“Trick or treat!”

The man at the house’s threshold flicked his eyes between Harley and Winter as they towered over him in matching but ill-fitted pirate costumes. Children peered from behind the two to gawk at the candies that the man dropped into pumpkin-shaped buckets.

Back on the dimly lit street, Harley pulled up her flimsy eyepatch and brought one of the new red-foiled candies up for inspection, giggling as she did.

Winter rolled his eyes. “Don’t you have enough candy?”

“Can you ever have enough?”

“I’m told you could get something called ‘diabetes’ if you eat too much.”

Harley snorted. “Humans are such odd creatures.”

“Shh!” Winter hissed, as he glared side to side at the largely empty street. “Don’t say that too loud. The humans might hear us.”

Harley dismissed the notion with a wave of her hand. She unwrapped the candy and popped it in her mouth, chewing loudly.

Winter grumbled.

They hung back to let the group of kids behind them trot ahead to the next house. Cell phones illuminated the bored expressions of the parents that followed behind the kids. Artificial spiderwebs canvassed the walls of the next house that was illuminated by eerie green lights. Screams punched through the artificial mist that surrounded the house. 

Every year since Harley arrived at this strange planet, she watched in awe and appreciation at the concerted effort that humans put into getting into, what they called, the “Halloween spirit.” The more humans settled the town, the more decorations of bats, spiders, and other creatures of lore and vague human media references that Harley had yet to learn popped up across Selunia Falls. Pumpkins and pumpkin spice assailed her noise at every corner. Before she knew it, she got swept up in the mania, finding herself clutching a pirate costume in the local convenience store. 

After purchasing the costume with her allowance of human currency, Harley realized that she’d have to wear the ridiculous get-up. In a panic, she had purchased a second costume, hoping to persuade someone else to dress up with her so she’d feel less ridiculous. Winter obliged, though took every opportunity to voice his disapproval of the practice after he squeezed his body into the size small costume, his limbs jutting out awkwardly.

“These candies are definitely better than anything we’ve had back home,” Harley said through a mouth full of caramel.

Winter chuffed. “Whatever.” He slicked back his hair. “Is that enough trick or treating for you? We should check out the party at the town square.”

Harley pouted, not yet ready to end their trick-or-treating. “I think we have time for one more house.” She scanned the street, avoiding the house with the recorded screaming and pointing at a house at the end of the block decorated with rows of candle lit pumpkins. “That one over there looks nice.”

Winter sighed.

Pumpkins carved with faces contorted into ghoulish expressions lined the house. Aside from the candles in the pumpkins, the house’s facade was dark and bare. Muffled, melancholic music played from inside. The group of trick-or-treaters hurried past to the next house, skipping the pumpkin house.

“Are we sure that someone’s even home?” Winter asked.

Harley jumped back when a woman poked her head out, unable to discern from the woman’s sunken eyes and disheveled hair if she was in costume. 

The woman studied the two. “You’re trick-or-treaters?”

“Uh…” Harley looked down at her costume and then at Winter. “Yes?”

Winter folded his arms in front of him. “Is there something wrong, ma’am?”

“No, no.” The woman shifted her eyes. “Usually it’s just kids who trick-or-treat.”

“Is that why people keep looking at us funny?” Harley’s cheek flushed as she tugged on her costume self-consciously.

The woman swung the door open, the melancholic music humming louder. “Come inside. You’re clearly adults. I have better treats for you.”

Harley shot a glance at Winter, unsure what protocol to follow. Her body screamed for her to run. But she also didn’t want to be rude. She stepped tentatively inside the house, her friend trailing behind her.

Groups of people were scattered inside the house in every room and hallway. They spoke in low voices, letting the music drown their conversation into muffled oblivion. The disheveled woman procured three drinks topped with a mist that overflowed the brims. Harley and Winter took their drinks and retreated to a corner to sulk in. 

Neither of them touched their misty drink.

The strange woman reappeared some time later. “I’m Zoe by the way.” She gave the two an appraising eye.“You’re not from around here.” A statement rather than a question.

“We’re from Los Angeles.” Harley rehearsed the line multiple times in the Karazai meetings that the humans fondly referred to as “Blending In 101.”

“Ah, right.” Zoe held her hands up and crunched her fingers. “‘Los Angeles.’” 

Harley arched her eyebrow at the odd gesture, looking to Winter for help. A stiff Winter shook his head in a small and imperceptible movement, indicating that he had no idea what the gesture meant.

Zoe chuckled as she leaned casually against the wall and regarded them with a piercing gaze. “I know what you guys are. No need to spin the lies in this room.” She glanced around the room, gesturing at the fake spiderwebs and plastic skeletons. “So? What do you think of Halloween? Do you have anything like this on your home planet?”

Harley froze. She then covered her surprise with an innocent smile, prepared to brush off Zoe’s question, when Winter snorted loudly.

