Although my scariest Halloween ever was 64 years ago, I remember it as if it were today.
I was 7-years old at the time and incredibly excited about Halloween. Each year, scores of kids would parade into our grocery store in Summit Hill, say a brief rhyme or sing a silly song after which they would collect a nickel from my mother or father.
Until I was a few years older, I preferred staying at the store rather than go out Halloweening because I enjoyed seeing the parade of costumes.
Some children emulated their fathers and came dressed as coal-miners: "I am a little miner, I come from Number Six; if you don't give my any money, I'll hit you with my stick." Most, however, were dressed as Frankenstein, Dracula or other monsters or ghouls of the night.
Adjacent to our store was an attached, two-story building, which was used for supplies. On the second floor was a toilet that my parents and store employees used. There was no electricity in this building, so if anyone had to use the facilities after dark, he or she had to take a flashlight.
On those rare occasions when I was at the store after dark and had to use the toilet, my mother would accompany me up a flight of creaking stairs and wait for me until I was done, then accompany me back to the store. Halloween was a special occasion, and I was allowed to stay at the store until closing time 11 p.m.
As my excitement built, so did the crowd of ghouls. I told my mother I had to use the toilet. Halloweeners and customers jammed the store nearly overwhelming my parents.
Every few minutes, I would remind my mother that I had to go, but she was unable to get away. Finally, she handed me the flashlight and told me to go upstairs and she would be along shortly.
"Be careful on the steps," she called out after me because there was no handrailing.
I took the flashlight, clicked it on and pushed through the door into the breezeway between the store and storeroom, then through another door and into the two-story storage building. The noise from the store faded. It was silent, except for my footsteps, which echoed loudly as I started up the stairs.
With each movement I made, the rickety wooden steps groaned under my weight. The beam from the flashlight cast an eerie shadow on the narrow walls that surrounded me.
At the top of the stairs, there was another door which led to a room packed with supplies and some of our household items. Among them was an old, wind-up phonograph, which my father sometimes brought to the store to keep him company while he cleaned the slicing and coffee-grinding machines after closing time. I had to walk through this room and open another door that led to the small toilet.
By this time, the excitement of the night, the ghouls and monsters I had seen and the long, scary walk had done a number on my imagination. I stopped in front of the toilet. I thought I heard something and strained to listen. It was absolutely still. I could hear myself breathing heavily a combination of the spirited walk up the stairs and my growing fear.
I put the flashlight on the floor, undid my pants and completed my chore. As I started to pull up my pants, I heard a low-moaning laugh coming from behind me in the room next to the toilet.
It was the same kind of laugh that made "Inner Sanctum Mysteries" one of the scariest radio programs.
I was choked with fear. Thinking of being trapped by a monster while my parents were unaware of my plight paralyzed me for a moment. Then I realized that I had to get out there. FAST!
In my haste, I kicked the flashlight and sent it skidding under the toilet's plumbing. No time to get it now. Have to get out of here.
I was still wrestling with my pants, but the more I tugged, the more they became tangled with my shoes. I began screaming and tripping.
In the darkness, I bumped into boxes and went sprawling across several of them. I rolled off the boxes onto the floor, tried to get up, but still was unable to keep my balance because of my tangled pants.
By this time, I was screaming and sobbing hysterically,
"Mommmmy, mommmmmy. Help me. The monster's after me," I wailed.
I followed the wall to the door that led to the top of the stairs, but as I tried to step down, the pants tangled around my feet. I went crashing and bumping hands-first down the steep flight of stairs and came to a rest in a heap at the bottom still screaming and crying.
My mother and father, and a number of customers in the store who had heard the shrieks for help, followed by a thunderous bumpety-bump-bump-bump arrived at the foot of the steps just seconds after I had made my unceremonious landing.
I had only a couple of scratches on my arms and legs, but, fortunately, no broken bones or other serious injuries.
After I recounted my breathless tale to my parents, the customers laughed at me. My father smiled in disbelief. "It's true," I insisted. They thought I had made it up, but my knowing mother, who saw the terror in my face, knew I wasn't lying or playing make-believe.
Who was it who let out that low, maniacal laugh in that dark, upstairs stockroom?
I never found out. My mother was convinced that because of Halloween my imagination played tricks on me, or, if it was a real sound, it may have been the phonograph which was not quite wound down and probably started for a second and made the strange sound.
For months after the Halloween episode, I was always alert for things that went bumpety-bump in the night.
(Bruce Frassinelli, a 1957 graduate of Summit Hill High School, lives in Schnecksville and is an adjunct instructor at Lehigh Carbon Community College.)