Halloween – Part III
The soggy toilet paper sheets clung to the cardboard roll, resisting being draped over the bushes in front of the dark apartment with the tell-tale flickering TV light. Frustrated in their determination to leave behind a message of disapproval, the three teenage boys checked their pockets for eggs and soap. The eggs were long gone, currently oozing down randomly selected apartment doors and car windows. Jeremy did find a piece of soap in the pillow case filled with candy that he carried over his shoulder and quietly scribbled an obscenity across the apartment door.
Mission accomplished, they casually sauntered down the sidewalk toward the next apartment building pushing forward against the wind and keeping their faces down against the pelting rain that made pockmarks in the hobo beards they had painted on their faces with burnt cork. Their conversation was peppered with every swear word and obscenity they had ever read or heard as they enjoyed the freedom of speech they were not allowed in their homes.
“Did you hear that?” Jeremy asked. “I can’t hear nothin but the wind.” Don replied looking over at Jeremy’s puzzled face. “Me either,” Mike second. “Funny,” Jeremy replied. “I thought I heard Timmy yelling something.” “Timmy wouldn’t be out in this weather this late on Halloween night,” Don offered, “Your mom would kill him.” “Sure, you’re right.” Jeremy agreed but he still looked up and down the street and across the big field.
Halloween – Part IV
Izzabell surged forward, stumbling through the underbrush beside the muddy path. Her muscles ached, but she had long sense stopped giving them any mind, the adrenaline rushing through her veins overriding any other feeling.
She knew she was near the top of the hill and would soon begin to see street lights but the panic that consumed her only allowed for one coherent word that played over and over again in her mind … run … run.
When she crested the hill the strong wind stopped her in her tracks, even forcing her to take a few steps back. Over her shoulder she saw the bright green eyes getting closer, moving faster now. Izzabell bolted, using every ounce of strength she had left; she put her head down and ran as fast as her 12 year old legs would carry her.
She ran across the soaked lawns of what appeared to be empty houses, then her bare feet hit the pavement of the road that circled the project. Should she stay on the well-lit road hoping someone would see her in the glare of the street lights, or should she take the darker route between the buildings that would get her home quicker?
No time to puzzle it through, she ran down the paved street, her image appearing and disappearing as she ran through the bright circles cast by the overhead street lights onto the surface of the road. Still running, in the darkness now, she looked over her shoulder and the breath left her lungs when she saw the large orange tiger, green eyes glaring, race through a circle of light and into the darkness in her direction.
Spinning around in the dark she took two steps and bumped into something so substantial she fell down.
“Izzabell!” “What are you doing running around in the dark by yourself?” Jeremy asked as he reached down and pulled his kid sister to her feet. “Jeremy is that really you?” were the only words Izzabell could speak. Then, “The tiger, where is the tiger?” “Tiger?” Jeremy echoed while Don and Mike chuckled by his side. “Timothy, she took Timothy,” Izzabell screamed. “Timothy? Who took Timothy and why would he be out so late?” Jeremy asked, while the memory of hearing Timmy’s voice in the wind just a few minutes before made the hairs on his arms stand up.
Outside the old house where Timothy was held prisoner, overgrown tendrils of bushes that had not been trimmed in years scratched at the brittle wood siding and the wind rattled the cracked windows in their casings. Outside the old house Timothy heard the footfalls of something big pacing back and forth in the yard.
Inside the dirty drafty house Timothy sat in the corner watching the ugly old woman use a hammer to break the wooden chair into pieces that would fit into the fireplace. “I’m scared,” Timothy told the old woman expecting her to sympathize as his family would. Instead she turned and looked at the dirty little urchin in the corner, “Of course you are little one,” she said in a honey sweet voice, “but don’t worry, it will be over soon.” Timothy did not feel better. He felt even worse when the lights went out.
The old woman cursed the storm and began rummaging through drawers in the dark. Talking to herself she momentarily forgot about the little boy in the corner who was now slowly crawling over the rough wood floor toward the front door. The black cat began meowing and ran to the old woman, spitting and scratching, trying to bring her attention to the boy, but the cat got kicked out of the way for its trouble, screeching as it flew by Timothy and bounced off the ancient worn out couch.
