By Jess Charle
What’s so scary about Halloween? Everything.
I’ve never been a fan of Halloween. For a long time, I couldn’t have told you why. It just… It gave me the creeps. I assumed I was sensitive. That I was one of those people who preferred the shininess and comfort of Christmas to the spooky and dark.
But apparently, it wasn’t all in my head.
It started when I was five, but I wasn’t able to figure it all out until much later. It’s not like I break a bone or crash my car, or that my wallet gets stolen or I lose my phone every Halloween. It’s Halloween itself that attacks me.
At age 16, I watched Child’s Play.
I started dating my first boyfriend, Miguel, my sophomore year of high school. Miguel loved horror films. He talked about them constantly and I would smile and nod. I was able to avoid watching them for the first few months of our relationship, but when he insisted we celebrate Halloween with a horror movie marathon, I reluctantly agreed.
Miguel didn’t seem to notice the tightness of my voice as he began to list the films we’d watch. He decided on three classics: Friday the 13th, Child’s Play, and Poltergeist.
And so on Halloween night 2004, I found myself sitting on the couch wrapped in a warm throw and holding a bowl of popcorn. Miguel smiled devilishly at me as he put in the first DVD and hit play.
I was surprised at how little the movies affected me. Miguel kept trying to scare me at first. Jumping purposefully during tense moment, trying to illicit a reaction from his timid girlfriend. When he realized I wasn’t fazed, he gave up. I guess trying to scare me distracted him from being scared himself, because as the night progressed I could feel Miguel’s body tense and spasm beside me as the music swelled. He’d jump out of his seat and I’d have to suppress giggles. At one point, I remember him jumping almost off the couch and then trying to act cool, running to the bathroom to pretend like he launched himself clumsily forward on purpose. I couldn’t believe such a horror lover was so skittish while I remained completely calm.
“Haven’t you seen these films before?” I ask as he clung to my arm, watching Karen snap the battery lid on Chucky’s back open.
“Shhh!” He shushed me harshly, his eyes never leaving the screen.
By the time the end credits rolled, Miguel looked defeated.
“I thought you were easily scared?”
I shrugged. “Guess not? That was actually kind of fun.”
He groaned. “Must be your lack of depth perception.”
I gasped in joke shock and hit him on the shoulder. “How dare you make light of my disability!”
“Aw, you’re my cute little pirate.” He said, pulling slightly at my eye patch band. Miguel was the only one I felt comfortable wearing it in front of, other than my parents. At school I always wore my glass eye but with him I could be myself. I could wear sweatpants and an eye patch and be called a pirate and it was wonderful. He made me so happy.
The only scene that really shook me was in Poltergeist. Miguel held his breath as the little boy began to lower himself slowly to look under his bed. I could feel Miguel tensing and I braced myself for the jump scare. I watched, wide eyed as the boy grabbed the bed skirt in both hands and lifted to reveal nothing. He rose to reveal the demonic clown behind him. I jumped, my heart pounding in my chest.
Miguel leered. “Uh oh, someone’s becoming blasphemous.”
“Oh fuck of.” I said, shoving him away from me playfully.
He leaned in and kissed me, the film blurring into white noise behind us.
The red glowing numbers of my clock read 11 as I crawled between my sheets. My parents were at a neighbor’s Halloween party and wouldn’t be back till late, but I still wanted to get to bed at a reasonable time. It was a school night after all.
Other than an awkward pre-teen punk phase that ended badly, I had always been an obedient child. A goody-two-shoes. My parents still joke that I came out of the womb a mini-adult and I’ve never had the heart to tell them what I went through as a child. What pushed me onto a religious path and kept me from toeing any lines. The things that go bump in the night that kept me safe in bed after dark and stopped me from exploring the more unscrupulous side of puberty. The thing that had taken my right eye.
I switched off my bedside light and laid down, my stomach full of popcorn and candy as my mind drifted towards sleep.
A crash startled me back to the present. I flicked on the light and looked around. The room was empty.
“Shadow.” I called, trying to lure the family cat from his hiding place. “Shaaadow. Here kitty kitty.” But the room remained empty. “Fine, be that way.”
I turned the light off and rolled onto my side, but another crash sounded before I got comfortable.
“Oh for fucks sake, Shadow!” I said angrily as I shot out of bed, turning the light back on in the process. The room was still and everything was in its place. Everything except for the closet door, which now stood a few inches open. “Ha, gotcha.”
I opened the door expecting to find Shadow crouching beside some fallen clothes, but was surprised to find Sandy on the closet floor instead.
Sandy was my beloved childhood doll. One of those “custom” American Girl dolls my young self had designed to look like me. She must’ve fallen from her place on the shelf of my old keepsakes. I looked above me to see if Shadow had somehow made his way up there, but the shelf was as it always was: disheveled piles of trophies and stuffed animals I had outgrown but that were deemed too precious to throw away heaped up against the closet wall.
I picked Sandy up, brushed the hair out of her face and put her back. I looked again for Shadow, but he was nowhere to be seen. I closed the door and went back to bed.
As I switched my lamp off, another crash came from the closet.
Fuck, I must’ve locked him in there. My closet wasn’t very big and, as Shadow had discovered over the years, there weren’t many hiding spots. But I must’ve missed him. At this point I was tired and the damn cat was getting on my nerves.
I stood without turning the light on and walked to the closet. I opened the door and felt something fast brush past my leg as it escaped the small space. Reaching up, I pulled at the overhead light chain. Yellow light washed down, illuminating everything in a warm glow. The closet was undisturbed. I rolled my eyes and sighed. At least he wasn’t slowing down with age. I went to turn the light back off when I paused. Sandy was no longer where I had placed her. I looked down and pushed at an old sweater with my foot, making sure to expose all of the floor, but she wasn’t there either.
