By: The Earthotic Way
Marin took the kids trick-or-treating. Leo, who did trick-or-treating duty last year, agreed to stay home and man the door. The sun had just set when the first packs of kids emerged. Scores of superheroes, princesses, vampires, zombies and sports stars began the parade, parents lingering protectively in the background, ever repeating, “What do you say?” each time Leo dropped candy into bags and pumpkin heads.
Leo noticed the kid in the ghost costume soon after, attached to a group of kids in much nicer costumes. He couldn’t tell the ghost’s age, just that it was a thin child with a threadbare white sheet over his (or her) head, two sloppy black holes cut for eyes. The ghost hovered behind two miniature Thors, a Dorothy and a Cowardly Lion. The four little ones accepted their candy and scrambled away shrieking “Thank you!” belatedly, after a hearing “What do you say?” from their chaperone.
The thin ghost remained behind, on his own. Leo beckoned him closer. The kid had no treat bag. Instead, in a plaintive gesture, he reached toward Leo, hand covered by the sheet that pooled at his feet, giving no sign of a telltale pair of sneakers or jeans beneath.
“I want a candy apple,” the child said mournfully.
“Sorry, kiddo. No candy apples. Just chocolate.” Leo showed the ghost the bowl. A Halloween-lover, Marin always bought dozens of mini candy bars in all types. Leo searched the dark beyond his porch light for the ghost’s mom or dad, and saw only the next two packs of kids racing up the driveway with excited giggles. He told the ghost, “Take your pick.”
“I want a candy apple,” said the ghost.
“Well, can’t help you there, buddy.”
The costumed child turned and dejectedly drifted away.
It was thirty minutes and about fifty kids later when the ghost returned, attached once more to a larger group, swaying listlessly behind the other children. The others ignored him, grabbing treats and skipping away, an excited boy actually taking a tumble when he became tangled in his lizard tail, bounding up laughing again.
The lone ghost remained behind, covered hand extended. “I want a candy apple.”
“Nope,” said Leo, bemused. “Didn’t have any before, don’t have any now. You’re not really supposed to come to the same house twice. Are you out here all by yourself?”
The thin hand reached, coming closer to Leo’s face. “I want a candy apple.”
“Come on kid, play fair. Take a candy bar and move along.” Leo didn’t want to be a jerk, but here came more kids, and he didn’t have time to have a conference with every trick-or-treater. The ghost wandered away. This second time, Leo noticed that the sheeted figure did not seem to make it to the sidewalk. But the street was crowded tonight, so it was hard to tell. Besides, a zombie was merrily roaring “Trick or Treat!” at his front door.
The ghost visited twice more, that pleading tone, “I want a candy apple…” before Leo became truly impatient. “This isn’t funny, kid. You don’t want to get in trouble, do you?”
The ghost did not respond. Leo sighed. Getting mad at the kid was pointless. In a kinder tone he asked, “Isn’t anybody with you?”
“I want a candy apple.” This time, the ghost’s grasp toward Leo’s face was quicker, more aggressive. Leo jerked back in surprise; the sheet-covered hand had missed him by only a couple inches. With his nerves suddenly alert, Leo noticed a couple things. First, the hand beneath the sheet looked weirdly thin, as if it might be little more than skin over bone. And second, that the eye-holes in the ghost’s costume sheet were not holes at all, but dark stains like a Rorschach test.
Leo was glad to be home alone right then; he would not have liked his wife or kids to hear the worry in his voice when he called the local police on his cell phone. He tried to sound like a reasonable man when the police station answered. “Listen,” he said to the officer on duty. “I’ve got a trick-or-treater here. I think he might be lost or separated from his folks. Could you send someone over to help him?”
“Is it asking for a candy apple?” interrupted the officer.
“How did you know that?” asked Leo, peering out his front window.
The thin ghost remained outside, lingering in the driveway, listing in the breeze. The moonlight turned the shroud a ghastly shade of grey, and the eye-stains looked longer than before. A curl of nausea and fear unrolled in Leo’s gut. Other children no longer approached; they tramped merrily on by as if Leo’s home had disappeared from the street.
The officer sounded urgently concerned. “Sir, please give me your address. Listen carefully. Keep your light on; don’t open the door until we get there. I’ll stay on the line with you.”
In less than five minutes, three police cars swung onto the street, creeping along with lights flashing. The festive crowd parted, staring, as the cars carefully made their way to Leo’s home. No less than six officers emerged from the cars, five of them establishing a perimeter around Leo’s driveway. The remaining officer, a middle aged man, came to Leo’s door with a sack in his hand, giving the ghost a wide berth.
The officer on the phone told Leo, “The man coming to your door is Officer Varo. Do what he says.”
When Leo opened the door, Varo withdrew from the bag a shining red apple on a stick, smelling of sweet cinnamon. Varo said, “Put this on the step, then stand back here with me. Don’t let that thing touch you. Do you understand sir?”
Leo was too perplexed to do anything but what Varo instructed, and so he placed the shining red candy apple on his front porch step.
A shudder went through Leo as the ghostly figure turned to look in his direction, then down at the apple. It approached with its attention on the treat. The ghost leaned down and delicately selected the apple by its stick, lifting it into the air. A cool October wind rustled its shrouded figure. When the ghost looked up, its eye-stains ran in long ruins down its face.
Varo had to clear his throat, but then asked, “What do you say?”
“Thank you,” came the ghost’s faint response. The ghost turned and drifted away, toward the sidewalk surrounded by the strobing police lights. In the bright flashing, Leo could not see well. One moment the thin figure was there, and the next, it was not.
Leo crumpled against his doorway. Varo held him up. The crowd in the street watched in open curiosity, and his wife and children were approaching fast, Marin shouting at him, “What’s happening, Leo, what’s happening?”
“It’s all right, sir,” Varo said softly. “Candy Apple never comes to the same house twice.”