Trick Or Treat
Alex Cromwell glanced up and grinned. “I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner.”
“Okay. What?” Jonathan Gonzalez swiped at his hair and raised an eyebrow.
“We’ll dress-up as zombies.” Alex pointed at his tablet, which displayed photos depicting the undead. “We’ll use fake blood and makeup so we seem all decayed and rotten.”
“Epic,” Jonathan said, nodding in agreement. “This will be the best Halloween ever. Zombies. A major candy haul. And checking out the old house by the cemetery.”
Alex’s throat tightened. Usually, they avoided the Shipley house at the end of their street. But they had made a pact: to trick-or-treat there when they turned twelve.
That old place wasn’t like other houses in East Linthicum—well-maintained two-story brick dwellings with giant picture windows facing the street and concrete driveways on the side.
The Shipley house was a hulking, dilapidated wooden box. It sat at the end of Benton Avenue long before the other houses were built. Small arched windows jutting from the roof reminded Alex of watching eyes. Dark screens enclosed the front porch. They hung in tatters and concealed whatever lurked behind them. A rusted iron fence marked the perimeter of the property, which included the small bedraggled graveyard next to the house. Brambles and undergrowth obscured about a dozen crumbling, yellowed headstones.
An old woman, shriveled and bent with wild gray hair and a knobby black stick that served as a cane, lived there. Kids at school called her the Shipley Hag.
“You ever seen the old lady?” Alex was careful to keep his voice even so Jonathan wouldn’t think he was afraid.
“Nah. I’ve only heard stories.”
“Yeah? What kind of stories?”
Jonathan inhaled and scrunched his nose as he cast his eyes upward, as though he was thinking hard. “Um… you know. The house is haunted, and she’s a witch. Kids who venture up to the door go inside and they’re never seen again. They just vanish.”
Alex swallowed. “You know of anyone disappearing there?”
“Nope. So there’s nothin’ to worry about. No reason to be scared.”
“Right.” Alex used his most convincing grown-up voice so Jonathan would assume he was fearless. Then he changed the subject, focusing on costume plans and how much fake blood they would require.
Two days later, Alex received an invitation to Julie Eastway’s Halloween party. She planned it for October 31, Halloween night, which fell on a Saturday. She invited the entire class. Somehow Julie’s mom got the word out to the other parents, and they all agreed it was a much better plan than trick-or-treating. Especially after last year’s incident.
“Stupid girls and their stupid parties,” Jonathan grumbled as they walked to Alex’s house on Benton Avenue. “This is our year to go to the Shipley House. What’re we gonna do?”
“I guess we go next year.”
“No. It’s gotta be this year. You ‘n me promised each other.”
Alex sighed and kicked a stone in the street. The thought of visiting that creepy old house on Halloween night made his stomach churn. He wasn’t sure if he believed in haunted houses, but he didn’t want to take a chance. Julie’s party offered him a simple way out.
“There’s nothin’ we can do. The party’s a done deal,” he said to Jonathan, being careful to sound disappointed.
Alex continued to kick the stone as they walked in silence toward his street. About a block away from Alex’s house, Jonathan let out a loud whoop.
“I got it!” he said. “We’ll sneak out of the party early and go back to Julie’s house before it’s over. It’s a perfect plan.”
As Jonathan performed his version of a victory shimmy, Alex kicked the stone again and watched it tumble into the storm drain. “Yeah, perfect,” he muttered.
~ ~ ~
On Halloween night, Alex sat on the curb in front of Julie Eastway’s house. A moment later, a five-foot-tall zombie in a torn black tee-shirt and dusty blue jeans sauntered over.
“Oh, man! You look totally awesome,” Alex said as Jonathan stopped in front of him.
“So do you.” Jonathan grinned as they walked up to Julie’s door. “We really rock the zombie vibe.”
Inside, Jonathan drifted to the snack table while Alex scouted out Julie to say hello. He found her in the family room. “Thriller” was playing, and she grabbed his hand.
“You’ve got to do the Thriller dance,” she said, positioning him next to her. “Your costume’s perfect for it.”
Alex tried to follow Julie as she performed the dance steps, but he couldn’t keep up. Each time he trounced on her toes, his cheeks grew hotter until a film of sweat covered his face.
When the song ended, Julie turned away. Alex felt a tug on his shoulder and found Jonathan standing behind him.
“Dude, we don’t have time for dancing. There’s M&M’s and gummy worms to collect.”
“How are we going to explain a sack of candy to our moms?”
Jonathan rolled his eyes. “Ugh… you wanna stay here and dance with Julie?”
“Hell, no,” Alex stammered. A hot flash traveled up his neck. “I was waiting for you.”
Alex and Jonathan quietly left Julie’s house through the back door and headed toward Benton Avenue. The night sky was clear, and sidewalks along the way teemed with activity. Moms and dads toted preschoolers in wagons and strollers while swarms of preteens moved from house to house as parents waited at the curb. Teenagers drifted along the periphery, focusing on each other and the ambiance of the night more than candy collection.
Jonathan gripped Alex’s elbow and pulled him to a stop. “Let’s hit some houses before we go to the Shipley place,” he said while extracting a large, white pillowcase from his back pocket.
Alex withdrew his own sack as they trailed behind a group of trick-or-treaters. The two migrated from door to door as they made their way up and down the neighborhood streets.
After an hour had passed, Jonathan flopped down on the curb. Alex peered at his watch, which said 7:30. The street was quiet, with just a few stragglers still ringing doorbells for treats.
