Last Leaves

Angel Eduardo
16 min readOct 1, 2021


A close-up of tree branches, with a single autumn leaf hanging on as it turns yellow.
Photograph: “Holding On” by Angel Eduardo

“Hey!” Antony trailed behind his friends. “Wait up!”

He had paused to stare at the trees. Wide, yellowed leaves bigger than his palms danced their way to the ground as a late September wind coiled through the branches. Orchard Street was a patchwork of emerald and ochre, a wet mat of autumn left from last night’s rainstorm. Looking ahead, Antony could see that hardly an inch of sidewalk was left uncovered. The growing cold was more apparent to him with his new close-cropped haircut, and he found himself missing the unruly curls he’d had all summer long. By the time he noticed, Ilya and Preet were halfway down the block ahead of him. Antony dug his hands into his denim jacket and wrinkled his nose against the morning air as he ran towards them, his book bag bouncing on his back.

“Hey, you guys,” he blurted, wedging himself between them. “What’re you going to be for Halloween?”

There was a pause, and Antony winced as he realized he had interrupted their conversation.

“I don’t know…” Preet said, looking down as he walked. “I don’t know if I want to do that anymore.”

Antony paused. “What do you mean?”

Preet brushed a lock of black hair behind his ear and shrugged. He had hit his growth spurt early and towered over all the other eleven year-olds in their class. It gave him an edge in gym, but everywhere else cursed him with a gangly frame and an awkward gait he tried to mask with nonchalance. They had been friends since Antony moved across the street from him in the second grade, and had seen each other every day since. They had coordinated costumes on previous Halloweens, partnering up as Batman and Robin, Mario and Luigi. Antony had expected something similar this year.

“Yeah,” Preet said, angling his head towards the trees. “I think, like, we’re getting too old for that stuff.”

“Too old?”

“Yeah,” Ilya echoed, nudging Antony’s arm. His tone was stern and confident, and it grated Antony to hear it. Ilya had come from Uzbekistan the year before, and they had bonded after Antony offered him half his sandwich during lunch on his first day. That Halloween, Ilya dressed as a Power Ranger. Antony remembered the wide smile on Ilya’s face as he walked into class all dressed up, and the way it slowly faded as he realized he was late to the fad — nobody thought Power Rangers were cool anymore. Now at the start of sixth grade, Ilya had figured out how to fit in better than any of the others. He’d ditched his bowl haircut for a spiky, gelled look and walked proudly in his high tops and popped jacket collar, bobbing his head when he spoke as though music was playing that only he could hear. He had even gotten attention from girls — something that hadn’t yet occurred to Antony and Preet as desirable, let alone a possibility.

“Dude,” Ilya smirked, his hands gripping his backpack straps. “We’ll be in middle school next year.”

Antony looked down at his shoes, unsure how to handle the anxiety that had washed over him. Halloween was his favorite holiday — one last bit of outdoor fun before a long, cold winter. Every September he’d thumb through the Party City magazines that came in the mail and choose his new costume. He loved trick-or-treating into the evening, spreading out every year and reaching more distant corners of his neighborhood to collect candy. On rainy weekends at home he’d wear his old costumes and bounce through his house, playing out adventures he dreamed up as he went. Once or twice he wore a Superman suit under his clothes and donned a pair of fake glasses before going out into his backyard to play. He enjoyed knowing he could pull his shirt open and reveal the bright red “S” underneath, even though he never did. To him, Halloween was like playing pretend all day long, with everyone. It had never dawned on him that it might end someday.

“Hey,” Antony said, thinking aloud. “But there’s still going to be a parade at school.”

He was suddenly hopeful, realizing he’d made a good point. “That would suck if we were the only ones without costumes.”

The three friends slowed to a stop and faced one another, a triangle of furrowed brows and awkward shoegazes. Preet and Ilya both nodded, contemplating. Antony watched them closely.

“Yeah,” Preet said, finally. “True.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Ilya shrugged. “This would probably be the last time, though.”

“Yeah,” Preet said. “Once we get to middle school, that’s probably it.”

“Okay, yeah,” Antony smiled, not really believing himself. “Last time. Yeah.”

