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Head of Zeus
Exclusive Halloween Short Story: Jack-O-LanternBy Ethan Cross, creator of the infamous serial killer, Francis Ackerman
I Am The Night
I Am Fear
I Am Pain
I Am Wrath
I Am Hate
I Am Vengeance

Chapter One

To say that the relationship between Francis Ackerman Junior and federal law enforcement had been a tumultuous one would be a grave understatement. The roller coaster ride of his life had seen his face at the top of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list to that same face being re-sculpted on the government’s dime in order for him to come work for the same organization which had once hunted him. The sudden reappearance of Ackerman's younger brother—a federal agent who subsequently recruited Ackerman—had been the catalyst of the aforementioned relationship’s transformation.
    But now, Ackerman had a new partner at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. His formal title was Special Consultant, and the woman he was meeting on this evening was his partner and government-appointed babysitter. Although, he liked to think of her as the official recorder of his grand deeds and his transgressions alike, the bard chronicling his story, since she was the one who had to fill out the reports and take most of the heat for his sometimes less-than-legal actions. And he fully admitted that he often placed her in untenable and precarious positions within the bureaucracy.
    Although Ackerman had long ago renounced and denounced the murder and mayhem of his former life, the darkness was always waiting, and oftentimes, he let himself step a bit too far across the battle lines of good and evil to accomplish his task and take down his prey. Nadia was a positive influence in that respect, like a canary to a coal miner. She kept him grounded in the world of real people, a world of which he was mostly unfamiliar.
    His partner, Special Agent Nadia Shirazi, lived in a quaint little brownstone near McLean, Virginia. The neighborhood was only a few years old and had been designed to look like the brownstones of Brooklyn or Georgetown, perhaps to give a sense of community among the residents. He wondered why Nadia, who had neither a husband nor children, would choose to live in a place that clearly catered to the family unit. The neighborhood was arranged in an octagon shape with brownstone townhouses of different designs lining all of the sides. In the center was a small park and playground. Ackerman had pulled his motorcycle into one of the spots reserved for Nadia’s building. After checking his watch, he had ascended her front stoop and taken a seat. He was several minutes early, and he knew from past experience that she preferred him there right on time, not late but certainly not early.
    While he waited, Ackerman had plenty of entertainment on the streets in front of him. It was Halloween, and the sidewalks of the quaint little brownstone community were teeming with children in costume and their parents. The groups, however, did not approach the doors of the homes to get candy. Instead they were lined in front of the trunks of the residents’ cars—which had been decorated with the merchandise and memorabilia of various film and television franchises as well as the usual pumpkins and skeletons that accompanied the season.
    As Ackerman sat on his partner’s front stoop and watched the children pass by, he realized that the origins of the majority of the costumes were a mystery to him. He supposed most related to cultural phenomenon of which he was indifferent since he resided outside of normal culture in many ways—a byproduct of living most of his life in a cage. Thankfully, there were still some costumes that were universal, ones that mimicked ghouls and goblins and ghosts. These costumes were more intertwined with the original traditions and history of Halloween, which originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. A celebration where the Celts would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off wandering evil spirits.
    Ackerman was musing about legends and ancient traditions when he heard a strange sound emanating from the shrubbery that lay between the stoop of Nadia’s townhouse and her neighbor’s. It sounded like a wounded animal whimpering, but as he listened more closely, he detected utterances characteristic of a human being—specifically a child crying.
    Leaning over the side of the stoop, Ackerman said, “Is someone down there?”
    The faint voice of a young boy called back up, “Yes.”
    After a few seconds of hesitation, a young boy emerged from the shrubs. Ackerman had no experience with children and found it difficult to properly ascertain their ages. Although, the homemade jack-o-lantern costume and the boy’s rosy, chubby cheeks certainly spoke of him being several years shy of puberty. He had dark brown hair poking out from beneath the stem of the jack-o-lantern, which he wore as a hat. Tears soaked his cheeks.
    Ackerman was still seated and leaning casually against the steps when he asked, “Did something happen to you, boy?”
    The child shook his head in the negative.
    “Then why are you crying?”
    The boy shrugged.
    “Do you live around here?”
    “Next door.”
    Ackerman noticed that the child, unlike every other one he had seen, wasn't carrying a bag containing the goodies he had collected from the neighbors’ trunks. Ackerman asked, “Where’s your bag of candy? Did you leave it in the house?”
    At the mention of this, the boy’s eyes welled with tears, but he answered, “Yeah, in the house. I should get going, Mister.”
