A Night of Terror
I can only remember one time in my entire life when I actually feared that I was about to die. It was not during the B-52 bombing raids over Vietnam, nor in the taxi rides in Egypt, nor when I was laying flat on my back in the hospital operating room in Ft. Worth, Texas, looking up at the doctors above me with the scalpels in their hands. All of those things were scary, and certainly got my undivided attention, but I never once felt that I would fail to see the light of the next morning's sun because of them. I did not feel that way on the night of October 31, 1963. That night I was positive that it was the date that would be carved onto my headstone. "Here lies Tommy Towery - Beat to Death on Halloween Night, 1963. R.I.P." It would fit in good with the other graves in a spooky old cemetery. There was something mystically evil about Halloween and graveyards.
When the night started out, I had no idea that I would develop such feelings before it ended. It started just as many other Halloween nights started - with a trip to the grocery store to buy the necessities of fun. Actually, it started out with Bob, David, and Lewis picking me up at my house before nightfall came. We had big plans for the evening, and the plans called for more tricks than treats. Once again I was given the opportunity to hide away my Eagle Scout identity for one more night to become what the rest of the world would recognize as a normal teenager. Normal teenagers like to do abnormal things on Halloween night, and the four of us were no exceptions.
I think David was the one who was most responsible for the game-plan of the evening's activities. He had volunteered to supply the transportation and had talked his parents into loaning him their 1962 Cadillac Seville. Whatever we were going to do that night, we were going to do it in style. I don't remember exactly who she was, but there was a girl that lived over in West Huntsville that was the object of a major part of the night's plan. She was responsible for us going to the grocery store on the night. The four of us went inside and accumulated the things that boys like to buy for that most unhallowed of nights. Bob and Lewis headed straight toward the dairy section and David and I went to the paper products. When we met back at the cashier, Bob and Lewis sat the multiple cartons of eggs onto the check out counter and David and I unloaded our armloads of toilet paper.
It seemed to me that grocery stores should have required ID cards for eggs and toilet paper purchased on Halloween night. They had to know what the ultimate fate of those products would be. I guess they were more interested in the money which would be brought into the stores by the hoards of teenagers and cared less about what might be done with the purchases. For whatever reason, we were never questioned as we paid for the supplies and took the cashier receipt and Top Value stamps in return for our combined monies. The goods were thrown into the back seat of the Cadillac, into the same pile that already contained the bag of balloons.
It was just starting to get dark as we left the store and headed toward West Huntsville. A quick stop at a gas station on the way was needed for us to finish getting ready for the rest of the night. Back then, rest rooms were usually on the back of the stations, and the doors were never locked so we didn't have to ask anyone for the key. Once inside the men's room, Lewis and I went to the sink and started filling the balloons with water while Bob looked in the stall for more toilet paper. There was none. Halloween was a terrible night to have to use a public rest room. There was never any paper in any of them on that night of the year. Days before, teenagers had started making runs on all the gas stations in town stealing all the rolls of toilet paper they could get their hands on. We were just too late. When the balloons were properly filled and redeposited into one of the paper bags from the grocery store, we left the gas station without bothering to buy any gas.
For some reason, David had decided that we needed to go over and roll the yard of the unknown teenage girl that lived in the rough part of Huntsville. I don't know if it was because he liked the girl or hated her. Either reason was just cause to decorate her yard with rolls of the soft paper. Rolling yards was a big event on that night in particular. The deed took us to a part of the town that was not an area where kids from Lee High School usually spent their evenings. It was especially not an area where we should have gone on that particular night, but we did and that was that.
David was driving and Bob had procured the honored "shotgun" position, leaving Lewis and me in the back seat with the supplies. On the way to the girl's house, David turned and drove down an unknown residential street. It was one of the older streets, lined with big trees and partially lit with dim street lights. The houses were decorated with the normal ghosts and pumpkins on the front porches, and little demons were scurrying from door to door demanding loot from the houses' occupants.
