The ground was covered in shaking leaves, rustled brown and yellow, orange and crackling, diminishing within a cold chill that swept down the suburban street. The sounds of joyous laughing came streaming downwards, where children rummaged through their sacks. Pearly white plastic skeletons, long crooked noses accented by drawn on moles, pointed hats and shaggy dog fur adorned the children. Cotton pillow sheets were twisted in their hands, weighted down by pieces of chocolate, sugar and nuts; hard candy twisted and wrapped; balls of corn, popped and sugared; rusted brown copper coins. The kids were smiling. The air was cold. Parents lagged behind as their children ran up to the next house and rang the bell. Old folks answered with tootsie rolls and hard candies and change. Young folks answered with sodas and chips and chocolates. Small children tugged at their parents legs and asked them to carve the pumpkin, to order the pizza, to kick the fire. They tugged at their mothers and fathers afraid of the kids in costumes that came to the door.
Stacy Lillard sat in front of her bedroom mirror on this suburban street, the lights making the powdery white makeup shine on her face, her lips blood red with eyes drawn over with black. She smiled and her teeth were white. Her phone sang a tune sad that was also happy and lovely.
“Brian,” she said into the phone.
“Hey baby, we’re coming round the block. Your mom cool?”
“Yeah, just got to follow her bs curfew. Hurry up.”
“We’ll be there soon.”
“Nikko and Christian are coming along till we get to Marges’. That all right?”
“Nikko is a creep.”
“I’ll watch him baby.”
Three boys of sixteen walked through the rest of trick or treeters. They wore jeans and t shirts, a leather motorcycle jacket and tinted sunglasses on one, a rubber devil mask on another, the third very simple in a dress shirt and gelled hair. Brian hung up on Stacy. Across the street, the kids were walking with happy steps, joyous of the holiday and the cold air and the cascade of orange lights and painted faces. And they were so innocent yet they were of skeleton hands and arms and they bludgeoned thoughts of gluttony. Behind the red rubber, a devil’s breath stung with strong liquor that blurred his eyes and tempered his mind.
She dressed like a vampire and went down the pale wooden steps to the glass door and looked out. Kids and parents and memories that were dead sauntered along with wooden masks. Her lip trembled as she vaguely remembered looking for a cotton twill bag, eating too much candy and her mom brushing her hair as she lay there holding her aching stomach. She put it out of her mind as her mom came up next to her.
“Where is your friend?” she asked. Her arms were lightly folded while she came next to her daughter. When her daughter was younger, she’d dress up as the Bride of Frankenstein and decorate the house with orange lights, carved pumpkins and fake dead bodies that leaked syrup blood in threatening positions. This year, the house was bare save for a sleeping father on the couch, a roaring fire lighting a dark room while the television played the old Frankenstein movie in black and white.
“His name’s Brian and he’s my boyfriend Paula.”
“Don’t call me Paula.”
She rolled her eyes towards her. “Sorry mother.”
“Any more attitude and you’ll stay home tonight Stacy. Maybe you can watch Frankenstein with your father. You know how dreary he gets during the holidays.”
“Ah, no thanks, I have a social life mother.”
Paula sat still, her breath quiet yet her hand moved slightly to reach out but stopped. Her daughter was dressed like her at that age, a short skirt, bare black leggings and a corset that did nothing but amplify her bust. Where was that hypocrite in her that wanted to lash out? Her breath went flatter and her heart fluttered.
“Be careful tonight. All sorts of loons are out there,” Paula said.
“I know mother.”
Brian and his friends came up the stone walk, the grass edged perfect and erect along it, the leaves few and most in bags. The yard had once held fake gravestones with humorous names of those deceased. He could see Stacy beyond the glass pane, his own image and those of his two friends sidled behind him reflected, and her mother grave and nervous.
“Hi Stacy,” Brian said. He didn’t move to kiss or hug but she did and hugged him warmly.
Her mother came outside to inspect his friends.
“Hi Brian, how are you?” Paula asked.
“I’m okay Mrs. Stetson.”
“How’s your mom?”
Paula looked from Nikko to Christian suspiciously.
“Who are your friends?”
“I’m Christian ma’am.”
Nikko didn’t answer.
“This is Nikko,” Brian said, gesturing towards the red masked kid.
“Nice to meet you,” she said first to Christian and then hesitantly to Nikko who made no gesture back to the mother. He only stared at her through the small holes in the mask. The stink of vodka didn’t permeate but the mother felt a loathing from the man. “What’s wrong with your friend Brian?”
“He’s…shy.” Brian said.
Paula felt only the sense that he was lying, that this kid in the red rubber devil mask was something more than just shy but she had a glass of wine waiting and a quiet evening of nostalgia. She gave her daughter one last look up and down and then hugged her and went inside. With her gone, the four children made way down the street. Already it was growing colder, the chill worse and flowing like water through the broken, crackled trees, so bare save décor of skeletons hanging from wires. Much younger kids ran past them hitting their elbows without feeling anything.
