A SURPRISE IN EVERY BOX
By Randall Stone
The murder had gone better than planned. An anonymous phone call
from the gym to get that prick out of the way followed by an
unannounced visit to his ex-wife's. Lawrence Taylor congratulated
himself, a smug grin on his face. He had even dressed for the
occasion. Blue boiler suit, blood stained now, black leather
gloves and Michael Myers mask. And nobody had thought it odd
because there were costumes out on the streets tonight, more
garish than his. After all, it was All Hallows Eve. Eight months
surveillance on this shit hole estate in this fucked up town had
paid off. And, being a Chief Superintendent with the Lancashire
Constabulary had made the planting of false DNA at the scene, a
piece of piss. That would teach that bitch for taking him for
every penny and her lover, Mr. Fucking Muscles would answer for
it. Perfect. How he had enjoyed driving the blade home, again
and again. To listen to her grunts of agony as he twisted it in
her stomach. And her face. . .that was the best part. That
startled expression on her stupid fucking mug as she realised
what was happening. . .Truly epic.
He glanced up at the country diner through the windscreen of
his BMW. A converted pub made restaurant where they advertised,
rather tastefully, it must be said, the best steaks in
Lancashire. And tonight, they had a Halloween special. He smacked
his lips. Well, why shouldn't he have a celebratory meal after
all the hard work he'd put in tonight? He made to open the door
but then stopped. Shit! How the hell could he walk into a
restaurant like this? In a blood spattered boiler suit? He
checked the clock on the instrument panel. 8:22pm. If he hurried,
he'd be able to make it home and change and get back. It'd be
pushing it but it could be done. But then, he'd retired home
early from work on the pretence of being ill. He couldn't afford
to be seen leaving, not when he'd gone to all the trouble of
sneaking out, almost invisibly. Bollocks! It would have to be
take out again. He gunned the car into life and was just moving
from the car-park when something caught his eye. A party of nine
or so fancy dressers, each costume more outlandish than the next.
Music floated into the night to mingle with the chatter and
laughter of the diners as the door was opened by a tall dark
figure, he guessed was the Maitre'd. Perfect. He donned his mask,
his gloves (he wasn't about to leave his finger prints here) and
checked his wallet. No credit cards here. He'd pay cash.
The figure on the door was a bit of a shock. Tall, gaunt and
square shouldered, dressed in an immaculate black dinner suit,
the man actually looked dead. The make up was amazing. His
alabaster flesh tinged blue in places and his cheeks, like his
eye sockets, were sunken and hollow.
'Will you be dining alone sir?' he asked, in a deep, gravely
voice through thin, blue lips that looked oxygen starved.
'Yes, I'm afraid so.'
'Very good sir.' He reached over and pushed open the door to
reveal a plush, classy looking place. Tasteful décor, pristine
white table cloths topped with gleaming silver cutlery and. .
.totally deserted. Puzzled, Taylor turned back
'Restaurant's closed tonight. We're dining downstairs for
Halloween. If you'd care to take the door to the right sir. . .?'
He indicated with a huge hand. Taylor nodded.
Taylor lifted his mask in order to see the steep, very worn
stone steps as he descended the narrow passage way. Stale air
swept up from below, blowing the real flames of the bracketed
torches. Together with the cold, rough stone and the cobwebs that
hung from above like peeling skin, the effect was amazing.
Laughter and music erupted as he stepped through the doorway at
the bottom and he took in the ambience of his surroundings as he
lowered the mask again.
He stood in a low ceiling cellar that seemed to run the entire
length of the restaurant above and then some. Cobwebs hung in
tatters down the walls, hewn from the same stone as the
passageway, and the lighting here was made from the burning of
heavy, tallow candles that threw shadows against the wall and
made them dance. He wrinkled his nose beneath the mask as the
acrid smell of the black smoke tickled his nostrils and in a far
corner, a six piece orchestra played, the players dressed like
zombies. Most of the tables were taken up with costumed diners.
There were witches, werewolves, vampires and demons and a whole
host of other grotesquery's. The diners chatted happily and
sipped their drinks but none appeared to be eating.
'Table for one sir?'
The voice startled him and he turned to see a young waitress
behind him. Her dark hair was piled in an untidy bun atop her
small, white face, strands of loose hair framing her features.
