BY: Carol Marrs Phipps
Benjamin Burns sprang off the last step of the school bus and rushed up the walk and into his house. And he did so with a happy bounce to his step for a change. After all, it was Halloween and he had just made a new friend at school. But, most of all, his new friend had invited him, him, to a costume party at his house this very night! (After he had finished trick-or-treating, that is).
“Hi Mom!” Benny sing-songed as he fairly skipped into the kitchen where his mother was already preparing supper.
Jean Burns turned from the sink where she was peeling potatoes curious to learn why he seemed so happy and excited, and smiled brightly at her precious younger son. She hadn’t seen him show this much enthusiasm since before the accident. The accident where she nearly lost him. The horrible car crash that stole away her beloved husband, Robert, and left her eight-year old boy scarred and disfigured, possibly for the rest of his life. The semi driver had fallen asleep at the wheel and crossed over into the oncoming lane. Bob had been killed instantly, but Benny was critically injured when the car flipped over four times before it came to a stop upside down in the ditch and caught on fire. Benny was wearing a seat belt, but he had first, second and third degree burns over most of his body, before he was freed from the wreckage. He had hideous burns on his face and had lost his sight in his left eye.
That was two years ago, but since Benny had returned to school he had been depressed. The children at school treated him differently now and did not play with him unless they had no choice. Benny no longer had any friends. He said the kids didn’t like him because he was ugly now. He was convinced that many of them were even afraid of him. It broke Jean’s heart. She had gone to school and explained to all his classmates about the terrible accident Benny had been in, hoping the children would understand and begin including her son in their play once more. But it hadn’t happened. A few girls did try to talk with him and include him, but Benny stopped playing with them after a few days. When Jean finally coaxed him to tell her why, she had been horrified to learn that the girls wanted him to be the scary monster and chase them.
Today was the last day she expected Benny to come home fairly bursting with energy and excitement. She had almost kept him home from school this morning because last year some cruel boys had told him that he could trick-or-treat without a costume. He had come home devastated.
Jean bent over and kissed her son on the top of his curly brown mop of hair. “So, you gonna tell me what has you all excited?” she asked.
Benny nodded and pulled a small envelope from his pocket and handed it to her, then waited as patiently as he could while she read it. As soon as her bright blue eyes shifted from the party invitation in her hands to his own sparkling brown one’s he blurted, “So, can I go Mom? Please?”
Before Jean could open her mouth to form a reply, his teenage brother, Josh, strolled into the kitchen. “Can you go where, squirt?” he asked as he studied first his younger sibling’s imploring face and then his mother’s bemused expression and noticed the party invitation in her hand. “Oh! So you’re invited to a Halloween party, huh?”
Benny beamed and nodded and Josh looked back at his mother. “Hey Mom, don’t sweat it, I’ll take Benny to the party if you have to work tonight.”
“Thank you, Josh,” she said, handing him the invitation to his momentary surprise, but he quickly realized she must have done so because he would need to know the time and location of the party. He glanced quickly at the invitation, read the time and address, then started to hand it back to Benny...but froze with the card still in his hand and met his mother’s eyes before taking a better look at the card.
“Hey! What’s goin’ on?” Benny asked, as his excitement of a moment ago began to turn to fear that he was not going to be able to attend the first fun event he had been invited to since before his accident. “Can I go or can’t I?” he added, confused by the odd turn of events. He had thought his family would have been just as happy and excited as he was.
His mom and Josh exchanged a look over top of his head. “Look, sweetheart, you go get your homework done and we’ll talk about it over supper, OK?”
Benny looked from his mother to his brother, then down at the floor. “Yeah, sure,” he mumbled sullenly and trudged to his room.
Supper was a quiet affair until the dishes had been cleared away, then Jean and Josh took turns explaining to Benny that they both wanted more than anything for him to go to his new friends party and have a wonderful time...but the problem was that the address on the invitation said the party was to be at 666 Mockingbird Lane at the Cates’ residence and as far as they both knew, there no longer was a house at that residence. The Cates family that had once lived there were all now deceased.
