Dear Readers, You may have seen this column before. I have used it for several years on Halloween week. It’s my most requested ‘reprint.’ I hope you enjoy it.
By G. E. Shuman
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 happened within a mid-nineteen-sixties year. Perhaps it could be that the late autumn wind cooled and creaked the leafless, lifeless-looking trees even more then than now; again, somehow. Or, perhaps it is only because those October thirty-firsts were actually spookier then, at least to the one whose memory of the night it is. Those Halloweens contained no costumes of bleeding skulls or vividly maimed souls. They were, simply, or perhaps, not so simply, ghostly, hauntingly spooky nights.
On this one 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. Low voices and footsteps of other spooks were already upon the steps; 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 plan, his siblings had already slipped into the night without him. He was very alone; at least he hoped that he was alone, as he ventured into the much too chilly night air. The cold breeze stung his eyes as he peered through the rubbery-odored mask of his costume. He began the long walk through the frozen-dead, musty-smelling leaves covering the sidewalk. The youth hurried past the frightful row of thick and dark, moonlit-maples that lined the way. He was very afraid that the dry crunch of death in those old leaves would alert of his presence whatever ghoul or ghost might be lurking behind one of those trees. As he walked on in the increasingly-inky black, he dared not peek even slightly around any of them. It was a sure thing that not EVERY roadside tree hid some witch or ghastly ghoul, 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 surpassing the haunted trees and successfully trick-or-treated at many houses on the street. Every inch of the way he thought about the one house he dreaded visiting most; the house of the witchy-looking old lady. Sure, she seemed kind in the daytime, but you didn’t see her humped old back or the wrinkly look in her eyes in the daytime. Her house was cold as a tomb, at least, such was her porch, at night, in late October. The boy knew this well from the year before, but that year he had been with his brothers and sisters. As he walked, the scuffing, leaf scraping sound of every step seemed to taunt him with the words: Every… witch… awaits… the child… who comes… alone…
The boy’s small hands were nearly freezing by the time he reached the old lady’s small dark house far down the street. He managed to climb to the top of the worn and creaky steps. He stood there a moment and then worked up enough courage to open the narrow door which entered onto the witch’s small, windowed porch. The rusty door spring, worn to its own insanity by countless other small boys who were fools enough to enter here, he thought, screeched a hateful, taunting announcement of the boy’s arrival. This it repeated, mocking its original scream, as the door slammed tightly shut between the lad and the world outside.
The long, enclosed tomb of a porch offered no relief from the cold, but some little relief from the night wind. The only light therein was that of a maddening, perfectly-placed jack-o-lantern which hideously smiled up at the boy from the floor, at the farthest corner of the room. The porch exuded the sooty-sweet smell of that candle-lit carved pumpkin. This strange aroma mingled with that of crisp, cold Macintosh apples which filled a wooden crate at one wall. “What could possibly be the use of cold apples to a witch?” The boy briefly pondered.
The one who disguised herself as a regular, kind old lady during the daytime was very cunning indeed. Her trap for little boys was a porch table full of the biggest and best treats in the town. Those very famous treats were the single reason the boy was even on this terrifying porch. There was a tray which held beautiful candied apples and another laden with huge, wax-paper-wrapped popcorn balls. A bowl between them overflowed with candy corn; the boy’s favorite. Thoughts of poison apples and boiling cauldrons momentarily filled the child. He then nervously picked his treat and got it safely into the candy-stuffed pillowcase he carried. Hearing the nighttime witch walking across her kitchen floor toward the door to the porch, he headed out, past the screeching door, down the creaking steps, and toward home. If she had ever invited any little boy into her home, that boy certainly had never come back out, he thought, as he briskly walked. This boy, that night, had, somehow, survived another visit to that house. He had even gotten away with the biggest, most delicious popcorn ball of all! His only fear then was in getting past the street-side ghouls that certainly stared at him from behind some of those huge old maples. But, the horror still was, behind which ones?
It is a fact that Halloween was different in the nineteen sixties, before the age of sugar and plastic holidays. There was just something hauntingly powerful about the cheap paper cutouts, cheesy cardboard skeletons and black and orange streamers of those years. Fold-out paper pumpkins and eerie (and probably dangerous) cardboard candle holders lit the yards. Homemade, totally safe treats filled pillowcases and paper bags of those who dared to face the night. Those were night-prowling, costumed, youthful vagabonds, young souls whose parents had no fear at all that they would not return home safely.
Halloween nights were ones of simple, frightful fun, in those years. Cartoon ghosts and goblins, fake witches and funny Frankenstein monsters were all that stalked the streets or the innocent imaginations of children then. True evil had nothing to do with those nights at all.
The ghouls of Halloweens long-past may live on only in aging, dusty memories, but the dark and distant nineteen-sixties Halloween you just read about really did happen. At least, that’s how this old trick-or-treater remembers it.