Trick or Treat
It was October thirtieth and the men of Station 51’s A-shift were pulling a twenty-four hour duty. Although they had expected to get a lot of prank or strange calls the day before Halloween, the crew had been surprised to find that it was turning out to be a normal shift. Just having finished dinner, the men sat around the dayroom, watching an old Frankenstein movie on television.
“So, anyone have any plans for Halloween since we’re off tomorrow night?” Chet asked no one in particular.
Roy broke his attention away from the movie to give his input.
“I’m taking the kids trick-or-treating. Joanne was going to, but when we remembered I’d be off, we decided she could stay home and give out the candy.”
“I’m going to a party at my sister, Maria’s, house,” Marco offered, his eyes still glued to the movie. “The whole family is supposed to be there.”
“Well, I’m gonna take Delores to a haunted house,” Chet told the others, a devious expression on his face. “I figure there’s no better way to get cozy on an October night.” He waggled his eyebrows.
Johnny rolled his eyes and snorted. “That’s the only way you’d get a girl to snuggle.”
“Oh yeah? I suppose you’ve got a hot date?” Chet challenged.
“As a matter of fact, I do have plans. I’m taking Amanda and her friends trick-or treating,” he explained with pride. “Her mom called me this morning and asked if I’d do it since the kids’d made plans to all go together and Amanda’s dad got called out of town. Her mom felt better with a guy taking ‘em out. She was gonna see if another parent could do it, but Amanda got upset that the kids wouldn’t meet at her house, so her mom told her she’d find someone they could trust.”
“You? Take a group of kids trick-or treating?” Chet shook his head. “Have you lost your mind, Gage?”
Johnny noticed the others were looking at him in surprise also.
“What? What’s the big deal?” he asked somewhat defensively. “It’s just a group of six and seven-year-olds going house to house for candy….it’ll be a piece of cake.”
“I don’t know, Johnny,” Roy said. “Every year there seems to be something that happens with the kids that makes it an interesting evening. And that’s just with two. How many are you gonna take?”
Johnny shrugged. “I…I don’ know. I think it’s about six kids…maybe seven.” He splayed his hand across his chest. “Look, I can handle a few kids, alright? I did it on the hospital tour…I can do it with this.”
“Well, I’d say good luck,” Chet began, “but I think the kids may need it more than you.”
Johnny shot Chet a glare. “Ha ha. Very funny.”
Roy grinned at the exchanges, but figured it was time to redirect the attention. “What about you, Mike?” He asked. “You doing anything?”
“Me? I was going bowling, but I think it’d be more fun to watch Johnny or Chet doing their stuff.”
Both Johnny and Chet looked at Mike in surprise. It wasn’t very often the engineer spoke up, but when he did, it was usually something no one would expect from him.
Johnny pulled his Land Rover in the driveway of Amanda Freeman’s house and walked to the front door. It was still light out, but almost time to get started with the trick-or-treating. As he went to knock on the door, it opened, revealing a very anxious mom.
“You’re on time! Great!”
“Are they ready?”
Bonnie Freeman folded her arms across her chest and gave Johnny a look of disbelief, raising an eyebrow in curiosity about his experience with kids. How could he ask that? She leaned against the doorframe and sighed.
“They’ve been ready since three o’clock. The kid’s have been practicing knocking on doors in here all afternoon.”
“Practicing?” Johnny snorted. “How do you practice knocking on a door? Ya just knock.”
The woman shook her head. “Not these kids. They have the knocking, trick-or-treat, and thank you for the candy stuff down to a science.”
As she finished her sentence, the sound of three knocks could be heard down the hallway. Then a chorus of “trick or treat.”
“I hope you’re ready for this,” Bonnie said, wondering if the bachelor understood what he was getting involved in when he agreed to this idea.
Johnny gave one of his widest lopsided grins. “Yeah…sure I am.”
The children were rounded up and brought out to the living room for a head count and a formal introduction to their chaperone for the evening. Johnny recognized some from Billy’s birthday party that he and Roy had gone to on a call when the birthday boy had run into the side of a shed. Only difference was, the boys were dressed as a cowboy, a clown, Superman, and one was under a large piece of sheet as a ghost. Johnny wasn’t sure if he knew the kid or not. He couldn’t tell by the eyes peeking through the holes.
