They were coming.
Matt picked something up into his fist and held his breath as they reached his gate. There were four of them – a witch, a vampire, an alien, and a Kim Kardashian. Their little faces looked up at his old house and saw him silhouetted in the window. They ran, Halloween goodie bags flapping against their legs.
The former magician let out his breath and let the packet of Skittles fall from his hand. Of course they hadn’t called. He had seen to that.
When he arrived here, twenty years ago, he had wanted no visitors. The town knew who he was, so he used that. The removal of one screw from the top hinge made the gate list enough to creak when opened. He had bats flit between his chimneys (they were crows, attracted by plates of grain pushed through the skylight, but no-one got near enough to find out). The simple moving of a mirror in the garden made his garage sometimes visible from the road, sometimes not. He drove a hearse, with the curtains drawn.
Children called anyway, out of curiosity or for a dare, so one evening, thanks to a very black cloak and a dimly-lit porch, his disembodied head answered the door. After that he was left alone, to his loneliness.
Once he had been Matthias the Magnificent – there is no recorded instance of a magician with a name like Alex the Adequate – and with My Glamorous Assistant Gina, his girlfriend since school, he had travelled the country, slowly building a reputation. He stood out by the unusual twists to his tricks – pulling a hat from a rabbit, coughing up a sword, burping fire. As his fame grew, so did his ambition and the riskiness of his feats. He tied himself to a subway line, levitated across a motorway, appeared on the roof of a moving bus.
Then two terrible things happened on the same day. He nearly drowned while escaping from a barrel pushed over a waterfall, and Gina left him.
It was a mannequin in the barrel, of course, while he waited safely under the water beneath, but the barrel landed on his head and knocked him unconscious. He came to, struggled to just below the surface, recovered his composure and emerged smiling to the applause of a huge crowd and the cold fury of Gina.
“You’re going to kill yourself one day,” she said, “and I’m not going to help you do it.”
So she left, and the joy left with her. He drifted listlessly through several years of soulless shows, until one day he walked into a railway tunnel and did not emerge after the train sped through. When people ventured in they found a cat which looked at them and then seemed to utter the words “Matthias has retired. Please leave him alone”.
He moved to this small town and hid away from the world. Too well, he now realised, when even Amazon drivers would come only as far as the gate.
That gate now creaked open.
He watched a hooded figure walk up the drive, a sword protruding from its chest. He opened the door.
The figure lifted the hood. “Trick or treat,” said Gina.
Matt flicked his wrist and a bunch of flowers appeared in his fist.
Gina rolled her eyes. “I should have remembered who I was talking to,” she said.
Matt looked down at the sword. “It’s a rough neighbourhood,” he said.
“This is fancy dress,” said Gina. “I’m a character from Game of Thrones.”
Gina shrugged. “From what I’ve heard, any of them,” she said. “Aren’t you going to invite me in?”
Matt held the door wide. Gina walked in to a warm, well-decorated hallway. Matt saw her look of surprise. “Were you expecting cobwebs and a talking skull?” he asked.
“Pretty much,” admitted Gina. “I hear Matthias the Magnificent is Havisham the Hermit these days.”
“Where do you hear that?” asked Matt.
“On this town’s Facebook page,” said Gina. “They have a whole section about you. They say you sour milk and make the ducks in the pond swim in circles.”
“Milk sours itself,” said Matt, “and the pond is circular. What are the ducks to do?”
“I think the town actually likes having you here,” said Gina. Matt found himself curiously proud.
“And what brings you here?” he asked.
Gina looked embarrassed. “I recently retired,” she said. “After we split I went back to college, did accountancy, and I’ve had a really good life. But I’ve never stopped thinking of you. It’s been like, like –“
“Being sawn in half?” said Matt.
Gina laughed. ”Yes,” she said, “though not as much fun. So I googled you, and here I am.”
Matt sighed. “I was an idiot back then,” he said. “I didn’t recognize real magic.”
Gina looked into his eyes. “And now?”
Matt handed her the flowers he still held in his fist. “Smell them,” he said.
Gina bent over them, then looked up in surprise. “They’re real,” she said. “How-?”
Matt stepped to one side, revealing an empty vase on a shelf behind him.
“I knew it was you walking up the drive,” he said. “I’ve never forgotten your walk. I’ve never forgotten anything about you.”