My house is haunted. Nearly a hundred years old you can imagine the number of spirits of owners past who have returned to pace our halls and attic. If I wake suddenly in the middle of the night and creep stealthly downstairs, I can catch light switches flicking, cabinets slamming, my paranormal guests, I suspect, searching for a late night snack. But these ghosts are not whom I refer to, they are, after all, just seeking a place to finally rest. The presence I speak of, one that makes a daily appearance is a green-faced, boiled-nosed, heckling, four-foot witch.
Halloween is a big deal in my neighborhood. Starting October first my lush fescue turns dormant, the hue of dried straw, the ground beneath it veins and cracks like wind chapped lips. Then, seemingly overnight, rows of ancient tombstones push from the open splits. A thick, pasty fog forms blanketing the unearthed graves in a cold, damp, bone-chilling mist. A week before the haunted date, buzzards swoop, crows craw, and wolves howl even if there isn’t a full moon. Red-skinned gargoyles appear, perched protectively on my concrete coins, eyes burning with fiery embers. With the bewitching hour near, she shows her witchy face.
Ding, dong. The door bell rings, 3:05, her arrival like clock work. I cautiously peek through the corner of beveled glass and as expected, she appears. Ding, dong. She rings again, impatiently, probably able to sense my presence glued to the opposite side of the weathered wood door. I reach for the deadbolt and cautiously twist the brass lock. The hinges creak as the heavy maple wood swings open and my eyes drift to meet the caller robed in black and a pointy cone-shaped hat. “Madam” she cackles with the strength of a tornado warning siren. Her arms raise over her head like a sorcerer about to cast a death spell. “What are you dressing up as this year?”
“Millicent,” I try not to laugh. “You know my choice is top secret, only to be revealed at dusk on Halloween. Just because you come by everyday in costume doesn’t mean I’m going to cave and give you a sneak preview.”
“Darn,” Milly’s hands fall to her sides, clenching her press on finger nails into her palms. Frustrated, she kicks her pointy lace-up boots against the red brick, pushes her plastic frames up over stick-on wart and removes her hat to itch her head. “Ms. Chappel…” Apparently over the theatrics she speaks in a more typical grade schooler tone. “Can I ask you a question?”
Based on my prior interactions with Milly, I nod, well aware of the fact I’ll have no choice but to listen.
“Why do people dress up for halloween?” her green face paint creases and flakes away.
Without a second thought a standard explanation rolls off my tongue like rehearsed responses in a heated political debate. “It gives everyone an excuse to show a different side of themselves. A side that may not otherwise be considered appropriate.”
Milly’s eyebrows crowd together leading me to believe she’s even more confused. “Appropriate how?”
“Normal, like the rest of people that live around us.”
Milly bends at the waist, looks at her needle sharp boots, tugs at her bulky robe, touches her fake nose that curves like a crooked hook. “What if I don’t want to be normal. Choose not to fit into any organized group?”
Suddenly, I feel myself grin. If you ever truly want to get to the guts of a matter, ask an eight-year-old. The one opposite me is already aware of what it has taken me forty plus years to learn. Belonging isn’t the key. Conforming even less relevant. Showing the true nature of ourselves shouldn’t be just an annual event, but a daily ritual without the required anonymity of a mask and a costume.
I glance at Milly, candy striped tights stretched over her short legs and crouch to her eye level. “You know, I think you’re on to something. Being like everyone else is definitely not the answer. Having to change to fit in some group,” I groan and shake my head. “That doesn’t ring true either.
“So?” her emerald eyes open wider.
“When you come back tomorrow, we’ll practice some spells.”
E.L. Chappel author of Risk/Spirit Dance
Steering away from the flock
aka The Glamorous Wife