Crossroad

Late Halloween evening, as the last red light of day burned down across the horizon, a young child rode with her grandparents on a trip from the grocery store. The grandparents lived in the same neighborhood as the child's parents, and often took the little girl with them around town during the day when her parents were busy. Today was no different. This was not the child's first Halloween outing, but remembering last year was difficult. The child was only in preschool. With darkness looming at their backs, the glow of streetlights and holiday decorations illuminated their path home. Her eyes lit up at the jack-o-lanterns aglow along the front of every porch and doorway and the ghosts swaying gently in the wind, dangling from willow, oak, and birch. The night air was thick with the smell of smoke and fallen leaves. A lonely black dog howled from the corner of a fork in the road. The girl, not interested in going home to her parents and wearing the silly princess costume they chose for her, asked her grandfather if they could ride around the area for a while to look at the decorations a little longer. He looked at the time. It wasn't too late yet. He nodded and turned to the left rather than the right they were meant to go. The three of them looked around. This portion of the road, the child noted, seemed much darker than the other way. Branches stretched out over the road, reaching towards one another for an empty embrace. A few branches were low enough to nearly touch the top her grandfather's truck. Her grandfather drove a little slower than before. "This doesn't look right. Did we miss a road? No, that can't be." "You're lost again. Admit it. You're always getting lost." The grandmother said. "I am not lost. I've lived in this area for decades. I know every road here." He argued back at her. "You always get lost." She stated again. "I can't get lost in my own home." He said, agitated with her. "This is nothing like getting lost on a vacation trip. I know this place like the back of my hand." "You always do this." The grandmother said. The child sunk lower in her seat between them in the truck. She didn't like when adults argued. Her parents were always arguing. "Wait," Her grandfather said. "I remember...This can't be right. It looks exactly like it did back then." "Back when?" The child asked. Her grandfather reached another fork in the road. He turned left again. The two of them went down a darker road. "It looks like...a place I remember from when I was a boy. A long time ago, there was this boy who went to school with me. I came to his house sometimes. He lived in this neighborhood. It has to be this one, but...it shouldn't...be here. How did I get here?" He drove a little slower. The houses they passed didn't have any Halloween decorations out. None of the porch lights were on. The trees blocked out the full moon above them and the sun's light was long gone now. All that remained was the bright yellow glow of the streetlights. The golden-white, hovering orbs seemed brighter than normal on this road. The child remembered a late night playing out in the street. Her father told her that if one looked up at the streetlights at night, one could see faces staring back. The child never saw anything like a face in them before. Tonight, for a moment, she swore she saw eyes glaring in that yellow light. The child sunk deeper in her seat. "I haven't thought about that in so long. I never really went back to that neighborhood after what happened." He gripped his steering wheel tightly. "It was on a night like this, when he killed his father." "Why'd he do that?" The child asked. "Nobody ever found out. Nobody got to ask. The police shot him when they came to his house. That happened during the day, but we didn't hear about it until nightfall. I went over to his house. I don't know why. To see for myself, I guess, that it was true." He reached another split in the road. He turned left once more. The road was near pitch black. Her grandfather turned on his high beams. The child could see nothing out of the window beyond the streetlights shining brighter than the moon. The radio's clock stopped. "When I got there, they hadn't cleaned up everything yet." He said, his voice strange. "The police were still there. They had the whole property roped off. I saw it there, the blood on the ground. It was all over the yard and the driveway. The house was slightly up hill. Some of the blood slid down into the street. My shoes got dirty. I saw a piece of him. I saw..." The streetlights went out all at once. The high beams of the truck shone only the road ahead of them. A puddle of red awaited them. The child could barely make out a figure beside the puddle. Its form was not clear. The figure sat low to the ground. Her grandfather did not react to what was in front of them, as if he did not see it or did not wish to acknowledge it. He drove through the puddle. When he did, the figure beside the road rose up. The girl could now see the shadowy figure belonged to a human being. The figure's upper half was on level with the window of the truck as they passed through the puddle. He stared directly inside at her, half his face covered in something wet and sticky, and a portion of the back missing. In those brief seconds, the figure tapped at the glass before they passed him. Her grandfather's eyes never met with the figure's, as he stared ahead at the road. The child looked back. The figure was walking behind the truck, somehow keeping pace with it. Her grandfather rambled on. "I don't know why I remembered that just now. I haven't thought about that in so long. I can't remember his name. My mind locked it all away. I can't remember...what happened to my shoes..." The child tugged at her grandfather's sleeve as the figured now walked along the other side of the road, inching closer to her grandfather's window. "I wanna go home now." "It's getting late, isn't it? What time is it?" He came to another fork in the road. "We should go right." The child said. He turned right. As he did, the figure reached for the glass. It was too late. They passed the figure, who stayed behind at the fork. The streetlights on the road shined as they always did, and the night brightened with dangling lights and lit up pumpkins. The three in the truck rode home to meet up with the child's parents. When they arrived, they were an hour late. "Where were you?" The mother asked. "He got lost again. You know how he is." The grandmother said. This was a good enough explanation for them. Her grandfather often got lost on long trips. They didn't question it any further than that. The little girl changed into her costume. No matter how hard her parents tried to make her look like a princess, in the mirror, she only looked like a changeling pretending to be somebody's daughter. A poor disguise for an easily satisfied mind, that was how she always appeared. The little girl sat down beside her grandfather's chair while the other adults talked about the weather and complained about children. Her grandfather watched an old black and white cartoon, a Halloween special from years past. He was as shaken as he was in the truck. He looked down at the little girl. "It's always you. Strange things always happen when you're there. What are you really?" "What do you mean?" The child asked. "I don't believe in ghosts or fairies or magical things." He said, then glanced back down at her. "You're a strange one. Do they flock to you?" The girl tilted her head, not understanding his words. Her father called her over to him. It was time to go trick-or-treating. She ran over to them, then waved goodbye to her grandparents. Her grandfather stayed in his chair, staring blankly at the TV screen. That night, the child roamed the streets of burning candles and foggy lands, fake cemeteries and dancing spectres, under the protection of the moon's bright glow. She saw no more faces in the streetlights, but quiet howls followed in her footsteps.
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