It was late enough that the smaller children and their escorting parents had returned home. Only the slightly rowdy teenagers remained, and they were few and far between.
Fwip peered down into his plastic jack o' lantern bucket at the miniature candy bars and other assorted treats. “I seem to be doing well.”
“Relative to what standard?” asked Hrump.
“I'm not sure,” Fwip said as they continued down the sidewalk. “It simply appears that I have a respectable return for very little effort.”
“Indeed,” answered Hrump. “We have only completed half of one leg of our grid, and already my receptacle is nearly three twelfths full. In fact it is becoming quite heavy.”
“As is mine. The native life forms seem to exhibit extraordinary strength even when physically immature. Shall we?” Fwip gestured up the last driveway on the street.
Hrump rotated his sensory cluster towards the building and examined it. “The exterior light is not functioning. However, there is interior illumination, and I am detecting a life form within. I believe we should proceed.”
“Excellent. After you.”
They proceeded up the driveway, past the looming but quiescent vehicle. Once on the porch, Fwip reached up with a tentacle and very gently pressed the doorbell button. They stood silently for a few moments, but the door remained shut.
“In my opinion,” Hrump said, “you should depress it again. The resulting signal is auditory only, it is possible the resident did not hear it.”
Fwip nodded. “Quite right. Persistence may very well be key.” Again his tentacle strained upwards and pressed the button. Again, he could hear the bell sounding inside. They waited patiently, but again there was no answer from within.
“I fail to see how the native within could possibly fail to hear the signal. It is quite loud, and falls within the frequency spectrum detectable by their hearing.” Fwip was becoming annoyed by the unpredictability of the situation.
“As of course it would,” chided Hrump, “given that they themselves designed it.”
“Yes, I apologize; you are correct, I am being tiresome. Nevertheless, perhaps we should reassess our course of action?”
Hrump considered for a moment. “I have a suggestion if I may be so bold.”
Fwip turned to face his companion. “Of course; I value your counsel.”
“I have also observed natives petitioning for attention from within by battering lightly against the door with their appendages.”
“Lightly enough so as not to cause damage to the door itself, but strongly enough to produce a sufficiently audible sound inside the domicile.”
“Ah. It would seem to be worth a try. Since you seem to be more familiar with the practice I suggest you should make the attempt.”
“I would be happy to.”
Hrump wound three tentacles together so as to form a more massive implement, and banged it with as much force as he could muster. They immediately heard muffled speech and movement from within.
“Your plan of action appears to be proceeding.”
The door swung open, revealing a woman in a bathrobe. “Yes?”
Together, Fwip and Hrump said loudly, “Trick or Treat.”
The woman sighed. “Listen, you two are very cute in your costumes, but I'm sorry, I don't have any candy.”
Fwip looked quizzically at Hrump. “She has no candy.”
“I heard and understood her statement.” Hwip said with some annoyance.
“Forgive me, again: I was momentarily caught unprepared for this contingency.”
The woman pointed up at the darkened porch light. “That's why the light was off. We don't do Halloween.”
“It appears then,” Fwip observed, remembering his briefing materials, “that as per custom we should perform a trick.”
Hrump asked, “We perform the trick? Should not the resident perform the trick? As penance for her surprising lack of candy?”
“No. The honor of the trick is ours.”
“Listen...” the woman tried to interrupt, to no avail.
Hrump gestured to Fwip and observed, “You are the cultural expert...”
“Indeed I am,” Fwip interjected.
“...and thus I defer to you in this matter.”
“Where are your parents?” The woman was squinting to peer past them into the darkened yard and street.
“Thank you,” said Fwip to Hrump. “I believe this will satisfy our obligation.” Fwip turned to face the woman, opened his mouth, and ejected an aerosolized stream of acidic venom through the door and onto the woman's face.
The two watched the woman clutch at her face and scream, then fall to the floor where she began twitching and gasping.
“Strange.” Fwip observed.
“Yes. The native appears to have no natural resistance to a simple spitting defense.”
“I find that difficult to believe,” Fwip admitted.
“Nevertheless,” Hrump stated, “observe the deterioration of her epidermal layer, and the resulting loss of circulatory fluids. The optical organs are being dissolved even now.”
“I reluctantly agree with your assessment.”
“It would seem that we have made a rather serious error.”
“I agree,” Fwip offered sullenly.
“How should we proceed?”
Fwip considered. The woman had stopped twitching and was exhibiting only shallow labored breathing. “I am unsure. Perhaps the local authorities should be notified?”
“We may very well have to face consequences under law.”
“At least I may.”
Hrump quickly objected, “I, too: I agreed to our course of action.”
“Not in detail: your complicity was general. You agreed only to 'a trick', which I then chose, it seems quite poorly indeed.”
“How could you have known the results beforehand? I believe the fault lies in incomplete information having been provided to us.”
“Quite so,” Fwip admitted.
“I will have strong words for the embassy staff, I can tell you.” Hrump said.
“As will I. Perhaps the onus of contacting the authorities should fall on them.”
“That would seem appropriate.”
“Accordingly, I propose we return to the embassy and make a report.”
Fwip once more surveyed the scene before them. “Shall we close the door?”
Hrump considered the question before answering, “I fear it is far too heavy.”
Fwip gestured back down the driveway. “After you.”
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