TRICK ME, TREAT ME

Smile.

The alarm rang.

Tabby reached over and hit the off button. It was Sunday, so it wasn’t like she needed to wake up with the alarm, but she did so anyway just to keep her schedule on track.

She groaned as she struggled to get out of bed, and she wasn’t even old yet. Life was just that stressful anymore.

She looked up at the calendar as she walked over to her dresser.

It was October 31st, an exciting day for the kids, as they were still young enough to see something magical in Halloween, though Tabby knew there were plenty of adults who still thought as such. She was just not one of them.

She had a strange feeling of déjà vu cling to her, clinging like lint from the dryer, an aftersensation as if she had done all of this before, but that nuisance quickly went away. It was just her imagination, but she’d been having that feeling a lot lately, though maybe the idea of repeating that feeling was also her imagination, so there was that.

Whatever the case, she picked out her clothes for the day, dressed, and then made her empty bed.

Mark was already up and gone somewhere, probably on the computer, or playing games on the TV, or whatever it was he did anymore. She knew he was looking for work, but sometimes?…She wondered why they were even still together.

She headed downstairs and walked into the living room, and bingo, Mark was on the computer again, but more than likely, he was not looking for work.

“Are you online?” she asked.

“Yep,” he said quickly.

“What are you doing?” asked Tabby.

“Just checking my email,” replied Mark.

“Did you fill out that application I told you about?” she asked.

“I looked at it,” he said.

“And?” asked Tabby.

“I’ll get to it,” shrugged Mark. “I need to dig up some references and all that other crap.”

“You need to get a job,” frowned Tabby. “That’s what you need to do.”

“I am,” said Mark, and Tabby could already tell his tone was shifting. “I’m just not working any crap jobs again. I have a degree. I need a career. I’ve told you this a million times. I need a career, not a job.”

“Then find one,” said Tabby.

“That’s what I’m doing,” said Mark.

“If I didn’t have a job,” frowned Tabby, “I’d be sending out resumes everywhere.”

Mark turned and looked at her, but the expression on his face was not one of enthusiasm or happiness.

“I’ll get to it,” he said unhappily. “Right now, it’s Halloween, and I just want the kids to be happy. It’s a special night for them.”

“They’d be happier knowing you were bringing in some money,” said Tabby.

He scowled and shook his head at her, but that attitude wasn’t going to solve any of the problems between them. She continuously wondered why he couldn’t see that.

“Are you done?” frowned Mark. “In fact, why am I even asking?…You know what? Never mind.”

She watched in silent and growing anger as Mark closed out of his email, stood up, and walked to the front door. He had opened the door partway before Tabby decided to say anything.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“I’m taking a walk,” said Mark angrily. “I’m going to go see what the kids are doing.”

She shook her head as he left and shut the door behind him. He didn’t slam it, no, but she could tell he was angry again…Not that it mattered. She was tired of all of it.

**********

Tabby sat down at the kitchen table and sighed.

Mark had taken the kids out trick or treating, and now she was sorting through their candy. She had a penchant for sweets, but she was being good right now, or at least, she was trying to be.

She unwrapped a chocolate bar, bit into it, and sighed again, but this time in some semblance of relief. The kids were in bed, Mark was upstairs getting ready for bed, and she was down here wrapping things up…or unwrapping them, as the case may be.

She thought about the night and how it had gone.

Kelly had dressed up as a pirate, which was a little weird for a girl, but she was six, so no one really cared, and Laura had dressed in a maid’s outfit with cat ears on her head, and she was eight, so that was actually weird. Kelly was her daughter, not Mark’s, and Laura was Mark’s kid anyway, not hers, and Mark seemed to be fine with Laura’s outfit, so in the end, what the two children had worn hadn’t really mattered much. They’d had fun, and that was all that actually mattered.

Of course, she had argued with Mark all day long. That was a downer, true, but the kids had still had their fun, and that…was something. It had to be.

Tabby closed her eyes and finished her chocolate bar. She thought about where her life was going, or rather, where it wasn’t going, but this was an old complaint, and right now, she just wanted it all to go away.

