New Halloween Story!

“An Eye to See.”

M.J. Downing

When the wind kicks up dried leaves in your path and the night grows longer, the walls between the worlds grow thin. The last sere breath of summer rattles though nature’s parched lips, and the year makes ready to die.  It still dreams, though, the old year does, and is apt to have us dream too, of things we desire, regret, and fear, complicated things, like how boys feel about their fathers. By the time Halloween gets here, if we are careless, the old year will catch us, hard, and show us things about the world we thought we wanted to know, often, to our peril.


Years ago, now, young Finn McCoy had been having dreams. Small, thin, and  tow-headed, Finn turned ten that July and had dreams in which all his own stories came true: winning at everything, being able to do what he wanted, when he wanted, regardless of his father’s rules. On those nights, Finn dreamed of an underground town, where candles flared all day outside small stone houses on cobbled streets.  There, Finn could play as much as he liked. He could fly, if it suited his need, or run faster than the wind.  There were trees perfect for climbing, with branches that offered themselves to his hands. True, his best friends weren’t there to play with him, but there was no studying or homework, either, and plenty of candy corn. There, he could stay up late, for there was no time for bed, and he could eat all the candy corn he desired.

There were the small people in that underground town, small people who lived on candy corn. They loved it almost as much as Finn did.  There were large stone bowls of it on every corner where tiny people gathered ‘round. Some of them had wings and would fly with Finn, calling to him in piping voices in a strange tongue.  They would scatter and whistle like sparrows when he grabbed handfuls of the chewy sweetness and sprinted away to do battle with Earl Carter, ironically nicknamed, “Buddy,” the biggest, meanest boy in fifth grade.  There, Buddy never laid a hand on Finn, though he tried.  Finn would flick him with his finger, and Buddy would fall on his heavy butt, making the tiny people cheer. They kept the candy corn away from Buddy, too. They’d whisk the bowls away from Finn’s slow-footed enemy who lumbered after them. It was all for Finn and the wee folk.

These small people were, of course, one kind of denizen of Faerie, a realm that lies alongside our world, next to the world of the dead. And though Finn’s dreams made them his allies against a bully, fairies were a danger too deep for Finn to realize, one that drew him like the promised pleasure of perpetual Trick or Treat, all the candy corn he could eat.


One waking day, the day before Halloween, their teacher, Miss Bennet, sent them outside  to eat lunch under the trees. There, off the back parking lot, sat four kid-sized picnic tables and two of the regular size for teachers—as well as Buddy Carter—under the four spreading oak trees.  Beyond the fence, there, lay the peaceful church graveyard, where leaning headstones seemed to hold serene faces up to the sun, when they weren’t in the shade of an ancient yew tree that grew in the center of the cemetery, shadowing the lone mausoleum.  Finn, who wasn’t afraid of much, knew the place like the back of his own hands and had leapt the fence many a time, walking with care between the graves to fetch an errant ball at recess.

This day, Finn, with his best friends, stout Albert Miller and sturdy Tom Doughty, couldn’t wait to get outside and talk about Halloween. They kicked through the fallen leaves, swept them off the tabletop, took their places, lunch bags in hand. Finn, the smallest of the three had yet to find a costume, which was sure to come up between them, as well as where they’d go, which houses gave out the best loot. Finn, who was only as tall as third graders at St. Andrews School,sat in the middle of the bench, the “safe” seat, with Albert and Tom on either side.  The sun was high and the breezes full of the smells of fallen leaves and dry grass.

“Trade ya lunches, Finn,” Albert said as they plopped their brown paper sacks onto the picnic table. Mrs. Sorenson from the cafeteria would be by with packets of milk or orange juice, a nickel each, on a wide tray. Sometimes, she had chocolate milk, too.  

“Maybe” Finn said, “but lemme look first,” letting his fingers squeeze the bag to feel for the shape of cookies.

“Nope.  Gotta trade flat out. No looky-looks, first,” Albert said with a grin. Albert’s mom almost always sent a sandwich, some chopped veggies or maybe apples slices, if he was lucky.  He never got sweets on account of having had two cavities since last spring.

“Don’t do it, Finn,” Tom cried, “Its carrots in there. I can smell’em.” Finn laughed as Albert threatened Tom with a meaningless fist. Finn had careful, clever fingers and alongside the sandwich within his bag, he found a shape made of many small parts, a bag of treats, for sure. His mom always looked out for his sweet tooth. His father had a rule about sweets only once a day, and those were to be shared out in small doses.

As quick as he could, he reached into the sack and found the bundle in some cling wrap. “No trades!” he cried and lifted into the sun his parcel of candy corn, the yellow, orange, and white treats jumbled in the clear plastic wrap made the day even brighter. Albert groaned, and Tom laughed.  Finn smiled, for there were enough to share.

But as Finn held them up, a shadow loomed over him, a hand twice the size of his own, smashed down on the parcel, and Buddy Carter’s sneering voice called,

“Mine, now!”

Finn gripped them tight, but Buddy grabbed hard and with his other hand, pulled back on Finn’s sweatshirt. The plastic wrap pulled apart, sending a spray of candy corn into the air. They went up in a small fountain of dazzling shapes, as Buddy’s pull sent Finn backwards.  His leg cracked against the strut under the table, and Finn landed with a loud thud on his back, knocking the wind out of him. His head thumped hard on the ground, too. The candy corn crackled around him as it hit dried leaves. Finn gasped for air while a pain swelled in his leg.

“Look at the blood!” Albert cried as Finn looked up at all of them from the ground. The shadow of Buddy Carter loomed over him as Tom and Albert looked down from their seats, staring at Finn’s lower left leg. Though he gasped for air, Finn could feel the warm, wet trickle run down his leg into his torn jeans and sock.  He clenched his eyes shut as a teacher’s voice yelled “Earl Carter! Stand still, right there!”

Finn turned his head and finally drew in a long, ragged breath. His eyes were at grass level.  And away at the foot of the tree, where some of the candy corn had flown from Buddy’s clumsy grasp, a small shape, like a fallen twig with leaves still attached, moved in a blur of precise motion, and picked up the sweet treats. Finn saw, though, that it wasn’t a twig at all.  It was a tiny man, dressed in ragged clothes, with brown leaves covering a set of wings. He saw that Finn watched him, gave the boy a smile, and whipped behind the tree again. His dragonfly wings blurred, and he buzzed away, over the chain link fence, into the cemetery. He flew straight to the mausoleum, which sat under the shadow of the dark, old yew tree.

“Hey!” Finn cried, trying to sit up. Miss Bennet was at his side and placed a hand on his chest, keeping him still.

“Easy, there, Mr. McCoy,” she said. She liked to call her boys “men” and use “Mister” to help them think of themselves in mature ways. Sometimes, it worked. “Let me look at that leg, before you try and get up.”

Now that Finn could breathe again, the pain in his leg swelled. The pain did not make him forget the small, winged man.  He did have to wonder if his leg was broken, for the aching went deep in his bone. The ragged gash where it had struck the strut burned like fire. Finn lay back on the cool grass, trying not to think about his leg, for he had seen a fairy.

“Just lie still,” Miss Bennet said. “Mr. Feltner has run to fetch a first aid kit.” Time seemed to pause as boys and girls looked down at him, whispering. Finn grew uncomfortable under their stares.  It was as though he became something other than himself.  He looked around at the shadowed faces, knowing that he had become an object to them, something stricken, an accident, a victim, which made him seek out Buddy’s slack-jawed face. Finn had no fear of Buddy, just anger. If he could have gotten to his feet, Finn would have torn into him, though it would do little good. Buddy stood there, an overgrown lump of a boy, who had, over the last year, started many fights. He stared at the blood on Finn’s leg, a weak smile on his flabby lips.

Mr. Feltner pushed Buddy aside as he rushed back in the next instant with the first aid kit. Miss Bennet used the round pointed scissors to cut Finn’s pant leg open from the knee down. Finn longed to fly away, like the fairy, to hide in the yew tree.

“Gross! Is that his bone?” Tom cried.

“Cool!” Albert said, and a series of moaning sounds went up, as the circle of faces that stared down at him vanished one at a time.  Somewhere behind him, there was the sound of someone being sick, and then someone else. Finn wondered if he would throw up too.  His stomach felt as odd as his head.

“Take good, deep breaths, Finn,” Miss Bennet whispered, smoothing his hair away from his clammy forehead.  Her calming touch steadied him some, though it did nothing for the pain in his leg. He did feel calmer, but Finn clenched his teeth, breathed deep, and closed his eyes at the pain. He made himself think, instead, about the tiny man who took the candy corn. When he opened his eyes, again, there were only four teachers around and above him, one the Principal, Mrs. Gathwright, had one hand on Buddy Carter’s shoulder.