Mental images of that damn clown waiting behind the little boy flashed through my mind and I whipped around. The room behind me, barely illuminated by the glow of the closet light, was still empty. I swallowed, squashing the growing fear down as I turned off the light. My room was once again cast in darkness and shadows and I felt cold sweat form at the back of my neck.
I was being silly, I told myself. I had thrown her up onto the shelf without looking and Sandy had landed out of sight. She had simply fallen and was now hidden behind another stuffed animal or some random piece of clothing.
Still, I reached behind me and turned my closet light back on. I crawled back into bed and closed my eyes, letting the dim light of my closet blanket me with comfort. Just like my old nightlight had when I was little.
A small, muffled sound started from the far wall, approaching me. My ears strained to make it out. Something muted and rhythmic, but not steady. The noise came, paused, then came again. One after another, a light padding noise. Then I realized what it was. The soft patter of tiny feet across carpet. My mind lept to images of that clown and Chucky and my heart skipped a beat in a moment of pure terror as I closed my eyes tight. The footsteps paused and I heard a faint groan, deep and animalistic. I sighed in relief. Shadow was finally coming to bed and being a pain about it, like always.
I waited patiently for the comforting weight of my cat but nothing came. I made my usual soft kissing noises, but still he hesitated. “It’s ok Shadow,” I cooed.
He shifted, the gentle brushing of his body against the carpet as loud to me as if he were right by my ear. I listened to the footsteps cautiously approach my bed and stop beside me, my comforter pulling downward as he stood on the corner of the blanket that draped onto the floor. I reached my hand out to pet him, but as my fingers brushed against his fur I felt his body jolt away. The tiny footsteps bounded to the door and out into the hall. I groaned and turned onto my side. Screw Shadow. Screw Sandy. And screw Chucky. I was tired and I just wanted to go to sleep.
I must’ve dozed off because when I awoke next, the clock read 12:02. I blinked as my mind tried to recall what had woken me. Moving my leg, I felt Shadow resting against my shin.
“There you are, baby.” I reached my hand down to find his head. His soft fur was cool to the touch as if he had just been sitting in a window. I found his scalp and began to scratch at his ears. My fingertip pressed into something soft and wet and my hand shot back. I sprang up and turned on the light.
Shadow lay in front of me, his fur slick and spotted with a thick sticky substance. I looked at my fingers, which were now covered in blood. Shadow’s beautiful black fur was clumped and matted with it. Blood had begun to pool onto my blanket around him and with absolute horror and disgust, I realized that his head was completely severed from his body. Wet brownish red meat glistened around white bone that protruded from his neck, now a stump. I screamed and pushed away from my mutilated cat, desperately trying to distance myself from the horrific image. Tears streamed down my face as I fell to the floor.
In front of me was a line of bloody human shaped footprints, too small to even belong to a child. They stretched from my bedroom door to my bed.
I coughed out a sob, half in sorrow and half in panic. All my nightmares and fears from the night flooded my mind as I tried to scramble. But something else was wrong about the scene. I got up on my knees and began to push myself into a standing position, my legs shaking beneath me. Something was seriously wrong. And then I stopped, realization crawling up my spine in a chilly tingle.
There weren’t any footprints going out.
A small high-pitched laugh, like someone mimicking that of a little girl’s, sounded behind me.
I didn’t turn around. I didn’t look. Instead, I ran. I burst from my bedroom into the hall, my sobs and screams mixing in incoherent unfiltered emotion. I threw the door to my parent’s room open but their bed was empty. They were still out.
Not risking a glance back, I stumbled down the stairs, missing the last few steps and landing on my right ankle hard. I screamed in pain, but it didn’t matter. I had to get to the phone. I had to call them. My heart raced with adrenaline as I acted on instinct. Nothing made sense. None of it made sense. But it didn’t matter. All I knew was that I needed my parents. I needed them to help me. To fix this.
I reached the phone in the kitchen and grabbed the wireless receiver from the hook, spinning around to finally face what was behind me. But there was nothing there. I sobbed as I began to dial, my fingers shaking so hard I could barely press the right buttons.
I brought the phone to my ear but the line was silent. I mashed the end call button but there was no dial tone.
“Fuck!” I screamed as I threw the useless device at the wall. It snapped with a plastic crack, falling to the floor with a clatter. Deja vu hit me as the image of a white planchette shattering against a bedroom wall cut into my mind but I blinked the vision away.
I swallowed hard, trying to orient myself. To my right was the living room and the stairs to my bedroom and to my left, the dining room. I couldn’t call anyone so I’d have to make a run for it. The front door was back by the stairs. I looked to the dark living room, where I had just come from, and then back towards the dining room. The back door was closer than the front door. I could even make out the edge of its frame from the kitchen. It was so close. Chances are Sandy would be following me from the living room. She’d probably still be coming from there. But we lived in an old New England home with lots of interconnecting hallways and rooms. The bitch could be anywhere. I hesitated though, feeling lost on a small island of light. Weighing my options, I began to limp to my left. I was going to make a run for the back door.
The childish giggling sounded again and I stopped dead. The shrill noise had echoed through the house, everywhere and nowhere all at once. Sucking air down with determination despite my utter terror, I started again, pushing against my bad ankle as hard as I dared.
I slowed to a stop. I thought I had seen something. I shot my head right, trying to catch it. A blur or movement in front of me. It had been on my bad side, the one with the glass eye, but I knew I had seen it. At least, I was pretty sure I had. I slowed my limping.
I am a survivor. I told myself. I have survived this before. I trust myself. I turned and booked it, jogging painfully towards the living room. As I left the safety of the kitchen, the power cut out.