She scooped up the candy, put it all back in one big plastic bag, and looked around for somewhere to hide it. The kids would get their candy, of course, but they had to behave in order to get any, and Tabby knew her own daughter quite well…Kelly would just grab handfuls of it if the bag was anywhere within arm’s reach.

She decided upon the cabinet above the fridge, a high, hard-to-reach place that neither child would have easy access to. She took the folding footstool from out of the cabinet under the kitchen sink, unfolded the stool, and placed it next to the fridge. Mark could probably reach that high cabinet with his freaky-long arms, but she was just too short to up and open it normally.

Tabby opened up the cabinet and stopped as she stared at the bottle of mostly-consumed alcohol. She pulled out the almost-empty bottle of whiskey and stared at it in confusion.

Mark was not supposed to be drinking again, but this bottle was here, hidden away at the back of this cabinet, a cabinet they never really used.

She put the bag of candy in the now empty cabinet, shut the cabinet door, stepped down from her stool, and stared at the nearly-empty bottle. It evoked a feeling she could not fully describe, a mix of horror, grief, and something else, possibly guilt, but that was crazy, because the only emotions the bottle should have made her feel were suspicion and rage.

Tabby shook her head, folded up the stepstool, put it back in its place within the kitchen sink cabinet, and clutched the bottle in steadily growing anger.

“Oh, he’s going to get it now,” she spat.

She marched up the stairs and entered the master bedroom in order to lay down some well-deserved accusations, but Mark was nowhere to be found.

“Mark!” she called out angrily. “Mark!”

The kids were asleep, but at this point, she didn’t care. If he was drinking again, which he probably was, then that was her boiling point.

She heard the water running in the bathroom, and the light in the bathroom was on, so she closed the bedroom door and prepared for another confrontation.

She walked into the short hallway connecting the two rooms, the kids’ room in-between, and she tried the bathroom doorhandle. The door was not locked, so she made the decision then and there to barge in on him.

She opened the door, bottle in hand, and stood there for a second as her mind tried to grasp what was in front of her.

A tall man dressed in monochrome black and white had his back to her, and when he turned around, he did not look like Mark…He most definitely did not.

The man standing in the bathroom had strangely long legs, or maybe his black slacks were pulled up too high on his waist. He wore a long-sleeved white shirt with horizontal black stripes, and that monochrome illusion of optics made his arms look longer than they should have, just like his legs.

He wore one black glove on his left hand and one white glove on his right, mirrored by one black dress shoe on his right foot and one white dress shoe on his left. On his head was topped a black bowler hat, something Tabby had only seen in old photographs.

His skin, where she could see it, was all smeared with white makeup, especially his face. His lips were jet black, and his dark eyes were ringed in black eyeshadow, his lips and eyeshadow color-coordinated with his short-cut, jet-black hair, those colors standing out against a background of ivory-white skin.

The whole of it, the disturbing and uncanny combination that made up his appearance, made him look like some mime that had been dredged up from the depths of a child’s nightmare.

Around him was a small, circular wall of toilet paper, roll after roll piled upon one another, and who he was or why he’d piled up all those toilet rolls, Tabby could not fathom.

He looked upon her with a knowing expression, and then he spoke, but his tone was not kind.

“Trick or treat,” he said in a dark voice. “Come on, love…Smile…”

The one thing that Tabby did not feel like doing at that moment was smiling.

Her lips parted, and she exhaled a low gasp of audible fear as this stranger’s own black lips turned upwards, those ebon lips pulling back to reveal shiny white teeth, teeth that would have been perfect in every way were there not so many of them. This strange mime’s smile spread all the way from ear to ear, and his teeth appeared to grow larger as his smile widened, that smile taking up most of his painted-white face.

“Trick…” he said, that huge mouth opening and closing like a lid.

Tabby screamed as the man in the bowler hat raised both arms, his gloved palms up, his head down, his dark eyes holding a menacing glint. Sheets of toilet paper sprang from the rolls around him, shooting forward to wrap around her, and she waved her arms in a futile attempt to keep from being turned into a dime-store mummy.

