CHILDREN OF THE CANDY CORN
BRAD P. CHRISTY
“Talk about your Twilight Zone,” said Jim to his wife, Erin, as they drove home to the two story farm house they’d just bought on the edge of town.
“I know. I can’t believe they’re already advertising Christmas stuff,” said Erin, thumbing through Halloween recipes.
“What? No, I mean, doesn’t it seem like these people take Halloween a little too seriously?”
Erin looked down both sides of the street. Yards littered with Styrofoam headstones and fake cobwebs stretched as far as the eye can see. “So they dig the holidays,” she said, going back to a recipe on making cupcakes that look like Frankenstein’s Monster. “And need I remind you that you’re the one who insisted on getting that “small town” feel.”
“Ok, well, have you seen any children?”
“It’s only 2:30. School probably doesn’t let out for another hour.”
Jim shrugged. “You’re right. Moving out here was supposed to be relaxing.”
She didn’t look up from the magazine, “Unless Ma and Pa Kettle are out to get us.”
“I’m just saying,” said Erin, not looking up, but grinning.
“Maybe we should get a pumpkin,” said Erin, getting out of the car. A cold gust of wind cut through her sweatshirt. The tall stalks of corn in the field across the road rustled and swayed.
“There’re dumber ideas you could have,” called out the old man who lived in the neighboring house South of theirs. Limping their way, his overalls were covered in pumpkin guts and he had a 10-inch carving knife in one hand, a half-sculpted pumpkin in the other. There was a wad of tobacco between his gums and unshaven cheek.
The only time they’d seen him before was when he was installing bars on his windows shortly after they moved in.
“Excuse me,” said Erin.
“Howdy neighbor,” said Jim out loud.
“Are you a cowboy now,” whispered Erin.
Jim gave her a quick look then turned back to their neighbor. “Hi. Name’s Jim Reese.”
Their neighbor looked him up and down and spit tobacco on the driveway. They could smell whiskey on him before he even said a word.
“Yeah. I know your name.” He slid the knife into his front pocket, and extended his sticky hand for shaking. “Matt Brown. Call me Brownie, everyone does.”
Jim looked at Brownie’s hand, “I don’t mean to be rude, but there’s stuff on your hand.”
Brownie wiped his hand on his overalls. “Not scared of a little pumpkin, are ya? Cause if that scares ya, you’re in for a rough night.”
“What do you mean by that,” asked Erin.
Brownie spit again and nodded toward the field. “I’m not supposed to be telling you this, but they’ll be coming from old Malachi Field over there.”
The wind blew through the rows, shaking the heavy, green leaves.
“Who will be,” asked Jim.
Brownie laughed. “Children.”
Jim and Erin laughed with him, and then Brownie stopped laughing.
“Must have been about 30 years now since that fire,” said Brownie. “Oh, that’s right, you two just moved here.” He spit off to the side. “That field,” he nodded to it again, “used to be the site of the Malachi Grade School named after Mayor Malachi, who donated most of the money to build it. But, old Malachi was greedy, had the school burned down to collect the insurance on it.”
“That’s terrible,” said Erin.
“No,” said Brownie. “What’s terrible is that Mayor Malachi didn’t know it, or maybe he did, that the school had a Halloween costume dance that night. There weren’t a whole lot of survivors.
“After word got out about the mayor being involved, the town went bankrupt from lawsuits. Mayor Malachi disappeared before he could be indicted. Most folks moved away, especially when they consolidated the grade schools in Gatlin down the road.”
“Why didn’t they just rebuild the school,” asked Jim.
Brownie spit. “Would you send your kids to a school that burned down and took a generation of kids with it? Nope, the town just tore up what was left and sold off the land to a seed corn development company.”
“There must be some pretty brave kids around here to cut through the field just for candy after a story like that,” said Erin.
“Children don’t cut through there, no live ones anyhow,” said Brownie. “My guess is they’re just trying to get the Halloween they never got in 1983.”
