I felt free, having cast off my burdens, so to speak, much more available to truly enjoy the evening, on my own. The next house even figured out my costume without any hints - people must have been assuming our costumes were connected somehow, not that I could’ve coordinated without knowing what Nancy had planned.
But as I moved on, I started to feel more and more guilty. I found myself lingering longer and longer outside each house, glancing back the way I’d come from, but there was no sign of Nancy.
Maybe she’d gotten mad at me for my outburst, and went back the other way, I mused, though a quick glance up and down the other side of the road didn’t reveal her. I could easily have missed her, though. I tried to convince myself it didn’t matter, that she’d get over it by the time I got done.
“Hey, watch it, dude!” some rude little boy snapped, awakening me to the fact that I was standing, motionless, in the middle of the sidewalk. He came around in front of me, in his hockey mask, through which I could make out a touch of surprise when he saw that I wasn’t, after all, a dude.
“Oh, screw it,” I sighed quietly, turning back and walking quickly back in the direction I’d left my friend. We’d always gone trick-or-treating together - it just wasn’t the same without her. So what if she was showing off and getting more candy than me? The candy wasn’t really the point this year, and even if it was, we’d always split our candy at the end of the night, every year before that. She liked all the stuff I wasn’t fond of, and vice versa; it was the perfect arrangement.
I was starting to worry I’d have to go all the way back to the car after all, until I got close to that old woman’s house again, from which I heard crying that sounded oddly familiar. And, sure enough, when I’d gotten near enough, I saw Nancy, still sitting in the same spot, in tears. The old woman had gone outside again, and was watching Nancy nervously, as if unsure just what she should do.
I wasn’t either, but it didn’t turn out to be a problem. She saw me nearly as soon as I’d seen her. Having apparently forgotten my “threat”, and my outburst, she got to her feet, getting onto all fours and then lifting herself, diapered bottom first. By the time she’d shakily lifted her torso and head up off the ground, I was over at her side, to save her from having to toddle over, and probably wind up falling over. She clung to my arm like a vise, sniffling.
“I don’t think you should leave her on her own like that,” the old woman advised, lowering her voice a bit, as if that would keep Nancy, only a few inches further from her than me, from hearing. “She seems a little slow.”
“She’s just acting,” I assured the woman, apologizing for leaving Nancy in her front yard unattended, but as we walked off, I couldn’t help going over those words in my mind. Nancy had been behaving quite strangely, ever since she’d put that costume on… Sure, I’d joked about it, but, to be perfectly honest, it almost seemed as if she really had become the baby she was dressed up as.
I shook my head, giving a single, discordant laugh. “That’s just stupid,” I said out loud, all the better for convincing myself. I was just getting a little too much into the Halloween spirit. Like Nancy. “You haven’t really become a baby, now have you?”
She stared up at me, one hand removing itself from my arm and slowly finding its way back up to her mouth. “I big giwl!” was her answer.
“Seriously, Nancy, stop it for a second, okay? I know I’m being stupid, but just… Just tell me everything’s fine.”
She didn’t even dignify it with a response, which was probably for the best. I knew that it was a stupid question as I was asking it, I just couldn’t stop myself, somehow. Still, it would have been nice for her to at least acknowledge my question, instead of just walking on. It would have been more comforting, anyway, and would have helped dispelled the last traces of doubt from my mind.
She stuck by me after that, though, perhaps having finally gotten the hint that her antics were a little much. Having her permanently attached to my arm wasn’t as much of an improvement as I might have hoped for, but I could live with it. It did make it a little more difficult to navigate the crowd of other trick-or-treaters, and I found myself apologizing on her behalf to a few little kids.
However, it was me who ran into the first grown-up, too busy looking at a pretty hot, but unfortunately married, guy with the same costume as me, who’d just given us each a full sized Snickers bar. His porch was pretty nicely decorated as well, with skeletons sitting in rocking chairs, and spiderwebs draped about, partially obscuring the number 1428 beside the door. I felt Nancy shiver slightly, but I assumed she was just getting chilly after all, despite her earlier protests. I didn’t even bother turning my head, before I felt myself bump into something not too much bigger than me, though pretty obviously not a child.
“Oh, sorry!” I said automatically, looking up sheepishly. He wasn’t a particularly tall man, and pretty thin, yet there was an air of danger about him, somehow. I found myself shivering a little, too. “I wasn’t…”
“It’s fine, little lady,” he smiled, giving a little mock bow before slipping around us and continuing down the street.
Nancy began to tug on my arm, and finally I blinked, throwing a quick glance behind us before cutting across the road, back towards the car. ‘Don’t be a dumb-ass’, I tried to tell myself, to no avail - my mind was stuck on the memory of the man bending over, showing off quite clearly the scar running through his right eyebrow. Nancy didn’t protest our sudden departure, either.
