This story originally ran on October 29, 2010.  This story is part of a trio of holiday stories  – you may also like Friends for Thanksgiving and Mrs. Claus and the Christmas Mistress.  All of them are “a bit” disturbing.

I threw another log into the bonfire and watched as the flames engulfed it.  The fire was off to a roaring start – just where it needed to be at this time of night.  The trick-or-treating was winding down, and the neighborhood kids would soon be gathering in my yard for the annual Halloween party.

The party was a neighborhood tradition, dating back nearly twenty years.  I was widowed at a young age, and from that point forward, made my work the focal point of my life.  I was a sixth grade teacher, and had won many awards for my work with the kids.  The Halloween party was a fun extension of my job.

I looked around the back yard to make sure everything was set up.  The lighting was at just the right level – sufficient to allow some visibility, but low enough to add spookiness to the occasion.

Pitchers of hot chocolate sat on the wooden picnic tables, as well as the main attraction for the evening – my world-famous chili.  My chili had a very distinctive taste that always made people clamor for more.

A few minutes later, Jeremy Dempsey led the first group of kids into the backyard.

“Hey, Mr. Raven.  Is the chili ready?”

“Yep, Jeremy, grab a bowl.”

“What’s in it, anyway?  My dad says it’s deer meat.”

I laughed.  “Oh, I couldn’t possible tell you my secret.  Isn’t it good enough to know that it’s delicious?”

The boy thought about pursuing the topic further, but then raced off to join his friends.

As the crowd was eating their chili, we began the tradition of telling scary tales.  I had the younger kids start out with the predictably tame stories and gradually built up to the older kids – some of whom did a pretty good job of scaring some of the youngsters.

When Steven Harper finished, it was my turn.

“Tonight I shall tell you a scary story … but a story that is very true.  Just two houses down,” I pointed toward the allegedly haunted house for effect “is the house where Old Man Harris once lived.”

“Harris was a grumpy old man of the worst kind.  If your baseball went into his yard, you wouldn’t get it back – and the cranky old man would pop out of the house and scream at you.”  Some of the older kids nodded their heads in agreement – they had experienced this firsthand.

“During the past decade, eight children have disappeared from this neighborhood – all on Halloween.  The cops always suspected Old Man Harris, but they could never find any evidence, so the elderly killing machine walked free.”  At this, the kids began to murmur amongst themselves – they knew of the abductions and knew that Harris was the Maple Street Marauder.

“Last year, twelve year old Sarah Miller disappeared on Halloween and hasn’t been heard from since.  Her friends told the police that Sarah was going to walk by the haunted Harris house on her way home – in spite of their protests.  Once again, the police could find no evidence that Harris committed any crime, and he walked free.  But this time, he would not escape justice.  Sarah’s father demanded revenge and shot Harris in the head as he walked to his mailbox.”

The kids all knew this story, so it didn’t scare them – although it made them a bit uncomfortable – setting them up for the finish.

“What you don’t know, though, is that Harris isn’t finished.  He made a deal with the devil to deliver a dozen souls.  Even though Harris is dead, the deal is not done.  His ghost must still kill four children as sacrifices to Satan.  This is the first Halloween since his death … and the next installment is due tonight.  I urge you to take every precaution and avoid the Harris house on this haunted night.”

I knew that my warning would only serve to embolden some of the older kids, who were now sure to pass by the Harris house after they left the party.  Unlike past years, I wouldn’t be able to stalk and kill them.  With Harris rotting under ground, I no longer had my scapegoat.

Perhaps the worst crime of all was that my famous chili would surely lose its special kick next year.  Tonight’s batch contained the last few morsels of Sarah Miller.