“Mr. Carter,” the principal said in stern tones, “I think you owe Finn McCoy an apology.  Am I right?”  Buddy sneered down at Finn and shrugged his wide, sloping shoulders. Finn wondered what had made Buddy become so mean. He’d been okay before last fall, a quiet, nice guy: not anymore.  Finn never realized it before, but Buddy, viewed from the ground, looked like a trained bear, standing there in his baggy pants and loose hoodie. Finn wondered what had happened in the past year to make Buddy turn so mean.

“He wouldn’t share,” Buddy mumbled.

“Like he had a chance!” Tom cried, earning a frown from Buddy. His frown turned into a grimace as Mrs. Gathwright took him by the ear, gave it a subtle twist—for which she was well known—and ushered him away, promising a call to his parents and after school detention for the foreseeable future.  Tom and Albert chuckled at Buddy’s plight as he was taken into the principal’s custody. They knew that Buddy had gotten away with much unseen violence this past year, but this looked like payback time.

“Finn? You gonna be okay?” Albert asked looking back at him. “You look really pale.”

“He does, doesn’t he?” Miss Bennet said. She bent down and started to lift Finn from the ground.

“I’m, I’m okay,” Finn said, stiffening his good leg and pushing away. “Just let me up.  I, I can stand.” Tom and Albert each gave him a hand and helped pull him to his feet. He could put weight on his injured leg, a little at a time, but it made him queasy.

“Okay. Mrs. Gathwright will phone your mom to come get you. Have you ever had stitches?” Miss Bennet asked, steadying him with a hand on his back.

“No, I haven’t,” he answered. Sudden dizziness struck him, so he sat back down on the bench. Tom cradled  Finn’s left leg and helped him lift it onto the bench.  Albert, though, was on his knees in the grass, picking up the candy corn amidst the leaves. Finn cried, “Leave’em be, Albert!”

“Oh, okay. If that’s what you want,” Albert replied with a sigh, “Some of them are okay, though, not squished or anything.”

“Mr. Miller,” Miss. Bennet added in her teacher voice. “Do not eat things from the ground, for heaven’s sake. You might eats bugs—or some such thing.”

“He likes bugs, with candy corn wrapped around ‘em,” Tom said with a laugh. Even Finn got a chuckle out of that, though his leg throbbed worse as Miss Bennet began to wrap gauze around the bruised laceration on his leg. Albert smiled, too, but gave up looking for the spilled treats.

“I tell you what, men,” Miss Bennet said, applying some tape to the bandage, “Tomorrow is Halloween, so I’ll bring you each your own bag of candy corn, if you just let these lie.  You two can wait here with Finn, if you like, and come back to the room after Mrs. McCoy comes to get him, okay?”  They nodded. And with that, she moved away, rounded up her charges, and herded them back to into the building.  Finn sat alone with Tom and Albert.

“All of this candy will be gone soon,” Finn said in a quiet voice, looking at the yew tree away across the fence. He leaned over to Tom and whispered, “Come back here after school and check, okay?  I bet you they’ll all be gone.”

“Yeah, squirrels’ll get’ em—or maybe birds,” Tom said. “I’ll check though, if you like.”

“It won’t be squirrels or birds,” Finn said, as a plan rushed into his thoughts. “And if you will each share your candy corn with me tomorrow night, I think I can show you something…something you’ve never seen before.”

“You sure you’re okay, Finn?” Albert asked. “You sound sort of funny.”

“Yeah, Finn.  You hit your head pretty hard, there, I think,” Tom added, as they watched Mrs. McCoy’s car come around the school and pull up nearby.

“I didn’t hit it that hard, and you won’t think I’m crazy if my plan works out,” Finn said.


An x-ray showed that Finn’s leg wasn’t broken, though it was badly bruised.  Doctor Sloan cleaned up the laceration, removing some picnic table splinters, all of which hurt as much or more as hitting it in the first place.  However, it required five stout stitches, and Finn was forbidden to run on it for a week. He had to go home, ice it, and keep it elevated the rest of the day.

“I can still go out to Trick or Treat tomorrow, right?” Finn asked his mom, Claire, determined to try his plan. She didn’t reply but looked at the doctor.

“Oh, I suppose so, if you go dressed as ‘The Mummy,’ maybe,” Doc Sloan replied with a conspiratorial smile. “I’ll even fix you up with some extra bandage rolls you can use.  Just don’t wrap them too tight! And if your leg starts hurting a lot, get off of it, okay?”

Finn shot a glance to his mom, who smiled back and said, “ Well, okay. We’ll have to see what your father says.  If you can go to school tomorrow, you can—maybe—go out with your friends and Trick or Treat. Maybe just a couple of streets, and then right home, okay, Mr. Mummy?”

“Okay,” Finn said, wondering if there was a way to not tell his father about the incident. Finn was tiny, compared to his father, who was too big and always seemed to know everything. Finn thought him as too strict, too serious about studying and following the house rules. His father lived by those rules, as did his little sisters, Megan and Maeve. They were crazy about their Daddy, who could tell wonderful stories. Over the last couple of years, though, Finn tired of those tales, wanting to tell his own, which were never good enough. Inevitably, his father would offer him suggestions about how to make stories better. He didn’t say anything along these lines to his mother as she brought him home, thinking only about the town underground, where his own stories came to life. If he could, he take Albert and Tom there.


Later in the afternoon, Tom and Albert made their way through the wind and the blowing leaves, past the jolly pumpkins on porches along the way, to see how Finn was doing and bring him his homework. The last was a duty assigned to them by Miss Bennet, of course, which they did with the expectation of a bag of candy corn, each. They found Finn up in his room, sitting in bed, resting his leg.  A reddish orange ice pack lay atop his left shin.  The boys were careful as they climbed up and sat with him, listening to Megan and Maeve squeal as they played in the back yard, outside his window. Tom and Albert wanted to know all about Finn’s leg and all that had been done to it, though Finn had other ideas.

“But what about the candy corn under the tree?” he demanded. “It was gone, right?”

“Welp, it was,” Tom said. “Albert found a piece or two under the leaves—”

“But over toward the tree, there was nothing, right?” Finn asked. Tom and Albert exchanged a quick glance. “C,mon, guys, am I right?”

“Well, yeah,” Albert said. “Like I said, squirrels or, or birds got ‘em.”

“It wasn’t birds or squirrels, though, not all of it, anyway,” Finn insisted, “’cause I saw what got two pieces, at least.”

“What?” Tom asked. “What did you see that we didn’t?”

“He’s got that funny look again, Tom,” Albert said.

“Look, I know this is gonna be hard to believe, but I’m sure I saw a fairy pick them up.” Saying it out loud, caused Finn’s cheeks to flush. “I know. It sounds crazy, but I saw him, as clear as I see you two.”

“But didn’t you knock your head pretty hard?” Tom asked.

“Yeah, but the doc felt it and said it was nothing, not even a lump. Here, feel it yourself,” he said, leaning forward.  Albert was closest and  pushed his fingers in Finn’s light hair, rubbing the scalp beneath. He put his hand atop Finn’s head at last and pronounced,

“Yeah, here’s a lump, all right, a big one!”

Finn pushed his hand away. “I’m serious guys.  I saw what I saw.”

“But how? Do you see fairies all the time?” Albert asked.

“Well, just, just, in my, um, dreams,” Finn mumbled, recognizing that this put his story on weak ground.  They would think he imagined it.

“Your what?” Albert asked.

“He said,’his dreams,’” Tom added, while Finn scrunched his eyes closed.

“Yeah, I know,” Finn said, getting impatient with both of them, “but the one I saw by the tree looked just like the ones in my dreams. How do you explain that?”

“Easy. Fairies are just in your head,” Albert replied, “which is okay, I guess. They’re imaginary. You imagined you saw a fairy pick up some candy corn. I mean, if Buddy Carter had just tossed me on the ground, I would probably want to see a fairy, too, just to feel better.”

“Buddy, that big fat jerk, doesn’t enter into this,” Finn insisted. “The fairy would have been there, and I’ll bet you that I can show you tomorrow night, if you trust me. You guys are still my best friends, right?” Both boys nodded but turned worried looks at him.

From down the hallway that led to Finn’s room, a deep voice called out,

“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes!” The voice was huge, deep, powerful. It filled the house.

