolted down the flight of stairs, his knees pistoning as if he were emulating a drill from basketball practice. Overwhelmed by a potent mix of anxiety and exhilaration, he forgot to even thank the woman for her special treat.



Lorna watched the lanky hobo race down her steps. After scanning the twilit street, she withdrew into the house.

She turned toward the long snack table lining the wall to the immediate right of the door. Atop it sat an orange plastic bowl filled with nugget-sized Snickers and Three Musketeers. The bowl was one of those motion-sensing pieces specially tricked out for Halloween: whenever a human hand reached into it, the scaly green one poking up from its center came slapping down. Lorna, though, had removed the decoration’s battery, having long since tired of such routine.

What seized her attention now wasn’t the still-brimming candy bowl but rather the stark emptiness of the tabletop alongside it. She’d just given away the very last bottle of liquor from the domestic cache.

The realization set off a tremor in her hands. She felt as if every last droplet of saliva in her mouth had evaporated. Oh c’mon, her conscience scolded her. Show some grit. Don’t stand here acting like you’re getting the DT’s.

She’d made her sober resolution after many hard nights and many days of soul-searching. Knowing she couldn’t just pour the liquor down the drain, she decided to get rid of the cursed bottles by handing them out to the older kids who knocked on her door today. She figured that such disposal constituted a crime, albeit a minor one in the grander scheme of things.

The layout of the house was such that the front door opened directly onto the living room. Lorna couldn’t help but sigh now as she turned and surveyed the surrounding space. Neglect appeared to be the room’s dominant motif. Grime tinted the vinyl slats of the window blinds. Dust bunnies roamed the long-since-swept hardwood floor. The crocheted blanket hung crooked as a parallelogram across the back of the sofa, and a slew of old magazines formed an artless mosaic atop the coffee table.

It saddened her to be so visibly reminded of how far she’d let things slip, of how long she’d carried on like she had. But now certainly wasn’t the time to dwell on past folly, not with the opportunity for liberation looming before her. If she could just somehow get through tonight, tomorrow’s outlook would be infinitely brighter.

A sudden rapping startled her from her thoughts. Lorna opened the door to find a husky, acne-masked teen waiting there. “Trick-or-treat,” he recited. Along with a knowing grin, he wore black denims and a red sweatshirt. A few rubber-banded Heralds protruded from the satchel slung on his shoulder. Lorna didn’t believe this paperboy was even in costume; she was sure she’d seen him making his neighborhood rounds in weeks past.

Either way, he looked crestfallen when she broke out the candy bowl. No doubt he’d had his heart set on schnapps, not Snickers.

Sorry, kiddo, she wanted to tell him. But you should’ve gotten here earlier. In this world, timing is everything.



Frankie thought he was home free, until he realized that he still had to smuggle the bottle into his own house.

He’d just parted ways with Tyrese, who’d been yipping at his heels like a toy poodle: Let me see it/Let me hold it/Let me smell it. Tyrese had such awe for the bottle, you woulda thought he expected a genie to come smoking out of it. Finally Frankie had to tell him to go on home. Not too harshly, though, since he knew he’d need his friend to back up the story of this escapade come Monday morning at school.

Without Tyrese here driving him nuts, Frankie could take the time to study what he held. BACARDI Puerto Rican Rum, the wording on the slender bottle labeled its colorless contents. Frankie didn’t know anything about rum, except that the Pirates of the Caribbean were crazy for it. He didn’t worry much about the fact that the seal was broken and the bottle only half full. Who knew if he’d ever get around to actually drinking the liquor; right now the possession of it was what mattered most.

Frankie unscrewed the cap and lifted the bottle to his nose for a curious sniff. Ewww—reminded him of lighter fluid.

He twisted the cap back on tight before turning onto his block and closing in on his house. His ears burned red and his heartbeat kicked into overdrive when he reached the front door. This was it.

Frankie dropped his broomstick prop alongside the entrance; he’d come retrieve it once he’d delivered the bottle to his bedroom. For now, he hid the contraband as best he could by draping his flannel shirt over it and cradling the bottle to his chest.

