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Halloween Scenes

stories of yore from Octobers in Eau Claire

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

A boy in 1980s Eau Claire is so excited by his He-Man Halloween costume he can’t stop looking at it. It includes a stiff plastic mask with a thin elastic string tied around the back, with holes for each eye and each nostril and a small slit between the He-Lips for breathing. The inside of the mask gets steamy and hot during prolonged use, and it looks kind of creepy laying there – eyeless – on the boy’s toy box, but he loves it. The rest of the costume is a sleeveless plastic jumpsuit printed with He-Man’s muscly chest and legs, complete with the weird, furry underwear He-Man insisted on wearing into battle. The jumpsuit splits at the seams during prolonged use.

But he loves it.

•••

In 2010, a girl wearing a tiger costume her mama crafted from a few yards of orange fleece treks down a dark sidewalk in Eau Claire. Her little feet scurry across the concrete alongside her dad’s adult-sized strides. She is four years old, black whiskers painted onto her checks with care. Her plastic pumpkin bucket bonks against her leg, heavy with chocolate and chewy chunks of sugar. They cross the neighborhood’s busiest street and head for the nearest porch light, but an old tree root has shoved a sidewalk panel askew and it snags her toe. Candy scatters across the walkway and knees are scraped. Spooky magic is washed away in a burst of hot tears and big hugs. They sit together on the ground, far below the chilly autumn stars. Her cheeks dry, and they gather up the treats. Her dad carries her home as the heavy plastic pumpkin bonks against his leg.

But she loves it.

•••

The Halloween of 1987 is a big night for a boy living on the west side of Eau Claire. On Nov. 1, his family will move to a new town. He and his best friend – who lives right across the street – will have one final adventure. Breathless, they race from streetlight to streetlight without a parent in sight, grabbing as much candy as they can, glancing into the shadowy treetops, a cold wind rushing down after them. But when the boy wakes up the next day, the sky is gray and the sidewalks are empty. Before he climbs into a moving van, he walks out to meet his friend in the street between their houses. They don’t say much. His friend thrusts out his hand for a firm handshake, such an adult thing to do, and this is the boy’s saddest day. Yes, his family moves back to Eau Claire the following summer.

But everything is changed.

•••

In 2011, when her parents ask what she wants to be for Halloween, an Eau Claire kid just makes up her own superhero. Right there on the spot. “Zebra Girl,” she says. So her mama finds a secondhand dress striped black and white, and makes the rest. She sews a sparkly pink cape emblazoned with a “Z.” She paints a matching pink mask with zebra ears popping up over the top. It is truly super. The following year, when her parents ask what she wants to be for Halloween, the kid says, “A witch.” Her somewhat disappointed parents say, “Um, really? A plain old witch? Last year you were Zebra Girl. That was so awesome! And her parents realize once again how parenting can be hard in the weirdest, weirdest ways.

But her mama makes her a pretty fantastic witch costume anyway.

•••

An Eau Claire teenager decides, as this is their senior year in high school, he and his friends should go trick-or-treating one last time, even if they look ridiculously huge compared to the other kids. Soon they will all part ways, and it’s time to make some memories. They each cobble together last minute costumes, and one friend emerges from his bedroom in a bathrobe and aviator sunglasses with a towel draped over his head, secured by a headband. He says he’s “a terrorist.” There is a smattering of chuckles. Not one eyebrow is raised. It is 1993, and these too-old trick-or-treaters would never, ever dream of hurting anyone.

But they should have known better.

•••

Just this month, a little boy in Eau Claire asked his dad if monsters are real. “Well, I’ve never seen one,” his dad says, “What do you think?” And the boy says, “No.” He doesn’t think monsters are real.

But late one night after the boy wakes up from a bad dream, his dad sits hunched at the foot of his bed, keeping watch until the boy’s gentle breath finds a nice, deep rhythm. And boy's eyes flutter shut.

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