“That’s not funny, Dean.”
“What?” Dean said, chuckling at his wife, more to irritate her than because he thought it was funny. “You know that was on every single show, news show, on the commercials when we were little…” He took a swig of his something, something IPA.
“It’s still not funny.”
She walked away into the kitchen, and Dean was left standing in the foyer just to the side of the front door. He could see out the little half window, but it was still light out. Only little kids would be out now, or parents who were super paranoid about Halloween.
“Terri!” he called towards the kitchen. “Are you taking Buck out or am I?” Buck was their seven year old, and it was just around the neighborhood. It wasn’t cold, and if he put his beer in a koozie nobody would bother him. He would rather take Buck around than deal with all the kids coming to the door, but whatever she wanted was fine.
“You can take him if you want.”
“You sure?” he said, and turned up the rest of his beer. There were about two sips more than he expected, and that was a bitter beer to have your mouth full of it.
“Yep, I got the door,” she answered
Dean got his light jacket out of the hall closet and put it on. It wasn’t quite enough for how cool it was, but his other jacket would be way too much. As he was pulling it on, he could see out the back window in the den and some kids were already out. Most were small, but a few older ones were out.
“Hey Ter, some kids are…”
The doorbell rang.
“Trick or treat!” came a horrible medley of little voices.
Terri was going through the ‘aw’ and ‘what are you?’ that you had to do as a paren
Dean straightened his coat and started to walk back toward the front door, but he saw one little kid on the sidewalk outside. He looked really small to be as far away from his parents as he was.
Walking over to the back window, Dean leaned close so he could see through the slats of the blinds. The kid was probably five or six. He was sort of wandering a little, not like he was lost, but more like he was unsure. He was wearing a plasticky shirt that was short sleeved and came down to just below his waist. It was a little big. It was black in the back, but there was some print on the front, but Dean couldn’t make it out.
“Hey Ter, has that little boy come to the door?”
“Trick or treat!”
He could just see the door from the den, and Terri was leaned over putting candy in little bags. There was a mom in the back messing around on her phone, sort of distracted.
Dean turned back around and the little boy had already moved on further down the street.
“Daddy!” Buck yelled, coming down the stairs.
“Hey! You look so–CAREFUL!”
Dean ran over to make sure Buck didn’t fall over his Darth Vader cape as he came down the stairs. His costume looked good, but if you looked closely it was a pieced together thing. He had black dress pants on, a black long-sleeved t-shirt, a black scarf pulled around his neck and down to his waist with a thick black belt of his mom’s holding it in place. The cape they had bought this year, and the mask was one he had from pretending to be Darth Vader all the time. And he had a red lightsaber.
After Buck had two feet on the floor, Dean straightened the scarf, and made sure the cape was secure.
“You ready to head out?”
“Yes!” Buck started making lightsaber sounds, coming dangerously close to taking out a table lamp close by.
“Hold up on that until we get outside, ok?”
There were two more IPAs in the fridge, so one went into a koozie that zipped all the way up the neck. He popped the top off, grabbed a small flashlight and Buck’s little cauldron for candy, kissed Terri, posed for a pic with Darth, and then headed out.
It had gotten dark quickly, and looking down at Buck’s costume he’d successfully dressed his son in one of the only things they warn not to put them in – something all black. His lightsaber didn’t light up, so he was one big walking hazard. Dean would have to be glued to his kid all night, which was fine, but he’d have to do better next year.
Buck started to go straight into one of the darker parts of the neighborhood, but Dean looked up the other way that was a bit more lit by street lamps.
“Let’s go up this way, it’s easier to see where we’re…”
The little kid he’d spotted earlier was wandering down the dark street now. Dean had nearly convinced himself that he just couldn’t see his parents when he was inside, but now, out here, he couldn’t see anybody around the little kid at all. And he was in the darkest part of the neighborhood.
“Actually, that’s…that’s fine, we’ll go that way.” Dean walked his little Vader onto the sidewalk on the unlit side of the neighborhood. There was some light, porch lights carried out into the street a bit, and lights from windows, but the lack of street lamps made the walk more treacherous than it should have been.
