When you get too old for trick or treat out in the sticks, the next thing on the yearly All Hallow's Eve agenda is petty vandalism. Things such as toilet papering someone's bushes, soaping car windows, smashing pumpkins, and all the other stuff that makes being an adolescent in a small town fun.
One year for Halloween we decided to move Old Man McGrady's outhouse. Now, tipping or moving outhouses is a long standing rural tradition, but one that's fallen onto hard times as indoor plumbing has reached almost every home. Old Man McGrady, however, was a hidebound traditionalist, and he still had his privy out in the back vegetable garden.
McGrady lived alone in a big two story brick farmhouse back along the 4th concession, near the old Gonnigal place. The house was a bit run down - flower gardens long gone to weed and seed, tatty and yellowed curtains in the windows, paint peeling off of the eves. There was an assortment of mortally wounded and rusting farm equipment scattered between the house and barn, too. Of course, every farm thereabouts had a bit of that action, but McGrady's stuff somehow looked ominous and menacing. Only the large garden was neat and well tended - McGrady still had his farmer's pride, even if he'd sold the rest of his land to a big Dutch consortium a few years back.
The dark appearance of the McGrady place was enhanced by various stories about McGrady himself that floated around the school: that he ran a still in the decrepit barn at the end of the gravelled laneway; that he shot rock salt at kids who trespassed on his farm; and even that his wife had died many years before under mysterious circumstances.
None of this dissuaded us from our quest that fateful Halloween. We'd heard our parents tell about outhouse pranks of years past, and McGrady was the only potential victim for miles around. There was me, my pal Billy Podowski, and the two Shaw kids from the other side of town. We'd reconnoiterred McGrady's house from the nearby cornfield a couple of nights before. Old man McGrady was as regular as clockwork. Every night he'd watch the news on his black and white TV, then at 10:20 pm he'd wander out to the privy, spend a good 10 minutes inside, and then head off to bed.
And what a privy it was! An old wooden one, not a brick and mortar job we'd have no hope of moving. The boards were unpainted and gray with age. There was even a crescent moon cut into the door. If we could sneak from the cornfield into the garden unseen, it should be a snap to move the privy back about 10 feet deeper into the garden. Then when McGrady came out -- splashdown!
That day at school we were so excited we could barely keep still. We agreed to meet in the cornfield at dusk - some of us had to take younger siblings on trick or treat runs first. It turned out to be a good night for mischief - scattered clouds and a new moon meant we'd have almost complete darkness as our ally.
I rode out along the 4th just as dusk fell, sliding my bike into the ditch beside Billy's shiny Canadian Tire model.
I hurried up the corn rows and soon came upon Billy peering through the stalks. We'd both dressed in black and could barely see each other. The Shaw boys were late, and as we waited the darkness deepened. Finally we saw them appear a bit further down the row. Billy gave the signal (his rendition of an owl hooting) and we clambered over the fence and into the garden.
Getting through the garden was tricker than I'd expected. I kept tripping on vines and plants, and was fairly disoriented by the time I bumped into Billy, who'd somehow found the privy in the darkness. A bit of light from McGrady's windows let me see the Shaw boys as vague shadows. Billy hissed instructions and we took up positions around the outhouse and lifted.
It was far lighter than I expected - Billy and the Shaws must have had most of the weight. We shifted it back soundlessly and set it gently down in the garden's dirt. Billy chortled happily as we got our bearing and made back for the cornfield to watch the show.
Billy and I ended up together again in the field. The Shaw kids had disappeared from sight, and I wondered if they'd gotten turned around somehow on the retreat. But before I could look for them, a motion near the house caught my eye, and I jabbed Billy and pointed.
The light from the house seemed to cast a strange glow around the figure of a young woman as she left the house and headed for the privy. Billy and I exchanged half-seen looks of dismay as we realized that on this one night of the year, solitary old McGrady had a female guest. Frozen in astonishment, we could only watch as she reached the former location of the privy. She hesitated a moment, and then, with a piercing scream, she vanished.
Billy was brave, I'll give him that. He vaulted the fence wire almost immediately, and I was drawn along in his wake. Of the Shaw boys there was still no sign. We surged across the garden, but became lost in the dark again, and somehow we ended up at the edge of McGrady's porch. Inside the house the TV flickered fitfully - it seemed McGrady hadn't heard his lady friend scream.
Billy looked at me helplessly - it seemed it was my turn to be brave. I swallowed once and then mounted the steps to the door, and after only a short hesitation, grabbed the knocker and rapped.
I heard noises from within, and soon McGrady yanked the door partway open. One hand was out of sight behind the door, and
he scowled in annoyance. "Ain't got no candies, you young fenians!" he said angrily. "Get off with yez."
Somewhat incoherently, Billy and I choked out our story, managing to avoid an explanation of what we were doing out in the cornfield dressed like bank robbers, and how the outhouse came to be moved. McGrady listened impassively, and then finally flipped on the yard light.
He stepped out onto the porch, the famed shotgun grasped by the barrel in his previously-hidden hand. I almost fainted dead away right there, but Billy punched me in the arm, and I caught myself. McGrady peered out into the garden. "Privy's right where she should be, fellas." he said quietly, the anger in his voice replaced by what sounded like sadness. "Don't reckon you moved her at all." Sure enough, in the yellow glow of the yard lamp, the privy could be seen in its accustomed spot, with no sign it had been moved at all.
Billy and I had gone numb, and stood gaping while McGrady stepped back into the house. He came out a moment later, having swapped the shotgun for a trio of beers. Billy and I weren't old enough, but we didn't say no as McGrady popped the tops off and handed us each a bottle.
In a few halting sentences, McGrady told us his story. It seemed that many years ago, when McGrady was a young man, he'd bought this farm with his new wife one spring and they'd settled in. That fall, a couple of other adolescents had much the same idea for a Halloween prank as we'd had. They'd moved the McGrady privy. My skin crawled as I anticipated the rest. Sure enough, McGrady's wife had taken a tumble down the open hole, screaming as she fell. McGrady told us she'd been badly hurt in the fall, and that she'd died of complications in the hospital around Christmas that same year. He'd moved the privy after that, he told
us. Pointing to a different spot in the garden, he told us where it had been. Billy and I exchanged a look - that was about where we'd been earlier that night, all right - you could see out tracks in the dirt. I took a long pull at my bottle.
"She was the sweetest, gentlest young thing." McGrady told us. "I've felt her here a few times since, boys." he said.
"Sometimes I feel like she's keeping watch over me. But I ain't never seen her shade, I reckon you're the first."
Billy was bawling by this point, and I was a bit misty-eyed myself. McGrady sighed and collected the empty bottles. "Don't think she's of liked it if I shot yuz" he told us. "But I think you'd best be goin' before I change my mind. By the lane, if you know what's good fer yeh. And don't bother comin' back either. I don't much care for trespassers."
Billy and I backed away down the lane, and then turned tail and ran for our bikes. We grabbed them and headed home in
a panic, afraid to look behind us for fear we'd see either McGrady's wife's ghost, or the man himself with his shotgun.
We ran into the Shaw kids in the cafeteria the next day. Billy and I related our story of the encounter with McGrady as quickly and colourfully as we could - it seemed more funny than scary in the bright lights of the caf. Or at least it did until we saw how pale the Shaw kids got as the story went on.
"We heard some of that story about McGrady's wife yesterday at school" one of the Shaw kids said. "What he didn't tell you was that he shot down both those kids right there in the garden that night."
"Some people say they're buried right there in the garden." added the other one.
Billy looked confused, but I felt those icy fingers running up my spine again. "If you knew that, why did you even
come out to McGrady's with us last night?" I asked them.
The Shaw kids looked at each other, and then both looked at me from the corners of their eyes. "We were too scared, so we stayed home" they said. "That wasn't us with you last night."
Billy fainted dead away, right there in the caf.
A work of original fiction for the Halloween writing contest. All rights reserved.