Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Night She Died ~ A Halloween story by Donna Carrick, October, 2010

“Hand me that basket, will you, please?”

I reached past Annie to the large wicker basket filled with bite sized chocolate bars: Caramilk, Mars and Snickers.

Grace took it from me without looking up. She was generous with the little ones, placing two bars and some chips in each bag.

It was October 31, 1974. A warm day had produced a clear evening, perfect for costumes and candy.

The skeleton said ‘thank you’ in a high-pitched voice. The princess just turned and ran, nearly tripping over her frothy skirt.

“Look at those guys,” Annie said, pointing at the house next door where a cluster of six children were lined up. They were dressed in home-made costumes – four witches and two warlocks.

Grace laughed, her jowls swaying like heavy fruit in the wind. Not long ago, our cousin had been a beautiful woman. People had compared her petite frame, long dark hair and contagious smile to Audrey Hepburn. In the early ‘70’s, Audrey’s trademark sprightly outfits and mannerisms were no longer stylish. Just the same, as a teen, Grace had played up the similarities by dressing in pedal pushers and fun tops.

In ’71 Grace married her high-school sweetheart. With the first of three children on the way, it seemed like the thing to do. Frank got a job at one of the big grocery stores, so they weren’t suffering for money. They bought a two-storey house on a tree-lined street in our little Maritime city and settled in to make a life.

Three years later, with the second baby not yet walking, people no longer mistook Grace for Audrey. An addiction to cola, chocolate and the Colonel’s secret recipe had taken care of that.

We still loved her, though. So when our mother asked Annie and me to help Grace out with the little ones for a few days, we jumped at the chance to sleep on her fold-out couch. Frank was out of town at a grocers’ convention and Grace, though we didn’t realise it at the time, was pregnant with baby number three.

The coven of witches flew up the stairs to Grace’s porch and we resumed our shelling out duties. Baby Sara watched the children with wide eyes, wiggling in her infant-seat on the porch. Grace's toddler Lily helped with the candy, solemnly making sure each child got the same amount.

“These are great costumes,” Grace said, touching a pointy, silk-covered hat on one of the girls. “Did your Mom make these?”

“Yes,” the little witch said. She smiled and we all laughed.

“I can’t tell who you are,” Grace said. “Your faces are painted so well, I think you really must be witches. Is that Shelly Small I see under that hat? And Tracey?”

The girls giggled.

“What about me, Mrs. Lefebvre? Can you tell who I am?”

“No, indeed, I don’t think I can! Oh, wait a moment… Is it Candice Howard? And is this your little sister Haley? Oh, my goodness, how you girls have grown! I hope you won’t cast a spell on me.”

Grace doled out a generous helping of empty calories to each of the four girls. The two boys held back shyly.

“Come on, Ricky,” Grace said. “We like wizards, too! Brent, I know that’s you. What a clever wizard you are!”  The boys smiled, holding their bags up.  It was obvious the children adored our kind-hearted cousin.

“Thank you, Mrs. Lefebvre!” they shouted.

“You’re welcome, dears. Say hi to your Mommies for me!”

Everyone loved Grace. She stood only five feet tall and weighed close to three hundred pounds, but it was three hundred pounds of class and heart. In his private moments, Frank must have resented this sudden physical change in his young wife, but he never complained. Adversity is commonplace in the Maritimes. You learn to live with it.

I’ve often wondered what caused our cousin to balloon up so suddenly. Why the gallons of cola, the compulsive eating? Her parents were wonderful people. I don’t believe her problems were rooted in her childhood.

The coven scattered, leaving Grace, Annie and me to chat on the porch while we waited for the next batch of goblins. It wasn’t late, but darkness takes hold early in the fall. The streetlights shed small grey rings onto the pavement, struggling in vain to illuminate the area. Of course, we had the porch light on and the walk-up was lined with jack-o-lanterns we’d helped Grace carve earlier.

Still, we were surprised when a young woman, maybe seventeen, stepped out of the night and climbed the stairs to stand in front of us. Her face was pale and her long, sandy-blonde hair fell in front of her eyes. That’s the way we all wore our hair back then. After all, the year was 1974. Coifed curls were passé.

The girl had narrow hips and a fragile waist. I wondered where she stored her food; she appeared to have no stomach or bowels.

The smile disappeared from Grace’s face, sinking into in the perpetual frown of her under-chin.

“It’s you,” she said, “again.”

The girl didn’t answer. She wasn’t carrying a trick-or-treat bag, nor was she wearing a costume. She had on a tight-fitting zip-up sweater with the hood down, her long straight hair catching the light. She stared at me through translucent silver eyes.

Eyes are a feature I tend to notice. In fact, with my own non-descript hazel pair, I often find myself envious of women who have remarkable eyes.

Annie’s eyes, for example, were perfect for her face – an uncompromising Chelsea blue that never wavered.

Grace had always been known for her perfectly sculpted, huge dark eyes. They were downright exotic, like those of an Arabian princess. Even in her obese state, Grace’s eyes were still noteworthy. Movie-star eyes, that’s what they were.

This strange girl on the porch, though, blew them both out of the water. In my entire life, both before and since that night, I’ve seldom seen anything quite like her eyes.

She looked through each of us in turn. Judging us.

Standing wasn’t easy for Grace, especially lifting herself up from the low steps where we had been sitting, but she managed. She looked down on the strange girl, her heavy arms shaking with…what was it? Anger? Fear?

Annie stood beside Grace and I followed suit. Whatever was happening, we were united with our cousin.

“You get on home,” Grace said to the girl. “Don’t you come out here tonight. Go home to your mother, right now!”

The girl looked directly at Grace.  The other-worldly look left her silver eyes, transforming her.  I watched as the subtle change took effect, altering her into an mere girl – haunted and sad, yes, but otherwise quite ordinary.

“You heard me, now,” Grace said, shaking her finger. “Don’t you dare come back.”

The girl turned away, but before she did I saw a tear shining under the porch light. She straightened her back and walked down the stairs. In the next instant, she was gone – the darkness had absorbed her once again.


We helped Grace gather up the candy and blow out the candles in the pumpkins.

“I’m glad you girls are here,” she said. “I just can’t stand to be alone on Halloween. I can’t face it anymore. With Frank gone…”

Annie looked at me, but I was too young to catch the undercurrent of Grace’s words. I didn’t know that Grace and Frank were on the rocks.

Now, of course, many years later, I understand why Grace had pleaded with our mother to let her bring the kids to our house, why she couldn’t bear to be alone on Halloween.

My mother had problems of her own contending with my father’s drinking. His volatility was a closely guarded family secret. Mom couldn’t let Grace and her children stay with us, so she offered to send us to Grace’s house instead.

In October of 1974 I was thirteen years old.  Like many teens, I was not particularly good at tuning in to the drama that surrounded me.

Annie, on the other hand, was an empathetic soul. She often understood things I didn't grasp.

“Who was that girl?” I asked.

“It doesn’t matter,” Grace said, still shaking. She sat on the couch, struggling to breathe slowly, beads of perspiration on her forehead.

“Can we get you anything?” Annie said.

“Yes. There’s a glass of Coke in the fridge. Would you get that for me please?”

Annie ran to get the sugary drink that would one day send our cousin to an early grave. We had no way of knowing Grace’s sugar consumption would kill her.

“That girl...” Grace began, speaking slowly, “…the first time she came here was three years ago, right after Frank and I got married. I was pregnant with Lily. Frank was off at one of his conventions. She came up the stairs as I was handing out candy, just like she did tonight. You both saw her, right?”

She looked at us, suddenly doubting whether we’d actually seen the girl.

We nodded.

“She was nervous that night,” Grace continued. “She was with a group of children, maybe three or four. I thought she was an older sister or something. But when they ran off, she walked down the steps without a word and headed in the opposite direction. I didn’t think much of it at the time.”

She took a long drink of her cola. My stomach turned, watching her consume the flat, sweet beverage, but she didn’t seem to mind it.

