“Don't forget to turn the porch light on, or we'll never get rid of all this,” Sally said, contemplating the plastic jack-o-lantern brimming with full-size candy bars. “And you better make sure you give away every last one. The last thing I need is all that candy lying around when I still haven't lost the baby weight."
It was our first Halloween in our new home. We'd been living in an apartment in the city and had never received trick-or-treaters before. “Don't worry, I'm sure it will all be gone in no time,” I said, making my way to the porch to get a view of the street. There wasn't a soul to be seen, but it was still early.
I wondered if the little ghouls and goblins would make it as far as our house. We lived at the end of the development and our house was so new that our neighbors hadn't moved in yet, nor had they broken ground on the houses across from us. The other side of the street was a wide open field that would soon be turned into a row of houses that would be offered in colors such as Mediterranean Sandstone and Desert Slate, just as ours had been. Within a year, they'd be occupied by people like us: young couples retreating to the suburbs, seeking the safety of the herd.
Back inside, we dressed our son in his costume, a black onesie with skeleton bones, and settled into a night of streaming old horror movies. After an hour had passed without so much as a footstep outside, I was glad that I had taken Sally's advice and not sprung for the fog machine and animatronic reaper like I had originally planned.
After another hour had passed, and Sally had given me a hard time for opening her second candy bar of the night. I had mentally written off the evening as a bust. But a firm knock at the door soon lifted my spirits. I sprang to my feet and answered the door with a hearty “Happy Halloween.”
“Trick-or-treat,” the revelers greeted back. It was two boys, one significantly older than the other. The older one was wearing a plastic devil's mask and the younger was in a mask made of a white paper plate with a drawn on smile and strands of yarn glued haphazardly for hair.
“Let's see,” I said, surveying their costumes. A devil and a … clown?”
“I'm not sure either, mister,” the older boy said, “he says it's something he saw on the internet. Spent the whole week making it.”
“Well, it's a great costume,” I said, “love the Halloween spirit. Let's see, I've got a Snickers for you and a Reese's for your cohort here.”
“Full-size bars,” The older boy said, “And brand name ones to boot. That's mighty generous, sir.”
“Well, I hope you enjoy them.”
"The last house was giving out Pixy Stix, one per customer.”
“That's disappointing,” I said.
“Hardly worth the effort,” he answered.
“Well, have a good night and be safe out there,” I said.
The boys turned and left and I made my way back to the couch. “You may want to take it easy on those,” I told Sally, “we don't want to run out.”
Just as I made myself comfortable, another knock came at the door. I again grabbed the plastic jack-o-lantern and hurried to the door.
“Happy Halloween -”
“Thanks, but it's just us again. Say, my brother just noticed that he got a Reese's. That's mighty generous, like I said, but he's worried that the peanut butter will give him the acid reflux. Would it be okay with you if he swapped it for a...” He paused as he surveyed the contents of the orange pumpkin. “...for a Milky Way? He didn't touch the Reese's.
“I think that would be fine,” I said, swapping the bars out.
“Thanks again, Sir, mighty generous.”
“Don't mention it,” I said, stepping back into the house.
“I see you have a son,” the older boy said, nodding towards the car seat sitting next to the door.
“Yeah, how'd you know it was a boy?” I asked.
“Fifty-fifty,” he replied, “is he out trick-or-treating?”
“No, he's only three months old, he's inside with his mom.”
“I think so.”
“Say, we're not going to be hitting up anymore houses, do you think it would be alright if we waited across the street for our friends?”
“I think that would be fine.”
The older boy nodded and, together, they made their way across the street. Sally shot me a quizzical look. I just shrugged and returned to my spot on the couch.
“Well, it's after eight, time for Mom's glass of wine,” Sally said. This was my cue to get little Joe ready for bed. We called him Little Joe so as not to get him confused with Sally's father, whom everyone called Big Joe. I guess if Sally had been born a boy, she'd be known as Medium Joe. Her dad had wanted to name her Josephina, but her mother wouldn't allow it. I wondered if I could really ever feel romantic towards a girl named Josephina as I changed Little Joe and tucked him into bed. I had always thought that Sally's name was part of her charm; that her personality would somehow be different if she had grown up a Josephina- less bubbly maybe.
