It was close to 10 p.m. when there came a gentle knocking, almost a tapping on our front door. At first, I thought it was the wind, but then they rang the bell, and I knew it was much more. Nothing good can come from a knock on the door so late in the evening. I half expected something wicked to come our way when I opened up the door, but all that was there was a Halloween bag — just that and nothing more. The bag itself was filled with treats, candy and a note that read, “You’ve been booed! Now you go and boo someone, too.”
Getting booed is fairly new to the lineup of Halloween mischief-making traditions. I’m not sure where it started, but I think it is awesome. After all, Halloween needs a bit of harmless fun to be, well, Halloween. But I must emphasize the word “little,” which in this case means “not scary.”
For years, Halloween brought out the joker in me, which is why the idea of booing a neighbor seems like fun. Back in the day, I was known to have fun at another’s expense. In fact, I probably owe a few people an apology for the gross (yes, gross) of eggs that were lobbed from a certain golf course toward a certain house every Halloween.
I also knew a few places around Bristol that offered opportunities to scare the unsuspecting and all-too-trusting. There was a long-abandoned house not far from Exit 7 that once provided the perfect setting to scare the beegeebers out of folks — lured there by an accomplice who will go unnamed. There was also a secluded campsite on the lake that allowed for the sort of surprise no one wants when they are camping. All of that was a lot of fun — well, for me.
But there was one Halloween when a dark and curvy stretch of road and a plan to scare my wife backfired in a way that made me appreciate harmless, less scary mischief.
If you are a long-time resident of Bristol, you may remember the gloomy train trestle that once stood in the bend of Benham Road. Even in the daylight, the trestle was unnerving. It was constructed of massive, creosote-laden posts that seemed medieval. The trestle spanned the road at the bottom of a curving slope. It appeared in an instant. If the sight of it wasn’t enough to chill you, then the stories about it would.
The best one I heard involved a soldier who was hung there during the Civil War. Some said that, at night, if you parked underneath it, you could hear his body swaying on the rope. Creepy, right? Just the perfect setup to scare a date — or so I thought.
One Halloween night, I drove my wife out to the trestle. Along the way, I told her those stories, and I made up a few more. I pulled up underneath the trestle, cut the engine and suggested we get out to find if we could hear the soldier swing. She, wisely, wanted no part in my foolish plan. Undeterred, I clamored out of the car and went to sit on the hood, hoping she’d join me.
All of a sudden, from out of nowhere, a white, feral cat jumped on the hood of my car. It is difficult to remain calm in a moment like that. The only reason I did not scream was because I lost the ability to speak. And while my heart was exploding and my knees buckling, I noticed that my wife was in hysterics, laughing. She had seen the cat as soon as we pulled up and thought I had, too.
After that night, I started to reflect upon the error of my ways. While I realize the great value of a little mischief on Halloween, I also recognize the goodness of simply booing someone rather than trying to scare the life out of them. After all, the night the cat jumped on the car, the only person laughing was my wife. But the night that we got booed, well, we all got candy bars and really liked whoever it was that gently rapped on our front door — it was all in fun and nothing more. May your Halloween be filled with treats and not tricks.
Mark Hutton is an award-winning writer, ordained minister and adjunct faculty member for the Philosophy and Religion Department at King University. He is a member of the Bristol Herald Courier’s Board of Contributors. Board members are regular Opinion page contributors, and opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of this newspaper staff and management.