Who Goes There?

Somebody knocked and rang the bell. Patricia dropped the knife with nervy fingers and swore. She’d split the fingertip on one of her latex gloves.

Maybe they would go away.

Someone pressed the doorbell several times in rapid succession.

She remembered the lights were on, the porch decorated, and she had no excuse.

Someone kicked the door.

Patricia scrambled in the front hall. The candy bowl was sitting next to a bowl for keys, it contained mini candybars and gum. An odd combination, she thought just before she opened the door.

There was a store-bought superhero who looked to be grammar school age, and a toddler in a tutu. Just a tutu.

“Trick or treat!” the superhero orated dutifully. The toddler gaped, plastic pumpkin held out at arm’s length.

Patricia nodded and dished out a candy bar and gumball each.

The superhero withdrew his Frankenstein-head candy bucket. “Thank you,” he said woodenly.

The toddler shook her pumpkin. “Mo’!”

Her mother appeared out of nowhere, scooping her up. “Cynthia, sweetie, no.” She laughed through her teeth in the awkward manner of young, hip parents. “Sorry. It’s her first Halloween.”

Patricia grunted. The door was only open six inches, enough to thrust the bowl through, and that was six inches too much.

The mother tilted her head sideways, peering through the gap at Patricia. “Have you had many this year?”

“Enough.” Patricia closed the door. She considered flipping the porch lights, but that might be too much.

“Well, that’s a fine how-do-you-do,” the mother’s voice echoed breezily through the door.

Through the reed blind that masked the front window, Patricia traced their steps down the driveway. She cursed again when another group started up the lawn before the others had even left. She watched their silhouettes pause to converse. Maybe her rudeness would be passed along and she wouldn’t be bothered again.

That hope sank when the groups diverged again. The first group walked out into the shadows. The second approached until the front wall hid them again.

Patricia braced her back against the door and prayed under her breath.

A knock.

Heart hammering, Patricia opened the door again.

This group was two children roughly the same age. One had smeary zombie makeup, the other wore a wolf mask. The mother hovered over both of them, eyes wide and staring out into a middle distance.

Whatdowesay?” she whispered.

Patricia leaned forward. “What?”

“Trick-or-treat-smell-my-feet-give-me-something-good-to-eat!” both children screamed.

Patricia drew back as if burned. She could feel the tympani in her head draw taut.

“Here,” she said uncomfortably, shoveling treats into their matching pillowcases. She had to resist the urge to throw them in.

Whatdowesay?” the woman whispered eerily again. Her glazed stare was alarming. Patricia couldn’t tell if the woman was trying to see back into the house or just in a Valium fog.

“Thank-you-happy-halloween!” the kids screamed almost threateningly.

Thankyouhaveablessednight,” the woman hissed.

They turned as one unit and walked down the driveway. Patricia couldn’t see their feet articulating. She went inside and locked the door.

Think. She needed time to think.

She could kill the lights, make it look like no one was home.

…but then she wouldn’t be able to see who walked up to the house. And seeing what night it was, no one would think it strange if someone walked all the way up to a house in the dark.

She peered through the slats of the blinds.

There was no movement. For now.

What she could do, what would be really smart would be to put the bowl out on the porch with a “help yourself” sign and leave the lights on.

There was a mug of pens beneath the old brass reading lamp by the couch. She grabbed one and scribbled on a piece of junk mail. Nothing. She snagged another. A brief sputter of ink and then nothing.

There was movement she could see through the shade.

Patricia panicked and grabbed the entire mugful, turning them upside-down and swirling them around. Fresh, black ink originated from somewhere near her thumb. Shaking, she tucked her thumb around five or so pens and let the rest clatter to the tabletop. No time. She shoved the pens in her pocket as the bell rang again.

Patricia made herself take a deep breath. The hand with the candy bowl shook. She transferred hands and it still shook. She gave up and opened the door.

It was a gaggle of kids, preteens to toddler. Patricia practically threw the candy at them.

There was a woman in a peasant skirt and an older, bearded gentleman, both smiling with vacant pleasure at the exchange. Patricia missed the last bag and rushed to close the door. Not fast enough.

