Twelve-year-old Ray Dooley and Chris Young, dressed as detectives, yelled at the top of their lungs, hammering their fists on the old decaying door.
"Ray, let's go," Chris insisted. "It ain't worth it."
Trembling, the boys eyed the wild grapevines growing all over the dilapidated front porch and wondered why there were there.
"Sorry, Chris, "Ray said, his voice quivering. "But I hit every house on Halloween. Besides, I have to settle something. If Old Lady Hilliard is really a witch she needs to move. But if she isn't, then she just owes us Halloween candy, like everyone else. I'll know the truth just by just staring into her eyes."
No one could prove it, but according to the neighborhood grapevine a witch lived there. Ever since a child had been rushed to the hospital for food poisoning three Halloweens ago, folks had assumed the old eccentric woman whose tattered mailbox was marked "Hilliard" was responsible and was a witch who hated children. Parents demanded their kids not go near the old ramshackle house with vines growing wildly around the front porch. Buried in a mass of unruly bushes and trees, Old Lady Hilliard's place was an eyesore as well a scary sight.
The boys' parents didn't even want them to go trick or treating and had tried to persuade them to attend a church halleluiah party instead. But the preteens insisted on trick or treating just one more Halloween before they turned into teenagers next year.
"Trick or treat!" Ray pounded one more time. Then, giving up, he said, "What's the use.The old bat's probably out scaring kids. Let's go."
As they bounded off the porch, Ray tripped on a tangled vine.
"Help!" He cried out from the cold autumn ground.
"Are you OK? Chris asked, wishing they'd listened to their parents.
"Don't know," Ray moaned.."May have sprained my ankle..."
Then the front door flew open and a scrawny old woman hobbled up to them.
"Are you hurt?" She asked Ray.
"Not sure," Ray stammered, terrified he'd meet up with a real live witch on Halloween night. Her long gray, matted hair and toothless smile made him want to jump out of his detective costume and run. All she needed was a black hat
"Wait," she said, caringly"I have an old wheelchair---if you could climb into it, I'll take a look at your ankleYears ago, I was a nurse."
Ray studied the old woman's face and was shocked to see tenderness in her soft brown eyes. Amazingly, she was beginning to remind him of his own mother.
Pushing out a wheelchair, she helped him into it and examined his foot. "Seems you just twisted it, but better have your mom take you to the doctor. Want to come inside while I call her?"
"Sure, why not?" The boys agreed, halfheartedly.
On the hallway wall Ray was stunned to see an old, weathered picture of a freckled, red-headed boy that looked a lot like him.
Chris wheeled him into a bedroom that looked like it belonged to a boy their age.
Choking back a tear, the old woman said, "I watch you kids walk to the bus stop every morning."
Pointing to Ray, she continued. "You remind me of my dear son, Peter. He spent his entire short life in this wheelchair. He died when he was 12-years-old of muscular dystrophy. He has a perfect body now---- been playing ball with the angels for almost 30 years. But I still miss him."
The boys were astounded how nothing had been touched in Peter's room after all these years. Except for cobwebs hanging from the ceiling, it looked as if a little boy still lived there---A train set and toy soldiers were neatly stacked on a shelf.
"Don't know why children don't stop by here anymore," she said. "When I heard you boys shout 'trick or treat' I was busy making Peter's favorite Halloween treat---candied apples.Just when I finally made it to the door I heard you fall and scream."
"Would you like some treats?"
While she called Peter's mother, the boys munched on candied apples and sipped hot apple cider, delighted to have made a new friend.
Sadly, the neighborhood grapevine that started the malicious witch rumor was uglier and more out of control than the ugly vines that weaved around the sweet old woman's porch. They both needed to be cut down.
Venice Kichura is a published freelance writer who lives in the North Georgia Mountains where she finds endless inspiration for her articles, short stories and poems.