Averyell A. Kessler
Just in time for Halloween, a good friend reminded me that the evil witch in The Wizard of Oz is terrifying. I saw her first on the big screen in downtown Jackson. The Paramount maybe, or the Lamar. She was huge, a monster in a swirling in a black robe with a leering face, ski slope nose, and a chin sharper than a butcher knife. Her flying monkey pals weren’t a pack of cuddly puppies either. Just the thing to help a skittish child sleep peacefully through the night. I already knew a lot about witches, Snow White’s evil queen and Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty. Good thing I’d never heard of the Witch of Yazoo because she is buried right up the road and might break out of her chains without warning and head for Jackson.
My first Halloween costumes were little girl sweet – a fairy princess in blue taffeta, a ballet dancer in a pink powder puff tutu, and finally a majorette. As I approached double-digit age, a different idea took root. For my friend Martha also. We’d had it was fluff and fairy tale drama and didn’t care a whit about a rescue prince. His horse was neat, but who wants a man who saves the day at the end but won’t help you slug it out when things start to go wrong. We decided that scary was the way to go. Both of us had already gotten a good look at waxy vampire teeth at Morgan and Lindsey, as well as false fingernails that could scratch stars out of the sky. They stocked capes too, as well as pointed black hats and toy brooms. Mama drew the line at green greasepaint. We’d use fingerpaint and lipstick instead.
As Halloween approached, another idea popped into our heads, fortified by nonsensical childhood logic. Because our trick or treat route was restricted to short blocks on St. Mary and St. Ann, our treats bags weren’t bulging when we returned home. Yes, we had a lot of goodies, but just think of the possibilities if we ventured farther up the street. Who knew what delights we were missing? Maybe candy apples and homemade taffy was closer than we knew. The solution was simple. Find a way to expand our prospects without telling our parents. What fun! Belhaven was a patchwork quilt of tall trees, wide lawns, and rose gardens. Evasion was possible.
On Halloween night, we left our houses dressed as mini witches with empty treat bags, green faces, and high hopes. In case you’re wondering, green fingerpaint doesn’t taste good, and it can drift into your eyes without encouragement. It’s also hard to shout trick or treat with a mouth full of vampire teeth, but we endured. Everything went well at first as we accumulated Tootsie Roll pops, candy corn, and multiple candy bars.
As we ventured farther from home, the night grew still and silent. There were no other children nearby, and we were on our own. Many houses were dark, except for a glowing pumpkin or a wide-eyed scarecrow in the front yard. Did he move? We weren’t sure. Martha and I held hands as we passed swaying ghost trees, their branches dancing in the shadows. Drifting clouds shrouded the moon.
“Maybe we should go home,” I whispered.
“Just two more houses,” Martha answered. She was older, so I listened.
The last house loomed on the top of a hill. In the daylight, it was ordinary family home. At night, it became a witch’s cottage. The front walk was a treacherous strip of uneven concrete interspersed with patches of grass. A red devil, with glowing eyes, and his skeleton companion, sat on the front porch as still as stone. We knew they weren’t real, but ……
We rang the doorbell with rapid breath and tingling tummies. A woman in an ancient wedding dress opened the door. Her face was green like ours and a tangle of black beads hung around her neck. Her haystack hair was covered with a lacy mantilla; her eyes were glaring smudge pots. “Welcome children,” she cackled, rubbing her hands together. Martha and I froze. Our feet were glued onto the porch stones. Our mouths hung open. Candy was the least of our worries. Then it happened. The porch skeleton stood up and tapped us on the shoulder. “Happy Halloween, kiddies,” he hissed. The red devil laughed and waved.
Terror is too mild a word to describe my reaction. Martha’s also. Our shrieks punctured Belhaven’s quiet serenity and set the neighborhood dogs into a barking frenzy. We dashed away from the house like Kentucky Derby thoroughbreds and rattled every magnolia leaf on St. Ann. As we flew down the hill, our fathers ran to meet us. Thankfully, they’d been following us the entire time. They gathered us up and took us home. Safe!
No one in the neighborhood was happy with the vampire bride or her pals. Other children had shared our panic. [ak1] We learned later that a group of teenagers created the scenario when their parents were out of town. Apologies were issued, but it was too late. I slept with a night light for over three years because the vampire bride was hiding in my closet. Red devils were waiting for me somewhere, and skeletons lurked around every corner, especially on deep, dark nights when lightening flashed and wind shook my bedroom windows. I never wanted to be a witch again. But Halloween approaches again. Who knows?