The door opened on a boy of about eight or nine in a dinosaur costume.
“Trick or treat.”
The teenager manning the door gave an unimpressed once-over to the boy and dumped a snickers into his felt pumpkin bag.
“What do we say, Jamie?” a male voice prompted from somewhere on the sidewalk.
The boy looked down and scuffed the cement with his shoe. “Thank you.”
“No.” The voice flattened out. “What do you say?”
The boy hesitated, looking around the porch with wet eyes.
“Can I have one extra?” he asked, “for Sarah?”
The teenager blinked, shrugged, and surrendered a single gumball.
“Thank you,” Jamie said. He looked as if he wanted to say more, but the teen unceremoniously shut the door.
“You say that at every house,” his father said as they walked down the block, “every house. ‘Can I have one for Sarah?’ Say it.”
“Good.” The father took a swig off his mug. The other hand remained curiously stationary in his coat pocket.
The next house had a plump, motherly woman answering the door. She beamed—“how cute!”—and dropped a handful of jawbreakers into his pumpkin. The door began to swing shut again.
“Jaime,” his father warned from the front walk.
“ExcusemepleasecanIhaveoneforSarah?” Jamie exhaled in one breath, leaning against the door to prevent its closure.
The woman blinked, taking a moment to process it. “You want…more.”
“For my sister,” Jamie begged, “my little sister.”
The woman’s plump face arranged itself into a smile. She winked at Jamie’s father.
“Oh sure,” she said, “for your sister. I bet she’s too little to trick or treat, huh?”
The woman smiled on, unaware or uncaring about the note of warning in the father’s tone.
“Well, if she’s too young to trick or treat, I’m sure she’s too young for candy,” she said, and closed the door.
On the sidewalk, Jamie shuffled reluctantly forward. His father took quick, angry strides, yanking his son by the shoulder.
“What do you say? The first thing you say when they open the door.”
“The first thing? Please can I have some candy for my sister. It’s the least you can do.”
“She didn’t believe me,” Jamie pleaded.
“And you tried so hard,” his father said dryly. Jamie bowed his head.
The next house was an old man with a fishing hat. He cracked a toothless grin at Jamie’s costume, exhaling moist, smelly air and spittle when he said, “you’re that Godziller, aren’tcha young man?”
“Please sir can I have some candy for my sister?” Jamie said automatically.
The old man didn’t even hesitate, dumping another handful of individually wrapped caramels in the pumpkin.
“There you go, son.” The ‘son’ came out ‘schon.’ “Anything else?”
Jamie leaned forward. “No,” he said significantly, “my dad won’t let me go home yet.”
The old man nodded obliviously and shut the door. The cardboard jack-o-lantern on the outside swayed gently with the backdraft.
“You took too long,” his father said, “there’s no reason it has to take that long at every single door. You say ‘trick or treat’ ask for something for Sarah, and leave.”
“I did, dad.”
“You didn’t do it right, goddamn it. Ask faster. We’re going around the goddamn block, get. It. Right.”
The next house was dark.
“Maybe they’re on vacation?”
Jamie’s father chewed, working his jaw angrily so that his masseter bulged from his skin.
“I’m sure the next house will be there.
“Ask me if I give a fuck.”
The next house was a young woman who opened the door, distractedly shoved things into Jamie’s pumpkin, and closed it again, all in the space of one second.
“You let her give you a sesame log. You know Sarah can’t eat that.”
Jamie’s eyes were wet. Cringing, he said: “but she can’t eat any of it anyway.”
Jamie’s father stopped walking. Then he threw the contents of his mug in Jamie’s eyes. Jamie bawled, more out of shock than anything else. He felt, rather than saw, his father close his forearm in an iron grip. The man dragged the boy down the sidewalk, speaking over his yelps of pain and surprise.
“You are going to stop at every house until I say you can stop. You are going to get candy until I say you have enough. You are going to get the candy I tell you to. And you. Are going. To listen.” He gave a particularly hard wrench on the boy’s forearm with his last word. The boy stumbled, lips glued together mutely, eyes wet.
The lady at the next door was wearing a Christmas sweater.
“Happy hallow—” she began in a smoker’s rasp. She stopped and bent forward, peering at Jamie. “You cryin’, hunny?”
Jamie bit his lip. Jamie’s father stepped in abruptly. He patted his son’s arm with more force than the sound would suggest.
“That’s okay, ma’am,” he said, “I just told the little guy that this is the last house. He’s been making a little piggy out of himself.”
The woman looked askance at the boy, frosty green manicure poised above the pyrex dish of candy corn.
“He’s got to split his loot with his sister,” Jamie’s father prompted.
The woman gave a strange hooting snort. “Well, since this’s the last house,” she said.
She dumped half the bowl in Jamie’s pumpkin.
Jamie’s father used the “last house” line down the rest of the block. Jamie’s pumpkin overran several times, so his father stored it in a large pillowcase.
“Dad, please.” Jamie’s voice broke. His father cuffed him without breaking stride.
They walked. The houses grew fewer and father in-between.
“Dad, where are we going?”
“Shut up.” His father slurred his words slightly.
