hated masks. When Susan invited her to the Halloween party,
she'd promised there would be no masks. "It's a college,
after all," Susan had said. "Not a kindergarten."
Then Lilly got there and everyone was wear-ing costumes.
"It was just a last minute thing," Susan said,
smoothing the shoulders of her Cat Woman costume. Her
lover Marty was dressed up as the devil, red cape, pointed
tail and all. His younger brother Edsel, whom Lilly guessed
was her unspoken date, had come as God. He wore a white
sheet and a cottonball beard, and for some reason he had
pinned the Ten Commandments to his chest. As a group the
students seemed harmless, like children at a birthday
party, but individually they made Lilly think of giggling
Minutes after they arrived, Susan and
her lover disappeared in the kitchen. Lilly could see
the devil's tail stuck in the closed pantry door. Saying
he would bring her back a beer, Edsel had followed them.
Lilly watched him thread his way through a group of witches
and cheerleaders, and then he too disappeared. She stood
alone near the kitchen door and watched a group of frat
boys press coins against their foreheads. The first one
to lose his coin drank a quart of beer. They pressed more
coins against their foreheads. The same boy lost again.
Across the room, Lilly noticed a girl was staring at her
from behind a bird mask. Lilly turned her back to the
girl. The stereo speakers set on either side of the kitchen
door were so loud she could feel the floor trembling.
Someone touched Lilly's elbow. She turned
around. Edsel was holding a Budweiser out for her.
"I'm studying to be a social worker,"
he yelled over the music. "Almost finished my coursework."
The song ended, and Edsel lowered his voice. "Susan
may have mentioned I'm working at the Econolodge up on
29. Covers the bills and all. If you ever need a room
cheap, let me know."
Lilly nodded her head and looked around
for Susan. She was still nowhere in sight. The tail had
disappeared from the pantry doorway.
"I didn't realize it was a costume
party," she said. "I feel out of place."
"You look fine," Edsel told
her. "Really. Think how I feel in this thing."
He lifted the beard with his free hand and let it drift
back against his chest. "But with Marty being the
devil and all, it just seemed appro-priate." A new
song started. "Where is Marty, anyway?"
Lilly pointed into the kitchen.
made Lilly search the kitchen with him, and when they
didn't find Susan or Marty, they went out onto the balcony
and looked across the campus. There were crowds moving
from one frat house party to the next. Their cigarettes
glowed like fireflies under the trees.
"Marty's just up here for the weekend,
you know," Edsel said. "We don't get along,
and this is sort of a reconciliation, I guess."
Lilly nodded her head. Two frat boys
had emerged from the door beneath them, with a girl draped
face-up over their shoulders. They were walking in a column,
and the front boy had her feet. Lilly watched the girl's
face as she was carried into the shadows of the trees.
Just before she disappeared, she waved at Lilly. Lilly
raised her beer and nodded her head.
"A little too wild for me,"
Edsel said, staring into the woods after the girl. "Even
when I was an undergraduate I never went in for these
"What are you doing here?"
Edsel shrugged. "Marty wanted to
know what college is like. What was I supposed to do?
Take him to the library and make him watch me read?"
"Of course not," Lilly said.
"He's a construction worker,"
Edsel said. "He lays down the cement culverts that
run under highways. I don't know where your friend met
him. Must have been slumming, I guess."
He lifted his beer bottle, and without
thinking Lilly glanced at his hands. They were soft and
white, as if he kept them protected in a special pocket
in his costume.
Marty yelled to Edsel, running from the living room to
the balcony with the devil's trident held before him like
a sword. "Yaaarrr."
Edsel chuckled uncomfortably. Lilly
had just set her beer down on the balcony railing, but
instinctively she picked it up again. For a second, she
thought Marty was going to tackle Edsel. Instead, he merely
prodded at the ten commandments pinned to Edsel's chest.
After a moment, Edsel pushed the trident away. Lilly could
see Susan wading through the crowd in the living room,
carrying two bottles of beer. Marty swayed drunkenly against
Lilly, and then he tried to hoist himself up onto the
balcony railing. His right foot snagged on his devil's
tail, and before he could stabilize himself against Edsel's
shoulder, he pitched over the railing like a featherless
For a moment, Lilly and Edsel stared
at each other. Then they peeped over the railing. Marty
lay at the bottom of the front steps, motionless, his
devil's trident pointing into the woods where the girl
and the two frat boys had disappeared.
"Jesus," she said.
"Where's Marty?" Susan said,
stepping onto the balcony.
"He..." Edsel said, turning
pale under the cotton balls. "He just fell over the
In her haste to look over the railing,
Susan dropped one of the beer bottles. Lilly watched it
bounce off Marty's head and break on the steps beside
called for the ambulance, while Susan and Lilly stood
over Marty to keep the frat boys from trying to make him
sit up. The boy who had lost the coin contests kept pushing
against Lilly and finally succeeded in tugging the devil's
tail out from under Marty and tearing it from the costume.
