You’ve got to have an orange plastic pumpkin to collect all the candy. The Tootsie Rolls, the Sugar Babies, the Milk Duds, the Dum Dums. You’ve got to have a costume, the kind that comes in a box like Christmas ornaments, with a cellophane window stretched across the front so you can see the plastic mask inside.
This is the first time you’ve ever gone trick-or-treating. For one, you live in the country, where the houses are far apart, and not in town with sidewalks and streetlamps, and for another, your birthday is the day after Halloween. You were born one minute after midnight, on November 1, All Saints’ Day, and you’ve always had family over on All Hallows’ Eve to celebrate.
You’ve always opened gifts that had a Halloween theme, like your first copy of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, and, instead of a bucket of candy, you’ve always eaten the chocolate cake that your mother made every single year. But trick-or-treating? No, you haven’t done that. But it’s 1979, and your fourth-grade teacher said there would be a Halloween party at school and everyone should come in costume, and, after that, your best friend wants you to go trick-or-treating and then go to the Asheboro Jaycees’ haunted house. You ask your parents if it would be all right to do this instead of having a birthday party, and your dad smiles and says, “Well, you’re going to be 9, and that’s growing up.”
So your mother takes you to Roses and you sort through the costume boxes. The Bionic Woman. Dorothy. Jeannie. Barbie. Superman. Space Man. Evel Knievel. You choose Snow White, because her hair is the same color as yours, and your mom lets you open the box in the car and wear the mask home to practice.
You try not to tug at the rubber-band strip of elastic that’s tangling your hair. The eyeholes on the mask fall a little too low, and the glasses that you have to wear don’t fit well underneath, but you sit there in the Chrysler LeBaron, staring at your reflection in the window, at the stranger you don’t recognize.
On Halloween night, your friend’s mother picks you up and drives to a few houses, where you stand on doorsteps and people drop candy into your orange pumpkin, and it’s OK, but you’re thinking about the chocolate cake that you’re missing at home, the family who would’ve been there to sing when you blew out the candles.
And then you get to the haunted house, and you stand in a long line in the dark, and you hear strange noises, and even though your friend’s older brother is standing with you, laughing, you’re scared, but you get through it, slide down the slide at the end and get back in the car to go home, your first Halloween almost over. When you get there, you see the three pumpkins, jack-o’-lanterns your dad carved while you were gone: one tall, one medium, and a small one with glasses, each with toothless grins, each lit with a candle inside.
Your dad opens the door, and there’s your mom with your cake, the best treat you could’ve ever hoped for. The two of them start singing, and you lean in to make your wish.