An original Halloween story to read aloud to your children Story by Laura Ruby • Illustrations by Marc StopeckIllustrations by Marc Stopeck
In a small town, on a quiet block lined with trees, there lived a grumpy, grouchy, cranky old woman named Miss Crabapple. This wasn't her real name, of course. Until the day her beloved sister ran off to join the circus, she was called by another name, the name her parents gave her. But she was so angry with her sister-and so crabby to everyone else-that the townspeople began to call her Miss Crabapple. And so, over the years, Miss Crabapple's real name was forgotten. Even Miss Crabapple couldn't remember it, nor did she want to.
"I hate everything and everyone," Miss Crabapple said, as she shuffled out onto the porch to glare at the children scrawling with chalk on the sidewalk. She pointed at a flower one of the girls had drawn. "What's that supposed to be?" she called. "A stick bug?"
The child looked up at Miss Crabapple. "It's a daisy."
"That's no daisy! I know a stick bug when I see one," said Miss Crabapple. "And I don't want them in front of my house. Now shoo!"
Miss Crabapple was especially crabby because Halloween was coming. Though it was rumored that Miss Crabapple was a witch, it wasn't true. Witches, as everyone knows, love Halloween. Miss Crabapple hated it. All those ridiculous costumes! All that obnoxious begging! Trick or treat, smell my feet!
Miss Crabapple was well known for her treats. One Halloween she gave out fistfuls of cherry stems. Another holiday she gave out old chicken bones. And once she passed out batches of the junk mail that piled up in her sitting room.
This Halloween, Miss Crabapple was planning her best trick yet. Not candy, but candy wrappers. Wrappers that still smelled of the delicious chocolate that was once inside them, and now was inside of Miss Crabapple. "This will teach those greedy little goblins!" Miss Crabapple told herself.
On Halloween Day, Miss Crabapple sat in her front room waiting for the first group of trick-or-treaters to arrive. She had been sitting for only a few moments when the doorbell rang. Clutching her bucket of wrappers in one hand, she threw open the door with the other, a wicked grin on her wrinkled face. But instead of a gaggle of costumed children, a small, gray cat sat on Miss Crabapple's porch, gazing up at her with the most peculiar orange eyes.
"Who's playing tricks?" yelled Miss Crabapple. She waved at the cat. "Shoo!" she said, and slammed the door.
She had just set her bucket down when the doorbell rang again. Frowning, Miss Crabapple shuffled back to the door and opened it.
"Meow," said the little gray cat, who was now sprawled out on the porch as if it belonged there.
"Shoo!" said Miss Crabapple. The cat yawned.
Miss Crabapple closed the door and went to her sitting room to sulk. What was the point of a good trick if there weren't any grabby little children expecting a treat?
Ding-dong. Miss Crabapple, crabbier than ever, ran from the couch to the door as fast as her old legs could carry her. "Gotcha!" she said, as she flung open the door. But there was no one to get. Except for the cat, who was now busily cleaning her ear.
"Will you shoo already?" said Miss Crabapple in exasperation.
The cat stared at Miss Crabapple with her pumpkin-colored eyes. "No," it said.
"Now you listen to me. ..." Miss Crabapple trailed off as she realized that the cat had actually answered her. But no, she thought. Cats don't talk. And that's what Miss Crabapple said out loud: "Cats don't talk."
"Well, not to you, apparently," said the cat. "Are you going to let me in or do I have to stand here all day?"
Her old heart pounding, Miss Crabapple shut the door with a bang. She put a hand up to her forehead. Perhaps she was coming down with a fever.
The bell rang for a fourth time, and Miss Crabapple jumped. She turned and opened the door just a crack. "Trick or treat!" came the shout. Miss Crabapple sighed with relief. She grabbed her bucket and opened the door. This time, however, the porch was empty. Even the cat was gone.
"I have had enough of these tricks!" cried Miss Crabapple, opening the screen door.
"Gotcha!" said the little gray cat, as she scooted into the house. Miss Crabapple dropped her bucket in surprise.
The cat sniffed at the candy wrappers now spilled on the floor. "Didn't you save any for the kids?"
Miss Crabapple wondered if she was going crazy.
"Candy," said the cat, patiently. "Why did you eat all the candy?"
"Oh. That," Miss Crabapple said, clutching her collar. "The kids don't deserve it. They're all so greedy."
The cat looked at the pile of wrappers. "The kids are greedy?"
"You're just a cat," said Miss Crabapple, wondering if she had any aspirin. "What do you know?"
The cat's eyes glowed in the fading light of the afternoon. "I know your real name."
Miss Crabapple fell into one of the overstuffed chairs. "You're some kind of witch, aren't you? Or a ghost!"
"Actually, I'm just a cat." The little animal paused. "But I'm also your sister."
"What?" said Miss Crabapple.
"That's not possible! My sister ran off. ..."
"To join the circus," said the cat. "I became the magician's assistant. For a while life was grand. Then one day that magician pointed his wand the wrong way and poof! Four paws, nine lives, end of story."
Miss Crabapple stared at the cat. "You left me all alone."
The cat bowed her head. "I know. I'm sorry. Do you think you can forgive me?"
Miss Crabapple sniffed and turned away. Her heart, which had grown small and hard over the years, thumped painfully in her chest. She had been happy once, hadn't she? But that was so long ago.
The doorbell rang. Miss Crabapple gathered up her candy wrappers and shuffled to the door with her bucket. But when she opened the door and saw all the children dressed as ghosts and princesses and bunny rabbits, she realized she wasn't up for any more tricks.
"I'm sorry," Miss Crabapple said. "I seem to have run out of candy."
Instead of the cries of disappointment that she had expected, one of the smallest children said, "Look at the kitty!"
Miss Crabapple turned and saw that the gray cat had managed to put one of the candy wrappers on her head like a little paper hat, much to the children's amusement.
"Can we pet her?" they asked.
"Well, yes," said Miss Crabapple. She reached down, lifted the small cat and opened the screen door. The children gathered around and scratched the cat, who purred with contentment.
"I didn't know you had a cat," said one of the children.
Miss Crabapple smiled for the first time in years. "She was gone for a while. But now she's back."
"She's so sweet, Miss Crabapple."
The cat purred even louder, and whispered something quietly into Miss Crabapple's ear. Miss Crabapple nodded at the children. "Enough with that Miss Crabapple stuff. Call me Daisy."
Laura Ruby is a Chicago-based children's author and her most recent book, Lily's Ghosts, is published by HarperCollins. Visit her Web site at www.lauraruby.com.