Ed Froog took quiet pride in his attention to detail and ability to stay two steps ahead of the competition. If the good citizens of Pullmanville wanted food, the only place in town to get it was at Froogal Food, of which he was manager and sole proprietor. The nearest supermarket was over a day's drive away, and folks had learned not to order food on-line and have it delivered to the post office — which was situated at the back of Ed's store.
He did give back to the community. In addition to his entrepreneurial work, he was also the only pastor in town, and technically owned the local church and graveyard. Regular attendees of his Sunday services received a small discount at Froogal, and didn't have to worry about finding somewhere sanctified and respectful to bury dead loved ones. Church attendance was nearly a hundred per cent for anyone well enough to get out of bed.
Froog made anti-Halloween sermons every Sunday in October, and refused to stock candy in Froogal Food. The townsfolk, however, celebrated with handmade costumes, homegrown pumpkins, and treats crafted from family recipes. All the children trick-or-treated every house, and every house had treats... except for Ed's.
Ed always turned the lights off and went to bed early. He'd grown to expect to have to clean off toilet paper and broken eggs from his house every 1 November, but one year someone threw a not-rotten-enough apple at the dining room window, and it was while he was on hold with the glazier that Ed decided Halloween really had to go.
The following year, he left the sugar locked up in the stockroom starting the day after Labour Day, preaching every Sunday against gluttony and self-indulgence. Flour and eggs left the shelves the start of October; toilet paper the week following. Apples, tomatoes, and packaged cookies went next.
The afternoon of Halloween, he was paid a visit by Audrey Evans, her daughter Bridget, and her little grand-daughter Stella. The two grown women took turns entreating him to at least re-stock the toilet paper, and named several families who had run out days ago.
Ed listened politely, did some hand-waving about late deliveries and cash flow, then showed them the door.
That night he had a fine dinner of pancakes and apple sauce, all made from his not-for-sale cache of goods. He turned out the lights and went to bed.
He was startled awake by the sound of a church clock tolling the bell for midnight. His first thought was, "Good, all the little brats will be in bed by now, and I can start reintroducing the stock from the back room." Then he remembered that the church bell hadn't worked in years. He sat up in bed and leaned over to turn on the night-table lamp.
"You finally clued in," said a voice by the foot of the bed.
Ed jumped out of bed, scrambling for the baseball bat he kept by the headboard. It took some fumbling, but he finally got it in hand and turned to face the intruder.
He felt foolish when he saw a blonde girl about nine years old, wearing a white flannel nightgown and a red-lined black cape that was probably meant to be a vampire costume.
Ed set the baseball bat down. "What are you doing out so late?"
"Remember the year you became pastor?" said the little girl. "You thought the town might be a bit quieter on Halloween if you stopped selling flashlights and batteries a few months before. But us kids went out anyhow, and I fell in the duck pond. No moon, no stars. No-one could see where I was."
"I haven't held back the flashlight stock for twenty-five years," said Ed. "You're making that up."
"No, that was me," said the girl. "I'm Alice Evans. You talked to Audrey today. She was my big sister."
"Now look here you —" said Ed, grabbing for the girl's arm, but his hand passed through empty air. Alice looked up at him with a tiny, crooked smile on her face. His eyes widened.
"You're slow, but you get there," said Alice.
"So you're here to, what, convince me not to stop Halloween? You're most likely a figment of my imagination. You can't do anything."
"Can't do anything, can't grow up," said Alice.
Froog drew himself up. "I can do something. I can make sure this horrible tradition ends. I can redeem myself and help the town redeem themselves. Surely you realise you would still be alive as I if your family hadn't been so stupid as to lead you around in the dark."
"I am alive as you are," said Alice, and pointed at the headboard.
Ed wheeled around to see that someone was lying in his bed. He paused, not sure whether to attack the new invader, or wait to see what they did. Just then the clouds parted, and the moonlight coming through the sheer bedroom curtains illuminated the figure. Ed gasped as he recognised the face as his own.
"I've been watching you for twenty years, Ed Froog," said Alice. "You're not seeing me tonight because it's Halloween. You're seeing me because you're on the same plane of existence that I am. You don't get any moment of gloating about how redeemed you are. Now," she said, slipping off the bed and gliding towards the dining room, "I really want to see what the kids are going to do to your house this year."
Happy Halloween to all the spirited ones.