Stump Kid

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Zeke doesn’t want to visit the stump, but I say we have to. Javier’s okay with it, because Javier’s okay with everything. And it’s really his fault anyway, for picking such a creepy Halloween costume. I mean the mask is fucking cool, but adults won’t feel that way.

So an hour before sunset we’re here: in a clearing surrounded by scrubby junipers, staring at a stump sticking out of the dirt. I’ve never been here before, but I had Ariyah text me a picture so I know it’s the right one. I walk up to the stump, tap four times, and sit down in front of it.

Zeke whispers, “This is stupid,” but I can tell he’s afraid so I don’t say anything.

After a few minutes, the stump kid is there. He comes up out of the woods so quiet we don’t notice him doing it. He’s strangely pale and kinda unnatural looking. But you come to the stump kid for a favor, not a friend, so who cares?

“How can I help you?” Stump kid perches on the stump, eyes locked on mine. It’s weird as hell but I’m not worried because I knew what I was getting into. 

“We need a fourth tonight. For trick or treating.”

Zeke moans behind me and I know he’s freaked that we’re breaking the first rule of stump kid: stay the hell away from him at night. But those rules are bullshit. Stump kid’s just a kid with minimal parental supervision who hangs out in the wood a lot. 

“Trick or treating?” 

I nod. I’m not gonna be embarrassed about it. 

“Zeke and I are too tall. If it’s just us and Javier, no one will give us candy. We need someone else who’s kid sized.”

I don’t say the unspoken part: stump kid makes shit happen. If he’s with us, no one will think we’re too big. Which isn’t fair anyway because we’re barely in 7th grade and before that it was COVID and none of the good houses were open. 

“You want me to accompany you? All night?”

 I can tell he feels like it’s a big ask. Javier is shifting nervously behind me. 

“Yeah, just for tonight. You were probably going out anyway. So just, like, go with us.”

Stump kid looks me up and down. I don’t move, barely breathe. It almost feels like he’s going to say no. 

“Alright. But I want half.”

“Cool,” I say, because it’s not really a big deal. We can get candy whenever; it’s about the experience. 

“I will meet you by the library.” Stump kid smiles at me—it’s a little creepy, but I smile back. “In an hour.”


I nod, ignoring Zeke’s muttering and the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. It’s Halloween. We’re supposed to do stuff after dark. This was always the plan.

When we show up in front of the library, stump kid is already there. He looks good: convincing, like he’s nine or ten at the oldest. 

He stands up when he sees us. “I am ready to begin.”

Zeke glances nervously at Javier but Javier doesn’t look back, so I know he’s still in. Zeke won’t bail on his own.

I take a picture of us all first, because how cool is it that we’re trick or treating with stump kid? I’ve never even seen someone get a picture of him before. But then, mostly stump kid stories are rumors from friends of friends who really needed to pass algebra or find something that went missing. Not exactly stuff they’d want to remember.

Stump kid may not have wanted to come with us, but now he’s clearly having a good time. He leads us from house to house, moving so fast he’s practically running. Although, really, it’s more like gliding. And the candy is amazing: full chocolate bars, those boxes of candy they sell at movies, even a giant bag of blue takis. Time starts to blur a little, like the night’s been going forever and is already over all at once. 

It’s getting colder and we’re cutting through a stretch of trees to get to one last neighborhood. The little kids have all gone back home, but it’s still early enough we have time to do shit afterwards. Maybe we’ll go to the graveyard—that seems like a Halloween thing. I wonder if stump kid will stick around that long; if there will be anyone we can show him to.

I ask the others what they think about the graveyard—but mostly I’m asking Zeke because Javier never has an opinion.

Except Zeke doesn’t answer, which is weird. 

Then I realize he hasn’t said anything for a while, and I turn around and it’s just me and Javier. 

I ask where the others are and Javier says they’re off making out. We both laugh even though it’s not funny and not true.

“Maybe Zeke went home,” I say and Javier nods even though we both know that’s bullshit.

I’m suddenly aware of how quiet it is. That it’s just us out here. I almost call for Zeke, but that seems wrong, so I tell Javier to take the stupid clown mask off instead. He does and it’s better without the fucking mask, but not much better.

Then there are soft footsteps, a pale face in the darkness. And we’re alone with stump kid—way after sunset. 

His eyes seem weird, but it’s dark enough that it’s hard to tell. And there’s a thick smear by his mouth, but we’ve been eating candy all night. He looks us over, like he’s trying to decide something. 

I don’t like the way he’s looking at me and I try to say something, but the sound won’t come out.

Stump kid is crouching again, looking up at me. He’s smiling now, like he’s having a great fucking time, and his mouth is too big. It’s weird.

“I said I’d take half.”

Beside me, Javier bolts.

A.E. Lanier is a middle school history teacher and fiction writer from Central Texas. She enjoys caves, silent reading, and other people’s cats. For more about her work, visit