She pulled the white fleece over my shoulders, and I felt the black tulle of my witch costume crunch against my chest in painful sandpapery scratches. I took a step back, so I could brush her arm away from me without pushing her.
“I don’t want to wear this,” I whined and scrunched my lips into frown.
“Too bad,” she replied as she turned away from me to dig through the console near the door. I took a deep sigh as her hand reappeared with two purple gloves.
“Hands,” she said, and I quickly threw my hands behind my back in tight fists.
“No,” I said. “I’ll wear the stupid jacket, but there’s no way I’m wearing those.”
She frowned at me, the kind where her eyebrows dipped into v-shaped birds. My hands were beginning to ache from my tight fists, but I wasn’t going to crumple, not this time. Her face softened, and I let myself take a breath.
“Fine,” she replied. “But put them in the pocket of your jacket, you’ll thank me later.”
I grabbed the gloves out of her palm and stuffed them into the side pockets of the white fleece. I’d already planned on dumping this jacket the minute I reached Casey’s house.
I rolled my eyes as I turned away from her, and I faced the gold framed mirror in our entryway. My eyes sparkled with gray eyeshadow from the smokey eye kit I’d swiped out of Louise’s room and craft glitter I’d found in mom’s scrapbooking supplies. I’d tried to paint my lips a bloody red, but mom intervened and handed me Dr. Pepper lip smackers instead.
“There’s no reason to try and grow up so fast,” she said.
“You would say that,” I replied. “You’re already old.”
“Hey,” her voice regaining a hissing sharpness. “Attitude.”
“What?” I replied, my voice rising with teenage agitation. I turned toward her and opened my arms in exclamation. “You don’t know what it’s like to be my age in this century. You’re either everything or you’re nothing.”
“Well you’re my everything,” she smiled as she said it.
“Oh my god,” I grumbled under my breath.
“Listen, you have two options here,” she began. “You can a) check your attitude and realize you’re lucky to even be going out on a Thursday night b) you can stay home with me and hand out candy.”
“Yeah,” I said dryly. “I’ll go with option a.”
She smiled at me, and I replied with a tight smile and hooded eyes. When she turned her back, I gnarled my face into a mocking version of her. She turned toward me again, and I quickly softened back to my complacent smile.
“One for the road,” she said as she threw a piece of candy toward me. I unwrapped the plastic orange wrapping, carefully peeling the black wax paper off the chocolate and popped the sweet into my mouth. My mouth exploded with the supple creaminess of milk chocolate and pleasant grittiness of peanut butter.
“Alright,” she said. “Go forth and trick-or-treat.”
“Mommmm,” I moaned. “We aren’t trick-or-treating. We are just hanging out.”
“And going door-to-door for candy?”
“Just a few houses,” I relented.
“Do you want your pumpkin?” she said nodding her head toward the plastic pumpkin basket on the counter.
“No,” I snapped. “I’m not 5 years old.”
“Clearly,” she said.
“I’ll just take a pillow case.”
“Um,” she replied, and I felt the anger begin to rise in my belly again. “You are not using our nice sheets as a bag.”
“Everybody uses them,” I gritted my teeth.
She lifted her hands up into a “stop” motion.
“Fine,” she said. “But you’re washing it tomorrow.”
I shrugged and ran toward my bedroom. I laid my body across the bed to reach for a pillow ripping the yellow pillowcase off and throwing it over my shoulder. I threw the pillow back into its place with a muffled plop, but it had too much force and it fell off the side of the bed out of view.
“Oh well,” I said to myself not pausing to pick it up.
I walked back out to the entryway, and mom was standing with her back against the wall and the small white stick of a tootsie-pop hanging out of her lips.
“Have fun,” she said. “Be safe.”
“I will,” I said.
“Back by 10,” she replied.
I was about to contest, but she popped the lollipop from her lips and cut me off.
“School tomorrow, non-negotiable.”
I mouthed the letters o-k-a-y, and I opened the door. A gust of cold air greeted me, and after I shut the door, I pulled the fleece closer to my chest. The neighborhood was littered with little kids running from house to house their plastic pumpkins swinging back and forth as they ran. The usually peaceful night was filled with excited squeals and delightfully frightened screams. Parents lagged behind the mobs of children talking amongst each other. A few carried metal cans with koozies obscuring the brands.