    Ackerman asked, “Did someone take your candy?”
    The boy frowned and looked toward the concrete of the steps.
    Ackerman added, “You can tell me. I work with the FBI. We take candy theft very seriously at the Bureau.”
    The boy didn't seem impressed by this, but he finally said, “Some older kids took my bag and shoved me into the mud.” He gestured toward his now filthy jack-o-lantern costume. “My mom is gonna kill me. She worked so hard on this. She made it herself.”
    Ackerman said, “Give me the details, kid. I need them for my report. How’d it go down? Did they beat you up? Did you put up a good fight? How many assailants are we looking at here?”
    “It was just three older boys. They didn’t beat me up. They told me that I had to give them my candy or else. So I gave them the bag.”
    “Really,” Ackerman commented, “sounds like a pretty hollow threat to me.”
    “What was I supposed to do? They’re bigger than me, stronger than me. And there were three of them!”
    “My father, who was a very hard man, used to tell me that losing was an excuse for not cheating hard enough.”
    “My mother told me never to cheat.”
    “Sure, you shouldn't cheat in school or at sports and things like that, but when it comes to life or death, there is only winning or dying. These other boys were threatening your safety. They came into your world, and they took what was yours by force, all the while displaying a malicious and malignant sort of glee for their misdeeds. It's something that one cannot allow. In this world, you either dominate the situation, or you are dominated. It’s nature on its most basic level. Every creature you may encounter, human or otherwise, can be categorized in one of two ways. Either they wish to eat you, or they do not. Those who would devour you can only be stopped by your refusal to acquiesce, by you taking a stand.”
    “But they’re bigger than me. What was I supposed to do?”
    “Come have a seat here. I’ll give you a few ideas in the form of a story. Because when I was your age, something similar happened to me. Only I handled it a bit differently.”

Chapter Two

Francis Ackerman Jr was eleven years old when his father moved them to some no-name town in Pennsylvania where Ackerman first experienced the act of trick-or-treating. Typically, Ackerman's father—who liked to conduct all sorts of strange and sadistic experiments on his son—kept the boy locked away from prying eyes. And the young Ackerman had learned from past experience that trying to seek help from anyone would only result in more pain and death—the pain for him and the death for whoever he tried to enlist to his cause. The reason for his father allowing him to go trick-or-treating on this night was not due to an affinity toward nurturing his son's childhood, but instead, Ackerman Jr was on a mission. He had been told to go out that night and befriend another child trick-or-treating alone and then bring them back home with him.
    Ackerman couldn't say for sure what his father had planned for this unsuspecting child, but he could think of several possibilities. None of them good.
    And so young Ackerman, dressed in a hooded sweatshirt and a hockey mask—that his father had told him related to a popular horror film—had set out onto the streets of a no-name rural Pennsylvania town. Unlike all the other boys and girls marching up and down the streets, mostly in groups or with their parents, Ackerman wasn't out panhandling for candy, and he had other reasons beyond his father's nefarious mission as well. Young Ackerman had recently stolen a five-dollar bill from his father's nightstand, and on this night, he wanted nothing more in the world than to have a warm meal.
    His father often kept him in solitary confinement, either locked in a concrete cell or a small dog cage in a moldering basement somewhere beyond the eyes of civilized society. It all depended on where they were living at the time, and they moved around a lot, but the circumstances were usually the same: isolation and neglect most of the time, and then when his father did show up, it was to inflict some sort of mental or physical torment upon the boy. The diet given to him during these times of isolation often consisted of cold lunchmeat or hot dogs. Once, Ackerman's father had thrown a pack of ten Oscar Mayer hot dogs into his cage and said that he would be gone for a week and to make the pack last. Ackerman had spent the majority of that first day considering how to ration out ten hot dogs over seven days.
    When his father wasn’t inflicting pain, he was teaching the boy, imbuing his son with the skills Ackerman was told he would need to fulfill his destiny as the perfect killing machine.
    Now, with a small glimpse at freedom, young Ackerman had decided to seize the day and had taken his pilfered five-dollar bill to a local burger joint where he had ordered a double cheeseburger and fries.
    The food was glorious. Anything warm seemed like a delicacy to him.
