Before his body was splattered all over the pavement, Milo was dressed as Count Dracula. Face covered in white paint, lips tipped with nontoxic fake blood, a cape and a blood red broach at his throat. Whenever he smiled at someone, he made sure to show off his fangs.
It was nearing the end of the night now, and I’d started yawning a good half-hour before we reached what looked like the end of the street. Milo was, of course, a bouncing ball of excitement and energy, as most six-year-old boys who’ve been eating candy all night are.
“I think this is it, kiddo,” I told him as we approached the cul-de-sac that bordered on a thicket of trees. “Let’s turn around and go home.”
“Wait!” he cried, tugging on my arm as I tried to pull away. “There’s one more house!”
I laughed a little. “No there’s not. C’mon, if we leave now we can be home by ten.”
“No! There’s another house! Look!”
Sighing, I turned around and followed my son’s pointing finger into the trees. Feeling silly, I leaned forward and peered into the darkened gloom, barely able to see anything past the first few trunks.
“Milo, I’m serious, there’s nothing—”
Wait. I leaned forward more, squinting into the inky dark. There were lights in the distance—square, in the shape of windows.
“C’mon! Let’s go!” He took off running like a bullet, which meant I had no choice but to huff and puff behind him.
“Hey! I told you not to run!” I tried to sound angry, but really I felt scared. What if there were coyotes in the trees?
The house was nestled in the spaces between the trees and had even come to resemble them—small and dark-wooded and partially concealed by vines and leaves. I grimaced, reaching for Milo, but he’d already run past my grip.
“Wait—Milo—I don’t think anybody lives—”
He pushed me aside and ran to the door, and I waited anxiously, hovering on the ground.
The door swung open and revealed a surprisingly well-kept elderly woman dressed in a billowy dress and multiple scarves. She smiled at Milo and asked him, “What can I do for you?” in a leathery voice.
Milo seemed undeterred, but my heart was beating out of my chest. Everything about this felt wrong.
“Trick-or-treat!” Milo cried in an eager voice. Her smile only widened.
“Ah, I nearly forgot! It’s All Hallows Eve tonight, isn’t it?” She gave him a strange wink. “Well, sweetie, I don’t have any candy for you, but I can give you this.”
She reached into the folds of her dress and produced a coal-black bag tied shut with a small string. Milo frowned as she dropped it into his palm.
“What is it?” he asked.
“A good-luck charm, to keep away evil. There’s a lot of evil nasties out to get you on All Hallows Eve.”
I’d had enough. I marched up the stoop and grabbed his shoulder protectively, snatching the little bag with my other hand and shoving it back into the old woman’s hands.
“Thanks, but we don’t need it,” I growled at her.
Her friendly expression twisted into anger, a lot more anger than I would have anticipated. She pocketed her little bag and hissed like a cat: “You’re going to wish you’d kept it.”
Then she slammed the door in our face.
I carried Milo back to the subdivision while he whimpered in my arms.
“Are there monsters out here coming to get me?”
“No, honey, you’re fine.” I wish I’d punched her in the face. Halloween was surely ruined now.
“Put me down, Mommy,” Milo ordered. “I wanna walk.”
Obligingly, I set him on the sidewalk and held his hand while we crossed the street. I stepped onto the sidewalk, Milo trailing behind me, when we both heard what sounded like a vortex opening ripping through the sky. I whirled and locked eyes with my son for about four seconds before what looked like inky black smoke collided with him and whipped him end-over-end down the street like Death Incarnate.
A scream ripped out of my throat, and I sprinted after him as he disappeared around the corner, wrestling with whatever hellion had him in his grip. When I finally rounded the corner, the street was coated in gore. I couldn’t find even a limb.
I barely had time to fall to my knees before someone grabbed my shoulder, and I thought that the demon had come for me when I was brought to my feet and faced the old woman, her anger plain and raw on her face.
“I shouldn’t have had to curse him to punish your ignorance,” she snarled at me. “You could have avoided this.”
“Take me back,” I sobbed, my voice sounding desperate and furious. “Take me back! Let me save him!”
She stared at me hard, and her eyes began to glow as she pulled an affected smile.
“Fine. I shall restore you earlier in time,” she told me, and her grip on my shoulder began to burn like dry ice.
I wanted to thank her, or to apologize—anything to save Milo—when she whispered, “But there is no need for me to restore your memories.”
Before I could process what she’d said, she shoved me back, and I somersaulted backwards through a wind so strong I seemed to break into a thousand pieces.
* * *
“I think this is it, kiddo,” I told Milo as we approached the cul-de-sac that bordered on a thicket of trees. The street was dark now; Halloween was finally nearing its end. “Let’s turn around and go home.”
“Wait!” he cried, tugging on my arm as I tried to pull away. His smile glowed with life, and he shook with excitement that was almost contagious.
“There’s one more house!”