She was wrapped up tightly a few seconds later, fold after fold of toilet paper winding around her to pin her arms to her body and bring her legs together at the knees. She looked like a human roll of kite string, and it was all she could do to keep her balance, to keep herself from toppling over.

Several sheets of paper wrapped around her mouth to where her shrieks were nothing more than muffled yelps, and that was all that could escape her lips. Her eyes were still uncovered, so she could still see, but unfortunately for her, this was not a mercy. The rolls of paper surrounding the malevolent stranger burst into orange flame, and that fire crawled up the sheets of extended twining paper until Tabby felt the burning heat all around her.

The pain as she burned alive was so incredible, so terrible, that there were no thoughts in her head to describe it. She staggered backwards as a living pyre, but her right foot found nothing but air after three steps backward, and she tumbled down the stairs as one giant roll of burning tissue.

**********

The alarm rang.

Tabby reached over and hit the off button. She sat up in bed, shaking a little, and she folded her arms around her as she tried to throw off whatever terror had afflicted her during sleep.

The dream, the nightmare she’d just suffered through, still gripped her in its vividness, and it would not so easily let go. The memory of the tall mime in monochrome, this “Trickster,” still haunted her.

“Come on, come on,” she groaned as she forced herself out of bed. “Get your butt up and moving.”

She looked up at the calendar as she walked over to her dresser.

It was Sunday, October 31st, and upon seeing that date, a strange feeling of déjà vu swept over her. She held her head for a moment to let it pass, but the feeling was very strong. It was as if she had seen and done this before, but that was impossible, so she ignored that strange feeling in order to simply function.

Tabby shook her head, picked out her clothes for the day, and headed downstairs. The only thing on her mind was the nightmare she’d suffered through, so it honestly surprised her when she saw Mark sitting at the computer in the living room.

That feeling of déjà vu struck her again, and she spoke before she even knew what she was saying, but the strange thing was, she already knew what she was going to say.

“Are you online?” she asked, and she felt extremely strange, weirded out, and that off-putting tone was audibly telling in her voice.

“Yeah,” said Mark, but he turned to give her a concerned look. “Are you all right? You look…uhh…”

“I’m…fine,” she said as she shook her head and waved him off. “What are you doing?”

“Just checking my email,” replied Mark.

“Did you fill out that application I told you about?” she asked.

“I looked at it,” he said.

That feeling of déjà vu was stronger than ever now, but this time, she decided to fight it. Maybe this had happened in her dream, and stranger things had happened in real life, so maybe she had dreamed it, and if that was the case…

“Just…fill it out later, please,” she said. “I know you don’t want to do it, but please do it for me.”

Mark shone her a surprised look that consisted of one raised left eyebrow, and then he gave her a smile, something she had not seen on his face for a long time, at least, not when it came to her.

“Sure thing,” he said. “Are you…? Are you sure you’re all right?”

Tabby closed her eyes, took in a short breath, released that breath, and then opened her eyes.

“Yeah,” she said unhappily. “I’m fine…I just need to…I need to do some housework.”

“Housework?” asked Mark. “It’s Sunday…and it’s Halloween. Take a load off.”

“The kitchen’s a mess,” frowned Tabby.

Mark looked over at the kitchen and shook his head once.

“The kitchen’s fine,” he said in confusion. “The house can wait. Sit down and watch some TV. It’s Halloween.”

“It’s always Halloween for you, isn’t it?” she asked.

She hadn’t wanted to say that, but it had slipped out anyway.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” frowned Mark.

And so, it had come to this again. It was the old standard, the norm she had come to expect, arguing again, though she hadn’t really wanted this to happen. Even so, she had started it, and it was too late to back out now.

“It means you could do some housework, too,” frowned Tabby.

“I do,” replied Mark, and his tone had soured with that defensive statement.

“Like what?” asked Tabby.

“I do the kitchen every day,” said Mark defensively. “I sweep the floors, do the laundry…”

“It doesn’t look like it,” said Tabby.

Mark gave her a deep and unhappy frown, turned, closed out his email, and shook his head. He stood up, turned to address her, and shook his head one more time.

“You know what?” he said angrily.

“What?” she asked in an equally angry reply.

