Mike nodded. ‘Harjit.’ He lugged the wheelie bin up his driveway and deposited it on the kerb with a grunt. It was full to capacity, and heavy as a bastard. He straightened, knuckling the ache in his lower back, and looked around at the Close. It was a crisp morning on the first of November, and the beech trees along the close were sifting flakes of copper-gold onto the pavement and the tidily trimmed lawn frontages of his neighbours’ houses. As an image of suburban tranquility it was marred only by the smoke rising from the blackened ruin of number twenty-one.
He caught Harjit’s eye and nodded at it. ‘Mrs Beauchamp had a busy night of it, by the look of things.’
Harjit, who was busy unfolding a large sheet of black plastic on his drive next to the open hatch-back of his Corsa, shook his head and sighed. ‘She should have known better than to try and see out Hallowe’en alone. Jaz spoke to her on Wednesday; she said that her sons were supposed to be coming down from Doncaster.’ He shrugged. ‘We offered to put her up, but you know what old people are like.’ He pointed at Mike’s wheelie bin. ‘You get many Treaters last night?’
‘No, just the one... hang on, wait.’ Mike peered at the label stuck to its bright crimson lid. ‘Shit.’
Harjit watched, amused, as he ran back into the house and returned a moment later with a replacement label which he stuck over the old one. ‘Danielle’s been pestering me for months to get this renewed,’ Mike explained. ‘She’d have my guts for garters if I missed this year’s collection.’
Something inside the blood-red bin moved with a slow, slithering bump.
Both men looked at it.
‘Borrow your shovel, mate?’ asked Mike.
‘Sure.’ Harjit went into his open garage and came back with a shovel. Its handle was stout hickory; its blade was wide, heavy steel. Mike took it, opened the bin’s lid, and rammed the shovel-head hard into the contents with several heavy, meaty thuds. The slithering stopped. He wiped the shovel off on the grass and passed it back to Harjit.
‘But yeah, it managed to get one of the security shutters off the kitchen window and had half the fridge on the floor before we knew what was happening.’ Mike paused to rub at a bandage wrapped neatly around his left forearm.
‘You want to get that looked at, mate.’
‘Nah, be fine.’
‘You know the way those bites go septic.’
‘Man, you’re worse than Danielle. If I want another wife I’ll join your lot.’
‘Bugger off, Farage.’
‘More of them every year,’ Mike mused. Three doors down, a young mother was hosing down the pavement outside her house. ‘Makes you wonder why the government doesn’t do anything more than just help with the clean up.’
‘Yup.’ Harjit had finished unfolding the big sheet of black plastic and laid out four bungee cords next to it. ‘Me, I’m taking mine down the tip. Every year the council puts the collection charge up and for what – once a year? I don’t think so.’
‘Still, nice that it’s a weekend for once, isn’t it? All of the neighbours pitching in together. Like when we had that snow. And you - how was your night? Jasmina and the girls okay? Any Treaters get through?’
Harjit made a face. ‘So you know that hedge of hybrid blackthorn I had planted along my back fence? The stuff with the two-inch spikes?’
‘Chainsaw,’ Harjit said grimly. ‘Fuckers had a chainsaw. I mean where the fuck did they get a chainsaw?’
‘I thought I heard something. That’s a shame, man.’
‘I know – cost me an arm and a leg, that hedge.’ Then, realising what he had just said, he broke into peals of laughter. ‘Still,’ he continued, ‘turns out that a chainsaw’s bugger all use for digging your way out of a punji stake pit.’
Distantly, they heard the hydraulic whine and reversing siren of a collection truck from one of the other cul-de-sacs further around the estate. The Close was busier now with residents coming out to inspect the damage to their houses – the broken fence panels, the filth on the windows, the scorch-marks – and to park their shiny red wheelie bins neatly by the side of the road.
‘You know what though?’ said Harjit. ‘You’re right about the weekend thing. A bit of the old Blitz spirit, isn’t it? Want to help me with mine?’
Mike went to get his machete and together they went into Harjit’s garage, where the Treater was waiting for them, tied by his wrists with a bit of old nylon washing line looped over a ceiling beam. He couldn’t have been more than fourteen years old – bloodstained and stinking and his eyes rolling with terror above the gaffer-tape which muffled his screams as they moved towards him.
(image credit: @jodievents)