His friends turned around and walked on towards school.

Antony made sure to keep up.

Clusters of kindergarteners walked the quiet streets, bubble coats and backpacks over their costumes. They stopped at every house to collect candy while their plain-clothed parents looked on and smiled from the sidewalk. Antony heard the tiny choruses shouting “Trick-or-Treat!” as he ran down his driveway to meet his friends. His thick plastic samurai armor clapped together with his movements, filling his head with a galloping sound. He pictured himself on a horse riding down an ancient battlefield. “Ki-ya!” he shouted, swatting away his imaginary enemies with his sword. He was panting by the time he met Preet and Ilya on the corner.

“So, what’s the plan?” Preet reached under his Freddy Krueger mask to scratch his face. In his other, razor-gloved hand he was clutching a giant black trash bag. He loomed over everyone in his boots and fedora, making Antony — already the shortest of the three — seem even shorter. Antony looked up at Preet and noticed a slight impatience in his tone, a boredom in his posture.

“Which way are we gonna go?” Preet asked again.

Antony had thought this through. On Halloween, candy was the currency of a good time — the more they’d collected by the end of the night, the richer they were. This time, he wanted to pull out all the stops. He pointed towards Abbott Boulevard, a long, quiet street with the biggest houses in town, where the doorbells echoed through the halls long after they rang. Big, expensive-looking cars were parked in the driveways, and the houses were decorated with lights and jack-o’-lanterns.

“Abbott,” he said. “It’s the mother lode.”

“We can go up all the side streets,” he continued, “then do the other side on our way back here. We’ll get tons of candy.”

“Yeah, that’s cool,” Ilya, a policeman with a fully-stocked utility belt, replied. He pointed his orange plastic pistol at passing cars. The trigger made a clicking sound when he pulled it, and Ilya counted each shot out loud, as though marking his kills. “Four…five…six…” He blew imaginary smoke from the barrel and cracked a half smile under his aviators before returning the gun to his hip.

“All right,” he said. “Let’s go get the stuff.”

Antony smiled. That’s something a real cop would say.

They trick-or-treated from house to house, running until they were out of breath, their bags growing heavier. Some places had bowls filled with candy sitting at the top of the stairs, accompanied by signs saying, “ONE PER PERSON PLEASE” and “DO NOT RING DOORBELL.” At these unsupervised houses, Ilya and Preet grabbed a handful of candy each. Antony bashfully picked one bar from the bowl and scurried back down the stairs, as though someone were waiting to jump out and scold them.

Other homes turned their porches into haunted houses, dimly lit and cobwebbed, with fog machines and speakers oozing eerie music. Women in witch costumes stood by their doors, tossing handfuls of Hershey’s Kisses and Gummy Bears into kids’ bags. Some houses gave out full-sized candy bars and other, more health-conscious homeowners prepared plastic baggies of sliced apples. A few old ladies gave out pennies, and the boys groaned about it on their way back down the steps.

Any time they found themselves on a stoop with a group of smaller, younger kids, they got strange looks from the grown-ups at the door. “Aren’t you getting too old for trick-or-treating?” the adults would ask, as the younger ones scattered away towards the next house.

“No,” the three friends would answer in unison. Antony would feel his stomach drop every time. He’d watch the adults lean out of their doorway and stare at Preet towering above his friends. “How old are you?” they’d ask.

“Ten,” Preet would lie, and Antony would brace for the rejection — the shaking of the head and the slamming of the door. But the adults begrudgingly obliged, tossing candy into their bags before closing their doors with a skeptical, “Okay…Happy Halloween.” Antony smiled under his armor, relieved. These little successes kept their spirits high until they had canvassed the entire neighborhood and were making their way back down Orchard hours later, their bags now so heavy that their arms were getting sore.

