It could have been her. There was very little reason it hadn’t been her. People certainly didn’t talk about that in front of either her or Mom. Most people didn’t talk about anything around them; they just stood in quiet, respectful horror of what had happened.
At the Community Harvest Fair people from all over town handed out candy to kids. The words “Halloween,” “Trick,” or “Treat” were never used.
Most people were more than happy to let Halloween go, as they still sort of believed years’ worth of half-whispered legends regarding poisoned candy hunters. If all of the candy was handed out before dark, in the church parking lot, and only by people all of the parents knew, then there would be nothing to fear.
Mom had a shift at the hospital, and couldn’t join them. Dad was once again “between projects,” as he liked to call it, and so was stuck taking her and Jimmy to the festival. Costumes were out—much to her consternation—but the candy would be salve enough.
Naturally, they arrived late. Children all over town had swept through the festivities and had already picked several of the candy mongers clean. All she and Jimmy got from several people were apologetic shrugs and empty hands.
As the party busted and whatever wisps of Halloween they were allowed to acknowledge began to drift away, dejection set in. Sure, a few adults had prepared for the throng of sugar addled youth—or wanted enough left over candy for their own collection—and still had fun-size Butterfingers, columns of Smarties, and a few Almond Joys to dispense, but the true treasure had long since passed them by.
Walking away from the fair with a paltry haul of sweets, the car was in sight before she realized what was missing.
“Do you see dad?” she asked Jimmy.
Jimmy looked around. He shook his head, the worry growing on his face as well.
Her heart sank toward her stomach. She knew she wasn’t lost. Both she and Jimmy had for-emergencies-only cell phones. They couldn’t disappear if they tried. The real fear lay in Dad not picking up his phone. She’d have to call Mom. Mom would have to leave work and come pick them up. It would just make things worse.
Steps approached quickly from behind them. “Where’d you guys go?” Dad asked. She breathed a sigh of relief as all the worst-case scenarios fluttered away.
“We were just going to the car,” she said.
Dad grimaced. “And miss out on all of this candy?” He hoisted up a bag and his frown ran away from a billowing grin. “Managed to catch one of the people before they left, and they had a lot leftover.”
She and Jimmy looked at each other, Dad’s grin spreading to them. Their haul wasn’t that bad this year after all.
When they got home, they nearly immediately walked towards their rooms and pajamas.
Dad looked almost hurt by their obedience. “You’re going to go to bed without having any of your candy?”
She shrugged, assuming she spoke for both her and Jimmy. “It won’t last if we eat it all today.”
Dad shook his head and emptied the bags. “One piece won’t kill you,” he said.
Jimmy took what looked like a Pixi Stix from the bag Dad had discovered. She went for a fun size 3 Musketeers from earlier in the night.
“You sure you don’t want one of these?” Dad asked, indicating one of the other candies from his discovery. She shook her head. She liked chocolate more anyway.
“This tastes funny,” Jimmy said.
“Well, Gosh, buddy, you already ate most of it,” Dad said, taking away the pod. “Tell you what. Maybe it’ll taste different tomorrow. I’ll package it up. You two get ready for bed.”
In the night, she dreamt of sirens and yelling. It was not until the morning that she realized that both Jimmy was gone and the dream had not been a dream at all.
The police came for the bag of candy Dad had found. Days passed where Mom and Dad didn’t say much at all. Then the police came for Dad. She heard them say something about life insurance before Mom ushered her out of the room.
She went through Jimmy’s wake in a fog. Normally she didn’t pay any attention to what grown-ups said when they weren’t talking to her directly. Now, she listened carefully, desperate to make some sense out of what had happened. Mom was of little help in that regard. She had enough to deal with.
“He was an idiot. How in the hell did he manage to poison anybody?” one man whispered to another.
The other man was about to respond, but noticed her lurking around. “Hi, there darling,” he said. “How are you holding up?”
She shrugged as honestly as she could. Now that they knew she was standing nearby, they wouldn’t say much more.
She walked away from them. As she did, she clearly heard the second man mutter, “Ask the mother. She works at the damned hospital.”
Mom found her. “Come on, let’s go home.”
Her throat went dry as she got into the car. She didn’t want to believe what the man at the service said, but the thought of asking Mom about it made the blood in her veins suddenly feel like ice water.
—was this how Jimmy felt after he ate the candy?—
And yet, she didn’t get sick at all that night of the funeral. What the man had said would just be a scattered thought that would live inside her every night as she went to bed, and every morning when she woke up, nibbling at the edge of her mind…
Unless it were the truth. Then she might not have to live with it for very long at all.