"Shhh! Hannah! You must keep him quiet," Arthur hissed, "or we will die here!"
Late one night in the fall of 1937, Hannah and Arthur Bloomberg hid in a closet of a train speeding through the German countryside. If eight-month old Ari kept crying, passengers or porters might discover the young Jewish couple before they could escape from their homeland.
Four years earlier, Germany's Nazi government had begun arresting people just for being Jewish. All over Europe, people said that tens of thousands of Jews had been arrested and sent to secret prison camps, or murdered.
Arthur had bribed the conductor with one hundred Reichsmarks to tell no one that he and his family were aboard. Hannah carried Ari in a thin blanket, under her thick, warm coat. They hoped that they could get over the border to Austria, which they'd heard was a little safer for Jews. From there,the little family could sail to America, and a new, free life. For now, he white-knuckled the thin prayer book in his right hand coat pocket, and the paring knife in his left.
Hannah hummed a lullaby that her mother used to sing. Ari stopped crying.
As the brakes suddenly hissed, the train lurched, then slowed, then stopped. Arthur heard shouting outside. He dared not open the closet door to see what was happening. More than anything, he wanted to keep his wife and his little son safe. What if the shouts were coming from Nazi border guards?
Minutes crept by like old turtles. The shouting grew louder and closer. Arthur and Hannah both held their breath. What if Nazi soldiers were searching for more Jewish families to arrest? What if the noise came from unfriendly peasants, who might drag the young couple and their baby from the train, and throw them to the police?
Arthur squeezed the knife inside his left pocket. He knew he couldn't protect his family against police, or even peasants, with one little knife. Then, in his right-hand pocket, he felt the small prayer book. Which one would protect him and his family, he asked himself for the hundredth time, the paring knife or the prayer book? The knife or the book?
He remembered his own father teaching him, "Someone you cannot see is with you always, my son. You can always rely on Him." Was that really true? It couldn't hurt to believe it, he thought.
In his heart, he prayed, Oh, Lord, I know you are with me. Please keep my family and me safe in your hands.
All at once, the door of their hiding place flew open. Two skeletons stared at them. Black candles with orange flames rose from their bony hands. Terrified, Hannah and Arthur started to scream, but stopped with their mouths and eyes open wide.
The skeletons looked at each other, then stared at the Bloombergs, and leaned in. In the candlelight, they appeared like messengers from Hell.
A wailing cry escaped from Hannah's coat. Both skeletons turned to stare at her. The shorter one grabbed its jaw and pulled off its head. In the candlelight, the round face of a blond woman with twinkling blue eyes appeared in its place. The taller skeleton took off its mask, too, and a teenage boy with the same blue eyes smiled at Hannah, then at Arthur.
Then Hannah remembered. It was October 31, the Catholic Halloween! In this region people had celebrated it for more than nine hundred years, and these two were local merrymakers.
"Juden? (Jews?)" the woman murmured, smiling kindly. The Bloombergs looked at each other, then back at her. Hannah nodded.
"Und du hast ein Baby?" (And you have a baby?)" she whispered.
Hannah looked down toward her coat, and nodded again.
The woman put her finger to her lips, and handed her skeleton mask to Arhtur. She gestured to the boy with her chin. He, too, gave his mask to Arthur. Then she pointed at their heads, and Arthur smiled. He quickly put one mask on Hannah and the other over his own head "Kommen zie mit! (Come with us!)," the woman whispered again. Then she shouted over her shoulder, at someone behind her, "The fun is just beginning!"
Turning back to the young couple, she murmured, "No one will find you. We are friends."
"You are angels!" Hannah murmured back, through the mask, tears of relief rolling down her cheeks, under the skeleton mask. "Christian angels!"
The blond woman shrugged happily. "Ach! Christians, Jews...What's the difference, eh? Come!"
At midnight, the woman and her son drove the Bloombergs and their baby in a farm wagon to a fishing boat in the harbor, where the little Jewish family sailed to France. From there, they safely reached the United States, and settled in a friendly Protestant neighborhood of upstate New York. Arthur and Hannah never learned the names of their Christian "angels," and never heard from them after the long war that began two years later. But they never forgot the miracle of their German friends. They lived long, happy lives in the United States, where they raised their son, Ari, peacefully.
And every October 31, the children from the nearby neighborhoods all came to the home of the man and woman with the strange accents, and the boy with the dark eyes. There they would always find cups of delicious, hot apple cider, and the best -- the very best -- Halloween treats that anyone had ever tasted.