“What did I say about slowing down?” Todd panted as he caught up with his sister. Her little 8-year-old legs concealed a turbo speed that belied their length. He was momentarily troubled by how his choice of words was taken straight out of his mother’s phrasebook, but he quickly pushed her memory aside. He didn’t like to think of the article he’d read earlier that day online had said Halloween sees a blurring of the boundaries between the living and the dead.
“I’m sorry Todd,” she turned a chocolate smeared smile towards him. “This is exciting! So much free candy!”
“Yes, and you’re wearing a lot of it. Let’s remember to save some for Dad, yeah?”
They continued down Parnell Street, just a few blocks over from where their Dad had stayed home. He’d said Todd was old enough to look after Lucy without his help now, and besides, someone needed to hold fort to give out candy to the trick or treaters that came to their own house. Todd was also aware of a certain football game that was on that may have played a part in that decision.
Todd and Lucy charmed sweets and chocolate from a few more doors, receiving heaps of praise for their devil and angel double act. Todd had smeared an old lipstick of his mother’s all over his face and bought a cheap pair of horns, teamed with his smartest black clothes. And Lucy, bless her heart, just loved any excuse to dress like a little princess with wings.
“Look Todd,” demanded Lucy, pointing towards the end of the street, where a rusty looking camper had been parked for a couple of weeks. There had been mutterings in the close-knit neighborhood about how it should have really moved on by now, it was an eyesore, but nobody had seen anybody go in or out of it to ask them what the deal was. “There’s smoke coming out the chimney!”
Sure enough, there were wisps snaking from the flue pipe and a glow detectable from the murky windows the local children had tried to peer through without luck in recent days gone by.
“Shall we try?” Lucy’s big blue eyes shone with hope.
“Worth a shot,” conceded Todd. As they got closer, he felt his stomach lurch. He’d probably eaten too much that night himself.
Todd allowed Lucy to knock. She just lifted her tiny fist to do so, when the narrow door opened. A middle aged woman with a pinched looking face peered back at them underneath matted black hair that surely hadn’t seen shampoo in a while. Two spots of color adorned cheeks that were blanched by moonlight. She’d parked away from harsh streetlights.
“Trick or treaters! How lovely. Come in, come in. There’s a bowl in the dining area but it’s too heavy for me to lift. You’re the first that have visited lil ol’ me tonight” Her voice was so low they had to strain to hear her. She turned away, a bustle of diaphanous black and deep purple material rustling after her.
Todd was uncertain. He hadn’t actually been expecting to be invited in anywhere tonight. What was the polite thing to do? He was torn between the parental blueprints – his warm, loving mother who had thought the best of everyone, and his father who liked time to think a plan through before its execution, and preferred the company of a beer and an armchair to that of guests, who was always afraid of “those good for nuthin’ hackers” who were apparently constantly trying to steal his details through his phone and internet connection. He decided to honor his mother’s memory. And besides, they were both curious about this new arrival in town.
“Come on kids, it’s chilly out there and I’ve got hot chocolate with marshmallows!”
That sealed the deal for Lucy, who scampered up the two steps it took to get up to the door. Todd followed at a more sedate pace.
Sure enough, there was a huge bucket piled high with colorful sweets placed on a tiny table that folded out from the wall, buckling slightly under the weight.
“Excuse me, I forgot to introduce myself, the name’s Sylvia.” She said this in a mosaicked mirror that hung over a hob where she was heating up milk. It gave the impression she had dozens of eyes. “You two sit yourselves down now.” She gestured at the two seats either side of the table.
Lucy sat and plunged her hands happily into the bucket, taking her fill for her smaller pumpkin version. Todd folded his gangly teenage limbs into the narrow space opposite. He glanced around, taking in the windows, which had a dreamcatcher each. Halloween decorations, or did Sylvia just really like catching dreams?
She handed them two frothy mugs with ghost-shaped marshmallows bobbing on the surface.
“What do we say, Lucy?” Todd asked.
“Thank you Sylvia.” Todd nodded his approval, and took a welcome sip of his drink. It tasted rich, soothing and had a kick. Some sort of spice, perhaps?
“It was kind of you to invite us in,” said Todd to his host, taking in more of her outfit. Or was it a costume? Maybe she was a goth, like some of the kids he knew at school. She wore pointed boots with stubby heels that clacked noisily whenever she moved. Big bells sleeves that he thought must catch plenty on the knickknacks scattered about. A cobweb amulet with a spider on it whose body seemed to change color. Todd knew about mood rings from his sister although she had called him unfair when he explained the material just reacted to body temperature. This spider doohickey must be made of the same stuff. “Gotta say, a lot of us have been wondering when we’d finally get to meet who lived here.”
“I like to keep myself to myself, y’know? And I move about a lot. It’s only really once a year I try to meet people.”
Before Todd could form a reply to this bizarre confession, there was a loud pop as a knot of wood must have been caught in the burner. Todd jumped, but it seemed like his seat wasn’t about to let him up.
