Everyone knows that Neovians give out the best candy on Halloween!
I mean, seriously! The Crumpetmonger lady lives there, and she gives out so much delicious stuff my mouth waters just thinking about it. The only reason the town isn't swarmed with trick-or-treaters each year is because it's only accessible through that creepy path from the gypsy camp. This puts most people off.
But my brother Jack and I know all about creepy Haunted Woods paths. We've lived in the Haunted Woods for as long as we can remember, and our owner hasn't really minded us when we went off to explore the deeper parts of the woods. We're pretty good at navigating through scary trees! We can get from one side of a mysterious forest to another, even if there isn't a path. And there's a path leading to Neovia—narrow and twisting and turning, but a path! We've faced a lot worse. We're definitely getting bags and bags of candy this Halloween.
* * *
It's nearly eight o'clock when we set out. Our owner waves goodbye and warns us to be careful like she always does. "It's Halloween!" she shouts. "It'll be dangerous!"
"Yeah, yeah," we call back, and we set off running. The earlier we get to Neovia, the earlier we can collect all our loot and get home. No one wants to be walking through the Haunted Woods too late at night. Sure, we're pretty good at navigating them! But that doesn't mean we've got death wishes.
We race each other down the creepy path. Jack's an Orange Kougra dressed in a bedsheet—the unimaginative ghost costume, of course—and I'm a Purple Eyrie with a witch's hat and robes. This means that there isn't any question about me winning the race.
The branches of the trees moan and scream and reach out to grab us, or at least they would if I was trying to be dramatic. I'm not. The woods are definitely creepier than usual on Halloween night, but so far the only animated tree I've seen is the Brain Tree and this one other tree that was shouting at all the passersby, begging someone to climb up and get a kite out of its branches. Only I'm pretty sure that second tree was actually a hungry shapeshifter.
Anyway, we reach Neovia in good time. I won the race, of course. Of course the first place we go is the Crumpetmonger's. There's already a line of trick-or-treaters at her door. Most of them, however, are Neovian citizens. We're probably the first to come from the actual Haunted Woods. We reach the Crumpetmonger's door eventually, and she gives us Lemon Tarts, which we eat, of course, because we can't exactly put them in our bags. They're piled with whipped cream, and hot and lemony and delicious.
Then we hurry to the other shops! Chesterdrawers' Antiques disappoints us—they hand out those little Wrapped Strawberry Candies that are probably antiques themselves. But we each get a large handful of them, so this makes up for it somewhat. Still, these candies aren't good for much. You can't trade them with anyone.
The Neovian Printing Press gives out small Toffee Dubloons and a Krawk Island Travel Brochure, each. I want to stop to read my brochure, but Jack says, "Are you crazy? We can do that back home! Right now we've got to get as much candy as we can!"
Truly, the spirit of the season.
Prigpants & Swolthy, Tailors, give out bags of Assorted Pumpkin Mixed Candy, and also a reminder to be good children this Halloween. Whatever that means. Jack throws his assorted pumpkin candy at me because he hates pumpkins. Apparently I am akin to a garbage bin.
We've gone to all the shops, now; it's time to go to the neighborhoods.
The first house we find is giving out Boxes of Yooyuball Chocolates, as in, those chocolates from the Altador Cup that was like four months ago. Wait, did I say giving out boxes? Because they weren't. They were giving out the individual chocolates. Ugh.
The next house is much better: Halloween Candy Necklaces! I wear mine; Jack eats his.
But the third house gives out—
SMILEY SPINACLE BALL LOLLYPOPS.
Those lollypops from the Daily Dare! Huge blueberry candies balanced on a wand-like golden stick. They're not too expensive on their own, but the Kacheek in that house (dressed up as Dr. Sloth) is holding a bunch of them, which must have cost a decent amount of money.
We trick-or-treat for a while longer, though we never get anything better than the Spinacle lollypops.
Presently I glance up at the large clock tower. "It's past eleven," I say to Jack, "we should be getting home."
"Our bags aren't full," he says crossly.
"It'll be midnight if we wait any longer."
"So—it'll be midnight!" I say, exasperated.
He laughs. "Don't tell me you're getting scared?"
"No!" I say. "I'm just being reasonable! But go ahead and get your last pieces of candy, if you're so greedy and all."
He takes the time to fill up his bag with a few more pieces of chocolate.
Finally he says, "We can go now."
We heft our bags on our backs, hunched over underneath their weight. Then we make our way to the edge of Neovia, to the start of the path back home.
But just before we walk into the woods, I turn to look at the clock tower behind us.
