• Hil Hoover

the stale Halloween candy of the town witch

there’s an energy that lingers, a sense memory to a place,

not quite a ghost, certainly no soul that ought to move on

to whatever hereafter does or doesn’t exist, not enough

of a thing to reach out and wrap fingers around your neck

and threaten your life, and yet you can taste it, cloying and

waxy in your throat, clinging to your skin as if you were the

one wrapped up, frayed at the edges, beginning to melt and

lose shape with the inevitability of time and loss


you’ve come here out of duty, not to a loved one of your own

but to some distant relative who had no one else, who fell

to you because she outlived her siblings, her spouse,

her own children, everyone who would normally deal

with the death, with the house, with everything left of a life,

with the stale air that awaited you when you waded through

the mass of gravestones and worse-for-wear pumpkins

in the yard and opened the front door, the dust that covered

everything, an acrid tang of bodily waste that hadn’t quite left.


you still don’t understand how it happened; she’d lived here ages

and someone should have checked sooner, known that she’d

been decorated for Halloween, that she always gave out candy,

that if nothing else she should have made pies for Thanksgiving

or taken her decorations down, changed them out for Christmas,

needed help with groceries, or at least needed some kind of

human contact, wasn’t there anyone who checked in on this woman

on a regular basis, how could she been left alone long enough to

start rotting in her own house, to spend a huge chunk of winter

still decorated for Halloween, ghoulishly sepulchered like this?


figuring it out isn’t really your job, though, so you deal with

the legal parts, sort through her things, try to figure out

if there are any other family members who might want

some of the more personal pieces, get rid of the actual deathbed,

do all the cleaning yourself, because there’s something satisfying

about making it new again, sweeping away the cobwebs and

honoring the life of this near-stranger who shared your blood,

speaking gently to her memory with each part of the process,

as you would your own mother when the day came, as you

hoped someone would do for you someday, as everyone deserved


you deal with Halloween last, with the spectacle of it, with the

decorations that have been buried under wet leaves and then snow

on the lawn and surfaced again, with the ruined mess of it, the

pumpkin guts, the broken tombstones, the inflatables that are certainly

never inflating again, the cords that have frayed and been chewed in

the undergrowth and only by the grace of some spirit not started a fire,

and you wonder again how the city didn’t say anything about this, how

neighbors who all seemed concerned with their own lawns didn’t at

least consider this an eyesore to protest if not a reason for a wellness

check, but again, not your problem, not your problem, too late now


but the dam bursts on the final discovery, tucked away in the glass

room that connects house to garage, all set up and ready to go

for the much-anticipated evening, a bowl of full-sized candy bars,

with a backup bowl of smaller treats, and a note in messy trembling

writing that you can barely read:


please don’t be afraid, children, take one!


and it all begins to come together, this woman with her scarred face,

her twisted body, from the long-ago accident that killed her husband

and her children, had left her alone, this woman who had nothing left,

this woman in her wheelchair who never left her house, had put out

candy every year, and every year had brought it back in untouched,

and when the candy hadn’t been there this year,

they’d just assumed she’d given up,

just like they’d assumed she’d given up when she hadn’t made pies,

or changed her decorations, or done any of the other aspects of community life


and it’s too sad, and it’s too much, so you take the bowls of candy,

and you take them outside on the porch, and you sit with them between your legs, and begin to unwrap, and perhaps these candy bars are perfectly fine still,

perhaps the peanut butter taffy is no harder than it always is, the tootsie

roll only has a little dust on it from the house, chocolate is only starting

to go a little white, but it all tastes incredibly stale, forgotten, despairing and

desperate, but you choke down bite after bite, thinking yourself a stand-in

for every child that she wanted to reach into that bowl, every neighbor she

wanted to come to that door, every mouth she wanted to feed


when your stomach can’t handle any more, you look around the house

for anything that might be useful, be worth something, be valuable,

and you set it all on the lawn, moving the bigger pieces by yourself

with effort, grunting and groaning, thinking you’ll regret this later

alone in the dark with your own aches and pains, but that’s later

and this is now, and maybe you’re a little possessed, but here we are

and you’re busy making a sign, and it says:


ANYONE BRAVE ENOUGH TO STEP IN THE YARD CAN HAVE THIS

BECAUSE YOUR TOWN WITCH LOVED YOU


because you can still taste it in your mouth

stale Halloween candy long forgotten just tastes like

love that didn’t finish its journey after all




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