“Someone's at the door,” Sally called from across the house. I tucked Little Joe in and made my way to the door, grabbing my plastic jack-o-lantern on my way.
“Trick or treat,” I said, opening the door.
“It's just us again,” the older boy said.
“Oh, can I help you?”
“It's my brother here, he needs to use the bathroom. I told him to go in the field, but he's too shy.”
“I know it's an imposition, but I was wondering if he could use your washroom. It's just a number one, he assured me.”
“Sure,” I said, opening the door wider to let the little whatever-he-was-supposed-to-be inside.
“I'll just wait here to keep a lookout,” the older boy said. I pointed the way to the bathroom, just across the living room.
“He has to use the bathroom,” I said to Sally. She frowned, she didn't like other people using our bathroom. She said I'd feel the same way if I ever bothered to clean it.
I stood awkwardly in the middle of the living room, waiting for the boy to finish. Sally took the opportunity to frown as she sipped her glass of wine.
A moment later the toilet flushed and the sink ran for what seemed to be an excessive amount of time. Sally looked quizzically towards the door.
“Good hygiene,” I whispered, to which she answered by frowning harder.
A moment later, the bathroom door opened and the boy made his way across the living room to the front door. I followed him and made sure he got out alright.
“Did you notice anything odd about his costume?” Sally asked as I sat back down.
“His brother said it was homemade- something he saw on the internet,” I said, filling her in.
“No, not that,” she replied, “the eyes.”
“What about them?”
“There weren't any,” She said. “I thought something was off when he came in, so I made sure to take a good look at him as he left. His mask didn't have any eyes cut out, just a drawn on smile.”
“You're drunk,” I said dismissively.
“I've had two sips of this, I'm telling you, his mask didn't have any eyes.” She grew more excited as she reasserted what she had seen.
“Well, he didn't seem to have any problem seeing, maybe he had little slits cut out, so you wouldn't be able to see them from a distance.”
“I don't like it,” she said.
“I think that's the point, being Halloween and all.”
Sally got up and spied out through the blinds. “Who's that other guy with them?” She asked in a hushed tone.
“They said they were waiting for their friends.”
“That doesn't look right,” she said.
I followed Sally to the window and lifted a small gap in the blinds. She was right, there were now three figures standing in the field. As if alerted by our peering eyes they all turned towards our house. One of the taller figures then started walking towards us.
Sally and I both jumped back, trying to act natural. There was a knock at the door. “Trick-or-treat,” the boy said, he was wearing a Ronald Reagan mask. I placed a Three Musketeers bar in his sack.
“I'd hate to be a bother, but do you by chance have any Reese's?” he asked, offering up the Three Musketeers.
“Anything for the Gipper,” I said, placing the Reese's in his bag.
“Your mask, Ronald Reagan, he was called the Gipper.”
He cocked his head like a labrador. “Well, thanks for the Reese's,” he said after a moment. “And congratulations on the baby.”
“Thanks, and you're welcome,” I said, waving the boy on.
“Why'd he say that?” Sally asked.
“Congratulations on the baby? Why would he say that?”
“I think he was just being polite. The other boy had commented on the car seat.”
“I don't like it,” she said.
“I know you don't,” I said reflexively. Before she had a chance to really get upset, there was another knock at the door.
“Happy Halloween,” I said.
“Trick or treat,” they answered. It was a group of three boys in Three Stooges masks.
“Spread out, nyuk nyuk nyuk,” I said, making a comical slapping motion.
The boys stood there silently.
“Come on,” I said, “you have to admit that my Moe was spot on.”
Their silence suggested that they did not agree. I placed a candy bar into each of their sacks and wished them a good night.
“Full-size bars,” Curly said, “nice touch, sir.”
“Thanks,” I answered.
“Those aren't cheap.”
“Well, Halloween only comes once a year.”
“That's true. Though, I don't want to sound ungrateful, but you really could have done with some more decorations.”
“I know!” I said, “I'm hoping to really go all out next year.”
“You must be new to the neighborhood."
“Yeah, we just moved in.”
“Well, enjoy the house. And congratulations on the new family.”
“Thanks, see you around.”
I watched the boys cross the street, joining their other friends in the field. Some other kids must have arrived during our exchange because there appeared to be a good dozen or so kids milling around. I gave them a hearty wave and wondered if we'd end up having enough candy for everyone.
