Last week I mentioned that I couldn’t concentrate enough to write and I have out of town company this week. So here is a redux special for Halloween. We’ll get back to our regular posting schedule next week. The original “Run Megan, Run” story posted back in September 2012. It’s been embellished a little since then.
* * *
The morning sun bled through the fog, which draped Highway 16. It rolled west across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and wrapped its arms around Gig Harbor, Washington, for the seventh day in a row.
“Richard, the tally counter arrived,” I said, jumping up and down.
“Okay, Miss Spunky, calm down, and show me this magical device you ordered,” Richard said, putting his hand on my shoulder.
I ripped open the box and threw the plastic wrapper on the floor. A gleaming chrome plated tally counter pulsed in my hand singing the Hallelujah chorus.
Slipping my finger into the ring, I said, “observe and absorb.” I pushed the advance. The number 1 appeared in the tally window with a booming click.
“So what do you think of that?” I asked, fanning myself.
“Fannie, it’s right up there with the Little Orphan Annie decoder ring,” Richard said. His devilish grin spreading across his face like a tidal wave.
“This is the best Halloween tool ever,” I said, ignoring him.
“If you say so,” Richard said, patting me on the shoulder.
“Now we can keep an accurate count of the number of Trick or Treaters that come to the door this year,” I said, biting my lower lip and performing the double-action fist pump.
Richard shook his head. “So what number are we trying to beat?” Richard asked, putting his hands in his pockets.
“168,” I said, “I checked this morning.”
“You know Halloween falls on a school night this year?”
“I know, but I’ve got it all planned out,” I said, waving my arms wide like Vanna White displaying a new puzzle. Looking up at him, I said, “You have to help me get the cats up on the roof.”
Concern flashed across the reader board of his face. “Why are we putting Wicket and Sadie on the roof?” Richard asked.
“No,” I said, laughing, “Don’t you remember, I bought inflatable cats on sale last year? I stashed them in the garage.”
“This I have to see.”
Next to the garage door, on a row of shelves labeled ‘Halloween’, sat four boxes of inflatable cat in different poses. Richard took one of the boxes off the shelf. He turned the box over.
“Black Cat Archway,” he said. “Have you tested any of these to make sure they work?”
“Not yet, shall we give it a try?” I asked, my green eyes gleaming in the low light of the garage.
I plugged the cat into the outdoor outlet. The motor roared to life. Three minutes later, a black cat towered two plus feet over Richard.
“I guess it’s a good thing we didn’t fire it up in the garage,” I said, admiring the cat.
“You’re gonna put this on the roof?” Richard asked, rubbing the back of his neck.
“Oh no, this one goes in front of the door,” I said. Putting batteries in a black box tucked under one leg. “It has a sensor, which makes the lights flash, the cat screech, and the thunder sounds. But only if you’re over four feet tall. Go ahead, give it a try.”
Richard ducked under the archway. The cat screeched at top volume. He jumped sideways into a leg.
“I can fix that,” I said, rushing under the cat.
The noise drew Bunny outside.
“Fannie, honey, what are you two getting into this time?” Bunny asked, with her refined Texas accent. Her long blond hair swept back into a pony tail behind her head, crowning her statuesque figure.
“We’re setting up the Cranium Adventure Getaway Graveyard,” I said, my straight face would not cooperate. My lips took over and wiggled up at the corners.
“Halloween, I should have known,” she said, smiling. Her pony tail bobbed side to side.
“So how many tombstones are you doing this year?” she asked.
“I’ve got 110,” I said, grinning.
“How many?” Richard asked, his eyes bulging out like a stress squeeze toy.
“I thought that’s what you said,” Richard said, rolling his blue eyes, “it looks like I’ll be getting out the power tools to help you.”
“Honey, this I have to see,” Bunny said, her blond pony tail bobbing up and down.
“Just give me until Friday,” I said.
Bunny walked back across the street.
Walking into the garage with Richard, I asked, “Can you put up the pumpkin head on the light post while I plant last year’s tombstones?”
Richard removed the pumpkin head from the top shelf. He walked out to the lamp post. I cleared the work bench. I secured the stake to the back of a tombstone with u-bent nails. I planted ‘Viagra, The Fifth Hour’ in the front yard.
“Hey Fannie, where is the foam collar for the pumpkin head? I can’t find it.”
“About that,” I said, with a guilty grin, “I washed it last year and left it drying on the bathroom counter. Wicket got to it before me,” I said, grimacing. “Why don’t you just use packing tape.”
