"My shoe's untied!"
"Tommy's hitting me with his sword!"
"Hey, that's my candy bar!"
"My cape keeps falling off!"
Three pirates, a princess, two cowboys, a cat, a couple of ballerinas, a vampire and what was either a dog or a spider were gathered in a loose knot around Rorschach, who stared from one to the next with arms raised cautiously out of their reach while they grabbed at him for attention.
It had all seemed so simple just minutes ago - a small group of children, giddy with the late hour and the sense of adventure afforded by their costumes, had nearly stumbled out in front of a car. He reached them just in time, nearly getting hit himself before facing off with the careless motorist. The driver had been poised to deliver a stream of verbal abuse until he'd taken a good look at the shifting inkblot face and clenched fists before him, at which point he thought better of it.
After the vehicle slunk away, Rorschach considered his job done. He'd spared a pointed "Hurm" for the wide-eyed children, turned and continued on his way.
Until he noticed the extra footsteps coming from behind him.
There were four of them - half-reverent, half-terrified, but following right behind him like so many ducklings. He stopped, they stopped; he continued, they followed. No amount of effort on his part could shake them. Even growling outright, which could normally terrify grown men, didn't deter them in the slightest.
And so he'd done the only logical thing he could, dutifully (if grudgingly) escorting them as they continued with their trick-or-treating - they were alone and potentially in need of protecting, and that's what he did. Simple.
But then one child spotted a friend with her younger brother and called them over to join them. And another group decided that having Rorschach as a Halloween escort was a pretty smart idea. Of course, being children between the ages of five and thirteen, they'd eventually devolved into the bickering cacophony which currently faced him... and there was not another adult to be seen anywhere.
They were pressing closer, and getting louder, and he was just nearing the last shreds of his patience when he saw it - Two teenagers, some small distance down the street, laughing as they egged a brownstone and then took off running.
"YOU!" A frustration-fueled shout rang through the night and a gloved hand pointed in implacable judgement.
Everyone froze - even the teens, who had a clear path to escape. An eggshell patted in moist incrimination to the ground, and he waded unhindered through the costumed crowd toward his quarry.
Redress was a simple matter - the two perpetrators were duly brought back to the scene of their crime by the scruff of the neck and compelled to explain to the bemused occupant their need to borrow a scrub brush and a bucket of water.
Justice satisfied, Rorschach turned back and braced himself to tend to the group waiting several yards behind him.
Eleven pairs of eyes, round as saucers, gazed on him in mute awe.
Nodding once, he continued down the street, leading the now-silent host of rapt children like a Noir incarnation of the Pied Piper.
Several apartments were visited in relative silence, broken only by the regular chorus of "Trick or Treat!" while he waited in the shadows. This pattern was finally broken by the princess - one Amy Evans, age eight.
"Do you really break people's fingers?" She was frowning up at him thoughtfully, her expression at odds with her pink frills and beribboned curls.
He glanced down at her. "Sometimes."
"How do you do it?" she persisted. (Not "why" - how.) "Is it hard to do? What does it sound like?"
A chorus of "eeeeewwww!"s drowned out any response he might have made, much to his relief.
That spate of questions served to break the ice, though, and he soon found himself involved in other interesting discussions.
"Is it true people put razor blades in candy apples?"
"Hnh. No actual documented cases. Suspect a ploy on the part of candy manufacturers to increase sales."
"Can I try on your mask?"
"How do you see through all that black stuff?"
"Can see fine."
"Why do people say 'trick or treat'?"
"Origins lie in combination of pagan and Christian ritual. Poor would beg for food on this night. Charity enforced with threats of demonic retribution."
"Please can I try it on?"
"Do not ask again, or will answer Miss Evans' questions."
There was a wary silence after that until abruptly he halted, causing a minor pile-up behind him. Still facing straight ahead he growled, "Mister Zielinski. Kindly pick up candy wrapper you discarded."
A pirate gulped and quickly retrieved the offending object.
A new discussion began behind him, spurred by the candy wrapper incident.
"How d'you know it's safe?"
"You heard 'im say about the candy apples."
"Yeah, but that's apples, not candy."
"But it's wrapped."
"You're s'posed to have a grown-up check it."
"Well, he's a grown-up..."
Thus, a new arrangement was forged. After every visit that gained an especially attractive treat, Rorschach would be given one to test on their behalf. To keep things fair, a different child was the donor each time. It was worth it, they reasoned, to make such a sacrifice in exchange for not having to wait until they got home to indulge.
He quickly discovered a love for peanut butter cups, and was in ready agreement with his group that the taffies with the orange and black wrappers were a disgusting instrument of evil.
They continued for a time, until they encountered another gaggle of trick-or-treaters coming from the opposite direction - a werewolf, two ghosts, two clowns, a knight and a wizard being led by a somewhat sheepish-looking Nite Owl, to Rorschach's surprise. Upon closer examination, what had initially looked like a cartoon alligator attempting to eat his partner's head resolved into an exhausted child in a dragon costume riding his shoulders.
"Nite Owl," Rorschach greeted solemnly.
"Hey, Rorschach. Glad to see I'm not the only one having an interesting night."
"Indeed. Recommend second brownstone on left, one block down. They have Mallo Cups."
Nite Owl's party murmured appreciatively.
"Good to know," he beamed. "The people three doors back behind us are giving out Clark Bars. See you tomorrow night?"
Rorschach nodded gravely. "Tomorrow."
And the two groups parted in pursuit of further treasure.
* * *
Rorschach quietly regarded the small pile on his table in the light of the rising sun. Each child had gifted him with a favored treat from their haul in thanks as they bade him farewell from their startled parents' doorsteps.
He'd never thought much of Halloween before. Now, though, he could see at least part of the appeal.
~ Fin ~