Back in the early 70's when I still lived in the Oakwood house (See story on the Oakwood home in Jan's Tales), there was an old Victorian home way up the street on the right hand side. It was in great disrepair and appeared abandoned most of the time and always reminded me of the 'Munster's' home on 1313 Mockingbird Lane. The grass was always long and tangled with overgrown weeds. The walkway that led to the wrap around porch was broken and cracked in various places with even more weeds growing in between the broken concrete. From what we knew of the owner, he was an elderly man that had his mother living with him. He was rarely seen at all and most of the other neighbors didn't know much more about him as he had always kept to himself. Except for one older resident who remembered that her deceased husband had talked to him a few times years beforehand and found out that the owner use to take trips overseas quite frequently, was never married, and was quite reclusive when he was at home. All the windows downstairs were blanketed from within with heavy dark drapes, held back on each side with tiebacks, and pull down shades that always hung half way down. The windows upstairs had the same shades but the curtains were lace. Sometimes you would see an unearthly glow from the downstairs windows from a far away lamp somewhere, but it was the upstairs, particularly one window on the left, that always caught the attention of the kids at night who were always playing in the street; myself included. It was like a scene out of the movie 'Psycho' like when you saw Norman Bates 'mother' up in the window looking down. The woman we saw was or appeared elderly, hair up in a bun, and sat in a rocking chair close to the window, the curtains pulled aside with a dim lamp shining from behind her. She always gave us the creeps because sometimes she would turn out the light and still just sit there rocking back and forth for hours while we played hide and seek, tag, or kick ball. At the same time we would see her rocking, the old man, her son, could be seen downstairs sitting in an armchair reading a large book. Sometimes we wouldn't stop playing until the wee hours of the morning during the summer months, but still the old man read and the old woman rocked.
All of us neighborhood kids were quite afraid to walk on the right side of the street, thinking things that only kids could conjure up in their minds; the owner was a child killer, deformed and retarded and burnt to a crisp, he killed kids and fed his mother soup made from babies. Disgusting tales and made up lies were what most of us did on some dark nights while we sat across the street from that old house, on the curb, passing a ball back and forth. The worse the tale the better, and we never realized that we were only scaring ourselves silly but it was still fun to do, especially when some new kid moved into the 'hood' and believed every word we fed them. Most of us ranged from nine years old to 12 and there were about 8 to 10 of us kids at any given time that would huddle together and stare at the old lady up in the window. Sometimes we made faces, sticking our tongues out, with our thumbs in our ears while the rest of our fingers wiggled around. Of course we all made up 'dares' for each other to do; like run up on the porch, ring the doorbell and run, sneak around the house and peer into the windows, go into the backyard from the alley and snoop around in the shed out back. But the closest we ever got was half way up the walkway, half way through the yard and half way to the shed. Until one Halloween night.
It was a typical horror movie scenario on that particular October 31st; a starless sky, icily cold and windy with thousands of dead leaves prancing in the wind like freed evil imps. There was a slight mist in the air, a dampness that settled on the skin like rot from a grave. All of us kids had already been around the entire surrounding neighborhoods, twice, as we would exchange part of our costumes with each other making mish-mash characters and go to the same houses again and the residents never caught on. (We were clever little turds, and mean little s*%#'s back in those days.) Of course, at the end of our evening we ended up in the middle of the block, across the street from that 'house'. Several members of our 'gang' lived across the street in different houses and another actually lived next door to the 'house', so that's why we usually ended up at that part of the block. The rest of us lived in all separate directions; I myself lived down the block on the corner. But anyway, back to that Halloween night...We were all sitting on the curb going through our trick or treat bags, (some of us, like myself, had a pillow case) and started taking inventory; candy bars, bubble gum, etc...deciding what to trade, eat first, throw away. I don't remember which one it was but one of us said, 'Hey, look!' and pointed to the house across the street. The '1313 Mockingbird Lane' home had a carved pumpkin beside the front door with a candle in it. The porch light came on also; it was one of those yellow colored bulbs like the ones people used to keep bugs away. The upstairs window was dark and vacant. Imagine all of us sitting there; a vampire-mummy, a werewolf-pirate, a Frankenstein-ballerina, etc...all of us in shared pieces of Halloween garb, with our mouths wide open in shock and disbelief, as we had never seen anything remotely alive over there all the Halloweens before. Silently to ourselves we were all wondering who was going to be brave enough to go up and ring that doorbell!
