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Just something for Halloween. Let me know what you guys think. Enjoy!
The Hanged Man
On Halloween night, the year I turned nine, something strange
happened to me that I've never dared to mention.
I've never spoken or written about it until just now.
Not because I've been afraid to, necessarily, but because
I've always held the belief that I simply didn't
understand the incident, that I must have been wrong about
We were trick-or-treating: my little brother and two of
my best friends from school, along with all the other
neighborhood kids who would bunch together in one group at
this door and spill along toward the next group at that door.
I was a fairy princess that year, like 2,347,085 other little
girls across the country. Nothing unusual. Lots of giggling
and shouting as we made our way down and across the sidewalks
in the porch-lit pumpkin-dotted night of the holiday.
Our neighborhood was made up mostly of old people.
There was Mrs. Miller (the cat lady) in the big house on the
corner, who always gave out homemade cookies shaped like cats
and with any of her cats' names spelled with icing on the
tops. Miss Owens lived two houses down from ours; she would
give whole sandwich bags tied with orange and black ribbon,
each filled with the exact same number and variety of penny
candies (my little brother and always compared); there were 1
Snickers, 2 Smarties, 3 Mary Janes, 3 Squirrel Nut Zingers,
and 1 Atomic Fireball. And Mr. Weathers, who's wife had
died only the previous year, would give out nothing but candy
corn. "Candy corn again," my brother complained. And my
mother said, "Well, his wife just died." Now what his wife
dying had to do with giving out candy corn every year, I
didn't know but was polite enough not to ask about.
There was a house that all of us kids, and sometimes our
parents, would refer to as "the poor house". Every
neightborhood is burdened with one of these houses. It was a
small, rundown house whose front porch leaned to one side, the
paint was peeling and the grass was full of weeds. The house
was usually empty; though occasionally a new family would move
into it then move back out a few months later. My friend
Sylvia had lived there the previous year and was gone again
before school came back around, gone without a word. Of
course this house, when it was empty, was also the house we
kids would dare each other to approach. And on the night of
the incident, that Halloween night when I was nine, there
could be no avoiding the ritual.
"Just go knock on the door and run," my friend Cathy
suggested, for this appeared to be one of those months in
which someone actually occupied the place. There was a light
on in the upstairs window and an old car in the driveway. The
house was quiet, though. And the porch light was out, which
we all knew indicated that tricks-or-treats were not welcome
at whoever's door this currently was. At any rate, the
dare was on, and I had a reputation never to back down from a
dare; in front of our friends, this always made my brother
proud of his big sister. So I approached the house.
As I crept nearer the front porch I saw something that I
had not seen from the sidewalk; something behind the trellis
that was hidden from view. Apparently the new family, perhaps
another Sylvia, had decorated their front porch for Halloween.
I saw something hanging there and decided the porch light
being left off must be for spooky effect. This brave little
feather in my cap will be a piece of cake, meanwhile my party
stood transfixed and frightened several yards back on the
sidewalk. Now if you've seen one corpse hanging from the
American porch on Halloween night, you've seen them all.
Some were better than others, I knew, but . . . Well, this
corpse was especially great. At least they packed the shirt
and pants full enough to represent the human body
realistically, and they didn't just use a Styrofoam head
and wig for the top. Somebody had gone all out.
I got closer in the dark, trying to see this dark
swinging mass up close. And with every step, I admit, I was a
little unnerved. For by now I, too, was behind the trellis
and out of view of my friends out there on the sidewalk, my
shoes clunking quietly on the hollow boards below. This was
as perfect a hanging human corpse as I had ever seen (a lot
better than the paper mache' one that Gary Leonard's
family had strung up the year before); and I used my fairy
wand, with the glitter on it, to nudge him . . . to turn him
just a little so I could see how the face was made. I was
surprised that the shoes used were real shoes, hard black
shoes that shined now and again as he turned.
He turned slow and heavy, the thick rope creaking at the
beam above him, his neck probably too long, I was thinking.
Like a large pendulum he bumped slightly against me, vaguely
rustling my candy bag. And looking up to see the
corpse's face, I saw it: what at first I thought was a
cigar was really a tongue, jutting in mock fashion from his
swollen cheeks, the eyes bulging white, locked in a silent
scream. The man was real. The man was real and the man was
I walked back to my friends in a dream. I told them that
I had changed my mind about knocking. And I never mentioned
the incident. I waited over the next few weeks, listening for
my parents to mention that a man had been cut down from his
porch after suicide. But the news never came. Nothing came.
The house was soon thereafter empty as usual. The car was
gone. Only in an often recurring dream did I ever try to
confess the experience to a teacher, say, or to a policeman.
However, when I would open my mouth to utter what I had seen,
there in the dark that Halloween night when I was nine, my
tongue would pop out, stiff and swollen, and I would hear
myself, somehow far away, screaming.
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