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Stephen Schottenfeld

Trick or Treat

I love Halloween. I'm thirty-one, but I still love it. I mean, who doesn't love candy?

I still live at home. I don't mind it, except for the dinner table. I said to my parents, "I've been sitting in the same seat my whole life. Let me sit at the head of the table." And my mom said, "The table's round. There's no head of the table." I got mad, because dad's seat is the head of the table, even if the table's round. But I didn't say a thing.

None of my friends go trick-or-treating anymore. They stopped going about fifteen years ago. I didn't. I said, "Do you still celebrate Thanksgiving? Christmas? Birthdays? So, why not Halloween?" Actually, I don't have many friends; I said this to them when I was growing up.

Halloween's a big deal for me. Around the first of the year, I start thinking about my costume. I write down ten or twenty ideas and then, over the summer, I narrow down the list. By September, I've got a pretty good notion of what I'm gonna wear. I do all this planning because when I was seven, I almost didn't have a costume. I couldn't think of what to wear, and all of sudden it was October 31st, and I didn't have a clue. My dad gave me some of his old clothes, and said, "If anyone asks, tell them you're dressed as a parent." So I did. I went as a parent, and it sucked.

I don't have a job. When I was young, I killed my third grade teacher. I didn't mean it. I got in an argument and I hit her in the chest twice, and she went into shock and died. She had had a heart condition, which I didn't know about. They sent me to a different school, where you learn things a lot slower.

Tonight, I'm dressed as Dracula. I got the cape, the fangs, the white makeup, and the fake blood dripping down my mouth. I think I look pretty good. I guess it's a little weird walking around the neighborhood. My parents ask me to stay home and help them hand out the candy, but I say no.

I leave right when it gets dark. My first stop is across the street.

"Hi, Mrs. Ryder," I say. "Trick or treat."

"Oh, hi, Davey. David, I mean." She drops some Milky Ways into my pillow case.

"How's Johnny?" I say.

"Oh, he's fine. Married, still. He just…he just bought a house." She's turned sideways, sort of behind the door, like she's holding back a dog, but I don't think she's got a dog.

"Tell Johnny I say hi," I say.

"I sure will," she says.

"Do you like my costume?" I say. I raise my arms, so the cape stretches out behind me. Then I bare my fangs and hiss. She gets all scared and closes the door. It's a real good costume.

I walk to a bunch of houses and then I get in my dad's car and drive. I've been doing this the last few Halloweens; I drive for an hour and stop in some random town and go trick-or-treating. I always wash the car on the morning before, because I like when it's all clean and vacuumed inside. Sometimes the car gets egged, and I get mad, but the kids run away too fast.

I picked a good neighborhood; every house has lights. I walk up to one and knock. A woman answers, and she's real small.

"Trick or treat," I say.

"Hello," she says. She looks behind me, at the car, and then she says, "Where's your kid?"

"What kid, ma'am?" I say. And I know she's gonna say something like, 'You're a little old to be trick-or-treating, aren't you?' So I just say, "trick or treat," and I stretch out my cape and hiss.

She closes the door, and I figure it's just a big misunderstanding, so I ring the bell, but nothing happens. No footsteps, nothing. So I ring it again, and then the outside lights go off, and I'm kind of angry because I've walked all the way up the driveway. I bang on the door. Finally, a man answers. He's a few years older than me, but I'm bigger. He's got glasses, and I don't like him.

"What the fuck do you want?" he says, all angry.

"Trick or treat," I say.

"Get the fuck off my property," he says, pointing, and now I'm thinking about that teacher I hit. He shuts the door, and that's probably a good thing, because my fists are all clenched.

I used to go to a shrink. She said that whenever I get mad, I should stop for a second and say all the words that come from 'anger.' She said this would temper my aggression. So I say them. 'Range, rang, age, rag, nag, ran, earn, gear, near, ear, era, are, an.' 'Rage' is in there, too, but she told me not say that one. "Let's take the rage out of anger," she'd say.

I say the words real fast. I know them by heart, because this happens a lot. I'm still thinking about how I'd like to stick this guy's head under a paper cutter, so I say them again. Then I say, "Fuck you, you motherfucker," and I kick the pumpkin off the stoop. I get in the car and drive away.

I circle the block a few times. My shrink tells me to avoid violence. She also tells me not to run away from my problems. This confuses me, because most of my problems deal with violence. I figure she's giving me a riddle, but I can't figure it out.

I park a few houses away. I want to talk to the guy. But when he opens the door, I just get angry and punch him right in the face. He stumbles back and I hit him again, and he falls on the floor. His lip is split, and he's got blood running down his mouth, just like me. I see the Snickers on the counter and I throw a few into my pillow case. The woman starts screaming. My hand hurts. I tell her if she calls the cops, I'll kill her. Then I run to the car and drive fast. The street's near the highway, so I'm okay.

When I get home, I count up my candy. It's the worst Halloween I've ever had, worse than when I was seven. My mom comes in and looks at me, and I can see that she's upset about the candy on the floor, so I tell her that I'll pick it up. "Where did you go?" she says, and I say I went west a bit. She says, "Don't forget to change out of your costume," and I tell her I won't. "You shouldn't wear that stuff to bed," she says, and I say, "I know."

She leaves, and I walk into the bathroom and wash my face. I curl the cape around me. Next year, I think I'll be a ghost.

Stephen Schottenfeld has published stories in TriQuarterly, The Iowa Review, Story Quarterly, Gulf Coast, and elsewhere. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and a former Halls Fiction Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, he currently teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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