User:Posti/Bite of the Apple

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A Bite of the Apple

Author: Bob Stein

Danny waited by some bushes. There was still a good half-hour of Trick or Treating left, and he could tag along with some of the 'older' kids who were still making rounds. Well, none of them were older, but they were all bigger. As much as he hated it most of the year, this was the one night he could make use of his shortness.

Although he was 18, and had even cultivated a fairly convincing moustache, Danny looked like he belonged in elementary school. Both his parents were normal height, and his 12 year-old brother constantly harped on the fact that he was two inches taller than Danny. It made for a rough time, especially now that he was in his Senior year. No place would hire him, and the girls his age saw him as a candidate for babysitting, not as a date. He'd been on special growth hormones for months now, but they hadn't done much to help so far.

Tonight was one of the few times he could have fun and not get stared at. Darkening his moustache with eyeliner had made it all look fake, and he'd gone around with kids half his age for a couple of hours. It was stupid, really, especially since he didn't even like most of the junk he was collecting. Still, for a little while, he was just one of the kids in costume, not some midget freak to be pitied.

This was a different neighborhood than he'd tried before. The houses were older, and a lot of the lights were off. Not so many kids around, either. Trying this solo was harder, since his voice didn't match up with his looks. In a group, all he had to do was hold out his bag and let the real kids do the talking. The age limit was twelve, but getting caught would probably be more embarrassing than anything. What were they gonna do? Fine him a dozen candy bars?

A small group of bigger kids wandered by, and he straggled along behind. A couple of them were talking about something at the Middle School, which meant they were probably 13. It helped to have some other 'cheaters' in the group, even if he was fudging by six years, not one.

This new group worked out even better, because he looked like the youngest. Most of the people gave him a little bit extra, though it had hurt when one woman asked if he was one of the twelve year-old's little brother. A couple of the kids looked at him curiously, but none of them even bothered to ask his name.

They worked the whole block, finally stopping at a large, dark house set far back from the street. The light was on, supposedly a signal that the occupant had goodies waiting. Still, the kids he was with whispered amongst themselves, arguing about whether or not to go in. It was hard not to laugh. They were actually afraid the old woman who lived there was a real witch! Sometimes he was really surprised how different a kid's mind worked. Fortunately, greed won out over superstition, and they walked cautiously to the door.

The 'witch' was a fairly pleasant-looking old lady, maybe in her sixties. She was all smiles as the group clustered around to receive a handful of Tootsie-Rolls from the old mixing bowl she had by the door. Being the smallest, he got pushed to the back. That usually worked better for him anyway. He raised his bag up wordlessly, flashing his best little-boy smile at her.

She squatted down and gave him a thoughtful look. "And who are you supposed to be, little man?"

He flushed slightly, and looked nervously back at the other kids. The suit and shoes he was using for a costume belonged to his father. Just a kid playing grownup, complete with the 'fake' moustache. He started to back away, preferring to lose the candy than risk giving himself away with his voice.

A gnarled hand grabbed the sleeve of his jacket and she frowned. "You aren't a kid. What are you doing Trick or Treating at your age?"

He tried to jerk away from her, only to drop his bag of candy. "Dammit! Let go of me, lady!" He clapped a hand over his mouth, but it was too late. The other kids stared at him, and then ran off. The reality of getting caught hit him, and his eyes started to burn. Fighting back tears of shame, he gave the old woman a bitter look. "Call the cops, lady. You got a major criminal."

Here eyes softened, and she let go of his coat. "I'm sorry. You're not trying to make trouble, are you? You just wanted to fit in."

Her gentle words, intended to be caring, drove though him like a knife. Was it that obvious? All this time, he'd been treasuring the illusion of being normal, of being one of the crowd. If this old woman could see through him so easily, how many others out there knew? Did all the parents shudder at the little freak at the door?

"It's very convincing." She reached out and traced his upper lip. "Nobody else would notice, I think. It’s your eyes that give you away. So much pain."

Embarrassed and hating her pity, Danny squatted down and started picking up some of his spilled candy. "What would you know about it, lady? You never had to spend your life as an outcast, getting called a freak at school, never having any friends."

She laughed.

The reaction made him even madder. "You think it's funny, you damned bitch?" Tears started sliding down his face, and he threw the bag to the ground. "Go to Hell!" He spun to leave, only to feel her grab his arm again.

"I'm sorry." Her voice was gentle again. "I was laughing at what you said, not at you. Please, don't leave just yet." The pressure on his sleeve was released, and he turned back to look at her. She sighed. "Don't judge others by what you see, young man. I know more about the misery and pain you think you have felt than you could know in a dozen lifetimes."

