Quid Pro Ghost

I regularly look forward to Halloween and welcoming Trick-or-Treaters to our door.  The rhythms of our household, however, have changed dramatically with the birth of our son Oscar last October. The three hours after I return home from work—prime Trick-or-Treat time—is also the chief period for my interaction with Oscar (as well as the time when my wife Nathalie can reliably perform those tasks that would be impeded by a wailing one-year-old clinging to her legs).  Exacerbating these circumstances are the four vaccinations Oscar received a week ago, which along with a new wave of teething have increased his clinginess.

We therefore decided that my traditional Halloween evening practice of donning a frightening costume, lurking in the shadows in our front yard, and physically accosting vocal Trick-or-Treaters through the dinner hour and beyond Oscar’s bedtime would be far too upsetting to Oscar.  Absent the centerpiece of a costume-planning campaign, other Halloween accoutrements fell by the wayside; plastic spiders and bats remained packed in the attic, our scarecrow didn’t appear on the lawn, we forewent the annual viewing of The Nightmare Before Christmas, we carved no pumpkins.  We also failed to purchase any Halloween candy.

Due to my efforts in previous years, our house has earned a reputation among Trick-or-Treaters for both good sweets and good screams.  I knew that we would be certain to disappoint kids who remembered my predations and were hoping for more this year.  Rather than face such crestfallen fans, I opted to discourage any Trick-or-Treaters from calling at our door by not putting up any Halloween decorations and by leaving all outdoor lighting off.

The first hour after I returned home from work went smoothly; Oscar and I played in the office toward the rear of the house while Nathalie cooked dinner.  If any Trick-or-Treaters knocked at our door, I didn’t hear them.  Dinner was served around 18h30, and Oscar was strapped into his high chair in the dining room, less than two meters from the front door.  At 18h42, a giggling susurration filtered through our shaded dining room window, followed by a sharp knock.  Nathalie and I immediately fell silent.  Oscar, sensing the tension, spat out a lump of chewed vegetable cracker as jetsam.  We dared not move, not even to shovel Oscar’s food closer to his mouth, lest we cast a shadow against the white window shade.  After a minute, we heard leaves crunch on our lawn as the pack moved on to better pickings.

Deferring my table-clearing duties, after dinner Oscar and I once again retreated to the office, unable to entirely eliminate the household illumination that betrayed our presence as Trick-or-Treat traffic in our neighborhood increased.  Nathalie reported that knocks became more frequent as she drew the bath that she and Oscar take every evening.  To resist the temptation to peek through the drapes of the office window, I grabbed Oscar’s miniature soccer ball and engaged him in a game of Catch, which in Oscar’s version more closely resembles Fetch.  It reliably entertains him (and tires him out), but he can get quite vocal, and I cringed every time I saw the twinkle of flashlights through the drapes.

Once Nathalie and Oscar were in the bath, I settled on the living room couch for those few minutes of TV that represent the first gasp of downtime I get after returning home.  I had the sound off, but the cathode-ray wisps continued to dance on the window shade.  Just as I was surfing past an undead Emeril, a stampede of thumps on the front lawn was followed by a thunderclap of knocks on the door.  I dropped the remote, suspecting that the flickerings of channel-surfing were distinguishable from those of a hypothetically-unwatched single channel; in this case, Nickelodeon.  As I hunched in the glow of SpongeBob SquarePants and hoped Nathalie’s bath-time singing wasn’t audible through the front door, another salvo of knocks forced me further into the cushions.  Then a voice, almost certainly a father: "I’m sure this is the house with the scary guy."

I had no costume.  I had no Jack o’Lantern.  Worst of all, I had no candy.  But being a father myself, the puzzled disappointment in that voice was too much to bear.  Without giving a thought as what I would say, I leapt up, turned on the porch light and opened the front door.  At least a dozen tiny faces peered through the frigid gloom at me standing, barefoot, in a T-shirt and bath shorts.  There was a Spider-man, of course, Power Rangers, a Tigger, a Frodo co-existing with a Harry Potter, a girl who I feared might be dressed as Britney Spears (or a more au courant incarnation thereof), a Hobo with a cell phone, and, standing next to the man whom I took to be the father-chaperon, a girl no more than two-years-old, dressed as a bumble-bee.


Whenever I find myself in front of an audience, whether be it a gathering of friends or a meeting of colleagues or a classroom of peers, I often become possessed by a spirit that, hungry to make an entertaining impression, prefers quick wit over considered tact.  Many acquaintances have predicted that this gift will eventually get me either elected or lynched.  Feeling very much on stage, I could not let such expectations go unanswered.

"We’ll take a Trick this year."  My reply was met with non-plussed silence.  My loa carried me forward.  "We’ve been handing out candy for five years, but we’ve never had a trick.  Quid pro quo, you know.  Perhaps if we get some good tricks this year, we’ll have candy again next year.  If any of you have older brothers or sisters who like to cause mischief, send ’em on over."  Then, without giving them time to wheedle, I closed the door and switched off the porch light.

No more Trick-or-Treaters had knocked on our door by the time Oscar finished his bath, and after I had dried him, dressed him, and given him his last swigs of milk, Nathalie took him through his ritual of wishing a Good Night to the many familiar Entities that inhabit his house.  Typically, once Oscar is in his crib we watch muted TV for a bit, waiting for him to fall asleep, but last night we sat silently in the living room for over a half hour, illuminated only by the aquarium lamp.  Only once the hour had reached 21h00 did we risk the light from the TV (it was time for C.S.I., after all).

This morning, I stepped through the frosty leaves looking for any evidence that our house might have received its due share of Trick-or-Treat karma, that the Halloween Ecological Balance had been preserved.  A few candy wrappers littered our driveway, but the best effort appeared to have come from Spider-Man: a spray of Silly String™ on our front door, coating the door knob and trailing off just after touching the dining room window.  We had had no Jack o’Lanterns to leave outside to be smashed, but I had entertained the hope that pumpkins might be brought from elsewhere and sacrificed on our property.  Alas, no orange carnage was to be seen, either in our yard or in the street.

Next year in Arkham.

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