By Andrew R. Mitchell
The three of us—me and Cassie and our ten-year-old daughter, Luanne—were carving pumpkins at the kitchen table when Lu announced that her favorite movie of all time was The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
“I want to be Leatherface for Halloween,” she said.
“Leatherface?” Cassie said.
“He makes masks,” Lu said, “from the flesh of the dead.”
“The ingenuity!” Cassie said. “The resourcefulness!”
I said, “How’d you watch a movie like that?"
“I can’t tell you,” Lu said. “Otherwise, I’d have to eat you.”
“It’s beautiful,” Lu said, to which Cassie said, “It certainly sounds beautiful."
“There’s this whole big world outside,” Lu went on, as if this answered something important, and she plunged her hand into her pumpkin and ripped out a long seed-studded tentacle of goop.
She was persistent about the costume, and in the end we relented: Leatherface Lu it would be, to hell with what the other parents thought.
This was right around the time Cassie and I discovered we no longer really loved each other—something we hadn’t articulated out loud, not yet, though the reality was there in the house with us, like some blooming black mold—and fussing over a Halloween costume didn’t seem worthwhile. I hadn’t seen The Texas Chain Saw Massacre since college, Cassie never at all, and so Lu printed a picture of Leatherface and clipped it to the refrigerator and said, “I want to look exactly like this.” I purchased a toy chainsaw off Amazon, a remarkably authentic-looking chainsaw, complete with a rotating plastic chain and a speaker embedded in the handle that snarled and roared when you pulled the trigger. From Goodwill, we bought most of Leatherface’s garb, save for the butcher’s apron, which Cassie fashioned out of an old bed sheet, and which Lu spattered with a ridiculous amount of blood. The mask—the pièce de résistance—Cassie made out of papier-mâché layered over a halved milk gallon and then painted with acrylics.
“How do I look?” Lu asked when she donned the full costume for the first time.
“I wouldn’t mess with you,” I said.
Laughing through her mask, Lu revved her chainsaw and brought it to my knees. I toppled to the floor and pounded my fists and pleaded for mercy. Lu stepped over me and ran the vibrating blade up and down my spine.
Trick-or-treating fell on the Thursday before Halloween. It was cold, drizzly. For weeks, Lu had been evasive when I asked her whom she planned to trick-or-treat with, but when I asked again tonight she said, “I’m going alone.”
But what about Liza and Murph and Bianca, I wanted to know?
Lu gunned the chainsaw.
The best course of action, Cassie and I agreed, would be to chauffer Lu around in the van.
“Leatherface would never ride in a van,” Lu said. “He kills people who ride in vans.”
“This isn’t up for debate,” I said, and cringed: it was a line some hokey sitcom dad might use.
“Here’s an idea,” Cassie said, and offered a compromise: Lu could walk on her own, fine, but we would follow her in the van.
“Yuck,” Lu said.
“It’s the best offer you’re going to get,” I said.
“She’s trying to get a rise out of us,” I said as I turned onto Emerson Street. “I mean, it’s not—none of this is real.”
“Do you think I’m worried about our daughter becoming some real-life monster?” Cassie asked.
“Ed Gein was someone’s son,” I said.
“Is he the singer?”
“He was the inspiration for Leatherface,” I said.
“God, it must be nice to be an inspiration,” Cassie said.
Fifteen minutes into trick-or-treating, the rain turned to snow, fast little flakes spinning through the air like minced crystal. Lu lurched along the wet streets, her pillowcase of candy swinging in one hand, her chainsaw in the other.
“Look,” Cassie said, and she put her hand on my knee. “A drunk cow.”
She was right: standing on the side of the road was a college-age kid in baggy, black-and-white bovine regalia. Beside him stood a farmer holding a wilted cardboard sign that read, HONK FOR TEQUILA! I honked. The cow pumped his hoof in the air. The farmer dropped to his knees and suckled one of the cow’s bright pink teats. Lu crept up behind them and gunned her chainsaw. The farmer spit out his mouthful of udder-tequila in a sparkling plume.
