Halloween time, Clifton, New Jersey
James could’ve been anywhere else on the night the six fresh grunts of The Patriotic Storm had been assigned to trash the bodega on the corner of Main Street and Passaic Avenue. Their mission: to welcome the new Pakistani ownership to the neighborhood with violence and blood.
Tyler, who had most impressed the Grand Master during training with his affinity for a pure-white nation, had been designated the leader, and spoke with a zealous gusto as his troop had approached the storefront.
“Brothers! Now is our chance to serve as loyal soldiers for the white race!”
General shouts of camaraderie and solidarity echoed in response.
“Our shores and cities are battered with criminal blacks, browns, and yellows, and our wealth is siphoned into the pockets of the Jews!”
More support erupted from the group.
“Andrew’s family had operated at this location for five generations,” Tyler put his hand on Andrew’s shoulder, “and now some Moz-lums from the gutters of Baghdad are going to take it from them?! Are you gonna let them take it without a little violence!”
“No!” they responded, in one cohesive thunder.
“Then show me!”
They pulled on their ski-masks and flung open the glass door covered in lottery signs and beer advertisements, Andrew being the first berserker through.
James had ridden his bike to the bodega to pick up a two-liter of Mountain Dew Throwback (made with real sugar instead high-fructose corn syrup) and a six pack of black cherry Dr. Brown’s for his mom. He considered taking his chances on a pack of Carolina Filters, but the new owners had already turned down a bunch of his friends for being under nineteen. Scared of suffering future embarrassment every time he wanted a caffeine surge to play DemonScape online, James forewent the tobacco and stuck with the sugar.
He approached the cashier, soda in hand, and made eye contact with an old friend from sixth grade, Nate, who had moved to Paterson a few years back to live with his father. James hadn’t seen him since.
Nate gave James an upward chin-nod in recognition, and said something to one of his friends that was drowned out by the Fetty Wap blasting from Nate’s cellphone speakers. But as the two boys approached each other to dab hands — James even considered asking Nate if one of his friends, many of whom looked to be well into their twenties, could buy him cigarettes — the bell jingled above the glass door, and in came the Storm.
The crashing racks of pretzels and potato chips and the smashing of magazine stacks left James frozen, the shock causing him to drop the soda, spraying maroon cola in the air like a fire extinguisher, the neon-green Mountain Dew slithering across the linoleum floor.
Nate jumped behind a row of ramen noodles and other microwavable foodstuffs, while the cashier ducked behind the counter emerging just as quickly with a 9mm handgun.
The pack of Huns took cover behind the six-foot tall stacks of Pepsi, with one hurling his father’s nightstick at the cashier like a tomahawk, cracking him above the nose and causing a bullet to shatter the glass of the ice-cream coolers at the back of the store. The pistol fell to the ground.
Lying in a stream of soda, Nate crawled to the gun — his friends providing cover fire with their own concealed weapons — and from the ground began to unload on the hiding hooligans.
Tyler held Andrew close, who was wincing and weeping as the coolers and stacks of soft-drinks erupted in the air like fireworks. He saw a yellow leak trickle down Trevor’s leg, and on the other side of him, he could hear Lawrence call out for his mommy.
All hope was lost. The youngest chapter of The Patriotic Storm had been repelled by the blacks — a humbling defeat to the white race. Tyler could hear the taunts from the dark enemy, and decided he would rather die in battle before succumbing to the jeers of the inferior. He let go of Andrew, pulled out his knife — the one his grandfather used to scalp Vietcong in the jungle — and made a dash for the blacks. Even taking out one enemy would make him a martyr for the cause, a hero for the Grand Master.
But before Tyler could turn the corner, an eruption like thunder boomed from the entrance, and he turned to see Evan, the driver of the getaway van, his champion, his white knight, spraying the bodega’s innards in an opera of bullets from a Kalashnikov.
“Let’s go! Move it, move it!” Evan shouted, tossing the keys to Tyler to start the ignition. “We need to get the fuck outta here!”
Tyler jumped over Nate’s lifeless body and hauled Andrew to his feet from under his arms as if he were lifting a toddler into the air. The ski-mask was stuck to his face from the spraying soda, and the smoke of the firefight itched his eyes and clogged his nostrils, making it difficult to breathe, but Tyler refused to whip off the ski-mask until he was safely inside the van.
When he turned for the exit, he felt a tug on his black Doc Martens, and looked down to see a pale white face, covered in blood spatter, peering back at him.
“Leave him!” Evan reloaded the assault weapon and scanned the bodega. “He’s gone. We gotta move.”
“He’s our brother and a soldier in the Great War. I’m not leaving him!”
Evan sensed movement in the back corner and fired a few rounds.
“Fine! Drag him out!”
The van peeled out of the parking lot and the grunts huddled around James in the storage space like he was the warming hearth on a bitter winter evening.
James’ shoulder blades pinched together when he coughed and he convulsed as if possessed.
“He’s a goner, we gotta drop ‘im,” said Evan, holding the Kalashnikov upright by the muzzle.
“Get ‘im to a hospital!” Andrew called over his shoulder from the driver’s seat.
The Storm contingent snapped their heads to the back windows when they heard police sirens approach from the distance. Andrew veered the van onto a side-street and turned off the ignition, where only the blood gurgling in James’ throat broke the silence.
The sirens grew louder and two police cruisers flashed by but as quickly as they passed, they were gone again and silence retook the van.
“Dump him,” said Trevor, a suppressed flintiness in his voice. “Right here. He’s done for. He’ll never make it.”
“I agree. He’s a liability like this,” said Evan.
“You’re the one who fucking shot him!” shouted Lawrence, curled up in the corner.
“I’m the fucking Angel of Death! I saved all of your asses!” Evan slammed the butt of his rifle on the floor of the van. “Give him mercy, at least.” He pulled out a pistol and chambered a bullet. “I’ll even do it my fuckin’ self.”
“No,” Tyler snapped, his eyes remaining on the string of bullet holes lining the dying boy’s torso. “He’s one of us. We’re bringing him to the compound, and we’ll give him a proper burial.”
And that was the end of it. The van headed North to the woods.
