It was the was the first Halloween after Hurricane Katrina. Most of the people of the town of Metairie, which had been severely affected by the storm, had not yet come back home, having evacuated to other cities. Ordinarily, Metairie was not a spooky place, crowded as it was with stores, restaurants, and rows of houses built at a time when people were in such a hurry to build houses that they were all almost exactly alike. But after the hurricane, almost all of the houses were abandoned. Everyone who had lived there fled because of the hurricane, and very few had returned yet. Windows were boarded up, houses were full of garbage from flooding, shingles had been stripped off of roofs, and entire blocks of houses sat, abandoned, dark, and empty.
At the end of one of these dark streets was a single inhabited house, and standing in front of the house at this early evening hour were two children — not too young, maybe twelve and thirteen. They were about the age many kids stop going Trick-or-Treating. Both of these children had thought about not going out this year, thinking they were too old, but at the last moment they decided not to give up.
This year they were the only children on their block, maybe the only children in all of Metairie, for all they knew. Their little house had been built on a small hill that made it higher than any other houses on their street, and that made it one of the few that escaped any flooding. Most of their neighbors came in during the day to clean up their damaged homes, and then left for the night.
And on that street children had been going Trick-or-Treating for as long as they could remember, and well beyond that, beyond what their mother could remember, back to the 1950s at least. On this, the first Halloween after the great hurricane, they felt it was important to go out for candy, if for no other reason but to carry on the Halloween tradition, to preserve it for the other kids who would return later and go out again next year.
One child was dressed as a witch and the other as a mummy. These costumes may not have been their first choices, since they had both worn the same thing last year. They wore what they could find in the attic. There were no Halloween stores open so soon after the hurricane.
The kids knew it would be difficult to find candy, and in fact wondered if anyone would be giving out candy at all this Halloween. But they intended to try. They went from house to house, and most of the lights were out. Many yards were full of garbage that the people living there had thrown out out because of flood damage. There were piles of wet carpet, moldy furniture, and entire refrigerators full of spoiled food, sitting on the side of the road waiting to be picked up and carried away.
The girls found a few houses where the owners had left buckets out on the porch with candy in them for whatever kids happened to come by. They could take what they wanted. But even these the houses were empty, and no one answered when they knocked.
No one, that is, until they came to a house down on the opposite end of the street. While every other house was dark, windswept, and vacant, this one was glowing with light, and sounds of ghosts and spirits emanated from it loudly. There was ghoulish music wafting through the air, organ music, and the cries of spirits in hell. With trepidation, the children knocked.
A vampire answered the door. He looked surprised to see the children there, and had not expected anyone to be out that night. "Good evening, my young ones. We are surprised to have visitors tonight! We thought all the children had gone. Come in for a moment, and we will see what we can find for you. In the meantime, please accept one of my evil candied apples!” He emitted a diabolical laugh and disappeared down a hallway.
The two girls stepped inside the door, out of the cool fall air. The door slammed shut behind them. Inside, the house was full of Halloween spirits of every kind. There were mummies and ghosts, zombies and demons. Off to one side, two witches stirred a caldron that overflowed with vapor. On the other side, Frankenstein's monster faced a ghost that glowed in the dark.
The girls were old enough to understand that this could be a Halloween party for adults, but the ghost seemed to be levitating above the floor. The witches seemed to be concocting a poison that was real. Could they have stumbled into a real party for the damned?
The vampire returned carrying a tray full of human eyeballs. "I found something for you to feast upon!" he said. The two girls screamed and threw open the door, disappearing into the darkness of the night. The entire room erupted with laughter, and as girls ran for their lives, the electricity failed, and the entire haunted house disappeared into blackness.
The next morning, that very same haunted house appeared as quiet and unoccupied as any other house on the street. The yard was covered with trash left over from the ghostly revelry the night before — discarded beer cans and paper plates and chicken bones. Pieces of a smashed pumpkin littered the porch, and the caldron the witches were stirring the night before lay overturned on the brown grass. But in this respect the rundown house hardly seemed different from any of the other houses on the street, which also had discarded trash on their lawns. There was no sign of life at all in the previously haunted house -- could the spirits have all gone?
But there was a stirring in the back. A young man, probably in his twenties, could be seen coming out of the back yard and walking between the haunted house and the wrecked and empty house next to it. He was carrying a trash bag and was picking up the garbage. As he circled around to the front, he looked at the mountains of garbage everywhere in the yard and sighed. Then he looked down the street.
"One of the houses down there is inhabited," he said to himself. "It was wrong of us to scare those children that way. I think I know which house they came from, since only one other house on this whole street has people in it. Perhaps I should go down there and make sure the kids made it home all right."
He put down his garbage bag and began walking, past blocks and blocks of empty houses. Towards the end of the street, at the second house from the last corner, he found what he was looking for — a house with a clean lawn and a car parked out in front, the only one on the street that was clearly occupied. "Certainly the children came from here," he said. “There is nowhere else they could have come from.”
He approached the door. “I should have done this last night,” he thought regretfully, as he knocked. A silver-haired woman answered.
"Hi, I live in the house four blocks down," the young man said. "Last night, two children came to my house looking for candy while I and my friends were having a Halloween party. I'm afraid we may have frightened them. I just wanted to see if they are all right this morning."
"Two children?" the woman said.
The young man described the two young girls who appeared at his door, one a witch and the other a mummy. The woman listened, and as she did her eyes widened.
"No," she said, "there are no children living here. But what you are saying is very strange. You’re describing my two daughters, who are now twenty-one and twenty-two, and live out of the state. They’re going to college now. But about ten years ago, they looked and dressed for Halloween exactly like the children you described.”
Just as the woman said that, a phone rang behind her. "Let me get that. Stay here, I’m curious to know who these children could have been. Since the hurricane, I have not seen any children in the area."
While she was away, the young man looked at the sidewalk and saw that a candied apple, one of the apples he had given the kids last night, lay partially smashed on the sidewalk. A horde of fire ants swarmed over it.
The young man waited on the porch, and a few minutes later the woman returned to the door. Her face was ashen, and she was stumbling from what appeared to be an enormous emotional blow. "You must leave now,” she said, her voice shaking. “I just received a call from Tennessee. About two in the morning my two daughters were driving home from a Halloween party in Nashville. They were killed by a drunk driver."
The woman fell to her knees, clawing at the door frame in desperation and grief. The young man, in shock himself, turned around and faced the street. He looked at the apple in the street, and remembered that the two children had left his house just as the party was beginning, about eight P.M.
A wave of horror came over him. He last saw the two girls at eight -- six hours before the woman's two daughters had died in Tennessee. What if he had run after the two girls last night to make sure they were all right, as he knew he should have? Were these two girls ghosts? If he had followed them, would they have led him back to this woman's house?
And if the two ghostly girls had led him to this house last night, he would have described the two girls to their mother. Would the mother, out of concern, have called the two daughters up in Tennessee and told them what had happened?
And then the greatest horror of all surged over him: If he had come by last night and upset the mother enough to call her daughters and check on them, would the daughters, frightened by the peculiar story, have decided not to go out on Halloween night, and thus might have lived?
Something within him, as he watched the ants carrying off tiny pieces of the apple, convinced him that it would have been so.
He staggered out into the yard and the sunlight overwhelmed his eyes. He fell down on the clean lawn, the only clean lawn on the entire street, and collapsed, senseless.