Marlene Samuels Remembers a Terrifying Begger’s Night (Canada’s Halloween)
Things that Go Grrrr in the Night
by Marlene Samuels
One particular year, Beggar’s Night fell on a Saturday. As luck would have it, it also was the Saturday evening our parents had, uncharacteristically, left us home alone longer than usual to attend their closest friend’s birthday party. On that night our judgment would undergo its greatest test. Beggar’s Night was the long-awaited annual opportunity among us, inner-city kids, to dress in rags, play outrageous pranks and go door-to-door begging for money, not candy. It replaced the American version of Halloween in our old Montreal neighborhood. Darkness enveloped the city disappointingly early yet provided a perfect foil for our shenanigans.
Jake, my brother, is four years older than I and was my hero but in my opinion, he also represented the epitome of great wisdom. The teller of truth in all things of significance, Jake was a spectacular storyteller so it made no difference to me whether his tales were verifiable or not.
We had just finished our T.V. dinners and repaired to the bedroom we shared for one of those interminable games of Monopoly
“Your move,” I said, looking up. His face was contorted, almost frozen with terror.
“What’s wrong with you, anyway?” I asked. “You moving or what?”
“Huh, what? Did you hear that?” He whispered.
“Hear what? I didn’t hear a thing so move already!”
“There it is again!” But this time I did hear it. We both stiffened as if playing a game of statues instead of Monopoly. Loud clanking against our bedroom windows like fingernails tapping on glass raised the hairs on our arms. The eerie sound ricocheted off the room’s plaster walls. Then, for one brief instant, we saw it — whatever “it” was. A massive head with rigid pointed ears glided past our bedroom window as though floating upon a cloud. Just as suddenly as it had appeared, it vanished from view.
“I’ll bet one of my moronic friends is playing a prank,” said Jake, feigning bravery, “and when I find out which one, I swear I’m going to brain him!”
“I bet this is a prank and I’ll help you brain him,” I said way too quickly and very unconvinced.
“You saw that, right?” He whispered. Dull heavy footfalls echoed across our back porch accompanied by animal-like, blood-curdling growls. Whatever “it” was now gliding past the window in the opposite direction. Still sitting on the floor with Monopoly in front of us, we stared toward the window anticipating yet another glimpse. We were beginning to feel beyond vulnerable.
“Quick, let’s get away from the window in case whatever that thing is looks in and sees us,” I whispered. “Let’s get into the kitchen where the telephone is.”
“I’m with you.” Jake whispered back. I crawled on my belly, combat style, across the floor toward the door into the hallway. He followed. We shimmied single-file into the kitchen. Once there, I propped on my knees, stretched my arm up as far as I could manage and hit the light switch turning the overhead off. Now it was nearly pitch black in the room. We’d convinced ourselves we were invisible. The only phone in our flat rested on its special telephone table but there was a big problem: it was across the room on the opposite side of the backdoor.
Again, there it was! We saw it, we heard it. Riveting ourselves against the kitchen wall, we held our breaths and stared toward the glass door toward the back porch. And it was directly outside; its fully visible head presented an other-worldly silhouette through the lace curtains on the door’s window. It was, without any doubt, vastly larger than any human’s head we’d ever seen. Both of us shivered, hopelessly trying to flatten ourselves even more against the wall.
“Holy shit, it’s rattling the door!” Jake said, his voice strained. “What’ll we do?”
“We’ll call the police, that’s what,” I whispered, more loudly than I’d intended. “Then we can crawl back to our room and hide under our beds until they get here.”
“And exactly how are you planning to do that, you idiot? The phone’s on the opposite side of the back door, remember? We need to crawl back to our room, and I mean right now. We’ll hide under the beds and besides, Mom and Dad ought to be home really soon.”
Reversing direction, we crawled on our bellies again but this time from the kitchen through the hallway and into our bedroom. Our eyes darted behind us toward the back door every few seconds as though doing so held special powers to prevent “it” from coming through the door before we’d slithered into what we’d convinced ourselves was safety, under our beds.
Bangs, bumps, and multi-tonal howls accelerated as did our terror. Paralyzed with fear, we agonized over whether our choice of a hiding place had been a wise one. The racket continued but had a benefit. It provided a beacon, alerting us of the creature’s location while it traversed our flat’s exterior — round and round and round it went.
After what felt an eternity later — no more than one hour in reality— we heard the welcoming tones of jangling keys at the front door. Our parents had arrived! And they both were beyond delighted by our enthusiasm at seeing them. Jake and I vied for their attention as we relayed the hair-raising experiences of our evening amidst Mom’s dubious expressions.
“My goodness, what imaginations you children have!” She chided. “Wherever in the world did you two come up with such craziness?”
The next morning, Sunday, my brother and I slept in while Dad left early to buy smoked salmon, bagels and cream cheese. When he returned home, he set the feast on the kitchen table. Before taking his seat, he tuned our radio to his favorite Sunday classical station. The four of us were in the midst of enjoying our favorite weekend breakfast when the ear-piercing staccato blare of horns from the radio startled us. Mozart was interrupted by their demand for immediate attention. In unison, the four of us stared at the radio’s mesh front as though the announcer had just appeared outside the radio in our kitchen to present his news.
”WCBC brings you this critical update! Following a month-long manhunt, police have captured two escapees from the Douglas Hospital for the Insane, “Grizzly-Bear McDaniels” and his companion,”Freaky Fred Fournier.” McDaniels’s capture will put an extremely anxious Montreal City at ease. Heavily armed when captured, he is extremely dangerous and notorious for biting children to death while dressed in a Grizzly-Bear costume.”