What Scares You?

Dylan Jack James
Guest Contributor

I was four years old when my father and mother first took me trick or treating down our little village street. It was a crisp cool Halloween night, and the smell of cherry wood hung in the air from the only wood-burning stove of our neighbor, Mr. Greenblatt. 

My mother had just baked a pumpkin pie and let it sit on the open windowsill to cool. I stuck my finger in it on the way out the door and uttered a quick, “Ouch!” It was still hot coming straight out of the oven. My mom saw me lick my sore finger and raised her eyebrows while giving me the side eye. We strolled down our street, me between my mother and father, my little hands holding theirs. My father’s long khaki pants rolled up at the cuffs dragged on the ground behind me, a belt tight around my waist holding up the baggy pants. 

An old rust-colored paint shirt and a hideous Kelly Green necktie grandma had given dad hung around my neck loosely. My mom was the one who came up with this grand idea for my homemade costume and after she had dressed me in the uncomfortable garb, she pulled the stool over from the corner of the kitchen and patted its seat. I plopped down onto the stool. She grinned and looked me over. “It’s coming together nicely.”

She struck a match and lit the end of a cork from one of her empty wine bottles. Holding the match underneath the cork, she turned it over and over again slowly. I watched the smoke rise and the tip blacken from the flame as she held one match after the other underneath the cork. She blew out the flaming cork, touched it with her fingertips then took my chin in her hand. 

“Hold still now, I’m gonna make you look like your daddy.” She smudged the burnt cork all over my face, my head turning toward the heavenly scent of the pumpkin pie in the window. I twitched in my seat. “I said hold still! Conrad, come here and hold him still!” My father entered the kitchen and laughed, then stood behind me with his hands firmly on my shoulders. Mom finished her beard smudging and dad topped off my costume by plopping his old gray fedora on my head. “Let’s go” he said, which is when I stuck my finger in the pie and mom gave me the dirty look. “He looks like Emmett Kelly!” dad told mom. She frowned at him. “He looks like you, Conrad.” Dad rolled his eyes at her and off we went down the street.

As we walked, I saw a tall, ominous, green-faced figure on the porch a few doors down. Creepy music played as the tall monster stomped his feet and growled. I watched other children ahead of me turn and run towards their parents. Princesses and pirates, dogs and devils refused to go near the giant green porch monster. A chill ran down my spine and the little hairs on my arm stood on end.

Next to the tall green monster sat a pretty blonde-haired lady handing out candy. I recognized her. She was my mom’s best neighborhood friend, the one who brought me toys when I was sick. I felt a warm feeling looking at her, but the monster man frightened me. My dad tugged at my resistant arm, dragging me up onto the porch. “It’s just HiLee,” he told me, like that made the Frankenstein monster seem any less scary. HiLee was the blonde lady’s husband. His name was Lee but my parents always said, “Hi Lee!” when they saw him, so I thought his name was HiLee. From that point forward, Mrs. HiLee ran with my little boy flub, never correcting it.

On this evening I stood frozen in my tracks, holding out my little hobo pillowcase attached to the end of a stick; my wide eyes never leaving HiLee Frankenstein. Mrs. HiLee plopped some candy into my pillowcase. I crept slowly behind dad’s back, peeking out. Another group of apprehensive children approached HiLee. He suddenly got back into character stomping his feet and growling loudly. At that, I ran back into my mother’s arms, tripping over my baggy pants and landing face first in the grass at her feet. 

She helped me up and gathered me into her arms in a huge mother hug. “Oh honey, you poor boy!” she chuckled a bit, kissing the top of my head. “C’mon Con, let’s go! And HiLee, what the hell! You’re gonna give these kids nightmares!” she shouted at Frankenstein.

“Bye Mrs. HiLee, Happy Halloween!” Mom yelled in her direction. I peered in my bag and pulled out the three candy bars from Mrs. HiLee: a Baby Ruth, an O’Henry, and a 100 Grand. I gobbled up the sweet gooey candy and breathed a sigh of relief. As we walked farther away, the scary music and Frankenstein monster faded into the autumn night.

We walked around the block which seemed like an eternity to my little hobo self. I came home with a lot of loot, along with a chocolate covered mouth, and sat down next to dad in his blue recliner, eating my piece of pumpkin pie with a hole smack dab in the middle.


Thinking back to that Halloween night so long ago is like looking in the mirror. I stare at the 60-year-old man staring back at me and still see a frightened little boy inside. I’m no longer scared of tall green monsters and spooky sounds on Halloween night. I no longer run back to mom’s or dad’s arms. I wrestle with my own mortality, my parents’ mortality, aging, illness. It’s a million times more frightening than the Halloween nights of my childhood, yet I accept it and let it rest in my consciousness, tucking it into bed on the nights when I ruminate on it for a while. It sleeps soundly for a time, lest I rouse it from its hibernation. The cycle of life keeps turning. Who can stop time? I can, but just for a moment to remember that little boy with the baggy pants and the Emmett Kelly face strolling down the block on a chilly Halloween night.

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