A Halloween Miracle
"Trick or treat!" yelled a witch, an axe murderer, Batman, and a pint-sized Katniss Everdeen as Pam Cleary opened the front door to her home, a five-bedroom Victorian on a cul-de-sac in the enviable neighborhood of Shady Terrace.
"Oh, what nice costumes you have," said Pam as she dropped a full-size Snickers bar into each child's bag.
She was dressed as a doll, with porcelain-white skin, rosy red cheeks, and a puffy, blue dress. Coincidentally, her home resembled a dollhouse. It was a massive white structure with black shutters, imposing rooflines, and big bay windows. Like the Addams Family's place, only slightly more inviting.
She flashed a well-rehearsed smile at the children's parents -- a doctor, a preacher, an assemblyman, and the president of the Matheson Central PTA. These were good people. The very best people. Everyone thanked her and walked next door to the Kelly’s, who had just returned from a weeklong vacation in Barbados.
Pam closed the door and went to the kitchen to get more candy. It was a room worthy of a magazine spread: vaulted ceilings; imported marble countertops; stainless-steel, smart appliances; and a center island that would make a realtor squeal with glee. For Pam, who had spent her childhood in a run-down shoebox in the have-not side of town, it was like a dream.
Her husband, Martin, sat on a stool next to the island, nursing a glass of scotch. He was a middle-aged man with a salt-and-pepper beard and honest brown eyes.
"How's it going?" Martin asked. "Having fun yet?" A copy of Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow lay open on the counter, next to his glass. He took a swig of scotch and belched.
"Well, that bitch Patty Holden just stopped by with that brat kid of hers," said Pam. She picked up a carton of candy from the counter and dumped its contents into a large, glass bowl. "If I could, I'd tell her to go..."
Martin cut her off. "I don't want to hear any complaining tonight, alright? It's Halloween, for Christ's sake. Could you lighten up for once, Pamela?"
The doorbell rang.
"Could you shut your trap for once, Martin?" said Pam. She sneered at him and rushed down the hallway.
When she got to the front door and looked out the peephole at the pack of trick-or-treaters waiting outside, she didn't recognize a single one. Shady Terrace was home to 50 upstanding, well-bred families -- and she knew them all by name. Not this motley crew.
"Trick or treat!" yelled the costumed strangers as Pam opened the front door. She looked with disgust at the riffraff congregating on her front steps. A clown in an oversized pair of thrift-store pants. A princess with a tinfoil crown. A bedsheet ghost with two uneven eye-holes. And a skeleton in a threadbare Lycra outfit and one of those cheap, plastic masks with the rubber band in the back. The group smelled like a mix of body odor and Kool-Aid.
She looked out on the street, past the group of unwelcome misfits, and saw a rusted green minivan parked in front of the Wilson’s colonial home. She'd never seen it before, and it didn't belong to anyone in Shady Terrace, that was for sure.
Must be from the other side of Jefferson! thought Pam. The nerve of these people. I pay more than my fair share in taxes to feed and school these miscreants. Now I have to give them free candy, too?
The kids giggled and held out their bags in anticipation (half of the bags were dirty pillowcases). But Pam kept the candy out of their reach.
"You should be ashamed of yourselves," she said to their parents -- a zombie, a giant M&M, a pirate, a hobo, a black cat, and Elvis. "Halloween isn't a charity or a social service. This candy is for Shady Terrace kids. Why don't you go back to your 'hood' and trick-or-treat at your own damn houses!"
Before anyone could object, Pam stepped back in her house and slammed the door in her visitors' faces.
She set the candy bowl on top of her blue, mid-century bookshelf and peeped out the window. Outside, the children were pouting and stomping their feet on her walkway. Their parents were doing their best to console them, to no avail.
One of the parents (probably somebody's "baby daddy," thought Pam), the gruff-looking guy in the pirate outfit, turned toward the house and shook his fist in the air. "You can go to hell, lady!" yelled the man, a fierce scowl set across his stubbly face. "You think you live in some little bubble up here, like your shit don't stink. But you'll get yours! Just you wait!"
Pam ducked behind her handmade peu de soie drapes in fear.
The black cat, presumably the pirate's wife, tugged his arm and motioned toward the kids. He shook his head and followed the group next door to the Kelly's, but not before flipping the bird back at Pam's house.
Scumbags! I hope Barb tells them to buzz off!
Pam watched as Barb Kelly opened her front door and handed out candy to the very same group with a big, stinking smile on her face. Are you kidding me? Damned bleeding heart.
She walked back to the kitchen to complain to Martin about what she'd just endured, but he beat her to the punch.
"I heard the whole thing," said Martin, shaking his head. "I can't believe you. Denying little kids candy on Halloween. And kids from the projects, on top of it? C'mon."
"Those 'little kids' and their parents are deceitful," said Pam, fists clenched tight at her side. "It's so damn obvious that they live in the ghetto and only came here cause we give out real candy. It's bullshit, and I'm not going to stand for it."
Martin stepped up from the stool, nearly falling over in the process (he liked his scotch strong). "We make probably 30 times more than these kids' parents and you're going to give them a hard time about a two-dollar bar of chocolate?"
"It's not my job or obligation to feed or entertain someone else's kids," said Pam, pointing her thumb back at herself like a big to-do. "And I won't stand for threats from their trashy parents either."
Martin paused and tilted his head to the side as if something long-forgotten had just popped into his head. "Well, you better start being nicer to those kids," he said, smirking. "Or the Dearg Dulce is going to get you."
