Halloween or Allhallows Eve is a time when parents worry about their children being abducted by pedophiles while they trick-or-treat, despite experts coming out of the woodwork to say that doesn’t happen.
I wanted to give our readers something a little different. Below is a short story I wrote for a Halloween anthology a few years ago that shows a more realistic portrayal of what child sexual abuse on Halloween looks like.
My Mask and my Allhallows Eve Epiphany
“Oh, thank God you’re up.”
I don’t tell her I’m awake because my cell phone is vibrating inches from my ear on the aluminum step ladder I use as a nightstand. I didn’t just happen to be wide awake at 2:30 AM.
“What is it, Kid? What’s wrong?”
“I had a nightmare. I shouldn’t call my big sister just because I had a nightmare, but this was the worst one I’ve ever had in my life, and I could actually feel it, you know?”
I’ll listen if my sister is having a nightmare terrible enough to call me.
“I’m sorry, Kid. Do you want to tell me about it?”
“I dreamed that Monkey got out.” Monkey is her baboon tarantula. She’s about the size of the palm of my hand, and dozens of shades of warm browns and oranges, like well-varnished maple.
“She was crawling towards me, and by the time she got to my bed, she was the size of a big cat. She climbed onto my ankle, and she kept growing. She ran right over to me in the bed and climbed on my knee. I could feel those hairs of hers through my pajamas- oh my God, it was horrible. She grew to… to the size of… of a monster. And she started biting me! And you know I’ve never been bit by my spider, and I have no idea what it feels like, but oh my God, that hurt.”
“Did you check her cage?”
“Believe me, the first thing I did when I woke up was turn the lights on and check the cage. Then I went out for a smoke, then I called you. She’s in her cage; Annie, what are you looking for?”
I hear a little mumbling for a moment. I hear my sister’s voice and a little hint of a wispy girl’s voice.
“Kid, who’s Annie?”
“She’s a girl who’s staying for the weekend,” and all the terror is now drained from her voice.
“Is she one of Dad’s girls”
“Yes,” in a voice that’s gone from terrified to calm to dead.
“How old is she?”
“Eleven, I think.” “Kid, you know why he brings girls over. The one and only reason.” “But she’s sleeping in the guest room.” “That doesn’t mean anything. Are you going to tell me this girl’s last name”
“You know I can’t do that.” “Someday, one of these girls is going to tell someone. And they’ll tell when they’re old enough to be articulate but young enough to still be cute. They’ll still look innocent long before their 23rd birthday and the Statute of Limitations kicks in. They’ll tell someone who will believe them and stand behind them. And then Dad’s ass is going to jail, and the police will ask you and Mom some pretty hard questions”.
“What will you do when that happens? What’ll you say when the cop asks why a guy in his sixties has a steady stream of pre-teen girls over to the house for sleepovers?”
“I don’t know. Hopefully, he’ll die before then.”
“We could be so lucky. How many girls has he … not counting you and me?”
“I can’t remember exactly.”
I try to remember the names of the ones I’ve heard about. Kelsey, Alyssa, and Stephanie… and now I feel my stomach drop.
“Look, I’ve told you a million times, but you can still move in with me.”
“No, I can’t, Sis.”
“Where’d I live? You have no room. You have no money. I have no money. One of these days, my disability benefits will kick in, but I have zero money right now. These pills I’m on aren’t cheap. Mom and Dad can legally claim me as a dependent, but you can’t. I’m dead weight. Besides, what about Mom?”
“What about her? She’s an adult. She knows what’s going on. She deserves the consequences if she chooses to let Dad do this again and again.”
“But really, where could she go?”
“There’s an apartment complex on Oak Street that seems nice. I used to know someone who lived in the one on Main Street that was adequate.”
“You know as well as I do there’s only one divorce lawyer in town, and Dad’s friends with him. Mom is convinced she’ll lose everything if they divorce.”
“She’ll lose everything, but she’ll be able to hold her head high.” As soon as I say that, I realizeI’vee lost the argument. My mom has never held her head high a day in her life, and divorcing my father after decades of marriage won’t change that. “Sis, I can’t tell you not to do what you need to do. And you know you can’t make me do anything I don’t want to do” Indeed.”Kid, are you going to be OK” She’s my sister. She knows I mean in the short term. Until we talk again after I get home from a shift at work, plus maybe a few extra hours if someone calls in, for her, that means after a cycle or two of fading in and out of sleep, her mood stabilizers, tranquilizers, and anti-insomnia medications battle it out with each other and with the contents of her head.
“Yeah, I’m OK. Thanks for talking to me. I’ll be OK. Don’t worry about me.”
“I love you, Kid.””“I love you too,” and I wait to let her hang up the phone.
I keep blinking my eyes so hard it hurts as I try to squeeze something back into them. My stomach feels like I’ve been guzzling battery acid. Today may become a beautiful day, but it’s already ruined.
I have bags of bulkHershey’ss miniatures, knock-off blow-pops, and gum shaped like eyeballs on the kitchen island in preparation for the annual Feeding of the Costumed Urchins. I’ve never really understood Allhallows Eve or Halloween, but ever since I’ve lived on my own, I’ve loved passing out candy to the trick-or-treaters.
I clump downstairs and put on a pot of coffee—It’s 2:45 in the morning. I’m not getting any more sleep tonight. I should exercise. I’ve got a routine so vigorous that when I’m done, the skin on my arms is so tight it feels like it’ll burst. I want that right now. I want to feel different parts of my body edge towards an explosion and then keep going. I want my head to hurt so much I forget about this dull, burning ache in my eyes. But I have a feeling I’ll piss the whole morning away on Facebook. I may call off work. I bet if I called the overnight supervisor right now and said I feel like I’m dying, she’d be convinced.
I turn on the computer. Somewhere, I’ve got a string of emails between myself and the sheriff in my family’s county. He told me what to do “the next time this happens.” Unfortunately, they’re short emails; there’s not much I can do. Babysitting for the child of some wretched woman isn’t illegal. I’ll never catch my father in the act. And even if I miraculously got to meet this girl, I’d have to coax something out of her that she’s been told to keep secret. She has been told, “____ will go to jail if you tell,” and ____ is her favorite person at the moment- the parent she lives with, the parent she wants to live with, or even him. She has been told if she ever tells, the visits will stop, and the visits may be the only time she doesn’t get beaten. They may be the only time she gets fed. They may be the only time someone in her house isn’t pulling a weapon on someone else or getting high. They may be the only time someone tells her she’s pretty and smart. I’m sure he told her she’s a good girl by not telling and that he loves her, and that may be the only time she hears those words.
My inbox is full of stupid Allhallows Eve e-cards, mainly featuring costumed dogs. Suddenly I get it. A Allhallows Eve epiphany hits me. There are people in this world who live happy, sheltered lives. For them, monsters that can be rented from the costume shop or taken out of a box in the basement, employed for one night, and safely returned are very appealing. They must break up the boredom and provide an anemic adrenaline rush.
And then there are people like me. I spend every day of my life wearing a mask to look like one of those people. I debated wearing a costume today to feed the urchins. Now I realize I’ll be wearing one, no matter what. As wave after wave of children knock on my door and eagerly accept my candy and warm smile, I know I won’t be the only one in this world, or in my family tree, who’s pretending.
Story first published in the Happless Halloween anthology
Executive Director, Stop Abuse Campaign
A survivor of incest, psychological abuse and a host of other childhood trauma, Melanie now uses her talents to prevent Adverse Childhood Experiences. Melanie has over a decade of legislative advocacy regarding children’s issues, and she has been published in newspapers, magazines and blogs all across the country.