"Aren't you going out for trick or treat?" Jennifer's mom asked two weeks before Halloween. "If you want me to make a costume, we'd better start soon."
"I'm getting kind of old for that," Jennifer said. "Maybe I'll skip it this year."
"Are you sure? I thought you loved to go out."
Jennifer nodded. "I'm pretty sure." She'd been thinking about it ever since last year---ever since those older kids had stolen her candy and chased her down the street. As much as she loved Halloween, it just wasn't worth the risk. Monster terror was fun. Real terror wasn't.
"There's still time for me to make a costume," her mom said a week before Halloween.
"Thanks. But I think I'll stay home and hand out candy." That might even be fun, Jennifer thought. She liked seeing the little kids in their cute costumes. Her enthusiasm faded as she realized the older kids would come to her door, too---the ones who didn't even bother with real costumes. The ones who were just out to get as much candy as they could.
"Last chance," Jennifer's mom said the day before Halloween. "I can still put something together."
Jennifer looked out the window at the leaf-strewn streets that would soon be filled with costumed kids. "No thanks," she said.
But on Halloween, as the day fell dark and the smallest trick-or-treaters emerged from their houses like ants spilling from a hill, Jennifer wondered if it was too late to change her mind.
She had good memories of her first Halloween. It wasn't fair to have nothing but bad memories about her last one. But that awful Halloween didn't have to be her last one. Not if she went out now.
Costume, Jennifer thought, rummaging through her closet. Nothing. Sure, she could throw together a hippie outfit, or do some sort of clown makeup, but that wasn't good enough. That wasn't special.
She tried the basement. The sound of the doorbell drifted down from upstairs. As Jennifer scanned the piles of boxes stacked along a wall, the flash of a gold latch caught her eye.
Her great grandmother's old trunk sat shoved in a corner beneath moldy boxes of baby toys and a stack of canning jars. Jennifer vaguely remembered looking in the trunk when they'd first moved to the house.
She uncovered the trunk and unlatched the lid. A dusty smell of ancient cloth tickled her nose as she sorted through the contents. Just old dresses. Nice enough, but not the sort of costume she wanted. There was a hat with a veil---thin black gauze that covered the face of the wearer. This might work in an emergency, she thought. Still, she'd hoped to find something better.
Jennifer found nothing else. But, as she started to close the lid, she realized something was wrong. The outside of the trunk seemed deeper than the inside. She emptied the trunk and knocked her fist against the bottom. Instead of a solid whack, she was rewarded with a hollow thump. Excited, she pushed and pressed until she discovered the right spot. The false bottom popped up.
Jennifer held her breath as she lifted the wood panel, wondering what treasures she might find.
Gloves. That was all. One pair of black leather gloves. Jennifer noticed a folded slip of paper tucked between the fingers. She opened the slip and read the handwritten words out loud, "Special gloves for a special night."
The doorbell rang again. Jennifer heard a chorus of young voices shouting "Trick or treat!" Halloween was slipping past her like hourglass sand.
Jennifer grabbed the hat. Not a great costume, but it would have to do. On a whim, she grabbed the gloves, too. After all, it was a special night, even if she didn't have a special costume. She slipped the gloves over her hands. They fit like she'd worn them for years. She put on the hat. The veil cut her off from the world, filtering everything through a dark curtain.
Jennifer ran upstairs and grabbed her Halloween bag.
"I'm going out," she called to her mom.
"Have fun, dear. Be careful."
She dashed into the crisp air of the last night in October. As she knocked on her first door and got her first piece of candy, Jennifer knew she'd made the right decision. She traveled the familiar streets, following a pattern she'd worked out over the years.
At most houses, she heard the same question. "What an interesting costume. What are you?"
"Just a veiled lady," Jennifer told them.
She reached Pritchard Street. A dead end. The best path was down one side and up the other. She went to the first house on the right, and then the second.
As she left the second house, she heard the footsteps behind her. Footsteps and whispers. She took a quick glance over her shoulder at the hovering shapes. Taller kids, bigger kids. Though she hated to break the pattern, Jennifer crossed the street.
They followed. Going to each house right after her. Playing with her the way a cat plays with a mouse. They had time. She was trapped.
Jennifer crossed the street again.
They crossed, too.
Jennifer gripped her bag with her right hand, feeling the plastic handle bite against her palm through the thin leather of the gloves. I'm just going to walk back to the corner, she told herself. She'd go past them, and everything would be fine.
Forcing herself to look straight ahead, she took a step toward them. Crude laughs bubbled from the cluster of kids. "Trick or treat," the boy in front said in a nasty, mocking voice. His only costume was football shirt. Behind him, another boy, the tallest of the group, wore a motorcycle jacket.
"Gonna share?" the boy in front asked.
Jennifer avoided his eyes.
He stepped closer and reached toward her bag.
Jennifer put her left hand out, as if this motion had the power to stop them. She froze as the oddest sound punctured the night.
Claws, black as coal and sharp as needles, sprouted from her fingertips.
"Just give me the bag," the boy said.
Jennifer gave him the claws instead.
He screamed and clutched at his ripped shirt. The others took a step toward her. Jennifer flicked her arm out and slashed ribbons from the tall boy's leather jacket. She slashed flesh, too, but only enough to warn him off, only enough to make him think twice the next time he considered stalking a victim.
Even in the dark, the others saw enough to know what she had done.
They turned and fled. But not before Jennifer had flicked her wrist a final time, gutting their bags and spilling candy on the street.
The claws retracted.
Jennifer left the spilled candy for the little ones to find. She'd already received her reward. She finished her path along the street.
At the final house, a woman said, "My, my, that's a lovely costume. What are you?"
"Justice," Jennifer whispered.
"What?" the woman asked.
"Just a veiled lady," Jennifer said.
Her bag was nearly full. Normally, that was when she'd return home. But there were other kids out there like her, alone and vulnerable. And there were other gangs like the one she'd met.
Jennifer stayed on the streets until the last porch light went dark. Finally, she headed home.
"Did you have a good time?" her mother asked.
Jennifer nodded, sending a ripple through the veil. She removed the hat and gloves. "I think this was the best Halloween ever. I can't wait until next year."
"Well, just let me know ahead of time if you want a costume," her mother told her.
"I'll stick with this one," Jennifer said. "It's kind of fun. And it fits me really well."
Copyright © 2006 by David Lubar