(I tried to post this on Friday, but something went wrong with it...so forgive me if you've already read this.)
I. We had a headless horseman in my neighborhood one year when I was a kid. Probably not the headless horseman, but murderous and scary nonetheless. He rode at night, on a giant black steed whose nostrils smoked with evil, headless, and carried a flaming jack-o-lantern. He would chase the unwary towards McCormick's Crossing (a mere plank crossing a modest trickle of creek) and kill them by hurling his pumpkin through the air just as they got to the "bridge." Though I never saw this horseman, and he left soon after Halloween, I am convinced of his existence, as many adults told me about him and they all seemed to know what they were talking about.
II. Anyway, tonight's gonna be the first frost of the year in Northern Virginia and I'm thinking about bundling up and sleeping outside. I'll set up a pillow or two on my back porch, inflate my big ole queen-sized air mattress and a couple of blankets and quilts. I'll lie on my back looking at stars all a-glimmer and listening to the neighborhood dogs snuffle and howl at occasional sirens as the temperature drops. The frost will be on the pumpkin and it's a new world!
Something magic about first frost. It's the gateway to Indian Summer and I expect unseasonable autumn warmth within the week.
III. We always started trick-or-treating late when I was a kid. We'd be at the table as dusk fell, watching the neighborhhood come to life with little kids. We'd struggle and strain to get our costumes on, anxious for all that candy. There were no streetlights. It was always so dark. Once, I was dressed as a cigar store Indian and strolling by the same trickle of a creek described in Part I, heading up to Crazy Willie's shack. He had a goat and his wife made those awesome sticky popcorn balls. You had to use the trail in the woods to get there.
It was real dark and I heard a clanking sound, metal, coming down the trail towards me. Like a real Indian, I crouched silent beside the trail, presssing close to a dark oak trunk and holding my breath. The sound of bats were all above me in the treetops. A shape came close. A man (maybe) wearing a an old-fashioned metal trash can walked quickly and clumsily by, not inches from my breath which would have been a cold fog if I had been breathing. I was terrified. The trash can man stumbled on, banging against branches and the sides of trees. Finally, he strolled out of sight. I waited a long time on the ground there before I could get my legs to work. I all but crawled back out the trail to get home, screaming at one point when I blindly (it was very dark) put my hand on the busted insides of some discarded pumpkin.
I have never figured out who that man was or why he was in the woods on Halloween night wearing a trash can. Crazy Willie's wife died of cancer the following year. I had missed my last chance at those popcorn balls.