“Why are all those kids out in that field?” Sally asked. “And why do they keep commenting on the baby? It's weird.”
“I think they were just being neighborly, isn't that what why you drug us out here?”
“You can't hold that over my head. We agreed that we would give Little Joe a proper childhood, free from the crime and smog and failing schools.”
And free from the culture and art and life. Of course I didn't say that, and why was she getting so uppity? I was doing my best to embrace it- me with the full-size candy bars and hearty Happy Halloweens. But before I could address any of that, there was another knock at the door.
“Happy Halloween,” I shouted to the two boys, a wizard and He-Man.
“A king-size Snickers, you must be new here,” He-Man said.
“Just moved in,” I answered.
“From down south?”
“That doesn't make you better than us,” the wizard said.
“I – uh, didn't think it did.”
“Sorry for my friend,” He-Man interrupted, but you have to understand that some folks think that about themselves.”
“Well, I wasn't thinking that. I just wanted to pass out some candy.”
“It's really generous,” He-Man answered.
“By the power of Grayskull,” I said.
More blank looks. “Well, have a good night,” I said, waving them on.
“There's at least a couple dozen of them out there,” Sally said, peeking through the blinds. “This isn't right. They shouldn't be out there, not at this hour.”
“Well, it's just a field, I don't think there's anything we can really do about it.” I answered.
“I'm going to call the police, that little one is too young to be out so late without an adult. And turn off the porch light, I don't want any more of them coming back here.”
“I think they're behaving innocently enough,” I said, flipping the switch to the porch light. But maybe she was right; they did look a little young to be out so late and I really hated the thought of our house getting egged. It could ruin the paint (Cobalt Harvest with Pacific Desert trim). I considered going across the street to ask them what was up, but this was suburbia after all- it was probably better to let the police handle it than get confronted later by their angry parents, or worse yet- sued.
“Where's my phone?” Sally asked.
“Didn't you leave it on the coffee table? Maybe you knocked it off in your drunken stupor.”
“Stop it, I'm serious, I can't find it.”
“Let me just call you,” I said, making my way to the hall tree. “Honey, did you move my phone? I had it charging here.”
“Those kids took it,” she snapped. “You let that little one in to use our bathroom and he stole our phones.”
“I don't think he stole anything, you were watching him like a hawk, you would have seen it.”
“This is exactly why I told you we should have signed up for a landline,” Sally said as she tore the couch apart. I doubted that she had this exact scenario in mind when she'd suggested we get the land line installed along with the internet and TV. But what were we dealing with anyways, phone thieves? It didn't seem likely. If those kids had stolen our phones, they wouldn't be so brazen as to stick around. Even if we didn't have a land line, they wouldn't know that.
“This is ridiculous,” I finally said after watching Sally move from tearing apart the couch, to the recliner. “If they have our phones, I'll just go ask for them back.” I grabbed the jack-o-lantern, thinking I might negotiate a trade- our phones for the rest of the candy- it sounded like a good old fashioned Halloween prank when you put it that way.
But before I could explain my plan to Sally, we were interrupted by the sound of the toilet flushing. Then the sink faucet running. I turned to the bathroom door to find it closed. A moment later, the water stopped and the door opened; out stepped the little boy with the paper plate mask. He gave us the once over and proceeded to show himself out. Curious, I followed him to the door, which he opened after straining to reach the knob. As the door opened, I was greeted by the original boy with the devil's mask.
“There you are,” the older boy said admonishingly. “I'm sorry mister, he must have given you quite a fright.”
“How did he get in here?” I snapped impatiently.
“He didn't want to disturb you now that you'd turned off your porch light, so he let himself in through the window. He gets pee shy, like I said earlier.”
“That's- that's no excuse, you can't go breaking into people's homes like that! What if we'd had a gun?”
“Do you have a gun?” The older boy asked, a little too innocently.
“No, but – yes, I might, this is America after all.”
The little one muttered something unintelligible through the paper plate.
“Are you sure? That's a real shame, they had the good candy, too,” the older boy said solemnly.
“What's he saying?” I demanded.
“Gee, mister, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but he says you're going to die tonight.”
“That's it, you need to get out of here, I'm not going to be threatened by a bunch of middle school punks like this.”