Mischief Night, a year or so later
When the Ghoul Club wasn’t engrossed in vintage monster movies and slasher flicks in Rudy’s fart-filled basement, they met in a makeshift hut with a fire-pit deep in the woods of West Milford.
Myles, the portly runt of the bunch, approached the rest of the Club circling a lush fire, the dead leaves and twigs crackling beneath his feet, a carton of eggs in hand.
“Ey, where ya been, Myles? We were supposed to egg the Donovan house an hour ago,” said Jordy. “It’s tradition.”
“Why do ya think I brought these?” Myles held up the eggs. “To make a Taylor-Ham, egg, and cheese?” The boys paused, picturing a savory, sweating Taylor-Ham, egg, and cheese sandwich. “Anyway, I got… caught up. My ma did this computer sweep thing on the family computer and found a bunch of porn sites.”
“Don’t you have your own computer?” asked Caleb, whose varsity football jacket made that leathery squish sound varsity football jackets make. Although Caleb was a freshman on the varsity football team, he had not abandoned his friends at the commencement of high school and remained a devout member of the Ghoul Club.
“I can see Myles being a foot-fetish guy,” Rudy said, tossing a twig into the fire. “Can anyone else see that?”
“Definitely,” agreed the Club.
“Fuck you guys. I’m all about the ass and you know it!”
“Hell, are we doing Mischief Night or what?” said Jordy. He picked up a Costco-sized package of toilet paper and held it above his head like the strongest caveman would hold a boulder. “What the crap am I supposed to do with all this TP?”
“Uhhh use it for your ass?” said Rudy.
“I got an idea,” Caleb started. “How about we go find where that boy was buried?”
“Fuck dude, not this again,” said Jordy. “They dumped him in the reservoir or Cedar Lake or something. They still don’t even know who did it.”
“Oh, they know,” said Caleb. “It had to’ve been the Front or the Storm or the Resistance, or whatever they’re calling themselves now. Their compound isn’t far from here.”
“Yeah? And how would you know that? The cops don’t even know where the compound is. If there even is some Neo-Nazi training barracks complex thing, I’m sure the FBI or whatever would’ve found it by now.”
“They don’t care, man,” said Myles. “That shit happened like a year ago. They’re off it now. Case went cold.”
The boys sat in silence for a few moments, a silence only broken by the hoot of an owl and the snapping, burning wood in the fire pit.
“I still vote we TP and egg the Donovan house,” said Jordy.
“Can we hit Ms. McNulty’s place too? Bitch gave me a C- on my Beowulf essay,” Rudy said, rising to his feet from the fallen tree-trunk. “Can you believe that? A Ghoul Club member getting a fuckin’ C- on the first horror story ever written!”
Rudy, Jordy, and Caleb turned to Myles, whose stout frame had been hunched over, almost hidden in the dark blanket of the woods. The three boys were surprised that Myles would impede Mischief Night shenanigans, as their friend had always been predisposed to a good egging, despite the season.
“I wasn’t going to say anything, but since Caleb brought it up…”
Myles opened his backpack and, holding it from the top, let a ziplock bag unfurl, revealing a bundle of shriveled mushrooms.
“Where the shit did you get those?” asked Jordy.
“My brother’s college roommate said that if you eat these, you’ll see ‘the dead kid’.
Myles leaned forward towards the fire, inspecting the bag as if it had a warning label: WARNING. UPON INGESTING THESE PSYCHEDELIC MUSHROOMS YOU MAY EXPERIENCE THE FOLLOWING: NAUSEA, BRIGHT COLORS, THE DEAD KID.
“Bullshit,” said Rudy. “I bet that’s just some dried porcini mushrooms your mom overpaid for at Williams-Sonoma.”
“I think your brother got screwed, Myles!” shouted Jordy.
“Yo guys,” started Caleb. “I don’t think he’s bullshitin’ us. I heard the same thing. I just didn’t want to say anything because it sounded nuts.”
Myles was a known swindler throughout the freshman class, a counterfeiter of “rare” coins, a charlatan of trading cards, a snake-oil salesman in a Murder of Crows t-shirt, but Caleb? Caleb was as wholesome as apple pie. He was Apollo — unable to tell a lie.
“So we’re doing shrooms tonight, then, huh?” asked Rudy.
“This story just took a turn,” said Jordy.
“I had a feeling you guys would be interested. I even brought the orange juice chaser.”
Myles pulled the plastic container of OJ from the backpack and set it on the ground.
“Dude, does that have pulp in it? I fuckin’ hate pulp,” Jordy whined.
“You’re about to eat literal shit,” said Myles. “A little pulp won’t kill ya.”
The Ghoul Club passed the bag of mushrooms around the fire-pit, no one indulging themselves until each member had a bit of the shriveled fungus in hand.
“Down the hatch, then?” Myles proffered.
“Wait, wait, wait,” said Caleb. “We gotta toast.” The backup Quarterback waited a few moments, deep in thought.
“What was the kid’s name again?” asked Jordy.
None of them could remember.
“To the dead kid!” Caleb rose to his feet, the mushroom held high like a chalice.
“To the dead kid!” And the rest of the Ghoul Club followed.
The Ghoul Club appeared at the wood fringes of the Donovan backyard like the Goths’ descent on Rome. Both Rudy and Jordy had upset stomachs, and took preliminary steps to pull-the-trigger and relieve themselves of the nausea, but Myles convinced them to cease their retch.
“My brother says you always feel sick in the beginning, but it’s worth it. Just trust me.”
“Your brother actually took these?” Jordy inquired.
“Well… no. He didn’t, but his roommate’s friend did and told him all about it.”
“Jesus man!” Rudy dry-heaved behind a tree. “I need to get this shit outta me.”
“Shut up,” Caleb snapped. “You want ’em to hear us?”
Myles pulled the carton of jumbo eggs out of his backpack and passed them out to Caleb and Rudy.
“I’m all TP,” Jordy said, patting the side of the toilet-paper arsenal, holding back a gag.
“Alright then,” Caleb started. “Gentlemen, a ghoulish Mischief Night to you all.”
