“Dark things,” Sharan said. “Things that go bump in the night.” She smiled wickedly and set down her finished pumpkin, turning it so that I could see the front, where she’d carved a leering face.
“Bother,” I muttered, slapping my own knife down on the table and glaring at my pumpkin. A lopsided mouth grinned back at me, looking more ridiculous than scary.
“What?” Sharan started to get up from the table, stretching her arms over her head and bending her neck back so that it popped and cracked. “Oof! I’m sore.” She shook out her carroty curls, much the same colour as the pumpkins, with a grin.
“I hate how mine looks,” I complained, tilting my pumpkin to show my older sister. Sharan bent over it, considering.
“Don’t be silly, Simran,” she said at last, straightening up again. “It looks fine. Call me when you’re finished. We should start setting up soon; the trick-or-treaters will be here before you know it.”
She pranced away into the next room like the ballet dancer she was, her skirt drifting up a little over her leggings. I gritted my teeth and turned back to my pumpkin.
Why, oh why couldn’t I get this right? I’d certainly had enough years to work on it. And yet it seemed as if my older sister was always going to be better than me. No matter how much we looked alike, both brown Kyrii, with long, reddish-orange hair that curled abominably, both with the same narrow features and just-slightly-squinty blue eyes, we were nothing alike.
Ten minutes later, I straightened up and went to go wash my hands at the sink, running the water warm and scrubbing with tons of soap until my hands were less orange. There was still pumpkin flesh under my nails, and I grimaced; I hated trying to get it out.
The kitchen had grown dark while I worked; the sky was purple-blue outside, the trees darkly outlined. I smiled—Hallowe’en, my favourite night of the year.
I turned on a light and cleaned the pumpkin carving knives, sighing as I washed my sister’s. Good old Sharan, never cleaning up her own stuff.
“Sharan!” I hollered as I dried the knives off.
“Coming,” was the faint reply. I rolled my eyes. I collected the pumpkins and found a couple of coloured candles in the kitchen drawer. I added the firelighter to my pile, and went outside.
There was a light wind, just enough to rumple my hair and make me glad I was wearing a sweater. I stood on the doorstep for a minute, enjoying it.
“Put them on either side of the door,” Sharan said from behind me.
I lowered the pumpkins to the ground, and Sharan knelt beside me, helping to put in the candles and set light to them. I stood back to survey out handiwork, and a second later Sharan joined me, holding the lighter in one paw.
“Looks good,” she commented.
“Yours does,” I snorted in disgust. “Mine looks like a clown.”
“Clowns can be pretty creepy,” Sharan said with a grin, nudging me. I laughed reluctantly, and turned to appraise my sister.
She’d changed upstairs; she was wearing a thick black cape that fell nearly to the ground over a dark dress with a high, buttoned collar. She’d put her hair up on top of her hair, and she looked old-fashioned. When she smiled, I saw she was wearing plastic fangs.
“Comfortable?” We grinned together, enjoying our private joke.
“I’ll go see what I can find, I guess. I’ve had to change three times already today.” I rolled my eyes.
“Considering how little you get to, going to that school with those ridiculous uniforms, I’d think you’d be happy,” Sharan teased.
“Changing out of that ridiculous uniform was one of the three times,” I grumbled. “You’re the one who loves clothes.” I headed into the house, leaving Sharan laughing behind me.
Upstairs in my bedroom, I opened the trunk I kept reserved especially for this day, and sat down on my bed to consider. I flopped down against the violet bedspread, keeping the trunk and its many occupants in sight.
“What to wear,” I mused.
“Need some help?” I glanced up to see Sharan standing in the doorway.
“I’ve got time before I need to put out the candy,” she offered.
“I guess,” I said, reluctant. I knew it was clear my older sister had much better taste than me, but this was a ritual I loved.
“It’s a day for us together,” she suggested gently, as if reading my mind. I rolled my eyes, and Sharan walked slowly in, examining the trunk.
