Free Fiction Friday: Trick or Treat

Posted: March 20, 2015 in Free Fiction Friday
Tags: , , ,

“Please, please, please come trick or treating with me?” Akina asks, putting on her best puppy dog eyes. She leans closer to her sister, hands clasped together over the giant ‘S’ of her superman costume. “We do it every year. We can’t stop now. It’s a tradition, who knows what bad voodoo fallout could happen.”

Sesi shakes her head, causing her tightly wound brown curls to sway lightly. Her hands are folded perfectly in her lap, her back a straight line. Seeing her so poised in the somber black dress she always wears, it’s hard to remember they’re identical twins. Where Akina’s eyes are a bright dancing honey, Sesi’s are dull and unfocused. Akina’s skin is a rich brown, while Sesi’s has a sickly, almost gray tint.

“Sesi,” Akina whines, flopping onto her back on her sister’s bed. The mattress barely notices her weight. “You haven’t left the house in months! It’s SO boring! It’s like you’re ninety years old, not nine!”

“You can still go out,” Sesi says, though her brow furrows in worry. She doesn’t move from her spot, perched at the end of her bed, staring out the small window.

“Hardly anyone talks to me anymore since last year,” Akina says. She stares up at the ceiling, and the line of paint that cuts it in two; one side pink with dancing princesses, and the other blue with sparring superheroes. The line travels down the walls to a large carpet with marbled patterns of pink and blue.

Sesi always hated the compromise. So Akina’s always surprised when another day after moving out goes by and her sister doesn’t try to paint over the blue with pink.

“If I go out they’ll get me,” Sesi says, her fingers clutching the duvet so tight her knuckles shine white. “They lie in wait, in shadows, behind doors.”

Akina huffs a sigh. She has no clue who the mysterious ‘they’ are, she doubts her sister knows either. All she knows is there are only so many board games you can play before you start losing it. She wants out. She needs out. “We had a deal. I don’t upset Mum and Dad by moving things. You lose the fruit loop act and quit making them worry. Staying in on Halloween night is totally fruit loops!”

Sesi hunches her shoulders, looking away from the window, where fading sunlight accompanies the shrieks and laughter of children on the street below. “I heard they poison the candy.”

“Whoever told you that is an idiot,” Akina says, rolling her eyes. “Are you seriously telling me that if I brought you some Halloween candy you wouldn’t wolf that stuff down?”

Sesi looks down at her white socks and says nothing.

“Right. I thought so,” Akina sits up on the bed and grins at her sister. “So come on then. Let’s go. I’ll knock on all the doors. You just stand there and look cute.”

“What if they get you?” Sesi asks, her voice barely above a whisper.

“They can’t get me,” Akina gestures to the ‘S’ on her superman costume. “I’m invincible, remember?”

Sesi glances from her socks to the window, her expression pained. “You fill a bucket and I’ll go out.”

Akina frowns. “How full?”

“All the way to the top.”

“You’re kidding me, right?” Akina asks, almost falling off the bed. It had been the goal of the two girls to fill the giant orange trick or treat buckets their father had given them every year. They never managed it. The bucket was too big, and the streets of their village too small. “That’s a cop out. You just don’t want to go.”

“You fill one bucket all the way to the top, and I’ll go outside, knock on a door and say trick or treat if someone opens it.” There’s a steely look in her eyes that speaks of determination.

Akina hesitates. It’s tempting. Sesi hasn’t stepped outside the house in months. Anything to stop her twin sister turning into Mrs Dulce – the old lady with all the cats – is a good idea. Except for the little detail about it being impossible.

“How about half a bucket?” Akina asks. Half a bucket was hard, but not impossible on a good Halloween.

“Whole bucket or no deal,” Sesi says simply. “Or are you too chicken to take on the challenge?”

Oooo…low blow. There’s nothing Akina likes more than a good challenge. There was a time when she would’ve leapt at the taunt, eager to prove she wasn’t a chicken. She likes to think she’s matured over the past year.

“You’re on,” her voice says before her mind can react. So maybe she’s still got a bit of maturing still to go.

***

Akina slips on the white sheet her sister used as a ghost costume last Halloween. The superman costume is nice and all, but she wears it every day. She needs something a little different, something that will get her noticed.

