Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 233 - Karl Koweski


“I’m telling you guys; last Halloween me and my cousin trick or treated Dombrowski Funeral Home and they were giving away full-sized Snicker bars,” Skiba said.

The lividity of the scar jagging down his forehead matched the vehemence of his voice. This being back in the days before Harry Potter when a lightning bolt of a scar bisecting one’s forehead was looked upon as a freakish detriment rather than a wizardly accessory.

Brian didn’t buy it. He’d heard the same bullshit crapped out of Skiba’s mouth before. In the brief moment his eyes caught Milsap’s sight line, he relayed his skepticism.

Milsap remained unimpressed. He didn’t give a shit if Skiba was lying or not. Milsap, himself, rarely told the truth about anything. He just didn’t give a shit. If he wanted a candy bar, he only had to walk into a store, grab a candy bar, stuff it in his pocket and walk out.

“Why the fuck trick or treat a funeral home? Why even trick or treat near Huehn Street?” Brian asked. “Ain’t nobody got any money over there. You should know that, Skiba, you live over there. You knock on doors in that neighborhood looking for candy, they’d just as soon knock you over the head and take your bag.”

They sat on the bench outside Castaway Bowling Lanes, another business owned by Victor Covarrubias, Hammond, Indiana’s Greek answer to Donald Trump. Covarrubias was a local success story having made his fortune selling overpriced cabbage to the area’s old Polish women. He now owned everything on the north side except the Qwik-E-Mart, the funeral home and the ice cream trolley pushed around town by a succession of shifty-looking Mexicans.

Brian’s kid brother, Harley, exited the bowling alley as Skiba explained that he trick or treated everywhere. There wasn’t a door in existence he was too proud to knock on, begging for candy, when Halloween rolled around.

Brian stood. “Well, you get it?”

Harley reached into his pants pocket and produced a box of Marlboro Reds. “I got it.”

“Christ, man, what took you so long? We figured you were in there curing the tobacco leaves yourself.”

“The guy at the counter kept eyeballing me. I had to play a couple games of Bump n’Jump. Took forever for someone finally come along and rent some shoes so I could get the smokes out of the machine.”

“You should’ve just went and got the smokes. Fuck them. What’s he gonna say? They don’t want us to smoke; they should outlaw cigarette vending machines.”

Brian tapped the pack and shook out a square each for Milsap and Skiba and one for himself.

“Can I have one?” Harley asked.

“Hell, no, you’re too fucking young. Mom and Dad find out I’m giving cigarettes to a ten year-old, they’d stomp my head.”

“Mom and Dad find out you took the offering money they gave you for church and spent it on cigarettes, I bet they’d stomp you even more.”

“Well, damn,” Brian said, shaking out a smoke for his brother. “I guess if you’re old enough to blackmail you’re old enough to smoke.”

They walked west, across the field on the opposite side of the street from Castaways. Pylons draped power lines across the sky, raining cancerous rays on those foolish enough to live in close proximity.

The boys smoked their cigarettes. Milsap and Brian smoked theirs with a studied nonchalance. Skiba sucked angrily at his Marlboro as though he wanted emphysema immediately. Harley went easy on his, afraid of hacking and coughing or any other sign of weakness.

“So what are we gonna do for Halloween tomorrow?” Milsap asked. “You gotta figure this will probably be the last time we’ll be able to go to a stranger’s house with an open bag and not get shot or arrested.”

“I’m going trick or treating as a zombie,” Skiba said.

“Like the Michael Jackson video,” Milsap smirked.

“Thriller!” Brian sang in falsetto. It was the only lyric he remembered. Wasn’t there something with Vincent Price, too? Seemed like there was.

“Like the fucking George Romero movie,” Skiba said. “Day of the Dead. It’s on late night cable all the time. There’s this one army guy; they show the zombies just rip him apart and eat his guts while he’s still screaming. It’s awesome.”

“Haven’t seen it,” Milsap allowed. And he didn’t want to see that kind of shit, either. He preferred comedies or porn. Blues Brothers. You couldn’t live in the Chicagoland area without adoring the Blues Brothers. Likewise, he enjoyed anything that featured the talents of Nina Hartley or Ginger Lynn. Watching Jane Bond and the Golden Rod had the same life-altering effect on Milsap as Romero’s zombies had on Skiba.