“And a ghoulish Mischief Night to you,” they responded.
The eggs flew from the woods like trebuchets launching flaming projectiles at the city walls. They landed with wet thuds against the French-door windows and backyard porch.
“Fire at will!” Caleb shouted, as he struck a perched garden gnome between the eyes.
Jordy frolicked about the backyard as he let unraveling toilet paper fly through the air like New Year’s Eve streamers. He even managed to let one white-roll, glittering in the moonlight, perfectly peak and trough over the red-brick chimney and expire on its descent down the roof, the naked brown roll gracefully landing on the grass.
After the final egg was thrown — Caleb took the honors, after giving an expedited sermon “he who is without mischief, let him deliver the final egg… no one? Okay then.” Whish!, Splat! — the Ghoul Club regarded their work with back-slapping approval.
“Well, back to the pit?” Myles proffered.
“The Demonscape movie just came out on Netflix, we could watch that at my place,” said Rudy.
“Dude, movies based on videogames are never any good,” said Jordy, as he hopped over a log, a few steps ahead of the rest of the group.
“What are you even saying right now? Resident Evil? Doom? Even Silent Hill was good,” argued Rudy.
A blur whizzed from one tree to another in the distance.
“Holy shit, did you guys see that?” asked Rudy.
“It’s just starting to kick in,” said Myles, as if he were a connoisseur of the shroom.
“No guys, I think I saw something.”
“That’s the point?” snarked Jordy.
They had seen in the movies and in the Spencer’s Gifts store at the mall the neon-psychedelic posters of fairies and caterpillars and bright green mushrooms, the care-free oneness with the animals of the forest or the groovy merriments of a yellow submarine, but the boys of the Ghoul Club didn’t experience such warmth on their own trip. When the fungal effects took hold, their world went dark, as if they were viewing the forest through a mauve gel — the tree-trunks swayed like tentacles while bats landed on the branches. And then they saw him.
He limped across the dead leaves, covered in dirt and filth — his eyes black craters, his skin white as death.
“Are uh… are you guys seein’ this?” asked Jordy.
Their silence was answer enough.
“I fuckin’ knew it,” Myles let fall out of his mouth.
“This cuh…cuh… can’t be real, right?” Rudy stammered.
Caleb stepped out from the line as if to challenge the stumbling boy to hand-to-hand combat. “We all see it. Now I’m gonna kill it.”
Caleb’s words acting as a trigger, the boy snapped his head to the side, and stared blankly ahead as his limbs cracked and crackled into disjointed right angles, leaving him in a crab-like crouch, hovering above the soil. The human-crustacean jittered along the ground, sometimes climbing up trees, only to jump back down again and change direction, leaving the Ghoul Club in a frantic, 360 degree spinning circle — Jordy wailed, Rudy cried, Myles shit his cargo pants.
Caleb picked up a rotting branch the size of a baseball bat and held it out in front of his face, the shaking stick belying his composure.
Then they lost him.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, where’d he go?” said Jordy, shivering.
“Shut up,” snapped Caleb, taking a step forward.
No one spoke, and for a few relieving moments, a calm came over the boys as they considered that the creature had merely been a figure of their imagination, a product of the hallucination.
Until it wasn’t.
Perched on a branch running horizontal to the ground, the boy moved his arms — arms that had a translucent, fleshy web with veins running through the pale skin like a subway map, beginning at his wrist and connecting around his knees — revealing his haggard face.
Frozen in shock once again, the members of the Club ducked at the last moment as the boy swan-dived off of the branch and cut through the air above their heads. On the third attempt, Caleb could’ve swore he landed a direct shot on the flying boy’s legs, but the branch went through his flesh and out the other side without any hindrances.
“I can’t kill him!” shouted Caleb. When the three other boys saw the courage melt from Caleb’s face and replaced with abject horror, they turned to run.
“You kill me?!” the flying boy screeched before crashing into the freshman Quarterback, knocking him to the dirt.
The fleeing members of the Ghoul Club froze and watched as the boy stood over Caleb, who kicked at the apparition’s legs without success.
“You kill me?!” He shouted once again, leaving a pause for an answer. “You can’t kill me!” He pulled apart his button-down shirt revealing bullet holes covering his body like chickenpox. “I’m already dead!” He smiled a grotesque smile of missing teeth and bleeding gums.
Every few inches Caleb managed to inch away, the boy gained right back, his neck seemingly unhinging from his body and expanding like a slinky until he was so close to Caleb’s face that the Quarterback could see the fine patch of hair that had begun to grow on the boy’s upper lip.
“You did this to me, didn’t you? And now you’ve come back to mock me?”
“Us?! No, no, no, no. We didn’t kill you! We don’t even know you!”
But the boy didn’t seem to hear. “Exhume my corpse and what? Kill me again? Or something more perverted than that?!”
Myles stepped forward, his sudden movement grabbing the boy’s attention, causing his neck to elongate and meet the pudgy 9th grader eye-to-eye only inches from his face.
“What?!” he snapped.
“Are… are you the boy who went missing last year in Clifton?”
“Ha!” his laugh sent blood spattering over Myles’ face. “’Missing’? Is that what they think? That I’m ‘missing’? I’m dead!”
His neck recoiled like a tape measure. When he spoke, standing over Caleb as if the entire forest was his audience, the boys could see his story from a year ago in their hallucinations like a projection on a silver screen:
“Lift him up for fuck’s sake!”
“He’s bleeding out all over me. He’s a fuckin’ goner man!”
“Just get him to the Grand Master. He’ll know what to do.”
Giant wooden spikes formed the fence of the compound that sat deep in the North Jersey forest. At the entrance, fires burned atop stone pillars, giving a glow to the jet-black swastikas that completed the temple-like motif. And when the van cruised into the complex, it circled a statue of Herr Hitler, frozen in a perpetual sieg heil.
Second-tier corporals and third-tier sergeants ceased their training exercises and hustled to the van when the doors slid open and the bleeding boy was hauled out and onto the muddy leaves.
“Get him inside! Quick!”
“How did this grunt get hurt?!” The sergeant screamed without lending a hand.