Giant orange bucket in hand, she clambers down the drainpipe. Their parents are downstairs, ready to greet the trick or treaters with none of their usual enthusiasm. Part of the no moving things rule makes opening any of the downstairs doors with them around a no no, let alone trying to creep past them carrying an orange bucket and dressed in a sheet.

Once on the ground, she moves off the front yard, onto the pavement. The house looks downright depressing, and not in the good Halloween way. Last year they’d strung up orange and black lights, hung bats around the door, and a witch on a broomstick from the window. Four hand carved pumpkins had leered from the driveway, and Mum and Dad answered the door dressed as Mr and Mrs Frankenstein (Frankenstein’s monster, Dad had corrected her), speaking in nothing but moans.

The year before that they’d been vampires, and the year before that, werewolves. Every year the decorations were pulled out, and the makeup and fake blood splattered on. They’d bake cookies, then sit and watch horror movies neither of the girls were allowed to watch any other time, and wait for it to get really dark before they went trick or treating.

This year – nothing. Not one light hung from their plain house. Inside perfectly normal parents sit in front of perfectly normal television, waiting to hand out perfectly normal candy.

BORING! She sticks out her tongue at the house from under the sheet. While they’re in there moping, she is going to have some fun!

She eyes up the kids running back and forth along the rows of houses, arms full of candy. If she’s going to stop her sister growing up to collect more cats than sense, she needs to consider tactics.

Step one: start the trick or treating early. Get in there before all the good candy goes.

Step two: look cute. Not the easiest thing to pull off wearing a sheet, but luckily she’s not an amateur. She pulls the tattered teddy bear out of the bucket, holding its paw in one sheet wrapped hand. Making her walk a little unsteady, she attaches herself to a small group of twelve year olds dressed as zombies. Their gory makeup looks so fake it’s laughable.

The next front door they go to opens up to see her standing small against the older children. She holds up the orange bucket, the words ‘CANDY PLESE,’ written in barely legible crayon.

The older woman’s fixed on smile drifts past the other children and settles on her. She beams. “Well aren’t you just the cutest thing,” the woman says, before giving her twice as many pieces of candy as the older children.

Once the door closes the twelve year olds glare at her. She smiles at them from under the sheet and moves away to hide most of the candy in the backpack under her sheet. It’s simple psychology. The adults see a little kid with barely anything in her bucket, they’re going to feel more generous than if it’s got loads in.

With only a few pieces of candy looking awfully lonely at the bottom of the large bucket, she moves to the next house, keeping her eyes out for another group of older kids to tag along with.

A deep satisfaction spreads over her. She’s got this thing down.

An hour later and she’s not so sure. She’s hit every house they’d usually hit on Halloween, and when she measures out her loot, the bucket’s only half full. She sits on the pavement, staring at it, and seeing her sister spending another day, another week, another month hiding away in their house. Mum and Dad aren’t in good shape to look out for her, so she has to do it. And she’s not going to let her down.

She gets to her feet and shoves most of the candy back in her backpack. Darkness wraps around her and the other children, illuminated by creepy Halloween decorations in the lines of houses.

The way she sees it, she has two choices. Either she walks along the winding country roads to the next village, which would take way too much time, or she tries something that scares even her.

***

Akina stands on the pavement outside the plain looking house. A small enclosure of green separates it from the houses next to it. Children circle around it to get to its neighbors, giving it a wide berth. Apart from the lack of decorations, there are no signs to tell you this building is different from any of the others, but all the children know that’s not true.

There are four blacklisted houses in the village. Places not even the bravest children go to on Halloween. This is one of them.

Steeling herself, she walks up the path. A few children stop to stare at her, then rush past, muttering.

Mr Jacobs is his name. Akina only knows that because her father caught her and Sesi talking about him with one of the other kids from the neighborhood. He said they should know better than to spread gossip about someone just because they were different. What if it were someone talking about us behind our back because of our skin color?

Akina doesn’t think that’s a very good argument. It’s one thing to have dark skin and frizzy hair in a neighborhood where everyone has pale skin and straight hair. It’s another to be a mean old man who scares little kids and buried his own wife in the backyard. Kelly Dawson told her that, and her Mum is a lawyer, so it must be true.

The curtains shift, and one beady eye pokes out at her. It takes everything she has to keep going.