The man stepped forward, passing a hand over the children’s heads as if climbing a rail.

“Howdy,”he said pleasantly, “so nice to see young blood in this neighborhood.”

Patricia grimaced.

He leaned forward. There was a skunky edge to his breath.

“Unless I miss my guess, the Harrows used to live here, didn’t they? Did you buy from them?”

“No.” Maybe if she looked preoccupied and kept her answers to one syllable, he would get the hint.

The man thumbed out to the driveway. “That Subaru for sale?”

“No.” Patricia said simply.

“If it ever does go up, I’d like you to give me a call.” He started rummaging in his breast pocket. “Let me give you a card.”

Patricia gave up. “Excuse me, I have a pie burning in the oven,” she said and slammed the door.

She very loudly and heavily walked away down the hall. The couple’s silhouettes hung in place for entirely too long before moving away. Patricia blew an angry breath.

“Hate this fucking day,” she whispered.

She narrowed down the pens to one uni-ball that faithfully laid down a thick, black trail of ink. The paper came from the printer tray. Patricia made the sign in all caps and each line was several scribbles wide.

“Take one,” it said, ensuring that all the candy would be gone in a single visit.

Patricia scooped up the candy bowl and the paper and strode victoriously to the front hall.

The door opened to reveal a teenage boy slouching against a porch post.

Patricia drew back with a little noise. He hadn’t knocked. If he’d knocked she’d have heard it. If he had been standing silently outside the door, it was probably for a reason.

Patricia stood there.

The teen was dressed in a black hoodie and black jeans. His hair had been dyed black, she could tell, because of how flat the color looked. He held a smoking stub of cigarette in one hand but made no move to smoke it.

“Hey,” he said, hardly traditional.

Patricia posed awkward, foot holding open the door, candy bowl hoisted aloft. His eyes drifted from the bowl to the house behind her. Patricia wet her lips so severely she could feel the fine hairs of her upper lip. She tried not to shake, which just made her shake even more as her muscles locked in place.

The teen seemed thin. He didn’t seem like he packed much of a punch, but anything could be hidden in that front sweatshirt pocket. A knife. A gun. His hands lay at rest at his sides, but he could reach for it at any time.

Patricia lowered the bowl. “You don’t have a bag.” It was the only response she could manage.

The boy shrugged. He hadn’t looked away from the house.

“Do you want a few to carry?”

The boy rolled the cigarette between his fingers. His eyes were calculating.

In a flash, Patricia pressed the bowl forward. “Here,” she hissed.

The boy finally looked away from the doorway behind her. He looked nonplussed.

She tugged one of the mouths of his sweatshirt pocket wide and poured candy in.

“Take it,” she said, “take it all. I’ll still put out the bowl.”

The boy looked down, then at her. Finally, with a cool nod, he straightened up,

Patricia stood in the doorway, breathing erratically. The boy made no move to go.

Patricia backed into the house and shut the door. Through the shades, she watched the boy’s silhouette steam smoke, then drop something and twist his heel. He loped away slowly, as if savoring each step.

Patricia pressed her forehead to the wood of the door. She counted one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, three-Mississippi, all the way up to fifty. Then she jerked the door open, dashing to the front bench where a pumpkin happily smoldered. She set the bowl down with a teeth-clenching crack, slapped the paper down beside it, and ran back inside. The door was heavy and solid oak and it slammed so loud she could hear the chirp of an echo bounce off the yew in the yard. She slammed the bolt home and held herself.

No movement out the front window. No tinkle of glass from a thrown rock. Patricia finally let herself breathe easily as she went back to the kitchen.

Mrs. Harrow lay where she had fallen, red spreading over the linoleum beneath her. Frank Harrow was a much less orderly scene. He had fought back, and his body was smeared and ragged.

Patricia picked up the knife and scrubbed the handle with a dish towel. There was a plastic bag on the table. She fished a pair of costume gloves out and donned them. There was a wig cap and a wig and a warty witch-mask, she put them on. There was a cape she swept around her shoulders.

Three seconds to peek out the back door: the coast was clear.

She exited the house and pulled the door snug behind her.

There were still trick-or-treaters about. She lost herself in the crowd.

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