A Stellar Flare of Young Adult Writing and Visual Art
BY ANNABELLA BOLEY
Gabbi cracked the bathroom door just a bit, leaning on the doorframe to avoid falling over. She was a half hour late for trick-or-treating, and, while she prided herself on being more empathetic than most other kindergarteners, Gabbi also needed to know what was holding them up. Just a week ago, her mother had finished sewing her an angel costume from some old pillowcases, one of which she’d set aside for collecting candies. At the same time, her older sister, Amber, was confined to her room for something to do with curfew, and her boyfriend.
Now, Mom was rubbing Amber’s back as she leaned over the counter, enough that Gabbi could sort of make out her pitiful expression in the mirror. After a minute had passed in silence, she would mumble something about her boyfriend, Tyler, who was not as much her boyfriend as a “heartless traitor.” Then, Amber would splash some cold water onto her face, just to mess it up again with another round of tears.
Each time, her mother would whisper her sweet reassurances in a tone that Gabbi had never heard used between the two of them, who were more often arguing than not. Meanwhile, Mom’s favorite remained in the cold, unlit hall, where a familiar tile pattern was being pressed into her knees, and she swore she felt her clip-on wings sagging in defeat.
At last, Gabbi’s mother looked over at her, as if she’d known she was there the whole time. “Sweetheart,” she said, lifting Amber’s shoulders in a calm but insistent manner, “you just need a good distraction.”
Amber nodded, and for a moment there was peace, the air not filled with shouts nor sobs, but just with the sound of water running from the faucet. Then, their Mom said the dreaded words: “Take Gabbi trick-or-treating.”
The shouts and sobs returned at full force, this time directed at Mom, and Gabbi, and the world. Some more dreaded words (“that’s final”), and Gabbi was being shoved out of the bathroom and told to “hold on, brat.”
Mom crouched down, returning to that calm, comforting voice as she explained that Amber was just upset, and that she would come around, and that neither of them had realized how late it was. Gabbi just nodded, ignoring the temptation to ask if her sister would wear a costume. After several restless minutes of knocking on the bathroom door, Amber emerged, her face wiped, lip gloss reapplied, and backpack now full. Before either Gabbi or her mother could ask questions, the former was being grabbed by the arm as the latter called to be back home at eight o’clock
Amber still seemed mad, but Gabbi knew better than to ask her about it, making a silent vow not to let her sister ruin her Halloween. She knew the entire route by heart, and, just to demonstrate it, ran ahead of Amber, who shouted at her to slow down. However, she made no real efforts to slow her down, and it went on like this for about two and a half blocks. Soon, it was starting to get dark, and Amber, now looking a bit worried, caught up to Gabbi and pulled her in another direction.
“Hey, where are we-“
Gabbi, though curious, did indeed shush. Amber led her down several streets at a much faster pace than before, as Gabbi recognized less and less of the houses and soon had no idea of their location whatsoever. At last, Amber stopped them at a big, unfamiliar house that seemed much nicer than their own.
Amber, still looking nervous, bent down to Gabbi’s height and put on a smile. “You see this house?” she asked, sounding a bit like Mom when comforting her children. “The people who live here are very, very poor.”
Gabbi felt a pang of sadness when she heard this, but it was soon replaced with confusion. “But their house is humongous!”
There was a slight pause before Amber said, “That’s what made ’em poor.”
This made sense enough, and once again Gabbi felt sad and a bit ashamed. She looked up at Amber, who unzipped her backpack to reveal several rolls of toilet paper. Gabbi giggled, because it was toilet paper, but stopped at the realization that Amber was serious.
“Gabbi. These people can’t even afford toilet paper,” said Amber, looking all around them before taking out a roll. “So we’re going to give them some.”
The literal and metaphorical angel was thrilled, which was evident as she jumped up and down. “Calm down, don’t draw attention.” “Sorry.”
Each of them took three rolls of toilet paper, and Gabbi, waiting for clearer instructions, grew even more confused as her sister threw some into a tree. “Shouldn’t we just leave it on their porch?” she asked.
Amber seemed a bit hesitant, but once again melted into that calm, approachable version of herself and said, “No, no, it’s Halloween.” Gabbi just stared at her, so she added, “You know. Putting stuff in trees? For needy people? It’s, like, a Halloween tradition?”
“No, it’s not!”
“Yes, it is.”
“I’ve never heard of it.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s fake!” Amber paused a second, then said, “It’s sort of like wrapping up presents for Christmas. It’s hidden, and you have to work for it, and that makes it more fun.” Gabbi, now convinced and excited at the prospect of Christmas, threw each of her rolls into the trees. Who knew being helping could be so fun? She turned back to Amber, who had finished, but appeared to be taking photos. Then, she got an idea.
Full pillowcase in hand, Gabbi walked up to the house and rang the doorbell.
“Gabbi! What are you doing?”
The door opened, and out came a teenage boy. “Aren’t you gonna say ‘trick-or-treat’?” he asked, gesturing to a bowl of various store-bought candies.
Gabbi shook her head no, holding out the pillowcase. He shrugged and started to add some chocolate bars to her bag. “No, no!” said Gabbi. “I’m giving it to you.”
“What?” asked the boy. “I mean, thanks, but you really shouldn’t.”
“No, I insist. You need it. Just like you needed… that!” Gabbi pointed at the TP-covered trees, feeling proud and satisfied.
The boy, looking just as surprised as she’d hoped, paused before asking, “Why on Earth did you do that?”
Gabbi shrugged, dropping her pillowcase on the welcome mat. “I’m empathetic.”
With that, she skipped off the doorstep, feeling much better than when she’d arrived. Gabbi found Amber behind a tree, and asked, “What are you doing back there?”
Her sister didn’t answer, but instead stole a glance at the front door. Looking relieved, she then turned back to Gabbi. “What was that? What is wrong with you? It was supposed to be a surprise, I-” Amber looked at her little sister with a wide-eyed expression. “Where is your candy?”
“I give it to the nice boy! He was so grateful for it, too!”
Amber didn’t even respond, which was good, because Gabbi wouldn’t have given her much chance to. “I’m so happy! I’m gonna go tell Mom all about how helpful I was!” And Gabbi, who knew her trick-or-treat route by heart, ran all the way home.
Annabella is soon entering high school, where she hopes to improve her writing and perhaps even make a career out of it. She first wrote Halloween in sixth grade, and has since rewritten it over and over to meet her current standards.