The front garden is overgrown, and as she gets closer to the front door it gets more and more difficult to tell where the path is. Her mind spins around to Mr Jacob’s dead wife. He wouldn’t have buried her in the front yard, would he? Nausea floods over her as her mind conjures up images of Mrs Jacobs reaching up a rotted hand through the long grass, grabbing her ankle and dragging her down to where she can’t see her family anymore, and can’t look out for Sesi.

The front door swings open with a bang.

She’s seen Mr Jacobs only rarely, a crooked figure with great bushy eyebrows set in a permanent scowl. “Get off my lawn!” He yells, waving a long wooden cane at her. She’s heard stories about that cane. Ryan Jessup swore Mr Jacobs, who most children only know as ‘that crazy old man,’ beat him half to death with it after his ball went into the man’s front yard.

Akina backs up until she feels the stone slabs beneath her feet, then stands her ground. She holds up the bucket, trying to keep her arms from shaking.

Mr Jacobs stares at her for a long while, his jaw working as if wondering what insult to yell at her. Then he wanders back into the dark cavern of the house, leaving the door open behind him. He appears a few minutes later and throws something at her.

She scurries back a few steps, wondering what kind of weapon he’s trying to hit her with. Her Dad said he’d been in the war. Her muscles tense as she thinks of a grenade heading her way. Sure, she’s invincible, but that doesn’t stop her being scared.

The object clicks on a paving stone, then rolls to a stop. It’s a pack of extra strong mints.

“Bunch of freeloaders,” Mr Jacobs says, scowling at her. He disappears back inside the house, slamming the door behind him before she can say thank you.

Akina scampers forward and picks up the mints. She takes care to stick to the bits of paving stone she can see. One down, who knows how many more pieces of candy to go.

***

Johnson brother’s mechanics is more of a scrap yard than anything else. Some of the kids sneak in though they’re not supposed to. It is awfully tempting. The thin mesh of wire surrounding the yard is rusted completely through in places. Not anything gaping, but enough for a small determined kid to squeeze through.

This time Akina uses the front gate – not that she’s admitting to there being any other times.

A light shines from the front building – a rectangular hut with walls that look about as thick as cardboard. She heads toward the wooden steps, bucket in one sheet covered hand, and bear in another. Her arms try not to tremble.

Suddenly she hears it – the reason why this place is blacklisted. A shrill barking erupts out of the darkness. It sounds angry.

It’s too late to head back to the gate. The hut is closer, but when she tries to move her feet stay frozen in place. She stumbles backward as sharp teeth flash in the shadows, and something warm and solid barrels toward her.

‘I’m invincible,’ she reminds herself, squeezing her eyes shut. ‘I’m invincible.’

A sharp tug pulls the teddy bear out of her hand. She opens her eyes, shocked to see the dog growling and shaking the toy from side to side.

“Hey!” She yells, anger drowning out fear. She grabs the bear, and the dog seems to take this as an invitation to play tug of war. Its tail wags. Akina gets the impression rumors about this dog were greatly exaggerated.

“Ripper! Leave!” Says a booming voice from the top of the stairs to the hut.

The dog drops the toy so fast, Akina has to pinwheel her arms in order to not fall down. Her eyes look up toward the voice. It’s one of the Johnson brothers. Akina never bothered to learn which was which. He stands at the top of the stairs, leaning against the wooden railing. The light from the open door behind him accents his round figure.

“Well I’ll be,” he says staring down at her. “Steve! Get the candy! We got ourselves a trick or treater!”

“Kidding me, right?” Shouts a voice from inside. “Someone actually braved the pooch?”

The man at the top of the stairs grins down at her. “He’s just cranky because now he can’t eat it all himself.”

***

Two thirds of a bucket full, only one house to go.

Mrs Dulce lives on the edge of the village in a little cottage that reminds Akina of something from a fairy tale. Sesi once said she wanted to live in a place just like it when she’s older. Akina hopes she means without the two dozen cats.

She walks through the gleaming picket fence, all her nerves on edge. Several gnomes stare at her from the perfectly tended grass. The house itself is candy floss pink with baby blue window frames and door. It’s way too perfect.

