We don’t answer our door on All Hallows Eve. Don’t get me wrong; we enjoy dressing up as much as anyone, but we don’t join in. Not on that date, anyway. We don’t wish to see the local children go without, so we deliver sweets and bars of chocolate to all the houses in the street before sundown. Long before it gets dark, we are in the back room. All our curtains are closed and our lights are off. We sit quietly and we wait until midnight. If we can make it to midnight, I know we are safe for another year.
I have one child left. I don’t want to lose him.
He doesn’t understand why he can’t go out with the neighbours’ kids, dressed up to the nines, rattling his plastic pumpkin pail and filling it with sugary tweets. He doesn’t understand why we don’t decorate the house or why we don’t carve scary faces into pumpkins. Jack-o-lanterns don’t work, I could tell him but I don’t. They don’t keep the evil away. He thinks I am a bad mother.
“There’s someone at the door,” he says, climbing off his seat. I seize his wrist, a little too roughly perhaps.
“There isn’t,” I tell him.
“But I want to see Petey’s costume. At school he said he was going to be a werewolf. He said he’d come around to show me.”
“I’m sorry,” I tell him, and it’s true. “Perhaps he’ll show you a photo tomorrow. It’ll be online; you can count on it.”
He’s not happy but perhaps he senses the fear seeping into my voice no matter how I try to speak evenly and without emotion.
We sit in silence. He is grumpy, scowling at me – I know that, even in this gloom, and my heart aches. I will make it up to him at Christmas, I promise. I will make such a fuss of him at Christmas he will forget he had to miss another Halloween.
A scratching on glass startles us both. This is a first. This has never happened before. Usually my daughter restricts herself to the front door.
“It must be Petey!” my boy cries out. I shush him, the panic surging within me, making my heart thump against my ribs.
“Don’t!” I sob but I am too late. My boy is opening the curtain and the room is filled with an eerie glow. An young woman in the shape of my daughter floats in blue light, still wearing the fairy wings she wore that Halloween. She tilts her head and looks with dead, shark eyes at the brother she hasn’t seen since he was a toddler. She smiles and beckons with a fingernail like a darning needle.
“Come join us, little brother,” she says in a malevolent hiss. “Now you are old enough.”
And I see there is no point in trying to stop him. He is unbolting the back door, wide-eyed and excited. And perhaps siblings are better off together. Perhaps I’ve been wrong to worry all these years. Perhaps I’ve been wrong to resist this inevitability. Perhaps I have been a bad mother all along.
The last I hear of him as he takes her slender hand in his is, “Hello, Joanie! Mum didn’t tell me you were coming back.”