Night of the Dead Tree

Early in the morning, the outline of the tree could be seen as the neighborhood kids rode their bikes to school. The tree had no leaves and only a few branches. It stood next to the old haunted house on the hill.

The morning sun rose from behind the hill and created this eerie dark silhouette of the tree against the sky. It was especially spooky on a foggy morning when you could barely see the shape of tree.

Rumors were that a witch used to lived in the house. When she died, the tree also died. One foggy morning right before Halloween, Billy and Jimmy rode their bikes to school past the dead tree on the hill.

"I heard it was never alive," Billy said.

"Who told you that?” Jimmy said. "How could it be a dead tree, if it was never alive?"

"The witch created it with black magic to keep people away," Billy said. "It comes alive when people knock on the door."

"I don't believe in black magic." Jimmy said. "Someone lived there and planted that tree. It just died after they left."

"Oh yeah? Well, tomorrow night is Halloween. I dare you to go up to the house and knock on the door, " Billy said.

"Why would I do that? No one lives there. What's the point?"

 "Bok, bok, bok. Are you a scared little chicken?"

"No. I just don't see why anyone would bike all the way up there for no reason. No one lives there! No one is going to answer the door."

"Scaredy cat. I double dare you!"

"I'll go, if you'll go," Jimmy said.

There was a long pause and no answer from Billy. No one had ever gone up that long dark driveway to the haunted house. Never ever!

"Well? Are you scared?" Jimmy said. "Tomorrow night at the bottom of the hill. Eight o'clock. If you don't come, the whole school will know you're the scaredy cat."

Jimmy turned down his street to his house. Billy straddled his bike at the corner.

"I'll be there! I'm no scaredy cat!" Billy said.

On Halloween night that year, the moon was positioned just behind the dead tree as Jimmy rode down the street to the haunted house. It was a chilly Halloween night with a very light mist in the air. Jimmy's parents almost didn't let him go, but he convinced them that he would be careful. He told them that he was going to see Billy to go trick or treating. Technically that was the truth, if not the whole truth.

As Jimmy got closer to the haunted house hill, he swore he saw something fly around the tree and then land on one of the dead branches.

He wasn't sure about this plan. He almost didn't go, but if he didn't, Billy would tell everyone. The thought of the whole school calling him a scaredy cat was motivation enough. He had to go. He was hoping Jimmy had chickened out.

But there was Jimmy straddling his bike at the bottom of the long steep driveway that led up to the dark old house.

"Look, we don't have to go up to the house," Billy said. "We're both here. Nothing to prove, right?"

Jimmy almost said yes, but he was never one to back down from a challenge. He was just as scared as the next kid when it came to spooky Halloween stuff, but tonight he was determined to knock on that door.

"I'm going up," Jimmy said. "You can stay here if you're too scared."

"Me scared?" Billy said. "I just said that cause I figured you'd chicken out."

"Nuff talk, let's go," Jimmy said.

The driveway up to the house was too steep to ride a bike up, so they had to walk their bikes up the hill. It was very dark. The only light came from the moon which was now behind the hill.

At the top of the hill, there was a tall rusty gate. Jimmy pushed on the gate, and it made a loud creeky noise as it swung open. A stone walkway led to stone steps that led to the door of the old house.

Jimmy and Billy stood at bottom of the steps looking up at what seemed to them to be the door to a giant's house. There was a screendoor, and behind it was a huge tall wooden door.

"Go on, knock on the door," Billy said.

"I don't have to," Jimmy said.

 "What, you gonna chicken out now?" Billy said.

"No stupid, I don't have to knock, cause there's a doorbell," Jimmy said.

Jimmy slowly walked up the steps, pushed the doorbell button and stepped back down.

Then boys heard a low growling sound. It wasn't the doorbell. The growl came from behind them. Neither boy wanted to turn around, but they had to.

In the dark shadows, the boys could barely make out the shape of what looked like an enormous panther. Its bright opened eyes stared back at the boys from the bottom of the steps.

They were convinced that they were about to be eaten by the panther. Then the door opened.

A bright light from inside the hallway kept them from being able to see clearly what it was that stood in the doorway behind the screendoor. All they could make out was a tall shadowy shape. Surely, they thought, this is an angry ogre.

They were trapped. At the bottom of the steps was a hungry panther, and its angry orge owner was behind the screendoor.

"Well, well, well. Who has come to visit me on Halloween night?" The Orge shape said.

The boys squeaked out a whisper, "trick or treat."

"I don't have any candy, but I have some oatmeal cookies." The Ogre shape said.

Eaten by a panther or by an ogre were not the best options.

"Cookies sound good," Jimmy blurted out.

"Okay then, come on in," The Ogre shape said.

The screen door opened and the panther flew past the boys into the house. It must be a phantom panther, they thought.

"Here, let me put the porch light on," The Ogre shape said.

Then Jimmy saw clearly what the shape really was. It was his third-grade teacher, Mrs. Davidson.

"Mrs. Davidson?" Jimmy said.

"Well now, it's Jimmy and Billy from my third-grade class. " Mrs. Davidson said. "What are you two doing up here? You're the first kids brave enough to come up to the scary haunted house. Oh, I know all about the rumors."

"Mrs. Davidson, I thought you lived on a farm." Jimmy said.

"Well yes, I do. This entire area including where your new school is now used to be my family's farm. When my parents passed away, my husband and I sold most of the land, so the homes you two live in, could be built.

You know that little store down the road? There used to be a peach orchard there. I still have a few fruit trees out back. When I was a kid, my daddy built me a tree house in that old dead tree next to the house. I don't have the energy nor the heart to have it taken down. "

"Do you live here with your husband?" Jimmy said.

"Oh no, my husband passed away last year. " Mrs. Davidson said. "It's just me. Well, and you met Midnight, my cat.  Now tell me, who had the hairbrain idea to come to an old house in the dark? You boys could have knocked on the door, and an axe murderer might have answered instead of an old third-grade teacher."

Jimmy and Billy sheepishly looked down at their shoes.

"It was a dare," Jimmy mumbled.

"Well, it might seem like a brave thing to do, but it certainly wasn't a smart thing to do. Promise me that you won't be doing anything stupid like this again."

Both of the boys replied,"Yes, ma'am, we promise."

"Good. Now, I'm going to get those oatmeal cookies and some hot chocolate, " Mrs. Davidson said. "But first, we're going to call your parents and tell them where you are, ok?"

"Yes, ma'am," the boys replied.

Midnight, the cat jumped up onto the couch and sat there for a while licking his paws. Then he lifted his head, opened his eyes wide, looked at Jimmy and Billy and spoke. "So you boys thought I was a phantom panther. Silly boys, I'm just an ordinary house cat.”

Happy Halloween!

- End -

***HALLOWEEN SAFETY NOTE: This is a fiction story with a happy ending, but not all Halloween stories have a happy ending. Kids - tell your parents where you are going and don't go to houses where you don't know the owners. Parents - go with your kids!