One bag of candy.
That’s all I bought to hand out at Halloween. I live on a block in Old Town with only five townhouses on one side shaded by giant old oak trees. The other side is taken up with spare brick commercial buildings, which were shuttered on Halloween night.
It’s a lonely block for trick-or-treaters, I rarely get more than two or three groups. So I only ever bother getting one bag of candy – Mini Snickers bars – chosen with leftovers in mind.
That night, I was washing dinner dishes when I heard the first knock. I grabbed the Mini Snickers and walked to the front door.
“Trick or treat!” cried two voices as I opened the door. Three kids stood there in costumes – a small witch, a slightly taller princess and, behind them, a ghost. The ghost was tallest and wore high-tops – a boy.
The ghost stood back on the sidewalk. The white sheet he wore only had small holes cut out for his eyes. His stillness added to my creep.
“Hold out your bags,” I said, forcing a smile as I presented my Mini Snickers while staring at the ghost. The witch and the princess opened their bags and I dropped four Mini Snickers into each one. “Thank yoouu,” the princess said, drawing out the “you” on a noticeable down-beat.
What? I thought, four Mini Snickers aren’t enough? Snickers satisfies!
The princess and the witch turned and trotted down the steps of my stoop past the ghost, who didn’t move. He held his trick-or-treat bag at his side with his head leaning back. I could see the whites of his eyes as he stared up toward my bedroom windows.
“Sorry,” I said in a louder voice, “this is the only candy I have.” I smiled again and held up the bag.
The ghost didn’t say anything, he just kept looking up. “What?” I finally said as I stepped through the doorway to see what fixated him. At that moment, a cold burst of wind rushed into my house, blowing dust in my eyes. I turned away and stepped back inside, blinking hard and rubbing my eyes with one hand.
When I faced the open doorway again, the ghost was gone. The wind surged and I closed the door before too many leaves blew inside. Weird.
I finished my dishes and watched TV for a while – light stuff, no horror movies for me. Not anymore. The room was cold despite the forecast for a balmy Halloween night. I turned on the gas fireplace and put the tea kettle on the stove.
Soon after, I heard another knock. I clutched my Mini Snickers and walked to the door. I opened it and felt relief as two kids with two parents behind them chimed “trick-or-treat!” in unison. The tiny boy was a green alligator whose round face squished out from a gaping alligator mouth made of felt. The taller boy was Batman.
“Hi, Batman,” I said, “I’m a big fan.” I dropped Mini Snickers into their plastic pumpkin candy containers. But my aim was poor and one of the candies glanced off the alligator’s snout.
“My oldest loves super-heroes,” said the mom, as I watched the alligator bend down to search for the errant Mini Snickers. “Batman is his favorite,” she added. The parents ignored the alligator who was now on all fours.
“Where do you live?” I asked.
“Just a few blocks south, below King Street,” the dad replied as he cocked his thumb over his shoulder. I looked past him instinctively.
There, on the corner across the street, stood the ghost. He was pointing up at my house with one hand as he held his trick-or-treat bag in the other.
I jumped at the sound of the tea kettle whistling.
“Sorry, gotta get that, have fun!” I said in a shrill voice as I quickly shut the door on the family. I flipped the dead-bolt and ran to the stove, my heart pounding. You didn’t see that, I said to myself as I splashed boiling water into a tea cup.
I turned and stared at the front door. I slowly walked to it and squinted through the peep-hole. No one. I slapped at the light switch next to the door to turn off the outside light. It’s getting too late for trick-or-treaters anyway, my rational mind told me.
I shut down my gas fireplace, set the security alarm, and “repaired” upstairs to my bedroom as I tried to mimic a dignified Vincent Price character who is in control despite the macabre goings-on.
But I was twitchy and suspicious, more like the Jamie Lee Curtis character in the movie, “Halloween.” The tea cup rattled in its saucer as I carried it.
Stopping in front of my bedroom doorway, I gazed into the darkened room. I thought of the ghost outside and the way he pointed up at my bedroom windows. But the blinds were closed, nothing to see from the outside. I entered and quickly flipped on the light. Stop being an idiot, I said to myself as I put down the tea, sat in my bedroom chair and reached for a book.
As I read, and re-read, a low guttural moan – like a ragged growl – rose above me. I jumped up dropping my book.
I stared at the ceiling – above my bedroom was the attic. It’s the only place that reveals the old bones of my renovated house, the nearly black, century-old wooden rafters patched with newer boards and splintered by dozens of rusted nails. Did the sound come from the attic?
All I could do was wait and listen. I wanted to scream, if only I could push through the fear.
Then I heard it, another growl-moan ending in a feral shrill.
I cried out at the sound of pounding on the front door downstairs. I ran to the window and pushed the blind aside to look at the sidewalk below. Standing on my stoop was a boy wearing blue jeans, a sweatshirt and high-tops. Leaves swirled around him as he looked up in my direction, panicked, while waving his hand with a hurry-up motion at someone I couldn’t see.
“He sees it, whatever it is,” I said out loud as I ran downstairs and heard more pounding. I stabbed at the keypad to turn off my alarm. “Who is it?” I called out in my shakiest Jamie Lee Curtis voice.
“My cat is stuck in the tree in front of your house!” the boy shouted.
Fear deflated like a popped balloon. I straightened up and resumed a Vincent Price aura. Back in control. “Ok, don’t worry,” I assured the boy as I opened the door and strode outside. I looked up to see a grey tabby high in the oak tree, staring back at us as it crouched in the crook of a limb near the edge of my roof.
“We live around the corner, my dad’s coming,” said the boy. I turned and saw a man rushing toward us as he carried an aluminum ladder. That’s when I noticed the white sheet sprawled on the sidewalk several feet away. “I couldn’t tell before if it was Toby up there,” the boy said. “He’s been missing for three days. My dad told me to knock on your door to let you know we need to rescue him.”
“Sure, let me know what I can do!” I said.
It helped that Toby was not a black cat.