Payback

by Merkin

"I suppose you're going to do it again this year," Brent commented as they were washing up the dinner dishes, "even though we've never had a single Halloweener who was happy about them?"

"Do you mind?" asked Mike. "It's not as though they'll go to waste; after all, we can eat them."

"And that we do; remember last year? Really, Mikey, what self-respecting kid on Halloween is going to be grateful for a choice of granola muffins and apples over candy?"

"Candy rots their mouth and their stomach," Mike asserted. "Besides, the muffins have nuts and berries and applesauce in them. They're almost a complete meal." It was an old argument, and both men were smiling at each other throughout.

Brent sighed. "Well, as a kid I lived through Halloween stuffing myself with candy. Just because you claim your hippy parents fed you and the rest of your brood on organic stew and millet burgers doesn't mean you have to be the neighborhood nutritionist."

"I don't give poison to kids," said Mike firmly as he turned to put the dishes away. Brent rolled his eyes and resolved to lay in a bag of candy just as he had the year before.

* * *

It was almost eight o'clock and the porch lights were going off up and down their street. The last tiny Halloween witch was working her way down their porch steps, being careful not to trip over her broom and clutching the little bag of Smarties Brent had slipped her after she turned away from Mike's tray of baggies filled with muffins and apples. Very few of the baggies had been chosen.

Mike and Brent closed the front door and snapped off their porch light. Mike pulled down his surgical mask and Brent jerked off the white wig with a sigh and unzipped his judicial robe.

"Phew!" said Brent. "I don't know how the Brits stand those wigs." He mopped his face with a hand towel. "But it's a huge plus that our real work clothes make such good Halloween costumes."

Mike struck a pose in his green scrubs, grinning.

"Not so good, huh Mikey?" Brent motioned toward the tray still filled with baggies.

"Au contraire, I had at least a half dozen takers," said Mike. "Of course, most of them were too little to know what they were choosing, but they're never too young to get started on the right path toward good health."

"Yeah, well, I gave out allmy Smarties."

"An odd name for an evil product."

As the couple bantered they heard a soft, hesitant rapping at the door. Mike raised his eyebrows and reached for the knob. He swung the door open but all they could see on the darkened porch was a small figure. Brent flicked on the light.

"Oh, the hobo came back!" Mike exclaimed. "Great costume!" The boy's face was covered with grime and his patched and wrinkled clothing looked as though it had been worn for days and slept in.

"Please, mister, can I have more?" The small voice was hesitant.

Mike bent to look more closely. "Why, you must be really hungry. I'm so glad you like my muffins."

"Please, I want to take some for my brother and sister, if that would be alright? They taste just like my mom's, and we haven't had much to eat today." The small boy stood straight and looked Mike in the eye.

"Oh? You'd better come in and tell us about it." Mike stepped back and held the door open.

The thin, dark-haired boy entered the doorway and stood uncertainly, looking around the comfortable living room. Mike smiled reassuringly at the small figure. "Come and sit down. Maybe you'd like a glass of milk."

"Oh, yes. Thank you!" Mike headed for the kitchen as the boy sat nervously on the edge of the couch. Almost immediately he jumped up and looked apologetically at Brent.

"I'm sorry, I sat on-"he reached behind him and held up a stethoscope. "Are you a doctor?"

"Not me. Mike is a pediatrician." The boy's forehead wrinkled. "That's a doctor for children, and Mike is the man getting your milk." The boy's face cleared and he nodded. "What's your name?" Brent gently prodded.

"Umm, Micah."

"That's all?" Brent was an expert at leading witnesses.

The boy shifted nervously. "Micah Bright Sky."

Brent's eyebrows moved up his forehead as Mike returned with a tray. On it was a large glass of milk, another muffin, and a banana. He placed the tray on the coffee table. The boy reached eagerly for the glass, drank deeply, and made short work of the muffin.

"This is Micah," Brent said to his partner, handing him the stethoscope.

Mike hesitated, then said slowly, "That's an unusual name."

The boy looked up and smiled uncertainly. "It means Who is..."

"Who is like God," Mike finished for him. "I knew a boy once with that name. But please finish your snack. Would you like more milk?"

Micah shook his head as he stuffed the banana into his mouth. "Nah ank ooh." The men smiled.

"Well, then," Brent said briskly. "When you can talk, please tell us about your brother and sister. You said you wanted to take food to them." He smiled encouragingly.

