I was nine years old on the night the witch came to our house for Halloween and refused to leave.
The Princess Leia costume Mom made me was a big hit in my neighborhood, and when I returned home from trick-or-treating, my orange plastic pumpkin overflowed with candy bars, M&Ms, Jolly Ranchers, and other tooth-rotting delights. I dumped my haul on the dining room table, breathed in the happy scent of cheap, waxy chocolate, and began sorting all my treats into brightly-colored piles. Figuring out exactly how much I’d received of each type of candy was a vitally important Halloween ritual.
Someone knocked on our front door and my mother asked me to get it. Assuming we had a straggling trick-or-treater, I grabbed our bowl of candy and opened up.
Chilly evening air rushed in as I beheld a witch standing on our doorstep. Her pointy black hat, flowing gray hair, and long black dress were standard costume garb. But she wore a transparent mask that distorted her features and gave her a plastic doll-like appearance, and that smooth blank face rattled me a little. I had no idea who she was.
She held out a pillowcase without so much as a “Trick or treat,” which offended my sense of Halloween protocol. But the witch was a good bit taller than I was, and I decided not to press the issue of etiquette. She didn’t thank me for the candy I dropped in her pillowcase, either. She merely turned and walked off into the night without a word.
I shut the door and returned to the important job of sorting through the night’s candy haul. That tall, rude kid was someone else’s problem now.
And then another knock sounded at the door. Nobody answered it, and I sighed and headed for the foyer.
The witch was on our doorstep again, holding out her pillowcase and saying nothing. Her complete disregard for Halloween rules made me seethe. It was bad enough she wouldn’t say “Trick or treat!”, but every kid knew that going back to a house for seconds was extremely bad form, even if that house was giving out amazing stuff.
But that eerie blank plastic face gazing down at me made me decide one extra fun-size Snickers bar wasn’t that big of a deal.
“Here you go. Good night.” I might have shut the door a little harder than I needed to.
I returned to picking through my candy haul but didn’t get far before another knock sounded—at our back door.
“Nicole? Can you get that?” my mom called. Didn’t she know I still had candy to be sorted? Didn’t she think it was a little weird a trick-or-treater had come around to the back of the house? Apparently not.
When I rounded the corner with our candy bowl, the glass patio door revealed the witch standing outside. The dim outdoor light made her expressionless plastic face that much spookier, and icy fingers played up the back of my neck.
“Mom? That witch has already been here twice.”
“It doesn’t matter, Nicole,” my dad chimed in. “We’ve got plenty of candy left.”
By now I knew not to expect a “Trick or treat!” when I slid the door open. She held out her pillowcase again, and I tried to make myself look as intimidating as one could be while dressed as a fun-size Princess Leia. I had indulged this witch’s repeated visits and her lack of manners long enough, and it was time to put my little foot down.
“My dad said you can have some more candy, but this is it.”
In response, she walked right into our house. I couldn’t decide whether to be offended or terrified by this new boundary violation, and I settled for a bit of both things.
“No, no. You can’t come in. You need to go home.” I took her elbow and steered her to the door. She wouldn’t move until I put another piece of candy in her pillowcase. I watched until she disappeared in the darkness to be sure she was really gone this time.
When she was safely out of sight, I complained to my mother about the witch and her terrible manners. My mom shook her head. Kids these days.
But when I carried our candy bowl back to the foyer, I almost dropped it in shock when I passed the living room.
The witch sat on our sofa as if she belonged there. My heart sped up.
“Mom? Dad?” They didn’t answer me. Where were they?
“You shouldn’t be in here,” I told the witch. “You need to leave.” But she didn’t move. She didn’t speak. That awful, blank, expressionless face was fixed on me, and nobody was coming to help me get rid of her.
I drew closer to the witch, trying to figure out who—or what—she was, and what she could possibly want from me. At last, I got a good look at her eyes.
I will never forget those eyes. They were deep brown like mine, and they twinkled.
They were the eyes of someone who was trying really, really hard not to burst out laughing, and at long last I recognized my witch.
My maternal grandmother Lillian Newton died not too long after the night when she gave me the biggest and best Halloween scare I’ll ever have. Family and friends still talk about her fondly to this day. She was, as they say, A Pistol. And every Halloween, I like to share the legend of the witch who wouldn’t leave.