A ghost, a princess, a superhero and a Robin Hood look-a-like were ambling their way home. Trick-or Treat was winding down and all were anxious to dig into their trove of goodies. The sun was drooping low in the sky and colored the scenery in dappled orange and gold. The earthy scent of decaying leaves filled the air and their feet made a swishing sound as they kicked through the litter of fallen leaves.

Jaden was proud of his costume. Robin Hood had been his all-time hero and he’d taken hours in putting it together – especially the sheathed knife at his waist. He continually kept touching the sheath to assure himself it was not missing. Being the oldest at ten, he’d been put in charge of watching over the others in his band, and he took his responsibility seriously. His biggest concern was for Laurie Gunther – the princess and only six years old – she was constantly drifting away from the others and had to be brought back to the safety of the group. Trevor Williams at nine years was tonight dressed as a ghost and was enthusiastically imitating his role. He’d spent the evening scurrying around the others moaning in deep, anguished lamentations. The superhero – donned in a mask and form-fitting red and blue bodysuit – hadn’t revealed his identity in words, but all knew it to be Larry Hammonds by the infectious giggling he’d done over the past hour.

The evening had gone smoothly and everyone was chattering about the other costumes they’d seen or the best treats they’d received along the route. Jaden was hoping he could talk his mother into taking a picture of him and his merry men when he felt a sharp tug at his waist.

A soft gasp was followed by a shrill shriek and a thud. Laurie had snatched the knife from its sheath and upon realizing it was not a plastic toy, but a razor-sharp hunting knife, dropped it to the ground in terror.

"Laurie!" shouted Jared as he scooped up the knife and hurriedly slipped it back into the sheath. "What are you doing?"

"It’s real," she cried, still backing away. "You’re not supposed to have that! I’m telling!"

The others stiffened at the discovery, and then slowly inched their way closer to Laurie. Jared felt like he’d been singled out as a psycho killer and was now facing an angry mob.

"I wasn’t going to use it," he cried defensively. "…I just wanted to… carry it…a…like Robin Hood" He glanced at the three sets of eyes and saw his words had fallen on deaf ears. His heart was pounding and a knot of fear had hardened in the pit of his stomach.

"Let’s get home," he said, then turned and began heading down the lane. He chanced a glance over his shoulder and saw the others hadn’t budged. At first he thought they were still concerned about the knife, but a sudden chill wind and a few tendrils of mist about his feet made him jerk his head about to see what had frightened them.

It was a cloud of swirling fog. It was approaching from their right and emitted strange grinding and rumbling sounds – as if something were being created just out of sight. Before they could react, it was upon them, surrounding them with a smothering scent of honey and wildflowers. An odd sensation of warmth and calmness overcame Jared. All concerns about the knife had fled and as he stood in the middle of the lane, the previous tension in the others had also dissipated and they quickly gathered about him. What had been a sparsely wooded tract to their right had become a craggy gorge with a muted rushing of water coming from below. Spanning the gorge was an ancient-looking stone bridge. Moss clung thick to its sides and the stones appeared to be hand-hewn and lay in an arch over the gap.

"What happened?" whispered Trevor from behind his ghost sheet. "This is weird." After a moments pause, he gasped and said: "I bet this is a dream!"

Before anyone could reply, a strange voice uttering words in a foreign language could be heard approaching from the far end of the bridge.

"Utka vumma samitka koo, samitka cometkee witcha-kameeka!" The swirling fog slowly revealed a small, elflike form as it walked down the bridge. It stopped just shy of stepping on firm ground. It spied the huddled group of costumed children and went into a lively jig. Its arms and legs began lifting and flailing to the rhythm of an unheard song. He pumped his bejeweled scepter up and down like a drum major as the tiny bells on its costume jingled and tinkled.

"Comtika samitka mosita kourr, Comtika witcha-kameeka!" He began laughing and motioning for the children to approach.

"Don’t move," urged Jaden. "I don’t like this."

For a moment the others followed his command, then Laurie – who had been entranced by the elf’s song and dance shouted: "…funny clown!" She immediately broke away from the others and raced towards him. The elf frantically motioned her to advance – he seemed obsessed with getting all the children onto the bridge.

"No Laurie!" screamed Jaden. The calmness that had surrounded him was shattered and now he was again the children’s protector. Trevor and Larry were emboldened by Laurie’s dash towards the bridge and bolted after her. Jaden tried to stop them, but was easily outdistanced by the younger boys.

