“Mr. Skelton?” Jenny stepped through the weather-worn wooden gate and inside the yard. “Is anyone here?” A critter ran through the nutgrass without showing its head above the unkempt overgrowth. Jenny pressed the plate of double chocolate chip cookies against her red sweater. Why did she ever agree to deliver these for mother? No one in her right mind ever stopped by the Skelton place. The broken windows in the estate’s towers, the black crows nesting on the electric wires and the rumor of what grew in the garden patch were more than enough to scare her and her seventh grade friends from lingering very long on Hollow Street this time of year. What a bother, these cookies. Jenny hurried through the weeds, up the porch and softly said, “Mr. Skelton, are you home?”
There was no reason to knock and risk stirring the old man. She laid the treats in front of the door, mumbled a happy Halloween greeting her mother insisted she leave with the man and hurried back through the yard when she saw it half-hidden among its own leaves that twisted in and out of the crosspieces on the redwood arbor. It was true, but none of her friends would ever believe she’d seen the wart-skinned fable that appeared in the garden patch each October unless she brought home the vine top. She inched closer, reached past the greenery and when she plucked the prickly vine from the top of the fire-red pumpkin the crows took to flight and the door to the estate flew open. Mr. Skelton chased down the porch with the help of a cane, cursing her and telling her to, “get back girl, get back,” but it was too late. The leaf covered arbor opened like a door to a dark, cold world and a monstrous gust of wind pushed her inside.