“We did pretty good.” Ilya said. “This candy will last a while.” He fired his gun at groups of trick-or-treaters dotting the road ahead of them. “Thirty-six…thirty-seven…thirty-eight…”

Antony had his pillowcase flung over his shoulder. It bumped against his back in a steady rhythm, and the galloping sound returned to him. He began to imagine his ancient battlefield again, felt the urge to unsheathe his sword, but his thoughts pulled him back. He saw the familiar corners of Orchard Street and knew that not much further down the road, his house was waiting. It reminded him of how anxious he’d get on Sunday evenings, knowing he’d have to go to bed early for school, and how it always spoiled his fun in those last few hours of the weekend. Antony felt the night air chilling against his armor, the moon glowing high in the sky, Halloween ending all around him.

There must be some way to keep this going, he thought, some way to make it last a little longer.

“Hey,” Antony said, stopping at the last corner before they reached his house. “We haven’t gone that way yet.”

Ilya and Preet’s eyes followed Antony’s finger. The road went on for a half a block before dropping steeply out of view. Thick trees lined the street until they too disappeared over the horizon. A crooked yellow DEAD END sign stood on the corner by a rusting fire hydrant. Across from that, jutting out from the tall, untended front lawn of an old house, stood another sign that said NO OUTLET.

The boys knew what lay beyond that road they couldn’t see. All the neighborhood kids did. That was the steepest hill in town. The one they taunted and dared each other to try. The one nobody they knew had ever made it all the way down.

They called it Dead Man’s Hill.

All of them had attempted, spending summer afternoons huddled at the top on their bicycles, goading each other to be the first. The bravest of them made it only part of the way before losing their nerve against the wind in their eyes and the rising speed of their bikes. They turned abruptly and crashed into the tall grass on the side of the road, preferring that humiliation to the threat of what could happen if they went on. Every defeated kid seen walking his bike back up — a somber pout on their face, cuts and scrapes on their arms and legs — only deepened everyone’s fear. Antony himself had felt that rush of wind against him, and wore the scars on his shins from his panicked detours into the tall grass. But he still couldn’t help wondering. He knew something had to be down there. They had all seen cars turn at his block and cruise down the hill without immediately returning. In all this time, Antony had never thought to simply walk down and find out.

Standing there that night with his friends, he knew the deal: Brave the hill, or go home.

It suddenly became an easy decision to make. Ignoring the pounding in his chest, Antony straightened his back and began marching down the street towards the DEAD END sign.

“Come on,” Ilya called out from behind him. “There’s nothing down there, dude.”

“No,” Anthony said. “There’s gotta be something!”

The rhythm of his armor returned as Antony walked, and the sound began to embolden him. He started to jog. In that moment, none of it was frightening. Without his bicycle, feeling his own two feet on solid ground, he sensed the hill giving in to him. The cartoonish drop he always envisioned straightened and smoothed out into a slower, more manageable decline. He passed the patch of tall grass where he and so many other terrified kids had fallen, and continued on.

“Dude,” he heard Preet moan behind him.

Antony didn’t respond, but he smiled. They were following.

Halfway down the hill, he paused. For the first time, he could see the bottom. A hundred feet ahead the hill became a straightaway, with thickets of trees on either side, ending in a cul-de-sac. A small, red brick apartment building sat alone at the end under the amber glow of streetlights. Behind the building was a small lot with a few cars parked between white painted lines. As he got closer, Antony could see a thick metal door and an intercom beside it.

Woah, he thought. Someone actually lives down here.

He turned around and watched Ilya and Preet ambling towards him. He couldn’t see the DEAD END sign anymore, or the old house with the tall grass lawn. He couldn’t see the corner of his block, or the trees that stood like watchmen along the road leading back home. He realized then that it didn’t bother him.

“Come on, you guys!” he shouted through his helmet, feeling his own hot breath bouncing back against his face. “There’s a building down here!”

They walked slowly, taking in the eerie quiet of the street, the stark loneliness of the red brick edifice as they approached. “Dude,” Ilya said, his hand resting on his holster. “Who would live here?”

They walked up to the intercom and Antony mashed on the buttons. A mechanical garble came through the speaker, and the three friends leaned in close, staring, as though they would miss something if they blinked. Antony held his breath, hoping someone would respond. His legs ached. A shiver ran through him. He shook himself to stay alert, never taking his eyes off of the intercom.

Finally, a voice emanated from the speaker.