S…l…o…w…l…y he turned the brass knob and pushed the door open. As he crept into the foyer, he could hear the NBC anchorman relaying the evening news on the living room TV. Frankie didn’t hear any sound of his mom moving about, which was good. Most likely meant she was sprawled out on the couch.

With all the strained grace of a cat burglar, Frankie tiptoed down the hall and up onto the staircase. He took one gradual step at a time. He cringed when wood creaked beneath him, his nervousness exaggerating the sound into that of a splintering redwood. But the noise failed to alert his mom of his return, so Frankie continued his labored ascent.

Arriving at the second floor landing an eternity later, Frankie turned down a hallway that seemed to have stretched to nightmare length. He treaded as softly as possible, thankful for the muffling pad of teal blue carpet beneath his feet. When only a few feet from his bedroom doorway, he shucked his self-restraint. Sensing himself in the clear, he disentangled the bottle from his shirt and scurried the last few steps into the privacy of his room.

Only to find his mom standing there at his closet hanging up his laundry for him.

They serenaded each other with their startled gasps. The liquor bottle jumped right out of Frankie’s hand and dive-bombed to the floor, detonating upon impact.

His mom’s eyebrows bobbed on her forehead, then sloped sharply once the telltale smell drifted toward her. The simultaneous disappointment and displeasure molding her features proved scarier than any Halloween mask.

“Frankie!” she screeched at him, and he could tell from the tone that it wouldn’t be her last word on the subject.



Lorna stared unfocusedly at the sitcom flashing its banality across the TV screen. She sat slouched on the brown suede sofa, with her arms crossed and her hands cupping her elbows. For all the spirits she’d exorcised from the house today, she still felt haunted.

She realized that dispensing with the stock of liquor had been the easy part. The immediate aftermath was the crucial factor, and would determine whether her whole endeavor turned into a smashing failure. Lorna flicked a glance toward the dust-coated grandfather clock towering in the corner of the room, and shuddered.

Did she really think she was going to be able to hold out, to get through this night in one piece? Not even 6:30, and she was a nervous wreck already.

That old maxim sounded in her head, chiding her: Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.

Then Lorna heard the clacks on the steps outside, followed by the rattle of the doorknob and the creaking swing of the front door itself. She didn’t move from her seat, and barely shifted her gaze. She could have identified her husband’s nightly entrance blindfolded.

Alvin pushed the door shut behind him, sloughed off his jacket and slung it on the wooden rack affixed to the wall on the right. In concession to the holiday, he had dressed this morning in black slacks and a deep orange shirt and matching tie. “Hey baby,” he called, beelining toward her.

He leaned over and planted a long, open-mouthed kiss on her lips. The duration of the smooch enabled him to reach across and give her right breast a firm squeeze, like a shopper testing produce at the supermarket.

Lorna couldn’t keep her nostrils from sniffing. She detected the beer on his breath, believed she could even smell the alcohol wafting through the pores of his cheek and neck like some faint aftershave. Alvin worked as assistant manager at the downtown Barnes & Noble, and every Tuesday and Friday joined his staff for happy hour at the adjacent Houlihan’s. Had one or two—but never more—sociable drinks before heading home.

Oblivious to her reaction, Alvin straightened. He beamed a smile that promised further groping later on tonight. “OK, lemme go wash up and change,” he said, as if she were the one stopping him. Turning to exit the room, he added, “Give a holler when dinner’s ready.”

Dinner? The word alerted Lorna to her own absentmindedness. She’d been so preoccupied with this afternoon’s handouts, she hadn’t even thought to plan a meal for tonight. Oh well.

Rather than scurrying into the kitchen, she maintained her perch. Stationed at the front end of the house, she could still hear the cascade of the bathroom faucet.

Frowning, Lorna eyed the grandfather clock once more. Hardly any time had passed since last check.

Her fidgeting hand found the remote and used it to zap the TV. The ensuing silence amplified the sound of Alvin’s activities within. Lorna heard him flip the light switch in the bathroom and shuffle down the hall. She heard the rustle of his undressing in the bedroom, soon followed by the slide of the closet door. And then she heard Alvin scream.

“LORNA!” The cry seemed to reverberate off every wall in the house. Lorna swallowed, braced herself for this moment of truth. She was by no means clairvoyant, but clearly understood what her husband had discovered.