Micah swallowed, drained the last few drops of milk, and said, "We were waiting in our bus. It ran out of gas and Mom is going to have a baby, so Dad went to find help. Then we saw the Halloweeners and we were hungry so I made them promise to wait in the bus while I went out to see if I could get us something to eat. I rubbed dirt on my face so I would sorta have a costume." The boy smiled shyly.

Mike moved to sit on the couch beside Micah and looked intently at him.

"All that people wanted to give me was candy but we aren't allowed to eat anything like that, then I came to your house and your muffins tasted just like my mom's. But the two you gave me weren't enough to share so I only had one bite and saved them to give to Neco and Wendy. I came back to see if I could get some more."

"Neco and Wendy," Mike said.

"Ohmygosh! They're waiting for me to come back! I have to go!" Micah jumped up and turned toward the door.

"Here," said Mike. His voice sounded strained. "Let me pack up some food and we'll drive you back. That'll be faster." The boy hesitated, then followed him into the kitchen. Mike quickly bagged up all the muffins and pulled the bottle of milk and the remains of a roast chicken from the refrigerator. He piled everything into a picnic cooler. Brent watched with growing amazement.

Mike turned to Brent. "Get one of the big jugs of sterile water and put it in the Jeep. I'll get my medical bag."

"Why-"

"Please just do it, Brent. It's important and I'll explain later." Mike opened the door to the garage and carried the cooler out to the Grand Cherokee. "Micah, grab that bag of fruit." The boy followed Mike and Brent into the garage. Brent loaded the jug of water into the back of the vehicle.

"We have to hurry," said Mike. He got behind the wheel and punched the garage door opener. The Jeep started with a roar. Brent motioned Micah into the back seat and he jumped into the front as Mike threw the headlights on. The big SUV moved swiftly down the driveway and into the street.

"The bus is right out-" Micah began.

"I know," said Mike. "Sit down and put your seatbelt on please."

"You know?" began Brent.

"Later," said Mike. "We don't have much time." The Grand Cherokee careened out of the neighborhood and onto the highway.

* * *

They swerved into the roadside picnic area and their headlights illuminated an old school bus covered with bright splashes of psychedelic color.

"Oh my God," breathed Mike.

Brent stared at the ancient vehicle. "Jeez, did that thing escape from some museum? It's straight out of the Summer of Love!"

Micah pushed his door latch. "There's Wendy."

A small barefooted girl wearing a long tie-dyed sweatshirt peeked out of the door of the bus. "Micah! Come quick! Mama's gonna have the baby!"

Mike grabbed his medical bag and told Brent to bring the jug of sterile water. They rushed into the bus. The interior was lit by flickering candle light and hung with madras spreads that divided up the interior space. Another boy, even smaller, looked up from the tiny hammock he was lying in.

They heard moaning coming from the back. Mike and Micah disappeared behind the curtain at the rear of the bus.

"OK, kids," Brent said to the two small children. "Let's have a picnic. Who's gonna help me get the cooler out of the car?"

* * *

The Rescue Squad arrived with their ambulance just as Brent and the children heard lusty wails from behind the curtain and Micah burst out with a huge smile to announce "We did it!" He was proudly wearing a pair of surgical gloves and a mask dangled from one earlobe.

In the resulting confusion Mike reappeared, drawn and tired.

"Hi, Doc! Beat us to it, I guess!"

Mike greeted Ray and Billy, the EMT squad from the local fire station, and motioned them toward the rear of the bus. They were accompanied by a tall, bearded man who caressed the head of each child and gave both men a piercing look as he strode quickly to the back.

"Let's go," hissed Mike, "We have to get out of here."

Brent stared, confused, while Mike swiftly pulled a cord from around his neck and bent toward Micah. "Here, Micah. You did great. You have a gift for healing." He placed the cord with its medallion around the boy's neck.

Micah smiled. "Thanks, Mike. I think I want to be a doctor, like you."

"Take Wendy and Neco to see your new brother and your mother now, before they transport them to the hospital."

* * *

"You plan to tell me what that was all about?" said Brent as he drove slowly back toward their house. Mike sat sprawled and exhausted in the seat beside him. "How did you know? And your Asclepius disk! You've had that since I met you, and I know how precious it is to you. Why did you give it to Micah?"

"Because that's how I got it. Listen, Brent, I don't begin to understand this, but the night I decided to become a doctor we were broken down in our old bus by the side of the road and Mom was gonna have a baby any minute. Dad went for help. It was Halloween and I was ten years old and my name then was Micah Bright Sky..."

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