It was an unusually balmy evening in Rochester, NY, and Old Willie hung motionless from the street light on Pittsford Street. His head tilted downward at an irregular angle, trying to watch the neighborhood kids fill their bags. He looked content most of the evening wearing those red suspenders, tattered brown slacks, a Clark Kent style hat of the same color, some tread-less basketball sneakers (KEDS that were once white), and the happy go lucky half-smile on his face. It was much better here than slouched over in the wobbly lawn chair inside that dark garage across the street. But, none of the kids noticed that his smile had slowly flattened as they meandered back home to weigh-in with their booty. Halloween was over for yet another year... almost!
After quickly eating later than usual dinners, Bobo, Gary and Karen, dashed from their respective family tables to meet at the predetermined spot. Bobo, athletic and wiry, hopped off his bike and let it crash to the ground. He shimmied up the telephone pole to cut Willie loose with his trusty scout knife. Down below, the other two teenagers eagerly waited to catch the homemade bum, hoping to keep it intact for their final prank.
"We gotcha, Willie!" belted out the always wide and jovial Gary, as one of Willie's sneakers came lose and bounced on the ground.
With a flirting smile directed to the pole climber, Karen couldn't hold back saying, "Nice job, Bobo! Be careful coming down." He was so good looking and had a fabulous collection of 45's; including new releases by Dick Dale and Jack Scott. She was uncertain, however, if he viewed her as the proverbial girl next door.
With Willie limply draped over the bike's suicide bar, the devious trio carefully walked the bike to the base of the embankment behind Bobby Mercer's house, only three houses away. Just a few feet above, through the tall prickles and leaky milkweed pods, was the guardrail that ran along the east side of the new boulevard. The group stayed low to avoid being spotted by any oncoming headlights.
Meanwhile, Karen's little brother, Cliffie, who was still in his cute little devil costume, had finally been excused from the dinner table. Those dreaded peas had once again given him a difficult time. His dad was already in the living room enjoying a Chesterfield and watching "Victory at Sea."
"Go ahead!" said his mom. "Go find Kankie. You guys be home in one hour, OK?" she said mercifully, while balancing the plate of loose peas.
"Okay, thanks Mommy." he replied.
Before the screen door had even slammed shut behind him, Cliffie noticed that Old Willie was gone. "Maybe the weird neighbors across the street took him down," he thought to himself. He scanned the neighborhood for any movement. Then, from down the street a short distance, he could hear Gary's unmistakable chuckle. Undoubtedly, Kankie would be nearby.
As he approached his friend Bobby's end of the street, a muffled, but distinct, "Psst!" came from the darkness between the houses. "Cliffie! Come over here, it's me, Kank!" soon followed.
"Oh, Hi Kank!" he quickly replied. "What are you doing?" he asked his sister.
"Never mind." she answered. "I need you to go back home and bring us the full bottle of Heinz ketchup out of the refrigerator, as fast as you can." she articulately commanded. Then adding, "Try not to get caught. Alright?"
Like a good soldier, Cliffie sped off on his secret mission. Luckily, he was able to get in and back outside through the back door without being detected. His aunt and uncle had just arrived seconds before for the weekly pinochle game. The grown-ups were in their chatty greetings mode.
When Cliffie returned, the three teens were in amongst the now matted weeds, huddled over Old Willie.
Bobo snatched the bottle of ketchup from his hand and said, "Hey, thanks Runt!"
There was a bewildered expression now on Old Willie's face. Cliffie couldn't take his eyes of it, even while Bobo poured out the red ooze and Karen desperately attempted to reattach the severed sneaker.
Suddenly, without any warning, Bobo and Gary picked up Old Willie and heaved him over the guardrail into the center of the first traffic lane. Totally disillusioned, Cliffie stood and peered over the guardrail as the others dropped and then started running.
"RUN Cliffie, RUN!" yelled Karen.
The distorted and bloody figure laying on the pavement started to reflect light. As Cliffie watched Old Willie's face slowly reveal a plea for help, he realized the horrible danger before him. Scared, but without further hesitation, he turned toward the glaring headlights and frantically began waving his small hands, back and forth, as high as he could possibly reach.
When the unforgettable screeching noise stopped, a very angry lady driver opened her door and glared out... first at Cliffie, and then at Old Willie. Frozen until then, Cliffie glanced over one more time toward Old Willie. A smile full of thanks was on his face for stopping the car in time.
"COME HERE, YOU LITTLE CREEP!" the enraged driver yelled.
The bug-eyed little devil ran off faster than a speeding bullet, never looking back. From deep within the shadows inside his Dad's garage, he sat shaking in the wobbly lawn chair, starring out at the telephone pole across the street, contemplating... and wishing Old Willie was still hanging there.
Cliffie took off his dumb Halloween costume and chucked it into the metal garbage can with the large #155 painted on the side, realizing that this particular Halloween may never really be over.