He gave her a look, a twisting of his lips with a glint of disgust in his eyes, and then he waved both hands down at her as if to say, “I’m done.”

“Never mind,” he said. “Just do your housework.”

He turned his back on her and walked to the front door.

“Where are you going?” asked Tabby in a heated tone.

“I’m taking a walk,” said Mark angrily. “I’m going to go see what the kids are doing.”

She closed her eyes and breathed in as Mark opened the front door, walked out, and shut the door behind him. That feeling of déjà vu was strong, true, but she chalked it up to just being the same old garbage she always waded through.

**********

Tabby sat down at the kitchen table and sighed.

She stared at the collection of candy upon the table, specifically one very tasty-looking chocolate bar, and she frowned. She frowned because she and Mark had argued all day again, and things had played out almost exactly as they had in her nightmare, though that nightmare was fading simply due to the passage of time.

She shook her head, picked up the chocolate bar, unwrapped it, and took a bite out of it.

“Just superstition,” she said in shaky disbelief.

The chocolate was good, just like in her dream, but it was a good brand of chocolate, so that wasn’t exactly a sign from the heavens that something weird or supernatural was going on.

The kids had enjoyed themselves, and they had dressed in the outfits they had both planned on wearing, Kelly in her pirate outfit, Laura in her weird cat-maid outfit, so nothing had changed there. Mark had taken them around the neighborhood for trick or treating, and that was that.

Tabby finished her chocolate bar, threw away the wrapper, and then sacked up all of the candy in one big plastic bag. She was going to have to hide that bag, of course, so she looked around for a good spot to do so.

Her eyes landed upon the hard-to-reach cabinet above the fridge, but she shivered as she thought about the nightmare from last night.

“No,” she said quietly to herself.

She did not want to take out the footstool, open that cabinet, and actually find a mostly-empty whiskey bottle in there. That would be too much for her.

She looked around again and decided to put the bag away in one of the dish cabinets above the sink, the one she rarely used, the one in which she had stored a number of antique, never-used plates. That one was still hard to reach for Kelly, and Laura didn’t care to look for such things, so it was as good a spot as any.

Tabby took the footstool from the cabinet underneath the sink, set up the stool, and opened up the cabinet directly above her. She stuffed the bag full of candy in that hollow space, setting it on top of a couple of antique dishes, but her left hand knocked over something as she removed her hand from the open cabinet.

She pulled out the bottle of pills a second later and stared at them, studying them, unsure as to what they were.

In her left hand was a small white bottle of sleep-aid, but that was not what caught her off guard. It was the strong feelings of horror and grief followed by guilt that struck her upon viewing the bottle, those odd feelings hammering into her, tormenting her for some unknown reason. This was really weird, because she also had that same flash of déjà vu hit her, and that particularly strange vibe was over the flash of other strange feelings she was experiencing at that moment.

She shook her head and stepped down from the stool, dismissing those strange, off-kilter feelings as quickly as they had come.

With that weird flash of nonsense out of the way, now she was only confused. The bottle in her hand was confusing because it looked newly bought, and she most certainly had not bought it. Mark must have bought it, but why he would need sleep-aid was beyond her, so the only thing left to do was to question him about it, though she was not looking forward to that confrontation.

Tabby sucked in her breath and walked to the entrance of the living room, ready to round the corner of the stairs in order to play twenty questions, but a strange fear hit her from out of the blue. It was the nightmare from the previous night that ground into her, so she hesitated, hesitating in order to gather the courage to walk up those stairs.

“This is stupid,” she said to herself. “Just go up there and ask him.”

She took a step forward but stopped upon the hearing of an alarming noise, the unsettling sound of the refrigerator door slowly creaking open by itself.

Tabby slowly turned around as her arms braised over in goosebumps, a telltale sign that she was truly in danger, and sure enough, he was there again, the tall mime in monochrome, this “Trickster” from her previous nightmare.

He stood in front of the refrigerator, the door of the cold box opened wide, the light inside shining brightly to reveal, not her normal food, but pink carton after pink carton of large grade-A eggs.

The Trickster bowed as he tipped his bowler hat upon her viewing of him.

