Last year on Halloween night I was home with the flu. Because we live out in the country, we typically spend Halloween evening at the home of some close friends whose kids are similar ages to our kids. They live in a small neighborhood nearby and the kids can trick-or-treat to their heart’s delight while the adults sit back and share a pizza and a few drinks. That’s the one thing I don’t like about where we live, that we don’t get to experience kids coming to our door, dressed as ghosts or witches or hobos or athletes or all the other myriad costumes. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays and I’ve always felt our home would make the perfect spooky haunted house.
I just didn’t feel up to being out, though, with an aggressive fever and the toggling of sweats and chills. So I sent my wife and the kids off for the evening and plopped myself down on the couch to watch some of the usual Halloween fare on the TV. Flipping through channels of zombie and werewolf and vampire movies and the yearly Halloween series marathons, I eventually settled on the classic Boris Karloff version of Frankenstein, knowing I’d probably fall asleep in a few minutes anyhow… which I surely did. It was about 8:30 p.m. when I was awakened by someone knocking on our front door.
Who in the hell would be here on Halloween night, I wondered, especially at our front door, which no one ever uses. Shaking the sleep from my head, I hoisted myself off the coach and walked into the kitchen where I could vaguely see someone standing on the front porch.
“Jesus Christ, should I answer it?” I mumbled under my breath as I inched a little closer to try to get a better view of this person who was intruding on my sick-rest.
Soon I was close enough to the front window where I could see outside to the porch and in the faint light cast by the moon I saw a young boy, probably about my son’s age, dressed in tattered overalls and a heavy flannel shirt, all of which appeared to be soaked and muddy, dirt streaks on his face and tousled, sandy-brown hair. Perhaps he was a trick-or-treater, I thought, dressed in the traditional hobo costume that kids have been wearing since trick-or-treating became a mainstream activity… but here, at my house, in the middle of nowhere?
Still questioning my decision to answer, I walked to the door, unlocked the various bolts and slowly opened it to this guest. The door creaked loudly as the old, rusted metal hinges were forced back to life after many years of sitting still. There in front of me stood this boy who reminded me of the classic Huck Finn character from the Mark Twain books.
“Hi there” I said “can I help you? Are you trick-or-treating?”
The boy looked panicked.
“I was… he paused… with my friend Ollie Evans” he replied. “But I can’t find him. We were playing around in the swamp behind your house and I lost track of him. I need you to help me find him!”
“Ollie Evans… from down at the end of the Brown Road?” I questioned him. “Buddy, what are you talking about? Mr. Evans died just the other day, had a heart attack.”
His eyes bounced back and forth from me to the blackness outside. “No, we were just trick-or-treating, but then we decided to play in the swamp and I can’t find him now. I need you to help me find him!”
“Son, are you okay?” I asked, now quite alarmed. “Where do you live? Are you lost? Can I call your parents?”
“I’m not lost. I live just down at the end of Brown Road, just around the corner a little bit. So you haven’t seen Ollie, he didn’t stop by?”
“Buddy, are you talking about Mr. Evans?” I inquired again. “He just died a few days ago, had a heart attack, he was in his eighties. Why don’t you come inside and get dried off and we’ll figure out what’s going on.”
“No, I have to go look for him. Can you please call the sheriff?” he asked, as he quickly turned around, stepped off the porch and ran into the night.
Stunned, I stood there at the door for a few moments, staring out into the darkness of the Halloween night as the faint moonlight cast shadows over our oak trees. I grabbed my phone and considered calling the police before dialing Mrs. Evans’ phone number.
“Hello” she answered in her creaky eighty-something voice.
“Hey, Evelyn, it’s Mr. Warner, how are you doing tonight?”
“I’m doing fine” she said. “Just trying not to think about Ollie too much.”
“Yeah, I understand, he was a good guy” I said. “But hey, he’s the reason I am calling, something strange just happened. A kid came knocking on my door and when I answered it, he was soaking wet, covered in mud and wearing overalls with a heavy flannel shirt underneath. I asked if he was trick-or-treating and he said he had been, but then he said he was looking for Ollie.”
A deep chill crept through my body and the hair on my neck and arms was suddenly at full attention. “I spoke to him for a minute, tried to get him to come into the house and then he abruptly ran off.”
