It was late in the afternoon, and the noise was deafening. I looked out the window. Children and teenagers running up and down the street in various degrees of dark coloured spooky clothes; their faces masked, or alternatively, streaked with obvious signs of makeup, most likely using every bit of the glamour enhancer their mothers possessed to play a part. Lanterns, some with cobwebs others encased in pumpkins or skins, brooms and spikey hats. Oh yes, the joys or horrors of October more specifically the 31st of October. I looked out, thankful that the day still only possessed 24 hours. It would soon be over. I realised there were very few who would agree with me but Halloween held horror and fascination simultaneously. It did not wane, in fact, it seemed to grow wings in a day and age where … Oh never mind, no one is interested in the ramblings of an old man, who was young once and grew up, on a night like this.
I was aged four when I saw my siblings prepare for Halloween. Mum was in the kitchen baking treats for celebration use. She had cored and spiced the apples, gouged out the insides of an enormous pumpkin, (the vegetable I most hated), intending to use it for soup. She found her stage makeup, no longer in use now that her acting days were over and her titles were Housewife and Mother. Dad would assemble the lantern apparently, though torches were to be used too so we would not get lost.
“Will you be going with the others tonight, John?” Mum asked
“I don’t know.” I said, “I don’t think so, can I just stay with you?”
“Of course, if you want to but it might be fun.” she said, “Tom and Peter will look after you, won’t you guys?”
They nodded; even I knew it was a reluctant agreement. I hesitated until the last minute and encouraged by Dad, I went with my brothers, dressed a little like them and watching their every move. It was noisy, eerie and chilly not just with reference to the weather patterns. I just did not feel comfortable.
“Trick or treat” was the catch cry Tom and Peter pushed ahead getting treats but somehow, I missed out. I decided to take a turn and gingerly l knocked on the door of a house down the next street to ours.
The door opened to reveal a young man who smelt vile.
“What do you brats want?” he asked, then he looked at me. I was terrified
“Well, nipper whaddya want? You woke me up.”
Tom nudged me
“Trick or treat?” I asked hopefully.
He answered swiftly producing a straw broom and moving towards me yelled.
Here’s yer treat I will whack you with this. Your Mum probably uses one of these and not just on the floor either.” he laughed “she probably flies around on her version. G’wan get lost, the lot of you Hallow blanky een.”
Tom spoke steadily “If you did not want to be disturbed you should have put a notice saying you don’t celebrate Halloween.”
“Is that so?” he jeered “will this do?” he continued as he produced a piece of cardboard which read and he quoted for my benefit.
“No tricks no treats, no grub. Get lost” He placed it on the chair on the porch went back inside and slammed the door shut.
By this time others joined us, asking questions about our visit. Tom, always the spokesman fed their curiosity.
“That would be Jeff Hope.” said one of the boys “otherwise known as Hopeless, according to my Dad.” That got a laugh. After a while forgetting me entirely, they ran off leaving me by myself and no one thought of turning back. I shouted
“Tom, Peter Mum said…”
What was the point? no one would hear me. I walked along the street alone, frightened and close to tears. Just then I saw an old man dressed in black; his long hair was grey and matted, and his face was white. He sat on a bench at the edge of the park, then noticed me watching him. I thought he was wearing a costume too. He had been watching from his vantage point.
“Hello, have your friends left you behind?” he asked
“I’m scared.” I said, “can I just stay with you…please?” He could have been one of those men who took advantage of children, but I was too young and too scared to think about that.
“Oh, come and sit with me for a while, you’ll be right. My name is John,” he said smiling
“I’m John too.”
“Is that so?” Old John asked, “and what age are you young John?”
“Four,” I said.
“Hmm too young to be alone at this time of night.” said Old John “did you get a treat?”
I shook my head and started to cry.
It’s okay, mate you stay here we can have some treats together.”
He produced a bottle of water opened it and handed it to me. Then opened another bottle for himself, but he said I could not have any, or Mum might be mad with him.
Then he opened a packet of malteasers and offered me some. Of course, I munched contentedly.
“I like your costume,” I said which made him laugh
“What’s so funny?” I asked
“That’s just my clothes John, You see ….”
“You are homeless” I stated with wisdom beyond my years.
‘Yes.” he answered.
“Don’t you have a wife?”
“No John I don’t, she died.”
“No, just myself.” he looked sad.
I shivered, John pulled out his rug from his bag and tucked it around me. It was smelly, but so was he.
Just then a police car went by, did a U-turn and parked beside us. I recognised the policeman that came out from the driver’s seat, he lived across the street from us.
“Hello, Mr Kerr,” I said
“G’day young John, what are you doing here?” he asked
“His mates left him behind Constable.” said Old John “trick and treat and all that.”
“Thanks, mate, young John and I are neighbours I will get him home. What about you? Have you got somewhere to go.?”
“Nah, she’ll be right.”
The shelter across the park is open.” Mr Kerr was persistent “Let me make a couple of phone calls, one to John’s Mum and the shelter.
He came back in what seemed like seconds but was probably five minutes.
“Mate, the shelter is open, your bed is booked. Alcohol is not allowed but your dinner is waiting and there is plenty of tea and coffee.” he looked at me “young John, Mum told me to get you home, because you’d be starving.”
I sighed with relief.
Over the years I never thought much about Halloween. I tried to forget the experience; though I remember my brothers getting the sharp edge of Mum’s tongue on that evening long ago. As for old John, I never saw him again, I probably wasn’t meant to. I will never forget his kindness to me. I guess he was young once and may have been frightened then too. I try to be kind to others but I don’t always succeed. Fortunately, life has been good and I’m not homeless. As I look at the scene outside my window I smile. I might be old fashioned even boring but, tradition has its place, yet I truly believe the only ghosts we need to know about are the ones that teach us how to celebrate life in its fullness.