“M’lady,” he said in a dark voice. “Trick or treat.”

He stood upright as he flipped the black bowler hat back onto his head in perfect and adroit placement.

“Smile, love,” he said.

He grinned that wide, disturbing, monstrous smile again, those huge teeth glistening in the kitchen light, but the last thing Tabby wanted to do was smile. She wanted to scream, and she parted her lips to do so, but the only thing that exited her mouth was a low whine, a whine awakened by terrible fear, another sucking in of the breath that did little in the way of oxygen for the brain.

“Trick…” said the Trickster in his dark voice.

He raised both of his arms, both arms covered in white long sleeves ringed with black stripes, and those arms stretched out a full foot longer than they should have, his gloved palms up as if inviting her in for some horrific, demonic hug.

Pink carton after pink carton of eggs opened up within the fridge, and white egg after white egg shot forward like rounds from a cannon to mercilessly pepper her. The flung eggs hurt as they broke apart upon her, covering her with their interior goo, but the real horror had only just begun.

Inside the eggs was not their usual contents, no, but blood, bright red in the kitchen light. That blood burned and sizzled into her skin like some form of acid, and Tabby screeched again and again as she bent over and held her burning face.

She was splattered with the stuff, and everywhere it had sizzled into her skin had formed a large yellow boil, and those boils caused such intense pain that her screeches died altogether into a silent scream.

She removed her shaking, boil covered-hands from her plague-ridden face and stood trembling from the pain, her eyes squeezed shut, her mouth wide open in that silent scream. She opened her eyes wide a second later and screamed long and loud from the pain and horror that occurred next.

The boils burst open one-by-one, splattering thick yellow pus across the kitchen floor, and roaches, nasty brown and black things each as long as a quarter, came flying out of her wounds to surround her in a disgusting, buzzing cloud of awful intensity.

Tabby dropped to the kitchen tiles as the foul insects covered her. Even as the darkness crept in, that dying of the light as her eyes closed once more, she could feel their tiny bites as they burrowed back into her destroyed flesh.

**********

The alarm rang.

Tabby reached over and hit the off button. She sat up in bed, a shaking, anxiety-ridden mess. She held her face in her hands for a few seconds before managing to gather enough courage to get up and get moving.

She looked up at the calendar as she walked over to her dresser.

It was Sunday, and it was also Halloween, but she simply did not want to think about it. She was having that feeling of déjà vu attack her in such force that it was overpowering, and that, coupled with her anxiety, set her teeth on edge.

Twice now, or maybe twice in the same night, she’d had the same nightmare, and twice now, she had been shackled with this overwhelming sensation of déjà vu, and it was proving too much.

She got dressed for the day, but as she turned to leave the bedroom, she noticed that her closet door was open just a crack. She went to close it, but she opened it to look inside, and why she had done that, that simple action of opening the closet door, escaped her.

Some of Mark’s clothes were in the closet, his black slacks, a pair of black dress shoes… but there was also a shoebox on the floor she did not recognize. Tabby opened the box against her better judgement, and inside was a pair of white dress shoes, shoes she did not recognize, either.

She looked up at the top shelf and gasped as she viewed the black bowler hat placed there. Underneath it, wrapped in plastic, was a monochrome shirt of white and black stripes, the hat placed neatly on top of it. She had never noticed these articles of clothing before, but now that she had, her paranoia and rage pitched out of control and into the realm of unreasonable.

“Mark!” yelled Tabby. “Maaark!”

She exited the bedroom, ran down the stairs, and turned the corner of the stairs, but she already knew where he was going to be. He was at the computer, just like she’d thought.

“What are you doing!” cried Tabby.

Mark turned and gave her a wide-eyed stair of visible surprise.

“I’m checking my e—” he started to say.

“This is all you!” she yelled with an accusing finger. “It’s all you, isn’t it!”

“What are you talking about?” he asked, his confused face twisting in slight fear.

“You’re gaslighting me, aren’t you!” she cried in a panicked voice. “You’re doing this!”

“Doing what!” replied Mark in an equally-panicked voice.

“Don’t lie to me!” yelled Tabby. “I found that black hat in the closet, and…and the shirt, and the shoes! I know it was you in the bathroom with the toilet paper, and in the kitchen with the eggs…”

“What are you talking about!” cried Mark. “Calm down! You’re sounding crazy!”

“I’m not crazy!” cried Tabby. “I found that black hat and the striped shirt…”

“You mean my Halloween costume?” asked Mark. “That stuff’s for tonight…I’m dressing up with the kids…What is going on with you? What is this stuff about the bathroom and toilet paper and…and eggs?”

“I…I thought…I…” stammered Tabby.

Mark stood up and walked over to her. She flinched at first as he wrapped his arms around her, but his touch was soothing, not hostile, so she relented.

“What is going on?” he asked. “You just woke up, didn’t you?”

“Y…Yeah…” stammered Tabby.

“Did you have a bad dream or something?” he asked. “You’re, like, acting all crazy.”

Tabby thought about this and realized he was right. From Mark’s point of view, she must have gone completely nuts with an entrance like that.

“I’m sorry,” she breathed out. “I…I’m sorry…I just…I had a nightmare…”

He turned her a little by holding onto her shoulders, and then he stared into her eyes.

“Hey,” he said softly. “You’re just having stress…It’s okay to sit down and relax and…and enjoy some time off every once in a while. You need to. You’re cracking apart, babe.”

“Maybe…” replied Tabby in marked uncertainty.

She did not know what was going on anymore. Her life had felt empty and unsatisfying before with all of the arguing and negative emotions that Mark brought out of her, but now it just felt…worse, far worse. The dreams, the nightmares, had felt real, and this just made things feel so much worse for her…She felt like she really was cracking up.

Mark held her face in his hands and touched his forehead to hers.

“You need to take a deep breath and just relax,” he said gently. “Take the day for yourself and make it your own. You’re so wound up and angry anymore…I mean, I can’t even remember the last time you’ve smiled…”

A spike of fear pinned her, paranoia rushing through her veins, and she quickly stepped back and out of his grasp.

“What did you say?” asked Tabby in sudden fear.

“What?” asked Mark in more visible confusion. “I just said I haven’t seen you smile in forever. You need to smile…”

That word seared itself into her heart, the word “smile,” and the image of the Trickster’s unholy grin flamed into her memory and would not leave.

It was clear to her in an equally-destructive flashfire of unreasonable paranoia what was going on here. Mark was gaslighting her; he had to be. He wanted her to go crazy because then he could have everything. How he could actually get everything in a legal sense was beyond her rational mind, but rationality was no longer at play here.

“It really is you!” gasped Tabby. “You’ve been doing this!”

“What?” asked Mark. “Doing what? What are you—?”

“Get out!” yelled Tabby. “Get out of my house!”

“What!” asked Mark, this time in alarm.

“GET OUT!” screeched Tabby. “GET OUT OF MY HOUSE! Get out, get out, GET OUT!”

Mark looked truly out of sorts as she yelled in his face, but that confused and alarmed expression didn’t last long. His face shone confusion, then alarm, then hurt, then anger, and then finally disgust. That change in looks only lasted a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity to Tabby.

“You’re insane,” he said in quiet rage. “I’m getting the kids. They need to go somewhere safe…somewhere away from you. I’m calling Social Services.”

Tabby laughed in defiance at that statement. She wasn’t the crazy one, no. He was the crazy one. He was a straight-up sociopath, and she knew that now.

“You go ahead and call them!” she yelled. “I’m calling the police!”

He turned and walked toward the front door, opened the door, and exited.

“Did you hear me!” screeched Tabby. “You’re going to get arrested!”

This time he did slam the door. He slammed the door hard, and with that slamming came the foreboding sense that this was finally the end of their time together.

Tabby let her tears flow, but she did not emotionally wail or inanely weep. She was not one for overplayed dramatics, but still…this time was the worst. Deep down, she wondered if this time really was her own fault, and maybe it was, but she needed time to think about what had just happened, about why everything had just fallen apart.