Alvin kept all of his liquor bottles stashed at the bottom of the bedroom closet. He wouldn’t display them openly elsewhere in the house, lest any visitor note the extensiveness of his collection and cast aspersions on his character. His in-home binges were his dirty little secret, which inevitably besmirched Lorna as well.

Her husband’s preoccupation with surface appearance concealed more than just alcohol abuse. When in his cups and out of sorts, he yanked her hair wantonly, knowing such rough gesture wouldn’t leave visible mark on her. And even if his stinging smacks of her backside caused any bruises—which they often did—the handiwork could always be excused as the byproduct of bedroom kinkiness. Oh, Alvin was a sly one when it came to avoiding incriminating evidence.

“LORNA!” he boomed again. His initial naming of her had been a yawp of dismay; this next address was voiced in stern accusation. It chased Lorna to her feet.

She stepped back automatically when Alvin stalked into the living room. Instant regret of her transgression today swamped her. She’d miscalculated terribly; how could she have possibly thought that her crazy plan would work out alright?

He was stripped down to his white A-shirt, which Alvin in his political and alphabetical incorrectness always referred to as a “Guinea T.” Under other circumstances, he might have looked comical, standing there in his boxers and with his dress socks stretching up his calves. But his wavy black hair was disheveled from the hands that must have ruffled it, hands presently clenched into vibrant fists.

What did you do?” he demanded in guttural voice. Although he knew she herself never touched the stuff, he had explicitly instructed Lorna long ago to never, ever touch his stuff.

Lorna stood static as a headlighted deer, watching Alvin snort temper through flared nostrils. His hooded glare bespoke a determination to help himself to a few belts tonight—one way or the other.

He didn’t wait for Lorna to mutter some explanation. Unmasked and monstrous, he charged straight at her.



Alvin synchronized his blows with his slurs. He knelt straddling Lorna in the middle of the living room floor, letting her know—and feel—just what he thought about her little prohibitionist ploy. Each fist fell heavy as an anvil, as if his fury had anagrammed his name and transmuted him into unforgiving steel. So engrossed was he in punishing the thieving, teetotaling bitch that he lost all track of his surroundings. It took him some time to realize that the staccato thunks he heard came not just from Lorna’s skull against polished hardwood, but from knocking on the front door.

Whipping his head over his shoulder, Alvin caught glimpse of the candy bowl on the snack table and immediately grasped the nature of the solicitation. “Getouttahere, you goddamn mooches!” he growled towards the envisioned grouping on his doorstep.

Even more persistent knocking answered the dismissal, fanning Alvin’s rage. Backhanding Lorna for good measure, he pounced to his feet and moved to give the kids outside an unsweet mouthful.

But Alvin froze as he was about to wrench the doorknob. Through the set of glass arches aligned high on the door, he spotted the figures outside. Some lanky teen dressed up as a hobo, bracketed by a pair of even taller companions. Their shiny silver badges glistened on the breasts of blue uniforms that were no mere costumes.

The realization sent Alvin reeling back from the threshold. He stared down at himself, suddenly conscious of his blood-gloved hands.

From their side of the doorway, the officers must have registered movement within. One promptly resumed knuckling the door, while the other vocalized the desire for admittance. “Mrs. Cahill,” the deep voice penetrated Alvin’s sanctum.

Alvin just stood there, his head slowly shaking. How could this be? How could they be out there hounding him right now? The timing was all wrong. The bordering houses sat far wide of this one, so no neighbor was likely to overhear him disciplining his wife. And even if someone had called in to report a disturbance, there was no way in hell a squad car could’ve been dispatched here this quick.

Flummoxed, he swiveled his gaze toward Lorna. She lay sprawled on her back, straining to tilt her head up off the floor. Though reduced to slits by the rapid swelling, her empurpled eyes blazed as they fixed him. A wicked, chipped-tooth grin carved itself across the bottom of her face. Drooling pink froth, the human jack’-o-lantern spoke at last. Alvin felt his sphincter seize up and an abrupt claustrophobia encage him as he translated the garbled phrase.