“I gotta agree with Milsap,” Brian said. “This will probably be the last time we get to run the streets in costume.”

“Gimme another cig,” Milsap said.

“Me, too,” Skiba added.

“Go easy on the smokes,” Brian said. “Especially you, Skiba. It’s one thing not having money. We know your mom’s too lazy to work on her feet. But the least you can do is walk into a bowling alley and get the smokes out of a vending machine instead of having a ten year old do your dirty work for you.”

“I don’t wanna get busted, man.”

“I don’t wanna get busted, man,” Milsap mocked in a high pitched girlie voice.

“Fuck you, Milsap.”

Past the field, into the alley behind McHenry Street, Brian doled out another round of cigarettes. Skiba swooped in long enough to grab a square before going back to poking around the garbage cans looking for anything salvageable. A porno mag, maybe, if he was real lucky.

“You still got that Friday the 13th hockey mask?” Brian asked.

“Hanging on my bed post,” Milsap replied.

“I’ve got an idea. Our last Halloween hurrah.”


“Jesus fucking Christ. What the hell you put all over me?” Milsap sputtered.

“That’s the corn syrup drying,” Skiba said. “Getting stiff in the cold.”

“It’s sticky as shit,” Harley added.

Halloween night, they’d gathered in the alley behind Dombrowski’s Funeral Home at the rear entrance where the real corpses were brought in.

Milsap wondered what it would be like living in the house across the alley from the funeral home. Standing at the bedroom window watching the meat wagons make their deliveries, maybe catching Dombrowski reaching into the body bag and feeling up a titty, anxious as a grade schooler at his first co-ed dance.

Anyone looking out the window now would see four amateur zombies smoking Virginia Slims filched from Skiba’s mom’s purse. Half full grocery bags of candy dangled from their hands like the severed heads of their enemies. A larger garbage bag slouched on the ground between them.

Milsap felt as though he’d been sniffing airplane glue all night. His face was frozen in place. It hurt to smile. Raising even his eyebrows was a facial impossibility. Brian, Harley and Skiba’s faces were similarly rigor-mortified into cheap death masks of decay.

“It’s gonna take a goddam jackhammer to get this shit off,” Brian bitched.

Skiba surveyed his handiwork created with a kitchen’s worth of household products. At the very least he surpassed the make-up job done on Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. “I think you guys look great.”

Brian would have preferred something a little less attention grabbing. He kept his mouth shut during the application of the make-up. Skiba enjoyed slathering that crap on everyone and seeing Skiba enjoy anything didn’t happen very often.

Nonetheless, Brian lost count of the worried looks and uneasy glances from the mothers sheparding their broods of angels, princesses and good witches. Four shambling corpses, car crash victims from the looks of them, almost too old for trick-or-treating tended to unnerve the adults and upset the children.

Despite the cool weather, there was an impressive turn-out this year. Meandering from his apartment to Skiba’s place, then to the funeral home, Milsap figured he’d seen over fifty kids running around. One pack numbered twelve deep, like something out of that movie, The Warriors, a gang of pirates and baseball players running riot.

The flaps of fake skin hanging off Milsap’s face itched like mad. Skiba shot him dirty looks every time he reached up to scratch.

“All right,” Brian said. “Let’s see what the necrophiliac’s got going on.”

They inundated themselves with a group of fifth graders they recognized from St. Casimir school. Fifth graders who practically worshiped the eighth grade boys especially Brian who personified cool for kids who really had no conception of cool. Together they formed a fucked-up fellowship. A witch, a werewolf, two power rangers, Darth Vader, Spiderman and four gruesome zombies.

“Heard they’re giving out full-sized candy bars,” Harley said, making conversation with the boys one grade below himself.

“That’s the rumor,” the werewolf replied.

“That’s pretty cool,” Harley said.

“It’s just a candy bar, dude.”


Dombrowski, mortician and coffin huckster, sat in the funeral home’s tastefully lit and furnished foyer. He wore his usual charcoal suit with a painfully knotted tie creating a second rot-colored adam’s apple beneath his razor burned original. He dressed, Milsap thought, as though he were anticipating a hot date with a cold corpse the moment the trick-or-treaters disbursed.

