“But when the boyfriend walked around to his girlfriend’s car door, there was a HOOK hanging from the handle! They almost didn’t escape with their lives!”
Gabby’s eyes were wide with terror, but still there was a perpetual smile on her face.
“You have the best stories, Aunt Lindsey! Can you PLEASE come with Mommy and me trick-or-treating tonight?!”
Lindsey stared at Gabby’s pleading eyes and her heart sank. Gabby was now ten years old, in the prime of her Halloween trick-or-treating days, and Halloween was for Gabby the same as it was for Lindsey – her favorite time of year.
“I can’t sweetie. I have candy that I have to give out here,” Lindsey explained to Gabby once again, as she had for every year since Gabby was old enough to trick-or-treat at all.
“I’m sure my brother can handle the kids that come to your door for a few hours, Lindsey.” Jennifer had nearly the same pleading look in her eyes that Gabby did. Mother and daughter looked so much alike, so it was easy to pick up on the look. Jennifer was Lindsey’s husband Jeff’s older sister. She and Lindsey were very close, and Lindsey knew that the greatest part of the disappointment in Jennifer’s eyes was for how let down Gabby was going to be once again.
Lindsey looked at Jeff, who was trying to not get involved. He gave her a sideways glance, but instead of saying anything, he went about filling the candy bowls in preparation for the onslaught of goblins, ghouls and witches that would soon be coming their way when the sun dipped beneath the tree line and the light of the moon began to rise.
Gabby was in full witch garb, a costume that Lindsey helped her to make. Lindsey did most of the work, and Gabby helped with some of the decorations on the hat and added a stuffed toy cat that wrapped around the broomstick. Lindsey knelt down in front of Gabby and put her hands on her shoulders.
“Gabs, we are going to have a lot of kids here tonight. And Adam and Kate are coming over to watch movies and help hand out candy. When you guys are all done, you can come back and if your mom lets you, you can spend the night…and you and I can stay up and watch one more movie together – whatever one you choose. Okay?” Lindsey tried to appease Gabby as well as she could, although she knew Gabby still wouldn’t be happy.
Gabby sighed and looked down at the floor. “O-kay, I guess.”
Lindsey looked at Jennifer. She didn’t look especially happy, which was understandable. No one likes to see that kind of heartbreak in their child. Gabby looked up to Jennifer.
“Can I come back and stay the night after trick-or-treating, Mom?”
Jennifer smiled. “Sure. We can stop at home after trick-or-treat and pick up your toothbrush and pajamas.”
“Oh, I bought her some and her own toothbrush that I have here for whenever she stays over. My Aunt Millie always did the same for me when I stayed here when I was little when she lived here. I hope that’s alright?” Lindsey asked.
Jennifer smiled brightly at Lindsey. Although she wasn’t happy that Gabby felt let down tonight, she knew without a doubt the amount of love Lindsey and Jeff had for Gabby. “Of course it’s fine. I’ve got a couple of errands to run before we get going. Can Gabby hang out here while I take care of them?”
“Absolutely!” Lindsey said. Gabby’s eyes brightened once more.
Jennifer left the house and Gabby sat down beside Lindsey on the couch. Lindsey slipped her a bag of M&M’s. “Shhh…don’t tell your mom. You’ll be getting enough candy later on. This is just a preview!”
Gabby ripped opened the bag and poured a few into her palm. “I know they all taste the same, but my favorites are the red ones.” Lindsey smiled at her.
“Aunt Lindsey, do we have time for another story?” Gabby asked.
Jeff brought them each a plastic cup filled with apple cider. He handed one to each of them and turned to head back to the kitchen. There was homemade beef stew in a big black pot on the stove that Lindsey always called her cauldron around Gabby.
“I think…I think there is a story that I can tell you…about why I don’t go trick-or-treating…” Lindsey said to her.
Jeff stopped dead in his tracks. He slowly turned around and looked intently at Lindsey.
“That story?” he said, astonished.
“Yes. That story,” she replied. There was a hint of hesitation in her voice.
“What story?” asked Gabby, looking back and forth between Aunt Lindsey and Uncle Jeff.
“Lindsey, can I see you in the kitchen for a moment? I think the cauldron might be boiling over,” Jeff urged.