I stood, frozen in the spot. I covered my nose and mouth with my hand, trying to quiet my frightened crying as I strained my ears. A small noise from behind me made me whip around. I couldn’t see anything, but the sound was unmistakable. Tiny footsteps echoed across the kitchen’s linoleum tiles. So loud, they again rang in my ears like they were right beside me.
I pressed my palm into my mouth to try and quiet my uncontrollable whimpering. The final girl from Friday the 13th came back to me. Her pathetic cries. Useless screaming. I was the protagonist of a slasher film and there was nothing I could do about it.
I grit my teeth and squeezed my lips shut, trying to keep silent as I began to make my way around the couch. The front door was two rooms away past the stairs, but the bathroom was behind me to my right. I just needed to get there. I needed to lock myself inside and then I would be safe. I could hide there until my parents came home.
The footsteps stopped and so did I. My breaths escaped through my nose violently as my breathing grew heavy again, each inhale and exhale accompanied with terrified whines. I tightened my hand even more around my mouth, searching the darkness in front of me for the intruder. But I could see nothing. I chanced a glance back. The bathroom door stood wide open and it was so close, only ten or so feet. I could make it.
I turned to look back at the kitchen and my heart stopped. The muscle grew painfully tight as if a cold fist had clenched around it. There, in the doorway, was a small doll silhouette. The shape was only slightly darker than the darkness of the room, but I saw her clearly. She stood there, only a foot or so high. I couldn’t see her eyes, but I felt them drilling holes into my soul. There was movement from beside her as something shiny caught the light of a street lamp outside. It glinted red and I realized she was holding a large kitchen knife.
I screamed, the sound muffled by my sweaty palms as I turned and lunged at the bathroom door. I heard her start after me as I kicked off the floor with my good foot, spurring myself forward. A sharp pain bit across the back of my right calf but it didn’t stop me. My hands reached out desperately, my newly freed screams echoing off of the high ceilings. I fell into the bathroom and turned, reaching out for the door.
I saw the small shape, only a few inches behind me, jump up. My hand wrapped around the knob and I pulled the door towards me just as her small body rose to meet me. She held the blade high over her head, letting it fall into my hand as she crashed into me. I could hear bones snap with the unnatural weight and strength of the small figure. I saw more than felt the blade sink deep into my tendons. A warm wetness sprayed across my face and pain I had never experienced before flooded through me.
I screamed and tried to kick her away but small hard limbs wrap tightly around my foot, pressing her soft body into me. I thrashed my leg up and down, electric pain shooting through the heel of my foot with each impact on the hard wooden floor. The knife dropped, taking parts of my mangled hand along with it. It hit the bathroom tile with a ringing clang and the thing released me, falling to the ground. I saw her tiny arm reach for it as I kicked again, this time my toes connecting with her face with a crack and she flew back into the living room.
I forced my damaged fingers to wrap around the handle one last time and brought the bathroom door towards me. As the door closed across my vision I remember seeing her one last time as she stood, her body lowering as she prepared herself to jump again. The door slammed shut just as her plastic body thudded into the wood with a loud bang that reverberated through the house. I pushed the lock button into place and fell to the floor. With the last of my strength I pushed my feet into the door, bracing myself on the far wall.
The door buckled and shook with unnatural ferocity. I sobbed as I reached up and grabbed a towel, pressing it into my damaged hand as I tried to stop the blood which was flowing so freely from me. I screamed with the pain and barred my teeth, sobbing with terror. The blackness of the small room crowded around me, suffocating me with nothingness as the door quaked and shuddered. I was alone except for that–that thing from hell outside. A slim piece of hollow wood the only thing protecting me.
The door at my feet grew still and I shook with deep sobs, trying to prepare myself for whatever fucked up thing was coming next.
Voices rang out from the front entrance way.
“Damn, I think the powers out!” I recognized it immediately through the thick layer of beer. It was my dad. My parents were home.
My throat was sore and my voice thin but I inhaled as deeply as I could and I screamed. The sound was loud and shrill and as it ended, I felt my body begin to fall to the ground uselessly. As I blacked out, I remember thinking that my mom was going to be pissed I ruined the decorative hand towel.
I awoke in the ambulance. My father stood above me, his eyes wet with tears as he stroked my hair. I began to register the pain throughout my body. My hand burned as if I had stuck it in a fire and I sat up, screaming. I could hear my father try to comfort me but the gesture was useless. I brought my knees up to my chest and began to rock back and forth, the screams falling over one another as I let them pour from me. All the anger, all the pain, all the hatred and confusion and sorrow and disgust and disbelief flowed from my body like vomit.
As the violent screams flowed from me I began to remember. Years of memories flooded back and I remembered everything. The Halloweens of my childhood washed over me like hot waves of fear. Memories hidden and blocked jumping from behind closed doors and stabbing my eyes with red hot pokers. Fire sliced through my brain, cooking me alive from the inside out. Black beasts growled at me and tiny evil creatures pricked at my skin, their nails dragging through my flesh. Each one a leather tendril of a cat o’ nine tails whip slicing through me. Poison filled my eye and tried to infect my mind, to take away my humanity. Red eyed demons wrapped their hands around my throat and squeezed, my lungs exploding with the pain as my vision blackened. Their pupil-less eyes floating above me, laughing at my misery. Licking at my pain, slurping as it spills from my body onto greedy tongues.
I remembered everything, every horrible fear filled night and I screamed.
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 lightswitch.
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.
At age 13, I played with a Ouija board.
At age 13, I played with a Ouija board.
