A long, hot, muggy summer has finally given way to the brisk temperatures of a long-awaited Autumn. The New York tri-state region is now breathing a sigh of relief with the recent arrest of David Berkowitz, the infamous postal worker responsible for a year's worth of murders. Local sports fans are still basking in the reversed fortunes of their New York Yankees with newly acquired Reggie Jackson guiding the team to their first World Series title in over a decade.
It is Halloween of 1977, overcast, with temperatures hovering near the fifty-degree mark during the lunch hour. Enthusiastic parents assemble along the make-shift parade route constructed on the school playground. It is here that the schoolchildren attending Westvale, New Jersey's Brookfield K-8 Education Complex will march in the school's 5th Annual Halloween Extravaganza.
Eight-graders Ray LaMond, his best friend, Pete Muller, and Amy Haslet, their neighbor from down the street and around the corner, observe as three-hundred costumed participants are led in a sweeping circle by the school faculty, broken down by grade and class. Heading up the procession is Pete's younger brother, Kenny, Amy's little sister, Jenny, and her adolescent cousin, Mickey Schumacher.
Proud mothers armed with Instamatic cameras snap away as their respective children pass by. The few fathers in attendance display marginal cinematic skills, at best, with their new Kodak 8-millimeter home movie cameras.
* * *
The three o'clock school bell sounds. Doors burst open, with a collective desire for sugary substances soon to be unleashed. Ray, Pete, and Amy trick-or-treat sans costuming and loosely keep watch over the others, specifically Jenny and Mickey, who travel by bike. The gang hit every home for seven blocks, starting with the first home closest to the school.
"Trick or treat," as a cacophony of voicings are shouted in unison.
An elderly couple hands out candy to a dozen or so visitors before getting to Pete, who awaits his turn at the rear of the pack.
"And what might you be, Peter? Not much of a costume this year." inquires Ida Harrison, a lifelong Claremont Avenue resident.
"I'm a juvenile delinquent."
"Hmm," as she discreetly turns to her husband, Henry, who watches from inside the doorway. "Not too far from the truth."
She tosses a handful of candy in the old pillowcase Pete is toting.
"Please tell your mother that the Harrisons think of her often."
"And that we pray for her every Sunday," adds Henry. "We look forward to seeing her again soon."
Further down and across the street, Mr. and Mrs. Lombardo are limiting this year's contributions to the few pennies they place in the children's cardboard Unicef cartons. It's a bit disappointing, but who can argue with all the starving children in Africa. At least that's what an endless barrage of television commercials featuring Sally Struthers tells us.
They continue the five blocks to Mill Street and from there turn north, with a quick right on Eight Avenue. Halfway down, they reach a picturesque home listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. There, they find a hastily written declaration announcing that there will be no holiday festivities at this home this year. The homeowners proceed to facetiously thank the hoodlums who felt the need not to honor the honor system and ruined Halloween for everyone, having stolen every piece of candy left out on the open porch. To boot, they just had to break the folding tv dinner table as part of their little scorched earth policy.
Ultimately, they arrive at their own Lafayette Park neighborhood in this quaint, middle-class bedroom community.
* * *
Kids of all ages fill Lafayette Park, with the cool high schoolers sneaking into the surrounding woods for a smoke and a few beers as the daylight gives way to dusk. Our gang of future diabetics, minus Pete, sit around a picnic table engaged in a very entrepreneurial exchange.
"I'll trade you two Hundred Thousand Dollar Bars for that Butterfinger." offers Jenny.
"Yeah, right. How can you even compare? Butterfingers are like the best candy bar ever." responds an incredulous Kenny.
"I'll give you a Snickers and a Charms Blow Pop," interjects Mickey.
As in all successful negotiations, both parties are content, convinced that they’ve each received the better of the deal.
"Now that's what I'm talking about." blurts an elated Kenny, as if he had just traded a 1969 Cleon Jones for Mantle's 1951 rookie card.
At that moment, Pete runs out of the bushes.
"Where'd you run off to?" inquires Kenny
"What's it to you? I had to take a leek."
"Don't let Mom see you," as Kenny motions to a nearby house, "Butthead."
Pete's current passion is police scanners, one of which he usually keeps by his side. Today is no different. The device begins to squawk, and Pete tinkers with the frequency.
"What about the Son of Sam?" Jenny shrieks.
"Nah, too far away. Just local stuff. Besides, the police already caught that guy."
"He still creeps me out." declares Amy.
"I'm sure your boyfriend Peter will protect you if Son of Sam escapes and comes stalking you." teases Jenny
"Stop it. Peter is not my boyfriend." an embarrassed Amy replies, giving her spitfire sister a shove.
"Geez, Amy. We spend the entire summer hanging out, and now what, you're going to dump me for some high school stud? Give a guy a break, will ya?"
Mimicking recent protests and sit-ins, Ray slowly sways his arms from side to side. He begins to sing.
"All we are saying..."
Kenny and Jenny join in.
"…is give Pete a chance."
"Haha," as Amy again shoves her sister, "Very funny."
Mickey pays closer attention to the scanner.
"Hey, listen. I think it said Hooper Street."
"Division supervisor needs crime scene personnel and all available units to a possible 187 at 238 Hooper Street." is the request from the dispatcher.
