by Barb, in Portland, Maine, where we’ve finally had our first frost
I turned in the manuscript for “Scared Off,” my novella in the anthology, Halloween Party Murder, on November 1, last year. The tale starts with a wild party. Julia Snowden’s thirteen-year-old niece, Page, is attending a sleepover at a new friend’s house. When one of the three girls there sends a misguided text, word spreads and before they know it every teenager in town, and a few from out-of-town, show up. The uninvited guests arrive with cases of beer and raid the family liquor cabinet. Before long they are are puking in the bathroom, making out in the bedrooms, and having fights on the lawn. And, the elderly third-floor tenant who had been left in charge of the girls is nowhere to be found.
We don’t include Acknowledgements in these novella collections, but each author is encouraged to write a letter to readers at the end of the story. Here’s some of what I wrote.
“It doesn’t happen often, but I got to write this tale of mayhem and murder in the season in which it is set. The lead-up to Halloween in 2020 was a decidedly scary time as parents debated whether trick-or-treating was safe. If their wild party had broken out this year, Page, Vanessa, and Talia would have been in even bigger trouble.
“I hope that, as you read this story in a future I can barely imagine, you are preparing for hordes of children dressed in costumes to come to your door and then donning your own costume to go out to a party. If not, I wish for you a glass of warm cider, a plate of Vee’s delicious pumpkin cookies, and a good book.”
Last October, Bill and I rented a house on a lake in Virginia for the month because it was fifteen minutes away from my son, Rob, my daughter-in-law, Sunny, and my granddaughter, Viola’s home. When we made the plan I had visions of supporting a family dealing, as everyone was, with balancing work and remote school. But it turned out, with months to prepare, instead of days as it had been the previous semester, remote second grade was a pretty well-oiled machine and Viola was more than equal to it.
What we were able to provide for a little family, who had been as isolated as all the rest of us, was another set of people to see, another place to go, and new activities to explore. Viola was still young enough to think her grandparents were terrific and it turned into a very special time, the “during the pandemic” memory I treasure the most.
As Halloween approached, I was feeling stressed. Everywhere parents were debating what was safe. Viola’s school and neighborhood had already announced they’d be skipping Halloween. Which, to most, just seemed like one more loss in a lost year.
The stress I felt was because Viola loves, loves Halloween. From the time she was two she had been spinning out ideas not just for her costume, but for entire tableaux, assigning costumes to everyone in the family. As the only member of her generation on our side for four-and-a-half long years, she was able to persuade every grown-up to participate.
Viola had had 2020’s theme planned for months–Harry Potter, of course, her current, most fervent passion. The house we rented was on a little cul-de-sac with lots of kids. It appeared they were doing some kind of a pod. Finally, as the day approached, I screwed up my courage and did something I am very, very bad at–I approached a stranger for help. I asked the mom next door what the story was for Halloween. She explained that because there were no streetlights, the street only ever attracted kids from the neighborhood. The plan was to put tables of treats at the ends of the driveways and have the kids go around to them. She told me the time and how much candy we would need.
So that’s what we did.
And it was fine. Viola was a little intimidated by all the kids and houses she didn’t know. But like me, she screwed up her courage, and she went to just the right number of tables to get just the right amount of candy. Everyone was lovely and encouraging.
I cried when I said good-bye to her that night, something I’d vowed not to do, and she did, too. I assured her we’d see her at Christmas, but that, alas, was not to be.
This year WAS better…
Viola got to trick-or-treat with a friend in her own neighborhood. I think the pandemic actually prolonged these family tableaux, put off by one year her going around with kids her own age and losing interest in corralling all of us.
But old habits hang on.
Meanwhile, in another state, another crew gets started…
Etta wanted to be a ghost for months, but at the last minute switched it up.
Readers: As the year turns, do you find yourself, as I do, comparing last year’s landmarks to this one’s? What strikes you as different or the same?