The darkness around her pale eyes and the high, well defined
cheek bones gave her the look of a living skull. She smiled
brightly as she indicated a small table just off to the left
against he wall. As Taylor took his seat, he noticed that the
table tops were in fact, headstones. He grinned. Like everything
else he'd seen tonight, the make up, masks, décor, they were
extremely realistic. He ran an appraising eye over her black
dress and tattered white piny with laddered tights and asked for
'It's a carvery tonight sir. A Halloween special, like every
year. Can I get you an aperitif while you wait?'
'A whisky on the rocks would do nicely and the wine list if
possible?' he replied. She jotted this down on a little note pad
and smiled before turning away.
Well, this is all very nice, he thought, tombstones for tables
and Jack 'O' Lantern pumpkins for table ambience. He surveyed he
other diners, delighting in their costumes. He had always had a
penchant for horror movies and novels and he had always loved
Halloween. What a stroke of luck, taking that wrong turn back
there and finding this place. Pity, he mused, that he and Julia
had never had children. It would have been great to dress them up
every October and take them trick or treating. The young waitress
returned with a glass tumbler and placed it at his elbow, the ice
clinking cheerfully. She handed him the wine list and he thanked
It was a moment or two before he realised that the orchestra
had fallen silent and an expectant hush had descended. He looked
up and followed the gaze of the others. Standing in front of the
seated players was a tall, thin man. His features were long and
drawn and deathly pale. Like so many of the other diners he'd
seen tonight, his eyes appeared to sit deep within two, black
caverns and his thin , blue veined flesh seemed to hang from his
skull. He wore a long, old fashioned tailed coat and, like his
black trousers and waist coat, it was dust encrusted, as if it
had lain in some dry hole for years. On his head, sat a black and
battered top hat with a tatty, black, silk ribbon around the
'Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to present
your meal for tonight. The meat has been hanging for the
requisite twenty three days so that it is at its most tender and
succulence. It will of course be served, as usual, with all the
seasonable vegetables. When Chef is ready, I would ask that you
form an orderly queue and take up your plate and cutlery, ready
to be served. It just remains for me to bid you bon appetite.' He
gave a cordial little bow and half turned as an age old,
crumbling wooden doorway, opened behind him.
Men and women, dressed in the pristine white uniforms of
chefs, complete with tall, stiff hats, appeared, pushing what
looked like steel gurneys, laden with steaming hot dishes of
winter vegetables. They lined the trolleys up beside a long table
containing knives, forks and plates and stood patiently behind
them. The door swung open again and in walked a huge, pot bellied
man, the Head Chef. In one huge meaty fist he held a sharpening
steel and in the other, a huge carving knife. His fore arms
resembled ham shanks and there was a hard, no nonsense look to
his broad, square countenance. Behind him, dressed as
undertaker's assistants, four men, two either side, wheeled in a
coffin. It had once been a handsome, highly polished, oak box
with attractive shell pattern handles of silver. Now, it was
encrusted in muck and damp, the polish having lost its lustre,
and it looked for all the world that it had recently been dug up.
It even had steam rising languidly from it. A great ripple of
excitement swept around the room.
Extending one, pylon like arm, the Head Chef threw open the
lid. As it rose, it screeched noisily on rusty hinges. They've
gone all out for realism, thought Taylor, with a grin. Adjusting
his mask, he rose and took his place with the other diners by the
table that held the plates. A nice bit of turkey, brisket or
topside wouldn't go amiss now, he smiled to himself.. Maybe all
three eh? It was a carvery after all. As he queued, he listened
to a werewolf and a vampire in front of him.
'I really look forward to this feast.' said the werewolf.
'Mm, me too.' replied the vampire, running a pink tongue along
heavily painted dark lips.
'Mind you, I miss the old days, especially during the blast war
when fresh meat was so easy to come by.' Fresh meat? Easy to come
by? Taylor was only eleven when World War II ended but he
remembered the rationing and for the seven or so years afterwards
and fresh meat had been anything but easy to come by. Perhaps he
had miss heard. Sounds seemed muffled within the confines of the
'Yes, meat is always best, bloody.' replied the vampire.
