Ward Clever pulled into the driveway of his Mayfield home just after five o’clock. On any other day, Ward would have paused and gazed at his carefully manicured lawn, white picket fence, and the gleaming façade of his black and white home. But today, something was troubling Ward as he hastily walked through the front door.
“Honey!” he said. “There’s a pedophile that lives down the street!”
“What’s that dear?” said his wife, June Cleaver, from the kitchen.
Ward strode into the dining room and laid his briefcase down on the table. “I said that there’s a pedophile that lives down the street!”
“Oh no!” said June as she brought a glass of ice-cold lemonade to her husband.
“Where are the boys?” asked Ward.
“They’re upstairs,” said June. “They say they’re doing their homework, but I have the sneaking suspicion that they’re reading comic books.”
“Wally, Beaver!” called Ward.
“Boys, your father needs to talk to you.”
June returned to the kitchen and Ward took a long draught of lemonade as Wally and Beaver bounded down the stairs.
“I’m tellin’ ya, Wally, the Human Torch could beat Captain America in a fight,” said Beaver.
“No way,” said Wally. “Captain America is way stronger.”
“Oh, what are you two on about?” asked June.
“Beaver thinks that the Human Torch could beat Captain America,” explained Wally.
“Yeah,” said Beaver. “Because the Human Torch has the power of fire!”
“Well, boys,” said Ward, “fire is a dangerous thing. But if I had to put my money on one of them, I’d pick the American man.”
Suddenly, an invisible crowd of people roared with laughter, but no one paid them any attention.
“Sit down boys,” said Ward. “We need to talk.”
Wally and Beaver sat down at the kitchen table and exchanged a nervous look.
“Gee, Dad,” said Beaver. “Did we do something wrong?”
“No, boys. You haven’t done anything wrong. We need to talk about your safety.”
“Our safety?” said Wally.
“Now, it’s come to my attention that an old woman lives a few streets over. She has a house decorated like Christmas, even though it’s July.” Ward squirmed in his chair. “And this woman, you see, is a pedophile.”
“A pedophile?” said Wally.
“What’s that, Dad?” asked Beaver.
“A pedophile,” Ward explained, “is someone that likes children. Too much. They try to lure kids into their homes with candy. And if that ever happens, you just say no!”
Wally and Beaver looked at one another. They were both thinking the same thing, but only the Beaver was brave enough to say it.
“Well, gee, Dad. What kind of candy we talkin’?”
Suddenly, an invisible crowd of people roared with laughter, and Ward had to wait a full five seconds before he could speak.
“The type of candy doesn’t matter, Beaver. What matters is that you are forbidden to go anywhere near that house. Your friend, Lumpy, went there just the other day and he hasn’t been heard from since.”
“Is that why he hasn’t been at school?” asked Wally.
“That’s right. I spoke with his father, Mr. Rutherford, at work this morning and he says that he hasn’t seen his son for three whole days. He says that one of Lumpy’s friends saw him go inside that old lady’s house to eat some candy and he never came out.” The phone rang in the other room as Ward continued. “Now, you two stay away from that house, understand?”
“Yes sir,” said the boys.
“Wally!” called June. “Eddie’s on the phone.”
Ward dismissed the boys and Beaver went upstairs while Wally went into the next room to talk to his best friend, Eddie Haskell.
“Hey, Eddie,” said Wally. “How’s it goin’?”
“Hey, Wally, you hear about Lumpy and that crazy old hag?” said Eddie.
“Sure did. My dad says she’s a pedophile or somethin’. I hear she gave him a whole load of free candy.”
“Oh yeah?” said Eddie. “I heard she ate him.”
“Oh, come off it. Why would she eat Lumpy? I’m sure he tastes all… lumpy!”
Suddenly, an invisible crowd of people roared with laughter.
“What was that sound?” asked Eddie.
“Hey, Eddie,” said Wally, ignoring Eddie’s question. “You know which house it is?”
“Um, yeah,” said Eddie as he looked nervously at the receiver. “Come meet me at my place and I’ll show ya.”
Wally hung up the phone and ran upstairs. Beaver was sitting on the bed reading the latest issue of The Human Torch.
“Where ya goin’?” asked Beaver.
“Eddie knows which house the candy lady lives in,” said Wally. “He said she ate Lumpy.”
“I wanna come!” said Beaver.
