On Halloween night I crossed the street to Ally's house at exactly 5 pm. It was tradition. This year, like a dozen before it, we would pass out candy to trick or treaters and wish we could be them. Even the moms that hovered at the end of Ally's driveway made us jealous. We were stuck in that limbo between child and parent, having a blast but nearly ready to move on.
I knocked on her door even though I didn't have to. Ally was expecting me to beg for candy, and I was expecting her to shower me in a fistful of it. It was a lame joke that would never get old.
But a man answered her door. Not Nick, a stranger. He looked as surprised to see me as I was to see him, and maybe even just as nervous.
My manners beat out the sudden spike of panic in my chest. "I'm here for Ally," I said. Maybe he was a friend of her husband's. Or a relative I hadn't met. Or a thief-
"Ally? This is her house."
The man shook his head. "You mean Ally Myles?"
"Yes," I said.
He hesitated. "I'm sorry… she died. About ten years ago, right before I bought the place."
The spike became a clench and I felt faint. Like I could've collapsed right there on Ally's porch and faded from this stranger's view. He could have been lying.
It felt like the truth. But ten years? How? How could I not notice that, was I crazy?
Ally dying would certainly drive me insane. We had become fast friends when both of us, newly married, had moved onto this road within the same month.
"How did it happen?" I asked.
He shrugged. His hand fiddled with the iron doorknob, hidden from view but obvious in its rattle. "I'm not sure. She was old."
"Yeah. About 90."
That could not be. Ally was younger than me by a handful of weeks, and I was halfway through my thirties. I think. I couldn't remember exactly the number but I knew I wasn't old.
I thanked the man and turned away, back toward my own house. I crossed the street without looking, dashed across short shorn grass, and paused outside my own door. The tinted glass reflection of me searched my face for answers.
Chestnut hair, good posture, skin untouched by wrinkles. I wasn't 90. Or 100. Whatever age that man implied I was.
The door was locked so I walked through it. Weird, because I almost never lock the door.
The couches were different, and the whole back wall of the living room was covered in mirrors like a funhouse at the fair. Adam wasn't there but another man was.
He looked my way but through me and said something about the door.
A woman came from another room, a bowl of candy on her hip. She brushed past me like I wasn't there, like I wasn't yelling at the both of them to get out of my house. She checked the porch but no one was out there.
"I thought I heard something," the man said. The woman shrugged.
How could they not hear me yelling at them? Furious words melted into cries and then sobs. What was going on?
I almost knew. The truth was so close I could feel it, towering over me.
My soul was tightening in my gut, coiling around my stomach and making me feel sick. I felt like how a star must, right before it dies. All that energy mounting, squeezing itself until it explodes.
I couldn't stay here.
I flew out the front door and crossed the street to Ally's house. It was tradition. This year, like a dozen before it, we would pass out candy to the trick or treaters and wish we could be them.
Ally was expecting me.
The evening was a bit foggy, perfect for Halloween. A light flickered over me as I approached Ally's yard, a touch of sun that warmed me then was gone. The chill in the air wasn't bad though. It was just enough to warrant my cozy green sweater and a thicker pair of socks.
I knocked even though I didn't have to; it was a little Halloween tradition Ally and I shared.
A man answered the door. Not Nick, a stranger. He had a mask pulled down from his face, hanging around his neck. People were crowded into the living room behind him and a song I had never heard before filtered through their writhing bodies.
"She's here!" the man said.
A couple people broke away from the crowd and peered over his shoulder.
I frowned. "I'm looking for Ally."
"You don't remember?"
The women glanced at each other. "I don't see anything," one of them said, and the other shook her head. Neither of them was Ally or anyone I knew. I thought they must be high.
The man hesitated. "I want to help you," he said, his voice soft. I could barely hear him over that music. "Is there something you're supposed to be doing?"
"I'm meeting Ally," I said. "Is she here?"
"Do you want to come in?"
"Is Ally here?"
The others were straining to see past me, searching the yard as if looking for Ally too but in the wrong place. I followed their gazes, confused. This was the right house, right? How could I have gone to the wrong one after so many years of visits? Besides, it was directly across from mine.
The man asked me if Ally was here, if that's why I had come back.
"Yes," I said. "This is her house." Her house had this small stoop with three steps. It had that dark purple siding that Nick didn't like at first- or was it olive green?
It didn't matter. This was her house and I told the man so, again.
"I'm sorry but she died," he said. "A long time ago. You have to let her go."
One of the women behind him repeated that she didn't see anything. She reached a hand out and swiped at me, brushing through a few layers of fabric and skin to run her fingers down my ribs. I shivered. Her hand was so cold.
"Where is Ally?" I asked.
"I don't know," he said. He glanced at the woman. "She's darker than last year."
She shrugged. "I still don't see her."
"Maybe next year you will."
My nerves were fraying like a string that can't quite get through a needle but you keep trying anyway. If I could just grasp one little bit then the rest might follow through.
I turned back toward my house. The man called after me, trying to get me to wait, but I was tired of his teasing. It wasn't light hearted, like the jokes between Ally and me. This was cruel. I didn't understand it.
My front door was locked so I walked through it. Weird, because I almost never lock the door.
I went to the phone in the kitchen, turning lights on as I went. Adam must not have been home yet. The house was too quiet without him, too dark.
Ally's number used to be on the little notepad by the phone but I couldn't find it. I rung it in by memory, each number a familiar comfort on a telephone I didn't recognize.
The man answered, the one invading her home. I screamed. Then he did, and I dropped the receiver.
The screams flowed from me of their own volition, one on top of the next like some cursed church choir. They were shrill- overwhelming fear dampened only by anger.
I screamed until I lost the strength to. I dropped to my knees on the kitchen floor and curled up in a shuddering ball of tears and sighs. It took a long time but I soon lost the strength for that too. I fell asleep there, just like that, waiting for the world to realign itself. Being exhausted felt better than being scared.
When I woke up I went to Ally's house. The porch light was on, the universal signal for "come, you are welcome." Little orange lights framed her door and carved pumpkins sat one to a step. Simple but lovely, just like my best friend.
Tonight was Halloween. We looked forward to a night of passing out candy and sneaking pieces for ourselves, admiring costumes and dancing to Halloween records.
I knocked on the door even though I didn't have to.
Ally was expecting me.