All Hallows' Peeved

By Kristen Bealer

Daria pulled the bed sheet over her head and nodded in satisfaction. She'd been strategically wearing down the material with bleach, and now there were two spots right at her eyes that looked opaque, but were actually thin enough for her to see through easily. Well, as easily as she could with uncorrected vision.

Pushing her arms through two slits on the sides, the eight-year-old grabbed her glasses and slid them on over the sheet. Much better, she thought as she picked up a pumpkin-shaped bucket.

On the other side of their shared room, Quinn was tearing frantically through her dress-up clothes box. "I was a kitty-cat last year," she muttered to herself. "This tiara is pretty, but it doesn't go with the necklace I wanna wear. And what about these wings...?"

Daria rolled her eyes--hidden by the bed sheet--and headed downstairs to find her parents in the middle of negotiations.

"...and don't eat the candy! It's for the kids, and if we run out this year then you're the one who'll have to fight some octogenarian for the last bag of ZooZoo Drops!"

"Aw, Helen, why can't I take the girls trick-or-treating this year?"

"I let you take them once, and it was a disaster. Don't you remember two years ago, when you got lost four blocks from the house?"

"We'd just moved here! And the house looked different with all those decorations on it!"

Helen crossed her arms. "You're staying, Jake. It's just safer this way."

Jake grumbled something about never having any fun, then turned to see Daria. "Great costume, Kiddo!" he exclaimed. "Real spooky ghost!"

Daria frowned, even though no one could see her face. "I'm not a ghost," she protested.

"Oh." Jake looked at her costume, thought for a few moments, and then gave up and shrugged. "Well, it's still pretty cool, whatever it is. Especially with the ghoulasses!"

He grinned, and Daria's mood lightened. "You mean my specteracles?" she asked.

Jake laughed, then went to a cabinet and started going through drawers and cupboards. "Let me get my camera. I want a picture of my girls before they head out!"

"Quinn!" Helen called up the stairs. "It's time to go!"

"I'm not ready yet!" a high-pitched voice yelled back.

"Well, we're leaving in one minute, with or without you."

There was a pause. Daria could practically see her sister looking fearfully between the door and her pile of clothes. "I'll find you later!" she finally called down.

"Quinn, you are not leaving this house on your own! You leave with us, right now, or you don't go at all!"


Camera in hand, Jake perked up. "Hey, I can take her--"

Helen glared at him and turned back to the stairs. "If you make up your mind before the Martins come by with Emily and Andrew, you can go with them," she compromised.

She opened the front door and Jake motioned for Daria to stand in the doorway. "Smile!" he said.

"Why?" she asked behind her sheet.

"Um...." He snapped the picture quickly and nodded to Helen, who followed Daria out the door before closing it behind them.

"Trick or treat!" Daria said at the first house.

"Oh, look at the little ghost!"

The "little ghost" sighed and held out her bucket. As the smiling woman dropped a piece of candy into it, Daria said a quick "thank you" and peered inside. Generic taffy, she thought with an inward groan. Tastes about as good as the wrapper.

"Hello," Helen said, handing the woman a business card. "My name is Helen Morgendorffer. If you ever need a lawyer, or feel your current lawyer is not meeting your needs, please don't hesitate to call."

The bewildered woman took the card and made a few noncommittal noises as the two walked back to the sidewalk. Daria's face was turned toward her mother, who could guess her daughter's expression without seeing it. "Mommy's workload is a little light at the firm right now, sweetie," she explained. Daria pretended not to notice the irritation lurking behind her syrupy voice. She also pretended not to hear her add under her breath, "Since the prehistoric assholes who call themselves partners think a female lawyer can't handle a little extra goddamn work."

"Here you go!" Jake said with a grin, tossing a handful of candy into each kid's bag. "Happy Halloween!"

He closed the door with a wave, sat back down on the couch, and resumed watching his horror movie. As soon as he heard Quinn coming down the stairs, he hit a button on the remote and the screen switched from a headless corpse to an infomercial about commemorative plates.

"I picked a costume, Daddy!" she said, waving a glittery wand above her head. She touched her gaudy plastic necklace with the other hand and spun in her pointed slippers so the hem of her shimmery pink dress would float around her. "Aren't I the prettiest fairy ever?"

"You sure are, sweetheart!" The doorbell rang, so Jake headed for the front door and grabbed the bowl of candy from a table in the entryway.