“Come on, Beaver. I’m going to hang out with Eddie, and we don’t wanna hang out with any little kids.”
“Oh, please, Wally,” said Beaver. “I won’t be no trouble or nothin’. If she really did eat Lumpy, you’ll need some protection. I can be your secret weapon, like Human Torch!” Beaver jumped off the bed and stuck his fist in the air. “Flame on!” he said, using The Human Torch’s famous catchphrase.
“Alright,” Wally conceded. “You can come, but Eddie might not like it.” Beaver smiled and together the two boys ran down the stairs and walked to Eddie’s house.
Wally and Beaver arrived at the Haskell residence and found Eddie leaning against the garage. “Oh great,” said Eddie as the boys walked up the driveway. “Why’d ya bring the kid over?”
“He’s alright,” said Wally.
“Wally said I could be your secret weapon,” said Beaver. “Like Human Torch!”
“Oh yeah? Well, if we get caught, you’ll have a date with my human torch,” said Eddie, holding up a fist.
Suddenly, an invisible crowd of people roared with laughter.
Eddie jumped. “Jesus, there it is again,” he said.
“So which house is it?” asked Wally.
Eddie looked over his shoulder to see if he could find the source of the strange disembodied laughter. “What?” he asked. “Oh, right, the crazy old witch. Come with me.”
Wally and Eddie walked down the street with Beaver close behind. It was a pleasant July afternoon in Mayfield—the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and the American economy was going strong. Wally looked up into the sky and tried to make shapes with the clouds as he walked. He saw one overhead that looked like the shape of himself, with a good job, a low-interest mortgage, and a wife and three kids that he supported with only his salary. He smiled at the thought.
“Hey, you listenin’?” said Eddie.
“Oh sorry,” said Wally. “What’s up?”
“I was sayin’ that Chester and Lumpy were playing catch in the street when the ball went into the old lady’s yard. Lumpy runs over to get it and the old lady opens the door and asks Lumpy if he wants any candy. And, well, you know Lumpy. He says, ‘Sure,’ and walks on over. Then she calls out to Chester and asks if he wants any candy.”
“And what did Chester say?” asked Wally.
“Chester got too scared to go inside. He said the old lady was lookin’ at Lumpy all strange like. He said she was lickin’ her lips and squeezin’ the fat on his arms. He told Lumpy that they should go home, but Lumpy told him to push off and went inside with her.”
“And that was the last time anyone saw him?”
“No one’s seen him since.”
The boys turned a corner and made their way down a cul-de-sac. They didn’t have to walk far before they noticed a peculiar-looking house at the end of the street.
The house was old and dilapidated. The lawn was overgrown, and the porch looked as if it was about to collapse. But what drew the boys’ attention were the Christmas lights; nearly every square inch of the house—the walls, the roof, even the chimney—was covered in hundreds of strands of multicolored lights. A massive neon sign that said “FREE CANDY” sat precariously over the porch and blinked off and on at irregular intervals.
“How have we never noticed this house before?” asked Wally.
“Beats me,” said Eddie. “My old man said it’s been here for years.”
The boys walked to the front of the house and devised a plan. Eddie and Wally would go to the door while Beaver hid in the bushes. They would ask the Candy Lady if she had seen Lumpy. They figured that they would find Lumpy inside, fat with candy. Then they would eat as much candy as they could and go home before their parents realized they were gone.
“I don’t know,” said Eddie. “My old man said she was a pedophile.”
“Yeah, mine too,” said Wally. “You know what it means?”
“No,” admitted Eddie.
“Well, me neither. But I figure it’s just a fancy way of saying ‘lady who gives kids candy.’ It’s one of those five-dollar words. Like how ‘pediatrician’ means ‘doctor who gives kids candy.’”
Eddie thought about the logic behind this statement and found it to be sound. He agreed to go to the door with Wally but only if Beaver stayed behind and watched from a safe distance.
“You can count on me, fellas,” said Beaver. “And if anything bad happens, I’ll come in and save the day like The Human Torch!”
“And if you don’t,” warned Eddie as he brought his fists up to Beaver’s face. “I’ll clobber ya with my weapons—Kryptonite One and Kryptonite Two.”
Suddenly, an invisible crowd of people roared with laughter.
“Oh my God,” said Eddie as he ducked and frantically looked around to see where the laughter was coming from. “Do you guys seriously not hear that sound?”
