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Caught Stealing

By: The Earthotic Way

Miss Maisie was the quintessential sweet old lady, living in the antique house at the end of the street. She loved Halloween. Somehow she managed to elaborately decorate her yard without help. The decor seemed to go up overnight on October 1st: bats, cobwebs, ghosts drifting from trees, orange lights sparkling at night, a witch silhouetted on the widow’s walk, funny tombstones mounted in the yard, and pumpkins, pumpkins, dozens of them, everywhere, pumpkins small enough to palm and big enough to sit on. The pumpkins were a marvel. Not jack-o-lanterns; instead, each bore a remarkably clear rendering of a human face in black ink.

When Lucas was a little kid, visiting Miss Maisie’s was the highlight of trick-or-treating. She would invite children inside and give homemade treats, delicious soft-ball sized popcorn balls, and homemade chocolate-chip cookies. For some reason, no parent in the entire neighborhood objected. In a world where candy was checked for needles and razor-blades, Miss Maisie was the exception. She would no more harm a child than she would fly to the moon.

And now, Lucas’s waste-of-space friend Tobey had targeted the silver coin collection hanging conspicuously in Miss Maisie’s inner parlor. He needed it, he said, to replace a power tool he’d busted, and fast, before his dad found out about it. “Unless you want to visit me in the hospital,” Tobey added, as a way to guilt-trip Lucas into helping. Lucas knew that Tobey’s dad was a scary guy, and Lucas was smart enough to know that Tobey’s bullying was being learned somewhere.

But stealing those coins from Miss Maisie? “You’re not stealing them,” Tobey said. “You’re just the distraction.”

As if there was any difference! Lucas was dumb enough to ask what good six silver dollars were going to do Tobey anyway, and Tobey had, for once, known an answer that Lucas didn’t. Those old coins were made from real silver. Some of them were worth $500 dollars – or more!

Lucas hated this, but when Tobey was in a mood it was best not to argue. Tobey still thought of them as “best friends”, but sixteen years of living next door to each other had enlightened Lucas to certain things about his “best friend.” Tobey wasn’t especially bright, and was a bully who got meaner by the year.

They were too old to be trick-or-treating. Teenagers in cheap masks with their pillowcases held out – jeez, like it was so embarrassing!

At one house Stephanie Hall answered the door herself: the most beautiful senior at high school. Please don’t let her recognize me! Lucas had thought desperately. 

“You’re a little old to be begging for candy, aren’t you?” Stephanie asked with a sneer.

Stupidly Lucas had said, “It’s for my little sister. She’s sick.”

“Uh-huh,” said Stephanie. She gave him some candy, though. Was his mask covering his face well enough?

As they left Stephanie’s doorstep Tobey mocked him in a girly voice, “It’s for my little sister.”

“Shut your face,” Lucas snapped back. “Let’s just go to my place and watch the slasher-fest.”

“As soon as we get my money.” This was typical Tobey, calling it “his” money when it was actually something they were about to steal.

They trick-or-treated up and down the street so they’d have some excuse for why they’d shown up at poor Miss Maisie’s house. Tobey imagined himself a criminal mastermind. Why am I doing this? Lucas asked himself one last time, before they knocked on Miss Maisie’s door. He supposed he was as scared of Tobey’s wrath as Tobey was scared of his father’s.

Inevitably they came to the end of the street, to Miss Maisie’s yard of Halloween delights – only tonight, the faces on the pumpkins seemed to stare at Lucas reproachfully rather than invite him forward. As they made their way past her front gate, Miss Maisie’s door flew open and four jubilant children burst forth, shouting, “Thank you Miss Maisie!” Miss Maisie herself appeared, a waft of delicious air around her, melting chocolate and sweet kettle corn. She was the size of a child herself, shrunken and grey, but her eyes were merry, her smile toothy and delighted. Their masks didn’t fool her. “Tobey and Lucas! Come and get some treats!”

Inside they went. Miss Maisie’s home looked like a museum and smelled like a bakery. They accepted their goodies. At her bidding, Lucas ate one cookie on the spot. “They’re so good, Miss Maisie, thank you.”

“Take two more for your folks. Everybody gets a treat on Halloween!”

Tobey, subtle as a locomotive, gestured with his big stupid head for Lucas to get on with it. Lucas exclaimed, “Wow, Miss Maisie, these books are amazing!” He directed her attention across the parlor. “Where did you get these?”

He got her talking about a set of novels, commenting on those he had actually read and asking about the ones he hadn’t. He felt sick inside, as from the corner of his eye, he saw Tobey reaching for the frame of the coin collection. The cookie she’d given him threatened to come right back up his throat.

“Tobey, stop,” he said suddenly, turning back. “Don’t. Let’s just go, okay?”

Miss Maisie turned as well, to see Tobey slipping the coin collection into his pillowcase.

Tobey’s face turned thunderous with fury. “Snitch!” he shouted.

In horror Lucas stared as Tobey pounded for the front door, flinging it open and racing outside into the night, flying by the dozens of pumpkins, past a new group of children making their way for the front door. He nearly knocked down a little pirate and scared the children into the yard where they huddled together exclaiming.

When Tobey reached Miss Maisie’s gate, a strange thing happened – Tobey seemed to simply wink out of existence. Nothing remained except the pillowcase lying on the ground, pinned beneath a pumpkin with a painted face.

“Lucas, be a dear and go fetch my silver dollars,” requested Miss Maisie kindly.

Perplexed, Lucas did as she asked. Had his eyes played a trick on him? Maybe Tobey had just dropped the bag and kept running. It was dark outside, after all.  Lucas reached the pillow case and its stolen payload, and pulled it free from beneath the pumpkin. He gazed with mortified fascination at this fresh new pumpkin’s face.

Tobey was never seen again after that night. Officially, it was assumed that Tobey had run away from an unhappy home. But still…had this pumpkin been there already, or was it new? There was no way to be sure. Lucas never forgot it, though: Tobey’s face painted clearly on the orange skin, frightening with its wide-eyed dismay and shock.

Before Lucas could form a coherent thought, Miss Maisie said, “Bring those back to me, dear.”

Like a zombie himself Lucas moved back to Miss Maisie, passing the solemn children who waited their turn to see the neighborhood’s favorite treat-giver. He held out Tobey’s heavy pillowcase. When Miss Maisie took it from him, he was careful not to touch her.

“Happy Halloween, dear,” said Miss Maisie. Of its own volition, the front door slammed shut in Lucas’s face.

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