"The what?!" said Pam. Martin, a tenured anthropology professor, was prone to using weird, archaic words that she didn't understand.
"The Dearg Dulce. It's an ancient Celtic demon associated with the feast of Samhein; that's where we get Halloween. The Dearg Dulce haunted the homes of those who refused to partake in harvest festivities, which included giving out treats to village children."
This is what I get for marrying an academic. And a drunk.
Pam groaned. "You've got a colorful imagination, Martin. Why don't you have another drink and let me handle the trick-or-treaters?"
Martin chuckled. "It's ancient mythology, but whatever, Pam. I hope you'll curb your snobbery just this once and let some poor kids have some fun."
Pam picked up the bowl of candy and walked out of the kitchen, her nose pointed firmly toward the ceiling.
"Don't say I didn't warn you!" yelled Martin. He picked up his drink and walked out to the back porch to finish his story.
The rest of Pam's evening went by without incident. Groups of decent families rang her doorbell, and she doled out candy to each child with delight. When the neighborhood's power couple, Mark and Evelyn Jones, swung by, she made sure to give their son, Cody, an extra candy bar.
When more kids from the “other side of Jefferson” showed up, however (and it was quite obvious to Pam when they did), she simply shut off her porch light and refused to answer the door. Nobody home.
At 8:30 p.m. she waved goodbye to the last group of legitimate trick-or-treaters and closed the front door. Exhausted from a long day of Pilates and reality TV, she poured a glass of wine and lied down on her leather sofa. She was out cold not twenty minutes later.
The doorbell rang and Pam jolted awake. She rubbed her eyes and looked up at the clock on her $5,000 entertainment center. It was 11:59 p.m. Way too late for any trick-or-treaters. Who the hell would be ringing the doorbell at this hour? Did Devon forget his key again? Teenagers!
She walked to the front door and looked out the peephole, but her son wasn't standing outside. Neither were Rita Sullivan, Ted Donahue, or any of her other nosy neighbors. Instead, there stood the kid in the skeleton costume from before, one of the "less fortunate" kids, still clutching his filthy pillowcase. Scumbags letting their spawn roam the streets at this hour! I'm going to call security and make sure they never show their faces in this neighborhood again!
She opened the door and scolded him before he had a chance to yell "trick or treat."
"Young man, I told you this candy is for the children of Shady Terrace," said Pam, kneeling down to talk to him at eye level. "It's wrong of you to come into our neighborhood and ask for candy, ya hear? Now go on home, and tell your parents not to come around here anymore."
The skeleton didn't move or utter a word. He held out his pillowcase with one stiff hand and waited.
Pam stood up, a nasty sneer beginning to form on her face. "Where are your parents? I want to give them a piece of my mind!"
She waited for the skeleton to respond, but he stood there, silent and still. Outside the wind picked up and Pam could hear the sound of crisp red and orange leaves rustling on the ground.
"Are you deaf, kid? I'm talking to you!" she said, her Botoxed lip curled up into a sneer.
"That's it! Let's see who's hiding under that mask! And after that I'm calling the cops!"
She stepped forward and lifted the skeleton's mask off with her free hand in one swift motion.
When she saw what was underneath, she screamed, so loud and so violently that she woke up the Baumgartners, who lived five houses over.
Looking back at her, like the Devil himself had dropped it off at her doorstep, was a shriveled, rotting face. Its cheeks were pea-soup green and sunken in, and it was caked with dust, like some horribly preserved mummy, unearthed after a millennia. It had no eyeballs, but looked out at her through two empty sockets, through which she could see the same green minivan from before, the grungy pirate sitting in the driver's seat. The creature's teeth, yellow and decayed, extended beyond its pointed, gnarled chin. Not even the most brilliant mask maker could have dreamed up such a horribly grotesque face.
"Trick or treat!" howled the creature as a bright light emanated from its body, illuminating the porch and Pam in a weird purple glow. She stood in the doorway, unable to look away or run. Losing control of her body, she dropped the candy bowl to the ground. Shards of glass shattered all over her beautiful pavers as the creature's howl carried through the picture-perfect streets of Shady Terrace.
"Mom, I'm home," said Devon Cleary as he shut the back door to his house. He hung up his jacket, took off the Freddy Krueger hat he'd worn to the party, and walked into the kitchen, where his mother was sitting at the island, her back turned to him.
"Sorry I'm late," he said. "Rog and I sort of lost track of time."
He was surprised when his mother didn't turn around and scold him on the spot. Seemingly home-free, he walked to the other side of the island to grab some chips from the snack drawer. When he saw his mother's face, he froze.
"Mom?" he asked, his heart suddenly pounding against his chest like a hammer on a railroad spike. He grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. "Mom?!
"Dad! What's wrong with mom?!"
Pam sat on the stool, her eyes glazed over, face twisted in shock. She kept muttering something under her breath, but Devon couldn't make out what the strange words were underneath all of her heavy wheezing.
Dearg Dulce. Dearg Dulce. Dearg Dulce. Dearg...
Natasha Ulrich, Ernest Miller, and Racquel Knowles returned to their homes on the "other side of Jefferson" that night to find their trick-or-treat bags stuffed full of Snickers bars. No one knew how they ended up with all of that yummy loot, but it didn't matter. Times were tough, and nights like these provided some much-needed respite.
They tore open the wrappers and munched on their well-deserved junk. And their smiles were wider than a mile.
John Brhel is a horror writer from Binghamton, New York. He is currently co-authoring a book of short fiction about a cursed cemetery. He blogs at http://johnbrhel.tumblr.com and can be found on Twitter as @johnbrhel.