“We have much better celebrations than this,” Winter said flatly.

Harley slapped her hand to her forehead.

A pleased smile spread across Zoe’s face. “Oh? Any of them spooky?”

“I don’t understand your concept of ‘spooky.’”

“What about ‘scary?’”

Winter let out a laugh. “If you’re referring to your cheap decorations of absurd–almost comical–characters, I don’t see how that can be considered scary. Quite the opposite in fact.”

“That’s what makes this season so fun!” Zoe’s eyes glinted with mischief. “It’s macabre, it’s silly, it’s sacred–all these, at once!” When Harley and Winter gave her no reaction, Zoe added, “I suppose this year will be extra spooky. After what happened to poor Ozzie.”

Harley raised an eyebrow quizzically. “Ozzie?” 

Zoe leaned in, her voice low but tinged with excitement. “Oswald ‘Ozzie’ Jenkins was one of the first scientists here. He did groundbreaking work in biology and experimented with Karazai plants that were identified to have appeared around the rift. Though, I heard he made a menagerie of creatures that were not approved of in the process.”

“Oh?” Harley asked, her curiosity piqued.

“Some of his experiments went too far,” Zoe said. “Anyways, he didn’t show up to the lab one day. His body was found a couple weeks later in the woods. He was…” Zoe grappled with words before she just shuddered. “We still have no idea what happened to Ozzie.” 

“That’s awful,” Harley said, dread filling her body as she glanced around the room. Who would do such a heinous thing in such a small town?

“That’s not all.” Zoe’s voice trembled with excitement that betrayed any reverence she might have held for poor murdered Ozzie. “I heard you can still see Ozzie. Floating around the cemetery they built on Crow’s Hill.”

Harley frowned. “But Ozzie is dead, didn’t you say?”

“Mutilated,” Winter added, “from the sound of it.” 

Zoe placed her finger on her nose and pointed at Harley and then Winter. “Exactly!”

Winter’s eyes narrowed. “Explain yourself, human.”

“He’s a ghost!” Zoe cried, her eyes and mouth hanging open–an expression she clearly expected from the two.

Harley raised an eyebrow. “What’s a ghost?”

Zoe looked at them, stunned. “You Karazai don’t have ghosts? Spirits of the people who died who come back to haunt us?”

Winter rolled his eyes. “It makes no logical sense. If someone is dead, they’re dead. There’s no possibility of them coming back to life.”

“Exactly! And that’s what makes it ‘spooky.’” Zoe twinkled her fingers at the last word, only to be met with blank stares.

“I don’t know about ‘spooky.’” Harley rubbed her chin. “It makes no logical sense.”

“Yeah. Why would they come back to life?” Winter pressed.

Zoe scowled, an edge in her voice. “I don’t know. Unfinished business, maybe?”

“Did you give them a proper death ritual?” Harley asked.

Zoe placed her hands on her hips. “We buried him here. As he requested.”

“Buried?” Winter asked, aghast.

“What’s wrong with that?” Zoe snapped.

Harley exchanged glances with Winter. “When Karazai die, we send their bodies to space. So they can be one again with the stardust.”

“How poetic but we’re not launching dead bodies into space!” Zoe shook her head. “Can you imagine the costs? Besides, how else can people return to honor them?” When the trio stared at her blankly again, she explained, “Like, putting flowers on their grave.”

Harley and Winter stared at Zoe in silence. Finally, Harley asked, “So you humans are afraid of dead people coming back to life? Wouldn’t they be weakened and decomposing?”

“Isn’t it a terrifying thought?” Zoe demanded.

“Well, no,” Harley replied. “They’d hardly be a formidable adversary.”

“They–they– come back with superhuman strength!” Zoe cried.

“I just don’t see how that’s possible,” Harley said slowly, trying to make sense of Zoe. Whatever reaction Zoe was looking for, she clearly wasn’t getting it from them. Harley looked to Winter for help.

Winter snickered. “This would certainly not happen if you just send your dead to space.”

Zoe threw her hands up in the air and stormed away.

Harley snorted, ready to dismiss Zoe’s nonsense, before she recalled that earlier this week, she had passed by Crow’s Hill this week. An odd, unsettling feeling had pervaded her body at the time in a way she couldn’t explain. 

She brought her drink to her lips and sipped pensively, her eyes drifting to the window toward Crow’s Hill. Could it be… Ozzie? Could people exist beyond death? 

Harley rose to her feet. She had to know. “We should go.”

Back on the street, Winter huffed to keep up with Harley. “Finally ready to check out the party at town square?”

“No,” Harley shook her head. “We should look at this cemetery.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Winter exclaimed. “That was a bunch of nonsense!”

“Why?” Harley smirked. “Scared of ghosts?”

“I’m not scared!” Winter snapped.