“I'm sorry, again, sir, I am. But it's not a threat.”
“How can that not be a threat?”
“It's a statement of fact, like the sky is blue, or cats meow, or your house is going to burn.”
“Get out of here!” I yelled, slamming the door on them.
“Why are they saying that?” Sally choked. “Oh my god, Joey!” She turned on her heels to the nursery. A moment later the walls reverberated with a guttural cry. I ran after Sally, crashing headlong into her in the hallway.
“He's gone! He's gone!”
“Are you sure!” I said, pushing her aside on my way to the nursery. The room was undisturbed, the nightlight, baby monitor, crib- all of it positioned just so. Only the baby, my son, was nowhere to be found. Incensed, I again marched past Sally on my way to the front door. She babbled and choked on her words, but was far past making any sense.
I stopped at the door and peeked through the blinds. The boys were standing in the same place they had been earlier, only now they were all facing the house. I couldn't get an accurate count in the dark, but it looked to be at least . . . fifty? Christ, could I strong-arm my way through such a large mob of tweens? I'd let myself go since college, sure, but figured I could easily take on a half dozen, maybe more. Plus, you couldn't underestimate the power of adrenaline in these types of situations.
“I'm going out there,” I announced.
“You'll need this,” Sally said, poking me in the back. I turned to find her holding my old baseball bat. It had belonged to my grandfather and was made from solid hickory; heavy and dense.
“We need to get our son,” she said. I nodded, reaffirmed by the butcher knife she brandished in her other hand. I think most people would think that an odd choice in a group melee situation, but the girl could debone a chicken in seconds flat. She'd gotten on this kick once, watching cooking videos on YouTube. She watched a french chef debone a chicken in two minutes and swore she could do it faster. When I called her out on it, we ate chicken for weeks until she beat his time. Then she watched one of those PETA videos that show how chickens are raised and swore off fowl forever. The point being that I trusted her with a knife over, say, an axe or a length of heavy gauge chain.
“Just get little Joe and run to the nearest neighbor,” I said, “I'll hold them off.”
Sally nodded. She crouched, knife in hand, as if preparing to run some grotesque relay race. I readied the bat and opened the door.
“Trick-or-treat!” They shouted, they must have been waiting for us on the porch. A split second later I felt the concussion of a bat to the head. The ensuing reverberation and hollow metallic tone suggested it was aluminum. Not as heavy as hickory, but wicked fast- that was the trade off- then another blow, followed by another. Bodies filed past – a Mr. T, Strawberry Shortcake, a werewolf, a Garfield carrying a length of razor wire like a garrote.
Sally screamed. I don't think anyone got deboned. The butcher knife was an impractical decision. This whole situation really called for shotguns, or flame throwers. If we'd had more time, we could have improvised something. There was gasoline in the shed.
As I laid there on my side, the blood beginning to congeal around my forehead, causing it to stick to the floorboards, the boy with the devil's mask approached. He was holding a baby- Little Joe- dressed in a paper plate mask complete with the yarn and a crooked hand drawn smile.
“It's nothing personal, mister,” the boy said.
I tried to nod, but was convulsing so badly, I wasn't sure if he got the message. Then, the other little boy appeared, brandishing a road flare that illuminated the porch in hues of pink and red. It reminded me of Christmas. The porch would have looked so festive with lights and, maybe, some tasteful garland - true americana.
Lit up so clearly now, I could see that Sally was right, his mask didn't have any holes for eyes, it wasn't just an affect. Curious.
“Don't worry,” the devil boy said. “We'll take good care of him.”
I finally felt at peace, reassured by his words- that Little Joe would grow up to be alright, that he'd be among friends, it was comforting somehow. Then the porch began to slip and faded to distant images of awkward potlucks and HOA meetings and Sally, aged now, with a terrible haircut and leggings for pants, and minivans and soccer tournaments and Little Joe moving away in search of some excitement and a reverse mortgage and the nursing home (maybe Little Joe will come visit, wouldn't that be nice?) and everything fading to grey and growing distant and hollow and cold as its all buried under the inevitable weight of future generations who build over subdivisions like this, then dig up the ruins and proclaim, “these people must have been real assholes, who else would have wanted to live like this?”
I should have splurged on the animatronic reaper. That would have really been something.