So, after fighting about it, we did what every red blooded American kid would do in the 70's; we played 'Eenie Meenie Miney Mo'. A boy named Mark (He was the kid that lived next door to this haunted looking abode.) and I lost. We crammed about 5 snack size candy bars in our mouths to gather up strength and courage, (A bad habit I still do today.), gave each other a long look, breathed deeply and walked across the street. The kids we left behind us all stood up and stepped backwards onto the sidewalk and huddled together in a tight little ring. Mark, part cowboy/part Batman, and I, dressed as a witch with a borrowed beard, walked shoulder to shoulder, feeling each other trembling with anticipated fear, like waiting for a nurse to jab you with a foot long needle. At the porch steps we hesitated a moment, looking all around in the shadows with our eyes and not moving our heads any. From behind us we heard someone say, 'I knew they wouldn't do it!' That's when I took the first step upwards, leaving 'cowman/batboy' behind, but just for a second as he followed my lead and we were once more shoulder to shoulder taking the rest of the steps together until we stood in front of the dusky illuminated wooden and glass door. I don't know how long we just stood there staring at the door, trying to see beyond the lace panel that covered the inside, but I do remember breathing with my mouth open from behind that fake black itchy beard. Then without really comprehending what I was doing my left arm lifted up and went to the old fashion doorbell that was in the middle of the door; the kind that had a twist key that when turned it rang a brass metal bell on the other side with a clapper.
'BRRRRRRRRRRRIIINNGG', it sounded almost too loud, too inviting, too alarming, and before we had the chance to turn and run we saw the shadow of a person coming towards the door from the room on the left. The lock clicked and the door began a hideously slow movement inward, complete with squeaky hinges, just like the late night TV horror movie host had when introducing the 'fright night' movie on the Saturday evening's local TV show. The old man behind it was just...an old man. His skin wasn't burnt, he didn't show any deformities, his teeth were white and straight not broken and crooked, and he didn't have a hook for an arm. He looked liked he could have been anyone's grandpa. "Well?" he said, waiting for a response.
"Trick or Treat..." we responded slowly in unison, almost in a whisper.
"Trick first," the old man replied. This took us by surprise as hardly any one in all my years of 'Halloweening' ever asked for a 'trick', they just simply laughed at the costume, made some cute remark and handed over the candy. Mark and I turned and looked at each other wondering what to do, what to say. We were dumbfounded.
Sensing our bewilderment or hesitation, the old man suggested, "well, how about a joke then? Got any scary jokes?"
I yanked my head around and said, "Yeah, I do..." and paused for a few seconds, trying to remember the punch line to one I had just heard that day at school, before actually attempting to tell it first. "What did the dead, umm, no, what do the ghosts of dead gingerbread men wear?" I stumbled out.
The old man grinned and asked, "What?"
"Cookie sheets!" my voice replied in a humorous tone. Mark snorted out a quick giggle and so did the man at the door.
"And now it's your turn" he said, looking at Mark. This took him a little off guard as he probably thought that my joke got us both off the hook but after thinking awhile with his tongue stuck half way out in concentration and his eyes looking upwards he came up with one himself.
Mark cleared his throat a few times then began, "Um, what do ghosts take when they are sick?" The old man and I looked at him and waited. Mark waited too, I guess for one of us to say 'what?' as he wasn't finishing the joke. So, after more then a few seconds the man said, 'What?' out loud and Mark continued, "They take coffin medicine...get it...coffin like 'coughing'"
The man, Mark and I had all laughed together at the answer. The pressure was off. The old man seemed amused and satisfied and turned to retrieve a tray that was sitting on a nearby table. It had several candy apples on it, wrapped in clear saran wrap, with wooden tongue depressors sticking out the tops. We each took one, said our 'thank you's' then turned to leave, being careful to walk along the broken pathway. The porch light went out behind us and the pumpkin candle had been extinguished also. It was like the old man had been waiting for us to show up on the block to show the invitation of the porch light promise of a house giving out candy. And like the gullible, greedy brats that we were, we had taken the bait. (Children beware the stranger who gives candy...)
