Halloween wasn’t so scary a when I was a kid. I was out there with the rest of them laughing, haunting, joining in with my friends, playing tricks, checking my haul, savoring the funny taste of my mask, rubber or starched cheesecloth or plastic or something.
It was those other late fall nights that scared me as a kid, just before the snows came, when no grown-ups paraded up and down the streets with flashlights. No one escorted happily singing kids with silly costumes and bags full of candy. Instead, the streets were dark and empty. The wind growled. The trees attacked the houses and allowed all kinds of creatures to climb onto the roof and fight like hell to break through the windows and get to me. The bed covers helped me then. They were like a magical cloak no monster could penetrate. Thank God I had them.
On those other late fall nights, when the protective evening light of summer had ended, the scare was in my closet, when just that narrow beam from the streetlight sliced through the parted shades and fell right on the handle of the closet door. It wanted me to enter. But something big was in there, moving around like an ogre, getting tangled in the clothes on the hangers, tripping over the pile of shoes, somehow unable to burst out and get me. But just in case, I had my covers and all their magic.
Halloween became scary at night when I was an ADULT. Who knew who might show up outside my door when my wife and kids were out exploiting the neighborhood? Sure there were children dressed as pumpkins, or ET, or transformers who could reassemble themselves from boxes into cars right there on my doorstep, or tiny muscle-bound Incredible Hulks or Supermen, Wonder Women or yet another Tinkerbelle.
What scared me more was opening the door to a teenage gorilla that jumped right through the doorway and started screaming at me. He scared me so much that I screamed right back and scared him. And so he screamed more, and I screamed again until we joined each other in a seemingly endless cycle that had his companions laughing for days. I didn’t laugh about it… ever.
What scared me most was our neighbor who dressed like a witch, worked her costume to perfection, brought a broom along and dropped by for trick or treat. Nothing funny about the way my heart raced as I caught sight of her out the side window before I had to open the door. She cackled and grinned, not me.
The teenage girl down the block did the same thing a year later and gave me an even bigger scare. She was a better seamstress, mistress of ugly-faced makeup and witchiness. I dreaded her next appearance, but she came as a Native American Princess with short shorts, a tank top and just a touch of war paint under each eye. That costume was the most alarming of them all.