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So Easily Frightened

When I was ten, my mother threw a Halloween party for my friends and me.

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Midge Larkworthy was known throughout the neighborhood for her party flair, but this one surpassed them all. As my friends showed up in their pilgrim and witch costumes, we waited in the front yard as my father chatted with other parents in the front yard.

Finally, the front door slowly opened. There was Mom, a messy black wig on her head, black shawl around her shoulders and heavy shoes on her feet.screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-9-09-49-pm

“Hello,” she uttered in this strange, high-pitched voice I’d never heard before. She scanned the group of us, offering no ounce of recognition to her youngest daughter. I’ll never forget how alone that made me feel.

With a vacant stare, she asked no one in particular,”Are the first guests ready to come in?”

Since it was my house, I ran up the steps, clearly not having been versed in proper hostess etiquette yet. My best friend, Jenny, joined me.

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“Come in, come in…” scary Mom allowed, as we passed her. She suddenly slammed the front door behind us and in a creepy falsetto voice, added, “There’s no reason to be frightened…”

The house was pitch-black dark with the exception of a dim light coming from the dining room around the corner, where someone was slowly tinkering out “Pray for the Dead” on the piano, with the echo pedal permanently to the floor. Mom led us to the living room couch, then turned her flashlight on someone laying there. My sister Kate’s friend, Karen, sat upright, arms crossed, turned her head to us, then lay back down. Got it; she’s supposed to be a dead person in a coffin. Har har har. Not very scary, Karen.

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-9-12-08-pmAs we rounded the corner, Mom turned her flashlight on again and pointed to an empty corner. Fake spider webs covered the walls and a bat bounced against the wall, hanging by a rubber band or something.

0 and 2, folks.

 

We were led closer to the echoing piano. Someone sat on the bench, hunched over, steadfastly tapping away. Then the playing stopped. In a sudden burst, the person turned around. Her face was distorted by pantyhose and blood streamed down her face. She screamed the loudest, blood-curdling scream I’d ever heard.

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I screamed, too, as did Jenny, and we took off through the kitchen toward the basement door, where light safely streamed through a crack.

The basement was festive and safe. Decorated with black and orange streamers, tables held bowls full of candy corn and popcorn balls. We caught our breath, then dug into the candy as the next two walked through. As our group increased, the chatter grew louder as we each recounted our experiences. “That was your sister??”  everyone responded when I told them. “She was so scary!”  Yep, that blood-faced freak was my sister Kate. Brava!

But the best was yet to come. When the final pair came through, Kate went above and beyond when they reached the piano. After pausing an extra beat or two before turning around, she fell off the piano bench during the scream and grabbed Margaret’s leg. Fortunately, Margaret was the toughest kid in the neighborhood. Still, she got her.

Once the haunted house portion was over, Mom came downstairs, still in costume but back to being Mom again. Nevertheless, I was not fully reassured. When it was time to play Pass the Blood and Guts around (figure it out), I sat it out. Mom didn’t push back, but I could tell she wasn’t pleased.

Later that night, after everyone had gone home, I let it be known that I had been overly spooked. “Jane! It was all just fun! That was just me!” Kate laughed.

I mostly remember Mom finally throwing her proverbial arms up and saying, “Gosh, maybe we shouldn’t have done this at all.”

What a baby I was. And still am. Haven’t watched a horror movie since “The Exorcist.” Even the “Scary Movie” films scare me. I cannot comprehend what pleasure people can possibly derive from being terrified in a theatre.

But I do look back so very fondly at that Halloween party, and wish that Bertrand and I had done it for Astrid or Luke when they were younger. But, as Luke likes to point out, when they were that young, it was “before your [my] time.”

I only wish that we had photographs from it. None exist, hence the screen shots I posted here.  But I can remember it like it was tonight. Happy Halloween, all. Don’t let the screaming pianist grab your leg.

 

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Jane was executive beauty director at W Magazine for 16 years. When she is not writing beauty articles, she's likely either hiking with her husband and dog, Remy, or in her kitchen, frauding (new verb) her way around a fancy recipe, a home decoration or a highbrow dinner party conversation of which she knows nothing about. In other words, she nods a lot and googles a lot later.

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