The colors let Eddie Mann know that it was Halloween. The grocery store, which was oppressively dim regardless of the season or time of day, was an explosion of black and orange. The deserted bakery offered white chocolate cookies decorated with black and orange icing. Fake spiders made from construction paper hung from the ceiling. Friendly-faced ghosts, witches, and vampires haunted every aisle. Normally such displays wouldn’t terrorize a baby, but Eddie had to admit that his lonely footfalls in the empty grocery store did make him uneasy.

The town, Eddie thought while squeezing a deli sandwich, was perfect. Eddie already knew this; he had dropped off the kill kit months ago after driving through this podunk town on his way to the airport in Pittsburgh. The town was like a million others in Appalachia: a formerly prosperous industrial center gone to pot. The roads were a mess, the schools, churches, and restaurants were falling in, and very few cops patrolled the streets. Eddie loved it. His plan was to eat a sandwich, drive around for a while until it got dark, then pick up the kill kit. After that, it was down to business. He hoped to be back in Pittsburgh in time for a red-eye flight to Chicago. The Chicago plane would then take him to Seattle, his final destination.

Eddie Mann had been committing murders like this for over a year. He’d recon a sleepy location, assemble a kill kit, dispose of said kill kit near a highway, then return months later in order to kill off any people dumb enough to live all alone in the country. Eddie loved to kill, and prided himself on his indestructible M.O. Who would ever find a guy who killed strangers in cities thousands of miles away from his home?

The deli sandwich cost four dollars and fifty cents. Eddie paid in cash. The bored teenager behind the counter counted the crumpled bills, then handed Eddie back a single nickel. Eddie left the store thinking about what the young girl looked like underneath her crimson polo shirt.

At fifteen minutes to six, the auburn sky turned a dark blue. Eddie sat outside of a Dairy Queen. He was the only customer, and the pimply kid behind the counter thought he was crazy to eat an ice cream sandwich when the weather was below fifty. Eddie ate his ice cream sandwich without saying a word. He threw the wrapper into a nearby garbage can with a plastic lid. Eddie laughed inwardly when he saw that the garbage can lid had been decorated with a smiling werewolf. The wolf-man held in his talons a jack-o-lantern with a carved face that was more goofy than ghoulish.

The kill kit was just a mile away from the third exit on I-79. This forced Eddie to backtrack a little, but that was okay. The plan was to avoid all highways and main roads after the kill kit was in his possession. Eddie unearthed the red bucket that he had originally purchased at a hardware store in some town called Marion, Indiana. Inside the bucket was a black ski mask, a pair of dark blue wool gloves, clear latex gloves that Eddie wore inside of the wool gloves, a hammer, a Marine KBAR knife, and a 9 mm pistol. Everything but the gun had been bought and paid for. The gun had come courtesy of a Denver drug dealer that nobody mourned. Eddie put the bucket in the backseat of his rental truck.

The drive to the checkpoint lasted fifteen minutes. Eddie kept the rental at a steady 35 as he navigated the sharp turns of the country road. There were no streetlights on at all. Only in the most rural parts of America could such darkness be found. Even the light from passing headlights could not penetrate the gloom.

Eddie parked the truck in a wooded meadow at 10 p.m. He killed the engine. He leaned his seat back and stared at the farmhouse. Eddie Mann would watch that house until all the lights were snuffed out at midnight. In the meantime, Eddie devoured the second deli sandwich he had purchased at another grocery store. Sandwiches and killing were Eddie’s two biggest vices.

When the last light went out at midnight, Eddie left the rental without closing the driver-side door. He left the keys in the ignition, too. He leisurely moved to the truck’s backseat and took out the mask, gloves, and knife. He took a few steps towards the house, then turned around and picked up the gun after warning himself to play it as safe as possible.

The farmhouse had two stories and was painted white with blue shutters. It looked like it had been built in the 19th century. Like a lot of porches in the area, Eddie saw a large stack of firewood neatly placed next to the front door. The owners were probably looking forward to their winter fires, Eddie thought.

On the front door, Eddie played with a large sticker of a skeleton dancing with a top hat and a cane. At its bony feet was a black cat and a bat. They also danced to some unheard melody. Eddie made sure the sticker was put back in the proper place, then moved around the house in order to find a back door. He didn’t find one, but he did find a door leading to the root cellar. This door was unlocked, and so too was the door into the cellar. Eddie blessed the stupidity of local yokels.

