AND ALL THE STARS by Jason A. Zwiker

They draped sheets with holes cut away
from their eyes and dangled chains
from their wrists. "They'll never know it's us..."
They became ghosts, both of them, that night. She tied her hair back in a ponytail just like she used to do in the days when she danced. He left his reading glasses on the sideboard. They draped sheets with holes cut away for their eyes over one another and dangled chains from their wrists.

He tested the rattle and sway of his chains and smiled.

“Boo-o-o-o-ah-ha-ha-ha-ha,” she said, carefully measuring out a single pirouette before squaring herself in front of the hall mirror. She leaned forward, bent her knees, tried to make herself small, to fit within the long oval of glass. “Well? What do you think?”

“They’ll never know it’s us.”

“Mm-hmm,” she said, tipping her chin up and grabbing the pumpkin-shaped bucket off of the end table. Then they stepped out into the night.

It was cool and dark, and they could see a jagged line of stars low in the sky near Heather and Ray’s rooftop. Draco and Ursa Minor. Holding hands, they began to walk, chains dragging on the sidewalk. A shrieking herd – unicorn, zombie, the Incredible Hulk, and Wonder Woman - crossed over from the other side of the street. A mom following behind yelled to look both ways.

She tugged on his hand and led him to Diego and Jocelyn’s porch. The herd of children was already saying “Thank you!” and shuffling away. Purple light flickered from the eyes of a skeleton propped up on the porch railing as Bobby Pickett sang The Monster Mash from a speaker mounted beneath it.

The two of them stepped up on the porch. She offered the bucket, and Diego dropped a handful of fun size bags of M&M’s into the bucket. They were giggling by the time they were back on the sidewalk. The sheets around them fit a bit snugger now.
“He didn’t know it was us?” he asked once they were at the next house. “Oh, come on. We’ve been over how many times, for how many years? You were standing right there in front of him.”
“Draped in a bedsheet. And he had a monster mask on.”
“Well,” he said. “Yeah, but you said trick or treat. Your voice…”
“Did you hear me say trick or treat?”
He stopped, looked at her.
“He was already in a giving mood. The kids said it for all of us. Besides, you did see the open bottle of Wild Turkey on the end table, right? Jocelyn kicked back on the sofa with a rocks glass?”
“No,” he said, unsure, and looked back over his shoulder. “Hey, maybe we could...”

She bumped him with her hip and squeezed his fingers. “Uh-huh,” she said. “Come on, you.”
“Maybe we’ll stop by later.”
“Perhaps,” she said and the two of them rounded the corner onto Blackbird Lane. The light shifted as soon as they did. The stars seemed to shimmer in a pale indigo.
“Will you look at that,” he said.
“The veil is thin. We’re walking in it.”
“Veil, huh?” He pinched a corner of his costume, raised it up to have a look. “I thought these were old bedsheets.”
She laughed, not unkindly.
They kept walking.
Both squeezed the other’s hand a bit tighter as they passed the empty lot where Ricky used to stay, back when he still had the trailer, when there still seemed to be a chance.
Neither said a word.
A witch ran by, squealing, hand in hand with a glitter-painted rock star, fur stole and all.
They paused near the stop sign on the corner, watching them go. She shook the bucket and watched their latest score of fun-sized Snickers bars tumble over the Blow-Pops and Tootsie Rolls piled beneath.
He pointed up to Orion, traced the lines between his points of light like an x-marks-the-spot in the sky. That’s when he realized something – not really something but its absence - and patted the top of his leg.
“Hmm,” he said. “My hip.”
“Uh-oh. The sciatica again?”
He stopped, leaned against the stop sign and tested it. Lifted his foot and stretched his leg out long, moving the toe of his shoe this way and that, waiting for that warning sizzle. But it wasn’t there. He put his heel down and it began to tap in time to a song hovering just behind his thoughts. “No. Not at all. That’s the thing. It actually feels… really good.”
“Yeah? Good is good.”
“Yeah. But, yeah. I mean good like I could maybe even run again good. Like I used to. That good. Huh.”
She poked his belly. “Ugh. Not going to go back to getting up at five in the morning to get a 10K in before breakfast, are you?”
He tilted his head to the side, gave it a think. “I might.”
“Oh, come on, you,” she said, grinning and shaking her head. She took his hands in hers and leaned backward, pulling him away from the corner, out into the street. The bedsheets flapped as they moved and the chains rattled, dragging against the asphalt.

A few words began to pop up as he tried to hum the tune, make me feel this way… It was right there but it wouldn’t quite catch, something, something on a cloudy day…
“Not so snug now,” she said, adjusting his sheet where it was slipping off of him, pinching a loose curl of the cloth back into place.
“Hey. Have you ever seen the sky like that? Isn’t that something? And all the stars. Looks like a Jackson Pollack.”
She tilted her head to the side, considered. “I like it.”
“When’d the stars start being all different colors?”
“When we rounded the corner.”
“Well, then.” An idea lit in his head. All at once he felt certain that if he pulled his sheet away, he’d look the same as he had the day they met, both in their first job out of college. He considered giving it a go.
But she was already guiding him further down the street, toward another lit porch with the promise of candy.
“They’re good people,” she said, nodding toward the brick house on the corner. A mummy sat on a tree branch, loose strips of bandages waving in the slight breeze. Bats aplenty dangled on a string that ran from the tree to the porch. “Moved in last month. Deanna’s a paralegal, her wife is a nurse at the hospital.”
“Good to know with my old ticker,” he said, tapping his chest with the side of his fist. “Never know when you’ll need someone handy with a defibrillator.”
“Oh?” she said. “We’ll see about that.”
They strolled up to the young woman in the doorway as a flock of Power Rangers raced away and said the magic words for their handful of sweets.
“What’d we get?” he said after, peeking into the pumpkin bucket once they were back on the sidewalk, under a streetlamp. “Sugar sticks?”
“They’re called Pixy Stix,” she said with a laugh.
“Sugar Sticks sounds better,” he said. His foot caught the bottom of his sheet as he stepped forward. He almost fell, but she caught him.
“Careful,” she said.
They both took a moment to hitch their sheets higher at the waist, tying long, loose knots in them toga-style to hold them in place. The bottoms of the sheets dragged behind them like tails.
That only lasted until they rounded the final corner, where the neighborhood ended at the corner of Oak and Owl, where the power lines led out into an old stand of pine.
She placed the bucket of candy on the ground and the chains fell from her wrists, as she stood up straight, her hands now too small to hold them in place.
His chains followed, moments after.
“Will you look at that,” he said, his voice high and happy.
She took his sheet in both of her hands and lifted it up and off of him. Then, he did the same for her.
They stood there at the corner of Oak and Owl, each staring into the face of a child. Waves of the thin, shimmering blue ran through the sidewalk, the streetlights, the houses, which now seemed distant and faded, like something remembered from a dream.
“Will you look at you,” he said. “My girl.” But she shushed him with a fingertip to his lips.
Taking his hand in hers, she led him into the light.
Jason A. Zwiker's fiction and poetry has appeared in All Hallows: The Journal of the Ghost Story Society, Apparition Lit, Weirdbook, Eureka Literary Magazine, and Resist & Refuse. He received an Honorable Mention in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror (19th ed.). Follow him on Twitter @jazstory
Cover: Amanda Bergloff

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Comments

  1. Such a sweet story that captures all the wonderful feelings and memories from when I was actually a little boy and trick or treating from door to door was a major event on my social calendar. This story was definitely a treat.

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