Tonight, the taxidermist would hunt. She pinned her clean curls into a bun, brushed her teeth, and scrubbed her hands. She would not hunt animals like she did the other days of the year. Tonight, it would be the human kind. She did not consider herself a murderer, nor a sociopath. In fact, she didn’t like to harm anything. But she considered herself a serious craftsman, and some things needed to be sacrificed for her craft. Nobody liked every single aspect of their work, but when it came to the parts you were passionate about, it made all the unpleasant parts worth it. The taxidermist already knew who she would hunt, and she would execute her plan tonight. Halloween. The taxidermist glanced through her bedroom blinds. Pink and orange rays streaked in the horizon and a dying blue sky. She could hear the laughter and shouting of early trick-or-treaters down the street. It would be night soon. She dressed in her camouflage gear, then went into the kitchen to finish the last of her beef stew. The taxidermist sat still and silent, meditating for a long moment. She glanced at her watch. It was time to report to her post. She would not be late. She was never late. The taxidermist put on her camouflage cap and slipped into her black rubber boots. She grabbed her extra-large duffle bag and gripped it firmly before heading out the door.

***

The taxidermist returned from her hunt once all of the town’s children were buzzing with sugar, snuggled in their beds. She carried the unconscious body in her black duffle bag over her shoulder and down into the basement. The hunter removed her hunting gear and stood in a T-shirt and shorts, then began preparing herself for the taxidermy.

The taxidermist looked down at her specimen tied up on the metal lab table as the child opened her eyes. They called her Beast. According to the taxidermist’s niece, she was the meanest, most spoiled girl who ever stepped foot into her middle school. The taxidermist had heard a lot about her tormenting, and figured if she did choose Beast as her yearly human hunt, some good would come out of her no longer being around.

The large LED flood lamp over Beast caused her to squint as she opened her eyes. She was gagged and tied to the table. The room reeked of chemicals that made her nostrils burn and her eyes water. To her right, she finally spotted the six-foot-tall woman towering over her. Her gray-streaked hair was tied up in a bun, and she had tiny black bean eyes that didn’t blink. She wore a mask covering her mouth, a long plastic apron, and white rubber gloves. Beast quickly glanced to her left and saw a cart full of scalpels and other cutting tools in sanitized plastic wrappers. Next to those, containers of borax and bleach and alcohol. The woman with the iron face just stood there staring at her with one hand behind her back. Beast wondered where she was, what she was doing here, and why it was happening.

Beast then thought about her nana. She remembered what she said to her about a year ago, after a stream of complaints came in about her bullying at school. Right before her grandmother died, the old woman had pleaded with her to change her ways.

“Whatever you do will come back to you…tenfold.”

But the advice fell on deaf ears. Beast didn’t appreciate her grandmother’s wisdom. But now, with a contrite heart, she wished she had. Beast groaned at the fact she could not free herself.

The taxidermist rubbed Beast’s forehead with her free hand as if calming down a colicky baby. But in her other hand, behind her back, she held a syringe loaded with a lethal injection.

The taxidermist waited for the right moment. The right facial expression on her prey. It would last forever. It was only one moment in time she could capture, and she waited for it. She didn’t know the exact one she was waiting for, but she’d know when she saw it. Nine facial contortions later, the taxidermist did. Beast wore a face of regret and remorse. And at that, the taxidermist injected the pale yellow solution into her veins. Beast went quickly and quietly.

The taxidermist proceeded to cut a seam along Beast’s stomach with the precision of a steady-handed surgeon. She made sure to avoid the organs. She gently skinned the girl, removing as much skin and fat as possible without tearing the skin. The taxidermist prepared the skin with solutions over the next two weeks to preserve its quality. While she was waiting for the skin to be optimally preserved, she created a shape mold of the girl from plaster.

When the skin was finally ready, she covered the mold with the skin and stitched the seams up. The taxidermist added glass eyes and artificial teeth with glue. Her work was done. Beast’s mount was complete. The taxidermists stored her on the wall in the temperature-controlled cellar with all the other children mounts from Halloweens past. The taxidermist dusted the mounts monthly, taking good care of them, ensuring that she could admire her work for years to come.