The elf turned and danced further up the bridge, his lower body was engulfed in the fog and he seemed to be floating in midair. ? "Comitka samitka mosita kourr, Comtika witcha-kameeka!" Again he let out a joyful laugh and motioned for the children to follow him ever further into the fog. The sun had set behind the hills and twilight began to fall, deepening the shadows and casting the area in an evil gloom.

As Jaden closed the gap between him and the other children, he helplessly watched as they scurried onto the bridge and continued to follow the elf. The further they advanced the more excited and frantic the elf became. His laughter turned wicked and an ominous red glow began to emanate from his eyes.

Jaden paused at the foot of the bridge, he knew it was a trap of some kind but he also knew he had to try and save them from the disaster that awaited them. He could no longer see the others because of the fog, but he could hear Laurie’s laughter and forced himself to move onward.

The air grew colder as he moved up the arch of the bridge. The knot of fear returned in his stomach and his resolve wavered. He was considering turning back when he heard the elf shout out an eerie phrase that echoed through the fog and across the chasm.? "KOMMA FEIDEN KAMEEKA!

There was a sound that resembled a loud snort and the entire bridge rumbled and shook. Jaden sensed what was about to happen and turned to flee. He was immediately floored by an even more violent shaking and rumbling. The deck of the bridge began to glow a deep red and the sound of heavy breathing was everywhere. The fog suddenly began to clear and he could faintly make out the forms of the other children further up the bridge. The elf was there too and as Jaden watched, he grabbed the bejeweled crown of his scepter, twisted it sharply and pulled – revealing a wicked-looking dagger.

Laurie shrieked in horror at the sight and began to flee for her life. The elf took a swipe at her, just missing her shoulder. Angrily he shouted: "KOMEEKA!" Then he dove for the edge of the bridge and grabbed onto a large brass ring that was partially embedded there.

The bridge shook again, but this time it also began to move! A giant head emerged from the far side of the bridge and with a whip-like snap the giant troll flexed its back and sent all four children flying skyward.

Jaden was lower on the troll’s back and was sent sideways, away from the troll. He was frantically looking for something to grab onto when he was seized by a giant hand. Immobilized from just below the waist, Jaden watched in terror as the white-sheeted body of Trevor sailed through the air in the opposite direction. The troll also grabbed for him but missed and the hapless nine year old fell with an anguished wail to whatever fate awaited him at the bottom of the chasm.

At the same time, little Laurie was rocketing upwards away from the troll. Her screams started faint then grew louder as she dropped like a rock. An unforgettable echo was heard as she was swallowed by the troll, and then abruptly ended as its rocky jaws slammed shut. While all this was happening, Larry the superhero in red and blue had evaded the initial wrath of the troll. He landed halfway down the chasm in a pool of stagnant water. The splash broke his fall, but also winded him. He managed to crawl out onto a rocky ledge and lay there gasping for breath. Unfortunately, his gasping caught the troll’s attention and was met by a massive, slamming foot that marked the end to Larry Hammonds Halloween and his life.

This left Jaden to face his demise at the hands of the troll. Hanging upside down, he was steadily lifted till he too was about to be swallowed by the troll’s gaping maw. But surprisingly, Jaden was not merely dropped to his death. Instead, the troll seemed to be toying with him, perhaps because of his resistance to join the others on the bridge. Jaden was shocked to see the troll’s wriggling tongue snaking his way. He didn’t know if it would help, but he grabbed for the knife at his waist and began slashing at whatever he could reach. He felt a sharp tug followed by a spray of putrid blood. The result was immediate. Jaden was flung with great force across the chasm and into the woods beyond. He landed heavily in a tangle of brush and vines. His Robin Hood costume’s earthy colors concealed his presence and he remained motionless as he watched. The troll did not seem interested in following. As for the elf, he began chattering to the troll as if discussing the turn of events. Finally, the troll pointed into the chasm where Trevor had fallen. The elf was ecstatic. He unfurled a long-flowing cape from behind his neck and with a grin - that exposed a mouth full of blood-stained teeth - raised his dagger over his head and leapt into the chasm to feed.

Jaden lay there, unable to fathom what had happened. He lay frozen in fear till daybreak. In the morning light, he could see that the chasm and the troll were gone. There was no sound of wicked laughter or the weird language of the elf. He warily untangled himself from the vines and weeds and limped his way back to the lane that led home.

Home… where he’d never forget the mysterious chatterings of the elf; the horrors of the troll bridge and where he’d forever relive the deaths of three children he’d vowed to protect.