Boys in Masks
We are wearing our costumes, but we’re too old to trick-or-treat. We’re on our way to a party. I’m a vampire. I’m wearing one of my father’s barber capes backwards and I’ve dabbed the corner of my mouth with my grandmother’s old Avon lipstick to look like dripping blood. Andy is a devil in red plastic horns from Woolworth’s. Benj is in a top hat and tails he borrowed from his grandfather, who drives a limousine, and when we ask him what he is, he says he’s the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt.
Walking past the Revolutionary War monument at the fort, we have to watch the sidewalk to see our own feet. It’s five o’clock and already dark. There’s almost no moon, and the night is blue sapphire, tufts of cloud streaked here and there like giant hands have stretched cotton candy across the sky. During the war, a Continental soldier was always stationed at the top of the stone obelisk to watch the river approach from the Sound. If all was clear, he hung one lantern. If he spotted the British approaching, he was to hang two. We look up. One light burns in the square window at the tower’s peak. The British are not coming tonight.
Andy and Benj are tall for their age, and I like walking between them. The girls are a head taller than most of the boys, and I like that they tower over me, tall and reedy and clattering about as I do. The whole group has always been eight, four boys and four girls, but lately it’s been more Benj and Andy and me. Especially Benj. The cool air settles like dry ice on my face and the wispy crystalline hairs of my arms, transparent as moth’s wings. My breasts, so lately like lumps of melting sugar, have begun to round and plump, and I like standing with my hands on my waist, acting as though I’m challenging but secretly enjoying the feel of the curve inward and then the sloping out into hips. We prance and leap and shudder at each other’s closeness. The air between us vibrates.
We pass the mechanic’s where my grandmother always took her car. She went nowhere else because the place was owned by a man called Craig, who was half Native American, and she said they were honest people because they’d been robbed by the settlers and knew how it felt to be swindled. And here’s the Dew Drop Inn, and we stop and lean on the wall outside and listen to the tinkling glass and chatter within. Lights above the bar like pure fire and the men’s faces red from laughter and drink and the place is blazing like Hell. Here’s Mr Simmons, old fisherman’s cap worn with a rakish tilt and a chest like a barrel you’d ride over Niagara Falls, and he’s telling how Clarence, the town’s only homeless man, came to live rough. An old argument, and everybody has their opinion, but Mr Simmons is taken seriously because as a merchant marine in 1932 he heard Hitler speak and wrote home that he was a loony-bird. We move on and the laughter and clinking glass float away behind us like burnt ash.
Outside the liquor store, Benj and Andy stop just shy and lean against the cold, white brick. I look older and am always sent in to buy. Inside, I stroll down the aisle like I belong there. I take a bottle of wine coolers from the refrigerator case and carry it to the counter. Mr Watrous of the mongoose moustache and crying eyes is working so his wife can answer the door for trick-or-treaters.
‘I don’t know what happened, I turned around and mine were all grown up, now they’re having kids of their own. Youth is over in a heartbeat, young lady. Enjoy it while it lasts.’
Andy puts the wine coolers in his backpack so we don’t get stopped. We cross the road on the way back, past the park where we used to go sledding and then our old elementary school. I think of the day the gymnasium roof caved in under heavy snow and we all sat in the playground in our coats waiting for our parents to pick us up. No one is more nostalgic than a child.
We pass the Avery land, where years before they dug a hole and buried the old stone house, plowed it right in whole, and where before that the barn had burned in the middle of the night. Neighbors knocked on doors, and we all came out and watched the orange glow just beyond the tree line. The ghost did it, people said, the pretty blond girl shot through the eye by a boy because she wouldn’t do it. It’s haunted still. I look down, counting cracks in the sidewalk and humming to myself.
Benj’s hand brushes mine as we walk, and we both pull away. I blush, and Benj jumps and grabs onto a tree limb to distract attention, swinging from one arm like a monkey, then drops and takes a flying leap onto Andy’s back.
‘Giddyap, boy,’ Benj says. ‘Heidi’s waiting.’