Taylor flinched. He definitely hadn't miss heard that. He
liked a rare steak as much as the next man but he drew the line
at blood. The queue inched forward and Taylor picked up his plate
and his cutlery. The lid of the casket, which Taylor had guessed
was a cleverly disguised barbecue grill, obscured the tasty treat
from view. His belly suddenly rumbled loudly and the vampire
turned round and grinned at him.
'Now there's a belly that appreciates good food. Won't be long
now.' she smiled. Taylor nodded and excused himself. He was
within ten feet of the coffin, watching the Head Chef carve and
place meat on plates with vegetables, Yorkshire puddings and
gravy, when he noticed the smell. Oh, fuck me! What a stench!. He
gagged and coughed and the vampire broke off her conversation
with the werewolf and turned again with a grin.
'I know,' she chimed, 'smells scrumptious doesn't it?'
A SURPRISE IN EVERY BOX
Taylor eyed her incredulously but remained silent. How the
hell could the stench of organic corruption and decay smell
fucking "scrumptious"? In his time as a police officer, he had
seen enough dead bodies to recognise this unholy aroma. He had
reached the casket now and the stench had begun to make his eyes
water. He was all for fun on Halloween but this was taking it too
far. Surely this stink could only put diners off their food like
it was putting him off. And then he was staring up into the
terrible visage of the Head Chef. He fixed Taylor with rheumy
'And what can I get Sir? Leg, breast, rump?
'Try the thigh. It looks absolutely delish.' cooed the vampire
as she turned away.
'What is it?' asked Taylor, fighting down the bile. 'Turkey?
Lamb? Brisket? A nice piece of topside perhaps?'
'It's meat.' said the Head Chef, puzzled. Taylor stood on
tiptoes and peered over the lid. He felt the colour drain from
his features before the dizziness hit him and made him sway.
There was no elaborately concealed barbecue or grill. No
assortments of tasty meats that one would normally expect at a
carvery, not even a ham. It was exactly what it looked like. A
coffin, plain and simple. The cream satin lining had been marred
from the bodily fluids of the woman's corpse in the first stages
of decomposition. Her flesh was mottled green and in places it
had been neatly and expertly carved of flesh, especially around
the thighs and the breasts. In life, she had been a large woman.
In death, she had become a sickening buffet.
'There's offal, if you prefer.' said the Head Chef, mistaking
Taylor's weakening of the knees for a minor trip. He stuck the
knife blade into the soft tissues of he stomach near the Mons
Venus and slid it up towards the breast bone. The gasses and the
smells that erupted from the cavity had the diners around him
salivating and Taylor, having fallen back against the table
holding the plates and cutlery, had a clear view of the inside of
the coffin. He watched in sickening horror as the blue/purple
intestines pushed up through the incision, like a languidly
uncoiling monstrous slug. Taylor gagged as vomit exploded from
his lips to splatter the inside of the mask and his face,
stinging his eyes.
Realising now that something wasn't quite right, the other
diners caught hold of Taylor's arms and held him fast. Someone
snatched the mask from his head and he felt he cool rush of stale
air against his vomit covered flesh. He felt his eyes being
roughly wiped and when he opened them he recoiled. He was just
inches away from the flattened nose of the Head Chef. The diners
and the staff had noticed he furore and had begun to gather
around Taylor. With a flick of his huge head, the Head Chef
indicated to those holding Taylor to bring him and follow.
Amid excited cries and chatter, the diners followed and
congregated around the small stage on which the orchestra sat.
Taylor struggled uselessly against his captors as the Head Chef
stepped up and had a word in the MC's ear. The old man nodded and
waved Taylor forward. He was dragged over and held up. Bending
slowly, the old man scrutinised every inch of Taylor's terrified
face. This close up, Taylor could see every single line etched
into those pallid white features. The face was terrible and
ancient. If every line and scratch in that terrible, taught flesh
represented a year, he had to be at least a thousand years old.
There was a thick, yellow film over his eyes that wept in the
corners and ran down the sides of his aquiline nose and his
breath smelled of old and open graves. He raised a twisted and
arthritic finger to Taylor's face, the fingernail yellowed and
cracked, the edge jagged. Ever so slowly, he ran it from the
upper cheek and up the temple, catching bits of vomit and cold
sweat on his rank finger tip. It made Taylor shudder. The old man
stuck the finger in his mouth, between cracked and wrinkled lips,
closing his blind eyes in ecstasy, and sucked noisily.