I'm not sure from where the voice came. It might have been a phantom, speaking through the median of one of my fellow passengers in the car. Whoever it was, the voice spoke to us in a Satanic tone from out of the darkness. "Let's egg and water bomb the next group we see." Why not? We could do that. That might be fun. With the group's concurrence, Lewis and I excitedly passed the ammo up to the front seat occupants as we armed ourselves with the water filled balloons and eggs. The weather was warm, so we rolled down the windows as David slowed the Cadillac down to a turtle-pace. We were nicer than we could have been, and passed up some of the smaller kids dressed in their costumes and selected as our targets a group of three larger boys walking down the sidewalk.
David sped up as we got closer and as we passed them, we opened fire with all we had. Arms were swinging and throwing eggs and balloons as fast as they could be picked up, and many of them were right on target. I remember to this day the smallest boy in the group doubling over with a yell as one of the water balloons hit him squarely in the stomach. He took the full force of the liquid mass and doubled over, falling to the sidewalk in shock and pain. David floored the gas pedal and we zoomed off to the sounds of "You bastards!" fading into the darkness of the street. Inside the security of the Cadillac, we roared in laughter at the terror we had struck into the hearts of the unsuspecting trio on the lonely sidewalk. Halloween had started. We were having a great time.
Full darkness was upon us at last and the time had come to continue with our primary mission. David made his way toward the girl's house and we opened up the packages of toilet paper and got them ready for their ultimate use. I remember little about where the girl's house was located, but only know it was over in West Huntsville, near the old mills. We drove past the house one or two times, checking it out, and seeing what we would be facing when the time was right to make our move. At last, finally content that we would not be caught, David pulled the Cadillac over to the curb and we all bolted out of the car. There were no real detailed duties, each of us was on our own to put the toilet paper in the best places to try to make our best mark on the yard. Of course the trees were the primary place to decorate. In great big loops of paper and color, the rolls were streamed over and into the branches of the trees. Meanwhile, others were busy doing the same to the hedges in front of the house. Some of the rolls were hurriedly rolled onto the yard. I do remember a small incline that went from the edge of the yard down to the sidewalk and how easily the paper rolled down the small hill. With the skills that had been acquired through numerous similar evenings, the yard was rapidly transformed into a criss-cross of streams of paper that seemed to have no beginning and no end.
Before the porch light could come on and the house's occupants could come running out to catch us, our task was completed and we jumped into the open doors of the Cadillac sitting there, engine still running. David slid the gear shift down into drive and we slipped into the darkness once again. The car lights were left off until we were sure we were out of sight of the house, and only then did David reach down and switch them on. He made a loop around the block, and we drove a victory lap past the lawn that now laid draped in the dew moistened toilet paper. We gloried in our skills and laughed at the thought of the task awaiting the girl on the next morning. I and every other occupant of the car knew what awaited her. We had each also paid the price of having either friends or enemies who knew where we lived. Sometimes you never knew why you were selected to receive the decorations, but you knew that on any given Saturday or Sunday morning, it was a real possibility to walk out the door and be greeted with the sight of the streams of paper upon your lawn.
The night of fun was just starting as David turned the Cadillac away from the darkness of West Huntsville, headed for the strip to celebrate our accomplishments and share the stories with our friends. We knew that parked either in Jerry's or Shoney's Big Boy, would be carloads of our friends who were waiting to share similar tales with us. A quick couple of trips up and down the strip, maybe a Coke in one place and a pit stop in the other and we would be off to greater excitement.
Fate had other plans for us. We would not make it to the strip. We would not rendezvous with our friends. We would not get to brag about the eggs and water bombs and toilet paper filled trees. As we headed down Drake Avenue a car full of other trick-or-treaters passed us and slowed down once they were ahead of us. They slowed down real slow. The car was full of faces and arms, waving and mouthing out the rear windshield. Their actions puzzled us. I looked out our back window and saw a second car of boys behind us, with just as many mouthing faces and just as many clinched fists waving.
The car in front slowed down to a crawl and the car behind pulled up closer to our back bumper. The thought entered my head and I shared the idea with the crowd. "Hey, the guys in the front car are trying to stay away from the car behind us. If they keep going slow, the back car won't be able to get to them because we are in the way." What fun! Lewis said "Hey, we might get to see a big fight." He was closer to right than I was. In the next few horrifying minutes we would all find out what the mobs in the car in the front and the car in the back wanted.