He did a double take at the four zombies on the fringe of the candy beggars. His pale skin drained another flesh shade to the color of fish guts.

Harley eyeballed the five tiers of full-sized Snicker bars to the left of the uncomfortable-looking straight back chair just inside the door. Halloween decorations were conspicuously absent, though the burgundy curtains concealing the viewing rooms incurred more dread than any jack o’lantern or cardboard could have mustered.

Two fifth graders mumbled “trick or treat”. The zombies stared, dead-eyed. Dombrowski chuckled nervously. “You boys look familiar. Didn’t I bury you last week?”

No one responded. The undertaker chuckled again and dropped the Snicker bars, one in each bag. “Hope you all have a safe Halloween,” he finished.

The boys walked away without so much as a “thank you”. The fifth graders sought their sugary fortunes elsewhere. The zombies ducked back behind the funeral home. They shrugged out of their tattered Salvation Army shirts. From the stashed garbage bag they withdrew their winter jackets and dollar store Halloween masks. Milsap set his Friday the 13th mask on his face. Brian donned a flabby latex Ronald Reagan mask. Harley and Skiba each wore generic devil masks.

Brian surveyed the results. “This ain’t gonna work.”

“Sure it will,” Skiba countered.

“No, Brian’s right,” Milsap said. “And even if it did work, what do we get? Another fuckin’ candy bar?”

“Then why we even bother?” Harley asked.

“I got a better idea,” Milsap said.

Harley stood on the steps leading up to the vestibule of St. Casimir church across from the funeral home on one side of the street and the St. Casimir rectory on the other side. He could see Dombrowski’s silhouette in the doorway as he awaited “all hell to break loose” in Milsap’s words.

Skiba should be doing this. The mantra repeated endlessly in his mind, holding his nerves in check, keeping his feet from moving toward the house. Skiba should be doing this. Chickenshit motherfucker. Yellow streak down his back almost as long and wide as the scar descending his forehead. More like an eighthead; goddamn cracked windshield between his eyebrows and hairline.

“Dombrowski sucks dead dick!”

And they were off to the races. Milsap and Brian heaved garbage cans at the roll up bay doors behind the funeral home. “Open up, cocksucker. Special delivery.” Milsap punctuated the words with jump kicks to the door.

Dombrowski’s shadow receded from the doorway. Harley broke from the steps, sprinting across the intersection. The clanging and crashing continued unabated. Lights sprang up in the windows of the rectory across the street. The priests rolling off the backsides of their altar boys to see what was the matter.

Harley reached the door and looked inside. The foyer was empty. The five tiers of candy bars left unattended. Harley pulled the front door open. Heart beating like a kettle drum against his chest. He swung the inside door open, entering the funeral home for the first time since cancer claimed his grandmother.

To his left were the viewing rooms, four empty placards standing outside four drawn curtains. A corridor extended toward the length of the building. Closed doors on the right led to offices, casket showrooms, and finally, what he assumed would be the mortuary, where the magic happened.

Down the corridor, he heard Dombrowski’s plaintive shouts. “What the hell’s wrong with you, you little sons a bitches? I’m calling the cops.”

“Fuck you, dead body fucker.”

“You dirty sons a bitches. I’m calling the cops. You hear me?”

“Is that after you call Father Joe next door to hold the dead legs spread for you?”

Jesus Christ. Harley felt ill. He took the mask off so he could breathe better. His vision blurred, snapped back into contrast. He felt suddenly off. The scent of the air wasn’t right, the moments of silence between Dombrowski’s threats and Milsap’s retorts seemed odd. He would have compared it to an acid trip had he ever experienced one. He just knew he had to get out. Now.

He scooped the candy bars in his arms. The door bell buzzed as he turned to leave. Beyond the front door stood twin blonde princesses - the twins from Kubrick’s The Shining reimagined, haunting the Barbie Overlook Hotel play set. Their pretty little mouths dropped into trembling Os. Four blue eyes popped open.

Harley ducked behind the curtain veiling viewing room #1. Not a moment later, Dombrowski emerged in the corridor, distraught, mumbling, “Those sons a bitches. Those dirty sons a bitches.”