    He had found a secluded park bench on which to enjoy and savor his conquest. He was just finishing up the last of the fries when he saw four older boys on bikes heading his way. Based on relative size, he guessed that they were all thirteen or fourteen, which meant that they had a couple of inches and several pounds on him. There were also four of them. He knew that these boys were not out trick-or-treating but had nefarious intentions by the way they were dressed. In much the same manner as him, they wore jeans and sweatshirts with either painted faces or simple masks, enough to give the suggestion that they were out trick-or-treating like other kids, but they had no costumes to encumber them from the mischief they were here to inflict on this All Hallows’ Eve.
    A part of young Ackerman hoped that these boys would ride on past him, that they would sense on a primal level that the boy sitting alone in a poorly lit park was clearly not someone with whom to be trifled. But another part of him hoped they would challenge him, because something that his father hadn't needed to instill was Ackerman’s hatred of the normal children, the kids who had everything that he would never experience, who took all of the gifts they were given and all of the blessings that had been bestowed upon them for granted. He'd often wished that he could swap places with one of them, that he could be normal too. But when his hope faded, when he had been through too much and hurt too many others under the instruction of his father to ever be considered normal again, young Ackerman's envy of his peers had grown into a malignant tumor of hate. He hated these boys, who were probably out soaping windows and smashing pumpkins. He hated them because they had freedoms that he would never experience, and they had no clue as to what their lives could really be like. When he had been around boys his own age in the past, he had suffered through them whining about chores or their parents’ rules, but he had never heard one of them describe a parent probing him with a scalpel just to hear him scream.
    When he saw the four boys come to a halt at the edge of the park and drop the kickstands of their bikes, Ackerman couldn't help but smile. This was proving to be a wonderful Halloween night. Not only had he stolen a hot meal, but now he would get to vent some of his long pent-up frustration on some boys who were in obvious need of an attitude adjustment.
    As he stood from the park bench and moved to meet the four older boys, Ackerman slipped the brown, grease-stained sack from the burger joint into the plastic grocery bag he had been carrying as part of his trick-or-treater disguise. But before discarding the sack that had contained his burger and fries, Ackerman retrieved two items that had also accompanied his meal. The first was a packet of salt, and the second was a packet of red ketchup. He palmed the salt packet in his left hand, holding the trick-or-treat bag up with his left pinky. He then hid the ketchup packet within his right hand and slipped the fist into the pocket of his sweatshirt. He moved toward the four incoming aggressors at a good pace. Young Ackerman wasn't at all afraid of the four older boys. In fact, thanks to a surgery his father had conducted on him, he was no longer capable of being afraid. But he was still very capable of rage and enjoyment, and he was going to enjoy venting his rage upon these unsuspecting hooligans.
Chapter Three

    Before leaving the house that night, Ackerman's father had provided him the hockey mask as a costume and informed his son that, if anyone asked, it was representative of Jason Voorhees, the serial murderer featured in the Friday the 13th film franchise. The then-eleven-year-old Ackerman had asked why a killer would need to hide his face, to which his father had explained that the most common reason would be to conceal one's identity, but in the case of Jason Voorhees, it was because the killer’s face was horribly disfigured.
    Ackerman had remembered feeling lucky in that moment that there was one aspect of him that was yet uncorrupted. He knew that he had a visually appealing face, and all of the older women to whom his father introduced him would comment on what a handsome man he would be someday. Even his father had told him during punishment that he wouldn't harm the boy's face because someday that face would be one of his greatest assets. Young Ackerman hadn't been sure what that meant at the time, but he was at least gladdened by the idea that he wasn't all bad, that at least some part of him was more than the abomination his father often proclaimed him to be.
    As young Ackerman now approached the four older boys through the park, he removed the hockey mask from atop his head and dropped it into his Halloween bag. Unlike Jason Voorhees, he didn't need to wear a mask.
    The four older boys stopped ten feet in front of him in a straight and imposing line. They stood about three feet apart from one another, completely blocking his path, their postures rigid and displaying a firm confidence in their own superiority.
    One of the two boys in the middle, the tallest of the group and the one who appeared to be their leader, said, “What are you doing out here all alone, kid? Where’re your parents?”
    Ackerman matched gazes with the leader, smiled, and said, “I'm pretty comfortable by myself in the darkness. What about you?”
    The older boy seemed a bit confused by the response, but likely not wanting to let any of his bravado slip in front of his cohorts, he said, “I'm the one asking the questions here, squirt. So here's another good one for you: have you ever been robbed before?”
    Young Ackerman laughed. “I was robbed of my innocence a long time ago, if that counts.”
    The older boy, more confused than ever, said, “No, that don't count.” Then he pulled a switchblade knife from the pocket of his sweatshirt and flipped open the blade, adding, “Empty out all your pockets and hand over whatever’s in the bag. You got any money on you, kid? I know your mommy or daddy didn't send you out here trick-or-treating without at least some cash, just in case.”
