The Reason I Don’t Let My Kids Trick-or-Treat

I used to love Halloween. It was something I looked forward to all year as a child.

This story isn’t something I like to talk about, but my kids have been extra persistent about going out this year, and it’s bringing back memories I’ve been trying to suppress for the last two decades. My husband Ed knows the story that my parents know, that the police know, that everyone else knows, the only story that anyone would be able to believe, and he respects my decision to keep the kids in and not put up any decorations.

I was one of those fated children, seemingly horror-obsessed from the womb, who wanted to leave Halloween decorations up all year round. My parents would usually settle for a two month head-start, and I’d go nuts. I think I probably went through about a mile of that fake spiderweb crap by the age of twelve.

And man, the candy—I just couldn’t get enough of it. My parents weren’t exactly top-shelf health nuts, but they did try to watch my diet (my in-shape adult ass thanks them). Halloween was the one night they let me eat my heart’s content; I think most of it had to do with the fact that they knew that after a night of gorging on Butterfingers and Jelly Bellys, I wouldn’t want to even look at another piece of candy for another few months.

Costumes were also a big thing for me. I was never one to be placated by a plastic mask or dollar store makeup; I always made my own. That year, I’d spent a whole month making what I thought was a genius werewolf costume. This time I did go for a store-bought mask, but it was something I’d scrimped my allowance together for a few months, and it was well-worth it. A terrifying mixture of the creatures from Dog Soldiers and The Howling, I was a right sight, and hand-painting some blood onto the teeth added a realistic touch. The real pièce de résistance was a tube I’d connected from the mouth (cutting a hole into the inside of the mask) to a pillowcase taped to the inside of the hairy chest piece I’d crafted. That way, in order to give me my candy, people had to reach their hands into the mouth. I’d perfected a snarling roar that I planned to let loose right when they did, hoping to make at least a few people jump.

My brother, Charlie, was eight, and I was thirteen. After years of either having to leave him at home with Mom and Dad or having them chaperone us, they finally deemed me old enough to take him out on my own, so long as I didn’t leave his side. I swore up and down that I would take care of him and we would only stick to the neighboring blocks, not straying too far from home. Our house was in Livonia, which, while not exactly Detroit, still wasn’t the safest place in the world. Thankful for the reprieve from responsibility for the night, they were all too willing to believe me.

Standing in the bathroom mirror, practicing my snarls while Charlie finished putting on his pasty white vampire makeup, we looked like a perfect pair of classic movie monsters.

Our parents left before us, giving me the spare key with instructions to be home no later than 10. Headed to a friend’s party they’d missed the last five years in a row, they said they’d try to be back by 1 AM. Charlie and I readily agreed. It was only 8—that gave us two solid hours of shopping through our neighbors and still some time to hit up the houses the older kids at my school were always going on about. Tall tales ran rampant of this one block of houses in a well-off area that went all out on the decorations and gave kids full-sized chocolate bars, entire bags of gummies, and sometimes even money and little gadgets. I wasn’t entirely sure if I believed them, but I was willing to cut into our time to find out.

Charlie couldn’t have been more excited. Like a weathered Halloween veteran, I sat back and watched him flit from house to house, tripping over his long cape in his exuberance to ring the next doorbell. Once we’d cleared the surrounding houses, our bags mostly full of the usual mini packs of Skittles and bite-sized Hershey’s bars (and one apple each from our very unfortunate and clichéd dentist down the road), we hoofed it over to the special block.

At face value, the kids from school weren’t wrong. It was like walking into one big Halloween store or theme park. Houses were entirely decked out with all the classic adornments, and a few of them even went so far as to give the house a theme. There was a castle with a motorized dragon’s mouth gaping over the entrance, Frankenstein’s lab with smoke curling up from the front door, and witch’s house replete with a gingerbread facade. I was in Halloween heaven. The candy didn’t let down either; I think we made off with at least 20 full-sized bars and a half a bag each of gummies and sours.

We got to the last house. Large and looming, it sat a little bit removed from the rest on the block, capping out the end of the street in a semi cul de sac. There were no lights save for the porch, which was bereft of any decorations. Mounted next to the doorknob sat a simple black mailbox with the name R. Schwarzman displayed in dull bronze lettering. A single, carved pumpkin was perched next to the door, its eyes illuminated by a candle flickering within its gutted head. It didn’t have any teeth, just a flat, semi-circle grin.

Making my way up the perfectly-manicured lawn, I felt something tug me back. I looked over my shoulder; Charlie was holding my torn jacket, a tuft of fake fur peeking from between his knuckles. The fear was painted clear across his face.

