All Hallow’s Eve ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Mother stood over him while he ate his dinner of liver and onions. When she decided he had eaten enough, she told him he could go. He ran up the stairs to his room and put on his Halloween costume. A ghost this year, same as last year. Next year he was going to have to be something different. Wearing the same costume more than two years in a row was terrible.
His false face still had dried spit around the mouth, but it was his own spit so he didn’t care. He put it on and checked the entire effect in the mirror, costume, mask and all. Something was missing. Oh, yes, the old derby hat. It was the one thing that made his costume look just a little bit creepy and scary. Without the hat, the costume was just a cheap little-kid’s getup.
Mother was in the living room when he came down the stairs. “Come here, Buster, and let me take a look at your outfit,” she said.
“It’s a costume,” Buster said.
“Oh, don’t you look cute!”
“I’m supposed to look scary!”
“So, where are you going tonight? What are you plans?”
“I’m going tricking-or-treating, mother, the same as every Halloween.”
“Who are you going with?”
“I don’t know. Some of the kids from my class, I guess.”
“What are their names?”
“You want the names of all the kids in my class?”
“Of course I don’t. You’ll be careful, now, won’t you?”
“Yeah, I’ll be careful.”
“Make sure you’re not alone. Wherever you go, go in a group.”
“I don’t care.”
“I said okay, I’ll go in a group.”
“Be home by ten o’clock.”
“Mother! It’s Halloween and tomorrow is Saturday!”
“All right, then. Eleven.”
When he finally got out the door, he broke into a run. The evening air felt good after the stuffy house and smelled good, like leaves and burning candle wax. It wasn’t all the way dark yet, but trick-or-treaters were everywhere, mostly little kids accompanied by their mothers.
He met his friends at the corner by the park. Eric was a skeleton, Stan a hobo, and Squeamy the Lone Ranger. Squeamy’s sister, Oda May, stood apart from the others, smoking a cigarette and looked bored. She carried a rubber-and-fur gorilla mask loosely in her hand like a rag.
“What’s Oda May doing here?” Buster asked.
“My mother wouldn’t let me go out without an adult,” Squeamy said.
“I guess that’s enough of an adult.”
“Let’s get going, you losers,” Stan said, “before all the good candy is gone!”
Oda May flipped away her cigarette and put on the gorilla mask and they headed for the neighborhood on the other side of the park where all the best houses were.
It was a lucrative neighborhood. Three-quarters of the houses had their porch lights on. When people took one look at adult-sized Oda May in her gorilla mask, their smiles usually faded.
The treats were good, Hershey bars and popcorn balls instead of stale jelly beans. After three blocks, their bags were starting to get heavy. They sat down on the curb to rest for a while.
“That’s how it’s done,” Oda May said, hefting the bag of candy appreciatively between her legs. “If they’re just a little bit scared of you, they’ll fork over the candy quick enough so they can get rid of you.” She lit a cigarette without taking off the gorilla mask.
“Where to now?” Buster asked.
“I don’t know about you little turds,” Oda May said, “but I’m going to go meet my boyfriend.”
“What about us?” Stan asked.
“You’re on your own. I’ve played nursemaid long enough.”
“It’s all right,” Squeamy said. “We don’t need her.”
“And don’t follow me,” she said, “or somebody’s gonna lose some teeth!”
“Leave the mask on!” Squeamy called after her. “Your boyfriend might like you better that way!”
“What will she do with all that candy?” Buster asked.
“Probably give it to her boyfriend.”
“Who is this boyfriend, anyway?” Eric asked. “Why don’t we get to meet him?”
“He’s a criminal, I think,” Squeamy said. “She doesn’t want me to see him because she’s afraid I’ll tell on her. He’s twenty-three years old. I’ll bet he’s really terrible looking, like a convict.”
“I’d like to see him,” Stan said.
“Hey, I stole some of her cigarettes when she wasn’t looking,” Squeamy said, passing them around and lighting them.
“Boy, I like smoking!” Eric said. “I inhale the smoke deep down into my lungs and let it stay there.”
“Me too,” Stan said. “I’m always going to smoke for as long as I live.”
“My mother told me if she ever caught me smoking a cigarette she’d knock it down my throat,” Squeamy said.
“Doesn’t she smoke?” Eric asked.
“Of course she does. They all smoke.”
“Then why does she care?”
“Because I’m in fifth grade.”
“She’s a hypocrite,” Stan said.
Buster had never smoked before except for a quick puff off his mother’s cigarette when she wasn’t looking. He didn’t like the taste of it, but he wasn’t going to be the only one not to smoke.
Several times, he took the smoke into his mouth and quickly blew it out again. He wanted to have the others see him with smoke coming out his nose like a dragon, but he wasn’t sure how to do it without inhaling.
“Don’t you like smoking, Buster?” Squeamy asked.
“Yeah, I like it all right. I smoke all the time when my mother isn’t looking.”
“Well, finish your cigarettes, ladies,” Eric said. “We’ve still got a lot of territory to cover.”
They went over a couple of blocks to another neighborhood where the treats were bound to be good. They covered several blocks, both sides of the street, in just under an hour.
“My bag is getting really heavy,” Squeamy said. “I think I’d probably better go on home now.”
“Somebody gave me a guitar pick as a treat. Isn’t that weird?”
“Hey, it looks like it’s going to rain! If our bags get wet, they’ll bust through on the bottom and all our candy will spill out!”
