Halloween Contest 2023

It’s Coming by Sharon Johnson

            The crackle of a fallen leaf underfoot, a shot of brilliant red in an otherwise green-leafed tree, a certain crispness in the morning air—all of it could mean only one thing.

            Jenna shuddered to think of it. Not again.

            It happened every year, of course. There had never been any denying it, nothing to keep it at bay. But still. The annual ritual had come upon them so fast. Had it already been a year?

            She shook her head to shake away the image of what was to come. There was time yet. Time to enjoy outings with her grandchildren, time to have another nice dinner out. Maybe she and Peter could squeeze in a quick weekend getaway. Surely, they’d be able to do at least that, before . . . well . . . before . . .

            No, no, no, she admonished herself. Best not to think about what was to come. Best to enjoy all the fun things they could do in the few days they had remaining.

            And they did. She and Peter treated the kids to a musical at The Flynn, followed by dinner at American Flatbread.

            “Order freely,” Peter had said, and it made Jenna’s heart lurch to realize she wouldn’t be hearing those words again for a while.

            She went to the beauty salon and paid for gold highlights to frame her face. If she couldn’t be bold about what she was about to endure, she could at least be beautiful.

            She and Peter took walks along Airport Road and stood and watched sailplanes take off and land. “We’ll still be able to do this,” Peter said, squeezing her hand. “Nobody can take this away from us.”

            Jenna smiled, both to reassure Peter and to convince herself. They’d been through this before. Several times, in fact. And each time, it took ages to get over the pain and shock of it. Still, they’d managed to survive. But every year was a little bit different. Every year had its unknowns. There were no guarantees—no certainty about what was to come and, therefore, no way to shore up emotional reserves against it. Like residents of coastal towns who’d had ample warning of a hurricane but were still in shock when their rooftops blew away, each year found Jenna numb with disbelief at what had occurred.

            More leaves crackled underfoot. Oranges and yellows joined the reds blooming on the mountainsides. The Mad River Valley was a riot of color, but the vibrancy of the trees was nothing compared to the anxiety building in Jenna’s heart. It would be any day now.

            She was on the back deck, sweeping away leaves, when she turned to see Peter standing in the doorway. She didn’t need to see the envelope in his hand or read the return address of the Warren municipal offices. His expression told her everything she needed to know. The Warren annual tax bill had arrived.