I met him on Halloween, five years ago. Come to think of it, that was the only time I ever saw him, Halloween. Anyway, Billy was five then and too much a big boy to want to walk down the street holding Daddy’s hand. So I let him walk ahead a bit while I kept an eye on him and stood on the sidewalk while he went to ring doorbells. That’s where I was when Carter fell in beside me.
“New to the neighbourhood,” he asked me.
“Hm? Oh yeah, we moved in a few months ago. I’m George.”
“Carter,” he said. “This is a pretty good area for getting a bag full of candy.”
“Well, Billy will like that. Been getting some treats of your own?”
He looked down at himself. He was wearing dirty clothes with tears here and there and had what looked like dirt and wounds scattered over his face and hands. “Oh, no. Office party.”
“Ah,” I said. Billy came back to the sidewalk muttering about getting an apple and moved up to the next house without even stopping. Carter walked beside me as I made my way along. “So do you live around here?”
“Down the street,” he waved vaguely. “I like to take my time getting home. It’s nice to see kids enjoy something other then a computer screen.”
“I bet there are some who would love virtual trick or treating.”
“Guess so, he said, shoving his hands in his pockets. He continued to walk beside me as me and Billy made our way along the street, seemingly content to just enjoy the company without talking. “Well, George, this is as far as I go. Enjoy your evening.” I waved as we crossed the street at the intersection and went down the hill.
That was our first meeting and I did not see Carter any more. I had assumed he had met us walking in from the bus stop but never saw him there when I bussed to work. It worried me a bit, wondering if he had been spying on the kids but nothing happened to anyone. But then, a year later, it was Halloween again. I was once more waiting on the sidewalk for Billy when I heard someone step up beside me.
“Hello, George,” he said, as if we were neighbours who spoke over the fence every day. He looked the same as he did last year, same sort of dead-man zombie costume. I suppose it was fairly easy to put together and didn’t need much imagination.
“Um, hi Carter.”
“That’s Billy in the ninja costume? He’s really getting big. So, was I right about him getting a good haul?”
“Yeah, he was quite happy.” We trailed along behind my son and a few of his friends. He had started kindergarten this fall and was ecstatic to have buddies to run around with. “Office party go well?”
“What? Oh, yeah yeah. I always drink to much and have to bus home.”
“That’s the purpose, I guess. I do the same thing when the kids asleep.”
“Just be careful. They say drinking alone will make you an alcoholic.”
I grunted, not sure what to say to that. We continued walking along silently until we reached the cross walk. Billy and his friends crossed over and once more Carter took his leave. I turned around once I had crossed the street but Carter was all ready out of sight. It was a T intersection, and directly across the leg of the T a walking trail led up the hill to connect to another street. I knew the people in the houses on either side of the trail and could see no one walking up the hill. I shook my head and continued on, not wanting Billy to get to far ahead of me.
It continued for the next three years. He would just come up beside me, as if from thin air. And would always leave at the same place, right before the crosswalk. And each year, his costume was a little bit better, looked a little more…dead. Finally I decided to look into it, to try and find out who this man was.
Billy was with his mother this year, leaving old Dad alone (and taking a few more nips from the bottle). I wonder sometimes if today’s children realize how much the internet has changed, even just in my lifetime. Newspapers and their archives available online when it used to require a trip to a library and a stroll through microfiche. Would my son even know what microfiche was? And then there’s the countless websites with tons of information with more or less dubious quality. Break for dinner, cold pizza and warm beer (something seemed wrong there) then back to the computer. Finally I turned off the computer and made it outside at just the normal time we would be starting our trick or treating.
“Carter, how’s life?” He didn’t look so good (unless you were a costumer, I suppose), it looked as if holes were in his flesh, and an ear had fallen off. People’s eyes seemed to slide right off him and those that looked seem to think it was just a really good costume.
“As well as can be expected.” He looked around. “Where’s Billy?”
“With his mother. Her new husband is going to take them to some party his law firm puts on. He’s been really excited so how could I say no?”
“That must be tough. But at least you know he will be back. We lost a child once, he was stillborn.”
“Damn, I’m sorry to hear that.” With no need to wait for Billy, we walked on down the sidewalk, reaching the crosswalk sooner then normal. I turned to face him. “I think I’d go crazy. I lost Billy I don’t think I’ve ever be able to crawl out of the bottle.”
He frowned, looking at me. “It is quite difficult.” He paused, looking around. Perhaps it threw him, me not having to keep on walking after Billy. “I, this is where I turn in.”
“Carter, she doesn’t live here any more,” I said, as gently as I could.
“Wha-what do you mean?”
“Your wife, Carter. Lydia. She’s moved back to Toronto.”
“But…don’t you think I know where my wife is?”
“Not when you’ve been dead for seven years.”
“This is just a costume.”
I shook my head. “No, it’s not, Carter. You are only here on Halloween, walking this stretch of street, from where you were hit by a car to your old house.”
His eyes were wide, darting around wildly. “I, god I just want to make sure she’s ok. This is the only time I can make it here but I can never find her.”
“We call it Halloween and think it’s about costumes and candy but it’s a very old holiday, Carter. Some know it as Samhain and as a day when spirits can walk the earth. That’s why you are here tonight and every Halloween night. Your wife is ok, Carter, she has remarried in Toronto and has a baby boy.”
“Really? God, she really wanted to have children. You say she’s happy?”
“Yeah. I spoke to her this afternoon. I could tell she missed you but she has a good life.”
“Did…did she know why you were calling?”
I shook my head. “No. I told her I was writing some articles about the area and wanted to talk to some of the people who were here when the neighbourhood was first built.”
He cleared his throat and ran a hand over his face. His form was fading. “I…thank you George. You didn’t have to do this but…thank you.” Carter took a few steps up the hillside trail and then was gone. Me, I walked back to my own house and slumped in my chair, staring at the bottle of scotch on the table beside it. It was amazing, a man loving a woman so much he came back after death to see how she was. I doubted I would ever have that. I reached for the bottle, started to pour a glass but then sat it back down and screwed the top on. I stood up and grabbed my jacket and headed back out. No, I sure as hell wouldn’t if all I did was sit at home with a bottle for company.