The April Featured Writer is Christopher Nadeau
Please feel free to email Christopher at: email@example.com
ALWAYS SAY TREAT
It will be dark soon and the children will return.
Rick draws the curtains and locks the doors and turns off all the lights. Perhaps this year they'll overlook his house and move on to someone else to torment. Surely they've grown bored with him by now. How many times can they return and experience the same joy?
But who can understand what they call entertainment?
He still remembers the days before the children started coming with fondness, but the images are becoming more difficult to summon. The world as remembered is a fading fairytale. The children have seen to that.
Rick gasps as the sound of his ringing doorbell punches a hole through the silence in the house. He tip-toes to the front door and peers through the peephole, relaxing once he knows who is standing out there. He opens the door and raises an eyebrow at the man standing in his doorway wearing a nervous facial expression.
"What do you want, Earl?" Rick says.
Earl's eyes dance around in his head as he leans forward and opens his nearly toothless mouth. "Thought I'd hang out with you tonight." He affects a chuckle that sounds dry and forced.
Rick shakes his head. "You know better."
Earl blinks and looks him up and down. "Come on, Rick. They're gonna be coming soon."
Rick suppresses the disgust he feels upon hearing Earl's whiney tone of voice and again shakes his head. "They don't like it when people double up. Remember Mrs. Medevoy?"
Earl looks away and sighs. "She had a houseful of people, though."
Rick stares blankly at the older man and fights the urge to reach out and strangle him with his bare hands. Earl knows full well what the rules are yet here he is trying to elicit sympathy. Rick finds it impossible to feel sorry for anybody who's in the same situation as him, no matter how pathetic he acts. With a small amount of guilt, Rick finds himself hoping the children will knock on Earl's door tonight.
"Go home, man," he says. "Keep low to the floor and for Christ's sake, turn off all your lights."
He watches Earl hang his head and shuffle-walk away back to his house. Rick lingers only long enough to make sure the older man has ascended his porch before closing his own door and locking it once again.
Rick takes a deep, shaky breath and leans against the front door a moment longer, wondering if he did the right thing. The world is not what it once was but does that mean he has an excuse to stop being compassionate? Sighing, he pushes himself off the door and heads into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee; the last thing he needs is to fall asleep before the trick or treating is over.
He walks past the refrigerator and tries without success to avoid looking at the photographs on the door. But the photo of Rachel stares back at him as if in accusation and he finds himself unable to move from the spot.
"I tried," he says. "I did try."
Her picture doesn't respond but he hears something in his head, the sound of her final screams on the front porch as Rick stood on the other side of the front door, leaning against it in case the children came for him next. Every part of him screamed to open that door, to throw it open and run out there with some kind of blunt object and start swinging like a samurai. His legs and arms wouldn't respond.
He remembers standing there with his legs shaking until something struck the door so hard it actually sent him reeling back into the hallway. Then, slowly, he approached the door and forced himself to unlock and open it. She wasn't there. All that was left was her red slicker; except...Rachel wore a clear rain slicker.
"Oh, God," Rick moaned. "Oh, God, Oh, Jesus."
The high-pitched giggling of children filled the air, causing him to whirl around until he faced them. He tried not to look. People always said don't look at them directly but he couldn't help himself. He had to know what these things were and why nobody seemed to be able to stop them.
They stopped giggling as soon as he stopped looking away. He couldn't quite make them out in the dark since they were backlight by the floodlight from Earl's house, but they seemed to be small and in constant motion, shuffling from foot to foot and leaning forward and then back.
"It's not as much fun when they want to die," one of their number said in a hoarse whisper.
What was it talking about? Rachel didn't...no, he wouldn't even allow himself to entertain that perverse notion. These things liked to screw with peoples' minds but they'd chosen the wrong SOB this time.
Rick swallowed audibly and forced himself to speak. "Where is her...where's her body?" He felt his lower lip quiver and sucked it back inside his mouth.
This caused great amusement among the children whose giggling resumed. "Don't you worry about that, Ricky. We gave it a niiiicccce home."
Rick felt his body tense and his adrenalin pumping so hard his vision became blurry but his sense of smell was heightened. He wanted to run across the porch and slam into them like an angry linebacker and rip them to shreds but somehow he knew he would never get to within more than a few inches of them. That was why the police and everyone else pretended they didn't exist. Those who had tried to get rid of them paid the price.
"Someday we'll give yours a nice home too, Ricky," one of them said. "Someday."
"Shut up!" Rick yelled. "Why are you doing this?"
One of them stepped forward and cocked its head. "It's Halloween, silly."
The clock ticks down the minutes slowly, as if it too is reluctant to deal with whatever events will transpire later tonight. Rick peers through the curtain covering his picture window and takes note of the position of the sun. Soon it will have disappeared completely.
Rick wonders what the people in the other houses in his neighborhood are doing tonight. For that matter, he wonders about the rest of world. Have the children paid visits to people in other cities or are they unique to this place? He can't remember the last time he saw an actual child in the streets. Maybe they all turned into...those things.
He still remembers the days when all those religious groups started protesting Halloween, claiming it was becoming too mainstream and that it was replacing Christmas. They weren't wrong. Any trip through the stores from September on revealed an enormous amount of Halloween paraphernalia which often lingered after the so-called holiday had ended. That seemed to be when everything started getting weird, at least around here.