Timely yet uncanny, it sounded awful like “Trick-or-Treat.”


Gamechanger (flash fiction)

This is the first publication of the following piece of flash fiction, which attempts to give another turn of the thumbscrew to one of Ray Bradbury’s most macabre stories, “The October Game.”



By Joe Nazare


“These are the witch’s eyes,” Nathan intones, for the benefit of all those circularly assembled in the October dark. “The source of her baleful glare.” The pair of orbs he circulates is warm and gummy to the touch, suggesting the yolks of insufficiently-boiled eggs.

While the denounced organs are still making their round, Nathan takes hold of another piece. “This is the witch’s gut. The cauldron of her poisonous spirit.” Noses wrinkle at the offal smell as Nathan passes along what feels just like chicken innards.

“This is the witch’s hair,” Nathan continues his litany. “Filthy as the pelt of a wild beast.” The horrid crop he proceeds to share with the group has the texture of rotted corn silk.

“These are the witch’s dugs,” Nathan offers next, his voice devoid of adolescent titter. “Which only the devil himself would suckle.” Two leathery, slacken purses are groped in turn by the gathered males.

Meantime, Nathan seizes and lofts the foremost portion. “This,” he proudly recites, reveling in his oratorical role, “is the witch’s head–”

“And this is the witch’s curse,” the at-once-animate head mouths, its rasping sentence punctuated by a derisive cackle.

Nathan and his brethren gasp in unison, relinquishing their terrible trophies as if scalded. But the unhanding doesn’t come soon enough. Assorted splats and thuds are succeeded by the crackle of deadfalling sticks, the rattle of pelleting stones.

Decry as they might, these overzealous defenders of Salem won’t be pointing fingers of blame ever again.


“The Last Generation,” At Last

Back in 2011, my story “The Last Generation” appeared in the Apex Book Company anthology The Zombie Feed–Volume 1. To this day, it remains one of my favorite pieces that I have written. In “The Last Generation,” I set out to turn the conventions of the zombie/post-apocalyptic-survivor tale inside out. The story is strongly indebted to Hemingway’s classic fictional chronicle of the Lost Generation, The Sun Also Rises, and takes its impetus from popular zombie narratives such as Mort Castle’s “The Old Man and the Dead” and Douglas E. Winter’s “Less Than Zombie” (unlike those stories, though, it does not form a deliberate pastiche of another author’s style).

For months, I have been meaning to format the story so I could add it as a FREE READ on the Publications page of this website. Since fireworks fill the sky in the climax (in hommage to Romero), I figured the 4th of July would be an appropriate day to finally get “The Last Generation” posted. Hope you enjoy, and wishing a happy holiday to all the twisted citizens of the Macabre Republic.


It’s the night before Christmas, a prime time to post the following piece of flash fiction…



By Joe Nazare


Framed in one of the fifty-six windows of his home, Billy’s face is a mask of anxiousness. But I just snap the reins and fly on by.

The kid’s not even supposed to be up right now. Then again, if Billy Norton knew appropriate behavior, he wouldn’t have ended up bratlisted this year. So no special deliveries from me, although I’m sure his parents won’t leave him wanting. Month-old milk isn’t half as spoiled as he is.

The hilltop mansion in my wake, I proceed with my evening itinerary. Countless touchdowns are scheduled on the rooftop runways of more-deserving households within the town proper. The jolly prospect of morning unwrappings enraptures me…

Until Rudolph’s nose blinkers in alarm, and the entire team rears up as a dark shape swoops down on us. Initially, night and surprise camouflage the airspace invader; perhaps it’s the cacophonic drone that helps sharpen my vision, of what looks like some outsized, automated hornet.

I fight to steer clear of treetops and power lines as the mechanical harasser makes its buzzing loops. At one point the thing alights beside me, and then takes off with my brimming yet incredibly wieldy toy-sack pinched between its steel forelimbs.

The sudden absence of presents in my sky-pirated sleigh leaves me stunned. Finally, I manage to turn, and spot the machine beelining up the hillside. That’s when I realize who has masterminded tonight’s heist.

This Christmas, naughty Billy Norton will be getting nothing on his wish list—and everything on everyone else’s.