Harley witnessed such reactions many times before, throwing crab apples at houses, shooting BB guns at cars, dragging old railroad ties into the middle of the expressway in the dead of night. An adult’s inability to comprehend the adolescent joys of petty anarchy.

He stood directly behind the curtain, straining his ears to listen, smelling his own sour breath reflected back on him.

Several feet away, Dombrowski said, “Hey, pretty princesses, Happy Hallo – what the hell?!”

The sudden vehemence, so close in proximity, startled Harley. The top tier slid forward pitching Snickers bars at his feet. Fuck!

A pale hand with dark spidery hairs curling out between the joints and knuckles of his fingers gripped the curtain and wrenched it aside. They were face to face only an instant before Dombrowski unleashed a shrill scream, more cartoon than human. He took a step back and gripped his chest, giving Harley all the room he needed to make a break for the front entrance.

Turning the corner, he saw the eerie Barbie princesses still standing expectantly at the door. Seeing a zombie charging full speed, arms loaded with candy, cannibal teeth barred. The girls blanched, candy lust faded, they ducked out of sight in a whirl of pink crinoline.

Three steps from the door, a hand vice-gripped his shoulder spinning Harley around. Seething and trembling, Dombrowski braced Harley against the pine-paneling with a forearm across the throat.

“What the fuck’s wrong with you kids, huh? One candy bar not good enough for you? I put the extra money into getting the big candy bars cause I know the kids around here ain’t got much and this is how I get repaid? Punk ass kids yelling and screaming about necrophilia. How sick are you, you think I’d conduct myself improperly with the newly departed?”

“If the shoe fits...”

Dombrowski back-handed Harley hard enough to cut the inside of his mouth against his teeth. Before he could react, the mortician grabbed his shoulders and slammed him back against the wall.

“Say something smart ass again.”

Harley looked to the glass door but his brother wasn’t there. Skiba, he thought. I’m gonna kill that chickenshit.

“Don’t you start crying. I’ll drag your worthless ass downstairs and stick an embalming flue down your throat. Would you like that?”

Harley shook his head no.

“I know who you are. I know who you all are. And I know who your parents are. And I know calling them won’t do any damn good. But mark my words, you little son of a bitch, I’ve been here a long time and I’ll stay around even longer. I’ll be seeing a lot more of your loved ones pass through my basement. Keep that in mind the next time you want to fuck with me.”

Harley could feel the snot bubbling from his nostrils and hated himself for it. Dombrowski reached down and grabbed a Snickers bar. Raising up, he shoved the chocolate in Harley’s pocket, grabbed him by the nape of his neck and roughed him out the door.

Harley took a few weak-kneed steps away, willing himself to contain the sobs hitching his throat. The door locked. Looking back, the interior lights were all ready extinguished.

“Asshole,” Harley sputtered. Probably going downstairs right now to take his sexual frustrations out on some poor bastard’s dead aunt.

A block down Huehn Street, he found his brother and Milsap leaning against the wall of Huehn Tap, practicing for adulthood.

“Where’s the candy bars? Please tell me you got the fucking candy bars,” Brian said.

Harley withdrew the Snickers from his pocket and flipped it to him.

“What’d you do with the rest of them?”


“Nothing? What happened in there?”

“Nothing, man.”

“Then why’s your eyes all red? He catch you in there? Me and Milsap gonna hafta go deal with him?”

“No. No. I just didn’t get the candy, that’s all. Where’s that cocksucker Skiba?”

“Aw, that pussy ran away the moment the corpse fucker raised his voice.”


“Dude got hit by a car, bro. He’s just jumpy is all. But you should’ve seen the look on that undertaker’s face. It was worth not getting the Snickers.”

Milsap didn’t speak at all and in his silence his disapproval at the botched candy bar heist spoke loudly. Not that Milsap gave a shit about chocolate. There was something more at stake. Something more than Brian with all his bluster would never understand.

BIO: Karl Koweski escaped the shadow of the steel mills thirteen years ago. He's been running in place ever since. He writes the monthly column Observations of a Dumb Polack for His stories and poems have been published across the small press. His first full length collection of short stories will be out by the end of the year from Epic Rites press.


Paul D Brazill said...

Little rascals! Great story.

Joyce said...

They won't be knocking on THAT door again next year! Terrific!