“Come on, Ricky. We’re going for a ride!” Ricky heard his mother call from the kitchen. Good! Ricky thought. He was tired of playing with his cars and trucks and tractors and trains. He’d run out of ways to have them crash, anyway.
Ricky’s mother appeared in the den and Ricky looked up to see her smiling at him. He pushed himself up from the floor and ran over to her for a hug.
“There’s my big boy,” his mother said. “Here, put on your coat.”
“Don’t need it,” Ricky said and pulled away.
“Come on now, honey. It’s cold outside. We don’t want you catching cold.”
Ricky looked at his mom while she struggled to get him into his coat without any help from him.
Doesn’t look cold, he thought, seeing the sun streaming in the window.
“How do you catch it?” he asked his mother.
“Catch what?” she answered, taking his hand and starting for the door.
“Cold,” he said, but his mother wasn’t listening. She was rummaging around in her purse like she always did just before going out the door.
Ricky stood on the front porch waiting for his mom to lock the door. It was cold, even though the sun was shining. The wind was making a whooshing sound in the colorful trees, and red and yellow leaves were skittering across the lawn. Something white flew up towards the porch making a crackling sound and Ricky backed up into his mother’s hip and reached for her hand.
“Okay, honey, here we go,” his mother said.
Ricky watched the white thing settle back on the front walk. It was just an old newspaper.
Ricky crawled into the back seat and up into what his mom called his ‘special seat.’
“Aren’t you a good boy,” his mom said.
And I’m a good climber, Ricky thought.
“Here we go,” said his mom, backing out of the driveway.
As they drove off Ricky noticed that the neighbors had big orange pumpkins on their porches and steps, just like the one they had on their porch. But he and his dad had made their pumpkin smile. Some of the pumpkins Ricky saw as they drove along had scary faces. He didn’t like that.
“There’s a bull yard stop,” Ricky said, pointing to a round, red sign on the corner as his mother slowed and stopped.
“I see it,” she said, looking to one side and then the other before she started going again.
As they drove through the intersection Ricky looked at a house on the opposite corner and gasped. There was a ghost standing right in the middle of the lawn waving its arms and swaying back and forth. Ricky wanted to tell his mom, but he was so scared he couldn’t say anything. He turned his head as far around as he could and watched the ghost disappear behind them. Ricky wondered how his mother could have missed it, but then he remembered how she was always saying, ‘Darn, I missed my turn,’ so maybe her eyes weren’t as good as his.
“Here we are,” his mom said, as she parked the car next to a big grey and green building. There were lots of cars parked next to the building and Ricky’s mom held tight to his hand as they threaded their way through the cars and across the parking lot to the building’s entrance. Ricky was startled by a loud cackling and looked up to see three black crows hopping along the fence next to the walk. They looked like little magicians to Ricky and he watched them carefully to see what tricks they might have up their sleeves.
When they got in the building, Ricky’s mom stopped to look around. Ricky looked around, too.
Ricky pulled on his mom’s hand to get her attention. “Mom, Mom, this supermarket doesn’t have any food,” he said to her.
“Oh, honey,” she said glancing at him, “This isn’t the supermarket. This is the Health Department.”
Ricky squinted his eyes and looked around again. He’d heard the word ‘health’ before and it seemed to him that he didn’t always like what was connected with that word, like broccoli, for example.
Ricky’s mom seemed to figure out what she wanted, turned and started walking down a hall. It seemed to Ricky as if it were getting darker the further they went. He looked up at his mom to make sure she knew what she was doing. There were signs with arrows pointing the way and she followed the signs, so Ricky figured she did. Finally, they came to a room where a lot of people stood in line. Ricky and his mom got in line behind them. Ricky looked up at the person in front of them. It was a woman wearing a long, black coat, a thick scarf, and a knitted, wool hat. Ricky tried to see her face, but her back was turned. He did see her hands. They had, long, red nails. She could be a witch, Ricky thought. He squeezed his mother’s hand. She looked down and smiled at him.
Ricky was restless. He was about to tell his mother that he wanted to go home, when he heard a clack, creak, clack, creak coming up behind them. He jerked around and saw an old man shuffling towards them. He was using what looked like a cane, but Ricky looked closer and saw that the foot of the cane had claws. Ricky scooted up as close as he could get to his mom. He said, “Mom?”
