ONE LAST HOUSE
‘Please don’t ask me again. You’re the child, I’m the parent and that’s that. What I say goes, there’s no discussion. Now drop the subject or I won’t even allow you to go trick or treating.’ Elaine’s mother, Glenda, emphasised her statement by tapping her foot and shaking a finger at her daughter. Elaine’s face reddened and her eyes began to glisten with the promise of tears. ‘And if you start crying again it will only confirm that you are still too young to understand and perhaps it would be best if I did keep you in tonight.’ With a superhuman effort the little girl bit back on the sob that threatened to escape from her tight throat, nodded and went up to her room.
‘Glenda, you can be hard on times,’ Elaine’s father, Jim said looking up from his paper, his breakfast finished.
‘Listen, she’s too young. Once she’s of an age to understand the dangers out there then I’ll let her do what she wants. It’s different from when I was a child. Things were safer then, I could go out dressed up and knock on strangers’ doors, but times change. It’s not safe.’
‘You don’t have much faith in our daughter,’ Jim said folding the paper carefully.
‘It’s not a matter of faith. It’s just Prudence.’
Jim closed his eyes for a moment. ‘Of course, sorry.’
‘That’s ok; you know how I get this time of year. I’ll never forget.’
‘But you’ve said that was a long time ago dear.’ Jim rose and gave his wife a hug.
‘Yes, that’s just what I mean. People are more aware nowadays.
‘Ok, perhaps I’ll have a quiet word with her too,’ he said.
Glenda nodded then gave her husband a peck on the cheek. ‘Thanks you know she listens to you more than me. Daddy’s little girl.’
Jim smiled, looked at his watch and said, ‘I’ve just got time before going into work.’ Then he shrugged on his jacket and went up to his daughter’s bedroom.
‘Are you sure you’re going to be warm enough?’ Glenda asked her daughter as she fussed with the little blue jacket the child was wearing.
Elaine rolled her eyes and sighed. ‘Yes, Mum. Will you stop fussing? I’m going to be late.’ She picked up her plastic bag which contained the canister of silly string for her ‘tricks’ and plenty of room for her ‘treats’.
‘Ok, ok, go, enjoy,’ her mother said as she ushered her child out of the door and into the chilly night. The street outside was already thronged with a plethora of ghosts, ghoulies, vampires and all other manner of fancy-dress costumed children. One, a mummy, trailing an unravelled piece of bandage from one leg, approached Elaine and the two children walked off excitedly into the night. Jim came from the living room and put his hands on Glenda’s shoulders.
‘Looks like she’s one of the very few without a costume,’ he said.
Glenda turned. ‘Perhaps next year.’ She glanced out once more for a final look but the children had already gone from view. Reluctantly she closed the door.
‘Have you got it?’ Elaine asked Rachel, her mummified friend.
‘Of course, you didn’t think I’d let you down, did you?’ Rachel mumbled through the bandages over her mouth.
‘Cool!’ Elaine replied excitedly and just checked they were out of sight of her house before delving into Rachel’s bag and extracting the clothing. It was a witch’s costume, complete with pointy hat, false wart-covered nose and broomstick. ‘Great, I thought you looked really scary in this last year, thanks for letting me borrow it.’
‘S’ok, doesn’t fit me anymore anyway,’ Rachel said as she helped Elaine get dressed. ‘What’s the matter with your mum? Why won’t she let you dress up?’
Elaine shrugged. ‘Something to do with her sister, my aunt. She died. A long time ago though and mum won’t really talk about it.’
‘Oh,sorry,’ Rachel said as she straightened Elaine’s cloak, ‘there, you look fab. I’m really scared, that nose looks horrible, all those ugly warts and veins.’
‘Har har, I haven’t put it on yet!’ Elaine said testily.
The two friends commenced their tour of the small town. Before long their plastic bags were weighed down with loose change, sweets, an apple or two and even a piece of homemade cake. Rachel’s canister of silly string had been exhausted and consigned to a wastepaper bin but Elaine shook hers. ‘Plenty left in mine yet.’
‘You’re just not nasty enough to be a witch,’ Rachel commented. ‘I emptied mine ages ago.’
‘Yeah, I noticed,’ Elaine said as she pulled clumps of the silly string out of her hair. ‘I’m bound to need this here anyway,’ she motioned towards a dark house set back from all the others. A single light from a naked bulb shone from an upstairs room.
‘Old Man Robinson? They say he was a preacher, you know, before he got kicked out of the church,’ Rachel said looking warily at the shadowy house.
‘I heard he was a surgeon who lost his licence for cutting off a man’s leg,’ Elaine replied.
‘Aren’t surgeons supposed to do that, anyway?’ Rachel turned towards Elaine and tilted her head.
‘Yes, but they’re also supposed to cut off the bad leg, not the good one...’
‘Yes, ohh... Anyway, whether he’s a mad preacher or a stupid doctor I bet he won’t give us any treats, so he’s going to have this! The rest of the canister!’ Elaine said brandishing the silly string.
‘I don’t know, it’s getting late. Perhaps we should go now,’ Rachel said glancing at the house again.
Elaine tapped her foot mimicking her mother’s actions flawlessly. ‘Late? You’re just scared, big baby.’
‘Not scared, it’s just late. Come on we’d better go, don’t forget you’ve got to change too.’
‘You go then; I’ll catch you up and meet you at the corner again where I changed into the costume. I want to finish off my silly string. Just one last house.’