"A 187." exclaims Pete, "I think that's a homicide!"
"Come on. Hooper Street is only two blocks over. Let's hurry."
The gang scurries out of the park, making a beeline for the house on Hooper Street.
* * *
The overhead street lights that line Hooper Street flicker on as the last of the setting sun retreats over the horizon.
Mickey and Jenny, leading the way on their bicycles, encounter the crowd of murmuring neighbors gathering in the middle of Hooper Street, a tree-lined, post-war residential street.
"I wonder what's going on." says a wide-eyed Jenny
Pete, Ray, Kenny, and Amy arrive on foot moments later, nearly out of breath, as a cadre of Westvale police officers and two EMS personnel trample in and out of a two-story home.
"Holy crap." escapes from under Mickey's breath as he spots a bloody ax protruding through the front of a propped-open, wooden door.
Two young mothers hurriedly usher their trick-or-treating toddlers, dressed as the shark from “Jaws” and Princess Leia.
"Let's get the kids out of here. They don't need to be seeing this."
Ray looks to a man in his early-30's who stands inconspicuously in the crowd.
"Does anyone know what happened?
The man, Frederick Friedlander, dazed and confused, is slow to respond.
"I...I don't know."
The crowd continues to gather while additional squad cars and investigators arrive on the scene.
"Wow," says Amy. "I didn't know Westvale had so many police."
Undeterred, Pete takes a step towards all the commotion.
"I'm gonna go check it out."
Ray attempts to intervene before Pete, always the troublesome member of the group, manages to do any damage. He grabs Pete by the arm, but he breaks away.
"You'll get in trouble, Pete."
"It's not like we did anything...," Pete says, looking back, "...yet."
Pete scampers to the front door for a peek inside. Pointing to the ax, he reenacts a sordid scenario; at the top of the interior stairway lays a deceased person, bloodied, potentially struck while attempting to escape a nightmarish scene.
Westvale Police Chief, Walter von Nessen, burly with thirty years of distinguished service on his face, appears unsuspectingly behind Pete. He crouches down to the diminutive boy's level and in a warm, friendly manner, gets Pete's attention with a tap on the shoulder.
"Now, Pete. Your mother is such a nice person. What would she think of these shenanigans?"
"Oh, hi, Mr. Von Nessen. Sorry. I didn't mean any disrespect. We were just curious."
"Well, you just get on over there with your buddies, and we'll forget all about it."
The chief shoos him along to join his friends. It seems a little odd for this old-timer to address such a grim moment in such a simple fashion. Maybe that's how they do things here in suburbia.
As Pete departs, County Medical Examiner, Benjamin Saul, walks across the lawn carrying a black leather case filled with tools of the trade.
"Still on the job I see." the medical examiner remarks to an old acquaintance.
"Three more weeks. Not exactly what I had in mind for a quiet departure."
Saul takes notice of the ax.
"Someone get up on the wrong side of the bed?"
"Seems pretty obvious, but I'll leave the exact cause of death to you," replies von Nessen, "One deceased male at the top of the stairs. In his sixties, maybe seventy. He's a mess. We've got blood trails all over the yard and street. It's likely a second person staggered off someplace. I've got half the force out searching every nook and cranny in the neighborhood. Couldn't have gone too far."
"I'll take this all as a warning," as Saul continues into the house, "If the county ever offers early retirement, I need to jump on it."
Back with the gang, Pete reaches under his shirt to unveil a pilfered roll of yellow police tape.
"If Dad was still alive," offers Kenny, "I'm sure he'd be beating your ass right about now."
A plainclothes detective finds himself in a whisper-like exchange with a stout-looking woman. She discreetly points in the direction of Pete. Ray takes notices.
"Hey, Pete. I think that lady just gave you up."
The detective cautiously approaches the boys. Picking up speed, he reaches behind his back. Pete looks up, terrified, in time to see a pair of handcuffs coming his way. With that, the detective apprehends Frederick, forcefully throwing him to the ground and handcuffing him in one fell swoop.
"Please! Please don't hurt me!" pleads a screaming Frederick, "I can't remember! I can't remember what happened!"
Officers rush in to assist, and together they drag the suspect, forcefully throwing him into the back of the closest police cruiser.
"This is our guy. Watch him." orders the detective, "If he tries to get away, break his legs!"
The crowd is horrified at the events transpiring before their very eyes.
"Can you believe that was the dude?" says Mickey, "We were right here with him."
"And I even talked to him!" replies a somewhat startled Ray.
"We're going to be in so much trouble when we get home." says Jenny, "Maybe we should get going."
"This is so cool." from a still excited Pete.
"And you wonder why I'm not your girlfriend?" Amy responds.
At this moment, Ray hears a faint voice emitting from the darkness that is a long driveway directly behind where they stand.
"Help me. Help me."
Ray slowly turns to find a timid, frail woman as she becomes exposed by the light overhead. She wears a red nightgown.
"Help me," she again begs. "Please help me."
The woman now stands before the mesmerized Ray, aghast as he spots a large gash and the chunk of flesh hanging from her neck.
Amy, Jenny, Peter, Kenny, and Mickey turn to see the woman. They join Ray in realizing that the red dress is a white nightgown drenched in blood.
Their collective screams echo into the night.