“It was the Black Brigade. They ambushed us…”
“Why is this grunt in civilian clothes?”
“He’s a civilian… a casualty of the Black Brigade.”
“And you brought him here?!”
“He’s a soldier of the Great War. If he survives…”
“He’s turning blue as we speak! Get him to the Grand Master.”
The grunts grabbed the boy by his appendages and carried him up the cement staircase, letting his head loll in the air lifelessly. One of the skinheads flew open the door to the Grand Master’s chambers while the grunts dropped the boy on the floor in front of the old man, who tenderly shut a weathered paperback copy of The Turner Diaries and placed it on the coffee-table.
“And what have my boys dragged in?” he said, taking a bite from a raspberry Danish and picking up a cup of tea that emitted a slithering trickle of steam into the air.
“Grand Master,” the grunts dropped to their knees. “This is a casualty of the Great War. We were ambushed by the Black Brigade during our mission. I would not rule out that spies of the Jew government compromised our position.”
The old man rose from his chair, approached the group, and knelt next to the boy, who gasped for air on the floor like a carp.
“What’s the boy’s name?” the Grand Master asked, pulling his robe tight to his chest with one hand, the other stroking the boy’s blood-covered cheek.
The grunts looked to one another for an answer, but remained silent.
“You’re supposed to attack the negroids, Arabians, and Chinamen. Instead, you bring me a dying, pure child of America?”
They remained silent.
“I expected more out of you, Tyler.”
A tear fell down Tyler’s cheek.
“Pity, he has such beautiful white skin. I’d like to just…” he scraped dried blood from boy’s hand. “…peel it off and wear it myself.”
The grunts shot each other glances from their knees, but remained silent, still.
“He would’ve made a fine soldier. End his misery and bury him deep in the woods.” The old man rose from the floor and re-tied the belt to his robe. “If anyone followed you here, you all will be buried with him.”
The grunts dragged and then lifted James’ body into the air, carried him into the October night, and plopped him into a wheelbarrow the sergeants had been using to move bricks for the new Himmler shrine. They followed an unlit dirt path that led them into a stretch of forest that was so dense the wheelbarrow could barely make it between the trees without James’ foot getting hooked on a trunk.
“Tyler, this is far enough. Come on, let’s get this over with.”
The grunts took turns on digging duty with a pair of spades that sliced into the cold, hard soil. They dug a hole deep and wide enough to cover the boy, and waited for Tyler to give the next command.
“Evan, do you have the gun?”
“I don’t think I can do it, man.”
“You shot up that whole store. You fuckin…” Tyler lowered his voice. “You fucking shot him, man. You gotta put him out of his misery.”
“I said I can’t do it,” Evan snapped. “Alright? I can’t fucking do it.”
Tyler pushed the other grunts out of his way, almost knocking one into the shallow grave, and faced Evan, inches from his face. “He is a soldier of the Great War. Put him out of his misery. That’s an order.”
Evan leaned in, closing the gap between the two. “He was a stupid kid who got in the way when I was saving your ass. Here,” he slammed the pistol into Tyler’s stomach, knocking out some of his wind. “you do it.”
“Juh…just dump him,” Trevor managed to eke out. “He’s going to die any minute, anyway. Just dump him in and let’s get outta here.”
Tyler’s chest bumped up and down as he regarded the pistol. He wiped his brow with his wrist, chambered a bullet and aimed between the eyes.
The grunts stood in silence as their squad leader’s arm began to shake from the weight of the gun. The boy lying in the wheelbarrow like a sack of meat and bones closed his eyes, expecting the final blow to be stricken, his suffering to come to an end.
But the shot was never fired.
Tyler jammed the handle of the pistol into Evan’s chest and overturned the wheelbarrow, taking James and the other skinheads by surprise. He yanked a spade from the ground and began to pile the soft soil onto the boy until dirt plugged his orifices and the empty space around his body — his raised weak arm, the last part of him seen from the surface, succumbed to the weight of the dirt and vanished beneath the earth.
The Ghoul Club, who had remained silent as they watched with terror as the events of the boy’s death played out in front of them, looked to each other, and then to the ground, digesting the horror they had just witnessed.
Finally, Myles spoke up, “They buried you alive?”
The “screening” taking place within the boys’ hallucination picked up speed, as if it were suddenly set to fast-forward, and from the grave of soft, overturned dirt, what appeared like brown-capped penises poked into the air, their heads eventually flailing outward like an inverted umbrella as the stems grew tall.
“Oh. My. God,” Caleb said, still pinned to the ground.
When the rest of the Ghoul Club digested the realization of their hallucination, Rudy vomited and Jordy collapsed.
Myles embraced the apparition — who took the form of a normal decaying boy, instead of a humanoid crab, bat, or serpent — expressing a tenderness that even surprised himself. “But… but you know we didn’t do this to you.”
“No, no you didn’t. But you’re going to bring me to them.”
“Bring you? But you’re not even real?”
James stepped down onto Caleb’s chest, causing the muscular freshman to wince in pain.
“I’m as real as a nightmare.”
He grabbed Caleb by the ankles and dragged him across the forest floor with such ease it made the quarterback appear like a child.
“Where are you taking him?!” Myles shouted as he chased after the decayed boy and his friend. “Stop!”
James began to frantically burrow into the ground, momentarily releasing Caleb from his clutches, only to whip his boneless arm around the escaping boy’s ankle like a lasso and haul him into the freshly dug pit.
James turned to the Ghoul Club — “Deliver me to my murderers and you will see him again.”
Myles lunged for Caleb, whose nails were sunken into the dirt, but hit the solid ground as James tugged Caleb forward and into the wormhole with him.
“I expect revenge.”
And then they were gone, vanished into the earth.
“What. The. Fuck, man! What the fuck?!” Rudy shouted, wiping puke residue from his lips.
Jordy sprinted to where the vortex had opened in the ground and began to dig, only making it a few inches before he realized his efforts would be fruitless. “How… wha… how can he be gone? None of this is even real?”
“Not real?” snapped Myles. “Of course it’s real. Do you see Caleb anywhere?” “Caleb!” Rudy called out into the woods. “Caleb!”
