12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN: A NOVEL: On Halloween 1980, three young friends go out for "one last Halloween" in a suburb that becomes a surreal landscape of terror.
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A large shape revealed itself by moving across several sets of porch lights. Although my instincts urged me to recoil (to run in the opposite direction, in fact) I forced myself to step forward by several paces, so that I could gain a better look.
Silhouetted against the moonlight, the oblong snout of a large bear revealed itself.
Bears, of course, are practically unknown in the populated regions of Ohio; and the bears that do exist in the Buckeye State are smaller black bears. The specimen far ahead of us must have been a full-grown grizzly. There are no wild grizzly bears east of the Mississippi, or far south of the Canadian border.
Some of these specifics would have been beyond my grasp on that night, but no one had to tell me that the bear’s presence was unnatural.
Nor was the bear itself a normal phenomenon of nature. The animal ambulated with creaky, jerky movements. After pacing back and forth across the road several times, it stood in the middle of the blacktop pavement and barred our path.
“Oh, my,” Leah said. “That—that thing is from the Dolbys’ living room. Don’t you recognize it, Jeff?”
It took me a moment to grasp what Leah was talking about. At the far end of our street lived an elderly couple, a Mr. and Mrs. Dolby. Despite the age difference, the Dolbys were well-loved among the neighborhood children. When I’d had a paper route two summers ago, Mr. Dolby had routinely tipped me extra when I came around for collections. The Dolbys were always good for the purchase of a raffle ticket to support little league, or a one-year magazine subscription to support the school band.
On one especially hot day, Mrs. Dolby had invited me to step inside their house while she retrieved my paper money (plus a glass of lemonade). That was when I’d noticed Mr. Dolby’s bearskin rug.
“Oh, that old thing,” Mrs. Dolby had explained. “That belonged to Mr. Dolby’s grandfather. I believe that his grandfather’s father shot the bear in Montana. That would have been sometime during the 1800s—not long after the Civil War, in fact.”
“I’ve seen the rug,” Leah explained now. “The bearskin rug. I remember it from a few years ago, back when I was still in Girl Scouts and we were selling cookies.”
That explained the bear’s almost mechanical movements. It was really a bear—a bear that had been dead for a very long time.
I recalled my mother mentioning something a week or so ago—about the Dolbys leaving early for Florida this year. So at least the reanimated bear carcass—if that was indeed what it was—wouldn't harm them. But our safety was another matter.
“We can’t go that way,” I said.
“Maybe we can go around it,” Bobby suggested. Bobby separated himself from us and stepped into the grass of the adjacent lawn. He took a few steps forward, in the direction of our intended destination.
The bear moved laterally to counter him. It bellowed—a hollow, unnatural sound, nothing like a real bear, in all probability. But the message was clear: If we tried to go directly home, we would have to contend with that thing first.
Bobby walked carefully backward, his gaze fixed on the bear.
“I wonder if those jaws work?” he asked.
“Do you want to find out?” Leah challenged him.
The bear now moved two or three feet in our direction. It wasn't quite a charge, but it was enough to make us move correspondingly in the opposite direction—back the way we had been going.
“We can’t go this way,” I said. “We have to go back.” I understood now what was happening—or at least I thought that I did. The bear was there for a purpose. We were not supposed to go home early—it wasn't going to be that easy.