A Halloween Story: Excerpt from "The Stable House"
Almost 10 years ago I began work on my first ever novel, a middle grade coming-of-age story about a girl whose house burns down just after she starts junior high. As a result, she and her family have to move into a temporary house in another neighborhood where she meets two girls who welcome her into their neighborhood group and help her transition from a loaner kid to a mature pre-teen.
The story took place in the fall so naturally, I wanted to have a Halloween scene. This scene turned into a large chunk of the book and really ties together the themes of friendship and growing up that entwine the plot. Below are a few of those chapters to get you into the Halloween spirit and bring back memories of what it's like to spend the greatest night of the year with your friends. Enjoy!
After dinner that night, I grabbed my pillow case, put on my mask and headed out the door. Dad was working that night, and Mom was staying home to pass out candy. Danny was at school playing in the Halloween football scrimmage.
Before I stepped off the porch, I clicked on the flashlights inside the jack-o’-lanterns. The sun had set, and the sky was getting darker and darker. The wind was blowing steady, and the air was cool.
I ran down the driveway and crossed over the bridge to the sidewalk. I turned right and began to run, slowing down when I saw a group of kids standing in a yard at the end of the street. Everyone was there including Stacey, Dorothy, Ruby and a boy in a werewolf mask and plaid shirt and jeans who turned out to be Stacey’s boyfriend, Mark. Stacey had to tell me it was him. He wouldn’t lift up his mask to prove it, and he was dead silent.
Ruby ran to me and hugged me around the waist. She was dressed in the same Pocahontas costume that Maggie had worn in the Halloween parade. She carried a purple witch pail that McDonalds had been giving away in their Happy Meals all month. Dorothy and Mark carried pillow cases like me. Stacey held a heavy, paper shopping bag from a department store at the mall.
Dorothy didn’t even say “hi” to me like the others did. She looked upset.
“What’s the matter?” I asked her.
“My stupid sister’s not coming,” Dorothy said, her arms crossed tight against her chest.
I pointed to Ruby, confused.
“Not her. Glenda,” she said, “She wants to go to a party with her stupid friends instead. Now we only have five people instead of eight.”
“So what?” said Ruby, twisting the handle of her bucket, “We still have a lot of people.”
“Yeah,” I said.
Dorothy shrugged. I knew how she felt. Danny was never around either.
“You okay, Dorth?” Stacey asked.
She knelt down and hugged her like something tragic had happened.
“Yeah,” Dorothy sniffed over Stacey's shoulder, “We don’t need her I guess.”
Dorothy stood up and smoothed out her costume. We all looked around, waiting for someone to take the lead. Kids began to pour out of their houses, dressed in their costumes. There were flashes from cameras as they stood in front of cornstalks tied to light poles and the jack-o’-lanterns on their porch steps. As they started out on the street, their parents nagged behind them to slow down or fix their costumes so they didn’t trip.
“Looks like it’s starting,” I said.
“Come on! Let’s go!” Dorothy cried, suddenly better.
She led the way as we marched down the street. The porch lights lit up our shadows on the sidewalk. The half-bare trees loomed over us in the yards, and kids came and went over the bridges on our side of the street.
Stacey's grandma didn't pass out candy so her next door neighbor was our first house on the street. We held out our bags for a gray haired man with a mustache, and he dumped a 3 Musketeers bar into each of our baskets. We rattled off our “thank you’s” one by one, and the lone candy bar swayed in each of our bags and buckets.
As we went from house to house, I began to have trouble seeing through my mask. I had never had it on for more than a few seconds before now, and maneuvering down the dark street was tough.
Dorothy was hyper. She was the first to ring the door bell or knock on the door at each house. She’d get her candy and be halfway over the bridge before we were even finished collecting ours. A few houses later, an older woman said to us, “Just cut through the yards, you guys. It’ll be easier than crossing over all of these bridges.” This advice pulled Dorothy even further ahead.
“Dorothy, stop!” Ruby cried.
“You guys are slow,” she teased, but she waited for us in the driveway of the next house.
By the time we got to my house, we already each had five or six pieces of fun-sized candy bars and a small bag of chips along with a Huggie from Dorothy’s dad. He refused to give one to his daughters saying, “You guys can have one when you get home.”
