The Halloween Hound
by David Yurkovich
Every story has a beginning. Here’s mine…
The western Maryland night air was cold and crisp as I readied my Schwinn, a three-speed Stingray model I’d gotten the year before for my tenth birthday, for the journey ahead. Halloween 1974 was going to be the night of the big haul. Massive haul. The haul-to-end-all-Halloween-hauls haul. No more walking through the neighborhood with my pals Mike and Brian, plodding along at pedestrian speed for three hours and returning home at the evening’s end with bags barely one-third filled. No, this year I had a plan.
It was simple math, something that my ten-year-old brain understood well enough. By bicycle, I could reach 72 more houses than I could on foot. Given the 1.4 ounce weight of a Hershey Bar, this meant an astonishing 6.3 additional pounds of candy, an astronomical feat for a boy of any age. I’d tried to convince my friends that this was the way to go, but both Mike and Brian scoffed at the idea. Tomorrow, they’d lament their decision.
The moonlight reflected the hands of my Timex: 6:30 PM. Three hours would take me to 9:30, providing ample time to be home safe and sound before ten o’clock. It was a silly superstition, but everyone in town, young and old, believed in the legend of the Halloween Hound, a fierce beast alleged to roam the streets of Parksville after 10:00 PM each year on All Hallows Eve in search of souls. Why especially Parksville? Your guess would be as good as mine. I’ve no doubt that most towns have their own mythologies, each invented, refined, and designed to elicit a particular response. Pure rubbish, though we of course all bought into it even if we said otherwise.
I climbed aboard my Schwinn, switched on the headlamp, positioned the dynamo against my front tire, and began pedaling. The headlamp began to glow, a narrow beacon slicing into the darkness. I was on my way.
In the ensuing hours I raced up and down Parksville’s narrow streets, passing by my foolish peers as they walked door to door, bags more than half empty. The plastic vampire teeth fit snugly in my mouth and my cape floated in the air behind me like a thing alive. The plastic bag, an orange and black necessity purchased earlier in the month from the Hatsbridge Five and Dime, grew heavier each minute. It hung from the right handlebar of my three-speed and I held it firmly for extra protection, but balancing the Schwinn against this added weight was challenging. The bike consistently pulled right, though I soon adjusted and was able to maintain a decent speed.
The Timex read 8:45. So much time remaining. I pedaled away from the main drag and over toward the rowhomes that, before Parksville’s coal supply ran out, had been occupied by the mine workers. I didn’t know the area well, but candy was a sweet siren not to be ignored.
Eleven blocks later I arrived at Hyde Street, adjusted my cape, and approached the first house on the block. The face that greeted me was as sour as a December Granny Smith apple.
“Trick or Treat!” I exclaimed, with more than a bit of trepidation.
“Go home kid, Halloween’s over.” The grayish man replied through the screen door.
“It’s not even,” I blurted.
From within the stranger’s house, a grandfather clock began to chime. I counted the tolls of the clock—all ten of them—and then glanced at my Timex: 8:45. Only then did I notice that the sweep hand was not advancing.
“Get on home; it’s late. Be careful now.” He closed the door and switched off the porch light.
Glancing left to right, I became keenly aware of the darkness of the street and the accompanying silence. Ten o’clock! Go! Go now! I dashed toward the Schwinn and leapt aboard the banana seat, slammed my right foot against the kickstand, and dropped both feet onto the pedals. By all estimates, I was 15 minutes from home. I hooked my bag, which was filled to near bursting, over the right handlebar. But any feelings of pride at this amazing Halloween haul were suppressed by my increasing panic. It’s only a stupid legend; it’s not real, I reminded myself.
After what felt like an eternity, legs pumping to exhaustion and a waterfall of perspiration cascading down the nape of my neck, I reached my familiar neighborhood streets. Four blocks ‘til home. I hung a left onto Beaker Street, still moving at a good clip.