“That sounds like Jimmy” she said faintly.
“Who is Jimmy?”
There was silence on the line for what seemed like an eternity but was likely only a brief moment.
“Are you still there?” I asked, breaking the silence.
She began to speak. “Jimmy was my older brother, just a year older than me. You see, he and Ollie were best friends when we were kids, they did everything together, just two country boys, always outside and roaming around in the woods all day. We all went to school together at the old school-house that used to be across from the cemetery down the street from you.”
“Anyway, back in the thirties when we were all just about your son’s age, the two of them would trick-or-treat on Halloween nights around here. Of course, just like now, there weren’t any other trick-or-treaters around, you know, all the houses are too far away from each other. But everybody knew that Ollie and Jimmy would stop by on Halloween night so the neighbors all knew to keep a few treats on hand. They’d walk for miles to the six or eight houses that they could reach. Then they’d call it a night.”
“So you’re saying this kid is your brother?” I interrupted.
She continued. “I’ll never forget the year, nineteen thirty-three. I was at home, when the sheriffs came to the door and told us what had happened. I remember my Mother collapsing on the floor. You see, on that fateful Halloween night as the boys were making their way back home, they decided to go play around in the swamp behind your house. It was dark and they didn’t have any lights with them… you know how dark it gets around here at night. They were chasing each other around and they got separated and then Ollie got caught up in some weeds in a deep part of the swamp. He was calling for Jimmy to help but they had gotten too far away from each other for Jimmy to figure out where he was. Jimmy ran to your house that night and knocked on the door for help. The Browns were living in your house back then. Mr. Brown went to phone the sheriff and Jimmy ran back to the swamp to try to find Ollie. When the sheriffs finally showed up, they were able to pull Ollie safely out of the water…”
She paused again for a long time, before continuing on.
“… but Jimmy drowned in the swamp that night trying to find his friend.”
“Oh my god, I’m so, so sorry” I offered, feeling like I wasn’t doing much to help.
“It’s okay Steve, it was a long, long time ago. We buried him in the old cemetery and although my parents were devastated, we did our best to move on. But for many years afterwards, people claimed to see Jimmy’s ghost wandering around the swamp and around your place on Halloween night. I guess he was still looking.”
“Of course many years later, she added, Ollie and I ended up getting married and one of those years Ollie decided to walk to the cemetery and talk to Jimmy at his grave site, tell him he was okay and that he didn’t need to look for him in the swamp anymore. He continued to do that every Halloween night for almost seventy years… it seemed to work, no one has seen Jimmy’s ghost since… well, until tonight. With Ollie passing just the other day he didn’t show up at the cemetery. Jimmy must be looking for him.”
Chills roared through my body and in complete disbelief, I said goodbye and hung up the phone.
With a wobble in my knees, I walked back to the couch and sat down quickly as the fever and the shock of what had just happened hit me like a ton of bricks. Still reeling, I grabbed the bottle of Advil and glass of water from the nearby end table and threw back a couple of pills, emptying the glass of its contents.
Boris Karloff was still gracing the screen and I grabbed the remote and abruptly shut the TV off. Although the family was still out I decided to head up to bed to try to get a decent night’s sleep so I could possibly go to work the next day. I slept right through the noise of them coming home and the kids dumping their bags of candy on the kitchen table to sort out their hard-earned loot.
The next morning started at 6:00 a.m. with my alarm blaring in my ears and I crawled out of bed and walked downstairs to find my wife sitting at the kitchen table sipping from her favorite coffee mug. Still dazed from the night’s activities and wondering if the effects of a fever were playing tricks on me, I sat down at the table and asked about their evening of trick-or-treating.
“Pretty typical Halloween night” she said, “lots of adorable little goblins and ghosts around. The kids had fun though. How about here, she asked, was it creepy being alone on Halloween night in this creaky old house?”
“I was fine” I lied. “I went to bed early. Pretty quiet night, though I’m still not feeling great, I didn’t sleep well last night, had some pretty fucked-up dreams. I think I’m going to stay home from work today. I could probably make it, but they’ll be okay without me for a day.”
“Good idea” she said. “You need the rest. It’s supposed to be a nice day, if you start to feel better this afternoon and you feel like getting some fresh air, the front porch could use a hosing off…”
“… looks like the kids have tracked mud all over it.”