Ruby began to pout, and I expected a meltdown, but she was over it by the time we reached my front porch.
“Wow, you guys are fast,” Mom said to us, dropping a few pieces of candy in each person’s sack.
“I’m the fast one,” Ruby bragged.
She laughed at me as I held out my bag and only dropped in one bar.
“Like you haven’t had enough to eat out of this bowl today,” she said.
I smiled behind my mask and said, “See ya, Mom.”
“You okay?” she called, watching me struggle through the yard.
“Yeah,” I called back, but I wasn’t okay, and neither was Stacey. She fell behind with me.
“These stupid slippers suck,” she grumbled.
Her oversized slippers kept sliding out from under her, and she’d have to stop and re-adjust them every few steps. I would wait for her as she stopped to slip them on, and then together we’d run to catch up. Even Mark stayed with Dorothy and Ruby, unwilling to wait for his girlfriend.
“I know how you feel,” I said, “I can barely see.”
“At least you can walk.”
I knew I could always take off my mask, but that would lose the point of wearing the costume. I would just be a strange kid in a white shroud. By the time we reached the end of our street, though, Stacey threw her shoes in her bag and was running ahead with the rest of them, leaving me behind.
“Come on!” they’d shout to me every few houses, ringing the bell of the house next door while I fumbled at the candy bowl at least one house behind.
It helped a little to pull my mask up on top of my head in between houses, but I still couldn’t keep up. The four of them waited for me at the last house on the street before we all continued on together to the opposite side, but I was soon left behind again.
I’d felt so bad for Dorothy who was mad at her own sister for leaving her behind, and now she was leaving me. Soon, I slowed down, and whenever they called for me to catch up, I’d wave at them to go on. I wasn’t going to rush anymore. My face was wet from my breath hitting the inside of the mask as I huffed and puffed from house to house. I was tired and frustrated and not having any fun. I decided that at the end of the street, I would quit and go home. I wouldn’t even tell them. I’d just go, and they probably wouldn’t even notice. When I finished at the last house, though, they were there waiting for me at the end of the street.
“Go on ahead,” I said, “I’m going home.”
“What?” Dorothy asked, walking up to me.
“I’m going home,” I said and turned to go.
The girls ran up behind Dorothy.
“Wait, why?” asked Dorothy.
“What’s wrong?” asked Stacey.
“Nothing. I just…don’t feel well,” I lied.
“No, come on. You have to stay out with us till the end,” said Dorothy.
I wondered why they cared.. If all they were going to do was leave me, I didn’t want to be with them. I never wanted to go trick-or-treating again. Halloween was immature and stupid. I should have called Jenny over. We could have watched monster movies and pigged out on candy and talked about when we used to trick-or-treat together in the old neighborhood, my neighborhood.
“No, I’m going back. Go on without me.”
I tried to sound as normal as possible, but really, I was holding back tears. What a wasted night. Why did we have to stay here? Where was Danny when I needed him?
On My Own
When the group was out of view, I pulled off my mask and looked at it. The eye holes were covered with some mesh material. With my sharpest nail on my right thumb, I dug into the fabric until it tore. I cut out a big circle and let the fabric float to the ground. I did the same with the other eye. Then, I put the mask back on. I could see much better now.
I started out on my own, turning right off of Strong Street. I followed behind a group of kids. They were about four years old, and they held their parents hands as they walked. I looked out of place, but they were the only ones who seemed to be traveling down this street. They all carried buckets like Ruby’s and took small steps. Now, instead of being rushed, I was being held up. I followed close behind them, taking my candy after all of them. As we approached the next house, one of the mothers turned and said, “Let this boy go ahead of us. We’re holding him up. Go ahead, hon.”
I realized that I was the boy. I guess it wasn’t hard to make that mistake with the costume I was wearing, but I was still embarrassed. Nodding my head, I cut ahead of them to collect some Starbursts.
Most of the houses further up the street were dark. Old people probably lived in these houses and were sitting in the dark, trying to avoid the kids outside. I didn’t blame them. Halloween sucked.
