“Promise me you’ll stick to this block,” Mrs. Halpern said, stern gaze set on the boys, one her own, the other a neighbor friend.
The block in question was once one to avoid, part of the old Balkans Quarter, the kind of place where prostitutes and fortunetellers lingered, while pushers and junkies made their exchanges beneath the shadowy cloak of the buildings. Before it had little by way of streetlights and even less by way of policing.
Gentrification. That’s what the TV called it. Mrs. Halpern thought they could call it whatever, it being only two blocks from home, so long as she could take her son trick-or-treating there and get back before she blew the whole night.
“Okay,” the boys said in unison.
Dylan was Iron Man. Leslie was Black Panther. They ignored any potential Marvel universe tensions in favor of treat gathering. The boys were both ten and that meant they needed some slack to their tethers when it came to running the night with sacks eager for candy. Mrs. Halpern didn’t like it, but conceded because she’d worked extra hours because Debbie went home sick and didn’t feel like chasing them.
An hour after they left Mrs. Halpern waiting in her car, they’d visited forty-seven doorsteps. No more lights remained lit directly ahead and were about to round back, but stopped. From where they stood, they could see into the Ford. Mrs. Halpern was asleep behind the wheel. And their bags were decidedly light.
Dylan said, “Let’s cut across and do those.” He pointed to an apartment complex. They were from the seventies, two of the three buildings were lifeless and boarded up, next on the city’s list of places to beautiful and sell for a mint. The lit building had nine ground floor apartments, each with its own entrance.
“But your mom said—” Leslie began rebutting.
“But your mom said,” Dylan mocked his friend in a nasally intonation. “Don’t be such a wimp.”
“Fine. Not like she can ground me.” Though if she talked to his mother that was most likely the eventual outcome. If caught. “We gotta be quick.”
They started off, rushing in case Mrs. Halpern woke up and grew impatient. The other side of the street was much darker than the designated hunting grounds. Down the street, fewer houses had pumpkins out. Hardly any of those places covered their porch beams in fake spider webs. Only a handful even had those cheesy window stickers from the nineties. Some did however, some had all three, and it only takes one good one to make it worthwhile.
“Let’s just do these five, okay?”
Dylan acquiesced, suddenly not so hot about his plan. That other side was spooky.
They drew up to a defunct convenience store with boarded windows and doors connected to one of the apartment projects. Two lots beyond were the ground floor apartments with lights blazing.
Before they could go any further, a man stepped out of a shadowy vacancy between the former store and a chain-link fence surrounding the second dilapidated building. Dylan gasped and Leslie clenched his fists, the outfit really made him feel the superhero part, at least a little.
“Hello, boys.” The man was skinny and tall, wore a forest green tunic, lighter green tights, and a forest green tricorne hat with a red feather accent sprouting like alfalfa. A man in costume, normal as normal got for Halloween night.
Dylan eased, at the understanding that this getup was Peter Pan, like from the ancient cartoon his grandma had on VHS. Peter Pan was a friendly image and maybe too friendly as weirdos come in all shapes and outfits. “My mom’s watching, don’t get no ideas.”
Peter Pan smiled. “Sure she is and I bet adventurous lads like you know how to duck her rules. I’m a boy myself, you know. I know all about making the rules as I go. Where I’m from, you never grow old and get to play all day, forever.”
Leslie’s face scrunched beneath the plastic mask. “You’re not a boy.”
“Am too.” Peter Pan put hands on his hips—very Peter Pan-like.
Dylan said, “Maybe a pervert, but not a boy. Don’t think we don’t know about perverts.”
Leslie wanted to smack his friend for all his talking…always talking.
“Peter Pan is a boy. I am Peter Pan, therefore I am a boy. The mathematics of it is unarguable.”
Not quite, Dylan began to argue, needed to tell this creepo to take a hike. “Like hell you’re a—”
Peter Pan wagged an index finger and then floated six feet from the crumbling sidewalk, toes twinkling ever so slightly. “See? And now I’m looking for adventurous playmates. It’s fortunate I’ve found you two. You look just the type.”
Warning bells rang and still, both boys knew the kind of fun Peter Pan got up to, and if he was based on a real person… Wow! And this guy could at least do a cool trick if he wasn’t really…
Sensing the minor trepidation mixing with an opening, Peter Pan floated high enough that neither boy doubted his authenticity. “What they get wrong in the stories is that time moves fast in Neverland. We’d have fifty adventures before your mother could scratch her nose.”
Leslie’s heart pounded.
Dylan leaned forward.
They almost had to. Think how cool the stories would be. Everyone in class would be jealous. It would be like true magic, hell, maybe they could steal some pixie dust and show it off.
Peter Pan smiled, drifting toward a dark alleyway. “Come adventure with me, boys!”
The mini-Marvel heroes couldn’t help it and ran into the shadows.
Nine minutes after she awoke from a light doze, Mrs. Halpern stopped a man in a Peter Pan costume coming from the direction where the boys were trick-or-treating. He wiped at his mouth with a white handkerchief covered in red splotches. “Have you seen two little superheroes?”
The man folded the handkerchief—his name monogrammed next to the seam, clear as a crystal ball: Vlad Drăculea—and put it in his pocket. He then ran an absent finger over his bottom lip to be sure his fangs had receded and then straightened his department store Peter Pan costume. “Sorry, no. Not to worry, they’re probably off adventuring. Boys love to adventure.”
Eddie has had stories published in several dozen different venues, including stories forthcoming in Gallery of Curiosities, Automata Review, Binge-Watching Cure: Horror Edition, and many more. He’s had two collections published, and novels forthcoming with Dreaming Big Publications and Severed Press. He attended University Colorado Boulder’s advanced horror writing course (facilitated by Stephen Graham Jones). He also runs Unnerving, Unnerving Magazine, and the Unnerving Podcast.