I was dressed as a flapper, whatever that was, with a cloche hat and a blue fringed sleeveless dress. My older brother was a robot, a costume he made himself from cardboard boxes and silver paint. We were handed white pillow slips and told to limit our Halloween begging to a three block radius, and under no circumstances cross the busy street behind the house.
The house at the top of the block was in total darkness, as it was every Halloween, because of the owners’ religious beliefs. We got an early and annual education in the sinister side of church-going, since the idea of denying us chocolate and caramels and Tootsie Roll Pops seemed dark and ungodly.
A few doors down from them was the over-decorated house, with sheets meant to be ghosts hanging from the trees, half a dozen carved smiling pumpkins hosting flickering candles, and the black silhouettes of bats and witches on broomsticks bedecking the windows. Mr and Mrs Williams were always jovial but asked too many questions and talked to us as if we were toddlers. “Oh my goodness, what do we have here! What are you all dressed up as, little lady?” A flapper. “Oh!” Much chuckling on their part, and scowling and blushing on mine, until they move along to the next victim, who was not my brother, because he’d got his Mars bar (the full size candy bars being the only reason we bother with the Williams) and escaped from the porch.
Many houses later over on the next block was the scary place, where someone had made a graveyard out of the front garden, and the house was dimly lit inside, and you had to knock on the door in the dark, and you never could remember if the people inside had criminal records, or living children, or had somehow harmed a friend of a friend last Halloween. This night, a teenager with a scarred green face and blood dribbling from his mouth tosses packets of gum into our pillow slips. Maybe we’d skip the scary place next year.
The night wore on and there were fewer and fewer children on the street, but my brother’s stamina was legendary, and he had a special new goal: The haunted house across the busy street.
I had almost reached the status of non-girl in his eyes, as in not as dumb or as weak or as scaredy cat as a regular girl, as in almost tolerable. Was I to risk all this advancement, this near-shattering of the plastic ceiling, because I was afraid to disobey our parents, and terrified to go near the haunted house?
The haunted house was only haunted late at night, when you were adrenalin-pumped and jittery, and almost ready to go home from trick-or-treating, if you could survive. By day it was a very old Victorian-style wooden house, with the requisite peeling paint and boarded up windows. Tall weeds impeded progress to a sagging front porch, which ran the width of the facade. It was a eyesore, perennially rumoured to be the new location of a Baptist church, or Harvey’s Drive In, or a pet store.
Me, my courageous brother, and his best friend, Donny, approached the house from the north, on the sidewalk, walking nonchalantly so as not to alert anyone or anything that we were possibly frightened and possibly going to do something stupid, like walk up to a house that was surely the site of past atrocities, and damned for eternity. I was trembling. Also shivering. I told my brother I was cold. “Too bad,” he said.
Donny, who was dressed as a cowboy complete with chaps and side arms, was strangely silent as we navigated through the weeds to the front door. For some reason, my brother thought it was a good idea to knock. Logic was never a strong point in my family. So he knocked on the front door. It was a cold, hollow sound.
The door flew open! There was an inferno! A scream!
Donny fell backwards off the porch and landed on his head. Blood poured from his skull. My brother ran down the stairs and dove into the tall grass. I alone stood, paralyzed with fear, on the porch, staring at what I saw was some kind of industrial-strength flashlight, wielded by a boy much older, but no taller than I was. He was wrapped in dirty bandages and his face was lit from underneath, so his yellowish face was in hideous shadow.
He grabbed my pillow case, and slammed the door. The house was dark and silent again.
My brother and I dragged the bleeding Donny to our house, where our parents cleaned him up and called his mother. “It’s not as bad as it looks,” said my mother. My dad, showing more spunk than I thought him capable, went out in the car to check out the haunted house, but no one was there. Our punishment would wait.
Donny was sniffling. His head wound probably hurt. His cowboy jeans were soaking wet. No one said anything.
My brother turned on me, “You’re just a baby, screaming like that and scaring everyone.”
“I didn’t!” I felt anger tears welling to the surface, but dared not lose face by crying.
“Cry-baby scaredy cat,” said my brother. His robot head was off, but he was still wearing a crumpled silver box around his midriff. He scowled at me and took the wrapping off a Tootsie Roll for Donny, just as his mother knocked on the front door.
Donny’s face was a smeared mix of blood and sticky chocolate as his mother picked him up in her arms and carried him out, as if he was a little baby.
My brother laid out his candy haul on the kitchen table, sorting it by weight and value. My mother told him he would be sharing his bounty with me, his younger sister, since my pillow slip had been stolen. He sighed, frowned, and rearranged the piles of chocolate and wrapped candies.
“It wasn’t me, it was Donny,” I said to my brother. “I didn’t scream.”
“I know,” said my brother. “But he would have felt bad if I knew it was him.”
“I feel bad because of what you said.”
“Too bad,” he told me. “You’re just a girl.”
Our punishment was harsh. No television, no playing outside after supper, so we basically had nothing to do but meditate upon our sins. Or read, which I did, so I didn’t have to think about Donny.
My brother gave me the full size Mars bar as part of my share of the loot, but it wasn’t enough. Not by a mile.