I decided that I would just finish this block and head back. There was about an hour left of trick-or-treating, but I could just tell Mom that we got bored and decided to go home. She would probably buy that. When I turned the corner, though, the next street was all lit up and full of kids. Almost every porch light was on, and the yards were decorated with lights and pumpkins. These houses gave out the best candy yet. I got bags of chips, king sized candy bars, and certificates for free food at McDonalds. One guy even dropped in a dollar bill which I took out of the bag and stuffed into my jeans pocket so that it wouldn’t tear.
I was going at my own pace, making my way up the hill. Some kids were zigzagging from one side of the street to another. I just stayed on one side. I came up behind a group of three boys who were older than me. They were loud and kept hitting each other with their pillow cases, shoving each other off porch steps and laughing.
One of the boys was dressed as a homeless man. He wore brown, baggy clothes and carried a black garbage bag for his candy. The tall, skinny boy was dressed like Jim Carrey in the Ace Ventura movies. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt over a white tank top and a pink tutu over his brown shorts. The front part of his hair was combed upwards in a twirl and thick with gel. The third boy was tall and was dressed like a woman in a big, flowery dress and slip on shoes. He even had a brown wig on his head. As I followed behind the boys, the one dressed as a girl kept turning around and looking at me. Finally, he stopped and turned around and said, “Dude, are you following us?”
I shook my head, unwilling to speak and reveal myself.
“Leave him alone, Lenny,” said the hobo, “He thinks you’re a freak.”
“He is a freak,” Ace Ventura laughed.
“I’m just joking, bro,” said Lenny.
He came up to me and put his arm around me like we were buddies. He didn’t ask me who I was or try to take off my mask. I walked alongside him, and we began to collect our candy together. They even waited for me to get my candy.
As we walked further up the hill, I could hear spooky sounds and see flashing lights up ahead. This house went all out. Speakers blasted “The Monster Mash,” reminding me of my trip to the mall with Dorothy on Saturday. A strobe light lit up the trick-or-treaters on the walkway. Orange and purple lights were wrapped around their shrubs. Ghosts made of coat hangers and bed sheets swung in the trees, and wooden coffins and stuffed monsters were staked into the front yard which was filled with purple fog. It was awesome.
“Whoa, look what the Wilson’s did to their yard,” said Lenny.
“Sweet,” said the Ace Ventura.
We skipped three houses just to get to that house next.
“Come on, Casper,” Lenny said to me, and we started to run.
We slowed down when we got to the foggy yard. A coffin popped open when we passed by, and a man in a vampire costume jumped out at us. I jumped, startled. All the guys began to laugh. I was mortified.
Then Lenny cried, “Josh, you jumped! I saw you!”
“Shut up! No I didn’t,” Josh snapped.
He was the one dressed as the homeless man. With the strobe light flashing on his face, I suddenly recognized him as the boy on the bus who’d saved my pumpkin on Friday. The other two boys rode my bus too. I followed them up the walkway as they continued to tease Josh. I was just glad that they didn’t see me jump too.
A woman dressed as a witch sat on the front steps of her porch and ladled candy into our bags from a cauldron in front of her. Her white, fluffy dog looked out at us from behind the glass in the front door. He had a little vampire cape hanging off his back, and his pink tongue stuck out as he panted and yipped at all of the visitors. We thanked her and then moved to the next house on the street.
A few seconds later, I saw a group of kids coming down the hill, zigzagging from one side of the street to another. When I saw the purple witch pail, I immediately recognized Ruby with Dorothy, Stacey and Mark running behind her. All of them were shrieking at the top of their lungs. I was sure that they would recognize me. I would not only have to explain myself to them, but my cover would be blown with the boys.
I watched them head straight for the haunted house we had just been to. The girls all screamed as the coffin opened up on them. I couldn’t help but smile. Lenny and Ace Ventura started a pillowcase fight on the sidewalk which held us up, and I was able to turn and watch them without falling behind. I was also the first to see a large dog break loose from his fenced-in backyard across the street.
I had heard this dog barking over the music earlier, but this was the first time I had seen him. He was a giant, brown Great Dane who was either annoyed or excited by everything that was going on. He made a beeline for the girls who had just stepped back onto the sidewalk. Ruby was the first of them to spot him coming at them and began to scream and run backwards. The rest of the group froze in place. The dog was barking like crazy as it charged at them. He circled Ruby once and then pounced on her. Ruby screamed and swatted at the dog with her bucket and then took off down the sidewalk.
