“Trick or treat,” the eager young face of little Terry Whipple called. Old Mrs. Parker beamed her kindest smile at the elaborately costumed seven year old.
“Aren’t you just the cutest thing? And what are you supposed to be?” Mrs. Parker strained to keep her pleasant demeanor.
“I’m a witch,” replied the little girl who, with her wig and pointy hat, looked like a cartoon version of the Wicked Witch of the West right down to the hairy mole on her chin and miniature broom.
“You don’t really believe in witches,” the old lady asked, “do you?”.
Terry shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Well, you’re so cute, I’m going to give you a special treat,” Mrs. Parker reached around and handed Terry a cupcake. “I baked these this morning especially for us witches,” and she slipped the cupcake into Terry’s goody bag. Mrs. Parker chose one of the little cakes from a tray that must have held a dozen of them. They all had orange frosting and a face made of candy and sprinkles. The expression on little cake’s face matched that of Mrs. Parker’s– a person not used to smiling. Terry thanked her and went to the next house on the street.
Ever since Mrs. Parker moved in to the old Spencer house, strange things had been happening in the neighborhood. First the Spencer family were all afflicted with some bizarre allergy and were forced to sell their house and move to Arizona. Mrs. Parker bought their house the very day it went on the market. The Whipples became her next door neighbors. Terry had been introduced to Mrs. Parker when her mother brought her a plate of cookies and welcomed her to the neighborhood.
“It’s so sad about the Spencers,” Terry’s mother said, “We’d been neighbors for such a long time. It’s so strange them getting sick like that,” Mrs. Parker just smiled her not quite smile and said nothing. Then the Bartlett boy disappeared. The police were still looking for him.
Now it was Halloween and Terry was allowed to visit her neighbors and ring their bells all by herself. Terry knew all the families up and down the block and they all knew her. Everyone gave her something, mostly it was candy but sometimes coins. When she got to the Bartlett house, she hesitated, wondering if it was okay to disturb Mrs. Bartlett what with Billy being missing and all. But after some small deliberation, she rang the bell. Mrs. Bartlett answered. There were dark circles under her eyes, it was obvious she had been crying. “Trick or treat,” called Terry sorry she was there.
“Well aren’t you the cutest thing,” said Mrs. Bartlett making an effort to be happy and handed Terry an apple. The Bartletts always gave out apples on Halloween. They believed that sugar was bad for children. Then, quite unexpectedly, Mrs. Bartlett burst into tears and had to close the door.
When she had been to every house on the block, Terry returned home and dumped her loot out on the kitchen table. She had an assortment of miniature candy bars, thirty eight cents in coins, Mrs. Bartlett’s apple and Mrs. Parker’s cupcake. Terry liked cupcakes. What kid didn’t? She examined it closely. The face looked different. The candy mouth was open and its little sugar teeth were pointy. It didn’t look that way before, did it? She figured the cupcake had gotten squashed in her bag. She didn’t like the looks of those teeth.
Putting the cupcake aside, she reached for the apple. That was one snack her mother wouldn’t mind if she ate. She was about to take a bite when she noticed that the apple had already been bitten into. The apple’s white flesh was already turning the color of dried blood. She didn’t remember the apple having a bite missing when Mrs. Bartlett handed it to her. She threw the apple in the garbage. Maybe Mrs. Bartlett was too upset to realize what she was doing. That must be it, poor woman. It must be hard to lose a child like that. One minute he’s playing in the street and the next he’s gone.
Terry looked at the cupcake again. Now the face was smiling, a nasty satisfied smile, the kind of smile you get when you’ve done something bad but it feels so good. This was too much. Terry picked up the cupcake and tossed it in the garbage. She noticed a blob of orange frosting on her hand. She licked it off reflexively without even thinking. It tasted sweet but also vaguely odd like hamburger cooked very rare. It gave her chills.
She washed her hands, brushed her teeth and got ready for bed. She slipped into her pajamas and kissed her parents good night. She lay in bed for a long time before sleep would come and when it came it was restless and filled with nightmares. She dreamed she saw the Bartlett boy, his skin blue and frozen. When she touched his shoulder he turned toward her his mouth contorted in a silent scream—he had no arms. She screamed herself awake. Her parents came running. They put on her light and dispelled the darkness. Her mother stroked her hair and comforted her until she could speak.
“That’s what comes from too much candy before bed,” her mother said.
“I didn’t have any candy,” Terry said in a tiny voice.
“What’s all this then?” Terry’s dad said pointing to an orange stain on her pillow. It was the frosting. Now Terry was really scared. She tried to explain about the cupcake and the terrible dream but it all came out garbled and didn’t make any sense. Terry made her father check under the bed and in the bedroom closet but he couldn’t find anything. When her parents finally said goodnight and returned to bed, Terry tip toed into the kitchen and looked into the garbage pail. The cupcake wasn’t there.
The next morning at school Terry was her usual self, playing with her friends, swapping stories about Halloween and all the candy they ate. At lunch, Terry felt inside her lunch bag for her sandwich without really looking. She pulled her hand away immediately. Something had bitten her finger. She put the finger in her mouth and tasted a drop of blood. It tasted somehow familiar. She knew what she would find if she mustered the courage to look. Instead, she dumped the entire bag into the trash and went on with her day.
The rest of the afternoon, she was hungry from missing lunch, but when she got home and her mother offered her milk and cookies, Terry refused. Milk and cookies were not what Terry wanted. The big bowl of raw chopped meat her mother was kneading for dinner looked far more appealing. And when mother looked away, Terry helped herself to a large handful of the red and bloody stuff. She ran to her room, hid in her dark closet and feasted.
You can find links to his novels at: http://harristobiasfiction.blogspot.com/
Links to his books: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/harris-tobias
A small bit of recognition for one of my collaborations.