Down in Alabama fall guaranteed you a few things. One was that it was still going to be humid and you never knew when a thunderstorm would strike. Two, it meant that once you had made the rounds at what few houses were handing out candy that night there was little else to do but get into trouble. That is what this story is about. When letting my true feelings take the driver’s seat and running out of constructive things to do collide. It did not help that I was of the less popular variety at school, which wearing a mask was a relief from my regular torment. Those preteen hormones and small-town life were a ticking time bomb if you had ever known one. What is that saying? “Idle hands are the Devil’s plaything.”
The saxophone president was busy yapping on the television and my mother was buttering up my father in an attempt at getting to see Titanic when it came to theaters. I was busy working on my Halloween costume at the kitchen table and trying to tune the two of them out. When you grow up in a single-wide trailer in Podunk, Alabama, you tend to not have the funds for the fancier things but I was tired of going as “Bedsheet Ghost” and “Hobo Clown”. I wanted to be scary. I wanted to be a real monster. I wanted to make Jeffrey Scott wet his pants in front of his dim-witted football jock friends. I wanted to be anything but the poor miserable fat kid for the night. I just could not let my mom know I was using her makeup.
A few brown stitches in an old drop cloth, some old pine straw, a pair of overalls and my dad’s flannel shirt did not look much by itself but with the right amount of tweaking it made for an interesting scarecrow. It was still missing something, however. My Paw-Paw Mac had always been good for ideas and he knew just the way to top off my get-up, literally. It took a bit of digging through his tool shed. That place was a mess from front to back. Granny said she had no idea how he kept track of anything out there but he managed to find the straw hat he was looking for. It was missing quite a few strands and you could tell it had been a snack for a mouse or two but it fit perfect. His trusty Old-Timer made a few jagged cuts in my pants and he said with a wash or two it would look proper rugged. He told me if I got in trouble to just tell my parents it was his doing. They did not question him in anything.
When the sun went down on that little town, I set out down the drive with my homemade costume, hand-me-down hat, and a potato sack my Granny had rustled up for gathering my take for the night. The grin behind that ugly material would have been enough to scare anyone if they could have seen it. I was so excited I could barely contain it. I was bounding from door-to-door in no time. Some of the porch lights had not even clicked on yet. I waited eagerly for the late arrivals to retrieve their treats, belting out the command for candy, “Trick-or-Treat!” My sack was half-full within the first hour but there was no way I was turning in early. This was one of the best days of the year. Second only to Christmas, and even that could be disappointing when your parents are broke. Free candy was free candy and that was more than enough to help me forget the beads of sweat that coated my body under that thick material.
My night was rounding out, much like my sack when I noticed Jeffrey and his goons making their rounds with the younger kids. They were not satisfied with gathering their candy. They had to have it all. I knew all too well what would happen if they knew who hid beneath the face I so carefully crafted. I had to make sure to get the first hand in. So, I made a quick sprint for the trees that separated my neighborhood with the next. The cluttered clumps of trees made for good hiding while I worked up a plan. That potato sack did not want to fold up with how full it was and I knew that in the dirt ants would take my hard work, so I figured it would be best to hide it in a tree. Let me just say now that it is hard for a big boy to climb a tree but that candy was safe in the lowest branch despite how tired I was after getting that damned thing up there. Sweat was burning my eyes and irritating the hell out of my thighs but I was determined to get my revenge for every spoiled All Hallows Eve.
It took a few throws but eventually, a pecan landed square across Jeffrey Scott’s nose. The chase was on and it took all I could do not to laugh as they followed me deeper into the woods. I weaved in-and-out of trees but I knew that eventually, they would catch up to me. Remember, I was the fat kid and these guys were football ogres. I had to play it smart and possibly set a trap. I had passed a few rusted-out old Fords and I knew I could hide and squatted behind that holey heap of Detroit muscle. I tried to catch my breath and waited for the horde to bound over that last hill I had crossed getting down here. It took longer than I thought for them to catch up. The Bubbalicious I had shoved in my cheeks earlier in the night had already lost its flavor by the time I heard leaves rustle. It was so dark I could barely see them, but it was easy to tell their location by the flickering lights of their flashlights.
