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Author's note: This is my entry for Cornconic's Halloween 2021 story contest.

When Marcus and Jesse went trick-or-treating, a human-sized rat answered the door at the very first house they went to. This was not an adult dressed up in a costume, as one might first suspect, but an actual huge rat that stood on its two hind legs and sneered wickedly at both of the boys.

“Trick-or-tre…” Jesse’s voice faded off as he took in the sight of the giant rat standing in front of him. The creature was disgusting, and the shape of its body was unlike anything any man could contort himself into. The rat snarled as he shot out a pair of stubby hands, digging his claws deep into Jesse’s arms and yanking him into the house.

Marcus, the older of the two boys, screamed out in panic, “Hey let my brother go!” He darted inside the house, following the giant rat as it dragged Jesse into the living room.

The rat flung the younger boy to the floor like a sack of potatoes and then turned to face Marcus. “Stop!” the rat commanded in a snarling voice as he held up his paw. “That’s close enough.” The rat dropped down onto all four legs and scurried over to where he’d tossed Jesse, placing a paw upon the boy’s throat. It was then that Marcus saw the extra sharp sets of claws emanating from each of the rat’s paws. A slight trickle of blood ran down Jesse’s throat as the rat’s dirty claw started to push deeper into it. “Come any closer and this boy’s throat will be shredded.”

Marcus stopped instantly. “Please don’t hurt him. He’s only seven.”

The rat sized-up Marcus, who was much bigger than his brother. “How old are you?” he asked.

Marcus gulped, but still managed to answer. “Thirteen.”

“Hmm,” said the rat, “almost a little too old to be trick-or-treating.”

“My mom has to work late, so if I didn’t go there would be nobody to take my brother.”

“Actually, I think you being older will work out a little better,” said the rat, deep in contemplation. “Now listen up, because if you do as I say, I won’t hurt him.”

Marcus looked on as the rat stood back up on its hind legs. It was a very unnatural looking creature – its body seemed to be pure animal, but its face was a fusion of rat and human elements, with an insignificant snout and perfectly human teeth to go along with beady eyes and rat ears. It gave off the impression that maybe, long ago, the rat had been fully human.

“What do you want?” Marcus asked with a quivering voice.

“I want the same thing anyone else wants on this night. Candy.”

Marcus held up his empty bag. “I don’t have any.”

“Well you don’t have any yet, but that will change soon. Put down that tiny bag of yours and grab that bag over there,” the rat commanded as he pointed to a large black bag on the floor. “Go trick-or-treating and fill it up. ALL THE WAY UP. Then bring it back to me. If you have enough to tip the scales, then you will have succeeded.”


The rat pointed to the corner where an old dusty balance scale sat upon the floor. One of the plates had a pair of iron dumbbells perched atop of it. The opposite plate was empty. “You put your candy here,” said the rat as it stepped over to the scales and pointed at the empty plate. “And if you have enough, the scale will tip in your favor, and you and your brother will go home safe.”

Marcus looked at the dumbbells. Each one was marked with a “25” on the side. “I need to bring back fifty pounds of candy?” he asked.

The rat nodded. “Yes. It’s still early, so you might have enough time if you leave now. You have until midnight.”

Marcus turned to Jesse, who was sprawled upon the floor, too afraid to move or talk. “Don’t worry Jesse. I promise you’ll be safe.”

Jesse nodded in acknowledgment.

With shaky hands, Marcus grabbed the bag he’d been instructed to use and walked backwards toward the front door, not letting the rat or Jesse out of his sight until the last possible moment. As he exited the house through the open door, he could see the rat poke its head through the blinds of the front window, watching him. He was in a neighborhood he wasn’t completely familiar with, having gone there after hearing talk from the other kids about all the great candy that got passed out. His unfamiliarity with the area only added to his fear as he took a moment to contemplate his situation.    

He had no intention of doing the rat’s bidding, but since he was clearly being observed, he felt it would be better to at least put on a show until he got far enough away so that he could call the police, lest he endanger his brother.

He walked up to the next-door house and rang the bell. “Trick or treat,” his wavering voice said as the door opened.

A woman in a princess costume greeted him. “Oh look at you,” she said, admiring his vampire outfit. She reached into a bowl and grabbed a few candies, placing them in Marcus’s bag while his eyes nervously shifted to the rat’s house.

“Thank you,” he said. He made it back to the sidewalk and looked down the street. Seven more houses and he’d be to the last house on the block, he figured that would be the safest place to stop and call the police. He made his way there, slowly but surely trick-or-treating at each house along the way and doing his best to act natural.

