Fiction

Childhood’s End

By Eddie D. Moore

            After stuffing his mask into his candy bag, Mitch unchained his bicycle from the lamp post and headed for home. Younger children were still running from house to house unescorted, and the youngest ones walked with their parents on the sidewalk. There was no traffic in the neighborhood, so Mitch rode in the middle of the street to avoid the other children. The alarm on his watch began to beep, so he stood up and peddled faster.

            His curfew for Halloween night was nine, instead of his usual eight. The alarm meant that he had less than five minutes to cover eight blocks or risk being grounded. He wanted to surprise his parents by being on time for once. Besides, he had agreed to meet Connie at the theater on Friday night. After the kiss she had given him behind the bleachers, he was not going to miss that movie. He peddled harder.

            He heard raised voices as he approached his friend Ryan’s house. Ryan lived two blocks away. The flashing lights of police cars made regular appearances in front of his family’s home. Ryan’s parents always seemed happy when you saw them in public, but everyone knew that wasn’t the case behind closed doors.

            Someone shouted, “Happy Halloween, Mitch!”

The Vanalstine’s lived across the street from Ryan, and they were sitting on the front porch waiting for the night’s light show and entertainment. Mitch waved at them and then stood up to strengthen his efforts for the uphill climb home.

Mr. Vanalstine shouted again as Mitch passed their house. “You can watch with us if you like. I’ve got five dollars on them sending three cars tonight to break up this fight, and Connie has to do the dishes if someone gets arrested.”

Mitch shouted over his shoulder, “Sorry, I’ve got to get home.” He grinned to himself as he worked to keep his legs moving. Mr. Vanalstine had been trying to play matchmaker between him and Connie since they were in kindergarten. He chuckled to himself when he overheard Connie chastising her father.

“Daaad, I’ve told you; I don’t like Mitch that way.”

Connie had made Mitch swear that he would keep their relationship a secret when he asked her out. After a little prodding, she confessed that her father and brothers often taunted her about needing a boyfriend, and she was afraid that they’d make a big deal out of it and taunt her mercilessly if they knew that she really did like him. A moment after he agreed to her requirement, she pressed her warm lips against his. He could still feel their silky smoothness and taste her lip gloss.

While coasting past the wrought iron fence lining the driveway, Mitch noticed the front door was standing wide open and that not a single light shone through any of the windows. He left his bicycle leaning on the kickstand and ran up the front steps two at a time. When he reached the front door, he shouted into the dark living room, “Mom! You home? Dad?”

No one answered. He flipped the switch by the door, but nothing happened. He could hear the familiar rhythmic grind and pop made by the ice maker. It often got stuck like that until someone opened the door and shook the ice tray.

Mitch took a deep breath and crossed the dark living room with three quick steps. When he reached the kitchen, he slapped the switch and blinked when the room lit up. He let out the breath that he hadn’t realized that he had been holding in a huff and shook the ice tray in the freezer. Near silence filled the house.

He glanced at the calendar hanging beside the phone to see if his mom had made any plans for the day. She had noted the time for a doctor appointment on the 30th but Halloween was blank. The photo for the month was that of a large bird resting on a post at the far end of a long pier. Mitch felt like the bird’s black eyes stared at him every time he walked through the kitchen, and he had been looking forward to flipping the page for days. The photo for November was that of a small bird holding a thin twig to contribute to its nest.

A gust of wind blew through the house, and Mitch saw a piece of paper flutter to the floor. The quiet house left him feeling uneasy, so he read the note aloud. It was written in his mother’s handwriting.

“We went to town to buy some light bulbs, and your father wanted to stop at the VFW while we were out, so we’ll be home late. I left the door cracked open so you wouldn’t be locked out. You left your key in your pants pocket again. I found it in the washer. Love, Mom.”

Mitch allowed himself to relax, but he tensed when he heard steps on the front porch. He slowly peeked into the living room and jumped when Connie leaped out of the darkness and into the kitchen.

Connie laughed. “Ha, jumpy much?”

Mitch felt his heartbeat slow. “What are you doing here?” He swallowed hard when she stepped closer.

“Don’t you think you’re a little old to be out trick or treating?”

Mitch shrugged. “A few people gave me odd looks.” He grinned. “But I wanted chocolate.”

The corners of Connie’s mouth turned up. “I saw your parents drive past our house, so I knew you were here alone. I figured we could pick up where we left off this afternoon while they’re gone. If you’re interested?”

Mitch moistened his lips and stepped closer and said, “Trick or treat.”

Connie’s eyes sparkled as she said, “trick,” and then twisted out of Mitch’s reach. Giggling, she ran out the front door.

Mitch stood dumbfounded for a moment, a smile spread across his face, and he ran back out into the cool night air.

Categories: Fiction

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