“Ten fun-size bars have more chocolate than one full-sizer,” you announce, pointing at Carver Street. “I say we go for quantity over quality.”
Jim emerges from his room. Well, stumbles out, with a few plastic baggies sticking out from the sides of his costume as well as a newly filled flask to his lips. “We’re going to Carver Street! Hell yeah man, just like the old days. Let me get a pillow case for candy.”
“We’re not-” But… yeah, he’s already kicking one of his pillows free from it’s case. Honestly, you’re more surprised Jim actually had pillow cases than you are that he isn’t listening.
Eventually, all four of you (Wilbur left for work while you were changing, not that you asked you self-centered dick) pile into the town car that’s waiting outside. Jim, despite Victoria’s warnings, jumps into the shotgun seat yet again, and you’re off through town as the final rays of sunset burn in the sky. Those have yielded to true night by the time the town car whispers up to a curb. Even through the window, you can see swarms of kids in cheap costumes racing across the streets. Part of you actually feels a bit nostalgic, Jim was right about this being an old haunt from your childhood.
Everyone climbs out of the car, though Jim does so smoking a weird pipe with purple smoke, which he turns around and hands back to the driver, who always remains just out of sight. “Thanks man, we’ll do some of mine on the way back.” Victoria seems to have moved past puzzlement into annoyed acceptance, but Annabeth is staring at Jim in sheer wonder. Evidently, the driver’s antisocial reputation has reached even the youngest ears in the family.
As you all walk up to the first house, you realize that your whole body is tense. Despite all of Victoria’s assurances, there’s a part of you that doesn’t believe this will really be as safe and simple as she’s promised. So when you get near the first house and she holds up her hand to stop everyone, you might sort of jump a couple of feet in the air.
“We go no further,” Victoria instructs, politely ignoring the very large vertical leap you made, even as Annabeth snickers under her breath. “Gathering of tribute must be done by the youngest, and the youngest alone. Annabeth, proceed.”
“Aw man, I wanted candy too.” Jim ruffles his empty pillow case, flapping it through the brisk October air.
“You know we can just buy candy on the way home, right?” You remind him. “We’re adults. We have that ability.”
“Not the same, bro. Not the same.”
While Jim is pouting, Annabeth makes her way quietly up the walkway to the first house’s door, which swings open seconds after she touches the bell. A young couple wearing matching werewolf costumes clap in delight at her outfit, and then drop a few pieces of candy into her pumpkin pail. As she turns around, you could swear you see its carved face flicker for a moment, but then it’s gone. Probably a trick of the light. Maybe. Hopefully.
Things pretty much go like that for the next several houses, and along the way you grow more and more certain that the pumpkin’s face is flickering like a candle when treats are dropped in, until you reach a house near the end of the first street.
As before, Annabeth walks slowly up to the porch, rings the bell, and… nothing. Next to you, Victoria frowns as she watches her sister try the bell once more, and then twice. After the third failure, Annabeth begins walking back toward you all, but pauses to look into the house’s jack-o-lantern, which is poorly carved and barely lit by the nearly-burned down candle inside. She doesn’t touch it though, just examines it carefully then continues all the way back to you, Jim, and Victoria.
“They lit the signal, but refused tribute,” Annabeth says. It’s the first actual words to leave her mouth all night, and you’re surprised at how heavy they are. With the giggles and chuckles slipping out, you’d expected her to sound at least a little more childlike.
“Then they have left us no choice,” Victoria responds. There’s an edge to her voice that you’ve learned to recognize, and you know it signifies trouble for someone. Usually you, even if it’s unintended.
“Hold on, no choice about what? It’s a house that ran out of candy, we can just go to any of the hundred others in this area,” you point out.
“One need not offer tribute,” Victoria tells you, her tone suddenly stern. “If the house were dark, unlit by a signal, we would pass by. They would enjoy none of our protections from the dark for the coming year, but there would be no animosity. To light the signal and refuse tribute, however, is an affront to the ritual and the clans who participate in it. By our law, it must be repaid. Slight for slight.”
“Trick or Treat,” Annabeth adds, her weird tone sending a chill down your spine. You’re not sure what these two have in mind, but it’s probably more than someone who forgot to blow out a jack-o-lantern really deserves. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that while Victoria is your friend, and usually has positive interests at heart, she’s not exactly what one could call “good.”
“Okay, so ancient law says they need retribution, right?” You’re thinking on your feet, badly at that, but reaching for anything to maybe try and keep these people safe. “But we don’t have to do it now. Why don’t we circle back later on, when the street isn’t so crowded?”
“It doesn’t work like that,” Victoria says. “This debt cannot be held. Payment comes now. As for the others, have no fear. This is All Hallows Eve and we are of the House of Willowbrook. We are only seen as much as we choose to be.”
“Then… then why not let Jim or I handle the tricking,” you stammer out quickly. “This is probably just a misunderstanding, I’m sure we can think of a repayment that is both appropriate and not too overzealous.”
“Be wary, Merlin,” Victoria warns. “Tonight the shadow of death lurks in every corner. Step into our ritual, and I cannot guarantee your safety. Well, that’s always true, but even more so if you wander into a place mortals weren’t meant to venture.” She stops and looks at you, then the house.
“However, if, knowing that, you still wish to intervene on behalf of these mortals, you may do so. The debt must be paid, but I will allow you to choose who is given the task. Annabeth and I, yourself, or… Jim.”
The last member of that group has currently somehow gotten his head stuck in the pillowcase and is trying to pull it off. Victoria and Annabeth are waiting, neither with a particularly patient expression on their faces. That warning of hers seemed pretty dire, but then again when don’t her warnings come off that way? Of course that might be because they always are deadly serious.
No time to sit around and debate, you’re going to have to make a choice here, cowboy. Who doles out the trick?