Trick-or-treating in Maggie’s neighborhood was regimented. No kid dared show up on a porch a moment before 6 pm or a second after 8 pm. All candy was nut-free. Most was chocolate with a few other options kept off to the side for anyone who was allergic (Lewis). The ritual always ended with a careful checking of the candy by the parents. It was always the same until the Halloween night when Maggie got the key.
“Where did this come from?” asked Maggie’s mother holding up a rusty old key. Maggie looked at it.
“I don’t know. I don’t remember getting it.”
“I know that some people have been saying that it’s better not to give out candy for Halloween.” Maggie knew that by “some people” her mom meant Lewis’s family. “But that’s no excuse for giving out filthy junk.”
“What are you doing?” asked Maggie, seeing perfectly well what her mother was doing.
“I’m throwing this thing away. You didn’t want it did you?”
“Maybe. I think so. Please let me keep it. It’s interesting.”
“Okay, but if I you leave it on the floor and I step on that tetanus-filled thing even once, it’s gone.”
In her room that night Maggie looked at the key. It was a skeleton key like she’d only seen in books and cartoons. It had an ornate handle, a long stem, and the type of geometric end that fits into the sort of keyhole that looks the way you think a keyhole ought to look even though none of them do anymore.
Tied to the handle with a ribbon was a tag. There weren’t any words on it, just some scribbles. Well, not scribbles really. They didn’t look messy or random. Maggie stared at the lines on the tag. The more she stared the more they seemed familiar.
“If I imagine this circle is the cul-de-sac at the end of our street then that could be the big tree on the corner. All the corners match our streets. It’s a map!”
There was a little x on the map in a location that would be just a few blocks away. Maggie really wanted to find that x in real life.
Maggie’s parents always stayed up and watched scary movies on Halloween. When Maggie was born they worried that she’d hear the spooky movie sounds through the vents and have nightmares, so her parents started turning on the radio in the kitchen to cover the sounds of the movie. Unfortunately, that just meant that instead of having nightmares about overheard scary movies she ended up having nightmares about overheard news updates.
A couple years ago Maggie realized that the noise cancellation worked both ways, and she’d take advantage of the radio and movie cacophony to creep downstairs and get extra Halloween candy. Tonight she used it to cover the sound of her sneaking out of the house with a rusty key and a crudely drawn map.
It had been chilly during trick-or-treating. It was colder now. Maggie wished she had put on more than a hoodie over her pajamas.
She followed the map until she arrived at the old Hansen house. Maggie wasn’t surprised that was her destination, even if she knew that the house, although old, was not so old as to have a keyhole that was likely to take the kind of key she held in her hand.
The Hansen house was only old compared to the pristine drywall and newly sanded countertops of the townhouses that surrounded it. The developers had wanted to buy it, but the Hansens refused. Now the Hansens have moved away but after the housing bubble burst the developers were no longer interested in adding yet another vacant home to their collection. The house had been empty for six months.
Maggie knew her key wouldn’t fit the door, but she also knew this was the place on the map. Not knowing what else to do and already having come so far, she walked up to the front porch.
The curtains were closed, but as she got closer to the house she hear sounds from inside the house. Just as she thought she should probably go home the front door opened with creak.
“We’ve been waiting for you, Maggie.”
“It’s about time you got here.”
Maggie looked at her parents then looked past them where a bunch of the neighborhood kids were playing and laughing.
“Come in, come in!” said her mother.
Stunned, Maggie came inside.
“Well, a lot of us parents thought that Halloween had become too predictable.”
“Boring,” added her dad.
“Yes, so we thought we’d give you kids a bit of mystery and adventure this year.”
“You did this?”
“Well, Lewis’s parents thought of it.”
Maggie looked over at the food table where Lewis’s dad was carefully examining the snacks in search of things that Lewis could each without inflating like a puffer fish. When he saw Maggie looking over he waved.
“How’d you know I’d–we’d– come?”
“Well, I guess we didn’t. A few kids still aren’t here. But we hoped you’d come.”
“I always knew you were curious enough and brave enough to come.” Her dad’s boast was punctuated with an eye roll from her mom that let Maggie know her dad wasn’t quite that sure.
“And you did come. Happy Halloween, Maggie!”
“I love you, mom and dad! This is the best Halloween ever!”
That night a bunch of neighborhood kids stayed up past their bedtimes and ate too much candy and compared the old keys that brought them there. It was wonderful.
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