As soon as he opened it, the chorus of "Trick or treat!" was combined with Quinn's gasped "Oh, no!"

"Oh, look, Quinn!" Jake said with a smile. "That girl is dressed like a fairy, too!"

Quinn stared at him, incredulous. The other girl's costume was nearly identical to her own, and her father was acting like that was a good thing! Without a word, she rushed up the stairs to change.

Shrugging, Jake handed each child some candy. He started to shut the door, but stopped when something caught his eye. He stepped out onto the front porch to see that the family's trash cans had been knocked over. The garbage was spread out all over the lawn.

"Strange," he muttered as he went to clean up the mess. "You'd think all the people walking around the neighborhood would scare off the raccoons."

"Trick or treat," Daria said at another house.

"That's a very nice ghost costume," said the man who'd opened the door, "but wouldn't it be easier to see if you had some eye holes?"

"I'm not a ghost, and I can--" Daria's protest was cut off by the sound of candy hitting the bucket. She peeked inside to see a battered-looking candy bar with dust on the wrapper. I think they stopped making that brand years ago. Hooray for stale candy. She mumbled her thanks and turned to leave, but Helen was still standing at the door.

"I'm Helen Morgendorffer, attorney at law," she said, holding out her card. "Did you know that the number of lawsuits in this country tends to skyrocket during the holidays?"

"I, um, did not know--"

"It's true, and I'm available to make sure you have nothing to fear from slippery sidewalks, drunk party guests, and other liabilities during the coming months."

"Okay, thank--"

"So please feel free to contact me for any of your legal needs. Any at all!"

The shell-shocked homeowner simply nodded, wide-eyed, and closed the door.

"Mom," Daria said as they walked toward the next house, "I get that it's Halloween and all, but I think the crazy lawyer costume is scaring people a little too much."

Helen forced a laugh, but was already pulling another business card out of her pocket.

"Look, Daddy!" Quinn exclaimed. "Now I'm a princess!" The tiara perched on top of her head was pink, just like her full-skirted dress and the plastic shoes on her feet.

"You look great!" Jake said. "Now you'll be ready to go when the Martins--"

A series of odd thumps hit the door, which Jake opened with a confused look on his face. No trick-or-treaters stood on the porch, but the front of the door was covered in some kind of wet stuff that was sliding down. He leaned in for a closer look. "Eggs!"

His discovery was confirmed moments later, as three eggs flew past immediately behind him. Two of them broke spectacularly against Quinn's dress, while the third hit the side of her head and sent globs of yolk running down her hair.

"My costume!" she shrieked. "Now I have to change again and--ew--I gotta wash my hair!"

Jake wasn't listening as she ran up the stairs, trailing bits of egg and shell behind her. Instead, he was staring outside as he tried to see where the culprits were hiding.

"Very funny!" he shouted at the apparently empty lawn. "Lousy punk kids and their lousy punk pranks! You just try doing any of that again! Don't you dare mess with Jake Morgendorffer, you hear me?!"

That'll teach 'em, he decided with a firm nod. He turned to re-enter the house and slipped on a puddle of egg, landing flat on his back with a loud curse. Unseen voices giggled and jeered and, before Jake could stand up, were followed by the sound of footsteps thudding quickly away from the house.

"Trick or treat?" Daria no longer sounded certain of which she was likely to get.

"You know, those glasses ruin whatever spooky effect you're going for with that ghost costume," commented the primly-dressed woman holding a large bowl.

"Thank you for your input," Daria said dryly. As something landed in her bucket, she looked down and added, "and your toothbrush."

"You don't want all that candy to rot your teeth," the woman huffed. "Can't be too careful!"

"That's very true," Helen interjected, business card held out. "You really can't be too careful these days. And bearing that in mind, wouldn't you feel better knowing all of your legal concerns were being handled by a lawyer you can trust? In fact, if you've got a few minutes I'd be happy to sit down with you and--"

Daria reached out and tugged on her mother's hand. "Time to go, Mom," she urged. "Lots more candy and personal care tools to gather."

"My number's on that card!" Helen called over her shoulder as Daria pulled her away. "Please don't hesitate to call!"

Jake pressed his ear against the door, listening with a hand on the doorknob. The bowl of candy sat forgotten on the table next to him as he strained to hear any noise at all from outside.

At last, a grim smile spread across his face as he discerned light footsteps on the porch. He immediately swung the door open, jumped forward, and yelled, "I'VE GOT YOU NOW, YOU NO-GOOD LOUSY PUNKS!"

