The Spanish moss hung in long tendrils from the oak branches around Charlie and swayed in a ghostly dance on the gentle breeze. Charlie presumed that these companions should comfort him because he, himself, was a ghost – well, at least he was dressed like one for Halloween. The moss, however, didn’t help. He sat under the gnarled tree on the corner of Monterey and Elm street, his little heart finally starting to slow the dramatic drum solo it had been beating out over the last five minutes since he had seen… Oh it was just too horrible to think about yet, he had run all the way here to hide under his favorite tree and collect his thoughts.
Listening to the distant screams of children, he reflected on the fact that these were screams of joy, of happiness, of exhilaration. Unless there were a few shrieks of terror in there because the old lady was claiming new victims. Just the thought of it made his stomach churn. Charlie doubted that he’d ever scream in joy again. What he had seen had melted his very innocence into a puddle around his feet that he left behind on that old woman’s porch.
A werewolf and an Elvis (both with similar hair) walked past his hiding spot and Charlie shrunk against the tree to await their passing. He wasn’t ready to interact with anyone yet, his will to trust had been stolen the second he had looked down into his candy bag and seen what the crone had dropped there instead of candy.
Now that the intruders had passed, unaware of the little boy cowering in his bed-sheet, Charlie relaxed a little and looked back to the dancing moss. A deep breath that smelled like rich earth steadied his nerves a bit, and his eyes drifted back to the bag that sat beside him. He hadn’t been sure what to do when he had seen what the woman had dropped among all his candy, so he had clutched the bag and run away.
It would have been easier to process if the witch had given a cackle or even an evil smirk, but she had just smiled at him as if she expected that he would delight in what he saw, her eyes devoid of malice or evil.
“Maybe I just saw it wrong,” Charlie tried to console himself.
Slowly he reached down and picked up the thick plastic bag by its very top, careful not to touch the bulging contents. The unrolling bag crinkled so loudly that he had to pause a few times to look up and down the sidewalk to make sure nobody was coming.
As soon as the bag was open enough, he peered in on the dark contents. It was too dark to be sure, but he was partially relieved to not see it there. To make sure, he reached down into the bag to poke a few suspicious spots, holding his breath as he did so.
The first poke landed on some sort of candy bar. Charlie let some of his breath out.
The second poke was definitely a small cardboard container of some sort. Charlie relaxed, finishing his exhale and beginning another breath – but then he stopped. His stomach felt like he was suddenly falling and his heart seemed to freeze as his finger brushed the cold, clammy skin. Charlie pulled his hand out of the bag and recoiled, but he had already touched it, he could feel its presence on his skin.
He began to cry.
How could that old lady have given him an apple instead of candy?
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