“How’s your gerbil, Archie, doing?” Johnny asked Billy, who was dressed as the clown.
The boy shrugged. “Okay, I guess.”
“Good.” The kid’s probably already lost interest in the little guy.
Amanda was dressed as a witch, and the other girls were dressed as a princess and a Barbie. He looked closer at the plastic Barbie mask on the one little girl’s face. Those eyes that peered through the holes and the hair that surrounded the mask looked familiar. Suddenly it came to him. The little girl was the self-proclaimed Barbie collector who actually was more like a Barbie doll kleptomaniac. She had scared Amanda into hiding in the bathroom with her Barbie dolls one morning, and Johnny and Roy had gone on the call where they had to pry open the bathroom door to get Amanda to come out.
“Tammy!” Johnny snapped his fingers. “Tammy, is that you as Barbie?”
“Yes, sir.” Came a reply through the tiny slit between Barbie’s plastic lips.
Johnny looked at Bonnie in surprise. “I thought Amanda was gonna be a Barbie.”
“She was. But Tammy talked her in to trading costumes,” she raised an eyebrow again at Johnny. “Does that surprise you?”
“Nope. Old habits are hard to break,” he grinned.
The plan was for Johnny to take the children to the far end of the subdivision in his Land Rover and work their way back as they trick-or-treated. He figured he could park on the side of a street, the kids would go through a section of a few square blocks at a time, and then he could drive them to another section.
“Okay, everyone ready?” The paramedic called out as he turned the key in the ignition.
Assorted “Yeah’s” and “Yes sir’s” came from beside and behind him.
“All right! Good deal,” Johnny said as he backed out of the driveway. “Let’s get this show on the road.”
One and a half blocks away, the shout, “Stop!” came from the back seat.
Johnny stepped on the brakes. “What? What’s wrong?” he asked, as he put the truck in park. The paramedic turned around to see what the problem was.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” the cowboy quietly explained, as he slunk down between Billy the clown and Superman.
The others groaned and mumbled at the thought of a delay.
“Can’t we jus’ go, Mister Gage?” Superman begged. “Jus’ tell ‘im to hold it.”
“Yeah, and we’ll be movin’ around,” the ghost chimed in, “so no one’ll know if he does a potty dance later.”
Yeah, I bet it would be another story if you guys had to go, Johnny thought.
The paramedic could see the look of desperation on the cowboy’s face as the others made their suggestions. Tears were welling up in the poor kid’s eyes.
“Hey, now. We’d better let him go,” Johnny stressed. “You don’t wanta have to come back after just one or two houses because someone needs to use the bathroom, do you?”
“No, sir!” They all answered.
He grinned as he put the Rover into gear and turned the truck around. “That’s what I figured.”
Bonnie was waiting on the porch when Johnny pulled up again.
“Potty… right?” She asked.
“Yeah,” Johnny admitted as he got out and opened the back for the cowboy to climb out. The little boy disappeared inside of the house in a flash.
“I figured that was it when I saw you stop so suddenly.”
The two adults grinned when the cowboy came out, walking like a tough, miniature John Wayne, and a smile of relief on his face.
The delay at the house had proved to be beneficial. Three other children and their chauffer had decided to make use of the bathroom before the venture was restarted.
Finally reaching their destination, Johnny parked his Land Rover on a side street in front of one of the homes. As the kids filed out, he watched other little ones in costumes roam up to houses. This was his first time in years to play a part in the holiday and it brought back memories of when he was a kid. Even back then, he liked to dress up as a fireman when his parents took him to his aunt’s house in the city for Halloween. His mom and dad tried to get him to change his costume idea each year, but no matter what they said, he could never be talked out of it.
A tap on his right forearm brought Johnny out of his thoughts. He looked down to see Amanda staring up at him.
“Mister Fireman, are you okay?”
“Hmmm? Yeah, sweetheart, I’m fine. Why?”