Sesi says it reminds her of the little cottage the dwarfs own in snow white. Akina thinks more along the lines of the gingerbread house owned by the cannibalistic witch in Hansel and Gretal.

She hesitates a moment, then knocks. It’s not like she’s got any choice. There’s only one more blacklisted house, and that’s one she can’t go to. Not yet.

The door springs open as if Mrs Dulce were lurking behind the door, waiting for the moment her fist made contact with the wood. Akina jumps backward, wary. The kids say Mrs Dulce is a witch. That’s why she lives way out here away from everyone with her many cats.

What she sees is nothing like she expected. Mrs Dulce smiles down at her, and her blue eyes sparkle like she’s genuinely pleased to see her. She’s tall, with a doughy face and wide figure.

“Oh my goodness. I wasn’t expecting visitors. This is a pleasant surprise.” The woman adjusts her glasses and peers down at her through them. “And aren’t you just adorable. I haven’t had a trick or treater come way out here in years. Come in come in. You’re just in time.・

Akina hesitates in the doorway. She peers down the narrow hallway the woman disappeared down. A cat passes and stares at her, seeming unimpressed by what it sees. It stalks away, fluffy tail held high.

The woman leans back to look through the door at the other end of the hallway. Her plump face wrinkles with confusion as she fiddles with the ties on her pink fluffy apron. “No need to be so polite dear. Come in and make yourself at home.”

Curiosity gets the best of her, and she takes one cautious step after another down the hallway. The room at the end opens out into a large kitchen. Akina stares at oven, trying to figure out if you could fit a child in there.

She scans the room cautiously, finding no obvious child cages, or cauldrons, or giant dusty book of magic spells. What she does see are a lot of cats, and on a small coffee table by a window, dozens of cookies.

Mrs Dulce walks over to the coffee table, a cooling rack full of brownies in her hands. She sets them down on a cheerful looking plate with a cartoon cat on it. “Fresh out the oven,” she says with a bright smile. “Please. Help yourself. I do love baking, but I always make too much for me to eat. You’d be doing me a favor taking some of these out of my hands.”

The next hour is spent listening to Mrs Dulce as she talks about her late husband and how he loved her cooking. Akina feigns interest, looking through the sheet at pictures of the seven children who have grown and left home, and doesn’t have to feign interest when the topic turns to Mrs Dulce’s time as a pilot for the RAF.

Every now and again she takes a brownie or a cookie and brings it under the sheet, pretending to eat it, while really tucking it away in her bag.

“Well,” Mrs Dulce says, glancing at the clock. “I’d best let you get off home. Let me wrap up some of these for you to take back to your parents.”

Some turns out to be almost all of them, and Akina ends up staggering away with half the giant bucket full.

Mrs Dulce waves at her from her front gate. “It was wonderful talking to you,” she calls after her. “Please come back soon.”

‘I will,’ Akina decides. She’s a pretty neat old lady, and definitely not a witch.

***

Akina walks toward her house with a skip in her step. She’s done it. With the half a bucket full of brownies and cookies, and the candy in her bag, she’s got enough to fill the whole bucket all the way to the top.

Sesi has to leave the house now. And she knows exactly which door she’s going to get her to knock on.

There are no lights along the country road between Mrs Dulce’s house and the rest of the village. It curls and winds like a snake. That’s why she thinks the car doesn’t see her.

It hurtles out of the dark like a demon, the headlights blinding her. She’s well over on the side of the road, but it catches the bucket with a solid bang and sends orange plastic and cellophane wrapped brownies and cookies everywhere.

It doesn’t even slow down.

Akina stares after the bend in the road where it disappeared, taking a moment to realize her sheet had been ripped off as it passed. She pats her hands over her superman costume, checking she’s all in one piece. She’s only been invincible a year, so it doesn’t hurt to check.

She finds the bucket on the other side of the road in a hedge. There’s a giant hole in the side and only three lonely looking brownies at the bottom. A search finds four more salvageable brownies, two cookies, and her sheet.

Pulling the sheet back on, she sighs and heads for home.

***

“So I did have a full bucket,” Akina says, tossing the sheet on Sesi’s bed. “But then some idiot decided to take up the whole road. Look what he did to my bucket! And all those cookies! It’s a tragedy worse than that sappy film you stayed up late to watch, the one where they talk funny.”