In another few seconds, the front car came to a complete stop, forcing David to stop the Cadillac just behind it. The doors opened and the mob emerged into the night air. As that was happening ahead of us, a similar scene was taking place behind us. Multiple bodies kept pouring out of the doors of both cars. I estimated the mass at seventeen angry people all headed toward each other, with us in between them. Visions of "West Side Story" and the rumble between the Sharks and the Jets filled my mind, only instead of me sitting safely in a theater seat eating popcorn, I was sitting in an automobile between the two groups. That did not seem like a safe place to be.
That thought was the most underestimated thought I think I have ever had in my life. To our surprise and horror, the fight that we thought was imminent did not start. Instead, both carloads of angry people merged upon the Cadillac. The next thing we knew members of the gang were grabbing at the door handles and kicking on the doors of our car. Violent, angry faces were pressed against the windows of the doors, all screaming not at each other, but at the four of us inside the car. "What the hell is this?" Bob asked.
In the midst of the crowd, three people stood out like sore thumbs. All the others boys were dry. All the others were clean. These three were wet, and had what looked like egg yokes stuck to various parts of their clothing. It was them. It was the three faceless silhouettes which we had attacked earlier in the night. The three innocents that had been peacefully walking down the street, were members of one of the biggest gangs in West Huntsville. Unfortunately, they had to be the ones we picked to receive our Halloween tricks.
We sat there in fear. The voices were screaming, the fists were pounding on the top of the car, and thousands of legs were kicking on the doors of the expensive, borrowed Cadillac. They wanted us to get out. They wanted revenge. They wanted human sacrifices. I remember the anger of one particular face, the smallest of the crowd, looking at me through the window and screaming obscenities.
We had stopped at the intersection of the street that went to the new football stadium. The driver of the first car started motioning for David to follow him up the dark street to the abandoned stadium. Bob, Lewis, and I kept telling David not to do it, but David was worried that if he didn't, his parent's car would be demolished on the street where it sat. Traffic was beginning to back up behind us. Cars were blowing their horns and we sat there. People were yelling, and we sat there. The mob surrounding the car continued their attempts to break their way into the locked doors.
I thought we were going to die. Just when all seemed hopeless, the carvery arrived. We were stopped heading east, when up drove a police car heading west. The policeman saw the mob scene and started pulling over to stop and see what was going on. About that time, the driver of the front mob car made his final demand to David. "Follow us!" David still seemed more worried about his parent's car than his own safety and nodded his head that he would obey. Panic filled the hearts of the other three of us. If he followed them up to the abandoned stadium, the next morning they would find our dismembered bodies in ritual sacrifice positions. We would be there with vultures eating the dead flesh from our Halloween clothed bodies, perhaps with our pants bulging with the additional pumpkins that had been internally inserted from our south sides. "David, don't do it!" we screamed.
The Sharks or the Jets scrambled back into the waiting cars and when the doors were shut, the front car started slowly turning up the street leading to the site of the planned lions verses Christians massacre. David slid the Cadillac in gear and started following the hand signals of the five or six people in the rear window of the front car. My heart sunk about as deep as my derriere as my body slid down into the back seat, trying to find a crack deep enough in which to hid.
The front car continued it slow turn, the rear car continued hugging our bumper. We could not go forward, we could not retreat. David was forced to continue to tail the front car, as we all pleaded for him to come to his senses. Just as we were about to make the final turn that would ring our death knoll, the front car's bumper cleared our's enough to give us the sight of open road ahead. To my great surprise, David yanked the steering wheel to the left and pushed to gas pedal toward the pavement with all his might. The mighty eight cylinders of the big Cadillac engine came alive and we left the front car heading in the wrong direction and the driver of the rear car sitting open mouthed in disbelief. I had no idea what became of the policeman or his car.
Since we had tied up the traffic for so long, David had an empty stretch of road ahead of him. There was no one between us and the mountain in the distance. I have no idea how fast David pushed the Cadillac. When I finally worked my way out of the crack in the rear seat, I quickly raised up and turned my head toward the back window to see how close we were being followed. We had managed to get ahead by at least fifteen car lengths, maybe more. The traffic light ahead of us was red; David didn't care. We flew through the intersection, ran the next two red lights and continued our flee for freedom. Behind, the car following us tried the same tactics, and almost sandwiched itself with another car. It slammed on the brakes, and gave us the lead we needed.
David made a small swerve and continued his climb up the mountain side road, the mighty engine of the Cadillac straining. We cleared a little hill and watched the headlights of the car behind us disappear beneath it's swell. David took advantage of the situation, reached down and shoved in the light switch, leaving us in the darkness of the little street. We sat speechless as David continued his plan of evasion and dropped the gear shift into low to avoid brake lights giving away his plan. He yanked the wheel and turned the Cadillac onto a steep hill leading straight down. He strained to see ahead in the darkness as the other three of us starred at the hill behind, fearing the sight of headlights that were hot on our tail. They didn't appear.
David turned at the bottom of the hill and weaved in and out of the side streets of the quite neighborhood. Luckily for the trick-or-treaters, they had abandoned the streets and were home eating themselves sick on homemade popcorn balls and Snicker candy bars. They did not have to dive from the streets as the hugh Cadillac roared darkly along.
I don't know how long David drove in darkness, fearing the sight of headlights in the rear view mirror. The blocks must have numbered into the double digits. We didn't count. We didn't care. We didn't hardly breathe. Finally, when our safety seemed assured, he turned on the lights and continued a round-about pattern back toward our own neighborhood and safety. We dropped Bob off at his house first, then I was delivered to my own doorstep. I don't know what time it was. It didn't matter.
Halloween was over. It was my last Halloween that I would act like a kid. The fun and thrills of the night of pranks had taken a new meaning. In part of the task of growing up, I think I learned that night the difference between tricks and vandalism. Tricks were harmless little events that really didn't hurt people. Tricks would go away with the light of the new day, or at least by noon of the new day when as much of the wet, soggy toilet paper that could be gathered together had been removed. More serious pranks took longer to forget. It would be many years in my future before I would go looking for excitement on that night of the year again. I would leave it to the kids.
The night was over and we had averted being beaten to death. It was no joke that I really feared bodily harm. The mad mob outside the car did not just want to talk. They wanted to bust heads, and my head was one of the ones that they wanted. I only hoped the fear brought about by the night was all behind us. I was wrong. After school the next day, I walked from the door of Lee and, to my shock, the two cars of the night before were cruising the Lee High School parking lot. They were looking for people; they were looking for the Cadillac. Fortunately, they were looking for both of those things together. Without the car, the faces inside of it could not be identified. The car was not at school. It was safely back at David's house. I got into my own car and quickly headed home.
Less than a week later I was downtown and saw a Cadillac just like David's parent's parked on the square. The rear window had been smashed. I always believed that the mob thought that was the same car they had chased. A week after that I was at a dance at Bradley's when in walked the trio of boys of Halloween fame. I tried to blend in with the crowd. I knew I needed to get out of harms way, but before I could let everyone know that I was leaving I turned around and found myself face-to-face with the face that had looked through the window of the locked door on that terrible night. I about died when I saw a look of recognition come into the eyes of the black-leather jacketed boy. My heart sank. He looked at me a few seconds, smiled as if puzzled and asked how I was doing. I said that I was okay and he said it was good to see me again and walked off.
He had recognized me. He knew he had seen me before and that he should know me. He didn't know from where. He did not match my face with the face in the back seat of the Cadillac on Halloween night. I didn't think it was advisable to help his memory. I felt the need to apologize to him and beg his forgiveness. I knew that would be the wrong thing to do. I kept my mouth shut and smiled.
I saw him several more times in the next few months and each time we saw each other, he spoke and seemed friendlier. He started to associate with me as someone from all the dances or maybe an old lost friend. I kept that status with him until I left town. He never remembered any more. I tried hard to forget. It was a stupid trick. I had learned my place in society. I felt better being an Eagle Scout than a hood.