“Cats,” Richard said, shaking his head.
“Speaking of cats, I’m still bribing Little Black Kitty so we’ll have the obligatory black cat for the graveyard.”
“Woman, you’re over the top.”
Seventy-five tombstones later, my right arm revolted.
Time to change tactics. I found the box with our animated zombie. One of his fingers fractured during the off season. With the aid of electrical tape, I bandaged his finger.
I planted him in the yard. His eyes lit up. He moaned.
“The zombie still works,” I said, wiping the dirt off my hands.
“Where do you want this spider?” Richard asked, holding up a medium sized black and purple inflatable spider.
“Hang him around the lamp post near the ‘Black Widow Spider Website,” I said, “I have some extra spider webbing left over from last year we can drape over the shrubs.”
I draped the string of flashing eyeballs around what was left of the shrubbery. The eyeballs flashed on and off when I plugged them in.
Joe, from the end of the block, walked up to the end of our driveway. “Hi Richard. Hi Fannie. I see you two are at it again.”
“Hi Joe,” I said, “it’s tradition. So are we gonna see you and the kids this year?”
“Yes. It’s all they’ve been talking about since school started,” Joe said, laughing. “We were waiting for the pumpkin head to know it’s official.”
“We should have the self-guided tour ready by Friday,” I said, smiling, “the rest you’ll have to wait for until the 31st.”
“Sounds great,” Joe said, heading back toward his house.
Richard said, “I’m off the get more wood for the tombstones. You gonna be all right by yourself?”
“The eyes of the neighborhood are upon me. If I get into trouble, Bunny’s got 911 on speed dial,” I said, shaking my head. “Can you pick up another gallon of exterior white latex while you’re at it?”
“Sure thing,” Richard said, climbing into the Love Wagon, a red Ford F150 with disco ball and queen futon in the back.
Back in the garage, I found the box for Marcus the Carcass. Spreading him out on the bench, I plugged him in. He lit up then faded to black.
“Now that’s what I call invitin’,” Bunny said, over my shoulder.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you. I brought you a bunch of leaves so you can cover the extension cords in your yard,” Bunny said. Mirth Cha Cha’d across her face.
“Here,” I said, handing her the stakes, “You can help me plant Marcus.”
I spread Marcus out between the trees in a small stand of maples. Bunny tossed me a stake. I staked him into place. She handed me the extension cord I set out earlier.
“Let’s cover him with some of the leaves,” I said. “You know, we didn’t notice the tent stake George planted in the middle of Marcus until Halloween night last year.”
“We were wondering if you ever noticed,” she said, laughing. “Did you get all of your tombstones back last year? I understand a few of them went traveling.”
“Yeah,” I said, laughing, “apparently Zack liberated them and thought it was a great idea to wire the Ogre Yoga tombstone to the back of his dad’s car. It went all the way to Seattle and back without a scratch. Clarissa returned them the next day.”
“Now that’s funny,” Bunny said. “Are you going to put out the pink tombstone this year?”
“Of course,” I said smiling, “what would Halloween be without a little color?”
We hung the last ghost in a tree when Richard returned with the wood.
“I see you didn’t have to call 911,” Richard said, nodding to Bunny.
“I kept an eye on her for yah,” she said, winking.
“Guys, I’m not that bad,” I said, anchoring my hands to my hips.
“If you say so,” Richard said, borrowing my dad’s father-knows-best smile.
Richard set up the table saw in the garage. Taking the first piece of wood, he measured and diagrammed four tombstones. While he cut wood, Bunny and I set up the crashed witch for Brunnhilde’s Broom Flight Institute. Nothing like a good example of a landing gone bad.
With Bunny’s help we completed most of the yard by the end of the day.
I said, “Bunny, we can’t thank you enough for your help. And your leaves.”
“Anytime,” she said, saluting.
Monday evening the first few onlookers drove down our street. Thursday evening, we planted the last tombstone. Saturday evening, voices and laughter from the front yard over-powered the television. And the camera flash of the graveyard paparazzi.
Richard and I went outside to join the dozen people wandering through the display.
“We love your yard,” a man said, walking up to Richard and me. “Hi, I’m Allen. I live a few blocks over. Ever since you guys started decorating your yard, I’ve planned my Halloween party around it so we can all come over and take the tour.”
The zombie activated for no apparent reason. Several people jumped.
“Sorry about that folks. It keeps going off randomly and we can’t figure out why.” Turning to Richard I asked, “did you turn that on?”