“Come on,” said Wally. “Let’s get some of that candy before Lumpy eats it all.”
Wally walked down the concrete path that cut through the yard, while Beaver ran into the bushes. Eddie continued looking for the origin of the mysterious laughter before running to catch up with Wally.
As the two boys walked across the yard, they saw that it was covered with Christmas lawn ornaments—candy canes, gumdrops, and little gingerbread houses lay hidden in the overgrowth. They walked onto the porch, the boards creaking under their feet. Wally raised his hand to knock on the door when it suddenly opened.
An old woman—somewhere between the ages of 85 and 150—stood in the doorway. She wore a black robe that went down to her feet, and her head was covered with a black shawl. She had warts on her face and a long, hooked nose. One eye was permanently closed while the other, seemingly making up for the lack of vision, was twice the size of a normal eye.
“Oh, well hello!” said the old hag, her large green eye beaming down at them.
“Um, hello, ma’am,” said Wally. He wrung his hands nervously. “We were just wonderin’. Have you’ve seen our friend Lumpy around?”
“Lumpy, Lumpy…” she said. “No, I can’t say that I have.”
“He came into your house three days ago,” said Eddie. “He was playing catch with his friend and you offered to give him some candy.”
“Oh yes!” said the old hag, her memory suddenly jostled. “Yes, yes, of course! The big boy, how could I forget!”
“Well,” said Wally. “Is he still here?”
“Oh no, no, no. He left just after he came inside!”
Eddie and Wally exchanged a look.
“But,” said Wally, “no one’s seen him in three days.”
“Well, perhaps he got lost,” she said.
“He lives two streets over,” said Eddie.
“He probably got lost,” she said quickly. “He didn’t seem like a very bright young boy.”
Wally and Eddie considered this. Lumpy was rather dim, so it was completely plausible that he had gotten lost during his five-minute walk back to his house.
“But what about you boys,” said the old hag. “Would you like any candy?”
The boys thought for a moment. Just to be safe, Wally decided to ask her the all-important question. “Are you a pedophile?”
The old hag stared the boys intently. After a long pause she said, “What do you think that word means?”
“Candy Maker!” Eddie blurted out.
The old lady smiled. “Then yes, that is exactly what I am.”
The two boys breathed a sigh of relief.
“Would you like to come inside?”
“Gee, we sure would,” said Wally. They walked inside the house and the old hag shut the door behind them.
Meanwhile, Beaver lay in the bushes and waited for his brother and Eddie to come back out. But soon, the hot July afternoon gently lulled him to sleep.
As he dozed, he dreamed the typical dreams of an American boy growing up in the late 1950s—owning an affordable home in the suburbs, going to a college where he could obtain an affordable education, and befriending a union leader who demanded fair wages on Beaver’s behalf.
Beaver was experiencing a particularly vivid dream about receiving a generous pension when he suddenly awoke. The sun was setting and the Christmas lights radiated as the sky grew darker. He peered across the lawn. The house was still, except for the “FREE CANDY” sign that flickered on and off above the door.
Gee, Dad’s going to get awfully sore if we don’t make it home before dark, he thought. He crept across the lawn and over to a small window on the side of the house. He grabbed a hold of the ledge and hoisted himself up and peeked inside.
The first thing that he noticed was that there were no electric lights on inside, probably because so much electricity was being used to keep the Christmas lights on outside. The whole first floor seemed to be one giant room—an open floor plan with no walls separating the kitchen, dining room, and living room.
In the middle of the room sat a large, blazing furnace. In front of the furnace was Eddie Haskell. He had a broom in his hand and a ball and chain strapped to his ankle. He seemed to be sweeping the floors and struggling to drag the weighted ball behind him. On the far side of the room, in what Beaver assumed was the kitchen, the old hag was piling sweets onto a silver tray. He watched as she balanced the tray on her feeble hands and shuffled across the room to a small cage suspended three feet above the ground. And inside the cage was… Wally!
“Please, no more,” said Wally, as the old hag stuck sweets inside the cage. “I think I’m gonna be sick.”
“You wanted candy, didn’t you?” said the old hag. “Now stick out your finger and let me see if you’re fat enough to eat yet.”
“But I’ve only been here an hour!” complained Wally.
“Shut up and do it,” said the old hag.