The dog appeared out of nowhere, resting low to the ground beneath a distant streetlight. I knew all the animals in the neighborhood but this was one I’d never seen before. It wasn’t massive but was mid-sized at best. It’s a stray. Nothing to worry about. One fact was immediately apparent: the creature did not like me. As I sped along Walnut Street, it rose from the cold ground and seemed to double in size. White smoke trailed from its nostrils as its eyes, ghastly crimson orbs, met mine. What little strength remained in my legs seemed to evaporate and my bike slowed as I rolled ever closer toward what was certainly the Halloween Hound.
The cur snarled incessantly, sound reverberating up and down an otherwise silent street and it charged toward me. Panicked, I found sudden resolve and began to pedal with renewed vigor. The Schwinn teetered side to side, still unbalanced by the weight of my night’s work. The bike’s headlamp radiated brighter as my speed increased. But the mongrel, legs effortlessly bounding atop the pavement, proved more than my equal. The beast was soon by my side. I turned onto Cherry Street. Glancing down, I gasped at the exposed silver fangs within arm’s reach. Suddenly it leapt into the air.
It scarcely missed my right leg, finding instead the trick-or-treat bag housing my precious cargo. The plastic was ripped open in seconds, a large gash that resulted in half of my boon falling immediately onto the street. It struck a second time, again tearing at the candy bag. The Schwinn straightened, free of the weight that had previously unbalanced it. My speed escalated and the indignant canine, for reasons I will likely never know, suddenly abandoned its pursuit. Moments later I reached my home and jumped from the Schwinn. As the bike skidded to the ground I hurried inside, clutching a largely empty bag, and deadbolted the door.
I peeked out the window several times, seeing only the distant glow of Jack-o-lanterns. I soon reasoned that in all likelihood, the animal that had given chase was merely a stray and the rest had been the product of my imagination. Still, stray or not, it had been a costly encounter. I spat plastic fangs into the trash and poured what remained of my haul onto the kitchen table. The entire lot consisted of a few Hershey Bars and a Kit-Kat. Pathetic.
“You’re home late,” Mom said, as she stepped into the kitchen. “How’d it go?”
“Don’t sneak up like that!” I said, startled. “Anyway, can’t say that it went well at all.”
“I’m sorry, sweetie. If it’s any consolation, there’s plenty of leftover candy in the jar. We always buy too much. Lights out in fifteen, okay?”
Alone again, I held my trick-or-treat bag and examined the two holes through which the bulk of my bounty had vanished. The hound’s fangs had clearly caused the damage, but the bag itself appeared to have been partially melted. I ran a finger along the outline of one of the gashes and quickly pulled my hand away from what I can only describe as a blistering frigidity. Within seconds the empty plastic sack felt heavy in my hands. I dropped the bag and it shattered into several dozen pieces on the kitchen floor.
I wanted to run but instead retrieved a broom and dustpan to collect the mess. It decomposed before my eyes, and within moments, all that remained was dust that I quickly swept up. Once done, I removed the candy bars from the kitchen table and tossed them in the trash.
I passed by the candy jar in the living room and removed a few of my favorites—3 Musketeers, Mounds, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups—devouring them in my room as I changed into pajamas. It all tasted bitter, and I’d had enough of this night. Minutes later I brushed teeth before falling asleep reading the adventures of Captain America.
Early next morning I returned to the scene of the attack, determined to find evidence that would validate the terror I’d experienced. All that remained were scattered ashes of candy bar wrappers which, although curious, proved nothing.
I shared the tale later that day with Mike and Brian, describing in full detail the physical and supernatural characteristics of the Halloween Hound. My friends issued a look of sarcasm.
“What did you expect?” Mike said, shaking his head.
“Yeah, stupid,” Brian added. “You break the rules, you pay a price.”
The following Halloween we walked together, a trio of eleven-year-old ghosts navigating our neighborhood streets on an unusually mild October night. Mike, Brian, and I parted ways at 9:15, a bit earlier than usual but that was okay. Following the brief walk home, I dove headlong into a sugar rush produced by a partially full bag of treats. Snuggled in my bed, I heard a distant, unearthly howl. The Timex read ten o’clock.
“Not this year,” I said, pulling my bag of candy to my chest and embracing the joys and terrors of the witching season.