“No. I thought you did,” he said, looking from me to the now silent zombie.
“We’ll have to watch that,” I said, running my fingers over my ultra short brown hair.
Over the next three weeks, slow moving cars drove up our street, some stopping to take the tour. The days ticked down on the reader board in front of the house.
“Richard, can you help me inventory the candles for the graveyard?” I asked, “I want to make sure we have enough.”
“Sure,” he said, following me into the garage.
We set up three folding tables. Richard handed me the boxes from the shelves. I stacked them on one of the tables. Opening a box, I pulled out a stemless goblet filled with a partially burned orange candle and make-shift aluminum-foil deflector taped to one side.
“Do you think we’ll have enough?” Richard asked, looking at the boxes.
“I always buy a few extra in case I break some.”
“I’ll dig out the spent candles, if you’ll refill them,” Richard said, pulling a folding chair up to the table. Two hours later, 110 candle-filled goblets lined the garage ready for action.
“Wow, it smells good in here,” I said, sniffing the apple, cinnamon, and pumpkin spice.
“Fannie, if nothing else, we’ll have the best smelling yard in the neighborhood,” Richard said, waving a goblet in front of him like a thurible.
Sunlight filtered through the thick gray curtain of fog-maggedon on Halloween morning.
My zombie avatar expressed excitement. Its motor didn’t emit one clank as it revved my body upright.
“Richard, you have to wake up, it’s Halloween,” I said, shaking him.
Richard rolled over. He looked at me through one eye. “Well this is a first, I’m gonna mark it on the calendar when I get up.”
“Okay. I’m gonna start prepping everything for tonight,” I said, rolling out of bed. I meandered toward the bathroom without hitting any furniture or the wall.
“Just remember, you only have 12 hours before the first Trick or Treater arrives.”
“I know, I can’t wait,” I said, putting the tally counter on top of my outfit for the evening.
At 4 p.m. Richard and I opened the garage door. The merchants of downtown Gig Harbor had two more hours of Trick or Treating. Plenty of time to set out the candles.
George and Bunny walked across the street.
“I’ll light the candles if you three’ll place them in front of the tombstones,” Richard said, holding up the camping lighter.
Within an hour 110 candles flickered in the waning light. The tombstones dancing in and out of view through the fog.
“Darlin’, it sure smells good out here,” George said. His soft spoken Texas accent a contrast to the bass voice emanating from his lineman’s frame. The smile on his face stretching the pencil-thin, black mustache and goatee framing his mouth.
“Why thank you, George,” I said, bouncing on my feet.
“So what’s the number we’re shooting for?” he asked.
“168 to tie, any more and we break the record,” I said, waiving my crossed fingers in the air.
“We’ll be counting,” he said, winking.
“So will we,” I said, patting the pocket with the counter.
At 5:59, a light blue mini van sped down our street. The driver floored the brakes and down shifted with a horrific grinding noise—in front of our house. A short, blond woman with six costumed children pour out of the van. They rush up our driveway. The doorbell rang until I opened the door.
“We wanted to make sure we were the first to get here,” the panting woman blurted out before the children could even speak. “We’ve made it our tradition to be the first ones.”
“You’re in luck,” I said, smiling at the children. “What do you guys have to say for yourselves?”
A loud chorus of “Trick or Treat” filled the air.
“Everybody take a handful. We have glow necklaces for each of you.”
The kids descended on the candy like a rugby scrum. Richard handed each of them a glow necklace while I ticked up to the number six.
Two minutes later a new father in his mid-twenties rang our door bell. He carried his son. The baby wore a black and yellow bumble bee costume with black antennas topped with fuzzy yellow yarn balls. His grin could have powered the Fremont Street Experience.
“Trick or Treat,” he said, holding out a plastic pumpkin with black strap handle.
“Oh my gosh, he is so cute. How old is he? I asked, putting a handful of candy in his pumpkin bucket. “And where on earth did you get that costume? It’s fantastic.”
“Thank you,” he said, lowering his bucket, “he’s two months old. My wife made him the costume. I just couldn’t wait to take him out for his first Halloween.”
“Glad to see he didn’t make you wait very long,” I said, laughing.
Richard handed him a glow necklace since he didn’t have a flashlight.
“We hope to see you next year,” I said.
“Wild horses couldn’t keep us away,” he said, waving the candy bucket in front of him.
A few minutes later Joe appeared with two of his three children.
“Joe, where’s Megan?” I asked, looking around the yard.