When he got to the door, Timothy stood up quietly, reached his small hand under the stained and tattered once-white curtain, found the door knob and turned it. Immediately, the wind rushed into the room slamming the door against the wall and missing the little boy by an inch. The old woman spun around, grabbed a knife from the counter and rushed toward Timothy who was frozen in place.
That’s when a hand reached into the room, grabbed Timothy by the collar and yanked him out the open doorway.
Timothy, Izzabell, Jeremy and his friends were already half a block away by the time the Cat Lady reached her front porch. By the time she found her broom and released the green eyed tiger they had crossed the road and were running in the dark between the apartment buildings. Don’s apartment was the closest so they ran there; all five of them rushing into the small living room at the same time and slamming the door shut behind them just as the Cat Lady flew over the roof of the building and the tiger leaped onto the concrete front porch.
Don’s parents were mildly amused by the Halloween story the kids had concocted and somewhat impressed by their acting skills, but when the story was done, they admonished the kids for making fun of the poor old lady that lived all alone across the street.
Parents were called and came to collect their kids while Izzabell struggled to come up with an explanation of why she and Timothy were out on Halloween night when she had told her parents they were going to a Halloween party at Pattie’s apartment in the next building. She decided not to tell them she had taken Timmy down the path to go trick or treating.
Of course, not one of their parents believed the story about the Cat Lady. When Timothy began having nightmares and didn’t want to sleep alone in his bed anymore Izzabell and Jeremy were grounded for a week for involving him in such a frightening story.
Meanwhile, inside the dilapidated old gray house across the street, the Cat Lady and her pets waited patiently for Halloween night to come again.
Halloween, Part I
The wind roared past her ears blowing coarse strands of her long brown hair into her eyes, forcing her to close them tight even though she feared taking her eyes off the muddy dirt path that twisted close to her hiding place in the old tree stump. She could still hear the old woman’s cackle as she swept down out of the pitch black and scooped Timothy off his feet pulling him 10, 30, 50 feet up into the black starless sky; one of his small shoes zigzagging in the wind and tumbling to the ground.
Now the small brown shoe bobbed in a deep mud puddle not five feet from her trembling hand, but she dared not reach for it. She huddled in the tree stump, pushing her body as far back against the rotting wood as possible, hiding, and afraid at any moment she would hear the rustling of the old woman’s filthy clothes and feel her wrinkled spotted hand grab at her hair.
The sky opened up and cold rain pummeled her head and shoulders; mixing with the warm tears running down Izzabell’s muddied face. Her brown flannel Halloween costume soaked up the water like a sponge and suddenly she began to shiver. Izzabell wanted nothing more than to give up, to curl into a ball and cry herself into oblivion. Yet Timothy’s sweet face as she last saw it, eyes wide with terror and begging her to save him, was burned into her memory and she could not desert him.
Wiping her nose on the damp sleeve of her costume, Izzabell fought to regain control, to overcome the immobilizing fear that gripped her. Slowly she raised her head and peeked over the raw edges of the tree stump. She could smell the wet dirt and moldy leaves all around her. The night was pitch black. The rain pounded to the ground and she could no longer see Timothy’s shoe or the puddle it lie in.
Without warning lightning struck a large tree on the opposite side of the dirt path. Suddenly there was white light all around her and as the light faded into dark again she watched the splintered tree tumble toward the ground and crash into the mud not a foot away from her hiding spot. Looking over the top of the fallen tree and across the dirt path, she thought she saw a pair of bright green eyes a split second before everything went black.
Feeling more vulnerable than ever, Izzabell crawled out of the stump and, crouching close to the ground, using the rain and darkness as cover, she made her way to the wooded area behind her, disappearing into the underbrush just as the next lightning bolt lit up the sky. She held her breath until darkness returned and muffled a gasp when the darkness revealed a set of bright green eyes peering out from inside the stump she had just vacated.
