Monday, October 31, 2016

A Halloween Story

His name was Lon.  Looking back, he was a rather pathetic fifth grader with a big mouth who got a feeling of power by terrorizing younger kids.  But at the time, he was the Lord of the Neighborhood.  His word was law, and usually, his word was something frightening and humiliating.  He was a Big Kid.  And he had two big, dumb buddies to back him up.

My dad didn't know about Lon when we made Jack O' Lantern Man.  It was just a fun thing to do:  Stuff a set of his coveralls, set the resulting body in a lawn chair, and put a pumpkin on top for a head.  It was my dad's creativity and love of taking things a step further that made him prop the old car speaker up behind Jack's head, with a wire hooked in that led up to a microphone in our upstairs window.  We could sit up there, in the dark, and give Jack a voice.  To the little ones, his voice was friendly and happy.  To the bigger kids, the ones who enjoy being scared just a bit, his voice was menacing (but still funny).  It was a beautiful thing, good for lots of laughs, jumps, and Halloween cheer.

Things had pretty much wrapped up for the night, and the porch light had just been turned off--the universally understood signal for "We're out of candy and we don't want any more trick-or-treaters"--when the three Big Kids came up the sidewalk. Even in the dark, I recognized Lon by his swagger, and his two buddies by their knuckles dragging on the ground.  It was obvious that they were too cool to wear costumes, and they were just out causing trouble.  And, in a brazen breech of small-town ethics, they ignored the darkened porch light and rang the door bell.

Dad wanted to know, "Who are these clowns?"  I told him this was Lon, and he and his buddies were not nice guys.  I might have mentioned the fact that he was mean to younger kids.  I might have, oh, possibly whispered a few details about how he had threatened to hurt me and my friends.  Fatherly wisdom dictated no candy for such scum of the earth, so the doorbell went unanswered.

Lon rang it again.  And again.

No answer.

Jack's candle burned, casting an eerie, orange glow about the yard.

The tension mounted.

Convinced that no one was home and the house was undefended, Lon began poking around, looking for some petty damage he could do, and his attention almost immediately turned to the jack o' lantern. Backed up by his smirking buddies, he strutted over to Jack, preparing with an exaggerated wind-up to knock Jack's head off.

And at that moment, out of the darkness, in the thundering voice of my father...Jack spoke.

YOU TOUCH ME AND I'LL RIP YOUR ARM OFF!

I don't think, up to that moment, I had ever seen what utter terror looked like.  Lon's eyes bugged out and his mouth gaped as he leaped several feet up and several yards backwards, landing flat on his back in the grass.  Lon's Neanderthal buddies, who were standing several feet back and thus only mildly startled, immediately saw what had happened.  The guffawing from the upstairs window might have tipped them off; I don't know.  But in a moment, they were laughing too.

At Lon.  The Big Kid.

Lon, of course, picked himself up immediately and feigned bored disdain for the whole thing, but the damage was done, the armor of Big Kid invincibility cracked.  And somehow, the next day, all my friends at school knew what had happened.

I guess that in a perfect world, Lon and I would have become friends.  I can't say that happened--his scare sure didn't cure him of being a jerk.  But I sure don't remember him seeming all that scary after that, or having quite so big a mouth.

I guess it was a learning experience for both of us:  A bully's humiliation was a scrawny third-grader's liberation.

Happy Halloween!


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