Lindsey nodded her head and looked to Gabby. “I’ll be right back, sweetie. Charlie Brown is on. You can watch it while we’re in the kitchen.”
“Okay!” Gabby picked out a few more M&M’s and watched the screen as Lindsey followed Jeff into the kitchen.
Once they were out of Gabby’s earshot, Jeff turned to Lindsey.
“Do you really think it is a good idea to tell her that story? She’s only ten. She won’t understand…hell, I don’t really understand it,” Jeff remarked.
“She already doesn’t understand why I always have to tell her no year after year. She doesn’t even have to believe it’s true, as long as it’s a good story. But it’s Halloween ; if she can embrace the story, maybe she’ll be okay with me not going with her year after year. Jeff, you’re not the one who has to break her heart every year. I promise…I’ll try not to tell it so it’s too scary for her.”
Jeff let himself smile, but only just a bit. He held his hand on her shoulder.
“Well, I wouldn’t try too hard to make it not scary. It’s Gabby. You don’t want her to get bored with it now, would you?”
Lindsey smiled. “Thank you, honey.” She leaned in and kissed Jeff before coming back into the living room.
Alex and Kate had just arrived, a stack of DVD’s in Kate’s bag and a case of beer in Alex’s hand. Jeff led them into the kitchen to leave Lindsey alone with Gabby.
Jeff told them about the story that Lindsey was about to tell Gabby, and they looked in on Lindsey and Gabby with a deep concern in their eyes. “It’ll be alright,” Jeff assured them. He at least had every hope that it would be.
“Are you ready for a real scary story, Gabby? A true story?” Lindsey asked her.
Gabby’s face lit up. “YES!” She grabbed the television remote and turned Charlie Brown off.
Lindsey lit a few candles in the room. She stepped outside and lit the candles in the three jack-o-lanterns that were on the front porch. Jeff carved one, Lindsey carved another, and Lindsey and Gabby carved the last one together.
Lindsey turned the living room lights down low. The light from the kitchen was the brightest light coming into the room. She sat down on a chair across from Gabby as Gabby stayed sitting on the couch.
“This story happened the first year that I lived in this house after my Aunt Millie passed away and left the house to me. You were only about a year old, Gabby. I hadn’t even met you yet…”
It was Halloween night, nine years ago. Jeff and I had recently made the decision to move in together. He was staying most nights here at the house anyway, so it didn’t really make much sense having him staying here and still paying $550 a month for rent at his apartment that was only a ten minute drive away, so it was the most sensible choice to make. We knew that someday we would be getting married; we just hadn’t made that official quite yet. To celebrate both our big decision to move in together and our favorite night of the year, we invited our friends Alex and Kate over for an afternoon and evening of Halloween fun and festivities.
Jeff and I had been dating for almost three years. We had grown up in neighboring towns and had common acquaintances, but we had never met each other until we were both at a party during Jeff’s fourth year at Central Michigan University. Jeff had come home for the weekend and brought his roommate, Alex. They had been first year roommates, and decided to continue sharing living space throughout the rest of their college years. I was at the party with Kate. Kate and I met in seventh grade and have been best friends ever since.
Kate and Alex met at the same party, and hit it off immediately. They had disappeared for a while, which left me talking to Jeff. It was a bit awkward under the circumstances, but as we talked we really found ourselves connecting with each other, and have been together ever since.
I grew up only a few blocks away from my Aunt Millie, who lived in this very house. When I was finally old enough for my parents to trust me riding my bike here on my own, I used to come and see Aunt Millie all of the time. My parents were both lawyers, and they were busy all of the time. Aunt Millie was a nurse; in fact, she was the person that inspired me to become a nurse. My parents hoped that I would go to law school, and while they were a little disappointed, they weren’t at all surprised, and supported my decision to become a nurse all the way. When I came over to see Aunt Millie, I would help her with her gardening, her crafts and her baking. It was Millie that first taught me how to sew, along with so many other wonderful things.
Aunt Millie had no children of her own, and when she passed away, she left this house to me. She thought it would be a great start for me. It had been paid off years before; Millie worked very hard as a nurse for many years and didn’t have a lot of other expenses. It was a bittersweet gift, but I knew that I could make it a good home for myself, and I think the Aunt Millie hoped that someday Jeff and I could make it a home together.
So there we were – Me, Jeff, Alex and Kate, together on All Hallow’s Eve, waiting for the sun to set and for all of the little witches, ghosts and goblins to come running up to the door screaming “Trick or Treat!” This was always a wonderful neighborhood for Halloween night. The roads were long and somewhat curvy, keeping traffic slow enough to be relatively safe for kids to be running up and down the sidewalks house to house. It is only about a three-quarters of a mile from the main highway, close enough to not have to be too far out of touch with the rest of the world, yet far enough away to not have to hear the constant rush of traffic day and night, with the exception of the occasional wail of an ambulance siren or the honking horn of a disgruntled motorist.
The evening started much earlier in the day. It was a typical October day, in all of its autumnal glory. Many of the leaves had already fallen, and Jeff and I spent the morning raking and cleaning up the back yard. We had been spared the harsh winds and rains that had already brought the majority of leaves down in the areas to the north of us, so there were still a great many colorful, yet mostly golden leaves, still hanging on desperately to the trees that had brought them to their green and lush glory early in the summer months.
The four of us spent the afternoon entertaining some of the neighborhood folks, hosting a bonfire in the back yard and having a few drinks with the other adults. I only had cider throughout the afternoon, in case I needed to run down to the corner store for something if we needed to. We had bought extra pumpkins and some of the other neighbors brought a few from home, and we had a carving contest for the adults and played a few yard games. It was a really fun time, but as evening approached, many of the parents returned home to get their kids ready for trick-or-treating.
We had a pile of DVD’s out for the night’s entertainment to watch between all of the spooky guests we’d be getting on our front porch. The movies ‘Halloween’ and ‘The Exorcist’ would be first on the list, followed later on by ‘Night of the Living Dead’. All of these were always some of my favorites. We were just about the start ‘Halloween’ when I noticed Jeff looking at our bags of candy.
“I don’t think this is going to be enough,” he said.
“Are you sure? It seems like a lot,” I told him.
Jeff looked to Alex. “What do you think?”
Alex came over and looked at the three full bowls. They were fairly large sized bowls, but even I was starting to doubt myself. I really didn’t want to screw up my first Halloween in this neighborhood by running out of candy too early. I could get a bad Halloween reputation, and nobody wants that!
“Definitely not enough,” Alex stated. “Not for a neighborhood like this.”
“We’ve gotta go get more,” I said, grabbing my coat from the closet nearest the door.
“Hold up!” Alex said, running back to the bedroom to get his coat. “I wanna grab some more beer!”
“Well,” said Jeff, looking at Kate, “we might as well go along for the ride.”
“Isn’t it just around the corner?” asked Kate.
“Yeah,” I said. “I guess we have to do everything together.” She smirked. “Not that I mind.”
We all hopped into my Equinox and we drove down to the Party-Mart around the corner. The sun was setting and the sky was ablaze down nearest the horizon as the rest of the sky was painted in deep reds and dark grays. Already there were kids walking around on the prowl, coming in and out going of the store.
There was a wide-smiling homeless man sitting a few yards away from the front door of the store. He was wearing an old and worn pair of grey work pants and an old, black Carhartt jacket. He had very dark skin, bright white smiling teeth and an old, tattered dark-gray herringbone ivy cap on his head. His black gloves had the fingers cut off, but the most peculiar feature was his well polished dress shoes.
He had no cup out for change, nor did he ask for anything from anyone. He simply smiled at the children as they walked on past in their costumes and wished each and every one of them a “Happy Halloween.”
He bid the same greeting to the four of us as we walked into the store, and we returned the greeting to him. In all of the times that I had even been to that store, I had never seen this man there before.
Alex grabbed the beer, Jeff picked up all of the full bags of individual peanut butter cups and mini Kit-Kat bars that the store had left. The clerk frowned at Jeff, who simply responded, “Hey, it’s for the kids – it’s Halloween!”
Kate grabbed popcorn and a bottle of red wine. “We can tell the kiddies it’s blood,” she joked. I grabbed a bottle of diet soda.
We walked out of the store and I looked down and smiled at the homeless man, who smiled his bright smile back at me. Just before we got into the car, Alex spoke up.
