I was going out trick-or-treating by myself this year. My friend Teddy had just come down with the mumps and all my other friends were already matched up. But, I wasn’t about to let anything get in the way of another great candy crusade. I was 11, and this was a peak year for trick-or-treating. Everyone always thought 11-year-olds were cute, even if they weren’t, and so tended to give them more candy than the older kids. Some kids my age I knew weren’t smart enough to understand this and wore masks. ‘Cute’ didn’t make much difference if you were wearing a mask. I was smarter than that. I let my cute good looks shine in my costume. I was going as Arnold. I’d padded my arms with towels so they bulged under my leather jacket, fluffed and slicked up my hair, and had a sign hanging around my neck that read, The Governator.
I had to show the costume off to my mom, and, being a mom, she had to give me some things to take with me to be safe, telling me to be careful out there alone. Hah, like moms knew anything about the streets! I was 11; I could handle myself.
I called, “Later, Mom,” as I scooted out the door, just barely noting the, “Be careful, Marc,” that she shouted after me as the door swung shut.
An hour and a half later, I was exhausted. I’d wandered farther from home than ever on Halloween, and my bag was loaded. I’d hit every house I’d walked past and scooped the goodies. I was still a long way from home, in an older section of town, and it was late enough that there weren’t any other kids on the street any longer. I had finally come to that point every kid reaches on Halloween, the point where he has to ask, one more house or not? The thing was, the one more house that was right in front of me was sort of dark and, well, if I were a little kid, scary. But I wasn’t a little kid. I was 11. The thought that I might be too scared to walk through the gap in the high hedge that mostly screened the house from the street and up the long front walk to it, alone, with no other revelers around as potential backup—they having all scampered safely inside for the night—just that thought was enough to prompt me to screw up my courage and start down the long walk to the door.
It was a large house, brick half-way up and then clapboards painted some dark color the rest of the way to the top, three stories high. The windows in front, all of them, all the way up to the sharply peaked roof, were unlit. The house itself was set way back from the street. The sides of the front yard had been planted in tall, dense fir trees of some kind that grew branches all the way down to the ground and so hid the house from its neighbors to the side. The yard wasn’t the well-kept, manicured lawn of other houses on this street, but instead a sad looking thing covered in scraggly weeds with patches of bare earth here and there. There were scattered objects here and there, too, that I couldn’t identify because it was too dark to see well. The moon, perfect for a Halloween night in that it looked like a mere sliver of a fingernail, had been popping in and out from behind some patchy clouds all night long, and had chosen that moment to pop back in, reducing the small amount of illumination it had been providing to zero. I could barely see the house even though I’d taken but a few steps from the sidewalk down the front walk.
I felt very much alone, and couldn’t help but think this wasn’t the best idea I’d ever had. Then I thought of how I’d feel, later, knowing I’d chickened out. I wasn’t a little kid any more; I was grown up, for god’s sake! I was going to do this. I kept going.
There was only one small light in the house that I could see—not in the front window but coming from further back in the house somewhere. There was a porch light next to the front door, a very dim bulb that cast no light on the porch itself. If it had been off, I’d never have walked up that walk; it would have been the perfect excuse to avoid the house without any self-critical repercussions. But it was on, and I walked forward.
There were no jack-o-lanterns or any other Halloween decorations anywhere to be seen. But this was the last house I’d come to, the neighbors were quite a ways away, and there was that porch light, beckoning me.
OK, this was just me persuading myself to go to the door. I knew this and my step faltered again. This really didn’t look promising, and I already had enough candy to last past Christmas. The bag seemed to get heavier with every step I took, encouraging me to call off this fool’s errand. There is no point in looking for more candy, it seemed to be trying to tell me. Why not just turn around and head back?
I actually did turn around. There was a dim streetlamp across from the secluded house, not too far up the street, and I could see a patch of light reflecting off the sidewalk where I’d turned into the front walk. See, I told myself, you’re being silly. So I turned around and started for the house again.
Each step that took me farther from the street, that took me closer to the house, became more difficult as a feeling of menace grew stronger and stronger. But I kept going, letting my 11-year-old resolve carry me forward.
I was nearing the porch steps after trudging for what seemed like a half hour down that long, disturbing front walk, each step providing a growing feeling of threat, when I first heard the moan. It was soft, barely noticeable in fact, but I heard it. It didn’t sound like someone in pain, more like an anguished cry to me. Like someone giving up hope. It also was a child’s voice, young, perhaps my age. I couldn’t stop myself from wondering: was I the first kid that had trick-or-treated this house tonight?