“Didn’t you watch that whole fucking movie-memory fucking thing he put on for us?”
“We’ll just come down from our trip and he’ll be here,” Jordy said, in denial.
“Didn’t you guys hear him? We gotta get him to those Neo-Nazis and then he’ll give us back Caleb.”
Rudy swung around to face Myles. “Yeah I fuckin’ heard him. But what does that even mean?!”
“It means we gotta get those racist fuckers to trip on shrooms. These shrooms.” He pulled the scrunched-up plastic bag with the remaining shriveled mushrooms out of his pocket.
“We gotta call the police,” said Rudy, talking more to himself like a paranoid schizophrenic than to the other boys. “…get a search party…”
“Oh, yeah, that will go over well,” Myles started, adopting a mocking tone. “Pardon me officers, us young lads were just tripping balls on some magic mushrooms in the woods and, oh! remember that dead kid you guys couldn’t find? Well, he came to us in our hallucination and took our friend to the center of the fucking Earth and is going to keep him there unless we annihilate a bunch of racist skinheads!”
“Unless he annihilates a bunch of racist skinheads,” Jordy corrected.
“And how are we even supposed to find this place, huh?” said Rudy. “I mean, the kid could’ve given us like a map or clue or somethin’.”
“I know where it is,” Myles said. “When he was showing us his memory or whatever, I recognized some graffiti on one of the trees back from when… when I was hanging with Tim Portnoy and those guys.”
“Wait,” Jordy snapped. “You were hanging out with the Devil’s Club?”
“Is that what’s important right now?”
“All those guys do is watch gore-core crap and huff glue. Portnoy’s got Crows shirts but I bet he’s never even been to a concert!”
“Shit, man!” cried Rudy. “Maybe if we were just huffin’ glue like Portnoy, we wouldn’t be in this fuckin’ catastrophe and Caleb wouldn’t be missing!”
“Shut up,” Myles snapped.
The three boys darted back to the fire-pit when the cherry from the police cruiser lit up the forest, and old man Donovan’s cries and shouts could be heard in the distance.
Jordy’s chestnut locks that had rested just above his eyebrows fell to the tile floor. The shave jobs were sloppy and rushed, and Jordy felt like one of the maggots conscripted into Vietnam during the opening sequence of Full Metal Jacket.
“I still don’t ow! Fuck man. Easy. I still don’t understand why we all need to shave our heads.”
“Uh… because their skinheads?” said Myles, holding the electric clipper above Jordy’s skull to give him a moment’s break. “Like rule number one of being a skinhead is… being a skinhead.”
“Rule number one ow! Seriously? Rule number one is being white, duh.”
“Well your pasty ass has got that down,” said Rudy, walking into the bathroom, his neat red comb-over replaced with a prickly buzz-cut.
“Your parents definitely won’t be home tonight, right?” asked Myles.
“It’s already four in the morning,” said Rudy. “They’re staying at my grandma’s in Old Bridge.”
“Sometimes I forget you’re from South Jersey,” said Jordy, wiping clipped hair from the top of his ear.
“Old Bridge isn’t South Jersey!”
Jordy and Myles sniggered, clearly having used such a sentiment to get underneath their friend’s skin in the past.
“Well, fuck, everything is south of here.”
The ding! from the oven could be heard from the bathroom, and the boys turned to the door, all three quickly remembering why they were shaving each other’s heads at the darkest hour of the night.
Sliding his hand into his mother’s red oven-mit, Rudy opened the oven, pulled out the tin tray, and placed it on the kitchen island. The boys gathered around the steaming baked goods, and for a few moments, no one spoke.
Rudy eventually broke the silence, “Holy shit. I can’t believe we made swastika brownies in my house.”
The double-fudge brownies sat in neat rows across the pan.
“You’re a natural,” said Myles.
“This makes me sick,” said Jordy, pouring himself a glass of Mountain Dew Throwback (made with real sugar instead high-fructose corn syrup) over ice.
“You sure the shrooms are in there? Any left over?” asked Myles.
“I put ’em all in,” said Rudy, swiping the crinkled plastic bag of leftover mushroom bits from the island and tossing it into the garbage.
Jordy paced around the kitchen, rubbing the top of his newly buzzed head as if constantly rediscovering it. “Like… shit man, what if we get caught. Like, what if they don’t believe us? Or shit, what if it doesn’t work? Rudy, you’re sure the shrooms will have the same effect in the brownies?”
“You think I fucked it up?” Rudy said defensively.
“Guys, it’ll work,” said Myles. “My brother says they make ’em like this at college like once a month.”
“And what if that… that demon-kid thing has already killed Caleb, huh?” Jordy frantically peeked out the windows. “And he’s just lyin’ to us, ya know? Like, we’re going to be the prime suspects.”
“You saw what happened to him!” Myles shouted. “He was basically fuckin’ tortured. He wants revenge. Once he gets it he’ll give us back Caleb.”
It made sense enough to the boys that they all caught a few hours of sleep. When they woke up they were already in their costumes for Halloween.
A sliver of sunlight broke in through the basement window, waking Myles and Jordy from their sleep on the itchy, retro couches.
The sound of rummaging pots and pans lured the two Ghoul Club members upstairs, where Rudy, purple-eyed and pale, was failing at brewing himself a cup of coffee.
“You don’t drink coffee?” asked Myles.
“Yeah, well, fuck I do now. I couldn’t sleep at all. I can’t get those… that kid out of my head.”
“How are we even going about this anyway?” started Jordy. “Like, just go up and knock and be like ‘hey guys, we hate the Jews too, we brought treats’?”
“Yeah!” shouted Rudy, immediately feeling the caffeine jolt of his coffee. “I mean, it’s Sunday, too. How do we even know they’re going to be open?”
“They’re Nazis, not the Paramus Mall,” said Myles. “They don’t stop hating just because it’s the Sabbath. You guys sound like you’re pussyin’ out. Listen, we have no other choice and we can’t wait any longer. If Caleb isn’t home soon, his parents are gonna start calling all of our parents and the head shaving is gonna look a lot sketchier.”
Rudy and Jordy instinctively rubbed their buzz-cuts.
