“No, I’m going to stay in. It’s been a long day and the most I intend to do tonight is hand out candy.”
“Lame. Look, just for once, ignore your spinster instincts and come to Jackson’s. We’ll get sloppy drunk and play strip Twister.”
“Sounds like a blast.”
“I already have our costumes picked out.”
“Oh, this I have to hear. What’s the costume?”
“Josh will be there.”
“See, only in your mind would it sound appealing to make an ass of myself in front of a guy I like.”
“The trick is to get so wasted you don’t remember the embarrassing parts.”
“Uh huh. Also, it’s Wednesday.”
“Nina! I swear, you’re the youngest granny I know.”
“I appreciate the invite, genuinely. But I’m just not up for that kind of action tonight. I have a date with Michael Myers and 80 or 90 Twix bars.”
“Sexy. Alright, well, if you change your mind, text me.”
“You’ll be the first to know, promise. And send me some pictures of naked Twister.”
“You got it, Granny.”
I hung up the phone relieved. All things considered, I got off pretty easy. Ally could be… tenacious. Normally, I loved going out for Halloween, no matter what day of the week it was. But what I said was the truth – it had already been a rough week and I was looking forward to a relaxing night of too much candy, Jaime Lee Curtis, and maybe one spiked apple cider.
Halfway through washing some spinach for dinner, the doorbell rang for the first time. A chorus of “trick or treat!” erupted when I opened the front door.
Two little boys and their dad dressed in a group costume. Buzz, Woody, and Andy. Really cute. I let them take three each.
Quite a few came by after that. A princess, a Pikachu, lots of Spidermen, a mini Beetlejuice, a witch. As it got later and darker, the trick-or-treaters got older. The costumes changed. There were a lot of masks – creepy ones.
Thankfully, these were usually paired with a sexy version of something. Sinister burlap mask with black eye-holes was accompanied by a sexy skeleton. Ghostface walked up hand in hand with a sexy pirate.
By eleven o’clock, I was on Halloween 4, had gone through a disconcerting amount of candy, and hadn’t moved for almost an hour. The trick-or-treaters had tapered off around ten or so and I was contemplating my pajamas.
When the doorbell rang.
My first thought was, drunk teenagers. And I was ready to negotiate the non-egging of my house in exchange for Kit Kats. But when I opened the door, there was only one man standing there, waiting for me. Dressed as a clown.
I hate clowns to begin with, and this guy was massive. But, I have to say, it was the friendly kind of costume, not the creepy kind. The white face had smiling blue lips surrounded by red, blue around the eyes. It looked vintage.
Staring up at the happy-face mask, though, I couldn’t help to be a little creeped out. Then he leaned forward and whispered, “Trick or treat.”
Mentally, I slapped myself. Generally speaking, serial killers don’t walk up to the front door, ring the bell, and wait for candy. It was Halloween. He was probably a dad going around for his kid.
Mad at myself, I smiled and reached for the bowl next to the door. “Little late, isn’t it?” I said, trying to neighborly.
Without responding, he glanced down at the bowl.
“Oh, take what you like. I doubt I’ll get anyone else after you.”
He looked back at me, still not taking anything, and said again, “Trick or treat.”
I frowned. Did I not have what he wanted? What was the problem? “I’m sorry, I don’t–”
He took a step toward me, now crowding the doorway, and I felt myself wanting to shrink away from him. “Trick? Or treat?”
“For me? Uh, well, I’d choose treat. Definitely. I wouldn’t want a trick.” I laughed a little bit, like I still thought this was no big deal, like we were just chatting. Like I wasn’t fighting off real fear and wondering whether or not I could outrun him.
Nodding, he reached into his pocket. Before I had time to panic, he pulled out a dirty piece of paper and dropped it into the bowl of candy. Then, without another word, he turned and went back down the walkway and out to the street.
I slammed the door and locked it, not really knowing what I should do first. Call the police? And say what? That a giant clown was aggressively trick or treating? He hadn’t actually done anything. Just creeped me out. I doubted they’d call in the SWAT team for that and I really did not want to go down that useless road.
Unless, he’d written something on the note. Anything even vaguely threatening and I could take it to the police. Flinging the bowl of candy on the kitchen table, I uncrumpled the small scrap of paper. It took forever – he must’ve folded it ten times.
