It all started because we didn't have costumes but we had a party to go to. Skylar and I had just met a few months before and we were in this sort of odd long-distance kind of dating situation. He'd come visit Salt Lake City—usually a 24-hour planned layover during a work trip. We'd have a great time. I'd feel sad when I had to take him back to the airport.

"Too bad he doesn't live here and we'll never get to be together for real," I'd think.

Skylar came to Salt Lake City for Halloween weekend in 2015. I hosted a small gathering with close friends where I made pumpkin stew—just like my momma used to make when we were out trick or treating.

Halloween during my childhood was so magical. A neighborhood all on the same page—everyone infected with the Halloween spirit. Hundreds of children wandering from house to house. Some of the front porches had caldrons and dry ice. Some played spooky sounds. My mother decorated her front porch with a spider web and half a dozen pumpkins. She'd open the door to the trick or treaters while wearing her witch's hat. The smell of hearty fall eateries would waft out of the front door to the gathering of children. My dad would be just behind her.

"Now everyone needs to go around and tell us about your costume!" Mom would say.

She and dad would make it a particular point to help each child feel like their costume was perfect. The kids would march away with a treat, but the real prize was the boost to their self esteem.

My best friend Sam and I would wander through the neighborhood—usually dressed as nuns or an old married couple. We always coordinated our costumes, something he has refused to do in our adulthood.

Eventually I'd make it back home, my pillowcase-turned-candy-bag 1/3 full of treats that would be bartered and traded with with my siblings in the weeks to come. Mom would say "I was starting to get worried! We had our last trick or treater half an hour ago!"

"You didn't tell me everyone else was going to be dressing up," Skylar scolded me as I stirred the pumpkin stew in 2015. Our friends who had gathered were helping one another put on makeup and adjust wigs.

"I just didn't think about it," I explained.

Skylar disappeared for a while and then returned, handing me a black t-shirt. "I made us dominos. At least that's something, right?"

We took a picture in front of our fireplace. My fireplace. Me and this dude from Wisconsin I'd never actually be with for real. We waited for the 8 or so trick or treaters, and then we ventured off to some stupid party.

Every Halloween since has been more of the same for us. Matching Halloween themed t-shirts. Pumpkin stew. Waiting for the meager showing of trick or treaters.

On Sunday I made Skylar put on the skeleton shirt I had gotten him. Duncan had one, too. We set up one of our phones, put it on a timer, and took our annual photo.

Skylar had a school event over Zoom so he took his pumpkin stew and shut himself away while I sat by the front door, our pumpkins lit, and waited for children.

Around 7:00 five of them came to the door.

I squealed and met them on the porch. "Now everyone needs to go around and tell me about their costume."

A boy asked me if I had ever heard of the soccer player he had chosen to be. I hadn't, but I lied. "Of course! And you look like you're really good at soccer!"

He beamed.

One child was in a dinosaur costume that made it challenging to climb the stairs to greet me. "You should take a few pieces of candy for all that hard work," I told him. "Actually, all of you should."

Just as they were starting to leave one boy pulled out a piece of candy from his own bag, handed it to me, and said "this is to thank you."

I don't think you're supposed to cry in these situations but my eyes immediately and surprisingly welled with tears.

"Thank you!" I yelped at him.

Seeing I was clearly touched, he pulled out one more piece of candy from his bag, put it in my bowl, and dashed off to catch up to his friends.

Please enjoy this week's Strangerville:

This time in Strangerville, Eli wants to be pregnant so he can tell Meg it’s really not that bad, Meg is getting the booster shot, and the story of one town that became gripped by a 1925 trial over evolution.


The Scopes Monkey Trial, by Eli McCann (music by Circus Marcus)

Production by Eli McCann & Meg Walter

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~It Just Gets Stranger