“What time is it?”
“I think it’s about a quarter to ten.”
“I think we should call it a night.”
Some older kids, sixteen and seventeen, came up behind them with the intention of stealing their candy, so they began running furiously into the dark to get away from them. Stan knew the neighborhood better than the others, so they all followed him.
He led them around in a circuitous loop over to Main Street, where there were lots of lots of lights, people and cars.
“I think we outran them!” he said.
“Can you imagine the nerve?” Eric said. “We’ve been out all night trick-or-treating for our candy, and somebody thinks they can just come along and take it from us? What is the world coming to?”
Some of the businesses on Main Street were giving out treats. A lady at a bakery gave them day-old pumpkin cookies, which they devoured like hungry wolves.
A man standing in front of a tavern was giving out treats from a large plastic pumpkin. “You kids need to be home in bed,” he said.
“If we come inside, will you give us a beer?” Stan asked.
“Come back in ten years,” the man said.
There was a big crowd at the Regal Theatre, a long line of people waiting to buy tickets to the Halloween double feature: Bride of the Gorilla and The Terror of Tiny Town. Anybody in costume could get in for half-price.
“If we had enough money, we could go,” Stan said.
“Aw, I can’t stay out that late,” Buster said. “My mother would come looking for me.”
They were about to walk past the theatre, but Squeamy spotted Oda May in the ticket line in the gorilla mask and stopped. She wasn’t alone, either.
“She’s with a little kid and he’s a cowboy!” Squeamy said. “Her boyfriend is a child and a cowboy! That’s why she didn’t want us to meet him!”
From where they were standing, they all had a good look at the little cowboy. When he turned around to look at the line behind him, Buster saw his face. “That’s no little kid,” he said. “That’s a midget!”
“Oda May’s boyfriend is a midget and his face is all wrinkled! He must be thirty years old!”
“Oh, boy!” Squeamy said. “I’m really going to tell on her now!”
“I think we should go over and say ‘hi’ to her,” Eric said.
“No!” Squeamy said. “She’ll think we’ve been following her!”
They stood and watched Oda May and the midget cowboy move up in the line. When it was their turn, Oda May moved around behind the midget, put her hands on his waist and lifted him up so he could buy the tickets and then set him down again. Several people in line behind them laughed, but they seemed not to notice.
“Now I’m seen everything!” Squeamy said. “Can you imagine what their children will be like? I don’t even want to think about it.”
“Let’s go,” Stan said. “It’s ten o’clock and it’s starting to rain again.”
They decided to walk home with Stan, since he lived the closest. The interesting thing about Stan was that his father was an undertaker and the family lived above the funeral parlor. It was a subject of endless fascination to Stan’s friends.
“I think I’m going to call it a night,” Stan said when they were at the corner near his house. “Thanks for walking me home.”
“Do you mean you’re not going to ask us in after we’ve come all this way?” Squeamy said.
“Do you have a body in a casket we can look at?” Eric asked.
“Stan’s right,” Buster said. “I should be getting home, too.”
“I have to go to the bathroom,” Squeamy said. “I don’t think I can wait until I get home.”
“Oh, all right!” Stan said. “You can come in but you have to wipe your feet first.”
Stan’s parents were out for the evening, so they had the place to themselves. Stan took them down to the basement to show them around but made them promise not to touch anything. First he showed them the room where the embalming was done with its white cabinets full of jars and bottles and then a separate room where bodies were dressed and prepared for burial. The most impressive part of the tour was the casket room, where more than fifty caskets were opened up so people could see inside them. Eric, Buster and Squeamy took turns taking off their shoes and getting into a casket to see what it felt like, while Stan closed the lid on each of them for a few seconds and then made them get out.
“My dad wouldn’t like it if he knew we were down here,” he said.
“Let us know when there’s a body so we can come back and see it,” Eric said.
“I’ve seen plenty of dead bodies. It’s people you don’t know. You don’t feel anything looking at them.”
“You are so lucky! I’ve never seen a dead body!”
“I need to get home,” Buster said. “It’s getting late.”
Buster walked part of the way home with Squeamy and Eric, but they left him at the corner by the church and he had to walk the last four blocks alone. He held his bag of candy in his arms because it was heavy and soggy and he didn’t want the bottom breaking through. He didn’t see a single other person on his way home. Everybody was finished for the night. Halloween was over for another year.
Mother was sitting on the couch in her bathrobe and slippers watching a Charlie Chan movie on TV. “Did you have a nice time?” she asked.
“Yeah, it was okay.”
“I’m glad you’re home.”
“I always worry about you when you’re out by yourself.”
“I wasn’t by myself.”
“There’s an escapee on the loose killing people. I just heard it on TV.”
“We just missed him.”
“Now don’t eat all that candy at once. You’ll make yourself sick. You still have to eat your fruits and vegetables.”
“I know. I want to go to bed now. I’m tired.”
She was saying something else as he went up the stairs, but he didn’t hear what it was.
He weighed himself on the bathroom scale, first without the bag and then with it. He weighed eighty-four pounds without the bag and ninety-five pounds with it. Eleven pounds of candy. One pound for every year of his life.
He undressed and put on his pajamas and set the bag of candy on top of the chest of drawers where he could see it from the bed. He got into bed, took one last look at it, turned off the light. Before he could have counted to ten, he was asleep.
Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp