Sunday, October 30, 2011

Trick or Treat

Why do they keep ringing the doorbell?

I'm not stupid--I know it's Halloween. But I've done everything to keep them away. The porch lights are off. In fact, every light in the house is off. It's dark. No sign of anyone or anything here in the house.

And still, they keep ringing the doorbell.

I hear the usual Halloween sounds. The giggles of little children, their exuberance tempered by their parents' advising comments. "Watch your step!" "Ring the bell!" "When they open the door, say trick or treat, okay?"

The sounds of older children. "Open the door! Trick or treat!" they proclaim boldly, as if crudeness and confrontation might succeed where childlike glee had failed.

"This sucks, man. Who's not home on Halloween?"

"Maybe they're taking their kids out to trick or treat."

"Ain't no kids here. I used to walk past this house on my way to school; there weren't any kids here. Never saw anybody, in fact. Nah, they gotta be here.

"If you never saw anybody, maybe the house is empty..."

"No, it's not. Never has had a 'for sale' sign in the yard. Still has furniture in it. Just some old asshole who's probably sitting in there ignoring us right now. Open the door! Trick or treat! Give us some damn candy!"

After a while, he leaves.

More children. More teenagers. A few more heavy knocks on the door, even though the trick-or-treaters can hear the doorbell ringing, even through the door. But kids don't like to give up.

I remember what it was like. I was on the other side of that door once. I was dressed in my Batman costume, eager to show off in return for Snickers and Reese's and Skittles. It was my last Halloween to trick or treat, my parents had said. I was twelve, and Dad said that teenagers didn't trick or treat, so this was my last shot at getting all the free candy that I could get.

So I was doing the same things these kids are doing, determined not to take no for an answer. I kept pounding on the door, ringing the bell, rustling through the shrubs to tap on the picture window to the darkened dining room.

"I know you're in there. Open the door! It's Halloween! TRICK OR TREAT!"

I was about to give up when I saw the silhouette of a figure in the hallway. There was someone home--someone who refused to open the door. And I was determined to get what was coming to me. It was Halloween, and he was going to open that door and he was going to give me candy.

I pounded on the glass. "I see you in there! Trick or treat!" I imagine that I was as annoying as the teenager earlier this evening. I went back to the door. I rang the bell. I knocked. I had seen my Halloweeen prey in the darkness, and I wasn't leaving.

"Go away." It was a soft voice, childlike.

"It's Halloween. Open the door. You're supposed to give me candy."

"No. I can't. Go away."

"Go to the house down at the corner--they have good candy. Bit-o-Honey. They have candy apples. They're good people. Go over there." The voice still sounded so young, so childlike, but the words sounded old and tired.

"Nobody gives out apples," I said. "Unless they put razor blades in them. And my mom wouldn't let me eat them anyway. She always said don't take anything that isn't already wrapped and sealed. And 'sides, there isn't anyone across the street. That's the old Litesey house, and they died year before last."

"Dead? I didn't know that." He almost sounded surprised... and sad.

"Just open the door and give me some candy. It's Halloween. I'm not leaving until you give me something!"

There was a long silence. I rang the doorbell six times in a row; I pounded on the door harshly, over and over again. I accepted the challenge, determined to get the candy that was owed me.

I waited a few moments. I repeated the pattern again. A third time. A fourth. I wasn't going anywhere. I no longer argued; no reason to say anything else. I just kept ringing and pounding. I don't know why I didn't just leave; I could have gotten a lot more candy if I'd just kept on walking through the neighborhood.

But I wasn't leaving, even though it was almost midnight. This was a matter of childlike pride, which isn't that much different than stubbornness,

And then I heard the click of a latch. The doorknob turned slowly. The door opened slightly.

"Go away, I said." I couldn't see the face clearly, but I recognized the outline of a cowboy hat, gray against the darkness of the hallway. The person wearing it was no taller than me.

"You're just a kid!" I guess that explained why the voice sounded so young.

"Go somewhere else," he said again.

"I'm not going anywhere. You're keeping all the candy for yourself, aren't you? That ain't right--it's Halloween, and you're supposed to give me some candy." And with that, I shouldered into the doorway, knocking it open a bit.

"NO!" He tried to push the door shut again, but I was bigger and heavier than he was, and I forced my way in.

And I was in.

"You shouldn't have done that," he said.

"Why? Am I going to get in trouble? Are you going to tell on me?" Then I saw, in the gloom of the hallway, a tattered trick or treat bag. "Just what I thought," I said. "You are keeping all the candy for yourself."

I reached for the bag, and he did nothing to stop me. I grabbed the first piece of candy, unwrapped it, and bit into it.

Old. Stale. It tasted musty. I spat it back into my hand.