“Hi Dad,” Finn called, like it was a disappointment, as he motioned the boys off the bed. “You’ve got shoes on.  No shoes on the bed is one of his rules,” Finn whispered as the heavy steps came down the hall.  Albert and Tom hopped off the bed, just as Finn’s father entered the room, a large, dark-haired man, red bearded. He looked just the opposite of Finn.  He wore a tweed jacket and brown corduroy pants. The tweed strained over his thick shoulders and back.

“Looks like you worked out today, huh?” Finn asked in a tired voice.

“Yes, I did, son, during lunch, in fact. Did some dumbbell work, though from what I hear, you had a workout of sorts yourself, today, eh?” his father asked.  Finn said nothing.

“Good afternoon, Mr. er, Professor McCoy,” Tom said.

“You may address me as Lord Seamus, the underdog king,” Finn’s father said with an Irish accent, making Tom and Albert chuckle.  He always tried to joke with Finn’s friends, and Finn didn’t like it.  The ‘underdog king’ went on in a more sympathetic voice:

 “As I was saying, Finn, your mom was just telling me about what happened at school today. It sounded awful.  I’d like to hear you tell it, though, and I want to see this leg of yours,” he said. “Thomas, Albert. Be at ease.  Finn is not in trouble.”

 “We figured that,” Tom replied, while Finn stayed quiet and pulled the ice pack away. “It’s Buddy Carter who is in trouble.  Are you gonna go beat up his Dad?”

Professor McCoy frowned at the thought and put on a crooked smile. “I don’t think it’ll come to that, though this Carter boy seems to make a target out of Finn, doesn’t he?”  This set both Albert and Tom on some stories of Buddy’s bullying of Finn and others over the past year. Albert finished off the tales by saying, “He’s just so much bigger than the rest of us.  I guess all big guys like to push their weight around, huh?”

“Professor McCoy’s a big guy, and he doesn’t pick on little guys,” Tom said, “do you, sir?” Finn rolled his eyes and looked away, out the window.

“Well, I wouldn’t put that question to my students, but, no.  No, I don’t think I do. But tell me what, exactly, happened at lunch today.”

Finn started the story, but soon Albert was adding details, as Tom did, especially about the blood and seeing Finn’s bone. It made Finn’s father wince.

“It wasn’t the bone,” Finn said, not wanting his father to take that serious a view of his injury. “Doc Sloan just said it was something over the muscle in the front of my leg, some kind of sheath or something. If I go to school tomorrow, Doc said I should still be able to go Trick or Treat tomorrow night.”

“Well, maybe,” Professor McCoy replied. “We’ll see how you are tomorrow. Okay?” he said, getting up to loom over the boys. “I’ll go talk to Finn’s mom while you boys get started on your homework, right?”

“Mine’s done,” Albert said. “All I got left is some reading.”

“Reading, Albertus Magnus, is the most important part,” Finn’s father said, as Finn

 mouthed the words with him.

            “You always say that, Dad,” Finn complained. His father gave him a sad look and managed to smile a little. He turned and walked to the door, though Tom stopped him with a question.

“Professor McCoy—”

“Please use my title,” he said, leaning back into the room.

“Um, Lord Seamus, King of the underdogs, are fairies real?” Tom asked, making Finn gasp. “I mean,” Tom went on, shrugging at Finn, “ you teach English, in college,  all that literature and stuff. I mean, you know, about fairies, right?”

Finn’s Dad came back into the room, crossed thick arms over his wide chest, smiled and leaned on the door frame. “Well, mighty Thomas, no one can really answer that one, except to say, ‘They might well be.’ Who can say? Just about every culture across the world has some sort of fay folk in their beliefs, somewhere. My father—and his before him—thought they were real. Called them ‘the good folk,’ for fear of earning their wrath. That silver cross in my office, my father told, would keep us safe from them. Maybe it does, huh?

“Anyway, he even claimed that our family has some fairy blood in us. See this red beard of mine? Some would say that it’s because of some mixing with the good folk, somewhere in our past. Truth is, I’ve never seen a fairy, though I wish I had. After all, ‘There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ Is that enough of an answer for you?”

“Who’s Horatio?” Albert asked.

“My cousin, friend to the Prince of Denmark, and a lover of all things faerie, though he has ghosts with which to contend more than the fay.  And with that, I will take my leave, for I have worn out my welcome,” Finn’s father said, looking at his son, who glared at him.

At that point, Maeve and Megan rushed down the hall and pulled their father away, squealing with delight that he was home. He left the room with each of them dragging one of his hands and demanding to hear a story.

Both boys looked at Finn, as though imploring him to do something. Finn looked away, determined to ignore them.

“You should tell him, Finn,” Albert whispered at last.

“I hate it when he quotes Shakespeare,” Finn said, disgusted.

“Finn, nobody has a Dad as cool as yours,” Tom said. “I mean, my dad is great in his way, but he isn’t near as fun as your dad.  Your Dad’s smart. He works out, an’ all, and he has a sense of humor. I’d bet ten dollars that  he’d like to hear what you saw. He might even believe you.”

“No!  He’d think I cracked my head and take me to a shrink, or something,” Finn whispered back at them, recalling how Buddy had made him look like a victim. “And you don’t know him like I do.  I mean, you don’t have to live with all his rules.  You heard him: ‘do your homework, tidy up your room, eat your vegetables, say your prayers. When I do my reading homework, Albert, he asks me questions about it after, just to make me look stupid.”

“But you get the best grades of all of us, Finn.  Maybe his rules are just his way of helping you,” Tom said. “I mean,  when I ask my dad something, all I ever hear is, ‘Don’t you have something else to do but bug me? Go ask your mother!’’”

“Look, I don’t want to talk about my dad, okay?” Finn said. “What I want to know is if you two will go over to St. Andrew ’s cemetery with me tomorrow night so that I can show you both that fairies are real. If you lend me some of your candy corn, I can do it.”

“All of it?” Albert asked, scrunching up his face. The loss of candy was a big deal to Albert. Tom just shook his head, sighed and looked away from Finn.

“I’ll give you whatever I get in Trick or Treat, okay?” Finn said.

“We don’t want your candy, Finn,” Tom said.

“Yes, we do,” Albert countered.  Tom ignored him and went on.

“Just look at your leg.  You don’t know if you’ll even be able to go trick or treating, do you?”

“I’ll be in school if I have to crawl,” Finn said. “Have I got your word on this, both of you?” he asked, spat into his palm and placed it before them.  It took a minute, but each of them spat in his own palm and piled them atop Finn’s. “That seals it.  Spits as good as blood, right?” They each gave a nod and picked up their things to go.  Tom gave Finn the math worksheets and the quiz study guides for English and History.  Without saying much, they left Finn to get on with his homework.  Finn made short work of it and set it all aside for his father and mother to check over, another of the house rules.

He looked at the last light of the afternoon, fading into evening.  His back yard would be dark soon, for the shadows were long, creeping out from under bushes and below trees to spread across the yard. Halloween was tomorrow, and Finn knew that he had to go to school in order to go Trick or Treat. Wincing, he slid his legs off the bed and placed his feet on the floor.  As soon as his weight came on to his left leg, the stitched-up laceration burned, and a heavy aching filled his leg.  He drew in a deep breath and tried to take a step onto his left foot, which made him grimace and pull it back.  He could take a quick step with his right foot and drag the left into place without so much pain.  Finn made it across the room, lurching onto his right foot and dragging his left along.

“At least I’ll be able to walk like The Mummy,” he whispered to himself, as he dragged himself back onto the bed, sweat beading his forehead. Tiredness caught Finn as he lay down and closed his eyes. He fell instantly into sleep and did not see his father come in, nor feel the light kiss on his forehead, nor hear his father’s caring sigh.


 Finn woke with the pale light of a thin new moon staring in his window, like a whetted sickle the sky. The clear, dry night was still, though Finn woke with a start as though a shadow had moved across his window. He rubbed his eyes and looked out. One swing of the two on the swing set stirred as though it had been bumped a minute before.

“Wind,” Finn mumbled, seeing nothing that could have brushed past the swing, though his gnawing hunger struck him.  He forgot about the swing and pushed his legs out of bed, remembering at the last second about his left leg. He held his breath and put his weight down on it after his right foot was firm on the floor. The pain wasn’t as bad as it had been earlier. The stiffness, however, was worse.  Finn, heading toward the kitchen, crossed his room stepping forward quickly with his right and dragging his left foot forward, lurching, indeed, like The Mummy.

 By the time he was halfway down the hallway, though, the stiffness was easing, allowing him to take a step with it.  He moved as quietly as he could.  No sounds came from his  sisters’ rooms. The stairs down to the kitchen were harder. They showed him yet more stiff areas in his leg, but when he reached the kitchen and flicked on the light over the table, he saw no blood showing through his bandage.  He headed for the fridge.

