October 30

Mischief Night


“Where I’m from,” Erin says, “we called it Moving Night. The night before Halloween, people would move things from each others’ yards:  steal a potted plant off one porch and put it on another, or roll a bike down a driveway and into the next block.  Maybe turn a car or two upside down.”

There’s definitely some moving going on outside, but it’s not bicycles or a porch plant.  It’s mostly footsteps.

Mischief makers, scoping out the property.  Deciding what kind of prank to pull.

“I guess your teenage vandals ran out of toilet paper.”

“Yeah, right:  after the great diarrhea epidemic of ’ninety-four.”  Erin smiles, but she’s maybe a little annoyed, too.  She tends to get defensive about her hometown.  “Toilet paper is a bit cliché, don’t you think?   Moving stuff around had a different effect.  You woke up the next morning, wondering how much the world might have changed overnight.”

“I could do without that kind of change.”

“Not like that,” Erin says.  “Not like that.”  Referring to the Big Change, which really did happen overnight, like some awful cosmic prank.  So many towns obliterated, including the town where she grew up.  Her parents.  The neighbors she grew up with.  “My favorite tricks were the subtle ones,” she says, getting back to her story.  “Things got moved just a little bit, so you’d barely notice.  Or something new, put on your porch or parked in your driveway as if it belonged there.  Some kids removed the Middleton’s tire swing and attached it to the tree in our front yard.  That firm, overhanging limb was just aching for a swing, and my family hadn’t realized it.  It looked so perfect there, and even the Middletons agreed, and they let us keep it.  From then on, Flora Middleton had to come to our yard if she wanted to swing, and that’s how we became best friends.”

It’s a nice story, and a welcome distraction.  But you still couldn’t ignore the footsteps around the perimeter of the house.  You tried to count how many there were, as the steps rustled through dry grass, dead leaves and fallen twits.  It was hard to guess the number, but thickening shadows across the front windows suggested a large crowd.

The clamor on the lawn is too close, too loud, and you feel like you should begin your own distracting story.  Something about your childhood, about happier times, and you’d try to add down-home details, a favorite toy or a puppy or a cooing baby…and you’d stay calm, your voice wouldn’t get more nervous and shrill in a desperate attempt to drown out the crowd outside.

But you can’t think of a good story.  Instead, you ask: “Whatever happened to Flora?”

“Flora kept a job in town.  She lived with her parents.  So she died with them, too.  And came back, the same way.”

Footsteps outside.  Some thumps, too, and a sound like hissing — which is probably shoulders leaning against the house, dragging across the paneling or the window-glass.

“I saw her on television,” Erin says.  “Right in the middle of one of those terrible crowd scenes,  and there’s my best friend, Flora.  She looked horrible.”

More footsteps and thumps and the sound of bodies dragging across the house.  You wait for the mischief to begin.