Well, I read a lot of horror stories. Maybe I shouldn’t.
I stopped. I looked around but couldn’t see anything that hadn’t been there before. I looked back at the house, now directly in front of me. Somehow, it looked more threatening, more scary than it had before.
Then the moan came again, and it was more distinct this time. It seemed to be coming from the house, from somewhere deep inside. It was a sustained wail, getting louder as it continued, and then it was abruptly cut short.
Then I heard something else. A board creaked, and there was a very soft voice, whispering. The front porch continued around the side of the house where I couldn’t see, and the voice sounded as if it came from there.
“He’s coming. Almost at the steps. Get ready.”
Then a second voice: “Shhh. Not so loud. Don’t want to scare him away.”
And then another moan. I turned around quickly, and, to my horror, saw a tall, thin figure standing on the walk, halfway between the street and the house. He was staring directly at me, but in the gloom I couldn’t see his face at all.
I took a hesitant step in the direction of the street, toward the tall figure, thinking I could dart around him, and heard, behind me, “He’s turned around. He’s leaving!”
And then the second voice: “Get him!”
I took off running. I didn’t want to run across what was supposed to be a lawn. The light was too poor to see well and there was cluttered junk strewn around that I could trip over. No way did I want to trip and fall down!
That left only the walk, the one with the tall, thin man standing halfway between the house and the street. I figured I was safer running toward him than stumbling through the darkness across the yard where who knows what might happen.
I was panicking because I could hear footsteps behind me. I raced directly toward the man. As I closed on him, I saw his arm reach out toward me. I almost fainted because the arm was bony, with just enough skin on it to look human, the hand clawlike with long fingers and pointy fingernails! It, like the rest of him, was cloaked in folds of cloth, and his face was hidden in the deep recess of a hood.
I ran harder, as fast as I could, my bag of candy slapping my legs with every step, my fear increasing my speed to faster than I’d ever run before. Just before I reached the man in front of me, I fake-dodged to the right, then cut left off the walk onto the rough yard and was past him.
He let out an eerie howl of frustration, but I ignored it and juked back onto the walk and raced for the street. The footsteps continued, still racing after me from behind, and they seemed to be closing on me.
I reached the street, and as the dim light from the streetlamp fell over me, I dared to look back.
Nothing was there except the dark house, now appearing even more menacing than before. No one was in sight, no thin man, no one chasing after me.
But, in the still of the night, I again heard the strangled moan that had so frightened me at first hearing.
My heart was pounding, but still I stood there, just looking. And then, I know not why, I felt something deep inside me. Were these sights I’d just seen, the voices I’d just heard, the skeletal man I’d feared, products of my imagination? Were they real? How could they have vanished so suddenly, so completely, once I’d reached the light? I couldn’t help but think of the monsters that had inhabited my bedroom when I’d been younger, the ones that would somehow vanish when I turned the light on. I knew now they were imaginary. Was what I’d just encountered the same?
And then the moan came again.
That was real! No doubt about it. Something, someone, was moaning.
And me? Well, I was still me, but I was also the Governator! I’d been pretending to be him all night. As such, I was supposed to be some sort of bigger-than-life action hero. If someone inside needed help, wasn’t that what I was supposed to be all about?
It would have been nice if there had been others on the street to help. There weren’t, though. There was only me. That had to be enough.
With newfound courage, I straightened my back, raised my chin, and stepped back onto that lonely front walk. As I did, a line of Arnold’s came into my head: “I’ll be back.”
This time there was no hesitation. This time, I walked boldly toward the house. When I was mostly there, I quickly turned around. No figure stood behind me this time.
I walked the steps and knocked on the door. No answer. I walked along the front of the house on the old porch till I reached the corner, then turned past it and continued on along the side that had been hidden from me before.
A board creaked under my feet, but I didn’t stop to wonder. I came to the end of the porch, halfway down that side of the house. It was dark as pitch there, but I stopped and just listened.
And heard the moan. It was louder now, telling me it was closer.
The porch was about three and a half, maybe four feet above the ground. Leaving my bag of candy where I was, I put one hand on the railing that defined the porch and leaped over it, dropping lightly to the yard. I had to move carefully now because the light was so dim that even with my eyes dilated to the max, it was very difficult to see in front of me.
I put one hand on the side of the house to keep oriented, then moved to the rear, taking small steps and feeling with each foot to see the ground was flat in front of me.
