By Brent Abell
Gwen kicked the beer can off the sidewalk and watched it bounce into the gutter. Dust swirled around her ankles in the cooling night while the echo from the can faded into silence. The tattered witch costume Gwen wore kept the chill from reaching her bones no matter how tightly she pulled the thin material around herself. Still, Gwen shivered, looking at the houses lining the street in the quickening darkness. The fall moon rose, chasing the sun from the sky. A few dark clouds dotted the horizon, and Gwen increased her pace. Being caught out in the night, especially on Halloween, was never enough time for Gwen to live a little.
Candles flickered in one home as Gwen stopped to check out the skeletons hanging from a dead tree on the other side of the broken wooden fence. Gwen reached out and ran her fingers over the weather-worn peeling white paint. She imagined the sharp edges biting into her flesh, and she yanked her hand away.
“Stupid fence,” Gwen huffed.
Gwen was about to continue home when movement in the front window caught her eye. At first, she thought the wind howling through the yard caused the tattered curtains to sway, but in the candlelight, Gwen swore someone moved. The past few years, she hadn’t noticed anyone lurking around the house, and it lulled her into a false sense of security about its safety. Gwen’s mother warned her before she died to beware of the world outside their home. Her mother’s warning still haunted her, and Gwen wished she’d listened to her mother.
The atmosphere surrounding Gwen is what made Halloween so unique, and she yearned to feel the bonds of the living world weaken so the dead, like her, could make their presence felt. Gwen missed going door-to-door for candy, but she also didn’t miss the pain she experienced in her life. The pain she had being dead didn’t feel better, however.
Children laughed across the street as they ran away from the house decorated like a pumpkin patch. The kids stopped on the sidewalk and compared their newest candy haul before bounding off to the next dwelling on the block. Gwen longingly wanted to join them, but she knew it could never be any more. Her eyes returned to the quiet house, and her gaze lingered on the single Jack O’ Lantern glowing on the porch. It grinned at her, and someone stared at her from behind the door. At first, Gwen didn’t think the person could see her, but a hand waved from behind the curtains. Slowly, Gwen raised her hand and timidly returned the gesture with a wave of her own.
The curtains fluttered, and the window’s candle went out. Gwen tried to move on and enjoy her night on the living side of the Veil, but her feet denied her desire to keep walking. Before she made the turn to leave, the door latch clicked and creaked open. A young boy peered around the heavy wooden door and stared at Gwen with his mouth agape.
Gwen slowly waved again at the frightened-looking boy. His shaggy blonde hair hung down over his eyes, and dirt smudges colored his pudgy cheeks. The boy looked like what Gwen imagined an angel would appear like to her. He moved his fingers up and down as he smiled. The way his face lit up made Gwen smile brighter.
“Do you like my Jack O’ Lantern?” the boy asked.
“My name is Gwen, and yes, I do like to see Jack O’ Lanterns,” Gwen answered. She pointed to the large grinning pumpkin on the porch and laughed.
The boy pulled back shyly. Gwen could see his cheeks turning red even in the fading light.
“Wait, don’t go! I’m sorry!” Gwen pleaded with the boy. “What’s your name?”
“Timmy,” he replied.
“Did you carve that pumpkin yourself?”
Timmy knelt on the porch and ran his fingers over the pumpkin’s eyes and mouth. The candle inside flickered, and Timmy motioned for Gwen to come into the yard.
Gwen reluctantly reached for the gate. Her hand grabbed the splintered wooden gate and opened the portal to another world. The yard felt foreign to Gwen. She’d been in the Veil for longer than she could remember, and she struggled to grasp the memories swirling in her mind. Gwen didn’t breathe, but she pretended to hold her breath as she stepped over the gate’s threshold into the yard.
“Where do you live, Gwen?” Timmy asked.
“I live over on Green Street out past the church.”
“The only thing out there is the graveyard,” Timmy asked. His voice wavered. Gwen heard the fear creep into Timmy’s speech. She didn’t like the idea of him being afraid of her. She didn’t want to scare or hurt him.
“I won’t hurt you,” Gwen said. She flashed a shy smile and reached out for Timmy’s hand.
“I don’t think you could hurt me any more than my daddy,” Timmy sighed. He took Gwen’s hand and squeezed it. “You feel cold.”
Gwen pulled her hand back and turned her head. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking. My momma says I shouldn’t talk to people I don’t know.”
“My momma tries to keep me inside the house. When my daddy isn’t home, she doesn’t want me talking to other people.”