She walked back upstairs to her bedroom, slammed shut the bedroom door, and stood in front of her dresser mirror. She wiped tears from her dark eyes and tried to compose herself as she leaned upon the dresser’s top.

Her right hand touched cold metal, the tip of her car key. She picked up the key and stared at it in strange disaffection, but it was the garage door remote sitting next to it that caught her attention. Why that was up here in her bedroom and not in her car was a mystery to her, so she switched her car key to her left hand and picked up the remote with her right.

She was suddenly overcome with a terrible, mixed feeling of both guilt and grief upon holding the two items, a combination that caused her to cry yet again, so she placed the two items back on her dresser top.

She suddenly felt tired, a physical exhaustion to match her emotional one. She laid back down on her bed and closed her eyes to force out these unwanted emotions of guilt and grief, but they were unmerciful, unrelenting.

Tabby had often thought of ending it in that way, of closing the garage door and turning on the car, filling the garage with carbon-monoxide, to sleep and never wake again. The key and the remote brought back that dark, wayward thought, that final way out of all of this, and this was all she could dwell on at the moment.

She wiped at her closed eyes, took in a shallow breath, and wept a little more, and she would have continued to cry for a little longer, but her weeping was interrupted by a drop of something wet that plopped and splattered across her forehead. Another drop struck her left cheek and rolled down it, so she was forced to open her eyes in response to this liquid invasion of her privacy.

She stared up at the ceiling and sucked in her breath as pure raw fear took her. Etched into the plaster of the bedroom ceiling, directly above her bed, was the word “TRICK” in capital letters, those words written in, and dripping with, what looked like fresh blood.

She opened her mouth to cry out, but two long and spindly arms came up from each side of the bed, a queen-sized bed at that, and those arms held the familiar monochrome colors of the Trickster, his sinister hands still wearing one black glove and one white one. Those weird, boneless, and elongated arms snaked around her to disappear under the bed, then up again, wrapping around her and the bed, again and again until she felt like a bundle of newspapers tied together with rough twine.

Tabby tried to scream but could not so much as squeak as her breath was forced from her lungs. The bundle of arms and bed she was trapped in tightened like the loop of a noose, her mouth filled with her own blood from the sudden rupturing of her internal organs, and she felt and heard her bones cracking and snapping as the bed collapsed in on itself.

**********

The alarm rang.

Tabby reached over and hit the off button.

She sat up and wiped tears from her eyes as she reached a decision within her own mind. Whether she was going crazy or not, whether or not she was suffering through some kind of extended nightmare, was irrelevant. Something, somehow, was trying to tell her something important that she had denied for a very long time now. The facts were and always had been that she was unhappy, and Mark was unhappy, and something needed to be done about that, and it needed to be done right away.

She got out of bed and looked at the calendar as she walked to her dresser.

It was Sunday, and it was Halloween, and this chronological news did not surprise her in the least. She knew Mark was downstairs on the computer, and she knew that fact with a cosmic certainty, so now was the time to do what needed to be done.

She got dressed for the day, wiped her cheeks free of tears, and made her way downstairs.

She rounded the corner of the stairs and saw him in his seat at the computer, but she was no longer afraid of him. Whatever was going to happen, she was not afraid anymore.

The Trickster rose from the computer chair and turned to look upon her.

“Stop, Mark,” said Tabby as she gave him a sad, teary-eyed smile. “You wanted a smile, but this is the only kind I can give…This…This isn’t working. This isn’t working anymore.”

The Trickster’s long, freaky, monochrome arms stretched forth across the room, stretching forth a good twelve feet, and his gloved hands gripped her by the shoulders. He pulled himself across the room, sliding on his dress shoes across the wood floor in an unnatural fashion, his knees never bending, his monochrome arms shrinking in on themselves until they were at normal length, his black and white face staring down into hers from a mere foot away.

But Tabby was not scared of him anymore.

“I don’t know how to fix this,” she smiled as she wept at the same time. “I don’t know what to do…I love you…but I don’t know what to do anymore.”

“You know what to do,” said the Trickster in a dark voice.

Tabby actually did know what to do, but she really didn’t want to do it. She continued to shine that sad smile as her tears flowed, and she let him know as much.

