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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Guest Post: Bev Vincent

The Halloween Tree
by Bev Vincent

I’m a child of the late sixties and early seventies. I grew up in a rural area, a stretch of houses running along the main highway in northern New Brunswick, a two-lane undivided road that followed the coast of the Bay of Chaleur. There was a narrow gravel section along the edges of the road where people could walk, next to deep ditches. The speed limit was probably 45 or 55 mph. Transports often roared past, shaking the house on its foundation.

It was usually fairly cool on Halloween. Some years we’d already had our first snowfall, though it didn’t stick. Most of the leaves were down and dried, crunching beneath our feet. The cattails were ripe and ready to explode if you threw them at someone—and we did, coating each other in seedy “feathers.”

Halloween day started early because it got dark early. By four o’clock we were generally ready to set out. The lots on which people built their houses were large, so it took several minutes to get from one to the next. It wasn’t unusual for us to cover a span of five or six miles, from the railroad tracks at the upper end of the village to the top of the hill that dropped into a basin that marked the point beyond which phone calls were “long distance.” Our parents never seemed to be worried that we were gone for hours and hours, long after darkness fell. We carried flashlights to make ourselves more visible to passing cars, but our costumes were often black as pitch, and streetlights were sparsely distributed.

In my memory, those Halloweens are straight out of Ray Bradbury. The evening lasted forever. We had adventure after adventure. We soaped car windows. We set off firecrackers. Our cat-tail fights went on and on. One year we plastered the garage of a political delegate with posters for his rival candidate. At every house, we spent several minutes. There was none of this ding-dong, trick-or-treat, thanks, bye. We knew everyone we visited, so part of the process was that the adults had to guess who we were—had to see through our disguises. Some made us sing for our treats, and I recall being rewarded with a large coin for my efforts one year. It was made of plastic, but that didn’t matter.

In those days, we measured our success by the number of 5¢ bags of chips we got. At some places we visited, the treats were home-baked: fudge, rice and marshmallow squares, cookies. My grandmother had a special baggie prepared for every child in the area, each with his or her name on a little slip of paper. We carried large pillowcases to contain our booty, and no one sorted through the apples after we got home to make sure they were free of needles.

Our costumes were often home-made, too. If we bought masks, they were cheap plastic things with tiny slits for eyes and nostrils and a frail, thin elastic band stapled to the edges to hold it in place. The sweat you generated during an energetic evening pooled inside, enough water to slake the thirst of a man stranded in the desert. One year I used modeling clay to create a decent Planet of the Apes gorilla head, with my hockey goalie mask as a base. It looked awesome, but man was that sucker heavy.

My house was located on a straight stretch of highway between two major curves. The one to the left was closer, a couple of houses away. The one on the right was at least a quarter of mile away. From the side of the road, I could just see the road disappear in the distance.

And at that bend in the road stood the Halloween tree.
It was a gnarled old creature that twisted this way and that, at least twenty or a hundred feet tall. Who knows? It was tall to me as a child—it was probably only twelve feet tall, but it lurked. It had a presence.

There must have been leaves on it during the summertime. I mean, it must have been alive to have existed at that spot for so many years, right? It couldn’t have been dead, surely. But in my mind, it is always free of leaves. Did it have bark? It was a tree—it had to have bark. And yet I remember it as shiny, almost polished like driftwood, a dirty grey that made it look cold. And dead.

Its branches jutted over the road like talons. Sharp, pointed, ready to skewer any unsuspecting child who passed by on that side of the road. If you were smart, you crossed the road long before you reached it and kept your head turned toward its swaying branches, especially on Halloween night.

Especially then.

 Only by keeping watch could you be certain that it wouldn’t reach out and grab you with its tentacles. Or pierce your torso with one of its deadly lances.

I was scared of that tree even when we passed in the car. From the back seat, I stared through the enormous rear window as we went by. I could almost intuit its frustration. I’ll get you next time, it said in my mind. When you aren’t paying attention.

Is that tree still there? Not according to Google Street View. Of course, if it still existed, it would be over fifty years old. Not terribly old for a tree, I gather, but still. Imagine the number of young souls it terrorized during its long life. How many did it capture?

Or was I the only one who perceived the menace? I’ve never spoken of it to anyone else, ever. It seems silly to be afraid of a tree, after all. 

About Bev Vincent
 Bev Vincent has been a contributing editor with Cemetery Dance magazine since 2001, where his News from the Dead Zone column appears in every issue, as well as at the online version of the magazine. He is the author of several books, most recently The Dark Tower Companion, and over seventy short stories, including appearances in the Dark Arts collection When the Night Comes Down and an entry in the recent CD Select series. He is the recipient of the 2010 Al Blanchard Award and his work has been nominated for the Stoker (twice), the Edgar and the ITW Thriller Award. You can find him on the internet at bevvincent.com or @BevVincent on Twitter.


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