Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Night I Screamed On Halloween

Recently, I was telling my mother about my scariest Halloween moment. She questioned whether she would have let me venture out on my own at the tender age of 6. I was with a friend from the neighborhood and we were in the same class at school, so I wasn't really alone. I told her, sure, why not? Times were different then. You left your windows open at night. During hot summer months, most houses were without air conditioning and the only thing that separated you from the rest of the world was a screen door. Crime wasn't something that was ever present in your mind. It was a different time...

It was a chilly autumn night, that 48 years ago when I lived in Somerville, New Jersey. It was my first foray out with a friend on Halloween. No moms allowed! I was a man this night, or so I thought. Howard and I went out to make the rounds just as darkness fell. There were lots of kids in all sorts of costumes running around, stopping at each house. Some homes were decorated and they seemed like the most inviting, the ones that would give out the best candy! We saw the flickering of candlelit pumpkins with each eerie twist and turn throughout the neighborhood. Skeletons hung from trees and porches, swaying in the gentle breeze. We talked of ghosts and goblins and tried to stay away from dark alleys and back yards. No way! Oh yeah, houses with their lights off, too, because that meant they were going to grab you and take you to the basement where you'd never be seen again. Or else, they weren't home.

I had a double shopping bag to stuff all that tooth rotting goodness in. There were no paper or plastic options at the grocery store back then. These were the days of old when the milkman left glass bottles of milk at your doorstep and on freezing winter morns, the cream would expand and push the paper cap up and out a few inches. Brrr. Rabbit ears were the best way to watch your round screen black & white TV.

Howard kept insisting that we finish the night at his house. OK, I said, you already stopped at mine when you came to get me. That was our first treat and my mom always had good ones. He lived four or five houses up and across the street from mine. When you're six years old, that's pretty far away and I wasn't too crazy about being almost out of sight of my own place. I was approaching unmarked territory. At least, at night. Halloween night! We'd been out long enough and had plenty of goodies to last a long time. We probably had bewitching hours, anyway. There might have been school the next day.

"OK. Let's go to my place," Howard said.

"I'm ready," I replied. Besides, I was getting tired from all that trick or treating and having to rip off my mask to show everyone who I was.

We walked up the sidewalk and up the stairs of his front porch. It was dark and spooky and I sensed evil lurking about. We rang the doorbell and his father answered.


"I want to see a trick," Howard's father told us. A trick? I didn't know what he was talking about. Saying trick or treat meant I was going to get candy. What was this trick thing all about? I asked him.

"When you say trick or treat, I can ask you to do a trick first. Then I give you a treat. Do you have a trick?"

Howard and I gave each other a puzzled look and said, "No..?."

"Well, then. I have a trick for you," and just like that, his top teeth popped out and back into his mouth in an instant. I froze in my tracks and just stared up at him. Then he did it again. Those teeth popped out of his face and dangled for a second and then zipped right back into his mouth.

I let out a blood curdling scream that woke the dead at the cemetery down the street. Every S.W.A.T. team in the county would come running if they heard it today. I turned to run, when all of a sudden, Howard's mom came from behind his father and quickly came out the door to comfort me. Whatever his name was, she sure did scold him.

"He shouldn't have done that." The guy was rolling on the floor in laughter. Howard didn't know what to do. "Sometimes when people's teeth go bad, they get pulled and new ones won't grow in like after your baby teeth. They're replaced with fake ones so you can chew your food. That's what happened to Howard's dad." She turned to him. "Apologize right now!"

I don't remember if he said anything or not. He was still laughing. I was pretty rattled and couldn't stop shaking in my boots. She said she would walk me home. I was not about ready to venture out of that neighborhood by myself. When we got back to my place, she explained to my mother what a horror filled trauma I had just gone through. I sensed a snicker or two and I'm not talking the candy variety.

"Mom? Can I sleep with the light on tonight?" I asked. "I'm never going back to that house again," and I never did. "Mom, would you lock the front door, just in case?" For the longest time, I wouldn't even look at that place and I sure was glad when we moved.

When I was older, I wondered how the father of a six year old could have lost his teeth so young. Maybe, he ate too much Halloween candy.

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