“Ruby!” I screamed, “Don’t run!”
To The Rescue
“Whoa! Killer dog!” cried Lenny, with a nervous laugh.
Like the rest of us, he was probably wondering if the dog really was dangerous.
The vampire had jumped out of his coffin and was running towards Ruby. It was weird to see a vampire coming the rescue of a helpless little girl.
“Sharon!” he screamed, “Tell Beth to grab her dog!”
The dog ran circles around Ruby before grabbing a mouthful of the fabric hanging on Ruby's arm and pulling her out into the street. I didn’t see the car coming down the street until it passed by me. It was coming pretty fast and wasn’t slowing down.
“Ruby!” I screamed, but the call was muffled, through my mask.
The witch lady on the porch stood up and made her way toward Ruby, following behind the vampire.
“Ow! Get off!” Ruby shrieked as the dog tugged on her sleeve, dragging her to the middle of the street.
I flew into action too, throwing my mask and pillowcase on the ground. I ran for her and the dog, shouting down the hill. When I got close to Ruby, the dog circled me once and then bolted back to his yard, but before I could reach her, she was sideswiped by the passing car. The side of her head struck the edge of the passenger's side mirror and twirled her around. Her head shot back, and she fell to the ground. I reached her first.
“Ruby?” I cried, my voice shaking as bad as my hands as I reached for her.
She was sprawled out in the street, her eyes closed. When I called her name, they opened. She gasped and caught her breath.
“Hey! Stop!” I heard the vampire shout at the passing car.
The driver hit the brakes, and the vampire cried again, “Stop you moron! You just hit a kid!”
Sharon, the witch, screamed at her neighbor, “Get your dog under control!”
I felt a crowd of people gather around me. One of them was Dorothy screaming her sister’s name and crying.
"Ruby, you okay?” I asked over Dorothy’s screaming.
I helped her sit up. Dazed, she looked at me wide-eyed for a moment. Then, she began to cry. A dark line of blood oozed down her face. Behind me, Dorothy gasped. A few days ago, I remembered Stacey cutting her finger on the side of her math book. Dorothy had turned away when a line of blood pushed through the cut and cried, “Get it away from me!”
I stuck my palm on the side of Ruby’s face and wiped the blood away. I asked her to tell me where it hurt. All she could do was cry. I could already see a lump forming in the hair above her right ear. She didn’t know what part of her body to hold. Her sleeve was torn. Pointy teeth marks and slobber marked the spot where the dog had bit in, but there were no bite marks on her arm. When I lifted up the dress, both of her knees were skinned.
“Is she okay?” asked the witch, bending over us, “Let me see. Should I call an ambulance?”
“She okay?” I heard another voice ask.
It was the driver of the car pushing through the crowd with the vampire coming up behind him.
“Ruby, are you okay?” Dorothy asked her sister, kneeling beside her and wiping away the tears streaming down her own face. Her hands were shaking like mine.
“I...wanna...go...home,” Ruby pleaded between cries.
“Does anybody know where she lives?” asked the witch.
“She’s my sister,” Dorothy said, her voice quivering, “We live on Strong Street.”
The vampire had run into his house after fetching the driver and ran back out with a small, blue and white first aid kit.
“Clear out, everybody. Clear out,” he said to the crowd.
Everyone else stepped back. Dorothy and I stayed where we were.
“Here honey, I’m gonna clean up your scrapes,” he said, bending down and opening the case.
He took out a bottle of Bactine and squirted it onto her arm and legs. Ruby grabbed at her scrapes when the medicine hit them.
“It burns,” she said between gritted teeth.
“That’s good. It means it’s working,” he said, “I used to do this to my little girl when she got hurt. Let’s get some bandages on, yeah?”
He pulled out two of the biggest Band-Aids I had ever seen. They were the size of my hand. He pulled her dress back above her knees and taped the Band Aids over the bloody brush burns.
“Wow,” Ruby sniffed, “That’s a big Band Aid.”
“Big Band-Aid for a big girl,” he smiled.
When he was done, he turned around and said, “Who’s with this girl?”
