“You’ll be okay.” Eddie stared down at his little brother. Marky was dressed in a teddy bear costume, painted nose, the hood snug around his head, the fuzzy ears rounded and attentive. Six years old and, by all accounts, according to their mother, nothing short of adorable.
The wind was blowing, trees bristling.
“You’re supposed to stay with me, mom said for you to take me trick ‘r treating.” Marky clung tight to his bag of candy, which wasn’t easy to do in the mittens of the teddy bear costume.
“Come on, Eddie!” the other boys yelled across the street. “Let’s go!”
Eddie nodded at them, then informed his little bro, “We’re going into the cemetery-“
“What! Are you crazy? There’s a storm coming-“
“There’s no storm,” said Eddie, “it’s just the wind is all. Besides, we won’t be long. We just want to see if there’s any ghosts walking in the graveyard.”
“Mom ain’t gonna like this,” said Marky.
“Mom won’t know,” Eddie warned. “Now you just hit these last two houses and we’ll be back before you know it.” He studied the cuteness of his brother. A pint sized stuffed animal- what was mom thinking?
“You’re a ferocious animal,” said Eddie, and Marky stared down his fuzzy outfit in disbelief. “Bears kill people all the time, like a hundred times a day. And tonight,” he said, “you’re one of them.”
“I don’t know-“
“Trust me. I bet by the time you finish with Mr. Smith’s house, we’ll be back.”
Marky stared up at the house, the shadows that fell across the walk to the porch. “Eddie, it’s awful dark. And everybody else has quit trick or treating.”
Eddie’s receding voice hit him. “Be back soon,” and the bigger kids were gone, Eddie the last to dart through the shrubs into the graveyard.
Marky felt his stomach drop and felt himself shrivel shorter, if that were possible, he was already so small for his age. He puffed up his chest in the breeze, ratcheted his grip on his candy bag, and stared down Mr. Smith’s house. Such a dark, frowning, bleak, house on this Halloween night.
The porch swing rapped against the wall, knock knock knock. Trees popped like knuckles.
“Rrrr,” he tried to growl, but felt it lacked the killer instinct. “RRRR,” he tried again, trying to give it muscle.
From the graveyard drifted a wave of laughter before the wind harried it off. He ignored it. They would be back soon, he thought. He would just stand here and wait. He could tell a little lie, that he visited Mr. Smith, got himself a sugary confection.
But what if Eddie and the others were watching? What if they were spying through the hedge? What if this were some kind of test, a test of his vicious bearlike strength?
Marky could almost feel their eyes on his back. He knew if he only stood here they would say he was chicken. “Should be wearing a chicken suit,” they would say.
He was a bear. “RRRR.”
knock knock knock
Eddie and the others were ghost hunting…right?
Mr. Smith’s front door eased open, creeeak. A smatter of soft, warm, glow crept out.
Marky forced his feet up the walk. “I’m a bear, I’m a bear, I’m bear,” he chanted, hugged the bag of candy to his chest: if something popped out, maybe it would slash at the candy first, sparing him, giving Marky enough time to get away.
He was safely at the steps.
knock knock knock
Marky’s short little legs took the first step. Then the second, the third, so on, until he found himself standing on the shadowy porch with the swaying swing.
The wind gusted, the door swung back. Marky shouted with all his iron will, “I’m a grizzly bear! RARRR!”
A gloomy peace settled over the stoop.
“Mr. Smith?” Marky called through the open door. The den was lit in the glow from the fireplace and small lamp atop a cluttered desk across the way. “Trick or treat, I’m a grizzly bear,” he intoned. “The door is open.” Marky added, “I didn’t open it.”
Marky could here the fire crackling.
The wind had diminished. Marky watched the swing slowly rock to a stop. He stood at the entrance and knocked his padded paw on the door. “Mr. Smith, it’s Marky Clark, I’m a bear.” He quickly corrected, “A grizzly,” and gave a gentle, “rrr.” He scanned the entrance. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
There were only empty house noises to be heard. The nightsong played lightly outside.
“Mr. Smith,” Marky whispered it now. “Hello,” he didn’t want to be too loud.
Marky followed his peering eyes over the threshold. He placed his feet down and carried his body as silently as he could; he hugged the candy so it made as little noise as possible.
