Of Boogersnarfs and Shadows
It was Halloween and I had a plan. A plan to fix everything.
I raced out of the schoolyard and down the street .... past dark old fashioned houses draped in spider webs and framed by skeleton branches. The tall figure ahead of me walked fast but I ran... the colors of the day- cadmium orange pumpkins and naples yellow leaves - blurring in my peripheral vision.
Backpack bouncing, I dodged the younger kids in costumes as they started their trick-or-treating early. Their shrieks and giggles faded as I sped up, afraid of being left behind.
The figure, wearing ochre-colored corduroys and a vintage Akira t-shirt, disappeared around the corner. Desperate not to lose him, I shouted, "Wyyyyatt!"
My brother came back round the corner and frowned at the sight of me. "What do you want, Cody?"
I caught up and, grasping my breath, asked, "What time...are we going... trick -or- treating tonight?"
"Geez, I forgot," Wyatt said, pulling his phone out of his pocket, giving it a quick glance, then putting it away again.
"How can you forget Halloween?" I asked, gesturing around at the houses dripping in decorations." Our neighborhood of West Adelphia went all out for Halloween. It went all out for any holiday, but Halloween was a favorite.
"I have plans tonight," he said, pulling his phone out again. This was unusual. Unlike me, Wyatt was allowed to have a phone because he was older and up to more important stuff (according to my mom), but he rarely took it out of his pocket. Until today, when he couldn't seem to tear his eyes away from it.
"I can't go with you."
My stomach sank. Wyatt was the most important part of my plan. At seventeen he was six years older than me, and had been taking me trick-or-treating for as long as I could remember.
"But we always go together," I said. "And there's the haunted garden party afterwards!"
Wyatt ran a hand through his longish, burnt-umber curls.
"C'mon, Cody. We can't go to the same old weird West Adelphia parties forever." You have seen one fire-juggler, you've seen them all! We are not kids anymore."
He looked me over. "Well, I'm not, anyway," he said, and started to move away.
My stomach sank even further. Wyatt had lots of friends his own age, but up until recently he had liked hanging out with me and my best friend Zeke. We made comic books together, a series called Kyudo and Muncher, about two cat-like ninja creatures (me and Wyatt) who did battle with a supervillain named Purposeful woman and her sidekick No (Mom and Dad) for the right to eat processed food and watch streaming TV until their brains melted. Wyatt wrote the story, I did the Manga-style drawings, and Zeke organized stuff (because that was what he was into). But lately Wyatt spent more and more time alone, coming in late at night and not talking to me or Mom and Dad. His strange new behavior worried me, and that's why I came up with the Halloween plan to fix everything.
"But it's different this year!" I said. "Some kids from my soccer team are coming across the river to trick or treat with me."
He paused. "Across the river, huh? From the normal part of the city?" I hoped he was impressed, but then he said, "All the reason you don't need me- you have new friends to hang out with."
"They're not my friends yet! But if they have fun tpnight and West Adelphia isn't too weird, maybe they will be..."
"West Adelphi is always too weird," Wyatt interrupted.
My stomach sank so far I was sure I would see it on the sidewalk if I looked down. Wyatt had just confirmed my worst fear: he was outgrowing our funky neighborhood. With cooler, more important things to do (like save the world according to my mom). He no longer had time for wild and wooly West Adelphia. Or me.
"Dad will have to take you," Wyatt finished.
My voice came out whiney. "But Dad is so ...Dad-ish." I could not think of a better way to explain that our Dad was too goofy to be part of my plan. "You can talk to anybody anywhere and they like you. And you always say Halloween is the one time of the year the whole world dresses up and acts crazy enough to make West Adelphia look normal," I countered. "If you come with us tonight and the kids from my soccer team see how cool and un-weird you are..."
Maybe I can show you and everybody else that I'm outgrowing kooky West Adelphia too, I thought. I won't get left behind.
Wyatt snorted. "What about Zeke?"
Zeke had been my best friend since I was four. He and his mom lived on the other side of our duplex. But, like my parents and my neighborhood, he had become part of the problem.
"Uh-well..." I stuttered. In a neighborhood full of oddballs, I hadn't noticed how unusual Zeke was until recently, when I joined the soccer league across the river and discovered that cleaning and organizing were not normal hobbies for eleven- year- old kids.
"If you don't want these kids to notice how high you fly your freak flag," he added, "you shouldn't have invited them to West Adelphia. Weird is just how it is here. I'm sorry, Cody. I can't take you trick-or-treating tonight." At that, my brother turned and walked away.