“Sorry?” Jamie’s father rounded on him. “You’re sorry? Are you fucking joking?”
“I am, I am.”
“You’re sorry you left Sarah? Cause I don’t think you were too sorry at the time.”
“Shh.” His father held up an unsteady finger. “We’re here.”
The house was old and what paint was left had faded into a dun color. Instead of a garage, there was a tented canopy that slumped off one of the corner poles. There was a fence all around it, made of rails split in a better year.
As they drew closer, shadows on the porch resolved into a man sitting on a swinging bench, sipping out of a steaming mug. He had a walking stick beside him, aluminum piping that terminated in four rubber-capped legs. He looked at the arrival of Jamie and his father as something unpleasant, but not unexpected.
“Hullo, Myers,” he said politely.
Jamie’s father came to an unsteady stop on the path just before the house.
“How’s it going, killer?” He tittered a little. He kept a death-grip on the back of Jamie’s arm. Jamie peered wonderingly out the mouth of his dinosaur costume.
“Mr. Avery?” he asked.
The man looked stricken when Jamie said his name, but nodded.
“You’re her brother aren’t you,” he said, “name escapes me son, sorry.”
Jamie’s father blocked his reply bodily. “You don’t get to learn his name you asshole, you didn’t even mention hers.”
Avery’s gaze was steely. “Sarah. Abigail. Myers.” He looked to Jamie. “Never forget it, not a day in my life.”
Jamie wet his lips. The man’s gaze was not unkind.
“Jamie,” he said. Avery seemed to soften.
“Jamie,” he said, “fine name. Had an uncle by that moniker. Your given James?”
“His given is ‘none of your fucking business’,” Jamie’s father spat.
Avery rocked gently, creaking. “S’pose I was to ask why you’re here.”
“I think you know why I’m here.”
“S’pose I don’t. S’pose I’m dumb.”
Jamie’s father gave his shoulder a violent shove. “Do it.”
Jamie was not expecting the action and sprawled out on the walk. His pumpkin hit the ground at an angle and vomited up a trail of chocolate, malt balls, gum, caramel apples, popcorn balls, and assorted tooth breakers. Jamie’s father upended the pillowcase, growing the pile.
Jamie’s father stood, straddling the candy and his son. “This is all the candy she might have collected. You know, if you hadn’t killed her.”
Avery winced. He took in the fallen boy, the father, and the sweets.
“I don’t think you wanna be doing this, Myers.”
“The hell I don’t.”
With considerable effort, Avery hefted himself up. He leaned heavily on the porch railing to stand.
“I don’t see how this is helping anything. And I don’t see how dragging the boy into it—”
“No, you wouldn’t fucking see.”
Avery’s winced again. “I know you’ve been hurtin’, Myers. I know you’ve lost.”
“You don’t know jack shit.”
“But I suffered too. Don’t think for a single second I wouldn’t take it all back.”
Jamie’s father laughed, a harsh, barking sound.
“Suffered. You’ve suffered? You?”
Avery said nothing.
“I can tell you, you haven’t suffered nearly as much as I have.”
Avery nodded. “And him?”
Jamie’s father looked puzzledly at the road behind them, squinting. Jamie lay in the gravel at his feet.
“He lost a sister. Any reason you got to drag him into this?”
Jamie’s father pointed a trembling finger at him. “He’s just as culpable as you.”
“No he ain’t. Nowhere near.” Avery’s voice softened. “How’re you doing, kid?”
Jamie made a barely-audible croaking noise. His father shifted to bar him from view.
“How he’s doing is none of your business. Get out here.”
Avery didn’t move. Jamie’s father brought out the hand in his pocket. He had a gun.
“Get. Out here.”
Avery stared. Working hand over hand, he used the railing to help him reach the porch steps. Grabbing up his cane from the bench, he mounted the top step. A thick plastic brace prevented him from bending his knee. Stiff-legged, he descended.
When he hit the gravel, Avery leaned heavily on his cane so that the rubber feet disappeared into the gravel with every step. Jamie’s father shrank back a little at his approach. Avery was taller and, though loose skin showed on his neck and arms, at least twenty pounds heavier.
“Well, here I am.” He sounded tired. “How d’you want me?”
Jamie’s father snorted wetly. “Dead.”
Jamie had curled against his father’s leg, away from the approaching man. Jamie’s father gave him a sudden kick.
“That’s my business.”
“Don’t hurt him.”
“I’m his father.”
“You were her father too. Shouldn’t you have been there? Who leaves a kid to watch a kid?”
Now Jamie’s father winced, now he snarled, now he held the gun to the left quarter of Avery’s chest and pulled the trigger.
It clicked, because he had neglected to take the safety off.
Jamie’s father stared dumbly at his hand.
“Simple mistake,” Avery told him, “could’ve happened to anybody.”
With a hollow pinging noise that echoed up the aluminum tubing, Avery struck Jamie’s father down. He landed hard, his leg flung a dead weight over Jamie. The boy struggled out from under his father’s body.
Avery, surveying the scene, shook his head. He caught Jamie’s eye. He held out a hand.
“Why don’t you come on in, have some cider?”
On shaking legs, Jamie stood, and followed Avery inside.