I never bother to turn my lights off on Halloween night.
I don’t like kids, and Halloween is a stupid holiday, anyway. It’s an intrusion, and I fuckin’ hate intrusions. People expect you to open your door a million times in the course of a single night, make goo-goo eyes at some pint-sized ghost or princess, and shell out a bunch of candy that will just rot their stupid teeth. It’s a racket and a half. The candy industry, the costume industry — not to mention the dentists — all havin’ a goddamn field day, while everyone else just hands them money.
Lucky for me, no one in my neighborhood ever comes to my house for that shit. When you’re the resident Big Scary Biker on the block, no parents are gonna let their kids get anywhere near your place. Not in broad daylight, and especially not at night. Ever since I moved in here three years ago, the word’s gotten out that my house and property are not to be fucked with. As a result, I don’t bother to buy candy for trick or treaters — not that I would anyway — and I don’t bother to pretend I’m not home. The rest of the neighborhood pretends for me.
And that suits me just fine.
So when the doorbell rings about eight o’clock on Halloween night, I’m halfway into my second beer, sitting on the couch watching Ohio State play Alabama. I cut an irritated glance at the front door, mumble something profane, then go back to watching the game. I don’t bother getting up. Whoever’s dumb enough to want to trick or treat here will get the message soon enough.
About thirty seconds later, the doorbell rings again — not just once, but over and over. Five times, then six, then seven.
Fuck me. Whoever these idiots are, they clearly have a death wish. They’re from this goddamn neighborhood, that’s for sure. I guess there’s a chance that it could be one of the Lords, here to piss me off. But they’d call or text first before just showin’ up like this. Plus, a lot of those fuckers have rug rats of their own, so they’re out doing the trick or treat thing with the rest of the goddamn town.
The doorbell rings again. Swearing a blue streak, I haul myself to my feet.
“This person better be able to run fuckin’ fast,” I mutter as I slam my bottle of beer down on a side table. I cross the room in a couple of strides, suck in a big lungful of air, and get ready to shout the motherfucker into next week as I yank open the door.
But what I see on the other side stops the words in my throat.
It’s a tiny little kid. A single, pint-sized little girl, with curly-frizzy brown hair.
She’s maybe four? Five? I dunno, I don’t know anything about that shit. She’s not wearing a costume, except she’s got a light-blue tutu thing on over some striped leggings. Even in the dim light, I can see the tutu is shabby, ripped on one side. She’s got on a worn jean jacket that’s not really warm enough for this fall night. On her back is a sagging backpack that’s almost as big as she is. And she’s carrying one of those little orange plastic pumpkin deals with the black handles for collecting candy.
I can’t exactly shout at this little girl. She looks scared enough as it is. I glance around, left and right, trying to see where her parent is, but there’s no one else in sight.
“I don’t have any candy, kid,” I say, trying not to sound too gruff. “Sorry.”
The little girl looks down at her feet and shrugs. She digs the toe of her scuffed pink Crocs into the cement of my front porch. But she just stands there, waiting, anyway.
I look up and down the street again. There’s some groups of older kids, but no other people out within half a block, and no parents. “You with those kids?” I ask, pointing.
The little girl shakes her head once, refusing to look up at me. Her brown curls swish around her face. What the fuck?
“You live around here?”
“Where’s your folks?”
Still nothing. The kid just keeps looking down at the ground. I realize she hasn’t said a single damn word since I opened the door.
“Are you out here by yourself?” I ask, starting to get a little concerned. “You’re a little young for that, ain’t ya?”
I take a step outside my door, thinking there has to be someone with her. The little girl startles, scurries back about a foot. Shit, I’m scaring her. Of course I am.
Furrowing my brow, I make myself move slowly and crouch down low, until I’m as close to her eye level as I can get.
“Come on,” I say as gently as I can. “Can you tell me where your mom and dad are? A brother or a sister, maybe? Are they out here trick or treating with you?”
She dips her chin shyly, but for the first time, she looks at my face. A pair of wide, solemn eyes meet mine.
Down the block, in a car I don’t recognize, the driver flicks on its headlights on and pulls away from the curb. The little girl’s head swivels toward the sound of the engine. She makes a single, high-pitched sound deep in her throat — like a sob, or a keen.
I say the word more sharply than I mean to. Her head snaps back toward me. Those wide eyes meet mine again. The dark pools are glistening now. Her lower lip trembles.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to bark at you.” I let out a breath. “But look, you gotta talk to me. Who are you? Who are you with? Can you tell me where they are?”
For a second, she doesn’t do anything. Then, raising her little arm, she holds out the orange plastic pumpkin. For the first time, I notice there’s a folded sheet of paper sticking out of it.
I stare at it, then at her. She lifts the pumpkin up another couple of inches.
Confused, I take the piece of paper out and unfold it, then hold it up to catch the light coming from the living room behind me.
Written in a scrawl, with cheap blue ball-point ink, are four sentences that are about to change my life.
Her name is Wren. She’s yours.
You can protect her. I can’t.
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