Halloween Haunts: Barbasol and Terror
By Meghan Arcuri
The fathers always took us. That’s just how it was. Maybe the dads liked it more. Maybe they thought they’d get extra candy. Maybe that’s the way it was done in my neighborhood.
Regardless, most of my memories of trick-or-treating involve my dad.
One year, my older brother tried to argue that we didn’t need Dad to come with us. Only in 4th grade, I wasn’t so sure I was old enough for that. Fortunately, my dad said no.
I was old enough, however, to be aware of the shaving cream wars my brother and his 6th grade friends had been planning. For months, he’d stashed away all the little white things off the top of any aerosol can he could find. These made the Barbasol cans spray farther.
The big night arrived. Dressed as Wonder Woman? A princess? Madonna?—I honestly don’t remember—I was full of nervous energy, excitement, anticipation, and stomach flutters. We were about to engage in three activities I was never allowed to do: stay up late, roam the neighborhood after dark, and eat free candy. All on a school night.
We met up with our best friends from down the street, Billy and Lisa*, and their dad. The night went as expected. We hit as many houses as possible, had this conversation multiple times:
“Don’t go there. The light’s not on.”
“But there’s a light in the window.”
“The outdoor light’s off. Don’t go there.”
and scored tons of candy.
As the night wound down, we ran into some of my brother and Billy’s friends.
“Dad, can we hang out with the guys for a little bit longer?” My brother. He and Billy hadn’t even touched their Barbasol cans yet.
“Where are you going to be?”
“Just down the street.”
“Fine. Five minutes.”
And they were off.
“Can we go, too?” Lisa and me. Little sisters always want to be in on the action.
“Okay. Five minutes.”
Yes! We ran down the hill, hot on our brothers’ heels.
I’m gonna be honest, here: I have no memory of what happened between this moment and the one in the next paragraph. Maybe shaving cream was sprayed; maybe it wasn’t. Maybe they had their war; maybe they didn’t.
All I remember is the older boys.
Older than my brother and Billy. Bigger and scarier than my brother and Billy. They came out of nowhere. On their bikes, yelling and screaming. Chasing all of us. What did they want? The Barbasol? Our candy? Our fear? I have no idea. And in that moment, I didn’t care.
Lisa and I bolted back up that hill. The older boys got closer and closer; we ran faster and faster, feeling them on our backs, their taunting screams ringing in our ears.
I know writers shouldn’t say things like “my heart was pounding out of my chest,” or “my heart was in my throat,” but I swear to god my goddamned heart was in my goddamned throat.
I couldn’t speak, couldn’t scream. I could barely breathe. To my 4th grade self, this was true and proper terror.
But without a word passing between us, Lisa and I knew our destination: our fathers.
I lost track of my brother and Billy. I lost track of time. I lost track of almost everything (but the candy). The only thing that mattered was getting to the circle of safety—at the center of which was our fathers—before those boys could touch us.
And, thankfully, we did.
“Did you have fun?” The dads. They’d been talking, oblivious to our little nightmare.
I caught my breath and shrugged my shoulders.
Lisa laughed. I joined her, the warmth of relief spreading through my body.
The fathers always took us. And that night I was glad they did.
*obvs not their real names
Meghan Arcuri is giving away a copy of Madhouse, a shared-world horror anthology about a mystery patient, a sandstorm, and the spread of contagious insanity. Email HalloweenHaunts2020@gmail.com by midnight tonight (PST) with the subject title HH Contest Entry for a chance to win.
Meghan Arcuri writes fiction. Her short stories can be found in various anthologies, including Chiral Mad (Written Backwards), Chiral Mad 3, and Madhouse (both from Dark Regions Press). She also has a story in the forthcoming Borderlands 7 (Borderlands Press). She is currently the Vice President of the Horror Writers Association. She lives with her family in New York’s Hudson Valley. Please visit her at meghanarcuri.com, facebook.com/meg.arcuri, or on Twitter (@MeghanArcuri).
Meghan Arcuri’s next short story, “Am I Missing the Sunlight?” will appear in Borderlands 7, edited by Olivia Monteleone and Thomas Monteleone (Borderlands Press). Release date is October 1, 2020. More information here.