Here’s a drabble for travelers of the Macabre Republic…



By Joe Nazare


Seven cities, six days, zero deals sealed. Red-eye, white-knuckle flight into Newark in the middle of an electrical storm. Futile vigil held at the misnomered Baggage Claim carousel. A livery cab driver who seemed to have learned his craft from Mad Max.

Owen crisscrossed an inner interstate of exhaustion and exasperation as the town car dropped him off curbside at last. His sore eyes fixed on the white picket fence, the immaculately-landscaped front yard, the familiar façade of his Dutch Colonial home, and—framed in the upstairs window—the silhouetted figure overlooking his return.

The only problem: Owen lived alone.



Hammered Home (flash fiction)

This is the first publication of the following piece.


Hammered Home

by Joe Nazare


Neither one of them had a steady gait—Carlos because he was inebriated, Pat because he was in heels—when they stumbled upon the stranger.

It happened midway through the two-mile walk from the frat house back to campus. Pat had become Patty for the party, and Carlos was making a mock-lecherous grab for his Charmin-augmented bosom when he instead stopped and pointed.

Twenty feet ahead, dead center in the otherwise barren and woods-bracketed road, stood a figure in full clown regalia. Enormous sky-blue shoes that would have been a loose fit on Bigfoot. Baggy pantsuit that appeared to sport no pattern but rather a random spatter of red and brown. Greasepainted face, ball nose that looked like a plum tomato gone rotten. Two garish shocks of hair curving out from either side of the head, resembling nothing so much as devil’s horns.

“Creepy clown: cool,” Carlos pronounced.

To encounter someone in such outré attire wasn’t terribly unlikely on this last Saturday night in October, when a whole slew of pre-holiday celebrations no doubt raged. Still, instinctive wariness halted Pat’s steps. Carlos, meanwhile, continued on in fearless approach, his iPhone already in hand, raised and aimed.

“C’mon,” he called back to Pat, “we gotta put this up on YouTube.” Then, as he closed in on the clown: “Hey, man, wicked duds. Looks like you went shopping at Gacy’s.”

Pat swallowed, half-expecting the carnivalesque character to flash a shark’s grin and croak something like “They all float…”  But the clown kept silent, just posed motionless, with eyes downcast and hands thrust in pouch-like hip pockets.

“So, waiting for someone in particular, or will any body do?” Carlos asked, trying to get the clown to mug ghoulishly for the camera. He might as well have been prompting a mannequin. His static subject made one of those Buckingham Palace guards seem like a Tourette’s victim. Pat found the figure’s utter lack of animation deeply unsettling.

The inactive act only irked Carlos. His boozy grin flattened into a scowl as he lowered the phone and eyed the clown directly. “What, you got nothin’ to say for yourself?” Several seconds of mute affirmation led him to follow with: “Then you best use those floppy-ass shoes to step aside, Homey D., before you get busted upside the head.”

The stranger, though, wasn’t the one moved by the threat. Heels clacking against the macadam, Pat scampered to intercept Carlos. “Hey, take it easy,” he told him. But the second Pat stiffened his arm in attempted restraint, Carlos pressed even more aggressively towards his newfound foe. Carlos was costumed in a zoot suit tonight, but Pat couldn’t help but think that he was dealing here with a pair of clowns.

Sudden impatience flooded him. His buzz had worn off, he was tired, and his feet were killing him. The last thing he felt like doing right now was refereeing a bout between his hot-headed friend and some wannabe Pennywise.

“Can we just get the hell outta here?” he shot at Carlos, who, to his surprise, took an immediate step back. The drunken bravado drained from Carlos’s face, leaving him gaping. An instant later, Pat felt a hand clamp down onto his shoulder.

Cringing, Pat turned his head. The clown’s gaze was as intense, as invasive, as the muscle-cramping clench. Even worse was what the clown used to see with: the circus perversity had a pair of black balloons in lieu of irises and pupils. Any thought Pat might have entertained that these were merely special-FX contacts was obliterated when his leering assailant addressed him.

“Not Pennywise,” it corrected all-too-knowingly, while unpocketing and brandishing an outsized meat tenderizer: “Poundfoolish.”