"This is crap!" I said angrily. "Why do you have this old candy? Where's the good stuff?"

"That's all there is," he said. "It's all I got before I came here."

I dug a little bit more, hoping the better candy was at the bottom of the bag. Next thing I knew, the handle of the bag tore away, and the candy scattered across the floor. I bent over, feeling along the hardwood.

And at that moment, the boy in the cowboy hat stepped out through the partially opened door, pulling it shut behind him.

"Hey!" I said. "Come back here!" I tugged at the doorknob. Nothing. I turned, but the latch didn't let do; the door was stuck. "Open the door!"

"I can't," he said from the porch. "It's after midnight now. Door's shut. It'll stay shut 'til next year."

"Let me out of here or I'm calling the cops," I said.

"Can't. There ain't a phone in there. I tried that."

"Then I'm breaking the window and coming out there and beating your ass."

"Can't do that, either. I tried that, too. I tried every door. I tried every window. I tried yelling. No one ever hears you. Except on Halloween."

My face was getting sweaty under my Batman mask, so I pulled it off. I was mad and scared and about two seconds away from crying. "Let me out of here!"

"I told you to go away. Just like he told me to go away. I was just like you, though. Look what it got me.

"Don't worry, though. The house takes care of you good. You won't get hungry. You won't get thirsty. You won't get old. You'll just sit there and wait, just like I did. Next year, there'll be some kids trick or treating, and you can decide what to do. The first few months, I told myself I'd open the door right away. I'd run out the door and run home.

"But the house told me that it was home now. This was where I belonged, it said. And I started to believe it. So when the kids came around the next year, I didn't open the door. I let 'em knock and yell and ring the doorbell, and I sat here, just like I always do. After a while, they went away. Then it got quiet. Quiet for a whole year. Then they came back. But they always gave up and left. Well, all of them but you..."

"This isn't funny any more!" I knew I was crying, but I didn't care. "Let me out! I want to go home!"

"You got the candy. You got what you wanted. It's all yours. I did my time. I tried to get you to leave, but you wouldn't do it. You should have listened to me, but you wouldn't do it, would you?"

His voice was a little bit softer now, a little more distant.

"Hey, wait! You ain't leaving, are you?!"

"Guess so," he said. "Don't know where I'm going, but I'm leaving. Can't go home any more. You said Mom and Dad were dead now."

"The Liteseys? They were your parents? But they were old people--they didn't have any kids!"

"They did... once. I was their son. They were so worried when I didn't come home. I saw 'em through the window, looking for me. Mom was crying. Dad looked mad and confused and worried all at the same time. I heard them yelling, but they never heard me. They'd walk past here every day. The police would, too, looking for me--I guess that's what they were doing, anyway. And then, after a while, they quit."

His voice retreated a little more, and I ran to the dining room window so that I could see him on the sidewalk. He saw me, too, and he waved. I could see now that he had on a cowboy costume, not just a hat. In the streetlight, the top of his silver gun shone in the holster, and I could see the glint of spurs on his boots.

"You got a year to make up your mind what to do," he said. "You can stay there, or you can trade. Let someone else in, you can go out. Don't know what you'll do, but I can tell you that it's not so bad in there, really. After a while, you get used to it. That's why I stayed for so long."

"What do you mean, so long?" I asked, my voice trembling.

"What year is it, anyway?" he asked.

"What do you mean? It's 2010!" I said, almost frantic.

"2010? I got 47 Halloweens to make up for," he said. And with that, he walked out of the glow of the streetlight and faded into the darkness.


I cried. I yelled. I knew that my parents would find me. I saw them looking for me, just like he said his parents did. But no one ever saw me at the window, no one heard me. It was like I wasn't there. No one ever came to let me out.

And just like he said, after a while, my parents seemed to quit looking. I didn't see them any more. I was alone, just me and the house. And it took care of me. I began to think of this as home. The house became my world; the unyielding door didn't matter after a while. And I had my own trick or treat bag, and it had candy in it. Lots of candy. And it never seemed to go empty, no matter how much I ate.

Then one night the doorbell rang. "Trick or treat!" A year goes by faster than you'd think. I ignored them.

I began to understand why the cowboy stayed. This was home now. And I had my candy, and I wasn't going to share it with anybody, no matter how hard they knocked or how many times they rang the doorbell...


Charles R. Rutledge said...

That was great, Cliff! Would have made a terrific Twilight Zone episode too.

paul howley said...

I really enjoyed this story! One question one point near the end of the story, the boy asks,"What year is it, anyway?"
The reply was,"What do you mean? it's 2004!"
The boy then replies,"2010? I got 47 Halloweens to make up for."
Is that what you meant to write?

cliff said...

Thanks for the catch--you caught a change that didn't get updated before I posted the story. All fixed now