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The Halloween Surprise

by Dad

To begin with , Thomas was excited. Thomas was always excited, but today was different. Today was Halloween.

Thomas leaped from his top bunk. Landing in a tornado of Lego bricks, he bounced to his feet. The sharp edges of the blocks bit into his soles, but that didn't bother him. Without pausing to notice the pain, Thomas rushed to his dresser and grabbed fresh underwear and socks.

That is where the resemblance to every other day ended and the Halloween activities began.

In Thomas' closet was the costume – the costume that he had been so anxious to wear all month. Wrapping the white fabric around his torso and flinging the excess over his shoulder, Thomas began his transformation. But wait – something was missing.

“Mom!” Thomas shouted. “Mom! Mom! Mom!” he continued. Mom! he yelled, rushing into the hallway. “Mom!” he called, running to his parents' bedroom door. “Mom!” he yodeled while he knocked. “Mom! Mom! Mom!” he chanted, impatient to finish dressing.

After an eternity, a sleepy voice emerged from behind the door. “Thomas. What?” A masculine voice. Not Mom.

“Dad! Dad! Dad!” Thomas ululated. “Dad! I need my laurel wreath!” He sucked in a breath “Dad! Where's Mom?”

“Thomas,” replied Dad, “Mom's in the shower. She'll be out in a few minutes. But I'm here. What can I do to help?”

Thomas knew that Dad wasn't awake yet. He'd told Dad what he wanted already. Still, it couldn't be helped... “Dad! I need my laurel wreath for my Halloween costume! Dad!” Another breath. “Dad! Do you know where it is?”

Thomas could hear the sound of bed linens being tossed aside. “Hold on,” rumbled Dad, “let me put my glasses on and I'll help you. Just a moment.”

Dad took a long time to open the door. At least twenty seconds. “Da...” Thomas began as the door swung open.

“Where did you have it last?” Dad croaked out. The hair on the sides of his head stuck out like an octopus' tentacles. He'd been twisting it again. His beard had encrustations of old popcorn and, well it would be impolite to describe it in too much detail. But there had been the movie last night, and Dad had a bowl all to himself...

Thomas returned his focus to the costume. “Dad!” he said. He always said it like that, with the exclamation point on the end. Even when it should have a question mark. He like saying it. Almost as much as he liked saying “Mom!” Dad didn't answer as often, but he wasn't usually as grumpy.

“I had it in my room,” Thomas answered. And he knew that, yes, at some point the previous day the laurel wreath that topped his Greek toga had, in fact, been in his room.

“So look in your room, then.” Dad's voice was a little clearer now, and his eyes looked more focused.

Thomas noticed that the shower had stopped. “It's not there,” he said. Thomas wanted a second opinion. “Mom? Mom! Mo...” he began.

Dad interrupted. “Thomas, leave Mom alone. I'm right here. I can help.”

It looked like Dad was going to try parenting. “Why do you think it's not in your room?”

This was not the response Thomas was looking for. He opened his mouth again, after making the “mm,” but Dad anticipated him.

“Thomas!” More sternly this time. Foiled! “Why do you think the laurel wreath is not in your room?”

“It's not there, Dad,” declared Thomas. “It's not there.”

“Let's go have a look,” said Dad. He shambled past Thomas in the direction of Thomas' room. “I expect you've just overlooked it.”

Just then, Melody emerged from her room. “Good morning, Dad!” she exulted. “It's Halloween today.”

“Yes, yes it is,” mumbled Dad. “Hi, sweetheart,” he responded with more enthusiasm. “Thomas,” he pointed a finger through the door to Thomas' room, past the cubic yard of Lego blocks, at the toy box. “Did you look in there?”

Scowling, Dad looked across the hall. Bryan's room was dark. Swinging into action, he knocked on the door frame.

“Yeah, Thomas, did you look in the toy box?” Melody mother-henned. “I'll bet it's in there.”

“Bryan!” demanded Dad. “Why aren't you up? You've got a bus to catch in twenty minutes!” The mound of blankets on Bryan's bed didn't twitch. “Bryan!”

Thomas was not pleased with Melody's meddling. “Leave me alone, Melody,” he pronounced. “You don't know where my laurel wreath is.”

“I do so,” Melody argued. ”You put it in your toy box last night.”

“Melody,” Dad said, “please stay out of it. I know you're trying to be helpful, and I appreciate that, but it just antagonizes Thomas when you do that.” Turning back to Bryan's room, he said “Bryan, don't make me come in there with a glass of water!”