“I don’t want you to…to go,” she wept. “I love you.”

 “You have to let me go,” said the Trickster. “You know what to do, love. I have always loved you, and I always will, but sometimes, you just have to let go…You know what to do now…Trick or Treat.”

Tabby closed her eyes and grimaced as she continued to weep. She opened her eyes and nodded at him in reply. She did indeed know what to do, and this time, unlike the thousands of times before, she was going to do it.

“Treat…” she choked out. “You’re free now…I release you…”

She reached up and gripped the Trickster by the back of his ivory-white neck with both hands and brought his head down to hers to have his black-coated lips meet her natural ones.

The memories came flooding back to her with that kiss, the arguing, the constant fighting over money, the kids, everything…It all came back in a deluge of unhappiness and regret, all of the time they’d spent together in this bittersweet relationship.

Time slowed with that kiss, and the furniture around the house began to float as a searing light split the north wall next to the front door.

Tabby remembered Mark going out with the kids while he was dressed as the Trickster for Halloween, she remembered the huge fight they’d had afterwards, and she remembered going to bed feeling depressed and mentally scooped.

He had said he’d needed time to think before joining her in bed, but it had been the middle of the night when she had awakened, and he had not been there, not next to her like he should have been. She had gone downstairs to look for him, and that’s when she had found him.

The Trickster in her arms morphed in slow time, shrinking and warping back into Mark as she continued to kiss him, the memories still flooding in, those memories hitting her like a runaway train.

Tabby remembered her eyes and mouth wide open in screaming horror and grief at the sight of Mark slumped over the kitchen table, the nearly-empty bottle of whiskey in his right hand, the pills spilled out from their container near his left hand, and he’d still been dressed as the Trickster, still in the monochrome colors he’d gone out in.

The floating furniture in the house began to slowly spin, and then the bright light in the northern wall split open to reveal a gateway to somewhere else, somewhere with a blue sky, a shining sun, fields of green grass and mountains in the distance, and singing, beautiful singing from everywhere at once.

Tabby had cried and cried at his funeral, and she had gone and seen counselors, but nothing had helped. Laura had gone to live with her grandparents, and Kelly wasn’t the same once Laura had gone.

Mark released her as she released him. He walked over toward the light, walking over toward that otherwhere that was so much nicer than here, and he stepped onto green grass in that space, stepping into bright and warm sunlight. He turned and gave her one last smile, but this time it was one full of care and not regret, one full of love and not anger.

Tabby remembered setting the garage door remote down in the front seat of her car, she remembered turning the car key over in the ignition, and she remembered feeling so tired and so sleepy a short while after, and then nothing, no memory of what happened after that.

But then other memories came back, dark memories, the memories of here, this Sunday, repeated again and again, so many times that she could not remember. The Trickster had killed her over and over and over again, in many, many different ways, horrible, terrible ways, but that was all changing, and this time for good. She was no longer trapped here, no longer trapped in this purgatory she had created, this self-torment of her own making.

The light before her, that beautiful, scenic picture of Mark in that sunny field, burned open like old film that had suddenly broken within the projector. The walls around her melted in similar fashion, the floating furniture disintegrating to nothing, everything burning away like old film, like some long and torturous movie that had finally and fully ended.

Her surroundings were slowly replaced by a background of fluorescent lights on tiled ceiling, and the singing from that other place was taken over by the steady, rhythmic, beeping sounds of a life-support monitor.

She tried to sit up, but she felt so weak, so tired, so she decided to take it slowly and easily, just to inspect her surroundings.

Tabby looked around at the contents of the small hospital room she was in. The walls were a light green, the floor was white tile, and the little room was pleasant enough, but that was not what held her attention.

There were Halloween decorations on the walls, jack-o-lanterns and skeletons and witches and ghosts…but it was the calendar on the wall on her right that had caught her eye. It was still Sunday, October 31st, but it was not the Halloween she remembered. It was eleven years later, eleven years suddenly gone, eleven years from the date she had kept returning to, eleven years of torture escaped at last.

Trick Me, Treat Me Copyright © 2021 Matthew L. Marlott

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