The preschooler in the Care Bear suit immediately began wailing. His parents tried to console him while they glared at Jake.

"Oh, jeez, kid! I'm sorry!" He grabbed the bowl of candy from the table and followed the family, handing them one handful after another as they stalked away from the door. As he reached the driveway, though, he froze. The mailbox was covered in silly string, and some of the letters in the name "Morgendorffer" had been obscured to make the box read "orgendo-er" instead.

"Gah! This has gone too far, dammit! And that's not even how you spell 'organ'!" he cried out to no one in particular. He stormed back into the house, tossing the candy bowl aside once more and slumping down into the couch.

"I bet one of those motion-sensitive alarms would do the trick," he muttered, "but I can't leave the house unprotected. Dammit, I told Helen we needed a guard dog!" Lost in thought, he didn't hear Quinn bounce down the stairs in a dainty ballerina costume, complete with ballet slippers and a tutu.

"Daddy, I have a new costume!"

"Uh huh." Jake didn't look up. "Maybe a stake-out behind the bushes. I wonder if I still have those night-vision goggles from military school?"

"Daddeeeee, you're not looking!"

Still concentrating on his strategy, Jake said, "Yeah, it's real scary, sweetheart. Good job." He tapped his fingers on his knee. "I could rig up the video camera, but then the rotten thugs might see it and steal it."

Quinn stared at her costume in horror. "Scary?" she squeaked. "I gotta find something cute!" She scampered up the stairs while Jake began sketching out a rough battle plan on a pad of paper.

"Trick or treat. I guess," Daria said, resigned.

The bored-looking teenager stared at her for a moment before he grunted, "Stupidest ghost costume I've seen all night."

Daria was sure her glare was harsh enough to be visible through the sheet. "Your unsolicited and uninformed opinion has been noted," she replied through gritted teeth. She held out her bucket.

"Oh. We're outta candy. Here you go." The teenager dropped something in that landed with a loud thunk. Daria's eyes followed it as it fell.

"A can of peas?! You've got to be kidding!"

He shrugged. "Happy Halloween."

Helen sized the teenager up and held out one of her cards. "Please pass this on to your parents," she said. "And, just so you know, I also handle defense cases involving minors. In case that information is... useful."

The teen scowled slightly at her words, but Helen responded with her most professional smile. Daria knew her mother couldn't see the look of gratitude on her face, so she reached out and gave her hand an appreciative squeeze as they walked away.

Jake peered out the front window, mostly hidden behind the curtain as he jiggled a metal can in his hand. "Let's see how those delinquents like an earful of air horn!" he muttered with a sadistic grin. "Ol' Jake's onto you now, you punks. Just try and vandalize my house again!"

As he kept his vigil, Quinn made her way to the top of the stairs and began to creep her way down. The going was slow because her legs were held tightly together by the "tail" of her mermaid costume--a severely tapered ankle-length skirt with a fin-like ruffle on the bottom. She clutched at her purple tank top covered with pictures of seashells with one hand while the other held tight to the banister as she half-stepped, half-hopped down the stairs.

Jake's body tensed as he leaned closer to the window to examine a suspicious-looking shadow across the street. Quinn was concentrating too hard to speak as she painstakingly continued her descent.

"There they--" Jake whispered before interrupting himself, "--oh, never mind, it's just a bunch of trick-or-treaters again." His eyes narrowed. "Unless that's what they want me to think!" This was said more loudly than he'd intended, startling Quinn in mid-step and causing her to lose her balance.

Fortunately, she only fell one step, but the "thud" as she landed caused Jake to whirl around abruptly, already-tense muscles tightening further in his surprise. This caused his hand to squeeze the air horn involuntarily, releasing a loud blast that reverberated in the small room and nearly deafened both Morgendorffers.

"Are you okay, sweetheart?" Jake shouted over the ringing of his own ears.

Quinn nodded and struggled to stand. The tail constricted her movements too much, however, and finally Jake had to pull her to her feet. "I don't think this costume is gonna work," she said with a resigned sigh.

"I think you're right," Jake replied kindly. "But don't worry. I bet you'll find something--what the hell?!" Oblivious to his daughter's confused look, Jake raced back to the front window to look at his car...or what little of it was still visible under all of the soap and shaving cream.

"Gah! That's it! Jake Morgendorffer is declaring war!"

