by Jim Bates
Hot Apple Cider
I'll never forget that Halloween when I was in fifth grade. The day started weird and just kept getting weirder. I woke up on my own, which was one thing. Mom didn't have to rattle my bones to get me to wake up like she normally did. Instead, I got up all by myself, excited for my favorite day of the year, Halloween. But my excitement was tempered by a strange ringing in my head, like a doorbell going Ding...Dong...Ding...Dong and it wasn't just one time, either. It lasted all day.
My clothes didn't fit right either - shirt and pants too tight and shoes too big.
Downstairs Mom fixed pancakes for breakfast instead of my normal bowl of milk and cheerios, something she only did on the weekend, if then. Like I said, weird.
Outside, the day was dark and foreboding, made even more so by a flock of blackbirds that followed me on my walk to school. An owl flew by with a mouse dangling from its beak. I even had to go by Old Man Jasperson's house by myself because neither of my friends, Tim or Jay, met me on the way like they normally did.
At school the weirdness continued because all of the teachers had dressed in costumes for Halloween. Mr. Stevens, my fifth grade teacher, was Dracula which was odd because he was a quiet and withdrawn type and should have dressed up like some poet I'd never heard of. Plus, Dracula was exactly what I'd planed to dress up as later that night. Big time weird.
Tim and Jay approached me in class wondering where I'd been. "Why didn't you meet us?" Tim asked, popping his bubble gum.
"Yeah," Jay added, running a comb through his curly hair. "We were both waiting outside and you never showed. What's up with that?"
Before I could answer and tell them that I'd walked by both of their houses and hadn't seen either of them, the bell rang and we had to sit down.
By the end of school I had pretty much forgotten about all the weirdness of the day, my excitement for Halloween taking the place over everything else. At the final bell my friends and I bolted from the building, agreeing to met at my house at five in the afternoon to start treat or treating. Which we did.
Tim showed up wearing a werewolf mask and an old fur coat of his grandmother's. Jay was dressed like a sorcerer in a light blue cape and wearing a pointed hat with sequenced stars and planets on it. I wore my Dracula outfit, complete with black cape, pointed teeth and slicked back hair.
"See you, Mom," I yelled as I ran out the door, clutching a pillow sack bag for my treats.
"Be home by nine o' clock," she called back.
I told her I would and Tim and Jay and I spent the rest of the evening running up and down the streets of our neighborhood collecting candy. We made a real haul.
At the end of the evening we decided to make one last stop at Mr. Jasperson's house.
Tim was not excited. "Hell, he'll just give us apples, like every other year. It's not worth it. Let's just head home." He pulled out a small bag of M&M's, ripped it open and started munching away.
Jay had a different thought. "I heard he was going to give out caramel apples this year. Those would be good. I like caramel."
I liked caramel too but was unsure about stopping. Mr. Jasperson always struck me as kind of gruff. His wife had died a few years earlier and my mom told me he was just lonely.
"You could talk to him, you know. He used to teach science at the University. You might learn something from him."
Right, I thought to myself. Me talk to a college professor? An academic I wasn't. I didn't even know how to spell the word, let alone talk to a smart person. My best conversations were with my calico kitty, Jessie, only because she didn't care what I said as long as I kept her fed.
But getting back to the suggestion of stopping at his house. I thought about it and finally said, "Sure, why not? What have we got to lose?"
Tim and Jay hung back while I walked up the brick walkway to the steps leading to the covered porch and then the front door. There was a single light on, barely illuminating the door knob. The rest of the lights were turned off. I turned and looked at my friends, who by now had stepped back to the sidewalk. I looked past them and noticed something strange; the street was empty and the neighborhood was deserted. Where were all the other trick or treaters?
