Provided just for you, dear Readers, is an atmospheric tale to get you in the mood for Halloween. May your trick-or-treating yield fantastic results, and may the spirits be kind. . .
A Different Kind of Treat
Written by Monica Valentinelli
Blood-red shafts of sunlight filter through a dirty cabin window, kissing a row of colorful glass bottles. One by one the bottles shine with anticipation as they reveal their grisly contents. Three eyes spin in a green flask; a pair of wings beats urgently in another.
“What’s that, Momma?” A child’s finger points to a jar of wrinkled entrails sitting high on a kitchen shelf. The boy, who stands about three feet tall, is covered in dust and flour. His skin is marred with muddy blisters.
“Oh nothing special, Alwin,” Belinda replies airily as she pulls a frilly apron over her head. “Just something I cook with now and again. You hungry?”
“Want candy.” Alwin rubs his bloated stomach. “Chocolate, ‘specially.”
The witch flashes him a crooked grin and picks a small book off the burnished wood counter. Has it really been a year since she last made her favorite recipe? Lately, it seems like all of her time has been devoted to nursing Alwin. No matter what she gives him — cinnamon, tincture of licorice or willow bark roots — nothing seems to help him get any better.
“Maybe I missed something,” Belinda whispers as she scans through the book. Her gnarled fingers turn the pages gingerly, as if each leaf of paper is a cherished family heirloom.
“What’s this, momma?”
Belinda rolls her eyes. She has to concentrate and she can’t think if he keeps talking. Of course he’s lonely, but there’s nothing she can do about that. Born under a harvest moon, Alwin’s only friends were the ravens that often circled the skies above their cabin. His insatiable curiosity was the only thing the witch didn’t like about him. Still, empathy was never her strong suit. He was dying and she wasn’t sure her magic could cure him.
“What’s what, honey?”
“This.” Alwin shows her a fistful of waxy hair. “It’s from my head.”
Belinda’s paper-thin lips crumple into a disapproving scowl. She can’t afford to babysit Alwin while she mixes and measures the necessary ingredients for tonight’s confection. Either he’s going to help her in the kitchen, or she needs to find something else for him to do. Thinking quickly, the witch pulls a red bottle off a shelf. “Just put those strands in here and we’ll figure out where they belong later.”
Alwin ignores her and yanks more hair from his crusty scalp.
Dark splotches bloom all over Alwin’s pasty neck; the witch now knows for sure what they mean. Her last spell was a total failure. Thinking quickly, she tries something else, and asks: “Why don’t you grab your costume?”
Alwin runs around the room in a circle chanting at the top of his lungs. “Trick-or-treat. Smell my feet. Give me something good to eat.”
Belinda crosses her bony arms and regards him sternly. She has to get him out of her hair, does she have the heart to kill him? The boy doesn’t have that much time left, but she still feels responsible for him.
“You can collect some firewood for the oven first.”
The witch knows the boy won’t stray very far from the cabin. If the trees and the corn fields don’t confuse him, the owls will. Just last night, Belinda had awakened to the sound of a screeching owl perched above his bed. It was as if the entire forest not only knew what Alwin was, they were eager to share the secret. Lost in her thoughts, Belinda barely hears her son’s whimpering plea.
“Outside, momma. Outside.” Alwin moans softly.
Leaning forward, Belinda looks at him straight in his copper-colored eyes. “Do you think you’ll back by supper?”
The witch knows Alwin won’t last that long. His skin is crumbling and his fingers are starting to dry out. If that isn’t bad enough — he’s beginning to reek of mold.
To take her mind off of Alwin’s predicament, Belinda turns back to her favorite recipe. She can’t help but smile as she gathers the proper ingredients and dumps them into her cauldron: tiny snails, fat slugs, pumpkin seeds, a virgin’s eyes.
Dropping a pulsing heart into the thickening dough, Belinda stirs it once, twice, three times. “This’ll turn out right this time, I just know it.”
Alwin pulls a rubber mask over his crumbling face. “Can I help?”
“Not this time, Alwin, but you can watch Berthold rise.”
“Who’s Berthold? Is it candy?”
“No, he’s a different kind of treat, Alwin. The kind that’ll stay fresh forever.”
“Sounds tasty, Momma.”
Belinda licks her lips. “Oh, I hope so, Alwin. I hope so.”
© Copyright 2010