    Young Ackerman kept his smile wide and inappropriate as he looked at the faces of each boy one by one and then said, “Who said that I'm out trick-or-treating? For all you know, I'm a demon from the deepest recesses of hell, and I've climbed up from the pit on my one night every year when I can roam the Earth and devour the souls of young morons like yourselves.”
    The older boys chuckled, and their leader said, “You’re one weird kid, I’ll give you that, but being messed up in the head doesn't give you a pass on paying the toll for going through our park, jerkwad. So, we’ll be taking your bag of candy and whatever you got in your pockets. And if you don't have anything good for me, then we’re gonna take your shoes.”
    Cocking his head to the side like a curious puppy, Ackerman said, “They wouldn't fit you. Your feet are bigger than mine.”
    “I’m not gonna wear them, kid. I’m gonna sell ‘em.”
    Ackerman said, “My father would be very disappointed if I allowed anyone to take anything from me.”
    The older boy shrugged. “Then I guess you’re gonna let Daddy down tonight.”
    Ackerman sighed and responded, “Okay, guys, I think we've gotten off on the wrong foot here. You seem like perfectly reasonable people, and so I tell you what, I've got twenty bucks in my pocket. I'll give it to you if you let me tell you a little story.”
    “I'm not playing games with you, kid. Just hand it over.”
    “Please humor me for a few seconds. It’s a quick story. Have any of you ever heard the Legend of Stingy Jack?”
Chapter Four

    Young Ackerman placed his trick-or-treat bag on grass of the dimly lit park and stepped toward the group of older boys, closing the distance between himself and the leader to only five feet. To his credit, the older boy didn’t step back in surprise but held the switchblade out like a talisman warding off an evil spirit.
    Ackerman smiled. He had his enemies exactly where he wanted them. The group’s leader had asked an apt question earlier. Have you ever been robbed before? There was a certain implication that the older boy had himself previously robbed and intended to perpetrate the same act upon the person to whom he was asking the question. This group obviously had done this sort of thing before and were confident in their abilities to do it again, and to get away with it.
    But now, he had thrown them into confusion. He had placed them into a situation in which they had never been, where a smaller and seemingly weaker opponent seemed completely unafraid of their advances. Their confidence had now been replaced by confusion, which was exactly where he wanted them. Confusion and fear were intimate bedfellows, as his father always stressed to him during their lessons.
    As he had placed down the trick-or-treat bag, Ackerman had also torn the top from the condiment packet of salt. He had then palmed the ketchup packet in his right hand and the salt in his left, being careful not to dump the salt or reveal the larger ketchup packet. He kept his hands loose at his sides, not straight out but also not balled into fists in a threatening manner. He maintained his staring contest with the leader and, with a smile, said, “You’ll like this story. The Legend of Stingy Jack is actually the reason we now carve jack-o-lanterns at Halloween. Because Stingy Jack was also known as Jack o’ the Lantern, or shortened into Jack O’ Lantern. The stingy part is actually the beginning of his story and the lantern part is the end.”
    The older boys all stared at him in confusion, but also with rapt attention, and none of them made any move to stop him from speaking.
    He continued, “Stingy Jack, as we find him at the beginning of our story, was an Irishman many centuries ago, and he became renowned throughout the land as an infamous deceiver and manipulator. In fact, he became so famous that the Devil himself decided that he wanted to come up and meet Stingy Jack and collect his soul. 
    The story goes that Jack was drunk and stumbling down a cobblestone street when he met another man who was actually the Prince of Darkness. When Jack realized that his time had come, rather than pleading for his life, he made a simple request of Hell’s ruler. He asked the Devil if he could have one last drink of ale. Seeing no reason not to allow his quarry to tack on one last sin, the Devil acquiesced. But when time came to pay for the drink, Jack demonstrated the talent for manipulation by which he was so renowned. 
    He tricked the Devil into paying for the drink by transforming himself into a silver coin. But once the Devil transformed, Jack merely stuck the transmogrified Satan into his pocket beside a silver cross, which kept Big Red from changing back. Jack then made a deal with the Devil to give him ten more years of life if Jack released him. The Devil agreed and Jack lived for another ten years.”
    He heard one of the older boys on the periphery whisper to another, “Dude, let’s just get out of here. This kid is crazy.”