“Just… we gotta do this. I was googling ‘white supremacy’ last night and found this book called The Turner Diaries. I wikipedia’d the plot and got the gist. We’ll go over it on the way there. We’ll say how it inspired us to join them and what not. It’ll work.”
Rudy strapped the swastika brownies to his bike and the three of them left for the woods. They went down the worn dirt path used to get to the Ghoul Club headquarters and hit the brook that cut through the forest.
Myles located the red pentagram the Devil’s Club spray-painted on the trunk of the dead tree and took Rudy and Jordy North, to nothing. He turned them around and they headed South and West, to more nothing. He tried East — to certain nothing — until they circled back, unintentionally, to the dead tree and the red sign of the Beast.
“Shit man!” Jordy cried, lagging behind their Sherpa of the forest. “You don’t know where you’re going, do ya?”
Myles feigned confidence and assured his friends he knew exactly where they were headed this time around.
Once more, Myles retraced his steps and closed his eyes, trying to relive the images the dead boy had showed them, and once more they hit the spray-painted tree.
“Fuck this! Fuck this, man,” Jordy shouted, dropping his bike in exhaustion. “We’re fucked. I’m going home and calling the police.”
“We should at least get our story straight,” said Rudy.
“Yeah, the four of us were in the woods and Caleb ditched us to go hook up with Britney or Caroline or whoever. He’s the only freshman those girls still get with anyway.”
“I thought I already fucking told you guys,” Myles screeched in frustration. “if we call the cops we’re done for. Rudy, Caleb’s bike is still at your house. How would we…”
The boys swung around in unison when a bang! rang off in the near distance.
“Fireworks?” asked Rudy.
“No way,” said Myles.
A string of loud pops went off like someone treading over bubble package-filler.
“Those are gunshots.”
Myles balanced his bike and rode toward the sound of battle like a knight galloping into the fray — Rudy and Jordy followed on his heels, whining and pleading that they turn around.
“Yeah! And we should ride towards them?!”
“Come on, Myles! This is stupid. We’re gonna get ourselves killed!”
“I can’t believe I missed it,” Myles laughed, more thinking out loud than speaking to his comrades. “It’s a right once you hit the tree, cross the brook, and go North. Duh!”
Before Jordy could exhale his last groan, the boys hit the wood walls of the complex as if it had been dropped from the heavens, untouched, resembling a Puritan settlement or the Jamestown Colony of the early 17th century.
The Ghoul Club craned their necks to view the two stone swastika pillars that were lit up with fire, despite the early morning hour.
“Fuck this. We can still turn back now if…”
The gate began to clank open, silencing Jordy. The boys froze while a convoy of skinheads approached, all in matching forest-green fatigues, all carrying assault rifles.
“We read this book,” Myles began to rattle off the jumble of thoughts jouncing about in his head, remembering that they were supposed to discuss the plot of The Turner Diaries so their story was cohesive. He took the lead so Jordy and Rudy could avoid questioning. “And it inspired us to…”
“Were you followed?” The tallest of the squadron stepped forward and glanced at Rudy’s and Myles’ shaved head. Jordy took off his Yankees snow-hat, revealing his own prickled scalp.
Myles turned around to check, literally, if they had been followed.
“No,” he said.
“What’s that?” asked the squad leader, pointing to the plastic-covered plate in Rudy’s hands.
“We… we made brownies,” said Myles.
A few sniggers came from the convoy.
“Shut up,” the leader snapped over his shoulder.
“They’re swastika brownies!” Rudy caught the elation in his voice and dialed it back. “They’re uh… in the shape of swastikas.”
“Who do you know here?” he asked. “How did you find us?” He scanned the forest, high above the boys’ heads.
After a few moments of silence, Myles began to stammer. “We read uh… this book. The Turner…”
“Yes, of course, we’ve all read it. Every white soldier in this once-pure, great, nation should read it. But that doesn’t tell me anything.” The tall skinhead gave a high pitch whistle that set his squadron about-face, and they began to march back into the high-walled complex. “If you’re still here by the time those gates close, we’ll shoot.”
Rudy almost dropped the brownies.
The squad-leader turned around and began to walk into the complex, and from the gate’s threshold, Myles could see a statue of Adolf Hitler glistening in the sunlight that snuck through the forest canopy.
“Tyler!” Myles blurted out.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Jordy pushed through his teeth.
“I know Tyler. He’s a childhood friend of mine.” Myles saw that he had the squad leader’s attention and puffed out his chest. “I heard he’s the captain of a new batch of grunts. Rumor has it that him and his squad are responsible for that shoot-up down in Clifton.”
“Who told you that?”
“Oh, it’s common knowledge now. Real inspiring stuff. Those Pakis had it coming to them.”
“They did, didn’t they?”
“Yup. It really ignited the fire the white race in this state needed. I know other guys can’t wait to join.” The squad leader regarded Myles, up and down, before doing the same to Rudy and Jordy. “That’s a fantastic statue,” Myles pointed to Hitler with his chin. “Sieg Heil!” he cried, his arm firm and direct, his stare unwavering.
“Sig Heil! Sig Heil!” Rudy and Jordy responded, layered and sloppy.
The squad leader continued to stare, but nodded his head in approval, as if to say, “not bad”.
“Tyler is a fine soldier.” He turned back to the complex. “I believe he’s with the Grand Master now. I’ll bring you to them.”
Inside the complex, the boys marveled at the gargantuan, crimson, third-reich flags that draped down the inner walls, the troops, some appearing as young as eleven or twelve, jogging in neat rows, the shining bronze statues of Nazi officers and Nordic gods, troops crawling underneath barbed wire, troops firing rifles at dummies wearing Mexican sombreros or Black Lives Matter t-shirts, and troops forming a ring as two others in football helmets bludgeoned each other with padded sticks — a drill the Ghoul Club had recently seen on a commercial for the Marines.
The squad leader led the boys to a white pillared building which had, hanging from one corner of the façade to the other, a banner that read: THE WHITE MAN MARCHES ON.