“That’s our girl,” I said, because it suddenly seemed astonishing to me.
Cassie rolled down the window. “Leave them alone, Lu,” she called out.
“I’m going to make a lamp out of their skeletons,” Lu said.
“Jesus,” I said.
“Moooooo!” the cow bellowed.
Back at our house, Lu dumped her candy onto the living room floor and divvied it up into piles ranging from favorite to least favorite, pausing now and then to glance at the TV, which was playing Halloweentown. She refused to change out of her costume. I ordered a couple pizzas from Pizza Piazza.
“Merry Christmas!” the delivery boy said at the door, his Red Sox hat fuzzy with snow. I added a ten dollar tip on the credit card receipt and said, “Ho, ho, ho.” Lu handed him a Ziploc bag of Almond Joys.
“The devil made those,” she said.
I couldn’t sleep, so around midnight I walked around the front yard, my bare feet punching holes in the brittle crust of snow. Lu had forgotten to blow out the candles in our jack-o-lanterns—her responsibility. Light flickered behind their crude faces like some kind of silent laughter. I extinguished the candles, then stared at the house and imagined I could turn on the lights using the power of my mind. The kitchen light blinked on. Inside, I found Cassie leaning against the refrigerator, flossing.
“Look at us,” she said, smiling. She opened the trashcan with her knee and shed the floss from her fingers. “I want to show you something,” she said, and something hitched in my chest.
“What is it?” I asked.
She led me to Lu’s room and eased open the door. Lu was sleeping on top of her blankets. Her bloody apron was scrunched up around her belly. The mask hung from the bedpost. Cassie reached underneath one of the pillows and pulled out a small, thin box, handing it to me: a DVD of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I brought it into the hall. Cassie closed the door.
I said, “She sleeps with it?”
“I’m tired,” Cassie said.
“Where do you think she got it?” I said.
“But I’m also wide awake,” Cassie said.
“I remember bits and pieces,” I said. “I remember a dead armadillo.”
“I don’t know what we’re talking about,” she said.
“This movie,” I said. “There’s a dead armadillo in the road. Upside-down.”
“I’m going to bed,” Cassie said.
“Wait,” I said.
To my surprise, she agreed to stay up and watch it with me, though we both had work in the morning. She even made popcorn, and I pilfered some of Lu’s candy and mixed it into the bowl, Milk Duds and Swedish Fish and Junior Mints and Sugar Babies. We laid together on the couch, something we hadn’t done in years, something I knew we probably wouldn’t do again. I kept the TV volume down low.
“It’s snowing again,” I said.
“There’s your armadillo,” Cassie said when the scene arrived.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” I said, and she laughed.
But almost immediately she fell asleep. She missed all the best parts: the sliding metal door leading down into the basement slaughterhouse; Leatherface’s chase through the strange tangle of bluish woods; the dinner with the clan of cannibals under the muted glow of a skin-shaded bulb; and, at the end, Leatherface’s crazed dance against a fiery Texas sky, while the sole survivor escapes in the back of a pickup truck.
The credits rolled. The screen went black. In the other room, Lu rolled over in bed. I shook Cassie awake.
“The screaming was so loud,” she said. She did not open her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
She went into the bathroom to brush her teeth, and I went outside and sat on the steps among the trio of jack-o-lanterns, their fat bald heads wigged with snow. I hurled my pumpkin into the air. It crumpled against the lawn with a dull thump. I tossed Cassie’s pumpkin, then Lu’s. The front door opened, and Cassie stepped out onto the little porch, hugging herself against the cold, her toothbrush cocked out of the side of her mouth like some cartoon pipe.
“God, what happened?” she asked through a mouthful of foam, and I said, “I wish I knew.”
Andrew R. Mitchell's fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, Gulf Coast,The Saturday Evening Post, and elsewhere, and he was the recipient of the 2016 Barthelme Prize for Short Prose. He's the editor-in-chief of Outlook Springs, and he lives in New Hampshire.