Within, he found his cold supper, put aside for him with care, a plate with two pieces of meatloaf, a mound of mashed potatoes, and jolly scoop of peas, which he picked off one by one as he sought a fork in the drawer beside the fridge. Finn had never dreamed that a cold supper could taste so good. In the still dark kitchen, he ate.  Once he managed to prop his left leg up on a chair, the food on his plate disappeared pretty fast, so that he looked around the kitchen to see if there was anything else to be had.

With three very active children in this house, the cookie jar was out of  reach, so he figured that the candy corn that started this whole business was out of reach, too.  Claire McCoy had a thousand good hiding places in this small kitchen, so Finn decided to hit the pantry closet for the crackers and peanut butter, to which he was always given access.

The pantry closet was under the stairs.  He and his sisters often played there when his mom was busy in the kitchen.  At night, though, with everything still, Finn didn’t hesitate to turn on the bare light bulb within. The sudden light on the surfaces of jars and bright, colorful labels startled him, as though he had rudely stepped into something private.  It made him stand still, for the pantry had become suddenly strange to him. A whispered rustling sound came to him but didn’t go on.

“Nothing here you don’t know is here,” he said to himself and walked in. His objects were close at hand, so, cracker box in the crook of his left arm and jar of peanut butter in his right hand, Finn turned to leave the pantry. The rustling noise came again, along with the light clatter of two pieces of candy corn dropping onto the cracker box top. They settled against him as though trying to hide in the folds of his shirt.   Finn hurried out of the pantry, and the noise he had heard before, like the buzzing of tiny wings came again, this time over his head, moving fast.

Placing the saltines on the table, he took the two pieces of candy corn from its top and set them on the table, his thoughts running to the tiny man he’d seen earlier in the day.  And, as though summoned, the whirring of the wings sounded again, and Finn watched with wide eyes as a tiny man settled onto the tabletop into the pool of light that came through the kitchen window from the pale, thin moon.

Its wings folded together against its back, the small man smiled at him. It held one thin arm against its middle and bowed over it.  Finn moved closer and looked into a face that wasn’t quite human: it—he–had large eyes, a pointed chin and nose, high cheeks, and a shock of red hair that started up from its head at all angles. His skin was so pale as to appear almost blue. He was covered in wraps, like The Mummy, Finn thought, though the little man’s rags were of different colors, mostly faded browns and greens, all muted as though with weather and age.

“Um, hello,” Finn whispered.

“Hello yourself,” the tiny man replied, still smiling and placing his fists on his waist. “We wanted to return a portion of your gift, boyo, with due thanks and to inquire after your mishap. All ye alright, lad?” Its voice was foreign. In fact, it sounded Irish, like Finn’s Grandpa McCoy, who had come to America from Ireland when he was no older than Finn. It was a light voice, though, not one to wake the house, which Finn didn’t wish to do.

“I’m…my leg, well, it has a cut and…is bruised.  It doesn’t hurt real bad, though. Are you…? I’m Finn, by the way.”

The small man smiled and held up a thin hand. “Wait, there boyo, Ye oughtn’t to go givin’ yer name with such ease, ye knows? A name’s a powerful thing, now innit?”

“You are a…fairy, right?” Finn asked in a whisper. “And you live in the cemetery  under that yew tree, right?”

“Well, now, what I am is who I am, and I’m not right sure that I should be a’tellin’ you all that. But as thanks for the sweeties, you can call me Pep. And in noticin’ that tree and the old, dark door, there, I think you notice more than most, dontcha, boyo?”

“I noticed you,” he whispered. Finn’s thoughts were a blur, for this was the very thing he wanted: to show to Albert and Tom that fairies were real, as he had planned to do with the candy corn Miss Bennet promised them.  And the door to the mausoleum. That must be the way in to the underground town where he had felt so free.  If possible, he wanted Albert and Tom to see it as well. He knew that Buddy Carter had marked them for the way they had talked to him after the incident that morning. There, in the underground town, they, too, would be free from Buddy’s threat and able to play as they liked, as long as they liked.

“Mr. Pep, sir,” Finn said, for he was raised to be polite, “I have dreamed of an underground town where boys can play free, without rules, get the best of bullies.”

Pep’s large eyes narrowed, and he stepped closer to Finn. “A dream’s one thing, lad, but the goin’ there, where we live, is somethin’ else, ya know? I don’t think that yer Maw and Paw would—”

“If you can let me in, I can get you three bags of candy corn…sir,” Finn whispered, “and they’d be all yours.”

At once, Pep’s wings whirred into motion.  He rose fast and flew around the kitchen fast, three times, going in counterclockwise circles, before he touched down on the tabletop again, quite near Finn’s face.  Intent eyes stared into Finn’s, eyes that were wild, full of appetite, and Pep smiled.  That close, Finn could see Pep’s teeth, like tiny sharp spikes in a slash of a mouth.

“Have a care about how you promise the sweeties, lad,” Pep murmured in a voice like a purr. “We love them as much as you do, maybe more, but if you come with us, you’ll get our sweets, as much as you can eat.  Would you like that, boyo?”

“I would,” Finn said, thinking only of his dreams. Why, in the underground town, Finn could fly if he wanted, and he could remember the taste of the candy corn there. It was especially good.

“Then, you’ll need an eye to see your way, won’t you, lad?” Pep said, and faster than Finn could see, lashed out with a head butt that went “CRACK” against Finn’s forehead, just over his left eye.  There was a flash that dazzled the boy, so that Finn closed his eyes against it. He grew dizzy and sat, Bump, down on the floor, his left leg aching suddenly, though it did not last long.  In fact, as he sat dazed on the floor of his kitchen, the aching drained away.  His injured leg felt as whole as his right.

Rising to his feet, Finn looked for Pep but saw no trace of him.  Even the two pieces of candy corn lay where the fairy had placed them on the table. He grabbed them and chewed them up fast, so fast that they tasted like nothing, not even sweet. No matter,  Finn thought, around a great yawn. His dreams were on the point of coming true. Yet, his belly full and his leg better made him desire sleep, so he put away the crackers and the peanut butter, not bothering to turn on the light in the pantry.  He ran warm water over his plate, fork and knife, dried his hands, and started back up the stairs feeling no pain. When he crawled into bed, sleep took him quickly, though as he drifted away, Finn could not help but remember Pep’s feral grin.


“’An eye to see my way,’ right,” Finn mumbled to himself.  On Halloween day, Finn sat in the cafeteria, picking at his lunch, while everyone else, Albert and Tom included, played kickball in the parking lot just beyond the windows. Finn, now, kept his left eye was closed, for Pep had caused Finn to see more than most folks can, and it was too much, already. Even before he left the house, he saw a man outside, an old man, who waved at him and walked away.  Finn remembered after that this old man had often walked the neighborhood with his little dog. He didn’t have the dog when Finn saw him, for the dog was still alive, while the old man had died two weeks before. His mom had told him.

His mother was overjoyed that Finn was walking without any pain and sent him away with the promise that if his situation didn’t change, he could, indeed, go out with Albert and Tom for Trick or Treat. She wanted him to still take it easy. All Finn wanted to do was get out of the house. Having seen a ghost passing his house—on Halloween—drove Finn to see what else he could see.  He’d gotten that and more, too much more.

On his way to school, with his left eye, Finn saw more people just sort of standing or wandering around, as though lost or just hapless. Most of them were dressed in clothes from long before.  None of them seemed troubled or spoke when he tried to talk to them, though some gave him faint smiles. None of them moaned at him or rattled chains, but he knew that he was seeing ghosts. Finn, a brave lad, saw no reason to be afraid of them, though he wondered what would happen if he saw a ghost who had been his relative or a friend. No one in his family, except his great grandparents had died.

And there had been other things, he saw at a distance, shapes, like people, that changed or moved suddenly as he neared them.  There were other things, too, other creatures, Finn thought, which flitted behind trees or dove into hedges when he tried to look at them. Those he called to, trying to make them show themselves.  They didn’t. They merely hooted or growled at him from the shadows. Their cries—worse, their laughter—made him feel all weird inside, and the only relief he had was to close his left eye.

Inside the school, though, Finn gasped when he saw children who didn’t belong, as well as shadows where things moved and scurried away, fearful or wary of being seen. When Miss Bennet asked him why he was keeping his left eye closed so much that morning, Finn replied, “Oh, it just itches, like something is in it.  I’ll be fine.”  She made him open it and said that it wasn’t red or inflamed.  She let him be, though she was the one who insisted that he stay inside while the others were playing kickball.  So, Finn sat alone in the cafeteria, left eye closed. When it was open, a figure of a girl, an eighth grader, Finn thought, for she looked almost grown, paced in front of the windows, looking out at the children playing.  He called out to her, earning a curious glance from Mrs. Sorenson, but the girl disappeared through a block wall, where he could see a door had once been.