“Wait a minute,” he said, tearing open the bag of peanut butter cups.
Alex grabbed a handful of the peanut butter cups and ran them back over to the man and handed them to him. The man’s smile faded for a moment in utter surprise, then returned to his face wider than it had been before. I walked back over to the man and handed him a twenty dollar bill from my purse.
“Don’t forget to get yourself something hot to eat tonight as well,” I told the man. “Happy Halloween.” I gave him a big smile of my own as he thanked us both for our generosity.
It wasn’t much, really, but I wished we could do more for him. Looking back, there was a lot of irony in that single, solitary thought.
We all walked in the door of the house and each of us took care of the things that we had bought at the store. Alex grabbed a beer for himself and Jeff before putting the rest of it in the refrigerator. Kate pulled a pot out of the cupboard and started popping the popcorn so we had a snack for our first movie of the night, “Halloween”. Jeff and I filled up more bowls of candy with the peanut butter cups and Kit-Kats.
I lit a few candles in the living room and the kitchen to create an eerie ambiance in the house for watching the movies and greeting the kids as they came to the door. We all sat down and got cozy as we started watching the movie. The smell of the popcorn, the flickering of the candlelight, and the stark, seemingly sudden darkness outside made the evening all the more exciting.
A short time later there was a knock at the door. Jeff and I jumped up from the couch. I was so excited – my first trick-or-treater in my very own home. I knew somewhere that Aunt Millie was smiling down, excited for me as well.
I opened the door, and standing there was a little princess girl. She looked to be about six years old, with a long silver-blue dress and long blonde braided pigtails. But she didn’t look like a normal princess. Her skin was made to look very pale, and there were dark rings around her eyes. Even odder than that was the dark bruising around her neck.
I almost gasped. “Are you…are you alright?”
“Trick or treat!” she yelled with a big smile.
I smiled back, relieved, but I still had to ask, “What kind of princess are you?”
The girl looked strangely at me and said, “A dead princess, silly! Thank you!” She quickly ran away down the sidewalk and up the street. I looked around outside and didn’t see a parent anywhere to be found. Odder yet, I didn’t see any cars on the street whatsoever. I closed the door and Jeff and I returned to our seats in the living room.
About five minutes later, there was another knock at the door. This time, it was Alex and Kate’s turn.
Alex opened the door and there were three children outside. The oldest one looked almost too old for trick-or-treating, but he had the best costume Alex had ever seen. Alex really enjoyed the gory stuff, and this one shocked even him. The boy was made up to look like he was missing his left arm, and all that remained was the torn up meaty remains beyond the shoulder stump. He had a plain white rubber mask on his face, but it was half torn off and the face beneath it was badly burned.
“Oh, wow, that is bad-ass!” Alex said. Kate was taken aback by the look of it at first, but thought it was a pretty spectacular make-up job.
A younger boy beside the older one was dressed in one of those plastic-masked vinyl costumes that Kate remembered seeing in movies from the 80s. It was a super hero that she didn’t recognize, but she thought the idea of finding an old costume like that was a nice touch. She dropped a handful of candy into the boy’s pumpkin bucket.
The third was a little witch that had blood running down from the top of her head from somewhere beneath her pointed hat. Kate remarked to the girl how real the blood looked as she dropped the candy into her bag. The little girl smiled and thanked her, and the three of them turned and walked away. Just before the door closed, Kate thought the back of the little superhero’s head looked odd and kind of flat, and the hair almost looked wet. But before she could get a really good look, the door closed and they were gone up the street.
Kate sat back down on the couch, but before Alex could take his seat, there was another knock at the door.
“I got this one – I’m already up.” Alex hopped over to the door and opened it, his hand already filled with Kit-Kat bars ready to drop into a bag.
Alex stood silent at first, staring at the young boy in front of him. The boy was made up in a well tailored Count Dracula outfit, with the vest, cape, golden medallion around his neck and fangs over his two canine teeth.
“Trick-or-teat,” the boy said with some difficulty with the fangs in his mouth. It sounded as if he was trying to say the words with his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth.
Alex reached out slowly and dropped the candy into the boy’s bag. His hand was trembling as he pulled it back away from the bag.
“Tank que,” the boy replied, turning around and heading away from the porch.