Unable to control her terror, Izzabell stood up and ran for her life, following the muddy path up the hill. Broken tree branches grabbed at her flannel shirt, clutching pieces of torn fabric in their jagged edges as Izzabell stumbled past. The more brazen and taller trees pulled out strands of her long, flying hair. Great sunken mud holes sucked at her worn brown shoes until she was barefoot, her icy feet now slapping the cold, wet ground. She threw a furtive glance over her shoulder and saw the bright green eyes following her, slowly, at a distance. The slow confidence of the pursuit only terrified her more.
Halloween, Part II
Timothy watched as Izzabell disappeared below him. He felt the long nails of the old woman digging into his neck, piercing through his woolen sweater, through the flimsy material of his Spiderman costume. He thought she might drop him at any moment, and at 5 years old he was old enough to understand what would happen to him if he fell to the ground as he and the old woman on the broom soared higher and higher.
In spite of the fear, a part of his 5 year old brain was intrigued by the fact that he was flying, looking at clouds below rather than above him. Looking down he saw the apartment buildings of the housing project where he lived laid out like disconnected dominos and he could see groups of older neighborhood kids still trick or treating. He yelled at them to save him but the night wind caught his words and blew them away. If only they had looked up, they would have seen the old woman on the broom, Timothy’s body dangling precariously from her hand, as they flew in front of the full moon that peered out from behind approaching storm clouds.
The old woman dug her nails into Timothy’s shoulder forcing him to stop screaming and bringing his attention back to her rambling, cackling, sounds. He heard bonfire, boy, cook, young and succulent. In a heart-stopping moment, he understood and prayed that someone would find him in time.
Abruptly the broom lost altitude and began to circle down around a clearing in the woods across the street from the project. The smelly old woman became more agitated and excited as they bounced to a landing. She dragged Timothy along behind her, rocks and sticks cutting his flesh and bruising his shaking body. Timothy heard the squeaking sound of a door opening, and then he was bumped over a threshold and tossed across a dirty floor sliding until he slammed into a wall.
Immediately the old woman hobbled to the fireplace that was smoldering in the corner of the room and began rummaging through the empty wood box. Realizing there was no dry wood, she screamed in frustration. The scream startled Timothy and woke the large black cat that had been sleeping on the room’s one wooden chair. Softly the cat slithered off the chair; frowning at Timothy as it walked by as though it blamed him for the old woman’s rage, then it crept into the dark shadows of the room hoping to hide from the old woman’s fury.
For the first time this fall, the furnace in my house kicked on early this morning. Evidently the inside temperature got low enough to trigger the living room thermostat. Even the low hum of the new furnace was loud enough to disturb my sleep. My ears acknowledged the unfamiliar sound, my brain processed what was causing it and then the rest of me rolled over and went back to sleep.
As an adult the furnace cranking up means increases in my utility bills, cold and snowy weather ahead and it prods me to begin searching for my warm winter coat.
It also reminds me of my dad walking from radiator to radiator in our house when I was a kid, bleeding the water from each four-foot high, white unit. The radiators always reminded me of pictures I had seen of the Loch Ness Monster, its serpentine back bulging again and again into multiple humps. I never paid any attention to how warm the house was when I was a kid or when the radiators began throwing heat. Warmth, food, clean clothes, and gifts from Santa and chocolate from the Easter Bunny were simple facts of life.
Another fact of life was that if I dragged my feet through the accumulated leaves on the sidewalks while walking home from school on crisp autumn afternoons mom would yell at me for getting my “good” school shoes dusty and dirty. Yet, those crunchy leaves were always hard to resist and most times I gave into the temptation, deciding the fun of skipping in the leaves was worth facing mom’s wrath.
My friends and I couldn’t get home from school fast enough in the fall. As we ran by the buildings in The Heights, the housing project where we lived, our fast moving little group lost one runner after another, each dropping out to rush into their apartment and change into “play clothes” vowing to meet up “in a minute” at whatever gathering place was the current “secret” location.
Of course, “in a minute” meant first gobbling down the snack our moms had waiting for us, answering all her questions about what kind of day we had at school, finding and changing into sweaters and sneakers and old corduroy pants, being careful to hang up our school uniforms, and finally keeping our fingers crossed that our moms wouldn’t ask, “Do you have a lot of homework?” In my house if the answer was “yes” to that question, mom’s response would be “Then you’d better do your homework first before you go out and play.”