“Romeo and Juliet?” Sesi asks, picking up the bucket to peer through the hole. “I thought you hated that film?”

“I do,” Akina says. “That’s why I called it a tragedy. Now are you going to hold up your end of the bargain?”

“Measure it out,” Sesi says, her face impassive.

Akina drops to the floor, clutching the bag. “But I just explained,” she says, her voice a high pitched whine.

Sesi opens up the pink floor to ceiling wardrobe on her side of the room. She digs around, then takes out an intact orange bucket. “Measure,” she says, dropping it in front of Akina.

Grumbling, Akina empties the candy and cookies into the bucket. It comes up to just over two thirds full. Not enough. Her shoulders slump. All that work for nothing. “You need this Sesi,” she says quietly. “You can’t go around scared for the rest of your life.”

Sesi crouches down, sifting through the candy. Her hands shake.

“Do you really want another year of being scared?” Akina asks. “This ‘they’ you’re so frightened of – maybe they aren’t as scary as you think they are.”

Sesi doesn’t look at her, keeping her honey colored eyes fixed on the bucket. She takes a deep breath. “OK.”

Akina rocks back on her heels. Surprise jolts through her. “OK? Really OK?”

“Yeah,” Sesi says, her voice small and wet. “I’m ready.”

***

They walk to the last blacklisted house hand in hand. Neither of them wear a costume, Akina in the superman costume she wears every day, and Sesi in a black dress. The intact orange bucket dangles in Sesi’s other arm, still filled up with candy.

No tricks this time. That’s not the point of this.

At a distance the house looks like any other in its row. It’s faceless. Four windows, one door, boring white paint.

Then they get closer.

‘Murderer,’ stands out in bright red spray paint across one of the downstairs windows. A pumpkin lies in smashed pieces along the garden path. Egg and shell stick to the door and windows.

“Don’t let go,” Sesi says, her voice pleading.

Akina grips her hand tighter. “I won’t.”

Sesi stands in front of the door, brow creased with the effort of getting her breathing to calm down. Then she knocks, at first with hesitation, then more firmly.

After two beats the door cracks open.

Sesi lifts her orange bucket. “Trick or treat.”

The woman drops to her knees like she’s been shot. Tears pour out of red rimmed eyes and down irritated cheeks. Her face is swollen and blotchy, and her hair harried. “I’m sorry,” she gasps between sobs.

Sesi’s eyes soften, and for the first time in a long time, Akina sees a expression other than fear settle on her sister’s face. “It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t kill her.”

“I didn’t know he’d -” the woman shakes her head, tears scattering with the movement. “He was sick. I know that won’t make it better. Some boys, they attacked him, and he started getting scared all the time. When your sister knocked on the door he panicked. He got the gun, and it went off, and your sister was on the other side. He didn’t mean to. He was just trying to protect us.” She waves a hand behind her, and Akina sees a little boy around Sesi’s age peering at them from around a doorway.

“He’s getting better,” he says, clinging to the door frame. The scowl on his face is defensive, but his voice is hopeful.

“Yes. He’s being treated now. He’s getting better,” the woman says, wiping her face. “I just wanted you to know. I don’t know if anyone explained why he did what he did. That it was an accident and won’t happen again. I don’t want you to think he’s some kind of monster.”

By the stiff set to Sesi’s shoulders, Akina guesses that was exactly what she thought. Hopefully now she won’t. Hopefully now there’ll be one less ‘they’ in the world to scare her.

“I’m betting you want some candy,” the woman says, pushing herself to her feet. She dabs at her eyes self-consciously. “We haven’t had many trick or treaters this year, so there’s a lot left over.”

The boy moves toward the front door slowly. When he sees the bucket his jaw drops. “You’ve got a lot of candy.”

Sesi gives him a shy smile. “Want to trade some?”

***

Akina helps her carry the full bucket home, being careful to make it seem like Sesi’s doing all the work. Without the sheet, no one can see her except Sesi. Given how proud she is of her sister right now, she’s not sure that’s a bad thing.

“What?” Sesi asks, brow creasing with worry. “Why are you staring?”

Akina tilts her head and shoots her a smile. “Just thinking. I don’t think I’d mind it if you became a cat lady. They aren’t as bad as I thought they were.”

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