HALLOWEEN HELL

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It’s that time of year. Halloween.

And the ritual begins. Candy buying, decorating the house with pictures of ghosts and goblins, spreading spider webs over the bushes. All to create a spooky atmosphere.

All Hallow’s Eve arrives. The air is crisp as Dad brings me out on the front porch. I don’t get to trick-or-treat. No, I’m part of our own special ritual.

Dad settles me across from the milk box, on the other side of the door. Dusk has fallen and it’s eerie out here. Oh, there’s a light. Now I can see the trick-or-treaters as they come up on the porch. I wish I could do more, but I have to sit and watch.

Dad eases himself onto the milk box and leans back against the side of the house. He’s dressed in overalls, with bits of straw sticking out from the sleeves of his arms and his pant legs. A straw hat sits rakishly on his head. He’s supposed to be a scarecrow. This is all part of the ritual for this family, to frighten the hapless children that come to our house for treats.

I don’t move, just sit here with a creepy look on my face. Dad is tombstone-still. He’s like the dead, which is exactly who he’s supposed to be.

Now we wait for the trick-or-treaters. It’s a little warmer with the light, but its brightness gives me a headache. We hear the titter of excited voices.

A couple of older boys climb the porch steps. They hesitate when they see Dad, wondering if he’s really a scarecrow. The tall one, dressed as Batman, reaches out and pokes Dad’s arm.

“Wonder if he’s real,” Batman says.

Dad remains motionless, barely breathing.

Batman’s buddy, a shorter, stocky kid wearing a dark cloak and a mask from the Scream movie shrugs, then punches the doorbell.

Eeeeh, aaaah, the bell chimes low, like in The Addams Family show.

A pause.

“Is he real?” Scream asks, his voice muffled behind the mask.

“Dunno.”Batman nudges Dad’s leg with his shoe.

The door opens slowly with a squeak.Both boys tense. I smile, I can’t help it.

Mom stands in the doorway. She’s dressed in full witch costume, right down to the fake nose with a wart on it.

“What do such lovelies want on this cold, dark night?” she cackles.

The boys hesitate, staring mesmerized at Mom.

“Whoa,” Batman murmurs.

“Speak up, or I’ll have you for dinner,” Mom sneers.

Scream’s hands shake slightly.

“Trick or treat!” the boys finally say. They raise plastic bags emblazoned with ghosts on them.

While the boys are watching Mom, Dad shifts slowly, carefully, his arms and legs now in different positions.

“I might have goodies for you,” Mom says. She reaches a gnarled hand into an iron cauldron brought in from the back yard. A block of dried ice creates a ghostly steam around Mom’s hand.

Batman eases forward, trying to see into the cauldron.

Mom throws out her hand. “Don’t peek!” she snarls.

Batman and Scream both jump back.

“Here, my pretties.” Mom pulls her hand from the cauldron and drops candy bars into their goody bags.

“Thank you,” the boys murmur.

“Beware the spirits of this hallowed night,” Mom croons. “Beware.”

The boys scoot back.

Batman lets out a slow breath. “Wow, she’s weird,” he says.

“Check him out,” Scream points at me. “What a goofy grin.”

He’s right. I hate my crooked smile.

“Dude,” Scream elbows Batman. “Did that body move?”

“The dead own the night,” Mom croaks in a throaty whisper.

The boys freeze.

“Check out his eyes.” Scream seems fascinated by me. “That’s creepy.”

Okay, the crack about my grin was enough, he should leave my crooked, lazy eye alone.

Then Batman summons up his courage. He moves close to Dad. “He’s not dead,” Batman says. He jabs Dad’s arm.

Dad leaps up and yowls.

“Aaaah!” the boys scream and leap off the porch. Their cries can be heard far down the street.

“Hoo boy, that’s fun!” Dad laughs so hard tears stream down his face.

“You frightened them near to death,” Mom smacks her hands together, delighted.

I can’t wipe the grin off my own face. It was pretty funny.

But Mom and Dad won’t pay the price if those kids come back for revenge. I will. I’ve heard the rumors about what was done to others. I shiver.

The moon rises full as Mom and Dad frighten more children with their antics. I’m getting colder.And I’ve got a headache, like burning at the top of my head.

Mom and Dad eventually tire of the game. Dad pats me and goes inside. I have to stay on the porch. It’s my job to protect the house. I feel so useless, but this is my role.

The moon hides behind a line of clouds. It’s dark out there on the street. Shadow figures dance in and out of the streetlights. The younger children have all left. Only the older kids remain, going from house to house, filling their bags with candy.

Now I worry. They’ll come for me. Just like the rumors say.

I watch and listen. An eerie silence ensues, interrupted by the far-off holler of a trick-or-treater.

The light flickers out. I can’t see right in front of me. And I’m cold.I doze off.

What was that?

Something is in the bushes at the edge of the porch.

I can’t see a thing, just inky blackness. My headache’s gone, but it’s so cold. And it’s so dark.

That noise again!

Rustling.

Oh, please help me. Can’t I go inside now?

I see them now!

No, stop!

Hands reach out and grab me. They raise me up high into the air. They whisk me across the yard.

The hands hurl me! I’m flying through the air. Help me!

*****

“Dude, did you see that?” Batman howls with laughter.

“What a mess,” Scream says.

Batman looks around. “It splattered into a million pieces.”

“Let’s get out of here before someone sees us.” Scream darts off down the street. Batman hurries after him.

The moon slithers from behind the clouds, revealing the shattered remains of a jack-o-lantern on the pavement.

For more about Renee Pawlish, her works, and contest information, visit her website at www.reneepawlish.com.

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