‘And what if Old Man Robinson gives you a treat instead? Are you going somewhere else then to use it up? You could be out all night!’
Elaine frowned. ‘Didn’t think of that.’ She scrutinised the dark house. ‘Bugger it, even if he does give me a treat he’s gonna get stringed. Anyone with a creepy old house like that deserves a good stringing.’
‘Potty mouth. Ok, go do your dirty deed, I’m off. I don’t want my legs sawn off.’ Rachel said and shambled away glancing once over her shoulder as Elaine approached the shadow-filled porch to Robinson’s house.
Former Lay-Preacher Ezekiel Robinson put down the book he was reading and sniffed the air. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end and he frowned. When his doorbell rang he just nodded as if confirming to himself that his premonition had been correct, then he raised his wiry frame out of the threadbare chair and went down to confirm his suspicions.
‘Trick or treat, sir?’ The little witch asked him when the door opened and he stood there open-mouthed, hardly believing his luck.
‘What?’ He managed to mumble finally.
‘Halloween, trick or treat,’ Elaine faltered, Robinson seemed mesmerised by her, ‘sir...’
His face brightened. ‘Of course, Halloween. Come in, child, come in.’ He stepped to one side and motioned for Elaine to enter the dimly-lit hallway.
Elaine swallowed nervously. She hadn’t expected an invitation to go into the old man’s house. She looked around quickly, but Rachel had gone. She hesitated.
‘The treats are in my study, please, do come in,’ Robinson repeated and before Elaine knew it the man had gripped her shoulder. He urged her inside.
Glenda paced back and forth in the passage way. ‘She should be back by now.’
‘You know what kids are like; she’s probably playing with Rachel. It was Rachel in the mummy costume wasn’t it?’ Jim asked.
‘Of course,’ Glenda replied and then sighed as the doorbell rang. ‘She’s back!’ She pulled the door open and looked past the little mummy-figure expecting to see the blue-coated shape of her child. Elaine wasn’t there. ‘Where is she? Rachel, where’s Elaine?’
The mummy shuffled uncomfortably and dropped the plastic bag. Out spilled an apple, some sweets, a piece of cake, loose change and the sleeve of Elaine’s blue coat.
‘Talk, now!’ Glenda commanded and Rachel spilled the beans. She told Glenda everything, unable to do otherwise.
‘Preacher Robinson, shit. Of all the damned places to go into alone. Jim, take Rachel home.’ Glenda picked up Elaine’s coat and narrowed her eyes. ‘I haven’t finished with you yet, Miss,’ she said softly to Rachel and the child’s blood seemed to freeze in her veins. ‘She’s wearing your costume, too?’
‘Yes, it was too small for me, a witch’s costume,’ Rachel stuttered.
‘A witch’s costume...’ Glenda echoed and Rachel nodded glumly.
‘Ok, Rachel. Let’s get you home,’ Jim said and patted the child’s head. ‘You want the car?’ He asked Glenda.
She raised an eyebrow at him. ‘No... I’ll be fine.’
‘Just be careful,’ he said.
‘Obviously,’ Glenda replied as she pushed him out of the door and went back to the kitchen and opened the tall cupboard.
Gloominess shrouded the porch to Preacher Robinson’s house. A gloominess that seemed to emanate from the small child that sat sobbing quietly on the door step. She fingered something wet and slimy at her side and jumped when a rustling from nearby bushes startled her. ‘Who’s there?’
‘Your mother,’ replied Glenda as she stepped out of the foliage, brushed herself down and looked around suspiciously. ‘Are you all right?’
Elaine nodded. ‘Yes. I didn’t expect him to invite me in. I didn’t expect him to do what he did. I’m sorry, mum, I really am. I should have listened to you. The costume too...’
‘So, what happened?’ Glenda asked as she approached the step.
‘I asked him for a trick or treat and I sort of got dragged into his house. The door closed and...’
‘...and?’ Her mother prompted.
Elaine shivered and motioned to something on the step next to her. ‘And...’
‘That’s the trick? Or is it the treat?’ her mother asked as she picked up the slimy toad and examined it.
‘That’s... Old Man Robinson,’ Elaine replied.
‘Ah...’ nodded her mother, ‘he perceived you then. He saw you for what you really are. I feared as much when Rachel said where you were... and just look at you. Why don’t you just wear a great big placard too?’
‘I didn’t think...’
‘Undoubtedly, that’s why I’ve been so protective of you. Not everyone is capable of perceiving us, but some are. He’s one.’ She nodded at the toad which squirmed in her grasp. ‘But, on the plus side, you did very well. Transfiguration isn’t all that easy, yet you’ve done a fine job. Unfortunately we can’t allow him to revert back. It just wouldn’t be a good idea at all,’ Glenda said as she closed her hand and the toad exploded with a wet plop.
‘Sorry, mum,’ Elaine said reaching up for her mother.
‘That’s ok,’ Glenda replied as she picked her child up and carried her to the bushes, ‘perhaps it’s time I told you about Aunt Prudence and what happened to her in 1780. We thought the witch hunts were over, we were wrong then and many of us have been wrong now. They still remember. Some still perceive us. We have to be more than careful now. There aren’t that many of us left.’
‘Is daddy mad?’ Elaine asked.
‘Of course, dear!’ Glenda laughed. ‘What sane man would marry a witch? But, that’s beside the point. Now, jump onto my broom and let’s get home. By the way I like what you’ve done with your nose...’