No one actually came right out and said it. There wasn’t an official decree, or anything like that.
It just sort of came up in mumbled conversation between my friends and me, sneaking up on us before we were ready. Someone asked what we were going to be for Halloween, and someone else smashed our childhood with just a few words, leading us to an eventual, harsh realization.
Basically, we were too old to dress up for Halloween.
The idea hit us young teens pretty hard, and we weren’t sure how to handle it. Most of us had younger siblings, and seeing their excitement as they planned their outings left us feeling just plain weird. We’d been Superman, Batman and plenty other superheroes — or villains — every year we could remember.
Now we were supposed to accept we were too old?
It wasn’t the dressing up and trick-or-treating part leaving my life that bothered me. Nope. When they said, in effect, “We’re too old,” I heard, “No more free Hershey bars or Milk Duds.”
Dude. No Duds?
So my buddy Clark and I devised a plan to ensure our continuous chocolate flow. (At this point, please allow me to point out that the word “devil” is about five-sixths of the way to spelling the word “devise.”)
Near my home, a graveyard lay perfectly positioned between our neighborhood and another — a bigger neighborhood, meaning more Halloween loot.
I call the old place a “graveyard” for good reason. A cemetery is usually a well-groomed, serene area with manicured resting places and polished stones.
A graveyard? They’re old and spooky, especially after dark. The stones are older and scattered like dragon teeth. Of course there are old trees, the better for ghosts to hide behind. People visit cemeteries. They avoid graveyards.
This old graveyard was the perfect prop for our devious (again, notice how close to “devil” that word comes) plan. To get to and from one neighborhood to another, one had to pass the old site loaded with old and new headstones scattered around a hill, along with massive trees that were pretty by day but spooky at night. Anyone who had to walk past the old place after dark did so either very rapidly or with a brave sidekick.
Our plan? We’d taken some old, white bed sheets and a couple of pillowcases. We’d hide behind stones covered with the sheets; then we’d jump out as the kids returned from the bigger neighborhood. They’d see the ghosts, drop all their bags of candy and run screaming for their parents — or for an exorcist or a Ghostbuster. Clark and I then strolled down carrying our own pillowcases and collected our evil-gotten gains.
See? Perfect. Until …
I’d found a perfect stone for hiding. Tall, leaning and eerie — and room for one. I crouched behind it, sheet at the ready, waiting for another group of victims.
That’s when I felt Clark bumping into me.
“Get your own stone!” I hissed. I wanted first shot at the fallen Hershey Bars.
Clark nudged me again, a little more insistently. I flung an elbow at him, but that only made him push harder.
Aggravated, I turned to confront him…
… and found myself staring into big, red eyes and a massive head with horns sticking out of it.
The devil had done come to get me.
If I screamed, I’m pretty sure it sounded like a girl. I fell, trying to do the butt-cheek crawl away from Lucifer himself. I felt a skeletal hand reach from beneath one grave and grab my foot. At that point, the only thing keeping me from passing out in fright was the thought of making it easier on ol’ Scratch to throw me into his own pillowcase.
Miraculously, I made it down to the road. I knew I didn’t have to outrun the devil. I just had to outrun Clark.
I couldn’t help myself: I had to look back at my pursuer.
There, still standing next to the old gravestone, stood a cow.
Yes. A cow. The big, horned beast had gotten out of a nearby pasture and was casually munching on the plants growing throughout the graveyard.
And the “skeletal hands”? They were those wire thingies people place on graves to keep the flowers they leave in place. They sure felt like bony fingers to me.
All rational explanations. None that would keep me from staying freaked out all this time, especially after telling my dad about it. When we lost him to cancer in 1991, he was still sharing and laughing about my story. Especially my face when he told me that night, “You THINK it was a cow. They say the devil can change shapes.”
Thanks, Dad. You’re a big help.
To this day — more than 40 years later — I don’t like the “trick” part of “trick or treat.” I’ve had enough tricks. I’m all about the treats. My guilt is such that I load up on goodies to give away to any little dudes and dudettes who ring my doorbell on Halloween night. I shovel stuff into their bags and buckets by the handfuls. Even those kids who don’t dress up — they’ve hit the same “too old” wall that got me in trouble — will get whatever I’ve got. One piece of candy? Nah, kid. Take a handful. And stay out of the graveyards.
Guilty much, Stallard?
Dang straight I am. Call it my penance. I’m convinced if I hadn’t been scaring kids out of their candy that night, I wouldn’t have gotten a visit from the Horned One in the graveyard. Nowadays, I’ll blow entire paychecks on Hershey bars, Milk Duds, Twix, Kit Kats, Twizzlers and anything else I can find, and I’ll have ’em ready to dish out willingly and cheerfully.
Unless, that is, some kid arrives at my doorstep who decided to dress up as a cow.
Then, all he or she will get is a flash of my behind running out the back door.
And, of course, a loud girly scream to go with those Hershey bars.