Here’s a cautionary tale of candy; which doesn’t grow on trees. If it did, we’d all be vegans… Enjoy.
He hated doing missing child reports.
Detective Becker stood along side his car. Jacket open and pushed back. Hands on hips. He surveyed the quiet neighborhood.
Three missing kids on this street so far; and there were more.
Gone without a trace the day after Halloween.
A list of friends and acquaintances showed they all knew each other. They all had been out for Halloween. Yet it still didn’t add up for Becker.
They all returned home after trick-or-treating.
He couldn’t get past the thought: Where do you hide a dozen or so missing kids? Maybe even more.
There was the sound of a storm door banging across the street—metal on metal. An old lady was hurriedly trying to exit the split-entry with a walker.
The walker was pink anodized aluminum with vibrant green tennis ball feet. She pushed it along like she was speed shopping, thumbing the lever of a bicycle bell clamped to the bar.
It clattered as she dropped down from the curb and crossed, clipping Becker’s car as she rounded it.
“You a cop?” She over-pronounced the last letter.
“You looking for kids? Missing kids?”
She stood inside the frame of her walker, chin jutting out and a slight squint in her eye.
“Ah…yeah,” Becker said, and then he remembered his manners and said, “Yes maam.”
She pointed to the front lawn of the Wennerstein property and said, “One of them’s right there.”
Becker turned to look and saw only grass and a twisted, gnarly, leafless plant. He felt like the sucker in a made-you-look gag as he turned back slowly to face her.
The walker-lady rang her bell emphatically and pointed with the other hand. “Right there, right there. Don’t you see?”
Another person came running out of the split entry across the street. She was much younger than walker-lady.
Mrs. Wennerstein came out of her house, walking toward Becker from the other direction.
He looked down at walker-lady and said, “No maam, I don’t.”
Walker-lady’s daughter was apologetic, steering her mom back to the house. “She’s got dementia,” she said.
Mortified, walker-lady said, “DO NOT.”
And they were gone.
Mrs. Wennerstein waited till they retreated before holding out a candy wrapper. “This was in Emily’s room. It’s one of the candy wrappers from Halloween. But I don’t recognize it.”
Becker took it from her, studied it. It was black, with little yellow circles. The paper felt…spent; dry, and brittle.
“We went through her candy when she came home from trick-or-treating; everything was factory sealed.”
Becker looked up from the wrapper. “Thank you maam. I’ll look into it.” He nodded once.
She turned and walked back. Halfway up the path she paused to look at the twisted and leafless specimen. An audible, “Hmmph,” and she continued on back to her house.
Becker stood there facing the street again. Candy wrapper in hand. Alone with his thoughts; which were all questions. Not a single answer.
Where did all the kids go?
Why was the neighborhood so quiet?
If Mrs. Wennerstein checked all of Emily’s candy, where did the strange wrapper come from?
Why was the walker-lady so animated in her living room window when he looked up?
She was ringing her bell though he couldn’t hear it and she was pointing. Becker turned to face the Wennerstein home; a déjà vu moment.
The twisted thing was no longer leafless. There were swollen black buds forming from the young foliage.
Becker walked over to the plant. He plucked one of the buds and the husk was a wrapper. He opened it to find a candy inside.
He looked around, but no one seemed to be watching except the walker-lady and she was nodding animatedly like she knew it all.
He pressed the candy with both thumbs and cracked it open. A white viscous glop oozed out. A cloying sweetness infected his sinuses. It reminded him of the Cadbury Eggs his own daughter loved.
He looked for a place to wipe his fingers.
Suddenly the screen door swung open next door—banged on the side of the house, and a child ran out. He was maybe ten years old.
He stumbled, not quite running as fast as he was leaning into it. He fell flat. His landing was a splash of white glop as his torso burst open. He landed like an over-filled water balloon.
Becker nearly lost it and turned away. He dropped the candy he was holding.
Immediately, a twisted and gnarled plant grew from the pooled remains. It shot up, creaking and stretching for its place in the world.
Becker stepped away from the plant he was standing next to. Revulsion set in.
In a rush of realization he lost his breakfast. Prickles of sweat beads rose in his scalp.
He made it to the side of his car and rested against the fender.
The walker lady wasn’t in the window anymore.
He speed dialed his boss rather than using the radio. This needed time to understand and he knew…knew everyone that shouldn’t have a scanner listened in.
His chief, Rodney Cooper, answered on the second ring.
“I have something on the missing kids; you’re going to want to see it.
“No, I can’t just write it up. I need someone else to see this. It’s kinda crazy.
“Listen, Coop, you and I go back some. I…this…we need to talk this through. This needs some special attention.
“Uh-huh. I’m on Elm. I’ll be waiting.”
He snapped his phone shut to wait.
In doing so he felt it; something wasn’t right.
There was numbness in his fingers, even as they stuck to his cellphone. The feeling was crawling past his wrists, like roots reaching for purchase.
The horror of it set in.
He surveyed the scene again, hoping Coop would arrive in time.