His teeth, tongue, nipples and genitals lay on a metal plate on a stand next to where he sat. His eyeballs floated in a jar of blood-tinged liquid. He opened his bloody mouth and emitted a guttural groan.

Mr. Chan took a plastic apron from hook on the wall and put it on. “It’ll be over soon enough,’’ he said. He turned on a stove burner, and then got a large pot and filled it with water. He then placed the pot on the burner and turned up the flame. He turned from the stove and as he walked past the man, he ran his hand across the man’s light blonde hair. “You’re such a fine specimen of manhood, Ben Hawthorn.’’

Ben spat out blood and coughed, causing the spikes to go further into his skin.

Mr. Chan opened a drawer in a cabinet and took out an electric knife. He plugged it into an outlet and turned it on. As he carried the whirring knife closer to Ben, the young man attempted to thrash about. A spike went into his jugular vein.

As blood spurted out, Mr. Chan said, “Now see what you’ve done.’’

He put the vibrating blade against Ben’s neck, slowly cut off his head and carried it to the stove.

The water in the pot was boiling rapidly. Mr. Chan sat on a stool next to the stove with Ben’s head in his lap and turned it over several times before placing it face down. He took a scalpel from a tray sitting on the stove and cut open the back of the head. He then used the scalpel to carefully remove the intact skin from the skull so as to not damage the face, and then dropped the skin into the water. He put the skull in the sink and set the timer on the stove for thirty minutes.

“Okay, my lovely, you’re now on your way to immortality,’’ he said. He took off the bloodied apron and tossed it in the sink on top of the skull.

The bell in the shop tinkled.

“Why now?’’ Mr. Chan grumbled. He placed the man’s head on the sink drainboard, washed the blood from his hands, and went out into the shop. He closed and locked the door.

From the end of the middle aisle, he could see a little girl standing at the counter. She had a pony tail on each side of her head and was wearing bright red pants and a light blue sweatshirt with very small prints of butterflies on it. She was holding a red plastic change purse.”

“Hello,’’ she called out.

Mr. Chan started down the aisle. “I’m coming,’’ he replied.

As he walked down the aisle he wiped spots of blood from his shirt with his fingertips and then sucked it off of his fingers. By the time he reached the counter the girl had taken a bag of beads used for making voodoo necklaces from a display stand and spilled them on the floor.

“You shouldn’t be in here,’’ Mr. Chan said to her as he used his foot to push the beads out of the middle of the floor.

“I’d like a Halloween toy, like the kind you have in your window,’’ she said. “I have money.’’

“This is not a toy store.’’ He went behind the counter, leaned across it and looked down at her.

“How old are you?’’ he asked.


“Does your mother let you run around this neighborhood by yourself?’’

“She doesn’t know I left the house.’’

She pointed at his humped back. “What happened to your back?’’

“It’s a hump. I was born with it,’’ he said.

She pursed her lips and gazed at him thoughtfully. “It’s disgusting. Can’t they cut it off?’’


She shook her change purse. Coins rattled around inside it. “What can I buy for eight dollars? It’s the money I have left from what Nana gave me for my birthday. I want something really scary.’’

“This store is for grownups,’’ he said.

She stomped her foot. “But I want to buy something.’’

He was about to tell her to leave the shop when she ran to a display rack at the beginning of aisle one. Crows with broken wings or broken necks in cellophane bags hung on the rack. She took a bag from the rack and examined it closely.

“Is this dead bird real?’’ she asked, nearly shouting.