A gust of wind blew leaves that swirled around my feet. The night had suddenly become cold and windy. Nearby trees swayed and a branch cracked and fell to the ground. I shuddered, glad it had missed me. I turned and faced the front of the house, not noticing until then all the vines that were entwined along the railing and the door. I took a deep breath, told myself to not be a sissy, climbed the two steps and crossed the porch. My hand started trembling as I reached out and rang the doorbell. Ding...Dong...Ding...Dong and it occurred to me at that moment it was a sound just like I'd been hearing in my head all day.
Behind me I thought I heard a voice and turned. I saw nothing out of the ordinary. Then I realized to my horror that Tim and Jay were gone. I was all by myself. My heart began beating faster and faster. Hey, guys...I was just about to call out into the darkness, when I heard a scraping sound behind me.
I turned around with the words trick or treat innocently forming on my lips. Then I saw the door swing wide open and, awestruck, I gazed at the entrance, not believing my eyes. There before me was a wall of caramel apples stacked one on top of the other and completely filling the entryway. I stood frozen in place unable to move as slowly they began falling, dropping one by one, until the entire lot of them cascaded down upon me like a caramelly waterfall, knocking me onto my back and burying me in a sticky, messy mass of apples.
I panicked and pushed them away and scrambled to my feet. It was then I felt a cold hand grip my arm. What now? I was afraid to look, but I steeled myself and did, then immediately wished I hadn't. There, latched onto me was Mr. Japserson. He was dressed in a black cape like mine. His face was white, he had pointed teeth, and thick red lips that were curled back in a sneer as he intoned, "What kind of a trick did you have in mind for me, young fella'?" Which was weird enough except for this: he was holding his head in the crook of his arm. He was a headless Dracula! The world started spinning and I began screaming. Then I fainted.
Mom woke me in the morning with a cheery, "Hi there, sleepyhead. All ready for your favorite day? Halloween? Tim and Jay are waiting in the kitchen to walk you to school. Better get a move on." She raised the window shade, letting bright sunlight in.
I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, confused."Wait, Mom. Hold on. It's Halloween? Today?"
"Yes, dear, it is. Your favorite day, remember?"
What was going on? I was major league confused. What about last night? What about Mr. Jasperson and the caramel apples? More to the point, what about the headless Dracula?
"What about yesterday, Mom?" I asked. "I thought yesterday was Halloween." I'll admit I was freaking out a little, on the verge of completely losing it.
"Oh, sweetie," Mom bent down and hugged me, calming me. "No, it's today." Then she looked at me, deep concern in her eyes. "But you were acting strangely all day yesterday. Don't you remember? I had to keep you home from school. You had a pretty high fever, but it broke overnight. You're lot's better now." She looked at me again and felt my forehead."You sure you're feeling okay or should I keep you home from school for another day?"
So I'd just had a high fever? Yesterday's weirdness really hadn't happened and I'd imagined it all? Better yet, today really was Halloween? Hot dog! It sounded good to me.
I swung my legs over the side of the bed, ready to embrace the day. "No, Mom. I'm good. Tell Tim and Jay I'll be right down."
"You sure, you're okay?"
"Yeah, Mom I'm better than okay. I'm great!"
She left my bedroom and I got dressed already picturing myself in my Dracula costume and heading out trick or treating later in that evening. It wasn't until I was combing my hair that I saw it - a bit of caramel stuck on my ear. I looked at myself closely and then saw some more on my neck. Then more caramel on my other ear. I got a wash rag and cleaned it all off glad Mom hadn't seen it. To be honest, I wasn't sure I could even explain it to myself, let alone to her.
Tim and Jay and I had a great time trick or treating that night. We made a real haul. Our last stop was at Mr. Jasperson's . He greeted us warmly and even asked me if I'd like a job raking leaves later that week. I told him sure.
He also gave out caramel apples for the first time that we could ever remember. They were pretty good, I have to say, even though there were kind of messy. Real sticky.
About the author
Jim's favorite holiday is Halloween and this story is dedicated to all those who enjoy the mystery and magic of that special day.