The Ghoul Club followed the squad leader down a wide corridor lit-up only by the orange glow of perfectly aligned smoldering fires. A spotlight beamed on a lone swastika fixed above a door like a Christmas-time wreath.
“We’re forming an army,” the squad leader said without turning to face the boys. “It’ll be so big even the spineless American government won’t be able to stop us.”
The squad leader saluted the gigantic, shiny-headed guards and told them he had fresh, enthusiastic “grunts” ready to join the war — the guards returned the salute and stepped aside, allowing the squad leader to push the doors open and enter the Grand Master’s chambers.
Atop a high platform, in front of a crackling fire, a silver-haired man sat, one leg crossed over the other, reading a hardback copy of Pagan Imperialism by Julius Evola. When the doors shut behind the Ghoul Club, the Grand Master licked his forefinger, turned the page, and stuck a bookmark into the crease before plopping it down on his coffee-table.
“Grand Master,” the squad leader called out, legs apart, arms behind his back. “I have fresh enthusiastic grunts eager to join the cause.”
“Soldiers,” the Grand Master responded, rising from his throne. “Please, brother Lars, call them ‘soldiers,’ as their participation is essential to the rebirth of a nation.”
“Yuh… yes, of course, Grand Master. I deliver to you three eager soldiers of the white race.”
Even though it made Myles sick to his stomach that he was disguised as a white supremacist, it still bothered him that this “brother Lars” was taking credit for recruiting them when they had just shown up at the gates.
“Welcome, my young friends. Ahhh, and what’s this? You have brought treats? How delightful.”
Rudy presented the brownies, which the squad leader snatched from his hands, as if to take credit for the baked goods as well.
Myles scanned the walls lined with colorful and stoic Nazi propaganda posters and Jim Crow cartoons. He was initially shocked to see, above a portrait of Woodrow Wilson, a framed master’s degree from Princeton University. And as the Grand Master continued to speak, Myles couldn’t help but liken the silver-fox to an abjectly racist Mr. Rogers.
“Thu… they are fuh… for the…” Rudy stammered, overwhelmed with the violent imagery and posters that read: “All Colors Must Hang” and “Dismantle the Jew-Machine!”
“Come, come, my young friends.” The Grand Master motioned that the Ghoul Club come in close and follow him up the short flight of steps. He placed a hand on Jordy’s back as he led the boys to the coffee-table and signaled that they take a seat.
A pudgy, blotchy-skinned kid no older than fourteen arrived with steaming tea and an assortment of Danishes and crumbly little cakes arrayed on a tray.
“Oh, excuse me Brother Morris, our new soldiers here have provided the treats for tea-time today. Please see to it that these are prepared to be served.”
The fat kid nodded and took the brownies away from the table.
“Those are for Tyler,” Myles blurted out. His neck turned crimson as he felt all eyes fall on him.
The Grand Master let a moment of silence pass while having a sip of his tea. “You’ve been acquainted with brother Tyler?”
“We’re familiar with his work,” Rudy said, as if the Neo-Nazi were a local artisan.
“Yeah, we heard that he led that attack on those dur… dirty muh… Muslims down in Clifton,” Jordy fumbled.
“The brownies are actually for him and his squadron,” said Myles, appreciating his friends’ attempts, but knowing he had to take over before they got busted. “It would really be an honor if the whole team shared them.”
Another sip, another moment of silence. Jordy swallowed so loudly Myles wanted to tell him to shut up.
“I think that can be arranged.” The Grand Master called out to the squad leader, who had remained at the base of the staircase. “Brother Lars, would you please grab the Clifton Stormers.”
“I believe they are attending brother Alexander’s purification seminar, Grand Master,” the squad leader called from the base of the short staircase.
“Tell brother Alexander I have requested them in my chambers.”
“Of course, Grand Master.”
Brother Lars saluted and marched out into the corridor.
“Tell me, boys, besides the heroics of the Clifton Stormers, why else do you want to join The Patriotic Storm, hhmmm?”
“Wuh… well, Grand Master, we recently read The Turner Diaries and were so… so very inspired by its message,” Myles swallowed. His trembling hands caused his tea to spill when he brought the cup to his lips.
“Yes. Its message of a great white nation.”
“World,” the Grand Master snapped. “A great white world.”
“Of course,” Myles said, nodding to Jordy and Rudy who nodded and echoed the sentiment in return.
“But, I suppose, New Jersey is just as good a place to start as any.” The Grand Master inhaled and then exhaled, as if the thought of statewide racial subjugation was a chore or task he had been assigned to complete.
The doors swung open and the Grand Master rose to his feet. “Ahh, there they are,” he said, outstretched arms welcoming in the battle-hardened crew.
The Ghoul Club watched on as The Patriotic Storm’s most infamous unit entered the chambers like a police line-up where everyone was guilty.
Myles counted to four, checking that they were all there. When he realized their squad leader, Tyler, wasn’t present, he began to sweat.
“Where’s Tyler?” Myles blurted before the Stormers could even be introduced.
Brother Evan who had walked with a swagger ever since he shot up the bodega, stepped into the commanding role and spoke in overemphasized, military formalities.
“Sir!” He saluted. “Brother Tyler is feeling under the weather, sir! He has been in the latrines since…” He checked his watch. “13:30, sir!”
Myles felt the penetration of his friends’ stares.
“Thank you, brother Evan. Well, my young friends, let us continue with our tea and pray him a swift recovery. Brother Morris, if you could bring out those delectable looking brownies, I believe we’re ready.”
“We uh… we ought to wait fuh… for brother Tyler, oughten’t we?” Myles stammered like a schoolboy in the principal’s office.
“Oh I see no need for that!” The Grand Master rubbed his hands together as the swastika brownies were brought in on a silver platter. “Go ahead, Stormers, these fine young brothers made them special for you.”
The Neo-Nazis tore into the brownies, chewing and moaning and emitting other sounds of satisfaction.
“These are sublime,” said Lawrence, the littlest skinhead in the entire compound. “Oh you must give me the recipe.”
“Are there nuts in these?” asked Andrew. “I’m not allergic or anything, I uh… ha! I just don’t care for them.”
“Nuh… no. No nuts,” said Rudy.