Jim nervously laughed. “That was an awesome story, man, but we have to get inside.”
“Son,” said Brownie, “Ain’t no story. I’ve been watching the exact same kids in the exact same costumes walk these streets every Halloween for 30 years. If you want some neighborly advice, you’ll get yourself a jack o’ lantern for protection. You don’t want to wind up like Burt and Vicky.”
“Who’s Burt and Vicky,” asked Erin as a late 1970s, white Lincoln Continental slowly drove by. The elderly couple inside smiled and waved.
Brownie cleared his throat, his eyes set on the car. “Pay heed to my advice,” was all he said as he hurried back to his house, dropping the jack o’ lantern on his porch and slamming the door behind him.
Jim found himself looking out the window at the field throughout the afternoon, thinking about Brownie’s story.
“Say what you want, but we have got to have the weirdest neighbors on Earth,” said Erin, navigating around unpacked moving boxes to get to the apple slices and caramel.
Jim shook his head in agreement, “You will get no argument from me on that.”
“And the Wi-Fi out here sucks,” she said, banging her fingertips on the keyboard of her laptop. “I’ve been trying to Google anything about a school burning down for two hours. Have I mentioned that the Wi-Fi out here sucks?”
“Maybe lost souls are blocking it,” said Jim, dodging a pillow.
The doorbell rang, making them both jump.
Jim opened the door to find the elderly couple from the Lincoln Continental standing on their porch. The old woman smiled from under her bonnet. The old man, wearing a powder blue leisure suit said, “Good evening, neighbor.”
Jim looked over his shoulder, but Erin was nowhere to be seen.
“Do you have any children,” asked the old woman.
“Excuse me,” asked Jim.
The old man smiled widely, his too-white dentures glistening, “It’s Halloween. Got any kids?”
“Uh, no, we don’t,” Jim said, looking around for his wife.
“Oh, now that’s a shame,” said the old woman. “It seems the only time we get any children out here is at Halloween. So the whole town goes a little overboard,” she said. “But, it keeps the kids coming back.”
Jim raised an eyebrow, “Sorry, I’m…”
“James Reese,” interjected the old man, shaking his hand. “It’s a small town, and you’re the talk of it, my boy. We haven’t had any young folks move here for as long as I can remember. Names Hank Fowler and this is my wife, Patty.”
“I really do hate this town,” said Erin as she came out of the kitchen, still looking for a Wi-Fi hot spot.
Patty pursed her lips at Erin.
“Honey, this is Hank and Patty Fowler,” said Jim.
“We’re your neighbors on the North side,” said Hank. “We’ve been meaning to formally introduce ourselves, but Patty insisted on making her famous blueberry cobbler for you first.” Patty beamed with pride and lifted a decorative towel from the cobbler. “She won a blue ribbon for it in the county fair a few years back.”
Patty handed Erin the cobbler and a couple sacks of candy to hand out. The smell of blueberries and brown sugar filled the entry way.
“Thanks, and it’s nice meeting you both,” said Jim. “We met Brownie earlier.”
Both of the Fowlers dropped their smiles for a second. “He’s an interesting one, isn’t he,” said Hank.
“You can say that again,” said Erin, hovering over the cobbler.
“Yeah,” said Jim. “He told us a story about the Malachi Grade School that used to be where that field is now.”
Hank laughed, Patty did not. “Did he now? And I suppose he gave you some cockamamie story of ghost children and curses.”
Jim and Erin looked at each other.
“The truth is there was a school that burned down so the mayor could get the insurance money, and the town did go bankrupt,” said Hank.
“So there are no children that come out of the field every Halloween,” asked Erin.
“Oh, there are,” said Hank. “The town of Isaacson is either four miles away by road or a little less than a mile by foot if you cut through that field. Like Patty said, we make it worth their while.”
“Then we may have to get some more candy,” said Jim.
“Who are Buck and Vicky,” asked Erin. “Brownie mentioned them.”