"Trick or Treat" took on a whole new connotation.
The rules weren't so clearly defined in those days. Rachel never seemed to understand them and she paid for it. How many times had Rick told her to always say "Treat?" Only fools and the suicidal said "Trick." Only fools...
Rick jumps and spills half of his coffee at the sudden intrusion of his loudly ringing telephone. Cursing his jumpiness, he sets the mug on the nearest end table and walks over to the answer the call. He is shocked to hear the voice on the other hand.
"I'm tired, Rick."
Rick scrunches up his face and looks at the phone receiver as if it's a foreign, diseased object. "Earl?"
A heavy sigh comes through the phone. "Tired of being scared. I'm done with it, I mean, I think I am...Yeah, I am."
Rick shakes his head. Why is Earl calling him about this now, tonight? Can't he wait until tomorrow when the sun is back up and everyone is pretending there's no such thing as evil creatures?
"Listen, Earl," Rick begins, "I don't really have time for..."
"If they come to my door I'm going to say 'Trick,'" Earl says in a breathless, panicked rush of words.
Rick shushes him. "Are you insane? Don't say that out loud!"
"I don't care anymore, Rick." Earl sounds calmer now, more resigned to his chosen fate.
Rick sits down on the nearest couch and stares at the floor. "What made you decide to do this?"
Rick goes numb; the room seems to withdraw from him into a tiny, indistinguishable point. He thinks he might faint but somehow he remains conscious. He'd been Earl's last stab at hope, a cry for help that went unheeded in the face of Rick's selfishness and bitterness.
"Earl, I didn't mean..."
"Gotta go, Rick. Thanks for listening."
As the call ends with a click, the irony of that last statement isn't lost on him. He's always wondered if Rachel decided to say "Trick" that day or if she made a mistake. Was she ready to go? Was life with him so horrible? Rick wipes the tears from his eyes and heads into the kitchen to get some paper towel so he can clean up the coffee spill.
He's on his knees scrubbing the stained carpet when he hears them for the first time tonight:
Trick or treat, trick or treat, trick or treat we say!
Rick freezes in mid-scrub. So soon? He figured at least another hour before they showed up. Oh, God. They sound really close. Are they near his house? Dropping the paper towel, he slowly gets to his feet and heads for the picture window, pausing to turn off the living room light as he goes. He peers around the curtain into utter darkness. Even Earl's floodlight is turned off and Rick allows himself the brief hope that his neighbor has come to his senses and changed his mind about what he's going to say if the children come to his door.
"No," Rick whispers. "No, not yet. Please, no."
"We've missed you, Ricky!"
"Come on out, Ricky," one of them taunts. "Come on out for tricks or treats."
Choose somebody else, his mind screams. It's not my turn! It's not my...
One of them giggles. "Don't worry, Ricky. We didn't come for you yet."
Rick stumbles forward, ramming his nose into the wall. He cries out and resumes his surveillance from the window. Where are they headed? Whoever they find, he sincerely hopes they say "Treat" and provide an acceptable offering.
Trick or treat, trick or treat, trick or treat we say!
Rick isn't sure he knows what an acceptable offering is because it seems to change by the year and sometimes even by the moment.
The children stop giggling and chanting, meaning they've chosen someone.
"Please make it quick," a familiar voice says.
A child giggles. "Oh, Earl. It's never quick."
Not again, Rick thinks.
Earl's screams are blood-curdling, worse than anything he's heard before. There's betrayal in that scream combined with grief and regret and a fear that goes beyond human understanding. Rick hops from foot to foot, his own lack of action making him want to vomit. Not again. Not Earl, too. What do they want from us?
He runs to the door and throws it open, screaming, "What do you want from us?"
"All done," one of the children says.
"All done," another echoes.
"One by one," a third adds.
And that's when he understands what's happening, what's going to keep on happening. "Why?" he says weakly.
One of them cocks its head and looks at him from the shadows. "It's Halloween, silly."
They're never going to stop coming. Not until everybody has caved in and let them do whatever they want. Well, not him, not ever. They can keep coming until the sun burns out for good and he will never give them the satisfaction.
"See you again next year, Ricky," one of them sings.
He watches them go, shuffling down the street and around the corner, no doubt headed for another street to terrorize. He stands there in the darkness between his house and Earl's and breaks down into a fit of sobbing that forces him to his knees.
Because, despite what he tells himself, deep down he knows the day will come when he won’t want to "Treat."
Christopher Nadeau is the author of the novel Dreamers at Infinity's Core available through COM Publishing's Sword & Science imprint and Amazon as well as the short story, "Rosa, Rosa Come out of Your Room" in the horror anthology, Saturday Evening Ghost.
He was recently interviewed on Suspense Radio as part of its up and coming authors program and has collaborated on a “machinima” film with UK animator Celestial Elf called The Gift, which can be viewed on YouTube. He has also written and published over a hundred print and online articles ranging in subject matter from local politics to pop culture and New Age cults, the latter providing inspiration for a novel currently in the works.
Christopher lives and works in Southeastern Michigan and is an active member of the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers.