After sunset, and a dead boy sat in a wicker chair on the porch of his mama’s home. Seeing the browning leaves holding on to the branches that couldn’t shake them. A black dog, a Labrador, sat at the steps leading down to the sidewalk.
Kids – now, here they were – as ghosts or devils, police or doctors, fantastical and not so, kids tonight, why they had control of the neighborhood, yes! This night, once again, they danced up to doorbells, knocked on doors, filled bags with candies, candies, chocolate! Another year, ‘nother Fall, Night of the Dead, Night of the Moon, Allhallowtide, All Hallow’s Eve! and the truly deceased, decayed, and departed returned, returned, o’ how they came back…
There was a clip-clop sound coming down the road, and from around the corner appeared a girl, short curls bouncing on her head, with each skipping stride. A beagle ran along behind her. They both wore white, both donned halos, both glowed in the Hallowe’en lights. The halos presented themselves crookedly on each head, tinsel twinkling down. Benny, the beagle, yipped with excitement, and his halo fell and rested more haphazardly.
The girl turned onto the walkway of the dead boy’s home, soon bounding up the steps. She greeted the Labrador with a full kiss upon his snout, and the dog lapped at her cheeks. The girl stood on the porch, the newly cooled wind turning her sweat cold. She smelled mint and heard rakes being pulled from sheds. Benny and the Lab sniffed each other, friendly enough.
‘Hi, sweetie,’ the girl said, approaching the dead boy.
Everyone had called him Sweetie. As long as he could remember. It was something his mama had come up with.
The dead boy nodded to her, ‘Hiya, Lulu.’
She came to sit beside the dead boy. ‘Your mama still ain’t doin’ tricks or treats?’
He shook his head, and Lulu thought she saw a tear form, then vanish. ‘Nah…’
Lulu placed her hand close to the dead boy’s. She could feel the icy wind of his flesh without touching it. She turned to him, but he stayed, staring straight ahead, just watching the trick or treaters trick and treat.
Lulu went to brush the tussled hair from his forehead, and he bent away, looking down at the porch boards and his feet. ‘Your mama’s still sad ‘bout you, sweetie,’ she told him.
‘Nah,’ the dead boy sighed. ‘She don’t see me.’
‘No one sees you!’ Lulu hollered, elbowing him in the arm. She laughed.
The dead boy rubbed his sore arm. ‘You see me.’
‘Yeah, and I’m special!’ She straightened the toppling halo on her hair.
The dead boy smiled.
‘And I got you smilin’ ’cause I’m special!’ Lulu laughed on and then some.
Up the steps came two boys, one as Charlie Chaplin, the other dressed in the rags of a train hopper. Charlie Chaplin rang the doorbell.
Lulu and the dead boy watched them in silence. The black Lab and Benny sat in equal silence.
No one answered the door, and the train hopper shrugged. The boys turned to leave and spotted Lulu, sitting alone on the wicker chair.
‘Lulu,’ mumbled Charlie Chaplin under his costume mustache, surprised to see his classmate. ‘Now, what you doin’ here all alone?’
The train hopper looked back to the unanswered door. ‘House ain’t givin’ no candy.’ His attention turned to Lulu. ‘How long ago you ring the bell? You just been waitin’?’
Lulu found her hand wrapped within the dead boy’s. ‘Ain’t waitin’ for nothin’. I’m just sittin’. Quiet here. Nice breeze.’
‘You gonna miss all the candy!’ whimpered Charlie Chaplin, like he cared for her, which he did, because she was beautiful to him. ‘Don’t just sit here, Lu, come with us! We know which houses got the best treats!’
The train hopper agreed, nodding eagerly, with his tattered cap’s brim bouncing on his head. For he liked Lulu, as well, thinking she was beautiful and confusing.
‘Well, where ya goin’ next?’ asked Lulu, clutching the dead boy’s fingers harder, closer, colder.
The dead boy thought of Lulu leaving, and felt ghost tears building behind his dead eyes.
