THE GHOST LIGHT - by Ray O'Bannon

Regina Morrison gazed contentedly about the cottage as she moved from room to room shutting off lights. This Halloween had been wonderful, with so many children coming by for treats. And such nice weather. There was usually snow by this time of year, and the local children often spent Halloween night feeling cheated that nature and their parents (who never seemed to understand anything) would force them into wearing such ugly bulky coats and hoods over their colorful new costumes. But this evening had been delightful, the musical giggles of the various little witches and vampires still echoing in her mind. Even Cindy had enjoyed the holiday, and could now be heard in the spare bedroom chatting happily on the phone to her little friends in the city. She had been so apprehensive about spending the five days here with her Aunt Regina while Ed and Ida were away for the funeral. And although the child had been tremendously anxious all week for Halloween to arrive, she was visibly shaken when it finally came time to don her cute little costume and wander out into the darkness.

Cindy had stood shuffling awkwardly by the front door, trying to look as brave as possible. The sun was melting down into the horizon in a brilliant blaze of orange, the town's streetlights just beginning to flicker quietly to life. The child had never gone trick or treating without a parent to accompany her, and had been tremendously eager to prove her maturity and courage by going alone this year. And of course Regina was much to old to walk the little town's six blocks of houses. Still, Cindy had become quietly terrified as the darkness drew near. She was still determined to venture out and collect a nice full bag of treats, but was now considering for the first time what hideous terrors might be lurking in the night, just waiting to devour any children foolish enough to go scampering about by themselves down the moonlit sidewalks.

Regina had smiled to herself at the sight of the child's inner turmoil. She was amazed how clearly she could still recall those same emotions as she herself had once stood facing her first unsupervised Halloween, stalling by making sure her shoes were tied and rechecking that her mask was adjusted perfectly as the inky blackness suffocated the dying sunlight.

"Come here a moment, Cindy. I think I may have something you'll enjoy."
The girl followed her Aunt into the living room, looking relieved for the delay. Regina knelt slowly and opened the bottom drawer of the richly carved mahogany buffet, bringing forth a small cardboard box. The faded box was decorated with jack-o-lanterns and little white bed-sheet ghosts. The lid had been torn and repaired with clear tape that was now a brittle yellow. Regina opened the box carefully with an odd sort of reverence, and revealed its contents with a look of great pride.

"Do you know what this is, Cindy?"
The child gazed at the object held before her. A simple plastic flashlight with a bright orange pumpkin at the top, the black jack-o-lantern face spray painted by a company that had gone out of business in 1957. Cindy looked up at her Aunt in puzzlement.
"It's a toy?"
"No, dear. It's much more than a toy" Regina smiled conspiratorially. "This is a ghost light."
"What's that mean?" asked Cindy as she reached hesitantly for the flashlight.
"It means this light will protect you. You see, Cindy, there are all sorts of terrible things out there in the darkness. Awful hideous things. And just as you've probably suspected, they love to eat children, especially the ones your age."
Regina couldn't help smiling at Cindy's stunned expression. "But you needn't fear any of those foul nasty monsters if you have a ghost light."
Cindy gazed up at her Aunt, wondering if this unexpected ray of hope could be trusted.
"Does the light keep the ghosts away from you?" asked the girl nervously.
"Oh heavens no! It draws them to you. It draws them right up against that jolly orange pumpkin on the top. And then it catches them and pulls them inside. And when the batteries are all full of ghosts, you simply take them out and throw them away. Now isn't that wondrous?"
The girl looked dubiously at the flashlight clutched in her tiny hands.
"Lets go find some fresh batteries and see if it still works."

Unwrapping the two new D-cells from the kitchen, Regina frowned slightly at the copper colored cylinders in her hand. She somehow felt they should be those old Ray-O-Vac batteries, tiny little black cats jumping through a red number 9 on the shiny silvery label. But these would probably do just fine, and she handed them to the waiting youngster.
"These will last long enough to visit every house in town. But don't stay out too long after that, because when the batteries get too full of ghosts the light goes out."
"But I'm safe as long as the light's still on?" asked the child in gradually increasing confidence, her thoughts returning to that bulging bag of candy she hoped to gather.
"Yes, dear. As long as that pumpkin's glowing you'll be completely safe. There's not a ghost alive that can harm you."
Cindy stood nervously smiling at the silly notion of living ghosts, and switched on the flashlight. A warm orange glow enveloped the child and her Aunt as they made their way to the front door. The child grasped her treat bag and smiled up at Regina. The light in the girls eyes said everything was OK now, and she was ready to brave the darkness in search of chocolate and bubble gum.

Glancing up periodically from the Munsters marathon on Channel 7, Regina could see the little glowing orange pumpkin bobbing up and down the street, drifting in and out among the other costumed children as Cindy bravely journeyed from door to door. And as her own doorbell began to ring, Regina would close here eyes and wait that impatient split second before the children's laughing voices split the night with their wonderful magical chant, screamed out into the darkness with the joy and brightness the very young had come to briefly share with her... "Trick Or Treat!"

Eventually the last of the costumed monsters had drifted off with their bags full of Hershey bars and Tootsie Pops. Cindy had burst in with a gigantic smile, beaming at having successfully faced the fearsome darkness all by herself. She proudly held up the full bag of treats.
"Look how much candy I got!" she giggled merrily.
"That's wonderful, dear! Did you have any problems with ghosts?"
"Ummm..." Cindy smiled in slight embarrassment, "I think I might have caught one or two. You might want to throw out those batteries. I gotta call Suzy and tell her how fun it was!" She handed the flashlight to Regina and scampered happily towards the spare bedroom with her bag of goodies.

Regina gazed thoughtfully at the glowing orange pumpkin. Then she switched off the flashlight and smiled. Such nonsense. For heaven's sake, a ghost was only a person who had finished this life, and why should they be any more frightening now than they were before? very silly!

She untwisted the orange plastic pumpkin and poured out the two still-warm batteries. She held one of the batteries to her ear and listened intently. Ever so faintly she could hear it...the muffled ragged screaming. Demons. And quite a few of them, from the sound of it. She tossed both batteries into the trash bin under the kitchen sink. And then she glanced out the window at the jack-o-lantern still flickering softly on the front porch. Mustn't blow it out. Better to stay up another half-hour or so and watch another Munsters episode. It'll burn out in a little while. When it's full.