Weeks worth of frustration and disappointment welled up. He was ruining my plan. "Wyatt!" I shouted. "You're in a...a...boogersnarf!"
His reply trailed behind him as he disappeared around the corner again. "Grow up, Cody!"
My stomach hovered somewhere around my toes. Tonight would be a disaster, thanks to the boogersnarf who used to be my cool, normal, older brother. It was so bad, I only had one option. I needed to do some grumpy-drawing.
I made my way home, perched on the front porch railing, and took my sketchbook and pencils out of my backpack. I loved drawing. Visual things had a strong impact on me. I didn't only see colors and shapes, I felt them to, and nothing made me happier than recreating what I saw and felt on the page.
The shadows at my back were cool, and the October sunshine warm on my face. I took a deep breath and tried to forget about Wyatt by losing myself in the colors before me. Scarlet superhero capes, chrome oxide green goblin masks, and cobalt turquoise mermaid tails flitted up and down the sidewalk. I fished for the right pencil, a perfect shade of cadmium orange that could be layered with yellow to match the vibrant hue of the jack-o-lanterns. Finding it made me feel better and I began to draw.
Completely absorbed in drawing trick-or-taters, I didn't see the black-clad figure wearing heavy boots and covered in menacing tattoos lumbering up the street towards me. I didn't notice when the figure turned in at the open gate and clomped up the porch steps. It wasn't until a coiled cobra with bloody fangs snaked around my waist from behind, and someone shouted "boo!" that I nearly fell off the railing in fright... and discovered my mother was home from work.
The dark figure, also known as Mom, steadied me with her tattooed arm and chuckled.
"Happy Halloween, babe! Watcha drawing?" she asked in her gravelly voice.
I craned my head around to glare at her. She wore a sleeveless black t-shirt that said "Purposeful", the name of her bookstore. It was chilly enough for sweaters, but Mom went sleeveless until the first snow. Even then, once she was inside the house or her bookstore she reverted to sleeveless-ness. The reason for this was the tattoos covering her arms, wrist to neck. She was very proud of them. They covered most of the rest of her body too, but thankfully she kept her pants on all year around.
Ignoring my glare, she darted in for a quick kiss. I wiped sticky red lipstick off my face and switched from the glare to a frown, waiting to see if she would pick up on the fact that I was grumpy-drawing and ask why. She and my dad hadn't noticed that Wyatt was acting weird, probably because they thought he was Super Kid Who Could Do No Wrong. This was super annoying and I was ready to set them straight, if only they would pay attention long enough.
Mom studied my sketchbook over my shoulder. "I like it," she said. "You're putting a little edge in your drawings. Less Norman Rockwell, More Edward Gorey... Hey, did you read that book I gave you?"
"Which one?" I asked. Mom was always giving me - and everyone else in the world- books to read. Usually Do-It-Yourself books about saving the planet, because that was the kind of books she sold at her store.
"The one on making political statements in your art," she said. "You need to read it. Your drawings can do so much more than look pretty."
"I'm eleven, Mom, I don't need to make political statements," I said, feeling my bad mood get worse. "I'm trying to capture the spirit of Halloween." And figure out how to be more ordinary so my brother won't ghost me forever, I thought, but couldn't bring myself to say.
"Mission accomplished. It's super creepy! Good job, babe." She kissed me again and said, "I'm going inside to get ready for trick-or-treaters." The screen door screeched in protest as she yanked it open and clomped inside.
"My drawing is not super creepy," I grumbled to myself. I had been going for just a hint of malevolence in the jack-o-lantern grins and the spider webs in the corners. But when I looked down at the sketch in front of me, I nearly fell off the railing again.
Despite the sun-drenched world around me, the streetscape in my drawing was dark. Really dark. Shadows under the porches, and behind trees seemed to stretch farther than I had actually drawn them, creeping out across the page, swallowing all color and light as they reached towards unsuspecting kids in cheery costumes.
It was super creepy.
And it wasn't what I had drawn. Even though I had been grumpy-drawing and worrying abut Wyatt, I knew I had been drawing a bright, happy scene with only a touch of darkness.
Or so I thought.
Heart pounding. I checked my pencils, wondering if I'd picked up the wrong ones without realizing it. They were the same old pencils I used everyday. I scrabbled through them, trying to find one that was a swirling mix of black schwartz and dark indigo, with hints of cold grey writing at the edges.
It wasn't there.
None of my pencils matched the color of the moving, groping shadows in my drawing.