Christa didn’t believe in ghosts.
Key word: didn’t.
Even as a child she had found the concept unreasonable.
“Even if they do exist, it’s not like they could hurt us. They can’t touch us.”
That is what she had always said. Often times the kids at her school would make wagers and bets, trying to trick her into thinking ghost were real.
They'd never succeeded, of course, but they'd tried. One boy had even come to her house and waved a pole with a doll’s head in front of her bedroom window. Her response had been to open the window, take the head, and use it to replace the broken one on her favourite doll.
The day after she had shown her work to her family, her mother had gotten in a car crash and ended up in the hospital. A heartbreaking coincidence, but it was just that: a coincidence.
She was fourteen now, and the majority of the childish attempts had ceased after the accident.
Closing her book, Christa let out a sigh before glancing out her window. The sun was finally setting, and there were already groups of children flooding out of their houses to get a head start on the trick-or-treating fun.
She had told her brother she still hadn’t decided if she would go or not, but her vampire costume was draped over her chair in front of her desk. She breathed out audibly, flopping onto her bed.
“I don’t really want to go...” she groaned. “I’d rather just sleep and get candy on sale tomorrow.”
As if on cue, her door suddenly burst open. Her eyes were still closed, but she guessed who it was.
“What do you want, Caleb?” She grumbled as she pushed herself into a sitting position and glanced towards the door.
Nobody was there.
“...Caleb, stop hiding.” She frowned, walking to the door and peering into the hallway.
Nobody was there.
“Caleb?” She called out.
From across the hall, her younger brother’s door clicked before opening slowly. “Yeah?”
“Why’d you run off?” She inquired as she stepped out.
“What do you mean?” Caleb asked with an oblivious look on his face.
“Come on.” Christa walked towards him. “I know it was you. Why’d you kick my door open and then run off?”
“I didn’t do that!” Her brother snapped indignantly, pouting. “I was in my room the WHOLE time.”
His emphasis on the word “whole” made her suspicious, but she didn’t push the issue. “Whatever. Are you ready to go?”
His eyes lit up. “You mean you’ll take me?!” He jumped up and down in excitement as his door opened the rest of the way so Christa could see his surprisingly cute shark onesie.
Christa shrugged. “Why not? I have nothing better to do.”
“Oh boy! Thanks, Chris!” He beamed, jumping up to give her a hug.
Christa sighed. “I’ll get dressed and then we’ll go, okay?”
“Christa, look!” Caleb yelled from ahead of her as he sprinted left and right down the street. He’d never had a proper Halloween, having been in hospitals for most of his life. Seeing him able to run around and play like any other kid for once made Christa smile.
“Wait up, Caleb. Don’t run off on me.” She called to him as she jogged to catch up.
Caleb didn’t hear her. He was too distracted by all the extravagant Halloween decorations and costumes. He darted around, this way and that, until suddenly he froze.
Christa paused when he stopped abruptly, stiff as the lamp post to his right. “Caleb?”
“Caleb?” She repeated, a note of worry in her voice as she rushed up to him.
Cautiously, she walked to his front, holding back a gasp at the look of horror on his pale face.
Trying not to panic, she grabbed his small shoulders and shook him gently. “Caleb? What’s wrong?”
Finally, he shuddered and wrapped around her like a koala. She hugged him back helplessly, and his grip tightened.
“I don’t wanna go back!” He sniffled.
“It’s the scary guy from the hospital! He was staring at me!” He wailed, trembling.
“Hey, hey, calm down. It’s alright.” She soothed, rubbing his back comfortingly. “You’re okay now, alright? You don’t need to go back.”
After a few minutes, he calmed down, his heart rate slowing as he stopped trembling.
“...He was there.” He uttered.
“Who was, Caleb?” Christa asked, pulling away to look him in the eyes.
“The- The scary guy... The one with the mask.” He sniffled quietly, looking around as if expecting someone to attack him.
It was then that it clicked. He had told her about the “scary guy with a mask” who showed up in his dreams sometimes when he was at the hospital. He had claimed that one night he woke up from a nightmare, but when he sat up, the masked figure was standing in the hallway. She had told him he wasn’t real and couldn’t hurt him, but he still had trouble sleeping after that. That had been so long ago. As far as she could tell, he had all but forgotten about him.
“Maybe all the spooky Halloween stuff scared you a bit, or maybe someone was dressed in a mask as their costume.”
“N-No! It was him!” He insisted. “He looked just like him! H-His mask was black, with the scratches on it, a-and the suit, and-and he had a knife... and...” He hugged her again. “He wanted to hurt me...”
Christa tucked his head against her chest to calm him down again. He was terrified, she could tell. And who wouldn’t have been after supposedly seeing a horror from their nightmares in the street years after they'd forgotten about it?
“Caleb... Do you want to go home?” She asked softly. “We can go if you’re scared, okay?”
He shook his head. “No... I don’t wanna...”
She sighed. “Okay, well, we’ll stay then. You gonna be brave and get some candy?”
He nodded slowly, letting her go.
The rest of the night was fairly normal until they reached an older house and knocked on the door. An elderly woman with a soft smile opened the door, dropping a full-sized candy bar into Caleb’s basket. He smiled widely at her, but something in Christa’s peripheral vision caught her eye. She glanced to her left, nearly falling over in shock.
There, at the next house down, was a man.
A man with a black mask. He tilted his head, lifting a bloody knife slowly.
She heard a thump, and when she turned, she saw Caleb lying on the ground with a knife in his chest. She screamed, kneeling over him as the knife disappeared, leaving only the blood on his onesie.
When she looked back to where the man had been, he was gone.