It was Halloween, but these trick-or-treaters didn't seem to be in costume.
|"Is there anything creepier," Bill Pickett asked, "than a pack of trick-or-treaters parading around without wearing any costumes?"
He was staring out his dining room window at the dusk lowering over the suburban street. It had been a warm October and the weather hadn't broken yet. It was now Halloween, but the trick-or-treaters were out in shirtsleeves.
Street clothes and shirt sleeves. A pack of six of them were boiling down the sidewalk across the street, and as Bill had observed, not one of them sported a costume. Not a mask, not a sheet, not even a t-shirt with a picture of their favorite television character on it. It had been the same with a trio that had passed a little while before.
His wife, Mary, was sitting at the dining room table behind him, nursing a cup of coffee and reading a paperback. A thin stream of smoke rippled toward the ceiling from the tip of her cigarette.
"They're not from around here," she said without raising her eyes from the book.
"The kids. They're not from around here."
"Where are they from, then? And how do you know?"
"Because we don't have any kids around here." She lifted the cigarette and took a dainty sip from it. "The Andersons on the corner are the only ones with kids under twelve, and they don't let them go trick-or-treating. They're Baptists or something."
"Sarah called it 'The Devils Night' when I talked to her at the grocery store about it. They keep their kids in."
"Then where are these kids coming from?"
"Other neighborhoods, I guess."
"Why don't they stick to their own?"
Mary didn't answer, but with total absorption turned the page of her book.
They were new to town, and Bill was conscious that they hadn't yet found their footing. (At least, he hadn't found his footing; Mary was starting to talk as though she was a native. But she often spoke with more confidence than he ever would have admitted to.) Though they had flung themselves halfway across the country so Bill could take a management position at the company's new plant, their new locale looked and felt a lot like their old. Leafy streets and ranch homes in the suburbs; hot, brick-front stores downtown; light manufacturing sheds down by the railroad.
The doorbell rang, and Bill jumped. "The hell?"
"It'll be some of the kids."
"I left the porch light off!"
"It doesn't matter. Go give them something."
"Like what? The asparagus I was going to throw out?"
"I set a bowl of candy next to the door."
Bill's brow furrowed. "When did you do that?"
"Just after we ate. Sarah Anderson told me it would be a good idea."
"I thought Sarah Anderson told you—"
The doorbell rang again. "Better go answer it, sweetheart," Mary said, though she was still absorbed in her book.
Fuming, Bill stalked from the room. Mary continued to read as the knob rattled and the door opened. "Trick or treat!" a chorus shouted. Bill's reply was inaudible, and a minute later he returned, looking very red in the face. "Did you give them each a healthy handful?" Mary asked.
"I did not. I told them we were closed for the night and to tell their friends."
Mary lowered the book to give him a look. "Then what's the point of having candy on hand?"
"What's the point of leaving the porch light off?" Bill retorted. He returned to the window and watched as a quartet of ten-year-olds, dressed like Mormon missionaries in white, short-sleeve shirts and dark slacks, strode back down the walk toward the street. "I told them there wouldn't be any treats, so they'd better come up with some good tricks."
For the first time that evening, his wife showed some emotion. "Do you think it was a good idea," she said, "to goad them?"
"They're breaking the rules. The porch light was off. Besides, none of them was in costume. You can't go trick-or-treating if you're not in costume."
"Sarah Anderson was very particular that we should hand out candy," his wife insisted. "She said we needed to keep on their good side."
"What's to be afraid of? They're only little kids, they're more likely to hurt themselves if they do try something. And they're the most well-scrubbed bunch I've ever seen. They look like they're on their way to a parent-teacher conference."
"We have the candy set out anyway, Bill. It'll just go uneaten if we don't hand it out. And there was something about the way Sarah Anderson—"
"Sarah Anderson had a lot to say, didn't she?"
Mary squirmed. "She did. It's why I made sure we had some treats on hand. She actually looked frightened when I told her we were planning to spend the night with the lights off and the door locked and—"
But nothing she said would move her husband off his point.
So, six more times that night Bill Pickett answered the bell and turned away trick-or-treaters. Six more times he explained to them the business about the porch light being off, and about them not being in costume. Six more times he explained the rules.
The seventh time was close to midnight. He was just on his way to bed when the bell rang. He glowered when he opened the door to a score of freshly scrubbed and boyish faces grinning up at him.
"Look, I told you," he said as he flicked on the porch light. "You need to be in cos—"
The word died on his lips. One of the boys was digging at his neck, just inside the collar of his starched, white shirt, and as Bill watched he pushed his fingers up under his skin and pulled it over and off his head.
Bill's own eyes bulged as he stared into the dead black eyes—bulbous as a billiard ball—set in the flat green face that grinned back at him.
Silently, the other children pulled their faces off too. They all grinned at him.
But the worst part, Bill thought, was how sharp were the teeth inside their wide, green mouths.
Prompt: "Halloween in a Suburb"