“I can’t stand Halloween,” Christian said.
A nine year old witch ran straight into Nikko’s back causing them both to fall down. Candy fell and scattered and she looked up with pearls of wet slowly drifting down her blushed cheeks at the red rubber devil in front of her. His eyes moved little, his body rigid and speculating movements that came and went easily flowing upwards. Then a slow wail from her soft young throat and Stacy grabbed Nikko’s arm and pulled him back.
“What the hell is your problem?” she said.
The little girl ran off.
Nikko said nothing.
“You’re a lunatic.”
Stacy glared at him with menace, through the slits of holes that were nothing but blank and showed no person behind them. Her fists turned white against the palms and she turned away and walked while Brian slung his arm around her. As she walked away, the rubber devil watched her in the black leggings and easy bust and short skirt.
They approached a sprawling white Victorian home where stumbling teenagers danced to a radio favorite in the moonlight. The girls were all dressed in costumes that wouldn’t cover a baby and the men wore picturesque costumes of their favorite superheroes. Pumpkins were smashed in the driveway and street, their delicate carved instructions smashed for the purpose of destruction. A candle still breathed under the crushed cave of one, flickering in the cold wind that threatened to put it out.
“I’ll see you guys later,” Brian said.
Nikko and Christian walked towards the house while Stacy and Brian made their own adventure on the cold Halloween night. They took each others hand and walked towards the part of town where the houses ended and the endless country air hung over the desolate corn stalks near the forest preserve. A pair of eyes watched from the front porch of the house.
“I used to love trick or treating,” Brian said.
“I did. I would always eat way too much candy every time,” Stacy said.
“Isn’t that the point?”
“Yeah but I mean, I would eat so much that I…I would practically cry to my mom…she would always make me feel better. I would always be so excited to go out every year and she always wanted to take me but…”
“I don’t think I ever went with my parents.”
“I did when I was little but when I got older, it just became a friend holiday. Now my parents sit around every Halloween getting drunk and watching really old movies like Frankenstein and Dracula.”
They didn’t stop walking till the lights of distant streetlights were nothing save closer stars, brighter but just as cold. He held her and pulled her closer and they kissed. The cold wind caressed their cheeks turning them red. When Brian came up for air, Stacy was smiling but he thought he could see a tear in her eye.
“Don’t cry,” he said.
“I’m sorry, my mom gets to me sometimes with her nostalgia. I think she’s depressed.”
“Your mom’s awesome. Don’t worry about her.”
He smiled and kissed her and she let him and they were young and maybe it wasn’t love but it was something warm enough to bury their hearts into for a while. They didn’t think of what effects they left on those who saw them. In the wrap of each other’s embrace, the night was bearable and the sound of their ears upon crinkling steps, shuffling through broken leaves came close. And their hearts beat once and twice and felt warmth and then sharp. She felt his body as it slipped from her grasp and fell to the ground. She looked down at him and his blood, cringing before she looked up at the man in the rubber devil mask, holding a shiny red knife.
“How…?” she choked out. Her words were so hard and tight and could barely limp out of her mouth to articulate and express. They had no gravity but instead floated like barrels of gas and popped and then fell to a dreary forest floor and died.
The rubber devil approached her.
“Stay away…” she gasped.
She turned to run but the rubber devil grabbed her wrist and pulled her back, twisting it and forcing her to the ground. She fell hard onto cold mud and tried to scramble away. The rubber devil grabbed her hair at the back of her head and with his other hand punched her hard. Her face hit the ground quick and she blacked out. The rubber devil removed her clothes.
In the warm glow of the television, with her fingers wrapped around the stem of a wine glass, Paula stretched her neck and looked at her watch. It was ten minutes till midnight. She was worried about Stacy. Her husband had already gone up to sleep and she’d spent her night waiting in the living room watching the old movies, relieving the past Halloweens with her brothers and own father. They paled in comparison to when she brought Stacy down the block. These thoughts couldn’t help but to make her cry. She brushed the tear from her eye and stood up and went to the front door and looked out. It was so late already. She looked at the half empty wine glass. Another sip and she’d be down. Stacy was old enough. She was strong. She was wise. Puala drank the rest of the wine, then pulled her tired body up the steps to her bedroom and slipped into bed with her husband. She closed her eyes and fell asleep.
The rubber devil stood over Stacy who’s once beautiful costume was now ripped apart and splattered with blood. The girl’s eyes flickered. She could see the darkness and the blurry edges of reality. It didn’t take long for her to see more clearly. To see Nikko standing over her. To see a watermelon sized rock in his two hands. She could’ve mouthed a prayer or a plea but she knew it wouldn’t help. She stayed silent as he sealed the night.