“Is your leg bothering you, honey?” Mrs. Sorenson asked from back in the kitchen.

“Uh, no ma’am. I just got excited about something I saw—outside.”

“Well, you’ll be back with ‘em soon, dear,” she called to him.  Finn kept his mouth shut, determined to not speak to any ghost.

“Sure, people, even kids have died, and maybe they haunt this place because they loved it, or because…maybe they died here,” Finn’s thoughts ran.  To combat such thoughts, Finn looked beyond the trees, across the fence, at the old yew tree and the mausoleum in dominated. There, the fairies lived. Such was his desire to get to the underground town that he was willing to look beyond the sad things that he had seen. It wasn’t, perhaps, his finest moment, and Finn wondered what his know-it-all father would say about it, if, that is, Finn ever got the nerve to tell him.

Before recess was over, another girl entered the cafeteria.  Finn saw her and looked away, though she walked straight up to him. She stood there in silence for a minute, looking down at him.  A pretty, red-headed girl, Finn thought, and when he looked at her with his left I closed, she was still there, though she wasn’t smiling.

“Oh, sorry. I…I didn’t see you come up,” Finn said and then recognized her: Maggie Carter, Buddy’s older sister. “Can I…what do you want?”

“Look,” she said, through her frown, “my little brother is, well, something’s wrong with him. He has become mean, and he is just sooo stupid. I…I’m sorry about your leg, and, and, maybe he is, too. I doubt it, though. Mother kept him home today because of what he did, but he threatened to hurt me if I didn’t give you this note.  I didn’t read it or anything, but if you can, I wish you’d, well…here it is.” She thrust a small envelope at him and turned to walk away.

Finn watched her go, wondering at the difference between brothers and sisters.  Maggie was pretty and seemed very nice. He wondered if Megan, in first grade, ever had to deal with people who disliked her older brother. It made him remember the way he had treated Albert and Tom yesterday, too. His classmates were coming back in, so he opened the small envelope and took out the note.  All it said was, “I saw what you saw yesterday. I’ll be there tonight.”


Miss Bennet was as good as her word.  At the end of school that afternoon, she met them on the front steps of school and gave them each a full bag of candy corn. “Now, men, I expect each of these bags to survive the day pretty much intact, okay?” she asked. Tom and Albert muttered “Yes, ma’am,” remembering their promise to donate the candy to Finn’s plan.  With their very own bags in hand, all that yellow, orange, and white goodness gleaming at them, they turned to look at Finn. 

“Thank you for looking out for us, ma’am,” Finn said. “We will make excellent use of our candy corn: we plan on sharing it!”

She gave them a crooked smile, suggesting her disbelief, and hurried down the steps. “Well, you have until Monday to get better if you over-indulge.  Happy Halloween,” she said walking down the steps. With a fast turn, she looked back at them and said, “And be safe when you go out tonight. Watch out for fairy tricks and such!” Her words startled the boys, but she said nothing else and walked away.

“It’s almost like she knows what you’ve planned, Finn,” Albert whispered.

“She…she couldn’t,” Finn replied.

“But she didn’t say ‘ghosts or goblins,’ did she? Almost everybody says ‘ghosts and goblins’, right?  She said fairies, didn’t she Albert?” Tom said in a harsh whisper. Albert nodded hard, staring at Finn.

“But a goblin…is just another kind of fairy, ya know?  She was just, doin’ what grown-ups do, warning us.  Teachers and parents love to say stuff like that just to scare us. But…”

“But what?” Albert asked, for Finn looked away, like he didn’t want to face them, like he was hiding something—which he was.

“Well, there is someone else who saw what I saw, saw one of the ‘good folk,’ I mean,” Finn said, and both Tom and Albert stared at him, saucer-eyed, for if some else did know, that meant that Finn didn’t just imagine a fairy. Finn pulled Buddy’s note out of his pocket and gave it to them.

“That’s it, Finn,” Tom cried. “I mean, you can have my bag of candy corn, like I said, but I am Not gonna go with Buddy Carter to the cemetery! You didn’t see him, Finn, yesterday, after he slammed you to the ground.  He just stood there smiling,’ watchin’ you bleed. You go into the cemetery with him, you ‘prolly won’t walk out again!”

“Yeah,” Albert muttered. “He’s crazy, Finn. Who knows what he’ll do? Do you trust him enough to go into a cemetery, on Halloween, with’im? I don’t.”

Finn didn’t say anything, though he turned back and stared at his pals, seeing the worry in their eyes.  They were scared, clearly, of Buddy and of fairies, but he saw them, then, as children.  Was it his left eye that showed him? He didn’t bother to consider it, for that gift of seeing had only shown him true things, thus far. True, they were hard realities, but they were worthy of a man.  When it came to it, he’d bet even Buddy would chicken out.  But if they’d only seen what he’d seen, they would not be able to resist the draw of freedom in the underground town, Finn thought. He sighed and shook his head.

“Okay,” he said at length. “Then we’ll still go trick or treat, right? Bring your bags of candy corn like we agreed—to share with everybody, of course.  Meet at Tom’s house at seven?”

Both boys heaved a sigh of relief and replied, “Yeah, see you then, okay?” Finn smiled and walked away, thinking, “I will show them.  Then, they will see.  I’ll be able to take them to the underground town on my own, once I know the way.”


Finn flew through his homework, checked it twice himself, and even went over his readings again.  Then, his father’s rules complete to the letter, Finn gave thought to his costume: the Mummy. Megan and Maeve had store bought costumes, butterfly wings and bobble head pieces for the antennae. Finn had to wait until after he and the girls had eaten dinner to start getting wrapped up.  The gray skies were getting really dark by five thirty.  His father still had not come home, trapped, his mother said, in a faculty meeting.

Doc Sloan had sent home four wide wraps, and Finn’s mom had cut an old tan sheet into strips for the rest of it. These, she wound around him and pinned them into place.  The skies had gone gray and winds chilly, so Finn could put his wrappings over his clothes for extra warmth. His mother wrapped him up well, but Finn saw something funny in her eyes as she went about it, an uncertain, almost wary look that he’d never seen on her face. Was it fright? She glanced at his at his face, doubtful, worried, and, he thought, a little angry, though she didn’t say anything.

“Be sure to cover my face good, except for my eyes,” Finn mumbled as she put on the finishing touches. She had left many ragged ends of bandages fluttering off his arms and shoulders, like the Mummy.

“I…don’t think so, Finn. I want your face to show more,” she said, though her tone wasn’t angry.

“But, mom, it’s Halloween.  I’m not supposed to look like myself.  I don’t want people to know me.”

“Well, okay,” she muttered, “but you’ve got to be able to breathe.  You…you look too much…like a mummy,” she muttered and wiped at her eyes.

“Mom, what’s the matter?” Finn asked, for seeing her brush away a tear caused his heart to beat fast, like it was trying to leap into his throat.

She turned away, then, and sighed. “You’re…our firstborn…growing up…too fast…is all.” She turned back and pasted on a smile for him. “Never mind. I’m just being…silly.  Go on. I know you’re anxious to get out, and I need to get the girls out.  They only want to do this street and then give out candy. How far are you going with Albert and Tom?”

Finn looked at her from behind his wrappings, their ragged edges hanging down in his eyes. Strips ran over his nose and half covered his mouth.  The sudden look of fright on his face didn’t show.  If his plan worked, he didn’t know how long he’d be gone. He had never lied to his mom.

“Oh, those guys won’t want to go very far,” he said, knowing that was the truth. They wouldn’t want to go nearly as far as Finn, not all the way into the cemetery. “We…won’t go…we won’t go any farther than St. Andrews,” he said, deciding that such was the truth or enough of it, anyway. And hadn’t his father said that the world of Faerie was right next to this world? It was just right here, alongside this one—as was the realm of the dead.

When she turned away, Finn was out the door, feeling halfway certain that he had not lied to his mother, though he had not been strictly honest.  But what did that matter in the face of his adventure? And there was loot to be had, as well. Finn stepped lively, with no pain in his injured leg.

 Tom lived one street away, Finn was early yet to meet them, so he hit every house on his block before he reached Tom’s.  By that time, his heart had hardened, with which he had help. His left eye showed him many of the same ghosts he’d seen earlier.  But it showed him peculiar things in the  grown-ups who answered their doors in the fading light. Even when they made appreciative noises about the spookiness of his costume—one woman actually jumped when she opened her door—he saw something…wrong. It wasn’t much ever, just a look, a glance back inside, a twitch, or a perhaps a memory passing over their faces. His left eye showed him something else, an anger, fear, doubt, or regret in each face.  His left eye could look inside them, somehow, see something of the struggle in which they lived.  Not all the faces on his block showed him something bad. Some were content, joyous, even.  Many did, though, and he imagined that many, many of them would have been glad to come with him to the underground town, where dreams live, and things like bullies, appetites, addictions, and old hurts wouldn’t bother them again.  He pressed on and arrived at Tom Doughty’s house with a good haul of candy. In truth, Finn was different when he got there: the faerie sight had shown him things that a grown man would see, a sense of knowing that life is hard.

Tom answered his door.  He was dressed as a pirate, complete with an eye patch, bandana, puffy shirt, and a plastic cutlass.  He stared at Finn, not knowing him until he spoke.

“Ready? Albert here yet?” Finn asked, making Tom jump.

“Finn! I didn’t know ya!” Tom cried.  Albert looked around the door from Tom’s kitchen, his mouth full of something gooey. He wore an orange sweatshirt with a jack o’ lantern face on its front. A cardboard pumpkin stem sat atop his head, pushed through a ragged orange toboggan.

“Wow! You look really cool, ‘cept the Mummy didn’t wear sneakers,”  Albert said.

“This one does,” Finn replied. “C’mon, pumpkin boy, Blackbeard. Getting late!”


They didn’t miss a house in the three streets between Finn’s home and St. Andrew’s school. Their paper grocery sacks sagging with loot, Finn pressed them hard to keep moving, even when they saw other kids from school.  He wouldn’t stop to talk. Finn even insisted that they knock on doors where the lights were off. That, at least, made Halloween spookier for Tom and Albert, waiting on dark porches, wondering if the silent doors would swing open. Most of those doors didn’t open to them, but when they did, Finn’s left eye showed him something, some loneliness in the eyes of those who came to the door, some sadness or longing under their anger at being disturbed. At those houses, they never got any candy—though one old guy, who stared hardest at Finn—acted shocked that it was Halloween.  That man, disheveled and mumbling, rooted in his pocket and gave each of them a dollar bill. Tom and Albert cried, “Thank you, sir!” though Finn said nothing.  He stayed on that dark porch a second longer, staring at the man from behind his mummy wrappings, one of which had slipped down over his right eye. Looking with his left eye, Finn saw within that man a yawning, empty darkness, one that could never be filled by anything in this world. The man looked back and him.

“So, Happy Halloween, kid. Do yourself a favor and don’t grow old,” he said and closed his door, leaving Finn in the shadows. If Finn had any doubt about going ahead with his plan to follow the fairy path in the cemetery, he lost it then.  What he’d seen already made him believe that he had to get to the underground town. Even if no one else did, Finn had the chance to go live his dreams.  Nothing would stop him, now.

They finished all the houses and stood at the front steps of St. Andrews, as they had earlier that day.  They each had several pounds of goodies in sacks, with the bags of candy corn in the bottom. Albert looked at Finn and clutched his bag to his pumpkin chest. He leaned closer to Tom and whispered,

“He’s gonna do it.” Tom only nodded and stared at Finn. They each put their bags down, pulled out the sack of candy corn. Finn took out his candy corn and handed his bag to Albert.

“As promised, guys,” Finn said and left the steps, running around the school into the dark of its parking lot, toward the dark cemetery in the rear, its yew tree huge, hoary, dark, dominating the cemetery. Tom and Albert followed him, but Finn was faster.

“Doesn’t your leg hurt?” Tom called to him.

“Nope,” Finn called back over his shoulder.

“C’mon, Finn,” Albert called to him. “Let’s go back to my house.  Mom said you guys can spend the night. Dracula  and The Wolfman are both on channel forty-one and we can stay up and watch’em.”

“No!” Finn cried over his shoulder. “Got something to do.”

As they neared the fence, a dark figure stepped out from the oak tree’s shadows:  Buddy Carter stood there, waiting.  Finn ran straight at him, leaving Tom and Albert behind, ignoring their calls.

“I thought you’d chicken out,” Buddy said.

“Why would I?” Finn answered.  He stared at Buddy, turning his left eye on him, thinking he’d see something in Buddy that might reveal why he became a bully.  All he saw, though, was the leering smile on Buddy’s face. Finn had thought that Buddy wouldn’t show, but now that he was present, Finn didn’t care. He was one step closer to the underground town, where he knew he would best Buddy in any endeavor. Buddy led the way around to the cemetery gate, opened it, and stood inside.

“Well, let’s go.  You bring something to offer them?” Buddy asked, pointing to the full bags of candy corn.

“Yes.  What’d you bring?” Finn asked, but Tom ran up behind him and cried,

“Finn! Don’t do this! Come away, now, please!”

Buddy moved fast to put himself between Finn and Tom. “Get lost, twerp,” Buddy said, and gave Tom a hard shove.  Albert helped Tom to his feet.  Both boys stood looking at Finn, eyes wide and pale, their faces streaked with sudden tears. “Finn!” they cried, but Finn entered the gate at Buddy’s side and pushed through the tall grass between the rows of headstones.  Buddy was behind him and pointed over Finn’s shoulder to the mausoleum in the center. The dark branches of the yew tree behind it looked like they were trying to pull it into the massive trunk, swallow it, but Finn walked on, having lost his fear.  He was about to fulfill his dream, find his freedom from rules, from fear, from bullies like Buddy.  In the underground town, he would make his rules and be a bigger man than even his father.

They stepped up to the front of the pale stone, with its dark metal door. Buddy pointed to the low lintel over the door. Finn could barely make out the name carved there, but when he did, it made him jump. “CARTER,” it read.

“You asked what I brought them.  Well, this is the way into where they live, and I don’t need to bring them anything,” he said and pushed in the dark door. Finn stepped up to it and peered into the stygian darkness within. “I only needed to bring them you,” Buddy added, and pushed Finn. 

Finn raised an arm to keep from hitting whatever was within.  He imagined that a stone coffin lay within, but as he fell, he hit nothing. He only fell, and fell, and fell. He cried out, though the dizzying sense of falling took most of his breath. His arms flailing, he lost his grip on the three bags of candy corn.  Somehow, the bags opened, and the treats were bright spots in the darkness around him as he fell.  He landed, hard, and his left leg burned, ached, as though it had been pounded by hammers. The candy corn rained down and a feeble light grew around him. Someone with a torch came.  In its light, he saw Pep, though not as he was in the dream or in his kitchen.  Pep stood taller that Finn’s father, wrapped in his faded brown and green rags.  His wings were huge, their tips disappearing in the darkness beyond the torch light.  At Pep’s side, a smaller figure stood, a boy, dressed like Finn, in mummy wrappings, except his face was visible.  Finn gasped, for looking at the boy, he saw himself, a copy of himself, who gave him a leering smile. 
            “Welcome, mortal boy,” Pep said, offering Finn his sharp-toothed smile. “And thanks for the candy corn.  We get so little of it here, ya know. And look at ya, dressed just like me!” Pep laughed, a hard sound that hurt Finn’s ears. He sat on the ground, leg aching bad, and stared around him, for the trap of the fairies closed around him.

More light came from other torches drawing near. The other fairies came and gathered round, pushed Finn aside, as eager hands scrabbled around him for the candy corn.  After all, he had brought the treats for them, though they didn’t stop to thank him. Finn tried to move out of their way. Left leg throbbing, he pushed himself away from their frantic attempts to scoop up handfuls of candy corn and shove them into their mouths.  The boy who was a copy of him was among them, greedily grabbing, crying out words that Finn did not understand. Pep reached into the melee and pulled out the copy of Finn.

“Be easy, there, Spriggan, boy. Where you’re goin’ there’ll be plenty and more. Just look at how they fattened up out Knuckerboy,” he called, pointing to Buddy. In that instant, Finn grasped the truth. Buddy had become different this past year because he wasn’t Buddy at all. They, the fairies, had sent this Knuckerboy home in Buddy’s place, and they were going to send this boy who looked like Finn back into his world.  There was a name for that, what the fairies did in taking children, but Finn couldn’t recall it, only that his father had told him a story about it. His father, whom he’d never see again. This look-a-like Finn—Spriggan, Pep had called him– would go live in Finn’s room, eat with Finn’s family, be the brother to little Maeve and Megan. Finn would never see them again, never see Tom or Albert. It made Finn recall the sadness in Maggie Carter’s pretty face.

“That’s right, boyo. I see you’re a’gettin’ it,” Pep said, leaning down to get a clearer view of Finn’s stricken face. “Ye’ve got your wish.  Welcome to the underground town.” Buddy—Knuckerboy–was beside him then, looking down, and he kicked Finn’s injured leg.  It hurt so bad that Finn blacked out.

When he came to, Finn had no idea how long he had been out, though it was his leg that woke him, throbbing with each beat of his heart. As he sat on a dirt floor, his mummy costume coming undone on his head, arms, and legs, Finn understood, too, that his freedom from pain was a fairy gift, too, nothing permanent.  When he reached down to his injury, he noticed that his right hand was tied with a rough rope.  Tugging at it, he found that he was tied to another boy, beside him, in the dark.

Finn rose to his knees, pulled on the rope, and the boy beside him rolled over onto his back, his eyes opening slowly. It was Buddy Carter, but a thinner, shaggier Buddy Carter. His clothes were rags that hung on his bruised, scarred limbs.  He looked up at Finn.

“It can’t be… time again.  Just let me sleep,” he pleaded and closed his eyes.

“Buddy! It’s me, Finn McCoy. How…how long have you been here?” Finn remembered, then, the word for what had replaced Buddy Carter: a changeling. He understood how long Buddy had been with the fairies. The brutal Knuckerboy had lived with the Carter family, tormented the kids at St. Andrews, for the past year.  With mounting sadness, he thought of what Spriggan would do to his own family.

“I’ve…been…here…forever,” Buddy groaned, though he managed to catch hold of Finn’s shirt and say with sudden urgency,

“F, Finn? Don’t…don’t eat… what they give you, except the…scraps they toss…in here or leave in the…street corner bowls. Sometimes they…leave… old fruit… apples, pears. They can’t…grow…anything.  Don’t eat anything…that looks…good.”

“Nice that you two are getting’ acquainted, innit?” Pep’s voice came from the door. He stood there, taller than Finn’s dad, wings buzzing slightly at his back. “Time to get a move on, then.  Stones won’t shift themselves, ya know.”

Pep took the other end of the rope that was attached to Buddy’s other arm and dragged at it.  Buddy couldn’t get up fast enough and was dragged along, until Finn helped him up.  Buddy leaned on him.  He was taller than Finn, though the real Buddy Carter was bone thin. Pep pulled them out of the stone hut, out into torchlight.  Finn had to shield his eyes against its sudden glare, though he recognized where he was. Cobbled streets and stone houses proclaimed this the underground town, though this one wasn’t as jolly as the one in Finn’s dreams.

No sunlight ever came here.  Above them was only dark, as though they were in a cavern wherein the ceiling was far above the torch light. Finn stumbled along at Buddy’s side, and when they reached a corner, there sat a stone bowl, which, in Finn’s dreams had been full of candy corn. Now, at its bottom lay an apple core and half an old banana.  He reached in and pulled them out.  Buddy reached for one, and Finn let him take his pick, knowing that the candy corn he’d seen in his dreams was a lie, a fairy gift, nothing real. He held the apple core as Buddy pushed the remains of the banana into his mouth.

They worked for hours and hours, with only water to drink, water from puddles that formed from the dripping ceiling, far above. They had to lift stones half as much as Finn’s weight and place them in walls to make homes for fairies.  Finn knew, then, why Buddy was so scarred on his hands and legs. His own fingers were raw in no time, but the fairies wouldn’t let either of them stop to rest. Buddy, at his side, gasped with each step he took under the weight of the heavy stones.  Other fairies would direct them where to put the stones and lash their backs with thin yew branches if they didn’t do it just right. 

At first, Finn was angry, but, tied as he was, he couldn’t fight back. Buddy had lost his will to fight, to do anything but survive.  Besides, now, all the fairies were human-sized, not tiny things on gossamer wings.  They were strong, though they would do no work,  and cruel.  Their strength was only used to push the boys around. They kicked Finn’s sore leg if he made any mistake.  And he made many.

At the end of the impossibly long workday, Finn stood tied to Buddy, both of them devoid of anger, hope.  Finn’s tears ran down his face, though Buddy stood slack-jawed next to him.  Pep led them back toward the hut they would share, though this time, there was a table laid in front of them, holding any food that Finn could think of.  There was pizza, steaming hot, and tubs of ice cream, cookies, even the meat loaf that Finn’s mom had made the night before. It lay gleaming before them, looking impossibly good. 

Finn dove at it, never having been that hungry before.  The aching in his leg was second to his hunger, for if he could eat something, he felt he could go on. The rope on his hand tightened as Buddy used all his remaining strength to hold him back.

“Don’t,” Buddy moaned. “They try…and trick you.”

“How’d you know that?” Finn asked.

“My…father…told me,” Buddy said.

Finn stopped, for he remembered, then, his own father’s stories of folk lost in the realm of faerie. Once they ate of the food, they could never leave. They would live, for a while, victims of fairy glamour, then die, used up. He stumbled back to Buddy’s side.

“What? You don’t like our treats?” Pep asked.  “If you don’t, you can have what’s in your hut, the proceeds from our hunt today.”

They stumbled into the dark of the hut.  There, on the floor, was a half can of root beer and a half package of cheese crackers that looked to have been chewed by a mouse and thrown away.

“That’s what they find,” Buddy said. “Things people throw out, but fairies don’t look hard. They take what’s easy.”

Finn nodded, imagining his look-a-like, Spriggan, eating his mom’s food, enjoying the smells of her kitchen. He shared out the food, which they soon ate, three cheese crackers and sips of stale root beer.  Finn didn’t care for root beer, but just then, it tasted like heaven, a heaven to which he’d never be free to go. He sat down at Buddy’s side.  They were so tired and Finn in such pain that they didn’t even talk.  They slept, though fitfully, for the fairies made music, sang in raucous voices, and danced outside their cell far into the dark.

As he drifted near sleep, held off by his pain, Finn thought of the old man who had advised him never to grow old.  Now, Finn wouldn’t grow old, and he knew something of that old man’s darkness, the abyss he’d sensed in him, who didn’t even know it was Halloween.  Finn would have cried for him, but he was too parched to have tears, too hungry and weak to do anything but feel that abyss that was all around him now, this hopelessness. He drifted off to a light sleep, finally, hoping to never, ever dream again.

When another fairy day came, he and Buddy were back at work, listless, dull, hungry, thirsty, tired beyond the ability to feel.  Finn’s leg  went on hurting, until it was so bad that it was always hurt the same, a mind-numbing ache that wouldn’t go away. He held onto that pain, though, as a memory of what had been his life. This went on for days without count, each day ending with some small morsel of found food, never much, never enough. Finn’s clothes, like Buddy’s, were in tatters, his hands and legs bruised and scarred. He was thinner, wan, pale.  Every time they stopped work, the fairies sang and danced and wouldn’t let them sleep long enough to dream.


One night, the town underground had grown quiet finally, and Finn woke.  He thought he heard voices and smelled more wholesome air.  The voices sounded like Tom and Albert, but they couldn’t be. At least, Finn hoped that they weren’t in the underground town.  Would they know him, still?  Finn opened his eyes to find Pep standing over him.  Pep’s face was turned away, looking, intent. Finn saw that there was a dark door on the hut where Finn and Buddy lay. How had a door come there, where one had not been before? The hut where he and Buddy lay was different, though familiar.

Another voice, though,  bold, and deep broke out in a strong chant, just outside the door:

“By silver’s purity,

By Cross’s sanctity,

Break this bond.

From Faerie ways,

From fate of faes,

Free this firstborn!

Return,  good folk,

To your own bower,

Tempt not, men, from this hour!”

            The very sound of that voice made Pep clap his long fingers over his ears, hissing and gibbering in consternation.  Finn recognized, then, as a now distant memory, that it was his father’s voice.  There was a blow on the door, another, and another. Pep shivered at each one and made a worried moan.  At the last blow, the door buckled in, its metal screeching as it bent under the blow from James McCoy’s shoulder. Pep emitted a shrill scream and disappeared into thin air with a popping sound, and there was Finn’s father, shining a flashlight down upon him and the real Buddy Carter. In one fist, James held a silver cross, one that had hung on the wall in his home office.

            “Oh, Finn, I got you!” James cried. “What have they done to you?” James bent fast to scoop his boy into his arms.

            “No, Dad,” Finn said, grasping his father’s warm hands. “Take Buddy.  I, I can walk.”

            “Buddy? Is this boy, Buddy Carter?”

            “Yes, sir,” Finn answered. “this is the real Buddy Carter,” drinking in the sight of his father,  huge, powerful, and full of love for his son. Finn saw it clear on his face and knew that this man’s love came from a heart bigger than he was. Just minutes before Finn thought he’d never see his father again. “Help him, Dad. We’ve got to get him home.”

James took Buddy in one arm and gave his other hand to Finn. “You name it, pal, and we’ll see it done.” Finn looked up at his father. Grateful tears ran down his face. Despite the pain in his leg, Finn was willing to run, if he needed to. Enough light came in that he saw that he was in the old Carter mausoleum, not the hut of the fairies.  Or, had had he been there the whole time? Finn no longer cared but followed his father. Soon, they stood at the cemetery gate.

“I…I’m sorry, Dad. I…” Finn stammered.

James looked at him, offered a smile and said, “Don’t you worry, son. I’ve got you now. ‘And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad, the nights are wholesome, then no planets strike, no fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm, So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.’ Says the Bard.”

Finn was glad, then, to hear some Shakespeare.  He vowed to learn more of it, to listen to his father’s tales, and make better ones of his own.

            “That’s not Buddy!“ Tom’s voice cried, for he stood just outside the gate, a moon-eyed Albert at his side. Then, he got a look at Finn. “Finn? What’s happened to you?” Tom  asked, coming to offer his hand. Professor McCoy carried Buddy out to his car.  
            “Yes, it’s me, Tom,” Finn answered through his happy tears.  He took a look at Tom, though, and stopped. Tom was still in his pirate costume, and there was Albert, in his pumpkin get up. “Why are you still in your costimes?”

            “Uh, Halloween? Remember? You’re still dressed for it, right? Though how’d it get so ragged and filthy?”

            Finn sighed, shook his head, and asked, “Did you see me walk out of here, earlier?”

            “No, man. We’ve been gone, maybe twenty, thirty minutes since you and Buddy walked into the mausoleum,” Tom said. “We went and got your dad, told him what you’d done. I’m sorry I had to tell on you.  It’s all I—we—could think to do.  But what happened to Buddy in there? He’s half the size he was when he went inside!”

            “That wasn’t Buddy Carter who met us…earlier,” Finn said, trying to wrap his mind around what had occurred to him. “It’s a long story,” Finn said with a sigh. Tom and Albert looked at one another and shrugged.

            James placed Buddy Carter in the back seat of his car and gave him water, which he drank hurriedly. As he came around, Buddy sat up and asked,

“Where’s Finn? We need to—”

“I’m here, Buddy,” Finn called to him.  “This is my dad, Professor James McCoy, and we’re taking you home.”

“Not…yet. Remember. They sent Spriggan… in your place,” Buddy said. Finn nodded his head. Finn, as tired he was, rejoiced that Hallowen was not yet over. Buddy’s reminder lit a fire under Finn. The “good folk” had tricked them both and sought to trap them with treats, but it was Halloween, still, when the walls between worlds were thin. Maybe it was Halloween magic that gave him new energy or the fight that lived in Finn’s soul. Whatever fired him made Finn know that he would stop Spriggan and send him back to the town underground.

“Dad, there’s something I, we, have to do,” Finn said. Tom and Albert watched as Finn had a talk with his father.  It took several minutes, but at the last word from Finn, Professor James McCoy walked back into the cemetery, straight to the mausoleum.  He wrenched its door closed and wedged the silver cross into the handle.

“That’ll keep them from coming out this night, at least until something better can be done,” he said, coming back and ushering the boys into the car. Finn hoped so and trusted that his father would know how to make it so.  It was his task, now that his father’s love had awakened him from that horrid dream, to keep the fairy away from his mother and sisters.

“Tom, Albert, will you help me?” Finn asked his friends. “I need to find a fairy.”

“Oh, no,” Albert cried, “you did find one, and look—”

Tom nodded his head and interrupted his pal: “I think he means a different fairy, Albert.” Tom, the strongest of the three, took Finn’s arm in his own and helped him limp away into the dark.  Albert caught up with them fast, took Finn’s other arm, and they headed back into the streets where they had gone trick or treat.  Professor McCoy let the car idle down the street behind them.

It did not take long to find evidence of the changeling’s deeds: a first grader from St. Andrews ran across the street in front of them, weeping. He ran to his front porch, crying to his waiting mother that some boy had taken his bag of treats and pushed him down. Finn stared down the street where the boy had come from and saw two pumpkins smashed under a streetlight. Spriggan’s tricks had started already.

They all heard the sound of breaking glass ahead of them, and Finn’s friends half carried him in the direction of a dog that barked. Its angry, urgent barks, rang out, as though the dog would bite, if it got the chance. Someone tormented it, and Finn knew who. In the dark of a side yard, Finn saw his look-a-like, poking a stick through a fence at an enraged dog.

“Let me walk,” Finn said, “and you two, stand back.”  He limped into the dark as the dog sounded off. The fairy went on poking at the dog, intent on hurting the dog, unaware of Finn’s approach, until the boy stood alone behind him.

“Spriggan, I name you and call you to stand fast!” Finn shouted, as his father had taught him. Spriggan turned and let out a long, wailing shriek, like to wake the dead. Lights came on in the houses nearby. Muffled voices shouted in alarm, and Professor McCoy’s headlights lit the scene, though they weren’t needed for long.

“Trouble no mortals this night or ever!” Finn cried, and Spriggan shrieked again, so loud that Finn and his friends had to cover their ears.  Then, the fairy rocketed up into the night with a gout of foul-smelling flame, and Finn collapsed.

“How did you do that?” Tom cried, as he and Albert rushed to get Finn onto his feet again.  They hurried him to the waiting car.  His father put him in the front seat, while the other boys piled into the back with Buddy.

“My father…taught me,” Finn said, as they hurried away before the neighbors had a chance to come out to seek the cause of the commotion. “Didn’t you guys know that my dad knows everything?”

The boys laughed all the way back to Finn’s house. It wasn’t far, though Finn could not wait to get there.  There, they took Buddy inside and put one of James’ old flannel shirts on him.  Claire fed the boy and bandaged his hurts. Buddy breathed easy, came around, began to waken from his horrible dream. Then, when most all of the Trick or Treat folks had gone home, James and the boys took Buddy home.

It wasn’t far, for the Carters lived several doors down from Albert. By the time they arrived, Buddy was just able to walk to his house door.  Finn, Albert, Tom, and James stood in his front yard and watched as Buddy touched the bright jack o’lanterns sitting on his porch. He stood looking with wonder at the house he thought never to see again.  Buddy put one shuddering hand on the doorknob, walked into his house, and immediately, things began to happen.  There were surprised voices inside, and Mr. Carter came out to see the others standing in his front yard. They smiled and waved at him, before he went back inside, shocked, full of questions. Once Buddy was there, in the warm embraces of his mother and Maggie, the inevitable happened.

From an upper room, a bright light flashed, a tearing scream ripped the air, followed by the changeling “Buddy” bursting through the window glass, falling down the front porch roof, hitting the ground with a thud and a squeal, and running for all he was worth. James helped it along its way with a foot to its rear.

“Go back to your cold, dark home, Knuckerboy!” Finn yelled as it raced away, squealing into the night.

“You won’t find it easy to go home now!” James called after it, “and trouble no mortals this night or ever!” They stayed long enough for Professor McCoy and Mr. Carter to have a talk on the porch. There were many questions, but Finn’s Dad had some answers, though they were hard. Finn added what he could, and Buddy helped explain how, a year before, he had gone to the Carter mausoleum drawn by a fairy called Pep. No violence ensued between Professor McCoy and Mr. Carter, who became friends, thereafter. The story stayed between the principal parties, until now.

With Halloween over, Buddy would take a while to return to school.  He knew better than to explain why his behavior had been so bad and how he had missed a whole year. So, Buddy served out the detention for Knuckerboy’s wrongdoing, and Finn went with him every day.  They had much to talk about, much to set right between them, and a year’s worth of make-up work for Buddy. Finn, Tom, and Albert became good friends to him. Things were different for all of them but especially for Finn and his dad. From that day on. Finn vowed to talk to his father–about everything–especially his dreams.


Pep, however, is out there, still.  Creatures of faerie live forever and take many forms.  Their natures, though, do not change, and they are perilous. So, when the winds of autumn moan, and your dreams begin to haunt you, remember that making them come true will not often give you what you want, though fairies and their kind will offer it for the price of a few sweet treats that will fail to satisfy your hunger.  Finn never lost the fairy sight in his left eye, but he lives still, able to see people for who they are, darkness notwithstanding.  And he appreciates us all, as we are, folks with dreams and the need for an eye to see.

The End.

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