Johnny rummaged through his dad’s old U.S. Army foot locker down in the basement. His dog, a rottweiler named Rascal, sniffed the musty contents. It was Halloween night, and Johnny wanted to wear the perfect costume. Johnny was ten years old, and this Halloween he was going to dress like a soldier. Johnny loved trick-or-treating. He liked the treats and loved the tricks. The problem was, most of his neighbors just gave out treats. No tricks. 

Except last year was a little different. Last year Mr. Carruthers, an old retiree and mad inventor, passed out homemade chocolate balls to all the trick-or-treaters. Except these were not ordinary chocolate balls. Instead of the chocolate balls being filled with caramel or cream or something good, they were stuffed with Brussels sprouts. They were not chocolate balls at all. They were Brussels sprouts in disguise. After the gruesome discovery, Johnny tried to feed the Brussels sprouts to Rascal, but even Rascal wouldn’t eat them. It was a dirty trick, and most of the neighborhood kids didn’t like it. Some of them got mad at old Mr. Carruthers. Johnny didn’t get mad though. In fact, he laughed at the Brussels sprouts trick. Johnny liked a good trick, even though he did not like Brussels sprouts. Johnny knew that Rascal felt the same way. Some of the kids he knew just didn’t have a sense of humor—that was why his friendships were often strained. That was why he and Rascal would be on their own this Halloween night.

Johnny was not good at making friends, but he was very good at making tricks. He got his older brother Stu real good two summers ago. It was the summer after Stu graduated high school. Stu was preparing for his first semester at Harvard University. Johnny sneaked into Stu’s room and poked holes into his older brother’s entire stash of condoms. The trick came to fruition nine months later when Stu became a father and had to drop out of Harvard. Stu was now working as a janitor. It was hilarious.

The condom trick was a good trick. Johnny needed another good trick for Mr. Carruthers this Halloween. Johnny liked Mr. Carruthers. Mr. Carruthers was an inventor—just like in the movies. Sometimes Johnny helped the old man with his inventions out in his garage. Sometimes Johnny helped Mr. Carruthers’ wife out with her gardening. Most of the old guys Johnny knew were cranky. They yelled at kids and left their porch lights off on Halloween night. But not Mr. Carruthers. He got into the spirit of things. His porch light was on every year. He decorated his house real spooky and passed out treats to the kids—except sometimes he passed out tricks, like last year. The Brussels sprouts trick was a nasty trick to be sure, but Johnny knew it was perfectly within the bounds of good Halloween hijinks. Johnny needed to think of an appropriate response to the Brussels sprouts trick this year.

Johnny continued to dig through his dad’s army foot locker, getting his costume ready. He would be wearing his dad’s old U.S. Army uniform. Johnny’s dad was real good at tricks too. His dad had been a soldier stationed out in Iraq. Things had been rough out there, but it never broke his old man’s spirit. His dad had found ways to have some fun. When Johnny’s dad wasn’t fighting, he would often spend his downtime clowning around with tricks. The old man’s favorite trick had been the burning bag trick. The burning bag trick was simple, but effective. There were just a few steps. The first step was to fill a brown paper bag with camel dung. The next step was to choose a target. The target could be a civilian, a fellow soldier, or why not, even a commanding officer. After the target had been chosen, Johnny’s dad would place the bag on the target’s front porch, preferably late at night, and light the bag on fire. He would then ring the doorbell, run away, and hide behind a bush to watch the hilarity ensue. The target would open his front door, see a burning bag, and naturally stomp on it to put out the flames. The target’s shoes would then be covered in camel dung. That was good. Sometimes the target would slip and fall on it. That was better. The target would curse and shake his fist at the sky. If the target had a sense of humor, he would laugh afterward.