“Later that night,” she continued, “the girl came back. It was around midnight. I was alone and pregnant. I didn’t know what to do.”

“What happened?” Annie said, sitting next to Grace and rubbing her back.

“We never lock our doors around here. At least we never used to. The girl pounded on the front door. I ran out to see what was going on, but before I could answer the door she was already standing in the hallway.

“I asked her what she wanted.  She frightened me. You girls remember how tiny I used to be?”

We nodded again, waiting for Grace to continue.

“She said she just wanted to stay awhile. To talk with me. I could tell she was nervous. But I didn’t think about that. All I could think was that I wanted her to leave. You’ve seen her eyes. She looks like a witch. She scared the be-Jesus out of me.”

“Anyone would be scared,” I said.

“Did she leave?” Annie asked.

“Not right away. She came into the living room and sat on the couch. She kept saying ‘Just let me stay a couple of minutes. I won’t bother you.’

“I got the broom out of the hall closet and shook it at her. ‘You have to go,’ I said. Finally she got up and made for the door. The second she was outside, I locked it behind her, then I ran to the back door and locked it, too. I made sure the windows were locked. Then I sat on this couch in the dark, praying she wouldn’t come back.

“She must have stayed on my porch, that’s all I can think. I honestly believed she’d left.”

Our cousin was still shaking. She took another long drink of cola and shut her eyes.

“Did she come back?” Annie asked.

I drew in a sharp breath, waiting for the answer.

“Yes. Either she came back, or she had never left. I’m not sure which. I finally fell asleep on the couch around 12:30. I woke up again around 1:00.”

“What happened?”

“I-I just can’t talk about it anymore,” Grace said. “I’ve pleaded with Frank to sell the house – to move out of this neighbourhood. But we both grew up here. He says we can’t afford to move.

“Come on, now,” she added, shaking her head. “Let’s send the little ones to bed before they get all wound up.”

I glanced at Lily, the oldest, who had come into the room and was sitting on the other side of Grace, clutching her mother’s arm.

By 11:00 both children had long since fallen asleep and we got Grace settled into her bed with a sleeping pill.

“It’s the only way I’ll get any rest,” she explained. “Annie, would you check the door one more time?”

“I will.”

“And don’t forget the back door. Please.”

“I will.”

Annie had more patience than I could ever lay claim to. Grace had already insisted that she check all of the doors and windows. Obediently, she’d gone from one to the other without a word.

We watched Grace slip into a drugged slumber before we finally went back to the living room to make up our couch-bed.

“Holy crap!” Annie whispered.

“I know,” I said.

Annie’s blue eyes sparkled in the darkness as she pulled the covers up, trying to make a cocoon. Sleeping with my sister was enough to make me homicidal. She was a terrible blanket hog – with no remorse whatsoever.

I sighed and stomped off to find another blanket.

“Grace is terrified,” Annie said.

“Me, too!”

“I think she’s lost her mind. Seeing that girl is playing tricks on her.”

“Yeah. I wonder if she’s imagining the whole thing.”

We tried to sleep. Annie drifted off for a moment, but every passing car, every creak in the old house, had us both wide-eyed once again. Finally we gave up and just lay there, whispering girl secrets to each other to take our minds off the shared sense of impending terror.

We’d only been asleep a short time when we woke to the sound of pounding on the door. I jumped out of bed, but Annie said “No, leave it. Just ignore it.”

Before I could climb back into bed, the girl was in the hallway.

“I thought you locked the door,” I said.

“I did.” Annie was the brave one. She was used to sound and fury, having taken more than her share of our father’s crap. She jumped out of bed and positioned herself between me and the nervous intruder.

“What do you want?” Annie said. I could feel her body tensing up the way it always did when she stared down the old man. Bracing for the blow.

“I just want to talk to you. Can I come in?”

“No. This isn’t our house. We have babies sleeping here. You have to go.” Annie took a step toward the girl.

Our visitor had other ideas. She pushed past my sister and sat on the edge of our bed.

“Just let me stay a few minutes,” she said. “I won’t bother anyone. You both go back to sleep and I’ll just sit here quietly.”

