Whether Halloween had hurt me when I was an infant or toddler, I don’t remember. Maybe my parents didn’t bother with the holiday when I was young. Maybe it didn’t start till I was five. I don’t know for sure. But that was the year I first remember it happening.
At age 5, I went as a black cat.
My mother made me the costume: a simple black leotard, a tail made from a wire coat hanger and fabric, and two felt ears hot glued to a headband. She painted whiskers on my cheeks and colored the tip of my nose with black paint.
My parents took me around the neighborhood, stopping door to door so I could yell “Trick or Treat” while neighbors cooed over how cute I was. Even though the excursion was cut short but a storm, I came home with a bag full of candy and a giant smile on my face. Mom told me I could only have three pieces of candy that night, but dad winked at me as he slid over some of his fun sized twix. They had always been his favorite and so they quickly became mine as well.
I don’t know how I remember all these details 24 years later, especially when they were completely hidden from my memory for more than a decade. But as I spent the early morning after my 16th Halloween in the back of an ambulance holding my bleeding hand to my chest, my mind trying to wrap around what had just happened to me, I sat and screamed and bled and suddenly remembered everything with vivid terrifying detail.
My parents put me to bed that night, happy and satisfied. My five year old mind decided that Halloween was a great holiday, to be eagerly anticipated for next year. I looked up at the window above my bed to see the moon glow orange in the sky. Despite the cold rain and heavy clouds, the moon shone brightly across my face. I closed my eyes and my inner eyelids glowed with a dull red.
A shadow was cast over my face, my vision growing dark and I opened my eyes. The room around me was black, like a cloud had passed in front of the moon. I looked up, pushing my small head into the pillow, my neck and chin stretching up towards the ceiling. In my vision, the window appeared upside down. A darkness I did not recognized filled the glass. I blinked as two points of light began to focus. They looked like they were at a great distance, but also like they were really close. Like fading streetlights in a painting. I rolled over onto my stomach to get a better look, pulling myself forward onto my elbows so that my face was only inches from the green circular lights.
I jumped back in surprise as the eyes blinked again and rose, pulling away from the window pane. I shuddered as I realized that something dark and big had been staring at me, its large face pressed against the window. As it straightened, orange light from the moon leaked around its frame and I recognized the creature as a black cat.
But it wasn’t a normal cat. This cat was huge, larger than I was. Its mass filled the window, its legs as thick as rolling pins. Its fur black as soot. As black as a dark bedroom late at night. As black as the space underneath my bed.
Filled with childish wonder and curiosity, I climbed out of bed and closed the distance between me and the window. The cat lowered his giant head again till his gaze met mine. Slowly, I placed my palm against the cool glass. The cat brought his face closer to the window and the glass between us fogged as he exhaled. His mouth began to open, revealing two huge fangs that ended in menacing points.
At the sight of those sharp teeth, I dropped my hand and took a step back so that I was against my bed. The cat’s mouth opened more to reveal his lower canines and I reached for Sandy, my favorite doll. My fingers felt the comforting softness of her hair and I quickly brought her to my chest, lowering onto my bed as if the two things would protect me.
A low growl came from the cat’s mouth. The window vibrated with the sound and tears formed at the corners of my eyes. The growl slowly faded and the cat closed its mouth slightly, keeping its deadly fangs revealed.
It looked up and so did I, but all I saw was my bedroom ceiling above me. I looked back down and the cat was staring at me again. Another growl began to form at the back of its throat before bursting forward in a quick and violent hiss. I jumped, hugging Sandy tight to my chest as I cried out in fear. The cat looked back up and lept. The house shook with the weight of it launching itself from my window sill. It landed on the roof above me with a heavy thud. My frail body shook uncontrollably as I looked back up at the ceiling where I knew it now was.
Suddenly the house shuddered as something violently scraped against our roof. I imagined the cat raising its paw up into the night sky. My screams were quickly drowned out by the sound of giant talons dragging against shingles.
