Trick and treat for the Bard


CHILDREN REALLY are heroes on Halloween: testing the premises, daring the darkness. Who can forget the dangerous trek up into the dim light of some stranger's porch, the bold knock and then the braggadocio "trick or treat!" when the door opens? Usually there's a only a bigger bag of candy to prove those who have the most moxie on these ventures. But sometimes there are stranger rewards to be had.

My final Halloween on the streets, I had to take my younger brother. I was told I was "old enough." Chaperoning this candy drive was something my father had suffered through for years. This year, as a high school freshman, it was my turn.

Of course I didn't want to take my little brother. Six years younger and a scaredy cat to boot, -- who would want him tagging along?

Dare to go 'up'

Once we were outside the confines of our house, and determined to make something of the night, I dared him. Instead of the usual haunts, hitting up the familiar treaters that we both mooched from in this yearly grab for goodies, I dared him to go "up."

We lived on the periphery of a place very much like Roland Park. "Up road," tree-lined and cul-de-saced, was where the big houses were. Did bigger houses mean more quality candy? It seemed likely.

Off we went. First we discovered that big houses mean bigger dark stretches between hits, and bigger houses, we discovered, also meant going through gates. And then there was the surprise of dogs. Pickings were slim. No other "treaters" skimmed the neighborhood. This was not a good omen. We began to edit out those places judged too dark and challenging. And I, the big sister who thought this gig up, was starting to feel pretty silly. This is not a pleasant feeling when one is already styled up to look like a "lady bum."

"I want to go back," Davy whined.

"OK, one last place. That one." I picked a particularly forbidding greystone Queen Anne with turrets and a wrap around porch, and only a faint light showing through the mullioned front windows. "You lead."

Obediently, he walked up the long walk to the front porch -- looking forlorn and baggy, costumed in his father's old hat and coat. I followed.

"Trick an' treat," Davy said to the man who opened the door.

"You said, trick and treat," the man said, "So, I want a trick, before I treat."

Davy, rendered speechless by this unusual response, looked back at me for help.

"We don't do the tricks." I tried to explain. "That's why you give us treats. He got it wrong, it's trick or treat."

The Halloween extortionist

"So, anyway, give me a little scare," the guy said. Clearly he was holding us up for those treats which he rattled suggestively in the tin box he held in his hands.

"Boo!" Davy said and made a wild pawing motion with his hands paddling the air.

"OK," the guy said, "I'll take that as one. Now, what about you?" He looked at me. Too big really to be standing on his front porch holding a paper "treat poke." Too old for any of this child's play, and not cute enough to say "boo" and get away with it.

What to do? Wildly I grabbed for an idea, anything to save face and get back to the old familiar ground where treats fell into the bag merely for the asking.

Then I started, "Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf, witches' mummy, maw and gulf of the ravened salt sea shark, root of Hemlock digged in the dark . . ."

This was an excerpt from the Macbeth speeches I memorized in my English class that year. We were required to master 25 lines. Everyone else chose to screw their courage, blow out brief candles or snatch at invisible dirks. Only I had gone for the dark roots, the "cool" witches' speeches in acts 1 and 4.

And this time, I went for the gold. All of act IV: Scene 1. Witch 3, down to the "finger of a birth-strangled babe, ditch-delivered by a drab." My voice rose witchy, keening over those posh lawns, washing against those dark impenetrable facades, The recitation was complete down to its "double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and caldron bubble!" closer.

And when I finished, there was silence. We waited, Davy and I, for our aficionado of All Hallows Eve to say something -- do something, to release us from his porch-light thrall.

He cleared his throat. "You got it," he said, and handed us the whole tin box full of imported hard candies, the wrapped kind with candy flowers in the middle. And, as we ran down his front steps, he applauded.

"Thank you!" we yelled, and we ran down that mean street and back to our usual lay.

"Gee, you were scary," Davy said, looking askance.

"I was," I replied. At that moment I knew just what giving a great performance felt like. It was my only one. You might even say I peaked in my Shakespeare at 14.

Gwyneth B. Howard writes from Darlington.

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