    But Ackerman knew that he had the complete focus of the group’s leader. He knew this because throughout the story, he never deviated eye contact with the older boy. He looked so deeply into the other’s eyes as he spoke, that he felt he could almost see the gears of his mind turning behind the blackness of his pupils.
    He continued, “So, ten years later, the Devil comes back to collect and Jack, the deceiver that he was, tricks the Devil again. This time he tricks him into one last piece of fruit to fill his stomach before they cross over to the other side. The Devil climbs an apple tree to collect the fruit, and Jack carves a crucifix into the base of the tree, trapping Satan again. This time, he demands that Big Red leave his soul alone forever and never reap him and throw him into the fire as he would other miscreants like himself. This was all well and good until it came time for Jack to die. They wouldn’t allow his soul into Heaven, and the Devil had made a deal with him. And so, refused entry into either plane of the afterlife, the Devil sent Jack off all alone into the dark night. But before he did, perhaps taking pity on or perhaps showing a bit of respect for how manipulative Jack proved that a human could be, the Devil gave Jack a burning coal, which he placed inside a hollowed-out turnip. 
    Jack used this to light his way, and at the end of the story, cursed to wander the night forever, Jack has now earned his most famous name: Jack of the Lantern or simply Jack O’ Lantern. The Irish used to adorn their windows and doorways with hollowed-out turnips and potatoes with a candle inside carved with scary faces in order to frighten off Stingy Jack and other poor wandering spirits who may want to do them harm. Fast-forward to today, and Halloween in the New World has adopted the pumpkin to be carved for similar purposes.”
    Ackerman let a few seconds of silence pass, and the leader spoke in a slightly shaky voice, “Okay, kid, you told your story. Now hand over the cash.”
    “I’m afraid I can’t do that. You see, I’m a bit like Stingy Jack myself. I’ve been taught since birth to be a deceiver and a manipulator, a wolf among the sheep. I don’t have any money. But if I did, I wouldn’t give it to you. In fact, all of you are going to empty your pockets and give me your cash.”
    The leader laughed and tried to remain confident as the alpha of the group, but Ackerman could see that the others were clearly shaken by this strange turn of events. The leader said, “You are wicked looney tunes, kid. I like it, but we’re still gonna take your shoes.”
    “You're not going to take anything from me. In fact, I'm going to count to three, and when I finish counting, your three friends are going to empty their pockets and give me whatever's inside.”
    The leader held out the switchblade as if he had forgotten it was there and said, “Don't make me hurt you, kid. I don’t want to, but I will.”
    “One… Two.”
    But as soon as Ackerman spoke the word “two,” he tossed the contents of the salt packet into the eyes of the leader. The older boy’s hands immediately shot to his face as the salt burned deep into the viscus fluid surrounding his eyes. As he did so, he dropped the switchblade to the ground.
    Taking up a wide stance, Ackerman pulled back his right foot and drove it up into the leader’s crotch. This doubled the older boy over as he bent down and made a retching sound.
    Ackerman swung his elbow aimed directly at the older boy’s temple.
    His father had taught him that it was always best to strike with the elbow. The hand contained many small bones that could be easily broken, but the elbow and the knee were the strongest striking surfaces that humans possessed.
    The blow connected, and the leader went down to the grass like God himself had used a giant flyswatter to crush him to the dirt, but Ackerman wasn’t done yet. He still had the ketchup packet palmed in his right fist. He began striking the other boy and squeezing the ketchup packet until it burst and red goo began to fly everywhere as he drove his fist up and down against the other boy’s face.
    Although, being careful of the tiny bones in his hand, he was actually pulling his punches, and the display was all for show.
    The older boy was basically unconscious from the elbow strike, but this act wasn’t for the benefit of the boy on the ground. Instead, it was all part of the performance for the other three members of the group. After a few punches to get the ketchup flowing, young Ackerman pulled himself away from the older boy and stood to full height.
    As he stepped toward the others, who had now joined into a tight group instead of an imposing line, he shook the ketchup from his fist and said, “Three. It’s time for all of you to hand over your cash, or you get what he got.”
    Ackerman punctuated the statement by picking up the switchblade knife and adding, “Or worse. Because I actually know how to use one of these. And to be honest, I quite enjoy playing with knives.”
    He twisted the blade to catch a bit of the moonlight across its surface. He always liked the way that the reflections on metal made knives seem like magical gateways into another world.
    Ackerman was not surprised at all when the three remaining boys compiled their money and handed it over without complaint. After retrieving his trick-or-treat bag, Ackerman kept the knife as he walked toward the edge of the park. He saw where the boys had left their bicycles. He looked back at them and called, “Happy Halloween!”, before slashing all four sets of tires.

