“I’m not going down that road”, Nate said. “You guys can go, but there’s no way I’m going. I don’t care what Billy and the guys said they’d do to us if we don’t go. They can have all the candy in my bag.”
“Did you forget about them telling everyone in school that we’re scared little boys who run home to our mommies?” Cole asked.
“Yeah, Nate. We’ll never live that down.” Cory added. “Who knows what other lies they’ll tell about us. We can’t let that happen. Besides, no one knows if anyone lives on Spooky Hollow Lane anymore. My folks said old man Deaton made up those stories before he died to keep everyone off his property. What’s the worst that can happen to us?”
The three fourth-graders stood in their Halloween costumes at the edge of Spooky Hollow Lane, staring down the dark, lonely road. Cole was dressed as Iron Man, Cory and Optimus Prime, and Nate as pirate Jack Sparrow. Earlier in the evening, they had gone up and down all the streets in their small neighborhood with all the other kids in town, getting treats, trying to scare some of the girls they went to school with. Somehow, they were separated from the other kids. After rounding the bend on Gregg Street, they ran into Billy and “his guys”, as Billy liked to call them. Billy and the guys – Andy, Pete, Tom and Vince – were a couple years older and were known in and out of school as the town’s bad boys. They never got into trouble with police, but were often suspended from school for bullying and pranks. This Halloween night, Billy and the guys demanded that Nate and his friends go trick or treating on Spooky Hollow Lane. If the boys did, they could keep their treats. If they didn’t, not only would Billy take all their loot, he would tell everyone in school they were the world’s biggest sissies.
After several minutes of indecision, Nate said, “Ok, let’s get it over with. They’re watching us from the corner. We’ll walk down the lane until it gets dark and then just stop and stand there for a few minutes. They’ll never know we didn’t walk all the way down the road.” With that, they set off down Spooky Hollow Lane, walking slowly side by side until Billy and his guys couldn’t see them anymore. The boys stopped when they reached a point where they could no longer see the road before them. After standing still for what seemed like hours, they turned to head back the way they came when Cory stopped dead in his tracks. “Nate! Cole! Where did that light come from over there? I didn’t see it when we passed by that tree before,” Cory gasped. About one hundred feet to their right stood a little stone cottage surrounded by a short stone fence. The door, lit by a small, blue outside light, was opened by a smiling short, white-haired old woman with two young children standing on either side of her. A little girl with shiny blond hair ran to the gate of the fence and waved to them. “Come over to see our Halloween decorations. Grandma made brownies and cider. Would you like some? Please say yes,” she said. The little boy, who seemed to be a bit older than the girl, didn’t move from his grandmother’s side, but said, “We were hoping someone would stop by so we could have a little party.”
The boys looked at each other, then back towards the cottage. They had never seen these children before. Where did they come from? How did that little cottage just appear? , they wondered. When it seemed as though they might just turn and run away, the old woman walked to the gate and said, “Please don’t be frightened. My name is Josie Deaton – most people would know me as old man Deaton’s sister. I’ve lived on this property since I was a child, but I’ve lived in this cottage while my brother lived in the main house. Couldn’t stand the man. Too arrogant for my tastes. These are my grandchildren – Mandy is six and Jared is nine. They’ve been living with me for the past year, ever since their folks passed on. It’s been hard for the kids, so I’ve kept them close to me and taught them here at home instead of sending them to school. We don’t have any treats to hand out, but please have some brownies with us. We can sit here at the picnic table, if you’d like.”
She seemed harmless and her grandchildren seemed well and happy, so the boys walked through the stone gate and sat at the picnic table. Josie Deaton went into the house and returned with a tray of brownies and cider, along with glasses and napkins for everyone. Mandy sat next to Nate, asking him all kinds of questions, like did he have pets? Did he have a brother or sister? Did he like school? She was wearing a pixie costume, so Nate asked her if she had gone trick or treating. “No, we don’t go trick or treating. We just like getting dressed up and having a little party with Grandma,” she said as she winked at Jared, who was dressed as Captain Hook. “We were hoping someone would stop by to make it more fun”.
As Cory was finishing his cider, Jared said, “No one ever comes down Spooky Hollow Lane. Why did you?” Cory looked at Nate and Cole, but said nothing. “I know why,” Mandy piped in. “Jared and I will help you with those bullies.” The three boys looked from Mandy to Jared in disbelief. How did they know? Just then, Grandma spoke “You boys must understand both of my grandchildren just seem to”know”things. They surprise me all the time. I’m sure they would love to help you but I don’t see how they can as they aren’t allowed off my property. It was so nice of you boys to join our little party. We hope you come back to visit sometime. You’ll always be welcome here. Now I want you to start for your homes since it’s getting late. Your folks will be worried for you.”
Cole, Cory and Nate said their goodbyes and headed back up to Gregg Street. Billy and his guys were no longer waiting for them at the corner. “They’ll probably gang up on us at school tomorrow,” said Cole. Cory and Nate shrugged their agreement. They spoke about their strange encounter with Josie Deaton and her grandchildren as they walked home. The next morning as entered the schoolyard together, their classmates, Sherrie and Brittney, ran up to them. “Did you hear about Billy Cameron?” Sherrie asked. “His parents took him to the hospital last night because he can’t stop crying. He just cries and cries and won’t or can’t tell anyone why he’s crying. Something must have happened to Pete and Andy because they came to school today but all they say is ‘I want my mommy’. Vince can’t even talk.” Brittney said “We’ve got to spread the word. This is major news. See ya at lunch.”
The boys walked into school without saying anything. Finally, Nate said “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m going back to Josie’s after school. Are you with me?” They agreed to meet at the corner of Gregg Street. They said very little to each other as they walked down Spooky Hollow Lane. However, look as they might, there was no sign of the little stone cottage surrounded by a stone fence, and no sign of Josie Deaton, Mandy or Jared. They found the captain’s hat Jared had worn the night before. It was the only thing that proved they hadn’t dreamt the whole thing up. They never saw Josie or her grandchildren again. To this day, Billy still can’t stop crying. Pete and Andy were enrolled in special schools for mentally disabled. Vince learned to talk again but moved away with his family.