“She’s too freaked out to walk up the driveway. She waiting over in George and Bunny’s driveway,” he said, scratching his head. “It’s so weird, we didn’t have this problem last year.”
“Well if you can convince her we’re not hell spawn, we’d love to see her,” I said, passing out the candy to the boys. Richard handed them glow necklaces.
Tommy, the youngest, squealed. He swung the necklace in the air until fully lit.
For the next two hours a procession of witches, princesses, fairies, football players, cartoon characters, super heroes, and super villains filled our front stoop. Like a fashion show, models mobbed their favorite tombstones—the camera flashes strobed in the fog.
Richard broke out the fourth tube of glow necklaces.
“Fannie, I don’t know if you’ve checked your tally, but we’ve given out 150 glow necklaces. We only need 18 more to tie,” Richard said.
The doorbell rang again.
I gave the tally counter a quick check before opening the door. Five teenage boys dressed as cheer leaders stood on our porch.
“Don’t freak out, we’re collecting food for the food bank if you’d like to donate,” said the tallest boy.
Richard grabbed some canned food from the pantry, while I convinced them to take some candy. It wasn’t hard.
Click, click, click, click, click.
The clock read 8:12 when the doorbell rang next. Buzz Lightyear, Woody, and a wrinkled Mr. Potato Head said, “Trick or Treat.”
Click, click, click.
A few more minutes ticked by.
“Good lord, this is like waiting for microwave popcorn,” I said, looking out the window at an empty street.
“Wait, I see some more kids coming down the street,” Richard said.
The doorbell rang at 8:19, four middle grade children dressed as pirates yelled, “ Ahoy, Trick or Treat.”
We gave each two handfuls of candy and a glow necklace.
Their dads performed an end zone dance out in our yard. Nothing like the bragging rights of Pirates’ Booty after a long night of candy marauding.
Five minutes later, two tiny fairy princesses with giant, sparkling opalescent wings arrived at our door step. In unison high-pitched voices they said, “Trick or Treat.”
“Richard, it’s almost 8:30 I don’t think we’re going to make it,” I said, peaking out the window through the thinning fog at an empty street. “We’re at 164.”
“Well, I’m hungry, I’m going to get a snack. Do you want anything?” he asked, walking toward the kitchen.
“No thanks, I’ll wait until 9 o’clock,” I said, looking out the window.
At 8:31 a light green Kia Soul drove down our street stopping in front of our driveway. Three children climbed out and walked up to our front door. The woman driver got out of the car. She took pictures of our yard. I doled out candy to a teddy bear, a frog, and a dirty kid.
“Who are you supposed to be?” I asked, holding the candy bowl out to the dirty child.
“I’m Pigpen,” he said, and flashed me a smile missing two front teeth. He grabbed a fist full of candy.
“So you are,” I said, handing them each a glow necklace.
Click, click, click.
Richard rejoined me as I closed the front door. He ate tuna from the can with a fork.
“That’s your snack?” I asked, waving my hand in the air.
“What’s wrong with tuna?”
“Nothing, if you’re planning on scaring the kids with your breath.”
Ignoring me, he asked, “So where are we tally wise?”
We both looked out the window at a desolate street. I opened the door hoping for some sign of humanity.
Joe’s voice carried down the street. “Come on Megan, you’ve known the Craniums most of your life. They’re not scary people.”
“Dad, don’t make me do it. I can’t do it.” Her voice balanced on the blade edge of hysteria.
“It’s not scary. Look, I’ll walk up to the front door with you. I’ll be with you the entire time. Don’t you want a glow necklace like your brothers?” he asked.
They walked into view. Her hands glued to her armpits. She moved with the stiff gait of the un-oiled Tin Woodsman. The black widow spider moved. She bolted for the street.
Joe caught her at the end of the driveway. He wrapped his arm around her shoulder. They walked back up the driveway. She shook like a quivering aspen.
When they stepped onto the walk leading to the front door, Richard and I stood in front of the window holding our breath. And silently cheering her on.
Her right foot slipped on a candy wrapper near the animated zombie. For the first time that evening his eyes flashed red. He groaned.
Megan jumped sideways on one leg. Throwing her arms out in front of her knocking her father off balance. She wailed like a banshee—and ran down the driveway with the speed of a gazelle fleeing a lioness.
Joe ran after her yelling, “Megan stop. Megan, please stop.”
When they were out of ear shot we could hear George and Bunny from their front porch chanting, “Run Megan, Run.”
They hit 168.