“What the…” Todd tried standing up, his face contorting with the effort and confusion.
Lucy laughed. “Todd – what are you doing?” He could always amuse her with his facial expressions. This bulging eyes one was new.
“Luce, I can’t…I can’t get up. Can you get up?”
Sylvia slowly sipped from her own drink while she watched. Todd noted she hadn’t made herself a hot chocolate. She was drinking some red liquid he guessed was wine.
Lucy started crying. “Todd, I don’t like it.”
Her brother looked at his seat to try to figure out what was gluing him in place. He lifted one knee a fraction of an inch and saw what looked like some sort of fine chewing gum strands that snapped his knee back down. He went to reach out an arm to comfort his sister but his arms felt as heavy as tree trunks. He turned to the smiling host.
“What’s going on here?” he snapped. Then a whirling dervish, a flurry of black lace and his phone was gone from his breast pocket and into Sylvia’s clutches.
“What’s going on here, my sweets, is we’re going to get your Dad to come and get you. I’ve been dying to meet this eligible widower who’s the talk of the town.” Her black lacquered nails starting clicking as they navigated menus searching for the right number.
Talk of the town? Despite his predicament and Lucy’s wails Todd briefly entertained the hysterical notion that his father was considered a hot ticket by Cairnhad’s lonely housewives population.
“Ha, found him,” she tapped some more while Todd beseeched Lucy with his eyes to be calm, his thoughts racing. They had obviously been drugged by a raving madwoman but what the heck was this other stuff that was keeping them pinned down?
“How are you finding my web, you two? And what foresight to wear wings, Lucy dear.” Lucy’s face was streaked with tears and all the color drained from Todd’s. This wasn’t happening, he told himself. It’s all just a stupid nightmare. The alarm on his phone was probably about to wake him to get ready for school and that’s why it was featuring in his dream. Right?
“How does this sound?” dismissing Lucy for her youth and having currently blurred vision, Sylvia held up the phone to Todd, who had to tear away from those wicked gleaming eyes to squint at the message she’d concocted.
Hi Daddy will you come pick us up please? We’re at the camper and need help getting our stash of candy home x
Fear having taken his ability to speak, Todd just nodded.
“Good.” She pulled it back and tapped once more. “It’s sent. Now if you kids don’t mind, I have business to attend to before your father gets here. And don’t bother screaming for help either. I’ve soundproofed this van.”
As she scuttled off, Todd realized what he thought was a bustle was concealing a sort of hump. She opened the door leading to the sleeping area and in the seconds before she closed it all the hairs on his skin shot up when he glimpsed the giant web that she’d weaved completely covering what he could make out of the bed and walls.
“Don’t worry Lucy-loo.” Her wails had simmered to a quiet blubber, her shoulders having long ago given up their shaking as her helping of the potion did its trick. “Dad will be here soon,” he said with a conviction he didn’t quite trust. He knew how difficult it was to budge his father from a game. The phone had sounded a reply, but was tantalizingly out of reach on a dusty countertop. “Hey Lucy? What was that song you learned at school the other day?”
“You said you hated that song.”
“Did I? I can’t forget how it goes. Will you remind me?”
She closed her eyes in concentration and began reciting.
A sharp rat-a-tat-tat on the door interrupted their singing. Sylvia appeared from her bedroom with an extra set of eyelashes and her lips freshly glossed. She beamed at the children, revealing terrible fangs set like pincers before shutting her mouth firmly. “Oops,” she said, dabbing at the drool that had spilled out of one side with an enormous ruffled sleeve. She hobbled over to the mirror for a quick check, again using it to lock eyes with Todd. “Been fixing myself up for your Dad, see? I knew he was on his way long before you bozos did. Could feel the vibrations from his footsteps.” She winked and endless eyes fluttered back.
Sylvia opened the door, welcome spiel at the ready. But before she could get a word out the children screamed: “DAD, HELP!”
A crack too loud to be attributed to the wood burner. The noise echoed down the street where other trick or treaters looked up from doorbells, porches, sacks of sweets. A blood-curdling scream filled the confines of the camper, Sylvia crashing backwards through the entrance. Then she wasn’t there at all. In her place was a spider Todd recognized from the nature shows he used to watch with his mother. The black widow. It scuttled off into the shadows, leaving one grotesque shining leg on the floor.
Lucy and Todd’s constraints melted away and they stood up to embrace their father, who was tucking a gun (news to his children) back into his pocket.
They all stood silently for a while, clutching on to each other, a tangle of limbs juddering with mixed grief and relief.
Their father finally broke the silence. “When you called me ‘Daddy’ and put a kiss in your text, well, that’s when I knew something was up.” Lucy started giggling, and the giggles passed round their little circle, growing louder with each turn. “Come on kids, let’s leave this dump.”
When Todd and Lucy cycled past where the camper had been the next day, there was no evidence that anything had ever been parked there. Just a little glistening, twisted black twig. All the same, Todd made certain to run his wheel over it, pushing his handlebars down with renewed force.