Every light in the house was on. The front door stood wide open. Tom Doyle sat on the top step of his front porch, bathed in the porch light, a big bowl of candy in his lap. Trick-or-treaters scurried around the neighborhood, dodging from lighted porch to lighted porch, giggling and collecting their candy. A group of them ran up to Tom’s steps. He held out the bowl.
“One handful a piece,” he said with a smile.
The kids helped themselves. A witch. A princess. A clown. An astronaut.
Tom’s smile faltered a little bit as the astronaut took his turn, but the little boy didn’t seem to notice. The kids thanked him and ran off into the night. Tom set the bowl back on his lap and waited for the next group of kids.
He dressed up as an astronaut one Halloween when he was a kid.
It was the last time he dressed up.
Another trick-or-treater, a rare solo, approached him. He held out the bowl with a smile as the shy little girl dressed as witch picked out three pieces of candy.
“You can take a few more than that,” Tom said. “You don’t want to leave me with all of this candy, now do you?”
A scream pierced the night and Tom nearly tossed the entire bowl of candy into the yard. The little girl startled, giving a little shriek of her own before whirling around to see what was going on. There was another scream followed by laughter.
Tom took a deep breath through his nose, letting it out the same way, and took a second to convince his muscles to relax. Most of them complied. He smiled at the little girl who looked at him with huge eyes.
“Don’t worry,” he said, steadying his grip on the candy bowl. “It scared me, too.” He forced a little laugh and gave the bowl a shake on purpose. “You’d better take some more. A scare like that deserves extra.”
The girl hurriedly took some more candy from the bowl, whispered her thanks, and sprinted down the sidewalk to her mother. They had a quick exchange before the mother smiled and waved at Tom. He returned them in kind.
Tom sat the candy bowl next to him on the porch and flexed his fingers on his left hand. His grip went painfully tight after that scream and it gave him a bit of a cramp.
Any other night, Tom would have reacted much differently. He probably would have jumped to his feet, ready to assist whoever it was that needed help and then felt a little aggravated that it was just some kids playing around. But not tonight. Tonight was Halloween. It didn’t matter that he was in a different house in a different town. Halloween was always the same to Tom.
He watched the trick-or-treaters skittering through the dry leaves on the sidewalks and lawns, giggling and yelling, and tried to remember when (if?) he’d been out having fun like this.
Another group of kids bounced up his sidewalk. A ninja. A prisoner. A skeleton.
Tom’s blood ran cold at the sight of one of the little kids. The child (Tom couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl) was dressed in black and wearing a white, expressionless mask. It took everything Tom had to plaster a smile on his face and hold out the bowl.
“Just one handful,” he said, his voice a little croaking a little.
He flinched a little when the little ghost face took its handful of treats.
“Why are all of your lights on?” the skeleton asked.
“It’s an old tradition,” Tom said with a little smile. He looked at the skeleton, but kept the ghost face in his line of sight.
“What kind of tradition?” the prisoner asked.
“A Halloween tradition,” Tom said, putting the candy bowl back on his lap. “You turn on all the lights so any spooks that get into your house don’t have a place to hide.”
“Really?” the ninja asked.
The prisoner elbowed him.
“Come on,” the boy said, rolling his eyes. “He’s just trying to scare you.”
“Yeah. It’s not true,” the skeleton said.
The kids turned and walked down the sidewalk, debating the veracity of Tom’s story. At least one of those boys, probably the little wide-eyed ninja, would be turning on the lights in his house to check for spooks.
The ghost face never said a single word.
It was true, of course. Tom turned on the lights every Halloween so the spooks wouldn’t have a place to hide. Silly for a grown man to do, maybe, by other people’s standards, but the bogeyman never showed up in their house on Halloween.
Not like it once showed up in Tom’s.
Another group of kids approached and Tom felt himself relax. Two wizards and another princess and a cowboy. No ghost face.
Kids asked Tom every year about the lights and every year he told them the same thing. Most kids didn’t press for any more of the story; they just figured that it was just a way for Tom to scare the kids on Halloween.
If they only asked, those kids would get a real scare.
A breeze sent a cold chill up Tom’s back, giving him goose bumps that overstayed their welcome. The feeling that he was being watched made his shoulders shrug and he slowly turned around, half-expecting to see that hulking black shape standing in the open doorway of his house.
But there was nothing.
They didn’t move after the bogeyman showed up in their house and tried to kill him and Lindsey, the neighbor girl spending the night, and Laurie, his babysitter. Lindsey and her family had moved within a week. Three people had been found dead in her house, though. The bogeyman killed them and then walked across the street and into his house, looking for more. Laurie saved them that night, fighting off the bogeyman and sending Tom and Lindsey for help and safety as soon as she could. She didn’t kill the bogeyman. You can’t kill the bogeyman. But she saved them and lived to tell the tale, just the same.
