The thought of Halloween nauseates me. The saccharine perfume of candy corn, the faint jostle of bloated plastic bags, the rustling of tiny feet through dead leaves—it all tempts the contents of my stomach to come spilling out. I’m not the only one. Even after fifteen years, the residents of Academy Street still lock their doors tight on old Samhain, their houses as dark and silent as the half-carved jack-o’-lanterns left to rot on their porches.
It was the Halloween of 2002. I was a kid then, bursting at the seams of my blue-light special mummy costume, eagerly hefting my bag of sugary spoils door-to-door. Other creatures accompanied me—a ten-year-old vampire covered in her mother's old pancake makeup and a plastic-faced werewolf who lived just down the street from me. Together we haunted the stoops and porches of our neighborhood, going from door to door like small demonic miscreants, looking to glut ourselves on the chocolaty donations of our kindly neighbors. Few things could interrupt such an onslaught (ask anyone living in America’s suburbs), but when we saw four strange figures across the street, each wearing a cheap skeleton costume and carrying an empty pillowcase, we stopped dead in our tracks.
Of course, strangeness is to be expected on such a night, but the size and gait of these particular trick-or-treaters gave us pause. None were over three feet tall—nothing surprising there, except for how it related to the way they shambled rather than walked. It was far from the comical mimicry of excited children on Halloween. And the soft patter of rubber soles on sidewalk was curiously replaced with something far more chilling—the muffled sound of something heavy being dragged, like a wet swollen garbage bag about to tear open. There was also an uncertainty about their shape, a Euclidian mystery that moved and shifted just beneath those cheap bony pajamas they wore. I remember feeling that they didn’t belong—not just to the neighborhood, but to the world itself. But we were young, and our intuitions about the skeleton kids soon disappeared beneath a tide of crinkling wrappers and candy apple fantasies.
About twenty minutes later, after we scored a full-sized candy bar each from Old Lady Palmer, we saw those ghoulish children again, this time shuffling down the steps of the Garret residence. Although none of us said it, we all noticed the same thing—where once they were short and shambling, now they were a foot taller, and the sound of bold steps replaced the sloppy shuffle of dragging weight. More importantly, we noticed their pillowcases. Hefted over their shoulders, the now darkened bags clicked and clacked against their backs as they quickly ambled away. We looked to the Garrett’s house with questioning eyes. It responded with a loud anguished moan, a decidedly human wail of misery that called to us through the rusted teeth of its screen door. We ran screaming, each of us racing for the safety of our respective homes.
In my panic, I envisioned all I needed in this world—the sight of my front porch, its light shining bright, my parents laughing and handing out candy to throngs of kids. Yet as I tore around a final corner and my house came into view, I noticed with a pang of dread that all was dark and quiet. More importantly, I heard the wet chatter of things clattering around in bags, and I watched as that skeletal troupe of mysterious children climbed down my porch steps. They were even larger now, taller than I was, and moved as surely as any twelve-year-old I’d ever seen. They hopped and skipped past me without a glance from their thin plastic masks. Their pregnant pillowcases rattled with a sickening percussive melody.
I stepped inside my home, but I could make out little. The light bulb above the entranceway was stuttering, trembling like me at the prospect of what it might reveal if it continued to glow. As I walked further, I could hear the echoing shrieks of my friends arriving at their homes. Their light fixtures must have been far braver than my own. The moonlight crept through the foyer windows, soon showing me more than I cared to see. Barely recognizable, my parents lay sprawled out before me. It’s almost impossible to describe what the human body looks like without its bones. One might as well try to envision a building without its struts, girders, or trusses. Without the scaffolding of human bones, my parents were little more than gelatinous pools of confused features. Their only semblance of humanity spilled from their mouths, hidden somewhere inside their masses of soft flesh—they were moaning faintly, soft desperate wails that contained all the horror of the world.
When the night was finally over, authorities said over eight houses had been “visited,” each showcasing the same macabre scene. I overheard the coroner talking about how the bodies hadn’t suffered a single cut. He marveled at how the victims’ bones could have possibly been removed. I didn’t know how, but I knew who. All of us kids did. But nobody listened.
Fifteen years later, we keep the doors locked and the blinds drawn on Halloween. We let the shadows alone embrace this once festive day. Their boneless black corpses have thus far been enough to dissuade the skeleton kids. May we never again hear the rattle of stolen bones or the cries of stolen souls.
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