“Harrowing Week always starts with Monster or Hunter. That’s when you go from house to house getting candy. If the homeowner guesses correctly if you’re a monster or a hunter you get two pieces of candy. If they’re wrong, you only get one. If they drop the candy you get all of it, and if they cheat, then monsters are supposed to eat them. But they never do. Maybe someday.”
—Dibble Rindaily, Child
“Sit still. If you keep squirming, your back plate is going to fall off again. What’s a bug without a back plate?” My mom finished tying the string behind me and took a step back to admire her handiwork. “You are the cutest little exonid ever. Pull your helmet down too, honey; it really sells the costume.”
“I can’t hear when it's down.” I complained, then dutifully did as she instructed.
She paused, looking me over, and gave a thumbs-up.
“Just pull it down when you meet folks then.” She smiled. “Now remember, your brother is wearing a shaggy grimhulk—”
“I know, Mom,” I said impatiently. “I watched him walk out the door.”
“I gave your brother the coin for the candy; make sure he brings it right back. That way the other monsters and hunters have something when they come to our door. You can stop at a few houses, but don’t dawdle, you need to buy the candy from Herrulda’s wagon and get back. Okay?” She looked at me expectantly.
“They’re getting further ahead every second we talk,” I scowled through gritted teeth.
She continued, “Dibble was out there too. He’s a noklura this year; I don’t think anyone will be able to see him in the dark in his black costume. Keep an eye on him too. That boy has more bravery than sense.”
“All of Harrowing Week is going to be over before you let me go,” I whined.
“Ganler? Are you talking back?” She raised a brow.
“No?” I answered feebly. “Can I go now before they get all the way to Herrulda’s Amazing Gellies? Please?”
She giggled while giving me a quick hug. “Fine, go. Have fun.”
I rushed out the door, down the street toward my brother and our friend Dibble. I heard Mom calling me to come back to shut the door, but we both knew that wasn’t going to happen.
I ran for all I was worth. My back plate and helmet threatened to come loose with each hurried step.
“C’mon Ganler, keep up!” Joad yelled.
As I got closer, I could hear them. “Do you want to just lose him?” asked Dibble. “We could run through the corn there.” He pointed to the field just off the road. “We could lose him in there no problem.”
“No, Mom says I have to keep my little brother within eyesight all night,” Joad replied.
Dibble glanced back at me, “Okay. Yeah. But we could’ve, right? We could’ve lost him?”
Huffing and puffing, I finally caught up to them.
“Took you long enough,” my brother remarked before turning his attention back to Dibble. “You're kinda a mule butt you know that?”
“Yeah,” Dibble admitted. “Momma says that all the time. She says if I wasn’t hers she'd wax my hide with a striplin’.”
“Your mom is mean,” Joad said as we walked up to Bryn’s house together.
“Yeah, true,” Dibble said. He chuckled when he looked at me. “Hey, bug.”
Bent over and panting, I scowled back as Joad knocked on Bryn’s door.
It opened immediately. “Hi, Joad! Dibble!” Bryn said as she stepped outside while shouting back into the house, “Bye, Mum! Back soon. Yes, I have the gold, I’ll be right back with the candy.” She slammed the door and looked past my brother and Dibble to me. “Hiya, Ganler! Uh, are you alright?”
“I’m—fine,” I said in between heaving breaths, “just got—here, ran—to catch—up.”
Without waiting, Joad turned and started walking toward Herrulda’s wagon, and the rest of the kids followed. I sucked in another breath before trotting after them.
Bryn pulled out an ancient looking book from inside her costume as we walked. “Nice book. Looks old,” Dibble remarked.
“Right? It looks like a spellbook!” she exclaimed. “But it's not. It's Mum’s heirloom recipe book, which has been handed down for five generations in my family. It totally completes my costume perfectly though, don't you think?”
She leveled her eyes at Dibble and asked him point blank, “Do you know who I’m dressed up as?”
“Who?” Dibble asked before glancing back at the book with a guffaw. “A girl who is going to get whooped when her momma finds out she took the family recipes?”
She bared her teeth at him.
“I’ve got no idea who you are,'' shrugged Dibble. “A short, blue, kizaru chef?”
“You’re such an idiot.” She turned to Joad, “You get it, don’t you?” Bryn asked, her eyes pleading with him. “You know who I am, right?”
Joad looked at her, then at me pleadingly, his eyes filled with complete and utter panic.
I spoke up quickly, coming to his aid. “Dame Persi Lyco. The famous kizaru wizard adventurer. They say she blew an alpha siphit out of the sky with a ball of fire. I think she used a staff though.”
Bryn screeched with joy. “YES! My mum said no one would recognize me. But you and Joad both did!”
“Some of us still don’t,” interjected Dibble.
“Of course you’re Dame Persi Lyco. You look just like her.” Joad assured her.
Bryn glared at Dibble before turning to me with a heartsick look. “My mum wouldn’t let me take her broomstick,” she grimaced. “I had already picked the straw out to make it look like a staff. I mean, what's she going to use it for now? She may as well have let me have it.”
