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Elder Brother — Sadie Maddock

The children scampered up the sidewalk, avoiding the cracks and crevices, but paying no mind to their mother’s back. The youngest, Mopsie they called her, stumbled on the uneven pavement, but caught herself on her brother’s arm. She quickened her pace to take the lead, smiling with the thrill of the evening. She arrived at the foot of the steps a few paces before the other kids, but paused so she wouldn’t have to face the house alone. Gil shouldered her aside as he dashed up the steps to the porch.

“You snooze you lose. Only candy corn left for the last one to the bowl,” he shouted back to Mopsie.

“But I don’t want candy corn. I don’t want it,” she sniffled, standing lost at the bottom of the steps. But Finny, her champion, grabbed her hand and pulled Mopsie along with him. His gown dragged as he leaped up the stairs, so he grabbed the bottom and hoisted it above his knees.

“My dearest Mopsie shall have nothing but chocolate, befit of such a gallant knight that she is,” he said. Mopsie laughed and waved her wooden sword in affirmation. Last week when Mopsie was crying, Gil told her that she needed to dress up as a damsel in distress. Finny, though, had come to her rescue right away, saying “It is I that shall be the damsel in distress. Mopsie must be the knight that will rescue me. And you Gil, you will be the loyal steed for her to ride.” Though Gil refused, Finny had stayed true to his word, donning mother’s dressing gown and pinning a flower in his hair.

The motley group formed a semicircle around a skeleton sitting in a chair, holding a grand wooden bowl, on the porch of a house they had never entered. The faint glow from behind the curtains combined with the flickering jack o’ lantern light played shadows upon their faces and illuminated the cobwebs strewn about the porch.

“I’m glad there aren’t people out,” Mopsie said, but her brothers weren’t paying attention. “I don’t like it when there are people out.”

Gil pounced on the bowl, shoving careless handfuls of candy into his pockets because his bag was already overflowing. He was down the steps and dancing in the street before anyone else had time to claim their bounty.

“What’s it say?” Mopise asked Fin as she pointed to a sign taped to the skeleton’s ribcage.

“All ye who doth dare to venture upon this porch and taketh from this here bowl must be wary and heed doth warning. Taketh only one piece of candy or beware!” He jumped at her, stomping his feet and waving his arms. She shrieked, but her squeals quickly gave way to giggles.

“But Finny,” she said. “There’s only two words.” She held up two chubby fingers.

“Well there, smarty pants. You asked me what it says, didn’t you?” Finny tickled her ‘til laughter turned to pouting, and he relented.

“What does it say for real, Finny?”

“Alright, you got me. It says ‘one piece.’” To prove his point, he carefully selected a choice bit of chocolate from the bowl and skipped down the steps after Gil, Fred, and Nelly.

Alone on the porch, Mopsie shifted nervously from foot to foot. She peered over the edge of the bowl and grabbed a piece of chocolate. Glancing at her siblings, she saw that no one was paying her any mind, so she reached for a second piece.

Mopsie was about to put it in her pillowcase when she noticed the skeleton staring at her. She made herself look up into the empty black sockets. She knew it wasn’t real; it couldn’t do anything to stop her; it probably wasn’t looking at her anyway. She reached for her pillowcase again, but paused. The sign on the skeleton’s ribcage drew her attention, and though she couldn’t read it, she replayed Finny’s words: one piece. She looked up from the sign into the empty eyes, then back, again and again, transfixed.

“Mopsie!” Gil shouted, and the others chorused. “We’re leaving.”

The panicky feeling arose in her chest as her breath quickened and her eyes teared up. If it was just Finny waiting on her she would have protested, but with Gil there, and Nelly passing her silent judgement, Mopsie didn’t dare. She stared into the skeleton’s eyes one last time before dropping the second piece of chocolate back into the bowl.

She scampered down the steps to join the rest as they frolicked and tousled their way down the night street. A siren sounded in the distance, and Finny hallooed to join the cry. Mopsie watched the red and blue lights play across the pavement several blocks down. She forsook skipping for running as she struggled to keep up with her siblings.