“Noah…” He took a deep breath. “I think we should just go home.”

I looked at my watch: it blinked 9:12. “It’s still early, and this is the last house on the block.” His eyes flit between my face and the house behind me.

“We have plenty of candy and I’m tired.”

“Are you suuure that’s it?” I teased. “Are you sure you aren’t scaaaaared?” I wiggled my fingers at him. He huffed.

“I’m not scared you jerk, but this house looks… weird. I dunno.”

“C’mon, this is the first time we’ve gotten to go out, both of us, by ourselves. All the other houses on this block have been goldmines. What if this is the place that slaps a hundred dollar bill in our hands?”

His gaze was locked on the house; he seemed torn between fear of imminent, creeping death and not wanting to disappoint his big brother. “What if it’s a murderer?”

I laughed and placed a hand on his shoulder. My plastic, yellow claws clicked together—I’d spent half an hour gluing them to my mom’s old gardening gloves.

“Everything will be fine. We’re almost done, we’ll be home stuffing our faces with junk soon—do you really wanna pass up a hundred bucks?”

A smile played at the edges of his lips, betraying the placid surface of his fear. He rolled his eyes. “They’re not gonna give us money.”

“Never know,” I said, giving him a little shove.

My knock on the front door rang loud and hollow, like there was nothing behind it for miles. I waited a minute, watching a spider skitter across the very real web between the wall and the pumpkin’s stem. When there was no answer, I raised my hand to knock again.

“Let’s go, no one’s home,” Charlie blurted.

“Lemme just knock one more time.”

He sighed. I knocked. We waited. No answer. I was about to give up when I heard a shuffling somewhere inside. I slapped the door with an open palm and yelled out, “Helloooo?”

Charlie grabbed my arm, the fear back on his face in full force.

“If we don’t leave now, I’m going by myself and telling Mom and Dad.”

“Fine,” I spat, exasperated. “Rat.”

Halfway back down the driveway, I let my annoyance get the best of me. I grabbed Charlie’s sack out of his hands, fished out his apple, and flashed him a grin. “Watch this.”

He sputtered as I cocked my arm back, dramatically swung it around a few times, and hurled the apple at the door as hard as I could. It hit the mailbox dead center and exploded into a dozen pieces, spattering the wall and the pumpkin with juice.

Charlie smacked my shoulder, wide-eyed, and whispered, “What the hell did you do that for?” I shrugged nonchalantly.

Then, the door flew open.

My heart leapt into my throat and I stepped back. My legs begged me to run, but I was frozen in fear.

Standing in the doorway, half lit by the porchlight, was an older man. Tall and thin, he was dressed from head to toe in a sickening beige-colored suit.

“Hello boys,” he said cheerfully. His voice was deep and soft, but carried across the lawn easily. “I’m an old man, so it takes me some time to get to the door. My apologies.”

I looked at Charlie. His fear mirrored mine. I could tell that he was staring at the apple pieces on the ground. I knew we should’ve just taken off, but the man had seen our faces and we’d been to every other house on the block; he probably wouldn’t have too much trouble figuring out who we were if he wanted to.

He motioned for us to come back to the house, and I hesitantly started forward. Charlie cleared his throat, but I just nodded my head. After a second, he followed me.

Once we were closer, I could see that the man had a cane in his left hand, slightly hidden behind the doorframe, and he looked much older than I first thought. I pegged him for 70, 75.

His smile was unwavering, etched deep into his wrinkled face. I shuffled my feet, peeking at the mailbox out of the corner of my eye. I motioned toward the ground and muttered, “I’m sorry about that. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

His eyes flicked down, and then back up to my face. “No bother. Boys will be boys.” He shrugged. “I was pretty wild in my day.” I noticed he smelled like vanilla – the artificial extract kind that Mom kept in the cupboard in a little dark bottle.

“Anyway, I’m sure you two will be wanting a treat,” he said, reaching somewhere behind the door without breaking eye contact. My vision felt like it was locked onto him. I nodded.

He produced a handful of something, closed inside of a large fist. Bringing it up to my mask, the smell of vanilla became overwhelming. He dropped the contents into the rubber mouth and I felt a dozen or so small objects roll into my hidden bag, clicking against each other as they went down the tube. Probably hard candies. He nodded down at Charlie’s bag in my hand, and I opened it. Whatever he dropped this time was heavier.