Without a flashlight, Eddie managed to find his way upstairs. He fingered the walls as he walked up a flight of stairs to the couple’s master bedroom. Right outside of the door, Eddie listened to the man of the house snoring. It was a loud, back-of-the-throat type of noise that convinced Eddie that with or without him, this particular man was soon bound for the grave.

The bedroom door gave without much force. Eddie tiptoed into the room. He stood…no, hovered over the wife and watched her breathe. He watched her bosom rise and fall. Although he found her ugly, Eddie could not help but be turned on by the elderly woman’s breathing patterns. She would be the first to go, Eddie decided.

It was all over in five minutes. Gore littered the mostly white bedroom. He left the man doubled over on the bed in a pose that looked like prayer. The wife looked serene, although her eyes were open. Eddie washed the blade in the sink, then stole a few clothes from the home. He bundled his bloody items in a trash bag and took them back to the rental. He dropped the trash bag next to the red bucket. Eddie planned on throwing the trash bag into the Tygart River, while his kill kit would be dumped at another location somewhere in the state or across the line in Pennsylvania or Maryland. He’d come back for it months, maybe a year later.

At two o’clock in the morning, Eddie was back on the winding country road that led back into the small town. In the desolation, he tried to come down off of his usual post-kill high. Eddie needed to keep a cool head, so he thought about what he would eat for breakfast. He decided on a breakfast biscuit with eggs, bacon, sausage, and cheese.

Eddie was still thinking about breakfast when he hit the deer. The animal moved so fast that Eddie had no time to slow down. He hit the creature while doing forty. The only thing that saved Eddie Mann was the fact that the weight of the deer’s torso struck the side of the truck, not the front bumper or windshield. Still, the rental truck spun out of control, and Eddie wound up upside down in a shallow drainage ditch. He lost consciousness as the blood from the cut above his eye began to pour into his mouth.

It was the weak beam of a flashlight that woke Eddie up. He heard the voice before he saw the face.

“Damn, guy. You alright?”

Eddie tried to say “Yes,” but what came out was a jumble of syllables. It dawned on Eddie that he was now a few teeth short.

“You may not feel like it, but you’re a lucky man. Hell, if I hadn’t taken the shortcut out here, you may not have been found for days. Almost nobody, even the sheriff’s office, uses this road anymore.”

Eddie’s watery eyes made out the outlines of a uniform. It was black and gray. Over the right breast pocket was a five-pointed star that had been sewn in. Police. Eddie began to panic.

“Yessir, I’ll get you out of there and patched up in a jiffy. Mind giving me a hand?”

Eddie offered up a bloody, limp wrist to the chipper officer. The man pulled so hard that Eddie felt like he’d rip in half. However, with a few pulls, Eddie was on his feet again. He was dizzy. Concussion, he surmised.

The police officer whistled.

“Boy, oh boy, we need to get you some aid right away. Feel well enough to hit the road again? Of course, I’ll be driving.”

“Yes,” Eddie mumbled.

The police officer’s car was an old Ford Crown Vic. Eddie could not remember the last time he had seen a police Crown Vic. Most departments now used SUVs or Dodge Chargers or some kind of twenty-first century sedan. This car looked older than the officer, who turned out to be named Deputy Carlisle.

After a minute of wincing in the car’s backseat, Eddie finally said something intelligible to both himself and Deputy Carlisle.

“Shouldn’t I be riding in the back of an ambulance?”

“Sorry, bud. Most of the EMS workers in this whole county are fast asleep. The rest are on vacation.”

The thought of paramedics going on vacations bothered Eddie. After all, it was only Halloween.

“You’re probably not from around here. I saw that truck was a rental, so I figure you aren’t local. It may be weird to you, but trust me that folks around here expect their sheriff’s office to do most of society’s heavy lifting. I’ll have you safe and sound in a minute, Mr…”

“Hand. Frank Hand.” Eddie immediately kicked himself for using an alias that he had previously used in Tacoma. Not only did that break one of his rules, but Tacoma was too close to his real home.

“Mr. Hand, you just sit back there and take it easy. Don’t go to sleep, mind you. You probably have a concussion, and sleeping with a concussion is no bueno. Just sit there and politely listen to me yap, ok?”