I took off in a run toward Casey’s house.
“Hi Melanie,” I heard one of the parents bellow.
I waved my hand in the air without turning around.
“Hey,” I heard a boy’s voice behind me. “Wait up.”
I slowed down to a jog and turned to see Seth walking to catch up with me. He was wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt with a long black cape pulled over his shoulders. He had a pair of plastic teeth in his mouth, and when he smiled, the sharp plastic points gnawed against each other.
“Cool costume,” he said.
I smiled into the darkness and swerved out of the way of two little power rangers clobbering toward us.
“Thanks,” I finally replied, but it came out in a whisper.
“Who is coming tonight?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “Probably just the usual group. Casey, Sarah, Rachel…”
“Oh great,” he said. “I’m the only guy again.”
I laughed, and it came out in a horrid high-pitched cackle. I slapped my hand over my mouth, and Seth began to laugh too.
We grew up next door to one another. When we were young, we would build forts and play “pinecone war” with his older brother. We continued to hang out during middle school. We’d swap Harry Potter books and ride our bikes to the library. It was our first year of high school, and this had been a harder transition. He’d started playing soccer, which meant he had more friends. I continued to reel away from sports like poison ivy. I’d joined the photography club and fallen semi-in-love with Carter, an over-confident doodler who was designing his own graphic novel about a goth vigilante and who told me attending homecoming dance was ingesting social propaganda.
“I’m surprised you didn’t have plans,” I said.
“We always spend Halloween together,” he replied as he punched me in the arm.
“Are you going to homecoming?” he asked, and I felt my breath audibly catch.
“I don’t know,” I stammered.
“I asked Jessica,” he said. “So you should totally come with us.”
“Yeah,” I said trying to hide the deflation in my voice. “Maybe.”
We reached Casey’s house, and she was standing on the porch wearing a gown of white jagged fabric. When she turned, her face was powdered white with dark circles drawn around her eyes and fake blood pooling out of her mouth.
“Enter if you… DARE,” she screamed toward us and erupted in laughter.
“Oh my gosh,” she fussed. “Both of you are hardly scary.” She wrapped her arms around her waist
“I just wanted to try something new,” I said shifting uncomfortable in my black tights and short orange skirt.
“Well,” Casey smiled. “You do look KILLER.”
I laughed and ran up the stairs to give her a hug. Her dress smelled like mothballs and the powder from her face choked me in chalky fog.
“Hey, hey,” she said, pushing me off. “Watch the makeup. And anway, witches and ghosts are mortal enemies.”
“What about vampires?” Seth said as he jumped on the porch, his voice lisping beneath the plastic teeth. He waved his cape around like it was blowing in the wind.
“Where’s Rachel and Sarah?” I asked.
“They are meeting us at the park,” Casey replied. “Just let me grab a flashlight.”
Casey disappeared inside her house as a group kids pushed past us toward the front door. They rang the bell multiple times and chanted “trick-or-treat, trick-or-treat give me something good to eat!”
The door creaked open to reveal black nothingness. One of the braver kids poked their head through the opening, and Casey jumped into view with a deafening howl baring her bloody teeth. The kids screamed and jumped back toward us. Seth buckled over and began laughing as Casey continued to shriek into the night.
“You scared us!” one of the kids yelled, but his voice was soaked in elation.
“Grab your candy,” Casey bellowed. “Or get lost!”
They dug greedy little fists into the bowl and grabbed as many pieces could fit into their pint-size palms.
Casey returned the bowl inside and reappeared with the flashlight.
“Let’s go,” she screamed and howled like a wolf. Seth and I reciprocated howls and our voices echoed across the cul-de-sac.
“I love Halloween,” Casey said.
“Oh,” I replied with a chuckle. “I had noooooo idea.”
“It’s the only holiday when acting like a total freak is encouraged,” she smiled toward us. “If only high school was like this.” She leaped into the air and spun in small pirouettes across the street her sneakers crunching on loose asphalt.
“Oh come on,” Seth said. “It’s not that bad.”
“Okay, superstar,” Casey replied. “You are not allowed to have an opinion.”
He laughed, but he complied.
“Not all of us were gifted beautiful normalcy,” she replied. “And the ability to acclimate and assimilate.”