Striding into the darkened bedroom, Dad reached for the blanket on the bed. Pulling it free in one swift motion, he revealed the bare sheet beneath.


“Oh,” said Dad. “Now that's unusual.”

“Thomas, have you looked in your toy box yet?”

“Yes, Dad,” replied Thomas. “It's not there.” Nobody ever believed him.

“Okay, I'll look, then,” Dad said. Leaving Bryan's room and gingerly crossing the Lego block minefield, Dad opened the toy box. Thomas was satisfied to hear Dad say, “Yep. Not here.”

“Well, it's got to be around here somewhere,” interjected Mom. She looked fresh out of the shower, auburn hair still damp.

“Oh. Hi, dear,” said Dad, giving Mom a peck on the lips and a gentle squeeze on the thigh. Thomas groaned. His parents were so embarrassing. “I'm going to look downstairs.”

“Okay,” said Mom. “I'll help Thomas clean up his Lego.” Now Thomas really groaned. Mom had that look.

Dad padded down the stairs and into the kitchen. Bryan sat at the table in brown, beige, and forest green.

“Hi, Bryan,” greeted Dad. “What brings you out of bed this fine morning?”

Bryan sneered. “I'm eating my breakfast. And I usually beat you up in the morning.”

Dad took in the double entendre without comment. Which was hard. “Where are your merry men, then, Robin Hood?” said Dad, referring to Bryan's costume.

“Ha ha. Very funny,” Bryan deadpanned. “I suppose you're still looking for Thomas' laurel wreath,” he said. “Well, it's right here.” He pointed at a tangle of green on the table in front of him.

“Bryan, that's not Thomas' wreath...” Dad began.

“Yesitis,” Bryan retorted before Dad could finish.

“Bryan, that's a wadded up paper airplane.” Which it was, of course. Dad sighed inwardly. Dealing with Bryan could be such a chore. Still...

“Listen, Bryan, thank you for getting up and getting ready this morning. Seriously, though, Thomas needs his laurel wreath to wear with his costume.”

“I told you, Dad,” said Bryan, pointing, “it's right there.”

This was going nowhere, fast.

“Fine.” Dad glanced around the family room and kitchen, and saw no trace of the missing foliage. “Well, I guess there's nothing left to do but consult the Oracle.” Dad reached into the pantry and grabbed a pale blue box. “If you can't trust your Rice Krispies, whom can you trust?” he and Bryan recited together.

Dad thought he was such a cut-up. The Rice Krispies thing was still fresh enough to be cute, but it wasn't very funny. Still, Bryan played along because it amused him.

“Dad, they're not going to tell you anything...” said Bryan.

“Never underestimate the power of a good breakfast,” said Dad. “Besides, the Oracle is never wrong. Only my interpretation.” He opened the cupboard and grabbed the top bowl.

Whatever. “C'mon, Dad, you can't be serious.”

“I'm perfectly serious,” said Dad as he emptied the carton into the bowl. “Pass me the milk and I'll show you.”

Bryan passed the milk jug to Dad, holding it hesitatingly over the table until Dad grew impatient and snatched it away. Untwisting the cap, he said, “You could make this a little easier, you know.”

Bryan was unconcerned.

Dad poured the milk onto his cereal. The popping, snapping, and crackling started immediately. “You hear that?” he said “That's the blessed voice of the Oracle. Listen carefully and perhaps you will experience the divine, mind-expanding revelation, as I do.” He tilted his head as if attempting to discern a whisper, or a far-off cry.

“Ah, yes,” he said. “The Oracle has revealed that Thomas' laurel wreath is in his basket in the laundry room. I'll just zip in there quickly and grab it before my cereal goes soggy.”

Bryan rolled his eyes, as if saying Dad was such a dweeb. Undeterred, Dad stepped into the laundry and pulled a plastic crate off the shelf. “Ta da!” he pronounced, reaching in and pulling out a length of green garland. “What did I tell you? Faithless. That's what you are. Next, you'll be telling me that you don't believe in his noodliness, the Flying Spaghetti Monster.”

“Dad, you knew it was there all along,” said Bryan. Not a trace of amazement was in his tone.

“If you say so,” responded Dad. “But take this upstairs to your mother.”

“Why do I have to do that?” retorted Bryan. “You're the one who found it.”

“Precisely,” said Dad. “Now it's your turn to be helpful.” He waited as Bryan glared. This was clearly unfair. “Right away is good. Right now would be better.” Bryan's eyes locked on Dad's.

