It is a distant memory, cold and old, dusted off now as a long-neglected, rediscovered book might be. It matters, somehow, that this nearly forgotten evening lived within a mid-nineteen sixties October. Perhaps it could just be that the late autumn wind cooled and creaked the leafless, lifeless-looking trees even more back then than now, again, somehow. Or, perhaps it is only because those old October thirty-firsts were actually spookier then… at least to the one whose memory of that long ago night it is. Those decrepit Halloweens of the past featured no costumes of bleeding bodies or vividly-maimed, tortured souls. Those nights were, simply, or perhaps, not so simply, ghostly, haunting, spooky nights, indeed.
On this one particular Halloween night, dusk, as dust, had settled slowly upon the small New England town of the boy’s youth. Supper had been a hurried affair, gobbled by giggling goblins anxious to get out into the night… where they belonged. Low voices and footsteps of other spooks were already upon the steps of the boy’s home; knocks and bone-chilling knob-rattling had already begun at the front door.
The boy of ten or so was more than ready to go out. By accident, or by plan, his siblings had already slipped away… without him. He was very alone; at least he hoped that he was alone, as he ventured into the dark, and into the much too chilly evening air. The stone-cold wind stabbed at his eyes as he peered through the rubbery-odored mask of his costume. The boy began the long walk through the frozen, dead, musty-scented leaves covering the sidewalk. Those deathly dry leaves crunched and cried out his location with every footfall. He was fair game for any ghouls lurking behind the large maples which lined the street. As the boy walked on in the increasingly inky-black, he dared not peek even slightly around any of those rough old trees. It was a known fact that not EVERY roadside tree hid some witch or ghastly ghost, but the boy knew that he was certain to pick the one which did, if he were to dare to look.
By sheer will, or by chance, the youth succeeded in passing the haunted trees, and successfully trick-or-treated at many old homes along his own home’s dead-end street. Every inch of the way he thought about the one house he dreaded visiting most; the house of the witchy-looking, hunched old lady. It was true that she seemed a kind soul in the daytime, but you never saw her humped old back or the shadowy, wrinkly look in her eyes in the daytime. She saved those things for just such a night as this. Her house, at least the enclosed porch of it, was as cold as a tomb every October night. The boy remembered this well from the year before, but that year he had been with his brothers and sisters. Even then the old witch seemed more interested in him than she should have been. He was small, and likely the only one of the group who would fit in her cauldron, he had always thought. As he walked toward her house this evening, every scuffling, leaf-crunching, spine-chilling step seemed to taunt him with the scratchy words: Every… witch… awaits… the child… who comes… alone.
The boy’s small hands were nearly frozen by the time he reached the old lady’s house, so very far down the street when it is night. He managed to climb to the top of the worn old steps. He stood there for a time, and then worked up enough courage to pry open the narrow door which guarded the witch’s small and dark, windowed porch. The rusty door spring, worn to its own insanity by countless other small boys, who, the boy thought, must also have been fools enough to enter here, screeched a hateful, grating announcement of his arrival. This it repeated, mockingly, as the door slammed tightly shut; a stubborn-looking windowed wall between the boy and the world outside.
The long, enclosed tomb of a porch offered no relief from the cold, but some little bit from the cold night wind. The only light therein was that emanating from a maddening, perfectly-placed jack-o-lantern, which hideously smiled, glaring up at the boy from the floor, at the farthest corner of the room. The entire porch exuded the sooty-sweet smell of that candle-lit carved pumpkin. This aroma devilishly mingled with that of the crisp, cold Macintosh apples which filled a wooden crate at one wall.
The one who disguised herself as a regular, kind old lady during the daytime was very cunning, indeed. Her trap for such little boys was a porch table full of the biggest and best Halloween treats in town. Those very famous treats were the only reason the boy was even on this terrifying old porch, on this terrifying night. There was a tray which held beautiful candied apples, and another laden with huge, wax paper-wrapped popcorn balls. The container between them overflowed with candy corn, the boy’s favorite. Blood red punch filled a crystal bowl, with paper cups all around it, to tempt just such a one as he, with likely poison.
Thoughts of tainted apples and boiling cauldrons momentarily filled the child. He then nervously picked his treat, and got it safely into the candy-stuffed pillow case he carried. Hearing the nighttime witch walking across her kitchen floor, right toward the porch, he headed out, past the screeching door, down the old steps, and toward home. The boy knew one thing for sure, as he tramped back up the street. If the witch had ever convinced any small boy to enter her house, that boy certainly had never come back out. But he, that night, had somehow survived one more dark visit there. And, he had gotten away with the biggest popcorn ball of all!
Yes, Halloween was different in the nineteen sixties, before the age of pre-packaged sugar and plastic holidays. There was something hauntingly powerful then, in the cheap paper cutout decorations, the cardboard skeletons, and the black and orange party streamers of those years. Fold-out tissue pumpkins and eerie (and probably dangerous) cardboard candle holders lit our New England yards. Homemade, and totally safe treats filled our old cloth bags. (The very thought of doing actual harm to some young trick-or-treater was inconceivable then.) Those bags were the carefully guarded property of night-crawling, costumed, youthful vagabonds, whose parents had no reason to fear that they would not return home safely. Those Halloweens were ones of simple, frightful fun, when cartoon ghosts and goblins, fake witches and funny Frankenstein monsters were all that stalked the lives and imaginations of innocent children. True evil had nothing to do with it at all.
The ghosts of Halloweens long-past may find their haunts only in aging, dusty memories, but the dark and distant night you just read about really did happen. At least, that’s how this old trick-or-treater remembers it.
“George’s World,” a new 740 page collection of George’s columns from The World, is available at xlibris.com, amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and your favorite bookstore. “The Smoke And Mirrors Effect,” George’s first novel, can be seen at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Happy Reading!