Every year it defeated them, squatting up on the hill like a great beast, waiting to gobble you up. A terrifying, hulking mass of bricks and windows; of crooked turrets and thick, forbidding forest encircling its haunches.
At Halloween dares were issued, bets were placed, challenges cried, but no-one ever did it, no-one even came close. All the children were frightened and fascinated by the place, telling stories of monsters and witches and spirits.
But Sam was the class adventurer, the daredevil. He never said no to a challenge and never, ever backed down from a dare. So when Sarah-Jayne Reynolds from Year 6 dared him to go trick or treating to the house on the hill, there was never any doubt that he’d accept.
Besides, he’d always wanted to meet a monster in real life.
His party was carefully selected for their bravery, their tenacity. They worked the street extorting chocolate, sweets and coins from indulgent adults. Jack was a skeleton, Ben a pirate. Jessica dressed as bacon and Sam? Well Sam was a cowboy, of course.
The last house on the brightly lit, pretty little street was Ben’s house. Last stop here, a final bastion between them and the long, dark trudge up the hill into the unknown.
“Trick or treat!”
“You all look wonderful - you’re a very scary skeleton Jack. Sam what a brave cowboy you are.”
Their buckets rattled with handfuls of Cadbury’s roses, wrappers glinting colourful in the streetlight.
And to their left the house on the hill loomed high, a black, crooked shadow in the silver moonlight. Sam paled, then his expression grew determined. He led his little party back onto the street. They were ready.
“Where do you think you lot are going?”
The party didn’t look around.
“There’s one more house to go,” said Sam stubbornly, pointing at the house on the hill.
“You don’t want to go up there, Sam. It’s dangerous. Come back inside.”
Sam stuck out his chin defiantly “I’m not afraid of monsters.”
“There are no monsters up there, Sammy. Just drunks and druggies and very bad men. You stay away. Besides, I have treats for you all - what do you say to some hot blackcurrant and a toffee apple each?”
The group paused.
It was Ben who broke first. Just a tiny step towards the front door, but it was enough. A second later Jessica joined him and the pair hurried inside. With an apologetic look back, Jack was next.
Sam looked up the hill. He never, ever backed down on a dare.
But it was cold out here and the house looked darker than ever. Ben’s mum was probably right. There were no monsters. It would be a wasted journey and he’d miss out on his toffee apple. He wasn’t sure Sarah-Jayne from year 6 was worth that.
With a sigh of regret, Sam turned towards warmth and safety.
And as the children trooped back into the rosy glow of Ben’s mum’s house, their courage defeated, their dares undone, a tall shadowy figure gazed sadly down from the house on the hill. Peering out through a jagged, broken window. It picked up its prepared basket of treats and toys in one clawed, hairy hand, untouched again for another year.