Alex stepped out onto the porch behind the boy as he was walking away.
“B – Billy?” He stuttered the name off of his lips. The boy stopped for a moment, but he didn’t turn around to face Alex.
“Happy Halloween…Alex,” the boy said before heading away into the darkness.
Alex staggered back into the house. Jeff was the first to notice that Alex looked white as a ghost. He jumped up from his chair and walked over to his friend.
“You alright buddy? What’s up?” Jeff asked, full of concern.
Alex didn’t say anything. He moved quickly to the refrigerator and cracked open another beer and downed half the can in a single swig. He put the can down hard on the counter. Kate and Lindsey approached the counter, feeling the same concern that Jeff had expressed moments before.
“That kid…that kid at the door. I know him. I knew him,” he told them.
“Okay,” Jeff responded, perplexed. “Is he from around here? Have you seen him around? I guess I’m not following…”
“I knew him from my home town. When I was a kid…we were in school together,” Alex stated, his hands still trembling.
“School?” I asked him, confused.
“Grade school,” Alex told them. “We were in the same class. We didn’t hang out…he was friends with three other guys in our class. We had different friends, but he seemed alright. We had lunch together a few times. I was at his funeral.”
That last bit caught us all off guard. Kate looked shaken; I stood there dumbstruck. It was Jeff that broke the strange silence, letting out a loud “HA!” that made us all jump.
“Good one, buddy!” he exclaimed. “Nice Halloween scare, man.”
Alex’s face turned deadly serious, as did the tone in his voice.
“That kid at the door was Billy Blake!”
None of us had ever seen Alex this way before. I was actually scared for a moment. Kate’s eyes started to get glassy. Jeff kept his cool, although he was bothered by the sudden outburst.
“Alex…come on, man. Tell me what’s happening here.”
“Billy was supposed to go out on Halloween with his three friends. But…he never left the house that night. His mother took a picture of him in his costume. She thought he left. She found him later on that night. His heart stopped. He never left the house. I saw the picture of Billy in his costume from that night at the funeral a week later. It was the last picture of him ever taken while he was alive. He was Count Dracula…just like tonight!”
“It was probably just a kid that looked like Billy dressed as Dracula. It’s Halloween. There are probably lots of Dracula’s,” Kate said.
“He knew my name.” Alex had tears running down his face.
Jeff’s eyes widened. “Okay…I think we all just need to take a minute and talk this through…”
There was another knock at the door. They all jumped, with the exception of Alex, who was still feeling too emotionally numb to react so suddenly to the fright the rest of them had felt.
I walked to the door and opened it. There was a little girl at the door in a Little Red Riding Hood costume. She looked to be about eight years old and had her head cocked to one side. She looked pale like the others earlier, but she smiled and chanted a gleeful “trick or treat”, so I dropped her treats into her basket and she skipped on down the road.
I closed the door and turned around to see Jeff holding himself up against a doorframe. His lips were parted; his bottom lip was trembling. I was immediately shaken by the sight of him.
“What is it babe?” I uttered in no more than a whisper.
“That girl…that was my cousin Krissy,” he said to us. “My cousin Mark was her older brother. He and I were thirteen at the time. We wanted to go and have fun like teenagers, crazy, mischievous stuff. Egg a few cars, soap a few windows. We even poured three jugs of laundry detergent into a wishing well fountain that night. It was a crazy mess.” He seemed to trail off for a minute before regaining some composure. He continued.
“Mark was being forced to take Krissy out on Halloween, so I went with them, hoping to get done quick so we could get to our real fun. We ran into some friends of Krissy’s and she wanted to go with them. We thought we struck gold…we went on our way. When we got back to Mark and Krissy’s house later, there was a police car there. Krissy and her friends stopped at the park to play on the swings for a while. Krissy slipped off the swing. Everyone thought she was playing when she didn’t get up. It was Halloween, after all. She’d broken her neck. She died instantly.”
We all stood in shocked silence. None of this was making any sense. I ran to the door and opened it. There was no one around. I stepped out further down the front walk and approached the street. There was no one in sight – not a single person, not a single car nor a murmur of sound. I cautiously started walking up the street until I realized that the further I walked up the street, the darker my surroundings became. The lights from the nearby houses and the streetlights seemed to dim the further away from my house that I wandered. In the distance, there was only a bleak blackness.