Amanda put her hands on her hips as she continued to look up at her hero. “We’ve been standin’ here forever waitin’ for you to move.”
Johnny had to grin. A minute or two always did seem like forever to a kid when they had to wait.
“I’m ready if you and your friends are…lead the way.”
After covering one block, the children were off to a good start. They had taken turns knocking, all joined in on a chorus of “trick-or-treat” when a door opened, and thus far had collected a handful of candy at each house.
Roy had this all wrong. This is great!
Johnny was glad Bonnie Freeman had called and asked him to take the kids out.
As they approached another house, the little princess caught the toe of her shoe in a crack of the sidewalk and fell forward. She put her hands out in front to prevent herself from landing hard on her belly. Candy scattered everywhere as it flew out of the bag she had been carrying.
Johnny was right over to the girl, helping her to her feet, as the others gathered around.
“Are you okay, Becky?” the paramedic asked, as he scanned the front of her for obvious injuries.
The princess shook her head, as tears streamed down her cheeks. “My candy!” she wailed. “And my skirt is dirty now!”
Johnny sighed. Girls. Always worried about the clothes.
“Look, are you okay? Let me see your hands and arms. The candy we can all pick up.” He nodded at the other kids, directing them to start gathering up the treats.
“I…I don’t want to do…do this anymore,” Becky sobbed. “My skirt is…is ruined.”
Johnny noticed all motion with the others stopped as the words came out of the little girl’s mouth. Six little mouths dropped open in silent protest.
“Well, you lucked out. Your hands and arms look okay. I’m sure you’ll have bruises later, though. How about we just brush the dirt off your skirt, pick up the candy,” he looked at the others hoping they would get back to the task of clean up, “and you’ll be fine.”
He swiped off most of the dirt, as the girl sniffled. When he was done and stepped back, Johnny could see that the skirt actually looked better.
“See? Good as new.”
Becky nodded, wiping away the tears in her eyes. Relieved this situation was remedied, Johnny motioned for the trick-or-treaters to carry on. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Tammy in the plastic Barbie mask and princess Becky staring up at him, as Amanda moved in and grabbed his hand. Johnny got the feeling he was about to be in a three-way battle for attention.
The trick-or-treaters were in the next section of houses to visit. Although he had three little girls vying to hold one of his hands after each house they had gone to, Johnny felt the evening had gone well. No one else had fallen again…yet. He looked down at Amanda holding his left hand and Tammy holding his right.
Why couldn’t it have been a nurse from Rampart on each arm?
The sky had gotten dark, but the streetlights in the subdivision provided enough light for everyone out on the sidewalks. Johnny could see his Land Rover up in the next block. Once they got to it, there was one more group of houses to hit and the night would be a success.
Suddenly a black cat ran across in front of the group and continued on across the street, disappearing into some bushes in a yard. The ghost stopped in his tracks.
“What’s the matter?” Johnny asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” he snickered.
The little ghost looked up at the paramedic. Even though he could only see the boy’s eyeballs, Johnny could tell his joke wasn’t appreciated.
“I can’t walk where a black cat ran,” the ghost explained.
“What? C’mon. That’s just superstition.”
“I can’t…it’ll give me bad luck.”
“But my Rover’s right there,” he pointed. “You have to walk where the cat ran across.”
The ghost’s voice quivered. “But I can’t.”
“Okay. How about if I carry you?”
“No! Then we’ll both have bad luck!”
Johnny could see where the sheet the boy was wearing was getting wet around the bottom of the eyeholes. The kid was serious. He wasn’t going to cross the path of the cat.
“Well, I guess we have to walk back the way we came and circle around to the Rover from the other side then,” Johnny sighed.
The others moaned.
“Do we hafta?” Billy whined. “Can’t he just go by hisself?”
“No, he can’t.”
“Can we jus’ wait at your car and you go with him?” Superman asked.
“No, I’m not letting any of ya out of my sight. Got it?” Johnny waited till he saw seven heads nod. “Okay, then. Let’s go.”
The troop headed back where they had just come from. Each of the kids except the ghost took a glance back over their shoulders at the Land Rover that had been so close.