“This is it. You ready?”
Under the streetlamp, Alex saw Jonathan raise his fake blood-smeared zombie eyebrows to emphasize the question, then realized they were sitting across the street from the Shipley house. Except for the dim yellow porch light, the place was dark. Beside it, the graveyard was lit by the moon. Shadows undulated across headstones as the night breeze wafted through the trees. Alex inhaled and stood, ready to face the inevitable.
The hinge on the iron gate groaned as Jonathan pushed it. He turned and nodded at Alex before shuffling along the walkway and climbing three wooden steps that led to the screened-in porch. The screen door hung askew, and Jonathan fearlessly flung it open. Despite the chill in the air, the slick film of sweat returned to Alex’s forehead as he watched his friend step through the opening.
As Alex eased onto the porch’s wooden floorboards, sticky spiderweb strands brushed across his cheek. He swiped at the air in front of him, only to stir the stink of mold and decay in the air. He took a step toward the front door and detected a hissing sound from the shadows. Without warning, a black form emerged and lunged at him as it emitted a low-pitched growl. Alex gasped and stumbled backward. He grabbed the doorjamb to avoid tumbling down the steps.
Jonathan chuckled. “It’s just a cat.”
Above the front door, the outline of a black raven filled the transom window. The bird, suspended in stained glass, stared at Alex as Jonathan knocked. The sound, loud and hollow, reverberated along Alex’s spine. He heard the cat’s protesting yowl from the corner shadow, along with scratching noises that sounded like dozens of small rodents scurrying into nearby crevices.
“No one’s home. Let’s go.” Alex turned to leave, but Jonathan grabbed his arm. A frown crossed his zombie face.
“Geez, don’t be in such a rush. I’ll knock again.”
Once more the report from the knock echoed around them. As Alex backed toward the steps, a light inside the house switched on and illuminated the transom window. He could see the raven more clearly. With its wings spread against a midnight blue sky, the bird appeared to be soaring.
The rusty hinges emitted a low moan, then Alex saw the front door open about an inch. Dim light spilled through the crack between it and the door frame. He watched, transfixed, as four slender, gnarled fingers slithered through the opening and curled across the door’s mortise plate. The ingress opened wider and a spindly arm reached out toward Jonathan.
“Trick or tre….”
As Jonathan spoke, the fingers gripped his arm and dragged him into the house. Then the door slammed shut. The boy disappeared so quickly that Alex barely saw what happened.
“Jonathan?” He whispered his friend’s name as he processed what transpired. Then he screamed.
Alex twisted the knob and pounded on the door with both fists, but he couldn’t open it. The shadows deepened, and Alex realized the porch light had switched off and the transom window was dark. He yelled for Jonathan and pummeled the door until he dropped to the floor from exhaustion. The suspended raven glared at him, forever motionless but continuously in flight.
~ ~ ~
He opened his eyes and blinked. A figure stood over him, its face obscured by a halo of light from the streetlamp.
“You fell asleep on the sidewalk,” said his mother’s voice. He sat up and saw the old Shipley House across the street.
“Mom! Jonathan’s in there. We have to save him.”
Mrs. Cromwell put her arm around Alex and helped him stand. “Honey, Jonathan’s gone.”
“What? No. We went to the Shipley House tonight.” Alex shook his mother’s arm off his shoulder and walked into the road. “Jonathan knocked on the door. Then the old hag pulled him inside. We have to get him out!”
“He’s not in there, Alex.” She gently steered him off the street and into the minivan. “Jonathan disappeared last Halloween. I found you sitting here alone that night, and Jonathan… well, he’s gone.”
“But….” Alex stared at the house as his mother started the engine. “I met him at Julie Eastway’s party tonight. Then we went trick-or-treating. We stopped at the Shipley house, and he was pulled inside. I know he was.”
“No, honey. You’re having a nightmare. When I arrived at Julie’s to pick you up, she told me you left her party early. And you were alone. I drove around until I found you sitting here.” His mother reached over and clasped his hand.
“I know Jonathan’s disappearance has been hard on you,” she continued. “We’re all heartbroken. But he’s not in the Shipley house. After he vanished, the police searched it several times based on your story. The only person there was Mrs. Shipley. And she had passed away that night. The house has been empty since last Halloween.”
~ ~ ~
That night in Jonesborough, about 450 miles away from East Linthicum, Meghan Pumphrey hosted a Halloween party for her sixth-grade classmates. Around seven o’clock, a five-foot-tall zombie wearing a torn black tee-shirt and dusty blue jeans rang her doorbell.
The boy dressed as the undead, Jonathan Shipley, arrived in Jonesborough a year ago. Nobody knew where he came from. He showed up the day after Halloween to live with his great aunt in the old Shipley place. Kids said the house was inhabited by witches. Even though she’d never been inside—none of them had—Meghan doubted it was true. Occasionally Jonathan acted weirdly, and sometimes Meghan swore he was possessed by a fussy old woman, but she attributed his peculiarities to living with an elderly relative.
“Ooh… you’re positively ghoulish,” Meghan raved as she motioned Jonathan inside.
“Thanks. I love Halloween.” He grinned. “It’s when the magic happens.”
Loved the ending……it was magical.
Wow! What a wonderfully unique Halloween Story. The ending was a jaw dropper, and I was pleasantly thrilled and curious while reading it. Allorianna has done it again, always brewing up truly great and original stories to enjoy!