Beware the Whistler

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Photo by Michael W. Bunch

My favorite time of the year has always been fall. It is the turn of the calendar, when the trees across Tennessee hillsides allow their leaves to turn an array of colors that would cause an artist’s paint palette to seem dull in contrast. Only New Year’s festivities rival fall festivals. The earlier evenings as the season changes and the chill of the air, along with the excitement of the unknown, still brings out the kid in me.

It is also the time of gathering around fires to tell the annual scary stories that linger on into adulthood, causing the imagination to see and hear things that go bump in the fall night regardless of age. Just as the other night’s 2 a.m. coyote long-distance call right outside my bedroom window reminded me of a Halloween night, at the age of 8, when I thought my existence was coming to an end.

It all began with a free plastic mask, a graveyard and a boy’s desire for popcorn balls. I grew up at a time when the only place I had a chance to trick-or-treat was at my grandparent’s house up the road. That Halloween, I had been given a plastic mask at a school party. It was one of those old, hard, plastic-smelly kind too, that made you sweat, but being only 8 and going only to my grandparent’s house to trick-or-treat, it didn’t matter that much.

I’ll never forget that night. To get to their house I had to walk past an old family graveyard, and I had to go alone. I did it every day, but not at night and especially not on Halloween.

But, armed with a genuine plastic Halloween mask and the visions of popcorn balls dancing in my head (I know, it does sound like words from another story that includes a fat man in a red suit), I headed out to Grandma’s house.

The moon was full, the temperature was warm and the sky was clear – the perfect fall night to walk over to Grandma’s for a molasses popcorn ball. Everything went well until I reached the graveyard. At night with the full moon shining down, the tombstones cast long shadows that I never saw during the day. And the fall night sounds seemed to be a little louder than I remembered when I left home. With my mask on, I was also getting a little warm, and looking through the eyeholes, there was only just so much you could see and a whole lot you could hear. The pace of my steps increased automatically and just as I reached about halfway up the long lane beside the graveyard, I heard a strange sound like someone trying to whistle. The faster I would go, the louder the whistle would get, and whenever I would stop, the whistle would stop as well.

By the time I got past the graveyard, I was in a full run from the fright of being caught by the Whistler! The plastic mask eyeholes were now on my forehead and not being able to see a thing, I fell sprawling into the yard of my grandparents.

Looking up at the moonlit farmhouse, I knew I had made it, and the Whistler had retreated back into the graveyard from whence he had come. While lying there trying to get my breath, feeling relieved that I had survived, I suddenly heard the whistle again. Not moving a muscle and holding my breath, I listened and looked back toward the graveyard. Nothing was there. Taking a deep breath I once again heard the whistle, but this time it was real close. Too close. In fact, the whistle was coming from me!

It had been my nose all the time, and inside the plastic mask it had been amplified. But, in the mind of an 8-year-old boy in a graveyard at night, wearing a hot, smelly mask, the sound was enough to last as an exciting memory for a grown man today.

Enjoy the fall season and maybe you, too, can make some memories happen. But, be sure to blow your nose before venturing out into the night around graveyards. And…beware of the Whistler!

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