My gut churned the way it always did when I was afraid. I worried I’d lose control of my bowels. Annie once again placed herself between me and the girl.

“You have to go,” she said. She was calmer now, her voice quieter, more gentle. “I’m sorry, but this isn’t our house. You can’t stay.”

The strange girl got up slowly and crept back to the door, staring at Annie, hoping for a change of heart.

“Go home, now,” Annie said.

With that the girl was gone.

An hour later we were still restless, drifting in and out of sleep, each wrestling for control of the blankets. We weren’t talking anymore – we were way too tired for that. We were in ‘hunker down’ mode, praying for the long night to pass.

Even though we were half-expecting something more to happen, the man’s voice still startled us when it shattered the eerie stillness.

“There you are!” he shouted. He was in the laneway beside our cousin’s house, just outside the living room.

There was pounding on the door and the girl’s voice, frantic now, pleaded with us to let her in. Before we could respond, the knocking stopped. We heard footsteps taking the porch stairs two at a time.

“Where were you tonight?" the strange man shouted.  "I asked you a question. Who were you with? What were you doing?”

“Please… leave me alone,” the girl said.

There was a scuffle. Annie banged on the front window and shouted, “Leave her alone! I’m calling the police!"

Annie reached for the phone. There was a loud thump as the girl jumped off the porch and another as the man followed her, filling the night air with his angry curses.

He caught the young girl easily. She squealed as he pounded her against the wall of the house. Our cousin’s side window was small and high, so I couldn’t see into the laneway, but the noises were deafening as he beat the defenceless teen with inhuman force.

I couldn’t move. I looked at Annie where she stood holding the phone, a mixture of horror and fury on her face.

The shouts and the beating continued for maybe five minutes.

Then silence.

No more squeals. No more curses. Even the girl’s whimpering had stopped. In the stillness the house continued to shake, or maybe it was just the blood pounding in my ears.

“Stand up,” the man’s voice said. “Come on. Quit playing with me. Get on your feet.”

No response from the girl.

Then I heard his footsteps as he ran away, up the alley and gone, just like that.

Five minutes later the police arrived. They pounded on the front door.

This time Annie opened it.

It took twenty minutes for them to question us. During that time, an officer tried to wake my cousin, but couldn’t get a rise out of her. They searched the neighbourhood to put our minds at ease, but you could tell they were just going through the motions. They’d been called to my cousin's house before. There was no battered girl in the alleyway, no violent man to place under arrest.  In fact, all that remained was the shared sense of a lingering nightmare.

Maybe we really had dreamt the whole thing...

The police did their duty: took our statements and went on their way.


Thirty-six years have passed since that night at my cousin’s house. My sister died a few years after that. Teen suicide. Not surprising, given our family life.

Frank ran off in 1980 and took the three kids with him, shacking up with a clerk from his grocery store. I never blamed him, even though I knew it tore Grace apart. His new wife, Shirley, was an older woman who chain-smoked, treated his children well and promised to never, never let herself get overweight.

I’ve been married and divorced twice – both times going in with high hopes. I’ve now come to grips with the fact I wasn’t meant for matrimony. I haven’t got the patience.

As for Grace, the diabetes finally got her. She died last week, drowned, more like it, in cola and potato chips. She was nearly four hundred pounds, a shuddering mass of grief and loneliness. And remorse. She’d been in a nursing home since Frank left, no longer able to climb the stairs in their house.


Our family moved away from the Maritimes when I was in my teens. With thousands of miles between us, I’d long since lost touch with my ailing cousin. I thought of her often, though. When I got the call from Lily saying her Mom had died, I caught the first plane home.

Frank was at the funeral. He looked like a broken man. He left Shirley’s side to greet me, his eyes searching mine for forgiveness. There was nothing to forgive. It wasn't his fault Grace had died.  She'd killed herself, like my sister only more slowly. More painfully, but just as surely.

“I only wish Grace could’ve been happier,” he said. “She was always smiling when we were kids. She laughed all the time. Everyone loved our Grace.”

“That’s true,” I said, wondering how the years could have fooled us all so thoroughly.