I coughed and smiled nervously. “Thank you.” My brother murmured somewhere close behind me, repeating the thanks. The man glanced at Charlie over my shoulder, eyes lingering on him, and said, “Get home safe, now.” He grinned, and for the first time I noticed that he was completely toothless.

We got back in record-time, neither of us discussing the strange man or the apple or anything except what we were going to eat first. Back in the safety of our well-lit house, I turned the TV on, flipped to one of those horror movie marathons, and we dumped everything out on the living room floor. The remaining apple in my bag rolled away from the pile. I grabbed it, and went to throw it away in the kitchen. Opening the door to the closet where the bin was, I tossed it in. Then I noticed something was on it. Avoiding the pile of scraps from last night’s dinner, I picked it back out and turned it over. It had a bite taken out of it.

“What the hell?” I muttered to no one. It looked like someone had dragged only one set of teeth down the side of it; there were no corresponding marks at the bottom. I let the apple fall back into the trash.

From the other room, Charlie started screaming at the top of his lungs. I jumped, and ran back through the kitchen door. He was standing against the wall, shaking, and staring at the pile of candy.

“What?” I shouted. “What’s wrong?”

He pointed a trembling hand at the mass of bright colors. I walked over and saw a half-unwrapped Snicker’s bar sitting on the top, the dark chocolate interrupted by large spots of white. I touched the bar and realized they were teeth.

Sitting down and brushing away a spill of loose Jolly Ranchers, I laughed and looked back at Charlie, “It’s just someone’s gross idea of a joke, dummy.”

He shook his head; he didn’t seem to buy it. I picked the bar up and offered it to him. “Wanna bite? Obviously good if someone actually left their tee—” I stopped. Moving my finger over one of the lumps, I expected it to feel plastic-y, fake. It didn’t.

Confused, I broke the bar in half, and a few of the teeth fell into my lap. A large one landed top-down, and I saw a bright red exposed cluster of nerves curling up towards me. I gagged, hard. Before I could move, a force that felt like a steel piston clamped down on my thigh, making me shriek out in pain. It was the teeth. Alive and quickly moving, they had formed into the crescent shape of a jaw and were desperately gnashing together. Slapping a frantic hand at them, I managed to scatter them only to have them jump into the air and instantly regroup closer to my crotch.

Harder and harder they pressed, the sound of the clicking filling the room like a sick chorus of tap-dancers. Charlie broke out of his trance and ran over to me, uselessly dancing in a circle. The teeth, having torn through my pants and now working into my flesh, were unrelenting. I scraped my fingers across them, but it was like trying to pull a screw out of metal; for my effort, one of my fingernails ripped clean off. The burning of my exposed nailbed was nothing compared to the force eating into my leg. Just as I thought I was going to pass out from the pain, the teeth finally met their mark and burst into my skin. A jet of blood sprayed onto Charlie and the rest of the candy, and I felt part of my femur shatter under the sudden intrusion.

Speckled with blood, the teeth jumped back into the air, spreading around us. I scrambled backwards, slamming into the wall, and the living room clock fell onto me. I shoved it away, and Charlie ran over to me, ducking under the the spinning cloud of bone. He grabbed my arm and hoisted me up, helping me hobble into the hallway. The carnage of my leg leaked furiously and the broken bone throbbed with each movement. I turned my head just in time to see the teeth from my bag roll into the center of the room and leap into the air, joining the rest, to form a complete jaw.

Moving through the house as fast as we could, we made it to to the guest bedroom down the hall and slammed the door shut. I fell onto the bed, clutching my leg, trying to stop the bleeding. Charlie slumped against the door and sobbed.

Over the sound of his wasted cries and my heart pounding violently in my head, I could faintly hear a stomach-churning noise: clicking. The sound of someone deliberately chomping their teeth together, thick and meaty and growing louder by the second.

Within moments, the sound was right outside the door. Charlie’s entire body was heaving, his cries turned silent but desperate, his face as bright red as the blood still pouring from my leg.

The sound of scraping wood filled the room. Then, alongside it, a sort of pounding. Not quick or loud, but steady and patient. It grew in strength and volume until it sounded like a angry leviathan swarm of deranged insects. Then, finally, the door blew inwards, splintering in two and flinging Charlie facedown onto the floor in front of me. I grabbed him, pulling him onto the bed in an attempt to shield him, and threw my arms around his head, trying to block his view.