Finally in the last section of the subdivision, Johnny watched the youngsters walk down the sidewalk towards him from one of the houses. It was then he noticed the girls were giving wary looks to the other kids they passed by who were dressed in scary costumes.
Kids…everything seems so real to them.
He met up with the seven children and moved on to the next house. Johnny turned his back to look over at another place, when all of a sudden there was a scream behind him. He spun around in time to see an adult dressed like a monster standing in the doorway of the house and six kids watching towards the street.
Six kids? Where’s the seventh?
The princess was gone. Johnny looked around frantically, but all he could see were the other adults and their kids in assorted costumes milling around the sidewalk and side of the street. His group of six took off running towards the end of the cement driveway.
“Mister Fireman!” Amanda called out. “She went this way!”
He followed the kids and soon they could see Becky still running down the side of the street. Johnny caught up to her first and stopped the girl.
“It’s okay,” he assured. “It was just a dumb grownup in a costume.”
The little girl was sobbing again. “I…I want my mommy! I wanna go home!”
Johnny sighed. “Sure. I can take you back to Amanda’s house and her mom can call your mom to pick you up, okay?”
Becky nodded, once again sniffling. The other kids gathered around.
“I think it’s time to call it a night,” Johnny suggested. “You guys did pretty good with your loot, huh?”
“It’s candy, sir,” Tammy corrected.
“I know it’s candy,” the paramedic said in an irritated tone. “That’s just an expression…oh never mind.”
He got a strange feeling of dejavu’. Haven’t we been through this before?
As the trick-or-treaters and their chauffer headed for the Land Rover, the three little girls hung close to Johnny. Amanda didn’t like the idea of sharing her hero, but as long as it was just this one time she’d be nice and play fair.
The following morning A-shift was back on duty. After chores were complete and the squad was inventoried, the men were at the table in the dayroom comparing notes on their Halloween experiences.
“Jennifer did good, but Christopher got his hand stuck in a plastic skull that someone had sitting outside their front door,” Roy told the group. “It never fails. Something happens every year.”
“How’d you get his hand out?” Captain Stanley asked, as he leaned back in his chair and took a sip of coffee.
“Had to pry the upper jaw up, and it jammed. Now we owe the people a new plastic skull.” Roy shook his head. “I’ll never figure out how kids can get into things so easily, but they can never get out the same way.” He glanced at Mike, remembering the engineer’s plans. “Hey, how did the bowling go, Mike?”
The men all waited for more, but when none came, they took that as a typical Mike answer and moved on.
“The party at my sister’s was fun,” Marco chimed in. “We had a big turn out and played games, gave out treats to neighbor kids. It was great!” he looked over at Johnny. “How’d the night with the kids go?”
“Well, aside from the small bladders, tumbling princesses, black cats, and monsters answering doors, it was great!” Johnny grinned. “In fact, I’d do it again.”
“You would?” Roy was surprised.
“Sure,” the younger paramedic nodded, as he took a bite of a donut. “This was the best Halloween I’ve had in years. And speaking of best Halloweens, Chet, how was yours?”
Chet looked at the faces all waiting for an answer.
“Oh…it was okay.”
Johnny looked at the others, a smile on his face, then returned his attention to the stocky fireman. He stuffed his bite of donut in the side of his cheek.
Chet frowned. “Alright. It was awful. Delores didn’t get scared in the haunted house. In fact she wanted me to go because she helped set that one up and she wanted me to see the work she did.”
“You’re kidding,” Marco said, shaking his head.
“I wish I was. She gave me a lectured tour as we went through it. Not even I could enjoy it as a haunted house.”
Johnny took a swig of milk to wash the donut down. Smiling at the others, he leaned back in his chair.
“I don’t believe it. A power greater than us out phantomed the phantom on Halloween night!”
And for a rare change, not even the Phantom could dispute Johnny’s words.
Tammy first appeared in The Collector and Billy appeared in Mouth of Babes. You may want to read these stories, as a couple of references are made to them in this story. They can be found on the same Stories page.
Thanks, Kenda, for the beta!