An explosion of bright autumn colors fills the oaks lining the sleepy cul-de-sac. Smiling pumpkins cover the porch of a handsome house nestled behind a crimson picket fence. Inside, an angular man wearing a black cashmere bathrobe sits at his mahogany breakfast table, chewing marmalade-slathered toast while doing the Sunday crossword puzzle. He glances at 13 across – “One who delights in the revolting, morbid, or loathsome.” “Ghoul,” he says, satisfied.
By 9:00 a.m., he is sitting in the high-backed antique chair in his office, sipping tea as he grades a stack of essays. From a nearby window, he can see several hummingbirds greedily sucking up the bright red liquid in his neighbor’s feeder. He watches them for a moment, smirking, then glances at the title of the next paper, “The History of Halloween.” His smirk becomes a grin.
By noon, his stomach is rumbling, so he makes his way to the kitchen for a crustless tomato sandwich. While sipping a glass of raspberry-infused lemonade, he carefully removes his silver necklace and uses the attached key to unlock the pantry. Row upon row of generic dog food – hundreds of cans – line the shelves. Looking them over for a moment, he selects one that reads “Liver and Cheese,” spreads it onto two pieces of stale Wonder Bread, heats it in the microwave for 31 seconds, then sprinkles in a few pinches of white ingredients from a Tupperware near the fridge. Sandwich in hand, he makes his way to a heavy door at the end of the hall.
He turns its shiny brass knob, and it creaks loudly as he opens it. Flicking on the light illuminates a surprisingly long staircase to the cellar. The angular man slowly descends the stairs while quietly whistling Yankee Doodle Dandy and, as he reaches the bottom, his whistling grows louder. A nearly imperceptible whimper emerges from a shadowy corner of the musty room. “Enough with the whining,” he says. The room becomes silent. “Seeing as it’s your one year anniversary down here,” he continues, “I’ve brought you our favorite.” Silence. “I was kind enough to add some raw onion and fresh garlic to the sandwich, which should help with that nasty infection of yours.” The woman staring at him from the darkness blinks. “Do you have anything to say?” he asks.
“Thank you,” says the woman, weakly.
“You know how important manners are to me,” he replies.
“Good, then.” He picks some lint off his bathrobe. “If you maintain this level of politeness, all day, I’ll let you off the chain for our little Halloween celebration tonight. You’re going to love my costume.”
Back upstairs, he thoroughly washes his hands. The phone rings. “Hi Mom… Yes, it’s great to hear your voice as well.” He wanders down the hallway towards his bedroom. “Yes, yes, school is good. My students are quite wonderful this year.” He opens the door to a walk-in closet and turns on the light. “I’ve been thinking a lot about her too. It’s hard to believe that an entire year has passed, but it often feels as if she’s been missing forever.” He sorts through the hangers, pushing aside well-starched periwinkle shirts and creased dress pants. “I spoke with the police last week. They don’t have any new leads, but they said it’s important we keep our spirits up.” He selects two hangers and balances them on his right index finger. “I love you too, Mom. Happy Halloween.”