"Trick or...whatever."

"Here you go, little boy!" chirped the old man at the door. He shuffled forward and tossed something into the bucket. "Neat ghost costume!"

"I'm not a boy and I'm not--" Daria broke off and peered closely at the man, from his unfocused eyes to his pink boxer shorts to his mismatched leg warmers. She suspected that it wasn't just a costume. "On second thought, never mind. Happy Halloween."

"Happy what now?" the man asked, blinking. "Who the hell are you?"

Daria took a step back, shaking her head slightly. Helen hesitated, then held out another card. Daria noticed that she had the same look on her face as the crazy man at the door.

"My name is Helen Morgendorffer, and I'm sure a sensible man like yourself would welcome legal advice on a variety of topics. For example, many people begin thinking about revising--or even creating--their will when they reach a certain age. As an attorney, it would be my pleasure to discuss your options."

The man peered at her. "I don't remember ordering a pizza."

Helen barely missed a beat. "In fact, if you have some time right now, perhaps we could start discussing the basics such as beneficiaries. I'm sure you'd like to make sure the right person receives, um, those charming platypus slippers."

"Asparagus wizard?"

"Mom, let's go." Daria pulled on Helen's hand, desperate to get away. "A will requires a sound mind, and I don't think either of you count right now."

Helen sighed, but gave up as the old man began to stick the business card in his mouth. "Okay, sweetie." After the two had returned to the sidewalk, she asked Daria, "So, what did you get in your bucket?"

Daria looked inside and groaned. "I got a rock."

Jake clutched the end of the rope as he scanned the street for any sign of pranksters. Hidden behind the shrubs in the front yard, he had the perfect vantage point to catch them in the act. "Catch them before they act," he corrected in a whisper.

The bait was set--carved pumpkins, sitting innocently under a tree in the yard and just waiting for some hooligans to come by and try to smash them. He had strewn marbles and toy cars across the driveway, ready to trip up anyone who tried to approach. As soon as that threw them off-guard, one tug on the rope he was holding would cause a huge stuffed teddy bear to swing out towards them. It was dark enough that he figured the punks might mistake it for a flying werewolf or something. If even that failed, he had rigged a net up in the tree that would fall at the slightest disturbance near the pumpkins.

"'Well, son,'" Jake murmured, doing his best John Wayne impression, "'since you haven't learned to respect your elders, it's time you learned to respect your betters.'"

Straining to hear in the dark, Jake suddenly jumped as shouts rang out nearby. "Oh, no!" he heard. "I can't keep my balance!" Other shouts joined it. "I'm falling down!" "Help me!"

Jake grinned. Phase One was in progress. He gave the rope a good yank and...nothing. He pulled again, trying to see where he'd perched the stuffed animal. Still tugging, he stepped out from behind the bushes to get a better look and was immediately smacked in the head by the falling teddy bear.

Dazed, he staggered back a few steps only to slip on the marbles and cars in the driveway. Only barely able to stay upright, he finally stumbled against a tree and steadied himself before realizing that he had just trampled the pumpkins he'd been trying to protect. Only seconds later, he also realized that meant he was standing directly under the net. He looked up just in time to see the net land on him, knocking him off-balance once again. He fell to the ground, tangled completely in the net, as laughter rang out from the kids standing where they'd been all along--watching safely from the street.

"Gah!" Something white flew across his limited vision. Toilet paper! He struggled to free himself, but only succeeded in pulling the net more tightly around himself. By the time he was able to throw it off, the kids were gone and the entire yard was covered in toilet paper.

Speechless with rage, he looked back at the house and saw Quinn standing on the porch in a charming angel costume, complete with white gown, pipe-cleaner halo, gold wings, and about three pounds of double-ply.

"Daddy!" she shrieked, snapping out of her shock. "They wrecked my costume!" She turned and ran back inside before he could suggest that a quick Charminectomy might return the costume to its former glory.

"You've ruined one life too many, you rotten punks!" he screamed at no one in particular before entering the house and slamming the door behind him.

"Okay, Daria," Helen said to her frustrated daughter. "Just one more house, and then we'll go home."

The sheet-covered head nodded, and the girl walked up to the last house. It was covered liberally in toilet paper, shaving cream, eggs, and a multitude of other household items not normally intended for exterior decoration.

She knocked, and the door opened to reveal a dark-haired young woman wearing a black skirt with an orange bodice. She looked down at Daria with an amused smirk.