Something was very wrong.
I ran back to the house.
When I got back through the front door, I slammed the door behind me.
“Before we got home, what is the last thing that any of you remember?” I asked.
Kate stepped up first. “Umm…well, we were at the store. And…and there was the old guy outside. Alex gave him some candy. And…” She drew a blank.
“Do you remember the ride home?” I asked her.
Kate was looking down at first, and then she started looking around the room. She turned back toward me and slowly shook her head from side to side. “I don’t remember.”
“Why can’t we remember anything after the homeless guy?” asked Jeff, pacing back and forth with a visible frustration. He looked me in the eye. “What did you see out there?”
“Nothing. There’s nothing. No one around, just darkness and nothing.”
Jeff opened the front door and began to run up the street.
“Jeff! Don’t…we don’t know what’s out there!” I screamed to him. I was shaking and starting to cry. Kate wrapped her hands around my arm, partly to try and comfort me, and partly to make sure I didn’t try to go after Jeff.
Jeff came back about a minute later. He walked inside and looked at me. I could tell he had seen what I had seen. He sat down at the kitchen table and stared at the flickering candle flame.
“What in the hell is going on?” he said as the flamed dance and bobbed before him.
Knock-knock-knock! None of us moved from the spots we were in. Our eyes all turned toward the door. Then came another knock
I looked at everyone else. No one was going to answer it. I waited about another sixty seconds before there was a third knocking.
“I’m going to open it,” I said, looking at the others. They all nodded their heads. Jeff stood up from the table and came beside me, taking my hand.
“We’ll do it together,” he said to me.
We stepped closer to the door and I turned the knob and pulled it open.
This was no little child standing on the doorstep in front of Jeff and I. This was a girl in her late teens dressed in a sexy devil costume. She had dark hair and little red horns. She was wearing heavy eyeliner and had a long, pointed tail behind her short red miniskirt.
“Hey, Linds,” she said with a subtle smirk.
I felt my knees begin to give out. I was lucky Jeff was standing there to hold me up.
“Denise? How can it…how are…?” I started, but I found myself not able to articulate the words.
“How can I be alive? Well, that’s an easy one, Linds. I’m not,” Denise confessed.
“I don’t understand,” I muttered to her, finally regaining the strength in my legs.
“Baby…who is this?” Jeff asked. Alex and Kate stayed back and listened from a safe distance away.
“This is…was…is my friend Denise. Denise Huff. We were friends in grade school, before Kate and I met in our new school. Denise went to a different school, and…”
“We kept in touch,” Denise interjected. “For a while. People go in different directions. One Halloween night, the direction I took after I left a party after a fight I had with my boyfriend led me into a ditch with the car I was driving crushing down on top of me. I suffocated to death. Drinking and driving and speeding – none of these are a good combination.”
“What’s going on? What is happening to us?” I pleaded with her.
“It’s not for me to say. He has all the answers that you need.” Denise pointed toward the back window of the house.
We all turned to look at the same moment. The fire pit in the backyard was roaring in flames that rose six or seven feet high. By the light of the fire, just beyond the flames, we could make out a figure sitting on a stump on the other side of the blaze. It was the homeless man from the store earlier in the evening.
We all stared out the back window for quite some time. When I turned back around to ask Denise more, she was gone. I looked at Jeff, Alex and Kate.
Jeff nodded. “What choice do we really have?”
Jeff led the way out the back door. I followed behind him, with Kate behind me with Alex at the rear of the line. We approached the fire and the flames settled themselves down to a more manageable height.
The old man smiled with his big white teeth. Beside him there was an old brown leather backpack. Sitting on top of the backpack was a smooth, white, featureless plastic Halloween mask with holes for the eyes and nostrils. He had just taken a bite of one of the peanut butter cups that Alex had given him back at the store.
“Good evening, friends. Happy Halloween once again. My apologies for the theatrics with the big fire. This night, I tell you…it brings out the strange in everyone!”
“Mister.” There was trepidation dancing alongside the flickering light of the fire in Jeff’s eyes as he spoke to the man. “Can you tell us what is going on?”