By then, all memories of my childhood Halloweens had been buried deep within my mind. Puberty hit me like a ton of bricks and I went from being a perfect little angel who always said please and thank you to a wannabe bad girl. The fairies had taken my eye only five years previously and yet, at that age, 8 seemed a lifetime ago. Whenever people asked about my glass eye, I’d tell them the truth. I’d tell them what I thought was the truth. What the doctor with the deep warm voice filled with knowledge told me.
“I slept walked into the woods one night as a kid and scratched my cornea on a twig or something. It got really infected so they had to remove it.”
“That is sick!” Carolyn said, her eye only an inch from mine as she examined it. She sat back down onto the rubber surface of the trampoline, her face lit up with morbid curiosity.
We had met only a few week previously during orientation at Williams Cove Middle School but we had an instant connection. I had thought she could be my best friend. I guess, on some level, I thought she already was.
Jackie sat beside us, shaking her head. “That’s fucked up, man.” She said, sucking on a cigarette before passing it to me. Carolyn reached into the back pocket of her black bondage pants and pulled out the rest of the pack that she had stolen from her dad.
The three of us were a pack of misfits. While my preteen rebellion involved listening to the Dead Kennedys and trying to convince my mom to buy me a leather jacket, Carolyn went a different route. By Halloween of eighth grade, Carolyn’s goth phase was at its peak: white foundation, corsets, ripped fishnets, and jet black hair. She even began to make everyone refer to her as Lilith. And like her family and other friends, I indulged her. Decked out in latex gloves, I spent a Saturday afternoon helping her dye her natural auburn curls. Her mother was pissed with us, but that was part of the fun. I went with her when she got her tongue pierced and ended up getting my nose done as well. Despite my more punk inclinations, it was fun discovering Black Sabbath and Marilyn Manson with her.
Jackie on the other hand was way cooler than either of us. She didn’t dress up to piss her parents off and she didn’t spout delusional preachings of preteen rebellion. Her life focus was to become an artist and that was who she was, through and through. She didn’t waste time at the mall or Hot Topic. She wore loose ripped jeans and baggy sweaters she mostly got from Goodwill, and her long blonde hair was always tied back into a loose messy bun. She smoked cigarettes with us and shoot the shit, but most of her free time was spent in the art wing of the high school working on projects. Everyone knew fancy art colleges from all over the country were already looking at her, keeping tabs on her artistic genius.
Carolyn – at the time, Lilith – and I were desperate for her attention. We shared an unspoken disbelief and excitement that someone so cool, so adult, would want to spend time with us.
“You guys should come over tonight for a Halloween sleepover! We’ll play games and watch movies! I’ll order pizza and we can steal some of my dad’s vodka!” Carolyn said, her face bright with excitement.
A small pit at the bottom of my stomach made me pause.
“I dunno, Lilith.” I said, “it’s a school night.”
“Ah, come on! It’ll be so fun! And it won’t kill you to stay out one night!”
The pit, now more of a voice or feeling, tried to pull me away from the warmth of acceptance and validation. Don’t do it. The feeling said, tendrils of fear slowly crawling up my sides like snakes.
Jackie giggled and I looked at her. She was smiling at Carolyn, that huge, warm smile of hers where the corner of her mouth rose just a little higher than the other one. Her blue eyes crinkled with the gesture.
“That sounds awesome, I’m down.” She looked at me as she tilted her head to the right and away. It was a look she gave me sometimes. Mostly when asking a question but sometimes just when she was looking at me. Like she was examining me but was too close, like she had to adjust her head so she could focus better. “You sure you don’t want to?” She asked, the crinkles in her eyes fading slightly.
The pit in my stomach fell away into oblivion, immediately forgotten, and I smiled at her. “Fuck it, I’m in.”
That night, the three of us sat on the floor of Carolyn’s room. My head was thick with vodka and cigarettes and my skin buzzed. I was browsing through Carolyn’s DVD collection, trying to find something to watch, when she stopped me, clapping her hands in excitement at a sudden epiphany.
“Oh my God, you know what we should do?” She asked. I looked to Jackie who was watching Carolyn with a small smile on her lips. Without waiting for a response, Carolyn jumped up from the floor and walked to her bookcase. “We should perform a seance!” She turned back to us, presenting a cheap mass-produced Ouija set.
I rolled my eyes and Jackie snorted in laughter.
“I’m serious!” Carolyn said. “We should do at least something scary! It is Halloween afterall.”
I looked at the clock. “Only for another twenty minutes.”
“Even more reason to do it now!” Carolyn fell to the floor, taking the lid off the box.
“Have you ever done this before?” Jackie asked hesitantly.
“Not really.” Carolyn admitted. “I mean, I tried to once but I was alone. I think it only works if you have a coven.”
I raised an eyebrow to Jackie who shrugged.
Carolyn placed the planchette onto the cardboard game as she sat back, her legs crossed in front of her. She sat there, back straight, and waited. After a few seconds of nothing, she cleared her throat, throwing us both pointed looks.
“Fine.” I sighed as I placed my fingertips on one edge of the plastic triangle. “But never call us a coven again.”
Jackie’s fingers joined ours, her hand brushing softly against mine. My heart beat sped up with excitement. We looked to Carolyn who smiled maliciously at us as she closed her eyes and began to speak. Her voice was unnecessarily deep, like she was trying to impersonate Boris Karloff.
“Oh spirits, we call upon you tonight on All Hallow’s Eve. Come to us. Speak your truths through us and share your knowledge.” Carolyn began to sway slightly, her shoulders rocking back and forth. Jackie sighed beside me and I bite my tongue to stifle a giggle. Carolyn didn’t notice.