I glanced around the room and spotted their youngest son, Andy, whom I recognised from pictures, standing next to his sister, Sara. Andy was slightly overweight. Sara, on the other hand, was stunning – the spitting image of Audrey Hepburn, right down to the tiny frame and the curve of her delicate jaw. It was like looking at Grace in the early days.

Sara glanced my way and the exotic beauty of her eyes took my breath away – dark pools in an ivory face.

Grace’s youngest children were fast approaching middle age. The realisation shook me.

Frank was saying something, so I turned to face him.

“It was that girl,” he repeated, gripping my hand. “Do you remember? The teenager that was murdered outside our house in ’71.”

“I remember,” I said. Back then we didn’t have the internet, but after the incident we'd experienced in '74, Annie and I had scoured the public libraries looking for reports of her death. Her name had been Alison Carter. An ordinary name. An ordinary girl.

Unless you remembered her eyes – those silver shafts of light that went right through you, that saw your every weakness and condemned you for the coward that you were.

“Grace always blamed herself,” Frank said. “Always said if only she’d let the poor girl stay awhile, she wouldn’t have been killed.”

“Grace was pregnant and afraid. She was not much more than a child herself. A pregnant nineteen year-year-old.”

“I know,” he said. “But she never got over it. Every year on Halloween she dreamt the girl came back. The guilt destroyed her.”

“It wasn't her fault,” I said.  "She didn't murder the girl."

And what about Grace's kids? I wondered. Had they been damaged, too, by the wraith-like vigilante who stalked their mother?

Andy and Sara stood together, holding hands, two beautiful adults who looked just like their parents.

I searched the room, finally spotting the oldest, Lily, alone in the corner. I joined her. She recognised me and held out her hands.

She was taller than Grace had been – around five-seven – and stood erect. Her sandy blond hair fell long and straight, adding to her height.

“Hello, Jane,” she said.

“Hi, Lily. How have you been?”

I knew Lily had spent a lot of time with Grace in the final years. She was probably closer to her mother than anyone else had been. Still, there were no tears in her eyes, nor was there a catch in her voice when she spoke.

“I’ve been ok,” she said.

I looked away.  Frank was standing at his wife’s side near the over-sized casket. I wanted to join them, to leave Grace’s oldest daughter alone with her thoughts.

Lily made me mildly uncomfortable. Something about her always had. It was just too hard, seeing those silver eyes that looked right through me. It was too hard knowing…what I knew -- what Grace must also have known.

Lily smiled and touched my hand, trying to relieve my anxiety.

“It’s ok now,” she said. “I've forgiven her.”

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Intense Whisper *Featured Blogger*

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Here's the blog tour line up

Day 1 Oct. 19
Amy Williamson *Hostess with the Mostest* ParaScream Radio, Stage Actress, TV Personality, League of Extraordinary Women of Paranormal and Horror
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Day 2 Oct. 20
Jo Lynne Valerie *Hostess with the Mostest* Paranormal Author, ParaGoddess, TV/Radio
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Conjure Oils *Featured Metaphysical Expert*
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Day 6 Oct. 24
Scott Noir *Published Author of Erotica, Studly Man, "Smoldering Prose"

Day 7 Oct. 25
Fan Spotlight Day
Featuring: Psyche Soul Goddess *ParaGoddess In Training*
Featuring: Lily Oak *Publisher of Hope Open, owner of HedgeWitchery Books*

Day 8 Oct. 26
Kayleigh Jamison *Published Author, Spiritual Woman, Bookish Diva*
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Intense Whisper *Featured Blogger*
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Donna Carrick *Published Author of Fiction, Active Participant of #WriteChat on Twitter, Huge Hearted Gal*
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Dyan Garris *Featured Blogger Visionary Mystic & Author of the Award Winning Finalist Money and Manifesting *

Day 12 Oct. 30
Women of Esoterica *Featured Paranormal Expert*
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Day 13 Oct. 31
Ben Hopkin
*Featured Actor, Acting Coach Helping Other Actors Create Magic in Their Performances*