After swinging it like a watch chain, he draped it in
various postures around Marty and finally laid it across
Marty's groin like a fur-tipped phallus.
"What the hell's going on here?"
the ambulance driver said, when the ambulance pulled up.
He waved over his shoulder for the other attendants to
hurry up with the equipment.
"It's my brother," Edsel said,
stroking his beard. "He fell off the balcony."
Crouching over Marty, the driver glanced
up at the balcony and whistled. "Son, you want to
stay back?" he said, to the boy who had played with
the tail. "We've got a serious spine injury here,
and you seem to think it's show-and-tell in your kindi-garten
The driver took Marty's blood pressure,
tried to make him speak and failed. Finally, he and the
attendants strapped him onto a board and loaded him into
the ambulance. Susan argued briefly with the driver about
riding in the ambulance with Marty.
"Only relatives are allowed to
ride in the back," he said. "Are you a relative?"
Susan shook her head.
One of the frat boys asked what was
going on. Lilly told him, and he told the other frat boys.
"Sus-an, Sus-an," they chanted,
clinking beer bottles together.
"Get in," the driver said,
waving Susan into the back of the ambulance and slamming
the door shut. "This place makes my butt cheeks turn
to ice water."
followed the ambulance in his Datsun, and Lilly followed
him in Susan's Saab. They parked at opposite ends of the
crowded emergency-room lot. Susan and Marty were already
in an examining room by the time Edsel and Lilly found
them. The doctor led them back into the hall-way.
"I'm his brother," Edsel said,
offering the doctor his hand.
"Your brother's received a serious
injury," the doctor said, ignoring Edsel's hand.
"I'm waiting for the x-rays, but I suspect he's managed
to break his back."
"Jesus," Edsel said.
"You can say that again,"
the doctor said. "Just what the hell were you guys
up to anyway? Morality plays?"
He reached out and pulled a cotton ball
from Edsel's beard. It came off in a big swirl like cotton
"Halloween party," Edsel said,
straightening his commandments.
A stretcher bearing a little girl in
a witch costume was rolled past them. Lilly leaned her
head around the doctor in order to watch it.
"Is Halloween a busy time for hospitals?"
she said, following the doctor back into Marty's room.
"Sure," the doctor said. "Sometimes,
they're simple. A kid steps off a curb without looking
because he can't see through his mask and gets hit by
a car because the driver doesn't see the kid's dark costume."
Lilly imagined a six year old dressed
as a skeleton lying crumpled under glaring headlights.
"Others aren't so simple,"
the doctor said. "Like your friend here—he's
one of the rare ones."
He patted Marty's foot, and for a moment
Lilly saw in the doctor's face the pleasure a big-game
hunter must feel when he's felled a prize animal.
and Edsel waited in the hallway for the x-rays to be processed.
A half an hour passed, and then the doctor returned, holding
the x-rays away from his white coat as if they were still
"Back's broken, all right,"
he said, motioning for Lilly and Edsel to follow him into
Marty's room. "Two of the vertebrae are cracked,
and there's a hairline fracture in another."
Lilly looked down at Marty. His eyes
were glazing over from the pain killers a nurse had given
"What's that mean?" he said.
His voice was husky and seemed to come across a great
"We're moving you into a room upstairs
for at least a week," the doctor said. "For
now, I'm going to fit you with a brace. Tomorrow, we'll
try to get you fitted into a full cast. But tonight, it's
just too busy."
Edsel cleared his throat. "Will
there be any paralysis?"
The doctor shook his head. "Don't
think so, if there's none already. You're a lucky little
devil," he said, chuckling.
he was settled into a bed upstairs and had been fitted
with the brace, Marty realized he'd left his devil's trident
in the emergency room. Susan and Edsel went to retrieve
it. Lilly settled into the chair at the foot of the bed,
next to the window. The brace gleamed in the hospital
light. It seemed to hold his head like an egg cup.
"How are you feeling?" she
said, after a moment.
"I hate hospitals."
"I've never known someone who broke
their back," she said. "Are you in much pain?"
"It sure as hell doesn't feel wonderful."
Lilly looked out the window at the darkness.
Only a shadowy line of trees in the distance yielded a
shape she could recognize. "How is this go-ing to
affect your work?"
"Ruin it, probably," he said,
scratching his nose gingerly. "Those guys are rough,
you know. If they knew I'd broken my back, I'd be dead
meat in a fight."
"Are there many fights?"
"All the time," Marty said.
