The Night was Plastic and Horrible
This is how they move, from street light to street light. Him leading. Her right behind him, nipping at his heels, both of them wrapped in camouflage and grease paint. How they move, it’s a facsimile of a hopscotch, in and out of the orange tinted haze, never lingering too long for fear of upsetting some integral balance. For this they waited until dark because it was better to wait, better when the all but the last red dregs of October’s last day come sliding long and lonesome through scattered dime store tombstones.
It was better to wait because then there was no different between the plastic and the horrible as they pass kids playing at the same dangerous game.
This is Halloween night. It’s any Halloween night between the years 1994, the year she turned five, and 1999, the year he graduated high school. In the middle of those sainted years three men, who would seem like kids to her later, were convicted for the 1993 murders of three children on a Halloween night in Pasadena, California and in 1994 a young boy was shot in Las Vegas while trick-or-treating with his mom and his aunt.
She doesn’t think or know about these thing on her Halloween, not even as both of them lead their parents by at least two city blocks.
“Damion,” Their mom calls, was always calling. “Wait for your sister.”
He stops and waits for her.
At a house down the street kids don’t get their treats at the front door but go right on in through a curtain of smoke and strobing white light. They start screaming just as another group comes laughing from around the back fence. In their hands are homemade cookies. Already their lips are smeared with chocolate spoiling their ghoulish edifices. Inside her own mask it’s hard to breathe. The mouth and both nose holes droop near the stalk of her neck. She has to walk with stiff shoulders because this second face is so big that the eye slits will move if she runs, will blind her with her own enthusiasm. When she gets there her own brother’s face shines out through a painted skull.
“Can we go there, Dam-o?” She asks. “Please.”
“On the way back.” He says.
Hordes of skeletons wave their pitchforks. A tribe of ancient deaths pass her by, all of them hooded, all of their eyes etched in black to give the effect of something long buried and forgotten. A pirate raises it’s cutlass to black out the moon. If she stands between the patches of light and the wind doesn’t blow too hard she can almost make herself believe those weapons of darkness are something more substantial, something more than painted foam.
“Look,” He says. “We’re gonna zig-zag. These three houses then we’ll cross the street and get the other two.”
“But we’ll miss some.” She points down the street were a crowd of witches gather around their mother’s. Four girls in crooked green noses giggle to each other in the shadows between a line of parked cars. Their hands dip into open cloth sacks. Candy is shuffled, reviewed, and catalogued by expert touch. “I don’t want to miss any.” She says.
“Doesn’t matter. Last year they gave out penny candy and tooth brushes. We don’t need that shit.”
Her own breath rages in her costume but she doesn’t dare take it off, doesn’t dare spoil the night with her need. She just nods. When big brothers have their reasons it is the duty of little sisters to pick up as best they can and follow.
When they’re older, after her brother has children of his own, they will skip more than just a few houses. Four porches in a row will have their porch light dimmed. On the next street over an entire block is quiet and dark. Mothers and fathers will lead red nosed children by the hand through a grey autumn afternoon because when they’re older, Halloween will be confided to daylight hours, pushed into shopping malls with long lines of bored adults and weary children. People are allowed to pass out candy between five and seven p.m. Often they don’t leave their doors open that long, if they bother at all. When they’re older, it just won’t seem worth the struggle.
“Hey,” She says as they stop so the kids can meander up to a house bare of decorations. She thinks about her dad and scotch taping their cardboard Frankenstein’s monster to the front door of her childhood home. “Do you remember that place by grandma’s, where the guy set up his house like a haunted maze?”\
“It wasn’t a maze, just the kitchen and living room of some dudes apartment,” Damion smiles. “And I remember a certain someone too chicken to go inside.”
“I did so go in.”
“Only after I went in first.”
“You’re older than me,”
They watch the kids for a second. Listless adults drop pieces of individually wrapped candy into the open mouths of molded bags with plastic handles.
“It was pretty cool though, right.” He says.
“Hell yeah. Do you think anyone around here could pull something like that off?”
She’s thinking about the modern myth that some props in haunted houses scattered across the country that are more than what they seem. She’s thinking about real dead man left to rot on display in suburban homes and boys who accidentally hang themselves in front of paying spook house customers.
“Nah,” Damion says. “Too many weirdos these days. People would never go inside.”
She thinks about the 1998 murder of Karl Jackson, shot through the head on Halloween after he tried to stop some teenagers from throwing eggs at his car. She remembers devils and angels mixed together at elementary school parties. She remembers the wax smell of face paint and spider shaped bags, taller than any neighborhood kid, stuffed with the cinnamon spice of autumn. She know that Halloween has always been for the weirdos.
Her brother’s son comes running down the walkway to where the group of adults waits around a caravan of plastic wagons. He looks too bored for a little boy on Halloween. She looks around and thinks he has every right to be. He doesn’t know about the serial rapist, arrested in 2009 for a thirteen year string of assaults or the brutal 2011 beating that left a teenage girl dead in the hospital after she was found along some defunked railroad tracks in a Midwestern town. Could a five year old ever understand how the ritualistic rape and murder of a little girl in Wisconsin changed how people across the country view trick-or-treat? She watches him pick at the candy in his bag before jumping in the wagon to wait until they get to the next driveway.
No, she doesn’t want him to ever know.
She wants to hold his hand when they cross the street. She eyeballs every teenage who pushes just a little too hard past the little ones. These “getting to old for this” kids who still want to be at the front of the pack when the door opens and the free candy begins to flow.
She wants her nephew to get home safe. She doesn’t want to be a quip in some article about a local tragedy.
A van stops near the curb and a mass of princesses and superheroes spill out from the sliding utility door to wait in line with the other kids. Another van is parked behind it and another behind that. All of them waiting their turn while their family sport engines idle.
Later, she’ll go home and watch a movie by herself with her headphones on because no one in her house likes scary movies. She has to listen to the screaming in stereo. She lives with two men who roll their eyes when she comes home with another misshapen skull, another creature stripped to its bones, meant to hang in the trees by their driveway. Her own costume waits until the weekend, when it technically won’t be Halloween any more. It’s in a bag in the closet. She almost forgot it was there.
She looks out the window. It’s not even dark yet.
When she was little, they didn’t stop until all the porch lights were out and the only markers left were the jack-o-lanterns abandoned on porch steps to rot until mid November. Even then you might catch someone ready to offload a weeks worth of candy into an intrepid trick-or-treaters bag. Her brother knew this was where the real work began. He knew you just had to be patient.
This is how they move, in a team of two, out in the night with the neighborhood houses leering over them. The safe zones of light get farther and farther apart as they move away from dense clusters of trick-or-treaters towards the cemetery and back towards their grandma’s house. By now the costumes have been on so long, she begins to wonder if these weren’t their real faces, hidden until dark, until Halloween.
This is before she knew about legends of poisoned candy or the stories told back and forth between parents about razors slipped into unassuming apples. As if they would ever eat fruit on Halloween. This is back before she knew to keep watch for sex offenders, to wonder about kidnappers, back before fear of real things drove Halloween into parking lots and away from the neighborhood where she grew up. This is when her and her brother walk past the cities bone yard. Just a couple of undead things outlined against velveteen sky.