“I don't know why I have to do it,” said Bryan.

“Because I'm the father, and you're the child.”

Bryan stood, snatched the garland from Dad's hand, and stomped out of the kitchen. “It's not fair! I'm not the one who lost the wreath! It's not my costume!” Bryan was unhappy. He stomped up the stairs, making the whole house reverberate. Mom met him in the upstairs hallway.

Bryan was clearly angry. “Mom, Dad ordered me to give this to you,” he said, snapping the garland like a whip.

“I sensed that,” said Mom. “Have you been attending the drama club? Your performance was quite impressive.” Bryan scowled. “Thank you,” said Mom, holding out her hand. “Thomas will be very happy to have that.”

Bryan dropped the greenery on the floor, stepped into his bedroom, and slammed the door.

Ignoring the theatrics, Mom bent down to pick up the plastic vine. It was a tangle. Taking it into Thomas' room, manipulating it into a coil as she went, Mom noticed that the pile of Lego blocks seemed hardly smaller than before.

“Nice work, Thomas,” she complimented. “You're making progress.”

Just then, Melody came in, fully dressed and holding a hair brush and a pair of chopsticks.

“Mom, will you help me with my hair? I don't know how to put these,” she waved the chopsticks, “in the back.”

“Sure, Melody,” said Mom, still unwinding the garland. “Let me just get this on Thomas' head, first.”

Thomas, meanwhile, had stopped the pretense of putting Lego blocks in a tub and was building a spaceship with them instead. “Wrearowwww!” he said, making it swoop in with one hand while the other knocked loose blocks around the room. “Pkshshshshsh!”

“Thomas!” said Mom, “Stay focused!” Thomas looked up. “You're cleaning up your Lego, remember?” she said. “Not playing with it.”

“Oh, and look,” she continued. “Dad found your laurel wreath.”

“Kafwoosh!” said Thomas, already back in outer space. Mom gave up on cleaning the room and finished winding the garland back into a wreath-like shape. Leaning over, she placed it like a crown on Thomas' head.

“There you are,” she said, “just like Sew Crates.”

“Mom, it's Sock rat ease,” interjected Melody. Sometimes, Mom forgot these crucial details. “Now will you help me?” Mom straightened up.

“Of course, sweetie,” she said. “Come in the bathroom and we'll get some water on there.”

Melody followed Mom into the bathroom and stood at the sink. Mom took up her position behind. As she misted water from a squirt bottle onto Melody's hair, Mom said, “Aren't you excited, honey? It's going to be fun, collecting turnips tonight.”

Turnips? What was Mom thinking? “Mom, it's Halloween. We collect candy.” Really, turnips?

“Oh,” said Mom. “So you go out to the pumpkin patch and gather candy?”

“Mom,” wailed Melody, “we go trick-or-treating.”

“Do you do that in a pumpkin patch?” inquired Mom.

“No, Mom,” emphasized Melody. “You take us around the neighborhood and we ring doorbells, and when people answer the door, we shout 'trick or treat' and they give us candy. Or make us tell a joke, and then give us candy.”

“You mean I'm supposed to take you to meet neighbors with you dressed like,” she indicated Melody's kimono, “that?” Her eyes widened. “And you're going to make threats and expect candy?” She paused a moment. “I don't think that's legal.”

“No, Mom,” said Melody, beginning to panic just a little. “It's not like that.”

“I don't understand.”

“It's a tradition, Mom. Everybody does it.” Everybody. “The neighbors are expecting it. They've all bought candy and decorated their houses and everything.”

“I'm not sure I like it,” said Mom as she adjusted the chopsticks to hold Melody's hair in place.

“Mom!” cried Melody. This was not going well.

“What's the problem?” said Dad from the doorway.

Melody explained again about trick-or-treating.

“What do you mean it's a tradition?” said Dad, after listening a bit. “I never did that when I was a kid.”

“Never?” said Melody, now close to tears.

“Nope, not once,” answered Dad.

“Is he telling the truth?” Melody asked Mom.

“Yes,” answered Mom. “Dad has never been trick-or-treating.”

Melody began to cry. This was just not fair!

“Melody,” Dad said softly.

“What?” Melody sobbed.

“We know about Halloween. And it's okay.” Okay? “You can go trick-or-treating.”

Filling swiftly with relief, Melody said, “I can?”

“Yes, my sweet, you can,” promised Dad. “Now give me a hug.”

Melody reached around Dad's shoulders as he leaned over and gave him a big, sniffly squeeze.

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