"I've never had to fight anybody on the crew, but
I sure as hell have bluffed my ass through some tight
spots. Those guys get a kick out of fighting, you know."
Susan and Edsel returned with the trident
and a hamburger Susan had bought in the hospital's automat.
From within the brace's wires, Marty nibbled at the hamburger
the way a caged rat with dentures might eat a piece of
hard cheese. After he was finished, Edsel offered to drive
"I'm really sorry about all this,"
he said, once they were in the car. "It's just the
sort of thing you have to expect from him, though."
work is harder than people think," Edsel said, changing
lanes to pass a farm truck.
The man driving the truck seemed drunk
and was wearing a Frankenstein mask. As they came abreast
of him, the man waved at them and yelled something. Lilly
rolled her window down, but Edsel ac-celerated before
she could ask the man what he'd said.
"It's tough," he said. "The
world's so screwed up, you know. And social workers have
to see it every day."
"I'm sure it's hard on you,"
The sign for Edsel's Econolodge was
shining through the trees at the bottom of the hill, and
Lilly asked when Edsel had to work next.
"Later tonight," he said.
"The graveyard shift, so to speak. But don't worry.
I've got time to drop you off."
A group of masked children ran across
the street in front of the car. Edsel slowed down, and
one of the kids threw an egg. It hit the windshield in
front of Lilly. She could hear the kids laughing through
her open win-dow.
"Bastards," Edsel yelled at
They'd disappeared in a thicket of trees,
but another egg landed in the road beside the car. Edsel
turned on the windshield wipers. They smeared the yolk
in a semicircle, and the road became a murky sheet of
"Shit," he said. "I've
got to clean this mess off. Would you mind my stopping
at the Econolodge for a sec-ond?"
"Of course not," Lilly said,
as he steered the car into the motel park-ing lot and
parked in front of the lobby.
The motel's front doors had been pelted
with eggs, and a roll of toilet paper had been thrown
over the sec-ond-floor balcony.
"I hate Halloween," Edsel
"I do too," Lilly said. "I
sat in the lobby with the West Indian student who was
working the front desk. After a few minutes of silence,
the phone rang, and he left to check on a malfunctioning
TV in one of the rooms. Lilly looked out the window at
the thicket of trees where the kids had disappeared. Edsel
was wiping the windshield with wads of toilet paper, but
the yolk refused to come up. Occasionally, an egg would
appear high up in the air, and Lilly would watch it crack
on the road beyond Edsel. She was tired, but she felt
that if she closed her eyes she would wake up with the
masked children standing next to her. Then the phone rang.
Lilly glanced at Edsel. He'd just thrown
a rock into the thicket, and a kid had appeared at the
edge of the road. Edsel sprinted across the road after
the kid, and they disappeared under the trees. Not knowing
what else to do, Lilly picked up the phone.
"Hello?" she said.
There was a sobbing noise, and then
the line cracked while the caller blew their nose.
"What are you doing there?"
For a moment Lilly didn't recognize
the voice. Then she realized it was Susan.
"I'm with Edsel," she said.
It made her feel better to talk with someone she knew.
Edsel had not come out of the darkness yet. "How's
"He's stolen my car," Susan
said, breaking into tears.
"But he's in the hospital."
"I went into the bathroom for a
minute," Susan said, choking on phlegm. "And
when I came out, he was gone with my car keys."
"Where is he now?"
"How the hell do I know? I was
calling Edsel because he'd let Marty have a room for the
A car pulled up just beyond the lobby.
Lilly stretched the phone cord to its end and peered through
the glass. The car was just beyond her line of sight.
She wasn't sure what to expect. Her skin was goose-pimply.
A car door closed, and she could hear footsteps shuffling
on the sidewalk.
"Lilly?" Susan said. "Are
"Shhh," Lilly said.
The footsteps slowed down and then sped
up, and suddenly a figure appeared in the light in front
It was Marty.
He was wearing his devil's costume.
He'd yanked the brace away from his head, and the wires
looked like electric flames in the street light. Lilly
could see the hospital gown sticking out at the neck.
He cupped his hand over his eyes and then waved his trident
"It's just Marty," she said
into the phone. She was so relieved she forgot Susan was
on the line. "It's just Marty."
need my room key," he said. He swayed against the
front desk and waved at the keys hanging behind the counter.
"It's 103 or something."
"Susan's on the phone," Lilly
said. "She wants to talk to you."
"Tell her I'll call her back,"
he said. He reached across the counter and snagged the
key on the end of his trident.
Lilly told Susan she'd call her right
back and hung up the phone.
"Why don't you wait for Edsel?"
she said. "He'll be back in just a minute."
"Going to my room," he said,
pushing the lobby door open and limping outside.
