Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fear and Loathing on Halloween: A Kiki Lowenstein Short-Short-Short Story

By: Kiki Lowenstein, "star" of Joanna Campbell Slan's Kiki Lowenstein Mysteries
Pub. Date: Make, Take, Murder - Midnight Ink - May 2011

"Gross! Eyeballs!" squealed a pint-sized version of Sarah Palin.

"Brains! I stuck my hand in someone's brains!" laughed a pint-sized Ironman.

I giggled, too. We were hosting fourth graders from a local public school.

The crayon yellow school bus had pulled into our parking lot ten minutes ago. The pneumatic doors had opened with a prolonged hiss and out had spilled all manner of creatures, cops, characters and spooks.

My boss, Dodie Goldfader, and I welcomed the children and their teacher Mrs. Engle to Time in a Bottle, our scrapbook store. The group was clearly enjoying their tour of our Table of Horrors. Next they would eat Jack-O-Lantern Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and collect treats from various display stations around the shop. Our field trip session would conclude with story-time and a quick project, how to make Boo-tiful Bats from paper plates.

The Table of Horrors proved a real hit. Grapes served as Plucked Eyeballs. Latex gloves filled with chilled water doubled as Severed Hands. Sausage links played the part of Gooey Guts. Cold spaghetti had been labeled Boiled Brains.

"Food is served," said Clancy Whitehead, one of my best buds. For the Jack-O-Lantern Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, she used a cookie cutter to carve out the scary face in the top slice of white bread, added a piece of bright orange American cheese to the middle, and slapped a second complete piece of bread on bottom before lightly "frying" the sandwich in a skillet. The kids gobbled down their sandwiches and drank Purple Passion Juice, a mix of grape and apple juice. Ant Logs made of sticks of celery covered with cream cheese and raisins (ants) proved very popular as a snack.

After a quick clean up, kids went "trick or treating" by walking from one display to another where Dodie, Clancy, Dodie's daughter Rebekkah, my mother-in-law Sheila, our friend Laurel and I doled out candy.

While I set up the craft session, Rebekkah urged the kids to sit in a quiet circle around her so she could read a spooky story. They munched happily on their treats, except when one or two of them needed to use the restroom in the back.

After Rebekkah crowed, "The end!" I started the kids painting their white paper plates in shades of black and purple. I was ready to show them the simple pattern for cutting out their bats when I spilled a blob of purple poster paint on my pants. Letting Laurel take over, I trotted off to the bathroom. As I dabbed at the ugly purple splotch, I noticed something colorfully amiss in Danforth the Turtle's dish.

I need to explain about Danforth. This last summer Rebekkah and a bunch of her college age friends visited the Missouri State Fair. One of the girls won a tossing game. The prize? A small green turtle. Yep. I know. I thought they'd banned sales of the tiny reptiles years ago, but somehow this little critter slipped through the cracks. The winner promptly decided she wanted no part of the red-eyed "monster."

"I couldn't just dump him. I mean, he's a water turtle. How far would he have had to travel to the nearest pond? He'd probably get run over by a car," said Rebekkah as she handed the plastic bag with the tiny green swimmer in it to me. "Kiki, could you find a home for him?"

Taking him to my house was out of the question. I have two cats, and both of them might enjoy gnawing on a terapin shell. Instead, I set up a shallow bowl for Danforth in our restroom. We all took turns feeding and cleaning Danforth's tiny "pond." In exchange for this light housekeeping duty, the small creature amused us. There was something adorable about his slow blinks, the eager way he chomped on lettuce, and his quiet demeanor.

Now I stared into his "pond," and discovered poor Danforth was barely visible as he struggled through a murky goop of orange and yellow and brown and green liquid. I plucked him out, rinsed him off, set him in the sink and took his bowl outside to dump. After the liquid drained off, out from the bottom rolled a handful of peanuts. Aha! Those fanciful colors had come from dissolving peanut M and Ms. Someone had dumped his or her treats into Danforth's bowl.

But why?

I returned to the craft table feeling sad and puzzled. Why would anyone want to hurt poor Danforth? How could I discover whodunit? Animal cruelty is not acceptable

"Kids, we're going to play a game. But to play you have to use your M and Ms. Here's a bowl for each of you. Please dump all your M and Ms in the bowl and then we'll get started." Okay, I sounded like I knew what I was doing, but heavens above! What if all the kids had plenty of the sweet treats? What would I do then?

Fortunately, a small version of Neytiri, the heroine from the movie Avatar, turned her baggy upside down and produced only one lonely red peanut M and M candy.

"Sweetie, may I talk to you?" I asked. Mrs. Engle, the teacher gave me a curious look so I gestured that she should join us in the backroom. "Your name is Samantha, right? Samantha, you don't have many candies left. I think I know why. Someone put a lot of candies in the water with our turtle. Was it you?"

A big tear slid from her right eye and down her cheek. "Yeth," she lisped.


"He scared me." Only it sounded like "he th-cared me."

"Let me introduce you properly to Danforth. He's not really very scary at all." I took her by the hand to the bathroom where Danforth was now happily swimming in clean water. I picked him up and let her observe that he has no teeth. I talked about how he came to live with us. In a few minutes time, Samantha was noticeably more calm.

"I won't ask you to touch him, but would you like me to take a photo of him for you? I think he'd like a new friend. Here's a bit of lettuce you can feed him." With that, I won Samantha over.

As we watched the little Avatar skip back to the crafts table, Mrs. Engle thanked me. "You didn't make her feel worse. You turned the situation around, Kiki. Nice job. I apologize for the mess."

"I've cleaned up worse," I admitted with a laugh. "It's weird what fear can do, isn't it? She was irrationally afraid of poor Danforth."

"Not fear," said Mrs. Engle. "Ignorance. Samantha had never encountered a turtle before. We all fear that which is foreign to us. And we let our imaginations run wild. Maybe that's why we have so much fun with Halloween."

"Maybe. But for me, it's all about the candy!"


  1. Ah, fear of the unknown. A universal theme!

  2. Nice. (But you're right; candy is good.) :>)

  3. A wise parable, and true... fear is born of lack of knowledge!

  4. Lovely story.

    MJ (who is also often all about the candy)

  5. MJ, I lust after the candy. Sigh. So does Kiki.
    Sonia and Victoria, we are often afraid of that which is foreign to us, right? And Liz...candy is dandy!

  6. Love the story. Halloween was always about the candy.

  7. Enjoyed reading. Candy is always a Halloween staple. Yum.