The wolf smirked inwardly, gazing at the cherubs gathered in the dusk. A glowing campfire emphasized the children’s round proportions as tiny beads of sweat collected on their small faces. Goodness personified penetrated the dark, illuminated by convulsive waves of heat shimmering skyward, propelled by the slumbering embers. Peaceful sunset colors painted a complacent scene of innocence, orange-red and yellow-gold fingers stabbed the air, flaring up in a last gasp of life, shooting out intermittent flames of purple and white.
Upright, on spindly hind legs, the wolf leapt rhythmically, greedily licking his lips, thick brown tongue oozing with green saliva. Nervously, he flicked sideways at pointy yellow fangs dripping with the lust of hunger, the hunger of lust. He circled the assembly, strutting around the conclave, prancing in and out among the juveniles, occasionally touching a sleepy head, shouting out “Duck.” As he waltzed, he urged them to collect closer to the fire, and the innocents happily obliged, legs gathered in eager anticipation of the eventual “Goose,” a word which never came.
“Gather round, young’uns. This will be an evening you won’t ever forget. First, we’ll have that weenie roast I promised on the consent form your parents signed. There’s plenty to go around, so don’t be shy, for once you get to eat your fill. Then, s’mores. And who doesn’t love s’mores, right? What’s that you say? You’ve never had s’mores? Well, are you in for a treat! Roasted marshmallows and chocolate smashed between cinnamon graham crackers. Fantastico!”
The children had been looking forward to this event ever since the notices had first appeared, posters popping up all over town, decorating splintered telephone poles and enlivening the faded brick walls of decaying buildings. ‘Make Halloween Special,’ the signs declared. ‘Spooktacular fun! Come one, come all. Free food! Games and prizes! Boys and girls between the ages of four and eight. Just tell your mom or dad to sign you up. No cost to them. It’s a sleep-over cookout. Gather up PJs and pillows and blankets. We will provide extras. What we really want most is YOU. So, join us on October 31st. Drop off is at 5 pm in by the river. We’ll take a bus to the campground. Pickup is back at the park the following day at noon. Be ready for FUN! Bring yourselves and bring SMILES!’
Beleaguered parents in the grasp of dying-town-doldrums clutched at the idea, hopeful for an opportunity of enjoyment, a seldom-seen promise of fun their precious offspring might never enjoy. They signed up by the dozens, scoffing at the thought of anything evil or malevolent. Fun and excitement were rare commodities for this dilapidated area, more uncommon still to be presented free of charge.
“Allez y. Venez a la fete! Ix-nay on the oom-glay.” They did not understand the words, but someone confirmed, “It’ll be fun. Do not read the Latin.”
Old blankets were located, dragged out from hiding on cluttered bedroom floors, discovered on shelves of closets, rafters in attics, unused crawlspaces housing only abandoned wasps’ nests and insect cadavers. Tattered, too-small pajamas were given the once-over, traded among neighbors and distant family members. “I have some size sixes—anybody got four’s? I’ll trade you. Footies, please, if ya got’em.”
Parents loaded up the supplies, stuffing kids and equipment into vehicles, formed caravans to transport the children to the designated location. By dinnertime, everyone had assembled by the river next to the brilliantly polished Greyhound bus. Adults chatted and smiles abounded as energetic children raced around, starting impromptu games of tag and Hide’n Seek, the air electric with excitement. Collective sighs of relief wafted in the air when the brilliantly polished Greyhound slipped into view and everyone lined up to enter its luxurious interior.
Before pick up time the next day, the parking lot began to fill once more as families, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, greeted one another ebulliently, exchanging expressions of joy and optimism. By noon all the parents had reconvened, some standing singly and off to the side, but mostly collecting in groups, either clustered by the railings or sitting together on the green park benches and wooden picnic tables.
They waited in eagerness for the return of their offspring.
They continued to wait, until finally everyone realized waiting was the only thing that would ever happen, the only event they could anticipate, for the rest of their tormented lives.
An agonizing, interminable wait.