The sounds of shuffling came to a stop a few yards away and were replaced by voices arguing back-and-forth over which way to go. They had passed me in their effort to close the gap and now I sat behind them. It was the perfect opportunity to creep up behind them and make them pay for every piece of candy taken and tear-soaked cotton cloth spirit costume that had ever existed. I had never been much to hunt, but I knew that if you wanted to be quiet enough to keep from scaring off a deer you made sure your steps were heel-to-toe and deliberate. I felt like a real monster stalking its victim and my heart pounded in my chest with excitement. When I was sure my next action would get the best result, I gave my best rendition of a Rebel Yell. Three of them ran without looking back and Jeffery spun on his heel, eyes wide searching for the source of the scare. The look on his face was priceless.
Mama always said to make sure you tie your shoes. She would go on and on about how one day I would trip up on those things and end up in the emergency room. Well, Jeffrey Scott’s mama had obviously not driven home that lesson because just as he came round to see my ghoulish mask his other foot landed firm on his untied shoelace and sent him tumbling back. I expected to see an explosion of brown and orange leaves but instead, Jeffrey disappeared altogether. I crept closer and as my feet came to rest just beyond where my bully once stood, I noticed the ground gave way a bit and faded to nothing shortly after. Ten feet below me laid Jeffrey Scott. He had become the new hood ornament for a decaying John Deer. The boy and the tractor laid lifeless. The scene was almost poetic really, but at the time my eleven-year-old mind could not properly process it. It was not long after I found myself sobbing in my mother’s arms.
I had removed my mask early that night and had not the will to pull on the happy sunshine one that should have replaced it. Mama fought for a good thirty minutes trying to understand the hobbled up rambling of a story I tried to tell. I think I apologized more times that night than I have since and she had almost pieced it all together when my father stumbled in with a Bud Light in hand. She pulled him to the kitchen and I listened to a hushed rendition of what I had tried to tell her earlier. They both returned shortly after, my father seeming a bit sober suddenly from the news. He finished off his drink, crushed the can, and set out to my Paw-Paw’s. The two of them made another trip to the tool shed and emerged with a shovel each. I did not have to watch to see which direction they were headed. Meanwhile, my mother dried my tears and ran me a bath. She told me that she would be back shortly to get me in bed. I heard her lift the receiver on the phone in the kitchen. She gave her brother a call. He was just Uncle Dave to me, but the rest of the town knew him as Sherriff McDougal.
It took a long time for me to get to sleep that night, but the next morning my potato sack full of candy was waiting for me at the end of my bed. Mama did not make me go to school the next day. Dad offered to take me fishing. He never did that. I was not up for a trip though. I stayed in bed most of the day, chewing on Tootsie Rolls and Smarties. When I did go back to school, I got a fair amount of looks but no one said a word to me. Jeffrey’s seat sat empty. Mrs. Reynolds was wiping a tear from her eye as she entered. She did not call out the missing child’s name during roll call. Some of the kids were whispering about the flu going around and Jeffrey being at home sick, but that bit of gossip only lasted the first week. The missing child posters came next.
Mr. and Mrs. Scott came by the house a few times. Mama offered them sweet tea. Dad handed Dale a beer. It was odd watching them act as nothing had happened at all. Mrs. Scott cried a bit. That tugged at me somewhere deep in my stomach, but I dared not say anything. Dad gave me that look he always had after a few too many cans of Budweiser. I still cannot make sense of why the two of them did what they had, what everyone in town actually knew, or why no one ever asked me if I saw Jeffrey Scott. What I did learn that Halloween was two very important things. First, there is a deep gulley in the woods behind my neighborhood. A place Uncle Dave made sure no one searched the days following Halloween. Secondly, you should never threaten a southern mama’s baby boy.
Written by L0CKED334