I reached the back corner of the house and hesitated before peeking around it. When I did, I saw a faint splash of light falling on the backyard from a first floor window.
I crept along the back of the house, not making a sound, until I was below the window, then cautiously rose on my tiptoes and looked in.
It was an old-fashioned kitchen, complete with linoleum floor, ancient appliances and a huge cast iron sink. What caught my attention, however, was a chair in the middle of the room, and a boy on the chair, roped to it. He had a gag over his mouth. Even as I watched, he moaned. No one else was in the room, and no one responded to the sound he was making.
The light in the room was coming from three candles sitting on a counter across the room from the boy. They were burned down to about half the length I figured they originally had been. The boy had been here for a while.
He was wearing some sort of Halloween costume. He looked like a pirate or a swordsman or something of the kind; I really couldn’t tell in the flickering light.
I looked around, and in the dim light coming through the window could see a back door that led into the kitchen. I left the window and moved stealthily to it. I twisted the knob and found it was unlocked.
I was about to enter when it occurred to me, this was a bit too easy. The boy could have been somewhere not so easily seen from outside. The shades could have been down, or curtains drawn. The door could have been locked. Was this an opportunity, or in reality a trap? Was the boy bait? Was I about to be caught, too?
The boy moaned again.
What was I to do?
Now that I knew the way, I scurried back to where I’d dropped my bag of goodies, reached inside, all the while thanking my mother, and then made my way back to the door.
I twisted the knob, then pushed the door open, going very slowly so I could stop if there was a squeak. There wasn’t, and I opened it just far enough so I could slide through sideways.
The boy in the chair saw me, and his eyes opened wide, and he shook his head violently. My thought was, yep, this is a trap. Still, I needed to save the boy. He looked to be only 9 or 10. I wasn’t going to leave him here. I was the Governator, in action!
From the window, I’d seen some kitchen items on the counter, and among the pans and dishes and towels, I’d spotted a French knife. I headed in that direction, and then heard a noise. It was very faint, sounding like the rustling of clothing.
I hurried. I reached the counter, then picked up the knife. From the corner of my eye, I saw someone come into the kitchen from another doorway, followed by someone else, but I was ready. I blew out the candles.
The room was in sudden and complete darkness.
“Hey,” a voice said, but I already knew where they were. They’d stopped where they were when the darkness had fallen on them, just as I expected. I was moving toward them, my mother’s safety items in my hands.
When I was where I was sure they were, standing in front of them, I switched on the powerful flashlight Mom had given me, pointing where I figured their eyes would be. It caught them by surprise and momentarily blinded them. There were two men, scruffy, unshaven, dirty, and one very tall man who looked sickly.
Without giving them time to react, I then used my mom’s other gift, a can of spray mace. I got them good! All three fell to the floor, kicking their feet and yelling, their hands to their eyes.
Quick as a flash, I moved to the boy in the chair and, using the knife, slashed the clothesline he was tied with. As the rope fell away, I took three lengths and raced back to the men. First, I maced them again, bringing more cries of pain, and then managed to tie ropes around their flailing wrists.
It would have taken too long to try to tie their hands behind their backs. Instead, I simply tied wrists to wrists, not bothering whose wrist was tied to whose, just joining one person to another. Then I grabbed the boy and together we ran outside. When the flashlight was no longer illuminating the kitchen, the room again became completely black. I figured that in the dark, still smarting from the mace, it would take the men some time to get loose.
I held the boy’s hand, and with the flashlight showing us the way, we had no problem leaving. The only hiccup occurred when the boy balked as I stopped to grab my bag of candy. Hey, I wasn’t about to leave it behind!
The next day, the late afternoon news on TV carried a lurid story about a 9-year-old boy being grabbed off the streets while trick-or-treating, being taken to an old, vacant house, tied up in its kitchen with the only light coming from flickering candles, and told he was going to be used as bait to catch other kids, who’d then all be held for ransom.
The young boy had apparently told the police he’d been saved by another kid wearing an Arnold Schwarzenegger costume. The police were still looking for this boy, wanting to talk to him. The younger boy said the boy dressed as Arnold had maced and then tied up the three men and the two boys had then escaped.
The young boy, with his parents accompanying him, had taken the police to the house and into the kitchen, where the police had discovered a chair with pieces of rope still tied to it, longer lengths of rope on the floor, and three half-burned candles on the counter. No one else was in the house, and the police were still wondering if this was some sort of elaborate Halloween hoax.
The boy told the police he was never going trick-or-treating again.