The place reminded him of his grandparents’ house in the country. It wasn’t surprising, Marky figured, old people seemed to have the same belongings. Mr. Smith’s furniture looked old like his Pop and Gram’s furniture, the same looking black and white and brown tinted photos on the wall. Even the color pictures looked old in old people’s houses. Smelled the same too.
Marky craned his head, peering through to the empty kitchen, and then scouting around the corner down the hallway.
At the end of the hall, a light was on in the last room.
Marky knocked on the wall. “Trick or treat, Mr. Smith.”
The wind had begun blowing again outside, Marky could see the trees slow dancing in the windows.
Thump- something sounded down the hall.
Marky paused. A shadow played in the light down there. Something thumped again, heavier, and the shadow disappeared as a small object rolled into the hall.
Marky hopped a retreat, ready for flight but a footfall at the front steps froze him. The boards complained at the stoop.
A shuffling from back down the hall sent Marky scurrying under the desk. He rolled the chair for cover. “I’m a bear I’m a bear,” he prayed, thinking that burglars went to jail, they went to jail for a long time but he didn’t break in he was just trick ‘r treating this was all Eddie’s fault where is mom where is mom please be here now-
A figure stood in the doorway, hood drawn over it’s head.
Another trick ‘r treater, Marky thought as the black clad reveler knocked three times at the jamb.
“Oh my,” the voice came and then Mr. Smith stepped from the hallway. He was looking at the timepiece he kept in his vest pocket. “I lost track, I guess,” Mr. Smith said. “Didn’t know it was this late.” Mr. Smith held up the watch for the guest’s inspection. “It seems to have stopped.”
Marky peered through the slats of the chair back. Mr. Smith looked around, and Marky ducked, hoping Mr. Smith hadn’t seen him.
“I have everything, I guess,” said Mr. Smith.
The trick ‘r treater turned and Mr. Smith followed, leaving the door open.
Marky pushed the chair gingerly back. Stopped. He waited. Mr. Smith could come back any second, catch him here. If there was one thing he had learned from Eddie it was to choose wisely for the right time to make a dash for freedom.
knock the swing had begun intermittently once more knock.
Marky crawled from underneath the desk. Tip-toeing to the door, ears tuned, he halted. The light was still on in the room at the end of the hall.
The front door.
Something shined down there in the light. An object glistened.
Marky hugged his candy bag, gave a small, “Rrrr.”
He crept down the hall, being as quiet as he had ever been in his entire life. He was sure Eddie would be proud of him; this act of bravery, using such stealth, would impress his older brother and his friends in such a way they would want him hanging around all the time.
The porch swing continued its irregular drumming. It seemed with every other super-spy step Mark took, his advance was signed by the swing hitting the side of the house.
His muscles tensed as he passed the pitch black rooms on either side. Marky tried to keep his eyes on the light at the end of the hallway, the shining object on the floor, but he couldn’t keep himself from stray glances, half expecting something to be staring back, trying not to think of the boogeyman lurking in the gloom. Hoping nothing reached out and grabbed him.
Marky held his breath.
Mr. Smith’s pocket watch lay on the floor, the hands froze, the ticking stopped.
Marky turned his head. The ceiling light was on in the bedroom. Mr. Smith lay face down on the floor beside the bed, the covers pulled up, wrinkled.
Marky ran. The scream bubbled up from his bowels and tore from his mouth. He held tight to his candy because if he dropped it, he wasn’t coming back in here to get it.
He screamed and cried and he didn’t care if anyone saw him screaming and crying like a little baby, which is exactly what Eddie would call him. But he didn’t care, let Eddie call him names, Eddie could come in here and see Mr. Smith for all Marky thought.
“MOMMY!” Got the get home, get mom, turn the lights on in the house and get under the covers. Home home HOME! He’d run all the way, with or without Eddie, and if his big brother got in trouble for it, then Eddie deserved it.
Marky ran down the steps, not sure if his little bear feet actually touched them or not. He ran down the walk, screaming, crying- wake the world, it didn’t matter, he was going to the house.
He was picked up, lifted off the ground, his thought being Mr. Smith had him or the trick ‘r treater Mr. Smith left with.
He was in Eddie’s arms, and they were moving fast. He saw a kindred terror on his big brother’s face before Eddie slung him over his shoulder.
“MOOOOM!” Marky wailed.
“We’re going,” Eddie yelled, voice cracking. His big brother ran as fast as he could with a six year old bear over his shoulder.
Mr. Smith’s house faded into the night, and Marky’s bag of candy bounced against his brother’s back as he ran home.