Manners

Eric glared back at his kid sister, scowling as she struggled along in her pink princess outfit. “I told you to go home, Tina.”

“No,” she whined. “I want to trick or treat with you. Dad said I could.”

“I said you can’t,” Eric said, exasperated. “You can’t keep up. Me, Billy and Jordan are going from Maple St. to West End.”

“But I want to go with you,” Tina pleaded. “I can’t go with Dad, he’s—”

“Tough luck,” Eric said, darting off.

Tina let out a howl, but Eric was soon beyond her wails.

Jordan and Billy were waiting at the corner. “Oh look, it’s a black cat,” Billy snickered. “Run, Jordan!”

“Shut up,” Eric said angrily. “It’s the only costume Mom agreed to buy that was all black. Did you get the toilet paper?”

Jordan nodded, his cloth dog ears flapping. “And the eggs, too.”

“I brought the firecrackers,” Billy said proudly, stretching out a red and black clawed hand. “What do you think of the costume? I saved up all summer for it.”

“It’s great,” Eric replied, glancing at the elaborate costume. “At least it’s dark.”

“Where are we hitting first, Eric?” Jordan asked eagerly.

“Down on Poplar. I’m going to pay back Mr. Sherland for giving me an F in summer school.”

“Then let’s go,” Billy said, his black and red painted face grinning. “Halloween night is a-wasting.”

***

Gunther stood on tiptoes at the cabin’s rear window, staring out excitedly at the deepening dusk. The cornstalks in the big field waved in the cold breeze, their long dry leaves rustling. Behind him in their small kitchen, Mommy was busy, her large cauldron bubbling on the stove. Delicious smells wafted to him, making his tummy grumble in anticipation.

“You’re sure it will work?” he asked for the seventh time.

“My spells always work,” his mother assured. “Go get my wand. It’s almost time.”

Gunther hurried to comply. After all, tonight was Halloween. Tonight, Mommy had promised him a new brother or sister.

***

Hours later, the three tricksters rested on a park bench, laughing over their exploits.

“Did you see her face?” Billy guffawed. “That scream was loud enough to wake the dead.”

“You did use the whole carton of eggs on her,” Eric replied. “Those fairy wings aren’t ever going to fly again.”

They all laughed.

Jordan grabbed a handful of candy. “What about that odd kid? Don’t you think it was strange he let us take his candy? Maybe we shouldn’t eat it.”

Billy grabbed a handful himself. “You don’t have to eat any if you don’t want to. That makes more for us.” He shoved the chocolate into his mouth. “Wow, that’s good.”

Jordan quickly grabbed a handful.

Eric snorted, then grabbed a piece. “This is odd candy. It looks like chocolate pieces, but it’s shiny—”

“That wasn’t meant for you,” a voice said. “You should’ve have stolen it.”

Eric started. A woman stood over him dressed in a witch outfit. His eyes narrowed. “You can’t tell me or my friends what to do—”

“What friends?” the witch replied, her palms open. “You’re alone, child.”girl princess costume

Eric looked wildly around. His eyes fastened on some small toys at his feet: a stuffed dog and a shiny-skinned demon. He picked them up with trembling fingers.

“Don’t worry,” the woman said. “They’ll change back in a few hours, and be no worse for wear. Hopefully they’ll be better mannered.”

“What are you?” Eric stammered.

“Just your average good witch,” the woman answered, picking up the candy and moving away. “But my patience isn’t vast. Beware.”

Eric’s scream came out a yowl, his features changing as he shrunk into a cat. He let out another yowl, then dashed away into the night.

The witch walked home, smiling at passing trick-or-treaters while inside, her heart shriveled. If only Ray hadn’t left years ago. Now, not only had her spell to make Gunter a sibling failed, but he’d had his Halloween present stolen. Children today had no manners at all…

She passed West End and entered the forest beyond, the worn path leading her to her cabin in the clearing. Kicking at pumpkin pieces, she walked up the lighted path to the small figure crying on the stone steps.

“Here,” she said, offering the candy. “I’m sorry, Gunther.”

He took the candy, sniffling.

“I know you were angry the spell didn’t work, but you shouldn’t have walked beyond the woods. I told you how mean children are, especially on this night of all nights. That candy was for you alone to use—”

Gunther wiped at his red eyes. “I wanted some friends. I don’t have anyone to play with.”

“You have me,” his mom said, sitting down beside him.

“Mom, it’s not the same.”

Curse unfaithful men, old age, and fly-by-night spells, the witch thought. “You were angry—”

“Mom, look,” Gunther interrupted, pointing.

His mom looked up. A little girl stood at the base of the stairs.

“Who are you, Princess?” she asked.

“Tina,” the girl said shyly.

“Why are you out here alone?”

“My brother left me, and my dad’s passed out.” Tina swallowed. “My mom’s with her new husband tonight. Are you a real witch?”

“Yes, but there are worse things than witches,” the witch said, holding out her hand. “You’re a very polite child, Tina. Why don’t you come in?”

Written by Tara Fox Hall. Her writing credits include over twenty short stories published in the nature magazines Catnip Blossoms, Meanwhile, and On The River. Her short horror stories have appeared in Deadman’s Tome and Ghastly Door. You can visit her site at http://tarafoxhall.com


About Tara Fox Hall

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