And when I did, I wished I hadn’t. Wished I’d never opened the door in the first place.
It said, “On the back steps.”
This is the part when everyone starts yelling to run – I know, I would’ve said the same thing myself. But run where?
Yes, he could’ve written that note hoping I’d go and check out the back. Or, he could’ve written it hoping I’d get scared and run out the front. Or, he wasn’t anywhere and had written the note thinking this would be hilarious.
I settled on the back. If I turned on the light, I’d be able to see out there without opening the door. If he was there and came after me, he’d have to break through the door – I’d at least have some time to run for it.
Well aware that it has almost never helped anyone in a horror movie, I took a knife from the drawer and edged toward the back. Waiting, I counted to ten, wanting to see if I’d hear the tell-tale rattle of someone trying to open the door. Nothing.
Back flat against the wall, I flicked on the porch light and looked out through the small window. At first, I didn’t notice the small package on the steps. I was looking for him – the hulking shape of a man either hiding or running at me. As far as I could see, he wasn’t out there.
I had no intention of turning that light off, but thought that maybe I should check the rest of the house, and started to turn away. That’s when my eyes landed on the box. Just a black cube silhouetted against the light. But I knew he’d left it for me.
I knew not to go out there. It could be a trap, a trick. Probably was. But I wanted help, damn it. I wanted the cavalry. And I was just so scared they wouldn’t come if they thought it was a practical joke or if they didn’t take me seriously. It could be evidence out there.
That was why I went out to get it.
I took another long look and unlocked the door, then opened it. If he was out there watching me, he’d have to cover a lot of ground to get to me and I thought I’d have enough time to get back inside.
Deep breath. One, two, three…
I sprinted the handful of steps to the package and grabbed it, careful not to overshoot and go tumbling down the stairs. Before I took another breath I was back in the house, door locked behind me, gasping for air like I’d just run a marathon. Checking the window again I saw, still nothing. Nothing but yellow leaves rustling in an unsteady wind.
Setting the box on the kitchen table, I took a pair of latex gloves from under the sink. It hadn’t just been the light, the box – my treat – was wrapped in shiny black paper. It crinkled unpleasantly when I lifted the lid.
I had no idea what to expect and drew back just in case something sprang out. But there was nothing like that – nothing alive, or dangerous in the traditional sense. Reaching in, ignoring the crackle of the paper, I pulled out two white shoes covered in blood. Little ballet flats about the size of my hand.
My fingers trembled and my eyes started to tear up. I wanted to believe, more than anything, that it was fake blood. That all of this was someone’s sick idea of a Halloween prank. But there’s no mistaking the smell of real blood. A lot of it had dried but there were still spots of dark, sticky red.
I stood there too long, looking at them, unable to break out of that horrified paralysis.
The police. No question now.
Where the hell did I leave my phone? It had to be back in the living room. On the other side of the house. Of course.
Ripping off the gloves, I made myself move. If I didn’t, I’d be cowering in my brightly lit kitchen until noon tomorrow. All I had to do was get there, grab my phone, and call 911. I took the knife just in case. Everything was going to be fine.
I screamed when the doorbell rang.
Gripping the handle of the knife, I looked out through the peephole. I couldn’t see anyone. Standing there, holding my breath, I waited for the doorknob to turn, for a fist to start pounding against the panels.
Instead, a small voice said, “Hello? Is anyone there?”
“What the hell?” I listened, not sure what was going on, not sure if I was quite possibly losing my mind.
“Can you help me, please?” The little voice sounded choked up, like it was trying very hard not to cry. “I’m lost and I can’t find my way home.”
If a little kid was out there, they had to get in the house. Right now. I opened the door to find a little girl, eight or nine years old, dressed in a bloody ghost costume. White face paint, dramatic black shadow around the eyes. White gloves and a cut up sheet that hung to the ground. She blinked up at me and said, “Please help me.”
I wanted to ask her a million questions: how long had she been out there? Where were her parents? But I was scared. My eyes jumped from shadow to shadow trying to see if any were moving in a way they shouldn’t be.
“I’ll help you get home, don’t worry. But you have to come inside right now. We’ll call your parents.”
She looked past me into the house and shook her head. Panic and frustration crowded in on me – all I wanted to do was grab her and drag her into the house. But that wasn’t fair, and probably wouldn’t speed things up. Maybe if we could just get to my car.