“You didn’t get a whooping for ruining a broom?” asked Dibble in amazement.
“No, but she said she might take some of my candy as payment. So I’ve decided, I’m going to eat it all first.” Bryn grinned.
Joad spoke up, “So the plan is: get the candy as quickly as possible, bring it back for our parents to hand out, then go house-to-house and get candy for ourselves for the rest of the night.”
“Let’s go to one house first,” Dibble suggested.
Joad looked skeptical, but I saw his willpower fade when Bryn nodded eagerly in agreement.
“Which two of us go first?” Dibble asked.
Joad grabbed Bryn’s hand, and she squealed in delight as they ran up the steps to the closest house. He knocked while she stood to his left, further from the door chanting loudly, “Monster OR Hunter.”
Old Man Faber yelled back from the other side, “Monster AND Hunter.”
He swung open the door and pointed at Joad and said “Monster” before pointing at Bryn while saying, “Hunter!” then gave them each two pieces of candy. “Ha, I was right!” He looked directly at Dibble and I with a smug grin, then went back inside and shut the door behind him.
Dibble pushed his way up to the door, and I stood to his left as he knocked.
I chanted loudly to be sure the old man heard me, “Monster OR Hunter?”
“Ahhh…” we heard from the other side of the ironwood door, and I swear I heard a smile in his voice when he called back, “Hunter AND Hunter!”
The door opened wide and Dibble held out his hand, a sour expression on his face.
“A noklura and a what? Are you supposed to be an exonid? Hmm, you’d look more convincing if you pulled your helmet down. Well, lookee here, looks like I was wrong…twice.” He reached into his bucket and pulled out two pieces of candy. One for me and one for Dibble.
Only a single piece of candy because he made the wrong guess. Intentionally.
“Better luck at the next house,” Old Man Faber cackled, slamming the door in our faces.
Dibble looked at me, rage burning his cheeks, “He cheated, he peeked!”
I grumbled, “That means monsters can eat him tonight, right?”
Dibble nodded, “Those are just tales, but I do hope someone scares him so much he drops his bucket and the kids get all his candy.”
“Yeah, that would serve him right,” I agreed.
When we caught up to Joad and Bryn, Joad threw me a piece of candy.
“Thanks,” I said with a smile.
“We should make sure no one can cheat you guys again. Bryn and I will walk ahead and you two follow a house behind so the adults can’t see you,” Joad suggested.
Dibble considered this for a moment before pointing at me, “But you said your mom wanted you to watch him.”
“Are you saying I can’t trust you?” Joad asked.
Dibble shook his head adamantly, “I’ll protect him, just like you would, Joad.”
“Good, then it's settled! Wait until you see the door close before taking your turn,” Joad instructed.
We walked a few blocks in silence. I could smell the candy from Herrulda’s Amazing Gellies long before we could see it. The hot, molten scent of caramelizing sugars made my mouth water.
As we passed by the opening of an alley, behind the general store at the edge of town, I felt the string Mom had tied behind my back snap, and my back plate fell to the ground pulling my helmet along with it.
Joad rushed over to me, “Are you hurt?”
“No,” I sighed. “The string broke. I told Mom it needed to be stronger, but she said ‘If it's good enough for your knee patches, then it's good enough for your costume’.”
Joad asked, “Can you sit here and see if you can fix it while we get the candies for our families to hand out? We’ll be right back.”
“Stay here,” Joad used his big brother tone. “We won’t be long.” The three of them disappeared around the corner in front of the general store. Herrulda’s wagon would be in the trees just on the other side of the road.
Disappointed at not being able to join them, I huffed and sat down to repair my costume. I didn’t get very far before I heard something from the alley behind me. Someone or something grunting.
Curious, I rose and crept quietly into the alley until I tripped over a wooden crate and skittered to a stop, dropping my costume in the process.
“Who’s there?” a voice called out.
“Roscoe? Is that you?” I asked.
“Yeah?” There was a pause, “Ganler?”
I peeked out from behind the pile of empty boxes and crates. My friend Roscoe was wearing a cloud shark costume and carrying a trident with a silk rope attached. The costume looked like it was a-size-too-big-hand-me-down.
“Nice costume,” I said.
He looked me over and said, “What's wrong with yours?”
“The string that holds it all together broke,” I said glumly.
“I’ll trade you,” he walked closer.
“What?” I was confused.
“I’ll give you the silk rope from my trident if you’ll help put that metal pot into the back of my wagon over there.” He gestured to a small red wooden wagon sitting next to a metal pot that had seen better days. “Listen really close,” he said. “Can you hear it?”
I closed my eyes and I heard it. A humming coming from the pot, as if the lid were vibrating like a cymbal but not nearly as loud. I nodded, “I hear it, but what is IT?”
“I don’t know, but someone threw it out, and it's alive,” he looked pleased. “It will be perfect as my partner for Monster or Hunter.”
He motioned to the costume and dangling string I was holding. “Do we have a trade?”
I handed them over and nodded. Removing the silk rope from his trident, he sat down to re-thread the pieces.