Lilly sat back down in the seat she'd
been in before the phone rang. She didn't know what else
to do. After a minute, Edsel appeared at the edge of the
trees and crossed the road. He was beardless, and his
sheet had been torn across his chest. From the look on
his face, Lilly could tell he hadn't caught the kids.
"Marty's here," she said,
when he opened the door.
He stared at her for a moment. Under
the fluorescent lights, his skin was splotchy, and he
looked at her like he'd opened the wrong door.
"Marty's here," she said.
"Room 103." She pointed in the direction Marty
had taken. "Your brother," she said.
"Of course," he said.
Then he grabbed the pass key from behind
the counter and strode out of the lobby, white sheet fluttering.
Lilly followed him. The door to room 103 was unlocked,
and Edsel swung it open.
Marty was sitting stiffly in a chair
in front of the TV, watching Night of the Living Dead.
He didn't look up when Edsel walked into the room. For
a moment, Barbara and the monster chasing her through
the graveyard loomed large on the screen, and then Edsel
reached across and shut it off.
"I was watching that," Marty
"You're going back to the hospital,"
"The hell I am," Marty said.
"Get up," Edsel said. "Let's
Marty stared at the blank TV as if the
room were empty and Barbara were still being chased through
"Be realistic," Edsel said.
"You've broken your back. Do I have to write it out
for you?" He leaned down and put his face close to
his brother's. "I don't have time for this."
Marty shrugged and then tried to push
himself out of the chair.
"It's really for the best,"
Lilly said. "And Susan needs her car for work in
had to support his brother's shoulders getting out of
the chair, and before they could slip him into the passenger's
side of Susan's Saab, Lilly had to twist the brace's wires
flat against his back so they wouldn't scrape the roof.
She could tell he was in pain. Edsel took the keys from
"Don't you have to work?"
"Sango is going to work an extra
shift for me," Edsel said. "You probably couldn't
get Marty back into the hospital, not being a blood rela-tive
Lilly opened the rear door and slid
onto the back seat.
"Open the cooler beside you,"
Marty told Lilly, gasping, once they were moving.
She opened it. It was full of beer.
"Hand me one," he said.
"They're pretty hot," she
said, feeling a bottle. "And I'm not sure you should
be drinking with all the medicine you've been taking."
"Damn it, woman, just—"
"Better give him one," Edsel
Lilly twisted the cap off of a Budweiser
and passed it over the seat.
"Another one," Marty said,
after a few seconds.
Lilly hesitated for a moment and then
began passing beer bottles up to Marty as if they were
"Better," he said, after he'd
emptied all the bottles.
Then he began mumbling to himself angrily.
All Lilly could understand was "red Camaro."
She leaned over Marty's shoulder and
snagged her sweater on one of the brace's stray wires.
"Red Camaro," Marty said.
"That's what she was driving. What I had to steal
back from her. She had real big ones too." He glanced
over at Edsel. "Real big ones, you know, and I just
couldn't do it to her. I couldn't take the car, you know."
"What's he talking about?"
"He used to be a repo man,"
Edsel said, not looking up from the road. "Before
he did construction. But don't listen to him. He's drunk."
"I just couldn't do it," Marty
said. "She needed that car, after all."
"Who are you talking about?"
Lilly said. "Susan?"
"Hell no," Marty said.
He clutched the dashboard as Edsel turned
into the hospital parking lot. He'd cut the corner too
sharp, and the back right wheel rode over the curb.
"Susan's got small ones,"
Marty said. "Like lemons."
"What's he talking about?"
"He refused to repossess some woman's
car because she attracted him," Edsel said.
"That's not true," Marty said.
"You didn't hear her story, you damn college boy."
Edsel ignored his brother. "He
got fired over it, so he spent the night returning all
the cars he'd repossessed that day."
"And I tell you what," Marty
said, grimacing. "I've never been hap-pier in my
life, knowing the look that guy was going to have on his
face the next morning when he saw that empty lot."
"You know what made me go into
social work?" Edsel said, his voice suddenly harsh.
He'd pulled into the emergency room lot and stopped in
front of the automatic doors. "You know what made
me commit myself to helping others?"
Marty stared at the pavement illuminated
in the headlights.
"It's your mean-spiritedness that
drove me," Edsel said. "Mean-spiritedness and
moral corruption. You couldn't care less about the moral
fiber that holds this country together. Law and order,
that's what it is. But you think you can ignore that for
a pretty ass."
Lilly looked from Marty to Edsel. Neither
moved. Finally, Lilly opened her door and stepped out
onto the pavement. The air was cool. She felt suddenly
the sleep she had lost, and for a moment she forgot where
she was. The she leaned over and opened Marty's door.
"I hate you," Edsel said to
him, as Lilly slipped her arms under Marty's shoulders.
"I'm glad," Marty said.