Chapter Five

    As Special Agent Nadia Shirazi descended the stairs of her townhouse, coming down from her bedroom on the second floor, she knew that Ackerman would be waiting on the stoop as he always was. He never knocked, and he refused to let himself in. Sometimes, she thought that life and fate had made him an outsider, and sometimes she thought that he just liked it that way. Nadia was surprised, however, to hear Ackerman's voice on the other side of the door along with the voice of a small boy. She quickly slipped on her shoes and opened the door as the boy in the jack-o-lantern costume was saying, “…so as soon as I say two, then I throw the salt in his eyes, kick him in the nuts, and when he doubles over, I drive my elbow into the side of his head.”
    Ackerman was nodding with the pride of a teacher presiding over an apt pupil. “That's right and remember to turn your hips like I showed you.”
    The boy asked, “What about the ketchup packet though?”
    Ackerman shook his head. “That worked for me because I didn't care about seeing those kids again. With you, you don't want any of the kids to realize that you smeared ketchup on them as a trick. I think in your case, a takedown with the elbow would be more than sufficient.”
    Nadia was dumbfounded by what she was hearing. She looked to the boy and said, “Hi, Josh.” Then, to Ackerman, she said, “Hi, Frank. Um, can you guys fill me in on what exactly is going on and what you're talking about?”
    Ackerman said, “The child here was having a problem with some bullies who stole his candy and shoved him into the mud. I was relaying an experience from my own life, which seemed to relate to his current predicament, and then showing him how he can learn from that experience and apply those techniques to his own journey.” Ackerman punctuated the sentence with a smile. The boy, Josh from next door, looked up at Nadia and matched Ackerman's goofy grin.
    Nadia blinked several times as she tried to process what she had heard as she had come out the door, and what the two people on her doorstep—one her partner and one a neighbor kid—had just told her. She gave Ackerman a look that tried to convey how shocked and appalled she was and then simply said, “You stay put. Josh, you and I are going to go next door and talk to your mom about all this, and please disregard any advice that this man has given you.”
    Both Ackerman and Josh started to say “But—” at the same time.
    She cut them off, saying, “No. Absolutely not. Josh, move. Frank, stay.”
    Within five minutes, Nadia had taken Josh to his house and talked over the situation with him and his mom. Apparently, it was the Holloway kid from up the street who committed the acts of bullying and stole Josh's candy. A quick call to the Holloway parents had resulted in the Holloway boy being sent down with the bag of candy in tow and offering his apologies.
    As Nadia walked back to the stoop of her townhouse, she seethed with anger at Ackerman. He had basically told one kid how to beat the crap out of another kid, and not just any kid, but the child of her next-door neighbor. People had been sued and lost everything over less. But then she reminded herself that Frank was far from a normal person. He didn't have a normal person's brain, and she couldn't expect him to think and act like someone who did.
    When she approached him on the stoop, she held out her arms and asked, “Seriously?”
    Standing, Ackerman shrugged and said, “It seemed like good advice at the time, and it certainly worked in my experience.”
    She shook her head and squeezed the bridge of her nose. “Well, that kid is not you, Frank. He's just a normal, average, every day, ordinary kid. He needs to learn to talk through his problems, to go get help from a teacher or parent or police officer if something happens to him.”
    Ackerman said, “It's a big, dark world out there filled with the terrors of madness-inducing depravity. If we don't teach our young to stand, then when tribulation comes, they will surely fall. People today are like jack-o-lanterns. They're all smiles and no guts. Which makes it very easy for the ghouls and goblins to creep out of the darkness and into their bright, shiny lives and take whatever they want.”
    Nadia shook her head. “Well, someday, if you have your own kids, then you can raise them to stand against the darkness. In the meantime, why don’t you and I go do our jobs and help to make that big, scary night a little bit safer for everybody. This is where I live, and from now on when you come into my neighborhood, I’d like it if you didn’t behave like a jack-o-lantern.”
    Ackerman cocked an eyebrow and said, “Guts is certainly not an aspect of personality that I lack, my dear.”
    With a small smile creeping across her face, Nadia replied, “I was thinking more that you behave with all head and no brains.”

The End

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Donovan Creed Two Up 5-6
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Gallows Hill
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White Ninja
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Company Man
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Still Life With Crows
The Ice Limit
Mount Dragon
The Drowned: A Short Story