“Me,” said Dorothy again.
“We are,” said Stacey and Mark together.
“Me,” I said, raising my hand.
Dorothy looked at me, finally recognizing me.
“Come on. I’ll ride you all home.”
“I can ride them,” said the driver, holding the back of his neck.
“You’ve done enough,” the vampire snapped at him, “She’s fine. Go home.”
The driver paused for a second before he finally turned back around and got into his car.
"I'm sorry," he said to Ruby.
“It’s not far. We can walk,” said Dorothy.
“I can’t walk,” Ruby insisted.
“I could carry you on my back,” I offered, not wanting to accept a ride either.
“Piggy back,” she corrected.
“You can’t carry her on your back,” the vampire said to me, “You’re not much taller than she is.”
“It’s not far, really,” said Dorothy, “We’ll take turns.”
“I don’t think you guys should walk home either,” said the witch.
“We’ll be fine,” said Dorothy, “Thank you.”
“Thank you,” said Ruby.
The witch and the vampire realized that we weren’t comfortable taking a ride from a stranger. So, they gave in.
“Okay, sweetie,” said Sharon the witch, handing her a bag of ice to hold on her head, “Go home and rest. Have your mommy take a look at your scrapes.”
“I will,” Ruby sniffed.
I stood up and turned around to load Ruby onto my back. Just then, I found myself face to face with the three boys.
“Casper, you’re a girl,” Lenny gasped.
I smiled and shrugged, not knowing what to say.
“You ride our bus, don’t you?” asked Josh.
“We’ll walk you back,” he offered.
I shook my head, “We’re okay. Thanks.”
“Here,” said Ace Ventura, handing over my bag, “Your mask is inside.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“I’ll carry it for you,” said Mark, taking it from Ace Ventura and slinging it over his shoulder.
“I should carry Ruby,” said Dorothy, “She’s my sister.”
“I want Heidi to,” Ruby said.
Dorothy didn't argue. I helped her up, and she scrambled up my back.
“Ow. Ow. Watch my leg,” she moaned as I shifted her body up to a comfortable position on my back.
“Hold on,” I said.
Dorothy took her bucket from her.
“Don’t eat my candy,” Ruby warned.
“I won’t,” said Dorothy, for once not arguing with her.
It was an easy downhill walk back to our street.
As we started down, a woman behind us asked, “Is everyone all right?”
“Yeah Beth, no thanks to your dog,” snapped Sharon, “You almost got a little girl killed.”
“He doesn’t bite,” we heard Beth say.
“Yes he does!” Ruby called over her shoulder.
Safe and Sound
I stopped to look at this shrine when we first walked in and we had finished explaining to Dorothy and Ruby’s parents what had happened to Dorothy. Dorothy came up next to me when she saw me looking into the case.
“Crazy isn’t it?” she asked.
She pulled open the front of the glass which jerked and wobbled so hard when she did that I was sure that it would break.
“Most of these are collector’s items,” she explained.
She selected a yellowed, paperback copy of the book from the shelf, “This is the one she reads to us. It’s just a cheap dollar store copy. Have you ever read it?”
“No,” I said as she handed it to me.
I flipped through the torn pages and stopped to look at some of the illustrations inside.
“It’s a lot different from the movie,” she said, rolling her eyes, “She’s read it to us like, 10 times or something.”
I handed the book back to Dorothy, and she closed the case. We joined Stacey and Mark on the floor while Mark waited for his ride home. They had dumped out their candy and spread it out in front of them, trying to determine who had collected the most. We did the same. I separated mine into five piles: chocolate, fruity candy, chips, drinks and other stuff.
“Okay, everyone pick out the best thing you got tonight,” said Dorothy.
I had the least amount of candy, but I still had half a pillow case full of stuff. Dorothy said that she too had never gotten such a small amount of candy, though she had the most. Some of it was Ruby’s, though. She had dumped her bucket into Dorothy’s pillow case a few times as it filled up during the night. I was sure they would fight later over whose candy was whose.