The man smiled widely again at Jeff’s question. “Oh, I think maybe you might have an idea. If you take some time.”
Kate came to the realization that her fear was giving way to a growing frustration with the situation. She found the courage to ask the man, “Who are you?”
The man’s smile dampened slightly at the question. He looked up and made eye contact with Kate, but he was speaking to all four of them.
“Oh, I’ve been called many things over the years. Often cruel. Rarely kind. The truth of the matter is – I am neither. I just simply am. But…tonight, for the sake of conversation…you can call me Mister Grim.”
“Mister Grim,” I whispered, looking out past the fire light into the bitter darkness. I suddenly knew who the man was. Things were starting to make vague sense now, in a surreal sort of way. “What…” I started to ask, fearing each word as it left my lips, “what do you want?”
Mister Grim leaned forward. “What do you remember after you met me in front of the store?”
“I gave you candy,” Alex said. “And then we came back here.”
“All too true,” said the man. “But what about the ride?”
“The ride?” Jeff was mystified in that moment. “We…I don’t know.” He looked at Alex, then to Kate and me. We all had the same glazed over look on our faces.
“I don’t remember,” said Kate in a half-daze.
“Let me help you,” replied Mister Grim. “Look deep into the fire.”
The four of us stared into the firelight and fell into a trance-like state…
We were in the Equinox, pulling out into the busy highway from the store parking lot. We were laughing, and Jeff reached down to hold my hand as we came to a stop at the red light. We were in the left hand turning lane, ready to make the turn down the main street leading to the neighborhood in which Jeff and I live. I looked at Jeff and smiled. He was already smiling at me. The light turned into a green arrow, giving us the right of way to go. I stepped on the accelerator and started to make the turn. The truck seemed to come out of virtually nowhere. Half way through the turn it had roared through the red light from the oncoming direction, sending my tiny Equinox that was in the path of this Goliath of a vehicle flying; the car was torn apart in mid air, finally coming to a stop on its roof at the edge of the parking lot of the store that we had just left.
I gasped as we all broke free of the startling, horrific image.
“We’re dead,” I said, emotionless. “We’re all dead. That’s why we are seeing people that died.”
“Well, sort of,” replied Mister Grim, cryptically. “You’re more ‘stuck in a moment’.”
“What do you mean by that?” Alex asked Mister Grim. “Are we dead, or aren’t we?”
“Tonight…of all nights, things get hazy regarding that. And me,” Mister Grim went on, “well, while I am usually a stickler for the rules about life and…well, me, there is some room for, shall we say – flexibility.”
“Flexibility?” Kate uttered the word. Her breathing was rapid and she was starting to feel a sense of despair. “Please, please tell me what that means!”
Mister Grim leaned back, straightening himself up on the log that he was seated on. He picked up the smooth white mask that had been sitting on the pack beside him and held it gently in his hands, looking at it as if he was fondly looking at his own reflection.
“Tonight is a rare, rare night. The one time of the year when the boundaries are relaxed…a time when those gone beyond get to come back around. It’s not my doing. It’s something beyond me. But that doesn’t mean that I am without a certain say in things. Mostly, I just do my part…but in the same way that the boundaries are thin…so are the rules by which I work. I have a choice.”
“Does that mean…you are going to let us live?” asked Jeff, hopeful.
“It means I am going to offer you a choice.” Mister Grim looked at Alex, and then he looked directly at me. “I was there tonight, at the store, waiting for you. I can’t predict the future or your fate…but in one way or another, I am always waiting. But before the moment came to pass, you showed a kindness. A generosity. A warmth that I rarely see as given to me. And while I’d guess if you’d known who I was, you would have turned tail and ran. But you didn’t know. I was a stranger, and on any other night, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. You would be…wherever it is that you would be. But it got me thinking, and here we are.”
I stepped closer to him and asked him, point blank, “What is your offer?” I was past fear at this point. If we were to die that night, then that’s what was to happen. When he looked up at me, that wildly wide grin returned once more. I was literally staring Death in the face.
“The children,” he said, with his eyes keenly fixed on mine. “The children of Halloween. The ones you saw tonight at your door, and so many, many more over the years. The innocent souls, taken on this night over the years, wandering the void between worlds once a year, forever to be walking the veil. They venture out with all of the excitement and anticipation as if it was that same night that they came into my hands. And they know that they have gone beyond, yet still they feel life in the face of death. They are the true children of Halloween.”