My bedroom door burst open and light from the hall filled my room, followed immediately by my worried parents. They hugged me close as I cried, blubbering on about a monster on the roof. My warnings dissolved into incoherent gibberish as they nodded and shushed me, telling me everything was ok. That it was just a dream. I pointed up towards the ceiling, begging them to listen, but another scratch never came.
The next day my dad found broken shingles outside on the ground in front of my bedroom window. He took a look at the roof as I tried to explain that the cat did it. That it had been trying to get into my room to eat me. He patted me on the shoulder, trying to calm my childish fears.
“New England winters aren’t kind to roofs, sweetie.” My dad explained. He smiled and put his arm around me, hugging me towards him. “This damage must’ve been here all year, we just didn’t realize it. I bet some shingles fell loose last night in the rain and woke you up, that’s all.” He kissed my forehead. “Some noise, lots of sugar, and a wild imagination can make you see things in the night.”
I looked up at the roof trying to believe him, but I couldn’t. For several nights after Halloween, I’d wake up screaming. I’d feel a presence and my eyes would shoot open, looking up at the window which lay deceptive in its heavy darkness. My dad would rush in and sit at my side, comforting me. And sometimes, when I looked over his shoulder into the inky black of night, I could swear I saw two glowing green eyes fading into the distance.
One day a week later, my father came into my room to tuck me into bed. Before he left, he knelt beside my nightstand.
“What are you doing, daddy?”
“You’ll see.” He straightened with a groan and kissed me on the forehead. As he approached my bedroom door, he turned to face me one last time. “Sweet dreams, sweetheart.” He said, raising his hand to the light switch.
With a click, he turned the lights off and the room immediately filled with a warm comforting glow. I looked to my nightstand where my father had been. The yellow light came from a small plastic square plugged into the wall. A nightlight. I looked back up at him, but he was no longer standing there. I laid my head back onto the pillow and closed my eyes as relief washed over me.
At age 6, I bobbed for apples.
After a year, the black cat became a distant memory. A nightmare that I had conveniently forgotten. I was once again a normal child who loved normal kid things. I was excited about Shadow, my new kitten, and begged my parents to let me bring him to school for show-and-tell. They refused of course, but that didn’t stop me from trying. I wanted to combine my two favorite things: Shadow and school. I loved school. I loved playing on the swings and doing arts and crafts. I loved our class guinea pig, Chuckles, and loved reading the endless colorful books. And, just like my young classmates, I looked forward to Halloween with great relish.
One of the kids at my school, a loud talkative girl named Mary, had a Halloween party. Not fully understanding the reasons why, I decided not to dress up. My parents tried to convince me to dress as a princess or a witch, but I wanted to go as myself. They smiled and told me I could go as whatever I wanted, and so that was settled.
Mary’s parents went all out. Chocolate frosted donuts with orange sprinkles hung from the ceiling for a donut eating race. A Halloween craft table was set up in the living room, complete with blank masks, feathers, and sequins. They even made a Halloween themed bean bag game where the wooden goals had holes shaped like pumpkins and ghosts. And of course, out in the front year was a large tin bucket full of water, a pile of farm fresh apples beside it waiting for a game.
Once all the kids had arrived they held a costume contest. Harold, the quiet kid in class, won by a landslide with his homemade dragon costume, complete with glowing eyes. The prize was one of those classic jack-o-lantern trick-or-treat baskets, but this one was green and glowed in the dark. Seeing it made me immediately regret not dressing up. I tried my turn at the donut eating race, hoping that they might give out another jack-o-lantern, but Cindy was finished before I was even halfway through mine.
Disappointed but still determined, I waited in line for the apple bobbing competition. Each kid was given 1 minute to get as many apples as possible. I stood impatiently, watching the other kids struggle to get their teeth into the fruit, which spun wildly away from their gaping mouths as they bit frantically under the water. I watched, noting which methods worked and which didn’t, confident I could do better.
Finally, it was my turn. I knelt down in front of the tub and waited for Mary’s father to give the command.
“Aaaand..” he looked at his watch, pressing the side button. “Go!”
I plunged into the water with confidence. I opened my eyes but my vision was blurry and confusing, so I closed them again and stopped, letting the water calm around me. An apple floated into my cheek and I snapped my head to the side, biting at it. But the force pushed the apple further back in the tub. I felt another apple beneath my chin and lunged for it, my mouth wide and eager.