“Now you’re making it sound negative,” he sighed.
“I think any version of life where are not getting tater tots thrown at your head is pretty positive,” she said. Her face never dropping a smile.
“People suck,” he finally replied.
“So do vampires,” I spat back with a laugh.
We reached the park, and it was bathed in ivory moonlight and the greasy glow of yellow street lamps. A couple swings drifted back and forth with the wind offering a metallic squeak into the air.
The park was empty, and I turned toward Casey.
“They aren’t here,” I said.
“Or they are here, and they’re invisible,” she replied.
“I guess they are running late,” Seth said.
“God, he’s back with his uniformity,” Casey laughed.
I walked across the park and sat on one of the drifting swings. I kicked my feet against the soft white sand, and my body began to swing back and forth. I kicked my feet harder and I rose in the air with force. The cold, night air whipped against my skin like shrapnel.
“Get over here,” I heard Seth yell from across the park.
I stopped pumping my legs and let myself fall back to the ground. I dug my shoes into the sand and eventually the swing slowed enough for me to hop off.
Seth and Casey were huddled around a tree at the far part of the park. I walked up, and Seth stepped aside so I could see. Tacked to the tree with a red pushpin was a piece of yellow, lined paper. At the top of the paper, there was a picture of a crudely drawn goat with tiny sharp horns, and below the goat, the words “TRICK OR TREAT?” were scrawled across the paper in dull pencil. The lines were fat and rounded and the led was smudged.
Behind the tree, there was a small path indented in the brush. Casey immediately lit up and took a step toward the path.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Going down this freaky ass trail,” she mocked. “Duh.”
“This is sketchy,” I replied, my heart beginning to beat faster.
“Come on!” she yelled as she began to walk into the woods. Seth put his hand against my back and gave me a little push.
“We’ve got nothing better to do,” he said.
I gulped down the accumulated spit in my mouth and stepped forward. The trail was very small, and when you walked, thin branches smacked across your skin. Our feet crunched against dead leaves, and at one point, we had to duck under a giant limb to continue down the trail.
Finally, we saw a small clearing up ahead, and I heard the drifting of soft music slide past my ears.
“Do you hear that?” I hissed.
Casey and Seth paused, and without the sounds of our crunching feet, I could clearly hear the baritone of an organ. Casey kept walking, and she picked up her step, practically skipping toward the clearing. She swayed as she walked the strips of fabric on her dress catching wind and dancing along. When she reached the edge of the clearing she stopped suddenly. I jogged ahead to see what she was looking at.
When I reached the edge, I could hear the music increase in volume. The clearing, void of tree covering, was dipped in that soft ivory moonlight. In the middle of the clearing, a person rocked back and forth on a wooden rocking chair. I felt bile begin to rise in my throat and pulled Casey’s dress back toward the path. She didn’t budge. I felt Seth’s body pressed against mine as he curved his neck to see into the clearing. His breath hitched. The rocking began to increase in speed, and then, the neck of the person snapped toward us revealing a red, plastic devil mask. The person did not move. They just stared at us through fake plastic eyes. A silver candy bowl sat perched on their lap. Its large, human hands wrapped around the edges.
“Hi kids,” the voice fell out of a thin, closed-mouth smirk, the shiny black goatee of the devil bobbing up and down as it spoke. It was a man’s voice cloaked in sticky, polite eloquence.
We didn’t respond. I was now grasping an entire fist full of Casey’s dress, and my ears were ringing with the lofting sounds of the organ.
“You look a bit old,” the voice began again. “To be trick-or-treating.”
It was always surprising when it spoke because its mouth was hidden behind a plastered smile and a dark mustache. There was no movement of the lips to indicate the beginning of a sentence, and I felt myself jump each time there was noise.
The horns of the mask glittered with shine in the moonlight, and it began rocking back and forth again.
“Do you care for some candy?” it asked.
I took a step back, bumping into Seth.
“Let’s get out of here,” I hissed to Casey. She didn’t reply.
“Come closer,” he began again. His voice was still dripping in artificial civility. “All I require is that you say ‘trick-or-treat,’ and you can take your pick.” He motioned down toward the pile of sweets.
“Hell, I’ll give you this whole bowl,” he said. “I’m feeling generous.”
