by Diana Bark Age 14, USA
Artwork by Katie King
I was ketchup. I dressed up as a ketchup bottle. I even made the costume myself; with red cloth, black markers and a sign that said HEINZ 57. I had gone trick-or-treating with Elly and Jane, who had dressed up as identical twin witches. And I was ketchup. Ketchup was the farthest thing from Halloween. It’s that wonderful condiment used on hot dogs in the middle of summer. It goes with french fries and burgers, not jack-o-lanterns or ghosts. It could be used as a flavor blocker; just squirt some ketchup on that nasty broccoli and you wouldn’t even know you were eating broccoli. I hated Halloween. I only went trick-or-treating with Elly and Jane because they promised half of their candy for me.
We had started with the houses on Jane’s block, then mine, then Elly’s. But somewhere between the corner of 22nd St. and 57th Avenue, we got separated. Jane and Elly had wanted to go to the last house, which was the old Haunted House. People used to describe it with the words “scary”, “creepy” and “disappeared” in the same sentence.
“I dare you to go inside,” Elly said to Jane.
“I dare YOU,” Jane replied.
“Fine, let’s go together. Rachel, are you coming?” Elly asked, peering at me from under her wide witch’s hat.
I shook my head mutely. They understood; I wouldn’t have come if it hadn’t been for the candy. They didn’t want to push their luck.
So I waited on the corner with the flickering street lamp as they braved the dangers of the haunted house.
The minutes went by, and there was no sign of life. The little kids didn’t venture out here, so there were no screams of laughter and candy stealing. It was quiet. The street was black and the street lamp still flickered. Flick. Flick. And I found myself alone.
The last time I was alone like this was when I was 8. I had been at a birthday party at a play place that had bouncy houses everywhere and colorful walls and a ball pit. I had been playing in the ball pit, sliding on the slide, over and over. I didn’t hear one of the parents call that it was cake time. I didn’t hear the fading sounds of children. Only after I had slid into the ball pit so many times, did I hear it. That awful sound. The sound of silence.
The colorful walls looked menacing. The bouncy houses morphed into monsters and the painting of clowns leered down at me. When someone tells you a scary story, in light of day, with other people around, you feel braver. You tell yourself,
“I’m not scared.”
It’s only when you’re alone that the story materializes into a hooded demon chasing you and fantasy becomes real. You try to think of happy things, like unicorns, and rainbows, but then the colors in the rainbow fade away and the unicorn looks at you with demon-fire in its eyes. Monsters that used to hide safely under your bed come out. I hid in the ball pit and covered my face with my hands, waiting, for the silence to stop, for me not to be alone. I was afraid. Acutely afraid. I was afraid that I was the only person on the face of the earth, and I would stay there forever; my bones the only evidence that I was there, and nobody would find me.
They found me after everyone had eaten cake. They pulled me out of the ball pit and turned me over to my mother.
What had they called it? Eremophobia. The fear of solitude.
And so I was staring into the silence and darkness on that street corner, alone. I looked up at the street sign, 57th Avenue. 57 Flavors of Heinz. Think about ketchup. Hot dogs. French fries. But jack-o-lanterns leered at me. Shadows hid terrifying beasts, and every nightmare came alive. Even more so that it was Halloween. I shook, trembling, waiting for someone, anyone, to chase the nightmares away.
I heard footsteps. I looked up to see Elly and Jane holding hands coming down the street towards me. Their chatter washed over me like a rope for a drowning man. I breathed a sigh of relief. I wasn’t alone anymore.