Benny listened to this information and nodded, a relieved, but knowing look on his young, disfigured face. “I know all of that,” he said impatiently, “but now there is a house there again. It was moved there from Grangerville just a few days ago. My friend, Damon’s family got the place real cheap because the people who owned it had both passed away. They had no family so the city council wanted the land for a parking lot. But they decided that maybe they could make a little profit on the place if they sold it instead of having it demolished.
“Damon also told me that his Uncle John and Aunt Marie’s family lived in the house at the address where his house sits now. They were all murdered by a madman. All except his cousin Mindy, that is. She was only badly wounded and left for dead. The cops had the newspapers report the whole family had been killed because they were afraid that the murderer might try again to kill her if he found out that she was still alive and might be able to identify him. So, when she was well enough, Mindy was sent to live with Damon’s parents, Wolfgang and Elvira Cates,” he added this last with a great sigh and a hopeful expression cast first at his mother, then his big brother, who immediately exchanged a look across the table.
“That is quite a story, young man,” Jean said with a look on her face that Benny knew quite well meant she was not entirely convinced it was all true. Oh, not that he was lying, just that he might not really have been told the truth by his friend, Damon. Still, Benny could tell that the imploring look on his disfigured young face was winning her over, nevertheless. “So...I’ll tell you what. Even though I’m not sure I buy the whole thing I’m going to take a chance and say that you can go...see about this party. Your brother will take you there after you finish with what trick-or-treating you wish to do. If there truly is a house at that location now and your friend and his family are there having a party, you may attend it until ten o’clock. No later. Understood?”
Benny grinned and nodded his head up and down enthusiastically.
“Good,” Jean said, then cautioned. “However, if, as Josh and I fear, there is no house in that location, you will come straight home and do your very best not to feel too bad. You know that there are people out there who are unkind and even cruel to people who are ...different...than they are.”
Benny thought this over for a few moments before he slowly nodded. He knew all right. He had been the victim of such cruelness far too often since the accident.
“Then run and get your costume and I will help you get ready before I leave for work,” his mother said. Benny grinned happily and flew to his room to gather up his costume.
Jean bent over and tied a neat bow at the neck of Benny’s faux fur prince cape and then set the shining gold plastic crown with the big pretend jewels upon his curly head and kissed his scarred forehead. “Have fun trick-or-treating, and remember...”
“Don’t eat anything until I get home and you or Josh inspects it for signs of tampering,” Benny said before she could.
Jean smiled and nodded. “And...don’t be too disappointed if your party...doesn’t work out.” Benny nodded solemnly and Jean’s mouth spread into a smile once more. “OK, I’ll see you later, then, sweetheart.”
Benny smiled back and waved as he followed Josh out the door and spent the next two hours merrily trick-or-treating around the neighborhood. But now they had finally arrived at Mockingbird Lane, and Benny was anxious to get to the party, though his brother insisted they might as well trick-or-treat the houses along the way.
“Come on, Benny,” Josh said, “at least if it turns out there isn’t anything at 666 we’ll have something to show for coming all the way here.”
Benny agreed, but just to keep Josh off his case. Teenage brothers could be such a pain if they didn’t get their way!
It seemed like time had slowed down, though, and Benny was beginning to feel like they would never reach the end of the block where Damon said his house was. What was more ominous, though, to Benny, was that it was pitch dark at the end of the lane where the Cates’ house should be. He began to feel disappointment and betrayal creep over him the closer they approached to that lightless spot. He trudged downheartedly from the brightly lit porch of 665 beside Josh who cast him a truly apologetic look, as they began to cross the street to go 667 and back up the other side of the lane.
There was a foreboding thick hedge in front of the property at 666 at the end of the lane, broken only by a narrow sidewalk that split the hedges in the center and ran on up into the darkness. By some unspoken agreement, both boys stopped outside the hedge and stared into the inky blackness towards where the narrow sidewalk ended. Suddenly a great many lights flared all at once, illuminating the house that now resided on the property. Josh and Benny both started in surprise, then exchanged looks of wonder.
“Well little brother,” Josh said with a grin, let’s go see about this party, shall we?”