I tried to look brave as I walked up to the huge stock pot. It came up to my chin in height and was blackened at the bottom. I lifted the lid and peered down at multiple bloodshot eyeballs floating in a syrupy liquid looking back at me. There was an overpowering smell of toffee. I could see a handful of candy and candy wrappers just below the surface.
I pulled the candy Joad had given me from my pocket, and held it over the pot.
“I wouldn't do that,” Roscoe cautioned.
I opened my mouth to ask him what he meant; before I could speak I saw the syrupy thing ripple. I instinctively dropped the candy.
A strand of what looked like sugartree taffy snatched the candy midair and dragged it below the surface.
“What’s its name?” I asked as I inspected my right hand to make sure it was still intact.
“Name?” Roscoe replied.
“It needs a name,” I said. “I don't want to have to call it ‘the-thing-in-the-pot’ all the time.”
He thought for a moment and said, “Othur.”
“Othur?” I tried to gauge the weight of the pot.
“My dog was named Othur. He got eaten by a slyxi angler this past summer,” Roscoe stated.
I came to the same conclusion Roscoe had when he proposed the trade: the pot would be too heavy for one of us to lift alone. “Ah, can you help lift Othur into the wagon?”
“Done.” Roscoe brought over the newly repaired costume, and placed it nearby before positioning himself across from me on the other side of the pot. We each took one of the handles and hefted it into the wagon.
A panicked voice called out from the mouth of the alley, “Ganler? Ganler!” Two more voices joined in, shouting my name.
“Over here!” I yelled back to Joad and the others.
The sound of running echoed off the brick walls of the alley.
As soon as Joad saw us his face relaxed into a relieved smile. “Hey, Roscoe.”
Roscoe lifted his trident in greeting.
“What’s making that sound?” asked Bryn.
“It's Roscoe’s pet, Othur.” I explained, “He makes the pot rattle.”
Dibble said, “It's not nice to put animals in a pot unless you are going to eat them.'' He strutted to the pot, lifted the lid, and screamed. “AHHH! WHAT IS TH—THAT?!”
“Othur,” I said.
“Othur,” Roscoe repeated.
Bryn peered over the edge of the pot and wrinkled her nose, “Ewww that’s just… that’s just not right.”
Joad shrugged, “At least it smells good.”
“What IS it?” asked Dibble gingerly, holding the lid out as far as he could from his body to place it back on the pot.
Roscoe was indifferent, “I dunno, Othur was abandoned. I rescued him; Ganler helped.”
I smiled confidently, “We’re going to go back to Old Man Faber’s house. To get some candy.”
While Bryn helped me tie my costume back on, we all agreed to meet back at my house after dropping off the candies to go Monster or Huntering together for the rest of the night.
Bryn and Dibble rushed off to their respective houses, while Joad and I decided to go to Old Man Faber’s with Roscoe—and Othur—before dropping off our candy to Mom.
Joad pulled the wagon carrying Othur, while Roscoe and I walked alongside to make sure the pot wasn’t going to tip over. When we arrived at Old Man Faber's house, Joad parked the wagon and lifted the pot, carefully carrying it up the walk to set it down near the porch.
Roscoe waited until Joad had walked out of sight, then knocked on the door. “Monster OR Hunter,” he called.
“Monster AND Hunter,” came Old Man Faber’s reply.
The door opened and he grumbled at Roscoe before handing out two candies. “Cloud Shark. Unoriginal.” He looked over and spied the pot.
“Are you supposed to be a monster or a hunter?” Old Man Faber asked the pot on his porch.
“Monster,” answered Roscoe on Othur’s behalf.
“How do I know if there is even a kid hiding in that pot?” Old Man Faber, bucket of candy still in hand, walked over and opened the lid of Othur’s pot before any of us could stop him. “What the—” he stopped mid-sentence.
A sticky brown tongue arced out of the pot, and Othur pulled the entire candy bucket deep into the pot with a thick SPLAT.
Old Man Faber leapt back in shock, dropping the lid while yelling, “Gimme that back, kid!”
“You dropped the candy. Monsters and hunters get to keep anything you drop. That’s the rule!” I yelled gleefully.
Old Man Faber paused, considering his options. “What are you supposed to be anyway?” he inquired of the “kid” in the pot while continuing to back away towards the safety of his porch.
“A mimic,” answered Roscoe.
“Well, that costume seems a little bit too real. You didn’t happen to curse one of your friends, did you, just to get extra candy?” Old Man Faber was now back at the door, with one foot inside his house.
Othur began to hum, and the lid rattled uncontrollably.
That did it. Old Man Faber hurried inside, slamming the door behind him.
He yelled, “Ethabel? Some boys took all the candy, and the bucket too! I think one of them mighta been a mimic.”
“There’s more in the kitchen. I bought extra in case you spilled like last year,” Ethabel hollered back, “and don’t let that child have any more.”
“How will I know which one he is?” Old Man Faber yelled furiously. “The rapscallion was a mimic! He could look like anything!”
Joad retrieved the pot, and we excitedly headed home to meet up with Dibble and Bryn for a night we’d never forget.
One Hunter, four Monsters, and one Othur.