Gwen felt the sadness rolling off the boy like waves on the beach. Each wave hit her, threatening to pull her down into his depths. “Did you carve the Jack O’ Lantern yourself?” Gwen asked, pointing to the grinning pumpkin on the porch.
“I did him all by myself,” Timmy boasted. His chest puffed out in a proud gesture, and his face beamed in pride.
“I like him very much. The pumpkin reminds me of when me and my mom would carve Jack O’ Laterns for Halloween,” Gwen said.
“Mom and dad won’t help me; I have to do them all myself. I always have to steal the pumpkins from Mr. Wade’s farm,” Timmy explained.
Gwen cocked her head to the side and studied the crooked smile and large triangle eyes carefully. “He is outstanding.”
“You don’t get told nice things very often, do you?” Gwen asked.
Timmy stood in silence and could only manage to squeeze Gwen’s hand lightly. “No,” Timmy said. His head lowered, and his eyes stared at the ground.
“Timmy, will you light a candle for me in a pumpkin every Halloween?” Gwen asked.
Timmy’s head perked up, and he finally smiled again. “I can do that for you!” he said and bounded back up the porch and into the house.
After a few moments, he returned and knelt beside the Jack O’ Lantern on the top step. Timmy carefully removed the lid from the pumpkin’s top and blew out the candle inside. The bright Jack O’ Lantern dimmed and darkened. Smoke spilled out from the mouth and eyes while Timmy struck a match and gently touched it to the wick. A new flame sprang to life, and the pumpkin’s face beamed its bright light again.
“Is that better?” Timmy called out from the porch.
“Yes, thank you, Timmy! I hope you’ll light one for me every year! I’ll be back to check every Halloween!” Gwen called back.
Something crashed in the house, and Timmy flinched. “Timmy, get your ass back in this house, now!” a voice boomed from inside.
“Yes, dad,” Timmy answered. He turned back and gave a small quick wave to Gwen before disappearing back into the house. This time, the lights behind the curtains went dark, and Gwen thought she heard Timmy crying.
Gwen knew nobody else could see her, so she sat on the sidewalk until the sun started to rise. Gwen had to know Timmy would be okay. Once she didn’t hear anything anymore, she stood up and took off back to her resting place beyond the Veil. Gwen hoped Timmy would keep his promise to her.
Gwen returned to Timmy’s house for the next three years and saw the pumpkin smiling brightly at her. Timmy didn’t come outside anymore, but she could see him stalking behind the curtains of the upstairs window, making sure she’d stop by to see the lights for her.
It wasn’t until the fourth year when Gwen returned on Halloween where a Jack O’ Lantern wasn’t on the porch when she arrived. Boards covered the windows, and nothing moved around the house. The old peeling paint Gwen remembered from before appeared in even worse shape.
“Sorry, Gwen,” a voice said behind Gwen.
Gwen turned to see Timmy smiling behind her. He looked older than her now, and he still wore his big smile.
“Timmy?” Gwen asked. Fear crept into her thoughts, and she wanted to run off and cry.
“I’m sorry I didn’t get to light one for you this year,” Timmy apologized.
“It’s okay, but it was nice to have someone remember me on Halloween,” Gwen said, taking Timmy’s hand. “Did it hurt?”
“Yes, it hurt a lot,” Timmy softly replied. “I thought they loved me.”
Gwen reached out to Timmy and wiped a tear from his cheek.
“How can you do that?” Timmy asked.
“It’s the night when the Veil and the living world share thin boundaries. It’s why we can walk around like living kids again on Halloween,” Gwen explained.
“Do I have to go with you? I don’t know if I’m ready,” Timmy said.
“It comes for us all eventually. I’ve been waiting for what happened to you to happen. Bringing you comfort at the end of your journey is my job.”
“But you’re my age.”
“Timmy, I’ve visited you every Halloween for years, knowing each one could have been your last,” Gwen said.
“Why did he do it?”
“Some people can’t help themselves in the rages of being human. Our flesh is weak, but our souls are beautiful things. Now, you can rest without fear or pain, and we can come back every Halloween to be kids again,” Gwen said.
“Will someone light one for us, Gwen?” Timmy asked.
“Hopefully, someone will light a Jack O’ Lantern in memory of us,” Gwen replied.
Together, Gwen and Timmy left the pain of the living behind. Gwen did her duty and led Timmy into the Veil, hoping someone would ignite memory’s flame for them.