Trick or Treat

Halloween, 2013

Written by Kerry Elizabeth Blickendefer-Black

Teachers will blather on when there is mischief to be achieved.  It is like some plot against childhood, where the adults postpone the inevitable devilry, penning with obligations the free-wheeling fun of a holiday of candy and disguise, dripping in sugar highs and caffeine comas.  Halloween, quintessentially sublime for its simplicity, complicated with history and superstition, delayed by word problems that could wait for any other day.

The autumn air seemed charged with electric anticipation.  Cellular telephones were used to covertly confirm plans under the supposedly watchful eyes of authority.  In fairness to the teaching staff, who would much rather be making their own preparations for the evening’s festivities, even the most well-behaved of their students seemed possessed of the excitement.  When the screech of the final bell allowed their escape, there was little order.  Teachers, tired of keeping their wild charges in check, turned blind eyes to such infractions as running in hallways. 

Caught in the whirlwind, Grace rushed home to change into her costume.  It was her first year to trick-or-treat without her parents, and she was exhilarated by the potential of the night.  Her friend, Sammie, would be over soon, since the ritual of begging for candy or threatening some prank began promptly at 5, before dusk had even blanketed the neighborhood.  As the time for her friend’s arrival neared, Grace tore through the house in a panic, wondering where her candy-collecting pillow case disappeared to.  “Calm down,” her mother urged, but her mother was soon to discover, much as the teachers at the middle school learned, there was no calm on a night as exciting as Halloween. 

Grace choked down half of a sandwich before tearing to the front door to greet Sammie Maguirk.  “You look great!” each girl gushed, hugging and bouncing, eager to be on their way.  Sammie’s parents waved from the front seat of their silver Escalade.  The Maguirks had the coolest cars, Grace decided, before turning to her parents in a plea to be off to trick or treat.  Grace’s parents reiterated the “rules,” Safety first, remembering to say thank you, and no eating the candy until it was inspected.  Both girls had their cellular telephones stashed in their costumes, and so they were ready to explore the wonders of the neighborhood transformed for this one, ghoulish night into a titillating collection of mild terrors.

In their little town, the festivities began at the Cheswick Fire Hall with a costume parade.  Photographs were snapped by the local press and smiling parents.  After this ritual, the girls avoided the littler trick-or-treaters with their inevitable parental accompaniments.  They reveled, instead, in the autonomy of budding adulthood, unaware that this very ritual instead confirmed their place among kid-dom.  Contradiction lost, they made their way, filling their pillow cases.  Volunteer firemen patrolled the neighborhood, handing candy and reflective stickers to the participants.  Timmy May, who both of the girls agreed was cute, remembered their names and complimented their costumes.  They put their heads together and giggled, heading up Hill Avenue, aptly named and certain to give a good cardio-vascular work out.

The reward of such an excursion was that those who owned houses atop such steep ascents often rewarded the diligent with full-sized candy bars.  Hershey’s Milk Chocolate and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups waited to be claimed.  Many of the parents distributing the candy donned costumes themselves, adding to the carnival-like feel of the night, and as darkness at last descended, the girls were certain sparkling vampires and handsome, love-starved werewolves hid amongst the shadows. 

The wind sent a chill of swirling leaves about their boot-clad feet, and each crunch released the distinctive scent of decay that marked indelibly into memory the season.  Several houses did not have lights on, which meant that they did not participate in the festivities.  A couple of adult commented that the girls were too old for such frivolousness as trick or treats before begrudgingly placing fun-sized snacks into their filling sacks. 

To their left was B. B. Bishop’s house, with the walkway lined in smiling jack-o-lanterns.  Artificial spider webs clung to the bushes, and a miniature graveyard fell off in the front yard, the Styrofoam tombstones declaring resting places for such Halloween luminaires as Count Dracula and the Headless Horseman.  They walked under the cast iron garden trellis to reach the front step where a smiling scarecrow sat, large lime-green plastic bowl in hand, filled with full-sized candy bars.  At the feet of the scarecrow was written this poem:  “Tis Halloween, this is true, but a demand I make of you.  Of this candy take but one, that other kids might enjoy some fun.”  More clearly, folded over the bowl were simple, hand-written instructions, “One piece of candy per treater, please.”

“Mrs. Bishop must not be home,” Sammie realized with a mischievous smile.  She looked around, but seeing no one nearby, Sammie dumped the entire bowl of full-sized candy bars into her satchel.  She looked a bit like a jack-o-lantern herself, parts shadowed and others glowing from the light of a nearby street lamp.  “I will split with you when we get to your house, okay?” she said, impishly.

Grace felt uncomfortable but did not protest.  The chill wind seemed be watching, and behind each artificial tombstone, she felt certain a judging whisper arose.  Caught by the breeze, a paper fluttered, secured to this side of the garden arch, flapping like a ghostly messenger.  On it was written another poem.  “Heed the suggestion mentioned before.  The request is not one that you should ignore.  For to do so will repercussions bring.  And ill fortune will haunt you until the spring.”

Grace considered the note and quietly suggested that Sammie put the extra bars back.  “What?  Are you crazy?  I mean, really they are all confused with my other candy.  I would not even know what to put back.”  Grace could clearly distinguish the large candy bars from the other Halloween offerings, but she did not say anything further on the matter.  As they left the Bishop’s walkway, a chorus of insect song started.  Did it sound like the bugs were saying Karma?  Grace wondered.

The trek down Pillow Avenue was much simpler that the journey up Hill.  Because it was a main pathway to the highway, Pillow as a more heavily trafficked road, and fewer trick-or-treaters ventured there.  Many of the neighbors did not bother with lights or treats, certain that costumed visitors would be unlikely to visit.  There was some loose gravel on the sidewalk, and Sammie slipped, throwing her hands forward to catch herself, and in the process dropped her candy-filled bag.  A storm drain hungrily welcomed much that fell.  “Oh no!” she cried out, less concerned about her scuffed knees and hands than the loss of her hard-earned sweets. 

Grace wordlessly helped gather up the candy that escaped the storm drain, and they continued down the road, their enthusiasm somewhat stolen by the mishap.  From behind a Rose of Sharon hedge jumped , an Mike, an older bully that they recognized from the school.  He wore a white hockey mask, but his shock of red hair betrayed his identity.  “I’ll take that!” he declared in a surprise attack, seizing Sammie’s bag and running on spindly legs into the darkness between the houses.  “Hey!” Sammie shouted in surprise, but despite a half-hearted chase, the girls did not retrieve the stolen goods. 

When they reached Grace’s home, her mother had mulled apple cider steaming fragrantly in “Nightmare Before Christmas” ceramic mugs.  Brownies cooled on a wire rack, waiting fudge frosting and orange jimmies.  “Did you girls have fun?” she inquired, but she received no answer.  Instead, Grace guided Sammie into the living room where she spilled out the contents of her own pillow case, offering half of the evening’s spoils.  “Nah, I don’t deserve any,” Sammie mumbled, but Grace split the candy, none-the-less.

“Do you think that Old Lady Bishop put a curse on me, Grace?” Sammie worried.  Grace shook her head, but in her heart, she feared that it would be a long time until the spring came for her friend.