In Which My Own Costumes Betray Me

A kid dressed as a nun and a kid dressed as a witch and another kid dressed as a clown. They sat at a folding table playing cards. They asked me if I wanted to play.

Writing by Maggie Nerz Iribarne
Art by Lauren Swain

In Which My Own Costumes Betray Me

I dropped the candy sack by the door. The makeup itched my skin. I stumbled into the darkened kitchen, grabbed a towel, wetted it, wiped off some of the fake blood. I didn’t want to look in the mirror. 

Why’s that? 

Embarrassed. Parker and Nora and everyone else went to Matt’s. I insisted on trick-or-treating. We used to have such a ball. I love-loved Halloween. Everything about it. The candy corn and the decorations. The- everything. 

Keep going.

All the kids were in for the night. I should have headed over to Matt’s, or texted someone. The house was so dark. There was just that light over the stove. I couldn’t remember where Mom went- no note on the counter or anything. I felt very, very-

It’s okay to cry.

 I know that. 

You felt very?

Alone. Nothing was the same. Mom was always out. Everyone at school talked about college and careers and stuff. I just want, wanted to be a kid again, to be together.

But that’s not possible anymore.


Tissue? Take your time. Ready to continue?

I was so tired. I tried to flip on the stair light but it didn’t work. I made it to the upstairs hallway. All the rooms were open. We usually keep them closed. I heard a baby crying. I thought to turn around, run away, but I couldn’t. I went to the sound coming from my parents’ room. 

What was it?

I don’t like to say it again.

Take your time.

A baby in a teddy bear costume-exactly like my very first costume- was on the floor in there. She wouldn’t stop crying. I reached to pick her up but she crawled under the bed. I dropped to my knees and looked underneath. All I could see were her red eyes, her face surrounded by fake bear fur, her open screaming mouth.  I ran into the guest room. 

What did you find there?

A kid dressed as a nun and a kid dressed as a witch and another kid dressed as a clown. They sat at a folding table playing cards. They asked me if I wanted to play. I didn’t answer. The witch said, Some people are born bad. The clown said,  Some jokes aren’t funny.  I froze in the doorway. The nun stood up and walked toward me, her outstretched hand reached for my head. Her nails were long, yellowed. She said, May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.

Didn’t you once dress up as a nun, a clown, and a witch?

Yes. What does it matter? It’s just fun. To dress up. Ask for candy. 

Go on.

The last door’s light shone out into the hall. I didn’t want to go any further. The clown grabbed my arm and pulled at me. She laughed, stuffed my mouth with Junior Mints. 

Your favorites?

I gagged on them. She pushed me into my own room and slammed the door. 

Yes? What was there?

Zombies everywhere, pointing, saying, Some things can’t be fixed! You’ll never be little again! 


Dad and Casey. They came out of the mirror. They motioned toward me. So many times since the accident I’d thought how much I’d like to see them again, how much I wanted to say sorry.

You made a mistake. So what?

I closed my eyes. I felt cold air on my ears and ice fingers on my shoulders. They said, they said-

It’s okay.

It’s not! It’s not okay I grabbed the steering wheel. It’s not okay I thought it would be funny to scare everyone that time. Nothing’s okay!

Just say it. Say once more what they said.

Sometimes – sometimes dead is better. That’s what they said.

Can you say it louder? I can’t hear your whispers.

Sometimes dead is better! 

Mmmmm. Yes. What happened next?

I don’t know. I-I came here, I guess. 

Good work. I’ll get you something to drink.

If I’d just done things differently, maybe-

Drink this.

Now you’re a vampire? Like me in fourth grade? What kind of? Who are you?

Calm down. Don’t be frightened. Drink.

No! No! I don’t want – What the hell is that?

Keep still, Jamie. Accept it. You must drink this, you must. Drink and you’ll feel so much better, like a little girl all over again.

About the Author

Maggie Nerz Iribarne is 54, lives in Syracuse, NY, writes about witches, cleaning ladies, priests/nuns, struggling teachers, neighborhood ghosts, and other things. She keeps a portfolio of her published work at

About the Artist

Lauren Swain is an artist and musician obsessed with noticing highlights in the parade of experience and capturing them for the benefit of others. Born and raised in Chicagoland, she escaped to higher and brighter elevations to earn her BA in Film and Psychology at the University of Denver in the 80s. She produced a series of multilingual videos to help newcomer refugees adjust to US schools and health systems and now provides organizing, communications, and outreach services for environmental and social justice organizations. 

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