The Fowlers stopped smiling. “Brownie says a lot of things,” said Hank. “They lived here before you. Nice people. Brownie likes to say they were scared off or whatnot by ghosts and ghouls.” He cleared his throat again. “But, we’ll leave the two of you to your last minute decorating.”
“Yeah, I’m not sure we’ll decorate this year. It’s getting late and we’re still unpacking,” said Erin.
Patty grabbed Erin’s hand and looked her in the eyes, “At least get a pumpkin.”
“Come along dear,” said Hank, taking Patty by the shoulders. “It was nice meeting the two of you.”
As the Fowlers walked back to their home and the sun began to set, Erin reiterated that they had the weirdest neighbors ever. The full moon rose over the corn, and cast shadows through the autumn trees. A fog rolled out from the Malachi Field to the road.
“Man that’s creepy,” said Jim, looking out the window. “You’d think it’d be too cold for fog.”
“Probably ghost children,” said Erin, nose buried in a recipe for gingerbread men that look like mummies.
“Brat,” said Jim. “I just feel bad that we don’t even have a jack o’ lantern.”
“Go borrow Brownie’s,” said Erin. “He apparently hates kids anyway.”
“I’m not going to steal someone’s pumpkin on Halloween,” said Jim.
“Sissy,” said Erin, looking out the window. “His light’s not on and that half-assed jack o’ lantern is still where he dropped it this afternoon. He might not even be home.”
Jim sighed and headed out the door, a candle and matches in his pocket. He could see his breath in the chilly air. The fog was inching over road. Brownie’s house didn’t appear to have any lights on.
A rustling came from the field. The rows thrashed back and forth. Something was coming through.
Jim whistled softly as he nonchalantly strolled over to Brownie’s porch and snatched the hacked-up pumpkin. As he entered his own yard, there was a familiar smell coming from the fog. It was the smell of smoke. Jim stopped and looked over the field as hard as he could, but didn’t see the glow of any fire.
Black silhouettes of children emerged from Malachi Field. The moon illuminated their tattered costumes and the plastic candy buckets. They shambled to the road, eyes hidden by the shadows inside their masks. The smell of smoke intensified.
Jim’s heart rate quickened and he hurried to his house.
Fog rolled across the road and up to Brownie’s porch, followed by children marching to the old man’s door. They gathered on his porch and began pounding on the door. Jim could hear Brownie yell that he had a gun from inside his house.
Chants of “trick or treat” echoed from the costumed mob. The fog circled Brownie’s house as did children.
More kids staggered from the field, following the smoke headed toward Jim. He tripped over his porch stairs; the pumpkin fell from his hands and rolled away.
Giggling children walked slowly across his lawn, hands and candy buckets extended.
Jim scrambled to the pumpkin and flipped the matchbox out of his pocket. Matchsticks scattered across the porch.
A group of slow moving children approached from the fog. Their faces didn’t appear to move, but a distant “trick or treat” echoed from them.
His back against the wall, Jim broke several matches with his shaking hands. Finally, a couple struck and flared. Children stepped onto the porch, the smell of smoke burned Jim’s eyes. He burned his fingers lighting the candle, and jammed it into the pumpkin, which he held in front of him like a shield. The fog began to recede from the porch.
The door opened beside him.
“No, Erin, run,” Jim shouted.
“Trick or treat,” said the group of kids in unison.
“Seriously,” said Erin, looking down at him. One by one, she dropped candy into the buckets.
Having gotten their candy, the kids ran and jumped off the porch, but one of them stopped and flipped up his plastic mask. The boy didn’t look like a ghost or zombie or anything Jim expected.
“Thanks, mister,” said the boy who ran to join his friends on the road.
Erin laughed at Jim, who was still huddled against the wall with his pumpkin shield, and closed the door behind her as she went back in the house.
Embarrassed, Jim got to his feet and set the jack o’ lantern on the steps. He shook his head and looked back at the trick-or-treaters. They stood in the road, staring at him. And just when he was about to say how creepy they were, they all disappeared in a cloud of smoke before his eyes.