True grit: Bella’s Halloween
A Radford Halloween tale for the young and young at heart…
There is some song that comes on the radio around Christmas about it being the best time of the year, but I think the best time begins right now with Halloween.
My school, Belle Heth, had pumpkins out front a couple of weeks ago, and right after that, when the scarecrows came out down by the bridge, I knew the best time of the year had officially begun.
From here on out, there’s one fun thing after another. First, you get to wear costumes and get candy on Halloween. Then everyone goes over to Mamaw’s house for Thanksgiving (even cranky Uncle Kurt) for the biggest feast you’ve ever seen. Last, but best of all, is Christmas.
Yeah, it’s the best time of the year to me, but this story’s about today, Halloween.
My name’s Isabella, but everybody calls me Bella. Today started out like any usual Halloween, but things sure went downhill fast later on.
I’m in fourth grade, and Jake, who sits across from me, likes to tease me with “There’s Bella Bella of Belle Heth” most mornings. I think it’s his way of saying “hello.”
My best friend, Eva (sounds like Ava), is in my class, too, so that makes everything pretty much great.
Anyway, I got off the bus at school this morning and there, as usual, was our principal, only today she was dressed like a witch. The principal is really nice, so it’s hard to think of her as a witch, but that’s a great thing about Halloween—pretending!
Somehow she knows every student’s name in the school. She must memorize them all July!
“Good morning, Bella,” she said like she usually does. “I LOVE your Wonder Woman costume!”
It was a great way to start the day! I thanked her, of course.
Sometimes I think I want to be a principal like her, but then I think maybe an engineer like dad or fly jets in the Air Force. Momma says I have plenty of time to figure it out.
After having the usual welcome from Jake (I just rolled my eyes to let him know how immature he was), I began my morning work.
Fourth grade isn’t too easy or too hard; it’s just right. That’s probably because my teacher is the best one in the school.
She actually asks me (pretty regularly, I’d say) how I’m doing and says that she’s glad I’m in her class. I don’t know if they teach that in teacher school, but it sure makes me feel pretty good.
In the afternoon, we had a little class party and then, because I’m in the Grit House and we won the first school wide contest, we had a chance to play games together.
I like Grit House, because I’ve made new friends like Jayla in fifth grade and Abigail (we call her Abby) in third. The three of us played most of the games together, and I even won a few!
Overall, it was a pretty good day for a Wednesday!
On the bus ride home, I felt a little sleepy from all of that game excitement, but when we turned the corner for my house over on Wadsworth Street, I had a big smile on my face, because I saw our jack o’lanterns on the front porch—trick or treating straight ahead.
My dog, Molly, ran out to greet me like she always does. She’s been in the family since before I was and follows me around. Dad says she’s just protective.
My little brother, Ethan (who is in second grade at McHarg and can be annoying), and I always go out trick or treating right after dinner, and dinner on Halloween is always subs that Dad picks up from Sal’s plus a bowl of soup. Momma says it’s quick and easy.
Usually, after dinner, Dad and Momma watch the news from 6-7 while we do homework or read.
The worst part of the news right now is the commercials. One guy yells blah, blah, blah about why he should be elected. Then a lady shouts blah, blah, blah. They never say too much about what they’ll do; they just say mean things about each other.
Oh well, on Halloween there’s no homework—thanks best teacher in the world!—and no news.
Dad takes Ethan and me out to trick or treat while Momma stays home to hand out candy and correct papers. She’s a teacher at Radford High.
We always drive over to Mamaw’s house on Forest Avenue first. She pretended she didn’t know us, but we knew she did when she said, “These are the best costumes ever, you two.” Big hugs, double the candy, and we were off.
We got home and headed out for our hike up and down Wadsworth and as many side streets as Ethan could handle in his dinosaur costume (his tyrannosaurus rex box-head was huge). Somewhere around 8th Street, we all knew it was time to head home.
Waiting at the door, Momma asked if we had stopped by Mrs. Duncan’s house. She said she always looks forward to seeing us.
Somehow, we missed her.
Her house is just down the block, with a row of bushes in between our house and hers. I told Dad that I’d walk Ethan over for the visit since it was only a few steps away.
It felt good to volunteer and be responsible. Dad said he’d turn on the porch light and keep an eye on us, anyway.
After Ethan put on his giant box-head and I had adjusted my Wonder Woman headband, we got going. I looked back, and Dad was standing on the porch under the light.
The night air had started to cool, and the wind began to pick up, whispering through the tall pines in the back yard. As Ethan and I walked along the sidewalk, I started planning the big candy sort when we got home.
At one point, there was a weird sound in the bushes. It was a “swish-swish” kind of noise, but it faded away. Just the wind, I thought.
We finally passed the row of bushes, arriving at Mrs. Duncan’s. She dropped one of those giant Hershey bars in each of our bags with a “plop,” and after our sincere “thank you, ma’am’s,” we headed back to our house.
This time the streets were completely empty. The trick or treat time was just about over.
Five or so steps down the sidewalk I heard that “swish, swish” sound again, but this time it continued as we walked. Once, I stopped Ethan to hear better, but when we stopped, the noise stopped, too.
Ethan was scared. I could tell because he was squeezing my hand pretty hard. I looked up toward our house—the porch light was off.
We started walking quicker, and the “swish, swish…swish, swish” followed along just as fast. Now I was scared, too.
Ethan and I glanced at each other and started to run. The sound followed right along on the other side of the bushes. I grabbed Ethan’s dinosaur head and threw it down. I told him that when we got to the end of the hedges, he should run to our porch and get Dad. I’d stay between him and who—or whatever was following us.
At the end of the bushes, Ethan tore off, but I tripped and fell into the yard. The noise stopped.
Very slowly I raised my eyes. Staring down at me was my old dog, Molly. She turned her head sideways and gave me a huge lick up the side of my cheek. At the same time, her tail wagged against the bushes—”swish, swish…swish, swish.”
It was Molly all along. She had followed us on the other side of the bushes. I had to give her a big hug even though I was mad at her.
I gathered up my bag, took a deep breath, and crossed the lawn to the porch. Dad was standing on a chair as I passed and said, “Light went out—had to get Momma to bring another bulb.”
I didn’t say much as we organized our candy. I was trying to think about the sort and forget about the silly scare.
As usual, Dad and Momma checked over our candy and took a few of the little chocolate bars we didn’t want. Then we jumped into our pj’s.
Every night before bed, Momma or Dad read us a story. Now that Ethan and I both read, we take turns, too.
While we waited for Ethan to come in, Momma said he had told her about what had happened with the noise, Molly, and us. Dad came in and said I had grit to be brave and tenacity to hang in there.
Momma said I had a lot of compassion by thinking of Ethan first, and I was visionary to figure out a good plan so quickly. Ha, they were using the House names.
I remembered what my teacher said: we have all those good things inside us, no matter which House we may belong to at school.
Dad said I learned a great lesson. Sometimes we are afraid of something, but when we know or learn more, we realize there was nothing to be frightened of at all. Dad always knows how to explain things.
Momma and Dad both gave me a big hug and said they were proud of me, and I sure felt better about the whole thing.
Momma said that since Halloween was just about over, I should pick out a Thanksgiving book for our next story.
That sounded like a great idea to me!
Later, just before I closed my eyes to sleep, I thought about the day filled with friends, family, fun and surprises.
I looked over at my candy basket on the shelf and Molly sleeping on the rug, and I knew that this was one Halloween I’d never forget.
Steve Frey is a writer and CEO of Ascendant Educational Services based in Radford.