Wally looked at the bottom of the cage. It was filled with garbage, as if the old hag used it as a trashcan in between kidnappings. He brushed aside an empty pop can, a crumpled-up newspaper, and Lumpy’s old hat, and found a slender chicken bone. He picked up the bone and extended it out. The old hag felt the bone and muttered something to herself before returning to the kitchen for more sweets.
Beaver lowered himself back to the ground. His brother and Eddie were in trouble. And more importantly, if they didn’t get back before sundown, his father would be so sore he’d spend the next two weekends doing yard work! He had to think of a plan and think of one fast.
He looked down and saw an orange extension cord resting next to his feet. He carefully followed it around the house and saw that it connected to a long power strip which was filled with adaptors, cables, and wires. Beaver’s jaw dropped. All of the Christmas lights, he realized, were connected to a single outlet!
Back inside, Wally was eating mouthful after agonizing mouthful of candy while Eddie scrubbed the floor. Suddenly, the lights inside the house flickered on.
“Say,” said Eddie. “I almost thought this house didn’t even have lights.”
The old hag screamed and turned accusingly to Eddie. “What have you done?” she said. “What tricks are you up to?”
“I’m not up to no tricks mam, honest!” he said.
“Well, we’ll see about that,” she said. She marched across the room and walked out into the backyard. A few moments later, there was a knock at the front door. Wally and Eddie exchanged a desperate look. Eddie dragged his ball and chain over, unlocked a series of bolts and latches, and opened the heavy wooden door.
“Hey, fellas!” said Beaver, standing triumphantly in the doorway. “I’m gonna bust you guys outta here.”
“The key is in the kitchen!” said Wally from inside his cage. “Hurry before she comes back.”
Beaver raced into the kitchen and found a ring of old keys sitting on the counter. He ran to Wally’s cage and unlocked the door.
“Gee thanks, Beav,” said Wally as he climbed out. “I thought I was done for.”
Beaver handed the keys to Eddie and he removed the ball and chain from his leg.
“Let’s get out of here,” said Eddie.
“Wait!” said Beaver. He ran back into the kitchen and filled the silver platter with as many sweets as he could fit. He came back into the living room, carefully balancing his treasure trove of candy, and the three boys rushed for the door. Eddie turned the handle and opened the door and saw the old hag towering above him, her face illuminated by the Christmas lights.
“And where do you think you’re going?” she said.
She walked into the house and shut the door behind her. The boys ran to the back door and tried to open it, but it wouldn’t budge. They peeked out the window and saw that the old hag had placed a chair underneath the door handle. They were trapped.
“What do we do now?” said Eddie.
“Now,” said the old hag. “You’re all going to share a cage, and I’m going to fatten you up until you’re ripe for a good pie!” She cackled menacingly.
“Hey, wait a sec,” said Beaver. “Why are all the lights still on in here? I thought you had so many Christmas lights that the lights inside didn’t work.”
“Oh, I fixed that,” said the old hag. “I rigged that pesky fuse box so that I can have the inside and the outside lights on at the same time!”
“Gee, lady,” said Beaver. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”
“Yeah,” said Wally. “My old man says never to mess with the fuse box.”
“Oh, what’s the worst that could happen?” said the old hag.
The boys turned to each other.
“You smell that?” asked Wally.
They turned around and saw a flickering light coming from the backyard. They peeked out the window and could see a small fire emanating from the outlet.
“Fire!” said Beaver. The three boys dropped to the floor.
“We better get out of here, and fast,” said Wally. Eddie and Beaver nodded. They army-crawled across the kitchen tile and into the living room.
“Hey, now just what do you think you’re doing?” asked the old hag.
The boys turned. The old hag stood near the back door with her arms on her hips. Behind her, the fire was beginning to engulf the wall.
“You know, lady,” said Beaver. “You should really think about getting out of here.”
“I’ll do as I please!” she said. “Now come here.”
The old hag began to walk towards the boys as the room filled with smoke, and flames licked the ceiling. There was a snapping sound and a large flaming beam crashed through the roof.
Beaver pointed at the beam. “Flame on!” he said. The old hag looked up and screamed. She put her arms over her head as the beam tumbled through the air and crushed her.