“Guess you didn’t do much planning this year, hmm?”
She had a point. Normally, I planned my Hallowe’en costume very carefully. After all, this was the most special day of the year. But this year... well, things were different. I was a little older, and I’d been busy, with school and stuff. Sharan didn’t have to worry about any of that stuff. Lucky Sharan. No! I tried to erase those words as soon as I thought them, pretending I hadn’t. I glanced over at Sharan, my cheeks warm, but apparently she couldn’t yet read minds, because she was staring down into the trunk in deep consideration, one hand casually resting on her hip. I thought how beautiful my older sister looked—so tall and slender. You could tell with one look that she was a dancer.
“Well, you have that cape from the time you were Little Lo Meep,” Sharan said after a long while, thoughtfully.
“Sharan! I was eleven!” I protested. “I’m almost sixteen now! It’ll never fit in a million years.”
“Point taken,” Sharan murmured. She tapped her chin, shifting her weight to her other foot. “One of my old ballet costumes?”
“That’s pathetic,” I muttered.
“You could just be the regular old boring ghost,” Sharan suggested after a minute. I flinched, drawing back sharply.
“Sharan! Remember we said...”
“Right, I forgot,” my sister said quickly, catching the look on my face. “Um. A monster?”
“You know what? I think I’m just going to... improvise... this year,” I said suddenly, jumping up off the bed. “I know exactly what I’m going to do.”
“You’re sure?” Sharan looked uncertain. “There’s still plenty of ideas left in this old head.” She grinned her lopsided grin, so Sharan that for a minute I felt that odd tightness in my chest that made me want to jump up and hug my sister.
“Yeah.” I grinned. “You just go downstairs and find some scary music, and I’ll be down in a minute or two.”
“If you’re sure, little sis,” Sharan sighed, and she shrugged as she shut the door behind her. “Remember,” she called through the closed door, “it’d better be good, Sim!”
“It’ll be better than good,” I said under my breath, and then I went down on my hands and knees and started digging through the trunk.
“Ready or not, here I come,” I called out as I came down the stairs. Sharan was standing in the front hall, setting up a bucket of candy on a stool by the front door. She turned when she heard me, and I had the satisfaction of watching her face slowly change to shock.
“Simran, what is it?”
“See it and weep, Shar-shar,” I said with a grin, twirling to fully display my outfit. I’d gone completely brown with a leotard left over from one of Sharan’s ballet performances. With a lot of leaves and twigs and the aid of a hot glue gun, I thought I could pass for something pretty Hallowe’en-ish and scary. “I’m the Unnamed Monster!”
“The Unnamed Monster. I made it up,” I explained patiently when my sister’s face remained blank.
“You look like the Unnamed Hurricane; or maybe just the Unnamed Dust Bin.” A grin slowly formed on Sharan’s face.
The doorbell rang at that moment, saving me from having to think up a witty remark. I gave Sharan an, “I’ll get you for that later” look, and hurried past her to answer the door.
The trick-or-treaters weren’t the main reason I loved Hallowe’en, but I had to admit, over the years I’d grown pretty fond of it—watching the little kids with their plastic Jeran swords and Fyora crowns, their protective parents hovering, the older ones who looked bold but screamed when they saw Sharan’s Jack-O’-Lantern.
You wouldn’t’ve expected that many kids to make it all the way up to our house at the top of the hill, but apparently candy was the incentive they needed, and we always got a lot of hikers who arrived breathless and demanding sugar.
Sharan and I took turns playing horrible music on the piano—I’d actually taken lessons, but Sharan liked to just pound randomly with both paws—and answering the door. We challenged each other to make people, depending on their age, either scream or laugh, and by nine pm, I was exhausted from jumping out from behind the trees and shrieking.
“Think that’s the last of them?” I asked around eleven, as I finished dumping handfuls of chocolate into bags and sent a group of laughing teenagers dressed as Lord Kass and his minions away. “It’s pretty late.”
