Night fell at last. With a whoop and a holler the creatures of the dark were released into the world, seeking to plunder innocent houses of sugar and chocolate.
“Jason! Stay with the group!”
Young Jason, garbed as his namesake with hockey mask and toy chainsaw, reluctantly came around the tree. So much for having a bit of fun; this whole ‘group-safety’ bit was bogus. “Stay with the group, wear your reflect’rs, hold hands…blech!” He didn’t feel scary at all.
He looked over at Cody and Hunter, dressed as a zombie and werewolf. They were swinging their plastic candy-bags angrily, almost hitting the little fairy and angel in front of them.
“Hunner! You top it!” Jessica, Hunter’s little sister, scolded him angrily. The effect wasn’t much since she’d lost her front tooth. Jason thought it was kind of cute, in a little kid way, but he wouldn’t dare tell anybody else that.
“Shut up, Jethica,” he said, mocking her. “You’re not even in a decent costume; angels are supposed to be happy and nice. Leave the angry stuff for the guys who’re supposed to be scary.”
“I can be scary, too!”
Hunter added, “She can. Ever see her when she doesn’t get to watch her mermaid movie?”
Cody shuddered. “Horrible!”
Jessica’s face was turning purple and her eyes bulged threateningly. The adult, Mrs. Collins, grabbed Jessica by the wings and put her in front of the group, all without looking directly at them. The boys looked at each other. “That was a little scary.”
“Huh. You want scary? I got an idea for scary.” A kid dressed as a demon caught their attention. “Ever play hide-n-seek out in the orchards?”
Cody scoffed. “Who hasn’t? That’s not scary.”
“Ever play at night? When the real monsters come out?”
Now that seemed an appropriate use of Halloween. Even though monsters were just in the movies, it’d be a lot of fun to pretend.
The boys and their new friend, Lucy, made plans. After they got to Hunter’s house, they’d say they were done trick-or-treating and would stay there. Then, after an hour or so, they’d sneak out to the orchards. Lucy said there were some other friends coming so it would be a real treat.
Everything was going well until a little white creature caught them going through the back gate. “Hunner! I’m telling Mom!”
He whispered angrily, “Don’t be a tattle-tale, Jess! This is older-kid stuff. Just go back inside and watch your movie.”
“Hey Jessica, wanna come with?”
“Lucy, no! She’ll spoil everything! She’s scared of the dark, always has to pee and…and…she’ll whine the whole time! Jess doesn’t like any scary stuff. Look at her costume!”
Jessica’s face screwed again and purple threatened. “I CAN BE SCARY!!”
Cody grumbled, “Yeah, but too bad she can’t be quiet.”
With two large candy bars for Jessica and a shrugging grimace of apology for the boys, the group set off.
Sneaking through the dark streets was easy; the houses that had already been hit were shutting off the lights and the streets themselves were almost empty. It seemed almost no time at all before they reached the orchard.
The apple trees rustled in a slight wind and the moon looked almost orange. A quiet sound behind them made Jessica gasp and grab Hunter’s arm. He let her; eyes and mouth wide open, he heaved a breath and savored the air. “Oh yeah…perfect!”
Jason and Cody started hunting each other, ducking and weaving around the old trees. “Arrrghghhghgrr!!!” Jessica whimpered and they fell over laughing. Now this was a proper Halloween!
Lucy just watched with a silent smile and let them have their fun. Soon enough they quieted down. “Hey Lucy, where’re all the other guys?”
“Oh, I think they might’ve already started playing. Let’s go deeper in. They’re probably somewhere in the middle.”
They started walking down the dirt trail. Hunter had since shaken off Jessica and left her to walk on her own. She hung close to the group, sorry now that she’d come. But no way was she going to start whining! She’d be as quiet as anything and then they’ll see! Maybe they’d take her seriously after this. She looked up at Lucy, who grinned down at her. She grinned back; Lucy knew how it was.
Twigs cracked behind them. Jessica shrieked and grabbed Lucy’s arm. The boys turned around in disgust. “Darn it, Jess! Told ya she’d be scared, Lucy.”
Ashamed, Jessica started crying with loud hiccuping sobs. Hunter finally grabbed her shoulders and gave her a shake. “Jessie! If you’re going to be out here with us you gotta be quiet! You can’t play hide-n-seek if you’re noisy.”
“Yeah, Jessie, be quiet or we’ll take you back to the house.” It was an idle threat but it worked. Jessica swallowed her breath and, save for a few squeaks, was quiet.
Hunter let her go and Jason patted her on the back. “Good girl, angel. But ya gotta promise to be quiet for now on, k? Not a word. And no crying.”
“I promise,” she whispered.
They walked farther down the dirt trail; this time in utter silence. Lucy ran on ahead to check on her friends. While she was gone they heard the pattering of feet rushing behind them. Whirling around they caught a skeleton just as it was about to jump. “Gotcha!”
Jessica’s cheeks bulged with a scream, but her lips stayed closed. Cody punched the skeleton on the shoulder. “Hi Matt!”
“Hi Codes! You got invited too? That’s awesome!”
“Yeah! You see anybody else here?”
Matt-the-Skeleton nodded. “Nearly my whole class! That Karl kid sure knows a lot of people.”
“Karl? We got invited by Lucy. What costume’s Karl got?”
“He’s a vampire. Got some really weird-looking fangs. Guess he and Lucy must be friends or something.” The boys discussed the likelihood of Lucy’s acquaintance with Karl, and this splendid redemption of Halloween at length. Jessica opened her mouth to comment, but a few glares from the boys reminded her of her promise.
Finally, Lucy and a vampire-boy came up to them. “The game’s just about to start. Go hide. This is going to be great!”
Jessica wanted to ask who the seeker was but everyone started running at once. She tripped as she set off but finally caught up with Hunter. He was trying to scurry under a wooden cart out to the left of the orchard.
“Go away, Jess! This is my spot!”
“But I can’t find any good spots! Help me, Hunner!”
He growled to himself and crawled back out. The only way to get rid of her was to help. Her stupid outfit didn’t help either; the white fabric practically glowed. He got an idea. Grabbing her arm, he hauled her over to a nearby tree with lots of leaves.
She protested fearfully. “I don’t wanna!”
“You wanted a good hiding spot! Nobody’s going to think of looking for you up here, and nobody will see your costume. Now keep your promise and get up there.” With Hunter standing on a small boulder and Jessica standing on his shoulders, she was barely able to clamber on the lowest branch. Hunter grinned up at her. “Attagirl! Now remember to stay quiet!” He ran off to the wagon in hopes that his spot had not already been claimed.
Huddled in the branches and surrounded by leaves, Jessica heard a wild yell come from the center of the orchard. She trembled and squeezed closer to the trunk until the bark scraped her cheek.
In each of their places the boys and their classmates scrunched themselves lower and tighter and grinned in delight. The hunt was on!
At nine o’clock the next morning anxious parents were contacting each other about their missing children. By eleven o’clock full panic was in and the police were called. Half an hour later a town-wide search with volunteers and dogs was in full force.
It was in the afternoon, almost precisely at two, that the rescuers found the solace of a family. Jessica was taken from the tree, passed gently arm to arm down to her parents. Other searchers left off the cataloguing of fabric-scraps and clustered around.
“Honey, Jessica? Jessica, are you all right? Come on, sweetie, come on. It’s your daddy. Open your eyes, baby. Come on.”
Jessica’s eyes stayed closed but with a deep breath she whispered the only words she’d say for an endless count of days.
“I stayed quiet, Hunner.”