Danny flushed slightly, anger fading into sadness. It was all ruined now. Not because he'd gotten caught. Because she'd made him realize that he'd only been fooling himself. There was no place he could be normal, not even on Halloween.

"Wait there a moment." She stood up and went inside the house.

He almost ran off, but automatically stooped and picked up the candy that he no longer wanted. As he gathered the last handful, she reappeared and held something out to him. A candied apple? Like the kind they sold at the State Fair. Nobody gave those out anymore. You had to have wrapped candy. Except that his mom had made them for a Halloween party they were going to tonight. An adult party. Was this old lady trying to treat him like an adult? He reached for it, only to have her draw it back and look at him seriously.

"Be honest with me. Would it be worth giving up part of your life to be normal? Would you be willing to lose ten years if you could fit in with others again?"

He was puzzled by the question, but shrugged. "Twenty-eight? Sure. If it meant that I could be normal, I'd give up twenty!"

She cocked her head to one side, smiled, and then held out the apple again. "Take a bite out of this. If you don't like it, come back next year. I'll give you some regular candy."

Still a little bewildered, he took the apple and looked at it. The red candy glaze was thick and shiny, with a faint cinnamon scent. She was watching him intently, as if daring him to eat it. Old horror stories about razorblades and poison came to mind, but he couldn't believe she'd so anything like that. Partly out of curiosity, and partly to show he wasn't scared, he took an enormous bite.

Almost too enormous. Danny struggled with the sticky covering, trying to mash the fruit and candy into a more management shape. Geeze, he felt sorta funny. Maybe it really was poisoned! He looked up at the woman in sudden alarm, only to see her smile and shut the door in his face.

"Danny!" He spun around and saw his mother coming up behind him. How had she found him? Oh, God! Had someone called her? She looked annoyed, but not angry. "Come on! I told you I have to get home so I can get ready for the party!" She grabbed his hand and started dragging him back towards the street.

Danny's mind was reeling from too much confusing input. His parents normally treated him like an adult. Why was his mother acting like this? And how come she was so strong? Something else was wrong, too. A sharp stinging came from his upper gums, and he tasted the warm saltiness of blood mix in with the candy. Spitting out the mess in one hand, he stared. He'd lost a tooth! "Mom! Look!" His voice cracked, going falsetto.

She stopped and looked alarmed for a moment, and then grinned. "Well, it's about time! You've been worrying that tooth for days now! Put it under your pillow when we get home. Maybe the tooth fairy delivers extra candy on Halloween."

The car was parked out on the street, with his little brother Delbert scowling in the back seat. As his mother opened the door for him, Danny suddenly realized that both she and the car looked a little too big. And the clothing he'd worn tonight was even baggier than before.

He climbed in automatically, noting absently that the seatbelt was sized to fit around his reduced waist. Delbert leaned forward and peered in the bag of candy. "Any good stuff, squirt?"

"Delbert! You could have gone Trick or Treating yourself this year. You leave your brother's candy alone." His mother started the car and headed down the street. "Now Danny, you be a good boy while we're gone to the party. I told Delbert to let you stay up until ten so you could watch that TV special. But I want you in bed at 10:01 with no complaints! OK?"

Danny managed a bewildered nod, and then fumbled for the overhead visor. He couldn't quite reach the flip-out mirror, but his mother saw the attempt and opened it for him.

"Your face is a mess." Glancing over for a moment, she found his upper lip with her hand and then turned back to the road as she rubbed at it.

He stared as she wiped off the eyeliner marks to reveal smooth, hairless skin. The moustache was gone! So was more than one tooth. The boy looking back at him was no more than 7 or 8 years old. But not the tiny little child he'd been at that age. He looked normal!

Eight years old. That's what she had meant! Not losing ten years of his future. He'd lost ten years of the life he'd already lived! Even as he thought that, he realized his memories were changing as well. High school was already gone, his knowledge and skills dropping from junior high, to middle school, to elementary grades. It should have frightened him, but along with the math and history went years of pain, feelings of being an outcast. The only thing that would hard to take would be having Delbert as a big brother.

Speaking of whom…. The older boy reached over the seat and grabbed Danny's bag of candy. "Whatcha got good, squirt!" Restrained by the seat belt, Danny could only shout in protest. His mother started scolding as well, unable to take more direct action while she was driving. "Cool! This looks like one of yours, mom!" Danny heard a loud crunch from the back and grinned.

-the end-