Embers floated through the air as flaming boards continued to crash through the ceiling. Wally spotted Eddie’s ball and chain nearby on the floor and crawled over to pick it up. He struggled to bring it over to the window, and Eddie helped him heave the steel ball through the glass pane. The boys crawled outside and ran down the street. They turned back just once and saw the roof of the flaming house collapse in on itself. Embers flew into the night sky, and the house was gone—nothing more than a smoldering ruin of wood, Christmas lights, and caramelized candy.
“Want a gumdrop?” asked Beaver. The sun had set and the boys walked down the street as Beaver munched away on the tray of candy that he had miraculously saved from the fire.
“Ugh,” said Wally, clutching his stomach. “If I hear the word ‘candy’ one more time, I’m gonna puke.”
“My old man is going to be sore if I come home like this,” said Eddie. The boys’ clothes were covered in soot and chocolate.
“You can come to my house to clean up,” said Wally.
The three boys arrived at the Cleaver home and Beaver stashed the tray of candy inside the bushes outside the front door.
“Where have you boys been?” asked June as the boys walked inside. She stood with her hands on her hips while Ward sat on the couch engaging in his only discernable hobby: reading the newspaper and drinking a cup of coffee.
“Did you boys go over to that pedophile’s house?” Ward asked.
The boys looked at their feet.
“Yes sir,” said Beaver. “It’s just we really wanted the free candy.”
“Boys, your father strictly forbade you from going to that house,” said June.
“That’s right,” said Ward. “And as punishment, you’ll be doing yard work for the next two weekends.”
“And,” said June, “no more candy for a month.”
Wally looked up. “Well,” he said, “that doesn’t sound so bad.”
Suddenly, an invisible crowd of people roared with laughter.
“I’m going insane,” said Eddie as he covered his ears.
“Come to the kitchen, boys. We need to clean you up,” said June. “You too, Eddie. Your father will be awfully sore if we let you go home looking like that.”
Beaver, Wally, and Eddie followed June into the kitchen. She wet a few rags in the sink and handed them to the boys. She then took out her ironing board and plugged in the electric iron. After a few seconds, the lights in the house went out.
“Oh, it’s that darn circuit breaker again,” she said. She walked into the kitchen closet and switched it back on. She then took a toothpick from the counter and wedged it under one of the breaker switches.
“There,” she said. “That’ll keep the circuit breaker for going off again.”
“Don’t do that!” said Wally quickly.
“Well, why not?” asked June.
“If you rig your circuit breaker so it doesn’t shut off when it needs to, it can cause a house fire,” said Beaver.
“That’s right, Beaver,” said Ward, walking into the kitchen.
Wally, Beaver, Ward, and June gathered around one another and turned to face the southern wall. Eddie stood behind them with a confused look on his face.
“It’s important to treat your circuit breaker with respect,” said Ward. “Electrical fires cause over 500 deaths every year in the United States, and nearly 300 million dollars in property damage.”
“Who are you talking to?” asked Eddie.
“And every home should have at least one fire detector,” said Beaver. He held a small fire detector in his hands.
“Where did he get that thing?” asked Eddie.
“That’s right, Beav,” said Wally. “Fire detectors can detect heat. And if it senses too much heat, it’ll make a sound that will alert you to get out of your house.”
An orchestra started playing a lighthearted tune somewhere in the distance.
“Is that music?” said Eddie.
“So remember,” said June. “Make sure to check your circuit breaker at least once a year.”
“That’s right, dear,” said Ward as the orchestra music began to swell. “Because a new circuit breaker is a small price to pay for the safety of your family.”
“Is the music getting louder?” asked Eddie.
“From the Cleaver family to yours,” said Wally.
“Whose family?” asked Eddie.
“We wish you a Merry Christmas,” said Beaver.
“It’s July!” said Eddie.
The Cleaver family froze and smiled in the direction of the southern wall while the orchestra music grew louder. Eddie looked at their frozen faces, followed their gaze to the wall, and then looked desperately for the source of the ever-increasing sound of the orchestra music as the room slowly faded to black.
“Who turned out the lights?!”
Jarrett Langford is an American author of humor and speculative fiction. He is the creator of the podcast American Public Radio and writes sketch comedy for the NPR program Men in Charge. He lives in The Netherlands. Follow him on Twitter
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “Leave It to Hansel”:
We love how author Jarrett Langford blends an old fairy tale with a perfectly captured, classic television show (that’s perhaps nostalgic for some). Add in some excellent tongue-in-cheek and satiric humor, and you have a piece that’s fresh, different, and pleasantly unexpected.