By Mark Justice
By Mark Justice
Tommy climbed the ladder to the tree house, just like he did every morning. When he squeezed through the opening in the floor, he found Bill, sitting against the wall, reading an old issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland , with Gill-Man on the cover. It was one of Tommy’s favorites.
“Hey,” he said.
Bill looked up from the magazine. “Hey.”
Tommy finished clambering through the opening. He brushed sawdust from his shirt and plopped down next to his friend. He searched through the pile of old comics and magazines, settling on a Famous Monsters with Wolf Man on the front.
“Hey,” Tommy said. “You think Wolf Man could beat up Gill-Man?”
Bill sat the magazine in his lap and thought about the question. “Nope,” he finally said.
“Me, neither,” Tommy said. “You know what tonight is?”
Bill smiled. “Trick or Treat.”
“Yeah. It hardly seems like a year, huh?”
“I know,” Bill said. “Remember last year, when I went as Dracula and you went as The Mummy. That was the coolest!”
“That wasn’t last year,” Tommy said.
“Uh-uh. That was before.”
“Before?” Bill said, his face scrunched up in concentration.
“Oh,” he said. “Anyway, what would you be this year, if you could be anything you want?”
“I don’t know,” Tommy said. “Maybe a pirate.”
“How ‘bout a biker?”
Tommy shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe. If I could be a teenage werewolf biker.”
Bill laughed. “That would be neat.”
They returned to examining their magazines for a while, even though they had long ago memorized the articles and pictures. Later, Bill said, “So, are we going out tonight?”
“We always do,” Tommy told him. “It’s Trick or Treat. We have to go.”
“I guess,” Bill said.
They passed the rest of the day in the tree house in Bill’s backyard.
That night they walked through the neighborhood, watching the other kids begging for candy.
“Man, they look so little this year,” Bill said through his plastic vampire fangs.
“No kidding,” Tommy said. He had left his mouth uncovered by the gauze wrapping of his mummy costume. As a fairy princess passed by them, Tommy looked into her plastic candy bag. “Boy! They’re handing out the good stuff this year. She had a Snickers and a Baby Ruth.”
“Sure beats candy corn,” Bill said.
“Or those marshmallow peanuts,” Tommy said, which cracked them both up.
They followed the throngs of trick-or-treaters through the neighborhood, to the intersection of Main and Harrison. While all of the costumed kids turned left on Harrison, toward another street of lighted porches and smiling Jack O’ Lanterns, Tommy and Bill hesitated. They gazed toward the darkened end of Main, as the whoop and din of excited children faded behind them, until all that seemed to remain of the world was the two of them.
Then, without speaking, they started down Main Street, away from the light. They passed by the empty barbershop, the drugstore (where many of the monster magazines had originally been purchased), the silent courthouse and the vacant lot, where they had both played baseball.
They walked until they came to the bridge. It spanned a small tributary of the Ohio, little more than a creek, not very deep at all.
Just deep enough.
They stepped carefully onto the bridge. Both boys peered over the rail, to the blackened water below.
“It was really cold, wasn’t it?” Bill said.
“I’m sorry I slipped.”
“I know,” Tommy said. “It wasn’t your fault. It was slick that night.”
“We didn’t have to take the shortcut,” Bill said. “We could’ve gone the long way around to Washington Street.”
“We were trying to get done by Eight, remember?”
“Oh, yeah. Well, you didn’t have to jump in after me, you know.”
Tommy shrugged. “That’s what best friends do. You would’ve done the same thing for me.”
Tommy playfully punched Bill in the arm. “Would too.”
“Yeah, I guess so. Thanks for trying to save me.”
They stared silently at the dark water for a few moments.
“Come on,” Tommy said. “Let’s go.”
They walked back to Bill’s house, where they would climb up to the tree house and wait for another Halloween, best friends forever.
Forever twelve years old.
© 2004, 2007 Mark Justice