“Was that him?” I asked a minute or two later, slowing down. She didn’t make any move to answer, or give any indication that she even understood the question. My heart began to beat faster, as I glanced behind us nervously. “Nancy, we’re done trick-or-treating, okay? You can give up the act, all right?”
“Ooo, swings!” she exclaimed, suddenly pulling free for the first time since we’d reunited, toddling away from me towards a chain link fence around a large, dark yard. I followed after her, afraid that she’d wake up whoever lived in the house, only to notice the sign declaring it “Forest Green Daycare”.
“Sorry, but I don’t think you’re gonna be able to get in there,” I told her, following her to the gate. Sure enough, it was locked. “I think there was a playground at the school, though… Maybe we can play there for a bit if you’re a good girl. Can you be a good girl and wait until then?”
She nodded enthusiastically, taking my hand, though not without a sad look back. ‘It’s just an act’, I reminded myself, the image of that man flashing before my eyes once again. Luckily, the school wasn’t too far from there, and, sure enough, there was a playground. Nancy wanted to go straight there, but I made a pit stop at the car to drop off our bags, and to make sure that the man wasn’t following us after all. That must have just been a coincidence… It wasn’t like there was only one person in town with that kind of scar or anything.
“I’m sorry, I think I’m just going crazy,” I told Nancy, sure that she must have been thinking that I was acting almost as oddly as her, and with a lot less reason. I realized I had been squeezing her hand pretty hard, so I let go, which prompted her to start off towards the playground. “There’s something in the air, you know? It just feels like the kind of day when weird stuff would happen.”
I sat down on one of the swings, letting it carry me slowly back and forth, as Nancy clumsily scrambled up the stairs of the smallest of the three slides, giggling happily as she got to the top and propelled herself down. Why couldn’t I be like that? It was so easy for her to just let go of her inhibitions, embrace this super-brief second childhood in ways that I would never have dreamed of.
After a few more trips down the slide, she came over to the swings, sitting herself down on the one next to me, then staring at me. I smiled over at her, trying to show her that I wasn’t mad at her anymore. “Push?” she asked after a few moments.
“Sure,” I shrugged, hopping down from my swing and going behind hers. I gave her a light push, enough to produce a giggle from her. It was easy to get into a nice rhythm, and relaxing, in a strange sort of way. I found myself nearly getting lost in the repetitiveness of it, even as she started to squirm a bit, throwing off the angle of the swing slightly. “You getting cold?” I asked her. “It’s probably about time to be heading back anyway.”
She seemed amenable to that, though she stayed on the swing after I stopped pushing, until it came to a rest. She hopped down, starting to come around the swingset to me, when I noticed a wet spot where she’d been sitting. I glanced over at the other swings curiously, though mostly at the one I’d been on, to be sure I hadn’t gotten anything on the back of my cape when I sat down, but they were all dry.
As she waddled towards me, though, I could see something dripping down the inside of her legs, and it was easy to tell that the diaper cover was definitely wet. It took me a few moments to put two and two together, and even longer to try to bring myself to believe it. “Did you…?” I started to ask.
But it wasn’t like she’d bothered to answer any of my other questions that night. She had that same, blank look on her face, and I could tell that I wasn’t going to do any better this time. So I marched over to her, and pulled up the hem of her dress, expecting that, at last, to shock her out of her role. When it didn’t, I tentatively reached up for the waistband of the diaper cover, which she also didn’t respond to.
“Nancy, I’m going to check your diaper,” I announced, in case she hadn’t gotten my drift. She still gave no response, other than starting to look bored, so I pulled away the front of the cover. Sure enough, the diaper inside was pretty obviously soaked, and from the smell of them, it was from the usual method. “Nancy!” I let the diaper cover snap back into place, dropping the dress and stepping away from her. “What the hell is wrong with you?!”
But, even as I said it, I knew that it wasn’t her fault. Surely she wouldn’t have gone that far, would she? Who would do something like that? Other than, of course, someone who couldn’t help it. Like, for instance, a baby…
“This can’t be happening,” I told myself, suddenly finding myself sitting on one of the swings, head spinning with the sheer impossibility of what I was thinking. “It can’t be…”
Before I could say it enough to convince myself, I saw, from the corner of my eye, movement in the parking lot. Nancy reached out and grabbed my hand. I looked up, breath stopping short as I saw, moving towards us, the man with the scar. “Son of a bitch,” I swore under my breath. I jumped out of the swing, made sure I had a good grip on Nancy, and then I started to run.