“Go ahead, boys. Dig in,” said the Grand Master, biting off a leg to a swastika. “You made plenty for everyone!”
“We really should save one for Tyler,” said Myles.
“And please, help yourselves. Have seconds,” said Rudy.
The Grand Master put down his double-fudge swastika, and the Clifton Stormers followed — some even stopped chewing, the brown confection sitting between their teeth and lips like chewing tobacco.
“I insist.” The Grand Master pushed the platter across the coffee-table until it hung over the edge. “Eat.”
“Well!” Myles cried, smacking his budding paunch. “There goes my diet!”
He nudged Jordy with his elbow to follow suit–Rudy had gotten the message, too.
The Ghoul Club munched on the treats knowing that in a matter of moments they would relive their nightmare.
The Grand Master spoke about the “Superior Race” using an argot only indoctrinated young white supremacists could understand.
Rudy’s knees bopped up and down and Jordy’s eyes darted around the ceiling as if he were in Bat Country.
“Let’s ask the new guys,” Evan started, taking pauses to swallow before filling his mouth with more brownie. “Don’t you guys think a ‘Day of the Rope’ is too good for the mongrels?”
Rudy and Jordy receded in their seats, allowing Myles to once again act as spokesman for their unit. He had only a fleeting recognition of the reference, and wasn’t sure if it was something from American History or American History X. He attempted to brush it off, “Ha ha, yeah.”
The doors swung open and in strutted swashbuckling Tyler, not displaying any symptoms of illness. “Did I hear ‘Day of the Rope’? Oh! Nothing gets me going quite like imagining those monkeys hanging from the trees.”
The Ghoul Club held back their vomit.
“Ya know,” Trevor flicked the double-fudge stuck to the roof of his mouth with his tongue. “I don’t think we should limit the hangings to the spooks. All race traitors should be hanged.”
There was a nodding consensus of agreement among the Stormers. “Liberal judges, lawyers, the entire Democratic Party, and the Mexicans, Asians, and Arabs, of course.”
“Yes, of course.”
“I propose a ‘Day of Fire’!” cried Evan.
Myles saw a final swastika leg sitting on the crumb-ridden platter, and tried to get Tyler’s attention, but his calls for the skinhead were drowned out by the shouts of the Stormer’s fiery fantasy.
But it was Tyler whose voice finally cut through the cacophony and posed the question, “What is your favorite part of the book?”
“I like when we invade Africa!” shouted Trevor.
“No way! Let them keep their shit continent,” countered Andrew. “The best is when we nuke the Chinese!”
“I was asking our new brothers,” said Tyler, standing over the Ghoul Club.
“Ah…Africa,” said Rudy — Jordy nodded in solidarity.
Myles, the only Ghoul Club member to have actually researched the racist book, drew a blank under the spotlight and could only hold up the silver platter, offering the last morsel of drug-infused brownie.
“Frauds!” Tyler screeched so loudly his voice cracked. “I could smell it on ’em the moment I walked in!” He turned to his brothers-in-hate. “Tear them apart!”
But none of the skinheads moved. A gloss had coated their pale eyes and even when Tyler shook Evan by the shoulders, they remained unresponsive — until the Grand Master’s upper maxilla was ripped over his head like God was opening a clam.
Tyler fell to the floor, wetting himself as he witnessed Andrew’s arms get yanked out of their sockets and tossed to the side, Trevor torn in two equal halves, and Lawrence’s head sliced off, tumbling to the ground and rolling to Tyler’s feet, still blinking.
When the psychedelics hit the Ghoul Club, they were once again in the purple haze of their hallucinations, watching the carnage unfold before their eyes.
James moved about the Grand Master’s chambers like a figure-skater, slaughtering the skinheads with grace. Each slice of his sword or swipe of his gigantic claws — James’ weapons merely appeared out of thin air or formed on his body — were coordinated and deliberate, as if he had been playing out the revenge in his mind every moment stuck in his shallow grave.
The Ghoul Club watched as Evan, making for the door, tripped over his brother’s severed arm and slid across the bloody floor. James soared into the air and floated above Evan like the Angel of Death. An AK-47 appeared in his moldered arms as if it had been 3D printed. The flying hallucination fired shot after shot into Evan’s large frame, and for a moment, Myles thought he could see the tiniest curve of a smile appear on James’ face.
Tyler had witnessed an invisible force reduce his entire squadron and mentor to meaty bits. He leapt from the ground only to trip over Trevor’s top half, using its final breaths to crawl toward the door, its entrails dangling across the floor like wet sausages.
“Why is he leaving that one?” Jordy leaned in and whispered, the first movement of the Ghoul Club since James arrived.
“He didn’t eat any of the brownie,” said Myles. “James can’t get to him.”
“We won’t get Caleb back if he gets away,” said Rudy.
Tyler swung open the chamber doors, but before he could exhale to call for help, he was cracked in the face and went tumbling backwards. Caleb stepped over the lifeless bodies of the two guards and entered the room.
“Hold him down!” Caleb shouted, immediately sending the Ghoul Club out of their seats to aid their friend. “Myles! The brownie!”
Myles snatched the pastry from the coffee-table and slipped in a puddle of blood, sacrificing his body to keep the dessert from hitting the floor. “Take it!” he cried.
Caleb gave Tyler two more cracks to the jaw and eye-socket, grabbed the brownie from his fallen comrade, and began shoving it into the skinhead’s mouth. “Eat it! Hold him still! Eat it, you motherfucker!” Caleb took the wet, brown cake that slid between his fingers and redirected it down Tyler’s throat while sitting on his chest.
“Where were you?!” Rudy cried, almost letting go of Tyler’s spastic arm to give Caleb a hug.
“I witnessed the time and space that exists between life and death.” He gave Tyler another shot to the nose. “I felt the pain that Jimmy endured. The sickness he felt of never seeing his family again. And let me tell you…” he scanned the room, taking in the mangled corpses, the old man still sitting in his chair with the top of his head missing. “…these bastards deserve everything they got.”
The Ghoul Club held Tyler to the floor until his retinas enlarged and his world turned purple, and he finally had to face Jimmy.