We made it across the street alive and in one piece, back to the group of scaredy cats whom where all standing even further away from the sidewalk in one of the kids front yard. They listened to what we had just went through and were amazed that we each got a large candy apple instead of candy. They weren't those caramel apples rolled in nuts either, these had that hard thick red layer of candy goo covering them. A very blood red colored goo. And of course, someone just had to add the old 'bad candy' cliche' out loud, 'I bet they're poison apples!' Then another suggested, 'No, I bet they have razor blades stuck in them!' For the next few minutes we discussed all the deadly versions of tainted 'apples' that could be imagined until someone noticed that the old lady in the rocking chair was looking down at us from across the street, in a darkened window. "I bet that old man dipped those apples in her blood!" Someone piped sarcastically. "Your sick!" I said. Another threatened, "You two are going to die after you eat them!" I could only think to myself that they were all jealous that Mark and I had the nerves to have had actually traveled across the street to the house in the first place; even though we had carefully been selected through all the 'Miney Mo's. About that time one of the 'mothers' called out loud from a nearby house for us all to 'get on home'. We silently agreed to call it a night and started running in all directions back towards our own separate homes.
When I got home my mom made me dump out all the nights 'booty' and started sorting it out herself. She flicked me hard on the ear every time she found an empty candy wrapper, knowing I didn't wait for the 'official parental inspection' before consuming the goodies. She was a stickler for 'inspecting' anything that came from strangers, and it wasn't because she was in law enforcement but mostly because back in those days people did some sick things to kids candy; like adding poison, razor blades, drugs, etc... (I guess they still do today but it seems it was a rampant crime when I was growing up.) Then she came across the apple and gave me the third degree; where I got it, who gave it to me, what did they look like, all that stuff. She got a sharp steak knife and commenced to do an autopsy on my candy apple, cutting it up in about thirty slices, and then cutting those slices in half. It became apple salad. I didn't want it anymore, not like that. I had wanted to eat it from the stick and feel that red gooey sticky candy on my mouth and chin. It stayed on the plate, the red sticky 'blood' mixed in with the white flesh of the apple, turning brown from exposure to the air. I threw it in the can, snuck two chocolate bars in my pocket and went to my room to get ready for bed.
The next day at school Mark was absent. In fact for several days none of the 'gang' saw him at all. When we called or went by to check on him, his mom just said he was sick with a fever. He finally came back to school the next week, but he looked pale and weak and somehow his mood had changed. He wasn't the cheerful boy we all teased and joked with. He hardly ever came out to play with us anymore and when he did he just stayed for about 15 minutes then went back home like he was bored and uninterested. He eventually stopped coming out to play at all.
That winter came and went and as warmer weather approached in the spring we all started playing outside more. One day as we were all walking home from school we saw a moving truck in the front of the 'old house'. We lagged behind and watched from across the street while sitting on the curb. Several pairs of men were busy carrying things out and into the back of the truck. There were lots of heavy, thick wooded pieces of furniture, large paintings, huge rolled up tapestry rugs, stuffed heads from a variety of wild animals, including an elk, a moose, a strange looking deer, and even a rhino. Four men even carried out an erect brown bear. Behind them some more men carried what appeared to be several animal hides, one was a zebra and one looked like a tiger skin. Then came a load of what looked like African artworks. This was all very amazing to us as we all just sat there not saying a word but formulating all types of theories and stories inside our young impressionable minds.
