This story originally published in Disenchanted

Trick or Treat

by C.W.Smoke

Visit Castle Smoke

Lightning bit the night sky with jagged teeth as Jonathon Smallwood hurried quick and alone past the old cemetery. The air cracked with thunder, a giant whip at his heels urging haste. But he needed no prodding. Nothing short of a catastrophe would stop him now. The wind howled furiously, an aroused poltergeist, protesting Jonathon's passage.

Using both hands, he clutched his baseball cap against the wind as he walked past the wrought iron entrance gate, held upright by its last intact hinge. Jonathon stared straight ahead at the path, afraid to look to either side. His hands gripping the bill of his cap were his blinders, shielding his eyes from the cemetery and the crumbling stone wall on his left. He strode forward, placing one foot ahead of the other, his ears straining for the sound of other footsteps, other entities as he followed the narrow path. No matter what, he was not going to look back until he reached his goal.

The harvest moon broke through the torn, scudding clouds to reveal the stark outline of the leafless hangman's tree just ahead on the hilltop. The gnarled oak had stood there, a patient sentinel for the last three hundred years, and now its twisted branches beckoned to Jonathon in the pale moonlight.

Tonight was All Hallow's Eve, and Jonathon knew the stories. Every kid in town knew the stories about the missing boys. How could he have let them goad him into being alone, on foot, and here of all places?

But Jonathon didn't care about them. All he cared about was Sarah, her bright eyes filled with admiration for his bravery. He swallowed, his adam's apple bobbing in his thin neck. She was only fourteen, two years older than he was, but her eyes held mysteries he longed to explore. He swallowed again. Just thinking of Sarah gave him courage. He leaned forward into the wind. He was almost there.

A twig broke with a loud snap off to his left, just beyond the cemetery wall.

Oh, shit! He thought. What if the stories are true? Stories of brave, missing boys over the years...but they weren't all missing. Eleven-year-old Tim Johnson had been found last November. Jonathon tried not to think about that. Tim's bloodless corpse had been discovered inside a crypt in the very cemetery that Jonathon now skirted. The boy's death had made the national news, consumed by the sensation-hungry wire services, because Timothy Johnson had died with a ghoulish smile on his lips.

Something scraped loudly against the stone wall not ten feet behind Jonathon.

Easy, Jon-boy, he thought. It's only a branch rubbing against the wall. But he quickened his pace as the hangman's tree loomed ahead, its branches reaching toward him and the pale moon.

Behind him something followed, making no effort to be silent as it crunched through the fallen leaves.

Jonathon broke into a run, stopping only when he arrived at the hangman's oak. He reached out and touched the rough bark with his hand. Then he turned, full of fear, to face his pursuer. His movements seemed slow and surreal, as if in a dream.

Suddenly, a bright smile creased his face. It was Sarah. She had been following him.

"What the bloody hell are you doing here?" he gasped, cursing to hide his relief. "You bloody near scared me half to death." He was grinning like a fool idiot, but he didn't care.

"I was worried about you, love," Sarah whispered when she caught up, her dark eyes a tantalizing mystery once more.

"No worries," he declared, striking the most heroic pose that he could muster. "I am standing here, as promised, beneath the hangman's tree on All Hallow's Eve at the stroke of midnight."

"And so you are, my love," she whispered, taking his hand. "Now you may claim your hero's reward." She led him through a break in the wall into the cemetery.

And on the following day, just after lunch, Jonathon Smallwood's name was added to the list of missing, brave young boys.


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