A Different Halloween
Part One
By: Gabriella Balcom

"Why are you wasting my time?" Dougal demanded.

"I'm not," Aileen protested. "We just got here."

Her step-father narrowed his eyes. "Are you calling me a liar, brat? You better watch it."

She'd seen that look before. "I'm sorry." He snorted and she added, "I'll hurry."

"You better. And don't ask me to pay for anything either, because the answer's no.'"

"I won't. I have money for what I need."

"Prove it."

She fished around in her small purse until she found the folded bill. Holding it up for him to see, she scanned the available selections.

Dougal's eyes gleamed. Snatching the twenty-dollar bill from her hand, he chuckled. "This'll cover beer and smokes."

"That's mine."

He eyed her purse. "How much more you got in there?" Without waiting for an answer, he yanked the strap looped over her left shoulder, and it broke. He dumped the contents of her purse onto a nearby shelf and pawed through them.

Aileen's mouth dropped open and her eyes widened. "Those are my things. And give my money back."

"Yours? You probably stole it from me."

"I've never stolen from you. From anyone else either. I saved ten dollars from what Daddy sent for my birthday, and I earned the rest helping our neighbors."

She saw him manhandle her wallet and bit her lip. But she gasped when he deliberately ripped the seams and sneered at her.

"Grammy gave me that," she whispered. "And she's dead now."


Her eyes stung as she thought of her grandmother, but she saw him stick the twenty in his pocket. "Please give my money back. Halloween's my favorite time of year, and I saved for—."

"Hah!" He triumphantly waved the two ten dollar bills he'd just found. "Enough for whiskey, too."

"You can't spend that," she argued, reaching for the money. "It's my money, not yours. I earned it. The twenty is for Halloween and those tens are for Mama's birthday gift."

He rapped her fingers with his car keys. She winced, jerking her hand away, and he smirked. "I'm sick and tired of your constant whining. I don't know why your stupid mother didn't send you to live with your father years ago."

"Mama's not stupid. She's real smart." Staring at the money in his hand—her money—she wished he'd vanish. He was mean, rude, and she'd never liked him. Hearing him insult her mother bothered her a lot, too. Why Mama let him stay with them was a mystery. Aileen had never seen him do anything to help. He didn't work. Only Mama did. He didn't clean or cook. All he did was sit around, watch tv, drink and smoke.

"Don't argue with me."

"But Mama is smart."

He glared at her. "Time to go."

She stared at him wide-eyed. "I haven't picked out a costume yet. Tomorrow's Halloween, and I need the costume for school. Everyone else had theirs weeks ago."

"Oh, well." He took a few steps toward the front of the store, but stopped and glanced over his shoulder. "Get a move on."

Looking at all the Halloween stuff around them—especially the costumes she'd planned to chose from—she pleaded, "I need a costume. And I need my money to pay for it."

"Shut up, whiner!" He scowled at her.

"Please, Dougal. Only the kids who dress up get to trunk-or-treat."

"Get to what?"

"The teachers said they were worried about us trick-or-treating at night and going to strangers' homes. A bunch of them decided to do something themselves. Some decorated car trunks. Every student who dresses up gets to trick-or-treat at the trunks tomorrow. They're calling it Trunk-or-Treat."

He spat on the floor. "That's the stupidest thing I ever heard of. You don't need Halloween to get candy. Halloween's not real anyway. It's nothing but stupid people making up stupid crap—just like the Easter Bunny and Santa. They're made up, too." He strode away.

Aileen stared longingly at the costumes. But she couldn't get one unless she paid for it, and she couldn't pay for it without—. "Dougal, please! Give my money back. It's mine, not yours."

"Miserable brat!" Fuming, he stalked toward her. "I've warned you about talking back."

Customers stood in line at the store's registers. Some of them heard a popping sound and what sounded like a child crying.

One woman glanced over her shoulder, met the gaze of a guy behind her who shrugged, and went back to texting on his phone. Another man ignored both of them, frowned at the cashier, and impatiently tapped his foot.

However, several people turned around to look, and saw a dark-haired man stride out of the Halloween aisles, pulling a girl behind him by her arm.

"Dougal, please let go," she begged.