The little boy was meandering ahead. He had a little plastic orange pumpkin bucket, and he was wearing dark jeans under his plastic shirt, the jeans rolled up so he wouldn’t trip over his little tennis shoes.
“Can I go there?” Buck pointed to the first house.
“No, bud, there’s no light on there, let’s go down to the next one, they’ve got their light on and they’re sitting on the porch.” Dean waved at the couple who he didn’t know, and they waved back. “Go ahead, but don’t run.”
Buck ran across their yard, but Dean looked back up the street towards the little boy. He was turned around toward Dean now. The boy was wearing a broad white skeleton mask. It was the thin plastic kind with the little rubber band that held it on your head. It had lots of little creases highlighted with black and other colors. The plastic shirt was white on the front and had a rib cage and collar bones printed on it.
The mask had a really ‘scary’ grin on it.
“Daddy?” Buck tugged and was bumping his Dad’s leg.
“Oh yeah, let’s go.” Dean looked back where the kid had been, and he was further down the street now. When he was turned away it was sort of hard to make out anything but the outline because of his dark jeans and the back of the shirt was dark. Dean was about to mentally chastise the kid’s parents for dressing him in such dark clothes, but he looked at his little Darth and stopped.
They walked down the street to a couple more houses, but Dean wasn’t paying much attention. He was trying to find the little skeleton, but he had lost him from sight. Buck was excited enough that he was guiding them house to house, which was good because Dean was so distracted looking for the other kid.
When they got to the end of the first street, Dean looked into Buck’s little cauldron. He was getting a decent haul.
There was one piece of candy on the side that caught his eye. It was a full-sized candy bar. A Three Musketeers.
“Daddy, this way?” Buck pointed with his lightsaber toward the right. There was one street lamp down at the end in the cul-de-sac, and it was a bit more lit that way.
The little skeleton was down there walking back and forth.
“Yeah, that, uh, that sounds good.”
There were five houses between the sidewalk corner and the street lamp. The little kid, who Dean was sure was a little boy, was sort of hanging around that street lamp. Dean wondered finally if the boy was lost now. Sometimes parents from other neighborhoods would drop their kids off at the beginning of the neighborhood and let them trick or treat, but they usually weren’t this small, and certainly never by themselves.
Four houses in and the little skeleton had now moved a little further down.
“Daddy! Look at all this!” Buck held up his cauldron as high as he could to Dean’s face.
“Yeah, bud,” he said, not interested, but then he saw that one Three Musketeers again, and couldn’t not look at it. “Can I look in here for a second?”
At first, Buck pulled it down and away, but then let his Dad hold it.
Dean moved the candy around in the small cauldron. It was really small, but in the dark he couldn’t see the bar now. He took his flashlight and shined it down inside, but didn’t find it.
He looked around on the ground, shining the flashlight on the sidewalk, on the grass close by, but there was nothing.
“Buck, did um…did you see where that Three Musketeers went?”
“The big one, the full sized one.”
“I didn’t get one of them.”
“Yeah, I saw it a minute ago when you held it up to me.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I didn’t see it,” Buck was looking around, ready to go to the next house.
“OK, let’s, um…let’s keep going.”
Dean kept the flashlight on, kept looking down at the grass, looking for the bar even though they were too far away for it still to be around them.
Buck had gotten almost a two-thirds cauldron full of candy, which if they were close might be enough for Dean to convince him to start heading back, but little skeleton boy made him keep wanting to go. As long as he was within sight, Dean guessed it would be ok to just keep going.
He had nearly forgotten the beer he’d brought, and wasn’t sure when he’d sat it down. Maybe when he was looking through candy. It wasn’t really terribly responsible to set down full bottles of open beer, but he could either go back and look for it, or keep going along the road so he could keep an eye on the potentially lost child.
They continued through the cul-de-sac, and down onto the other side of the road. Buck was going house to house, being careful, not running. If Dean hadn’t been so distracted he could have told him how proud he was of his son’s listening and behaving, but he didn’t.