“Prove it!” Harley halted in her steps. She pointed onward, in the direction of Crow’s Hill. “Let’s go to the cemetery.” She snorted when Winter hesitated. “That’s what I thought.”

Winter crossed his arms, bumbling for words. Finally, he said, “Let’s go then.”

They walked in silence toward Crow’s Hill, the only noise their panting as they ascended the steep hill. At the top, they found themselves in front of an iron gate. Stone walls enclosed the small lot of mossy ground littered with decaying leaves. The iron gate creaked let out a loud creak when Harley heaved it open.

A single headstone stood in the middle of the lot. Here lies Ozzie, a trailblazer who reached for the stars.

Harley approached the grave, dead leaves crunching beneath her boots. “Hello, Ozzie.”

She paused. A sense of foreboding creeped into her body. A draft picked up and sent chills across her body.

Winter must have felt it, too. He glanced around the lot and rubbed his arm nervously. “There. Happy now? Can we go to the party now?”

“I want to have a good look around.” 

But there wasn’t much else to see. Dim lamp posts revealed shapes of trees and rose bushes that casted unsettling shadows on the stone walls.

“Uh, Harley…”

Harley turned to see Winter backing away slowly, his face pale and pointing behind her.

Harley spun around. It was easy to miss the large shape that blended with the shadows along one of the walls. Another draft whipped through the area and brushed against the hair on the shape’s legs. Harley squinted, counting eight legs.

A giant spider!

“Run!” Winter bellowed as he took off in a sprint toward the gate.

Harley ran as fast as her legs could carry her. At the bottom of the hill, she turned around to see if the spider was gaining on them–only to find an empty path behind her. She trotted to a stop, catching her breath as she did.

“What are you doing?” Winter cried from several feet away.

“It’s not following us.” Harley ascended back up the hill, fighting against her adrenaline to keep her footing slow and cautious. She heard Winter mutter from not too far behind her.

Harley peered into the lot. The spider occupied the same spot, its body compact as though to make itself small.

“For all we know,” Winter whispered from behind her, his face pale, “that could be the creature that killed Ozzie!”

They jumped when the spider moved. It extended its hairy legs, reaching down to soundlessly move its body to the ground. Harley held her breath, her body frozen in trepidation.

In delicate strides, the spider reached Ozzie’s headstone. It raised one of its legs, a yellow flower revealed in its grasp. In slow movements, it placed the flower on the headstone before leaning its body forward in a graceful–and unmistakably reverent–motion.

Harley and Winter watched breathlessly from their distance. The spider then straightened up before skittering towards one of the walls. It effortlessly ascended the stone before disappearing over it.

Harley turned to a stunned Winter. “Maybe this is one of Ozzie’s creatures, here to pay its respects.”

Winter nodded wordlessly, as he stared at where the spider had disappeared. They both let silence, save for the soft rustling of leaves, wash over them.

“Should we tell someone about it?” Winter finally asked.

Harley shook her head. “No. Let it be.”

Winter turned to Harley, his voice soft. “Why was it so important for you to visit Ozzie?”

Harley looked up to the night sky that was clear of clouds. Here on Crow’s Hill, with only a few street lights, the stars shone bright. “I think about the people back home a lot,” Harley said. “For all they know back there, we’re dead.” Harley shrugged. “It’s comforting knowing that maybe death isn’t the end. That there’s still life to be had–for both them, and for us.” She turned to Winter. “Is that crazy?”

Winter folded his arms, regarding her. Then, he nodded. “You’re not crazy.” He sighed. “I miss home. Being plopped on this planet, with these humans and their bizarre ways.” Winter shook his head. “It hasn’t been easy.”

Harley nudged his shoulder with hers. “We’ll figure it out together.”

Winter smiled at her. Harley realized that was the first time she remembered him smiling since they arrived in this strange world.

Winter then popped a candy in his mouth. His eyes widened in surprise. “Wow. This really is delicious.”

Harley scowled. “I told you!”

“But I think we should get some real food from the diner.” Winter looked at Harley.. “What do you want to eat? I’m buying.”

“Is it weird that I want the ghost burger?” Harley asked. When Winter turned to leave. Harley held up a hand. “But let me do one thing first.”

Once more inside the gates, Harley ran an appraising eye at rose bushes that lined the wall. Tucked inside the dried leaves, a rose in a brilliant red bloom caught her eye. She snapped the rose from the bush–but not without cursing loudly when she pricked her finger on a thorn.

She stepped to Ozzie’s headstone, pausing briefly for a moment. She then placed the rose on its cold stone, laying it next to the yellow flower.

The sentiment, the motions–they all seemed odd to her. Can you really honor someone already long gone with a simple flower? She frowned, wondering if she did it right, or if there’s a wrong way to do it. In any case, she hoped Ozzie was well, wherever he may be.

Harley rejoined Winter at the gate. Together, beneath a canopy of stars, they set off to the diner, launching into an animated discussion about ghosts as they did.