I felt my teeth sink into the apple’s flesh, which cut with a satisfying snap. Sweet juice burst into my mouth, mixing with the dirty water. I pulled it out, spitting it triumphantly to the ground before dunking my head back in. I could hear my classmates clapping and cheering around me as I searched for another mark. Something moved in front of my face and I pressed down, feeling the water rise above my hairline. I opened my mouth wide, preparing myself, but felt nothing.
Needing air, I began to pull my head from the water but something stopped me. Like a hand at the back of my head, I felt a downward sensation keeping me under. I flailed, trying desperately to pull back as I opened my mouth to scream. The sound was muffled and weak and I felt the tub shake with my struggle. Strong hands clasped my shoulders and began to pull, but I was stuck. My body was begging for air and I was having difficulty not gasping, difficulty not letting my lungs fill with water.
Suddenly, I was on my side. My mouth, nose, and eyes free from the water. I inhaled deeply before letting out a now unhindered scream. I was soaked and shaking. Shadows hovered above me, slowly focusing into adults just as my eyesight blurred with tears.
“Sweetheart, what happened? Are you ok?” My father said, his voice close to my ear. I turned and hurled my body into his arms and he hugged me tight.
No one could figure out what happened. One second I was happily looking for apples, the next I was thrashing in the water. When Mary’s father tried to pull me out he was shocked that he couldn’t. I heard him tell my mother that it was like I was resisting him, but with a strength beyond my age and size. It was my father who thought to push the tub over instead of trying to pull me out.
My parents took me home immediately. They talked about taking me to a doctor, but they never did. And they never told me what kind of doctor they meant. After I was dried off and change, my mother made me my favorite: a mug of warm apple cider. I shook my head at the gesture and tearfully asked for hot cocoa instead. I had had enough of apples for the day.
At age 7, I was sick.
I came down with pneumonia and couldn’t leave my bed for a week. Halloween passed quietly that year, other than the normal pains of illness. I think that’s why I finally figure it out after my 8th Halloween. Because there was one year when Halloween left me in peace.
At age 8, I dressed up as a fairy.
Having had a year off from my torture, I was once again caught up in the festive mood of my parents and peers. My school threw a small Halloween parade, inviting our parents to stay for a half hour after drop off to watch us march down the school hallways showing off our costumes and handing out candy. Which mostly meant we got to run around and throw candy into the air like feral children while are parents clapped and cheered on the wild behavior.
I was going through a pink frilly phase so I dressed up as fairy. I remember twirling down the halls in my giant pink tutu, my nylon wings bouncing with the motion as my parents took photos. I felt so pretty in all the tulle and glitter. Being a fairy was magical.
I refused to take off my fairy costume for bed later that night. My parents didn’t resist, instead tucking me into bed tutu and all. They had at least convinced me to take off the wings, which they hung over one of my bed posts.
I drifted off quickly but was soon woken by a loud buzzing noise. I opened my eyes to see pale green lights darting above my head. They looked faintly like those glow-in-the-dark stars you can stick to the ceiling, but moving. I tried to focus on them but they were too quick.
One of the things began to slow its flying, instead hovering over my head. It lowered itself so that it was right above me and I saw that it was a small woman with large green wings, surrounded by a glowing aura. She was beautiful, with long green hair and wide green eyes. I realized, with embarrassment, that she was naked. She smiled at me.
The fairy lowered herself to my pillow and in a sing-songy voice, she spoke. “Come with us, Taaaylor. Come with us and plaaay.” Her words were elongated, flittering from her mouth with a strange echo.
I sat up and watched the small creatures with wonder. They began to circle me, diving and rising in beautiful patterns. They made swirls and braids with their trailing auras, arching up into the dark air before falling downward and skimming above my bedspread. I giggled and they giggled with me. I stretched out a hand to touch them but they’d fly out of my reach. They kept circling and I kept reaching out and we kept giggling. There were so many of them and they were all so beautiful.