The next morning on the school bus one of the kids that lived across the street was telling us what his mother had heard, that the old man had died recently and that a distant relative had inherited all his belongings. They also heard that the house was going to be knocked down and the lot sold. In a way we all breathed a secret sigh of relief, for to see that old spooky house gone off our block would be a miracle for us. It was a few weeks later I believe that we were all playing outside one Friday evening and we saw movement in the top window of the old house. The old lady was still there! Sitting in her rocking chair, with the curtains pulled back. What a shock we all had, as we totally forgot about her, or just naturally assumed that she would have left with the distant relatives to go live with them or something. The next week while again walking home from the bus stop, we saw a wrecking crew on the property and a bulldozer scooping up what was left of the home. They had evidently been very busy while we were in school that day. A couple of us walked over and started talking to some guy with a clipboard and a hard hat that was standing next to another man with a business suit on. He was very patient and polite to us, for we were mostly being nosey. One of us asked what happened to the old lady and they didn't act like they knew what we were talking about and we explained that the old man had his mother living with him. The man in the business suit laughed a little and told us that the 'previous owner's' mom had passed away years ago and that he had lived in this house alone. Several of us actually quarreled with him and told him how we use to see her upstairs in the window watching us at night while she sat in her rocking chair. He looked at us like we were nuts and repeated again that 'the previous owner' had lived alone in his last few years he had been here. We all walked away in disbelief but more scared then we had ever been as the realization of the whole thing began to take shape in our minds. Had we been seeing his dead mother's ghost all this time? Or was the old man dressing up as his mother? No, that wasn't it, we argued because we use to see him downstairs reading while she had been upstairs rocking. Was the old haunted house we use to make fun of 'really haunted'? How ironic that all the twisted stories we had made up didn't compare to the truth that was unfolding before us back then. But that's not the end of this tale; there are a couple more things you should know.
A few days later, we could see the upstairs window to Marks bedroom clearly now as the old house had blocked the view before. The shade was pulled all the way down and there was a light on in the background that would make a silhouette out of anything in front of the window. We would see Mark's shadow, sitting in a rocking chair, moving back and forth for hours on end and sometimes late into the night. Every night. He even rocked back and forth when riding the school bus and while sitting in class at his desk. He never stopped the rocking motion, even while he was walking and his eyes and mind were so distant and far away. At school he was sent to the office for his lack of participation (Heck, he even quit talking to anyone.) and peculiar movements that disturbed the class. This behavior scared us all more then the ghost of the old lady. We felt we had lost one of our buddies to some mysterious force, and of course, being the 'turds' that we were, we made up stories about him behind his back because of it. It wasn't long until he quit showing up at the bus stop and eventually quit going to school. His family moved away abruptly and we were all left in the dark. A few months after this, one of the girls that lived across the street from Marks old house told me something really strange while standing at the bus stop one morning. She said that sometimes at night, you could see the image of an old woman upstairs in Marks old bedroom sitting in a rocking chair. When a new family moved in shortly afterwards we would later hear from their own children how they refused to sleep upstairs in that particular bedroom because the sound of a 'creaky rocking chair' kept them up at night. We made friends with the new kids and were invited in quite often, and we always would ask to go upstairs to the empty bedroom to see if we could hear the 'rocking chair'. I remember that room being very cold, and all of us kids would bundle our arms up around our chests trying to warm ourselves from the chill.
For one reason or another the 'gang' just sort of broke apart soon after this, with all of us finding something else to do or someone else to play with. I heard later on that some of the 'mothers' didn't want their kids playing with me as they were hearing some weird things that had been going on at my house. (See story on 'The Oakwood House') They were afraid I would go crazy like that 'Mark kid' did. (Don't you just love neighborhood gossips? Man, they can start some rumors, and, they seemed to be even more ruthless with their stories as us kids were with ours. If they had only known what real terror was going on inside my own home, their malicious gossip would have turned to genuine fear that would have hushed their voices.) That made me a type of outcast, but as we grew older we still nodded to each other in the hallways at school or walked quietly together to and from the bus stop. I began spending most of my time reading after doing homework and forgot all about the old house, the lady in the rocking chair and Mark. Until a few years later, I think I was around 15 or 16, when out of the blue a knock came at the door. I was shocked to see Mark standing there, although it took me a few seconds to realize who he was. He was much taller, his hair was longer, his body filled out and he dressed like a rebellious teen, with a cigarette hanging from one corner of his mouth. He looked much older then 16 or 17; I think I remember him being a year older then me but had been held back a year when he was real young in school. I went outside to talk to him and we wound up leaning against an old tree, sharing cigarettes and catching up on old times. He said he moved 'around' a lot, had been in and out of trouble, had to see some shrinks and take med's for a long time and had quit school all together. From the way his eyes looked and the way he wiggled around all nervous like I had the inkling that he was still doing 'med's' but the illegal kind. After about an hour of talking he asked me if I had ever went up to the lot where the old house had been. I told him yeah, a few days after it had been knocked down and I had found some type of button coin like object in the dirt there. (He wasn't interested in the coin, but I kept that thing for close to 14 years then sent it to a coin dealer in the South to see if it was worth anything. I never heard back from them. They either identified it as a useless type of button and laughed about it or possibly got rich off it and never bothered to contact me again.) We talked about the 'old lady' in the window, and I retold the story that the business suit guy had told us nosey kids the day it was being knocked down about how she had died years before hand. He didn't seem surprised, and then asked me a question that took me off guard for a moment, "Did you eat any of that candy apple we got from him on Halloween?" I paused for a moment, remembering how my mom had butchered it into small pieces, looking for the glint of a razor or some type of inserted drugs. "No, I didn't. Why?" I replied, looking up at him.