‘Probably next road over, circlin’ the block,’ Charlie Chaplin replied.
Lulu smiled at him, and Charlie Chaplin fluttered inside. ‘How ’bout I meet you over there, then?’ she promised. ‘I just wanna sit a little longer. I’m likin’ this quiet, and the air. You feel that air? Smells smoky and, I don’t know, like – like dead leaves, I s’pose…’
Charlie Chaplin and the train hopper watched her, listening and not listening, her pretty voice weaving words that meant nothing.
‘I’ll find you guys,’ Lulu added, as a way to suggest, Scram, you two. She ran her thumb along the dead boy’s palm, saying, I’m here, sweetie, still right here.
The two boys scurried down the steps, calling, ‘We won’t go far without ya, Lulu!’ and waving back.
They were soon out of sight, down the winding road, and the snow-mint wind remained. Not harsh, the wind, just the right amount of chill, and so soft to blanket the dead boy and Lulu. The dogs lay close together, the warm tangle of their furs matting together, conducting heat and trust.
‘You can go, Lulu,’ the dead boy said, knowing she would.
Her thin hand combed through his hair, and he didn’t flinch this time. It was like rough straw, his hair, such a dryness to it that Lulu felt she could break it with even the slightest force. And, like the rest of him, it held a dead-of-winter midnight-cold.
‘Were you always so blue, sweetie?’ she cooed.
‘I don’t think so. I remember bein’ happy.’
Lulu giggled. ‘Your color, dummy. Not your – your – not your – …disposition.’ Her lovely, young mind found the new word from last week’s reading class.
The dead boy smiled for the second time. ‘I’m just always cold.’ And he shivered. ‘That’s the worst part.’
From inside the lightless house, there groaned a creak. The dead boy’s mother walking down the stairs.
And the smile left his lips. ‘Nah, the cold’s fine, actually… That’s the worst part,’ he hooked his thumb over his shoulder toward the bay window. ‘Mama don’t see me.’ The dead boy held his face low, once more.
Lulu pulled his head to her shoulder. ‘She can feel you, sweetie.’
He quietly wept his ghost tears, which never fell, and never could. Lulu wouldn’t release his frozen hand, even as her fingers lost feeling, the numbness assuring her that he was still there.
She rested her head on his, and her halo tipped farther. It fell off completely, rolling down the dead boy, and landing on the porch floor. Lulu let it stay there. Just for a little longer. It could stay there.
Benny snored in the black Lab’s furry arms. Lulu followed the sounds of his sleep.
And her head toppled. She jumped, righted herself in the wicker chair.
Her fingers were numb, but the winter hand she had held was gone from her grip.
Lulu sat alone. Alone in the seat. On the porch. Alone with the two slumbering dogs.
The front door opened, and out peeked a woman. Not young, certainly not old, just a woman, a woman with her hair pinned back, her silk night dress alive under the stars.
‘Come on in,’ she beckoned to the Labrador.
The black dog stirred, stood up, and Benny raced from his legs to Lulu’s.
The woman looked at the girl. ‘Why you on my porch?’ she demanded. ‘I don’t do candy.’
Lulu stood and collected Benny in her arms. ‘I’m sorry, ma’am. I was just sittin’. Nice and quiet here. I’m going now.’
Lulu hurried past the woman, and let Benny go, to chase her down the steps and on to the Hallowe’en streets.
The woman looked after the girl and beagle as they dashed up the road to tricks, treats, and shadows, always to shadows. Around a corner and they disappeared.
The woman blinked. Her eyes damp, she blinked, again, and wiped at them with a silk sleeve.
On the porch boards, in front of the wicker chair, a halo glinted in the moonlight, catching the woman’s eye. She stepped carefully outside, the coming-winter wind sneaking its way under her night dress, her skin tightening.
The halo shone, the tinsel around it full of the Hallowe’en night. The woman bent over. She reached out. The cold touch of a boy found her fingers.