Sharan had given up playing the piano and was reclining on the sofa with her eyes closed.
“Mmmm. Break out the candy corn.” She grinned, her eyes still shut.
The candy corn. I felt a smile spreading across my own face, and I hurried to blow out the candles in the pumpkins. I left them outside on the doorstep, knowing it would feel sad tomorrow morning when I had to haul them in, wilted and sad, their scariness banished by the light of the day, but unwilling to waste the precious hour of Hallowe’en we still had left.
Leaving Sharan pretending to snore, I went to the hall closet and got the big bag of candy corn down off the top shelf. I took it back to the living room with me.
I remembered our first Hallowe’en with just me and Sharan together, and how we’d started the ritual of candy corn. It had always been Sharan’s favourite candy, and I’d hated it. That Hallowe’en, I’d gotten the candy corn to make Sharan happy, and sat there eating it even though I found it mildly repulsive. In four Hallowe’ens, I hadn’t learnt to like it any better, but now I actually looked forward to it.
“So, you can have three to start out with,” I said, sitting down cross-legged on the floor in front of the sofa. Sharan stopped pretending to sleep and was off the sofa and sitting down with me in a second, her eyes shining.
“Gimme,” she said, holding out her arms. I shook my head.
“It’s my turn to open the bag. Be good.” I made a great show of elaborately finding the two corners where the plastic was sealed, taking them in both paws, and tugging gently until the edges of the bag separated. Sharan rolled her eyes, and we both giggled.
“Now, because you know I hate candy corn,” I said slowly, “you are going to have to find me all the pieces with the biggest white section, because you know that’s the only part that tastes good. And then you’ll have to break them all off and stick them back together again to—” Sharan was laughing hysterically now, and I whacked her with the bag, spewing candy corn across the room.
“Look what you’ve done,” Sharan hiccupped, and then she was off again like a wild lupe, and I couldn’t stop the giggles.
For an hour, we sat there and ate candy corn until the bag was mostly empty and Sharan looked a little green. I had mostly been throwing mine at her.
“Ah, candy corn. My second favourite part of Hallowe’en.” Sharan leaned back until she was lying on the floor. She stared up at the ceiling, and after a second I joined her so that we were lying side-by-side, our breathing evenly matched.
“What’s your favourite part?” I asked.
“Being with you of course, as ridiculous as you are, Simran.” I could tell just by the tone of her voice that she was rolling her eyes. I smiled, warmth flooding my stomach.
“I always liked candy corn,” Sharan continued thoughtfully. “Because you can only have it on Hallowe’en. That makes it special. All year long, I really miss it.”
“Me too,” I said softly. “I miss it all year long.”
Sharan rolled over onto her side to look at me, her wide eyes reflecting the dim light from the chandelier overhead that I’d turned down to just barely glowing.
“What time is it?” Sharan whispered. I checked my Virtuwatch.
“Soon.” Sharan looked sad, and I leaned over to give her a hug.
“I love Hallowe’en,” I said. “It’s my favourite day of the year.”
“Mine too, Sim. Nothing beats Hallowe’en.” Sharan smiled, and I smiled back, even though I could already feel my heart breaking.
“Two minutes,” I whispered.
For the rest of the time, we didn’t talk anymore, just lay there, together in the near-darkness, Sharan’s arm resting across my shoulders, her breath tickling my ear. I knew when the weight of her arm began to fade, the softness of her fur becoming so faint, like a spider’s wing, that it was time. I turned and watched her fade, her outline become misty and green, shimmering in and out of focus. I’d watched it four times now, four years, four Hallowe’ens, and it never ceased to feel like some part of me was leaving with her.
“I wish you could stay forever,” I whispered, and I felt tears in my eyes.
“Sorry, little sis,” Sharan said, and her voice was just a faint breath, filled with sadness, and then there was nothing, and I was lying alone on the floor of the old abandoned house that I snuck away to once a year to be with my sister.