Benj pinches Andy’s cheek, and he shoulders him off and grins.
‘Andy loooooooves Heidi,’ Benj says. ‘He wants to have her baaaaaaabies.’
‘Somebody needs an anatomy lesson,’ I say, and they both laugh.
On the far edge of the elementary school we pause at the path that cuts through the woods. We used to use it as a shortcut home from school, but older kids use it as a party spot at night — sometimes you find beer bottles and condoms — so we continue along the road.
What moon there was is somewhere behind the bottle-blue night and the wind has lifted and the trees are quivering. As we walk, I think I hear something. I turn to look, and three boys in masks are walking behind us. Werewolf masks. They’re older than us, taller and bulkier, in long, dark coats and combat boots, and the masks are grey with white teeth bared in a growl. I can tell they’re boys by the way they move. They’re about ten feet behind us. I turn around. Benj and Andy turn to see what I’m looking at, then they turn back, too.
We walk quietly for a minute. I turn back and they’re still there.
‘Hey,’ I say casually.
They don’t say anything. They just watch us. I turn away again. We walk on a little way, and we hear them still behind us.
Andy turns around and walks backward. ‘You guys going to a party? Trick or treating?’
They don’t answer. Andy turns back to us. ‘So, anyway,’ he says, like we’re returning to a conversation we were having, but nobody talks.
At my subdivision, we turn in. As we round the bend, I look out of the corner of my eye and see their silhouettes. My head starts to buzz, and my arms and legs tingle. After a while the feeling slows my stride, and as though my legs won’t work, I stop, and Benj and Andy stop with me. We all turn, and the boys in masks have stopped, too. They’re just standing there. They don’t say anything, just stare at us. They look from one of us to another, turning their heads in stiff, unnatural pivots. We turn again and continue on, and they’re still behind us.
We walk, they walk.
We stop, they stop.
Benj stops and turns.
‘Okay, guys, ha ha, scare the younger kids. But it’s over now. We’ve got a girl with us, it’s not funny anymore.’
The boys in masks just stare. As if by some secret signal, they turn their heads in unison from Benj to me. I can see their eyes behind the masks.
‘Knock it off,’ Andy says.
They just stare.
‘You’re scaring her,’ Benj says.
The boys don’t move or speak. Benj turns, watching them over his shoulder, and we start walking again. A little farther on, we stop again and turn. The boys in masks are just standing there again, but closer now, about six feet away. We turn and walk, and then something breaks in us and we burst into a run. I turn to look and they’re running after us. Benj and Andy grab my elbows and we run on. We’re in my neighborhood, so I lead, darting in and out between houses. We duck through into a back yard then down a driveway across a street. We hear feet pounding hard on pavement and know they’re behind us. We’re lighter, more fleet, but the boys in masks run hard. My house is close and we’re pushing for it, pushing. At the house behind mine, I run for the door but at the last minute veer for the side yard. Benj and Andy follow and we crack-the-whip round the side of the house and toward my back door. I vault the steps and pray it’s open and it is and we rush in and as I turn to close the door behind me I see the boys in masks running at me. I shoot the bolt and run to the front door to make sure it’s locked. Benj and Andy are in a jumble behind me and when we’re sure it’s locked too we bend double, catching our breath. I edge up to the wall by the window and look out. The boys in masks are standing stock still in the yard, staring at me. I pull the cord and close the drapes.
We sit side by side on the couch. Andy sets the wine coolers on the coffee table. The party should be starting now. It’s about a half-mile down the road, but the boys in masks may still be out there. Benj goes and kneels on the floor before my videos. He pulls one out and holds it up so we can see the case. We nod, and he pops it into the player. We’ve seen it at least ten times, but we lean back and watch.
Awhile later we look out, and the boys in masks are gone. But we’re not going anywhere tonight. We return to the sofa and finish the movie. I’m only half watching. I’m thinking about the boys in masks, and I don’t understand why people have to ruin things. I look over at Benj and Andy, and think, They’ll never be like that.