Their parents had gone up to thank the vampire and witch and to yell at the woman who owned the dog. When we came in with the news, we were all talking at once, trying to explain what had happened. They shushed us and asked Dorothy to tell the story. Furious, they examined Ruby, got her a drink, laid an afghan over her while she laid down on the couch, and decided to go to the scene of the crime. Dorothy didn’t want them to go back and embarrass her, but they insisted and had been gone for at least twenty minutes. Ruby was sound asleep on the couch by then. Her bucket of candy was sitting on the floor next to her, untouched.
“Okay,” Dorothy began after we took the time to rummage through our piles, “Here’s mine.”
She held up a chocolate Yoo-Hoo drink.
“I love Yoo-Hoo’s,” she said.
“They’re all right,” said Mark, “Here’s mine.”
He held up a three foot long string of licorice. It drooped to the floor on both ends as he held it up over his head like it was a snake and let out an evil laugh. Dorothy shushed him so that he didn't wake Ruby. Stacey held up a package of chocolate covered pretzels and a bubble gum flavored huggie.
“You can’t pick two,” said Dorothy.
“Well I am,” said Stacey.
She had her annoying slippers back on her feet which she said had been freezing ever since she took them off. Serves her right for ditching me, I thought.
“Okay, cheater,” said Dorothy. She then turned to me and said, “Heidi, your turn.”
Without a word, I pulled out my dollar bill.
“Where’d you get that?” everyone asked.
“Just before I met up with you guys,” I said, “on the hill where the dog attacked.”
“Lucky! Lemme see,” Dorothy said reaching for it.
“Nope. Sorry,” I said, pulling it away and stuffing it in my pocket.
“So why’d you leave us anyway?” asked Stacy, opening a Snickers bar.
I shrugged and looked down at my pile, “I dunno. I just felt like I was being left behind, I guess.”
“Why didn’t you just tell us to slow down?” asked Dorothy.
“I didn’t think you would have listened.”
“We probably wouldn’t have,” said Mark, laughing.
“Shut up,” Stacey said, slapping him on the arm, “Yes we would have.”
“I really was going to go home,” I said, “But I just kept going down the street, and I ended up with that group of boys.”
“Who were they?” asked Stacey as Mark nudged her back.
“They ride our bus,” I said, “One’s name is Josh, I think. The other’s name is Lenny.”
“Oh, yeah, I know them,” said Stacey.
“No you don’t,” Dorothy accused her.
“Yes I do. Josh and Lenny and…Kyle is the other guy’s name. They’re in eighth grade. I had detention with them once. They set off the fire alarm last year, remember?”
“Oh them!” said Dorothy, “I remember that.”
Stacey rambled on about losing her pen during the fire drill until Dorothy cut her off.
“Well, anyway,” said Dorothy, “The next time you think we’re leaving you behind, just tell us.”
“I will,” I said, feeling my face get warm.
Dorothy’s parents came home a few minutes later.
“Well, we got the license plate number of the car and a copy of the dog’s shots,” Dorothy’s mom explained as they came in the door, “I can’t believe that jerk was just going to leave her in the road.”
“How’s she doing, Dorth?” asked her dad.
He went to the couch and removed a melted ice pack from his daughter’s head.
He touched the tender spot with his finger. Ruby flinched but didn’t wake up.
“Good. She’s been asleep the whole time,” Dorothy replied like a doctor updating the family about her patient.
Ruby woke up just then.
“I’m up. I’m just pretending to be asleep,” she said in a croaky voice.
“Come on, potato head,” said her dad, “I’ll take you to bed.”
“Carry me,” she said, holding her arms out.
Her dad lifted her up and carried her up the steps.
“Don’t put her into bed in that costume!” her mom warned.
“All right. All right,” he sighed.
“What a night,” Dorothy's mom announced, and plopped down on the couch.
“Yeah,” we all agreed.
“I’m gonna kill your sister when she gets home. She should have been out with you guys watching her.”
“I was watching her,” Dorothy insisted.
“Yeah but she’s older. She would have known what to do.”
“I knew what to do.”
“I know. I know you did. I just wish Glenda would have taken some responsibility tonight.”
“Whatever,” Dorothy said, annoyed.
The rest of us didn't say a word.
After a pause, Dorothy’s mom asked more cheerfully, “So, Heidi. How was trick-or-treating with these guys?”
I smiled and said, “It was fun,” and I meant it.