The barren, tan corn stalks behind her snapped in the cold evening breeze, the only sound louder than the dry, fiery red leaves swirling around her tiny, shivering bare feet. She’d lost her bearings again and she hoped the dinner bell would ring soon. A gray tree with endless arms and fingers, devoid of any remaining foliage, loomed before her. She gazed at the odd markings on the trunk, which appeared to outline a hand-cut door of sorts. And, as she stared, it opened…

(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)

The cold night air burned in her lungs. She could feel the dry leaves crunch beneath her bare feet, and she wished, not for the first time that night, that she hadn’t had to abandon her sopping wet shoes by the stream she’d stepped into so blindly. Darkness had come much quicker than her eleven year-old logic had expected. Her parents had warned her to stay on the sidewalks and to be home before dark, but she had felt sure that if she just slipped across Mr. Redman’s cornfield, she could make her way to the old Masen place and back home without breaking curfew. When some of the other kids had seen a moving van in front of the house last week, it became a competition to see who would get closest to the house without getting caught. Legend had it that any kid who made it to the porch was never seen again. “I’ll show them,” she had thought. “I’ll even ring the doorbell. I’m not afraid of some stupid old house.”

The Masen house had once been a grand old beauty, and had been the home of Anson and Martha Masen, along with their impressive brood of children. At that time, the color of the home could have been described as a stately slate gray. The windows on either side of the massive, hand-carved door had contained colorful leadlight glass. Over the years, as the house sat abandoned, the glass had been knocked out by various wayward baseballs and late-night teenage mischief. Like a great, ghostly tree, which had lost the last of its autumn foliage, the house had stood for the next several years void of life. Now, the empty window panes had been filled with frosted glass, and inside the gray walls, life went on once more.

When she had started into the corn field, there was still enough light to see the Masen place just across the hill. At first, it was easy to move through barren stalks, but as the darkness crept in, she found herself getting nervous, whipping around at the slightest sound. Soon, she had become disoriented, and now she had no idea in which direction she was heading. The cloud cover made it nearly impossible to see where she was going by the scant moonlight. Fighting to keep panic at bay, she stood completely still and closed her eyes, listening for anything that might signal the direction she needed to take. Had anyone happened upon her small, shivering form in the darkness, with the rust-colored stains down the front of her dress, her bruised and bloodied face, and matted hair, they might have mistaken her for a ghost or some otherworldly creature.

“There,” she thought to herself. “A bell.” Keeping her eyes closed, she moved slowly in the direction of the faint sound. The rustle of the corn stalks as she moved through them was too loud, so she stopped every few yards to listen again. She noticed that whenever the wind picked up, the bell rang again. “Chimes. Not a bell. Wind chimes!” The sound grew louder and louder as she inched her way along. Finally, she stepped out of the cornfield into the dewy grass at the edge of the Masen property. She could see a porch light through the misty air and grinned as she began jogging toward the house.

She came to an abrupt stop as she saw movement near the stone path that led up to the porch. She stood breathlessly and watched as first one ghostly figure, then another, seemed to drift along the walkway. The figures stopped just a few yards from the porch steps, as if they were reassessing their plans, then quickly moved out of her sight once again. With the coast clear, she moved again toward the house. As she got closer, she heard a cacophony of groans and wailing that caused the skin on her arms to rise in gooseflesh. It seemed to be coming from the vicinity of the porch, but it gave her only a moment’s pause. “No point in turning back now,” she mumbled. Soon she was nearing the porch steps, determined to follow through with her plan.

Inside the house, an old grandfather clock struck the hour of nine. The new lady of the house moved to shut off the porch light and lock up for the evening. Just as she reached the foyer, the doorbell rang. Smiling, the lady opened the door. “Good heavens!” she shouted. Standing before her was a most miserable-looking waif. Her arms were covered in scratches and something dark and wet ran from the child’s hairline and down the side of her face. There were deep hollows under her eyes, what seemed to be blood all over the front of her dress, and no shoes on her feet. The new owner of Masen house had hoped to see a few children stop by tonight, but she had certainly not expected the impressively made-up spectacle that currently stood shivering in her doorway. She watched as the child raised her arms, holding out a dirty cotton sack that had at one time been one of her mother’s good pillowcases.

“Trick or treat!” the little girl cried.