Halloween Haunts: The Wolf Girl of Portsmouth, Rhode Island by L. E. Daniels
Halloween Haunts: The Wolf Girl of Portsmouth, Rhode Island
by L. E. Daniels
“‘Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make!’” That’s Dad, performing Bram Stoker in a well-oiled accent.
Howls rolled slowly across the walls and I felt each one weave up the legs of my chair and along the rungs of my ribs. Secretly, I levitated at the kitchen table.
Every Halloween through the seventies and eighties, Dad propped speakers against the windows and the needle crackled with The Language and Music of the Wolves. One side is narrated by Robert Redford…but the B-side is wolves, all wolves.
“Ugh,” Mom groaned, “can’t you wait until after dinner? Look at the dog.”
Our terrier faced the wall under the table, looking convinced we were doomed.
“Too early?” Dad stood. I’d asked him to put the record on and he didn’t turn me in. With a pop, he pulled the needle and returned to his seat.
The doorbell rang. Dad got up again.
“Eat your dinner,” Mom told us three kids, all in our costumes—the oldest, Lee, 15, a greasepainted skeleton, Chris, 11, in Army-Navy surplus military fatigues, and me, 9, a werewolf girl in dark clothes—again. Shape-shifting was my thing.
We craned to see who was at the door and shoveled broccoli into our mouths.
“It’s not even dark yet.” Mom stabbed a chicken cutlet. “Socially acceptable begging. I hate this holiday.”
Every Halloween, this dynamic played out while we scarfed our food.
“Slow down.” Mom glared.
Dad returned. “Plastic Darth Vader! Homemade is better. Did I tell you about my mummy?”
“I was working at the newspaper and attending Fordham in the early sixties. Three of us paid $19.34 a month each for a rent-controlled apartment in the Bronx. One Halloween, I molded aluminum foil over my face and poured hot wax onto it, then wrapped myself and the mask in gauze. The doorbell rings and I slowly drag myself down the hall to answer it, dragging my leg—” He got up to demonstrate with a moan. “I creak open the door, and a kid from our street says, ‘Hey Ed. Is Bill home?’”
“All that drama wasted,” Mom said.
Dad gave us another groan.
I put my fork down. “Mom, why do you hate Halloween so much?”
“You don’t want to hear about it.”
We pressed her.
“All right.” And Mom took us to World War II-era Manchester, Connecticut. “What did my neighbors know? All immigrants with no idea—Italian, Polish, Lithuanian. I borrowed my mother’s blue air raid warden uniform and helmet.”
“That’s perfect.” Dad coughed.
“We always went to Mr. Perry’s house first, thinking he’d get into the holiday: he was the only WASP in the neighborhood. So we stood on his porch while he aimed his .22 at us and screamed. You can bet that thing was loaded, too.”
Clutching his fork, Dad couldn’t look at us, voice wobbling. “You did this…every year?”
She threw up her hands. “What?” Mom started to laugh a little. “Then we’d hit up the rest of the neighborhood but there was no chocolate. Too expensive then. Our pillowcases were filled with apples, some pennies. Someone made those awful popcorn balls and the coins stuck to the goo. Picture a popcorn ball covered in pennies. I’d stand at the sink washing all those coins, my mother yelling at me to go to bed. It was stupid.” She spat that last word.
“And that, kids,” Dad said, finding his in, “is how Italians got into money laundering.”
Mom squinted at him. “Don’t choke on my delicious cooking.”
Finally, with Dad answering the door again, Mom made us put coats on over our costumes and told us exactly what we could do with the Barbasol shaving cream. “Spray each other. I don’t care. But not private property. That’s vandalism. And stay together.”
I had no intention of staying with my brothers for long. They were easy to shake and had no interest in the veil between worlds I tangibly felt thinning.
Together in the damp chill, we canvassed our neighborhood that was once a farm—the streets named Maize Corn and Buckwheat—blood-red maple leaves stuck to sneakers. We loaded up on Smarties, Razzles, Mr. Goodbars, Atomic Fireballs, Necco Wafers, and Junior Mints. The wolves trailed us and when the shaving cream wars started, I slipped away to my becoming.
Under the amber glow of a harvest moon.
My breath a pale ribbon, my coat discarded like a human skin on the ground, my eyes wide in the dark: I was invisible until I wanted to be seen.
And the wolves sang to me.
Dad’s little fifty horsepower motorboat, Leeward, was partially tarped for winter on a trailer beside the house, all in shadow. From the tiny poop deck and hepped up on Heath bars, I peered under the rail, all animal. After trick-or-treaters got their candy from Dad and were on the retreat, I leaped from the boat snarling, and tore off into the darkness between houses along our street.
I would not kill tonight. But I could if I wanted to.
And I was immune to everything except silver bullets, but who was packing those? Not even Mr. Perry, wherever he was.
Once, after three kids departed from our sidewalk, I sprung from the boat with supernatural strength and loped just outside the glow of the houselights. Hunched, I skidded to a halt with a snort. The kids froze. The wolves, the whole pack raucous now, called all around us.
“What is that?!” one child cried out.
“I don’t know!” another whimpered.
I ducked my head low and half-ran, half-knuckled the ground for speed.
The veil was thin. So thin.
And I wanted them to know that they’d seen a werewolf tonight and she was real.
A New Englander living in Australia, Lauren Elise Daniels directs the Brisbane Writers Workshop. With thirty years in publishing and the editor of over 120 titles, Lauren co-edited Aiki Flinthart’s legacy anthology, Relics, Wrecks and Ruins (CAT Press) with Geneve Flynn, winning the 2021 Aurealis Award. She co-edited We are Providence (Weird House Press) with Christa Carmen, a 2022 Aurealis finalist. Her novel, Serpent’s Wake: A Tale for the Bitten is a HWA Mental Health Initiative’s Notable Work. Her short fiction, “Silk” appears in Hush, Don’t Wake the Monster (Twisted Wing) and her poem, “Night Terrors” is a 2022 Australian Shadows Award finalist, published in the Wellness Committee’s Of Horror and Hope. Her poetry will appear in Under Her Eye and Mother Knows Best (Black Spot Books), and Dastardly Damsels (Crystal Lake).
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