Well, I had fallen for that ploy enough to know that the best response to the homework question was to lie. If I answered “yes” and started my homework, by the time the homework was done, the street lights would be on outside and it would be too late to go out and play. So I did what every red-blooded American kid would do. I looked mom right in the eye and with the most innocent face I could muster, I replied, “No, not much.” It all kind of balanced out in the end because those little white lies became fodder for the confessional on Saturday afternoons.
Once released by our moms, we would bounce our bikes down the concrete steps of our front porches and speed off to the “secret” meeting place, which was always easy to find because of the number of bikes lying on the ground in front of it. First we would begin building a huge pile of dry, sweet smelling leaves to jump in; each of us picking up armfuls of leaves that inevitably spilled in streams of colors behind us. Once the pile was as big as we were willing to spend time on, we would form a long row, hold hands, charge the pile and leap as our screams and laughter blew away in the late afternoon breeze. Occasionally, small heads would clank together, maybe a new tooth would loosen, but in the end those minor medical issues were a small price to pay for the sheer fun of it all.
Life’s pleasures as well as its disappointments are often the unexpected people and events that jump in front of us as we’re traveling along. Like road bumps we didn’t see and all of a sudden we’re being jostled and wondering what we hit. Always a relief to find it was just a road bump.
Over the past few months highway elves have been busy while I and the people in my community sleep. One morning it’s the same old exit ramp, the very next morning the exit ramp is shiny and new. Bright and straight yellow lines painted on a new black roadway that was laid down during the night. The three lane highway thousands of people travel during the day, suddenly one morning has a new black passing lane stretching down ten exits. That new lane beckons all the drivers to step on the gas, give it a whirl. It looks so inviting lying next to the middle and slow lanes that look dull and sluggish by comparison.
I suppose I could have educated myself by reading the newspaper articles about the roadwork but then it would not have been a surprise and I kind of like not knowing what to expect in the morning; takes some of the dull out of my morning commute. Therefore, it becomes a Good Unexpected.
On the other hand, I have been shocked by all of the unexpected advertisements that people leave on my website. They leave them in the Guestbook and leave them as comments at the bottom of my blogs. Hundreds of ads for shoes, hair loss, Viagra, knock-offs. It amazes me that people think it is okay to violate a personal website in such a manner. It feels like they’re walking up to my house and pasting ads all over it when I’m not looking. I, of course, have to spend my time deleting their ads, pulling them off the side of my house so to speak and cleaning up my website. Bad Unexpected.
Then, of course, there are the “Big Unexpecteds;” the 2am phone call from a stranded family member whose need for a ride requires us to climb out of our warm bed and come to the rescue, or the 2am phone call that brings more ominous news. Most of us have experienced the sudden and unexpected change of heart in a loved one that changes the trajectory of our lives.
One could say we spend our whole lives dealing with the unexpected. We establish routines and order in our lives, but we know deep inside that at any moment our lives can unexpectedly change forever, for better or worse, in a big dramatic way, or a smaller “isn’t that interesting” way.
For me, it comes down to finding a balance. To acknowledge that so much of my life is out of my control yet I can plan and dream and hope. I can arrange my life so that I spend most of my time doing with I enjoy, or earning money to finance what I enjoy. I have learned that living in the moment and being honest with myself helps me to be happy.
Living in the moment allows me to focus on and enjoy all the pleasures in my life “right now” instead of spending my time worrying about what might be coming around the corner or wishing to change the past. The past is gone and I will deal with what’s coming around the corner if and when it arrives. In the meantime, the cup of tea I’m drinking is warm and delicious and the music floating out from my CD player is incredibly beautiful.
Facing the events in my life as honestly as I can, knowing who I really am whether I like all of me or not, knowing what I really think and believe is always a work in progress, but at each stage of its development knowing these things allows some stability when the unexpected occurs.
One final word, faith. It is a huge step to accept the notion that where we are today is exactly where we should be, that all the good and bad events of our lives have happened for a reason. It’s a huge step to accept the notion that there is a benevolent force somewhere that cares about us and asks that we have faith that all of what happens to us will someday make sense. We can choose to believe or not, free will and all that jazz. I find it comforting to believe.