Jeff stepped up beside me and took my hand. He looked down at Mister Grim. “What can we do?”
“If you set aside Halloween each year, for all of the years of your life, to be there for them as you had been on this night, you will live out the remainder of your days as if this death had not occurred. Keep true to your celebration of the day and the season. When the children come, answer their call. Fulfill their beckoning for tricks and treats. Show them the same kindness you showed me. This is a one time thing, boys and girls. A second chance is a rare and powerful gift. Do you accept?”
Kate and Alex stepped up beside Jeff and I. We all silently looked at each other and nodded. I looked to Mister Grim and said, “Yes. We all accept.”
Mister Grim grinned and nodded. He looked pleased. He slipped the white mask over his face and stood up before us. We all stepped back a step. He appeared much taller and more intimidating than he seemed he should be when he had been sitting on the stump. He let out a brief chuckle at our reaction before holding up his right hand…and he snapped his middle finger across his thumb…
And we were all instantly in my car at the stoplight. We all looked around ourselves at where we were and what was going on.
“Did that all just happen?” asked Alex.
“Yeah,” I said. “I think so.” The green arrow of the traffic light lit up, but I held on for a few seconds longer than I would have originally done. The truck came barreling through the intersection creating a surge of wind that shook the car as it passed by. We all felt frozen in a moment all over again. But in this case, it was a moment of relief.
When we got home after that, we came inside and all sat in silence for quite some time. Finally, there was a knock at the door. At first, none of us moved. When the knock came again, I got up and approached the door.
When I opened it, there was a little boy dressed at a pumpkin, not older than five or six years old.
“Trick or treat!” the boy said excitedly. I could tell by the pale and bruised completion that this boy was like the others that we all remembered from earlier. I dropped some candy into his bag and off he went, thanking me as he skipped away.
“That’s when I realized, Gabs, that it wasn’t only the amazing gift of a second chance that we were given that night. It was also the gift of being able to do something special for the lost children of Halloween,” Lindsey told Gabby.
“Aunt Lindsey…is this a REAL ghost story? I mean, for really real?” Gabby asked skeptically.
Lindsey smiled. “Yes sweetie, it is. But you can’t tell anyone about it. It has to be our secret. I don’t want to have to keep secrets from you. My Aunt Millie and I had a special relationship where we didn’t keep any secrets from each other. I want to be able to have that with you. So…do you promise?”
“I promise, I promise!” Gabby assured her. Lindsey hugged Gabby tight. Jeff looked on and smiled at the two of them. “I want to stay here with you tonight and see the kids!”
“Nope,” said Lindsey. “Maybe some day you can help, but tonight, you trick-or-treat like all the kids out and about on Halloween!”
Jennifer stepped back in through the front door. “You all ready to go, Gabs?”
“Gabby grabbed her broomstick and headed for her mother. “Yep, all ready!”
“We’ll see you right after you are finished!” Lindsey called out to Gabby as she and her mother headed out the door.
“Okay!” she yelled back as the door closed behind her.
Jeff walked over to Lindsey and placed his hands on her shoulders.
“That went a lot better than I had thought it would,” Jeff told her.
“She’s a smart, tough kid. You don’t give her enough credit,” she said to Jeff, punching him playfully in the arm.
“Pfftt. Are you kidding. She is MY niece. She’s got great genes!” he said to her.
Kate slipped “The Howling” into the DVD player as Alex was pouring the freshly popped popcorn into bowls for the four of them. Just as they sat down to start the movie, there came the first knock at the door of the night.
“I got it,” said Lindsey, jumping up from her seat on the couch beside Jeff.
She opened the door and saw the child standing before her. “Alex. I think this one is for you.”
Kate turned her head toward Alex with a smile as Alex jumped up from the couch. He grabbed a handful of peanut butter cups and came to the door. Standing before him was the smiling, wide-eyed Count Dracula.
“Hi Alex! Trick-or-treat!”
Alex smiled and his heart warmed. He dropped the candy into the bag that was opened wide in front of him.
“Hiya, Billy…HAPPY HALLOWEEN!”
The Children of Halloween