"Shut up, Aileen. What're you looking at?" he snarled at the onlookers.

The girl sniffled. Her left cheek was red, and tears rolled down her face.

A blonde man stepped out of line and approached her. "What's wrong, honey?"

"Mind your business." Dougal glared at the newcomer, his face flushed. "Aileen is my daughter, not yours."

"She's just a little kid. If you hurt her, I'm making it my business."

"We are, too." Two dark-haired men joined the blonde.

One asked Aileen, "How old are you?"

She bit her lip and wiped her face. "Nine."

"Did he hit you?" the blonde asked. "Is that why your cheek's red?"

She hesitated, shot a quick look at Dougal, then shook her head.

Dougal dug his fingernails into Aileen's upper arm and pulled her behind him as he walked toward the parking lot. He ignored when she lost her balance and almost fell, and didn't release her until they were beside his car, parked next to one of the few trees in the lot.

"Damn busybodies," he muttered, then glared at her. "Don't be whining to your stupid mother either."

She tried not to cry, and rubbed her arm.

"Get in the car," he commanded.

Something rustled high in the nearby tree, but they didn't notice. Yellow eyes opened a midst the leaves—two at first, then two more. They blinked, began to darken, and soon gleamed a deep red. As Dougal started the car and revved the engine a couple times, the eyes cast a glow on the back of the vehicle. Then they vanished.

When Dougal and Aileen got home, he carried the cigarettes, beer, and whiskey inside while she trailed after him. Her right cheek was also red now, her face streaked with fresh tears.

Outside the house, light from an electric pole shown on the car's trunk. A ripple ran across the surface, and a face with no features appeared. A sliver of metal rose, taking the shape of a finger. A second followed, then more. Soon a complete hand had developed, followed by an arm and torso. Then a complete figure stepped from the trunk's surface, immediately changing from the same green as the car to brown, the metal then morphing into wood. The being now looked as if it were comprised of branches. It stood a little over three feet high and glanced around with eerie red eyes.

Another creature climbed from the trunk, hunched over. It straightened up, towering over the first at seven feet tall. Eyes glowing an icy white, it morphed into a mix of several creatures. It had the head of a raven but with sharp, protruding teeth and sabertooth-tiger fangs, the body of a werewolf, with long arms reminiscent of an orangutan's. Green liquid dripped from its mouth, sizzling and producing puffs of smoke where the drops hit the ground.

Branch Man and Raven-Werewolf glanced at one another before climbing into the tall bushes beside the house.

Two hours later

Carinda parked her old truck in the driveway, and walked through the front door of her home. Pulling off her work shoes, she carried them to the living room, and set them on the floor by the couch. She found her daughter washing dishes in the kitchen while Dougal slurped beer at the nearby table.

"I love you, Honey." She kissed Aileen's cheek. "All day, I've been wondering which costume you'd choose."

"I love you, too, Mama," Aileen murmured.

Noting her downcast expression and reddened eyes—clear signs she'd been crying—Carinda asked, "What's wrong, sweetheart?"

She flinched when her husband tossed a beer can onto the floor where seven more lay. And, she frowned as she remembered something. "I thought you were out of beer, Dougal."

"Yeah," he barked. "Because you wouldn't give me any money."

"So how'd you get more?" His constant drinking saddened and infuriated her. Every time he promised to job-hunt, she'd return from work to find him drunk as a skunk. And she was sure he hadn't applied anywhere. Despite his repeated promises, she couldn't remember the last time he'd even tried to find employment. She couldn't remember the last time he'd kept his word or helped with anything, for that matter.

"I bought it." Dougal sneered, hiccuping.

"With what money?"

He didn't reply. She inhaled sharply as a possibility occurred to her. Surely not… Narrowing her eyes, she asked, "Aileen, did you get a costume?"

The nine-year-old glanced at Dougal before shaking her head.

"Why not?" Carinda kept her tone gentle, but Aileen didn't answer. "What do you know about this, Dougal?" He shrugged. "You took Aileen's money, didn't you?"

"Miserable brat!" he yelled at the girl, shoving himself up from the table and swaying on his feet. "What'd I tell you about tattling?"