Hovering five or six feet off the ground, the teeth had grown in size. Each now over six inches long and almost as thick, they quivered in the air, the exposed cords of the roots wrapped around the yellowing surfaces like fleshy protective vines. The fully-formed mouth drifted silently closer to us, and I could see small holes perforating each of the teeth. From within the holes, thin deep-red tendrils poked out, squirming with life. I could see greyish plaque built up in small waves where the gums would have been, and one of the molars in the back was almost entirely caved in, an irrigation of milky black cavity taking up the majority of its center.

Charlie ripped his head away from my arms and a wet, sobbing scream bubbled out of his chest. As though on cue, the teeth jutted forward, moving quickly. Without thinking, I raised my good leg and kicked as hard as I could. My foot bounced off of the left incisor, ripping a furrow into my shin, and landed between the two sets of teeth. Gracious for the offering, they opened widely and chomped down, snapping my leg at the shin like a twig. The pain tore through me and we were showered in a cloud of fresh blood. I felt my foot get caught between the back row, and they pressed down, chewing, turning the lower half of my leg into a viscous paste of muscle and bone.

I opened my mouth to scream, and in the blink of an eye, one of the nerve clusters unraveled from its host tooth and shot forward, filling my mouth with a warm explosion of blood. It wormed its way down my throat, expanding against the inside of my esophagus. I could feel it spill into my guts, coiling and writhing in its new home. Unable to breathe, I jerked around trying to free myself, but it was no use. The teeth released my leg, the steaming remnants slapping against the floor with a splash, and the cord in my throat shoved me back into the wall, holding me in place. Trying in vain to rip it away from my throat, I watched as the teeth loomed over Charlie, his small form shaking, curled into the fetal position. I watched as they opened, a dripping, pulsating maw of meat and bone, and fell upon him. His spine snapped first, the sound reverberating through the room like a spring. I will never forget the raw, undulating terror in his eyes and they met mine, begging, pleading endlessly for help.

As the teeth pressed deeper into the raw mess of his back and stomach, his right eye popped, splattering his cheek with a soup of bloody membrane. The force caused him to clamp his own teeth down, shattering a handful of them. His torn mouth oozed thick, red saliva. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t budge my captors; in their assault, they’d found even more strength.

The teeth opened once more, slick with the refuse of my brother’s body. Right before they closed for the final time, he managed to reach a shaking hand out to me, his fingers small and weak. As the teeth lowered into him, separating his body in half at the hips with a loud, muscular crunch, his hand fell to the floor, spasmed, and went still.

Satisfied with their meal, the teeth released Charlie’s corpse, and fell around him in a circle, shrinking back to their original size. The monstrous root sitting hot and heavy in my throat shrank as well; it separated from the teeth and crawled fully into my stomach, whipping its tail like a meaty snake as it passed over my lips.

I wanted to cry, to scream out for someone, but all I could do was whimper silently and cough up a mouthful of blood, drooling onto my shirt.

Regaining their sentience, the teeth rolled up the bedsheets, onto my stomach, and began to slowly and gently gnash. They made short work of my shirt, shredding a hole through it, and started working on my skin. In some sort of twisted mercy, the pain finally overtook me, and just as the first tooth managed to open a divot in my skin and burrow inside, a sheet of white-hot fuzz draped over my vision, taking with it any feeling I had left. Seconds later, I blacked out.

After a month in the hospital and four surgeries, I was finally able to go home. Not to that house; I could never set foot back in there. My parents had arrived home around midnight, tipsy and tired. I don’t remember much of what happened after that. I do faintly recall brief, intermittent spurts of agonizing consciousness. Flashing lights. My mother screaming. A memory of my brother’s face, twisted, broken and oozing onto the floor, a hollow smile set over a platter of his own fragmented teeth. I may have conjured that one up, but it’s seared into my memory regardless.

I was never able to tell anyone what happened, not that they would’ve believed me or understood either way. There was a break-in that occurred a few houses down from us that night, and the police came to the conclusion that some maniac had seen two young boys going into a previously-dark house by themselves and decided to attack us.

Now, it’s nearing Halloween; the days grow shorter and shorter and the smell of autumn drifts sweet and heady on the air. Decorations are popping up in stores, and the kids are excited. It used to be my favorite time of the year, and I wish I could share the excitement that glows in the eyes of my kids and even my husband, but I just can’t. The scars that riddle my body are white and faded, but they hold memories that no amount of pleading could overtake.

I drove past the old man’s house just once, on Halloween, three years ago. Just to see. I don’t know what inspired me to do it that year, but I told Ed I was going to grab a drink with a friend and made the 20 mile trek.

The mailbox still shows the same name, and the pumpkin sits happily in its place next to the door, smiling its toothless smile.