The sound jolted the three boys and they shouted “Trick-or-Treat!” at the top of their lungs, their voices carrying down the empty street. The metal front door suddenly came alive, vibrating in the wake of a loud buzzing, and they pushed their way inside.

The hallway was two shades of beige, with brown carpeting and a series of dark brown doors lining either side. Preet huffed, holding his mask away from his face as he scanned the hall, grimacing. “This place is…weird.”

“Yeah,” Ilya darted his head around, hand still on his plastic gun. “Smells like my attic.”

Antony could smell it, too, but he’d come too far for that to stop him. “Just come on, you guys.” He stepped up to the first apartment and knocked, shouting “Trick-or-Treat” as loudly as he had done outside.

Shadows cut across the amber light from the crack underneath the door. A shuffling sound gradually approached, followed by the rattle of a loose doorknob. Antony stared as the light zipped up and around the door, slowly cracking open to reveal a pair of shapes standing in the doorway, four eyes looking back at him.

An elderly woman leaned out towards the boys and smiled. Antony took in a waft of stale air.

“Oh, my,” the woman said, clasping her liver-spotted hands together. Behind the couple was a tiny space filled with polished wooden furniture, ugly picture frames crowded on every surface. By a brown couch on a shaggy beige rug, a small television sat on a dresser playing Wheel of Fortune at full volume.

The woman wore her gray hair up in a tight bun, and her bright red cardigan sagged around her tiny frame. “How wonderful!” she said, her grin revealing a row of perfect teeth. Antony wondered if they were fake. He pictured her removing them, leaving them in a glass of water on her nightstand when she went to sleep. He shuddered.

“Look at that,” her husband said, gesturing at the boys. “A samurai!” The man wore a sweater vest and thick-rimmed glasses. His hair was perfectly combed, his slacks crisply pleated.

“Trick-or-Treat!” Preet echoed, holding out his garbage bag. His voice was slightly muffled through his mask, but Antony could still sense the excitement in his friend’s tone. He and Ilya joined Preet in holding their bags out, and watched as the look on the old woman’s face went from joy to surprise.

“Oh!” she said, hopping a little as she turned to her husband and walked out of view. “Oh no! We haven’t got any candy for them!”

“We never get anybody coming down here,” the man explained, bewildered. He shook his head as he spoke, but his hair stayed perfectly still. “We weren’t prepared for you.”

Antony let out a disappointed groan and turned his face away, embarrassed.

“Wait, wait!” the woman said. “Let’s see what we’ve got here.”

She walked back towards the door, her arms cradling a package of Oreos.

“Here you go,” she said, dropping the entire thing into Antony’s pillowcase. “You’ll have to split these. You’re lucky we’ve got a sweet tooth!”

The boys stood and stared.

“Thank you!” Ilya managed to say.

“Yeah, thank you!” Preet chimed in.

The couple smiled and waved goodbye as they closed their door, and Antony stood looking into his pillowcase. “This is…awesome,” he said.

“Yeah,” Preet nodded. “Dude, this is better than Abbott!”

Before Antony knew it, his friends had already run down the hall and begun knocking on the next door. They shouted “Trick-or-Treat” and were received by another flabbergasted retiree who hadn’t anticipated them.

“Yo,” Ilya nudged Antony’s shoulder, his voice trailing off into excited laughter as an old man tossed Pop Tarts into their bags. “This is crazy.”

Antony grinned to himself. “Let’s keep going!”

They watched in delight and disbelief as seniors raided their pantries for goodies to stuff the boys’ bags with. Each time, Antony looked in their eyes and saw them light up at the sight of him and his friends in costume.

“It’s been years since anybody’s come around,” one hunchbacked old man on the third floor said to them, his voice like gravel. He wore a pair of faded black slacks with no belt, and Antony noticed dark spots on his paling scalp. It was obvious to them that he lived alone. His apartment had none of the warmth of the first one they’d visited. From the doorway the boys saw a cold, gray, sparsely furnished place, lit only by a tiny television turned to the nightly news. A microwave dinner sat steaming on a fold-out table by a fraying recliner. The man’s grin showed off yellowed teeth, and the boys couldn’t help but notice his shaking as he pointed a long, bony finger at them. “I used to love,” he paused to smack his lips together. “…Halloween!”

