HALLOWEEN COMING OUT • by Jeff Switt

The shotgun blast that rendered my face unrecognizable as human was reported quite sanitarily in the news.

“A man was shot in the face with a shotgun last night during a convenience store robbery gone bad. Doctors at Lutheran Hospital report his condition critical but stable.”

It did not report the pending death of a marriage in its sixth month because a young woman whose heart shined brilliant with hope and promise, a wife who swore “for better or worse,” never imagined how worse it could be.

***

That was five years ago, and my physical appearance has made little progress. I live a recluse with no outside contact, curtains drawn. I shop online for everything. Groceries are delivered once a week, placed in a box on my back porch. I never answer my door, but tonight I am making an exception. Tonight is Halloween.

What a fitting night for me to socialize, for my debut. My appearance, hideous and repulsive on other days, is tonight ghoulish and seemingly appropriate for the occasion. I long for human contact.

My front porch light beams bright orange, and an oversize paper jack-o-lantern taped to my door smiles a toothy welcome. I hear footsteps and giggling as children clamor about my porch.

“Trick or treat,” they cry.

My hands begin to shake as if with palsy. My breath is short and erratic. I crack the door and peek to see their ages. This group is young.

My body is draped in a sheet and my white powdered head protrudes from a hole in the center. My jittery hands hold a bucket of treats. Through slotted eyes I see the apprehension in the children’s faces, and I give them a friendly smile through deformed lips beneath a stub where my nose once sat, and a reassuring nod meant as much for me as for them.

Adrenaline surges, and my voice cracks, sounding more like a witch than a ghost. “Do you want a trick, or do you want a treat?” They giggle at the question, and as if on a silent cue holler, “Treats!”

They pick a candy or two, giggle again, and scamper to the security of their parents.

I close the door, and press my back against it. I feel faint, but I did it.

The next group is a gaggle of kids not yet teens – most in zombie costumes so popular these days. Why didn’t I think of that?

“Help yourselves, kids,” I offer in a faltering voice.

They look at my face and its disfigurement with surprise.

“Cool costume, dude,” one exclaims as they grab candies by the handful. I don’t mind their youthful greed.

I close the door and wait for the next arrival. My hands are nearly steady, but I feel perspiration beading under my arms and rolling down my sides. The bell rings. I take a deep breath. I hear the faintest “trick or treat.”

I open the door to a small girl, perhaps five or six, wearing a Shirley Temple mask.

“Hi Shirley.” I speak in a softness not to scare. “My, aren’t you beautiful tonight.” She stares at her feet and shakes her head, “no.”

“Yes, you are.” My voice is gaining composure. “You’re Shirley Temple, the most beautiful girl in the world.”

Her head looks up at me, and she pulls her mask to the side. Her face is disfigured as if from a fire, a cherubic face made from melted wax.

“Well, I think you are beautiful, darling.”

Her eyes connect with mine. An uncertain hand reaches toward the bucket and with her scarred thumb and one remaining forefinger, takes one piece of candy with the delicacy of a child picking a flower for the first time.

“Thank you.” Her voice is a whisper.

She turns and runs to her mother and hugs her knees.  I nod my head to her mother and give them both a wave.

I pull the decorations from my door. Turn off my porch light. My life as a recluse begins again.

***

The next morning I am startled to hear my doorbell ring. I try to ignore it, but it rings again. I go to the door and call out, “Who’s there?”

“Mrs. Blevins and Mary.”

”I don’t know you. Please go away.”

There’s a pause.

“It’s Shirley Temple and her mom.”

I turn the doorknob, pull the door in a few inches and peek. It’s the woman from last night and her daughter. Without the mask.

Before I can speak, the mother says in a faltering voice, “Mary said she wanted to meet you.” I watch tears start to well in the mother’s eyes. “This is her first time outside without her mask.”

I pull the door open and for the first time in five years invite someone into my life.


Jeff Switt is a retired advertising agency guy who loves writing flash fiction, some days to curb his angst, other days to fuel it. His words have been featured online at Dogzplot, Boston Literary Magazine, Shotgun Honey, 50-Word Stories, 100 Word Story, A Story In 100 Words, 101 Word Stories, Postcard Shorts, and Nailpolish Stories. His latest venture, A Story in Three Paragraphs, is at jeffswitt.wordpress.com/s3p-a-story-in-three-paragraphs.


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