Slowly, the planchette began to move under our fingers. Jackie jumped before snickering quietly as she looked at me to roll her eyes at her own reaction. Carolyn, her eyes still closed, pushed the planchette forward. It hovered over the letter H before sliding to the letter I, where it stayed.
“Really, Carolyn?” I asked in frustration. “Hi?”
Carolyn’s eyes popped open. “It’s Lilith!” She scolded, her brow tight with anger. “And I didn’t do that! It was the spirit of the house! I had my eyes closed.” She added, pointing to herself as if that alibi was airtight.
“Alright,” I sighed, “Hi, Mr. Ghost.” Despite the sarcasm, Carolyn closed her eyes again and continued.
“I can sense the spirit. It is not a man, but a woman. She wishes to speak more. Please, tell us your story oh great spirit!”
Subtle vibrations began to rise from the plastic beneath my fingertips, as if the planchette was pulsing. I opened my mouth in confusion and looked to Jackie, who was watching the planchette wide eyed. I looked back at Carolyn, trying to figure out how should was doing it.
The planchette moved again, hovering this time over D. Carolyn’s eyes were still closed, so I took it upon myself to read the letter out loud. It moved to the E and this time Jackie joined me. Together, we chanted the letters into the air.
“Death.” Jackie finished.
“Appropriate.” I said.
Carolyn began to sway again, this time humming loudly as if she was meditating. She spoke again, her voice booming forward into the now chilled air of the room. “Oh great spirit, we implore you. Tell us how you died!?!” Her words sounded scripted. Forced, as if she were reading Shakespeare on a stage.
The planchette moved and Jackie and I read the letters aloud.
“Who killed you?” Carolyn cried.
“What the fuck!?” Jackie yelled, her hands flying from the planchette as she shot back away from the Ouija board.
“Carolyn, stop it!” I scolded as I sat up and crossed my arms. “That’s so not funny!”
Carolyn didn’t acknowledge us, her eyes remaining shut as a continuous moan spilled forth from her lips. The planchette moved again.
“Stop it!” I cried.
But the planchette didn’t stop. It kept moving furiously over the same letters. Kill Taylor. Kill Taylor. Kill Taylor. Carolyn opened her mouth wide and began to chant along with the words spelt on the board.
“Kill Taylor. Kill Taylor. Kill Taylor.” Her voice grew louder and louder. “Kill Taylor! Kill Taylor!” She was screaming now. I crawled away from her, towards Jackie who reached out and pulled me towards her. I clung to her tightly, silent prayers forming incoherently in my mind. Her parents would hear her. They’d come find us. They’d be here at any moment. They’d save us. They’d save me. “Kill Taylor! Kill Taylor!” Jackie and I held each other as Carolyn continued to chant.
“Fucking stop it!” Jackie screamed as she lunged out of my grasp towards Carolyn. She landed on her, pinning her quickly to the ground. Jackie shook her by the shoulders as the other girl kept screaming.
“Kill Taylor! Kill Taylor!”
“Jackie!” I yelled, my voice strained with fear. She whipped around to face me, her hands and knees still pinning the screaming, squirming form of my best friend. My arm shook as I pointed towards the Ouija board.
The planchette hadn’t stopped.
Jackie turned back to Carolyn. “Stop it! Stop Carolyn! What the fuck is wrong with you!?”
The noise of the planchette scraping across cardboard filled my ears. It was too loud, as if it were right beside my head. My body buzzed as I watched the blur. Each movement echoed in my mind and the buzzing grew and grew. Like molecules in boiling water my skin buzzed so fast that heat began to spread across it. I started screaming, tears flowing down my cheeks in pain and fear.
There was a snap and Jackie screamed. Her body flew back across the room, smacking against the bookcase with a painful thud. I looked at Carolyn who had sat up and was now staring at me, her wide eyes glowing blood red, her pupils no longer visible. She bared her teeth at me and seethed. Her chest rising and falling as her breath cut in and out with a sharp hissing noise. Drool formed at the corners of her mouth and flew forward with each sharp exhale. Her gaze held a hatred that I had never seen before.
She continued to chant. “Kill Taylor! Kill Taylor! Kill Taylor!”
Before I could react, she lunged forward. Her hands wrapped around my throat and she squeezed. I flailed my arms, punching and slapping her, desperately trying to get her off of me. I tried to kick but she was straddling me, her weight on my thighs. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breath. I thrust my arm at her face and scratched her. My nails dug deep into her flesh as I scratched again and again. Red lines formed across her cheeks, her blood making the skin slippery beneath my fingertips, but her grip around my neck held fast.
My body screamed for air. My lungs throbbed and my mouth gaped as instinct tried to save me. Flashes of a tub full of water shot through my mind with an electric sting. Things in the water bobbed and spun around me as I tried to escape. A sweet juice crackled on the tip of my tongue and I tried to scream but instead came back to the present. Blood was rushing to my head, which felt unnaturally heavy.
Carolyn’s face fell to mine, a red eye filling my vision. Warm spit hit my skin as she breathed ragged breaths above me, the warmth of her breath smelling like blood, death, and decay.
And then, she screamed. Her terrible chants replaced with a pained screamed that hit my face with heated anger. I inhaled sharply as her grasp loosened. She began to slide away, that red eye blissfully leaving my vision.
White flashed behind her as the planchette flew from the board, hitting the far wall with a loud plastic crack. I swallowed air desperately, my lungs expanding painfully with each breath. Carolyn fell forward onto the carpet like a rag doll, revealing Jackie standing behind her holding a thick black candlestick. The dried purple wax was still visible from where the candle had recently been.
Jackie fell to the ground beside our unconscious friend and wept.