It was then that Dean looked up and the little skeleton was staring right at him. Somehow he’d lost track of where he was, and the little boy must’ve walked back their way. Dean’s heart fluttered a little. The little boy’s skeleton mask wasn’t really scary, but something in that moment was.
Buck had walked up to another house with the light on.
“He…H… hey,” Dean managed, “you, um…your parents around?”
Something in that question was so familiar that it made Dean’s neck go hot, but his stomach went cold.
The little boy shook his head.
Dean looked down at the little orange pumpkin bucket in the boy’s hand. There was one thing in it.
It was the Three Musketeers. The full-sized one that Buck had.
“Where’d you get that?”
The little boy didn’t say anything, he just pointed down the street, back down the street where they’d walked from. Dean looked back over, trying to see which house it could be.
“Do you know which…” but the little skeleton had turned and started running down the street.
Buck was back. “Dad, can we…”
Dean grabbed Buck’s hand and started almost pulling him down the street. The little skeleton had stopped running, now just walking fast.
“Daddddyyyyy….” Buck was saying, mumble screaming about porch lights being on.
When he got to the corner, Buck pulled his hand free. He was crying. Dean took a breath, pulled off Buck’s little mask, and wiped the little tears that were around his son’s eyes.
“I’m sorry, buddy. I was worried about that little boy,” Dean said, and pointed over at the little skeleton who was standing across the street, looking around. “I think he might be lost.”
“Can I go up to that house?” Buck asked, not looking over there. He pointed his lightsaber to the house right behind them.
“Yeah, I’m sorry, that’s fine. Do you want your…”
Buck was walking across the yard with his helmet off. Dean stood there for a second, watched Buck get to the front steps, then looked back towards the little skeleton.
He had the Three Musketeers bar in his hand, and was peeling the wrapper.
Dean ran out across the street, hoping when he reached the middle there was no car coming because he hadn’t looked. He did a quick glance back and forth, but when he got to the other side of the street, the little skeleton wasn’t there. The wrapper was there, and there was part of the candy bar there, but the little boy was gone.
Looking at the candy bar, there was something dark and wet on the chocolate, and the nougat had something…in it.
Dean picked up the bar. There was a flat, dull piece of metal through the nougat. It was just poking through where it looked like a bite had been taken.
He heard Terri’s voice.
It wasn’t funny. The “razor blade in candy” joke wasn’t funny at all.
There was blood all over Dean’s hands, and on the ground. He nearly dropped the bar, but looked closer. The wrapper was some throw-back look, white with red lettering. Where had the little boy said he’d gotten it?
Dean looked up. The little skeleton crouched down in the grass near the edge of a little pond in the neighborhood. He hadn’t moved his mask, but blood was pouring from the bottom edge. Scrambling over, Dean put his hands on the little boy’s shoulders.
“Hey, hey…let’s see…”
But now, face to face, the little skeleton wasn’t exactly what he expected. The mask was super thin, flimsy almost like paper, with a rubber band that was held to each side with a staple. The costume was a plasticky smock, with a very cartoony print on the front. It felt like the material shower curtains were made out of. The boy’s little blood covered shoes were old and his jeans were a very rough, scratchy kind.
Dean lifted the little mask, and the boy had longish, sweaty, sandy blonde hair, with freckles across his nose. His little lips were sliced across the top and then down through the bottom. Blood was pouring down.
He wasn’t crying.
“Where’s your mom and dad?”
The boy didn’t say anything. He just stared at Dean. The eyes made his stomach feel acidy, like they were burning through him.
“Hey, listen. I need to find your mom and dad.” Dean leaned in. “Where are–”
“This is your fault,” the little boy said through a nasty lisp, his lips not working correctly, sort of flopping open, dark blood pouring out, down his chin.
“I, wha, what?”
The boy’s face looked so…familiar.
“You let me go in there, because you didn’t like me.”
“Let you go where? I don’t even…”
There was something in the back of Dean’s mind and he fought it back. Even though he knew the truth, he told himself boy didn’t look familiar, and there was no way he was going to sit there and remember him.
“He was your neighbor,” the boy said, “and you knew.”
Dean had seen the little boy on Mr. Chase’s steps. There hadn’t been a light on. The porch was dark, but the little kid in the skeleton costume had walked up there anyway. Dean wasn’t sure what was happening here. The little boy was bleeding profusely, and the plastic shirt was just letting it run directly to his shoes.
Mr. Chase was that guy of the neighborhood. He had no kids, no wife, no family. Your mom wouldn’t let you go outside if he was outside because she didn’t like the way he looked, but you didn’t either. His face was just one of those faces.
“Michael?” the name was on his lips before he could stop it.
“You didn’t like me. That’s why you didn’t say anything.”
“No. That’s, that’s not…”
But it was true. It WAS true. Dean had watched Michael, dressed in his little skeleton costume, walk across Mr. Chase’s lawn, up the steps, and ring the doorbell. It could just be how he was remembering it, but Dean was sure that Mr. Chase looked so pleased, almost like he was tickled to death that a little boy had come to his door. A little trick or treater.
Hello! Are your parents around?
When Michael shook his head then came the big smiles. He was wearing a big maroon sweater and he only had one candy bar in hand. Dean had heard it hit the bucket with a loud, hollow thud.
“It’s not funny,” Michael said now, looking at Dean.
“It’s never been funny.”
“It was just a joke, Michael. I mean…I didn’t mean…”
“And you knew. And it was because you didn’t like me.”
“It wasn’t that. It was…”
But Michael was telling the truth. When second grade Dean watched first grade Michael walking across Mr. Chase’s grass, he was hoping something would happen. He wasn’t sure why. Michael was a weird kid. He didn’t have normal parents. And he was always wearing clothes that smelled.
When Mr. Chase opened the door, Dean wanted something to happen. If he was honest, he wanted to see what would happen. His little seven-year-old mind didn’t know why Mr. Chase was creepy, but he was. He didn’t know why parents didn’t want kids to go over there, but they didn’t. A part of him just wanted to see what would happen when the weird little boy who never had clean clothes went up to the door of the man who nobody wanted to be around.
Dean looked down, not able to look at the little boy’s eyes.
“Michael, I’m sor–”
Lifting his head up, Michael was gone, the candy was gone, the blood was gone.
A blaring horn, screeching tires, and an all too familiar scream replaced all of it.
Dean spun around from where he’d been squatting, falling over onto his side, just in time to see the harsh red tail lights of a car stopped in the middle of the street.
He scrambled up, ran over to the car, stumbling, catching his balance on the car, trying to get to the front knowing that his son was dead, that while he had been over there reliving something from thirty years before, his son was walking out into the street dressed completely in black, coming over to where his dad was.
Buck was there in front of the car, less than a foot from the bumper, fallen over on his side.
Not a mark on him.
He was crying, screaming, terrified, tears pouring down his scrunched face, but he was okay. He wasn’t hurt. He wasn’t anything.
Buck was perfectly fine.
Dean grabbed his son, and wrapped him up in his arms. He was shaking, absolutely shaking. The harshness of the headlights were blinding, but he picked up his son, held him tight and looked through the windshield of the car.
“I’m sor–” The words stopped.
The man driving looked terrified. He was staring blankly forward, his scarred lips parted, bottom lip quivering. There was a spidery white scar that split the man’s upper and bottom lip. He was gripping the steering wheel so tight that his knuckles looked like they might burst through the skin.
“I’m…” Dean swallowed hugging his little boy tight against him, “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” He dropped his voice just enough so no one could hear. “Michael, I’m so sorry.”
Dean walked around Michael’s car, not daring to sit his sobbing son down and out of the street. The driver raised his hand a little in a small wave and pulled away.
“Daddy?” Buck said, finally catching his breath.
“Can we get my candy?”
Dean smiled, sighed out, relieved, looking at the candy that had dumped out of Michael’s cauldron when the car almost hit him.
“Yeah, bud. We can get your candy.”