It was just a plastic, Halloween skeleton dangling from our large oak tree in the front yard. We had put it there in the middle of September, despite our neighborhood's wishes. They didn't quite understand our enthusiasm for the holiday, and those same hypocritical folk were putting plastic Santas on their lawn come November 1st.
Back to the skeleton: it was a cheapo, run-of-the-mill Halloween decoration. You've probably seen your fair share at dollar stores, Halloween pop-ups, and big-box retailers. Now that I've had time to think about it, I'm pretty sure it even glowed in the dark…which meant it just barely glowed at all. As a kid, however, it was always the coolest thing to me. It's truly amazing how the mundane bewilders children.
One of the reasons I cherished that skeleton so much was because of all the memories I had of the thing. Every Halloween, Mom, and Dad would take me around the block as they ushered me to the front doors of complete strangers, now people I know by name, as I pleaded for a Reese's or Kit Kat. Halloween is such a strange time of year, but I remember those chilly, autumn nights almost more than Christmas morning.
As we'd walk home from the house at the end of the cul-de-sac, Dad would tease me about the spooky skeleton swaying in the breeze down the road. Mom would turn off her flashlight, and ever-so-faintly I could make out the glow of the swaying ghoul. I would always scream, and my parents would laugh. Dad would bend down and pick me up by the sides of my dinosaur costume and point down the road at the cheap prop.
"It's okay to be afraid, bud. But never let it rule your life."
I would confidently nod, and my dad would hug me and set me down. I'd rush off toward the house and sit beneath the wind-dancing skeleton in the grassy yard, sorting through all the good candy for me, and the rest for dad. He never minded, as he especially loved the coconut chocolates, the stuff I always loathed as a child. I'd get bitten up by ants after a few minutes, but I suppose the excitement of eating candy kept me planted on the lawn. Dad didn't mind, but Mom did…that is, if I ate too much candy before bedtime.
Before I'd drift off into dreamland, Dad would always promise a scary story before he tucked me in. Usually, it was one of his own, typically something about his time in the war, maybe emphasized by ghosts or zombies…but one Halloween, the most memorable of all, he read me a passage from the Bible. It was a Bible he had tucked away inside my dresser drawer, an heirloom from my great-grandfather when he, too, was in the service.
The passage he read was from Ezekiel: the story of the valley of dry bones, and how God would breathe into them and raise the corpses from the dead. As he said this, my dad would raise the pitch of his voice, and point forebodingly to the skeleton hanging from the tree.
"Y'know" he would say, growing more serious in his tone, "One day, I'm not gonna be here for you, bud. One day, you're gonna have to face your fears on your own. But don't worry, I'll always be there with you. See you in the morning."
I would smile and nod. I didn't entirely understand the concept of death. I thought skeletons were nothing more than spooky, Halloween-themed monsters. The truth of the matter was that skeletons, as Halloween-y as they were, were hiding inside of us all, just waiting for death to set them free.
Eventually, I'd learn.
Dad was called back on tour. And, after only a few months of being away, Mom got the call. It was difficult for her, I'm sure, not only on her behalf but on mine…trying to explain to a seven-year-old that Dad wasn't coming back. Ever. That must've been rough on Mom.
"Maybe…for Christmas?" I said, hopefully, "So we can see Santa together?"
My mom would shake her head with a tear in her eye.
"No baby-" she sniffled, "Not ever. It's just you and me, now…okay?"
I realize, now, that my child-like optimism was painful for my mother to bear. Every few days, I'd ask if Dad was coming home. I didn't entirely grasp the concept of death.
When they had the funeral service for Dad, they chose to have a closed casket, as Mom and Nana didn't want me to see Dad…not like that.
"Will he come out of there?" I'd say, pointing to the casket.
"No sweetie," Nana said, "your Daddy's gotta rest, okay?"
I'd nod, still without a clue. I suppose ignorance is bliss. Children always have it easy, even when they don't.
Halloween would come and go. It was never the same without Dad and his stories. Mom would take me around the block and hang the decorations, the same, now faded, skeleton jangling from the oak tree. It wasn't scary anymore. And, as the years went by, it reminded me more and more of Dad.
Eventually, I had lost interest in trick or treating, opting to stay inside and watch 'scary' movies…which, for a ten-year-old, were about as intense as Casper. I wouldn't even bother going outside for candy, as my mom would buy a baggie from the grocery store and fill a small pail on the front porch, and every now and again I'd sneak a treat for myself.
Before going into a candy-induced coma, I managed to make my way to my bedroom. Hobbling over to my window to close the blinds, I noticed something hanging from the oak tree, silhouetted by an orange hue from the neighbors' lights. It was the skeleton, but it had grown longer, taller, and was now a far darker color. I tip-toed down the hallway, past my sleeping mother's room, and flipped on the front patio light. And that's when I saw it.
The skeleton was wrapped in muscle. Tissue and tendons surrounded the plastic bones. And, for a brief moment, I could see skin slowly sliding up the corpse.
I hid behind the front door for a moment, catching my breath, and on the verge of waking my sleeping mother with a shriek. I peered around the wooden façade, and saw the skeleton, now anything but plastic, hop down from the rope it was bound by. The corpse, now nearly a full-sized person, yanked one of the sheet ghosts from the tree, tying the white fabric across its naked body.
I flicked the light off, ducking down while still watching the figure in my front yard. It must've noticed because it turned its head to face me. And that's when I saw it.
It was Dad.
He smiled at me through the glass and waved. I stood up, pressing my face to the cold glass. As I did, something flashed behind my dad's body at the end of the street, causing him to turn and look toward it. It was a bright, glowing light: brighter than anything I've ever seen.
He turned back to me and smiled, mouthing something as he did. He turned, facing the light, and gradually made his way toward it, eventually being engulfed in the shining radiance.
After he met with the light it disappeared, just as quickly as it appeared.
I felt a warm tear roll down my cheek, now pulled away from the icy window, as if, finally, I had realized that, while my dad was gone, I'd somehow see him again. Only ascertained by the words, I now believe, were what my dad mouthed to me:
"See you in the morning."
Halloween is, and will always be my favorite holiday. It reminds me that, after each All Hallows' Eve, there's a bright morning…
Written by MakRalston