The three of us stood in the living room as Jackie and I waited for our parents to pick us up. Carolyn held a towel to the back of her head, the fabric now damp and stained with blood. Her parents were in the other room putting on their boots and jackets, preparing to take Carolyn to the hospital. The bleeding had stopped but she needed to get checked out. The 9-1-1 receiver had warned that she may have a concussion.
“I remember everything turning red and all I felt was hatred. It was like in a dream. I felt the emotions so real, so tangible. But they weren’t really mine. It was like…..” She hesitated. “It was like I was possessed.”
Jackie, face wet with tears, shook her head violently. “Fuck you.” She spat, her voice quaking.
“I’m so sorry.” Carolyn said as she reached out towards her, but Jackie flinched away from her touch.
Jackie wasn’t at school the next few days. We didn’t see her for another week and when she did finally come back, she avoided Carolyn and I, outright ignoring us if we tried to talk to her.
Of course, everyone asked us what happened. Parents, doctors, friends, the guidance counselor. But none of us could answer. We couldn’t explain why I had bruises around my neck or what had happened to Carolyn’s head. The truth was too fantastical and we were too traumatized to think of something more believable to say. They continued to ask for weeks and months later but, to my knowledge, the three of us never told anyone what we experienced that Halloween night.
I immediately cleaned up my act. I started focusing more on school and less on a social life. I haven’t smoked a cigarette since and didn’t drink another drop of alcohol till college. Instead of going to parties, I began enjoying the quiet and comfort of church. And I never spent the night at a friend’s house again.
While my parents were, and still are, indifferent to religion, that night made me believe. I believed in the supernatural. Believed in good versus evil, heaven and hell. In the power of prayer and magic. But I gave all the credit of what happened to the Ouija board. To the devil.
Carolyn and I never hung out again after that night. I became too busy with school and church and she became too busy with drugs and parties. We drifted apart pretty quickly. Church helped make me feel safe again and through it I was able to recover from my past trauma and move on. In high school, I found a healthy balance between teenage fun and respect for the forces of our world that I didn’t understand. I was able to make new friends and to even start dating, all while under the protection of Christianity. The protection of God and Jesus Christ.
When my high school boyfriend wanted to watch scary movies, I didn’t want to. Not because I thought it contradicted my religious lifestyle. I knew I could still be a good Christian and watch horror movies. Just like I could still be a good Christian and date. Life, as my pastor always said, was about balancing. Be good and keep God in the forefront of your mind and you will be kept safe.
I didn’t want to watch scary movies because of that little pit in my stomach. Those little tendrils of fear that climb up my skin. That little voice that warns me.
Don’t do it.
But movies can’t hurt you. Not like demons can.
At age 16, I watched Child’s Play. And just like the other years, Halloween used fear and mischief to attack me. Like a trickster god, it used its powers to warp and twist reality for the pure pleasure of torturing me. That was the night it all started to make sense. The night all the pieces fell into place. With sickening horror, I realized that Halloween hated me. That Halloween wanted to make me suffer, and still does. This one night a year, this holiday, has created unseen laws of order. Laws it put in place when I was only a child. Laws that it used as reason to punish me when I unknowingly broke them. It took sixteen years, but I finally learned to respect those laws.
Unfortunately, my story doesn’t end there. By college, I thought I understood the rules. I thought I knew the laws instilled upon me. And in a moment of desperation, I thought I knew how to play the system.
But I was very, very wrong.
At age 20, I went to a party.
It was my junior year of college and I was struggling to fit in. People who didn’t know me looked at my deformed hand with disgust and morbid fascination, wanting to know how I lost a thumb and two fingers but not wanting to ask. They noticed my glass eyes with scrunched up noses and ill hid stares. I could see the questions form in their minds even as they bit their tongues, giving me tight lipped smiles. It didn’t help that I wouldn’t stay out long after dark and that I never drank or smoked. It’s hard to make friends when you’re afraid of everything and everyone. When you’re so damaged. So utterly broken.
I watched my freshman and sophomore roommates melt into the social stew of college, of sex and alcohol and drama, while I stood at the sidelines. No, not stood. As I hid behind bushes along the sidelines, praying no one would see me. By junior year, I lived in a small dorm room by myself where I’d eat every meal, only leaving to go to class and church.
And then I met Hayley.
Mom had always told me that sitting in the front row made you get better grades. I don’t know how founded that piece of advice was, but I listened to it all throughout high school and college. But my alarm didn’t go off that morning and I was running late. I normally get to Organic Chemistry ten to fifteen minutes early. The class was a common requirement taught by two professors: Professor Goldwick in the spring and Professor Martin in the fall. Professor Goldwick was in his late seventies and thought the 19th amendment was a temporary fluke. He was a boring asshole, but he was a tenured one. Professor Martin was younger, prettier, and actually competent at her job. Which meant that Organic Chemistry in the fall was always full beyond capacity. She was smart enough, and considerate enough, to hold extra lab classes for the spillover, but there was still only one lecture a week.
But the time I arrived, there was standing room only. I groaned as I picked my way towards the back where there was room. I sat down heavily on an empty step, frustrated with the morning’s events. I began to skim through my notes from last week when someone sat down beside me. I looked up and was faced with the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She smiled warmly at me.
“Running late?” She asked, her voice low and smooth.
I nodded dumbly, not saying a word.
She smiled. “Yeah, I normally see you sit at the front.” She pointed to my normal seat and I blushed. She giggled slightly, “sorry, that came off as creepy. I’ve just…” She paused to think, “I’ve just noticed you.” She watched my face, waiting for a response. I swallowed and gave her a half hearted smile in return before looking back down at my notes.
A hand appeared between my face and the page. “I’m Hayley.” She said. I looked up and took her hand.