"She didn't say anything," Carinda shot back. "I guessed." Disgust filled her and she shook her head in disbelief. "How could you steal money from a child? A child?"

"Quit your whining. The brat gets it from you."

"Oh, Honey," Carinda hugged her daughter. "I'm so sorry. I'd go buy a costume right now, but I used my last money on gasoline."

"It's okay, Mama."

"Did you eat supper, Honey?"

After Aileen nodded, Carinda told her, "Go on to bed. You've got to get up early for school. I'll try to put something together as a costume for you, and we'll buy you a real nice one next year."

"Stop promising that kid special stuff," Dougal griped after Aileen left the kitchen. "She doesn't need fancy things, and sure as hell doesn't deserve them."

"Doesn't deserve them?" Carinda repeated. "You've got to be kidding. She does her chores, minds, helps. And she actually earns money, unlike you who—." His face darkened as she spoke.

"What did you say?" he demanded. "Get your butt over to that stove and make me some food."

"Make it yourself." Her shoulders drooped. "I can't believe this, and I'm so disappointed in you."

He staggered to the refrigerator and grabbed another cold beer before dropping back into his chair.

Later, she studied Dougal, who'd dozed off in the front room while watching TV. She shook her head, and a wave of weariness hit her. Her back hurt. Her feet hurt. Her head hurt. But that wasn't anything unusual for waitresses, and she wished for what might've been the millionth time in her life that she'd gone on to college after finishing high school. If she had, she'd probably be working a better job and earning more than a pittance. She'd be able to save money. Not only did she long to buy Aileen nice things, but she wanted to move to the state where her ex-husband lived. He didn't have much money, but he'd offered to help her find a job and place to stay there. If that happened, he and Aileen would be able to see each other all the time again.

Carinda knew she needed to get to bed, because she had to get up early in the morning for work, but she didn't want her daughter more disappointed than she already was. She rummaged through her clothing, but nothing caught her eye. She looked through items she'd set aside to give to a local thrift store. "Here we go," she murmured, finding a checkered shirt and old, torn coveralls. They were too small for her since she'd gained weight, but they'd be perfect as baggy, clown attire for Aileen. Her rubber galoshes could be part of the costume, too.

She went to the attic and searched her deceased mother's trunks. Mama had lost her hair following chemotherapy, and had begun wearing wigs. Carinda went through trunk after trunk before she found them. One was curly blonde and didn't smell musty like the others. Taking it to the kitchen, Carinda used food coloring to dye portions of it different colors. Afterward, she blew-dry the damp portions, and set makeup out to be used as face-paint.

The following morning, she got up earlier than usual, planning to surprise Aileen with the makeshift costume. However, the items she'd left on the kitchen table weren't there. Neither was the makeup. "Where are the things I left here?" she asked Dougal, who sat at the table drinking.

He grunted and passed gas.

"I put a shirt and coveralls here," she persisted, fanning the air in front of her face. "A wig and makeup, too."

"Give it a rest." He gulped down beer.

"But they're for…"

"The brat don't need nothing special."

"That was old clothing, and I spent a long time getting it—."

"Shut your pie-hole or I will!" he snarled. "I don't wanna hear any more of your stupid yapping."

Aileen stepped off the school bus and walked home. She sat on the porch swing and fished around in her backpack until she found what she wanted—a mini chocolate bar. After she ate it, she reached for another. Her school-day had turned out good. She'd been very disappointed Mama hadn't been able to come up with a costume for her, but at least she hadn't been the only person without one. Her classmate Jerry hadn't worn one either.

"Don't worry," their teacher, Miss Millsworth, had said. She'd searched in her supply closet, found a large sheet, and cut it in half. Using markers and paint, she'd drawn spooky faces on the pieces, then cut out eye-holes. She, Jerry, and Aileen had drawn pumpkins, cats, witches, and broomsticks all over the material. Their costumes had looked great, and Aileen and Jerry had gotten to trunk-or-treat with everyone else. Miss Millsworth had even given them extra goodies.

Munching a sugar cookie now, Aileen smiled to herself. She had her ghost costume with her, and looked forward to Mama taking her trick-or-treating tonight.

The End of Part One


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