Dusk shrouded the landscape in dense shadows as the moon peeped through the cloud cover on October 31st in the Pacific Northwest. It was a night rife with the mysterious.
“Halloween!” shouted young children, moving stealthily, like criminals, down the sidewalks of the rural conclave of Mercer, Washington. In each little hand was clutched a goodie bag, or sometimes a tin pumpkin or an ethereal plastic skull hollowed out to hold the treats they would collect from the townsfolk.
All around the neighborhood, the domiciles were festooned with strings of lights, paper skeletons, and freshly carved jack-o-lanterns, their fierce, grimacing dispositions on display. Candles flickered inside them for a spookier effect.
The children clustered in little covens of witches, hordes of devils or frights of ghosts, their brilliant white sheets agleam ‘neath the street lamps. One little trio of hobgoblins contained one of each: a witch, a devil, and a ghost. Their bags of goodies bulging, they silently approached the residence of old Mrs. Fink or as she was known to the neighborhood, Ms. Trudy. They were a bit more apprehensive about encountering her, as Ms. Trudy had rather unusual ideas about the holidays, especially a pagan holiday like Halloween. There were stories.
They stood outside on the front porch of Ms. Trudy’s just now, immobile.
“You ring the bell, David,” said Kari, who sported the bona fides of a witch. David, dressed as the devil, didn’t move.
“Why me?” he demanded. His eyes peered through sheer curtains into the living room, which was illuminated by a single weak light; no sign of the occupant.
“Because Ms. Trudy likes red,” argued Kari.
“And how do you know that?” the devil wanted to know.
“Because,” the ghost spoke up, “she’s always dumpster diving for cans of stewed tomatoes and tomatoes are red, aren’t they?” David turned that over in his mind for a moment, found that he couldn’t argue with the logic and so reached out and pressed the doorbell. Kari pushed the ghost from behind.
“You get in line next, Stanley,” she told him. “She likes moth balls too, and they’re white, just like your sheet.” Stanley frowned, which nobody could see on account of the sheet.
“Your face is green, Kari,” he said. “And tomato stems are green, so you get in line next.”
“I’m covering your backs,” the green-complexioned witch told him. “Besides, nobody eats tomato stems!” The other children found this argument irrefutable and so maintained their place in line. Suddenly the heavy door opened with a cinnamon-scented Whoosh! and the children recoiled for an instant. The figure they now confronted must have weighed four hundred pounds. Garbed in a scarlet caftan and with large, pendulous red earrings, she practically shouted at them.
“You’re here!” she exclaimed, deliriously happy. “You’re the first kids to come here tonight and I’m so glad to see you. Yay!” They stared at her without making a sound. She went on, “I’ve been stocking up on goodies all season, for weeks!” she boomed out. The children found she had a garlicky odor on her breath and drew back a little. But not too far; they didn’t want to miss this rich trove of treats. Visions of Sweet Tarts and Tootsie Roll Pops and Bazooka Joe Bubble Gum danced wildly in their heads.
“Who are you kids?” she asked. “Do I know you? Are you neighbors of mine?” she pressed. Still saying nothing, and uncertain how to take this mountainous dynamo, the kids merely shook their heads rapidly from side to side. “Oh, okay, I won’t make you take your masks off, then. I mean, you can’t come back again–curfew is in just a couple of minutes. And do you know what that means?” Still, no one spoke. “It means,” she went on, “that you kids get all the treats. I collected forty-eight, hoping for a large turnout, but you’ll get what the other kids missed. Stay here.” She disappeared back into the house. Kari said,
“See, I told you this would be cool. We get everything now.”
“What if it’s something we don’t like?” asked Stanley the ghost, and the resident buzz-kill.
“I’ll take whatever you don’t want,” offered David, suddenly ravenously hungry.
“We’ll share what Stanley doesn’t want,” decreed Kari with the wisdom of Solomon. Suddenly Ms. Trudy reappeared at the door, bearing a bushel basket filled to running over with their long-awaited treats. They all eagerly licked their lips in anticipation.
“Hold out your bags there,” instructed the woman of the house. They did so. Ms. Trudy began rapidly filling their bags–Kari carried a hollow plastic pumpkin, by the way–and their smiles of rapture were soon frozen into expressions of abject horror. Ms. Trudy began plumping large cans of Del Monte Stewed Tomatoes into their treat containers, dropping them from a height of several feet, effectively punching holes into their bags. Candy was spilled onto the floor of the porch, where it was covered by the juice and muck of the cans of stewed tomatoes, which had somehow ruptured. Fouled stewed tomatoes oozed from the cans, covering everything. Even Kari’s plastic pumpkin was knocked from her hands by the weight of the cans.
Finally, the basket was empty and Trudy looked expectantly at the three children. She grinned eeily. Then the smile fell away.
“Whatsa’ matter,” she demanded, “don’t you say thank-you? I spent weeks digging through old milk cartons and broken egg shells and fish skeletons; had to fight them cats somethin’ awful, too, let me tell you.” For a long moment, the four individuals stood there, looking at each other. Suddenly the children screamed in terror, nearly knocking Ms. Trudy’s nylon wig askew. Her eyes grew wild and it was her turn to recoil. Abruptly the children began running, down the stairs and off the porch, and through the streets, screaming all the way.
Hmph,” snorted Ms. Trudy, regaining her aplomb. “Too good for kids like that. Next year I’ll give ’em green beans.” And thus was born another Halloween legend of the Pacific Northwest.
Bill Tope is a retired public assistance caseworker living in Illinois with his mean little cat Baby. He has been published several score times, in both poetry and fiction. He has been published in Cathedral of Insanity, Wordgathering, Down in the Dirt mag, and others.