I saw the question form on her forehead as she tried to register what was wrong with the handshake. What was wrong with me. Her gaze shifted down and hesitated on the large white scar over my missing fingers, but her eyes quickly lifted back to my face and she gave me a small but genuine smile.
“It’s nice to meet you, Taylor.” She said as I turned to face the front of the room. My ears burned with heat and I blushed deeper. Miguel once told me that my ears grew bright red when I was horny. I know he told me that with affection but it horrified me. Like a public boner. I didn’t like my feelings being transparent.
Professor Martin began the lecture and I tried to forget about Hayley. Tried to ignore her presence beside me. The room was so crowded and she was so close. The slim space between us vibrated with electricity and the sounds of the professor’s words grew in and out of focus.
Class ended and Hayley and I began to pack our bags as students trickled out of the room. “Any fun plans for today?” She asked, picking up her pen and notebook. I paused and looked at her. She was watching me, waiting for me to respond.
“Uh, no. Not really.” I said honestly.
She smiled. “Wanna go get something to eat at the shack with me?” She tilted her head slightly with the question and my heart stopped. It was the same way Jackie used to look at me. My breath caught in my throat and I coughed awkwardly, looking around the room.
What would a normal person say? I thought, but it was too late. I was already being weird. I stood and sped out of the room without saying a word.
She called after me, her voice faltering with confusion. “Oh, uh… see you next time!”
I could think of nothing but her for the rest of the week, looking forward to Organic Chemistry as if it were Christmas. Even though I hated straying from my routines, I walked past the still empty front row and waited there in the back of the classroom, hoping she’d sit by me again. And, to my surprise, she did. She smiled and said hi before sitting down beside me. This became our new tradition every Thursday morning. She’d make small talk and at first it was mostly one sided, but slowly I was able to warm up to her. We talked about our majors, what dorm we lived in. Small things. And then one morning Hayley asked me to get a bite after class and I agreed.
We were eating chicken tenders at the shack, a fried food place on campus, when she started excitedly discussing Halloween. Only two days away, it made sense. It’s what normal people talked about. I swallowed hard, my chicken getting caught painfully in my suddenly dry throat. A little pit in my stomach began to grow.
“Are you going to Pi Kappa Alpha’s Halloween party Saturday?” Hayley asked, her eyes large and filled with childlike excitement.
The pit grew hot in my gut. “Uh… I wasn’t going to.”
She smiled at me and my knees literally went weak. “Would you like to come with me?”
The pit fell as if it were an anvil in an old cartoon. I could feel it fall down, deep into the earth and far away from me. And with it, the world. I was in a dark place. A place of shadows and the shadows were speaking. Some were calling to me and some screaming at me. Beckoning me to come, telling me to leave. Green figures with thin sharp teeth asked me to play.
There was a pressure on my shoulder and I realized it was Hayley’s hand. She was looking at me, her eyes filled with concern. I had stopped breathing. Humming filled my brain as I inhaled. My heart was racing, thumping against my chest as if it were trying to get out. I looked at Hayley and she was smiling at me. I exhaled with a sigh, the sensations falling from my body like a too tight coat. Her smile was like a life preserver, giving me something to focus on. Something to bring me back.
I heard a voice, distant and far off. “I’d love to.” It said. I didn’t think it was my voice at first. I knew I would’ve never agreed. But it was my voice and that’s what it said. It betrayed me.
Hayley wrote her number down on a piece of paper and handed it to me. “See you there.”
I knew the consequences of Halloween. I knew it was a mistake. I had intended to text her that I couldn’t make it. That I was sick. But then my thoughts would fill with Hayley’s smile and I’d find myself somewhere else. Somewhere without worry or fear. And so, filled with an optimism and hope I hadn’t had in years, I didn’t text her to cancel. Instead, I skipped class to try and think of a way to save the night. A way to avoid the wrath of Halloween.
The aisles of the store were practically empty, a ghost town on the night before Halloween. I scanned the remnants of the costumes for something useable. A nurse, a pirate, a nun. I hesitated at the last costume, but images of evil nuns and priests made me move on quickly. I was about to give up on finding a costume that was Halloween-proof when something white caught my eye. It was hiding, three plastic costume bags deep on the metal arm, no longer sorted into any particular order. I pushed aside a bag with a man in a devil’s costume on the front.
“Perfect.” I said, smiling at the costume that lay beneath.
Already drunk kids filled the frat house’s front yard as I approached. My phone buzzed in my hand with Hayley’s newest text message:
Out front. See you soon.
I looked up and immediately spotted her. She was dressed in a torn pale gown that flowed out around her. Her skin was painted grey with heavy black shadows under her eyes. Around her neck was a loose rope, tied in a noose. Her eyes lit up as she spotted me and she jogged over to where I stood. She wrapped her arms around me and kissed me lightly on the cheek. I blushed as she fell away, leaving her hand on my shoulder, her body still close to mine.
“Hey.” She said as she smiled up at me. I had several inches on her and seeing those big brown eyes look up into mine sent shivers through me.
We stared at each other for several seconds before I looked her up and down. “And what are you supposed to be?”
She stepped back and spun for me. “A witch!” She laughed.
I returned the laughter. “Oh, I get it. Like from the Salem witch trials. Uh… You don’t think that’s… in bad taste?”
She shrugged. “Maybe. But don’t you think witches are probably already offended by commercialized pointy hats?”
I sighed, “I guess.”
“Besides,” she said, pushing my shoulder back playfully, “I could say the same thing about you!”
I looked down at my own white gown, careful not to let my halo fall from my head in the process. “What’s wrong with my costume?”
“You don’t think Christians would be offended by you dressing up as an angel?”
I rolled my eyes. “As a Christian, I don’t find it offensive.”
