It’s Halloween. It’s dusk. The sun is gone, but the sky is still light. The streets are dark, though, the streetlights few and far between. It could be the 80’s it could be the 70’s – hell, it could be the 50’s. Rural Maine is like that. There’s a boy standing in the middle of a residential street in greasepaint and his father’s too-large sneakers, a pillowcase clutched in numb fingers. It’s cold, colder than it should be, and his breath shows briefly in the air before the darkness takes it. He’s alone, gone too far ahead. His siblings and aunt are somewhere behind him in the maze of streets and houses, but too far to hear them. He could be the last person on earth. In a minute they’ll catch up. In a minute they’ll hit the next house for candy. In a minute everything will go back to the way it was. But not yet.
A stone tower looms up out of the gravestones, the top pure black against the fading sky. It’s dangerous to be in this part of the cemetery at this time of day. Not because of the dead – they’re as quiet as they ever are – but because it’s still light and this monument is nearer to the front of graveyard. It’s the best time, though, to climb the tower and look across the small pond to where the old graves lay in the shadows of the pines. To wait for the dark to march across from that treeline like all the old shades had risen up and were slowly reaching out to cover the world. His friends are back there in the graveyard – a beautiful place like a park, with rambling paths, hills and monuments – but he’s alone for the moment, here with the dead and the shadows. All of them waiting for the night.
They’re kicked out – sorry, “asked to leave” – the haunted house just before dark. It’s their third and there are another handful to go if they decide to hit them all. This has been the best so far, though, and not because of the tired old displays of beheadings and ghosts. No, this one has been lax with their locks and security and the whole group has been in and out of the displays, scaring the other patrons far more than the tame horrors are usually capable of. Eventually one of the people sent screaming turned out to be an employee, but until then it was a blast being part of the show, part of the scares. It’s rained while they were inside and the streets are slick and flickering with reflected neon and streetlights. The still bright sky is a river of light in the middle of the wet road. The others are off, heading to the next attraction, the next chance to scare or be scared, but for a moment the man waits. Smelling the rain and the thick autumn smell of rotting foliage. Watching the kids dressed in costumes and the teens dressed in practiced disdain. He’s in another country but now, at this time of year, at this time of day, he feels at home.
The pumpkins are lined up in the window – all mismatched orange ceramic, pulled from yard sales and flea markets and thrift stores. It’s a lineup that will grow in time, but now, as the sun finally begins to set on their first Halloween in a house rather than an apartment, it’ s just a handful of hopeful hobgoblin faces. The whole living room looks like a Halloween Store has thrown up in it, with spiders, skeletons, skulls, bats and rats and more, taking up every available space. Glowing eyeballs hang over the couch. On the television Vincent Price is rolling around in a wheelchair, showing off his various wax masterpieces. There’s a bowl of candy next to the front door – too much? Too little? It’s their first time handing it out and they won’t know the answer for hours. Maybe no one will come at all. The man steps out on the front steps and looks around, the landscape growing dim – all shades of gray. It’s cold, colder than it should be, and he watches his breath escape into the growing dark. A car pulls onto the side of the street. Then another. A boy in a clown costume gets out and, not waiting for the rest of his group, starts stomping in too-large shoes across the brown grass, towards the house with the pumpkins in the window. The man smiles and steps back inside. His wife answers the door with the bowl of candy. All is right. All is well. It’s dusk. It’s Halloween.