Photo by Pieter van de Sande on Unsplash

Halloween 2043

I swallow four more ibuprofen. The sciatica is hurting today.

“You almost ready?”

I startle at the sound of her voice. I startle a lot these days.

I was just putting the finishing touches on my Halloween getup. We must always dress the same. She was such a creature of habit. This is her personality, a fixed person already at four years old. I’m always a raggedy doll. Grace goes as my counterpart, Anne to my Andy.

We never had any others. We were unable to. And we worried about what might happen if we got over her death.

“Melissa will be here soon,” Grace says from the kitchen. I catch her looking at the clock again.

She didn’t show up until twenty-eight years after she’d died. We asked her why she didn’t. Her answer left us emotionally wrecked.

She told us she could not find her way back to our house.

It was about then when we’d considered retiring. And to downsize our house to something a little smaller. Something without stairs to climb.

We took our house off the market and resigned ourselves to never moving. We’d find a way to afford it. We had to. This was still her home, the only place she’d known while alive. We would stay and find a way.

That was thirteen years ago. Every year, for thirteen Halloweens, Melissa has found her way back to us, for one night, for one family gathering of trick-or-treating, until late in the night. We hit all the houses. It might appear that we’ve thrown caution to the wind, but what is the danger here? Our daughter is a ghost. She seems immune to anything any sick individual would stick in a candy bar. And neither Grace nor I eat sugar anymore. I’m trying to keep my diabetes in control and after Grace’s brush with cancer, we eat clean these days.



The tears come and I wipe them away in the half-second it takes me to compose myself for my daughter. She’s here one day a year. So, I do what I can to make this for her. Usually, we’re in bed by 8:30 PM, but for today, we make an exception. It’s not easy. We’re not young parents anymore. I turned 73 in April, and Grace turned 69 three days ago. We weren’t blessed with the best genes, but we do what we can for Melissa.

“Hello, Pumpkin,” I say, smiling at the best thing I ever did.

I love my daughter dearly and yet I’d still love to lie down in our bed and just hold each other. But this is her day, and she is still four years old. So, we drink extra coffee, exercise, and walk a little more during September and October, so that we will be in some kind of shape for trick-or-treating with our only daughter.


“So, how many Halloweens is this now?”

“This is number thirteen, silly. You’re silly, daddy.”

It’s odd that she remembers each one. We usually do the same thing every year, but she can remember. This amazes me as much as anything about this phenomenon.

The other times of the year? We ask, and Melissa grows a bit hesitant, almost vague. She doesn’t seem distressed by the other 364 days in the year, but nor does she seem happy about the inaccessible memories of wherever it is she is when she’s not here.

We did some research shortly after, Melissa returned to us in 2031. According to one specialist that we drove to Taos and met with in person, he believed that Melissa kept returning because her body had never been recovered. She had unfinished business. But what business could a four-year-old truly have? Finished or otherwise.

I’m thrilled to see her.

I reach down, doing the best I can to ignore the sciatica, and the fire shooting down my leg.

I pick her up and grunt like she weighs a thousand pounds. This was always our running gag. The older I get, the less acting I must put into this little ritual.

“Ugh. You’re getting so big.”

She laughs, but it’s not the same. She smiles more than laughs now. Despite being trapped in her young body and mind, I think she understands that she is not getting bigger. She never will change from what she is now. She will never graduate from High School, never go on a date, never attend college, never marry, never buy a house, and never know the thrill of having a child or children of her own. My daughter is perfectly frozen in time.

I fear what might happen to Melissa if she were to return and either Grace or I weren’t here to meet her and to take her gathering candy from door to door. Would she still go by herself? Damn, do we ever get to stop being parents and just be people?

What if I were to arrange for my body to never be found?

I can’t imagine any scenario where Grace would be okay with that.

What if we arranged for neither of our bodies to be found?

Would we be reunited on Halloween?

It’s not like we can use Google to answer these questions.

Grace comes into the room and hugs both of us.

“Hey, sugar bear.”

“Mommy,” my daughter squeals, twisting violently in my grasp so she can settle into her mother’s arms, hugging her tightly.

My back spasms.

Why can’t ghosts be weightless?

I excuse myself and go into the kitchen. I grab an ice compress from the freezer and slip into the pantry where I can put the compress on my low back. I will not cancel Halloween. I might be in agony tomorrow, that’s usually the way it turns out. But that is an acceptable price for several gleeful hours with Melissa.

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