“Yes dear,” she said.
But Ricky couldn’t say anything because the man with the claws was standing right next to them. The man saw Ricky staring at him and smiled. Ricky hid his face in the folds of his mother’s dress.
Finally, he and his mother were shown to a room off to the side. There was a man standing there next to the room. He was carrying a bag with a bottle in it. Tubes went from the bottle up to the man’s nose. Ricky pulled on his mother’s hand.
“Mom, why does that man have tubes in his nose,” he whispered.
“That’s oxygen,” she whispered back. “He needs it to help him breath.”
Help him breathe? thought Ricky. He must be an alien.
He was about to ask his mother if the man was a dangerous alien when she said, “Okay, Hon, it’s our turn,” and led him into the room.
There was a woman in a clean, white dress in the room. She had on a white hat.
Ricky pulled down on his mother’s hand. “Who’s that?” he asked.
“That’s the LPN,” said Ricky’s mom.
Ricky had no idea what an ‘Elf peon’ was, but he didn’t like the look of her.
The LPN was sitting at a small table. It had little bottles and little plastic packages on it. There was something about it that made Ricky squirmy. He scrunched up close to his mom and said, “Mommy, I wanna go home.”
Ricky’s mother leaned over, took Ricky by the shoulders, and said, “We’re going to get flu shots, Honey, so we don’t get sick this winter.”
“I don’t wanna flew shot,” Ricky said, glancing at the nurse woman.
She smiled at Ricky and said, “Don’t you want to show your mommy what a brave boy you are?”
“No,” Ricky said.
“Come on now, Honey. It’s just a little stick. It won’t hurt,” his mother said.
“Yes it will,” said Ricky, reflexively rubbing his upper arm where he remembered getting the shot for something called chicken pockets.
“You get it for me,” Ricky told his mother.
“I already had mine, Honey.”
Ricky’s mom pushed Ricky towards the nurse and he saw that she already had a sticker thing in her hand.
“Which arm do you want to give me?” asked the nurse.
Ricky’s eyes went wide and his mouth fell open. She wants one of my arms? He wanted to keep both his arms so he could drive a truck when he grew up.
“Here, let’s do the left arm,” said his mother.
Ricky wanted to squeeze his eyes shut, but he was afraid of what the nurse might do to him if he wasn’t looking, so he turned his head away and looked at her sideways.
The nurse pinched his arm, but she wasn’t very good at it and it didn’t hurt any where near as much as when Lizbeth Dowdy did it at preschool.
“There we are. You’re all through,” said the nurse.
A sense of relief washed over Ricky. It was over, it didn’t hurt – not much -- and he hadn’t even cried. He felt very brave.
“Here you are young man,” said the nurse, and handed Ricky a lollipop. “I bet you’ll get more candy when you go out trick or treating later,” she said.
Trick or treating, thought Ricky. I forgot all about that. And he smiled.
“Can we go home now, Mommy? Ricky said.
Outside, Ricky noticed that it had gotten cloudy and it felt colder. He was happy to get in the car, climb into his special seat, and have his mom put a blanket on his lap. He felt a little tired. He must have dozed, because the next thing he knew, his mom was slowing to make the bull yard stop and turning onto their street. Ricky noticed that the ghost wasn’t on the neighbor’s lawn anymore.
“How about a little nap, then you can put your costume on,” said Ricky’s mom. Ricky didn’t argue.
“Want me to carry you?” Asked his mom.
“I can do it,” Ricky answered. He was feeling pretty grown up after what he’d been through. He held his mother’s hand and trudged up the stairs to his bedroom.
Ricky climbed in his bed; his mother removed his shoes and pulled his blanket up to his chin. She leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek. She felt warm and soft and he liked the way she smelled.
Outside Ricky’s window three miniature magicians – about the size of crows – sat on a tree limb watching Ricky’s mom tuck the boy in for his nap and waiting for her to leave. The ghost, the witch in black, the claw foot man, and the alien waited below for the magician’s signal. You could just hear the alien’s raspy breathing over the sound of the wind whistling in the trees.