A NIGHT IN OCTOBER
Tammy could feel the cold creeping up from her icy feet and all the way through her body. It was a typical Halloween evening, crisp and clear. The smell of crunchy leaves and people’s bonfires tickled her nose when she took a deep breath. Her nurse’s outfit was made of cheap, shiny white polyester. Her mom had bought it at the dollar store, but had tried to get Tammy to wear a jacket over it. She refused haughtily.
She feared the Halloween house but knew she had to go there. The other kids joked about going there but in the end they were too fearful. But, Tammy had looked forward to it all year. She walked swiftly, through all of the neighborhood streets, heading for the house known to all children as the Halloween house, anticipation turning to dread. Fear overtook her completely but she refused to rethink her plan. When the thought came to her that she could turn back, she resolutely soldiered on.
As she finally turned onto the street with the scariest houses in town, she felt a cold, draft of terror and felt the sweat rolling down her back under the itchy white costume. When she reached the house, she did suffer a moment of doubt because there were no lights visible in the house, no pumpkins lit on the stairs, nothing to indicate that anyone was there to give her candy or even to answer the door. The surrounding houses were all definitely vacant. They were barely standing having been vandalized by children over the last 50 years, but the Halloween house was untouched by any outside forces. The window panes were all intact, the gate appeared to be in perfect repair.
She looked up and down the street, hoping to see some other brave soul creeping down the quiet street. But, there was no one. Tammy took a deep breath and pushed open the wrought iron gate. It didn’t even squeak. How could that be possible? It seemed as though someone was taking care of the house. But no one had ever been seen there, at least to Tammy’s knowledge. That was part of the mystique of the house. It was completely unsettling to see it stand so straight and untouched by the elements and by the the children of the town.
The cement walkway was covered with dry, rustling leaves. The sound of her own feet crunching through the autumn debris was reassuring in some ways but the loudness seemed overwhelming to her, worried as she was by the lack of subtlety of her approach. A sudden pang of panic washed over her, making her feel a little faint, but she continued on up to the wooden porch steps and then she hesitated at the door. There was no doorbell, just an iron door knocker in the shape of a dragon or a gargoyle or something like that. Now she could feel the sweat dripping down her forehead and into her eyes, stinging them.
She put her trembling hand out to the knocker and laughed self-consciously at her own fear. She pulled the knocker straight out from the door and let it fall. The noise of it seemed to echo through the neighborhood, her brain, and most importantly, through the house. If no one answered the door, she would try the doorknob. If by some crazy circumstance it was unlocked, well, she would walk boldly in. She had her cell phone with her and she would take a selfie of herself inside the house. There must be some really noticeable backdrop that would prove to all of those naysayers that she had actually gone into the Halloween house, on Halloween, all by herself. She waited a minute or two, then tried the knocker again just to be safe. It clanged even louder than it did the first time, or so it seemed to Tammy, waiting nervously on the threshold. Still no one came to answer the door and why would they? The house was obviously abandoned, if it weren’t for the un-squeaky gate, she wouldn’t have any doubts about that.
Well, she couldn’t hover here forever. She reached out to the doorknob and slowly turned it and she found to her amazement and horror that it was not locked. Tammy looked around the dark neighborhood one more time, hoping that some other intrepid trick or treater would come walking up the sidewalk. But there was no one. At least the moon was bright, she thought to herself.
Tammy never came home on Halloween night. Her parents called all of her friend’s houses and eventually called the police. One of her friends, Stella, told Tammy’s parents of her friend’s talk of visiting the Halloween House. Tammy had left the others amidst the ridicule of all of their group, especially the boys. No one had really believed that she had gone there but what other explanation could there be?
The police dismissed this story completely. That house was locked up tighter than a drum, there was no way she could have gotten in it. The department was well aware that the house was owned and kept up by a wealthy gentleman from out east. At least that’s what everyone said. How else would the house stay so perfect in the face of time and children’s pranks? But, there was no help for it. They had to at least go to the house and look.
The two officers walked up to the house at 3:00 a.m. They each felt a little nervous but would never admit it to anyone else and certainly not to each other. George tried the knocker and there was no response. He tried hammering at the front door with his nightstick and again there was no response. He chuckled nervously and said to his partner, Al, “Well, let’s try the door, maybe it’s unlocked.”
The door opened slowly as he turned the knob. There was no creaking, no squeaking, nothing to indicate that the house had been abandoned or uncared for. Al entered the foyer and tried flipping the light switch but nothing happened. “Hey, no one could possibly be living here without any electricity,” he said bravely to George. George nodded and followed his partner into the house.
They called out Tammy’s name over and over. But their voices only echoed in the large house. The staircase ahead of them in the foyer was completely gleaming, once again there was no sign of disuse. They stayed together and checked all of the rooms on the main floor and there was no sign of her, no sign of anything. Looking at each other, they tacitly agreed to climb the towering stairway up to the second level. As they climbed the stairs, they continued to call the little girl’s name. There was no response.
When they got to the landing at the top of the stairs, they spotted a white cap laying in the middle of the hallway. “She was dressed as a nurse”, Al said, almost in a whisper. George went over to the cap and picked it up. There was nothing on the cap, no dust, no blood, nothing. They looked in each room, each closet, and they found nothing. There was no sign that anyone had been there, only the small, white cap.
As they walked slowly out through the front door, Officer George said to Officer Al, “Is there any point in even mentioning the hat? All it would do is start more stories about the house. It would encourage other children to go there. And really what does it prove?”
Al nodded slowly. “You’re right. It seems to me that it would just open a huge can of worms. Let’s just say that the house was locked and she must have run away.” He almost told George that he and his former partner, Joe, had done the same thing 3 years before. They had found a part of a Halloween costume in the house and using the same reasoning had just disposed of it. They figured Johnny Cole had just run away. He probably did, just like little Tammy Morton..