They thanked the man for his offering of peppermints and waved until he closed the door.

Ilya, eyes wide, kept shaking his head as they walked off to the next apartment. “That dude was…creepo.”

Antony frowned, feeling himself weighed down on the old man’s doormat as his friends ran off ahead of him. He couldn’t place it, but a feeling was coming over him, as though something in his belly was going stale.

“Dude, let’s go!” Ilya called out, and Antony ran to catch up.

They hit every single apartment in the building, stuffing their bags with whatever the tenants could find. The boys were surprised to find so many cheery, animated people in this little building so cut off from everything. What must it be like to live here, Antony wondered, where no one comes to visit — where even cars barely pass by? Every home they glimpsed from the hallway seemed lonelier and lonelier to him, but the bright smiles on the people’s faces when they answered their doors shattered the melancholy, if only for those brief moments.

“Next year,” one couple said as they sent the boys away with packs of graham crackers, “we’ll be ready for you!”

Back out on the street, Antony felt his feet aching. Ilya had removed his policeman’s hat and was ruffling his hair. Preet tucked his mask and fedora under one arm, keeping his bulging trash bag bouncing over his shoulder with both hands. They slowly climbed back up Dead Man’s Hill — or Christie Street, as everyone else called it — and Antony for the first time noticed just how short the walk actually was. He wondered if he might have the guts now to go down it on his bike, to feel the wind against his face and have no fear.

The three friends reached the summit and stood facing one another, a triangle of tired postures and aimless stares.

“That was fun,” Ilya said, his voice trailing off into a yawn.

“Yeah, it was cool,” Preet answered. “I can’t wait to have some of these cookies.”

Antony nodded under his helmet. “Yeah, and did you hear what they said before we left? Next year, they’ll have even more stuff for us!” He had raised his arms above his head for effect, and suddenly felt embarrassed. He feigned a stretch before bringing them back to his sides.

Preet puckered his lips and looked away. Ilya sighed, fixing his hair, saying nothing. Antony felt the wind nipping at him again. It coiled around his arms and legs and crept up his neck, sending a shudder through him that reminded him how tired he’d gotten. He widened his eyes and shook his head to shoo the feeling away, but it persisted. Still, he couldn’t bring himself to be the first to leave. He felt his pillowcase weighing him down, the old folks’ offerings nearly bursting out of it. He wondered what those people would do tomorrow, when no one had a reason to come knocking. It gave him a sinking in his stomach, the same he felt when those skeptical parents had asked them their age. He didn’t know why.

“Alright,” Preet said, finally. “I’m out.”

The friends broke their triangle, nodding to one another and heaving their bags over their shoulders as they turned to walk their separate ways home.

“See you at school,” Ilya called out.

“Later,” Preet answered.

“Yeah,” Antony said, barely audible. “Bye.”

Antony pulled his overflowing pillowcase into his house and all the way up to his bedroom, his armor clapping together more and more slowly as he climbed the stairs. When he reached the top, he tossed off his helmet and took a deep breath. He hadn’t noticed he’d been sweating. With every piece of armor he removed he felt the weight coming off of him, even though it was nothing more than cheap plastic. He tossed the last piece into the corner and caught sight of himself in his bedroom window. The light above made him a silhouette against the pane, and he couldn’t make out the features of his own face. He pressed his hand against the window, leaned his forehead onto the icy glass, and felt November coming.

Outside, Orchard street was strewn with its last leaves, now red and brown and rustling as they spiraled in the wind. In the weeks since he and his friends agreed this Halloween would be their last, the trees had gone completely bare, their branches reaching into the sky like crooked fingers. Antony was little more than an outline against it all, a shape filled in by the vastness of the world outside his room. He stepped away. There was a foggy handprint on the window, and Antony watched as it vanished into the darkness beyond the glass. Halloween was now behind him, and winter lay ahead.

Originally published in The Ocean State Review, Volume 9, No. 1, Fall 2019