It was all a barrel of laughs until Johnny’s dad did the burning bag trick on old General Humphrey. General Humphrey not only slipped right on the burning bag, but he broke his femur. There were also some burns. Discouraged by the fall of their leader, the men lost the battle the next day. General Humphrey’s surgeries were not successful. He could no longer urinate standing up. He lost the respect of his men. The old war dog was forced into early retirement and was now riding around a nursing home in a wheelchair. He had even developed a stutter. It was hilarious. Except General Humphrey didn’t think it was so funny. General Humphrey had Johnny’s dad arrested and court-martialed. Johnny’s dad was now doing twenty years at Fort Leavenworth. Some people don’t have a sense of humor.

Johnny really wanted to do the burning bag trick, but he lacked the main ingredient: camel dung. He would have to fill the burning bag with something else. He put his costume together thinking about what that something else could be. Mr. Carruthers was such a fun old man. Johnny wanted that something else to be perfect. 

Johnny finished dressing. His old man’s U.S. Army uniform was too big on him. The helmet rattled on his head, the pants were baggy, and the boots came up over his knee caps. The utility belt could barely hold up his pants, especially with the canteen and the grenades hanging from it. Johnny had to poke a new hole in the belt, just to keep his pants up. The costume was certainly too big for him, but at least it was authentic—authenticity was the most important thing. Johnny looked just like a real soldier in Iraq. Except this was not Iraq, and there was an annoying shortage of camel dung. He needed something else to put in the burning bag. Johnny looked at himself in the mirror. Rascal barked and jumped on him, rattling his utility belt. Johnny smiled and pet Rascal. He knew what that something else would be.


Johnny and Rascal trick-or-treated. The street was dark and the block was full of kids. Johnny and his dog walked alone though. He got into an argument that day at school with his friends. It was because of a trick. Their fifth-grade teacher Miss Juliet had planned to pass out candy to the students that day for Halloween. Johnny sneaked into the classroom before school started. He found Miss Juliet’s candy stash. He unwrapped every single candy bar just a little bit. Johnny then fled the classroom. Nobody saw him. Later that day, as Miss Juliet was about to pass out the candy, she discovered that everything was unsealed. As everyone knows, unsealed candy means someone laced it with rat poison or heroin. Candy was canceled that day. Instead, the students took a test. It was hilarious. Johnny’s friends didn’t think it was hilarious though. They liked candy, and they knew that Johnny had ruined it. Instead of congratulating Johnny, they told him upset words.

Now Johnny was trick-or-treating alone. Not everyone had a good sense of humor like Mr. Carruthers and him. He and Rascal walked the dark streets ringing doorbells and smashing pumpkins. Johnny looked around. Some of the neighborhood boys were dressed as soldiers, but their costumes were not as authentic as his own. 

Johnny was having a little trouble smashing pumpkins with his oversized boots. Walking was difficult too. The boots made him stumble, and the grenades really weighed his pants down. Johnny had rung many doorbells that night. He had shouted, “Trick-or-treat!” But all he got were treats. Johnny was particular when it came to candy. He only liked candy bars—milk chocolate candy bars. Johnny had Rascal urinate on all the porches of the homes that passed out inferior candy. Rascal was loyal. As a reward, Johnny would give him all the dark chocolate and crap-candy. Rascal wasn’t picky when it came to treats. Johnny had to admit that he was disappointed that none of his neighbors had offered any tricks so far. He had a trick though. The paper bag was folded up in his pocket, just waiting to be filled with that something else and lit on fire. 

Johnny and Rascal had smashed almost every pumpkin on the block. A lot of garbage-candy had been received. Johnny could tell that Rascal was getting full. He decided to finally head over to Mr. Carruthers’ house. He just couldn’t wait to do his trick. Johnny and Rascal crossed the dark street real stealth-like, just like soldiers—just the way his dad would do the burning bag trick. Johnny approached Mr. Carruthers’ house. The porch light was on, and a spooky jack-o-lantern sat by the doorway. 

Johnny and Rascal stood on Mr. Carruthers’ porch. Johnny pulled the paper bag out of his pocket. He thought of his dad. After a moment Johnny placed the something else in the bag. Now, all he would have to do is yell “Trick-or-treat,” set fire to the bag, and run.

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