I am nine years old, wearing an itchy long black wig.
My head hurts from keeping my eyebrows scrunched around two fake plastic eyes, and my gums are bleeding because of ill-fitting green glow-in-the-dark fangs.
I’m having the time of my life.
My first night out alone, trick or treating the town.
Not completely alone. My friend Mark is with me in his purple sweatshirt and Planet of the Apes mask.
And his mom waits in their Plymouth Duster at the end of every block we finish.
Now we’re at the trailer court and my feet are sore.
We’ve covered a lot of ground. Our candy sacks are bursting.
We could skip the trailer court.
Dirk Madsen lives in the trailer court.
“We should skip it,” I say.
“We’re Red Devils,” says Mark, reminding me of our third grade class boys’ club. “Red Devils don’t run when they’re scared.”
“I’m not scared.”
“I am,” says Mark. “Dirk Madsen’s crazy. He sets fires in his living room and eats cats.”
I don’t believe the stories about the cats.
But the fire part is true. My uncle is a volunteer for the district. They ran the big red truck up to Dirk’s place every month or two.
Watch out for him, my uncle says.
Now Dirk is watching us through the window of his trailer.
Mark rings the bell and –no kidding–the door creaks open with the sound of a haunted house.
Naturally Dirk lives in the semi-dark with only a faint glow coming from behind him.
“Trick or treat?”
“Welcome. Welcome,” croaks Dirk. “Come on in, boys.”
Dirk wears scruffy blue coveralls, the color of a dirty aquarium, and a crooked yellow sailor’s cap that used to be white.
His cow-eyes roll like marbles behind black horn-rimmed glasses.
Mark leads the way, stands just inside the threshold, waving me in behind him.
Inside the trailer, it smells like garbage and the burnt pinfeathers that stink up grandma’s kitchen when she butchers chickens.
There’s a long gun leaning against the door-jam. Written in big, black upper-case letter with Magic Marker, a sign with an arrow pointing at the barrel reads:
GUN. IT’S LOADED.
I wonder if it’s a warning, or a reminder.
We’re surrounded by stacks of magazines and books and newspapers. Dirk stands between us and a dimly lit table.
“Here now,” he says. “Let loose of your sacks a minute.”
Trembling, we comply.
With a shaky hand, he reaches back to a teetering pile of newspapers and plastic wrap, makes a selection, then jambs a fresh napkin into each of our outstretched hands.
That’s when I hear the sizzle and a fresh wave scorched air hits my nose, sending my stomach into somersaults.
Dirk’s got a fondue pot going on the table. The glow I thought was a light is actually a smoldering can of Sterno.
Around the rim of the paint-scuffed pot is a circle of raw meat. Little slices of bloody red flesh, ready to be skewered and boiled in the crackling liquid within.
Before we can turn away, Dirk has pulled a fork from the pot and pokes a popping hunk of meat at Mark’s napkin.
“Take it, take it,” he says, and to his credit, Mark does.
Then its’ my turn.
We stand for half a minute staring down at the hunk of charred something as our napkins soak up the grease in an ever widening circle.
“There’s your treat,” says Dirk, shooing us out the door. “Now get on your way.”
We pick up our sacks and carry our freshly cooked treats out the door, across Dirk’s sidewalk and into he roadway.
I toss mine into the ditch.
But half-way to the waiting Plymouth, Mark is chewing his meat, swallowing it down with a satisfied belch.
“Tastes like cat to me,” he says.
I swing my bag and clobber him across the back as he laughs and runs into the night.
And into school boy legend.
The best Halloween of my life.