October 31st. All Hallow’s Eve. The one night of the year when it is ok, expected even, for the young to be little monsters. To scare and chill and make people scream. To put on masks, costumes, face paint to hide rosy cheeks and freckled brows and new tooth smiles. Wear scaled skin and extra eyes and dripping fangs. Squeal and yell and roar like all little monsters must every now and again.
Halloween is a busy night for a monster hunter. I’m Mandy, the one the children call on to take care of the monsters under the bed or in the wardrobe. I don’t get to take the night off. Even these subdued suburban avenues I’m walking along could hide something behind their walls and bushes as the light begins to fade. But, my duties for the next few hours are probably not what you’d expect.
You see, the creatures I hunt don’t care whether it’s the witching hour or the planets are aligned. They creep and scare and snack because that’s what they do. Or they would if not for me. No, I’m the chaperone tonight. Who better to entrust the little monsters to as they knock on strangers’ doors and wait expectantly after their chorus of “trick or treat?”
Even, perhaps especially, a monster hunter can see the need to be a monster every once and a while. And of course there are the sweets. The story goes that Mandy the monster hunter likes her sweets, especially the jellies. I’m more than happy to play along when they dole out one or two of the bestest treasures from their haul for the honour of spending Halloween night with a real life monster hunter.
So, here I am at 6pm to collect my troupe of little monsters. At the street with the older houses that ends with an old creaky gate at the edge of the woods. It’s just dark enough to create shadows to hide in but not so late that a knock-knock on the door could wake someone from their bed.
“Hello, little ones,” I say, stepping out to give them a little scare which they share excitedly like a rude joke.
They touch my armour. It’s the one night I can wear it outside of the shadows. It has a warm, wet sheen even in the half-light. Each piece conjuring up a battle with some imagined beast in impressionable minds.
The littlest little monster, with a shaggy mop of lupine hair, is the most excited of all. His squeals and chatter distinct among the noises of excitement and anticipation. I’ll have to keep a special eye on him. Even with adult supervision, a little monster needs to have his thinking head on, on a night like this.
“Is everyone ready?” I ask to noises of approval. “We’ll try this house first. I think they had good treats last year.”
Little monsters either side of me take my hands. The others follow close behind. “And, if not, we’ll give them a scare,” I add, lowering my head to they can see the fun in my eyes. “Because, tonight’s the night when it’s ok to be scary.”
We walk to the first door. A house with a pumpkin glowing in its window and a fluttering paper witch hanging from the porch.
They shift and fidget as they wait, hoping for treats or the opportunity to trick. To them I’m sure it seems like an age until the door, stained the colour of caramel, opens a crack. And then fully.
The lady smiles when she sees my horrible charges.
“What have we here?” she asks; pretend fear in her voice like a chuckle. They stand still as if waiting for her to take a photograph as she dutifully inspects them through her bifocals. “How scary you all are.”
Their chests swell with pride when we are told we are the “scariest and cutest, little monsters that have called this Halloween”. Bags filled with treats we turn and walk down the path, taking care to close the gate, before moving on to our next willing victim.
On the fifth house, perhaps the sixth, the littlest little monster that I have my special eye on diverts from my pack. It only takes a few steps to catch up with him – his bag of treats is almost as big as he is.
I crouch down and give him my serious face. “No running away. That was the deal, little guy. A little monster can get into big trouble out on his own on Halloween.“Come on now, we can call at a few more houses before its time to go home.”
A few more stops and our trick or treating is done for another year. Two hours well spent and filled with sweets and scares.
A short walk and we’re back at the spot where I picked them up. The place where the avenue ends and the woods begin. Where the creaky gate is blamed for “did you hear that?” At the edge,the barley sugar glow of street lights turns into shifting shadow between the trees.
My infant charges discard the disguises that masked their scaled skin and extra eyes and dripping fangs. All traces of rosy cheeks and freckled brows and new tooth smiles dropped with sweet wrappers on the damp ground.
They come to me to say goodbye. To take one last look and make a silent promise to be good little monsters. No scares, no chills, no making people scream.
My littlest little monster runs back. I’m tense for a second, but relax when his hairy hand reaches into his bag of sweets. He offers me a jelly spider. A smile on his face shows glimpses of teeth already as sharp as knives.
I take the offered treat from a hand that in a few years could swallow mine and return his smile.
“Thank you, little monster,” I say. “Tell your parents you were very well behaved. I hope to see you again next year.”
He watches me pop the sweet in my mouth. Then he joins the others as they scuttle, skulk and flap to their parents beneath stones, in caves and other dark places.
October 31st. All Hallow’s Eve. The one night of year when Mandy the monster hunter says it is ok, expected even, for the young to be little monsters. To scare and chill and make people scream.
Illustrations by Kat In The Attic ).