Monday, 31 October 2011

Hallowe'en at fifteen

When I felt the egg yolk oozing down the back of my head, I probably should have headed home. I could have stayed out of a lot of trouble. I would have missed my most exciting Hallowe'en ever, but excitement and danger are over-rated. Aren't they?

Back in the days of my misspent youth, the cut-off age for trick-or-treating was generally thirteen, the age I happened to be when we moved from View Royal on the outskirts of Greater Victoria to Esquimalt, a municipality closer to town. When I was fifteen, my best friend Julie suggested I come back to my old neighbourhood for the bonfire. There were Hallowe'en bonfires throughout the city in the community parks, usually run by the local Kiwanis. Nothing special, but it beat the prospect of staying home watching television and shelling out candy.

I turned up with Mindy, another friend from our junior high. Mindy was wide-eyed and energetic, and dated boys five years her senior. In fact, I'm not sure how she happened to be free that evening to join us.

We entered the dark playing grounds, and tried to pick out Julie, a husky-voiced and high-coloured girl with permanent turn-out. To our horror, Julie was in the company of two other fellow Grade Nines: Rudi and Mick. Like Julie, I had been at school with Rudi since Grade Six, so he had been the buzz-cutted, bespectacled bane of my existence for three years. Mick was Rudi's constant companion. His chief identifying characteristic was his strangled voice, which was in continual adolescent flux. The poor boy sounded like Gonzo the Great until university.

It was when we girls were huddled in conference about our plans (there were none), that Rudi broke the egg on my hair. This was apparently his declaration that he and Mick would be passing the evening with us. I really should have gone home.

Since nothing was happening at the bonfire, we got the brilliant idea to seek out the house of our much-hated French teacher, a woman who had made the fatal decision to spend what very few years remained of her career teaching middle-teenagers, a task for which she was spectacularly unsuited. The unfortunate woman lived on the other side of the Trans-Canada Highway, not far from my old house.

Her home was dark when we got there, so Rudi and Mick scrawled witty epithets on the windows, mostly on the theme of the French teacher's rather old and very ill-fitting wig. We made our way back, passing my old house, crossing the disused railway where I used to go on long walks with my dog. There was a short slope leading down to the highway, and Mick and Rudi, for reasons comprehensible only to teenaged boys, lit one of the fireworks they had brought along and tossed it into the oncoming lane of the busy road. A car screeched to a halt and a man leapt out.

Thinking it out from a rational distance of several years, the smartest thing for Julie, Mindy and me to do would probably have been to stay our ground. We hadn't tossed the flaming thing, after all. But panic hit us in a wave, and carried us up the hill, then along the railway tracks, the man roaring at us to come back.

Running along railway ties isn't easy in daylight, let alone in the dark. As we scrambled and tripped, Rudie looked back and swore: "He's coming after us!" I glanced back and saw a swinging flashlight. I faced forward just in time to spot my companions disappearing down the side of the embankment. I wondered where they thought they were going, plunging down a steep slope of loose gravel dotted by clumps of bushes, but I was now the sole quarry on the track, so I plunged after them, and in the struggle to stay on my feet didn't realize that I had lost sight of them until I was more than halfway down.

I had no time to wonder where they had gone. I found a space between two scraggly bushes. My one thought was how to blend in, because I knew our pursuer had a flashlight. I was wearing a light-blue coat, which I ripped off and stuffed underneath me, I shoved my glasses in my pocket and pushed my hands into the sleeves of my dark sweater. Pulling my knees to my chest, I buried my face in them, praying my long dark hair would cover the white nape of my neck. I willed my shuddering breath to slow, and kept as still as I could, not daring to look up or out.

An eternity seemed to pass. I could hear nothing but the distant swishing of passing cars on the highway. I wondered how long I would need to stay there, how long I could stay there and how on earth in the dark, in my near-sightedness, in my inability to look, I would ever know when, if ever, it would be safe to move.

Finally, hissing voices called to me, guiding me to a culvert tunneling under the embankment where the others had crouched, watching in terror as the beam from the flashlight swept the slope. I had been just a few feet away.

Mick's state of agitation had wedged his wobbly voice up several octaves to a semi-permanent state of boy soprano.

"He was gonna kill us! He was gonna kill us!" he kept repeating, as the others tried to shush him.
"He had his flashlight on you the whole time," Mindy informed me. She really seemed to be enjoying this.
"I think he couldn't decide if you were really there, or not," said Julie in grave quietness. She was the grand-daughter of an Anglican priest and hadn't been enjoying this quite so much.
"Okay," said Rudi, "We'll head out the other end. We can get to Helmcken Road from here."

So we crept out of the culvert, scanning the rails above and the roads below us anxiously, but our stalker had evidently given up on us. Chattering excitedly and breathing easily, we dropped Julie off at her house opposite the bonfire and followed Rudie to his house on the crescent behind the park where his mother offered to drive Mindy and me home.

Rudie's mum, a relaxed (and possibly oblivious) lady who had adopted Rudie and his brother and sister, but managed to look exactly like them, chatted easily in the car, asking questions about our evening and ignoring our muffled giggles, exchanged looks, and overly nonchalant replies. Looking back, I'm rather glad I had no clairvoyant powers as I sat in the back seat, marveling at our survival. Within the year, Mindy would be packed off to private school after an abortion, and within five years, Rudie's kindly mother would be dead from cancer. Rudie himself married a pal of mine straight out of high school, had a couple of kids and got divorced. Julie married a much older man and had step-kids her age. She was widowed in her thirties. I don't know where Mick is now; I heard his brother died.

I got out at my house, thanked Rudie's mum, gave my mother a sanitized account of the evening, and went upstairs to wash the egg out of my hair. The next morning, my hair seemed particularly shiny. I suppose it was the extra protein.


JoeinVegas said...

Doesn't sound too dangerous an evening. You guys didn't break anything. And you have a story to remember.

SOL's view said...

That sounds like one scary heart pounding Halloween to me!

I was such a painful teenager. I would have been the one telling everyone not to leave the bonfire....

Jane Henry said...

What a brilliant story! Sorry bit late reading it...

My husband had a similar adventure on our local common, letting off home made fireworks with a nutty friend. They got chased across the common by the police and ended up hiding in a ditch by the railway embankments. But lived to tell the tale without getting arrested. Result:-)