He stopped rocking, and his head snapped back toward us. He shook the candy bowl vigorously.
“Say it,” he said, his voice beginning to lose its artificial sweetness.
“SAY IT,” he bellowed toward us.
“Let’s go,” Seth grabbed my shoulder and pushed me back toward the trail. His voice shaking as it left his lips.
“Sethhhhhhh,” the voice cooed from behind us. “Why are you leaving so soon?”
My stomach dropped, and I heard Seth’s breathing increase in rhythm.
“Seth, don’t you want your candy?”
“This is just a bad joke,” Seth breathed.
“Melanie,” the voice sang, and I turned toward it. “Tell Seth to come get his candy.” The voice dropped to a growl.
“No?” the voice asked. “What about you Casey? Don’t you want your Halloween treat?”
Casey turned toward me her eyes wild and frantic. I pushed her toward the trail and screamed for her to run. We began sprinting toward the park, and the branches sliced against our faces – this time with more force. I felt a trickle of blood from above my eye, but I kept running.
“Melanieeee,” I heard the voice behind me, so close behind me.
I turned toward the voice, and I saw the devil perched on a thick branch of a tree in the distance. Its large body was crouched into a squat, and it must have been at least 10 feet in the air. My head began to spin, but I had to keep running. I turned back toward the trail and whack. My head hit the low branch, and I fell to the ground with an awful, heavy thud. My vision prickled with hundreds of small dots of light like I was staring at the static on a television screen. I heard something drop from above and hit the ground with substantial weight. I tried to move, but my body had grown laden with the blow. The static began to whisper away into blackness, and then, I began to sink into nothingness.
When I awoke, I was laying in the soft white sand. I rubbed my fingers through the tiny granules, and my vision began to return in dark watercolors. Casey was standing over me. Her hands pressed softly on the sides of my face.
“Oh my gosh,” she cried, hot, wet tears against my skin. “You fell off the swing.”
And I felt myself finally exhale a worried breath.
“You hit your head,” Seth appeared in my vision now. He was walking nervously back and forth. “We called your mom.”
I groaned and pushed myself off the ground. The cold had wrapped around my body while I was unconscious, and I shivered against the wind. I reached my hands into my pockets to pull out my gloves. My right hand was met with the soft wool fabric, but my left hand only felt emptiness.
“I lost a glove,” I said to no one in particular. I pulled myself to a standing position and looked around. The glove was not there.
I turned away as the park lit up with the bright white of headlights. My mom jumped out of the car and rushed toward me.
“What happened?” she said, her voice hissing again.
“She fell off the swing,” Casey said. “She hit her head pretty bad.”
That night, my mom and I sat in the ER waiting room far past 10pm. She’d unexpectedly brought the candy bowl with her in her haste, so we poured the leftover contents into her purse and unwrapped chocolates in the sour sterileness of the waiting room.
I didn’t have a concussion, but I did get three stitches across my head. They numbed my skin, but the needle still burned as it pierced my flesh.
“Guess I should have been Frankenstein for Halloween,” I said, walking with a fake, injured gait toward the exit. My mom laughed, and we listened to the radio on the way home. Miss no-negotiations allowed me to skip school the next day, and I curled up on the couch to watch Twilight Zone until mom came home and made me clean my room.
“Melanie,” I heard my mom seethe from the kitchen.
I tromped toward the room making sure my feet were audibly scraping against the laminate in my hesitation.
“What have I told you about taking care of your belongings?” She asked.
I didn’t reply. I just stared at her and blinked a few times.
“Money doesn’t grow on trees,” she said. A real mom cliche.
“We can’t just buy you new gloves every time you are careless,” she continued.
She tossed the purple glove across the table to me. The glove slid on the granite counter and slowed to stop near my hand. I noticed it had specks of dried leaves attached to it.
“Where did you find it?” I asked.
“In our mailbox,” she replied.
I lifted the glove to my hand and the soft purple fabric was worn with inlaid dirt and pilling at the fingertips. I laid the glove in the palm of my hand, and I noticed there was something inside. I waited for my mom to turn back to the sink and finish accosting me about my unconcern. I slowly put my hand inside the glove and pulled out a crumpled piece of yellow, lined paper.