Deputy Carlisle offered Eddie a toothy smile that he did like at all.

Deputy Carlisle talked about the weather, the college football team up in Morgantown, and food. Sheriff Carlisle loved food, especially his wife’s stuffed turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy. Eddie’s eyes and head rocked back and forth to the soporific rhythms of the deputy’s mountain dialect. At some point, Eddie must have fallen asleep.

“Oh, boy. That was a mistake, Mr. Hand. Luckily, we’re almost home.”

Eddie awoke with a shock. The pain in his head hurt worse, and much to Eddie’s horror, his left hand was tingling. For a second, Eddie thought that he was in the middle of a stroke.

“Yeah, I told you to keep awake. I guess it’s hard to do. Never had a concussion myself.”

Eddie’s mental fog cleared a little. He took in his surroundings: he was still in the old Crown Vic, his driver was still a talkative police officer, and the world outside was pitch black. Eddie looked at the car’s dashboard. It read 4:25.

“I’m sorry, but why haven’t we stopped at a hospital? I saw two in town earlier today, and they couldn’t have been more than fifteen minutes from the crash site.”

“Don’t worry now. It’ll all be okay.”

Eddie, a naturally suspicious man, did not like the tone in Deputy Carlisle’s voice. He detected a sliver of mockery.

“God, please. Just get somewhere where a doctor can fix my head,” Eddie said.

“Coming right up. All I have to do is make this turn right here.”

Deputy Carlisle maneuvered the Crown Vic to the right. The green sign read “Brookhaven Road.” Like all the others he had seen, Eddie noted that Brookhaven Road was devoid of houses, lights, and anything comforting. He knew that there was no hospital at the end of Brookhaven Road.

“Where are you taking me?”

“A Halloween party. Don’t you like parties, Mr. Hand?”

“A party? I’m injured and need a doctor!”

“Don’t they celebrate Halloween where you come from? Don’t be scared. All the doctors and nurses in town will be at this party tonight, and they’ll treat you just fine.”

Eddie’s heart sank into his stomach. His panic rose as the undulating fields of dark grass and trees kept moving past his window.

The Crown Vic finally stopped at a makeshift parking lot made of gravel. There were other cars parked there. Most of them were rusty pickup trucks. Eddie, for some unknown reason, focused on the few well-maintained luxury cars. Deputy Carlisle whistled while he exited the vehicle. He made no move to release Eddie from the backseat. Eddie watched the deputy’s black uniform and silver cowboy hat disappear into the blackness.

This was his only chance. Eddie scrambled to find some way to exit the Crown Vic. He tried to reach into the front seat, but the metal and reinforced plastic that safeguarded the deputy from unruly arrests would not budge. Eddie then tried to kick out the windows, but they had no give either. Like a desperate idiot, Eddie played with the door’s handle even though he knew it was locked tight. Eddie slammed his fist into the door again and again. Fresh blood made minor streaks on the soft suede.

“That wasn’t very nice, Mr. Hand. Now I have to clean up on my off day tomorrow.”

Deputy Carlisle stood outside with a second man. This figure was tall, white-haired, and had a well-trimmed beard. Eddie was horrified to notice that the man was naked.

“How bad does he look, Doc?” Deputy Carlisle said to the nude man.

“He’s beat up, but not too bad. He can enjoy the party with the rest of us.”

The two men shared a laugh. The black bile in Eddie’s stomach reached his throat. He threw up. This caused Deputy Carlisle to curse and kick the door. The naked doctor laughed again.

Off in the distance, in what looked like an empty field, Eddie saw a large bonfire come to life. In the flicker of firelight, he saw more naked people casually standing around the fire. Above the flames was a wicker box that Eddie thought would burn up at any moment. Behind the box, half-shrouded in gloom, stood a massive statue that Eddie could not quite make out. He looked harder and harder, but all he could see was the shape of a giant, pumpkin-like face. Eddie visualized a giant jack-o-lantern with sharp teeth and claws. The horrible god of Halloween.

Deputy Carlisle fished his keys out from his pocket. Eddie somehow knew what the men had in store for him. When the door was unlocked and opened, Deputy Carlisle leaned inside and smiled.

“Party time, Eddie.”