She raised an eyebrow, “and how do you know I’m not a witch?” She pulled at my gown and looked up at my coyly. “As someone who worships Satan, I find your costume very offensive.”
Hayley turned and lead me into the house, now pulsing with loud music and party-goers.
The party was actually really fun. Despite drunk jocks and more slutty bees than you’d think was necessary, I enjoyed watching Hayley’s face open with excitement as she introduced me to her friends. My face and skin burned pleasantly with the first alcohol I had drank since middle school.
We left on the early side.
“It’s her first college party.” Hayley slurred as she very un-delicately stroked my face. “We don’t want to overwhelm her!”
Hayley’s friend Paul, dressed as a pokemon character I didn’t recognize, rolled his eyes at me. “Yes, Taylor seems very delicate. It’s a good thing she has you to take care of her.”
She smiled at him coyly as she pulled me into her in a faux gesture of protection. Paul winked at me and I blushed, thankful that the room we were in was dimly lit.
Hayley fell into me as she stepped off the house’s front steps and I wrapped my arm around her to steady her. She had been excitedly babbling about her dreams of going to veterinary school since we said good-bye to Paul, her words unnecessarily loud and sloppy, interrupted here and there with small violent hiccups. I patiently let her talk, relishing learning more about her.
“Wait,” she slurred, pausing and pointing at the woods beside the street. “I know a shortcut.”
I looked at the densely packed trees. “Maybe we should stick to the road.”
“No, trust me.” She said, her breath reeking of alcohol. “I take this path all the time to get to my dorm.”
“Come on, not tonight.” I said, trying to lead her away.
She giggled as she slipped from my grasp and ran into the woods.
“Hayley!” I called, but she was gone. I jogged in after her. I could hear her footsteps, loud through the dry autumn leaves. She hiccuped and giggled. I ran forward, following the sounds. And then they stopped.
My steps slowed. “Hayley?” I asked tentatively. I stopped for a second, listening for any sign of her, but the woods were silent. I began walking again, the forest tall and dark and quiet around me.
“Boo!” Hayley said as she jumped out from behind a tree.
I screamed in surprise. “Jesus Christ!” I cried, my breath hitching as I laughed in relief. “Fuck, you scared me.” My breathing calmed and my laughing turned into giggles. Hayley was looking at me intently, her smile lopsided from drink.
And then she leaned forward and kissed me. The world faded as she pushed her soft lips into mine. She pressed her body against me and electricity shot through my skin. I remember she smelled like vanilla, despite the cloud of alcohol that hung around her.
Hayley pulled away. I opened my eyes, slowly as if just waking from a deep sleep. She smiled again and laughed before whispering, “catch me if you want another kiss.” And she was off.
It took me a few seconds before I registered what she had said and I ran after her, again following the noises of her feet through the forest. And just like last time, the sounds soon stopped. I began to walk, excitement filling my lower abdomen as I eagerly waited for her to jump out again and kiss me. The thought sent tingles up my spine and back down to my inner thighs. This time, I’d kiss her deeper, taste her. This time, I’d pull her into me and never let her go.
A snapping of a stick brought me back to the present and I paused, “Hayley?”
Another stick broke, a thicker one from the sound. It was coming from above me. I looked up. The dark woods were still. I searched the branches for her. Movement caught my eye and I saw something on a thick branch several feet above my head. There wasn’t much light from the moon, but I thought I could make out shoes.
Two feet stood motionless above me.
“Hayley, is that you? What the fuck are you doing?”
One of the feet moved forward hesitantly, as if testing the still night air, before stepping forward. I went to reach my hands out to grab her but she was in front of me so quickly. I hadn’t had a chance to move. In just a second Hayley’s eyes in line with mine. And then there was another snap, louder than before. It sounded wet, much wetter than a stick. A splintering noise that I still hear in my nightmares.
Hayley spasmed in front of me and I stepped back in surprise. The noose was around her neck, but it was no longer loose. It pressed up and into her throat. Her head was bent at a wrong angle and I could see her bones pressing into her skin where her spine had broken. Her big brown eyes bulged and her mouth was open, exposing a bloated tongue.
We weren’t that deep into the woods and students walking past soon heard my screams. They found me hugging Hayley’s lifeless form, pulling at the tight noose around her neck with my two fingers.
It was ruled a suicide.
Sometimes I think if I hadn’t blindly grabbed her, if I had actually used my bad hand to hold her and my good hand to free her, she would’ve survived. But I know it was too late.
Since that night, I have never wavered from my strict no Halloween policy. My husband Chris has been incredibly understanding. He knows about Hayley and the story I told everyone about what happened to my hand. To my eye. He thinks I have Halloween PTSD, which I guess is true. The nasty coincidences. So many horrible events on the same night, years apart. It’s understandable why I’d hate the holiday. Anyone would.
Our son, Zack, has never dressed up. He’s never gone to a Halloween party nor has he even gone trick or treating. I’ll admit, it hasn’t been easy. The other parents don’t understand. They assume I’m a religious nut. But I have to protect myself, and I have to protect Chris and Zack. I’m still plagued by the memories of Hayley’s face, her eyes bulging from their sockets. I look at my beautiful, wonderful family and I’m reminded that Hayley will never have one.
Zack turned five this year and it’s beginning to get even harder to keep him from celebrating. But I thought I had been strict enough, that I had stressed to Chris how sensitive the situation was. I thought he realized that Halloween was forbidden for a reason, even if he didn’t know what it was.
But he caved. He took Zack to a Halloween store without my knowledge and bought him a costume. I came home to my beautiful baby boy squealing with delight as he showed me what he was going to be for Halloween.
Zack’s dressing up as a black cat tonight.
I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.