By Marlene Samuels
Note, Marlene assures me that 1) this is a true memory, confirmed with her siblings, and 2) her parents are not the type who would ever scare their children for fun. Draw what conclusions you will. – Sarah White
My tenth year, Beggar’s Night fell on Saturday. As luck would have it, that Saturday evening our parents had, uncharacteristically, left us alone longer than usual so they could attend their closest friend’s birthday party. And that night our judgment would undergo its greatest test. Beggar’s Night was the long-anticipated annual opportunity among us inner-city kids to dress in rags, play outrageous pranks and go begging for money, not candy. It was the version of Halloween in our old Montreal neighborhood. Darkness enveloped the city disappointingly early, providing a perfect foil for our shenanigans.
Jake, my older brother, was my hero. He also was the epitome of great wisdom, a teller of truth in all things, but most of all he was a spectacular storyteller. It made no difference to me whether his tales were verifiable or not.
We’d just finished our T.V. dinners and repaired to the bedroom we shared for an interminable game of Monopoly. “Your move,” I said, looking up. His face was contorted, frozen with terror. “What’s wrong with you?” I asked. “You moving or what?”
“Huh, what? Did you hear that?” He whispered.
“Hear what? I didn’t hear anything. Move already!”
“There it is again!” This time I did hear it. We both stiffened as if playing Statues, not Monopoly. Loud clanking on windows, like fingernails against glass, raised our hairs. The eerie sound ricocheted off our bedroom’s plaster walls. Then, for one instant, we saw it — whatever “it” was. A massive head with pointed ears glided past our window as though floating on air. Just as suddenly as it appeared, it vanished from view.
“I’ll bet one of my moronic friends is playing a prank,” said Jake, bravely, “and when I find out who, I’m going to brain him!”
“I bet this is a prank. I’ll help you brain him!” I said, totally unconvinced.
“You saw that, right?” He whispered. Dull heavy footfalls on our back porch echoed throughout the house and with it came animal-like, blood-curdling growls. Whatever “it” was now glided past the window in the opposite direction. Still on the floor with Monopoly, we stared toward the window anticipating another glimpse and sensing our vulnerability.
“Quick, get away from the window in case it looks in and sees us,” I whispered. “Let’s crawl into the kitchen to the telephone.”
“I’m with you,” Jake whispered. I crawled combat style, across the floor into the hallway. He followed. Single file, we shimmied toward the kitchen. Once there, still on my knees, I stretched my arm up as far as I could manage to hit the light switch and turn the overhead off. It was near pitch-black and we’d convinced ourselves we were invisible. The only phone in our flat rested on its telephone stand in the kitchen but there was a problem: it was opposite the backdoor.
Again, we saw it, heard it, and, holding our breaths, riveted against the wall. We stared at the glass door toward the back porch. It was right outside! Its fully visible head created an other-worldly silhouette through the lace curtains onto the kitchen wall. Without any doubt, its head was larger than any human’s we’d ever seen. We shivered trying, unsuccessfully, to flatten ourselves even more against the wall.
“Holy God, it’s rattling the door!” Jake said, his voice strained. “What’ll we do?”
“We’ll call the police, that’s what,” I whispered, louder than I’d intended. “Then we’ll crawl to our room and hide under our beds until they get here.”
“And exactly how will you do that, you idiot? The phone’s on the other side of the back door, remember? Let’s just crawl to our room and I mean right now. We’ll hide under our beds. Besides, Mom and Dad should be home soon.”
We reversed direction and once more, combat-crawled — this time from the kitchen through the hallway back to our bedroom. Our eyes darted behind us every few seconds as though doing so held special powers to prevent “it” from coming through the door until we’d gotten to what we’d considered safety: under our beds. Bumps and multi-tonal howls accelerated along with our terror. Paralyzed with fear, we debated whether our hiding place was a wise one. The racket continued but with one advantage: it was a beacon that alerted us of the creature’s location while it traversed our flat’s exterior — round and round and round it went.
An eternity later — one hour in reality, we heard the welcoming jangling of keys at the front door. Our parents had arrived. Both were beyond delighted by our enthusiastic greetings. Jake and I vied for their attention as we relayed the hair-raising experiences of our evening amidst Mom’s dubious expressions. “My goodness, such imaginations you two have!” She chided. “Wherever did you come up with such craziness?”
The next morning, Sunday, we slept in. Dad left to buy smoked salmon, bagels and cream cheese. When he returned, he set the feast on the kitchen table tuned our radio to his favorite classical station but, before taking his seat. We were in the midst of enjoying our favorite weekend breakfast when ear-piercing staccato horns blared from the radio interrupting Mozart with their demand for our attention. In unison, all four of us stared at the radio’s front as though the announcer had just arrived in our kitchen to present his news.
“Attention! WCBC brings you this critical update. Following a month-long manhunt, police have captured two escapees from Douglas Hospital for the Insane, ‘Grizzly-Bear McDaniels’ and companion, ‘Freaky Fred Fournier.’ McDaniels’s capture will put an extremely anxious Montreal at ease. Heavily armed when captured, he’s extremely dangerous and notorious for biting children to death while dressed in a Grizzly-Bear costume.”
© 2022 Marlene Samuels
Marlene holds a Ph.D., from University of Chicago. A research sociologist by training, she writes creative non-fiction by preference. Currently, she is completing her book entitled, Ask Mr. Hitler: A Memoir Told In Short Story. She is coauthor of The Seamstress: A Memoir of Survival, and author of When Digital Isn’t Real: Fact-Finding Off-Line for Serious Writers. Her essays and stories have been published widely in anthologies, journals, and online. (www.marlenesamuels.com)