"You better be glad you didn't," he said in a warning hissing voice, his eyes boring into my own that sent chills down my spine. His body started moving very slowly back and forth, front to back in small movements and he kept staring at me with fixed eyes, unblinking, like in a trance. I stepped away from him a few feet and returned his stare, but mine were clouded with a confusing fear. "Mark...what happened to you after that Halloween night? Was it the apple? Was it poisonous or something?"
For a moment he quit rocking and reached in his front blue jean jacket pocket to get out another cigarette and his Zippo. We were standing in the shade of the oak leaves and as he ignited the lighter I could see the fire reflecting off his face, causing a eerie glow in his features. He looked possessed, evil, and much older and the thin wicked smile he produced after exhaling the first puff off smoke sent me trembling inside and out. The metal top of the Zippo snapped shut, then he flicked it open again, then closed, open-closed, open-closed, like the hypnotic ticking of a laboratory clock. "The apple wasn't drugged or poisoned, but as to what happened after I ate it..." he began, paused, inhaled, exhaled, grinned and then continued in a hushed harsh whisper, stepping forward and leaning into my left ear to speak, "...it's 'still happening'." I had almost peed my pants when I felt those words come out with his smoky breath caressing my neck and cheek like the scent of a devil. The lighter snapped shut one last time. His cheek lingered near my own; so close I could feel the fine stubble of his adolescent mustache brushing my skin.
He abruptly pulled away, checked his watch and said more audibly, "I got a bus to catch. It was good to see you again, maybe I'll come around again in a few years." He walked away in heavy black leather boots, down the side street and out of my view; that was the last time I saw him.
I never knew if he ever did come back to visit as we moved away soon after this.
To this day I still often wonder about that candy apple and Marks abnormal behavior after that Halloween. Had there been some type of ancient curse the old man had put on the fruit? An ancient ritual he had learned about from all his days traveling to exotic locations? Was it just the spirit of his mother, whom we had thought was a living being in the house and had made faces at, taunted and teased from the street below, that had somehow got into Marks own body or mind and had changed him for the worse? The whole thing remains a mystery and will probably haunt me all the remaining days of my life.
(Authors note: I'd like to ask for forgiveness now, if San would allow this brief paragraph to appear below the story of The Candy Apple. To all those I personally mistreated when I was younger, I am sorry and ask your forgiveness, and have prayed for you over the years that your lives have not been changed due to any ill will on my part. This especially goes out to Mark, because as children with immature minds back then, we didn't realize the entire circumstances surrounding his irregular actions when we started up stories about him. As an adult, I still may not fully understand what actually happened to cause his strange personality transformation, but I have prayed for this person many times over. Kids can be so cruel, and we really don't understand the impact of what teasing and picking on an underdog can do until we see something on the news about some young student that had taken a gun to school to shot down the ones that taunted him. These are the times when in certain adult's lives, (like myself) that they realize how they themselves had hurt other classmates, playmates, etc...when they were growing up. I can't go back in time and re-do any of it, nor do I know, after more then 30 years, where they are at now to apologize personally, but to help stop the abusive pattern I've instilled warnings into my own kids about how viscous teasing behavior can ruin a persons life.)