As your daughter walks barefoot across the lawn toward the hanging piñata, her bright red toenails padding through the well-kept grass, there is no reason to feel trepidation. These backyard parties are a Halloween tradition, Callie and her friends decked out in their costumes stuffing themselves with candy, the neighborhood parents loitering on the deck with their smart phones and red plastic cups of cheap white wine.
The piñata, a Halloween mainstay since Callie turned three; perhaps the tradition ends with this final smash. She’s fifteen now, accent on teen, too old to be excited by an orange jack-o-lantern packed with candy and hanging from a tree. Other things excite her now; ten minutes earlier you found her spooning cake to the seventeen-year-old football player next door, his long tongue licking the white frosting from your daughter’s delicate fingers. Like always, she wears her princess costume, but this year’s outfit offers a different view. The pink satin pants hug her newly rounded hips, the frilly blouse tied above her midriff revealing cream-white skin, her bra straps visible through the sheer fabric. Your daughter is changing, but the piñata still hangs from the tree, waiting; a ritual you refuse to let go.
The other kids gather near the tree as your beloved Callie picks up the bat and steps up to the piñata, making a show of it with her shimmying hips, the seductress approaching the golden calf, shaking her butt to the hoots and cheers of the hormone-charged boys. You hate it, but your daughter will soon be a woman; you see how the other boys look at her, a duplicate of your own former teenage gaze. Callie raises the bat and aims for the piñata, the grinning pumpkin face stuffed with Starburst and Skittles and rolled up dollar bills placed among the treats. As she swings, you imprint the moment in your brain: her last backyard Halloween party, the last time your daughter will still be girl enough to dive into the grass hunting for candy. Next Halloween your only role will be the chauffeur, driving her to the mall and handing over the cash, banished while she flirts with boys and laughs with her friends. You sense it all changing, but you have no idea how muchuntil Callie drives the plastic yellow bat straight into the piñata—SMASH—and the ground suddenly begins to shake.
The piñata explodes into a spray of candy, kids diving and scrambling with grabby hands, the neighborhood parents snapping photos, but the ground won’t stop rumbling—and then someone starts screaming because …how is it possible? The piñata has started bleeding.
Callie looks up, and for a moment, she is happy. Remember that moment: the innocent smile on your daughter’s face, a face suddenly streaked filthy with blood. You struggle to reach her but the ground has shifted into a thick, viscous mud, and all the girls are screaming now as a brick-sized mass of pink flesh, sticky with blood and brown-green mucous, drops placenta-like from the stem of the piñata. From that pulsing mound It begins to grow, an amorphous tumor throbbing and beating, swarming with flies, its center a slashed orifice as the shape, the thing, whatever it is, expands and starts moving, slithering its way toward your daughter as a noxious fog descends upon the yard.
Something has come unleashed, growing ever larger as other shapes spew from the piñata and begin to attack, hungry pink tumors latching onto flesh, biting, tearing, ripping the skin from all those young bones. Callie crawls across the grass, her friends scattering, screaming. The football player collapses to the ground, a round pulsing tumor attached to his chest, a tentacle snaking out of its orifice and wrapping around his neck, the boy’s face a ghastly blue as the tentacle begins squeezing.
Your legs sink deeper into a mud bog, the fog skewing your vision as the shape mounts your daughter’s leg and crawls up her thigh, the orifice oozing spores, the spores multiplying, spreading across the lawn. “Daddy! Help!” your daughter cries, and you grab Callie’s hand and feel her fingers against your palm. Remember how tiny they were the first time you held her in the hospital? But your grip fails as she is torn away from you, the tumor, the throbbing mass crawling over her stomach, sucking her into its orifice. You still hear Callie screaming as another tumor drops from the piñata, and another, and another…and all you can think is Abholos, eater of worlds.
D.C. Marcus grew up in New Jersey reading Twilight Zone Magazine and the classic Shadows anthologies edited by Charles L. Grant.