The Only Trick or Treaters
This year there is no Trick-Or-Treating; too much of a risk of COVID-19. I know for most families that this is heart-breaking news, another memory stolen by this awful year, but for me it’s a reprieve.
I’m not a Halloween Scrooge by any means. I grew up loving the holiday, just like any sugar-addled kid. As an adult I still go through the ritual of a few decorations, the turned-on porch light, and the overflowing bowl of candy. There's a generous smile for every kid, no matter if it's a toddler barely able to stand upright or a surly teenager with a last-minute costume. For the most part I enjoy it, save for one family that comes every year. They always wear the same costumes. The daughter is dressed as a black cat, her right whisker drawn crooked due to sneezing when the paint was applied. The mother is a witch, her black hat slightly too big as she keeps pushing it back up every few minutes.
They always come at 8:19, never a moment sooner or later no matter how quiet or busy my door is at the time. No matter how cold, with sleet coming in raucous sheets, or wet, with heavy rain that washes away the spirit of Halloween. They've come every year, no matter what.
The other families never really notice them. Everyone will give them a friendly wave, or at least some distance, even the over-eager kids willing to trample anything between themselves and candy. Nobody talks to them. Nobody seems to recognize them, not even a neighbor or childhood friend of the daughter. Nobody comments on the fact they wear the same costume year after year. No one even notices that they never age, that the daughter stays about nine, a string bean with a missing front tooth. The mother is always in her 30's, her one gray hair tucked under her hat.
The mother will give me a warm smile as the daughter jumps up onto my porch. The daughter will hold up her pillowcase, pink with flowers. She had been so proud when she got to pick out her own bedding after the move.
This close I can see them as they truly are. The mother standing over her; her smile still warm, but so sad on her bloodied face. Her arms hang by her side, uselessly broken. Her witch dress is torn, showing the raw, shattered flesh beneath. She had tried to shield her daughter from the car, knowing that it was the only thing she could do when the drunken driver uselessly stomped on the brakes.
The daughter is less gruesome. Her headband is askew, one fabric ear torn off. Her face still has her gap-toothed smile, but looking down I can see the back of her head. It's shattered, like a broken egg. That's the only way my brain can process the mess of skull, brain, and blood. Her mother had tried, but the force was too strong and the small body bounced against the pavement. They had tried to keep her alive, surrounding her with beeping machines until her little body gave out.
But instead of saying Trick-Or-Treat, she always says, “Come with us, Daddy.”
The first Halloween after I lost my family I dropped my candy bowl. I couldn’t face them as I rushed inside. When I could bear to look out again they were gone, and my candy was being generously harvested by the few brave kids willing to come up. The year after that I sobbed, my vision of them blurring. I only regained my breath once it was too late to follow.
I know why they come. I should’ve been with them that night, instead of staying home to pass out treats despite the pleas of my daughter. I should have crossed that dark road with them, rushing to get to the next lit porch.
I was lucky that my neighbors were understanding, telling their kids to be gentle, that I was just extra sad on that night. I got better at handling them every year. I learned to keep my smile plastered on, to keep my focus on the other trick-or-treaters around them. I focused on the real life around them as I would give a generous handful of candy to my daughter, or recite to myself the reasons why I stayed alive during the day.
I reminded myself of my parents, getting older and older, their bodies and minds slowly failing. How they had taken care of me after the death of my family, a whirlwind of activity that made sure that my grief didn’t kill me as well. My nieces and nephews, who came every summer, whose parents send me weekly updates. I could smother them in love, like my uncles and aunts had done to me. I could see them all in the trick-or-treaters that surround my family, to help keep me grounded.
But this year has been hard. My regular visits have been cut off, my summer bereft of anyone but me. We tried to call regularly, but the words were like filling an empty field with just a handful of sand. It's especially hard as night settles into my empty house, when my dog Buster whines at the closed door to my daughter’s bedroom or when the half-light shows my wedding picture that I've trained my eyes to pass over in the daytime.
At least there'll be no trick-or-treaters, I tell myself. No reason to turn on my light, or to even stock candy. No reason not to spend the night in the front of the TV, letting the empty buzz of words numb my heart the same as every other night during this intolerably long solitude.
Then there's a knock at my door. It’s 8:19. I know I shouldn’t get up, that I shouldn’t answer the door, that I should concentrate on the TV and wait for them to pass. But I rise before I even know it, my hand automatically reaching for the door. I know they are waiting outside for me. This year there'll be no trick-or-treaters to remind me of what I would leave behind; this year I may not say no.
Elizabeth Davis is a second generation writer living in Dayton, Ohio. She lives there with her spouse and two cats - neither of which have been lost to ravenous corn mazes or sleeping serpent gods. She can be found at deadfishbooks.com when she isn't busy creating beautiful nightmares and bizarre adventures. Her work can be found in, Eerie River Publishing Patreon July 2020, Eternal Haunted Summer Summer 2020, and No Safe Distance: Stories from Isolation.