Tom didn’t see Laurie much after that. His parents didn’t need a babysitter after that. Tom was never left alone. If his parents wanted a night out, Tom was shipped to his aunt’s house in Pontiac or his grandmother’s house in Dwight. Tom liked Laurie. She was his favorite babysitter. But Laurie reminded him of the bogeyman.
He only saw it twice. Seeing the big, dark shape with the bright white face standing at the end of the upstairs hallway made him scream like he’d never screamed in his life. The next time he saw it, it was lying on the floor of the bedroom, looking dead. It wasn’t dead, though. You can’t kill the bogeyman.
Tom and Lindsey ran screaming from the house that night and into history, labeled, along with Laurie, as survivors of the Haddonfield Halloween Massacre, a night that would never be over.
As the night deepened, the trick-or-treaters became shadows, dark shapes with no faces moving in groups like sinister little imps up to no good. Tom watched them, a cold sweat breaking out on the back of his neck and on his palms. He wiped his hands on his pants, balancing the candy bowl on his lap. Another bad case of goose bumps broke out over his skin.
A figure, backlit by a porch light, stood across the street.
Tom’s mouth went dry and he struggled to swallow.
No, he’d seen the bogeyman three times that night, hadn’t he? The first time was when he looked out the window and saw him standing there, just like the shape was standing there now. He’d told Laurie it was the bogeyman, but she didn’t listen.
She should have listened.
When a little ghost bounded off of the porch, the shape turned into a father and the two of them strolled down the block. Tom slowly exhaled, his lungs burning a little from holding his breath for so long.
Tom stopped trick-or-treating after that Halloween. He told his parents he was too old. Instead he’d sit in the living room watching TV with every light in the room on as his mother passed out candy to the kids that knocked on the door. And when it came time for him to go to bed, Tom stood at the foot of the stairs, looking up into the darkness. He refused to go up. No logical reasoning from anyone, even his own brain, could convince him that the bogeyman wasn’t waiting for him in the dark, upstairs hallway. Tom knew that if he climbed those steps and looked, it would be waiting for him, white face glaring in the dark. Instead, Tom would sleep on the couch in the living room with the lights on, only falling asleep if exhaustion managed to get the best of him and force his eyes closed.
The bogeyman can only come out on Halloween night. Laurie told him so.
A familiar trio of trick-or-treaters walked up the sidewalk and Tom smiled at the sight of them. The Ninja Turtle bounded into his arms, nearly upsetting the bowl of candy on Tom’s lap. Tom’s lovely wife Beth carried their little princess, her bucket hanging from Beth’s free hand. Beth stopped in front of him as his son rifled through the candy in his bucket, telling Tom all about it. As soon as Anthony paused for a breath, Tom nodded to Libby.
“She get tired?” he asked.
“After the third block,” Beth said with a grin. “There’s only a half an hour of trick-or-treating left. I’m going to take the kids in and get them ready for bed.”
“Okay,” Tom said. He gave Anthony a hug before giving him a little push off of his lap. “Get in your PJs, then come down and kiss me goodnight.”
Beth handed Anthony his sister’s bucket and he ran into the house. Tom knew it was safe for him to go in. The lights were on.
Beth started to climb the stairs of the porch but stopped.
“I’m going to start turning off the lights,” she said, putting a hand on his shoulder and massaging the muscle that tensed up under her fingers.
“Okay,” Tom said with a slight nod.
Beth gave his shoulder a little squeeze before walking into the house. She left the front door open.
Tom waited on the porch about fifteen minutes after the trick-or-treating curfew to make sure that he didn’t miss any stragglers, but it was only him, the dark, and the breeze as near as he could tell. He went inside, turning off the porch light and locking the front door. He checked all of the living room windows, making sure that all of them were shut and locked. Anthony and Libby kissed him goodnight and Beth put them to bed, turning off the lights upstairs.
The two of them cuddled on the couch, watching the end of an old horror movie. When The Thing came on, Tom quickly changed the channel. Beth went to bed, kissing her husband goodnight before shutting off all of the lights downstairs, but the ones in the kitchen and the living room. Around midnight, Tom checked that the backdoor was locked and turned off the kitchen light. He grabbed his book and a gun from the top shelf of the hall closet. He loaded the gun and settled in for the rest of the night, gun next to him and book open in his lap, waiting for either an exhausted sleep or dawn.
A couple of years ago, Tom stopped spending Halloween on the couch. Now if he fell asleep, it was with his back against the front door.
The bogeyman can only come out on Halloween.
And every Halloween, Tom felt it coming closer.