“Okay, I understand. Let me just get my phone and we can both–”
“No!” She looked past me again into the house. “He’s waiting for you. Listening for you to go into that room. You have to come with me right now.”
Before I could respond, I heard fast, heavy footsteps behind me, coming up the basement stairs.
The girl’s eyes widened. “Run!”
I ran. Leaving the front door open behind me, I sprinted after the girl. The knife in my hand felt like a toy and I almost threw it away. Just once, I turned and looked behind me and saw the clown crashing through the doorway.
The girl was already ahead of me, I could barely see flashes of white in the darkness, and sped up not wanting to lose her. Not daring to stop or even slow down, I screamed up to the houses we ran by to call the police, call for help.
We cut through yard after yard until we were racing down a street I didn’t recognize. Even though I ran faster than I ever had before in my life, the clown was still right behind us. And he was catching up.
Ducking under a low-hanging branch, I realized I’d lost the girl. Ready to take off in whichever direction looked most promising, I stopped when I heard her voice.
“In here!” I turned and saw her peeking out of the front door to a house. I ran to her and tried to lock the door behind me, but the deadbolt wouldn’t turn.
I gave up and rushed to the back door. It was blocked. Twisting the knob with both hands, I threw myself against the panels. “Come on!” It wouldn’t budge.
I had no idea where the girl had gone but I knew I was almost out of time. I could feel it, the same way you can feel a headache coming on. That sense of pressure building. Back to the front of the house, I started up the stairs. I’d only made it to the fourth one by the time the door flew open.
Without turning around, I tore up the rest of the stairs and threw myself behind the first door I came to and slammed it shut behind me. A bathroom.
There was a window by the shower and I raced over, ready to break the glass if I had to – and saw it was a sheer drop to the driveway. “Damn it!”
Maybe if I tried using the shower curtain as a rope –
The door was kicked open with such force that the wood splintered. The clown stepped in and waved his fingers at me. In the other hand, he held a cleaver.
I had no chance at all.
He crossed the bathroom in two steps, that stupid clown mask grinning down at me. I didn’t even scream.
Then I heard a small voice yell from the hallway. “Hey! Don’t you touch her!”
The clown turned and froze, staring at the girl. Without thinking, I lifted the knife I’d taken from my kitchen – the one that felt like a toy, that never helps anyone in the end – and slashed it across his throat.
He stumbled back, one hand pressed against the cut. A hot, red spray spurted through his fingers and hit the walls, spattered against my face. He went down swinging the cleaver, slicing through my arm just below the shoulder but I didn’t even feel it. Face-down on the floor, the clown’s body shuddered. Heavy boots thudded against the tile, fingers twitched. I waited until he was still before I moved.
For good measure, I knelt and brought the knife down, stabbing it into the back of his neck and left it there.
Stepping over him, I went to the girl and grabbed her, hugging her. Probably too tightly. “That was such a brave, stupid thing to do! Are you hurt?”
She shook her head but started to cry a little bit.
She said, “You just have to come with me now, OK?”
The only place we were going was to a phone to call for help, but I nodded and let her lead me downstairs.
“I’m sorry, but I need you to make sure that someone takes care of my mommy and daddy.”
We came around the corner into the living room and my stomach clenched into a tight, sick ball. “Oh God, oh my God.”
Two bodies were sprawled in front of me, covered in blood, parts of them missing. The room started to tilt and go out of focus. We had to leave. I wasn’t about to leave that poor girl alone while I fainted.
“We’re getting out of here. Come with me, right now,” I said reaching out for the girl’s hand.
But she stepped away from me and shook her head no. “I have to go now. I don’t want to get left behind.”
That made me so sad for her. “I would never leave you here. We’re going to get help, together.”
She smiled. “I know. Just don’t forget about my mom and dad. And how much you helped us. Try to remember that and not be too sad when it’s all over.”
I looked at her, not understanding.
She pointed across the room. “My mom’s phone is on the table next to the sofa.”
Wanting to grab the phone and get the hell out of the house, I walked over, avoiding the blood as much as I could. As I reached down, I noticed something on the other side of the sofa. A flash of white in the darkness. And started to cry.
A cut up sheet covered in blood. White gloves. But her feet were bare. The shoes were gone.