It strikes twelve.
* * *
We are too tired, and our bags too heavy, to run all the way back home. So we walk. Jack chews on an Asparagus Candy Cane that I don't know how he can enjoy. I'm a bit too nervous to eat anything, though. Even for experienced natives of the Woods like us, midnight on Halloween is the worst time to be out.
Still, nothing goes wrong for the first few minutes of our journey back home. We walk mostly in silence; we find a spilled bag of candy on the ground. The lost efforts of some poor trick-or-treater. Jack adds its contents to his own bag, which is already full to bursting. He manages to do this with one hand. The other is holding his candy cane.
I decide it's a bit too quiet for my comfort. I start singing the first verse of "The Christmas Bruce," which I picked only because it has a lot of verses.
"That's a stupid song," says Jack, speaking through the Asparagus Candy Cane in his mouth, though he's bitten off the curved part so now it's more like an Asparagus Candy Stick. "And it's the wrong holiday."
"Whatever. You're the reason why we're out so late," I said.
"Out so early, you mean. It's morning now. And what does that have to do with you singing a dumb song?"
It isn't long after that conversation when a tree branch swings down in front of us and stops there.
The path is blocked. There's no way through but to jump over the branch. And if we try to jump over the branch, it's going to swing back up when we're still over it, sending us into the treetop. And you don't want to be in the treetop. Digestion occurs in the treetop.
(I think of the spilled candy bag, the unfortunate Neopet it belonged to. I wince.)
But that's not to be our fate. We may have gone to Neovia to trick-or-treat, but let no one say we came fully unprepared. Underneath his bedsheet costume, Jack has a little belt filled with a few useful things. A Fire Mote is one of them, and if there's anything that haunted trees hate, it's fire.
The branch lets up. We move on.
Further down the path we hear a chuckle. Nothing special this time, either: just a Chia Clown with its tinny mechanical laugh. It's moving towards us, holding a large pie which probably doesn't contain anything edible. I reach into the pocket of my witch's robes, take out a Fire Dart, ignite it, and throw. There goes the Chia Clown.
"Nice shot," says Jack, sounding almost surprised. He's finished his Asparagus Candy Cane and is now chewing on some Crispy Pumpkin Chips.
"Yeah, yeah. Thanks."
"Don't you hate pumpkins?" I ask, frowning.
"They're really good," he says, with an earnestness that is uncharacteristic of him.
I eat one chip just to see. It tastes terrible. Jack doesn't notice my glare.
We're close to the end of the path now, I think; I bet soon the lights of the town will come into sight. And then our neighborhood—and then home, where we can sort all this candy. I hope we get there soon. This bag gets heavier with each step.
"Stop!" hisses Jack.
There's a slight sound ahead of us. A scuttling noise of several tiny feet.
"Oh, come on," I whisper. "Not these."
But it's midnight and Halloween and of course it would be these.
Clusters of Spyders coat the trees like black moss, moving all together, as if they're in one body and share one mind. They swarm down towards the path. Towards us—"Hurry up!" Jack shouts, and throws another mote, and I grab another dart and then we're fighting this sea of Spyders with fire. I throw a muffin—Jack lights a dagger—I uncork a Firestorm Bottle and Jack opens a Fire Jug and finally the Spyders scuttle away.
Jack breathes hard. "We got them," he says, between gasps.
"Yeah," I say. "Are you alright?"
"Let's keep going."
We're running now, despite the weight of our bags of candy. I've half a mind to drop my bag and run free, but I know Jack wouldn't give up his. And I can't run ahead of him anyway, I'd have to wait for him. So we keep the bags. And then finally we round a bend in the path and there they are, the lights of our neighborhood, blinking and welcoming.
"We're home," I say, laughing with relief. "We made it through! Jack, we're way too awesome!"
He doesn't answer.
"Jack?" I turn around. His head is bowed. His eyes are shut tightly like he's trying not to see something. He drops something and it drifts to the ground. The empty bag of Crispy Pumpkin Chips.
My brother opens his eyes and they are red, not red-rimmed but red, completely. He's foaming at the mouth, and he makes a sound that I have never heard before. A strangled choking roar.
"Oh, Fyora," I breathe. And suddenly I realize.
The candy bag, the one that we'd found fallen on the ground. The Crispy Pumpkin Chips. My brother's hatred of pumpkins.
The candy bag. The pumpkin chips.
The bag. The chips.
And me. I ate one, too. I ate a pumpkin chip, and now I am standing in front of Jack, who is walking towards me, slowly, unhurriedly, because he knows,
just as I do,
that I can't run.