They began to fly closer to me, moving faster as they neared. I could feel the wind of their wings on my skin and it felt like butterfly kisses. They flew faster, closer. My skin prickled with excitement where their tiny hands brushed against the fabric of my nightgown. One flew above my arm and I felt a stinging sensation. I looked down, the pain small but biting. Slowly, droplets of dark red formed in a line across the milky flesh. The red glowed brown in the green light of the fairies.
“Ow, you scratched me.” I said just as another biting pain struck my shoulder. Followed immediately by one across my stomach, harder and deeper than the others. “Ow, stop! You’re hurting me!” I cried as the fairies circled faster, closer. The scratches growing longer and harsher.
I began to cry and tried to swat them away, but they were too fast. Their small bodies would duck and rise around my hands, cutting them as they passed unharmed. It felt like crawling through thorny brambles. My skin sang with the hot pain.
I stood up, desperately trying to get away from them, but they followed me. I began to feel pushing and tugging. They swarmed behind me and in front of me, leading me from my bedroom. I tried to open my mouth and shout to my parents but the fairies danced around my face, closing my mouth and my lips forcefully with their little hands. Tiny sharp fingernails poked into me as my words were trapped within. Tears flowed down my cheeks as they got me to the stairs, pushing me down one step at a time. I tried to resist, but their movements were so forceful and strong. They pushed and pulled so fast that I couldn’t comprehend what direction I was going in.
I became dizzy and disoriented, lost in the hive of pale green. They giggled viciously, their tiny voices crying out in macabre glee. Suddenly, I felt cool earth beneath my feet and cold wind whipped at my face. We were outside. I tried again to scream but they blocked the noise. Fairies filled my mouth and nose, suffocating me. Something hovered in front of my right eye and I closed my left to focus on it through the growing wetness of my tears. It was the first fairy. She smiled wide at me, her mouth filled with hundreds of long thin teeth. Each one ending in a dangerous point.
She raised her arm behind her, her tiny claw like hand ready to strike. I saw movement and felt burning pain before blacking out.
I woke up in a hospital room. My parents had found me lying in the front yard, stiff with the chilly morning air and covered in small cuts. I couldn’t see out of my right eye and the doctor explained that I had to wear an eye patch for a few weeks while my cornea healed. He smiled sadly at me as he told me I might be able to see as well as I used to. That there was a chance my eyesight would be normal again.
He didn’t look at me as he described sleepwalking disorders to my parents. He told them to supervise me closely.
“If it continues to happen,” the doctor’s deep voice was big and warm. Filled with answers and knowledge that was supposed to comfort us. “Let us know and we can prescribed a slight tranquilizer for her.”
My parents nodded as they hugged me close.
My eye didn’t heal. It became worst. The blurred vision shifted into something dark. Small sinister shadows would drift in front of me, only disappearing if I closed my right eye. I could see but what I saw wasn’t real. My parents morphed into green ghouls with wide eyes and thin pointed teeth. My friends’ smiles would look like malicious leers to my right eye, their sharp mouths biting at me when they thought I wasn’t looking.
The last time I saw my right eye, it was making the mirror shimmer and shift as if it were liquid. A tinny voice echoed in my mind. “Come plaaay with us, Taaaylor.”
I leaned over the bathroom sink to look closer at my iris, which was now glowing a pale green.
After they removed it, the doctor told us it had gotten infected. I knew, deep down in my bones, that Halloween had taken that eye. That Halloween had wanted to take more.
That was when Halloween became something I avoided. I’d spend the night locked in my room, not talking to anyone. I wouldn’t eat, I wouldn’t sleep, I wouldn’t come out.
But, as with most childhood phases, I grew out of my suspicion and fear. Just as kids grow out of their fear of the dark, I began to forget why I hated Halloween so much. Even my parents seemed to forget that it was the night I lost my eye. The night I almost drowned. The night I first became afraid of the dark.
As I grew into puberty, I threw out my nightlight and put my stuffed animals and favorite doll on the top shelf of my closet. I pierced my nose and dyed my hair green. And just like any other teenage girl, I wanted to have a little fun.