With an agility that belied his years, the old man
straightened and turned to the crowd, raising his spindly arms
'A LIVE ONE.' he screamed. A moment's silence was followed by
an ear splitting yell of delight from the diners. Taylor heard
doors slamming shut upstairs and guessed that the whole place had
gone on lockdown as he was man handled backwards, the old man
following at a sedate pace. He heard dishes and cutlery being
swept off one of he gurneys as he was roughly and quickly
stripped, lifted and slammed down on the cold, hard table. His
arms and legs were held tightly as the Head Chef came round to
his left, sharpening the lethal looking carving knife on the
sharpening steel with practised ease. He raised the knife and
brought it down slowly against Taylor's right pectoral muscle,
laying it at an angle. He stretched out his left hand and one of
his assistants placed a large two, pronged meat fork in it. The
old man came up on his other side and bent over him.
'You have provided us with a very rare treat my friend, a very
rare treat indeed.' He swallowed hard and his Adam's Apple, made
all the more prominent due to his scrawny throat, shifted.
'We are an ancient race. Far older than humanity. We walked the
earth in the absence of light and fed on each other. When humans
came, we found them more to our liking and our tribes united. We
now had a common food source. However. . .' He closed his eyes
and seemed to look inward at something only he could see. 'our
prey, we found to our misfortune, was more powerful and far more
cunning than we envisaged. We underestimated them and we paid
The humans went to war with us and we found that there was no
limit to the sorts of weapons they could create and wield. Within
the space of a single millennia, they had all but wiped us from
the face of he planet, driving our ancestors underground like the
common sewer rat.' He straightened up.
'In times of war, and there have been many across the earth,
ever since man learned to beat his ploughshares into weapons, we
fed well. The meat was almost relatively fresh and plentiful. But
man's ingenuity and science began to detect our presence and so,
like the common sewer rat, we were driven into the drains,
seeking shelters in cellars and beneath wastelands. We learned to
harvest the churchyards, the cemeteries, the mausoleums but once
again, we began to get detected. Our last great extravaganza was
feeding on the dead of the bombed cities during the last war.
Like your kind, we are capable of eating and surviving on the
food stuffs you do but we crave fresh, human flesh. It is our
most primal instinct. Apart from our paleness and gauntness, we
pass for human. We can live and walk among you with little
notice. That is. . .until the blood lust comes upon us. With a
little clever manipulation and the passing of money of course, we
are able to, once a year, in celebration of this most auspicious
night, release that bloodlust during one, delicious feast. A
local undertaker, keeps aside a prime piece of meat for us, often
cremating an animal or burying an empty box in its place. I am a
great believer in fate my friend and karma. And you must have
been a very wicked individual for fate to have brought you to us
tonight.' The old man nodded at the Head Chef.
Taylor screamed as the razor sharp blade bit into his flesh
and the tines of he fork pierced his muscle. Blood welled and
spilled down his side as the Head Chef sliced. Fire filled his
whole being in and agonised wave as his flesh, including the
nipple, came free. Speared on the end of the fork, the meat was
lifted towards the old man who took it in his twisted fingers. As
Taylor's blood dripped thickly down his hand, he placed the gory
strip in his mouth and chewed noisily in the silence before
swallowing. He opened his crimson stained maw and whispered,
'Magnificent.' He turned to the expectant crowd. 'Gather your
plates my friends. There's plenty to go around.'
Through wide, tear blurred eyes, Taylor saw them rip off heir
masks but what was underneath was far, far worse. Eyes that
glowed like amber suns burned in terrible, feral countenances. He
watched their brow ridges swell and drop above the bridge of
their shortening noses. On either side of heir jaws, their muscle
mass seemed to increase and with it, the mouth extended into
short snouts filled with shark like teeth. If ever a shark was
merged with a human, this is what they would look like. The old
man looked down once more.
'Over the years we perfected the art of keeping the meat alive
while we feasted and Conrad here,' he indicated the Head Chef,
'is a master of the art.' Taylor's screams filled the entire
room, reverberating off he walls, echoing up the passageway and
driving the diners appetites to fever pitch and the orchestra
accompanied his agonised yells until his vocal chords were neatly
trimmed from his throat. . . .
(C) Randall Stone