I was twelve. We had just moved to a new town that August, and I hadn’t yet made any real close friends in the short time we’d been there.
Two Halloweens earlier, when I was ten, we’d just moved to a different new town. That year, I made plans to go trick or treating with the boy next door. We weren’t great friends, and he was a year younger than I, which felt like a big deal at the time.
I saw him on the bus home from school that afternoon, and we talked briefly about how we were going to go out and beg for candy. He said he’d come over to my house and we would leave from there.
To my surprise, the doorbell rang about fifteen minutes after I had walked into the house. He was dressed and ready to go.
I was dumbfounded, wondering why anybody would think that was an appropriate time to go out for trick or treating. It was Halloween. It had to be dark.
What was this kid thinking? Halloween was supposed to be scary. That was part of the fun. It was all about the darkness, all about getting creeped out, if not outright terrified. How do you get to that state of mind when the sun’s still shining?
Maybe I took it more seriously than others, being a horror kid.
Anyway, that’s just how they did things in this town.
Realizing my options were limited, I scrambled to get my costume on, and we ran off to knock on strangers’ doors.
I don’t remember what I was that year. I can remember many of my costumes (ghost, vampire, devil, and of course a variety of masked monsters), but couldn’t tell you what year I wore what.
I also don’t remember that year being particularly fun.
I bowed out of Halloween the following year. Not the entire holiday, of course−just the trick or treating part. I think some of it was that I felt I was “getting too old” for such things, but looking back, I probably thought it was, in essence, “cheating” to go trick or treating while it was still light out. That made the whole experience feel kind of cheap to me—or at least like some “lite” version of the holiday—and I certainly wasn’t interested in that.
So, when I was twelve, my family and I were once again settled in a new town (we moved around a lot when I was a kid). And as I said, we had only been there a little over two months. I knew some kids but didn’t have any really close friends yet.
But one afternoon, my mom told me that the mother of a boy who lived a few doors away had asked if I wanted to go trick or treating with him and a couple of his friends.
Based on my experience the previous two years, I had decided I was done with trick or treating. But of course, the idea of maybe making some new friends in my new town was appealing, so I considered the proposal. I think I may have tentatively asked what time the festivities would occur.
When I found out the answer was “after dark,” I decided I was in.
Halloween finally arrived. I got home from school, did my homework, had dinner, and waited for the sun to disappear. Then I got dressed up, and my new friends showed up to steal me away into the night.
Our neighborhood was in a heavily wooded area, on the edge of the New Jersey Pine Barrens (home of the Jersey Devil!). It was dark. I mean dark. The roads weaved through the trees, which also concealed many of our neighbors’ houses. Most of them were set a good distance back from the roads, meaning we had to wind our way through the woods, and walk down unlit gravel driveways before we could ever ring a bell. Then we had to do that again at the next house. We worked for our candy.
I don’t remember how long we were out there. Hours, I’m sure. The atmosphere was incredible, as I think back: the moonlight creeping through the gnarled trees, the cool air, the crunch of dry leaves, the smell of wood burning in fireplaces, the scores of ghosts and goblins haunting the woods, screaming and laughing.
At one point, the four of us noticed someone walking in the darkness. He was skinny, and tall. Maybe too tall for trick or treating. He wore blue jeans and a white T-shirt. Not much of a costume. But he had a mask on his face too. A blank white expressionless mask.
He wasn’t carrying anything in his hands. No props, no plastic weapons, no bag for candy. So he couldn’t be a trick or treater, I guessed. But he was creepy as hell. He just walked up and down the street, all alone, ducking back into the woods from time to time. Kids who got a little too close to him without realizing it until the last second darted away, screaming.
We eventually doubled back on our route, to hit the houses on the other side of the main road, and some of the side streets. Eventually we got tired. The houses were so far apart from each other, it was a lot of walking, even for us young kids. Our legs were shorter then.
When we were roughly a block away from home, we found ourselves at an intersection we had crossed earlier. We stood there for a minute, trying to decide whether we wanted to venture down one more side street, or just head back to my neighbor’s house.
That’s when the guy in the mask reappeared. I saw him, just over my new friend’s shoulder as we talked, materializing instantly out of the darkness of the woods. He walked straight toward me.
I looked up at his blank face, tried to make eye contact with him through the cutouts of the mask. He got closer. He didn’t say a word. He just stared at me. Then he grabbed my pillowcase full of candy.
He tugged at it, but my grip was firm. When I realized what was happening, I tightened my hold further, and somehow, this guy wasn’t able to pull the bag away.
One of the other kids wasn’t so lucky. The masked maniac snatched his bag of candy instantly, then turned back to the rest of us and demanded the rest of our loot.
No way. We screamed, and insisted he give back our friend’s bag. We all reached for it, but he was a tall guy, able to hold it well out of our reach. Again, he demanded the rest of us give up our candy. He pawed at each of us, but we backed away, still complaining about the dirty trick in progress.
Then he charged at us. We ran. I don’t know any other time I ran that fast, before or since. It was terrifying. But at some point, we realized the guy in the mask had stopped chasing us and disappeared into the woods again.
We decided we were done with that part of the evening and went to my friend’s house.
Once we were safe behind locked doors, we caught our breath and had some hot chocolate. The three of us who held firm to our bags each pulled a third of our candy out to give to our unlucky friend.
Then we went into the backyard, where his parents had set up a little campfire, so we could toast marshmallows. They had also rented a 16mm projector. We sat outside among the crickets and watched The Thing from Another World, projected onto a bedsheet hung in the trees.
So, in the end, it was a good night.
It could have gone so much worse, of course. Luckily, that guy in the mask was just out to steal candy from kids. A shitty thing to do, but thankfully he wasn’t out to murder them.
And as much as that part of the night was a downer, we got away. No one got hurt. Just scared. Then we moved on.
I went trick or treating for another couple years after that. Everybody my age did. And why not? It was fun. I took that one year off, then got right back into it. And the reason was the dark.
That Halloween night is one of those childhood memories that’s stuck with me all these years, more than others. And in a way, it’s a very fond memory. Despite the danger. Or perhaps because of it.
Because that’s the thing about Halloween. It’s supposed to be scary. Trick or treating in the dark has an element of danger to it.
And within that fear lies the fun.
About the Author
Scott Cole is the author of Triple Axe, SuperGhost, and Slices: Tales of Bizarro and Absurdist Horror. He is also an artist and graphic designer. He likes old radio dramas, old horror comics, weird movies, cold weather, coffee, and a few other things too.
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, Texas. He’s the author of Coyote Songs and Zero Saints. Find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias