Haunted houses and Halloween go together like dots on dice, but the haunted house on our street never did anything to attract trick-or-treaters. So why was there a light burning on Verna’s porch?
My feet began pulling me to the light. My head swirled with thoughts of murder: rat poison, asphyxiation, throat slashing, but I was more interested in candy than my safety.
I inched up the front steps to her porch and peered into Verna’s kitchen window. She was seated at her kitchen table, her head resting in her hands. Her back was to me and I couldn’t see her face, but I could hear her crying, a raspy soul rending sound, not the depraved rant of the undead or the wailing tirade of a guilt-riddled wife who’d murdered her husband.
Instead of ringing her doorbell, I turned to go. As I did so I saw something on her table that made me squeak like a mouse finding a wheel of cheese—treasure. Edible treasure.
On Verna’s kitchen table was a large pirate chest made of cardboard. Among the pirate images painted on it was one of the most cherished names in a chubby kid’s lexicon—Hershey. Inside the chest were countless bars of chocolate. Not the penny-size ones—these big boys fetched upwards of a quarter each. I felt like Edmond Dantes in The Count of Monte Cristo as I eyed such treasure.
Verna must have heard my squeak. She turned around and looked at me standing there on the other side of her kitchen window. I’d never seen her up close and I noticed she was totally opaque without a ghost’s translucence. Her eyes, while red, didn’t look otherworldly. She swiped away tears with the back of her hand and waved me in, saying, “The door isn’t locked.”
The door opened with a moan, as if it wasn’t accustomed to swinging open. My costume didn’t make entering any easier. Verna’s house had the same floor plan as ours which meant I was practically inside her kitchen when I stepped through the threshold. She stood up and gave me a watery smile. She looked…rather pleasant, even with puffy eyes. But then Hansel and Gretel would never have entered the witch’s house had she not also appeared pleasant.
“That is a very nice costume. Did it take you long to make?”
She turned to the chocolate chest. “I ordered this from a catalog a few months ago.”
“It’s a lot of candy.”
“I was planning on handing it out to trick or treaters this evening.”
“But you never give out candy on Halloween,” I said.
“True. True. But this year I decided to make up for all the years I sat in this dark house without handing out treats. Unfortunately, I had to work late tonight and by the time I got home all of the children had already passed through the neighborhood. All the children, except you. You’re Stephen, from across the street, aren’t you?”
The costume didn’t disguise me as much as I’d thought. I nodded.
“Would you like some candy?”
She reached into the chest for a foil-wrapped chocolate bar, dropped it into my pillowcase.
I thanked her and headed for the door, but her sniffling stopped me. “You should come to neighborhood barbeques and block parties next summer. And my birthday party is in two weeks. Why doncha come?”
“After all this time, I don’t think people would want me to come,” she answered.
“I want you to come.”
She looked kinda pretty as she smiled at me and closed her door. I headed home, where my mother waited with her sweet tooth.
The next day I awoke to find a Hershey’s treasure chest on our front porch. An attached note said:
For Stephen, my only Kilarney Park friend.
Don’t get a stomach ache.
That afternoon something sprouted on our street that we hadn’t seen before. The bright red paint seemed out of place in front of the gray house that had once haunted my feverish imagination. Hammered into Verna’s front yard—a FOR SALE sign.
A few weeks later, the Ghost of Kilarney Park moved away.