When he finally reached the last house on the block, he didn’t even wait for the door to be fully opened before he started begging for help. “Please I need you to call the police! My little brother has been kidnapped! He’s being held in a house just down the street.“

The old man who answered the door just smiled. “Oh, you kids and your little pranks.” He held a bowl of candy out toward Marcus. “Help yourself.”

“No! You don’t understand. It’s not a prank. Please call the police.”

The old man’s smile faltered. He looked around to see if there was anyone else outside of his house. “Look, if you don’t want any candy then it’s probably best you leave. I don’t want any part of your shenanigans.”

Marcus became desperate. “Call the goddam police! Please!” It was then that he noticed the rats that had begun congregating on the porch alongside him. Out from the bushes and crevices they crawled – these were common rats, not like the nasty human-sized rat that held his brother, but what they lacked in size they made up for in numbers.

The old man went from confused to angry when he saw all the rats starting to pile up on his porch. “What’s the meaning of this?” he asked. “I told you I don’t want any of your Halloween shenanigans!” He tried to close the door, but the rats began pushing themselves inside and started crawling up his pant legs. “Hey stop them!” he screamed out as he fell to the ground. The rats dog-piled on top of the defenseless man and began biting him aggressively, tearing away his flesh as he screamed out in pain. On the street, the other trick-or-treaters commented on how realistic the screams sounded, not even for a moment considering that they were anything other than a special effect from someone’s decorations.

The rats dragged the old man inside even as they kept eating his flesh. The door slammed closed behind them and the porch light somehow turned off. Soon the man’s screams got fainter and then stopped altogether. Back on the porch, a couple of pumpkins that had been alight suddenly extinguished on their own. Marcus stood alone in the darkness.

His next thought was to turn and run home – his mom would be getting home from work eventually. She’d believe him, but the thought of her possibly getting eaten by rats too caused him to reconsider. Instead, he did the only thing that seemed logical to him – he kept on trick-or-treating.

He moved over to the next street, passing in front of the other, slower-moving trick-or-treaters and going from house to house as quickly as possible. All the while, he noticed rats watching him, poking their little heads out from behind fences and crawling down from trees as he approached. Some followed him, apparently keeping tabs on what he was doing, while others simply stared as he walked by. They made him very uneasy.

He couldn’t help but wonder if he would even have enough time to get all the candy he needed. He reached into his bag and pulled out a fun-size candy bar. The nutrient label on the back said it weighed half an ounce. The wheels and cogs of his quick, analytical mind began turning as he crunched the numbers in his head. His face fell as he calculated his final result - he would need to collect over 1,600 pieces of candy, and that was only if all the other candies were as big as the candy bar in his hand, which most probably were not.

He decided he needed to be more demanding, and he started asking people in the houses for more candy, even after they’d given him a handful. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes people told him not to be greedy before slamming their door shut. He doubled back on a few of the houses that were giving away full-sized candy bars, hoping that the residents either wouldn’t notice or wouldn’t care that he’d already been there. He was especially blessed when he got to the big yellow house with the white trim. The lady there was giving away taffy bombs that were as big as lemons and just as heavy. Another house had an unattended bowl of candy sitting out with a note saying, “take one.” Marcus dumped the whole bowl into his bag and made a silent apology to whoever might be upset by his actions.

The night wore on and the black bag began getting heavy. As he wound his way through the various neighborhoods, his breathing became labored and raspy. Eventually, the impossibility of his task became apparent as more and more porch lights were being turned off. It seemed many of the townsfolk didn’t want to stay up too late. He had made significant headway, but he was smart enough to know that with his opportunities dwindling, he would likely come up short. He had to think of a plan… he knew Thompson’s General Store would still be open, and it wasn’t that far away. They sold all sorts of candy there. Maybe… just maybe…

He glanced around - it seemed as if the rats had become bored with him in the hours since he’d first started trick-or-treating, and he didn’t see any in the immediate vicinity. He walked purposefully and calmly to a row of hedges, under which he quickly stowed his bag of candy. He walked down the street to the end of the cul-de-sac where a cinderblock wall separated the neighborhood from the city streets beyond.

He jumped and pulled himself up and over the wall, dropping down to the sidewalk below a moment later. Not wasting any time, he jogged until he reached the General Store a few minutes later. As he neared, he found himself bathed in the warm glow of the huge sign atop the building that said, “Thompson’s General Store” in bold letters. Underneath, their tagline read, “We Sell Everything You Need.” The automatic doors slid open as he stepped inside and grabbed a basket. He went right to the candy aisle and saw that it was mostly picked over. Still, there was enough left over to make his trip worthwhile. He scooped up nearly all the candy that was left and dropped it into his basket, then went to the register.

The clerk greeted him and then slowly began punching each item into the register. About halfway through, he looked up to see Marcus’s desperate and sad eyes. “You okay?” the clerk asked.

Marcus silently nodded his head, fearful that an army of rats would come bursting into the store if he did anything else.

The clerk finished his tally. “That’ll be nineteen dollars and fifty cents.”

Marcus pulled his wallet from his pocket and counted the money out. “Thank you,” he said as he grabbed his bag of candy. He said a little prayer under his breath that he would have enough, and jogged back to collect his Halloween bag, finding it right where he had stashed it. He added his new haul to the bag and began retracing his path back to the home where the rat was. It wasn’t an easy journey with his huge bag of candy, and he arrived at the home sweaty and shaky from the effort. The porch was still dark, but Marcus, who was determined to save his brother, marched right up and knocked on the door.

The door opened, seemingly on its own, and Marcus stepped inside.

“Good, you’re back,” he heard the rat say. “Come closer, and set your bag down on the scale.”

Marcus stepped into the living room, where he saw Jesse sitting in a corner, surrounded by a group of rats. His eyes were open, but he seemed to be staring out into space, as if he was in some sort of trance. Marcus placed the bag on the scale and watched as it slowly tipped in his favor. “Can I have my brother back now?” he asked. “It looks like there’s enough.”

The rat jammed its paw into the bag and pulled out a few candies and studied them carefully. “There’s something wrong,” he said as he kicked the bag off the scale and onto its side, spilling the candies onto the floor. “Some of these candies have not been properly attained.” He picked up one of the store-bought candies and smelled it. “Garbage!” he said as he flung it into the next room. “Did you buy these at a store?”

Marcus just stood there silently.

The rat sifted through the candies, angrily identifying and picking out the rejects. “Don’t you understand, you foolish boy?” he said without even looking up. “The only candies I’m interested in are the ones that have been obtained under threat. THAT’S what places a hallowed mark upon them! If you didn’t say trick-or-treat to get them then I can’t use them. If it was as simple as going to the store, I wouldn’t need to use rotten children such as you.”

The exasperated rat fell to its bottom. “And I had such hope for you.” The rat shifted his focus to the candies on the floor, when all of the sudden his gaze was drawn directly to the taffy bomb that Marcus had collected earlier in the evening. “I haven’t seen one of these before,” he said as he lifted it up to his face.

“It’s a taffy bomb,” Marcus said. “One of the shops in town makes them. A house on the next street is giving them away.”

The rat took the paper wrapper off and tossed the giant candy in its mouth, chewing twice before swallowing it. “Not bad,” he said. “Might even be the best candy I’ve eaten in the last ten years.” The rat looked at Marcus as if he had just noticed that he was still there. “You wasted time with your cheating, but you still have until midnight.”

Marcus grabbed the now-empty bag and headed backed toward the front door, taking one last look at his catatonic brother. “I’ll be back, Jesse. I promise you’ll be safe.”

Late. It was getting far too late. Many of the houses had shut their lights off and were obviously no longer handing out candy. Marcus ran between the few houses that were still available, rudely asking for extra candy if he saw that people still had more to give. He went to houses multiple times, especially those that gave away the full-size candies, frantically tiring himself out until one by one, the residents either yelled at him for being such a greedy young man or simply stopped answering their doors. He made it back to the yellow house with the white trim one more time before they too turned off their light.

He somehow managed to get a respectable amount of candy, but eventually, the streets became completely dark as the rest of the houses shut their lights off and the last of the die-hard trick-or-treaters retreated back to their homes. He was alone in the dark, and his vampire costume did little to shield him from the cold air that seemed to be seeping up from the ground. The rats had returned as well. He couldn’t see them, but the sound of their shuffling feet and their faint squeaks told him they were nearby, watching him.

He wanted to just leave – to go to his own home, crawl into bed, and pretend that everything was fine, but he’d made a promise to Jesse. Nearly a mile away, he could see the lights of Thompson’s General Store creating an aura on the horizon. They wouldn’t be open too much longer. He glanced into his bag of candy, and then, believing that he wouldn’t have enough, he ditched it behind a tree and ran back to the store in one final, desperate move.

He barely made it to the general store before it closed. In fact, the clerk was locking the front doors when Marcus arrived, but he was nice enough to let him inside, as long as he promised to be fast.

“I’ll be quick,” Marcus agreed.

Marcus struggled back to the rat’s house, wearily dragging his bag on the ground behind him. Upon his return, he knocked on the door, which opened with a low-pitched creak. He was out of breath, out of time, and nearly out of hope. He took a deep breath and entered.

“What do you have for me?” the rat asked.

Marcus dropped the bag down to the floor and pointed to it.

“You went back to the store again, didn’t you?” the rat asked.

“Yes, Marcus admitted, “but they were all out of candy by the time I got there.”

The rat stuck its head in the bag. “Well it appears to be in order. They all have the hallowed mark.” He glared at Marcus suspiciously. “Put it on the scale.”

Marcus saw that the rat had taken the time to separate the candy he’d dropped off earlier, with the trick-or-treated candy piled upon the scale and the store-bought candy strewn about the room. Marcus stepped up to the scale and began adding the new candy from his bag. Handful after handful he added, until he reached in and grabbed his final bit and placed it on the scale, praying that it would be enough to put him over. The scale wobbled momentarily, causing both Marcus and the rat to gasp, but in the end it refused to tip.

“You failed, boy. Now both you and your brother will become rat food. However, I admit you did well. I’ve never had anyone come this close. I’ll make sure the rats give you a quick death.”

“Wait!” yelled Marcus. “I have one more piece of candy.” He reached inside and pulled out what truly was the last item in the bag, another taffy bomb. He reached out and placed it atop the pile of sweets. The candy plate moved slowly downward, while the plate with the weights shifted upward. Marcus and all the rats watched in silent anticipation…

But it was not to be, despite its momentary flirt with gravity, the candy plate wasn’t quite heavy enough to move all the way down, and it soon floated back upward, just a mere ounce shy of its goal.

Marcus began to scream in protest. The rat, after all, had already eaten the first taffy bomb that he’d brought, and had that been added to the total, he would’ve succeeded. The rat didn’t listen though, and Marcus’s objections were quickly silenced by the rats that came scurrying out of their crevices and immediately began climbing up his clothing. They reached his throat and tore their way through it so quickly that he was dead before his body even hit the ground - quick, just as the rat had promised.

The big rat looked at his feasting minions and actually felt some degree of pity. That boy had been smart and resourceful, yet in a day he’d be nothing more than rat droppings. But the pity lasted only a moment as he shifted his attention to the nearly fifty pounds of authentic Halloween candy in front of him. What a haul! This would easily last him a year, enabling him to cast spells and charms all the way through until the next Halloween, when he would travel to some other town and start all over again.

He made a mental note that in future years he would have to demand more than fifty pounds. The last thing he wanted was to have a kid actually reach the goal, and this particular kid had come too damn close. He shuddered at the thought of having to choose between actually letting his victims go free, or suffering from the inevitable misfortune that would go along with killing someone who had been successful in the challenge.

Then, his thought process stumbled, with his attention being diverted to the big taffy bomb that was perched atop his pile of candy. It looked especially delicious to him. He shooed away his rat minions, who were eagerly looking for a piece of enchanted tribute for their night’s work. “No,” he told them as they sniffed at the taffy bomb. “It’s mine, and you can’t have it! It’s been a long night and I need to recharge my powers.” His greedy paw shot forward and grabbed it away from the rats before they could get it. He unwrapped the delicious confectionary and popped the whole thing in his gaping mouth. It was nearly as delicious as the first one, but slightly different.

Suddenly, he felt a sharp pain in his abdomen as his stomach began to gurgle. Something was seriously wrong. He licked his chops, trying to figure out the intricate flavors of the taffy bomb as his stomach rumbled. He tasted strawberry, cream, vanilla, and… something not so good.  

The giant rat fell face-down, right next to the newly skeletonized body of Marcus. He crawled along the floor with no real destination in his mind. How could he have missed it? His last thought, before fully succumbing, was a grudging respect for Marcus. As soon as his final breath left his lungs, his rat minions all started screaming, as if each and every last one of them was being tortured to death. The screaming rats, those who were in the house and those who were spread about town, all reached an ear-piercing crescendo before they too fell dead.

Jesse, free of his catatonic state, fell into a deep slumber. As promised, he was safe.

Across town, the night clerk at Thompson’s General Store was busy finishing up the last of his nightly chores after having closed. It had been an odd shift, with the only customer being the young man who had first come by to buy candy, and then came back at closing to buy rat poison. “There must be an interesting story behind that,” he mused as he turned off the lights and left the store. And with that, the last of the town fell into a peaceful darkness.

Written by Creepy Thomas O.
Content is available under CC BY-SA