Daria shrugged. "Trick or treat?"

The young woman reached into the bucket and, even though Daria could have sworn her hand was empty, dropped something inside. "Cool costume," she remarked.

Bracing herself, Daria replied, "What, you mean my ghost outfit?"

"No, I mean the 'lazy person who just threw a sheet over their head' thing. It's like a meta-costume or something."

Daria's face was practically glowing straight through the sheet. "Yes! That's it!" she said in an almost-but-not-quite exclamation.

Helen had walked up behind her daughter during the conversation. "Hello," she said, glancing at the house. "It looks like you've been having trouble with vandals. If you're thinking about pressing charges, I'd be happy to represent--"

"What vandals?" the young woman asked, twirling a hanging strand of silly string around a finger.

"I...oh. Never mind, then." Helen reached into a pocket and frowned. "I seem to be out of business cards, anyway."

As Helen led Daria away, the girl turned and called, "Happy Halloween!"

"Yup," replied the young woman, winking at her as she closed the door.

Jake stood next to the front door, fist clenched around the knob. His face looked eerily calm, but every few seconds one of his eyes would twitch or the corner of his mouth would spasm. Periodically, he would mutter something that was totally incomprehensible aside from the word "punks."

Abruptly, his expression went from unfocused to alert. His hand, acting purely on reflex, tore the door open--nearly off the hinges--as he leapt outside.

"Nefreja homma tutifu, PUNKS!!!" he screamed, arms outstretched to attack.

Helen and Daria each took a step back.

"Oh! Hi!" Jake's demeanor immediately changed to his usual upbeat self. "Did you have fun trick-or-treating, Daria?"

"Compared to the fun I just had coming home, it was delightful." Daria stepped neatly around her father while Helen finally took in the state of the house, the front yard, and the car.

"What happened, Jake?" she asked as she came inside. Seeing the growing rage on his face, she quickly added, "Never mind. I can guess." Closing the door behind her, she said, "Maybe I should start taking down some notes. If we can track down the culprits, we might stand a shot of getting some restitution--" She stopped. "--You know what? Screw it. I've had enough of law for one night." She dropped into an armchair and dug a hand into the bowl of candy.

Jake turned back toward the door, glaring and growling. The rising tide of fury was abruptly cut off, however, when Daria tugged on his sleeve.

"Would you like me to take care of the pranksters, Dad?" she asked.

In spite of his near-breakdown, Jake smiled. "That's real sweet, Kiddo," he replied, "but I've been trying to stop them all night. You should really just leave this to me."

"Are you sure? I don't mind."

He thought for a moment, then shrugged. "Okay, go ahead. Just be careful, okay?"

"Okay." Daria very carefully walked over to the door, very carefully reached out her hand, and very carefully flipped a seldom-used light switch. The front windows immediately lit up with a bright glow and Jake ran to look outside.

"" he stammered.

Daria tilted her head. "You installed those floodlights after last Halloween, after the exact same thing happened. I just figured I'd turn them on."

Jake turned back to the window, mouth hanging open. After a long pause, he finally murmured, "Thanks, Kiddo."

"You're welcome."

"I'm ready to go!" Quinn danced down the stairs, twirling as she reached the bottom to show off her ballerina tutu, purple seashell tank top, angel wings, and pink tiara. A glittery wand was clutched in her hand.

Jake looked over at her. "Great costume, Quinn! You're a..." Words failed him as he tried to decipher the mishmash of costume pieces. "...adorable!"

"Thanks!" she chirped. "Can I go trick-or-treating now?"

Daria walked past her sister and up the stairs without a word. Better get out of range before the tantrum bomb explodes, she decided.

Once she reached her room, she set down her bucket, took off her glasses, pulled off the bed sheet, and replaced the glasses. "Okay," she sighed. "Let's see if I at least got something edible tonight." She upturned the bucket and nearly dropped it as a flood of candy poured out.

Not just candy. Good candy. ZooZoo Drops. Juicy Joes. Tons of chocolate, including a few fancy imported ones. Not a trace of generic brands, ancient candy, toothbrushes, or canned goods. The rock was still there, the only reminder of her formerly dismal Halloween haul. As a storm of outraged whining erupted from downstairs, she felt the weight of the rock in her hand and smiled as she remembered the young woman's wink.

"Happy Halloween."

Thank you to RLobinske for beta-reading.